Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Madras - Besant Nagar and Jeeva

I remember being 'diagnosed' with Jaundice by the lady who worked as our house-help in Besant Nagar. Jeeva. She was the greatest support during pretty tough times. I remember there was some issue about water and Jeeva would bring pot after pot of water to our home. My mother had a terrible slip disc issue and if she lifted a small bucket without enough planning, she would be bed ridden for days. 

I remember eating flavourless food and ladies finger for the longest time. I learned the word "Pathyam". After that I hated oily food. I would dislike looking at anything oily. For years it would repel me. 

Jeeva was how I called her and I used to go to her house often and spend time with her and her grown up daughter. I played with the kids near her house. Disliked her husband because he reeked of alocohol and I saw him hit Jeeva sometimes. So I would tell him off on occasion. All when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I had enormous love for Jeeva. 

There was this one time Jeeva took me to the beach. I still remember her taking me to the temple by the beach and she bought me something from one of those stalls. A man in saffron robes came to her and asked for money saying he was hungry. 'Pasikkudhu ma. 4 naala saapadla'. Jeeva refused to give him any saying she didnt have. I started yelling in Hindi. And Jeeva brought me home kicking and screaming, I guess. 

I complained to amma that Jeeva lied and made Jeeva, my paatti and amma go in search of that "sadhu" that night to give him money. We didnt find him, but I kept telling Jeeva "Jhooth bolti hai". Years later when I visited Jeeva at her place again, she reminded me of that incident and had a hearty laugh. 

One thing I do remember, my mother didn't inculcate class differences in me. I ate and slept and could play with the kids near Jeeva's house. Her own children were perhaps in their late teens. I dont have sense of how much older they were. I could be in her care. I used to sleep in her house. I treated her as I would my  mother or my grandmother. Jeeva was a huge support during our time in Besant Nagar. She was a strong, outspoken woman who stood by us. I remember her shouting down someone and standing up to authority. 

I also perhaps remember playing with much older neighbours. I would be lifted over the compound wall to their house. Preethu and Ganesh. Ganesh was constantly teased me and I would cry. 

Our stay in Besant Nagar was also pretty short. 

I was put directly into 1st Standard in Children's Garden School, the only school that was suggested to my mother to enroll me in that offered Telugu. My mother was particular I learn Telugu in school. I hated it. I wanted Hindi. But here I was made to learn a language I didn't understand and almost failed in. I also didn't speak the language like the other kids. It took me some time to pick up Tamil. I was scared of my Telugu teacher and Pedda Baala Siksha - the definitive book to begin learning Telugu. 

I had Tibetan classmates. Karma Sherab. Tenzing. It was fascinating. Those kids prayed to the Dalai Lama. I spoke to them in Hindi thinking they would understand. Most didn't. I was scared of this Karma Sherab boy. And then there was this girl called Divya, everyone wanted to be friends with. She, in my opinion, was the most powerful. She decided who would be 'leader', who would be 'servant' etc etc. She had eyes that flashed. Everyone was scared of her. Or that's how I perceived it at 5 1/2. 

Then came Deepavali. I remember writing "Diwali is celebrated for 5 days" and was puzzled when the teacher corrected my notebook, struck across the 5 with her red pen and wrote '1', on top of it. During Deepavali I somehow managed to get the "zameen chakkar" on to my fingers and the skin on top of my fingers was gone. 

I remember being told by the lady I called Prema periamma, (whom we had visited for Deepavali) "Say Narayana Narayana kuttimmol, you wont feel the pain and you'll fall asleep". I couldn't write until my fingers healed; the teachers would instruct others to write in my notebook in class and I felt very special being fussed over :) 

Divya was still the girl to be scared of during lunch break. The girl who sat next to me wore a "clip" (dental retainers, a thing wire across the teeth as braces were rare then) and I shared my ice water that I carried in a cello flask with her.

I think this was also where I got chicken pox. Or it could have been in Saligramam. Laying on a bed of neem leaves and praying to Amman and my face was full of boils. My grandmother prayed we'd all do an angapradakshanam once I was well at the temple where I still go and do Angapradakshanams at. A practice that started when I was perhaps 5 or 6. Thatha would patiently caress me with neem leaves so that I dont scratch myself.

As much I remember I got every illness under the sun until I was in my 5th standard. 

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