My first attempt at a fiction series… I may fall flat, so words of encouragement are welcome 🙂

Note: Saroja was 12 when she got married, 14 when she had her first child and 32 when she started wearing a madisaar (nine-yard sari) regularly. When she got her daughter married off at the age of 18, she thought, with a young son-in-law coming home every day, it’d be modest to switch to the madisaar to look older. Well, her explanation was the way she looked at most things, practical and as the situation demanded. So in all essence, she shall be called madisaar maami.

The early days

When Saroja maami came from her tiny village in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu to a sprawling chawl in the heart of Nagpur city, it was an assault on all her senses. From a row house with a courtyard neatly swept and washed every morning (with a liberal sprinkling of cow dung for purification) and decorated with elaborate kolams, all she could manage was a tiny star (one straight triangle and another inverted with a tiny dot in the space between) lest the sea of humanity trod over her creativity. In the beginning, she felt just like that… trampled upon… It began with the kolam outside the home, the insecurity snaking its way into the dingy two rooms and the smoky kitchen. The bathroom was okay but using the toilet was an exercise in patience and agility… Just a hole and two footrests… maami cried when she first saw it… leading to an involuntary bowel protest that took three Dulcolaxes to pacify. The kitchen had no counters or cupboards and everything was on the floor. The saving grace? The rent was only 25 rupees a month owing to the fact that it had passed on from generation to generation.

Maami’s family consisted of her husband, three daughters and a son. Maama was the typical clerk slogging away at a Marwari’s factory, making just enough to feed the family. No extras asked and none were given. Two sets of new clothes for Diwali and Pongal. Two sets of uniforms for two years… and then they became hand-me-downs. The prized possession at home was a TV set that still had two instalments to go.

Initially, communication was a huge problem. Her neighbours were mostly Maharashtrians or people from Madhya Pradesh who spoke either Hindi or Marathi. Maami knew only Tamizh. And it was hilarious for the others to watch her flaying her arms or babbling in Tamizh and the little English she picked up from her husband to convey something. But she persisted and in course of time, she started speaking Hindi, albeit with a strong accent.

With maama returning home only at 10pm every night, it was upto maami to manage the household and the children. On Tuesdays and Fridays, she went to the vegetable mandi in her stiff, starched cotton sari and bargained loudly for fresh methi and paalak and haggled for free dhania and kadi patta. She mostly went at 7pm when she knew that the vendors would be getting ready to shut shop and therefore, haggling could work. But whether at 7pm or 7am, the vendors would see maami swinging her cloth bag (Thanga Maligai, Madras) from a distance and shout, Madrasan bai aali re (The Madrasi woman has come!) and prepare to give her whatever she wanted… for it was quite difficult to match her string of loud, heavily accented Hindi words. Some, exasperated, would even give up and say, ‘Free mein le lo…’ (Take what you want, free!) to which maami would retort with ‘Itna hamara bura din nahin aaya!’ (I have not come upon bad days, not yet!)

(to be continued…)


26 thoughts on “The chronicles of madisaar maami – Introduction

  1. Very intuitive writing, Rekha. Some of my favorite lines are “Two sets of new clothes for Diwali and Pongal. Two sets of uniforms for two years…”. Another is the mention of cloth bag. It helps so much to fill the rest of the picture, complete to the (probably) jaded Sari. By the way, reading about Saroja maami, I got reminded of the Maami played by Shabana Azmi in the short movie ‘Rice plate’ in the anthology : Dus.

  2. Nostalgic….reminds me of my childhood days when my “madisaar paati” would haggle with the bhaaji wala – he would say “Amma, char anna me dega” & she would bargain, “illa, aathana me dena”!!!! Waiting for the next instalment….. Fresh like a hot cup of cappi (only don’t make it “steaming”)!!!! 😉

  3. From my friends on Facebook

    Sivaram Iyer
    Interesting one

    Sudha Reghunath
    Really interesting Rekha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Aruna Rajagopal
    this one is real close to home.seems like an echo from my childhood ! waiting for the next part…

    Tony Dickson
    Can I buy the rights to make a movie based on this????

    Suzy Fontes
    i commented on ur blog, but it is only now i saw ur post which reads ‘an attempt at fiction…’ i thot it was a real life story from ur days in nagpur. you are too good

    Anjana Paryani
    Rekha, we absolutely loved it!!! Your description of maami’s Nagpur accomodations took Venky back to his ‘Sangam Chawl’ days. I’m hoping you won’t make us wait long for the next installment of this story.

  4. When u mentioned Tirunelveli district in TN, my immediate attention went 2wards my maternal grandpa and granny, who were in Dhalapathi Samudram (approx. 75 kms. North of Valliyoor) betn. 1915 and 1981 (when my grandpa passed away) and the premises got disbanded.. Many of the events which u hv posted Rekha facilitated me 2 nostalgically remember those incidents (which r still fresh in my memory) which I, as a fav. grandson of my maternal grandpa [I used 2 take him 2 the main temple twice a day by holding his ring finger on his right hand, when he was visually disabled].. Wonderful write Rekha.. U hv another fan..

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