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“Under the darkening blanket of the evening sky,

And borrowing light from the vehicles passing by,

I spotted a cluster of trees

Bearing fruits of a strange appearance

But wait; upon closer look I saw that they weren’t fruits

But hundreds and hundreds of egrets

Tired from feeding in the fields

Sitting still as the skies

Interrupted only by a sudden squawk of a startled member

At the horn of a mad lorry down under”

“How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?” asks a stunned ‘Che Guevera’ while wandering through the ruins of Machu Pichu in Latin America in the movie- The Motorcycle diaries. I asked the same question to myself once when I visited the Big temple or Brihadeeshwar kovil of Thanjavur, which I had never seen before. I ask that question once again today-“how can I possibly feel nostalgic about my parents’ childhood?”

From the innumerable travels I have made through the roads and rails of Kerala, I fondly recall the recent trip I made to my home in Cochin from Chennai. Having got no tatkal tickets, I decided to board the Kovai express from Chennai early in the morning. Though worried that I might have to risk standing all through the journey, I still decided to hope for the best and go ahead with the decision. I’ve always loved to travel by trains. I like to travel especially in non-ac compartments where I can open the windows and watch nature roll by like a movie. A sequence of beautiful frames running at length to keep you entertained and enchanted all along. One could come across places of such beauty that there where times when I had been tempted to pull the chain and get down of the train. Paddy fields, women working in the fields, cows and calves, small hills and rivers all made an appearance. Since I normally take the night trains from Chennai to Cochin, I had never really seen the stretch from Chennai, after Jolarpettai till Coimbatore.

During my college days, I used to go home very often. And the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border was a much awaited event. Politics, business, trade, families, societies- borders signified different things for different people. But for me, it only meant a canvas where two beautiful landscapes merged. The transition was done easily. If you missed the small bridge, it was all over in the blink of an eye. And now for the first time, I was travelling all the way from Chennai to Coimbatore, taking in all the splendid sights. And let me make an honest admission here. Malayalis world over might complain about the stagnant growth they face on the career front in Kerala and then flee in search of better opportunities elsewhere. But no matter how far they flee, there is but one thing they will talk about proudly, and that is the unpretentious display of fecund fertility of its soils. The greenery of Kerala is well-known. And we generally have a tendency to look down upon the other states in an air of arrogant comparison. And yet, as I looked out for the first time to look at the hills of Yelagiri blowing gentle wisps of clouds above them, and the agricultural produces that were being nurtured in the wombs of these interior landscapes, I couldn’t but feel ashamed of myself to have been ignorant about the fertility that the soils in my neighbouring land possessed. Where nature forgot to bestow, man sowed. And reap he did, rich praises from an ardent lover of nature who would rather see many shades of green and blue than grey. But the most impressive place that I saw was a few kilometers after Tirupur station. A temple surrounded by a natural pond with little kids bobbing up and down and rolling around in its waters, in the midst of a rich green field instantly made my heart jump up. The chain, uh..oh.. if I could just pull that chain….

But the journey had to continue, and I got down in Coimbatore, half relieved to have reached my destination and half sad to have my journey end so. From Coimbatore, I walked into a small hotel near by that was crowded with all the people from my train. Anticipating the bus journey ahead of me, I decided to take something that would go down well on my stomach and ordered curd rice. As a kid, I used to detest traveling by buses. The bumpy roads and in the case of hill stations, the hairpin bends used to churn my stomach and make me feel sick. And then when I went to college and was forced to take up bus journeys, I started to work up a stamina for bus rides. It later turned into a strange kind of love for the ride down the country roads. The worn down KSRTC buses with a ‘K’erala (not ‘K’arnataka), suddenly seemed like a good deal to view the country side. I thoroughly enjoyed the many journeys I undertook in and out of Kerala. Little did I realize that that love was to live forever and grow more with time.

From Coimbatore, I went to Gandhipuram bus stand and took the next bus to Cochin. The sky was marvelous with white fluffy clouds and the sun throwing its divine rays from behind it. The whole scene was ethereal. And as I entered the fertile soils of my homeland, I couldn’t but help think about the many smells that were now fast entering my nostrils. It strangely reminded me about my father and about his childhood.

And that’s when i asked myself- “How can I possibly feel nostalgic now? For his childhood?”

