I don’t want to live in any country or place which does not have Mylapore in it. If you happen to be in Chennai, just take a walk around the Kapaleeshwarar temple tank and see if the incredible juxtaposition of the ancient with the modern, old with the new, the rotting with the nascent does not strike straight into your Indian heart! If your heart is still Indian that is.
The “fragrance” of Mylapore is that aroma of coffee beans frying in ‘Sundaram coffee’ combined with the smell of vegetables, fruits and flowers on the pavement shops, mingling with the fumes of vehicles and the mild scent of holy ash (vibhuti) wafting from the bare bodies of tuft-wearing Brahmins, not to mention the urine on the walls. On one side is the clang of temple bells and just yonder is a sabha exuding music. By the temple car is the famous nameless roadside bajji stall shooting sizzling noises into the air.
And just as you feel divided between adai-ayival at Karpagambal mess and the roadside bajjis, the nadaswaram vidwans emerge into the streets leading the temple procession. One mallari or a brilliant raktimelam from them is enough. All appetite is sated. I… just love this heady bouquet of perfumes and sounds which is India, well... “South India” to me. Be it crowded, dirty or congested or whatever, I love my land, just as I love my mother’s cooking burnt or otherwise. If it is from my mother’s hand, I love it… Period.
I don’t know why I have to sound so apologetic about declaring my love for my own country. But you see when I urge people not to look for “US bridegrooms” or when I tell migrating friends and relatives not to become permanent citizens and “come back” at least in the distant future, they look at me queerly. Recently, I gave a guest talk at a famous college of technology. When I appealed to those engineering students who had written TOEFL and GRE to consider making worthwhile careers here in India itself and “first sweep our country before departing to sweep other countries” huge dissenting noises burst out in the hall.
I had opened a Pandora’s box. Many explanations poured forth from the students on how “quality life” was possible abroad and how they were “world citizens” and how India was “narrow minded” and so on. In a room of 300, I knew I was alone. It reminded me of the day when my parents were forcing me to look at my first love as mere puppy love. On both these days my love was ridiculed as naïve, silly and unrealistic.
Well, I went abroad too. While bidding goodbye, my grandmother took a pinch of earth and smeared it like vibhuti on my forehead. Once there, I fell severely homesick after the first few weeks. No amount of persuasion that “roads were bigger, environment cleaner and facilities greater” could take India out of me. “What the hell, you can drink water out of the bathroom tap here,” shouted my friend. “Go on and drink water from bathroom tap because that’s where you belong,” I snapped. In my poem Migratory Birds I wrote, “In the land of seagulls/the crows try to merge with snow.”
This Republic Day, my son’s school gave me the honour of hoisting the Tricolour, which I did with great pride and tears in my eyes. When they asked me to deliver a speech, I refused. How to express deep love in spoken words? I instead offered to sing and presented Bharathiyar’s song Enthayum Thayum (“This is the land, where father and mother mine/lead a happy life”).
That pinch of Indian earth my grandmother smeared on my forehead burned like a third eye, for long after the song.
Music Season - Dec 2011
5 years ago