Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Poona Tatha

It's been a week of Trivandrum nostalgia for me. My write up on my childhood buddy Mahan brought up in conversation another article of mine from I had written in 2009. My maternal grandfather was P.K.Narayan, a pioneer in the Pune tyre retreading business. A towering personality,a man known for his sharp intellect and a life long learner, he was fondly called Poona Tatha by all the grandchildren. Once again set in the place - Trivandrum, where I spent my glorious childhood. This article was first written in my blog when he passed away. That blog is now defunct. My cousin whose write ups have been published in a Chicken Soup series said it has been written in "chicken soup style". Adding it here now.smile emotico I am adding it to my current blog 

Poona Tatha

My mother used to say:"Hurry up, He's leaving!". A little girl of eight, I would almost be in tears, wondering why my mother used to insist on me joining my grandfather on what seemed to be endless walks at an ungodly hour. Trivandrum was a fair sized place and my grandfather, affectionately called "Poona Tatha" by all the grandchildren, felt right at home in the capital city of his native state Kerala.

The name "Poona Tatha" stemmed from his location of residence, the city of Pune. He had chosen Pune to start his business of car tire retreading and build his home. Over the years, Tatha (grandfather) moved from Pune to Hosur, near Bangalore and back to Pune; but the name stayed. It was easier for each group of grandchildren to have grandparents named after their respective cities or places of residence for easy distinguishing from paternal sets of

Poona Tatha used to walk fast, not really checking to see if I could keep up. His stride was brisk and steady. My little feet would almost end up in a mini jog-walk pattern with an initial warm up period of 10 minutes before I could get fully awake and maintain a steady pace. He would call me "Pushpu Kutty" and always speak to me in Malayalam. I was extremely fluent, having moved to Trivandrum at an early age of five. He would tease me about my Trivandrum slang and chide me for my use of " Edo and Podo"- the Malayalam equivalent of "Man! and Whatever!" Having made his way to the main street of NH 47, a busy bustling highway, he would turn right or left and then ask me, " So which way do we go?". I now realise that he had always predetermined the route of our one hour morning walks and that the question was purely rhetoric. Then of course, I used to be thrilled at the simple prospect of being able to map out the course of our daily little adventure.

My grandfather was not just a fast walker, he was also a distractible one. Carried away by his enthusiasm for story telling and his mini historic elocutions, he would precariously walk at the edge of the sidewalk- a dangerous proposition, anyone familiar with the KSRTC (state transport)bus drivers would agree. I would tightly grip his hand and tug him towards the safety of the sidewalk trying hard not to interrupt his flow of thought. We must have been a odd couple-a funny picture - a little girl trying to veer a strong man in a crisp white veshti (dhoti) wearing a pair of well worn leather shoes who was forging ahead at a soldier's pace conquering the next step with a long brown walking stick. The stick just helped him keep his pace and I now realise why mother insisted on send me with him-she worried about him being run over by a bus!

The story telling was the best part of the walk, besides the impromptu biology lesson on the variety of plants and flowers found in such abundance at roadside and the gardens of various home along the way.He would talk about the British rule, how Cashew got it's name and of Parlikkad, his native village and how he moved to Pune. Everyday he would start with a new topic but almost always end up asking me the same question, "Do you know how Cashew got its name?". I would smile knowingly, but always answer with a no, just to be able to hear the story all over again. For a man with no more than a middle school education, Poona Tatha was an extremely knowledgeable man. Respect for the land, sustainable living and organic farming were not just buzz words for him-they were an integral part of his way of life.He would almost always fix anything broken, his touch would rejuvenate any wilted plant and he could hold extensive conversations with my father, a banker regarding the stalled economy and innovative business ideas for reviving it.

On a hot afternoons during the sticky brutal summers of Kerala, one could find my Grandfather pacing likely a mildly annoyed tiger-up and down the length of the house, complaining about the incredible humidity with a classic "Shedaa!"(OH!) in a very exasperated voice.We would always be amused when he would lay down on top of the dining table, in just a dhoti, in the middle of the living room to catch a rare draft in a effort to stay cool. His daily routine consisted of an ayurvedic self massage with "thailam". He would strip down to the bare minimum and rub his entire body with a heady concoction of various herbs mixed with oil. My sister and I would make faces, pretend to gag and complain whenever we got a whiff of the oils through the partly open door. Later on during my college years, the same smell would bring about a wave of nostalgia!

I watched my grandparents enter their senior years, saw them fight like little children and care for each other in days of sickness. Tatha learnt how to administer insulin shots to my grandmother and monitor various vital signs through the course of her struggle with diabetes. The strong man I knew seemed to have aged quite dramatically after my grandmothers passing. The years passed on, I moved to United States for graduate school, worked on my career and entered matrimony. My occasional calls to him or my visits to him in India always started with his endearing call of "Pushpu kutty" and ended up in long conversations in Malayalam-never missing an opportunity to reminisce about our Trivandrum days.
Up until 2 years ago at the ripe age of 90, despite having a difficult time recalling my husband's name or where I lived in the US , Poona Tatha could accurately recite in sequence all the little junctions and landmarks we would pass by on our 60 minute jaunts in Trivandrum.The memory of him pausing for a brief 2 minutes outside the Medical college in Ulloor-waiting for me to catch up, his ecstatic "Besh"(Well done!) and a pat on my back will always remain in my heart!

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