My interpretation of what interests and confounds me ....

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Young Man and the Ambalakulam

(A piece to celebrate the 80th birthday of my dear Dad)

(NOTE: Several terms that may seem unfamiliar to the uninitiated have been amplified in the glossary at the end of this narrative)

Most of us would perhaps be familiar with the classic “The Old Man and the Sea”, that poignant rendition by Earnest Hemingway, that recounts in stark details the pangs of a man who finds his loved ones and friends deserting him as he ages. At the risk of sounding pompous, I intend to exploit poetic licence and paraphrase that work of art, to describe a person that I have known since I was born. Well, maybe not for that entire duration (since my recollection of the first three or four years of my existence is really a blur), but I can safely vouch for at least the last 45 years or so.

So, while you gather your wits and try to guess my age from that teaser, let me move on, and try to unravel the mystery of that rather esoteric title of my work “The Young Man and the Ambalakulam”.

As a common phrase, “old man’’ is rather a demeaning form of addressing anyone. That’s the reason the title of this piece has been paraphrased. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the phrase is used to refer only to men (“old man”, talk about gender sensitivity!), for women are not expected to grow old, rather, they age gracefully. But, we will reserve that discussion for another day!

All of you who had known this bon vivant gentleman, my father, Achutha Warrier, from Padinjare Warriam, Velur, am sure would agree to the fact that here’s a bloke who believes in living his life to the fullest. Not for him the repentance and self-pitying mode of existence that many a person resorts to, at the first hints of trouble in ones life. He would rather take life by the scruff of the neck, give it a few whacks and shakes, and force it to fall in line with his scheme of things. More often than not, this philosophy of his has paid rich dividends.

Here’s a man who takes care of his demeanour, his poise (despite his once in a while outbursts), his looks, his sartorial ensemble, his perception of what is right and wrong, in short, anything and everything that has a vague connection to his persona. For instance, I won’t be exaggerating in my claim that he doesn’t look a day over forty; OK, make that 45, if you are so fastidious. In fact in the looks department, this youngish looking dad can give many a man, half his age (yours truly included), a run for their money. Look at his jet black mane, his trim waist, and his vivacious outlook to life. I would give my right arm, and some, to be able to emulate that at his age. But, then, he has always been like that!

His passion for life has to be seen to be believed. Despite several early setbacks in his life (like not having a full-time father, and losing his mother to illness early on in his married life), he has been a pillar of strength to several of his peers and siblings.

My Achan left the secure confines of his home at the rather tender age of fifteen, to pursue a diploma in electrical engineering at Thrissur. This was followed by a job in Kottayam (those days considered the back-of-the-beyond). That couldn’t satisfy the ambitious Achu’s quest for better things in life. Thus, as a youngish twenty something, this lad from the heart of Kerala, landed up in Bhilai, to work at its famous steel plant. The rest, as they say, is history.

He lend his heart and soul to his job at the steel plant. Whatever spare time he had in hand, was devoted to enhance the social, cultural, and ethnic bonding of the malayalees in Bhilai. Observing him, I have had the privilege of learning that you must give it all you have to the task at hand. At the same time, he also taught me to work hard, play harder and live by a set of stringent ethical moorings.

His ear for the musical arts is something that I would like to believe that all of us (Aju (my younger brother), Mol (my younger sister, the youngest among the siblings), and I) have inherited. In fact, it seems to have seeped into the subsequent generation as well. And he’s pretty unbiased in his choice of genres; he would listen to the plaintive rendition of a Kamukara Purushottaman, with the same deference that he would pay to a Mohhamad Rafi number.

It would take rather long, if I start recounting here, every aspect of my Achan’s, that has touched my life. That will possibly have to be spread over the celebrations of his shatabhishekam, the navathi, and the event to mark his century on earth. But, here’s my humble hypothesis of why he is wired the way that he is. And, it’s here that I take recourse to the metaphor of the ambalakulam, that mass of water near Padinjare Wariam at Velur, that doubles up as the holy tank for the Velur Bhagavati.

The moment he enters the precincts of that ambalakulam, my Achan is a transformed entity. The vibrancy, vivacity and the sheer exuberance with which he launches into the pool is unexplainable in mere words and phrases. It’s as if he’s a man possessed. To this day, when he sets foot at the ambalakulam, he would rather challenge the pool with a somersault, and take on the denizens of the pool on a competitive race to the finish, than acquiesce and do a graceful lap of its length. The ambalakulam releases a certain rush of adrenalin in him, the kind that a Chris Gayle feels when confronted with a half-volley or a flighted, short-of-length delivery. It has to be dispensed with, with the utmost disdain. No mercies there; none given, and none taken. Period!

I am sure that attitude is a result of dogged perseverance during the initial years, when the going would have been tough, and the odds of coming up trumps rather low. But thanks to sheer tenacity, survival instincts and the will to succeed, here’s a striking example of a completely self-made man, who, despite the success in life, never for a moment lost the roots, or the love of his brethren. That quality of his, I am sure you would all agree, is what endears him to all of us.

I am thankful to you, dear Achan, for those fabulous genes that you have passed on to me. That DNA of yours not only helps me look and feel good, but more importantly, it bestows a rare combination of skills, tact, diplomacy, and the will to live it up, come what may. For that, I would remain beholden to you for life. Here’s wishing the 80 year old young man, several years of healthy, happy and contented life. Ladies and gentleman, please join me in raising a toast to one of the most vivacious, daring, unassuming yet devil-may-care human being that I have had the pleasure of being associated with, my father, my janani and my constant sounding board, Velur Achutha Warrier.

Ambalakulam - literally the temple pond; it is sacred (considering that it belongs to the temple). It is the place where the dwellers near the temple perform their ablutions.
Padinjare Wariam - My Dad's ancestral home. Warriam is the abode of Warriers. My father is a Warrier, and you guessed it, I am one, too.
Velur - The village where my Dad was born and brought up. (Malayalees, traditionally, prefix the name of their village/town etc. to their names).
Achu - Dad's pet name.
Shatabhishekam - 84th birthday; specially relevant, since one would have lived through 1000 full moons.
Navati - 90th birthday.
Velur Bhagawati - The reigning deity at the famous temple at Velur, right next to my Dad's ancestral home.
Achan - endearing term for Dad (in Malayalam)

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