care for elders…

She came with her husband to Mysore from a nearby village, and they lived for some time in a rented place. After a time she went on strike saying she won't clean another man's house, so her husband bought somehow a plot of land behind the law courts and built a modest house. Their front yard was wide and there they had mango, coconut, sampige, amla, papaya, and of course, bilpatre. The distance from the front gate to the door was so long that later their children and grandchildren would play cricket on that path. Tall jasmine plants flanked the front door and sent fragrance everywhere. Over the door and across the width of the verandah hung green fretwork. She scrubbed her house all the time: floor, wall, stairs, attic. Till she left it some fifty years later, there wasn’t a spot in that house that didn’t shine.

She raised her six children there, turning from soft woman to parsimonious tyrant, raising money through every means to send them through college: selling coconut from the trees in her yard, collecting used milk sachets, using dried coco-palm leaves and branches for heating, counting every penny. Her husband died when I was two, so I don't remember him: they say he'd keep me on his chest and play. He's

I’m told often that an outstanding thing about us is the way we care for our elders. I’m reminded of ammaiah when I hear that.

handsome in his portrait, black jacket and white panche, ammaiah at a short respectable distance, a studio-moon above them—his smile benign, her face expressionless, two worlds separate as the moon above them. She never spoke to me about him and I cannot imagine their love. Their eldest son went to America; another exceeded in public service; the third son, a scientist, also went to America; the fourth developed weak bones and stayed behind with her. Her dusky beautiful elder daughter married a man from Mullur; but her teenage heart she'd given away at the movies, given away to Rock Hudson, and her mind was lost in distant Victorian homes which she’d conjured from novels she’d read. She was a student when she married and became pregnant with me before she graduated, her fantasy shaken by dada, who was strong in the way villagers are, and educated, but rustic in manner and demeanor, not a Hollywood star. On his part, for all his wife’s lovely South Indian features, he’d wanted a fairer woman. They fell in love many years later, strangely and circuitously and slowly, before us, their three children.

I lived with ammaiah for my engineering studies and came to Bangalore for work. She aged rapidly after that and they lodged her in Bangalore with her younger daughter. She fell ill and they put her in a hospital and sold her home to somebody for a sum nobody needed. She asked everybody who went to see her, asked me too, to take her away from the hospital, to take her home. We had a reason each that sounded right, so the rented room in that private hospital was her last home.

After we’d buried her, while we were leaving, a man came running, gasping, sweating—he who had bought her house in Mysore. Hearing late of her death he’d rushed from Mysore with a large basket of bilpatre; he covered her grave with the leaves, covered even our flowers. When ammaiah was mistress of his house, for more than fifty years, she’d prayed twice every day with leaves from that tree from which he'd carried all those leaves that lay lightly on her grave.

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