Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Earliest Childhood Memories

I don't know how many of us can remember events when we were about 3 years old or less. To many of us they do not stick long in memories and the events pass off just for the moment. But somehow - I don't know if it is a common, no-wonder phenomenon - some memories have stuck in my mind, clearly impressed. I can still recall them with great ease, as if it happened just recently, very freshly, quite vividly. The childhood has not been one of much adventure, but full of vivid memories. I try to list below some of them and type on as memory trickles.

Tirupati - monkey, God:
Probably when I was about 2 1/2 or 3, our familly had been visiting a pilgrimage centre - Tirupati. I can still picture two incidents: one was the sight of the idol of the God with its forehead mark and the second one, a monkey snatching a little biscuit from my little hand after jumping on my stomach as I was standing there watching the God's idol from a distance. I had screamed when that happened. I picture some pandal and from one of the poles supporting it, the monkey had descended from one of them.

Shoe-chappal throwing:
Around that or a little bit younger in age, I remember throwing twice, my little slippers, once out of a moving train and once out of a moving van. I know not the reason for this silly act and I must have been sitting on someone's lap on both occasions. [Comment below]

Kindergarten school:
I remember one or two of the days when my mother used to leave me for the kindergarten school [Jagadamba Shishuvihara]. There, I remember we kids sitting under the tree, arranging those red seeds into a wooden board having grooves in the shape of the letters of the alphabet. I now live close to that school - where I was there for just a short period. My mother leaving me here one morning and my crying is still vivid.

Then in another KG school [Bhagini Seva Samaja], I remember my grandmother leaving me at school in a horse cart [Mysore Tonga]. There was a young girl sitting (on the floor) next to me crying for something! That girl in fact works in the same campus where I'm now! They also lived close to our house and so I was able to carry that memory, though there too it was a short stay for me as I moved over to the convent for my class 1. During this period, I was made to stand in the front row for a group dance. Being absolutely shy, I just stood without doing anything! One day there was a mass meal for all. I had been sent to school with a plate and spoon. One teacher there still remembers me [she lives in the same locality].

School entry:
I remember going with my paternal aunt (who also studied there before) to get introduced to the convent staff Christ the King Convent]and later my first day at school there. I can still picture the teacher lovingly inviting me "Come, good boy, come". I was joining Class 1. Again, my aunt had taken me there as she knew some English (because probably my mother could not speak English).

An old and angry grand-aunt:
Some more memories spring up! An old widow [Lachamma] of my grand uncle that was living with us once came shouting at me - probably a 2 year old! - with a firewood in hand and I was running. I later came to know that she had a bad temper. She died when I was about 3 and I remember the scene of her dead body, some ladies sitting around.

There was an old childless couple opposite our house that has an iron spiral staircase. I used to go there often - it was common for children to be running out and into others' houses. They usually had that 'puffed rice' to give. When they gave me in a piece of paper, I used to blow it all around, making a mess. I think they were quite patient to handle that. I was not that mischievous in nature. But somehow I enjoyed that! I had nicknamed that old man with a prefix that meant 'puffed rice grandpa'.

Angered at me calling him 'grandfather':
Those old timers usually never minded little kids calling nicknames. But there was one very elderly man, Nanjundaiah [actually a distant relative, writer 'Vani's husband] living opposite our house. Children used to go to almost all houses in the street just like that or to play with other kids. One day, I remember him not happy when I adressed him as 'grandpa'! We kids were used to be taught to give respect to elders by calling 'uncle', 'aunt'...and so on.

There was one poor old man that came for alms very frequently to houses in the street. It was a tradition to help the needy - those who came to ask for alms were given a bit of something as an act of kindness. So we used to offer him a handful of rice. I had nicknamed him as "Rice grandpa" [Akki taata]. I also used to imitate his hunch back. He carried a thick walking stick for support. After rice was put by some elder into his cloth bag, I used to offer my bit of rice with my little fist. I must have been less than four then.

