Thursday, November 08, 2012


I realize grief is a damn intense, yet complicated emotion. I have always thought that crying is the epitome of my emotional outpour. Today I realize it’s the smaller pains that get soothed by tears. Grief in contrast is a stronger misery, a gnawing ache that just refuses to get past.

I knew I loved my Ammama, a lot. When I heard she passed away, there was this kind of numbness that descended on me – no tears, no pain, just disorientation. This news was expected – in fact, I have been praying for her easy passage out of this world. We all knew this was coming, though her last moments were almost out of a best seller novel / movie.

I have written about Ammama here and here. She was a well built, tall and strong woman both physically and emotionally, a rustic. The photograph of her here must have been taken 4 years back, at 90 then, almost all her hair was still black and she could read without glasses :-0. Her world was Chalakudy town, her house and the church. She toiled in the house as if there was no tomorrow or as if there was no end. She would listen to no one – she continued working till she was around 90. After my grandfather passed away in 1995, shortly after my marriage, she had the audacity to live in that century old house alone for more than a decade.

That was the house where she was the first born child – after her ( my grandmom's) marriage, she had moved out of the house to my grandfathers house. For lack of a male sibling in her family, when the property was divided, she had the boon of getting the house and the property adjacent to the house while her two sisters got a bigger share of land. My grandfather was nothing short of a Casanova, happy go lucky fellow, a stark contrast to my grand mom and his wayward ways lead them to sell all property on his name in Pudukad, and my moms family moved into my grandmom's Tharavad (ancestral home). So for a brief period, 20 years or so, in her 94 years she did not live in this house, otherwise, all her life, she lived in this house.

The house, a traditional tiled one with a Kalam ( used for drying & chaffing paddy when farming was done in a full fledged manner), Thozhuthu ( Cowshed), verandah’s on all sides of the house and a Kaiyala ( which houses the abode of the karnavar, head of the house – my grand dad had a separate room ), used to be spick and span– she knew every tile on the roof, every piece of wood, furniture, utensils and every nook and cranny of that house inside out. Every grain of sand in the property will call out her name and every tree there would have been nurtured by her.

In my childhood, I knew no holiday resort other than this house. Even today, there is no holiday that can come close to the time that we cousins have spent in that house – roaming around this house, playing I spy and other games, eating, fishing in the pond, climbing trees, swinging, tending to Mangu ( our buffalo), praying, watching rain and most of all being loved to the core. There was a peace that transcended on us while we were there along with a strong sense of security. We didn’t have a care in the world that would affect us when we were there.

Her typical day started at 4.30 am when she wakes up, makes her kattan kaapi ( black coffee), gets her kanji (gruel) ready and by 6.00 am, she is off to the church for the Daily Mass. There is a specific place where she keeps the keys ( on top of the main door – which all her children, grand children and Great children knew) and she would never miss her Daily mass for whatever reasons. She might not sleep the entire night if we were coming from Madras, ( we were her favourite Madrasile makkal, children from Madras) but she would have gone for Mass at 6.00 am. She knew her priorities.

After mass and breakfast she goes out into the property and her life started there – watering the plants ( we had a lovely garden), clearing the weeds from different patches of land, tending her vegetable gardens, coconut trees, planting new ones, making sure there are enough fruits and vegetables for her children’s rare visits – she was prepared to host her 6 children, 13 grand children and families any time. Evening prayers were at 6.30 pm and she was off to sleep by 7.30 pm. She read newspapers regularly but scarcely watched TV. This schedule goes topsy turvy when any of us go there – she made sure we were all fed well.

Looking back, we all went there multiple times in a year. We went there for weddings / baptisms / house warmings and other family get-to-gethers. We made sure our arrival, departure and night stay was at Chalakudi, with her, in the Tharavad. I earnestly had wished I could spend a week there at Potta, with her and not go anywhere else. Never happened. She waited without a whimper of a complaint and whenever we went there, she was over the moon. We continued to be mesmerized by the taste of her culinary skills as I had described here. She unfailingly made oulose podi and unda ( a very keralite snack and sweet which every malayalee will be familiar with) whenever Joe visited her, as she got to know Joe liked them.

Content with her life, she never noticed that she was becoming frail over a period of time, we could see that – that’s when her youngest son, my uncle in Chennai with great difficulty convinced her to move out to live with her Sons in Bangalore and Chennai. She did that so reluctantly.

I remember spending time with her whenever possible while she was in Chennai and she used to worry about no one taking care of the house – she used to be agonized over her coconuts being stolen and the house going to the termites. It was later we realized to our shock that we are losing her to Alzheimers. To a point that in her last days she could not recognize most of her children and grand children. My poem on her here describes that.

On 31st October, my dad called me and said that she is not keeping well and my uncle was planning to take her back to kerala. I started immediately at around 10.00 pm to visit her and spent time with her. She could not recognize me and it was as though her memory was stuck on two names – all men were Johnson and all women were Annie. She repeatedly called me Annie. She kept the index finger and thumb together like a mudra / yoga posture and every 2 minutes told people around her to put the imaginary rosary on her neck. I did that multiple times on Wednesday when I spent time with her – told her to sleep and kissed her good night before I left her that night. Like a baby, she said okay to me and slept.

The next day my mom and uncle were taking her back to her house in Potta, Chalakudi, the house she was born, like how my uncle had promised her when he brought her out of the house initially. On her way, in the train, she woke up in the morning, had her morning cuppa and 45 minutes before reaching home, she just simply left all of us, without a word, without a moan. This was on 2nd November, all souls day and everyone called her a blessed soul in the church fraternity. Blessed she is, I know.

It was as though someone had planned all this. The house was clean, surroundings cleared of weeds,  for her arrival and none of us knew the house was getting ready to bid farewell to its longest resident.

All of her children, and grandchildren were able to attend her funeral, barring the one in Germany and my sister who is going through her first trimester. All her 4 great grand children too had been there for her. My son is her first great grand child.

I stayed on that night with my family and my cousins, aunts and uncles together ( like old times) after funeral. I saw mirages of my grand mom around the house. I could not sleep a wink the night. The house was colder, number, and lacked tenderness that I had experienced all these 42 years. Nevertheless, like when I was a little child, whenever, I used to leave my grandparents house then after our summer vacations, we told our farewell ( we used to say Tata) to the furniture, walls, trees, even the window railings and everything that you can imagine in a child’s fantasy. I did that this time too, may be for the final time, went around without being noticed in a crowded house, I touched everything possible saying a silent bye to my beloved house, and everything in it, with a pain that was consuming me, gritting my teeth.

From now on, its not my grandparents place – for the most important people of the house are no more, they are just memories.
I continue to be disoriented a bit, hence the long babble. Putting it down in an attempt to get it off my chest. Thank you for reading and sharing my grief.

Friday, November 02, 2012

One last time

I had to make that trip
that I had dreaded all along
to my beloved ancestral home
One last time.

To see you
Sans smile, Sans warmth
Sans movement,
Sans that rare flash of memory
A lifeless body.

Rest in Peace, Ammama
In your new abode.

Yealikutty Augusty ( 1918 - 2012 )

P.S: My Mom's Mom, Ammama, passed away today, 2nd November 2012. Please do pray for her souls repose.