Rosalyn D'Mello: Savouring childhood memories

Memories are relished most when they creep up on you, whether it’s with the scent of a familiar flower or the taste of eggs the way mum made them

I am not a huge fan of algorithmically generated memories, the kind that pop up on one’s newsfeed daily, not so much to provoke a sense of nostalgia but to reiterate our unhealthy dependence on digital technologies. I believe a memory is best savoured when it creeps up on you through the act of remembering; like, for instance, when you walk through the heat of a Delhi summer and stumble upon the scent of honeysuckle and suddenly, as if out of nowhere, all the months of May of your childhood unravel in that single sniff; the daily rosaries when the statue of Our Lady was placed on a lowly stool in the compound just outside Uncle Benny’s balcony, and everyone would gather to pray, and after, partake of offerings of what we eventually came to call ‘Rosary Chana’ — impeccably boiled gram with a hint of chilli powder and thin waifs of coconut, along with trays of Vienna’s finest plum cake and crispy potato wafers. Then we played Housie. My girlfriends and I would go around the Garden Rose Colony compound collecting flowers to garland the figurine. Eventually, the community collected enough funds to build a small grotto, which still exists, and where the rosary is still recited, but not with as much fervor as when we were children. When we were growing up, the 8 pm call to prayer felt like an extension of playtime. We were allowed to hang out until at least 9.30 pm, and that went a long way in building a sense of community. Even now, when I walk up the stairs to my house on the first floor, I find myself unconsciously making the sign of the cross. It’s a gesture that reminds me of where I’m coming from, the formidable solidity of my childhood memories, and the strange emotional attachment I feel to my neighbourhood in Kurla, where I grew up and spent my formative years.

As I wolfed the eggs down (eat it hot, my mother used to say) — the yolks velvety, the whites as slim as the tender lining of a young coconut, the butter intervening with the bits of pepper and salt — I felt strangely good. Pic/Thinkstock
As I wolfed the eggs down (eat it hot, my mother used to say) — the yolks velvety, the whites as slim as the tender lining of a young coconut, the butter intervening with the bits of pepper and salt — I felt strangely good. Pic/Thinkstock

Today, I woke up with an itchy throat. I could feel the painful swell of the lymph node beneath my left ear, foretelling an incoming cold. I made myself a pot of coffee and a bowl of fruits with muesli and chia seeds. As I set off to work, I scrolled through my newsfeed and stumbled upon a ‘memory’ from two years ago. And only because I was amazed at the intensity of it, at how it still resonated despite the passage of time, I thought it might be fitting to share it with the world. Perhaps it might arouse a childhood memory of your own.

“This morning, as I leaned over the stove, delicately balancing the egg on the spoon, guiding its descent into the boiling water, then anxiously hovering around so as to ensure it reaches the consistency I desire, not full boiled but half, so that the yolk is still undone, and I could break each egg, scoop out the semi-liquid flesh into the buttered bowl, seasoning it with coarse pepper and eggs; I remembered a line from Ang Lee’s Eat. Drink. Man. Woman; when Chu Jia-Chien, the daughter of a masterful chef from whom she has inherited her penchant for cooking, goes to her lover’s house one evening to use his kitchen (her father had banished her from his, for fear that she may choose to follow his path), rustles up a feast, and when she bites into her food says something about how she doesn’t remember her childhood much except when she cooks; taste takes her back in time.

I had spent last night coughing through my sleep, so when I woke up I felt tired and sleepy and I longed for the time I was nine or ten or eleven or twelve; my mother would have woken me up to make me steam, or to press a cloth full of roasted ajwain over my congested chest. The half-boiled eggs, I knew, would do little to salve my sore throat. But as I wolfed it down (eat it hot, my mother used to say) — the yolks velvety, the whites as slim as the tender lining of a young coconut, the butter intervening with the bits of pepper and salt — I felt strangely good. For some women, motherhood is a calling, which doesn’t make them immune to imperfections. We are all imperfect mothers and imperfect daughters. But within our trajectory of being imperfect exist perfect moments such as this morning’s concoction. It didn’t give me pleasure, it certainly didn’t cure me. But across the distance between Goa (my mother is currently there on a visit) and Delhi, I felt the wealth and depth of her maternal love.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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