Remember your grandmother’s house, filled with the scent of cycle agarbathi and strong coffee, books won as prizes for competitions from the 1960s, neatly arranged on the wooden shelf that her mother-in-law had gifted her? She is preparing dosa for breakfast, its warmth competing with the sunlight streaming into the kitchen. The walls are adorned with memorabilia from her yesteryear. You look closer at the baby photos of your family members to the background music of hissing dosas. Amongst them, there is also a cardboard cut-out of baby Ganesha, a gift for your grandmother’s loyalty with Kumaran medicals around the corner.
Remember your grandfather’s bedroom, a cosy area smelling of Old Spice, the mirror on the custom-made iron almirah beaming with pictures taken at somebody’s recital, graduation or award function? Amidst all this sits a naughty Krishna cut-out from a gift that our chatty neighbour gave him.
Do you remember how the windows had a grill that made it easy to hang up things by a thread, like the yellow calendar from Annachi kadai, a bright green Lakshmi showering gold from her palms?
If one wants to time travel, my grandparents’ house is the perfect launch pad; everything dates back thirty years at the very least. These pieces of cardboard art are the most valuable of them all; they contain information about the arrival of rahu, important days and dates, famous people’s birth and death anniversaries, muhurthams. During the few days when the cardboards are taken off for replacement with new ones, the plain yellow walls remind me of my refrigerator at the end of the month – cold and empty.
It wasn’t until recently that I started paying attention to these pieces of cardboard, hand-painted, with different shades and hues, famous figurines of respect and positive affirmations written on them.
As I sit down at my table to devour the crispy dosas with hot sambar, I ask, “So what happens after the year is over, ammama?”
She points to a framed picture of Venkatachalapathy, immortalised since 2008 in the puja room.