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Appaachy's atmasanthi

She was there, with us, in the family when I was born, when my siblings were born and also when our children were born; she was there with us through the vicissitudes of life for over 50 years, when our parents and a few others passed away, when we got married and when some of our children got married,and in almost all family functions, when we went on pilgrimage or almost wherever we went.She helped our parents to bring us up and helped us to bring up our children.. Her habits were clean, her hands cleaner with the result that the house always remained unlocked when she was at home and never had we to regret on that count. She quarreled some time with us, collected her cloth bundle and walked away, vowing that she would never step into our house again, only to return before the next meal time for the kids. Father used to shout at her and threaten to throw her out, but in the next five minutes he could be seen pleading for a tobacco bit from her. “She behaves like a mother-in-law” the daughters -in-law of the house used to complain to their husbands but used to rush to her for her advice if their kids sneeze more than once or wet their garment more than twice. All the children in the family loved,respected and treated her as they would treat their mother or grand mother as they all were aware of the role played by her in nourishing and nursing them up with unalloyed affection and undiluted care.. She served our family for several years with the faith and sincerity of a dog and died like a sanyasini leaving only lovable memories behind her.
She was Appaachi.
She had no clue as where exactly she was born and when, or  who her parents were, though her foster mother told her that someone located her near a grove in Kodaimalai in Nilgiri gardens.She grew along with the foster mother’s only son, Yellakki and brought him up as her own brother, after the boy’s mother passed away .Yellakki did no know that their origin was different.
“I would have been then sixteen, seventeen or even twenty, when I came to the city ” She used to say.
She worked as a servant maid here and there and Yellakki worked as a helper, a broker, a supporting actor in cine field and all such things.The absence of parental love combined with poverty and hardship led him to lead a reckless life and he never worried about his sister nor about his own self.
Appaachi grew all alone into a lovely,matured woman and managed to meet both the ends by selling vegetables,milk products and other sundry stuff. She fell in love with a brahmin cook in a hotel in Coimbatore,where she was supplying milk and married him.Doraisamy was most unorthodox in his out look, a dare devil but a loving and caring was a smooth run for them, till a male child was born. Now this son, Ramsamy, was born in Rohini star and someone told the stupid superstitious drunkard Yellakki, that he would meet his end as Kamsa did in the hands of his nephew. Appaachi had to reveal the truth now that Yellakki was not her brother and in fact they had no blood relationship; it was too late. He did not believe her.Till then Yellaki never bothered about his life, its existence or extinction but now he started worrying about his end in the hands of the little devil born to the woman, known to him as his sister. Suddenly he felt that his life was very precious.
Appaachi learned that her brother was trying to kill the baby during the coming new-moon night and frantic with fear, fled to Madras along with her husband, who could find a job easily fit to his skill . Doraisamy had discarded his sacred thread and deviated from the brahminical path long ago, but now that a son was born to him, he suddenly developed interest in his religious practices and performed every ceremony right from the first one, as is in vogue when a boy is born in brahmin family. Not only that, he developed a deep remorse in his failure to do justice to his ancestry and also to his son, by marrying a woman whose origin was unknown.’Neither me nor his mother will make my son proud”,  he worried.
“The only way to atone for my sin is to bring up my son in a strictly braminical discipline”, he said and admitted him in a vedic Patasala in a distant place, Bhuvaneswar, so that the child’s maternal lineage would not be easily exposed..His wife also agreed for that because she too had developed a feeling that she had sinned by marrying a higher caste person and the only way to atone was to allow the child to develop in his father’s path. Moreover, farther from her village, safer for her son. “My ruffian brother would attack my son anytime, if he were around here” she feared.
“Appa told me once” Respectfully reminiscing his father’s affection, Ramsamy happened to mention to me, later.” When I watched your innocent lovely face, at the heart of my heart, I had a guilty complex that I am not able to pass on the same pleasure and privileges I received from my father, to you. I woke up form my bed hearing the temple bells and father’s melodious recital of vedic hymes where as, you start your day, hearing the barking of the street dogs and  the clatters of the clumsy women from the ghettos . Surprisingly, I longed to sit by your side and change the sacred thread every year on the auspicious day, though I tore and tossed my sacred thread long before you were born. And, when I leave this world for good, I wanted you to do the rituals as I did on my father’s demise, though I did not believe in such rituals till yesterday” .
Doraisamy did not live long. He passed away with the satisfaction that his son had become a vedic scholar . “Your son will take good care of you,” he consoled his wife holding her trembling hand, affectionately. “he is learned and therefore pious, unlike me”. After performing the last rites of his father, the son requested his mother to go with him. She refused.”You have blossomed into a lotus, though born in my muddy pond” She argued. “Marry a brahmin girl and lead the life of a good brahmin for which you are trained. Fulfill your father’s dream. I will live in isolation with the satisfaction that I am not standing in your way of progress ”
“With broad chest and long hands, my Ramsamy stood six feet tall with a thick black tuft sitting like a crown on his head and his broad forehead smeared with ‘vibhoothi’ and ‘kukumamam’ at its center. Am I fit to be called his mother?” she used asked us, with over helming proud and satisfaction.
The son also had, in a corner of his heart, the feeling that she would be a misfit to live with him, though he deeply loved his mother.They both agreed to live separately. He left her mother in a village, went back to Orissa and completed his studies . Later he went to Rishikesh and started a school.
Kuppuswamy Iyer, the owner of the hotel where Doraisamy worked, brought Appachi to my house and told my father:” Anantha Iyer, have this good woman in your house to take care of your kids. She will not pilfer, she will not lie and she will give you a tip or two in selecting top class tobacco” . “I like all the three qualities” Appa commented and added in a lighter vein, “especially the last.”‘ That was how Appachi entered our family.
For the first of couple of years Ramsamy used to visit his mother regularly but  in due course, the frequency dwindled and the visit ceased completely.
I sent a couple of letters to Ramsamy, though Appaachi did not ask to do that, but there was no response.
How long can a mother conceal her longing to meet her son. Appaachi started grumbling, when she advanced in age, that Ramsami had forgotten her.
“I have only one desire in life” she started murmuring” I should see him once before I die and my son should lit my pyre; otherwise, my atma will never be at peace”
I went to Rishikesh and met him. He had,by then, become poojya swamyji, Sri.sri.sri. Ramananthji Maharaj, having his own Ashram teaching yoga and meditation.His immaculate white robes reaching his knees and long hairs falling below the shoulder gave him, an aura of divinity.
I explained that his mother was longing to see him and at least once, he should come down to south so that the old woman could close her eyes for ever, with the satisfaction of seeing her son.
“Oh, my younger brother” He hugged me heartily ” what a great soul you are! The Heaven’s choicest blessings are awaiting you, for taking care of my mother so affectionately”.
“The Heavens have to wait, Ramsamy- oh, sorry Guruji, as I am not in a hurry to leave this world” I replied with a tinge of anger in my voice.” Now let us come to business. you are learned and have no need for an advice from me.,Full filling the last wishes of the woman who brought you to this world is more important than your other activities”. He smiled again charismatically .I continued “what purpose does your ‘ gyanopadesas-preaching spirituality, serve-if you neglect your own mother?” .
“I understand your feelings” He tried to hug me again but I moved aside.”Pitha naiva mea, neiva matha nah janmah” He quoted one line from the ‘Nirvanasktakam’ closing his eyes and moving his long fingers over his braids and beard.
‘Your Guru who sang that ‘I am neither this nor that; I have no mother no father–” went down south to lit the pyre of his mother . At least do that when the time comes”
I got up from my seat , fretting and fuming; when he tried to hug me again I avoided and came out of his room, yelling ” had your father trained you as a cook and dumped in a hotel, his wife would not have lost her son. Curse on him.”
I never mentioned to Appachi about the interview.
Appachi’s last days were nearing.She grew weaker and weaker.I received a call from my ancestral house one day,  that she was critical..
I rushed to Palakkad. Before starting from Hyderabad I sent a telegram to Ramsamy and also requested a friend in Rishikesh, to inform the Guruji that he should rush to Palakkad to meet his dying mother.
She managed to utter a few words while I was trying to pour drops of Gangajel into her parched mouth.”Rasa, Will my son come to lit my pyre?”
“He will Appachi, he will. In fact he is on his way” I was ashamed to lie to a dying woman whom I treated like my own mother.
She died after 3 days. I tried again to contact Ramsamy, through phones, telegrams and friends – he could not be contacted.
After waiting for 2 days, I carried the dead body to the burning ghat.
“Hand over that torch to me” I heard a voice from behind while I was about to lit her pyre.”Permit me to have at lest that privilege of a son. I am late “
I turned around and gazed at the tall and graceful figure, standing like ‘Ramar in cinema’ in his mother’s words.’You are not late Ramsamy” I told him while handing over the burning torch. “You are in time. In fact she did not expect any thing more than this, from you.”
Looking at the enormous flame engulfing the mortal remains of Appachi and sitting on the shore of the river whose lucid waters carried the charred bones and ashes of my ancestors and which will shortly carry those of the woman whom I respected as my own mother , I told her son who was by my side,”there are still hidden springs in the cavern of your heart, Ramsami.Your father’s efforts did not go waste.The ‘dhiyoyona prajodhayad’ prayers have really enlightened your mind at the appropriate time and brought you here”.He did not speak a word.. He was gazing at the gigantically growing flames.
The sun was sinking below the western hills in full splendor and the crows were flying to wards their nests and nestling. The air was becoming cooler.
“The fascinatingly smiling face and the fragile body of Appachi is turning into ashes” I whispered, holding the hand of Ramsamy,”this woman, no way related to us, not from our village or caste and with a hazy origin, pervaded the life of three generation of our family so intimately that I find her loss unbearable”.
“True, I can understand your feeling” Ramsamy replied in a very casual manner and added, “but what was her contribution to her own son?”
“That was a stupid question and deserves no answer” I retorted. ” But I don’t like you to carry that question for ever with you. She not only gifted you a life but also preserved it by saving you from the clutches of Yellakki; allowed you to grow and prosper by encouraging your father to take you away from her nasty surroundings, She remained aloof to help you enjoy your glory untarnished and above all, she showed you, your father- even Sathykama did not enjoy that privilege. Unlike him, you need not bend your head in shame, while placing ‘haviss’- the cooked rice soaked in ghee at the sacred fire, reciting the manthra,
“Yam ne matha pralulobha saratyananu vrada thanme retha:pitha
Vringtha mapuranayo papathathamam”

‘You are a Sanskrit scholar and I am sure that you know the meaning of it?” I asked him .
‘Yes, I should” he replied meekly, ” if my mother has deviated from the path of righteousness, let this offering reach my biological father”
I did not wish to remain in his company any longer. I moved away; he was following me with moist eyes.
“Can I come to your house” he asked ” to visit the place my mother spent most of her life?”

“You can” I replied, “but no more stupid questions”
“Yes, no more stupid questions” his voice was shivering and eyes were watery. He hugged me and   this time, I did not try to avoid him.
Appaachy would have liked the way, we walked away from her salvation ground- holding hands together.
May 16, 2008

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Childhood fears and fantasies – Just five marks

“Ellam Avan thalaile podu’ was an oft- repeated catch phrase of Kunju athai, who was neither ‘kunju’ petit nor my ‘athai’, aunty. . It was  her colloquial way of expressing ‘leave everything to God’ or “unload all your burden on him” though the literal meaning is ‘throw everything on His head’. Here “HE” for her, was Ganesha, the God with the elephant’s head, the remover of obstacles and the presiding deity of  her village.

Due to heavy rains and consequent thin attendance for a function in her house, large amount of food was left over and the cooks, sought Athai’s suggestion for its  disposal. Without realizing for a moment what she was uttering, she, made her parrot-like pronouncement, “Ellam avan thalile podu”! .The cooks had enough common sense not to take the old woman’s words literally but believe me, within ten minutes, there was an avalanche of beggars who, within no time, emptied all vessels and made every one, including Athai and the God, happy. After depositing, as usual, a small coin in the ‘hundi’, a small mud pot, provided with a narrow opening on the top, to thank the God for sending spontaneously food-seekers, Athai went around the village to proclaim about the miracle.

