THE ENTRY SAYS IT ALL

 

“All of us light up a room – some when they enter, some when they leave.” 

Over the years, I have been fascinated by how people enter – home, office, room or just about any space.  It must have been at the back of my consciousness always, but now that I am much like an old cow, chewing the cud, literally and figuratively, I ruminate on this behaviour a lot and have evolved a fond theory that if you observe a person’s entry closely, you understand them much better.  Having done that, I must now support it with evidences.  So much so, that I think you can learn much about a stranger from their entry – whether it is a doctor’s waiting room or an interview panel, an investor/broker or just about anybody.

 

I have a sister who, when she enters, looks around for people, beams at everyone and they start talking to her.  Even if you are in another room, you can guess her arrival by the buzz around her.She is very social and is in her element when she has people around her.

Some people enter as quietly as a mouse.  They go through life just as shyly and unobtrusively.  Not that they fall short of achievements or accolades.  A very young Manager of mine used to enter so soundlessly that he has often caught my colleagues and me, napping at our own desk or loafing at others’.  He rose to become Director at an equally young age, leaving competition napping.

A friend of mine always enters like the prequel to a suspense film, “Guess what happened today?” The incident can be as trivial as a tiff with the conductor over change or a grave accident on the road.  Drama queen.

Not all quiet entries, though, are so harmless.  Some enter a room, noiselessly, but with a suspicious look.  You never know what they have taken in, until they later express their displeasure at something or the other.

A guy in our circle would enter howling and hooting.  So boisterous that even the furniture would jump up.  But an aunt of mine, would actually bang chairs or stools herself with a bull-dozer entry.

Apart from that, her eyes would swim all over the house, looking for unfinished tasks, messy tables or kitchen and declare mournfully, “Nothing is taken care of in this house if I go out.”   Her family and maids now laze around when she is not there.  “Anyway she is going to complain and find fault when she returns.”  Predictably, she is never content.

Our school life is incomplete without the memory of the teacher’s classroom entry.  One bangs the duster on the table, “Keep quiet, class.”  As if on cue, all the children raise their voices a few decibels and more pandemonium follows until she changes her strategy.  Another teacher looks enquiringly as she enters.  The children wear fearful or guilty looks, not knowing what incompletion she is going to bring up.  The list is long.

In a selection rehearsal before the great Annual Function, our College principal would watch all the items.  Particularly, for group dances he would ask, “Entry kasha hoyil?”  meaning, ‘how is the entry?’  The item incharge would explain how the groups – split or whole – would make entry from this wing, another wing etc.  Then the dancers would demonstrate.  Corrections were made, logistics taken care of accordingly.  At that time, I used to wonder why this focus on ‘entry’.

Then I paid attention.  In theatre, cinema, public events – the main protagonists’ entry sets the tone for their role and audience involvement through the show.  Who can forget Gabbar’s roaring entry in ‘Sholay’ or Mogambo’s menacing introductory look in ‘Mr.India’? Lot of thought goes into the entry of the hero/heroine in a film/scene/song even as the audience waits, often with bated breath.  Politicians – a lot of homework goes into their entry and they present a carefully cultivated style.

In guidelines laid out for competitive exams, there are lot of suggestions on how to enter the personal interview room.  Attention is drawn to the smallest detail like how you should brush back your hair as you enter, apart from how you look at the panel members, which direction to smile, how to hold your shoulders and so on.

I wonder what others think of my entry?  Only they can say.  Meanwhile, I exit.

THE GURU IS THE PURNIMA

Lucy Rebello, my first standard teacher.  In my Orals test, I stood painfully shy and dumb.  She still gave me Pass grade.

Zorina Miss.  Std.3 My English is very rudimentary.  “That is mine’s”, I said to my friend, after school.  I don’t know how she heard me, but she has corrected me for a lifetime.

Std. 4, Suman teacher.  One afternoon, she gave each one of us individually one whole, big ‘boondi laddu’.  Even in our homes many of us never got a whole laddu to ourselves.  We giggled when she shyly told us that she had got married in the vacations.

