Most kids have a go-to relatives’ place to spend their holidays. It may be their granny’s, uncle or aunt’s or any such close relatives’ place. I had my share of such loving relatives who would house me for a few days during the summer holidays, after their long stay at my vast home. But my most memorable stays have been not at any relatives’ place but at a close family friend’s place. The friendship sprang from our mutual parents and Rama is the daughter of my parents’ friends.
As far as I can remember she was already married, and she has been ‘Ramatte’ (ie, Ramaunty) to us, including my brother who is older than her. The friendly soul that she is, she did not mind the senior form of address. Our visits to each other’s houses were mutual, the distance between the towns a mere two hours journey by bus and much shorter by car. Our visits to her place were seasonal, languid, lazy and long, whereas she would hop in frequently just for a day or two as Bellary town was the shopping destination for her, from the nondescript Koppal town, which has been her home from birth through her married life.
For want of anything better to do, I, in my early teens, would accompany her and her two young daughters, the cute Geeta and Lata duo, on her shopping sprees which would include dresses and shoes, hair-clips and pencils, amazing me to the core. The kids would keep adding more items and Ramatte would happily keep purchasing until all of us were tired. Ramatte never shopped at her home town, always busy within the confines of her home, catering to the needs of her kids and an ever busy husband who was a workaholic doctor. My mother, generous to the hilt, always served with a large hand and packed goodies with a warm heart when she left.
Needless to say that Ramatte reciprocated similarly whenever we visited her place. Such was the bonhomie between the families! Ramatte’s mother, ‘doddamma’ to me, was a friend of my dear mother Radhalakshmi. But I never guessed how much she had loved my mother until the day, many years later, she transited within a week of hearing the news of her friend Radhalakshmi’s departure from this world. She had been ailing for some time but it was my mother who beat her to it in the final lap.
My stays at Ramatte’s would revolve around delectable meals, languid book reading, pleasant Bollywood hits of 1960s from the gramophone, an odd game of badminton. But it was the tete-a-tete with Ramatte after dinner that we both enjoyed most, carrying on late into the night. Ramatte turned into a close buddy sharing many of her life stories with me. I always admired her energy when she woke up early the next morning, as peppy as ever, smilingly going about her daily chores. Ramatte, who turned into an invetrate traveller from her forties has entered her seventies now, with four enterprising grandchildren. Notwithstanding minor health concerns, she continues to be known for her loyal friends, her bountiful hospitality, her kindness to all including her numerous domestic helps, and last but not the least, her inexhaustible joie de vivre. Carry on, dear Ramatte.