Kombai

The home town


Maargali

karpanai endraalum karsilai endraalum kanthane unnai maraven...

TMS's voice softly flowing through the cold breeze oozes in to my house through the open in the middle of the house. I look up and see the sky. It is dark with twinkling stars. Cold. Dark.  I pour another bonk of cold water on my head. Got to be quick, as it is chilling cold and the water being cold doesn't help. I shiver and make it quick. I cannot dry my hair as the sun is not out yet. It won't  be out until I come back home. I would have finished my rounds before the sunrise. I try my best to dry the hair with my towel. I quickly change into clean clothes and say bye before running off. "Don't run, it is dark, you might fall off tripping on stones or anything on the road you can't see". Father's voice fades away in the background as I shoot off to the temple. I don't want to be late.
I wait in the queue. I like the warmth the lights produce, although they are not meant to be a source of heating. I do not have one myself. I just watch others'. I hear someone calling me from the lines of lights. The lights are glaring that I couldn't see who it is. I move towards the direction where the call came from. Ahh, it is Kutti. I go and sit with her. She starts reading something and playing along the poojai. like others do. I do too. The lights are all dancing and playing. I love watching them. In rows. Kuthuvilakku decorated with flowers, kumkum and sandal. the smell of sandal, kumkum and oil mixed in the air mixes with the fragrance from the flowers from the girls' hairs. Adding to that is the smell of the brisk fresh morning cold air, which brushes off my face sharp and fresh and smooth. I smell pongal too. Someone is bringing the hot pongal for prasadam. I can't wait to collect my share.


.

We have run out of oil. I tell Kutti that I can go and get some. I go near the main area where there is usually someone supplying oil to everyone, in case it runs out, like for us. I go and ask for some oil. I have taken Kutti's thookuchatti with me to get more oil. The man by the oil andaa pours some oil into my thooku. I go back and fill our kuthuvilakku with more oil and the lights get their soul back. They are back strong and dancing now. The poojai feels long and dragging. I wait for it all to be over. I go and stand in the que to collect some pongal. Kutti packs the poojai stuff and keeps them with the kuthuvilakku. We got some pongal for the vilakkuththattu on the plate. Still, I would like to collect my share and so I am standing in the que. I also collect another share for Kutti.

We walk back together. It is nearly dawn. We see the cows going to the dairy farm and the bulls and the bullock carts going to the fields. People cleaning their vasals and some spraying water too. We chat about the poojai today and walk back together. We start eating the pongal too. Divine. Not just the pongal. 

The Birthday Brush - by Michelle

So... today is my 50th birthday and Prema reminds me of this blog on our childhoods... how can I not write something on such an important day?

But this childhood memory is of a different birthday... you'll see. ;)

I am four or five, I can't remember now. I am small and tomorrow is my mother's birthday and I want to give her a gift, but... I am small. I have no money. I sit in my bedroom and I think. There has to be something I can do, something I can give her.

Then I remember the hair brush. It was a gift from a school friend. It is a hair brush shaped like a cat. It stands upright, the cat's body is the brush and the elegant long neck and head are the handle. It is white plastic, very shiny. I think it is the most beautiful hair brush ever. I go and find some old wrapping paper and I cover it up as best I can manage. It's a bit wrinkly, but it will do.

I give it to my mother the next day. She hugs me and thanks me before she puts the brush away in her dressing table.

How I miss my brush! It was such a beautiful brush. Sometimes I sneak into my mother's bedroom and I open the little door in her dressing table and I sit on the floor and stare at the smooth white cat staring back at me. My lovely brush. I miss you, but you were the best thing I had to give. We stare at each other in such sadness. I close the door...




Osi mai kadai – the shop where I got free ink for my pen


He doesn’t talk. He looks tall and healthy. Dark. Never smiled at me. We don’t talk. People in my street would talk. They would at least say hello. They all know me and my family is a different matter. They say hello to everyone. They are interested in knowing about everyone and everything. If you are a stranger or new to the area, you better have answer and time to all their questions. It is a bit strange for me to go to my regular shop,  but still do not have ever spoken to the shop owner. I do not know him. I do not know whether he never spoke to anyone or just to those kids who come to his shop to fill their ink pen. There is that ink bottle just outside the tight row of big mittai bottles. Very conveniently kept.  An ink filler by the side too. I go there and look up. He turns inside and starts to look at his books or something. I take my pen out, open it, and fill it with the blue ink from the bottle. There it is, a little cloth thoughtfully kept by the side of the bottle. I use the cloth to wipe the pen and my hands. I look up again. He is still examining something inside his shop. I have to go. I start walking. My head turned to look back. I saw his head looking out of his shop looking at me walking. I smile. He pulled his head in. I smile again and walk fast. I am late for the school prayer.  

