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My maiden US visit. Chapter 12

My maiden US visit last chapter. Kangaroo Kamakshi.
Boarding time for the US flight was announced and BIG BEN hugged us like a big bear, clearing her moist eyes and flashing a forced smile .
” Have an enjoyable trip,” she wished us, “and soon after you are free from jet log, I will meet you there . My next meeting is at Boston”
She was about to leave when I heard a woman’s coarse voice penetrating from behind “Periasssssssooo”.
“Another devil to make you cranky,” Parau muttered seeing the approaching
woman, limping but trying to hasten her speed, “who is she ?”
“Kangaroo Kamakshi ” I replied, waving to the lady as a sign of acknowledging her call.
” I am also coming in this flight, drag my bag too,” she pushed her cabin baggage towards me and bolted. “A last minute petty purchase ”
” Should I hold the bird ?” I shouted. She screamed from the distance , ” no. just here in the duty- free shop “.
“What name is this,” Parasu enquired .
“She is BangAru Kamakshi , a familiar name in our state,” I explained,
“you know bangAram is gold. That was her parents and teachers and her
husband too during the days and nights of their romance. Then she became kangaroo.
“How?” Enquired Parasu.
“Be ready for a story,” Ammalu commented.
“This is not my story but what her husband, Maj. ( retired) Doraswamy Iyengar, told me.
Her right leg is shorter by half an inch which was not an inborn defect but acquired after wedding. While overhearing her husband’s telephone talks, she used to press her right toe, hiding behind the kitchen door, firmly on the floor and raise the corresponding heel so that she could stretch her head forward and follow the talk without missing a word. When it became a regular practice, due to the constant pressure on the right leg, it shrunk a bit in size and her leg movement resemble that of the Australian animal.
I do not usually believe what husbands say about their sweet -hearts and therefore would prefer to go by her son’s version.
‘My mother spoiled me by over -indulgence and overt display of affection . Immediately after the school bell, she used to pick me up from the school, wrap me with her sari and rush home . Her hurried action was to protect me from mingling with girls. She had serious doubts about the integrity of my father after he told her once that he had a number of girl friends right from his school days. As she protected me as earnestly as a kangaroo does, some mischievous guy in the defense colony named her KK, the first K for kangaroo. That abbreviation became so popular that we all call her with that pet name’
Her daughter in law’s version was different.
‘We used to go for movies frequently during the early days of our marriage and mother in law preferred to sit at our back seat, press the right toe firmly on the floor, raise her head, sharpen her ears to hear our conversation. If our chats were not up to her expectation, she used to swift the toes, press her left one on the floor and overhear. This exercise could be the reason for her imbalance of legs though my husband doesn’t accept my version. ‘Why should she overhear?,? he asks, ‘ I tell her everything that transpired between us, in our privacy’
KK ( let us also call her by that name for convenience ) occupied the seat vacated by BB and turned back to enquire about Parasu.
” Haven’t I met you in the Pollachi market with a board hanging from the tree under which you were sitting? Even the letters written in the board, I remember, ‘ Parasu, pakshisastram expert ?” A straight question that was.
“No way,” Parasu replied with equal firmness,” I had never sat under a tree anywhere as I am allergic to tree- shade ”
“Poi. You lie like the major, my husband. When I told him that I saw him walking hand in hand with a girl in the Marina beach, he replied, ‘how could that be, don’t you know that I am allergic to sea breeze ?’. KK told Parasu and turned towards me,
‘You know, he was a sailor for 25 years'”
“Kon hae bayya o Guruji, Who is that guruji, ?” asked Parasu, ” I would like to fall at his feet instantly”.
“Her husband Maj. Doraisamy Iyengar ” I clarified and introduced Parasu to her.
“Akkal, this is my cousin Parasu ”
” Ask your cousin whether he remembers my face ?”
” I don’t look at the face of any woman other than my wife’s,”
Parasu clarified,” I look only at their palm”
“Ivan aaruda, Periyasoo, Lakshmananaa? Is he Lakshman?,” KK joked and turned towards him,”yes, you looked at my palm only and collected one hundred Rupees for one lie ”
“Then, madam, for a hundred Rupees, you expect me tell hundred lies,?” Parasu had a point there.
I wanted to divert the topic. ” Akka, how is that you are alone. Why didn’t Major accompany you ?”
” He is busy playing golf and dancing with his girl friends ”
Major is a jolly good fellow. Fun-loving, joyous and jovial..but he is not an irresponsible husband.
” I am sure that you had some petty quarrel.” I tried to reason out.
” He is never quarrelsome. Let him scold me, slap me, I don’t mind. He has right for that as my husband. The problem is he talks sweetly to me ”
” And to other women too, equally sweetly?”
“Exactly,” KK lamented holding Ammalu’s hand “I am married for forty years and have four children . He is a handsome six footer, fair complexioned with well -tuned muscles and also well mannered. And what am I ? An uneducated and unsocial ugly woman of asymmetrical body components! Where is match in our union?”
“There is, my dear Akka,” I explained. Otherwise your astrologer father wouldn’t have proposed and executed your wedding. When the stars in the sky are agreeable who are we, here on the lowly land, to look for physical or mental matching ?” I continued. “Moreover, it is your inferiority complex that makes your life miserable and not your husband’s attitude. I know P.K. He is a gentleman. He might occasionally glance at other women; it is not a sin”
“They all do that” Ammalu, as a good wife, supported my statement.
“You are the mother of his offspring” ignoring Ammlu’s sarcastic look, I continued. “You looked after him for forty long years and continue to do so. I am sure that he has a happy life with you”
“I am not that sure” Her small eyes were moist.”He has a number of girl friends”
“Come on. You don’t talk about your husband’s girl friends when he is seventy plus. you welcome them ” I chided her .
“Anyway, on what basis do you disparage him?”
“I overhear his tele talks!”
“See, it confirms your friend’s explanation for his wife’s deformity,” Parasu whispered.
“O.K. Let us talk something more pleasant” I wanted to change the topic, again.
“I hear that you are going to become a grandma soon. Congrats. I am sure that you are going to assist your daughter-in-law during her confinement”
“No. Venki wants Amrita to wear sari and that too in ‘madisaru’ style; The purpose of my present visit is to help her”
‘”What! You are going all the way to US to teach your daughter- in- law, the intricacies of wearing a nine yard- long sari, in the conventional Brahminical style?”
“You are right”
“And Amrita agreed for that?”
“Yes. When Venki told her that I was wearing ‘madisaru’ while carrying him and he would like to see her in that dress, now that she is carrying his child”.
“What a desire for an Americanized young man!” I murmured.
There is no purpose in prolonging the discussion. I picked up a sheet of paper and pencil from my yellow bag and engaged myself in a more sensible activity-drawing sketches of the women crew in the aircraft.
” My husband also does this,” commented ‘Akka’ viewing the sketches, through the corner of her eye.
“All sensible old men do it,” I replied, looking at Parasu. He was also doing the same thing but started scribbling ‘Sreerama Jayam’, when he discovered that I had noticed his shameful act.
“Engaveettu elikalellam Ongaveettukku pogado?’
Kuppeekalaa—-” Sang Ammalu.
I was surprised and pleased to hear Ammalu singing in a low voice, a couple of lines from my song. First time, she was appreciating my song, by imitating it.
“Ammlu, what happened?” I enquired, earnest to know the reason for the sudden change in her attitude towards the song.
“I am afraid that I didn’t close the rice dabba properly,” she moaned, ” and I noticed a rat or two in the kitchen”
” Let there be hundred rats in our kitchen and let them eat all the rice.
My happiness was limitless . “How nice of you to have sung my song!”
“I am proud of you” she said flashing a smile. “You don’t have girl friends!”
“I am also proud of you , Ammalu” I replied with equal earnestness, “you don’t overhear my tele. talks and spoil your shape!”
Arrived on the American soil. Newark airport.
Venky and Amrit also were there along with my children at the airport to receive us . They took us to a garden where we shared the food they had brought with them, when Major appeared before us neatly dressed as usual with his bewitching smile.
” I came by the previous flight just to surprise my wife after making sure that she travels in the seat next to you” He said glancing at his woman affectionately.
“But how did you know my seat details?” I enquired.
“I gave, Appa,” My son revealed. ” KK was refusing to come to US ; so we planned a project to bring her here ”
“So you dragged here for teaching Amrita how to wear sari ?” I asked Venki.
” Uncle that was again a ploy to bring mom here. Amrita somehow wanted Amma here and it was Appa who first suggested this. Amma is prepared to do anything to make Amrita happy ”
”How lucky you are KK, to have such an affectionate husband and a caring son ?”
“And loving mattupon too.” Ammalu added and gave a bit of advice to Major, “take KK too to the sea shore and hold her hand while strolling ”
” I am allergic to sea breeze, Ammlu ” He said and we all laughed.
That was how I landed on the shore of America for the first time. Who expected then that this country would become my second home!