So many of them surface in the memory – like waves, cresting one another – in no order, but some rhythm all the same.  Mrs. Moses, who taught us Maths and kind love.   In recent years, I came to know that she died in her native Israel.  Many of my beloved teachers have now ‘crossed the bar’.

We had quite a few nuns and Jesuits teaching us.  Sister Charlotte, gentle-faced and demure.  My hair stood in thrill, because she recognized me by name.  I knew I was someone.

There was this history teacher, Mr. Raphael, who regaled us with such stories.  He told us more stories than he taught history.   His one hand was crippled.  (Polio?  Maybe)  The boys nick-named him ‘Ek Haath ka Rifle’.  He was much feared for his strictness.

Another teacher also told us many stories.  This was a PT teacher who wrote detective stories in Hindi.  His detective was the same in all the stories.  We called him by the detective’s name.  And a lady PT teacher whom we coaxed to sing ‘Naina Barse’ every rainy PT period.

Margaret teacher had dimples and Akila teacher looked like actress Nanda.  Did we love them for their teaching?  Or their beauty?  Or their sarees?  In those days, male teachers wore pant-shirt, some even carried an Englishman type hat.   The women were mostly in saris or skirts.  As our heads were mostly down, we also assessed their heeled or flat footwear.  Some Nosey-‘Parkeris’ went beyond that.  They would, in long afternoons and evenings, train their spy-glasses on these teachers and tell us about their boyfriends. Some of us invited ourselves over to view Akila teacher’s trousseau.  Now, I realise that many of our ladylike teachers were still young girls.

The Marathi and Drawing teacher were top of the charts in our jokes and mimicry sessions – in class and outside. Some children drew cartoon images of Sheikh sir, instead of the pot or vase he told us to draw.  I’m sure they cried in the staffroom.

Our high school English teacher, Alexander (the Great, titled by us) ‘daffodilised’ our youthful ‘inward eye’ and now fills our aging hearts with ‘thoughts that lie too deep for tears’.   When I taught grammar in later years, I filled the blackboard from my visual memory of Alexander Sir’s blackboard.  He earned me the title of ‘the Great Grammarian’.

Mrs. Bharde.  Her voice scarcely rose above a whisper.  She taught us the power of words.   She could use the power to teach, to influence and even quieten the rowdiest of boys.

Aloo teacher gave us 25 problems in Algebra as daily homework.  We groaned.  She never asked us if we had done our homework.  Next day, she would solve or ask students to solve on the board.  Those of us who had done HW participated, those who hadn’t felt left out.  Most of us never failed to do the homework. She was Maths, Maths, Maths.  So we thought until one day she corrected a student who prepared a circular – ‘the library will be open between 9 to 11 am’.   ‘Shouldn’t it be ‘between —–and —–‘?

she asked.  I have never forgotten ‘between —–and —–‘ when I taught Prepositions.

In our humble State board syllabus, Karunakaran Sir, familiarised us with the likes of Dickens, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Aldous Huxley – so much so that even the ICSE or IGCSE students that I teach, cannot claim the kind of foundation he gave us.  Above all, he discovered me my hidden talent for writing.  I pray I never let down his trust.

There are many more names – the list is 11 years long; too much to capsule in a single post.  They are not less remembered or honoured.

Did they just teach us languages, social studies, maths and science?  Much more, they kindled in us the ability to tell stories, to show compassion.  They gave us the expansiveness to be laughed at and mimicked.   They taught us the skill of scolding with ownership.  They awakened our third eye to surprise the cunningest of truants.

In later years, too, we had many trainers, gurus, leaders, teachers – but the teachers of our childhood, walked tall, literally and figuratively.  Most of them are now below the earth, but enshrined in our hearts to immortality.

Having worked as a teacher for several years, I wonder – will I be remembered by my students the way I remember my teachers?   I face tough competition from super-teachers like Google Sir, Brilliant Sir, Maheshes, Raus and Singhals.

 

Be that as it may, I can say one thing for sure – Being a teacher means never having to be alone.  Once I ended touring Allepey (Kerala) all by myself because I could not locate my friend’s house.  No mobile, no useful clues, I still took in all the backwater boat rides, sightseeing.   But then I was hungry and though the aroma of food across the road was relishing, the thought of eating alone was not.  Suddenly, this young man in tie and briefcase wished me.  I did not recognise him, but he said he was in the boys’ hostel in a college where I taught.  He was travelling on work and that day, my companion for lunch.  In many strange places, at home and abroad, some student pops up offering help, ride or a tour.

