My Malayalam Blog

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Friday, 30 August 2013

It’s Party Time!

It was in August last year, 29th to be exact, that I launched this blog. I chose the occasion of Onam, the biggest of Kerala’s festivals, to do it. It was due to the encouragement and help of Shikha that I ventured into this exciting and, to some extent, taxing venture. Shikha is also the one who told me about Indiblogger, of which I became a member, too. I did not know then how long I would be able to tread this path. But here I am, after a year, to declare proudly that I have completed one year of blogging. Sreejit, my son, commented after my first post, “You will love it”. And yes, I do love it. Except once, I have managed to upload at least one post every week during the past year. More than one, in some weeks. I thought it is a good idea to look back at the past year – the road I travelled, the people I met, the smiles I received, and the good wishes I collected. I made several more friends and renewed several old friendships.

I started with two posts on Onam, for those unfamiliar with the festival.  These were followed by a post on the heavenly feeling of slow driving. A satire on the politics of price hike followed. It was then time for a few posts on my memoirs. The incidents on the uniform and that on my birth actually dripped from my heart. The three posts on neem (neem I, neem II, neem III) were addressed to those who are indifferent to nature that sustains human and animal life. Without nature, there is no existence for humans, however super they think they are.
I was surprised and happy to receive an invitation from The Writer’s Drawer to contribute to their website. The invitation came as a comment to the uniform. I contributed an actual story of the fight of a woman. The freak was prompted by a TV programme on children suffering from autism. I killed my daughter resulted from a personal experience. I was asked to prepare a proposal and then my boss slept on it for six months. I then withdrew the proposal. Monologue of an official is on corruption. Memoirs on Dr Akavoor Narayanan and Prof. Arithottam Parameswaran are my tributes to them. Both were my teachers without me being their formal student. They were also my close friends and guides and always encouraged me.

Wait for White was written several years ago, which was also published through The Writer’s Drawer. The poem I am a woman is a tribute to the victim of the December 2012 Delhi gang rape. I followed this up with another poem and three notes (one, two, three) on the same incident and related developments. An unusual gift is a story based on a true incidence where an actress let the birth of her daughter video-recorded for a movie. Minister without portfolio is based on a personal experience. I was invited to contribute an article which was later rejected ostensibly due to shortage of space, but actually, I believe, due to other reasons. The series of posts on Dr R.K. Pachauri (I, II, III, IV) were my personal experiences of working with him during my tenure of a little over 25 years in TERI. 

My nephew Sujai married Ria who belongs to Kolkata. We had gone to Kolkata to attend their marriage. A note on this visit, my first to the city, was posted on my return. My first article is about my contribution of a small second-hand piece to our college magazine. This is special because that was the first time I ever saw my name in print. Posts on my memoirs included a three-post series (one, two, three) on my father’s illness (he suffered from cancer) and his passing away. Padasparsham kshamaswame is on the propriety to respect mother earth. The felling knife and the split personality are notes based on true incidents which made a sea-change in the protagonists’ character after an incident.

While most of the posts are my memoirs, I did try to respond to a few current social issues. Yes, this blog was initially conceived as a forum where I could post stories from my own life; stories that I have neither forgotten nor would forget even after several decades. In fact one of our old colleagues wondered if I was old enough to write an autobiography!

Initially my posts were normally read by people who knew me personally. But the small poem I am a woman, changed the scenario. It soon became the most popular post. But this was soon overshadowed by the posts on Dr Pachauri, especially the first in the series. This was more or less expected because I had sent the link to my former colleagues in TERI. After more than a year, this post has constantly remained the most popular.

I have been receiving very encouraging comments from my readers. The first-ever comment I received on my first post last year was from my nephew Vineet who has continued to put in his comments later too. I should specially mention here that Omy, my cousin and best friend, has commented encouragingly on several posts. Then there are several others who by comments, or personally, encouraged me. Many of them have said that even if they had not commented, they used to read my posts and encouraged me to continue writing. I would like to mention here that Mr Ramachandran Pillai, a published writer, happened to read my blog when Jayaprakash Bhatt, a mutual friend, forwarded the link to him. He used to call me nearly every time on reading a new post. Later on he started his own blog through which he teaches the correct usage of English language. Even now he remains my regular reader as several others. Immediately after going through the post, he points out mistakes, if there are any. I am grateful to him for his gesture.

The world of blogging is indeed a marvel for budding (at 58 years!) writers like me. You can express your views here which people acquainted with you, and sometimes even others, read. This is a comfortable way out, like thousands of other bloggers, who can’t expect to see one of their articles published in a newspaper or a popular magazine. There are stories of bloggers becoming published writers too. (Why should one be miserly while dreaming?)

