Thursday, February 19, 2009

Raji Patti...

The last time I saw Raji Patti was at the house in Tambaram, sometime in July 2001. I was already married by then and Pops had come down on vacation. And all of us, together went to Tattha-Patti's house. Tattha's sugar levels had spiked, and there was a period of brief hospitalisation and he was back home.

To me, it was one of the most painful visits. Tattha had lost some weight and was looking weak and drawn. Sooo... unlike his regular active, strapping self. Patti had more worry lines written on her forehead and together, they somehow managed to pull on. One of their sons, my Mama, lived in Pune and they were hesitant to make the move to him, and leave behind this house they had known all their lives! It hurt so much to be there like a guest, eating the puris that Patti made and served to us like we were royalty, only to wash our hands a while later and leave after a polite spell. This house...which had been my home...and now I was leaving it behind. The sight of these two old people standing at the gate, smiling and waving, waiting till the point we disappeared at the bend, before they walked back slowly inside, to their own little lives, now so much more challenging and difficult. Even now, I can feel the desolation of that picture, and the feeling of irreparable guilt that I still have that I could not do more to give them happiness...that I left them behind and moved on with my life.

Tattha's health took a turn for the worse after that and soon, they moved to Pune. It was the last time they would be seeing that house. It was probably one of the humblest and least stylish of all the houses in that locality. But I loved it. The easiest way to get there would be to get on board an electric train from whichever part of Chennai we were in, and get off at the station which said...Tambaram Sanatorium. I learnt the exact order of the stations from the many trips to and fro on the electric train. From the station, it was a short 15 minute walk to their home, and it was all I could do to not pick up the pace and make a mad dash for it. Right from when I was young, I knew where to make a left, and how far to go on that road before making that final right. Till that point of time, I would have walked decorously along with my parents and my Tattha who would always always meet us at the station. But once we came on that final stretch of road, my legs would break into a speedy trot, and each house that came before the one I was seeking would give me the equal measure of happiness, as each of them had a confirmed character in my mind, because of how familiar they were. Even when I was just 2 houses away, I would still not be able to see it, because of how small it was in stature compared to the rest of its more jazzy counterparts. It was only when I came to the last house, that the rusted iron gates in peeling-off green paint would come into view, and beyond it, past the hedges of an overgrown garden...the house. I have forgotten what colour it was...not out of fading memory but because of the faded paint! I can't remember the last time it was always looked blackened from all the dust and washed out, in every rain that poured.

And at the sound of the creaking gate, which we try to open as quietly as possible, so we retain the element of surprise, that sweet, well loved face comes into view behind the grills of the verandah. Patttiiii...we squeal excitedly, and her whole face erupts into a beaming smile as she welcome us in. We hug her, we squeeze her, we kiss the top of her bent head, and she chuckles shyly, as she turns around to Pops, her son-in-law for a more formal and respectful welcome. His manner is decidedly casual in return, more to set her at ease.


Tattha succumbed to blood cancer which took ahold of him in the last few months of his life. I was in mid pregnancy with Winkie at the time, and nobody clued me in to the real state of affairs. They might have even withheld his passing to me, but thank God they didn't. I was told that he suffered a lot in the end. That his passing was welcomed, so one didn't have to watch him go through the ravages anymore. It was around the same time as the Space shuttle Columbia disaster. To my mind, these 2 events will be forever linked, and the more personal grief of one, poured over as unstoppable tears in the television viewing of the other. My Tattha came in my dreams a few days after he had passed away. And when we found out that our first baby was to be a boy, I liked to think that perhaps, it was his soul...returning.

Since then, Patti's health too weakened. She lost a lot of weight and became a ghost of her former self. She was never plump or full to begin with, so this was not a pleasant thought. I too got busy with motherhood and my life, in general. I would speak to her from time to time on the phone, but here was a person who was always mindful that it cost money, and she would never want to burden anybody like that. As a result, calls were always brief, and it always ended with me telling her not to worry about us...because we were all healthy, safe and happy. She worried about things constantly...not for herself, but for all of us. Her kids, her grandkids, her sisters, their families....she always thought of everyone else but herself.

8 years have passed in this manner. And my family became complete with the arrival of Thambi. 2 speedy years hence and he was on the verge of turning 2. And Patti still hadn't set eyes on a single great grandchild. It was a big deficit in my life and I have tossed and turned over it many times, and shed many tears thinking of how life had changed and taken me out of her folds. We all grow up and move away, that is a part of life, but from time to time, we need to make the effort to go back to our roots...give it a little care, a little loving, a little moisture, so that it holds strong and holds as us aloft, in turn. So when the wedding was fixed in Mumbai, I knew it was the sign to go back. I am lucky that it worked out the way it did....that we had a few days before the festivities began to make this rendezvous.

Only, I was scared. I wanted to remember Patti the way I had always known her to be. Sweet, smiling, with a red kumkum in the middle of her forehead, walking in little steps with her hunchback, the strength of her character always shining through. And I wanted no part of reality to slice up this remnant of my childhood and make me face its glaring truth. That times change, that people change, strengths fade away, that the body weakens and succumbs to old age, and that the one I looked to as my source of strength would be needing that same kind of strength from me. When we climbed up those 3 floors to my Uncle's flat, my heart was sinking with each step. But I knew, I must see her, and accept her the way she is now. I knew how important it was to look beyond the shell of the body and recognise the person that she had always been. I needed to give her the meager pleasure of spending a few hours, a the company of her great grandsons. I owed her this much, at least. And so, with that resolution tucked away, I walked through the doors and entered the flat.

She was sitting on a diwan in the living room, waiting for our arrival. Her smile, was just the same. Her body, had shrunk to 1/2 its former size, but it didn't leave me as shocked as I thought it would. Unbeknownst to me, my mind had prepared itself. My heart also, a little. For when I saw her, I felt only happiness. That I had finally made it to her side. We spent one day with her, though my mother stayed back for a few days more. In that one day, we talked to her a lot. I related to her all the little things about my life with them, which had given me so much at that young age. She listened intently, as we told her all our remembrances of Tattha....the day he told me that he loved me, the day he came to the airport with a garland in his hand, which he promptly hung around my neck because I had arrived there as the bride, a few weeks before my wedding. I told her about my childish anger that the house in Tambaram was named after my sister, and not me the eldest grandchild. To this day, they have never been able to justify that to me with a satisfactory answer. I laughingly told her about the time she applied sunnambu to my navel, because I complained of a tummy ache, and how that burnt some of the skin around it. I told her so many more things, which simply cannot be frozen into words, because they are one memory too many. Instead, they will rise to the surface from time to time and cast a spell on me, which I will swim in before I wade to the shores of reality once more.

Significant at this point is how Winkie and Thambi took to her. Thambi has this intense preference for the males of the family. So while his Mama and Tatthas get the full benefit of his love, the Pattis and Chitthis are sorely neglected at the sidelines, though he is benevolent enough to flash a particular smile every now and then. And so, it was no different with Raji Patti. He stared at her curiously first and then a few hours later, the smiles began. On request, he climbed up over on the diwan and gave her a hug and a kiss, his best kind. She was almost giggling and thanking him sweetly. She watched him a lot as he walked about here and there, following his curiosity. To me, that was quite enough for the one day that we spent there. Winkie, on the other hand had a more complex reaction. At first it was a little heartbreaking, because I don't think he has seen many people who are really old. I guess for a little kid, it might be a little scary at first to see wizened old hands and face and just generally someone who looks so different from the people of his usual encounter. He kept a distance from her and wouldn't look at her directly. He wouldn't even sit next to me, when I was sitting next to her. It hurt more than a little to have him see her only for the external, and know that so much more lay inside, that was now dormant. But he is 5 and a 1/2. When I had my own fears to wade through, I need to make allowances for his. So I let him be and just focussed on being with Patti. The next day, just as we were about to leave, my mother asked Winkie to give Patti a hug. I nearly glared at her for that, because what if Winkie denied it? Then it would be so obvious and would that not wound Patti's feelings? But then, the most amazing thing happened. Somewhere within himself, he found it in his heart to come over and fling himself into her arms, and when his hug was returned, he bent his face and kissed her right cheek, ever so softly. It was the last thing that I had expected, and the gratefulness I feel, even now, for this bit of flexibility he showed.....aahhhh! It was the simplest act of acceptance for me, my son on the one hand, my Patti on the other. And with that, the visit came to an end. And I felt this incredible peace in my heart, mixed in with some sadness, at leaving her side again...with a thought that I could not shake off....would this be the last time I was seeing her?

I have never enjoyed looking at reception pictures before. Who wants to look at scores and scores of people posing with a very tired couple at the fag end of the wedding festivities, giving out a formal smile, in response to the photographer's prompts??!!! But usually, when you have a callous attitude towards something, things turn around in such a way that you are forced to appreciate the very thing you disdained so heartily before. For me, this one picture from my own wedding reception is a fitting example. It is perhaps the only picture I have with my Tattha and Patti, as a couple. Tattha gives out a shy smile, and Patti is not even looking this way. But the Raji Patti of all my beautiful memories from the days that were good, and busy and full of life...looked like this.


VJ said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Tharini,

you have made me cry first thing in the morning today..I am completely lost for words reading this post.reminds me so much about my grandparents too !!
hey you know what.. my thatha's place was in tambaram too.. and we used to take the train and get down in Sanitorium station walk for about 15 minutes to reach thatha's place.I am quite excited.. who knows maybe we may have bumped into each otherlong time ago !

VJ said... Best Blogger Tips

the more I look at the pics, the more she (your paati) becomes familiar.Maybe should ask my paati or amma.

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

VJ...can you email me? We'll exchange some more info and see if there is a connestion..

viji said... Best Blogger Tips

This post created a lump in the throat reminding me of all the pleasant times with my grandparents and also of how much the aging affected them.While aging happens to all ,the feeling that you describe -" Even now, I can feel the desolation of that picture, and the feeling of irreparable guilt that I still have that I could not do more to give them happiness...that I left them behind and moved on with my life."

always lingers in my mind too.

Sujatha said... Best Blogger Tips

I'm glad you went on this India trip. One spellbinding post after another! I'm so happy for you T that you got that one day. And thank you for sharing that last pic. In a way it is the story of so many of us too. *Hugggs*.

s w a t said... Best Blogger Tips

Raji Paati is so beautiful. You know what I mean!

Timepass said... Best Blogger Tips

You did a good thing by connecting the greatgrandchildren with their greatgrandma..I see the special joy in my grandparents' eyes when they see my child...she is even more special to them than me!!

Poppins said... Best Blogger Tips

Wow! What's up so many beautiful posts, not that I'm complaining.

Am so touched by your memories, feel like I know your thatha-patti too. Did Winkie and Thambi enjoy her company? Or were they nonchalant like children so usually are?

AA_Mom said... Best Blogger Tips

Awesome. My tears are not just stopping. This is a great ode, I wish someone other than u wld read this to her. It will make her life very meaningful.

I love my maternal grandmother to bits, even today, even when she hasn't been in my life now for 20+ yrs and I can totally relate to this post.

I considered myself as an emotional and sensitive person, but your writing makes me feel how well connected you are to self, u r on the right path I guess

Nino's Mum said... Best Blogger Tips

Maybe it was destiny that I found your blog before you went to India.
Because your words and hopes and fears and longing have been a catharsis for me: I've never been able to say this to anyone ever Tharini, and I don't know if this is too much mush for a public forum, but I read this today and felt that I will never need to write about those fears and that love for my grandmum again - because someone wrote it the exact way I felt it. And I cried for her and me and you and Raji Patti.
And for Nino and Winkie and Thambi who will never get as much time with these remarkable souls.
I hope she is able to opt out of this universe on her own terms, her physical and spiritual dignity intact. And that you are with her when she does. That was how it was for me.

Ra said... Best Blogger Tips

So beautifully written. Have a huge lump in my throat, you brought back so many memories.

Mama - Mia said... Best Blogger Tips


honest and beautiful. Trademark Tharini, i might add.

thanks for sharing this!

this time when we went tp Pune we went to see my grand pa, Cubby's great grandfather and i felt so blessed at his excitment and love! :)



Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks Poppins for reminding me that I left out the huge part of my narrative...that of the boys and my Patti. I have updated the post to add this in, as the second to last paragraph!

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

Nino's Mum : No, its not too much mush. If it had been, then half my posts should not have been published!! What can I say to you?? The way you read and understand my emotions...the way you put them back to me, the wya you make me face them....I sobbed on reading your comment. All through writing this post, the pain of the lost recollections was so huge that I had to keep turning away from this screen to another tab ever so often, taking the escapist route with my emotions...but then your words came by, and with that last line, my defenses broke. Thanks for giving me a good cry an a good release. It had been building up!

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

Viji : I can understand your feelings on this....its a very painful and raw emotion, and a very necessary question to ask ourselves!

Suj : Thank you Suj. A deep thank you!

Swat : Thanks love for seeing her through my eyes. Yes, she is beautiful and I know exactly what you mean!

TP : Yes, I have never had this much peace and resolution from an India trip before.

AA Mom : You know....I thought about sending it to her. But then realised it would be more for me, than for her. I don't want to reduce her to tears or touch on her emotions when she is being such a stoic right now. She knows how much I love her, me and my sis made that very plain through our memories....this one will have to be let go. Thank you for feeling these feelings and riding the emotional coaster with me. This kind of involved reading is precious to me. *hugs*

Ra : I feel like giving a good hug to anyone who tells me of that lump and thier memories!

Abha : Yaay to Cubby meeting the great Grandad. Good you did! Good!

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

Nino's Mum : I dearly hope you will still want to write about her...please, can we not know her as you did, for a little while??

Sujatha said... Best Blogger Tips

T, have linked this post up in my small but hopefully growing collection of stories about our grandmothers. Thanks.

Ria said... Best Blogger Tips

Lovely post as always Tharini. I typically am a silent reader but I am always in awe of your writing, always relating to your thoughts and feelings.
But this post was the touchiest one of all that brought a few tears and rekindled old memories.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Lovely post!!!As always...Brings back some of my memories.You write so well...


Suman said... Best Blogger Tips

I have hopped across to your blogs couple of times and am usually a silent reader, but today this post called out to me and I cldn’t lurk anymore. I am always in awe of your writing; you string the words so beautifully that it evokes similar memories in the reader. I cld relate to so much you wrote and suddenly I have this sudden urge to call my g’mom and just talk to her. I am going to that do first thing tomorrow

Keep writing

Gypsy said... Best Blogger Tips

you write beautifully...its a pleasure reading the things you write!

Laksh said... Best Blogger Tips

Loveliessssst post!!!! I am able to relate to every bit of what you have written. The Saturday oil bath.. resting my head on her damp saree at night.. those always-filled-with-some-snack dabbas.. i was living all those happy days of mine when i was reading ur post wid tears flowing down. thanks for such a gr8 post. Had to delurk this time :)

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said... Best Blogger Tips

Thank you for writing this ... have sent you an email.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Tears welled up in my eyes. I am reminiscing all the good times spent with my nanamma.
That was a beautiful write up...

Rati said... Best Blogger Tips

Tharini...You made me cry...a lot..
My grand mother passed away 7 yrs ago...Even now I tear up evry time I think of her...which is often...
I wish she was still here to see her great grandkid (I am due July)...

She is the most loving soul I have ever seen in my life...I was so lucky that she lived with us..she was the one who brought us up..Hope she knows that I love her to bits and will always love her..and will always cherish the memories I have of her

Your writin is so beautiful..don remember how I landed up here.. I have read all ur posts...

will keep commenting

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

What a little treasure collection Suj. Will have fun reading them now..

Ria : Thank you for writing to me. I am pleasantly surprised at how many of us have these fond grandparent memories! :)

Thank you Nisha. :)

Suman : If this has effected in you a desire to talk to your grandmother, then I am thrilled Suman. Do tell me how she sounded when you called....excited? surprised? happy? Wish you happiness.

Gypsy : Thank you...think you have commented here a couple of times!

Laksh : Isn't resting the head on that damp saree the most amazing thing in the world???? I am glad you were able to relive your happy days...*hugs*

CA : Thanks for your mail, your sharing. We seem to have a lot of things in common...:)

Munni : Nanamma! What a lovely word to call your grandma. In which language is this? So intrigued.

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

Dear Rati...Its so good to cry and release isn't it??. What a lovely thing that your grandmother had lived with are so blessed! I love your name btw...its so pretty.

Girl Next Door (gnd) said... Best Blogger Tips

A very very touching post! It must have been so hard to write this!!! Such wonderful memories.
Raji Paati is SO beautiful...!

Kodi's Mom said... Best Blogger Tips

this post and the last one triggers so many memories, so many emotions...I cannot even identify half of them...and here you have described it with such exquisite detail. remarkable! these two posts have to be among your very best.

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

gnd : Yes, it was very hard to write this. But I am glad I did. Thanks. :)

Km : Thanks! :)

Nino's Mum said... Best Blogger Tips

had commented yesterday, but I think blogger swallowed it up :)
I did do a post on my grandmum, because I felt compelled to, that I hadn't said a 'proper' goodbye and thanks to her - but it's not as quite personal as I wanted it to be. It's all I could bring myself to put together, and it stays on the fringes of her magnificent soul. here:

Fred Smilek said... Best Blogger Tips

wow...i am very touched. speechless. Reminded me so much of my grandparents.

Fred Smilek is the acting president of the Society to Save Endangered Species. It was founded two years ago by Fred Smilek along with his two best friends Charles and Jonathan.

Lux said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Tharini,

I just chanced upon your blog while looking at some reviews of Abhiyum Nannum. Your post on your visit to India and meeting your grandparents is so close to heart -- i wish I could fly right now to be with my family. Oh the price we pay for being an adult!

Lakshmy Shankar, Boston

Tharini said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Lakshmy : Welcome to this space! I guess I should write more movie reviews if I am to meet more readers! :D j/k. Thanks for writing.

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