A walk down the memory lane….
Early summer morning with the chanting of suprabhata, aarti (morning prayer) and the sound of the bell would wake us up at 5 0’clock. This was the time when we wished to sleep a little more during our summer vacations. Just as her last part of prayers were over, we would get up within a flash of a second, brush our teeth and were ready for breakfast. In a south Indian family one would not even get a cup of coffee without having a bath. My mother followed the ritual but we were spared.
By this time she would start yelling as to who is not ready for the breakfast. She is my Doddamma, my mother’s elder sister. We visited her during our vacations. She was everything for us both grandmother and grandfather, as we had no grandparents.
Before the breakfast, we had to weave our own plates using dried leaves and twigs, which she had kept plenty in store. We were fascinated and learned how to weave, bistaraku. Sprinkle some water and wipe it clean. Then one would be served with hot idlis, coconut chutney and sambhar. No introduction of microwave oven or something during those days, so direct from cooker to plate. Wow, we used to relish them with great fondness.
After the breakfast she would get ready and leave for office. She used to walk down with a tiffen box in her purse and a black umbrella for all seasons. Generally known as ‘Miss V. Gunnamma’, she used to feel proud of her English speaking and writing capabilities. All around the small town she was famous as Gunnamma garu and any one with some problem in English writing, application etc would approach her. With our arrival, the neighbourhood was informed that her sister’s children have come. Thus, people thronged to see us.
At Allahabad, the year round we used to wait for her letters. Generally she used to write in Telugu, two lines in English were scribbled for us on that yellow postcard. It made us dance with joy that she has written something for us too. Our replies on the postcard started from writing “ABC”, broken English words finally maturing enough to write some proper sentences till the era of postcards came to an end. All of them were read with same delight.
Another incident that brings back vivid memories, my ear-piercing which took place at her house during one of our visits. She had appointed a goldsmith on Sunday to come and pierce my ears. I was as usual playing in the backyard, my brother had brought the news that the goldsmith has arrived and that Doddamma is waiting for you. Hearing this, I started running from one house to another, inside out, shouting, that she will pierce my ears. This chaos had caused the people in the neighbourhood to gather specially women. After a few rounds, I realized that there was no way I could avoid her. I gathered courage and returned with my brother. I was offered all sorts of sweets to endure the pain, many varieties being collected from each household. Do you like this, or this? But the anxiety and distress at that time had made me ignore all the best sweets.
Finally remembering a piece of jaggery found way into my mouth and the tongue relishing the sweetness, followed by a sharp pierce in both the ears. As I opened my eyes, I saw the all the people in the neighborhood witnessing the ritual without any formal invitation. No cameras to capture those moments, only the grey matter has in its memory.
We loved watching Telugu movies, and this was encouraged by our Doddamma. She would make sure that we watched a few movies before we left. In those days it was quiet safe to venture out in the late nights and we accompanied her for late night shows. She would later enjoy our repeat performance of some incidents in the movies.
She was the eldest in her family and after the demise of her parents; she looked after her siblings of six. She started working at an early age and brought up all her siblings. My mom was the youngest of all. She did not marry but sacrificed her life for the upbringing of her younger brothers and sisters. All had good education, settled with a satisfactory job and later, married. She was now left to lead a lonely life. Often being visited by her brothers, nephews and nieces.
Our evenings were spent in reading Sanskrit slokas which she would recite to us. Taught us yoga and narrated tales from of Mahabharata and Ramayana. A few lessons of Carnatic music was also a part of the evening rituals. She had encouraged my mother to learn Veena, an ancient musical instrument and classical music. Whatever affinity I have for music today, is because of the environment created by both the sisters. At early in life, I pursued ‘Kathak’ dance, which was quiet opposite to her taste. Neither could she ever appreciate north Indian music nor could I imbibe Carnatic music as per her wishes.
She would make intricate rangolis within minutes every morning in the porch as well as backyard and wished that we learned from her. No matter how much I tried copying her I could not impress her by my rangolis. Still whatever I could carve out today is again her because she continuously insisted me to do so.
After her retirement she settled down in a remote village near Visakhpatnam along with her cousins. I paid a visit to her in 2002, while I was pursuing my career in Hyderabad. I informed her that I will be spending my Diwali vacation with her. She was quiet excited. I would land at Visakhapatnam, from there it was another 2 hours road journey to her place, and I thought I will board the bus. Accordingly, I planned my itinerary and booked my tickets.
At Visakhapatnam somehow my intuition grew stronger, there at the station I asked the Ticket Checker to extend my ticket to Vizianagaram, from where it was an hour by bus. When the station arrived, I was looking out of the window; I saw a crouched figure sitting in one of the benches, recognizing her I jumped out of the train before it came to halt. Why on Earth was she there? I asked her, I told you I will manage somehow. She replied you don’t know how to read Telugu so I am here to take you home. God knows which bus you will board? I was stunned, but at the same time was thankful that my intuition guided me to land at the right time and right place. I kept noticing her all along. She grew older now, needed help for daily errands. Her figure had started diminishing. At home, now she had graduated with LPG, television with a cable connection and telephone to keep her connected to the outside world. She had learnt how to take care of herself, her illness and above all engaging her time in prayers and satsangs. A sense of contentment filled my heart seeing all this. She had no complains about anything in life, she was happy and content in her own world and of course, striving to be independent even at this age. By now she was 75 plus.
I had brought a saree for her with my scholarship money to wear during Diwali. On that festival day, I recall she had her usual bath and all, and she wore the saree with great fondness. Then she asked me to stay at home, she will be back in a while. I waited for few minutes wondering where she had disappeared, when she returned she had a big smile on her face and said all people in the neighbourhood had liked the saree. I told them my daughter has bought, she will become a scientist in a few days. I did not have a mobile camera or a smart phone at that time as I miss to have a selfie with her. She was so crazy even at that point of life and enthusiastic to have a ‘catwalk in the neighbourhood’. I got the gift of my life seeing her bubbling with happiness, even though I stayed a short time but my visit has been worth.
All my cousins were grown up, settled with their careers; no one had enough time to spend days together with her. She was the head of the family and her presence at all weddings, family functions was of immense importance . She attended all without any hesitation.
Time flew, she grew older and older. Her last days were not good as she suffered fracture in both of her legs on after another. Her bones were weak not able to support her anymore. Her last moments were spent at one of my cousins place.
The last time I saw her before coming to Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia (after my marriage). She presented me a cotton saree, which I will treasure now for years to come. This lady was a common lady with immense courage, selfless sacrifice and indomitable will. Her life spent completely in carving out others’ lives. Yet, having no complaints from anyone. A life which was filled with dedication, sacrifice and commitment. A life full of contentment and well lived. Very few people are blessed to lead such a life. She was the ‘banyan tree’ of our family. I am glad, I belong to her genetically.
I am penning down all those moments spend with her, as they are a treasure now after her demise last year.