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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

 

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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.

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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in childhood, Personal

 

The Circle of Life


Some days are like no other
Perched on a rainbow ,up high.
Some nights are made for slow slumber
On soft magic carpets that fly.

Some moments you know you’re in a circle
Spinning through a point that repeats
And you smile with a touch of wisdom
As the past and the future meets.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Personal, Reflections

 

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Catharsis


I’ve been working on myself
The unplastered walls
Exposed to the elements
Were slowly crumbling to dust.
The cracks in the door
Had let in the wintry wind
And on its heaving hinges
No more could I trust.

Dirt had been blowing in
And settling in heaps
The corners were all swamped
With dead, decaying leaves.
The air, it was so sullen
Insidious insects swarmed
And the bats hung so listless
Below the window eaves.

I’ve been working on myself
Trimming all the trees
Hacking through the undergrowth
Plucking at the weeds.
Fumigating the rooms
Letting in the air
Cleaning up the shelves
Where the termites breed.

Painting all the chairs
Rubbing out the stains
Sweeping out the debri
Left by gnawing rats.
Throwing out the garbage
Left stinking on the sink
Beating out the dust
From the carpets and the mats

I’ve been working on myself
Filling up the cracks
Arranging all my stuff
Neatly on the racks.
Lighting up the rooms
Dispelling the dark
Decking up with flowers
Bringing the music back.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Personal, Poetry

 

Soap making tales


Yesterday was a happening day. I joined my brother-in-law in whitewashing the walls of the kitchen and those at the back of the house and I made soap

No I didn’t have to bribe him with a half chewn apple or marbles or bits of string . But there is something to that story of Tom Sawyer , the one where his aunt had asked him to paint the fence and the smart kid got his friends to do it for him and ended up with a lot of knick-knacks too in the bargain. If you keep watching that swish of the brush on the walls , it makes you want to do it too. My brother- in –law gets bugged by the fact that the guys who are generally called in to do this work ,act so pricey and hard to get. So he does a lot of stuff around the house , on his own, like digging up the backyard when it gets full of weeds after the rains , whitewashing and painting and so on.

My little niece watched on with great amusement as I splattered the walls with my adept brush strokes, pitching in now and then with her expert comments. The upper portions of the walls were done by my brother –in-law , as I was a little jittery about getting on to a ladder and balancing the tin of whitewash with one hand , while applying it with the other. What with my mother confined to the bed with a broken femur and me already fifty five, I didn’t want to risk a fall. My niece, whom I hadn’t spared from listening to all my trekking stories, quipped..”Hmm …Nacha says she climbs mountains ..but she can’t even get on to a ladder!!”. You want to keep your head on your shoulder?…Have a kid around you.

But a kid is also a kid . Staying close to me as I moved along the walls, she cracked a joke that may be I should make a profession of it. I went along with her and said..yeah, I’ll never go hungry if I finish off my savings , as I can always take up white-washing. The poor thing thought I was being serious and after a few moments of silence, warned me that I shouldn’t get the idea that it was going to be easy. I’d find it really tough if the house was big, she said.

About the soap making……well, I’ve been wanting to learn that for quite a while. I managed to get a soap-making sample kit from the Shastra Parishath office here in Kannur. It’s really easy. All you have to do is to mix caustic soda with a little water in a plastic or steel vessel (Lye) and when it cools down ( the chemical reaction gives out a lot of heat and the soda can burn your skin..so one has to wear gloves) add oil to it and keep stirring it till it gets to a “gooey’ consistency. That is the basic “saponification “ process. Then you pour it into a mould and let it dry. You can use the soap only after about a month so that it “cures” properly.

The soap kit I bought also had something called “filler”. The guy at the office wasn’t sure about what it was , but made a guess, possibly the right one, that it was boric powder. I had added this , as per instructions, to the oil , before mixing it with the lye. You can add colour and a little bit of aromatic oil for the fragrance and there it is , your soap is ready.

Reading up on the internet, I came across various recipes , including herbal soaps, coconut milk soaps and so on. I guess the quality of the soap depends on the kind of oil you are using (I used coconut oil) and the rest of the extra stuff you put in. I remember buying a few cakes of home made soap from a member of the “Kudumbashree” project here in Kerala, (which was launched as a part of poverty alleviation programme) which has scrapings of coconut in it. I’m really very excited at the prospect of all the experimenting I’m going to do ,once I get back to Delhi and find out from where I can get to buy “caustic soda”.

While making soap, I also realized using a soap to wash one’s face or hands or while taking a bath is just a matter of habit and convenience. Years ago, my mother would only use powdered “moong “ dal ( a kind of pulse) to scrub herself and for her hair she used aloe vera pulp or the viscousy extract of hibiscus leaves. I have used that too, in my childhood as would so many of our generation. The oil that is used in the soap or the other additives used for giving it the moisturizing effect like glycerol or coconut milk , can be applied directly on the skin , right? And for the cleaning and exfoliation of dead cells , home made stuff, like wheat bran, powdered pulses etc are actually more effective. But who’ll be bothered with all that in these times of “instant” everything. When the Delhi winters make feet extremely dry, so much so that my heels start cracking, I regularly use a mixture of glycerine and rose water. Have found that much more effective than any other foot cream. I use it on my hands too , so that it doesn’t get as wrinkled as an ninety year old’s.

