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Childhood fears and fantasies – Just five marks

“Ellam Avan thalaile podu’ was an oft- repeated catch phrase of Kunju athai, who was neither ‘kunju’ petit nor my ‘athai’, aunty. . It was  her colloquial way of expressing ‘leave everything to God’ or “unload all your burden on him” though the literal meaning is ‘throw everything on His head’. Here “HE” for her, was Ganesha, the God with the elephant’s head, the remover of obstacles and the presiding deity of  her village.

Due to heavy rains and consequent thin attendance for a function in her house, large amount of food was left over and the cooks, sought Athai’s suggestion for its  disposal. Without realizing for a moment what she was uttering, she, made her parrot-like pronouncement, “Ellam avan thalile podu”! .The cooks had enough common sense not to take the old woman’s words literally but believe me, within ten minutes, there was an avalanche of beggars who, within no time, emptied all vessels and made every one, including Athai and the God, happy. After depositing, as usual, a small coin in the ‘hundi’, a small mud pot, provided with a narrow opening on the top, to thank the God for sending spontaneously food-seekers, Athai went around the village to proclaim about the miracle.

“Podi, paithiyame, you foolish woman!”  professor Iyer, chided  his wife  for her claim, before moving  towards the neighboring  house for playing cards. He  told his friends there that the huts below the bridge nearby got inundated due to floods and the hapless people came running for food, when they noticed that there was a celebration in his house.

“Neither my wife nor the God has any roll in it” He declared.

“That is why every one calls him  “kundamandi krishna iyer'” Athai told her friends when her husband’s clarification was brought to her notice by someone.

The Lord’s head is big and strong enough, no doubt, to carry the load she throws incessantly  but there is a limit for everything. When any one seeks the divine intervention too frequently and on too insignificant issues, even the gods would get irritated and that is exactly what happened in my case.

When she knew that I was preparing to face the devil known as ‘mathematics test’, Athai hurriedly collected a picture of  Ganesh from the calendar hanging on the wall and pasted it on a file pad.

“Before leaving the house, at the entry point of the examination hall and every time you start answering a question, do like this” Athai instructed giving a visual demonstration of what I should do. “Touch the feet of the God with your right hand and take it to your head so that at least a corner of the big vacuum in your head is  filled by the divine intelligence”

None had taught me such an easy way  and I obeyed her order strictly , by doing the ‘kara-sira asan-hand to head exercise several time. Despite the divine dispersement, I could  attend only a few questions, while the class teacher was observing me keenly and wondering what trick I had adopted this time other than the usual copying.

After a week, my teacher  came home with a poverty-stricken single paper sheet and showed my father and explained how I was performing some  aerobatics in the examination hall.

“Not a single answer is correct” father exclaimed looking at the smiling face of the teacher, “how did you give him five marks, Chuppea?”

‘That is for his bakthi, devotion to Ganesa, Anna ” He replied pushing a pinch of snuff into his nostril .”You know that I too am a Ganesha devotee.”

After the teacher had left praising the delicious food provided to him by my mother, father told her sarcastically, ‘Uppu chitho ppodu on puthra sikhamanikku’- this was a practice to remove the ill effects of evil eyes cast by the jealous people around, when some one achieves a feat . A hand full of salt is rotated around the achiever’s head or whole body and thrown into water, signifying that ill effects would meet the same fate as the dissolving salt.  Athai however denied that privilege to a proud mother, by collecting a handful of dry chillies and throwing them into the fire oven, after rotating the red stuff around my head and also that of my mother.

The ‘put,put’ sound from the kitchen confirmed that the  ill effects had been burnt and dispersed  successfully.

“But why for her?” my father enquired athai pointing his finger towards my mother, “does she also has a share in the five marks?’

For giving birth to a brilliant son” Athai replied innocently  “how many would have cast their evil eyes on her!”.

‘Then Kunju, you too deserve one or two rotations”  My father  chided her again. “After all it was your master plan that fetched my son five marks”

Athai became smaller in size due to shyness and humility.

Though of insignificant nature, these childhood  incidents surface on my mind not infrequently.

