Random musings of a wandering soul

Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category

Unmyth

Unmyth
———–

Anointed, adjudged
From the time thoughts were born
Determined, Invincible
Protector, Nurturer
Strong

And so we did
Showed a face
With no tears
Nor a grimace
Pained?
Oh, but we’re used to it
Betrayed?
But that’s life
Tired?
There’s so much more to do
Attacked?
Ssshhh…lest more followed
Defeated?
Not us, never.

And we marched on
Screaming silently
Crying without tears
Holding everything in
Smiling in a straight line
Hearts wrenching inside
For we are the strong ones
The indomitables

Eyes moulded into steel
Souls into iron
Calluses fed our hands
Lead seeped into our feet
Before we knew
It was all a myth
Wrought to keep us chained
The strong woman
Who takes in all
Without even a whimper

But you know what?
Wars are not for us,
We don’t want to win
We just need to breathe
Unanoint, let us be
Real, Unmyth.

The Last Letter

Our family was never ‘photographic.’ Search high and low, far and wide, it is next to impossible to find pictures of us from childhood. Now that I think about it, we have seen more pictures of our mother as a kid than  those of the five of us put together. Did my parents have an aversion to studios, I wonder. Or maybe they just didn’t have the time, in between bringing up the brood.

There were letters galore, though. Staying in the small town of Alleppey, a grandmother in the nearby village of Kavalam and a set of grandparents in neighbouring village of Pulincunnu, the letters were mostly triangular. I do remember my father’s strong, slanted handwriting, those were official writings in blue black Chelpark ink, though. The blue inland letters were always feminine. The neat and tidy, tiny words from Kavalam and the large, rounded words, as perfect as her fluffy palappams, from Pulincunnu. Telephones were rare and letters were the only form of communication, unless someone visited. Yes, I was reared in pre historic times 🙂

We were forced into this habit as we grew up. As the eldest in both sides of the family, the onus of keeping this tripartite communication alive slowly fell on me. And it would be a lie if I told you I didn’t enjoy it. We were masters of space management, the two grandmothers and me. We would first take up all the space in the three ‘pages’ of the inland, then write on the margins , sometimes even in the space provided for the return address. Born story tellers, we were. My paternal grandmother would even add some sentences in English and would remind us from time to time with a twinkle in her eyes, “I was taught by European nuns, unlike the less fortunate you.”

Count of coconuts, accounts of activities in the yard, the state of mangoes that year, the feasts in the church, maids come and gone, family news of old retainers, births, weddings and deaths, visits from relatives – letters from the paternal side was more in the nature of a statement of account – what came in and what went out. The maternal ones were, well, more maternal in nature. Rounds of how each member of the family was faring, each of us kids asked for by name, news of cows giving birth along the women in the family who followed suit, chickens and ducklings hatched and snatched by eagles and crows, the letters were more about what grew and did not. As holidays neared, we would wait eagerly to know who would be coming when to take us home. For, home was never the house we stayed in ten months round the year. Home was always where the heart was – split between two villages.

When did we as siblings start writing to each other? The first ones would definitely have been from me, the first one to leave the pack to far away Ernakulam. Who did what in the hostel, which audit I was on, which clients provided the best food for free, there was nothing that the family did not know of. And in return, I continued to get news of what was happening back in the two villages, the parents had shifted back to Kavalam by then. The triangle turned into a square as another corner was added. One of the sisters got married off to the till then uncharetered territory of northern Kerala.

It was three years after her marriage that we lost one of us. There were hardly any pictures to remember her by, not that any of us needed it. Bonds of heart are far stronger than the most beautiful of pictures, we have realised since then, as we lost our mother a few years later. There are moments though, when we long for a touch, a word or two in their voices, something, anything, that was tangible. Not to remember them,   just to feel their presence, even if it was for a few ephemeral moments.

There are some books that are my favourites. They have a strange habit of disappearing at frequent and infrequent intervals. And they reappear months , sometimes years later, right in time when I need them. Only when I need them. It was a prayer book this time, an unusual one. The one that was my solace in my years of questioning God, those years of searching for the meaning of everything. Had it gone missing, or was it that I’d forgotten about it? I don’t remember. But it was definitely one of those days, when the yearning was too strong, the longing too difficult to get over, that it resurfaced. Surprising me. With a letter, the last one she’d written to me. Maybe the last one she’d written to anyone.

It’s 21 years today, since the then 21 year old wrote it.

