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Nandavanathil Or Aandi…

June 20, 2015

Nandavanathil Or Aandi ….. (a vagabond in a garden – actually this is not an apt description of the title of the famous Jayakanthan short story in Tamil that was subscribed in our language prose in high school. A vagabond is nomadic but the tamil word ‘Aandi’ is somewhat ambivalent for which there obviously exists no precise English word to my limited knowledge…. and then, nandavanam means garden whereas our hero in this ‘pudhinam’ has a cemetry/cremation ground for his home. That is his ‘eden garden.’) (A ‘pudhinam’ is a short story in Tamil).

Jayakanthan is a rightist, Marxist and some of his works have been made into celluloid pictures that were equally moving. He is renowned for his taboo/unconventional subjects and offbeat realism, and needless to say he stayed ages ahead of his time in his prime.  This above strangely touching story is not ‘Pithamagan’ starring Vikram & Surya was all about but director Bala insists the author’s original narration was the inspiration behind the film. I like the b&w tamil flicks of ’70s which were adaptations from Jayakanthan: Oru Nadigai Naadagam Paarkiraal (a heroine watches a drama) and Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal (some men sometimes). Milestones in Tamil cinema. Both had Lakshmi (of hindi film Julie fame) as the leading lady. (Incidentally Lakshmi & Vani Jayaram who sang ‘bole re papi’ went to my school).

I am giving a gist of the captioned Pudhinam ‘Nandavanathil Or Aandi’:

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Once there lived an ‘aandi’ – a homeless man who bordered on autistic spectrum, in the verges of a burial ground. It was what he called home. He was married but childless. In his profession the man helped many people bury/cremate their beloved ones in the ground.

Somewhere in his childhood the man had picked up this piece of folk music:

Nandhavanathil or aandi

Avan naalaaru maadhamaai kuyavanai vendi

Kondu vandhaan oru thondi

Adhai koothadi koothadi pottudaithaandi…

Which can be loosely translated as:

(Once there lived) this aandi in nandhavanam

Who pressed upon on the potter for 4-6 months

And got (made for himself) a (begging) bowl

He played too much with it (carelessly) And broke it (to pieces).

The man always sang the verses as he tended to the dead when the rituals were afoot. Listening to him sing it, mourners who were already traumatized by the parting of their beloved would be shocked. Those who had lost their children found the lyrics most disturbing and offending. But our hero never knew the meaning of the rhyme. He did not realize what made the bereaved in their moment of heartrending agony and misery abuse him and rebuke him. He did not understand how he dealt a dagger into an already festering wound in all his innocence.

After many many years, the man’s wife conceived and the couple finally had a baby son. The father continued with his occupation singing matter-of-factly the catchy tune, all the time. His little son was growing up and suddenly the hard man’s life turned colourful. A hitherto unknown purpose he found in his otherwise bleak life devoid of emotions.

One day when the child was 5 years or so, he fell sick and died. Now the man got to do the final rites to his son in his own compound, with his own hands – something he had been doing for others all his life. The same song came to his lips as he dug the grave and at that moment it dawned on him how he had been hurting tormented souls with his words over years. For the first time, he broke down and cried his heart out, the heart that had turned into a cold stone long since.

I remember this pudhinam from my school days. Thamizh is a very deep and ancient language, older than perhaps Sanskrit and Latin. And Thamizh is the only prevalent/spoken classical language surviving to this day. Jayakanthan is a rebel writer – i have not read all his stories but have watched a couple of his pictures. I think I was moved to tears reading the full text in my school days. There was not a girl in my class who was not shaken by the story. I recommend English translations of his novels/short-stories although I don’t believe they can match up to the originals.

I am glad I had Tamil for second language upto my class 12. Proud of my mother tongue. If you master Tamil, you can learn any language easy and even mathematics & science will come to you naturally. Because Tamil is such a structured language. It squeezes your brains and twists your tongue. Which is why many Indian/south Indian origin kids seem to be winning the ‘Spellbee’ contest for years consecutively in America. Sangam literature is a treat to our senses. I am fortunate I could get to read a fraction of the ocean called Tamil lit. It is history – the true history of our land on its own accord.

Revolutionary tamil writers have taken the language to another level but of late, we do not have a good crop as Tamil language is no more anyone’s priority. I doubt we shall be seeing the Jayakanthan grade writers in Tamil in near future.

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I think if we are indifferent to people, we wouldn’t care what they say or do. Should we think its well within our limits to give our opinion, then we probably nurture an element of interest in the subject. I don’t go around telling people what to do. If I do, well it must matter to me. My nature is to forgive and forget. If I carry any burden of hatred, it weighs down upon my heart and I can’t sleep. My freedom lies in the release of intense hate. I won’t say I am not hurt. I hurt but I smarten up in no time. Knocked down too many times in life, getting up time & again is a non-issue.

But mostly in my experience, its those who I care for the most who hurt me fiercest. Its alright. World is a very unfair place to live in.

Err… embarrassed to repeat my lifestory time and again but I want to now:

What can hurt me: I have seen my mother die in my school days. When my father committed suicide, I went looking for him in GH mortuary. I married as an orphan. I have been insulted by one and all. I was taken for granted for my precarious condition in my working days. I have been treated like shit by relatives. I would be invited to parties and functions but would not be received with respect. I would still respond to my call of duty and not abstain from the society that looked down upon me. I did not isolate myself from my surroundings. I attended social gatherings knowing well how I would be ignored or side-stepped. Not to prove anything to anyone. Only to fulfill my sense of commitment without a default from my part. The ball would be in their court, never in mine.

I threw up the valium pills prescribed for me by my doc. I was determined to pull through. I knew I was a survivor.

This heart can take anything and still go on… including a few choicest names and insensitive betrayals… I cannot write my own testimonial. Time is the best healer. Through all my life, I have never lost hope, never given up on anything, anyone, never stopped giving…. giving… and giving…. Looks like God sends some of us down with a mission to give, never to take. So what have I lost.

Gandhi said, ‘my life is my message.’ Tailor-made for me.

In last 20 years, I have seen life turn upside down for some of those who have been mean to me. I am not happy today to see them humbled and tamed. Yeah who knows the ways of destiny. I include them in my prayers, if that can help.

Seeing others humiliated is not my purpose. Its not my personal victory. I wish the proud ones stay proud and do not succumb or yield. If they do, it must mean they are hurting.

I have a mole in my tongue and my granny used to say when I was a little girl, i needed to think before I spoke. Because, by superstition, she believed my words or even my thinking could come true. Our tongue has no lock.

Despite myself, I have got embroiled in difficult situations whenever I have spoken without thinking or out of turn.

My compassion for animals or the lesser fortunate is not without a reason. I see them trapped in sorry conditions the way I once was. For my part, I am doing a little something to bring smiles onto some miserable faces. Its my duty, my calling. My salvation lies in this.

I know I am not here to reform anyone or make the world a better place to live in. I am aware of my own slips.

I think my mom did a great job. She raised me in a way she couldn’t have, had she been around. She passed away in July 1982. In her passing she seems to have gifted me something very valuable: a strong, unflinching but forgiving heart.

This heart will break only for one thing: when my beloved ones suffer. Because happiness is a relative term to me. Only when those who I care for are happy, I can be happy.

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Just got back from Oncology dept in a private hospital. Went there for physio of my aunt who has lymphoedema. When the therapist was teaching the exercises to the post-op patients, I was sitting in a corner observing everyone. One woman with shaved head was only 33 years old and an young mom. Two were in 40s – one older than me perhaps and one younger. Hair has grown back for them which means they have had surgeries 1-2 years back. Totally 8 women and my aunt was the oldest.

Whatever residue of despicable self-pity I felt for myself, got washed away this afternoon. A little boy whose mother was attending the demo kept running through the ward. I have no reasons to complain in life. God has compensated in many other ways. She has given me more than what she has taken from me.

We never count our blessings, do we.

Not feeling okay ever since I learned of the industrial accident in Chennai metro that killed a young site engineer on the spot. He was crushed to instant death by 6-7 tonnes of load. His newly married wife is carrying their baby… even the girl’s mehendi seems not to have faded from her hands…

Is life worth carrying any grudges, bitterness. We don’t know when it shall be our turn. So long as we live, lets make others happy …. or atleast lets not hurt people if we can help it.

Past does every now & then resurface from the backburners of my mind sending me into deep depression. I am human after all. Sometimes i just get too tired … of giving… Those who take from me never seem to take a moment to pause and reflect…   What all I have managed to bury at the rock bottom of my heart manages to rare up its ugly head and haunt me … when I feel low. I don’t want to rekindle my past ever again. Such a fake, cruel, unfair world we live in… And then I know, this too shall pass…

No words of solace for the young engineer’s family.

Rounded off the day with a visit to Kaligambal temple. A historic one which Chatrapathi Shivaji visited. Found my peace finally in my mother’s bosom.

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