July 02, 2009

Conversation with thatha.

Of late, I have been thinking about my grandfather and grandmother -- how my life perhaps would have been different, richer if I had had the opportunity to interact with them. Whenever mom tells me a story about thatha, my mind conjures up images of a well-built, handsome, somewhat daunting man with a volatile temper and a demure, intelligent (not the bookish sense which I fear is the only kind that I possess) wife.

Colorful scenes from his past flow like cool satin (don't ask me why I thought of satin, that's just what came to my mind -- satin and silk waving kisses in a cool breeze) when I think of my thatha -- his life as a teacher in Colombo, his love for his mother, yet another colorful character...a rather portly lady who had great sense of humor, tremendous spiritual powers and a unique (in that time) fondness for her daughter-in-law, his photographic memory for books and details, his powerful, cursive all a lofty image of a lofty man (in the good sense) that I unfortunately never met.

I have this secret (hah!) wish to write a book about my maternal grandparents. Nope, it will never be a best seller but it will possibly be the most satisfying piece of writing that my pen has ever produced. Because it will let me put myself in their lives and be a part of it...

Most of the stories I found interesting occurred in a place I have never seen -- Colombo. They were stories of a life I have never been exposed to...when you lived under a hostile government that had declared that "Non-nationalists must quit!". My thatha earned well as a professor but only a part of the money reached his large family of a wife and 8 children. Mom says he was a master of the English language. Poems, quotations, words were a part of his regular conversations...I have never met a person in my life who could do that -- recall an appropriate text from a classic literary piece or a poem to quote at the right time! Mom says thatha did not leave behind money for his children but something a lot more precious -- the blessings and power of his prayers.

My paatti was as different from him as could be. She was an intelligent student who stopped studying past the fifth grade to get married. Thatha decided to marry her soon as he met! A lively, handsome young man who died young :( This brings to my mind the image of the first child that my grandparents lost -- Samanthaka mani. She was to be their most intelligent child if she hadn't passed away at the age of three. How weird that I feel sad for an aunt that I never aunt I wish I had met, will maybe meet if not in this lifetime, in some other one?

So many stories, so many memories I try to make my own...where are you now, thatha? Are you reading this now? My silly little words struggling to convey what they set out to convey?

I set out to write down a make-believe conversation between you and me but it turned out to be something else. The make-believe world is powerful, isn't it? No wonder children amuse themselves endlessly in their make-believe worlds -- where dreams come true, where it's possible to experience what real-life fails to deliver...and this is my make-believe world, thatha. Not entirely. But, at times like this, when real life fades, this world is what keeps me going.

Here is what I read last from your letters to my mom,

"...In other words, I am preparing for my "Last journey",

"Our little systems have their day
They have their day and cease to be
They are but broken lights of thee
But thou my lord, are more than they"

In memoriam (Tennyson)

Reply soon..."

Yes...reply soon, thatha...


Anonymous said...

Amazing!!! u not only remember sooo many things i told you about my parents randomly, but are able to put them soo nicely.
I sincerely feel that my parents would have been showering their blessings from The Lord's feet!!!!.
Thanks for bringing pleasant memories of my parents, the only thing i can relish with. Wishingyoualltheverybest. Mom.

Anonymous said...

Ramya - very nice description of Thatha and Paati...I also recall that Thatha was very patient and has lost his temper only on very rare occasions.

Sriram Krishnan said...

Wow - its amazing because I often think about them. I often tell people that of all the people in my family tree, thatha is probably the most inspiring character of all.

It looks like we should all sit and compile our stories - Amma has told me these so many times.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely written. Please send this in an email to Appa, he'll be very happy to read this.

I can do that too, but I am a stickler for rules and don't want to violate any copyrights )-.


RS said...

jaya - thanks -- post based on your stories and a few from dad :)

abhi - thanks.

sriram - that would be fun...something for posterity.

prem - thanks, did send a link to him at the id. Hope he read it.

Madhu said...

Hi Ramya :
What a lovely reflection on Thatha. I wish you could’ve met him so we could hear more about him from you.
Nandhu and I were fortunate in being able to spend some time with him in Ranchi. I have lovely memories long walks to the milkman, night time stories where Nandhu and I laughed our stomachs off, penciled sharpened with black blades (he abhorred blunt pencils – said they would make your brain blunt as well), an ability to get along with child and adult alike and a hearty rumbling laugh that started with him and somehow was infected the company.

But I don’t miss him at all – I really don’t.

I see his ability to quote scriptures and deep spiritual faith in Kanna Periappa. I see his ability to become the heart and soul of a gathering in my father. I see his immense knowledge of poetry, literature and quotes in Rajappa Chittappa. I see his immeasurable intelligence sparkling in Ravi Chittappa’s eyes. I see his ability to remember all family details and bring up happy memories in Mythili Atthai. His rumbling laugh and jovial speech in Rajamani Atthai. I see his ability to get along with child and adult alike with an apt phrase and an appropriate word in Kausal Atthai and last but most definitely not the least the joie de vivre in Jayanthi Atthai.

He left a piece of himself in all his children so we would not miss him when he was gone.

I don’t miss speaking to him Ramya – I do miss him replying back ......


RS said...

Madhu, that was...touching and well-expressed.

duh said...

I like the classroom tales the best; the way he used to walk into any class - economics, literature(!) with just a chalk, how students dismissed by others as failures went on to complete graduation/post-grad under his relentless tutelage and how you'd probably be the class topper if you manage 50-60 on 100 if he was grading...

pooja said...

lovely post ramya

RS said...

L~ - :)

Pooja - thanks :)

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