What would we remember each other by, I wonder. Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, long forgotten Tweets? And I shudder.

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Random scribbles from a beautiful morning

“Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that’s all! But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes. Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane.”

That was John Larkin, quoted by Alain de Botton in his book, ‘The Art of Travel.’ I had just finished reading it before a solo trip to Himachal two years ago. Sitting beside the stream on the third day of the journey, these words came to mind as I struggled to bring my thoughts together in an attempt to write. The small note book was kept aside somewhere after my return and forgotten under corporate struggles and domestic travails. Until last week, the red cover splattered with doodles stared at me from under a few other dust laden ones and asked, “remember me?” As if it knew the time had come. My scribbles from  one of the seven mornings on an idyllic holiday…

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It is a single note at first. The gentle roar of the river. Separate notes emerge as you listen, slowly. The gentle lap of the small waves against the shore, as if a mother is carefully washing the soft skin of her first born. A stream that slides over a flat rock only to hit itself over another one and jump right back at the first. A playful gurgle, like kids splashing rain water from a puddle with an expert kick of their foot. There is a dip at the bottom of another rock, three streams seem to join as one. The first one comes straight over it, one part of it diverted in between and coming back in a gentle curve into the same meeting point and the third one going around it only to be guided back by another rock one the way. Three notes joined as one, gently flowing down into a small pool, just as a stream of holy water is poured on to the cupped palms of a pilgrim.

Rivers are a lot like us, humans. The first steps are tentative. As the meaningless gurgles turn into chatter, the steps turn sure. Wild laughter, playful banter with the shores, gushing joy, adolescence is pure madness. Youth matures, but the spirit is bright and beautiful. When does the light dim and the steps slow down? As it flows, what is around seem to have more impact than what comes from within. Have you noticed them in cities? The very essence of life seem to have been sucked out. The once vivacious young girl is now expected to take in all the filth and sins of everyone he around her, without as much as a whimper. Just as the tears dry up even as the pain sharpens, the river starts drying up. Until the next rain. As the silt begins to shift, the season ends. And she is thrown back into her emptiness. Again.

Patience has its virtues. I finally catch sight of the owner of the mellifluous voice above my head. A tiny beauty that could fit into my daughter’s palm with enough space left for its parter. Yellow under and green on top, perfectly camouflaged among the green and yellow leaves of the trees around. The trees themselves remind me of Ruskin Bond. Of his island of trees. I give up trying to capture the little one on my camera. Either the camera or my eyes need a fresh pair of lens. ” I am like the elusive words in your mind,” she seemed to say. Some you capture on paper, some just float away.

Butterflies, in abundance. Black with yello dots, brown patches in black, pale yellow, milky white, a group of sky blue ones that looked like someone tore away some clouds and a few pieces of sky came along with that. They looked liked school kids who had bunked classes en masse. I decided to keep the camera away and just sit there, watching their joyous dance. “Why do you not stay still?” I ask. They answer in an instant, “We are like your thoughts, when did they ever stay still?”

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I continue to sit still. A sudden movement across the river catches my eye. There is an odd shape on the embankment. A grey gecko. The feel is ecstatic. A little more than half an hour, and I feel like Princess Jasmine on Aladdin’s magic carpet. A whole new world seem to open itself out for me.

p.s. even after two years, I can remember that day, almost minute by minute. Some days and places are like that, isn’t it? Your special place  to go back to, some days just to have that feeling of content and some other days to run off and hide. 

 

 

Zen and the Art of Pillion Riding

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Dreams come true, always. The best part is, sometimes it happens even if you are not longing  for it. In the small town that I grew up in, it was only a brother’s bike that a girl could hop on. Or a husband’s. In either case, the girl sat demurely, with both legs on one side, wearing a salwar or saree. Not much fun. We got to see the adventurous ones only on movie screens. Was it Priya Raman or Amala that ignited a spark, I don’t remember. Anyway, the dream was short lived and life went on to other dreams.

Many years later, I asked a colleague of mine for a lift. There is a smile on my face as I remember his answer, ” I’m on a bike, are you sure?” “The boring auditor on my bike?” he might have wondered. The crazy and often unpredictable twists and turns of life gave a poetic answer to that question, for I landed a permanent position on his bike and in his heart. The rides were short lived as we moved on to dignified seats in a red Maruti 800.

Ten years and eight four wheelers later, there was a sigh, ” I want to buy a super bike.” The answer was a surprise, he says, “What’s stopping you?”

