Story 12: A woman of substance
Lalitha was a virtuous lady with only one vice – a fondness for Kanjeevaram sarees. She had entered her marital home with a small trunk containing 2 such sarees. They were all magnificent, woven from the finest silk, with rich zari borders. And the colors – oh, they were to die for. The customary bridal red, of course. But Lalitha’s favorite was the Peacock Blue.
“Oh my Chinu,” her husband had said when he saw her draped in it. “You are my Goddess.”
It was the first and last time Ragavan said anything romantic to Lalitha. But it was enough. Over the next 46 years, he was a responsible husband. On the last day of the month he came and handed over his entire salary to Lalitha. Unlike the wastrels who blew up their money on alcohol. While the family survived on the cheapest of rice and watery sambhar.
Back then, a clerk’s salary was meagre, an honest clerk’s even more so. But Lalitha was an efficient money manager. She drove a hard bargain for her extra drumstick, found a way to use every part of every vegetable (including rind of the watermelon!). But economy must never compromise the taste. Even the dourest relatives agreed, Lalitha’s cooking was exceptional.
The secret lay in the spices. Where other ladies would see the grinding of chillies or turmeric as a chore, Lalitha took pleasure in the task. She could spend hours on the grinding stone, humming devotional bhajans, under her breath. When her two sons and daughter returned from school, the house would be filled with inviting aromas and something hot on the stove.
“Amma – what have you made today? I can’t wait to taste!” the younger boy Sunder would plead.
The look of joy on their faces would always fill Lalitha’s heart with joy. But in the blink of an eye, the children grew up. The older son, Shanker, became an engineer with the PWD, while his brother Sunder joined a private company. Her daughter Sharada completed her B.Ed and became a schoolteacher,
With the help of matchmaker, Shanker married Sujatha. Well, the horoscopes of the bride and groom may have matched. But were in absolute opposition to the mother-in-law. Lalitha was gradually sidelined from her own kitchen. She wanted her son to be happy. So she did not make a fuss of it. But things only got worse…
Sunder got married and Sangeetha entered the household. She could get along with neither her mother-in-law nor her sister-in-law. So she nagged her husband until he agreed to set up a separate household. Grandchildren kept Lalitha occupied for some years. But they too grew up all too soon. The final blow came when Ragavan collapsed one morning, of a massive heart attack.
In the weeks and months to follow, Lalitha sank into depression. She sat in her room, staring at the wall. Finally, Sujatha said to her husband, “Speak to your sister.”
18 years ago, Sharada had stunned her family when she asked for permission to marry a man of her choice. First of all, a love marriage and that too, outside the community? To a Catholic? Ragavan had sternly warned his daughter, if this was what she wanted, he could not stop her. But from now on, she was dead to the rest of the family.
Until now. When amma had become a burden to the brothers. Sharada sized up the situation and quietly said to her mother, “From now on, you will live with me”.
Tears rolled down Lalitha’s eyes. She took nothing from that house except the trunk with her 3 everyday wear saris and 2 precious Kanjeevarams. Sharada’s husbandJoseph lovingly touched Lalitha’s feet, while 16-year-old Rahul hugged her tight. Joseph had one small request of Amma.
“I want to taste the sambhar made by you…Sharada never stops talking about it!”
Lalitha’s eyes lit up. She was finally home.
1 year later
With 1.2 million subscribers, ‘Lalitha’s Spice Kitchen’ is one of the top 10 channels on Youtube. Thanks to her grandson Rahul, who started uploading the videos.
“Lalitha is like my paati, I just love to watch her. Her recipes are so practical and genuine…. all my cooking in lockdown, is only due to her!” gushed Gayathri, Tamil film actress on twitter. Increasing page views by 10X.
Soon, very soon, Lalitha will have as many Kanjeevarams as her heart desires.
photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MaangaDesign.JPG