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Backyard Maths With Pallanguzhi

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It is a Tuesday morning with a lingering fragrance of paniyaram on your fingers. You have reached the lull of the day; between the hours of ten and one, waiting for something to catch hold of your attention. 


A wooden box does the trick. You find it hidden between Paati’s old sarees and her youthful days of hopscotch and two oil-soaked plaits. It seems to be a puzzling contraption. Two wooden planks with seven pits on each side sit open like one of the demons in your bedtime stories. You show Paati what you have unearthed from her past and she smiles. Her knees crack as she folds her legs and pushes the white strands of hair behind her turmeric stained ears. Something magical was on its way, you can feel it. 

She gives you a lesson in phonetics. “pa-llan-gu-zhi” she says, like four shells dropped one by one into the wooden pits. “Pa-llan-gu-zhi”, like the sound of your nails scrapping against the wood, scooping more shells. “Pa-llan-gu-zhi” like the sound of victory when you collect the remaining shells for yourself. You look closely at the wrinkled but firm hands that scoop the shells. The fingers that have shaped your mother and you, still move with the same dexterity. The eyes, now glazed with glaucoma calculate the magic numbers, with all possible permutations and combinations. A victor emerges. 

The morning has withered into the afternoon and this musical chairs for shells is all that remains, to remind you of the child that once was in Paati.


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