Madras Memories: Puli

We only knew him as ‘puli’—the word for tiger in the Tamil language.   He is one of my earliest scary memories.

We could see into his balcony from the terrace or the balcony in the back of our grandparents’ house in Madras. He was always pacing. Catlike. We had heard stories about him—bad stories, scary stories. To this day, I don’t know the origin of these stories because no one in our family had ever met him. As if he knew we kids were watching him from our balcony he would suddenly stop and turn to look at us.  This usually sent us screaming inside.   I remember his eyes were unblinking, and catlike.

The stories we heard about puli were wild. How he came to be called ‘puli’ (his eyes were yellow like a tiger’s), and most terrorizing to us kids, that he had a girl tied up in chains inside the room by the balcony where he could be seen. This girl was supposed to be his sister, and mentally unstable. That he was guarding this mad person. And that he never let her out of the house. Never fed her.

If you have ever walked on Tana Street, you know it’s a madhouse. My grandfather’s house was across from a church. We would go for walks in evenings to the market to buy the day’s vegetables, and crossing the spot where his house was, in the back of Tana Street, was comparable to going past a cemetery. I would literally hold my breath and was very aware of his house, and the catlike stare and the pacing, until I passed it.

My grandparents eventually moved away from Tana Street but we never solved the mystery of the tiger. I wonder what was really going on in that house. I wonder if puli is still alive. I don’t know why I suddenly thought about him today, but it’s one of those memories that still sends shivers up my spine.

Is this an irrational fear or a sixth sense? I don’t know…and hope to never find out.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. vaish
    Mar 25, 2016 @ 15:53:18

    I was reminded of To Kill a Mocking Bird 🙂



  2. sri
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 06:43:35

    Ha! Never struck me but now that I think about it, we had a Boo Radley in good old Purasawalkam Tana Street!



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