I hear my mother scream my name for the fifth time this morning. “Yes, amma, hang on!” I shout back and make my way to the kitchen. Today is Pongal, and as with any festival, my home is in a state of chaos as we run about prepping for the key rituals of the day. I am cleaning and looking after sundry duties – chopping veggies, grinding spices and arranging the lamps in our puja room. As far as I am concerned, mothers are chief architect of traditions and while they are around, we can blithely do what they tell us, and skip to the fun part (aka yummy food).
But Amma is less army general, more gym trainer today. She makes me clean the heavy bronze pot that’s been in our family for five generations now, and decorate it with the sacred namam (To understand how to draw it correctly, I am treated to a quick recap of Tengalai and Vadagalai symbology). The turmeric leaves are tied to the pot, and it’s ready for cooking. I know how sweet Pongal is made, but this year I am quizzed on the rice to dal ratio. (My mother, of the famous cooking technique called ” take a pinch, add a dash” and the philosophy “your eyes should guide your hand in the kitchen”, is confirming if I know the ingredients of sakkarai pongal). I ace the Q-n-A, but that only leads to a practical exam where I have to make the concoction from scratch, under her sharp gaze.
While managing a decent job, it dawns on me – she’s preparing me for the future. This supremely zen lady who accepts everything in life with equanimity and looks forward to the next stage, wants me to be ready for the distant day where I can’t just call her up and go “how long do I have to soak the dals for vadai”?
My heart breaks, and for a second, I want to yell at her to stop “grooming” me. Then I look at the bronze pot -handed down from mother to daughter, or daughter-in-law, along with instructions, training and hopes for an undying legacy. I sight inwardly and decide to take my place in this unbroken chain of love, chanting “Pongal O Pongal!! “