Sunday, March 14, 2010

The invisible gifts in our lives...

The car was traveling fast through the familiar country side. As soon as we left Kottayam, it felt like we had entered the home stretch. Familiar buildings, trees and fields flashed by like wave upon wave of soothing familiar-ness. I knew I was enjoying the scenery due to the air conditioning in the car. It wouldn’t be so comfortable outside.

We took a bypass and were on a narrow road. I used to come this way as a kid very often. My favorite grand aunt lived here. She was called Ellaimma (because she was junior to other aunts), the youngest sister of my grandfather.

I remember walking up the pathway to her house every holidays and watching her standing at the door with a delighted expression as she saw us coming. Her white mundu and chatta would be stained with turmeric and chili powder stains. Then she would bend down and ask.

Idhaara? Enne ariyamo? (Who is this? Do you recognize me?)

And I said the most famous lines ever uttered in my family’s history.

Idhu Kadanad Kochuthressia alle? (Aren’t you Kochuthressia from Kadanad?)

I was six years old and created history with that remark. As a kid who grew up in Bangalore I wasn’t too familiar with our family protocol and unwittingly called my grand aunt by her name. She was called Kadanad Kochuthressia to distinguish her from the other Kochuthressia's in my large extended family. But my bloopers were always received with much laughter. We are family with a good sense of humor.

Then I would wait impatiently for her to change and emerge in spotless white mundu and chatta with the elegant hand embroidered shawl over her shoulders pinned down with an exotic brooch. There is a tradition in my part of Kerala. Relations drop in when there are more hands needed in a house and stay till they are needed.

I asked the driver to stop the car. My mom looked at me and said that there was no one in my grand aunts house now. It would be no use going there. I told her that I would be back quickly and got out of the car. From the main road I took the tiny road dug out from laterite and reached the main gate. The once elegant home was now in ruins. Antique contractors had ripped the hand crafted woodwork, doors and a whole lot of other ornate stuff from this ancient house. Ellaimma's children had sold the house after her death and settled in Bangalore where they worked.

I walked in through the open rusted gates and memories washed over me. Memories of going to the parambu to pick up betel nut that had fallen from the tree and running to Ellaimma, excitement written on my face. Ellaimma loved chewing betel nut. She rewarded me with some black coffee sweetened with jaggery, a favorite of mine. I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee or tea. It was a secret between us.

Every year the cycle repeated itself. Ellaimma our favorite aunt, kept an eye on us as we ran all over the huge parambu and rubber estates and the mountains that flanked the house. Her energy was boundless and she loved trailing behind us outdoors. In the evening, she bathed us and got us ready for rosary. Rosary was said sitting on her lap in the verandah looking at the thousands of fireflies that adorned the pitch black tapestry of night. If it wasn’t for the fireflies, her soothing droning would have put me to sleep.

One day we got the news that Ellaimma was dying. She had mouth cancer. We were in Kerala within hours of receiving the news. When I saw her, she looked anything but the Ellaimma I loved so much. Cancer had eaten half her face away. She had only half a face and pain killers ensured that she never knew that her grandniece had come to visit her. I was devastated.

Years later in a science class I learned with tearing eyes that betel nut chewing causes Mouth Cancer. That day my parents had a hard time convincing me that it was not me who killed Ellaimma.

Today, the cancer eaten face is forgotten. But Ellaimma is etched in my memory forever. Her kind face, twinkling eyes, ready laughter, fantastic sense of humor and an enormous amount of affection for children.

I walked back to the gate and towards the car, after staring at the house for a long time. I hoped the new owners would take good care of the place.

As we drove away, I silently thanked God for the gift of people like Ellaimma in my life.

20 comments:

thomas said...

People like Ellaimma might be a dying breed. The ones who are truly happy to see us visiting them and asking us to stay for a few days, their heart warming way of greeting us.......A bygone era for me, mostly.

Gauri Gharpure said...

seeing thousands of fireflies and saying the rosary sitting on her lap. what a lovely memory...

Alexis said...

A sad post but true. This is happening all over the state. Children who can't look after their homes once the parents die or are not able to take care of themselves (who are put in luxury homes for the elderly) and they sell the house, land and everything in it.

The buyers strip the house of the antique items, sell the rest, cut down the trees and sell the land to someone who will build a modern building there. There is no effort to restore, renovate or preserve the old architecture and ambiance.

