A relaxed and a fresh mind paves way for the words to flow from a writer. And what better time one can get to write a planned article other than Saturday night, if one has relaxed the whole day and look forward for a lazy Sunday ahead. If I write something unplanned and out of instinct, I do not need a Saturday night. With all the ugly events in the name of nationalism or anti-nationalism in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and that which took place in the name of caste in Hyderabad University (death of a Dalit student Rohit Venmula), it is natural to wonder where our country is headed. With the words like sedition, jingoism, caste, anti-nationalism looming over us like demons, it is understandable that if we want to voice our opinion, people like me will think twice before putting down in words out of fear that it might offend somebody who may read these lines. Among all these depressing events, one incident which brought me to tears is the death of a private employee Harish Nanjappa in Bengaluru. Last week, he was hit by a truck when he was riding his bike, and his body was cut into half under the monstrous wheels of the truck. Even in his dying moments, he requested his organs to be donated!! Can anyone of us imagine ourselves in that situation and thinking about organ donation? As his organs were badly damaged, only his eyes could be donated. I wish that any street, hospital or any organ donation institution to be named after him so that he is never forgotten. He was just 26!
Well, talking about the age of 26, I had a maternal aunt who passed away at that age. She was younger to my mom, and when she died, I was too young to even understand the concept of death! Naturally, I have few memories of her, though powerful ones. Because she keeps living in my mind even today, I feel the following words will flow out easily. Many of us will have some or other close family member who died early or disappeared and continue to remain a curiosity. I have not seen my paternal grand parents because they were dead before I was born. We do not have a photo of my dad's mom and so I do not know how she looked like! Well, my aunt whose name was Lakshmi, was different in all ways compared to rest of my mom's siblings and parents. She was born in the year 1954 in Trichy (Tamil Nadu), while rest of the members were all born in the years ending in zero, ie. 1930, 1960, 1970 etc. She was already an odd 'woman' out in that way. From the time I remember, she was known to me as 'Lakshmi chithi-Delhi (chithi-mother's younger sister), as she was staying in Delhi. My grandpa is a strict disciplinarian and very protective about his daughters (that includes my mom and other maternal aunt), but he had more faith in this aunt and believed that she is bold enough to survive anywhere. 1970s-80s were years when women in India considered themselves great if they finished graduation, let alone going for a job. Yep, there were women who have started plunging into careers to carve a niche for themselves, but they were still far and few, and of course, marriage was the topmost priority. My mom and my two aunts were all graduates, and if my mom had tried a little more she would have got into a promising Bank job. Now, coming back to this Lakshmi aunt, she was described as intelligent, outgoing and a strong personality. When she was doing her graduation in Govt Women's College in Trivandrum, my grandpa, who was working in BSNL, got transferred to Chennai and so she had to move to hostel to stay back and complete her degree. I have not stayed in any hostel throughout my life and I do not know what it is like to stay in a hostel.
Lakshmi aunt (Lakshmi chithi)
She had good proficiency in English language as her letters showed. Once she finished graduation, she applied and appeared for the Assistant grade exam conducted by Staff Selection Commission of UPSC. Assistant's grade exams are conducted for recruiting in the middle level cadre, and if he/she is selected, they are posted in various establishments and offices of Indian Government. She passed the exam and got selected as an assistant(Supervisory grade) in the Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service, New Delhi. To give the idea of what this position is, if anybody passed the clerical examination and got into the Central Government, it would have taken 10-15 years to reach my aunt's starting position. She had to stay in a YWCA hostel in New Delhi to go to office. She worked from the years 1975-80, until her illness got better of her. Because death approached her much early, we can only make lot of assumptions. Had she continued in her career, she would have risen and reached the post of Undersecretary before she retired. Undersecretary post in India is 5 levels below the Secretary of India. It is one of the topmost posts anybody dreams of getting into. Well, our family could not see her as a married woman, career woman.
According to my grandpa, she could not bear the extreme weather conditions of Delhi and that maybe the reason she was struck with meningitis or brain fever. When she was 3 years old, she was struck with the deadly small pox and managed to escape from that to survive for few more years. As the brain fever attacked her, she started blabbering and she was shown to a neurologist in Chennai who diagnosed the disease. The doctors advised that if brain operation was done, there were more chances of recovery. The operation was, of course, done but it did not save her life. She passed away in the hospital itself.
My memories about my aunt are very less. Her appearance was different from my mom and my other aunt. I have vague memories of her feeding me snacks, and taking me out somewhere when I was in Chennai during the holidays. We all had gone to Gandhi Mandapa in Adyar, Chennai. She always enquired about myself and my sister through her letters. She had gifted us both with nice and cute pink dresses. I remember vividly those dresses that we wore and the moments captured in the camera. My sister was very small and looked very cute in the pink dress. Had Lakshmi chithi lived, she would have shown lot more affection and gifted us more things. My grandpa described some incidents about her when she was a child. He narrated to me one incident in which there was a drug addict in the YWCA hostel in Delhi who was staying with her and wore by mistake my aunt's dress and disappeared. The image of her which I can never forget is when she was lying in the hospital bed wearing a white shirt and a piece of cloth below. We travelled from Trivandrum to Chennai by train run by steam engines, and from the railway station, we straight away went to hospital to see her. When we got to see her, I remember that she was staring blankly at us. My grandma was standing beside the bed and pointing to my dad, she asked my bedridden aunt who that was. She did not answer anything for a longtime. At the end she told my dad was chithappa (younger dad), when actually my dad was brother-in-law to her. My grandma again asked her questions and she did not answer anything. That was the last time I remember seeing her. Those days, we did not own a phone and our grandpa used to make trunk call to our neighbor's house. That one day still etched in my memory. My dad went there to attend my grandpa's phone call and he gave us the bad news. I still remember my mom crying a lot with my sister and myself on her lap. I was too small to understand what was going on, but to this day, I remember those moments clearly. My mom tells me even today that after her death, my grandpa burnt all of my aunt's letters. Had she lived on, she would have either become a great career woman or a great mom or both. She would have been an inspiration for all of us. With her death, we lost one branch of our family. My mom still managed to preserve a couple of her letters written from Delhi. I have read those letters many times over. She has described beautifully the acting of Rekha and her appearance in two plaits in the Hindi film Khubsoorat. I would like to share with you a letter written by her.
Below is the 3rd page of the same letter.
My grandpa's letter (below) to my mom describing his helplessness and sleepless nights during that time.
Thanks to my parents and grandparents for the input and materials.
P.S- I started this page on Saturday, hoped to complete that day itself but couldn't. So I am publishing this today.