I was born in 1947, a couple of months before the tricolored flag proclaimed India’s independence. My father was twenty three and in his final year in the Mysore Medical College. My mother was fifteen. I was born in my maternal grandfather’s house in Secunderabad. They named me Chaya, after the Sun God’s wife, because I was born at sunrise. Chaya also means shadow and on the Indian railway platforms, a cup of hot tea!
The political scenario in Secunderabad, around that time, was volatile. The twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad had predominantly Muslim population and the Nizam wanted either an independent State or to merge with Pakistan. The Razakar movement – the uprising of the army of Nizam against Independent India, provoked police action resulting in breakdown of law and order. There were rumors of babies from both Hindu and Muslim communities being massacred. My grandfather, a leading advocate of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, sent me, under tight security, to Mysore. I was four months old. My grandparents (father’s parents) became my guardians till my eleventh year, when my parents moved from Secunderabad to Mysore.
All my childhood memories are linked to 43 Nazarbad, my grandparents’ house, where I grew up, along with my uncle Gopal and cousin Vasuki. They were both ten years older and bullied me a lot but also pampered me!! My grandfather (thatha) was my greatest friend and grandmother, a benevolent dictator. Everybody was afraid of her, even thatha. She was a meticulous home manager. Cleanliness was the motto of her regime. Up at the crack of dawn, she would milk Harini, our spotted cow and while the milk boiled, she would dust the entire kitchen, including all the containers on the shelf. It was then time to supervise the maid as she cleaned out the cow barn, garden and the rest of the house.
With my grandfather and dog Liberty
Talking of cows, Harini had her calf in our backyard. I was just seven and grandmother prohibited me from coming anywhere near. Curiosity drove me to a ‘porthole’ on the staircase, overlooking the backyard. I stood on a stool and peeped. What a glorious experience it was. Harini mooing while grandmother gently coaxed the tiny calf, Sudha into the world. Harini started licking her babe. I could never get over the thrill of seeing the birth of a new life. Years later, when our dog Tanya gave birth to puppies in our guest room, I made my sons Arjun and Anil, six and five years old, watch the miracle. I believe kids will have more value for life when they see the agony of a mother in labour! But, Tanya’s puppies, all four of them died as she slept with her paw protectively thrown on them. Tanya went berserk, running around the room, looking for her pups which we buried. I cannot help thinking of some parents who smother their children with two much love, not giving them enough breathing space to lead the life they want. Seeing Tanya’s agony, I decided never to keep a dog. Her mute suffering reflected in her weepy eyes, continue to haunt me.
My upbringing was more a commitment than a labour of love for grandmother. From braiding my long hair to giving me oil bath every Sunday to subjecting me to fortnightly stomach wash with cod-liver oil (ugh!) to nursing me to health after the usual chicken pox-mumps-measles, she never slackened her pace. I had no choice but to eat whatever she made. She was a great cook and took pride in feeding the family with the best. Looking back, I wonder how she managed that because thatha was an honest, retired government engineer with a modest pension. He owned very fertile land in a village close by and I remember how our store room was always piled high with rice. My cousins and I loved squatting on the ‘mountain’ of rice, as it was taken in a bullock cart to the rice mill or wherever, for ‘polishing’. We poured measures of rice grains on each other’s head like we were bathing and threw handful of rice at each other, like snowballs. Today, when I buy a handful of rice after paying a bagful of money, I recall those days of plenty, with anguish.