Where is Sasha?

Is she under the porch?

Is she over the arch?

Is she on the oak branch?

Is she within their reach?

Three children wondered 

And worriedly searched.

They froze in the wind chill 

And found refuge at Grandma’s. 

When unfreezing their limbs in homey warmth,

They reflected on the saucy canine

Who hated any sneaky feline,

Who, mostly, stayed within borders,

And who obeyed every order.

An unlatched door!

Out Sasha escaped to freedom.

The three were befuddled.

They tried to give chase and follow

Only to lose her in a hollow.

Dejected and losing patience,

The abashed children returned home

To find the sassy dog  in the mud room

Wagging her tail in satisfaction.

Lucy

Lucy of the lucent smile

Glows with an inner light.

She embraces life

With pristine faith

That emanates from a heart

Filled with pure love

That surrounded a family

Which cradled all humanity.

Her smile speaks her heart

For all the world to see.

Life in Silvery Lights


A silver strand gleamed

On my black woollen coat;

The static made it cling!

I gazed in wonder

How it winked in spots

Where a black strand would’ve

Shown shades of brown

On inky background.

I looked in the oval mirror-

I saw a white-backed skunk

In place of my head!

Shades of gray and silver

Covered the top of head,

Black swathes radiating 

Points from the middle.

Below black took over

With strands of silver

Streaking undergrowth,

Defining my head

In ombre color scheme.

I saw my youth drop black

While gleaming gray

Took over with age,

Letting me acknowledge

The passage of time

And mutability.

Nostalgia

Most of my growing up was accomplished in Kandassankadavu. Both my parents were born there. My early years were spent in Mangalore.

Kandassankadavu is situated in Thrissur District , Kerala (with Latitude = 10.4724339 and Longitude = 76.0996686)

It was a peaceful village on the eastern bank of Connolly Canal, the waterway connecting the rivers and backwaters from Kozhikode to Kochi. There was no bridge connecting the east bank to the west bank. On the other side was Vazhanapally. In those days, when I was in younger grades, Kandassankadavu was the terminal of the bus route, so it had some minor importance.

Kandassankadavu was an important market. It was where neighboring villagers shopped for fish and meat. Tuesday Chanda (market) was well renowned. It was the property of the Catholic parish and was situated opposite to the church. Both were donated by the Vadakkethala families who migrated from Enammavu to establish the new parish. That is my family.

Our elementary school was the parochial school situated in the Church compound. During recesses, we visited the church and spent few minutes in the presence of the Eucharist. In those days of meagre traffic, we walked to school and back in congenial camaraderie with our classmates and schoolmates. In those years, the main roads were not paved. Stubbed toes were a daily occurrence for me. Paved roads came much later. Most of the homes on the roadside towards downtown belonged to Catholics. Kandassankadavu had people from only two religions: Catholicism and Hinduism. Among the Hindus, the Eezhava community predominated. People of Islamic faith lived on the west of the Canal. Basically, the school population was divided equally between Catholics and Hindus.

In those days, Kandassankadavu had a mild and comfortable temperature. The standing waters in the paddy fields cooled the air. The neatness of the Canal helped. The Arabian Sea was at a five miles distance. Away from the road, coconut trees were planted profusely. Their fronds provided shade from a higher elevation. Mango trees spread their branches in many courtyards. Often the narrow trunks of papaya could be visible. The elephant ear leaves of the taro were a common sight in the land surrounding homesteads. Often one can hear the splash of someone diving into a neighboring pond. Ponds interspersed in many places. There were no fences dividing individual land ownership. Many kinds of bushes bordered the ponds. My cousins were experts at recognizing edible berries. The cat’s eye berry was immensely popular.

We had more than one school. The parochial school for elementary grades, the co-ed h government school for all grades and the convent school for girls from 5 to 10 grades (Sacred Heart of Mary’s Convent Girls High School). Later Some of my cousins attended Madampaththu school in their neighborhood. It was a Hindu private school for lower grades.

In many instances, the adjoining parcels of land were divided among brothers and cousins grew up close to each other. There were enough cousins to make teams when playing games. We lived by the main road, but our cousins lived away from the road. So we depended upon our closest neighbors and their cousins who lived close by. The government school owned a big field further across from our house. On many occasions, we gathered there and played soccer. My closest friend was my neighbor and so we were allowed to go with her to play with her cousins. At that age, boys and girls could play together. Somehow, the boys were better at soccer. Sadly, many of those playmates have already left this world.

Our closest neighbors were the Sisters of Carmelite Congregation. Even after school time, we could walk in and visit them. The Headmistress was very welcoming. She gave me many books to read. Some Sisters did the gardening and we were corralled into helping with the watering. Others did various crafts. I learned how to make flowrrs with crepe and tissue papers. I played ball badminton with them and later played in St. Mary’s and Vimala teams as well as in the Kerala team. We hoisted the Kerala University Championship Trophy and were Runners Up in the Nationals in India.

