My First Memory

I remember a navy blue, velvet long skirt called paavadai that my mother sewed and embroidered for me. For many years I remembered the lovely three dimensional, gold braided outline of the huge motifs.

Zardosi paisley

As I grew older, I learnt to identify the pattern as a paisley one. The gold or zari work is called ‘zardosi’ and the embroidery art as ‘ari’. What amazes me is how my  mother knew this work and she had done it with so much eye to detail. If I needed to buy such a long skirt for Uttara and Madhura today, it would cost me easily $100 or so each.

I do not remember seeing Amma sitting down at any time to do this work. She always used to be so busy doing something or the other. Later, i used to see her spend hours sewing for her granddaughters, making dresses, embroidering, knitting and doing crochet.

My Aunt Savithri Mami (maternal uncle’s wife) was also part of these first memories. She used to get me beautiful dolls from Ceylon, a place she visited as her family lived there. I also remember her and my uncle Swamy going to England—he used to work for British Oxygen’s company here. She brought me two dresses and they seemed straight out of Enid Blyton’s books. One had a print that came to be called Laura Ashley and another had a sleeveless frock with a little coatie!! That was also the time when we were introduced to jigsaw puzzles.

Another memory is my mother making pickles and vadams.

Sago vadam

The latter are dried rice wafers that are stored for the year. When needed these crispies are deep fried in oil and generally eaten with different mixed rice dishes. The making of this item is very laborious. Rice had to be powdered in a round mortar with a long heavy mace. Then the gruel had to be cooked in large quantities, taken to the roof and in the hot sun spread out on a cloth in little scoops or made into shapes with a kind of pasta machine.

Thin stick vadam

The gruel itself was so tasty and the half dried crispy a delicious chewy bite.

Vadam spreda on a cloth on the roof

Music was also an integral part of our home and Amma would be singing as were my three brothers. I was the one who was given formal lessons, something that was de rigueur for a Tamil Brahmin girl. You see she was expected to sing when an eligible boy came to see and judge her as a suitable bride. Being asthmatic my singing was like the bellows, you could hear the breath going in like a long wheeze, but the sound that came out was ……a phssssshh.

Sample of a singing class in session

Throughout my childhood, girlhood and teenage years my mother tried her best to get me to learn to sing or play an instrument. My brothers benefitted more from these lessons. Finally, one teacher was bold enough to say, “Padmini cannot sing because she does not have any breath. Let her enjoy your singing” and he promptly began to retrain my Amma! Fortunately, my husband Raju did not ask me to sing when he came for the ‘girl seeing’ ritual.

I took to acting on the stage in my forties and I was never ever asked to give a ‘mike test’! The belief was that I was born having swallowed a microphone and that my voice could be heard without electronic equipment, right on the last row of the auditorium. I do a lot of bathroom singing and singing in a group—a chorus where my lack of breath or swallowing of high pitches go unnoticed!

Another great memory was the after show happenings at home! My brothers were the actors who brought the screen heroes alive to us at home. Ramana, Arvind and Barath would go for a movie and that night, after dinner, with my father and mother away at some social do, they woulkd enact the whole movie with dialogues, sword fights and songs. Today when I look back their total recall after one show, it is truly amazing.

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Anu, Ashok, Conrad, DeliriousGaelikaa,  GrannymarMagpie11, Paul, Maria the Silver Fox, Rummuser , Will Knott, Shackman and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get different flavours of the same topic.

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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13 Responses to My First Memory

  1. Maxi says:

    What a lovely story, Padimini. I love the paisley design embroidered by your mother, and would love a taste of the delicious looking vadam.
    Blessings from the newest member of LBC – Maxi


    • padmum says:

      Maxi–thank you. I am a bit dumb about adding links and will soon add yours to my list.

      Come to India and we will take care of your culinary and tourist adventures.


    • padmum says:

      The paisley design is only a replica–not the original one done by my mother. We moved so often–homes and cities–that she retained very little of things that I had outgrown.


  2. rummuser says:

    The four of us should get together once without any other person and try and go back to the earliest of our memories to dig up more nuggets. May be I can bring Appa’s trove of photographs to jolt our memories too.


    • padmum says:

      When thje four of us get together, one particular topic takes over and nothing else gets discussed. I was asking AR about those people who lived on Peters Road..the girl was my friend Shubha…her dad was working in Gaya. The boy used to go to MCC with you all…no news of them at all.


  3. Delirious says:

    I remember the “Laura Ashley” fabric prints! 🙂
    My mother wasn’t a very good cook, so food really meant nothing to me until I was older. It was just something I ate because I was hungry. lol


    • padmum says:

      Actually some years ago in London my daughter Nitila and I popped into their shop on Oxford Street. We loved their stuff. Nitila says that the shop is closed. I wonder if they are still in business?


  4. anu514ster says:

    Ah, the pavadai, jimiki, paatis vadams that we eagerly waited for(still do!) and the singing lessons, your post took me back to my childhood. I learnt Carnatic vocal for 7 years and I’m looking for a new guru here. Planning on starting with my lessons from the scratch soon. Totally enjoyed reading the post! =D


    • padmum says:

      A typical South Indian childhood of a girl!! The vadams are now store bought, otherwise Vandana sees to it that Uttara and Madhura are nearly having the same life…more dance though!!


  5. blackwatertown says:

    Happy memories.


  6. grannymar says:

    I love the memory of the singing. I too tried the zardosi embroidery some years ago, we call it gold thread work. It is a very slow process but with care can produce wonderful designs. Thanks for reminding me about it.


  7. oakvimala says:

    Excellent narration Padmini, the pavadai, vadam music classes were so much a part of our growing , the golus and the oil baths pl include .. Thanks


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