Before reading the post, you might want to know these:
Paati – Grandmother in Tamil
Thatha – Grandfather in Tamil
Papa – In Tamil Nadu, people call younger ones Papa in an endearing way. It means Baby.
Muzham – A unit of measurement. Flowers are sold in muzhams. 1 muzham=the length between the fist and elbow.
A few months back, I went to Palarivattom junction nearby to buy a flower garland. There were many flower sellers there and so I was on the lookout for the freshest flowers when I saw an old lady on the footpath.
She was very old. Too old not just for selling flowers, but for doing any work. I decided that I would buy it from her. Knowing that she was a Tamilian, I asked her in my broken Tamil.
“Hi Paati, how much does it cost?”
“Do you want it for Saami (God’s) photo?”
“Then you can take this papa. How much do you want?”
“How much does one muzham cost?”
“Alright Paati, give me for 100 Rs.”
As she was measuring it with her fragile hands, I fished my purse for the money.
“Paati! Paati! Wait! Take only 4 muzhams. I have only Rs. 80.”
“It is ok papa, take 5 muzham and give me the balance whenever you come.”
“No Paati. I can’t take that.”
“It is ok maa, take it. Give it to me some other time.”
“Will you be here daily?”
She put the garland in a cover and handed it to me, “No. I come only on Sundays.”
“Where are you from?”
“I am from Coimbatore”
“You travel all the way from Coimbatore?”
“Yes maa. I take the 5am train, get down at North station and come here. I sell the flowers and I return by the 10pm train. I reach there by 4 am, freshen up and then go about my day’s work.”
“Where is Thatha?”
“Thatha is there. He is unwell. So I have to work.”
My heart went out to her. I did not want to ask her about her children. I didn’t want to learn that they were somewhere far and not taking care of them.
“Ok Paati. I’m leaving now. I’ll come back with the balance money next week. Will you be sitting at this very place?”
“Somewhere around here papa. Sometimes the other side, or opposite.”
“Ok Paati. Bye.”
I couldn’t put her away from my mind. I promised myself that I would visit her the next week. But I couldn’t. Later, I returned a couple of times. But couldn’t find her. On enquiring to the shops nearby, they asked me, “A very old couple? A Grandma and Grandpa. You asking about them?”
“No. It was just the Grandma.”
“We don’t know.”
Later, I thought that maybe they used to come together until Thatha fell ill. That pained me all the more. I was worried that I may not see her again. I felt guilty for not going the very next Sunday.
However, last Sunday, I happened to pass by Palarivattom and I saw her dozing off in the furious heat. I parked my two wheeler and went to her. I was relieved to see her, at the same time, I felt terrible to see her struggle so much.
“Paati! Do you remember me?”
“Of course I remember you! How can I not remember? Do you want flowers?”
“Yes Paati! Give me for 100 Rs. Also, if you remember, I owe you a 20 Rs. How come I didn’t see you for a while?”
“I was here Papa. I don’t know why you didn’t find me.”
As we were speaking, I told her,
“Paati! I have a Paati just like you at home.”
“That explains your love. You might remember your Paati when you see me.” she reasoned.
Suddenly, a passerby stopped and, “How much does this cost?”
“Rs. 30”, the lady walked away without saying anything.
“Maa! Maa! Come back Maa. Listen to me. Come back Maa. Maaa! Maa”, she was literally begging and screaming out for her. But the lady kept walking away and I wondered how many times I must have done this to street vendors.
We spoke for some more time and then I don’t know what led to the topic but,
“Two of my sons passed away Papa. It has just been a year since one son died. They were nice boys. Nice people, just like you. But they had to leave me.”
I had nothing to say. It explained everything. Or so I thought and I had to distract her. So,
“Paati! How is Thatha?”
“Thatha passed away 4 months back Maa.”
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t bear it. That explained why she was missing.
“I had lots of expenses during that time. I had to borrow some money. Now my debt is close to 50000Rs and I’m working so that I can repay little by little. I also come on Thursdays to Thevara. There is a beautiful Sai Baba temple there. You have to come there papa. It is so beautiful.”
“Is it? I didn’t know. I will definitely come Paati. Can I have your number Paati?”
“I don’t have a phone maa. Can you do me a favour? if you have an old phone, can you give it to me?”
I told her that I would try arranging a phone for her.
“My blessings are with you Maa. There are so many lovely kids like you. The other day I went to a huge hospital to get my eyes tested. I didn’t have any money Maa and there were 2 girls. Lovely girls just like you. Very caring. They said it is alright, I don’t have to pay. They gave me the chit and asked me to go to the bigger hospital to get my glasses. But I went there and they told me it was expensive. I did not buy them.”
I asked her if she had the prescription and details. She had them at home. I soon said goodbye and,
“Papa, don’t forget the phone. ”
“No Paati, I wont.”
“Ok maa my blessings are with you.”
I was returning from meeting a friend that day when I saw her sitting at that very place and dozing. The sun was at its peak. My insides were screaming out of desperation. I bought her a lime juice and she was happy. Just before leaving, I asked if I could get a snap with her and she agreed.
That explains the snap with her.