Memories of childhood written by my mother, Shantha Bhat, in Kannada. My son,Aravinda and I translated it.
My earliest memories are of our one-room house in Harady. I must have been around five years old in 1946. The room was part of the ‘kottage’ of the main house. My parents, I and my sister Jaya lived there. My mother’s maternal uncles and their families lived there. We used to call them ‘doddamava’, ‘doddatte’, ‘puttu mava’ and ‘puttatte’. Doddatte’s mother also lived there. She was a widow and used to wear white saris. We called her ‘Bili ajji’. My grandmother was ‘kempu ajji’ because she wore a red sari as a mark of her widowhood. I don’t remember where she lived when we were in the small house. Later on she came to live with us. In another part of the kottage my mother’s grandfather lived with his mistress. I remember watching with my sister Jaya, with fascination, as he used leeches to purify his blood. One day I fell and hurt myself. Back then we did not use ‘English medicine’. My puttatte applied sugar powder on the wound. It healed but left a mark on my left temple.
In 1947, my father purchased a plot of land with a thatched house just above the kottage. My mother was pregnant with my brother Gopala. He was born in that house. Everyone was so excited that a son was born into the family.
Kempajji, whose real name was Mukambike, came to live with us there. She was my grandfather’s first wife. Even after a few years they did not have children so she got her niece married to her husband. The irony is after her husband’s second marriage she herself became pregnant. A daughter was born to them. I don’t remember my ajji. Unfortunately I do not remember her name. She died young leaving behind her two small children, my father and my aunt. They were brought up by Bobbe ajji. My father used to call her Doddabbe. (Abbe means mother) We children called her Bobbe ajji.
She was a very enterprising lady. In the months of March and April she would go to the homes of relatives, stay there through the summer and help them prepare Jackfruit happala. As a token of appreciation they would give her some of the happala to take back home. She was a medicine woman, which means she knew many country remedies for various illnesses. Her medicines died with her. There is a custom among us which is called ‘dhrishti tegeyuvudu’ which is a ritual to ward off ill effects that were thought to influence children. A piece of iron was heated in the fire. This red hot iron was dipped in water kept in bowl on the threshold (hosthilu). This bowl was moved thrice around the child’s head. Then the water was thrown away. I remember Bobbe ajji doing this for my brother Gopala.
One more lovely incident I remember is trying to hit her with a wooden stick when she had been away for a long time leaving me behind. I loved her very much and wanted to be with her always.
She was an expert in a board game called daabelu played with cowrie shells (kavade). She would go to the uncles’ house to play this game with three other people. One half of a coconut shell was polished to smoothness and placed upside down on the floor. The floor was divided into four houses with chalk. Each player would shake the six shells in their hands and drop them on the curved surface of the coconut shell. If the cowries fell the right way up, the player would win a certain number of points; if they fell the other way the number of points would be different. They would play this game after nightfall in the light of the oil lamp. I remember that they would be immersed in the game for hours together.
Board game photo from the internet.
Harady- name of a place in a small town in South India
Kottage- a small room or rooms adjacent to the main house
Doddamava – Elder uncle, Puttu mava- younger uncle, dodda atte -elder aunt, puttatte- younger aunt
Ajji – grandmother, Bili – white , Kempu- red
Happala- crispy fried preparations.
To be continued…