Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Mysteries of Childhood

The period of childhood is indeed a period of never ending mysteries. It is that stage in child’s life when nobody understands its fears and the ecstasies. The child feels extremely happy on many occasions and also develops fears for certain events for which it finds no justifications. It feels that something is always lurking in darkness behind the window curtains in the night. The creaking sounds of the doors and windows in the night make it think that the devils are peeping from outside. It feels highly vulnerable and tries to find solace in the bosoms of its beloveds. It daydreams on many occasions and finds it difficult to isolate real incidents with the dream sequences. It passes through perils and bliss throughout the day and night. It smiles or laughs when feeling the happiness and weeps when it gets distressed. To be precise, it is living in a world of its own all the time.

Certain events that took place in my childhood are embedded in my memory; I was not able to understand them at that time. I had several questions popping up in my mind that remained unanswered.  I am unable to space them in a chronological order.

Being the fifth member among the children of my parents, I had very limited interactions with my mother in my childhood. She would be always busy with her household work. Naturally my two elder sisters were delegated with the responsibility of looking after me, which they fulfilled excellently. My eldest sister was a very mild person and had a very soothing effect on me. In contrast the second sister was a strict disciplinarian and a tough taskmaster. She mentored me. My immediate elder brother was two years senior to me. It appeared to me that he knew everything going around us very thoroughly. All of us were very much afraid of our eldest brother. He was in total command and control of all of us and we respected his authority. We also felt fully secured and safe under his strong personality.
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My earliest memory takes me to the nights when my sisters used to tell me the story of Kagakka and Gubbakka (crow-aunty and sparrow-aunty).I would refuse to sleep till this story was told to me. It did not matter to me that the same story was told every night! I was never awake to hear the end of the story! In fact the very purpose of the story was to ensure that I went to sleep early! My sisters never had the opportunity to tell me the full story! It appears strange but even now I remember only that part of the story which I was able to hear before I used to go to sleep.

Kagakka and Gubbakka were neighbors.  Gubbakka always knew Kagakka was her biggest enemy. Kagakka had built her house using cowdung. But Gubbakka’s house was made of wax. One particular night there was heavy rain. Kagakka’s house was washed away. But Gubbakka’s house remained intact. She slept in comfort with three of her eggs kept warm in a corner of the house. But she was rudely disturbed by Kagakka knocking at its doors. She allowed Kagakka to sleep in the corner of her house and went back to sleep.

In the middle of the night Gubbakka hears a sound and wakes up. Kagakka tells her that she had gone out to bring groundnuts to eat and she had just eaten one groundnut. Gubbakka goes back to sleep, but hears the same sound again. This time Kagakka tells her that she had eaten another groundnut. After sometime there is repetition of the event with Kagakka telling Gubbakka that she had eaten the last groundnut.

In the morning Kagakka was not to be seen. But Gubbakka finds to her horror that all her three eggs were missing…………..

I would say - in the folklore of our Malnad region - this story was the mother of all the stories in the beginning of our childhood. This was the number one story of the grandmother. Recently while interacting with my elder sisters I asked them how the story ended. Whether Gubbakka could take her revenge on Kagakka in the end? To my surprise they told me that neither they knew the end nor found it necessary to find out! It was left to the imagination of the child in its sleep! The story was a sure recipe for making the child to go to sleep even when it was half the way!

Another tricky story which I used to hear and which left me frustrated but made me sleep was a ‘questionable’ story! My sister would start some story in an interesting manner. I would be deeply immersed in the storyline. Suddenly somebody falls into a well in the story. Sister would stop the story here. There would be silence for some time. I would get curious. The real problem starts now:

Me: Then?

Sister: If you ask me then, whether the man can get out?

Me: Please continue Akka!

Sister: If you ask me to continue, whether the man can get out?

Me: No! But you tell me what happened next?

Sister: If you ask me what happened, whether the man can get out?

Any mode of requesting for continuing the story would lead to the same reply (question?) from my sister. I would go to sleep fully frustrated with this ‘questionable’ never ending story.

