‘Sriram kanna, nillu da [1]. Patty is becoming old’, cried  Seetama, the septuagenarian erstwhile first lady of Lakshmipathy Madam. Four- year old Sriram, the uncrowned master of the house stopped briefly, gave his great grandmother a look of unrivalled pity and then resumed his ride on the tricycle, humming loudly, “Dirrrr…Pam-Pam…Dirrrr…” The 4-year old bus-conductor commanded with all the might, the squeaky voice could muster, ‘Nageswara Park, get down fast.’

Seetama wondered at the imagination of her great grandson, who had not left the house in anything less than the sturdy Ambassador. The old-lady said to herself, “Shambo Mahadeva! Sriram has acquired the intellect of his thatta[2] ”. She hoped that the little prodigy would surpass even her beloved- the late Chockalingam Iyer, whose status in the village was next only to the presiding deity- Lord Shiva. ‘Sriram kannan[3] will become a Periya[4] Collector, like his thatta’, she mumbled to herself. Meanwhile the aspiring bus-conductor zipped through in his Pushpaka-Vahanam from the verandah to the hall. Seetama, accustomed to the routine of the pocket-dynamo directly went to the dining hall, the final stop of ‘Shaktiman Bus’.
            With the food for Sriram in one hand and the other on her protruding chin, Seetama reminisced about the past, when her husband, Chockalingam Iyer IAS was always surrounded by a retinue of people, ranging from the humble petitioner to the ubiquitous policeman and the occasional politician. She vividly remembered the day when the newly-wed couple had gone to a concert of a prominent vocalist during the Madras Music Festival. The couple had been received so regally that humble Seetama had immediately shot a prayer above, ‘Mahadeva, let not this royal treatment go to my head and I forget you.’ Meanwhile, as the couple were seated in the first row, right infront of the performing artiste, the hesitant new wife could not resist asking Chockalingam, “Ean Na[5], why are we being accorded such a rousing reception? Have you helped the Sabha authorities monetarily before?” Chockalingam, a connoisseur of Karnatic music, was then dissecting the song into its barest atoms and was absorbed in analyzing it like an alchemist. No wonder the young Seetama received her first rebuke as the former muttered under his breath a clichéd Tamil proverb, “ Kaidei ki theriyama karpoora vasanai,’ which here roughly translates to-‘Can the donkey appreciate the arts?’ This unfair comparison awakened the musician in Seetama, a talented vocalist herself. Thereafter she also merged into the same wavelength as her husband’s, as the couple devoured the ambrosia flowing out of the renowned Bhagavathar.
            Later, as the couple were returning in their chauffeur driven Chevrolet car, Chockalingam seeing the gloomy face of his young wife softened and he himself revealed the truth, “Your husband is an IAS Collector. Hence.” It was then that Seetama truly understood the significance of the term “Collector”. The awe of the term ‘Collector’ was imprinted in her mind then. A kind of obsession took root in her mind that atleast one of their offspring should become a Collector. Since by nature, she was not of a stern disposition, she did not force her views on her six children, who were perfectly satisfied to excel in other fields such as the arts and economics and were not lured by the prestige of becoming That. Even though one of her grand-daughters was enterprising enough to try her hand at becoming That, the results did not match the efforts. Always a firm believer in destiny, Seetama consoled herself. It was of some consolation to her that the granddaughter eventually became a High-Court judge.poda
             Though she did not openly admit to others, the ‘Collector’ desire was still lurking in her heart, acting as a catalyst to her activities on the earth, but hindering her passage into the beyond. She was jolted out of this stupor by Sriram who commanded, ‘Patty, quickly give me the food.’ Seetama fondly queried, ‘Is my sweet-heart hungry?’ ‘NO!’  responded the thunderer immediately, “POGO”.

Old that she was, Seetama misheard POGO as PODA, a harmless profanity in Tamil if uttered in conversations between equals but serious enough to elicit attention if said otherwise, especially if by a four year old toddler. Seetama gently corrected,    ‘No Sriram! You should not say bad words like that.’

She cursed herself for allowing Sriram to mingle with the son of the gardener. The young fellow was understandably perplexed and quite unlike himself, quietly gulped down the food. Though somewhat concerned by the strange subdued obedience of her grandson, Seetama after the last helping patted the latter’s head and asked, “Kanna[6], will you become a Collector?” Pat came the reply, ‘Patty[7], I will become a conductor’. “Mahadeva! At this young age, the little fellow dreams of becoming an IAS Collector. It is the genes of his thata” exclaimed Seetama in unalloyed bliss.

Meanwhile a tricycle was heard running with the driver humming, “Dirrrr…Pam-Pam…Dirrrr.. We will watch POGO.  New stop POGO, POGO POGO”.  In the background trailed Seetama’s voice, ‘No, Sriram. Collectors don’t utter bad words!.”

[1] Nillu da-Stop dear

[2] Thatha– grandfather

[3] Kannan- beloved, dear

[4] Periya- Very Big/renowned

[5] Ean Na- Ji in Hindi

[6] Kanna- Laadla in Hindi

[7] Patty- Grandma


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