Posted in Mylapore Musings

In loving memory of Vani Jayaram

She was our proud alumna, schoolmate of my mother and my chithi (batchmate?), our school SPL in her days when her full name was Kalaivani. She was a star student who topped her class. She got all India popular with her rendition of ‘bolere papi hara’ in Guddi when she lent her voice to Jaya Baduri Bachchan. Recalling our batch’s 25th reunion some years back when she was our chief guest. She sang the song for us girls. Sharing for a brief time the interaction we had with her. Unforgettable. Om Shanthi. Madam, every time I would pass through your street, your house in Alwarpet, I would think of you with a smile on my face. Huge respects. Beautiful voice, subtle sweet soul, a life lived in dignity and grace. Old timer, rare.

I think I have a group photo of us girls with her. Will dig for it.

Posted in Mylapore Musings

My simple stateboard school teachers taught us life lessons.

I have so much time today (as always :D). As my friends brought out the memories of my standard 8 and 9 class teachers who I just adored in my school days, I want to write about them here today.

Teachers are special to me naturally as my mom was one and my aunt too.

In class 8, Mrs. KN Indra was my class teacher. In standard IX it was MA Padmavathy who we called MAP for short. Both were residents of Mylapore.

KN Indra miss lived in the other side of my street. She used to sport a big namam in her forehead. She was widowed young with two children. Her son was my age. Her husband was killed in a scooter accident. I knew as much because she did her teacher training with my aunt before joining my school as teacher. So my mother and my aunt were friends with her.

KN Indra miss used to be very soft. Even if we girls would scream in class, she would get upset and punish herself. Like there would be tears in her eyes. She would never shout at us. Classes 7, 8 and 9 are very hard for teachers to handle. For class 7, I had Santhalakshmi miss as class teacher who taught us both English and Maths. True to her name she was such a ‘shanthaswaroopini.’ Again my mother and aunt were friends with her. My mom knew most of my middle school teachers as they all attended my school, were alumna of my school and they continued to live in Mylapore, with some joining their alma mater as secondary grade teachers. It was only my mother who opted to teach speech and hearing impaired girls. She was handpicked for it by her Mother Superior in a Santhome teachers’ training school. She thought it was her calling.

One of my memories from class 7 is that of my mom coming straight to my school to attend Open day. Our school had class 6 and 7 in an annexe building called ‘Sudharma’ that was opposite my school. That building became the first casualty in commercializing of my school when a CBSE school started functioning there some 20 years ago. My mother struck up an easy conversation with Santhalakshmi miss, my class teacher. She was talking to my AHM Mrs Nagamani, I could see she was popular and well remembered old girl. None of my classmates had a working mom then. I was so proud of her. I did get to meet Mrs Santhalakshmi in school alumni meets in last few years. She keeps flying to the US to be with her son more. She remembers us amazingly individually. Of course, none of my teachers can forget me because of my mother and my tragedy.

KN Indra miss also was a very soft and sweet soul. If we girls would ever make noise, she would close the class doors and windows. She would plead with us to stop.

Class 7 and 8 saw many girls coming of age right in our class. Maximum girls attended puberty in these two years. It needs motherly care and love and affection to deal with the confused and sometimes terrified girls. I remember how our teachers handled these cases. In all girls school, with a class of 45 girls, imagine the state of our class teachers who themselves were then mothers to boys and girls of our age. They were most understanding. They would openly talk to us and tell us they were there for us. We girls needed such a psychological support.

KN Indra miss of course was a personal favourite. I wrote an entrance for class 6 admission in my school. Until 5th, I was with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore. She came to my house then and said, our school was lucky to get me on their roll. I still cannot forget those complements. Although I was extremely shy then, those words meant the world to me. They still matter to me after all these years.

KN Indra miss would have golu for Navrathri. During class 8, I went as family friends to her house. In class she would never show in the presence of other girls that she knew me at personal level. But she was ever so kind. She was such a stickler for proper grammar. I had no problems with grammar even then – my basics were ok I guess, yet I benefited a lot with her. Our stateboard English was very simple. Indra teacher also taught us maths. I used to score centums and very high marks in both her subjects. I and my friend Varalakshmi maintained second and first top positions in general proficiency (GP) from class 6 to 10. Every time my mother met Indra teacher in my presence, she never missed telling my mother what a fine student I was. It made my mom very happy. Now thinking of it after all these years I am happy that my mother got to hear at least those few words about me from one of the most influential characters in my life. Indra teacher’s brother worked for the Hindu so she was dwelling in the top floor of her brother’s house. Later on she moved out and I lost touch with the family. She was shaken, broken when my mother took an untimely exit. She was a personal friend, a family friend, and my mother would give her words of comfort as Indra teacher was widowed young. I was by that time in 9th, yet whenever we met in school or in street, she would melt looking at me. She could never. Indra teacher’s elder sister Rajalakshmi worked with my aunt.

