The secret of the Thattinpuram

Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Asian Paradise Flycatcher


A flash of a long tail gleaming like burnished copper, accompanied by a sharp skreek disappeared into the thick canopy overhead. Ajit spotted the rufous tailed Asian Paradise flycatcher perched on a low branch. It was a glorious day for a nature walk – the breeze was pleasant and the Jacarandas and the Pink trumpet trees were in full bloom. He savored these weekly trysts with nature which had become indispensable.
Today was a departure from the usual. He had brought his son, in whom he saw the same passion for nature. The little chap was curious to a fault but he had patiently answered all his questions on birds, trees and butterflies. Now he turned to find the child at his elbow holding out a jasmine flower he had picked from an overhanging vine near the fence of a house. As he inhaled the rich scent of the white flower, a long lost memory tugged at his senses.

-oo-

He plucked the fragrant flowers for his Ammamma (Grandmother) as she waited in a nearby alcove clad in her impeccable white mundu-veshti (Traditional dress of Kerala).

Naalukettu

Naalukettu


Vacations usually meant traveling across half the country to get together with his bevy of uncles, aunts and cousins at his grandparents’ place. His grandparents lived in a huge Naalukettu (traditional house of Kerala with a central courtyard open to the sky) in Manjeri , a small town in Kerala. A two storied rambling house with umpteen rooms and a plethora of common areas encircling the Nadumittam (central courtyard open to sky) , it was ensconced within a tree grove and situated in the midst of lush paddy fields. The branches of a massive peepal tree kissed the sloping roofs of the house.For him, the enormous tree was akin to a wise old sage welcoming his pupil with open arms. He used to spend countless hours exploring the varied life forms fostered by the tree. Amidst the thick canopy of shade and the ever soothing sound of the rustling of the leaves, the tree unraveled its mysteries to the discerning seeker.
Common Jezebel butterfly

Common Jezebel butterfly


Clear-winged forest glory - Damselfly

Clear-winged forest glory – Damselfly

The serendipity of seeing the tree hoppers camouflaged as thorns among one of the many creepers snaking around it, always used to be a source of delight. Apart from the myriad birds flitting on its branches during its infructescence, it hosted a plethora of butterflies,dragonflies, damselflies, insects, squirrels, skinks and yes, it used to host yet another kind of life form which he would come to know of later!

Paddy fields

Lush paddy fields


The smell of wood and trees permeated everywhere.He walked barefoot on the cool red-oxide flooring and ran down the wooden steps with resounding thumps.He loved everything about the house with its nooks and crannies, innumerable places to run and hide,its Nadumittam– where he could gaze at the raindrops falling inside the house, the kulam (small pond adjoining the main house) with its frogs and the Neerkoli (Checkered Keelback – a non-venomous snake) .

And even the Thattinpuram (low roofed attic) .

Nights at the Naalukettu ushered in the blackness which enveloped one like a shroud. The soft sounds of the night lulled him to sleep – sounds of crickets and croaking frogs, water drops trickling somewhere or a tiny rivulet flowing, whispering of the trees, a nightjar calling far away. But there were also the sounds which kept him awake half the night. And it came from the Thattinpuram.

Naalukettu

Naalukettu


The Thattinpuram was situated directly above the room where he slept and the only way to reach it was climbing the rickety wooden steps right next to the room. It had small windows overlooking the sloping roofs of the house, which were normally kept closed. Nearing midnight was when the strange creaking noises would start followed by rapid shuffling sounds. It had transpired that more often than not, the sounds followed a heavy downpour with strong winds. Night after night, he would lie awake waiting for the noises to start which would die away within an hour. He made up his mind to get to the bottom of these nocturnal goings on.

Daytime exploration of the place didn’t yield any clues and he waited for the one person who he was sure could help – Mavunni. He waved at Mavunni, who was already leading their cow to be milked and issuing instructions for the coffee bean to be plucked and dried. Everything they needed, they grew. Money was redundant for his extended family who needed it only for clothes.
A timeless old man, Mavunni was responsible for everything around his grandmother’s house. A soft -spoken, shy and retiring man by nature, he was extremely knowledgeable. Ajit had spent endless afternoons accompanying Mavunni on his chores while he listened in wonder to the old man elaborating on the various flora and fauna surrounding the house.Yes, he was sure Mavunni would find a solution.

