“Good morning ma” I said, conscious of the time difference.
Instead of the bleary, sleepy voice I expected, Amma said in chirpy tones “Good morning kanna, You know what happened yesterday?”
I wondered which of my aunts had committed what sin. Or maybe the bai was playing truant. Or was Appa up to some mischief?
Amma went on to describe what she called the brilliantest bloodless coup of this decade. Yesterday while buying vegetables she casually happened to notice that the vendor was wrapping coriander in a page from some comic book. Further inspection revealed it to be Indrajaal comics. Amma jumped, coaxed, cajoled and bought off the vegetablewalli’s entire stock of coriander wrapping paper. Back home she was in her own world of childhood reminiscences and nostalgia, Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon and the ubiquitous Henry. I nodded ferociously in agreement. “Brilliant” I screamed into the phone.
Twenty more minutes of less mundane topics later I was back in my own world and wished I magically found my own piece of nostalgia wrapped around some rotten coriander. ‘Gokulam’ would be found only at Mama Stores (No one knows the real name, that’s what all of us called it). In a corner of this western Indian island Mama Stores was the sole link to Tamil Nadu, selling exotic kizhangus, aromatic kapi podi, and all other paraphernalia required to please the good Tamil Gods and the fat Tamil priests. While parents queued to buy Kumudams and Vikatans, I would jump up to get the magazine. For some strange reason, mama hung Gokulam from a clothesline high up. For an hour after we returned home, feeling like exiles in a strange land with bags full of strange Tamizh goods; I would be absorbed in Gokulam; reading pen pal’s letters to each other, enjoying the illustrated tales, fables and episodic stories. Of all that the magazine yielded I delighted most in the stories of king Jayabalan. Written by the witty J Vasanthan they revolved around a fat, foolish egomaniacal king and his more foolish ministers. I was too young to get any political satires that might have been planted in the stories but at that age I thought naming the minister of communication ‘tholaipesi’ and the defense minister ‘kavasam’ the height of satire. As I grew up and drifted off into wider literary circles, Gokulam took a backseat. On my acquisition of a bike, Amma sent me far and wide to shop for Tamizh goods and Mama Stores lay ignored.
Today that part of my childhood came and hit me, making me miss home all the more. Of the twenty days that my unforgiving schedule allows me to go to India, I must somehow find time to say hi to ‘mama’ and see if Gokulam still exists. That thought alone brings a wide smile to my face.