“Podi, paithiyame, you foolish woman!”  professor Iyer, chided  his wife  for her claim, before moving  towards the neighboring  house for playing cards. He  told his friends there that the huts below the bridge nearby got inundated due to floods and the hapless people came running for food, when they noticed that there was a celebration in his house.

“Neither my wife nor the God has any roll in it” He declared.

“That is why every one calls him  “kundamandi krishna iyer'” Athai told her friends when her husband’s clarification was brought to her notice by someone.

The Lord’s head is big and strong enough, no doubt, to carry the load she throws incessantly  but there is a limit for everything. When any one seeks the divine intervention too frequently and on too insignificant issues, even the gods would get irritated and that is exactly what happened in my case.

When she knew that I was preparing to face the devil known as ‘mathematics test’, Athai hurriedly collected a picture of  Ganesh from the calendar hanging on the wall and pasted it on a file pad.

“Before leaving the house, at the entry point of the examination hall and every time you start answering a question, do like this” Athai instructed giving a visual demonstration of what I should do. “Touch the feet of the God with your right hand and take it to your head so that at least a corner of the big vacuum in your head is  filled by the divine intelligence”

None had taught me such an easy way  and I obeyed her order strictly , by doing the ‘kara-sira asan-hand to head exercise several time. Despite the divine dispersement, I could  attend only a few questions, while the class teacher was observing me keenly and wondering what trick I had adopted this time other than the usual copying.

After a week, my teacher  came home with a poverty-stricken single paper sheet and showed my father and explained how I was performing some  aerobatics in the examination hall.

“Not a single answer is correct” father exclaimed looking at the smiling face of the teacher, “how did you give him five marks, Chuppea?”

‘That is for his bakthi, devotion to Ganesa, Anna ” He replied pushing a pinch of snuff into his nostril .”You know that I too am a Ganesha devotee.”

After the teacher had left praising the delicious food provided to him by my mother, father told her sarcastically, ‘Uppu chitho ppodu on puthra sikhamanikku’- this was a practice to remove the ill effects of evil eyes cast by the jealous people around, when some one achieves a feat . A hand full of salt is rotated around the achiever’s head or whole body and thrown into water, signifying that ill effects would meet the same fate as the dissolving salt.  Athai however denied that privilege to a proud mother, by collecting a handful of dry chillies and throwing them into the fire oven, after rotating the red stuff around my head and also that of my mother.

The ‘put,put’ sound from the kitchen confirmed that the  ill effects had been burnt and dispersed  successfully.

“But why for her?” my father enquired athai pointing his finger towards my mother, “does she also has a share in the five marks?’

For giving birth to a brilliant son” Athai replied innocently  “how many would have cast their evil eyes on her!”.

‘Then Kunju, you too deserve one or two rotations”  My father  chided her again. “After all it was your master plan that fetched my son five marks”

Athai became smaller in size due to shyness and humility.

Though of insignificant nature, these childhood  incidents surface on my mind not infrequently.

Like Kunja athai,  many women, during my childhood , with unstained heart  and  unalloyed  devotion used to rush for divine  intervention and firmly believed that their prayers would be answered. Faith is faith and no questions asked. But questions have been asked right from the beginning man appeared in this planet and will continued to be asked. Otherwise we will not be flying to moon and mars but still  jumping from branches to branches.

Even before a child comes out of the womb of his mother, it starts asking questions by kicking, from within. I am not joking .You already  know this if you are a mother and if you are a father, hmm, you have missed like me, the thrill of  those kicks.  But you will still enjoy a part of that joy if you have a two or three years old child at home . I have that  privilege now and  you should  therefore read this  story further,   if you haven’t gone into sleep already.

Raaghav is a petit, shy kid, hardly four, who firmly believes that he can lift a mountain and fly through the sky as his roll model  Hanuman did once or twice, without efforts. Tyeing his father’s leather belt at his back, to cover the deficiency of a natural growth there, he climbs over the dining table and asks me,. ‘Why don’t you also jump thatha?”

“I am old, my dear, and I can’t jump like you.” It is a fact and all children accept facts. But he shoots the next question.

“‘Why did you become old, Appooth?”

“To be frank, Raaghav,” I disclose another fact,  “I didn’t want to, but I became.”

He was not there to listen. I could hear his compassionate murmuring from the library.” Thathakkemayindi? why he is not jumping? what happened to his tail etc, etc.

“You continue to ask such questions, my child” I tell myself. ‘You will one day recover something new about genes”

Divaya is hardly one year younger to him and she is like a fresh flower glistening under the morning son. She follows me to the toilet. I ask her to move out but she doesn’t listen

“Is it a good choice Divya to be in the rest room when someone is there?’ I ask and plead again to quit. She neither obeys nor disobeys but tells me  that she wants to use the rest room.

“Go ahead, and tell me when you are done so that I can clean your butt” I wait there . She twists her tongue to perfect the pronunciation in American style and chimes:

“Is it a good choice Appooth, to be in the rest room, when someone is there?”  The words are broken but the message is clear.

‘One day, you will become a lawyer, Divya” I tell myself, “and then fight on principles , for week and oppressed”

Ananya,- a power pack with the speed of wind and enough energy to illuminate half the Baltimore city, will be three shortly. She wants me to tell her the ‘crow story’ but the moment I utter the word ‘crow’ she shoots questions, one after the other :

“Kakkai enna karuppa irukku-why the crow is black?, athodu mooku enna ippidi irukku- why is its nose in  this shape ,  why your nose is not like that of the crow, why the crow flies away and doesn’t live in our house etc etc.

When her questions, with the speed of arrows, attack me incessantly, I think about my forebears, who, looking at the glowing sun, thundering sky and flowing rivers went on asking questions and acquired admirable knowledge in various subjects, ranging from grammar, philosophy,astronomy,psychology, etymology and so on . They gave so much importance for questioning that an Upanishad is named, ‘Kena-by whom?’ though all the Upanishads are in essence, treasure houses of intelligent questions asked and transparent answers provided by the enlightened Rishies, who have gone deeper and deeper into the secrets of micro human minds and macro Universe.

Wearing a thread across your shoulder or applying mud or ash in two parallel lines or three horizontal lines on your forehead serves no purpose if you do not probe into the secrets of the Universe, for which an alert mind and strong body are required. Our ancient Masters had both.

If you  are not  prepared  for the above adventurous journey and simply stand on the bank of  the Kalpthy river, wearing three or even thirty threads across the shoulder, your houses  might be washed  off  by the gushing waters of Time”Kalapravaham’ and you may have to hunt for the left over food or be satisfied with with five marks, just five marks, in your test paper.

Remember, Kunja athai is not there now to provide you food or rotate a handful of dry chillies around your head to ward off the ill effects of evil eyes.


July 4, 2008

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Missing wife and monkey tricks

Fear and suspicion strike and strangulate weak minds, effortlessly.
‘Banian’ uncle came for night halt, a month after Kakkamma’s stealthy disappearnce with Kunjunni and looked hear and there as though she was still hiding,somewhere in a corner.
” I will not go near the backyard, to be on the safe side” he said thrice voluntarily, before going to bed.
However, next morning he was waiting near the pond within our compound, for father to come out, after his bath and morning prayers. He followed him with slow, measured steps,cleared his throat and asked in a voice scarcely above that of a whisper,”can I have a word with you, Anna?”
“Certainly, if it cannot wait till I complete my morning poojas”
“It can wait, it can wait” he murmered but father knew that it cannot wait and asked him to go ahead “You want to tell me something about Kakkamma, I presume?’
“Yes, Anna. Are you aboslutely certain that Kakkamma has left this place, for good?”
“Yes, I am. why, you have any doubt?”
“No doubt; I have no doubt; in fact I saw her in the Coimbatore market driving a bullock cart, yesterday”
“Then why did you ask me that stupid question, Venkitaraman?”
“No, Anna. just to confirm” He stammered and muttered,” because I saw a woman exactly like her, puffing a ‘churuttu’, in our back yard and immediately, I started reciting Panchakshari..”
“Even Sahsranamam, reciting God’s one thousand names, will not help you to come out of your fear” Father said indignantly.”because you do not trust your own eyes”
Did ‘Banian’ uncle really saw Kakkamma puffing her churuttu? Is she still visiting our house to smoke, incognito, during night hours?” I started worrying.
Next day morning, a chicken was found dead with twisted neck, on the road across.
” Has Kochunni also returned along with Kakkamma?” The old fear which was slowly subsiding got a sudden push but I had no courage to raise the topic with my father.
I glanced through the window. Suppu patty was entering our house. She was a distant relative, staying in the village,not far and used to visit my grand mother often, under some pretext or other.
“Revathy did not serve me coffee today in my brass tumbler and so I got angry and came off” She told to every person she met in the corridor, unasked. Revathy was her daughter- in- law, you would have presumed. The brass tumbler,she had brought with her from her mother’s house on her wedding day.
“A chicken was found strangulated in front of our house” I told her without bothering much about the brass tumbler . Though I made the remark in a casual tone, I expected her to reply that it was the handiwork of ‘odiyan’.
“It is Chudalachami’s work” She said confidently. Now here is a new name and a new devil.
“Who is he?” I enquired.”I know Ramchami who supplies us vegetables and Kittachami who comes from our village to enquire about grand mother’s health; but not this Chami”.
“He is the colourfully dressed,’kudukuduppandi’, who stands in front of your house, before you wake up,makes a ‘kudu,kudu’ sound from his mini drum and predicts future”
Suppu explained,moving her right hand to show the movement of the mini drum and the left one to prevent the slip of her pudavai’s tip from her clean shaven head.
“He goes to the creamation ground at mid-night and invokes Sudalaikkali, the goddess of the place and applies the holy ash collected from her hands all over his body, before dancing on the dead bodies along with the Kali”
“Does he also hold a trident and the blood-dripping head of a dead demon?” I enquired Suppu. “He doesn’t” she clarified.”He carries the trident only when he comes out on the street, with a skull hanging from his his neck suspended by a snake. The prophesy he makes facing the first house he visits on his return,will become true and then he returns only the next morning to stand before another house and tell the furture “
Now, that was a terrible image, strong enough to replace the shadows of Kakkamma and her odiyan lover
There was one good aspect about my head; There was no confusion of fears; A new fear always replaced the old one.
I was anxious to meet Chudalichami though I was afraid of his fearsome figure.
I woke up the next morning and the mornig after that, much earlier to my usual time, peeped through the window waited for some time to see the awesome figure but he did not come. I went back to my bed.
After a couple of days, cloth merchant Chettiar passed away. Whether he had accumulated wealth or not, he, undoubteldy had saved a lot of fat in his belly and other areas of his small body,with no excercise whatsoever and it was therefore not a big news that he was called back to the pavilion.But there was a rumour in the town that Chudalaippandi had predicted his death in his pre-dawn visit. Who kept awake to see his visit so early in the morning was not known but surely it was not me,.I developed a new fear now. Did Chudalai make some such prophesy in front of our house too? And I silently prayed that nothing should happen to my grandmother who was the oldest among us..
I asked my grandmother,whether Chudali would have predicted something adverse infront of our house too.”Don’t believe a word of what Suppu tells” She consoled me “Chudalai is a poor man who lives on the tricks of his pet monkey”
.When I returned form school next day, a coloufully dressed and turbaned tall man was standing in a corner of our shop at a respectable distance from my father, bowing his head a bit and holding a small monkey tied to a rope. He complained to may father that his wife was missing from the morning and would like to know when she would return. Father asked him to extend his palm and predicted that she would not return. “Look for another woman”. He suggested.
“Who was he, Appa?” I enquired after the turbaned man left.
‘Chudalaichamy.” Appa replied, pushing a betelnut preparation into his mouth. I was stunned. Chudalichami who could predict the death of Kuppan chettiar seeking father’s advice to know about his wife’s return!
“I never knew that you are an expert in prediction” I wondered. He smiled,”Shall I predict your next question?”
“Yes, Appa”
“‘ Appa, how did you predict so confidently?’ right?”
“Yes, yes. How did you predict so confidentley?’
“Simple common sense” Appa answered with a twinkle in his eye.”Last time he complained about a friend who visits his house often,looks smarter and earns more because his monkey plays better tricks”
What was the connection between missing wife and monkey tricks, I did not know, then. But no more questions; time to play.
April 30, 2008

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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?”
“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.


