Being a Woman
Gomati – Gomati was the vegetable seller who never failed to remind me of a raucous raven. It wasn’t the appearance but the general demeanour and the voice which made me think so. She was the complete antithesis of my muttakaari. While the latter was small, petite and soft-spoken, Gomati was big and loud. She had a pock-marked face and wild unruly hair which escaped from the confines of her knot like the light spilling out of a lantern. Her red betel stained lips emitted the most wonderfully uninhibited laugh I’ve ever heard. Nobody could remain unsmiling after hearing it. I was fascinated by this larger than life person who seemed to be manically in love with life itself. She arrived like a whirlwind, flinging the gate open and swooping down with a huge basket of vegetables balanced perfectly on her head. She would then bend gracefully like a seasoned dancer and place the basket onto the broad parapet bordering the verandah. Her shout of ‘Amma !’ could surely be heard in the adjoining district. The first person to scurry out to meet her would be me. Ammumma who was used to Gomati’s dramatics would appear at her own pace. Gomati was always thrilled to see me and I would be peppered with questions about family and school. Ammumma’s entry into the fray signalled the start of my entertainment. Both of them were masters at haggling and the whole process was more enjoyable than any reality show of today. Gomati revelled in concocting the most outrageous reasons why ammumma wanted the price to be reduced while the latter laughed them away. Once the price was fixed to mutual satisfaction, Gomati whipped out her ancient weighing scales which looked like they had seen better days, and that too centuries ago. Any doubts on its efficacy were met with vociferous protestations from the owner. Ammumma took the dubious nature of these scales as an excuse to sneak in a few extra tomatoes or a couple of bitter-gourds which were promptly kept back by Gomati. But their relationship was a complex one. There were days when ammumma would reduce her haggling and other days when Gomati closed her eyes to some extra potatoes. They were two strong ladies and it was obvious that behind all the acrimony they had genuine respect and regard for each other.
Pappu – Pappu was a tailor whose shop was frequented by ammumma. Her needs were very simple, to stitch a few blouses and sometimes the edges of her mundus needed hemming. Pappu was like a somnolent spider crouching in the middle of his small shop surrounded by pieces of cloth, a couple of sewing machines, stacks of tailored clothes piled haphazardly in a glass fronted cupboard and fragments of colored cloth strewn around the floor. His posture was hunched which must’ve been acquired by perpetually bending over the machine. His accessories were a tiny pencil tucked behind a ear and a faded tape measure draped around his neck, and he peered with rheumy eyes at the patrons who ventured into his fiefdom. He had a couple of minions, working on constantly whirring sewing machines. Ammumma refused to change to another tailor claiming that his workmanship was excellent. The maid Vasanthi was responsible for delivering the unstitched material to him along with a stitched blouse as a sample. Pappu would proclaim an arbitrary date to collect the stitched product. This would vary from a week to even a month for 2 blouses. His word was law ! Ammumma would carefully mark the date on her calendar, and on that day Vasanthi was again despatched to collect it and invariably, she came back empty-handed. Pappu would’ve set a new date for the delivery of the finished product. This extension would continue until ammumma lost her cool. Appupan and I would be treated to a detailed description of the strong arguments she would put forth to bring Pappu to his senses. I always made sure to accompany her on these visits, with amumma geared up for battle and me geared up for a good performance. What astounded me was the complete volte-face that occurred once we reached the spider’s lair. My fire-spewing grandparent would be transformed into a meek lamb. She would enquire very politely why the work was not finished on time and Pappu would be humble and slavish. The two would have a very civilized conversation during which yet another date was decided upon. Then the meek lamb would accompany me back home. This process hardly varied and after the first few times, I enjoyed witnessing the transformation of the enraged granny into a sedate granny. I found Pappu to be an oily, smarmy person but ammumma was comfortable with his style of functioning.
Studies and marriage took me away from my hometown and my grandparents. I lost touch with these interesting characters and I thought I had left them far behind, firmly entrenched in my past. It was only recently when they popped back into my mind that I realized how much their idiosyncrasies had ensured them a permanent spot in my memory where they will live on for many more years…