For all my friends, doc bhaiya and especially for Mrudu, who insists that I finish this series quickly 🙂
Read Part 1 here
In a short span of time, maami became an important person of the chawl. Not the darling, but a friend, problem-solver and agony aunt rolled into one. In summer, the neighbourhood women would sit huddled before the cooler in maami’s front room. Winter mornings would see her on the steps of her home cleaning paalak or plucking methi leaves off the stems listening to tales – of an errant husband, a naughty son or a demanding mother-in-law. One thing she learned quickly was never to take sides when both parties were at fault. She listened patiently and gave advice she thought was neutral under the circumstances. But when things went out of hand, she took up cudgels a la Rajani (of TV serial fame and not the Robot-film star though I’m sure maami had a few tricks up her sleeve as well). When Malati-tai’s husband Baburao raised his hands on her, she called up the police to give him a warning. When the municipality truck refused to collect the garbage for 10 days in a row, she marched an army of women to the municipality office, shouting them into action. When Rohit and Reena’s parents almost came to blows because of their children’s budding teenage romance, she counselled them and promised she’d marry them off when they came of age. When she talked, everyone listened, a small part in awe, and for the most part in fear! She was not immune to a little gossip here and there, and was very interested in why Shanti’s home was locked all the time and she never even came out for a breath of fresh air or why Susila-ben beat up her eight-year-old who seemed listless all the time. Well, they were mysteries to unravel and her inquisitiveness would pay off one day…
During festivals, maami was at the forefront… planning the festivities to minute detail. She chose the Ganesha for the pandal, (though she hated the band-baaja that went along with it, saying shiva, shiva, evilluvu chatham ethukku? (Why all this noise?). She participated elaborately in the making of prasad, not forgetting to add a few South Indian sundals and after maami entered the chawl, the post-visarjan dinner would always have spicy puliyodharai. She participated equally in all the festivals… Dussehra, Baisakhi, Navratri for her heart and mind were definitely bigger than the small village she came from. And no, there was no small-town mentality that came with it either. She never segregated her daughters during their periods or practised the ‘madi-aacharam’ that was characteristic of Tam-brahms. “Enough that I suffered and the women before me… but let my daughters be free at least in these respects,” was her constant refrain.
Maami’s resourcefulness came in handy during one unusually heavy downpour. When the rain came down in gushing torrents, maami has a strange sense of foreboding. She went to the huge naala outside the chawl and peeped in. The water was at an abysmally low level as usual. But maami thought it wouldn’t take too long for it to overflow. When she voiced her concerns, everyone laughed. Never before in the history of the city had rains caused a flood. But maami being maami thought that it was better to be safe than sorry. She garnered the men and asked them to go into each home and help them carry the essentials onto the loft which was done in a span of two hours. And just as maami predicted, the naala overflowed onto the streets and into the homes as well. But since they were prepared, all they had to do was clean the muck after the water receded. The men did that while the women prepared food for all. The sense of unity and camaraderie in the chawl just grew with this incident.
(to be continued…)
Paalak – spinach
Methi – fenugreek leaves
Pandal – the covered decorations for a festival
Prasad – offering to the Gods
Sundals – South Indian preparations mostly with lentils like chickpeas
Visarjan – the last day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival when the diety would be immersed in water.
Puliyodharai – tamarind rice
Madi-aacharam – Some quaint customs of Tam-brahms. For instance, you are not supposed to touch anyone if you have not had a bath, segregation during periods, etc.
Naala – drain