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The wardrobe that opened to a new world..

Childhood memories never fade. At times, these memories are pushed into a corner unconsciously; but quite often we stumble upon that abandoned corner only to take out the pieces together to find out that the colours are as bright as before. I always feel sad when someone says he/she does not have any coloured memories of childhood days.  I can see the pain in their eyes and hear the ache in their words when they say so. If you have a happy childhood, you grow into a happy person -a strong one. Agatha Christie has rightly said, “one of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.”

A picture speaks thousand words. I am sharing something about a picture which I  saw recently while searching for some images on the net. And it did speak to me – loud and clear, flooding my mind with a thousand memories, bringing in an aching joy. It opened one of the wonderful pages from my childhood.

We (my sister, brother and I) were brought up in a small sleepy town which preferred to be in a reverie most of the time. It neither did meddle in people’s lives nor meddle with the world’s latest issues. It was a small world, yet the best one for us – a world of happiness and love with our parents in the  company of each other and,  of course, books.

I still remember the thrill of getting a new book from our father- be it Amar Chithra Katha, Phantom/Mandrake comics or children’s magazines Poombatta or Balarama. I still remember the exhiliaration we felt while waiting for Achan’s story telling sessions of English classics. The books took us to a new world, from the sleepy little town to the snow-capped mountains of Russia, the meandering waters of Thames or to the unreachable outskirts of fairy lands. And we loved it!

This picture is from one of the books Achan had given us when we were children. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Nothing did I know about the fantasy fiction that C S Lewis has written to enlighten children; nothing did I know about the ‘whiskered furry face’ of Aslan, the great saviour of the happy land of Narnia. The girl who held the book then, never ever imagined  that her daughter would be watching movies about Narnia years later … Or her students would be discussing the new Netflix adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia with her in a faraway country, so far away from her old laid-back town! It was just another book for me, back in time. The pale green cover with the beautiful illustration of two girls playing with a lion was the first thing I noticed. And I saw the garland, a garland of bright orange and yellow flowers, clearly and unmistakably! When I knew the book had illustrations, the more I was interested.  

Picture Courtsey – Google

Everything in that book was new to me – the huge wardrobes where you can hang in coats were new to me. A wardrobe where  a child can get in was new to me! We only had small wooden or iron cupboards during those days and  you can imagine the wonder of a child who gets to know about something called a built-in wardrobe through which you can enter into an unknown world ! First time in my life, I heard about the mythical fauns, and the book showed me his black and white picture too.   I was totally captivated by one of the pictures in the book. And after three decades the same picture popped up bringing with it a rush of memories – the picture of the siblings sitting with the Beaver family in front of a table.

Picture courtsey – Google

Just like any other child, I did not miss out a single detail in that picture. The reading stopped when I saw the picture, me eyeing at each and everything in that picture, my imagination running riot beyond the scene. Though it looks like a cluttered room to me now, what I saw then was a beautiful home.  I admired the way the beavers hung the utensils and stacked the boots. I wondered what was boiling in the pan on the stove to which C S Lewis did not have any answer. But he could make me believe that animals had homes and they too had happy meals time! 

Wasn’t our childhood wonderful? We had visions which made anything and everything enchanting. We were not unhappy with our lives. We were extremely excited to see new things, to know new lifestyles and new people. Even if they looked better than ours, we never felt jealous! We knew how to derive vicarious pleasure. Ours was a small world, but we could take anything to our small world, and it rubbed out the boundaries making our world expansive, merging it with other worlds. We could find happiness, delight and excitement even in the pages of a book. Those are the simple pleasures. The memories of childhood fill you up with a special emotion, a special kind of warmth which cannot be put in words. Or is it something like what C S Lewis says in his all-time favourite book?

….. “Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning — either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into the dream again. It was like that now.”


No timbrels and pipes , I heard…

A modern version of an old song by Bhadra on Music Mojo, that I have recently listened to, has motivated me to write this. The song is from a Malayalam movie, Thacholi Othenan  – ‘Kottum njan kettilla, kuzhalum njan kettilla.’ (Does it remind you of Keats’s “What pipes and timbrels?” – Ode on a Grecian Urn)

This song is a celebration of nature. It goes like a monologue in which the singer goes on asking a few  questions to her friends (who are all seen playing together in a ‘man-made studio garden’) The questions are all  very simple wondering about the embellishments that the plants and trees bear. The lyrics of P Bhaskaran are relevant to the context of Kerala because the girls who  are singing and dancing to the song are from a small region of Northern Malabar in Kerala.

What are they singing about? Let me try to give you the gist for those whom Malayalam is an alien tongue. Hope I can bring the essence out of it without slaying its body and soul!

It is a series of questions in four verses, each one celebrating the visual elements of nature except for the last one which shifts from visual to auditory. In the first verse, the singer is surprised to see the pearl mangalsutra of a jasmine thicket because she says she hasn’t heard the accompaniment of drumbeats or pipes associated with a typical Malayali wedding. The jasmine bush as a bride in full bloom with its pearly white necklace- such an imaginative way of creating a visual image!

Then she goes on asking her saghi (friend) how Konna (Indian Golden Shower) is seen decorated with a golden necklace. She marvels how it is possible without spotting a goldsmith in the vicinity.


And the next visual image is a localised one in  Kerala’s cultural context. The poet is bringing the  image of the Murikku (also called as Indian Coral Tree/Tiger’s Claw) with its bright red flowers. The singer notices the sprinkled sindhoor on the tree’s forehead. Is it spread all over her forehead because she does not own a mirror? Or has she gone to take part in Kaliyattam, a ritual dance in Kerala to glorify the Goddess Kali. The girl ponders.  These are all rich, imaginative visual imagery glorifying nature. Nature is at its splendour. And don’t forget to notice that this is more like a casual, light hearted conversation among friends. Observant of the blessings of nature and sprinkling it with a touch of imagination and sharing it with friends. Do we have the time to see the beauty around us? Some may have… But does it go  beyond clicking a picture and passing on.. Do we have the time to paint a bright, colourful picture with words like the poet has done?

The last verse of the song brings out the playful spirit of the young girls. The girl sees two spotted cuckoos getting into a cluster of creepers. She wonders why they are getting into it. Is it to sing a hymn or to make an amorous talk? Don’t miss the juxtaposition of ideas here. During evenings, chanting hymns to Gods was a routine in those days. Singing hymns is immediately contrasted with the sweet talk of the cuckoo couple. After all, the song is sung by a young girl seen playing and dancing with her friends. So isn’t it quite natural to see her mischievous thoughts being revealed to her friends?

The poetic beauty in this song is so idyllic. The poet is romanticising nature through some simple visual treats in a melody. The lyrical quality of this song is unmatched and it will never be forgotten.