A Certain South Indian Childhood (Part II)

The poetry of a certain South Indian childhood entails a thrice shaven head plastered with sandalwood paste and an early introduction to the moon as your maternal uncle. Also a black dot daubed on forehead or cheek, sizeable enough to divert all eyes that chanced upon you (Evil ones included). You were sun-ripened, hardy, dauntless. Capable of sleeping soundly on a dyed and woven straw mat on the floor, sitting sidesaddle on a metal bicycle carrier, and stripping the purple bark off a woody stalk of sugarcane with your teeth. You were unfazed when a corpse-bearing stretcher lurched down your street accompanied by loud drums, dancing and trampled rose petals. But a cloud of live chickens tied upside down by their feet on the back of someone’s scooter knotted your throat. As did pairs of white oxen with black-rimmed eyes pulling too-heavy carts with such patient faces.

Mornings were domestic cacophony. The brisk splattering of water on ground outside your gate, sharp whisk of coconut stick broom, vessels clanging in the sink. A radio chanting, then milkman’s cry, the koel’s piercing call, a clamorous pressure cooker competing with the grinder’s dull roar. Drifting through it all the transcendent aroma of filter coffee. Afternoons were indistinct. A succession of hazy losing battles with sleep under the circling trance of ceiling fans. Evenings were jasmine-scented, lamp-lit, inexplicably wistful. Temple bells at dusk blending with the lusty honking of horns. Cricket song, the muffled laughter of children, then the muezzin’s call crackling mournfully over an ancient sound system. Nights were deep, moss-covered wells of forgetting punctuated by the low rumble of lorries. From the gecko on the wall, a cryptic clucking.

Your days were owner occupied, industrious. Each morning you placed a tidy vermillion dot between your brows that streaked like a small comet by nightfall. You played tennikoit, one-legged tag and under duress the veena. You tested the waterproofing of lily pads, observed the unpredictable flight patterns of winged cockroaches, stockpiled cowrie shells and petitioned scorching skies for rain. You picked tiny guava seeds out of your teeth, acquired a taste for gooseberries, dissected a shoeflower and fell asleep on your grandmother’s swing. You wrote exams with a wayward fountain pen on ruled foolscap and memorized antiquated couplets by a poet-sage (His verses still return like migratory birds to surprise and comfort you). At the wedding of your youngest aunt you were enlisted to sprinkle rose water from a swan-necked bottle on arriving guests. The delicate nethichuttii that cascaded down the bride’s parting was graceful as a falling star. Its perfect beauty taught your heart to ache.

Fate you were told, was easily tempted and writ on foreheads. Goodbyes were implicit promises, never simply, “I’m going” always “I will go-and-come”. Your gods had endearing flaws, favorite foods and approved of full-moon fasts. Your minor sins were repented for by a series of squats performed with crossed arms and pinched earlobes. Step on a book and to this day you will lean down blink-swift to brush it with your fingertips, dab each side of your jawline. You remember temple walls painted in broad red and white stripes.  Carved pillars, poised gopurams, lotus ponds, smoky lamps, sleek idols, the reek of bats, feel of cool stone under bare feet. Bearded sadhus smeared with ash, broken coconuts, the clink of coins on metal plate, a brief brass crown, holy water spooned into cupped palms. The eloquence of silver anklets. And in jostling bazaars a glittering array of glass bangles that regularly robbed you of breath.

So much more than you realize was learned ‘by heart’. The raised contours of the custard apple, the connotation of toe-rings, the whorled conch shell’s stirring call. Not to mention the clacking of tailor’s treadle, the rattle of pleated shutters, the exact location of the dhobi’s cart at noon, the feel of saris stiff with starch, the smell of hot black tar. Also the curious shape of buffalo horns and goat droppings, the tall-spined elegance of peacock feathers and please don’t forget the unequalled fragrance of wet earth after rain.

