Now these words might make a virago out of my grandmother [my maternal grandmother], but no, it isn’t quite like that! Let me explain a little, with a brief sketch first of all :
The second born, of four children, in a matriarchal family, early twentieth century, she studied upto the fourth standard, got married at around twelve years, almost thirteen, she said, to a widower with a young son, had eleven babies, one of whom, the youngest to be precise, did not survive beyond a few days, she lived a life that I have found extraordinary! My earliest memories of her are of a graceful, tall, slim woman, filled with energy, always bustling about the house, not necessarily working in the kitchen though.. 🙂 She loved talking, and gossiping and telling us, and anyone who cared to listen stories.. and my, oh my! those were stories!!!
It was Corinne Rodrigues’ post on her grandmother, Recalling a Woman of Substance – Part I, that made me want to write this. A niggling idea then germinated, more than a month ago, and has not let me be, all these weeks, and now finally, a few days after her third death anniversary, I offer this – to my Muthashi [grandmother, in Malayalam]. I can visualize her enjoyment at having something dedicated to her, and her criticism of it as well!!
Let me go back to those three words at the top of this post. Nothing, absolutely nothing, I had found out, could crush her spirit, not the number of children she had, five boys and five girls and the step-son she brought up as her own [all her children are still hale and hearty this day :)], not the misery of the partition of family property (that was terribly acrimonious) she had to go through, isolated from her siblings, who shunned her though they stayed next door, not the squabbles among her children, from time to time, especially her sons, or the rude behaviour of some of her grandchildren – Nothing. It was as if there was something in her that simply refused to acknowledge this, and she survived another day (and taught a few lessons by way of example! Not by accepting injustice, if any, but by not letting it get to her!!) In fact, as my mother always reminds me, at each of those times in her life, she was the inspiration to all around her!
Living in the nattumpuram, the interior, the countryside, so to speak, did little to limit to knowledge of the happenings around the world, and Kerala! She was a voracious reader, from newspapers, to all the serialized stories in the Mangalam and Manorama weeklies. (Malayalees can perhaps connect to these :D!! The stories are sort of pulp fiction, lots of romances, betrayals, and stuff!!) And Radio Plays, so looked forward to, even by us, migratory birds who visited her a month each year! Even after the advent of television in our village in the mid eighties, the radio plays were firm favourites for her! No one was to talk, to shout, nothing… she’d sit, with us, all around, her head tilted towards the radio, in rapt attention! A sharp smack greeted anyone who dared to distract her!
What I loved so much about her was her absolute uninhibited joy when she went to the cinema! She was perhaps the oldest “hooter” or “Catcaller”, lol, theatres would ever have seen. A legend of sorts in our small place! We had a couple of rustic theatres, which later became brick and cement “real” cinema halls. Her children were most times embarrassed, but she cared two hoots (two long ones, at that :)), when the action scenes came around! For us, her grandchildren, it was HUGE entertainment, going to the movies with her. The number who went, piled into a couple of cars, literally piled would be anything upwards of ten…:) – my grandparents, parents, three of us, my brothers and me, other uncles, aunts, cousins, servants and the neighbours!! Even now, when I go for a movie I miss her presence and the enjoyment!
She had magic in her hands! We call it kaipunyam in Malayalam, the gift within of being able to cook divinely, and make anything one’s hands touch taste delicious! She could turn a bit of salt, tamarind, a couple red chillies, fried, and a couple of shallots, [cheriya ulli –small onions, the size of maybe marbles], into her pièce de résistance called, Ulli Puli (literally translated as Onion tamarind, or sour onion !). My mouth waters, even now, this very moment, as I write about it. My mother, and her youngest sister, of her children, I have found, have inherited this from her, but they come nowhere close to her 🙂
My greatest gift from her, is her tutoring me in the letters of my mother tongue. Having been born and brought up outside of Kerala, there was little chance of my learning it formally, in school. But when I was in the fifth standard, I remember, the urge to learn what appeared heiroglyphics took root, and she guided me through those, during my summer vacation. Not having much practice in later years, or having felt the inclination, I neglected this area, and recently, after having settled in Kerala, a close friend here, and another blogger, Praveen, has made me want to again get back to those basics and perhaps, with renewed vigour, maybe even express myself here, in Malayalam 🙂 If and when that happens, it’s a dedication to my Muthashi!!!
She had wanted to chronicle her experiences in life, as a sort of diary, her memoirs, sort of… But that remained an unfulfilled wish. She truly knew enough gossip, happenings, family relationships [uncle’s mother-in-law’s sister’s nephew’s grandson’s wife… sort of thing] really well, that it never ceased to amaze me, how she’d map out with such clarity and define who was who, and how important he/she was!!! We’d always say that she had enough material to fuel a mega serial, the saga of her life and times!!!
The one special thing about her, was that ability she had to tell stories. Indeed all Grandmothers, I think, come with that ability, lol.. but her’s was a different sort! When we came to her for the vacations, we’d always insist on sleeping with her at night… so we’d spread the mattresses, and mats [the unlucky ones got those… :D] all over the front room, called ummaram, in that ancestral house, and she would tell us the goosebumps variety of stories of people called odiyans, who would take revenge, or be hired by others to do the same, by turning themselves into a dog with a limp or a huge black buffalo. She’d tell us hair-raising tales about how her father and grandfather had actually seen them and how an uncle had been lured out of the home at night [the time when they operate], but throwing gravel on the tiled roof, and when he went out to see who it was, something happened, and he never returned alive! Oh my! those were stories!!! And we’d huddle together, shiver, and simply love it! In actual fact, she would have closed her eyes and most often gone off to sleep, but it was as if she was on auto pilot, and narrative would go on… that was her special ability!!! Even now, when I think of it, a thrill fills me; these are stories my mother has told her grandchildren, and I sit along a listen with them, and at 20+ both my children still enjoy it just as much and go brrrr… especially in the nights!!!
I somehow think there must have been my grandmother in my heart when I wrote this poem, a long time ago, for it kind of sums her up quite well! It’s called Indomitable.
This has been one looonnnggggg post; something which even I did not think would take so much space! But then, it’s like that when I talk about my grandmother. In a few words, perhaps I’d summarize her this way too:
Through thick and thin
Ups and downs
Always smiles and never frowns
Muthashi, precious kin!
A spirit unputdownable
Ever and always affable
In life and always
A sunny-side-up-er [:D]
That, dear friends, is HER!!!!
Miss you Muthashi, I really do!!!
[11 November, 2008 to 22 November, 2008]