Aam ka achar

Before the egg, before the hen, and long before the sun, what was there?

A grandmother’s hand and chopped mangoes in a jar. 

Then they’re sautéed in oil and spices until the aroma fills the whole neighborhood. This is the story of how aam ka achaar came to be and then, not.

The way the moon seems to always have a rabbit living up there, it has been said that the sun always has a mango. Oh, to have mangoes shed light upon you is the glory of summer.

Within a barely hidden section of your childhood encasing home, it still smells like cold Nycil powder falling down your clothes and eternal scorching heat. The last day of school has taken effect long before your bag has hit the ground. The atmosphere smells like a mixture of sweat, anticipation and Amma’s desperation to get you to stop pestering her. 

The old paint and polish covered doors of that house you still can’t forget as an adult get rapped on (twice) softly. Two unintentionally mellow blows brought forth by knuckles made of growing bones and soft skin are all it takes to open up two months of deluded, ignorant happiness. The start of summer is a warm hug with your nose pressed to the pleats of a soft, old cotton saree that smells like spices. 

What is the logic behind summer, you ask? A hand softened by time and use goes hand in hand with a hand still soft from disuse. This is the first and foremost. 

Metropolitan cities can’t separate cousins. That comes second. 

Parents don’t exist in the world of summer. (There is something so binding about parental support that you won’t accept amma’s help with anything.) 

Someone forgot to tell your amma that calling you an attention seeker doesn’t really help you grow up. To feel like a fool in the lack of love…..it’s hot, it’s searing. It’s fine. It’s summer. It’s the time for angst, attachment issues, rants and your grandmother’s aam ka achaar. 

So you go, far, far away to your grandmother’s world. 

You’re back to sketch pen scribbled walls and fridges covered with cartoon stickers. This is proof enough that several life-sized gremlins were here, even if only for a couple of months. It’s your grandmother’s house, and she’s your grandmother. The pen in your hand, the glow in your heart and the tattoos on your skin all start here. 

Tales of your parents’ long lost soul and childhood taint the air a deadly red. You don’t see it because the happiness, covering the “invisible to grandchildren” nostalgia, wrapping its delicate arms around your shoulder is all you feel. 

Summer fairs are to never be missed. It’s just not an option. It’s too much music and cheer to be removed from life. Bed sheets are spread on the grass with sweet, sweet lemonade and pink swirly straws for everyone. The chaos of summer is everybody’s favorite song. You still call it home, those memories of sugary, sticky fingers and grass.

Beliefs show up on their own. Follow your grandmother to a deity, and God exists in that moment. Several summers later, god doesn’t exist even in your spilt blood. You read phrases like “Salvation in a world of Secularism”, only to question god and existence more.

They say,

God is everywhere. Just not there for you

God is everything. Except you

God loves you. But not enough to save you

Is God the thorn in your shoe as well? Is God also Baby Kochamma in “The God of Small Things”? Is God the goosebumps you get when someone you aren’t allowed to like brushes past you, but how can you not like them when they fill up the summer shaped hole in your heart (when they bring back glimpses of long lost summers and the will to live along with that)?

Or is God just this tingly sensation in your forearms when you look at a knife?

“Hear ye, hear ye, watch as one of my creations tries to sabotage my plans for them”, He says to whomever he’s trying to impress by testing you in life. So easy to consider a male rude and unbelievable, thus came forth the idea that God is a woman. For the sake of belief systems and sanity. 

In the end, maybe god is just a picture on the wall. It all made sense before because of that extra spice in your grandmother’s aam ka achaar. 

Day one was never a start; it was a godforsaken ultimatum. You have to leave, always had to. So you do, with your tiny hands gripping that heavy glass bottle of aam ka achaar. Tears, saltier than the achaar, cover your soon-to-change face. This time, there is no nice, spice-smelling cotton saree to wipe them away. One day, you buried your face in that cotton saree for the last time in your life, and you didn’t know. 

Zindagi ka achaar began at that moment.

Your brain hasn’t been quiet since then. Nothing stops anymore. Nothing stops and no one waits. You’re the only one and you feel so, so alone. The house that used to wait for you on the edge of childhood fell off a cliff.

Amma started taking your silences as a “no” to everything. It did not end well. Silence is all you know though. Life is so beautiful and it has been wasted on you. You know it and Amma agreed on that one with you. Sordid situations are where you have been finding yourself now. 

People ask you what your favorite season is. You tell them it’s definitely not summer, again and again and again. The summers you love are long lost in waves of global warming, inflation, homophobic delinquents, adulting and population growth. 

Summers have been freezing cold for a long while. You are in love with familiarity and the familiarity of falling in love with familiarity. You remake aam ka achaar, again and again. But it’s not summer yet. You still hate summers. You never follow routines, but this will be an exception. You can’t ever let go when something’s broken. Now there’s no one left to leave, and no one left to love.

One fine day, you tell your friend all about aam ka achaar, under the sun, on grass, on the edge of the top of a ten-story building and how you make milkshakes out of them. Because it’s summer, it’s fine. It’s alright. 

You’re way too into your head.

You’re way too into your head.

Because if you walk into a room and notice what is missing from it,

It’s still there, isn’t it?

—Caitlyn Siehl, What We Buried; from “A Letter To Love”

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