‘My maiden US visit’ is a hilarious and imaginative account of my leaving home for a foreign country.
‘Pozhakkatheiryatha brahmanan- innocent Brahmin!’ – that is me!
Every week- end, my children call from America and talk for almost an hour.
‘Are overseas calls free in US ?’ I used to wonder . Once , after discussion about almost everything under the sun, my second son, Atchuth, who weighs his words in a Mettler balance before spilling, like his mother and unlike his father, inquired, ‘ Dad! When is Ramiah’s black cow’s confinement expected ? ‘
While studying here, he never used to bother whether the milk he was drinking was that of cow’s or camel’s. Now he wants to know minutely about every happening here at home, his town and his country, including the expected delivery date of neighbour Ramiah’s cow!! Poor kids, they long for the smell of the soil from which they sprouted! ‘Please get me a picture of our cow Kavery when you come to US,’ he demanded.
Yes, my maiden US trip has been organized by my children and I am excited.
A list of dos and don’ts followed and my first trial of instruction number one, was with my cook, Kalyani. When she entered my room with morning coffee, I greeted her by a pleasant ‘hai’ and then said ‘thank you’, when she kept the tumbler on the central table. She looked into my eyes sternly, waited for a while keenly observing the way I was sipping from the tumbler instead of raising it a foot high. While she came closer to remove the coffee tumbler, I grabbed her hand and again said ‘thank you’. There is a limit for anything. She looked at my eyes, as if she was looking at them for the first time, collected the tumbler, bolted out murmuring, “Pavam, Sámi; yakshi piditchu”- poor Sir, he is under the influence of an evil force !
‘Ramu, excuse me, will you please sneeze for me?’
I asked the boy next door, ‘I wanted to say ‘bless you’!’
‘Say bless you’ when someone sneezes- was the instruction no. 2
‘Sneezing and snoring can’t be forced upon, grand pa,’ the disobedient kid chided, ‘you should have known by now’. When I explained to him that it was a part of my trials, he retorted, !then, you should sneeze, not me!’
I attempted a mock sneeze and failed miserably. He responded spontaneously, ‘Bless you! You need that in tons’
See how he talks at eight? I never dared to talk to any elders so arrogantly even at forty eight!
Home is hardly an ideal place for practicing, I realized by now and decided to continue my practice outdoor.
‘Amma! Parvada vardhini! Bagunnava- how do you do?,’ I inquired as I entered my former colleague’s house and declared:
‘within a month I am off to America . Have you heard about that great country? You know it is…..’. I spread my hands sideways to impress upon her that country’s size.
‘Am I looking like a ‘parvatham’-mountain for your soda-glass eyes?,’ She yelled, ‘one hundred times, I have asked you to call me Puppy’
‘Puppy sounds like a pet dog’s name,’ I tried to reason out with her,’ and your worthy parents would have named you after a mountain, probably foreseeing your future development and expansion’
Ignoring my explanation, she called her servant woman, Pochamma and ordered, ‘tell him how many times you visited US, so far, to baby-sit my grand daughter?’
‘Five or six, Pappi,’ she replied in a semi American accent and in fully American style of addressing known people by their first name.
Kitta Anna is my neighbor. He was my senior while in service, but even though both of us retired long ago, he still considers me his subordinate. I sneaked into his house after making sure that he had left for his morning walk and only Manni (his wife) was at home. ‘Manni! I have good news,’ I said while entering the house.
‘You bought a new ball pen??’ she inquired.
‘Why should I, when I can get a new one every time I borrow from others? ‘ I joked and declared, ‘I am going to US shortly.’
She discarded the broomstick in a corner and rushed inside to get sweets for me. By that time my venerable former boss entered inquiring, ‘ Ivan enna seiran inke- what is this fellow doing here?’
‘Congratulate him,’ manni prompted her husband, pointing her finger towards me. ‘He is going to America ‘
‘Onakku ennada theriyum- what on earth do you know?’ Anna yelled as usual. That was the question he used to ask me often when I was working as a clerk under him years ago. Then he turned towards his wife and commanded : ‘Ask him whether he can write a leave- letter without five mistakes?’
‘Manni! Tell Anna that I am not going to America to write leave- letters,’ I said, subtly establishing my independence in the post- retirement era.
‘He deplorably lacks common sense and can’t even go to Palakkad without someone’s assistance, and he says that he is going to America’, said Kitta anna and with a contemptuous look, moved away, murmuring, ‘he needs Ammalu’s help even to go to bathroom’
Next, I went to Pazhavoor Parukkutty’s house, in the next street.
