Monday, February 5, 2007

A Flood of Memories

The memories just won't go away, try as I might.

In my nostalgia, I still stand there, an eight-year-old, on a summer vacation at my family's farm at Chittegaon village in Nasik city. The early mornings were an ensemble of cattle-bells, farmhands shouting and cool breeze gushing around.

Mum was on vacation, too, away from her killing routine of city life as a housewife. She was ever the graceful and patient woman. She would give us (to my brother, Manoj and me) a quick breakfast that we would digest in no time at all, running around the fields.

The house was a structure in mud, cement and bricks. The front yard had cattle tied to wooden poles embedded partly in the earth. The labourers would untie the black cow named 'Kapila' and the pair of oxen. The cattle would head for the water pond and a meal of green grass thrown before them. Then, the farmhand would wash the cow's udders and milk it.
The dogs would go crazy running around and keeping trespassers at bay.

Soon, we could run into the fields where the farmhands were weeding out unwanted growths amidst the crop. It was wonderful to run into the sugarcane field where the rough leaves disallowed smooth passage and often cut through the skin.

The farmhand called Dattu 'Kaka' (meaning 'Uncle') would tell us of scary tales that wolves frequented sugarcane fields.

Dattu Kaka enjoyed having us, the 'cultured' children around, because living in a joint family from the Marathi heartlands had ensured that we were always courteous, within limits of socially approved behaviours and never rude, 'even to servants'!

I loved to stand beside the scarecrow and watch the birds feast on the standing crop. A farmhand would spin off a stone or pebble from his 'gallore' as they called the contraption they fashioned out of a two-faced branch and a rubber strip tied around it. The birds would fly out in a flurry only to resettle elsewhere closeby in a few seconds.

The field would be aflush with marigold flowers blooming on small shrubs and another adjacent one would have green grass being cultivated for the cattle on the farm. It looked like fenugreek and I would ask Dattu Kaka if they ever did the mistake of carting away some of the green growth to the market and selling it as fenugreek vegetables. I was only eight and my brother Manoj, a year younger.

"No, Kittu Tai," Dattu Kaka would laugh, adding the suffix 'Tai' to show respect for the master's daughter. I hated anyone calling me 'Kittu' which was my pet name and would rather they called me 'Kirti' but it was no use beginning the exercise with Dad's subordinates on the farm.

The wet fields, cool from the water that had been fed into its folds from the canal, would beckon us to walk into them. The mud felt soft under our tender feet and often a stiff twig or two would prick at the tender skins of the two city-bred children. But we would carry on, attempting to look like 'real' farmer-kids.

Many a time we would run into dry, ploughed sections of the farm and bruise our feet badly. I had come over wearing my cousin Manisha's 'chappals' (an Indian word for open-toed and open-heeled footwear) and the frequent runs amidst the clods had ruined the chappals while also chaffing the skin on my tender feet.

The breeze on the crop would send a ripple and we could sense that the grains (we couldn't easily tell what was the crop of the season) were dancing in slow motion under the Wind God's caress.

Soon, it would be evening and the birds could be seen rushing across the sky in flocks, racing against the setting sun, to reach their babies tucked away in the shelter of some trees somewhere.

The setting sun, like a globe of orange, would look amazing and breathtaking on the green crop. Soon, it would be time to return to the walls of the house and be tucked away into bed. We would return with a heavy heart like yet another lovely day had gone by and soon the vacation would be over.

But these were also times when Mum seized the chance to subtly inculcate humane values in us. She never preached, only allowed the message to be drawn home in an effective way without making us look like bumbling fools.

Once, Dattu Kaka took us to his home after seeking permission from 'Aai', my Mum and 'Anna' my Father.

We noticed that we were being pampered and everyone in Dattu Kaka's household made us seem special. So, we continued behaving ourselves and asked not an awkward question, though the village lifestyle left us dumbfounded.

Soon, it was mealtime and Dattu Kaka's family was once again busy trying to play the good hosts to the master's children.

The special dish of the day was the 'bombil' or the dried (Bombay Duck) fish, as they would say in English. It is a kind of fish that is dried in the open air and stored away. As and when, one needs to cook it, a vesselful is cooked in a spicy curry till the fish goes soft. It is considered a delicacy but not for us, who had been spared the 'nasty' smell of ill preserved fish, all our lives.

To add to it, they were serving it with bajri chi bhakris, which is a coarse western Indian bread baked made from the flour of bajra (millet) grains.

Both of us, a brother-sister duo, were put off but with every attempt to sound nice, we could only turn away and say that we were not hungry.

Soon Dattu Kaka dropped us home with a word to Mother that 'maybe' we were hungry because we had not eaten a crumb.

Mum got to task immediately. No canes and cudgels from the woman. She served us food to tide over hunger, soft wheat bread called 'chappatis' and a vegetable picked fresh from the farm. Then she sat us down with our version of what had happened.

