Thursday, August 31, 2006

40. ANSWERING ORANI - அந்தக் காலத்தில...

Thanks Orani. Your Q on my earlier post "PAINTING OUR LIVES RED" has made me think on different lines. First a digression !
We were driving back from a friend’s தோட்டம் after a 'water-party' (thanks Ilavanji) on the previous evening. During that party, I was the ‘senior-citizen’ (always it happens so. It is good for an oldie to be in company with youngsters; but how about those poor youngsters?! Though I always pity them, I could never help it !) and so naturally the ramblings were on the changed times and all that. During the drive back to city, the talk meandered back to the same old topic of the previous evening. I was telling them how we had to wait for a gas connection / phone connection for a minimum period of 5-6 years. As a rejoinder I said how we had to book a scooter with Rs. 500 and then wait for 5 years and also explained the term ‘premium’ for these scooters. Prabhakar, who was at the wheels suddenly swerved the car to the left and simply stopped. He was so flabbergasted ! He could not believe that for buying a scooter one has to wait so long. I could easily understand his astonishment since nowadays bikes are being sold even in street corners, virtually!

So Orani, so was the case on ‘our’ days ! The buyers were at the mercy of the sellers. Whatever they produced were in high demand and it was sold easily. No competition among producers but it was so high among consumers. That’s why scooters and such things went on premium.

This can be explained from two different fields: one, economics and the other is from your own field: evolution.

Economics: it was simply the supply-demand theory. Very less supply and very high demand. The simple philosophy of ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ worked with the manufacturers. They didn’t have any need for improvisation, improvement, variety etc. since anything that came to market got engulfed by the consumers. No competition. That made things easier for them. So goes the economics of it.

Evolution: You know the concept of evolutionary divergence. As long as the environmental conditions are ideal what is the necessity for a species to go for ‘variations’. Only when the living becomes problematic those little little changes resulted by mutations with some adaptive values become more prominent and they accrue more and more leading to perceptible and useful variations – leading the species to be on the forward march in evolutionary process. Right? The same thing happens in our marketing also. You have bicycles of just two colours. They are in good demand. So there is no necessity for the manufacturer to go for variations or divergence. That’s the end of things.

As to the question about the psyche of the consumers – I somehow don’t remember at all anybody thinking of or asking for ‘variations’. We probably did not have even the mindset to think there are even possibilities of having variations. We probably got stuck with some set patterns and simply accepted them. Looking back, why we didn’t think of a ‘red bicycle’ is beyond my understanding. As for the shirt colours, or the dress code of those days, a young man in white pants, white shirt tucked in and black shoes would be mostly identified right as a medico. We the guys from arts colleges rarely go in that combo since shoes and white pants are mostly out of reach. If white full-shirt is the zenith point in ones wardrobe, pale, pastel shaded colour shirts were the norms for all. I remember in early seventies there came a movie, Aradhana starring Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore. Colourful kurthas worn by the hero became a big hit and my first kurtha in a flshy colour ( not in today’s standards, anyway !) made many look at me twice!

Some trend-setter !!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


VARIETY is the spice of life, they say. True. But what one has to question is how come this concept developed so very recently and even in the recent past it was given a raw deal. Look at the automobiles that are plying on our roads today. One can find cars in varieties of hues today. But just some two decades ago such a thing was not at all in vogue. It would be mostly black or just white, no in between at all.

More than cars, the bicycles were out and out stereotyped; they were mostly black and the one another color that you could find those days was dark green, which seen from few feet was nothing but black. So it was all black. Leave alone color. Even the very style of bicycles was quite monotonous. They all came in one model with a single exception. The ladies’ cycles had just one vertical bar different. But nowadays bicycles with varied color patterns come in very many different styles. No handlebars of two cycles going past are going to be of the same style.

Take pencils. What a burst of colors we have nowadays with so many cartoon figures and beautiful designs on them. The earlier generation was not lucky even in that. It was always a drab brown. The buses that are plying nowadays are a stark contrast to those of the olden days. Multicolored and with beautiful pictures painted every bus looks like an art gallery on wheels. For a person who has been seeing these differences in his life time, what a relief from a boring monochromatic life to a cheerful and colorful life!

