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The ties that bind.

Dr. Krishnaja A. P. 17-6-2010.


Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never
want to lose. (The Wonder Years)
Memory is a child walking along the seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick
up and store away among its treasured things. (Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal)

The following paragraphs are all about the pebbles I have picked up along the way, and treasured
over the years.

When I look back, the first thing that comes to my mind is our journey to Podanur by the Madras
Mail, every year during the Christmas and summer vacations. The train journey had two
highlights. The first was the rose milk we always had at Olavakkod junction. The beautiful shade
and taste of the milk is something I could never recreate in later years, though I tried hard to. The
second thing that comes back to me is how the diamonds shone in the nose and ear studs of the
lady who sat opposite us on one of those journeys. The magical effect of the diamonds flickering
in the light and the womans serene face is etched in my memory. I remember sitting glued,
looking at the bright rings the diamonds made, twinkling to the trains musical rhythm.

Podanur was home, where my parents lived. It had a special place in my mind. So different from
Calicut, where I stayed the rest of the year with my grandmother and aunts in my mothers
maternal home. The evening sky was unimaginably beautiful in Podanur, a riot of colours from
glorious orange to soothing blues and greys, with molten gold thrown in between. This is where I
first saw a skyline that resembled a beautiful painting. As a child, I would sit enthralled, looking
at the evening sky, till it became dark and little silver stars would start to appear. It never bored
me. In fact I used to eagerly wait for the evening sky to appear again. Perhaps even without my
knowing, my early lessons in attuning with nature must have come from here.

Podanur being an Anglo-Indian railway town was culturally different. I was fascinated,
sometimes even mesmerized, by the young couples dancing on a Christmas or New Years Eve
in the house across from ours. Calicut in those days offered no such fascinations. Decembers
were rather cold and you could see the early morning dew settled on the plants. We had a huge
Nandiar Vattom plant, deep green foliage full of snow-white blossoms near our small green
trellis gate. When youd open the front door on December mornings, the plant was a glorious
treat to behold. Even now, whenever I want to calm myself, I close my eyes and imagine the
snow-white blossoms against the emerald green foliage. Then we had huge pink Edward Rose
blooms, which grew close to the veranda, and made a pretty sight against the white blossoms of
the Nandiar plant. We also had a large white rose bush in the backyard, fully covered with more
than 100 flowers no exaggeration thanks to all the used tea leaves and eggshells we
liberally deposited at its base, under mas instructions.

Podanur also had a Taj bakery, a real Taj for us. We used to eagerly wait for the bakery boys
bicycle bell, announcing his entry on the premises with the box containing all the mouthwatering
baked goods. Last Christmas, the urge to taste their Christmas cake took hold of me again and I
searched for their number on Net and phoned them only to be disappointed to know that they
do not courier them.

Trains fascinated us in our childhood. Our favourite pastime included running to the backyard
and vigorously waving at all the trains that were fortunate enough to pass through that area. Our
lives literally revolved around the Southern Railway trains in those days. We would not miss
waving at even a single train. We were on duty like railway staff. The trains gave us energy and
verve. We were particularly enthralled by the long goods trains, which came to load asbestos
sheets. Wed have a competition going, counting the number of wagons. Halfway through, we
would lose track and have to start all over again.

No wonder then, that one of our games, executed under the guidance and leadership of my eldest
brother, was also inspired by the goods trains. My brother decided to make the longest goods
train ever, presumably to load asbestos sheets. The course of action was quickly discussed,
agreed upon. A brand new woolen blanket, which my father cherished and which had been
bought after much careful saving, was central to the plans. The locomotive shed was to be under
the table, away from the prying eye of ma who was busy preparing lunch for dad, away at work
and expected any time. Under instructions from the master builder, we, the four wagon makers
(three sisters and another brother), merrily started cutting the tassels of the woolen blanket.
These were supposed to be the goods wagons. By the time dad came for lunch, we had made
one of the longest goods trains. It was extended out, now partly visible outside the table. We
were so happy with the outcome that we started moving the train to the accompaniment of
whistles. Then to spoil the fun, the bell rang. It was dad. He entered the front room and a cursory
glance satisfied him we were playing without making too much noise. By then, the whistle
blowing had stopped. My father was a strict disciplinarian. He entered the bedroom. There was a
loud shout calling out for brother, the sound of a thrash and deadening silence. All of us huddled
together. The blanket without tassels looked forsaken. The goods train was left midway, no
asbestos sheets to be loaded. It was fun till it lasted.

