Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tales of My Mother's Childhood - Peanuts

The house my mother's family moved to after living in the high school was again long and skinny. The man who owned it lived in the left half, while my mother lived on the right. He had an angadi, a little store, in the front section, flanked by two thin rooms. Where the store ended, the rooms widened, though the house was still split in two.

The man who owned the house ran a peanut business. He would buy from the farmers during the harvest, toss the peanuts into huge piles in his storeroom, and sell them for a much higher price during the off-season.

Large numbers of peanuts, of course, led to large numbers of mice. To reach the storeroom, they often dug through the walls on my mother's side of the house, and again through the partitioning wall. They scurried and squeaked, making their little mouse noises loud enough to provide a constant background soundtrack throughout the night.

The family had a toy box, about five feet long and a foot or so tall. It contained all the little wooden and cloth dolls and figurines they had collected over the years to put out in the bommala koluvu during Sankranti. All were lovingly and carefully wrapped in old panchas and other pieces of cloth to protect them from damage. The mice, however, did not care. They peed all over the bommalu, leaving all but one stained yellow. It was a devastating loss.

There was, however, one upside to the murine invasion. The peanuts in the storeroom were piled literally up to the ceiling, and every time the mice moved around inside, peanuts would come trickling out of the mouseholes. In this way, the family received about an armful of peanuts each day. A week's collection, after drying and shelling, would fill up a jar or two.

My mother's grandmother was able to make sweets with bellam and peanuts, even when the peanut vendors were gone from the streets. When my mother asked where all these peanuts came from, she was told, "Nooru muusukove, adhi muushikalaabham." (Shhh, be quiet. That's the profit of the mice.)

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