Tuesday, July 30, 2013

God of Small Things

Sometimes, sometimes often certain individuals come into ones thoughts. They come in like gentle whiff of fresh soothing air, and tickle ones hair pits, one’s heart and soul. As the native Indians, the Sioux say, “The heart soars like an eagle”! Perhaps I may be too enkindled about the feeling the thoughts bring forth? Nevertheless they bring sweet memories in an otherwise cantankerous, perfidious world and people.

In this world nothing comes free and everything has a price more than any value and altruism is a premium trait, if not a dying or a dead aberration perhaps noticeable in a few. In such a society this man who I must call as P, for the shortened version of his name and his relationship to me (he was my father’s first cousin and elder to he ). I called him “Perappan”. He was an exception,insofar as I knew in his relationship to me and my sister at least!

Memories of him dates back to my very young age of about six or seven and he lived with us , which was then a joint family of sorts .He was unmarried and died a bachelor boy well into his eighties. He was an early riser and used to engage in serious manual labour. The vegetable garden which was then a prideful thing was his creation. He used to gather about fifty odd buckets of water from the perennial well to water his fave garden. Spinach, Egg plants, cucumber, gourds, red chilies’, bananas, and yam the list was endless! Then the cows- the baths he used to give them (I in tow as an assistant of sorts) by the well.

I remember walking about with him questioning and inquisitive about his work here and the one he did there. Sometimes he would relent and let me do the little job when I was petulant about his refusing to let me do something along with him.

He was a craftsman .That doesn't mean he sculptured femme fatales, charming princes and abstract forms raved by the vain. He was a simple tailor. A maker of men’s formal wear, the tuxedos and suits and he was quite well known in a small elite circle for his exceptional skills in tailoring. The patterns that dissolved into ones symmetry, that coalesced as a second skin!

If I had had tasted the little things in early life that a child holds close to his heart they were from him. He was in a way my God of small things.

The first Chandamamam ( Ambiliammavan) monthly  children’s book till they ceased publication , the occasional matinée movies, the circus , the fairs  , the visits to the zoo and the beach, the overwhelming journeys in the admired double decker bus that were grand relics in Thiruvananthapuram, the refreshments and short eats out in  restaurant, the Parry’s chocolates and toffees, the peanut chikkis, the regular supply of shirts and trousers, the unfailing supply of firecrackers for Deepavali , the little doles ( Vishu kaineetam) for Vishu, my first  shuttle badminton racket…...! Thank God! If there is one, he was the one, the God of small things, things that now I feel made my life as a little child. They now tower large. Seem to be huge, very big, priceless and of incalculable value. Things that all the bullion may not suffice to square off. Things that are priceless but are invaluable the most.

I remember him desolate when I strayed a while in my early teens and in shady grouping of supposed friends. .Shiver me timbers!

Years later when he was living with his nephew (his sister’s son), I used to go to him often when I was in Thpuram, sit with him for a while. He was always pleasantly thrilled to see me and perhaps he also may have sighed that I did not disappoint him as he once feared I would. When I bade bye to him at the end of each visit, I used to leave in his palm one hundred Rupee bill. I often noticed a glint in his eyes, a shimmer. Gradually when he was ploughed under by dementia, he used to just sit in the chair and smile when I held his hands. The familiarness, recognition and the glint in his eyes ebbed not too gradually. They became washy from age and I saw he was surely going down, the smile too. The last time I saw him, he was not smiling, but sat with a void look into the distant, or was it into the blank vapidness of the white wall in front. The eyes were of living dead – no glint, no shimmer, and was foggy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My foot ,Gauche!!!

Use "a" before a word beginning with a consonant or the sound of a consonant. Use "an" before a word beginning with a vowel or the sound of a vowel. The “Madhama” said , perhaps the fifth time  that day, squinting her eyes through the reading glass perched on her nose and with a strain of exasperation she did not think was worthy of an effort to mask. The middle aged Anglican Indian spinster known in local parlance as “madhama” closed the ‘Wren & Martin’, pushed her chair back, stood up and straightened her skirt, tucked at her shirt before asking her pupil, the pure blooded young Indian woman to do the exercise in sentence construction with the words she had noted for her. Then with a noticeable imperious about turn she walked back into the house. Shadow the dachshund scampered behind her from underneath the table. True to its name! The boy was skeptical about the dog and was certain that it has all the trappings of its mistress.

He had been through this exercise daily in the grammar class at the convent across the street. And precisely because of that he was not too keen to sit by the table while the young woman labored at the exercise dictated by the Anglo Indian mam. He moved out further in the verandah of the colonial building that was now the residence of this white woman. He began to observe with awe - visually the artifacts and the furniture there. Surely this woman must be rich to have such a big bungalow and this clean drive way with mahogany trees giving perfect canopy .The May sun was a matter on the road outside and the world outside. In here it was pleasant as the trees would not let the hot rays of the sun scorch the ground below and inside the house the old antique GEC ceiling fans revolved gently, he felt figuratively than purposefully. The grandfather clock in the living room struck four and it brought him back from his thoughts chasing up the unknown hillocks. 

