RSS

Category Archives: childhood

Maggibai


598340_10150813691517093_1610328565_n[1]578331_10150813704597093_728289341_n[1]
598340_10150813691567093_1737984960_n[1]

Sitting here in front of the desktop, I tend to often turn my head towards the right and stare out of the window at the house and compound next door. No one lives there anymore and the place has such a desolate look . The place is littered with trash, more so now when the neighbouring households find it a convenient dumping ground for the waste that the Municipal authorities stubbornly refuse to pick up. Faces emerge from a past long gone by, Shabi Mestry and Cossabai ( I’m wondering now what their real names were) , and their daughter Maggibai (Margaret) . The house had been built by Shabi Mestry’s eldest son Alexba,(Alexander) who along with his wife Beatybai (Beatrice) were in Bahrain. They had two kids. Yvette, the older one, lived and studied in Bombay (now Mumbai) with one of her aunts. Neville , the younger of the two was brought up by Maggibai, who herself was not married. Both of them are now well settled down in the U.S.A and have no plans of returning . Their grandparents and parents and Maggibai are no more and there is nothing here now that would’ve exerted a strong pull bring them back.
598340_10150813691552093_557403301_n[1]

Back in those times,when the Summer holidays commenced , we, a group of kids living around that house , converged in Maggibai’s compound for fun and frolic that went on from morning till sundown , taking a break only at noon to have a hurried lunch in our respective houses. For my brother and me , that meant just scaling the wall that divided our two compounds.

Once in a while ,Shabi Mestry would by turns, take us kids to watch a matinee show in Krishna Talkies. Half –way through the film he’d slip away for a few draughts of toddy. He’d be there , of course in time to take us home at the end of the film.

Cossabai was a gentle old dear. Her routine included a trip to the fish market. At a regular hour , at mid-morning , she would set forth with a purposeful ,brisk stride , a cloth bag in one hand and holding an open umbrella with the other. She wasn’t quite a garrulous person, but I can feel a wave of warmth inside me when I remember her broken malayalam ,heavily tinged with the Konkani accent.

Alexba and Beatybai were around only occasionally. Alexba had inherited the gentleness of his mother, I’d always felt. Truth be told, we kids were a little scared of Beatybai. The house was spotlessly clean when she was around and we dare not run in and out of the house as we were otherwise wont to do. Maggibai was more indulgent towards us . Once during every one of her sojourns at home from Bahrain, home, Beatybai would air her wardrobe. The entire collection of her “gulf” saris would be hung out in the sun before being folded and neatly stacked back again in the cupboard. That was a visual treat for us.

For the rest of the year, we had a free run over the place.
Around eleven, Maggibai would sit down with her two younger sisters who lived in their separate households, but who would join her for lunch, which they cooked together. One of them would cut the vegetables or the meat or fish, as the day’s menu would decide, one would scrape and grind the coconut and so on. All the time they would chat loudly in Konkani, their mother –tongue, catching up with all the local gossip. Most of my other friends were Manglorean chrisitians too and so one grew up with a basic familiarity with the language. Sadly, I’ve forgotten almost all of it , except a meager sprinkling of words.

Maggibai scolded us from time to time if we grew too unruly or boisterous but it was pretty much like water thrown on colaccasia leaves as we described it in local parlance. It refused to stick and would jut slide away. We’d be our old boisterous selves after a few minutes of lull .
578331_10150813704577093_1983251254_n[1]

Sometimes the whole troop would scale the wall to take up from where we’d left, in our backyard. If my father was around, he’d let us play only till such time there was no competitive game going on and we were seen losing out. Then he’d call for a halt. My father always wanted us to winIt was embarrassing for us though, at that age, because the pattern had become obvious to everyone in the group. Not that the rest held it against us. They had grown familiar with his indiosyncracies.

Yvette would join us for a couple of weeks. She brought the Metro’s sophistication with her . We small –towners listened to her stories of the city with curiosity and some degree of doubt. She was perhaps the first teenager we saw (except for the heroines in the odd bollywood movie that we got to see) wearing a mini –skirt. We secretly envied her .

And then we grew up and went our different ways. Maggibai continued to wield her wand of affection over the younger generation. My sister’s son, Anjum, doted on her and would make sure that she got a share of whatever special was cooked at home. Austin one of the younger Pereiras in our group, literally lived in that house because he was so very fond of her. Anjum, was still very little when she had one of her legs amputated because of a diabetic related gangrene. He would advise her to carefully save the other one of the pair of slippers she used , so that she could wear it when her leg grew back. I remember my sister telling me that he had come to her , with an earnest expression on his little face and innocently asked her to tell him which God he should pray to for making her get well again…Jesus , because that was whom she prayed to or Allah, who was “our God.

Say what you will , but I tend to feel that there was a kind of innocence to those times and I am not still able to come to terms with the modern day existence of insular families , where interaction does not go beyond the occasional Hi and Hello. Here , in this corner of the town, things have changed slowly. But they have and “my heart aches and a drowsy numbness fills my senses”.

