Here is the concluding instalment of my translation of the essay on tamboolam.
‘When we were children we used to flock around our grandma and munch on the betel leaves we had filched from the betel-casket (paan-daan).
Grandpa, we knew had vowed to relinquish tamboolam for life, when he visited Kasi (Benares).as an austerity, (for he loved it much.). Granny used to admonish us that children ought not to eat tamboolam..Nevertheless, we would prevail on her to be the judge in our quibbles in the matter of whose tongue got the most red. The belief was that whoever got his mouth the most red would get the best and kindest spouse.
Chandrika had a tongue as tender as the betel leaves that she ate. And her tongue was the brightest red always. No wonder her hubby could secure such a great job. Whenever papa and mamma write to her to visit us all, she would promptly reply,”He can not get leave. Further, he can not exist without me for a day.”
As for me, munch as many leaves as I would, my mouth would not turn a trace red.My dear wife says her mouth used to get red ,just in a jiffy !
in those far off childhood days , we used to eat tamboolam so devoutly, so eagerly, just to flout the chastisement that kids should not eat it. The more it was prohibited, the more we would boot-leg. We would wash the leaves carefully, And we would try to remove the central rib, dividing the leaf into two symmetrical halves. Try as I would any number of times I could never succeed in this. Alas, the leaf would tear to pieces in the process.
I used to get fed up soon and gobble up the leaves-whole, ribs, stems and all. That would finish the ritual for the day.
All of us are like that. We hold lots of hopes. We embark on lots of endeavours, we are stressed, we lose our patience. We ignore the good fortune of enjoying the simple beauty of the gentle rays of the rising sun, which can tingle us like the fronds of a tender Mogali flower, (Pandanus odoratissimus, Ketaki in Sanskrit ) .
We fail. But persist doggedly, to remove neatly, so to say, the ribs of the betel leaf. The same old child’s play. But the leaves continue to get torn to shreds, to our dismay. Frustrated we forsake the effort . Muddy-headed, we abandon the endeavour thus or gobble it up, ribs, stems and shreds. For most of us this is the same rigmarole over and over.
Tamboolam can a memorable episode in the lives of some. I fondly remember the story Srilekha had told me blushingly one day, about the intoxicating enchantment of a tamboolam, —
“They were known to each other before their marriage.. They sit together in the hide- and-seek-moon-light on a cloudy night, on the steps leading to the stoep, on either side of which there were figurines of lions. Suseela, his sister,sends out to them a platter of tamboolam. The couple begin preparing and chewing the tamboolam.”
She continued ” He began recounting to me about the beauty of the Kulu valley, I listened intently, if only to savour his magnetic voice. He has a compelling way of telling anything. I continue listening to him. With rapture. Tenderest leaves they were, that would wither merely for the touch. The gleam of the leaves in the tender light of the moon, seemed to make his story all the more alluring. Can’t say how many of those tender leaves I consumed. He recited a verse that he had composed, swaying me with emotion. I continue munching. One tamboolam after another. I get transported to the Kulu valley. With him, beside me.We soar higher, yet higher, yet faster, still swifter. Swifter than an arrow. I was besides myself with joy.”
We go inside the house, and Suseela smiles and remarks, “Hey, girl, Your lips are glowing, Red.” ‘
Whenever we sit together to partake in our tamboolam ritual Srilekha doesn’t fail to blush like a bride, believe me, to this day. ‘
How do you like this essay, written by someone I do not know, about seventy years ago?
I for one,would like to view the couple, God-willing, well into their nineties or more, their silver hair gleaming in the hide-and-seek cool moon light, sitting facing each other on the sit-out partaking in their tamboolam ritual, recounting to each other, episodes of times past and soaring in their minds together above the Kulu valley like the First and Inseparanle Couple (adi dampatulu), Siva and Parvathi.
ps: I don’t believe the author’s assertion that his tongue never got red, .It must hsve been his hope and wish it should turn redder thsn it became, for the lady evidently loved him so ardently..