Tuesday, 20 March 2018

My dear Kumar

Today, the 20th March he would have turned 62. But he didn't wait. Why he had to hurry, I don't know, but hurry he did. Just a phone call during a power cut time made him fall down near the stairs, followed by a quick succession of events that culminated in his unexpected demise. Leaving his  loving wife and innocent, if grown up children shocked beyond belief. 

For me it is loss of my dear brother, whom I have known for the past 62 years. With whom I grew up, went to school, watched movies. With whom I have had fights for reasons that look silly and make me laugh at myself now. Like who has the right to first read the new weekly magazine bought at home. Like whose turn it was to help mother in running small errands. With whom I have gone to relative's places to spend school vacations and continue the fights there. That was when we were in primary school days.

Then the fights gave way to better understanding and turned into beautiful friendship when we became teenagers. It was from him that I learnt some joys considered  exclusive to male domain in those days. Like learning to play chess, trying to follow cricket commentaries in the radio in those non_tv days, watching one or two english movies etc. Sharing our common interest in Numbers and trying to solve logical puzzles. Sharing our love for old tamil movie songs and arguing about our difference of taste in that. Arguing whether MGR or Sivaji was great and never coming to an agreement  as the former was his favourite and the latter mine. The list of such sweet memories is long.

Later when we started  our career lives and eventually got married we got busy with our new families, building up its finances and bringing up kids. In those days with no network or even phones, regular contacts shrunk to postal letters only, for which we were left with little time after attending to career and family demands. So the communications were less in those  days. 

But again after some time, we had phones and then came social networks like fb and whatsapp. So we could pick up the threads where we had left them and continue our chatting in these media. Yes, arguments had given way to chats due to our age and maturity. For weeks, sometimes even months, we would not have talked except through the social media, but still once either of us ring up, we could continue where we had  left. That was the bond.

But that came to a shocking halt when I last rang up his number, only to be informed by his wife that he was admitted to a hospital for a surgery following his fall. And he never recovered.I could visit him in the days he was in the hospital, but the end was sudden and shocking. I could visit him in the days he was in the hospital, but the end was sudden and shocking. I know his wife and children would suffer more. In addition to the loss of their beloved father/husband they sure have to face immediate tasks and financial drawbacks. 

But that doesn't lessen my grief. I feel as if I have lost a part of me, though I keep reminding me that I have to get over that feeling and carry forward only sweet memories. Though I find it very difficult, I am trying. Yesterday I visited our ancestral village, Pathamadai that has a place in his name. Today on his birthday friends are remembering him. He was more familiar and at ease with his friends than with relatives circle. Some time back  took pains to organise a reunion of school batch mates and college batch mates separately for which all the friends are very happy even now. They shall remember him always. Happy birthday Kumar.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

In praise of unsung heroines

I wish to dedicate this piece to a kind and courageous woman called Lalitha. When she was left with four young children and a handicapped husband she was young and  inexperienced with little educational or financial background. And this was more than fifty years ago when women leaving for work to another town was not kindly looked upon. But left with no other go she took up the challenge and joined as a hostel warden in a school run by a charitable trust for children who are orphans or from  backward and downtrodden families. She cared for the children like her own. She gave them healthy food. Made sure that they studied well. Instilled discipline in them. Taught them cooking, cleanliness and other practical livelihood skills in their free time.  This they might not have got even in their homes given their family background. In short she helped them grow up into responsible citizens. Not one or two children, but hundreds of them, maybe thousands, batch after batch.  Many of them have come up well in life and fondly remember Lalitha akka's (as the children call her with affection) contribution in moulding them. At the same time she took care of her  husband and gave decent education to her children. She has made it a point to attend functions in relatives' families along with her children even after her husband's death. Now they are well settled in life, bringing up their own children nicely. Now she has no financial commitments. Her children are only too pleased to have her with them. She can lead a comfortable life with anyone of them. But she can not leave the organisation that supported her  when she badly needed support. The hostel now needs her dedicated service very much and is unable to find a substitute. So she prefers to be with the poor children and do whatever she can for their good even in her 70s. She visits her children and spends time with grandchildren during school vacations, sharing her time between her family and the larger family of poor children. Such women are real heroines and make the World a better place to be in. Let us give them a big salute on this International Womens Day. Hats off to Lalitha akka.