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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 11

” Oh, no. I never wanted you to break away from your family ” the bride’s mother assured Muthamma” the children will anyway, live separately and we will not be visiting sambandhies every alternate day , but at the most, once or twice a year . We will eat and come, then or eat in a hotel”
‘Get up, every one,” Raju commanded, if I stay for a minute more here, it will be bad for that woman.”
Surprisingly, the most important person in the meeting, Gowthami came forward and requested all of us to be seated.
”I apologize for my mother’s utterance unacceptable to any one, all the more, me ” She pleaded with folded hands. ” If my mother or any one from our family doesn’t want to visit or eat in your house, they are welcome to do so but I will not allow the disintegration of that closely knit bird’s nest. If my father were alive, he would not have allowed mother to behave the way she did . If you are satisfied with this assurance, you may proceed. I will be happy to become the daughter-in-law of your house.”
All of us were impressed by her matured talk but Amma wanted time to think over the issue. ”Thanks a lot Gowthami. We will come back shortly.
“On reaching home, Muthamma made a strong plea to allow her to live separately in a nearby house. Every one unanimously opposed. But she was firm . After a prolonged discussion, a compromise was reached. Muhamma and me would be shifting to the first floor of the same house.
Raju- Gowthami wedding went on well and they both left for USA. The irony of the destiny was that for Gowthami’s delivery of her first baby it was Muthamma who had to go to USA for help and not her mother or mother -in-law.
” Our way of living here will upset my mother and she will be like a fish out of water here ” said Gowthami,.” I don’t want Raju’s mother too here, as her absence will upset the household there ”
” We are shortly to land in the Heathrew airport from where I will be taking leave of you.
” BB was in a hurry to complete her life history, ” so let me be concise”
“When I went to UK for higher studies, the immigration officer at the Heathrew airport, while scrutinizing my papers, looked into my eyes carefully, looked at the address page of the passport and looked at me again. “Could you please wait for a while ?” he requested, ” I would like to talk for a minute ”
He did not appear to be very emotional as I was, when he revealed that he was none other than my own father. ” How is mom ?” he inquired, ” I will meet you in your apartment; I have noted down the address ”
He came to meet me with his wife and two children and we met often. I used to spend some week- ends in his house or he and his family with me . All those were fine. But I never had that emotional attachment with my biological father, as I had with my foster father or foster mother”
“I will try to get you some Indian food from my friend’s house, close by,”
BB said after leaving us at the Gate of departure of our flight to USA and returned with a few packets of the food we cherish most in a foreign country-‘thayir saadam!’
That was so delicious that my memory box opened automatically and a shining jewel fell out of it- P.B. Shelly’s ‘The Cloud ‘
BB and me sang in chores a few stanzas from that immortal poem. A few co-passengers also joined us and Ammalu and Parasu too, when we started dancing ::
“I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.
I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night ’tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning, my pilot, sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,
It struggles and howls at fits;
Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,
This pilot is guiding me,
Lured by the love of the genii that move
In the depths of the purple sea;
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,
Over the lakes and the plains,
Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,
The Spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven’s blue smile,
Whilst he is dissolving in rains”.
“Take care of him ” BB requested Ammalu, affectionately combing my hair while taking leave of us, ”he is still a child in mind”
“And a monster in behavior,” Parasu joked.
“You didn’t tell us about your mother’s reaction when she heard of your meeting with your father?” Ammalu asked BB, while she was about to leave. ” And did she come to meet him in London ? ”
”Muthamma had become more or less like a sanyasini, especially after my Appa’s and then my Amma’s death” . The ever jubilant BB became gloomy , for the first time. ”She never moved out of her house except once, during her advanced age. That was to go back to the hut where she was born, where her mother and other ancestors were born lived and died , where she brought me to this world.
Her sojourn there was too short. You can even say that she went there only to die and she died there-in that small bamboo hut, which she refused to part with, even for joining her husband ”
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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 10

