My Malayalam Blog

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Saturday, 20 April 2013

The First Shock in Delhi

When I first arrived in Delhi in 1973, I stayed in Greater Kailash, which even then was one of the posh areas of Delhi, with my cousins. The ground floor of the house in which we stayed was a shop. We stayed right above the market. The first and second floors were rented out by the owner for residential purposes. We were living on the second floor. Delhi was an enigma to me then (and it still is). Unfamiliar people, language, dress codes, habits, huge cars – everything related to Delhi was like a fairy tale to me. Coming from a small non-electrified village (the nearest motorable road was about half a kilometre away from my house then), I felt like a frog out of the deep well for the first time in its life. (Now, of course, the whole village has been electrified and a car can come up to our courtyard.)

It was a week-end, a week after my arrival in Delhi. Some of cousins’ friends visited us. After some time they arranged a small table and some chairs on the large terrace, along with some plates and glasses. I soon realised, to my horror, that they were preparing to drink. I could never even in my wildest of dreams imagine that my cousins took alcoholic drinks. I had the feeling that taking alcohol and consuming non-vegetarian food were the most heinous of ethical crimes which should never be committed by a Brahmin. And here are my cousins enjoying alcoholic drinks! I felt as if my world has turned upside down. The shock was unimaginable. I didn’t know what to do, whom to turn to for help. Those who should have been helping me are actually the ones who make me seek help.

After some worried thinking (I actually went and sat in a corner and cried for a long time) I decided that I should shift out of the house as soon as possible. I believed if I stayed with them I would also become a drunkard and an outcast. But I didn’t want to take such an important decision on my own. So the same night while cousins were enjoying the party I wrote a letter to my brother who was serving in the Indian Air Force (since retired and settled at Indirapuram, UP). Telephones were not very common those days, and we didn’t have one at our home. Letters by post (what we now call ‘snail mail’) was the only method through which messages used to be conveyed. Inland letter cards were the most common instruments used then. I wrote in detail what was going on and my fear that I would become a drunkard if I continued to stay there with cousins. I sought his permission to shift out of the house. I was not even seeking his advice, but permission to act according to the decision I had already taken!

Brother was very prompt in responding. His response came fast, maybe within a week. He began the letter by telling me that I should not even think of shifting out and staying away from cousins.

I was disappointed, very disappointed indeed. I had described everything in detail, and yet … Oh, brother! Why are you writing thus? He had written that when I did not know what was what and who was who in Delhi, it was absolutely unwise to shift out and start staying on my own. I was very unfamiliar with Hindi, the most common language spoken in Delhi. And I didn’t speak English well, too. I was also completely unfamiliar with everything around me, except the cousins. So I should not shift. Simple.

He also advised me to become stronger. He wrote, “When people around you are about to drown, you should be there to extend a helping hand. Be stronger, you should be able to do it.”

He further wrote, “I shall tell you a secret. After taking bath every day, while combing your hair, look into the mirror and fix a smile on your face. Make sure that the smile remains there the whole day. You will become stronger and stronger every day. Nothing will be able to break your will.”

He assured me that nothing would happen to me. I would not become a drunkard. I would not do anything which would hurt our parents.

After reading the letter (several times), I felt stronger. Very stronger, indeed. I decided that I would continue staying with them, but without being affected by anything that I should not indulge in. Later there were many parties in the house. After each drinking session, by not taking part in them, I was becoming more and more confident and stronger, just like brother had written. He had foreseen it, my dear brother! He knew me better than myself! He had more confidence in me than myself!

Once Mr Ramakrishnan, one of cousins’ friends, compelled me to join them during a drinking session.

He said, “See, Jayanthan, you cannot escape from this when you stay in Delhi. You may have to join such parties today or tomorrow.”

He even cited an instance. He argued, “Suppose you are working in a company in a responsible position and you have an important business meeting with a client where drinks are served. If you don’t join them, they will feel offended, and maybe even the business you are discussing with them may not be awarded to your company.”

I said smilingly, “See, Ramakrishnan, I completely agree with you. I know I may have to do this tomorrow or the day after. But that is when I am in such a situation. Isn’t it? Maybe I shall do it then. But why now?”

Forty years have passed since this conversation. To this day I have remained a teetotaller, thanks to my brother’s and parents’ unstinted faith in me. (Maybe also because I never needed to partake in a party where my drinking depended on a contract!)

But what about tomorrow or the day after? Well, let the occasion arrive. It is then.

I feel it is meaningless to blame others for our mistakes and misfortunes. There is no point in saying, “See, I had bad friends who influenced me very much, so I acquired all bad habits.”

Why blame them, when we did not even try not to acquire such avoidable habits? Why blame God, friends, relatives, or fate for our misfortunes? We have a habit of blaming everybody and everything around us, but not ourselves. Not even once do we try to look within ourselves where indeed lies the actual reason for what we do and why we do that. 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Three Eights Are? … Eighteen!

