The moment I said this, the whole house erupted in laughter. Then my mom corrected me saying, “Pudhu Mami odu oor per Sambavar Vadakarai…seriya chollu…Sambavaaar Vadakarai…”
Yes that was the town from where my eldest mama’s bride, Savithri mami hailed from. We were all supposed to go for the wedding, one extra large extended family travelling together all the way from Adoni, in Andhra Pradesh right up to Tenkasi, Tamilnadu. I still remember that time very fondly, October 1980. Perhaps the best weather to be in any part of South India.
We were a team of about more than 22 people from Adoni alone, all travelling with a whole lot of baggage which was much our birthright considering that attending a kalyanam needed us all to be dressed for the occasion. Taatha had got my brother and myself, two pair of pants and shirts specially stitched for this, which was such a special privilege for us in our otherwise modest childhood.
The train ordinarily would have just a 2-minute halt at Adoni, since it was not a Junction and getting 22 people in with their luggage, including women and children was no mean task. However Taatha had his way and a polite conversation with the Station Master earned us an extra 2 minutes. Such was my taatha, Venkataraman’s clout, which he never acknowledged in public though.
A Kalayanam party in a train pretty much owns the entire bogey and we were no different. From impromptu song sessions to long hours of playing 56, the elders seemed to have a ball of a time. I was 10 years old at that time and my brother about 7 years. But we young brigade had a time of our know being fussed over with nai appams, murukkus and a wholesome feast of home cooked lemon rice, thenga chaddam, puliyogare and thair chaddam all neatly packed in eat and throw potlums.
Trains in those times were not as comfortable and convenient. AC was unheard of and first class was unaffordable. Toilets were always a problem, but mom had trained us well to hold on for the big job at night when less people tended to use the toilet. Most of our travel would ordinarily happen during summer vacations between the months of April and May and all our train memories had one word as standard, “Sahikya mudhiyatha Choodu” (Unbearable Heat). However since we were travelling in the middle of October, things were really pleasant.
My dad was a treat to be with in our train journeys and he would not miss spotting a Wheeler’s book stall in a station and buy us lots and lots of Amar Chitra Katha comics that would keep us occupied for days together. And since we were slated to travel all the way to Tenkasi, the comics that got added to our collection was a record number.
Sambavar vadakarai we learnt was a Panchayat town in Tirunelveli district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Sambavar Vadakarai was part of Kingdom of Travancore before 1956. The name of this place refers to the caste named Sambavar who were the ancient priests of lord Shiva.
Tenkasi we were told was one of the municipalities in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, India and it is the second largest town in Tirunelveli district. It is located in the foothills of the Western Ghats near Courtallam. The translation of ‘Tenkasi’ means ‘Kasi of the south’ referring to the Kasiviswanathar temple.
In Chennai we were joined by more members and suddenly our family looked to be big enough to fill up a whole bogey. Trains were supposed to be changed at Chennai which meant going through the familiar drill of picking your bags without leaving anything behind and getting into the new train. However since this train started at from Madras Central time was on our side.
Chennai saw the entry of Raja mama, who was the Kamalahasan of our family. He was the most jovial and cracked a lot of jokes that kept us all in fine spirits. Then our entire mama gang, Raja, Kannan, Hari, Santosh, Ravi, Balan and Chinna Moorthy came together to render their very own version of the then famous song from ‘Oru Talai Raagam’ sung by Malaysia Vasudevan.
“Koodaiyilae Karuvaadu, Koondhalilae Pookkaadu Koodaiyilae Karuvaadu, Koondhalilae Pookkaadu Ennaadi Porutham Aaya, Emborutham Ithap Pola Thaalamilla Pin Paattu Ahh Haaa Thaalamilla Pin Paattu, Thattu Ketta Enn Koothu Ennuyir Rosa Engadi Pora Maamalar Vandu Vaadudhu Ingu, Ammane Hey Ammane”
They made such a cacophony of that song that had Malaysia Vasudevan heard it he would have announced his retirement. The highlight of the performance was the rendition of the chorus which in the movie was performed by eunuchs. And here were a bunch of males who were trying to better that.
