Memories and Legends
When I remember my paternal grandfather, I think of a man who enjoyed praying, gardening, and watching Get Smart with his grandson. I can picture moments when he led me through my first avani avittam, and before that, I have a fuzzy memory of his visit to Ohio back when I was three or four.
There are plenty of stories about my grandfather that predate these memories. He was supposed to be named Subramanian after his paternal grandfather, but due to health problems he faced shortly after his birth and subsequent prayers his family made to Lord Krishna to spare his life, his name became Krishna. Hence, my name became Krishna. There is another story about how he became a cook and started his own restaurant after the family fortune was squandered. There is also the time he was denied access to advance beyond an eighth grade education by a British man and later joined the Gandhi movement.
I have no memory of my paternal grandmother other than the two photos I’ve seen of her. I have heard stories about her from my father and through my aunts and uncles. Each likes to remember her in a different way. This mix of personal memories and family stories make me wonder how I might describe my grandparents to my children some day.
I saw my maternal grandparents last year at my cousin’s wedding and have talked to them on the phone several times since. My maternal grandfather is a retired English professor, and he occassionally writes articles for the Hindu, India’s national newspaper. These articles have ranged over topics including religion and language. I helped him type up some of these articles and submitted his review of Jimmy Carter’s The Virtues of Aging to President Carter’s library. I remember he made a trip to America when I was in the second grade. When we went to Disney World, I wrote a summary of my first day there and gave him a copy. He gave me an A+.
His biography is more interesting when we add stories I’ve heard through others. His parents were a lawyer and the daughter of a lawyer. He was offered teaching positions in Kabul and Baghdad back in 1960s and 1970s, but he turned them down. At the time, some people questioned his ambition. Also, the jokes he tells us now are the same ones he’s been telling since my mother was a child.
This brings me to my maternal grandmother. We call her Chinna Patti (literally, little grandmother), which dates back to a pet name one of her brothers gave her when she born. Of all my grandparents, I know her best. Part of this has to do with the number of times she has visited us in America, but it also has to do with her personality. She likes involving herself in whatever is going on. When we played pool, Patti wanted to learn. When we shoveled snow, Patti would start to shovel, too.
Patti loves Lucy. I have no doubt that she has seen every episode of I Love Lucy. When my sister caught her one night watching television, Patti’s response was, “I’ll go to sleep right after The Lucy Desi Comedy Hour.”
Patti is also something of a germophobe, which is considered a virtue among Iyers. Patti has managed to successfully indoctrinate me into her yechal theory, and if religious conviction is measured by germophobia, I would probably qualify as one of the most pious in my generation.
Patti’s father was a judge, and he didn’t like men with mustaches. Her niece would one day marry a man who shaved his mustache for the express purpose of marrying her. If this sounds familiar, it’s the opposite of the plot of Gol Maal. Patti’s own wedding story had some drama in it. She was married within a year of her brother’s death, which is why her parents aren’t found in any of the wedding photos. She was 16.