Polayaadimone. That was his standard swear word. Depending upon the intensity of the tone you could figure out, if that is a serious telling off, a mild scolding or a benevolant appreciation. That one swear word was sufficient for mani periyappa to express his feelings. He was second eldest among the four brothers, of which my father is the youngest.
I dont know much about mani periyappa’s childhood, but from several anecdotes, it seemed he had an interesting one. My grandfather had a hotel business in Tamilnadu and Mani periyappa’s earlier schooling was in tamil. (He used to tell us couplets from thirukkural, occasionally). But the studies stopped, as my grandfather eventually moved to kerala permanently. The only clear information about Mani periyappa’s childhood came from my grandma who used to narrate stories from the past.
It seems that once when he was a kid, he got very upset with his mother over something, and threatened to commit suicide. Grandma narrated the tale with a chuckle, as how periyappa climbed a tree with a chaaku charadu (jute thread) and prepared the thread for ending his life. My grandfather came to know about this and immediately grabbed hold of a strong rope and came to the scene. The situation now got worse, as my grandfather threatened periyappa, that if indeed he came down without committing suicide, he will be beaten up, which he guaranteed that wont be forgotten for a long time.
My grandma was wondering who was more mad, my grandfather or periyappa standing confused and in fear on the tree with a jute thread hanging off the branch now. As my grandfather personally offered to replace the weak jute thread with strong coir rope the situation only offered two possible resolutions. 1. commmit suicide on the rope provided by my grandfather, or 2. climb down the tree and hope that grandma will save him from the imminent beatings. Sense prevailed and option 2 was taken.
After my grandfather settled in perumbavoor, Kerala, Periyappa got a job at Rayons factory, a job that he continued till the company locked out. Meanwhile he had got married to Narayani periyamma and had two kids – kumar anna and latha acca – the only sister for us 8 brothers of the joint family. Braving ups and downs of a life when the factory closed, leaving him unemployed, the family survived on murukku/pappadom business and kumar anna chipping in with his part-time work at a ration shop. But life’s sudden downs didnt break his will to go on. Years flew by as we all kids whom he had mentored, grew up braving those periods, got married, settled down. He grew older. Though his health was failing, his will kept him going.
I still remember the carrom board games, that he used to play with my father and friends, how my father would keep on losing the parippuvada/pappadavada/cigarette bet playing against periyappa, who was a master in his game. We kids used to watch his play in wonder, be it the carrom or rummy and other card games. I remember the day when I fractured my wrist, he was the one who rushed me to hospital, stayed with me for 3 days till the doctors sent me home with the plaster on. A father figure who kept a watch on all of us. I would gorge the thin crispy dosais he made, myself and periyamma would almost fight to have his dosais.
He is no more. I got a phonecall tonight – “Periyappa is gone”, my brother Prasanth told me over phone. That was it. He was in hospital for a nearly a week, and he passed away, just like that. As I heard the news over phone thousands of miles away in UK, nothing made sense.
I remember the last time I spoke with him over the phone. He was scolding me for not having kids yet after 4 years of marriage. “shandan ennu koopuduva ellavarum”, (people will call you a eunuch) he said, “vegam pillere undaakkikkoo” (make kids fast). “Not to worry,” I said to him laughingly, “it doesnt matter what the world calls me, I need no kids to prove I am a male”… He laughed at me, and shouted over the phone – “polayaadimone”.