Friday, July 15, 2005

Moments to grasp

Shades of change unwound sequentially as I walked down that path, that familiar path that I had paced up and down with unmistakable precision as an eight year old. New shops, some new houses. But amongst them, stood those houses that have endured the test of time. It is a pleasure to watch things that have been stamped with an archaism that would never be victimized by the forces of modernity.

The 2nd cross street of ThiruVika Nagar, in Thirucharapalli, was more than a street to me. It had nurtured my dreams as a child. It demonstrated a freshness about it that had lasted years and beat the gap of 17 years in between. It felt like just yesterday that I had belonged to this place but I had still missed 'its presence and my presence in it' and the unique charm that came with it.

“New door no. 24, old number 72,” I quickly checked that small bit of crumpled paper that was almost yielding to the moisture of my palm. Appa had insisted that I should go and meet them this time.

“Black gates,” I smiled to myself. “They used to be hmm…green.”
I pushed the gate inward and it creaked open. As I set my foot on the stone pavement that had weathered everything in the years that went by, I looked up to that balcony right above, the thatched roof over it still intact. My entire body shook. God! Sometimes nostalgia can just offset you.

For a moment I just closed my eyes. It was the same balcony where I had stood years ago, waving good bye to my father when he left for office. It was the same balcony where I had stood, hot tears pouring down my cheeks, when they got my baby bro home, for the first time. I was no longer ‘the one’ then.

“And Aditya now..” I smiled to myself.

The veranda at the end of the footpath welcomed me with the same warmth with which it had borne my pranks as a mischievous kid. I would tirelessly climb on it and jump off it, in a loop that would end only with a tight slap from my mother.

I thought I would collapse out of excitement when I rang the doorbell.
“Vandhutten (Coming)”, the familiar lady voice came from behind the door. It hadn’t changed much, the voice, just traces of ageing.

As the door opened, I caught myself staring at this lady, who wore her sari in a ‘madisar kattu’. The vermilion, the glittering nose ring, the traditional hairdo with a string of jasmine encircling it; Lakshmi Amma, there she was and..She had aged so gracefully.

“Yaaru. Yaar venum?” (Who is this? Who do you want?)
“Ahh..Hmm..Lakshmi Amma..” I spoke in between gasps of excitement. “Do you recognize me?”
She stared with confusion written all over her face.
“Lakshmi Amma, Shailaja..,” I placed my right palm on my chest. “Shailu kutty..” I paused. “Enakku Lakshmi Amma rasam thaan venum..” ( I want only Lakshmi Amma’s rasam..)

And her face broke into a smile.
“Shailu Kutty, is this you?” She almost jumped and held my hand immediately. “How grown up you look. I couldn’t even make out,” she exclaimed.

I smiled. I was at loss for words.
“Inga parungo” (see here), she called out to her husband. “Come here, see who has come”
“Come in, come in,” she took me in hurriedly.
“Yaaru?” (Who?) a man in a white dhoti and a white cotton half slack shirt and thick rimmed glasses emerged from one of the inside rooms.

Sambu thatha adjusted his glasses, trying to register the image of a woman who suddenly landed in his abode from nowhere.

“Can you make out who she is?” Lakshmi Amma questioned, impatience marking every word. Sambu thatha just shook a no. I watched his lean frame seeking immense support from the wooden walking stick, an addition to the 84 year old man’s personality.

“Shailu kutty idhu, nenavirukko?” (This is Shailu kutty, remember?) “State Bank Ramachandran who stayed upstairs.. from Coimbatore..his daughter..”



“Oh amaam..adi vaalu..” (Oh yes, you mischievous girl!)
“Va..Va..” (Come, come). The warmth in his voice made me melt. How much I had missed it all these years. Though we had stayed upstairs, Sambu thatha’s house was literally where my existence had been. I would play, run around the house, nobody to question, most of the times eat there and fall asleep in Lakshmi Amma’s lap.

The affection that I had held for that house, for the two was special and unbounded. It was marked by innocence so typical of a child and there was no other reason to it. I loved them because I loved them.