Hickory Dickory Dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down!
Hickory Dickory Dock….”

He sang in hushed voice swaying his hand aimlessly.

It was a routine now for a month. He accompanied his young aunt daily to the white woman’s bungalow. It was after lunch that they set forth on the thirty odd minutes’ walk in the summer sun. Past the junction that served as a flea market till noon every day- the foul smell of fish, rotten-fish still hung in the air like unseen fog and bickering, cantankerous  women still exclaim in brassy voices of what happened in the business hours in the morning, while packing up their unsold wares for the following day. Black restless crows would hop and fly around targeting tidbits and entrails of fish and junk left around. Then past the convent school where he went before the summer recess. The window of his class room STD – IV C on the third floor of the building towards the road side and he would daily notice was not shut close.  She would hold him close to her while they walked and hold the “Singapore “umbrella above her, taking much care that he was safe from the unfriendly sun.

He was eight.
He often overheard conversations at home because the elders thought it was not significant if a little boy like he was privy to the discussions they held. What he sometimes overheard told him that his aunt was sent there- to her father’s ,by her husband who wanted her to undergo a crash course in spoken and written English; to understand the etiquettes of the elite society; to make her a cultivated woman. He did not understand the nuances of the conversations. But he was sure that she went to the Anglo-Indian white woman so that she would teach her English and social behaviour- what important and big  people called  'respectable' (sic). 

He heard someone comment that his aunt’s husband who was a “big man” in a “big city” was peeved by what he saw as her gauche and lack of etiquettes  in social gatherings. She once told her mother, that he called her ‘a dumb and insipid doll’ who cannot exhibit civilised and cultured conduct. She did not know to shake hands and reciprocate with hugs and kisses when an important person approached her. She had no idea of how a hostess should conduct about at a dinner for the elite clan of her spouse’s acquaintances…. . Her naiveté and lack finesse was glaring and damaging .Her salutation was just a coy smile and a “namaste”. Absolutely uncivilized and gauche!

The big man in the big city wanted to civilise her.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Of Husbands & Wives

I do not mean this for myself. But just musing over wives whom I have known, mine and that of my friends and others; their life’s with their spouses. I do agree that by the same token a woman who may read this can also compare from the other side too.

I have a colleague who I have often noticed speaking to his wife back at home over the phone in an impatient and rude tone. Though I resisted eaves dropping, I have sometimes exercised a bit to overhear his conversation on the phone and I have noticed in the distant unremitting voice over the phone that she does not care to listen to him, but keeps talking when he at this end is violent in tone and asks her to first listen before chattering. Yes, this may be one sided judgment, but what often struck me was his rudeness on the phone and his impatience when talking to her. I have not noticed this when he, for instance talks to his parents. He is not too keen to often go back home either. The bottom line that cannot be ignored is that he married her after a courtship.

A close friend is often blushing when his wife opens out on the arguments and battles that comes about in their midst. The apparent traces of philandering he indulges in. She even hilariously narrated one instance and went on to talk about an argument they had one evening over his wanting to go out to the club for a drink and she suggesting he do it at home and they can be together. He refuses and she proposes an option that she will go with him and gulp down a few drinks too (she is a teetotaler). The situation flares as he stays adamant. She locks the house from within so that he cannot venture out and consigns the key to place where he could not find. He is upset and locks himself in the bedroom and goes to sleep. He later finds her drunk and cuddled up in the sofa in the living room after vexedly polishing off a few glasses of his favourite single malt.  They had an inflamed romance before tying the knot and it is twenty five years since.

There are some who are malleable and often one might wonder if it is not a tad deigned. In some case the act becomes more of a rule and demand than an exception. Puppets on a string? Equally remarkable are the specious husbands; the ingratiating ones. Not necessarily would the wife be a termagant, but they love their act. Perhaps often matter of adaptation?

I wonder where I stand. Fortunately though it has been a life a bit quarrelsome, dissenting and not so pluperfect, it has also been pluperfect as relationships like say, with friends can be .Perhaps, as exasperating, affectionate and forgiving as say even sibs would be. “Touch wood!” I hope C would agree.
I would tell this to a person who I know and is by blood related to me. It may be rude to say that he is timorous and callow at forty. That is a pity but is the fact. Romantic blissfulness during the brief dating they had after they chanced to meet in a temple probably was not enough to unveil their selves. Perhaps they were too aware and conscious to let go the armour they held over them. The enigma of the passionate times as always vanished soon and reality knocked on the door. The bitter side of them or either one of them was blown open. And the incompatibility was felt as she claims, by her. She alleges that he may not have felt the difference as he was obsessed with himself- a “narcissist” in her words. Isn’t it true that while you are dating you pretend to be someone else? They both may have .

