“Do you remember how you served salt for your parents’ wedding lunch?” Amma was looking at me and grinning
“Yeah, that was funny wasn’t it?” I replied
“You would show the wedding album to everyone and proudly tell that the girl in the photo serving the salt was you!”
“How come you never corrected me Amma? Why didn’t you tell me, I wasn’t even born when you got married?”
“It was funny Nina”
“yeah, funny..You enjoyed mocking me, that is why you didn’t tell me the truth”
“Of course not, I wasn’t mocking you, I think I didn’t correct you then because there was something about your innocence that I didn’t want to destroy”
“hmm” I mumbled
“Really Nina”
I didn’t believe Amma’s explanation. I wanted to change the subject
“Who was that girl anyway? She looked so much like me, don’t you think?”
“Don’t know Nina, may be she was your father’s daughter”
“No, don’t be silly Amma”
“Seriously Nina. I have often wondered how many children your father really have? You know, when any of the neighbourhood women become pregnant, manussyan thee thinnum!! ( I eat fire) for 9 months, half expecting someone to come and knock our door and tell me that the baby she is carrying is my husband’s. when the baby is born, the first thing I do is to look for your father’s features in the baby. Knowing your father, you can never be sure!”
po Amma, you are crazy”
“You can say anything you want Nina, but I know your father.”

So did I and I knew Amma wasn’t wrong in feeling that way.
“So how do I clean this cup” I took the silver cup in my hand and asked Amma, hoping to change the subject again.
“What is the point Nina, you clean it, it will shine for a few days, then it becomes black again!”
“Then we clean it again Amma”
I wasn’t going to give up.
Amma smiled.
“When I was little, it was my job to clean all the silverware at home. I had to use vilimbi puli and salt to clean! Do you know how long it takes to clean all the forks and spoons? When everyone was outside playing, I had to sit outside the kitchen and clean. That too using puli. Nice juicy puli that should be eaten. It tastes so good, when you mix it with salt and chilly powder!”
“You ate vilimbi puli!! You ate the puli! Did you not know that puli is not good for your health? Do you not remember how much you thrashed me for eating it. How could you do that to me Amma? ” I stared at Amma.
I was sure Amma remembered thrashing me when she caught me eating the puli. She had asked me to pick the puli, so she could make pickle and I tried to eat one, just to see how it tasted. It was too sour and I was standing there near the vilimbi puli tree, trying to figure out how anyone could eat it, when Amma came out of the kitchen and saw me with a half eaten puli in my hand.
puli is not good for your health Nina, I swear”
“Right, I am sure someone you knew lost a daughter after she ate the puli right Amma?”
It was Amma’s ploy to make us obey her commands by telling us terrifying details of how someone she knew who didn’t listen to his/her mother had suffered and died!
Amma looked at me and I stared at her. I had enough of her games.
Nina, your father left the four of you with me, if anything happened to any of you, do you think he would leave me alone? Besides who would take care of you, if you fall ill? I had to work!”
“But nothing happened to you when you ate the puli
“I know”
“You know? And even after knowing, you still hit me!”
“You won’t understand now Nina, One day, when you have your own children, you will understand”
There was nothing to understand. Amma simply enjoyed hitting her children. What other explanation was there?
“Yeah, I will be a better mother than you” I hissed
“You know, I said the same to my mother when I was growing up”
I was taken aback by her reply.
I thought of asking her, Did you? Did you try to be a better mother to your children than your own mother? Were you successful? I wanted to say, No Amma, you were the wost mother on planet earth. But somewhere deep in my head the sensible one whispered
‘What if she really tried to be better mother than her own mother? What if she was better than her own mother?’
I couldn’t accept that. I couldn’t accept that my mother had a worst mother than me. But it was not impossible, was it?
Each generation tried to be better than the one before, that is why we call it progressive generations. No?
Amma took my tiffin box from the cardboard box. Small, silver colour rectangle box with two metal clips with a black thingy in the center on either side.
Amma opened the clips on either side and lifted the lid. Inside there was a small container. She used to keep the rice in the main compartment, thoran on top of the rice and the curry in the small container.
“I am going to close the box, do you want to clean the silver cup, or shall I put it back”
“Here, put it back, what is the point of cleaning it, we aren’t going to use it anyway!”
I was expecting Amma to say something nasty like
‘loser, lazy bone, Did I not tell you there is no point in cleaning it? etc etc’
But she didn’t.
Can you help me to put the back? Amma asked
“Sure”
I held the box and lifted it up slowly and together we pushed the box back on top of the shelf.

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