‘Ormakkilivathil’, my new book, is a journey into my past; reminiscences of my childhood and youth spent at my village, Parappur. The book has evinced quite a lot of interest. Many who read it have said that it took them back to the Kerala of 1950’s and 60’s. The youngsters also appear to be excited to read about things that they have not seen.
My niece, Mrs. Sindhu Paul, will be translating the book into English. You can expect an English version in a few months. To give you a sneak peek, here’s one chapter in English. Hope you enjoy reading it.
KOCHOUSEPH THE MENACE
The age requirement for school admission used to be 5 years. By June I would turn only 4.5 years. The sooner one finishes one’s education and becomes employed, the better- this was how parents used to think. Another rule during those days granted direct admission to class 2 if the child passed the final exam of class 1. Appachan too did not think otherwise. There was a master called Panikker who would take tuitions at home. He was called to tutor me and I attempted class 1 final exams and landed directly in class 2. Thus for me, formal schooling began only with class 2. The problem with this arrangement was that when I studied in class 2 I was only 5 years old. All my classmates were older than me.
A gap of 1 year in age makes a big difference during childhood years. Maybe because of that I was a little naughty. Our school was run by the church. In those days neither private schools nor government schools could boast of great facilities. There were no separate class rooms. There was just one big hall with a tiled roof. Class rooms were partitioned off using bamboo boards. These boards would reach barely upto a person’s height and the rest would be open. So the class in the next room could easily hear what went on in our class just as we could enjoy the happenings there.
The class across the bamboo partition was class 4. Loud lamentations frequently issued forth from there. This was from the crybabies who had just received a taste of the furious canings generously doled out by the masters. The master who could wield the cane the most fiercely earned the greatest fear and respect. Parents too believed undoubtedly in the efficacy of cane discipline.
Class 4 had some tall, hefty giant-like specimens as students. Some of them had flunked once or even twice in each previous class.This was before the days of ‘All Promotion.’ Class 4 benches could hardly contain these young men who should have been in class 8 or 10.
Every class had both boys and girls. Behind me, just across the bamboo partition, sat the backbenchers of class 4 with their back towards us. Under the partition I could see a class 4 students’ long braid of hair swinging nicely with each movement of her head.
The bamboo partition in between had plenty of nails on it. On these nails students would hang up their cloth bags in which they carried their books and lunch box.
The master in our class droned on and on taking us all to the heights of boredom. And then I saw a delightful sight. The class 4 girl’s braid of hair dangled playfully under the bamboo partition. The girl was engrossed in her class. Carefully, I hung the ribbon on her hair on one of the nails on the partition. The bell rang after that period. All the students got up to refresh themselves before the next period. As soon as the girl jumped up she fell headlong on to the partition. The event caused a great hullabaloo. Since my seat was directly behind this girl I was immediately suspected. A few girls from the other class played detectives and my guilt was confirmed. They prepared to haul me to the class 4 master. I began trembling. Red-hot canings were certain. And what about the shame? Seeing me cornered, my cousin who was this girl’s friend, came to my rescue. She marched into our class, made a great show of scolding me and boxed my ears. Her friend was taken in by this drama and the incident did not reach the staff room. Thus ended this session of crime and punishment. But this was mere peanuts compared to the next episode.
The roads of Parappur were not tarred. Vehicles would pass by raising clouds of red dust. During monsoon the roads would disappear into ponds of slush. As a result of the constant complaint of the people gravelling the road was finally sanctioned. This process required a lot of water in order to make the dusty roads wet. The contractor filled empty cans of tar with water and lined them along the road.
There were bits of dry tar stuck to the sides of these cans. We boys would scrape them off and make small round balls out of them. I went one step ahead and made figures of people, birds and animals out of this dry tar. These treasures were hoarded in my pockets and sometimes they would stick to the body. To reduce the stickiness of tar I hit upon an innovative method. In those days before having a bath the head would be massaged with great quantities of oil. Due to this our hair would always be oily. To make the ball of tar less sticky, I placed it on my head and rolled it around. The blasted thing stuck on my head! Try as I might I couldn’t remove it. My friend, who was a greater good-for-nothing, came with sincere offers to help. Fool that I was, I believed him. He, very sincerely, spread it nicely along a large part of my head!
Nothing would dislodge that beastly thing. My friends started teasing me. But this was the least of my worries. I was sure that if Appachan found out I would get it from him. In that moment of confusion came my next bright idea. Whether rain or shine we kids had to carry an umbrella to school every day. Boys would hang the curved handle of the ‘kalankuda’ on their shirt collar behind. On that calm, pleasant day I walked home, umbrella held open over my head. Appachan was strolling on the veranda. At first sight he realised that something was wrong. Seeing me in this suspicious circumstance, Appachan immediately asked,
“Why is your umbrella open?”
I stood like a thief caught red-handed. Finally the great and sticky truth was discovered. I braced myself for the cane. Such situations usually guaranteed a few strokes with it. But this time Appachan tried a new style of punishment.
We had a helper boy called Velayudan. Appachan called him.
“Eda, Velayuda, take him to Nair’s barber shop and get his head shaved!”
The essence of the command was that my head would soon look like a nice round egg. Realising that I was in hot waters, I started howling shamelessly. Finally, Amma intervened.
“Let me try,” she said and took me inside and washed off the tar with kerosene. Thus my head escaped its bright and shining, but egg-shaped destiny. Anyhow, my head got a coat of tar on it long before the roads of Parappur got a layer of tar on them!
As soon as one mischief ends, the next one begins. In class, the boy sitting in front of me was leaning comfortably on the desk behind. I held my pen close to him. By the end of that period he would walk out with a pumpkin-sized ink stain behind him. Once, the saintly being sitting behind me tried out this trick on me. Revenge was impossible since his place was behind me. But the rule was ‘blood for blood, ink for ink.’ So, as he was walking along, I followed him quietly and shook my ink pen vigorously at him. The ink lavishly created artistic patterns on his shirt.
Although a minor mischief-maker, I was not a rogue in the serious sense of the word. I was never involved in any sort of violence. My attempts at trouble-making were always limited to small, harmless jokes.