Thursday, 1 March 2018


Happened to watch the malayalam movie Pathemari with Mammooty as the protaganist. I was very much impressed by the movie. The story spans around 25 to 30 years, starting with the hero leaving for gulf in an unauthorised country boat in search of greener pastures. He lands in some menial job and manages to send money home regularly. In course of time he is able to clear the family debts, marry off sisters, help brothers' family do better, in the meantime he too marrying a girl and raising a family. During each of his visits to his home he declares that he will be back home for good the next time, which never arrives as the responsibilities keep mounting. 

His family look forward to his visits more for the presents he brings than for his presence, but he does not mind. Or does not show if it hurts. He even manages to fund the foreign visit of a neighbour who settles well in his own business in the gulf and is grateful to him. The improvement of financial status of all in the family is shown subtly as they find lesser and lesser time for his phone calls. As he toils he ages too. He even gifts a house he has bought for his family to a relative's daughter for her wedding. He is compelled to pay rent for that house till such time he builds his own. He then makes money for a house for his family. By the time it is completed his children grow up. He is interviewed for a TV program on NRIs who haven't made it big. 

He suddenly dies in sleep and his body is brought to his village. Ironically enough the relative refuses to allow his body to be kept in the house he got gifted as he intends to sell it and keeping the body there would reduce its market price. People are skeptic about keeping the body in his new house as it would be a bad omen to keep it in the new house. Hence it is decided 
to take it to the funeral ground direct and the last rites are done.

After the funeral the family relaxes before the TV. The interview he has given is telecast. He is asked was he happy about his nondescript nri life, after all he has not made it big and was hardly able to make both ends meet. Given a chance would he like to lead a different life? He does not show if it hurts. Utters calmly when I left for gulf my mother was ashamed of facing debtors and siblings were struggling to get a square meal a day. I could satiate their hunger and give them a decent life. I could give something for my siblings education and make them settle well in life. My wife and children have a carefree life. If I get another chance I would like to do the very same things to my mother, my siblings and my wife and children. Yes, I would like to be born again as the very same Narayanan as a son to my mother, brother to my siblings, husband to my wife and father to my children and nothing else. If you call it I have not made it big I don't mind. I am happy the way I am. 

The interview is over. Tears start running down everyone watching the TV, touching the hearts of those watching the movie.  Mammootty has done the role with ease and without showing off. But he makes the character a real hero of a man living next door.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

அற்றைத் திங்கள் அவ்வெண்ணிலவில்

It was on this day 41 years ago that our beloved athimber came into our life. Yes, 'our' life. Usually when a man marries a woman we say he entered her life or she his. But in this case he entered not only in her life but walked into the entire family. Our beloved Gomathi got married to athimber on 15-11-1974. From then on he was not only our beloved athimber, but was more than a beloved brother. He became my elder brother, the privilege I did not possess until then but longed for. He became the eldest son to our parents and elder brother to my younger siblings. We have heard stories of eldest daughter-in-law donning the role of the mother of the family, but sons-in-law at least in those days kept their distance. That was not the case with him.

He was affectionate, kind and considerate not only to the immediate family members. He was in fact all these qualities personified. All the children, be they from family, relatives, neighbours or friends families who have ever come across him fell for him like gopikas were said to have been attracted to Lord Krishna. He would play with them, feed them laugh with them make them happy as if they were his own children.

Cricket was his passion. He used to play cricket with love and did his best to make his sons play the game. And finally he did everything in his power to make his grandson excel in the game. Even when he was not well enough he would muster strength to play with him or take him to coaching ground to encourage him. May God bless the child to become a great player as his grandfather wished him to be.