Advertisements
 
8 Comments

Posted by on March 1, 2013 in childhood

 

Tags: , ,

Uppava


We had moved into our present house in 1964. It was the first one to be built on this side of the road, on which an occasional line bus droned along, on what was then a relatively large stretch of land extending right up to the river, where the mangroves grew in dark ,dense patches all along the waterfront. My father was very fond of hunting and as kids , my brother and I , would walk through the coconut palm dotted stretch , accompanying him on his trips.
My brother Niyaz is only slightly younger than me and we sort of competed and fought over most things. We had cloth bags hung over our shouldersto carry the birds that he would shoot down with his double barelled gun.They were mostly wild fowl and pigeons that nested amongst the mangroves. On days that his aim faltered he’d happy to point his gun at the white cranes which were more abundant thereabouts , in the clearings amongst the undergrowth, a little away from the river.

 
The landscape has changed drastically since then. The wide sweep of the river , where most of the young lads living in the vicinity had then learnt how to swim on their own, using dry coconuts with dried up kernels fastened on to coir ropes , tied on their backs to act as floats, is now just a tragic trickle , with many sawing mills littering the water with the wood shavings and the logs obstructing the flow and turning the river into stinking swarmy puddles.Back then, the surroundings smelt of rich verdancy , alive and elated , just as were our spirits as we romped through the grasses and creepers.

 

I remember that my father didn’t really prefer those cranes, may be because their flesh wasn’t as tender when cooked as that of the water fowls and pigeons.But he didn’t want to return home empty handed, a trait my elder brother duly carried forward. His passion had been angling and when the fishes adamantly refused to bite the bit, he would buy a few big ones from the vendor and pass them off as his own catch, which of course we all saw through. He persisted with the pretence nevertheless.

 
I think I really did partake of the thrill of observing the gunshots hit the target and the birds falling down with a slump. The task of locating them amongst the brambles and undergrowth was left to us and that provided us a lot of excitement. But I remember feeling huge twinges of remorse and sadness when later on we’d empty the bags on the kitchen floor and the birds would lie there with limp bodies and listless unmoving eyes. They would be warm still if you held them in your hands and I remember wishing fleetingly that they come back to life. The guilt lasted only for a few seconds till we were allowed to pluck the feathers before handing it over to our mother for further necessary action.

 

And then there would be the whole rigmarole of cleaning the guns with a thick viscous oil and yellow flannel cloth. The oil had a particular odour which would hang on to him for several hours…just like the “Loma” solution which came in small bottles that he would keep in a corner of the wooden cabinet which stalled the radio.He applied it daily on his hair which had grown prematurely grey and they always had a reddish tinge .His shirt collars and pillows always carried that smell. They were not unpleasnt smaells..only something that was associated with him

 

In times when girls of my community approaching their puberty were confined indoors and stopped from even going to the neighbourhood shop just a few steps away ( “akathaddakkal” , it was called in local parlance) my father had let me go to school and had let me continue my studies in college, even against the wishes of my mother who would’ve been happier if I had been married off like all other girls of my age. I’d hated going to marriages then. Not because I’m not gregarious by nature but because every older female in the gathering would make it her diligent business to remark on my unmarried status. They would quiz my mother about when I was going to be settled down. “Ini eppola? Mookhil pallil vannittaa mangalam kayichayakkaan pokunne? “, was the constant refrain.I wonder how they cooked that up. One had heard of wisdom teeth appearing only at a ripe age, but dentures in the nose?

 

In the school I was going to, we had to wear blue pinafore skirts and white blouses underneath as uniforms. The nuns ensured that they reached up to our knees, duly ripping out the hems of those that tended to reveal bits of our thighs. But an adolescent girl attired in anything other than an apparel that covered the entire length of the legs was looked upon with great disapproval by the muslim community. There were just about about five or six muslims in my class.

 

My father though, never insisted otherwise and I wore short skirts at home as well, even when I was sixteen. He was quite okay if I never covered my head with a veil as other girls did. Negligence in this regard was supposed to earn us delinquents, veils of flaming fire in the next world. He did make some lame unconvincing efforts once or twice to have me drape the end my pallu over my head when I had started going to college.( Yes..I had worn only saris to college!) But , as i mentioned, they were quite half hearted and so it happens that I’ve never covered my head.

 

And he had kept dogs in the house too which was another taboo, their moist noses being “najees” , contact with which impurity would render any God fearing muslim unfit to perform namaaz. That kept many relatives away. He wasn’t really pleasant to them even otherwise, which embarassed us no end. Thinking back though,it seems only natural that he didn’t much care for those who found many reasons to disapprove of him.

 

He had strange and strong affinities . His abuses had a generous sprinkling of anti-jew references , although he was far from being a typically religious muslim. His affection for Haji Mastan who had in those days reigned as the Bombay underworld don, was as intense as his dislike for Mrs. Indira Gandhi, being a staunch communist at heart .I don’t think the illegality of Mastan’s ways made any dent in his image of him as one who helped many an underpriviledged fellow- being in dire straits. He would  narrate many stories about Mastan’s largesse, even fib that he’d met him, which was quite unlikely, even impossible , as he had never left Kannur after he got married, to our knowledge.

