Some memories don’t stand alone by themselves. They hold hands with and usher in others and before you know it, your entire life blossoms all over again with a different cynosure every time. How amusing it is to find a slightly different life pulled up in front of you every time based on what you started with. Like a vast flat landscape pinched by Providence’s hand and pulled up to create different scenes. How much we might try to isolate that one gem from the bag of glass marbles which we reach into! How much we claim to want just that as if it is merely the fall of Autumn, an ochre leaf which we can place between page 216-217, forget for a while and then exclaim in genuine joy in having found it after several years making your day smile with the same sunshine as that day when you had found this leaf. See? How can that leaf come alone to you without the sunshine of that day? That Tuesday, when you had asked L to meet you by the bridge and then she called to tell you that she would be late? When you were angry that she always did that but were forced to smile when that little boy ran behind his Golden Retriever, and in his wake, you saw this one leaf drunkenly trip over every passing waft on its way down to the dry earth? You walked up to it and picked it up thinking you would gift it to L. She would be touched, you had thought. She would be touched to know that you see her in everything in your life. She would, wouldn’t she? What happened afterwards perhaps shortens your smile now, but that day… how could it not warm your heart? That day when you ingenuously believed in the goodness of people and the sweetness of romance. That day and days thereafter dragged into your today by a single withered leaf skeleton, holding just a fragment of what it was that day, but fresh with the memories of that day, full, warm and still populated with that funnily fragrant canine still running after so many years. No, ladies and gents, memories aren’t as fragmented as we would like them to be.
Though we had a Murphy radio entertaining us through the early days of my life, all I remember of it is the rough cloth which covered the speakers. It was the colour of mustard and honey. I don’t even have a picture with it though there is this really cute picture of my sister sitting on it. Yes, the music systems of the yesteryears weren’t an iPod and people could actually sit on them (imagine someone sitting on your iPod Nano). Most of my recollections are from the time when we bought a National Panasonic two-in-one music system (the first in the entire family). I recall my uncle brining it with him to Bombay (where we lived) and I enjoyed it. When he was leaving, everyone told me that he was taking it back and what was placed on the shelf was actually a cardboard replica! I wept my heart out and perhaps even hated my uncle for doing this to me. I realised the prank later on, and felt rather stupid though infinitely more relieved that my music system was still with me. I listened to my first Michael Jackson and Madonna tracks on it (blue and white Maxwell brand cassettes).
But there are other genres which I was exposed to which seems to have defined my tastes and sensibilities. I would, surely, write about them some other day and would restrict this post to the collection of Ayyappa songs my father had. We rarely chose what was played, when he was around. He was the king of the house. When he wasn’t around or when he was involved in something else, we would play some of our choices. Given that we never bought tapes on our own (the concept of pocket money was sacrilegious) our selections were a subset of what he thought was good music albeit not his favourite. Dad’s collection of Ayyappa bhajans were nearly all sung by Yesudas (or Jesudas). His voice carried the melody and overflowing love that is vital for singing bhajans. I remember singing those bhajans in words made up to sound like the ones that were being sung. We understood none of the words nor their import, but somehow, in all that ignorance, we recognised Beauty and tried our best to mimic it in the hope that our hours be filled with the same goodness that we heard on tape.
Of the many songs that played through the chambers of my childhood, I will present and translate one of them. I do not know Malayalam (though I can understand the gist of a conversation) and hence, sought the help of a couple of Mallu friends (thanks to you, D). What I offer is to the best of what I carry with me. All errors welcome correction. Before you read my translation, I would request you to wait for the evening and when no one is at home, switch off the lights and listen to the attached song. Close your eyes, too. Once done please read the translation (yes, wipe those tears, too). I agree that the background score is not necessarily the most apt, but that is merely an infinitesimal blemish (like that on the moon). Nevertheless, it is far far more melodious than what is currently boomed out of speakers on roadsides during the Dec.-Jan. months (esp. in Madras). Sheesh!
Ninne kandu kothi theernoru kannukalundo
Ninne thozhuthu thripthiyadanja kaiyyukalundo
Ninne kumbittaashasamecha shirassukalundo
Ninte naamam paadi maduthoru naavukalundo
Ayyappa…ayyappa…swami ayyappa [Refrain]
Having glimpsed your beauty once, can anyone’s eyes be satiated?
Having prayed to your glory, can there be hands that have had enough?
Bowing down to your greatness, are there foreheads which won’t repeat [bowing]?
Is there a tongue which sang your praise and felt tired?
Ayyappa, Ayyappa, Lord Ayyappa!
Kandaal mathi vannidumo ninnude komala roopam
Kettaal mathi vannidumo ninnude keerthana jaalam
Kaduppamaanennaalum kerum karineelaadrikalil
Maduppu vannidumo manikanda chavittuvaan veendum
Ayyappa…ayyappa…swami ayyappa (refrain)
When my eyes see, all they see is your soft features.
When my ears listen, all they hear are praises sung to you.
However daunting the stride, I would still climb Karimala (Kari+aadri)
Can I ever tire, Manikanda, to climb your hill (to see you)?
Ayyappa, Ayyappa, Lord Ayyappa.
(Manikandan is one of the names of Lord Ayyappa and it also happens to be one of mine!!!)
Orikkal nin mala pon mala pookiya bhakthanu veendum
Orukkamalle bhagavaane pon padikal kereedaan
Thudichidum nin chaithannya palaazhiyile
Poonthein thirakalil mungi kulikkuvaan kothiyillaathavarundo
Ayyappa…ayyappa…swami ayyappa (refrain)
Having once been blessed with a trip up your golden hill
Aren’t they drawn to climbing it (the golden steps) all over again, Oh Lord!?
Oh Chaitanya! In your throbbing ocean of milk
Doesn’t everyone want to bathe in those nectar sweet waves?
Ayyappa, ayyappa, Lord Ayyappa.
Somehow, these songs and others remind me of a time when life was a lot simpler and filled with moments of joy. As we grow up, we seem to be empowered to rid our lives of difficulties and fill it with joy, but we seem to be largely incapable. Why else would people always miss those days?