A teacher who has occupied a niche in a child’s heart has not lived in vain.  And in the mindscape of a child, becomes a moon that will never wane.

Purnima, uninterrupted!

New Age Babies

NEW AGE BABIES 

My mother was married at 15.  By 16, she had her first child, followed by 7 more at regular intervals of 3-4 years.  All normal, healthy as horses.

When we were growing children, our mornings started like this – Amma would take a bath in cold tap water as soon as she got up, no matter what season or weather.  Then she would draw a ‘kolam’ (rangoli) outside the door, even as she chanted some prayers.

Now would come the best part of the day – ‘KAAPI’.  We would sleep or pretend to sleep until we heard the tinkering of stainless steel vessels and smelt the aroma of the coffee – the elixir of all normal Tamils.  Only the older children, above 6 or so, would be allowed coffee.  After this energizing drink in tumblers of certain sizes and shapes over which we had, over time and use, established proprietorial rights, we were charged for the day.

What about the under-6 of which we had one or two for almost 21 years?  Amma would prepare some formula or cow’s milk, transfer it into an arc shaped glass bottle with nipples at both ends and the older children had to fix it in the mouth of the youngest one or two.  Some kid would be able to hold it with both hands (like a ‘nadaswaram’ Appa would say); for another we had to hold it because if it slipped, the bottle would break.  With some drooling and dripping, this chore would be over and these babies would be charged for another day of adventure – crawling, running, tearing newspapers, school books, chewing shoes and slippers, putting buttons or tamarind seeds into most convenient holes – mouth or nostrils.

Days were full of activity and excitement – playing, reading, seeking ghosts, quarrelling, hiding results from Appa,  stealing sweetmeats from ‘dabbas’.  When these days passed, we moved into jobs, marriage, parenthood – who knows?

But in one distinct area, as in many others, we could never match our parents’ achievements.  Our generation could not or would not deliver more than one or two children.  Our Appa, would dream of enrolling each of us in different classes – like music, painting, art, cricket, foreign languages – after all, he was only one short for the ‘navarasaas’!  But we had to rotate one or two children into all these ‘rasaas’.  So we ended up shuttling the one kid to various classes.

What happened to the coffee, the bottle?  The coffee is still going strong.  Sippers have replaced bottles.  And to keep Amma’s tradition alive and the family growing – there is a baby being delivered every now and then.  We start the day – there is an ordinary functional mobile phone.  Its charger has a round pin.  A smartphone with a flat pin.  The laptop with its 3-pin.  Then there is the broadband and the Wifi hotspot. When these get older, newer models take their place.  All of them have to be attended to every morning even before we wish the people we live with.  Then they have to be plugged in and charged for the day – like our young baby siblings of yore with their feeding bottles!

Most people cannot even go for a morning walk without a phone – the excuse being, listening to music.  No wonder, the birds don’t chirp any more nor does the wind rustle. We look for groups, messages that tell us what to eat and drink, challenge our beliefs, introduce some new fundas everyday about health, science, religion everything.  Information or misinformation is supported by photos and videos.  We scroll, talk and laugh alone, like mad people.

 “People who smile while they are alone used to be called insane, until we invented smartphones and social media.” 

Mokokoma Mokhonoana

The children manage to get hold of some elder’s phone and read jokes, look at funny videos, listen to songs.  I think after a couple of centuries, children will be born with mobile phones in place of ears!  You sit at get-togethers, ride in a car with family or friends and no one looks at the other or the view – the phone occupies all our attention.  Gone are those times when we talked even to unknown fellow passengers in buses and trains.

You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in… Dubai!” 
― 
Dave Eggers

Some years ago when the first child was consulted about the planning of a sibling, he/she would ask for a pet.  I think now they would ask for an i-phone. Or an Alexa.  Or an Echo. The new age babies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiger Cubs

                                                   

I used to teach from the H.Sc. English text, a delightful piece called ‘Tiger Mom’ by  Sidharth Bhatia, noted columnist,  in which he describes this modern Super Mom who drives herself and her children into a frenzy, pushing them into classes, competitions, sports, music, art and what not.

