Mind is not a sealed cement tank.
‘This is the picture of my Appa, Ramaiyer or Ramappa for others’BB extended the black and white photo of a middle aged smiling face, forehead brightened by vibhoothi-chandanam marks.
‘When, my mother was struggling with a tender child and a tenacious mother to take care of and living with fear that any boisterous young man could attack her anytime, Ramappa induced confidence in her, ‘child, Something, no doubt is lost, but not everything’. He held her hand and assured, ‘I won’t continue in this company long but my affection to you will continue for ever’
‘ I was playing in a bush near by when he was passing, holding a toy-train. I asked for that. He replied that he was taking it for his ‘ponnu’, daughter and would buy another one for me. I cried that I wanted the very same toy. ‘Nee aaru ponnu, who are you, baby?’ he enquired. He had seen me only as months-old kid and therefor could not recognize me.
. ‘Ponnu ,’ I repeated his word. ‘Nan aru, who am I,’ was his next question. ‘Appa,’ I replied. I did not remember my father’s face but knew that the person I was talking to, was Ramappa. Everyone in the estate called him by that name. That was a long word for me and therefore I replied in short, “Appa’ Ramappa gave that toy to me and lifted me above his shoulders. I bolted to show it to mom. She was standing walking distance away. ‘Who gave you?; she thundered . I replied ‘appa’ and showed Ramappa who was following me.
That evening Ramappa sent a message to mother asking her to meet him at his house. I went along with her.
‘The training you received at home has emboldened your interest in self-dependency and what is required now is to channel that in the proper direction and derive methods to enhance its intrinsic value.’ Ramappa told mom. ‘ Hear carefully. I have bargained the tea shop opposite to my house, for you, as its owner Nair is going to Kerala for good. The initial investment will be mine but the license and other owner shop rights will be with you. To frustrate your feeling that you are extended an undue favor by me, you will work in my house and support my wife in her household duties, if you have no objection. Your child will grow in my house along with my children and will be educated along with them. You are free either to stay with us at night or go back to your house. There will be complete flexibility for you in action, thoughts and living. I am offering this with the full cooperation and agreement of my wife and children and that is why I invited you here for this discussion. Otherwise I would have discussed this matter in my office or in the tea garden. No hurry. Convey your decision to my wife within a week’
Mother did not wait for a week, not even a day.
‘’Ramappa, you arranged my wedding and saved me from a humiliation and lifetime mental agony . You, in fact , saved two lives, mine and my child’s and thereby delayed the exit of another one , that of my mother. It was on your suggestion, a tutor was arranged for me and again it was on your suggestion the company is paying me an extra amount every month for the child- care. It was you who named my daughter as Easwary against the suggested name of Elizabeth by her father and Ellakka by my mother. I have not seen the face of my father and it may not be like yours but I know that his heart would have been like yours. Whatever you do will be for my benefit and whatever you say is my father’s order for me ‘
Mother moved away from there, unable to control the waves of emotion beating her inside.
‘ Your mother never mentioned about your dad to you or others?’ . Asked Ammalu.
It was obvious that In Ammalu’s mind, the thought ‘how a woman could forget her child’s father so easily’, was surfacing frequently.
‘No, she never mentioned about dad to me,’ BB’s confession was clear.
‘I presume mom never pardoned dad for his misbehavior . In one way it was good for both. The tribal upbringing, habits and believes could never go hand in hand with the western civilization and had she gone to London she would have become a psychological wreck and the life of dad too would have become miserable ‘
I admired the way BB narrated her family history and wondered how intelligently her semi-literate mother tackled the problems of life. I remembered my father’s words,
‘Padichavan ellam arivaaliyum illai ; padikkathavanellam muttalum illai’
All those educated are not wise and all those uneducated are not fools.
‘Within a week, the ‘Nair Tea Shop’ became ‘Ramappa provision stores’
BB continued her life history. ‘My mom insisted that the shop should be named after Appa and he suggested that apart from tea, forest produces also should be made available to the tourists . Mother looked after the tea making and sale and another experienced person was employed for selling wood oils, curios, coffee seeds, tea leaves, spices etc. After completing his estate duties Appa sat in the shop to manage the cash and accounts.
Within a very short period mom and me became an inseparable part of the Appa family. I have two mothers now, Muthamma, my biological mother and ‘Amma’ my foster one . (I started calling her ‘amma’ along with her own kids ). My foster father had already become my ‘Appa’ when I addressed him just before he gifted me the toy train. Me and my mother were sharing everything with my foster parents, food, clothes, all amenities -the very life itself. We grew together. Out tribal practices had become a thing of the past and for all practical purpose we had become Palakkad Iyers. The transformation was painless and in fact, it was pleasant. For the first few days, Muthamma was allotted only the cleaning and maintaining the house and surrounding and taking the kids to school, washing clothes and washing the frontage of the house in the morning hours. Amma used to do the cleaning of the pooja room and drawing kolams . After a few weeks, she was asked to help in kitchen work, such as cutting vegetables, cleaning vessels etc. She had to take bath before entering the kitchen as Amma was used to do. Muthamma was closely watching the way Amma was cooking, packing lunch for Appa and kids for the school. One day when Amma had a high fever and was unable to have a wash, she asked Muthamma to take care of the kitchen which she did with admirable skill, unexpected from a tribal woman. Then on, she was asked to take over the daily chores, except during those days when, ‘madi’ was strictly observed such as shradham, amavasya tharpanam etc. The daily prasadam’ for Appa’s Sivapoojai was always prepared by Amma only. Every evening Appa spent an hour with the kids for teaching prayer songs at dusk and then our school lessons. The first lesson I learned from him was ‘”suklambaradharam Vishnum.
‘Initially, learn the slokams with correct pronunciation, without missing or changing a single word,’ he instructed, making us to sit before a kuthuvilakku, brass lamp, after cleaning our hands and legs. ‘Later, I will teach you the meaning’.
His sitting posture, bared chest and a clean white double veshti covering lower part, vibhoothi marks on his forehead and other appropriate places, Tulasi malai hanging from his neck, surfaces several time in the pool of mind, whenever it is clear and when it becomes turbid too’
‘Keep you pool always clean ,‘ Parasu adviced asked, ‘don’t allow filth and fish to enter ?’
‘’Filth and fish will always enter a pool unless it is a cement tank protected from all the sides including the top,’ BB replied. ‘And mind is not a sealed cement tank’