Of all the relatives who now stare down at me, from behind garlanded photographs, nailed on the walls of our ancestral home in Anadhikritapuram, the one I admired the most was a gentle giant who answered to the name of Pillai Uncle.
Almost six feet tall and well-built, as a young man he had wanted to become a professional wrestler. Unfortunately for him, he was good at his studies and much against his expectations, cleared the entrance exam of one of the best engineering colleges in the state. Once he completed his studies, he was selected by one of the top companies in the nation.
His bosses considered him as one of the most promising prospect’s for their organization’s future, but Uncle P had plans of his own. He was an active member of the local football, tennis and football club’s. He was happy with the lower level job’s, as they gave him free time and no responsibilities. Life was sailing along smoothly for Uncle P and then his parents decided to get him married.
Grandfather had ten children. The breakup of the ten was six boys and four girls. Bhavani aunty was the third child, and the eldest girl. Bhavani, was the name of a fiery personification of a Hindu Goddess. The name was also a war cry for warriors, as they charged down on their horses in the battle field. Bhavani aunty lived up to her name. For a brief period she had even taken over the management of the family affairs, after grandfather’s sudden death, as her elder brothers had jobs which they refused to quit.
Not used to taking instructions from a woman, the farm hands were a bit uncomfortable during her brief reign. This required a change in plans. The uncle next in line in the family tree was given the responsibility of managing the estate and arrangements were started for aunt’s marriage. She was twenty-two then and already too old in the marriage market.
Theirs was an arranged marriage, as was the norm then in well to do families. Uncle P and Aunty B together were the perfect example of a totally mismatched couple. While she was well-organized and systematic, Uncle was the epitome of chaos and confusion. He dedicated his life to doing the exact opposite to what ever his wife asked him to do. It was fun to watch them together, as long as you were not one of their kids. They had two boys.
Once day on returning from his morning walk, he saw an unused bottle of jam lying near the garbage can. His son informed him that aunty had thrown it out as it was way past the expiry date printed on its label. Uncle immediately returned with a spoon, sat down near the garbage can and polished off the entire bottle in one sitting!!
Then there was the time when one of our neighbors’s had bought a car. Aunty was complaining to her sisters that Uncle never took them anywhere. The very next day Uncle purchased an old car, in which instead of petrol he poured kerosene, the resultant combination was an exhaust fume which could have put any steam engine to shame. The entire village used to come out to watch this car run. In a way the audience was always welcome, as the car would die after the first few meters and then, extra pair of hands were required to push it back into the garage. Aunty refused to step into it after a few initial embarrassing journeys. The car was later sold off to a scrap metal dealer.
Both their boys joined the army while still in their late teens.
One of Uncle P’s son’s while on deputation in the hills of the north-east, fell for the charms of one of the local tribal girls. They was an interesting couple, neither spoke the others language, but then as they say love is blind or maybe it was deaf as well. In our village we arranged a reception for the two. Before the reception, as was the custom, Uncle and Aunty had to personally go to all our relatives and invite them.
In each of the homes they entered Uncle ensured that the very first words that he mentioned were,
“Did you know that the girl is not from our caste? Forget caste, she is not even from our state, or religion,” and he would laugh heartily.
Traditionally guests are served tea and snacks in our village like anywhere else. Irrespective of how hungry you are, you are also expected to nibble a bit and leave, thanking your host.
Not uncle P, he sat down at the table, took each plate of snacks and proceeded to polish it off before moving on to the next plate. By the time they returned home, Aunty was in tears.
“This man has humiliated me, I will never, ever, step outside this house with him again in my life,” she sobbed.
Uncle P seemed to have hardly heard her.
“Bhavanu, is there anything that I can eat? I am famished” was all that Uncle P’s replied.In the seventies, women in India did not beat their husbands, but that day Aunty B came very close to creating history.
He had come to my house in Mumbai once, some twenty years back. Both were then in their fifties. Age had not changed them a bit. It was like watching a TV comedy show without the canned laughter. Uncle P, went through all the sweets and biscuits stored in our house and then took me with him to buy more from the near by shops, all the while talking about a book on quantum physics that he was reading those days.
A couple of months later, one evening my father called me up with the news that Uncle P had died. The doctor said that it was due to brain hemorrhage. He was in his late fifties. At his funeral, Aunty B seemed to be in a state of shock. For a couple of days she did not speak to anyone. Then slowly she stopped recognizing people. Six months later she died of a massive heart attack.
I have heard of couple following each other to their graves, but I always thought that it was in cases where they were deeply in love, but then maybe there was more to it than what I had read into their relationship.