I don’t know about you but my mother is a force of nature, a one-(wo)man travelling circus, a palmist and astrologer, foreboder of doom, our resident doctor, beautician and culinary diva.
Not one day passes by when there isn’t an Amma Adventure for us to deal with.
The other day she called me at 2pm when the outside temperature was touching 40 degrees. I could not hear her clearly owing to the chaos I could hear in the background. Turns out she is in a rickshaw, travelling from her home in the suburbs to the bank, an hour’s drive away.
“Why are you going to the bank at this strange hour? Why did you not go in the morning?”
“My FD has matured this morning and I want to withdraw the money before they shut for the day.”
“Amma, you could do it tomorrow morning. Why travel when it is so hot outside?”
“Do you read the newspapers at all? The way the bankers and their industrialist cronies are stealing our money, I better take out mine and keep it under the bed,” she fumed. “Also, I live in Mumbai and this city is hot as hell every day.”
End of conversation but the keeping of money under the bed statement took me right back to my childhood and amma’s ancestral home where Kurumba and aachu, an old, miserly couple who worked on our farm, were used to keeping their money close to them. In fact, under them. They dug a pit on the floor of their ramshackle hut and every month they would save a portion of their meagre earnings, keeping it in a tin trunk they kept in the pit under their mattress.
The couple feared their no-gooder of a son would steal their money and they feared the bank would cheat them out of their earnings and they thought their money was the safest with them.
One morning amma’s household was woken up to the sound of much wailing from the old couple’s hut and upon rushing there, amma and the family witnessed an unbelievably tragic sight: the old man lying right next to the tin trunk in which he spirited away his money. Only, termites had gotten to the trunk and reduced the stacks of rupee notes to dust. The old man had been unable to take the shock and had died on the spot, leaving behind his wife who grieved not just for her lost husband but also for the money they had lost. Amma says the old woman did not live for long after her husband’s death.
“They might be in some other life, counting their money and licking their lips in greed,” Amma said once when the topic of their strange death came up.
Back to Amma’s Adventures, did I tell you about her bizarre addiction to health magazines and the astrology columns in newspapers? When he was alive, it was Achchan’s job to get Amma her monthly stock of health magazines that she would read from cover to cover. And almost as soon as she had finished reading, she would develop symptoms of the one ailment that the magazine had featured in the edition. In the past she has suffered from imaginary bouts of dengue, malaria, schizophrenia, various heart problems and other life-threatening diseases, thanks to the health magazines.
I called her in the afternoon and she was in a flap because she had to get an Uber so she could go and see her cardiologist.
“Why do you need a cardiologist? Are you ok?” I ask, anxiously.
“Why would I need a cardiologist if I was ok?,” she countered. “You ask silly questions.”
“Amma, what is happening? Please tell me. I’m anxious.”
“The daily astrology column in the newspaper said yesterday that my leg will pain very badly and advised me to be cautious because it could lead to heart ailments,” she sniffed.
“But amma, you don’t have leg pain.”
“Of course I have leg pain. Just because I did not tell you does not mean I don’t have leg pain. It has been paining since this morning.”
The trip to the cardiologist ended with mixed results. He told her that she was fine and that she could just continue whatever medication she was already on. But he also told her that her heart was as healthy as it could possibly be for a woman of her age. Now, she thinks that it is the beginning of the end of her life.
“An astrologer told me many years ago I would only live till I turned 70. I am running on borrowed time now.”
That perhaps explains why she is on the mother-of-all-binges just now. Amma does not believe in moderation. While the rest of us eat one samosa or a bhel puri and spend the rest of the day/week feeling guilty about it, amma has been polishing off samosas, wada pavs and paani puris like they are going out of fashion tomorrow.
Did I mention that her return trip from the cardiologist took her all of three hours? Turns out she was famished by the time she was done with the cardiologist and so, she requested the Uber driver to stop at a mithaiwala to pick up some bhajias, samosa and jalebis for them to eat.
They polished off the treat while chatting companionably about this that and the other and by the time they realised it was late, we were thinking of calling the police to lodge a missing person’s report.
“You have to trust people,” she glowered when we chided her about the dangers of striking up conversations with complete strangers.
“Also, he is a good boy. He has invited me to his sister’s wedding next week. What do you think we should gift her?” I told you, there is a new adventure in our household every single day.
If she knows I wrote the following piece about her, she is likely to haul me over coals, but not before reminding me about manners. “I taught you to show your elders some respect,” she will say.
Amma is a bundle of contradictions that drive her children up the wall, make us want to tear our hair and escape, at other times and have us collapse in laughter on other occasions.
Back to amma’s recent adventures, these days it is not unusual for our cell phones to ring in the dead of the night and when I answer the phone I discover it is amma making a video call to me.
Without her knowledge, of course. Having decided that she is going to become savvy with all things tech, she has taken to exploring her smart phone and its various features. For her children and for the few dozens of friends, acquaintances and doctors who are in her phone book, this means being rudely disturbed at any time of the day by a watsapp or video call from amma.
No, she is not calling them to discuss something. She is merely sitting on her sofa, jabbing away at her phone keys, thinking that will show her text or sms messages people may have sent her.
“Why did you call me six times between 3am-4 am,” you can ask her, struggling to control the irritation that comes from being routinely at the receiving end of these rogue calls and she will come back with: “I did not call you. Why would I call you at 3am? Normal people are asleep at 3am. I think the phone must be faulty. I always keep it under my mattress at night so that I don’t misplace it.”
The only times she seems to be able to access her phonebook and call her brood without too much trouble is when she has to convey news of some or the other person of her acquaintance who has kicked the bucket. And considering many of her acquaintances are well into their eighties, there are many such calls to us these days. Especially when we are trying hard to stay focussed and get some crucial work done.
Or, she calls to inform me about the nuptials of the grand child of some or the other friend/acquaintance who has, luckily, found a doctor or engineer to marry and settle down with.
“Time to get your daughter married now. She is already 26 and that is already too late. All the good boys that she could have married are already snapped up or married,” she says ominously. “Besides, what use is it being a pastry chef? Tell her to enrol for a management degree and see how many proposals she gets,” she whispers.
Amma’s adventures include hopping from one temple to the other in Kerala, praying to her Gods for a variety of things for a variety of people.
Over the last couple of years she has implored the Gods for homes, cars and good health for her friends and acquaintances and is fairly sure her entreaties will yield fruit for childless couples who are beset with grief about their childless state.
The other day she called me, her voice ablaze with excitement. “Mrs.Kulkarni’s daughter is pregnant. She called just now to say Thank You.”
“Err, why is she thanking you for that? And why are you telling me this? I don’t know Mrs.Kulkarni or her daughter.”
“She is thanking me because I had made an offering at that temple in Kerala where childless couples go to pray. Since they could not go, I went there and prayed when I was in Kerala two months ago.”
Amma’s latest grand obsession is my fledgeling’s marriage and so, it is not surprising most of our conversations are peppered these days with dialogues about the importance of marriage and the promise of conjugal bliss.
“You better start preparing for your daughter’s wedding. Last time I also went and made an offering at the other temple where people go to pray for good life partners.
You need to change your attitude and have more faith because good things happen to those who open their heart to faith. Talking of which, I forgot to tell you that I have to go there once more for a pooja. I will take the train to Cochin and find my way there by myself. You don’t have to fret about accompanying me.”
And right there is the beginning of amma’s next adventure. Her fellow travellers don’t know yet but they are on the verge of getting on the most memorable train journey of their life.
You can reach her on email@example.com or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
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