Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Travelling - by Michelle

My mother is shaking me. "Wake up! Wake up! It is time to get up. " At first my brain doesn't understand. How can it be time to get up? It is still night outside.

Then I remember. We are going on holiday! My first holiday! And I am going to see the sea. I was too excited to sleep last night, but somehow I must have because now the house is all lit up in the middle of the night and it is happening. We are going.

I go and wash my face and brush my teeth. The water is cold and the tiles are cold beneath my feet. It feels strange and exciting to be up in the middle of the night. Once I'm dressed I go looking for everyone. My dad is putting the cases in the car and my mom is in the kitchen buttering bread and wrapping food in paper to take with. I wander around between them. I ask everyone what the time is. My dad tells me it is 3:00 in the morning. I'm not sure, but this doesn't feel like morning to me. It's night. He is wrong. This isn't morning.

We have to leave early to reach Beit Bridge border post before dawn. Once it is light it will be too hot to travel the road by car. No-one travels during the day if they can help it.

The car is packed and we are off! We drive through town. It is weird. No people and everything dark. I have never been to town after dark before. It feels creepy. Soon we are out beyond the town. The road is so straight and the bush is so dark. The stars seem close enough to touch. The hum of the car engine makes me fall asleep. I only wake up when it stops. How disappointing! I have slept the whole way and missed the sunrise. It is about 6 in the morning and it is already hot. Within another hour you will be able to cook your dinner on your car bonnet. There are trucks and cars are parked waiting for the customs offices to open. People wandering around. Truck drivers sitting under the trees having a smoke or a cup of coffee. The big trucks come this way going up through Africa to places I've never heard of.

The customs buildings are low small light brown buildings. Inside my parents get their passports stamped. The air is heavy and warm and smells of old paper and sweat. It is such a brown building. Beige and brown.. everything is the colour of cardboard. The walls, the forms to fill in, even the uniforms of the men behind the counters. They smile at me, but I don't smile back. This is my mother's greatest grief. I never say hello and I never greet my elders. I just stare at them. My mother pokes me and hisses "Say hello. SMILE." That only makes it worse. Why should I smile or greet this unknown man dressed in cardboard coloured shorts and shirt? I don't know him. So I stare at him and he laughs nervously and my mother gets embarrassed.

Once that is over we are back in the now hot car and waved on by another man in a cap. Beyond the buildings I can see the bridge over the great Limpopo river. Only there is no river. Except for a few times a year there is nothing but a small trickle in a huge dry riverbed way down below. In rainy times there will be crocodiles and hippos, but there's nothing down there today. It seems very disappointing to a five year old girl who was hoping to see crocodiles and hippos. But who cares? We are now in a different country and soon I will get to see the ocean. Ok, soon will be a two day drive, but my parents haven't told me that yet. I am five and have no concept of distance yet.

My parents roll down all the windows as we drive, but the air that blows through feels like it is coming off a hair drier. I'm ok. I take off my clothes and sit in the back in my underwear. When I'm tired I just lie down on the back seat and sleep. Sometimes it is truly good to be only five years old.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Maargali

I like Maargali. The water was very cold. I like cold hair. I like early morning. Fresh. It smells all jasmine when you go near any girl, particularly in Maargali, as they all wear jasmine. I don’t wear flowers. I don’t like. I feel uncomfortable when they go dying and dry. They look sad. I do like them when they are fresh. But I don’t know when is the right time to take it off so that they never go sad. Fresh cold hair, fresh jasmine, and early morning kombai street to temple are nice.

We, we means myself and Senthil, go to all temples in the morning. People say that the prayers and celebrations are relevant only to girls who are looking to get married in the near future. They go to temple and pray to God that their marriage happens soon and good. It is not relevant for us. But many children like us and men also go to temples. So we are also going. Father decided to send us to the temple so that we both will get the habit of getting up early in the morning. But, in his dictionary, early morning means 4am. I hate to wake up that early. But, since when we have started going to temples, I like it. We collect prasatham (food offered to God in the prayer ritual and then distributed to the worshippers) from several temples. We get sarkkaraip pongal (rice pudding) as prasatham in some temples, and in some other temples it is sundal (chick pea with desiccated coconut). It is not about the pongal or sundal, it is about me and him going together. He doesn’t come to me or with me like this otherwise. It feels nice seeing him coming to me as if I can take care of him.

