Sunday, 19 August 2012

பசுமை நிறைந்த நினைவுகள் Pasumai nirainda ninaivugal

Yesterday was a very special day for me. I found a very special friend through Facebook. Thank you Facebook. From the very day I opened an account in Facebook I have been trying unsuccessfully to find my friends and a favourite college teacher. As usual my sweet sons nagged me saying all my friends would be as computer illiterate as me and I can't expect to find any of them in the Facebook. Undeterred I kept trying. Today it suddenly flashed through my thought that I was doing it the wrong way using their maiden names I'm familiar with. After all most women change their surnames after marriage whereas I was trying with their maiden names. With renewed hope I tried for the one person I most wanted to find with her marital name. Lo and behold I got her in my very first attempt. I could not believe my eyes for some time when I saw her photo in which she looks exactly as she was when I last saw her some forty years ago. Then I sent a friend request and was delighted to get it confirmed soon.
It is as if  time has stood still for me as far as college days are concerned. Pasumai nirainda ninaivugal. பசுமை நிறைந்த நினைவுகள்
She had a very short but most memorable stint in our college as our Maths teacher. And teaching Maths she did in an exceptionally good way. She is only about five years older than us. So we could relate to her as if she was our friend. Those were days when a group of us girls followed her wherever she went -- to the library, to the staff room, to the auditorium all in the guise of getting some doubts cleared in our most favourite subject-- Maths. But we won't stop with Maths. Our college rules were very strict that we should talk, even outside the classrooms,  with each other leave alone with teachers, in English only. But flouting the rules had its own charms.
Other teachers would pass by throwing  angry and jealous looks. The librarian would send a note stating that 'your voices can be heard inside the library and disturb others who are doing serious reading for which the library is meant-read better get out of here'. We would carry on undeterred.
Once there was a bus strike and we were left with no option but to walk the 3 or 4 km to our homes. She also offered to join us upto her place. We still remember the padayatra across the Vaigai River bridge from Fatima college to Arasaradi. Yes we started calling it a padayatra and started longing for more such bus strikes. And our wishes were fulfilled more than once.The distance would fly by in no time. (As we used to sing in the college during Christmas time-- It's a long road to freedom, a winding steep and high; But when you walk in love with the wind on your wings and cover the earth with the songs you sing the miles fly by.)
I can hear my sons saying 'amma you are repeating it for the hundredth time.'
When she got married and left the college to join her husband who was employed in Bangalore we bade farewell with heavy hearts. One of our classmates went to Bangalore during vacation to visit her relatives there. She naturally visited our teacher there. We didn't have phones at home, let alone a mobile and were forced to wait till the college reopening date. And then we made her recall the entire conversation verbatim that took place at the teacher's house in Bangalore with 'once more' requests at some points.
Whenever I made any presentation at the classroom or took classes for juniors on the occasions of Teachers' Days my friends used to tease me saying that my style was similar to that of this teacher. I would take it as a compliment.
All this and more scenes both involving this teacher and other instances started pouring into my mind within no time as if it was only yesterday that they happened.
Thanks once again to Facebook that enabled me to establish contact, after forty years, with my beloved teacher.
Now my sons have to take back their comments at least partially on our generation's tech-savviness.
I shall be happy if I could contact any of my friends I have mentioned above so that I can renew friendship boast of newly established contacts with our beloved teacher.

