Amma gave me a surprise gift only once when I was a kid of 7 or 8. She was never the one who bought a toy for me. So that afternoon when she gifted me a plastic hand pump toy that actually worked I was so fascinated by it that I still remember, when it went kaput after a few years, I grieved over the loss for a really long time. Even at the age of 45, I remember that day fondly.
Amma taught Hindi in her school. Ironically Hindi was the only subject other than Maths that I faired miserably. The famous singer Yesudas was one of her students from those times. Whenever I heard my friends from the North of India praise Yesudas’s fab Hindi songs, I attribute a small part of that glory to my mother!
I was born when Amma was 44 and was the heaviest baby in the town. I have heard rumours that I was kept on a public display for the first 3 days at the hospital. 9 pounds baby, normal delivery!! So that explains the special attention I got from her and my sisters were absolutely not envious of my privilege!
With a broad smile she too sat next to me and watched me play with it. She always carried a basket, that was handwoven by herself, to the school where she taught and mostly carried bundles and bundles of answer-sheets that she had to correct.
Amma never sent me to a barber for a haircut till I was 12 or 13. She didn’t agree with their style ideas or she didn’t trust their blades! She used to cut my hair and her definition of a straight line always became an embarrassment for me in the class when my friends flaunted their ‘Step cut’ or Amitabh Bachchan style. The uneven hair line along my forehead was cringeworthy but I don’t remember denying her bimonthly dosage of fun till the big Scissors gave up cutting even a piece of paper.
Another instance I remember very clearly was when we went to Padmanabhaswami temple and the temple guards denied my entry as I was wearing shorts ( ‘knickers’ we used to call it!) when I was only supposed to wear only a Dhoti around my waist. No Dhoti was available. I was 4 or 5 years old. Amma took her Handkerchief and wrapped it around me like a mundu and took me into the temple confidently! I was so embarrassed and Amma held my hands tightly and walked with me keeping a careful watch of my steps so I don’t fall skidding on the stone steps. But I remember the Hanky wrap around till date.
Amma turned 88 last week. On her birthday I decided to give her a surprise by landing up on her bedside at 5am before she woke up, all the way in Kochi. Took a 2am flight from Mumbai to reach on time. The idea was to take her to the temple which she considers as the most auspicious start to a birthday. All my 17 birthdays at home in Kerala, she made sure that I was paraded to the temple early morning without fail! When she saw me standing next to her bedside, she kept blissfully smiling, surprised like crazy but overwhelmed with happiness and a continuous sense of disbelief! While helping her walk along the granite steps at the temple, I was holding her hands tightly and I realised that those strong arms that held me tight have become so fragile and weak. She looked so frail and worried of falling while walking on the rugged stone steps, that I had to keep reassuring her that I am by her side holding her that there’s no need to worry. She smiled back at me as if she realised that the roles have reversed through the years.. As she took slow and short steps to walk ahead, she asked me still in partial disbelief due to her failing memory, how I reached so quickly from Mumbai when I spoke a few hours ago over the phone with her, I smiled back.. but my eyes welled up..