On the eve of New Year, I had a sumptuous “pukul mati” lunch at Subbiah’s Curry Banana Leaf in a coffeeshop off Carpmael Rd, Joo Chiat Place.
Below is the Southern Indian dish. Plain rice with spicy hot masala chicken, two standard vegetables of the day, pickles, two pieces of papadam, chicken curry, daal and rasam. Complete set lunch at only $5.00. Rice and vegetables free flow.
Since 1990, I have been patronising this stall. An old Indian couple used to run it. The daughter has taken over. The price for the same set lunch was $3.50 then. This is the third location having shifted twice from nearby places.
Whenever I visited the stall, I would just ask the daughter how is mother? Notice I did not say your mother. Just mother how is she?
Every CNY within the 15 days – Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year for 15 days – I bring a red packet or any pow of $4 for her. The old man also knows me.
Every CNY it is the same ritual. I told her mother it is for luck. I hope her stall will prosper. The mother would add an extra dish of fish or sotong or fried onion egg which I didn’t order – in lieu of the red packet I gave her.
Each CNY, she would open her drawer where she kept her daily takings to show me all the red packets accumulated over the years. She did not spend them. She would beam with joy and tell everybody I give her red packet every CNY.
I am the only special customer sticking faithfully to this tradition. That is why she will always remember me.
Alas, we all grow old. The parents have retired. Over the last few years, I just gave the red packet to the daughter to pass it to “mother”.
The daughter would tell me “mother” used to walk all the way to the stall from their Haig Rd flat just to wait for me around CNY time hoping to receive the red packet. She would tell me mother just left for home cuz she was tired if I came late past lunch time.
Last CNY, on the 15th day I visited the stall quite late around 3pm. Mother was not there thinking that I did not turn up. As usual a red packet from me via the daughter.
I took my standard main dish of masala chicken. I took the same dish – exactly the same dish since 1990 – more than 21 years ago. It has been etched into their minds. They know my preference.
I just stop by the stall and tell them to prepare my lunch. I then order a big glass of cold iced lemon juice – also the same drink since 1990 – and proceed to the basin to wash my hands thoroughly.
When I go back to the stall with the lemon juice and my thoroughly washed hands, my set lunch of masala chicken with plenty of curry and daal is ready minus the fork & spoon. They know I use my right hand to eat.
Last CNY, there was no extra fish, fried onion egg or sotong even though I gave the red packet to the daughter to pass to mother.
I visited the stall again. This time the daughter gave me special extra dishes I did not order. She said it was mother’s instruction. I was happy cuz it shows that mother’s mind is still clear with no dementia or amnesia.
That is life. That endless life cycle. I live amongst the Malay and Indian races. I am a true blue Chinese Singaporean born in the old Kandang Kerbau hospital 48 yrs ago. My son was born in the modern state of art new Kandang Kerbau hospital at Kg Java. I am colour blind. I hope my son will share the same.
I used to bring my little old man with me to the stall. He loved it cuz that was the only time where he can eat and play with his hand. Usually we would share one set lunch together.
Mother would add extra portion of rice when she heard my son calling her aunty. He would divide the rice into two portions with the bigger portion for me.
Let me continue with this true “pukul mati” story tomorrow. Look out for it.