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Vanishing childhood

>> Monday, March 22, 2010

We used to wait eagerly for the school bell to ring. Then it was a non stop run.Many of us would have already taken off the shirts and fly them like kites over the head, all the while running , stopping only to stone the mango trees. None of those mango trees had low hung mangoes, that was not permitted when we were around. Reaching home ,throw the books on to the table, deposit the shirt , and then to the Palli ground.It was foot ball or some other games for everyone till the bell rings at the church for the evening prayer. The heat would have calmed, the cool breeze soothes the skin eruptions we used to call “ weather” ( Only after many years I learned it was what we call the prickly heat) Pulling buckets of water with the coir rope over squeaking pullies was tough job. But when the cool water was poured over head and splashes down , it was worth all the efforts.There was no game called cricket those days. And so we used to have all kinds of tournaments at the municipal grounds. During vacation times, a touring circus would come to the ground. They used the well in our yard,, and in return ,offered us free passes to the circus. I was a regular visitor to the circus, and used to occupy the front seat during most of the matinee shows. I used to adore those artists, I used to dream of those trapeez artists who used to dance in to the podium, and under the blue lights they all used to look beautiful.

The best part of my childhood memories are the summer vacations. My mother used to help me pack my small old steel trunk, with my pocessions of two crumbled shirts and knickers without buttons. The bus to Kumily used to start from Changanacherry at about 5 in the morning. One of my elder brothers used to deposit me beside the driver, with instructions to deliver me to Kallarackal Mathechan at Kumily. I used to call him my Aliyan, it was a joke for every one to hear me call him Aliyan. I couldnot properly say that word, because of my tongue tie.. In all my memories till this age, I cant remember a better human being than my Aliyan at Kumily. He used to carry me on his shoulders wherever he went, and colored my childhood with all the wonderful memories I still cherish.. Mathachan was a phenomenon at Kumily at those times. He had the largest piece of land connecting Kumily to Thekkady. About half the land was a sugar cane plantation and the land had boundaries with the forest reserve, with those beautiful thick bamboo growths. He had a large herd of cows and buffaloes, and a team of Tamilain labourers to take care of them Early morning they will walk the herd deep in to the forest to feed and bring them back in evening. It used to be chilly cold in the morning.The mist would cover the whole air around, and nothing could be seen beyond few feet. One could hear the frequent houling of those Tamilains to signal others around.The steram behind the fields used to team with small fish and there used to be many wild chicken in the bamboo growth.I used to spend many of my morning days, trying to catch these wild chicken, with a cane basket tied to a rope, and hiding in the thickets to pull the rope, when the chicken would walk in to the basket to feed on the rice.

During harvesting time, it was fun and business. A “ Chacku” was installed in the farm.It was a metallic roller pressor and used to be pulled by oxen or buffaloes. When the roller starts moving, we had to place the sugar canes between the rollers, and the juice would flow down in to a basin. Pluck an orange from a neighbouring orange tree and push in between the rollers along with sugarcanes, and flows down the best tasting juice in my memories. The juice was transported to a shed where it was processed to make Sarkara ( Jaggery).

Ocassionally we used to get visitors from the forest. Wild elephants used to walk in at night and tramp the sugarcane plantation,,eat to their hearts content and carry another big pack on their trunks, before retiring back in to the forest. We used to beat drums and throw fire arrows at them, with no use.

My mothers home was at a place called Thuruthy, few miles away from Changanacherry. Her youngest brother used to live there and ran a small tea shop.. It was a one man show,where he used to grind the Dosa mavu himself on the stone mill, beat the tea himself and serve the customers himself. Thomachans tea shop was a favourite destination for the villagers and there was not much of a competition for him. The most pleasant job for me, was finishing of all the unsold banana fries and vadas towards night, before closing the shop. I still remember the long walks to Thuruthy with my mother. Buses were infrequent those days, and most of the buses had these long noses at the front. She would buy me a small mittai from a wayside shop, to stop me from crying, and all the while saying..it is near..just around the curve. It was one curve after another till we reached my Ammachans house. It was a small house with a long verandah at the front. Some other children from his wifes side also used to come there,and we had wonderful times .Morning time used to be at the lake, catching fish with the torn thorth mundu. All around the lake side were the berry trees of different kinds. We used to be so full by evening.The cool breeze over the paddy fields used to carry the intoxicating smell of all the fruit trees around. Nights were more fun with all the giggling and laughter,and stories of those Arabian princes and princesses. Sometimes I used to see those princesses in my dreams. Cant remember how beautiful their faces were.

