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The Teacher Has Come

The swirling waters of Cauvery knew no bounds of limit. People worship her with respect as she is the only source of rescue even during acute summer. The much adorned aganda Cauvery becomes scanty when monsoon fails. Visitors to this calm village Kodumudi, make it a ritual to visit the trinity shrine Makudeswara Temple on the banks of the river rejuvenated by the sage Agasthya.

The temple town suffocates on Aadipperukku when the head count sets a new record every year. Sitting on the shoulders of my father, I had a tough time kicking my legs and wading through the crowd to safeguard my anklets. For the booming voice of my paati (grandma) reverberated, ‘kolusu bathiranda tholachiyo thatha velasuvar’ (Beware of anklets, if lost, grandpa will charge you).

All relatives from near and around gave full attendance while other lady members were busy in kitchen cooking to feed a group of forty. The heaps of firewood at the backyard disappear to ashes within no time.

 

The rectangular type house of five thousand square feet was moderately enough to accommodate as many guests. Some relatives were too busy discussing the family feuds. Everyday was filled with fun when marriages and other functions took place in the spacious house. The roof was laid with mangalore tiles with provision for skylight. Wooden cantilevers added strength and were sturdy enough to suspend the giant swing with heavy chains.

Kolusu and kadukkan were done away with the passing of early childhood as I was certified as a grownup boy. When postman Perumal knocked the door, our house went in to raptures. Since mail was a rare feature, even a postcard was received with equal importance as MO.

Pitchu vadhiyar, the village school teacher was a humble man from a modest family. With parents, five sisters, wife and children, he somehow managed to keep the cards in his hands. A short and lean figure, Pitchu had only a pair of slippers, a cloth bag and an old umbrella as his paraphernalia. He was much to the core that he never absented himself for personal reasons and was more courteous to take me to school enroute. This was signaled through my grandpa’s words ‘vadhiyar vandachuda’(teacher has come).

My mama-thatha(grandma’s brother) was a devout congressman who was religious and educated up to intermediate. His love for the motherland figured more than his classical music. He would feel elated when K.B.Sundarambal (KBS) sang a splendid piece to evoke the spirit of freedom.

As a lad of ten, I remember ‘Gandhiji’ seated on a lorry, waving to the crowds at the grounds of Sankara Vidhyasala from atop. I knew not what he spoke but he had charisma to attract masses. The glamour he wore was the ‘pokkai vai sirippu’. Sure Gandhiji would have missed the hot tasty crispy pakodas and vadas prepared by Kuppanna.

Many a time at home for evening snacks, delicacies were supplied in pottalam by Kuppanna Iyer, a Nala in his style, whose basket went empty in no time. Thus childhood rolled on and I was admitted into fifth form (X Std). As the eldest sibling in our family, my grand parents were very proud of my growth.

The trousers I wore were so magnanimously stitched to accommodate two. I remember wearing them for four years because the tailor was instructed so by my thatha, ‘valarra paiyan…dharalama theiy’ (he is a growing boy, let it be spacious). Other then kaki, white and green, I never knew that many colours existed in pants and shirts.

I had never dreamt of a hair style except ‘summer crop’. The bristles replicated the touch of a porcupine on my head whenever a strong wind blew over. With a big ‘jolna’ bag precariously hanging from the shoulder, it had at the bottom few books and loosely stitched crumpled sheets. My teacher was so patient enough to care for those papers with material consideration.

From then onwards, Pitchu vadhiyar played a significant role in my life. Rain or shine, he was the first to sign the muster roll. At times he skipped his breakfast and came for duty. He was unique in all aspects. An unassuming duty conscious teacher, he was my class in-charge, English teacher and head master too. My Pitchu vadhiyar was paid a monthly salary of rupees 20. His agility needed no proof and being a swimmer and swift walker, he visited the next village for an extra monthly income of Rupees Two per tuition. He tried his best to make both ends meet but in vain.

My batch that existed as coeducation had totally twenty boys and four girls of the same age. The next year I passed out and the entire family was in jubilant mood. To pep up the spirit, we drove to the talkies next village in a cart to watch the hit of MKT. M.K.Thiagaraja Baghavathar, was a singer-hero unsurpassed for over a decade.

