Mother knows best

Mother knows best

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Fri 16 Aug 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 16 Aug 2019, 2:00 AM

For a brief-yet-prodigious moment, I wished I were the son of my wife. That women are more malleable than men is no secret, but their ability to metamorphose at the spur of the moment is inexplicable. I was dumbfounded by the reflex reaction wifey exhibited when I read out a message I'd received.
"I will have a two-day stopover in Dubai during my business journey." That was from our son who resides in Germany. Wifey sprang up from the couch as if she had been pricked by a needle. Her phone fell on the carpet; a multitude of shades washed over her face; a flicker of something shone in her eyes.
"Get ready. If the flight is late tonight as you said, there's no time to waste. We need to do grocery shopping," said wifey, who was sitting tight in the same seat five minutes ago, ignoring my repeated requests for a cup of tea on the pretext of reading. Like a magician producing a dove out of thin air, she flaunted in my face a winding shopping list of what our son once liked the most.
"Let's go." I followed her orders and pushed the trolley behind her like the guy with a fresh learner's licence, trying my hands at garage, parking and even the 'H' and '8' tracks.
"Stop," she said, turning sharply into the crowded seafood aisle. "Excuse me, two kilos of shrimp."
"Two kilos?" This is the same place where we sparred last week when I batted for some prawns, much smaller than these. "Prawns are too pricey." Her words still rang in my ears.
"Isn't two kilos way too much?" I aired my doubts, not knowing who's going to play the hero at the cash point.
"He loves fish, especially shrimp. I will make some curry and vada."
I nodded, like a student getting coached on the alphabets of parental love. The trolley got heavier and strenuous to push as we negotiated through the pre-Eid rush.
"We already have tissue paper at home," I sighed looking at a six-piece promo bundle that landed in the cart. "He is allergic to tissue dust. Let him use the best quality," she said, blunting my argument against the shopping excess.
"While we stood beside a rack bewildered by the smorgasbord of rasam powder packets on display, I thought back to years gone when my mum cooked all that I liked. Living on a beach, we never bought fish in those days. Fish was delivered free, sometimes twice a day, depending on surplus catch, by our kutti family. Kutti is a slang for a fisherman family, who stayed loyal and perennially indebted to a landlord who would, in turn, give them a portion of harvest like mango, coconut, rice, etc. It worked like a royal warrant of appointment.
"How many times have I told you my son doesn't like sardine? Bring king fish, prawns and natholi (anchovy)," my mum scolded them every day. Everything she cooked for me was marinated in love and tears.
In a joint family household with nine children, she would take pains to hoard my faves. She'd save a portion when chicken was cooked for guests. She'd hide an omelette in my lunchbox. She'd give me an extra nickel for local festivals.
"Pick any. He loves rasam," wifey woke me up with a nudge.
I wanted to say he wasn't starving in Germany. He has a wife who knows cooking. But I knew it wouldn't be politically correct. A mother is always a mother. Nothing can ever change this truth.
Before we headed for the airport, the smell of spices fried for rasam and shrimp masala wafted around in the summer-proofed apartment. He came not so hungry, as the airline had served dinner. Still, he tasted. He cringed as spices burned his palate.
"Amma, why do you use so much chilli?" he asked.
"Achcha, isn't it deep-fried? It's forbidden for you," he said, watching me gorge on a plate full of French fries.
Next morning, after wifey bought him a couple of shirts, he said he needed to look for an air fryer. We thought he was taking it home until he opened the box and started to teach his mother how to use the Italian product.
"Amma, your husband needs healthy food." He coached her on air-frying wedges without a drop of oil.
"Son, are you sure? How about an ounce of coconut oil for taste?"
He pulled his hair out and air-fried his mother with a long stare. He departed on the third day, leaving behind half of his old faves that wifey had bought to please him.
"He has changed," she sighed, looking at a few untouched packets of Lays Salt and Vinegar plus Coke.
"Yeah. Taste has - but not his love and care."

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