Birth and Lineage
I was born in the Sacred Heart Hospital in a place called Pullur in central Kerala, a few minutes away from my mother’s home in Irinjalakuda. I was born to Diliala and Sunny, a very happily married couple, the husband labouring away in the Middle East, and the wife a firebrand of a woman, full of ideas and imagination and art.
My father’s was a family of agriculturalists. Settled in the tiny little village of Pavaratty, they were a joint family for many years through my father’s childhood, till the mid 1960s when my grandfather and his brothers decided to split up and move into separate homes. I never got to know why they did that. The Vadukut Kottas have always come across to me as the highly accommodating, the more-is-the-merrier type of family. But I am guessing 21 mouths to feed got too much for some of the women, and some of the patriarchs were bestowed with gigantic egos.
There is a theory that my father’s family name, Vadukut, means people who came from the north, or “Vadukku” as north is called in Malayalam. There are family names that are derivatives of the other three directions as well. So that theory seems plausible. However there is no theory whatsoever why we are called the “Kottas”, which is a subdivision of the Vadukuts comprising of all my grandfathers and there progeny.
The Vadukut Kottas are a respected lot. Fairly affluent with atleast one member per household in the Persian Gulf, the Vadukut Kottas are well-liked and are a vibrant element of every village activity from politics to the annual tug of war competition at the local chapel. My father was the second of three children who were born to Thomas and Kochumariam, Thomas himself being the third of four brothers, the four who gave the family the name and prestige it has today. I do my best to not let them down completely.
My mother’s side has not one but many sagas embedded in their history. One of the downsides of having grown up almost my entire life in the Gulf is scant knowledge of these many sagas and their variants that are cooked up at every family function. All I know for sure is that my grandfather was a civil servant, a Block Development Officer, he ran away to Mumbai when he was a child, made his fortune there, and he was gravely wronged by his parents and siblings over property and such things. He had eight children, four boys and four girls, and my mother was second of eight and first of four. The Parambaths, as they are called, are a merry, raucous lot and the neighborhood rumbles at every family reunion.
After marriage my parents flew for the Persian Gulf where, from what old photographs tell me, they lived a merry life. My dad had hair like that tall bearded member of the BeeGees and my mother looked exactly like some of the heroines in Hindi movies of the “Mona Darling” period. They lived a simple, contented life. And then I happened.
I flew out to Abu Dhabi a few months after I was born with my mother. And I am being very honest when I say I was a nice, bouncy and cute kid. I have few memories of that period when life was merry and I was fed, burped and slept. I do have a grainy memory of things like getting my finger jammed in a door, dropping a plate and cutting my foot etc. I was a good little baby, quiet, well-behaved, and bestowed with an utter inability to crawl forward. One of our family friends nicknamed me reverse gear. The name, thankfully, did not stick. Everyone called me Sidin, no nicknames, pet names nothing. I guess you cannot shorten a five-letter two-syllable name even if you wanted to. As an aside, my name is a combination of my father’s name and my mother’s, at least in principle. It then went though some continuous improvement till they settled on Sidin. Which sounds like someone heavy slipping and falling, but it’s easy to remember and I have never met anyone else with a name like that.
Babyhood to Class 1
Soon I grew older and was quickly enrolled in Maryland Kindergarten, my first attempt at education. I have vague memories of hating going away from home, sitting in classrooms and of uniforms. The greatest challenge of course was not all that. It was how to find a water bottle that wouldn’t leak. For years hence I was always under this weird curse of never being able to own a water bottle that would not leak. And whenever I did possess one that did not leave my school bag smelling of orange juice concentrate, I lost it in the school bus or in the playground. I also remember the thrill of doing well in exams, the smell of clean classrooms, and oddly, the buzz of the air-conditioning. The hum of cooling equipment continues to soothe and comfort me to this day.
A rather messy memory was when I was slapped on the hand by a Hindi teacher, and the pencil point pierced into my palm. It was rather painful and I think my parents gave the teacher a mouthful. But ever since I never got as much an unkind glance from that villainous woman. You don’t mess around with the Parambath women and leave unscathed.
Nursery was a nice time I think. I was happy, did well in exams and things, lost a lot of lunch boxes, got beaten up a bit by teachers and at home, and never learnt to write the number eight properly. (I always wrote it with two circles on top of each other, a little space between them with a line bridging the gap.) I could not pronounce helicopter either. Nonetheless the days passed and soon I was in Kindergarten, wearing a new uniform, carrying school books, and generally being a big boy now. I kept putting on weight.
As an aside, I did watch a lot of television, especially local language programs. Even today if I sit and watch ten minutes of Arabic language programming it does me make me feel nostalgic. There were not too many English channels those days and I saw whatever I could in the evenings. Weirdly enough Dubai Channel 33 used to show Hindi movies on Friday evenings and I watched a lot of that. All that theory about picking languages when you’re young is wrong. I must have seen hundreds of Mithun and Amitabh pot boilers and I know as much Hindi as I know Madagascarian.
Kindergarten started off with me spending a few hours flabbergasted. I walked into Senior Kindergarten by mistake and it took the teacher a few hours to comprehend that I was acquainted with neither Jack nor Jill and had no clue to their water-fetching exploits. I was quickly shunted down to Junior KG and was relieved to be in the company of fellow food-fighters and Jack-and-Jill-ignorants. I quickly hit it off with Cheryl D’Souza who shared her toy camera with me, and Jibu Joseph who let me take a bite from his lunch box. Such were the foundations of my first friends.
Two years quickly flew by. I came last in class in Junior KG, but the teacher said I had potential. In Senior KG I did better, acted in the Christmas play, developed a skill for reading loudly and peed in my pants on stage once during a poetry recital competition.
It was around this time that my younger brother came into the family. Four years younger than me, he was a bundle of joy from day one, and though I have few memories of him as a child, I do remember spending many many hours playing and jumping on the furniture and giving my dad panic attacks. (My dad is quite particular about the way the house looks and the furniture, and the house plants. I and my brother are not. If it’s got a roof, a TV and a kitchen, its home as far as the both of us were concerned.)
Another life-changing event was my first encounter with books and reading. The flat next door went up in flames and my mother and I chipped in to kill the flames and help our neighbors salvage whatever they could. For my courage and assistance, and due to the fact that no one next door was reading it, I was given a copy of a lightly grilled encyclopedia to keep. That kicked off my passion for reading and buying and borrowing books. To this day I need to only walk within a hundred meters of a bookstore and I can feel my wallet begin to squirm in my jeans.
Armed with probably more than average esoteric knowledge, a good vocabulary and a well-corrected number eight I marched into Primary School and some of the most momentous years of my life in terms of discovering myself, the world and everything else.