Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z -Zephyrs of change -2014

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

Click here for the prelude A - Agaramangudi 2009 

Zephyrs of change -2014

S P Thenmozhi – Panchayat President, Agaramangudi, announced the shining brass name plate at the immaculately arranged table behind which was a rotating leather chair. This was the office of the Panchayat President of Agaramangudi. 

A little Less than a century earlier the centre of action was the other end of the Agraharam where the upper caste Brahmins lived, and this place was the cattle shed where a certain Padayachi woman and her children toiled and reared the cows, buffaloes and worked on the vast cotton and paddy fields that stretched beyond the cattle shed. There was a mango orchard and a pond where the Brahmin women came to bathe and wash clothes.

At the turn of the century  or perhaps gradually, over the years, the Agraharam turned into a ghost settlement, with all the Brahmins selling off their lands and emigrating to the cities all over the world. 

While thorny wild bushes were growing on the remnants of what was once the Flamboyant  Sri Lakshmi Nivas, its cattle shed was now the office cum residence of the most powerful citizen of Agaramangudi.

In 2009 S P Thenmozhi, was a middle aged woman with strands of grey sprouting at the sides of her temples.  A well built woman, she inherited her father’s light skin colour and a sharp nose, slightly bent at the tip which flared up the nostrils when she smiled.  Flamboyance and a sense of confidence that skirted  on the signs of arrogance was certainly  a dormant gene in her father that she inherited.  
The Dravidian revolution that had steadily gained political power since the 1930’s through the 1970’s eradicated all references in names of people’s caste in TamilNadu and some other regions in the south of India.  The caste name that erstwhile signified one's social standing by way of the caste one came from was no more required to be mentioned as one’s last name.  No one was referred  anymore as an Iyer, Naicker, Naidu, Mudaliar , Chettiar,  Vanniar or a Padayachi as the last name.

You were simply known by your first name with your father’s  name and the village name forming the initials. With the change in nomenclature Sivachami  Padayachi ‘s daughter now hid her caste in her middle name and she never needed to expand the initials.

She was a woman who had come into wealth and power. The political clout of the lower caste labourers and the increased migration of the upper caste Brahmins were the catalyst for the changes. 

Thenmozhi was born and raised at a place and time which saw the radical change unfold over the years. When the nine year old Thenmozhi, perched on her uncle Palaniselvam’s shoulders   on the streets of Nidamangalam in 1960 listened to E V R Periyar’s passionate speech beckoning all lower caste labourers to revolt and claim their self respect,  little did that motherless child fathom  that she would be the product of that change almost half a century from then on.

The air conditioned out-house, which was  the office of the Panchayat President was immaculately done. Framed pictures of E V R Periyar and Annadurai hung aesthetically over the walls. On the table besides a desktop computer was a framed black and  white photograph of her Father and Mother. Sivachami and Nagammai Padayachi. What once was a cattle shed, was now a plush bungalow that belonged to S P Thenmozhi, the Panchayat President.

The Zephyrs of change had swept away the old social order and the new seeds that were pollinated   many years ago were now the dominant power structures  that ruled the landscape across the fertile Cauvery Delta.   

Jaanu, weary with travel and excited with her find of the remains of Sri Lakshmi Nivas was curious to visit the mango orchard and the pond where she had spent many a summer vacation during her childhood days in her grandfather’s farm estate.  

There was very little left off the pond. There were mounds of Garbage strewn across the periphery of the pond and the pond itself was choking in plastic. It certianly was not shocking compared to what she witnessed while on the road for nearly 100 miles alongside the banks of the Cauvery river. For miles and miles, the river was now bone dry.  

Along the river banks, massive trucks carrying loads of river sand, illegally from the dry Cauvery along the Tiruchy- Thanjavur state highway were raking money by supplying them to feed the insatiable demand to the construction sites in big metropolis cities of Chennai and Bengaluru.

Acres and acres of what once were paddy fields were now converted to residential plots. Over the years the land had turned barren with increased use of pesticides and the multicrop cultivation of the hybrid varieties of high yielding seeds. The water table had drastically dropped ever since the dams built on the Cauvery river had rendered the downstream bone dry even in the best of monsoons.       

Govindaraju Padayachi, one of the few surviving farm labourers from the 1970's was showing her around that afternoon of all that was left of the agraharam.  Govindaraju was now an old man in his late eighties, frail and a little senile with old age.  He walked her down to the out-house which was now the office of the Panchayat President, Agaramangudi. 

As Thenmozhi entered her office, he unfolded his lungi and folded his hands and slightly bent forward out of respect for the high ranking public official.

‘Maalu’s daughter...’, he attempted to introduce Jaanu to the Panchayat President .

Perhaps because she was lost in her own thoughts or perhaps because it was a busy day, she said she could not recollect who Maalu was.     

‘She has come from abroad to see our village....’ the old man continued...