Encased in your mortal being, all these and other golden pods of memory, multitudinous like jackfruit. And like jackfruit, sweet and strange.


The poetry of a certain South Indian childhood (Part I)

38 responses to “A Certain South Indian Childhood (Part II)

  • ponderlust

    The poetry of reading your blog: A tug at the heartstrings, a gentle chuckle, a fond remembrance, an instant sigh, a peaceful hammock swing on a lazy vacation, vivid snapshots from seasons past, lying down on a cool red floor and watch the fan laze around…..I could go on and on. Thank you 🙂

  • turtledge.wordpress.com

    This is one of the most beautifully carved word boomerangs of our own childhood days that floats back into memory’s hands…In your blogs we rediscover those missing elements of ourselves.

  • harikharan

    I thought u almost left nothing uncovered in the first part. Omg, and there comes a fresh wave, memories clinging from childhood, anchoring the heart to home albeit the thousands of miles that lay between.. thanks Pavithra.. even those who havent left the heaven for fortunes may not appreciate what lay within their reach until they read you…

  • Rules Raghavan (@vrraghy)

    this is just beautiful! was thinking that the first part had everything done. oh, and how I was wrong! now i wish there’s a part 3 too!

  • vidyatiru

    Reading this post as well as part 1 of this was nostalgia at its best.
    Very beautiful and yes, like Raghavan says, part 3 will be a great addition!

  • Priyadarshini

    This is poetry indeed. Beautiful and nostalgic. Loved every word.

  • Prasad

    the good old days….

  • geetha

    Very beautiful ! resonates with my south Indian upbringing totally !

  • en_agam

    How dare you peek into my childhood… and thanks a lot for peeking. Suddenly, my life seems so beautiful.

  • anbu

    Im sooooooo happy that I have experienced all of these.. Perfectly woven lines… I wish to add few… Caught ladybugs and tied a thread around its neck… Never place out finger on its neck having a fear that it will cut our skin… Instead keep a leaf on its neck to see it go into pieces… On festival days we poured turmeric water on our athai mama daughters… Sat on out father’s shoulders to see the idol through the crowd… Had mango leaves tied in the thresholds which always brushes your hair… Mostly every home had a rose plant… The stone for washing where we always lied down upside down… Sleeping on cot made of rope..always admired how our grandparents say time just seeing the sky… Feeling more manly whenever we wear a white veshti and fold it until our knee… Lots and lots… Unforgettable…

  • Lakshmi Narayan

    This is great Pavitra…you do have the gift of eloquence. It is a blessing. Many of us cannot express such mundane things as “sharp whisk of coconut stick broom, vessels clanging in the sink. A radio chanting, then milkman’s cry, the koel’s piercing call, a clamorous pressure cooker…” “Your gods had endearing flaws, favorite foods and approved of full-moon fasts…” more beautifully than you have done. Every word that is written here is relived in our memories as we read them. Reminds me of Kishore Kumar song ‘koyi lauta dey mere beetey huey din”….

  • vaishali

    so so so beautiful. time capsule captured evocatively.pls pls pls wirite more often pavithra. also an introduction about yrself.i wish i could meet u.

  • Usha Ravikumar

    As in part I, lovely, Pavithra. I kept wondering if you were one of my childhood neighbors or even one of my sisters, using a pen name! That’s how close all this is to my childhood.
    Thank you so much, and God bless you for the freshness you bring with these memories.

  • Sarasa David

    Very evocative! Can identify with each and every line. Please continue with these ‘memories’. Thank you for the reading pleasure you give with your beautiful usage of words. Keep it up. You are addictive!

  • Martin

    Its a pity that only some of our poets get published. You have this certain alacrity with words that tells the reader so much in so few words. Do you also paint? Water colours or oils?