Sad but that is price of progress and prosperity. It is better that the old people die. Otherwise they will have to witness the demolition of the things they have built and cared.

Abhi said...

Touching story. There are both people and places in our lives that may not be here no more physically but will live on through the sweet and priceless memories we have of them.

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Your penchant for "-ness" over "-ity" tickles me@"familiar-ness" (remember the 'futileness' episode?) :)

anishthomas said...

white mundu and chatta (+ kalankuda of appachans)..hmm that was one generation...I remember ,when i was a kid ,my dad and his brothers never used to looked at there father's face and speak.Those appachans and amachis are rare now a days i suppose.Atleast in my native.I guess we grand kids and grand nephews\nieces were the one who enjoyed there affections properly..cheers to your and that ammachi's love.May her soul RIP...
Such a nostalgic post.Very diffrent one from U...

Mind Curry said...

:(

Vimal Gasper said...

That was really touching...

~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

Aaaaaaaaaaaarghhh ........... dont remind me ... ur post just reminds me how I should be back w my parents and not wasting time elsewhere

Elizabeth Priya John said...

hmm....very nostalgic !!..nice post..

$$ said...

such houses will exist only in blog posts and memories now! Reading this, I am reminded of my ancestral house and my great grand mother.

Beautifully written, very nostalgic, post!

binoy said...

Deeply nostalgic. Same situation here ... At this point in time I would have been sitting with my folks and telling tales or having silly fights.

Kamini said...

What a beautiful and moving tribute to your Ellaimma. The sadness in losing not only a beloved aunt, but also a way of life has been brought out in simple but such evocative words. Thanks for sharing these memories with us.

scorpiogenius said...

hey yo! all new looks for Thinkpad! I like it :)

Small Talk said...

As Thomas rightly sd people like Ellaimma are almost extinct breed...last time I visited a church in Kerala I culdnt spot any1in Chatta ....it ws very depressing as i wanted to show the traditional dress to a non-Keralite frnd of mine...

silverine said...

Thomas: A dying breed indeed. Apt term, because there are no takers for their legacy.

Gauri: Highlights of a good childhood. :)

Alexis: You are right. Bangalore antique shops are overflowing with artifacts from ancient Kerala homes. I have seen one such posh old-age home. Mostly peopled with old folks whose kids are settled abroad. The good news is that the new owners of my grandaunts home are building a Kerala style home of themselves here.:)

Abhi: Very true!

Karthik: :D Expect more. I am loathe to use the same terms for some reason!

Anish: Thank you. This blog is peppered with nostalgia posts! :p The umbrella was ever present right? I am constantly surprised to see people in Blr walking in the sun. In Kerala you will never see such a sight! Everyone uses an umbrella in the sun.

MC: I guess you also have memories of such people! :)

Vimal: Memories are all I have left of some really nice people God blessed me with! I have been incredibly lucky to be born in such a family.

Deepa; Why do you think I live in Blr when I have some tempting offers from elsewhere? :) But your situation cannot be helped. happens with lots of people.

Elizabeth: Thank you! :)

SS: An uncle of mine goes around photographing these houses. maybe one day, that will be the only proof of their existence.

Kamini: "The sadness in losing not only a beloved aunt, but also a way of life" You have put it sooo beautifully!

Scorpio: Thank you, glad you liked it. There is a mutiny at Poomanam. Half the people do not like the new look, while the other half think it is neat! Sigh.

small talk: Thank god, the sea of white still exists in my part of Kerala, though I see grannies in saree and salwar too in Kottayam. :) I once won a fancy dress competition wearing one, complete with an artificial kunukku and kalan kuda. :))

Chacko Philip said...

One of the most nostalgic pieces ever read on kerala....keep writing...

viSHwAmiTHraN said...

very moving post..
my appoppan was the same..old world..pedigreed..loving..generous.. ..murukkan addict..n smwher in bw cancer struck..now... dyin!!
am down :(.. lifes beautiful??!!

Neena Padayatty said...

Moving post on a fond memory...back in our church, they gave away prizes to honour the ammachis who still wear chatta and mundu...that's how rare they are.

silverine said...

Chacko Philip: Thank you so much for the kind words! :)

Vishwamithran: Life is indeed beautiful with such people around! :)

Neena: lol! How innovative! And a very good idea too :)