You must have heard the phrase in a nutshell. Well, this post is not exactly that. It’s going to border on being a story in a nutmeg. Yet another tale to add to Kerala’s legacy of having a heart of spices. The nutmeg, though not as glorious as its cousins pepper or cinnamon, is integral for its medicinal, herbal properties and its place in the kitchen.
For me, it’s the embrace that links spending holidays with a grandmother whose heart had nutmeg all over it and a design sensibility at Xandari Harbour. The wispy haired grand lady is long gone, but the wind rustles up her memories among the nutmeg trees. So does a certain corridor at work.
Come holidays and the parents’ patience ebbed. Solution: Pack the city-bred child off to the ancestral home in Kerala, to her grandparents. There, trees were aplenty, she could catch dragonflies during the day, and watch fireflies at night. Pluck fruits right off the trees and walk barefoot on just watered mud. There, she could be.
And the grandparents loved the holidays. They would get their time with the kid. Tell her all about the plants, scientific names included. Show her how to dig earthworms for fishing bait, fashion a swing for her using coconut tree bark and hang it from the custard apple tree. And share the nutmeg story with her.
Now, nutmeg was and continues to be a cash crop. So the grandfather watered it with his love and dedication while the grandmother went about, with a basket in one hand and me in the other, picking the nutmeg on the ground. You took only what fell off the tree, letting the rest see a fuller life. The nutmeg had three parts: the outer skin that could be pickled or used to make wine, the red mace which when dried in the sun and sold (to be used in cosmetics, food products) fetched quite the money, and the seed inside. It was a privilege to be allowed to help. So little me made sure every single one was picked off the ground, willed the clouds to go away so that the mace dried crisp, watched as the buyer plonked on the weights on a rusty old weigh balance, and crisp notes reached the grandmother’s hand. And everyone beamed after the sale. Talk about collaboration!
The grandparents are long gone, but the nutmeg trees stand. Seems like they are thriving on memories of love. I wake up to their rustle, I pick the odd nut off the ground, stop to remember the grandmother beaming at the perfect shade of red. There’s a gardener who does the picking and selling now. I just weigh out the memories.
And then I walked into the corridor on my first day of work here. The one at restaurant 51 at Xandari Harbour. And was first met by a corridor lined with spices. Of course, I saw the nutmeg first. Was intrigued by the design thought that saw a lasting purpose for this not-so-goodlooking nut. For the heart that saw the nutmeg story.
Told you. This one’s not meant to be remembered in a nutshell.