There were visitors all the time. If there is a birth or dearth, one aspect them. Sometimes people visit on a whim. They were snacks and some beverage. One has to be prepared for visitors.

The parish had all kinds of events. Major parish feasts were very colorful with processions with silk umbrellas and fireworks. Often, dramas were presented on the outdoor stage in the Church ground. During the Christmas Season, there were competitions for Arts Clubs.

Hindu festivals were very welcoming with their processions with the local drum groups. Often the golden representation of the deity of the festival was carried on the elephant. For a large, it was surprising how graceful an elephant walk was. They had very cleanly structured temples whose yards were spread the cleanest white sand that I have ever seen.

There was a movie theater in Kandassankadavu, Kandass Talkies. It was pretty primitive. It was a spacious building roofed by corrugated metal sheets. It had many wide entrances with midnight blue cloth curtains. The seating had a hierarchical order with ticket prices going up as they moved towards the back: Thara (Floor covered in sand), Bench (wooden), Chair (wooden folding chair) and Reserved Chair (Armed chair on a raised floor at the very back). The first two groups were separated by gender, women sitting only in the side wings. There were two shows on week days: 6:30 pm and 9:30pm, both preceded by earsplitting songs from old movies in Malayalam, Tamil or Hindi. On Sundays, there were matinees at 4:30pm. The movies were advertised by a group of three boys, one with a drum, second with a placard and the third handing out notices printed on cheap pink paper. Alas! Nowadays there is no theater in Kandassankadavu.

Going back in time is not always enthralling. The bucolic beauty and simplicity of Kandassankadavu is gone. The traffic, especially after the bridge across the Canal was built. Kandassankadavu is not a terminal any more. The church went through many renovations and has reached an acceptable form. The High school has two more levels added. The convent school was demolished and a new four-story building was built. The parochial school is owned by the convent. The change in climate has become almost unbearable. The paddy fields are gone, the ponds were filled to build houses, and the streams have become roads. The heavy traffic has become life-threatening. No improvement has done to the infrastructure.

Technology has advanced. But, nature and humanity are being chiseled away.

It Just Happened

Morning dew pearled

On blades of grass

And the wetness stang

My bare toes

Which felt the coolness

Of the September nip.

Nimbly passing

The wayward pebbles,

I rushed pell- mell

Towards the gurgling waters

Which sprayed crystal drops.

Almost reaching the stream,

Sparkling in the morning rays,

I stubbed my toes

On a stubborn rock

Which accosted me.

The sudden impact

Catapulted the feckless me

Into the chilling waters

And I came up spluttering,

 Water spurting from nose and mouth,

Clothes drenched and clinging.

Opened eyes awakened me

To gladly find that I was dry

And it was all a dream!

 

 

 

Tales from Kandassankadavu

Nestled in the eastern bank of picturesque Connelly Canal, Kandassankadavu rests in rural complacency.  The time of my childhood was spent in simple pleasures.  Excitement was not the norm.  But as it so happens, even the simple lives could often be shaken by anything supernatural.  Kandassankadavu was no exception. 

Some things were knit into the fabric of any local culture.  While in the elementary shool, I heard some unbelievable  stories.  I was a new student in this parochial school.  I was not familiar with the area even though  I had many relatives in the area.  Both my parents were born there.

I heard about a government built pond farther away from my house. We were not allowed to wander around. So I never saw this place.  It was built for easy access to water in the neighbourhood.   Everyone was not rich enough to own a private well.  The pond was large and many people made use of it.  There was a tiny mount next to it.  The mount had a flat top and a single bush with large heart shaped leaves.  

I started to hear about some strange happenings during midnight hours on this spot.  People claim to have seen some unusual occurrences.  Little black devils were  dancing on the leaves of the bush.  They carried lighted lanterns and were nimble in their steps.  It sounded almost like a frolicksome gathering. They were like jolly imps dancing the night away.  I never saw them.  But there were eye witnesses!  Even though I never saw this phenomenon, I have a vivid picture of the scene in living colors in my head.

The  parish of Kandassankadavu had the Church of Our Lady of Nativity.  Even though it was named for  Virgin Mary, the two big parish feasts are  for St. Sebastian and St. James the Great.   Their feast days fell on January 13 and July 25 respectively.  The former had more celebratory events.  Family members and other relatives gathered for these feast days.

St. Sebastian received more reverence because he is the patron saint against small pox, a dreadful disease which was often fatal many decades ago.  Having several arrow wounds, his body appeared pock-marked.  Maybe that is possibly the reason why he was selected to be the hero who fights the deadly disease especially during the pre-vaccination age.  