How can I know that the giant trees whose smells became distinctly clear and stronger during the night as they flew above the paddy fields, collecting many more aromas and growing in its intensity, had been responsible for sowing the thoughts that my dad thought and later inspired him to take to writing as a way of putting into words the best way he could, the beautiful thoughts that floated in his head? Perhaps it’s because those very trees whose names I didn’t know, were now continuing to work their inspiration through me, with thoughts that created such sublime emotions that the words I use from my memory is but vain. I don’t know how effective our words are. After all, catching a thought, infusing it with the right emotion and then trying to put it into sentences using the technique of recalling words from one’s memory is but a very inefficient way of communicating. For the beauty of the thought is far more intense and captivating. And it is a blessing, even if it is only for brief seconds, to hold that beauty inside you. And in that moment I also realized, to have been able to hold that beauty, to see it, know it for what it is and feel it the same way my dad had held it in his own heart many years back as he trudged through a lusher and verdant landscape is how, I am now able feel nostalgic about his childhood! That beauty we held in our hearts, inexplicable as it is, is the unseen link, connecting us through the ages. And I think that’s how i am able to know what he felt like in his younger days.

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So when a day as yellow and cheery as that calls out after almost a week of weeping from the skies above, you listen to that call and set out to face the sunshine.

If an opportunity to step out doesn’t come knocking at your door, you find an excuse, create a situation, convince/tempt/bribe/threaten a friend and pull her also into your scheme of things.

My excuse was that I had an upset tummy and desperately needed good healthy food that would include lots of vegetables in the form of traditional dishes. The destination was Sanjeevanam. The victim, my friend Bruce is a foodie. You could often spot her hovering around in the kitchen and sniffing about near the windows in each of the rooms in our house, collecting aromas from other, more productive kitchens in our apartment. Once a roommate got the fright of her life when she heard a noise and opened her weary eyes from a deep sleep to find Bruce positioned strategically in front of the fridge at 2 in the morning, rummaging and emptying its contents with lightning speed. She likes and enjoys eating so much that you’d be amazed at how much can go down that body of hers. Which surprisingly aint so massive. I mean for someone who has such a big appetite I’m sure people would expect to see a giant rolly polly rolling down the street. But no, our girl is toned quite well, and pretty! At least in the eyes of this beholder, she is.

And so, tempting her with healthy food didn’t take much convincing. One message was all that was required. The temptress and the victim set out to Sanjeevanam for a healthy lunch. Now this is one place that has an equal share of takers and haters. You won’t find many lovers. There are only takers. For Sanjeevanam revolves around the concept of health food. The ‘Rajabhojanam’ is a 7course meal that starts with four different drinks of milk and almond, beetroot juice, buttermilk and ‘kanji’water (porridge) to balance all of the acidic juices and alkaline properties of your stomach. Once the juices in your stomach starts oozing, you are ready for the first round of raw veggies (their plantain stalk salad and finely chopped raw mango sprinkled with pepper are the major attractions), second round of semi-cooked veggies, third round of fully cooked ‘poriyals’ and ‘koottus’ and then red rice and ghee, and the final round of white rice, sambhar, rasam, ‘mor’ curry and buttermilk. A cup of nice rice payasam is like the crescendo after which you will generally pass out, before the serving boy rushes to your aid and pours in a spoonful of honey into your palm to revive you back into consciousness. Honey aids in digestion, he then educates you with a smile.

After the banana leaf is licked clean and after all the waiters and customers finish gaping at the two mysterious girls who walked in like hurricane and crawled out on all fours exhibiting the worst form of civilized behaviour in front of all that food that was put in front of them, we walked to ‘nuts and spices’ to buy dark chocolate for Bruce’s cousin who was going to make chocolate dessert.

That’s when I got a call from my dear lost friend Gobu, who suddenly had a realization and called in with a whine: “Charooo, I just realized, I don’t have any friends!”

“Er… well um..”

Hearing my confused murmurs she offered- “I mean I have you guys, but the list pretty much ends there….. and its kinda upsetting”

“Well, frankly Gobu, I think its not friends that you don’t really have. It looks more to me like you don’t really have a life in that workplace of yours”, said I, thinking I was giving a piece of reference from some very intelligent observation.

“I want to get out. Its been so long since I saw you all. I want to be in a place full of trees and things… Take me somewhere… pleeease…” Gobu begged.

