I was the privileged one among the cantankerous cousins making merry at my uncle’s house every summer, with the fortuity of being a young patient of my benevolent uncle. An annual rendezvous of the paternal family, gave us the unmatched happiness of the entire brood coming together and painting the small town of Madurai red in the scorching summer month of May when the Vaigai river was all parched with not a single drop of water. The large patriarchal house playing host to the bubbly effervescent baker’s dozen whose talents ranged from solving cryptic puzzles (the genes inherited from the patriarch himself…read more at http://www.sunitasriram.in/2015/11/grandsire-greatness.html )to playing the Mridangam, or excelling in academics with the added flair for the English language(that could cringe even Her Majesty!) to the Math genius, who had answers at the blink of an eye, a magician adept at pulling out wonders! Among these multitude of stars, I was a heavenly body that never emitted any light and while these children of the greater God worked wonders, I, the myopic with specialization in astigmatism (well, for the hawk eyed who have never stepped inside an ophthalmologist’s lair, the term means the irregular surface of the cornea of the eyes) accompanied my philanthropic ophthalmologist uncle to his quaint little clinic on a very busy street that was synonymous with TVS (http://www.tvsgroup.com/pages/group.htm) and Dr.Subbaraman, a man who has only charity as his second name!
Noticing the deep anguished and disappointing contours on my face that for see the torture and tumult of the ensuing couple of hours where my eyes would literally go wide, with the annoying irritating drops to dilate my pupils, the altruistic Doctor would make a pit stop at a famous bakery and order “Jupiter” cake, a delight that matched the name in size, and the rich creamy toothsome was a great consolation. The inspection of my amplified eye at his adorable clinic stocked with abundant and copious medicines, surgical tools, lenses and hordes of writing pads and pens, by the expert took place only when he ran out of patients, (a period of eternity) as it never happened for two obvious reasons, (apart from his expertise and skill),one, the meagre fees, a trifle that was charged, and the cheerful banter between the stethoscope wielder and the gossiping mothers in law or the complaining daughters in law. These repartees were a ploy to ease the pain and the tedium of the whole exercise. Finally, just as I was on the verge of reaching saturation point, with all the patience (and patients) drained out, he would finally examine mine with his tried and tested traditional tools, an epoch span of confusion and indecisiveness, as each testing lens on that rickety outlandish frame would blur my eyes further leading to disoriented perplexities! The outcome, a foregone conclusion – power would have increased by leaps and bounds, geometric progression in reality!
His man Friday Manickam was his compounder, apprentice, henchman and in fact everything, a person who would wait on him and all the flipped and freaked out guys of the Thathamangalam household!
The shutters down for the day, my uncle drove through the crowded by lanes and stopped at his favourite optical shop to order the frame, the over enthusiastic owner keen to spread his ware, an assortment that is a far cry from today’s collection, with the one and only chunky bold black spectacle frames making style statements. (they were the only ones that walked the ramp!) No payments were made leaving me bewildered, but soon I understood that his benevolence in the form of free surgeries, bulk orders of lenses and frames and many other things left them itching to reciprocate and I became the benefactor! There would be more shopping for goodies such as ground nut candies ( I am drooling with saliva frothing like that of a cow’s at the very mention of this) and other sweets and savouries including a medley of pappads, he would often be at a loss as to what could be excluded from the list, inundating and showering us with his generosity! Following us like a faithful dog would be Manickam on his bicycle with an oversized carton on the carriage!
Buoyant at our return, the jingbang brought the roof down with chaotic scenes of delight, glee and jocundity. Carrom, (the elders teaming up with their beloved nephew and niece), cards ( the beguile betrayers in a game of bluff master) , scrabble ( the walking lexicons manipulating with the seven alphabets)and hide and seek ( the destructive dickens) were the all time favourites, obviously not for the grumpy neighbours!
The excursions to the circus and the exhibition stalls with my father as the Pied Piper who patiently but sternly steered all the crazy cousins into the magical world of performers and artists are etched in my minds! The countless stalls illuminated with dazzling lights and playing loud music with magical mirrors, flying parachutes, rocking animals, merry go rounds was a paradise and we soaked in the fun and frolic unmindful of the heat and dust!
The sombre anniversary ceremony of my grandmother would take place amidst all the anarchy and bedlam on the next day, followed by the grand feast on the plantain leaf with an array of dishes. Whoever licked the leaf clean without wasting even a morsel of food stood to win a prize from the Doctor Uncle and I became the unassailable champion, invincible and unconquerable by the envying cousins!
The icing on the cake was the event that unfolded immediately after lunch – all the rambunctious girls and boys (including the children of my uncle) of the smart smartha ‘Thats’ family ( a sobriquet for the village called Thathamangalam in Palakkad town of Kerala that was our ancestral home) were made to sit in a circle and Periappa( Father’s elder brother in Tamil) dumped loads of gifts from huge cartons and we were free to decamp with anything that we liked. These gifts were carefully and lovingly collected by the charitable Doctor over the year and secretly stored away from the prying and greedy eyes of his children and comprised of all and sundry that had us squealing in absolute delight, a salmagundi of knickknacks, souvenirs, trinkets and whatnots! A deluge of pens, diaries, scribble pads, paper weights, board games, playing cards, and other compliments and freebies given by pharmaceutical companies lie in a heap waiting to be grabbed by the avaricious lot!
My Uncle, an amiable human being with a fair share of eccentricities and idiosyncrasies takes extreme pride in pampering his guests irrespective of the caste, strata or community they belonged to and so from the vegetable vendor to the minister’s son, all got drenched in his affection, goodwill and compassion!
This annual jaunt became the most looked forward to affair for all of us and I go teary eyed at the joyful reminisces of the past. These family get-togethers gave us merriment, love and affection and taught us the profound and grand meanings of life such as sharing, caring, benevolence, and impartiality, bonhomie, partaking in ceremonies and rituals and the ultimate pride and regalement of one large extended family with my dear large hearted Periappa holding the reins! I salute and bow in reverence and gratitude to my dear Uncle and Aunt who are instrumental in moulding my character and attitude and for showing me what philanthropy means!