Another interesting game we three sisters played took place every vacation on my visit to
Podanur. Mostly played in the mornings after breakfast, elaborate preparations were made for
this game. Our kitchen set was brought out, tiny 2mm dosas and green chutney (prepared with
any green leaves) were made. Cooked rice and sugar was mixed in milk to make palpayasam and
served in tiny katoris. The space beneath the bed would be cordoned off with a mat, leaving a
little space for a door opening. The script for the game would run something like this: My
youngest sister would pretend to be my daughter and we would go visit my other sister, our
neighbour. Then the conversation would begin. Oh my eldest daughter has just come for the
holidays. As you know, she stays at Calicut with my mother. She will be here for two months.
Now I feel nice, what a relief when the children are around. Once they go back, I feel miserable.
I miss them throughout the year and eagerly wait for their next visit. Then my neigbour
would try and make some small talk with my daughter. Dosas, chutney and payasam would be
served. At times, tea was also served from a tiny tea set. Then, it was time for my youngest sister
to act as my other sisters daughter and visit my house. The same interesting conversation was
repeated, and the game continued till lunch was served.

My mind also holds on to memories of my parents visits to Calicut. When it was time for them
to return, I felt so sad. I would accompany them till I could. Once they got into a jatka, a horse
carriage on the lines of a Victoria, I would run alongside the carriage, trying to keep pace with it
and waving to my mother. I missed my mother. I resented the fact that they had sent me to
Calicut for my studies. I could not understand the logic. I wanted to be in my home. As the
distance between the carriage and me would slowly increase, so would the certainty that I could
never go with them. My return steps would be reluctant, accompanied by the sounds of my
brothers teasing. According to them, my stick-thin legs could never catch up with the horses
speed. I never felt angry with them, I think due to the inner despair that was gnawing at my heart,
bidding farewell to ma, knowing that I will next meet her only during the holidays. I used to be
overwhelmed by the sadness that welled up inside me. I felt utterly lost. I felt like the orphan
children in the convent that I studied in. The fact that I was totally loved and cared for by my
grandma and aunts did not in any way lessen my misery. I used to resent the fact that my parents
sent me here, instead of keeping me with them. My young mind was not ready to accept the logic
that it was for my schooling.

Having experienced the intense desire and longing for a child to be with its mother and the
accompanying sadness when left alone, I can never imagine why people would send their young
children to boarding schools under the pretext of discipline and better education, or for that
matter leave them with their grandparents. You should put yourself in the childs place and think
if you would have welcomed such an eventuality. If you cannot bring up your children, it is
better not to have them. The best learning centers are homes. Children should grow up in homes,
fully aware of the ups and downs of life.

On the subject of fond memories, my eldest uncles wife certainly deserves a mention. We
looked forward to her visit every summer from Badakara. She brought along with her baskets of
the tastiest appams, which we children loved. She took us to the annual exhibition and bought
each of us what we wanted. Her daughter and I were inseparable, doing everything together,
sharing our little secrets, which we faithfully guarded. Even more fun were our trips to aunts
home in Badakara. Wed visit the primary school that was under my aunts management, and
play teacher in those real classrooms, writing on the blackboard to our hearts content. Wed
go to the beach and make huge sand castles that were washed away by the waves, collect all
types of colourful shells, roll down a green grass-covered crater and play badminton inside it, put
our feet in the water, watch my cousins swimming I never learnt swimming. I wasnt allowed
to, maybe because I had severe tonsillitis.

We had no television those days. All there was, was the green dancing light of our Murphy radio,
a prized possession. We grew up listening to Radio Ceylon and Vivid Bharati songs. It provided
a musical background for our activities. It seems strange to think that in the 50s hardly anyone
had a television set, let alone a car! No one seemed to be in a hurry. Each of us was expected to
help with the cleaning up and other household duties. Every day was like the one before. Life
was more or less predictable. During the summer vacation, we had months of fun. In those days,
nobody worried about children being gone for hours, especially without cell phones to keep in
touch. We were told what time to get back after play, and the returning time was strictly
followed. No concessions and no excuses. Obedience was expected. We learned how to cope
with the outside world. How we live has changed drastically over the intervening years. Things
are so much better for a lot of children now. But may be they have lost something too.

Emma Bombeck wrote, The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging
through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one anothers desserts, hiding shampoo,
borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in
the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that
bound us all together. I am grateful for the family I was born into and the individuals we have
evolved into over time.

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