Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Great Ancestors - Part IV

Raja Thatha

This is about Raja Thatha – my paternal grandfather.

I did not have the opportunity to know my maternal grandfather as he passed away many years before I was born. So the only Thatha I know is my father’s father! He is the oldest living member of our family – all of 96. He was born in Manakkal on 2nd February 1913 to Nayana and Rajalakshmi Paati. With great love, they named him ‘Raja’ and to this day he lives up to his name – he gets royal treatment wherever he goes!

Thatha’s love for his grandchildren cannot be described in words. Whenever he eats food made by me, he will immediately say “you are the Number One cook out of all my grand daughters”. He will say the same thing when he eats the food made by any of my sisters. In his eyes, his grandchildren cannot do anything wrong. Such is his love for us! If any of his clients enquire about any of us, he proudly declares that “all my six grand daughters are graduates with first class!”

I am his youngest grand child and was showered with great love and affection by him when I was a kid. He still loves me the same way! The first thing I recall is that when I was a kid everyday morning as soon as Thatha woke up, I remember him carrying me on his shoulder. If I needed anything, it was very easy to route it through Thatha as he never denied me anything. I used to be fascinated by the spinning top (bambaram) and Thatha bought it for me despite Paati’s objection that I should not play with a top as I was not a boy! During Diwali, usually Appa made a list and bought all the crackers, but I remember Thatha buying a rocket shaped toy for the dot caps (guns and roll caps became popular only later). My sister Sabitha and I had a great time inserting the caps one by one in the rocket, standing on the Nayana room cot and dropping the rocket! Many years I have forced him to buy the damaaram for Bhogi! Amma and Paati used to get very irritated when Sabitha and I played the damaaram early in the morning on Bhogi day.

For a long time Thatha used to call me by the pet name “Dull dill”. Even my sisters used to tease me “dull adikara dill”. But I have to admit I was quite jealous when he transferred this name to my niece Divya, when she was a kid!

I cannot forget about the box he bought me. When I was in about third or fourth standard, I saw some of my classmates using aluminium boxes to carry books. I immediately asked Thatha for one. Others at home had not seen the box and I could not explain how it looked. With great enthusiasm which he shows in everything, Thatha bought me one bright orange plastic box. I refused to take the box to the school, insisting that it was not the one that I had asked for. Finally, the elders at home did not have a choice but to buy aluminium boxes, not just for me, but for Sabitha and Jayashree too. To differentiate and not to get mixed up in school also, our names were etched on the boxes. These boxes were in our home for a long time. The first bought plastic box also was there for sometime. Much later in life, I realised that the plastic box actually was very nice compared to the aluminium boxes!

Most of the days, when he came back from High Court, Thatha used to buy badam halwa or angoor boondhi. Angoor boondhi became my favourite and I in fact made this sweet for Diwali a few years ago. Whenever he went out of town, Thatha always bought eatables for his grand children. I have seen red guava only when Thatha bought it from Andhra. He also introduced all of us to the Pulla Reddy sweets oozing with ghee! I also remember he used to buy pattani kadalai almost every day on the way back from his cards playing session at T.Nagar. He also used to get us baskets full of mangoes during the season every year through his clients in Andhra Pradesh. It was a pleasure to watch Thatha peeling saathukudi, just making vertical marks on the skin with a knife and then peeling it with great ease. I still have not got this knack! I have also seen him cut keerai at home. He is a keerai lover and likes to have it everyday. Thayir pachadi is also a must for him. Of course without the mention of his vethalai paaku, this blog is incomplete. Everyday he used to have at least 8-10 sessions of chewing the vethalai paaku with sunnambu and also tobacco. He stopped using tobacco a few years back, but continues to chew vethalai paaku.

When we were young, he used to eat from a big oval silver plate. Though I don’t remember, I have heard Amma saying that all his grandchildren used to sit around him and he used to feed us all from his plate.

Amma says that you become an expert in serving food, if you are able to successfully serve food to Thatha. He used to eat at such a great speed. Despite the speed, he used to taste, relish and comment on all the items. One can consider herself a good cook, if she gets a good comment from Thatha as he is a connoisseur of food!

