“Anname onnayum ennayum thooki valartha thinnayum sugamdaana…”
9 Vedachala Gardens. The place where I happily spent the first 10 years of my life. In a joint family with Thatha, Paati, Appa, Amma, Chittappas, Chittis, and V (and cousins that came a few years after me).
My earliest memories are those of a bustling household, where everyone (well, everyone except for V) seemed to wake up earlier than me. On some days, looking out the window of our second floor bedroom as I woke up, I would see agile, spry Thatha – then in his late 60s – perched on top of trees plucking flowers for the morning prayers or drumsticks for the afternoon meal. And occasionally, contributing – from that same perch – to conversations between my parents (wonder how well-received that would have been). 😉
Wandering downstairs to the kollai to brush my teeth, enroute I would walk past Appa and my uncles in the downstairs “Hall” reading the newspaper or discussing matters of national importance (or so it seemed) with each other. The wonderful aroma of the morning meal from the kitchen would make me rush faster to brush my teeth. After all – no brushing meant no breakfast.
It seemed like Paati, Amma, and my aunts spent a LOOOOOT of their time in the kitchen. I cannot fathom what it must have been like for Amma – to be a (full-time working) daughter-in-law in a large, joint family like ours. Exhausting, to say the least? Being a child in such a family was fantastic, though!! Summer holidays were spent like “avuthu vitta kazhuthais” – unleashed donkeys – terminology that I still use freely with my own munchkins. V and I would roam the neighborhood with like-minded idle snidles, and spend the hot summer days sitting around on the thinnai of one home or the other, talking up a storm, and making up games. Being located less than a couple of miles from the Kapaleeswarar Temple, several of our neighborhood kids were named “Karpagam”, which usually got abbreviated to “Kappu”. Since there were multiple such Kappus, they got further classified into “Sandhu Kappu”, “Maadiyaathu Kappu”, etc., which all made me very glad that I was not a Kappu myself. The Kappus, me, V, and a few other friends – usually just girls; the boys were quite timid even back then 😉 – would play outside all morning till Paati would call us in for lunch. Which meant we would sit in a circle around Paati or K chitti, and wait for our turn for handfuls of cool thayir sadam and home-made tangy manga thokku. Mmmmm…. Afternoons would be spent walking back and forth on Thatha’s back, when he would lie down for his siesta.
I remember us unsuccessfully trying to get pets into that household – stray cats that would wander into the front yard lured by our offerings of warm milk and Bournvita, only to be unceremoniously shooed away by the first grown-up that saw them. No wonder my kids have no luck with convincing me to get them a pet now. How far from the tree can the apple fall?
In addition to the many residents of the household, there also seemed to be a steady flow of “temporary residents”. Relatives who were in town for a few days or weeks, the poor Sastrigal (I think this is now a lost species – judging from how much Sastrigals seem to make these days) who occasionally came in for a mid-day meal, and Thatha’s friends who would strategically drop in to chat around “tiffin” time in the evenings – everyone was welcome and well-fed.
Simple times that make me smile just thinking of them. Hope your early days were just as fun! 🙂