“I will do it myself!”
Laddu’s voice is strident, ringing across the dining table where the five of us are sitting. Steam escapes her plate where a serving of rice topped with ghee and kootu looks tantalizing. My offer to mix it results in her declaration.
On my left is Ammu staring at her plate, stabbing at the hot rice with her tiny spoon. Across from her is Pattu, content to let her Appa mix her food for her. She looks at Saathi who is intently blowing at the rice to cool it down. There is a mix of adoration and love in her face that begs me to capture it on camera. I let the moment slide hoping it will sear itself in my brain.
The evening is young, the fading light of dusk filters in through the semi open windows. The roads are empty. Not even a car passes while we eat.
“Who had a good day today?” I ask to get the conversation going. As if on cue, Pattu raises her hand. “I did!” she says and explains all the different stations at gym class at school. She pauses to eat and I nudge Ammu asking her how her day was. She starts with all the kids in her group and Pattu interrupts her.
The voices rise up and down, modulating according to the energy of the person speaking. Laddu is intent about getting the food in her mouth using her hands. She rejects the spoon I tender. Her whole body is so attuned to the one objective and it is a treat to watch her.
It occurs to me that momentous changes hardly happen with blaring announcements. They happen like this on ordinary days, under the guise of normalcy. They happen in the form of dinner time conversations as a family.
A few months ago, the kids still ate before we did. I would feed Laddu while Saathi would stand by the island urging Ammu and Pattu to take big girl spoons. “Chew,” he would encourage, part of his attention on his phone. My iPhone would be propped against the edge of the high chair while Laddu would open her mouth without even noticing what she ate.
“Thayir” Pattu demands. “Getti ya” she instructs her dad who is scooping up the watery portion of the home made whole milk yogurt. He drops what he has in the ladle and scoops up a thick portion that reminds me of icecream. “One more karandi” she instructs and he complies. Ammu follows suit. I clear the table as I watch them eat the creamy yogurt off their plates, their fingers white and smears over their chin. The conversation of the hour before has given way to silence.
I rinse the plates as each child drops her plate off and runs to the powder room. Laddu is helping her dad clean the table. He sprinkles water and she wipes on side of the table while Ammu is hard at work on the other side. The kids troop upstairs and Saathi lingers at the foot of the stairs watching them walk upstairs.
“Our kutties have grown.”
It is a statement rather than an observation. His voice is tinged with pride and something that feels like nostalgia. I am tempted to leave my station at the sink and lean on him, to feel his arms around me as we watch our children grow one dinner at a time.
kootu – vegetable stew garnished with ground coconut and red chillies
thayir – the Tamil word for yogurt
getti ya – Tamil for solid
karandi – Tamil for ladle
kutties – Tamil for small kids