Monday, August 18, 2008

Lotus feet of Rama

Thatha looked up from his newspaper and grimaced. He then started, ATP, have you noticed how the quality of writing has deteriorated lately?

I groaned inwardly and pretended to be watching with rapt attention a boxing match between an Ukranian and someone from Dominican Republic. I don’t much care for any sport and most certainly not for one that is legitamised form of violence, but I wasn’t going to be drawn into an argument with Thatha.

Why do you think the quality has dropped, Thatha perused and shoved the newspaper down my nose. Read this, he commanded.

Resigned, I pulled the offensive page and began to read. Page twenty one, a column on the left hand bottom and it went thus:
Janaki, Age 82, Railways, West Mambalam attained the Lotus feet of Lord Rama. Deeply mourned by one and all.
Shanmugham (63), father of Chakravarthy passed away on Saturday 2nd August at Thiruvamiyur. Deeply mourned by wife, two sons and Latha, CPWD.


I said a little prayer for the two souls and asked Thatha what the problem was. People died and those left behind felt a compelling need to inform about this to the world. The obituary columns did a far better job of reminding us of our mortality than bombs going off somewhere.

Don’t you see, Thatha said in that shocked tone, the obituaries are ambiguous and incomplete?

The boxing match had got over and the DD Sports anchor, wearing too much of bling appeared and launched into some incomprehensible Hindi. So, I turned my attention back to Thatha and told him that I didn’t see any problem with the obituaries.

He then began to list his exceptions:
• What was Janaki’s connection with the Railways?
• Why is Janaki mourned in a generic sort of way? Why are there no names attached to the “one and all”?
• Janaki didn’t have an initial, name of husband, name of parents, name of village, name of children, nothing. How will one identify which Janaki had died?
• If Shanmugham had two sons, why was he only the father of Chakravarthy?
• And who is Latha, CPWD?
• And is CPWD mourning his death?

Paati, who was grating coconuts, was horrified with Thatha’s analysis and doubts. She went and did three sit-ups in front of Pilayar and asked for forgiveness on his behalf.

Thatha and Paati are staying with us these days, so every morning; Thatha spends fifteen minutes going through every obituary. The scary part is that, Appa is getting involved in this game too.

Yaaradu poyitaala, he asks?

A couple of days after this, Appa was reading out aloud some of the obituaries to Thatha. And between the deaths of a lady, who had left for her heavenly abode, a young man, who had untimely passed away, was also a small almost curt piece of information about a Mr S, mere sixty two years of age and survived by a wife and a daughter.

As it was being read aloud, the name stuck me as being familiar, but I let it pass. While I was getting my dilapidated Scooty to start, Iyengaar Maami came out and almost breathlessly announced, Hindu Paatiya?

I rolled my eyes and decided to put off the ignition as this was clearly going to take long.

What is the matter, I asked her?

S Sir Poyitaarey. Paavum, she added.

Then it stuck me, the familiar name was that of S Sir, my accountancy and mathematics tutor from Classes XI to XII and perhaps the man responsible for my passing the examinations.

Meanwhile, Iyengaar Maami continued in her excited fashion and also told me that she has Skyped and informed Prahlad (or Prack-Laad as my Paati says) about the sad news. Prahlad had reassured his mother that he would wash his hair before he went to bed.

Prahlad is Iyengaar Maami’s son, my class-mate from school and the boy whose batting average was better than the marks that he scored. Which is why, Amma and Iyengaar Maami formed a strange kinship over their stupid children. It was in their efforts to constantly add value to our academic lives that, S Sir was discovered. Amma wasn’t keen to have a home tutor for me; she felt that I will lose out on the competitiveness that a larger peer group can infuse. However, when Prahlad’s Unit Tests scores showed an upward trend, S Sir’s services were employed. Also, S Sir, working as an Accounts Officer in some government department, didn’t believe in charging any fees. Teaching is only my service to society, he had said most saintly.

When S Sir came home for the first time, we were surprised. He didn’t look like a teacher or a mathematician. He was short, roundish in shape and wore his trousers around his chest and had a wide smile plastered on his face.

Kanakku Vadiyaar aa, Paati shook her head in disbelief. Weren’t they supposed to look mean, thin and wear glasses?

The classes started and S Sir would heartily launch into the intricacies of a Balance Sheet and Suspense Account.

