Thursday, February 28, 2008

Twenty leap years to 80

A leap year is special, so are people born on February 29.My Appachan is one such special person and this time it 'leaps', appachan reaches milestone no 80.
Hailing from an agricultural family and being the eldest son to marry(his elder brother joined the Jesuits) appachan is a farmer by destiny.Though they had a sizeable land in his hometown of Arakuzha,in Muvattupuzha,finding more cultivable land became a necessity to sustain the 9 member family.So my appachan decided to move.He came upon a piece of land in the then Godforsaken hamlet of Ayroorpadam,in Kothamangalam.From what was just a part of the forest he carved out what later became my mother's home.Paddy,rubber,nutmegs,cocoa,pepper,vanilla,coconuts and a cornucopia of fruit trees flourished under his green thumb.It was only after my mum,(the second of four children)was born that my grandmother joined him at Ayroorpadam.Back then they lived in a tiny little house which served as the granary,as well as their home.The livestock included cows,goats,hens,rabbits and a huge pond of prawns.
It took years of hard work and sweat before they built their new house and saw their children settled.
The earliest memory I have of appachan is from the video tapes that my dad painstakingly took when my brother and I were babies.Dad had this weird notion of planning home videos by making people walk up and down the driveway.So there's appachan marching up and down with Neil and me in his arms,beaming like any proud grandfather rightfully should.(Ofcourse we were a cute pair of twins!)
Kothamangalam was always naadu because it looked like one, unlike our paternal native place in Ernakulam,a city just like our Trivandrum.
We'd arrive to the loving embrace of ammachi and the smiling face of my uncle(who used to stay there) but appachan, being the busy bee was seldom seen in the house during the day.If we made an entry through the paddy fields behind the house,we might see him somewhere in the farm,his broad,muscular frame glistening with sweat, his sturdy legs caked in mud and a smile of joy on his face and invariably the first question was"Which bus did you come by?".How refreshing it sounded unlike the formal "sughamano?"

Wake up at 4,milk the cows,clean the cow shed,inspect the rubber sheets hung up to dry,newspaper,breakfast at 8,farm chores till 1pm,lunch,farm chores again,tea at 4,tie up the cows,lock up the storeroom,bath,DD news at 7(years later when the TV came),prayer time at 7:15,supper at 8.To bed by 9.

This was appachan's life for the last 50 years.

I remember the few times he visited us back in Trivandrum.He never used to stay for more than a night inspite of the 8 hr journey saying he had to rush back to tend his cows.
Though only a 6th grader of the pre Independance educational system appachan is an avid newspaper reader.He literally devours the papers because when he's done with them,all we have is shreds of the Malayala Manorama scattered on the verandha.
He used to own a rickety old cycle which took him on his trading trips.(Back in the 50s he used to walk about 25 kms every weekend to Arakuzha to be with the family.)
It was routine for appachan ask us kids,what we wanted when he gets back from town.To me it was like the question of the genie in the bottle.But my cousins were smarter and always asked for plastic bangles.We'd wait expectantly to hear the tinkle of his cycle bell and rush to meet him when he appeared at the gate,our little hands held out for those coloured bangles and naaranga muttayi.Dont think I ever said "Thank you,appacha",inspite of my convent school training.

My mum recounts this from her college days.Appachan took her to the ophthalmologist to fix her up with glasses.She is on the seat reading out the letters,when appachan butts in"Moley,you are reading it all wrong,It's like this..."
His efforts in farming were recognized by the Malayala Manorama and they honoured him along with four others from the taluk for Life-time achievements.The trophy and the photo now stands proudly in the show case along with a couple of recognitions from the panchayat.
A religious movie goer of the past,appachan has seen the entire lot of the black and white Malayalam movies released in cinemas at Kothamangalam and Muvattupuzha.
Appachan enjoys playing cards.Once we sat down to play and went on for hours with appachan playing with professional zeal,suspending his grandfatherly duty to let any of us win once in a while.

The diagnosis of diabetes came as a blow.For someone who relished hot bondas,vazhakkaappams ,and parippu vadas, from the glass jars at the chayakada ,it was the end of the world.
We kids used to watch in awe and fear,the nonchalant way he used to bare his thigh and jab a needle of insulin;thankfully the new insulin pen substitute makes the process less gory.
His hypoglycemic bouts have always been nightmares.Once he almost got swept away in the canal as he dived to retrieve a runaway coconut.By Providence Divine,someone saw him half a mile down the canal and dived to his rescue.Another time we got a call from ammachi at 6.30 pm saying appachan was missing.We spend one horrible hour,helpless in far away Trivandrum, till ammachi called to say they(the neighbours)found him unconscious in some remote corner of the farm.
Life has been tough for them since my uncle left for the US.If it were not for the farm chores they would have found themselves imprisoned in their own paradise.
Nowadays he spends a lot of time sleeping.Age is catching up soon and so is the loneliness.Of late,I have seen tears streaming down his gaunt face when we say goodbye after a joyful gettogether.

