Category Archives: remembering our ancestors

Ammalu and the Jackfruit

fresh-ripe-jackfruit-sweet-segment-450w-681635947scan_20190218-4.jpgscan_20190218.jpgScan_20190218 (3)

February 2019

Over time a family story can become a folktale of epic proportion, a true inspiration to all who hear it. This one is about my great-aunt Ammalu.

The story begins in a sleepy little village deep in south India.  Here Ammalu and her sister Pearl grew up surrounded by countless cousins, aunts and uncles. Ammalu was the older sister, the one with a sense of adventure. She loved going on outings to visit neighbors and relatives. She had a knack for storytelling and an easy going nature. Pearl was shy and more at home in the kitchen with a flair for pastry making.

Little Ammalu was rumored to have a sweet tooth. In those days there was no candy or chocolate bars and so she indulged in what grew in her backyard from large juicy mangoes, tasty papayas to bananas in all sizes, but her favorite was the jackfruit.

The jackfruits from our family orchards were legendary in their size and flavor. It would take two men to cut down the gigantic fruit and lug it into the family courtyard. The fresh fruit would be placed on an old cotton sari and one of the men would use an enormous knife to cut into the tough skin. As the jackfruit was cut open the entire courtyard would be filled with its fruity fragrance. The milky fluid from the jackfruit would flow onto the sari and children would be held back so that they wouldn’t get any of the sticky sap on their fingers. The women would be waiting, ready to dip oily fingers into the cut fruit. The coconut oil was necessary to keep the sap from sticking onto fingers and eager hands. The tiny strands would be pushed aside to get into the thick pods of creamy yellow fruit. Each pod contained one large seed, which would be cleaned and saved for later use. The seed had a sweet nutty taste, very similar to roasted chestnuts.

The best jackfruit was sweet and juicy with a hint of tartness and a pleasing crunch. Overripe jackfruit was sometimes stringy and too sweet. Ammalu loved this unique and delicious fruit. When everyone had enough of the fresh fruit, the leftovers were cooked down with jaggery sugar and stored in crock pots. In the cool pantry, the jackfruit jam fermented into caramel-like goo with a pungent odor that was pleasant only to the true fan of jackfruit. Ammalu must have had a discerning palate because she loved eating scoops of this odoriferous jam. It was also made into special puddings.

Life in our tiny ancestral village was simple. There was not much in the way of entertainment and so everyone looked forward to visits from roaming troupes of actors. These troupes of mostly men would enact scenes from Indian myths and legends. Perhaps it was one of these actors who told Ammalu about the wonders of travel and of a special city dedicated to Lord Shiva.

This holy place was called Benares (or Varanasi or Kashi) and situated near the Bihar border in the faraway state of Uttar Pradesh. Visiting this holy city and bathing in the even holier Ganges became an obsession with Ammalu. Perhaps one of the actors or someone in the family pointed out that after visiting Benares the pilgrim would have to give up a favorite food. Ammalu knew what she would give up.

She was in her early forties when she finally had an opportunity to take her dream trip. In the years after her pilgrimage when relatives offered her a piece of fresh jackfruit, she would shake her head and say, “I just returned from Kashi,” and everyone immediately understood why she said no to her favorite snack. She died at the age of 88 and never tasted jackfruit again.

A decade or so ago my family and I visited Benares to scatter my uncle’s ashes. We found the city to be a study in contrasts. The grime and dirt didn’t deter from the city’s beauty and timeless quality. The Ganges was a lazy ribbon of water with a lot of floating debris but as I watched the orange glow of the tropical sunset, I couldn’t help feeling a deep sense of peace and calm. A holy city will do that to you. I imagined Ammalu must have experienced that same serenity as she bathed in the Ganges and vowed never to eat jackfruit again.

She would have never dreamed that her pilgrimage and personal sacrifice would inspire the next generation. Recently I decided to challenge myself by giving up sugar for a few months and great-aunt Ammalu’s uplifting story has been a marvelous example for me.

The least tangible (and material) legacy we leave behind will endure the longest. Perhaps the next generation will remember you for your kindness, your grace under pressure or your selfless love. That is a legacy worth striving for!

