REMEMBERING APPA

Amritha and family with her parents

It is fifteen years since Appa left us. I can still remember how shaken I was when I was informed by my husband about my father's death. I was in Mumbai and he had joined ICF in Chennai. I had finished my walking part of the exercise and was about to start the cycling when the phone rang. I did not touch the cycle since that day till we disposed it. I had some bad dreams during the night and the ringing of the telephone made me panicky. Since I was all alone, I wanted to go to Madras as early as possible. My friend, Sabitha Muralidharan, who was staying in the 18th floor got the news through her husband and came to see me immediately. She consoled me and asked me to get ready. I do not remember what and how I packed. With the help of Partha's colleagues I reached Mumbai airport and reached Madras by 11-45, where Partha was waiting.

Tears started rolling when I saw appa in the hall in Santhanam Anna's house. Appa's face was looking very calm and the distortion which was there earlier due to the stroke was surprisingly not there at the time of his death. The last time I saw him alive was when he was in the special ward in General Hospital. Since Appa was getting emotional whenever somebody said he or she was going out of Chennai, the ayah there told me not to tell him that I was leaving that day for Bombay.

Appa was suffering from stomach ulcer for nearly 50 years. He used to take chiilli-free, tamarind-free diet for over 30 years. He never complained about his diet and even relished the rasam which Amma made. In fact we all liked the 'Porichha rasam' which we used to call 'Appa sathumadu'. I cannot forget the day when he vomited blood and became unconscious in Kanchipuram in 1960. The doctor came immediately and after proper treatment he became all right. Exactly after 10 years, when Pushpakka's marriage was fixed in May 1970, he was looking pale and was suffering very badly due to stomach-pain. He could not even sit on the floor during the marriage and I remember how he was sitting on the side of the dais in a chair. He underwent a major operation after the marriage. Since I had just finished my college, I was able to go to the hospital daily during the day-time and sit beside him during the post-operation period. He recovered well and was allowed to have food which had a little of tamarind and chilli.

His likes and dislikes were very few. He used to like old Tamil film songs and I have heard him sing a number of times. He used to change his voice from base to high pitch with ease. Sometimes he sang in both male and female voices. That may be the inspiration for his daughters to sing in both voices. Some of the songs that he liked and sang were, அன்பில் மலர்ந்த நல்ரோஜா, அம்மாவும் நீயே அப்பாவும் நீயே, காந்தியோ பரம ஏழை சன்யாசி, பொருளே இல்லார்க்கு தொல்லையா, மன்னுபுகழ் கோசலைதன், தசரத ராஜகுமாரா, கல்யாண தேன்நிலா காய்ச்சாத பால்நிலா anbil malarndha nal roja", "ammavum neeye appavum neeye", "Gandhiyo parama yezhi sanyasi", "porule illarkku thollaiya", "maanupughaz Kosalaithan","Dasaradha Rajakumara", " kalyana then nila kaichadha paal nila He liked the film மௌனராகம் Mounaragam very much.

Another favourite of his was the magazine 'Kalkandu'. He bought the magazine for over 30 years. He used to note down all the health tips given in the magazine and would advise us to follow them whenever we had any problem. But sometimes I wondered whether he could himself read what he had written. As all of us know, appa's handwriting was very bad. In fact I remember that when Anna was in Ballard Estate as a senior officer of the postal department, a letter in which appa had written the address could not be delivered to him. Whenever we got appa's letter, Partha would ask me to 'decipher' it.

Appa was a great admirer of Rajaji. Appa started reading 'Kalki' magazine because of Rajaji's association with it. But later he read it for its clear views. Though Question-Answer column was there in all magazines, he liked தராசு பதில் Tarasu Badhil in Kalki, since it had more of politics. When I was visiting him in GH after his stroke, I asked him whether he would like me to read that column to him. His eyes lighted up when I started reading the Questions and Answers.

He was very much interested in politics and liked to talk a lot about it. He used to hate Indira Gandhi and Karunanidhi. Especially after the Emergency was imposed, he disliked her even more.He expected a lot from Jayalalitha (and was initially happy with her since she was also an Ayyangar) but was very disappointed with her autocratic way of running the Government.

I was just 8 or 9 when this incident happened. My father comes from a very orthodox, conservative family. He was proud to be a Brahmin. He used to hate E.V.Ramasamy Nayakkar, who was anti-brahmin. My father told us that when he was coming by a rickshaw, E.V.R. was crossing in another rickshaw and as soon as my father saw him he turned his face and cursed him. I found it to be amusing as I never knew that appa was capable of hating somebody to the extent of abusing him.

Appa had a very subtle sense of humour. When Hema was born, we were wondering what to name her. At that time a historical novel was coming in Ananda vikatan ( I think it was திருசசிற்றம்பலம் Tiruchitrambalam by Jegachirpian). Appa used to say,"Let us name her ஏழிசைவல்லபி அல்லது முக்கூர்க்கிழானடிYezhisai Vallabhi or Mukkorkhizhanadi. which were names of characters in that story and laugh mischievously. Finally he chose the name 'Hemalatha' and he used to say it meant பொற்கொடிPorkodi (golden creeper).

Amma used to put a lot of rice in our plates and if we complain that it is more than what we could take, he immediately used to say," Eat the quantity which is more first and later you can finish your regular quota".

