Tinkling bells


I stand on the balcony with my morning cup of coffee – strong, South Indian filter coffee brewed to perfection. What better way to begin the day!

It’s the weekend, and the world outside is slowly waking up. The usual morning rush of traffic is missing; just a few early morning joggers – moving neon spots on grey pavements.

I sip my coffee and sigh in contentment. It is then that I hear them – gentle tinkling bells. Maybe the neighbour’s chimes?

Where I grew up, cows and horses were common visitors to our neighbourhood, as there were lots of green meadows around the area where we lived.

While the horses were wild, the cows usually belonged to local shepherds. Most of these cows had bells tied around their necks. Beautiful little bells that tinkled when the cows grazed and mooed to each other.

The cows could be seen on and off on the hillside all through the day, as we went about our daily lives. And when the sun would finally head west, the shepherd would appear out of nowhere and drive the cows home.

In those days, there was a lady who came to our home each day to help my mom with household chores. She would arrive by eleven a.m. and leave late in the afternoon.

This lady’s husband owned a few cows, and on some afternoons, when the lady was in the backyard, her cows would pass by our home.

One of the cows – whom the lady lovingly called Lakshmi – would always come close to the fence as if to talk to her. The lady would talk in ‘cow-language’, love dripping in her every sentence. Lakshmi, the cow, would stand and listen, hanging on to her every word.

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It was such a special bond, a pure outpouring of love. And as Lakshmi walked away, the bell around her neck would tinkle. The lady would then settle down to her post lunch betelnut ritual, her eyes following Lakshmi with love, till the sounds of the bell would finally merge with the breeze.

I come back to the present. These bells that I hear now are reminiscent of those perfect, lovely afternoons and the bonds of a very special love!

The school bell


On certain days, at 12 noon, when there is a gentle afternoon breeze, and if the sounds of traffic from the junction below our condo are not too loud, and if my mind is not distracted by the mundane, I can hear them – church bells chiming from the church that is further down our road. There is something magical about these melodious bells; they give me pause and make me ponder for a few minutes.

There are so many different types of bells – all of them designed to draw our attention to something important – prayer bells, alarm bells, fire alarms and door bells. But the most special bell has to be the school bell.

When we were in school, we did not have automated electronic bells to signal the end of each period.

We had a physical bell – a round metallic ring that was suspended from a tree just above the school’s playground. At the prescribed time, the school’s bell-incharge would walk to the bell and strike it with another metal rod, which he would then take back with him.

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The bell was loud, clear, and could be heard from every corner of the school. The bell was sounded differently for different activities – class changes, lunch, recess and the end of the school day.

And on many days, we sat with our friends, willing the recess bell to ring so that we could run out and play outside, or be the first ones on the swings or see-saws.

During the monsoon season, the rain played spoilsport, and we were stuck in the corridors. We made paper boats that we sailed outside the corridors, we splashed water droplets on unsuspecting friends, or huddled together to prevent our teeth from chattering in the cold. At those times, the bells sent us back into the warmth of our classrooms.

Later on, when we were teenagers, and when it was fashionable to eat less, or to skip breakfast because we were late for school, our growling stomachs would wait impatiently for the lunch bell to ring. We would then open our lunch boxes to relish our food, so lovingly packed by our moms.

Sometimes, when we got to miss a class to attend an event or some inter-school competition, and got back to school only to realize that classes were still not over, we would stall and drag our feet to go back to class, hoping to see the bell-incharge walking towards the bell.

The most welcome bell was the one that rang for a prolonged period, to signal the end of the school day. When we were in primary and middle school, the long bell was our cue to rush home, to gobble up our evening snacks, and to run outdoors to play.

As we moved to high school, the long bell meant that we could leave school and hang out with friends. We had plenty to talk about, everyday, and somehow it always seemed that there was never enough time.

Today’s bells are electronic and sound totally different from those bells of old.

Those were memorable times indeed, when life moved to a slower beat.