It was around this time that freedom struggle was at its peak. KBS and others were arrested for propagating patriotic songs. Sundarambal was famous for the exuberant royal fee she received for acting in ‘Nandanar’ and so were her songs. At Kodumudi, she owned a theatre that was fondly called as sundari kottayi.

After a few years, India got independence and the whole village wore a festive look. With the only band radio at Periasamy Iyer hotel, the news was heard throughout. I was shrewd enough by then to identify the voice of leaders. My parents were planning to send me to Bombay for employment and that I stay with my aunt in Matunga. Before leaving Kodumudi, the Periasamy Hotel radio broadcast the news of Gandhiji’s death with grief. Nehru’s address to the nation remained in memory and the dimple cheeks of Gandhiji flashed again. I was deeply engrossed in the memories when my train moved out of the Madras Central station.

My parents boasted, ‘pullaiyandan bombaila government uthyogathula irukkan’(our son is employed in Bombay in government service). My service involved transfers to Calcutta, Nainital, and Arvi. In twenty-five years, my family had also grown.

During the vacation, when I visited my hometown, I noticed an old man sitting on the chair of the railway platform. With a worn out bag and faded umbrella, the little figure stood up and made a brisk walk towards me. Lo! My Pitchu vadhiyar. Lying down on the cot stretched out on the front yard thinnai, I recalled old memories. Many wickets fell on the relatives’ side; the old house also exposed its weakness to the fury of nature. Grandparents, KBS, Kuppanna Iyer, Radio Periasamy and postman Perumal have all gone into history. Aged parents who lived in this house also spent their evening years in peace.

I remember Dr.Arumugam, a simple man and experienced doctor of this village with healing touch. His simple tools and dressing of wound were highly commendable. The purple syrup mixture in a bottle was the much expected medicine. The consulting fee he collected was a rupee or few annas. Raji, the old village midwife was anytime available on call to attend to labour pains till she was too old to make a visit.

My last leg of posting was Madras. It was a joy that I was able to visit my native whenever I liked so. After a long innings of service, I retired as a pensioner and planned to settle down with wife at Kodumudi. The ancestral house needed renovation and some basic amenities to be upgraded. Having completed all my duties as a householder, I preferred the solace on the banks of the Cauvery.

Some houses have been pulled down to pave way for new buildings and KBS theatre has become an entertainment house that screened new films. The railway station has a modern look and many trains pass through now. VLR stall has taken the role of Kuppanna and big lodges have sprouted near the bus stand for the welfare of pilgrims. With the presence of hire purchase shops, cable TV has become a necessity. With hardly a decade to millennium 2000, many computer centers have spread across. The evolution goes on its course.

After rewinding my childhood memories on the steps of the ghat, little did I realize it was dusk and the dazzling lights of TNPL (Tamilnadu Newsprint Ltd) spotted my sight in the dark. Before could I leave the place, a mild voice requested help to be accosted to the main road. The fragile structure with partial blindness dropped his belongings, a crumpled bag and distorted umbrella. Oh, my school teacher!

I was in tears to look at his pathetic situation. Is this the effect of old age in penury? This is a lesson new to me. Unable to withstand this scene, I came home along with my master. Though everything has changed and I too have grown old, my mind is relatively younger by few decades. My soul searches for a recharge kit and it is none other than my memorable childhood days. Same house, same teacher and the same obedient student to my master. What an ideal mood to simulate the bygone era! My grandpa’s words, ‘vadhiyar vandachuda’ echoed in every cell of my body with joy.
--- Copyright ©2007 Selvaraj Chandrasekar

Also Read : Kodumudi and the Cauvery | Krishnaveni

Contributing Story Teller A freelance copy/content/creative writer in English & Tamil, for the past 3 years writes for Thozil vaniga Mudaleedu, Travel & Shopp - Chennai /Bangalore edition, Nikitha Ad agency. Currently working as Manager -HR with a epublishing BPO in Chennai.


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