The last week was full of fun and celebration in our household. We(me and my wife) had come down to coimbatore to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday with all his sisters and their families and my cousins. Like any gathering many made it and a few couldn’t. It also didn’t matter much that my dad discovered he was actually born a month later than what he’d known for 60 years. So we celebrated his ‘certificate’ birthday while he is jet setting to europe to celebrate his actual birthday among the gladiators. Two things made me write this post. Diogeneb was the trigger but….
A discussion we had amongst ourselves about her (she passed away a few years back) about how her lives had touched ours. We spoke about how she was not our favorite early on but she became a favorite over the years. We spoke about forgiveness, love, affection, familial bonding etc. I spoke about the stories I heard but I was soon reminded that I should only talk about the stories I lived. I realized how amazing she was for me. She was my dad’s dad’s sister. I called her Atha (meaning aunt) because my dad called her that. And it stuck. She never corrected me. She was cool like that.
Through they years, she came to stay over in our house every summer for the ram navami functions that were held in her sammandhi’s place. Since the festival took place during the March-April period, it invariably fell during my annual exams. As most people from the 90s would remember, Annual exams were a very stressful period for a child. I was hardly 10-11 years old when she started coming home. In those days, we had exams in schools in a 2 1/2 or 3 hour period with a morning shift of exams and an afternoon shift. All the sub high school kids wrote in the morning while 7th std and above wrote exams in the afternoon. Both my parents were working so every day after a stressful exam I would come home to an empty house with janaki atha there. Every day without fail I would have a cold glass of rooh afza waiting for me. I would sip it while she would go to the kitchen and mix the first rice (sambhar) and bring it with some koora (sabzi) and a helping of something crunch like mixture or chips or appalams. This was at 11 – 11:30 AM. I would complain saying this was not my lunch time yet. She pulled a masterstroke by telling me it was ‘brunch’. I felt so privileged to be eating a meal that no one has ever served me in my life till then that I was more than happy to oblige. Now that I think back, it’s amazing a 60 + yr old lady from the villages knew about brunch in the 90s. If the exam had gone well, I’d be chirpy and we’d have a good time eating and talking about what I wrote. I would explain all my answers and we’d calculate together to see how many marks I’m likely to get. This was all top secret of course because for my parents the exams always went ‘well’. This was doubly useful because for annual exams we wont get our answer sheets. Only the final rank if we called the school and the usual ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ result post card by mid April.
My Janaki Atha loved rasam rice. She had a peculiar way of eating it. The rice mixed with hot (heated on the stove) rasam would almost be of soupy consistency but on the plate not a bowl. She’d make a cup using her hand like how we do for taking theertham from temples and scoop the rasam with rice in a beautiful motion and slurp it in her mouth. There would not be a drop of rasam either dripping on her hand nor any from her mouth. In next to no time she would be scooping the next bit. I used to watch her in awe when she did that. I thought rasam was too advanced for me so I first tried that with thick curd rice diluted with a little but of rasam to make it slushy but not liquidy. It took me 2-3 months but I’d perfected the curd rice. Now I took it to the next step for the grand inauguration of that technique in a family function. To put it mildly, my parents said if I don’t stop slurping I won’t be given food. Needless to say, I stopped the slurping. But I never managed to do what my Janaki Atha did. Even though secretly I’ve tried it many times at home far into adulthood (shhh).
Once we were done with lunch, I was allowed 2 hours of *rest* before I had to start studying. Being the ‘kaamchor’ that I was, I’d immediately say I was hungry about 20-30 minutes into my ‘study’ time that was mostly spent talking to an imaginary villain who attacked my home and held my grandmother hostage while I rescued her with the contents of my geometry box. My divider was my secret weapon that could be controlled by my protractor. Knowing that a child’s protests were impossible to deflect, she figured the best way to calm me down was to give me a snack. Grandmothers, unlike mothers, are excellent at making snacks with leftovers. Hence I found my milk bikkies sandwich. A Delightful preparation on two milk biscuits with a sandwich of jam and mixture/karasev. This followed by a cold glass of rose milk and even I couldn’t complain. By the time all this nakra was done, my mom would be back from office and would realize that I had barely started my preparation for the next day’s exams. All hell would break lose, I would be sat down and made to study till I finished my syllabus. The same story would repeat the next day.
I still remember my Janaki Atha like this. I’ve decided that this is the only way I am going to remember her. Love you Janaki Atha. Thank you.