Athazha pashnikaar undo (Is anyone hungry out there?) The matriarch’s voice rings out through the nippy thulavarsham air, trying to outdo the strong wind, bursts of thunder and lightning and the pouring rain. In the inner recesses of the huge house, Radha’s lilting Omana thinkal kidavo is putting little Radhika to sleep. Madhavan and Balan are enjoying their after-supper chewing routine – betel leaves from the backyard slashed with slaked lime with a dash of tobacco and arecanut. The older children are doing the last bit of their homework upstairs – Shyamala pulling Nandu’s ears as he makes yet another mistake.
Malathiamma can hear the wooden gate creaking open. There was someone hungry enough to brave the rain today, she thought to herself. There was kanji in the pot along with some chammanthi and payar thoran. She carried a lantern in one hand and the food (mixed in one pot) and stepped outside the verandah. She had to squint hard to see who it was. It was young boy… on the threshold of manhood. She held the lantern to his face… there was an outline of a small moustache…. He was thin to the point of being emancipated. He wore a white shirt that had seen better days and was now standing before her, soaked to the bone. Through his shirt, she was surprised to see the sacred thread. “A brahmin boy, a namboodirikutti,’ fallen on bad days? What a pity!” she thought to herself, moving forward to invite the boy to the verandah to have a meal there. Perhaps, she should add a pappadum or two? And some pickle?
(In Nair houses, I’ve heard of a tradition where the matriarch of the family calls out athazha pasnikaar undo… offering food to anyone who is hungry at night. It’s the remnants of supper.)