I shall Try


I try. I try very hard. I am not a runner. I try hard. “Get set go”…. And the whistle… I do not whizz off. I do run, but far behind all the other contestants. I can see Radhika running in the front. Failure to run does not make me sad. I was quiet. I stood on the sides for other rounds and other sports. I watched them whizz past me. I asked the teacher if she wanted any help in conducting the events. May be I can mark a tick against the name of the contestant who has turned up. May be I can add the winning scores and give the totals to the other teacher who is summing up the results. May be I can arrange the lines and marks on the ground for the next sport. I was wondering. I was a little sad when I didn’t win in the singing competition. I do believe I sing well. May be that is my interest. May be I should properly learn to sing and become a singer. I was wondering. There was this thing glaringly obvious that I get good marks in all the exam papers. But how can you make it specific? Is it geography, is it science, or is it …oh yes, I like maths and I do well too. But, what about it? I do not know what can you be if you like maths or if you do well in maths. May be I can become a maths teacher one day. I am not sure I want to teach children. They misbehave a lot. I do too. I do not like to become a teacher. Becoming a teacher is nothing about having liking for maths. That is why I do not think scoring good marks in exams can make me anything. Singing can make me a singer. But I cannot learn singing. My folks won’t let me learn singing. And there is no one to teach me singing. Let us say I learn singing and I sing a few songs. What then? Mmmm, good that I thought about it before wasting my time on learning to sing!
I don’t know what would interest me. May be I can become an engineer and build bridges. I will build the best and the famous bridge in the world. I will have beautiful roses on the sidewalk. Yes, it is a good idea to have a sidewalk where people can walk while the buses go in the middle of the road. I will have beautiful roses in pots arranged in a row on the side walk. There should be a tap for people to drink water when they go thirsty. And there should be benches if anyone wants to have a sit down for a while.   The dream opens up. It brings the bridge closer and bigger. There are people on the sidewalk. Colourful roses in pots too. The tap in the middle of the walk looks wet. Some elderly men like thatha are having a sit down on the benches. It will be a wide bridge then. Then the weight bearing should be strong then? That will be my challenge. I will be the engineer behind a famous bridge which was built with strong weight bearing and colourful roses in pots. That will be my goal. I shall try. I like that. I shall try.
My walk back home had a spring in my step. Humming three full songs took me home. “Aachi, have you got some rice for me”? 

Death of a friend

Someone told me that Venkateshwari had passed away sometime back. I didn't know how to feel. I was not shocked with sadness, but yes, the news was a shock and I was sad. We were good friends. I wouldn't say we were the best friends, as, doesn't that term allow only two people in and expect them to be very loyal to each other in that relationship? We weren't like that. We were loyal to each other alright, but we were friends with others too. We were a group of girls who were good friends. one of them died and I didn't even know. I guess these things will start to happen as the life goes on. I reason with myself. I haven't seen her since the last day in school. I can't remember what we did in our last day. It was good that we did that photo shoot, as I remember that day very well. Mala couldn't come as their family didn't let her. I normally don't tell my family such things. Nagarthinam's family was fine with our photo shoot. We all gathered at her place and went for the photo shoot. I remember very well. Probably that was the last day I remember being with Venkateswari very well. She wore my thavani for the photo shoot as she didn't have a good one for the occasion.


10thphoto_full

I don't feel any sudden loss just because the news is death. I have lost her since I last seen her, or I suppose, I last remember being with her. It was a slow departure and was a very natural one for me. The news on the other hand was about unnatural and sudden departure. Physical death only brings a closure to the already lost one. In Lakshmi's case she is still around, but the loss has happened. It is not the life's natural course that has brought the loss, but the loss has happened. I was not shocked but was sad. I knew it was inevitable and would happen eventually. I knew. I was relieved that it brought my agony to an end. It brought me sadness too. I don't know what made me lose her slowly, but the departure was not sudden although it seemed sudden. It was good and bad. Good that the agony ended and bad that the pleasures ended too.

I am still grieving. Sometimes angry, sometimes relieved and sometimes sad as well. I am still grieving.

Cool Shadows - by Michelle

...
In between the two main sets of buildings that make up our school is the main staircase and the toilets. In a winding set of buildings full of loud girls and sunlight this is the only quiet shaded place - this windowless section where high school and junior connect.

The main staircase, the "Golden staircase" as it's called because of the pale golden tiles the nuns polish regularly, is out of bounds to small feet. It's for visitors only. No-one walks on the Golden staircase... or at least that's what the nuns think. Sometimes we sneak there in the early morning and slide down it when no-one can see us. Girls stifling giggles as they zoom down steps that gleam pale gold in the dawn sunlight. I'm sure the nuns would find it apt that we always used the staircase to descend.

In winter, when the staircase is all in shadows. We'll sit in a huddle in the dark near the doorway to the stairs and tell ghost stories of the half nun who is said to float through that section. Only half of her, from the waist up... Very strange, but we never bother to wonder why. Who cares! A ghost story is not meant to make sense. It's meant to be creepy and half a nun is definitely very creepy!

