Athai ( aunt, not any aunt, only father’s sister) and mama ( uncle, not any uncle, mother’s brother) represent two important relationship in the paternal and maternal sides, respectively, in our families. The VAdhyAr, before calling for aarati to conclude any function at home, invites athai and mama, for their blessings. In the olden days, they used to bless the concerned and gift a ‘panam’ or a coin .
In the olden days, the daughter of the house was often given in marriage to a groom from a distant place and for her, a function in her parental home provides an ideal opportunity to meet her kin. I had only one living Athai when I was born who was married off at an young age of 9/10, to a Brahmin in a village called Kapisthalam, near Papanasam, Tanjore. She came back home only once to see her mother, my grand mother, during the upanayanam of mine and my brother. She left her maternal home wearing a pavadai and returned after several years, wearing the attire of a widow along with her daughter also in the same dress and two grandsons of 16/18. That was their first and last visit, though my father went once to meet his sister.
Some 6/7 years before, when I made a trip to Thanjavur, tried to locate their house which was impossible as I didn’t have with me their address. Athai would have passed away and perhaps her daughter too . I am mentioning this to emphasize why Athai is given such a prominent place in our family. So is mama, who goes for earning his livelihood to a distant place and comes back only to lift his niece above his shoulder to help her garlanding the bridegroom who too elevated by his uncle.
In my wife’s house, the Athai, who became a window soon after her marriage at 9/10 was the backbone of the family.
Now fortunately, the situation has changed. My children’s Meena Athai visit America often and other two Athai’s too, though not that regularly. Compare the distance between Hyderabad and New Jersey vis a vis Palakkad and Papanasam!
In the pictures below
1- My daughter Aparna with her two Athais during their recent USA trip.
2- My eldest son Sharath with his Athai and Athimbar when they travelled together to Switzerland, a few years before.
3-Atchu and Aparna with their mama , patti and Chithy at my Hyderabad home ‘Anantha Jyothy’.
4- Srikanth with his Meena Athai .
A closely knitted family is a bliss and the responsibility for that rests mainly on the shoulders of the daughters in law.