My maternal grandmother Sakamma lived a long and healthy life. Cooking was an integral part of her daily routine. She was also responsible for the safekeeping and storage of the groceries. And she also had to keep the kitchen and the hall neat and tidy. She never took a day off. Like how my chikka tata (grandfather's younger brother) Ramanna took up the responsibility of managing the finances without running away from it, every single day, my grandmother held the responsibility of the household duties with the same alertness.
Her love and affection was like a diamond-clad armour to all the family members. She would console people who were angry, people who were distressed. She would tend to the sick ones. She knew some of the ways of Ayurveda and its application in medical treatment. She knew the medicinal property of plants like pullampuruci, hondelaga, bilvapatra, honagone, cilakīre. For the day to day illnesses, she would be the doctor. She would tend to any health issues in the Brahmin families in the neighbourhood. She was also capable of cooking enough food for around fifty people.
She was diagnosed with cataract. Her eyesight became poor gradually. Medicine when it comes to treating eye ailments was not as advanced as it is now. Among the native doctors, there were some who claimed that they were capable of operating. My grandfather and Sheshagirayya and my chikka tata Ramanna proposed many times that they would take her to one of them, but she would refuse. “If this is what fate has in store for me, how can any mere mortal come in its way? I’ll suffer and live through it”, was her reply.
I’ll narrate something for which I’m an eyewitness. In Mulbagal, we had to go to a well which was situated around one and a half miles to get potable/drinking water. The well was behind the Gopalakrishna temple which was at the base of a hill and hence the well was named after the temple. The well had no compound; it was an open well. The water was close to the surface, clear and sweet, and a basic requirement for everyone. Sakamma would bring water from the well everyday.
Every morning, around 8 am, after the bath, having applied vibhūti, she would take out pots and vessels of various sizes - a bigger vessel, a small one upon that, a small pitcher, all these in the right hand, a big pot and a small pot on her head, a rope to fasten the pots and a piece of cloth in the left hand - and venture out towards the well. She would draw water, filter it using the cloth, fill all the pots and vessels and bring them back. The water in the pots carried on the head was for Venkatarama Bhatta’s house. The rest was for our home. One pot was reserved to quench the thirst of visitors. During summers there were people who would come just for that.
The courtesy of people
A special thing. I’ve already mentioned Sakamma’s eyes being afflicted with Cataract. That was no hindrance when it comes to her daily chores. She would wear washed (sanctified) clothes and venture out to bring water, there was no reason to fear physical contact (causing mailige) with any people. As soon as people saw her, they would give her way. They’d also caution others saying, “Mother is coming, give way”
Whenever she would cook, she would first, worship the cooking stove with mantrākṣate remembering the deities. Then she would light the stove, and then boil water and cook. She would know when the food would be cooked properly. She would take out a tablespoon of the rice or dal from the utensil in which they were being cooked and by touching it she would confirm whether they were properly cooked or not. She would need help only when tamarind was to be added for rasam or sambar. Only during that phase, she would call her daughter (my mother) and ask her to examine the colour of the rasam or sambar. That was the only input she needed to ascertain the status. The steam, the fragrance, and likewise. Once this was done she would do the rest and complete the process. This is what is known as practice or skill. This can’t be taught externally. It’s an intuition. God had given Sakamma that intuition. When my chikka tata would come to Mulbagal to have food, he would ask, “Sister! Please pack this rasam. I'd take this to Kolar.” She’d reply, “Why take this musure?”
Finally her eye was operated on. Someone from Palamaner or Penukonda - probably from the Muslim community - claimed that they used some extract from leaves and removed the cataract. She suffered terrible pain for eight-ten days. I remember a part of the kīrtanā she would sing during those days:
ninna nambide murārē
enna pālisō dorē
I cannot tolerate this pain,
O pannagaśayanā (who has adishesha as his bed),
I surrender to you O the slayer of Mura,
Please protect me.
After some days the pain gradually decreased. Her eyesight also improved to some extent. She would say: “Why did you spend so much money for this blurry vision? What difference did it make? How difficult would it be for me without this?” Even then both my grandfathers found solace for taking whatever measures were practically possible for them. They found contentment in the fact that, at least now Sakamma could draw out cotton wicks, fill the lamps which were to be lighted as part of daily worship with oil, and light them without others’ help.
Sakamma could quote innumerable Puranic stories, devara-nāmas, didactic verses from Telugu literature, from memory. I remember waking up everyday listening to her singing. In the bhūpāli:
nārāyaṇa ennu manevē
ninna nāligeyoḻu muḻḻu muridihudē
kallu kavidihudē harī-nārāyaṇa ennu manavē
O mind! Reminisce about Nārāyaṇa
Is your tongue struck with thorns
Or covered with stones-Reminisce about Nārāyaṇa, O mind!
This is the translation of the ninth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 8) – Samkirna Smruti Samputa. Edited by Raghavendra G S.
The plant Oxalis corniculata( = O. pusilla, =Xanthoxalis corniculata) of Oxalidaceae family; Indian sorrel; wood sorrel.
The plant Centella asiatica ( = Hydrocotyle asiatica) of Apiaceae family; Indian pennywort.
The tree Aegle marmelos of Rutaceae family; stone apple tree.
The potherb Alternanthera sessilis of Amaranthaceae family.
The potherb Amaranthus viridis of Amaranthaceae family.
Roughly can be translated as defilement/contamination, becoming ‘impure’.
అమ్మగారు వస్తునారు దావ విడరా
No exact equivalent in English, something with water and salt as ingredients being boiled or cooked, deemed as less “pure” compared to food not satisfying these constraints.