  • Ravi

    Radio anna!, Listener’s choice of movie songs. Bargain with a vegetable vendor. 10 paise bus tickets (black print on white background) Mercedes buses which does regular sneeze (now I knew they have pneumatic system!) School excursions, Konar and Popular notes. Misty mornings when women did Kolams, pumpkin flowers peeking at you. You heard and ignored Hindu, Christian and Muslim songs blaring at the same time and still carried on with normal work. Shankar’s International painting competition. Nutrin sweets. Camlin pencils. Washing power Nirma. Fountain pen (worked for a week)) with rubber belly. Rakesh Sharma. Sare Jahan se accha. Were there more stars then than what we see now?

  • Kaveri Gopalakrishnan

    ” Goodbyes were implicit promises, never simply, “I’m going” always “I will go-and-come”. ”
    Your imagery is sublime. I came across your blog very randomly on the web on a blue monday morning 🙂 Thank you for the warmth. if you’ve published your work,Id love to have.

  • Subramaniam Iyer

    Swept away by the beauty of the language.

    Even nostalgia needs destiny’s helping hand for it to enjoy the privilege of being crafted into the right set of words by the right person.

    Nostalgia was never this good.

  • Ash

    Insatiable…making me ask for more. Like a dream. Heavily bestowed. Envious eloquence.

  • Jay

    Excellent essay. Please carry on writing. Jay.

  • Sachin C Pujar

    Words cannot describe how moved I am. You brought back all these memories which I thought had passed into a void. Especially the fragrance of earth after rain. You have a way with words Pavithra.

  • Lakshmi

    A friend forwarded to me a link to this post and I was lost in memories of my own childhood. The only things I would have added to this beautiful mix would be a dip in the kaveri and towel drying of wet hair and perhaps the pai pinnal. 🙂

  • Sunetra

    Took me back to every instance that you mentioned in my childhood…so much nostalgia..wonderfully captured and rendered!!!

  • Venkat Devarajan

    Fabulous imagery, expressed in exquisite poetic prose (!).

  • Archana

    Hard to determine if its prose or poetry! pls do write more…makes me feel blessed to have experienced every single details!

  • Srivalli

    Very nostalgic!..thanks..

  • ColleenFriesen

    Thank you for transporting me to another time and culture. I have only visited India but you captured so much of what I love about the country. I adore your writing. Thank you.

  • Mahesh Devraj

    Lucid & eloquent. You just refreshed my memories of every sight, sound and smell of life as it were in my own childhood.

  • Himabindu Poroori

    Incredibly written. I keep coming back to this piece time and again to wallow in its nostalgia, and now my throat is tight.

    Thank you

  • Sarah Nayeem

    This is the first time that I am visiting your blog, and what a piece to be welcomed with! Honestly, it both fascinates and astounds me that I seem to have encountered EVERY SINGLE one of these scenarios! Thank you so much for taking me on a walk down the annals of my childhood.

  • Debbie

    Every word of this truly breathtaking blog-post is reminiscent of my childhood… and I was born in Chattisgarh and raised in almost every other part of the country. One thing I still remember that I used to do was wait for the meetha-paans after every wedding reception and save up small change in a clay-pot for the icy, cola-flavored popsicles.

  • Swathi

    Most beautifully written! Brought back a lot of memories and a tear drop!

  • nathik

    smell of wet earth after rain, can never forget.

  • Freddy

    Great & nostalgic

    However I missed some of my favorites
    Gilli dhanda
    Kho kho
    Pendah udees (marbles)
    Match box labels
    factory siren
    3 wheeler tempo struggling to clear a steep road
    Bombayee mithai (sugar candy pulled to make ornaments)
    Uppu maa uppu (salt vendor on a pull cart)
    learning to swim in a lake
    Stealing mangoes/papayas
    Undee vel (catapult)
    Cricket match for pencils as a trophy, using rubber balls that would turn and at times burst if hit hard and later came tennis balls

  • bhiyer2010

    Reblogged this on The Rolling Paper and commented:
    The memories of a Tam-brahm childhood continued.

  • K

    This is achingly beautiful. Thanks for writing.

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