Monday, December 17, 2007

Rain - by Michelle


To me Christmas Eve in Africa means rain. Soft rain. Warm rain. African rain. *Pula! (rain) a blessing and a wish as powerful as “bless you” is to the Western soul. In a country where rain fall never lasts longer than an hour and puddles evaporate within minutes of the clouds parting rain is precious. Rain is survival. Rain is life, resurrection and birth.

Every Christmas eve we gather at my grandmother’s house. My dad is getting the presents out the car as my mom goes to open the gate. It’s dark leading up to my grandmother’s house, but the door is open and I can see light and hear voices. The door was always open, and the smells of cooking are hanging in the warm wet night air. Guti - soft soft rain on your face and hands that is more like a heavy mist than raindrops.

The dogs are barking and my grandmother yells at them, but they just ignore her with loving disregard. Inside it is hot and noisy with people everywhere. The Christmas tree smells dry and crackly in the heat, but the smells of meats roasting and puddings boiling is heavenly. Lots of tall people in the semi-gloom. The only lights are the Christmas tree in the entrance and the TV in the lounge (black and white). People are everywhere talking, nibbling from plates of snacks piled up on every empty flat surface, watching the TV in a vague sort of way grown ups do.

By contrast the kitchen is very bright… and full of women. Mothers and aunts and daughters in all their permutations are hovering around my gran as she barks out orders like a regimental sergeant. There are drinks being poured, sauces stirred, meats basted and puddings checked… and nothing in the kitchen is glowing more with heat than my grandmother! Her cheeks are red and her hair is stuck on her face with perspiration, but her eyes are bright and she still has the energy to tell my dad off when he tries to tease her.

I wander back out into the dark to stand by the Christmas tree. There are dozens of bags and boxes below it, since all the family will gather here again tomorrow to unwrap their gifts together. I’m not allowed to touch, so I can only peer sideways at labels and cards in the hope of seeing which have my name on them.

There are nuts in their shells and fresh baked mince pies and a Christmas show with ladies dancing and lots of music. Nuts in their shells are a special treat we only get once a year. My grandfather helps me choose a good one and cracks it open for me and I sit on the piano stool and eat it slowly. How delicious is a nut when you are only allowed one each.

Later I will fall asleep on the couch or a bed somewhere and be carried to the car and home. Tomorrow it will be Christmas day and if we are lucky, there will be soft rain to cool the morning and bless this special day.

Pula, pula…



* "..pula means more than just the wet stuff which falls out the sky: it stands for luck, life and prosperity.."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Older - by Michelle

...

“Be careful!” My mother says, handing me the big candle. I nod. I understand. This is a very big and serious task. I am being allowed to light the candles on the tables for the party my parents are having. My younger cousin, Len follows me outside. He wants to light candles too, but he’s not allowed. I’m only allowed - because I am older.

In our yard my father has put lots of tables and chairs and hung coloured lights on the fence. He is busy putting in the last of the light bulbs and he smiles at me from the top of the ladder. I walk very carefully with my candle from table to table. Len helps me by pulling the candles closer for me to light. Each table has a little bowl with a small candle. They are my mother’s bowls – pink, soft green and lemon. As each candle is lit they glow like magical lotus blossoms floating on the white tablecloths. It looks so pretty. I want to stay here forever with the stars above me and the candles and coloured lights.

My mom lets us put out little bowls of peanuts and biscuits on each table too. Len keeps eating the nuts. I frown at him and drag him away from the tables. He is a year younger than me and still a baby. I am five. I am BIG. He’s just four. I have to tell him what to do, what to be careful of, and he listens to me… sometimes. Sometimes he just laughs and runs away.

I like being older. Len has to go to bed, but his brother Alan and I will be allowed to stay up later. We will get to see the grown ups dancing and throwing streamers. I’m not sure why grown-ups throw streamers, but I like them. The colours are pretty. We sit on the step into the house and watch them dancing. Sometimes we go hide under the tables and eat nuts and watch legs and shoes going past. It’s good being older.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Kaarthihai

image courtesy


I am assigned to watch. Watching out for the thieves who come for the traditional stealing of lamps. It is a tradition to steal lamps and children find great fun in cheating the eyes of the watcher to steal a lamp. These lamps are not greatly money worthy. They are just mud lamps. Some people store them, well most people store the left ones, but do not worry if they break. Buying some just before kaarthihai doesn’t cost too much and it also brings some smile on the ladies’ face when they bring some new lamps for the new season. Stealing many lamps and good collection is not going to take it anywhere. Those lamps may not stay for the next season, but children find the game fun filled. Watching is traditional too. Not letting any of our lamp stolen gives a feeling of great victory too. It is great fun too. I somehow did not develop skills in cheating and stealing so I prefer to watch. Senthil finds great joy in running around and stealing these lamps. There are six lamps, two for each padi (entrance stair) on either side of the padi. I sit on the top padi, moving one lamp slightly inside to make room for me. Seeing these winking lamps flirting with the wind is joy too. Every house has at least six lamps arranged in the same manner, as most houses have three padis as their entrance stairs. Some have some extra lamps on their outside windowsills too. It looks nice too. Small boys are running like crazy playing their fun game of the day. Small girls are assigned to watch, as they sit pretty in their new clothes with twinkling illumination breezed on them by these flirting lamps. Men and women do not seem to show interest in this game.


Here he is, Senthil brings two lamps. “Akka, look I have got two lamps”. His palms are soaked in oil. “Wasn’t the oil hot?” I ask. “Yes it was. Take it. I have to run”. “Don’t go. Hot oil will hurt you. Do not steal lamp with oil in it. Throw the oil away before taking it”. “Yeah right! Do you even know the art of cheating and stealing and its time calculations? She is telling me to throw away the oil first. Ha ha.. They will come and grab me if I stayed there for more than a fraction of a second”. He is laughing hard. “Then don’t steal. What is the fun in this? We do not keep these lamps for next season. I do not see any better use of these lamps other than lighting them on some occasions. Every time we need these lamps mother buys some new set anyway. Why do we need more lamps?”. “Ha. Ha. Ha. I always knew your brain has never developed. It is not about collecting, storing and using them. It is just fun. Mere fun. And it is the tradition for Kaarthihai anyway. You just do your job. Do not let any of our lamps stolen”. He runs again. I sit alone watching lamps. “Mother, oil in one of these lamps is running out, come and refill please”, I call my mother.

-----oOo-------

*Kaarthihai is the eighth month of Tamil Calendar, which falls during November 14 to December 13. Kaarthihai is generally spelled Karthigai with a g but pronounced with ha sound and also with one a, But I have added one extra a to give that lengthy a sound as in 'arm'.

