Dessert (Payasam)

By: Pavle Radonic


Would be interesting to verify with B/P, but certainly this place produces calm, ease and releases some strong endorphins. The music needs to filter out from the kitchen unobtrusively like this, almost beneath consciousness. One little precociously rattling child fails to counteract the smoothness. Possibly the colour and patterns of the saris add to the effect, even on old and portly frames revealing rolls of fat. Not a single pretty girl more often than not; one perhaps today, wearing too much make-up. How these others would have copped it at the schools fifty years ago in Australia—poor Lorraine McLaughlin and the Mead girl straight from the dairy farm up country.

Auntie was pressing a taste of the payasam, her dessert (not the assam that was “sour” in Malay); a warm yellow liquid with some kind of nuts. When the pongal arrived in fact Shanmugam had added a full container on the platter. (Jaggery, green dahl, 2 cardamom & cashews fried with ghee, Auntie later informed at the register.) We agreed Mug had lost at least 5kgs. in the month since his father’s death, the shock especially received by telephone at such a distance.

There had been sun outdoors too back in Tamil Nadu, a definite darkening of skin tone in Mug when he returned. It had been a surprise on top of his colour. Work to do; grief could not stop all the chores in a busy household. The pint-sized Sri Lankan champ who had recently won the Test for his country against the Australians in Kandy was indeed a Tamil, Mug knew. There was not much the lad did not know about cricket and Tamil cricket in particular. Steady, settled and even spirits in men and women alike, both older and younger. Almost not a single phone in evidence; even the occasional Chinese here keep it in the holster.

Could finger-eating be a factor? A ballast delivered by the elders somehow, a certain something in their example reigning subtly over all. Even the Tamils themselves would be stretched attempting to identify the tunes of the old songs peering from behind the curtain as it were. Temple-goers most of the clientele and confirmed vegetarians, non-drinkers and smokers. (Over-eating was their problem, the high sugar content at the sweets counter added.) The blue cloth cap gifted by Altaf, brought up from St. Kilda in fact, must be presented to Shanmug, it has been decided. Almost three years of sweets if nothing else make it well-deserved.

Komala Vilas, Singapore

Categories: Non-Fiction, Travel

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