 

Did he gather those anecdotes from the newspapers? I have absolutely no idea.I don’t remember being interested in anything that went as “News” in my younger days. Enid Blyton’s countless books and later on Muttathu  Varki’s “paingili” romances was fodder enough for my reading fire. Then of course there was the Malayala Manorama Weekly , which we scrambled to get our hands on , on Sundays. The cartoon strip “Bobban and Molly” and the page full of jokes in the column “Phalithabindukkal” were devoured with much more appetite than any political even that made news.

 

The Emergency , of course, was another affair, mostly because of the juiciness of the news related to the Sub Inspector of Police , Pulikkodan Narayanan’s “Roller” tactics on those he picked up from here and there during the Emergency and the disappearnce of Rajan too was more then just news. Earlier, the Naxalite phase eptomised by Ajitha dressed in trousers and shirt who roamed the forests of Tirunelli had given us its share of daily drama too.

 

My father, as expected, rained the choicest of abuses on Mrs. Gandhi. That must’ve been the time when I became a little interested in the political dramas unfolding around me. Till then, the speeches from the street corners, all rendered in the same oratorial style, all quoting earlier incidents that had happened in some particular year , all with the same modulations of voice as they sought the attention of their brethren in the countryside , were listened to as familiar noises that one would have missed had they stopped.

 

He had never gone to college. His spoken English was stilted and I was not just a little embarassed whenever he visited the school and insisted on conversing with the nuns only in English. I was a good student and they would look happy to be talking to a parent of one of their brighter products. As far as I was concerned, I wanted him to keep the visit as short as possible. Just a couple of years ago,on a visit to Achyuthan Vaidyar’s house( he owns a small ayurveda shop next to our house) , I was pleasantly surprised when he fished out an old autograph with my father’s testimony, recorded in flawless English with a hand that had a flourish that would be the envy of many who had attended an English medium school and done many many pages of cursive writing. The citation was about Achyuthan Vaidyar’s prowess as an Astrologer and the accuracy of his predictions

 

.
My father would often make some predictions himself, one being that there would come a day when I would feel grateful for being given an education that would help me stand on my own feet . I would never have to be “mautaaj” (I’m not really sure if that is how it is to be pronounced . I think it means “obligated” ) to any one’s “khairaat” , which I think means charity in urdu. “Write it down in your diary in “swarna lipi” (letters of gold) , he’d add and i would want to retort, which I never did actually, “So what’s the big deal? That’s what all parents do!”

 
Now i know..and my eyes turn moist with gratitude . Why this sudden surge of memories ? Because this morning’s papers had many columns dedicated to protests here and there in Kerala against consumption and sale of alchohol.

 
My father died at the age of fifty five, that’s a year younger than I am now, just nine days after I got married. My kids never got to see him. My friend Venkitesh, who had known him from his visits to our house during his college days , as my younger brother Arif’s fellow SFI comrade, calls him a failed Sultan. He died of liver cirrohsis.

 
13 Comments

Posted by on June 27, 2012 in childhood, Personal

 

Siesta time on Onam


This specially for my friends who are not familiar with the festival Onam , which we celebrate today, here in Kerala. . It’s about three O’clock in the afternoon. Everybody else in the house is taking a post lunch siesta. I love afternoons like this, when the sun is past half its journey across the clear blue skies and begins to lose its aggressiveness and shows an inclination to mellow down. I can relate to its mood much better then.

In the morning my very enthusiastic niece and I had sat down on the verandah to prepare a flower rangoli.

She was a little put off in the beginning because her friend Namanna, living across the street, had managed to have one in place ,very early in the morning itself. But the impish smile came back as she placed the petals carefully one by one , with my help, to make a pattern which did look nice when it was done.

>

In my childhood there used to be all kinds of small flowers growing in close clusters amongst the weeds in the homestead. Now they’ve all but vanished . So we had to make do with a little bit of flowers from the garden , duly supplemented with leaves cut up into tiny pieces for the green effect .

It brought back my childhood to me instantly. I could ,in a whiff, remember the smell of all kinds of fresh flowers that each class used to heap up ,to make flower rangolis in school . It brought back memories of the almost wild garden we used to have in front of our house , which was my father’s handiwork. Wherever he went, if a new plant caught his eye, he would come back home with a sapling or cutting of it. The garden never had a planned appearance. The new member was given space wherever it was available. But the place used to smell so good around this time with lots and lots of fragrant red roses and all kinds of other flowers. A stream of little children would come and stand in front of our gate, little bamboo baskets in their hands, pleading for flowers for decorating their frontyards with flower patterns. My brother and I would act very pricey then, but I don’t remember refusing anyone. May be we did play favourites. >
It’s harvest time too and the festival must have had its social origins in the rejoicing of spirits after a good crop was brought in. It was a time for feasting , grains and vegetables being available in plenty. It is another story that most of the fields have all been converted into residential areas and the climate too is not what it used to be thanks to the effects of pollution.
</a
But Kerala is still green after the monsoons. So it is not very difficult to create an ambience of those glorious times in our imaginations. Nostalgia can do wonderful things to create illusions and most of us of us Keralites are susceptible to a fault , of wanting to clothe harsh realities with the yarns of our fantasies.

