THE GLORIOUS DAYS
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.