Chellammal athai was my wife’s aunt. I met her in our wedding and instantly became her admirer, attracted by her personal charm, graceful behavior and unreserved affection showered on me. She was 60 or even 70 but when you see such people, their age never comes to your mind. Still, I couldn’t but wonder how charming she would have been in her teens. But alas, she had become a widow, before the age of menstruation!
Athai, along with my mother -in -law managed the household of her brother, PMS, and his big family of twelve children including my wife and her two siblings, almost equal no of elders and also cattle and servants. Combined families were the norm of those days and invariably there was an athai or patti or Periammai( father’s or mother ‘s sister or grandmother ) in almost every family, whose entire life was spent supporting the family, as was in our case, where we had our mother’s elder sister.
chellammal athai ‘s father Chami pattar of Monkombu was my wife’s grandfather and also my mother’s maternal uncle. He was one of the three popular VadhyAr brothers in Moncombu.
A simple hearted man, pious and helpful, Chami pattar was angry, outspoken and at times used to shout at everyone in the family including his eldest daughter, who took over the role of care taker after his wife passed away. Even while bedridden in his old age, he used to spurt like a handful of red chillies thrown into the tongues of leaping flames from a firewood oven, for any minor delay or deviation for his routines. Chellammal athai bore the brunt of her father ‘s anger, always smiling, despite her workload in the household.
My mother had mentioned about her maternal uncle’s anger earlier but it was from my wife, I had a complete picture of his eccentric behavior.
“Why was he howling at everyone including his own daughter,? I asked my wife.
This was what she said :
“Thatha’s howling and bowling harsh words were actually aimed at God!”
That single- sentence reply sent a shock wave through my nerves initially and then, pained my heart and filled it with sympathy for him.
What an unlucky father was he, to grow old and die, seeing his charming, favorite daughter, moving in the attire of a widow right before his eyes, for over fifty or sixty years! He would have dreamt, during her childhood that she would bloom into motherhood, then slowly ripe as a grandmother, heading an empire of her own.
The young girl managed to translate her sufferings to service, smiling all the time, irrespective of the hot steam bubbling and burning from inside. But her father, suppressed by untainted affection for his unfortunate daughter found no ways, other than cursing the creator for the disaster in her life.
In a Malayalam movie, Nirmalyam, the oracle, unable to bear the stress of shame and sufferings, spits at the face of the idol he worshiped in a temple, with contempt, before he takes away his own life. The movie was a hit, but I disliked the end where the oracle spat at the face of the Idol with his blood. But at whom else would he show his anger? In one of my stories too, the leading character, lying helpless on his death bed, raises his head and hands to punch the Imaginary God, he thought, appeared before him. Compared to these insults to the creator Chami pattar’s verbal attacks on his family was ignorable.
But, one thing is sure. Women out -stand men, In disaster management and adapting the environmental changes. They are born with the inbuilt insulation materials to control the steam of their woes preventing it from burning them and also converting it into cool jets to comfort others.
A friend- request received yesterday, from the youngest niece of Chellammal Athai, kindled my memory on the veterans of my wife’s parental home and made me to share some thoughts on their life, with you.