- By Sri Lalitha Ramesh, An Extract from 'The Hindu', April 17, 2010
Much has been written about Super Moms and Dads in this column that an elderly relative of mine called to complain. She feels no one gives any credit to the grandmas working behind these working mothers! When grandmas have done much more than cooking, it is unfair to glorify the working mom alone, she protests.
The conversation made me feel nostalgic about my days with my grandmothers. It is no joke bringing up seven kids — the team included six boys, mind you! While my maternal grandma was an action king (or queen?), my paternal grandmother was a picture of grace and dignity like the Buddha.
Though they never had any formal education, they instilled rich values in us that is beyond any curriculum. They knew only one thing, that children should have a sound body and mind to shoulder responsibilities in later life.
I really do not know whether they sold toothpaste those days. My grandmas prepared what we called umi kari in Tamil (roasting the paddy husk and pounding it with salt) for the battalion! Hasn't somebody said that salt in your toothpaste is good? Health drinks like Ragotine and Ovaltin were available but our grandmas prepared ragi malt and kanji (gruel) powder at home. Coffee seeds were roasted separately for the elders. There were no gas stoves or mixers or grinders or milling machines. Everything was done in ural, ammi, aattukal and endiram! God knows how many tonnes of iddli flour was ground manually. Some home made medicines were stored like treasure and given only when we fell sick. So also was the grandma's kashayam — the cure-all potion.
My grandma would cajole me to have regular oil bath for getting long and lustrous hair; warn my brothers that they would get boils all over if they neglected oil bath. We obeyed her week after week. After oil bath, she would dry our hair and apply a pinch of pepper on the head to ward off cold and cough.
But the worst ordeal was the administration of periodic castor oil to keep the digestive system trim. Each one of us would try different stunts to escape but my grandma would stand stoically with a long wooden stick in her hand (we nicknamed her as Dhandayutha Pani), to ensure compliance.
Come summer vacation, my grandmas would keep us engaged all the time. Pallanguzhi, Paramapadam, Trade and caroms were taught to keep us indoors during noon. Any time we complained of boredom, slokas, books, mathematical tables (involving fractions!), riddles and puzzles would be given to us. We would play outdoor during evenings to our heart's content or water the garden, drawing water from the well. At night, my father's mother would round us up for dinner. She would squat on the floor amid us with a “vengala paanai” (bell metal pot) full with curd or rasam rice. Mixing some curry or pickle, she would hand over to us morsels of food, simultaneously entertaining us with interesting tales. With our attention riveted on her story, we would gulp down whatever was given without any fuss. Oh, how we enjoyed the food! I still recall the way the elephants retreated at the sight of Prahalada in grandma's style of narration!
We were never taken to movies and there was no TV either, but our grandma's stories produced a cinematic effect. As we grew a little older, we realised that she needed our company as much as we enjoyed hers.
Both my grandmas gradually prepared me for the married life ahead in all ways — making me learn the etiquettes, music, kolams, cooking, sewing and the like. Above all, they taught me to be open-minded and enthusiastic to learn anything any time and be collected in times of adversity.
Theirs was simple living and high thinking. Years have rolled by, and situations have changed, but my grandmothers remain ever green in my memories.
P.S: My grandma(Maternal) was exactly or perhaps a bit more than that described in the article; we loved her so much and ever longed to see her waiting for summer holidays. The earlier generation may not have had the modern privileges yet their happiness index used to be quite high.
“The Ideal of womanhood in India is Motherhood — that marvelous, unselfish, all-suffering ever forgiving Mother.”
- Swami Vivekananda