She waits outside school or classes at closing time.  With other mothers, she will be sharing views on the school, the teacher, the education system, everything. When bell rings and the child comes, she barely registers this.  She is already checking the other children’s books for updates, comparisons and what not.  And back home, she pushes her child to outdo the other.

Tiger Mom knows all that the child is doing.  She knows the syllabus for exams, the best tuitions and coaching classes, the sports, arts and hobbies that the child is or should be into.  She is on edge during every exam and result day, whether it is a routine class test or a decisive public exam.

What about the father, you ask?  He has little say, so what is there to say about him?  Sometimes, he gets minor roles like ATM, chauffeur, escort to parents’ meeting; no dialogues. After some participation in the child’s early years, mostly in play and outings, he gradually resigns into his newspaper or laptop, making suitable ‘hmms’ and ‘haanhs’ when called upon to speak.

The sequel to this – the children grow into their youth. The sons will at some stage escape into games or other inconsequential pursuits. But the daughters?  They become aggressive, competitive, ambitious.  Is it any surprise then that girls outshine boys in academics, sports and every other field?  A complete change from earlier generations when boys had all the opportunities.

I once taught a class of 10-year olds, in an activity-based education plan.  The girls were bright, talented and bursting with ideas for impromptu skits and plays.  The boys, I am sure, had some talent, but were easily outshouted and out-talked by the girls who took up all the meaty parts.  The boys were relegated to shifting benches and desks, arranging sets and cheering at the right moments.

By their teens, most boys become shy and poor communicators.  This continues into adulthood.  Girls, on the other hand, are easy and lucid communicators.  They can read, write, talk, get into make-up, singing, dancing, games, adventure sports anything. But what happens when these girls grow up?  With the role models they have had since infancy, they are indeed fierce tiger cubs.

 

Mothers and daughters easily fit into one another’s shoes. Not just shoes. Clothes, books, CDs, mobiles, TV serials everything.  The mother with all the running around remains trim and fit.  Mentally also, she updates herself with daughter’s friends, virtual and real, latest crazes, fashions.  People think we are sisters, they will proudly say.  At times the daughter becomes the mother, switching roles seamlessly. You can never figure out who imitates whom.

I am sure fathers and sons too exchange shoes, T-shirts.  And even have such role reversals. But I have never heard a man or his son say – People think we are brothers.

In my own parents’ home, we were equal number of sons and daughters.  Girls had all opportunities and were into education, job everything.  But yes, our parents had rules for late nights for girls and fewer such rules for boys.  We, girls, enjoyed higher status at home.  The boys ran most of the errands – to shops, to get cinema or train tickets.  There was never an issue.  Our role models being traditional, we somehow took up traditional roles in adulthood.

But the times, they are a-changing.  Families are smaller, nuclear; traditions are modified to convenience.  When sons grow up, some woman takes over from Tiger mom and trains or untrains him.  But what about daughter?  Tiger mom, tiger daughter.  Tiger daughter outdoes tiger mom.  She is in full form at home, work, play, relations – more equal than her male counterpart. Who can stop Shakti on her stride to becoming Kali?

 

 

 

Waiting for Yama

 

Unlike Godot, this one will turn up.  Preachers, professors, followers and detractors of all faiths and non-faiths will vouch for and agree on this one reality – Death is Certain.  Assuming that one has survived infant mortality, fatal ailments, accident or terror attack, property killing, ‘suparis’ of all kinds, literal and figurative –  and has tricked this stalker for many long decades – now one accepts that the tortoise is going to catch up and win eventually.

Post-retirement and with no great mission in life, I often wonder – should I wait for Death or is Death waiting for me to make the move?  I admire that 95+ woman who fasted to death, because she was bored of living and felt very left abandoned by her peers who had crossed over.   Sometimes, it is like a never-resolving stalemate.  I look at oldies around me.  My adopted aunt, 85, strong and lively until a couple of years ago, now shows signs of fading away.  Alone, in her dark, old house, the shadow of Death lurks around. As it does with many of her old companions. Like playing ‘hide and seek’. The conversation always goes like – God willing, I should die before I am bedridden or become dependent on anyone (‘anyone’ is the arrogant daughter-in-law).  “Yama tarasa na dikhaaye” sings the poet in Anup Jalota’s voice.  If ‘Death be not proud’ is what one wants, one should meet him with Pride and Dignity.

