Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dog of the Wind


Since Prema asked me to join here and write I thought maybe my first piece should be an introduction to who I am. The simplest would be to say "I am a mongrel". For a long time that worried me, but in recent years I've realised there's a lot of joy in being a mongrel.

I was born in Africa in a British colony. At first I thought I was British. Well... for three years I WAS British, but then Southern Rhodesia declared it's own independence and I became a member of a rebellious non-acceptable country instead. Then Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and they took away my nationality. Now I belong nowhere. I thought I was British, but then I did my family tree and found that I had as many ancestors walking Europe and the Middle East as I had in the British Isles. I thought I was Christian, but when I went to school my religious teacher told me my beliefs weren't "right" and researching our family tree led me to distant Muslim cousins in Turkey, one Buddhist, some Jewish family in America and way too many Christian variations to list.

So I have thought a lot of things only to find out they were illusions. The truth is I am a mongrel. I have no country I can hold as my ancestral home, not even a single continent I can claim as "mine". I have no single religion that runs through my family history alone. When I look in the mirror I see my grandmother's Irish face, my grandfather's Scottish nose, my father's English hair.. and in all this European-ness I have Persian eyes from some long lost ancestor.

There's a saying in Southern Africa - to be a "dog of the wind". Something homeless and restless, a person who has no roots. I am a dog of the wind and it can feel lonely. For a while it made me feel rather lost, but then I remember the blessings it brings me. If I belong to nothing I can also belong to everything. If I stand with my ancestry on different continents I can be a bridge between different cultures. I can enter many places of religion and find God... at times like that it feels good to be a mongrel. :-)

So I'm going to write from my own mongrel viewpoint. My British-Colonial mixed-up cultural muddled-religious self. I hope it will entertain more than it offends, but mostly I hope it helps to add another layer to prema's wonderful stories of her own culture and childhood memories.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


