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Childhood fears and fantasies


Kakkamma and Kochunni
 
“Amma! Don’t hand over my baby sister to her” I yelled springing from the bed, glancing with half-opened eyes the huge woman standing in a corner, ready to grab the baby from my mother’s hands. “She is Poothana who has come to kill babies, crossing the hillocks and railway track”
“You are still wrapped up in the scenes of the kathakali dance you were watching last night in the temple” Mother hugged and kept me close to her for some time and consoled. ‘’She is Kakkamma who has just joined our household to help me”.  Then, turning to father, she chided him,” Why did you take the child to such fearsome shows?”
“Did you not see Poothana falling down and dyeing, her life blood having been sucked by baby Krishna?” Father drew me close to his chest and asked.”How could a dead person come to life, cross the hillock and railway track and come here? Have you ever seen or heard dead men or women coming back to life?”
“Yes, I have. Lohithakshan did”.  Despite the sleeps slender hold on me, I recollected the scene in the Harichandra story, as told by my grandmother.
“You are right” Now grand mother came to support me.”That was because the God Siva blessed the innocent child and restored his life. Poothana was a demon and God Krishna killed her. How could she come out of death?”
There seems to be a point in what grandmother said. I came out of grandmother’s weak hands and looked at the woman standing like a hillock with no expression on her face, with no movements in her limbs, her rough, black hair flying all over her head.
“Amma, I don’t want her here” I pleaded. ‘’She looks horrible”
“As you please” Amma said, “if you don’t want her, I too don’t need her services”
“She has a robust body”. Father said “I will send her to our farm. She will take good care of the cattle. Kochunni needs a helping hand”. Kochunni was the manager of our farm.
Kakkamma was dropped that morning, for travelling without a valid ticket, from the Coimbatore train by a duty-conscious ticket examiner at the Railway Station close to our house. A kind hearted constable, Panicker, brought her to father’s hotel seeking some food and a job too if available for the hapless woman.
“Your father and Panicker had travelled together all over the country, without valid tickets seeking jobs or adventure, during their early days” Grand ma said,” their sympathy for Kakkamma is, therefore understandable”.
With her jet-black silky skin, protruding nose and squint eye, her parents could not have chosen a better name than the one relating to ‘kakkai’ or crow. Her thick black velvety hair freely flowing almost to the back of her knees, tall frame with broad shoulders, an extra finger on hands, muscular upper arms and lower back exhibiting prominent tattooing of snakes and vultures, elevated breast inefficiently wrapped by a yellow cotton sari with black spots, a don’t -care serious look and disarranged dental rows discolored by tobacco juice- all these imprinted a fearful image in my tender heart and lead me to conclude that she was an abnormal, mysterious woman, even though she might not be the demon in the story.
After a couple of days I accompanied my father to visit our farm, It was always a pleasure to play under the mango groves, enjoying the soft wind and sound of birds.
Kochunni took me aside and gave a brief account of what happened there, after the entry of Kakkamma.
“The moment Kakkamma entered the cowshed; the bovine population became panicky and tried to escape, untying their ropes. They would have run hither and thither, had I not been there to control them, a fact you should bring to your father’s notice” He reminded and continued.” Dozens of coconut leaves fell on the roof of the shed making ‘thud, thud’ sound, though they were at the pink of their health and I removed all alone, all the leaves-you may bring this too to the notice of the ‘valia muthalali’ my master.
“Could you show me those big branches?” I inquired purely out of curiosity.”How could I “, he replied,” the moment Kakkamma came closer, those leaves turned into snakes and ran for their life. She would have caught them and swallowed if they had not fled that fast”
That was an unforgettable scene. Long and strong coconut branches turning into cobras and speeding up to escape from a monstrous woman!
“My young master may perhaps not believe when I tell you the third incident: a meteor flashed the sky ‘with a hissing sound”. He moved his limbs to dramatize the meteor’s fall.   “Moreover, Kakkamma chased rats, rodents and even a snake roaming in the farm, gripped them in her claw- like hands and tossed them as if they were a stack of straw or a handful of cow dung”. Again he moved his hand to show the fall of the cow dung.
I enjoyed Kochunni’s mono act and narration. He was a short, lean man with no flesh on his bones. His right eye was twisted and crossed and I especially liked the way he jumped on his small feet to describe the fall of the coconut leaves on the roof and the way he ran to show the speed of the big snakes.
I went back and reported to my father. He was cool, as usual. “Kochunni would have become panicky and not the quadrupeds or the tree branches. That idiot is now worried about losing his job”. That was all what he said, before picking up his betel nut box for the next chew.
Another day when I went to the farm, Kochunni placed a tender coconut before me and asked, “do you know who brought these tender coconuts down the tree?” and answered his own query “Kakkamma”.
“Appa, is it possible for a woman to climb a coconut tree?” I asked my father while returning home.
‘’Possible but usually they don’t as it is a bit risky”. Father answered and asked me after a while, “did Kochunni telll you that Kakkamma climbed the tree?”
‘’Yes”
“Then, it was a lie”
Next time, during my visit to the farm, there was, suddenly, a rain of pebbles on the roof of the cowshed making ‘thud thud’ sound.” I was freighted and rushed towards Kochunni and asked him whether it was ‘kuttichathan’s work.
“It is.” He confirmed. “And that Kuttichathan is none than our Kakkamma”‘. Kuttichathan is goblin, a grotesque sprite, mischievous and malicious toward people.
I was not prepared to buy father’s explanation that the jealous Kochunni’s hands were behind the dirty trick and he would have thrown the stones hiding behind the well.
