Friday, April 01, 2005


Our youngest aunt, Ranchitam chitti,said she had to go to Kattukolli to weed the groundnut patch, and offered to take us with her. Anand dug deep into his trunk and brought out his tightly wrapped newspaper bundle that contained many little bundles tied with cotton string. Each mysterious bundle of musty newpaper and white crisscross strings held a potent ingredient that went into the maanja. He alone knew in what order and in what manner each had to be unveiled and used.
So fresh after breakfast, my granny repowdered our faces, buckled my sandals, and off we went. we three, Ranchitam chitti in her yellow print saree with white flowers, red dot bindi and mallipoo carrying a wirebag with a pot with a broken handle and a blackened ladle, Anand in his black shorts and brown half slacks with brown stripes, me in my favourite sleeveless frock that mother stitched for last year's Deepavali. dark kaapi and light kaapi coloured bunches of little flowers all over, frilly sleeves and hem lined with lace that only reached my knees.
we had to walk on a narrow path, that led from the last house in the Marapattu (ours), bordered the rice fields of my granny, fallow fields of our neighbours of the Parvatam house, cut across the shopkeeper Kaali anna's mango orchard, rounded the big open well of our mango orchard, and reached the main road. the road connecting Madras to Bangalore. The main road that pushed lorry drivers to race like maniacs that had killed two of our cows (blackie cow and red dotted cow which had been pregnant) last year through the sheer carelessness of the servant boy, who we promptly dismissed.
The path was so narrow, so only one adult or two children or one cow could walk shoulder to shoulder. Ranchitam chitti walked first, holding the rope of the white cow that walked behind her. Ofcourse Anand wouldnt walk with me, he always walked in front of me, but behind the cow trying to avoid its swishing tail fanning away mosquitoes and carrying his newspaper bundle. I walked with my buckled new sandals, touching every bush of touch-me-not on the way watching it shrink with fear and shyness, and collecting little purple flowers and big yellow flowers for my Science Holiday Homework and secretly breaking off leaves of --- the oozed poisonous milk that I let drip fascinatedly squeezing all along the way.
Once we reached the main road, we had to cross it, then we would leave the village behind and enter the territory of the hills. after looking right first, then left and then right again, the three of us but not the cow that only kept chewing and salivating and swishing its tail, we crossed the road in a sprint, for the mad crazy lorry drivers would be driving so fast that they would be upon you and over you and away in a quick breath, and then where would you be?
From now on the path would be wider, for we would be walking along the sandy flood water canals. It seems that long long ago, the river Paalaru used to flood when it rained, so long ago when it actually had water in it, so they had cut these canals out of solid earth so that the water could be routed to the fields in Kattukolli and so that it wouldnt flood the villages. But now there were no rains, no water, only deeper and deeper and dryer wells, so the canal was safe to walk in, sandy and only strewn with dried hard balls of goat shit and occasional smelly lump of cowshit, strecthed on a winding route with scraggly bushes on both sides that the cow kept stopping to sniff at and to chew, my aunt muttering stupid cow can't you wait till you get to the field? and I kept stopping too at honey-suckle bushes to suck out the honey from the many tubes of tiny pink and orange flowers, and to pick red fruits that were edible, unlike other red fruit that could be poisonous and only my aunt could tell which was which.