By Geetanjali Moorthy
Each summer when I boarded the train from Madras to Bombay I would be like a kid on a sugar high…excited to say the least! Bombay was, and still is, home to my maternal grandmother, Maud Fernandes, the quintessential Catholic lady from Bandra. Patti as I call her, due to my part Tam-Brahm roots, has been my closest confidante and teacher, through the years, often imparting advice without me noticing it. She maintained a few steady traditions each time I visited her during the summer. First would be to ensure I didn’t waste my summer, by marching me to the local lending library so I could arm myself with a large stash of books, beginning with Enid Blytons and ending eventually with Nancy Drews.
Then began the interesting bit. In tandem, Patti and I would cut the mangoes and scoop out the pulp from the fleshy bits and the seed and keep it aside, till the sugar syrup was ready. In a steel vessel that was well worn with time, about two cups of sugar mixed with potable water were mixed and left to boil till it thickened a bit. Once ready the pleasure of heaping the chopped mangoes into the pot was all mine, of course while standing on my grandfather’s dinner stool and being strictly supervised, since I was nowhere near the required cooking height. After the cinnamon, salt and pinch of lime were added, the concoction was left to stew.
And next came my favourite, the cleaning up. Before you assume that I am some neat-freak, think again. The peels from the mangoes were left mildly endowed with some of the pulpy flesh and it was my job to ensure it didn’t go to waste. So with renewed vigour, I attacked the peels and left them as dry as a bone before tossing it out. Also, once the jam was made and cooled and stored in the jam pot, I had the glorious job of cleaning the pot up with a spoon and eventually my fingers. A tradition I dare not break, till date.
Somewhere along the years, we stopped making jam and other memories take over. It’s hard to pinpoint why this tradition means so much to me. Maybe the fact that this was one of my earliest, most vivid memories of time spent with Patti that have molded who I am as a person, today. Or that being the eldest grandchild I enjoyed being the apple of her eye till the other young ones came along.
Now, my grandmother is 86 years old, and her memory is not quite what it was. Some days are good and some bad. Yet with utter gumption she fights on, getting ready to usher in the fourth generation in her family. So, when I called her up to tell her I was making mango jam with her recipe, pat comes the reply, “Is it as sweet as me?”
Yes my dear Patti, it’s as sweet as you and all the moments we have spent together through the years. Thank you…