When one of my uncles died recently, my aunt narrated to one and all that his ‘prana’ left from the head – that is supposed to be the sign of a great soul – no further births.  I have heard this – that the last breath escapes from one of the 8 outlets that the body has.  The choice of outlet indicates the greatness or lowliness of the person’s karma and sets the stage for his/her next life.  That night I decided to inform all my close ones, who I think will be around me when I breathe my last, to look carefully from where my ‘prana’ leaves and let me know afterwards.  I laughed myself to sleep!

Work till life ends, better to die with one’s boots on, stay active, healthy, maintain a positive attitude, celebrate golden years, avail seniors’ privileges,  travel, pursue hobbies, meditate, do yoga, donate organs,  connect with family and friends…so many motivating and consoling advices that one sponges on – all euphemisms to disguise the frustration at not being immortal.

The philosophical ruminations go on and on.  There are the practical aspects to deal with – allotting and distributing one’s worldly wealth, fond collections, confiding one’s choicest disposal of the remains and suchlike.  How should one meet death, sleeping or waking?  I had a cousin who at the end of her daily prayers, added a line seeking ‘anayaasa maranam’ – that is a sudden death, leaving you or others no time to entertain morbid thoughts or carry you on that last trip to the hospital.   Lucky woman, she collapsed one day, soon after her retirement from the bank, not yet 61 years!  Is it possible to choose how one dies?

 

My father used to often narrate the story of a revered old man in his village.  Having outlived all his family, he stayed alone, cooked his meals, managed his daily needs and was genial to one and all.  The vegetable vendors raced to make their first sale with him every morning because he never bargained.  Let the poor sellers profit an anna or two, he would generously say.  One morning, he told the vegetable woman that he would not need anything the next day.  Sure enough, he passed away peacefully and quietly the same afternoon.

 

Who would not give their life to die like Kalaam – doing what he loved doing, simply, gracefully?  Like my meditation teacher says – how you die, depends on how you live.  I can think of no better role model.

 

All said and done, how should I die?  Assuming that the all-pervading, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, ultimate conqueror will read this mine humble blog, I request –

 

  • Come in your own time, when I am ready
  • Not on the bull or bullock-cart. It gives a backache.  A car, even Ola or Uber will do.
  • To my house (unlike that silly fellow, I will not escape all the way to Baghdad to find you have scheduled my appointment there)
  • Come when I am decently dressed
  • When the house is neat and tidy, the fridge clean, the papers in order
  • When I have reconciled with all unreasonable bosses, neighbours, in-laws and outlaws. Or settled scores with them
  • All dues paid – (what others owe me).
  • ..
  • ..

The list is a little longer and personal, so I have attached it.

Your move now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Native Place

Suchindrum, (Nagercoil district) a temple town, just 12 kms. before you touch our Land’s end, Kanyakumari.  After many long years of having worked in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with practically no vacations, my younger sister, recently retired school principal, agreed to accompany me to our native place – where my paternal grandparents had settled, built their home and raised their family.  Their children, my father and his siblings, had long shifted to greener pastures in Mumbai (Bombay, then), Delhi and other cities.  All we knew about Suchindrum was what we had heard from Appa.  He never tired of talking about his simple, childhood days in this town, our huge, long house overlooking the pond (teppakulam), in the middle of which stood the ‘teppam’ (a small mandapam, which was decorated and lighted during the bi-annual ‘ther’ festival (‘rath yatra’), the majestic ‘gopuram’ which could be viewed from our verandah where most leisure hours and after dinner chats were enjoyed at a time when electricity was too futuristic a possibility!

temple

 

He immortalised this view for us with a song:  (He had a song for every person, occasion and even the names of his children)

“Teppa kulam kandein, chutri ther odum veedhiyai kandein”.  (Thyagaraja Bagavathar?  Not sure, I have to check up with Google sir), but since he credited most of his Carnatic classical songs to Thyagaraja Bagavathar, I think, yes.  Purists, scholars, please excuse and correct.