Riding together is like living together. It takes time, to find the rhythm. First came the cult one, the Yamaha MT – 01. The macho, muscled one. A killer in looks and power, his first love and mine too. For a sedentary pack of lazybones that I was, the speedster Suzuki GSXR was beyond reach. That was for the boy that lived on inside the man’s heart. To race , on road and on tracks. Life then moved on to adventure and touring. We had ‘Triumph’-ed. The Tiger Explorer XC

Geared up, the test ride if one could say so was to home base. Bangalore to Kochi and back, in the heat of summer. We don’t take things halfway, you see.

That was more than two years ago. A few brief rides in between, it was as if life and its routine hassles had taken over. Some incidents and certain people shake you out of your reverie, reminds you that you may not have all the time in the world, for all the things you wanted to do in life. And thus started the best phase, and it goes on.

It’s the rhythm. Each bike, every rider, has one. Takes time , effort and an open mind for the pillion rider to find it. Especially for one like me, who doesn’t even ride a bicycle. Most of us girls when young, have this romantic notion of a fast paced bike, you hugging the rider tight, a beatific smile on your faces, and your long and silky hair waving along in the wind. Reality check. Life is harsh. The first shock, “Can you move a little away?” “How dare he? Where is all the love? The romance?” I was livid. It took a few hours of ride in the scorching sun for realisation to dawn. The heavy leather that covers your entire body, add the protective stuff over almost every joint, the balaclava and the helmet and then an equally heavy body on your back? Even the hulk would balk.

The first lesson – space. As in life, we need our own. Not to separate, but to enjoy the brief moments of connect. Over time you realize, as in a good marriage, an overdose of proximity can be suffocating on a ride as well. The brief touch on your knee that asks without words, “are you alright?” It says a lot, much more than a thousand and one meaningless utterings of love. Khalil Gibran must have been a rider, I’m sure. What he said of marriage , is exactly what a rider would say,

” But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”

The seasons. They change, from mile to mile.

The Sun. He is gentle in the mornings, warming your face and waking you up. As the day goes on, it gets harsh, burns you down, scorches your throat, sucks the life giving water out of you. Short breaks, splashes of water on your face and down your throat, you are ready again. To face whatever comes along. Together.

The rains. You can either get wet or dance in it. Wasn’t it Bob Marley who said something to that effect?  Another wise one. It was on the ride back from Goa. Two and half hours of it. Glorious rain, in all forms. First, a drizzle. Then the tantalising one, on and off, a gentle downpour now, disappearing after a few minutes, only to come back then. The harsh one, from an impossible angle, like pin pricks on your body. The mighty one next. Along with the wind, threatening to topple you. Flooded roads, the gale forcing your whole body to a side, it’s a dangerous one. You can sense the rider struggling to keep his balance, slowing down to keep his rhythm, taking care his fellow rider is safe. Life. When it shakes you up, follow the lead. Move with him, this is not the time to go solo. As you ride out, you know that was one of the best phases. Wet to the core, yet lit with joy. The dance of a life time.

The wind. The life saver, the life giver. Can be a killer too, when it gets too hot to handle. Changing from moment to moment, it can soothe you, cajole you back into life or burn and scorch you. Doesn’t give you much choice, the only choice, go with it. Ride it out, without complaints. Because, the best is yet to be.

The curves. Season, you ask? Oh girl, you just have no clue, I say. Have you taken that bypass from Salem to Coimbatore? The one that goes over the highway? The sharp curve on that? That was my first one. Next best thing to being an eagle, its like soaring in the high skies. Wings steady and strong, floating in the wind. Some think they are dangerous, it’s all how you take it, is all I can say. Perfect moments of togetherness, two as one, just space and rhythm. It’s in you, to turn it into a graceful dance. Or not. The most dangerous moments, they can be the best of all. Be in sync and make it. Go alone and break it.

Many a ride and more curves later, I realize riding pillion is like Tao. Let go. Go with the flow. Follow the wind. Just be.

And, enjoy the curves. Better still, live for them!

Finding Fireflies

imageAnother lazy Sunday evening in Bangalore, the place that is now home. We were watching ‘Queen’ for the umpteenth time when power went off. The curtains were not drawn, it was pitch dark for a moment. Lights came back almost instantly, rest of the family promptly went back to Rani and her drunken antics. Not me, I had travelled miles by then. More than six hundred kilometers away. Where the moon throws her silver anklets into the river and she smiles coyly in return, flowing gracefully, like the languorous moves of a Mohiniyattam dancer.

