The Kodavas are ancestor worshippers; they also worship the river Cauvery and call themselves the children of Cauvery. “Meedi Beppaddu” (an offering to the ancestors and to loved ones who are no more) is an important ritual in every Kodava family. Even today, I associate this ritual with my Ajja, despite the fact that on special occasions and on their death anniversaries, I do it for Papa, Umesh Bojappa (Papa’s younger brother) and for Avaya (as I used to call my paternal grandmother).
I remember in “Shivananda”, every morning, afternoon and evening, the ‘Meedi’ would be placed before Ajja’s portrait. The ‘Meedi’ would consist of a small portion of each item freshly prepared that would consist of the meal for the rest of the family at that particular time. This would usually be placed on a small plate or a small portion cut from a banana leaf. For the non-Kodavas reading this, it may sound funny, sacrilegious even, but the ‘Meedi’ in the afternoon and evening would be accompanied with a lit cigarette placed on a small, clean ashtray and a peg of liquor!!! I got to know Ajja smoked and enjoyed his drink.
On special occasions or before the start of an important event such as an engagement, wedding or birth in the family, the entire family (immediate and extended) present in “Shivananda” would come together in the living room and stand before his portrait. A lamp would be lit and along with the ‘Meedi’ comprising the meal, a betel nut placed over a paan leaf and a small brass vessel with holy water (from the river Cauvery) would be placed before him. Everyone would be given a few grains of rice and Avaya after blowing the conch shell would lead us in prayer seeking his blessings and those of our fore fathers before him. Now the prayer did not consist of any shlokas or bhajans or any such thing, just plain speak; something akin to the evangelist’s style but a trite more sophisticated and low-voiced!! Once the prayer was over, we threw the grains of rice onto his portrait. Avaya would ladle out the holy water with a small conch shell and pour it three times onto our extended palm (the right palm in a scoop, placed on the left). We would then stand in queue to touch Ajja’s portrait three times as a symbol of touching his feet. I have seen some people even touch the foot of the pedestal!! We would then disperse and that was it.
Ajja died two years before I was born. So there is not even a fuzzy memory of the man. Even if I was born earlier it would not have made much of a difference because I was about five when I first visited Coorg. Looking back I realize, I don’t know much about him; I probably know far more details about not only the various Gods in the Hindu pantheon but also various other religions. But not my own grandfather!!!
Yes, yes……there are millions in this world in a similar situation and HELLO, if they don’t feel a thing, then good for them and if they do then I totally empathize. I empathize because there are times when I think of him and I feel like a part of me is missing, like a piece of a puzzle or something.
Of late, it has also begun to dawn on me that when my sisters and I get together (especially Tulsi and I), we have these really funny anecdotes that we share and at times some very intense discussions about our family but Ajja has never been a part of any of these. The reason could be that we don’t know much about him. In fact, until this morning, I was not very sure of his full name and I had to call Chima Bojappa (my father’s younger brother; next in line to Papa). I also mentioned to him that I wanted to know more about Ajja and he promised to share his memories when I visited next. Come to think of it, I have not seen another photo of Ajja either, just the portrait on the pedestal.
P.S.: Suchsmita Majumdar is responsible for this entry. The other day (July 30) she wrote a beautiful and nostalgic piece ending with a few lines about her grandfather. I read it again on the 31st which happened to be Ajja’s anniversary and I guess all my emotions and memories came to the fore.
I am grateful to Suchi though; this entry of mine will probably help my kids – Manoj (in the immediate future), Aarzoo and Tamanna (in the not too distant future), know me better in some ways and see the softer, bumbling and confused side of me.