I shared Kochunni’s stories with my classmates. They too had one or two similar incidents to narrate.
“In every house, there seems to be an idiot” said my father.
‘Banian’ venkitaraman, from our village, used to take shelter in our hotel when he returns from Tiruppur with his stock of vests and briefs for retail sale.
“I arrived by the night train and went to the backyard for easing myself” He was shivering with fear when he narrated his previous night experience.”A big, dark woman with wide- spread black hairs was sitting below the neem tree, puffing fire and smoke from her mouth. I swooned at the spot and could get up only this morning”
“Did you actually see a woman or someone, this morning, told you that there was a woman sitting below the neem tree?’ Father asked. “Kakkamma has a habit of enjoying her cigar or ‘churuttu’, after a hard day’s work and an elaborate bath at night. But she was not here last night.”
“I saw some smoke behind the well and when I mentioned to Kunjunni about it, he said that it was a witch named Kakkamma who comes at midnight to smoke her churuttu”
“So, you would have swooned only after hearing Kotchunni’s story this morning. Right?’’
Father asked him and remarked, pushing a handful of betel nut into his mouth.” You are fit only to sell banians”
Venkitaman thought for a moment, partially closing his eyes and replied.”Anna, I am not sure whether I swooned before meeting Kochuuni or after talking to him”
“You are not fit even to sell banians” Father admonished him.
Kochunni called me aside one day and told Kakkamma was going to the river- side at night not just to take bath or enjoy her churuttu, but to meet her late husband whose spirit comes at night to relax on the banian tree behind the Shiva temple on the river side. I have heard that the spirits of Brahmins who met with ‘apamruthyu’ or unnatural death, arrive on that tree top for night halt and quench their thirst by reaching the water below, holding the drooping roots. They are called ‘Brahmarakhshas’ and my grandmother had told me stories about those ghosts of unmarried Brahmins. People have seen Kakkamma sitting below the tree and smoking. Someone from Kalpathy told me that he had learned from his friend that Kakkamma was the same woman who murdered her husband, a Brahmin boy from Salem and it was to meet his soul that she visited the banian tree at nights.
Another story in circulation was that Kakkamma was seen in the form of Yakshi or woman ghost, on the small bridge over the river. There is a burial ground near that place. Two Brahmins were returning from the ‘Gowder Cinema’ after the night show and Kakkamma attacked them and carried one person to the nearby cremation ground. She flew to the top of the tree along with her prey, smashed his bones after sucking his blood and threw the pieces all around the tree. “I have seen this with my own eyes” said Kochunni to my grandmother.” I can show you the shattered bone pieces under that tree, if you bother to come with me now”. He was certain that she would never be able to go there.
“What happened to the second victim?” I enquired exhaling with fear.
“He escaped without a scratch as he was holding a Gita book firm in his hand”
‘Does anyone carry Gita book, while going to a movie theatre?’ asked my grandmother.
“He did and thus escaped from death”
The fear about the Brahmarakshas hanging from the tree branches and the attack of Yakshi was so deeply implanted in my mind that for several years I skipped the Shivan Kovil route to my school.
“Where is Kochunni?” I enquired when he was not to be found in the farm and Kakkamma was sitting alone.
‘’Antha odiyan enghe tholanchutho? Who knows about the whereabouts of that odiyan” She replied carelessly.
“Odiyan, what does it mean?” I had never heard that word before.
“Odiyan is a black magician” She explained “At his will; he can take the form of an ox and kill anyone he wants to, by twisting the victim’s neck”. It was a terrible revelation.
“We have several oxen” I had a valid doubt. ‘’But how do you know that he is not one among them”
“It is easy. Odiyan will have only three legs”
From that day, every time I happened to see an ox, I used to count its legs.
The fear about the brahmarakshas hanging from the tree branches and the attack of yakshi was so deeply implanted in my mind that for several years I skipped the Sivan Kovil route to my school.
“Where is Kochunni?” I enquired, when he was not to be found in the farm and Kakkamma was sitting alone.
“‘Antha odiyan enghe tholanchutho? Who knows about the whereabouts of that odiyan” She replied carelessly.
“Odiyan, what does it mean?” I had never heard that word before.
“Odiyan is a black magician” She explained “At his will, he can take the form of an ox and kill anyone he wants to, by twisting the victim’s neck”. it was a terrible revelation.
“We have several oxen” I had a valid doubt. ‘But how do you know that he is not one among them”
“It is easy. Odiyan will have only three legs”
From that day, every time I happened to see an ox, I used to count its legs.
One day grand mother told Appa that Kakkamma and Kochunni were quarrelling frequently and they should be separated.”I have a fear that they are coming too close and either they will join hands to pilfer the farm yields or sleep in the same mat”.
“They will do both” father agreed with her.”In fact I have already thought about it and decided to shift Kochunni to the shop”
There was no need for that. Next day, Panicker reported that he saw them together, boarding the Coimbatore train..
‘’But why didn’t you stop them?” Asked mother.
“Why should he?’ father.
“How could I, when they had valid tickets?’ Panicker.
“I know that my son and Panciker have always been soft towards eloping couple” quipped  Grand mother.
‘’Why Patti. Did Appa and Panicker elope with women?’
You know who asked that question.
If not, you are not concentrating on my story; you are seriously counting the legs of oxen, passing across the street.
———————–

Baltimore,

July 4, 2008

1 thought on “Childhood fears and fantasies

  1. Sriman “perinkula”-tthinde katha valare theerchayaay besh! Odiyan, kutti-chchaaththaan, apamrithyu aay marichcha brahma-raakshasanmaar! Vere enthokke aanu vendathu? Maathramalla: Ardha-raathriyil iruttil katha-kaliaattam kaanikkunna Lohithaakshaan, Poothana, Sreekrishna-paramaatma. Chittayayi.
    Matthe pattarmaarinde abhippraayam enthaane?
    Naaraayanasvaami-pattar

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