lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fever song

The flurry of activity tapered off. Exhaustion, the fraught quality of the last few days and general malaise of the last month, fever and the tension of the last couple of hours all came crashing into me. The medicines they pumped through the IV channel must have kicked in, and I slept.

I woke to find a nurse injecting more medicines. I could feel the cool liquid entering the IV channel and flowing up my arm, but the nurse said it was my imagination. But it wasn't my imagination that felt every hair follicle present a scroll of grief and complaint as I turned over and cool air struck my skin. I drifted in and out of sleep.

Floating between sleep and a semi-trance, everything seemed strange. The smell of disinfectant as the room was swabbed stabbed me with a memory of a cognac praline melting in the warmth of my mouth. The sudden cold touch of a stethoscope made me gasp. The pressure cuff tightening on my arm made me queasy. I could hear blood thundering as the mercury dropped, and heaved a sigh as the cuff was removed. Eating a meal seemed to expend all the energy I gained by lying there doing nothing for days and days. I slept again.

Through the next few days, all I did was to lie there tethered to the bed by that drip. My universe shrank to the confines of the four walls. My sole connection with the world was the bell push I had to grope for and find on my left. Nurses administering medicines and eating insipid meals marked time for me. Play of light in my sky framed by the window marked day and night.

Then one midmorning, I found I was all slept out. The few adjustments of the bed, raising it or lowering it to get comfortable weren't enough; I needed to stretch my back. I sat up and stretched, and bent forward to grab my feet to stretch further. There was a windblown seedling clinging to the parapet of the building outside the window. A single banyan leaf. Behrman's masterpiece, I murmured.

Sitting up propped against the raised bed I watched pigeons strut, crows squabble and kites wheel in the little sky I had. Late afternoon sun turned a billow of spidersilk into a strand of diamonds and I watched it waft until the breezes picked up and it swung away from view. The halo effect of shafts of sunlight turning my fingers into stained glass paintings fascinated me for a while. I dozed again.

But sleep got scarce. Two hours and I was done. If I tried to read my eyes drifted shut and the story entered my dreams and made them strange. Authors and tales and interpretations got mixed up in my memories; Homer, Gemmell and Pratchett all retold the Trojan War in my dreams, all jumbled together.

Then sound crashed into my world. It was past three in the morning. Cuckoos and crows would be complaining back at home, on the shores of the Lake. But here there was a long blare of a horn and a pavement dog howling in protest.

That sounded familiar. Not the blare of the horn, but the cadence of the grumbling dog's howl reminded me of a song. I tried pinning it down. It was hard. At home I'd just rummage among my music or Google. I felt contemptuous of myself. Surely I could remember without such crutches?

P Susheela, I was fairly sure. I tried to play back the dog's grumble and the long blare of that horn resolved itself into a memory of a voice. T M Sounderarajan. Plaintively, yearningly calling a name and P Susheela replying in an echo. That was it.

I didn't know if the lights were on or off, if my eyes were open or shut tight. I travelled back in memory and bounced off various tangents. I knew where I was, though- in the Past. Line by line, phrase by musical phrase, image by image, slowly the song unfolded itself. The plaintive call and response and more, as I tried to remember all of it, the orchestral interludes, the humming, the poetry. I was certain I got the lyric right.

Now, what film? I didn't know or care. TMS and Susheela were enough to start with, and somehow I had the feeling it was a MGR film. MGR and Saroja Devi? Ah, that's who the Deepika girl reminds me of, Saroja Devi. Pretty. More important, who wrote it?

thennai vanaththinil unnai mugam thottu eNNaththai sonnavan vaadudgiren
eNNaththai sonnavan vaadugiren
un iru kaN pattu puN patta nenjaththil un pattu kai pada paadugiren

A voice said, are you all right? I didn't realise I was singing aloud and conducting the instrumental interludes with my hands. The nurse looked puzzled and nervous. It was the dog, I said, by way of explanation. She looked worried and repeated her question.

I am fine. I want to go home, I have to look up something, I said.



Anonymous Ash said...

That hospital stint was good for you, Lali. This is a brilliant post. Susheela fans might take umbrage about the refrain resembling a dog's howl, of course, but you are back on form. Lovely.

2:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh! I felt sad all through the first part.
Then well giggled at the dog part :)
Now Susheela and dog howling?!

