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The smell of the soil – chapter 03

The elder couple enjoyed a good sleep, forced by jet lag and facilitated by plenty of warm materials, room heater, thick and soft mattress over a spring bed at comfortably reachable height, night lamp, chukku vellam (medicated warm water ) in thermos  and a toilet close by.
Ramya had thoughtfully hung a picture of the God Guruvayoorappan, on the wall opposite to their bed, after removing a wildlife picture there. They were happy and contended to see the God’s smiling face, the moment they opened their eyes. Swamy sits on meditation, on the bed, for some time while mami was looking for a ‘suprabhatham’ recitation by MS[1], and Ramya, noticing her mother in law’s searching eyes and sharpened ears, switches on the computer and plays the favorite devotional music. Thus started, really well, the first chapter of the maiden morn in America, for the elders, on their maiden trip, outside their country.
The second part is hot filter- coffee and the newspaper.
“Hindu paper kidaikkuma? (The Hindu paper available here?)” -Swamy to his son, as soon as Ramya placed two tumblers of coffee on the table, for the elders.
”Vasallae kolampottaya (have you drawn kolam [2] in the front?” Shyamu,, to her daughter in law.
Ramu explains that only local papers are available.  He places a big bundle, which his father rejects outright, as there were hardly any news, none on India and only advertisements. The Indian TV channels were being arranged and within a day or two, said Ramu.
” Appa, you should learn to handle the computer so that you can read the news online and also hear YouTube music,” he suggests.
“At this age?”,Swamy asks, but covertly wondering,” am I really that old?”
Every time he tells someone, “I am old, I can’t do this” etc, he hears a message from within, that he is not that old. But, he worries about his aging, the moment his wife says, “onkalukku vayassu aayatchu, jagradai-you are getting old, take care.”
Ramya tells mami that it is not possible to draw kolam outside as cold winds are blowing and moreover, the floor is not ideal for any drawing, as it is wet. She had, however, drawn before the deities in the kitchen. “Let me try” says Shyamu and returns within a moment, unable to stand the cold breeze outside.
“Where do I dry my cloth after bath?” enquires mami, “are there strings or ropes at the back?’
“No, ma, you cannot dry them outside” Ramya clarifies, ‘‘the machine will wash and dry too”. Mami’s face shrinks. She doesn’t like the idea of her sari getting mixed with other clothes, rotating in a closed machine and getting dried without the sunshine treatment. She fondly remembers her washing the clothes, applying Sunlight soap and beating it on the granite step of the temple pond, dipping it fully spread, into the clear water and drying in open air. “There is a joy in doing that”, she mutters unintentionally which was overheard by her husband.
“In doing what?” he asks instantly.
”Oh! Your ears?. You were a snake in the precious birth” Mami chides.
“I was, no doubt” he jokes, “that is how I chose you as my partner in this birth”
“Where do I do my sandhyavandhanam[[3] ?” enquies Mama after his bath, “in the front or back or in the deck?”
“In summer, you can do anywhere outside, but not now.” Ramu tells his dad. Now mama’s face shrinks.
The memories of his ablution in the village temple- pond and performing the morning and evening prayers on its bank, surges and he feels sad that for the next six months he will miss that pleasure. The imaginary sight of his white  veshti 5, held high in his hands, fluttering in the breeze, making soft sound as if it was talking to the wind, amuses him and he explains to his grandson, through hand movement how the cloth attempts to escape from his hands and fly in the air but he holds it back. The little one understands nothing though he enjoys the hiss made by his grandpa. ‘Thatha, show that again” he demands and Subbu repeats the show with joy. Swan tries to imitate and unsatisfied with his attempt but determined to prove his caliber, picks up a whistle from his mount of toys and makes repeated whizzing sound. “Thathaa, see whether you can do, as I did? ” asks he, handing over the instrument. Thatha pretends as if he is unfit to do the job. The child grabs the whistle and blows more forcefully and proves his superiority, to tom tom which he rushes to his grand ma. ‘Thatha can’t whistle, thatha can’t whistle,” he boasts clapping his hands.
“Thahta doesn’t know anything,” Grand ma supports him and complains, “he knows only to shout at me.”
“Amma, you mentioned Appa is your everything for you, a few hours before and how do you say now that he is nothing?” Asks Ramya with a naughty smile.