Dhobi Papaiah:
There was another washerman [Dhobi] that came to collect clothes for washing, starching and and ironing. His name was "Papaiah". Old man. He came with a white bedsheet that was tied up in such a way that clothes were put in and a knot was tied from the four ends for carrying the load on his shoulder. He counted and collected from us periodically and then delivered on a set day. With a shaky voice, he used to 'respectfully' call my 'original' name as: "Ashwathnaarayanbuddyora", sitting in the verandah. I still vividly remember him noting down in little book with a very little pencil with a shaky handwriting. A few years back, his grandson [he is in the same business with a temporary shop by the roadside close to our house] told me that the old dhobi was his grandfather.

Too small for my clothes!:
I remember how my father used to get my school uniform stitched. It was extra long to compensate my quick growth. We could not afford to get new ones every year. It was only done only when it was worn out. Those shorts had braces and I remember frequently pulling them up back on to my shoulder as it would always fall over [not my short-pants luckily - LOL]. I also remember my friends making fun at the extra length of both my shirt sleeve [slack, half] and shorts {they were "longs", LOL}.

Memories of house servants:
Servants are part and parcel of a middle-class home. They assist the household in sweeping/dusting/mopping the floor, washing clothes and used kitchen utensils and assist in some of the daily chores. The earliest servants my memory supplies are of Mallamma [she had a face that had been dimpled by chicken pox] and her husband Rachaiah. They did the job with questionable sincerity for many years until they could no longer serve. In came a lady Nanjamma in 1971. She was to serve for the next 35 years. When she could not come, mostly due to her pregnancies her old mother would be sent. Or sometimes, her eldest daughter Malli used to take care of the chores. When Malli’s daughter also grew up, she too assisted in case of Nanjamma absenting for some reason. So, it was four generations serving at one time or other. We used Nanjamma’s husband Mallaiah’s skill of painting the house with lime or with minor masonry repair at times. His son became a mason and we made use of his services a few times as well. They lived close by in KG Koppal.

The scavenging work was done for many years by one lady Rangee. Her granddaughter also continued to be of some help in that job after many years until recently.

Milk supplies:
One of the oldest practices to get more mileage is to sell milk mixed with water in the supplier’s own ‘secret proportions’. In order to make sure pure milk was supplied, there was that custom of bringing the cattle to the door and milking it right in front of the customer. That ensured supply of pure milk since the ‘milker’ had to show the customer an empty vessel before milking. We have heard how in spite of this, water would get mixed up to make he milk thin! It sometimes happened like magic! Arguments were common! The blame was put on the poor cattle.

There was one lady Siddamma who used to supply milk in cans to our household also. I think before that, it was her cattle that were brought to selected homes to be milked. Around 1968-69 my grandfather got a client by name Chikkaveerayya in his ‘lawyer office’. He happened to be a milk supplier having the privilege of owning a few cows near Subbarayana Kere (close to our house). At that time, Siddamma’s supply was not satisfactory or she could not supply properly due to various reasons – which I cannot recollect. So this man, stout, wearing a shirt and striped shorts stepped in. He was hard of hearing. We had to shout to get ourselves heard whenever he came to supply, every evening. Mornings, Siddamma continued to supply for sometime before Chikkaveerayya was able to supply satisfactory (thicker) milk in the mornings also.

Sometimes his elder son Kumar would come on his newly-bought moped scooter called ‘Suvega’. I and my younger brother used to ask for short rides on it whenever his father could not come. Our request was usually honoured. Chikkaveerayya’s sons continues to supply even after his passing away many years back. It is interesting that now his grandson is supplying us milk every morning [evening supply discontinued since long] from his own dairy consisting of a few cows from the same location.

Injured by a splinter, helped by a passer by:
Our neighbour’s house was being built in 1964 or thereabouts. I and Buddi [Raghu] were watching how construction steel rods were being cut, from a safe distance – we thought so. Suddenly, I felt something trickling down my left shin. It was blood flowing out and down. On seeing it, young Buddi [I was of the same age of probably 6] ran home. A splinter from a stone when they were striking it hard with a hammer had stuck my left leg. Pain, blood.... so, cry. A passer by who happened to see a familiar young child crying came for help. He happened to be from the Saarvajanika Hostel in the same street as our home. He took me home to inform the injury. After first-aid, he took me on his bicycle to Mysore Pharmacy in Krishnamurthy Puram where Dr. VR Krishnaswamy Rao treated the injury. There might have been a few stitches. I was left back at home by this helpful man. The scar from that injury remains as vividly as the memory of this incident. If he had not spotted me crying, I probably would have stood there crying! I was so shocked that I probably did not know I had to go home, which was just round the corner. Later on, if my memory serves right, it was our forgettable (as it turned out long later) tenant Bhima who had taken me to Dr.Rao on our bicycle for removal of stitches. That might be the only help late Bhima probably has done!