(Translation:  I saw the ‘ther’ and the street around, where the ‘rath’ was taken in a procession).

 Appa also had lots of stories about people in this town, his school, teachers, family antecedents and histories with which he regaled us.  Every single person in his narrative was simply singular and unique, one of their kind – the teacher who would request his students to get a few brinjals or plantains or whatever grew in their fields or backyard, the multiple-attempted, never cleared SSLC neighbourhood boy, who claimed to be a master in history and offered to teach anyone willing to learn from him, the young freedom fighters of his school, burning foreign goods, the ‘rasa vada’ vakils, barefoot doctors – all this happened only in Suchindrum!

 

Flashback over.  My siblings and I had no great attachment to this place, except that, feeling somewhat rootless growing up in various suburbs of Mumbai and then Ahmedabad, we, by default, fixed our roots in Appa’s town, and visited from time to time, as tourists, pilgrims whatever.  In those days, it was an ageless, sleepy, rather slumbering, little town, where time never moved.

My sister, however, had roots a little deeper than mine, because she had lived and studied here for a couple of years (may be 4th and 5th standards) when our Amma and younger siblings re-located here because of financial setbacks in our Thane (Mumbai) times.  So had my paternal cousins whose mother and father were from this same village.  Their maternal grandparents lived here all their lives.  Their grandfather was a much-revered school teacher.  But we found pastures elsewhere.  Now, my sister was here after 50 years.  We stayed at a hotel in Kanyakumari and took a rickshaw for the 12-km. ride to Suchindrum.

The rickshaws in these areas are huge 6-seaters.  No meters.  The drivers quote anything from 400-250 rupees.  One has to bargain. There are State buses also.  In fact, all the buses that go from KK towards the nearest city, Nagercoil, halt at Suchindrum.  It took us about 20 min. to reach.  The route is very beautiful with greenery on either side, small streams and temples.  In fact, the entire stretch in Nagercoil district and around is very green as it borders Kerala.

The houses in this part of Suchindrum (Teppakulam street) surround the square bank of a big pond.  A huge carved, colourful gateway welcomes tourists at the entrance to the town.  This road leads directly to the ‘Sthanumalayan’ (another name for Lord Shiva) temple.  This image represents 3 deities – Shiva (Sthanu), Shiva (maala), Brahma (Ayan).  Perfunctorily, every family had one son named after this deity.  In earlier times, the temple with its labyrinth-like, mysterious corridors did not attract so many outsiders, except for temple-hopping pilgrims.  The devotees were locals and only during ‘aarti’ times there used to be small groups of people.  Young women and girls did not go there without escort.

The main attraction of the temple is a gigantic statue of Hanuman.  On Saturdays, when some or the other family fulfilled their vow of adorning the statue with a garland of coconuts or ‘vadas’ (made of dals and similar to ‘medu vadas’ with a hole in the middle through which strings were drawn), all the children would collect for ‘prasad’.

Some legends also have it that this was where Lord Shiva, on his way to wed for the second time, was halted by Narada’s crowing like a cock, on the instructions of Parvati.  Shiva had to marry secretly before dawn.  The ditched maiden waits in all her bridal finery, 12 kms. away, on the banks of the Indian Ocean.  She is Kanya Kumari.  The temple and seaside town are dedicated to her.

Half a century later, much had changed in Suchindrum.  Mobiles, social groups on whatsapp, internet had made their advent.  The street around the ‘Theppakulam’ (the pond with the mandapam in the middle), is narrower than it used to be.   There is a Juice centre at the corner of the road, where once used to be a small Madrasi eatery run by our Telegu tenant.