Krishnamurthy foundation in Greenways road was the chosen place where trees, birds, clean air and silence could be found in plenty. After showing her the library and walking barefoot on the grassy patch, we sat under the ‘peepal’ tree for a chat until the not-so-friendly dwellers under the patch of freshly cut grass started charting their way up into our clothes and to other unmentionables. Gobu then saw a beautiful curvaceous tree and had an urge to climb it. Having lost the practice and patience, we both studied the tree, searching desperately for a foothold. Finally finding no such foothold, I heaved her up and stared at her when plans of pulling me up failed several times over. We then walked around aimlessly, taking in the smells of the earth and the barks and leaves of the trees. Gobu talked about how this place reminded her of her township back home and for brief moments we both thought about all of those childhood times we spent with nature- climbing trees, downing raw mangoes and unripe guavas, skinning our knees and roasting ourselves to a perfect brown in the sun . Japanese novels, like their movies were devoid of drama and masala, said an upset Gobu suddenly, holding a novel in her hand that exposed the bare back of a fair Japanese lady. I was still stuck on that thought about my childhood. Playing with nature changed you forever. There was absolutely no substitute for the experiences it offered. Poor kids. They know not what they are missing out on. And we were responsible for it.

And then we saw it. The perfect mango tree with a heavy trunk and the most welcoming of low lying branches that found us jumping in joy and clambering up it. But once up the tree, somehow it didn’t feel as good as we expected it to. Childhood was lost. And so was the innocence that could give us unbridled joy.

We complained about the mosquitoes who were fast drilling their stingers into our bodies and we climbed down. I narrowly missed squishing a giant snail by a few inches. We giggled and fooled around and walked out wondering what to do next. The answer came in the form of ‘Sandy’s chocolate laboratory’. We weren’t really craving for chocolate. But since we’d already walked in and the place looked real cool, we decided to give it a shot. ‘Chocolate decadence’, which Sandy referred to as a ‘boring’ dessert (He had wanted us to try out the most sinful item on the menu card) was served in a ‘beaker’ along with a thick chocolate cookie and a ‘test tube’ of chocolate sauce. Impressed by the concept of a chocolate laboratory, and chatting up with the man who concocted all of the potions and desserts himself, whom we also discovered was not another ubiquitous ‘malayali’ (in spite of his curly hair and severe mallu Christain looks), we complimented him on his good taste and skills and hopped out into the streets once again, only to find my yellow sunshine gone and replaced my a bright crescent peeking from behind white clouds.

Where to next? In college, we were a gang of four. One got married early and now has a baby. The remaining three of us had been having it good until marriage dates got fixed for another one. Now our trio was down to two. But nevertheless, the three of us planned to meet up for dinner. Our final gathering before she gave up her single title and walked into a life of ‘householdom’. So to pass time until the bride-to-be could join us, we decided to visit the Kapaleeshwar temple and feed the cows there. We hopped onto a train and climbed down after one stop at the Mylapore station and walked into the ‘kovil’ with two ghee lamps and lots of plantains. We hurried on with our prayers, clicked a picture of a cat and her two kittens sleeping blissfully inside a silver palanquin on which we believe the deities ‘commuted’ regularly around the temple grounds, and ran out to the ‘Goshala’ where the temple cows were housed.

We were welcomed by three absolutely adorable new borns, who nudged and rolled out their eyes and stuck out their tongues at the plantains in our hands. The youngest among the three was too small to chew on the plantain skin. So we peeled it, broke a small piece and had to literally feed it and wipe its dribbling drool from our hands. The main ‘Goshala’ had several cows of different breeds. Some devotee who was inside the Goshala and who appeared to be touching the ‘behind’ of one of the cows explained when he saw the horror in our eyes that the ‘Gomata’(‘mother cow’, or is it ‘cow mother’?) resided at the rear end. And that touching a cow’s behind and seeking blessings would do us much good. We didn’t really know whether to believe in his story, but Gobu had already ventured into the shed and pressed her palm against a cowdung caked behind. I chose a cleaner behind and risked getting kicked by what the caretaker called a ‘high class mix breed’ that came with all of the arrogance of being the ‘best quality’.  She stamped her hooves a couple of times and warned us to move away. And we paid heed to her warning and disappeared.

Out in the temple grounds, people sat around in circles and talked. Some were immersed in devotion and chanted prayers. We then played with a cat, got introduced to ‘Mumtaz’- the slipper counter owner’s lovely brown stray dog and got a reading from a parrot that screeched and threatened to peck us when we tried to pat it. We departed by giving the parrot a yellow flower, which it very skillfully plucked and scattered all over the cards and into his little cage.