Meanwhile Thenmozhi’s  iphone rang. Almost as if she was expecting it, she excused herself, swung around to the other side in her rotating leather chair  and spoke to the person over  the phone. From what Jaanu gathered from the conversation on the mobile phone, the national highway department was building the highway that would cut across the outskirts of Agaramangudi village to Kumbakonam , Mannargudi  and up until Kanyakumari connecting the southernmost  tip of the country with all the major metropolis. The farmers who owned lands on the fringes of the proposed National highway were being asked to sell their lands to the government.  Some parts of Agaramangudi fell on the proposed site for the construction of the National highway.  Their Panchayat President seemed to be busy brokering the deal between the  farmers  and the government.

It was perhaps too busy a day for her to host  a jobless Non resident Indian wandering aimlessly in her village, photographing the ruins of an erstwhile Agraharam as well as the cows shitting by the road side.

Jaanu sensed the disinterest and decided to cut short the conversation.  Hours of back breaking travel and the mosquito infested lodge in kumbakonam where she spent the sleepless night  were now showing on her. She wanted to take leave and call it a day. She asked if she may use the wash room. 

Sure, gestured Thenmozhi, non-verbally  and generously opened the door to the washroom while she was still busy listening to the conversation on her iphone.  

It must be difficult for you westerners to adjust here isn’t it., she said, as she finished her call.  There is nothing much left off the old legacy over here anyways, she added by way of commiseration.

It dawned on Jaanu that some time ago she perhaps was feigning loss of memory. There was an unusual sense of discomfort in her body language. She did remember Maalu. After all it was with Maalu and Neelu  that she learnt to swim in the temple pond when she was barely eight. It was after her mother died an year later that she went to live with her uncle and maternal grandmother.  Perhaps it was a painful phase of her life that she was trying to forget.

The wash room was spanking clean. The tiles and the fittings in the western style toilet  were all immaculately done and seemed to be of a quality found in five star hotels. They spoke of new money and flamboyance. It was a stark contrast  amidst all the ruins of an erstwhile Agraharam just 200 meters from where the plush out-house of the bungalow and its immaculately done washroom  were located. 

Jaanu took in the cooling comfort, luxury and flamboyance of the washroom.  As she washed her hands and splashed cold water on her face, draining all the sweat and salt after the hot and humid day in the sun, she felt refreshed. She looked up the massive Oval  shaped mirror above the wash basin as she soaped her face to wash out the grime out of her face. As she scrubbed her face, she smiled.

She smiled and she noticed.

She smiled again and she noticed. 

She noticed her light skin and her sharp nose, slightly bent at the tip which flared up the nostrils when she smiled.  It was her face.  Perhaps she had not observed it from the perspective that she was observing it today.  

It struck her like thunderbolt. It connected the dots. It felt like the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

She dried herself with the clean white towel and opened the door to the office room .

She took a deep look at Thenmozhi and the photograph of her father besides the desktop computer.

'Listen, we have something in common', she wanted to tell the Panchayat president of Agaramangudi.

But she let it go. She was not sure she should trust her instincts. Besides, who would believe such a bizarre story.  To explain was difficult and perhaps scandalous.
To explain would have been an attempt that would be complicated, vast,  long drawn and better forgotten.
It would have been complicated because it was something that spanned atleast four generations.
It was vast because it spread across atleast three continents.
It was long drawn because it traced back atleast a 100 years interspersed with two world wars.
It was better forgotten, because all it involved was scattered as ruins and buried in one village.    

She could not let it go.  That was in 2009.

In 2015 she wrote this for the A to Z challenge.

Thank you for stopping by ... 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y - Years in Chronology

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village 
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

Years in Chronology

Y – Years in chronology 

I cannot take refuge in clich├ęd disclaimer ‘All characters featured in this Tale are fictitious and any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental’

Here is what is closer to truth.

Many characters featured here were people who lived and are living. Abundant care has been taken not to potray anyone in poor light. All names have been changed to maintain the anonymity of all those living as well as dead.  Should anyone take objection to anything that has been depicted here, please connect with me and we can take it further.

All characters and incidents captured through this A to Z challenge were based  on 40% reality, 30% Fiction and the rest as a heady mix and match of fact, fiction, narration, imagination and extrapolation.         

This post is an attempt to separate fact and fiction 

The following years in chronology alternates between the fictitious ones featured over here and the real ones that occurred through the last 100 years.

1907 – Sundari was married to Sapthagiri Shastry’s grandson and  went on to live in Calcutta

1910 – 1914 – Mass Migration of lower caste farm labourers from India as indentured workers to Mauritius and Jamaica from the Ports of Madras and Bombay. 

1914 – Recently widowed Maragatham Padayachi sees off her son Manickam Padayachi at Karaikkal Port  who enlists as an indentured labourer to work in the sugar plantations in Mauritius.   

1914 – Sri Lakshmi Nivas was built by Natesa Iyer  where he moved in after his marriage to Lakshmi Ponnammal.

1914 – World war one breaks  out in Europe.

1916 - Maragatham Padayachi gives birth to a baby boy at the cattle shed in Agaramangudi
1917 – Cousins Subbu and Kittu were born months apart from each other.  