Leave alone the inanimate things. In a sexually separated group of audience, in those days, the side for the gentlemen would always be colorless since most of the men used to wear white shirts. Even if they wore colored shirts mostly it would be in very pale shades without any striking colours or designs. But the other group of the audience might be brightly colored with colorful dresses of womenfolk. Today also one may find the same ’sexual separation’ in seating arrangements but the ‘color difference’ has vanished. Men side will have the same riot of colors, sometimes even more to the envy of their female counterparts.

It is a well known concept of Darwin that VARIATIONS are the raw materials for evolution. Mutations or the genetic variations result in changes in species and these changes get piled up leading to speciation. So goes Darwinism. If that has to be given serious credence then the infusion of colors in modern world has to be given equal importance. Colours lead to variations; variations lead to modifications; modifications need innovation and imagination. With so much innovation and imagination the end-products have to be naturally far better than those colorless, style-less old world products. Some process of Evolution !

Let us make everything around us more colorful and have variations which could make us and our life more evolved!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006



During my stay in the summers, invariably there would be a family function. It was ancestral puja. In the family garden next to the house were the cemeteries of my great grandfather and great grandmother and there used to be this function every year. If I happened to be there during that function, I would not take part in any of the rituals and would keep myself quite away from it, since as a ‘true christian’ I was not supposed to be part of such rituals. The teachings of Christianity were so much rammed into me, I used to say that it was all for evil spirits. So my relatives used to keep part of all the offerings separate for me before the rituals. Such was my faith. Sadly such was the teaching of Christianity !

When my chithi got married, she was sore about one thing. The groom was less qualified than her. But this feeling was there in her only till the day of her wedding. The very next day she took it on her stride and never felt anything about it. Her relationship with her mother-in-law used to be much talked about thing in the whole village. They used to sit together for hours and chat about anything and everything. It was she who managed the family as well as the school that was run by the family. She made everyone working for her feel that they should never hurt her feelings. Such was her way of dealing things and people. It was not by her powers but by her love she was able to administer.

After chithi’s marriage my visits to Kurumbalperi became very rare and short. In stead I used to go to chithi’s village, Sivanadanoor, another hamlet some five or six kilo meters from Kurumbalperi. Chithi’s husband was a jolly good person as far as I was concerned. For most in the village he was a terror but I used to be casual with him. Probably he understood the love between me and chithi and permitted me to be so with him also. He had many ‘firsts’ – the first home to get electricity, the first to get a big German – Grundig - radio with lovely piano buttons and so on. I always used to admire his wardrobe. It was not the variety but the sheer number. He used to wear white khadhi dhoti and shirts. But they were washed so well that they used to be so white and well pressed. He used to change two sets of dress everyday. It was an odd thing in a village that too so long back when people of those villages of that time, never even bothered what they put on at all.

Saturday, August 19, 2006



Unlike appa’s native place, amma’s native place did not have much impact on me. But the most important thing was that every time I visited the place I was always accorded a very special place as a motherless child. Everyone in the village, on seeing me, would immediately mention my amma’s name and would give a very sad look spiced with some equally sad comments. One uniform thing that I would find in their comments was how good my amma used to be for all and how an untimely demise had snapped her off leaving me as a lonely motherless child. Even the very way they used to look at me made me feel sad and gloomy.

It was another village like Kasiapuram or even smaller. The name of the hamlet is Kurumbalaperi. It might be around 25 kms from my appa’s place. I remember only the visits I had after appa’s wedding. The conditions were slightly reversed here comparing it with appa’s family situation. In the latter I saw the glorious period in my childhood which had gone very bad in the course of time. But in amma’s place it was just the opposite. In my childhood I saw only the glimpses of the golden days of yore. But then conditions had changed to the better lately.

