Dasu chittappa. The youngest of Appa’s three brothers. A simple, sweet, generous and gentle soul, always ready with a smile or a quick joke. My earliest memory of chittappa is from his late 20s, when I was not quite 5 years old yet. Chittappa, V, and I would have breakfast together almost every morning, sitting on the kitchen floor in Mandavelli – V and I cross-legged and Chittappa with his legs stretched out endlessly on one side. Chittappa would sit there regaling the women of the household with his stories as they bustled about. I (always motivated by food) kept one ear open but stayed on target. V, on the other hand, would be all eyes and ears on Chittappa (and get yelled at by Amma that the clock was a-ticking). I remember Chittappa calling me “keda” and me calling him “Uncle Dasu kandu” in return (luckily, we both outgrew that phase very quickly).
I remember watching Chittappa’s circle of friends standing around the front of the house every evening for hours talking in the fading evening light. I remember wondering what they talked so much about. I remember Chittappa bringing V and myself rare stamps and magazines like the Illustrated Weekly when he returned home from work.
As teenagers, V and I prayed that we would climb the seven hills of Tirupati on foot (I think we prayed that we would do this if we got the first rank in class or some such triviality – Good lord, really!). Chittappa, by then in his early 40s, offered to accompany us on our climb, and so off we went, the three of us. I remember Chittappa also carrying a bag filled with water and snacks for us, and me and V clinging on to him on either side super fatigued with all the walking and overwhelmed by the hills just looming (and looming) endlessly in front of us. I remember being totally amazed that once we reached the top (and V and I plopped onto the bed to rest our weary legs), Chittappa actually went walking again with Appa to figure out the logistics for our temple visit that night.
When Appa passed away in 2011, Chittappa would accompany us to the ceremonies every day. On one of those days, the priest asked me to make rice balls for the departed as part of the rituals, and gave me a bucket of water to cook the rice with. As I was getting started, Chittappa stopped me. “Don’t use the water from that bucket. Mani would not have liked that. He always liked to drink Aquafina. Let me go get a bottle of Aquafina, use that to cook the rice.”, Chittappa said. I was so touched. It was so impractical and yet the only thing that made sense to me during that difficult time.
Amma is in India now. Every day, over the past couple of months, whenever I called to speak to Amma, I also usually spoke to Chittappa. On some days he would talk politics, on other days he would ask about W (“do you keep him indoors, really?”). Sometimes, he would inquire why I had not called at my usual time (even though I would only be a few minutes late). I loved bantering with Chittappa, his voice filled with laughter and sometimes sounding startlingly like Appa.
Chittappa turned 70 earlier this year. He would have marked his 70th by celebrating his Bhima Ratha Shanthi next week. But he is not here with us any more. He passed away today after suddenly collapsing (on his wedding anniversary) and being critically ill for a couple of weeks. Just like that. It is so hard to believe that he is gone.
My Uncle Dasu kandu. May he rest in peace.