1929 – E V Ramasamy Naicker,  later known as E V R Periyar announced the deletion of his caste surname Naicker (Naidu) from his name at the First Provincial Self-Respect Conference of Chenggalpattu

1930 – Sundari sails on a voyage from the Bombay port to South Hampton along with her husband to Geneva.  

1930 – Sir C V Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in Stockholm, the second Indian to receive the award after Rabindranath Tagore

1939 – E V R Periyar founded the Justice party renamed as Dravidar Kazhagam in 1944.

1939  - Subbu and Kittu attempt to run away from Agaramangudi to enlist into the Pattalam.  

1940 – British commonwealth army enlists 200,000 volunteers  from India  to fight the World war II in North Africa and Europe.

1941 – British fight the Germans in North Africa

1942 – Susee marries Subbu and steps into Sri Lakshmi Nivas where she would live for the next 40 years. 

1944 – British fight the Germans in Italy  
1945 – End of World war II. The Americans  drop the bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki
1947 – Indian independence

1948 - Kittu marries Parminder Kaur 
1952 – Maalu and Neelu, Subbu and Kittu's daughters are born days apart from each other. 
1961 - Nagammai, Sivachami Padayachi's wife passes away. Their nine year old daughter Thenmozhi leaves Agaramangudi to live with her maternal grandmother and  uncle. 

1969 - A disenchanted Nammazhvar, who would later become famous for advocating organic farming resigns his job at the Agricultural Research institute at kovilpatti. 

1971 – Maalu gets engaged to be married. Drops off from college.
1979 - Sivachami Padayachi passes away.  
1982 – Subbu and Susee migrate to Madras for good.
2002 - Subbu passes away from natural causes due to old age in Chennai.  
2007 – S P Thenmozhi is elected as the Panchayat President  of Agaramangudi Taluk 

2008 – Sub-Prime crisis and the onset of  global recession.   

2010 – Susee passes away in Whitefield, Bangalore.

Tommorrow watch out  Z - Zephyr's of change for the amalgamation of all the fact, fiction, narration, imagination and extrapolation   

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X - X references

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

X  References  

X is a difficult alphabet when you take up the A to Z challenge. 
I did not want to force fit it into a place or an incident for the sake of the challenge. 

X here refers to the cross (X) references that I have done to write these tales. 

Without much ado ... here I begin. 

The Cross(X)  references involve three major sources 
1.Family photo albums 

2. Family folklore  

3. Connecting the Random dots 

4. God called google : Wikipedia , Google free images, youtube  and the other innumerable sources from the internet.

1. Family photo albums :

In August 2014, while on a visit to my Uncle's home in Chennai , a cardboard box full of old moth laden photo albums tumbled down from the Attic. Clearly they urgently needed to be preserved, lest they would be lost to decomposition over time. I took on the responsibility of  digitizing them and got them over from my uncle. Sethu, my uncle is the strongest living link to the family folklore.  But for all that he has shared in the form of photographs and incidents, I would not have been able to connect many of the dots. 

The project of digitizing the photo albums is still pending my attention. However the by-product of that long pending project is this story. 

The Story that spans Four Generations : Three continents : Two world wars : One village.     

Click here for the parts of the album that i have uploaded and catalogued. 
While they are not copywrited, they certainly are my family property. Please get in touch with me if you need to use them. I have disabled the reshare option in the album.  

 2. Family folklore : 

In the late 1980’s when my grandfather struggled to raise funds to revive the Sri Anandavalli Ambal temple in Agaramangudi  and to entrust the responsibility of reviving the now defunct Veda Pathashala of which he  continued to be the trustee,  I was in high school  on visit during summer vacations to Madras .  I would  accompany him across to visit people connected to Agaramangudi and to the political powers that were ruling and seemed sympathetic towards the brahminical cause. 

Temples that lay in ruins were being revived by the then government, who came to power using the Dravidian vote bank but diluted the Atheist idelogy over the years. Institutions like the Veda Pathashala of Agaramangudi which boasted of alumni of Tamil Brahmin  priests who performed religious functions in the USA, UK for the Tamil Brahmin Diaspora spread across the world was in a dilapidated condition with no human inhabitation what so ever.

Sri Lakshmi Nivas was brought over by a Muslim landowner and leased out to the government as a godown for food supplies before it was razed down by bulldozers.

By the late 1980’s almost all the Brahmin families from the Agraharam had sold off their landsmigrated to cities. Settled in his old age with his son in Madras, my grandfather would narrate the tales of his hey days in Agaramangudi to anybody who cared to listen. 

He would talk of his regrets of not having moved to a bigger city in search of salaried employment. Of missed opportunities and fortunes that may have awaited him had he not been bound by his own fears and family traditions  and stayed back in the village.  From him I learnt how they got electricity into the village for the first time.  How they encouraged people to cook and eat ‘English’ vegetables  and fruits like tomato, carrot, papaya and pineapple  that were unheard of in villages. 