"Aai, they served us 'bombil' and do you know how horrible it smelt! We couldn't stand the awful, rotting smell and how could we have eaten?" we offered.

"They are poor people and they thought that you will be happy with the dish which was all they could afford," Aai said.

"We would have had chappatis and water, but the pieces that we broke from the bhakris were tough to swallow. You do know we do not like it," one of us said.

Aai would not let it go at that. "These people may be monetarily poor but they have hearts of gold. Do you realise that they must have felt sad and inadequate that a guest returned hungry from their doorsteps? Do you realise that they must have tried really hard to cough up enough money to source the 'smelly' Bombil fish, as you choose to call it?" Aai continued in a gentle but unrelenting tone, anyway.

Of Course, we realised. But how could we undo the harm we had caused, we wondered.

That evening, Aai cooked some Bombil and Bhakri, herself and served us.

Needless to say, Manoj, my brother and I ate it without a word of protest.

"I am happy you co-operated," Aai said before retiring that night and added, "this will ensure that not another caring but the poor family feels pained when they call you over to share their bread next."

Those were the times and those were the days. The people I mention here, are all gone, save for Manisha, my cousin, Manoj, my brother and I.

But I can still feel the breeze on in my hair as I stand on the huge expanse of Marigold many years ago.


Unknown said...

Humanism at Best amidst Mother Nature
Yes, that is how I wish to react to Kirti (oops Kittu Tai's) reminiscent thoughts.
Although Kittu Tai may not be a granny (‘cuase she has referred Nasik as city which means she must be one in her late 30s or early 40s), she has depicted what life sans materialism meant. Particularly when one is an under-teen. And fortunate she was to relish such moments.
Indeed, I may add that our forefathers were a blessed lot to have enjoyed such moments more than Kittu Tai when life revolved round simplicity.
In a nutshell, let such days of authencity without synthetic and materialistic needs come back, of course with IT (not international terrorism but information technology) since we can share glorious gala time not just between playmates and classmates but with one and all globally.

Suresh Panje
c/o Air Marshal S. N Goyal (Retd)
69, Poorvi Marg
Vasant Vihar
New Delhi 110 057

** p.s.: Kittu Tai must have been a cute girl since none of the intruding winged beauties like sparrows and crows were ever scared of her whenever she stood beside the scarecrow!

Unknown said...

this piece by Kirti takes you to another world altogether.... it all seems so dreamy n unreal.... maybe becoz nowadays in cities n metros u hardly cum across such lovely people.... it has a dreamy quality.... after reading it i wished to b transported to that world.... a very nicely written piece.... it teaches one a lot about human nature.... n ofcourse the village life.... with its simple joys n great people.... their affection n care.... i must add that i think she is one lucky person to have such wonderful memories of her childhood.....

Sanj said...

Lovely article... and more than anything else I really loved your mom... what a sensitive intelligent lady.

Nice to read the above comments as well, completely agree with them.

Sepiamniac said...

Hey Kirti
What do i say so well captured, and i can actually see the marigold shrubs and feel the breeze.

I think all of us have this memory lane that we so fondly remember when we grow up.

Kudos for your great work, keep it up

Unknown said...

Is this the next Rowling in the making ?...hey kirti the piece is brilliant, very soothing takes you back to old time memories....u should start working on a book or something..honest.

manav said...

this reminds me of William Wordsworth poem the daffodils and specially the last stanza which i repeat -

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
they flash before my inward eye
and bring a bliss of solititude

Good feelings, long lost good friends, beutiful scenes appreciated long ago, these are what make life beautiful - and more so when associated with beauty, rustic nature, selfless kindness, they always reamain.

Good wishes and take care

Unknown said...

I sort of agree with Manav when he says this writing reminds him of Daffodils by William Wordsworth. Daffodils is a very special poem from my school years too. I think i fell in love with written word from that poem on... don't have any meories of any strong feelings for written word before reading that poem... so maybe my affair with words did begin with that poem. But that said, coming to what i want to really say here is that Kirti i really enjoyed reading your writing... it's very well put together - no unnecesary smart words - just an old memory presented through a pleasant string of sentences. Everything rings true and there are definitely understandable characters in the story... the kind we know exist but are not very fortunate to have around us in todays' scene of things. Unfortunate really! Which is really why the piece makes for such good reading - it transports you to where you didn't even know you wanted to go before you started reading. And then the feeling lingers...

Bombay said...

Nice write up.

Unknown said...

A nice article....small things in life gives huge Happiness!!I must say ur MUM's a great Lady n never the less u must be keeping up to her standards....Am i right!!?..yaaaa..!!This article gives a push towards a positive side of life which every one requirs...All the best..!!

Unknown said...

Very pleasant writing approach……
Creates picture before eyes while reading…….:)