May I now bore you with some statistics?

This has been a journey of 368 days, 67 posts, over 16700 page views, and over 520 comments (including my responses). I know this is nowhere near even a poorly popular blogger. But then, all freedom fighters cannot be Mahatma Gandhies, all batsmen cannot be Sachin Tendulkars or Donald Bradmans, or all social servants cannot be Mother Theresas!

Least views in a month (I am not counting the three days in August 2012) have been 991 in September 2012. After that it has been over 1000 every month. The highest number of viewers, 2442, was in March 2013. This was because the posts on Dr Pachauri appeared during February-March. I am glad and proud to say that Dr Pachauri, though unimaginably busy all the time, found time to go through the posts and also to comment on them.

All said and done, this has been a tremendously rewarding experience. And I plan to continue this as long as possible.

I hope to continue to receive constant encouragement from you. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

‘Reinforcing’ My First Pair of Sandals

I got into the Grand Trunk (GT) Express bogey from Alwaye (now Aluva) (that was the first time I got into a train) to go to Delhi in 1973. There was no direct train to Delhi from Kerala those days. One had to travel to Madras (now Chennai) and then catch another train to Delhi. One bogey of GT express, however, used to be attached to another train coming from Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) which took us to Madras. We reached Madras in the morning around 10. GT Express from Madras to Delhi was scheduled to leave in the evening at 4. So we had about six hours to ourselves.

When we got out, Narayanan ettan (my elder cousin with whom I was travelling) looked at my feet and asked, ‘Oh, you don’t have sandals?’

I said, ‘No’. I had never worn slippers or sandals till that time and I never felt the need for it. I didn’t understand why he was asking this. What is so peculiar in not wearing a pair of sandals? I was amazed. (Read another post related to this here.)

He said, ‘Delhi is not like your village back in Kerala. You cannot live in Delhi without sandals. Let us go and purchase a pair.’

So we went and purchased a pair of plastic sandals from the first available shop. I felt very uncomfortable walking using sandals. I thought I would fall. I walked very carefully. Boots used to be all right (which I had to wear as part of uniform while I was in the National Cadet Corps in college).  They covered one’s feet completely and could also be tightened with laces. But sandals were different. You need to clutch it tightly with your toes and other fingers! Oh, God! What kind of customs has man made for himself? It was also unfamiliar because earlier with every step you touched different parts of the earth and the feeling used to be different and pleasant every time. This was slightly different when you walked on huge rocks on hot summer noons. We had to run. But take it as a new experience, and you will enjoy it, too. But now, it is only the sandals that you step on wherever you go! What a pity!

Since we had a lot of time, Narayanan ettan said, ‘Let us go to Moore market’.

Moore market, he said, was very famous. It was very near to the railway station. We could reach it on foot. And it would be a loss if we did not visit it. It was not to purchase anything in particular, but just to see and wander through the market. And then, we also needed to spend the time till evening somehow. So let it be Moore market. We were walking around looking at things and people and traders. Suddenly a man called us. He was a cobbler. He looked at my sandals and said he could make them stronger by fixing on to them some special kind of nails. He said if we did that the sandals would not need any repair for several years! Ettan contemplated after seeing his eagerness and readiness to ‘help’ us.

Ettan asked him, ‘How much would it cost?’

Cobbler said, ‘Thirty paise’. 

It was a considerable amount 40 years ago. Ettan further asked, ‘For both the sandals?’

He confirmed, ‘Yes’.

Ettan then told me, ‘Let us do it’. And I gave him my sandals.

The cobbler stuck two nails on to one sandal. His eyes were all the time wandering around looking for more preys. Suddenly he got up and ran after another man pleading with him how he could reinforce his shoes. He did not want any such thing. The cobbler returned and started working on my sandal. After fixing another nail, he again ran after another person. This happened quite a number of times. We were getting frustrated. After a good 45 minutes he had ‘reinforced’ my sandals with nine nails on each of them. It should actually have taken two or three minutes. Ettan gave him 30 paise.

He looked at the coins and asked, ‘What is this?’

Ettan said, ‘Thirty paise, that was the agreed charge, wasn’t it?’ Ettan was already upset at the inordinate delay he caused in completing such a minor activity.

The cobbler said, ‘You have to give me 5 rupees and 40 paise’!

We were utterly shocked. The sandals had cost only less than five rupees. Now he wants even more than that for fixing some nails on it.

Ettan argued, ‘But you had said it would cost 30 paise.’

The cobbler then said, ‘Yes, thirty paise per nail. And I have put 18 nails. So it costs 5 rupees 40 paise.’