With elders he gave them respect, affection and above all gave them their space. He had his own strict values which he followed religiously. But he never imposed them on others or judged them based on their faith or lack of it. If only we could emulate at least some of these qualities we can become better persons.

He and my sister would compete with each other in the art of giving. All their relatives, friends, neighbours and domestic helps would willingly vouch for this. It is a privilege that I was a part of his extended family and had a ring side view of all of his kind acts. Those who have not met him may find it difficult to believe that such persons do occupy this planet.

Unfortunately rheumatoid arthritis struck my sister and made her life miserable. He looked after her as one would take care of a kid. And keep her bed and surroundings and the entire house neat and tidy. Domestic helps would be thankful for his thoughtfulness. Gomathi more than repaid his kindness by managing the entire household even when she was completely laid up in bed. She managed the cook, kitchen and the entire house from her bed. She would never forget to wish us on our wedding anniversaries and occasions like Deepavali, Pongal and New Year. When the phone rings for the first time in the morning on these days you can be sure that the call was from her. Whenever anyone invited them for any function, be it wedding or engagement or children's birthday, she would be the first one to call up the concerned person soon after the designated time to enquire if the function went off well. All from her sick bed.

Gomathi would say athimber was taking care of her as a kid and he would say she was leading him like a mother would hold her kid's hands. Both were true. Both were truly made for each other. He took care of her till her end and after she passed away in March 2014, he waited for one year so that year long rituals were conducted as required without any hindrance. May be he thought his life's mission was complete. Then he got ill, was hospitalised and passed away within a couple of months in June 2015. All this was so sudden that their children who looked after them with deserving affection and care and we in the extended family are yet to recover from the shock.

Today is their 41st wedding anniversary. I am reminded of one Purananuru song in ancient Tamil literature in which daughters lament their father's demise as follows.
Attrai Thingal Avvennilavil
Enthaium KondOm, Nam kundrum pirar koLaar
Ittrai thingal Ivvenilavil
Vendru eri murasin Venthar em
Kundrum Kondaar; yaam enthayum ilame

Last Full Moon
We had our father, we had our hill
This Full Moon
Kings play the drums of victory
They have our hill, We have lost our father.

I only pray to the almighty that their soul rest in peace and that their unfulfilled wishes be fulfilled. May God bless their offspring.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

A travelogue --- அழகே உன்னை ஆராதிக்கிறேன்

This one is about a welcome escape from the concrete jungle called Mumbai. I'm talking of our recent trip to Nagaon and Kashid beaches, situated about 150 k.m from Mumbai.

To begin with it was not easy to believe that  such peaceful roads covered with greenery on both sides exist at a distance of a stone's throw from the maddening crowd and nauseating traffic in Mumbai. The fact that you also add to all that by being there does not make it any better. So you set off in the early hours of a long weekend morning and find the roads almost empty. The entire moving population has already left the metro, may be in the previous evening itself. The rest of them happily in bed still, perhaps trying to clear some of the backlog in sleep accumulated during the busy week. Whatever the reason it made our start hazzle-free and monsoon breeze added to the pleasant coolness. We were off from the concrete jungle soon and on to the Konkan route. The roads were lined thick with trees on both sides instead of high rise buildings. A welcome change for the eyes and mind too.

I'm sure some of you would have noticed it while travelling through straight roads with trees on both sides. When you keep looking ahead branches of trees from both sides join together to give us a visual treat. The gap between them would form images varying from human faces to animal forms to India maps and what-nots.
Even while you are watching these images would transform into another and suddenly the branches would give way to reveal a bright sky. If you are lucky to travel during monsoon, as we were during this trip, clouds would conitnue the kalaidoscopic treat of forming faces looking at each other now, animals fighting with one another next and so on and so forth. The swiftness and speed with which the clouds change(here the trees too did the same) the pictures they form always remind me of Kannadasan's lines "எந்த வேதனையும் மாறும் மேகத்தைப் போல".

