My grand mother, who died when my mother was but nineteen, and my youngest aunt a mere three, was named after the Goddess of Learning. Her name “Sarda” is also that of the ancient writing script used for Sanskrit and Kashmiri. Till today, my maternal anscestral home is called, ‘Sarada Mandiram’ aka “The abode of Sarada.”
There are no pictures or photographs left behind of this Grihlakshmy, (Goddess of the House like Vesta or Hestia in other cultures:) for her grand children or great grand children to know her.
She remains, captured however (as per my mother’s version) in my young nephew’s smile, my cousin sister’s beautiful tresses, my daughter’s eyes et al. I am very sure, that she would continue in the future bloodlines too, when something of charm or beauty shows up suddenly, gracefully, without much hue or cry.
Almost like a mystery, the stories surround the enigma of a beautiful woman who “was adored by anyone who met her, due to her generously giving heart.” No being, animal or human, went hungry if they ever passed by my grand mother’s kitchen door.
” She could toss a few curry leaves and a mere touch of her hand would make the dishes so tasty,” reminisces my mother, her eyes clouded with tears.
I get to hear snippets from my aunts and uncles, their memories now mostly faded, still remembering warmth, and long,black hair cascading like a river with no grey strands ever….so lyrical that I start doubting the authenticity of it all.
” Were you happy all the time? She could not have been a paragon of virtue,” I argue, my cynical temper often aroused when I hear about angelic perfection, near or far.
” She used to be furious at times. Then I wouldn’t go near her. Especially when she was struggling with her umpteen pregnancies and child births,” my mother lets out , a sigh at a time.
Then as my mother feeds me spinach with coconut topping and curry leaves sauteed , a dish she learnt from my grandma, she tells me the tale of her parents’ marriage.
An attractive young woman , single daughter to adoring parents, who lost nine children before they had a living, healthy child. The beauty, the property – the proposals that poured in for her hand. And the tragedy of a predetermined horoscope- the fate of Chova dosham- a Manglik, so to say,..she was supposed to cause early death to her husband.
” My grandfather almost gave up hope about amma’s marriage. Such a lovely daughter, but no man daring to step across the Yama’s line of caution,” my mother whispers. (She and her grandfather had a loving relationship. Till date she swears that he was reborn into her family. Whenever I make her smile, I am the reincarnation. When I pick up fights with her, she is absolutely sure that he is someone else. That is another story altogether.)
” And how did my grandfather come into the scene?” I ask, very interested now. Some topics are eternally fascinating.
” They say, he was almost an outsider, though his family lived very close. A rebel, tall at six feet and more, a good artist, keen on science and business alike…my father,” she pauses dramatically.
I sigh again as the devil flashes his fangs at me, provoking me.
” Amma, stop being melodramatic. He had his vices, of course. But he was handsome, I presume,” I aim at the target straight away.
” Ohhhh, yes! So one day, even as his mother threatened to hang herself from the front yard for daring to dream of Sarada, he walked away laughing and entered our ancestral home.” Amma’s voice is full of thrill now.
I see a tall young man, laconic, cool, literally asking his protective female clan members to go to hell. He walks to the forbidden house, and confronts my great grandfather.
” Why did you come, Govinda?” my great grandfather asks. He can hear the screams and curses rising in undulating tones from across the front yard.
” I thought it was worth dying for Sarada,” says my Grandfather. ” I want to marry her.”
Thus a man married a woman.
They had seven children,losing one early. One girl grew up to be my indefatigible mother.
I do not ask the other parts of the story. The happiness, the tragedies, the loss of a merchandise filled boat over the sudden tempest, the sudden poverty….so many family lores stay quiet now, lying like a calm dog at the feet of a kind, beautiful, unseen grandmother.
” Do I have anything of her in me?” I ask finally, slowly, very slowly.
My mother smiles suddenly. Her beautiful face, lights up.
” What do you think?” she asks in return.
” You tell me that I am your grand father. Am I also your mother?” I grin openly.
” Maybe , she lives in your heart, whenever you ask her to come in,” says my mother mysteriously.
Sarada, Goddess of Learning, Giving, Kindness…..do visit my heart more often.
I have your sudden temper, my grandfather’s obstinacy, go-to-hell stubbornness. All the vices, than the sweet niceties.
There can be too much darkness inside this abode at times.
Make it your Mandiram- your temple.
Let me see you, please.