Posted in Mylapore Musings

New Year From Another Age

Navasakthi Vinayaka temple in Luz is very special to me. Because it seems, my mother conceived me after praying here fervently after losing her first stillborn son in delivery. The temple then was very new. After school, she used to alight from her bus in Luz and go to this temple and then from there would walk the distance home. One of the founders of this temple was also my closest relative who I do not want to name. He is no more of course. He ran a flourishing business in Luz, Mylapore and was locally popular when he was around. Even now some business people in Luz remember him if I bring up his name.

So our relative families always gave the first abhishegam at this temple every new year day by morning 4 am. For years therefore for me, New Year day meant rising by 2 am, getting ready and walking in misty musical Margazhi morning with my family to the early morning darshan in Navasakthi Vinayaka temple. Used to starve, but everything would be over by 7 to 8 am. Then a hearty breakfast in Shanthi Vihar with entire family would follow. Even my grandparents and extended family partook in the puja and festivities on that one occasion.

I think for one particular Indo-Pak cricket match, I even prayed for India win alongwith my childhood friend Rupa. We circumambulated this temple 108 times i guess when India won!!!

We broke with this custom of New year starting with Navasakthi Vinayaka temple after my mother’s demise. My grandfather always also used to get poorna kumbha maryadha at Kandha Kottam in Mint and also at Kandaswami temple in Saidapet where also our abhisheghams would be the first at 4 am concurrently. Because of my mother, he would force himself to attend the Navasakthi Vinayaka temple new year puja not wanting to disappoint his first born daughter.

After my mother, my grandfather refused to go to Navasakthi Vinayaka. My grandma stopped praying to God totally. We switched over to Kandaswamy temple for January 1st giving Navasakthi Vinayaka a pass. By 7 to 8 am I and my sis would be given cane baskets of laddoo to distribute as prasad with our own hands in the temple. Breakfast would be at a distant relative’s place in Saidapet.

Today’s kids including mine associate New Year with fun and frolic, wine and dine. However in our families, we always started even the Gregorian new year on auspicious note only. No need to mention about how we celebrated Tamil New year.

After decades of mental block, I am now revisiting Navasakthi Vinayaka temple. Didn’t set my foot in for years and years except for a few very rare occasions. In our relatives houses, the entrance always had a big framed Navasakthi Vinayaka in black & white hanging over the front door. The temple still invokes very painful memories. I these days force myself to stop at this temple for a few minutes everytime I touch Mylapore. I want to connect back. There is some residual stubborn resistance that holds me back by a minute percentage. I am unable to give my 100% to Navasakthi Pillaiyar. This after decades. This is the power of a mother over a daughter.

Share a similar emotional bonding with Valleeshwara temple in Mylapore Market and also Shirdi Sai Baba shrine in Mylapore. Even the Kesava Perumal temple and Srinivasa Perumal temple in Chitrakulam were my regulars. As also Kola Vizhi Amma temple and Madhava Perumal temple. As for Mundagakanni Amma, I was placed in Her lap the first time my parents carried me out as a newborn I believe. Similarly I placed my son on Her lap the first time I took him out anywhere after hospital discharge on delivery. Even now I make jaggery pongal for my Amma twice an year – waiting for Thai month to go back and see Her.

In my childhood and teens, these temples used to be deserted and very ill-kempt. In Kapali temple, even in Karpagambal sannidhi, sometimes I would be alone by myself or with a friend, with not even the archaka around (about 9 to 11 am during summer hols etc). Then one day a devotee warned me that it was dangerous to be alone even within temple like that in that age. I never imagined this present kind of crowds in these temples back then. Now I feel kind of jealous that so many thousands are claiming stakes to my temples that I thought were only mine!

Sometimes I wish those days to return (wrt prevailing peace of the time only) …. Walking around Karpagamba, reading the Abhirami Andhadhi printed on Her walls loud and alone by myself or with a couple of friends with none hanging around… Those were the times… Such a stillness all around you, the way a temple must truly be…

Remember sitting with my parents and our neighbours in Kapali temple’s tank steps. In those days the tank was open to public to access and not fenced. Water level used to be decent.

