When Amma Came To School

Nandita Iyer

It was a humid summer morning in Bombay. I used to live with my grandparents, but they were out travelling during the vacations. Thus, I was living with my parents then. My great-grandparents were around to take care of me when my parents were at work.

It was the vacation before my move to a new school in class 9. I knew it was not going to be easy, adjusting to a whole new place and a new set of classmates. I was savouring every day of the holidays, willing it to stretch forever.

My parents had left for work. My great-grandfather, whom I called ‘bada-thatha’, and I, were reading the newspapers together. We would be sprawled out on the floor, newspaper spread out into sections, both taking our turns. Bada-thatha used to make sure no news article was left unread.

While reading the paper from end to end, he came across this contest form in the paper. It was by a popular watch brand and the contest asked for entries to name their yet to be launched jewellery collection. The only other requirement was that the submission was to be accompanied by a bill of a recently purchased watch of that brand. This would have been the tougher cookie to crack, as my family would never submit to my whim of buying a watch to enter a contest.

Luckily, mum (Amma) had purchased a watch of this brand only recently. I remember us going to a showroom near VT (now called CST) and choosing a watch after much deliberation, and a complex selection processes. I was quite in love with that one, a 3 coloured dial and warm maroon leather strap. Ever since she bought it, I had dreams of wearing it to school during the exam days, which I was sure she wouldn’t refuse.

 Bada-thatha was very good at English. He had done his M.A. in English, and I would often use him as a human dictionary…

I rushed to the cupboard, opened the blue watch box and heaved a little sigh of relief – the bill was still inside. With no small measure of excitement, I told bada-thatha that since we have one of the two requirements covered, we can start thinking of a name for the collection. We listed down several words and names describing beauty, luxury, elegance – all that a range of precious jewels is expected to be. Bada-thatha was very good at English. He had done his M.A. in English, and I would often use him as a human dictionary while doing crosswords, in my laziness to open a dictionary and look for the correct word.

I was happy with the list we had come up with, and I had confidence that doing this with bada-thatha would lead to something good.

We scratched out the common sounding names, the not-so-beautiful sounding ones, and we were left with one name. I carefully filled out the contest form, attaching the bill of purchase along with it. It was folded and placed in an envelope, address copied out neatly and then sealed. I was always a cautious person. I still am. I gave our address as Amma’s workplace as I was worried that I would hear back from them at the home address, and what if no one was at home?

The following morning, I asked Amma to drop it in a postbox on her way to work.

In another few days, school began. My grandparents had come back from their travels and I went back to stay with them. A new school, a whole bunch of new faces, all of whom already had their groups and cliques. It needed quite some adjusting to.

Those were the days well before the advent of mobiles; we just went by the predictability of people’s schedules, and a fair bit of intuition. 

Amma used to work in a bank, which was on my way to school. Sometimes, I would leave a little early for school, stop by, and say hello. Some days, a cake seller would come to their branch to sell his wares, and most people would buy a loaf to take home. If I were lucky to land up on that day, I would get treated to a slice of cake. Those were the days well before the advent of mobiles; we just went by the predictability of people’s schedules, and a fair bit of intuition. I knew I would find Amma there if I wanted to meet her, and I would go whenever I pleased.

Days rolled into months. The contest entry was completely forgotten between my new friends, studies, and homework (and the occasional crushes). One day, during lunch break, I was walking down the corridor after having washed my hands. In the crowd, I saw my mother frantically looking for me. My heart was in my mouth. I was never used to my parents coming to school out of turn. There had never been a need, and they never did it, anyway.

In those few seconds between spotting Amma’s face in the chaotic lunchtime scramble, and reaching close to her, a hundred terrible things had crossed my mind.

My anxiety was rising as I asked her, “enna aachu”- “What happened, Amma??” She thrust in my hand a letter, and I could see glee in her otherwise poker face. I still had no clue what was happening. I was way too excited, worried, and in a turmoil that was a mix of every emotion. I couldn’t even hold the letter straight in my shivering hands. It was addressed to me.

My anxiety melted a bit and I finally had the strength to look up at Amma’s face.


When I finally opened it, I could barely believe what I read. It said that I had won the 4th prize in the gold range-naming contest. It went on to describe that my prize would be an exclusively designed gold pendant and that it would reach me in a couple of months. My anxiety melted a bit and I finally had the strength to look up at Amma’s face. I think that was the first time I saw my mother so excited that she actually came out of turn to meet me in my school recess. She felt this news couldn’t wait. We both held each other’s hands for a brief moment, and rejoiced in this unexpected surprise.



And yes, the pendant did arrive. A beautiful work in gold – of a peacock with its feathers tucked in. I treasure this for its sweet memory of winning something big for the first time, when I least expected it. But I treasure this more for the memory of the only time Amma came out of turn to see me in school.

P.S: That gold range is known today as Tanishq.



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