Ammchi, the best!
She was a short stout and bubbly woman. She and my appchi worked really hard in their farms and bought a piece of land. For years they constructed their dream home and that's where my amma lived. In those days it was so difficult to have a roof above one's head, both of them worked so hard and constructed a 3 floor building with 13 houses to rent out. That building stands till today and that's where my happiest days have been. Be it Diwali, Pongal, a long weekend from boarding or maybe just another Saturday - I preferred going there! My parents were kind enough to drive me 50 kms every time I asked to go to meet my ammchi and appchi.
I burnt my finger during Diwali there. I climbed up the asbestos sheet to find my shuttle cork and jumped from the top to fracture my foot. I sat in the water tank for 4 hours continuously to watch a spider spin a web. I played cricket for the first time there. I cried when I could not play carrom as well as my cousins there. I cheated every game of hide n seek in that compound. I has my favorite meals with my cousins sitting around my grandma watching the moon. She called it Nila choru. She would make balls of rice and hand each one to all of us and then we would eat together. Maybe that's why I hate to eat my meals alone. Meals are not meant to fill a stomach, maybe they are meant to bring a family together. My most memorable days are in that house and that compound. Every moment there was bliss. Grandma was always there.
Even in those days when she didn't have to work so much, she would wake up and leave to the farm by bus. She worked till her last day. She never missed a doctor's appointment. She would just leave home, take a bus and meet with the doctor. She preferred to do it alone.
My most wonderful memory of her is watching a movie with her. When the Rajinikanth blockbuster Padaiyappa came out, the whole Tamil world was all about this movie. As usual we all cousins watched the movie together and got back home. With all of us repeating dialogues from the movie, she came up to us and said she wanted to see the movie. No one volunteered to go with her, so I walked up and said I'd go along. In a theatre filled with Rajnikanth fans, the two of us sat in the middle seats and laughed together, cursed together and enjoyed together. To this date whenever I watch the movie on TV, I remember her reactions to every scene in the movie.
There was a time when all schools in Ooty made summer their academic start of the year which meant my cousins would have to go to school when I was on holiday. There was solid 2 months when I would wake up and dress quickly and go to the farm along with my grandma. Ammchi never let go of my hand. She would walk to the bus stand so quickly and I would keep my little pace quick to match her speed. She would pack lunch for us and we would have our lunch under the coconut trees feeling the breeze. It was 2 months spent well!
When I was doing my first year college in Chennai, she passed away in the hospital due to a rupture in her gall bladder. It was a long hospitalized tension filled wait for the family. Since I was in Chennai, I didn't get to be with my mother during this. I hadn't seen my ammchi or my mother. I knew I was old enough but the logistics just didn't work to get me there to see her in time. Since she was a married woman who passed away on a Friday, they wouldn't allow the family to keep my ammchi at home after 6pm. She arrived home from the hospital in an ice box at 4pm and left at 530pm. I wasn't there. There was no flight out that could take me to see her before 6pm. There was no train that could go faster than a flight. And the damn distance between Chennai and Coimbatore would never shorten for me. I cried my heart out into my pillow for not being there for my mother that night. More than that I wanted to see ammchi.
I did see her picture 4 days later. She was wearing a garland and smiling her usual way. I know it was in my head but I heard her call me 'Pragatha' so many times. I didn't shed a tear after that. She was still smiling. I loved her! She is my favorite grandparent!