Kulam

Kulam


At long last he managed to find Mavunni alone and explained his predicament. Mavunni pondered over it and then proceeded to give him very precise instructions. Though the old man was certain of the reason behind the strange noises, he decided to let the child learn for himself. Feeling as if a big load was off his mind, Ajit picked his way through the grassy path to the Kulam. As he floated in the still water surrounded by the dense trees, he listened to the bird songs high above. Bulbuls, drongos and flowerpeckers were all twittering away interspersed by the steady tap-tap of an industrious woodpecker. The kingfishers perched at their regular haunts swooping in now and then into the water to snatch a fish. With the tiny fishes nibbling at his feet, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as he prepared himself for the night
Nadumittam

Nadumittam


It was the Tulavarsham (north eastern monsoon) and dark clouds gathered overhead almost every evening. Normally he would spend hours watching the pitter patter of drops falling through the Nadumittam. But today there was work to do, as he gingerly made his way to the Thattinpuram. The last remnants of the evening light was fading quickly. A big huntsman spider lounged nearby. On any other day, he would have spent more time studying it but today, he quickly made the arrangements just like Mavunni had explained and beat a hasty retreat. A window banged somewhere.
After rains

After rains


Dinner consisted of kanji (rice porridge) with chutney and chutta pappadaam (Dry roasted rice fritters) which he insisted on eating with the jack fruit leaf spoon just like his great grandfather used to eat. He wolfed it down quickly ignoring the curious stares and hurried upstairs to wait. A good three hours passed and he was almost nodding off when he heard it.A curious shuffling and scratching. Yes, the sound repeated. The scratching sound was approaching closer to where he stood waiting at the bottom stairs of the Thattinpuram. He hardly dared to breath. And suddenly he saw it.

It was a marapatti – A civet cat !

It had the ripe papaya in its mouth. Its eyes glowed momentarily in the torchlight.As he advanced for a closer look, it spurted a noxious liquid which luckily missed him, before it bounded back to the Thattinpuram and through the window which had flapped open in the rains onto the branches of the peepal tree. The mystery of the Thattinpuram was finally solved.The peepal tree aka the wise old sage had unraveled one more of its mystery !

In the morning, when Ammamma came upstairs, a strange foul smell assailed her senses which almost made her gag. But curiously the obnoxious smell was mixed up with jasmine fragrance wafting from the flowers strewn all over the steps to the Thatthumburam.

-oo-

His son was tugging at his hand and asking ‘Don’t the flowers smell nice ?’
‘Yes,they do son’ He smiled as he remembered his frantic and ineffectual attempts at masking the Marapatti’s secretion with Jasmine flowers.

Marapatti

Marapatti - Asian palm civet aka the Toddy Cat is an omnivorous animal living on trees.It emits a noxious secretion as a last line of defense when threatened.Though not endangered, Asian palm civets have been drastically affected by increasing deforestation and habitat loss


This post is written for Kissan Nature’s Friends contest. My husband Ajit , an avid nature lover and an active contributor in several bird, butterfly and tree forums, still fondly reminisces about his time in his grandparents’ Naalukettu. He attributes his current passion towards nature to the gay abandonment of those times when boundaries between homes and nature were just imaginary.

High and Dry in a Waterless World

The girl next door hollered ‘Auntyji, please turn off the tap! The tank is full. The water is overflowing.’
These dratted environmental do-gooders were pesky. Their perpetual rants grated on my nerves. Save Water! Save Electricity! Save this! Save that! Didn’t the water gush out of my taps 24 hours a day? I was still squinting to see where the shortage was. One blighted chap even badgered me to monitor how much water I use to brush my teeth. They threw me dirty looks for leaving the garden tap open the whole night. Raising unnecessary brouhaha I say. My darling Bunty loved to play on the little puddles that formed by the morning. I couldn’t let him frolic in the dirty water on the roadside, could I? In fact, being the conscientious mom I was, I even got my garden pipe hooked to the Cauvery supply.