The house of amma should have had a glorious past. But when I was young it had only remnants of it. The main entrance had a grand façade. It was a very high raised structure with a large number of broad steps leading to a large hall with a high canopy. Just opposite to the steps, at the end of the other side of the hall, there would be a large stone bench to the full length of the hall. The whole structure used to appear to me like a ‘Durbar Hall’ where important people could have been received in the days of its past glory. This hall with the grand façade would open into a quadrangle and on the right side stood a double storied building. High platforms with tall pillars of the ground floor and ornamental arches and pillars of the first floor would be facing the quadrangle. But this building was partitioned into small portions and my grandparents and their two daughters occupied one portion. They used this as their living room and they had a small kitchen on the opposite side. The first floor was never used and the neglect for long time had robbed its past grandeur.

Near to the house there used to be a Pillaiyar Temple. It was like a two storied structure. One part of it was quite high from the ground and half of this structure had a small cubicle as the sanctum sanctorum. The other half extended from the sanctum sanctorum as a platform. These two structures of the temple were constructed with stones. There were two stone pillars on this platform with two human figurines. They used to tell me that it was my mother’s grandparents who constructed the temple for the village. In front of this stony part of the temple, as a next lower tier, there was to a long verandah. It had high tiled roofing. On any hot day this temple used to be very cool and so naturally it used to attract the villagers. Always you could find at least half a dozen people sitting there, resting, chatting or playing a popular game - which I used to think that it should have been the forerunner of chess – with three pieces as tiger for one player and 12 pieces as sheep for the other player. Annual function of this temple was a great attraction not only to that village but also for some nearby villages. During such functions till date amma’s family would be given the first rights and respect. Looking back I find that both my great-grandparents had constructed Hindu temples for their respective villages. All in appa’s family got converted at the time of my grandfather’s marriage while my amma’s family still remains as Hindus. It was only my amma who got converted at the time of her wedding.

Though everyone at Kurumbalaperi had a soft corner for me and were affectionate with me it was my chithi, the younger sister of my mother, showered me with all her love and concern, not only during my childhood. Till the end of her life I had a special place in her heart. Chithi was a great lady. I am yet to find another person like her in my whole life. In all my life I have experienced that there will be always some negative remarks about a person from some quarter or other, however noble the person is. But I have never heard any one single person saying anything negative of her. She loved me so much. Though she had four sons of her own, she always used to say that I was her eldest son. During my visits to Kurumbalaperi she doted on me. She used to feel proud of me since I was able to prove myself better than the kids of my age in that village. The only reason for my superiority was that I was an urban boy and I could ‘act’ smarter than those kids in the rural. She used to encourage me to play word-games with other kids knowing that I could always outsmart them. I always liked to lie on her lap and asked to run her fingers through my hair, which was quite thick then ! It was a nice pastime for both of us and we enjoyed it.

Monday, August 14, 2006


At last I have made it. I have made my senior colleague and friend Mr. J.Vasanthan to start a blog of his own -, after so much persuasion. I had to pull /push him into this since I thought his works, present and past, would be a joy to read for the bloggers. What was so far in print media should also get into this blog-world, I thought.

JV was a former English Professor in The American College, Madurai. He is man of many talents. He staged so many English plays in our college. Had been a prolific writer, film critic, artist, cartoonist…the list goes on! His writing is not the rib-tickling type, instead subtle and intellectual types.

JV has accepted to bring the regular columns he is presently writing in Metro Plus (Madurai edition), The Hindu under the title: Down the memory lane. His own drawings enrich each article. Wish that he brings in all his earlier writings also here in his blog since many of those have stood the test of time and are interesting to read as they would have been few decades back.

Hope bloggers of Blogdesam enjoy his writing.

