Opening a new bar of sandalwood soap from the Aurobindo Ashram, I was wafted back 45 years. This fragrance, this very essence, had once pervaded my maternal grandmother’s trunk. Although she had a bright amber VIP hardtop suitcase she used for periodic travels between her daughter’s and son’s homes, it was the trunk that held her secret soul.
In it, she kept her going-out nine yard kanjeevarams, a book or two, a small hand-woven quilt (a Laisingphee) brought by her son who was posted in Shillong, and in a metal pocket, her spare set of reading glasses and some tulsi beads. Nothing much really. The rest was in a cupboard in whichever home she was in, at the time, but that too, was quite a spartan collection, as though she didn’t want to clutter her life with assorted useless objects.
For a child, she was not the typical storybook grandmother; not a person you could hug impulsively or play with or demand a treat from, though she did make the best kai-murukkus in the world when the mood took her. As I grew older, I began to appreciate her clear eyes and no-nonsense approach to life and people. She had the same attitude to her grown up children, aware of their foibles but leaving them to live as they pleased, never a stray comment to her daughters-in-law, and only the occasional shrug when the ways of her grandchildren baffled her tidy mind.
Like her, the trunk had the scent of spareness, of elusiveness, of something not easily touched.
Lina Krishnan is an abstract artist, poet and photographer in Pondicherry. She has a chapbook of nature verse, Small Places, Open Spaces, with Australian poet Valli Poole.