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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.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2011 in childhood, Community

 

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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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