Friday, August 31, 2007
An old friend and compatriot
One of my fondest memories of Kerala and childhood was the njaar. A sort of a small river or brook or stream which flows independently for some stretch before joining a larger river. The njaar flows half a kilometer away from my Dad's house, but the gurgling of its flowing water can be heard throughout the day, more pronounced during the night. I have slept to its gurgles and chuckles and woke up to its roar.
As soon as we reached "home" we the kids would clamor to be taken to the brook. Ammachi would click her tongue and tell us to get acclimatized to the weather and well water first before plunging into the cold mountain water. She always knew it was a losing battle but she tried anyways. The preparation for bathing in the brook was simple. Copious amounts of fresh coconut oil drizzled on the crown of the head and we were ready to go. Being the youngest I had to hold on to my ammachi's hand as she lived in perpetual fear of me being washed away. She would snort with indignation on the way back when people jocularly exclaimed that they were so relieved to see me alive [:p] Her phobias were well known to all and sundry! :)
The first sight of the brook, glistening in the sun is indescribable! It was like spotting a dear old friend waiting for us to come back to play with him. Getting out of our clothes was a record breaking feat and the first plunge bought shrieks and screams as the cold water touched our warm bodies leaving us gasping at its icy coldness. After that it was nightmare time for my ammachi as she could never get us out of the water. Finally she would have to send word to the house to get my Dad to come down and get us out of the water. My Dad would come down and haul us out or most of the times join us in the water. Ammachi's "yatha raja tatha praja" still rings in my ears :))
Finally when we got out, we compared our shriveled hands and legs. The one who was soaked the most got admiring and envying glances.
The brook brings back a lot of memories. Of freshly pressed coconut oil and ammachi and thorth fishing. Of clinging on to my Dad's slippery back while he swam in the deeper areas, Dad’s *ouch* as I grasped the hair on his back for fear of falling in the river, Pears soap, glass bottles filled with tiny fishes, cold mountain water and shouts of flash floods! Of lying in the water looking at the sky and peeping into the clear bottom of the small river. Jumping off rocks into the small depth pockets and tiny fishes nibbling on our legs. Of coconuts and other flotsam that floated downstream on its way to some land far far away and sulks when we were told to get out and dry ourselves. Of my Dad or Ammachi taking us to see the elephants that worked in the Teak plantations to compensate for pulling us out of water and sheer blissful times of skipping ahead of them through dense paddy fields and rubber tree forests.
The njaar still flows. Instead of rollicking kids you see plastic, old slippers and such effluvia floating in it. The water bodies of Kerala are dead. A culture is dead. Long live the water bodies of Kerala.