Everyone of us at home had some kind of duty or other to do. We were seven sons and I was the youngest.I had advantages being the youngest, in that I used to get all the extra bites and left overs. But on the other side, used to be the victim for all the elder brothers. Everyone used to show his authority on me. Summer time at Changancherry was not that enjoybale. It was harvesting time at the paddy fields,I had to carry the food for my father from home to field,few miles away.The river beside the field used to shrink in heat,and it was easy to catch the Pallathi fish.The pulayars used to pamper me calling Kochambran,and I still remember my friend Vasudevan who was our Chief pulayans son.He used to be my accomplice in all the activities.

By early June,monsoon sets in and a long with that, long days and nights of torrential rains,and glimmering sunshine in between. The drain in front of my house used to be flooded and washed clean over few days,and fish used to swim in that. We were not allowed to play in that water, but could make paper boats and float them,it was a race to see whose boat reaches the longest distance. After the rains, rivers shrink and along with that the nullah in front of my house.

My mother used to grow chicken.Every house used to have some. There was nothing called broiler chicken. Once in a while, when a guest comes from distance, my mother would ask me to get one of those unfortunate roosters. I had to run after him for miles, around all the trees and hurdles he knew, to get hold of him.Every hen had a fovourite place to lay the eggs,and I was more sure about the place than anyone .After laying the egg,the hen would come out and make a special ko ko sound,and I know it has laid the egg. Before my mother knows, I would snatch the egg and hide in in my knicker pocket and would slowly walk to the St George bakery on the road side. The bakery used to be in a thatched shed,and had a wooden table on which used to stand few large tin boxes with glass panes on front. They used to contain rusk and biscuits. The glass shelf at his side used to hold those precious small cakes and George would immediately know I had the egg in my pocket. He will give a knod with his head,I would secretly hand over the egg,and he,in turn would give me a small sponge cake. I would go to the palli ground and sit under the massive Sarkara tree and slowly relish the cake, enjoying every tiny bite of it. Later I knew that my mother knew about my trips and she had knowingly let me go and enjoy the cake. I was her youngest son.

No one pushed me to study. No one forced me to choose anything. I made my choices. It was always study and games together. Fun and frolic. Uncles and Aunts, weddings and funerals, Christmas days of Palappam and Duck curry, Sunday schools and church choirs, Youth seminars and music programmes, till I joined the medical College. I used to go back home every weekend, because I was so home sick. Staying away from home was the first time experience.

I wonder sometimes. What kind of childhood my children had? They were born the children of a doctor, and as such, many of my childhood luxuries were nothings for them. Times changed. We never let them go to a relatives house for vacation.No one invited them as well.They had classes and then, home.They were lucky that I worked at a country side hospital, and had schooling there, and always used to accompany us in our trips to medical camps to those hilly areas of Idikki. Still, I know their memories would not be as colorful as mine. May be ,the choices of present day children are different. And they don’t realize the value of things they receive.

I read an article in a magazine recently which discussed at length the rat race that starts early for kids because of their ambitious parents, resulting in a burnout and much more than that ….. losing their sweet childhood.

There was this story of a mother who kept a tape recorder near her womb and “taught her six-month-old foetus” various subjects like literature, history and science Taking inspiration from the stories of Prahlada and Abhimanyu, she strongly believed that the baby would be ahead of other students in her kindergarten school. “We did this to our first son also. The result is excellent,” claimed the parents. They enrolled their one-year-old son in a brain activity school that promises ‘twin brain development, baby yoga, concentration games and baby Einstein DVD concept’.

“Like their wealth, gold and building interiors, the children have also become status enhancers for the parents,” says Van Ryan, who authored the book ‘The Show Case Piece’.

He gives four reasons for hyper-parenting: Their own academic failures, frustrated ambitions, guilt feeling for not being able to spend more time with the children and… the kick of being able to exhibit their child’s achievement before others.

‘Thoroughbred’ is the word used for the race horse rigorously trained for its purpose. There is nothing wrong in building a child’s bright future. But do you know that there is a school that teaches sixth class students for admission into another school that coaches them for entrance test into Ramaiah’s coaching centre which in turn gives training for IIT entrance? .