image courtesy wikimedia-kolam

I am going to draw Kolam today. I have specially practised that new Kolam for this day. I have already bought kolappodi (finely powdered limestone, different type of limestone), when I went to buy whitewash-limestone from the kiln. Mother used the whitewash-limestone to whitewash the house. House looks all new, like wearing new clothes, like me. I went to the vaasal with my kolappodi. Chiththi has found out what I am upto. "Eh, what are you going to do?" I am going to draw kolam". "No, don't do it. By the way how did you get kolappodi?" "I bought it". "Who gave you money?" "I bought from my pocket money" "Akka, look at your daughter" She is calling my mother. Neither herslef nor me are really afraid of my mother. She just wants to make noise about my kolam. She comes with a bucket of water behind me. "What?" !! "Why do you need that water for?" "I know you cannot draw kolam well. so, if you screw up, I will clean the vaasal". "I won't screw up, I have practised it well." where did you practise?" "In my notebook" "So, you have wasted your notebook!! Akka, look at your daughter. We buy her notebooks for her study and she wastes them for kolam.", then looking at me, "Kolam has to be practised by really doing it with kolappodi. Without that you won't get the fluency". "What, you will let me practise that in our vaasal, when you are coming with a bucket of water like this?" "What do you need kolam for? our vaasal is small, bulls walk by it and they will ruin all the kolam and so you should not draw kolam. In our house we don't do kolams. That is only for those komuttichettyaar ladies." "Why it is only for them?" "Listen, no kolam in our house". "I am not going to do it everyday. it is special day. Please do not ruin it." I have already cleared the area in the vaasal. I start drawing the dots, using which I have to draw the kolam. I start counting the dots. There are two types of kolam dot style I know. One is, alternate line of dots are inbetween the dots in the previous one. we call them "idaip pulli" litterally meaning "inbetween type dots" and the other type in which the dots are in line with the dots in the previous line. In both the cases, the centre line will have maximum number of dots and then it will keep on decreasing both sides, until we reach one dot or sometimes three dots only. So, it is always the centre line has odd numbered dots. In few special cases they are even numbered and finish at two dots, like the one I have practised for today. It has 14 dots at the centre line and it has two centre lines. I start counting the dots and continue my kolam. "Eh, eh, they are not straight. Didn't I tell you, you cannot do them". "They are fine". I conitnue. Karuvayan chiththappa goes holding his two bulls. "What mathini, Latha is drawing kolam. And, what are you doing with bucket of water?" "She cannot draw kolam, so I am going to clean it once she finishes it". "Latha, Chithi is going to clean it anyway, so, why are you drawing kolam?" "Please tell her to leave it chithappa. I have been practising it for weeks. I can draw well. And, it is special day too. " "Mathini, let her do whatever she wants. Even if it is not nice, let it be there. Why do you want to clean it?" "See you are going with your bulls. They are walking on the dots. Already two dots are lost because the bulls have stepped on them. In few hours all the bulls from all the houses and cows from all the houses will go by this vaasal and all the kolam will be lost. That is why I want to clean it straight away." If the bulls and cows ruin it, let them ruin it. The kolam will be there for atleast few hours. but you want to clean them straight away. that is worse isn't it? " "That is why I am telling you not to draw it in the first place". "Mathini, let her do. She is small after all. Why are you fighting with a small girl?" "So, small girl should stay as small girl. why is she drawing kolam?". "You draw lathappillai. I support you". But he leaves for the farm with his bulls. He has lot of work to do in the farm so, he cannot stay and support me. Chithi is sitting there drinking her coffee watching me drawing my kolam. Myself and Murugeswari akka have practised these kolams and we have been planning for days. We both have bought this kolappodi without our folks' knowledge. I can tell she is having similar session in her house, except that, she does not have chiththi, (well her chithithis live separately), but her mother compensates for that. I have almost finish......what, it is going wrong. I stop for a minute and look at the lines, have I drawn correct? It looks like one dot is missing. "Didn't I tell you, you cannot draw. I knew it!!!" "no, no. it is fine. I am just checking it". "Why do you need checking if everything is fine?", so I stop checking and continue to draw. Almost there. Looks like it is alright, except that it does show that I do not have real practise in drawing kolam in vaasal using real kolappodi. There you go, I have finished. I look at the kolam from all sides with so much satisfaction. Blang!! a bucket of water dissolving my limestone kolappodi washes the vaasal making it cleaner!!

Interactive kolam

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Loss and Gain

I have lost one reader (Michelle) when I gained her as the other contributor. I was feeling a bit down since then, because, she was the only regular reader I have had,....Well, well, until today. There was this email waiting in my inbox saying that how nice my post was. My post on Diwali made Sudha miss her Diwali. She wants to go home... Hope she enjoys a nice, home Diwali, unlike ours. Anyway, the point is, my blog has atleast three regular readers, that is, if Sudha stays a regular.. (so much pressure on you Sudha:) ).

On this popular demand, I am going to continue blogging. Soon, there will be posts by Michelle to break the monotony of young-premalatha's "jumping"s. :)