I became like a child in a dreamless slumber. Don’t remember how long I remained like that.
“What happened to him, madam, any help ?” inquired Pushpa.
“Don’t worry Pushpa,” consoled Ammalu. “20 % effect of intoxication and 80% drama. Anyway, get some black tea with no sugar, please”
“Look through the window and tell me what you see outside?” Said BB, ” that will help me to decide whether Ammamu madam’s assessment is accurate or not”
“Meadows and mountains have vanished BB,” I told her, ”even floating clouds have gone. I see nothing but a vast expanse of space, ‘bahiraakasham’
“Meadows, mountains, mannankanti ” Ammalu expressed her exasperation, ‘chandeelai rentu killu kudukkanum- he deserves nothing but pinches at his back ”
”Fine, that is a good progress,” BB encouraged me, ” your panchapatram has slipped form your hand, you have forgotten your mantras and as a tortoise withdraws its head within, you are pulling that ‘bahirakasam’ towards your inner self, towards your ‘hridayaksam’. Is isn’t so ?”
” Parasu, intha rintulae ethukkuda baadhai jasthi ? Of these two, which one is more influenced by alcohol ?” Ammalu asked my cousin.
“Both are in the same boat, manni, ” he replied.
“So, they are in sea, not in air?” Asked Ammalu with a twinkle.
” Sa ya eshonthar hridaya aakasa: Thasminnayam Purusho manomaya : Amritho hiranmaya:
In the stillness and silence of my inner space, shines a dazzling brilliance, to describe I have no words ”
That jewel from the Thithiriyopanishad brightens my mind whenever it becomes cloudy.
“Are you sorry now that you could not perform your sandhya or Gayatri ?,” enquired BB.
“Are you sorry now for all the troubles you gave to your wife, all these years as a disobedient husband . Are you prepared to apologize to Ammalu?” That was Ammalu’s jocular query.
” Ammalu- who is that Indian elephant and Chinese dragon?’
”He has fully recovered !” Ammalu sighed and told BB, “Let us give him some food “‘
“Chukku vellam ” I demanded. ‘Plainiae okkanthu, kallaem kutichuttu, chella petty, chukkuvellam nnu ellam kettal, nan enke poavaen, Parsu- from where will I get him betel casket and spiced warm water ?’ Ammalu asked Parasu.
”Don’t worry, Manni, I have both” He consoled her.
Parasu’s chukku vellam, medicated warm water, brought back my brain almost to its normal state.
“BB, story please” I demanded.
” Eat first ” Ammalu commanded.
BB continued her life story, after I had some food.
“Two decades rolled on after we became an inseparable part of Appa’s family. Amma used to say, ‘ we should be like ‘mor’ buttermilk and ‘neer’, water and never be like ‘mor’ and ‘milakai’ chilli ”
”But chilli adds flavour, ma ,’ I used to argue. ”yes, it does, but you remove it before drinking the liquid. I do not want anyone to be separated from this group ”
But that separation did happen; unavoidably, unexpectedly.
Appa selected a girl for Raja anna . The horoscopes were agreeable, the family background of the girl was verified and found good. What was left was a meeting between the two families and the boy and the girl. We all went to the girl’s village, were received well. While the discussion was going on, the girl’s mother asked Appa, who Muthamma was.
”She is like a member of our family, though not blood related” Appa replied..
”Just out of curiosity, I asked that is all,” said the host and continued, ” I just wanted to know your relationship with her”
”She is like a daughter to me,” Appa replied.
”Will she continue to live with you even after our children’s’ wedding?,” was the next question ” just out of curiosity, I asked that is all”
Appa lost his temper. “She will live with us till our last days, if that is what you wants to know”
Amma tried to get up but Muthamma asked her to be seated and turning towards Raju and Gowthami, that was the girl’s name, asked,” you like each other ?”
They both said ‘yes’. ‘Then go ahead with the arrangement’ Muthamma told the girl’s mother. ”I will not stand in your way”
Appa and Amma were furious. They were not prepared to severe Muthamma from their family, come what may. Raju also supported them fully.
But Muthamma was firm. She told ”Appa, if not today, tomorrow this problem will arise. Now children are growing up. One by one, we have to get them married. New relationships will open up. A tribal woman in an orthodox Brahmin family kitchen is not something acceptable to many. I will stay in another house close to you. Easwary , after her education and marriage will anyway be separated. Till my last breath, I will serve you, whether I live with you under the same roof or in your cowshed or in your neighbor hood .
To forget the hand which fed me is to forget the womb which housed me ”
To continue

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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 09