Soon trees give way to paddy fields on both sides. We could see people busy with paddy transplanting work which has never failed to fascinate me. In a few fields full grown paddy dancing in the breeze is again an ever pleasing sight. It also as usual brought to my mind Kannadasan's lines பூத் தொடுக்கும் கையாலே and other lines in my all time favourite song ஏரு பெரிசா இந்த ஊரு பெரிசா; சொல்லடி நெல்லு பெரிசா பயக சொல்லு பெரிசா in the film விளையாட்டுப்பிள்ளை. (I don't know why they don't telecast it in TV.)

After some time you are surrounded with thick bushes and wild plants on both sides that you feel you have entered a forest area. Monkeys jump hither and thither to confirm your doubt as does the Sun playing hide and seek with monsoon clouds.
Thus you reach your destination wishing the journey to continue. After taking some rest you proceed to the beaches, one after the other. For one coming from the land of God's own country with beautiful and clean beaches such as Shankumughom, Kovalam, Varkala and Kanyakuamri (the last one though not in Kerala, quite nearby) the beaches as such were not much. Still considering the Mumbai beaches polluted with the city's population and industrial waste, Nagaon and other beaches were good enough. The tides changing their force, frequency and height quite often is a fascinating scene. That part of the beach which was dry a while ago would suddenly get flooded with waves. Also waves would be coming from left and right unlike in Kerala. The sand also is not as coarse as in Kerala. In fact used to seeing the coarse sand in Kerala and Tamilnadu I have often wondered how people manage to ply vehicles in the coarse sand in films, that must be only a photographic trick. But the sand in these beaches are finer and you can actually see vehicles being driven touching the waves.

My two year old granddaugher got so excited seeing the waters and bathing in it that it was quite difficult to get her out of it when it was time for us to return. She keeps talking in her baby language of the 'moattaa paani', bathing in it, horses taking people for joy ride and the balloon purchased there which burst making a sound while we were returning and such other things even after three weeks. Perhaps she too has started realising that ' A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.'

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Me and the month of Markazhi

The month of Markazhi always brings nostalgic memories. With its early morning bhajans, kolam decorations in the front yard, Thiruppavai renderings in the radios and temples and of course early morning temple visits.

These things were happening during my high school days in T.V.S Nagar also. But that had limitations due to half-yearly exams looming large in the early parts of the month and the call of blissful sleep taking over in the latter parts.

It was during my Karaikudi days in the beginning of my official career that the Markazhi days were more memorable.

I still remember well the water boiler my mother used to keep warm, rather hot, water ready for a bath at 4 a.m.

Many might not have seen the cylindrical brass vessel used in homes those days for the purpose. A cylindrical vessel is kept on a three legged iron stand. The lid would be opened for filling water inside. There would be a wide tube like device running from just a little above the top of the vessel to the bottom. A perforated plate with a handle will be inserted at the bottom which would hold the charcoal dropped through the top of the tubular device and lighted. The flaming charcoal would heat up the water and you can collect it through a tap fitted in the bottom of the vessel. A nice piece of an engineering design. It can be seen in roadside coffee shops in Madurai even today. The vendor would keep the brass vessel cleaned and the shining piece would be decorated with three stripes of holy ashes with kumkumam in the middle. And you can be sure that at least one such shop would be open, offering you a cup of hot coffee even at the wee hours of the night, be it 11 p.m or 2 a.m. and that is Madurai. Babu Chittappa had one such shop, Visalam Coffee Bar as his favourite shop whenever he visited Madurai on official work or otherwise.

Back to the Markazhi track.