Unlike the teachers who taught me at school or the tuition classes, S Sir didn’t talk down to me. He acknowledged that, it was very likely that my P&L accounts wouldn’t really be accurate and that my balance sheets may not balance. His mission was to reduce the number of mistakes that I was likely to make. That approach helped and my accountancy marks, inched towards some amount of respectability.

S Sir was not merely an Accountancy and Mathematics whiz; he was clearly a man of many parts. He could do some josiyam, he had a secret to making better adhirasms and he could drink kaapi from a tumbler from a height of twenty centimeters above his mouth.

Since, he wasn’t accepting any fee from us; Amma decided that we should feed him everyday. Given that Amma had a repertoire of a mere four dishes, the food was outsourced. So some special murukkus were procured from Gomathi Shankar. While, I was dying to polish off a few murukkus, and wistfully stared at them while doing the Suspense Account, S Sir continued to ignore it. When he was leaving, Amma asked him, why he had not tried the murukku? He told Amma that it looked too oily.

The next day, Amma produced some more murukkus, this time from Suswaad, with their special technology of soaking out all the oil and ruining the taste beyond all imagination. Same story, as I ate the soggy remains of it after S Sir left.

Rhomba aacharam aa irukkum, paati said. So, it was decided that something ought to be made at home.

Freshly fried ribbon pakodams were served hot, after Amma dabbed away the excess oil with a tissue.

That was left too.

May be, he wont eat at our house, I suggested. But as always, when presented with an uncomfortable point of view, everyone dismissed and denied.

The next day, I asked S Sir, why don’t you eat the food we give? My Amma is heart-broken.

S Sir looked embarrassed and told me, I don’t like noisy food.

What?

It seems, S sir was a bit of an Englishman. His father had lived in England for a while, and on returning to India, he had been horrified with the noisy eating patterns of Tamizh Brahmin men. Korka burka, karu muru and slurp, is this any way for civilized people to eat, he had asked of them? Not to mention the long burp that is left at the end of the meal to express the Brahmincal satisfaction with the food.

Over the next few days, observing Appa, Periappa, Thatha, etc, I had to agree with S Sir’s point of view.

How can anybody eat food without making noise, I asked him during my next lesson on Realisation Account. Don’t people in England eat potato wafers, I asked.

Of course not, the English have healthy food habits. My Appa had only porridge every single day that he was there, S Sir informed me.

Surely that must be like thayir saadam, and slurpy noises must be generated, I wondered.

No, you see, they close their mouths and eat. The air doesn’t escape and sound cannot be generated in vacuum, he informed.

Needless to say, I was grossed out by S Sir and thought of him as an anti-national person.

Thankfully, school got over and one veshti and half sleeves shirt later, I didn’t see him.

And now, he is dead.

His house is in Mambalam, Iyengaar Maami told me impatiently. I will come with you, she announced. I figured that doing a Mambalam detour with Maami riding pillion wasn’t a pleasant option. Worse was the coming home to take hair bath. I will go on Sunday, I told her.

Not having the option of a free ride made Maami also drop out.

Sunday almost went by and I forgot. That afternoon, when I met Amma on Skype and having exhausted every possible topic of conversation, I suddenly remembered about S Sir. I told her that he had passed away. We discussed his noiseless food eating patterns for a bit and then Amma asked how was his wife doing.

I told her that I had no clue.

As always, Amma got hyper and insisted that I make a visit to offer my condolences rightaway. After all, because of him you got eighty four in accounts, she said. Given that, the eighty four (which is useless of course) was the high point of my academic life and given that I was a girl who made the balance sheet first and then do a P&L statement, that was HUGE. And in my effort to save a few liters of fuel and an extra sachet of shampoo, I had avoided the visit.

I asked Iyengaar Maami if she wanted to come, she said that Prahlad had sent a long condolence letter and that would suffice. Relieved, I left for S Sir’s house. It was rainy and the weather was lovely in Madras. Even going through Doraiswamy Bridge and dodging the shoppers was pleasant. But, I was going for a condolence, I kept reminding myself.

When I reached the building where he lived, and climbed up the three flights of stairs (why does everyone I know stay on the third floor?), I saw an elaborate and fresh kolam outside. I also heard the TV on. The door opened finally and I stood facing S Sir.

