Saturday, June 7, 2008

Three is a Crowd

I don’t like washing clothes. My palms hurt and I don’t bother to squeeze the clothes too much before I put it out to dry. When I come out of my bath, S will be waiting and run after me to the balcony. She will immediately remove the clothes that I put out to dry and brutally squeeze them of the last traces of water.

Apparently, the second floor Chitappa, first floor Periappa and the ground floor Iyengaar Maama don’t approve of my attempts to transfer impurities into their clothes. I love the potency of the dripping water, as the residue of my cheap detergent coats all the clothes.

I have always maintained that, this is our little moment of revenge on the extended family for giving us a third floor apartment. When your neighbour is your family, they cannot complain as vehemently. Certainly not about something as trivial as, dripping water. After all, blood IS thicker than water.

Madras Summers in a third floor apartment is hardly pleasurable. I wonder if S remembers much about Madras Thatha's house. It was named after Paati, and therefore, after me too. For a long while, I felt that, it was one of the biggest accomplishments of mine. When I would come back from school, I would linger at the gate for a bit longer and run my fingers through the coarse wall that had my name engraved. Not for long though, because G Periamma would holler out for me and menacingly walk towards me with the dosai tiruppi, the one that she had stolen from Amma's dowry.

At close to 4000 square feet of inhabitable space, the house was never large enough for the five families to live together somehow.

Madras Thatha and Paati took the first room adjacent to the living room. We called it the Front Room. It was the most strategically located room that had a good view of Bazlullah Road and all the people who entered the house. Like in everything else, G Periappa and Periamma got the first choice. Which is why, they took the biggest room on the ground-floor - the only room with an attached bathroom.

Amma and Appa, rather shockingly, were given the erstwhile Junk Room. But then, Amma and Appa, never complained. Initially, all of us cousins slept in the big room that we called the Hall. Before S came, eight of us were almost beaten to sleep each night by G Periamma. Even among us children, age was treated with respect and A Akka, S Akka and T Anna got the beds closest to the fan.

Things were fine till I was seven and then S was born. I should confess, I was not particularly happy about having a little sister.

Nobody, I mean nobody, whom I knew from my generation, came from a family of three siblings. Three of you va, we were often asked? And I was embarrassed. I was annoyed with Amma and Appa for not putting enough thought into the concept of a small family-size.

I disliked S’s entry into the family.

S was born, in the middle of my final exams, pre-mature by almost a month and a half. Like T Anna, she too was born before the end of March. Amma and Appa heaved a sigh of relief. This meant that, unlike me, she would be eligible for school admissions a year before.

I sulked through my exams and resented all the cooing over her. The fact that it was the only time I came first in class was overshadowed by Trichy Thatha’s announcement that a bawling S had been hushed to sleep by his rendition of Sinthai Kulira, a thalaatu song in Nilambari.

She has music in her blood, Trichy Thatha announced happily. She got Nilambari, while I was still struggling with a mere Kalyani. As I and A Akka struggled through Paatu Bhagavathar making us go through some more of – Pankaja Lochana, S was the Lotus Eyed, Amma announced.

But then, S was such a happy and friendly baby. And so, that summer vacation, even I got over the initial bout of jealousy and resentment towards S. When A Akka and S Anna would pull her cheeks and make fun of her perfectly round face (Madras Thatha would say that, god had used a compass to make her face), I shooed them away and glared at their backs angrily.

But, things got complicated once S grew up and when it was time for Amma and Appa to get her into the world outside of the Junk Room. By the time she grew up, A Akka and S Anna, both with important Board Exams, complained about the lack of space in the Hall and demanded for a room by themselves. After G Periamma sulked and threw a tantrum, Amma and Appa were shifted away from the Junk Room and the same was given to A Akka and S Anna.

The rest of us cousins resented the fact that, A Akka and S Anna had got a room to themselves. In fact, nobody was happy with this arrangement. Frail nerves and egos presented themselves at several opportunities.

In the old house, the smallest of things would lead to an argument and exchange of a few heated words. Like, if the girls in the family were to scratch their heads furiously, not over a mathematics problem but over a severe lice problem, it would lead to an exchange of some rather bitter words. ATP must have got it from Poongothai, G Periamma would announce, while Amma would look at A Akka suspiciously. Both I and A Akka would dread at the prospect of Kuppu – our maid and chairman of the anti-lice squad running the comb through our hair for the next few weeks. Usually, she would be so brutal with this, I am sure parts of our brain were combed away too.

Yet, these were minor grievances and the bigger problems came with several women folk under one roof and the woes of the monthly cycle and with-a-mind-of-its-own hormones. I read this post by Neha, who in an as always well written post talks about how giving scientific sanctity to something that is inherently faith based as an action is never desirable. My family didn’t really have a fixed point of view on how to treat this sudden shedding of the uterine lining. My family loves both faith and science. They love it enough to not mix up the two.

