November 27th is celebrated as a ‘ Thanks Giving Day’ in USA.
‘The great souls, moving as in a black and white movie, whom am I to thank ?’ I asked, the innumerable faces moving past in my mind, while lying on bed, after dinner in a relative’s house in Delaware. Not one or two, I’m indebted to, in one way or other and it will take years to thank them, even Just to say, ‘thanks’ to express my gratitude.
Women first, always. Senior citizens get preference. So, let me first prostrate before some of the great women of my family, who directly or indirectly helped me to be what I’m today. No disrespect meant for other Jambhavans including my parents, other relatives, my mentors, teachers, former colleagues, friends and numerous others to whom I’m indebted to, in one way or other.
I see before me a shaved head covered with the end of her saffron color sari and shrunken face smiling at me innocently while doing a small mischief of pushing a boiled nethrampazam , cooked plantain, below her bed, to keep it away from my sight. I was a lad of four, five, six, don’t remember. The old lady was trying to save the only fruit she had, for my younger brother, who was not eating rice, didn’t even stand the sight of cooked rice though he liked dosa, iddli and other rice products. ‘The kid doesn’t touch ‘annam’, rice’ – she used to moan and give him special treatment. She was my maternal grand father’s mother, we called her PAppammai, who raised my mother and her three elder siblings, in the absence of their mother who passed away, in her late twenty or early thirty. It would have been an enormous job for the old lady in impaired health to raise four children, three of them girls, perform their wedding, before they attained their age of puberty as was the practice then, within the meager income of her son, take care of the year -long petty demands of the in -laws, take care of the child births so on and so forth. Not only me, all my cousins and our descendants are indebted to our PAppammai, who died peacefully in a house close to the temple in Old Kalpathy. I stop in reverence, for a moment, when I pass through that street.
Another old woman deserving our worship is my father’s mother, whom we used to call ‘Appaammai’. She too had a shaven head, covered with her white sari end, back fully bent and therefore walked on her fours. A severe Smallpox viral attack dragged my mother almost to the border of cemetery and but for my grand ma’s unalloyed affection and personal attention, neither me nor my siblings would have been here.
Days and nights, the old lady looked after the patient suffering from a disease for which there was no remedy, except clearing her throat periodically to remove phlegm using her finger wrapped with a clean cloth. Mucus cleaning was essential to avoid its clogging the lungs and there was no mechanical devises available then for that life-saving process. There were many other duties in hand which needed day and night attention and no one other than those who had the viral attack earlier and thus became immune , was eligible for nursing the patient.
The village senior, after carefully examining my mother, exited, his head sagging with disappointment. He peered through the door of the VAdhyAr’s house. Yes, the Purohit was available for doing the last rites. He asked six young men to be available at short notice for carrying the body for cremation. Opened his safety cupboard and made sure that sufficient money was available in case my father needed financial help. Then he came back and told a few relatives, ‘tell Ananthan ( my father), not to worry about money”
But, there was no need for that. There was no need to remove the patient to thinnai, the raised platform in the house front, a practice prevalent then, for such acute patients. My mother opened her eye, yes, only one eye. It is much better to have one eye than having no eyes and much, much better than having no life.
My life and that of my siblings is the prasad, divine gift, from the yagna or sacrifice my grand mother made. We and our children are indebted to our Appammai, the charming woman who walked on her fours, her head covered in white sari end, as I remember her.
Another woman to whom we owe immensely was my Periammai, mother’s eldest sister. Short in size and black in skin color, an everlasting energy pack and an ebullient conversationalist, she had the ability of converting a sad moment or a bad day into a day of festival. Being elder to my father, she used to address him by his first name and her metallic voice, ‘Ananthaaaaaaaaa!’ Admonishing him for something or other, still vibrates in my ears. My father too respected his wife’s sister as his own, called her ‘Akka ( elder sister) and obeyed her words. After his mother passed away, ‘Akka’ was mother for him. She spent most of her life, looking after my parents and raising us though she had her own family. She was an Ayurvedic healer with no degree whatever, a Midwife or aaya, to help women in confinement, a legal adviser with no law degree and a dependable astrologer and sooth sayer, with no basic knowledge on stars and planets. She had a healing power, purely out of her sincerity to help others. She was everywhere, where some help was needed. She managed to travel alone from Chennai to Secunderabad and stay with me for a few months, in my bachelor days. When she left for Madras, half the crowd on the railways station platform was her admirers assembled to see off a dark, short old lady wrapped in a saffron colour Kasi Pattu sari, many in tears! They had never met her before, no chance of meeting her again. I am yet to see another old woman, like my Periammai, with no physical charm, who had the power to attract men , women and children of any age.
My mother in law, is the only living woman in our family, elder to me . She spent her time more for my wife and children than for her own family. Always calm and soft spoken, never interfering, available for any support, she was with me during the days of my high and low, summer and winter. Many auspicious events happened in the family, some deaths too. She was with us, throughout . I’m indebted to her love and support; so are my children. Her audibility has become poor and therefore I don’t talk to her as often as I would like to. My audibility is better; so I can hear her whispers, ‘odambai pAthukkunkol- take care’.
Wat a graceful n grateful thanks giving mama!!! I have to thank only God to introduce me to such a wonderful human being i have ever come across in my life span of 60 yrs. I include my first five years too as i remember everything that has happened in my life. Wonderful human being, a friend, a mama, a divine soul who can make everything lively….. Tx for being there as a friend mama
'Thanks giving day' musing