Not a single cockroach in Hyderabad
“Your impromptu songs are innovative and infectious,” Big Ben complimented me albeit with a caveat,”though the credit goes to the cocktail of Pushpa”
“Big Ben, why don’t you sing one more song of your tribal days,” Ammalu requested.
She sang the first line of another song:
” Kathukuthi thakkai pottu kuriparpaen ammae
காதுகுத்தி தக்கை போட்டு குறி பார்ப்பேன், அம்மே! ”
“Wait!,” I yelled.” I’m seeing a kurathi holding a basket close to her middle left and a small magic stick in her right hand ready to move it over my palm. She is sitting by my side”Ammalu looked at me amusingly. “What else, do you see, Perias?” Enquired Parasu.
“A khaboolivAla woman, silver ornaments hanging from neck and ears in abundance. During my childhood a number of such nomads used to visit our small town” I looked at BB and continued, “standing on the street corners of Olavakkode they used to sell clothes by auction after the sky and land turned dark, in the light of stick- torches with kerosene fuel. The powerful flames used to project the cheap quality cloth as royal apparel attracting the low- wage earners”
“Do I look like a Kabhooli woman selling cheap clothes in the street corners, for you, Perias?” BB asked with a mock anger.
“The credit goes to———-.” I said and we all had a good laugh.
The cocktail was still working havoc in my brain and Ammlu asked me to sing her favorite lullaby, a four -liner. I was literally in high spirits and sang that moving song, slowly, in a melodious tune:
Siruvanithanniyile sernrndhuvandha sempavizhom,
Sevarkkodiyazhakan thernthedutha senkathali,
Maanagar Mathuraiyela malarnda kaodaimallikappoo,en
Marodu sernthuranghu mazhalimozi marakathamea.
சிருவாணித் தண்ணியிலே சேர்ந்து வந்த செம்பவிழம்,
சேவர்கொடியுடயோன் தேர்ந்தெடுத்த செம்கதளி,
மாநகர் மதுரையிலே மலர்ந்த கோடை மல்லிகைப்பு
என் மாரோடு சேர்ந்துறங்கு மழலை மொழி மரகதமே!
“Fantastic, Perias, what a song!” BB was excited, “I want to see my mother”
Overwhelmed by emotion, she rubbed her eyes. Ammalu tapped her back affectionately.
“This was the only song, I composed in Tamil, but it came up well,” I told BB.
“At times, a single line or a single verse or a subtle smile speak volumes”
“Where am I now, Ammalu, in kasi or Kalpathy ?”
I blabbered.
“In Kishkintha! ” joked Parasu. “You are leading a great army of monkeys towards the ocean.
Now, you are over the mountain ready to fly,” joked Parasu.
“But Parasu, how will he fly?” Ammalu too was in high spirits, though with no spirit inside. “There are no cockroaches in his seat”
“Hey, Parasu uncle, what is that cockroach story,” .BB was anxious to know.
“Shall I tell her what you did on the precious night of your wedding , Anna ?” Parasu threatened to reveal a secret but I was not in a position to say ‘yes’ or no’
“You are sure that the adventure you are going to narrate is about the previous night of his marriage?” BB asked with a naughty smile.
“Of course,” he too laughed and continued, “I took the whole family for a movie at the nearby theater, Where the Ramayanam story was screened. There was a scene of monkeys playing ‘kabadi’ game, which the innovative director had inserted into the epic story.
Kabbadi was his favorite game, which Anna learned in Hyderabad,” Parasu continued. “He was so much involved in the game on the screen that he raised from his seat, bent his arms and folded his palms, fiercely focusing his attention on the screen as if he would be joining the monkey-players any time.
Had I not pulled his hands and made him to sit, he would have jumped to the front, over the heads of those sitting there and made a big scene, much more enjoyable than the one being shown on the screen. Remember, we were not alone. There were elderly men, women and children too from both families.
The bride’s family was shocked ..”Ee kazhuverida mon entha koratchu vattundo, illa avan oru vaanarano ? ” The perplexed chami pattar, Ammalu’s grandfather, abused in his crude native dialect. “Is he an eccentric or a monkey, by birth”
”He is after all, your grand nephew ” commended a mischievous boy in the group, reminding the old man of his relationship with me and surreptitiously his own behavior.
“Am I plunging my daughter into a well?”
The bride’s father expressed his anguish and anxiety, seriously doubting the mental stability of the person who was to become his pet daughter’s husband in a few hour’s time.
“Perhaps, the Anjaneyaswamy’s spirit has occupied his body for a short while ” pacified his pious wife, who had vowed to place a garland with 1001 vadais, Anjaneya’s pet food, on the idol in the temple next to her house.
“Wish that spirit leaves his body before he enters the wedding hall,” commended her husband, krishna Iyer, the prospective father in law.
“And certainly before he enters the nuptial chamber for the first night ” exclaimed an enlightened and experienced elderly woman, Pitchu pAtty.
‘Why didn’t the bride walk-out? How did Ammalu manni agree to marry a cranky fellow like PERIAS ” Commended the ultra -modern- society bee, BB.
“That is the problem with the Indian women,” Parasu continued his narration.
“The fiancee, instead, rescued her husband- in- waiting:
‘the bench on which he is sitting is full of cockroaches. He is allergic to them”
In one stroke, Ammalu manni, dismissed the whole affair as unworthy of mentioning. And added a proverbial line which is still remembered by the whole family.:
“fortunately, there is not a single cockroach in Hyderabad, you see”
Pitchu patty, the old lady who had seen the world, remembered that single line worth a sovereign and bought a matching wedding gift – an insect- sprayer!
While handing over the gift in a glittering wrapper, the grand old lady whispered to the bride, “you can use this appliance to get rid off cockroaches in your bed room here . Dispose it off, however, before you leave for your husband’s place..”Because, there is not a single cockroach in Hyderabad, you see!”
To continue
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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 08

Pakkathu veetilae pattasu

‘Everything has to go back from wherever it came,’ I told B B when she enquired, why I put back the note book into my bag. 

‘I collect water in my palm from river or pond and that water is offered back to the original source, while worshipping Sandhya ‘

‘Perias, you collect water from the river or pond and while doing Deva tarpanam, start with Adithyam tharpayAmi, not Varunam tharpayAmi. Why?’

‘As it is Adithya, the main source for water. But, the water which I collect from Varuna goes to Varuna first and from there to Adithya’ 

Then turning to BB, I read the translation of a hymn from the Rgvedam.

1 ‘O, Vayu, come to us with all the thousand chariots that are thine

Team borne, to drink the soma juice.

