Karthik, Tamil, And Family

Karthik Ramakrishnan

I have always had a deep connection with Tamil, right from my school days. Having had Tamil as my second language, and with the indelible presence of my father, who read(s) Tamil voraciously, the interest in Tamil blossomed within me quite casually.

In my fifth standard, I was cast in my first-ever role in a Tamil Drama, as a part of my school’s annual day celebrations. Preparations and rehearsals lasted for two long months prior to the big day. I found it extremely difficult to memorize my lines. They were tough and long. But my teachers were supportive and encouraging.

They clocked in extra hours to make sure that I had my lines and acting persona in sync with the script. And the beauty of those extra hours was that I never felt stressed. The entire process of getting and learning the lines to learning how to act them out panned out in a comfortable and seamless fashion.

I was the protagonist in the drama. I was Manunidhi Cholan, a Chola king torn between his ideals of Dharma, and the love for his only son. I had to be perfect. In the first act, I had to be the King, majestic and upright, leaving all awestruck and striking fear in the minds of the criminals. In the next act, I had to portray the character that resembled that of a common man, as the king was in a shambolic state, terrified as to what to do. He had to decide between upholding the law and the ideals that he believed in, and his love for his only son. I had to show that transition in the King’s demeanour. That was crucial to the drama. I really had to be perfect. And, my teachers worked hard to see me do my role justice.

I had to show that transition in the King’s demeanour. That was crucial to the drama. I really had to be perfect.

I would be rendering a grave injustice to my father if I did not talk about his contribution in my quest to perfect the role. While my teachers helped me practice during school hours, the task of polishing my dialogue rendition fell to my father. He did that with great enthusiasm, and most importantly, with a great deal of patience. He played a colossal part in my transformation to Manunidhi Cholan.

We had to perform the drama at 7pm that day, and we had all assembled in school as early as 1pm. We had no rehearsals that day. We were just hanging out. Quite truly, we were one big family: teachers, support staff, and students. And I had a great deal of fun playing with my Harry Potter cards with a classmate of mine. And for quite a while, we had a blast hogging on the lunch another friend had brought.

At around 4:30pm, we started dressing up. And by 5:30 pm, we were all ready. We were positioned backstage as early as half past six, and I could see the nervousness in the faces of my classmates. I felt excited. It was time, finally.

We performed the drama to a sold out crowd that gave us a standing ovation as we wrapped up. It is one of the better moments of my school life. My teachers hugged me when I descended into the space for the audience, and I could see that I had done my role justice; I could see that I had justified their trust in me. My parents were extremely proud of me, especially since many teachers and members of the audience had gone on to congratulate them for my performance. That drama has accentuated my deep passion for Tamil. Ever since, I have acted in many dramas in school, and have always been an avid reader of Tamil literature.

I remember looking in awe at the inspired performances of my classmates. I remember taking strength from their performances, and believing in myself.

I will never forget that evening, all the way back, 12 years ago. I remember the audience, watching every move and catching onto every syllable of ours. I remember looking in awe at the inspired performances of my classmates. I remember taking strength from their performances, and believing in myself. I remember how I felt when we got a standing ovation. I remember looking at my classmates with elation, seeing that they felt equally thrilled and proud.

I remember the look on my teachers’ faces when they greeted me backstage, after the drama had ended. (One of my teachers was in tears with my performance. She was the teacher who convinced me to continue with Tamil as my second language post primary school. She had a niche place in my heart. Heartbreaking, it truly was, when she passed away 8 years ago.) I remember how strangers came up to us and congratulated us. I remember how proud my parents felt. I remember how happy I was.

We truly were a family then, right from the time we started practicing for the drama, through the many rehearsals, and right through the entire duration of the performance. That family got disbanded since. Each individual has gone on to seek something different, in different directions. But whenever I recall these times, I get the emboldening belief that in some dimension, we still are that same family.


Farewell, Thatha

Karthik Ramakrishnan

It was a Friday, the first of fifteen days of holidays. I was in the 9th standard. And, having just shooed away the exams in a thoroughly nonchalant and disdainful way, I was in my element, but I was not particularly happy because I was away from school – I couldn’t wait to get back to those classrooms. I was just practical enough to understand that this was a welcome break – a break that would make the return to school even sweeter.

I ran down the stairs and went to my grandparents’ place, and promptly switched on the TV. I remember that a cricket match was on. It was a time when I used to watch quite a lot of cricket. I never was fascinated with the sport – I realized that only later, sadly.  I had been watching cricket only because I got to do that with my Thatha. He was a cricket fanatic. An ardent subscriber to India’s adopted National Sports Religion of Cricket, if there ever was one.

