The heat from the oil in the blackened kadai trembled through the air above it as she wiped the sweat of her brow.
“Aunty, two chilli bajji…”
“Eradu plate potato, ondu mensinkayi…”
Unfazed by the clamour, expertly she dipped the slices of the large green chillies, potatoes into the flour mix, sliding them into the sizzling cauldron.
“You had two plates right, thirty rupees”, she spoke, one keen hand flipping the browning fritters. “Onion will have to wait sir, five minutes…”
Crammed between Chamundeshwari Theatre and Manjunatha Stores in a booth sized kiosk Bajji aunty must have served us at least a hundred times. Week after week during the aimless evenings of college we would frequent this haunt gorging on her hot oil squelched delicacies. Amidst these visits we found out more about her and she about us. She knew who dated whom, we knew she was a Christian with a son in Chennai. She knew what our regular order was, we knew her husband was a drunken lout. She was one of those ageless women, forever dressed in a faded salwar, its colour drawn out by the sultry bubbling oil it lived amidst. Fiery like her chillis she would yell at the drunken louts loafing outside Chamundeshwari hoping to whet their appetite before 9.30pm’s risque fare.
“No, go, nothing for you; useless fellows… go home, support your family; waste fellows…” she would rebuke, her ladle swinging wildly.
Change came to Mysore through the endless years of medical school, single screen giving way to multiplexes, Chamundeshwari stopped screening their 9.30pm blue film, Manjunatha stores expanded to another location, but Bajji aunty stayed the same. Dip, fry, serve, repeat; dip, fry, serve, repeat.
Correction, aunty grew too actually, third year I think it was, she began to make badges and nameplates as well. Troops of students would line up outside writing their names down in an old bespattered notebook.
“Two weeks time sir, it’ll be ready”
“What aunty, three weeks over, still no badge…”
“‘Sorry beta, tomorrow sure, here take one plate bajji, here, take, take…”
Expertly egos and angers would be soothed, drowned in crisp spicy fritters, our mouths hissing for respite. The last time I saw her was after my internship when my girlfriend and me paid her a final visit. “Thanks aunty, I think we’re together in part due to the many bajjis we’ve shared here…”. She smiled, wished us well and gifted us the obvious, the only thing she had, a lip smacking final plate of chilli bajjis.
It was almost five years later when I found myself passing the Chamundeshwari, to find the shutter drawn down, the shop silent. “What happened to the Bajji shop here?”
“She died, around 6 months ago, I think…”, the trader said turning away shrugging.
I imagined her funeral as I walked on. The shoulders under her coffin carrying her to the pyre. Somehow, I never saw her as one to be buried. The flames that she lived amidst shouldering her after death shrouding her, safe, secure, at peace.
Birth, death, burn, repeat. Birth, death, burn, repeat.