Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Paatti (Grandmother)

"Look at me!" I cry impatiently, turning her face towards me.
"No! Look at me!", cries my sister, pulling her face towards herself, instead.
"Aiyyo! I am not looking at anyone. Please just let me look at the ceiling!", cries my grandmother wrenching her face from the two warring siblings lying on either side of her on the bed and staring straight up.
"Paatti tell us a story" say I.
"Yes, Paatti, tell us Ramayanam", says my sister knowing fully well how much I hate Ramayanam because Sita always gets abducted, and Rama always sends her back to the forest when she is pregnant,  no matter how many times you hear it!
"No Paatti! Tell us Krishnan kadai (stories of Krishna)", because he is more fun and he does silly things and is never too snooty and pious.
"No Paatti, Raman kadai"
"No Paatti Krishan kadai!"
"Kokkolam ponnundo kolagathey? (Does the King's palace have as much gold as the crane)?" sings Patti, taking off on a complete tangent in Malayalam!
"PAAATTI! Don't sing", scream the sisters in unison, for once in accord with each other!
Paatti dissolves in a paroxysm of giggles, expecting exactly this reaction from her two annoying granddaughters. Completely ignoring our pleas, she continues singing until, despite ourselves, we are taken in by the song  of the taunting crane and the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses King. One thing leads to another and before we know it we are lulled into sleep by a whole compendium of story-songs that are cunningly woven around important morals including don't fight with your sister!

Everything was an adventure and a curiosity to her. Even the squeaky white rubber elephant toy my mother bought for me. She affectionately named it Ayiravadham (Indra's steed) and told us a story about him. Then she promptly eviscerated him to see how it was that he managed to squeak every time he was squeezed! She was only mildly disappointed when she realized that she could not put him back together again. It was impossible for her to be put out for too long about anything.

She found humour in the most impossible of situations. She giggled uncontrollably even when she related how my grandfather, her husband, was imprisoned by the British colonialist for making free salt under the leadership of Gandhi. She found it so funny that the British could not put any of the women behind bars because they simply ran out of room in the jails. Listening to her you would think that the salt satyagraha was a big mela like the Ganesh Chaturthi and that the British were just some bumbling local policemen, ineffectively charging against an over zealous crowd of drunken revelers.

The only thing she liked more than smiling was singing and relating stories. Once when we were in Delhi, I caught her intently conversing with another woman her age. They were laughing, chatting, singing and vigorously agreeing with each other. Moving closer to them I discovered that while she was talking about Krishna, the other lady was talking about Durga. More importantly, one was talking in Tamil, the other was holding forth in Bengali and neither of them understood the others' language. It didn't matter much either, because they were both a bit hard of hearing! They each picked a word from the other's narrative and built their own from it! Truly. It was possible to be entertained without Facebook and the Internet, back then!

Oh yes, and flowers. She loved flowers. She was up at the crack of dawn plucking the five different jasmines or the mandarai or the arali (oleander) to make yards and yards of garlands that were used to garland all the pictures in the home, sported on every woman's head, donated to everyone in the block and then distributed in the temple!

In the final year of her life, even when she had lost her language completely, somewhere in her mind remained her love for flowers. She still managed to go out at the crack of dawn to gather her beloved flowers and bring them home. It was heart breaking to watch the person who could not be paid to stop talking become overcome with frustration at not being able to even articulate a single word to convey what she was thinking. By the time she departed, even her incoherent verbalizing had stopped and it was not clear if she understood anything at all. But she wove the fabric that is my childhood, there is almost no memory of my childhood that does not involve her in some way.

I had been meaning to write about her for a long time, but Kissan's Real Blogger Contest reminded me of it!

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varsha said...

I can almost see her through your words and feel the joy of days spent with her as well as the pain of seeing her go.

Agnija Bharathi said...

Hey, thanks Varsha. I was meaning to write a longer one, but...