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Aunts and other relatives, Benares, Celebrations, cooking, Delicious desserts, family, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, Ganges River, harmony, harvest, Holy City, jackfruit, Lord Shiva, meatless, my mother's kitche, Personal experience, pilgrimage, remembering our ancestors, South India, Uncategorized

Aunty with a capital A

On Becoming an Aunt

New Year Post

Recently I had the fun pleasure of hosting my niece for her very first Thanksgiving in America. After her week-long stay, when I was dropping her off at the train station, she turned to me and said, “Thank you aunty for everything. I felt like I was royalty.”

I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t thank me. She should be grateful to the woman who taught me how to be a good aunt.

There are plenty of aunties in my life. Anyone who is from India knows we call family friends, neighbors and relatives “aunty” as a sign of respect. But I have one Aunty who stands out.  I’ve known her for most of my life (we met when I was six months old) and I’m the only person in California who has had the honor to be at her wedding day.

Even though I have known her a long time, our friendship/relationship really blossomed when I came over in the 1980s to attend college.

I was an insulated young girl (okay, maybe a little spoiled) but my Aunty C and I took to each other as if we were long-lost friends. We spent hours together.

“I’m bored, Aunty,” I would say and she would whisk me away to one of our favorite haunts– the local public library, Dillon Beach, the Goodwill store (her favorite shopping place) or somewhere for a sweet treat. One summer we discovered a hole-in-the-wall bakery that produced the most delicious fresh strawberry pies. Both of us loved these pies so much, she gladly bought the ingredients so I could try making my own pie. That is how I learned how to perfect my pie crust and work with mascarpone cheese. We ate a lot of pie that summer.

From Aunty I learned to love Southern literature and to make the perfect cup of strong tea. Together we navigated the college catalog, choosing the best classes and professors. We enjoyed our bittersweet chocolate, especially the truffles from Cocolat.

But mostly,  I learned by observing her in action and the way she interacted with people. She taught me how to give my one-pointed attention to everyone, to listen with both ears. She never boasted or dominated a conversation. Now at 97, she is still the same–kind, gentle and still humble.

So, being a good aunty is easy for me because I learned from the best!

Happy New Year to all my readers! May 2019 be filled with books, laughter and peace.

8 Comments

Filed under Aunts and other relatives, family, Happy New Year! 2019, harmony, mindfulness, my mother's kitche, Nieces, Personal experience, remembering our ancestors, Shopping, South India, Strawberry pie, Uncategorized

Bittersweet moments

mom pic

Photos of those watching from above. They were all missed!

 

Life moves on

July 2017

Intense joy is often tempered with deep sorrow. The occasion was my son’s wedding. The entire weekend was filled with joy. The radiant bride was more luminous than the bright sunshine and my son was particularly handsome in his casual blue jeans and cowboy boots. Relatives and friends gathered with a common purpose of celebrating their young love. The ceremony was moving with brilliant touches of humor and I wished all my family could have been there with me to share this happy day. Sitting in that hot sun, I took a minute to remember those who were no longer with us.

My mother would have loved the moment when my son draped the traditional gold “thali” chain around his new bride. She may have been a little puzzled by the country music and the delicious tiered wedding cake but she always had an ability to see what was really important. So she would have enjoyed my son’s happy grin and the joyful bride. “They love each other and that is all that matters,” she would have said. I know this because that is what she said to me 31 years ago on my wedding day in the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains.

My father would have taken great pleasure in puffing a cigar with the handsome groomsmen and perhaps sipping an ice cold beer.  The music, the food and the event site would have intrigued him.

My late mother-in-law would have been delighted to see her grandson looking so grown up and serious. She would have loved the bow ties and blue jeans. She would have exclaimed with pleasure over the bride’s gorgeous dress. She would have complimented us  on a job well done and she would have shed a few happy tears along with me.

My uncle loved animals and would have been amused to see the couple’s young puppy walk down the aisle with my younger son. His quiet wisdom, charming manner and self-deprecating humor would have attracted the attention of everyone, young and old. His blessing would have been simple and powerful, “remember men and women are meant to complete each other, not compete with each other.”

A successful marriage is based on trust and love and my uncle said it best in his succinct manner, “Put each other first,” he used to say with a gentle smile.

If my son and daughter-in-law practiced this compelling piece of advice, they will be blessed with a harmonious, loving and lasting marriage.

14 Comments

Filed under bride and groom, dogs and pups, family, marriage, new traditions, Nilgiris, Personal experience, remembering our ancestors, Uncategorized, wedding advice