Mother and I would get up at 4  and 4.30 a.m in that order and have a nice cup of coffee and prepare the front yard for drawing huge kolams and do the kolams half way. The boiler water would be ready by now. After having a satisfying bath in the early morning cold weather we would start off to temples. My younger brother and sister would join us on days they could muster the will to part with the coziness of the bed. Appa would have also got up for sure and had his cup of coffee and on his round of morning walk. The pleasure of walking in the time just before dawn, (விடிந்தும் விடியாத காலைப்பொழுது) is something splendid and has to be felt to be believed. Devotional songs from temples at soothing volumes through the loudspeakers would always accompany you. Thiurppavai from this temple, Murugan songs by my favourite singer T.M.S from that temple and Ayyappa songs, due to Sabarimala season coinciding, making the air pious and pure. And when you hear Karpakavalli by T.M.S, his masterpiece, the day is blessed, you are sure to feel. Then you can have a peaceful darshan at the temples amidst a disciplined crowd. Prasadams of venpongal, Sarkarai pongal or puliyodarai on special days of Thiruavdirai etc., were added attractions.  You return from temples to complete the kolams that were waiting for you. Big and beautiful kolams with different designs for each day throughout the month.  There are certain specific types of kolams for certain days. While making the to and fro trips to the temples if you saw a new design of kolam attracting you, you are sure to try it the next day.

Vaikunda Ekadasi when you fast for the whole day with only a non-rice, one time only meal (having ten pooris is not barred, though) also falls in this month, followed by dwadasi. On Dwadasi, you are supposed to break previous day’s fast after having Tulsi water from temples  and having a sumptuous meal in the early hours, say 6.30 or 7 a.m.

Markazhi was not well received by my father. He would say it is Soonya masam(void month?), though Lord Krishna is supposed to have said that of the twelve months he is markazhi. Appa had his own reasons for fearing Markazhi. He would cite a list of important persons who died in this month. The list would include E.V.Ramasamy Naicker, a staunch non-believer and M.G.R. and Balachadar recently. There was a great loss in our family also in one markazhi way back in 1975. Shankar chittappa passed away on Thiruvadirai day very peacefully in his afternoon nap. He was very dear to all in the family and was especially fond of me. I still preserve a   sari he gifted to me. His was the first death of a close and dear relative. It took me months to recover from the shock. Even attending to office work was difficult for a long time. I thank a friend in my office who helped me in recovery. Never does a Thiruvadirai passes without my remembering him and keeping silence for a few minutes.

Enough of sentiments.

Markazhi mahotsav culminates with the onset of the month Thai.Pongal day. Uzhavar Thirunal—Farmers Festival. Makara Sankranti, it has different names at different parts of India. The day on which Sun is supposed to enter the northern hemisphere. Though there is some scientific significance, my little knowledge of astronomy tells me that there is some miscalculation. Leaving that side three days bank holiday is reason enough to celebrate. In the place of one big kolam for thirty days, as many big and small kolams as there is space in the front yard are drawn leaving no space to move about without stepping on one of them. Sometimes we would start in the late night and continue till the morning. Then Thai is welcomed with whole sugar cane, little turmeric plants and pongal, a sweet dish made of rice and jaggery with a rich supply of ghee, cashew nuts, dry grapes and grated coconut. Some families make pongal in the front yard so as to offer it to Sun god directly.

The scene shifts to Sankar nagar, Trivandrum after my marriage.

Running a family and taking care of kids leave their marks on many a thing. Visiting temples in the early mornings of markazhi started as one such casualty. Only  drawing big kolams on all thirty days continued. People used to go round the streets singing bhajans in the early hours and my elder son used to be crazy about it when he was young,4 or 5 years old. Even though it was his grandma who inculcated the habit in him, he used to pester her on days she felt reluctant due to cold weather and would somehow take her or go on his own.

Well times change and we move on.

Lack of available time or change of perceptions may alter the Markazhi routine. But the memory lingers on as vivid as ever.
I can hear a few murmurs as to why all this when Markazhi is long gone and Thai is well settled.

