My earliest memory of childhood is living with my parents in a one-room shed in Cox Town, Bengaluru, that belonged to a paternal relative. The dwelling lay in a quiet corner of the cantonment, close to the sprawling military campus housing the battalions of the Madras Engineering Group and Centre (MEG) and a stone's throw away from the Christian and Hindu burial grounds in Kulpally on the city's outskirts. Tales of ghostly figures stomping down the roads at night did the rounds, and my eyes would grow wide with fright on hearing them.
Hearse vans ferrying the dead to the cemetery laden with flowers followed by a funeral cortege was a common sight. The family elders would frisk away my younger sibling and me indoors when a funeral procession came into view. The town had a sizeable Tamil population that co-existed peacefully with Anglo-Indians and other communities, making it a melting pot of cultures. Scores of vineyards dotted the landscape, and there was hardly any motorised transport on the roads.
My paternal grandparents passed away when my father and his younger sister were of marriageable age. We worshipped their photographs, along with gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. The paternal grandfather had served the British army with distinction and was even decorated with the Order of British India, though his love for India was intact. He was a lover of horses and like many Army officers of yore owned a steed. We learned from dad that he was a strict disciplinarian and used the whip meant for the equines to flog errant children.
My mother would recount how Cupid's arrow struck my father when he saw her for the first time. He would regularly trail her on a bicycle from a distance on her way to school. Enamoured of my mother's beauty, dad soon persuaded an uncle to talk to the prospective in-laws and seek her hand in marriage. One thing led to another at a quick pace, and they eventually tied the nuptial knot. In the space of a little over eight years, the couple had five offspring. The shed that served as my parents’ maiden home doubled up as a living room, bedroom and kitchen. A ferocious canine manned the compound, and strangers were in dread of gaining access into the house.
I recall taking out my toy aeroplane whenever it was time to feed my younger sibling. The sparks let off by the plane lit up my brother's eyes and a gigantic grin spread across his face. We resorted to this ploy as he was a hesitant eater. My father would also amuse the tiny tot by reciting the traditional and famous Tamil nursery rhyme, ‘Nila, Nila Odi Vaa. Nillaamal odi vaa. Malai mela eri vaa, Mallaigai Poo Kondu vaa’ (Moon, moon come running to me. Don't stop while you run. Climb over the mountain and bring a jasmine flower when you come to me). The moon’s beauty would distract the little one, and he would open his mouth wide and gulp down the food. My parents are no more, nor is the one-room shed, but those memories remain alive.
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