We walked into Saravana Bhavan, had masala dosa, shared a pineapple juice, chatted for a while, bitched about the bride-to-be who ditched us and departed. For a change I rejected the offers from the auto-drivers and decided to take a bus. It was a good decision. The ride gave me enough time and space to sit and recollect my thoughts and the day’s events. Life was good. Really good! And it was still only just a beginning!

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cleanin up

Blogs are like shelves. Clothes shelves to be precise. If you do not promise to yourself to check on it everyday, you are bound to get avalanched in a huge ball of mess every time you open it. So then, the next best thing to do, if you can’t devote time for it everyday would be to simply shut it close. And walk past it, around it, away from it or if you are the type with a heightened level consciousness and all, then kill the thought the moment it arises in your head. I did all of the above. Only, my blog was more accommodating than my shelf. Unlike my shelf, comments did not pile up to fill and overflow from my comments box. Guess that further motivated the two-toed sloth inside me to make it look like a ‘crawl to the end of the world’ every time I decided to take action. And just when the two-toed one thought she could silently slip out of blogdom, came a call from a ‘lionocerous elestrich’. Yea, my dad has the memory of an elephant, is as swift as an ostrich in chasing away and trampling problems, had only a single point of focus in front of his eyes on his nose and can growl like a lion!

And growl he did, when he opened my blog yesterday and saw an unappetizing crow still feeding on the ‘kozhukottai’ I placed two months back.

 

“ke ke ke”, was the only reaction I gave him.

 

He didn’t force me to write of course. But then before he kept the phone down, he made it quite clear that he missed reading my blog. (Now I really know why they say that nobody will ever love you like your parents.) And I’ve realized that truth even before my marriage.

So this is me shouting out a ‘YAY’. For having learnt a lesson in life. For having decided to write again. And also for finally deciding to clean up my shelf.

Although, the ‘yay’ for the last one has met with an untimely death I fear, somewhere in between my lungs and the solar plexus.

 

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squiggly tree

Caption courtesy the ‘chicken soup’ series of books.

This is not really a post, but more of a clarification to Miss Damsel’s question, “Whats that thingy up on the header?”

well my dear Damsel, that is Thoughton’s work of wonder! Its what happens when kids from small towns go to the big cities, get screwed up in their heads and then return to the peaceful setting of their homes for vacations, only to get riddled with excess freetime…

I’d been bored of my header image and wanting to get a new one for sometime now. It was Thoughton who stopped me midway and suggested that instead of just lifting images from elsewhere, I do something really whacky, like create an original work of er… art?, even if it turns out to be ‘toh-tah-lee’ un-inspiring! So my afternoon was spent on making this squiggly tree and terrorising it with a bunch of wandering stray clouds… And we had awesome fun doing it..

And thats not all… We’ve also decided that from here on, we’d come up with such original pieces of “whatever art for the whatever soul” regularly for our header image, every month!! 🙂

“Njyangale manasu alinjyu anugrahikkanam” (please melt your hearts and bless us!!!)

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….where he drags me to lie down and read when the summershine peeps in, and listen to the sound of music and sleep when it rains…. Today we are reading Rashmi Bansal’s “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”….

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‘Madhavi amma’, mispronounced and later christened by the kids as ‘Madhyamma’, died when I was in 10th std. She was the great nanny of the ‘Chengalam’ house, my ancestral home. She took care of my mom and her sisters when they were kids, and then became a nanny to me and my cousin sisters when we were kids. I remember waking up early in the Chengalam house and walking out with my eyes half open, with lots of sleep weighing down the unopened part of my eyelids. I’d walk upto Madhyamma, who would be sweeping the courtyard and demand to be lifted. She never resented it. She would pick and hold me with her left arm and sweep with her right. And I’d clutch her tight and dangle from her hip, and look down, to see the pattern the broom made on the ground….

I didn’t go for her funeral. But to this day, I remember her by this particular pattern in the sky. It happens whenever Madhyamma sweeps!

sky

This post is lovingly dedicated to my mom, her two sisters and brothers and of course, Mathyamma….

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Atop a small rubber estate, a few kilometers from Palghat, is a home that holds a special place in my heart and one that I crave to go to everytime I think I need some space of my own- my dad’s sister’s place. 8years back, my aunt sold her house in the city and bought this plot atop a hill. All the elders scolded her for having made this seemingly bad move. “To leave a nice place in the city and go bury yourself in some godforsaken place?”

