Monday 1 October 2007

Eureka demystified

Thousands of years ago, someone’s back itched. His name was Yajñopavīta Sastrigal. Why his parents named him that will remain a mystery, but we aren’t going into the why. We are going, instead, into the what-happened-to-him-and-how-he-reacted. What happened to him, as has already been mentioned earlier, was that his back itched. This was a problem that had plagued the fellow all his life, so much so that he wondered day and night why a point hadn’t come when the itch would become so normal that he’d forget the state of non-itchiness entirely and not feel anything anymore. Wondering didn’t help at all. Neither did prickly heat powder, since he had had the misfortune of being born a few millennia too early.

What he did, in a moment of unbelievable clarity of thinking, was to say “Ayyo Rekha!!!” – Rekha being his wife’s name – so loudly that it was heard all the way to Syracuse, where one Mr. Archimedes was having a blissful bath.

Ayyo Rekha!!!” Yajñopavīta Sastrigal hollered, “Nool kanda konduvayen,” which, translated roughly into English, would read – “Bring me a spool of thread, pronto!”

Yajñopavīta Sastrigal then proceeded to tie three pieces of coarse thread – all thread was coarse back then – together, and put it over his left shoulder, in a manner that caused it to encircle his upper body diagonally. Grabbing hold of this with both hands placed sufficiently far apart on the thread, he moved it back and forth, along his spine. He had boldly scratched where no man had been double-jointed enough to scratch before.

Very soon, others – whose backs sometimes itched, too – started sporting the thread. Some men thought it was too sissy to give an itch so much importance and disdained the practice. The thread wearing bunch obviously didn’t appreciate being called sissy. They claimed that the thread, which by now had taken on the name Yajñopavītam, after its inventor, had other nifty features too.

They said, for instance, that anyone who wore the thing would be effectively twice-born. The three threads represented the goddesses of mind, word and deed, and the knot tying it all together was the formless Brahman, the all-pervading supreme spirit of the universe.

The non-thready bunch was unimpressed, but the thready bunch was so captivated by its own marketing that they evolved complex rituals that their sons, and their sons’ sons had to undergo before taking on the great responsibilities that come with being able to scratch one’s own back. Women amused themselves by inventing other, less metaphysical things like the dosa, and weren’t affected by this great ferment.

My ancestors happened to be from among the thready lot, which meant that I experienced the uncertain emotions of being born twice.

What it has also meant, however, is that I sometimes wear an insecure look on my face, and glance around furtively, before sticking my right hand into my shirt to tug at that piece of thread, and return it to its highly transient perch on top of my left shoulder. Whatever magical properties it may possess, the Yajñopavītam, or the Poonal, as it’s known in Tamil, simply cannot stay put on a shoulder. It is built to slide down the left arm, and incapacitate that limb until the wearer performs that inelegant and very disturbing manoeuvre described above. I did that, for about the seventeenth time, on Friday, and pop went the top button of my shirt. Why didn’t Mr. Yajñopavīta Sastrigal just grin and bear it?

18 comments:

Vin said...

Nice man. The "Ayyo Rekha" part was hilarious.

Why don't you use fix the thread to the inside of the shirt... or to your shoulder? Use cello tape or something.

KK Iyer said...

yeah man... i'll need to think up some such method... maybe shirt manufacturers need to incorporate thread friendly technology too...

Tashi said...

Ha ha.....Is the length standard or something?? If it's not, you could shorten it.

Tejas said...

good stuff man.. had me in stitches..

Krish Ashok said...

"Ayyo Rekha" !
Hilarious.

KK Iyer said...

thank you all...

@ rajesh,
according to wikipedia, the length of the thread is generally 96 times the breadth of four fingers of a man... which rules out shortening...

Tashi said...

In that case mate, you should expand!

Harini said...

ehhe. i'm so amused!! a very different post, yet it has kk written all over it!

and btw - dont expand!!

well, you guys have the poonal.. we're supposed to wear a madisaar for all those big functions - any idea how ridiculously long that piece of cloth is?! makes anyone look like ten times thier size. which is certainly not a great thing in my case!

Adveith said...

hilarious!

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. You may want to use a safety pin to keep the thing in check. Illati, just hang the thing on a nail! As some ancestors of mine have been doing. ;)

Rukmani Ram said...

hilarious.
the falling off the shoulder happens to so many guys I know!!!

Came across your blog from KrishAshok's. Brilliant stuff you have here!

Ghanshyam Nair said...

Thanks anonymous, and Rukmani... Good to see that people still stumble into this blog!

Bharathi said...

Good one. I too came across this from krishashok's blog and have been splitting my sides ever since, laughing. And I do agree with Harini, the madisaar is afar worse contraption so counts your blessings you were born only a a Tambram and not that most pitiable of God's creation- the Tambram female.

Ramya said...

lol!! thats absolute ROFL material.i'm another "stumblee" from krishashok's detour.
and hey i totaly agre with harini abt the madisaar thing.n u wudnt want to analyse the proportioning thy do on that 9-yards cloth. not leaving out the "peacock"element..

Padma Priya said...

LOL LOL LOL!!! This is the funniest blog post i have read in ages!!!!!!! great work buddy!!

Ananth said...

Good stuff...and yes...the poonal falling off and the furtive glance so that no one watches your arm scrubbing your shoulders to retrieve the poonal is classic...very true indeed...

Adri said...

the problem of poonal falling, i have that too, but not so horrible as you painted it to be and the frequency.well hinduism is a very symbolic religion, poonal is one of them. No one questions tiger being national animal or national anthem, they are symbolic too. We indians always stamp ourselves and make other look great.

Anonymous said...

for poonal users,use baniyan with arms and not the half ones,it dosen not slip.It works for me.Sacred ceremony is in every religion and for all.but tambrahms have made it as our jagir.