Given that we were well brought up girls and didn’t like the social embarrassment of periods, we needed to be discreet about it. After all, the men-folk probably never needed to study any biology. And since they were good Tamizh men, they probably just dropped down from heaven some day. So high levels of hygiene, care and secrecy needed to be maintained.

Madras Paati would rather nostalgically narrate tales about her own periods, growing up in an Agraharam called Sripuram in Tirunelveli. She was isolated from the rest of the household for five days and was given a room to herself. She loved that, especially after having to jostle for space for the remaining twenty-five days of the month. Also, she could not eat what was cooked in the morning. After all, if she ate it, the food became impure and the good Brahmin men couldn’t eat that afterwards. So, the servant was sent to the nearby hotel and asked to buy Tiffin for Paaati. I used to buy Poori and Aloo, she would say and her eyes would light up.

Yes, she loved it.

I would have loved some isolation too, but sadly, there was just not enough space to do that. Inspite of the platefuls of Poori Aloo that Paati had gorged on all through her childhood, she wasn’t going to make her daughters-in-law and grand-daughters go through it.

The only good thing of having Periods was that, god was out of bounds. I loved that. This started a bit of a contest among all the daughters-in-law of the house. During festivals, while Thatha would impatiently ask for the Panchapatram to be filled with water and the annoying kid cousin will start ringing the bell tonelessly, a quick head count of the teenage girls would be done by Paati. My daughter is here and pure, every Periamma and Chitti would smirk. Amma will look away. Disappointed again.

This always happens to you, she would announce to me tragically. Tchah no rasi at all, she will say sympathetically.

I considered that I was the luckiest person in the household. I mean, who cared about doing back breaking and stomach crunching Namaskarams? And who cared about mass prepared Chakari Pongal seasoned with too many Thualsi leaves.

Over years, Amma became suspicious when I announced that this was the third festival in a row that I would be missing. After which, Periamma and Amma decided to make use of a loop-hole. If you wash your hair on Day 3, you are eligible to come for the Poojai, just don’t go very close to the god, I was told.

Desire to win, can sometimes overcome tradition.

Inspite of all of this, things had its own charm being in Thatha’s house and in being together. We sulked, cribbed, argued, made the Paatu Bhagavathar miserable, fought over who got how much of water and so on. But in the night, we cousins always patched up. Over fears of failing and misguided parental expectations, there was always enough common ground.

It was S Anna’s less than impressive show at the Board Exams that convinced the clan that, good marks were not just a function of how much attention the parents gave the child but was also about having a space to call your own.

Surely we didn’t want to repeat the same - large capitation fee to study in an obscure engineering college with the rest of the children of the family, Madras Thatha asked his sons?

And so, we sold the house. Paati was heart-broken and as was I, to let go of a house that was named after us.

As always, everyone picked their homes first and Amma and Appa were given the last house. Of the five flats we got, ours was the only one on the third floor. It was smaller than the others. The apartment didn’t have a lift. And with no floors above, it meant that, it was the warmest. Every May, in the middle of Agni Nakshatram, Amma would lament about the fact that, Appa hadn’t been assertive enough.

Appa asked Amma to be patient and said that, it was in the interest of mine and S’s academic future that this move had happened. I felt sorry. I mean, having a room to myself meant that, I actually needed to study.

Since, I wasn’t very good at studying, I started washing clothes. During periods, Amma asked me to dry the clothes in the small balcony. I used to be relieved at those times, because Amma didn’t check if the last trace of detergent and the blue stains of soap still remained in my clothes or not. Also, I would not squeeze out the clothes very much and put them out to dry. This was on top of the same balcony where Chitti and Periamma put their saris to dry. Since they had a bath at 5:30 am and I at 7: 30 am, by the time I used to put my dripping clothes out, their saris were almost dry. Since my family doesn’t like to use the word Periods, Periamma would ask, is ATP Out of Commission today?

Amma was suitably embarrassed and decided that, the rest of clan needn’t know about my monthly cycle. So, I let my clothes drip out of the main balcony. I inwardly celebrated my moment of revenge each morning. And Amma would curse me and send S to take them out and squeeze it better.

I got on with my work and S probably cursed me. Every single day.

And now, my little sister will soon pack her bags and leave the house, thereby making more space in our 1000 square feet flat. I don’t feel happy about it though.

I am proud of you, dear S. Do come back soon. Our house and I will miss you. I will even squeeze the clothes better before I put them out to dry. I will stop diluting blood with water. Promise.

56 comments:

Amrita Bhashyam said...

