Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The ever returning charm of those fragrant flowers, juicy fruits and aromatic spices

Once again I was intrigued by the lush green paddy fields planted in June flourishing and beckoning me back to my childhood. The fresh smell of the forest flowers lurked in all the corners. It held us in its wild grip mercilessly.The scene I was watching was through the train window of the August monsoon special train moving towards the land of Spices - Malabar.

The rains were losing their grip on the hilly Western ghats.The Pala flowers were once again spreading their captivating essence that created thoughts of kingdoms bygone and wars lost.The coconut trees swayed in the refreshing evening breeze and something was churning in my mind. I realized I was already asleep as though in a spell from the past. The photographs in my family album were floating suddenly in my post monsoon evening dream.

I slept enraptured by those colorful and perfumed visions running back and forth in my mind. How wonderful everything was? Now, I was no longer in that train - I was drifting like a leaf floating over a silver stream of various fragrances.

My aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, brother and I visited our family home in Cannanore, Kerala every year. It was indeed  the land of tales and pineapples, jack fruits, mangoes, home made jams, jackfruit paysams or desserts and the sweetest jaggery flavored fried appams. It was a riot of color, meeting loving relatives, hide and seek games and re-enacting of 'Famous Five mystery events. And of course the fabulous scents were driving us crazy that forced us to run into a chain of un-controlled eating and dreaming.

I was in the morning - a wide 70 mm 'Kannur' veranda scene. The mild streaks of cloudy comforting light escaping the window curtains had nudged us away from our slumber. It invited us into the soft scents from the wild yellow flowers of the weeds from the family lands wooden walls made of cashew nut trees.The red cashew nut fruits looked like small glowing torches of friendly gnomes that walked back to their tree homes.

Even the most neglected plant bloomed and spread joy. Bees buzzed busily trying to visit every roses they could find. One baby bee was so overwhelmed by the intoxicating rose that it slept cozily within its stamens. The mornings were double special because the coconut trees were being harvested for their coconuts. At the end of the picking all the family members including the tree harvesting helpers sat down within the gardens enclosure. We were now busy drinking tender coconut water or 'illaneer.' Soon the golden dawn grew into a warmer red afternoon.

The pet dog Bulfy was running all round the spice trees of cinnamon and cloves. The drumstick flowers lending their afternoon 'Sambar' aromas. The fresh scent of the lemon leaves in the buttermilk.The milangi or henna leaves planted all around the garden created a dark green living wall, perhaps protecting our precious fairy tales.The pepper vines out grew their host trees and were trying to hug the skies with all their wild green love. Everything was now here - the old humble home of love and unconditional nurturing.

Evenings were always a grand love affair. The Paarijaath flowers with white petals and orange stalks covered the entire ground with a lace from heaven. 'Paradise on earth' was what we called the family homes' garden.The roses never failed to entice each person passing by the flower garden. Colorful petunias and fiery Thunder lilies bloomed even in the rains.The guavas hung for easy picking and the rose apples or jaambakkas as we called them looked like floating red chandeliers in the bright blue sky.

The rich scent of the Jasmines and Edwards Roses from it's branches grew wild in a garden made of dreams and pixies. My grandmother worked hard on the garden of my childhood, back in the bright and merry eighties. All my cousins and I were busy playing 'cludo' when suddenly a lemony fresh scent mesmerized us from our favorite lemon butter cake which was also being baked in the cooker. With the lemon zest and lemon leaves painting a myriad dream into the soft spongy cake. It was a complete surprise but we all helped ourselves with absolutely no guilt to our hearts limits.

Night was near and so was dinner. 'One bay leaf my child,' my grandmother smiled to me. I was more than happy to help and so ran back to the garden to pick the best bay leaves from the spice pots filled with bay leaves, curry leaves, cilantro plants and dark mints. Whenever I saw the spice pots I felt the strong love my grandmother had for cooking. We turned our heads for a deep breadth from the air surrounding us. The cardamom pods and cinnamon bark in our family home kitchen lent all its flavors to the Malabar 'biriyani' which was being cooked on low flame. We did not have the power to wait long for anyone to join us for dinner.

 The day was closing finally when we kids sneaked into the store room and dipped large spoons into the warm bottles of freshly made jackfruit jam called 'Chakka Varatti' which was taken as a dessert. After all the filling and tasting soon all were fast asleep in warm beds, dreaming heavily about all the enticing fragrances that promptly brought us back to this aromatic heaven every year.

'Pazham Pori' the white turbaned man walking next to the train window cried out waking me up from my childhood. Happily I offered him money and bit easily into the soft fried bananas and melted sugar flavor. The natural vanila in it made me look up to the skies. It was always the same - a jolly good ride back to the cradle of spices, the sweet smelling fruits and the most adorably scented flowers.'Oh! I love this fragrance,' was all I could say.