Friday, October 21, 2005


"Wake up, wake up".
It is only 4 am. But I am excited. I wake up. The hot water is ready for me. I brush my teeth quickly. Then I take my new clothes out and look at them happily. I am going to wear them today, yaay!! Nice warm wash with the water poured from big pot to my bucket. Aunt keeps bringing the hot water complaining. "You waste too much water. Your mother is slaving in the kitchen heating water for everyone. You need to finish and come out soon too. People need to go in after you...." She doesn't stop. I take my time and indulge myself in.  I like the smell of the green arappu. It is powdered leaves of a tree in our area. We use it to wash our hair. I like the fresh clean feeling of the hair after arappy wash. I quickly wash the body and come out. I don't apply turmeric on my face. I don't like the unnatural colour it gives to my face. I come out.  It is still dark. "move move, move away. Others have to wash their hair. quick, move". I put on my new clothes. I dry my hair with the towel. Will have to wait for the sun to be out to get the hair dried properly. 
There is so much noise outside. I hear chiththappa shouting. "stay away from that cracker. it will come onto your face if you stay that close." He is talking to my brother, Senthil. Senthil is all brave type and enjoys fire crackers. He is very noisy too. He is laughing loud. It must have been him, who lit the crackers... 
bhooom, patapatapatapata... 
It gave me a fright. Oh it is that saravedi. A type of firecracker that goes on continuously for sometime.  It is his favourite. There is this gun-cracker he likes a lot as well. I don't like any of these noisy things. 
"Akka, come come," he is calling me. I go out in my new clothes. I stand leaning on the door frame and smile at him. 
"Akka, come, and lit this one." 
"No. I don't like."
"Vamma, come and lit this cracker, you will like it", chiththappa calls me. 
Senthil laughs at me. "Give her that maththappu, (the one that doesn't make noise, but gives out flowery fire). She is very scared of noisy crackers chiththappa." He laughs again. "Come and try this." 
He lits another saravedi just to scare me. This time I am not too scared, as I expected the noise. But, still little bit scared as the noise does scare me. 
bhoooom, patapatapatapata... 
I shake a little. 
Senthil laughs loudly. "See, didn't I tell you that she is scared." 
I am still leaning on the door frame. 
"Come to the vaasal, don't stay there. It is Theevali and you have to enjoy as well". 
Chiththappa calls me. I go to the vaasal. 
"Chithappa, I like sangu maththappu and poomaththaappu". They are all that softies, no noise, only flowery fire. Sangu maththappu spins all over the place and we have to jump to get away from its flowery fire. I like that. I lit a sangu maththappu, it spins, I hold my new skirt and start jumping and running all over the vaasal to get away from the flowery fire. 
Senthil laughs at me. He lits another saravedi. I lit another sangu maththappu. He laughs and I jump.