**Kaarthihai is a festival, celebrated for consecutive three days during the Tamil month of Kaarthihai by decorating the house with mud lamps. The decoration can be compared to christmas lighting or Diwali lamps.

*** similar to Diwali, I assume Kaarthihai marks the onset of winter.

Its all started here

They are fighting. The whole street has gathered here. Yes I can see some are bothered. They are concerned only about how to end this, not about why and how this should happen in the first place or about any shame this display of drama brings. Words games are at their best. Everyone tries their hands at it. Have I told you these people are the best in playing with words and throwing questions for questions rather than giving any answer at all? I can bet the Sangam originally started here or at least they conceptualised many Sangam debates by observing these people here. You can enjoy too. If only it is not personal.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Great Escape - by Michelle

I am five years old and I am going to hospital. The doctor has told my mother I must have my tonsils out. I don’t know what tonsils are, but it seems doctors don’t like them.

The hospital has very pretty gardens full of flowers and a gravel parking area that goes crunch crunch under my feet. Inside it smells very clean. The hospital is run by nuns. I’ve never seen a nun before. I don’t think they have any hair because they are all wearing black scarves over their heads. They seem okay. We wait in a room full of sunlight and flowers and my mother tells me how I was born here a long time ago. A nun comes and takes us upstairs to a room at the end of a long corridor, It is full of children. There is an older girl reading a book in bed and other children playing by a window. As we walk through the room the nun stops to talk to a boy lying in a bed. He has tubes coming out his nose and arms and his skin is this pale grey yellow. He smiles at the nun and me, but I’m too scared to smile back. I’ve never smiled at anyone with a tube up their nose before. Maybe he’s going to die. Better to not stare or smile at him… in case he dies.

The nun takes me to a bed at the end of the room. I have to undress and put on my pyjamas even though it is still early. The nun puts a plastic bracelet on my wrist. She tells me it has my name on it so that they know who I am. Then she puts my suitcase into a cupboard and my parents hug me and go.

It feels weird being alone here, but soon another girls arrives and is left in the bed next to me. We talk about things. She’s having her tonsils out too. She has freckles and a pet cat. We talk about her cat and then it is time for dinner. We all eat at a little table in the middle of the room. I can’t remember what we had to eat, but I remember there was jelly and ice cream for pudding. I like jelly. I like ice cream, but I HATE them together. I don’t want to eat it. The nuns leave it by my bed in case I change my mind. I only eat the ice cream that doesn’t touch the jelly. I leave that on the little cupboard beside my bed.

After dinner we have to get back into bed. Once it is dark the nuns start turning off the big lights. The girl next to me starts crying. She wants to go home. A nun comes and gives her a hug and tucks her into bed. After the nun goes she sits up in bed and tells me she is going home. In the dark she goes to the cupboard and gets out her suitcase and starts to get dressed. She asks me to come with, but I just think she’s crazy. The nuns will never let her go and besides.. my suitcase is on the top shelf – too high for us to reach. She packs up her suitcase, says goodbye, and leaves.

Ten seconds later she is back. A nun is pulling her along. It’s the nun who gave her a hug, but she doesn’t look £huggy” now. She looks cross. She gets the crying girl back into bed and this time she locks the cupboard after she puts the suitcase back.

In the dark I listen to the other girl cry until she falls asleep. I can’t sleep. There is a little window behind the head of my bed. If I stand up on my pillow I can sit on the window ledge. I can see the stars and the moon and the parking area which has big street lights. I can see that there is a roof below my window! My little window seems to be over a small shed, like a garden shed. If the window was a door you could step out onto the roof that gently slopes down to a big bush… and then the parking.

My brain begins to churn. I could climb that roof and bush easily. I’ve climbed bigger trees in my garden. And I know how to get to my house from this road. I know the way home. I could go home.
No nuns, no suitcase.. just out the window, down the roof, left at the gate and home!

But there is one problem. The window has safety bars across it. Probably to stop little children falling out.. or escaping.

I think harder. The bars have little screws holding them to the wall. I push one with my finger and it wobbles a bit. I have an idea. I go get the spoon in my jelly and ice cream bowl. Yes! It fits the groove in the screw head. Slowly, carefully, I take out the screw.

I have no idea how long it took me to take out those screws, but I know I got out at least two when I started to realise one flaw in my brilliant plan. I was going to go HOME. Home to the parents who had brought me here in the first place. What would they do when I arrived home in the middle of the night? Ahhh… I know exactly what they will do. They’ll stick me in the car and bring me back here. They have told me how important it is to have my tonsils out. It’s late and I’m tired and I know this is was a stupid plan, after all. I put the screws back with the spoon and go to get back into bed, but then I have a big shock. My plastic bracelet is gone. GONE! How will they know who I am? How will they know who I belong to? How will they send me home?

I’m under the bed searching and crying when the nun finds me. It’s the same one who caught the girl who tried to go home. She isn’t cross though. I explain that I’ve lost my proof that I am me and she helps me look. We find my bracelet stuck in the folds of the sheets and she helps me put it back on.

I can sleep now.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

For Remembrance Day... (by Michelle)

...

Today is Remembrance Day, but today has other special meanings for me. Today is also "UDI" - the day Rhodesia declared its own independance, but - more personal and more important to my family - today is the day my grandfather chose to pass away. I say "chose" because I have no doubt he picked the timing deliberately, if not consciously.

So, on this day I am commemorating all these things by opening up a new blog where I am posting all my poems. Some are already well known, some not.

In particular I'm linking here to the poem I wrote for my grandfather: William Peter Marshall


For you... gramps. :-)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Happy Blog Anniversary! (by Michelle)

Almost exactly two years ago (late October 2005) Prema asked me to join her on her blog Kombai. She was writing about her Indian childhood, from England, and I would be adding memories of my African childhood, from Scotland. In honour of our journey together (so far) I am posting this in both blogs.

For two years we have compared very different childhoods and discovered that some truths truly are universal:

1. Childhood emotions feel the same in any language… or culture.
2. There is always a spiteful kid or bully at school.
3. You will inherit physical features you rather wish you hadn’t.
4. You will pick up character traits and family mannerisms you rather wish you hadn’t … no matter how much you don’t want to!
5. There are always perfect childhood moments you never forget.

And…

6. You cannot escape family (who you are) no matter how far you travel.

When I joined Kombai I wrote "Dog of the Wind" for my introduction:


Hello!

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.


This year both Prema and I became British Citizens. Perhaps no longer “dogs of the wind”, but our childhood memories and our ancestry will always play a part of who we are… and who we continually grow to become.