And so we celebrate Maveli’s annual visit in style. There is a traditional lunch , traditionally served on banana leaves. Here at home, none of us are great experts at making vegetarian dishes, at least , it doesn’t quite come out the way our Hindu friends prepare them. The dishes are mostly coconut based, but each panders to a different set of taste-buds on our tongues and palette. Nowadays, these special dishes are home delivered or can be packed and brought home. Sadly, my nephew couldn’t manage to find a place to get us a decent onam lunch. He himself had an invitation to lunch with a friend and so scooted off. As my mother is confined to bed , my sister and I couldn’t have gone visiting . So we had to satisfy ourselves with our own version of the Onam sadya. It was not too bad actually.

The afternoon had a lazy feel to it. So I strolled around the homestead , breathing in the particular smells that I carry with me wherever I go…… ..the smell of wet weeds and the smell of smoke from the dry coconut leaves and coconut husks that we still use in the fireplace at one end of the small verandah at the back of the house, to heat up water for a bath , when it rains .

Also the smell of moss on the compound walls

and the lingering smell of fish fry and pappads and of seasoning with curry leaves and mustard ,wafting through the air.

A group of crows kept pecking at the lunch leftovers

While the cat kept loitering around in the backyard , waiting for a chance to slink into the kitchen.
><a

The house in the neighbouring compound looks lonely and desolate now , almost as if missing our running around and our games and laughter , for if the bunch of us, as kids,were not in our courtyard we would be in theirs. Now it stands there amidst the trees and the wildly growing weeds, all locked up , its inhabitants across the seas.


Change they will, all those circumstances that made our yester-years so rich with memories, as does life from second to second and yet ,there is a certain stream in our consciousness that does not change and we can take a dip in those cool or warm waters as we would want and when we want to if we do not allow the harshness of day to day living to push it too deep down from where we cannot reclaim it ever.

I would deem my life very poor if denied of that blessing of imagination that can take me to my childhood and back again in the interval between a crow’s raucous cawing and the koyal’s sweet beckoning on a lazy afternoon.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on September 9, 2011 in childhood, Nostalgia, Photography

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

I know I’m home


Much before the clouds rumble
And travel inward from the sea
My heart begins a restless grumble
My thirsty soul prepares to flee

Home is where the heart is
Mine dwells here and that’s for sure.
When the city smoke begins to choke
The homestead casts its magical lure

I know I’m home when I can draw
Water and wishes from the well
I know I’m home when the rain dances
And the breeze brings in the briny smell.

I know I’m home when amongst the grass
I still can find the watery reed
Those slender stems that we would hoard
To have our slates all nicely cleaned.

Home is where the window weaves
A tapestry of secret dreams
Home is where the falling rain
Pauses in puddles and runs in streams

Home is where the old brown walls
Soaks in the rain and turns green with moss
Home is where the gnarled mango trees
Whispers stories of past pain and loss.

Home is where the dark wet nights
Listens to the croaking serenade
Home is where I sleep in peace
And dream sweet dreams till the stars fade.

I wrote this on my visit to my home town in Kannur, Kerala, last June. Here I am again and the feelings are just the same. I feel rested, secure and a child again, comfortable in the familiar surroundings and the continuity of certain aspects of a small town that has decided to do slow-cycling instead of the sprint. Even the numbered planks that are fitted side by side to make for a door, in front of some small shops are still there at certain street corners as also the jars of marinated gooseberries and raw mango pieces. Shankara Vaidyar’s shop , just next to the compound wall, with the rows of “arishtams” and other ayurvedic concoctions still smells the same. He has grown old though, but the white strands in his crop of hair seem fewer than mine. Now that’s not fair, I thought.

Returning home from a weekend trip to Bangalore on an overnight bus, I had reached the town very early in the morning. The sea front at “Ayikkara” was however alive with the boats that had just come with the night’s catch. There was busy trading going on, with small carrier-autos lined up to ferry the baskets of fish to different places. Money lending was also going on. The small fish merchants would return the money the next day , or not, depending on their profits , I guess.

Fish is staple diet in these parts and its no different at my home here. Even breakfast begins with a fish item , if Kadirka,who even at the age of seventy five goes about on his cycle , selling fish, is early on his rounds. May be the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes are deeper now , but that’s about the only change I percieve in him. He stops by everyday, throwing a fish or two to the cats , which are perennially here, thanks to my nephew, Anjum. These days there is a female who has trooped in and has given birth to three little kittens. They keep scampering past between our legs and my sister is soon going to have them tied up in a gunny bag and let loose near the fish market , where it can not only survive but thrive as well.