To his claim he was the unanimously elected village Panchayat head of Agaramangudi village for almost 40 years almost until the time he lived there.  He commissioned the government to build roads, bridges and schools around Agaramangudi. He ushered prosperity and growth during the days of green revolution in his village.   

The high and mighty that garnered political powers in their later years were his  guests and were hosted at Sri Lakshmi Nivas when they were launching their political careers. I could locate pictures of politicians who in later years went on to become very popular figures in Indian national politics. 
He never spoke much about Gandhi, the world wars or the Indian independence. The British rule or the ‘vellakkaran atchi’ was in his view what set the context for all the development that he had overseen and been instrumental to in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was clearly a different take from what I had read in schools about the struggle for Indian independence.

He died bitter and defeated in 2002, unable to salvage the temple, the Veda Pathashala and the cultural fabric that glued them all together in Agaramangudi from the sweeping social and political revolution and the anti-brahmin uprising that uprooted all brahminical institutions and their way of life  through the 1960’s and the 1970’s all over Tamilnadu.              

As I rummaged through old family photographs and scanned them for preservation, I discovered many facets of my extended family which were my inspiration to visualize life in different places and time that was far before I was born.  

3. Connecting the random dots :

V S Naipaul’s book ‘India – a million mutinies now’ which I read in 1993 has a chapter that features  the rise and establishment of the Dravidian movements and the anti-Brahmin campaign in Tamilnadu from the perspective of Brahmins who lived in Mylapore  and Triplicane. I could visually and mentally connect to them and just felt, I knew them well. Although the characters featured over there lived in times before I was born.      

Suguna Iyer’s ‘An Evening gone’  was a fleeting novel,  I once read, but it stayed on my mind for years to come. 
The house where C V Raman’s mother’s maternal home in the Agraharam in Agaramangudi where she came over deliver her noble prize winning son is today dilapidated and falling over to pieces. When my uncle pointed it out to me, it set me into a research of my own and lead me astray to aspects that I would realize later were to connect the dots.

Amitav Ghosh and all his works have been a source of immense inspiration that set me to put together the story of my ancestry and its interlinkages with social, cultural, economical and anthropological developments over the course of this century. 

'The English Patient' – by Michael Ondaatje rung a familiar chord in my memory bank as I had heard of similar accounts of the fight during the World War 2 in Africa and Europe by Group Captain M B Krishnamurthy. The missing pieces in the puzzle were solved when I signed up to the military heritage walk at the Madras Sappers at Ulsoor in Bangalore. Vijay Thiruvady's enchanting pieces of information about the military heritage of Bangalore and the Military heritage museum took me on a flashback on many random pieces of information that I had heard from Group Captain M B K.
Group Captain M B Krishnamurthy was my grandfather’s cousin and his best friend. In Madras, in the late 1980’s they shared a bond that was very unusual for two men who differed like chalk and cheese in their social standing , intellectual wave length and economic status.
I knew Group captain M B K as a retired ex-serviceman, who was in his days a high ranking official in the Indian Army. Flamboyant, well travelled, well read, he would drink, smoke and defy all social customs that my grandfather espoused.  He owned and lived in a posh bungalow that was tastefully done with expensive paintings and decor in the heart of T Nagar in today’s Chennai.       
Theirs was a very unlikely friendship that intrigued me.   It is their friendship that set some background for the canvas that I would weave over here.  

4. Wikipedia , Google free images and the other innumerable sources from the internet.

Wikipedia  has been the main source of research to draw upon information on many people and places.

There could be  lot more that I have missed to give credit to.

The ommissions are inadvertent.

And finally ...

1.Neither animals nor human beings, both living or dead have been intentionally  harmed in this process.

2. All characters and incidents captured through this A to Z challenge were based  on 40% reality, 30% Fiction and the rest as a heady mix and match of fact, fiction, narration, imagination and extrapolation.         

To separate fact and fiction  watch out for tommorow's post Y - Years in Chronology 

Monday, April 27, 2015

W -Whitefield -2009

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

W- Whitefield   -2009

As she lay in the nursing home with a listless overworked  nurse injecting her with more sedatives   to subside her moaning, Susee would scream  out for help before being sedated by the medicine. Jaanu looked into her eyes and held her fragile bony shoulders.  The stench of urine from the uncleared bedpan underneath the bed over powered the smell of medicated talcum powder that kept the bed sores away.

Jaanu knew, that, had she been able, her grandma  would have protested. She never used any other talcum powder other than the ‘Gokul  Santol’. This certainly was not smelling like Gokul Santol.

Nee Jaanu thaney’  ... Are you not Jaanu ? she asked after staring at Jaanu for a few minutes,  trying to juggle her memory hard enough to remember the face that was looking at her while holding her shoulders .
‘Aamam paatti ‘, ‘That is correct grandma’ replied her granddaughter, now old enough to be the responsible adult  and her caretaker. 

