I grew up in an era when mobile phones, Internet, Wi-Fi and Uncle Google were unheard of. Uncle Google and not Google Baba because ‘Baba’ is no more cool. Doordarshan’s DD National was the only television channel accessible on the Weston television with the unusually pregnant picture tube and the wooden shuttered doors. Well-researched books written by learned scholars were our primary source of information. And since we did not have many distractions, our attention spans were long, our minds were sharper and our sensibilities were still alive.
But then I grew up in a house were everything was either sacred or taboo. We were kind of used to volcanic eruptions and the tectonic movements of the mood plates of our fathers, mothers and other elders of the house and neighbourhood. It was in class eighth that my best friend gifted me a copy of ‘Love Story‘ by Erich Segal. The moment I showed it excitedly to Amma, hell broke loose. And I couldn’t read the book till I graduated from college. Our family friends took us to the cinema theatre for the movie Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. One of my friends was crazy about Madhuri Dixit and the other one was mad after Salman Khan. But I did not enjoy the movie much because the moral police was sitting right next to me and tightening their grip on my wrist every time Salman and Madhuri acted cheeky. Imagine what would have happened when we first witnessed a French Kiss in this environment.
Cable television was a no-no at our place till Acha (Dad) ended his vanavasa and returned to India in July 1995. I appeared in my twelfth class boards while Acha jumped up and down at every four, six and wicket taken during the Cricket World Cup of 1996. Trust me, I learnt all about cricket much more ambitiously than Reproduction, Genetics and Evolution, Ecology, Trigonometry, Integral Calculus, Differential Equations, Matrices, Electricity, Magnetism or Optics.
In short, we would read gyaan-vardhak books like Knowledge Bank, Reader’s Digest, Champak, Chacha Chaudhary and Saboo, Tinkle, Pinki etc. And watch TV series like Surabhi, Bharat Ek Khoj, Bournvita Quiz Contest with Derek O’Brien, Quiz Time with Siddharth Basu, Oshin, Hum Paanch, Yeh jo hai zindagi, Hum Log and the likes. I so wanted to be like Renuka Shahane of Surabhi fame. Her ever smiling face and that Namaskaar, her confidence, her enthusiasm and passion with which she performed. Class apart. And her sarees!! I adored her sarees even in that B/W television.
It was during our summer vacations that I had hardly anything to do other than write my journal entries, roam around the compound of the house, read Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha or help everyone with household chores or preparations for one or the other poojas. My favourite outing place was the Sarpa Kavu (abode of the snakes).
To read the story about the Sarpa Kaavu’s influence on my life, click on the image or the link below.
Since I grew up in an environment where only deities, poojas and personal and mythological stories were shared, slowly but surely I started having a love affair with mythology. My mind was full of questions but I wasn’t supposed to ask. Who questions Gods, culture and tradition? Not good girls from reputed families. They were only supposed to listen and obey. But then I was not the one that could have been tied for long.
Most of my free time was spent gazing at the Sarpa Kavu or the Thozhuthu (cattle shed) where Sundari Pashu stayed. Either from the terrace or from Sachumama’s bedroom window or sitting at the Ammikallu (grindstone) in the Pinnanburam (backyard). I could see a few stone idols placed on a small elevated platform, all made of black stone. Some of them definitely looked like snakes. But there was another one that I couldn’t make out. It looked like a human body. There was a two-feet boundary wall to this enclosure which nobody was supposed to cross except the Namboothiri on the pooja day. I have seen Ammamma running towards the back door and screaming at the new house help as she was about to empty the sauce pan into the Sarpa Kavu after brooming the front yard and the back yard. I almost thought she was going to be killed for this unintentional sin.
You can read my adventures with Sundari Pashu here on Withered Dreams Revisited.
Forbidden Fruit is Sweetest.
One afternoon, while everyone else in the house was enjoying their siesta, a little girl ventured out stealthily through the back door from the kitchen. Right next to it was this Sarpa Kavu. Yes. I have entered the Sarpa Kavu many a times till I actually saw a King Cobra with his hood spread wide. I still remember how I ran from there as it hissed. That was the last time I ever ventured out alone even within the compound of the house.
Once Ammamma and I were alone in the house for a day. I think I was about fourteen or fifteen at that time. I gathered courage and asked her why we were not supposed to enter the Sarpa Kavu. I think she was also tired of shutting me up again and again and finally bothered to tell me this.
This house of ours was built on a land where there was a famous Mana (house of Namboothiris or priests). The astrologer had informed our ancestors that the place was occupied by a Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal (snakes) and we were supposed to regularly pray to them and please them by performing monthly poojas on Ayilyam nakshathram (one of the twenty seven lunar mansions or constellations).
But who are Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal?
Stay tuned to my post on Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal under the #MythicalMondays series on next Monday.