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Amma’s Special Box

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Out of the many things none of us forgets, the memories of the past are the biggest. It is the little things that make these memories even more enriching.

“Amma’s Special Box” by Manognya Bethapudi tells the one box her mother had in her kitchen that spied up many memoirs of the child.

Cover Photo by R. S. Chintalapati

For as long as I can remember, Amma had a secret special box on the kitchen platform which was always tantalizingly close but was just out of reach. When I was five years of age, I’ve always wanted nothing more than to open the box and see its mysterious contents. Nothing seemed fancier to me. Neither the blue flames erupting from the stove nor the sharp knife glinting under the harsh tube light. Even the colourful display of various cereals and pulses didn’t draw my attention as much as this box drew me towards it.

In reality, there wasn’t anything unique about the way the box looked. It was just like most others. A little steel utensil, plain and unobtrusive. However, it was inconspicuous to everyone except me and so I wanted to know everything it possessed. My fascination started when I was four years of age. I still remember returning from the hospital after a vaccination. I was bawling and the horrendous hospital smell was everywhere adding to my woes. I was red and misty with chocolate smeared over my round face after my parent’s last-ditch attempt to pacify me failed. My Dad carried me around to divert my attention. He wiped my tears and played with me but I continued screaming. Nothing changed until I smelt a wondrous aroma which made me silent. I noticed Amma cooking something which sizzled. So I asked my Dad to take me to the kitchen suspecting it to be the source for the aroma. There were various vessels placed around the stove with a tray filled with chopped vegetables. I couldn’t find the source for the aroma but my father noticed that I was silent and he let me stay there for a while. It’s not like the aroma was a new experience. I must have smelt it many times while I passed the kitchen. Yet that was the moment I realized its true taste. Even to this day even after twenty years of spouting words and yapping about anything and everything. I’m still unable to describe the aroma that took my breath away and more importantly stopped a tantrum from reaching danger alert levels. I kept entering the kitchen after my first experience even after my mother denied me from doing so by paying flimsy and random excuses. All I hoped for was to smell the heavenly aroma again. As the days passed by, unable to figure it out, I questioned my mother about the contents of each box in the kitchen until one day I arrived at the special box. I knew the rest of the contents didn’t make this aroma possible based on the little knowledge I had about them. I had an inkling that maybe the contents of this special box were the cause for my happiness and to my disadvantage, the box was always jutting out of reach and my mother denied to reveal its contents, noticing my undying curiosity and a worrying concern about me harming myself. In time, I could always see the top lid of the box from my low vantage point. If I stood on my tiptoes, I could even see the special box in all its glory. I could even touch the box by stretching my hands. My fingertips could feel the cold steel after a little effort. With my mother refusing to tell the contents, I wanted to know more about them to know if it is the source behind my heavenly experience. After being denied for years, I reached an age when I could get a hold of the box myself. After many failed attempts, I held the most curious thing I have always wanted to explore. When I opened the lid, I could rejoice the scent for a moment before noticing that it was nothing more than a spice box. A box with compartments to hold commonly used spices like turmeric, cumin, paprika among others. A commonplace and bland box present in every household. A box that wasn’t particularly special except for my fascination. Though it felt anticlimax exploring the contents, it gave me a gateway back to my childhood. A meandering walk down memory lane, a shot of nostalgia back to simpler times, a reason to smile when cutting onions, a silent hope for the trampled inner child in me and even after all these years, Amma’s special box will always be more than just a spice box for me.



This contribution is edited by Sreekar Ayyagari & photographed by ​​R. S. Chintalapati.



This experience is available in paperback & ebook.

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