My thoughts went back. Soon after I left the college completing my studies, I got an assignment in a WHO project at Trichur and Dr.Vaidynatha iyer, my relative, asked his friend Sharodi, to accommodate me in his house, as a tenant. ‘Sharodies’ basically are ‘ambalavasies’ , serving the Kerala temples. My posting at Trichur was only for six months but that short period was one of the happiest in my life. We were a small team of physicians, social workers in specialized fields and Lab.technicians and our task was to visit the peripheral villages before the residents go for work, study their physical condition, collect blood, urine or fecal samples, collect family statistics, treat them for minor ailments or take them to the city hospital for treatment, if necessary. I had to get ready by 6.30 when the Jeep comes to pick me up. The Muthi, the granny of the sharam, used to wake me up by about 5.0 in the morning: ‘Smaikkutty, Samikkutty, eneekku, panikkukku pokandae’ get up, my child, you have to go for work’ She had placed a photo of Guruvayoorappn and would take me towards it and ask me to look at the God first. Then she would hand over a packet of umikkari ( home made tooth powder made out of burnt paddy husk mixed with some herbal ingredients ) along with a kindi ( a brass vessel with a long nose filled with water and an earkala ( thin rib of the leaf of the coconut tree ) for cleaning the tongue. She would then give me a hot cup of tea, hand over my thorthumundu (bath towel ), soap box and a small pack of vibhoothi (holy ash to apply on the forehead etc after bath ) and escort me to the nearby pond, vadakkae chira and wait on the steps still I finish my bath and go to the temples. I used to visit every morning three main temples in the town and those visits, walk around the ‘Thekkinkadu’ central plateau, after a cold water bath used to inject tons of freshness into the system. Lovely maidens, in snow white dress used to visit tbe temples, early morning every day , although that alone was not the cause of my happiness. This is just a casual remark. The Malayalee women of Trichur have a divine aura around them! This also is a casual remark. But believe me for an youngster, moving out of home for the first time, leaving behind the petting of affectionate parents and padding of siblings, there could not be a better platform than the sharam life, for take off. I became nostalgic and Ammu too, when she whispered at my ear asking me to go for a jogging, soon after we finished enjoying the night feast. Like me, she too felt, the crowded marriage ambiance unfit for our celebration of a much-awaited union. I could guess that the memory of the evenings we spent together at the vast thekkin kadu ground, around the temple was blooming in her mind. I used to carry her on my shoulders though she preferred to walk, to establish her freedom, move around , fall twenty times and cry loudly every time she falls.“Appa, we will just go for a walk around the town ” I pleaded for my father’s permission.” In this late hour ? ” he admonished, “you have to get up before sunrise tomorrow” “Atchaa, please; anju nimisham, five minutes ” Ammu too pleaded and obtained Appa’s permission . Every one looked at us with widened eyes. It was, however as usual, given to Lalitha to express the disapproval of the family to our innocent action.“Again the vedalam has climbed upon the tree,” Lalitha mumbled initially and later, asked her sister in a louder tone. ” how, you a relaxing star, are you going to spend your life with this restless sea? Akka, I am warning you, you are going to carry too big a load on your tiny head ”Ratnam just smiled.‘Athai, will you please put this Lalitha genie inside your pepper- powder bottle and close it firmly?” I asked athai, “and don’t release her till I return to Palakkad.”
“How do you manage to convert every opportunity into a problem, whereas my sister carves an opportunity out of every problem,” Lalitha got up from her chair and asked me.“It is just eight hours since you have landed here, but every minute, you create a new problem, that too with the speed of light.”
“You, yourself are a problem for me, Lalitha!” I replied in a soft voice ” And your main problem is that you are meeting an intelligent man for the first time in your lifetime”
“ You are meeting an intelligent woman for the first time ” She chided, “Your abysmally low IQ level was perhaps the only attraction for my sister. For that matter, every girl wants the boy she chooses, one step below her in all respects, of course except in financial status. No sensible girl would like to marry an intelligent man. He will neither live his life nor allow his wife to live hers. For me also that was the attraction in you. Otherwise, when you proposed to me, near the well…..”
Before she could complete the sentence, every one enquired, ”tell us what he proposed?”
“What will he propose ?” Her sister intervened to rescue me again, “he proposed a literary debate and Lalitha readily agreed. Both are good in literature”
I looked at Ammu and winked, as if to tell her, ”look, how she saved me!” This, along with her sister’s support to me enraged Lalitha. She changed her strategy. Addressing none in particular, she said,” that sweet little one, Ammu is going without eating payasam ”
“I will eat after we return ” Ammu said and I added, ” please ask the cook to keep three tumblers filled, on the table, before they go to sleep”
“May I know sir, who is that third person, me?” Lalitha enquired with a mocking humility.
“No way; you will be inside the pepper powder bottle, when we return. Your sister will give us company’
“You expect your bride to wait for you, like a heroin in Tamil serials, when you return after dancing into small hours?”
“Isn’t she a star?” I asked her, “that is what you told me, a while ago”
“You are impossible, athimbar”. She surrendered herself.
Ammu was becoming restless. “Good night, everybody!” I wished and disappeared from there along with Ammu.
We didn’t go far. The ‘thekkin kadu’ would be empty at night and we didn’t want to go there. We sat below an adjacent tree and spent an hour or two, recalling our sharam days.
We had much to talk about.