2. Drawn by the team, O Vayu, come. To thee is offered this, the pure’

In this Rgveda sooktham, first Vayu, then Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Aswins, Viswadevas, Saraswathy, Heaven and Earth are invoked and invited to accept the soma juice, ‘the pure, blent with milk’.

‘Drink you of this delightful juice’, says the Rishi’ 

‘What a fantastic imagination!,’  exclaimed BB, ‘Vayu, coming down to earth with thousand chariots! And the chariots are not borrowed. ‘That are thine!’

Thousand chariots dropping from the air! What a scene it would be ! Are they yoked to horses and if so, what about the sound of their hoof! Won’t there be a big hurricane ?

‘Our forebears always thought high, spoke high,’ I told , ‘ do you know that the pressing of Soma was associated with the fertilizing rain, the life- giver and life- nourished? And in the post Vedic classical period, Soma was identified with the Moon, which wanes when soma is drunk by the gods but which is periodically reborn?’

‘Yes, I know soma was associated with the Moon, whose name is also Soma,’ replied BB, ‘ I read somewhere that ‘Soma is part of the ancient, yogic and shamanic usage of sacred plants, including tonics, nervines and mind-altering plants of various types as well special preparations of them. Each group, community or geographical region probably had its own Somas or sacred plants. Soma is a transformative substance that can be found in many plants and has corresponding mind-altering substances that can be produced by the brain itself’

‘I’m anxious to hear BB’s life story,’ Ammalu intervened, ‘ will you please close your note book, Perias?’

Big Ben continued her story:

‘One night, Muthmma was signing a tribal folk song to put us to sleep.

“Onga nattilae penja mazhai,

Enga naatuukku varadho, Kuppeekala?!

ஓங்க நாட்டிலே பேஞ்ச மழே

எங்க நாட்டுக்கு வாராதோ , குப்பீகளா !’ 

Appa, from his study, joined, adding a funny piece. 

‘Enka veettu elikal ellam

Onka veettukku pokatho ? Kuppeekala !’

எங்க வீட்டு எலிகள் எல்லாம்

ஒன்கவீட்டுக்கு போகாதோ , குப்பீகளா ‘

Ammalu enjoyed the song and thanks to the activation of my poetic nerves by alcohol , I too added an instant composition :

Renkasaami enkae, pullae?’

Rentu nala aalae illae.

Pakkathu paayi kaliyachu,

Rakkamma nencham pattasu, Kuppeekala’

ரங்கசாமி எங்கேபுள்ளே ?.

ரெண்டுநாளா ஆளே இல்லே

பக்கத்து பாயி காலியாச்சு

ராக்கம்மா நெஞ்சம் பட்டாசு , குப்பீகளா—

Pathumassam poyatchu,

Pakkathu veetilae pattasu,

Ranksami rentayi,

santai than po kuppayi, Kuppeekala

பத்துமாசம் போயாச்சு

பக்கத்து வீட்டுலே பட்டாசு

ரங்கசாமி இரண்டாயி,

சண்டை தான் போ குப்பாயி, குப்பீகளா’


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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 07

Sitting in a corner, sipping and talking.
Pushpalatha came to our seat pushing the cart of drinks and BB asked me what I would like to have, ‘wine or whiskey?’
‘Sambaram , oru peria tumbler, ‘  I replied showing her, the size of the tumbler I would prefer, completely forgetting my daughter’s instruction that no brass tumblers would be provided in the aircraft and I should not drink the liquid made available in glass or porcelain containers keeping them inches above mouth.
‘Sambaram , verum sambaram, I repeated, sliding my shoulder with Ammalu’s, to ensure that I am not an unworthy brahmin, she thinks of..
‘Just plain sambaram or pepper- flavored ?’ asked BB and her smile revealed that she knew that I was not a teetotaler.
‘I will arrange sambaram for you,’  Pushpa offered to help, ‘ I have a sealed yogurt bottle and I know how to make the liquid you prefer’
‘Give the outdated oldie any outdated stuff, but give me liquids, I will make my cocktail,’ BB said.
‘Ha, ha, my dear Big Bun, your alcohol is outdated. The Vedas talk about an equivalent to that but was ignorant of Sambaram.
“Vainatheya somam, pibha somam, pibhathu vruthraha,
Somam dhanasya somino mahyam dadathu somini.”
‘Who told you Soma juice was equivalent to alcohol?,’ BB questioned me.
I pulled out a book from my shoulder bag and read from a book:
“Soma, in ancient India, an unidentified plant the juice of which was a fundamental offering of the Vedic sacrifices. The stalks of the plant were pressed between stones, and the juice was filtered through sheep’s wool and then mixed with water and milk. After it was offered as a libation to the gods, the remainder of the soma was consumed by the priests and the sacrificer. It was highly valued for its exhilarating, probably hallucinogenic, effect”
‘See the last sentence ends with , ‘probably hallucinogenic effect’
‘You are confusing Soma with Sura. It was not wine or alcohol, though fermentation may have been used in processing it,’ BB argued, ‘ Soma was not intoxicating’
‘Though immortalizing it was!’
‘Immortalizing! How ?’  She asked.
I pulled out from my bag another notebook and read:
‘a ápāma sómam amŕtā abhūmâganma jyótir ávidāma devân
c kíṃ nūnám asmân kṛṇavad árātiḥ kím u dhūrtír amṛta mártyasya”
We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Now what may foeman’s malice do to harm us? What, O Immortal, mortal man’s deception?
‘That thought was the result of hallucination’.  BB argued.
‘Madam, your cocktail is ready,’  Pushpa  placed the tray with the beverage on BB’s table and remarked with a twinkle,  ‘additional glass is there for uncle. Cocktail should always be shared’
‘Pushpa, so you decided that I should give her company, after hearing our argument?,’ I asked her.
‘ Yes, uncle. My uncle too talks incessantly on ancient wisdom, pulls out a paper sheet now and then from his bag and reads loud’
‘And gives company to women, like Perias?,’ Ammalu..
‘No madam. He sits in a corner, sips and talks’
‘Sips and talks alone?,’ Asked Ammalu again.
‘Yes, madam, alone’
‘He is a gentleman!;’   Commented Ammalu.
‘He is, madam’.  confirmed Pushpa.
‘Why do you look at my face ? Eppidiyo ponkol -do whatever you want’ Ammalu expressed her helplessness.
To continue
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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 06

Mind is not a sealed cement tank.