Is it when you cannot have something anymore, that you yearn for it endlessly? In moments of ecstatic happiness and soul breaking sadness, I go home. In my mind and spirit. To Kavalam, to those days that are gone forever. The house wears a forlorn look, like that of a mother who longs for her kids who are far away. My home, where I go in search for my soul as it keeps wandering back. It just refuses to let go.
Our grandfather must have longed to be a school teacher. That’s how he built his home, one long line of rooms, with an endless veranda that went around. With doors in the front and back and endless windows. Not the tiniest bit of sunlight nor the gentlest breeze could escape, they went in and out the whole day. Nights were special. And those hours of power cuts, official and unofficial. One tiny candle shedding its light in the sitting room, we would all gather on the veranda, one of us would be walking up and down the yard. Talking about nothing in particular, or something serious.

And those silences in between. They came creeping in with the sound of the crickets, gently wafting in with the aroma of tender mango flowers. The rustle of the coconut leaves and the thud of falling mangoes now and then, the scary howl of wind and an owl here and there, sometimes the satisfied grunt of the cows from their shed as they stirred in their half sleep, those were the lullabies that would lead us into half stupor. It was on one of those evenings that darkness totally engulfed me.

The night was pitch dark, unusual even for a village where the only public lights were those blinking ones mounted on a tree trunk. The leaves were still, the river lay placid. Even the fishermen were silent, their boats just floating along, the oars gliding smoothly through the water. Going through a particularly difficult time in life, the darkness was seeping into my soul as well. As I lay supine on the thatched mat, my eyes slowly drifted beyond the yard. From the silhouettes of the trees, up above the coconut trees, searching for some light within and out, my glance turned, as though guided by a divine force, to a group of trees that grew up together and were the best of friends even in their old age. One tiny light among the branches, it slowly spread and split into hundreds and then thousands, as if the stars that went hiding from the sky that night had come down to meet me. To lift me up, to show me the path, to remind me that even a tiny star can give solace to a wounded soul.

And that it is in our darkest hours that we see the magic of fireflies.

 

picture courtesy : fireflyexperience.org

Still You?

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“There are no coincidences in life, only connections,” said a friend of mine. The strangest, or should I say the most magical thing is, when you actually look deep, you start finding connections everywhere, in almost everything. A stray thought that flits in and out of your mindsuddenly springs out of a page that you are reading. And your face breaks out into a smile of acknowledgement. You flip through another book, something similar pops out and the smile widens. You start wondering what is it that made you pick up these books at random? It was not pre planned for sure. Is it your sub conscious mind or is it a miraculous force that was working behind the scenes? The second, I always believe it is the second. And some things are better left unexplained, just to be enjoyed in serenity.

Books have always been my lifeline, the one friend who has stood by me through thick and thin. But me? I am a born infidel. Three at a time is the bare minimum. One for each mood, to suit the levels of nonsense that I have to put up with, traversing this never ending and forever surprising journey called life. There is no method as to why certain books are chosen, but I always end up finding some connection or the other. If not in the genre or theme, certainly in some stray thoughts that are thrown in between.

It is only in a rare instance that I admit the reality of growing old. The nagging fears lay suppressed. And the biggest of those fears are being dependent on someone, whether it is emotionally, physically or financially. At the same time, I do acknowledge that this might be inevitable some day. At least the physical part, even the emotional one. And it must be the fear that kept me away from ‘Still Alice’ for so long. An exceptionally brilliant Harvard professor, Alice Howland, is diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimer’s. As she thinks about how this is going to affect her life, her thoughts naturally stray towards what is it that she really wants now.

“Accepting the fact that she did indeed have Alzheimer’s, that she could only bank on two unacceptably effective drugs available to treat it, and that she couldn’t trade any of this in for some other, curable disease, what did she want? Assuming the in vitro procedure worked, she wanted to live to hold Anna’s baby and know it was her grandchild. She wanted to see Lydia act in something she was proud of. She wanted to see Tom fall in love. She wanted one more sabbatical year with John. She wanted to read every book she could before she could no longer read.

She laughed a little, surprised at what she’d just revealed to herself. Nowhere in that list was there anything about linguistics, teaching, or Harvard. She ate her last bite of cone. She wanted more sunny, seventy-degree days and ice-cream cones.”