“So, what made Shailu kutty suddenly remember these two old hags?” went on Sambu thatha with his characteristic laugh.
“Oh come on, enough of your silly jokes,” Lakshmi Amma cut him short as I deposited the sweet packets into her hands.
“Are you working?” she asked me.
“Hmm..yes, I am working for a software concern in Delhi,” I replied.
“Ohh..soft..” she stopped halfway. “That thing Raju keeps talking about..”

“Tell me how are amma and appa”
“They are good. They keep talking about you,” I paused. “Oh, Appa has retired.”
“Really? Even Chandru joins the old hag list,” burst out Sambu thatha.
I giggled. I really did. Lakshmi Amma wasn’t bothered. She almost sprang her next question at me.
“How is your brother..ahmm..what is his name?”
“Aditya,” I helped in.
“Ahnn..Adi, how is he?”
“He is studying, 2nd year engineering in Madras. He has been pestering Appa for a bike.”
“Really? Has he grown that big?” Sambu thatha questioned the very essence of mankind - growth.

It is funny the way I addressed them. Sambu thatha was thatha because when I saw him for the first time, he had grey (or as I used to call it, “white”) hair. I used to jump at my mom when she called him maama. “He has white hair. How can you call him maama. Call him thatha,” I would order.

Sambu thatha was 67 then. Lakshmi Amma was Lakshmi Amma because everyone around used to call her that way and somehow she never used to look that old then, that I would have to call her ‘patti’. Moreover, Radha akka, her daughter, used to call her Lakshmi Amma. I had liked it, felt it suited her best and let it stick on.

“So, when are you getting married?” Lakshmi Amma continued with her questions as she handed over steaming filter coffee in a “duvrah tumbler” to me and one to Sambu thatha. I had cosily seated myself on the mat alongside Sambu thatha who was resting in an easy chair. A copy of the day’s newspaper and that old transistor was lying next to him. Lakshmi Amma sat down beside me.

“I actually came to tell you some good news,” I said.
Sambu thatha who was busy tuning into odd stations, desperately in search of the “renu mani kutcheri” (the concert at 2), stopped suddenly.

In a minute, both of them were staring at me with all eagerness. “Marriage fascinates old people beyond any scale,” I thought to myself.
“Ah, well, I am getting married this September,” I concluded abruptly.
Sambu thatha leaned forward.
“Who is the boy?” he asked with brimming eagerness.
“He is my colleague at office, in Delhi.”
Lakshmi Amma’s happy look transformed into a resigned one.
“So, it is not an arranged marriage?” she asked quickly.
“Well, it is..” I paused, “Yes, I did choose him but he is like one of us,” I put it forward politely to her. I didn’t know why I was telling her that but I thought I should and hence I did.
“But..” she shook her head. “There is nothing like your parents seeing somebody for you.”
“Did you match horoscopes?” she shot out.
“Oh.ah..hmm..yes, we did, everything is fine,” I mumbled out owing to lack of preparation.
“But still..”
“Lakshmi, these days kids are very mature. They can handle things very well. I am sure Shailu kutty’s choice must be good,” Sambu thatha spoke reassuringly, patting my head.
“Love marriages are fun in their own way,” he added with a wink.
Lakshmi Amma cast a sharp look that almost silenced him.
“Ennavo ma, pathukko” (Whatever, take care), she said, turning her face towards me. Anxiety was written all over it.
“Lakshmi Amma, everything is fine,” I assured her, gently pressing her hand.
“What is his name?” Sambu thatha’s excitement hadn’t subsided.
“Vasanth, Vasant Chandrashekar”


“So, tell me, how has life been for you all these years?” I asked them.
“just going on. We have only few more years left, all I am praying for is that we should pass away peacefully without troubling anybody,” Lakshmi Amma’s voice was low.
“Enna Lakshmi, you don’t know what to talk,” Sambu thatha intervened.
“Thatha please, let her talk”
“Illai Shailu kut..,” I looked up at Sambu thatha. “Shhh..”
“Lakshmi Amma, what happened?”
Suddenly Lakshmi Amma’s voice mellowed down.
“Nothing. Sometimes it is so tough to live when you grow old,” she looked up and blew her nose.
I took her hand into mine and looked intently at her.”Ennachu?” (what happened?)
“Nothing is particularly wrong Shailu kutty. We have everything that we want. We have this house, we have thatha’s pension as a steady income and we do our pujas and prayers regularly.”
“Hmm…”
“But..” she paused, “Sometimes there is loneliness, a lack of direction in life when you turn around to see that there is no one around to share your happiness. When we fall ill, we have nobody to fall back on. It is true that we have each other to confide things in but I am missing the joy of living together,” By that time, her first tear had already made its way out.

