Why Aila Mathi Curry?

Someone asked me why I selected these words in my url. Is it a food site? Like everything else, the name has a lot of meanings hidden inside it, so I thought about writing a story to underline that effect. The name says a lot of things about me, without me having to explain pages and pages about myself. We live in a minimalistic world and I hate explaining abstracts to people who, on their brightest of days, can only scratch the surface of the truth. We are blessed with thought, aren’t we? Why not use it now and again to ask questions and understand what the language and logic is trying to tell us in the few words we know…

Here’s my story on my url. Hope you enjoy it!

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Aila Mathi Curry

A fisherman leaves in a petty dinghy towards a storm, waving his hands at his family on the shore. The wife stands holding a four-year old daughter on her hip, other hand waving back at the fisherman. Tired, she walks back the steeping beach barefoot, not looking back or wiping her tears.

                                                            *

Leela, short for Leelamma, played hopping-frogs by herself on the beach. The waves had begun to sputter the evening with a sincere rage after an idle afternoon. Sand crabs, orange and bright yellow, dug their way into holes, only to get caravanned away by hungry foams. Leela stooped at one of the crabs, enquiringly asking if he liked being pulled back into the sea. The crab viced his pincers over a fish egg, or his wife’s egg and ate it. The sea took him back to her depths, to which Leela clapped, saying, “You were evil. A dumb, evil crab to eat other people’s eggs. Go.” She drew the crab’s face on the sand with her toe, poking large eyes and a tiny mouth with pointed teeth. The sea washed this away, too.

Meen Muguran, carrying a basket of fish, prawns and turtles on his head, saw Leela at the beach. “Be careful with what you write on the sand, mol. If the Sea doesn’t like it, it will sweep you away to the other shore,” he said, sitting in front of their house. “Amma! Amma! Nice, cheap, fresh fish from Alambi’. Do you want?” he called out.

“Another day, chetta.” She replied. “Moloo’s father is still at the sea. We will buy once he comes back.”

“Great god! Chettan hasn’t come back? There was tsunami east of this coast, last week. Aren’t you worried?”

“Chettan promised he would return. I am sure he will return. Murugan, I have some chores to finish…”

“Murugan is leaving. I am only worried a bit. With the daughter growing up so fast, she needs a father.”

But her mother didn’t hear him. Or if she did, she didn’t respond. Averting her eyes, Leela passed the fishmonger in a leaping strut to her mother. His shadow still lurked at the entrance of their main room, and when she was about stamp it with her foot, it moved away springing and hopping on the walls of the house.

                                                            *

“Moloo wants aila mathi curry, Ammachi”

“Alright, mol. Amma will powder the rock salt, then grind red chilli to paste, then get coriander from Lalitha’s house and we will have a tasty, mouth-watering aila mathi curry.” She says, amused and smiling.

Leela went back to the front yard and sat on the granite bench with ammumma. Her hands darted to her grandmother’s face, feeling its contours in the air, then covered the moon and shut one of her eyes. There was the moon, there wasn’t the moon. She saw dark grey figures in the sea approaching the shore, or moving away from it. Her father wasn’t in one of them. His boat had lights: green and yellow on the sides. Then a thought whispered in her ears in the darkness: maybe, your father is not coming back, Moloo; maybe he will never come back. She shook her head vigorously at that voice, shaking it till it fell off on the ground and blew away in the wind to ammumma’s nose, which she disposed with a snotty, “Achoo!”

*

Her mother saved a bowl of fishbone for such occasions. She also caught sand crabs and hermit crabs from the beach early in morning for such occasions. She began grinding the crabs and the fishbone on the clean red-oxide floor with a stone. Leela loved the taste of the masala curry that she made, with or without the fish. The little girl doesn’t know she was eating crab meat with her rice; Leela never complained, good girl, she thought. Ammumma had fewer teeth than her fingers, she didn’t mind as long as she could swallow. What she cooked was tasty, savoury, sans the ghee and vegetables in Lalitha’s house.

*

“Tell Moloo a story, Ammumma!”

“What story does my betel nut wants to hear?”

“One about the serpent king in the ocean!”

“Aah, the serpent king story. Now listen carefully dear one. Ammumma will say it before she forgets she’s supposed to say it.” Said the grandmother, breaking a tobacco leaf in her palm.

“No wait, wait ammumma. See. Father’s boat. Amma! Father’s come. Come out. Come out amma!” yelled the girl, running into the house. Grandmother got up from her granite stone and walked inside, chewing her tobacco.

She came running out, swaddling her saree around her chest, Leela on her hips. The boat with yellow and green lights approached the shore with its motor shut off. A windless silence shattered to a million pieces when the dinghy finally came ashore, when Leela jumped down screaming, “Achan! Achan! Achan! We can eat real aila mathi curry now. Come. Where are you?”

Mother wiped her tears and her face with the cloth tucked in her saree. Moloo was growing up, fast, like Murugan said. She needed a father, one who won’t go rushing into the sea for food. She wanted a promise from him again. That he would take care of her and her daughter with a better job. She wanted him to sell the boat and learn tree-climbing. It was not a bad job. It was a meager one to a good harvest of fishes, which was once after Leela’s birth. Coconut-picking was a stable job: a safer alternative.

                                                            *

He was a tall, dark man from the sea. His face was not his face; he was shorter and thinner. She asked where he was, if he was going to return. The man shook his head. She fell, like a starving elephant finally tumbling to the ground in hunger. The girl watched her at a distance. She felt sorry about what she went shouting at the man earlier. Somewhere, over there in the depths of her heart, she knew the man wasn’t her father. She didn’t cry when her mother returned from the beach, nor did the mother.

*

Glossary

Some of the words are directly lifted off Malayalam. Here are their meanings.

  1. Mol – daughter.
  2. Amma/Ammachi – mother.
  3. Ammumma – grandmother.
  4. Chetta/chettan – elder brother.
  5. Moloo – pet name of Leelamma.
  6. Meen – fish.
  7. Achan – father.

Inspiration and afterthoughts: The story was inspired on promise. What’s a promise if we just break it at the first instance of challenge? When a brother ties a rakhi on his sister, it’s a promise of love and security that he would provide on the worst days of her life; when a man weds a woman, ties a string of gold or any thread around her neck, it’s a promise that he would never desert her on the caprices and humors of the world; when a girl promises her heart to a boy and gives him a mug on his birthday which says, To my better half, it’s a promise of never leaving him when he’s struggling and face the challenges holding his hands in hers in the long, meandering path of Life. But. What does the sister do when he gives up on family for his career? What does the wife do when he gave up on his son because he was black? What does the boy do when she gives up on him for the next guy with a big pocket? We eat aila mathi curry, hoping, waiting, for promise and truth to command over this impulsive, immoral, and selfish world.

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3 thoughts on “Why Aila Mathi Curry?

  1. Thanks Daksha. I am dying to get back to writing flash fiction and short stories after this stint in poetry 🙂

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