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One afternoon we had just finished our lunch. My father came home and told something to our mother in a hushed tone. She immediately took us to bathroom and poured water over our heads. I could not make out the reasons for this second bath of the day. I had to fallback on my brother. He told me that our maternal great grandmother had passed away. I had several questions in my mind. But most of it could not be answered by even my all-knowing brother. He had earlier told me that all of us had to die at our old age as per seniority. I had a simple question – how was it that my mother’s father and mother had died first and our great grandmother was dying only now. There was no satisfactory explanation!
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One morning Chowda, our cowherd, told us that a tiger had come to our village forest. He warned us about the possibility of its attack on our cows. That night we heard the roaring of the tiger from the hill top. There was a lot of tension in the next evening. We were anxiously waiting for all our cows to come back from grazing. They started arriving one by one. But our most beloved one, Tungabhadra, did not arrive at all. We were all scared and started weeping presuming that she had been eaten by the tiger. Father and eldest brother went out searching for the cow. We were anxiously waiting for them to come back. We prayed Krishna, the greatest of all cowherds (Gopala), fervently.  Our prayers were answered. Father and brother came back late night with Tungabhadra in tow! All of us heaved a sigh of relief! After a week Chowda told us that the tiger had moved to next village. Why does the tiger visit our village every year? I got no answer.
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I was playing with my younger sister in front of our house. Our eldest brother was leaving for the Koppa town with a consignment of pan leaves. He came near us embraced us and bid us goodbye. We both felt it unusual. He never behaved like that earlier. Brother did not return from the town at all. We came to know next day that he had ‘run away’! I saw my mother and sisters weeping. Why did my brother run away? There was no answer to my question.
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I could not get up that morning. Mother came to my bed and placed her palm on my forehead. I felt lot of comfort. She told everybody that I had fever. I was told not to take bath. I had to eat only rava-ganji.  The fever continued even after two days. The ‘military’ doctor came from Koppa. I was administered an injection. I came to know that I had typhoid fever. Mother used to keep her palm on my forehead every morning to check whether the fever had subsided. It took more than two weeks for me to recover. I could go out now to play. But I felt I would miss something. Mother would not take care of me anymore! Should I get another bout of fever to get back her palm on my forehead?
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One day the school teacher Srikanta Jois came to our house at the invitation of my father. Father asked him to match the horoscopes of my eldest sister with another horoscope. Jois got busy in matching the two. My father and mother watched anxiously. After some time Jois confirmed that the horoscopes were matching perfectly. Everybody was happy. Within a few days the marriage was held in a place called Agumbe. My sister moved to her husband’s place. I felt the absence of my sister and there was a sense of dejection. I looked at my other sister for comfort. Suddenly I realized that she also may get married and move away. Who would look after me then? Why all the sisters have to get married and move away? I didn’t get any answer.
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I was feeling very forlorn and desolate after my eldest sister left our place. I asked my second sister to tell me some story to light up my mood. She told me one of the most enjoyable stories I ever heard. It went on the following lines:

Ranganna was a farmer who used to grow sugarcane in his fields. One particular year there was a bumper sugarcane crop in his fields. As the harvesting season was approaching the family gets ready to harvest the crop. One morning Ranganna was shocked to find a portion of the crop eaten away by some animal. He gets agitated and decides to keep a watch during that night.

Ranganna goes to the field in the night and keeps watch from a tower raised for the purpose. In the dead of night he suddenly finds a glowing white elephant descend in the midst of the field from the sky. It starts eating the sugarcane immediately. Ranganna goes near the elephant and folds his hands requesting the elephant not to spoil the crop. The elephant is pleased and tells him that it was Airavatha - the mount (vehicle) of Devendra. It tells him that it relished his sugarcane crop and came all the way from heaven to eat. It asks him to accompany it on its way back by holding on to its tail.

Ranganna holds the tail and the Airavatha carries him to the heavens through the sky-route. Ranganna enjoys his visit to the heaven. He sees all the ashta-dikpalakas from Devendra to Ishanya (Shiva). Airavatha gets him a bagful of diamond and gold from the treasures of Kubera. It drops him back in his field.

In the morning Ranganna reaches his home with the bagful of gold and diamonds. He tells his wife the whole story and warns her not to reveal the ‘secret’ to anybody. His wife agrees; but could not hold on to it even for a day. She tells her immediate neighbor with the condition that she should hold on to the ‘secret’. But the ‘secret’ passes on to the entire village within no time.

Ranganna’s wife suddenly gets an idea. She asks her husband to take her to the field in that night. She tells him that he must take her also to the heaven. Her plan is to hold on to his legs after he holds on to the elephant’s tail! Ranganna reluctantly agrees as he does not want to disappoint his wife. But his wife once again tells her neighbor, who in turn wants to hold on to her legs! Again the news travels around and one lady from each house gets ready to travel to heaven!

In the dead of night Airavatha arrives from the heaven. When it is about to fly back after eating the sugarcane, Ranganna holds on to its tail. He is followed by his wife holding on to his legs. The others tag on by holding the legs of one another. The convoy is moving on in the sky on its way to the heavens. The women cannot keep quiet for long and start talking loudly. The lady at the bottom of the convoy gets a sudden doubt. She asks the next lady whether there would be sufficient gold and diamond in the Kubera’s treasure to be given to everybody. The message is passed up to Ranganna, who says there would be sufficient stock. The message is passed down to the bottom. But now the same lady wants to know the quantum of wealth in Kubera’s treasure! The question is once again passed up to Ranganna. Ranganna gets wild now. He tries to tell the others that the treasure was too big by making a shape with the use of both his hands. In the process he releases his grip on the elephant’s tail! The entire convoy falls down to the village tank. The heavenly journey ends up in a disaster! The Airavatha never turns up in the field again as it had already eaten the entire crop!
A V Krishnamurthy

2 comments:

ashwini said...

Sir,I throughly enjoyed this post.It made me to think whether you again met your eldest brother...

AVK Murthy said...

Thank you, Ashu.