I want you to be the best - I

Oh, that’s a Giraffe

Yeaeay!!! This aunti and uncle play with me. Yeaeeey!!. I am going to bring my ball!! I jump and jump. “how are you, how are you.. what did you do this weekend.. what did you do this weekend… we went to zoo. Oh that must have been nice…. Oh yes, she particularly enjoyed it…. Oh yes, children like zoos. Don’t they…. She was talking all about it even after we have left the zoo… Do you remember she was telling all animals we saw there, even yesterday… Oh yaah. Come here baby; tell uncle and auntie what you did you see last weekend? Where did we go last weekend”… I was jumping and jumping and what.., is he talking to me?. “Come here, come here”. Oh yes, he is talking to me. I stop jumping and go to dad. Dad holds me. “Do you remember where we went last weekend?”.. I look at him. He is tall, even when sitting. What? “Do you remember where did we go last weekend”?, “where”?, “You have to tell”, what? “do you remember we went with that aunt, and uncle and their daughter Kavya.”, Ohhhh, Kavya, she was nice. She was big. She knew many things. She was walking fast and talking fast. She even dressed in big clothes. She was big. I want to become big like her. “baby, do you remember where did we go with Kavya?”, what?, oh, I got it. I know. We saw many animals. I jump and jump. “Stop jumping. Tell this auntie and uncle where did we go last weekend with your friend Kavya”, who, my friend? Jenni? Jenni is very nice. She plays with me. I play with her too. She is very nice. I will see her tomorrow. I go to school, you know. Oh. I don’t want to go to school…. “hey, hey, listen. Where did we go with Kavya? Tell this aunti and uncle”. “It is alright. She might have forgotten. It is week you see”. “No, no. she doesn’t forget. She has very good memory. She was telling yesterday. She can tell. Tell baby, where did we go in our car with kavya?” in our car? Kavya? I like our car. It has very nice window. When it rains, I can see it through the window. I can see flowers through the window. I can see many things through the window. It is a magic window. “Hey, you were telling yesterday, do you remember, zooo? Where did go with Kavya?” Oh, I know, we went to zoo with Kavya. “Zoo”…. “See, she doesn’t forget”. Everyone is laughing. Auntie and uncle are looking at me with so much surprise. “Did you go to zoo”? “Yes”. I nodded. “Did you go with Kavya?” “Yes”. I nodded. “Is Kavya your best friend?” “Jenni is my friend”… “Jenny is a girl in her nursery”… “Oh!”. “Is Jenny your friend?” “Yes” I nodded. “Who else is your friend?” “Anna. She is very nice too. Barbara, Dave, Katy, Steve, Stephanie, Warwick, Michelle”. I jump once for every friend. “Oh, you have got so many friends”? I smiled, “yes”. “Who is your best friend?” what? “Who is your best friend?” what? “Is jenny your best friend?” I am confused. But, nodded anyway. “ok, ok, baby, tell where did we go last weekend, with Kavya, in our car, drdrdrdrdrrr like that, do your remember?” what? “You just now said, zoo, remember, zooooo”, yes, zoo. I am still confused. “What did we see in zoo?” What? Do you remember that Giraffe? Oh that giraffe? “Yes, Giraffe!” I jump and jump. “What else did you see?” what? “she can tell all the animals she saw there. She tells so correctly. These days children remember many things”. I have to tell correctly. I start breathing fast inside. “What else did you see”? em, em, em, a monkey. It was funny. Jumping all over. “Monkey!!” “that is correct”, ah, I have said correctly!!! I jump and jump. “But, what did you see next to Giraffe?” what? “What did you see after seeing Giraffe?” em, em, what? “Listen. You said on the other day, do you remember. I was telling you on our way back home all the animals we saw there in order?” em, em, em…. “I think she is in a different mood”. “No, she is just shy. She can tell all the animals in the same order as we saw there. “What did we see after Giraffe? Bring your animal book, they are all there in that book”. I went to my book corner. I know my animal book. I picked correctly and ran to daddy and smiled. “Open the book”. I opened the book. Oh that is a Giraffe!! “It is a Giraffe!” “You have already told giraffe. What else did you see there? Open the book and point out all the animals to uncle and auntie in the same order as we saw there in the zoo, the zoo, we went with your best friend Kavya”

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Saraswathi poojai and Aayutha Poojai


The letter aayutham


Saraswathi Poojai

பாலும் தெளிதேனும் பாகும் பருப்புமிவை
நாலும் கலந்துனக்கு நான் தருவேன் கோலம்செய்
துங்கக் கனிமுகத்து தூமணியே நீ எனக்கு
சங்கத்தமிழ் மூன்றும் தா.

(I don't know whether I remember this song correct. so please correct me, if any of you know this song).

There is a pile of packed books in front of Saraswathi. One of them is mine. She gives knowledge and intelligence. She can make me clever. She holds veena, the music instrument, and wears white saree. I don’t know whether veena has got any link with knowledge. Saraswathi has four hands. She holds books, well, palm leaves in one of those hands. That is what my teacher told me that she is the Goddess of knowledge. “I will offer you mixing all the four best things, viz. milk, clear honey, cane-sugar-jaggery, and lentils. Please give me all the three Tamils of Sangam in return”. I open my eyes. Look at the Goddess. She looks very peaceful to me. “Go, go, go… stand in the queue. Sundal (chickpea, with desiccated co-conut) is being served. I stand in the queue. I stretch out my right hand, to receive sundal. I hold my right hand with my left hand. It is respect you know. Anything you do with God and Goddesses, you have to do with respect. Some paper from somewhere, comes flying, falling right at my foot. Oh no. I think my foot has touched that paper. I bend to apologise to that paper. I feel guilty. No man, not on the day of Saraswathi poojai!! My foot has touched the paper which is associated with knowledge and hence associated with Saraswathi. I apologise to that paper and immediately pick it up from there. I can’t throw. It is Goddess. I keep it inside my shirt pocket. I wipe my hands and stretch out to receive sundal. I hold my right hand with left hand.

