She wore thick rimmed spectacles when she had to read. In later years, she got those rims replaced with sleek ones. Her chungidi sarees always made me jump into her lap and rest my head against her bosom. Those sarees suited her so so well. Her eyes were full of kindness and when she laughed, I would break into peals of laughter myself, not knowing what the joke was all about. She wore a beautiful diamond nose ring (moonu kallu mukooti in Tamil). Her hair was silvery white with a few streaks of dull black, that were in the process of graying. Her favorite time of the day was post lunch, when she sat down in her recliner and read magazines (vikatan, kalki and name them all!) Sometimes, she would stand on the balcony and watch the surroundings silently. She was a happy soul no matter where she was. She was my maternal grandmother – Kalyaani Paati.
I have had a simple yet content childhood. Never have I been deprived of anything, I desired for. Sometimes, I also got what I wanted even before I asked for it. I seriously must have done some good Karma in the previous life to have gotten the world’s best parents, who have slogged all their life just for me. Even to this day, my mother does not allow me to do anything when I visit her and, she insists I do something worthwhile with my time (like teaching my son, playing with him and engaging him in all the activities to keep him off the kitchen limits). However, my father doesn’t feel the same as he subtly remarks at my slouchy act at home. Mother smiles, “All daughters are the same. I was like you too! “Yet, I help her with whatever I can, but with her permission. Hubby teases, “Oh please! Don’t think she doesn’t want a helping hand! It is always better to work by self than have a goof up master around!” I know, I am not the best candidate to work with, when it comes to house hold chores. And, I goof up a lot, but I necessarily don’t do so, all the time! Anyways, I am digressing. The intent to write this post is not about how I have enjoyed my childhood or, how my hubby and my father team up to tease me about my moment of inertia! But, it is about a lingering thought of how things would have been in my life, had I grown up with grandparents around, especially with Kalyaani paati around.
Growing up with grandparents is a luxury that only a few people are blessed with. It necessarily may not be, for the parents though. In my case, I arrived pretty in my parents’ lives and so, never got to see my maternal grandfather, who passed away years before my birth. As for my paternal grandfather, I was just a few months old, when he passed away too. Hence, I don’t have any distinct memory of having spent time with him, though we have a lot of pictures of him holding me fondly. Coming to the grannies, both chose to stay in south, as we made Gujarat, our permanent home.
Despite all that, my parents made sure I interacted enough with both grannies (paatis in tamil) at least once, every year. And it was in those visits, I developed a beautiful bond with my maternal grandmother (fondly remembered as Kalyaani Paati). My mother says, it was paati who nurtured and tended to me every second in the first six months after I was born. Well, I was too small to retain those precise details. However in later years, Kalyaani Paati and I got along so well that, she became my friend, confidant and more of a mother to me. We could talk endlessly on phone, as I would be busy explaining to her about my friends, my science projects, the movies I watched and the movies mother would not allow me to watch and how I swam for the first time, blah, blah and more blah. She was a patient listener and I, an incessant talker! My mother having been Daddy’s girl all her life was pleasantly surprised at my connection with her own mother. I could share my little secrets with her and she used to defend me when some of my actions were an outcome of pure notoriety. I still remember this incident, when I had fiddled with some wires of the VCR at my maternal aunt’s place and the VCR went kaput. My uncle (who is obsessively frenzy about orderliness) spotted the jumble and blew his top! I was truly scared that time and my sweet granny understanding my predicament, took the blame on herself, “Oh, I think I did it by mistake while cleaning…..” Uncle had calmed down then, as he adored granny more than anyone. Of course, I could never forgive myself for that. I later confessed to my parents, who made me promise them, that I was supposed to keep my tail under wraps whenever we are visiting relatives! Later that evening to diffuse my sullen mood, she made my favorite dish – sevai and chutney. I devoured it and she gleamed with joy. Her other specialties were making kozhakattais, pakka vadams (ribbon pakodas as we call in South) and Puttu. And, I always looked forward to this time of the year in my school days, when I could visit her and eat those delicacies!
Being her first grandchild and that too, a granddaughter, I have had the privilege of knowing her in ways no one did. For the world, she spoke less. She demanded nothing from people. She was a self dependent woman who loved feeding people. And, she was addicted to her house hold chores. More importantly, she had simple tastes in life. For me however, she was a woman of grit and courage, who raised her children impeccably after my tatha passed away. And, she was an excellent story teller and she would narrate to me a lot of wonderful folk tales from her land –Kerala. She was a workaholic who would compulsively work even if there was not much to do. And when she got free from the rigmarole of cooking and cleaning, she used to update herself with all the political news from magazines like Vikatan, Kalki etc..
And then, in the year 1999, I got a distress call from her. It was her last call to us. I still remember how her voice shook, when she said, “Narayani, I am not feeling well.” (Paati always addressed me by my full name) Later, my mother spoke to her for a long while. I was in the 9th grade and was about 14 years old. I had never known grief until then. Life was indeed all hunky dory to me until that moment. A week later, a jaundice caused by a benign tumor claimed her life and she left us forever. The pain of her absence remained with us, for a long time.
It has been 15 years now. Time heals a lot of pains. For us, it eased the pain. Yet today, in some corner of my heart, I ache for her presence around. There is not a year gone when I have not remembered her smiling face and dancing eyes. I missed her presence during my engagement and then, during my marriage. I even imagined how thrilled she must have been to hold her great grand son in her hands. I missed her then and, I miss her now. I miss the soft feel of her chungidi sarees. I miss her sweet smell, her soothing voice and her hearty laughter. For a long time post her demise, I missed our conversations on phone.
The photo of my tatha paati still hangs in our living room. Not that toady is some special day to remember her. It is just that I reminisced some beautiful moments of my life with her. A couple of years back, some of her items like, sarees, utensils and her collection of Tamil books and a lot of photographs were distributed among the siblings. My mother asked me what I wanted. I said, I would take the steel davara tumbler (steel cup and bowl) in which she used to prepare filter coffee. I use it for mixing the decoction and the hot milk to make the perfect filter coffee. A task as simple as that brings a smile on my face. Although I miss her a lot, I know that she watches over me every single day, every single night!
Lines for the moment:
Dear Kalyaani Paati, I love you a lot and I miss you a lot. Wished you could have stayed with us longer. I am sure you are happy wherever you are.