I let her cry. I didn’t assure her, say things would be fine. Sometimes silence and the mere act of listening could heal wounds much more than words of consolation, so did I believe.

“Sambhu thatha, what about Raju anna and Kumar anna? Where are they?”
“They are both in America, all well settled,” he paused. “Raju has two daughters and Kumar has a son. They come to India with their families once in two years.”
“Hmm..”
“Radha is in the U.K. Seeing her has become a rarity too,” continued Lakshmi Amma.
“Sambhu thatha, don’t mind me asking, but didn’t you want to stay with your sons?”
“No,” his voice was fierce this time. “No,” he repeated, relaxing a little bit.
“Kumar didn’t even talk about it, Raju just made a mention. He told us that we could come along if we felt like.” His voice choked.
“What is this, a formality? Why should parents suddenly become strangers and be treated this way?” the question shot out from him, with all the heaviness of a deeply pained heart.
“I refused. I really can’t spend my life in a country that I don’t know. I am too rooted to this place, to leave it behind. Probably, I can’t blame them too. Their lives have taken that course and I can’t stop it. Once Raju had a chance to come back to India for good. I asked him, but..” Silence.
“I think I just have to accept this,” he spoke his heart out. I knew it was frustration that made them talk and not the hate for what their children did.

Lakshmi Amma was silent. “I think when things become unmanageable, we would go to an old age home. I am praying ambaal she doesn’t take us that far.”

That moment, I understood what emotional torture the two went through. Two people, whose love meant so much to me, were caught in the clutches of emotional insecurity and my heart swelled with pity. I cried; cried within.

In the meantime, Lakshmi Amma had moved into the kitchen and come back with a plate of rasam saadham. (Rice with rasam).
“Have this,” she handed the plate to me. I couldn’t remember how many times I had smiled but I did, yet again.

The rasam had not lost its taste and its aroma one bit. It was just the same. Have you ever experienced a sense of travelling back in time, that the five senses can give you? It happened to me this time. I was back to have Lakshmi Amma’s rasam.

“You know, my grandchildren are so naughty,” she said, sounding chirpy again.

“Kumar’s son is so mischievous. Last time that they were here, he suddenly disappeared out of the house. We had such a tough task locating him. He was hiding behind the well, in our neighbour’s backyard,” Sambhu thatha added with great excitement. “These kids, naughty, very naughty.”

And then they spoke about Kumar anna’s wife and how Raju anna’s wife could drive a car. “It seems they don’t wash vessels, nor does a servant maid do it. Looks like there is a machine for all that. Times have changed so much,” she sighed.

I burst out laughing and Sambhu thatha was giggling quietly. The innocence was too sweet, and I knew their hearts were lighter. No qualms, except for those momentary ones, their love and concern for their children and grandchildren was unbiased and absolutely selfless.

By the time we had finished talking about my childhood pranks and everything else, the birds were getting back to their nests and the sky had turned a reddish orange, signaling the arrival of twilight. It was time for me to leave.

“I don’t feel like letting you go, it was so nice talking to you. I didn’t feel the time pass” Lakshmi Amma said looking at me earnestly.
I stood silently.
“You won’t forget us no, after you get married?,” she asked with grave concern in her voice.
“Ayyo, enna idhu Lakshmi Amma, how can I do that?”

“Shailu, forget her, she is like that only,” Sambu thatha chipped in his comment, “May God bless you with a happy and peaceful married life,” he said, placing his hand on my head.
“You should bring Vasanth here, after your marriage,” Lakshmi Amma said. Sambu thatha turned around, taken by surprise with that mocking smile on his face.
“You both should definitely come for the wedding,” I urged. “Please, I will be very happy.”
Lakshmi Amma pressed my hand. “We will try our best, but our blessings are always there.”

As I reached the gate, I turned around, took a look at the aged couple for whom the best gift I had left behind was the smiles on their faces, which they seemed to have forgotten for days together. For me, it was a feeling of satisfaction that I had made a very small difference to the lives of two people, at least for a day. But the bigger loss was, the helpless feeling at not being able to lend a hand further. I waved at them, walked away carrying beautiful memories and also an aching heart.

