8.10.2014

Photos on the Mantel

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I have been a little bit tardy with writing over the last two months, but then again there were no dearth of reasons. We had to deal with a tragic loss, the tumult following it and undertake a short trip to India. As you can imagine, traversing these waters were not easy, to say the least.

What started as a relatively straightforward chemotherapy regime ended with severe complications and my mother in law who was a healthy soul otherwise, was gone in a jiffy, to join the many others of our parental generation as a photo on the mantel. She was gentle person, loving and full of life, always inquisitive of things new. I still recall how she used to race cars on the iphone or complete Sudoku puzzles with adeptness that is alien to us. She had hardly a qualm facing the unknown, like traveling alone at her age to the US with little mastery over English. But well, only memories remain now of that dear person. Soon my wife and her brother were busy tying up all the loose ends after their mother’s untimely departure like closing accounts, handling the paperwork, shuttling between offices, banks and so on.  I joined them and trudged through Calicut and some of those offices with a heavy heart, helping them sort out matters and bring to a close, life in a vibrant house which had been my mother in law’s abode.  There is so much I could write about her and perhaps I will, in bits and pieces as time goes by.

Calicut is as it always had been, but this time too, a whole lot of construction was going on and I won’t be surprised if it ends up as a city with no familiar landmarks for people of an older generation visiting it after a period. Paragon still lords as ‘the restaurant’ in town, but it was a new place on the highway bypass called Oven that blew us away with an astounding Fish biryani, this time. The Punjabi Dhaba was drab, and the M grill so so. The veg scene was pathetic, but the Ojin bakery was a revelation in the midst of Ramzan with so many different kinds of Muslim delicacies that vanished off the shelves as soon as the sun set. Kumari’s chips across Paragon took over from our favorite chips shop closer home as the latter had gone down in standard, and chomping down a pack of 50 grams of freshly made varuthakay, sitting in a leaky autorikshaw careening through the waterlogged streets of Calicut, while it rained cats and dogs, is something only natives can understand.

The beaches were crowded and I was surprised when my BIL suggested we drive a little further to South beach. Well, well, see how things change, we have a South beach now, not one to rival Miami, but one nevertheless that sported a ton of people looking across the waters, but nary a bikini clad beauty or a muscle toned beach bum. The youngsters looked across the waters perhaps dreaming of a job in the gelf, or how to square things up with a girlfriend, the older people enjoying the moment, groups of friends, a few couples in love, a large number of noisy black birds which Edward Lear succinctly described as ‘ Ye crows of Malabar, What a cussed bore you are’. The peanut sellers, the salted pickle sellers, the toy sellers, they were all there, rain or no rain.

In the midst of all this, I came across an anomaly. You agree how difficult it is to see order and efficiency in general when it comes to India, right? It is difficult to expect anything like that starting from the airport. But a visit to the village office close to the city jail was the first of the revelations, and the straightforward way in which the young officer dealt with and completed our case was nothing less than a pleasant shock. A visit to the Akshaya Kendra near Westhill topped it for it was here that we came across a super-efficient office, which of course looked nothing like one, just an open room with 4 people. The young lad sitting there, multitasking with a couple of computers, handled crowds with total panache, and dealt with our case with such efficiency, in a few minutes which I know from experience would have meant weeks of visits and prods and pushes to get done, in the older days. Three days later the cards which we had applied for were available.  Seeing youngsters like Backer Shamil made me so much more hopeful of a vibrant India in the future.

Movies like ‘How old are you’ and ‘Bangalore days’ were the main topics of aimless conversation and I must admit that I enjoyed watching both of them enormously. Only recently did I find out that Shahabaz Aman the singer hailed from Calicut, and if I had known, I would have said hello to him, for we share a fondness for Mehaboob the late singer.

And we had yet another surprise when a tree fell over nearby power lines and shut down power to the area, but lo and behold it was sorted out in a matter of hours as a result of KSEB using contractors to do such repairs. In the old days it would have taken so much more time, I guess!

The book scene was tepid to say the least even though Mathrubhumi had opened a swanking new bookshop near the indoor stadium and DC books did not have many new history books to sell. Basheerka’s (Vaikom Mohammed Basheer) daughter works there and watching her face while I requested for the new compendium of Basheer’s stories titled Balyakalasakhiyum kure pennumgalum, could not help but smile. Nevertheless I collected good bunch of books (40 pounds) which were stacked into my usual book repository, a locally procured duffle bag which had been used often to bring them across these continents many times. The heavyweight was of course Bhaskaran Unni’s ‘Pathonpatham nootandile keralam’. As usual it was fun trudging those streets dhoti clad with my trusted kalan kuda (a relic from the 80’s) but all that was brought down with a thud when a shopkeeper gently explained that rarely did somebody wear a double dhoti or carry such an umbrella there days.

