Akka and Mami
The first memory I recall is my friend Krishnamoorthy's query in Baroda,' Did you marry your sister's daughter?'
A lot of people have been puzzled by my addressing my mother-in law as akka. I explained to Krishnamoorthy that she was my aunt's daughter. In every family gathering, there would be 29 children born to my father and his four siblings (and another 29 born to my mother's siblings). Many of them would address each other as akka and anna and the form of address was adopted by me and my siblings. She was akka to the next generation also. My nieces would call her as Jaya akka and her daughter as Amritha mami. Amritha would say in mock exasperation, 'You make me feel old.'
Allotment of duties
After a visit to Pollachi, my sister Vanaja was all praise for Jaya akka's household management. She said, 'Everyone in that house performs the allotted duties. I saw Santhanam grinding the coffee powder'. And she looked meaningfully at me, as if to say 'Ýou don't do any work at home.' And I responded by saying, 'Vanaja, if you perform all the duties carried out by Chooda, I will do whatever Santhanam does.' After that exchange, she continued to tell others admiringly about Jaya akka's home-management skills, but without any meaningful glance at me.
பாவம் - Paavam
There were a lot of things common to my sister(akka) Vanaja and Jaya akka. But if you ask anybody who knew both of them to say something linking both, the first word to come to the mind would be பாவம் (paavam). If you refer to the dictionary, it would define paavam as sin or misfortune. But in the dictionary of Vanaja and Jaya akka, it had the meaning 'alas' or 'it's pity'. But their usage of the word was not very restricted. At one stage it became so common that my father commented,'யாராவது சந்தோஷமா இருந்தா கூட வனஜாவும் ஐயமும் அவன் சந்தோஷமா இருக்கான், பாவம் அப்படின்னு சொல்வா - Even if somebody is happy Vanaja and Jayam would say Paavam, he is happy.'
I associate three food items with Jaya akka. The first is மோர் ரசம் (Mor rasam). In 1961, I had gone to Kanchipuram with Chooda and we had all sat down to eat. After the first course. Jaya akka was serving something which had a strange appearance to me. So I asked her , What is it?'. She said, மோர் ரசம் (Mor rasam)'' . I said, 'I don't want it. I don't like it.' There was a stunned silence around the room. Apparently no one was allowed to refuse anything made at home and here is this boy from Madras who has the guts to tell mother that he doesn't like something. I was a guest, that too the son of the patriarch of the family. So she said, 'ok' and started serving மோர். Later when Santhanam explained the rules in his house, I was incredulous because my four siblings and I were quite choosy about what we would take and not take.
Incidentally, after that night, no one ever offered me மோர் ரசம் (Mor rasam) for eating (or refusal).
The second is the side dish for curd bath. After Amritha and I had married, I had gone for my first dinner in Jaya akka's house in Mari Chetty street. After curd bath was served, she asked me, 'Shall I serve you pickle or sambar?' I replied 'both'. There was an awkward silence for a few seconds. The upshot was that from my next visit, she would offer two or three pickles, sambar and தொக்கு (thokku).
The third is கீரை - palak. When I was transferred from ICF to Southern railway, Gopal was my bungalow peon. Jaya akka liked his cooking a lot. But he wanted to be posted in ICF and recommended Mahesh, his brother-in-law for appointment as my bungalow peon. I agreed. So Gopal was training Mahesh with some guidance from Amritha. When Amritha told Jaya akka that soon Gopal would be leaving and Mahesh would take his place, she said, 'But nobody can cook like what Gopal does. For example, this palak made by Gopal is very tasty.' Amritha told her,'Amma, this palak was made by Mahesh.' She immediately called both and congratulated Gopal for being a good teacher and Mahesh for being a good student.(The photo is of Mahesh, Gopal and Gopal's wife with us).
इतना बड़ा सूटकेस (itnaa badaa suitcase)
In 1983, Jaya akka and athimber visited us in Baroda. I picked them up from the station and Jaya akka wanted to have her bath. She looked around but her suitcase was not found. A frantic call to Kannan in Bombay confirmed the presence of the suitcase in Ballard Estate. Her wrath turned predictably on her husband ,'neenga pathu eduthu vaikka vendemaa? நீங்க பாத்து எடுத்து வைக்க வேண்டாமா ?' For once Athimber defended himself stoutly. Amritha got her mother a couple of 9-yard saris from a friend. A new set of toothbrush and soap solved the problem that day. I sent my peon Sakharam to Bombay by that night's train and he brought the suitcase by the next day evening. But he told Harish later, जब साब बोलै कुछ सामान बूल गया मैंने सोचा छोटा सा सा सामान होगा इतना बड़ा सूटकेस कैसे बूल सकते हैं? - When saab said she forgot something in Mumbai, I thought it would be a small item. How can anyone forget such a big suitcase?'
The high-point in my mother's, chithi's and Jaya akka's lives was their 52-day pilgrimage tour in 1974.They joined the tour only because my Hindi-speaking Raghavan chithappa agreed to accompany them. My father and Ranganathan athimber joined them at Delhi only for the Hardwar, Rishikesh., Kedarnath and Badrinath leg. Though they visited over 40 places in seven states and Nepal, they would always refer to it as the Nepal/Badri trip.From Kathmandu, each was allowed to carry with them two Çhinese silk saris. So all the 20 ladies in the group bought 4 saris , packed two, joined two saris and wore the 12-yard sari while crossing the Nepal-India border. The imagined sight of 20 madisar-wearing ladies, each in a 12-yard sari brings a smile to my lips whenever I think of it.
Harish was born immediately after the tour. The two names (out of three that a child gets during namakaranam) given to him were Harish (short for Hardwar-Rishikesh) and Badrinarayanan.