‘This is the picture of my Appa, Ramaiyer or Ramappa for others’BB extended the black and white photo of a middle aged smiling face, forehead brightened by vibhoothi-chandanam marks.

‘When, my mother was struggling with a tender child and a tenacious mother to take care of and living with fear that any boisterous young man could attack her anytime, Ramappa induced confidence in her, ‘child, Something, no doubt is  lost, but not everything’. He held her hand and assured,  ‘I won’t continue in this company long but my affection to you will continue for ever’
‘ I was playing in a bush near by when he was passing,  holding a toy-train. I asked for that. He replied that he was taking it for his ‘ponnu’, daughter and would buy another one for me. I cried that I wanted the very same toy.  ‘Nee aaru ponnu, who are you, baby?’  he enquired. He had seen me only as months-old kid and therefor could not recognize me.
. ‘Ponnu ,’ I repeated his word.  ‘Nan aru, who am I,’ was his next question. ‘Appa,’  I replied. I did not remember my father’s face but knew that the person I was talking to, was Ramappa. Everyone in the estate called him by that name. That was a long word for me and therefore I replied in short, “Appa’ Ramappa gave that toy to me and lifted me above his shoulders. I bolted to show it to mom. She was standing walking distance away. ‘Who gave you?;  she thundered . I replied ‘appa’ and showed Ramappa who was following me.
That evening Ramappa sent a message to mother  asking her to meet him at his house. I went along with her.

‘The training you received at home has emboldened your interest in self-dependency and what is required now is to channel that in the proper direction and derive methods to enhance its intrinsic value.’ Ramappa  told mom.  ‘ Hear carefully. I have bargained the tea shop opposite to my house, for you, as its owner Nair is going to Kerala for good. The initial investment will be mine but the license and other owner shop rights will be with you. To frustrate your feeling that you are extended an undue favor by me, you will work in my house and support my wife in her household duties, if you have no objection. Your child will grow in my house along with my children and will be educated along with them. You are free either to stay with us at night or go back to your house. There will be complete flexibility for you in action, thoughts and living. I am offering this with the full cooperation and agreement of my wife and children and that is why I invited you here for this discussion. Otherwise I would have discussed this matter in my office or in the tea garden. No hurry. Convey your decision to my wife within a week’

Mother did not wait for a week, not even a day.

‘’Ramappa, you arranged my wedding and saved me from a humiliation and lifetime mental agony . You, in fact ,  saved two lives, mine and my child’s and thereby delayed the exit of another one , that of my mother. It was on your suggestion, a tutor was arranged for me and again it was on your suggestion the company is paying me an extra amount every month for the child- care. It was you who named my daughter as Easwary against the suggested name of Elizabeth by her father and Ellakka by my mother. I have not seen the face of my father and it may not be like yours but I know that his heart would have been like yours. Whatever you do will be for my benefit and whatever you say is my father’s order for me ‘

Mother moved away from there, unable to control the waves of emotion beating her inside.
‘ Your mother never mentioned about your dad to you or others?’ . Asked Ammalu.
It was obvious that In Ammalu’s mind, the thought ‘how a woman could forget her child’s father so easily’,  was surfacing frequently.

‘No, she never mentioned about dad to me,’  BB’s confession was clear.

‘I presume mom never pardoned dad for his misbehavior . In one way it was good for both. The tribal upbringing, habits and believes could never go hand in hand with the western civilization and had she gone to London she would have become a psychological wreck and the life of dad too would have become miserable ‘

I admired the way BB narrated her family history and wondered how intelligently her semi-literate mother tackled the problems of life. I remembered my father’s words,
‘Padichavan ellam arivaaliyum illai ; padikkathavanellam muttalum illai’
All those educated are not wise and all those uneducated are not fools.

‘Within a week, the ‘Nair Tea Shop’ became ‘Ramappa provision stores’

BB continued her life history. ‘My mom insisted that the shop should be named after Appa and he suggested that apart from tea, forest produces also should be made available to the tourists . Mother looked after the tea making and sale and another experienced person was employed for selling wood oils, curios, coffee seeds, tea leaves, spices etc. After completing his estate duties Appa sat in the shop to manage the cash and accounts.
Within a very short period mom and me became an inseparable part of the Appa family. I have two mothers now, Muthamma, my biological mother and ‘Amma’ my foster one . (I started calling her ‘amma’ along with her own kids ). My foster father had already become my ‘Appa’ when I addressed him just before he gifted me the toy train. Me and my mother were sharing everything with my foster parents, food, clothes, all amenities -the very life itself. We grew together. Out tribal practices had become a thing of the past and for all practical purpose we had become Palakkad Iyers. The transformation was painless and in fact, it was pleasant. For the first few days, Muthamma was allotted only the cleaning and maintaining the house and surrounding and taking the kids to school, washing clothes and washing the frontage of the house in the morning hours.  Amma used to do the cleaning of the pooja room and drawing kolams . After a few weeks, she was asked to help in kitchen work, such as cutting vegetables, cleaning vessels etc. She had to take bath before entering the kitchen as Amma was used to do. Muthamma was closely watching the way Amma was cooking, packing lunch for Appa and kids for the school. One day when Amma had a high fever and was unable to have a wash, she asked Muthamma to take care of the kitchen which she did with admirable  skill, unexpected from a tribal woman. Then on, she was asked to take over the daily chores, except during those days when, ‘madi’ was strictly observed such as shradham, amavasya tharpanam etc. The daily prasadam’ for Appa’s Sivapoojai was always prepared by Amma only. Every evening Appa spent an hour with the kids for teaching prayer songs at dusk and then our school lessons. The first lesson I learned from him was ‘”suklambaradharam Vishnum.
‘Initially, learn the slokams with correct pronunciation, without missing or changing a single word,’  he instructed,  making us to sit before a kuthuvilakku, brass lamp, after cleaning our hands and legs. ‘Later, I will teach you the meaning’.
His sitting posture, bared chest and a clean white double veshti covering lower part, vibhoothi marks on his forehead and other appropriate places, Tulasi malai hanging from his neck, surfaces several time in the pool of mind, whenever it is clear and when it becomes turbid too’
‘Keep you pool always clean ,‘ Parasu adviced  asked, ‘don’t allow filth and fish to enter ?’
‘’Filth and fish will always enter a pool unless it is a cement tank protected from all the sides including the top,’ BB replied. ‘And mind is not a sealed cement tank’

To continue

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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 05


The story of Big Ben.

