Meeting Amma

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This profile is a guest post by Aparna Andhare who describes herself thus: Aparna lives in the stories of the years gone by. She is a former TV producer, studies art history & loves to travel.  ‘Amma’ prefers us to withhold her name. 

***

It was an unlikely meeting. I was in Meerut after all, spending a quiet weekend with my Uncle, a colonel in the army and his artist wife. They had told me about meeting an interesting old lady who reminded them of my great grand mother. I’d come to terms with my geriatric obsession long ago and knew I’d like to meet this 93-year old ‘Amma’.

Amma was in her lawn chair, sitting in the veranda, surrounded by newspapers. Her walker was close at hand and her swollen feet were propped up on a small chair. Behind her was a collage of black and white pictures with familiar (read: famous) faces. She was admiring a brilliant ‘mohar‘, the full-blossomed mango tree, promising a lot of fruits soon. I stopped for a second, taking in the scene. Before we said hello, I knew I liked her.

She looks at me with a twinkle in the eye and asks, “So you’re in JNU. Do you have any boyfriends?” I’m caught off-guard. She was 93 and this was her first question?!! Amma is clearly not your average grandmother. She tells me, was the first lady to get her Bachelors and Masters degree from Lucknow University. She married a well-known academic and moved to Hyderabad, where she met and entertained people from all over the world.

Amma had several anecdotes for me. She knew all the bigwigs of the art world. I had finished reading a book of 3 novellas, The Artist of Disappearance, by Anita Desai that had a long, loving note from the author neatly pasted at the back. Amma had translated some of Desai’s work into Hindi. One of them had a story on a translator getting carried away with the translation. My aunt and I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Amma, wondering if there was more to it than just a story about translations.

Amma has spirit. She wasn’t going to limit herself to the role of a hostess. She did that in style and then joined in the conversation. Dr Radhakrishnan had to admit that “The young lady has several ideas and thinks for herself.”

She used to cycle and later drove a Fiat. I can visualize her behind the wheel, cutting an impressive figure in the sleepy town where her father-in-law set up a University. She moved back when her husband retired from his post in Hyderabad.

Travelling extensively, Amma drew a line at what cultural practices to accept and where to be herself. She thinks it’s equally important to teach the others “Indian tradition”– this being in reference to not addressing someone much senior by their first name.

The amazing thing about Amma is that she’s not judgmental. She has a sense of humour. Graceful, loving… The afternoon and lunch slipped by too quickly. I walked around the old haveli, built in the 1930s. There was something haunting about an empty book/show case. There were stories that I hadn’t even started to listen to.

I promised to return. She promised more stories.

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