Aunty, today we met the fire man, water man, head man, paste man, ash man and leaf man, beamed my friend’s son Sriram excitedly. I couldn’t make head or tail of what the 10-year-old was trying to tell me. Smitha, who had come from Scotland with her son on a brief visit to Chennai, said they would go visiting some of their friends here and I couldn’t see any connection between the friends they were supposed to have visited and the water man, head man… her son had met.
Who are all these men you are talking about? I asked puzzled, looking alternately at the mother and son for an answer.
I could only see the duo smiling in amusement.
Mummy, shall I tell, aunty? whispered the little fellow.
No, hold it, let’s see if she can guess, said my friend.
I racked my brains for a full 10 minutes but hadn’t the remotest idea who these men were.
When I was literally at my wit’s end and had decided to give up, a bright idea struck me.
Let me guess, I am sure you saw a fire engine and the fire man/brigade dousing a fire that must have occurred somewhere, and they are your fire man and waterman, I said, sounding quite sure of myself.
The two burst out laughing, shaking their heads vigorously.
No marks there, said Sriram, appearing like a quiz master.
OK, who are the head man, paste man, ashman and leaf man? he repeated the rest of the questions with an air of pride.
I had only read about a headman in novels, paste meant tooth paste, ash found at a fire place and an idiom referring to a leaf, a leaf from your life or some such thing and hesitantly told him so…
No marks again aunty, chuckled Sriram.
Shall I give a clue or do you want me to tell the answer, suggested the Quizmaster.
OK, first a clue, I said.
Mummy took me to two temples before we went visiting, said Sriram.
It was only then that I noticed the ‘vubhuti’ between his eyebrows.
I cursed myself for my lack of observation when the answer was right before me staring at my face! The little fellow meant, aarthi, thirtha, satari, sandal paste,vibuthi and thulasi given by the vaadhyar in the different temples!
n.meera raghavendra rao