We train them for so many things. But deny them their rights of having a normal childhood.They don’t learn the values which we proudly claim to hold.And they don’t see those many colors when they think of their childhood. Many of them satsfy the egoes of the parents.Can we give them back their childhood ,we ripped them off?


It happens only in India. 2.

>> Friday, March 12, 2010

We were on our way to Thampanoor to see off a friend at the railway station.It was early morning.The street vendors had just begun to spread  magazines and news papers on the road side.People were leisurely sipping steaming tea at the tea shops on the pavements.The roundabout in front of the station was a bit crowded,and we were waiting for the vehicles to pass.There was a wall to our right side,which was the boundary  of the Bus station. A middle aged man was walking towards  the bus station, paused suddenly,looked around and then approached the wall. His head was being turned around like an antenna,and he slowly finished his urination on to the wall..When he was about to finish,another gentleman who was passing by saw him , paused,and then approached the wall. I thought, how easy it was to make friends while doing this act,because both were leisurely chatting all the while ,and were not in  hurry at all .At the end,they finished the job and bid  bye to each other and walked away.

There are not many walls around the city these days.These public performers prefer walls, the way dogs pefer  lamp posts.I was reminded of  the usual scene  in the eightees, when we were approaching Madras Central by the Madras mail. Like crows perched on the electric wire ,one could see hundreds of men and women squatting on the railway track,and defecating ,all the while chatting happily.I dont know if things have changed.
Thankfully, this seems to be predominantly male activity; men seem to be unable to contain their bladders when confronted by certain smelly walls; much like a dog and a fire hydrant; mercifully, no such Pavlovian response seems to be triggered in women so we don’t have squatters all over the place.

Nowhere else in the world, I would imagine, is it necessary to place notices and directions such as these: “Please do not Spit”, “No Urination here”. To quote an oft repeated phrase, "It Happens Only in India"  it would seem. Whereas it should be an obvious tenet for people to follow, that they should not be going around spitting, urinating and littering, in India it is necessary to actually state this in writing to admonish and prevent people from doing so.
The spitting malaise is one that is observed across social and economic strata. Not only will the humblest of the humble be found hacking and spitting great gobs of phlegm on any pavement that he may wish, you will find a stream of foul red, the ubiquitous ‘Murukkan thuppal" emanate from  expensive cars as well. In this, all of us Indians stand firmly united; the walls and stairs and even lift shafts in many cases, are permanently marked by the disgusting evidence of people’s complete disregard for hygiene and civic sense, particularly with regard to public property.
The same people who will scrupulously have their entire homes swept and swabbed each day without fail, will think nothing of depositing garbage on the road, or outside their train, bus or car window with utter disregard for public areas and others who use it.

Talking about men and disgusting behaviour in public there is also the scratching in unmentionable places that men seem to find quite acceptable; often thinking nothing of raising their shirts to stroke a grossly rounded tummy even! Pity there is no fine for such revolting public fondling. It is a sad comment on our society that there is an actual need to explain to people; “No scratching Here, or there or anywhere….”

There is filth, garbage, dogs and cattle everywhere…” Isn’t that a compliment to our rulers? We may boast of awards in some fields, but in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed is king. The fault for the problems of filth and garbage do not lie with the government alone, as we, the citizens, too seem least concerned about the lack of hygiene and sanitation. Or else we would not have had the detestable sight of roads, drains, nullahs and open spaces filled with plastic bags, garbage and dirt.

Using 'everybody does it' is an excuse and only an excuse. In India, even prominent personalities indulge in proud displays of lack of civic sense. Take for example, ministers who delay planes with complete disregard for other passengers or companies that freely pollute rivers and lakes. It is difficult for a country to change its mindset when its leaders themselves are setting bad examples, round the clock, all the time.

Civic sense is nothing but social ethics. It is consideration by the people for the unspoken norms of society. A lot of people assume that civic sense is just about keeping the roads, streets and public property clean. But civic sense is more than that; it has to do with law-abiding, respect for fellow men and maintaining decorum in public places. A lot of foreign countries function in a smooth manner because of the strong civic sense amongst its people.

The Union Minister for Forests and Environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh  had made a frank admission that India is one of the filthiest countries in the world.And why does he think of a Nobel Prize for dirt and filth? India deserves it for corruption, for defections and the largest number of gangsters and criminals in Parliament, Assemblies and other elected bodies.

