Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Great Indian Heritage

This happened two decades ago in Calicut during July when the fury of southwest monsoon was at its peak.Ours was an old house , 92 years of age. 
 Like most traditional  tiled- roof houses in Kerala , ours  too  was  was surrounded by open compound spaces  with some coconut palms, arecanut trees, jackfruit and mango trees which provided cool shade  in hot months and soaked up all rain water in monsoon.During monsoon,the advancing  dark clouds hastily  obliterated the sun lending an ethereal  like glow  of twilight even at midday making it a visual feast. The sound of rain falling on the roof provided a musical treat.The smell of earth and gurgling sounds of flowing water, the rain- drenched palms swaying in the wind seemed a heady mix.  I was young and began enjoying the monsoon , despite the inconveniences  of   high humidity,muddy pathways, slippery verandahs, wet laundry,  mossy walls  flooded streets, choked drains, dangers from snapping of overhead electric wires, loss of crops  and  damage from falling trees. 
That monsoon, it had rained nonstop for 48 hours with no letup. I was sitting in the open verandah reading the news paper. It was almost 10 a.m but the overpowering dark clouds gave no indication of time.I got up and went in to get myself a hot cup of tea. Then I heard a huge thud - The loudest and longest I ever heard in my life. the loud rattling , creaking, grinding, wailing of crashing beams, followed by  blasting sounds of splitting roof tiles ending with the  agonising crunch of total destruction. I stood rooted on the spot. stunned unable to comprehend. And then I saw it all. The majestic mango tree  in the backyard had crashed on the roof, smashed through the wooden rafters  supporting the tiles and broughtdown the frame  of the roof down!!Our roof  in the western and southern side was gone . Rain poured right into the house. And then I screamed and screeched in panic  without stop.
Neighbours and passers by rushed in . Watching me scream they asked if anyone was  lying buried under the heap of debris.I shook my head in reply. I was visualising myself lying dead mangled under this debris.. I was gone only for a minute when this happened, I could have been under it. 

After  long hours of mourning, when the nerves were calm,the focus shifted to crisis management --- emergency was declared ,all activities halted ,other plans cancelled with sole aim of clearing tons of  debris and repairing  the roof.An  ageing but expert carpenter -Assari- as known in local parlance,  was  hurriedly awarded the contract of restoring the roof as per the original design.. He dutifully arrived with his team and surveyed the colossal damage, prepared a list of items to be purchased and  gave the  cost estimates. 
 I was getting restless for the work to start. A little later when I went to consult him, I saw him standing facing east, his eyes closed in meditation , his palms joined in veneration praying .
I stopped short and waited in silence till he  finished and opened his eyes. . Then I saw his moist eyes.  With great humility he said, ' amma, I was seeking the blessings of the  Assari  who built this magnificent structure. For, without the predecessor's permission and blessings , I dare not repair this. His spirit will guide me in the restoration work. '
 Once more bowing his head deeply towards the unseen spirit of his predecessor, he picked up his tools  and began work- rap, tap, snap,  pop, knock, thump, plump, slam, bang, clang-- thereafter the house was full of  such hammering sounds till the roof was restored to the original glory.
 While his dedication in work brought cheer to the mind,  the more ennobling  experience was the sublime gesture in the Assari's humble prayer which almost drenched the soul!!

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Thoughts and Voices by Radha Iyer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.