Moonlight dinner


When we were growing up, most homes had backyards. Most of these yards had at least a few trees like the coconut tree, mango tree and neem tree.  They also had other plants like hibiscus, jasmine etc. Another standard fixture in these yards was that most of them had wells with pulleys, for drawing water for household chores.

The area around the well was usually cemented, creating a lovely space in the backyard to play, work and have fun.

During our summer holidays, all of us, cousins, gathered in our grandparents’ home; blissful days where we played the same games over and over again. The adults were happy to catch up and go out shopping. Nobody bothered us, as long as we showed up at meal times.

Dinners then were absolute fun, the reason being that we ate in the backyard, sitting under the silvery glow of the moon, as the gentle breeze from the Bay of Bengal whispered through the coconut trees.

Under millions of twinkling stars and a creamy moon, all of us usually sat in a semi-circle. Each of us was given a small piece of banana leaf. On this leaf, we were each served one papad (poppadum), a big portion of vegetable and a little mango pickle (all home-made).

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One of the aunts  mixed rice and a lentil-gravy, called sambar, in a really huge vessel and sat in the middle of the semi-circle.

We would cup our right palms and put out our hands for the rice. The aunt would serve each of us in turn. We  would each add some vegetable, have a quick bite of our papad and eat it with the rice.  After completing the full semi circle, the cycle would start again.

We got to hear stories if we were lucky, else we chit-chatted amongst ourselves. The other adults sat leaning against the walls of the well, catching up on family gossip.

After the sambar rice, we were served curd rice. The huge quantities were polished off in no time. With full stomachs, we played some more games in the backyard.

By 9.00 p.m., the household would start winding down. Those were the days without air conditioners, so on most days we slept on the huge terrace, under the stars – one huge row of cousins and another row of adults. Singing and laughing, till the whispering wind kissed our eyelids closed.