She was excited. ‘Anna, how lucky I am! I was waiting to hear this happy news for years’
‘I am a bit confused,’ I responded, worrying whether she was planning to accompany me and spoil my trip, I inquired ‘How does my trip bring you luck and why are you so thrilled on my leaving the country?’
‘Sweet sappidungo-have sweet first’. She handed over a small piece of laddu and within no time, served half-a-tumbler of hot coffee too. I was not prepared for that hospitality from her. It was happening for the first time.
Her husband entered while I was enjoying the coffee.
‘She gave you coffee? he inquired disbelievingly. ‘Mattikkindai- pity you ! you are hooked ,’ he said. I didn’t know what he meant.
That evening Parukkutty came home with five pieces of tapioca pappadams and handing them over to me, gloom pervading her face, as if she was parting with five gold coins, said, ‘my mother brought them from Kollam last month’
‘Your mother brought them last month and you were holding them with you safely so far?,’ I inquired and added, ‘Pappadam and Pazhavur Parukkutty never age’
She was immensely pleased.
Next day she came with another gift: six pieces of ‘thair molakai’ – chillies soaked in curd and dried.
‘These too were brought by your mother last month? ,’ I asked disbelievingly.
‘No, I prepared them, specially, for you?’ she replied, ‘one should be liberal in giving’
‘Indeed, one should be liberal in giving, like you,’ I endorsed .
Next day she came home, with a carton, full of dolls and before opening it, placed on my hands, two ‘cheedai’ balls, so small that even a toddler could swallow twenty at a time.
‘Here are a few dolls for my daughter, Saraswathy, which she says, will bring her prosperity, if I send them through you’
‘Did she say so?,’ I asked raising my head high.
‘She did,’ replied the good lady,’ she knows that you are pious and Godly’
Wah, no woman in my whole district had given me such as a certificate.
I was pleased beyond words. Still, with difficulty, I could collect a few words and said, ‘how the western life refines people! You remember, before she left for US, she used to describe me as having a ‘saintly’ look but a ‘satanic’ outlook.
Parukkutty wanted my earnest opinion on an issue which was disturbing her. ‘Is it appropriate to send, for the first time to a married daughter, these dolls of Rama, Sita and Lakshmanan on their way to forest?’ Then, without waiting for my reply she added, ‘can I send a set of Dasavatharam dolls also?’
‘Please do, I replied. Within ten minutes Mahavishnu’s all avatarams were before me.
Her gloomy look revealed her sadness in Mahavishnu limiting his incarnation to ten.
‘I wanted to pack an Anjaneya also along with these dolls, to accompany you in your first visit across the seas. But, I wanted your permission’
‘Seeking my permission to do me a favor?,’ I chided that innocent woman. ‘After all, it was Anjaneya who crossed the sea, before Columbus or any other sailor’
She walked up to the gate and returned.
’See, I am suggesting this only because I know you well. You are a poet; a man of love and a devotee of Krishna. Carry with you the dolls of those divine lovers, Radha and Krishna too’
My stars have started shining too bright! Women are showering complements on me !
Anju Reddy’s wife Manju, came running, looked deep into my eyes and lamented, ‘ don’t want to talk to you, Sir’
‘Why madam?,’ gazed at her saddened face, ‘did I commit some wrongs, unknowingly?’
‘You worry about the welfare of everyone in this colony, but never take care of your own health. See how anaemic you look!’
Anxiety was overflowing in her words, when she said: How anaemic you look!
‘Anaemic ? Just last week, my Hb value was excellent!’
‘No sir, you are glowing as ever! I was joking,’ she exclaimed with a sigh of relief,. ‘You look as smart as you were ten years before’
‘But Anju! Ten years ago, you were in US! ‘
My smartness never fades but how could she have noticed it from America?
‘My dad always used to talk high about you’ . Her clarification was impressive; her drunkard dad often used to ask me whether I was circular or linear, in shape.
While leaving, she asked me an innocent question; ‘Can I send through you a small packet of ‘avakkai’ pickle for my sister in Texas?’
‘Give me two packets Anju, why one?’
I was really liberal. She, in fact, brought five!!
Like this my load increased. Wet grinder, coconut scrapper, Pulla Reddy sweets, coffee filter, sevai maker, iddli cooker—you name it; I am carrying that. Anju was responsible for collecting the gifts and packing them. She did a good job..
“Pozhakkatheriyatha Brhamana!’ Ammalu took her forefinger to the tip of her nose and looked at me, pitying my foolishness.