July 4, 2008

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You know nothing, Grand pa

“Oru oorilea oru kuruvi irunthutham”
“Antha kuruvi  enna sethutham?”
“Kuppaiyai kuppayi nontitham.Appoa ? —”
Patti, an expert story teller, makes a pause.
The child’s anxiety is awaken and its luminescent eyes open wide gazing eagerly at the old woman’s tooth-less mouth.
“Appoa?’ The sweet little one echoes grandma’s question, in its inimitable style:
Patti continues:
“Appoa, oru arisimani kidaichutham”
Thus starts the grand ma’s story session, every night after the child is fed, to lull it to sleep.
“There was a little sparrow”
‘As small as this?” showing its tiny finger the child asks.
‘Still smaller” the grand ma continues.”You know what it did? It picked a grain of rice from the heap of trash. It wanted to make pudding, but it is a bird. Can a bird make pudding?”
“No, No. Then what did it do?”
“It approached an old woman like me and requested her to make pudding for it. The sparrow handed over the grain of rice and waited and waited”.
“What did the old woman do?”
‘She made the sparrow to wait and wait and  went on reading her Ramayanam book”
“What did Rama do?”
‘”Don’t worry about Rama. Sita is there to take care of him. Worry now about the hungry sparrow”
“Ok. What did the sparrow do?”
‘It waited and waited and patty went on reading her book”
“The bird became restless and enquired,
“Patti,patti! Payasam acha- Is the pudding ready grand ma?”
“Patti ennachonna ? What was grand ma’s reply?”
“Payasamum illai, keyasumum illai. poi paduthu thoongu- No  pudding, go and sleep.”
“Ayyo pavam, kuruvikki pasikkumea? Poor bird .Won’t it be hungry?”
“It was, of course. Reeling with hunger, it filled its stomach with water and slept in the old woman’s cow shed”.
“Then, what happened to the rice grain.?”
“Ha, ha. Good question. The old woman prepared pudding and gulped down the  whole liquid”.
“Then what happened?”
“Before going to sleep, the bird had pushed a stack of straw into its anus so that the water stays inside the stomach. While the bird was  sleeping, a cow pulled it out and the gushing waters swept everything in the way, the cowshed, the house, the grand ma- everything’
“Nice happened;.. Pinnae ennachu?”
“The bird flew off, singing loudly:
“Adum, madum kulam kulam
Ammyar veedum kulam kulam.
“pattikku appidithan venum- the old woman deserves it”
“Pinne ennachu ? then what happened?
“The remaining story I will tell you tomorrow. Now my darling should go to sleep”
The following  night also the same story is repeated and the child hears with the same eagerness and attention-Like this it goes on for generations!.
Story telling is an art. None can equal mothers and grand mothers in that.
I am back again to Baltimore. It is late night now but my biological clock is yet to get tuned to the one on the wall. I glance through the transparent window of my spacious library, at the sprawling lush green lavishness bordered by rows of cherry trees, denuded by the winter. The juvenile sun rays  has silently recovered the greeneries from the onslaught of snow restoring them their original glamour. The lazy winter clouds are hovering over the sky enjoying the cold breeze. The March winds here are chill but tolerable as the December breeze in Hyderabad. For my children here, this is a  pleasant season..
A butter fly sans wings lands on my lap. She is Ananya, my grand daughter, a power –pack, a bundle of joy..
‘Appu thatha, story chollungo” she chirps.
I tell her, how, while anxiously awaiting her arrival into this world,  sitting in the same spacious room facing the oaks and pines and cherries, I started writing stories,about three years ago. I tell her about my unnecessary apprehension about the Haridwar kids, how I molded my Pitchumani, Athai, Lalitha and other characters, how my father came in the form of a crow, perched on the tree adjoining my sit-out when I was showing her the movement of the velvety clouds, singing “ kakke kakke koodividea” etc. I pause, act in between, dance and do all sorts of gimmicks.
She is least impressed. In fact,she becomes restless and get bored. With deep disappointment laced with anger, she withdraws to her bed room , not before revealing her displeasure,
thatha, ongalukku onnum theirayathu”
I am sad, terribly sad, not because I question her statement but she did not enjoy my stories.

My grand children at Florida also said, “meekku eami theluvath thatha- language is different , meaning is same: you know nothing, grand pa”

I turn back and glance at the rows of books, the great works of my forebears, the great story tellers, Vyasa, Valmiki, Kalidasa and other masters. How is it that their works continue to inspire and invigorate the thoughts and mind of generations after generations, where as my own  children do not want to read my stories and my grand children do not even want to hear them!
I pick up a book from the shelf,’Kumarasambhavam’and open the first page. Like my grand ma who used to start her story” ’Oru oorile—once upon a time there was a king..-the great poet is beginning an innovative love story on the valley of Himalayas in a very conservative way, in the same style his grand ma would have told him stories during his child hood.
: “There is gigantic divine mountain in the north, by name Himavan . –
“Asthyutharasyam disi Devathatma Himalayo nama nagathi raja:”
The words are so chosen  that before the second half of the first verse is begun, the idea that the topic of narration is something big and vast, is deeply  implanted in the mind of those who hear. He continues:

“It stretches from the ocean in the east to that in the west, like a measuring scale for the earth.”

‘Poorvaparow varinidhee vagahya, sthitha prithivyam iva mandandah:”
In just two lines with carefully chosen words,  the master has explained the majesty of the great mountain impressively in his unique poetic style.

A piece of paper fell down from the book- a letter scribbled by my father, long ago:

“When you teach in a class, imagine that you are a student sitting on the bench opposite to you and when you are in a business meeting, addressing your customers, imagine you are one among them, preferably the least counted and benefited.”
My father was not a professor or business graduate- he was, in fact, a semi-literate.
Ananya  gushed into my room again like a spring cloud. She has completely forgotten her earlier assessment about my story-telling skill- How lucky the kids are!
She repeats “thatah kathai chollungo”
I am now better prepared. I convert myself internally into a kid of her age, sitting before my grand ma anxiously waiting to hear her story:
I start my story:
‘Oru oorile oru kuruvi irunthutham—once upon a time there  was a sparrow —
She does not move till the entire story is told and then she sleeps on my lap with complete satisfaction of attaining something unique.
I retire with absolute satisfaction and unalloyed joy.