Strangely familiar, isn’t it? Almost all of us spend most of our time on work, whether at home or elsewhere. It is but natural that majority of our thoughts revolve around it. Nothing wrong there, one need to make a living. But does it turn into our life, making us forget what really matters? Do we need a catastrophe to happen to open our eyes, finally?

That reminded me of Ricardo Semler. A Brazilian ‘Maverick,’ his company, Semco, runs on revolutionary ideas. A place where team members interview potential bosses, where salaries are decided by the employees, where the workers decide their working time and vacations and where the CEO gets no preferential treatment. Sounds totally unbelievable, right? That was my exact thoughts when I read his book around 18 years ago. I used to wonder how sustainable it could be. The thought lingered on and off all these years, until listening to this TED talk a few months ago. The organization is indeed doing well, the man has almost taken his hands off from there and moved on to better pastures like catching them young. But, what struck me was the first few minutes of his talk about his ‘terminal days.’ No, he is not terminally ill, at least not yet. He acknowledges the fact that it is something that could really happen, given his family history of melanoma.

If we were told we had, say six months to,live, what would we do? Think hard. That’s exactly what he did. And he now takes time out, intentionally, to do exactly those things. Why wait to be told you are going to die? Or, worse still, die without being given a chance to know that you were going to?

Most of us are ordinary human beings, fighting our daily challenges, getting immersed in the trials and tribulations before we move on to a better place, hopefully. Not all of us can go climb Mount Everest or do bungee jumping in Amazon. But we can surely take time out to visit that roadside dhaba that you always pass by and wanted to stop at. Or wear that sexy dress that you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Or take out that perfectly made shell shaped soap that has been waiting for years for a special guest.

So go ahead, open that cupboard, reach into its dark recess, caress that bottle of Port Wine that your friend gifted you two years ago, pop that cork open, pour into lovingly into that goblet, tilt it up and inhale the heady aroma, sip and slowly swirl, let it touch and awaken the taste buds all across your now awakening mouth, let the fire seep down the throat and then engulf your heart. Sit back and lay your head on that silken cushion. Close your eyes, let the mellowness take you over. Life is totally worth it. Those special moments. Go make them.

What if you had only a few days left on this earth? What would you do?

Why not do it when you are still you?

 

 

Following Fish*

kuttanadMemories are strange creatures. It pounces up on you like lightning at times, shocking you out of your self imposed reverie. The thunder that follows shakes you up, the accompanying rain then leaving you in a safe, cool cocoon. Some of them are like naughty children, tantalizing you with their pranks and leaves a stupid grin on your face. Yet others are like those nasty relatives and bosses, never letting you forget,  opening up wounds the moment they start healing and the blood keeps dripping. Some float in,  as gentle as a breeze, ephemeral, fleeting moments of rapture and peace. Then there are those, deeply ingrained in your souls, the very core of what you are and have been, always. Do memories define us? The ones that we keep going back to, those that leave a languid smile on our face, where we go hiding from the world, the shelters where we feel as safe as a mother’s womb….those must be the real us. Where we are shorn of our masks, where we dance in abandon and pure joy. Yes, they speak about us, than a million words or zillion gestures ever could.

Samanth Subramanian is an author who I discovered recently. His second book came to me first – This Divided Island : Stories from the Sri Lankan War‘ is a collection of heart wrenching stories of a race battered and bruised by a useless war . He had written about an old bungalow with open verandas and where sea breeze came gentle, cool and unhurried. Suddenly, I was transported back to Alleppey, the place I grew up in. The recreation ground, the old Rest House watching over kids and grown ups playing cricket and the road that led to the beach. The old ‘kadal paalam‘* and its broken wooden planks, the countless packets of ground nuts roasted in sand, and the sea, sometimes calm, sometimes serious and then at times black with anger during the rains. Memories, they are strange , popping up at the most unexpected of times. The lines in the book are now long forgotten, the feeling of connect, still as fresh as the time the words passed through my eyes and into my soul.

Falling in love is not easy for me. But if I do, it is all encompassing. And there is this deep longing to know everything about my love. And I was in love, with this Tamilian boy and his writing. Alas, there was only one more book to know him. The moment I read the title, it was epiphany. This was a love for life. To the Kuttanaadan spirit in me, it is the food of the gods. Ambrosia. ‘Following Fish,’ did you say, Samanth? Oh yes, I will, to the end of the world. Starting from Kolkata and its Devi like Hilsa, on to Hyderabad and its miraculous fish-y asthma cure, to the Tamil Nadu village of St. Francis Xavier, he finally reached Kerala. To be precise, Alleppey. We started feeling like a ménage-a-trios. Alleppey, Samanth and me. Sounds quite romantic, doesn’t it? Yes, fish does that to me. Give me a pot full of fresh kallu, a plate of translucent, steaming kappa and some blood red mathi* curry any day. I would gladly trade that for anything. Well, almost anything.

