Fireworks in the paddy fields - memories of a summer

Mon, May 27, 2013

Like most people, I like certain songs for their ability to bring back memories of times, places and people from the past that you don’t everyday bring out from the cellars of time, wipe away the cobwebs and dust and gaze at. Kannu Nattu Kaathirunnittum 1 from the movie Kathaavasheshan 2 evokes memories of childhood, the daily struggle to survive and the inability to resist the hegemony of those around you who call the shots. But, there are not many songs that does it for me quite like the Malayalam song Alliyaambal Kadavil 3.

Originally written for the movie Rosi 4, produced in 1965 and sang by the doyen of Malayalam film music K.J. Yesudas, the song is a meditation in love. The lyrics describe the hero’s nostalgia for a time and a person in the past and the deep love he had for her. I never particularly like this version. Growing up, it was something that my old Sony AM radio played frequently and all that talk of love did not make much sense to me. At an age when I could understand and appreciate the song, it had been appropriated by Mimicry artists, often used to add flavor to their portrayal of the stereotypical drunkard’s character.

Instead it is an adaptation of this song for the 2009 movie Loudspeaker 5 and sung by Yesudas’s son Vijay and more importantly a flourish, an after thought to the recording of the song that makes me listen to it in loop. Instead of evoking memories of love, it evokes in me a deep nostalgia for a childhood filled with the smells, sounds and sights of paddy fields. In the adapted version of the song, at the very end, after the sweet lyrics proclaiming and ultimately eulogizing the love the older protagonist had for his companion of younger days, the two protagonists sit on the dykes of a post-harvest paddy field and watch fireworks go off in the distance. The light from the fireworks illuminate the horizon and the hearts of the characters and the viewers and the sound of the fireworks slowly spread through the paddy fields, get assimilated in to the darkness and emptiness of the night around them. And then, you are brought back to the pain and suffering of the two characters from the heady microcosm of love that is the song.

I connect with that particular instance because when I was a child watching the fireworks at the end of the local Pooram 6 was one of the simple pleasures you would afford to, mostly because it was free. During the nights of the fireworks, we went to the paddy fields of the summer, paddy fields that had been stripped of their green and brown clothes of paddy with shiny, serrated sickles and strong hands, some adorned with bangles and some adorned with the enchanted Noolu 7 from the local mosque. While the main purpose for which they had been maintained and split in to pieces had culminated with the harvest, these fields had another purpose to serve - in the summer they lay in wait to provide the populace of the villages stages for entertainment - football in the evenings and Poorams and *Ganamela*s 8 in the night.

During the nights when the Pooram had fireworks, the kids would take up seats on the dykes early enough and start the long wait in anticipation. And then it would begin, first in slow measured bursts and then in persistent frenzy. As they go up, their many colors of light would fill the sky and your heart and then their sound would dissipate, sucked in to the darkness of the summer night, to be spread across the vastness of the paddy fields, across the stream that bisects them and in to the hills in the east where the stream originates from. But you would not get time to reflect on the sound’s journey for long, for the next burst would go up, illuminating before being sucked away, like it’s predecessor. Until the last burst, that is.

As the last burst goes through it’s short yet majestic lifespan of 20 seconds and is fast dissipating, you feel sadness. The worry about getting something to eat that you had held back for long comes back to remind you it has not gone away, you start thinking about the bully at the school and you remember the realization you had yesterday that you may not after all be getting new sets of clothes for this year’s Eid 9.

Meanwhile, the populace begins to leave the paddy fields, enthusiastically waxing lyrical about the beauty of the fireworks and complaining how it was not as majestic as the one they had witnessed in the nearby town, all in the same breath. In the midst of the cacophony, if you listen carefully enough, you can hear somebody promising to be in time for the seven-a-side football match in the neighbouring village. That match would be played on yet another paddy field.

  1. Kannu Nattu Kaathirunnittum : A song from the movie Kathaavasheshan [return]
  2. Kathaavasheshan : A 2004 Malayalam film directed by T. V. Chandran. More on wikipedia [return]
  3. Alliyaambal Kadavil : A Malayalam movie song originally performed in 1965 and reproduced in 2009. A video can be found here [return]
  4. Rosi : A 1965 Malayalam movie. [return]
  5. Loudspeaker : A 2009 movie that featured an adaptation of the song and starring Mammootty. More on wikipedia. [return]
  6. Pooram : Village festival in Kerala, usually associated with temples. [return]
  7. Noolu : Enchanted thread worn on the wrist or around the biceps. Usually black in color. [return]
  8. Gaanamela : Live music performances, usually on temporary stages erected on paddy fields, playgrounds etc. [return]
  9. Eid : Eid-ul-Fitr or Eid-al-Adha, the two annual Muslim celebrations. [return]