By Nishi Pulugurtha
Holidays always meant trips to Kakinada. Appagaru said that Amma travelled to Kakinada from Calcutta frequently. I can very well understand her predicament. Alone in a new city, away from her family, amidst a people and language that were unfamiliar to her, it must have been really difficult for her in Calcutta. However, I never recall her say so. Amma never complained; she managed somehow. That was how she was. The only contact she had with home and her mother was the blue inland letter that took days to arrive. It was but obvious that she would travel to Kakinada whenever she could. When I joined school the frequency of these trips reduced. The school calendar was what she had to follow. So, it was now two trips a year to Kakinada, one in summer and the other in winter. With two kids in tow and a huge luggage to tug, she made the journey by the Madras Mail that left Howrah station at 9 pm and reached Samalkot Junction a little after 3 pm the next day. My maternal uncle would always be there waiting for us at the station. From here we boarded another train, sometimes a bus too to take us to the port city of Kakinada in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
Ammamma’s house was in Temple Street in Kakinada Town. As we turned right at the junction and went on a few yards, we had to stop at the mouth of a narrow lane. A couple of houses down that lane, to the right, was the house that was home to Amma. The area of the house had two buildings, one in front that was rented out to a family. This family, I still recall, had a sweet shop in the town. Beside this was a small lane that took us into a large courtyard. As one entered the courtyard on the left were stairs that led to the terrace of the house just beside. In between Ammamma’s house and these stairs was a large well. The huge courtyard had a few plants and trees on the right and towards the back. Three steps led into the house on the left. It was not a big house, two rooms and a kitchen. This was home to us for our vacations each year till Ammamma sold the house and relocated to Hyderabad.
The earth in the courtyard had a reddish tinge to it that was watered every day in the morning and evening. As drops of water fell a fragrance filled the air. After it was watered a little, my aunt or Ammamma would bring out the muggu to make a pattern, a design at the main entrance to the house and in the courtyard too. For my little sister and me this was a novelty and we often stood there watching their activity. At times we tried our hand but then we made a mess of it. This practice of making a muggu in front of homes is a common practice in homes in South India. In Calcutta we did not do it regularly. There were times when Amma would make a muggu on the lowest step that led on to our home in Ashokegarh in the Dunlop Bridge area in north Calcutta. I also remember that a gentleman had once pointed out to the muggu as a sign that someone had marked out the house and he felt that there might be some danger inherent in that.
Close by that Temple Street house was a school for children who had speaking and hearing impediments. It was a one storey large building that had tiles on its roof. As one walked down Temple Street with the lane leading to Ammamma’s house on the left and the school on the right and moved ahead there was a small temple by the side of what was a creek. This was called Uppu Teru, ‘Uppu’ in Telugu is ‘salt’. The reason for this name was that this was a salt water creek from the Bay of Bengal. As children we loved standing near the temple and watching small boats move along Uppu Teru. On one such occasion, my cousin Valli slipped and fell into the waters. We panicked but she was helped out by a few local people. Once she was on dry land the first thing that Valli said was that we could not mention this incident at home. She was sure that she would be reprimanded. My sister and I had to swear to secrecy. Completely wet, Valli walked home, a bit ruffled, a bit anxious and worried. When asked why her clothes were completely wet, she said that it was all sweat. Luckily neither Amma nor my aunt were at home when we returned. Ammamma was busy and did not pursue it further. It has since remained a secret.
Kakinada is hot and humid. We spent most of the evenings on the terrace as the gentle sea breeze made it a bit bearable. Summers were horribly hot and hence at night all of us took all the bedclothes and mattresses up to the terrace. The terrace was washed a couple of times in the evening to cool it down a little. After dinner we all moved to the terrace and lined up mattresses, one beside the other with the rest of the bedclothes. All of us, old and young, slept on these mattresses, talking away well into the night, with the stars for company. As the sun shone bright, early in the morning we had to run downstairs, sleepy eyed. The tall palm tree from the neighbours’ house bent over close to the terrace and my aunt often tore a long leaf to fold it into a doll. That was a time when we were still playing with dolls and this palm leaf doll was surely so fascinating. I remember trying my hand at folding that leaf too.
I am told that the house changed hands a couple of times. It has now been years that I have been to Kakinada and that house. The Duriseti home in Kakinada now exists only in memory. Amma always said that the house always had a stream of visitors, relatives from the neighbouring villages coming over to Kakinada on work and for health check-ups; cousins studying in the town stayed over at this house for the course of their study. I remember being surrounded by people on my vacation visits to this house and still refer to it as Ammamma’s house. A warm home that always had Ammamma’s caring touch to it.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University and Rabindra Bharati University. Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film. She is a creative writer and writes on travel, Alzheimer’s Disease, film, short stories and poetry. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Setu. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019).
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