I am convinced that mankind is regressing generation after generation. I am a living example.
My thatha was a government employee, who used to proudly call himself “government servant”. I would ask what was great about being a servant.
Thatha and Patti used to live in Saidapet in Chennai. We would visit them during holidays and I remember the smell of rasam patti would make. I used to call it Madras Rasam and my mom never matched up to that aroma however hard she tried. And then she gave up.
When I was about 4 years old, thatha and patti moved in with us to Madurai after thatha retired from government servantship. He was keen that both his daughters be married off before he retired. He had ensured both his sons inherited a house each (allotted to government employees through HUDCO). And he managed his expenses out of his pension money.
Thatha was very well read and spoke impeccable English. He would read the The Hindu newspaper every day and I suspected he read every single page including Letter to the Editor. He would encourage us to read too. He used to script my speeches for elocution competitions. In a particular competition on “Man of the masses – M.G.Ramachandran” I remember thundering his words to a houseful of 8 year olds who didn’t understand much of what I spoke. The judges thought my English was sophisticated and that I spoke confidently. I was awarded the 1st prize.
Patti is a proud woman. She is 87 and continues to support herself out of the family pension she gets, a scheme introduced by Dr. M.G. Ramachandran – ex Chief Minister and rockstar of Tamilnadu politics.
Patti has a notebook full of yummy recipes written in her beautiful Tamil handwriting. All my cousins who cook in their marital homes have multiple copies of this book safely kept in their cupboards. What is super impressive is her sense of measurements. She would cook just the right amount of rice and sambhar irrespective of how many people were at home for lunch. The right mix of chilli powder to gingelly powder for the pickle would ensure her pickles tasted like none other.
Nothing is to be wasted. Not even a drop of water. We would store vessels of water that was used to wash vegetables and had to be re-used for washing our hair.
She would keep cash in her Sri Ramajayam notebook. She still writes Sri Ramajayam. Like a 108 times every day. She would keep a small vessel with water on a stool nearby. Whenever she drops asleep while writing, she would gingerly touch the water and rub it on her eyes.
Dad was a man of simple needs and small means. That he was born in the late 1940s, was married during the Emergency, built his assets through the ‘queueing up in front of the ration shop decade’ of the 1980s was enough reason for the way he thought of money.
I went to the best of schools in Madurai. Moving cities when I was about 8 was a painful transition for all of us. I am not aware if money was an issue. Mom always had enough to feed us, clothe us and get us little nice things. It was dad’s dream to be a lakh pati (owner of a lakh of rupees). He built a nice house in the piece of land he inherited and we lived a life that felt rich.
He never learnt to ride a bicycle. I would chaperon him to the bus stop in my brown Bajaj Sunny. It was our private dad and daughter conversation time.
He had his challenges at work. His health was a bit of concern. He was proud that I did well. He was glad I chose to study in a government college so he could save up the money for my marriage. He was counting on me to do well so I could share his burden over my sister’s education. He would have been very proud of my sister too, if he were around, for the way she is rocking today.
With money he was careful. There wasn’t a penny he owed anyone. He invested in land and gold. He bought stuff when he could afford it and not always when he wanted it. He kept money in post office. He dealt in cash always. He never owned much assets and left behind two smart and loving daughters for my mom.
If that regression is not enough, look at me. My husband and I married early and borrowed heavily to buy our house. After screwing up enough with credit cards, unnecessarily large expansive spends and random loans we have taken a while to stabilize.
Remembering our forefathers on this day - the Tamil Remembrance Day Aadi Perukku. Their souls are our guiding light; their lives our inspiration and lesson.