Today morning it came back to me. And it made me feel good and light yet again. It is still there in my mind as a song and is occasionally flowing over to my lips. And it will be with me until i go to sleep tonight. perhaps even tomorrow. That's how it usually is. When it comes, i dont feel like letting it go very soon. I feel like a kid who wants to eat the chocolate in his hand but does not want it to get over, and so slowly bites the smallest possible pieces from it, enjoying every bit of its sweetness.
I do not remember when exactly it first came to me. My sister and I were children beginning to discover that this world is made of people. lamguage, music, stories, ghosts and so many other interesting things. One day our father brought an audio cassette with him. On the front was a photo of an old man with spectacles and a serious face. Father told us that he is Edassery Govindan Nair, the famous Malayalam poet And that the cassette has in it his most wonderful poem. We listened it to it. And we fell in love with it. We listened to it again and again. And we loved it more and more.
Poothappaattu. The Ballad of Pootham.
We loved the story which was simple, touching. mythical and magical. Father told us the summary of the story. It is about the mischievous and cruel Pootham (s supernatural being) who feels fondness for Unni (a child) and tries to keep him with her. And how Nangeli (the mother) gets back her son from Pootham. And how Pootham mends its ways and tries to find Unni's home just to see him. Father also told us that Poothams used to visit his home, when he was a child, every year during Makaram (month in the malayalam calendar which starts around Jan 15). He used to join others in asking the Pootham "Unniye veno (do u want Unni?) " without knowing the myth behind it. Until he came across this poem.
Repeated hearing helped us pick up the details. The words were simple and understable, to a good extent, even to children. We were sour with Pootham for her mischief and cruelty. We were as happy as the mother when she heaped love and care upon her thankakudam (dear child). We were along side Unni when he walked to school enjoying the scenery around. We were suspicious about Pootham's fondness-at-first-sight for the child. We were amazed at how cunningly she got Unni to throw away his ezhuthaani (iron pen). We sympathized with and prayed for the mother when she set out in search for her child. We stood by her in her courageous confrontation with Pootham. We despised Pootham's cruel and dirty attempts to ward her off. We cried at the sacrifice that the mother offered to Pootham. We joined her in her rage when the Pootham tries to give her a duplicate child. We adored her for her strength, persistence and will power. We rejoiced at her eventual victory and Pootham's defeat. We were almost in happy tears when the mother kissed her son again and again when she got him back. And then when we were about to feel the good-defeated-evil joy, we felt sympathy for the fallen Pootham. Her love for the child suddenly seemed genuine. Her conversion to a non-harmful, despondent being and her desperate and continuing search for finding Unni's home to see him, and the humiliation she faces during the search washed away every bit of hate and despise we had for her. At the end of the poem what was left was just tenderness and love.
We loved the musical and soulful rendering of it by V.K. Sasidharan. His voice defined the mood, the feelings, the the expressions of the characters as much as the lines did. His voice was soft and tender when he described affection and love, high and pounding when he described anger and indignation and so on. There was good melody and it was non-repetitive. And to add to it that heart-reaching sound of the idakka (a hour-glass shaped drum) in the background. One day at the Kollam Railway Station, we see a man in jubba and mundu, and with a sanji, lying on one of the benches. Father identifies him to be Sasidharan sir himself. Was it the Poothappaattu on his lips? We go and greet him and tell him that we simply love the poem.
We loved the imagery too. The village setting. The big house near the river. Parayan's hill, the rocks, the slopes. Cows, cowherds and shades of trees . Red thechi flower popping out from amongst the greenery and smiling. The owls who come out of the nests and ask what the matter is. The moon which comes lazily dancing. The forms that Pootham take to drive away the mother. We knew our father identified more with it because he himself had grown up in a village where he had to walk long to reach school and with its own myths. But we also had a small connection. Just like Nangeli who stands at the padippura (entrance) looking at her son walking to school until he was completely out of sight, we also had a mother who stood at our gate looking at us go to school until our rickshaw was out of sight.
Years later. My first stay away from home. REC Calicut. There was many a thing about home that i missed in those days. And in that list among the top there was this cassette. The words came back to me time and again and i began to realize how much i loved it. One day as i was roaming around near Palayam bus stand, i entered a cassette shop. And i saw Edassery's again ona cassette. The face had a certain degree of compassion in it. I felt. I brought poothappaattu to my hostel but had to wait for some time to hear it as i had no player. One day i was in a friend's room where there was a player, and there was no one there so i thought no one would be disturbed and i listened to it. And woke up the north indian neighbour who came and asked"yeh kya gaana hai bhai, thoda volume kam karo na?".
I reached Bangalore without the cassette, for it had not lasted long. But the poem continued to visit me often. Not a single Onam, a vishu, a kerala formation day passed without it. Whenever i think deep of my mother tongue and land, it comes to me. It has come to symbolize simplicity, good heart, motherly love. and a lot more. It is nostalgic and inviting. Whenever it comes i feel that the world has just become simpler and more beautiful/
Now it is there on the Internet as well. Check out if interested or curious.