When the doctor pronounced the onset of Dementia a few months ago, no one imagined it would be so emotionally draining for the family.  On most occasions she hardly recognized  her own daughter and son. She would alternate between  fits of rage and bouts of wails leaving them clueless about what she was going through. Her daughter and son, were emotionally drained  and physically worn out doing their best, trying to be the caregiver for a mother whom they had known to be nothing but a dignified, compassionate,  strong and  loving woman all her life. It was heart wrenching for them to see their mother in this condition.  

Susee’s was a life from Riches to Rags.  

A couple of years ago when she was still able to walk and manage on her own, Her son took her on a trip to Agaramangudi. The Mangudi where she had set foot as a 16 year old young innocent bride of Subbu.

Sri Lakshmi  Nivas – 1914.

Susee noticed the inscription atop the huge mansion that was built in 1914. It stood at the end of the Agraharam just before the Mango Orchard and the private pond where the women folk went to bathe and wash clothes.

As she stepped into the house, the fragrance of fresh Jasmine wafted through the Veranda from the climber that had spread across the entrance of the house. Everytime she smelled fresh jasmine flowers, it would bring along soothing memories of the day she arrived as the bride at Sri Lakshmi Nivas.

Valadhu kaala eduthu vechchu vaamma ‘ ...Set your right foot ahead  and step into this auspicious beginning ...echoed an old woman’s voice.

A 16 year old Susee put her right foot forward and entered Sri Lakshmi Nivas for the first time.
She would spend the next 40 years, nurturing and nourishing hundreds of human beings, overseeing along with her husband an entire eco system of the Agraharam life,  unperturbed by the second world war that was brewing all over Europe or by the Indian independence movement that would lead to India’s independence in 1947.

Little did she know then that there would be other bloodless mutinies much closer to home, that over a period of time, would completely alter the social structure of the quaint Agraharam of Agaramagudi and that Sri Lakshmi Nivas would be rummaged to rubbles.

Rummaged to rubbles – that was exactly what was happening when their car alighted at the far end of Agraharam. It was a heart wrenching scene what with the bulldozer stomping across whatever little was left of the ruins of Sri Lakshmi Nivas to clear way for god knows what else.
As the marble structure that held the inscription ‘Sri Lakshmi Nivas’ fell, many things fell apart and cracked. One of them was Susee’s heart and her spirit to live. 
There could not have been a worse timing to visit Agaramangudi.
Her son tried to rummage through the rubble to get his mother the marble inscription of Sri Lakshmi Nivas, but the construction  workers forbid  him from entering the site.  They said they would try and find it for him when they cleared the place if there was indeed anything left of it.  In any case they said the chances were slim since it must have broken unrecognizably into pieces.

It was Susee’s heart that was now broken unrecognizably into pieces. Her soul  knew that the inscription was intact, albeit scarred, somewhere deep down in the rubble.


It was the year 2009.  Jaanu, after being laid off from her job in London in the recession of 2008 was on a career  break, back in India, biding time and tracing her roots.  A travel across her grandfather’s ancestral village, she felt would be a good way to heal her while at the same time help her trace her roots.
She rummaged about the ruins.  Amidst the thorny bushes that were scratching her all over she could recognize the rusted iron circumference of the gobar gas plant that once stood at the backyard.  
When tip toeing on the cement blocks which had slippery fungus grown all over them scattered among the weeds and thorny bushes she stumbled upon what she had been searching for.
                                              Sri Lakshmi  Nivas  -1914

Inscribed  in marble  under the green and black slush filled with mud and excreta.  She picked it up and cleaned it. She had heard of how, witnessing the fall of Sri Lakshmi Vilas,  had devastated  Susee's spirit. She could not wait to go back and show her ailing grandmother, what she had managed to salvage for her.   

This would have made a perfect gift for Susee for her 85th birthday.

Whitefield : 2010

Nee Jaanu thaney’... Susee juggled her  memory to recognize her granddaughter . It took her a herculean effort to try and speak, perhaps to  affirm to all those around her that she was alive and well.     

In the beginning, the memory lapses were intermittent, but now the memory itself was intermittent.
This was perhaps one such moment.             

Jaanu, took out the marble inscription and held it out before Susee’s eyes.

Susee's eyes expanded  in awe when she saw the familiar inscription. 

‘Valadu kaala eduthu vechchu vaamma ‘ ...Set your right foot ahead  and step into this auspicious beginning ...echoed an old woman’s voice.

Perhaps her memory cells struggled and brought back the memories of 1942, of Agaramangudi where she stepped into Sri Lakshmi Nivas as a young 16 year old bride.

Perhaps not.  This time it was a different beginning, perhaps into a different world.  

That was the last time her memory cells juggled and struggled. 
The next day the doctor in the nursing home, on his daily visit scribbled on the note pad and confirmed the last stages of dementia.  After a couple of days she was declared brain dead.

Her physical body died 9 days later.

To be concluded Z - Zephyrs of change 


Saturday, April 25, 2015

V - Varanasi -1979

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

V – Varanasi  - 1979

The majestic  Ganges flew past the temples and Ghats that lined the sacred town of Haridwar and Benares. The sacred Ganges is supposed to have the power to absorb all the sins of the land. Flower garlands,  lamps , bones and ashes dissolved into the mighty  Ganges  everyday as  people  from faraway places travelled and came by to dissolve  the ashes of the dead and to ensure a safe passage into heaven.

