Saturday, January 01, 2005

Fragrant Memories

Ammamma (grandmother)would have got ready an ensemble of a blouse- (the long one also called jumper- the kind that one wears with the long skirt-paavada) and a Mundu ( cream coloured dhoti) – child size, by the time we arrived home for the summer vacations. I who hated waking up early, would remind ammamma to call me early in the morning so that I could accompany Appachhan (grandfather) to the temple.

Flowers had to be plucked- thechi, chembaratthi (hibiscus), Mandaram (bauhinia) , Thulasi leaves had to be pinched (nulluka) not plucked, then assorted carefully in the flower tray-Poothaalam, to be offered to the deity.

Appachhan would emerge after his bath, and there would be this distinct sandalwood fragrance about him, He was about six feet tall, broad shouldered, sort of dark complexioned- He applied a little chandanappottu on his forehead- He was so meticulous about everything, including this spot- he would dab it with the thoRtthumundu( towel) and it would be a perfect round. He had tufts of hair on his ears, and I remember I delighted in running my fingers through them . He wore a rudrakshamaala around his neck. Slapping an angavasthram on his shoulder, he would slip on his heavy Methiyadi- wooden sandals and was ready to go to the temple. He wore only khaddar. By then I would have been ready after my bath, wearing the ensemble that Ammamma had got for me, holding the flower tray.

Appachan had this habit of tucking one end of his mundu under his left arm while with the other he held the flower tray. Inside the temple he would make the Pradkshinams- circumambulations, chanting slokas softly. I would fall in step behind him, just happy to be with him, and collecting precious, sandal fragrant memories with every step.
After the prayers, puja, he would apply the chandanam on my forehead and give me the teertham- holy water- which tasted of rose petals and Tulasi leaves.
On our way back, we would stop to pay our respects at the memorial of appachans Guru and Mentor. The walk to the temple would be silent, but during the walk home he would recount to me stories, anecdotes, recite some slokas and explain their meanings, hum a keerthanam and ask me to identify the raga-

He was quite strict and did not tolerate indiscipline or disobedience, and yet played with us and made us laugh. He had several friends, and to listen to their discussions were very informative and interesting. He was a physician and his patients doted on him. He forgot to have his lunch and dinner while tending to his patients. He joked with them, gave them courage, but did not mince words if they did not follow the treatment regimen to the point.

But as time passed and he became unhealthy due to age, he was unable to see patients, and then he began to withdraw into an invisible shell. The light in his eyes was gone, and he lost interest in living. I remember that during the last few months, several times, while in hostel I woke up restless, having seen him unwell and suffering in my dreams. Later, on enquiry, I found out that it was around the time that his toe had to be amputated due to diabetic gangrene.
I remember that fateful day, he had not been keeping good health for some days and he had sent us children to the temple because Ulsavam- temple festival was going on. I had been avoiding going into his room, because I could not bear to see him in that condition. Sometime later, somebody came to call us home, because he was very ill. We rushed back home, but it was all over. My first encounter with Death- I touched his feet and they were cold- what happened for the next few days is just a blur in my mind- all I can remember is feeling a terrible sense of loss, an uncontrollable yearning to turn back time, to have gone into his room, and sat by him while he was still there.

Today, when sometimes I breathe sandalwood fragrance somewhere, I feel his presence about me.

No comments: