A gift for Amma
It used to be the easiest thing in the world to buy my grandmother a birthday present. Better still, it used to be a whole lot of fun, involving quite a bit of imaginative thinking and much friendly competition amongst her grandchildren.
At 72, she was Everyman`s grandma, petite of frame, wrinkled and smelling sweetly of Cuticura talcum powder. But there the comparison, the generalisation, stopped.
Beyond that, she was our very own Amma, special, unique. Nicknamed `Palghat Rose` for her striking beauty when in her twenties, half a century had only added character without, in any way, diminishing her distinctive looks.
She spoke English with a faint rolling of the Rs, a result of her early education at the hands of a British governess. She tempered the traditional wisdom granted to all grandmothers with sharp intelligence and a dry wit all her own. She was, in every way possible, a lady.
So, Amma`s birthday invariably threw all of us into a tizzy, a joyful kind of tizzy. What does one get someone who has nearly everything?
No glassware, it would invariably pale beside her collection of Belgian fluted glass. Not another set of scalloped table linen, she got that last year. And the scented soaps from the year before were yet to run out.
After some rumination, we would head to the nearest bookstore, the only one in town then, go straight to the Westerns or Historical Romances section, and hit paydirt. Amma`s collection of Oliver Strange, Georgette Heyers and bodice-rippers from another age was a constant source of joy for her grandchildren, but for all the wrong reasons. On rainy afternoons, we would gather around a chosen (male) cousin who would read out excerpts from a Barbara Cartland book in a shrill falsetto, to the accompaniment of whoops from the gathering.
Amma loved footwear and those of us who lived in the north of the country would vie to get her the dainty, twin-strapped sandals from Delhi she simply adored. Just as we lovingly added to her pile of soft, pastel, hand-knit cardigans which she would wear over her cream with thin zari-bordered mundu set, with slippers and handbag to match!
Of course, one sort of a gift remained a perennial favourite: books, novels, non-fiction and coffee table books. Tapestries of a religious nature to be placed in a burgeoning pooja room were another go-to. For a long while, music was not on this list; there was no player in Amma`s house, only an ancient radio. The day Amma acquired a sleek two-in-one, we raided the cassette shops for all the works of MS Subbulakshmi and K J Yesudas.
That was only as far back as eight years ago but the intervening years have been cruel to my frail, delicate grandmother. Her health gave way first, then the moorings of her mind and memory. Like time and tide, the depredations of old age too, wait for none.
This year, for her eighty-first birthday, most of the gifts Amma got were sturdy bedsheets and sets of serviceable white mundus.