A friend of mine commented on a status update about creams that are supposed to lighten skin colour ( which is an obsession for many in this sub continent , thanks to the premium on beauty , aka a fair skin, a concept we keep being bombarded with through one advertisement after another) that what really attracted her to all these so called beauty products , was the fragrance and I think she is right. A paste of pulses definitely will not smell as good as a fragrant soap. So all we have to do is to look around for a fragrant bath oil and we could do away with all those fancy soaps , which promise so much. Really, how much can it do when it stays on our skins for just a few moments before we wash away the lather?

I’m sure the same applies for all those creams. The basic ingredient would be Vaseline or something like that and the other ingredients like fruit pulp extracts or herbs could all be used independently and directly , with better effect, I’m sure . Ah…but the fragrance.

Seriously, we shoudn’t be allowing all these commercial giants of the cosmetic industry to numb us into believing whatever they say. If we have to use soaps, let’s make them on our own, I say. At least we will know what we are “pampering “ our skins with.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Personal, Reflections

 

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An infidel’s prayer


Born into a muslim family , “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali , is not a book I should’ve been reading in the month of Ramadaan. And definitely not the kind of book I should be reading on the train while coming to be with my old mother , who has had a recent surgery for a fracture on her femur. I should be praying to Allah for her speedy recovery , as would be recommended by the religion I am supposed to espouse. And yet , I was hooked on to her tale , following her through Somalia , to Saudi Arabia, to Ethiopia and Kenya and Holland. I was wonderstruck at her resilience, her uncompromising spirit . The range of experiences and suffering she had gone through left me in a constant state of curiosity ..what came next..what is there on the next page? How did she come to terms with her tribal/religious upbringing when the questions started tormenting her…questions regarding a compassionate God, who as per the book would punish us with the everlasting fires of hell, for our misdemeanors. Did she come to terms with it at all?

Imagine a little girl who had even undergone genital mutilation to supposedly preserve her “purity” and who had had no trouble abiding by the dictats of her community, growing up in Africa through the years when the different states were in a state of war torn anarchy and from there fighting her destiny all on her own to become a Member of Parliament in the Dutch Government , surviving a death threat and still standing tall and unbent .

But I had just about reached the chapter where she was about to be enrolled in one of the prestigious universities in Holland , where she had sought asylum, in an attempt to escape from a marriage her father had made her undergo, of course which was to be in her best interests, according to the paternalistic mores. I had gone off to sleep and had to get down at my hometown Kannur, early next morning. The book was left behind , I think , for I’ve been trying to locate it in amongst my clothes and stuff and it seems to have disappeared.

I’d bought “Infidel” and Arun Shourie’s book , “Does he know a Mother’s heart?” after many, many , many months of not stepping into a bookshop. I had actually been thrilled to be holding two brand new books in my hand. The smell of new print , the crisp paper, the prospect of turning through the pages to delve into the personal accounts of intimate journeys through the minds and spirit of two , whose circumstances in life was intense enough to shake loose the bedrock of faith . to gauge and assess one’s own churnings in the light of the meanings of life that they had discovered for themselves, was an invitation, I could hardly resist, to say the least.

I started with Arun Shourie’s book, his personal memoirs about his relationship with Faith and the denial of it through the journey of bringing up his only son who is affected with cerebral palsy. and I couldn’t finish it. Pages and pages of it were just quotes from the Koran and the Bible , which would ,to any questioning human being , raise doubts about the compassion and love of the God we are supposed to worship, make us wonder at Hell and the unforgiving nature of the Master of the Universe, when he assigns suffering to us and eventually confine us to the flames to be roasted continuously without ever having any reprieve. Shourie is supposed to go on with his questioning with the established ritualistic Hindu religion as well, but I didn’t get there. The problem was , I think, that for someone who has had issues with religions where questioning is not allowed, Shourie’s exposition was a dull repetition . He was meandering again and again through the same material.
I have always wondered, is communication more difficult for men than women? Not about the knowledge, not about the intellectual range, not about the reasoning part or logic…but something remains missing in the emotional content which would make writings of such a personal dimension relatable to the reader. Is it because men are loathe to reveal what they actually “feel”. Is it that they cannot find the words to express them or is it that doing so is a sign of exhibitionism in their perspective? Or may be men can indeed relate to it and women cannot. Or may be they can and it is just me who has a problem. Whatever. ……although both books are in the same genre, Arun Shourie’s narrative did not touch my heart the way Ayaan Hirshi Ali’s did. And now may be I will not be able to finish reading her tale as well, for a while.

My mother is in pain. She is in denial. She is depressed. Old age is trying, very trying, particularly if one hasn’t learnt to let go of attachments, of being in control. My mother is a namaazi. She has fasted during Ramadaan for the most part of her eighty plus years. She has abiding faith in the Holy book and in Allah’s compassion. None of which seem to be helping her through her suffering now. The standard rhetoric is of course that God(by whatever appellation) keeps testing us. Unless you can blindly, sedatedly, unreasoningly believe that, the question will continue nagging you….why would anyone want to do that, untiringly through all the “Time” that there was ,is and is going to be.? “Surrender” to a Power who can never be satisfied with the incessant “testing” of it’s own powers ?

I’ll probably burn in Hell and yet … … I cannot deny the feeling of infinite love that fills me in moments of silence. And I’m okay with appealing to that entity of Abundant Love to help relieve her insecurities , her fear of the unknown , which makes her cling on so desperately to her own image of physical strength and endurance and will power. I pray that she accepts the fact that it is okay to be vulnerable , to be weak , to be dependent. I pray that her mind may be free from the chatter and noise in which we find affirmation of our Self. I pray that she is able to surrender, really surrender .

 

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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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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.

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in childhood, Personal

 

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