My 9th class teacher was MAP. She had such a great dressing sense in those days. She would never repeat her saris. And for the sari, she would match exactly her kumkum (no sticker bindi in those days). Big big colourful bindis. We girls ofcourse mercilessly poked fun on her. She knew it but took it in right spirit. Once she told us her only child – her son – was in medical college. We all wanted to date him without knowing him!!! MAP taught us English and science. She was full of humour and she was way different from KN Indra who would be very serious. MAP’s closest friend was a teacher we nicknamed ‘backbutton’ Rajeshwari lols. Her blouses all had buttons in the back and she would sport a big bun. Those two would sit crosslegged sprawled down our side stairs to value our papers etc. These two with Mrs. D Kalyani (DK) and Mrs. Kathyaayani (our geography teacher) were a gang. Awesome ladies in those days. That was their favourite spot: turning flat of the stairs that had some room. No fan. No fan in my school anywhere. How did we even live. For thousands of girl students who got their monthly periods, only 20 washrooms, 10 in each floor. Yet we never complained. We drank straight from school taps.

MAP lived in Karpagambal Nagar in Luz. For us its like someone living in white house. We had such a reverence for her style, her charisma. My girls even remember the pranks we played on her and the day-by-day arguments with her. When my mother passed away, my school sent her and one more teacher to lay a wreath on my mother – she was such an illustrious student, my mother. Ms. Satyabhama, our then head mistress, our correspondent Chellammal all were fond of my mother. They remembered her by name. That is the highest respects my school payed for my mother – their alumna who went on to teach the hearing and speech impaired middle school girls. Ms Bhama and Chellammal never married to serve the girls’ school. We mischievous girls waited for Chellammal to die so that we could have a school holiday! But even after I became a mother, I once met our correspondent in Kapaleeshwara temple. She was very old. She lived within our school premises. I sought her blessings. She daily walked to the temple with an attendant. Can we ever come across such souls in our life. I feel blessed to have studied in this simple school. Bhama and Chellammal together took our school to great heights. My mother and aunt studied under both.

Years later I learnt that MAP’s only son who was working as doctor in the UK died of heart attack. MAP herself did not have a good marriage. She was separated I guess. Not sure. She was widowed in my college days. We girls met her once in our school alumni day. I don’t think we spoke to her about her son. She was well aged. She looked tamed by life. I was filled with memories of her lying a wreath on behalf of my school on my mother. Exactly her son was the same age as my mother when he passed away. Her only child. I had no words for consolation. But I still think of the great lady, her class everything that used to be a big influence on us girls. Until class 8 I never paid attention to my physical looks. MAP invoked in us girls a need to present yourself neat and clean. You don’t have to dress up much – at least you must be presentable. The care she took with her grooming in those days. Yet she carried herself with such a dignity. It was n’t cheap. Same colour bangles. Clips everything. That was her trademark. We girls had a game guessing: which colour would she drape for the next day. Imagine her wearing a green sari sporting a big green kumkum dot on her forehead! She draped the rarest of colours and never did she miss her matching kumkum! She was a style statement for her times and age. She was also a stickler for grammar. Her chemistry or biology classes never bored. I guess the responsibility of reviving math-science interest in young girls and boys rests with their 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th standard teachers. A couple of my class girls became extremely close to MAP and do remain so to this date.

