Saturday, April 12, 2014

Yearnings of Yesteryears

A short story written for the annual school magazine of The Orchid School

I faintly remember the initial months of my school days when I was in sixth grade. That is probably when we started identifying our handwriting – with some feeling of guilt and commitment to improve, and connected with the classmates of our likes.  That is when we tried to scribe our signatures. That is when we started becoming more and more aware our surroundings, our history, movies, and songs and fine arts.  One of my classmates liked dancing and a few others were fond of mimicking movie characters and artists. 
Those were the days when we stepped into several things that were we not allowed to do earlier.  We wanted to participate in events with our teachers and other adults. We wanted to burst firecrackers independently. We wanted to create new things, write drama scripts, and come up with innovative names for movies. That is just a sample list of what we wanted to do. I am writing this to share one more thing I wanted to do that year.

An incident that happened during those days has stayed in my mind for long years. Certainly that is not a faint remembrance.  Ganesh Chathurti - the grand festival of God Vignesh (also known as Ganesh, the elephant God), was approaching and all of us were looking forward to it.  Ganesh Chathurti in our village was both a family and community festival.  Elders in the family would do puja or rituals with prayers at home.  Before that, early in the morning all families would go over to the river bank and offer prayers at the Ganesh temple.

Puja at our river bank Ganesh temple was an elaborate ritual.  It would start at seven in the morning and go on for two or three hours.  Early morning at six, some of the elderly men would clean the temple, and keep it ready.  By that time everyone would gather in the temple. A large group of men would start abhishekam by standing in two rows facing each other down the steps to the river water.  There were roughly about thirty steps from the temple to the river.  The river used to be in full steam all he months except summer.

Someone at the end of the row standing at the bottom most step  – the lucky one who stands knee deep in the river, would fetch water and pass it on in a decanter – known as kudam, a vessel made of brass (see picture).  It would get passed on from one person to another to save time as well as to save the toil of carrying it all the way to the temple.  To make this less time consuming everyone would carry a kudam from home.  If you have one, and if you are above a certain age, you can be one among them and participate in that team activity.  That was a team activity where one got to participate with the head master of the school, mathematics teacher, bank manager, land lords, and so on.   After every abhishekam – with honey, milk, and so on, water will be transported in kudam - eight or ten times.  After this, puja would start, go on for another hour and end with devotes singing religious songs and distribution of prasadam.
The day before Ganesh Chathurti,   I started searching for a kudam.  We had many of them at our home but none of them were light enough for me to carry.  I went on to find one in a nearby family – they agreed to lend it.  I got up early in the morning and was ready.  Probably I was the youngest in the group of men who formed two rows – one to fetch water and pass the vessel up and the other to pass empty vessels down.  Considering my age, I was put in the opposite row to pass empty vessels.  It was fun to be part of the celebration.
There were no phones, or Internet to post those pictures or tweet or Whatsapp with friends. I had to wait until the next day to go and share that experience with my classmates.
Almost four decades after this incident when my daughters moved into secondary school and then high school, I have compared and contrasted the school days of mine and theirs.  They are different.  Obviously, the learning experiences are different too.
In our urban life we don’t use a kudam to fetch or store water for we have found different ways to fetch, store and use water.  As some of us claim, may be, we are advancing. Kudam has become a thing of the past in most of our lives. Change is inevitable and well-managed change is good. We must embrace new things and that is how society flourishes and progresses.
That is a nice way to summarize but, we continue to keep our yearnings on yesteryears.  I used to. I am sure you too.  ‘It is not yearning. But I think our kids are missing those! What can we do? Now it is all jeans, sneakers, burgers, softies, and 1D.’  That is a known response in our discussions.
So what? What can we do about it? A promising answer or demonstration to such questions was delivered to us in the name of Heritage Fair in my daughter’s school - The Orchid School (Pune) on 1st Feb 2014.  I thought I was going to go through a bunch of posters, videos and some dance sequences. Yes I was dubious until I started witnessing the spectacular array of stalls, skits, dances, and exhibits presented by the students and teachers of The Orchid School.  The demonstration of flight hijacking, 26/11 attacks, freedom fight, social evolution, and the likes were very impressive and moving.  Demonstration of evolution and vedic mathematics were superb.
I got to visit the cave men too. In a dark cave one of them showed me how to lit fire using flint stone. That was a big surprise!  When the doors opened after demonstration, I asked, ‘Where did you get those stones from?’  He, perhaps a sixth or fifth standard student said, ‘I found those stones in my apartment complex!’  That busted a myth that flint stones disappeared with the cave men!
Kudos to all teachers and students!  You proved one thing – ‘We can keep our heritage alive and glowing!’
Let us continue with our yearnings on yesteryears. There is nothing wrong in it. We yearn because our heritage is rich and incomparable! Our heritage is our pride!