Fiction Fragment: Kannamma hates her mother

Her mother thinks she’s the prettiest seven year old in the whole world. Actually, in the whole universe. The name of the child is lost to the wind, remembered only when being introduced to strangers. Kannamma she is, and so she is called.

But prettiness isn’t all that is required, so her mother takes Kannamma in her peacock blue pattu pavadai to the doors of music. The Paattu MaamiPaattu Maami: Music teacher. Inevitably an old woman. looks a little scary, with a big red dot on her forehead that threatens to leap across the floor and hit the little one. Kannamma hides behind the pillar. She is called, gently by the Maami. Fueled by coffee and humidity, the Maami’s hoarse voice belts out a Sa-Pa-Sa. The child attempts to copy. The notes bounce off the dark corners of the room, where a grinning and overweight Krishna is imprisoned by the paint of gold.

Her mother has left her. Little Kannamma must somehow struggle through the the Sarali VarisaiCarnatic music lessons tend to start with Sarali Varisai. Not a song, but a series of sequences in which the basic notes of Mayamalavagowla raaga are practiced.. She wonders why Maami’s hair is slightly orange around the temples. While Maami copies out the notes in her notebook, she plays with the dirt stuck in her big left toe. They sing some more. The Maami insisting that the little one slap her thigh as she hollers out the notes. With fear itching in her tiny stomach, Kannamma survives an hour.

She runs back home. She shows her mother her red thigh. Welts gifted in the process of learning music. Her mother tells her that this is how one must learn. That this is normal. To have bands of red across her young flesh. To keep beat. To consume music. The little one wonders if this is how her mother has chosen to punish her. By banishing her to an old woman’s house every afternoon.

Kannamma runs to the roof. Why would her own mother wish such pain on her? She examines the welts, and cries. She decides in that moment that she hates only two people in the world. The red-dotted Paattu Maami and her mother.

8 Comments

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8 Responses to Fiction Fragment: Kannamma hates her mother

  1. rekha

    good one! i remember the torture i had to endure learning classical music from a ‘paatu sir’ when i didn’t want to. i put it up for two years because of the constant refrain, ‘didn’t all good tambrahm girls learn music’. now surprisingly, when my son is taking an interest in music and learning classical, i find myself singing along…

  2. And the ones who were never tortured similarly look back wistfully, wishing their mums had made the effort of forcing music down their throat, and hating them for not doing so.

  3. Revealed is right. It is a question of whether to hate the mom as a child or an adult. Childhood hate seems better… maybe…

  4. dipali

    Of course, nothing stops us from learning music as adults- but it is easier to hate, isn’t it? Neha, you bring back the extreme rage and grief of childhood emtions so well…

  5. rekha: I put up with it for a long time. Luckily, my Paattu Maamis and Sirs weren’t that bad. But I think I minded terribly that I had to sit and learn while my friends were out playing.

    Revealed: So either way the person will have to hate their mother? What a sobering thought!

    Shripriya: The right time to hate? Maybe because one forgets what one felt or did as a child. Or remembers with less clarity…

    dipali: Thanks so much.

  6. I think it depends on the type of hate as well as the time. Sometimes childhood hate can last a long, long time before bursting forth (have you read Capote’s In Cold Blood?). But, yeah I think the easiest thing is to hate. Makes you wonder if that’s our natural state. Maybe we were all supposed to hate, and the times we love are a precarious abnormality that has to be held onto against all odds. Hence the necessity for self delusion attached to love.
    (Sorry about usurping the comments space).

  7. Vi

    I still remember the first “real” song that I learned–”Ninnukori”–sort of wish that I had kept up with the lessons now.

    Lovely story.

  8. I remember being forced to take kuchipudi lessons and after much tantrum throwing I quit or rather was allowed to. And now I wish I didn’t. *sigh* There is no such thing as being happy with choices is there?