But how is it that for some physiques, time petrifies in their muscles and skin? That is what I meant about the continuity here. Some people too just don’t change. There was Eramanikka , who would walk by with his uneven gait, to open his small provision shop next door. Till he died , he looked the same to me, not a kilo more or less on his leam frame . There is Pappamma with her one good eye, whose black skin still looks tauter than mine after all these years. She has become too tired to sell milk and curds. We’ve been seeing her with her basket placed on her head right from our childhood and though the times have not been kind to her, her wide affectionate smile is still like a bright sun beam lighting up her dark face.

There was Bastian (I think his real name was Sebastian) , who was short of hearing and who would always keep track of those who had left Marakkarkandy for greener pastures and had come back for a holiday. It was a taken for granted thing that he had to have his “bakshish” , when they came back. He too remained the same , with a “mundu” tied casually on his head , his red mouth full of beetle-nut juice and his slow unsteady walk on his varicose -veined legs. I miss him , much as I miss “kalla kunhiraman” , who for a time was my father’s Man Friday and his “spirited” partner. He was called Kedi kunhiraman. I have racked my brains all these years and asked many people as to what that epithet means. All I know for sure is that he used to indulge in small time robberies and was on the list of eminents in the local police station.

Yes, I like coming home to the “smallness” of this place and people. There is still a sense of belonging, of not being lost in vastness. The colours are of the earth still and as long as the flashiness remains confined to the “Malabar Gold” and “Lulu” and the “Alukkas ” outlets and the “Kalyan Silks”, which thankfully are some kilometres away, I still feel safe and comfortably cocooned from Time’s rush.

 
21 Comments

Posted by on June 22, 2011 in childhood, Community

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Sepia tinted memories


Certain memories have a strange way of remaining with you all throughout one’s life. Try as I will, I cannot fathom why they are still there from so long ago, while others just fade and then totally disappear.

What are my earliest memories?

I can remember cuddling up to my father as a little child, rubbing my face against the stubble on his cheeks and gently falling off to sleep, listening to the dull sound of the sea waves in the distance.  Some nights, when sleep wouldn’t come, I would stare at the pitch black square outside the windows and feel terrified of the figures that I thought I saw there. When it rained, the fear was multiplied, as the incessant sheets of the downpour would make the darkness more intense. On other  nights, however ,the moonlight  brought a kind of magic, transforming  everything. Even now, trees and foliage drenched in the silvery whiteness of moonbeams, gives me a high.

tharavad1

The smell of the sea was always there in the afternoon breeze . I could watch the palm fronds swaying languourously in those lazy hours, for any length of time and not feel bored. Many  evenings were spent on the sea shore, digging out mussels and walking nimbly across granite rock embankments.

tharavad3

The smell of rose water, even now, brings back memories of a distant old aunt who  used to live with us in our joint ancestral home. There were rows and rows of bottles stacked on the shelves in her room. Her son used to sell them, I think and on days when she filled up those bottles with rose water(can’t remember exactly how she went about making it, some concentrate was added to distilled water may be), the fragrance would be swirling around in all the rooms. We moved out of that house when I was around eight, never saw her after that, as they too had gone off to some place, the house itself being sold off by all the family members, as there was no one staying there anymore. The smell of rose water brings back that aunt although there is nothing else that I remember of her, apart from her name, not even what she looked like.

tharavad6

I have no idea how old this house was. Even in my memories of childhood, the walls and floors had that ancient feel . I even remember one of my cousins falling down through the floor of one one of the passages on the upper storey, down to where there was a kind of open bathroom with a well in the corner. As far as I can remember no great harm was done.

tharavad5

I remember sliding down the railing of the stairs countless times. And that door on the right-hand corner led to a very dark room with no windows , where the females of the house delivered their babies.  I must have been born there too.

tharavad8 I do remember the mid-wife  in a white sari  hurrying in and out of the room when my youngest brother was born and somebody accompanying an elderly  lady doctor with a slow gait, into the house, carrying her important looking black bag . The room was dark without any sort of ventilation and the whole ambience was that of mystery.

 

tharavad2

We slept in the room upstairs farthest to the right . From the window on the other side , we could see the sea and specks of boats coming in . There used be a “raat ki rani” bush in the front yard. My eldest brother seen in this picture ,  used to procure stamps from his friends in school with the promise of gifting them squirrels, which he was reportedly adept at. When days went by with no sign of the same, it was from  these windows that he would see them approaching the house  accost him on home-turf and  he would then beat a hasty escape.

