It was one of those lazy hazy summer days travelling to Kerala on the Kanyakumari Express. The second class compartments were full of strangers, eyeing one another and not talking. Another fun vacation with my cousins, and I was looking forward to every bit of it. Amma had stuffed us with an early dinner of chapattis and curries, and I lay on the second tier berth feeling nauseous and sleepy. I was nervous to sleep as I wanted to make sure I got a glimpse of every one in my compartment and the next, so that I could figure out who was a lecher and who would not bother me as I slept. You see I had paranoia about strangers and especially those who sat at very close proximity to me on a long train ride. All I could think of is even though I had travelled every summer on a train to Thrissur, Kerala, I would never get used to sleeping without a care under the gaze of strangers. Only when the light was off and I was enclosed in darkness would I breathe a sigh of relief and drift off to sleep.
The train rumbled, and shook and snarled over the tracks all night, and toward the early morning dawn, I heard it pull to a relieved sigh to a station. Early morning vendors hopped on and gently prodding sleepy travelers with a soft “chaaya, chaaya, caffe, cafeeee” which grew to a loud shrill over the course of the morning. I could smell the hot milk that had just been boiled to make the steaming pots of tea and coffee, and I turned my head and burrowed deeper into the berth with the makeshift sheet that Amma had provided to cover. Only when I heard the window shutters of the train being opened to let the sharp light in, did I stir. I knew the pazhampori vendors will be walking by soon! Scrambling to brush my teeth in a moving train, wash my face with fresh cold water, and combing my dishelved hair, I sat near the window of the train in anticipation. I asked Appa which station we were at, as I knew that there were certain stations that sold the best pazhampori and vada and we all waited for that. I remember the one trip where we missed the station as we had overslept, what a disappointment that was and after that we vowed to wake up early and make sure we buy pazhampori and vada even if we lose some sleep over it.
“pazhampori, pazhampori, oru rupa, pazhampori, pazhampori, oru rupa, enda veno?” followed by “vada, vada, uzhunnu vada, Chaya , Chaya, Chaya, onnara rupa, change ondo??” Ah my mouth was watering now, and my stomach was growling with the sensations travelling from my nose to my tongue and to my stomach. Appa motioned to the vendor, and he stopped at our berth, with great gusto placed his basket on the floor, squatting as he handed out the newspaper wrapped pazhampori to us. I could see the oily, tempura covered deep fried plantain, and couldn’t wait to bit a big chunk of it and swallow with gusto. Ah the sweet over ripe plantain, and the crispy covering was the best. The whole plantain was so big, that I was always underestimating the chances of finishing it by myself. My rumbling stomach and greed, made me convinced that I would eat the whole thing and when Amma asked to share, I would look up incredulously and say, no no I am so hungry I can finish this pazhampori by myself. I loved saying the name of the snack every time I hear it, as at home Amma would make it as thinly sliced plantain pieces, dipped in batter, so that all of the family can take a small piece at a time. It was the first time I remember seeing an entire plantain being fried and that was what made me want it more and more. Like a whole ice-cream on a stick, all for me. No sharing, no splitting into half or bite size pieces.
And the name was enticing enough, we called what we prepared at home ethaka appam, but here on the railway platform the vendors called it pazhampori, pazham – plantain, and pori- at first sounded more like poori, another favorite Indian delicacy, and actually meant flash fried. And the oily crispy covering over the pazham just made it all the more mouthwatering. So my childhood days always was spent in anticipation of eating fried foods such as these, along with idli and vada with spicy green chilli chutney, all washed down with a hot cup of strong coffee. Ah those where the lazy hazy days of summer, cousins, low tiered roofs, long days of badminton and monopoly with delicious food! Beef fry, parotta, white halwa, churuttu, kotthu rotti, vada, pazhampori, and did I say cakes? Yes my aunty owned a small snack place and they served cakes, cutlets and puffs, and we children would be the first ones to have samplers when they were prepared at her house every weekend.
All this dejavu, will be what you feel when you step into the church premises this fall for the harvest festival, instead of a rumbling train filled with sleepy strangers, the tantalizing smell of freshly cooked Kerala specialties will waft in the air, travel to your nostrils and get you going through the lip smacking sensations, and rumbling of your tummy. Instead of loud vendors, we have tents and warm smiling faces, selling delicious home cooked and ready to fry delicacies for you. Be ready to be transported back to those lazy hazy days of summer and wonderful memories of GOD’s own country again!