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It was a hassle for us to travel from our village to our grandparents’ place in our home village. We would need to take two transfers to get there because back then, the transportation was limited, especially between our village and the last transfer point to our home village, and there was no system to display the bus schedules on that route. Hence, we had to wait until our bus arrived as there were no other alternatives. I soon learned how waiting could make someone so tired without any physical effort. As a result I slept for more than an hour until we reached the central bus station at Anakapalle, a popular town that, among other things, held the second largest jaggery market in India. The frequency of buses from this station to our family’s home village was much better. I enjoyed the ninety minutes it took to reach our place while the wind blew on my face through the window as I watched the ongoing cultivation activities, children running behind their cattle and occasional local bazaars on the way. The localities on this route were quiet and there was lots of greenery and little to no pollution. I would wonder how long those trees took to grow that tall and thick on both the sides of the road. Additionally, the beauty of the travel on that route was enriched with the noisy and colorful colonies of birds on those trees especially the parrots were the most common and largest colony during those years.
We would get ourselves ready with our luggage in hand while the bus was still moving so as to not to miss the very brief halt of the bus when it arrived our native village. Often the drivers were very mean – they acted as if they were gods of the public transportation, leaving us annoyed by stopping the bus far away from the designated stop. We would then have to walk back with heavy luggage to our home. However, all these troubles would go away when we saw our grandparents. My grandfather would come running to us as soon as he saw us to help with our luggage. He was an industrious, courageous and gregarious man. He divided the front part of his home to accommodate a tea stall, also serving breakfast and quick snacks through the day. It was his main source of income apart from farming. His customers would assemble on the benches outside his stall on any given day to discuss current affairs and often they had intense quarrels over politics for long periods of time which earned him a few rivals as well. This unexpected rivalry brought a competition for his business in a form of another stall right opposite to his. He was affectionate towards us at the same time very aggressive verbally. He taught us how to lead a disciplined life by setting a good example.
My grandmother was a simple woman. She was religious and had the traditional big red dot worn on the center of her forehead, a nicely draped cotton saree without a blouse and she was always well-groomed. I would sit in a corner munching the snacks she gave us and observe her work quietly. Her day to day chores were associated with my grandfather’s activities – either it was an addition to his work or she continued tasks he started. She was the first person to wake up and started by quietly cleaning the house, then setting a heavy wooden churner to make the butter and buttermilk we consumed three times a day. She would make buttermilk by blending the curry leaves and salt, which I find very tasty. It was also my grandfather’s favourite drink. She would pack up a meal for him along with a small bottle of buttermilk and carry to the fields to do his farm work. She would serve hot and steamy authentic local dishes for lunch, cooked in clay pots on firewood stove before my grandfather finished his work at the stall, and then she would get the bed ready for his nap. She would sit next to him and fan gently while he ate and rested in the mid-day heat. She would then clean up after the cattle and feed them while he milked. At the end of the day, she would fill the bucket with warm water to bathe him, and fetch a new set of linens for him to wear. While she did all this work for the entire family, he would ensure there were no troubles for her from within and outside the home to carry on with her work. They would always respect each other. Maybe that is what one would call a bond of love and sharing of life together.
The day we arrived, my elder sisters, who lived with my grandparents, were very happy to see us and the reunion was joyous. I would keep asking my mother to take one of our sisters along with us, especially the eldest one as she took special care of me. I didn’t understand why they had to stay at my grandparents’ place when they could have been in the same school where my mother was working. On top of that, both of them had to walk three kilometers to school and the same distance back home. Well, now I see the reason: it wouldn’t have been easy for a widowed mother to take care of three growing girls without the support of our grandfather. I wasn’t sure how much my mother had spent that year on those pretty clothes as gifts to both of my elder sisters. They would become enthusiastic and make their plans to get the clothing tailored to match the latest fashions. New garments in our wardrobe was not a frequent sight for our family… no wonder they were so joyous.
After couple of weeks with our grandparents, we went back to our own home. It was within the same village, though until then I wasn’t aware we owned a part of that three divisional house. It would be another story to talk about this. The bedroom was full of cobwebs and the furniture was covered with dust as the house had been shut for a long time. My mother and sisters were took in charge to cleanup while I was exploring the house. I was intrigued by a huge wooden trunk left under the bed. I went to my mother and irritated her with inquiries about the trunk. She brushed me away, assigning me to help in cleanup chores. That night we spent there in our house was the first time in a long time the family slept all together under one roof. Although it was clean, the lingering stale smell of the closed room made it hard to fall asleep.
In the morning, I dragged my sisters to help me in pulling the trunk out from there. After few minutes of struggle, we managed to pull it out. However, the next task was how to open it as it was locked. My elder sister tried one of the unused key from the key-set and the trunk finally unlocked after trying various keys. My anxious sister opened the trunk and was disappointed to see the stuff. It has my father’s belongings. There were various books packed neatly in plastic bags kept organized on one side along with good quality white linen shirts, pants and dhotis, and a small yellow colored box of first aid kit with various Ayurvedic medicines for common illnesses which we kept with us for a long time. My mother told us that he used to treat common illnesses with over the counter available Ayurvedic medicines. But I was curious about the books and hoped there would be some storybooks, novels and magazines. I soon realized my knowledge wouldn’t be enough to read and understood any of those books as they were famous Puranas, Telugu literature, autobiographies, and a paperback book of high school English grammar and composition, along with a dictionary. I would remember these two English books especially because in later years I used them for some time in my studies… until someone stole them. Apart from these two books the rest were still a mystery to me – how could one read through so much poetry and old scripts in Telugu? I never did focus on studying Telugu language literature, so my father’s collection remained a mystery to me. Hence, I donated the books to our regional library.
The trunk didn’t bring us any monetary benefits, but it left a strong impression on me and helped me to develop a hobby of reading and collecting. In later years, when I moved from one place to another the majority of my belongings were just books, either those were directly related to my studies or my hobbies. It doesn’t matter whether it is a digital version or a paper version I would still carry or buy a book while I travel. The well maintained trunk was turned into a storage case for grain. It is a prominent sight at our home, and new visitors might wonder why we keep a plain old wooden box, but there are no rude guests to question us.
Next Episode: Tick tock, Tick tock..