It was just another evening. Having finished my chores, I decided to walk to my parents' house a few streets away. After chatting with my mother for some time, I felt hungry. Walking to the kitchen, I reached out for a canister and without really looking, scooped out a fistful of the contents and tossed them into my mouth. It was the new savoury mixture, loaded with peanuts and curry leaves that my mother had recently purchased. I felt pure bliss wash over me as the spice and salt coated my lips and tongue. As I reached for a second helping, the thundering voice of my father reached my ears.
"Wait! That is meant for the elders! Now you have contaminated it! Made it all jhoota," he said sternly.
Surprised, I looked at my mother. When had my parents started referring to themselves as elders? They were in their 60s, but weren't they still in their prime? Like the teenager in my home, I shrugged and transferred a few spoonfuls into my plate, trying to look very nonchalant.
It was then that my mother told me about a ritual that my father had started a few days ago.
Every morning, along with his morning cup of coffee, my father goes to the balcony holding the container and waits for the elders.
The first elder arrives. Black feathered and regal with beady eyes, he looks straight into my father's eyes and hops forward. Hesitant at first and later gaining in confidence, he strides fearless and dignified.
"'Come Nannagaru... welcome... see I always keep the first share for you," says my father using the familiar term by which he always addresses his own father."
"Come Nannagaru... welcome.. .see I always keep the first share for you," says my father using the familiar term by which he always addresses his own father. Then he gently places a plateful of the mixture in the balcony
My mother watches fascinated, amused as Nannagaru steps forward in style, looks straight into my father's eyes and swooping a tiny bead of the mixture into his beak flies into the skies.
"Look V, how my Babulal Pande has remained unchanged over the years," he says to my mother. The first elder suddenly turns back and looks at my father pretending to have heard the nickname for the first time. My father looks sheepish at having been caught. But he still has his palm outstretched.
After the first elder, the second one makes her entry -- my father's mother. My father's sense of ease returns. With mother he can just be himself -- jocular and silly. "Amma, always following Nannagaru aren't you? Haven't these years taught you anything?"
Father's Amma stares uncomprehendingly. All these concepts of emancipation and liberation sound alien to her. She just wants to follow her husband into the skies. Gingerly taking a pearl of bundi into her beak, she too follows her spouse into the swirling blue skies, but not without turning to catch one last glimpse of her child.
After that the elders descend in large numbers -- my father's brothers and sisters, maternal grandfather and grandmother and friends -- as though they have come to attend a party. Cawing throatily they demand their rightful share and start making merry.
"Learn to use your head Sattu babu," my father scolds his youngest brother. The younger brother pretends to look scared. But he is not. He just loves being scolded by his elder brother.
"And every day if the party doesn't begin at six-thirty sharp, the elders get restless," my mother said.
"The next morning, I rush to the terrace with a jar of the mixture and wait for the elders to arrive --grandparents, uncles and aunts, some of whom I have never met."
The next morning, I rush to the terrace with a jar of the mixture and wait for the elders to arrive --grandparents, uncles and aunts, some of whom I have never met. From somewhere far beyond, the koel breaks into a hurried song. But the elders are yet to arrive. And then I catch a blur in the sky -- black, grey and fluttering. They see me.
'Kaw... Kaw!" I mimic, as I see them forming a circle above me. They start to descend. I have the snack in my palm now. My elders trust me. I inhale deeply and look up. At my sky. Their sky. Half an hour later, the party ends and the elders leave. I go down the stairs. Opening the jar, I reach inside. The light aroma of the fried curry leaves reaches my nostrils. I hurriedly toss the contents into my mouth and look upward -- an elder is still circling above me. I wait for the reprimands and sermons to come. But he is too busy in his flight to freedom. I heave a sigh of relief. I'd finally managed to dig into the mixture without getting caught!
This post first appeared on the author's personal blog, here.