My Most Memorable Childhood Experiences are with Thatha

They say maternal grandparents are more involved with the grand kids than the fraternal side grandparents. That statement is not entirely true. I have seen both sides rock it with their heavy involvement with shaping the lives of their grand kids.

My paternal side grandparents loved me. But, they weren’t heavily involved. My maternal side grandma had passed away when my mom was still a child. So, the grandparent who was very involved in my life and upbringing was my maternal side grandpa.

I called him Thatha. Thatha called me Chhayi. I think somebody (I still don’t know who it was) that he adored was called Chhaya Devi or something like that.

Thatha was tall, dark and handsome. He was what was called a Muncip (sort of a loss form on a Mayor) for a village called Ponneri. He also farmed (mostly paddy) for a living.

My most memorable childhood experiences are with Thatha.
Somewhere in the corner of my brain all the memories are still vivid. The white sand that formed the roads of Ponneri, the fresh green paddy fields, the tall palm trees, the pump set.

Thatha would put me near the pump set (where the water gushed out like it would from a fire hydrant). He would scrub me with Mysore Sandalwood Soap. The hot summer days and cold water from the pump set where the perfect combination for a gleeful little tomboyish girl who had collected every possible dirt from playing on the streets.

During the summer nights, I rested my head on Thatha’s shoulders as we laid beside each other on what was a called a kayir kattil (a make shift bed made out of wood and rope). We looked up at the starry night. He told me stories of his youth. How he had lost his lands because people had swindled him out of his own property after he had been orphaned. How he had worked hard and bought it all back. How his lost wife was very special to him.

He also told me about what entertainment meant to him. During his childhood, he had seen and heard theru kotthu (street side story telling…usually performed by artists who are elaborately dressed).

When I lost him in summer of 1991, I lost a big part of myself. However, I have often felt that he has protected me during ups and downs. During my CA days, I could have gotten into accidents on the notorious I-680/880 roadways that I had to commute on every day of the week. On many occasions, I felt Thatha had literally pushed away a car that was going to ram against my car. His hand and his love was in plain sight for me to see. It is hard to explain these experiences. The only way you’ll understand it is if you have experienced it yourself.

Whenever the boys do Silambam, I know it is their great-granpda’s genes at play.

Anyways, to end with the story, I am confident Thatha was hanging out with me at Austin Tamil Sangam Program this weekend. Why? Because, Bala and Balaji brought Thatha’s favorite entertainment (theru kotthu) alive in front of my eyes. They performed a piece from Virumandi movie. The drums, the voices, the energy in the room….was completely mind blowing.

Thatha (TVS – Thiruvengadapora Verrakutty Subramaniam) would have been awfully proud of Bala and Balaji.
I won’t still their thunder. So, here is the video.

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