I am in Trichy (or Tiruchi as we call it) for the weekend. Came in for work and stayed back the weekend to spend time with thatha (maternal grandfather). Amma also came in this morning because thatha is not feeling very well. Nothing seriously wrong with thatha of course, just that amma needs to get away from appa every now and then. In much the same way that appa needs to go of to Tirunelveli every now and then. This appreciation for each other’s space is fantastic and has helped them stay married for almost thirty years.
Thatha moved to Trichy from Thanjavur when he was eighteen, because he didn’t want to study further and had the same peculiar problem that I had with Mathematics. Sometimes one can end up inheriting the strangest things from family. So he decided to move to Trichy, which offered great options for people to earn a living other than becoming clerks in banks. Thatha had the blessings of his Periappa (who was in Trichy) and therefore it seemed natural to go there.
Thatha then dabbled in a number of businesses, all of which were complete and unmitigated failures. This because thatha while being a fantastic ideas person was too naïve and lacking in worldliness. He lost money, but never hope. And along the way he acquired a wife, four children and a really tiny house in the bustling Nandi Kovil Street. Near the Tepakullam, the lanes and bylanes are forever bustling with assorted fruits, vegetables and flower sellers. The fragrances mingle making one feel nostalgic and sick with so much exotica all at once.
Every September break during school vacations amma would drag me, T Anna and S to Trichy. The train journey was a huge pain because, thatha would insist that we get off at Srirangam as that would save us time. From 3 am, amma will make sure that all of us were awake, lest Srirangam was missed. Though it was rather simple, once you crossed the Kollidam bridge (when the train will make horrendous noises) you knew Srirangam was coming.
And thatha would be waiting there, in his blued-veshti folded up and a shirt that was at least two sizes too large for him. Nandi Kovil Thatha (as opposed to Bazlullah Road Thatha) is very mad and very fun. I would like to think that I was his favourite grand-child. This because unlike T Anna, who would for some unfathomable reason spend all free time reading India Today, Wodehouse or Frederick Forsyth, I was the keen one, ever willing, to listen to his stories. To me spending time with thatha was like watching a Rajni paddam, there was willing suspension of disbelief and one did not question any of it and give the left brain any work.
The best part about NK Thatha was that he never ever insisted that we visit the famous Ucchi Pillayar, Thiruvanaikaval, Samayapuram or the Srirnagam temples. Kadavul Manasulai Matram Irunda Poddum, he would say. This much to the chargin of both maami as well as amma.
Among the many things he also introduced me to, were stories - tales of Tamizh Prince, mystical dancers, forbidden love, intrigue, wine, women, sensuality and mystery. He would read out aloud from old Kumudum issues – the Kadal Pura series. I was shocked, horrified and fascinated by most of his stories.
Of course, amma and appa were both not happy with this influence. They were worried that, it might make me rebellious and like thatha I might run away from home when I was eighteen.
I didn’t of course. Not because I didn’t want to. I often did. I still do. But I am too chicken. And there is nothing that seems so attractive for me to run towards.