Senthil also finished washing body and is ready. We both depart. We have a route. First we go to our temple first and then we go to chettiyar temple. Then we go to subramaniyar temple and we finish our day in kaamatchi amman temple. By now we know the prasatham time for all temples we visit. We don’t go to all temples in Kombai. We have to be home by 7am so that we can get ready and go to school. Senthil goes to collect his share of prasatham. “Akka, it is hot, it is hot”, he comes towards me running. I take prastham from him, and look at his palm. It is red. “Didn’t I tell you to keep that banana leaf? Where did you throw, look you are hurt now”. He did not even care. He is back to the crowd again. I look for banana leave and rush to him. “Take it, take it”. I shout”. He takes it. I watch him get more prasatham. He comes and stores it with me and goes back again. “Enough, Senthil, come, let us go”. We have finished for today. Mother asks us, “happy?” “Yes”, a big nod from me. Yes, we, brother and sister collecting prasatham together, are indeed happy. :-)
PS: Not very well written in my opinion. I wanted to write more on Maargali. also, wanted to mix the emotion along with the information on maargali poojais and jasmine fragrance through my eyes. It looks that the emotion stands out oddly without mixing with the rest of the text. I will rewrite this sometime later. But for now, this is what I could write sitting in office during a tea break. Bear with me please.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Leaving Home

Servaar thatha's daughter in-law always wakes up first and cleans her vaasal before anybodyelse does. It is believed that whosover does this daily ritual first, gets to invite the God into their home first. So, she makes sure she brings God every day to her home. The ritual consists of sweeping the vaasal, and sprinkling cowdung-mixed-water on the vaasal. You should do without leaving any gap. Pulli-illaama (not leaving dotted-gaps), as my mother says. I don't know how she came to know that we are going to wake up early today, well, everyone in the whole town knows this news, it is not a surprise that she knew as well, anyway, she has cleaned her vaasal today as well, I mean before my mother. My mother woke me up at 3am. It is after all an hour travel by bus today. They don't listen. They woke me up. I have already told all our relatives. I went to everyone's house, touched their feet, and told them that I am leaving the next day. They applied thiruneeru on my forehead and gave me money. This generally happens when a girl leaves mother's home for her husband's home. So, they all give money as a safety/comfort-blanket for the girl in the new home. But, because I am also leaving, though not to my husband's home, I am still leaving home, so everyone followed the same tradition of giving me money. It was a good collection. I still have to go to mattukkaara patiyaa's house. it is important to tell your closest people just before leaving, as well as they are the ones who knew the news all the time. they are the ones involved in all decision makings, all sort of discussions, but still it is just a tradition to take leave from them with their good blessings. I get ready. I have packed my suitcase a long long time ago. it is another pain in this house that they make me do that and ask me to open and show me the items now and then in order to chek whether I know where I have kept what. I get ready. Amma brings iddly. I love iddly. I feel little emotional that I am going to miss this iddly. I don't know what kind of food I will get there. Father is shouting. "Bring the suitcase". He takes the suitcase and leaves to bus stand before us, telling us to join him soon. I go to Pattiyaa's house. Got the thiruneeru and his blessings. Got thiruneeru from my thaaththa and aachchi too. Mother pickes up one bag. Chithi pickes up another bag. I have my hand bag. Senthil is sleeping. "Hey, senthil, I am leaving". "Ok, ok". He sleeps again. "Leave him. Let us go. you are getting late", as usal chithi. I am leaving home. It is browny whitey dark. It is called vidiyal in pure Tamil, meaning dawn. Kombai wakes up. Everyone, whosover passed by, looks at us (as they are not supposed to ask "where" when we are going), mother immediately tells them that I am leaving today. "Irukkattum, irukkattum, nalla padimma, nalla padithaayee".. all sorts of blessings. I am leaving home. People are going to their farms with their bulls. Some people are taking their cows to dairies. chikens are all over the streets. Milk man is doing his rounds. Mother walks before me. I hear a voice singing one of the sad songs (about his lover leaving him) from recent movie. It is that milkman maama (mother's brother-like relation, far-relative). It brings an instant smile on my face. Silly maama. Didn't he know that I will leave one day. I am sure he did. We walk past so many blessings and so many people and so many lives.. There he is. Jahir. I don't know if he comes and stands here every day at this time or did he know that I am leaving? I hear his brother (Hakkim) calling him. Jahir was standing there, silently, looking. Bye bye Jahir. I tell that to myself. It came as a surprise when he expressed his liking (love?) for me, as I always thought it was his friend who was after me. I smile. I walk past him. I walk with my mother. We reach the bus stand. Father was waiting there with coffees for us. We drink coffee. "Go inside the temple and wait." As there is no waiting area in the bus stand in Kombai, Ladies use the front area of the temple as waiting area. Father brings banana fruit bunch. "You don't get this in other places. It is special in Kombai". I keep that on the top of one of my bags. The bus comes. I board the bus. I leave. I don't know the future. I don't know what I am going to do. I don't know what is in store for me. I have left home. Suddenly I feel very very weak.
(unedited/not checked for errors, not even "completetion of sentences" are checked. bear with me please. )