Prayers alone were deemed inefficient to fight against the viral epidemic.  People reverted to local practices, very unlike the Catholic beliefs.  The old, twelve inch statue was considered miraculous. The arrows were made of solid gold.  Including my grandfather, several families donated these arrows. Weeks before the feast, single or multiple families arranged to take one of these arrows to process to their houses.  Often pastel colored silk umbrellas with lacy metal trims were carried during the procession.  The “arrow” processions are colorful and provide great spectacles.  They could be carried out during the day or during the night.  People crowded by the roadside to see the show.  At night, there are petromax lanterns to give a festive aura and light.  The common belief was that St. Sebastian protected  the families who received the arrow in their homes.

 The utter belief in miracles is inescapable in these  practices.  Apparently there were eyewitnesses.   The common myth was that evil spirits in the guise of women went about casting seeds of small pox at people in the area and those who were touched started to show the marks of the epidemic.  One of these stories was oft-repeated in my younger days   Someone was late returning home, possibly from a bar.  The streets were deserted at that hour.  Possibly inebriated, the man thought that he saw two women carrying baskets, casting what appeared to be seeds.  They kept proceeding till they reached the  entrance to a side street.  They were blocked by a man holding a big cane.  The women pleaded for admission to the street.  The witness heard the man say, “This street is under my protection. You cannot enter.”  He chased the evil women away with his cane.  Later people realized that the man was St. Sebastian and the homes in the street had welcomed the “arrow” procession against small pox.

More interesting events happened during these times.  The father of one my classmates was a butcher.  He became very wealthy in his trade.  In general, people are jealous of other people’s prosperity.  Rumours started flying about the sudden riches of this man.  Again people resorted to some myths.

 A local trickster deity had some followers.  He was known as Chaathan. There was a small sign advertising his services in one of the country roads.  According to popular belief, Chaathan will give great deal of riches to his devotees.   But, one has to give full loyalty to him.  It is even rumored that, in order to show good faith, a devotee implanted a little copper piece in one’s thigh and has to transfer it to the successor before death.  Otherwise, the departed soul wil not receive eternal rest.

The butcher in Kandassankadavu passed away.  In human history, it is normal.   But, what was not  normal was that there were sightings of him in many places.  When night fell, people claimed to have seen him wandering listlessly in the street by his home, in the market place and in the Church yard which were all adjacent to the cemetery.

The vicar at the time was slightly intimidating. From top to bottom, he was gray.  He had a gravelly voice which was not too comforting.  Besides, he was always accompanied by a fierce Alsatian dog.  He always carried a walking stick.   He did not emanate an aura of friendliness.  The rumors about the after death wanderings reached his ears too.

One evening, the vicar heard the dog barking furiously turning his face towards the cemetery gate.  The priest decided to give credence to the common talk.  He walked towards the cemetery accompanied by his pet.  As he neared his destination, he caught sight of the dead man coming through the gate.

The vicar, who was also an exorcist, stopped in his treads and questioned the apparition, ” Why are you doing this? Why are you frightening people?”

The dead man answered with a note of desperation in his voice, “Father, I have no rest in this world.  But I have no rest in the other world also”

The exorcist recognized the situation and asked mildly, “Will you let me help you?”

The apparition was doubtful about the success.  Yet, he was willing to venture.  He nodded his acquiescence.   

The vicar collected  the holy water, the crucifix, the stole, the candle and the book. He guided the dead man to his grave which was still covered with earth.  Nobody saw the Rite of Exorcism.  

Next morning, people saw shoe prints on the soil covering the grave.  They believed that the priest stamped on the grave to compete his act of returning the spirit of the dead man. From that day onwards, nobody saw the butcher again. Hopefully, he received eternal rest.

As an impressionable child with very creative imagination, I treasured these stories.  They never left me. 

*A young man whose father came from Kandassankadavu urged me to write these down to share with posterity. Here is to you, Sebastian!

Childhood Revisited

All those simple memories

Of our childhood

Still walk hand-in-hand

To wake up

At chance encounters.

Little feet, little legs-

That’s what we had 

In those elementary years

When we walked back

To our separate homes.

Spread across the street,

We walked abreast 

In those days

Of scant traffic.

Those were innocent days

Of no warped thought

And only straight talks

In the purity of childhood.

Decades later, I met

One of these walkers!

It was an unexpected

And arresting moment!

Eyes brimming

With joyful tears,

Hand over hand 

In a warm clasp,

We sharied those bygone days

In an affecting moment.

Words had no place ,

But our glances spoke

Of what we knew

Was pure without deceit

In that incandescent,

But innocent moment !

Waiting

So much time 

Has tiptoed away

After the last breath

Slowly forsook you.

Grass covers your grave,

Ice frosts it,

Rain soaks it,

Dew moistens it,

Sun burns it

And wind sweeps it.

Yet you slumber away

In eternal rest.

 

The leaves have yellowed

And the fallen leaves

Deck the grass

On which I kneel,

Waiting patiently

To join my time with yours.