After a few days of persistent asking, Ammama agreed to take me out to Vijayawada for the weekend. Her birthplace–and my grandfather’s birthplace–are nearby and I had been wanting to see the villages where my grandparents grew up (and where my own roots are!) We traveled to Vijayawada by bus which was a surprisingly restful voyage. There, we stayed at my mama’s home and did a couple day trips out to the villages and even to Amaravati, the brand new capital of Andhra Pradesh. (After decades of protest, AP split into two states in 2014–Hyderabad will be the capital of Telangana and AP’s new capital is Amaravati. Currently both states share Hyderabad as the capital)
Last year, I was able to write an economic history essay on my own family in a class on women and economics. I chose to write about my Ammama and Baama and their life trajectories–ever since then, I’ve had a strong interest in especially visiting Mudunuru, my grandma’s native village. Apparently my Ammama has not been back in over 30 years, but lots of old neighbors still remembered her and reminisced about the old days. My mom and her sisters also spent summers in the village with their grandmother so many people remembered playing with my mom as a little girl too. (“She fell headfirst into a ditch right there!”, someone told me. “I had to go pull her out!”) Although my great-grandmother passed away almost 20 years ago, some of her close friends are still around and were overjoyed to see my Ammama (and meet me too, I suppose). My favourite part was how all the houses had cows tied up in the front yard! I was also surprised at the camaraderie between folks–because we move so often in this era, I’ve already lived in a half dozen places. I can’t imagine going anywhere where everybody would remember me so well!
I also noticed how caste seemed to matter less–one of my Ammama’s neighbors was from a blacksmithing family (meanwhile members of my Ammama’s caste are historically farmers). Upon asking, my Ammama explained that caste relations are less tense in villages–everyone really is interdependent for the village economy to work so there is less of a divide between castes. (Of course, there still is a hierarchy and intermarriage is not allowed)
Considering that many young men (and even middle-aged men) go to cities to find jobs—and send back remittances to the villages—and the fact that women tend to outlive men—it was no surprise that the majority of people I met were older widows. Moreover, the village apparently has emptied out as the past few generations have dispersed to cities across India–and gone abroad as well. Out of my grandma’s six siblings, only one–her youngest brother, who still owns and tends farmland–has any connection to Mudunuru still. And even he lives in the nearest town–not in the village. The oldest generation is slowly disappearing too–I wonder who will reside in Mudunuru in the future?
Otherwise, my grandmother noted that Mudunuru had indeed modernized—all the roads were concrete, every compound now had an on-site latrine, and everyone seemed to have mobile phone.
After leaving Mudunuru, we visited Atkur, my Tatagaru’s hometown. Atkur is about 25 kilometers from Mudunuru—my grandfather and his entire family apparently rented a bus to come to Mudunuru for his wedding with my grandmother! (They got married in front of her childhood home) My Tatagaru’s younger brother and his wife still live in Atkur—they run a government rations shop that sits adjacent to my Tata’s childhood home. The house he grew up in was recently demolished but I visited the plot and got to see his elementary school as well. In the 50’s, Atkur didn’t have a high school so my grandpa used to walk over 8 kilometers a day (round-trip) to go to the nearest high school!
It was a really incredible day—and I felt both humbled and grateful for all the sacrifices my grandparents made so that their little family could grow and so that eventually, I too could lead a privileged life. I also just loved the feeling of being in a place that I could definitively call mine–I don’t know if I’ll ever get to go back but I know that I won’t forget the experience.