Thursday, October 28, 2010

For Tvisha - 2nd Grade, Age 6 (1972)

Dear Tvisha,

My first Television experience

This was the year the black and white television was introduced for the first time in India. All the programs were broadcast by a broadcasting station called Doordarshan, which was owned by the government. There were no cable companies.

There was a neighbor of ours, Capt. Mani. He was the first one in our apartment building to own a TV back then. He and his family were kind enough to let a lot of the kids in the building to come to their apartment daily in the evenings to watch the shows on the television. As you can understand television was like a magic box for us, something we had never experienced in our lives.

The shows we used to watch regularly would be a 30 minute program that showed Indian movie songs. Every Sunday evening we would get to watch an Indian movie. And twice a week they would show the Flintstones, a show I used to love.

Shopping and Chocolates

My mother (your paati) used to take me shopping to the local mom and pop stores around our neighborhood to buy regular non perishable groceries, coffee, etc. Like most kids I used to love chocolate candies with my favorite being Cadbury’s. There would be a fight with my mom every time we used to go to the shops, where I would want chocolate candy and she would vehemently deny me the same. But the shopkeepers, especially the shop from where we used to buy freshly ground coffee, would give me a free chocolate, usually Cadbury’s Eclairs if I listened to my mom and behaved well. That was funny.

So you see daddy loved and still loves chocolates just like you do. The chocolate candies I use to like and eat the most then used to be the Cadbury’s milk chocolate bars and Cadbury’s Plus bar, a chocolate bar filled with semi hard raspberry Jell-O inside. I am sure you would have loved that particular kind :-).

Broken Bones

This was the only time I have broken any bones in my body, and hopefully will be the last time. I got my right hand fractured. My brother Krish and his friends were playing a version of tag it in our friend’s apartment, running around at a good speed in the very small apartment.

I, who was very small in size compared to the others wanted to participate as well. I slipped while running and fell. At the same time one of the guys stepped over my right wrist and broke my wrist.

I didn’t cry by the way, but was in extreme pain. We went to the doctor and got my hand in a cast right away. What was worse than the pain due to the broken wrist was the itching sensation on my hand inside the cast, and I couldn’t do anything about it but bear it. Grrrrr!!

All Aboarrrrd

The trains that ran back and forth all over Bombay and from Bombay to other cities in India used to pass by very near our apartment building. As a kid I used to love the sound of the trains passing by at a high speed with their horns blaring. We had to resort to real trains since we didn’t have Thomas train amongst us in India during that time :-).

The railway tracks were pretty close to our building, a couple of blocks away on the other side of a park. We used to go to the park to play, and sit and watch the trains go by.

There was one particular train that I was very fond of, called the Deccan Queen. Unlike the other trains, this train had special colors (beige top and navy blue in the bottom) and was the pride of the railways. It used to run between Bombay and Poona, and covered the distance in less than 3 hours. There were only a couple of stops between the two cities.

One could get all kinds of delicacies in the train to eat which you couldn’t in rest of the trains. There was a kitchen in the train and orders for food would be taken before the train left the city and would be delivered hot and fresh shortly. The train used to pass by exactly at 5.25 pm every evening. It still does :-).

If you remember when you were just around 16 months old on your first trip to Bombay back in 2007, I took you to the over bridge from where we saw the Deccan Queen go by, although not at a very fast speed that day. I know you love trains, and I was so excited by the fact that I could let you also experience a part of my past. Between now and then, the only difference is that now the colors of the cars are red, white and grey.

We also used to make a lot of trips to South India. My mother liked to visit the temples and her relatives, and every summer vacation the whole family would go on such trips. Krish and I used to fight for the window seat in the train.

Apart from the train ride the biggest thrill for us used to be watching the engine pulling the train cars from our seat windows when the train took a turn. And the engines were so grand looking, either electric engines, engines powered by diesel, and steam engines. Nowadays when we travel all we see are electric engines, and the days of the steam engines are long gone by and the diesel engines are almost extinct. Oh Tvisha, I miss those days!

- Appa

Thursday, October 21, 2010

For Tvisha – 1st Grade, Age 5

(Appa, and his good friend from that time, Mala)

Dear Tvisha,

The year when I was in 1st grade was a very eventful year. There were quite a number of changes that I had to go through in school.

I had to wake up really early since the school bus that usually came in around 9 am for kindergarten, came in around 7.30 am for first grade. Getting me ready daily to make it to the waiting school bus was a ritual in itself, with the neighbors from the nearby buildings looking forward to it. I had to be up for this challenge since I now was in the big league, I mean, first grade :-).

It was a time of great adjustment with longer school hours which wasn’t that much fun to begin with; there were new uniforms that I loved – white half sleeve shirts, navy blue short trousers, and pure white canvas shoes and socks; then there were the new teachers, more classes, lots of daily homework, and exams too.

One thing I will tell you about schools in India is that they are really competitive and crammed with schoolwork right from the beginning. It must have only gotten worse now.