A tiny bird is singing across the pine branches,”Adum madum kulam kulam–“

April, 1st 2008

Posted on 1 Comment


Chapter 1
Those of you who are elderly gentlemen ( all old men, including me of course, are gentlemen!) would have heard about delirium and dementia, the mild and chronic forms of organic disorders generally found in older people. I have none of these problems, although, at times , I pretend to suffer from them just for fun or occasionally, to harass my wife or call for her attention. Ammalu might not like my discussion on these issues, but she will have no objection to my talking to you about another problem which I am encountering since a year or so: Childhood memories, at times, flush down the mind and I act like a child!
“It is an innocuous old age syndrome”, said psychiatrist Dr. Pan, whom I consulted in the US . “Formidable and irresistible childhood insanities and obstinacies return in the evening of one’s life or one behaves like a child”, Dr. Panicker ( his original name ), continued, “my father too had this problem. One day he was enacting a scene from a kathakali dance before some guests and another day, he tried to climb a coconut tree. He was 80 plus then”.
Thank God, No coconut trees in Baltimore!
I had the first attack, yes I term it as an ‘attack’ and my story which you will be hearing shortly will justify my usage. While returning from the US, where I longed to and failed to see a cow or buffalo on the streets, I was excited to see a herd of buffaloes, wandering with the proverbial laxity, in front of the Begampet airport. The childhood memories of my quadrupedal comradery flooded my mind . We had a good animal stock at our ancestral house and I used to accompany our cow-boy Appukuttan to the Kalpathy river, when he took the cattle for a wash. He used to help me to mount the animal and the unalloyed joy of the ride through the streets of the small town, lingering on me, blossomed at the sight of the animals after a long gap and I developed an unbridled urge to mount one of the dark beauties!
“Go ahead; You will look rakish with your ‘pancha, kudumi and kadukkan, on the black animal”, commended Gopalan Nair my friend, who had come to the airport, along with his wife Ammini Amma to receive me. “Moreover, your complexion and body composition have a made-for-each other alignment with the animal”, he complemented me!
Patting on the back of the lovely animal, I was enjoying its body shape, skin colour and curves of the horns when I smelt the danger. Nair was coming closer, mischievously projecting his digital camera towards me and I could guess what he was up to. The moment he drops me home, he would proudly display the picture of my first adventure on arrival at the native soil ! When I envisioned the reaction of the family, I shivered with fear and reluctantly, took leave of my quadruped queen and boarded Nair’s vehicle.
The moment we reached home, Nair Jumped out of the vehicle and trumpeted a highly exaggerated version of the airport incident and warned my wife, “Pengale, sister , my friend has reached a critical stage in his mental disorder; but don’t worry. I will arrange a Malabar Manthravadi, an expert in occult science, who will remove the evil spirit from his rickety body as easily as the dentist removed the last tooth from his mouth
Chapter 2
The kind -hearted Ammini disliked her husband’s cynical approach though she too suspected that things were not all that normal with me. She knew how mercilessly the occult healers beat the patient with a thin bamboo whip and the very idea was repulsive to her.
Ammalu, as usual, was cool and diplomatic, .”I am thankful for your consideration and sympathy”, she told Nair. “I would like to wait and watch him for some time. He is an animal lover by nature and let us assume that what he did at the airport was only the reflection of his unexpected joy in seeing a few quadrupeds for which he was longing for several months”
Nair was dispirited; Ammini was relieved. I glanced my friend through the corner of my eye and whispered ‘cho, cho poor man’.
Nair was not that poor in words. He quipped, ” pengAlae, sister, what will you do if he becomes a bird lover and lift up his legs, thinking they are his wings?”
“I doubt,” Ammalu disagreed. “He is a down- to- earth man. Let us wait and watch”
I was perfectly normal the whole day. Ammalu was convinced that the airport drama was an aberration.
While returning from my usual morning walk the next day, my mind was fully obsessed with the thoughts about my school days and the image of my mother, anxiously awaiting my return, at the façade of our house, created emotional disturbance. I started behaving like a child, picking up tit bits from the road side vendors and chewing mango fruit and sucking its juice while walking on the road.
As in a movie, the scenes were changing fast and the tranquil Osmania University campus transformed to the turbid, noisy Olavakkode market. I was returning from ‘Padathu’ school, my elementary school, fully drenched, water dripping from my school bag, shorts and shirt. I rushed to take refuge in my mother’s arms, spreading my arms wide, but actually landed on the hands of Ammini Amma, who was standing near the entrance of her house, opposite to mine, holding her grand child and a milk- feeding bottle. She was numbed with shock for a moment and looked around to make sure that there were not many, watching my obscene act. Her husband Nair, advanced towards me with a ladle and coffee kettle, to break my small head into big pieces. Though taken back initially, Ammini , recovered her composure soon and assured her husband that she would deal with the situation and he was free to go back to the kitchen. instead of lifting me up hugging or petting me as I longed for, or kicking at my bottom or slapping on my cheek as her husband would have desired, with all the love at the disposal of a mother, holding my hand securely and softly, led me to my house and handed me over to my wife. There was concern and compassion in her eyes; disbelief and dislike in Ammalu’s face. I am yet to know the reason for both.
Nair came to my house after finishing the kitchen assignment and asked an explanation for my misbehavior. “Don’t worry, Nair”. I consoled him.”It was after all an innocuous old-age syndrome”
‘Innocuous!. Are you sure?”. He sought my confirmation.
“Indeed, I am. Unless of course, you imitate my action and move towards my gate, like a brat in dark.”
Nair went back to return in five minutes and repeated the threat to call a Manthravadi.
“I would like to wait and watch”. Ammalu was firm in her decision. “My husband perhaps longs to see his mother and Ammini resembles his mother when she smiles and she smiles often. Nair, how lucky you are to have a wife like Ammini!”
Nair was immensely pleased and returned home smiling all the way.”
” Have you ever seen Nair smiling?” Ammalu asked me.
“He will smile more, when Ammini yells at him for what you said about her”
“What did I say about her?”
“She resembles your mother”
“What should I have said?’
“She resembles our daughter!”
“You don’t need any medication. You are what you were when you left for USA”
Chapter. 3
The next day morning, I was waiting for the newspaper boy and the moment he threw a sheath of paper at my door, I threw another bunch at his face and quietly sneaked towards the kitchen.
“Why are you blinking like a thief, caught red-handed?” Ammalu enquired. “ Enna thirisaman panninel- What mischief you were up to?”
“Nothing, that paper …” . Before I could complete the sentence, Nair, who was watching my action through his window, opposite to us, rushed in and explained how I was waiting for the paper boy’s arrival right from dawn with a big bundle of paper and how forcefully, I threw it at him. He raised his right hand as if he was about to throw a cricket ball, to dramatise a simple event.
“Pengale, sister! Act before things go out of your control”. He warned her again.
“We should , Nair” Passing on a cup of coffee, Ammalu said. Nair always enjoys her hot coffee.. “We should, we should”, he repeated her words and went home moving his head up and down, several times. When he is overjoyed, his head moves up and down and if sad or disappointed, it moves horizontally, also several times.
After his departure, handing over my cup she asked again, what went wrong in the morning. Ammalu, known for her mental stability even under adverse conditions, seemed to be worried about my early morning action.
The warning of Nair, while departing seemed to cause her concern- ‘instead of a sheath of newspaper, if it were his brass betel nut casket?’
She stared at me silently and retired to attend her chores, turning back and gazing suspiciously many times.
“Lustrous and lavish- and I envy” Ammalu commented on the lush growth over my head, wagging the hair dryer, around my neck, after the night bath. Enjoying her extolment about the outer portion of my head, I was about to go to sleep when her next sentence alerted me.” Our village car festival is just a week away. When shall we start?”
“Oh, that is you plan! Your patting and praising my thick hair was to extract my consent to go to Palakkad so that your Manthravadi can break my brittle bone frame”, I wanted to tell her but I didn’t.
A husband, irrespective of his age, becomes a child, when his wife caresses his hairs and pets him in the solitude. Does he, unknowingly. go back mentally to his childhood days and enjoys the same satisfaction he had on the lap of his mother?
Chapter. 4
The next day, when we started for our Kerala trip, “Janum varattee?” Nair wanted to come with us..
Ammini also wanted to join.
Ammalu raised her head towards me as if to seek my permission, though she knew that I liked Ammini’s company.
“Why trouble Ammini?”, I asked pretending that her joining hardly mattered to me.
“Nair is of your age and who knows he might not develop IOS, during journey?”, Ammini asked me and added with her usual smile, “moreover, husbands become naughty after sixty, if wives don’t accompany them, in long trips,”, she paused and continued,”all husbands”
“Not mine”, corrected Ammalu,”he was born naughty and continued to be so till his mother handed him over to me”
“Handing over?” Nair intervened, “as he a baby, then?”
“Baby like, then and now” Ammini said.
She was exceeding her limit. Fearing that Ammini was trying to be smart and might say something more about me, I turned my head to look at a different direction, but Ammalu pulled my head towards her and taunted, “look at my face and tell me honestly that you are as innocent as Ammini claims”
I nodded my head to say ‘yes’ and Nair, mocked my action by moving his head up and down, a dozen times.
Visiting the lush green Kerala is always a pleasure.
“Koodugal pottichuyarunnithonnai,walayar-
Kkadugal kanke yullil aayiram paravakal”
‘At the sight of the ValayAr forests, thousand birds fly high in me, breaking their nests’, I started singing aloud, when the train left Podanur.
Ammalu and Nair visually exchanged their anxiety about my mental status while Ammini, my college –mate, continued the poem composed and recited by me during a college festival.
“Paduga padinjarenkatte, enmalanattil
Padathe kkathirukal kaikotti kkalikkumbhol”
‘Oh, western wind! The paddy fields in my land of hillocks are dancing. Why don’t you sing to their movements?”
Every time I crossed the ValayAr forests, I used to be one emotional. That continues even now.
When we alighted at Palakkad junction, the OAS tried to overtake me.
Our ancestral house was close to the railway station. As children we used to go and play at the platform. The station master and other staff were my father’s customers and friendly with us. Those days, potable water was provided to the passengers by two railway staff, Krishnamoorthy Iyengar and Rama iyer, both from Kalpathy. Murthy was short and sober sporting a namam on his forehead whereas Rama iyer was a tall man, always jovial. They were called water carriers who moved on the platform, with a big brass vessel full of water loaded on a push- cart with a long- handled brass ladle in their hand.
Rama Iyer used to laugh too often, for no reason, very loud. As children, we thought he was doing that to entertain us, but later, we were told that he had a problem called Nervous Laughter or Involuntary Emotional Expression Disorder. My grand mother liked both the water carriers and used to say that as they were performing a great task of proving water to the thirsty passengers, they would never undergo the trouble of rebirth. Of the two, she had a special liking for Rama Iyer, whom she used to call an innocent baby.
When my grand mother died most of the men and women’s from the small town came to our house for condolence, but not Rama Iyer. Someone reported that he was sitting in a corner in the railway platform, hugging his large water vessel and weeping inconsolably.
That was the first time, people saw him weeping.
Fire-man Fernandez, a tall Anglo- Indian with well developed muscles, throwing shovel-full of black coal lumps into the burning furnace of the steam engine was my another hero. I also used to admire the posture of Kelu Nair, the train guard, dressed in immaculate white uniform, standing at the threshold of the last carriage, proudly waving his green flag as if the whole world was at his command. I wanted to become like one of them but landed in a scientific organization. In one way, it was good because the jobs of water carrier and fire-man have ceased to exist now.
I was excited to learn, when we reached home, that the Mariamman temple near our house was celebrating the annual festival. After the Kalpathy car festival and Kallaikkulangari kathakali programme lasting for a full week close to Sivarathry, the Mariamman poojai was the most enjoyable festival during our childhood days.
After a quick wash , we went to the temple . I closed my eyes and tried to pray but the mind was already packed with the moving trains and activities on the platform leaving little room for the Goddess .The porter Kuppusami is striking his iron hammer forcefully on the rail piece hanging from a hook in front of the SM’s office, to announce the arrival of the No.2 down Madras Mail. The Station Master in his white uniform and the ticket examiners donning black coats, are coming out of their room to receive the train. Krishnamoorthi and Rama Iyer wearing white dothies and proudly sporting their caste marks on their foreheads are moving forward with their hand carts loaded with big water jars. Servers from Ambi Iyer’s vegetarian restaurant are ready with packed foods and hot coffee vessels. Slowly but majestically the No. 2 down enters the platform, proudly announcing its arrival by prolonged whistling from a distance, unlike the present day trains which come and go unceremoniously.
Chembai Vaidyanatha Bagavather, followed by Mridangam Mani Iyer, is alighting from the first class compartment. Bagavathar mama is twisting my ear affectionately with a query, ”karikkar irukkaroda?’. He used to address my father as Kariakkar or executive, the nick name given by our villagers.
I was now completely under the influence of OAS, despite Ammini’s signaling asking me to be cautious. Suddenly I see Suppu Laughing loudly and every one on the platform including the SM and Bagavathar mama joining him and filling the entire platform with waves of laughter .Usually Chembai mama makes others to laugh by his witty jokes and it is an experience to watch Mama laughing uncontrollably at RamaIyer’s triggering. The nearby Eamoorbagavthy hillocks echo the laughter and the far off Kalpathy river flows re-echo the sound. I laugh and laugh hysterically imitating them.
So far I was under the influence of the OAS and my behavior was due to the impulses in my subconscious mind. Suddenly I started shaking all over, but now I was fully conscious and my action was intentional and with a purpose. A couple of insects had secretly entered into my undergarment making my body to shake from top to bottom! That was the precursor of my woes.
The temple oracle was absent and the devotees whispered that the Goddess had chosen me to play his roll. The priest should know better and alas, he did. He thrust a long sword on my palm which was shivering intermittently due to the uneasiness spreading from the bottom of my body and threw a hand-full of ash on my head. I was to act as the official oracle who picked up a petty quarrel with his wife and absented from the function!.
· I could have cried “stop this non-sense. I am not the Goddess incognito”. and walked away. But I did not have the courage to do that or perhaps had a silly desire to enjoy the divine status for a short while.
I realized that I was in deep waters. The only cutting instrument I had handled in my life was the pen knife to open the bundles of envelopes I used to receive by post, before the advent of emails. Now I am made to handle a sword and shortly, the crowd would expect me to incise my head and bring out blood!
I looked pathetically at the Goddess.[i] She smiled in full glory as if my problem was a non-issue for her. Obviously there were no insects beneath her clothes.
I was tired of flittering and quivering. Despite jumping with all the energy at my disposal, I did not succeed in getting rid of the insects. In fact they were moving upwards and sideways. I was worn out and sat on a stool opposite to the sanctum sanctoram. The devotees were falling at my feet seeking blessings or placing small coins on the blade of my sword as their offerings to the Goddess.
I looked around.
Ammalu was lost in prayers ; Nair was sneaking around counting the coins falling on the sword. With her eyes planted on my face and body movement, Ammini was becoming restless and concerned.
Men and women and children continued to touch my feet and offer their contributions.
“How small I am when compared to these innocent and mostly uneducated devotees around, many of them from the families of petty shop keepers or low paid wage earners!. I woke up, as a baby, from my cradle and went to sleep hearing the Vedic sounds and I have spent almost my entire life practicing rituals and religious practices. Still, why am I far below the level of the spiritual ecstasy and mental elevation of these folks? What purpose does my parrot-like rhythmic recitals of Rudram and Chamakam serve when I am not able to live in God and feel His presence within? Whenever I see women with tearful eyes and palm on their chest, cry from the cavern of their heart, ‘ente Sreekanteswara or ente Guruvayoorappa”, I used to long for such a status for me once, at least once in my life time. They might be praying for their vagabond husbands or handicapped children.
Fully absorbed by such thoughts, I glanced at the Goddess. She smiled in full glory .
The devotees, who had vowed to walk across the sacred fire- field , fresh from a bath in the river, turmeric water dripping from their wet dothies and holding bunches of neem leaves had just arrived . They circumambulated the deity and touched my feet seeking my blessings, since I was representing the GODDESS in flesh and blood.
One of them, suddenly started quivering and screamed ‘Thaye raktham kami-mother show us the blood and lead us through our fire walk”. I came to know later that he is the son of Karuppu cchami chettiar, a shop owner to whom I owed a small amount during my college days but failed to play. Chettiar, before closing his eyes for ever, would have instructed his worthy son to collect the due from me by threat or even by force, if necessary!
A streak of lightning passed through my nerves as more and more devotees joined the chorus, danced and sang and wanted me to lead them on the fire-walk, slicing my forehead althrough and allow it bleed . That was the custom in the temple.
Like the riksha- puller who cries, ‘Ma’ while passing through the frontage of the Calcutta Kali temple, like the women folks who cries ‘ente Sreekanteswara or ‘ente Guruvayoorappa’ in front of the respective temples, I placed my right palm flat on my chest, closed my eyes and cried ’Ente Amme!-My Mother’, completely unaware of what I was doing. At that time, I felt my body as light as a feather; I could feel the flow of the ice-cold water of the Ganges through my nerves and micro cells .
Suddenly I observed a jerk nearby. Spreading her long hairs all over her face, Ammalu jogged to and fro the sanctum sanctoram, grabbed the sword from my hand, moved towards the crowd spreading her arms as if she was going to gather them and swallo and screamed “come on, my children! I am Mahishasuramardhini. I will lead you on your fire-walk”. The crowd moved away; the drum-beats stopped. There was pin-drop silence. Pointing her finger towards me, she then said in a melodious voice.”You too come near me. You are Bala, Leela, Vinodini. There is lotus everywhere around you. Your hands, your legs, your face, your body, your abode everywhere, everywhere there is lotus. You should not burn your lotus feet in fire. You are Padmini”
Along with the devotees who fell on her feet seeking pardon for their clarion call, I too went near her, my lips uttering a couplet from the Devi sthuthy, learnt long ago from my father.‘ Ya Devi sarva bootheshu mathruroopena samsthitha
Namsthasyai,namasthasyai,namasthasyai namonnamha:”
“To the Goddess who dwells in all beings in the form of mother-salutations to Her, Salutations to Her, salutations to Her”
She embraced me and kept me close to her body for short while, when I felt completely safe and secure, fully protected – the same feeling I had, several years ago, when I rushed to take refuge in my mother’s arms while returning from school, fully drenched, water dripping from my school bag, shorts and shirt.
And I was sure that I was not under the influence of OAS or any other syndrome.
March 24th, 2008
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Sulaiman's fourth wedding