ஆடி கழிஞ்சு அஞ்சாம் நாள் கோடி உடுத்துக் கும்பிடத் தான்.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Great Grand Fathers and great grandfathers

This one is about Great and Grand Fathers metamorphosing into great grandfathers, caps intended. The GGFs used to be great and grand in their good old days. Naturally this is mostly about my own father. He really was our G G F like most men of his days. He never bothered to help our mother in bringing us up. Let alone the fact that he had never in his life attempted to help my mother in kitchen or with daily cores, he could not even warm up a glass of water for himself in his whole life. And as for us the children he never helped us with home work or uniforms or book binding or preparing for exams or any such things. Amma used to joke that he could not say which one of us was studying in which class without blinking. That might well have been joke because he was greatly interested in our education but for which fact we could not have reached where we are today. But let us skip it as that is not the subject matter here. We used to watch wonder struck the way in which his brothers helped their children, our cousins with their school related works that I have just mentioned.
But he turned out to be a g gf with the arrival of grandchildren. He would play with them like never with us. But that is not much you might say. Just listen. Well, when my younger son was yet to become three years old, I had left him with my parents for a couple of months as I was particular that I would put kids in day care centres only after they completed three. My unmarried younger sister who loves kids helped my mother keep my son happy throughout. But they were living in Cuddalore some 17-18 hours of difficult bus journey from Trivandrum where I was living. The distance made it difficult for me to visit them often and when I could no longer bear it I decided to bring back my son to Trivandrum. But the question of who would take care of him when I went for work remained. I told my mother that I would take my father for that purpose. She threw a glance t me as if to ask “Have you gone insane”, which I ignored. Off went the three of us to Trivandrum. From the very next day I started going to office leaving my about-to-complete three years in my father’s custody. Not only that my elder son who was six years old would come from school in the evening. He had to manage them till I was back from office. Not an easy job for even an experienced woman. I would prepare food and leave instructions to my father. Believe me or not, when I came back in the evening I didn’t hear any complaint from any one of the three on any single day for about the nearly two months this arrangement was in place. Everyone in the entire family including my mother was totally taken aback. He had food all by himself, fed my younger son on time and took care of both the children when the elder on was also back. He only missed his 4p.m coffee and had to wait for my return to have it. So you could inspire confidence in anyone if only you tried sincerely was the lesson I learnt from the episode. So my G G F had turned into a g gf, no?
Other stories follow. Again, against everyone’s advice I had the audacity to send them with only my father to take care of them during the 7 hours long bus journey to Madurai.
Once he took my 9 & 6 years old sons to my sister’s place, during summer vacation.
 We went to see them off in the bus stand and requested the driver and conductor to take care of them and drop them at Thirungar bus stop, a few kilometers ahead of Madurai junction. That would make it easy for him to take them to my sister’s house situated at a walking distance from Thirunagar bus stop. From the moment the bus passed Thirumangalm my father kept reminding the conductor several times of his need to get down at Thirunagar. At one point the conductor got so irritated and started swearing at my father in an indecent language and the driver also joined him in showering abuses. My father who ws not used to undertaking travel with such great responsibilities and was very patient with my sons till then also got irritated by that time and started shouting back. That he said to the conductor, “You must have been Ravana in your previous birth” is all my son remembers when he recalls the incident today. All said they reached my sister’s place intact. While in Madurai he used to take all the grandchildren to a nearby park for playing.(My elder sister’s three sons and my two sons in all aged from 13 to 6). Once he took them all the way from Thirunagar to Town Hall Road, near Meenakshi Temple some 10-12 kilometers in distance. He took a bus up to the Periar bus stand and walked them for 2 kilometers to a sports shop in Town Hall Road as vehicles won’t ply near the temple. This was absolutely normal in those days as people were used to travelling by public transport and walking where necessary in those good old days. But my father doing this surrounded by five kids would have been a sight. As far s we knew he would walk any distance to avoid confronting bus drivers, conductors and co-passengers. But taking pains to do that with the kids around him is still a memory to cherish for all of us in the family.
Truly a g gf wasn’t he?
Well, all this took place some 28-25 years back and my Great Grand Father turned great Grandfather left us in 20 years back in 1994 on this day, November 19th. Now I too have become grandmother, but I miss you so much my dear father. Bless us all from where you are.
November 19th happens to be the birthday of Indira Gandhi.
It also happens to be the birthday of my daughter-in-law Gaythri, who is interested in listening to my golden memories.
So let me dedicate this to her as a birthday gift.