My paternal grandparents were not affluent, our grandfather just being the headmaster in a municipal school. Salaries were meager and feeding so many mouths was not easy. Food was never scarce and though there were no fancy dishes, everyone was well fed on wholesome food. Two older uncles and my father were earning, but being married with children of their own, the situation remained the same becaue there were two unmarried brothers and one sister in addition to sundry relatives who visited Chennai.
Having given the background, I will now relate the story I have heard many times from my mother and elder sisters. My grandmother, who had died several years before my birth was a unique woman — pious, affectionate and simple, she loved girl children giving them preferential treatment.
While she protested against any child getting a beating from its parents, she was vociferous in protecting the girls and would gather them to her bosom, defying the parents to touch them as they were goddesses incarnate to her. She had lovingly named each of them after one goddess or another. (Perhaps I didn’t get one because I was born after her demise 😦 )
If she had a soft corner for her granddaughters, she also could not send any beggar from her door without feeding him or her. All she had to hear a voice calling out, ‘Amma, thaaye!’ and she would be galvanized into action. The oldest uncle would scold her to keep mum since it was a job feeding even the members of the large joint family without having to feed beggars. And she would calmly tell him that she was only giving her share of food to him, since it was, ‘Tirupathi Balaji himself’ or any other god or goddess she remembered then, who had come to the door for food. She would say that God wanted her to fast that day and so had come to her door in person! And not stopping at that, she would proceed to fill her plate with food and give it all to the beggar who would lavishly bless her and her family, while she fondly watched him eat!
If grandmother fed the poor, grandfather did one better. He would go to the market to buy vegetables and bring back a bagful of rotten, pest-ridden vegetables. When he was asked why he couldn’t get good ones, he would calmly reply, ‘That poor fellow had a big mound of vegetables and no one was buying from him. If he didn’t sell anything, how can he feed his children? Just throw out the rotten ones and use the good ones. Look, there is a cow at the door, she can eat those!’
Wow! A truly made-for-each-other-couple! It might sound like mush, but all the annadanam that old couple did then, despite not being rich or having too much themselves, has kept the families of their children and grandchildren and great grand children in relative comfort and even luxury today. Giving is good when you have plenty but giving when you yourself have so little to spare is divine. It is the highest form of spirituality.
Food is always a comforting thing. We have what is called ‘comfort foods’ when we are feeling blue, out of sorts and ill. During my childhood, I remember going to my maternal grandparents’ house in the next street. Contrary to my paternal grandparents, they were well-to-do. But they shared the same quality of giving and sharing as my other set of grandparents.
The house used to fascinate me, not only because of the multistoried structure and the presence of my grandparents, several uncles and aunts and cousins, but the abundance of food. One item that really held my interest was the huge storage bin with its fine grains of rice, treated with turmeric and oil to keep away insects. It was placed in the niche of the staircase and we kids used to put our hands and play with the grains till our grandmother shooed us away saying that one should not play with food. The rice was only one of the things that fascinated me; there was the huge bunch of humongous bananas in the pooja room of which kids got just one half each. Even that half used to be bigger than the whole ones we had at home.
No one who came to the house ever went without a meal. Depending upon what time it was, they were fed breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks – something. The little visitors got some fruit or eatable. I especially loved the handful of tiny ‘dollar biscuits’ that the oldest uncle gave us.’
We talk of food, blog about it, exchange recipes, and discuss the plus and minus points of eateries. But how many of us can honestly say we have experienced hunger – not the hunger pangs we feel at stipulated mealtimes but real hunger – when the insides are getting knotted up, when your stomach is gnawing away at the emptiness, when your ears close up as if you are flying at high altitudes? And it is not just a temporary thing either, but something that goes on and on till the gnawing becomes a dull ache and then completely subsides to lethargic acceptance.
All religions hold feeding the poor as the highest form of charity and I can vouch for the fact and I am sure many of you who are reading this would do too – that it comes back manifold not only to those who actually do this ‘daan’ but also to their successors many generations over.
In this New Year, we should all take a pledge to look at the hungry of the world and try to do our mite towards easing their plight. There are so many ways to do it, feed them, donate to the organizations that either feed them or rehabilitate them; at least look at them with compassion and not irritation.
I hope I am not late for the Akshaya Patra blogger initiative, but even if I am I fervently hope that this blog post helps feed 50 children. If it does, I would have made my two sets of grandparents happy.
WISH YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR FOLKS!