By Aishwariya Laxmi
When Sir Vidia, better known as V.S .Naipaul, won the Nobel prize for literature, the question of his roots came to the fore. All of us wanted to call him an Indian, since it would mean bringing glory to our country. Naipaul has stayed in Trinidad and written about the place as well, just as he has about India. All of us clamouring to call him ‘our own’ in a desperate bid to catch a piece of the action, was rather pathetic considering his own statements of belonging to the world and caustic observations about India.
Another celebrity, a designer, Anand Jon on the other hand is from Chennai. His impressive client list includes Mary G. Blige, Oscar nominated actors, Nadja Swarovski, Presidents and Prime Ministers the world over. When I interviewed him about his roots for a piece for Madras Plus, he could trace his roots to Madras-his vivid recollections of sneaking out into houses at 4 a.m to listen to heavy metal, to be replaced by bhajans at 7a.m have a “bitter sweet lucid quality”. He also goes on to say that the ground where his grandparents were buried, in Kilpauk is sacred to him. He recalls the temples, kanchipuram silks, the dosas, besant nagar beach, street brawls-In his own words, his roots in Madras are mischievous, melancholic, yet powerful.
Do we really take time out to acknowledge the influences in our lives and importance of our roots?
I trace my roots to Madras. I was born in Nagercoil, Kanyakumari District, but have no recollection of that place. What I do remember are my childhood days spent here in Madras. I spent the first 12 years of my life in Chennai. I used to be a bookworm until I learned what it was like to have friends. I used to frequent a library with my mother and borrow books, which I would start reading even before reaching home. One day, the daughter of the librarian invited me to join her gang for a game of hide and seek. On that day, began a lifelong friendship, which has given me wonderful memories to look back on and smile.
We were a gang of five who formed the A.F Club. A.F standing for Adventurous Five. Inspired by the exploits of the children in the Enid Blyton books, we would look for clues and try to solve mysteries. Most of the time the investigation would involve tailing or shadowing suspicious looking men on bicycles. At that point in our lives, anyone with a moustache was considered a suitable candidate for categorising as ‘suspicious’. We also used to sit outside the library singing English pop songs. I would cycle up to my friend’s house and go up to her terrace from where we would make catapults and target annoying boys from our respective schools as they passed by in the evenings. They would in turn deflate the air from my bicycle in school, and thus the war between the girls and the boys went on.
We went swimming in the evenings and did our handstands in the pool. We would stand upside down in the shallow end of the pool with only our legs sticking out of the water, and hold our breath, to see who could do it the longest. We threw ‘parties’ in my house which happened to be the headquarters of the A.F. Club, and invited our non-A.F members to come and enjoy themselves as we performed dances for popular film numbers for which the planning and organising went on weeks in advance. Of course, snacks and drinks were also provided. On birthdays, we would organise treasure hunts across the neighbourhood and teams of little girls and boys could be seen rushing about from place to place looking for the grand treasure, which would be a box of sweets.
What we looked forward to the most were our annual excursions to Mahabalipuram. My parents would drive us kids to the beach resort where we would play in the water from 6. a.m to 1. 30 p.m and come out looking like black, dried prunes. We used to plan months in advance as to which tapes we would take in the car and what we would do upon reaching there. All this would be hastily forgotten as soon as we saw the cool beckoning blue waters of the sea. We were quite the water babies.
These golden memories are all part of who I am today. …No matter where we go in life, it is important to remember where we came from.