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?