Old memories surface, more during our old age
I was born in the ‘Edam’ ( house ) of Atchan, Palakkad Raja, who used to address my thatha, ‘ChuppE’ (for Subramania Iyer) . My mother used to address a childhood friend from the ‘Edam’ as ‘AppaE!’ . The Atchan probably allowed my maternal grandfather, considering his services for the Shivan Kovil , to stay in a portion of his house where I was born Not from the Rāja vamsam, I was born in a king’s palace. Not a small credit!
When I was a few months old, my mother took me to Perinkulam.
When I was a kid of 4/5, my grandfather shifted his residence to a house near the Perumal kovil in Pazhaya Kalpathi, where my mother’s grandmother,PAppammai , an old woman with long and skinny hands died. I remember her long hands because , my mother and her three siblings, were fed and raised by those hands. My mother’s mother passed away, at 30 or so, leaving four small kids to the care of her mother in law, my Paappaamai.
Apart from the two women who gave birth to me and my children, my paternal grand mother who brought back my mother from the gate of death and my mother’s 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 remember walking ahead in the funeral procession of my Pappammai, holding a hand torch, a stick with cotton cloth wrapped at the other end and lighted after soaking the cloth bundle. . 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 Pappammai.
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 doing 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 other way. Did I own my birth? Stupid question again, silly fellow! I didn’t even own my birth!
So, I own neither my birth nor my death. Then, what do I own? My own life . Once it was handed over to me it is my duty to take care of it till death takes it away.
Some thing is wrong again here. Is my life completely under my control to take care of it? Many things have happened in my life without my desire, without my knowledge How could I take care of it?
Forget about life and death issues . Let us come back to my Kalpathy days. 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 pride on thatha’s face! ‘I’m the charioteer to the great Charioteer of The Universe.! . 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’ were born here.