From Steel Tumblers to Vattu to Coconut oil: A summer in Kottayam

You can take Steel tumblers out of home but you cannot take home out of  Steel tumblers:

Summer is usually the time when guests barge into others’ houses for two reasons: either they have been missing their presence, or they have nothing better to do on a hot summer day. In Kottayam my family and other relatives are adamant on one thing: they will surely make it a point to ask their guests whether they prefer coffee or tea, with or without sugar as soon as guests arrive.

There is always a mad woman with her hair tied in a bun who will smile politely and say, “just a glass of cold water is enough. We have had a heavy lunch,” not paying any heed to her husband or kids who have already started glancing at each other by then to decide what they want. That’s how the tale of steel tumblers began. Was it only our home or everywhere else in that town? No matter what the original tradition was, those steel tumblers would be stacked neatly on top of each other in the kitchen.

Steel tumbler

The glass stand which Amma bought years ago, maybe when we had our first generation of cats still sits in our renovated kitchen. Old things definitely matter the most to these people, even though the spaces they occupy change over the years. There were specific features to those steel tumblers.

It was great fun filling those tumblers with water, because unlike the glasses you have in your houses today, you would never be able to see when it got filled without peeping into it. You got a chance to fool your parents if you were made to drink milk from those tumblers, because who could find out if you had had the entire thing or not? The droplets that would appear on the surface of the tumbler would keep you fresh, and during summer vacations back then, when the concept of air conditioning was too foreign for everyone in the town, kids would take those tumblers which had icy droplets on the surface and rub it against their sun- burnt skin.

These days, the guests still come and go, the questions related to coffee and tea are still asked, and water is still served. But, unfortunately, they no longer get water in steel tumblers. Quite fortunately, you would still find at least one steel tumbler in every house in a corner of the kitchen.

Vattu or marbles?

Even though summer was the time when people visited each other frequently, it was also the time to play with neighbors and get sweaty and tanned without having the concerns a teenager would have. Just look out of your hostels or homes today, you will not find kids outside, on the streets at least making an effort to play hide and seek. There used to be a time when kids had lesser homework, more holidays and no mobile phones. Exactly fourteen years ago, there arrived a glossy transparent object in the stationary shops in Kottayam. While other kids called it marble, my sister would call them vattu. But why? If you ask her the same question now, she would still say that they were round or vattam in shape.

Play time was a big deal back then, because kids from MG Road and KK Road would cycle all the way to a common spot with their rubber balls and magnets to play. She would pass the marble to others in the group, and when they got bored, she would play with them alone, and smile. If you go and ask for a vattu now, they would probably show you cricket balls, rubber balls or even badminton rackets, which would keep you occupied over summer. However, if you go to houses in Muttambalam, where adults of twenty to twenty five live, you would probably be able to get hold of at least one in a hidden box.

Spend ten paise and your summer is set

Summer time was also the time when kids would finally get some encouragement to do things they liked to do, outside school. While normal working days always began and ended the same way — from school to homework, vacation time was when we got to draw, make clay models, conduct cooking shows with leaves and mud, and write kutti poems. On birthdays, neighbours and relatives would gift us expensive things like pencils, painting kits and fancy pens which are no longer considered fancy.

Techno-tip was too fancy for a school kid twelve years ago. This was when markets in Kottayam started bringing out this thing. It came in different colours. There was pink in different shades, green, sky blue, and literally all colours, except black and white. The texture of those papers resembled that of an orange, which had fibers all over it. One scratch and you would shut your ears hard and cringe.

“Pink and blue,” chechi would tell appa before sending him off to buy the papers for her. Ten paise per piece! The papers cost ten paise, something kids of today probably wouldn’t get to see ever. Writing on those papers would give you joy, because the dark shade of it would contrast with your black pen ink. Writing and sketching were a major part of summer vacation. More remarkable than that were the fancy pens with thick nibs and those papers we used.

Summer without food?

Summer was not only the time to draw, write, play and sleep, but also the time for food. Who would eat banana fry these days during summers? These are the days of caramel custard, milk shakes, and anything cold. Mothers enter the kitchen soon after lunch and start baking. It is a way to remain hydrated. Years ago, there were no ovens back home. We all had one thing though- frying pans. Post lunch, Appa would drive to the nearby shop to get bananas. Making banana fry was a different thing, but the care required began from the time you entered a shop to get bananas. Too ripe? No. That’s a definite no. Then, how was it supposed to be? Only grownups know.

Banana fry: the staple summer snack
The staple summer snack

Once she cut the bananas into two equal long halves, the oil would be poured into the pan. The banana would then be fried in coconut oil. From the outside, you will get the impression that they are swimming in the coconut oil. However, that is how they ought to be made. Today kids are conscious of their bodies, but then we devoted our summers to eating. We never hesitated to eat oily banana fries and that too without using a tissue paper to squeeze out oil, because summer was the time to get fat and feel good about it. Summer was the time to eat crunchy vadas, potato bondas, and home- made jackfruit chips fried in coconut oil with so much care. Summer was also the time when you’d hope that you lose your banana fry fat by playing outdoors for hours, knowing that another plate sat inside the house, waiting to be eaten.

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Femitha Rachel

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