Like Kunja athai,  many women, during my childhood , with unstained heart  and  unalloyed  devotion used to rush for divine  intervention and firmly believed that their prayers would be answered. Faith is faith and no questions asked. But questions have been asked right from the beginning man appeared in this planet and will continued to be asked. Otherwise we will not be flying to moon and mars but still  jumping from branches to branches.

Even before a child comes out of the womb of his mother, it starts asking questions by kicking, from within. I am not joking .You already  know this if you are a mother and if you are a father, hmm, you have missed like me, the thrill of  those kicks.  But you will still enjoy a part of that joy if you have a two or three years old child at home . I have that  privilege now and  you should  therefore read this  story further,   if you haven’t gone into sleep already.

Raaghav is a petit, shy kid, hardly four, who firmly believes that he can lift a mountain and fly through the sky as his roll model  Hanuman did once or twice, without efforts. Tyeing his father’s leather belt at his back, to cover the deficiency of a natural growth there, he climbs over the dining table and asks me,. ‘Why don’t you also jump thatha?”

“I am old, my dear, and I can’t jump like you.” It is a fact and all children accept facts. But he shoots the next question.

“‘Why did you become old, Appooth?”

“To be frank, Raaghav,” I disclose another fact,  “I didn’t want to, but I became.”

He was not there to listen. I could hear his compassionate murmuring from the library.” Thathakkemayindi? why he is not jumping? what happened to his tail etc, etc.

“You continue to ask such questions, my child” I tell myself. ‘You will one day recover something new about genes”

Divaya is hardly one year younger to him and she is like a fresh flower glistening under the morning son. She follows me to the toilet. I ask her to move out but she doesn’t listen

“Is it a good choice Divya to be in the rest room when someone is there?’ I ask and plead again to quit. She neither obeys nor disobeys but tells me  that she wants to use the rest room.

“Go ahead, and tell me when you are done so that I can clean your butt” I wait there . She twists her tongue to perfect the pronunciation in American style and chimes:

“Is it a good choice Appooth, to be in the rest room, when someone is there?”  The words are broken but the message is clear.

‘One day, you will become a lawyer, Divya” I tell myself, “and then fight on principles , for week and oppressed”

Ananya,- a power pack with the speed of wind and enough energy to illuminate half the Baltimore city, will be three shortly. She wants me to tell her the ‘crow story’ but the moment I utter the word ‘crow’ she shoots questions, one after the other :

“Kakkai enna karuppa irukku-why the crow is black?, athodu mooku enna ippidi irukku- why is its nose in  this shape ,  why your nose is not like that of the crow, why the crow flies away and doesn’t live in our house etc etc.

When her questions, with the speed of arrows, attack me incessantly, I think about my forebears, who, looking at the glowing sun, thundering sky and flowing rivers went on asking questions and acquired admirable knowledge in various subjects, ranging from grammar, philosophy,astronomy,psychology, etymology and so on . They gave so much importance for questioning that an Upanishad is named, ‘Kena-by whom?’ though all the Upanishads are in essence, treasure houses of intelligent questions asked and transparent answers provided by the enlightened Rishies, who have gone deeper and deeper into the secrets of micro human minds and macro Universe.

Wearing a thread across your shoulder or applying mud or ash in two parallel lines or three horizontal lines on your forehead serves no purpose if you do not probe into the secrets of the Universe, for which an alert mind and strong body are required. Our ancient Masters had both.

If you  are not  prepared  for the above adventurous journey and simply stand on the bank of  the Kalpthy river, wearing three or even thirty threads across the shoulder, your houses  might be washed  off  by the gushing waters of Time”Kalapravaham’ and you may have to hunt for the left over food or be satisfied with with five marks, just five marks, in your test paper.

Remember, Kunja athai is not there now to provide you food or rotate a handful of dry chillies around your head to ward off the ill effects of evil eyes.


July 4, 2008

3 thoughts on “Childhood fears and fantasies – Just five marks

  1. Dear Sir,
    I am really touched by your narration. Really Appachee is a great soul and deserves our reverence.Your narration is really great.
    Thanks for sharing a good story.
    Yours sincerely,

  2. Dear Siva,
    An extremely heart-touching portrayal of a woman who rendered selfless service.Very difficult to meet such rare humans in one’s life

  3. Hi
    A very touching episode. Must send it to a Tamil Film producer.

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