No one could fault me on my housekeeping. I insisted that the maid hose down the entire pavement and all the balconies every day. Even the driver knew, he had to hose the car daily till a nice pool glistened underneath lest madam assumed he had played truant.
CatchEveryDrop
That annoying girl was still shrieking something incomprehensible. I was sipping a refreshing glass of sherbet and nothing was going to shake me out of my torpor. I took a good 15 minutes before sauntering to turn off the tap. That irksome girl was still there looking daggers at me.

I didn’t usually let the water overflow for more than half an hour as a rule. Barring that one time when I had left the taps running and gone on a vacation. In my frantic search to locate my favorite shade of lip gloss, I had plain forgotten to turn them off. No big deal actually. But some people actually had the nerve to lecture me on the water wastage and for the flooding it had caused nearby – in spite of me explaining the lip gloss catastrophe. I had asked them to take a walk. It was after all my tap, my water, my money !!

And imagine their impertinence; for Holi they had actually warned ‘my’ Bunty not to spray the entire street with color. Last Holi, we had thrown this grand bash for all of Bunty’s friends, complete with a big tank of water. Well boys will be boys. The little chipmunks had jumped into the common swimming pool as well and the water had turned different shades of color. Those poor darlings couldn’t get to the loo in time, so had been forced to pee in it as well.

Then those nosey parkers had turned up again yapping away about some depleting water tables. I knew my multiplication tables too, I informed them petulantly. People will consume water their whole lives, wont they. We can’t change the way we live, just because the future looks waterless. And looking at the way people are exploding – literally crawling out of the woodwork in my opinion, it’s a no brainer we would be needing more and more water. We could drill all we want and still be left high and dry. The lucky ones could even strike oil!

Yeah, the writing’s on the wall and soon we might not have enough water for all of us. It would be upon us so fast; we would go cross eyed trying to figure out what hit us. And if push came to shove, we have it all figured out. We could do away with baths and other useless cleaning stuff and instead invent gadgets which would spray us with perfumed disinfectant powder. Food, of course, could pose a tiny problem. But again we could always rely on eating all other living things which might still be surviving which should last us, at least for a couple of years. Life would no longer be about a spiritual search for meaning, but just mean the quest for that all elusive drop of water. With the constant race for water, whoever would have the time to work or study? We could collect human fluids as well and work out ways to recycle. And don’t you pucker your nose at me! So I have just thought of these brilliant ideas for the new waterless world of tomorrow. So let’s see how long the water is going to last? 1 year.. 5 maybe ? 10 years?

Short sell the industries and schools, don’t waste money getting plumbing done on your new home, make drugs for water retention in your body, nasal clips to block out the stink of unwashed bodies, make…

Wait a minute… Was that Bunty shouting? ‘Mooommyy… there’s no water in the bathroom..’
Jeez! That was quick! I had better get to work fast before time runs out.

The Timeline Conundrums

I cast a woeful look at the burnt coagulated mess in front of me, which bore little resemblance to the lip-smacking picture on the recipe book.Well at least the Friggione looked redeemable.If you overlooked that weird greenish tinge – Nothing that a little photoshop couldn’t take care of.I scurried to get the camera and returned to find Jai poised with a fork – about to spear my prized creation. “Aaaah..Noooooo…I am not finished” I spluttered in horror as I snatched the bowl away.I clicked away from all conceivable angles before plonking it back on the table.Jai took a bite before reporting sotto voice that the potatoes seemed half cooked, and the bread looked like it had seen better days.The kids sniffed at it suspiciously and wanted to know if they could feed it to Boxer.Boxer was our pug who, as a rule, made haste to bury whatever I cooked.I snorted derisively.

Message1
Picture2_1

Jai was demanding querulously why I couldn’t rustle up some pronouncable dishes for a change – say rice and dal. I rolled my eyes – rice and dal indeed ! I might as well kiss my FB followers goodbye. Trust Jai to come up with the middlest of the ideas possible in middle earth !

I awoke groggily the next day after having spent the better part of the night hanging in a limbo between sleep and wakefulness checking the likes and comments every 5 minutes.I logged in to check.Yay ! 232 likes !!!
I scrolled down and immediately gritted my teeth as Sheila filled the laptop screen – smiling like a barracuda cavorting in the foyer of the new retro lounge bar in town.Whatever in God’s name was that atrocious stuff swaddled around her neck ! 412 Likes for that apparition !! People needed to get their head examined.

