We will always remember her as paati. She was also known as “perima”, “paatima” and many other affectionate appellations to the people whom she had readily surrounded her life and her routines with warmth and love. Paati was our paternal grandmother. Happy memories of our childhood revolve around paati, her lingo, her cuisine, her thrift and so many of her singular attributes.
Paati, a child-bride, had travelled with my grandfather to several parts of South India, wherever his work took him and had served him with all obedience and submission expected of a traditional Hindu wife. We knew that she never went to school. But she was hardly uninformed. She spoke all the south Indian languages with ease. In the midst of all her managerial duties, she had even cleverly taught herself to read Tamil haltingly from magazines and books lying at home.
Basking in the afternoon sun at the doorstep in her simple madisaaru and a trade-mark white hakoba blouse, she would enjoy her siestas always mindful of every hawker who called for her at the gate. Sometimes, our pet mongrel and a couple of cats from an ever-multiplying brood that lived in our backyard, would lazily lounge at her feet till late evening in fond expectation of some free milk which she mischievously extracted for them from our local milkman much to his chagrin.
Though not much of a storyteller, paati would regale us with her ready wit and humour. With a song or a ditty for every occasion, she would sing merrily for us in a feeble, dry voice. She would sometimes even unabashedly utter limericks with bawdy lines sending us into peals of laughter, much to the embarrassment of her daughters-in-law.
An avid gardener that she was, paati fondly nurtured a large garden full of plantain trees, several varieties of guava, pomegranate, chikoo, gooseberries and countless varieties of tubers, herbs and flowering plants. If she was not found in her kitchen, she sure was in her garden pulling out weeds from the herb hedges. We never returned unrewarded from garden tours with her.
Paati never expressed any desire to buy or keep anything for herself. Her possessions were all tucked away in a tiny, two-shelved wooden cupboard inside the kitchen, in which she mostly kept our monthly ration of biscuits and goodies, some small change and sundry odds and ends. Despite its spartan contents, this cupboard interested us kids no end. Its creaking rattle would draw us from all corners of our home to her and she would lovingly push a biscuit or two in our hands and shoo us away.
Though generally in good health, the clammy Bangalore weather gave her frequent wheezing bouts in her advancing years. Nevertheless, she cheerfully chugged along till the ripe age of 90. Over the years, education, jobs, marriages and several deaths vastly diluted our large, joint family. A quiet descended upon our large home, which once rang with sounds of mirth and bustling activity, with paati at its helm.
However, paati has never been forgotten. No conversation between us cousins or the mamas and mamis in the family is ever complete without alluding to paati and her travails. When I share vignettes of my cherished growing years with paati, her life and her wisdom with my 10-year old, I also wonder if he will ever carry similar, happy memories for his children.