A boat full of memories. Of worms unearthed, ponds, canals and rivers, of fishes caught, broken metal buckets that leaked like love from a grandmother’s heart, of country boats that capsized, floods that cried into the courtyards, of earthen pots and brick stoves, fire wood and chimney smoke….. of childhood, happy and free.

The lone coconut trunk lay supine, its youth spent, days of glory gone. The young feet took a few tentative steps, as if to make itself sure that the bridge would hold and not turn her over midway. Not that she  minded. A splash in the water would have been a welcome break from the warm summer. To call it a shop would be stretching even the imagination too far. A corner in a room, a few glass bottles over a table, half filled with mithais* in yellow, orange and white. The eyes never rested long on the colours, though. The fingers drummed on the metal lids and the old man smiled with a knowing twinkle in his eyes, as he tried to shake the drawers open. A few hooks and two rolls of tungsten. And at times a tiny plastic packet of salty lemon pickle. Just like that.

The tungsten tied expertly to of a long and sturdy branch, hook in place at the end, a coconut shell with muddy sand in it, the search begins. Patiently , delicately poking the sand with a twig at first. Then at a frantic pace, unearthing those wriggly, slimy pink forms, their rings glazing in the sun. Squirm they would, even after being chopped into two or three pieces. Everything was matter of fact. Being kind to animals stopped at feeding the hens, ducks, cows and calves. Worms were for fishes. Life was so simple, straight. It couldn’t but be, for we were the ones who would outrun the chickens, catch them and watch in pretended horror as someone slit their throats with an expert nick of their knives.

The rod held firmly in the right hand, the left hand tests the worm on the hook. A perfect arc and the bait would land safely in the river. And the wait begins. The breath was baited, as the hands longed to be pulled in. The trick was never to pull the line in at the first bite. Let the fish test its food, taste it and get hooked. A swift movement of the hand and a  fish danced in the air. The grip had to be gentle but firm. The hook slowly taken out, the catch would go into a ‘puttu kudam‘ half filled with water. Why was it always this narrow necked container, I wonder. Must be the neck. No scope for escape. Did the fish know it was us kids who caught them? The big ones never came to us. It was always the smaller ones. Did they think they were being invited to play with us?

There were others who went after the fish. Not the hard working ones with an oily sheen of sweat on their half naked bodies. These were the languid ones. A small net, or better still a hand made bow and arrow. They would come by at any time of the day. With eyes as sharp as Arjuna’s , they would stare into the water, seeing things we could never find, sensing movements we could only imagine. Whoosh! The arrow would fly. It was never free though, the poor thing. Always tied to the end of the bow, the arrow would be dragged in along with the fish. No sympathy, for the heart that was pierced. That was life.

The river flowed past, basking lazily in the sun in the mornings and rushing past in a huff as the summer showers slashed it mercilessly in the evenings. Water was everywhere, in all forms. The river, the small canals, a pond in the backyard, a well at the side and the remains of the rains in pools everywhere. And the fish. The huge karimeens that were delivered to order, the tiny ones that played with our feet and bit us as we kept still in the water, the yellow ones that frolicked in the pond, the red ones that rushed up as we threw them rice, the fierce looking kaari, the slimy koori, the tiny pallathi, the ones we caught between the ends of a thorthu, the njandus that walked liked drunkards and disappeared under the huge cauldrons. Shards of childhood, covered in mist. Like the melodious ‘kooiiii’ of the men casting nets as they fade away into the distant night.

Thank you Samanth, for bringing them a little closer , before they disappeared altogether.

* (‘Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast’ written by Samanth Subramanian is an anthology of real life observations as he travels along the coastline of India.  A chapter on Alleppey took me back home, to memories of long ago)

*

kadal paalam – bridge over sea

mathi – sardines

mithais – candies

puttu kudam – a pot with narrow neck used to make the traditional Kerala breakfast puttu

karimeen – pearl spot

kaari – cat fish

koori – mystus

pallathi – young pearl spot

thorthu – towel made of hand spun cotton

njandu – fresh water crab

 

 (Image courtesy – manoramaonline.com)