When we were in Mari Chetty street, the owners were living upstairs. Once there was a lot of tapping noise from upstairs. Appa took a big pole and started tapping on the ceiling with it. We all laughed. It showed his sense of humour as well as the fact that we must somehow register our protest if something is unpalatable to us.

Appa in ChittaranjanHe visited us in winter when we were in Chitharanjan. He could not bear cold as you all would have noticed him wearing a sweater and a muffler in Madras itself during December. So when my sister-in-law, Vanajakka asked him about his trip to Chitharanjan, his immediate reply was, ஊராம்மா அது? ஒரே குளூரு Ooramma adhu? ore Kulooru (This photo was taken in the afternoon).

He did not like people biting their nails or chains. Once when Harish was biting his nail, appa sarcastically told him,"Why are you biting only one finger? Put all the 5 fingers in your mouth". Harish,who was just 4 years meticulously followed his thatha's instructions and put all the fingers into his mouth! Appa, of course was taken aback by his action and realised that sarcasm is not understood by children.

I was a very great fan of actress Vaijayanthimala in her heyday. Choodakka gave passes for the Hindi film Duniya which had Dev Anand and Vaijayanthi in it. Since there were only 3 of us I asked appa also to join us. First he refused as he could not follow Hindi much . But since he had nothing better to do, he joined us. We had taken some eatables also which included தேங்குழல் thenkuzhal Most of the dialogue was in Urdu which we all found it very difficult to follow. Appa, who could not follow head or tail of the movie started yawning and asked me, அந்த தேங்குழலையாவது எடும்மா Anda thenkuzhalayavadu yedumma ('Let me at least have the thenguzhal') which made us all laugh heartily.

He was very bad at any card-game, particularly Mail, which needed to be played fast. He used to join us reluctantly if we were short of players. In this game the maximum score is 100 if you do not have a sequence, irrespective of the cards you hold. Once he didn't have any sequence and when we asked him about his points, he said 78, counting all the points. We couldn't control our laughter.

He used to give us points in essay-writing and teach us Maths, which was his favourite subject. He was also a good and dutiful father, though he rarely expressed his affection. I cannot forget the day when I suddenly remembered at 8 in the night that I should take the imitation jewllery to school the very next day Everybody in the house scolded me for telling it so late but appa said that he would get it from one of his lady staff who was a dancer and he accompanied me to his lady staff's house to get the jewellery for my school dance. I studied in Balagopalapuram elementary school in Pollachi from 2nd to 5th standards. I can still remember the happy face of my class teacher, (one Mr. Sundaram) to whose house I forced my father to accompany me to give him sweets when I stood first in the class. I cannot forget the expression in my father's face when he drank the coffee that was given in his house as it was not the usual coffee that we make at home . Karuppatti (a type of jaggery) was added instead of sugar and the coffee powder was not filtered properly. Appa's face was like the one who drank castor oil. When we were in Kanchipuram, he took me to the picture, 'Kumudam' along with his colleague and his daughter, Vaijayanthi, who was my classmate. All of us also know how he used to keep on looking out of the balcony for Hema from 7.00 P.M. onwards though he knew she would come home only after 8.00 P.M.

Appa was very hard-working and believed that work should never be postponed. Partha says that in Railways less than 10 per cent of the people who joined in Class-III retire as Senior scale officers. It must be more difficult in the postal department. But appa achieved it by sheer hard work and by being scrupulously honest.

Appa was known among the members of my in-laws' family for the double-clicking noise that he used to make whenever something interested him. A few days after our marriage, Partha told me," I was talking seriously and your father was making fun of me." Of course he knew about his habit and was pulling my leg.

His cousins treated him as their own brother because of his good nature. At his deathbed, his cousin Ananthazhwar's words, "Appa, naan Ananthazhwar vandhirukken" still reverberates in my ears. My father used to admire Vanajakka for her helping nature and always praise her as ரொம்ப உபகாரி romba ubahari (very helpful person).

He was very fond of children and he derived great pleasure in mildly teasing them even when he was old. But he could also become a child with them. When we were in Juhu, Mumbai, Aarthi used to treat him like a student and teach him whatever was taught to her at school. He used to listen to her with utmost obedience. He was somehow fascinated with the name of Darshana, one of Aarthi's classmates. He remembered that name so well that even after 6,7 years he used to ask Aarthi,"How's Darshana?"

He had lost interest in life in the last few years when his eyesight became very bad. His posture near the window with a hand-fan is very green in my memory. He used to tell me that one shouldn't live when there is not much use of him. It was sad to hear it from him as he was a very active person in his younger days and we always had to run to keep pace with him .It was good that Raghu made him visit Australia. It was perhaps the last activity in his life that he thoroughly enjoyed.

He always used to say that simple living and high thinking should be our policy and we must not hesitate to do a thing if it brings happiness to somebody and we must never do a thing that displeases others. Whenever we wanted to buy something, he would say , Just think whether you can live without it. Only if the answer is no, buy it.' What a wonderful advice. In his office he had earned very good name because of this policy. His laughter was very infectious and pleasing to watch.

Such a good-natured person should not have suffered so much in his last days. The only thing we can do is to follow his good advice and lead a simple life.

Amritha.
1st July 2017

(originally written in March 2003)


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