Those were some of the happiest days in my life. Nurani was where my grandparents lived. It was a rented house. It had the typical mud-tiled roof, a big sit-out (thinnai) and a huge backyard (kolla pakkam). We used to go there during every summer vacation.
My Granny, whom we fondly called Ajji, used to pamper us with her delicious cuisine. An expert cook she was, an embodiment of immense love and patience. This reflected in each of her dishes. Even plain water tasted sweet when it was served by grandma. Grandpa, on the other hand, was quite the opposite kind of character. He was a very friendly and outgoing person, popular throughout the village. People used to call him Jeesa. Whenever he was at home, there was always someone at the door to meet him.
My uncles, all three of them, are three different persona. Each of them is famous in the village for their unique childhood achievements outside school. This said it’s evident that only Dad was scholastically inclined and had a consistent first class record throughout his learning period at school and college. My uncles were just the opposite. Plucking mangoes during class hours, eating sundal at the village temple and fooling around with friends were their favorite activities as children.
Then there was Darling Atthai. The youngest child of grandparents and the apple of her brothers’ eyes. She had the privilege of being the only daughter of the family and was fondly called “Ponni” by everyone. She was pampered the most till we kids were born. I used to admire her beautiful long hair which granny carefully oiled and plaited twice everyday. Her eyes were like lovely black marbles and her voice was sweet like the cuckoo. Years after, even now I think of her as one of the most beautiful and charming women I have ever met in my life.
Mornings used to be full of fun and activity- learning to swim in the pond, hopping/skipping with friends of my age, and simply running about the house a countless number of times. There is no fatigue for children and they seem to have an endless reserve of energy. So were I and my childhood pals.
There used to be a store room in the house, called as macchu. My dear granny used to store laddus, jilebis, mysore pa, murukku, adhirasam and other mouth watering stuff in steel containers into the shelves of this room. These shelves were out of reach of us children. You might understand the disappointment stemming out of the inability to reach to your favorite sweetmeat which is right in front of your eyes. You can see, but not eat. And little children can’t bear such temptations. SO we used to nag our Chittappas or cajole our Atthai to get us a sweet or two, pretending that if we did not get the sweet, we would die of hunger! 🙂
Around 4 in the evening, after a sumptuous lunch and a power nap in the aatukkattil (long wooden swing), we kids used to wash our hands, feet and faces. Talcum powder-application ceremony would start thereafter. We kids would stand in a row, one after another, and mom/Atthai or granny would paint our faces white with powder. Sometimes, kajal or eye-pencils were also used to highlight our eyes and brows. At the end of it, we would look like white and black painted foxes!! 😀 Kajal was used to ward away evil influences on children. But with such make-up, I guess even normal people would have preferred to keep their eyes away from us. 🙂
Meena mami next door would religiously wait till the talcum powder-application ceremony ended. Staying in the house opposite to us, she could know every little thing happening in here. That is one specialty of villages, people are always aware of what others are doing, unlike big cities where nobody knows what’s happening in their neighbourhood. She would invite us all for a game of pallaankuzhi. Ajji, Atthai, Amma and Meena mami would be obliviously gossiping while I strategized my victory in the game.
At 6 p.m. sharp, the oil lamp would be lit and Atthai would sing beautifully in praise of the numerous deities who peered at us from behind glass frames. Thatha would then start his evening round of poojai and take a whole 2 hours to completing it.
Meanwhile, Ramu mama next door would start his practice session.
Mama was blind and had a rough baritone voice. But he worked as a professor in Palakkad music academy and was extremely knowledgeable in music. He always encouraged me to sing aloud and taught me music whenever he got a chance. Sometimes he would simply sit in the room whose wall adjoined our houses. One could hear very clearly whatever was spoken at the opposite side of this wall. We used to have some sing-song sessions sitting on either sides of this wall. He never looked at me even when I visited their house. He perhaps thought of me as a little girl with two plaits, who wore pattu- paavadai and sang vasantha now and hindolam then.
My Chitthappas would finish their village rounds, including temple visits and visits to their friends, by the time the lamp was lit. They were all part of the village Bhajana mandali. It always used to excite me to hear them sing aloud a bhajan to the tune of the harmonium and jalara. They would occupy the sit-out after doing their poojai and start making fun of passers-by, along with some of their friends. They had funny English names for many of the villagers. Paccha mama for example was called Green Uncle and Neela mami was Blue Aunty and so on. But nobody in the village minded their remarks as they all knew what these harmless and naughty village teenagers were up to-killing time! 😀
Often around 7 in the evening, the power supply would go off. The rest of the family would also join my Chitthappas at the thinnai and talk about olden times. By the time current came, it used to be dinner time.
Everybody in the house would sit neatly in two rows and eat delicious food made by Amma and Ajji.
Post dinner, I and Chittappas used to go for a walk up to the Milma milk booth. Sometimes Ammanna, my youngest Chittappa’s friend, used to accompany us from their shop – Thangam Pickles. They would talk aloud, cracking jokes and sometimes sing naughty songs for some village people. By the time we returned home from our walk, we would be too tired. No bedtime stories were required to put me to sleep after a day’s activities.
Our village had many other interesting people, only some of whom I remember. There was Jayaram Anna of stores who used to give us biscuits in our grandpa/Chittappa’s name(on the account that they would pay him 🙂 ). There was Ambi mama, a seven-footer, dad’s classmate ad the tallest man in our village, who used to put us children into the huge temple chariot during ther(festival). There were young women like Gowri who wore half-saris and were waiting to get married. There were students who always spent time with their books, hoping to get into a far-off city college. There was Babloo doctor, Appa’s friend, who used to treat me whenever I fell ill. There were old paatis who shouted at young children cautioning them not to wander too far from home. There were deaf, retired grandpas who were red-mouthed due to chewing beetul-nut and tobacco and always read newspapers. There were kids like Tulsi who played with me, but pinched me once too often. There were faithful maids like Devu, who helped women with their household chores. There was the warrar woman who carried flowers for the temple deities every morning. There were happy green coconut trees, a lovely blue pond and a vast blue sky, amidst brown roofs. The sun shone brightly day after day above a happy bunch of people, and there were bountiful rains. My village Nurani… How I wish I could be a child again!!!!!