Wednesday, March 24, 2010

These Photographs Tell You the Story of a Childhood

(Backwater at Vakkom)

(Ferry at Vakkom- Kaikkara)

(New LPS Vakkom)

(Puthan Nada Siva Temple)

(Mukkaluvattom Devi Temple)

(Vakkom Jamath Building)

Sometimes, some images open the floodgates of memories.

Yesterday I was browsing my FaceBook Home page and found some images posted by a young friend who works in Dubai.

Face Book, in fact clips down the fences created by our physical age. This friend, would never have become my ‘friend’ had it not been mediated by Face Book because when I was already in my high school, this boy was just a toddler.

One early morning, he popped up in my page and started chatting. He took out familiar names and places. Soon I realized that he was my friend’s cousin and I had faint memories of seeing him as a child.

Hence, the photographs posted by him caught my attention. And lo….those were the images of my own village; the places where I spent my childhood days.

I would like to share these pictures with you and some bits of memories around them.

In the first picture, you see a beautiful backwater; a five minutes walk from my home.

As kids, we were not allowed to go near the backwaters. My parents feared that I would drown. Their fear was justified because I was a bulky boy with no interest in sports and games. I used to spend most of my time in reading or day dreaming.

One day, this backwater was flooded. I was five years old then. Our village was connected to the world elsewhere through a two buses; one run by the state transport corporation and the other one a private bus. I am talking about the things forty years back. Now things have changed.

One day, we heard that the private bus fell into the flood waters. I don’t know why, my father allowed me to run with other friends to see this rare sight of ‘our’ only private bus half sunk in water. It reminded me then of an elephant incapacitated by drugs pellets and made to bend on its front knees.

I saw a dog swimming by the side of the bus and a host of water weeds moving indicating the strong current of water towards north.

The second picture is also from the same area, taken from a different angle. It is called ‘Kadathu’ means ferry.

We are seeing this picture from our village side; again a five minutes walk from my home. On the other bank, you see a moderate white building, which was used for the production of coir mats. Coir industry and fishing were the major income sources of my village.

Our village is called Vakkom and the other bank is called ‘Kaikkara’, which means ‘River Bank’. It was in this village the famous 20th century poet and social reformer Kumaran Asan was born.

There is a memorial for the poet in this village. My mother used to take me and my sister every year in April on the full moon day to participate in the poetry writing and recitation competition held by the Asan Memorial organizers. It was on the full moon day in April, Kumaran Asan was born.

During those days, my ambition was to become a poet. I used to win a lot of prizes for poetry writing and recitation. And I did become a poet by the time I entered college. I used to get my poems published in Malayalam magazines. Then somewhere I lost interest in poetry as my medium, though still I write poems and keep it for my sake.

You can see the ferry boat. A small boat driven by an oarsman. In my time there was no TEN Plus TWO system in schools. After tenth we went to college and spent two years as ‘pre-degree’ students. During late 80s the pre-degree system was scrapped and the Plus TWO system was introduced in Kerala.

Hence, as a pre-degree student, I used this ferry every day twice for two years. The students from my village used to take the same boat and cross the backwater, then go to the Asan Memorial building and take a bus to the college, which was in Varkala, where the famous social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru attained ‘Samadhi’, deliverance.

We were not allowed to mingle with girls freely as in these days. We used to send covert glances at girls who are also in the same boat. I can still see a few strands of hair tickling her cheeks as they moved in the cool breeze wafting through the water surface.

When my gaze meets hers, she lowers head. There is nothing like that in the world.

Now, even teenage girls look at you when you are at the steering wheel and once they realize that I am ‘old’, their lips open up in a contemptuous smile. I can hear them saying, ‘ was an uncle!’

In the third picture, you see a small village school. It is New LPS, Vakkom. That means, New Lower Primary School, Vakkom.

We used to call it Writer Villa. I don’t know how this name came; must be a ‘writer’, some one worked in a court used to live in that place.

It is a small school. There were no nursery and kindergarten systems at that time. So after spending five years of pure ‘animal’ life of revelry, the kids used to get enrolled in this school. I spent four years in this school- from 1st to 4th standard.

More than any other thing, I remember the incidents of our mischief, when I look at this picture.

During recess, boys used to pee at the walls. The higher you pee, the better you looked amongst the friends.

When final bell rang, we hugged the girls and they ran helter-skelter in panic. Still I don’t know, what made us to hug girls.

As kids, you always have bruises on your body. When it heals and the scales come over the wounds, there is a unquenchable itch around it. I made a friend to scratch around my wounds, which gave me immense pleasure. My friend too derived some secret pleasure from this act.

My confrontation with the United States of America happened in this school. Most of the kids studied in this school came from poor families. And there was a ‘noon meal’ program. During the lunch recess, they used to serve the kids with some kind of oat meal, which was cooked out of dalda (some vegetable ghee). The tins that carried this ghee had the pictures of American flag.

I used to think that eating this oat meal was demeaning, not because that I was anti-American but because this food was considered to be eaten by poor kids. I was not coming from a poor family and I did not want to acknowledge myself in public that my parents were ‘poor’.

In the fourth and fifth pictures, you see two temples. First one is Puthan Nada and the second one Mukkaluvattom.

In Puthan Nada, we worshipped Lord Siva and it was reputed to be consecrated by Sree Narayana Guru. In Mukkaluvattom, we worshipped Bhagavati (Devi).

I, as a kid, spent a lot of time around these temples. During primary school days, the devotion was intense and real. During the high school days, my devotion was slightly skeptical. During the pre-degree days, the temple premises became places to see the village girls in their most pure selves.

You cannot explain how a girl looks when she stands before the sanctum sanctorum, with her long hairs still dripping water.

In early eighties, both these temple premises became famous for their television kiosks. None of the houses had television sets then. So we went to watch television in these kiosks. We saw black white programs in color television sets.

I took the first lessons of smoking at these temple premises. Smoking made me feel grown up. Mouth freshening mints were not available then. So on the way back home in the semi darkness of alleys, I ate several leaves of unknown plants grown all over the fences. Still my mother caught me everyday for coming home with tobacco stench in my mouth.

In the sixth picture, you see the Jama-ath building, located almost behind my home.

There is a small mosque still there and is called Taikkavu. There are two graves of some Pirs (saints) and I used to run when I needed to cross the alleys before the mosque even in the clear day light. Once I caught an owl from this mosque and kept at home for a few days till it found its way to freedom.

When I was a child there was no Jamath building there. Muslim kids used to go to learn Arabic in a small shed, where now this new building is erected.

We were envious of Muslim kids as they knew how to read Arabic, that too from right to left. They never allowed us to touch their Arabic books. They thought it was too holy for our touch. However, there was no animosity between kids from various religions.

We all explored our bodies and minds while growing, irrespective of our religions.

At that time, the temples never competed the mosques with high power loud speakers throwing devotional songs during the namaz times.

These images flood me with memories. I stand drenched here. I can write volumes about my village. May be in near future…..


usha ramachandran said...

Yes,may be in near future write a long poem?...:)Nice work Johny....well written.

Rejin V said...

Vakkom revisited..Though I was a toddler in the mid 80s, I can correlate may of these with my childhood in the mid 90s..also I can imagine myself in a cameo role when you write a next volume..Well written Joni annan..!!