It was Susee and Subbu’s first visit to the north of India.  They came by to pay a visit to Kittu in Delhi and were hosted by him  at the Rashtrapati Bhavan  where he held office and were his guests touring the famed rose garden, being served by the staff in pure silver ware. From Delhi, both the families went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal  and then to Haridwar, Rishikesh and Varanasi.   

It was in Varanasi, that Subbu had a task to complete.  He was carrying the Ashes.

They needed to hire a local priest to perform the last rites. There were many at the ghat vying for the potential customer.
The priest spoke Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Marathi, before concluding that his customer for the day was a Tamil Brahmin.  He was a street-smart  Panda who came from a priestly clan in Orissa, but had picked up most of the Indian languages during the course of his priestly occupation over the years in Varanasi. His specialization was to perform the last rites for the dead on the banks of the Ganges. 

Everyday hundreds of people came from all over the country with the ashes of their loved ones, to ensure that the deceased  soul had a peaceful passage into heaven.    The Panda would broker for Subbu, a safe passage for the loved one into heaven via the Ganges.

As the urn containing the ashes was being prepared to be washed down into the sacred Ganges, Subbu and Susee were choked with tears.  The priest asked for the name, family gothra and relation to the deceased in that order. It was needed to be chanted along with the Sanskrit Mantra as a part of the rituals. 

Sivachami , Anna, Elder Brother,  said Subbu almost choking in his own tears.
Gothra ( Name of the family tree) asked the Priest.

mmm... Padayachi said Subbu with a slight hesitation and nodded his head inorder to affirm that he was indeed saying the right thing.

 The Brahmin Priest could not believe what he was hearing. On affirmation that Subbu was indeed saying the right thing, he squinted and then frowned.  The priest  had never before performed the last rites for  an untouchable.  That too, a Padayachi.  In the social structure that he was accustomed to, the  Padayachi  were the people  that did menial jobs in the farm  lands and cattle sheds .

Over the 60’s and 70’s they were steadily gaining political power especially in south India.   But this was the first time he had encountered a Brahmin, wearing his sacred thread doing the last rites for an Untouchable whom he related to as an elder brother.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After the incident at Srirangam  in 1967 it was a steady decline for Susee and Subbu in what they had taken for granted as their homeland, their culture and their way of life. Soon after Natesa Iyer's passing in 1969, the land was divided among all the brothers.  Subbu continued to oversee all the farm work but he knew that sooner or later his brothers would ask for their share of land to be sold off.

After his daughter was married in 1971 and his son had settled in a job with a bank in Madras, Subbu and Susee knew that their time in  Agaramangudi would sooner or later come to an end. In any case there were very few families left in the Agraharam.  

The labour unrest and social uprising against the Brahmins, particularly the absentee landlords was increasing every year. By the mid 1980’s, Subbu had sold all his agricultural lands including the ancestral house, Sri Lakshmi Nivas before he migrated to the city for good.  

But the cattle shed and the mud hut with the thatched roof  where Sivachami was born and lived all his life, along with the Mango orchard near the pond, he gifted it away to Sivachami’s  only daughter, Thenmozhi.    

It was a promise he had made to his dying  father.

To be continued ... W - Whitefield - 2009 

Friday, April 24, 2015

U – Uchchipillayar kovil, Rockfort - 1971

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

Uchchipillayar kovil, Rockfort, Tiruchy  – 1971

Maalu  was in the middle of  her second year of her three year Bachelor’s degree course at Sitalakshmi Ramaswamy College, when this wedding proposal came from a mutual relative. The horoscopes matched and the customary family background checks were done.  The groom and his family were  invited for the ‘bride seeing’ ceremony . On the day, the Groom-to-be arrived with this parents, sisters, aunt, a niece and nephew alongwith with the mutual relative who was brokering on behalf of both the families. After the initial small talk about the travel, weather and the prospects of Groom’s promotion chances in forthcoming  year, Maalu accompanied by her elder aunt, emerged from behind the door to serve coffee to the guests. 

Their eyes met for a microsecond when she glanced at the potential groom who was also trying to make eye contact with her.

After the coffee was served she sat down as was instructed to, and was asked to sing a song.  She was not exactly what one would call ‘musically inclined’.  It took her music teacher a great deal of effort to get her to render the customary songs with some decency so that she could potentially exhibit her musical abilities on the preparation towards the D-Day.  

On this particular day she did what best she could deliver. All went well except for the few strands in ‘Abheri’ ragam which went completely off beat when Maalu was asked to exhibit her singing abilities. The family , was not sure if the ‘groom party’ had noticed the imperfection in the musical rendering by Maalu.  Relief  came through , when they wrote back in a post card mentioning that the boy liked the girl and they would like to proceed further.