Thank you, Prema. It has been an honour to share blog space with you. To celebrate our anniversary I am finally posting a photo of me as a child for you to see. I have chosen this one of my dad holding two African "lion cubs”.

For those who won’t get the cub joke - I’m a Leo. ;-)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tagged - Thinking Blog Award


Kombai has been tagged by Random Magus for being:
"..an enchanting blog filled with nostalgia and a feeling of going home. The authors Premalatha and Michelle pull you into their life with the simple beauty and eloquence of their writing."


Thank you Random! :-)

In return prema and I will each be choosing five blogs that make us think.

It was hard to choose only five! Here is my final choice of five blogs. I picked for Inspiration, Observation and Information.

1. As Kombai is mostly about my childhood in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe Robb Ellis has to be my first choice. Robb's blog, "The Bearded Man", has been quoted by the BBC for his devoted and thorough coverage of the current situation in Zimbabwe.

2. Sadiq's "Inspirations and Creative Thoughts" for living up to that title most beautifully.

3.Amel's Realm for managing to always make me feel good to be alive as well as make me think.

4. The musing of Shastri for his, sometimes quirky always unique, observations on the world.

5. Analysing It by Epimenides, who makes me laugh as well as think.

......

The rules are -

Congratulations, you won a

Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Thinking Blogger Award

.
Boo and Randum Magus have awarded me the thinking blogger award. Thank you both, first of all for giving me this award. I have been walking a few inches above the ground since I saw their posts linking my blog. I never thought Kombai stories will go this far. This encourages me to write more on Kombai.

Five blogs that make me think would be:

1. Madura: Her posts on sex education did a great good to many. I admire her guts to be able to discuss about those issues.

2. Sujai K: He writes on many issues. My all time favourite is his para on teaching

I think there are two types of teaching- Intentional and Unintentional. Intentional teaching involves parent consciously teaching the kids- like how to pray, or ride a bicycle, eating habits, etc. Unintentional teaching could be dad smoking, mom scolding the maid, dad upholding secular principles while talking to others, mom talking negative against certain religions or caste, dad throwing garbage on the streets, etc. This kid who is trained to believe everything his parents teach also acquires these prejudices and habits without questioning them. While some kids are taught to reevaluate their learning, most others inherit all their parents’ prejudices. For those who do not reevaluate, their ability to acquire new learning also diminishes and they continue to harbor the same prejudices all their life. If needed they fight vehemently and vociferously, blinded by faith. They do not know what they do not know and hence they seem to believe they know everything.

3. Prakash (Tamil Blog). More than his posts, his comments in Tamil blogworld reflect his views better. He says that the blogworld changed his views on many issues for better. :-)

4. Narain (Tamil Blog) He writes infrequently. Couple of his post on feminism can serve as a sample here: சிலுக்கு சுமிதா புராணம் and போர்க்கும் கொஞ்சம் பாயாசமும்

5. Ilavanji (Tamil Blog) He has shown that he has the ability to reevaluate himself. He has amazed many with his honesty. He knows his boundaries, accepts his limitations, believes in certain lines and values and never hesitates to giving it a try to cross them ;-)

If you choose to pass this award on, these are the Thinking Blogger Award rules:
This award was started here.
You have to award five others whose blog you think deserve this award.
Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.
If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.
Please, remember to tag blogs with real merits, i.e. relative content, and above all — blogs that really get you thinking!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tag - Indian writing

Desigirl has tagged me. She doesn't know that I am a wrong person in her list. She can't be blamed, I have disguised her enough to make her believe that I am in her league. :-)

I will try my best though.
I don't know when I started reading books. Mostly to eascape from my school text books and/or to hide my inability to join the gossip club. I was always the kid in the corner reading "something".. "She doesn't hear anything when she reads. Even an idy (thunder) can't get her take her eyes off her books. She doesn't need food or anything. She just needs her books. Very intelligent kid" they all said. There was never a shortage of supply of books for me. Kumudam and Vikatan were regularly bought.. We owned few Sandilyans. Kombai Library filled in regularly too.

During my college days it was trendy to read poetry (kavithai) books. Palamalai was the popular one those days. One of our friends' brother was a writer himself. He has published few books (I have not read a single one of his books). We (this writer brother and few others) used sit on the terrace and engage ourselves in "intellectual literary discussions" and the starry nights accentuated the scene. His wife used to cook for us..

I moved on. Time passed. Once the Writer Brother friend asked me what I was reading then.. The conversation was in Tamil, which does not differentiate between reading and studying.. I replied what I was studying... I guess that clearly displayed the end of my reading era. After that, I have read books here and there, still do read now and then, but no, I cannot be grouped under "book reading" people. Now I prefer watching movies to spend my pass time. I have got a good collection of books, mostly unread, hoping that one day I will be able to retrieve my book reading skills.

Here are my favourite books: (Tamil books)
1. Kolaiyudhir kaalam by Sujatha. - my first thodarkathai (series). I used to wait for kumudam/vikatan (I can't remember which one) for the next episode. The scientific explanation and the aethistic view of the author had left a huge impact on me.

2. Yavana Raani by Sandilyan - War strategies. Intelligence. politics. I have read this book several times.

3. Mannan mahal by Sandilyan - consipracy theory surrounding Rajendra cholan's throne. Ponniyin selvan by Kalki for the same reason (this one is about Rajaraja cholan's time).

5. Irumbuk kuthiraikal and Kariyora Mudhalaikal by Balakumaran. - feministic stuff.

4. Malgudi days by RK Narayan (recently read, so English book). Everyone is able to find something to relate to.

5. My all time favourites are Pattukkottai Prabakar, Subha, Rajeshkumar, Rajendrakumar and Sujatha's Ganesh-Vasanth's stories... The first four authors repeatedly wrote same stuff or copied from one another or some of them were very crappy. But that is what exactly I needed, a break. It is like working in the check-out tills in superstores. I love that job. One can keep the brain at home and come to work. Very enjoyable. :-)

I must pass this on to some good book readers. I don't know whether they do tags or not, but I am going to try anyway. Hope they don't mind.
Chenthil (Self confessed book worm)
Pons
Prakash
Mumbaigirl
Ilavanji

Friday, June 01, 2007

My Grandmother's House - by Michelle

All my childhood lies in my grandmother's house. No matter where I am or what I remember, my mind takes me back to that house. It was, as I have said, the centre of the wheel for our entire family - aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours and friends.. everyone met at my grandmother's house.

