Whetting the Appetite of a Hungry Mind
It was at that moment when the crow finally came to its senses, stopped singing and swooped down to retrieve the fallen vadai, only to find that the fox, in a swift, seamless manoeuvre, had already laid claim to the prized conquest originally acquired by the shameless duping of an old lady under a sprawling banyan tree. At this very moment, a little child somewhere, listening with rapt attention, clapped his hand over his mouth, eyes widened and nervous excitement turned into shocked disbelief. And as the gaping continued, a fistful of rice slyly found its way through the cavernous opening. That juncture, between the vadai falling and the jaw dropping, saw the natural melding of two realms, one mimicking the other.
The ritual of Nila-choru, dinner under the gaze of the starlit sky and watchful presence of the moon, was once a staple in every Tamil household. Things tended to naturally gravitate towards the outdoors. The mother, armed with her limited yet efficient arsenal, passed on to her by her mother and grandmother, of trademark Tamil fables, with a whole plethora of characters, animals and birds, and a plate of steaming hot paruppu-saadham with generous dollops of the goodness of ghee and an acceptable amount of vendakaai poriyal (because it has always been the quintessential brain-sharpening food for the Tamil child). The child, engaged in fiddling with a winged insect, knee-deep in dirt, with the curiosity of a technician, the cluelessness and abandon that only come with innocence and a faint rumbling in his tummy. Just as he sensed the thump of her marching out of the kitchen, he bounced off the ground, expertly dusting off the dirt he’d been collecting over the last few hours in the many folds of his shirt, shorts and skin, and with a spring in his step joined his mother as they both headed out to the thinnai. She astutely side-stepped the trail of loose stools that the cat had left behind, simultaneously hollering into the vastness of space to have it cleaned before things got out of hand, while He decided to make a game of it, stepping in and out of the little gaps in the trail, and just as his feet edged dangerously close she masterfully dragged him out of harm’s way. All hell broke loose as the child brought the house down with a sharp, piercing wail. With the dexterous nudge of his head in the direction of the moon and the promise of retreat that “Once upon a time” held, the wailing petered out just as abruptly as it started.
Another child, in a land far, far away in a different time and place, where there is no dirt or dampness, is also being fed paruppu-saadham and vendakaai poriyal. Except, there are no moon, stars, butterflies or fables. Instead there is a tablet of metal and plastic that the child is staring at, sending out shiny, bright, sparkly colours and sounds that suddenly stop with the sweeping gesture of his finger. The mother is also staring at a smaller tablet with the text, “21 apps that will keep your child busy while you feed him”, sprawled across its face in bold, black letters