In my teens, my friends and me who are very close even today would start with Valleeshwara temple, then go to Kapaleeshwara temple by back door and then walk to Sai Baba temple. One friend was in Santhome, another in RK Nagar. Me in the middle, Mylapore. We did all this on foot. Only during finishing school I and one more friend got ourselves a bicycle. Even then the cycle was mostly used by my sis. For me only Nataraja service everywhere.

The only holidays my parents took us to were Tirupathi (annually), Guruvayur, Rameshwaram, Tiruchendur, Kanyakumari. Of course on temple tour. Kodaikanal and Ooty were possible only because of my husband!

Now I have visited most temples in Chennai many multiple times – at least the most popular ones. Kaligambal was my father’s favourite as he worked in Parrys corner. I will cover the city temples later.

My thatha was also the only sort of person in those days to distribute idli packets to those seeking alms in front of Sai Baba temple as long as he lived. Now we have hundreds of good samaritans doing this service. But when he fed the poor, none else did that besides him. When he passed away, I remember going to Sai Baba temple to distribute idlis for one last time and telling the alms seekers, that the old man was no more. Some 20 of them in rags wailed out in anguish. Now food is in abundance everywhere, prasads are overflowing. I am talking about some 30-40 year back happening.

Another regular haunt was Ramakrishna Mutt in Mylapore where also my thatha was a well known person. He donated a lot for the mutt as well as the Ramakrishna mission orphanage opp Vivekananda college. Biggest chunk went to these two out of his trust. The free library was my favourite place.

Mylaporean days are like a dream now. I can’t think of children today growing up like we did in those days. What keeps some of us going is the way we were raised then. Sometimes I wonder what stopped us from raising our kids the way our parents did with us.

Posted in Mylapore Musings

Where is Ramanaashram.

Today I was talking to Vimala maami who was our neighbour in Mylapore when I was preteen. Vimala maami, Seetha maami and Vasantha maami were my mother’s peers and mothers of my childhood friends. Our relationship continues until today albeit via electronic channels.

Seetha maami and Vimala maami moved adjacent to each other in a distant suburb, to live lifelong together. They are closest until today. Vimala maami is 72, Seetha maami over 75.

Seetha maami is struck with breast cancer at this age and Vimala maami is taking care of her. I started weeping quietly when I heard of this in phone today. Maami suffering is too much to handle as I discovered, surprising myself with the reaction.

Vimala maami started narrating to me one incident from my childhood that I was not aware of.

Vimala maami’s mother-in-law died of breast cancer. That I knew of. That day I still remember but I was not even 10 then.

Maami said, one day my grandfather asked my grandmother to go with him to Ramanaashram in Tiruvannamalai. For that, my patti told my thatha, ‘why should I go to Ramanaashram? Ramanaashram is right here in Mylapore. Come with me, i will take you to Vimala’s house. How Vimala the daughter-in-law and the son, her husband, are rendering physical service to the aged mother, you must see. I am seeing this everyday. Then tell me if I should go to Ramanaashram with you.’

My patti led my thatha to Maami’s house. There my thatha was impressed to see what a yeoman service the young husband and wife with two toddler children, were still rendering to bedridden cancer patient, mother of Maama (Maami’s husband). Then it seems my grandpa told my granny in everyone’s presence, ‘no need for us to go to Ramanaashram because Ramanaashram is indeed here.’

This Maami told me when I told her my mother-in-law is with me always whenever I am in India. Of the four daughters-in-law, the last and unwanted ugly duckling me is surprisingly always her first trusting choice with who she feels most comfortable. Maami told me what a blessing it is to have the elderly wanting to be with you. She then related to me this very simple real life incident that she says she can never forget. It also gives a great insight into what kind of couple my paatti and thatha were. The kind of conversations they had had… We miss noticing these small cute things about our elders when they are around… In my case, I hardly got the chance really…

This is how I grew up. This is how we were in those days. Sometimes we want to become utter selfish and just be by ourselves. After talking to maami I feel a lot better now. Sometimes it does anger me that why it must be only me always. And after the way I have been treated over years.