Whenever I see a walker used by a senior citizen, I recall two images. Till her death, my mother referred a walker as 'locker'. Initially people tried to correct her, but since it sounded cute, we let her refer to it as a locker. Though Jaya akka would name it correctly, she would very rarely use it the correct way. She would walk around without the walker and if reminded, she would walk dragging it along. The walker hurt her ego and she didn't want to use it.
Give me some work
In 1992, Jaya akka and athimber visited us in our house at Juhu. Pushpa was also there at that time. Hema was staying with us, And the weekend saw Kannan and family. So the weekend was a big get-together of the Ranganathan family. I had got a VCD player from the office. So daytime was spent by all watching a lot of movies. And there were magazines for reading. After the others had left, Jaya akka felt guilty at not doing any household work and was pestering Amritha to give her some work. The hapless Amritha asked me for suggestion. I promised to solve the problem once and for all. That flat was two flats joined together and we were using one kitchen. The other kitchen was our store-room and was always closed. We would just clean it lightly once in a while. It was stuffed with unwanrted things from ceiling to the floor. I took Jaya akka there and said,'அக்கா, வேலதான வேணும். இந்த ரூமை clean பண்ணிடு. - You want work, right. Just clean up this room,' One look at the room end to end and Jaya akka knew she had to accept defeat. Till she left our house, there was no request from her to give some work.
When we vacated the house in 1995, that room was cleared by four workers and the raddiwala took away half-a truck of material.
Amritha used to tell me about how Jaya akka would make sure that all her close ones assembled in Tiruvanmiyoor for Kanu. Radhika and Shoba have also written about it. But we spent most of my career outside and would visit Chennai only in summer. Amritha was longing to celebrate Kanu in Chennai. That opportunity came in 2004. Jaya akka, Amritha and I had gone to Hema's house in Tambaram the previous night. Jaya akka was excited like a child. When all her daughters reached Hema's house it was a gala day for all. That was the last kanu that Amritha spent with Jaya akka and all her sisters.
She would have been happy to see this scene in Sydney three years after her death.
Curious about cobra
In our Aynavaram house we would sight snakes sometimes. Once Dhanam, who was in one of the outhouses came running and said she saw a cobra. In ICF, there used to be snake-catchers and one of them was sent for. By the time he came, the cobra had vanished. But he sighted another 4-foot snake, caught it and put it in a jute bag. Akka was watching all this standing at the gate. We were shocked when she expressed a desire to see the snake. So the bag containing the snake was brought to her. Seeing that she was interested, the snake-catcher opened the bag just a little. When all this was happening all the others were maintaining social distance. But the curious Jaya akka was not afraid. I am sure that she would have fondled the snake had she been permitted.
The night Mail
In the film, Yaadon Ki Baaraat it was the title song that identified the family members. In Ranganathan family it is the card game Mail. Whenever 'five ' hands of the family meet, Mail must be played. Later we have found variations for playing with any number of hands from four to ten. When Jaya akka was staying with us in Aynavaram, she would look forward to the visits of Harish and Raghu for two reasons. One was that she was fond of every relative, But the other and equally important reason was the opportunity to play Mail. We would play the game during the day also on weekends and in the night daily. But an interesting scene would be played out every night after dinner.
Jaya akka - 'Harish, Shall I go to bed?'or 'Raghu, I am going to bed.'
Harish / Raghu - 'Paatti/ Amma, how can you go to bed without playing.'
With great feigned reluctance she would say,'சரி - ok'.
She would never get tired of playing out this scene and we never got tired of watching it.
An interesting anecdote related to Mail is that it is equally popular in my (Kamala-Srinivasan) family. Once when Harish, Amritha and I were to return to Baroda, we came to the Central station and found that as the incoming train was late, the rake would come to the platform about an hour later. I just took out a bed-sheet from the airbag and Amritha took out a pack of cards from her handbag and the five of us (Amritha, Harish, Urmila, Radha and I) started playing Mail on Platform No. 4 of Central station. Vanaja was guarding the luggage. We carried on till one of us scored 500. There were a lot of curious onlookers, but we never bothered.
Long back I had read a blog in Tamil about how their fridge had Brahma, Vishnu and Siva all living together. Brahma was what was cooked the previous day, Vishnu was a week old and Siva was something well past expiry date. Tiruvanmiyoor fridge had all the three and of course the young grandchildren would polish off everything not bothering about when it was made. I would say ,'பசங்களுக்கெல்லாம் வளரற வயிறு.' And the one quality of Jaya akka inherited by Amritha is how to store 300 litres or more of stuff in a 250-litre fridge. Once we were travelling back to Aynavaram after visiting Tiruvanmiyoor. Amritha rang up but Jaya akka was not picking up. So I said, 'Maybe she has kept the cordless phone in the fridge.'
If I could award the title of Fridge Ratna, you know which two will automatically qualify.
Life after death
Everyone has written about Jaya akka's influence on them when she was alive. I am perhaps the only one who was influenced by her after death. I have never been keen to sport a namam or any religious symbol. The last time I wore a namam was Amritha's 60th birthday, I think. From December 2005, Amritha and I have been going to Satya Varadaraja temple near our house every Saturday. Jaya akka had watched us going to the temple many times, but had not made any comments. But after her death, I had a vivid dream. In my dream, when Amritha and I were leaving foir the temple on a Saturday, Jaya akka said,' பார்த்தசாரதி, ஆத்து பக்கத்து கோவில்தானே, ஸ்ரீசூரணம் இட்டுண்டு போயேன் (Parthasarathy, It is a temple near the house. why don't you wear Srichooranam.'I woke up with a start. From that day in 2007, every time I go to Satya Varadaraja Perumal temple in Arumbakkam I sport the Srichooranam.
26th May 2021