Memories are enough

Memories are enough

This is the age of nuclear families and single households. But that’s not how I grew up. My childhood and much of my adulthood were spent in a large, rambling house where I lived with my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, a whole host of cousins and assorted cows and dogs. At one point, there were as many as 60 people in our house. My grandfather, who bought the land and built the initial structure, was the great Harikatha artiste T Venkannadas. He died young and the entire burden of the family came upon his sprightly, plucky wife Bhageerathamma and her young sons.

Often joint families remain together because invisible hands and hearts like that of my grandmother weave cords of affection and respect among the members. My grandmother did it through her food, and more importantly, how she served it. My father used to narrate a story about my grandmother, a story that always warms my heart.

It was the tradition in our family to gather around her in a circle while she sat in front of a huge pot full of steaming rice and rasam or a delightful sambar full of vegetables. She then would, in her careworn hands, make a tight ball of rice, dip it in the sambar or rasam and give it to each member turn by delicious turn. Imagine how you wait in front of the pani puri-walah when there’s a crowd...aah now you get it!

This ‘kai thutthu’, as it is known in Kannada, is a practice now long forgotten. But in those days, this was something everyone looked forward to. My father, his brothers and cousins, would sit around my grandmother, listening to her tales, whispering little secrets and gossip, all the while getting admonished by her for their lack of focus on the food.

One day, when one such ‘kai thutthu’ session was on, there came the renowned playwright T P Kailasam to our house. Kailasam in those days was a regular visitor; he often turned up unannounced to chat about Harikatha with my father and uncles. That day, astonished by the spectacle in front of him, Kailasam could not stop himself from falling at my grandmother’s feet.

My father, when he used to narrate this story to me, always made it a point to remember Kailasam’s exact words: “Listen, you children, here sits your God. Forget about your idols and your worship — this lady here, she is your idol and she deserves your worship.” Kailasam, perhaps, was especially struck by the scene because he had lost his mother very early on in his life.

Today, neither does that rambling house exist nor are me and my large family living together. What remains though are memories fragrant with the aroma of food and love. But memories are enough, aren’t they?