I was studying in class 2 or 3 in the Government Lower Primary School, Veliyannoor, a small village in Kerala. There were about 30–40 pupils in the class. Our seats were arranged in the ‘C’ shape with the teacher’s table, chair and the blackboard kept at the open end of the ‘C’. The blackboard was kept on his left side. The most intelligent pupil used to be seated in the number one position on the teacher’s left side. He used to be the monitor (class leader). Monitor’s main responsibilities were (a) to write down the names of pupils who talk in teacher’s absence, (b) bring chalk from the staff room, (c) clean the black board after each class using a duster, (d) keep a stick ready use (corporal punishment was common then).  Attaining the number one position was considered a great privilege and was everybody’s dream. The number one position used to be decided by the class teacher after each class test or terminal examination. The pupil who got the highest mark became number one and consequently the monitor.

I happened to be in the number one position for several months continuously. It was only exchanged at times with my best friend Balan (C.G. Balakrishnan). Both of us used to occupy the number one and two positions interchangeably.

Thomas Sir was our Mathematics teacher. He sometimes adopted cute methods to make us understand or remember things. One day he told us to revise all the Multiplication Tables from 1 to 10 and that he would give us a test the next day. Instead of giving a conventional test, however, he resorted to a new method. He said that any pupil could ask a question from any Table to any other pupil. If the latter could not answer, they would have to interchange their seats. This meant that if the student occupying the number one seat could not answer, he would have to exchange the seat with the pupil who asked the question, maybe occupying number 10 or 15 or 30. O! God! That was terrible.

Since everybody wanted to become number one, and consequently the monitor, I had to face the maximum number of questions. I answered each and every one of them. When it became clear that nobody was going to defeat me, Thomas Sir stood in front of me and looking sharply right into my eyes started asking me questions very rapidly, like the ‘rapid fire questions’ in quiz programmes. I answered each of them in the same tempo as the questions were shot. One line which always confused me was ‘three eights are?’ The first answer which came to my mind used to be ‘eighteen’, probably due to the rhyming. (In Malayalam eight is ‘ettu’ and eighteen ‘pathinettu’.) And I had to think again to get the correct answer. 

The moment he asked me the question (three eights are?), in the same tempo I answered, ‘eighteen’. The next moment, before I realised the folly and could give him the correct answer, he signalled to Balan who said, ‘twenty four’. We had to exchange our seats. Fortunately, Thomas Sir only pointed at Balan and not some other pupil who was sitting at number 15 or 20! I think that was because he feared that by the time he located someone who could answer the question, I would have given the correct answer. He did not want to give me time to recover. Or, maybe he did not want to punish me severely.

Thank you Thomas Sir!

After that day I never ever forgot that three eights are twenty four.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

My First Stage Performance

I was studying in class seven in the Government Upper Primary School, Puthuvely. (Please see ‘The Uniform’ for another incident which happened while I was in the same school.)

Preparations for the anniversary (annual day function) of the school were under way. One of the items proposed was a play staged by the students. The play was written and directed by Joseph Sir, who used the pseudonym J. Ramapuram (Ramapuram being the name of his native place). The name of the play was Ariyappetaatha Sathyangal (the unknown truths). A sort of ‘audition’ was held for those students who were interested and willing to take part in the play. This was done on a Saturday, when we did not have any class and the school was closed. Several of us joined the chorus. Joseph Sir asked us to act a small portion and deliver a few dialogues. He, of course, ‘directed’ us, or told us how to do it. I was one of the lucky ones who got selected. Wow! Jump! Hop! Shout!

I do not remember the whole story. The play had six scenes. I had two appearances, in the first and last scenes. In the first scene Jose (the name of my character) is a student and it is revealed that he has failed in the SSLC (10th class) examination. Jose’s father is very upset and scolds his son. Dejected, Jose runs away from home. Curtains to scene one.

Jose appears again in the last scene, which is supposed to be taking place after several years. I remember that I was wearing the same shirt in both the scenes (as a student, and as an employed man returning after several years)! The shirt was arranged by Joseph Sir, because he thought I should wear a larger shirt. In the second appearance, I enter the house with (an empty, but supposed to be quite heavy) suit case in my hand. My sister Leela (enacted by Mr Abraham, my class mate) runs to me and the long-lost brother and sister embrace each other lovingly. I ask her about father. Leela tells that he had passed away several months ago. Jose becomes unconscious from the shock and falls onto a bench. Leela runs inside, brings a glass of water, and sprinkles on her brother’s face to revive him.

What had actually happened was that in each rehearsal Abraham only acted sprinkling water without even having a glass in his hand. But this time for originality, he actually brought water and springled on my face. (It was a cold night and the time was around three in the morning.) That was quite unexpected and I suddenly giggled!! It was not a very silent movement. The spotlight was on my face and everybody watching the play noticed movements and the giggle of an unconscious man! Remember, he had become unconscious from grief after hearing the news of his father's death! You can imagine the possible response from the large audience! I could not face Joseph Sir after the play. ‘Leela’, of course, apologised to me later on, but the damage had already been done.

The next day I heard that Joseph Sir said in the other division of our class (there were two divisions, A and B, for class 7) that I should be kicked on my back with such force that I land only at Veliyannoor, which was the next village, where my home was located.

That was my first stage experience.