Sunday, October 6, 2013

Memories of Sitabai and Gopinath

At 86, Sitabai breathed her last on September 23rd. Husband Gopinath had predeceased her by 11 years.  In the mid 50s to early 60s, they were tenants in our house upstairs in what was for a long time, beautiful, Devaparthiva Road.  Gopinath built his own house just two houses away and moved there.  Sitabai's second daughter was my 'first friend' Latha, born when they were in that upstairs house.  Just a few months separate us in age.

We have known each other since that early time.  The earliest time I can recall Sitabai was when she used to feed curd-rice to Latha in a spoon while my mother did the same to me.  Latha was not fussy, but used to eat only curd rice, but I was fussy and disliked curd rice, eating only saaru-rice [rasam] which my mother tried to put in my mouth.  I would open the mouth if Latha ate one spoonful.  Either they would come down or we would go up for this big circus.

The landlord-tenant discrimination did not exist, but they were treated as one among the family.  Tenants fondly recall their time with us even decades after they left and progressed well.  Most of them have kept in touch with us, because they never got a feeling they were tenants.  My grandfather was never after money and by renting out, he never thought that he was the landlord.  Such was the simplicity.  The association with tenants and the friendly air that existed defies description.

But with the three following pictures I just make a poor attempt to describe it.

It was taken on the occasion of my grandfather's 60th birthday in 1956.  I have marked G and S [for Gopinath and Sitabai] as index.  Their daughter [Latha's elder sister, who carried a unique name of Priyamvada] is seen in black jumper in both pictures. To Sitabai's left is another tenant in the out house where the background screen is tied for this photo.  My father's hand rests on G's shoulder.

 [Click on all pictures to enlarge]

This was also taken on the same day as the group.  My grandmother is with her two grandchildren from her eldest daughter. And do not miss Priyamvada here. 
Now I was on the 'other side'.  Sitabai had become frail and weak . Her closest relatives were visiting from Bangalore to see her.  I felt privileged when they called me to be with them for a while before they returned to Bangalore.  So I left office early and rushed to meet them.  This happened to be the last we met Sitabai. It was exactly two months before she passed. It was an emotional moment for her closest relatives Thanks to my friend Srinivas [whose mother is Latha's cousin is at extreme right] for sending this memorable picture.   Priyamvada holds some spiritual book, seen extreme left.

Gopinath and Sitabai were a special and unique couple, personality-wise, with the lady taller than the man.  You can gauge their height in the group picture.  Gopinath worked at Mysore's reputed Krishnarajendra Mills [K.R.Mills] before moving to Davangere for a better job at DCM towards the late 60s.  I think he was an expert in textiles. I preserve a box from K.R.Mills which produced quality hosiery and textiles.
Gopinath and family returned to settle down in their Mysore house after he retired from DCM in the late 70s. The sick K.R. Mills had downed its shutters by then and his choice of going to DCM had proved to be a wise one.

In 1976, my late aunt and I visited them while they were at Davangere.  I remember the year because after a long gap, I was extremely shy to meet my first friend again!  More than that, I had the opportunity to listen to the radio commentary in Gopinath's radio when [Sir] Vivian Richards was hammering England at The Oval in the Test Match during his innings of 291.  We stayed for 2-3 days enjoying the wonderful hospitality of Gopinath and Sitabai. We had also visited the 13th century Harihareshwara Temple in nearby Harihara town.

There are many memorable pictures in our family album from the 50s and 60s, courtesy, Gopinath.  Photography was his passion at a time when possessing a camera itself was a big thing to many.  Our family did not have a camera and the pictures he took are the only ones available, taken outside a studio at that time!  I chose only a few relevant ones here.  Several others have fortified our family album. 

On a swing.  I am in whites, see hair. Earliest photo of us by Gopinath.

Above pictures:  Me and my first friend, when they were living upstairs. I'm in my terylene shirt.  Do not miss my favourite 'flip-flop' footwear.  They remain so, till date! 

This one was in front of their newly built house, some years later.  Terylene shirt again. I am very tense for this photo here probably because Gopinath had instructed me how to stand for the photo!  Notice the 'window box' for growing plants, which was in fashion at that time. 

My classmate Srinivas is Latha's nephew, seated extreme left. Picture from early 90s, taken by Gopinath from Srinivas' camera. All three of us used to go together to the same school.

My grandfather's four children - the only one on record - are in the same frame.  My father is at extreme left.  
Besides photography, Gopinath liked hockey and cricket. He used to recall his younger days on the hockey field and had many fond memories.  He was fond of comparing his own talent with that of other illustrious players in his time and how he enjoyed hockey.  He had owned a Vespa scooter in the early 60s from which he miraculously survived a bad accident.  Later he had bought a Jawa Motorbike which the family still preserves as a vintage model.  He was the only one in our street who owned a Jawa [manufactured in Mysore -Image from Wikipedia]

Obbattu [shown at left, from Wiki] is a South Indian sweet dish. Gopinath used to give us a few of those, but in his own recipe. It was tasteless, but full of affection.  It was known as 'Gopinath Obbattu'.  It was actually an affectionate hard tap on our butts!
 Gopinath's kindness and soft nature was evident in all his actions, so was his joviality.  A friendly tease was always expected from him when we met, usually he would start a conversation from one such.  Once I showed a chair I had made.  It was a large one.  So he had named it as 'Maharaja's Chair' because it would fit the Mysore Maharaja who was a fat man.  He was much like my father, also when it came to teasing and pulling legs.  In later years, I used to visit often to spend sometime with the old couple and they would recall the wonderful days while they were upstairs.

Many years ago when they thinned out their attic, I took some wooden pieces thinking they would be of some use.  See what I made with it here: [Click]. This post comes from there!

Sitabai had the ability to keep people warm, both with her hospitable nature and with the woolen materials she knit and gave away.  There are none who did not know Sitabai's fantastic knitting skills.  She was a knitter par excellence.  She could keep knitting while not looking at the needles.  The knits and purls went on like a machine! As youngsters, we were wonder struck watching her do this!  Just give the wool, size and pattern to her.  And presto, she would create what was wanted.  She has knit an enormous quantity of items to one and all, be they expectant mothers, tiny tots, kids, girls, boys and for anybody who asked, for free, for, it was her great passion.  I do not know if my late aunt Gowra had learnt to knit from Sitabai.  I have preserved one pullover knitted by her in the 1980s. [Pictured].  But I can recall clearly that Sitabai had made several sweaters when I was smaller, for my father and grandfather too.

Both Sitabai and Gopinath led full lives and left behind pleasant memories and deeds. If Gopinath's pictures stay in the album, the picture of the tall personality of Sitabai walking in to our house for an informal chat, her unique voice and the glittering nose stud that sparkled as she spoke, ever remain in memory.