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When appalams were a family affair

Everyone had work to do, and everyone’s task was equally important in getting a month’s supply of the snack ready

My aunt was visiting, and we sat around a large meal with fried appalams (or papads) being passed around. I looked on amused at the satisfied smiles. “Any meal becomes special with fried appalams,” my father used to say. He truly became a child beaming happily while breaking them off.

I said as much to my aunt, his sister, and she chuckled happily.

“Yes, appalams were your father’s favourite. Three days every month was dedicated to making appalams,” she said. I sat back to enjoy the nostalgic look that lit her eyes.

We sat enthralled as she narrated the story of how her mother would roast the dal and set them out to dry. My grandmother’s life has always fascinated me. Feeding and raising a large family of nine children must have been a herculean task, but my grandmother seemed to have been a competent taskmaster, budget planner, forecaster, chef and mother. As the appalam-making tale unfolded, it was evident that those three days were filled with buzz. Everyone had work to do, and everyone’s task was equally important.

The younger ones had to shoo away the birds while the lentils dried in the sun. The older boys would have to pummel the dried lentils with an iron cudgel. “No grinders or machines those days, remember,” my aunt said.

The older girls would then have to take the powdered lentils, mix them to cookie dough consistency and roll them out into neat little circles before setting them out to dry again.

The younger ones took up their sentry duty to shoo away the birds while the appalams dried in the sun.

“One time, my mother was alarmed to see the dough stained with blood and looked up to see that while pummelling, your father had accidentally hit himself on the forehead a few times. Poor fellow. That month, we had a little less appalam stock because we had to throw out that batch, but your father got his full share because he liked appalams so much, and of course, he played the sympathy factor the whole month,” she said and giggled.

Three days a month set aside for appalam making, so that the children may enjoy fried snacks every once in a while, seemed to be a lot of planning and processing. Obviously, fried appalams held a special appeal in the hearts of the children. Each one felt they had contributed to the process, and the satisfying crunch must have had a special meaning.

Going to the supermarket and picking up a packet of appalams has become so blasé a task that I rarely stop to think about how it was prior to mechanisation and automation.

“Automation has changed so many things, hasn’t it,” said one voice, and we all piped in. The topic of automation took us for a bumpy ride down the river of time. While automation has helped feed and clothe billions of us, mass production and capitalism have also blurred the lines between needs and wants.

I loved the mental image of appalam making in a small village house in south India. The little heart-warming tale did get me thinking about the last time the whole family pitched in on one activity together that contributed towards something meaningful, that too on a regular basis.

In our eagerness to simplify and automate, we do seem to have complicated things somewhat.

I was reminded of what the author of the classic, Little House on the Prairie, says in the book. The book chronicles the adventures of a family in the late 19th century, where the whole family works together to build a log cabin in the prairie to live in.

saumya.bala@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:40:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/when-appalams-were-a-family-affair/article30951500.ece

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