My maternal grandfather was an MLA in the 1940’s. Unlike today’s politicians, in those days if someone desires to become a politician they must pledge some portion of their assets for the welfare of the country. He was a freedom fighter and shared his jail cell with Avainashilinga Chettiyar during the freedom protest. He was MLA in TN between 1946-1958. This is all I know about him
After Congress party’s power dwindled in TN, my grandfather lost in his elections. He fell into serious debt issues and succumbed when my mother was 17. My grandmother was a teacher, she had 4 kids, my mother was the last and unplanned. My grandmother’s eldest daughter was married, when my grandpa passed away she had still 3 more to settle down. Luckily she had one son among the three to handle bankruptcy. After fulfilling her duties, pilgrimage did bring some solace in her life. Being a freedom fighter’s wife she enjoyed the privilege of free train and bus journeys. Self-sufficed with the pension she got, she lived an independent life which every senior citizen would yearn for.
Every year she never missed Tirupati Bramhostavam. I guess it was my summer holidays after my 12th std board exams, we planned for a Tirupati trip. I did not do my exam well, I thought by doing angapradakshinam I could bribe Lord Balaji and make him clear my exams. Yes, angapradakshinam is way easier than recollecting theories and theorems. I travelled to Tirupati with my aunt (my mother’s elder sister), my cousin(he is like an elder brother to me) and my grandma. My dad cautioned me that the team I was travelling with were poor timekeepers and so he warned me to keep up time for every occasion.
On reaching Tirupati via train, my grandma who was hyper-cautious said no to hotels and said we should take rooms in Tirumala devastanam strictly. After waiting for 3 hours, we got two 50 rupees rooms which were the only ones available. I stayed with my grandma in a room; my aunt and my cousin stayed in the other room. Woke up early in the morning, the coffee mug was our bathing mug. After a 3hrs of waiting and getting mangled like squash potatoes, we got a peek at Lord Balaji.
Next day even before the dawn could break, we had a dip in the pool and headed straight to the angapradakshinam area. Shivering in chillness we waited for our turn in the outer sanctum. In Tirumala, if you are performing angapradakshan then only your are allowed inside no one can accompany you inside. So my grandma came long with me, we got inside the temple she rolled down few times and then started walking. Since it is an early morning seva, some will have a nauseating feeling while performing angapradakshinam. I found few woman puking, at times it gets nasty, my grandma says one must not complain about all this and try to connect ourselves with God.
Following the angapradakshan, we refreshed ourselves and sought Balaji’s darshan one more time. We found all restaurants flooded with tourists, some how we found a hotel and feed our hunger. In evening we visited few temples in Tirupati and the next day morning we travelled to Katpadi to catch our train.
I don’t remember the train name(probably Kovai express), our train was to arrive by 7:50 am we were ready by 6:30 am that day morning. They announced that our train to Coimbatore was 15 mins delayed and we had no clue in which platform it would arrive. All of a sudden my grandma told she was feeling giddy and wanted to take rest in waiting room. I told the train would arrive at any time so she better takes rest on the platform bench. She said she will get back listening to the announcements, so my aunt accompanied her to the waiting room. My brother told that we cannot trust them since they miss trains very often. He narrated an incident where my aunt and my grandma were gossiping about an obese passenger in the waiting room and missed their train bantering around. As the announcement was aired, the train also arrived in platform no1. The train would not wait for more than 5 mins in trivial stations like Katpadi, so we got ready with the baggage. We did not have time to climb stairs we just crossed railway tracks to get to our platform.
The train was right in front of us, we were waiting for my aunt and my grandma. Exactly at 8:10 AM the TTR signaled with his green flag and the train moved. Like Jab We Met Kareena my grandma came running and asked where was the train. Surprisingly I was not angry but I could not hold my laughter, people around me thought I had gone crazy. The funniest part was my aunt(in her tonsured look) running on a different platform to catch a different train.
My grandma looked infuriated and would not believe that the train had already left, she thought I was playing a prank. My brother explained the train that just left was our train, to which my grandma answered: ” I thought it was a toy train, it had stickers all over it”.
Those were advertisements stickers, I told her ” You are so right, Indian railways entertaining us with Toy trains”.
With no other option left we had to take a passenger to Jolarpett. The only thing that bothered my grandma was my dad’s reaction to this situation; she kept telling me not to call my dad and agitate him.
Everyone in the family knows that my father is a short tempered guy and he is the only person whom my grandma dreads. My grandma seemed guilty and my giggles kept irking her. The Jolarpett passenger was almost empty and we enjoyed the breezy 3 hr journey. In Jolarpetta there was an express (West Coast I guess) train to Coimbatore, my grandma’s idea was to somehow reach Coimbatore as quick as possible. She was adamant that we had to take that train, gaining the acquaintanceship of the TTR’s wife she managed to get two seats in the train ( TTR’s wife was travelling in the same train). I know that my grandma can get two seats with her free train pass, so the other two had to travel in the general compartment which was already full. I strictly said no, I said we will wait for another train.
It was my brother who checked the availability of trains and booked tickets accordingly, if not for him we would have definitely been lost. I felt ashamed that I was incapable of handling such situations in life, then what did my school education teach me. We took an express train(Himsagar Exp) to get to Erode, that was the only train with seating availability. Our seats were occupied by few bachelors, though it was our seats the TTR did not ask them to move. Their eyes were devouring, they kept staring at us. TTR travelled with us till Erode for our safety.
My grandma got her cool back when we reached Erode, and from Erode we took an express to reach Coimbatore. Some how my grandma managed to get two seats in the general compartment, my aunt and brother had to stand. As usual, my grandma narrated about her victorious journey to Coimbatore to her co passengers.
I am always a good time keeper, I don’t normally miss trains but sometimes it is boring to be perfect. That day I just learned that my grandma was a proud independent woman and she was awesome.
When she was in her death bed, I recalled this incident and told her we should do it again sometime. She smiled and tears ran down her cheek. I have never seen anyone die in front of my eyes, her death still haunts me. I gave her a small picture of Lord Hanuman, she held it tight in her hands and she never woke up after that night.