It was four o’ clock and Aditya would be home in twenty minutes. I’d been pretty mean to him in the morning and really wanted to make up for it. An ‘apology frosting’ on his cupcakes seemed a good idea. As I’d forgotten to keep the butter back in the fridge, it was already at room temperature. I took out some castor sugar and switched on the hand mixer. As usual, the process took me back to those old days when baking had been a sacred event. And inevitably, I thought of Manicheriamma.
Manicheriamma, my aunt – my mother’s younger sister. She had had to play the role of my mother in so many little and not-so-little ways… It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I owe the first twenty years of my existence to her and Elechan, her husband, my uncle. I’d learned most of life’s little lessons from them – including my introductory lessons in baking.
Our baking sessions were rare, but exciting. Cheriamma and I would carefully measure out the sugar, flour and butter, powder the sugar and keep them away. Whisking the eggs was a grand affair. We had tried it all – manual whisks, forks and even ‘eerkkili’, those thin sticks that we pull out from the spine of coconut leaves. We used to whisk those eggs forever… When my cousin, her son, was home, he too would be recruited for the job. Once Cheriamma was satisfied that the eggs were whisked to perfection, we would slowly add in the other ingredients one by one, and then pour out the mixture into a painstakingly greased mould, which would then be reverently transferred to the oven. Then came the period of tense anticipation. Opening the oven to check was a complete no-no until such time as she was sure the puffed cake wouldn’t ‘sink’ in the middle and put all our efforts to waste.
She would then take out another ‘eerkkili’ and carefully insert it into the cake, and pull it back with a sigh of relief if it came out clean and the cake stayed convex. The acid test, of course, was Elechan tasting it. His nod of approval was the ultimate accolade we could ask for.
Cheriamma, Elechan, my cousins… People I had grown up with, people I had loved dearly, and people I had grown away from… Standing there, mixing in the colour to the frosting, I felt a sudden sense of loss. A feeling I have become resigned to, sometime through these years.
I carefully decorated my Aditya cupcakes, arranged them in a box and made some plans for Aniruddh cupcakes when he comes home for vacation. Then I took one out, placed it in a dish and decorated it some more. That was my apology cupcake. One thing I’ve learned in life? Never to keep those making-ups and apologies for later. Memories… they make us – or break us. I’d rather leave some good ones for my boys.
The door handle rattled even before the bell rang. Aditya walked in, his shoulders hunched by the weight of education. His tired face lit up at the sight of the cupcake with its pale orange frosting. I handed over my apology. He accepted it without reservations, his grin wide, his heart large.
Once again, I’m humbled.