‘Aiyyo Kadavule, Aiyyo Kadavule!’
I was taking a bath when I heard a collective wail from our living room. I jumped out and dried myself, wondering: Oh my God! Did Paatti die?
For the past few years, my 89-year-old grandmother had been telling us that she would die any minute. She could crack a tough areca nut with her bare teeth, yell at her daughters-in-law, climb two sets of stairs to the terrace with two full buckets of water yet no one, including my father and his seven elder brothers, dared tell her that she was as fit as a fiddle.
In the living room on the grand Mahogany sofa sat Paatti, motionless, her eyes fixed on the photo of her late husband. In her maroon madisar, the nine-yard saree, and her chignon dotted with tiny jasmine flowers, she looked as elegant as always. But her face had the greyness of the dead.
‘I will take her peacock Kanjeevaram saree.’
‘No, I need the peacock Kanjeevaram.’
Meena-Veena, my twin cousins, were huddled in a corner, debating who would inherit Paatti’s wardrobe.
My uncles were stranded in the living room, waiting for instructions from their respective wives. The ladies brought in trays of tea and fried gram flour snacks. Be it a funeral or wedding, our family can’t do without tea and snacks.
I glanced at Paatti again and she gave me a small wink! I felt dizzy.
‘Amma, Paatti isn’t dead,’ I told my mother, fearing that my father and his brothers would cremate Paatti alive.
‘Idiot! Who said Paatti is dead?’
‘Then what’s the fuss about?’
‘She ate a sandwich – a chicken sandwich.’ Amma’s face twisted with disgust.
Everyone in the living room, including the motionless but alive Paatti, gasped. In our devoutly Brahmin household, even talking about non-vegetarian food was a sin. A shiver ran down my spine. This was a situation I had not anticipated when I sneaked a chicken sandwich into the house.
‘Who told you she ate a chicken sandwich?’ I whispered to my Amma.
‘Go see for yourself,’ Amma said.
There it lay on our huge dining table, my 120 rupees chicken sandwich from Subway, deconstructed and its components segregated into pieces of cucumber, tomato and lettuce. And then the culprit, a lumpy mess of mayonnaise dotted with chicken pieces.
‘From where did you get it?’ My uncle shook Paatti.
My heart beat like a drum. I waited for my extended family, all twenty of them, to pounce upon me and eat me alive. Although they probably wouldn’t eat me, since they are strictly vegetarian.
‘It was exotic! I have never tasted anything better in my life!’ Paatti announced.
Then, while everyone stood in stunned silence, she walked away, just like the rebel she had ever been.
Nowadays, I need to smuggle in two chicken sandwiches – one for me and one for my Paatti.
Salini Vineeth is a Bengaluru-based fiction writer. She worked for ten years as an engineer before turning to full-time writing. She has self-published four books. Her stories have appeared in Café Dissensus, Kitaab International, The Bombay Review, and eShe Magazine. Author website: https://