There was, on the opposite side of our street, a depression about four feet deep that ran parallel to the street. In this depression, were small individual cottages (I BHK, in modern terminology). Eight or nine of them, as I recall.
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These even had a kind of front veranda/porch kind of space. The cottages were, I recall being told as a kid, built to house refugees coming from the partition woes of 1947.
However, when we moved to the street in 1965, these buildings were police quarters – pronounced PO-līs kōtrassu. In the first of these lived M and fly. (What do you mean, “What means fly?” Have you never seen a proper wedding invitation?)
M was a PC (police kanishthabilley). However, he was physically not fit for active duty. Being very tall, thin, and gaunt, he was exempted from the normal police duties, but kept on the force as a sort of batman. He used to do various domestic chores for the head honcho. The only time we would see him in uniform was on payday when he would go to collect his salary.
His wife, S, was quite short. To help with the family income, she used to help the various families in the street with their kitchen work – cooking for small occasions, manually grinding the idli or dosay batter, and such.
Both husband and wife were very nice people, rather quiet, kept a low profile. They had several children none of whom, at the time, were of income-generating age. Therefore, money was tight for them. The whole family were good people.
Try as we might, amma could never pronounce M’s name correctly and ended up calling him Muniyekar. Whenever I tried correcting her, she just told me to get lost.
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The Two Tykes at home were about 5 years old. Cousins. And they needed a post-dinner, pre-bed-time story. Every night! And appa had to tell them those stories. He would sit on his bed on the floor and tell them the most outlandish stories from mythology. In Tamil. The stories were made up and developed ex tempore, though the characters were as in the original stories.
The Two Tykes would lie on their tummies in front of him and listen very intently, nodding vigorously very frequently to indicate that they were following the story. The rest of us would sit around and laugh at the stories. I, with my hair-trigger laugh reflex, was the worst of the lot, practically tearing up at these stories! The more we laughed, the more appa would get the giggling fits. So, he would close his eyes to avoid looking at us. But my tittering and guffawing would cause him breathing difficulties as he fought back his giggles.
The Two Tykes did not appreciate our laughing while the stories were being told. They took it all very seriously and would glare at us, especially at me, because we were impeding the progress of the story.
Some nights, somehow, appa would escape the story-telling sessions. The duty then fell on S2 (Sibling 2), the father of the younger of The Two Tykes.
He was even worse! He would sit them down on his bed and regale them with James Bond-like adventures of … wait for it … Muni! Short for Muniyekar, which was not at all his name, but which amma tenaciously clung to.
The stories were titled and S2 would tell them the title of that night’s story. All cooked up on the spot, of course. “Muni in Paris”, “Muni in Tokyo”, “Muni in London”, and so on. James Bond had nothing on Muni, Jackie Chan had nothing on Muni’s many stunts! And Ian Fleming had nothing on S2!!
Again, the rest of us would be guffawing away. The Two Tykes always felt irritated with our raucous laughter and let it be known that it was not appreciated.
If we had then what we have now … smart phones to video record the sessions, what fantastic watching they would make. But then, there would probably have been no storytelling sessions at all; The Two Tykes would probably have been watching that Chhota Bheem kind of rubbish.
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Every now and then, appa, especially in his post-retirement life, would get it into his head to make masalay dosay for evening tiffin. MD he called it. He would announce his decision and tell amma to make arrangements for the batter. Amma invariably groaned at the project because appa would use up an inordinate amount of the cooking oil and ghee – both expensive items in those days. But the rest of the fly would be all gung-ho and mob rule would prevail much against amma’s oil concerns. Appa made a mean MD!
It was all very elaborate … red chutney, green chutney, potato palya, the whole nine yards … like amma’s saris. He would have two stoves going simultaneously and hot , delicious dosays … made with ghee or oil according to the individual’s preference, would be provided fresh off the tava. Amma was not allowed to intervene in any way, including taking over the dosay-making for a while to relieve appa’s work. For hours, he would make these and we would all eat.
* * * * * * *
Amma pointed out to me this thing with The Two Tykes. One day, they were playing in the street, as was their wont. Tyke #1 comes tearing into the house, shouting that he wants to drink some water from the earthen pot.
Appa was to make dosay that evening.
As he went tearing by, amma told me, “Look at these little imps! Four-yard-long tongue … he is here to check out who’s making the dosay. He’ll eat it only if appa makes it. Just watch.” And so saying, she said in her sweetest cajoling voice, “Come, kanna, I’ll make dosay for you…” But Tyke #1, in one continuous motion had picked up a tumbler, got himself water from the pot, and quickly scanned the kitchen. No appa there making dosay. Meanwhile, amma’s dulcet offer.
“NoPāttIAmGoingOutToPlay!”, and off he tore, back to the street to join Tyke #2.
This was quite a running gag. Amma and I used to laugh uproariously each time.
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Family, I say! Never seen this on envelopes containing the invitation for wedding, upanayanam, grhapraveśam, and such? “Balachandran & fly”?