Archive for the ‘ Tellicherry ’ Category

Onam

The ten-day-long ‘ONAM’ happens to be the most important festival in Kerala, one of the southern states in India. It symbolizes abundance and not beyond the reach of the poor, for all that matters is flowers of all colors and sizes, available in abundance all over Kerala. if at all there is some sort of competition, it is in gathering the small white flower called Thumbapoo. The responsibility of gathering these white flowers are ‘thrust’ on boys and girls and the rest is taken care of by the adults. The flowers thus collected are decorated on a small area in front of every house . In short, it is an exhibition of artistic skills of kids and elders.

The climax is on the 10th day when every one wears new clothes which are simple and attractive. The requirements of the poor and down-trodden are taken care of by the rich and the middle class citizens of the state.

There is a sort of serene beauty in the form of songs and dances which are unique in the state.

Memories flood back and I forget for a moment that I am miles away from Kerala. I heard that things have changed a lot and the main items like flowers are made available in flower markets. Gone are the days when it was pleasure to gather flowers from every nook and corner.

Bold resistance Indeed !

The sun set was just a few minutes away and I was on my way to that favorite spot from where I can watch the glorious moment, all alone. The spot was just a few steps away from that old, dilapidated house. Not long ago, this house was one of the well known ‘Shelter’ and it was occupied by a Landlord. Now, it stands isolated as several new, ultra modern houses have come up all around, making the entire area green – free!

I was at my farourite spot and my eyes were focused on the multicoloured western sky. The sun was slowly disappearing from the sky and I stood there as if I was in meditation but my attention got diverted by the starting sound of a car which was coming out of that old house! It was in expensive car and the man who looked out was very handsome and seemed to be rich too. He waved his hands on seeing me and stopped the car and alighted from it. “Hi, do you remember me?” he asked. Frankly speaking I did not remember him but I said, “Sure, sure …. By the way, are you going sell this house and land?” “Not at all”, he replied “This is my grandpa’s house and I don’t want anybody to demolish it and build a new one. This house will be there for ever and I will put up a board near the gate with the words, ‘House, not for sale’ so that I can put an end to the umpteen calls from crazy guys who are bent upon turning this charming place into a thickly – populated urban area”

“Oh, That is great” I said as he took leave of me with a board smile on his face!

Waves make the difference…

“Sunset and the evening sky… sunset and…” My mind kept on repeating these words as we were on our way to the beach, close to the Stanley park. In the good old days, a visit to the beach was a daily affair during summer holidays and the picture was almost clear on the mental canvass but I switched over to certain scenes in the novels of William Faulkner or Oscar Wilde so that mind won’t slip into those happy-go-lucky days!
Wow, we were at the beach and even as I dashed towards the sea, the impatient mind deleted the word sunset and said, rather sarcastically ‘evening sky?” In these parts of the planet earth, one can’t say who is delaying the glorious moment. Your watch may show it is well past 6.00 PM but, up there, it is bright and sunny. Oh, sorry, I must be talking about the sea. No doubt, it is like a good looking dame who walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry sky. There is something serene and melodious about this sea. But, not so the Arabian sea in our area. The waves are tall, active and pleasantly noisy. It is Rock ‘n’ roll all the time. By the way, the song ‘sunset and evening sky’ is something you won’t miss because it takes place at 6.00 PM or so. Your eyes shift to the distant horizon not only to watch the sunset but to watch the left-overs and the sea birds which fly criss-cross during sunset.

Was this the face that launched…?

The old woman was at it again! She seemed to be fed up with the teenager’s repeated, “No grandma….”. I was busy myself, looking for an apt book that could be gifted to my friend’s daughter on her birthday. Though I had selected the book I wanted to buy, I kept on pulling out books from the shelves so that I could listen to the dialogue between the grandma and the teenager. Not that I was very inquisitive but the language they spoke [and the accent too] was exactly the same I was familiar with…the language of my native town where I was born and brought up. It is decades since I left my native town but whenever some tourists spoke that language, I used to overhear them!

On this occasion, it was at that book stall! I had selected my book but curiosity made a rare turkey cock of me! The tug of war between the old woman and the teenager came to an end when, finally the dame accepted the boom selected by the old woman. I glanced at it from a distance just to know the title of the book but the girl went to the cash counter, saying, “good earth or bad earth, I take it”.

There was a smile on the grandma’s face as she accompanied her grand-daughter to the counter where the girl’s father was waiting impatiently.

The bespectacled, lean old lady was none other than Hyma who was my classmate decades ago when we were studying in a government high school. She was a brilliant student…a rank holder..but that was all. I do not remember the rest of her life. May be she got married soon after her school days or it could be anything…but, before I could verify these facts she got into a car parked in front of the book stall. The other family members were waiting for her impatiently—she looked at me once or twice, may be because she too had the same curiosity!