I hit like and commented.

Message2

Just like her to steal my thunder.I slumped back on the bed. Jai popped in to see if I intended to spend the day sleeping.I muttered something about feeling feverish.He checked my temperature ‘No fever’- he announced without ceremony.

Message3

I needed some pick me up comments, didn’t I.

Neetu: Get well soon dear..
Rekha.. :(

I kept refreshing the page..I could spot Ruchika online..but no comment so far. Such a snooty female.And when I had literally spent an hour liking and commenting on all her horrendous pictures – even the ones where she wore those tacky outfits and heart shaped glasses.Gratitude where art thou.

-oo-

The next day happened to be our wedding anniversary and by the time I dragged myself out of bed, Jai had already headed to work.Well, lately things hadn’t been exactly sizzling but I wasn’t the one to be blamed here. No sir ! I had posted so many mushy messages on FB for Jai and my FB followers had adored every single one of them.

Picture1_1

Last year, he had acted so embarrassed when I had wanted him to pose cheek to cheek and raise a glass of toast.All he could see was that we were holding up the traffic in the middle of a busy junction and the Pani-puri wala who was the only one available to take our pic, had his chutney-sodden hands on the camera.
Oh ! for crying out loud, couldn’t he see the Marriot was right in the background and everybody would assume we were staying there.

Well this year,I planned to grab some eyeballs with a pic of me dressed in that slinky black number blowing hearts at Jai.. with the message.

Message4

Tushar ,the God of photoshop,had promised me some time after work. By the time, I returned from Tushar’s, it was late and Jai had already called it a day. Phew ! A day well spent. I was getting innumerable likes on the anniversary pic.

Well, I had better get some sleep.Tomorrow was the big day.I felt delicious thinking about the next day’s plan.

-oo-

The most exclusive party in town and I was going to get myself clicked there.

Sheila – Baby, here I come !

I hailed a rick and got off well ahead of the club. I adjusted my short dress – à la Gucci. I had spent days at the flea-market searching for designer looking stuff.Now who could tell the difference between Gucci and Goochi.
Picture3
I was just nearing the entrance when a tall woman, wearing an off shoulder dress and red stilettos, accompanied by a muscular bloke in a Cowboy hat walked by. I could smell some expensive perfume.I quickened my steps and took out my phone.’Driver, I want the Merc right at the entrance’ Looked like Red Stilettos and Cowboy Hat were some kind of celebrities as they were soon surrounded by some admirers.

In the melee, nobody noticed me waving enthusiastically while the guard outside clicked me. I had paid 500 bucks to that crook for a good shot.Suddenly the doorman noticed me and barred my entrance. Well,’Toodloo sweetie’,I winked at him, ‘I am done here’.

Wait, wasn’t that a Mercedes-Benz S-class ! Yesss, I definitely deserved one snap with that. The driver was having none of it.Finally he agreed to pose – opening the door for me, if I would part with my thin silver chain.Hmm..it wasn’t so expensive, Jai had given it to me as a birthday gift couple of years back. Well, why not !

My hands shook as I uploaded my pics ! Boy ! Shiela could never beat this !!!

-oo-

I was busy admiring my timeline when the doorbell rang.
I was still thrilling in that last coup de grace I had landed on Shiela. I was the new star at the kitty party.

Trring ! Trrring ! Couldn’t somebody open the blasted door and let people work in peace.Jai came running, gave me a glare and yanked the door open. A couple of men stood outside. They said something in hushed tones and Jai was pale as he turned to look at me – Income Tax.Its a raid.Somebody’s reported that we have ill gotten wealth.

For a minute, I was speechless and then I quickly regained my senses.My god ! Who on earth raids unimportant people ! This was a godsend I wasn’t going to pass up. While I furiously typed my FB updates, the officers finished checking and asked us to accompany them.

I spoke up – ‘Officer, thanks for raiding our house ! Can you please pose with me for my facebook update ? It would be lovely if you could display the Id card, so that people can clearly read it.’ The men exchanged incredulous glances and while we were ushered into the waiting car amidst my frantic attempts to get a few more selfies, I heard somebody mutter ‘Yeh Aunty ki tho #ConditionSeriousHai’.

