Very briefly then, I am middle class and very Madras.
Born and raised in West Mambalam – the other side of the railway tracks where fabled mosquitoes turn people into elephants.
Went to college in Khushboo sarees stripped right off the absurdly voluptuous mannequins at Saravana stores T.Nagar Chennai 17.
To weddings I wore, in deference to my mother, silk kanjeevarams with temple borders. Every other girl was a designer-sequined shimmer.
I thought nothing of throwing away my dreaming hours on MTC’s 47 A, sitting beside women who ruined my view,
leaning casually across to spit or chuck through the grime of windows spinach stems they didn’t fancy in their evening Kuzambu, hurling motherly advice at young men who dared death by swinging, two-fingered, from other women’s windows.
My idea of a holiday was rolling down the hillsides of Ooty, dressed in white like Sridevi.
Objects of love-hate: the auto annas.
And of course it is coffee that defines the limits of my imagination. I never could think of it as cappuccino or mocha or anything other than decoction coffee, deep brown like my own Dravidian skin.
Lunch: 10.30 sharp: sambhar rasam curry
Tiffin: 5 sharp: idli dosa vada
My idea of arctic winter: twenty-six degree centigrade.
And so on and so forth as they don’t say in Tamil.
Never mind this new upstart Chennai. Madras, my dear, here I come! About me, rest assured, there is no Bombay, no Delhi, no London and certainly no New York. I am all yours, Madras, my dear, wrap and filling!
Learn From Me How to Make Pickles
And since he is a Bombay man with an avakkai heart, mother-in-law stands on creaking knees and says, the hope still alive in her eyes, “Do you want me to teach you how to make them? Mango pickles of various sorts: Avakkai, maagai … Let me show you how to pluck the mangoes before they fall in summer, the shapes and sizes in which to slice them, and just how to subdue them – in what spicy, salty, oil-pools. It isn’t hard. Woman, you who sit at your desk all day long and read and write. I have caught you often staring out the window. Learn from me how to make pickles, and sashay, without a stumble, into my son’s heart. Wrap your fingers around kitchen-knives, not pens. Books aren’t bad, I know, and there’s nothing the matter with pretty views, but they are nowhere close to pickles when it comes to certain things. I should know. I have lived on this earth longer than you and have three grown children all raised on pickles. But first things first: the chili should always be a bright Guntur red.”
K Srilata is a poet, fiction writer from Chennai. Her collections of poems include The Unmistakable Presence of Absent Humans, Bookmarking the Oasis, Writing Octopus, Arriving Shortly and Seablue Child. She co-edited the anthology Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry.