Memories: Grandmother Tales 4 – The Travel Edition

I guess I get my love for travel from my paternal grandmother, my ammama. She used to take off as the urge struck her and has travelled the length and breadth of the country. There are three such stories which I remember even today, two in which I star in and one which I remember.

When my sister was born, I was about less than a year and a half and because my mother could not handle a newborn and a toddler, my grandparents took off to New Delhi with me. Her daughter lived there with her husband, who worked in the Indian Air Force and they must have lived in airforce quarters. This would a when India’s then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency in the country. I was barely eighteen months at that time, so don’t have many memories of that period, but I remember the name Indira Gandhi used to be used to evoke fear, especially among children. So when I refused to do something, say eat my food, or drink my milk, I would be threatened by Mrs Gandhi. It’s a wonder that I didn’t develop any irrational fear of the government and especially Mrs Gandhi. But kudos to my grandmother, who at that age, (she must have been in her late forties or early fifties) took a toddler with her and looked after her for a few months. We returned to Bombay about three months or so later and by this time, my mum and sister were back home from my maternal grandmother’s house where she had gone for her delivery.

The next story is also from my childhood. I must have been around 7 or 8 and we were travelling by train to our ancestral village in the Tirunelveli district in the Tamil heartland. We were travelling with my father’s cousin for his wedding. My grandparents were also travelling with us but in a different compartment. After we reached Chennai, my parents, uncle and we children were supposed to take an overnight train to reach the district headquarters of Tirunelveli and my grandparents were to take the overnight train to the same destination. My sister and I threw a tantrum at the station and insisted we travel with my grandparents and not our parents. They had to give in, my grandparents giving in to us was a huge reason, and so we took the train. We were ticketless and had nothing with us, which was with our parents. I remember my grandfather talking to the ticket checker to buy tickets in the train and scrambling to find space for us to sleep in. They found space and we managed to get to Tirunelveli in one piece.

The last story does not have either my sister or me in a starring role. Around the time I was around 6, after my grandfather retired, my grandparents decided to go on an all-India pilgrimage. I don’t remember the specifics after all these years, but I do know it was led by a tour leader and was aimed at mostly senior citizens. They would take the train and maybe also travel by road and visit many of the important places of worship. The tour also included a trip to Kathmandu in Nepal to visit the Pashupatinath temple and other places of worship in that city. I do know they visited the temples of Badrinath and Kedarnath and from the north went all the way down south to Kanyakumari. I remember them making a stop in Mumbai during the trip and we went to the station to meet them. I have a memory of my uncle taking me with him to the station and then because I was so upset of meeting my ammama and then getting separated from her, he took me out and we came home quite late, after eating ice creams and chocolates. I remember this was during our summer holidays and because we reached home so late, I overslept the next day and was still asleep when my friends came to call me to play in the morning. From Kathmandu, my grandparents got me and my sister a beautiful chain with a butterfly pendant which I treasured for many years.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of my grandmother’s tales. If you want to read more about my memories of my ammama, here’s part 1, part 2, part 3 and one about my maternal grandmother.

Grandmother Tales: The Maternal Edition

In today’s Grandmother Tales, the spotlight is on my maternal grandmother whom I also called ammama just like my paternal grandmother. And following me, all my maternal cousins also called my grandmother ammama while their paternal grandmothers used to be called pati, the traditional moniker for a Tamil grandmother

We lost my K ammama last December at the age of 91 and this was a huge blow to all of us. Because of COVID restrictions, none of us had met her in over two years and I was stoked to be able to meet her when I planned my India trip in January, but it was not meant to be. My mother had met her in September and she was so thankful to have made that trip because otherwise, she would have lived with the regret of not meeting her mother even though they both lived in the same country.

Ammama lost her mother when she was about 9 or 10 and she and her younger brother were brought up by per uncle and aunt (her father’s older brother and his wife). Her father was a teacher and retired as the principal of a school in the south. She was a very petite lady and barely came up to my shoulders, but had a superb work ethic, one that I can only hope to emulate. Even at the age of 91, she would work tirelessly until late at night, finding something or the other to do, instead of just sitting down and wasting time.