-oo-

This entry has been written for the Cadbury 5 star contest #ConditionSeriousHai on Indiblogger.Seriousness is a very serious disease. From that annoying aunty, who’s more concerned about your life than your parents are, to your boss/professor, who’s more punctual than time, we’re all surrounded by people jinki #ConditionSeriousHai. Some seriousness victims take things seriously and the rest are genuinely serious.

Lend a hand of empowerment

When was the last time you saw a beggar ? That may sound like a superfluous question taking into account the poverty one encounters at every corner, but then let me rephrase – when was the last time you really ‘saw’ a beggar and not just looked through them.

Like many people , I too had stopped ‘seeing’ beggars till my son made me painfully aware of them every time a pair of hands extended beseechingly or knocked at the car windows in a traffic signal. While I was at pains to explain to my son, why putting some money in a begging bowl wouldn’t really help as it wouldn’t make the beggar stop begging , it still rankled that I didn’t have too many answers on how we could really help.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

You can give charity, but does your charity have the power to bring about a change.

Now people like you and me can. And its not charity because they don’t need alms. All they want is a little help, a slight nudge from us, in their bid to live their lives with dignity.

‘They’ are Devdasis – Women we relegated to an era gone by and forgot about them. But they continued to live, continued to struggle against an unfair destiny.The Devdasi system was outlawed in 1988, but 250,000 women still continue to be trapped in this system. Girls as young as 5 year old are taken away to be wedded to the temple deity and subjected to lifelong sexual abuse at the hands of higher caste men.Some of them had the grit to break away and are striving to educate their children and break the shackles society has imposed on them. Mahananda is one such woman. An ex-Devdasi, she has fought to survive in a society which looked down upon her and her children.Today, she proudly shows her sewing machine which she uses to run a small tailoring business and dreams of educating her children so as not to let her story repeat through her children.

20131215_173739

It was at an event organized by Indiblogger that I chanced to meet an ex-Devdasi – a woman who had not only broken away from the system but also fought to give other ex-Devdasis a chance to rehabilitate by working with NGOs and a crowd funding platform called Milaap. She spoke in Kannada to an audience which consisted mostly of bloggers. While she elaborated the many reasons women continue to be forced into becoming Devdasis including superstitious beliefs of a bad fate befalling the villagers if the Gods aren’t propitiated, the root cause was still the abject poverty which plague these families. She spoke of tragedies, but her voice carried the conviction of a fighter. They too deserved a chance to live with dignity and for once, we can do something about it.

Crowd funding is the new mantra which has the power to bring about changes – right from startup funding to social upliftment. It works on the premise of small amounts and large volumes. For a country like India, the potential is huge. Milaap is one such crowd funding platform which enables common people to lend money towards social change.You can extend a loan for any amount, starting from Rs.500, to a group of your choice. The purpose of the loan is mentioned like rearing buffaloes or starting a tailoring business and the amount is then repaid over a predetermined period in small installments. You won’t earn any interest in the money you lend through Milaap but the principal is guaranteed. The risk of any defaults is absorbed by Milaap and the NGO.

Giving charity is not so difficult, but giving charity to the right person, the right cause and in the right manner is difficult.And in all probability, if one really identifies the correct prospect, the charity would no longer be charity instead would be an investment.

So this new year, why don’t we stop giving charity and instead make an investment – an investment in people and the power of change.

While this particular event was held to promote the Hope Project which is Milaap’s initiative to help the Devdasi women re-establish their lives, Milaap continues to enable funding for various social ventures in the space of education/training, energy,enterprise development, sanitation and water.

To lend a loan to an ex- Devdasi visit http://www.milaap.org/hope

To check out the other lending options for social change visit http://wwww.milaap.org

Note: Please go through Milaap’s website and read the terms and conditions before making a loan.

References:
1.Watch Mahananda’s story : http://www.youtube.come/watch?v=k026QTnKlqQ
2.http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/21/devadasi-india-sex-work-religion
3.http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Spring02/Chattaraj/plight.html
4.http://hogfindia.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/devadasi-sexual-exploitation-of-girls-in-the-name-of-religion/

Three Rivers of Tears

Three Rivers of Tears is a story, set in the context of three nations which splintered out of colonial India – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – where people were brutally torn asunder and the embers continue to simmer to this day.
Three River of Tears

This book is written by Lopa, a post-graduate in physics from IIT Kanpur. She has many short stories, essays and poems to her credit and has scripted and produced a few documentary films.The work is a product of some pertinent questions – Why are borders between so many countries a zone of uncertainty, torn by open conflict or surviving on a precarious peace? Even when commonalities stare us in the face why do we focus on differences? Tradition, lifestyle, history, language – all the diversities that enrich our spirit – why do we use them as weapons of mistrust?