The speed is not just in eating, but in talking also! His command over the English language and the way he presents his case is too good. I have heard many people say that it is a great sight to watch him argue in the court. I seem to have missed the opportunity to witness such a scene! To this day, I panic when Thatha wants to dictate any letter because after the dictation, he will correct it at least four times to improve it. The first dictated version would have been definitely good enough, but he prefers to keep improving on it.

His clients say that once he enters the High Court building there is a spring in his step and after that even young people cannot keep up to his speed when he climbs the stairs. He treats his profession with so much of reverence to this day and I am sure only that gives him the energy!

Thatha taught me and all my sisters to play cards. He is an expert in cards. He used to have sessions of card playing many nights with his friends Nattu Mama and Stalin Mama who used to stay overnight at our home. Until recent years, Amma and Thatha used to play cards regularly in the evening writing down points religiously in a note book. My sisters, I and even my husband used to join whenever possible.

Thatha is an expert in astrology. He is good at studying and matching horoscopes for marriages. Many of his predictions have come true. I have also learnt a little bit of astrology from Thatha.

Thatha is a great Muruga Bhakta and has set tune to the Panchamirtha Vannam written by Pamban Swamigal. He has given many lectures and demonstrations on the works of Pamban Swamigal in many places including the Music Academy, Naradha Gana Sabha, Thamizh Isai Sangam and the Samadhi of Pamban Swamigal.

Thatha is a multi-faceted personality and can talk about anything under the Sun. He is a great lawyer, expert in Trade Marks, a devoted Muruga Bhakta, fine cards player, keen horse-race goer, good astrologer, ardent follower of cricket and tennis. He does not seem to have left any field. He even acted in a movie – Srimathi Parinayam. Though we have not seen the movie, we do have some still photographs from the film at home.

He played the role of Manmatha in the movie. He does look very handsome like Manmatha and my Chittappa says that to this day, Thatha has the best photogenic face in the whole family.

Even at this age he is very keen to understand the new technology of mobiles, laptops and the internet. I am very happy to have had the opportunity of showing him the website on his favourite Pamban Swamigal with the lyrics of Panchamirtha Vannam, Trade marks registry with its online journals and some online Carnatic music. He enjoyed all these with the same zest he shows about everything in life!


  1. Thanks for bringing our childhood alive with this blog Lak! We granddaughters were nothing short of princesses in Thatha’s eyes. I can recall every scene and more that you have mentioned. About the aluminium boxes for school, ‘dull adikara dill’ – in fact, I laughed long and hard reading this part – about the bambaram and damaaram and more. I remember routing all my wants through Thatha when I was a kid too. In fact, I recall doing any number of mischievous acts and hiding behind him to escape Amma’s anger. Thatha to me is the symbol of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. I love you so much, Thatha.

  2. That comment was all set and ready. I forgot to add, what a picture you have begun with. Thatha looks so smart. The film pics are so cute too :)

  3. hi lakshmi,
    it is indeed a very interesting feature about where did u get the old photos.great work.shama

  4. I have noticed, it is very natural for everyone to enjoy oneself while looking at a mirror.
    After reading this article, you have left nostalgic memories to every reader and look back to their own childhood and enjoy,...........
    very similar to one looking to oneself in the mirror and enjoying.

  5. La too good about thatha. I think you have missed out on going for a everyday morning taxi ride with thatha. great memories

  6. Dear Lakshmi
    Your 'blog' on Thatha is 'par excellence'!
    Even now "Age has not a wee bit withered his enthusiasm to learn with alcrity about anything" and you rightly have underscored his zest to learn about anything however 'tech-savvy' it may be!

  7. Dear Lakshmi:
    As I had written in my email, this is one of your best pieces of writing if not the best. Such intricate details and going down memory lane - beautiful indeed. Raja Periappa was aptly named by his parents as he is indeed the King of the family and such a lovable person. We are fortunate indeed!

  8. very impressive hidden talent. now please leave yr thatha alone and write about other things happening around u! let's try to make arundhati roy jobless!

  9. Hi!

    Indeed great memories of Raja Thatha!
    I remember whenever we came to chennai, amma was treated like Rani, the name kept by thatha and everyone was treated the same way.
    excellently written blog....


  10. Another Raja Thatha , who is an oridinary man , salutes your great Raja Thatha,