Sulaiman was my father’s cart- man. His association with my family started in a dramatic way, when he was caught red handed by one of our hotel employees, while trying to jump over the compound wall, to escape from the punishment for non-payment of his hotel bill. He was then a lad of ten or twelve years.
‘I can do any work; don’t beat me,’ he pleaded to his captor. He was thin like a match stick, fair in complexion, tall for his age, had a small lump on his back and his left arm and leg were short and slightly twisted by polio attack. However, his bright eyes, fearless pose and smiling face caught my father’s attention when the urchin was brought home, adjoining our hotel, for awarding punishment.
‘Rascal, you tried to jump over the compound wall?’ my father shouted at him, rolling his eyes and staring at him, ‘what courage despite disability?’
‘Dhairiyam karalilalley, mudhalali?’ he asked slightly twisting his eye brows, and partially closing his eyes,’ Kalilallallo’ Courage is in mind, not on the legs. ‘Isn’t it so, master?’
‘What work are you capable of doing?’ father asked. It was obvious that he was happy the way the boy replied.
‘can catch fish, wash fish and cook fish,’ he boastd enthusiastically. Admirable attributes, but unfortunately unfit for ‘Brahmanal’ hotel. When he uttered the word ‘fish’ not once, but thrice, my mother felt that his presence itself was filling the air with the stink of fish and pleaded, ‘antha saniyanai vidungol ennu- release that devil, please’
‘Take him to the well, pour ten buckets of water over his head and provide him with a pair of clothes,’ my father instructed the attendants, ignoring mother’s plea. ‘Post him for table cleaning and toss him out in the evening’
My mother, as usual, went inside without uttering a word of dissent. My father’s judgment of persons hardly failed.
By his diligent work and decent behavior, Sulaiman continued to stay with us and in due course, became my father’s pet servant . He used to follow my father like a shadow, wherever he went and even while relaxing in his easy chair, the kid used to sit near him on the flour, pressing father’s leg or providing him the frequent dosage of pan leaf- tobacco combination. My mother too loved and treated him well when she learned that he was an orphan. His impeccable integrity, intelligent conversation and pleasing manners, attracted our customers and he became a trustworthy servant. He called my parents, ‘Vappa and Umma’ and they didn’t object. “Vappa ente karala; umma uyirum- dad is my heart and mom my life,” he used to claim affectionately.
My father sent him to school along with me and being elder in age and of daredevil attitude, he became my escort.
Sulaiman didn’t like the idea of idling in the class room for hours together, while the world outside was full of action and joy. Our school housed in a lovely, airy building with high ceiling and wide windows, was surrounded by lush green paddy fields and when the crop was ripe for harvesting, the winds used to dance over them creating waves after waves. The heavy down pours used to create small ponds here and there and variety of birds used to nest on the branches of the trees lining on the borders, making different sounds all pleasant though incoherent and non-rhythmic. Peasant women, young and old, used to happily move about with their sickle and bamboo basket and their loud talk and laughter could be heard from our class room. It was a joy to watch through the windows and sit idle throughout, though that would cost us marks and even put our education in jeopardy. But it was worth, we both thought. Sulaiman had the courage to act on what he thought was correct and became a drop out. Despite my father’s pressure to continue the studies, he showed no inclination. He thus became our full time helper.
My father imported a horse-cart from Coimbatore, for his frequent visits to Palakkad market and monthly visits to his native village and other places and Sulaiman was made the driver. The new arrival was the talk of the town for a few days. Till then there were only bullock carts there. People used to view with awe and respect my father pompously sitting in the new horse-driven cart, with shining ‘kadukkans’ ( ear ornaments) and rings and thick velvety tuft rocking in rhythm to the movement of the colt, proudly driven by Sulaiman, cracking his whip and making all sorts of sounds. Sulaiman was the happiest man in the world.
The annual festival at the ‘Mariamman’ temple was a big event of joy and merrymaking for the local population. Artists volunteered from the neighboring Tamilnadu, to play ‘karakam’ and ‘poikkal kuthirai’ dances. The function starts with the installation of a temporary ‘dwajasthampam’ or flag post, a carefully chosen long bamboo plant, freshly uprooted after taking bath in the river and ceremoniously brought to the temple sight, lead by a procession of drummers and dancers. It ends with the auspicious ‘poomidhi’- walking across the red-hot charcoal path by the devotees, who enter the field, after the ceremonious bath, fresh from the river, clad in turmeric water soaked dhothies, bare-chested and bare- footed. It is an awesome sight. I was eager to join the group and walk across the fire but I was never given permission, by my father.
While I sat grumbling in a corner, cursing the imposition of restriction on my activities by my parents, Sulaiman worked out a plan for active participation in the festival and also to earn a quick buck in the process.
Mohammad, owner of the ‘Annan ( squirrel) photo’ beedi was a regular customer to our shop, and my father casually suggested that he should make use of the festival where large people gather, to advertise for his product. He also gave him a few tips on visual representations for sales promotion. Sulaiman overheard their conversation and sought and obtained my father’s permission to arrange a procession of young boys holding placards and also organize a cultural show. Mohammad was not so optimistic but agreed for the proposal, in view of the low cost involved in the production and presentation of the street show.
I was eager to join in the venture but my father would never allow me to walk along with the urchins, across the streets of the town or participate in the cultural program organized by our worker. Sulaiman also was not for that, as he was fully aware that it would be against my father’s prestige.
Sulaiman collected discarded materials from the hotel such as coconut shells, dented sauce pan, broken bucket, palm leaf fans etc and painted them with pastes of quicklime, ash, charcoal and turmeric powder collected from the kitchen. A variety of display materials were ready and what was required was manpower. He collected a good number of young boys working as coolies from the railway stations and nearby teashops and taught them what to do and what to say. He would be leading the procession and others had to simply respond to his call.
After ensuring that a good number of people had gathered in front of the temple, and the kids had by-hearted the slogans he had taught them, Sulaiman organized his team to stand in a line and handed over the banners and other display articles to each one of them. He took the leading position and gave the first clarion call:
‘Yes, sir,’ replied the kids
‘Eanke porea?’ whither?
‘Kadaikku poren’ Going for shopping
‘Enna vanga?’ To buy what?
‘Beedi vanga’ To buy beedi.
‘Enna beedi?’- What beedi?
‘Annan photo beedi, annan photo beedi, annan photo beedi’
Annan is squirrel, in Malayalam.
The procession started from the Mariamman temple, which was opposite to our shop and therefore I was just an onlooker, initially, fearing my father’s watchful eyes. But when it progressed and moved beyond a safe distance, away from the area of vision of my father, I joined the group and was with them almost till the end, now and then switching over to the role of an onlooker, when familiar faces appeared on the road.
The procession gathered speed and the slogans became more voluminous, when two bullock cart drivers offered us free ride. We covered the full length of the Palakkad town purposely avoiding Kalpathy, a site unfit for beedi marketing.
Companies always target specific groups, defined by gender, ethnic group, income, and region and so on. A technique that works for one group may not appeal to another. If we were canvassing for coffee powder or ‘mookkuppodi (snuff), it would be worthwhile to pass through the Brahmin villages. It was nothing but common sense that prompted us to skip those localities.
Another major element of advertising techniques is to capture the viewers’ attention and longer they remember the product after watching the show, better for the company. The efforts are waste, regardless of the quality of the product, if the above aim is not achieved. The third one is the cost factor. By using waste materials artistically and effectively, Sulaiman proved the efficiency of low-cost advertisement, well planned and executed. Thus, on all these counts, his road show was a spectacular success. It became so popular that, subsequently, corporate houses like Hindusthan Lever, hired him for their publicity campaign. By simply replacing the three words ‘Annan photo beedi’ in the slogan to suit their products, Sulaiman organized the street shows and his services were in great demand.
The news that I participated in the procession reached home before I reached.
‘Get inside and hide somewhere. Your father is furious,’
my mother warned me, as soon as I entered the house. But before I could hide, father spotted me and asked, Sulaiman ‘enketa-where is Sulaiman?’
He had, by that time, already hidden inside our ‘pathayam’ the big wooden box, where rice was stored.
Father opened the top of the wooden box and picked up Sulaiman with his fingers as if he was a rabbit. ‘Get out of my house, you scoundrel,’ he thundered and then turning towards me, ‘and you too’
‘Where will we go vappa( father)?’ Sulaiman asked calmly. “
‘This is our house and why should we go? And moreover, you gave me permission for what I did’
‘I didn’t permit you to take Appu, along with you,’ my father clarified.
‘I cannot ask you to join the procession. Then, who will guide us if not Appu mudalali?’
His wits and the way he answered mollified my father’s anger. “Oom” he ordered, ‘Get in and attend to your work’
The work we attended to was not what father had in mind; we started collecting discarded materials again from the kitchen and nearby shops to give a makeup to Sulaiman for his ‘puliyattam (cheetah dance)’, that night. The makeup was so impressive that even my aged grandmother came out to the frontage of our house, from where she could catch a glimpse of the dance before the temple gate. Effortlessly, Sulaiman joined the professionals and after the other dances were over, he was to have his solo performance.
He went to my grandmother, took her blessings and also requested her to sing. ‘At this age?’, she exclaimed, but slowly walked towards the temple gate, heavily depending on her walking-stick and gave a lead with the first line of a song
“Mariamma, mariamma, engal muthu mariamma”
She was exhausted before she could start the second line but others continued. The women, who had come from Coimbatore, Gobisetty palayam etc, spread their hair, poured turmeric water over their head, beat their body with the bunch of neem leaves they had in their hand and broke into a dance amid religious ecstasy.
The ‘Cheetah’ jumped and rolled among them and the whole atmosphere was surcharged with jubilation. The slogan displayed prominently on his back read:
‘Simhathe ploley ulla C.P.Mohammadu,
Vappaye poley ulla ‘Annan photo beedi.
Ha,ha! Enthu veeryam, Enthu sukham, enthu manam, enthu gunam!
C.P.Mohammd is like a lion – (In real life, he was as timid as a lamb). .
Annan phot beedi is rich in qualities, hot and flavored like ‘Vappa’ (meaning my father).
Sulaiman’s show was well received. I don’t know whether the sale of Annan Photo beedi shot up or not but his fortune did. The road show was a turning point in his life. Several small companies hired his services and when I left the college, he was managing the Anil photo beedi shop, though during his spare time he used to help my father too.
After two years I went to attend his wedding with Ayisha, the only daughter of Mohammed, owner of the ‘Anil photo beedi company. Then we lost contact, as he left for Dubai. However, news about his prosperity continued to trickle and I was happy to learn that Sulaiman had became a ‘settu’, a wealthy man owning a number of tea and rubber estates.
A few years ago, I met a huge figure clad in Arabian costume along with half-a -dozen attar-scented, burqa clad women and a score of youngsters and children of all ages, at the foot of Eiffel tower. He stared at me for a moment and yelled, “
‘Wah, Allah!’ and hugged me so forcefully that I stopped breathing for a moment. When released from his vice-like grip, I raised my head to have a good look him and immediately recognized him- he was Sulaiman.
‘We came to Paris to buy perfumes,’ he said and took me to his hotel suit.
‘Appa mudalali has met Ayisha, my first wife,’ he said introducing his family members, after the initial excitement was over.
‘Yes, I have.’ I replied, ‘ how many more do you have?’
‘Only two at present,’ he replied proudly.
‘But I see many more black beauties,’ I enquired.
‘Those women are my wives’ maids’
‘When are you getting your fourth wife?’ I enquired with a mischievous smile. . But he was serious. ‘Yes, Appumuthalali. I will have my fourth nikkah, Inshallah, at your presence and with your blessings’
I spent several hours in his hotel suite, chatting reminiscently about our childhood days and while taking leave, I agreed to his request to meet him more often.
‘And don’t forget,’ he reminded me while seeing me off at the hotel exit, ‘I will wait for you for my fourth and final wedding’
Everything went wrong for Sualiman for the next two years. His business empire collapsed, his health deteriorated and one by one, his wives and children deserted him when they learned that his company was no more beneficial.
He refused to avail any financial help from me. ‘That is against what Vappa has taught me,’ he said. I went to Palakkad and helped him to establish a small tea shop on the road side but that too failed. He stopped contacting me.
I went to Palakkad again, specifically to meet him and force him to accept some help from me, though I knew it was a difficult job.
The moment I got down from the train, a porter grabbed my suitcase. It was Sulaiman! He had shrunk in size, scattered in looks but still smiling!
I took him to my house. The ornamental huge wooden doors, uncared for a long time, opened wide with a protest. Sulaiman cleared the dust accumulated all around and prepared a tasty black tea.
‘Vappade kattilil kidannu marikkanum’- Wish I could breath my last, on father’s cot. He said looking at the ebony cot on which my father used to relax. He said that he was happy with the porter’s job. I asked him to stay in our house and take care of it. ‘Not now, mudalali. The time hasn’t arrived,’ he replied.
After six months I rushed again to Palakkad, on receiving a call from an old railway porter, Vavakka that Sulaiman was sick and desired to see me urgently.
Sulaiman was in a bad shape when I went to his hut.
‘Let us rush him to the hospital,’ I commanded Vavakka but Sulaiman refused. He wanted me to take him to my house. ‘Vappade kattilil kidannu marikkanum,’ he pleaded. I sent for a doctor and took him to my house, with the help of Vavakka.
‘You have come for my fourth Nikkah, Appumudali?’ he enquired, lying on my father’s ebony cot. He was slowly losing his consciousness though his face was calm. I could see that he was slowly sliding towards the valley of death. ‘I am glad that you kept your promise and came for my nikkah. ‘Will this wife desert me?’ There was anxiety in his voice.
‘Never, Sulaiman; you can sleep peacefully on her lap, forever’
‘What are her demands? Perfumes from Paris and crystals from Amsterdam? ‘ The pitch was slowing down.
‘She has no demands,’ I replied unable to control my tears. ‘She only wants your company’ 
He seemed to be satisfied with the reply.
‘The Mariamman kovil procession has started,’ he whispered looking at the temple across the road, ‘Can I Join them?’, he enquired. His eyes were moist. He pulled me towards him and whispered into my ears,
‘Gopala!’ The words were clear and deep.
‘Yes sir!’ I responded. Now my throat was drying up. Yet, I could manage to ask him the next question in our old slogan-chain.
‘Enke porea?-wither?’
His voice had become still; but I had the answer.
July 29, 2008
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– A hilarious story on a sleeper- class journey
As young ones enjoy disobeying their parents, we too derive pleasure in doing exactly opposite to what our children want us to do. Otherwise why should I prefer to travel by sleeper class, despite my children’s standing instruction to travel by air, wherever feasible, otherwise by a/c class but never by sleeper class?

