A few months ago, I walked down the stairs of our home to hear Appa narrating a story to Partha about how he was once stung by a wasp as a child. The story is filled with exaggerated expressions, emotions and lots of drama and Partha is engrossed in the narration.
I realize more every day how much my parents resemble their parents, and almost immediately I was transported to my own childhood.
My paternal patti was a tiny woman who packed a mighty punch. She was a total drama queen and a fantastic story teller. She told us tales of her own childhood and stories of my Appa, Chitappa and Athai. I recall her narrations of her life in the village – bathing behind a screen of banana trees and learning to swim in a nearby pond. She would tell us how her father who was a forest ranger drove to work while she and her siblings had to walk to school. You could hear the longing in her voice of a little girl who wished her father would take her to school in his fancy car. Her voice would be animated and you would hear her chuckles as she narrated stories of the mischief that my Appa got into. But perhaps the best stories were her stories of her love life.
Patti and Thatha had a ‘love marriage’, back in the day when love marriages didn’t really exist. But even sweeter than that was the fact that neither of them made any secret of the fact that they were madly in love with each other – even when they were both 70 years old. Even at that age, Patti would grumble about how the elders in the family kept them separated during the month of Aadi when they were newly-weds.
I have no knowledge of their relationship in their early years but from my teen years I vividly recall how Patti only had eyes for Thatha and how she found him so handsome. I remember one nombu morning, both of them were beautifully dressed up and Patti came to Sumi and said ‘Thatha romba azhaga illa? Enga rendu peraiyum photo edu di’ (Doesn’t Thatha look so handsome? Take a picture of the two of us) She stood shyly next to him as my sister clicked what became one of our favorite pictures.
Every morning as Thatha left for work he would yell from the door ‘Vichamma, peitu varen!’ (Vichamma, I’m heading out and will be back!) and he wouldn’t leave until she acknowledged him and told him to come home soon. The few times she didn’t hear him he would keep yelling until she responded.
Thatha was the most handsome man I know and they made a strikingly beautiful couple. Some of my sweetest memories are of both of them walking together holding hands at Theosophical society. Patti would be dressed in one of the few kurthas and shoes she owned for walking, clutching Thatha’s hand as they hobbled along together.
My memories are perhaps tinted with rose glasses and by the fact that as a teenager, I was a hopeless romantic myself. I loved how they spent a lot of time together – whether it was going for daily walks by themselves, sitting outside on the thinnai together and talking, or even when Patti would grumble about Thatha being difficult. I also admired how they wove together an incredible community of friends that turned into family.
I’m always grateful for the fact that they lived into my adult years and for all the time I had with them. And perhaps somewhat unusually, for all that they taught me about a loving romantic relationship. Not a common lesson from a grandparent of that generation! 🙂