Monday, December 08, 2008

Pickled and Preserved.........जुनं मुरलेलं लोणचं ........

   I recently ran into her at a wedding. Conducted in what is today considered old style, the wedding lunch was in what can be described as a pangat style. In a fairly big room, a glance across the various lines of lunching folks, , shows you a lot of people you haven't seen for a while, or sometimes , even some people who you don't want to see for a while.

Manorama looked small amidst some younger folks, resplendent in her antique silk sari, and her old heirloom jewellery, and she smiled and waved back at me , with the hand she wasn't using for eating the meal. She would now be around 80, or maybe even more. A lady with , what may today be called a "petite" build, she was often a visitor to my parents , when I was a child. As I grew up, one thing was very clear. The only thing petite about her, was her build.

Her parents, in-laws and my grandparents belonged to the same coastal village.An idyllic lush green and blue coast which remains the same even today. My grandparents migrated to Mumbai in the early 1900's. Somewhere around the time of our independence in 1947, she and her husband left their ancestral house due to economic compulsions and land tilling problems, and came to the city.

The question of a livelihood arose. In a village society which allowed idleness as a valid activity, because your father was a do-er of good, her husband wasn't really trained for anything. And so she decided to start something of her own. A home made pickle business.

My grandfather helped her with the seed money, and she started her mango pickle business in a two room set up, which was actually her house then. She at first sourced the juicy raw mangoes from their own small land holding left behind. Transport wasn't very easy, telephones sometimes didn't exist, and she would often go and wait at the transport terminal to check if her stuff had come. For a girl from a hugely protected rural traditional set up, even dealing with the burly drivers and enquiring about things required guts. Her husband didn't keep too well, although he did accompany her occasionally when he could. She would come see my parents when we were children, and had a secret admirer in my mother, in whom she would often confide. She learnt how to visit places with her pickle samples, and seek orders. My mother helped her with some contacts, which were mostly places which had cafeterias which served food and slowly the orders grew.

Her husband did all the accounting for the business, decided on expenditures, and salaries of helpers, 2-3 of whom she was able to hire. Things were progressing, even on the personal front and there were two young children now. But by and large , she was the one who slogged at everything, the pickle, the housework, attending to house guests in the tiny apartment, and she ensured that the children never missed out on any of the traditional observances throughout the year, which she enjoyed as a child in her village.

At one point her husband fell sick, was detected with tuberculosis at an advanced stage. The sky fell on her. Her children were still young, the pickle business was picking up, and now this. For a while she fumbled. Then got her act together. Her husband spent his last months being cared for in a wonderful fashion, and one day, it was just Manorama and her two very young children, who faced a daunting future.

The family who had hitherto commented on her "forward" ness, suddenly got interested, and the husband's younger brother came down to help. He took over the marketing and customer liaison stuff, and left her to concentrate on the production. She was now a confident woman, who could think about the future of the business, and they took a loan to get bigger premises, and capacity. Her pickles were gaining a wonderful reputation, and she branched out into several more pickles and chutneys. Her children went to good schools.

The same relatives who were amazed at her industriousness, now started insinuating things. She was a widow, wasn't she ? And the brother-in-law stayed with them ? Rumor had it that the children thought he was the father ?

She often poured her heart out to my mother, and consulted her. They discussed this, and the brave lady took a very bold step. She shut up everyone, by simply marrying her brother-n-law. This was a complete sensation at that time, and I remember she and her husband coming by, to pay respects to my old grandmother after marriage.

There weren't any stars in her eyes, but there was certainly peace in her heart. The stars would shine later.

Manorama prospered like never before. She bought land, built her own house, with an area earmarked for her pickle factory alongside. She now had some mechanized help, and trained a few people to use the stuff. A delivery van routinely rushed around delivering orders of pickles to industry canteens far and wide. She named her house something that meant "blessings". She was happy, and wanted the world to know that.

Her son got married. She had visions of retiring and handing over the business to her son.

When the second piece of bad luck happened. Her husband died. She was a widow for the second time.