If I close my eyes now.. I am there at the gate, hot African sun scorching down on white picket fences and trellises heavy with honeysuckle, golden shower and coral creeper. A riot of creeping plants and flowers dripping bees. Below them, along the concrete path to the door, there will be sweet peas. Every summer there were sweet peas, staked up against the freshly painted picket fencing. It is cool under the canopy of green that leads to the door. There are two huge pine trees shading the back windows too. They smell of resin.

Around the front there is a swimming pool my grandfather built himself, two aviaries of birds and the fruit trees. Down the side there is a dry sandy strip marked with little wooden crosses for all the many departed pets. Dogs, birds cats, rabbits and even a monkey have their sacred space in Granny's little garden. She pulls the weeds from around the crosses and drops a few tears and flowers on the "special" ones.

Inside the house, at any time of day, it was always shady. All the trees and the deep covered front veranda keep the house from direct sunlight. In the scorching African summer this is a good thing, but I do always remember feeling a bit creepy going down the shadowy passage to the toilet. There are family photos along all the walls in the passage and several generations of family watch me with shadowy eyes as I dash for the toilet. Great grandma stands at the end of the passage. Beautiful forever since she died so young. Her sad Irish eyes seem to know this photo will be the last memory held of her passing through this world. She watches me, the third generation of girl children she will never see grow up.

In my grandmother's bedroom everything smells of old perfume and floor polish. The Virgin Mary stands on the window ledge, with her arms outstretched. She is wearing a pale blue cloak over her ivory plastic glow-in-the-dark body. I love her. I love the fact she glows in the dark. I used to have a glow-in-the-dark Jesus nailed to a wood and mother-of-pearl cross, but then my mom found out the "glow" came from toxic chemicals and threw him in the bin. Very weird memory that - a snapped up Jesus pulled off the cross and thrown into the dirt bin. I can remember going outside and lifting the lid to look at him lying there with his legs and arms scattered amongst the potato peals. My mom tells me Jesus will still watch over me and answer my prayers at night, but I do miss seeing his soft greeny glow over my bed. In my grandmother's house Mary will not suffer the same indignity. Gran doesn't care that Mary is toxic. Mary will stay.

At the end of the passage there is a little iron and glass table on which stands the telephone, and four brass ornaments - the sphinx, two pyramids and Buddha. Mary in the bedroom and Buddha by the phone.. is there some hidden meaning there? Mary will hold you while you sleep, but Buddha is better for communication? Who knows! I only know I am allowed to play with Buddha and the sphinx because they are made of brass and indestructible. So I will lie on my play rug with Buddha and the sphinx. The sphinx was once a cigarette lighter and his head is hinged to open up the lighter. This will leave indelible scars on my understanding of ancient Egyptian history. For years to come I will think the sphinx's head comes off. The sphinx is okay, but I prefer Buddha. I smile back at Buddha while the grown ups sit at the table and talk. He's not as pretty as Mary, but he is more cheerful. Admittedly not as exciting, he doesn't glow, but gran says if I rub his tummy he will answer my wishes just as Jesus answers my prayers. I think to myself how clever God is. He has Jesus for prayers, Mary for comfort and Buddha for making wishes come true. It is a wonderful world with so many celestial beings to watch over your needs.

In my grandmother's house there may not be much sunlight, but there is always noise. There are birds in cages, radios and always people. People come and go in waves. Gran feeds them and makes them tea, but she never visits them. She is the hub and all spokes lead to her. The hub does not wander. It stays in the centre and keeps the wheel of life turning. That is gran - the hub of our wheel.

I can't ever remember seeing her in the lounge watching TV. She is always in the kitchen, out in the garden or sitting in the dining room. She has plants to watch over, dogs, cats, tortoises, lots of birds. Visitors constantly. Only the fish tank isn't her territory. Grandpa takes care of the fish. Grandpa has his small sections of territory staked and claimed - the fish tank, the outside room piled high with old junk and his own bedroom filled with fascinating things. If I am good he will take out the old tin boxes full of war photos. Then he fills his pipe and sits by the window, puffing his pipe and telling me the stories behind the photos. I knew about Mussolini and the war in North Africa before I was eight. Grandpa has other photos too. Stationed in Egypt he went to every ancient monument her could. Here there are photos of the real pyramids and sphinx. And if I get bored with desert stories there is a box of old toys at the top of the wardrobe. Paper dolls from the 1950s and marionette puppets. I love grandpa's room.

My aunt has the last bedroom. Here I can look, but not touch - except her big plastic bangles - I can play with those. They jangle on my arm, but I can't put my hands down or they'll all fall off. I walk around the house with my arms up to keep the bangles on. It's not as exciting as war stories or Buddha and the sphinx.. I go and put them back.

For now I will sit with Buddha on the floor and be at peace. Here we will sit at the centre of the world and let it revolve around us. There will be dripping and tomato sandwiches for lunch and then later gran will let me feed the tortoises. Life is good.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Going Home - Part 2 (by Michelle)

"So when are you going to write your letter?" my aunt asks, again. 

I try to pretend she isn't there, but it's hard to make a grown-up disappear when you're eleven. She's been following me around my grandmother's house all day nagging me about this. I can't escape. I've told her three times now that Father Christmas doesn't exist, but every time I do she looks ready to cry and says things like, "Nooo!!! Of COURSE he's real! You must BELIEVE."

My aunt is thirty going on three. I can't win. She's going to go on and on until my head explodes.. or I write the letter. "Do you have writing paper?" I ask, defeated.

She dashes off to the kitchen yelling to my gran, "Shelly's going to write to FATHER CHRISTMAS! She STILL believes! Isn't that CUTE?"

My mom comes out the kitchen. She looks at me and says, "I didn't know you believed in Father Christmas anymore?" I just sigh.

I hate my aunt.
I hate my life.
I'd hate father Christmas, but that would be stupid, because…

HE
IS
NOT
REAL

Ugh!

I write the stupid letter, but it's not easy to do. This is Christmas in Rhodesia during the Bush War and it's hard to find anything to ask for. Yesterday we went shopping and it was a shock. The shops are virtually empty. Clothing racks with bare hangers rattling like old dry bones. Empty shelves with dust on them. I grew up with sanctions, but it was never like this. Back then there were things you couldn't get, and things that were smuggled in, but now there is simply nothing at all.

Everything is different. I felt it when we arrived, but now I understand the reasons behind the feelings. Trees and houses and streets are the same, but people are changed. Their faces are tense and they laugh too loud. There are soldiers in the streets and my uncle shows us his uniform and his guns. He has lots of guns. Ones for himself and ones for my aunt when she is home alone. They live outside of town. There are mines in the countryside. Some people got blown up by a mine placed in a picnic site. I know the place. We used to go there for picnics a lot. I wonder what a mine looks like. I wonder how people can want to kill each other at Christmas. Everything is different and changed.