Ettan was very angry at this unreasonable demand and the misinterpretation of his own words.

He took out some more coins from his pocket, counted, and threw them at the cobbler yelling, ‘This is another rupee. If you want, take it, or else do what you want to do.’

Without waiting for the cobbler’s response, ettan clutched my hand and we walked away hurriedly.

I was scared. This was the first time I was travelling out of Kerala. These people were talking Tamil, a foreign language to me. And maybe this trader is a goonda, who knows? Maybe he has his gooda friends too somewhere hidden in the market. Maybe he would follow us with his goonda friends! I was really scared, but at the same time appreciated Ettan’s courage. I turned and looked back several times to make sure that he and his friends did not follow us. He did not. Maybe he had caught another client by that time. Or maybe he was happy that he had extracted a rupee more than he had actually expected.

Several years later, when I heard that the whole Moore market got destroyed in a devastating fire, I had mixed feelings. With the kind of trade they did, did God punish them?

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Independence Day Anniversary – 50 Years Ago

[Why do we say we are celebrating the 66th Independence Day this year? There was only one Independence Day, which was on 15 August 1947. The rest are anniversaries.]

I was in school then. Independence Day anniversary always used to be an occasion for enjoyment. One, it was a school holiday; and two, we used to have a function in the school. A school function is always a festival. The function was organized in the large hall which was in normal days divided into several class rooms using temporary partitions. Only in the high school did we have separate brick-walled class rooms. I do not remember if we had elaborate cultural programmes that day. Probably we did not. But there was an assembly of students and teachers presided over by the headmaster. (We had headmaster or headmistress and not principal in school. Principals were heads of colleges.) He and other teachers gave speeches on the importance of Independence Day. We knew Independence Day was a BIG thing, but actually did not know what it was. What was it ‘to gain independence from a foreign power’? Why did they talk all those things against the British? What did Gandhi and Nehru do? We didn’t know, and we didn’t care. Well, the teachers knew all those things, that was enough. But yes, we had pictures of several leaders in our text books and we did learn a few things about them, that’s all. In higher classes, of course, we studied several of those things in detail.

After the speeches, some of the senior students sang patriotic songs. And the function ended by around 11 or 11:30 a.m. Oh, yes, I forgot to say that we started the programme with ‘Vandematharam’ and ended with ‘Jana Gana Mana’ and a lot of enthusiastic ‘Jai Hind’s and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’s (Triumph to you, Bharat Mata).

But the most important and enjoyable part was yet to come. We were taken to the nearby small town named Koothattukulam. I do not remember how we were taken. Our school did not have a school bus. And I do not think we hired a bus. We probably went using public transport. The ticket then used to cost 10 paise. I do not know if we got concession being students and also since it was a tour arranged by the school management and teachers on an Independence Day anniversary.

During those days there were only two classes of buses for the state-owned KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Corporation)—Ordinary and Fast Passenger (FP). While the minimum charge in an Ordinary bus was 10 paise, for FP it was 40 paise. We always used to avoid the latter. Why should we pay three times more for the same distance? (I wish the same realization had prevailed later on also. It didn’t. When we grew up, time and comfort became more important than money – AC class in train in place of ordinary second class, air travel in place of train journey, own vehicle in place of public transport, and so on.) These days I think there are about a dozen classes. The ordinary, FP, Limited Stop FP, Super FP, Limited Stop Super FP, Express, Limited Stop Express, and Deluxe. Have I covered all? I remember once I also happened to see a Lightening Express. It was a mini bus travelling at extremely high speed (as if it owned the complete length of the road) and stopping at only very important stations. While the Ordinary, FP, and Super FP are painted in red with varying sizes and shapes of yellow lines on them, Express is green and yellow and Deluxe and Lightening Express are predominantly white.

The one and only thing we did at Koothattukulam was to visit the police station! I have no idea why it remained the only destination of visit on Independence Day anniversaries year after year. Maybe the teachers wished and hoped that we would never have a chance to visit the place in future unless it was in police uniform! Whatever, the police station was so much of an enigma. The word ‘Police’ in general and policemen in particular had a very fearsome image in our minds.

I remember one common occurrence where small children refused to eat food at home. Usually the mother takes the child on her hip supporting him with the hand which also held the plate with food, usually rice. The other hand had small quantities of rice pressed and made into tiny balls with hand. She takes the child out in the open showing him crow and other birds, small animals such as squirrels, the moon ‘uncle’ if it is night, and so on and so forth. If the child is not interested in any of these and still refused to eat, then she starts telling him that devil, ghost, or demon will come and harm him. But the child has not seen the devil, ghost, or the demon and sometimes even this threat is ineffective. So the next step will be to threaten him in the name of the policeman. And that was probably the last step. When the mother says, “If you do not eat, I will call the policeman and he will take you to jail and beat you up”, at which the child realises that his mother means business and usually relents and starts eating. So a policeman in our mind used to be more ferocious than a ghost or demon!

