Thursday, November 18, 2010

For Tvisha – Age 9, 1975

Dear Tvisha,

This was one of the best years I had, traveling wise. School was getting tougher every year, with the expectation of performing at the top level in class.

Paati used to teach me daily and help me with my homework. She was very good in Mathematics, and instrumental in me getting top scores in the subject. She was very particular about Krish and I doing really well in class, and made sure that we worked very hard. People from South India, from where we originated were known to be well educated, who worked hard and were loyal to the company they worked at , generally starting and finishing their careers at the same company. So now you know where it all came from :-).

What was becoming a joke in our apartment building and the neighboring building was whether I made the school bus daily in time or not. Some of the neighbors used to come to their balconies to watch this and get entertained. The bus would come exactly at 7.30 am to pick me up. If the bus driver didn’t find me waiting, he would start honking continuously. So while I was getting readied so to speak, someone would stand at our kitchen that faced the street, or run out to tell the driver that I was almost on my way. What was the reason for all this commotion? I just couldn’t wake up soon enough. Almost on a daily basis, I would be running out of my apartment with my school bag hanging from one arm, my shoes and socks on the other and a chapati rolled with butter and jam (my breakfast) jutting out from my mouth. I would somehow make the bus mainly because the driver was so nice. All my friends in the bus would make fun of me, and who can forget the neighbors watching all this and having their entertainment for the day.

The four of us, paati, thaatha, Krish and I traveled a lot this year. We visited several places. I traveled by air for the first time in my life. Our first trip was from Bombay to Goa, by air. Of course Krish and I fought for the window seat, and of course he won!

Apparently for reasons still unknown to me and my family, while sightseeing in Goa, I was upset about something and due to that I wouldn’t walk alongside my family, I was walking on the other side of the street, but I did make sure that I was close enough to them in this new city :-). Not good behavior on my part. We had a great time in Goa, visiting the beautiful beaches the city had to offer and its monuments, churches and temples.

We almost missed our flight from Goa to Trivandrum, capital of Kerala, in South of India. We were sitting at the gate as the flight was delayed, and didn’t realize when everyone had already boarded the flight. Out of the blue, a lady from a foreign land shouted out to us, saying “Hey Trivandrum, Come Along!”. Apparently she was in the same flight from Bombay to Goa and recognized us as we waited for the flight.

Before another fight could start, thaatha had settled matters in an amicable way between Krish and me, saying one of us could have the window seat on take off and the other on landing. Thankfully for us the plane wasn’t full, and both got to enjoy our own window seats.

We visited Kanya Kumari, which is a town at the southernmost tip of South India and went to see Swami Vivekananda’s statue. Swami Vivekananda was a great philosopher in India. In his memory, there is a memorial built on a rock around 200 meters in the ocean. You have to travel there on a boat. We saw the sunset there which was really beautiful.

We headed to Palakkad from there to attend my cousin’s marriage. That was the time when I had started to play cricket a couple of years ago, and we got to play cricket now in the fields as opposed to the concrete streets in Bombay. It was different and fun.

Paati got to see all her relatives and siblings, was very happy and mentioned offhand that who knew, she may never see them again, especially the old folks.

Our next stop was Ernakulum to one of our relatives place. The most exciting thing for me there was the railway tracks that ran just around 40 feet away from our relative’s house. I had so much fun watching the trains go by, especially the Island Express which daily used to speed past the house we were staying at. I don’t remember the colors of the cars, but do remember the steam engine that pulled the cars. It was jet black, with a huge star painted in silver occupying the middle of the face of the engine, with its headlight in the center. It looked really imposing when the Island Express roared past us, with steam puffing ferociously towards the sky. Then there was the Cochin Mail that had a light blue colored diesel engine, whose cars were painted dark blue with light blue stripes running through the middle. A fantastic combination :-). I found that in the South there were more trains with their own distinctive colors and engines. Even though electric engines were available that would have saved money, some of the trains were being pulled by steam engines and diesel engines. Must be about prestige and history.

We visited Chennai after that, to visit paati’s elder sister (my aunt). My aunt had 7 kids, all girls. They lived in a huge house, and the days we stayed there were one of the best times I had. We visited a lot of family from both thaatha and paati’s side in Chennai. We finally made it back to Bombay almost 3-4 weeks after having a fantastic vacation.

Back home, I was finding it difficult to find boys of my age to hang out with and play together. The people my age were girls, and some of them who I was good friends with had left our apartment building to go live some place else. Most of the boys who played were all elder to me in age, and the age gap was a big issue. Being a small kid amongst teenagers, I didn’t get any chance to play cricket with them or even hang out with them. I would be sent home since I was ‘still’ a kid. Finally I made a few friends who were from apartments a block away from where we used to live. After that I had no complaints whatsoever in terms of having enough friends as that group of friends grew to a 20 to 30 strong member group over the next few years.

Also around this time, thaatha and paati were on a mission, looking for a prospective bride for thaatha’s younger brother. This meant a lot of work for them. Arranged marriage was the widely accepted and followed way of getting married in India during that time. But that needed a lot of ground work and research. Once there is mutual interest shown by two families, it starts from meeting the prospective bride’s family, assessing them, and tapping your network of contacts and friends to enquire about the family and the prospective bride. This worked both ways. After making sure that both the groom’s side and the bride’s side weren’t crazy people :-) and their reputations were intact, the parents from both sides would meet and discuss the possibility of marriage and match horoscopes of the groom and bride. If things moved forward, then the girl and boy would meet up briefly, ask each other a few questions if at all, form whatever opinion they can in those 10 minutes or so, and then make the decision whether to get married or not. Scary?? Absolutely. But this system does have its merits and has worked for generations with huge success.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable year; I was doing well at school and enjoying it; I got to make new friends, lots of them, and went on a big vacation with my family; and visited several places in India and met with almost all my relatives. It was fantastic and I have to thank my parents for that.

It would also turn out to be the last vacation I went on with paati.

- Appa


Janna said...

"a chapati rolled with butter and jam (my breakfast) jutting out from my mouth." love this imagery!

Being an American I really appreciate you explanation of finding a spouse too.

I'm glad you were able to enjoy traveling as a family. I'm worried about what happens to your father though.

Susan McCurdy said...

I enjoy reading your post because I've always loved reading about other cultures. Just last month I read a book that was set in Chennai. Your description of the trains reveal how much you loved watching them. I loved the explanation of the marriage arranging too! Very interesting!

Unknown said...

childhood is defintely the best part,but we never realise that until we are older!