I remember the cranky old woman, who lived in one of the row of  rented houses, just outside our compound wall. Almost on a daily basis, she would pick up a fight with the neighbours, who were as voluble as she was. Hurling abuses on the top of her voice, she would grow hoarse with the shouting, and then would start beating on a vessel with a stick so that the clanging sound would drown out the voices of her opponents.

tharavad4

I remember the death of an old man in the neighbourhood, when I was around five , of being told for the first time, that death meant no coming back  and how the cold fear and sadness swept over me with the realization that my parents could die too when they grew old. I remember standing there  at the end of the lane, crying, waiting for my father to come back home, the growing dusk adding more melancholy to the vague sadness and loneliness. Years later, there was this recurring dream I used to have of me standing at the edge of a vast desert like terrain, completely alone, with vultures flying all over, across the sky and for some reason, on waking up, I would recall the feeling of dread that I had experienced , as a child when I became conscious of death as an inevitable end of our lives.

I can perhaps say too that the spectre of death, waiting in the wings,to take over life, has been a kind of constant undercurrent, lurking in my mind and has therefore  emphasized for me, as a philosophy to live by, why love and understanding and not negativity and hatred ,should  be the compelling factor governing the way we think, feel and act. For I would want to breathe my last at peace with myself.

Who knows about tomorrow?

 

P.S: My elder brother and I paid a visit to this house many years after I’d written this. These pictures  were clicked on that occasion.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 25, 2011 in childhood, Nostalgia

 

My family and other animals


Gerald Durrell was a favourite author of mine in my childhood, the reason being that I could so easily relate to the pictures of a household where animals walked in and out amongst the humans,  each  one of the former having a personality as distinct as that of the latter.

 

From as far back as I can remember, we had dogs at home. My father loved them. He loved all animals, but was particularly partial to the canines. He was quite emphatic in his views that they were more loyal than us human beings. He cared two hoots for the muslim tradition of not keeping dogs at home( I still don’t know why that is so.) and so we had dogs of all breeds from Alsations to mongrels with the strangest of names such as Emden and Chonoki. We also had a dog named Hitler , so named by my father , because he indeed spelt terror to any man, woman or child who opened our gates and ventured in, unaware of the dog’s presence, on days, when he was let off from his lease.

 

You can get deeply attached to your pets, as they can to you and that brings a lot of sadness in its wake as when Emden got sick, with an infection on his leg, which kept spreading. There was no vet in our small town in those days and the ointments that we applied to the infected area did no good. Emden was carrying at that time and at the end of her term. Her litter had consisted of six little adorable puppies, who scrambled over each other to suckle at her teats. There they would lie afterwards, their hunger satiated and stomachs full, ensconced within her limbs, their little heads warm against her belly.

 

And then Emden died. The loss was accentuated with the death of her puppies, one by one. They didn’t respond to the care we lavished upon them, trying our best to play mother. It may have been that they became infected too with whatever the disease was that Emden had suffered from. Crying isn’t too difficult for me even at this ripe old age . Then, I was a kid and I cried and cried.

 

The last pet we had at home was Caeser, a white Pomeranian, brought into the house when he was just a month old, a soft white furry bundle that won all our hearts from the word ‘go’. I was fifteen then. For the next seven years, till I got married, Caesar was an  inextricable part of my life.

 

My elder brother had started working and was posted away from home. My youngest siblings, Shakila and Arif were still small and so the little jobs that were part of  having a pet in the house  like bathing it and cleaning its poop etc   devolved on me and my brother Niyaz, who is about a year and half younger to me. He has always been the smarter one and so, for most of the times managed to get away.

 

Caeser hated baths and he had a very strange way of taking out his vexation on me, who had made it a ritual of making him go through it every weekend. No sooner had I finished  bathing him, ignoring his whimpering cries, he would rush away from my grip, running round and round in the courtyard with frantic speed. My mother’s brood of hens would be clucking around here and there  generously littering the place with chicken shit. In the course of his racing around, Caeser would find a small heap of chicken shit and rub both sides of his face in it and then walk up to me as if to say’, So, Ma’am’who wins?You or me?’ He did that every time, till I started jailing him behind the closed doors of the litlle room at the end of the verandah, till he dried. By then, he would have calmed down and forgotten his vindictive intentions.

 

Caeser loved my father in a huge, huge way. The affection was mutual actually. Once when Caeser walked out of the gate and went missing for a couple of hours, my father’s anxiety was so pronounced that he had the whole neighbourhood involved in the search. Somebody brought back Caeser and all was well again. When my father passed away, Caeser refused to budge from below the  ‘Easy chair’, on the verandah, which was my father’s favourite place of rest. Caeser died much later ,well into old age, with very litlle left of his sense of sight or smell.

 

I used to love narrating to  my nieces and nephews the story of how Caeser almost saved me from getting bitten by a snake. I would love to share it with you as well. So here goes:

 

It was a bright  sunny Sunday, the mother hen and her brood of little yellow chicks, scurrying around in the compound at the back of the house, the crows perched on the wall and on the plantain trees, swooping down every now and then to peck at anything that they could eat. Sometimes, their swooping down was menacingly close to the little chicks. The mother hen would then cackle loudly and the little ones would run and hide beneath her wings.