The Lunch carrier
In the 1950s or 60s, working women were as sparse as canteens and hotels, because it was the accepted and safe practice to consume only home-prepared food, cooked with love and affection by the women in the family. For those office-goers who preferred warm home food, there were many “carrier-wallas” who carried lunches from home to office. Another reason for hiring them was that by the time they leave for offices, food will not be ready.

In the early 60s, both my uncle and father were working in the same Institute and so my grandmother would send two sets of big lunch boxes [3 compartments] in two bags. There was one carrier-walla who was appointed for this job. He would come to our house around noon on his bicycle after collecting lunch boxes from his customers [usually working in the same place]. He would deliver them to the persons at their work places well ahead of time and then collect the empty carriers and deliver them back home.

It is a tough job, because it needed stamina and strong legs to pedal the bicycle with that all the weight of 10-15 carriers hung on the handle and behind the saddle. He would push the vehicle in upward gradients, to save energy.

I do not remember his name but almost every day my grandmother used to give him a glass of lemon juice or buttermilk esp. on hot summer days. He would gleefully accept it, remove slippers outside, enter the verandah, remove his cap and drop the liquid into his mouth from a couple of inches – a hygienic practice. There were two heavy duty rexine bags made to order so that it could take the load and shape of the round base. They lasted quite sometime. My uncle died in 1967 and this man continued for some time before my father chose to come home for lunch as it was an hour break and just a 10-minute bicycle ride.

Puttaramaiah, the priest:
As long as my memory can recall, it was this lanky, tall old man who used to come home every early morning to perform the daily religious rituals at the Worship Room. He came by walk from his home which was about 20 minutes away, barefooted, clean after a bath [which was a must] and in clean dhotis. He was not skilled to perfection as a priest but followed honestly some basic religious requisites before coming for the job and also came from a humble family - they were the most likely reasons for us to appoint him. Most priests were poor in those days even in the 1960s and Puttaramaiah was no exception. He sported a small tuft on his head and had white stubs of hair on the beard and also on his shaven head. He would diligently do his job and go away – it was an hour’s occupation. Narayana Shastry was doing it before him, during my father's younger days. Much later, for a very short period, Ramaswamy Shartry's young son did it.

Ramaswamy Shastry, our family priest:
Be they major festivals, ceremonies or religious occasions in the family, it was the tall Ramaswamy Shastry who was called in to perform. [Picture here is from 1966. Occasion- my grandfather's 70th birthday "shaanti". Here I am all ears to his fantastic rendering of 'mantras', looking at him in awe from the lap of my grand uncle. Sri Puttaramaiah is seen with a rudraksha neclace. There are also many relatives and ladies from the neighbourhood seen in this picture]

His great knowledge of the Vedas, coupled with a fantastic voice and crystal clarity of pronounciation of the Mantras made listening to him a most pleasant experience. He has been known to the family since the 50s. In the mid 80s after he sustained and recovered from a road accident, he did not live long. It was a great loss to us. It was he who used to perform my grandfather's 60th and 70th year "shantis", me and my brother's "upanayanas", etc. His presentation of the "Panchaanga Shravana" on Ugadi day was another occasion to hear his beautiful voice.

Shankaranarayana Bhat, the temple priest:
He was the son of a priest who was in the Sri Prasanna Vishweshwara Swamy Temple on Gita Road. My earliest memory of him is of a young Bhat, assisting his father in the temple where our family has been visiting for decades. He was also well versed in the Vedas, also had that gift of voice and clarity in pronounciation. His voice still echoes in the minds of those who had heard him, as loudly and clearly as it did in the vast temple hall when he performed poojas. After Ramaswamy Shastry, it was he who we turned to for the 'post' of family priest. Renown for his honesty and sincerety he was an avid follower of religious principles. His passing away a couple of years back came as a great loss to us as he never refused to honour any of our requests to perform pujas or ceremonies on any day, even at his slight inconvenience and even at short notice. He had a lovely proportionate body that had been tuned with Yoga. Unfortunately, he had been ailing from a heart problem for many years.

