MY APPA'S WEDDING THAT I ATTENDED.
When I look back, the earliest memory of my childhood is my appa’s wedding. Yes, it was the wedding of my father. I vividly remember most of the details. It is like ruffling through an old family photo album. The photos are old, sepia-toned retaining the old-world flavor. The images in the photos when I look at them start moving back and forth in time. It may be like a sequence of still photographs. But when I look at each one of them, I get a short length movie running in my mind. It absorbs me into the picture, which by this time gets animated. I become part of it. Things move around me. I move around things and people in each photograph.
Among such photos the very fist one shows the interior of a village church. My father, the bridegroom, is in a cream colored suit of shining gabardine. He is kneeling at the pew and praying or so it seems. The bride is yet to arrive. I have not seen her yet. I’m inside a big chair specially provided for me, since chairs in those years were rare commodities, that too in village churches. I don’t know how was it for my father, for me the waiting was filled with suspense and a sort of thrill. I’ll describe the wedding later, since I have to provide a few more details to fill the gap.
Though father’s wedding is, as I said, the earliest memory, there were few other things in my memory bank. They, however, are not as clear as the wedding and the subsequent events. They have a veil hung over them. Like moth eaten photographs. They are not clear. Probably that is compensated by the sound track – the oft-repeated narration of elders in the family rambling into my ears during my growing years. What elders said help bring back some foggy memories. Elders used to say a lot about my mother. But unfortunately I don’t remember anything about her. However hard I try I don’t get even a hazy image of her. After my birth, I am told, she became very sick. Got tuberculosis. A dreaded disease in those days. She was given some treatment in Madurai. A few months before her death, for some time she was in Madurai Government Hospital as an inpatient. In my later age, I remember some of my relatives were trying to identify the block and ward in the concrete jungle of that hospital. I wantonly avoided knowing it. I don’t know why I felt that way. When her condition became worse, she wanted to spend her last days in her village house. So she was taken to her birthplace, a village named Kurumbalperi. Both of us were there for a month or two. During these days she tried to keep me away from her fearing I would also catch the disease. From what others recall, I should have been a big nuisance to her. Anyway her painful days were over when I was hardly 2½ years old. It occurred early in the morning around 4.30 a.m.
I had a periyamma – Madurai periyamma – who used to be very fond of me when I was a kid. She was in Madurai and she was pregnant then. On the day of my mother’s death, this periyamma had a dream. In the dream mother in a complete white dress came to her with a piece of sugarcane in her hand. She took a bite of it. Chewed and spat it. Then she said to periyamma “ Akka, I’m going. Look after my son”. And then she drifted off, rather floated off. Within few hours she received the telegram informing the demise of my mother. This had been quite often repeated by my periyamma. I don’t know what to call this. Calling it a trumped up incident looks unethical and ungrateful to the memory of my periyamma. So, though I grew up wondering about the rationality of this, I was never willing to question it. This is one of the two incidents in my life, which has a supernatural touch. About the other one, I will talk later.
After mother’s demise, father lived as single in Madurai while I was left with my grandma – I called her appamma – at my father’s native village, Kasiapuram. It was just a few miles away from my mother’s place. I very vaguely remember how I was doted by appamma and two of the 4 sisters of my father. These two aunts were then working as teachers in our own school run by our family. Pattaiya, that is my grandfather, was the one who started that school, the very first in that area. If I remember right, it was St.Joseph’s Elementary School. I remember my aunts taking me by hand to the school everyday since appamma used to be busy doing her daily score at the fields. How vividly I visualize even now the dawn-to-dusk hard manual work the womenfolk at home did. Father used to visit me now and then during his vacations. What stands out during those visits, firstly, as soon as he came home my aunts would lift me in their arms and weep inconsolably. The sight of my father would open the floodgate of their grief on the demise of my mother and my ‘motherless status’. Not knowing the reason for their grief, I would also cry along with them. In those first few minutes, a pall of gloom used to hang over the whole household. Secondly, father used to bring something or other every time he paid those visits. The usual and much-expected thing would be grapes. What we used to get in those days mostly were green, sour grapes. But the grapes father used to bring were black, sweet and juicy and were called Hyderabad-grapes. During one such visit he brought me a tri-cycle. Probably half of the kids of the village should have been around it when the news of its arrival broke out. None would have seen such a cute thing in their lives. I very well recollect that it arrived well packed with flannel tapes. Body painted in bright green, solid wheels in bright red and black rubber handle grips. None in the village – leave alone the children – would have seen such a cute little thing. It was a treat to watch in those days. I was too young to pedal it myself. I would simply sit on my tricycle and there would be severe competition to push me around in our backyard. Duraisamy, a distant cousin of mine was my favored one to push me around. For many years whenever I visited my village I would try to meet him. In the latter years I always found him sitting in a petty shop in an inebriated condition. A five or ten rupee note would in such times make him very happy. One day I got my right toe in the wheel in one such push-me-around sessions. Blood scared everybody and after that accident none came forward to treat me with the ‘royal pushing’. It compelled me to learn to pedal myself. Then I was free to ride around the whole village. Probably in the history of our school, for very many years mine was the only vehicle parked under the trees during the class hours. When I leave in my cycle to our house, there would be scores of people watching a little kid majestically riding his tri-cycle. A real cynosure!
