The sprawling backyard of the house in our native town had a big banyan tree. It housed a colony of creatures, ranging from squirrels to sparrows. Another plant that amazed us was the touch-me-not that would fold its leaves when touched.
Reading the dos and don’ts experts prescribe nowadays for battling the coronavirus, I am awestruck at the similarity to those my grandparents observed. Getting up early in the morning, my grandma would take a bath using water drawn fresh from the well. Her sari and blouse would be washed simultaneously. The wet clothes would be spread over a clothesline reserved for her, from which she would collect the set that had dried from the previous day. Once she was draped in them, she would become ‘untouchable’ till she finished her puja and cooking. Attired in those crisp clothes, she would move about avoiding contact with children running helter-skelter, butting with one another like mountain goats.
If any contact was established, she would have to take a bath again. The mischievous among them, including me, would threaten to brush against her if she did not give us a Mysore pak or burfi prepared the previous day. After returning from school, we had to discard our dress and wear the ones drying on the clothesline. This would be done after washing the hands and legs laboriously, using water drawn from the well. Our elders’ motto was, ‘the family that eats together stays together’. The dining hall abutting the kitchen was big enough to seat all of us in three batches, my grandfather leading the first. He would emerge fresh from his puja, smelling of vibhuti and flowers.
We had to wash our plates ourselves, before and after food. Using the left hand was taboo, as was eating clumsily and noisily. Only the fingers and inside palms could show the evidence of eating. No dress could have food stains. One did not sip coffee lazily with relish. Instead, we drank it with the rim tilted inches above the lips, like petrol hoses filling up fuel tanks. Eating with spoons was a strict no-no. That would be humiliating the God-given dexterous fingers. Coughing, sneezing, hawking and spitting would be met with disapproval, as would touching the face involuntarily. If only families continued to have such regimental elders, would any virus spread so fast? I doubt it.
J S RAGHAVAN Email: email@example.com