Down Appa’s Memory Lane

March 12, 2012

Appa turned 89 today . When I woke up , around 5.30 am,  I could hear him pottering about, and went to be the first to wish him Happy Birthday. “The first birthday without Amma,” he  noted, and both of us paused to let the poignant moment pass.  I wondered what it must feel  like to spend 56 birthdays (and 56 wedding anniversaries) with someone, and  wake up one day to find there will never be a 57th  of the same kind.

Amma died on January 24,  two weeks after she marked her 75th birthday. She had become quite forgetful, and barely remembered what presents she had received on her birthday. A pair of bangles ,  some money… having your valaikaappu at this age? I  asked, over the phone from faraway America,  and elicited a chuckle that proved to be the last.  A few days later I was on the plane to Bangalore.

In the weeks that followed,  we  often went into rewind mode.  Sometimes in our conversations, Amma was just away on a  long visit to Nellore.  Or in Amma Heaven, calling Ganesha Store  with her endless wish list of groceries so she could make everyone’s favorite dishes.  Her absence had become a Great Presence as the family grieved,  remembered and  then celebrated her.

I thought longingly of the divine chapatis that only Amma could make,  and Subri said now even a burned chapati made by her would be divine.   When an aval upma proved to be a disaster( because I didn’t let it soak long enough), Appa must have thought just as longingly of the ‘soft ”  aval upma that Amma always made, which translated, to me as “soggy”. Just now , what wouldn’t I do for a  helping of that soggy /soft “owl” upma, rustled up by Amma!

With mixed feelings we thumbed through the wedding album of “Mr and Mrs ’55”   and we were struck by how beautiful a bride Amma made, sans make-up , but  glamorous enough to give Nargis a complex. Appa, the same age as Dev Anand , incidentally, cut a dashing figure in the suit, in the picture (black  & white) taken by G.G.Welling.

“Tatha, when was the first time you met Pati?” Harini asked, and I  realised that the person who had answers to these questions, who always made  the ordinary stories    about all the uncles, aunts, cousins, once, twice-removed,  and totally removed courtesy-relations included  most fascinating,  and taught me to love them by knowing one little thing about each Chittappa, Mama, or  Tatha and Paati, had gone without answering that one!!

And we all looked at Tatha,  now the solitary source of  stories that ought to begin at  “Once Upon a Time”…………. and  go on “Happily Everafter!”

Appa at age 21, went to  Madras for the wedding of Cousin(s) Radha and Sitaram, and  there he first spotted his future wife, Thulasi, all of seven,  doing well, what seven-year-olds normally do at weddings.   Eleven years later, when Thulasi was 18, it was arranged that she should wed Sheshagiri . He went up to Nellore to “see” her,  accompanied by his cousin Baba,  and on his return,  his father ( Our Ramabrahma Tatha) pronounced, “you’ve got the best one of the seven sisters.”

I spent four months with Appa, and Bunty and we talked of many things, watch endless reruns of Ramayan, Shri Krishna and every mythological show that we could catch.  Appa is  89 years rich in history. of our family, of  our times.

He was 12 when Swami & Friends  was published, in 1935, and Malgudi arrived in our collective psyche.  Now  he is in his “anecdotage’. And we are hungry for stories of  his own Malgudi days.  Which makes for serendipity ( a word Appa loves to  insert into the conversation as often as he can, which is why the word is here)

He will be on rewind mode, to the times when there was neither TV nor remote, and pastimes were indulged in at a more leisurely pace, and kids could gaze upon camels and wonder at their purpose in nature’s scheme of things,  shout cheeky comments at departing British contingents, and live to tell the tale……witness the transition from petromax-lit  evenings to  electric nights…….

Appa is now the narrator and I, the scribe…………Heard that one before?


  1. Srikala says:

    Wow…a perfect start I would say!! I am waiting for more to come…I would love to hear the story of Bava and attai.

  2. nalini says:

    appa!!!!!! spinning a yarn??!!!! appa, the fabric of our family.
    har roz, ek kahani maangta hai hum.

  3. sumana gowda says:

    Although I am not part of your HUGE family which consists of a myriad aunt’s and uncles and cousins who seem to be everywhere, I feel so much a part of your family.

    The times that I have spent with your Amma and Appa have been truly amazing.

    Amma, I remember was such a hospitable lady. No matter what time of the day I landed up at your house, she would ensure that I got a cup of fragrant brew. And very often soft idlis and even softer chapatis. I remember one afternoon, she insisted on making hot chapatis for me, even though she was tired. I ate just one, I wish I had eaten one more (selfish of me to think that now) but I would have so loved to have had that one more! And cling to the taste of her chapatiis for a life time.

    Appa, I miss his infectious laugh and chuckle and story telling time. Maybe, one day soon I will make a trip to Bombay and visit him.

  4. Jayasri says:

    Sumana, that is so beautiful. You just brought Amma back to us. Thank you for this and I’ll hold you to your promise to visit Bombay!!1 Meanwhile don’t forget to follow Sheshagiri Days right here and cheer us on.