But the post was really rich and nice ;)

I hope you are feeling better.

10:22 pm  
Blogger dipali said...

Hmmm. Are you properly well now, young lady?

10:39 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

You had better give a link to the story, Lali. Nobody seems to have got the allusion.

10:29 am  
Blogger Shirsha said...

Thrs more to this Susheela-TMS thingie?

6:52 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ash- I suppose it was good and bad. Take umbrage they might, P Susheela fans, but that howl sounded exactly like the reply to the throbbing with passion sivagaamee, and I can't change that.

Hm, a window, a vine, a leaf. I didn't think it was necessary to give the link. You think I should?

Veens- Dear, I am feeling as well as I can. The dog bit is funny, I know, somewhat sacrilegious, but what to do, memory works in strange ways.

Dipali- Less of the 'young lady' bit, girl. I am still rejoicing in time under strict bed-rest as it happens. Somebody buy me designer chocolates for instant energy, I say. :-)

Shirsha- Hey, welcome back girl. A very happy new year to you. The song is brilliant, yes, but I was dying to find out who wrote it. :-)

9:41 pm  
Blogger complexvanilla said...

Lovely post. Memories are so. The most inane of incidents can trigger powerful and profound memories of even what may seem to be unconnected events.

Your post reminded me of a story that we had in our English textbook, back in school. It was by a little known Indian author, a story of a small boy in a village in North India. His mother, a single parent (the boy's father is deceased) tries in vain to discipline her naughty son and seeing no other alternative, sends him off to his uncle, a rich businessman in Calcutta, in whose house the young boy undergoes a lot of misery and difficulties before finally running away, back to his mother.

Let's see if I can jog my memory to come up with the name of the story or the author! Get well soon and keep writing! By the way, I hereby submit my application to become your latest toyboy!

10:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Ash is just asking if you made that up.

A lovely post, Lali.

Secret admirer

11:50 am  
Anonymous Bard of Anon said...


Half forgotten snatches of song ... pegs on which hang tales of the past, investing them with significance beyond the song itself. You must tell the tale behind the song too : )

And while The Last Leaf is of course well-known, the story mentioned by complexvanilla brought back old memories ... though I seem to remember that it ended in a tragedy. And that it was a Bong story originally. Another lovely , you must track it down.

2:27 pm  
Blogger complexvanilla said...

It was definitely a Bong story, perhaps translated into English. It ends with the boy meeting with an accident, but whether he succumbs or not is left to the reader's interpretation. In the very last bit, the boy is in the hospital, almost in delirium, when his mother comes to see him. He sees her and cries out "Have the holidays arrived yet?" Truly a touching story.

6:41 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

complexvanilla- Thanks, and please dig up the story for me, will you? Oh and tell me it is not Tagore. :-)

Anon- Hmm.I was too sick to make things up.

Bard- There is no tale behind the song, really. :-)

Complexvanilla- Sigh. That reminds me of another story, in Telugu. The title translates roughly as 'I wish I'd get fever', about a little boy and his brother dying of fever. All the little boy cares is that much fuss is being made of him.

10:00 pm  
Blogger Sivaram said...

Have you read the story by Hemingway where the boy gets fever, and is surprisingly very well behaved. The Dad finally discovers that the boy is convinced that he is going to die, since he has a fever of 100 degrees, and his friends have told him if it is above 40 people die. Dad clears confusion about Farenheit and Celsius, and then a happy ending !

10:30 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- A Day's Wait, right? I remember reading that. All the misunderstanding about fever and impending death, as father and son talk at cross-purposes...

1:38 pm  
Blogger Jeeves said...

Your blog captivates the reader.

Iam enjoying every post. (Iam still reading and hence its not in past tense).

Some information on the song.

paadal: ponnezil pUththadhu
thiraip padam: kalangkarai viLakkam
paadiyavargaL: ti.em.saunthara raajan - pI.susIlaa
isai: em.eS.viSvanaathan
varigaL: panjcu aruNaacalam
nadiththavargaL: em.ji.aar - sarOjaa dhEvi

Information source-

6:37 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Jeeves- I just can't resist this. :-) Much Obliged, Jeeves.

Do drop in again.

10:02 pm  
Blogger Jeeves said...

Would be a frequent visitor.As I said, reading your blogs is still not past tense...

10:37 am  

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