The school timings were from 9.30 am till 4 pm, with a 5 minute break at 11.25 am and lunch break from 1 pm to 1.45 pm. School ended at 4 pm and the school bus would drop me off by 4.30 pm at home.

Most of the time, I would come home to the aroma of hot dosas (Indian crepes) being prepared by my mom. I used to eat the dosas with sugar and butter, or with coconut chutney. I loved dosas. In South Indian families dosa is a staple item to prepare during snack time, just as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be.

Then it was time to go out and play with the few friends that I had at that time, mainly with a girl named Mala who I was fond of. She used to live in the same apartment building as we did, a level above us.

There were a lot of children in our apartment building, which was great, but most of them were elder to me. There were others of similar age but their parents wouldn’t allow them to go out and play much, instead making them focus on their studies I suppose?

After playing for a couple of hours, it was time to come back home at my mom’s beckoning for a shower and homework, dinner and then off to sleep. I would get quite an earful from my mom if I didn’t come back home in time.

The one thing that was different with Don Bosco High School compared to other schools was that we used to get Thursdays off. The other catholic schools would have Saturdays off and the rest with no such weekly days off except Sundays. Due to this, it wasn’t much fun since I had no one to play with and as the years went by the homework would increase since we had a break mid-week.

The biggest event during the year that I can’t ever forget was the war between India and Pakistan. Since I only had few lucid recollections of the same, I asked your uncle Krish to reminisce about it. He wrote this:

December 1971: War breaks out between India and Pakistan

Government imposes black-outs in the evening

Following the rules, we glued black paper on the windows, did not put on lights even late in the evening and through the night. Dinners used to be candle-lit, and at around 7pm.

Appa used to come home pretty early. Once he was home, he would follow radio news intently and update all of us, and our neighbors, who somehow preferred to hang around in the building compound. Many would stand by our verandah and discuss the latest situation; we were in the ground floor, remember?

Thankfully the war soon got over – it lasted around three weeks, if I remember correctly.

Appa and amma were at their protective best, giving us courage and confidence that everything would be okay soon. We somehow needed that.

You were very curious about what could go wrong, puzzled by the darkness all around, about the candle light. Appa and amma used to field your questions without scaring or worrying you.

When the sirens blared…

Families would step out on to the building compound, to escape easily in case an air raid caused a bomb to explode near the building and damage the building.

We could see the bullets fired from Indian ack-ack guns (anti aircraft guns) to discourage Pakistan’s airplanes from coming near the city - the tracer bullets, a moving stream of red dotted lines against the dark night sky.

Our hearts thumped – we used to stay indoors though; Appa still thought that safer, given that we were quite small and could get lost due the commotion outside.

This was a scary time indeed for all of us.

- Appa

Thursday, October 14, 2010

For Tvisha – My Pre K to Kindergarten Years

(Appa, when he was just over a year old, with his mommy (your paati))

Hi Tvisha,

This week I would like to tell you about my growing up years until the time I went to Pre K and Kindergarten school.

I am not able to recollect most of that time, but do distinctly remember a few things that I want to share with you.

I was considered to be very cute by my family members (like every child is :-)) and was everyone’s darling. For my Pre K, I was sent to Guru Nanak School that included all grades, right from Pre K to the 12th grade. Most schools in Bombay ran that format during the time. The only positive thing about this school was its proximity to the apartment building where we lived.

I did not personally like this school very much, including some of the teachers. Now what I am going to tell you, I would strongly encourage that you never attempt to do if you are in a similar situation at any given time or place :-).

It was and is a common practice in most schools in India where if a kid doesn’t listen to the teacher or doesn’t do his/her homework, or does something in class that isn’t considered desirable by the teacher, then he or she would get a nice caning from the teacher, or be asked to stand outside the class for the whole period, or even stand up on the bench during class, ha ha!

There was this one teacher at Guru Nanak School who believed that, if the kids did not comply with her instructions, it was ok to reprimand them with a one-foot wooden measuring scale that she used to walk around in class with. She would ask the kid to stretch out his or her hand, and snap! came down the scale. It would be a stinging pain.

I was once the recipient of this. I don’t know what happened to me that day, but after getting hit by her on my hands, I somehow managed to pull the scale from her and hit her back on her hands!

Now that was a big no no, and caused a big uproar. My poor father was summoned to the principal’s office to hear the teacher’s complaint about this. Go figure, the teacher complaining about this after what she did to the kids?? :-)

Anyway, by that time, my brother Krish whom you call Kitth had got admissions at the Don Bosco High School and it was decided that I follow suit, away from Guru Nanak School. I joined there for my Kindergarten.

Don Bosco was a real nice school at that time, highly reputed. It was a private school, run by an Italian organization. The principal during that time was a fine Italian gentleman, Father Gaiety.

What I still can’t forget about Father Gaiety was his tall and rotund structure in his white priest robe, with a silver and white receding hairline, and with his face, cheeks and nose so red, which is something that even Rudolf the reindeer would envy.

