We were going to India on vacation and I must have been around 10 or 11 years old. We used to live in Dubai at that time and would come home to India on vacation every couple of years or so. My uncle – my mother’s youngest brother – Mattimman, had married a few months before. We had not been able to attend the marriage, and the new young couple had come to the airport to greet us on arrival. That’s my first memory of my aunt, Savithri Ammayi. The image in my mind, in her very early 20’s, very young and pretty, shy and demure – standing close to Mattiman with a shy smile as she tightly clutched a small ladies umbrella. I remember fussing that I wanted to sit in the front of the Ambassador car with my pretty new Ammayi…I don’t remember if I was allowed to or not.
Those days in Kottakkal were filled with fun times. There would be long walks to the top of a nearby hill – called Anoli Kunnu. Mattimman, Ammayi, my sister – Oppol and me. Oppol being 6 years older than me – was a lot closer to Ammayi. I was the incessant chatterbox – I bet I must have gotten on her nerves every now and then. But sweet natured that she was – she never showed it. I remember accompanying her and Mattimman on a visit to her family house. I got along great with her mother and brother.
The years passed – 9th and 10th grade, I was sent to India from Dubai and enrolled in a hostel near Calicut. Mattimman and Ammayi took on the mantle of my local guardians. After a month or so at the hostel – I would get a couple of days break every now and then and I would make a beeline for Kottakkal. Those days were great – Mattimman and Ammayi would make sure that I felt special – there would be something really nice on the menu. I would play with my young cousin – Aravind. Even younger – was the incorrigible brat – my cousin sister Gouri - she was just a toddler. The tyrant, she would yell at the top of her voice to get whatever she wanted – poor Ammayi would complain and acquiesce. (The same Gouri today has grown to a pretty young lady and is an absolute darling - and very quiet)
I remember, spending a month or so there, during my 10th standard board exams study leave. I was studying furiously, and every now and then, Ammayi would help out with a thoughtful cup of coffee or plate of snacks. One day she noticed that I was constantly scratching my head furiously – she took a closer look and saw that my hair was covered with lice – the perils of living in a hostel !!!. In her sweet voice (more about her voice in a second) and typical lack of tact – she said – Ayye – Ee Unnide thalayil narachum peenanallo – penungalude mathiri (this Unni’s hair is full of lice – like a girl’s) but you could not take offence to her. She then proceeded to take a lice comb and comb out all the parasites. Thank you so much Ammayi – it was such a relief from the torment. I aced my 10th Std exams . Talking about her voice – it was so sweet – I used to tease her and call her Kili naadam (one with a song bird’s voice)
Those days were great – Mattimman was always a hoot and it was so funny to see him interact with Ammayi and tease her. Every day after lunch – he would want something sweet and would mercilessly tease Ammayi – Fridgeil vechathu maam !! he would exclaim ( the item in the fridge is mine !!!) and she would grin. It was so much fun. I loved those days.
As the years passed – we all grew older. Further encounters were often just a day or so during vacations. She was as charming, gracious and pretty as always. The affection that she had was apparent during those brief encounters.
Savithri ammayi - shy, charming and pretty; soft spoken to a fault and sweet natured; affectionate and loving and - alas diabetic. My dear Savithri Ammayi – Today you are no more – so early, so unfair – I don’t have the words for it. Little did I know, last time when I visited you, that it would literally be the last time. We all love you and will miss you so much. Rest in peace dear Savithri Ammayi. Mattimman, Aravinda and Gowri…we are all here for you.