DK our history teacher from 8th to 10th came to us from a rowdy Madurai boys school as she told us the very first day. She would never take her seat but perch herself atop the bench. She had late pregnancy in our 10th standard. Until then she was such a tough nut. In the very first class she bellowed, ‘why do they say the sun never sets in the british empire.’ No clue really lolz. We were in 8th but I had a fair idea. I was too scared to spell it out for her. She would break a chalk piece and throw it on girls if she saw someone talking in the class or not listening to her. One angry woman! She was nothing like other teachers who were all softspoken. She was a volcano. But inspite of her rigid demeanour, she always softened towards me. My grades were also a reason. Once during exam supervision, she sat on my bench and was reading every word that I wrote in exam. Not just once, always she did that I don’t know why. I understood that years later. She probably wondered at the motherless girl filling up pages after pages. Me and my friend Varalam went for maximum extra sheets always! DK never spoke to me much but whenever she would come for exam supervision I would wait for her to sit on my bench and read my exam paper. In my class 11, DK had a late delivery. Her son is now a married man. Met her during school alumni meet. Remembers us all invidually.

Bhama teacher our HM and beloved teacher of my mother taught us English poetry. Shakespeare etc., she would take one hour for just one para. I don’t remember the finer details but we girls waited for her class. She taught us only in standard X. As she was also our HM she missed many classes. But I cherish her classes even today. She taught my mother, she taught me. My mother used to speak about her English language classes. Satyabhama was her class teacher.

Kathyayani was our geography teacher. Very good language and very well informed. Teachers had to bun their hair in my school – like in my mom’s school. I remember the big bun of Kathyayani miss and backbutton Rajeshwari. Impressive!

My school is entwined with my mother for me. So many memories. My school is part of my destiny. Now my school is getting commercialized and I don’t like it a bit. I think of my selfless teachers so affectionate toward us girls, as if we were their own daughters. We girls are what we are today because of our teachers.

We had a new HM Mrs Nirmala around our class 12, who we nicknamed ‘chemmy nimmy’ as she taught chemistry. Just a couple of years back I met my miss in front of a Mylapore temple. Before I could wish her, she embraced me recognizing me. She said even if she had trouble remembering names and batches sometimes, she never missed recognizing any of her girls. She asked me about my life and was happy to learn I was doing fine. Such is the love and affection our teachers showered on us.

I have to make a special mention of Mrs Mary Joan who is no more. She was our games teacher. From class 6 to 10 she made us do shortput, long jump, high jump, running, tennikoit, basketball, volleyball everything systematically recording our invididual statistics. I wonder what happened to those notes now! She was so diligent in her duties. She was a terror to us girls. I had a different games miss for my standard 11 & 12 but she was not like Mary Joan miss. Now I understand what that strictness about Mary Joan was all about. I owe my discipline in everything to Mrs Mary Joan-like mindshapers in my life. The girls all remember her for her alarm clock precision.

What fees did we pay ? All of thirty tree rupees in 1979 June for my standard VI annual fee. From then on my school fees rose by 20 to 30 rupees every year. Only by my standard 11 and 12 it became 150 rupees which my family thought was expensive. My books were always borrowed. My aunt reserved my books from a senior girl in her school that we got at half rate. I passed on my books to my sister. My grandfather got us the extra books if any and notebooks. Always he was the one to get us our notebooks every year with his hands. He would take us to Vijaya stores in Mylapore on auspicious day and get us whatever we wanted fresh such as log book, map drawing note, graph note, drawing note etc apart from note books. Notebooks and books and uniforms were not on school account as ours was a simple state board school that was government aided (with salaries for staff provided by govt). For the kind of fees we paid, we girls have harvested a lot really. The quality of our teachers… From my school teachers, I can imagine what kind of teacher my mother could have been. I may be a housewife but my friends are all doctors and engineers and chartered accountants and teachers themselves.

How many quiz programs we attended, how many satsangs in school every year (one whole week), navratri golu in the school, all pujas in school. You have to look at our marble Saraswathi, goddess of wisdom. We recited prayers to Her every morning in our school assembly. The same Saraswathi to who my mother too sang her prayers. This school has produced great personalities who went on to make a mark in our society – from Dr Shantha of Cancer Institute Madras who dedicated her life to cancer treatment for half a century to Vani Jayaram, the playback singer and actor Lakshmi of Julie fame. Many thousands of illustrious girls who are not known to public.