As happens in many families with very capable women, the son had never seen hardship, never worried about a future, and egged on by a wife , who only saw the fruits of prosperity, he declined to have anything to do with pickles. The house was now in a prime city area, and he sold the land and the house to a developer who would build high rises, and give them 2 apartments in return. Manorama had no grandchildren yet, or the son would have thought of the future differently.

The bulldozers came. Manorama wasn't around to see the temple she had built, crushed to rubble. She went back to her native village on the coast, and upgraded her husband's ancestral house. Nothing fancy, but something that gives her old tired body a feeling of simple comfort; a kitchen garden, a few mango trees, and an old car that she uses when she needs to travel close by, driven by the gardener's son , who she is putting through college.

There are fruits and fruits.

There are no more fruits on the family tree. Manorama occasionally frets, but has great faith in God. Her son and daughter-in-law have come up in the world, but have no one to enjoy it in the future. At one time adoption was considered, and Manorama was the foremost supporter. But the daughter-in-law had a problem with someone elses' blood, so to speak, despite the glaring fact that she herself was not a blood relation anyway......

To Manorama, this is just one more problem she faces in life.

She had come to see us when my mother passed away.

" One way to handle a problem is to also know when it's not your problem...." she said. "And so I have left the whole thing and returned to my roots. "

She looks even shorter now than she was, but is still ramrod straight. The hair has silvered in glistening way, and the walk has slowed. But the light in her eyes in still there.

"I have my garden, my fruits, and make my fresh pickles and I share them with the neighbors . I have wonderful memories of an amazing life that I had.

Like the mangoes, I pickle and preserve these memories, and they do get better with age!"

(And rummaging inside her embroidered bag, she fished out and gave me a small bottle of fresh homemade chilly pickle, from her own garden........)


  1. Oh wow! What a woman! Hats off to this lady! So now the pickle business is no more?

  2. The pick of the pickles seem to be in her resolve, resilience and the sheer focus on making a difference !

    But it doesnt stop there ! It indeed extends to walking away too.

    That is rather unique and very inspiring !

    Beautiful narration. As usual !

  3. That's just it, isn't it? Know when something is your problem, and knowing when it is not.

    You tell a beautiful story, Ugich.


  4. I love this story. Smiled that here in Nashville, Tn., mango's are my favorite fruit.
    In many ways I could relate to this lady. Wish I could meet her.

  5. As always a fascinating story of her life, the way it was for her. Did her son own the property then and that enabled him to sell it without her okay or did she okay it? It sounds like she has done well with what she has-- whatever that might be.

  6. Rajk Yes , the pickle business is no more. Classic example of how a son can misuse the trust placed in him by his mother....the premises dont exist.

    Kavi What blew me away, was her ability to leave all of it and walk away. Without rancour. Typically, one sees so many such stories happening around us.....

    Pearl Thank you. And we can all learn some things from manorama, cant we ?

    One Woman's Journey Thank you. Do you get alphonso mangoes from India in Nashville ? GWB had specially allowed export of the same from here on his last visit....:-)

  7. Yes we do get "haapus" in US. Only in indian grocery stores and 40 dollars a dozon and most of them are wrinkled skin and sort of rotting stage. At least that was the case in our grocery store. So we ended up eating the fat juicy luscious mangoes from Mexico 6 dollars a dozon.

    This story is truly inspiring to anyone going through a rough period or otherwise. people channge their world by their positive thoughts, hard work and a vision for the future.


  8. Dear Madam,

    What an amazing ability to tell stories ! and that too with such consistency.

    I will not flatter you by saying you are the best, but in reality you certainly are approaching that class. At least in the modern style of writing.

    Please note I do not have any ulterior motives in saying all these things, just a honest opinion about your skills which I believe should be known to the rest of world apart from your blogs.

  9. very good story and I think bollywood made a movie also on this...AMMA ..with Rakhi as protagonist...Rakhi Gulzar:)

  10. inspiration story with amazing narration. I like your way of narrating the story.

  11. Wow what an incredible story. I liked this line
    "Like the mangoes, I pickle and preserve these memories, and they do get better with age!"