She was married to my tatha or grandfather when she was about 18 or so and moved to what was then Bombay. Initially, they lived in a joint family, but when everyone’s family grew, they moved to a one-room apartment. My tatha worked for Indian Airlines on the operations side and so had to work shifts. They had four daughters, of which my mother was the oldest. After the youngest daughter was born, they gave her to her childless sister-in-law (my tatha’s older sister) who lived nearby to raise her. There was no legal adoption done and my aunt used to call her adoptive parents uncle and aunt and my grandparents as mother and father but lived separately. The sisters used to meet daily and knew of their relationship, it’s just that this aunt was raised in a different building. My grandmother always yearned for a son and so my male cousins quickly became her favourite, but we girls never really minded this.

Growing up, of all the sisters, only my mum lived the closest and so my sister and I spent many holidays at ammama’s house.  I remember the times when we were in kindergarten and the early primary school years when my mum would come to school during dismissal time to pick us up and take us to our grandmother’s place. We would spend the whole day there and go back home after dinner when my dad would come to pick us up.

When I was moving from grade 9 to 10, I had tuition in the summer holidays, so after spending a couple of weeks in Bengaluru, I took my first flight alone back to Mumbai where my grandfather picked me up and I stayed with them for the rest of the summer until my mum and sister came back from their holiday. My father came home earlier, but he lived at home while I was at my grandparent’s house and used to travel to my tuition centre daily.

One of my best friends lived next door to my grandparents’ home and my grandmother used to always complain that when we visited, I used to pop in, say hello, leave my shoes and then run to my friend’s house. I have so many memories of playing with her all day and when I stayed overnight there, late into the night. We played so many games and had so many heart-to-heart talks. I am still in touch with her and used to go and visit her parents every time I visited Mumbai until they passed away.

I was in my teens when my grandparents moved to Chennai after my grandfather retired. They were able to sell their small flat for a larger flat so they could finally enjoy the space in their retirement years. When they moved to Chennai, we used to split our holidays between their home and my other grandparents’ home in Bengaluru. I remember taking the train to Chennai, spending a couple of weeks there and then taking the overnight mail train to Bengaluru where my grandparents used to wait at the Cantonment station.

My grandmother had a great work ethic and I remember waking up at almost midnight when we used to stay over and see her either cleaning the kitchen or some other work because she could not sleep. And even just a few days before she fell and had to be hospitalised, she was working daily, cooking and cleaning. She was very particular about cleanliness and would spend hours making sure everything was spotless and in its correct place. She was also very particular about other things in her life and would spend hours making sure her clothes and her children and grandchildren’s clothes were clean, and neat and would immediately stitch anything that needed stitching.

In the last few years of her life, she slowed down considerably. She lived alone in Chennai for a few years after my grandfather passed away and then moved to Bengaluru to live with my mum’s third sister. And then after her second daughter’s husband passed away and my aunt had some issues, both physical and mental, she moved in and started looking after her daughter. She spent almost 10 years with this particular daughter and my aunt has been especially hit hard by her death.

When she died, because of COVID, nobody could go down and see her one last time. But thanks to technology, we were able to see her death ceremony rituals streamed live and even though it was via my phone and laptop screen, we all could see her one last time. When I was in Bengaluru earlier this year, my aunt who also lives in the same community as my parents and I spoke a lot about my grandmother and shared so many memories. This is the same aunt with whom my grandmother lived before she moved in with my second aunt. I was quite heartbroken that I could not see my grandmother one last time, and missed her by just about a month.

Writing this blog post has been quite cathartic and I found myself smiling at memories of my ammama and also shedding a few tears. Thanks for reading and allowing me to share some memories of my maternal grandmother. If you haven’t yet, but want to read my memories about my paternal grandmother, click here, here and here.

