It had vanished!
I am talking about a vessel that I had left on the stove. I had gone to the backyard – garden – to pluck fresh coriander leaves. As I walked back into the kitchen after washing my feet, I was shocked as that divine flavour of the rasam was missing. I remembered the rasam boiling in the vessel and filling the whole kitchen and beyond with that special aroma.
Strangely, the vessel on the stove also had gone missing.
Only a little while ago, the maid who was mopping the dining room which was near the kitchen had remarked,
“Amma…the rasam is packed with fragrance. I have worked in so many houses but nobody cooks like you do.”
I had smiled at her. Deep inside I was very happy that even the maid should praise my cooking. Or, may be that the accolades were coming so that her food situation remained secure. I was giving her coffee, breakfast and lunch.
The Mani-in-my-name would be coming home for lunch and I had decided to make rasam and yam fry.
I remembered keeping the vessel on the stove and the rasam was boiling when I went to the backyard.
We had just arrived at this little town of Lalgudi from Madras and gas connection was still a distant dream (This happened fifty two years ago). One had to make a trip to Trichi to get a gas cylinder. I was using a kerosene stove, another charcoal based stove called Kummutti and a firewood oven. The firewood oven with its huge gaping mouth spewed fire and my vessel would have sunk inside that volcano. And so, I had placed the vessel on the kerosene stove.
For a minute, a chill ran up my spine.
Our maid’s aged mother had visited me last morning after making sure that I was alone in the house, so that she could talk aloud and gossip. Her voice ran into high decibels. My hubby had left for office, which was at walking distance from the house.
To quote her
“You are very brave to take up this house. This bungalow was kept locked for three years as nobody wanted to move in. You know, a mason died in that corner room when the roof caved in. It was widely presumed that his ghost haunts this house. Of course, I don’t believe in all this humbug.”
I laughed and told her
“I too don’t believe in this. For that matter, show me one home where nobody has ever died?”
I gave her a cup of tea and she had left after chatting for a while.
The Mani-in-my-name had told me about this and we had not spared any thought on this. Well, no one is immortal and everybody has to die some day. In any case, it was not a case of suicide. We were just married, I was young and very skeptical about many things.
But why did this thought haunt me now? I was getting a bit jittery.
Perhaps the mason’s ghost had taken away the vessel?
I quickly managed to drive away these macabre thoughts and went behind near the well, where the maid was washing the vessels.
“Kamakshi, have I given you that rasam vessel for washing ?”
She looked at me with confusion clouding her face.
“I remember commenting on your Rasam while mopping Amma. It was on the stove.”
“Well. It is not there now. I am making fresh sambar for Ayya´. ( my hubby whom she referred to as “ayya’ which translated as “sir.”) I came to see if the vessel was here because it is not anywhere there in the kitchen.”
“No Amma. I distinctly remember it too, being seated on that stove. May be…” she looked at me a little hesitantly. Yes, whether to continue or not.
Her predicament seemed worse than that of Hamlet’s!
To say or not to say…
Then she shrugged her shoulders and said,
“Why don’t we go and take a look in that room?”
She was referring to that small room where the mason had died and where “his spirit was said to be roaming in the night .”
“It is near my bathroom and opens from this side too. “
There was a small bathroom with toilet built for the workmen at the rear of the house.
Now, I was a bit scared.
Though I did not believe in any hocus pocus and the rumour that the house was haunted, I was a wee bit worried. We had been here for almost a month and had not experienced anything unusual and were pretty used to al the neighbourly gossip about the small room. The bungalow was beautiful with a flower garden in front and a vegetable garden behind. There were plenty of banana trees. The maid told me that the water in the well rose so much during the rainy season that we could just lower a small bucket and take the water out.
We loved the house.
We had a nice pooja room where all the Gods smiled at us either from the walls as pictures and as small metal statues from the nice shelf. I had been wanting to have a separate pooja room,like the one I had been used to in my parents’ and grandparents’ homes. My wish was fulfilled here. And though I believed in spirits, I did not believe in the house being haunted.
“Fiddlesticks!! “ I had laughed.
This “vanishing vessel” put some unknown fear into me.
But then ghosts float around only after midnight .
Both of us gingerly opened the door of this small room. It had been cleaned and light was streaming into it through a small skylight on the tiled roof. The rear part of the house including the kitchen were tiled. And before the office took up this house for rent, it had been whitewashed and new tiles had replaced the old ones.
There was no “vessel” here, I was stepping into the room for the first time and it looked quite cosy and warm.
We went back.
The Mystery of the Missing Vessel remained unsolved.
I completed the cooking and cleaned the kitchen platform and took up a magazine to browse through.
I could not concentrate.
It was Kamakshi.
“You wanted the stove to be cleaned, the wicks pulled up and kerosene refilled. I have finished all the other work. If you give me the stove, I shall do it.”
I went to the kitchen and brought the stove out and by now she had settled in the veranda with some torn cloth and the kerosene tin, funnel and pump.
I sat there a few feet away, watching her, thankful that I did not have to clean the stove and get soot and kerosene on my hands.
Before she started she looked at me with hope.
“Amma, I know a Saayabu ( a venerated Muslim ) who is a retired cleric. He is very old and has helped many in retrieving their lost objects. In fact, he got our cow back too, from the next village, where our relative had hidden it in his shed. All he does is to coat a fresh betel leaf with soot paste( Kan Mai or Kaajal ) and he chants a few mantras. In a while the leaf shows you the exact location of the lost article .We can seek his assistance and get your vessel.”
I looked at her and burst out laughing.
“Kamakshi, the front door is shut and you were there in the backyard washing vessels! Nobody could have come here to steal the vessel.”
“What if that spirit…the mason’s , lifted the vessel? “It” might have buried it in the garden.” Now she seemed to believe in the mason’s ghost.
She tried her best and convinced me to go over that afternoon and meet this old man. I reluctantly agreed.
She took the top part of the stove exposing the wick. Her eyes got fixed on something and …
she burst into peals of laughter.
I stared at her.
There, in her hand was my “Rasam Vessel” in the form of a gleaming ball.
I remembered my mother warning me “Don’t keep this lead vessel on the stove and wander away, If water evaporates, it will melt.”
She had warned me before we left for this quaint little town .It was soon after our marriage. Till then we had been making rasam in a bronze vessel in my in-law’s home and I had never used this “leaden vessel” (affectionately referred to in our Palghat lingo as the “eeya chombu” ).
My mother never used to allow me to cook. Of course, I made dosas and chapathis.
I had completely forgotten her warning. The little vessel had melted and fallen as a ball of lead right into the depths of the stove.
“Well Kamakshi”, I told her. “ One thing has been proved- the mason’s ghost does not exist ! That spirit has attained salvation.”
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