Saturday, August 12, 2006



In my teens Kasiapuram had a different type of attraction for me. We were growing up. Visits to chandai now looked below our stature! Interests in rural games, swimming, ‘hunting’ – don’t ever imagine they were real hunting, they were all just walking through pathless fields armed with sticks and catapults – were more interesting. Two important things happened in this period. One was good and other one was bad. Good thing first! Our aunts planned for a big celebration in the school. I don’t remember what was the occasion for it. But it was planned to be a very big function and it was a real big thing for that small village. Daytime had small events like song and dance and the big show was reserved for the evening. It was a drama. The story of the prodigal son. Mostly my cousins from cities played the major characters. For the hero one of my cousins elder to me by two years was selected and was tutored by my aunts. He didn’t come up to their expectations. They were now in search of a ‘hero’. My name cropped up. Since they found me too young for that ‘heavy’ role, I was first given a ‘screen test’! I was asked to memorize a lengthy dialogue – the son coming back to the father with profuse apologies. I passed the test. Thus I became hero –in the very first chance of my ‘long’ acting career! And that cousin who was selected for the hero-role first, was given the role of just the friend of the hero!

I remember the long and serious rehearsals we had. My role was split into two – the first part was that of a toughie and later part of a softie. The two aunties trained me for each part, the younger Mary aunty for the brash role and Rose aunty for the later part. Their personal characters matched this ‘division of labor’. Then came the D-day. Stage with all lightings and screens rented out for the occasion should have looked grand. In one of the scenes I had to visit a hotel and eat something and then to find myself without any money to pay for it. I was given something to eat and the ‘prompters’ from the side urged me to straight away start the dialogues. But I, a sincere artist, would not budge so easily. So I took some eatable and had a bite. What an ill luck I had! What I bit was a hot chilly. I hurriedly took gulps of water and that didn’t help. How could I utter the important dialogues - since the drama was at the crucial turning point – with my mouth drooling with saliva caused by the miss-bite! So I hurriedly went for the sweet in the plate. But the prompter thought that I was using the chance to go for the sweets! Anyway who would understand the problem more than me? So I took the sweet and then started the dialogue. In the next part of the scene the hotelier pulls out my dress and throws me into the street. My appamma later told me that I made her moved to tears with my ‘terrific acting’ in that scene. I should have gone into acting, in retrospective I feel.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Dare to be different is a pet phrase for me. If one has to stand alone on a principle or conviction then he can and should. But one need not be different just for the sake of being different from others. This second behavior would then be aptly called ‘eccentricity’. Though Word web gives the meaning for this word as ‘Strange and unconventional behavior’ there has to be a tinge of madness in it also since people give any eccentric person a slight look.

Do the Americans come under this category? When the whole world was driving on the left they alone made it to right. Were they right ? What made them drive right, none knows. Was it just because the whole world was ‘left’, I mean driving on the left side of the roads. Or did they want the whole world steer to ‘right’? Good rightists, anyway! (No political connotation, please!)

Steering to right was sometimes interpreted as showing their insolence to British. But they have thrown their weight with British as far as weighing is concerned! While most of the world weighs in Kilos they still keep pounding on pounds. Their ‘mileage’ also is still as good as British. So the theory of being insolent to British fails.

Also they are not as good as British in many respects. For British, the successful policy of divide and rule is kid stuff. From time immemorial they are adept in this art. They would break anything into pieces or at least into two, like for instance, India and Pakistan. Their greatness is that even after breaking people’s neck like that, they would be able to keep ‘cordial’ relationship with them. It may be under the guise of forum like Commonwealth.

Americans show the opposite of this British feature. If British used to play both with the cat and mouse successfully and simultaneously, the Americans play a different ball game. They first play with mouse and try to make it a big bandicoot so that it now thinks that it can defeat the cat. Whether that happens or not, now the ‘big’ bandicoot starts giving problem to its own mentor. Mentor now becomes ‘enemy # 1'. Now the fight would be not between the cat and mouse but the bandicoot and the mentor. When Britain has been successful with its noble philosophy of ‘divide and rule’, U.S. is not successful with its cat and mouse game. Look at Vietnam. The Americans supported Ngo Dinh Diem, an anti communist against Ho Chi Minh and to their bitter experience Diem turned against Americans.

