Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reflections on seeing a paati

Today I saw a photo of my mother's mother for perhaps the first time in my life. She has been dead for a long long time and my own information about her is rather sketchy. All I know is that she passed away when my mother was 4 years old. My mother used to say that she left home after having made paruppu thogayal for dinner. And never returned alive. When I was young I was never curious about my maternal grandmother. And rarely asked my mother about her. Even if I had, what could my mother have told me? She was a mere child when she was bereaved.

So much so, I'm not even sure what my grandmother's real name is. Ramalakshmi, I think. Or is it Nagalakshmi? And yet, when I saw her photo today, I couldn't take my eyes of her. I wish I knew more about this young woman sitting next to her newly-wed husband. She must have been no more than 16 or 17 in that photo. And already her shoulders were rounded and her eyes lined with fatigue. Did she have a premonition of the short life ahead of her? The five children she would bear in quick succession and leave behind soon thereafter? She's not even smiling in the photo. Did someone tell her that it is not proper to smile at a stranger behind the camera? Or was it the weight of her husband's hand on her shoulder that made it difficult for her to relax and smile? By contrast, her husband, my grandfather, is a strapping, handsome young man in his early twenties with much to look forward to. I've heard a lot about his intelligence, his supposed brilliance as an academician. His legions of students who, almost 30 years since his demise, still talk about him with great awe. No achievement on that side of my family, particularly academic, goes without being credited to the grandfather's genes. Two generations down the line, the man's presence still looms large. And yet, so little of his wife is known.

I go back to look at her photo and I'm drawn to her face. It is deeply moving to think that I'm her direct descendant. Perhaps I inherited some of her traits. Her love for sweets. Her tendency to put on weight. Her stubborn nature. I will never know. And I will never be able to tell my children about it. But for now, I gather my son and show him the picture. This was my paati, I tell him. He seems vaguely interested and then runs away to play with his cars. But someday I will tell him that she had five children and that the last meal she cooked was a thogayal.

The 24 hour challenge

This should be tricky. But here's the idea first. You have to come up with a story in a day's time. I'll give you the theme or the opening line to a story. And you post your entry in the next 24 hours. I'll try to pose a new challenge every other day. And the most profilic and the most creative writer will be judged winner at the end of the month. A couple things to bear in mind. Please keep your stories short and please post them in the comment box. All clear? Good, we'll get rolling in the next few days.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A quick tale 200

Suniti said...

Wow! That was a great Ammani.

September 25, 2007 10:20 PM

Janaki said...

Why do all your stories haveto end like this always?

September 25, 2007 10:53 PM

Singer the minger said...

This reminds me of a short story by Sujatha. I think you are running out of ideas.

September 26, 2007 1:12 AM

Juvinile said...

Congrats on the 200 ammani. Uve dunnit in style.

September 26, 2007 5:50 AM

Pesidunit said...

[…]'ammani posts her 200th quick tale'[…]

September 26, 2007 8:07 AM

Blogeswari said...

Ada thoo! Idhu oru kadai. Idhukku ivlo comment! Kizhinjidu po!

September 26, 2007 12:45 PM

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September 26, 2007 2:56 PM

Anonymous said...

What is the point? I think this blog is highly over-rated. I prefer Nilu anyday. Where is theothernilu?

September 26, 2007 10:45 PM

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A quick tale 199

This is him

This is him. It was taken in 1984. When he was applying for a passport. The office was going to send him to a conference in Paris in a couple of months and he needed a passport pretty soon. He went to have his photo clicked on a Tuesday morning. I asked him if he could wait until the following day as everyone knows Tuesdays are not auspicious. He chided me for being so superstitious and left for the studio. The photographer told him that he should be wearing something dark coloured and so he rushed home to change. He's wearing a deep blue coloured shirt but you wouldn't know that because it's a black and white photo. It cost him 20 rupees for 6 copies and an extra 4 rupees for the negative. I laughed when I first saw the photo because he looked so grim in it. As if the doctor had just delivered some very bad news. He was annoyed when he saw me laughing and told me that only fools grin stupidly at a camera. We stuck 4 copies onto the application form and enclosed a loose copy with it. I don't know where the negative went. But I've kept the 6th copy in my mani-purse.

