Shangri-La

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
Suffice to say I was really caught up in the thick of things. But when you wake up every day to the view of proud coconut trees slicing up a perfect blue sky, you really begin to laugh at life’s absurdities. I’d found an elixir of sorts - it poured out of life throbbing all around me. 

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
Our apartment is nestled in an old residential area – the sites around us are 60X80 ones or bigger. The houses in this place are at least 50 years old. Over the years, most houses have been extended by the owners – so you have the front portion coated in a tired, weather-beaten white distemper while the extended portions are brighter, even gaudier. Solar water setups gleam on most of the terraces; so do Airtel and Tatasky dishes. The windows are the typical sturdy ones of yesteryears – none of the aluminium business we have now.  They are all solid wooden frames, closing on leaf and flower motif grills. And of course, the mandatory Netlon mosquito screens covering all the windows.

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
This is an area where, I’m sure, the neighbours are closer than blood-relatives – they’ve seen each other’s children grow up, land a job, get married, have kids – the works. Houses are usually known by the name plates set in granite on the compound walls – but I bet they are mostly known by the trees growing within the compound. Most of the sites have a minimum of four coconut trees soaring to reach the sky.  Some have jackfruit trees, mango trees...you name it. So one would be from the ‘jackfruit house’ or the ‘Sampige house’. That’s how it used to be back during my childhood. We had the family from the ‘baavi mane’ or the house with the well. We knew their names of course, and we were all very close. But it was always, ‘I’ll go to the baavi mane for a bit’.  The women still come out in the morning, to sweep the road in front of their homes, splash water and draw the rangoli. That’s something I’ve not witnessed for more than two decades!

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
Then of course there was the baby from a house opposite to our flat. The family lived in zinc-roof outhouse. Every other day there’d be the wail of protest – baby’s oil bath time. His toys were mostly the steel vessels from the kitchen. If he was in a good mood, he’d merely beat the vessels against the footpath. If he was unhappy, the vessels came flying out of the house. His grandmother, a sturdy woman in her fifties, would place him at the doorstep as she went about her chores. He did not like it whenever she went out of sight – so he’d hold out his hands and cry fitfully, as if he were abandoned. So he’d have to be carried on her waist as she dried clothes on everybody’s compound wall.



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





Comments

  1. Welcome back Sumana. Was actually missing your posts. Just loved this one. I could almost imagine every scene you have written as I had lived through them myself. The sounds of slap of wet clothes on the ogiyo kallu, sounds of washing vessels, sounds of mixie running (I always imagined chutney was being made in the mixie for some reason :-)), the coconut tree, the mesh one the windows, bills stacked under the white plastic lace kind of cover on the fridge and many more. Nothing much seems to have changed except for the LCD TVs. Loved this so much

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  2. That was quite the vivid post there. I could clearly see each and every one of these characters going about their daily lives in front of my eyes.

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  3. Welcome back !
    I was wondering why you had suddenly become inactive.
    I enjoyed reading your post and it reminded me of the Old Basavanaugudi/Chamarajpet/Malleswaram of the 60s and 70s, when I first came to Bangalore.

    I hope you will continue to be active as you used to be.
    Of late several good bloggers have become less active and some have not posted for several months.
    I am glad you are back.
    You can count on me as a loyal reader and commenter.

    I am once again in California now with my wife to baby sit my 2 1/2 year old grandson.
    I will be returning to Bangalore in August.

    Regards
    GV

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much GVji :) Yes I hope to more regular now that my 'travels' are done (for the time being at least).

      Bet your grandson is keeping you busy!

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  4. Vivid descriptions!! You have managed to bring alive the scenes through your words here. Good going.
    A ~ Accident

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  5. Idyllic :) That sounds like a perfect holiday. :) Enjoyed reading it.

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