Actually Periamma and Chitti are going to miss S very much. :)

Congratulations to little S.

Deepti said...

Are you saying that the Tamizh men didn't drop from heaven? ;)

Idling in Top Gear said...

Well written, as always. Lol at the delousing bit.

As a boy & growing up in a rather modern TamBrahm household(with no sisters), I was completely unaware of how popular & extensive "dooram" is even today until I read an topic on facebook's "Iyer & Iyengar" group, where girls from families that have lived abroad for over 20 years wrote in detail about their monthly quarantines! Was an eye opener of sorts. I can only imagine that it's exponentially worse in the quasi-agraharams of Chennai.

vk said...

nice! read the whole thing wondering why ur clothes had anything to do with everything else. but it's a really nice way of saying what u have to.

needs some editing tho.. some of the sentences slightly upside down, as u'll notice when u re-read.: looks like u wrote this one in something of a hurry...?

Kadambari said...

My mom always complains about the clothes not drying. I must ask her to check if there are enemies upstairs. ;)

SPECKLED_BAND said...

Been a long wait for this. Lovely as usual, and the bitter-sweet vein is maintained beautifully, with no suggestion of the maudlin.

The Pseudonym said...

Well is it not lovely you have a wonderful family. Cheers ponnu. wonderful post. We had a room in our ancestral house which was called an"Office room". Though there was never an office there.

gradwolf said...

Brilliant! Subtle, yet expressive!

And rofl@ out of commission!

hamdamn said...

Hey, just wanted to tell you that I really really enjoy reading your blogs! And that I check back thrice a day to see if you've updated.:P

So where is your sis off to? One of the NITs/IITs??

Nandini Vishwanath said...

I empathize so much with the monthly cycle jazz :) though not the not spacious house. Thanks to my Pati, we only moved from and to big houses ;)

Aparna said...

Out of commission... LOL

viswajith.k.n said...

Well...the points abt having a joint family are excellent...:P had fun reading the post maan!

Sriram said...

Slippinig standards. But still good.

dillifag said...

If your sis is going to IIT, Congrats to her! As always, enjoyed the post.

buddy said...

dark...

Madhavan said...

Brilliant as ever...now touching the nether parts of the sub-culture, I can see.
Small question, didnt the brother go to IIT? What's this capitation fees thing?

todatamzh folk said...

Did you mean 'blood was thicker than water' subtly in the last line ??

-Dee

Sumi said...

Nice post! Reminds me of my younger days and ''S'' character resembles closer to mine, and you my two older sisters! Yeah, isnt it sad to part away from our family??? Good luck to ''S'' and you take care

Jillu Madrasi said...

ha -- I can't believe I am the first to comment on this post!

ATP Out of Commission today?

I think I would settle for MIA...

Bart said...

A good read. Well written.

Anusha said...

A MERE Kalyani, did you say? Tsk.

anantha said...

One usually has views on anything and everything. One is not stuck speechless, usually. Alas, not so this time (Repeat once more!).

Karthik said...

Your post made my day :) Living in a joint-family system sure has its own charm. And add your slice of humourous tales, these posts make for a wonderful read.

Waiting for the next post!

Fishy said...

Hi ATP,

As usual well written post.
she would be so brutal with this, I am sure parts of our brain were combed away too - LOL.

Just brought back the memories of those days at home.. where we called it "DUCK", for no reason.. Amma would keep shouting.. oh there is a curtain there, dont leave ur tumbler here.. etc and we have to hide our plates and tumblers below the big B'rows for the fear of my father picking it up for washing or drinking water. He eventually had this vague instinct to take our tumblers.. esp on those days adn make amma take bath for the third time.

Thanks to my amma and all here severity in those days, i was allowed to do away with my 2 ft hair and have a boys cut. As i was really bad in madichu katting..and in school u are allowed to come free. only if its too small for tying it above.

But loved the nice emotional ending...

Drolldrums said...

ATP,
Good work. Been reading for a while and enjoy your writing. I have a tambram pedigree but grew up all over India. I particularly loved the phrase about "Desire to win, can sometimes overcome tradition".

I cannot always relate to your posts but enjoy them. Despite my somewhat diluted tamilness, I can vouch that in matters of what were regarded as culture, tradition and religious practice, untold belief ( self inflicted or imposed) had a way of triumphing reason.

I believe and do and so tambram I am.... is how I thought it was practised.
Keep it coming.

maxdavinci said...

loved the ending!

warm wishes to yor sis.

out-of-comission was the best!

keep em coming

globalindyan said...

out of commission....:) it's like my mom saying "she missed her days" (literal translation of 'naal thapitu') to tell people that i might be pregnant.

I love your posts! This one almost make me feel sad about growing up in a household where we didn't follow any traditional customs during our periods.

