The place, where I spent my first 20 years of life is, Tenkasi - a small beautiful town near Tirunelveli, down south of Tamilnadu is an integral part of what I am today. Like most of us I too had an exciting and fun filled childhood. Some of those incidents are everlasting memories, very green in my mind - those petty fights we had, our kinds of games & rules, our own street girls whom we used to be so possessive about etc. – these thoughts always make me fresh from the dull routine life as a professional at Chennai. For reasons we all know well, the names are faked in this blog – am sure if my old friends happen to read these they can map to who is who – but for the rest, this would be some kind of ‘nice to read’ and might kindle some of your own childhood reminiscences.
Tenkasi has been a lovely place to live. Situated geographically closer to Kerala, at the bottom of Western Ghats, nature has been very kind to that town. Green fields irrigated by Sitraaru (Small River), cool breeze gifted by the Western Ghats, the famous tiny rain droplets called Saaral, and the imposing Raja-Gopuram of Lord Kasi Vishwanatha temple – I have been fortunate to grow up there. Our street comprised of about 30 houses next to each other, a very typical south Tamilnadu’s agrahaaram with a Krishna temple at one end.
My father being a government employee, used to get a transfer very frequently. Considering my educational needs he left me at my grandfather’s place. Given that my grandfather was a powerful personality in that town – his fame has given me both – the unwanted visibility that prevented me from being a part of most of my childhood secretive fantasies and some benefits like some of my petty mistakes are forgiven easily than others by the general people in the street, I was always welcome in anybody’s home anytime which the other guys didn’t enjoy.
We always had atleast about eleven guys in our street and so naturally we always had a cricket team. Every year we would participate in the local tournaments - whether we managed to play cricket or not - we ensured to change the name of our team every year – one year it would be ‘Tiger 11’, the next year it would be ‘New Street Wonder 11’ – I wonder why it always ended with 11! And we had a wonderful method for selecting the playing eleven with just the right mix - seniors as playing eleven and juniors as twelfth man, thirteenth man etc., regardless of their capabilities. I owned four stumps, two pads, a pair of gloves, one bat and two cricket balls – and so a lot of things depended on me. So I used to somehow make it to the playing eleven (well most of the times!).
The rules of these local tournaments are very simple. Played as twenty over each side match, the prize will be a brand new cricket ball for the winning team. There were no sponsors and so the teams would need to collect the money somehow to buy a new cricket ball – some of us would beg our grandmas, some of us would steal it from the kitchen boxes, some other bold guys would pick up some from their dad’s Wallets (those brave souls!) – now this is the easier part of the game. The tougher part happens at the end of the match - as per rules of the game, the losing captain should sign the scorecard and give it to the winning captain. Now that is not easy! It is viewed as a huge prestige issue as the winning captain would go around the town showing the signature to all the street cricketers. An act that ensured to create a lot of embarrassment wherever you go. That too when you get to be bullied in-front of your sister or younger brother the impact on your ego would be tremendous! To counter this embarrassment, in our team meeting we decided to select the youngest of the kids as captain! He would not be playing the game as he would be just about the height of the bat– he would go for the toss, while walking back he would get sick (mostly stomach upset & so would run towards the toilet!) and we would get a substitute to play! As a kid he would not bother signing any paper if we lose, in fact he would be happy to do that! But sadly after five games, one of the other teams identified this trick and all others started objecting to this. So a new rule was passed at the inter-committee meeting - the captain who walks in for the toss should also play. Else the other team would ‘walk-over’! This rule brought us back to the main stream!