Problem is when you need to go to the toilet... alone. Then half nuns floating in the shadows doesn't seem so much fun. But I'm never afraid, I know I'm watched by other eyes. In the cool shadows beside the stairs there's a picture in a frame. I remember the first day of school, being rushed past it and wondering what the words were. It's a big picture, big as a movie poster. It's an angel painted in soft golds.

The words are a prayer I didn't know before I joined this different world of nuns and girls. This world of women can be overwhelming, noisy, emotionally charged. Girls becoming women are their own poltergeists. Girls becoming women taught by women who have given up being women... it's a strange place. A half world of fragments of being. No-one is whole. No wonder even the ghosts are in portions!

But the angel is whole. The angel in the cool shadows is complete and in time I will get to read all the words and remember them when I need to pass through the stairway in the dark on winter mornings. Over the years I've spoken them in my head on many a dark journey. Warm golden promises for those who walk in the cool shadows.

Today I stumbled upon the prayer on a website... an accident? I'm not so sure. One of the girls who used to fly down those stairs died last week of cancer. She was buried yesterday.

So one of us finally got to fly up the Golden Staircase...

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
to whom God's love commits me here,
ever this day,
be at my side
to light and guard,
to rule and guide.

Amen

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Dancing

I am all nervous. First time on stage. I love dancing. I love singing too. Mother says I sing like a fox howling. I love singing. I know many songs by heart. I sing when I walk from home to school and back from school to home. I love dancing. I close all the doors and windows and dance for the songs I love. I wish I can properly learn to sing and dance like in movies. I love dancing and singing. There are no such learning places in Kombai. I am going to dance on stage today. I am very nervous.

It is annual festival in school. Sports events are all finished. This time of the year is a real festival time in school. Radhika won several prizes in sports. She runs very fast. There were other competitions too. They were all finished well before the actual celebration days. Anandhi won first prize in singing. I sang a good song too. I guess one has to sing a popular song to win the competition. I won a prize too. I came first in the essay competition. I was surprised myself. It was sports day yesterday. I didn't run. I don't run. I don't do well in sports. Not my thingy. But I like the festive mood the sports day creates. I like to assist teachers in conducting competitions. It gets me involved in the fun. It is so exciting. I love sports day. I just cannot participate though. I love watching the excitement. It is so exciting.

I am dancing this year. Solo dance. Teacher borrowed clothes from some boys. Identities are kept secret so that they don't bully me later. I am gonna wear a hat too. To hide my long hair. It is not that I am playing a boy in the dance. It is just dancing in boy's clothes hides all aspects of a girl, my teacher told. It can disguise who I am too. It will be good. no one would know that it was me who danced. Hope it saves me from my family. They don't like me singing at home. Dance? They will kill me if they come to know.

Our ground is really big. Middle school joins us for the celebrations, although I don't know in which event they join us. The stage is set up in middle school area. There is no hard separating line between the middle school and the high school. Still we high school people don't go to the middle school grounds. We have got proper grounds for proper games. It is all trees in the middle school area. Tamarind trees. But it is good for the viewers to sit on as the ground under the trees is much cooler.

We are all set and ready to perform. We are all waiting back stage. I can see the crowd from behind the stage. Some villagers come to watch the show too. Some parents come to see their children getting prizes. Thankfully mine haven't come. It is all hazy for me. I cannot see any familiar face in the crowd.

I am going next. It is the famous duo dancing now. Disadvantage of being involved is that you cannot see the show from the front. I have seen all the dances, all steps. I have also seen all the performers in their full make up. but it would be nice to watch the final version in full make up from the front. I can see it from the side here. Looks like the dance is a hit. I am next. I am next. I rehearse some of the steps and their sequences in my head closing my eyes.

"ha ha ha.... en ennam inippatheno (why my thinkings are so sweet?) ha ha ha..."

The announcement says my name. I go next. It is all hazy. The song starts. "ha ha ha"... I start the first step.. the music follows. I change the step. "en ennam inippatheno" ..The song continues. I concentrate on the next step and the next change. I remember that I have to move around on the entire stage as it is a solo dance. I move around and change steps to suit the music and the words. Before I knew, the song has finished. I bow and thank the crowd. I hear cheering.

All done. It was like automated. I don't remember anything. I didn't see anything. It is all done now. Teacher appreciated. I heard claps. Back to the changing room. I changed quickly . Ready to go home. Bye teacher.

You looked like Shivaji Ganesan! Some voice behind me commented while walking back home. Gosh. So they recognised! My head looked down and legs started walking fast. I must get home before anyone notices me.

I see mother and Nahamani akka standing on the steps at the front of our house. They look a bit not so happy. Hope it is all my imagination.

"So, I heard that you danced today. What have you done? What have you done? Is this why I raised you all these years........."

Mother greeted me.



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