Janaki bhai. Or Janaki ammoomma? She made a transition to and fro between the two. She came into my life as my pseudo-nanny. She didn’t really baby-sit me, but picked me up from kindergarten and walked me to a day-care nearby. I’d spend my evening with Valsala ammoomma till dad came to pick me up. Valsala ammoomma had many kids my age to cater to, and an assistant, Mani chechi. By the time I reach the day-care, everyone would be up, having their evening snacks. Mani chechi would play with us for a while and soon leave, as the kids start leaving. One by one, all of them would leave, and it’d be just me and Valsala ammoomma. She’d then take me to her home adjacent to the day-care. I’d watch her make tea and crush the areca nut, layer the tobacco and make a cute betel leaf pocket with a touch of slaked lime. It is a beautiful sight to watch her meticulously prepare the murukkaan (paan’s Kerala version). Then she’d offer me a piping hot cup of tea to relish. I was hesitant initially, mostly because tea was a new thing and I was worried if parents wouldn’t approve of it. Mind you, I was barely 5. But when I finally took the cup, I tasted the most exquisite ‘chaaya‘ and the taste still lingers in my tongue. Every ‘good’ chaaya ever since takes me back to Valsala ammoomma’s kitchen and the kitchen doorway where I sat watching the bustling traffic. Memories like these come with a tinge of loss and a lot of happiness.
That was an unplanned digression. But one is incomplete without the other. Back to Janaki ammoomma, somewhere in the middle of all these, she got promoted as a house help for my working mom. As kindergarten came to an end and when day-care was not very exciting, I started coming back home to Janaki ammoomma who waited for me at the door. She’d clean and I’d watch TV, and she’d keep me company till parents come. Things changed when sister came into the scene and I grew old enough to be home alone. Amidst and beyond all of that, some things haven’t changed. The memory of she running to reach home lest I be alone, the rare occasions where the ‘auto chettan’ who picked me up from school picked her up too, panting and running on her way to our home. Her overgrown mole in the middle of her chin, her frail build, her rough hands that used to hold my hand walking from school to the day-care, her alcoholic son, and most of all her calling me “Soumyakkutty…”!
P.S. Ammoomma is Malayalam for grandma.