I call him ‘mudhol ajja’, because calling him ‘ajja’ only, has often created confusion- as in which ajja was I referring to. There is poona ajja too. Mudhol is a place hard to find on the map but is famous for this particular breed of dog possessed by police officers. I have no memory of him staying in our native village. Even before I was born, he shifted places and no looking back since then. So, he is ‘mudhol ajja’ for me, not S G Puranik, not ‘doctor’, not ‘sahebaroo’ (sir) unlike others.
The only times I have seen him is when my grandparents visit us. Ajji swinging her hand bag and rolling the suitcase which mumma gave them on their anniversary. But ajja carries only a small brief case, rectangular with curved ends. I don’t know, he tells he is no longer in a position to carry heavy bags. I think it is his Y chromosome supremacy that comes into play. God save ajji! He drags his feet slowly, step by step while the ring finger in his hand curls and all the other four fingers hang in air as if they may wither anytime soon. He settles on the chair finally, complaining of the rising temperatures. “Thangi, neer kodu” (sister, give me water), how am I supposed to be his sister? But this one is a long lost battle, he argues that it is out of respect. My mom is apparently his sister too (gasp).
I expect him to produce Cadbury chocolates, but he doesn’t. May be he believes S and I have grown up, sadly no. As a kid, I remember he always got us chocolates, one each for S and me. I used to save it until S finished, then slowly unwrap while S glared. I relished those cocoa squares, how can they be so perfect? The squares I drew turned out to be parallelograms, most of the times.
He moves fingers back and forth on his shiny forehead. His forehead is really big, you could play basketball there. His hair is all white and I can count them! I like how he maintains them by nourishing them with litres of parachute coconut oil. He has specifications too—no jasmine “sumne scented oil beda (I don’t want scented oil).” But ajji? She loves jasmine. Perhaps, it is ajja’s wish that prevails. His decisions are final, even the menu is decided by him. Brinjal cut into boat like pieces and allowed to float in a red sea of chilli powder and oil is his favourite curry. It is made every alternative day and eaten with stale rotis. Yes, he wants them stale and cold, I wonder why. He gnaws on that rough piece of roti. His teeth have flaky brown patches, thanks to his habit of chewing ‘adike’ (areca nut) after every meal. His teeth are erratically placed, one above the other, some sleeping, some too sharp, some having no gaps between them and what not. Dad and I have inherited the same without brown patches.
He has this peculiar habit of eating food at one in the noon and nine at night whether he is hungry or not. Okay, eating chakalis (fried snack) and avalakki (puffed rice) in the evening is not counted as a meal, according to him. While he sits on the table for food, ajji keeps entering kitchen repeatedly, because his taste buds keep asking for various things in each bite— once chutney, next pickle and then curd. I must admit he is finicky about food. What is interesting to see is his bib. He pushes a towel under his neck, like a cape, but not behind. He also sleeps like a baby – fourteen hours in a day.
The other times he is either watching TV9 or Suvarna News, with five cups of tea. Lately, this time is also taken by smart phone. He is on all the possible social media platforms, struggling to get them right. Thangi, how to send this photo? Where is the photo saved? Adheno instagram anthiralla (you call something— instagram)? YouTube seems to be his favourite, he and ajji watch devotional songs and some kids singing patriotic songs. I am often the victim of their murderous tunes, but seeing ajja so amused, makes me feel happy.
He chuckles softly and also explains each line of the song, without me asking for it. He goes on, raising eyebrows repeatedly, I nod every time he does that. His eyes are marbles, not the sea green ones but the intense dark blue ones. Dad has them, too; in fact dad is beginning to look just like him.
Ajja thinks he is a workaholic. He explains how he mops the floor, changes bedspreads, dusts his dear deer and other trivial chores. Ajji agrees – “yes yes too much work.” I know she is sarcastic and we burst out laughing.
My favourite pass time with ajja is watching T20 matches and discussing Kumarswamy’s rule. His favourite cricketer is Sachin Tendulkar , “what a batsman thangi” he tells. He dislikes Virat Kohli, “aggressive player thangi” he declares, with his lower lip pointing out. Who is going to tell ajja that Sachin is history? That he no longer plays cricket and is occupied with endorsing tyres and RO purified water?
Ajja complains about the number of advertisements too. But that no one listens to. The only thing we can listen to is the ‘kurum kurum’ of chaklīs. He prefers eating them with a spoon of curd. His artificial teeth can’t bear the brunt of chaklis’ crispiness; curd makes it soggy and soft.
He was miffed with my parents for years, because they named my brother S, after a so called lower- caste leader. But doesn’t he know that the same leader has enlightened the world with knowledge and expertise? He was miffed with dad, cause mumma doesn’t belong to the same caste. How does it matter ajja? He didn’t come to see me after I was born for weeks, because I am a girl? I don’t know. I want to ask him all these questions, but there is some innocence, something vulnerable in those frail arms and legs, that stop me. Frankly speaking, old age haunts me. I like this relationship of ours, we don’t talk much but our action towards each other speak volumes. I am glad to have him in my life.