His round face lit up with a big smile and he invited me in.

This cant be for real, I thought.

S Sir seemed genuinely happy to see me as we discussed all maters of national importance and otherwise. His wife offered me some mixture and sweet Maida chips. I refused and drank the synthetic orange juice instead.

S Sir asked me about T Anna and Prahlad. I reassured him that both were fine. I contemplated telling him about Prahlad’s letter, but decided against it. How do you tell a man that, I heard you were dead?

When I walked down, I peeped into the letter box of Flat No. C32, there were a few envelopes, but I couldn’t be sure if any of them had a foreign stamp. Meanwhile the watchman was looking at me suspiciously so I beat a hasty retreat.

I went straight to Paati and told her everything that had happened. Paati said that, it was actually a good omen. S Sir will live for very long, she said.

I repeated the tale to the men folk who were having dinner. It was dinner at Periamma’s house. Thatha jumped on me and said; didn’t I tell you that the quality of obituary writing is not the same any more? I nodded and watched with fascination, how in an almost synchronized fashion, Appa, Thatha, Periappa, Chitappa and S Anna artistically gathered the the mor saadam in their palms and noisily gulped it down.

If ever there is a Tamil Olympics, this ought to be an event.

68 comments:

Kadambari said...

Lotus feet of Rama? Quality of writing?
Heh. Clever. :)

Kadambari said...

Synchronised Slurping, eh?

Sathya said...

fantastic post ... as usual !

Sriram said...

Sit-up isn't thoppukarnam. Or did your paati really do situps in front of Pullayaar? Idhu edho pudhu type venduthalaa irukku.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

ROFL at the Obits :) My thatha would read it too and announce loudly to Pati - Nambilku terinjavaaloda peru illai :D

Arthi said...

You really should think about writing a book. Beautiful style.. and makes me nostalgic everytime..:-) Keep it going ATP !

gradwolf said...

yosika vendiya vishayam, this one!
but hahaha@ yaaravdhu poitala and one veshti and one half sleeve shirt later...

mambalam la endha edam? Enga aathuku ethapla there was a commerce classes place :p

Mercury said...

I had a maths tuition master from mambalam as well (they seem to all live there) Tall, thin, with a beaky nose and a pair of specs framed in 1960, perched on it.

He never ate anything at our home either much to my mothers frustration.. although we never did ask why :)

Love how you tell a story..

Prithivi said...

Your writing is So vivid I can see all these people -- SUPERB !!!

viswajith.k.n said...

Tamil Olympics? ROFL!

Deepti said...

What a lovely post. :)

Sharath said...

In my humble opinion eating fish and chips without making noise would be rather difficult! Hey but who am I to argue with S Sir???

Always fun to read about the happenings in a tm bram family.

Love your writing

Cheers
S

The Kid said...

Recently, I noticed how the online version of newspaper, www.hindu.com was quite mundane and lacked any flourish. Every article seemed to be written with a formula. Moreover, and the website itself was loaded with distracting advertisements, and the advertisements take longer to load than the news itself. Also it does not let the readers write comments. One of the most beautiful things about the web interface is the "user interaction" which is completely missed by the lackluster design. A quick look at news.bbc.co.uk should give a you the idea.

The Web site does not do justice to the very mature Hindu (which I consider to be an institution now). And should have better standards than this.

Reading the Hindu is a family tradition and I have been doing that since I was kid, and I expected the Web site to be the portal to the Indian news for the
distant diaspora.

I urge you to inform the Web site editor of this feedback. I believe internet savvy writers like yourself can make the difference. :)

Thank you!

inbavalli said...

ATP, your post made me feel very nostalgic. I too had a door delivery tution sir who ALWAYS wanted coffee. Irked my mother to no end. He would give me some work and read his Kumudam, and amma would go livid :D

Yuppie said...

i think all thathas have this habit of checking the obits.. ennoda thatha was very punctual.. karthalla ezhunthu coffee oda str8a obits pathutu announcements varum ivan poittan avan ticketunnu..

a fantastic way of putting it.. the same thing happened in our house but de other way around the hunter became de hunted..

Harini said...

thre sit up before pilayar....ROTFL.....
too good ATP.....may S Sir and his noiseless eating principles live longer......

Amen!!

prabhu said...