Never felt any less because I attended a stateboard school. My girls are with me from my school. In that state board school library in Sudharma building only, I saw a copy of National Geographic for the first time in my standard 6. My school was subscribing to the journal. I read every issue that came my way and was fascinated by wild life right then. 1979-80: picture National Geographic issue in your hands as a stateboard school girl of 11 years. Stateboard schools have their potential untapped even today. Very underrated. If anything, these budget schools are down to earth and make you street smart. You can survive under any condition. Our orthodox school with ‘Aiyar’ name still did not shy away from distributing milk and eggs and codliver capsules to poorest girls in our school – it was a must for these girls to go to dispensary every single day and take the A & D capsules with eggs and a warm glass of milk and mark their presence. Midday meals were free for lower income family girls – without taking a single paisa from govt. School trust funded. Thinking back I am proud of whatever my school managed, achieved.

Now the same school quadrangle is divided, my school is partitioned, who my X ‘A’ classroom belongs to I don’t know. Its a family dispute among the trustees that is seeing the school hurt and damaged and made a piecemeal of. Last heard, our quadrangle is even leased out to Carnatic concerts. Its no more open to the skies but enclosed like for a stage act. Watching my classroom from the street just a couple of weeks back I couldn’t swallow the lump that was forming in my throat.

Posted in Mylapore Musings

Sandy beach and soaring flight.

Its eons since we have lounged on sandy beach. We do go to the souqs but today, got to unwind on Wakra souq beach. No thenga manga pattani sundal here. Only the absolute stillness. The beauty of the arab countries is their elusive silence without the street ruckus that is common in India or elsewhere. We just sat back by the backwaters wherefrom some mounds of salt pans showed belly up. I saw flights leave and flights home in. One flight was losing altitude steadily in the same spot. No I don’t think this one was landing. I guess, this is one of the crossover flights to yet another gulf airport flying through the airspace. As a frequent air traveler I always pay specific attention when flights lose height in one spot or climb up gradually in the same spot or arch their wing, tilt up and take a turn. I don’t have to watch out through my cabin window. I just know how it feels like. I guess I know every sensation that is carried with every single motion of an aircraft. In silence, I unwound my legs in the sand with my hands pushed back behind me watching the spectacular show of the planes every few minutes.. A couple of camels rested afar. Children were playing noiselessly in the distance. Even the sidewalk cafes with their guests dining on club chairs on cobblestoned paths stood quiet. This kind of silence is golden, something again unthinkable in India. The unpolluted clean environs can do something to your heart that it may want to sing. To savour such an unspoilt moment, I have to get out of Chennai city limits, to ECR.

Beach sands and airplanes brought once more memories of growing up in Mylapore. Our house was the tallest in the street when I was in the primary school. I guess I have blogged on this, but we always went to bed after a darshan of Kapali temple tower from our kitchen window and Kesava Perumal temple tower (near Chitrakulam) from the balcony. We enjoyed this special privilege until my mom’s time – that is 1982. Buildings that later came up robbed us of our glorious daily darshan on dawn.

Our terrace on second floor carried with it loads of awesome memories.

From here, I have watched once the Kapaleeshwara temple Kumbabishegam with binoculars. Even the temple Car could be seen moving – it so happens that we are having the Panguni festival now. Two spires vied with each other for our views in the open ‘mottaimadi.’ One was of course Kapali temple tower, 1 km afar. The other magnificent one at a distance was the Santhome church steeple itself.

The crowning glory would be the rotating lighthouse beam that would pass through our terrace – at a distance of over 3 km at least, every few minutes. This light would be visible only when it would be completely dark. For me, the act of catching the light beam on my arm or face for a micro fraction of a second from the light house was like winning a gold medal in Olympics. I and my friends used to count the number of times we could catch the light beam that would pass within a moment like mirage before you knew it.

How many flights we used to count. Rare sightings were the jet. Kok kok paalaadai every single evening. Walk to the Santhome beach almost every single day in summer vacations. (Mornings were always reserved for Kapali & His Missus). The beach was still accessible with radio playing from the small circular structure situated in the middle of the sands.

Slowpaced life with all its goodness. I miss that kind of heaven terribly now. The small happiness of Panneer soda and Rose milk from Kalathi kadai. Mottaimadi. Everything.

Did I ever dream that some day in future I would be flying in and out so much. And I am the CEO of my Home Corporation hahaha!

Once upon a time in my life, I looked up at the airplane wide-eyed. Now flights tire me.

I am stepping back to take a close look at the little girl who would try to catch as many light beams as possible within her outstretched palms. It must have felt like ‘oru koodai sunlight oru koodai moonlight’ totally!

