For the love of Avva

She fed us, entertained us with her stories and took pains to instil sense into us.

Dressed in a simple white sari with an off-white blouse, “Avva” was our grandmother. As children, whenever we went on vacations to her house in Coorg, she was there to welcome us and see that we were comfortable.

For us it was heaven where the whole day was spent wandering around the small coffee estate beyond the house. It had an orchard too, full of a variety of fruits borne during the summer.

The more adventurous among us scampered up the trees and shook them, so the fruits that dropped down could be promptly picked up by those on the ground. If it was blueberries we were picking, we would all have deep blue stains on our clothes! Avva would give us a firing and then tell us to wash up, change and sit down for lunch.

Avva had lived a difficult life. She came into the house as a young bride, just 16-years-old and very shy. She had only her young brother-in-law, Chinappa, a year younger than her, to talk to and share her views. A few years later, she became a widow, and as was customary in Coorg back then, Avva was married again at 26 to her young brother-in-law.

Her young husband was an inspector in the police department in the 1920s, and later became Prosecuting Inspector for Coorg. He covered the area on horseback and often had to stay back in villages to solve minor disputes. Roads were practically nonexistent and the forests, through which the tracks passed, had quite an assortment of wild life! So, travelling at night was out of question, and he often halted at these villages.

During these nights, he had the village elders to sing old traditional songs and painstakingly wrote down these beautiful and meaningful renditions, rich in the history and culture of Coorg. The next day after his work, he would sit at his desk at home, edit and copy his notes into a notebook. Fortunately, the then commissoner of Coorg, a Mr Sooter, realised the cultural importance of this work and helped him publish it. Today, that text, the “Pattole Palame” is the most authoritative book on Coorg tradition, culture and customs.

Avva was a pillar of strength and helped her husband with his work, feeding villagers who would be invited home to sing mythological and historical songs for her husband’s book. Alas, the crab was active even then, and Chinappa succumbed to stomach cancer at the age of 56. So there was Avva, a widow for the second time; this time at 57.

Her children had grown up and were living their own lives. She now concentrated on her grandchildren – some of whom lived with her in the town for their education, and most of us who she saw only when we came down for our vacations. We were a boisterous, noisy, demanding and hungry lot. She fed us, entertained us with her stories and took pains to instil some sense into us!

As the sun set, we were all to return from our games and have a bath. Avva would make us sit on benches in the verandah and recite our mathematical ‘tables’, loudly in Kannada. Then, we sang hymns, some written by her husband Chinappa, which by that time had practically become household prayers all over Coorg. This was followed by a sumptuous meal cooked under Avva’s supervision, and fed with love and affection.

Finally, in 1954, Avva passed on at the age of 80. She will always be remembered for all that she gave us, so gracefully and selflessly, always with  a smile.

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