Posted in Mylapore Musings

Kaaththaayi.

All that marriage talk rekindles in me a very interesting and intriguing childhood memory.

My neighbours until my 10th year were a marathi family. Two brothers Amar and Suren who were older to me by 4 and 2 years respectively were my first ever friends in life. Both our mothers also attended the same school as kids, and worked as teachers. They even went by the same name. Our families were bound by such intimate ties that now I can’t believe that after being too close for over half a century, the two have forever drifted apart. One reason is that, their family begot two sons and ours two daughters. These differences were substantial in late 70s and early 80s to drive in a wedge between common friends.

I literally grew up in Amar’s house and they even had ‘thooli’ a cloth cradle specially hung for me it seems when I was a newborn. Their family had a resident cook who we called ‘maami.’Most of the time ate in their house. Caste was never an issue. After I would fall asleep in their home, my father would carry me back home it seems on his shoulder.

I was closest to Amar. Looked up to him with total awe. He always told me what to do and when to do. Like he daily marked my attendance in his house in an attendance register when i was hardly 5 or 6 years old i remember hahaha. He had a register with the names of all neighbourhood kids. The brothers also did mock puja, mock cooking etc., conducted sports day (!) everything. Used to skip ropes with Suren 100, 200, 300 at a time. Butterfly stroke, backstroke, you name it i had done it a 1000 times! Played tennikoit with the brothers, pondi, gilli, goli mainly. Between my house and Amar’s house in the dirt patch, we played goli and also gilli at times. All this before I turned 10 only. Believe me, I was a killadi goli specialist hahaha!

Mylapore was such a fun place to grow up in. No traffic at all. Only my grandfather owned one Bajaj scooter. No one else owned a vehicle in my street, not even a bicycle!

We were a dozen kids in same age bracket in our street, boys and girls. We staged dramas, held temple functions at home, played current, gilli, goli, cricket, pondi everything and did skipping all in our street. We also played cards, daya kattai, pallankuzhi, 7 kal everything. We flew kites from our terraces. One thing we did not have was tv. We came from all backgrounds and castes. Never was there any difference in our midst. All mothers were our common mothers. All families and homes had their doors open to each and every one of us.

Upto class 5, I studied at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Needless to say, when in KG, i used to cry and run to Amar’s class. I would lose all my pencils and borrow his. Mostly upto class 1 or 2, i used to rush to him and sit with him in his class! Like i was his pet lapdog, i used to toe Amar always.

When in class 4, Amar family shifted to a different residence but within Mylapore. Until then, annually we used to stage a drama for all parents in summer. Amar’s initiative again. In that young age, he selected stories, scripted them and made us get our roles by heart and staged plays for the entire street. He would even hire costumes and take the whole setting to a new level. Very late in life, I appreciate these original ideas and artistic efforts mooted by a little boy in those days. And the spirit of getting all the kids together under one banner. I even have a group photo in black & white somewhere.

Mostly we did dramas from puranas. Some socials too. The last one we did – I don’t remember the title. All I remember is that, I was the heroine of the drama! And my name was Kaaththaaayi!!!

Suren was my husband in that drama. The younger brother. We rehearsed for this play for many days. Nearly my 10th year, I too felt a bit strange viewing my childhood friend Suren as my husband in that Tamil drama! Until then I had been perhaps a tomboy. I guess I must have been growing aware of the gender difference for the very first time in my life.

We staged the drama successfully in the brothers’ new home a few streets away from ours. My parents were also invitees as usual.

After the drama i think my parents felt uncomfortable. Not even in the drama, they liked me being cast as wife to someone outside my community, I gathered, listening to their discussions back home. They disapproved of the wife role and feared it might be planting ideas in my head (as well as Suren’s). All this, within closed doors. To Amar’s family, they were cordial as ever. But my family felt a need to restrain me I guess after this. They wanted to discourage the brothers from visiting us. My family was very protective about me as any family is about their daughters. Sometimes I can’t believe, such parents left me in a hurry to be so alone forever in this world.

In that drama, my parents, whether they liked it or not, whether they approved it or not, saw me as a married woman Kaaththaayi, even if clumsily draped in a sari, for the one and only time of their lives , serving lunch to my husband Suren, looking after my children (i forgot who played the kids roles) etc. One thing I remember clear is Suren calling out musically ‘kaathaayi, kaathaayi’ when coming home!!! I had to run answering, ‘ennanga!’

For my childhood friend Suren too, it was the only marriage for life, whether real or drama. He never married. That was the only married life in childhood play he had. Only wife, only children, only wedded family.

Within a couple of years of my playing Kaaththaayi, my mother passed away. My father followed later. Amar and Suren too lost their parents. After my mother, I totally lost touch with the brothers’ family. My family did not entertain me mixing with boys in that vulnerable age. Especially as a motherless girl my condition had become rather too precarious. My family acted vigilant overtime.

New friends arrived. Our Mylapore gang extended. But the connection with Amar and Suren was severed for me for good.

Years later once when my son was a kid, after returning from Malaysia, I saw Suren in Kapali temple in close quarters. What a sweet surprise. He was a handsome man in his prime, naturally. His gaze moved to my son. His eyes hinted at untold pain. I was aware he was doing good professionally. I waited for him to make the first move. Had he spoken even one word, i would have reciprocated. I just needed him to break the ice. But he hesitated and the moment passed.

Kaaththaayi was such an irony really. She made Suren, a lifelong bachelor now, a much married man with family, kids…. She showed my parents, who never lived long enough to see their first born darling daughter in a sari or get married or have a family – that’me, draped in a sari for the one and only time of their lives, as a married woman running after kids, running a family…

Sometimes I wonder if Kaaththaayi was any divine coincidence/intervention. She revealed to my parents and Suren what was not to be for them. What was to be denied to them. Was this meant to be. We will never know. It is at moments like these I truly believe, there is a Maker above us. God’s hand is in everything. There is a subtle message in anything and everything happening around us as well. The perceptive among us can pick up the signal.

*******************************

PS

Minutes after I finished this post, I made the word ‘accuse’ in Wordscraper game (the scrabble), an app in Facebook, believe me or not, on another window from a speech I was hearing, the speaker was lecturing “…… accused the ….” exactly the very same moment omg !!! I typed the word ‘accuse’ the same time the speaker uttered the word ‘accused!’ The next moment I realized what had happened! This makes my day. I think God just said Amen to the last stanza I wrote in my blog post today about Divine interventions. Divine coincidences. People mock at me if I ever talk like this. Because this is the not first time I have seen ‘signs’ – I do all the time but I keep this to myself otherwise they may ACCUSE me of hallucinating!

Ardent devotee of Shakthi. She is my Mother ever since my biological one left me high and dry and at the mercy of others. She is with me all the time, echoes my thoughts or denounces with a thud should She disapprove!

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