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Mudu.. missing..

3.45 p.m. Udaiyappan was riding the auto rickshaw at a frantic pace and we all squealed in joy. Madras was cooling down to a tolerable warm weather temperature and the salty breeze hit our nostrils and roughened up our hair even more. But we cared less!! Udaiyappan was breaking all records that day in getting us back to our house. In 10 minutes, he was in front of our house and Mudu and myself got down to be welcomed by a familiar, enticing, mouth watering smell of Onions and oil! Onion Pakoda!!

Pronounced as Ahnian Bakoda, this snack was an all time favorite for both of us. Big red onions were cut into thin long slices. The flour, besan was mixed with red chilli powder, asafoetida, ginger and curry leaves ( optional ) and slightly sprinkled with water. Onions were then added to the besan flour and ever so lightly coated! The flour should be like “thotum thodamal pattum padamal” type on the onions. This is then dropped into medium hot oil and fried till the crispy brown color starts showing. It is time to drain the oil and crispy onion pakodas were ready!

I probably ate a kilo of them, my hand and mouth coordination better than Sehwag’s hand-eye coordination in hitting the cricket ball. Finally, contended, I burped and closed my eyes to experience the taste once again when Paati called both of us and said,”Dress maathungo. Market poganum”

Both Mudu and myself got off the sofa in excitement! Market was always fun. So many things to do. So many things to learn from Paati! Paati was a dreaded haggler in the market place! She was known to terrorize the market place with her haggling skills. I have to give it to her! She is the best even now!!

The Eros market in Adayar was a small lane sandwiched between Joy Electricals and a hardware store. Paati would walk with Mudu and me flanking both sides. With her plastic koodai smartly dangling from her hands, she looked the perfect person for the outing.

We entered the market and we saw the whole range of vegetables being displayed by the vendors. It was breathtaking! To see all those vegetables, fresh and inviting was divine! My favorite, the Okra, was right in front. Young and fresh, it reminded me of the final product, Okra fried curry, a dry dish that was sauteed in oil and more than often also had tiny cubes of potatoes also as an accompaniment.

“1.50 final price. Mudiyuma mudiyaatha? “, Paati rested her case over the 1 kilo beans which was written as 2.50/kilo. Not seeing any reaction from the shop keeper, she started to walk away, when the shop keeper said,” Paatima, come. I am giving it to you for 1.50 only for this time, ok? Take it”.

I looked at Paati who had this nonchalant feeling of doing something which was routine and that astounded me! I never could think of bargaining and here was my Paati doing this as if she was born for this!

With lots of respect, I was staring at her, my mouth wide open, when she asked,” Enga da, Mudu?”

That question brought me back to reality! It was my duty to take care of Mudu and in the midst of staring at the Okra and the other vegetables, I forgot to keep an eye on Mudu. Mudu was nowhere to be seen. He was missing!

Panic! Sweat broke out of my skin accentuating the Madras weather. I looked around frantically to see Mudu nowhere. “Paati, Mudu kaanala.. Enga ponaanu theriyala”, I whispered hoarsely knowing i was going to get severely reprimanded.

Paati gave me a look that made me retreat into a corner. Her powerful eyes asked me a lot of questions but for which I had no answers to. I was genuinely scared and I didn’t know what to do…

“Oru chinna paiyan paarthelaa?”, Paati started asking everyone whom she met on that lane. No body had seen Mudu. This was getting serious!

All the shopkeepers came to our rescue. They started searching for a young child when suddenly a voice penetrated the evening.Is this your child?”

Paati and myself rushed out of the market place to see Mudu and what we saw can never be unseen.

Mudu was sitting in front of a poultry shop and staring at the chickens! He refused to come from there and it was an ordeal to get him out.

“Badawa come naughty, inga vaada”, shouted Paati and the whole market for a minute went on silent mode.

Mudu came sheepishly and Paati gave an earful to him. That was the last time he would come even close to Paati looking out for him. Mudu was never taken again to the market after that incident.

Ironically, Mudu, who was fascinated by the poultry shop is a total vegetarian!

I continued to enjoy those beautiful evenings and those haggles from Paati and learnt a lot from those days! And I never forgot to look after my younger brother, Mudu, care for him and still striving to be what my Paati was for me.

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