When living in Pali, Amma herself created a mud stove on the kitchen platform. It had two parts – one big space that would receive the strong flame, and the second smaller space where a slightly lower temperature would be maintained (like the “sim” option in today’s gas stoves).
While wood was the main fuel, it was costly; besides, it would take longer to kindle. So, Amma made good use of dried cowdung cakes ….which she prepared herself….like this…
Early every morning, cows passed by our house as they went grazing. Under cover of the dim light, Amma would collect the cowdung they left behind, and store it behind the house. Later, at around 12.30 – 1.00 pm, she would take that dung out, make sure no one was watching, and pat it into cakes on the rocky boulders that lined our backyard, leaving them to dry out.
Why all the secrecy around this task that many other housewives may have been doing in those days?
There was an office of the mining staff in the space beyond the boulders of our backyard. A window of that office was so positioned that people in that office could see what went on in our backyard.
Amma didn’t want them to see her doing this cowdung-drying task because by then, Appa had been promoted to a Manager. She didn’t want people to think, “See what Manager’s wife is doing!”
Yet, she was overly aware of the responsibility of having 4 daughters to be married in the years to come; so, she simply did the best she could, to economize and save money.
On another occasion, Amma had come with the 5 of us kids for her stepsister’s wedding in Bangalore. Appa had dropped Amma at her parents’ house and gone; he was to come a few days later to pick us up. I was a 2-year old baby then.
Amma’s maternal relatives always tended to be a little self-centred in the clichéd way in which rich people don’t really bother about their poor relatives. It so happened that they all left for the wedding hall by their vehicles, leaving us behind. Amma wasn’t at all familiar with Bangalore city and so, we just began walking in the general direction of the hall. Luckily, Amma’s uncle was passing by and he took us in his car.
After the wedding, again, the same scene repeated itself. Everyone went away, and this time, that uncle too wasn’t around. Amma didn’t want to take a jatka gaadi (horse carriage) because she didn’t know the route – what if the driver took away this lone lady with 5 girls somewhere…etc etc…
So, Amma decided they would walk the 3-km or so distance home. They would be safe on the road, and could get back by asking passers-by for directions. With me on her hip, and holding the other girls’ hands, she trudged the lonely distance back to her parents’ house. When they had almost reached, it seems she told the kids, “If anyone asks how you came, say we came by jataka gaadi.” Again, she was keeping up appearances because she didn’t want people to think bad about her husband’s financial condition.
When Amma had narrated this incident to me, I’d felt angry at how she had been treated by her own people. When I said as much, I remember Amma saying, “It was all so long ago. They were also young….they didn’t know better, riches tend to cloud people’s minds…it’s not so easy to overcome that. Leave it, don’t get worked up over something that I myself have forgiven long ago.”
As the years rolled by, situations changed…we girls studied well and supported our parents financially, and our conditions became more comfortable than before. But most importantly, thanks to the way Amma and Appa brought us up, and God’s grace, we continue to be blessed with a richness of spirit that mere money can never buy!