5.05.2005

The fun in a Brahmin household.

We sat back having lunch, thinking about all the good old days when we were young, living the typical orthodox lifestyle as administered back home by Pati and Thatha (grandma and grandpa), in our good old Brahmin household.

Somethings don't change at all. I have noticed brahmins, at least the older ones or the more traditional and now i relate to them very well. The typical house, with kolam in rice powder at the door step leading the way into a reasonably dark room, with barely any furniture in it! Yes, somehow we never seem to have learned the art of interior decoration. The main living room as i would call it is probably one of the darker ones too with windows split into 4, 2 kept closed, largely painted green for some strange reason :)

The living room, sounds more exotic, but has almost no furniture except two wooden chairs and yes of course the plastic chair indicating the intrusion of modernity into our otherwise ancient backward lives. The plastic chair of course being as priced as the other chairs in the room, might be right next to the grandfather chair, which is close to being inaccessible to all except of course - grandpa. He sits there, in his mundu vesti, reading the morning newspaper, with "caapi" served when ever he asks for it, be it in the morning or with tiffin... One shelf if available in this room hosts all the objects on display, no matter how incongruous they look together.

The other rooms, remain rooms, largely nameless with papers hanging out of shelves, and of course the very famous Murugan calendar with dates gaping straight at us as Murugan continues to smile the whole year around. Its interesting to see such households can accommodate 20 people easily, the bedding kept in one room, all mattresses rolled up on a wooden bed, a single bed, maybe the only bed in the entire house :) there is an art in arranging bedding, starting from the mattresses at the bottom, neatly rolled and forming a reasonably large bulk in the center of the room. above that are stacked up a set of pillows, neatly one above three below leaving vertical room for bedsheets. various colors, various sizes, various textures line up above the pillows forming a large mass, which stares you in the face when you enter the otherwise really small room!

But of course sleeping in one of those rooms, with the fan way above making noise, a slow creek with a few cobwebs hanging off it, large wooden cupboards surrounding you, which seem to contain all the priced possessions of the household, stare down at you, lying in the center of the room sleeping blissfully. And trust me, what a sleep that is, cozy in a different sort of way, you need the noise, the wood, the partial darkness and of course the dim light streaming in through the green windows.

Somewhere in the rear end of the house straight above is the clothes line, not the general usage one but one exclusively for pati and her "madi business". this is a concept, the idea being one is completely pure when they come out of bath, in wet clothes and change into this other set that hangs down from the ceiling. they should not be touched until puja is over, and trust me this untouchability is bible! you better make sure you dont touch, lest pati gets mad at you! should that happen it means your ration of "bhakshanam" for the day is almost gone to one of your luckier uncles, who would be one of her most pampered sons!

There are those days of course when pati forgets her clothes and wants you to fetch them for her while she sticks her hand out of the bathroom door. While she waits we kids quite deftly need to pick her "bady" and underskirt off the clothes line way up near the ceiling and without touching it, carry it by the help of a long stick. Invariably there are accidents, the "bady" falls to the floor and one has to drag the stick along the "bady" on the floor trying to get it back on, finally giving up in frustration and hanging it hoping no one caught us putting it back onto the end of the stick. Slowly this highly respected piece of cloth is carted to the bathroom to now impatient hands yelling at us to hurry up!! every one moves, stick to walls, leave room for the articles to find their way through the pure air in the corridors of the house to the frantic hands still waiting to receive them. :))

The bath, well an even smaller room, with all the known containers inside, largely made of steel, brass or the like, take much of the floor, which has more craters than the moon itself. water is just about everywhere, and its hard to find a dry place to keep any clothes. The clothes hanger would be a hook or nail on the wall next to a half eaten door which barely closes the room, with as many holes in it as possible, the gaps between the wood almost increasing every minute, and the bottom half eaten by erosion? The door is held up to be locked by a single hook which threatens to give way anytime, you should see the confidence with which pati goes for bath, its unthinkable. cant believe i took bath there too!!!

Well anyway, now to the most holy section of the house, a room dedicated to the gods, ancestors, saints and anyone you want to put up on the walls. This is a room to see to believe, all the gods in teak wood frames smeared with vermilion stare down at you well just about all the time! This would include all vaishnavite human incarnations, the known swamigals in town, all forms of the mother goddess, lesser gods, greater gods everyone... and if they are really orthodox, you wouldn't miss the brass idols at the bottom with a whole new range of rule sets if there is a shaligrama in the middle of it all. This is a truly blessed household.

Last but not the least is the backyard, and the kitchen, surrounded in aromatic smells of a pure healthy brahmin meal in the making. Everything is done on the floor mostly, the cooking range being the only one on a "medai" which has two sections, the pathu and non pathu which segregates the boiled food from the unboiled, the milk and milk products given special importance. there are imaginary walls here, demarcations which define what food item can be kept where, and you are doomed if you get it wrong! i largely kept away from it.

