Talk of the moon and first salary reminds me of something that is taking up inordinate amounts of mind-space.
Now that I am working and also making some money, I not only need to give the money for the petrol, I also need to show my love and affection to members of the clan by getting them first salary presents.
Why exactly does one need to give them presents, is a grey area. Is it because I share my gothram with a large number of them? Or would it be because they have in their little way determined and helped me in arriving at my life choices?
When amma proposes. One meekly agrees. Especially when you are trying to get back into her good graces.
Amma has a simple formula, one small “token” for each family. Given the complexities involved in buying a cheap yet useful and likely to get appreciation gift, I have decided that in every family, if there is a female relative in the age-group of 18 to 30, they must get a gift. It is much simpler to buy gifts for women. Especially if you are a woman yourself.
However, of the seventeen presents I need to buy; only three of them fit this criteria. So, I am struggling. What to buy for the chitappa who has everything and the periappa who appreciates nothing?
It is tough. It is boring. Therefore, I have given the task to S.
S will find stuff. That much I am sure about. She is resourceful. She has a keen eye for detail. And most importantly she loves the whole world, including the clan. So things that can be put into plastic bags and be truly what the recipient desires, will find her. Even inanimate objects seek a loving eye.
Two particular gifts however, I must buy myself. That for the thathas.
In the hierarchy that exists in the clan. The thatha is supreme. The paati is almost up there. Then come the gothram periappa and gothram chitappa. The maama. The non gothram periamma and chitti. And finally the atthai.
But Thathas are awe-inspiring and the best buddy, altogether at the same time. My maternal thatha is wonderful. Full of enthusiasm and a roguish streak, he is who I hope to become someday.
The paternal thatha, that is Madras thatha, is perhaps, who I already am. Sometimes stubborn, sometimes whiney, sometimes idealist, sometimes funny, sometimes moody, sometimes finishes crossword, sometimes not.
He is the adult I have been most closely associated with through my growing up years. For seventeen years we lived in the same house. His house. With one bedroom. One hall. One kitchen and a separate bathroom and a toilet. When I think of Madras Thatha, I think of Bazlullah Road. And the lovely house I grew up in. But the house was difficult to maintain. All the neighbors had sold their homes. So Thatha had no choice, but to let go.
Since then, we moved to Boag Road and thatha and paati stay at TP Road, in the same apartment as periappa and his family.
Madras Thatha is an independent sort of man. He likes to do his own thing. He is fairly anti-social and has caused paati immense amount of grief.
Three years ago, we got a frantic call from Paati, Thatha who was then 77 had left home for his morning walk at 6:00 am sharp and not returned until 9:30. Amma got frantic and immediately called Warren Road Pattu Maami, the one with important connections. We all then set out to look for him, partly annoyed with him and partly dying of guilt. Finally, he returned home. At 11 o’clock. Safe and without damage. Seems that, he decided to skip paati’s idli for the masala dosai and sambhar vadai at Sangeeta’s.
After that it was decided, I would go on a morning walk with thatha, to keep an eye on him. We used to walk up to the T Nagar Club each morning and attempt to solve the Crossword together. It was fun. But after three weeks, I dropped out. For one, Thatha walked too fast. In fact, T Anna calls him, Gandhi Thatha because of the way that he marches forth. The other thing was, he refused to take any other route. I got a bit tired of Venkata Narayana Road each day. And of course, he knew far more number of words that I ever did.
Thatha also had a bicycle for very long. Having worked for the Murugappa Group for a short while, he had got a little attached to one. We never saw him riding it. But he wiped it each day. Took care of it. And refused to let go of it. Till he got tired of paati using it as a clothes-line and gave it away.
So, what does one get the Thatha?
Amma says, a mobile phone would be useful. So that paati can keep tabs on him. Am not too sure if thatha will appreciate that. Besides, he turns 80 this year, not like he goes out alone that often.
Torch to find lost things? Watch to keep looking at? Figs to eat for better bowel movement? Jarigai Veshti that he can wear for the kalyanam next week? A book of crosswords that he will try and solve in one day? A coupon from Apollo Hospital so that he can do a Master Health Check-Up?
Thatha has not been too well the last few months. A slight variation in the ECG, but nothing to worry about. A slight pain in the back, but nothing to worry about. Occasional dizzy spells, but nothing to worry about.
Thatha turns 80 in September. The 80th Birthday has immense significance. They say, a person has seen a thousand moons by then. We plan to celebrate his Sathabhishekam in a grand way. Appa is getting all emotional and wants to go back to the home of the Tamaraparani to celebrate. Periappa thinks otherwise. Everyday they debate.
Thatha’s health has been a bit of a worry. They say, before a significant landmark in your life, such things happen.
Last week, at one of the weddings, Thatha lost his slippers. Somebody had stolen them. T Anna had bought these for thatha three years ago, from the Woodlands store at Panagal Park. It was very expensive, but thatha basked in the love of his favorite grandson. Never mind that he scolded him in a good natured manner. Amma was upset that her son bought his grandfather a pair of slippers.
I expected thatha would get upset. He normally gets upset when the clock stops running. But he did not. On the contrary, he was happy. He said, the peedai has been gotten rid off. Losing a pair of slippers can end a bad patch.
I am happy for him. I even volunteer to buy him a new pair. He declines and says, ask T Anna to come and buy me one.
The prodigal son shall return this September, to celebrate the Thatha’s birthday.
Suddenly, I feel very insignificant.