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One could describe my maternal grandfather as an authoritarian figure. He expected absolute obedience from those around him and usually got it too, especially at home. Yet, holidays spent at his place was a lot of fun for us children. Our aunt and cousins too lived in the same house. So my siblings and I rather looked forward to the time spent at our ancestral home.

Grandfather didn’t think holidays were for idling. He himself was a stickler for routine and he made sure we stuck to one too. While there, duties were assigned to all of us. Everyone had to participate in the running of a house, even children.

Those days water had to be manually drawn up from the deep well, there being no motor to pump it up. Every morning grandfather would draw a fixed amount of water from the well, enough to fill some really huge copper vessels, for use through the day. He’d then assign the ones for us to fill. The way we jumped to the task one would think there was nothing more fun than drawing water from a well. But everything does become fun when done in the company of cousins with an involved adult in the equation.

Drawing water was only one of our chores. Whenever grandfather called us, we had to be at his side to do his bidding, like carrying water to the washrooms, pulling out hay from haystack to feed the cows etc etc. These were apart from the work set for us (girls) by the older women, like helping with grinding, washing clothes or dishes, sweeping the rooms and more through the day.

After breakfast it was time for grandfather to do some reading and writing, meet people who came to see him (He was a practicing homeopath after his retirement). Then would come the time to make us read out to him while he rested briefly. We had to do our daily dose of writing (to improve our handwriting ) too and also learn shlokas by heart, both of which he took upon himself to check.

He also took on the role of director and made us children enact scenes from dramas by famous authors. He would oversee our practice sessions, correct our speech delivery and facial expressions. One fine day when he felt we were ready, we’d dress up, choosing from some finery kept in a huge wooden box and present it to other family members to the accompaniment of music (veena played by our aunt and songs sung by her and mother). Oh, how important we felt, how excited. Above all, what fun we had.

I remember doing the role of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, that of the King from the drama Sadarama (a book written by my great-grandfather Mahakavi K.C.Kesava Pillai), and also of Shylock from Merchant of Venice. Yes, Shylock! Playing the principal antagonist, a wily moneylender, was not something I loved. But I was somewhat mollified when grandfather announced that the character was especially given to me because it had long passages of speech to be memorized and delivered in English  and he felt I could do justice to it more than the others.

Evenings were for us children to play to our heart’s content. He insisted we get out and play in the front yard, no sitting cooped up and reading or anything of the sort. When he returned from his walk he expected all of us to be bathed and saying our prayers. He’d supervise our singing of devotional songs, also join us. If he felt like it there’d be a classical music session for a while with his daughters and grandmother joining. Dinner and some giggling and chatting with cousins was followed by blissful sleep. Yup, there was a time for that too.

Yeah, those were fun times. And now I have to postpone what I intended to write, one of the times he took us along for a walk and what happened later. This post serves as an introduction to grandfather. So, see you all tomorrow. 🙂

©Shail Mohan 2016

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