A Children’s Tale: Fistful-of-Cumin and Fistful-of-Mustard go on a Pilgrimage

I wrote this story for children sometime back, improving on a vaguely-remembered story my grandmother told me, and gave it an end. This is my translation of it in memory of all pilgrimages and boat journeys of childhood:

In the distant town of Alappuzha, our Ammini Amma bought a fistful-of-cumin and a fistful-of-mustard from a corner shop.

They came home, but oh, they were weeping: not fair, Ammini Amme, not fair! We won’t be put into the curry!

“And why is that?”, asked she.

“We made a vow to pray! To go to Vaikam, and then to Puthuppully!”

“Oh, alright,” said Ammini Amma, “you can go. But step carefully when you get into the boat!”

And so they set out. The boat jetty was a long way off. The sun was blazing.

“Listen,” said Mustard to Cumin,” get that dry leaf.” Mustard put the dry leaf on its head. Cumin climbed on top. And then Mustard-went-a-rolling down the road all the way! The way was swallowed up real fast! And by the time they reached the jetty, cumin had grown all dry and crisp.

“We’re bound for Vaikom,” said Mustard and Cumin. Kit’na Pillai, head cook on the cargo boat, was delighted. Aha! Spices for the night’s meal! “Oh come in, do come in,” he cooed. “We’ll get you to Vaikom at the peep of dawn.” Fistful-of-Mustard and Fistful-of-cumin climbed in, unsuspecting.

By night-fall they sensed roasting and frying, grinding and crushing in the hold! “Let’s jump into the water and escape,” said Cumin to Mustard.

Fistful-of-Cumin jumped into the lake first and lay there like a raft. Fistful-of-mustard jumped after, and lay on cumin’s breast. They floated all the way to Vaikom and reached the temple ghat by dawn.

Fistful-of-cumin and fistful-of-mustard bathed and made their way to the temple. There, in the Big Kitchen, toiled the Namboori and his Nairs busy cooking the Breakfast Feast, sweating and swearing in their labour. And what did they see? Fistful-of-cumin and Fistful-of-mustard, all soaked and ready to be ground!

Chief cook Namboori was VERY happy. Ha! “Come, come,don’t you want to worship?” he asked, leading them into the kitchen. Mustard and Cumin smelt olan and kaalan cooking. “We’ll be right back,” they said,”after bowing to the deity. We’ll be joining the curry.”

Fistful-of-cumin and Fistful-of-Mustard scampered into the temple without turning to look. Seeing them run, the sweeper-maid Kunhippennu asked, “Who are you running from?” “The cook Namboori will put us into the curry”, they said. She felt sorry for them. “Don’t you worry,” she said, “you can climb into my hair and hide.”

The cook Namboori ran in chasing them. “What’s in your hair, girlie, all white-white?” he asked her. “That’s the white lice, Your Grace,” she said. “What’s in your hair, girlie, all black-black?” he asked again, and she replied, “That’s the black lice, Your Grace.” “Alright, I am going. There a fistful of cumin and fistful of mustard running about here. If you see them, please put them in the curry?” But Kunhippennu took them to the boat jetty.

And who did they see there? The snack-man Pappy the Christian! In his basket, the Comb-like-snack and the Flute-like-snack. “Where are you going?” they asked. “To Puthuppally, to see the saint,” answered Cumin and Mustard. “Alright, climb right in,” said the snacks. “Pappy the Christian is going there for the Feast. You can join us.” They made space inside the basket. So Cumin and Mustard rode inside Pappy’s basket all the way to Puthuppally Church.

There too was a cook, Kochuvareeth. Goodie-good, thought he, good for today’s meat curry! “Ah, don’t you want to kneel to the saint?” he asked in dulcet tones. “Oh no, no,” screamed Cumin and Mustard as they ran for their lives. Cumin hid inside the Sweet-roll-fries. Mustard huddled inside the Flute-snack. When Pappy the Christian dozed off, they leaped out.

“Oh Saint our Father, we don’t want to join the curry,” prayed Cumin and Mustard. “But why should you?” Saint the Father said. “Don’t join!”

And so, and so, they knelt and knelt.
And when they knelt t
hey grew some roots.
And then some leaves, and then some stem.
Then popped some buds, and soon some fruit.
And with the fruit, the long tale’s end.


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