"Well? Why are you taking so long?" My aunt is looking around the door at me writing my letter. I ignore her and go back to thinking about Christmas presents. Knowing what to ask for is hard because I am eleven. I want toys, but I don't want to want toys. I want to be big, but I don't want to grow up. I don't want to become a woman with breasts and responsibilities. I don't want to be a grown up who understands what a mine looks like and why people kill each other.

What can I ask for? I'm tempted to ask for things that aren't in the shops to prove Father Christmas doesn't exist, but I know that will only mean my mom will walk the town flat looking for something to buy me. I can't punish her for the fact her sister is a twerp. What about a jewellery box? Yes! I want a jewellery box, like the one I bought my mom when I was seven and had saved up my money for her birthday. One of those little satin-covered musical boxes with the ballerina. I love the way she turns around and around when the music plays. I saw a few similar boxes in one of the shops we were in yesterday. I'll ask for that. I feel happy now. I have no jewellery, except for a gold brooch my god-mother gave me when I was a baby, but that's okay. It's the dancing ballerina and the music that I'm really after.

On Christmas morning everyone is smiling a lot. My Aunt points to the corner of the lounge, "There's something there for you."

The whole family are watching me as I go over. There's a gift. It’s wrapped in old paper, because there was no wrapping paper on sale in the shops this year, but it has an "extra" of a picture of Father Christmas stuck on the top. I recognise it. It's one from my gran's collection. She has saved the pictures off Christmas crackers for years. I pick it up and look back at my family… they're all looking at me. I unwrap a little purple satin jewellery box. Inside a plastic ballerina in a lace tutu turns slowly to the tune of "Greensleeves."

Suddenly I feel stupid and embarrassed. Not because they think I'm a little kid and believe in Father Christmas. I feel stupid because I never realised they need me to believe so they can believe too. They want everything to be the same this year too, because change is scary, even for grown-ups. I never realised that before.

I look at their hopeful, anxious smiling faces. I understand now. It is up to me to keep them smiling. I will be excited to get this present from Father Christmas, for their sakes. For this moment they need him more than I do. They need to believe in simple magic and miracles. I life the box up and say, "LOOK WHAT FATHER CHRISTMAS BROUGHT ME!"

At that moment I'm eleven, but I feel a thousand years old.

Friday, May 04, 2007

My lobster story

Quite a few of you are landing here looking for my lobster story. Sorry, I have to redirect you. Go here for the English version, and go here for the Tamil version.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Going Home - Part 1 (by Michelle)


(It's been awhile since I've written here. Real life got in the way too much. Hopefully this year I will have more time.)


Going home..

I haven't thought about that in a long long time, but last weekend my husband found Google Earth and we spent the whole weekend looking down on my old hometown, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I showed him the school I went to. How to get from my grandmother's house to mine. My favourite shop where they sold the ice creams dipped in crushed pink sweets that tasted like breath freshener. I have no idea why anyone liked those ice creams except the colour pink was so pretty and back then there was only one flavour of ice cream cone - vanilla - so ANYTHING to change that was exciting.

Then this week I come here to catch up and read prema's Coming Home. Now I keep thinking about the last time I went home.

I am eleven years old and I’m going Home for Christmas. I'm so excited. We have been living in
South Africa for over a year now. Driving North I start to get the same stomach-tight excited feeling I used to get when we were returning from holiday. No matter how good the holiday was, home was always better. Now I watch out the window of the car for the first true sign I am close to home - baobab trees. They always make my heart sing. Some people think they are ugly trees, but I think they are beautiful. I wave to them as we pass. I tell them I'm going home. Through the tunnels in the mountains, back out into heat that shivers above the road like oily steam, and on to the border post and then the long incredibly hot road from there into Bulawayo.

We pass the hotel where they used to have the pet giraffe that nagged the guests for snacks by putting its head through the windows and staring at them. I wish we would stop there. I've never actually seen the giraffe, but it is too hot to be out here in the car. We need to get into town and out of the sun. I don't know when exactly I started noticing the changes. I know things feel different, but at first ‘different’ has no name. Streets, houses, shops pass by the car…it all looks the same as when I was last here and yet it all feels different.

At my gran's nothing has changed. Nothing changes in her house. This is what I love. The Christmas tree will always be in the dining room by the kitchen, dropping dry dusty pine needles on the parquet floor. The hanging things will always be up no matter how old, faded and tired they become. My gran's idea of Christmas decorations is "eclectic" (read that as tactful way of saying sentimental and eccentric). Chinese paper lanterns hang from the ceiling with spirals of foil that were once brightly coloured but now have faded to shimmery pastels. There are balls and bells made out of hundreds of folded and glued pieces of tissue paper. These were once bright too, but in all my childhood the reds have been faded pink. On the tree there plastic baubles that date from the 1950s which have "Coca Cola" written inside them in white and red glitter.

When I was much younger gran would let me put out the nativity scene with all the farm animals and the little baby Jesus, but then the world discovered that lead toys were dangerous and now I can only look at my old friends sitting in a box in the bottom of my grandmother's cupboard.

"Don't touch! They are poisonous!"

I miss the donkey the most. I look at him sadly, stuck forever upside down in a shoe box between the third King and Mary. His brown paint has chipped off his legs, but he's still my favourite. I will miss him. We close the box and leave them to rest in peace.

Later my cousins and aunts and uncles will all be arriving. My grandmother's house is the centre of the wheel of life in my childhood memories. Here I am HOME even more than in my own bed. It is a good feeling. A feeling that only several decades of hanging up the same Christmas decorations every year in the exact same places can bring… security. I have it here in a way I will never have again. I don't know that yet though. Now I am eleven and all I know is that later we will all be going to town Christmas shopping.

"Jenny is here!" My mother calls from the kitchen. Jenny, my best friend, who I haven't seen in almost two years. She lives just around the corner from my grandmother's house. I run to the door and… she has breasts?

I stand in shock and cannot stop myself from staring. She is a year older than me, but even so. Breasts? She smiles a strange new smile. Smug. She is different and I can see she is pleased with this difference. She is wearing little gold hoop earrings in her ears and a T shirt over those .. lumps. I will NOT think the "b" word again! She was my best friend, but now I don't want to see her. She reminds me that I am eleven and my body is changing. I can't see it yet, but I can feel it and it scares me. I have been the girl who was as brave as a boy. Now my body whispers of womanly things to come and I feel only horror. I do not want to become a woman. Women are mothers and grandmothers and teachers. They wear strange underwear and they do weird things to their hair. They have breasts and they complain about their body parts when they sit together drinking tea. I do NOT want to become a WOMAN.