    You write so very well and your stories always pull at the heartstrings - except the cricket stories that is, he he. Hope you are well over there and really liked the pictures too.

  12. Rain There are still families around, who believe in the fact, that women should not have ownership of things, and male offspring should inherit. (The law, for anyone dying without a will, decrees that all children and remaining spouse inherit. Even today, regretably, in many families, the sisters/wives are cajoled into signing away their part-ownership for cash).

    Manorama's in-laws were like that. Notice how the brother-in-law suddenly landed on the scene. That he was a nice guy and gave her several years of a happy contented life is a fact. But the ownership was with the son , once he became a major (21).

    There is also a school of thought among women of Manorama's type that follows the dictum "My son, right or wrong"... ... And so, Manorama, probably became philosophical in her 70's , and accepted whatever was dealt out to her.

    Typically, her son (and everyone else) took her for granted, and in cahoots with his wife, presided over the end of the pickle business.

    I often feel, that manorama is such an amazing woman, and handles stresses so well, with geographical and philosophical changes. We can really learn so much from her.....

  13. Vinita So many people from my childhood, were like this. My mother spoke to me about them when I was older, and I think these folks were so "solid" (as we say in marathi), one really feels sorry that the son behaves like this now. Kashaachi Kimmat nahi, hech khara....

    Ganesh Thank you for your encouragement. I take what everyone says at face value, and am incapable of reading secret meanings into things . " Ta waroon tak-bhaat samjat nahi" as someone , maybe in Dombivli would say.:-)
    But I am at an age where one looks back, and feels immensely grateful for having met and known certain people, and then one writes about them..........

    Renu Dont know about the movie, but I am quite happy with the original....

    magic eye, pitamaha Thank you.

    Lilly Thank you . You know, the area where we come from, is the coastal area of maharashtra, my state, and is called Kokan. The pictures are from there. The Alphonso mango is native to this area. The people of this area also have certain typical characteristics different from the rest of the state (like a certain type of light eyes, complexion etc). Manorama was a typical example . If you saw her today, you could imagine how beautiful she was as a young girl. She is even more beautiful today, incidentally .....

    (The English cricket team is here. It seems they all came to support cricket, per se, and it has nothing to do with future million dollar signups with the Indian Premier League(IPL). Really pulls at the heart strings.....:-)

    Regards to Des.

  14. What a strong and independent woman. She was not afraid to accomplish something that she could be proud of in her life and now she can look back with pleasure. She had ambition and realized that knowledge and hard work can make you successful.

  15. What a wonderful story about this inspiring woman. She’s truly wise: " One way to handle a problem is to also know when it's not your problem”. By the way: I am still looking for that place where they see “idleness as a valid activity.”

  16. My compliments again on a superb narration. Your writing skill not only compliments but adds much more to Manorama's story. I read this piece more than once and each time concluded notwithstanding the lady's courage in the face of so many adversities; it is your narrative skill that brings out this struggle with such grace. My compliments to you once again.

    Best Wishes.


  17. Judy Thank you . yes. Strong's the word....

    FidaLots of places here specialise in “idleness as a valid activity.” Offspring of small town big shots, who often give up schooling and enjoy the goodlife at the cost of their parents previous hard work. Plus an attitude in society that allows sons to get away with anything.....

    Parth Thank you for the kind words. By the way, whats happeneing to your blog ?

  18. You paint the portrait of a beautiful soul. Thank you.

    I am certain that you also have a lot of light in your eyes and a lot of love in your heart - otherwise you would not see all these beauties, would not be able to share them.

    Coming here is like having a massage of the soul. God bless you !

  19. //" One way to handle a problem is to also know when it's not your problem...."//

    Loved this post.

  20. IHM Thank you ! Just wondering how you landed up on this very old (2008) post ! :-))

  21. Congratulations :) This post in one of the winners of 'Tejaswee Rao Blogging Awards - 2011' (TRBA 2011). We would like to create an ebook with all the winning entries in 47 categories on Feminism and Gender Issues in India (and one category on Animals Rights). Please do let us know if you are fine with your winning post/s being included in this ebook. ( Please click here to let us know).