47 comments:

Vijay Ramamurthi said...

I have run out of adjectives to describe the feeling that I got after reading this post.
Simply put, the article's ability to bring out the emotion in such a pure form was simply fascinating.
Its been quite a while, that I have read an article which has affected me so much.
For quite a while all I could think was about my dad staying alone in India.


eppadikku
Vijay Ramamurthi

Sriram said...

great writing....very touching indeed!

Vani Viswanathan said...

very well written!! :)

Vani Viswanathan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Never had any doubts that you could write well Anu, but this simply has to be your best post! :)

-Maverick

Sriram C S said...

Absolutely superb...As the door opened, I caught myself staring at this lady, who wore her sari in a ‘madisar kattu’. The vermilion, the glittering nose ring, the traditional hairdo with a string of jasmine encircling it; Lakshmi Amma, there she was and..She had aged so gracefully Ippadi oru mAmiya pArka ethu veNalum tharalAm!!! :)

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Hi guys,
Thanks a ton for all your comments and of course for reading thro' till the end. The net has been getting on my nerves since morn and finally I could open my blog only now..Sigh!! Tiresome, it is..;)

Vijay ramamurthi, thanks for dropping by and leaving the first comment on this post..to the extent that it affected you..Well, I know not what to say, but..Thanks! :)

Sriram, hi, after a long time! and thanks..:)

Hey vans, thanks dee..:)

Anon/Maverick - Thanks and thanks again!! :)

Agnibarathi, thank you! and I do agree with you, it really is worth anything to see a maami like that. I had M.S in mind when I wrote that..:)

DD said...

Simplicity, honesty, innocence, and stark truth... I saw these in here. Amazingly wonderful :-)

biju said...

:-)

Sriram C S said...

M.S...*sigh* nobody like her...one of these days I should build a temple for her!! :)

Anupama Viswanathan said...

DD, thank you! :) I am glad you dropped by..

Biju..:)..Thanks for smiling..But, am wondering for what you are smiling..!! :))

Agnibarathi, ambitious thought!

Sriram C S said...

@Anu - I sometimes have this knack of doing things that are seemingly ambitious with a surprising ease (OK, konjam overAvE bandhaa panniyAchu!!). Read the new post on soundaryam, would love to see your comments!!

Eroteme said...

Very moving piece. Ireally liked the way you built the emotions of a reunion and then let it naturally flow into... Nice. :-)
Yeah, I had a more talkative MSS in mind when I read this piece... :-)

Sunita said...

Hi, Just passed by your blog while browsing y/d but couldnt forget ur blog after reading it. Excellent blog. Its just absolutely fantastic the way you have described it .... its like as if I saw a movie.
Looking forward to your other posts. Will be a regular visitor now :)

Krish said...

I was imagining MS when I read thru the post....good god, it had indeed been MS...Nice post...wondefull narration...

biju said...

@anu: the smile was because I was lost for words. I don't want to use mundane adjectives to describe how amazing it was to read your post. Before i saw the name Shailu mentioned, i really thought you were writing something that happened to you. Amazing! Waiting for more yummy delights!

RS said...

Nice...for a few moments, I was eating rasam with Lakshmi amma and Sambhu thatha! :)

saranyan said...

impressive Anupama. what else can I say?

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Eroteme, thanks! :). I am glad you dropped by and left a comment..:)

Sunita, Hi! :). Nice to see you here and you seem to be pretty excited! :). Do keep coming..

Krish, thanks! :)

Biju..:))..So, I made you talk and that toooo so much!! Thanks for the explanation..:)

Rs, thanks, your comment made me smile! :)

Saranyan, thank you..:)

nagilan said...

I had M.S in mind when I wrote that..:)

simply amazing.. i had M.S in mind when i was reading those lines..

this is my first time here and i tell u what u did a right thing turning into a writer..

one more thing.. reading this story was like smelling the scent of manvaasanai

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Nagila, welcome here..:) and thanks for ur comments.

Sriram C S said...

Anu, the cat is out of the bag. See soundaryam

Rathish said...