When you look back

Once in a while, it is nice to look back. The canvas may be big enough to choose what you prefer at that particular time. I do it now and then to while away my time. Now, it is about my college days. It started with a one-year pre-university, followed by a three year degree course. There was just one college in my native town as against several high schools in and around the town. Naturally, admission for the eligible high school students was limited. Fortunately, I got admission card a week before the due date, though some of my friends were in the uncertain waiting list. But since my dad was away and arrived on a day after the due date, I was late by a day. I carried a letter from my dad addressed to the principal. He read the letter and wrote a negative reply in green ink, ‘sorry, this cannot be considered’. I was a disappointed but to my pleasant surprise, he said after a while, ‘your father’s name seems to be a familiar one….by the way, is his initial P.S?’ ‘Yes sir’, I replied. Immediately he struck down what he wrote earlier and took out the red ink pen and wrote, ‘admitted’. The principal was all smiles when he said, ‘I don’t know whether you father remembers or not but I still remember that event. He was junior to me by two years but in an essay writing competition in English he got the first prize and I, the second prize’. I got the full details of this event when I reminded my dad of this.
I was in for a mild shock the next day when classes commenced the Malayalam professor, a tough guy, told me point blank, ‘while I was talking about changambuzha [a poet] you were watching the basket ball match… I won’t allow such diversions in my class… mind it…’ Thereafter, I was careful.
Another tough man was one of our English professors… I was not in his good books because I used to be a late comer. But he too had one weakness… cricket! That was my weakness too. He had seen me in nearby tea shops and college canteen listening to cricket commentaries. [At times, I used to skip classes]. One afternoon – the first ‘hour’ after lunch, I was on my way to my class to attend his lecture. One seeing me, he called me aside and said, ‘you don’t have to attend the class today. Go to the restaurant and let me know the latest score. That Hanif Mohammed is still there… India’s victory depends on his wicket…’ I wasted no time. The restaurant was crowded. All were waiting anxiously for the umpire’s decision to appeal for LBW against Hanif Mohammed. ‘there’s a loud appeal’, I heard those heart-warming words from the commentator, ‘yes, he is given out’. In an hour or so, India managed to win the match and I won the heart of the professor!

An underestimation

Far away and long ago. Wuthering heights. Oliver twist. Swamy and friends. Twelfth night. For whom the bell tolls. All old and worn out books, lying scattered in a wooden box. There were some old magazines as well. I must buy a couple of them, not because I was eager to read all these books. The owner of this ‘box shop’ was looking at me now and then hoping that I will buy at least one of them. While leafing through some of them, I chanced upon “An anthology of English poems”, when I picked it up, an envelope dropped from it. It was addressed to one Gokuldas…  A familiar name, I thought. Could he be the friend of my roommate in the early seventies? I wondered. I bought that book just for the sake of that letter. It was signed by one Sumitra… again a familiar name. The letter was very brief: “Dear Gokul, this is my own book… not from the library. Read these poems and you’ll get to know more about the art of writing poems”.

It is more than 25 years since I vacated that room. I have only a dim recollection of those days. My roommate was working as an electrician in a public sector company and Gokuldas used to visit him quite often. He was working as an assistant in a pawn-broker’s shop. During his visits, he used to tell me about certain books and what more, he was never tired of telling me about Sumitra with whom he used to discuss books and literature. The act was he was a school dropout and this Sumitra was an Assistant Professor in Arts and Science College. And, I responded with “um, oh, really…” but now I realize my folly. My judgment was wrong. He was indeed a classmate of Sumitra and they studied in a reputed English medium school—

Now he must be in his eighties. I see him occasionally when he visits the temple. The next time I come across him, I must tell him about that letter and may be about my own folly!

All is well that ends well

At long last, Suresh got an appointment order. The relevant portion said, “if the candidate is willing, he has to join duty on or before 9th of September 1978. The job is permanent but promotion and other benefits depend solely on performance”. He did have a job but it was neither permanent nor to his liking. If at all he held on to it, it was solely because he did not want to incur the displeasure of his parents. But his love affair with Sheela would not make any progress as long as he was stuck up with his temporary job.

As soon as he got his appointment order, his first impulse was to rush to the elementary school on the main road where Sheela was working as a teacher but on second thought, he decided to casually mention this matter when they meet next. Instead, he took some of his colleagues to their favorite ‘coffee house’ to celebrate his ‘success’.

And to his utter joy, he saw Sheela standing at the entrance of the coffee house just when they were stepping in. On seeing Suresh and his friends, she stepped aside. The expression in her face betrayed her disappointment. But why? Suresh thought, though he still wanted to hide the good news for a while. “Hi Sheela, what brings you here?” Suresh asked. Sheela began to weep, not knowing what else to do. Suresh seemed to be in utter confusion but one of his colleagues approached her to sort out her problems, if any. Suresh watched them from a distance. She simply handed over a folded paper to that colleague and left the place. It was a letter addressed to Sheela’s father. The colleague went through the letter in a hurry and gave it to Suresh. “It’s about Sheela’s marriage…..an arranged one. May be she is upset”. Suresh just listened to what the colleague said.

“It seems the sender of this letter is a friend of Sheela’s father”, the colleague added.

“How do you know?” Suresh asked.

