Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Thursday, 9 February 2012

In the Beginning.

In the beginning there was the slate... For ever and ever, Amen!
Here also there was variety. If you got one of those slates in your school bag, which had a rough wooden edge and stained black from the poor quality of the slate, hard luck. Some would not clean properly and the marks made by the slate pencil would still show on the surface, muddling up your already ham-fisted attempts to write. Then there were the aristocrats - thin frames, lovely slate, which wiped clean and pencils from heaven, which wrote clear, did not break when you bit the end and lasted a whole year.I remember the pink-and-white striped paper on the bottom half of it - what was that for?
   Cleaning the slates was a whole art form: every morning you got this moist weed from your compound and squeezed the wetness on to your slate. Then you rubbed clean with a rag - or the side of your hand, or the end of your uniform. Whatever.
   When did the slate become an endangered species? Now we have white boards, which wipe clean at a pull of the sliding board on top, markers which behave as they should and school backpacks full of unimaginable wealth. In 1939, we dropped our slates into a cloth bag and waited for the four-lined copy book, which came much later. With the abcd.. and the ellemenopee. No sandwich boxes,no games kit, no dry tissues, zilch.
   The slate went through several incarnations. The edges broke, then the frame cracked. Sometimes you were left with a piece of black slate, an irregular, sharp piece that was good for a lot of mischief.
   Learning started with 'Thara, para, pana.' I remember that distinctly. Except the Lord's Prayer was the first thing every day in class. Hands in prayer mode, heads down and sister listened to the fumbles. I did not understand a word. 'Art in Heaven?' What was that?
   With reading there were four pictures on the page to help you. The beginning of actual reading in Malayalam, because it is a phonetic language. You learned your fifty-four alphabets and away you went. Slowly at first, then gathering speed.
   Can't remember any English till much later. Long past the first week's tears, the beginning scrapes and scratches when you got pushed down in the play ground and waited for Amma to come and pick you up. Or as in my case, Nani edathy who did duty for my mother. But that's a whole other blog.
   I lost my bag in the first week and remember crying in the hall at play-time, totally ignored by the rest of the world. Such sorrow! The rains drowned out my misery until Sister Veronica caught me by the arm when the bell rang out and said 'Ponnu bag, was it?' So much for empathy with the babies entrusted to her. I was four then.
   Lunch came in tiffin carriers. Mine was made of brass as stainless steel for kitchens had still to make its appearance.The gofor at home walked all the way, sun or rain, to bring that food to the school dining room, which smelled of Sambar, fish curry and pappadam. Then he had to find you in the play ground and that became harder when you grew older and learned the magic of hide-and-seek and chain runs.
   It was a long school day, which started at nine and went on till four in the evening. I dozed through most of the afternoon.Thankfully afternoons were about drawing, needle work, games and such like. I never learned to draw or sew and there was no one at home to teach me either.
   There were rituals when you went home too. As soon as you jumped out of the rickshaw you left your bag on the veranda and washed your feet and your face near the well. The adults would have left water for you there. Then you got a cup of tea and it was me-time till sixish, when you were called in to pray. 'Ramaramarama...' and then hymns to Saraswathy ('Saraswathy he, palayamam. Sarasiruha rehane. What did that mean? I still don't know.)and Shivan.
   The Gods propitiated, you sat down on the little floor mats or wooden stools to have conjee and the day's punishment. Moong dhal or tapioca mashes. Then it was bed time.
   Roll out the mats, fight over the one case-less pillow, which smelled of very old coconut oil, and slip away. Till tomorrow morning and that slate.