I do not want to change. I do not want to become different. I want to be like my grandmother's house, where everything stays the same... except for poor lead donkeys who now live in shoe boxes forever.

Ok, so maybe becoming a woman is better than being a lead donkey?

We'll see…

Friday, March 02, 2007

Gilmore girls

Mother-daughter relationship. Emily Gilmore, Lorelai Gilmore and Rory Gilmore. Very beautiful Drama.
I now own a complete pack of all five seasons. Six DVDs for each season. (It is Balan’s idea of gift. How sweet. Don’t know the occasion though. Now he is searching for Judging Amy, all six seasons, and the sixth season Gilmore girls).
I enjoy sharing. So, don’t hesitate if you would like to borrow. It will be my pleasure.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Switching to the new version

My blogger account could not be switched to the new version (one or more of your blogs cannot be switched to new blogger). The help page was not very helpful. Can someone help me please. thanks.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kombai - some videos

PS: Video quality degraded at youtube







Monday, February 19, 2007

Coming home

Windchill woke me up. The knotted hair flying all over the place, pain in the back of the head reminding me of the iron bar on which I rested my head to sleep slipped away from occupying my mind in just a few minutes. It is the green paddy fields. Early morning wind fast by my face, farmers and crows.. I am suddenly alerted by the need to realise the town the bus is heading to or the towns the bus has passed. I try to jag my memory to recognise the place. It is the paddy fields again. I have to wait until the next stop. Hope I have not missed Palayam yet. Not a big deal though. I might end up reaching Cumbum. I can always come back. Bus stops. I wagely recognise and I believe that it is one stop before Chinnammanoore. Hmm, I have missed Veerapaandi then. It is the river and the temple by the river I like to give a passing look. It has been a long time since I have been to the festival in Veerapaandi. It is a blurry memory I have of the place and the festival. The village looks totally different during non-festival days. It makes it difficult to recognise the fig tree under which we cooked pongal for the festival. There was a lane of palmfruit (Nongu) vendors, I remember. I guess it was just the festival shop and the lane. That would explain why nothing is recognisable in Veerapaandi anymore. But the place always interests me. All the movie personalities from my area either write about Veerapaandi in their songs or they come here and shoot their movies. Again it looks different in movies too. It is not the same Veerapaandi I remember. But then it was a long time ago, and my memory is blurry too. It is Chinnammanoore now. I look for my periyamma's lane. I also look around in the bus stand to see if my periyappa is there by any chance buying anything at all at this time. I smile. The Jackfruit vendors have not started their business yet. I won't miss them tomorrow when I will be coming here to see my periyamma and periyappa. I may come today afternoon itself. I smile again. The bus moves. I look for my bag and suitcase. I have to collect them and get ready to leave the bus. It won't take long to reach Palayam. I don't know whether the river is running full or is it dry at this time of the year. I like the sight of the river in Palayam and in Veerapaandi. There look, it is full. It brings a smile on my face automatically. It is Palayam. I collect my things in a hurry to leave the bus. I forgot that it is not the city buses I am used to these days. The driver will wait, I remembered. I leave the bus, smile at the driver and conductor.

Kombai bus came after a few minutes wait. I boarded it, took a window seat. An old lady comes and sits next to me. The conductor is asking for us to buy tickets. Old lady asks for Pannaippuram. I ask for Kombai. The conductor and the old lady both looked at me at once, the conductor recognised me immediately. "Vaappa Latha". "Are you coming just now? Does your family know? Will they be waiting for you at the bus stand, how are you going to manage the suitcase and the bag. Don't worry. I will get it sorted for you"... I smile. He is a chithappa (uncle) and a far relative. The old lady wants to know a lot. Chithappa helps there. I look outside. Paddy fields disappear and dry lands start. Red soil. Seenithai aachchi's kaadu (unirrigated rainfed land) is somewhere here. They don't have a well. When I went with her to her kaadu, we had to hunt for surface springs for drinking water. Luckily there was one. We go past the Palayam college. There is a temple before entering Kombai. I don't know if anyone has ever done any prayer here. I have never been to this temple. I don't think anyone has ever been either. It is an abandoned temple. Coconut orchards change the scenary for me. My place has got so good water you know. I smile with pride. There is my school. Changed. They have got new entrance now. They don't have to cross the gully water when it rains. Then, no holidays after heavy rains then. Children of these days miss the village life. pchch. It's all too modernised now. hmmm. There is the board welcoming to Kombai. They don't change the dump-yard location or the location of the board. They do not seem to care what an outsider coming to Kombai for the first time would think. che che. I look away. The other side of the road is nice. It is the coconut orchards. Kombai is full of coconut orchards you know. We used to have one ourselves. I smile.

It is the theradi bus stop. I smile again. Whosoever coming to Kombai for the first time would get down at this stop. Conductor would always stop them to ensure that this is the stop the passenger wants. That would always confuse any new comer. Does that mean Kombai has more than one stop? Is it so big? yes dear. Kombai is not as small as you might think. It is big enough to be a town. I smile again. Not so long after, the next stop, the main stop, the bus stand, the one I want, comes. I collect my luggage. Coductor chithappa comes to help. He calls out loud for Muragan mama who is always there in the bus stand. I am unlucky today that he is not there. "No problem chithappa. I can leave luggage in Subbiah mama's shop and father can come and get it later". I convince conductor chiththappa that I can manage the luggage to the shop myself. He whistles. Bus leaves.

I look around. Kombai is fully awake. Early morning sun is catching up with its potential heat. I pick up my suitcase and bag and start walking. I am weak and hungry. It must be the travel. I have not brushed my teeth yet. I did goggle and washed my face too while I was waiting for bus in the Palaym bus stand. Mama's shop is not too far. "Vaamma Latha". Are you coming just now?" "Does your family know?" I tried refusing the coffee he offered, but failed. It is a coffee shop after all, although named “tea-stall” and he is the owner after all. Mama sends one of his assistants to my house to let them know that I will be there in a few minutes and they should send someone to come and collect the luggage. I can never keep my visit to my house a surprise.