பாலும் தெளிதேனும் பாகும் பருப்புமிவை
நாலும் கலந்துனக்கு நான் தருவேன் கோலம்செய்
துங்கக் கனிமுகத்து தூமணியே நீ எனக்கு
சங்கத்தமிழ் மூன்றும் தா.
“I will offer you mixing all the four best things, viz. milk, clear honey, cane-sugar-jaggery, and lentils. Please give me all the three Tamils of Sangam in return”.


Aayutha Poojai

"Lathamma, come here. there is pongal (rice pudding if it is sweet pongal, and white rice like risotto if it is just pongal) here for you”. There were few plates of pongal from our neighbours and relatives. each plate has some pongal, a small piece of banana and a small piece of coconut in it. some plates have sweet pongal as well. "Why don't we celebrate aayutha poojai? we could have also given to them". I want to go around and distribute pongal in small plates to all my neighbours like my friends did. "We are not farmers anymore. we do not own shop. What do we have to keep as "aayutham" to worship today?". Yes, she is right. It is necessary to have something as “aayutham”, after all it is aayutha poojai. What aayutham do we have? I don’t think we have anything anymore. What about that saal (old style of water-lifting tool, that was used to lift water from wells, used in irrigation. It was normally operated by two bulls). “We do have aayutham. But it is not used anymore. See, that saal is with so many holes, it won’t lift any water if used today. It is an insult to God if we keep that in worship”. She is right. I apologise to God, Aayutha god, for even thinking of insulting. “what about my pen? Can I keep that in worship?” “Didn’t you have pooja for knowledge yesterday? Your pen is covered in that”. Oh yes. She is right!! I go and eat pongal from one of those plates. All my friends are enjoying distributing pongal. I am stuck here eating it. What a looser I am.

Friday, October 07, 2005


I was angry. I am very hungry. If they stop talking I can pretend I have calmed down and can eat. Food is served and is sitting just in front of me. "Are you going to eat or not?". There you go. I can't eat for some more time now. "I don't want food". "Will you let it go?", mother tells me. "What do you mean let it go, I didn't do that. How can you blame me and make me look like a bad girl", "didn't you do that(2)", chithi tells me. "No, that is not how it happened". "OK, let it go", chithi tells me. "No, it is not like that. Why can't you all believe that it was not me", Chithi tells something and mother tells another thing, and I reply them with facts, "what are you? a lawyer?", "it is about right and wrong, I am giving you the facts". "She is handling all of us at a time without any problem. She doesn't have respect for elders, she doesn't stop replying". I am hungry and feel self pity for being framed like this. I don't want to eat. Nobody cares to see the right and wrong. I am just telling everything clearly. They don't want to know. "eat and get it finished for God sake, we have to eat as well".. "Oh, that is it, you want to eat and you want to finish off with me. you don't care about me". "Let us eat, she won't finish it. if we keep talking to her, she will keep arguing like a lawyer. She can even handle more than two people at a time". They are eating. I am hungry. They are not telling me to eat anymore. I can't eat myself, that will be pathetic. I felt pity for myself. I am a pathetic loser. I have nobody who would want to bother to know and care about me. I can’t eat now. I should not eat now. I am hungry. I wish they didn’t overdo the argument. I could have eaten my food. They leave the place. Aachchi (mother’s mother, periyaachchi’s sister) comes in. “What Lathappillai. You still haven’t eaten. Why are you so adamant? You should never show your anger to food. Food is “Annam”, the Goddess you know. You should never disrespect the Goddess. Eat it”. I start crying and tell her, “They don’t want to know how it happened. They are blindly accusing me and arguing with me, they are twisting my words, but they are blaming me for being like a lawyer”. “You know what, let them go to hell. Those two are always like that. Just ignore them and eat it. Oh god, it is noon already”, she looks outside, looks at the shadows to judge the time and starts mixing the food for me. A big ball of food is inserted into my mouth. I can’t stop crying as I feel more "self pity" now. “You should not cry when the food is in your mouth, you will get cough. Stop crying, swallow it first, then you can cry”. I swallowed it. Before I could continue my crying there was another big ball of food inserted into my mouth. “Don’t talk while eating; finish eating first then we can talk about how it happened, OK?”
Place:- Kombai, Age:- 4 to 16, several times.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


