'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Cube of Green 'Aluva'

My memories of accompanying Pop to Mithai Theruvu ('Sweet Meat Street'), Kozhikode have parallels to Col. Aureliano Buendia remembering a trip with his father. The colonel is taken to see a block of ice (*); the focus of my own recollections is a huge cube of dense green 'Kozhikodan Aluva' - off which Pop bought me a little slab. I was then about four. Yesterday, half a life later, I was back in Kozhikode - sent there by Pop.

Along with more mundane assignments, I had orders to buy aluva from 'Sankaran Bakery' which was supposed to be at one end of Mithai Street (Pop did not recall which end). I began scanning the street at the north end - where a colossal portrait bust of great traveler and eminent writer SK Pottekkat (the big hero of my high-school and college years) casts a benign gaze on his one-time haunt. Surprisingly, the street had few sweet shops. Finally, at the South end, I saw a sweet shop with the required name. Indeed, there were two 'Sankaran Bakery's' facing each other. And at least one had a warning to customers: "We have no other branches!"

The Connolly canal that I used to know as the 'Puthiyara River' has not changed a bit in all these years - curving palms, ramshackle shacks, rafts of timber, the smell of decay(**). Opposite the Railway station, three water tanks which I remember calling "one box tank, two ball tanks" still stand side by side(***). Near the Mental Hospital is a massive 'Taanni' tree. A powerful visual impression from my early childhood, it still looks huge and immensely strong. Someone has built an ornate fence around it and put up a bit of holy text: "This giant, that has for generations provided shade to wayfarers and shelter to countless birds, we name 'Punya Vriksham' (Sacred Tree)"(****). Nearby is an overgrown compound where I used to imagine Abhimanyu's single-handed assault on the mighty Kaurava host taking place (just as the battle of Badr raged among the palm groves of 'Khasak'). Our (then) little house looks very different and added-on; but a chimney, reminder of its 19th century make, still sticks out.

I have seen so many great masterpieces reduced to banal predictability by guide books. So it was a mighty thrill to see the sculpture of 'Pathumma's Goat' - she reaches out to devour copies of the Basheer's 'Sabdangal' from atop a table; I feel blessed I did not know earlier about this amazingly heart-felt memorial to the Master.

All over Kerala, religious icons are kept inside vehicle windshields. In a Kozhikode city bus, I saw a mirror on display; that makes quite a mystery of the driver's religious stance - he could be a staunch Muslim ("no icons, not even pictures of the Kaaba!") or a staunch atheist ("nothing religious!") or even a follower of Vedanta ("That thou art!" or "look within thyself!"; Narayana Guru, Kerala's greatest Vedantin, is known to have consecrated a mirror instead of an idol in the inner sanctum of a temple he established). That apart, I was struck by the abnormally large number of revivalist religious posters - both Hindu and Muslim - plastered all over the city.

And I walked past the school where I learned to read and write and to count and add and subtract (multiplication on were attempted in other cities). Our LKG and UKG classes used to be held in thatched sheds with cowdung paved floors and crude wooden benches. The sheds now have pukka walls and tile roofs; within, I saw plastic chairs, computers, huge LCD screens and marker boards. The mulberry tree which stood in front is gone and a 'Mandaram' (bauhinia) has taken its place. In the front room of the school were a pair of rocking horses which used to be visible from the road. They are gone; at least I did not see them.

The school's little courtyard was where I won my first and only athletic prize - a blue plastic cup for coming third in 'Running Race for Senior Nursery'. It was also here that the 'Misses' made me act out the following on our Annual Day:

"Georgie Porgie, Puddin' and Pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away. "

Yes, I do remember the 'girls'...

(*) Although am not exactly facing a firing squad, I feel pretty much up against it.

(**) In 1950, Pottekkat, the 'Prince of Puthiyara' made this observation from Rome: The Tiber is a disappointment - it's just a good-looking gutter, rather like our Connolly Canal.

(***) The 'ball tanks' are actually hemispherical. They look pre-independence but still function - I saw caustics writhing like fiery snakes on the interiors of their roofs. (****) The nitpicker in me observes that the tree does not give anything significant by way of shade.


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