Ok then. I take leave from him and start walking. It is the communal well. It is not a well first of all, neither small like you would imagine something similar to the one shown in movies, but it is a big water tank that supplies water to every lane and street in north and east streets. I don't know about other streets and their source of supply of water. It looks like water has been on for sometime. The crowd in every communal tap is less than normal. The vaasals are all wet. True that it is just morning and the sun hasn't dried up the water sprinkled on vaasals yet, but it also shows the trails of water being carried from taps to houses. Cows and bulls walk past me. Some carts too. Paper periyappa (paper delivery man) cycles past me. He never shows the kind of smile others in my village show. I guess it is just that that he is not my relative. I guess. But he does show a sign of recognition. I smile at him.

"Latha, is that you? vaa Latha. are you coming just now? where is your luggage? Is it there at mama's shop?" Akka asks. "Yes akka. Are you fine?" “I am fine. How are you? Come and have some breakfast and go”. “It is alright akka. I haven't brushed my teeth yet”. “So what?. Brush it at our place”. “It is alright akka. I will come later. See you”. Akka sends her son to let my family know that it won't be long before I reach home. He runs like a bullet.

Few more welcomes, few more breakfast offers and few more "later" replies delayed me a little. I enter our lane. I can see all my family members standing outside my house. Our house is on the left at the corner of the lane where it bends left and has a side branch to the right. We get a good view up to the end of the street, where it meets the main street. I walk towards my house. "Why so late? The boy from mama's shop came a while ago". I just smile. "ha?, why late?". Gawd. I can't shout from here. I walk closer. "Is it Latha?" Ennaappa, Are you comping just now?" another stop. I smile and reply and then I continue my walk towards home.

"Why so late. Why are you answering to all those stoppers?" - Chithi
"Have you fetched water for our house?" - me
"Why, are you going to help us?" - Amma
"Why so late? Lathappillai, you have gone thinner. You get thinner and thinner every time, do they give you food at all? What do you eat every day?" - Aachchi
"Look at her hair. She has cut it again. She has ruined her hair. She uses shampoo. Thickness has gone less too. She cuts it you see". - Amma
"Amma, I just cut some length that is all. Hair with split ends does not look nice. Anyway, cutting the length cannot make the thickness go less amma.".
"how" - amma
I just failed explaining.
"You use shampoo don't you?"
"No I don't. I still have the arappu you gave me last time".
"It is because you have not used it at all. You use shampoo". - amma
"Amma".
"adadada. Leave her to brush her teeth. Get her some coffee, akka. One cup for me too. Yes, your hair does look thin. What shampoo do you use?" - chithi
"Lathapillai, do you want iddly? I can get from our thaththa's shop. Give me a thukku, let me get some iddlies for lathappillai" - Thaaththa. (iddly is not a regular breakfast item in our household, particularly if I or senthil is not around).
"Where is Senthil? He told he was going to come one day before me.
“He is sleeping, see”.
“Wake him up. He shouldn’t sleep this late”.
“You just mind your business ok. Don’t start fighting with him already”.
“I am going to sleep for sometime".
"What, eat first and then you can sleep".
"Amma, I need to brush my teeth" .
"Use water from this thotti It is fresh water, I just filled one extra thotti for today. Use less water. We don’t get water in taps here remember?".
“Lathappillai, use less water. Just throwing water away is not a good habit for a girl. It brings you bad luck”.
“She never listens. She has emptied one full thotti for brushing her teeth”.
“It is not empty”.
“What is there in those teeth to grind it with your brush like this?. You are going to lose all your teeth and gums if you brush it like this. Is this how you brush nowadays?"
"Latha, are you coming just now? Why so late? Did you not get ticket in the previous bus?” Velthai chithi comes in. "What happened to your hair? Have you cut all your hair? It looks so thin. You don't seem to be eating anything either. Chuppakka, Did you not fill up this thotti? It is half empty"….…..

Chithi and chithi

Note at the end of the videa that I am a chithi myself (that is, I have a niece myself)


Friday, February 16, 2007

Maruthaani (Henna)

I like Maruthaani (Henna) on fingers than on the nails and like the big nice round inside on the palm. I like at least one inch or if I can get more share for myself, I like to apply for two inches on fingers. I have nice long fingers. Well, except those old-lady-like-veins that I inherited from my aachchi. Fingers will look like dancer’s fingers tomorrow. I will suddenly change too girlie. I can't wait. We have a separate ammi (stone tool used to grind curry paste) to grind maruthaani paste. They say it is poison and should not mix with food, so we don't use the regular ammi to grind maruthaani. The maruthaani ammi is a small and nice looking one. Whosever grinds maruthaani gets shapeless red colouration all over their hand. It doesn’t look very nice. I don’t like it. No one does, I would think. I generally do not offer to grind. I want my nice round red in proper shape and in good contrast. Everyone is waiting. Chiththi the impatient tests the quality of the paste for every five back-and-forth- grinding strokes of the kulavi (kuzhavi/kuzavi). It has to be nice and smooth, no pieces of leaves. A small piece of leave will leave a blank patch. No one likes pulli (blank patch). We all wait. We have all finished our dinner and have planned very well that no more work to do. It is going to be our maruthaani session and good nice sleep after that. We have to keep the hands separate not touching anything so that the design remains in shape and dries nicely when we wake up tomorrow. We are all still waiting. There are atleast ten girls and women from all our families waiting and watching the maruthaani being ground. Nice moon day.

There you go. Finally done, nicely ground. Chiththi tests the quality and is satisfied. She divides the portions according to size of fingers as she puts it and manages to get a good big portion for us. There are three of us who need to divide now. Chiththi declares that there is no more dividing, it is just we should get on with applying. Amma gets less, she declares that she is fine with just for nails and takes little quantity. I don’t declare anything. I just start applying. We finally finished with one inch long on fingers and little round on palms. Mother had just for one hand and as there was nobody available to apply for her right hand, whereas she applied for me and Chiththi. Chiththi stretched a bit too much claiming for her toes too but we protested it and were able to stop her. We let it dry for sometime before going to bed.

Chithi is already is out of bed and is taking the dried maruthaani off. “Akka, give me water to clean”. She is shouting. I wake up. Amma is already in the kitchen doing her daily things. I am anxious to know the result. The round on my palms have fallen off. And it looks orangish for me. Amma’s hand looks orangish. Not very dark red. Mother is little disappointed, I can say. It never gets dark red for her, she says. Chiththi’s fingers and palms are all nice dark red. It is do with the quantity that was applied I think. She refuses to admit. It always gets dark red for her she says. I haven’t removed it yet. I need coconut oil before that. I remove from each finger carefully and apply coconut oil. Leave it for few minutes and clean it with water. The round on the palm is little bit of a disappointment but the fingers are not so bad.