But then the heart remembers, the stomach remembers. The tongue can be harsh but the heart forever is loving and can never turn down anyone. So that’s the reason.

For last Diwali I was with my mother-in-law in hostpital (for about 10 days). On the day before discharge, my MIL called me to her bedside and holding my hands she told me, ‘you and my son and my grandson will always be only happy. My blessings will always stay with you.’ I thought since I could not do anything for my own parents, God was giving me a second chance to take care of my MIL. I did nothing much really. Just someone being there can make a monumental difference especially when one is incapacitated.

Despite all this sometimes the devil in us pops out. After all we are human. We hold on to bad memories and push back the good ones. But after hearing from Vimala maami about my paatti and thaatha and Ramanaashram, I feel ashamed for talking behind my MIL’s back and at times sulking for being saddled with her. Hereafter I would try to mend my ways. How long will someone have the cheek to ask me, not to go out without wearing dupatta (even in this age ada rama)! After her who will even bother.

I want to visit both Seetha maami and Vimala maami soon.

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.

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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!

Posted in Mylapore Musings

Anandhi

In the times of Kamala Harris for VP and feminism, I would like to share a real life story from Mylapore from the late 80s-early 90s.

It is about Anandhi, our housemaid. She was from a village in rural Tamil Nadu. I can’t believe that I never even once asked her about her nativity in all those years she was with us.

Actually I don’t think she would have been older than me by more than 10 years. She was married off as an 18 year old when she was still working their farms, to a rickshaw puller in Santhome area. He was an alcoholic who also physically abused her, not earning a single decent rupee. Anandhi’s mother-in-law supported her and the humble lower middle-class home of theirs was her in-laws. Owing to poverty, Anandhi walked to our house, a few streets away for helping us with our domestic chores. She was picky about who she worked for. In our case, she was taken in by the fact that two teenage motherless girls cooked, packed lunch, studied on their own as their saintly father never spoke a word to them. ‘Paavam pa nee’ she used to tell me often then.

Anandhi was very thin herself that I almost felt guilty taking her help for our laborious menial work at home. However, she never took a day off except for one month in summers to go back to her hometown for a vacation. She also slightly limped.

Anandhi told me that her husband had undergone vasectomy for government money of 500 rupees during Sanjay Gandhi period. He married her without disclosing the truth to her. So Anandhi was childless. Often she was sick as well. She also worked for my aunt family. My uncle opened a bank account for her. Anandhi hid the information of working for me to her husband and saved her salary every month in the bank.

Life went on. Life was all consuming. Life was trying. Life was tough.

Finally it was time for me to get married and move over to my in laws’ place. After my marriage I came to know that there was no news on Anandhi’s whereabouts. She had simply vanished from the scene without a trace. It was a time before the cell phones became commonplace. We knew where Anandhi lived but somehow missed finding out about her.

One day when I was visiting Mylapore with my 2 year old son, there was a knock on the door. My aunt opened the door to greet Anandhi carrying an infant boy. We were all shocked and surprised and confused at the same time.

Anandhi had disappeared around the time of my marriage. Next 2 to 3 years there was no information on her. We even feared the worst about her. That probably her drunk husband had killed her in rage in one of their regular nightly spats even if Anandhi was very, very softspoken. So imagine our delight on seeing her! But the baby?

Anandhi then stunned us relating to us what happened to her since 1993.

Around the time of my marriage, she found that she had advanced TB. Unwilling to upset her rural and aged and poor folks, not wanting to disturb us or her family, she quietly got herself admitted in government Tambaram Sanatorium TB hospital as an inpatient without a single penny in her hand, where she resided convalescing and recouping for more than an year. A shy villager who could not read or write, she still was one very intelligent woman. She knew how fatal TB could prove to be if left unchecked. She got herself fully cured with patience and forbearance and used this time to learn about the reversal procedures for vasectomy for her husband and plan for their future.