Memories: Grandmother Tales – 3

Sometime back I received a video on one of my family Whatsapp groups. This was a small documentary about Sanskrit scholars who had settled down in the villages on the banks of the Tamarabarani River in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu a few centuries back. They were fleeing muslim invaders, most likely the Mughals and fled to preserve their culture and way of life. These scholars are today most likely known as the Tamil Brahmins who are my ancestors. When I saw this video, I was instantly taken back to a conversation I had with my paternal grandmother a few weeks before she passed away.

We were travelling back to Bangalore from Sringeri, after a wonderful trip to celebrate my cousin’s thread ceremony and we stopped at a place, whose name escapes me now for a break. That was when she told me, possibly in passing, that her ancestors originally came from either or someplace close to Nagpur in Maharashtra and then moved to someplace in Karnataka, where they settled down for a few centuries before finally moving down south to settle on the banks of the Tamarabarani in Tirunelveli district. So when I saw that video, I immediately thought of my ammama and was very sad that she passed away before I really got to know her as an adult. I did some research on this and this is probably true. I also found writings which said that Tamil brahmins probably came down to the south from either coastal Andhra Pradesh from the Godavari basin or coastal Karnataka. This ties in to what my ammama told me.

I was very close to her and I was her favourite, maybe necause I was her first grandchild and was named after her. I am also told I resemble her a lot, both in looks as well as in temperament and in the way we look at things. I have only seen her in the traditional tambram saree called the Madisar and when I wore one at my wedding, pretty much everyone in the room, including my parents and extended family said they felt I looked like her. She loved reading and was interested in history. I really wish we had some more time with her so I could get to know her as a person, speak with her as an adult and learn more about my family.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any written family history, and those who knew the oral history have passed away. This is a very sad thing and I wish I was interested in this a lot earlier, when I could have perhaps gotten to know my own ancestral history a bit more.

While this is not really memories of my grandmother, when I read about things like this, I remember her a at that point in time and have a happy smile the rest of the day.

Childhood Memories

Childhood memories are the dreams that stay with you after you wake up

As I grow older, I start remembering old memories, so I thought I will start putting it down here just as a way to preserve these memories.

As I look back, my first memory is that of my grandmother. I have written about her before and she is someone who has really shaped me. I was the first born grandchild on both sides of the family (maternal and paternal) and was quite pampered until my sister came along a couple of years later.

I miust have been around 3-4 years old and one afternoon was with my mother who was buy vegetables from a vendor on the road outside our building. I now can’t remember why, but while she was busy haggling with the vendor, I quickly darted across the road. Those days not many people owned cars in India but somehow at that very exact time, a car drove on the road and I was probably knocked down. My mum was frantic and someone quickly went up to my home and got my grandmother. There was a doctor’s clinic just opposite our building and just where I was probably knocked down. I was quickly taken to the doctor who advised that the wound which was superficial and just below my left eyebrow be stitched up. My grandmother flatly refused saying what if something happened and my eye got hurt. Even today when my eyebrows are shaped, you can see the faint scar that remained from my accident when I was a toddler. Nothing really happened to me and I was ok within a day or two.

Another memory I have is of my sister. She must have been around 2-3 years old and I was about 4-5 years old. She was and has been incredibly bold as a person. On a Sunday evening, my parents had taken us to Dadar for shopping. This was in Dadar which has this bridge which spans the train stations of the Western and Central railways and the corresponding Dadar stations and which connects what is called Dadar TT (called because a long time ago the trams used to terminate here and so TT stands for Tram Terminus. The trams have gone for a long long time, but even today that circle is called Dadar TT) and Dadar BB (I didn’t know why Dadar BB was called that until I did a Google search. It seems that since the western line which it lies on was part of the Bombay & Baroda & Central India (BB&CI) Railway, hence the BB. You learn something new every day).

