Rama

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The  only wealth , (apart from the Telugu translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana)    that Mamidipudi Ramakrishnaiah aka Chamanna left his large brood of grandchildren was the 16 children  he had with Indiramma. How rich  we 29 cousins are in aunts and uncles who babysat, played with us,  got us icecream and took us to movies, and  were willing accomplices in the many capers that were wrought by the young ones , gamely taking the rap, or skillfully concealing the entire op from the authority.

We were all lucky it never mattered which aunt was in charge of an army of cousins. No one felt the lack of their respective moms, and happily demanded whatever was needed from the aunt in charge.  At Saraswathi’s  there was always the aroma of great sambar wafting from the kitchen, and there were tons of M&Bs to be found .  You could see serious conversations between a 4-year-old and an aunt/uncle,in  Nellore, or at Rohini’s and it would be hard to say who was the grown-up there. At Jani’s you could expect some sharp scolding if you didnt eat your vegetables, but as much snacks and junk food you wanted to munch on while playing, if you did eat your vegetables.

Everybody calls each other by name, the raucous arguments often unfold when the clan gathers , the side-shows wher secrets are traded and uncles (as in the spouses of the aunts) commandeer a passing kid to massage their legs,  and a great game of Monopoly is played.  There are aunts cooking up a storm in the kitchen, and an impromptu contest is  announced to judge who, Thulasi ( my mom, she’s been gone four years now) or Jani (Janaki, also gone , for a long time now) makes the best  masala dosa.  There’s Rohini, our youngest aunt, whose adventures in North  Indian cuisine is my introduction to cooking with basmati and garam masala!

Rama went two weeks back, to join her parents and eight siblings, who now reside in our hearts, and memories. And we who know ourselves to be so rich in aunts and uncles, are feeling suddenly bereft of a presence  that was many things- the one we went to when we needed an old myth verified. the juicy details of an old , forgotten scandal, or trying to  untangle a  hopelessly  knotted branch of the vast family tree. She was  the aunt who generously gave of her affection to all her nieces and nephews, cooked the most delicious anything ,  excelled at embroidery and crochet and a host of other crafts,  and somehow ended up being the spare Amma to all of us.

I wish it was possible to remember when you realized your mom was your mom, or the first time you met an aunt and began a beautiful relationship in which you got most of the fun.  I remember that fun part.  A summer holiday when I was  may seven or eight. Venky, Sekhar, Vimala,  brothers Subri and Bunty and I, were all sent to Rama’s house -the mansion on Poes Road.  Her mother-in-law,  also Athya since she was   Chamanna’s sister was there. Venky and Sekhar winkled a permission to raid the mango tree and divest it of the season’s best, only to be roundly chastised, by Athya, who was under the impression that she had said they could gather the fallen pieces, and was quite devasted at the loss of a couple of bottles worth of avakkai in this caper.

I was quite taken with the collection of Chandamama , all bound , 12  issues to a book , that were upstairs, though I think they were Telugu, and i could barely read a few words. Athya , I remember told me the story  of Little One Eye, Little Two Eyes and Little Three Eyes.

There were cats. and they loved ompodi.  We knew there’d always be ompodi, and  as long as there was enough for the cats, we could help ourselves, which we did.

Subri tells me that  one afternoon,  the Rita Icecream cart came by. Everyone ran out, and Rama said she’ll fetch the donnes ( cups made out of palm leaves) . By the time she returned, everyone was done eating icecream, and Vimala informed her, “we are done already, you can take the “donti” back “.  Rama went, laughing

Kids that we were, none of us bothered to consider where the money to pay for the icecream came from. When she went to doll-making class, she asked me to pick which kind of doll I wanted. I asked for a Japanese doll, and soon enough a 10-inch Japanese maiden in rich orange and cream brocade arrived, to delight me for many years, sitting on top of the showcase. I wish I’d kept it.

Thanks to Rama, I discovered the Woman & Home and Woman’s Weekly, the British magazines that she subsribed to, and had also collected and bound. They were passed on to Vimala and me later, and for many years I treasured mine, reading  and re-reading the serialised romances of  Iris Bromige, Lucilla Andrews,  Lucy WAlker whose stories were located in Australia. In WW, the royal photographer Cecil Beaton wrote a column, and this  is why I think I know a great deal than I am supposed to  about  life in Buckingham Palace, in the 50s and 60s. Again it is  courtesy of these magazines, that also had knitting and embroidery patterns, and recipes that I pretend-cooked and today, know that I will never feel lost in London and its neighbourhood if  were to be left to find my own way around that city.