He is certainly distressed, but she is unheeding and often one feels the woman is inexorable. Well what can one say unto him, but to tell her, “Watching you walk out of my life does not make me bitter or cynical about love. But rather makes me realize that if I wanted so much to be with the wrong person how beautiful it will be when the right one comes along."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Que Sera Sera

He was born and began his life in a faraway land – land of his birth, a land that had history, myths, legends and culture, colourful, so vibrant that he and many of his generation were swept away in its audacity and imperiousness. In the high tide, what people boasted loudly – “rich heritage!” Like many of us who want to glow in the aura of our past. The past, that was of our forefathers! A past, of which we have not seen and should have no bearing upon what we now are! The illusion that we are what it was- “the glorious past”, of which we had no part and can claim nothing of.

It is true that culture, years of tradition and social living as civilization could make people refined; by far better creatures, without gauche. It is also true that what is born with you would refuse to wither away and like little ugly warts, like barnacles stick to you with wickedness.

 He was one such. His grandfather was a person of nauseating wealth and hence, also what brings with such profusion – “influence and power”. Adding up to a potent concoction, “arrogance”! He had his fingers in pies, in places that really mattered. He had a long arm. That served well when he turned eighteen and brought him the passage across the seas to the land farther away. A land, where its people who like Rip Van Winkle believed that the world has not changed, cannot change and also that they still could lord over, the minnows as they see you and I. Where people believed and to great extent true until some years ago, that their folks would be devouring breakfast, lunch and dinner obscenely like rapacious philistines, all at the same time in different places on the globe; where it was twilight, dawn and noon all at  same time, Where the sun never went into the sea. A bizarre matter to think about for ordinary people like you and I! It was not fantastic, in fact it was true.

So, that was where he spent the most fertile time of his life, his youth. The cold wind that blew from the North Sea and the Arctic did little to mellow his enthusiasm for all that was less modest and liberal. Ten years and nine months of fun, frolic and a side dose of university education.
The Irish girl saw him in the rain one day and they walked under the same umbrella to his apartment. It was a special feeling of nearness that accelerated banging of his heart against his ribs, he would later recall.                                                                                                                                                                                                   “Falling in love in the rain and be soaked to the bones. I felt I would fade away in the rain and my bones would melt in the warmth of his clasp.” she would reminisce even many years after. “It was rain drops of love over us” she would add.

Eventually, she tagged to him as the co-passenger on the jet plane back to the land where he was born. She held his hand throughout the precarious air borne journey. She had an aversion for the skies and what hurls through the skies- up in the air with no moorings on the flat earth down below. She did not pray though, for a quick and safe deliverance from the long drawn jet haul through the clouds. It was not that she was an atheist .She was a catholic as most folks are from her country. And she disliked flying.

Back at home, he ventured into territories that were fancy and exotic, though he managed an Engineering degree in metallurgy from the university in “Old Blightly”. He chose to be a wine merchant. There was still a part of the substantial share of wealth his grandfather bequeathed to him and that was tempting enough to be flamboyant and freewheeling. His grandfather, the patriarch had passed away and the clout the family enjoyed receded gradually and purposefully like the ebbing of the tide.

Old habits that are in our chemistry, that reside in our veins and every sinews even while we were in the womb- our thinking, the way we feel about others, the intensity of our altruism or the lack of it, the good, the bad and the despicable in us may not be erased by factors and people that come about into our life at different times. They are only eclipsed. Perhaps it is the vile in us that plots our fall. That charts our destiny, different from the course we would want to.

He squandered his heirloom. If it is rude and cruel to say he squandered, one may rephrase it to mean he simply lost. She watched helpless and miserable for him. His overbearing and conceited personality was a burden to her too. Back to more mundane environment but refusing to let go the air and the pomp of the past he continued…. . He really believed of his invincibility, his superiority and cared less for what others valued in their life and what affected their life. In fact he deluded himself into fantasy and trampled upon others too. His immortality- he believed in that too? In the avaricious living he seldom reflected on the fantasy called immortality.

Now he is a depleted image from his past. Of the past, that was he. Emaciated and midway through the therapy. Toxic concoction pumped into his veins at regular intervals but the tumor in his lungs gorging into him further. It plays with him. It takes back seat, gives him a shimmer of hope and then harangues at him as it lords over his fate.  Taunts him! Would he in moments of quiet reflect on the arrogant life he lived? The shenanigans, the instances of deceit to the woman who shared her umbrella in the cold rain long ago? She, who still spends time by his side, holding his hand as she did on the plane many years ago? Of the people who he spite? Would he realize that what he now is,is the sum total of his past? Or is he not?