Earlier this week, I had been to my grandma’s place to celebrate Diwali. There, my young nephew was roaming in the hall repeating the names of everyone present. Suddenly he said something which made me smile. He pointed to a photograph in the showcase and called out a name aloud. “Doni mamama”, he said. The kid cannot yet pronounce the “ra” sound in some contexts, and thus he gladly substitutes it with the “da” sound. He was referring to the photograph of my mom’s aunt, whom we fondly addressed as Rohini Mamama.
The name brings back sweet memories of a short thin old lady who spent most of her time in the kitchen of a small home at Joduraste. That was where I spent most of my summer vacations. While the other members of my grandma’s family were busy peeling the skin off cashewnuts (which was what they did for a living, till I was 10 years old), the one person whom I enjoyed talking to was Rohini Mamama. And that was because she was such an excellent story teller.
Both her husband and my grandfather passed away at a very young age. Hence the responsibility of looking after five young kids fell on the two ladies of the house. While my grandma decided to support herself by working for a cashew factory next door, Rohini Mamama went off to Secundarabad to serve as a cook at the home of an acquaintance. There, she took a liking to the Telugu, Kannada and Hindi films. The family which she lived with used to take her along whenever they went to watch one of these movies. Thus, by the time she quit that job and permanently moved back to Joduraste, she had watched most of NTR’s movies, and all of Dr Rajkumar’s movies. I guess that’s how she got acquainted with the stories from the Indian Mythology.
So, on these hot summer afternoons, when I couldn’t go out and play cricket with my friends, I used to sit with her on the jagali listening to a mythological story. She used to narrate stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vishnu Puran amongst others. What made these narrations so enjoyable was the fact that she made it sound as if she was a witness to all those events in her stories. Also, she didn’t mind my pesky questions. As a kid, I had a rather irritating habit of asking “what”, “why” and “how” for just about everything! But she would answer these questions calmly, and in cases where the answer required reference to yet another untold story, she would ask me to remind her the next time. Some of my favourites, which I could never get bored of hearing were the stories about the Vishnu’s Dashavatars, the part from Mahabharata where Yudhistir answers Yaksha’s questions to revive his brothers, the story of Samudra-Manthan, the fight between Hanuman and Ram (Yes, they fought once! She used to say, when Ram-baaN clashed with Ram-Naam, it was Ram-Naam which won!). As a result of these story telling sessions, by the time I started participating in quiz contests, there was hardly a question on Indian Mythology which I let go of! There were other advantages too! For instance, I would always know what would happen next in the Mahabharata TV serial. I would watch the serial only to see if she had missed something important, so that next time I visited my grandma’s place, I could boast about knowing something which she didn’t know! Such cases were rare, but when they happened, she would delight be with another story which I hadn’t heard before!
I have nine other cousins on my mothers side. But I was the only lucky one with whom she shared those great treasures from our rich cultural past. The others cousins of mine at that time, were either too old or too young to listen to her stories.
There are a very few in my family today, who can match her in terms of the knowledge of our culture, traditions and more importantly, our mythology. Thus, when I heard my young nephew say her name aloud, I couldn’t help wondering, if Rohini Mamama was amongst us today and if she could narrate the stories with the same passion and enthusiasm as she did with me, wouldn’t this young fellow be as delighted as I used to be in my younger days!