Posted in Mylapore Musings

மாதங்களில் அவள் மார்கழி

சின்ன வயசுல ஞாபகம். நாலு மணிக்கே எழுந்து சுட சுட பாட்டி போட்ட பில்டர் காபியும் கையுமா மாடிலேந்து மளமளனு படியிறங்கி குதிச்சு ஓடுவேன் மார்கழி மாசத்துல. கீழ என் தோழி எனக்கும் முன்னமே கூட எழுந்து காத்துண்டு இருப்பா. ரெண்டு பெருமா சேர்ந்து தான் படி படியா அளந்து கோல மாவு வாங்குவோம். மப்ளர் கட்டிண்டு போ. பனி ஆகாதுன்னு பாட்டிகள் ரெண்டு பேரும் தொண்டை கிழிய கத்தினாலும் காதுல வாங்கமாட்டோம். அப்படி ஒரு வெறித்தனமான கோலஆர்வம். அந்த வயசுக்கும் காலத்துக்குமே உரியது. நான் வாசல் பெருக்கி தெருவை கூட்டினா அவ தண்ணி தெளிப்பா. மாறி மாறி செஞ்சுப்போம். அறுபத்தெட்டில் ஒரே மாஸம் ஒரே நாள் பொறந்தவங்களாச்சே. எங்க பக்கத்து வீட்டு அக்காக்கள் அவள் ஒரு தொடர்கதை நாயகி போல. ஆனா அந்த சோகத்திலும் ஒரு அக்கா அப்படி ஒரு கோலம் போடுவா. மை போல கருப்பு. கரு கரு பின்னி முடித்த மயிர் முழங்காலை தாண்டி. வளைஞ்சு வளைஞ்சு அவ போடும் கோலத்தை பாக்கவே காலைல அஞ்சு மணிக்கு கூட ஒரு மாமிகள் கூட்டம் வட்டமிடும். தெரு பூராவும் கோலம் போடுவோம். நான்கிலேந்து ஆறு வர லேடீஸ் கிளப் ஆகிவிடும் எங்க வாசல். காபி பரிமாற்றத்துலேந்து சமையல் குறிப்பு வர எல்லாம் பேசுவோம் வயது வரம்பு இல்லாம. ஆறு மணிக்கு மேல தலைக்கு மேல வேல இருக்கும் ஆனா மார்கழி மாசத்துல லேடீஸ் அடிக்கும் கொட்டம் இருக்கும் பாருங்க. அப்டியே தெரு முழுசா அதி கால காலாற நடந்து ஒவ்வொரு வீட்டு முன்னாடியும் நின்னு அந்த வீட்டு கோலம் டிஸ்கசன் வேற! என் கல்யாணம் ஆகும் வரை நான் ரசிச்சுஅனுபவிச்ச ரம்யமான பனி காலை பொழுது அது. கோலம் போடும்போதே மயிலாப்பூர் கபாலி கோவில் மணியோசை கேக்கும். சிவன் கோவில் காலைல தொறந்துடுவான். பெருமாள் கோவிலும் தான். மார்கழி ஸ்பெஷல். எங்க வீடு வர கோவில் மணி சப்தம் வரும். அந்த கால அமைதி. உடனே ஒரு குளியல் போட மனசே இல்லாம வீட்டுக்குள்ள நுழைவோம். தற்காலத்துல நெனச்சு பாக்க முடியாத ஒரு சுவாரஸ்யமான வாழ்நாள் அது .. பணம் காசு பத்தி யோசிச்சோமா. இல்ல ஜாதி தான் வந்ததா குறுக்க. எங்க தெருல எல்லாரும் உண்டு: அய்யர், அய்யங்கார், முதலியார், நாடார், செட்டியார். ஒரு குடும்பமா தான் இருந்தோம். எல்லாரும் அக்கா அண்ணா மாமி மாமா பாட்டி தாத்தா தான். சின்ன விஷயங்கள்ல சந்தோசம் கண்டோம். ஒண்ணா படத்துக்கு போவோம். பீச்சுக்கு போவோம். மார்கழி கோலம் போடுவோம். தீபாவளி பண்டிகை கொண்டாடுவோம். நடுத்தற வர்கத்துக்கான பாச பந்தா பிணைப்பு அப்டி. மறக்க முடியாத நாட்கள். இதுக்கு நடுல மார்கழில ஆருத்திரா வைகுண்ட ஏகாதசி வரும். தாயக்கட்டையும் பரமபதமும் மணிக்கணக்கா நடக்கும். வைகுண்ட ஏகாதசிக்கு ராப்பூரா கண்முழிச்சு அதிகாலை கோலம் போட்டு தூங்குவோம். .அந்த ஒரு நாள் மட்டும் விமலா மாமிக்கு கோலம் போட எங்க வாசலை விட்டு கொடுப்போம் அந்த கற்பனை கோலம் படி கோலம் போட. மாமி அய்யங்கார். நாங்க நாலு குடித்தனம் அந்த ஒரு வீட்ல. இன்னிக்கும் தாயா மகளா தான் பழகறோம். ஆருத்திரா சாந்தும் உண்டு கோவில்ல. பெருமாள் பிரசாதம் உண்டு. திருப்பாவை திருவெம்பாவை பாடாத நாளே கிடையாது. எல்லாமே கூட்டமா கும்பலா தான். அப்போவெல்லாம் தெருல பஜனை கோஷ்டி கூட வரும். ஆழாக்கு அரிசி கொண்டு வந்து கொடுத்து ரோட்லயே அவா கால்ல விழுந்து சுத்தி வருவோம். கோவிந்தா கோவிந்தா கூட உண்டு. எண்பதுகள்ல டீனேஜ் காரங்களா இருந்தவர்களுக்கு புரியும். நெனச்சாலே இப்போ ஏக்கமா இருக்கு.