The house-visiting Barber:
There was a barber by name Mutthu [clad in white shirt and white pyjamas] who used to visit our house [with his box of tools] on a known day [or by my grandfather's appointment, I know not] till the mid-sixties or thereabouts till we discontinued [on his death methinks]. After he trimmed my grandfather and father's hairs it was my turn. It was done in our verandah while we sat on a wooden plank. Later he used to collect all the cut hair and dispose them off. The area in which the hair-cutting was done was later purified with water. I can still feel my hair stand on end when the thought of the 'hand machine' doing its job 'click-click' at the back and sides of the head -- it used to be a great tickling experience! [Comment below]

Chalam, the hair-dresser:
His full name was Venkachalam. His work place was popularly known as "Chalam's Saloon" [actually, "Slim and Trim"]. A hair-dresser's saloon is where we can read old newspapers free, but pay for a hair-cut and a fully free gossip in polished English, esp. here. The same sort of "polish" he used to give our heads while cutting the hairs! He was one of those few hair-dressers who had that ability as he was a bit educated, but had to take up his community's profession. Being my father's classmate in the middle school in the early 1930s - I think in the Maharaja's School - he would take liberty to make us [young boys] wait and wait till he was finished with other customers. We were made to sit on a plank on the chair handle that he kept to suit his cutting height. I was usually accompanied by father.

This place, in a rented corner next to Chamarajapuram Society. The saloon was more popular for Chalam's coloured quality gossip rather than his skill with the snipping scissors! His speciality seemed to be giving "colour" [in fact, light green on the scalp - sides and back of the head - machine cut and not 'scissors cut'] to young and old heads alike after showing old pictures of some men that were hung on the wall, with that typical old fashioned trim hair cut. When that "colour" technique was becoming obsolete, he would threaten to give 'that colour' if any customer guided him to their desirous styles. He had a smoker's cough and he left us in 1979 and I remember informing my father the sad news on his hospital bed recovering from an ailment. 'gave my head' to his son Srinivas thereafter, till 2005 when he too succumbed, to alcohol.

Mari [Chandrashekar]

There was one middle aged man who used to frequent our house and chat for long hours and even stay with us. He was a witty man and we kids used to love his jokes. I don't know if he was a relative or a family aquaintance. Later, one night I remember him coming with a bag saying that he has left home [due to some 'friction']. I don't know what the reason was, but probably the next day, he went and joined an Ashram which is at the foot of Chamundi Hill. He lessened his visits to our home and became an important member there and many years later we heard of his passing. He used to come and assist us during any family functions/gatherings.

Kaveramma, the old lady

Like Mari, another old lady Kaveramma,short, diminutive widow, used to visit our family and I understand that she has been known to the family since she was young through some of her relatives [guessing]. I know not which place she lived with her son, but suddenly she would land with her steel trunk carrying luggage and a bag. She would stay in our house for weeks together! We used to tease her for fun but she never liked it, esp. when we were playing with a walking stick or a ball. She was so afraid that it would prick her eyes! Of course, she too assisted at times with some house chores of my grandmother.

Ayya and his false teeth

K.Srikantaiah [called by all as Ayya], was my grandfather's cousin and he sometimes traveled to Mysore in connection with some work, esp. regarding the paddy share from our lands at Marulagala, Srirangapatna. So he used to stay with us for a few days. He was an old man in the 1960s, came with a walking stick and false teeth. We kids waited to see him remove his teeth for the night. We were excited to watch that act and later his teethless smile!! His speech too changed adding much to our fun.

Food Feeding was a problem!

Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai - a hindi movie had been released in 1960. The song by Mukesh "Mera naam Raju..." had become a great hit. In the early part of 60s it was very frequently played on the radio and this song had impressed me. This my mother had found out. Before I was five, still can vividly remember a spoonful of cooked rice-rasam came in front of my mouth as the song was heard and without fuss I'd open the mouth and eat! So, this song came in handy esp. while feeding me! It had a great impression. We can now see that here:


[Again, compiled from memory, which were discussed elsewhere... and copied here]

I must have been 5-6 years young when my late uncle had taken me to the nearby theatre [Ganesh Talkies] to watch "Absent Minded Professor". A few scenes from this are still fresh in my memory. That movie was about the forgetful professor who was a genuis and keeps inventing things. One of his inventions was [in that story] called "Flubber". He drops a piece of flubber and it keeps on bouncing higher and higher all over the place. That gives him many ideas and he tries it in various applications like shoe soles, car tires... he plays a game of basketball using those flubber shoes and none can catch him as he bounces higher than all players while bouncing the ball and 'slam dunks' all his shots from high above! That was very funny! Another scene is that his car is in flight like an aeroplane! I'd love to see this movie again, if at all it is available anywhere since this is my first memory of watching a movie in a theatre. I think some movies in our local language Kannada also were seen, but this seems to be my first - at least as far as I can remember. It was a great hit in that era for its stunts and tricks and the impression it had created among the public. To any of those that forgot anything he was labeled or called as Absent Minded Professor . Such was its popularity. Anybody remember this movie by any chance? It was also the time in the early sixties when English movies had become popular in our city.

The darkness of theatres, the ushers coming in to show late-comers their seats [sometimes a nuisance when he came blocking the view of the big screen], the news part, the highlights of the upcoming movie, the advertisements [very few].... then when smoking inside the hall was not disallowed, it created such an awful smell. I remember when I was a bit grown up, may be I was about 10-12, I had got suffocated inside the theatre and had forced my aunt and mom to quit at intermission as my breathlessness was quite unbearable. It was a good movie [Arunodaya, kannada movie taken esp. for children] and my mom even remembers my act which they thought was a drama. We could not go to watch that movie again. That sort of drama I used to make when I did not want to go to school, too. That was the reputation that made them not to get fully convinced. Not knowing how to express it, I complained of 'stomach ache'!

We did not have people serving inside during intermission, but people went out to the passages where snacks or coffee were sold.

Another movie I remember was "Sound of Music". Very vaguely. I remember it was full of songs. I think it came in the second half of the sixties.

We used to go to theatres when a good movie came. It was a great occasion to visit a theatre - usually many from the familly or friends went together. It was one of the very few sources of entertainment. Mysore can boast of theatres dating back to the 1940s. Kannada and Hindi movies too were shown in most theatres, but a few had 'specialized' in getting English films. There were four shows per day. Morning show, Matinee, Evening show and Night show. Our normal choices were morning or matinee.

The light rays from the projector to the screen was a pleasurable sight! We used to lift our heads up to see them change as the scenes changed and wondered how it came from and looked at the little window of the projector room behind us.

The theatre I saw Absent Minded Professor has also been torn down. I had later come to know that it belonged to a classmate's father. I was to meet that classmate 3 decades later just by chance when I visited another old friend opposite his house. He told me that the person that owned that theatre was there and I met him -luckily he was home. When I asked him about his plans he said he had an idea of building a shopping complex. That was the theatre where we had seen many English movies in later years. I have some of the tickets preserved from my older years just for memory's sake.

In another movie of our local language Kannada, I remember a particular scene where a poor boy who is spiritually energetic bakes a pancake on his back for another poor boy. I must have been six or seven by then and this scene has just stuck.

In the olden days, bed bugs was a problem not only in homes but also in theatre seats. They had coir cushion seats - foam had not yet been introduced. It was heaven to those little blood suckers. We boys wearing shorts used to scratch our thighs by intermission time. We'd have already donated blood to them by then! It also used to ride with people into their homes to infest there too. It was a problem. When seats were renovated in most theatres gradually with the passing of time and availablility of good cushions and upholstery, this was solved.

Horror movies are always out for us. Comedy comes first. I have just loved Laurel and Hardy movies. CharlieChaplin. My all-time favourite. I never get tired watching them. I do not remember at what age I must have seen them first.