The problem lies  also with the lethargy of the government. It is simply not accepting that something has changed over the years at a pace much faster than  imagined and as a consequence, it doesn’t see the need to act fast and do justice to their jobs.With so many tourists arriving, we dont have a single clean public toilet anywhere near our so called highways. When the governments do not take up their job,the responsibility gets transferred onto us, the citizens who if alone doesn’t count, but when together, can get its voice heard everywhere.


Swami Nityananda got enlightened .

>> Friday, March 5, 2010


Swami Nithyananda who climbed the peak of international fame was suddenly pushed down the cliff by a television media which showed video clips of him indulging in sexual activity with a popular actress Renjitha.. The video clip sent shockwaves across the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Many of his devotees were not able to comprehend what they saw in the video clips. Since the video were broadcast, there have been mass agitations by Hindu outfits who ransacked several of Nithyananda’s ashrams. Few of the outfits called for immediate arrest of Nithyananda and insisted the Government to freeze the Multi-Million dollar assets of Nithyananda.

Nithyananda runs ashrams in India, and across the globe. Like most international sanyasis,his assets are said to be worth several million dollars. His network spreads across continents and invloves more than thousand ashrams.. He is known for his intellectual discourses that have gained him popularity not only among ordinary people but also among top notch professionals from global corporations. NASA and Microsoft professionals were dumbstruck and mystified when they attended his highly elevated lectures with strong scientific backing. His knowledge of Tamil, Sanskrit and English gave him an added advantage of eloquence. He showed the way towards “enlightenment”. This keyword ‘enlightenment’ was enough to capture millions of people and also for making millions of dollars.

Nithyananda’s real name is Rajasekaran (age 33) and he was born to a farmer in the temple town of Thiruvanamalai in northern Tamil Nadu. From early childhood Nithyananda was spiritually inclined and frequently visited temples and had a strong desire for becoming a “Sanyasi” which literally means an ascetic. He completed his schooling and college education in Thiruvanamalai.

He was first seen as a wandering sanyasi at the caves and hillside of Thiruvanamalai practicing meditation. This created a small group of followers who constructed an ashram for him. This was the first ashram founded by Nithyananda which started to attracted not just Indians but also foreigners. From then on, his growth was phenomenal. He mesmerized people by his sermons and offered them ways to achieve enlightment. His devotees come from all strata of society. Politicians on the fore front as usual, Actors and Actresses, business Tycoons and ordinary folk alike..

Belief and affirmation on the “Guru” made life very easy for Nithyananda as he was able to portray himself as a perfect guru. His ability to discuss on Bhagavad-Gita and Vedas clearly found a permanent place in the hearts of a section of the Hindu faith. Such an endorsement from the elite spiritual groups made the other sections of Hindu’s to blindly follow their footsteps..

Only at this juncture, Nithayananda has been caught red handed in the sex scandal when his video was released by a television network. It is widely suspected that this incident took place because of business rivalry among the spiritual gurus. Nithyananda's meetings were pulling more crowd than many of our popular Sanyasis. His devotees suspect if he had been vicitimised and the actress herself had a role to play.

His spiritual kingdom crumbled overnight.

Sex is such a powerful weapon. People forgive bribery, forgery, looting and killing. They don’t care if the politicians keep their promises. People forgave Phoolan Devi and made her a Parlimentarian in India. But they care if they are involved in sex, especially with good looking women. I think it only indicates sheer perversion and sexual frustration of the masses than anything else. It is “don’t enjoy a thing which I cant do” attitude.

And that is why our politicians are very shrewd, when it comes to matters of sex. Many of them travel abroad for activities which are open there, and still taboo in India. Across many places in Europe I had seen big neon signs of Sex shop, Porno, Girls and so on . At Kaisser Strasse in Frankfurt, girls were seen on pavements, almost nude, inviting clients in to the shop.

I am not to judge Nithyananda or the like. I don’t know if it was his right to have sex with a good looking woman who willfully obliged. I would have joined moralists, if the girl were raped. But I don’t find a reason why his spiritual kindom should be surviving only on his celibacy, totally forgetting other good things he had to offer.

Every one in this world is a culprit, but what makes the difference is one who is caught and one who is not.


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