The indians apply their reasoning abilities the wrong way. The Teacher follows the eating habits of English to see himself civilised rather than their thinking habits. You are a exception.

umm oviya said...

this is so hilarious!!!!!!!!!!!! i am ATP too, though not of the Brahmin variety... never lived in England. But don't particularly like slurps and chomps... especially when people keep their mouth wide open while chewing, so you can see their entire digestive system.
but great stuff, ATM. post more often please.
ps: karu murus of murukus are excused.

chokkathangam said...

nice :) actually, i still haven't managed to make sense of the purpose behind obituary columns. y must u advertise deaths so that people who do not give a damn about u or ur family anyway know about it? those who need to know will know without an advertisement. mebbe its generation gap.

S. Krishnamoorthy said...

Thank you. Fantastic. I am a Thatha with a Patti doing baby sitting (for our grandson and granddaughter who are enjyoing summer holidays) in US. I read your posting and narrated it to Patti. Can I say that the posting is a live skit?

cntrlaltdel said...

vundraaful!

woray identification happening. lowely trip back in time. tuition classes: almost another life!

obits: my amma and paTTi read em too, and its very odd, they read it keeping the last page of the hindu open just a flap... as though afraid that someone will see them reading the obits. i should ask if there is some superstition involved with that?

tamizh olympics! i'll sign up to be a slurp judge. i've been trained to listen to some of the best tam slurpers.

Ranjani said...

You write really well, I spent most of the morning reading through your archives. You're very witty and have a unique sense of self- I like!!

The Quark said...

iyyam a madras born tam brahm iyer, but well...

I have something close to half a million reasons to hate Madras.

There are few reasons though, which make me want to come back to India and spend an enormous amount of time in Madras.

Your writing tops that list of reasons.

Melvin said...

Well done. I really enjoyed that.

Nimmy said...

I loved reading this...and it really made me go hee-haw....!! ;-) (Is CPWD also mourning? ROFL)

Your writing transports me into another world (because me is not an ATP like you)at times...and I think you share that capacity with RK.N.

Keep it coming! I see you as a cool response to RK.N...India's next female RK.N. Convert these into short stories and publish a book!! What?

Suri said...

good post and hilarious.Keep writing frequently

current said...

...aa-sum!

maya varghese said...

dear atp,
you have a quiet and unhurried unique story telling style. soothing. and your characters are very real and lifelike.love your blog. currently u are No 1 in my list.
keep writing.

Krishnan said...

Hilarious ! you bring out everyday happenings in Tambrahm household to life ! You ought to write a book soon - such a gift for writing wonderfully should not be wasted.

RG said...

the quark,

worshtu multi-line blog comment pick up line. ever. You can enjoy her writing even from Botswana. You don't have to come to Madras for that. We have enough Madhras hating "settu"s occupying Parrys and Broadway anyway.

ATP,

fursht claas post as always. I love Madras and you should have a suyamvaram at Marina. I will sing Annie's song in reethi gowla accompanied on my Martin which I plan to have by then.

PS - Try beano. I've read it works with flatulence. I am not quite sure about eructation.

Ilaura said...

Hey...have not written in earlier. But I thoroughly love your blog. Really enjoyed this post. Of course, I do not understand all the Tamil words that you use, but I shall get a download of that soon enough :)

Prashant Sree said...

Nice portrayal of the real life characters.,. Kudos to your writing style...

Who s ur fav English author, if any ?

Tamil said...

no doubt you are a clever writer and it is enjoyable reading your posts, i just wish that you would channelise your talent better. what is the point of being yet another tamil chick blogger with a carefully cultivated dilettantish exterior? when clearly you could do so much more. think about it. and i don’t do upper-case, please adjust.

LC said...

good one! i could relate to this post in every sense..

i spent the entire Friday evening reading ur earlier posts.. aana.. poor thing.. i made my husband get agitated.. leave alone dinner.. I would not even get off the couch and flex my muscles.'twas quite a marathon with the Olympics track & field as an accompaniment on TV..

Medhini said...

I enjoyed reading your post. My first time here and I am sure I will be a regular....

Runestone said...

That was absolutely hilarious!
As a TamBram myself, I can easily see myself in very similar situations.

