‘There is an unwritten rule that lingers through the blood of every Andhrite. Or maybe, it would be inappropriate to call it a rule. I can rather call it an addiction. Addiction towards the heavenly sense of spice; the very taste that pushes my taste buds into pools of seduction. Yes, you got it right. I am talking about the innumerable bottles of mango pickles I had grown up with. Since childhood, they had been my best buddies, giving me company during my lonely times and elevating my mood whenever I used to get lost on the shores of monotony.’
‘Nalabhai rupaailu’ (forty rupees), said the auto driver. I was standing with my grandma on the side of a main road which was lined by a number of auto rickshaws; having a hard time holding a bag of around a dozen bottles of home made pickles, which were all set to travel to USA (My maternal uncle resided there). The summer heat beat on our faces, and grandma got into her usual battle of bargains with the autowala. ‘Paathika’ (twenty-five), she said, or rather, ordered. Grandma was a tough woman to fight, especially when it came to bargains. Fortunately for the auto guy, he had understood the genuineness of that fact and had left without another word. I managed to look into the sky once; the sun’s ire has been augmenting our impatience every passing moment. ‘Muppai’ (thirty), grandma shouted out to the auto guy and before he could respond we hurriedly got inside the three-wheeled motor vehicle. The autowala stared at her. I sympathized with his inability to argue with her any more.
‘Innispeta’ Granny said. The auto driver lugged the ignition rod and soon we were on the move. Innispeta is the place which every year saw the unplanned get-together of all the grandmas in the town who had their children settled abroad. There was an international courier service stationed in this area where every summer, mammoth amounts of home-made pickles found their way parcelled to every nook and corner of the globe.
After a fifteen-minute dry-weathered travel, we reached the courier agency. The shopkeeper welcomed us with overflowing chivalry as grandma had been his regular customer for years. We were ushered inside the shop and then into a smaller room, where we witnessed many other women unboxing their pickles into their respective packets. It would take eternity if we were to wait till all these ladies were done, I thought, and began to slip into the deep ditches of restlessness.
Just then, my seventy year old grannie came to my rescue. She used her septuagenarian experience to influence the agent, and he agreed, both hesitatingly and obligingly, to have our pickles packed instantly. He summoned a young man to have us escorted to a separate room. Grandma tilted the bottles upside down, one by one, letting the homogeneous mixture of pickle and oil slide down into the packets. Copious amounts of H2O evolved within my mouth with each such transfer; but I had to remind myself of the intensity of humiliation that would beset me if I did not control myself.
‘Naarth Karaleena’ Granny told the agent when asked about the address of my uncle. After a few seconds of profound thinking, I deciphered my granny’s Telugu accent by which I could understand that she had said ‘North Carolina’. I spoke my thoughts to the dumbfounded agent, and he, with a sigh of realization, filled his notepad and gave us the news that the packets would be delivered in four days.
By the time we returned home, it was late evening, and the power was gone. I helped paati ascend the stairs through the darkness and we reached our flat. I was hungry, and the pickle experience had lured me to a great extent. I saw amma preparing pickled rice and the smell of it along with heated ghee melted my taste-buds. No one would understand you better than your mother, I felt.
I sat in my chair with the pickled rice platter. While the rest of the apartment was moaning in boredom and darkness, here I was all set to relish the awesomeness of the all time great Andhra Oorga.
Yes, Andhra Oorga. Red, spicy and mouth-watering.