டிசம்பர் பூ இல்லாத மார்கழியா. எல்லா கலர் செடியும் வெச்சிருந்தோமே மொட்டைமாடில: வெள்ளை,ஊதா, மஞ்சள். டிசம்பர் பூ வெக்காம ஸ்கூல் போயிருக்கோமா மார்கழில. மார்கழி மாசத்துல எங்க வீட்டு தேங்காய் எண்ணெய் கூட உறையும் அந்த காலத்தில. செப்பு பாய்லர்ல வெந்நீர் போட்டு குளிக்கும் சுகம் தனி.

கல்யாணமான உடனே எல்லாம் மாறி போச்சு. அப்போ மார்கழின்னா எனக்கு அதிகாலை முதல் டிகாக்ஷன் எடுத்து கிச்சன் மேடை மேல யாரும் எழுந்துக்காத பொழுது ஏறி ஒக்காந்து டேப்ரெகார்டர்ல எம் எஸ் குரல்ல வெங்கடேச சுப்ரபாதம் கேட்டுண்டே முதல் தடவை காச்சின பால்ல காப்பிபோட்டு தனியா அஞ்சு நிமிஷம் மௌனமா ரசிச்சு குடிக்கறது அலாதி சுகம். கூட்டு குடும்பம் சில நாள். பின்னாடியே கைல குழந்தை. அப்புறமா தனி குடித்தனம். சமையல் முடிச்சு, குழந்தையை ரெடி பண்ணி மாமியார் கைல கொடுத்துட்டு,லஞ்ச் பேக் பண்ணி ஆபீஸ்க்கு ஓடணும் பஸ் பிடிச்சு. மார்கழி கோலம் நெனச்சு பாக்க முடியாதது ஆச்சு. அந்த அதிகாலை அஞ்சு நிமிஷம் தான் அப்போ மெஷின் வாழ்க்கைல அமைதின்னு கூட தோணும். அஞ்சு மணிக்கு இந்த சேத்துப்பட்டு ஷெனாய் நகர்ல டிசம்பர் மாசம் கிறிஸ்துமஸ் கரோல் தான் தினசரி காதுல விழும். திருப்பாவை எங்க. அதிகாலைல என் சமையல் ரூம் வெளிச்சத்தை பாத்து ஒரு கிறிஸ்டியன் குரூப் டெய்லி எனக்கு கரோல்ஸ் பாடிட்டு போவாங்கன்னா பாத்துக்கோங்க! அமிஞ்சிக்கரை மசூதிலேந்து அப்டியே விடிகாலைல ஆசான் ஒதரத்துக்கு கூப்பிடறது லௌட்ஸ்பீக்கர் மூலமா எங்க வீடு வர கேக்கும். கடவுளை எந்த ரூபத்துல பாத்தா என்ன. அப்போ நெனைச்சுப்பேன் என்ன ஒரு மாற்றம்னு வாழ்கைலன்னு. மார்கழி அப்டியே தலை கீழா ஆச்சு! நாளடைவில் அதையே ரசிக்க பழகிக்கிட்டேன்.

