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Category Archives: Nostalgia

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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

 

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Dreaming through the twilight


That dream returns
To my eyes wide open
Memories churn
From aeons ago

Across the meadows
Through fences broken
Our scampering feet
Stop where the waters flow

Holding hands
We wait for a token
From the ripples
And the molten sun

And then we dive
Our past forgotten
And a story ends
Where it had begun.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Dreams, Love, Nostalgia, Poetry

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in childhood, Nostalgia

 

Love in the times of letter writing


I’ve just finished writing a letter to my friend Elizabeth who stays far, far away in Scotland. We started as scrabble partners  on Facebook and now we share a nice warm friendship . Thanks to her , I’ve resumed the habit of letter writing,  not through e-mail, but right and proper with paper and pen.

I must’ve been in the Fifth standard when I started  writing letters . My good friend Suchitra would go off to her grandmother’s place for the Summer holidays . That’s when I picked up the habit of letter writing. How enthusiastically one would jot out all the trivial little things  that kept us engaged, how eagerly we would wait for the postman to come by after a couple of days  for the reply to our missive. I’d like to think that the letters that we exchanged cemented  our friendship in a way to help it last a lifetime. I feel so lucky to still have the warmth of that friendship in my life even after all these years.

I also remember the first love letter I received. Makes me smile now when I think of the innocence of the first stirrings of the heart.   I was in the tenth standard., the final year in school. Those were the days before the Senior Secondary exams came to be held in the school itself. We had to continue in college , two years of pre-degree and then graduation. Well, this boy would be one among a small gang of lanky lads , who would walk past us every evening  , while we waited for the bus to take us back home . I remember how my heart used to begin beating faster the moment I spied them walking towards us from a distance. We never talked to each other  all that while. We just exchanged smiles . Must have gone on for eight or nine months .

Then we finished our Board exams. So would have ended that little love story. But on the last day, while returning home  alone, he followed me across the maidan that we had to cross to get to the bus stop , still not saying anything till we were almost there.  Then and only then did he manage to pick up enough courage to open his mouth. He asked me for my address and whether it was okay for him to write to me. Ah..the recklessness with which I complied 🙂

And so it happened that after a few days , I receive this envelope from the postman with my address written in an unfamiliar hand . How my heart thumped with anticipation. I knew it was from him. I managed to get to the toilet as unobtrusively as I could and tore open the envelope. The letter was long..literally long..for it was written on  small strips of paper , diligently stuck to each other like a long streaming ribbon and then folded and refolded in such a way that it could fit into the envelope.  I don’t remember anything of what was written in it, nor do I remember anything of what I wrote in my reply. I did receive a few more of those innocent declarations of love..yes that much I do remember ..it’s the exact words that slip away from memory.

The matter came to an abrupt end when my elder brother found one of those letters amongst  my books.  I had started going to college then  and I was told in no uncertain terms that  I would be stopped from going to college if I didn’t stop this letter writing business. And so my romantic leanings was nipped in the bud.  Not loyal enough , you may say. Oh well… you wouldn’t say that if you knew how hard I had to plead with my mother to let me go to college in the first place. I was old enough to be married off, she said……all the other young cousins of my age were already married and a couple of them had become mothers too. What was I waiting for and what further was to be gained by further studies?  My father was okay with my education. He would’ve been glad to see become a doctor, which was my burning desire in those days,  but my mother was scared that something just like this would distract me and bring “scandal” to our doorsteps.

I lost my heart again a year or two later to a cousin . That too ended when he went away. We exchanged a few letters too , but then I think he realised that it wasn’t going to work anyway and the eagerness with which I waited for the postman gradually got replaced with disappointment and eventual resignation.  Remembrances of those first yearnings  have stayed with me  as tender memories of my youth  metamorphosing into affection and a kind of innocent wistfulness. I haven’t  ever met that boy in all these years. Wonder if I’ll recognize him if I do. And that charming young cousin with whom I shared my love for english pop songs  and comics, said good bye to this world recently. I met him briefly after decades when he came to visit my mother in the hospital. He was so changed from the twenty year old youth that I had fallen in love with. But I realized that we still had a lot of affection for each other.

Strange, when I started out , I didn’t think that this would be a way of bidding good bye to him. I hope that it makes him smile, reading this .

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Nostalgia

 

I’m too old to be young and too young to be old


“I’m too young to be old and too old to be young . I think I’m going crazy”,  that is what Evelyn(Kathy Bates) tells Ninny(Jessica Tandy) , the old lady she befriends in the nursing home  in the film “Green fried tomatoes”, which I watched some time  ago.

Remember that old Beatles number, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty four?” Clearly one is supposed to feel vulnerable and derelict by that age and I am  only less than ten years away from it now. Honestly though, I feel ages away from feeling helplessly old .

And I wonder,  is mental aging a conditioned thing? I have young friends  who have parents in my age group telling me that the fact that I am active on Facebook and blogging comes as a big surprise considering my age .

I think our society is obsessed with role playing . We are supposed to be behaving in the manner laid down and any digression from the same comes across as a reason  for raised eyebrows , shock  or in the case of those with a more generous  outlook , as pleasant surprise.

I remember an incident a long time ago when I was may be twenty six or so . A group of us friends had gone on a trip with our families. It was masti time  for us young mothers and the other girl friends  who weren’t married then . The females shared a big room and the men were left to their own company. I can’t remember what led to my impulsive act of turning a summersault on the bed and the next thing I knew was that my daughter had burst into tears!:-) I think the jolt the  act gave to my  “mother image”  scandalized her baby sensibilities .

Truth be told, I don’t think  children  get out of that even after growing up, which is perhaps why youngsters are as a general rule, embarrassed  when parents become publicly visible at Parents’ –teachers’ meetings. Teenaged boys  in particular ,  I think,  would rather choose to be found dead than have to accompany their mothers to a public place .

It’s strange  how these concepts that bind us down. I find so much pleasure in communication  and being aware of all that is going on around me. Why on earth should anyone want to fetter one’s mental agelessness ? On the other hand , we don’t mind going to extreme lengths to try and maintain our physical ly aging cells , which is an inevitability that you just have to come to terms with, do what you will.

Kerala has an increasing number of old age homes now and I’m sure that is going to be a normal and socially acceptable thing in times to come. We may shy away from that idea but it may be the best practical thing with the family structure gradually becoming less closely knit than before and the children wanting to have their own spaces and their own direction in leading their lives. I think we should begin to redefine the aging process  and stop thinking of ourselves as   old  baggages to be confined to some dusty corner and realize our potential  for continuing to be  productive in society . Communes wouldn’t be a bad idea other.

Anyways,  I too think I’m too old to be young, but I’m enjoying the phase because I’m too young to be old:-)

I hope you can hear me humming…”Abhi toh mein jawaan hoon”

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2011 in Movies, Nostalgia, Personal

 

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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.

 

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