Once a match is fixed between two teams, the practice sessions would start. We would choose locations where the rival team could not watch us practice – fearing that they would study our bowlers & batsmen to learn our little game secrets!. Fortunately we had a wonderful place for this. The river Sitraaru runs behind our street –a fifty feet wide bank separated the river and our houses, forming long backyards for all the southern rows of houses in our street. Mostly these yards were neglected, occupied with bushes and open air toilets (not many houses had septic tanks those days!). There is a common way from our street to the river which served the purpose of pitch, run up for bowling & the wicket keeping. (I have promised my great grand mother that I will convert this lane to a concrete lane – which will benefit the public to reach the river comfortably – for their daily needs like bathing, washing clothes etc. A promise that I am yet to fulfill and I am serious about it!). The fielders would spread over the backyards of the houses over the bushes. The seniors get to bat for long and the juniors like me get to bowl a lot. At the end when I get my chance to bat I would be so tired that I would end up losing my wicket mostly to the second ball I face. The seniors always encouraged us to bowl – I was not matured enough to understand this trick for long – until one fine day I realized that even the opposite team’s batsmen always loved my bowling! I realized that I was not in Kapil’s league as my seniors used to encourage me during the practice sessions. Later on I also realized that I bat far better than many of the other seniors! So I applied my veto in one of the meetings – threatening to go home with my kit! And that worked – in all the practice sessions, I started getting to bat right at the top! Our cricket fantasies continued until my under-graduation without a break beyond which I had to move out of Tenkasi. But it was fun, entertainment, a lot of noise and a great memory!
The seasons change and so are the games we get to play. And with the absence of television sets we had our entire holidays to spend together with laughter & petty fights. We had a wide variety of outdoor games to choose from – cricket – the all timer, Bambaram (modern days’ bayblade), Kitti Pul (Gilli), Kucchi Game (Stick Play), Paandi (a girls game), Goli (glass marbles), kabadi, Volley ball, Vattu (driving a cycle tyre with or without a rim, with the help of a stick) etc. We had indoor games like Carom, Hide & Seek, Trade, Ludo, Pallaan-Kuzhi and some customized games with toy Cars & Jeeps. We also had various collection hobbies – stamps, coins were not within our reach – they cost money. Our pet collections included the labels of match boxes, glass marbles, small magnets that we got from broken fan kits, bi-cycle dynamos (a lot of our afternoon times were spent to collect these from the nearby repair shops), different kinds of flies, moths and butterflies pinned to thermo-coal plates, and some self sculptured clay idols. All these had their own prestige and ego associated with them and used to be the deciding factor on ‘who is the best?’ among us.
But for these, we had a host of other outdoor activities that were mostly associated with the rich vegetation in the backyards. Climbing the trees, making customized swings using a truck/bike tyre & rope, building small structures at the backyards using clay & sand (we call them temples with toy statues inside), diving & swimming in the river, stealing a variety of fruits from Mangoes, Guavas, sappotta and coconuts etc. A lot of other activities would surround the temple involving cleaning the temple premises, washing & polishing the lamps & other ornaments, making sandalwood paste for the lord using the huge sandal wood & stone and other such things. Amidst all these we also managed to learn a bit of Vedas, Bhajans, a little bit of Sanskrit, a lot of Slokhas – thanks to the “Aasthiga Samajam” that was run by our grandparents. Most of our parents were very strict in participating in the temple & Samaajam activities. And all of us were made to learn music in one form or the other – Carnatic vocal, Violin, Mirudangam, Tabla, Veena etc.
I never remember being idle during my childhood not knowing how to spend my time! We always wanted extra time to spend together. Round the year we used to have some festival or the other at the temple. Some of our favorites include the morning Bhajans during the Tamil month of Margazhi and the Garuda Seva on the Saturdays of the month of Purattaasi. But for these we also celebrated other festivals like Krishna Jayanthi, Sri Rama Navami, Chittrai maasa Thanneer Pandhal, Kolaattam, Hanumath Jayanthi, Sankara Jayanthi, Paavai Vizha during Makara Sankranthi etc. We would decorate the entire street with festoons made of palm leaves. We had a lot to share, lot to enjoy and a lot to laugh. And most of us (rich or poor) were brilliant students as well. Today as I think back, all these things always kept our mind fresh, continuously stimulating, making us physically & mentally strong!
Now as I get to visit my place pretty regularly, I feel very sad for the current generation of kids for what they are missing - The TV occupies most of the parents’ time, kids are rooted to the computer monitors with all illusionary games shooting and kicking each other. I can hardly see the crowd for the functions at the temple. Today I curse myself for not capturing many of those events in our old camera. There I sit on the stairs of the Lord Krishna’s temple – staring on the empty street, longing to re-live those moments, to hear those joyous shouts, to continue with those petty fights – the moments that stay only as fading memories in my mind…
…to be continued...