Monday, September 23, 2013

Uppu's smile

As far as I can remember she always had the corner room in the huge tharavad across the Mahe railway bridge and maybe around a 100 metres from the river. She'd be up at the crack of dawn, opening the windows, on the side of her bed, to the fresh smell of an early morning spell of rain, the cackling of a myriad birds and the cold winds blowing through the iron grills. The windows opening to the inner courtyard would be opened by her youngest daughter who slept in the same room along with her kids. She would then make it to the adjoining room, looking for her eldest daughter, and gently lift her legs across the maze of doorways and corridors to come on to the veranda. Large beams supported the extensive veranda with a raised platform on either sides. But her favourite seat was the reclining cane chair. It was her place to be early in the morning and late evenings, until the Maghrib azaan sounded. Sometimes her eldest daughter would bring her tea and biscuits (or eggs, banana fry, rusks) – as is ritual to have before breakfast once you got up in that tharavad – to the verandah. But otherwise she would nimbly make her way back across to the hall adjoining her room and have a seat at the dining table. Groggily, us cousins would also join her, when we were all together during vacations, to have the same tea and biscuits or eggs or banana fry or rusks. But she would see that we always got a treat when nobody was looking. She had chocolates or treats hidden under her bed or her one door almirah, and we would take it with eager hands and chomp on them when the adults would disappear from the room. All the while a mischievous warm smile on her face.
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One day, she got angry. A cousin and myself hadn't prayed Isha'a. But we insisted we had. An argument ensued between us and our respective moms. That was when she came into the room with her light cotton bath towel, twisted to form a tight rope like whip. She never threatened, and whipped the towel on the table, very calmly asking us to go and pray. We stopped the ruckus immediately, no questions asked, and headed straight to the raised platform in the veranda and prayed. I don't think we ever saw that side of hers ever after that. After the prayers, she called us to her room. No menacing scowl awaited us, but just a warm smile synonymous to her and the slight gesture of the chocolate that magically made it's way into our hands.
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The tharavad's no more. She is in a corner room again, but the window next to her bed has been replaced by a split AC above her bed. There is another bed in the same room for one of her daughter's to sleep in. The age old doors, rickety stairs, rocky earthen floors, heavy wooden ceilings and the forest in the front and back have been replaced by concrete blocks all around. But she is happy her kids are happy. The last time I had visited her, in May, she held my hand, reminiscent of the 'treat' giving days and slowly placed a 100 rupee note in my hand and asked me to buy something for myself. She smiled and talked to me like the child i was, her memories playing see-saw, while I held on to her hands and reassured her that I will definitely take care of mom and agreed on finding somebody for myself. She intermittently mistook me for my dad, and the next moment asked me when he would come to see her.
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There was dancing, singing and a lot of merriment. She adorned a light cotton saree for the August wedding of her youngest daughter's son. She liked sitting outside, but ill-health usually saw her subjected to just the inner room. But that night was for celebration. And she found herself sitting outside in the same old cane recliner beaming at all that was happening in front of her. People went, people came, she talked, she clapped hands to the the aunts singing around the groom, she kissed foreheads and her sons, daughters, grandkids – everyone was there.
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Today the gentle smile bids adieu. Today the treats cease. Today we pray for her soul.

Rest in peace Uppuma.