“Pozhudhoda Kozhi Koovura Vela Raasathi Raasan Vaarandi Munney Pozhudhoda Kozhi Koovura Vela Raasathi Raasan Vaarandi Munney” Once in Tenkasi, things got even more grand. The welcoming brigade was huge with getti melam, and a never-ending amount of garlands. A whole lot of transportation options were in offer and depending on pre-decided protocols the hierarchy of choice was decided. Maapillay with Father Mother and two children, a nephew or niece will travel in the white Ambassador. The rest will be privy to a fleet of cycle rickshaws and Tongas. All luggage will be transported in a jhaddka vandi, the equivalent of a goods train in the tonga category.
The kalyanam went off very smoothly and we even got to visit the famous courtralam waterfalls. It was barely the next day when we were all ready to leave, taking with us our very beautiful kalyana poonu, our mami and a monumental amount of luggage that included all things possible given from the Ponnathakara. Unfortunately our train back to Chennai was supposed to halt in Tenkasi only for a few minutes and this time around Taatha’s clout exceeded his jurisdictions. Luggage goes in first, then the women and children and then everyone else was the rules set.
Unfortunately in the pandemonium that followed my new chappal fell off as I tried to board the train and I got no chance to retrieve it. I was feeling scared to tell my mom or dad and at the same time extremely uncomfortable wearing just one chappal. My youngest mama Ravi, gave me a friendly advise, “Bell bottom pant ke adhela onnode cherpu aaruku terriyum, Jolly a iru kondhe…train le yevalo per irrukanga…onnu size chappal kandippa kadikyum” (Relax dude, who would ever see a missing chappal in your flared bell bottom pants…and there are enough of people in this train, someone’s chappals will surely fit you”.
The return journey was marred with a lot of issues. For one the size of the group travelling back exceeded the number of reserved tickets we had. Adjust pannindu polam was Tatha’s call, but how would one explain the TC was a big question. But my Tatha was relaxed as ever and said the fun must not stop. Raja was summoned to take charge of fun and entertainment. Predictably the TC did not turn up for the night and we all slept in adjustments.
The food packets packed by the Poonathakaras was far too much. One thing that got everyone’s goat was the breakfast packet that has Idlis doused with spicy mollagipodi. This podi was so fiery that even we die hard spice lovers couldn’t stomach it. The ladies of the house made sure that children refrained from eating it which meant we began our day eating lemon rice and curd rice.
To our misfortune, as soon as the train docked the next station, the TC entered sending an SOS in our compartment. He started to look at the crowded bogey and went around asking us to show our reservations. Taatha was trying to hold the fort by engaging him in a know our family conversation. But this man was clearly not amused. All of a sudden my dad came into the picturing gesturing my mom for some idli packets. She handed over him a couple, which he opened and quickly went to up to the TC and started to speak to him in chaste English.
“Try some Kalayanam Breakfast….special Idlis and Molagaipodi from Tenkasi. You should have this….” The TC fell for it and started to dig into one. By the time he finished the first one he realized what he had got himself in for. He proceeded to say enough..I will pass, but my dad would not hear no…he said, “Please don’t waste food sir..at least finish the other two… “. The poor guy had no choice but to eat the other two and by the time he finished them his stomach was on fire. Sweating profusely he drank up a Kooja full of water and then disappeared in the loo. When he emerged again, my dad asked him, “Saar Can I offer you Puliogarai rice?”. That was the last time we saw the TC ever again.
A major reservation crisis was averted and we all travelled together as one family without being checked even once. The song and dance continued and this time my eldest mama, Moorthy the groom broke into our family song for the event…sung specially for my mami….
Aayirathil Neeye Onnu, Naanarinja Nalla Ponnu Aayirathil Neeye Onnu, Naanarinja Nalla Ponnu Maayurathu Kaalai Onnu, Paadudhadi Mayangi Ninnu Oadathedi Savithri Ahh Haaaa, Oodathedi Savithri Umm Manasil Yaaroadi, Ennuyir Rosa Engadi Pora Maamalar Vandu Vaadudhu Ingu, Ammane Hey Ammane
Everybody seemed to have a jolly good time, but as Madras Central approached my fears only got worse. I was still without my chappal. I went and confessed the whole thing to one of my Tatha’s brothers who had a liking for me. He looked at me and said, “ Naan contact lens pootu karen aadhu onaku kaanar dho? Illaya aapdi nee contact chappals potind irken chollu…yaarukum kaanadhu”
(I wear contact lenses which you cannot see right? Similarly tell everyone that you are wearing contact chappals which no one can see.)