Sandeep fondly recalls tales of his youth in a Kerala village, Neercadu. He spent six years here as a kid, “playing with sticks, chasing chickens and riding bikes.” I had this bucolic notion of their family house and the reality did not disappoint. Neercadu is a small village, about two hours from Cochin. Everyone knows everyone. In fact, when I first visited eight years ago, the sight of a ‘foreigner’ was so foreign that several neighbors found excuses to stop by and find out what was going on.
As an outsider, what I love about Neercadu is that it still so traditional. The family house is one of the more modern ones in the area, but it still works in ways that are lost to most of us. Many things remain unchanged since Sandeep lived here over 20 years ago. The kitchen still uses a wood burning stove.
The well supplies all drinking and cooking water.
And food is still made the traditional way, without mixes and packets. This is the housekeeper grinding coconut and chilies into a chutney. The ingredients come from the garden.
The garden has almost everything needed to sustain – coffee, pepper, garlic and ginger. Papaya, mango, tapioca, plenty of bananas, coconuts and jackfruit.
Some things have changed in 20 years. The back plot is a paddy field that supplies rice, but it was recently sold when its upkeep proved too difficult for Amachee (Sandeep’s grandmother). The family used to also keep chickens and a cow, but now the shed is a garage. There was an outhouse, but now there are multiple bathrooms. And instead of doing the cooking, Amachee now has someone to cook for her.
As if answering a nostalgic call, Ava and Kayan instinctively picked up sticks from a tapioca tree and made a game of moving around stones, picking at the dirt and exploring the perimeters of the house. None of Sandeep’s family seemed perturbed by this. But I was worried about red ants, snakes, sharp objects… I suppose that’s what happens when a city girl goes to the village.
Sandeep beat a raw mango off a tree and we cut it up into tiny pieces to have with salt and red chili powder. It was tender, sweet, salty and sour. Amachee, who birthed five children on this land, said the dish is a favorite of pregnant women. Lucky us non-preggers can enjoy it too!