I was born in 1942 in a village called Pavattakkudi in Tanjore District, Tamilnadu. This village. where I was born was most under developed then, without any proper road, not even a metal road, leave aside asphalt topped or cemented. When we are enjoying air condition in every room now, we did not have even electricity on our school days. No toilets, no bath rooms, in any house. There were no taps and we never hesitated to drink open well waters, river and tank waters, where people were bathing, washing their clothes and even cleaning after toileting. Buffaloes, bulls and cows were cleaned on one side of the tank, men and women were bathing on the other side, simultaneously, washing their clothes and some were cleaning their backside after toileting and many other activities were going on in the tank, which was at the entry point of our village. To imagine those things now, may be scaring, but we were taking these things casual without any hesitations or reservations.
While battery operated tooth brushes are used today, we knew nothing about tooth paste or brush. We were mostly cleaning our teeth either with a neem tree stick or ashes from the kitchens and our index finger was the brush. We get up in the morning and walk away from our homes to the nearby paddy fields to pass our motions. If it is cultivation days, and the fields were having crops, either the ridges of the fields or some uncultivated tank bounds are used for this purpose.
There used to be lot of trees with thorns in these places and to walk there without thorns piercing your foot or not placing your foot on shit is really an exercise apart from finding a place without shit for us to sit and complete the process.
Immediately, after this we used to jump into the tank and take bath. We never used any soap except rubbing our body forcibly with our hands to clear the dust and dirt if any. This type of bath made us experts in swimming. No boy or girl was taught swimming in our village, but it came automatically to us like fish. We used to do all sort of swimming, what you see now a days in LCD TVs by Olympic champions, on those days without any effort. We used to do another special feet, which even Olympic swimmers are not doing. We will swim across rivers, when we were going to our school by walk, by holding our book bags in one hand above the water. Only one hand and legs alone were used to swim across tthe river with medium current. There were some boys who used to have his younger brother or sister on his back in addition to the book bags.
After bath we wash our half pant ( most of us will not be wearing shirts except while going to school) and walk back home. These half pants generally made in khaki or dark blue colours, will not have any buttons, after three or four washings. We used to tie the half pant with their one and half end and walk. Few of us who were trying to become sophisticated, used to borrow safety pins from our mothers and pin the button joining end.
We were not used to any under garments and do not even press our school dress (which were not uniforms). Occasionally, we used to put some heated charcoal in a vessel which has a flat base and move it over the shirt after spraying some water on it, or fold them and keep them under pillow, while sleeping to remove the shrinkage, which used to be to the worst possible condition, due to the maximum twisting to remove the water after washing. Washing the dress means only hitting them repeatedly with force on a rocky stone which was the cause for losing the buttons in two three washings.
Coffee was a luxury to many families in the village, but in our home, there was no problem for that. My father was a coffee addict, and the coffee seed is the one thing, he will get some how or the other. I used to wonder, where from he gets the money for this alone. We may not have many provisions at home, but, never without coffee seeds. My mother used to roast it and my father with lot of love in his face, meticulously grind with hand, the seed to powder in a small machine fitted in a small table.
We used to drink coffee on those days only after praying to all known Gods, by uttering their names as our guard (துணை) unlike bed coffee or with newspaper, now a days.. Most of the days the rice cooked previous day soaked in water in the night, mixed with curd will be our breakfast. (This photo was taken with my younger sister and brother at Peralam. We applied lot of powder and walked four miles in hot sun around 2.00 P.M and all the way ladies in many villages , were calling their friends to see us and cracking some jokes among themselves. See my sister's hands. She applied nail polish and thought it will be displayed in the photo not realising it was going to be a black and white photo. That was the peak of our innocence. May be ignorance also. )
With all the poverty and suffering, my mother used to make dosas quite often, since my father goes to the field after drinking about half or more of a litre of coffee. There was no problem for milk, curd and ghee at home, since we were owning cows and buffaloes. There were days we used to have ghee for chilly powder with curd rice ( this was always cooked fresh ) for lunch, since we might have not got oil at home, and I used to feel proud, when my school friends say, " Hi ! this fellow is very rich. Having ghee for "Milagaai podi" (chilly powder)."
My mother used to make very soooft [ because of mixing more black gram and fenugreek seeds (வெந்தயம்)] but thick dosas with ghee ( once again due to non availability of oil) and will send to my father who will be in the field supervising labourers, not less than 25 or 30 dosas. My younger brother was always very fast and my sister will also start very quickly. Most of the days, I will be starting late, waiting for the school fee ( since I was in High school ) or for money to purchase some books or note books, not understanding that the money is not going to come, just because I stay, cry or beg my mother. After, all my efforts are exhausted, I will start very late, and by the time I just cross the border of my village, wiping the tears from my eyes, my class teacher Mr. Amirtham, who was also from my village, will be overtaking me by cycle. He will reach the school in time, because of cycling and mark me present in the attendance. I will reach school, just before the completion of the first period
We used to walk to the school at Peralam, which was about four miles away from our village. Chappals or shoes were unimaginable on those days. School had mostly thatched roofs. for the classes and only Head master's room was with tiles. The school was having co-education system, that means admission for both boys and girls. In a class of 40 students, only 10 or 12 were girls.
( to be continued )