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Irrational Fears

Tejaswinee Kelkar

“What are your insecurities about, even? I just don’t understand”, my grandmother yells at me just the same as everyday – trying to get me to open the windows and doors of my room, and let the air in. It used to happen everyday. I used to latch all the glass windows and put on thick grey curtains so that no light or fresh air ever came in. “You like to suffocate yourself”, she used to say, trying to folk-psychoanalyze me.

I was an angry teenager who didn’t want to meet anyone at home – just stick around in my room, latch the door, and sit inside the huge blue steel almirah that was in my room. I would sit under the bed for hours sometimes, until my grandmother would  ‘sweep’ me out with a broom. Or sit inside a small window with glass latch doors.

But the almirah was my favorite. It was a scary thing to do – if I couldn’t open the latch from the inside, it would be a really terrible situation for my parents. But there, I could hear nothing and nobody could hear me. I felt like I was snuggled up and cosy.

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The Well

A Traveller

My grandparents’ home was a sprawling bungalow, surrounded by a huge garden, full of mango trees, and scary sheds, beautifully laid out gardens, and sundry nooks to hide from cousins and adults alike. And as the crown jewel, at the center of my grandfather’s carefully planned symmetrical garden, was a well. The adults called it a houdi, just four feet deep, but at the age of six I knew, and I still maintain, it was a well, similar to the pit Bruce Wayne had to descend into in the Dark Knight Rises. All in all, the perfect home for summer and winter vacations alike, as you can clearly tell.

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The Beginner’s Guide to Owning Madras Heat

Gayathri Pattnam

I suffer from a city identity crisis right now – I have spent equal amounts of time in Bombay and Madras, but since Madras was where I was born and where I grew up, I will dwell on that city right now.

Anybody who has been to/heard of/lived in/taken a detour through Madras, has most definitely come across the most clichéd joke about this city – “Madras, it has three seasons – Hot, Hotter and Hottest.” As with most jokes, this one has some amount of truth in it. All of it is the truth.

It was 1998, rumored to have been amongst the hottest years in Madras. One must also remember that it was 1998 in Madras – the city had problems with electricity, and one often went through days with absolutely no respite from the heat.

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My First Watch

Niranjan Murali

Losing your first watch can be kind of a bummer. Especially when your parents give you a long lecture after it. More so when you’re six. Or seven. Or somewhere in between. This was back in the late nineties, when all the trains ran on the metre gauge, when the difference between middle and upper was only on these trains, and not in social hierarchy, when small towns thrived on locals milling about, seemingly oblivious to, but happier than the world outside their bubble.

It was also the age of Milo (not Stanley Ipkiss’ dog), and for the ten years after that, all Milo was known for was the freebies that came with it. One such freebie was a digital watch (!) which showed the time and then some, a few pieces of which could be found in Main Guard Gate at huge prices, but most of which had Mickey Mouse smiling at us from the top of the watch, which was the main draw for a kid of my age.  This watch was (Milo) green in colour and the strap, when closed, could hold two of my hands and still have room for some more. Not only was it two sizes too big for me, the dial was also huge, which meant half my wrist disappeared under the watch, which was the point anyway.

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Thank God It’s Saturday!

Ramanujam Sridhar

I went to a school in Madras (as it used to be called in those days), which some people branded the best in the city. I daresay people are entitled to their view, however bizarre. I, however, had a different view, based on my experiences in those hallowed (?) portals. My school did not have the risks that today’s schools have – where precocious children exaggerate to their parents about teacher behaviour  or prying newspapers that usually try and execute erring and often unsuspecting teachers for what was exemplary behaviour in my time.

My teachers thought nothing of slapping me or even caning me, (on one memorable occasion, the cane broke). I also had the unique distinction of being awarded an imposition of copying the first 26 pages of the Geography text book, something that probably went out of fashion the day I left school.

But my school, whatever its failings, had one admirable quality. It was closed on Saturday, and that, in hindsight, is phenomenal considering the day and age I lived in. I know this is not about anthropology, so let’s not waste time and effort in idle conjecture wondering about the era that I am talking about. But back to my high point and Saturday – which I looked forward to with the same zeal a tippler looks forward to the bar opening, and I must confess – that admirable feeling of anticipation and wonderment for that special day have continued till the moment of writing.

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