A Tall, dusky, beautiful and a hardworking woman! That is the impression I’ve always had of  my maternal grandmother in my mind. She radiated a certain kind of positive effervescence and confidence. A bundle of energy, active to the core. There wasn’t a  dull moment in her packed day ever.  She would always be on her feet throughout the day. Kantavva as she was known to us, was an inspiration to many in the town. They considered her a  perfect example of familial bonding link, loving and assertive, yet with discreet authority. Married at a very young age, she toiled hard in the saree business. From a normal tin roof house, she went on to build a huge country bungalow with 14 rooms, fully equipped with three kitchens with a spacious prangana. Nine children were born in quick succession. She moved on quickly from the loss of two bundles of joy. My mother was the eldest of seven children and lended Avva a helping hand in tending the babies  when  she was busy with business and housework. Grandpa was more of a scholar, immersed in social or spiritual work; thus he couldn’t spare time for house hold chores. He loved reading  the great epics such as Ramayana and Mahabarata to us kids in the afternoon. On the other hand, we kids  were given small tasks by Grandma like chopping tons of raw mangoes for Avakaya thokku or peeling out the tamarind seeds from the ripe pods. Imagine the little battalion of naughty kids from seven siblings during the summer holidays.

We used to go to our  hometown  Armoor in Telangana, famous for its Siddula Gutta (Shiva temple) atop the nine rocky boulder hillocks; encircling the town. The named derived from Aru (six) and Muru (three).

Business Tycoon

Kantavva had been in the textile industry for many years and was known for her acute business  acumen. I still wonder  how she managed her household work and business so efficiently?  By eleven in the morning, she would go out for business, after having prepared lunch for the big family.

She used to heave a bulky bundle of clothes on to the shoulder.This bundle of clothes would amount thirty kilo plus pay Load. I would walk along with her from the prangana till the main door. The clacking of the Kolhapuri leather chappals and the jingle of silver “Kadialoo” (hollow ankle rings with bells) which would send out pleasing signals that Grand Ajji is going out. Her trade mark ‘Bottu’, the tilak on the forehead used to compete the rupee coin in size and shape. Perfect round like a full moon. The crisp cotton printed sarees used to add the extra touch to her charm. The ear lobes were adorned with golden ‘Ghenteelu’ studded with precious stones.  She was just forty and yet a  perfect combination of beauty plus brains.. From the main door, after getting a peck, I used to wait for the moment when she would shift the bundle on to the head after walking a distance of fifty metres. The walk and poise with such a grace would put the best ramp models to shame. Smile on the face, she used to acknowledge people who knew her so well. When she normally returned around 5,  she would be full of smiles despite toiling hard the whole day. Her pallu had an adour which I always craved for it was filled with love and affection; sprayed with sweat, kid’s saliva, Susu or leftover food crumbs etc.  She would get ready for the dinner Mise-en place. It still amazes me of the incredible strength and stamina she had, going about her duties so effortlessly.

“Venu baba, go with your grandpa to the fish market and  help him to clean the 6 kgs “ She told me one evening. “Yes Avva, sure; wow I would get my thali sized pappadam from the cart along with those fancy finger Nallis. I trotted along holding his little finger while he held his white dhoti end. After the fish purchase, he kept me on guard outside the toddy close by. After having a long swig, wiping his grey moustache of the toddy droplets, came out with a large papadam and a cotton candy.” Not a word of this to Grandma, or else the roof will come down, now eat this”. But invariably she used to catch him at the first glance of his sheepish nods and murmurs when he came close to her. Avva had a sense of intuition which I just couldn’t fathom ever. Nothing could escape her, be it my aunts  smoking slyly, eyeing the neighbour lad, or even using us as a messengers for sundry jobs.  Since there was no WhatsApp  in those  days. They had to do with a  bit of scribbles, signed off stealthily in a hurry. A real party every evening daily. The huge circle of kids at the prangana, gorging on the mounds of rice and koramatta chaaru (murrel fish curry) was a sight to behold. The laughter and screaming still ringing in my ears even after decades.

