The ratio of imagination:reality is 80:20
The Navratri festival this year would be special for me. 10 days visit to our Ammama (my mom’s mom-Granny) would be something to look forward to. I haven’t met her in 2 years. She was very loving and all the grandchildren of our family adored her for that. This year Ammama had asked all her children to send their children (us) to her for 10 days during the Navratri off days. I was going but my sister was too young so she would stay back with mom and dad. Apart from me, my cousins Micky and Neena were coming as well. Vichu would always be there as his parents stayed closed to Ammama. I haven’t met Micky and Neena as well in sometime. Neena was only 11, two years younger than me. Micky was a year older than me and Vichu was close to Neena with almost 11 years.
Apart from that this is the first time that my mother is letting me stay with my grandma without her accompanying. Same was the case with Micky and Neena. Vichu used to be with grandma most of the time. His parents lived in the same village but a bit far.
Ammama lived in a village which was around 83 kms from a big city and the nearest town itself was 22 kms. A village pampered by nature with lush greenery, surrounding every nook and corner. A village that still had a village leader and other superstitions to support the religious beliefs of people. I stayed around 200 kms from my grandma’s village while Micky and Neena were around 150 kms or so in the opposite direction to where I lived. Ammama was a very religious woman. She would wake up very early in the morning to take bath and light the lamp which illuminates the whole front courtyard of the house. This is done with a belief of pleasing the deities/Gods that she prayed to. The lighting of lamp would enlighten her day as she has pleased the Gods or believed so.
The house that she lived in was said to be 80 years old with Ettukettu (a traditional home with two central courtyards). Recently all her children (4 of them) came together and renovated the house keeping the old traditional designs but repairing the things that required maintenance. I have heard mom complaining that old feeling that she used to get from the house is no more there.
Since my dad would be working on the first day of my holidays, I requested him to drop me to Ammama the day before holidays itself. He agreed that he would drop me the evening before. Hopefully I would see Micky and Neena the same evening. It was much closer for them unlike me.
But two days before itself mom started telling me the things I must do and not do at Ammama’s place. Though Ammama was very active, it would be hard for her to keep an eye on all the four of us. At one stage mom just decided that she would come along with me and take my sister also along. She never trusted four of us being together. She had her reasons. As much as I loved my mom, I hated the idea of her joining us at Ammama’s place. There was something about her childhood home that made her feel in control of everything there. She would be a completely different person at her home. She made sure that I was under her clutches all the time, her eyes planted on me checking out if I was going near the pool or on the road.
Just when she was making plans of coming with me the next day, dad interrupted citing that my sister wouldn’t be able to deal with the climate the village had to offer. It would be extra rainy and extra cold as the village was engulfed in greens. Mom had to call Ammama and ask if she would be able to deal with these four kids. After the phone call, mom was all smiles and she just whispered that she isn’t going to join me and she wanted me to be safe at all times. I understood that Ammama must have told her how she raised 4 kids single handedly, as our grandfather died soon after the birth of my mother who happens to be the youngest of the 4 siblings.
I was ready by the next day afternoon eagerly waiting for my father to just comeback, take me to the bus stand and board the bus. I knew as usual, dad would be late. Mom always kept reminding me that I should always be near Ammama and not go near the pool. Talking about the pool, it was a natural pool with peculiar arrangements of stones built in a very traditional fashion. The bottom didn’t have anything and people who were new to the pool usually had chances of their feet getting stuck in the sticky sand beneath. The sand would pull the person down and in such a case death was certain. I was enlightened of such happenings from my childhood in a bid to scare me off from the pool, but I always loved to sit on the stone paved stairs of the pool. The major death that occurred last was one of my Ammama’s neighbor, a guy who was from a different place came to visit him and he jumped into the pool and got himself stuck. That was at least a decade ago when I was just born but none of us kids were allowed anywhere nearby. Ammama was said to swim the whole pool in just 5 minutes and she was an expert and could do deep dives as well as per my mother. Maybe this time I should just ask her to show us some of the things that mom was bragging about.
In the meanwhile dad was home. He told me to get ready in 15 mins and he had to take me Ammama and comeback, and prepare for next day’s office. We set off as he said. It was a 2.5 hours bus journey through the lonely highway. The place where Ammama lived was void of any crowd. Due to the very basic life style, most of the youngsters had preferred to move out of there and live in a city like my parents. It was calm and I rested my head on dad and later I was woken up by him telling there is only 15 mins left to her place. I jolted off to sit erect and see where we were. It was almost nearby. I could sense it from the change of nature. The black and brown patches were now replaced by greens. In 20 mins, I and dad got down in the bus-stand.
‘Do you want to walk or we can take an auto-rickshaw?’
We walked as I was happy with walking and he was happy with saving that bit of money for his return fare. It took 15 mins to reach Ammama’s place from the bus stand. The way was beautiful with sparse houses on either side.
In no time, I could see Ammama’s place from far away. A little closer and I could see 3 kids running around in the pathway connecting the courtyard. I was tightly held by dad and was let loose only once we crossed the gate. I ran to Micky, Neena and Vichu. They were so happy to see me as I was to see them. So many years but still the same amount of heart-warming love. That was the thing with us kids. We knew nothing was under our control and never could decide to meet each other though we wanted to. Hence we had no complaints. As my father walked in Ammama greeted him with a smile. He stood at the courtyard and ordered me to change my dress before I went out to play with them.
I ran into the house, the trio followed me. Soon we were in the house discussing a lot of things. I never realized when dad left and only when Ammama came in with a glass of milk for everyone, she mentioned it to us.
Our daily routine would be simple. We would wake up late as usual and by then Ammama would have completed her chores. We would play around with Jacky, the pet dog for sometime in the afternoon or evening. All day long we would play in the sand and evening Ammama would instruct us to have a good bath. Neena had the privilege of Ammama bathing her. She was the most pampered kid out of the lot. The perks of being the only girl child in the group. That is not entirely true. Vichu also had an elder sister but she was in college by now. Neenu had something special about her and everyone equally loved Neenu (as she was called in the family) which would sometimes make us jealous.
In the evening, we would recite chants to Ammama’s Gods with her. That would usually go on for half an hour or so. Later on after supper, she would gather us all in the front courtyard of the house and tell us stories of warriors and gods from the epics. The thing about Ammama was she knew to read Sanskrit and was familiar with most of the books written in Sanskrit at her time. She still reads a lot of epics and stories about God’s and Evils. That was the other thing we four would look forward to. Listening to her stories which almost sounded real and captured our imaginations. Even Jacky would sometimes sit quietly and listen to it all as if he understood everything she said.
Kerala was a bit superstitious place if you see in general. People believe in astrology, myths and ghosts. No one could erase black magic, sorcery and witchcraft from the minds of Keralities. White saree clad ghost figures were commonly seen in the TV series and would often scare the elders as much as the youngsters. This particular village of Ammama was two steps ahead in all these things. It was also said by my mom that Ammama herself knew quite a few spells in case an emergency was to arise.
(To be contd…)