Thursday, July 22, 2010

PERPLEXED

I wake from the dreams of
cotton candy and dragon flies
in hot afternoons,
long chases and mud on shoes,
from chalk powder on hands
leftovers from an attempt at
the unpolished canvas
before PT periods and sweat,
I forget the messages on greasy chits
and behind the brown papers
that enveloped my books,
back i am to darkness and sleep
now I trade nameslips with smiling supermen,
for a hand at the unfinished homework,
I hear voices telling me that H and O
leaves water, about constants
and variables of life,
about oxymoron and metaphors,
I read Dickens and Chekov
back home as dusk sets in,
I strain my brain and
sweat in the exam halls,
much like life, and the bell rings,
The dream is left in half,
broken, I would never know
how much I scored, I wake
to shakes and reality years after,
and stare at adulthood, perplexed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

ODIYAN : A Mallu Animagus/ Hitman

My mother belongs to what you can call a typical orthodox Malayali Nair Tharavadu which in my grandmother's time was a Naalukettu and her grandmother's time was an Ettukettu. For those who are not familiar with Kerala's cultural setting, a 'Tharavadu' refers to an Hindu ancestral home. Naalukettu, and Ettukettu( which is almost like a Naalukettu doubled, nalu being four and ettu being eight) is a traditional architectural style now on the verge of extinction. Nairs are a matriarchal society and the lineage passes from Mother to daughter. Unfortunately by the time I was born my mother's family had shifted from their orginal place which was 'Nelluvaya' to Trichur. The huge joint family was broken down into nulcear subgroups leaving the age old home with its huge 'Thodi' (frontyard and backyard combined) and sarpakaavu ( a sacred grove for serpents) to remain as fragments of memories, the backdrop of the very many stories or legends that runs in my family to this day.

When I was a child a good portion of my summer holidays was spent in rummaging the memories of my aging grandmother and her mother, who is thankfully still alive, to gather bits and pieces of my fading legacy. I constantly ransacked the 'Thattumpuram' ( somewhat like an attic) of my mom's tharavadu ( which is traditional but sadly not a naalukettu) looking for anything that could link me to that long forsaken home. I know for a fact that it doesnt exist now, the Naalukettu with all its pride and glory, though the saarpakavu is still preserved with yearly rituals. But somehow it still stands, high and mighty, in my imagination and continues to be an obsession.

The stories of the legendary 'Odiyan' are plenty in my family (skip the final two generations). He has always appealed to me more than his counterparts like Chattan, Kuttichatan, Gandharvan, Marutha etc. Odiyan is an indispensable part of mallu folklore. They are supposed to be people practicing black magic which helped them to acquire the shape of animals or things. To be more precise, though they dont physically change into anything, the intended victim while looking at the odiyan would be seeing a cat or a bull or a rock or anything that the odiyan wants. The power of the odiyan was so immense that any physical contact with him could result in instant death. He could charm you as a harmless calf or charge at you as an angry bull.

I would classify 'odiyans' as hitmen of olden times. They were set up by rivaling uppercaste families and were paid for their services. The interesting hitch in the story is, while the 'marunnukootu' ie the ingredients for the secret portion and the way of preparing it was held secret by the upper castes, they themselves never performed the 'odividya' ( the art of the odiyans'). Instead they chose people belonging to the lower castes like Paanan, Pulayan and Chovan, taught them the rituals and stuff and made them do their dirty work. This was because apparently the person who practiced as an odiyan was bound to die sooner or later by his own sword.

The thing that gives me goosebumps about the odiyans is not their very concept or the eerie stories told by my grandma but the way they made their secret medicine. Legend has it that the odiyans made a secret medicine out of the fluid carrying the unborn fetus. This was mixed with some secret herbs to make some sort of an oil mixture which was then places behind the ears of the odiyan. The odiyan had his powers as long as the mixture was behind his ears. Some alternate versions however claims that the odiyans would appear as animals or things to everyone and not just his victim and that an odiyan can transform back to human only when his master or helper removed this oil from behind his ear with a special stick. What is even more creepy are claims about how these people charmed pregnant women and lured them from their homes in their sleep and slit their stomach to take the fluid. The woman would be found dead in her bed the following morning without any cut marks on her body. Creepiee... dont you think??