This February 29,he will savour his birthday cake and the payasam with least worry of his sugar levels,flash that handsome smile with the new dentures,sit with ammachi and enjoy the chatter and laughter of his children,their spouses and his grandchildren.Only last month he posed with his first great-grandchild.How would his thoughts read?

I'll never know till my turn comes...

" Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor. "

'Elegy written in a country churchyard',Thomas Gray

Happy Birthday Appacha! I Love you!

Friday, February 22, 2008

'Juggernauts' of Kochi

Once upon a time the mark of the commercial capital of Kerala was the noisy front engine autorickshaw which gave you the bumpiest ride in the world.The front engine autos have now almost disappeared being replaced by their purring back engine cousins.Not to forget the latest five seater which is so spacious and feels like a chariot of old days and is rather embarrassing to ride on if you are the lone passenger.

Nowadays the first thing that catches the eye when one sets foot in Ernakulam is a host of bright red giants,with equally colourful names,
promenading the roads ready to take you to any place you want to.They are the private buses of the city,the lifeline to thousands of daily commuters .
How much a Cochite depends on the private bus is quite evident on a hartal day when we find throngs of passengers at the bus stops,hoping against hope, for a flash of red.

St.John,St.Joseph,Christ,Maria,St.Jacob and Melkisadek are not the heavenly hosts,nor are Jismol,Remadevi,Sudha,and Laila young ladies, but roaring buses that ply my route.Then there are a set of names like CEEYEM,PEEYES,KAYKAY,VEEKAY probably christened to numerological perfection.

My tryst with the Kochi buses started when I joined college.It's a half an hour journey from home to college and does not involve long waits for a bus on a normal day.When Remadevi rolls into my stop with a maidenly gait,there would be enough space on the footboard to accommodate one foot.No wonder they call it the "footboard".I'll have atleast six other women hanging on with me and all of us supported by the 'kili'.
Now a 'kili' in every bus is necessarily a young man of lean built(so he uses up minimal space),with the agility of a monkey(waits for 5 seconds after the bus has rolled on,to spring on to the footboard),sticky as Spiderman(acrobatic skills are a prerequisite for the job),and perhaps the happiest of working men.How many men work being jostled by women!The conductors of the buses are recruited with preference given to men capable of rude behaviour and tempers that flare especially at the sight of the uniforms or the Student concession cards.
A Private bus driver in Kochi is one person ,whose path you'd never want to cross.I think it is a national waste for Cochites to spend huge amounts going to Veegaland.Take a one way ticket from Kacheripady to Aluva and find a seat adjacent to the driver where you have the driver's view of the road Thrills,chills,screams and fears all come naturally especially between Kaloor and Edapally and that too without a seat belt!And the fancy name of the ride: "Hit or Miss"!(Warning:Pregnant ladies,children below 10,heart and pressure patients and the lily-livered are prohibited).
These 'experts' sometime fancy driving with a single hand,sometimes without any, and sometimes facing the horrified ladies behind him with a greasy grin!
They hardly tolerate overtaking and along with the 'kili' and conductor are one happy union when it comes to the use of colourful expletives.
The other day a priest got run over by a bus quite ironically named 'Heaven'!

The buses headed in my direction invariably have Naval Base printed on the windshield.In all my years of studying English I've never doubted my spellings until I saw "navel base","neval base",and "nevel base" printed on the glass.

Riding in a bus is certainly an adventure even after you get a promotion from the footboard.One loses the sense of the individual,the stifles,the cramps,the groans of people sardined inside are then a collective response.For all I know my arms are longer in one year's time from hanging on the bars and being flung to and fro when the driver pleases to slam the brakes.

I am most creative when on the bus.My head buzzes with the artistic afflatus.Unfortunately one can't jot down while hanging off the footboard.In anticipation of a wonder gadget that converts thoughts into words just like that, Viva private buses!

Picture Courtesy:From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Funny bone

"Rs.1000 for a good laugh and we are not joking!"read the ad for the Reader's Digest jokes column.It was those times, when I was a naive reader who digested everything I read and started keeping my senses alert for the slightest tickle of the funny bone.Inspite of my lazy habits, I managed to send in a couple of entries too.However, there were better laughs at RD and my 'laughs' went down the drain.I add a few from my collection before they are lost when mum sells my old physics record to the paper hawker.

* My brother Neil once broke his arm and had a cast on it.Back from school the next after noon,it was covered with "plaster art".The best one was "Neil Arm-broken".

*The bus we hired for our class tour was named "Suganthy".I was commenting on what an ridiculous name it was for a bus to a classmate when she said,quietly ,"That's my mother's name".

*Discussing his future plans my 10 year old cousin declared his ambition take up their family business.His
entrepreneurial skills were evident when he stated a name change for their store,"Chris & father"!

