Food and stories feed my soul.
When they are brought together in a book, I firmly nestles in my soft corner.
As I read the book ‘Paati’s Rasam’ by Janaki Sabesh and Dhwani Sabesh, I knew it was one that would stay in my mind and heart as a truly special one
It surrounds you like the warmth of steam rising from a simmering eeyachombu of rasam, enveloping you in its aroma and leaving you with a satisfaction that warms you within.
All that I felt was very well, yet it is a book that does talk about loss and grief. I do believe that children must read on this theme...life and death so intrinsically linked, which is why I have quite a few books on this theme on the school library shelves. However, I had never used them in a read aloud session.
However, it is one of the books shortlisted for the Jarul Book Awards 2022 and so I was pushed to do just that. Read it aloud to children from grade 2-6. Roughly 7-12 years of age.
My process with the Jarul books is to read the 3 short listed titles over 3 weeks, then display the books on the library shelves for the children to spend time with them, deciding which is their favourite, before we go to the polls in 5-6 weeks.
So readaloud I did…
Paati and rasam are both words that are familiar to my Chennai based students and their familiarity made them sit up a little straighter. Then, the name Janaki Sabesh...a well loved storyteller and the fact that she wrote it together with her daughter, and is a Chennaivasi, made a few mouths form into O’s.
We started with talking about our grandparents and what a delicious discussion it was! From payasam to brownies, from rasam to chicken curry, from chole batura to pickles…grandmothers specialities were shared with enthusiasm, rendering the entire class hungry…and it was just post lunch.
Malli, enjoys spending time with her Paati (grandmother), who gives her oil massages, tells her stories, chats with her but most specially, makes her signature rasam. Rasam, a mountain of rice and a dollop of ghee….ooooohhh!!
Paati promises to teach Malli how to make her rasam one day.
But then, everything changes. An illustration of a garlanded picture of paati, conveys the message so effectively, that the exuberance of the favourite food discussion, dipped down to pin drop silence, the mood now sombre.
When Malli gets homework to write about something she loves and bring it to class the next week, she is upset as she cannot take her Paati. Suggestions from Amma don’t seem to work and efforts to recreate Paati’s rasam are failures.
But then, Paati seems to be looking down on Malli.
While searching through Patti’s cupboard and crying into Paati’s favourite yellow saree, Malli finds the recipe written on the back of an old envelope. And just like that, Malli is comforted like those meals of rasam, rice and ghee.
The children were confused about how to express themselves about this book. They didn’t know whether they could ‘like’ a sad book. One expressed that it was too sad for a children’s book, while it prompted others to share about how they like to stay close to family members they may have lost.
There was an outpouring of how they feel when they either look at old photographs, sit in the person’s chair, wear their grandfathers helmet, touching his spectacles and a host of little special stories and memories. It was such an emotional session that I needed to go and brief their class teachers about what had just unfolded.
As a library educator, I loved that this book drew out such varied emotions, so very deep and painful even, and prompted so much of sharing. This is when I know for sure, that the book has touched my students very deeply.
The question, “Is this story true?”, prompted one little child who knows the author personally, volunteer to find out.
The illustrations, with their muted colour scheme suit the theme and enhance the storyline so movingly.
There was a flurry for paper and pencil to copy down the recipe at the end of the book.
Paati’s Rasam underlines family, relationships, memories, grief, dealing with grief, support and traditions.
This is a must have on every bookshelf.
SEL: Self-awareness, Self-Management, Relationship building
Love this birds eye-view of the kitchen!