Ah! Who cares, and so I went and purchased one more dhoti, with a vengeance.

SM Street was crowded like hell, and on holidays, Street hawkers took over, loudly hawking their wares under the very nose of the great soul who brought fame to the street, none other than SK Pottekat. Mananchira maidan and the pond looked well cared, and I could not but help think of the days when the Zamorin’s family (15-17th century) bathed there. Nevertheless there was a furor across the pond, where the heritage Comtrust building was put up for grabs, for CHF has taken up the issue against destroying that famed landmark from the city.

So much was happening, so much was there to see and experience, but I had little time amidst so many formalities to be sorted out. I could not meet any friends and a week later I was off to Palghat to spend some time with my brother.


I had never expected Palghat to change, but here too bridges and buildings were being built and this was where we got to experience a new vehicle, gaining popularity, the Tata magic. It was fun going around in Muraliettan’s (he is younger than me though) bright yellow vehicle, well protected from rain. Yet again the vegetarian restaurants like saravana and kapilavastu were mediocre. The farmers were reasonably contended as the monsoon though late had arrived. The Temple was being run smoothly though some silly issues were gaining political momentum.  The young and proficient Chenda drummer Sreedharan had obtained a puraskaram, a recognition and wedding bells were in the air as my niece had just got engaged, awaiting a wedding next year. A mandatory trip to Coimbatore showed how life across the border could be, well, somewhat dry though robust from a business sense. Pallavur, a place which was so distant from technology, was now in tune with smart phones sported by most and ipads and the such even though not commonplace, used by some. I was pensive as I sat and looked across the fields, and at the pond which we used to frequent in our younger days and a memory of a particular day surfaced (a story is in the offing as you can imagine).

Our trip is never complete without a trip to Guruvayoor and that went smoothly, and interestingly we drove through the locale where Arnos padre (I had written about him earlier) lived and preached. The mandatory ICH visit was also done and the cutlets pioneered by AKG were stuffed in with gusto and I did spare a thought for Pepita Seth who compiled such a lovely book entitled – Heaven on Earth – Guruvayur.

The pattar at Pallavur had in the meantime delivered the special order for chuttu murukkus and packets of chips, halwa had been picked up from Kumari’s. It was time to leave, but not before going to Lakshmi stores at Tali, across the temple. Nothing beats the mixture he sells (made in Palghat though) and this time we also tried his palada pradhaman, and a medu vadai – phew! both were astounding.

Time to return, and as the day neared, my wife and I were saddened by the fact that we could never again
come back to a home with a caring parent. But I suppose that is life….The departure across the seas took us to Dubai where we met with some close friends. The lush green of Kerala, the drip drip and pitter patter of the monsoon rains were quickly wiped off our thoughts, to be replaced by the intense blinding light, dust and heat of the desert and the loud hum of the road and the ever present air conditioners. The city or what one should say is a metropolis continues to surprise me, and the one which we used to visit during most Ramadan and Haj holidays in the late 80’s bears no resemblance to the ultra-modern city we see today teeming with Bentley’s, Ferraris and Lamborghini’s (We did visit Jas island and the Ferrari world!). And a friend treated us to a great dinner at Asha’s a restaurant owned by Asha Bhonsle. I did not forget to tell them the story of how usha utup convinced RD Burman to compose Chura Liya with Asha based on If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium!

And of course you come across many a lowly laborer from Kerala who casts an envious look at the well-heeled tourist or well to do businessman. That is the person who eventually goes back and builds that garish looking ‘gelf’ house across the street and then travel back to Dubai in a state of penury, to become part of yet another slavish contract. The arrogance of the British expat whom you come across now and then, brings up a snigger in me, for I know them better, having lived amongst them in the UK. Dubai (and perhaps the Far East) is the only place where they can overlord these poor laborers. Armed with lowly qualifications, but possessing a better command over spoken English and coupled with a staunch color preference by the Arab, they rule the roost there. Again, a vagary of life!


Back home…Raleigh made sure we would not forget the monsoon rains so soon, and the rains here have been equally persistent and heavy. Time to get back to the routines and catch up on other matters….