The temple attracts lot of tourists.  Though it retains its old-world charm, it is now crowded at all times of day.  On the outside are vendors of flowers, incense, lamps.  There is a footwear stand – quite a change, because earlier most people in this town walked barefoot everywhere and those who had footwear, left them home when they visited the temple.  The walk around the pond is less than half a kilometre.  We go to our ancestral house which has changed hands two times after Appa sold it.  Some rooms are modernised, there is a western toilet and bathroom inside the house.  (Earlier, there was just a four-walled structure with a hole in the middle at the rear end of the long house.  Most families did not even have such structures; the backyard was the open toilet).  Most houses have been renovated and re-constructed with modern facilities and are 1 or 2-storeyed, but our structure and a few others remain the same with brown, sloping tiled roofs.  But one feature remains – the houses are long, one room behind the other.  If you looked from the entrance, you could look through all the doors right upto the backyard.

Some things had not changed.  When we made contact with some old residents who could connect with our ancestors, a small crowd followed us everywhere, taking photographs, telling us about other old people who might know us.  We belonged, and yet we did not.  Appa would have observed that hardly any Brahmin families were left in this once exclusively Brahmin stronghold. Behind the ‘teppakulam street’ is the ‘rettai theruvu’ (double street) which gets its name because there are houses on either side of the street.

Beyond that is a place called Ashram, named after Sati Anasuya who is supposed to have welcomed Lord Rama there, when he was on his way to Lanka.  As an honour and respect to this saintly woman, every third daughter in this town, used to be invariably named Anasuya (the older two having got their grandmothers’ names according to tradition.

school

 

My sister’s school, Government Upper Primary school, stood exactly where it had always stood, outside the gateway, to the right.  Appa, his brother, nephew had all studied in this same school.  Very little had changed here, except that the children had uniforms and footwear.  After interacting with the head mistress and some students we returned to Kanyakumari with mixed feelings – rooted or rootless?  I cannot say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NIMMA & I

 

Nimma and I knew each other even before we started school.   We were neighbours, the same age and joined the same school, the same day.   She spoke only Kannada and I knew only Tamil.  We used some gestures in the beginning and slowly we conversed in some kind of Bambaiyya Hindi like – ‘aayenga’ ‘jayenga’, using only the masculine gender.  We learnt English, Marathi, good Hindi, in due course, but we still converse in our old Hindi like some kind of code language.

 

We were inseparable, and fortunate to be in the same class. Different sections, at times, and the same, many times.  There were many ‘katti’ batti’ phases – lasting from 30 minutes to 24 hours. We made more friends.  We walked home together – gossiping about friends, teachers, neighbours, chasing ice wagons or bullock carts at the back of which we placed our bags. But in the last stretch, only Nimma and I were left. First, we stopped at my gate and talked.  Then we walked to her gate and talked some more.  After we reached our homes, we called out from the window to check on homework.  ‘Tumhare paas Athavale hai kya? (Maths text).  Dondo hai kya? (French book), Wren and Martin?  These books being heavy, we often took turns to carry them to school.

 

On lazy afternoons, we walked under some shady trees, picking raw mangoes, jamun, some strange seed we ate as ‘badaam’, and a stranger black and red beadlike pip, which we swore were the devil’s eyes.  We saw ghosts under the huge tamarind tree and if we saw someone with heels in the front and toes at the back, we were to run.  Those were days when there was no border between fantasy and fact!

 

When we grew a little older, we carried our infant brothers on our hips and stood at the end of the lane, amusing them with passing vehicles.  We discussed the pros and cons of having brother or sister, the fears their tearing our books when we were at school and many important things.

 

One day, Nimma nearly died.  It was a rainy day, in our fourth year of school.  On our way home, we were both washing our dirty shoes, with our feet inside them, in a wayside ditch which had turned into a pond.  The rain was pouring.   Suddenly Nimma screamed.  She had slipped into the water.   I was sure she was dead.   I screamed too.  In no time, some passersby pulled her out of the water and brought us home safely.

 

That night I slept badly.  Next day I was a changed person.   Not that I understood the value of friendship then, but I certainly could not think of life without Nimma.   Over the years, we learnt to appreciate each other and love unconditionally.   Though our lives ran different tracks, we lived far away from each other, no telephone, mobiles, only the occasional letter or news through family or common friends.  Nimma married, had children, family joys and woes and health issues to boot.  I remained a spinster, busy with jobs, travel, spiritual pursuits.  But we never lost touch.   A minor tragedy taught me a lot.  Sixtysix years later, 2000 miles apart, and in the last stretch, we are still best friends.