I avoid domestic air travel as I hate to spend more time in commuting to and fro the air stations and waiting at the lounge, than the actual journey time. It is equally sickening to be caged in a compartment like a safari lion in the zoo, depriving free air and the lavish sight of moving trees, hills, meadows and maidens. Hence, I avoid a/c class also, despite the concessional rate available for senior citizens. There is a thrill in travelling by sleeper class, meeting people of different category, taste and habits. Those of you, who do not agree with me, are invited to read this story. Somehow, most of the women whom I meet, and I prefer to meet them, more than men, in A/c class train feel that they are on the way to promotion as Angels.

I go to Kerala, to recharge my battery, quite often.  Mother Nature is lavish is her ceaseless celebration there in all her glory and more you move deeper down, more is your exhilaration in participating in a perennial panoramic presentation of pristine beauty and grace . The pre dawn temple worship after a dip in a river or pond , Karnatic music in the evening followed by Kathakali at night, colorless, odorless sweet water and smoke-free air, all around – all these remove impurities from mind and body and rejuvenate the system. And the puzhukkkalri (boiled brown rice ) choru with olan, kalan, avaial, pappadam and uppilittathu (side dishes) –aunh!ikshayayai-real enjoyment! ( how miserably fails the art of translation in its attempt to convey the meaning of those two words in a different language !)

During my last return journey from Thiruvananthapuram in Shabhari express, a very fair, fat, well-dressed woman with her dark-skinned, pencil-shaped, awfully dressed and arrogant husband and half-a-dozen children of different ages and mixed shapes, boarded my compartment at Kottayam Junction. They had with them, unusually large volume of luggage and it was an ordeal for the couple to load their movable and immovable products into the compartments, before the train steamed out.
I got up from my seat to extend a helping hand but before I lifted up my back fully, the lady managed to push her generous bottom to occupy my seat.  Every millimeter space in the compartment had been fully filled by the intruders and yet, a few kids and cartons and a big jack fruit remain to be accommodated.
‘Can you hold this for a moment, Please ?,’  Pleaded the lady and before I could answer, the big jack fruit was already placed on my head. I go mad at the sight of the sweet, juicy, flavoured fruits but to carry the whole huge stuff with thorny, thick skin on my bald head, in standing posture in a superfast express train, Sir, was not a joke. I like my woman. She is bulky like a pumpkin, not thorny like a jack fruit. But I can’t carry her on my head in a super fast express!

‘I couldn’t make it to Pazhavangadi Pulliar, this time. Could this be his punishment?’, I worried.

I started worrying and simultaneously took a vow that during my next trip, I would visit first Pazhavangadi before moving to other temples. I wanted to pick up a coin from my right pocket and put it in the left one, to cement the vow but my hands were not free-they were holding the jack fruit.

But Pulliar answered my vow instantly and sent a cashew nut vendor to remove the load off my head and place it on the upper birth. Instantly, I removed a coin from my right pocket but hesitantly put it in the left one. After all, the job is done. Is it really necessary to please the elephant headed God ?

I continued to stand uncomfortably surrounded by children and luggage, looking at my seat being occupied by the woman, hoping that she would develop an urge to ease herself so that I could reclaim my seat the moment she gets up. That didn’t happen.

I picked up another coin from my right pocket and placed it in the left, without hesitating for a moment as I am now convinced that only Pazhavangadi has the strength to push the intruder out of her seat which rightly belongs to me.That was Perhaps a fake coin!

‘Carry your child’.  So said the fat lady and placed a kid on my hand.
‘My child!’. I shivered and struggled to breath.  ‘My child?’. I asked her again, lightning and thunder lambasting my head and heart.

‘All children are God’s children and God’s children are our children, while traveling in a sleeper class’.
She had a point there.

We reached Ernakulam Junction. The children rushed out of the compartment.
‘Catch them, they are getting down’ I screamed.
‘Let them; they are not mine’

She explained later that the children’s parents were in the next compartment and the lady brought them along with her, only to enjoy their company for a short while.

‘Manssilaayo? Understood?,’  She asked for my confirmation.

“Manssilayi-yes, under stood” I replied

At Trichur Junction, her husband, who was reading ‘Mathrubhumi’ weekly, sitting in a corner seat, got down and didn’t return..

‘’Your husband didn’t return’. I alerted her with a sorry face.
‘He is not my husband!’

She explained later that she took his help only to push the luggage in.
‘Every one who boards the compartment along with me can’t be my husband. right?’
She has a point there too.

‘’Manassilayo?” She inquired again

‘’Manassilayi,, manassilayi ‘, I replied.

I was to get down at Palakkad junction. The lady got down before me and didn’t bother to unload her luggage.
‘Madam, you have not removed your luggage’, I shouted running behind her.
‘Thosecare not my luggage’, She replied. ‘ The baggage belongs  to my friends in the next compartment and they will collect them at Coimbatore. You take care of them till the next station. Coimbatore to Palakkad is just one hour journey.’.

‘Manassilayo , Sami?’  She inquired again.
I nodded my head vigorously and replied,
‘Oh! Manassilayi, manassilayi’
‘you understood, what ?’ enquired, Ammalu, her eyes and mouth wide opened,
‘enakku onnum manassilayillallo!’ She lamented that she understood nothing .
‘Athum mansassilayi’ I nodded my head forcefully that I understood that too.
July 29, 2008
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The Truth or the story of Erappae Eakambharam