He was diagnosed last June and they said that he was already in stage 3. He passed away in August. At least he didn't suffer for long. Sometimes when I open my purse to pay the milkman or the vegetable vendor, I wonder if I will only remember him as the man with the severe expression from that photo. Of course I won't. I have wonderful memories from all those years together. Some of the best ones were never captured on camera.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A quick tale 198

Brindavan Express

There’s something wrong with her, I thought to myself as the elderly woman strode past me for the tenth time in the last five minutes. I watched her as she walked down the length of our train carriage. She reached the far end, turned around and started to come back. She must be 60 or 70, cannot tell for sure. She was one of those people who seemed to have been old for a really long time. Tight grey curls that had escaped the tiny grasp of a pony tail framed her evenly lined face. She wore a bright green saree and a matching blouse and appeared well-cared for. She was the kind of woman you would expect to bore you with details of her senior bank manager-son, her government-employee daughter-in-law, 16-year old grandson Rahul or Ajay who was studying hard to get in to a professional degree course and her 12-year old grand-daughter who had just become ‘a woman’. Except she did none of these. Her eyes looked vacant and she kept mumbling furiously as she marched up and down the train carriage purposefully.

Brindavan Express leaves Chennai at 7 am on weekday and stops at several small towns before reaching Bangalore just past noon. It’s favoured by city-dwellers who work in small outposts. Today was no exception and our carriage was packed with office-goers on their way to work. And they all seemed determined to ignore the oddly-behaved elderly woman in their midst. After watching her for another 20 minutes or so, and noticing no change in her behaviour, I decided to do something. Amma! I called out to her. She walked on by without registering my call. I followed her as I tried to get her attention. I was right behind her and when we reached the end of the carriage, she turned around and came face-to-face with me. She looked straight past me. Are you with someone, amma?, I asked. She didn’t seem to hear me. Amma? I repeated. Is your family with you? Son? Daughter? Somebody? She reacted with the same vacant expression. And I noticed something akin to panic flit past her eyes. I was keen to avoid a showdown so I let her pass.

By now, I had the attention of the entire carriage. Did anyone see her come with somebody? I asked out aloud. A few heads shook no. I went around asking the same question. And no one had seen her being accompanied by family. I spent the next half-an-hour walking along the train asking others if they were missing an elderly co-passenger. I returned to my carriage with a plan. I found out that the next big station was Katpadi Junction. I’m going to hand her over to the station master, I said out aloud to those in my carriage, and he should be able to do the needful. No one seemed to care what happened to her. They busied themselves with magazines, happy to have her taken off their hands.

At Katpadi, I alighted first and gently helped her get off the train. She didn’t resist and held on tightly to me like a child in a fairground. The station master’s office was a dark room with a fan whirring noisily somewhere in the ceiling. I explained the situation to him and he listened to me patiently. They had another case like this last month at Vyasarpadi, he told me, the family didn’t want to take care of the old man any more, so they let him wander. But what can we do? Anyway, leave her here. The lady constable has gone for her lunch break. Once she comes back, I’ll ask her to do something.

I was told that they would arrange for the old woman to be taken to Chennai where they would lodge a complaint in the missing people’s registry. If no one came forward to claim her in 30 days, she would be sent to some mental-health institution. I looked up at her still clinging to me like a little girl. I’m sorry, Amma, I said to her quietly, I cannot take care of you any more. This is probably better for you than living with us.

I heard the train whistle going up. I prised her fingers open and freed my arm. I started to run without turning back. Tears were flowing freely as I boarded the train. We should reach Bangalore in 3 hours’ time.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

In The Night Garden

It's official. We are addicted to this eerily surreal and refreshingly ridiculous offering from Cbeebies - yes, the same house of art that brought us such classics as Teletubbies and the unforgettable Balamory. Presenting In The Night Garden. Featuring Ickle-pickle, Upsy-daisy, Topplyboo, Ninkynonk, Pinkyponks, Ponty-pines and the slightly suggestively named Maka-Pakka. Please do not adjust your sets.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This being the flavour of the month....

School Chale Hum!

Caught my eye

A couple of lovely posts that deserve a wider audience. One, in which Madura goes shopping (warning: adult content). And two, in which Ahiri urges the little 'uns to cover the planet with their footprints.

First day

The boy went in to school without so much as a look in our direction. We kept waving. In case he did.

Thanks so much Archana, Shyam, Shoefiend, a4isms, SS, Deepa, G3, Bubby, Naga Mama, WA and all others for writing in wishing the little one luck.