“I know nothing and that is how I became her everything,” clarifies the jovial husband, ” which woman wants a husband, who knows something ?”
“Appa, damaging statement,” Ramu laughs .
Swan realizes that all were blaming thatha for his inability to whiz and being a good friend, it is his duty to help him. He holds thatha’s hand and asks him to follow.Thatha obediently, silently follows the child,who makes his grand pa to sit comfortably and handing over the whistle,  teaches  how to hold it in the mouth and operate. ” Blow once, let me see whether you are doing properly,” the infant Guru orders and alas, the sishya is now able to do the  job perfectly. Now none will scold him .The kid’s face glows with happiness.
Then, thatha explains how, after bath, he enters the temple,” and there stands a big elephant ! “.
”How big thatha?, this big,?’” he enqires, rising his tiny hands and thatha explains, “this big” stretching his hand as much as possible and standing on tip toe.
“Appa, be careful,” warns Ramya,”don’t slip”
Mami is getting down the stairs, for taking bath, which does not escape the eyes of the old man, though the cataract has partially dimmed their brightness.
“Wait, wait. I am coming, ” he yells and tries to reach her, when he notices that Ramya is already there helping his wife.
“Does he keeps a watch on amma’s movements even in his sleep,?” wonders Ramya.
Mami did enjoy the warm water shower though she had some hesitation initially.
“There is no privacy,” she complains, “I don’t like the glass cover on two sides “
“No privacy?”  Swamy laughs, ” true, not as much as in your village tank, fully exposed to the sky and surroundings. I presume that your problem her is, you have a closed chamber with opaque glass sheets and in addition a curtain too ”
” I don’t know ” mami replies, “moreover, I miss the satisfaction of washing my sari with my own hand and  Sun-drying it.”
“These are unwanted imaginations and you should come out of these inhibitions ” Mama remarks and laughs, loudly.
“Why are you laughing?” Mami enquires wondering what was there to amuse him in what she said.
” I too had the same feelings, imaginations or inhibitions, whatever you call it ” he replies and laughes again.
“Appa, that is real fun” adds Ramu couple who overheard their conversation .
“Amma, I have finished my bath; shall I prepare the ‘neivedyam’ for Appa’s worship? ” Ramya asks, “Shall I keep rice in the cooker?”
“No, you open the suitcase in which my clothes are kept” Mami instructs,” there is in it, a small brass vessel with lid. Take it out. I will cook rice in it for neivediyam “
“How did the vessel escape from my notice when I cleared your baggage?” enquires Ramu.
“It was well wrapped in my clothes to prevent damage in transit,” his mother clarifies, “that vessel belonged to your great grandmother.”
“Are you hearing Ramya ?” Ramu. “Yes, I am ” She answers.
“if you have finished your Sandhya, have some snacks and coffee, appa ” Ramya suggests, ” your pooja can be performed after that”
“App will not eat unless he feeds his gods?” Mami says, “but he will have one more tumbler of coffee”
“Because the gods doesn’t drink coffee,” adds Ramu with a wink.
Swamy’s pooja lasts over an hour and his son, reminiscing the days when he too had performed the same, before coming to US, thinks, ” I should not have left it ” but corrects ,”where is the time for me ? “
Again, after a moment, the same thought surges in his mind and with a determination, he takes shower, wears fresh cloth in the conventional panchagattcham style and sits  near his father to recite Rudram along with him.
The women are happy. Ramu too has a unique satisfaction of having retrieved something which was loft for a long time. He recalls his young days, when wearing a small dothi and applying holy ash on his forehead, chest and arms, he used to follow his father to the temple, stand before the sanctum and recite mantras and on reaching home, his father used to explain proudly how their son recited the slokas accurately.” I should not have left the recitation and the routine pooja,” he muses and immediately ask the question to himself, “where is time for all those activities?”
Swan, sitting close by watching the magic of his thatha, pouring water and throwing flowers, wonders why the two elders are shouting at the dolls  and pictures before them. He should show his competence. “I can make more noise” he avers,  picks up his  pipe and plays as loudly as he can. “Swan, please, you can play later,” his mother pleads..
“Don’t stop him, Ramya, ” Swamy instructs, ” let him continue. My Easwaran  loves instruments during worship, especially when played by kids”
” But Appa, you used to scold me when, as a kid, I disturbed you.” Ramu complains.
“Because you are only my son, not grand son” Swamy replies smiling.


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