Thursday, 9 August 2012


This is another attempt at translating a story that I liked very much with the hope that you too would love it. It was written by T.Janakiraman, one of the best Tamil writters of the 20th century, known for thinking far ahead of the times he lived and putting it in a subtle manner without attempting to pass any judgement or preach any one. I was awestruck at my very first reading itself., but  got the finer meanings as I was discussing it with my son Arun and keep finding more and more as I read again and again while translating it. Hope you will agree too provided the translation is any where near the original.
SILIRPU(Published first in Nov 1953)
I was aboard a passsenger train about to leave Tiruchi junction. It was a shuttle between Tiruchi and Mayavaram. The platform and the coaches looked deserted. If only it was an express train, the entire station would be active and busy. May be even trains have class difference.
My six year old son was enjoying his afternoon siesta. An orange was lying near him. .He had gone to Bangalore for summer vacation. His aunt had taken him with her when she came to attend a wedding in Mayavaram. I was bringing him back. His uncle had come to the Bangalore station to see us off. When the vendors selling oranges came near our coach my son asked for it. His uncle standing in the platform pretended he didn't hear that. That was his nature. My look was enough to keep my son's mouth shut. Not for long. When the train started moving he started,
"yes, my son"'
"Pichu uncle earns Rs.900/ a month", he was showing with both his hands wide apart.
"so waht?"
"He heard me ask for oranges, but didn't get them."
"He wouldn't have heard it."
"No. I was loud enough."
"then why didn't buy them?"
"While in Bangaalore I asked for a tricycle. He kept saying yes, but never bought me one."
"Why did you ask him? I will buy you one."
"how can you. You earn only Rs.100/ a month."
"Who told you so?"
"Umm.. Pichu mama"
"To you?"
"No . To aunty. When you had sent a letter from Madras when you went there for a celebration. That you were wasting even your meagre income by making such unnecessary trips."
"O.K. Go to sleep now."
"will you get me a toy car?"
"yes. I will."
"And oranges?"
"Yes. When we reach Tiruchi.
"Oh no.."
"But how can I get them when the train is moving?"
"Then tell me a story."
Soon after I started he fell asleep. I was wondering about Pichu's meanness. Why should they take the child in the first place. What would the child's feelings. Especially when the parents were not around? I had a sleepless night.
When we reached Tiruchi I bought oranges for him. He said he would have them on reaching home.
"Amma would peel it and remove the seeds."
"As you please."
'oh.. how much he would be missing her.'
I came back to the present in the passenger shuttle to Mayavaram.
A middle aged woman and a girl of eight or nine years boarded the train and sat opposite to us.
"When will the train leave?" she asked as if to start a conversation.
"In about half an hour"
"You are going upto Mayavaram?"
"Ah. Yes."
"Is it your son"
"He is fast asleep."
"We are coming all the way from Bangalore. He is tired due to the long journey."
"You wish to lie down too?" she asked the girl.
"No mami. I don't feel like"
"Better have some rest. You have a long journey ahead."
"thanks mami, but I will after some time."
The ornaments and the attire showed that the woman was from a well to do family. She was fair complexioned and on the fatter side.
The girl looked pale. She was thin with a tired look. She was very simply attired. She wore bangles and ear studs made of plastic. She had with her a small open bag apparently containing an inexpensive set of dress similar to the one she was wearing.
I kept wondering what would their relationship be but resisted my temptation to ask her.
I bought some bananas from a vendor who came by and gave one to the girl. She hesitated but took it when the woman gave her consent with a nod.
"She is going to Calcutta", the woman volunteered the information I was seeking.
"That far?"
"She is going to one of our neighbours living there. A friend is leaving for calcutta from Mayavaram tomorrow. She will join them."
"What is your name?" I asked the girl.
"Kamakshi alias Kunju"
"Are you wondering how such a fragile figure bears two names?"
I smiled.
"No. no.. I have a sister with the same name. She was married off to a nice guy. But he got his fingers burnt because of a bank guarantee he had given to a friend. They suffered for a long time and struggled hard to come out of the financial burden that followed. And another sister named Kunju. A cousin of ours was bed ridden for quite a long time and she made my parents to give Kunju in wedding to her husband. She too suffered a lot."
"It is not fair to marry her off to that man when the first wife was alive."
"It was her fate. This girl bears the names of both my sisters."
But the girl remained unperturbed.
"What is your father?"
"He is a school teacher."
"And your siblings?"
"Four elder sisters, two elder brothers. One younger sister and a younger brother."
"Elder sisters are married off?"
"Three of them got married. The second one was widowed and has come back to us."
"elder brothers have any jobs?"
"Elder one is working in a hotel on daily wages. The second one is studying in tenth."
"You have not gone to school?"
"Appa can't afford to educate his daughters also."
"So you work?"
"There is no other way out."
"What kind of work?"
"I can wash dishes. Make coffee and tea and also sambar and rasam. Grind rice in the chakki. Baby sit. Wash clothes and clean the house."