 

We were inside the house, variously engaged in our Sunday routines, when suddenly there was a huge commotion outside. Caesar was barking loudly, the hen and her chicks clucking wildly as if in alarm and the crows were making a racket as well. Something was surely afoot. When I went outside to look, I saw that  the  ruckus was concentrated near one corner of the compound . Caeser was standing there, on one side of the broken discarded aquarium that was lying against the compound wall. The hen and her chicks were there too. I was sure that Caeser had been chasing them and had cornered one of the little ones. Shouting out to him, I strode purposefully to shoo him away and retrieve the chick which I had seen disappearing behind the aquarium. Caeser’s barking became more agitated as if expressing resentment at my interference, more so as I came closer to the aquarium and then suddenly, I realized why.  Even as I was bending down and stretching out my hand to get the chick, I saw it sliding further down into the hole behind. Looking closer, I saw that the helpless little bird was between the jaws of a snake.

 

The chick of course must’ve died immediately. The snake too met its end soon with a shot from my father’s double barelled gun (Hunting was a favourite pursuit of his and one of the several contradictions in his personality that had continued to intrigue me’how could someone who was so fond of animals find pleasure in shooting them down?) There was of course much drama preceding the final kill as the noise in our backyard was an open invitation to the neighbourhood lads , who had climbed over the wall into the compound to prod the snake out of its hiding place with long sticks and  to set fire to it after it was dead, as apparently it was quite a poisonous variety. Not quite sure why a simple burial wouldn’t have sufficed.

 

Of course , there  had been  no real threat of me being bitten, but I would always tell the little ones that it was Caesar’s incessant barking that had put me on my guard and that is perhaps how I would like to remember it.:-)

 

We had other pets too. Sometimes, clash of interests would result in some of them having to be given away before long. The rabbits we had and a little goat had to go because they would nibble at the plants in the garden which were equally dear to my father. A little turkey hen had grown into a big bird with the menacing habit of chasing us around to  peck at our feet with its hard beak. Then there was this mongoose, who was a cute little creature when he was small. But as an adult, his attention was constantly focussed on my mother’s chicks and she would have none of that. So my brother Niyaz was asked to take it away and set it free among the bushes  near the river, which errand was right up his alley. So he set off on his bicycle, with the mongoose tied up in a cloth bag which was slung across the handlebar.

 

It must’ve been around ten or fifteen minutes before he was seen putting on the brakes to his cycle in front of our gates, panting and sweating profusely. Instead of going right up to the river, he had set the mongoose free over a wall into somebody’s compound. A man there had seen him do it and had started shouting at him and run out on the road, chasing my brother who had taken flight in a panic.

 

We’ve fought a lot in our childhood, my brother and I. Being very close in our ages, our activities were common and that gave ample scope for a lot of tiny wars, every now and then. I still think he was responsible for my monkey’s death.

 

The monkey for obvious reasons, was kept tied on a long leash upstairs, which portion of the house had been meant to be a fullfledged storey, but was only half built , with the rooms partitioned with half unplastered walls and the tiled roof built over it. My father had been an employee of the State Government. He had overrun his budget and with his fixed income and a host of other problems, had never been able to complete it. It is still like that, the upper storey now serving more as an attic and a place to dry clothes during the monsoons.

 

So the monkey had a lot of space to jump about . Sitting on the wall, he would pull at my head whenever I approached him and pick through my hair, looking for lice , I guess(I remember having lice in my hair when I was very small, but not then at which point of time I was in high school).

 

It was quite an active little animal and there was absolute pandemonium, whenever he managed to break free.The whole house was held to ransom during those hours and nobody other than me could easily subdue it. For some reason , it wouldn’t put up too much of  a fight with me. I have been bitten by it though, not once but several times and I don’t remember getting any injections for rabies either.

 

Anyways( I’m really rambling ain’t  I ?), to make a long story short, the monkey was tied more tightly around the waist , which gave it a sore and( this is the important part),at the suggestion of my brother, he was tied with a collar around the neck. Something went wrong and the poor monkey injured his neck, while jumping off the wall. He didn’t die immediately, but only after three days of suffering. I would place him in my lap as I was at home studying for my exams. He could barely swallow the water which one poured into its mouth , little by little and eat no food at all. How I rued the mistake of listening to my brother.! The monkey slept most of the time and would sometimes open its eyes to look at me with soulful sadness. And then mercifully, it died.

 

Mercifully too, time heals the sorrow of  loss. But memories remain of Emden and Caeser , of the spritefulness of the little monkey and the affection of all the other pets that made our childhood so rich and varied.

 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 23, 2011 in childhood, Personal

 

Tags: , , , ,

Those were the days


A few months  ago ,  I got an invite from one my friends, who is into event management, to attend a programme of dance and music by  a well-known Odissi exponent  and a classical singer, who has made her own niche in the world of contemporary music, together with a strong background of Hindustani classical music. The venue was the Stein auditorium, in India Habitat Centre, in the heart of the city, New Delhi.

