Of courtyards, verandas and bamboo canes
It was many years ago. The setting is sometime in the early sixties. My grandfather was a chartered accountant and had many rich clients. He had his office on the ground floor of the family house. There was a direct access to the office from the large airy veranda. My own father was a taxation lawyer who worked in the same office.
Many cars would be parked under the mango trees in the courtyard. We, his grandchildren played around the Ambassadors, Land Masters, Hillmans, Morris Minors, Austins and sometimes a large red Mercedes. It belonged to a Muslim businessman known simply as Balaramapuram Sait. Balaramapuram, in those days, was a small township to the south of Trivandrum, my hometown, and ‘Sait’ was a title of respect for a rich Muslim, almost always a business man. The Sait’s chauffeur liked us children, but kept a watchful eye on us as we trotted around his precious charge. His name was Sulaiman and he was always dressed in starched white handloom shirts and khaki trousers. His moustaches were fashioned like the curving horns of a temple bull. Once he told us that the red paint on the car was called Imperial Crimson and that he waxed the car every fifth Friday.
Most of these clients knew each other from previous meetings on the veranda. They would strike up lively discussions, about anything under the sun, with a camaraderie only the rich could have. Their money made them equal, though they were all from very different backgrounds, may it be education, caste, religion, culture or nature of business. Their model behaviour could also have been caused by the total respect they had for my grandfather. My grandmother would send them a steady supply of hot cups of tea or frosted glasses of fresh lemon juice. They all called the dignified matriarch ‘Amma’, meaning mother, in Malayalam.
The Sait too called the matriarch ‘Amma’. A devout Muslim, he sometimes sat alone, thumbing his beads in silent prayer. He also brought us halva and sweets made by his wife. In return, my grandmother made Sulaiman load huge China jars of her famed salted mango pickles into the cavernous boot of the Mercedes. Though we were very traditional Hindus, with his loud laughter and simple jokes, the Sait loved us all. We too considered him as family.
Those days mean a lot to me, because there was so much respect around. It was a time of plenty and everything was so clean and well ordered. We were very well cared for as kids in a large joint family, with many uncles and aunts licensed to love us or whip us. We had no complaints against them or the stern schoolmasters who brought out the feared bamboo cane at the slightest provocation. The children of today have everything and appreciate nothing. They know all their rights and none of their responsibilities. The social watchdogs, lawmakers and whistleblowers have created a nursery fit for nothing but vipers. Or am I just an old-fashioned coot letting off steam?