Anu, BEAUTIFUL post! Really really lovely stuff. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Rathish, can't tell you how much I jumped after reading your comment!! Thank you sooo much! :). I am glad you liked it..:)

cvraman said...

The tears where just rolling down my eyes as I was finishing the reading, U just made me cry after a long time in my life, very very touchy the picture used here. It gels well with the narration. Exceptionally nice one

Vasu the terrible said...

Beautiful.. Sometimes it is great to go back and let nostalgia take us through the lost years.

யாத்திரீகன் said...

hey, just got ur blog from a big linked list of bloggers comments, but surely i felt worthy spending time in this lengthy blog.

usually, i like just to sit back relax and cherish into your nostalgic thoughts,

and ur post turned out to be a wonderfull one for me, kindling my old memories ;-( :-)

just felt like i also came with you and returned back with heavy heart.....

that was just .... no words to describe, keep blogin...

Anupama Viswanathan said...

cvraman, vasu the..., Senthil, thanks for your comments and stopping by my blog..:)

S m i t h a said...

really nice narration ya. painted a picture in the mind, to say the least. liked the way the dialogues moved and the not-an-other-cliche-climax ending.
we'll wait for more like this.

யாத்திரீகன் said...

just came here to fwd this post to few of my friends, and realized that i had forgot to mention some kuddos to the photograph in the post, that was the best match !!!

Prabha said...

very touching post,Anupama :)

nagilan said...

hi annu!

thanks for the visit.. and i have posted a new post :)

Sundaresan said...

Anu,

First time to comment...you have got a good blog...this post was very impressive...naane trichy poi sambu thaathaavaiyum lakshmi maamiyaiyum paathuttu vandha maadhiri oru feeling....

Sundaresan said...

Anu,

First time to comment...you have got a good blog...this post was very impressive...naane trichy poi sambu thaathaavaiyum lakshmi maamiyaiyum paathuttu vandha maadhiri oru feeling....

Sundaresan said...

Anu,

First time to comment...you have got a good blog...this post was very impressive...naane trichy poi sambu thaathaavaiyum lakshmi maamiyaiyum paathuttu vandha maadhiri oru feeling....

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Smitha, Senthil, Prabha, Thanks a ton for reading thro' and leaving your comments! :)

Sundaresan, Welcome and thanks for stopping by and leaving (three) comments!! :)

littlecow said...

Emotions in alphabets has a wonderful feel to it, when well written. This piece was splendid. Keep it going!

Shiva said...

hi-

I dont know how I landed in this blog, but Iam happy that I did.. I read some of ur previous posts and they are wonderful..

(am from Srirangam myself and was reading this one with a smile)..

awesome.

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Little cow and Shiva, thanks for dropping by and thanks so much for your comments!

Art said...

wonderful expressions anu

Suudhan Rangarajan said...

Hi Anu,
I dont know who you are...Just know a couple of things..you are an illad x-bitsian and a journalist...happened to read this post...
I was simply touched by it..I have become one big fan of yours..
I keep visiting your blogs quite often..
truly you are gifted with the art of writing!

keep writing..
All the best for all your future blogs..

(FYI: I am a bitsian named Suudhan, currently working for Adobe)

Karthik said...

Hi..

It was great reading this post..just could sense ur a bitsian....
I enjoyed reading most of your blogs..
all the best..keep blogging..

Karthik

Adiya said...

wow another impressive pen down. grt8 feeling another poovepoochuda kind of feelings..

Being a traditional trichian i could sense the feelings and i am missing my trichy days..

grt8

Pavithra said...

Hi Anu,
I just read this post... Its too good. I love writing and I could sense how involved I was till the last line.
Being in the s/w profession, I've always pitied people settling abroad leaving their parents.
If its all about money, its high time people start realizing that money is nothing compared to love of parents/loved ones.
Good work... keep going !!

Sethuraman Atisivan said...

It was very good. I am at a loss of words. I do not want to sound too flattering.

simi said...

You have touched a simple innocent story so well - I am short of words...amazing...it can make any person emotional...Keep up the good work

shailu* said...

HI Anupama !

I'm shailu. I also own a blog.So i was interested in reading blogs. And very luckily i got through ur blog. And especially the Moments to grasp article is really a fantastic one. It touched a lot Anupama. Thanks for such a nice post. You have rejuvenated the readers. Thanks once again.