Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My grandmother

Dawn light was peeping through the clouds as Narayani ammal slowly walked up the steps of the Temple pond. This has been her ritual for ever and she tells me she forgets the number of years she had done this. She always woke up very early in the morning and left though the back door to the temple pond. The temple was the house of Lord Shiva who occupied a place of prime importance. There was a small area designated to the deities of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Devi. It was a fairly large temple not too small and not too big. The statue of Nandi stood before the “Nadai” or footpath of the Lord Shiva and then the Kodi Kambam. Just after this would be steps leading to the pond . Again the pond was a nice size and there was a segregation for women and men’s sides. The inner walls of the pond was painted with white and red stripes as were the temple walls. Other than leading to the pond there were 2 more doors. One door led out to the East Mada street and the other to the West Mada street. These were 2 lanes built adjoining the temple with houses on one side of the street only. The temple was surrounded by streets lines with houses on 3 sides and by the pond on the 4th side. 
My grandmother’s house was the last house on the East mada street adjoining the pond. There was a narrow strip of land separating her house from the pond. This narrow strip of land circled the pond except for the area directly in front of the temple. The temple’s main door actually opened into the pond itself.
Most women and men who lived in that little village took bath in the pond before entering the temple first thing in the morning. So did my grandmother. She would wash her soiled clothes first before taking bath and then would leave the washed clothes in a corner near the steps and wash her hands and feet again to enter the temple. She wore a light brown colored nine yard saree draped around her head which was shaven. The small growth of hair that peeped from beneath the draped saree was completely white. She was slender and tall almost 5 feet and 7 inches and had a fast gait.
She would return home after all the abhisekhams were over at the temple and Lord Shiva was made ready for the day. From her I learnt about Ekadasi and Dwadasi and ofcourse Pradosham. She would know all these days byheart even without glancing at the calendar. She observed strict fasts during these days. And many other days too which I don’t remember now . 
She always had her meals on time. She only had one main meal a day in the morning and then light tiffin in the evenings with a tea at around 3p.m. On fasting nights sometimes she For us children the fascination was always the pond. I had never before seen that expanse of water contained in four walls living in a city and never having laid eyes on a swimming pool back then. I was totally mesmerized at the regal stature of the temple, Lord Shiva and the Pond. Atleast once a day we used to walk in that small patch of land surrounding the pond. One of our favorite play things to do was to throw stones at an angle and see how many times it skimmed the surface. 
For me it would go just 3 or 4 times but I still remember my father could do it for 12 or more. So our time would be spent searching for the flat stones and throwing them in. Also most mango trees would lean across the compound walls of many houses and another favorite activity was to throw stones and get mangoes. 
My grandmother could never understand why we would go and scrimmage for mangoes when there was plenty in the backyard. Occasionally she would have someone come and get us some tender coconuts from the tall coconut trees. 
Many days my grandmother consented to take me with her to the pond for having a bath. That was the excitement of the day. Also my father decided to teach us to swim. He made us a swimming tool aid with the use of coconuts and the husk of the coconut tree. It would float and help us to learn. I could never get the hang of it so would stay more by the steps while father used to swim. 
Coming back to my patti’s routine , she would wash the front of the house and put kolam long before day break. My patti would pick up her clothes that she had washed and put it up to dry on a string placed high above the walkway leading to the bathrooms. The string was too high and she used to put the clothes up there to dry with the help of a stick. She said the clothes had to be so high up so as not to touch anyone else’s head. 
She would then do her routine visit to the temple as described in my earlier story and be back home in time to have her first coffee. Now this coffee was not very tasty even back then. She used to call it Chukku Kappi. Same way made chukku tea as well.
She would then start her cooking routine on a small aduppu ( cooking stove). This was a platform made of bricks maybe approx 2 x 3 feet or so. A small open space would be there to place the firewood and she would get the fire started and then get her ingredients ready to cook. She even made Rasam using her Eeya chumbu and never once did she burn anything or melt anything. Everything was done in a slow and steady pace. She would then have lunch ready and would call all of us to eat. 
We were all served on plantain leaves plucked fresh just before eating.
Afternoons she would go and cut ripe mangoes or take some from the mango basket she would have got as a gift.
Just after making tea she would get some tiffin ready for the evening which she would have around 5 or so. Then she would wash and clean the kitchen and would wash herself in preparation for going to the temple. 
Almost always at exactly six she would be there at the temple. The temple bells would start ringing almost clamouring loudly probably reminding everyone that its time to be at the temple.
The evening puja’s where a sight to behold. The whole temple would be lit by lamps and candles and every one of them would be burning brightly. The light and the bells and the incense sticks would make the place more divine if that were possible. All eyes would be on Lord Shiva as Rudram was chanted loudly . After all the evening rituals and finally the Lord was set ready to go to sleep, my grandmother would begin her walk back tohome. 
Many times this walk would be delayed by small conversations with neighbors. Most neighbors would want to know about us visiting kids and so she would stand talking. 
She would sit for sometime on the Thinnai and talk to some passers by and then would come in, wash her feet and enter the house. Very rarely she would eat a banana or have little kanji but that was very rare. Mostly her mouth would be whispering prayers as she got her cot ready for the night.
She had a cot which was woven by cotton threads. Most days she would just get the cot out of the side room and place it along the walkway leading to the hall and just lie on it. She went to sleep almost as soon as she would lie down and got up early the next morning to continue her routine every day of the week and every day of the year.
 kanji at night time. Meal was always served to her on a plantain leaf. She never touched any other container while eating. She observed strict religious beliefs but never ever imposed them on others. 

All the houses on the Mada streets had Thinnai (similar the the Balcony) which is really an extension of a seat one from end to other giving way between for a path to the door. One either end of Thinnai was the reclining cemented surface which was cool to the touch. Most of the house floor was covered in red color. As soon as you entered the house you could see an open area like an open tub where water would be kept. Patti would always wash her legs there before entering the main house.