"Where did you learn all these?"
"I was working for a Judge's family for three years and learnt it."
" So you have work experience. Umm.. How old are you?"
"I am nine years and six months old."
"So you started when you were six? And how much do you earn?"
" They don't pay in cash. I get two square meals a day, which I can't get at home. Then they would buy me new dress for diwali."
"And this inexpensive dress that you are wearing is all that you get for the endless list of things that you do?"
"Couldn't you ask for something better?"
"You say you were having two square meals a day. But you seem to be very much under nourished."
The train entered Thanjavur station. Asking the woman to take care of my seat and luggage, I prepared to get down with my son for lunch and asked the girl,
"What did you have for breakfast?"
"They gave me some left over food."
"She is leaving them for good, about to begin a long journey after serving them for three years. Can't they offer her some good food?"
"Come with me. Let us have lunch in the railway canteen."
"No thanks."
But she was too hungry to resist when the woman also insisted.
Looking at them in the restaurant table, I felt they missed their mother's touch while having food. But one of them will join his mother in a couple of hours, whereas the other one is moving away from her mother.
She spontaneously helped him with his food and offerd water when he needed. And also helped him clean the hands after the meal was over. My son who was normally very fussy while taking food seemed to enjoy her help.
"Do you know the people in Calcutta where you are going?"
"No uncle. They are very rich people with Rs. 3000/ per month as salary and need me for baby sitting."
I couldn't help thinking that one child is on her way to look after another child.
"She is a smart little girl," I told the woman when I got back to the train.
"Smartness comes out of necessity. She easily adapts to the situation. She didn't utter a word until we offered her lunch. If only she was not going to Calcutta, I would have had her with me. May God bless her."
My son's attention turned to his orange once more.
"Shall I help you peel it?" the woman offered.
"No thanks. My mom would peel it when I reach home."
"I'm a mom too."
He didn't relent.
"How old are you?" he turned to the girl and asked.
"I'm ten years."
"Then you must be studying in fifth class" he started counting with his fingers.
"Look appa. I'm six years and in first class. Six plus four is ten. She is ten. Must be studying in fifth" he couldn't lift his eyes from his fingers.
"She is not going to school, my son."
"Then are you studying from home?"
"She is not studying because she is going to Calcutta."
"What for?"
"To work there."
"Don't kid me appa."... "Are you going to work?"
Still unable to believe what he heard, he asked "can you go cycling?"
She gave a hearty laugh for the first time since we met.
"How can I? I don't know to cycle."
" How will you go to your work place then?"
"I shall walk."
He simply couldn't come to terms with it. His father went to work by a bicycle. How can anyone do otherwise.
Soon the attention of both the children turned to the trees and paddy fields slipping speedily outside the train.
"How can one be sure that she will be safe in the place where she is going?" I was surprised to hear me ask that question to the woman.
"They are related to the Judge she was working with. Having a monthly income of Rs.3000/. They would prabably have a soft corner for a girl from their home town. Might be offering her good food and clothing. But they would treat her as a paid servant only. She is capable of feeling at one with any family. But she can't feel at home. Can anyone substitute one's parents?" she too had more questions than answers.
I started feeling uneasy as if I am myself going to a strange place where I had no contacts.
"May be her parents believe that almighty will take care of her."
"What else is there to hope for? We are left with no other option than to think that way. The family had been driven to such a state of affairs. But then I can't help thinking that if only that almighty had better plans for the members of that hapless family, this child would not have had to find herself in this predicament.."
"Who will look after Judges' children then?"
"That is right."
Perhaps the Giver had paucity of ideas as the teacher had paucity of funds.
Other passengers in the coach had a glimpse of the story. That they found it difficult to swallow was writ large in their faces turned away from the girl.
The train was nearing our place. I gave a rupee to the girl before starting to leave.
"Why should you?" the woman resisted.
"I feel obliged as you do. She is not your child either, but you are offering help. But I can't afford to do more than this."
"May God bless you. Take that from the uncle, my child."
"Shall I give her this orange, appa" my son asked me.
"It's good. Why do you ask me at all?"
"No my boy. You wanted to get it peeled by your mom" the woman said.
"Ask her to take it appa" my son called me to his help.
The girl took it when I too insisted.
"You are blessed with a wonderful kid." The woman kissed my son and bade farewell.
I could hardly control my emotions. Turning my face away from the passengers to hide my emotions, I got down with my son. I lifted him up.Can't he walk? But I didn't want to allow him to.
I embraced him with all my strength and love. I simply can not describe the feelings I had. It was ecstacy as if I was embracing Affection, no, no, God Himself personified.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Twin weddings

