Of Course not…. She isn’t my aunt. But a lot of people mistake my “Madrasi Aunt” to be Usha Uthup. The resemblance is simply striking
My Madrasi Aunt (Chennai earlier referred to as Madras, where my aunt resides and inhibits to the core, that’s how she got the name). Actually there’s quite a mix in my family. Dad from Kerala, his sister gets married to a Madrasi uncle Balasubramanian and my Mom’s Ascendants from Kutch Gujrat settled in Bombay(Now Mumbai) since1857, very modern, all styled in British fashion. So you see, my Mom’s side people find this” Kanchipuram saree” clad and big “Bindi” adorning aunt very hilarious, they addressed her as your “Madrasi Aunt”, in our conversation. My aunt especially so, as I had inherited her dusky skin and my sister who was pure snowy white in face, became a member of their clan automatically. There was no obvious discretion in regards to color of the skin though, as my Dad was darkest dusky, and they dare not say anything about color for they truly respected him for being a thorough gentleman and the way he looked after my Mom, ten years his junior.
It was a regular routine for us to visit Kerala, Madras or Bombay during our summer vacations. These hilarious, strict, loving, nagging, scolding, bold and beautiful shade of my aunt, is an excerpt from my stark long term memory, when I was in grade II or grade III. My aunt married Mr. Balasubramanian, converted to and followed Hindu religion more religiously than any other Hindu Lady in those times. All we knew that both my uncle and Aunt were into the ‘Race course’ and were the richest amongst us all. Unfortunately, this made for each other couple did not have any child of their own, so all of us, my aunt’s kin & kith’s children became her very own. She called us for vacations, took us sight seeing, she even took care of education of my cousins(her sister’s children) who stayed with her for many of their schooling years. She was very generous and benevolent as far as spending money for others was concerned. But if ever you got on her wrong side, you’ve had it!
Wasn’t her fault alone, we kids were all devils with innocent faces! to put it mildly. We broke her expensive vase, we fiddled with her television and looked blankly at each other, pretending as if there was a Mr. X amongst us, who conspired against us to get her scolding. Boy! did we have the guts to own up and take that shouting? The infamous shouting and abusing from my aunt, that lasted for more than an hour, Non-stop! The neighbours round the corner, for more than about 200 mts knew, it was a terror day in our house today. We literally hid under the beds, behind the cupboards, on top of the cupboards (my brother climbed these iron “Godrej” cupboards like a monkey). It was as if hell broke loose. Even our mothers disappeared from the scence ddisappeared from the scene. Such was my “Generous” Aunt’s anger. I cherish the month long stay with all cousins in My Madrasi Aunt’s house every alternate year. These vacations, where we fought, made up, accused each other, then saved each other from punishments, actually is the cause of our immense and unforgeable bonding.
One such stream of incident that’s unforgettable started with our craving for mangoes that grew in my Aunt’s back yard. This mango tree grew such that we had to climb the neighbour’s roof top to get our hands on them. These were row houses in posh locality of those times,” Meena Bacckam society”. My Aunt’s house was the 1st in the row, so if we had to climb the terrace of the adjacent house, we had to go all the way to the 5th house, get to the back side and climb from there, as all these houses shared a common wall and there was no way through. My brother bribed the cycle rickshaw driver who cycled my aunt to all the temples 3 days a week, from 5 am to 12 noon. Cycle Rickshaw was a very important form of commuting down south India, way back then. Its a 2-seater cart attached on the hind side of a bicycle, manually pedalled by a human. Thanks to Human rights activists, its extinct now. My aunt’s idea of worship was unique. One room in the house was dedicated to her 1700 Gods. The bottled water in the fridge all tasted bitter, Jasmine flavored from all the flowers she store for her Gods. “Malli Poo”… Malli Poo”… everywhere. That’s Jasmine flowers in Tamil. She made strings out of them and adorned in her hair. Am caught sometimes and got it pinned to my ultra short hair too, all the time being reprimanded for not growing my hair and sporting it short like my ‘Anglo’ mother. All fashionable, fair skinned and short haired women from Bombay were Anglo-Indians according to my aunt. Many people in south, for that matter, were under the same impression. She kept one part of the meals and fruits for the Gods as an offering. Once my uncle (her brother) fooled her for a good 3 days by eating up all the fruits of his choice and telling her that her God loved only bananas. She believed him and offered bananas only. You may close your ears, the bombardment, he got for pulling that off was deafening!
So this my ultra religious and ritualistic aunt left early in the morning at 5 to vist all possible temples in Chennai and returned by 12 noon, shopping for groceries on the way. Meanwhile my mother and other aunts were supposed to prepare for her cooking. They were supposed to only help and do the preparation, The final touch would be from the Lady Macbeth herself. That she was an amazing cook goes without saying. The perfectionist that she was! My brother took this Cycle Rickshaw fellow in his stride. I think his name was Mohan or Krishnan. Pch,.. Pch my memory fails me. Well, lets call him ‘Kutty’. So Kutty honked, honked and kept on honking from round the corner till he reached the gate. That was a signal for us to quickly come down from the mango tree, down the adjacent terrace and back to the house. We must all be awarded prises for pulling that off for days together, sitting innocently by the T.V. set watching news in Tamil which none of us understood. My parents were settled in Bombay even before we were born, so all we grasped was English, Hindi and little bit of Malaylam because my Granny(My Dad’s mother) knew nothing besides Malayalam. Initially my Aunt was very pleased, She said ” All the ‘pillere’ (kids in Tamil, sounded more like puppies to me. Pilla in Hindi means puppy) are very well behaved” . “Tomorrow you all get a Cadbury from me for being so good children.” I couldn’t control my giggles. Mygiggles were famous for turning into hysterical laughs, which my aunt found very amusing at first. Later she shouted at me for not able to control my laughs. “Girls are not supposed to laugh so much and so aloud” she said. Then one day my aunt got suspicious, she told Kutty that if he would honk near the house, she would have him thrown out of the job. Poor Kutty, kept cycling and brought her home to a Chaos! All the children on the terrace, jumping like monkeys, screaming like Red Indians, thumping about like a herd of Elephants had raided the place. Below the neighbour comes out grinning sheepishly with a look on his face that said. “Look! I told you, these kids are a terror.” He had set us up.
Then what transpired was terrible. I had to accompany my older cousin to draw water from the well in the backyard and wash clothes of the whole house. This cousin of mine was from the countryside, she was used to all the hard work. But I had tears streaming down, tears that always betrayed me and welled up, when I tried to hide them the most! Come on! I was only 5 years of age, this was so unfair! I thought. My brother was not allowed lunch for 3 consecutive days, he could have dinner only. My mother and i conspired and siphoned off some food for him, late afternoons, during my aunt’s infamous siesta. We all helped each other, we were all a gang against one Hitler in the house. My Aunt!
As we grew up we learnt to admire her and understand her. Her disciplinary actions though exaggerated at times, was very important. I cherish those holidays. And the Heroine of my vacation stories back in school was impeccably “My Madrasi Aunt” . Did I tell you that what she prayed, everyday in her ritualistic worships, for? Well she kept her race course book and tickets there at her Gods feet, so she got Lucky and won! That was her daily prayer 😛