” Oor anna “- literally translated as the brother from downtown , was indeed young for all. The title , given to him by his sisters in the early 1900s, stuck on . Such was the unexplainable beauty in the complexities of a large joint family.
Going by size or grandeur the single storeyed bungalow built in 1940s Madras suburb did not stand apart from other houses in its neighbourhood. But the warmth exuded by over 50 members of the household, made ‘Sri Prahlad’ a towering landmark in the lives of many who grew up there.
The doors to the house remained open all day long. The laughter of children playing hide and seek ,and in the many years that followed of their children doing the same, always rang loud and clear. Over umpteen tumblers of hot coffee and steaming tiffin the house welcomed daughters, sons, neighbours and friends with equal splendour.
Oor anna , and Oor amma presided over their guest’s hospitality , often rubbing the backs of the youngest with maternal warmth. Post brunch,the grand old man, would recline on his chair or swing . Often an erroneous six would land a ball on his lap. The seeker would cautiously approach Thatha for getting the ball back. That was not to be so easy.
“How many paisa are there in 2 rupees?” he would quiz the boy/girl who stood trembling in front of his walking stick.
As the young child gently folded his hands behind his back to count on the tiny palm prints …
” Hands in the front ” a stern voice would say eyes closed.
” Pavam vidungo, vilayadattum .” The indulgent grandmother would always come to the rescue. Afternoon game sessions were broken by her serving curd rice for the all those who assembled. The dirty hands washed clean , she would place a handful of gleaming white curd rice in the cupped palms. A quick deft work of the thumb created a well for a serving of the almost red kuzhambu(gravy). A choice of pickles from mavadu to spicy manga was served on small leaves. The hungry army would slurp and rejoice the quick meal to return to the grounds. At times , including children from neighbourhood there were 30 mouths to feed. But Oor amma ensured no one went away wanting more.
During summer the children would scamper around the house playing away in the nooks and corners known only to them. They however in unison carefully avoided Thatha ,for they knew being caught would entail a long letter writing session.
Meena athai , Oor Anna’s youngest daughter,was away in Bombay . Thatha would religiously dictate detailed letters to be written and posted to her.
“Aei , Lalli inga va … …..” meant a bombshell to those whose game was interrupted.
Thatha had a stock of blue inland letters on which the young ones had to write in perfect handwriting what he would dictate.
” Venum aashirwadam , Swami Lakshmipathy Maha Ganapathi thunai.” began the dictation. Not a comma was to be missed or a word rephrased. No news was beyond the knowledge of the children , but they being them almost never registered the depth of family gossip they were party to. Once written , the writer also had to read it out .
What a photographic memory he had, he would pounce on the subtle lapses of full stops, hyphens that escaped the young and restless. The long accurate address dictated ended with Bombay being written in Tamil script as Bumbai.
Sealed and stuck – the job of taking the letter to the post office was entrusted to the trustworthy ,perfect grandson- Raman. Raman’s job was not complete until he came and reported the time mentioned on the post box for mail clearance.Satisfied, Thatha rested his back and waited for the letter to travel to Bumbai.
Months sped by , and the eldest grand son was engaged to be married to the daughter of a postal services employee. Thatha was delighted. He called for the to be bride’s father to come and see him. Laden with fruits and sweets the anxious parents of the girl came home on a Sunday afternoon. Over excited din and revelry, thatha asked the bride’s father to come and sit with him.With a twinkle in his eye , and yearning in his voice, thatha asked if sambandhi mama could install a postbox within the compound .
A wave of relief and laughter followed by ” Besha ! Adhukku enna ,pannitta pochu! ” . Over the next few days a gleaming red and black post box was fitted on to the gate of Sri Prahlad. Thatha inaugurated the box by posting the first letter and the wedding invitation with his own hands amidst roars of claps from children and grandchildren alike.
It was but just another day in the life of those who resided at No 5 Visweshapuram – a house that grew to become a bond called Sri Prahlad.