I’m back, in case you cared J It wasn't a holiday per se – unless you can call jumping into a boxing ring a holiday – but even so, there were many, many, many things that made this extended leave of absence worthwhile. I’m not going to elaborate on the boxing part...but I do want to share the holiday part J
|© Sumana Khan -2015|
See there was a morning that was particularly taxing. As I stood in my balcony, the filter coffee abetting the acidity, a monkey sauntered by on a neighbour’s terrace. Quite a well-built chap. I suspended my so-called worries and wondered if the simian could get through the grills on the balcony. Meanwhile, the ancestor had hooked a half-grated coconut from someone’s kitchen. He draped himself on a clothesline and had his breakfast. Our attention was soon drawn to a metallic noise. On the narrow street behind my apartment, a weathered old woman sat on the footpath in front of her house. She was pounding limestone and beetlenuts in a brass mortar and pestle, for her paan. My ancestor decided to investigate. It took two seconds for him to swing by and sit on a window sill – a vantage point to observe the old lady.
The old lady reached out to a broom and shook it at the monkey. He yawned and scratched himself. By then his family had helped themselves to some of the beetlenuts. Pandemonium ensued and someone burst a cracker to shoo away the army.
|© Sumana Khan -2015|
I imagine the interior of these houses – cool, dark and the smell of filter coffee lingering the air. You’d probably need to switch on a tube light even during the day. The floor would be highly polished red-oxide or mosaic. The furniture would all be as old as the house – solid teak-wood frames that came all the way from Hunsur. There’d be the puja room with the carved door with lights and temple bells. The kitchen would have Cudappa flooring. But keeping up with technology, most homes would now have wall-mounted LCD TVs. Then there’d also be the bulky landline telephone sets on a corner table covered with a dainty lace cloth. The fridge would have a similar cover, under which all the bills and warranty cards found a home.
|© Sumana Khan -2015|
The house that shares a compound wall on my side of the flat is old and huge. Like other houses, the extensions have been built haphazardly – and I suppose some of the portions, self-contained units, have been rented out. From my balcony, I can see their sprawling backyard – what would have once been a flourishing garden area now has some kind of an outhouse. There is the mandatory tulasi katte and the ‘ogiyo kallu’ – the laundry stone. Circular piles of wires and stacks of broken tiles lie here and there. A series of small rooms with blackened chimneys jutting out line the compound wall – they’d be the ‘bisineeru mane’ – or the sauna rooms. Guess they are not functional now. But decades back, these would have huge copper pots sitting on a fire made from wood, charcoal and coconut husks. This would be the place where one would take the traditional castor oil bath.
An old couple live in the outhouse – old but supremely active and feisty. When the old man sneezes, it sounds like an explosion. The old woman’s voice is loud, clear and strong unlike her bent body. Her vocabulary is colourful too – especially when things interfere in her routine. These two are always pottering around – either washing vessels or clothes or drying them. Throughout the day I hear the sneezes, the curses, the slap of wet clothes against the stone, or the clank of vessels being washed – it’s a comforting rhythm.
|© Sumana Khan -2015|
The watchman’s family in our apartment lives on the premises. They are a young family – Siddu and Rekha have come to Mysore – not in search of a job, but to give a good education to their children. Neither Siddu nor Rekha can read or write much; they want the life of their girls to be different. The two little girls are Keerthana and Sanjana – vivacious and very sharp. They were thrilled that my name rhymes with theirs and had a lot of questions for me – like have I studied in 1st standard (grade). I said no, and was promptly asked how come I grew up if I did not even go to 1st standard. I told them I only grew tall, but I’m still a little girl – that had them laughing for a long time. Sanjana is in 2nd standard and Keerthana is in 1st standard. Siddu, being the watchman, has to keep a tab on the contact numbers of various people – from the plumber to the electrician. He also has to keep track of the builder’s materials. He once showed his ‘diary’ – a single-ruled exercise book. All the information is scrawled in a child’s hand – he said that since he can’t write, whenever he has to make an entry, one of the kids do it for him. He is incredibly proud of his girls – and that was so heart-warming.
The girls go to a nearby government school, and they look forward to it every day. At 7 every morning, along with the koels feasting on mango buds and the parrots flying to wherever they go, the twitter of these two kids start. School is a fun place – they get to meet their friends and more importantly, they get good, nutritious lunch. Things are hard for Rekha and Siddu – but they’ve never allowed that to affect the upbringing of the kids. They have fun with them – even if it is something simple as giving the girls a bath. The girls are always neatly turned out – in bright frocks and bright smiles. In the next twenty years or so, I don’t know where Sanjana and Keerthana will be. But they will be more empowered than their mother and father – simply because they’ll be educated. And that’s what we see – incremental changes, but changes nonetheless. Sanjana’s kids will lead a better life than Sanjana herself – and so on.
Before I'd know it, the day would end – in a spectacular Indian summer sunset. As darkness fell, and streetlights illuminated the outlines of the coconut trees and Syntex tanks, darkened doorways pulsed with the light from TV screens. There’d be the odd cooker whistle, and the sounds of washing up after dinner. A cough, a telephone conversation, a late night argument – it would all die down by eleven. Then, invariably, someone would switch on the FM radio on their mobile phone. Someone who probably slept on one of the dark terraces to beat the heat. As Big FM played old Kannada numbers, the cicadas would start their incessant thrum in accompaniment to a Dr Raj or a PBS song. And I wouldn't know when I’d drifted off. If that’s not a holiday...what is?
© Sumana Khan – 2015