The groom’s parents came down the next week to negotiate the ‘terms’.
About 30  sovereigns in 24 carat gold jewellery, apart from two kilograms of silverware , all household utensils including a ‘Sumeet mixer’ and a grinder, some household furniture that included a four poster cot and mattress for the bride and groom  were agreed upon after a couple of hours of deliberations and haggling which involved repeated mentions of the boy’s academic achievements and earning capabilities, including the potential promotion that was expected by the end of the year.   There was also an ask to book a ‘Bajaj Chetak’ scooter which would take about thirty six months on the waiting list to arrive. It would be useful for the boy to take his wife and children around for shopping on Sundays in that alien town,  they had reasoned.  Subrahmanyam worked for a bank and was posted in a small town called Kolhapur, in the northern state of Maharashtra.

‘Maalu is very lucky’ the elder aunt told younger one with a tinkle in her eye. when Maalu was around  ‘ The boy does not look like the knit picking kind’ she added.

 They did not fail to notice that it was his mother who was scrutinising every bit of Maalu’s walking, talking, length of her hair and the realistic  colour of her skin beneath the talcum powder that had been used to lighten it up. The mother-in-law-to-be observed all around to gauge the family’s background especially its current social and economic worth. 

The groom seemed to be detached from all these worldly dealings. Like most eligible bachelors who had some standing in the marriage market, he had left it to the wisdom of his caring and concerned mother to negotiate the deal.

After the wedding, Maalu would set up home  in Kolhapur, some place up-north, far-away from Tiruchy. In a way, this meant that there would not be much of the mother-in-law taunts that all the other women had to go through when they were newly married and settled into a joint family.
That was what made her 'lucky' in the eyes of her aunts.  After all  she would have no one to pick on her if the vegetables that she cut were not in equal shapes and sizes or if the clothes drying on the clothes line on the terrace were not picked up and folded in the middle of the afternoon soon after they had dried.  That is, unless her husband took notice of it . He did not look the knit picking kinds. ‘But you never know’ , the women opined when Maalu was at a hearing distance.
There were things to still worry about. For one, Maalu did not pay much attention to learning household chores from her aunts and grandmother in all  these years . She would have to undergo the crash course  in the next two months, for that was when the marriage date was fixed for.

The ladies of the family were excited. 
The marriage expenses , especially the ‘Sumeet’ mixer and “Bajaj Chetak’ part of it, did look like it would not fit into the budget.  But balancing budgets was the men’s job. The women would get ready for the arrangements, the shopping, the invites, the planning and everything else that would go with pulling off a grand wedding befitting the family’s social standing.

Subbu had arrived the previous day from Agaramangudi.  Susee had sent with him a huge stalk of ripe bananas that had grown in the backyard of Sri Lakshmi Nivas and 108 coconuts from the coconut grove, to the Tiruchy house. 

All the women folk from the extended family along with Subbu and his brother, about nine of them got into the two Ambassador cars that were hired for the day . The Ambassador cars alighted on the foothill of Rockfort.   

They climbed the 365 steps of the Rockfort leading to the Uchchipillayar Temple along with the banana stalk and the bag containing the coconuts.  The banana stalk was an offering to the God of auspicious beginnings. On the way back they broke the 108 coconuts to ward off any evil eye that would come in their way of good times to come.   It was a ritual the families followed, everytime  a marraige was fixed or a baby was born.  It was a form of thanksgiving to the God of auspicious beginnings who reigned atop the huge rock formation in the center of the town of Tiruchy.  

After offering their prayers and the banana stalk at the Uchchipillayar temple at Rockfort, the family went shopping to the Saratha's silk house for the wedding purchases. 

In about four and a half hours, ( although it seemed like eternity to the menfolk), the women had reached a consensus.  They had finally decided upon and chosen about twenty seven silk sarees, seven for the bride and ten for the other close relatives for Maalu's wedding. 

The manager at Saratha Silk house felt it would be good marketing and sales pitch for the future to buy the family some tiffin and coffee.The extended family,  fussed around a little bit and then agreed for the invitation for Tiffin and coffee. A helper boy was summoned to get plates of  idli, vada , pongal and sambar. The green chutney and coconut chutney were complimentary along with the Tiffin. Tumblers of hot filter coffee perched in traditional davaras ( Steel saucer to hold the tumbler) was ordered soon after from the ‘Brahmin Mess’ across the temple tank.

Subbu was the father of the Bride.  As the  father of the bride was counting his huge wads of cash ( In 1971, there were no credit cards ) and was paying at the counter,  the aunts and uncles of the bride-to-be  were letting out loud satisfying burps after the last sip of hot filter coffee had gone in. With a lingering after taste of the filter coffee , the women double checked  to confirm  if all items were packed along with the complimentary jute and cloth bags that came with 'Saratha’s' printed on them.  It was extremely important to make this brand statement during the wedding.    For 'Saratha’s ' were the most reputed brand and leading silk saree retailers in Tiruchy for generations.

With the failing crops and political uprising of the labour class in the Thanjavur- Kumbakonam delta, Subbu was not exactly the prosperous farmer from Agaramangudi that he was,  a few years ago. He consoled himself that it was a once in a life time event for his darling daughter and thus a big occasion for him. 

Maalu, unlike in her music classes, had fared extremely well in academics and had topped the high school leaving exam. She had emerged the State rank holder . She scored a perfect 100 in mathematics which was her favourite subject.

Maalu had protested that her second year exams were clashing with the marriage dates, but the elders saw  no sense in her 'foolish' protests.  Her second year bachelor’s degree exam results would be of no consequence or use to her in the marital life that lay ahead of her. No one bothered to listen to her protests. Instead, she was told that, all a girl needed was some basic education, especially in English so that she could read the sign boards and some basic mathematics  so that she could maintain household accounts and pay the milk man and the dhobi ( laundry man) without getting cheated.

Subbu was well aware that  like in all marriages, the expenses would overshoot the planned budget. He returned to Agaramangudi and  went to meet Mohammed Basha, the bakery shop owner in Ammappettai . He bought some sweets from his bakery and let him know that his daughter’s marriage was fixed.  Last year,  Mohammed Basha had expressed interest in buying a few acres of land. Subbu wanted to sell the  land at the rear end of the coconut groves to meet the marriage expenses.  

Most Brahmins had left the Agraharam in the last decade, in search of salaried jobs in the city. And they were doing fairly well. Some of them leased their lands to other land owners or the erstwhile labourers who could now pay an advance for leasing out the land from the absentee landlords. A generation had now passed among the labour class.   Many labourers sent their sons to work in oil rigs in the gulf from where they would send home enough money for the family to save up and live a decent existence.  

Getting labourers to work on the agricultural lands was in short supply which in turn pushed the cost of daily wages required to pay the labour class. Over time many  families had converted to Islam and Christinaity.  There was an emergence of Muslim landowners who, with the money from the Gulf ,  had a good purchasing power over the fertile and highly  profitable tracts of agricultural land in the Cauvery Delta.

Subbu knew very well that it was not going to be long before his five brothers who now lived in different cities holding jobs in government offices would  start asking for their land to be sold to meet the marriage expenses of their daughters or to educate their son’s abroad

It was only a matter of time when his  time would come to emigrate to the city.  The political turmoil had usurped many of the social structures that his father’s and grandfather’s generation had taken for granted. . He was convinced that it was a wise decision to sell off atleast part of the farm lands that he could not mange on his own, than to get into huge debts to meet his daughter’s marriage expenses. He  would still be left with some land which he could call his own.    

The deals were struck .

One for the land and another one for Maalu. The land did not protest about its sale as did Maalu about her marriage. She was keen to finish atleast the second year of her college if not the entire degree course. She believed that she was undoubtedly the one to get the gold medal if she persisted. 

The bosses at the Bank in Maharashtra were not aware of Maalu’s exam dates , when Subrahmanyam asked for two weeks leave for his marriage, which they sanctioned.  

Maalu continued to go to college every day. As if some miracle would happen that would alter her destiny atleast temporarily so that she could chase  the pursuit of her gold medal.

She was not an impractical girl. She was aware of her father’s financial burden, but was irritated about it all. She was irritated with the entire social and cultural norms that came in her way of pursuing Mathematics. She could not help being jealous of Neelu, her cousin  who was studying Economics in Delhi and had no such stifling family circumstances to deal with.  Neelu’s parents were not so conservative and  would encourage Neelu to go on and pursue whatever she wished to do and determine her own future.

Why had reality got to be so different for Neelu and her ? 

She knew that she would have to come to terms with the reality that was very soon closing in on her.  She was now engaged and soon to be married. She could not run away from reality, try as much as she did.

It was the the day when the extended family had decided to go for the wedding purchases.  That morning Maalu said, she did not care about her wedding Trousseau  - the colour of the sarees or the designs of her wedding jewellery and went off to attend classes at the college.

Thus it was not ten members of the family but nine in all who fitted into two ambassador cars that afternoon to go to Uchchipillayar Kovil and then to shop at the Saratha’s . On the way back they stopped at Sitalakshmi Ramaswamy College , spoke to the Principal of the college and  picked up Maalu along with them.  

Maalu was squeezed into whatever little space there was left in the car. Her aunt who usually picked on Maalu for her clumsiness, her lack of attention to details and her complete disinterest in doing the household chores was suddenly being extraordinarily sweet with her. In the overcrowded car she got the eighteen year old Maalu to sit on her lap and hugged her tight.

Inside the ambassador,  the decibel levels were high. The arguments over choosing the ‘elephant design border’ blue kanchivaram saree in favour of the  ‘peacock design border’ green kanchivaram saree for Maalu’s ‘first night’ ceremony was being heatedly debated by her aunts.

A slightly irritated driver pressed on the accelerator. Maalu turned around and saw the ‘ Department of Mathematics’ building of her college whiz past her and fade away into that far away horizon .

Instinct told her, that day would be her last day in college... and it turned out to be correct.