When the news came that Rama had left us , on Jan 26,  the first thing that hit me was that I would no longer be required to  rustle up  sweetcorn and vegetable soup, and  make a bowl of  dosavakkai because Rama was coming to visit.

There would no longer be  little deceptions practised over cooking egg at home.  Rama’s  fuss over eggs was legendary, and everyone learned to walk around , well, eggshells on this matter. Eggs made a hesitant entry into the diet in some of our kitchens  on account of “doctor’s orders”  due to some of us kids being underweight, and it was an open secret that some kitchens in the clan had become “eggstraordinary”.

She once refused to eat an eggless cake that I’d baked, saying ” cake means egg”. Later, Patta ( our Mama) said of her, ” now she’ll eat anything that has a green dot on it”.

Our aunts and uncles have taught us to laugh at ourselves and laugh with each other.  Rama’s loud crack of laughter at some joke, her delight at a baby nephew’s cheeky line,  her trademark  habit of clutching her forehead with her thumb and little finger, which she would then flap vigorously, meaning that she thought someone (among us) was being annoying,  a thalanoppi in fact, has amused us always, and everyone uses it  now. It could become  sign by which we cousins can recognize each other, across the globe like Freemasons !

SOmetimes Amma  would keep the battered little nonstick pan in a corner of the kitchen, and it would be pointed out to Rama and she’d be told, ” don’t use that Rama, it’s for the eggs.  She’d nod , and we’d avoid eggs while she was visiting. and instead, get her to make her famous vankaya koora with podi, and  kandhi patchadi and any Nellore specialities that we fancied.

I called Srikala, and we spoke tearfully of Rama, and Srikala announced she’d make Dondakaya koora Rama style in her memory.  Venky has said he’ll frame a peice of Rama’s crochetHe ha and hang it up in the living room. He spoke reminiscently of  ompodi , and cats and one summer of mango-picking.Nandini remembered  the summer holidays in Nellore, and Rama’s excellent  minimula pachadi and kathrikai curry.

Appa, and the aunts and uncles,  have seen Rama suffer many tragedies, and much misery. Yet, she was always cheerful, never dwelt on her own problems, Appa says, and I agree, we never saw her brooding or moping.

The oldest cousin, Mahesh, who grew up in  Nellore, and Popy, and I spoke long about what Rama meant to us. How well-read she was, and  well-informed – she always read the paper from masthead to imprint, and could discuss politics like a pro.  I remember some years ago, when Bangalore had a brief outing with floods,  Chief Minister Kumaraswamy came visitng  houses in the Kamakhya neighbourhood, when cousin Sheeli lives. Rama was visiting at the time.

He looked around, and asked them if they were ok, and then Rama asked him , “do you know Alladi Jayasri,  she’s with The Hindu?”

Mr Kumaraswamy, who, it so happened had heard of Alladi Jayasri, and had a few days earlier called up personally to thank her for  the story on his  interaction with women prisoners that was  telecast be Doordarshan, said he did.

With pride Rama told him she was said Alladi Jayasri’s aunt.

Rama our little aunt who had boundless affection for all her nieces and nephews,  and enormous pride in what they did, and  enjoyed being among them, as they laughed, played, argued and fought together, sometimes with her. She’ll be missed much and for long.

Picture (Rama in glasses, and it’s our Indira Paati with her back to us) courtesy Vagiswari. She tells me it is from  the wedding of Mani and Jayanthi. The others are Vagis’ parents and siblings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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She wrote long letters, filling the entire blue inland letter with her neat handwriting, with news of the uncles and Pati and visits and trips and asking when Amma would come.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Wedding in the Year of Manmatha

Wedding of Amma and Appa
Wedding of Amma and Appa

The year 1955, was the year named Manmatha, for the God of Love in our pantheon. Sixty years have passed, each with its own name, and now in 2015, we begin again, with The year named Manmatha.
It was a good year to be married in, and now it’s a good year to remember the person you married 60 years ago, and lived with, for 57 years.
As their wedding anniversary dawns on July 20, I asked Appa why his parents ( Ramabrahma Tatha and Venkamma Paati) are not to be seen in any of the 10 photographs . ” it was taken by Thambi Mama” he explained. That would be Amma’s eldest brother, M Venkatakrishnan, known as Thambi . I remember Thambi Mama, the bachelor uncle, chartered accountant who was well known in the Madras music and dance circle, for encouraging young artistes who needed an introduction into the Sabha circuit , and taking them under his wing.

