Last Monday on 28th of September, I was driving from Mangalore, the city of my birth to Bangalore, where I have lived now for over 28 years. I took a small detour from the usual road to visit a town called Puttur to visit my Ajja’s* house, I was going to that house after 35 years.
The house stood in the middle of a large compound. There were many fruit trees, there was a well, cow sheds..etc. In my memory, it was a big house in a big compound. As a child growing up in the 70s, I didn’t like visiting Ajja’s house. My brother Jayaram and my cousins were much older than me and moved away from Mangalore for their studies. So when I went there I had no one to play with. There weren’t any kids in the neighbourhood as well. Ajja’s house didn’t have a fan, so in the night I could hear all sorts of sounds which made me uncomfortable I could only sleep with a lullaby – the hum of the fan. When I walked in it didn’t seem that big. The frames of reference of a child were different I guess, memories stayed the same over the last four decades.
My Ajja, Parameshwara Shastri was a Sanskrit teacher, a tall man with a booming voice. He was a wonderful man with a great sense of humour. But when I was just 6 years old, Sometime in 1973, he suffered a stroke and was bed ridden. My grand mother had to look after him all by herself. Whenever we visited Puttur, he would call out for me. Unlike his other grand children he had hardly seen me. But I never went near him. I always stood by the door of the room where he lay and ran away. I wanted to go my home in Mangalore as soon as possible.
He died in 1975, the day national emergency was declared. I was 10 years old and remember that day and his cremation quite well. I think I stayed there for another two weeks with my mother till the last rights were done. I remember the priests chanting Garuda Purana**
There was a lot of animosity between one of my maternal uncles and other children of Ajja. Events during the his last rights and the disputes centered around the ownership of the house, made deeply negative impressions on my mind and I suffered nightmares for many years after that. There were no fond memories. So I had all but removed it from my conscious mind. I was happy when the house was sold many years later.
Earlier in October, I had taught a film making class at The One School Goa. One of my students, Vanmayi had done a 3 minute film on her impressions of her Ajja whom she had never met. The thought of visiting my Ajja’s house crept in around the same time. I wonder if her project had sub consciously influenced me to visit his house.
The current owners of the house are running a play school in one of the rooms of the house. It is the biggest room in the house and we used to call it well, ‘The Big Room’. There was an elderly lady, who warmly welcomed me. She was gracious, she allowed me to walk all over the house and photograph. I spent some time walking around, talking to her and continued with my journey to Bangalore. Much later I realised that though I went to all the rooms, I didn’t step into the room Ajja lay paralysed. I stood by the door, shot just one frame.
I thought of my visit as a cathartic experience, to let go of those old unfriendly childhood memories. I am not sure if that happened. I think I would need to spend longer time at Ajja’s house for that.
*Grand father – This blog is about my maternal grandfather
**The Garuda Purana is one of the eighteen Puranas which are part of the Hindu body of texts known as smriti. It is a Vaishnava purana; the epic is in the form of a conversation between Lord Vishnu and Garuda (King of Birds), primarily emphasizing the reason and meaning of human life. It contains details of life after death, funeral rites and the metaphysics of reincarnation, and therefore is recited as a part Antyesti (Antim Sanskar) or funeral rites (funeral liturgy) in Hinduism. The Padma Purana categorizes the Garuda Purana as a Sattva Purana (a purana which represents goodness and purity). The epic purana, which is considered to have been edited into its current form by Veda Vyāsa, speaks of different incarnations of Lord Vishnu, geographical description, origin of the universe, creation, procreation, genealogy of the gods and the journey of a soul after death. The Garuda Purana also talks about the origin and propagation of Garuda himself and describes different kinds of austerities, methods of worship, atonement for sin and divine & sacred mantras. (Wikipedia)