And it is to a place where several of such ferocious people work, that the teachers took us! The station was situated several feet above the ground level, so we had to ascent nearly fifty steps to reach it. The policemen, however, smiled at us and also talked to us lovingly, which puzzled us. They took us all around the police station explaining the places. We used to look at the lock-ups where sometimes we noticed a prisoner or two. We looked at them as if they were some strange animals caged in a zoo! We wanted to see how criminals looked different from ordinary people. But we were disappointed because they looked just like any other man we had met. Sometimes they used to look pathetic, probably for being made a showpiece in front of the children. Maybe he had children of our age, too, who knows!

The criminals were as fearsome in our minds as were the policemen. One day I wanted to ask the name of one such prisoner out of curiosity. But I dared not even open my mouth in front of him. Suppose he breaks out and kills me for asking the question? I told Rajan, who was more enterprising and smarter than many of us. He ventured to take up the challenge. We stayed a few feet away from the door of the lockup (so that the prisoner could not reach us through the grills and there was enough space for us to rush out in case he breaks out!) and asked his name. I think he smiled painfully and told his name without showing any anger. And Rajan was our hero for several weeks!

Once I even touched the chair of the sub-inspector (SI) (the highest ranked police official in the world!) when he was busy elsewhere! During those days an SI used to be very powerful and ruled the vast area under the station like an emperor (maybe even now he does). So touching his chair was indeed a great achievement and adventure! I drew the attention of a friend while touching the chair so that he would vouch for it when I would boast about this great event in the class the next day. He looked at me admirably but dared not follow my adventure.

After spending some time, we left the station descending the steps. On our way down, a policeman gave us a toffee each. Sometime we got the costliest toffee available in the market those days, which was Parry’s toffee costing five paise. I think Parry’s ruled the roost till Coffee Bite appeared costing an enormous 25 paise apiece. But this was several years later.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Haunted Timepiece

When I used to be a small boy, one of my paternal uncles, Narayanan aphan (aphan means paternal uncle) always used to stay away from home with his family. He used to work as priest in temples at faraway places. This incident happened when he was doing pooja (priesthood) at a temple in a place called Ampalloor.  Once I went to visit him and cheriyamma (aunty) there. I also remember I stayed there for a few days. In childhood it used to be very exciting to go and stay with your relatives, especially if they stay at a little distant place. The bus journey required to reach the place was a bonus. Travelling by road (those days one never encountered the traffic jams that you encounter these days) has always been a passion for me. It was always exciting and I am never tired of long journeys by road.

Aphan had a timepiece, which was enclosed in a wooden box with glass front cover so that you can see the time without opening the door. The box was fixed on a window using nails. The hands and the hour spots had a little bit of radium on them which glittered during the night. It was very fascinating to watch the glittering of the hands and the hour spots. It used to be pure ecstasy to watch them when the whole room was pitch dark. It was my habit to climb on the window, because I was so small and couldn’t reach the box otherwise, to look closely at the timepiece to watch the glitter during nights.

On one night, as usual, as soon as I woke up in the middle of the night, I ran to the window and climbed on to the first step to look closely at the timepiece. But in my hurry and due to carelessness I miscalculated the position of the box containing the timepiece. I hadn’t switched on the lights since the glittering would not be visible then. As I raised my head after climbing on the window, it strongly struck at the sharp corner of the wooden box. Suddenly I thought a lightening had emanated from or struck on my head. There was also very sharp pain. I could not help myself from shouting aloud, “Ayyo” (Malayalam for “Ouch!”). I sat down on the floor clutching my head. Aphan and cheriyamma came rushing. There was a small cut on my head, fortunately not very deep, though. They applied some medicated cream. The pain lasted several hours. That was the last time I ever wanted to see the shining of the hands and hour spots of a timepiece.

The next day, when aphan came from temple, I saw him and cheriyamma talking in some code language using signs and single syllables. I did not understand what they were talking. But I knew that cheriyamma wanted to know something which aphan was reluctant to reveal. Playfully, of course. At last cheriyamma got the answer to her query. The moment she got the answer, she rushed inside. She came back with a packet and handed it over to me telling, “Jayanthan, this is for you”. The packet contained a shirt and a pair of knickers for me. I can’t explain how happy I was at that moment. I danced with joy. Unexpected presents give you great surprise and happiness, more so when you are a child. A shirt and a pair of knickers given to you as a present have got extra value and extra fondness than when they are purchased.