Phani said...

am a telugu guy whoz been pulled n pushed arnd by tamizh roadies... so have quite a lot of understanding abt tamizh traditions ... One mR.subtle subramanium set my ringer and i been ringing on and on.. nice posts.. a damn intelligent way to write about slices of ur life and others with only offering glimpses of what you wnat to.. Kudos!!

Bikerdude said...

Every so often, an athai, chithi or perima would be framed beautifully against the jannal (window) by the staircase with all her meals brought to her. None of us kids knew what this was all about.

We would often embarrass our favourite athai by asking her when she would go and sit by the window again, for those would be the only few days she'd be free enough to chat and make noise with us :)

Bikerdude said...

PS: Great blog ATP, I think this is one of your best. Good luck to Sister S. More room for your creativity perhaps :)

Prats said...

The curse of the moon...wasn't that what it was also called...never understood the need for isolation though it helped the isolated woman a lot...yes, the pooris and the aloos ...thank god it doesn't persist now...what with embarassing questions our kids put us though without having such stuff in their lives...
You write so effortlessly, and I loved it.

All the best To S

un said...

Nice post as usual!
Is S going to IIT Madras? Pardon my ignorance, but even if you are in Madras, you have to live in the IIT campus?

If it matters, the previous brown background was so hard on the eye. Thanks for changing it to a simple, pleasant one.

Jillu Madrasi said...

But brown was beautiful no?

vrinda said...

nice!! would jst completely love to live in a jt family :D
and i liked d brown of ur blog...went with the name n i kind of assosiated this blog wth brown...sigh! but again..that takes nothing away from ur writing :)

hope S has a good time wherevr she's going :)

Okie Dokie said...

Congrats! Lets all start hoping she gets a 9 point oh in IIT now:)

Gugi aka Gogoush said...

Always lived in a nuclear family; always in the north (where they are having no such tradition am thinking) but I remember some older lady cousins sitting all day in the bedroom every once now and then. Mom would treat them like they were delicate china and the servant would get juice, fruits and food to them constantly. And they were never called lazy.

I used to think when I am their age I will designate a day when I sit for no reason on the bed all day and be served fruits, juice and food, am treated like china AND dare anyone call me lazy. (Yeah that's my smartness quotient, I thought it was about age for the longest time)

gOOpi said...

nice read! loved the end! keep typing :P

Liberal said...

really funny, tambrahms can relate!

Wicked Taurus said...

oooh that was a bloody write-up, i like! ;)

g'luck to S!

lekhni said...

That's a very good post. It contains multitudes of stories :)

varali said...

Is brown no longer beautiful? Why this maatram to vellai?

பதிவுSpot said...

Excuse Me..
Your blog has been listed in பதிவுSpot
And please tell me some more Taminglish Blogs to add this Taminglish aggregator. Thanks.

Art said...

Such is your fame, that when I write about family and my attempts to be a part thereof, they say I have been inspired by you.

mekhala said...

nice! the 3rd day loophole is just so true!

Rajitha said...

omg! i could not help smiling as i read ur post...yes!! dripping water on their near dry sarees is the best revenge!...i can imagine how upset they would be on that account :D

Jeeves said...

u can write the screenplay for some movie - it looked like the first scene and climax connection in alaipayuthe! superbly written!

Torpedo said...

YOU GOT TO START WRITING MORE OFTEN!!!! BEING A BLOGGER YOU HAVE THAT SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY TO FULFILL.

arethusa said...

You write well. And I see that a lot of Tam-Brahms can identify with what you write about (including me) :)

Baidik said...

Dear Penn - Its been a month! Please update pannungo :)

Ms. Mystic Confucius said...

Hmmm, me read quite a number of blogs and found most of em hilarious and some of em typical "Tamil-happy-in-ur-own-world"... Me am a Tamilian but aint a TamBram. :) Its interesting to get a peek at the TamBram logics. Your flair for writing is very endearing in its sarcastic satirical manner. But your "happy-in-ur-own-world" thoughts could get put one off sometimes. I adore the "mediocre" tag that you use for yourself, albeit you actually arent.

Arvind said...

hmm...been a while since your last post.

Harini said...

"out of commision".... :D
used to be "friendu vandhacha ??" in my household... :)

Kamini said...

Wickedly funny, as always!
Kamini.

Meera Vijayann said...

I can't tell you how much this post made me laugh..!!I miss madras so much now..argh..

vijay raghav said...

simply mind blowing !! i mean the way ur blog looks

Prasanthi said...

Lived in a combined house for 16yrs with both my maternal and paternal grandparents and uncle's family... your post sounds so close to my own experiences...we too were staying in the second floor :)
Really nice post ATP.. Keep posting :)