I hear thatha's loud voice..."Lathaaaaaaaa.....". It is coming from the woods.. I can see him now. oh, oh, he is going to fall. No. he balanced. He saw me too. I ran towards him. I wanted to tell him how upset i am.. I held his legs, "thatha".He took me and held me. I rested my head on his shoulder. I am safe now.."where did you go", thatha asked me. That confused me. He seemed upset too. He seemd mad at me. "How did you come here", he asked me again. I pointed at the girl, "she brought me here". She is our neighbour girl. She sometimes takes care of me when thatha, periyaachchi and mother have to work. "She told we are going to see aachi farm, I thought she was taking me to our estate where you all work". Later someone explained it to me that the name of the farm where thatha found me is aachi farm. I don't know that. How did thatha find us? He knows everything you know.

Place:- Puliya malai. Age:-2 years

The lorry started to move.. Where is it going? How will I come back home? “Ammaaa”… She comes out of the house. She is horrified to see me in the back of the lorry, which is moving. Lorry picks up speed. Mother shouts and started to run behind the lorry. The distance increases. I am getting scared now. Mother is running all over the place with her hands stretched out, crying, calling for help, and running behind the lorry. I see her eyes, so helpless and crying. She is running behind the lorry, shouting for help. The lorry stopped.

Place:- Calcutta, Age:- 4 years.

This looks like vilaam fruit. The tree is very very tall. "Akka", my brother calls me. "Akka, I am scared". He comes to me and holds me with fear. I am surprised. He never comes to me like this. "Akka, we are lost". "What?"....looking around, I can see no-one in the visinity. It is a cardamam estate with lots of trees after all. They may be in another slope. "Thatha... ammaa.. aachchi..."I am starting to feel the fear now. Suddenly I feel responsible and guilty for bringing my brother here and get him lost like this. It is our school vacation. I was exploring my favourite areas. I don’t want to let him know that I am scared too. "Don't worry, I know all the routes in this estate". That looks like a foot path. I am feeling better now. I hear some voice, a man’s voice.. “What are you both doing here?”. “We are lost”. “Come with me”. We are in our neighbours garden!!

Place:- Puliya malai. My age:- 8 years, Senthil's age:- 3 years.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Let her come today. Bommai her name is. She comes everyday. Mother likes her. Mother feeds her too. That too giving our food. I have to eat myself. She brings a little doll with her. She is very fair. Mother tells that she is beautiful looking. All I get from my mother is “behave yourself”, “you are ugly”, “you look like your father”, “you are adamant like your periyaachchi”…and what not. Bommai speaks Hindi. Everyone around here speaks Hindi. I speak Hindi too. I usually hide underneath the cot. Father keeps a special long stick to search for me under the cot. Mother complains to father all the time. She tells him how bad girl I am. Let Bommai come today. I am armed with a big fuel-wood. I am very clever you know, I am hiding behind the door. Mother is talking to Bommai’s mother. Here she comes… bang!! Oh.., she cries and becomes even more “good girl”. I have become even more “bad girl”. Bommai her name is, or, I don’t know, I never asked what her name is.

Place:- Calcutta. Age:- 4 years.


attention deficit disorder

n. Abbr. ADD
A syndrome, usually diagnosed in childhood, characterized by a persistent pattern of impulsiveness, a short attention span, and often hyperactivity, and interfering especially with academic, occupational, and social performance (from here)

Attention Deficit Disorder Association