‘Anna, Anantha kodi namskaram’. I heard someone greeting from behind,
while boarding the aircraft at London’s Heathrow airport. Anantha kodi
is a huge figure. How to handle such large number?
I turned back to find a middle aged man with a pumpkin head and
drumstick body, glittering from top to toe coming towards me to touch
my feet. His glistening green apparel, gold rings studded with gem stones in all the ten fingers, thick golden chains around his neck and
diamond-studded bracelet- all these made me wonder who he could be.
‘You didn’t recognize me, I guess. What a pity!’. There was a genuine
sadness in his voice.
‘It is indeed a pity that God didn’t provide you with ten heads and
twenty hands’
‘Don’t be sarcastic about these ornaments. Be proud of your son’s
‘Aye, wait a minute. I am a bit confused. From a distance you
addressed me as `elder brother’ and now claim that you are my son. What
is your mother’s name? This is just to refurbish my memory and explore
where I went wrong’.
‘You can never go wrong,’ he replied as if I was not a human being. He
kept mum for a few seconds, which compounded my confusion. Then he
drew my right hand towards his head and pleaded, ‘Master, bless me! I
am your servant Ekambharam, Erappa Ekambharam of Trichur,
who is alive today due to your kindness’.
‘Oh! I am relieved. I need not look for an alibi to explain a past blunder to my children, at this age. Next, I am happy that a person condemned and cursed by a score of women, is prospering and proudly standing before his senior who punished and expelled him from a profitable Government job’
Eakambharam aka Eka occupied the seat next to mine, reluctantly as if he was forced to sit near his boss.
Eakambharam’s short acquaintance with me started and ended in a
turbulent manner. While I was travelling to Trichur to supervise a
field survey of malnutritious women and children under a WHO project,
he pick pocketed me and instead of escaping from the scene, slowly
opened the purse and counted the amount inside. The co-passengers were
about to beat him up; I stopped them and questioned him, why he didn’t
run away and why was he evaluating the content of the purse.
‘I  wanted to make sure that there is enough money for my food for a
couple of days,’ He replied with an innocent look.
‘You suspected that I too belong to your category?,’ I enquired.
‘Not that. I am going to take up a job and I want just enough money
for my survival for two or three days. After I report for duty, I can
ask for an advance from my office or borrow some from
my colleagues’. He replied.
It turned out that both of us were going to the same office and he was
to work under me as a driver cum attendant.
He returned my purse and I lent him some money. We both reported for
duty on the same day.
Eakambharam used to bring his jeep to my residence early morning every
day to pick me up.
The winter morning breeze kindles love to opposite sex if you are old
and love to God if you are young. That was how it was in those days in
Kerala and now perhaps things would have changed. But in our driver
friend’s case, the sight of an young girl in the neighborhood
drawing `kolam’ in front of her house, when he waits to pick me up
every morning, kindled love and they used to exchange glances in the
initial stage and sweet words, later. It was quite an innocent act as
such, but things got a bit complicated one morning, when the girl’s
mother replaced her daughter in executing the pre-dawn cleaning job.
You should remember that at the dim light of dawn when a woman bends
forward to draw kolam, view from the back, could be deceptive. In his
anxiety to talk to his girl friend, Eakambharam made some undesirable
comments inadvertently. This drew the wrath of the lady, ‘erappae’
She spat at him and spanked him with the broom stick, right and left.
The force with which she shouted ‘erappae!’or scoundrel invited the
attention of the women in the neighborhood, who were also cleaning
their frontage. They all came with their broomsticks and buckets full
of cow dung solution which was promptly emptied on Eakambharam’s head and body. When I came out of my room, I was shocked to see the poor boy’s condition and with great difficulty, saved him from the
clutches of the angry women after profusely apologizing on his behalf
and assuring that he would never be seen anywhere in that area. He was
mauled badly but still breathing when I put him in the jeep and took
to our hospital.
Then on, he was popularly known as `Erappae Ekambaram’ after the
appellation showered on him by the angry woman in my neighborhood.
I had to reluctantly remove him from the service, for misbehavior
while on duty, though left to me I would have pardoned him as he was
already given an over dosage of punishment by those hurt by his
Within a couple of days he eloped and married Annie, a health worker
of our project. Though he changed his name to `Edward Ekambharam’, his nick name continued to be more familiar with his friends and co-workers.
‘Do you own a gold mine or representing a MNC as its brand ambassador?’, I enquired.
`Sir, again you are ridiculing my decoration which is purely a basic
requirement for my profession. More I display my wealth, more money
and fame I earn’
‘May I know, Eka, what that profession is?,’ I asked eagerly.
‘I am a specialist in BMR and popularly known in west as Ekamb Baba
Maharaj. You will be seeing my advertisement In US visual media. I
spend millions on that’
‘BMR means?’
‘Black Magic Repulsion. My clientele includes popular Hollywood stars
and prosperous business magnets’
‘It is the height of stupidity to believe in black magic, globins and
such trash. When science has advanced —-‘
‘It is. Science has advanced; not people’s mind. And when a majority
of them believe in it…’
‘Why should you go by the mad majority?’
‘I don’t. I only cash on their belief, to my benefit. Hope that you
see the difference?’
‘Yes, I do. When I met you for the first time at the running train, you
were so innocent to count the cash in my purse which you pick
pocketed, just to ensure that it contains only the required
amount to meet your needs for two or three days. And now—‘
‘I was poor then. My needs were minimal. Poor steals for food; Rich for fun and luxury. Fun and luxury have no limit; food has. Once I tasted blood, I crave for more and more’
‘Anyway I am glad that you are prospering. How is Annie?’
‘Who is she?’
That was an unexpected question, which shocked me.
‘Your wife, our health visitor with whom you eloped’
‘You are going too deep into the past, sir. She deserted me and
married Dr. Alexander, the famous cardiologist here’
‘I am sorry for you; Annie is a wonderful girl. The cardiologist, no
doubt, is a lucky man’
‘Unfortunately not; He is admitted in my clinic’
‘For cardiovascular surgery?’
‘No for BMR’
‘You suspect that he became a patient because of Annie?’
‘It is not a suspicion. It is the truth’
‘So you are alone now?’
‘No I have a family,’ he took out a photograph from his pocket and
passed it on to me.
‘The elderly lady is your…?’
‘My wife and mother of my children’
‘Is she not our neighbor at Trichur  who lashed you with broom
stick and poured cow dung paste on your head?”
‘She is’
‘But why the mother and not the daughter with whom you used to
exchange love notes?’
‘The daughter married Dr. Sambhu, our medical officer’
‘Oh, our Sambharam Sambhu. Where is he now?’
‘In my clinic in US, undergoing BM therapy; I am on my way to meet him’
‘You suspect that he landed in your clinic because of his wife?’
‘It is not a suspicion. It is the truth’
‘Tell me, for a person of your status, you could have chosen A young
girl. Why did you go for a married woman, elder than you?’
‘I am not ungrateful. She treated me and taught me the art of living’
‘Treated you for?’
‘Black magic’
‘But how did you know that you were afflicted by BM?’
‘Otherwise, do you think I would have waited in the train counting
your coins in the purse instead of escaping?’
‘So, you believe that the broom stick and cow dung treatment helped you
to come out of your ailment?’
‘It is not a belief; It is the truth’
‘And  you follow the same treatment for your patient. But I suspect…’
‘Please  don’t suspect anything. If you do so you will land in my
clinic. It is THE TRUTH’

Posted on Leave a comment

A serious scientific discussion and a mouse in between!