Father Gaiety would walk around before school started daily welcoming the children to school, and would always surprise the kids with candy that would suddenly appear from his robe pocket. He always used to be Santa when our school celebrated Christmas, dressed up in a red suit with false beard and would hand out goodies to us. I loved Don Bosco High School.

And then after school coming back home to a big joint family sharing a 360 square feet area was even more fun, given the number of people living together. The highlight of that time was my father (thaatha)’s own daddy, your great grandfather.

Your great grandfather’s name was Krishna Iyer, but he used to be referred by one and all as Vaikkom Krishna Iyer. He was from Vaikkom, a small town in the southern part of India, in Kerala and a renowned and very highly regarded mridangam player of his time.

After his prime, he joined my father in Bombay with his wife, my adorable grandmother, and was living with us even before I was born. Due to some problems with his knees, he couldn’t walk at all and was restricted to sitting/sleeping all day in a cot (pronounced/sounds like cuttle in our mother tongue, Tamil). To make matters convenient I think all family members and the other folks in our apartment building called him cuttle appa.

With his passion for music still intact he used to hold music classes on a daily basis, teaching his elder son (my uncle) mridangam which is a percussion instrument from the earlier times in India, and his daughters (my aunts) the Veena, a beautiful sounding instrument that looked very similar to the Sitar. If one would think that the Sitar has a treble effect in its sound, I would say that the Veena had a bass effect in its sound. There were a lot of other kids in the building who used to learn Carnatic music (a form of music associated with the southern part of India), and other instruments.

But, if you did not practice hard or concentrate, or have come without any preparations to his class, then hell would fall on you. He would get very angry and scold the students, and also cane them occasionally with a small stick. People used to be terrified of him during those times, as he was a very strict person. But he was a fantastic teacher for sure, going by the talent and skill levels I saw in my older years, in my uncle and my aunts while playing their instruments.

I asked my father recently as to why he didn’t take any lessons from him. Thaatha sheepishly admitted that although he could easily recognize and understand what cuttle appa was teaching to the other students he was afraid of being scolded and hence decided not to learn music from him :-).

But cuttle appa would never ever get angry with yours truly, and whenever I would stand at the end of the cot and ask him for some money to buy biscuits or candy, he would always pull out this huge pouch of his and hand me the money to go buy biscuits.

It is really amazing that I am able to remember all of this about your great grandfather, as I was just over 3 years old when he passed away due to old age. He was in his 80s.

Tvisha, I am glad that I was able to put down all of this while my memory of these events from that time is still fresh. I hope you enjoy reading them as much when you grow up.

- Appa

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For Tvisha - My Life As It Started

Tvisha, we all know that you were born in Manhattan New York, and mommy and appa (daddy) ‘picked you up’ from the ‘hostipal’ :-).

Today appa is going to tell you all I know about how and where I was born, and how my parents arrived at my name.

I was born in the town of Sion in Bombay (now called Mumbai), India on January 13, 1966 sometime early in the morning at the Rohini Merchant Hospital, a small and popular hospital at that time.

The hospital was only a block away from the apartment we lived in. You have stayed at that apartment during your first visit ever to India in 2007 as a one year old baby.

My mother (your paati) was admitted to the hospital the previous night, as instructed by the doctor. The doctor had indicated to my father (Sion Thaatha) that they might need to do a cesarean operation to get me out. So thaatha signed on the consent form and came back home.

During those days, no one, including the daddy was allowed into the delivery room. When thaatha reached the hospital the next morning, the doctor confirmed that they would have to indeed do the cesarean procedure since I was a big baby. Thaatha said all right.

After I was delivered, the doctor informed thaatha that everything went well, I was fine and being taken care of, and that paati was resting but still hadn’t come around. Being a very practical person, thaatha thought he wasn’t adding value being in the hospital, and took off to work!

When he returned in the evening, paati gave him a dress down and fired him left, right and and center! I found this totally hilarious, although I very much realize her reasoning. Thaatha does feel today it was indeed very foolish on his part to have made that decision.

Oh yes, by the way Tvisha, I was a celebrity at the hospital for a few days since I weighed 9.5 lbs, which was an all time record at the hospital at that time. Well, 9.5 lbs may not be all that big, but remember I was being compared to the average Indian baby :-).

By tradition, in our culture back then, the first son takes his grandfather’s name from his daddy’s side, and the second son takes the name of the grandfather from his mommy’s side.

Being that I was the second son, they gave me the name of paati’s father, Rama. My grandfather’s name was T. Rama Iyer.

Paati felt that it would be very insulting to her daddy if she called me out by my name casually in his presence. So I went through a name change and ended up being called Sriram. Not a bad choice for a name, huh? :-)

- Appa

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mommy's Piggy Tales

Hey all,

I am going to be participating in a 13 week session for Janna Antenorcruz who runs the wonderful blog, where I will be writing about thoughts from my past, right from the time I was born until when I was a youth to serve as a memory for my daughter Tvisha.

I think Janna has a very novel idea for her blog. By the way, anyone who wants to write their memories for their kids to read when they grow can join these writing sessions free, and post all these thoughts on their blog with a link to Janna’s site.

See you soon,