*My aunt named her two sons John and Paul and her daughter Liz.At a family gathering,where we were discussing names,she observed that it was fashionable to name kids after the reigning Pope.My little cousin turns to Liz and says,"so you should have been "the Second"! ".

*Our aunt used to ask us what we wanted to have whenever she visited from the US.Not wanting my little cousin to make tall demands,my aunt kept the news of their arrival a secret until the were safely on board the plane.Undaunted,my cousin asks"Can we call them up on the flight?"

*We were taking an evening walk when we came across a car which had large "WALK WITH JESUS"sticker across the windshield.Passing it my mum quipped"Funny people,they still needed a car and wont bother to give Jesus a lift!"

*Our poetry professor was musing about the paper valuation camp that she had been to.There was an essay on Browning's "My Last Duchess" and many had written on the evil 'Duch', and the 'Duck' instead of the Duke.

*Our moral science paper coincided with the chemistry practicals.In the essay many confused "morality" and "molarity".

*We were having a hectic day in the chemistry lab analysing the salt mixture when the peon brought in a lunchbox someone had forgotten.Our teacher rapped the desk and said"Hurry up girls,we've got one more analysis to do."We looked up exasperated when she added with a smile,"Lunchbox analysis!".

*In our Chemistry class the lecturer hung up the Periodic table and asked a guy to spot Pottasium.He frantically scans the Table and minutes later, triumphantly plants his finger on "P"!

"A smile is a fortune but you can't sell it,
you can't buy it and you can't steal it,but it isn't any good to anyone until it is given away."
So there.... :)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Date with Mars

“Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are”

August 27,2003 dusk. A clear sky over Trivandrum city. Anyone who ventured to star gaze that night would have noticed a bigger and brighter star with an orangish hue. It was Mars, the Red Planet. The newspapers had announced this vision beforehand for it was on of the rare occasions in which the Sun, Earth and Mars fall in line. Mars comes closest to Earth in such a rendezvous.

Dad and I were not content by the naked eye vision of this ‘rare visitor’. So we ventured out that cool night to the Observatory where the local Amateur Astronomical Society had set up a telescope. We were surprised to see a long queue of bleary-eyed people ranging from babies to old-timers congregated there. We joined the queue and were told that there was a five-rupee fee being exacted for the vision. We rejoined the queue after purchasing the tickets. The man ahead of us, sporting a mobile, complained loudly of the five-rupee fee.

The telescope was nowhere in sight from the ground and no one knew the length of the queue. It winded up all the way up a 4964000-litre capacity water reservoir (which provided eleven hours supply to 71000 souls-a plaque said). Each time someone in front moved we climbed a step. After several weary minutes we reached a landing on the staircase. It was dimly lit. People who had their chance were descending. All of us in the queue scrutinized the expressions on their faces, which were quite discreet owing to the darkness. Even bits of their conversations were vague and implied nothing.

After an hour we reached the top of the reservoir. It had a concrete terrace with air vents like huge mushrooms. Most of the people were feeling under the vent holes, so did I, out of curiosity and found it warm. It was terrifying to be standing on top of 4964000-litres of water. The telescope looked like an overgrown fountain pen. It was inclined at a very steep angle and the observers had to crouch under the eyepiece. The planet rises as the night grows due to the rotation of the Earth, my dad explained.

A family ahead of the man with the mobile was taking a peep. The man tried first and moved away satisfied. It was the wife’s turn next. She ducked under the eyepiece and in the process disarranged the apparatus. The man sitting beside the telescope had a look and said it was out of focus and adjusted it for her. The woman had a look and said she saw something white. The man stared at her in disbelief and had a peep again. Then he jumped up and pulled down the other end of the telescope and wiped the lens. It was fogged he explained. Then it was the chance of their little boy, who declared he couldn’t see anything. The man patiently readjusted the telescope again. The kid looked again and exclaimed, “Why it’s just like a small moon!”

“What did you expect for five rupees?” snorted the man with the mobile impatiently. It was his turn next. He had a peep and commented loudly that it was only the size of a five-rupee coin.

It was my turn next. With bated breath, I ducked under the eyepiece, bracing myself for the historical vision and much to my disappointment all I could see was a small white orb akin to the moon. I had expected at least an orange one. I moved away and my dad had his chance. He took a peep and asked the man at the telescope whether he could have a clearer view. The man obediently got down and fumbled with the telescope. My dad looked again, this time longer. The people behind him were getting irritated and had started making waspish comments. Embarrassed I urged dad to get over with it. Finally after about ten minutes dad joined me. As we made our way down we could see more bleary-eyed people queuing up. My dad was blaming the authorities for not having efficient machinery. The telescope, my dad suspected, was the one the erstwhile king had owned. We returned home at around eleven to find my mum and grandmum eagerly waiting to hear our story. They sympathized with us.

Anyway we are part of history. Such an event will come next only on 28 August 2287.