The house seemed to be awakening from its afternoon siesta as I pushed the wide and creaky maroon gate open. The brick path, tinged with grey, weeds and creepers woven all along with it, led me home.
The house scornfully faced away from the walkway, but within the walls, lively chatter was beginning to ensue, much like the sullen rumble of thunder preceding heavy summer showers. Voices permeated through the doors as I yanked them open, only to be greeted by my niece chasing her cousin down the stairs. Rage and determination was written all over her nine-year-old face; she sought revenge, to perhaps tug at his hair, for he had stolen what was rightfully hers – her orange ice lolly. He ran past, the remains of the crime all over his impish face and hands. His banshee-like scream heralded my entrance, “Shritha’s here!”.
Smiling, I made my way inside.
I was greeted by a flurry of hugs and jovial pats on the back. Sleepy questions about school and everyone at home evaded my ears, none of them letting me get a word in edgewise, apart from the occasional ‘yes’ and tired nod.
And then arrived my knight in shining armour, armed with a glass of cold water and prepared to rescue me from their barrage of questions. My grandmother – Paati.
Paati was a tiny woman. Draped in a traditional saree, a maroon pottu on her forehead, and large glistening jewellery on her nose and ears, the ‘tap-tap’ of her toe-rings beaconed her approach. She cleared the way and I finally sighted solace through the swarm of people – a spot by the kitchen floor.
I had just dropped my rucksack and seated myself when a phenomenon that sounded like vessels having a full-blown fete erupted in the kitchen. And then emerged a steady stream of tumblers of coffee. Ah, the filter coffee of home.
Madras’ filter coffee. A swirly, earthy brown concoction that, for reasons unbeknownst to my conscious mind, was evocative of beams of sunshine streaking across the house, evening rains on a winter’s day, and my grandfather’s timeless stories on history, mythology, and his childhood.
Filter coffee, however, is only the same in a steel tumbler, accompanied by its soulmate, the davara or the steel bowl.
I watched keenly as my cousin lifted the davara as high as he could and let the coffee come streaming down, the gurgling resembling that of a trickle of rainwater carving a path to join its brethren in the river. I sighed at the copious amounts of froth in his glass. Disappointed, I turned my gaze towards my aunt, observing her craft the perfect cup of coffee. The bitter syrup had been allowed to descend from the raised davara to the tumbler and was now at just the halfway mark, with a mere skim of froth. The coffee itself was the perfect shade of brown, a brown that would appease the gods. The steam rose from the recesses of the tumbler, like the dress of a flamenco dancer in the final laps of her magnificent incessant twirling. The smell was oh-so-glorious and enticing. All the right elements had come together to create an ergonomically perfect tumbler of Madras filter coffee.
I downed the last of mine, a warm and pleasant burning still tingling in my throat, and sighed. An entrenched calm was now mine, a calm that even cousins couldn’t capsize as they came hurtling toward me, tugging at my arms to join them at cricket. When played on the walkway, the sport was all but cricket.
My quest was to painstakingly fetch the ball from shrubs and under-growths and convince the old couple next door to please return it because, we have only one, uncle, please? I had long since resigned myself to this fate, but I wouldn’t settle without a bribe.
Soon, we were yelling and screaming as we egged each other to run faster and hit harder. The ball went spinning into a bush. I retrieved it and hastened back, grinning, the ball in one hand and an orange ice lolly in the other.
Shritha Sampath is a 3rd-year undergraduate student at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, pursuing a degree in economics.