ARUNA said...

good one ATP i hv read all ur blogs. I am in my early 50s andlive in guntur. I had lived in T Nagar in my childhood and college days. enjoyed ur writings keep it up God Bless

உண்மை said...

Good one.

Bikerdude said...

Fab post ATP -you're getting better and better if thats even possible.

PS: Jambagam maami, our paatu teacher could pour half a sombu full of piping hot coffee down her throat from 1 foot in the air, and then roll her eyeballs into her eyelids and sing the entire ada-thaala alankaram in one breath. Wonder if she is related to Mr S.

raju4u said...

Thatha is right.
Care is not taken to present things in a proper manner nowadays be it obituary or anything else.

ki said...

I like your writing :)
And my thatha does the Hindu obit reading as well :D :D :D

aargee said...

hey! i just love your posts....just love this blog! what a sense of humor which is normally difficult to find in girls!

frissko said...

"The obituary columns did a far better job of reminding us of our mortality than bombs going off somewhere."

hmm...that's so true...for some reason they seem closer home...

Karthik said...

How do you manage to keep writing like this? :-)

Great post ma once again

Parvathy said...

Hi ATP,
Spent the last couple of hours reading your blog. Obituary reading/tuition sir/slurping mor saadam - I feel very nostalgic.
My mil always used to mutter, 'visheshathukku rendu naal munnadi Hindu padikkadengo na kettathane? therinjava yaaradu poyitaalana?'

Hilarious blog. Keep writing.

archana said...

just finished a read through of all the posts....
gemmu aaf a blaag....:)

archana said...

jemm of a blaag..

JP said...

waiting for u'r next blog...

Vishwas Krishna said...

Nice post.
Especially, liked these lines.
Yaaradu Poyitaala, he asks
and
a girl who made Balance Sheet first and then do a P&L statement
Narrative is too good.

Abinav Kumar said...

Is that a 'true life incident'? [:)] seemed so... anyway nice read. nice iyer veettu feel..! [:)]

read a story I wrote if and when you get time

maduraiveeran said...

Your narration of the anecdote was very nice and interesting. I liked the way you went on ignoring what Thatha said and then finally you were met with a real life example and thatha getting into an "I told you so" moment. What kind of a Tamil person doesnt like noisy food! The one of the English kind I guess. I can't imagine myself eating at some unhearable -100 decibel and belching is actually good. It relieves us of gas, and if we don't belch it has to come out the other way. I prefer belch over the other one :)

Commie Comrade said...

Some people!! :) New post, please.

Balaji said...

:)

Nice read...

If there ever was olympics...That cracked me up...

:)

madras maverick said...

Fantastic narration.

Keep writing.

cheers

Princess Fiona said...

first time passerby here!!!!! OH MY GOD!!!! totally loved ur post!!!! absolutely hilarious...

Archana said...

My mom pointed out this blog to me. I am now having a great time reading through all your posts!

You write really well. Rock on :-)!

Blogeswari said...

Award teesko!

http://blogeswari.blogspot.com/2008/09/nandri-hai.html

Rukmani Ram said...

brilliant. exceedingly brilliant!

Hip Grandma said...

My daughter recommended your blog and I just loveit. you are simply wonderful.

Neon said...

:)

Sandeep said...

Just awesome! Will you marry me? :-)

First time here, will return.

Cheers!

Sandeep
http://onwritingwell.net

Fantasies of a Lifetime said...

I love your style of writing , wonderful post :D .

Sid said...

Wonderfully written post as usual. Just took me some time to get to it.

It really makes me feel at home even though I am miles away. Thanks you so much. Mor Sadam awaits me and slurp I will :)

babe with the keyboard! said...

you know, the best part about your posts it not the quality of writing alone, it is so factual. all these ridiculous things have happened in my family too...you express it in a very readable manner - your style of writing is addictive - i like it a lot.

rt r said...

hey, lovely post lady :-)

Sai said...

i dont knw if this is ur real life story..but even ur real life story would nt be as vivid as ur words.
good on you tamizh iyengar penmani..

Destination Infinity said...

I have been wondering for quite some time about what can people comment on a post like this.... I had earlier tried commenting but didn't get any words. So, I would like to say what everyone else has already said:(Today I got time to go through the other comments)- The writing style is too good!

Destination Infinity

Dew Drop said...

Very well written :)

Keep it up and keep writing :)

Deepa