Meri Ma, Amma
I wanted to dedicate my 150th blog this year to a woman of substance on her birthday….15th June 1929. She would have been 91 this year, had she not been taken away from us in 2007. She was the rock of Gibraltar in the choppy seas of the Celtic Sea and as crucial in keeping the peace of our united kingdom.
Born into a well off family of tea estate owners and factory in the uphill town on Mundakayam, about 50 km from Kottayam, it was a favourite destination for our annual trips to Kerala. We preferred it to the much hotter plains and the land was full of surprises. My first lessons in the processing of tea happened in this factory, where the fermenting platforms located with the fresh tea (kolindu in Malayalam)leaves were left to dry and the occasional turning over or the huge shaking beasts would separate the dried leaves into various grades — CTC, dust etc. The heady smell of the ground tea would fill the air as we ran in and around the factory. I remember the small V-shaped opening on the wall with a couple of steel bars next to the big compound gate which would be the preferred access point. The well in the back, the rubber sheets being processed and dried, the cooking for the large family happening in the wood fired stoves, the blowing of the air through metal pipes to stoke the fire, the earthenware containers with ‘kudampuli’ or ‘cocum tamarind’ hanging from the ceiling suspended in a rope mesh, the large bananas in the ‘pathayam’ or storerooms, the long wooden dining tables with benches, the coconut, guava, jackfruit trees in the undulating land in which roosters and his brood went about their business, the egg collection and the stories in the evening ‘hurricane’ lamps were unforgettable.
On occasion, we would make the jeep ride to the tea gardens further up the Nilgiri hills to Pambanar, Peermed and Kumily where workers would be spotted with baskets on their backs, with the straps on their gunny bag head covering, deftly picking the two-leaves-one bud from the bushes and flicking it into the basket with a practised ease.
She left this comforting surrounding and moved into another large family in Kottayam beside the Meenachil riverbank where she was one of the four daughters- in- law. Three years of difficult stay where she had to endure in the hands of a betel chewing, kitchen knife wielding, sharp tongued mother in law, she wished fervently for a move 2000 km away to a church of repute. And she found herself on a train to Kolkata and to Parasar road in her 26th year with two children in tow to the erstwhile capital of the British, where she would stay for the next 5 decades.
She learnt 4 languages so that she could teach us, was an amazing innovator finding use for all things and we learnt to recycle much before it became a fashion. She taught us to learn within our means without compromising or our dignity. She developed our character. Her unbridled enthusiasm in all things small, be it playing the carrom board, taking part in anthakshari or teaching me to grind the perfect coconut chutney on the stone grinder was unmatched. Her discipline and routine was unwavering over her entire life and every visitor to our house knew that she takes a 45 min nap in the afternoon and god help them if she got woken up before that! Her financial frugality, ability to keep small kids entertained, hum a tune, love for speed was unmistakable as the mole on her right thumb.
She was conscious of her protruding teeth for better part of her life and kept a hand every time she smiled or laughed till her dentures came along and she made up for the lost years in the pictures. Her fingers used to have marks from the use of the knife and they used to fill up with lead everytime she sharpened our pencils using the same method. She would sit on the floor with her legs stretched out and read her malalayam magazines and I would wait for her to read out “Bobanum Moliyum” , a cartoon strip at the end, to me. Her tummy was the softest but she was very ticklish, just a peek of a crooked finger was enough to make her laugh and throw dire threats our way. We laughed when your name was misspelt as ‘Muttiamma Type’ in the ration card and laughed when times were tough, we admired your flexibility and speed in your 70s, we cried with you when Pappa passed on, we celebrated small milestones — telephone, TV, fridge and despaired with you, for want of a house for yourself. You made it happen in your final years but that became a casualty in your treatment. You lived proudly and we are proud of you.
Mother of mine, you continue to inspire in our everyday lives and remind me everytime I see a small printed saree with thin border or see an elderly woman sitting behind a bike with her son or I see a cane!
I miss you Amma, Kuttiamma to Papa and Ammai to the world.
PS: this is also the birthday of my four legged friend KKTP Rambo and my niece, Priya so wishing them a good day as well.
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