asn’t he got up from the bed yet, your dull-headed son?’, enquired Dr.P.G..Iyer for the fifth time, since morning but his wife Kunja didn’t care to reply.
The ‘dull-head’ was none other than his eldest son, Dr.P.G.K
a senior geologist, with more than 100 papers in leading
scientific journals, to his credit. It was already 9.00 in the morning and P.G.K, had to leave for his laboratory by 9.30 and hence the old man’s anxiety. Despite having a doctorate and good standing in the scientific community, P.G.K. is a ‘madayan’ for his father who believes that his son’s scientific knowledge is not worth a ‘chakram’, a small coin in the erstwhile Travancore state, in the absence of spiritual pursuits..
Dr.P.G.K, a nocturnal scientist, works in the Labs, till late night. His mother and wife, are therefore sympathetic to his getting up late in the morning though his father, who gets up before sunrise and performs ‘sandya’, pre-dawn prayers expects his son too to do so
Unable to tolerate the ‘pindungal’ -nagging of her husband, Kunjamami, Iyer’s wife, woke her son up hesitantly. Hurriedly P.G.K grabbed a towel form his mother’s hand and while he was rushing for a wash, his father shouted at him,”Nilluda -wait there and answer this question: One day, just one day in your life, will you get up early and perform sandya, before I die?’
“No way, dad. I have become Kakkassery”, the son replied with a naughty smile and walked away.
‘Madaya siromanai!- idiot of the highest degree”, Iyer whispered and retired to his study.
P.G.K, before leaving for his work, used to arrange neatly the latest copies of scientific journals on his father’s reading table, every day, along with the news papers and magazines. He also covertly ensures that his father’s betel nut box, medicine chest and cash box are adequately filled and his clothes are properly pressed and placed at the appropriate place. While doing so, Iyer asked his son,” Kakkassery aruda Krishna?-who is Kakkassery?”
“Tell you in the evening”. The son replied uncarilngly and was about to leave for his Lab.
“Chappittuttu poda, Krishna-eat and go”, his mother pleaded, but he didn’t wait.
Iyer, who was born and brouht up in UK, had not heard about Kakkassery and had no patience to wait till evening to know who he was. He peeped through the window to see whether his son had already left. He had. Iyer’s grandson also was not to be seen around .He paced the floor nervously , opened his betel box and prepared a mix, brooding all the while who that Kakkassery guy was . Mami was standing nearby. Of late, under some pretext or other, she longs to spend more time in her husband’s room, notwithstanding the fact that she does major part of the cooking though they have a known woman for the job. Iyer spends most of his time before the computer or with the books and he converses with her sparingly. But the very feeling that he is available close by, gives her joy. The compatibility in contrast of the Iyer couple is amazing.They hardly speak but mentally are always together. They loved each other passionately but there was no external sign or signal to that effect. Iyer is short in form, dark in complexion and swift and aggressive in talk and action; Mami is simple, slender and graceful and always smiling, slow in walking and soft in talking, always dignified and composed.
On his return from U.K. with a doctorate and job offer, Iyer met Kunja on his father’s instruction and fell for her at the very first sight. When his sister brought to his attention the non-compatibility in the educational standard, Iyer, raising one eye quizzically and in a language familiar to a scientist, commented: “So, what? she is aromatic and luminous”. Kunja also remarked to a friend who made a similar comparison on their physical disparity, “he has one thing which I lack- intelligence. And that should make up for every thing”
Iyer was observing through a corner of his eye that his wife was rolling the pages of a scientific journal, just to be with him in his study. Though he too liked her company especially after retirement, for longer duration, he used to pretend as if he was least interested in spending time with her. With a mock angry tone, he commanded, ” Vai anghe- keep that book there”
Falteringly, she replied that she was seeing pictures-
” Padam parukkaren”
‘Where are pictures in that book, you innocent -athile padam engehe irukkidi asadea?”
Mami splashed her innocent smile. She looked so attractive that Iyer wanted to kiss her. Good that he realised that they were not in their Pittsburgh county home.
Their daughter-in-law just entered..
Suddenly the inquisitiveness about Kakkassery popped up in Iyer’s mind. Though he knew that his wife would never be able to answer his query, he asked her casually,”Kunjamma, intha Kakkssery aarudi-who is this Kakkassery?”
Her hearing capacity, of late, was dwindling and she heard him differently.
‘Kavasserilea aaru- whom are you talking about, in the Kavassery village?”
“Ninte Atchan- your dad”, Iyer replied caustically, patted his wife’s back to reduce the intensity of his remark made unintentionally and moved to the exit gate to see whether some one with better knowledge was passing through.
Next day was Sunday. Mami refused to wake her son up even though Iyer tried his level best to cajole her.
He was pacing before his room and the moment P.G.K came out from the bed, asked him “Konthai, antha kakkassery aruda?”–son, who is that Kakkassery ?
His son ignored him, went to the bathroom and Iyer went back to his study.
On the lunch table, Iyer’s expectant look at his son’s face, was in vain because, P.G.K. was enjoying the sight of his mother, chasing a mouse from the kitchen, holding a broom stick in her hand and making ‘Aa-Oo’ sounds. “Mom, run, run!” Clapping and whistling, he encouraged his mother and turning towards his father, asked,” dad, do you know that we share 90% of the same genetic material with that mouse, after which mom is?”
” Yes, I know” Iyer replied, “and more than 98% with chimpanzee. Man had a common ancestor with chimpanzee about 5.5 million years ago. Nobody yet knows precisely where they are or how they work, but somewhere in the nuclei of our cells are handful of amino acids arranged in a specific order that endows us with the brain power to out think and outdo our closest relatives on the the tree of life”. He quoted a recent science article in the Time magazine and continued,”otherwise, we would have been sitting in the zoo eating banana offered by the visiting children and our brother on the tree, would be doing sandya, like me, sporting a sacred thread, or argue and disobey his father, like you”
Iyer, enjoys lively scientific discussions.
His wife Kunjamami, at times think about God, but her world consists of only her children and husband and her mind gets filled with thoughts of how to make the best food for them and their life comfortable. P.G.K. thinks and talks only about science.
“Do you remember “chundeli chuppani?’, asked Mrs. Iyer, her interest at that moment being restricted to the mouse- chundeli after which she was for the past thirty minutes.
The villagers are expert in giving apt and funny names and our neighbour Chuppani, earned that title for hiding like a mouse, behind rice bags in his kitchen, when his wife scolds – which she does liberally and loudly. While doing so, she shuts the doors, not that she wants to do her act covertly but to ensure that her husband doesn’t escape!
“Women, generally, do their job perfectly”, Chuppani used to declare proudly in support of his wife ” but Komalam is too good a perfectionist”.
“We are discussing about genes and DNA and you want to intrude with your village gossips”, Iyer scolded mami, ”your hearing capacity is not that bad, when it comes to gossips!”
‘That is o.k. dad” P.G.K. supported his mother. “You remember our another neighbour ‘Pathukko Parukkutty’, who was liberal in saying ‘odambai patthukko’ –‘take care’ to anyone and every one without really meaning what she says ?
” Of course, I do” Iyer replied, pushing a liberal dose of betel mix into his mouth. “She had to wait to get that title till her husband’s death; She said ‘odambai pathukkungol innu’, when her husband’s body was being lifted from the house for his last journey.”
Everyone broke into laughter at that joke.
Encouraged by her son’s support mami said-“you will never forget that ‘nonbadai Venkatcham, a short, dark man, circular in shape with a big pit at the center of his abdomen”
“How could I forget him, mom? He ate, at a stretch twenty two nonbadais and was ready for more, if provided.”
Nonbadai is a sweet preparation, generally made once a year, when the women offer that sweet snack to Mother goddess and wear an yellow thread around their neck, praying for the longevity of their husbands.
Mrs.Iyer was about to say another nickname, when Iyer cut her short.’Nee vayai moodikkindu eliayai pidi.(shut your mouth and be after the mouse)”
He turned towards his son,” Krishna, tell me about kakkassery”
‘Why don’t you read Iythihyamala or go to, dad?”
“Can’t you spend one hour in a week, with your family?”, Iyer had no patience to search for the story and he was anxious to spend some time with his son, whom he loves and even respects for his scientific knowledge, though they hardly agree on any subjects discussed.
“Jnan parayam- I shall tell that story”. There comes our friend Vishnu Namboodiri, clad, as usual, in his new unbleached, golden color -bordered double veshti, a similar melmundu and with a bright silver casket in his hand.
Where ever he is, he electrifies the seen with his voluminous laughter and sparkling jokes. Vishnu sat on the floor, opened the casket and taking out the betel leaves one by one, started narrating the story .
“Okkaruda-sit down,” Iyer commanded, when his son tried to escape and P.G.K. obeyed.
Kakkassery Nambudhiri, was a child prodigy, who mastered Veda, Vedantha, Tharkasasthras and defeated all his opponents including the indomitable Uddhanda sastrigal, from across the border, in scholarly debates on scriptures conducted periodically in the King’s court, in a very young age.. In fact, it was for that very purpose the learned Namboodhiries, who were unable to dislodge the indomitable scholar, from the nearby State, prayed and did incantations to beget a child smart enough to restore their pride by defeating the Sastrigal. As a child, he was gifted with acute observation power which helped him to identify one crow from the other and earn his name, Kakkassery, ‘Kakka’ being crow in Malayalam. With the passage of time, the very person who redeemed the lost pride of the community, became a burden to the orthodox society, when Kakkassery started mingling with every one, irrespective of their caste or status. The society deep rooted in orthodoxy could never accept that. “You are the most learned amongst us”, the Namboodiries complained and pleaded to him.’Why do you bring disgrace to us by eating with low caste people and sleeping in their huts. You don’t even perform the daily ritual of Sandhya which is the basic duty of a Brahmin?”
Kakkassery had transcended the stage of performing rites and rituals and looked upon all things and events as ever bearing the stamp of the Supreme Goodness. Having realised his oneness with that Super consciousness, he was enjoying the freedom and bliss of the Eternal.
“The sun doesn’t rise or set in my heart” Kakkassery replied, with his eye lids half- closed.” When the Cosmic Consciousness shines in my heart through out, with no rising or setting, how am I to worship sandya?’
“Hridakase chidaditya:
sadabhati niramaayam,
Udayasthamanow nastha
katham sandyam upasmahey?”
Iyer was moved by the story and it was his turn now to close his eyes and think of the Supreme Power.
“In the morning and evening, when I look at the sun and pray for the stimulation of mind,” he said, “what I am seeing in the sky, is a personification of the supreme Divine power, which opens up the sealed shutters of the seed and bring out the hidden tree from out of it, which enlightens and energizes the entire world. “Haridaswa sasrarchi, sapthasapthir mareechiman”. I visualize that benevolent monarch of the Universe, ascending the universal theater, in his golden chariot driven by innumerable green horses in the sky at dawn and at dusk, after doing good for the whole world quietly returning to his abode, his face glowing with satisfaction and peace. For you Krishna, the Sun is one of the billions of stars made of hydrogen, helium and metals. What a pity! How much you miss in life!”
‘’That is what my science tells me, dad”, P.G.K replied, turning the pages of a book to avoid the direct look of his father.
“My science too tells me the same thing”, Iyer replied, “but my wisdom, my upbringing in a spiritual surrounding, my mind which absorbed the spirit of that atmosphere tells me something more-‘don’t look at the sun as a mass of gases; see the Supreme power behind it, which gives its brightness and power, which elevates the souls and spirits, in it’, Iyer continued,”and how old is your science? a few hundred years, a few thousand years? Has it said everything about the life and universe? Will it ever be able to do that? No. Because science, is only one of the branches of knowledge- and remember knowledge is never complete- it is ever growing”
“Including your spiritual knowledge”, P.G.K cut in, forgetting for a moment that he was talking to his father.
‘Yes, Krishna, including the spiritual knowledge-mine or yours or even Kakksery’s”. There was a tinge of anger in that reply.
” I believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, dad”
” I too did so till yesterday, till I read an article in the journal Nature, challenging the earlier theory that humans evolved one after another like a line of dominoes, from ancient Homo habilis to Homo erectus and eventually the present Homo sapiens.
Darwin’s theory has been questioned; Newton’s theory has been questioned. It should be like that; that is how science progresses”
“After teaching the students about Saturn’s orbit, rotation, low density, rapid rotation, and fluid state etc you want me to wear a blue cloth and worship in the temple–“
‘’Wait, wait” Iyer cut in. “We are discussing about fundamentals and you are talking about practice. And I have already replied to your query, in the beginning of our debate, much before you raised it. I am repeating: when I go to a temple I don’t see a dark granite stone; I see a throbbing heart, which suffers when I fall, a pair of hands which lifts me up from the deep cavern I have fallen into and holds me firm till I have reached the safety path. I see the driving force behind the universe.”
“God is a delusion” P.G.K was outspoken.
‘’Make it real” now Vishnu interposed.”And start seeing God in mud and stone, plants and trees and clouds and wind”.
” Don’t You experience the existence of the unseen blood flowing through every capillaries within your body, every moment you are awake?”, Iyer asked,”don’t You experience the unseen air which fills your lungs and come out every second?
Similarly, you will start experiencing the Divine power which is within every cell of your body, within you and outside as well, if you have faith. And Krishna, as St.Augustine, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, ‘ faith is to believe in what we do not see and the reward of faith is to see what we believe”
“And moreover”, Vishnu intervened , “You will find a good friend , who will hear you patiently when others run away from you; who will give you a helping hand when you slip- and slip, you will definitely, when you walk, sometime or other- and a companion who will accompany you till the end of your road- without any condition or demands”
‘Yes”, Iyer endorsed Vishnu’s statement and continued. “And, when you want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to your life, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness or lift you above the exhausting, relentless toll of life or when you need an assurance that somebody out there cares about you and is listening to you- that you are not just destined to travel down a long highway toward nothingness,” Iyer said, “then you will find a real friend, ready to help you, having no demands or expecting anything from you in return, as Vishnu said”
“Dad, forget your poetry for a moment and talk in our common language, the language of science.”
“Yes, I shall. Let me ask you a few questions, purely on science”.
“The Sun’s energy output is about 386 billion billion megawatts, produced by nuclear fusion reactions. Right?’
‘yes, dad”
“And Each second about 700,000,000 tons of hydrogen are converted to about 695,000,000 tons of helium and 5,000,000 tons of energy in the form of gamma rays. As it travels out toward the surface, the energy is continuously absorbed and re-emitted at lower and lower temperatures so that by the time it reaches the surface, it is primarily visible light.
For the last 20% of the way to the surface, the energy is carried more by convection than by radiation. right? “
“What is the surface temperature of the Sun?”
“10,000 degrees Fahrenheit”
“If the sun gave off only one half of it’s present radiation, what will happen?”
“We would freeze.”
‘And if it gives as more?”
‘So, the earth is positioned in such a way that it is just far away so that the sun’s rays just warms us just enough so that neither we are roasted nor frozen .Right ?” Iyer continued.
“Yes, dad”
“4600 million years”
“And all these 4600 million years, the earth has been rotating non-stop, 24 hours a day and night, right?’
“Of course, it has been “
“And it rotates on its axis, right?”
‘At what speed?”
“1000 miles an hour at the equator”
“If it turns, let us say, at one hundred miles per hour, what happens?”
“Our days and nights will be 10 times as long as now and the hot sun will burn our vegetation during the long day .And in the long night, any surviving sprout might freeze.”
“How far is the moon from the earth?”
“The average earth-moon distance is about 1,75,000 miles”
“If the moon, let us say, were only 50,000 miles away, what will
“Our tides might be so enormous that twice a day all continents would be submerged and even the mountains will be eroded away”.
“What gives us our seasons?”
“The slant of the earth, tilted at an angle of 23 degrees”
“If it were not so tilted?”
“Vapours from the ocean would move north and south, piling up
continents of ice.”
“If the crust of the earth, let us say, had been ten feet thicker ?”
“There will be no oxygen and animal life will die”
“Had the ocean been a few feet deeper?”
“Carbon-di-oxide and oxygen would be absorbed and no vegetable life could exist”
Are you convinced” Iyer asked his son,” that It is apparent from these and a host of other examples that there is not one chance in billions that life on our planet is an accident?”
There was no reply.
“Take your time to reply”, Iyer said.”Tell me one thing now. You call this intelligent designing?”
“Yes, dad”
“I call it “GOD”.Iyer got up from his seat, removing his upper garment from his shoulder and looking at his son’s eyes sharply said,”your name is acceptable to me though.
” Some of history’s greatest scientific minds, including Einstein and Ramanujan, were convinced that there is an intelligent life behind the Universe.
“As Greene said, ‘Science is very good at answering the ‘how’
questions. How did the universe evolve to the form that we see?”, he continued.
‘But it is woefully inadequate in addressing the ‘why’ questions. Why is there a universe at all? The universe is incredibly wondrous, incredibly beautiful, and it fills me with a sense that there is some underlying explanation that we have yet to
fully understand.
“If someone wants to place the word ‘God’ on those collections of words, it’s OK with me.”
P.G.K, got up silently and went to wash his hands.
As if speaking to himself, his father said, “A pebble cast in the
water, may seem insignificant, but it creates ripples.Some ripples become waves, and some becomes tsunamis. I hope, one day, such a situation will arise in your mind.then you will realise that science, which is only a
few hundreds or a few thousands years old, is only,a path in the
discovery of the inner secrets of the nature, a path to know the God”.
Vishnu, watching the debate between the father and son, sang in a melodious voice, a sloka from V.C.Balakrishna panikkar’s poem titled,’Viswaroopam’:
“Paravarm kareri, karakal muzuvanum mukki moodaththentho,
Tharajalangal thammil swayamurasimaringathra veezhathathentho?
Neryaranju nokkeeduka madamiyalum marthyare, ningalennal
Arall kandethu mellttinumupari vilangunna, viswesaroopam.”
Why are the ocean waves not invading and submerging the entire land area?
Why the stars do not collide, collapse and fall?
Men, ponder thoroughly;You will realise the Superpower shining above everything.”
“Eliyai pidchaiya, kunja?—Have you caught the mouse?”
Handing over a towel to clear the sweat from her forhead, Iyer asked his wife affectionately, seeing her returning from the backyard, with a broomstick in her hand.
“Antha saniyan engayo odippochu ennu,—that devil escaped-“
“It is there,mom.” P.G.K. said,” hiding behind the rice bag”
“Like our Chuppani” Iyer commended.
“Whether Dr.Iyer is a good debater like Kakkassery or not”, Vishnu joked while getting up with his silver casket,
“one thing is certain: the mouse in the kitchen is still there, hiding behind the rice bag–like atheism in P.G.K’s heart.”
Aug 22, 2007