One fine day, after complete recovery, she returned to her husband’s home unannounced. Mother and son were taken in by surpise. She used the euphoric moment to persuade her husband to go in for vasectomy reversal. The surgery was a success and Anandhi, cured of TB, conceived immediately. Her mother-in-law transferred the title deed of their humble dwelling unit to Anandhi’s name, not her son’s. Soon she passed away. And there was our Anandhi, waiting for her son to turn one year or so, healthy enough to visit us.

We really cried rivers of joy on hearing our Anandhi’s story with a happy ending. My uncle brought out her passbooks for bank accounts. She refused to take them with her. We gifted her generously and as her son was one year younger to mine, I passed on to her a whole range of toys and clothes and other nice things. Anandhi said, she was now unfit to work so she had machines to do her domestic chores at home. She rented out a portion of her small house that gave her a regular though meagre income. Her husband was still not yet totally reformed. He lapsed back to his old ways now and then. Without her mother-in-law’s moral support, she was feeling tired and alone but the little boy brought her so much cheer.

At three years, Anandhi admitted her son to a christian convent in Santhome. I left for Malaysia. My uncle handed over her savings entirely at that point even if she refused to take charge. That was the last I saw of her.

Today her son would be 25 years old. Whether Anandhi is still alive, i do not know. I do think of her sometimes. May be I should find out. Too much happening in life ever since that we hardly have time for everyone sadly.

Anandhi who took her husband for reversal of vasectomy and got herself admitted alone in TB hospital severing links with one and all for more than an year completely, always makes her the boldest heroine to me somehow. A total illiterate who knew nothing but sowing seeds, weeding, washing clothes and dirty dishes, who wouldn’t utter a word but give you only that silent smile, was so brave and strong-willed in real life where and when it really mattered. Her quiet courage, confidence and conviction amazed me because, she never even boarded a bus on her own until she was diagnosed with TB. Her decency and concern in not revealing her health condition to everyone fishing for sympathy or seeking help or not even causing distress with the news, showed to me the refinement in her character. Her compassion for two motherless girls and their widower father even if she was only a housemaid, would be touching. She barely spoke a word or two. But in those two words she always managed to convey to me her total love and affection. In that age and time, that was so very heartwarming to me no doubt. That silent company. That shy presence. But that heart that always cared.

How to go invisible and remain unobtrusive if situation demanded. This knowledge and knack many of us have not mastered or are unwilling to learn. Coming from peasant background, Anandhi knew the etiquette without having to be told about that. Setril mulaitha senthamarai really.

I hope Anandhi is well and happy wherever she is, if at all she is. Her frail health always remained a concern.

Today we hardly have such genuine affectionate people around us. People who make real sense. People who are of substance. I used to share my morning coffee with Anandhi for years in our house ‘mitham’ (mutram) where she would be washing our dishes as early as 6 am. I do miss that kindness even if it came only from someone who worked for us for a paltry sum.

Posted in Mylapore Musings

The Chimney Glow

Watching period serial ‘Stories by Rabindranath Tagore’ (that by itself is worthy of a post), I was reminded of the Chimney light days from my childhood in Mylapore. May be we had this light at home as a spare until I turned 10 or 12. We had no zero watt night bulb then.

I have this memory of filling kerosene in two such small chimney lights for two rooms in my house. That evening duty was mine. Kerosene was in a tall narrow necked glass bottle tightly screwed shut, stored away in a shelf. The wick would be pruned by my mother and both the lights would be readied by 6 pm for lighting. No bedrooms for couples in those days. We slept in rows in the living!!! Sleeping on the handspun straw mat was the comforting bedding ever for me! I have no memory of my parents sleeping alone or together as a couple sorry!!! What a sacrificing life our parents and grandparents led for our sake!

