You must have learnt from the previous story, about Rati’s Ammama.
Married at nine and widowed at twenty-one.
Even in these modern times, being a widow, holds a subtle indignity and disgrace. During Ammama’s times, it was terrible to be a widow. A woman became a nonentity and a persona non grata when she loses her husband.
When Rati tells me about the oppression and drudgery of her grand mother’s early years, tears well up in my eyes.
Ammama worked as a cook, midwife and farm help to eke her livelihood never sacrificing her morality and or her respectability.
It was only after she got her daughter married, that her humdrum life took a turn for the better.
The young couple moved to Chennai, started a business and slowly began to prosper. They brought Ammama to live with them. Ammama’s eldest son was married by then and she was free to come and live with them.
Ammama”s life changed for ever. Once more.
In the city too, she stuck to her traditions and antiquity. This endeared her to the neighbours, relatives and friends. Her culinary skills and knowledge of medicines made her a household name. City bred people came to her for advice and she dispensed them with love and a smile.
People just loved her expertise. She was active and engaged, as her kai -vaithiyam (literally meaning hand-medicine) was much sought after and without side effects. She became a legend.
People would tell her all their maladies, from aches and pains, to flatulence and constipation. By just prescribing things from the kitchen or the grocery store, she able to alleviate their problems. Her post-natal herbal medicines and food (pathiyam) were therapeutic and much sought after.
Today people are monetizing their knowledge. But Ammama gave her advice eagerly and freely.
When Rati was born, Ammama was over the moon. The bond between them was very strong with Rati’s love for her grandmother bordering on idolatry and adulation.
The courage and strength that ran through Ammama’s veins, ran through her grand daughter’s too. The grandmother’s sage advice helped shape who R is today and also learn about their heritage and traditions.
Rati, her mother and grand-mother lived together in Chennai.
When asked about how she coped as a young widow in those regressive times, she would say philosophically, “the person who planted the tree, would water it also.”
After a long time, the lady found happiness. The sorrow of her early years were obliterated. She lived to be eighty three years old, secure in the love of her family and friends.
She was the queen of their hearts.
When she died, R was disconsolate.
About the Diamond ring that Ammama bought with her own earnings, it always shone in Rati’s mother’s ears as long as she lived. She would remove it only on the days she had an oil massage and a hair wash and would keep them safely in her cupboard.
That particular day, contrary to her custom, she had placed them in a crumbled piece of news paper and put it in the TV cabinet.
Later in the day, she had a massive heart attack and breathed her last.
When Rati remembered about the ear rings and searched for them, they were no where to be found.
The diamond rings were lost for ever.
Or so everyone thought .
The studs were lying in that cabinet for almost for two years. New maids had been employed and fired, men had come to paint the house, electrician, plumber, driver, you name them, they had all been in and out of their house.
But no one bothered to look at a small piece of crumbled news paper lying in the TV cabinet.
Not even Rati herself.
Two years later, Rati’s father sold their house and began shifting most of the furniture to a new location.
A worker who was cleaning the cabinet picked up the crumbled news paper and was about to toss it away. Curiosity made him smoothen it, to read the news.
He discovered the diamonds.
This particular person had been working in Rati’s dad’s business concern since childhood and had been indebted to her father for the numerous help he had received from him. He was not enticed to pocket the diamonds. The thought did not occur to him. Instead he returned them to Rati
Seeing the diamonds after two years, Rati was very much moved. She had heard about every disgrace, every pain her Ammama had gone through to buy them.
“If it had been any other worker who had first seen the diamond studs, he would have surely pocketed them and the prized jewels would have disappeared from our lives for ever, to be seen only in my mother’s photographs. Their whereabouts would have been one of those unsolved mysteries in our family history.” Rati says wonderingly. “It was surely divine intervention, that it was this honest man who found it.”
Now the diamond studs sparkle in Rati’s ears and she feels the presence of her grand mother close by her.
The studs are a reminder of a widow’s perseverance despite the adversities that life had tossed at her when very young. Rati is more proud of them than any other expensive piece of jewelry that she owns and Rati says proudly:
” They are more precious to me than the Kohinoor itself.”
Photo credit:Claudia Van Zyl, Luma pimentel on Unspalsh
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P.S. When I asked Rati, if I could retain her name in the story, she replied happily, “please do. I am proud to be her grand daughter.”