  5. shailesh venkatadri says:

    Hi lovely article…you brought Tulsi mami back to me…!! so many memories come flooding..she always used to address me when she saw me as YENNA DA..wonder why she always daa ed me !! …
    This is for the one and only TULASI MAMI…

    she made lovely omelettes for me in 1978 when she had come home to ahmedabad (we lived there ) and one of my BEST movies Main tulsi tere angan ki was with her in oct 78 in ahmedabad !!!!

    i hit her in her eye by mistake then and she had made it main tulsi tere aankhan (eye) ki !! we had a great time in Mt ABu,ambaji and dakor(temples visits in gujarat) with her ,my dad,arvind…sadly like tulasi mami, appa ( and venkatadri mama) to others is also no more..!

    sudha (my sis) always recalls seeing HER BEST MOVIE “”DAAG”” with her in …in 1973..(sadly rajesh khanna also passed away recently..and ofcourse NANDA also doesnt exist any more..)…

    .may be the movie was to mushy./romantic…..cos she( tulasi mami ) said and i quote …konch love givvu alla rombaa jaasti indu cinema le !!!!!
    ha ha…..tulasi mami and censor board?? haha that was 70s..guys…!!!

    she had a brown with cream border kanjeevaram saree which she swapped with Amma in 82 during manjulas marriage…its still with amma..and whenever i see brown saree, i think of mami and yellow then its bunty !!!

    so i l end here..keep the memories rolling Jayasri…a lot can be said about tulasi mami i guesss i wud run out of space…

    1. Jayasri says:

      Hehe Shailesh, I caught Amma and Sudha trying to sneak out after I cam back from school, and just threw my books into the house andran wtih them. And I remember the kaftan which Amma brought back for me from A’bad- you called it two-pieces of cloth stiched togewther with three holes-. Bunty called it Tirupati Hundi .
      She bought an onion colored sari for Manjula’s wedding, and we called her stuffed onion- Vengaym ulle kishangu!!

  6. Phalguni says:

    Yeh Dil Maange More..

  7. Phalguni says:

    Yeh Dil Really Maange More..

  8. shailesh says:

    Once Tulasi mami had come to Ahmedabad in oct 1978..(till dec 1978 )..she went to a grocery shop near our flat…the item cost Rs 2.50 which is ADDHI in GUJARATI…..
    Mami paid him Rs 2 and started leaving…The shopkeeper said e aunty Addhi Adhi BEY (Rs 2) NAHIN…2.50 not 2…rupees…

    Tulasi Mami turned round and sweetly said…aaamo vonnaku ADDI da ha ha..(in tamil..for you a beating only!!)….

    later the shopkeeper told me….e shailesh tara Mami to ZORDAAR che !!!
    So SHE was !!

    Even a GUJJU shopkeeper was charmed by her ..enuff to give a discount of 50paise !!
    Mind you in GUJARAT that is an achievement….!!!

    Tulasi Mami tussi great ho……kasam se….!!

    later when she was leaving in dec 78..I was 13 then ,who was so used to her..i told her Mami neenge inge iraango…(stay here only).

    Mami turned round and asked me.looking at me squarely in the eye..(!)..Ye yennaku kollandai kutti galu illya? ange bengaluru le jaysari ,subri ,bunty…kaatindirpaa….waiting……l
    later we went shopping to teen darwaza.i(in abad)…and got some stuff to take to bangalore……..!!!
    ya the kaftaan you mentioned was picked by me..and approved by sudha…!!

    1. Jayasri says:

      Tussi Maami! Great Che! That was our Gujarati– add a Che at the end of the sentence!

  9. R.K.Narayan is dead. Long live Jayasri Alladi !
    Jayasri…You have an endearing style and a mischievous/humour quotient…and you can see what others cannot see (Ravi Kaanadu….Kavi Kanda as they say in Kannada). Now that you have started it, you must complete it……If you fictionalise it a bit….Down Appa’s Memory Lane….. could be the next big thing in Indo-Anglian literature….please talk to your dad twice a week…..and blog the output with similar regularity……Add the Baltimore Aiyers (Iyers, if you please), the Roads Scholars, the Varamahalakshmi Athes and presto….in six months…. you will burst on the literary scene……….God Bless and Hearty Congratulations in advance …….
    Remember your promise to me vis-a-vis pursuit of your literary
    talent. Also remember Rajnikant’s famous dialogue….. Naan solrathu seiven, seiyadhu Sollrein……….You must live up to it!

    1. Jayasri says:

      R K Narayan!! Awesome mantle to slide into! But I’ll try! Thanks Asp, Guru helida maata meeruvudilla!! This will cheer me on ! And I assure you, I will put you also in my book! Soon folks may start avoiding me, something that happened to the gadabout Gally, brother of Lord Emsworth!! But I know you won’t !!

  10. Siddharth says:

    Trying to get in touch with Shailesh Venkatadri…would be obliged if someone can give me his contact nos. thanks, Siddharth Nair, Mumbai

    1. Jayasri says:

      nice to see Sweetkharacoffee connecting people. He’s on Facebook.
      will send this to shailesh don’t want to put his email here on comments

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