July 20th, 1969 >39 years ago

We were a little late to school that day. I used to take ages to eat and mom’s insistence that I eat the entire heap of rice and curry before we took the 1130 KBS bus from Koduvayur to Palakkad, was sure to make us miss the bus. My brother had already finished his food and was waiting for me to finish. After that was done, we would pick up out aluminum school cases (you don’t even see them today – cases that effectively shut out the rain and held our books safely!) and rush up the street to the side of the TSM Beedi making shop in the middle of Koduvayur town, a location which also served as the bus stop.

The street was full of activity when we got there, as a retail market place where carts and lorries from various other smaller towns had congregated to collect their quotas of commodities. Tamil and Malayalam were freely used, with a smatter of the special ‘rowther’ brand Malayalam from the Muslims left behind by the Tippu’s horse brigades. They were traders now, I guess. If you craned your neck you could see the butcher at work on the hanging carcass, stripping the goat’s skin and you could see the chettiar’s & mannadiar’s busy at their shops. Large bags of red chillies, coriander, vegetables, rice,, pulses and the such were off loaded and reloaded, the air was dense with all the acrid dust and smells, but as bright eyed enthusiastic kids, we enjoyed watching it all for those few minutes till the bus screeched to a stop. Wow! The powerful sound of the airbrake amidst all the noise of the bazaar when applied by KBS driver Balan made us feel that we should all become bus drivers when we grew up.

I loved life in those days, after years of loneliness as a kid growing up in Calicut, I was now back with my family – dad, mom, sister and brothers. Dad had to leave the estates and move to warmer environs after a couple of heart attacks. It was simply great, enjoying life with my brother, and dad used to teach us cricket – ex Presidency college cricket player and all that. As my dad was a doctor, the house was always full of people, especially the clinic portion out in front. Koduvayur was a bustling little town and there were only a couple of doctors, so the patients were a good number trooping in and out at all hours.

Soon we were admitted to the Motilal School in Palakkad, opposite the famous Victoria College. And my brother and I would bus it back & forth every day, middle school was conducted in an afternoon shift. What days they were, how we learned smoking ‘cool’ mentholated cigarettes, and chewing paan (read an earlier blog on Paan). Anyway on that fateful day, we reached school a few minutes early, teamed up with some friends and ate a Paan in ‘shtyle’ from the shop across the road and trudged back to school, but that day the teacher had enough. We got into class a few minutes late and she spotted the red tinged lips and tongues of the little ruffians. Immediately we were hauled to the headmistress’s office.

As we waited, the school sound system was blaring out the VOA radio commentary. Can you guess what it was? Armstrong’s landing on the moon.

Everybody was beaming; a man had landed on the moon. I had only a vague understanding of what space and spaceships were all about then, but the bigger issue was clear - we had people going to the moon. My mind took flight; I listened to the English words, understanding bits and pieces of the American accent. We did know a little about America, from Geography and the big Sears catalog (read an earlier blog on the sears catalog) that my uncle had once brought back from his travails. And I thought, I will go there one day…

The day was July 20, 1969 – A day when Armstrong landed on the moon and said ‘One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind’, kindling my interest in flight and space. We read about it, and we saw grainy newsreels much later in movie theaters.

It was when the peon pulled us both into the headmistress’s office that reality hit us, and hit us hard…maan, we were in deep trouble, hauled in front of the headmistress. She was very abrupt. She simply said, bring one of your guardians tomorrow and we will discuss this further.

With great trepidation, we got back home with heads hung low. Mom and dad were furious, but dad would not scold us since he himself loved paan and had given us bits now & then. My aunt who was around, offered to meet the headmistress as they were old school mates or something. Thus ended that fateful day for us but an important day for mankind.

In any case, the following day went by not too badly for us; we were given a final warning & lightly punished.

While the world & America rejoiced, some Saudi preachers were denouncing all this as a cheap Hollywood trick, so much so that to this day many think that the moon landing was a hoax. And there are a lot out there who try to prove it, like this site. It does provide compulsive reading, if you glance through them. But this other site provides some explanations, which I should point out are also not very convincing. Conspiracy theorists will of course continue their work & studies….

Anyway India is planning a manned trip in 2020, to the moon (following unmanned missions), and hopefully that will be televised from start to finish. A Chinese trip might precede it, but it won’t be televised in real time, for sure. Until then, we will continue to believe in Armstrong’s & Aldrin’s legacy.

