With her passing all the immediate brothers and sisters on my father’s side have moved on. My mother perhaps is the most severely affected but I too feel the pain of the realization that an entire generation on my father’s side is no longer with us.
My Athai as we used to call her was very close to my mother as indeed she was to all of us. She represents to me a symbol of an era which perhaps will not return. It takes me back to a time when the post card ruled supreme and there was a value in the written word.
I still remember my father setting aside time each week to attend to the post acknowledging each letter with the date of its writing and the date of it post mark as well as receipt. It was their way of evaluating the postal service and identifying the letter box which was cleared soonest. (I still recollect the admonition I felt when I received a reply stating that he had received mine of the 5th posted on the 8th and received on 12th!). It was a time when telegrams were dreaded as they either brought very good news or ill tidings. It was a time when the ringing of the black telephone in the hall was the trunk call from a loved one to announce their safe arrival or to share a joy or a sorrow. It was a time when letter writing on post card or an inland was an art in which the maximum news would be crammed into a single piece of stationery including the flaps and folds of the inland. It was a time when the evening dinner was where the family met to discuss the day and where we all ate together.
It was a time when the 9’O clock news was our gateway to the outside world and the radio our trusted companion. The radio used to be crowing glory of the living room housed in a large wooden cabinet with bright shining lights and connected to the gramophone record player. The two together occupied half our living room! Annual journeys to my granny’s place where al the ladies would gather to make pickles, poppadums and chutneys for the year and we kids would have a ball getting in every ones’ way. Train journeys meant packing all the beds into a “hold all” and a time when all the food for the journey was cooked from home. Relationships were so important that if you were passing through a town by train and the train stopped there for 20 minutes, a friend or relative who lived there would be there on the platform with a “Tiffin Carrier” full of hot homely food flavoured with all the local gossip.
A time when fathers and uncles ruled with an iron hand and discipline was the buzzword. A time when people like my Athai were our connect with the older generation and their connect with us. My Athai was from an earlier generation but joined our team. She was most at home in large family gatherings and her zest for life and fun was infectious. She was the life of all marriages and get-togethers and it is a strange feeling that she will not be with us anymore
She belonged to an era when the extended family was paramount and all did their best to help and share. (I doubt if I am able to do as much in my little nuclear family as my father did with his extended one which included 10 siblings on my mother’s side and 5 on his side). It was a time when letters from a loved one were meant to be read and reread and kept under the pillow until the next one came. Even when it did it was still carefully preserved and quoted. I always thought that it was the older generation’s way of keeping tabs on us till I saw how my letters, greeting cards for Diwali and new years, wedding anniversaries and birthdays and notes from hostel and work on my first job had been carefully preserved by my father when I went through his papers on his death. The pleasure I get in reading and rereading some of them cannot be described in words.
There is so much we can do for them and so little we actually do caught up as we are in the mayhem of our daily routine. The passing of a loved one is just a gentle reminder of how much more we could do. As the baton passes from one generation to another I am left wondering if we can pass on even a fraction of what we received to our next generation.