If that was a thing of past, their present problem with the Taliban backed Al-Quida is another example proving that U.S. is not adept like their British allies in such international games. In all their political ploys every time they get terrific backfire. The problem is they never learn from their mistakes. Probably another sign of their eccentricities.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006



It appears that the Tamil saying that every family and its status go up and down every thirty years. In Kasiapuram people used to say that it was my great grandfather who dug a deep well in his own land during a dry spell and then donated it for the whole village and always it was called oor-kinaru, common well of the village. Just next to that common well there was a considerably big temple for Kali and that was also the contribution of my great grandfather to the village. The irony of it was that next to this Kaliamman temple stood the school which was built in the next generation by my pattaiya and this school only served as the first church of the village. Now while this school-cum-church had become a desolate and deserted building, the Kaliamman kovil retains its past glory.

I remember many of the past glory of the family in my days at Kasiapuram. Those were days when my appamma used to have big pots of milk from our own cows and buffalos. When I was in Kasiapuram as a kid, every morning I used to be woken up only by the sound of my appamma grinding the milk. Mounds of butter were made everyday. After every harvest the granaries that would stand for nearly eight feet – there used to be three such granaries in the first floor – in addition to paddy in sacks would be full to their brim. Part of second floor was used to mainly dry the paddy. There would be an opening in its floor. It was to push the paddy to the safety of the first floor in case of any sudden and unexpected rains. I remember how hurriedly people would rush to the second floor to save the drying paddy from such sudden rains. I had personally enjoyed such encores. There used to be two small cabins in two different spots in our ancestral home. They would be very small chambers, the whole interior of which would be coated with cow dung. A very small wooden door would fix exactly the opening of the chamber. These chambers would be used to ripen the plantain that would be grown in our fields. Green plantains would be neatly staked in these cabins, some dry hay would be burnt and then the whole thing would be tightly covered. To make it air-tight cow dung will be pasted on the door. When the cabins would be opened there would be a beautiful fruity smell mixed with the smell of the smoke. A peculiar aroma, and I still feel them in my nostrils! Virtually things were overflowing – whether it was milk or paddy or plantain. It was customary first to give a cup of water and a piece of jaggery to any visitor to our home. A diluted version of country-made coffee would follow. My appamma would always take care that I got a good flow of ghee in every meal of mine in those days.

On every chandai day our house would be very busy since my pattaiya did business too along with his regular agriculture. He had a big chunk of land 10 km way from our village. People of that village would be thronging our house on that day. They would have come either with their agricultural merchandise or they would have come for their weekly pay from my pattaiya. Later I came to know that they all mostly belonged to the depressed class by caste. But I remember that there was no discrimination. Appamma treated everybody equally and all had either their water-cum-jaggery piece or coffee or buttermilk. The only condition for the visitors was that none should smoke inside the house. Though pattaiya died when I was young, I remember him as a very hard worker and astute businessman. His days would start very early and he would personally go and call all the employees for the day’s work and everyday would end with visits to the employees’ houses to remind them of the next day’s work. In those days brick houses, that too storied houses were not that common and in our village there were only three houses and one was ours, the second biggest. The biggest was the house of my pattaiya’s elder brother. But in addition to our house, pattaiya had the biggest shopping complex of not only our village but also of that area near to the chandai rented to his friend named David for very many years. I was told latter that there were only three people in the whole village who would have change for a hundred rupee note in those days. They were of course my pattaiya, his elder brother and that Mr. David.

But…all these pomp and glory did not last long. After the demise of pattaiya, my appa and his four brothers kept fighting over the lands so much and so long that things declined fast and all that remained then was only the past glory. That too was soon forgotten. Sadly I witnessed every step of the decline. I remember how the size of the milk-pot appamma had, was fast shrinking. There were days when every visitor to the house was given a cup of buttermilk. Later since my appamma knew that I preferred curd with my every meal she would go out and get curd from our neighbors. The sound of churning milk had stopped for long. Luckily for me, after they started buying milk for making coffee, my visits there became very rare. The same thing happened to all the other things also. Granaries shrank in size and finally they disappeared once for all. The plantain-chambers became places to dump odd things.