It is all display time in school. Everyone noticed, I guess. Hand gestures for conversation are essential to convey the message clearly, you know. :-) I keep my fingers like dancers in Bharathanatiyam. I noticed that I often Keep the ring finger folded like rotated L, and use fingers as bookmarks while reading. When talking to girls, I often go confused, is the nail side or the palm side that has to be in the display. But, remember to turn the hand around to show the other side too. :-) I jump or dance and even try a few steps from the movies too when I get time alone at home when I can close the doors and windows.

PS: This is for you Shantha.
PPS: I guess my recent meet up with chiththi had a lot of influence while writing this above post. This is not what exactly Shantha was talking about. I need to write another one for her.


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Chiththi and Amma
(Chinnak kopuram, periya kopuram)
(photo taken during my previous visit to India in July 2005)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Recent visit to Kombai

It was a flying visit. Managed to take a few photos to record few moments. Recorded the Kombai/Chennai/Coimbatore pictures in UK time and came back to UK and recorded the snow pictures in Indian time.


Thaththa has become a picture.
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Chiththi


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the face changed home of mine


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our new house in kombai

Chevaththa puliyamaram looks shorter and fatter after 30 years. It has got some green-tamarind trees as company as well. (click on the images to see full size picture)
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Some old days discovered.

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1984 (ananthi came to see me. Missed to take photo with her).

senthil's letter to me
1987 Senthil's letter to me.



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1989 - some poor soul's autograph to me. Arul is no more.


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The stones I used to play thattangal (girl's game using stones), well preserved in my petti


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Narrowed down lane of mine


Kombai girls
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Chiththappa's thottam (my uncle's farm)
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Cousin brother - also Senthil.


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Kanahambaram


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Kaappu


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Thumbai (rackadip poo)



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Unni

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The Ghats and the temple at the foothills


Catching up
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Annalatchumi mathini


And, Friends ;-)
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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Maattup pongal

Yesterday went quiet, other than mother's usual running around and shouting at us asking us to eat every meal at right time so that she can cook the next one. We had Sarkaraip pongal (rice pudding prepared with sugarcane-jaggery) yesterday. I am not a fan of sweet items. :( Amma and Velthai chithi were telling that yesterday was the day for the mankind and today is the day for the cattlekind. Bulls and cows are celebrated and thanked today. We used to have bulls and cows, but not anymore. Murugesan mama has many of them. All cows. Pongal in their house is like a festival itself. We all go there to watch. I go to Velthai chithi's house and then to mattukkaara pattaiya's house. They have bulls. It is not sarkaraipongal today. It is venpongal. It is just plain pacharisi (raw rice) with no salt. Kind of tasty though. A portion of pongal, a piece of banana, a piece of coconut and a piece of sugarcane are distributed to everyone. I give my sugarcane piece to Senthil. I don't like sugarcane.

Esvaran chithappa is taking his bulls for a walk. Bull's horns are painted in colours. One in red and one in green. It looks funny. It's whole body is decorated with dots of colour paint. He has tied some flowers around the horns and a garland around bulls' neck too. Bulls look funny. It goes well with the colourful kolams and flowers spillage all over the streets. Marigold. I feel uneasy when I step on it, but there is no escape today. They are there everywhere. Marigold spillage on the roads and streets.

Pattaiya is shouting at Esvaran chithappa, "Don't walk fast. It is their day, we should let them rest". Esvara chithappa replies, "Bulls go with a spring in their walk, as they seem to know that it is their day. What can I do? I am not going fast". Chithappa brings the bulls back after a little walk. "Machaan, are you not going for Jallikkattu?" Murugan asks Chithappa. Pattaiya shouts back. "No one is going for Jallikkattu. Where is your father?", asks Murugan. Murugan and chithappa wink at each other. I know. They are going to go. "Chithappa, are you going to participate"? I ask with curiosity mixed with fear.
"No lathaappillai. Don't tell anyone that I am going, ok? Don't let your brother go anywhere out today. Not even to the streets. Many guys will be taking their bulls for walk and sometimes they might leave it a little loose. Bulls are in funny mood today. Ok"?
"Chithappa, are you going to participate in Jallikkattu? Isn't Jallikkattu happening in Palaharampatti? Is the vandi race happening in the west in Kombai"?
"Listen, Nothing happening anywhere. Ok. it is dangerous and no body is doing it anymore. OK"?
"Ok". My interest died.

"Don't go in your white clothes". Paatti's words go unheard. Ganasa chithappa is coming back, all drenched in turmaric water. "No one listens to me", Paatti starts again. "It is those girls in the templestreet", Chithappa is unahappy to see his white clothes ruined in turmaric water. "Stain won't go" Paatti is unhappy too. Esvara chithappa goes off. He doesn't seem to be concerned about clothes. It is all for fun. I know. Kutti is coming back with her bucket empty. She looks so happy. She is drenched in turmeric water herself.
"It is not you, is it, kutti"? Asks Paatti.
"No no. Aren't they my brothers, what are you talking about, am I mad to throw turmaric water at them? Don't talk to me like that" Kutti goes angry.
"Girls should stay at home. who let you go out to the streets"?
"It is all for fun Periyamma, relax and enjoy", Kutti replies and runs home to clean herself.
I just lean on the door frame and watch the drama, as there is only more to come.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Kaappukkattu

“Have you bought Kaappuk kattu”? Periyamma (mother’s elder sister-like) asks mother. “Muthu has gone to buy”. Mother answers. Chithi never goes to buy anything but for kaappukkattu chithi always runs to take the job. It is the festive mood she likes I suppose. Chithi is back. All smiling. “Akka, I have bought kaappukkattu. It was difficult to get the best bunch, you know. Not many bunches were being sold. They say that it is becoming more and more difficult to find these plants every year”. Kaappukkattu is a plant with feathery little balls as flowers. It is an inflorescence type. It is a wild plant which no one cares about except on this kaappukkattu day. People go searching for it themselves. But we can buy from those who have been to the hills to collect a lot to sell today. Chithi says that it has gone expensive this year. “Get some mango leaves”. Mother asks Chithi. Ganesa chithappa has brought us some mango leaves from their farm. Chithi runs to get them. They tie them together. They are running all over the place. I don’t know what the big fuss is about, but I like the festive mood myself. Around 4pm, we tie a bunch of kaappukkattu mixed with mango leaves, inserted inside the thatch, leaving the bunch tightly held but hanging. That is it. Pongal has arrived.

info: kaappukkattu is celebrated on the previous day to thaip pongal day.
Kaappukkattu - 30th maargazhi, 13th Jan.
Thaip pongal - 1st Thai, 14th Jan,
Maattup pongal - 2nd Thai, 15th Jan.