By 7.30 to 8 pm, we would already be ready to retire to bed, because tv was barely there. And also because I had a working mom. We got our first tv in 1977 when i was in class 4 only. Before going to bed, I would light the chimneys sometimes or my mother did. The glass lamps served as our night bulbs hanging from a hooked nail in a corner off the wall that was safe from breeze from the partly open windows and fan and anything combustible.

I still remember the mini chimney lights but i can’t find exact replica images in the net. I will keep looking for them. I used to go to sleep focusing on the small glow from the open top of the glass chimney. The bottom part that held the fuel was metal with a screw and wick. I also think that the chimney glass part with (sometimes jagged) circular opening on top to let out smoke often broke. There are faint memories of pushcarts in the streets selling those glass chimney tops. Or may be we had these in the platform shops in Luz or Mylapore tank. Did we have different colours like burnt orange, brown, bottle green? Although all I can recall from the one at home is plain colourless glass chimney.

Carrying the lit chimney lamp around the home in eerie darkness with shadows lengthening or shortening was another reason to delight! Mostly this was whenever the power was out which was pretty often in late 70s.

If I ever slept with my granny, I would be listening with her to Ceylon Radio Tamil broadcast in the soft light of the oil lamp. Mostly I did this in summer hols. Late evening 9 pm was considered like midnight in those days!!! Watching the chimney shadow flicker on the wall opposite was another childhood pastime as I would doze off into bottomless dreamless sleep that only kids are capable of.

When did we grow out of this chimney light habit? I guess until my mother’s time we had it at home. Later the yellow zero watt night bulb substituted the glass and metal chimney light that used to leave a very light black smoky shadow on the wall.

Slowwwww days and slower peaceful nights. The chimney light era reminds me of such a comfortable age when nothing was done in a hurry. Makes me nostalgic. What a charming old world that was! The dancing flame of the chimney lights on windy thundery monsoony nights surprisingly still stays fresh in my memory…. as the long nights during some power-cut days when we cooked, ate and laughed and lived in the mellow shadow of the chimney glow…

Posted in Mylapore Musings

Stone Elephant Ride To Elephant Safari

‘When the Elephants go extinct, they will take away the Trees with them….’

One of my best childhood memories is that of walking to Kapali temple every evening with my father until I was 8 or 10 and thereafter with my friends.

Never close to my father, partially because of the vacuum left by the early demise of my mother on which he withdrew into a cocoon severing communications with the outer world, the few happy times I spent with my father seem precious now.

My obsession with the Indian elephants probably started in those early years. Every single day, I had to go to Kabaleeshwara temple and sit on all the four stone elephants carved out there in the mandapam. Actually 8. The temple used to be almost haunted in those days except for during festive occasions. Even the evenings were breezy and uncrowded. I remember playing with my friends in the temple sands. Yes, where we have a roofed hall today, we used to have initially sands with pebbles that could burn your feet in hot sun. Later they cemented this part which itself did not go down well with me.

I and my sis and my neighbourhood girls even used to vie for our favourite elephant of all the four front ones!! Mine was the outermost to the right. We spent hours riding the elephants or simply running around playing there. A middle aged man who was deaf and dumb used to stand exactly where Golu mandapam is today and from there with his eyes closed, would be singing devotionals for Karpagambal. Or sometimes chanting some slokas. I used to watch him in amazement from my stone elephant throne. Yes, i felt like a queen whenever I would be lucky enough to latch on to the back of my No.1 elephant.

Fondest memory of my father is his patience in lifting me out of one elephant and depositing me on another one as and when I commanded. Since I was short and compact, it took me years to gain mastery over the act of climbing over the stone elephants on my own without a help. Throwing the legs over the sides of the elephant was another challenge!

Even today whenever I visit the Kapali temple I secretly long for climbing atop the stone elephants. How I wish the temple is empty so my dream comes true some day!

The very first picture I watched with friends was also ‘The king elephant’ screened in the auditorium of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, my primary school. I have been ever since searching the world wide web for this classic ancient flick without success. How old were I then. May be between second and fourth standard…

Wilbur Smith is my favourite author and I cried a river reading his ‘Elephant song.’ Even if fictional, his works based in Africa always moved me. My initial interest in Africa was roused by a school friend who introduced me to James Hadley Chase for totally a different reason. She said the author wrote ‘scenes (!)’ and in my 12th or 13th year in the 1980s, it was a big, big matter! My first book was ‘Vulture is a patient bird’ that introduced to me a totally different geographical landscape called Africa and to the tribals such as the Zulus and Bantus. My fascination for exotic species was stoked with this book. Wild Africa was a one book subject for Chase, but for me it became a life interest.

Not that i have not come across my share of temple elephants forced into begging during the Panguni festival of Kapali temple in the streets of Mylapore.

Much later when we lived in Malaysia, we happened to witness elephant mating in KL zoo. The trumpeting of the male tusker was unbelievable as it virtually demanded a companion which the zoo officials finally obliged with. Otherwise there could have been a rampage. At one point we even contemplated exiting the zoo for our own safety. Once the female consort entered the pen, the male elephant quietened down as if by magic. Until then I believed, domesticated elephants hardly mated and never ever did they in public. Imagine the horrible musth condition of the Indian elephant (a gift from India of course) that it wasn’t bothered about the hundred plus spectators hanging over the fence. I felt guilty watching this glorious union of two mammoths in front of my eyes, but it is something that will never leave me. At the same time, i felt such an anguish that this must happen to the mightiest beast to walk planet Earth today. Who says wildlife have no dignity. I have a couple of pictures dt. 1998.

A soft corner for the jumbos that was already there magnified within me in many proportions. I still had not ridden over a pachyderm, being principally against the concept of animal safaris, animal art everything that may indirectly harm the wildlife. But i did want to touch the elephant once at least and make contact. Somehow it seemed very important to me because I thought so much about elephants, read so much on them and watched elephant pictures. Took a ride finally in Munnar and then in Thekkady just for this purpose in the Elephant Park. The elephant hide was rough. The hair was thick and strong and long. Plucking it must be very painful so I wondered how the safari management so easily traded in elephant hair for ornamental purposes. My Munnar elephant was an old and serviced matron. I didn’t know whether she understood when I apologized to her ear that I was riding her and told her I loved her and she was very magnificent and beautiful. During the ride, I was constantly patting her as much as I could. The Thekkady one was a young male who was the verge of musth, with signs very much visible. It was very troubling to me.

I have done posts of Elephants earlier that I would link here. My love for Indian Elephant is sky high. I want our elephants to roam freely through our mountains and passes and valleys and plains UNCHAINED UNTAMED. Elephant deaths caused by train accidents, poaching etc., are very hurting to elephant lovers like me. I have made special requests to our PM Modi to safeguard the interests of Indian elephants so that they don’t go extinct in our very lifetime.

Domesticating wild elephants for religious, social, economic purposes is a heartless crime that has to be stopped with immediately by legal or whatever means.

https://vijiravindran.com/2017/02/12/stop-cruelty-to-elephants-in-the-name-of-religion-now/

https://vijiravindran.com/2019/09/02/say-a-big-no-to-family-planning-for-elephants/

https://vijiravindran.com/2020/01/02/elephants-at-crossroads/

Join me in condemning Temple Elephant customs and liberating the Indian elephants into the wild where they rightfully belong. Never miss a forum voicing your opinion because our wildlife cannot argue their own cases. They need us to defend them on their behalf. This is where animal lovers step in. I am much passionate about the Indian Elephant, more specifically over entire wild life. Not for NGOs but I wish there is a direct channel to fund elephant care/research. Many thanks to our late CM Jayalalitha Jayaram for the way she took care of the temple pachyderms declaring a month long rejuvenation vacation for them with free food and stay in Mudumalai wildlife camp. What a sensitivity in this iron lady!