We arrived early, me and my friend’s   mother . The first row would obviously be reserved for the chief guest and other VIPs, so we strolled down to occupy seats somewhere in the second or third rows, as they were all vacant then. No, we were told by a gentleman , who had placed himself prominently there, who went on to apologetically explain to anyone who approached the front seats, that the Prime Minister’s  wife was also attending the programme and they didn’t know how many would turn up along with her, so, could we please seat ourselves elsewhere?

She  did arrive soon afterwards with quite a few in tow, most of them security personnel in civvies, it appeared . She herself looked unassuming and not given to any proclivity for making her presence felt. She sat there, enjoying the programme, but we who were sitting close by,  were somehow constantly aware of her retinue because of their fidgety movements and surveying glances around from time to time.

The crowd in the auditorium belonged to the cultural elite, so to speak , the conversation that fleeted around before the programme started, being about trips abroad and who met who at which party and so on. The  performance of the artist was no doubt  superb, the grace and rhythm in her movements, flowing along with the accompanying music, to hold the audience captive. The singer’s  powerful voice was no less a delight.

Returning home, reminiscences of a bygone time, kept flooding my mind, when the annual stage presentation of the local theatre group, used to be one of the “happening events”, in our part of the world.

Our local barber lived in one of the small, two- roomed houses, just across the road.  Chandrettan, as we called him, was a man of the arts. We went to sleep every night , to  the lilting notes of his flute. It is not that we consciously listened to it or appreciated it. It was just that Chandrettan’s flute playing, was an integral  part of our day or rather the end of our day.

A month or two before Onam, Chandrettan’s younger son, Satyan, a youth of around twenty years, a school dropout , who had no permanent employment that I knew of, would set into motion, the daily rehearsals , in one of the rooms of  his house, which was to culminate in the annual play that was staged a day or two before the festival. Whenever we could, we kids would troop in, to watch the drama unfold in bits and pieces, never quite getting the hang of the whole tale, which was just as well, as the suspense added to the excitement of the final day, when it would be staged.

The venue used to be an open ground nearby. It is really quite difficult to express now, the thrill we kids experienced , watching the preparations for the big evening. The stage was built, festoons and banners hung up between the trunks of the coconut trees, chairs borrowed from the nearby houses (including ours, which kind of gave us the exultant feeling of being part of the inner circle), for the chief guest and a few other local VIPs.  My brother and I would pester our father for permission to stay throughout  the programme, which invariably meant he whole of the night and once that formality was through, we would be in a kind of delirious excitement for the rest of  the day. We would keep running back and forth from the houses of our friends in the same age group and make plans about what to carry with us for munching purposes, which could be anything ranging from pickled mango pieces , jaggery cubes , tamarind balls etc. We would also calculate how much money we had between us for the ice candy and roasted groundnuts etc. which was to be bought from the vendors who would be found walking in between the crowd, selling their wares. It was a big day for them too, as they would sell, way beyond their normal profits.

The evening always began with an auction of an assortment of small and big items donated by well-wishers, ranging from cups and tumblers to wooden stools or a transistor or a not so new wristwatch. Each item was put up, with an accompanying message from the donor . It was a huge opportunity for expression of budding romances and the person behind the microphone became the swan of the Nala- Damayanti story , conveying  messages of love back and forth. The sender and the recipient remained incognito ,as the real names were never revealed, or it would have caused a local scandal. Nevertheless , from the replies and counter replies that accompanied each bit of fresh item that came up for auction, the general public understood , that the concerned heroes and heroines recognized and understood each other. There was a lot of humour in some of the other messages , all adding up to the general feeling of bonhomie all around. The auction would continue well into the night , the organizers stretching it to the possible limits with their constant coaxing to the audience to pitch in , the money from it being the main source of  funding for  the whole venture. Of course , they would also have gone around to all the houses earlier on in the last week or two, preceding the day of the drama, seeking contributions.

By midnight , many of the mothers  in the audience,  would have rocked their babies to sleep  and would be sitting around, their legs stretched out on the sand, completely relaxed  and ready for the drama to begin. There was  gender segregation,  in the seating arrangements, the demarcation in place, with a rope that went  throughout the length of the ground , tied on to bamboo poles dug into the ground at regular intervals. The local Romeos would station themselves at vantage points and the lissome young ladies would pretend not to look their way, although they would be dressed in their best, complete with coloured bangles, bindis on their forehead,  flowers in their long black hair and sparkling eyes accentuated with kajal. Flirting carried a lot of sweet innocence in those days .

And then the play would begin. Almost always it would be a sad tale with a lot of melodrama, but it always ended on a happy note. The harmonium would screech throughout, with the background score and there would be a few songs thrown in for good measure. Most of the younger kids would be fast asleep , sprawled out on the sand, even before the drama began and the oldies in the crowd would follow suit soon after. Every now and then, a small ruckus would erupt in the crowd ,  on the male side, the reason being anything from a drunken brawl to an attempt to pick pockets or just a fight for a better view obstructed by some of the onlookers standing in front.

Then , just before the break of dawn, the curtain would fall finally and we would go back home , tired and eyes heavy with  sleep ,  but blissfully happy.

 

Tags: , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: