Sunday, February 28, 2016

Gobi Chronicles - 1


The very name brings a smile to the faces of the descendants of the Vembathi clan.  The years spent as children in our grandfather Vembathi Subramaniya Iyer’s house remain as cherished memories in our minds. My mother and her sisters would come together during vacations and all of us cousins would run wild in its premises. The very atmosphere in the house was one of affection, inclusion, generosity and kindness. This is felt not only by those who share thatha’s gene pool but also by those who are associated with the family by marriage. My own husband may drive me nuts on a number of issues but is in total agreement on my opinion of the ‘unique’ family that the Vembathi clan happens to be. Sons and daughters in law of three generations have become an integral part of our family and that speaks well of the interpersonal relationships that we share. This was possible not only because of the great human being that thatha was and also because of my maternal uncle Krishnamurthy mama and his wife Kamakshi Mami who carried forward the legacy of a rich culture that he left behind. Could Krishnamurthy mama's children have been different? They are as dear to us as their parents and welcome us with the same warm affection that their mother exuded sixty years back. Is it any wonder that I look forward to a visit to Gobi like a daughter visiting her maternal home or that my eyes well up when I leave the place? Yes, I may be a grandmother now but till date I cannot prostrate at my uncle’s feet without experiencing a lump in my throat. 

The following is the first of my posts on life in Vembathi House and I dedicate it to my Mami’s memory.

I remember very few details of my mama’s wedding that took place in June 1956. I remember playing in the sand in front of a huge ‘pandal’ as a five year old and also being admonished for calling Kamakshi Mami by name. Since mama was the youngest sibling, everyone called his wife by name. I must have thought that I could do so too. But my earliest memory of Kamakshi Mami is of a kind faced lady who welcomed us with a smile whenever we visited them. I don’t remember her talking directly to my father or other male members in those early years. But her body language was such that one felt at home immediately. Her interactions with my mother and her sisters (5 of them) was always balanced. They were much older than her. In fact my oldest aunt was 20 years older than her and she once confided to me that she had mistaken my aunt to be her mother in law and it was only after marriage that she realized that she was the oldest sister in law. I don’t remember a single instance when she got into a controversy or trouble with them. She might have had her opinion on family matters but she never openly voiced them always choosing to remain neutral. That was perhaps the best way to maintain a cordial relationship with five older sisters in law. My grandfather loved her like a daughter and she absolutely deserved his affection. 

If Kamakshi Mami had no mother in law to domineer over her, our maid Moopachi doubled up for one. She had a loud voice and having worked for our family for several years she could up pull up the cook for his lack of culinary skills and complain about his coffee that tasted like ‘gutter water’. She would scream at her grandchildren, who would come along to help her, if their work was shoddy. She could shout at anyone of us if she felt that we were not doing our bit. She considered the house as her own and exercised her authority on all of us. It seems that in the early years of her marriage Mami would remain in her room till Moopachi left, for fear of being admonished, although Moopachi was nice to her.

Those were days when daughters left their older children with their parents and Vembathi House was no exception. So when Mami arrived on the scene four or five of my cousins in their primary and middle schools were already studying in Gobi. The children would quarrel and fight. She took care of their needs without a frown on her face and remained so even when years later my widowed mother relocated to Gobi with five children and continued to stay on even after my grandfather’s death. 

Mami had a good voice that was trained to sing Carnatic music. I can almost hear her sing 
"Pralaya payodhijale"...... an Ashtapadhi that she learnt a little before my marriage in 1973. She was deeply religious and even when she went through patches of bad periods in her life she would never blame God. I used to often hear her say that her devotion to God was perhaps not adequate enough and she might have unknowingly displeased Him. One activity that she enjoyed doing was to decorate the puja mandapam and to fix beads and beautify the silver image of Goddess Lakshmi. She would prefer to read Shankara Kripa or other religious literature rather than Tamil magazines and her social circle included groups that enrolled themselves to learn Abhirami andhadi or slokams.

My father would ask her to sing ‘Ranga pura vihara’ or 'Entharo Mahanubhava' for him when he visited. She would oblige and I remember her sitting behind a half closed door out of respect for my father and singing in a soft voice. Mami once told me that she would find it boring to start music lessons soon after school but her music teacher would be waiting for her when she returned home from school. On one occasion she could not help saying “ ஐயோ பாட்டு வாத்தியாரா?” ( Oh no! Is it the music teacher?). And the teacher heard her. So thereafter he would tease her saying “ஐயோ பாட்டு வாத்தியார் வந்துட்டேன்”. ( oh no! Music teacher has come). 

In the initial years of my marriage, like everyone else, I too had trouble bonding with my acquired family. Mami felt bad that I had been living so far from my maternal ( actually my mother’s ) home and had to deal with my problems on my own. She suggested that mama or someone else should find reasons to visit me more often to offer moral support till I felt more comfortable in my husband’s place. It was not practically possible but I was grateful to her for the suggestion.

It was perhaps the care she gave us that made her dependent on the care of others for the last seventeen years of her life. I so wish it hadn’t been that way. I wish I could have given back at least something of what she had given me. The only thing that I can now do is to pass on the kindness I received from her to others around me. 


Anonymous said...

What a nice article! I wonder why you stopped writing. Please do it more often

Hip Grandma said...

I stopped writing because I felt that my posts were becoming repetitive but when I hear from the likes of you I feel encouraged . Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I am waiting for your next article very eagerly!

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful article, ma'am. Waiting for the next one.

Hip Grandma said...

Hopefully I will be writing more regularly after the 27th of April