Old memories surface.
I was born in the ‘Edam’ ( house ) of Atchan, Palakkad Raja, behind this gramam, at the opposite end to the temple. That was what my parents told me proudly. I don’t, however, remember!
But I do remember, the location of the house near the temple, where my Papamai, the old woman with long and skinny hands died. I remember her long hands because , my mother and her three siblings, werimagee fed and raised by those hands, lovely for me, my mother and her siblings, though were in fact, dark and skinny. My mother’s mother passed away, at 30 or so, leaving four small kids to the care of her mother in law, my Paappaamai, grand father’s mother. Apart from the two women who gave birth to me and my children, my grand mother who brought back my mother from the gate of death and my mothers’ grand mother who raised her and her siblings are among the Moorthis in my idol-less temple..
I remember her long hands for another reason. She hid once, a nenthrampazam, long plantain under her pillar, away from my greedy eyes, to be given to my younger brother, who was allergic to rice then. Wheat, oatmeal or such food alternatives were unknown then, especially for a 90 year old woman. As my brother was not taking rice food, her sympathy with him and not with me, who gulped any food offered. Water always flows to a lower level; so is the affection of parents with their weak and under privileged children. They are the only ones who likes the under-scorers.
I was 4/5/6 when pappamai passed away. I remember holding a hand torch, a stick with cotton cloth wrapped at the other end and lighted after soaking the cloth bundle in ghee, while the dead body was removed from the thinnai of the house. I wept, as I knew that she wouldn’t return. Despite her partiality towards my younger brother, I wanted her to stay, though I was not then aware of the sacrifices she made . Later, during school days , I used to join the congress processions, holding a banner or a flag yelling, ‘ Mahatma Gandhi zindabad’ or some such slogans. That was enjoyable, but not the funeral procession of my Pappamai.
Pattali VadhyAr was the temple purohit then. His wife DharmAmbal mami died on her way back from Kasi, or in Kasi itself, don’t remember. A highly respected couple. Their son Keshavan was my classmate in the high school. He was the only boy with kudumai, tuft in our class.
He used to crack jokes and we laughed a lot together.
‘Half the class should laugh for your kudumai, but you are laughing at their expense,’ commented, Panchapakesan Iyer master, a strict teacher who quoted the name of Napolean Bonaparte, ten times a day.
‘Sir! if you sport a kudumai, the whole class will laugh,” replied Keshavan.
The teacher didn’t ask my friend to shut up. He too laughed, instead.
Some teachers like some parents enjoy jokes of the children.
I lost contacts with Keshavan, after leaving the school. Several years later, met his son in Chennai and was sad to learn that my classmate with kudumai had passed away. Didn’t ask the junior whether my jovial classmate died laughing, though he was not incapable of it. Nobody dies laughing. I have enough wisdom to know that.
‘Hope Appa had a comfortable journey?’
‘Journey?,’ he laughed. The same lovely, rhythmic laugh of his father and continued,
‘could death be comfortable to anyone?’
A stupid question, it was, mine. How could death be comfortable? I could have asked him, ‘hope he didn’t suffer much?’ . That would have been apt. But, many time we miss asking correct questions and repent later.
But, can’t death be comfortable ? My question was not totally absurd, when I recollect death of some friends and relatives. Some deaths gave comforts to the owners of death and others to their relatives.
Owners of death? Am I making another stupid statement ? How can I own my death? Death owns me not the the other way. Did I own my birth? Stupid question again, silly fellow. You didn’t own your birth. So, I own neither my birth nor my death. Thjen, what do I own? You own your life . Once it is handed over to you, it is your duty to take care of it till death takes it away. Funny !
Another scene comes before my mind, seeing this picture. Thatha, Subramania VAdyar, Chuppai for friends and the Raja of Palakkad, is sitting prominently on the front seat of Pallakku, mini chariot of the Shivaswamy, his ebony- black chest and limbs smeared with white vibhoothy lines. His kadukkans, ear ornaments with white pearls, shine in the black background of his ears. A big Rudraksham, bordered with gold linings hangs from a gold chain from his neck, pushing aside a humble tulsi Mala on his broad chest. He cracks the whip in his right hand while producing ‘ha, ha sound’, encouraging the animal pulling the Pallakku while, the Nadaswaram and Thavil sounds reach the silent sky. What a proide on thatha’s face! ‘I’m the charioteer to the great Charioteer of Arjuna!’. Had he been on the ground, I would have heard his metallic voice breaking into a sloka, ‘Kalaabhyyam choodalamkritha sasi Kalaabhyyam nija thapah: bhalAbhAm baktheshu prakaditha bhalAbhyam bhavathumae:’ . He would also be explaining with facial expression and hand movements the majestic appearance of Lord Shiva wearing the crescent moon on his head while the holy river Ganges flows down from the thick locks and other hundred details about the Lord on the Himalaya mountains. He enjoyed the presence of God as he enjoyed his river bath and Sooryanamskaram. For people like him, life was never a burden, despite all the weight thrust on their shoulders.
Though not grown here, I have many memories on Kalpathy villages and the temples around as well as the river which we used to cross everyday to reach our school and college. Some of my best stories like, ‘Kamu, my childhood friend’ and ‘Mayilkkan veshtikal’ are born here.
Some of my best friends lived here .
Many of them have died and I received the sad news after several years. All those were my classmates, whom I thought were inseparable, while studying.
Kalpathy River, despite our attempts to destroy, continues to flow. So far, so good.
And on the other bank, is the land where I lived as a child, as a teenager.