This cycle remained in the family for nearly forty years – that too in full use – as the ‘family tri-cycle’. Only thing, my daughters were denied the chance of enjoying it while other children of my other sisters ‘inherited’ it and rode around. Another novelty of those years in our village home was a mechanical-gramophone – the only of its kind for miles around in that area. My aunts would play the very few records we had only on very special occasions or for visitors coming only for the purpose of seeing and listening to the ‘musical wonder’ of those years. It was a proud possession of the family for a long time since electricity came very very late to our village. Most of my childhood memories belong to those ‘powerless’ days.
So went those days in Kasiapuram. Everybody in the village would be a relative. Every relative petted me. Everybody had a soft corner for me since I was a motherless child. This should have done a lot to my psyche at that age itself. It was one type of recognition I got for many years.
There was a lady-teacher in our school. She was close to my aunts. She was from a nearby village, called Kuruvankottai or something. Everyday she used to come to our home to take her lunch with my aunts. Though her face got completely erased from my mind I still remember her as a very fair, slim and beautiful lady. I don’t remember why and how it happened – probably people were talking about that – I very much wanted that she should become my mother. I don’t know how that proposal got fizzled out. Then comes father’s wedding. I have never found an answer as to why and how I remember many of the things in my life very clearly after that wedding while most of the earlier happenings are all so foggy.
Well, coming back to the day of father’s wedding, inside that village church it was a sort of triangle – my father in front near the altar, I, on the side of church in that big chair and the entrance through which the bride was expected any moment. She then entered. She was in a golden yellow pattu saree, thickly brocaded with golden jaree. Seeing a Christian bride with a veil over her head should have been a novelty for the local people. A group of kids followed the bride marveling her dress. She looked quite pretty but the face had seriousness in it. Probably it was due to the bridal tension. In the latter years also she carried that perpetual seriousness on her face. I always liked her smiling face but never that seriousness-laden face. The wedding was in my mother’s village, since father’s new bride was a close relative of my mother. I was never able to remember any other person, especially the relatives of mother attending the wedding.
It is more like a movie with a lot of cut-shots. Because the next thing that I am able to recollect was the wedding procession through those village streets towards the bride’s house. It was in an open car. I was seated sandwiched between the couple – appears very odd even now to me! Could be compulsion of ….I don’t know what. There were people looking at me during the procession. Those faces showed mixed feelings.
The next cut-shot is father’s village in the late evening of the wedding day. In this scene, the whole village had converged on to my pattaiya’s house as was the custom of those days. There were a few petro-max lamps brightening the celebration. Kids were hovering around those lamps – another novelty for them. The house, to the village standards of those years, was comparatively a large one – one of the few storied houses in the whole village. There were three entrances. I was sitting on the steps on the southern side, a side entrance. I was engrossed looking at the urchins playing around the hissing lamps competing with the buzzing insects. Someone from behind touched my shoulders. I turned and looked up. It was father in pattu dhothi. He sat near me. He asked me who was the bride to me. I said “chithi”. That was what I was told. Father said, “She will be hereafter your amma and you should call her so. Okay? “. I said yes and kept that word always. Not for the namesake. I meant it always. Visitors to our home in the later years never could find any difference. But later…. It all changed…. by a quirk of fate or what? Anyway, that’s another story altogether.