In pretty much every Indian language, every relationship has a specific name. A paternal grandmother is referred to differently than a maternal grandmother and a mother’s sister has a different name than a father’s sister and some communities have specific ways to distinguish a sister’s daughter from a brother’s daughter and the same for their sons. In Tamil, your mother’s sister and father’s brother’s wife are both called Chitti. I looked but could not find the exact meaning, but it probably means a younger mother or someone who could potentially replace a mother if something happens to her.
My mother is the oldest of four sisters and consequently I am the oldest grandchild from my maternal side. I was very young, maybe slightly older than a toddler when the next sister after her got married and so I don’t have many memories about her. Her last sister was brought up by their childless aunt who lived close by, and so my biggest and best memories are about my second aunt. I was her favourite and in fact, long after she married and moved overseas, I was her favourite. So much so that on one of their trips to Mumbai, during an outburst, her older daughter even complained that she loved me more than she loved her and her sister.
When I first started school, around the time I was about four years old, my parents and paternal grandparents had to go to a temple town in South India for a family wedding. I can’t really remember why I didn’t go, but I assume it was a combination of me refusing to go because I didn’t want to miss school and the fact that my aunt may have jumped at the chance to look after me. I do remember that I was supposed to live with my maternal grandparents and aunt for about a month or so since my parents were supposed to do a small pilgrimage given they were going to a temple town which was close to other temples. My sister would have been a toddler at that point, so they took her along and I was sent to my grandparents house along with my things. My aunt was working as a teacher then in a nearby school and used to take tuitions in the evening and perhaps in the mornings too.
On the first that I was to go to school from there, we were at the building gate bright and early, waiting for the school bus. Even after waiting for more than 30 minutes, the bus did not come and after asking around, we were told the bus had already left. My aunt was so angry, but because we were getting late, she quickly bundled me into a taxi and dropped me off to school. At school, she made sure to tell the teacher to put me in the correct bus (otherwise I would have landed in my parents place which was empty) and when the bus dropped me home, tore the bus driver a good one, which ensured that I was never forgotten as long as I stayed at their place.
Kindergarten ended around noon and I would reach home around 12:30, around which time, chitti would be getting ready for school. She taught primary classes which meant she would leave home around the time I got home. Once she left, my grandmother would get me changed, feed me lunch and make me take a nap. By the time I woke up and was ready, chitti would be back from school. She would then start her tuitions on the days she had them and teach me together with her students and get me to complete my homework. Once that was done, I would go down to play with friends before it was dinner time.
The month flew past before long and I went back home to my parents. But the bond between me and my aunt has remained till day. For both her pregnancies, when she came home from the hospital, I insisted to spending time with her, especially during her second pregnancy because I was older and it was our summer holidays. I must have spent the whole holiday there playing with my sister, cousin and friends and helping her look after the new baby.
This post took me down so many memory lanes that I throughly enjoyed putting it down. I am going to show this post to my chitti the next time I meet her to show her that I still remember our time together even after so many decades.