Pushpalatha ( that is the name of the air hostess ) guided a huge woman with a small, smiling face, towards us and showed the seat next to ours.

‘Hi, can I sit here please?’ she asked politely turning to Ammalu, who invited her to occupy the seat next to hers.

‘Welcome,’ I intervened unnecessarily,’ but don’t spill over us’ 

Ammalu stared at me to reprimand while the lady, smilingly asked me, ‘spilling, a solid stuff like me? And Sir, answering to unasked question?’ 

‘Hei, fatty!’ I jumped from my seat and enquired, ‘ aren’t you, BB, Big Ben ?’ 

‘I’m. And you Perias , Peria and ss’?

‘How did you find out?’

‘Your three Ks and a queen close by’

‘3 Ks?’

“kudumi, kadukkan and koranku goshti’

She suddenly fell on me and hugged so strongly that I feared that I heard some cracking and breaking sound from my inside !  Ammalu was shocked  She kept blinking till BB bent down and touched her feet for blessings.

‘Ammalu, don’t go by the attire or articulations of speech organs, fluctuating facial expressions or liberal limb movements, of this woman,’ I introduced BB to Ammalu. She is a ground-to-earth Palakkad Mami  , though not by birth. I have mentioned to you about her earlier. Easwari is the name given by her mom which was manicured to Easwa by her father for his convenience . She is a great scholar, a prolific writer , teaching in a prominent London University. Above all, a very close net friend of mine, vibrant and jovial’

‘From whom did you inherit this bewitching smile ?’ I asked, “from your mother ?’ 

‘No, from my father , the guy who molested my mother’

‘What? ‘ Ammalu asked her mouth wide opened and Parasu tried to rise form his seat.

‘A big story, Ma,’  BB confessed. My biological father was David Daniel, a British, who was the owner’s son of the tea estate, where my mother was working, in Nilgiris. He was a decent guy but somehow took a fancy for my mother who was then hardly twenty. On a ‘puthari dina vizha’ or harvest festival, a thanks- giving ceremony for the Mother Earth for her bounty of fresh green paddy stems carrying bunches of paddies, the tribes venerate her by offering coconut and fruits and sing and dance in group to please her. it is not clear to me even to day whether my mother escaped from that group on her own or was kidnapped but the net result was she lost her virginity .

When the matter came to light, the entire labor force, the Todas, Badagas, Kotas and other tribal leaders with their cows and buffaloes, kathies and thadies, (knives and sticks ) marched towards the bungalow of my father and threatened to burn it. The manager of the estate, Rama Iyer, whom the workers respected for his impartial treatment and helping attitude, came out and pacified the crowd, requested them to disperse with an assurance that by the very next day he would find a solution.

‘You can burn him, burn the house or do whatever you want, if you do not accept my solution.’ He told them.

One young man, Yellakki shouted, ‘I am prepared to marry Muthamma’

‘That is nice of you, no doubt.’ Rama Iyer said, “but give me time till tomorrow. I should talk to Muthamma too’

Next day, the workers came with their cows and buffaloes, kathies and thadies but no torches.

‘The crime cannot be compensated; it cannot be redeemed by burning the criminal or his house. We know how decently the son of the estate owner has been behaving till the other day. There has been no occasion to distrust him so far.

But now, what should not have happened has happened. He regrets his action and is prepared to agree for any of your terms including marrying Muthamma. She will take her to his country and extend every respect due to a lady of his family.

‘Enna Ramappa, Muthammavai Mariya ammavakka sollareengala ? You want Muthamma to become Mariyamma ? ‘ asked Kempa Gowda .

‘What about my offer to marry her?’ Yellaki enquired.

‘We will not allow the chinna sett ( junior master ) to enter our estate when our women are there,’ shouted Kulla.

‘Agreed,’ Rama Iyer came forward to face the crowd. ‘And he too is agreeable for all your conditions. He doesn’t believe in the existence of God and does not follow any religion. So the question of treating our girl as a christian doesn’t arise. Regarding Yellakki’s offer, Muthamma is not agreeable . She will marry none other than Davud. Otherwise, she will go away from the hills and look for a living elsewhere. I treat Muthamma as my own daughter and I will not allow her to go elsewhere. I will accept her in my family as one of my children. If you, the tribal heads and others do not agree for this, I will resign my job and take legal action against David Daniel’

He won the day. the crowd accepted the proposal. Iyer gave each of them a few coins to thank them for their cooperation in settling a burning problem.

After the wedding, which was a simple affair as per the tribal tradition, mom preferred to stay in her old mung and visited her husband’s bungalow infrequently . My father arranged a tutor to teach her English. An English lady taught the ethics of western culture and practices in British homes and behavior pattern in parties and clubs.

‘It would have been a hard task for your mother , the conversion from the tribal tradition to the sophisticated western ways,’ Parasu asked.

‘Not really, I was told,’. BB replied, ‘we in the hills were closely moving with the westerners who were in plenty there, especially during the seasons’

‘And generally women learn things fast,’ Ammalu said.

‘Water flows will be faster into an empty space,’ l poked my nose as is my vogue and received a fitting rebuke from BB. She grabbed the chella petty, betel case from Parasu’s hand and placed on my lap. ‘Keep munching’ 

‘Agree with Ammalu mom ,’  BB said, ‘ and women generally, do not flap an eye when the Fate aims a powerful torch at their face.’ 

