My “Madrasi” Aunt

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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 😛

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God Woman or Overwhelmed spirit

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This most definitely, inspired by the news of Radhe Maa the self proclaimed God Woman, but not solely about her. What I have assimilated over the years is that, every human being possesses the power of their prayers being answered. More so, the spiritual minds, and even more so, those who pray for anyone beyond oneself. Call it God answering the prayers of the less-selfish, or call it the balancing act of the universe.

Women, at the risk of generalizing, being the more sensitive, vulnerable, physically weaker than their counterparts, have a tendency to pray for people besides themselves, like, for mother, for their father, for their husbands, for the children, for close friends, et al. I call women physically weak, so they are strong. Paradoxically, in their weakness lies their strength. Let me explain. Have we not heard of the ‘ sight-impaired’ having stronger senses of touch and sound? Its the universe’s balancing act. Or the ‘hearing impaired’ training themselves on lip reading? better than others? So you see their other senses are strengthened. Similarly, when women or slightly less stronger individuals find themselves unable to sort the complexities of the world all by themselves, they usually resort to prayers. Please don’t misinterpret me, am not saying that all those who pray are weak. Read my sentence as ” For when I am weak, then I am strong”. What this means is that when i see my boat sinking, and after trying to fight the storm in vain, I pray fervently to God, and Lo! my prayer is answered. So its about leaving to God, leaving to the universe at large, to do the justice, something that has gone beyond our capacity to handle. its actually our faith in God, the divine higher self, that actually brings about this wish fulfilment.

Everyone of us, experience this kind of miraculous wish fulfilment happening. The humble at heart accept this as an answer to their prayer, or miracle, or that they are blessed. While others may call themselves ‘just Lucky’. So now what happens when a sensitive soul prays for somebody beyond themselves and the prayer is answered. Firstly, this person is humbled and thankful. When this keeps happening again and again… mind you, this again and again prayer answering feat doesn’t happen to all. Some are chosen, just like someone is chosen and bestowed with a very high IQ level. He/She can easily secure 99% marks in examination, while others may work harder and not get there. So you see, just like a higher IQ, beautiful looks, astounding figure, creativity, outstanding talent in music, arts, et al. One is also gifted with sensitivity for others, others pains, woes etc. So when this kind of a person prays for others with feeling the pain as his own, then his unselfish prayer is answered. So then, after a couple of repetitions, this sensitive soul becomes confident. Chances of this sensitive person to become overwhelmed is higher.

The scales tip, when it is followed by adulation from needy people. Trust me, Its tough not to feel like God when you get that kind of adoration, admiration, adulation to the point of worship from a layman. Its just getting carried away by the frenzy crowd. The fame, the success gets to the head. This is a spiritual soul with low guidance.The first and foremost chapter of a spiritual person, should be humility, modesty. It takes the form of abnormality when this person starts behaving, dressing and feeling like GOD. Confidence is surmounted by over-confidence. Humility and modesty by self-bragging. prophesying, proclaiming and what not! And people hog all that, thronging towards cult worship.

The rate of cult worship is higher in India. I will not relate this to illiteracy or poverty, for herein the literate and the rich out number the lesser fortunate. It may be because the ritual form of worship is omni-present in our tradition. There are stronger familial values, restrictions, bonding, inhibitions et al making emotional life a lot more complicated and making people resort to prayers and rituals. The traditional values are spiritual to the point of being superstitious. In the west the outlook is quite independent, even where familial and friendly relations are concerned. You have the freedom to call  a spade… ‘spade’ and not beat around the bush to avoid hurting people. So the emotional quotient is well developed there. The people here are go-getters too, but tend to leave a lot on God, heaven above and so on for almost everything. That’s why this thronging of cult worship.

Coming back to the God woman, not all are overwhelmed souls. Period.

Some are schemers and con men(women), as lots of money is involved in this and others are a combination of both. First you are overwhelmed, then you become smart and start conning. Take your Pick!!

To put an end to all of this, it would be wonderful if we all understood, that each one of us can connect to God, the higher self. There is no need of a medium. The mantra is “Pray for others selflessly, with the same fervency, as you would for yourself”. This brings out the humility in you and eventually your prayers are heard. And all the spiritually gifted souls have a greater responsibility to train their mob, to believe in themselves rather than hooking them, hogging the lime light, swindling their money, misguiding them towards superstition, thereby making them weak.  Its their moral duty to tell their followers to be humble and help one another, forgive each other.  For in larger picture of life, lies the answer to smaller and greater problems.  Whew!! Its these self proclaimed masters who need some guidance now.