I would tell you a little odiyan story connected to my family now. This is about how my grandmother's grandmother died. Apparently she had a rivalry with some distant relative. Once when she had gone out to the temple pond at around 4 am in the morning she saw a calf, which kept on following her. Suspicious she skipped the bath and hurried back home. This calf kept on following her and started to grow bigger and bigger in size. The calf brushed against her and disappeared and she started sweating profusely. My grandmother's mother, ie her daughter, took her to her bed and she died that evening. There is another one about my grandfather. Once long back, while he was about 10 or 12 years old, he went to the field with this brother, who was around 8 or 9. This was again at around 5 am in the morning. They had their dog with them. When they reached the middle of the field the dog wouldnt let them move any farther. It blocked their way. After sometime they saw this huge ball of fire about the size of a man at around one feet from them. It glowed for a while and then circled the feild fast and started chasing them. Luckily they ran back home and nothing happened.

I know these stories sound silly and that the odiyans are now considered as nothing more than another manifestation of superstition among innocent village people. As time progressed, and modern education crept into villages emancipating the lower castes, things like Odiyans and the beliefs associated with it disappeared. One can appreciate a thing or a belief like this only when we consider the time when it existed and its historical backdrop. I have never met an odiyan ( or any other ghost or paranormal being) in my life and I cant say for sure that such things exist. But nevertheless the Odiyan , appearing and disappearing on rainy evenings spent in my grandmother's lap, continues to be, for me, an enigma a mystery and a childhood friend. :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Kiss of a feather

I dont know what to write. But I know that I should write something,and that if I dont do it I might choke on this strange feeling blocking my throat and may be die of a heart burst( dunno if that is biologically possible, just my humble speculation).

There has been moments in my life where I have felt touched, moved. What am feeling now is somewhat similar to that, but not quite the same. I, along with two friends, have been visiting an orphanage near by my home for the last two months with the aim of teaching English to the kids there. I am having my vacations now and I thought I might as well do something worthwhile than sit at home and crib about the slow pace of time. It has always been like that for me. Time seems to stand still during vacations. And the only thing I usually do during holidays is to put on weight.

So there I was, set to change those kids to 'smart children speaking the queen's English'. But what I never foresaw was the change that this endeavor could bring to me. I know this sounds cliched. May be like those English movies in which the white heroine,a personification of the 'white man's burdern' that Kipling talked about, sets out to help the poor black people in nations like Sudan and Uganda and how inevitably the last scene of every such movie has to end with the heroine's self realization and change and blah blah. I am no heroine and the kids I mingled with were no embodiment of suffering or tragedies of life. Though I have to confess that that was somewhat my expectation - grief stricken faces looking for a helping hand.

They were normal kids. Ordinary, with shy smiles and loud laughters, but possessing hearts with such pristine innocence that they could with one look make the sophisticated and the so called privileged us question our genuineness. The most beautiful form of love is a kid's love. It is innocent, undemanding and unconditional. It is not selfish or jealous. In that orphanage, I could see it. I could see the feeling of which I had read only the scriptures and certain sappy novels conveniently borrowing ideas from the holy books.

I have never faced a shortage of love in my life. Never. Though many times, being my silly self, I have felt I don't have enough of it. There I saw kids with so much love and kindness in their hearts that I cant claim to have in mine. They dont know what life or god or destiny has deprived them of. Or may be, they do. But they dont crib.I have never,not even once heard a kid crib or complaint there. Neither about the food nor about a friend who borrowed the only doll he/she had and never returned it nor about studies. They taught me that a single eclairs can be divided to more than 15 pieces. They taught me that it doesnt matter if the food is not served hot or if the tea lacks sugar. That it is not important if you clothes are a little too old or frayed at the borders. Life is still good and we are blessed.

They ask me about my parents. Each day as I leave they would ask me to convey my regards to them. Invariably. And each day the moment they saw us at the gate, they would stop their play and rush to tell the details of the breakfast, or the dog that wouldnt stop barking at night or the new flower that has blossomed in their garden or who had done the homework first. I have never felt more wanted in life before.

Today was my last day with them. They had arranged a programme for me and my friends. They "spoke English welcome speech". Performed a skit. Danced and sang for us. And send us off, with a beautiful handmade card for each of us and a token of their love. There were wishes and smiles and hugs and kisses. And tears. The kids crowding around us as we started to leave. So many of them. So much of care. And their love serene, flawless, like the kiss of a feather.

I dont know if I will ever see them again. But I know that I wont ever forget the love that I found there. In the place where I expected it only in trace amounts. And the thing that the kids taught me. Much more important and valuable than my English lessons. The ability to appreciate life. They have it. Do we???