Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Growing up with a well

I grew up with an aunt. You could say she was a big influence. Mum worked, dad was a workoholic, my grandfather lacked the energy to deal with me beyond a point, my school was for short hours and I had plenty of time to hang around at home. I kept myself completely busy doing this and that (craft, gardening, reading, whatever) but also had enough time to watch at close quarters the working of the woman who ruled our kitchen and pretty much our lives for many years.

We had a well. Water from the well was used to re-wash things that the maid washed. The whole pulley arrangement and drawing water from the well was big fun, especially during that brief age when it was just then a sanctioned activity and had not yet turned into a chore. We had all of those things associated with the kitchen - that stone grinder thing, that long metal-covered wooden stick for beating, a small stone for working on the skins of the groundnuts, a cutter for breaking arecanuts into small pieces, and many other things besides. None of the modern appliances. Many of my early memories are of the elaborate making of sweets and savouries for various festivals; and that smoky smell that pervaded the house after death ceremonies. It did not take long to learn the rules of the game - no touching; no salivating over foodstuffs till they are offered to god; no eating up of too many pieces at a time (this last one from my mum, always on the watch out for my health, and possessing two eyes in the back of her head in addition to the two eagle-like ones in the front).

Unlike my sister, I had no trouble in following the traditions and sticking to the rules. I found nothing to really object to. It was a big game for me. Every year I learned more of the rules by heart and would recite it parrot-like to anyone who asked (mostly they laughed at me for this). There was a linearity in these things that I liked, or at least found no reason to resent. Like washing your feet after peeing, nothing wrong with it I would think, in fact its kind of hygienic to do that.

Every month, after making a humongous deal of having her period, the same aunt would pack a 'wire basket' with some stuff (clothes I suppose) and head over to the cauvery to bathe. This involved something of a bus-ride, to go from Mysore to Srirangapatna. It could not have been convenient, especially on the way back due to the touching rules she had to follow. But I used to go along with her, for company. Possibly I was chosen because I never cribbed about it. In fact, I enjoyed it. A nice bus-ride, a busy water front, and, that sense of responsibility when she left her basket with me and waded into the shallow water, oh and also possibly love, I did really love her, despite her frequent dark moods.

A lot of fun was made of me for this business. My uncles would tease me to tears by insinuating that I had to go to the river because I had my period (or at least thats what I thought they were saying, I have never been good at figuring out when people are poking fun at me). My sister would smirk and snigger every time I came back. My mum would hide her smiles knowing I would cry. Even today some of my relatives will bring this up and laugh, how I would accompany my aunt every month to the Cauvery (I still don't get it, it is still not funny!).

If you cut to now. I don't do any traditions. I have made absolutely no effort in recent times to follow ANY of the traditions I grew up with. Even if you try to feed me the logic behind it and I can hear my grandmother's voice trying to justify it in various ways (aunt would never bother to justify these things, she steam-rolled over all objections), you will rarely hear me argue but I will not agree (in my mind). I think I must have broken every single rule that I memorised back in my childhood (and that includes cutting my nails at night, sometimes even at midnight).

It was not a drastic change, it was slow in coming, and when it did it had little to do with reading or erudite discussions with friends or my parents (at least my dad had no truck ever with any traditions). It has been, up to this admission here, almost entirely internal. I saw the inequities that even simple traditions breed. That not-so-subtle drawing of lines. The us and them. I saw the true position of widows (it felt as if I was watching a movie). I saw that marriages are not a union of traditions, but rather, the pitting of one set of traditions (unjust in themselves) against another (equally unjust) set. There are many more things. But mostly, over the years, I have seen that there is another way to live. That without particular malice or hatred to anyone I would like to live my life without having to deal with this baggage that I was born with...


dipali said...

Kenny- this is truly truly awesome.
I need to give you a humungous hug for this post.

PG said...

cute kenny. well said. cant agree with you more on the last para(s).

choxbox said...

dips said it, as usual.

LOLing at the cutting nails after sunset. i still think for a split sec then say what th ehell and get on with it.