And to top it all, it was deserted. Human settlements were comparatively lesser and she only had one neighbour at the time. Houses were rarely visible in the midst of rubber trees and the wild vegetation. For 8 years, she worked on the house, planted saplings and plants, bought a cow from her neighbour and nurtured them all. And this is the result!

 

 

You are welcomed by a profusion of colours, smells and sounds of this stunning house and its beautiful gardens. So these days, whenever my workoholic dad thinks he needs a break from his hectic schedule, he and amma will just jump into the car in the afternoons and drive for 3hours, just so that they can gift themselves with the absolute calm and beauty of this place.

 

 

These flowers, that were once a part of every ‘poo muttam’ (flower garden) in most ‘Keralan’ homes, have now been replaced by exotic orchids and other ‘dandies’. But my aunt could never drive the natives away. So she took extra efforts to find them all and put them back to where they truly deserved to belong.

Everytime I open the gates and walk towards the house, I get this feeling of how it might be bringing back memories and romantic notions of youth to a lot of people, now past their prime. Who involved not maybe with expensive bouquets and roses, but probably of holding the face of the beloved as these flowers bloomed in full moon nights and then again encountered them at the temples in the mornings, inside the flower baskets of their shy and demure lovers.

               

Ok, there is also a possibility that I just might be wrong completely about their romantic endeavours, coz I’m only just imagining all of it now. But deep within every ‘malayali’ heart, I believe a song would erupt out of sheer admiration and love for all things native, traditional and pretty. Atleast, it does bring one song from my childhood into my mind…

“Pavizhammalli poothullanjya neela vaanam..…”

 

 

From the driveway, as we proceed to the house, amma always braces herself for a real aggressive welcome. We all watch out for ‘Appu’ if we don’t hear the assurance that my aunt shouts out from the porch- that he is tied and therefore we are safe to encroach upon ‘his’ territory. If he is not tied, then it’s a scene to behold. Appu, with his tongue flying in the air and ears heavily alert will dart at us with unbeatable speed and smother us with his love and complaints.

He was found an orphan and picked up by my aunt’s maid on her way to work. My aunt had not wanted him then, but when the little fur ball took to her instantly, licking her feet with the promise of undying love, she picked him up and gave him a home. He has ever since been my aunt’s second boy, more obedient than the first one, (actually, its quite debatable) eating only vegetarian food and known to howl out ‘Om’ whenever she does ‘puja’ in the evenings. In the summer, he picks up unspoilt, fallen mangoes from the neighbour’s compound and brings it for my aunt without making a single mark of his teeth on it. He also likes to dig out fresh tapiocas, can finish a whole bowl of ‘paal sadam’ (milk rice) in a minute, carries forward the canine chewing habits using drumsticks and is always hungry.

This is him after his initial enthusiasm died away, which was after demanding that dad’s travel bag be handed over to him, pulling amma’s sari, trying to make a meal out of me and then rejecting me as a worthless prey, chasing away all the inquisitive sqirrels and drilling holes in the water hose… all to let us know just how happy he is to have us. Yep, the only time to be anywhere around him is either when he is completetly exhausted from play or dried up by the sun.

 

appu

 

From this porch where Appu is seen beating the day’s heat, is a beautiful view to the garden and of the sky.

 

creeper-2

 

My aunt has provided for passion fruit creepers (or some ‘aboriginal’ cousin of it) to climb and wind around poles and pipes of metal and twine. A band of squirrels raid the place in the mornings and evenings, but they were unusually missing when the skies threatened to burst and prompted ‘Appu’ to perform a live ‘whining’ concert.

 

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This place calms not only the people of my dad’s times and types, but also the hopeless romantics of ours. I have spent days together feeding the cows, playing with appu, walking barefoot clicking pictures and exploring the hillside. And my favourite corner is under this huge mango tree that I call the ‘Sage tree’. A nice big boulder, evenly flat at the top rests under it and instantly reminds me of pious and meditative saints from the epics. It’s a beautiful place to sit and read and ponder. The tree has an aura about it and you will understand what I’m saying when you see the picture. I don’t belive in reworking on pictures and hence can confidently say that whatever you see is what I promised you would get to see of the tree’s actual aura caught on camera. Alternatively, it could also mean that I suck at photography.

 

sage-tree

 

I am going home to visit my parents tomorrow and have already begun the preparations for making my dad feel like he really, very badly needs to take a ‘break’!

 

 

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