BTW – some trivia – Armstrong actually said “a small step for ‘a’ man (meaning himself)…...” The ‘a’ was dropped out in official transcripts as it was quite inaudible due to heavy static. I heard he was pretty miffed about it!!

A good account of the event is linked here.

Listen to a lovely song titled ‘Armstrong’, if any of you like Lobo - Kent Lavoie, the singer…


Steve said…
I was sick with Dengue fever that day in my room in a Thai school building. But I managed to drag my feverish self into a nearby classroom with a borrowed tv and watch that grainy black and white image.

Great post. I was transported onto the street where you were waiting for the bus.
Anonymous said…
Hey maddy,

The build up was so good and I was cosying up in my chair to go through the narrative trip to Koduvayoor. Suddenly you jostled me back to reality with all that talk on expeditions to moon and the scientific mumbo jumbo.
I prefer your down to earth musings on the early day life in Koduvayoor any day to Armstrong's comments.


Maddy said…
thanks steve - keep visiting

Thanks hari - aha! I could go on in that fashion, but will save it for another day.. eventually all these bits will connect up. I did think twice about the Armstrong comments, and left it in finally..
Very nice one. My own memory of the day is marked by a poem my husband's uncle wrote - my 11 month old son had just started walking, and the uncle, who is a Thamizh kavi, compared his first step with that of Armstrong's first step on the moon.
Forgot to mention what struck me first - a great description of the activities at the bus stop - most evocative. I can see the scene and hear all the hectic activity. .
lovely, leisurly trip down memory lane that.
Ajith said…
The description of Koduvayur was just beautiful. Aluminium school cases and admiration towards the school Bus driver were very common in most kids at that time. :)
Indu said…
Hi Maddy,

Got it! :)

I was quite surprised to know that there are Keralites in Pakistan as well.The piece was quite an inspiration in the sense that when it comes to survival, everything else becomes survival.Showed you blog piece to some of my Keralite colleagues as well and it caught them by surprise as well.

Just curious, but how did u know about their existence?

Happy Kitten said…
u made us return to our school days.. the aluminium bags for a few years until the back snappers took over..
kallu said…
What a nice post Maddy! The street scene with its build up and the bus ride.. great. So many details.
And I remember Apollo 11 as well.. it was so momentous. I was in school in Madras then, so we did follow Apollo 12, and the sad Apollo 13. Another memory is Annadurai's death.
Dinakar KR said…
Nice write!! I too remember the day - in fact evening - when the countdown of the take off of Apollo 11 was broadcast on radio, vividly. I vaguely remember the voice broadcast from the moon. Yes, it was with plenty of static - which word I came to know when my radio listening hobby took flight! - and the clarity was so so, very crackling. I also remember the film of the landing on the moon shown in theatres. Long later, a friend gave me a special issue of some magazine covering the exploits of Apollo 11. I still have it. But an e-mail in recent times, cast doubts about the whole adventure. Some say the Americans had some vested intentions about the publicity of Apollo 11.

Look here:



-- there is a lot to read here! Copy/paste the URLs.

There are many links.

Somehow the school-day memories are most valued and they come back as if it was just last week!
gauri said…
The minute I saw the title I was taken back to my geography class in school :) Some dates make a permanent mark in your mind! Loved the personal nostalgic touch to this one. And btw, I didn't know about the "a" that was dropped out! Some trivia, that :)

Dear Maddy, Quite an interesting post. I was in my 10th class of a vernacular school in Cherthala when the giant leap for mankind happened. I remember to have broken the news to my maternal grand uncle who almost refused to believe it. Half jokingly he said that the news might be a canard. Kind regards, Murali
Maddy said…
Thanks Kallu, Indu and HK. Indu I have cross posted your comment to the right blog.

Dinakar - Thanks, The space race was on between the Russians & Americans at that time..

Thanks Gauri & Murali. I am happy that most of you remember that day. I still do...
Kamini said…
I really enjoyed reading this. Your beautifully evocative writing brought the whole scene alive. Loved your description of Koduvayur. Good thing you got away with a light punishment!
Is that First Man on the Moon stamp yours?
I don't really have any vivid memories of the actual day of the moon landing. My fascination with the space program started a few years later, but then I made up for lost time!
Maddy said…
thanks Kamini..

oh! no i got the stamp pic from wiki I think,

the light punishment was I guess managed due to aunt's 'influence' - her reco helped..