Later when appa’s will regarding his properties surfaced to my dismay and bitter bewilderment I almost severed all my connections with appa’s family and so I never went to Kasiapuram for long years. In my late fifties there was a chance to go to another village next to it, during one of the two-wheeler trips from college with colleagues. I was tempted to visit the place. So I went taking Silas, a friend with me. On our way to Kasiapuram I stopped the bike in a particular spot since I remembered the very first accident that I met in my life. In those young carefree days during every visit to the village from Madurai, I used to enjoy riding bullock carts. The fellow who worked for us was just two years elder to me. But he had the entire wherewithal to handle the cart and he would make all the fuss before allowing me to ride the cart. He would give the ropes to me only after we leave the village – what a traffic problem we could have otherwise! Once we had the cart fully loaded with firewood to be taken to our vidili. Vidili is a very small thatched shed in the Palmyra fields where they used to make jaggery. Since the cart was with full load my friend did not allow me to ride the cart. He insisted that it would be tough to handle the bullocks with load and promised me that I could drive the empty cart on our way back. I was joyfully sitting on the top of the firewood in the cart. We had to cross a tar road and get into the field by a vertical slope. My friend thought that it would be safe if he drove it on sideways rather than going quite vertical in the slope. So now one wheel of the cart was on the flat solid tar road and the other wheel was on the soft sand. Well, simple physics worked! The wheel on the soft sand went deeper into the sand and so the whole cart fell on its side. I was thrown on one side of the cart. By some reflex action or something, I rolled again and that saved my life. Because the cart which fell on its side rolled again and now it was completely upside down. The ropes that had the bullocks tied to the yoke were cut and so the bullocks were free. My friend also fell from the cart – just on the other side of my fall. After the initial shock he got up and found me missing. He immediately thought that I had been caught right under the cart and started yelling! I too had to come out of my shock. So I was lying on the other side of the cart not knowing what had happened. Then I heard the yelling of the friend and that made me stand up. He saw me from the other side and what a relief for him! He ran around the cart and hugged me and told me that he thought I had surely died. Praise the ‘instinct’ that made me roll!

From that spot we entered the village. None could identify me nor could I identify anybody till we reached our ancestral house. What I witnessed was a big shock to me. What all looked grand and glorious earlier they all gave a pathetic look now. The house which was once buzzing with so many people in and around it looked desolated and haunted. Since appa and his brothers unceremoniously fought and demanded equal shares in all properties, all now they had was bits and pieces in every property. None had any sizable worthwhile property. The house was awkwardly divided and more than half of it was in a very bad state. The kitchen roof had completely come down. The big thinnai adjacent to it had no more use for anything at all. It once served as the dining hall for so many. The oonjal, which was meant for the kids and a flour-grinder which used to be in the corner of that thinnai were no more there. The oonjal used to be small but made of rosewood and had many artistic handworks suitable for a prince. No trace of it now. The big northern room with its high ceiling was divided with some pathetic wooden partition. The centre hall looked in my early age big and the pillar in the middle was a favorite spot for me. As a child I used to go around that polished and pure black pillar. I remembered it as a tall one but now it all looked so small and insignificant. All the walls of the hall used to have a neat row of photographs. Now many were missing and the remaining ones were all dangling in every direction. The southern part of the house where one of the plantain-chambers was in a corner, had now changed almost into a ‘Mumbai-type house’, that is, within a small square they had modified it into a ‘house of some sort’. It was just what they used to call as ‘sparrow’s nest’.

The buildings which were once housed the school and church - the places where I spent most of my motherless days – wore a terrific look. The part which housed the church once was in utter shambles now. The roofs had completely collapsed. Our cow sheds of those earlier days were much better places than this. The other building which was built latter had been divided into small portions – rather ‘cells’. They had been rented out, it seemed. Less said better about the building where once the famous and busy shop of Mr. David was doing a roaring business. The same fate of being divided into bits and pieces among the brothers had made the building look like a haunted place. All the big shops in the building had gone to other better places and now only a small tailor shop and grocery shop remained. All the traces of its past glory had gone. I thought that it would have been better had I not visited the place. The glory of the past alone would have remained in my mind.