There was no ‘magic’ in Penja’s bowl, nothing but her basic steamed rice in turmeric & garlic fried curries.
If we were fortunate we were treated to stir fried onion rings, tomato pickles and home made breads.
When Penja served you her glass of water it was in copper tumbler scoured clean with tamarind. She didnot own one store bought masala tin or even toothpaste. When you had her rice cooked in earthen ware, you smelt the rice field it had grown in; you were made to think of the farmer’s ride to the grain bazaars …of hands that bore that rice sack to the city all the way to Penjas store room next to her mango tree and coconut stack.
All this made you feel well. It cured Dantri’s asthma, and Shom’s colic. We didn’t talk of it but we knew. If anyone saw Penja whispering in her pot as she cooked, no one said anything about that. We just knew it worked.
She had no visible gods and goddesses in her rooms or in her compound where she lived alone with her mint garden and pomegranate. Oh she served pomegranate in juices, in salads, in curd, with dessert, or by itself. Oneday she told us how we had everything to live well, and how to thank God for the workers who brought them to us. It was confusing at that time. Like we were responsible for causing that much work to farmers. Or God. But Penja, our neighborhood friendly aunt lived grateful. So everything she touched spilled with that emotion. I’m thinking it’s a cure all by itself: gratitude to mankind, the planet and God for all favours received, and for necessary or unnecessary hardships. It all clung together somehow, all of us going round and round the sun in a merry go round of events that made sense or none, but it was like algebra. It worked itself out if you were patient and waited for itself to settle. Somethings didn’t settle fast. Like trigonometry for me, or tonsillitis. Not till after the surgery, and after my throat stopped feeling like a thousand cuts, after which there were food restrictions and no icecreams till later. Penja felt kind especially during those times. She made illness and pain feel important and celebrated. I got a eucalyptus throat wrap and inhaled sweet camphor under our guava tree, the one with tiny anthill and crumbly sand. It all was gold washed in sunset or early noon. You let the sun fall on you, it made you feel altogether and not odd. You picked that up from Penja if you lived nearby or stopped over on the way back from school.
Penja had a ritual of sitting a few moments every now and then to be still. We were too young to know the depth of that. But it felt good to watch when we could. It was like the sky and earth met up somewhere between her ears and gave her joy. This was more than Peace. She had been a young widow, now she was silver white like her cotton saris and ragged hymn book. Oh a golding white, like ripe corn in a setting sun….her hymn book, her prayer sheets and hands – as if they were rinsed in Light. That’s all I could think even back then. Even her low voice singing words hard to decipher, my guess is they each were thankyou words, she loved God like that. Like a personal Person. She was too much a home body to go out to a chapel but it was all in her heart someplace shining out her eyes.
She died recently and left me a legacy I’m trying to pursue in these days of Essential Existence ~ in the art of tomato chutney seasoned with curry leaf or roasted red chillie/ cumin seed. Yeah, all those chillie farms and onion braids in bazaars ripe with God’s own aromas of life.
Oh and her pomegranate juices, they made you think differently of ordinary events like after -school messy socks and trails of homework, ugh. Sigh yes! Like an Elixir.
Penja, wherever you are out there in His Courtyards, I love you for making me think of all that now.