Nandha Palani Dorai • January 20, 2021 • 8 min read
It was a quiet Saturday evening, one of those days that is so characteristically mundane that if I were to recall the series of events sometime later in the week, I would struggle to tell it apart from the rest. With my usual cup of coffee in hand, I decided to break the monotony. On an impulsive note, I switched off my mobile phone that I religiously carry to every nook and corner of the house. Modern life has blessed us with technology that is conveniently available with just a whoosh of a finger, so much so that something as ordinary as voluntarily switching off a device feels revolutionary. With a quick stride, as if to get away from the seemingly dead mobile phone, I walked to the farthest part of my house, the balcony. Surprisingly, the balcony stands to be one of the places that I have very little memory of. Well, if I were to defend myself, I would have to add that we moved quite recently to the house that we stay in. Nevertheless, it is new territory to me. I stooped down, and silently sat on the terracotta-coloured tiles that make up the floor. A gentle breeze weaved through, an amalgamated scent of freshly watered plants, bombarding my nostrils. Life with a serious plant enthusiast prepares anyone for an anytime slap to the senses, quite literally and figuratively. Just about a few minutes in, I heard a recorded voice with zero intonation saying “Idiyappam”; an uncharacteristic monotone that could have passed the final round of selection if there was a voice hunt for ‘Who’s the Next Siri’. My mind, as swift as it is, decided to play a movie reel of scenes that do not readily surface at the fall of a hat but were perhaps triggered from the uncanny idiyappam.
Evenings of hot summers were characterized with me as a toddler usually in the midst of ten different gymnastic poses, cozying up in my great grandmother’s sari-clad lap. I was that kid who spent a major portion of the day being intrigued by the street, and a big part of that included everything that was being sold on the street. In hindsight, I can only equate the want being directed to the act itself, more than what was being bought. Coloured hair ribbons? A ladle to spoon soup? A handkerchief? Yes to everything, going by my perfect toddler reasoning. From memory, I can vouch for repeatedly halting one cycle anna exponentially more than the rest. The lucky guy! With his gleaming steel anda tied at the back, he went by the house almost every day announcing his pillowy soft idiyappam which was usually sold to me as restaurant quality noodles. Again, by my logic, what else could look like thick savoury noodles other than thin stringy idiyappam?
After an eventful evening, we would head down to the temple on the main road. I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the name of the deity nor the location of the place, except that the pusari thatha was my friend, and I likely characterized our friendship over the countless ghee murukku that I was fed. Well beyond the age when I could distinguish noodles from idiyappam, I learned that it was Sri Bhavani Amman Koil, in Hastinapuram, that held a tiny part of how I spent my summers. As the years went by, so changed the scene. I never saw the pusari thatha again, for one. The temple by itself was adorned with either bright pinks, blues, or yellows that it somewhat looked like an entirely different venue. With shining tube lights and chilly air conditioner, it more resembled the bank next door. It is a strange feeling to be somewhere that you think you know quite well, yet simultaneously feel that you don’t recognise it at all. Sipping the coffee at hand in the present time, of course, I wondered when my last visit to any such temples had been. My mind threw the next piece of the reel, right at cue.
When I was about the full height of an adolescent monkey, it was in our regular schedule to pay a family visit to the Anjaneyar Koil in Nanganallur. This time around, I fully knew who Lord Anjaneya was, thanks to the story sessions of the monkey god. It was also coincidentally the phase where I deemed myself the self-assigned assistant to Lord Hanuman. My close confidants would perhaps point out that maybe it was the huge milagu vadai, that I religiously snacked on during the visit, that sealed the deal. Anyhow, it became a place that I held dear. While it has admittingly been a long time since my last visit, I remember noticing the newly put-up queue lines that mandated movement through them. I was stunned by the stark contrast between the open area that I frolicked to the maze that stiffened movement. The only thing that redeemed the visit was the same old kind eyes that I used to believe belonged to an old friend, Anjaneya. I noticed my lips slowly turning upward, the memory rekindling a smile. I stretched out from my sitting position and looked over from the balcony through its grill. I caught sight of a round lady clad in a pastel cotton sari, holding onto a little girl in pigtails while talking to a young girl beside her. I suspect this had to be the moment for my brain to chuck out the rest of the reel.
Well, this must have overlapped with the time when I was almost the same height as the monkey as before, maybe a tad bit more. Gangadeeswarar Koil in Purasawalkam warranted familial bonding with a much older akka and periyamma. We would always catch a bus, and here my age played an advantage for I would always get the window seat between the three of us. We would spend at least a good hour going about the temple, ending it with a renewed calm. I, for one, had to ring the temple bell a minimum of ten times and spend a big chunk of time chasing kittens. If this isn’t the definition of a good time, I wonder what is. We would make our way to the Raaj Bhavan next door, and devour piping hot kutty idlis, with as much ghee as is allotted for a person. This was a proper ritual that we never broke out of.
Over the years life has changed, as I grew to accommodate the busyness that comes with age. No longer do I take the same buses to Purasawalkam, nor eat the kutty idlis, like I once assumed I was born to do. The last couple of my visits characteristically did not resemble the times of the past. I was able to note layers and layers of hardened paint on the temple walls, that I could barely see a segment of what once was. Along with that was the addition of walls and columns that stood out like mismatched Lego pieces; though I was able to see a lot of kittens, so much so one could nickname it ‘the temple of the cats’.
As I sat thinking, I heard the light drizzle of rain come down, picking up the scent of wet sand along. Wading through the jigsaw of my vague memories, I realised that these places carried a piece of me eternally, locked at the exact time I made them. It was a strangely comforting thought. I quickly sprang up and moved to my bedroom where my presumably dead phone lay. As it beamed to life, I clicked on the calendar to make the long coming trip down the lane.