Dear Lovely Kala Chitthi

I was in a tither, and petered out after the last meeting. 

“Why does it have to be this way? All supposedly smart people with Ivy League fancy degrees and all, and yet half of them don’t know how to utter a statement without ruffling feathers in the room!” I said.

The husband gave me an all-in-day’s-work look and I looked weary.

I could not help thinking of resumes, college degrees, achievements, patents, and all the grand things we give importance to in our society.  And I crumpled and said, “What can’t they be like Kala Chitthi?” (Chitthi means Aunt in Tamil – either mother’s younger sister or father’s younger brother’s wife).

My sister had called that morning with the news that Kala Chitthi had passed away. I said I did not believe her. And I did not. She was not even sixty. Most vacations in our childhood had that glow of warmth and love around it thanks to her.

We live strange lives of dichotomy. I had no time to process the news or make sense of my denial for my morning was filled with meetings. 

Kala Chitthi was the youngest in the large Kalyanam family. Of the brood of 9 children that Visalam Paati and Kalyanam Thaatha bore, Kala Chitthi was the 9th child’s wife. She entered a large family as the youngest member – a daunting task for anyone. Yet, she chose to put her best foot forward and was accepted and loved by 3, and at times 4, generations of people in the large brood. She was ever respectful, yet got her way. She neither ruffled feathers, nor shied away.

I remember one hot summer vacation when I was a teenager. We were visiting our dear uncle, aunt and grandmother in the village. The pater insisted on me wearing a half-saree. When pressed for a reason, he said something about Culture. Like my grandmother used to say with a wink: He left the village in his twenties, and he just remembers how his sisters dressed as children, that is all.

It was true. The father seemed to be stuck in a village scene of the 1940’s.

I know some people really like half-sarees. I suppose they looked nice enough on Tamil movie heroines, who knew how to sway their hips just so, while walking and dancing gracefully like the palm trees swaying in the breeze. Self? I detested them. I was not at all used to them in day-to-day life, and they made me feel like an ice cream in the sun. Would the slippery top slip off, would the long flowy skirt stay?

I liked to walk fast. The half sarees impeded my long manly stride with hands tied behind my back. No gentle sways of h. here. I suppose my gait was best suited to a sergeant major’s uniform, but I was willing to settle in for a salwar kameez with a dupatta. 

So, there I was arguing with the pater. Logically, I asked him, “What part of this dress is less decent than the half-saree? “. Seeing as there was no good answer to this, the pater was starting to huff and play the But-I-know-village-life card. 

Kala Chitthi was watching the unfolding drama as she went about her morning chores. Somehow she connected with everyone in the family – young and old.  She knew how much I hated the half-saree, and also how it was going to be difficult for the pater to slide down the palm tree he was climbing up with every sentence. 

She came along in that swift manner of hers, and hugged me about the midriff and said, “If you wear a half-saree, it will be so much easier to pinch you around here right? You should try it sometime!” And then smiling she said to her much older brother-in-law,  “Anna…you remember a village of long ago. These days, all girls wear a nightie or salwar kameez and stand outside. This looks beautiful!” She whisked us both on our way smiling all the way through. She had a morning full of duties to attend to and this matter was resolved with the attention it deserved. No more no less.

She loved all her nephews and nieces, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, parents-in-law. She made them all her sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, parents. She loved and was loved by all who knew her, with a generosity of spirit that was hard to comprehend. How could one soul have so much capacity to love? 

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” ― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

I had my next meeting to get to, but Kala Chitthi reminded me that life is not as prickly as we make it out to be. Human beings just need to be heard and understood is all. We have things to do, and one must be happy going about it.

Chitthi’s LinkedIn profile would not boast of any patents, for they do not give patents for unifying souls, who lavish their love and generosity upon everyone. But they should. It would make the world a better place.

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