When aphan and cheriyamma shifted back to home, along with their children, they had brought the timepiece along with the box. Again they fitted it on a window. Whenever I used to look at the timepiece it used to remind me the whole episode in every detail as if it had happened only a couple of days ago. As if I had forgotten it! By then I had grown up and was tall enough not to need to climb on to the window, but I still avoided any contacts with the timepiece and the box.

For me, it was a haunted box!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Rain and the Pool

It is drizzling outside. It has been so throughout the night. It rained heavily yesterday; and the day before … and the day before. In fact, it has been raining almost continuously since the past week. I enjoy rains ... light or heavy ... or drizzle ... at home or in the rain... in gloomy or happy mood... with an umbrella or without it. This reminds me of my childhood in Kerala. It used to rain heavily during monsoons, sometimes continuously for several days.

I enjoyed watching water pouring down through the tiny pathways in the earthen roof tiles. The continuous 'jhil-jhil' when the water falls on the ground was heavenly music. Small and large insects roamed around freely. They had been displaced from their hiding places by the rain water. Little frogs used to jump around croacking merrily. You should be watchful lest they might jump on your feet or you step on them. I used to sit in the verandah watching all these. The tiny plants, tall coconut trees, and all the vegetation used to sway continuously in the breeze which invariably accompanied the rain. The breeze also showered one with those tiny droplets all over. It was heavenly feeling.

Yes, rain is heavenly, indeed!

Monsoon reaches Kerala every year invariably in the week the school opens, that is the first week of June. And it usually happens on the first Monday of the month, when the schools open in the state. With all the climate change, with the climate in several parts of the world turning topsy-turvy, the monsoon has not failed Kerala even once. Even this year it reached on 31 May, two days before schools opened.

Our class rooms were not fully covered. The outside walls were only a few feet high with only temporary partitions between class rooms. They were unlike some present day class rooms with only a door and a couple of windows, or even air-conditioned ones. There is no dearth of air or light coming into the class rooms. We never used to have fans in class rooms, for the simple reason that we didn’t need those. Nor did we have electric bulbs. Our school timings used to be from 10 in the morning to 4 in the evening.

During rains, which, as I have already said, arrives immediately on opening the schools after the annual holidays, it was very common that they close the school earlier than the scheduled time. By afternoon we could see clouds starting to gather. By around three or nearly four, it becomes quite dark on most of the days due to the heavy clouds. Our hearts start beating faster as the clouds gather. For two reasons. One, due to happiness because school is likely to close earlier, and two, the mere ecstasy of running all the way home, about a kilometre or more, to beat the rain and reach there before it can catch and drench us. We didn’t want our precious text and note books to get wet!

I always wanted to run out and sing and dance and jump and shout in the rain. It feels fantastic when rain bathes you in its pouring waters. You feel like it is embracing you all over. And you thank the rain profusely, “Thank you, Thank you.”

But mother would not let me. She would say, 'Jayanthan, don't go into the rain, come inside, or you will catch cold'. But I was allowed to go out in the rain without an umbrella while I go to take my bath. We used to take bath in a pond in the family land. The pond is not very large, but big enough for us children to swim around. I learned swimming in this pond. I don't remember who taught me swimming. But I still remember how I did it.

There were long lines of steps along the length of the pool. During the rains, the pool always overflowed. I started swimming along the topmost steps. I touched on the large stones with my hands and moved forward, hitting the water with my legs, careful not to hit the stones. After practising thus a few times, I swam on the second steps. Since the water was slightly deeper, this was more comfortable. I could also use my hands to swim a few feet by taking them off the stones below. When I was able to swim along the steps without touching the stones below with my hands, it was time for the next step. I took small semi-circles. I swam a few feet towards the middle of the pool and returned. And the semi-circle became larger and larger. And I learned to swim.

On one side of the pool there is an 8-feet high wall, and stairs to climb up to the land above. It was my favourite pastime to jump into the water from this wall head down. The moment you hit the water, you stop all movements and allow yourself to be carried down by the force of the jump and the consequent movements under water. You feel completely weightless. The feeling used to be celestial. You remain that way till you can't hold your breath any more. And then you come up.  I again go up the wall and jump again into the pool. 

That was when I was a small boy.

Well, my house has been sold off along with the pool. The pool no more belongs to us. But even now, when I visit the place to pray to our family deity, I make it a point to take a bath in the pool ... and to jump into the pool.  Head down.