My Patti (grandmother) was a phenomenal woman. It’s difficult to paint a picture of her with mere words. Her shiny ivory skin stretched over her chubby cheeks, complemented perfectly by a “vaira mookuthi” (diamond nose ring) on her pint sized nose and “vaira thodu” (diamond earrings) on her ears. She was round and incredibly cool about being round. Which is why I thought Gundu Patti would be a very appropriate name. And which is how I call her to this date. Overall she was this cute, hug-able, omnipresent granny who just waddled in and out of places.
She set very high standards in terms of quality of food – it had to be the correct consistency, the right colour, the perfect aroma. Her sweets and savouries were impeccable and had innumerable admirers. Anyone who’s tasted her ice cream cake will search a lifetime to replicate the taste but fail to do so. She put a miracle into everything she cooked. And all this aided by an impeccable sense of smell that told her when the sugar syrup was right and when the gravy was done. One couldn’t possibly miss the aroma in her cooking unless of course one din’t have a nose.
My Amma (mother) had to do quite a bit to become “as good as grandma”. I was so spoilt that as a toddler I routinely accused my Amma of ignoring me if she din’t keep a 10 different items on the table. That’s how much my Patti fed me; with cartloads of food and love.
As many “Maamis” of this world are, Patti was quite comical. Her most comical engagement was with cricket. I don’t know how she managed to get hooked on to the game and follow it. She couldn’t see what was happening on television for nuts, there was no way she could have followed the numbers on screen and she din’t know English to follow the commentary. And yet there were times when she knew what was happening to a detail that would make my jaw drop to the ground. But this isn’t the incredible or comical bit.
One of the last times that I saw her was in hospital, lying in a bed, shrunk to half her size, with injections being punched in every 30 minutes. Her Blood Pressure was at 240. I thought she was sleeping. And then I heard her ask, “Andha Australia adi adinu adikarane. Yethanavadu over?” (That Australia is hitting big time. Which over is it?). So that was how much she followed cricket.
The other comical thing about her was her handkerchief. Most of us are unlikely to remember our kerchief even in the most ordinary of circumstances but once Patti wanted to know where it was when her heart beat was giving an Olympian sprint a world record threat.
As a young child, I spent a lot of time listening to stories – real and fictional – that Patti told me. My best loved bed time story is the story of a 1008 Parrots repeated a million times over and over by my Patti till I went to sleep. She’d also tell me stories of her ups and downs, her happiest moments and her most difficult times. Of life and times in different places from Kokatta to Hyderabad. As a child I understood that living as a woman in her days and in her context wasn’t easy. She’d also fill me in with details of how she learnt to cook – starting from the backyard of her house as a child to experimenting recipes given to her by her father in law. One of those experiments when she was 16 and newly married, ended in a halwa that apparently stretched from the porch of the house to the backyard.
Over the past few years my conversations with Patti had greatly reduced to pleasantries and food related small talk – physically, mentally and emotionally, she had digressed greatly. Her last years were painful. It was difficult to see her struggle with her disability – her blindness that never seemed like a lack her entire life came to define her very existence in the last years of her life.
On the 10th of May 2008, Patti departed this world leaving behind a lifetime of good food, precious recipes and lots of love. All of our cooking and this blog is inspired by this great cook and exceptional woman – Vijayalakshmi Ranganathan. We pray for her best and know that she’s at peace.