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.