Saturday afternoons were the routine accounting sessions  in the shop room with Avva.  That’s when I got a  break from reading the hold scriptures with Tata. We were included in  various activities like stock taking, book keeping, counting cash etc.She never went to school, but I’m sure a well qualified CA and MBA would be of no match to her. Her mental cancellations were unbelievable, just at the tip of the tongue. I would be laboriously be punching the figures on the calculator. Before I would get the sum total on the screen, she would rattle out the amount. Another technic which still lingers to this day is her system of measuring cloth. The Thaan (ream of long cloth) had to be measured while stock taking. She would pull out the start point of the  roll and place against the tip of her nose and release the cloth till the end of her hand. She would mark it and say, now cut this one metre. I would have my own doubts, wait ma, I want to measure it with the steel metre rod. Oh that’s for the customers to check in case they have any apprehensions, but do give it a try. I would measure it with the wicked glee of proving her wrong; but to my dismay, the length would be always a perfect metre, neither an inch less or more.

Mumbai Meri Jaan

I saw Mumbai first with her, she used to go on business trips so often. We arrived at the grand VT station in the morning by Manmad express. It was fun to travel in the ladies’ compartment, all aunties pampering with lots of eats. The thrill of seeing the charcoal engine, sticking my face near the window was exhilarating. There were curious funny smiles seeing my face covered with black soot. We had to wait in the station for a couple of hours for some reason, may the shops would open only at 11am. I saw my Gran cat napping and took that chance of exploring the surroundings, awed with the big station. It was thrilling to see so many people at one place!! I must have been a sight, a little boy with huge black curls and a poky face. In smudged white shorts with wide eyes loitering around. He quietly caught my hand, softly threatening to stay quiet and calmly walk along with him. He showed a knife hidden in his pocket. I went jelly. Oh God, what have I got into, what will Avva think of me. I resisted, so he pinched hard, felt the blood oozing. Gosh, this kind of thing never happened! He was smiling and patting with his other hand, lest passers-by get suspicious. I held my ground, no way I was going to yield. Big boy that I was, all of 7 years. The tug of war went on for few minutes. I threatened to shout if he doesn’t let go. He gave another wicked smiley look, I screamed. “Bachao, yah aadmi mujhe mar raha hai” (He is beating me)

She scooped me into her hands like a vulture and flung on to her strong back like a Jhansi ke Rani. Turning to him, gave a resounding slap. People stopped in their tracks. He ran for his life. Leisurely she then put me down giving that ‘loving look’. Those days there were no diapers, damn.

We reached the kapda baazar, a string of huge whole sale textile shops with savvy wealthy owners, their assistants scurrying around. Amazing activity all around. Mumbai at its best, never a moment’s pause. We were received by the owner with folded hands “Nameste, Kantamma Madame, please come in and hello to your curly boy”. I was sure impressed with my Avva, business like and friendly smile. The selection and bargaining / finalisation went effortlessly for the whole day along with her fluent Hindi bargaining skills. She counted those old broad hundred rupee notes like a counting machine, performing quick mental calculations. The men struggled to keep pace with their calculators. It was a sight to see her in action. That impression and lessons learnt were a good start point even to this day. Sumptuous Marwari food for lunch. Deals done, ordering the goods to courier. We took the night train back. Eventless and blissful berth sleep hugging my Gran.

Night Robber

Fast forward fifteen years, all the grand kids got busy with the careers, her seven own children spread out further. No more summer vacations to native place. End of a golden era. It was an  empty nest for Avva. Grand pa passed away peacefully, one day while chewing sugar cane on a rocking chair after lunch. He just took a hurried hiccup and lo, next minute, a massive stroke. Gone in a flash. All alone in the big house, she had too much pride to stay with the sons and adjust to their life styles. No way for a Lioness. She took few tenants on the ground floor rooms, more for company rather than monetary benefits. One night, she heard a rustling sound around 2 am near the prangana. Her mind raced, could it an animal or an intruder? She moved to the shop room, saw it secure, lock untouched. After few minutes, the Pooja room door clicked open. There he was, with a menacing corona mask hiding there. She tiptoed up to him and held him by the scruff of his neck, shaking him violently. Caught unawares, he tried to wring out of her strong grasp and  take an attacking position against her . However, she pinned him for few more minutes trying to buy some time while calling out for help. The tenants were calling out from the prangana, trying to get her attention, that distracted her for a moment and let go off the grip. The next minute, she saw him lunging towards  her with a knife. What happened next was amazing . She caught the long blade with her hand, cried out loud, but held that position steady. Blood dripping from her hands. The thief was totally baffled at the old lady’s courage and strength. He let go and ran for his life…She stood still there like a statue with the blood smeared knife in her hand . These were some snippets of my experiences with my Bold,Beautiful and Brave Avva


Venu Rao

18th June 2020

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