Beyond the Sixth – A Chequered Journey – 1

“There are many forms of love
as there are moments in time, and
you are capable of feeling them
all at different stages of your life.”
Shannon Alder

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The Riddle of the Unknown Sound

When I was 10, I used to go to sleep after sitting in my old worn-out country mat and spend a minute with closed eyes praying “Ma Durga, please do not show yourself in my dream.” It was, I remember now, a consistent habit for two or three months, which if I forgot to do every night, would make me shiver, in fear, making the night sleepless. The reason was my mother telling me of some incidents about her mother-in-law.

I was living in a village in South India, famed for a goddess temple dedicated to a particular fierce (but benevolent) form of the Mother Deity, the Devi Ma. Stories abound on Her marvellous blessings to the thronging devotees and healings of chronic health problems and infectious diseases. I was born into a family of the priestly class who are pure vegans, virtuous and revered by the people of the village, irrespective of their religious faith.

It was a typical rural setting but having excellent access to a small agrarian town 6 km away which is famed for arts, music, dance, drama, poetry, manufacture of Veena, (the famous stringed musical instrument that you would have seen in portraits of Ma Saraswathi, the goddess of speech, education, arts and wisdom holding this instrument), manufacture of colourful silk sarees.

Surrounded by streets with performing artists, I used to wake up at 5 or 6 AM in my childhood to the beautiful playing of Carnatic ragas with the wind instrument Nadhaswara and the rhythmic beating of Thavil, a percussion instrument. It was always musical mornings for almost until I was 20. Such artists started to suffer, as the community slowly stopped asking them to perform in the family ceremonies and instead switched over to recorded music played over speakers using turn tables and radio sets. The artists either moved away to find greener pastures or had started to depend entirely on the poorly funded Hindu temples as the remaining place for performance to eke out a living.

Our house was a typical rural house but with a bigger accommodation. It was built with burnt clay bricks, with typical clearly marked front, middle and back portions with tiled roof and wooden pillars, cement floored with a open-roofed, but grilled, courtyard in the middle portion with a sunken (depressed) floor around 15 inches below the level of the other areas of the house. The open-roofed courtyard is a safe place in the middle of the house with an open sky. You can lie down in a bed and watch the sky. My mother’s mother-in-law slept there only every night.

On some nights, the elderly lady while sleeping (I did not ask whether she was in half-sleep, or real sleep: at age 10, I did not know the meaning of these questions) used occasionally to wake up from sleep midnight or later to mysterious sounds above the place where she slept, up above the grill-roof of the courtyard. This sort of sounds occurred frequently, she one day told my mother who woke up that day suddenly hearing such sounds and was afraid and asked the old lady what sound it was.

The old lady told her that she need not be afraid, she herself was hearing the sounds that day and many earlier days also, but avoided telling my mother what it was that created the eerie sounds. My mother had trusted the old lady and left it at that.

My mother had a similar experience again on another night some two months later, but this time my mother insisted on knowing what it was. It took a lot of repeated attempts before she could extract an answer to the riddle.


(More posts will be made as memories gather to a shape.)


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