I have mentioned in some of my previous blogs about shifting to Chennai (Madras as it was known then) in the 1970s and how Shivaji and Venkatesan became my first friends. Not only we stayed in the same locality, we were in same class as well. VII A Vs VII C – My First Cricket Match.
The excitement of moving to a big city was short lived. As mentioned in my blog, Pass, Gate Pass and Naa Pass, our school thrived on academic success and Ms. Gitarni devised a plan to keep us under leash by conducting a test or exam every six weeks.
Six weeks in to our school life we had the first test (pun intended). Growing up in village, we all topped the class since Class I. But when I saw the test paper on the first day, I knew this was in a different league. I just got above pass marks in all tests and I don’t remember who fared really bad, my sister or JK.
It was a huge shock to me scoring in the fifties as I have not seen anything under a score of ninety before. Mohan Ram, Venkatesh and Shivaji all scored reasonably well. On seeing our report cards, mom consoled us saying this was all new to us and soon we would be doing well. I am not sure if our mom was confident that we would do well or it was just a hope. Our father was not very charitable. He said “ஆலையில்லா ஊருக்கு இலுப்பைபூ சர்க்கரை.” The Tamil proverb meant ‘in a village where there is no sugar factory, powder made from Mahua tree is sugar.” (Mahua – Botanical name – basia longifolia). It roughly meant, in villages where there were not many good students or schools, we could score good marks. Not in the city and not in one of its better schools.
The school also had a scoring system where a small star in red colour appeared next to your score, if the mark was seventy or above. I was determined to have a star in the report card next time around. I also learned the trick as to how to get the star. Yes. It was getting the goddess’s blessing before the exam.
On the eve of exams Venkatesh and Shivaji would go to the Amman temple nearby and offer payers. Venkatesh has also followed a special penance to get the star especially in Mathematics. It was doing a adipradatchinam (அடிப்பிரதட்சினம்) – circumambulation. You had to go around the temple, walking one step at a time. First you keep the right foot forward, for the next step, your left foot should touch the tip of right foot. Thankfully it was not a big temple. So we could do three rounds in about 20 minutes.
In the next exam, I did much better but my maths mark was nowhere close to what Venkatesh scored. It was after couple of exams and going around deities in temple, I found out why Venkatesh was scoring better. It was because he was just damn good in Maths.
One day while going to the temple, we were discussing about tables and Venkatesh, as usual was answering faster than anyone else. I asked him if he could multiply three digits by three digits by heart and he said he would try. I gave him a figure, say 389 X 476 and he fell silent for a few minutes. As we neared the temple, he said “one lac eighty five thousand one hundred sixty four.” I said, “What?” He replied “answer for your question.”
We did not know if it was the correct answer. Once we came home, I took a paper and pen, did the multiplication and found out the answer was correct. That’s when it dawned on me that, it is just not the circumambulation which got him the star in Maths.
Venkatesh moved to another place in 1977 and after that we did to go the Karumari Amman temple afterwards. The seniors in the cricket team who were in college would go to that temple every Friday, albeit for a different reason. Girls from the neighbourhood used to visit the amman temple on Fridays for offering special prayers and for the college going boys, it provided an opportunity to see the girls at close quarters and for the rare daring ones, an opportunity to talk a couple of words to them. Madras was still conservative in the seventies.
I went searching for the temple today and was successful in locating it. Like everything else in India, the temple has also changed and this is how it looks now.
In Class IX, the quartet were split as our class teacher complained that we were talking all the time. Venkatesh and Shivaji ended up in IX C, Mohan Ram and I in IX A. I was behind the other three in rank till Class and now I had to catch up with only Mohan Ram. So without doing much I moved from fourth rank to second rank just behind Mohan Ram.
The temple fever caught up again with us during school final. It was more of an accident. Shivaji and I were returning after watching a noon show in Srinivasa theatre, not a well known or well maintained cinema. On our way we found this Temple and we decided to go and offer prayers. We liked the temple so much we decided to go there every day in the evening.
For me, one highlight of going to Perumal (Lord Vishnu) temple is the prasad they give. The holy water tastes divine and the tamarind rice and sweet pongal are just out of the world.
Unlike the amman temple which was built recently, the Adi Chenna Kesava Perumal temple is thousand years old. Poet saint Ramanujar has stayed and worshipped in that temple. There were not many visitors in those days at the temple. Shivaji and I used to pray and sit inside the temple and talked for hours.
And thus we went to the temple every day till the exams got over and the day the results came out. The Lord was indeed kind to us and we excelled in our school final exams.
Years later, when JK and I were visiting the Belur temple on our bike ride, Romancing the RX-100 – A Southern Odyssey -1993. Part -1. and sat there in the late evening, I recollected such extraordinary peace and satisfaction I used to get in Adi Kesava Perumal Temple. Incidentally the Temple in Belur is also Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple. The first one blessed us during exams and the second, well, on a long bike ride across South India.