The school summer vacations, a good 2 months of nothing to do. Dad packed us, me, my mom, and occasionally my sister to Mangalore, where his two sisters lived. My mother’s uncle too lived close.
Dad’s extended family comprised his 2 elder sisters and their children. Each aunt had many children. In our wonderful language, we called our male cousins “Bhavji” and our female cousins as “Vahini”.
The custom of spending summer vacations in Mangalore started around age five and abandoned after I grew ten years old. These five summers are the liveliest of my life. My cousins who were much older and in their youth were great fun and unique. They took me to restaurants for Gadbad ice-creams and other food, told me fascinating stories. These cousins were my childhood heroes, they could climb trees and get me fresh coconut water. They could jump from a floor or more, and they climbed into well’s if a cricket ball fell into it.
Though both aunt’s and my mothers uncle lived around Mangalore, the character of the food varied. At the aunt who lived in Mangalore city there used to lot of fish for lunches and mangoes and jackfruits to eat for deserts. With the aunt in “Puthige” (a village near Mangalore) there used be lot dosa and chutney and a wonderful homemade pickle which tasted divine with watered rice. When we reached at my mothers uncle place in Polali, we got treated to a huge watermelon fresh from the fields. My mother’s uncle then caught a chicken roaming around freely in his house front-yard and screwed it’s neck. The half dead chicken is then dispatched to the ladies for cooking. Thin Rice wafers (called as Roti) is usual accompaniment with the chicken curry.
But there were troubles too, the greatest issue for a city slicker, was the lack of toilets inside the house. Being a shy child and not keen on being led by an elder to the field for my daily defecation. Most of the times a girl cousin escorted me into the open, who I accused of sneaking in to see my behind. Open defecation in the field tormented me, even though now I consider it as an extravagance. Later the aunts got into a rat race to get the first toilet built. The city aunt won. The game plan for the aunts was whoever builds an indoor toilet’s will make us city slicker more comfortable and hence get more time at their place. More time, means more ability to influence. I don’t think it worked, my mom spent extra stay time with the family who provided her the intoxicant of choice.
Both my aunts (fathers sister) houses were as different as apples & oranges. The elder aunt’s house had 2 or 3 other houses in front of them with a center courtyard. There was a beautiful temple in the courtyard where every evening all the residents of that houses sang aarti’s (devotional songs). This typical village house surrounded by paddy fields and coconut tress looked idyllic.
The city aunt’s house was on a hill. It had a narrow un-motorable approach road. We left the rickshaw down the main road and walked to the house. The front yard of the house had fruit trees like jackfruit, mangoes. I recall the big Jackfruit tree right in front of the house where we would put up chairs and sit. The back gate of the house led to barren hill where a solitude cashew tree stood. We ate those cashew fruits sometime.
Work and Education
Most the girls in the neighbours houses of the village aunt, used to make “bidi’s” – (an Indian cigarette without filter) and sell it to the local manufacturer for cash. It helped them support the household. The marked difference between the village aunt and the city aunt was that some of the children of the city aunt studied to become graduates. The less educated cousins moved to Bombay to earn and support the family back home. A few of them worked with my father in the factory.
The older aunt was the like Queen bee, she made sure, they was money to feed all the mouths. She did a good job to push her relatives to work. The younger aunt aptly named “Sundari” (‘O’ beautiful) was more talkative and extrovert. She educated her kids and took pride in their success.
Relationships outgrowing in time
My father got divorced and re-married. The vacations to Mangalore stopped.
Disclaimer – My memory is rather bad, maybe I got stuff here wrong.