Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.
The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.
Subbu set out from Agaramangudi early in the morning. He had been summoned by Natesa Iyer to Tiruchy. The letter had arrived the week before asking Subbu to come over since his father wanted to talk to him.
Subbu was now well into his late forties and yet feared the summons from the elderly patriarch. Being summoned by his father was normally not a pleasant experience. As in all traditional families no one ever defied the authority of an elderly patriarch. If you were questioned or told off you simply put your head down and listened to the elder authority figure.
He had a fair idea about what he had been summoned for. The monsoon harvest had failed and he had not been able to break even the investments. It was something he could explain if he was given a chance to explain. But his father would not listen to him. Or rather he would never be able to speak up in front of him. Normally if he had to ask his father or convey something, his mother would be the go-between to explain and reason out some decisions that needed to be taken in the running of the extended household.
Over the years all his brothers had got married and had set up their families. Two of them had moved over to Bombay where one of them worked as an accountant in one of the cotton mills in Mumbai and the other was in a government job as a lower division clerk with the post and telegraphs department. One more brother worked at the Accoutant nad Genreral's office in Madras and yet another one in Tiruchy.
Subbu and Susee would send through the railways parcel service sacks of home-grown rice and lentils every year after the harvest to Bombay, Madras and Tiruchy where the extended family lived. Their own children lived and went to school in Tiruchy. They were raised by their grandparents while their parents lived in Agaramangudi.
Susee missed watching her children grow and would be jealous of her co-sisters who were around for every occasion when indeed she should have been with her children. Those were not the days when you could have telephone conversations or email chats with loved ones who lived far away. Everytime her children came home for holidays she would pamper them and shower them with love and affection inorder to make up for the rest of the school term when they would be away in Tiruchy living with their grandparents and aunts and uncles. She consoled herself that it was in their best interests that they had to live away from their children. Because a good education she was told cannot be had in Agaramangudi. She herself grew up in Madras and knew the pain of adjusting into a village life after being exposed to the city life.
As if to make up for all the deprivation of her maternal instincts with her own children , she would be the mother to all the little boys studying next door at the Veda Pathashala. More often than not these were boys from poor Brahmin families who would send their sons to study Vedas from an early age. Studying at the Veda Pathashala was free of cost since it was run by the temple trust. In return for a free professional grooming to become a priest, the young boys would do chores in the running of the institution. They were subjected to a rigour and harsh discipline since it was believed that such an upbringing would stand them in good shape for a life time as a pious Brahmin priest.
Years later Jaanu would recall a middle aged priest in Mumbai fondly remembering Susee and how she would save him from the flogging that he would be subjected to when he and his friends would be caught stealing mangoes at the mango orchard. He would remember how Susee would prepare sweets and savouries for the boys during festivals when they were unable to go home to their families.
Susee had sent across some of the favourite home made sweets for her children along with a mango basket full of round ripe Rumani variety fresh from the mango orchard. By the time Subbu would arrive at the Tiruchy house and the sweets were distributed her own children she knew would hardly get a tiny share.
The extended family was now dispersed in various cities. Two of Subbu’s brothers lived and worked in Tiruchy.
Subbu was in for a surprise when he arrived at the Tiruchy house. His father had lost a lot of weight and looked frail and weak. The usual flamboyant gait and presence that he normally commanded around himself was missing. He was lying on a reclined chair in the balcony on the first floor of the Tiruchy house. Maalu, the favourite grandchild of the ailing patriarch was now a young pretty girl. She sat on the floor besides her grandfather’s reclined chair fanning him with a handmade fan made of coconut leaves.
Natesa Iyer was not keeping good health. The family doctor had been very inconclusive in his diagnosis of what the old patriarch could possibly be suffering from. He caught cold far too often. Repeated bouts of pneumonia attacks along with the acute congestion in the chest had left him weak and frail over the past few months.
Subbu stood with his hands folded in front of his father and enquired about his health. He then gave him a progress report of the losses and debt incurred after the previous crop failed and how he was planning repaying it with the good bumper crop that he was expecting from the mango season in the summer.
Natesa Iyer, lacking the usual sternness in the tone that he would have normally exhibited, asked Subbu to make sure that there was good money made from the harvest this year. It hardly sounded like a rebuke. Instead he went on to explain that his days in this world would soon come to an end and that he wanted to see his precious granddaughter married in a grand wedding ceremony before he passed away.
Maalu, irritated and furious with rage over her grandfather’s insistence on her marriage, got up, dropped the fan and walked away leaving her father and grandfather laughing at the antics of the shy little girl.
After Maalu walked away father and son were alone. He told him he had summoned Subbu because he wanted to write his will. He had probably sensed that his end was not very far. He said he would divide his property equally among his sons. As the eldest son who had toiled the fields and nurtured the family’s vast agricultural lands Subbu would bequeath Sri Lakshmi Nivas and one-fifth of all the lands that were owned by Natesa Iyer. His brothers would inherit the other properties that he had built in Tiruchy.
It had never occurred to Subbu that for all the investments he had made on the lands he would not inherit more than 20% of it. He was merely the trustee of the lands who had toiled and invested in them. As much as he had reaped the profits he had also incurred losses. The profits were shared with the extended family, but the losses were always his own.
He envied his brothers who acquired education and moved on to work in big towns and cities. He regretted the day he hesitated to jump off the train over the cauvery bridge and run away with Kittu. Had he moved on from Agaramangudi, perhaps he would have seen excitement, riches and luxury of the city life and been city bred man himself.
However he hardly complained. He knew it was blasphemous to speak about his fair share of inheritance in front of his father especially when he was ailing. Moreover he knew he owed the extended family just as much as he had given them a lot. They were the ones who nurtured and brought up his children in the town. It was in their care that his son and daughter grew up.
A few days later, before Subbu was going to leave for Agaramangudi, Natesa Iyer summoned him and said he wanted him to make a promise. A promise that he would carry out after his death, that was not written out in his will.
There was yet another person, he said who should inherit some of his wealth.