She came with her husband to Mysore from a nearby village, and they lived in a rented place. After a time she staged a protest saying she won't clean another man's house, so her husband bought somehow a plot of land behind the Law Courts of Mysore and built a modest home. Their front yard was wide and deep, and there they planted one mango, half a dozen coconut, one champak, one gooseberry, one papaya, and of course, the mandatory bilpatre tree, holy to the Lingayat people. The distance from the front gate to the main door was so deep that later their children and grandchildren would play cricket on that length. Tall jasmine flanked the front door and sent fragrance everywhere. Over the door and across the width of the verandah they'd fixed dark green fretwork. It was an airy, pleasant house, wide, but flat somewhat from front to back.
But she loved her house, which she scrubbed all the time, the red-oxide floor, wall, stairs, attic, yellow-shuttered cupboards. Till she was taken out of it some fifty years later, there wasn't an inch in that house that didn't shine.
She raised her six children there, turning from a soft-spoken woman — as she battled her way through life — to a parsimonious tyrant, raising money through every means to send them through school and college. She sold coconut from the trees in her yard, sold used milk-sachets, old newspapers, and the tiny sums she made she lent to her relatives from the villages — which they never returned, neither interest nor principal. She did all this alone, having lost her husband, my grandfather, soon after her last child was born — when I was two.
My grandfather's favourite chair was a chaise. Lying on it, he'd plant me on his chest and play with me. I was his first grandchild.
I know him by his pictures only. He looks his best in a studio portrait: black jacket and white panche, with my grandmother by him at a respectable distance, a studio-moon above them. His smile is benign, her face expressionless, their two worlds quite apart as the studio-moon above. She never spoke to me about him, and I cannot imagine their love. Their eldest son went to America; another excelled in public service; the last son, a physicist, also went to America; her third son developed weak bones that crippled him — he 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 to Rock Hudson, and her mind was lost in distant Victorian homes that she'd conjured from the novels. She was a student when she married and became pregnant with me before she graduated, shaken out of her fantasies by my father, who was strong, and educated, but raised in the village, and rustic in manner demeanour. He was no Hollywood star. On his part, for all his wife's lean, lovely South Indian features, he'd fancied a fairer woman. They fell in love over time, slowly and circuitously before us, their three children.
I lived with my grandmother for my engineering studies — I was a demanding grandson — and came to Bangalore for work. She aged rapidly after that and her sons first 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 none of them 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, to us, so a simple room in that private hospital was her last home.
At her funeral, after we'd buried her, while we were leaving, a man came running, gasping, sweating — the man who had bought her house in Mysore. Hearing of her death a little late he'd rushed from Mysore with a large basket of holy bilpatre leaves from the tree in what was her yard once. He covered her grave with the leaves, drowning out our flowers. When grandmother was the mistress of his house, for over fifty years, she'd prayed twice every day with the leaves from that tree. They lay softly over her grave.