Finally fresh air by the well in the backyard, with mango trees and potted tulsi maram(plant) and clothes of all twenty people lined up to dry on the general clothes line! what a life. truly a tradition fast dying out! I miss it.

9 comments:

abhilash warrier said...

That is a house to live in the future...

reminds of my ancestral home... a pure naalkettu...

JC Joshi said...

Hi,
An interesting narration.
In retrospect, one might call it an ideal situation that I, along with my five other siblings too, found myself in my childhood in a Government colony, or a ‘Square’ of 36 houses, in New Delhi, a cosmopolitan city, for thirteen years since 1940. Thus I was exposed to the life styles of the then middle income group residents of India, belonging originally to different States, right from the impressionable age. Boys, in groups formed according to different age-groups, used to pass most of their time outdoors, playing all seasonal games together, unmindful of their different mother tongues and so on, except when they were sleeping, or eating, or attending to their respective schools located close to the colony. Unlike today, intermingling of boys and girls was considered a taboo then. Although, girls also used to pass some of their time outdoors, playing games that were considered suitable for them. However, their priority was rendering help to their respective mothers in the household chores.

We used to visit our hometown in the hills only during annual vacations and thus got a glimpse of the relatively ‘narrower minds’, and ‘backward appearing’ life styles of some of our ancestors too, while on the other hand we enjoyed the cooler and purer air, and breath-taking natural sights visiting different locations like tourists. Even the thought of return to the plains was discomforting. New Delhi used to appear hotter and more uncomfortable after return!

For the spiritual part, I saw my parents more rigorously praying in front of the variety of images and idols, whereas the whole family would sit down daily from 7:30 to 8 P.M. in one of the bedrooms and sing prayers, in a set order, in praise of different Gods, with father on the harmonium leading the group. After that we children used to run to the kitchen for the dinner that we used to have - sitting on small wooden boards - served in a single thali or a big plate, with bowls for vegetables, placed in front of each. Mother served hot rotis one by one to all, and rice, sitting behind a line marked with charcoal, that was used those days as fuel also, beyond which none was allowed to enter.

Also, parents would sometimes take us to temples – Shiva, Krishna and Kali were the favourite deities of our family. All grown ups fasted on two days a year - on Krishna Janmastami and Mahashivaratri. Our parents, however, prayed more ritualistically and never missed important temples during their visit to any city.

Circumstances and lack of interest in the rituals have however not permitted me to follow in their exact footsteps. Personally agreeing with the ancient belief in one and only Creator of ‘illusory’ or temporary forms, as far as it is possible I try to remind myself of God as the single doer, particularly during ‘trying times’. I am also conscious that we are in the Kaliyuga and therefore it is natural to see rapid ‘downfall’ in all aspects of human life, as it is generally seen today. The belief and study hasn’t made me a Yogi or ‘Siddha’ in their original sense, i.e., perform any ‘miracles’ and so on, but I can say that I have been able to see life, and enjoyed it, i.e., as fooling by the ‘supreme knowledge’ - from a different perspective or from a distance - which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

chikuado said...

wow! dint realize how much i miss all that, until i read ur post.. sigh!!

Srini said...

Hi,
That was a nice journey into a typical 'agraharathu bramanaa aagam' :) I long to have such a nice village home, with a paati and thatha, with a nice river to jump into in the evenings, vaazhai thoppu, village talkies, aathora kovil...aalamaram. Heaven, isn't it? ! Enjoyed every bit of the nostalgia here,Kavitha!

Anandasubramanian said...

Reminds me of 15-20 years ago in my ancestral home in Kumbakonam.
We used to visit every year for my Grandfather's "Shraartham". Used to be a 3 day function with all sorts of fun for us kids then.
Nowadays i don't think we find many houses like that anymore, nor families.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What an interesting and realistic narration. It looked as if all my thoughts where on the monitor screen as I was reading. Became nostalgic of my childhood and could visualise all that i had felt then. True picture of the living room, pooja room and the bathroom. Though we may all claim to be so modernised now, there was so much of life and fun those days. Giving what paati wanted with the help of a stick and lifting with hand wanting to go unnoticed - everything was so realistic - a repetition of my experience.

Hats off. Looking forward to more such blogs.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What an interesting and realistic narration. It looked as if all my thoughts where on the monitor screen as I was reading. Became nostalgic of my childhood and could visualise all that i had felt then. True picture of the living room, pooja room and the bathroom. Though we may all claim to be so modernised now, there was so much of life and fun those days. Giving what paati wanted with the help of a stick and lifting with hand wanting to go unnoticed - everything was so realistic - a repetition of my experience.

Hats off. Looking forward to more such blogs.

Mallika

Anonymous said...

nostalgic one! teleported me to the agraharam behind perumal kovil.. let me bask in the past!

Narayanan

Anonymous said...

and the brass pot with the ganga jalam from kasi...in the puja room