மார்கழின்னா இன்னொரு விஷயம். கர்நாடக சங்கீதம் . சொல்லவே வேண்டாம். எனக்கு மயிலாப்பூர்ல கோவில்ல கர்நாடக இசை கேட்டு தான் வழக்கம். பல வருஷம் கெழச்சு பாட்டி ஆனதுக்கு அப்புறமா இப்போ அதுக்கு நேரம் வந்திருக்கு. வயசுல கிடைக்காதது அது. ஸ்கூல் போற பையன், மாமியார், சாயங்காலம் ஆறு மணிக்குள்ள வீட்ல அடைய வேண்டிய நிர்பந்தம். இதெல்லாம் சேர்ந்து இசைய கொஞ்சம் தள்ளியே வெச்சது. மார்கழின்னாலே ஆனா மொதல்ல நினைவுக்கு வர்றதே கர்நாடக இசை தானே. புள்ளி வெச்சு போடும் கோலம் போல. ஆனாலும் ஜெயா டிவி ல வரும் கச்சேரியை கேக்க தான் செஞ்சிருக்கேன். இவ்ளோ நேரம் அதுக்கு ஒதுக்கியது இல்லையே தவிர. சின்ன வயசுல கொஞ்சம் பாட்டு வீணை கத்துண்டதால லைட்டா இன்டெர்ரெஸ்ட் அவ்ளோ தான். மயலப்பூ ஆச்சே இருக்காதா பின்ன. வருஷத்துக்கு ஒரு பரதநாட்டியமோ இல்ல கச்சேரியோ எப்பிடியும் கேட்டுடுவேன் பட் வாத்திய இசையா இருக்கும்… வாய்ப்பாட்டு அபூர்வம் போய் கேக்கறது. ஸ்டில் கர்நாடக மேடை கச்சேரி இல்லாத மார்கழி நெனச்சு பாக்கவே முடியாது.

மார்கழில இன்னொரு விஷயம் அய்யப்ப வழிபாடு கார்த்திகை தொடங்கி. உச்சகட்ட நிலைல இருக்கும் ஐயப்ப பூஜை. மார்கழில முக்கிய பண்டிகைன்னு கெடையாது. திருவாதிரைக்கு களி கூட்டு பண்றது தான் பெரிய வேலையே. வைகுண்ட ஏகடாஷிக்கு க்யூவில் நின்னு சாமி பாத்து அகத்திகீரை வாங்கி பசுக்கு குடுப்பது தவறினது இல்ல. அமிஞ்சிக்கரை பெருமாள் கோவில்லயும் செஞ்சிருக்கேன் முடிஞ்ச வரை. மார்கழி முடியறதும் திருவையாறு கச்சேரியும் மகர விளக்கும் கிட்டத்தட்ட ஒண்ணா இருக்கும்.

போகி பண்டிகைய ரசிச்சதே இல்ல ஏன்னா, என்னோட விருப்பமான மார்கழி முடிவுக்கு வர்றதே எனக்கு உடன்பாடு இல்ல எப்பவுமே! ஏசியை சுவிட்ச் ஆப் பண்ணற ஒரே மாசம் கூட இந்த மார்கழி மாசம் தான். வருஷத்துல ஒரு மாசமாவது இயற்கை காத சுவாசிப்போம். சுக்கு காபியும் இஞ்சி டீயும் வேரா எப்ப குடிக்க முடியும் சொல்லுங்க! குளிர் காலமே இல்லாம இருக்க நம்மூருக்கு கொஞ்சம் வசந்தமா வர்றது மார்கழி தானே. போகி போட்டு எதுக்கு அதா தொரத்தறது. மார்கழி மாசம் செடியை பாத்திருக்கீங்களா. பூல்லாம் எவ்ளோ பிரெஷ். இலைல எல்லாம் பனித்துளி. நான் ஸ்வெட்டெர்றே போட்டதில்ல நம்மூர்ல மார்கழில. மார்கழி பனியை விட அதிகமான குளிர வெளியில உணர ஆரம்பிச்சேன். இப்பவும் எனக்கு மார்கழி தான் புடிச்ச மாசம். அடுத்தது ஆடி மாசம் – அம்பாளுக்காக. இந்த மார்கழி நாள் தான் எவ்ளோ சுகமானது. இப்போ கோலம் போடல. தனிமைல காபி உறிஞ்சு உறிஞ்சு சுலோகம் கேட்டுண்டே குடிக்கல. ஆனாலும் மார்கழி மார்கழி தான். இன்னும் சொல்ல போனா இப்பெல்லாம் இயர் எண்டு சேல் கூட மார்கழில தானாக்கும்! புது வருஷ பொறப்பும் மார்கழில தான். என்ன தான் தமிழ் வருஷ பொறப்பு கொண்டாடினாலும் நம்மளால ஜனவரி ஒன்னு ஆட்டம் பாட்டத்த நிறுத்த முடியுமா. இல்ல கோவிலுக்கு தான் போகாம இருக்க முடியுமா. வருஷாந்தர டூர் போக கூட ஒத்த நேரம் டிசம்பர் கடைசி.