1970′s Calcutta – A young urban educated woman, Binapani, brimming with romantic idealogies infused by Russian novels, gets sucked into a communist revolution to be rudely awakened to the practical realities of the uprising which started in Naxalbari.
1971, East Pakistan – A child Partha,named ‘Rahim’ through a stroke of fate, was born to a young Hindu woman, Madhumati amidst burning cities and villages which had become Hindu graveyards.Madhumati with her husband Sulaiman Ali and son, then begins the arduous journey of escape to India and establishing a new life for themselves.

Around the same time, Tariq, a young boy from Pakistan, whose parents emigrate to India in search of a better life, sees the wonder of Taj Mahal for the first time.

A brief tryst with communism alters Binapani’s destiny forever and as her life progresses on a different tangent, Binapani’s story gets enmeshed with several other characters. To her is born, a free-thinking and avant-garde daughter, Panchali.As Panchali grows older, she feels passionately for the people of the three countries, bound by a shared cultural heritage yet distanced by political interests.As her life traverses and crosses the path of Tariq, Rahim and various other characters impacted by the partition, she questions the need for continued division in the minds and hearts of people and seeks to perform the ultimate sacrifice for the unification of the three countries.

-oo-

This is a book on historical fiction that traces various historical events and happenings from 1970 till 2007 through a simplistic style of narration. Along with history, the book is richly interspersed with mythological references, culture and traditions of India. The book is divided into 6 parts and Part 1 of the book, which deals with Binapani getting sucked into a communist rebellion, is the most promising. The rich background context, in this part, can lend itself to a whole book.

From Part 2 onwards, the book meanders and branches off into too many characters, many of whom are of no consequence. This profusion of people, most of who do not warrant sufficient depth or mind space, creates unnecessary distractions.

The history,in various places, is narrated in a question and answer form and seems contrived to educate the reader.Introduction of some characters has been done purely to ask a leading question which is then answered in detail by another.

“Where is Brindavan?”
“Brindavan is on the banks of River Yamuna, in northern India….”

….

“Anand, tell them the Mahabharata” requested Binapani.
And four pages of abridged Mahabharata follow.

There are some instances, where the occurrences are narrated by the author as a commentary and also carry the author’s opinions on the political scenario at that time.

“What India needed most at this juncture was internal stability.The Iron Lady,Indira Gandhi, who had proved her mettle in the Bangladesh war, put a strong government back on its feet.”

The narration on several instances, verges on the yawningly text bookish. The history, ideally should have been woven into the story unobtrusively, without being obviously focused on as an academic discourse and should have made a sufficiently strong impact on the reader to want to search and read up the historical facts.

Many ubiquitous items, which would be obvious to an Indian, is explained in detail which further lends credence to an assumption that it is aimed towards a non-Indian audience.Explanation of Sari, Duppatta,Golgappa,Amchi-Mumbai, Hindi film songs are not something an average Indian is going to be enthused about.

Though ideologically sending a strong message, the depth of the characters demanded to be portrayed for roles like these, seemed shallow in comparison.Even the protagonist’s character and her goal don’t resonate much owing to the lack of a sound bedrock of convictions shaped through interactions, introspection and reasoning. The conversations which aim to remove the communal disconnect and illustrate the commonality across religions seem too simplistic and unimaginative.

Taking cognizance of just the history chronicled during the period mentioned, it does a commendable job of mentioning almost every political incident worth mentioning. Stories from the epics also create an interesting diversion with the names of a lot of key characters derived from them, though the passages can drag for readers who are already cognizant of them.

I would rank “Three Rivers of Tears” low in the genre of Historical fiction.

Author – Lopa
Publisher – Lifi Publications
ISBN 978-93-82536-00-0
Pages – 492
Price – Rs.325

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 231 other followers

%d bloggers like this: