Far, far away in my memory line, I see the face of a dark, tall elderly woman hiding a ripe banana fruit, nenthrampazam, away from my sight, to be given to my younger brother. She was my maternal grand father’s mother, partial to my brother as he was not eating rice then, though he liked varieties made of rice. Patti was worried that non-eating rice would hamper the growth of the boy and hence she wanted to give the only fruit available with her to the rice-deprived great grand son and not to the elder one, who cherished any thing under the sun, then and continue to do so even now.
That venerable lady, Pappaammai, had to take the responsibility of bringing up the four children of her only son, Subramania Iyer, as his wife, my mother’s mother passed away, when my mother, the youngest of the four, was hardly two years old. You know how my grand mother died? The women folk attributed her death to a bad omen, a relative visiting for the first time on a Tuesday, which was not an auspicious day for such visits. That was sheer nonsense. According to me, it was superstition that killed her. Those days, soon after returning from the school, the kids had to keep aside their dress in a separate corner in thinnai, the open platform in the front, for use it the next day. One of her kids, seeing her mother at the entrance of the house, unable to contain her excitement after being away from her for hours, came running and hugged her, making her asudham or impure. She rushed towards the pool in front of the house, had a dip, in the cold water, to regain her purity. That cold water dip in the peak winter, worsened her already exciting viral fever that terminated in pneumonia.
She was only thirty two, then. My grand father, who would have been around 35/36 didn’t remarry.
The purpose of keeping the school dress was not to allow the dirt, mud and other impurities collected from the school trip, inside the house . A practice introduced with good intention, like many other good practices, in due course, became a religious dictum, the purpose was forgotten and pragmatism given a go by.
The ancestral house in Kavassery where my maternal grand mother died and the pond in which she had her last dip, bring back memories of past, whenever I visit that village. Pappaammai would have struggled a lot to bring up four kids, three of them girls, between 2 and 8/9, with the limited income of her son. Thatha was a Sanskrit scholar, had in-depth knowledge in Vedams. And above all a good human being, always smiling, always ready to help others. But those attributes did not fetch him enough money to run his family. He worked as a part time post master, school teacher, book seller and many other things. But he didn’t borrow a pie. In fact he had a type of luxurious life, with the gifts of fruits, vegetables and clothes received from the rich parents of his sishyas, students, and other friends. The Nair families used to receive him with great respect and prostrate before him, placing clothes and some cash at his feet.
During the Kalpathy car festival, he was a guide for the festival committee and navigator for the pallaku, palanquin of Viswanathaswamy . It was a sight to see him navigating the divine cart, sitting majestically, his big kudumai vibrating in the night wind flowing from the close-by river, his kadukkan shining in the gas-lights held high by the carriers on their heads, the white lines of viboothy brightening his black chest and long hands, his sonorous ‘ha,ha’ voice enthusing every one. He was a lover of music and sitting on the driver’s seat of the palanquin he enjoyed the nadaswaram symphony in the front, as obvious from his head-shake in appreciation. he became a close friend of Kombi atchan ( I am not sure about the name of the Raja but he was an ‘achan’, local king undoubtedly) and that gave him a position in the Viswanatha swamy temple management , for which Achan was the traditional head. I was born in the side portion of Achan’s house allotted to thatha. Atchan used to call him affectionately as ‘Chuppae’. When the Atchan was seriously ill, he pleaded his friend, ‘Chuppai, than innu evadyaum pokanta. thante mukhathil ente Viswanthaswamy undu. Easwarnae kandu jnan marikkattae. Don’t go anywhere today. I see the Viswanathaswamy in your face. Let me see the God and die”
Thatha didn’t stay long in Kalpathy after Atchan passed away.
‘This topic is on mothers, why do you bring your thatha’ , you may ask. The reason is this. After his mother passed away, the responsibility of raising not only his four children but a son of his elder brother too fell on thatha’s shoulders. He was father and mother for five kids.’Matru,pitru, acharya devas’ all in one.
I know some women who raise the children of their kin, as their own. I have also some friends here in America, who have adopted children from different countries and raise them as developed from their own womb. To nourish a life is a great yagnam. To do so, under difficult circumstances is a mahayagnam.
I conclude this series, paying compliments to all such ‘mothers’ .