வருஷா வருஷம் நான் காத்துண்டு இருக்கறதே இந்த டிசம்பர் மாசத்துக்காக தான். மார்கழி போல ஒரு மாசம் உண்டா. அரபு நாட்ல அப்டி இருக்கும் இந்த காலம். கோவிட்டாலே எல்லாம் மாறி போச்சு. இல்லைன்னா எல்லாம் ஒரே பிகினிக் தான் பார்க் பர்கா. பேக் வாட்டர்ல போட்டிங் தான். அந்த பனியை அணுபக்கவே ஒரு கூட்டம். ஸுக் பக்கம் போனா அவன் அவன் ஹூகாஹ் பிடிச்சுண்டே சாயங்காலம் தொட்டு ஒக்காந்து இருப்பான். டைனிங் எல்லாம் அவுட்டோர்ல தான். அமெரிக்காவிலும் டிசம்பர் மாசம் முதல் தடவை போனமோது இருந்தேன். பிளோரிடாவிலும் அரிஸோனாவிலும் எங்க தோஹா மாதிரி பனி உறையாத மிதமான குளிர். மலேசியாவிலும் கூட நம்ம தமிழ் நாட்டு மார்கழி குளிர் தான். ரசிக்க முடியற குளிர். அனுபவிக்க தூண்டற குளிர். நம்மள வீட்டுக்குள்ள அடைக்கற ஐஸ் கட்டி குளிர் இல்ல. இப்போவெல்லாம் ஒரு ஸ்வெட்டரோ ஷால்வோ போட்டுண்டு தோஹால வாக்கிங் போறேன். கோவிட்டாலே கச்சேரி கூட ஆன்லைன் தான். இவ்வளவு வருஷம் இந்த பாக்கியம் அமைஞ்சதே இல்லன்னு சொன்னா என்ன கைல கெடச்சது வெச்சுண்டு அடிக்க வர்றாதீங்க! முதல் முறையா ப்ரொவ்சிங் பண்ணி கோலம் போட்டு பேஸ்புக்ல ஷேர் பண்றேன். கோவிலுக்கு போகாமையே கடவுளை வீட்டுக்குள்ள தேட இங்க தான் கத்துக்கிட்டேன். காலத்துக்கு ஏத்த மாதிரி மாறி தானே ஆகணும். ஏன் நம்ம மயிலாப்பூர் மாறிடலையா. நான் வளர்ந்த ஊரே அது இல்ல. காலமும் வேற. அந்த குடும்பம் எல்லாம் இப்போ எங்கயோ எப்டியோ பிரிஞ்சு சிதறி போச்சு. இப்போ அங்க கூட யார் ஒருத்தருக்கொருத்தர் முகம் கொடுத்து பேசறது. ஓட்டு வீடு எல்லாம் போச்சு எங்க தெருல. இது இல்ல எங்க வீடு. அந்த இனிய இளமை காலத்துக்கும் இப்பத்துக்கும் பாலமா இருக்கறது இந்த மார்கழி நினைவுகளே.

எத்தனை சினிமா பாட்டு மார்கழியை வெச்சு. மார்கழி பூவே மார்கழி போவேன்னு ஒன்னு. மார்கழி திங்கள் அல்லாவான்னு ஒன்னு. ஆனா எனக்கு பிடிச்சது எப்பவுமே மாதங்களில் அவள் மார்கழி தான்!

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


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.



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


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.

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!