Blog post by Kummar Ganesan
That was how I knew her, since I was a little boy. Tall by Tamil Brahmin Standards, extremely fair, deep black eyes accentuated by mayyi (Kajal for dummies), long black hair that flowed below her knees, adorned with strings and strings of fresh Malligai Poo. The strong and intense aroma of jasmine flowers arrived even before she entered the room and stayed in the home long after she left. Precisely the reason for her name to become Malligai Poo Maami.
She was a regular visitor to my home, armed with strings of jasmine garlands wrapped in green leafs dishing out one to every woman or little girl at sight. “Ponnu koyandhaingal ellarum poo chootikyanum” she used to say…(Tamil equivalent of Girls must wear floral garlands..)
The Malligai Poo strings were brought early morning from the Matunga Flower Market by her retired Husband SBI Parmeshwaran. You guessed it right, SBI after the bank where he served for over 21 years, retiring as a GRADE 1 officer. It’s a typical Tamil Brahmin trait to proudly wear one’s company name before the actual name. So we had Indian Oil Ambi, HPCL Jayram, Godrej Ganesan and many more. The company names added tremendously to one’s stature, Uncles with PSU names were worshipped, while those with banks were admired and adored. The private companies, if not big names never mattered so much, as nothing was perceived better than having a confirmed government job.
Post retirement life for SBI Parmeshwaran Mama was all about simple pleasures. Wake up at the crack of the morning alarm 5.00 am, Filter Kaapi to get started, then bath and visit to the Kocchu Guruvayur Temple at 6.15 am. Chit chat with friends after darshanam and then hit Sharada Bhvan for chudda chudda Idlis and sambhar washed down by yet another kaapi. Then hit the flower and vegetable market, pick up essential supplies for that day….(Stocking vegetables in fridge was a crime…it’s a fridge not a beero would be his caustic remark when asked why not shop for the week)
But the real reason why Mama loved go everyday to the fruit and vegetable market was different, something I overheard at a dinner conversation. My amma telling appa of how bad Malligai Poo Maami was in cooking and how her husband and daughter had to bear the brunt of not being able to enjoy even the simplest of meals. It started to make sense. I always saw Malligai Poo Maami come with a vessel or a jar, coyly asking what was on lunch menu. Almost everything my mom made was Parmeshwaran Mama’s favourite.
Between 9 Tamil Brahmin families in our 3-storey heritage building, Malligai Poo Maami could manage lunch for the whole week. Luckily for her Mama refrained from having dinner. His supper would be a Mysore Masala Dosa at Sharada Bhavan while Maami would have a Lapsi Kanji with Milk at home.
Though Malligai Poo Maami couldn’t cook, she sang really well and was admired by all. As a teenager with hormones playing havoc, I was completely smitten by her. I guess my mom knew it all along but just ignored it as a passing, which it did prove to be. Maami was very good networker and was the official marriage arranger for most in Matunga. She even claimed to have seen and studied the Jaadagam of all eligible women in Matunga. “Chitra, Mohan ke cherade….Chavva Dosham….. Janaki odu height jaasti, Radhika konjum dark daan, anna chameyal besh…”
Malligai Poo Maami was a hard bargainer. She haggled with roadside vendors to get the best deals and took pride in stating so. I still recollect one of her bargaining sessions with a vegetable seller…. Mami in her broken hindi started,
Maami: “ Yeh Keerai kaisa diya”.. (How much for the spinach?)
Vendor: “ 3 rupya jodi…”
Maami: “ Dedh rupya doongi…deve toh de deveta poh”
She was also fearless. There were stories about her courage that did rounds in our growing years of how a bull entered out society compound and started to ransack things around. Maami came in marshalling three burly uncles, instructing them how to tame the mad bull….”Tum Kombhu ko pakado mein waal ko pakadi” (You grab the horns, I’ll get the tail)
Malligai Poo Maami’s lone daughter Priya was settled in the USA, married off to a software engineer in LA. Letters were exchanged between them and some phone calls too, but neither did Mama and Maami ever talk about going to US to see them or having her daughter visit them in India. There were some issues that were never privy to the public.
Life passed by, I graduated, relocated to the Middle East for a good part of my life, came back to India as a family man with two adorable kids. This was year 2007. I got busy building my entrepreneurial dream.
A few months back I got an invitation to a relative’s grihapravesham in Matunga. Their building was redeveloped and all old owners were given spacious flats that sprawled across one whole floor. It was a reunion of all sorts, catching up with people whom I last met when I was getting married. After the regular rounds of acknowledging mamas and maamis who asked me, “Yenna terinjada…” (Did you recognize me?), my eyes drifted around to catch sight of someone familiar. It was Malligaa Poo Mami who had aged beautifully, still looking radiant as ever sporting a large red pottu on her forehead and strings of fresh Jasmine flowers in her hair. I reckon she must have been in her mid 60s at least, knowing that she was almost my mom’s age.
“Malliga Poo Mami” I yelled out aloud only to cause an uproar of laughter amongst all. I walked to her and touched her feet. She hugged me in her tight embrace, the fresh smell of jasmine overpowering my nostrils.
“So you married a girl of your choice I hear” she said
“Yeah, but you can find a groom and bride for my young ones when they grow up” I said.
“But I have promised Mama that I will join him up there in a few years…he sure feels lonely without me” she said.
I was stunned to hear this and was even surprised….she sensed my predicament and squeezed my hands and said, “Mama’s last wish was that I always wore my trademark pottu and Malligai Poo. How could I ever disappoint him?”
Malliga Poo Maami. A story waiting to be told. I am happy I did.