It is a wonderful feeling you get after a wedding in the family. If it is two weddings happiness manifolds. You get to meet cousins, aunts,uncles, nieces, nephews all in one place. Some of them you anyway meet often. Some after a long gap. If you keep your eyes and ears open you can enjoy a lot. It is amazing to see how a prolonged quarrel that went on for decades melts with just a phone call inviting the other to attend the wedding. Just a smile and you renew a long forgotten relationship and start taking advices on subjects varying from stock trading to real estate dealing to even finding a life partner for your beloved offspring, totally forgetting that till only yesterday you thought it was impossible to have even a word beyond a forced smile with that person.

A nephew from wife's side would come from USA with spouse and kids all the way to attend a wedding. A niece from husband's side from Kolkatta might have taken a longer travel time. All with intentions to visit as many relatives as possible but end up satisfying a few and making the rest grumble for not getting their fair due. In such situations if they are lucky enough to get invited to one or two common weddings it would be an ideal situation. At one go they could meet as many of them as is possible.

Thus your battery gets easily recharged before you start to realise it.
There is atleast one negative side effect. Atleast  to the weighty ones. It takes months for one to get rid of an extra two kgs of weight, what with strict self-denying dietary schedule and unrelenting work-out schedule in rain or shine. But it takes only a wedding or two in the family and one ends up gaining atleast five kgs.
But then that is an entirely different story.
I am reminded of a wedding that took place some forty years ago. It was a wonderful reunion for many. As is usual on such situations one girl lost a screw of her golden ear ring and every one started looking for it and in vain. After reaching their places people shared their happiness derived in the get together by sending letters to each other. It was a no net world in those times and even phones were a luxury and people net worked with letters sent by posts. One friend asked the brother of the girl who lost her ear ring screw whether she got it back.
காணமல் போன காதணி கிடைத்ததா?
Just a letter changed unwittingly or wittingly perhaps,
 காணாமல் போன காதலி கிடைத்ததா ?
changed the meaning to 'girl friend' instead of 'ear ring'. you can imagine the mayhem that followed in that conservative family.
The joke is enjoyed even today after forty years by all concerned and the letter is kept safe as a treasure.
While talking on the positive side effects of weddings let me recall one more rather two more incidents that took place some time ago.

One of my relatives, a young man just married went to collect a parcel containing home made instant food mixes sent by his mother through a friend staying near his place. He had met the friend or the family earlier and on reaching their home asked for the friend. A teenaged girl who opened the door on hearing the calling bell called inside, "amma, one uncle has come to meet you." Actually it is the custom of youngsters in many families to call a married man uncle 'and' a married woman 'aunty'. So no offence was intended.
But then my relative got a shock of his life. Though past teenage, he never in his wildest dreams imagined to be addressed as 'uncle' by a teenager. Till date he is keeping the parcel untouched.
This man came to attend the twin weddings I mentioned earlier. On the wedding eve some friends of the bride spent time with the bride blissfully unaware that time was passing by. Soon it was 10 in the night. A taxi was called.  The girls hesitated to go by themselves and face their parents' wrath at such a late hour asked if someone could escort. This man and his friend were standing nearby and I asked if one of them or both could oblige and they happily consented. But alas, the girls would not have them. They could not be seen returning close to midnight with young men. "Can you please send some 'uncle-types'?" one of them asked and got her request conceded.

I turned to my young friend apologetically but was surprised at the happiness in his face. It turned out that the humiliation he suffered when a teenager called him 'uncle' was wiped out now that a young girl refused to take him for an 'uncle'.