“The language is informal and there is no mention of those big things associated with marriage…by the way, it is from one Mr. Ramanathan…T.K. Ramanathan.”Suresh snatched the letter from his colleague and even as he was half way through it he knew who the sender was. “It is my dad’s letter…and it is about me and Sheela….the poor thing is confused because I am referred to as ‘My son’. It’s a big surprise to me”, thus saying he took leave of his colleagues and soon he was on his wings! There she was!….waiting for an autorickshaw. He hugged her and whispered into her ear, “all is well that ends well”.

By the way, does this remotely resemble an O’Henry-shot?

When opportunities knock at your door…

A police officer and a couple of constables ‘marched’ into a reputed shop. Was it a raid or just a visit for shopping? I wondered. It was immaterial but I followed them to have a close look at the officer. My intention was to verify whether they were actually from the neighboring state [A  casual glance from a distance gave me the impression that they were from a neighboring state]. Yes, they were indeed from the neighboring state, as was evident from their badges. I left it at that and went to a nearby restaurant before proceeding to my house but even as I was moving forward rather mechanically, my mind was trying to recollect my college days and gradually it narrowed down to the ‘preachings’ of our English lecturer. “Make it a point to work hard to get a job to your liking… and don’t succumb to temptations”. His advice was mainly aimed at literature students. He wanted them to become poets, novelists or journalists. He was a junior lecturer and his literary articles and poems were published in top journals. Soon I came to the conclusion that the police officer whom I saw at that shop was none other than the above said lecturer. I must meet him before he leaves, I thought and returned to that shop. I was right on time. The officer was about to get into a car parked in front of that shop but stepped back when he saw me.

After exchanging pleasantaries, he took leave of me. Yes, I was right; he was the very same lecturer but seemed to have washed his hands clean off his pet views when opportunities knocked at his door—soon he was to become the I.G of police.

The rest of the story

“It is a wonderful poem, no doubt. The description of the hills and valleys and the green-clad slope where they used to sit and chat for hours. The sunset and evening sky, though beautiful, they see it as parting time… Only when the poet glorifies a childish love affair…”

Mrs. Shantha Nair, the English teacher, was waxing eloquent but the very same teacher was struggling for words when the poet has to say a few words about a love affair. Be it a short story, or a novel, or a poem, her mood changes, if it has something to say about romance. She would lose her temper and accuse the author of being childish. “What is so wonderful about this? just an animal instinct in a sophisticated way… These are my personal views…” Though none of the students dared to differ from her views, they set afloat certain rumors about her son, a college student who was religious but a bit romantic too. He was very often found with an average-looking girl, mainly in the temple compound that was close to his house. This love affair would not have become a main topic if the young man was not the son of Mrs.Shantha Nair who was reluctant to talk about the subject in her classes.

The other day, while I was going through my old diaries, I came across this story, written by me, nearly three decades ago. It looked like an incomplete story. Was it based on recollections of my school days? I racked my brain. Anyway, after a couple of sleepless nights, I got the answer to my own queries.

Yeah, the story was incomplete. It was a combination of facts and fictions. If you are eager to know rest of the story, here it is!

Shanta Nair was not a bit upset when one of her colleagues brought to her notice her son’s affair with that girl. In fact, she felt happy about this affair. More so, because it was spreading thick and fast! She took her colleague to her cabin and told her, “That girl is Kesavan Nair’s only daughter.”

“Of Gowri puram?”, the colleague asked “Yes. The very same rogue who let me down. I was madly in love with him but… You know that?”

“Yes, Yes… then why on earth are you happy about your son’s affair with his daughter?”

“My son was reluctant to fall in love with that girl but I almost compelled him to trap her! The other day, Kesavan Nair came to my house to talk about the marriage. When he began to broach the subject in a very humble way, I simply said ‘no problem. But on one condition… I wont accept any dowry’ and he nodded his head. I thought of saying that I was not greedy like him but the expression in his face was pathetic and that was more than enough for me!”

The good old days…

“From the day one I saw you…” An apt and timely film song was on the air… some of us were deeply immersed in that song. There were those who took it as a disturbance to their conversations… Or shall we call it “the scandal session”? Most of them were in their sixties and seventies and their conversations revolved around love marriages, or the more problematic inter-caste marriages.

The occasion was, of course, a Wedding reception. It was not an arranged marriage as such, but absolutely free from any problems from both sides. Most of the elders who had gathered there at the invitation of the bride or groom were critical of the present generation and their habit of falling in love with girls or boys who were not of the same casts. “In the good old days, the youngsters strictly abided by certain social codes. There were no love marriages” one of the elders would say. “Yes, Yes… Look at their dresses… horrible…”

They talked as if there were no love marriages or inter-caste marriages. I was almost tempted to say, “Just look back, oldies…”

By a remarkable coincidence, I happened to read a short story, a couple of days after this marriage. The author, a Malayalam novelist, was born in 1904 and the story I read was written in 1930s, it was about a love affair between two college students. From the description of the behavior of the students of that college, it was clear that the students of yore were no better (or worse) than the ones we see these days. Then why this Fuss?