Appa then said, ” may be you shouldn’t post the reception photo, don’t we look funny sitting far apart, almost hugging our corners of the two-seater”

Too late, I responded, we have already shared all the photos last year, and told the story of your wedding , of which I’m very proud.
All right then, make sure you highlight that we were married in Manmatha Samvatsara and it is Manmatha Samvatsara again this year, he said.
Yes, and also it was the year of the movie Mr and Mrs. 55, I promised.
Two people I know as Appa and Amma, have something between them ( other than the three kids) that only they can define – as love, as life. Mother was always talking – there was humor, annoyance , intolerance, gentle ribbing that actually hid a deeper anger at some imagined hurt or slight, devilish glee in harassing the spouse with small demands that were not really small. Father was the quiet one, who got his way with his silence, whose simplicity and seemingly undemanding nature were the bane of her existence. Don’t we know that last bit- he currently annoys the niece, his only grandchild, with his daily morning order for coffee- chooda irukakkanum, full-a irukakkanum . Hot, and full cup. When it’s cloudy with a chance of leftovers for dinner, he’ll quietly say ” I’ll have just one chapati” you feel guilty, and rustle up an onion-tomato dish-dash, and bingo, three chapatis disappear so fast, and I get a pat for making divine chapatis just like Amma made!

Now we recognize that Amma’s little outbursts were nothing but love’s little liberties, born of long years of sharing , well , everything.
Here follows the little piece written last year, about being how Amma and Appa were wed-
July 20, 1955:- the wedding of Thulasi and Sheshagiri was celebrated at the grand residence of Mamidipudi Ramakrishnaiah and Indira, at Nellore. This evening, the eve of their 59th anniversary, my father , who is a youthful 91, told me that on July 18, 1955, when the groom’s family had arrived, and the bride’s home was abuzz with wedding-related rituals, and the house was beginning to look like it was in Malgudi instead of Nellore, an elder know-all pointed out that the next day, the wedding eve when the groom is welcomed was going to be a day of Amavasya. No one had thought of this, and there was momentary consternation. But soon enough , someone (else?) suggested that the ritual could begin on 18th, and that’s exactly how it was done. Thanks to Amavasya, another day of wedding revelry came to be enjoyed by everyone!
Our mother, The bride of the day 59 years ago, is in Amma Heaven . Has been for two-and-a-half years. Here absence has become a presence, and she talks to us in everything we do. Appa and I have pored over these photographs, and he remembers little nuggets about the wedding . His cousin Baba travelled with him from Madras I remember him telling us when Amma died, about what Grandfather Ramabrahma had said of the bride chosen for Sheshagiri- he had got the most beautiful one of the seven daughters of Ramakrishnaiah.
How simple,and yet grand, a wedding could be in those days! It’s just not fair that we never get to be at our parents’ wedding. I notice my mother’s bare feet at the reception, and how e bride and groom are seated as far away from each other as the two-seater permits! No visits to the beauty parlor, no make-up!! A special blouse with with Jalebi Neck in pink, and a maroon Kanjeevaram with gold border is what she is wearing in the photograph clicked by GG Welling. They went again to Welling twenty odd years later to have another picture taken for Dad’s pension purposes.
I remember playing wedding games , with Amma looking indulgently, and telling me the bride must sit with left leg folded up, and the left arm around it, and that’s what, I thought it took to be a bride!
Amma often laughingly told me about how the daughters of Ramakrishnaiah learnt of their impending marriage – suddenly, the house would begin to buzz with activity. The head cook of a party of wedding cooks would make several visits, a priest who conducted weddings would go into a huddle with the grandparents. A set of. Imposing parents would arrive, and after they left, wedding preparations would begin. The oldest un married daughter would soon realize her turn had come to leave her parental home. The bride and groom would probably get to throw furtive, glances at each other .
Father it turns out, had seen his future wife much before their marriage was decided by the elders. At the wedding of his cousin in Madras, he was a dapper 21-year-old when he first saw her, a seven-year-old, running around in a little pavadai and blouse, with no idea whatsoever that she would wed this man 11 years later. She probably had no idea he was even there at that wedding, nor interested ! Glad to know she did marry him, for if not , this tale would never be written!

 

EOM