Bits of bygones

Bits of bygones

One of my friends announced that she and her family were treated to a bullock cart ride in a chic holiday resort. Growing up in a village, I never dreamt that there would come a day when we would pay a ransom for a slow and bumpy cart ride. But, the winds of change and modernity have swept India. With more than 75 percent of the population speaking on mobile phones, rusticity no longer comes to mind. 

Occasionally, I hear the familiar sound of the nadaswaram (olaga/valaga in Kannada) played by the appanggallai or the bull man, and it transports me back to the time of my life when it was a norm. The bull with decorated horns, hump and sometimes even the legs, sways its head when the master talks to it. Back then, the appanggallai, snake charmers, kodangi (the man with a small drum), the bear man, or even the whip man were in plenty. 

The kodangi or the kudukudupandi came early mornings. Believed to be soothsayers, they stood outside the house and made their predictions loudly. They were nomads who wore colourful clothes and learnt the art of foretelling by word of mouth. No one shooed away a kodangi, and a cup of rice or coin was always donated. As kids we dreaded his arrival that was marked by the noise of the drum.

But, the one man who always fascinated the kids in my village was the karadi man, who walked along the narrow lanes of my village, parading a little black bear whose muzzle was covered by a rough cloth. An iron chain clung around the neck, used as a leash. The village folks believed that the bear had magical powers to help children overcome their fears. 

The whipping man, however, was disgusting. I could never stomach the fact that a man could whip himself up while a woman went about drumming. 

But, there are pleasant memories from my village, like chewing onto the readily available of sugar cane. On  a rare occasion, when we visited the town next door, we would indulge in ice cold, refreshing sugar cane juice. Now, the city is full of kabbu stalls that cater to new India. 

Hence, it is hard to find sugar cane juice extracted in a unique way. Along the highway off Pune is the juice vendor whose bull helps him extract the juice. It pulls a long lever that in turn sets the rollers in motion and squeezes the juice. It thrills me that these juicers exist for us to witness and savour. But then, there are probably scores of unique sights that are special to our country.

On a hot summer afternoon, I met two men who had a box dangling along their shoulders. Curiosity got the better of me, and I found out that they were cleaners  of not any kind but cleaners of ears! 

As I watched them, one thing struck a chord — they reminded me of where we come from. The mobile phones they were carrying told me about the contrasting times we live in. We may have the world’s largest population using mobile phones, but ours is the only nation that continues to thrive on contrasts. 

While I still dread the kodangi and pray that people have stopped whipping themselves, or that the bears are safe in the forests, a small part of me smiles because I have been a witness to the changing times. As for the ear cleaners, I hear that there are men who are into stranger professions. Perhaps, I should look around for more magic to unfold.

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