This incident happened either on the bridge or just after we crossed the bridge to the western side. The road and market was quite crowded and my parents had a tight grip on us. But while walking, we suddenly realised that my sister was missing. My parents went crazy looking for her and starting looking frantically. After a while they saw a police chowky (a police box which is usually there in crowded locales so that the police from the local police station can do crowd control and keep an eye) and went to ask the policeman stationed there if he could help. He promised to check and told us to come back to him in a while. After searching unsuccessfully for another 10-15 minutes, we went back to the chowky to see my sister there waiting for us!

What happened was she suddenly found herself alone in the crowd and wanted to use her brain. She went to the nearest adult she could find and told him that her parents were lost and that if they could help her. She was lucky that the person who found her was a decent man and he took her to the police chowky and handed her over to the beat policeman who knowing my parents were looking for her decided to keep her while waiting for them to come back. My parents were so relieved to find her and found her ingenuity brave that she pretty much got away with slipping from my mother in the first place.

This story has now gone down in my family lore and my parents and grandparents (when they were alive) used to dish it out so many time! I am sure her children have also heard parts, if not this story in its entity. If not, I am going to tell them the next time I meet them.

Memories: Grandmother Tales – 2

I am the first grandchild in both my paternal and maternal families and hence have been quite pampered, atleast until my sister was born, around 18 months later.

They say children don’t really have memories until they are around 2 years old, and I am also not very sure if this is a genuine memory or the following memory is something that is there because it was told to me by people. This memory is of the time when my sister was born. I had an aunt who used to stay in New Delhi at that point in time as her husband was in the armed services and lived in a defence colony. My paternal grandparents took me with them when they went to visit her. I was, as I mentioned, around 18 months old at that time. I was extremely close to my paternal grandmother so it should not have been an issue for me to be away from my parents for a couple of months. My grandparents took me with them so my mother who was recruperating the birth of my sister at her mum’s place need not have the hassle of looking after an active toddler too.

It’s important in this story to note that the then Indian Prime Minister had declared a state of emergancy in the country during that period. Since we were living in a defence area, that place was highly regulated and strict. I have memories of Indira Gandhi coming on television nightly, probably talking about the situation in the country. For some reason I was very scared of her and this was excabated by them telling me that if I did something naughty, she will come and take me away! Imagine how terrified I was then, an 18-month old toddler, away from my parents for the very first time in my life. And I was in a situation where I could not even get to my mum if I wanted to until and unless I was taken back to Bombay.

This aunt of mine did not have any children and perhaps the way things worked back then was like this. But if something like this happened today, all hell would have broken loose. I also think women at that time were more conditioned to just accept what their elders tell them. I don’t condemn anyone in a similar situation, but it has to be a very excruciating situation before I would allow something like that to happen with me and my children.

My relationship with my paternal grandmother was very special. In tamil families, the oldest grandchild is given the paternal parent’s name (depending on gender), the next oldest, the maternal grandparents name, if of the same gender and so on. So by this naming convention, my grandmother’s name was bestowed upon me. But so that the younger generation don’t call a child by the same name as that of an elder, this was usually the formal name with another name being used at home and in casual settings. In mine and my sister’s case, though our grandmother’s names are mentioned in our birth certificates, it also includes our other name, which then became our formal name.

So in the light of the above paragraph, like I said, I had a very special connection with my paternal grandmother. She lived with us till I was around 6-7 years old, then moved to be with my paternal uncle who moved to another state for work as he was still unmarried then. I still remember all the stories she used to tell us and the yummy dishes she made for us. And when they would visit us during holidays, or we visited them when they decided to make Bangalore their retirement home, I would snuggle with her at night, because I missed her so much!

She passed away suddenly when I was 16 and I think I cried almost a week thinking about her. In fact, I had made plans to go alone to Bangalore after my grade 12 exams to stay an extra month with her before the rest of the family came, but that plan just remained that.

I really enjoyed writing this post, so much that I will share more childhood memories in the coming months. I should do this before I forget them, after all, oral memories much be written down before they are forgotten.

In case you want to know more about my paternal grandmother, here’s another post I wrote a few years back.

What are your memories about your grandmother? Do you have a favourite one?