‘The dawn of independence for the country was drawing closer and the Englishmen were leaving one by one and in groups. My dad came home one day and asked my mom to get ready to go with my dad along with her mother . I was then six months -old safe and secure inside my mother’s womb.

‘I want my child to be born in this valley from which I sprouted, my parents and theirs,’ Mom was firm. My dad tried to persuade my grand mother and promised comfortable journey and complete support in the new place. ‘If you agree to come, Muthamma will definitely join me. she doesn’t want to leave you alone here ‘

Grand ma was firm in her denial . She did not want to leave the Toda mund, her thatched house, where she lived all her life, without leaving it even for a day, where her forbears lived and died and where her only daughter was born and raised.

‘I was born in this soil; as a child, as a teen- aged, as a middle- aged, as an old woman, I have roamed on this greenly hills and silent valleys behind the cattle and the vast land here is filled with their smell and the smell of their drops. Unless I am buried under its surface, I will have no peace in the other world ,’ said my granny holding close to her body all the tools she used, stick, bamboo basket, bent knife etc. as if she wants those implements to accompany her in her last journey. ‘ And should I not see the face of my grand child? Should I not apply scented oil on the baby’s tender hands, legs, chest and back and wash with warm water scented with cardamoms and tulsi leaves ?’  She gestured as if she was holding the baby in her palms and mumbled a lullaby in her native dialect.

‘ I must leave anyway. Most of my people have gone back. But I shall come again to see my baby’, said my dad.

He did come when I was an year old. By then, my grand mother had passed way, leaving her sickle and scissors behind. She had however the satisfaction of giving me cardamom -scented warm water bath and gentle swing in her degenerated palms .

‘ I want this little plant to whom I gave life to grow on these hills, watching the lavishly moving clouds and listening to the whisper of air from the Emerald lakes,’ mother said. 

Father returned disappointed.

‘Did you meet him later,?” Parasu asked.

‘I did, when I went to UK for higher studies . We will talk about that later. But I can tell you one thing, ‘ women, generally, do not flap their eyes when the Fate aims a powerful torch at their face’

‘You  said it once,’Parasu reminded.

‘She did, ‘ Ammalu intervened, ‘ Repetition never dims the glamour of such words and phrases’ 

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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 04


Ammalu gets another daughter

Clad in a colourful sari, the air hostess, standing erect at the entrance of the flight, like a lamp post wrapped with colour papers, greeted me with a warm “Namaskar” and folded hands. I was pleased by her gesture, unusual for a girl of her age and blessed her, ‘Deergha sumaghali bhava’

‘What does it mean, panditji?’ she enquired.

‘May your mangal sootre last long; may your husband live long ‘

‘How? I am unmarried,’ she replied.

‘You will get married soon,’ I replied confidently.

‘Will I? Thank you so much Panditji. I am sure you are an astrologer’

One or two passengers behind me hurriedly extended their hands towards me to read their palms and predict their future. Gracefully nodding my head, I asked them to wait by a hand signal and made Ammalu comfortable in the window seat.

When I turned my neck after loding the hand luggage, I could see my cousin, Parasu, sitting behind our row.

‘You here, Parasu? ‘ I expressed my astonishment and inquired, ‘When did you jump the prison wall ?’

There was a mild commotion in the nearby seats and the occupants turned their attention towards my cousin, raising their eye brows in appreciation of his presumptive stature of a politician.

Parasu enjoyed their glow in the eyes and looked down at his pants feeling sorry for not donning the Pancha the Telugu politicians usually wear.

‘On parole,’ he mentioned casually, as it was like coming out of his Kavassery village and walking down to the nearest bus stop.

When I was about to occupy my central seat near Ammalu, The Lamp-post girl, approached addressing me ‘Appa!’

Astounded, Ammalu tried to get up from her seat; the seat belt prevented. I signaled to resume her seat and told the girl, ‘Appa’ is ‘father’ in Tamil. To the best of my knowledge I am not your papa ‘

‘am prepared to trust your words although the element of doubt in your statement worries me’

‘What is there to worry, child. One can’t be definite on such issues’

‘You look so pious. Your tuft, ‘kadukkan’ on your ears, ash mark and pottu on your forehead?’

‘What has my tuft to do with the play of my mind? That of course, doesn’t mean that I am an indecent man. It is just to warn you that in the case of OTHER PEOPLE, you shouldn’t go by the appearance alone.’

‘Anyway, you blessed me a long married life’

‘Any fool who blesses you, is not your ‘Appa’’

‘I know that . But I will call you ‘Appa’ only. That is how father-in-law too is addressed in Tamil, I am told.’

Ammalu, now shocked, made another attempt to raise.

‘But I am not your father-in-law either,’  I was now firmer in my reply to the girl.

.’And there is no element of doubt in this statement, as I know my sons. What say Ammalu?,’ I turned towards her but she was yet to come to a conclusion whether I am that girl’s father or father in law.

‘You will shortly be one soon. Because your son loves me’

That was a lambast from the Lamp- post girl.

This time Ammalu removed her seat-belt and pounced at the girl, “ennadi olararai? what non -sense are you talking?’

‘Calm down Ammalu” I pacified her, “one day or other this is bound to happen. which one is the only question to be asked ‘

“Which one !! how many sons do you have?”

The lovely girl’s long eyebrows curved up. ‘For the time being, three. If God permits and the lady by my side grants me another boon, by the time I go back-—‘

‘Am I your duplicating machine ?’  Ammalu asked with a naughty smile and chided me,  ‘ a greedy wolf”

‘Not really?’ I was in high spirit. ‘Remember the bumper crop our parents had’

The LP girl was waiting for an opportunity for our romantic dialogue to end.

‘How was it that my lover told me that he is the only son and will inherit a large estate, two breweries and three 5-star hotels, when his father pops off? ‘ She asked.

‘My possessions are contained in this bag and in the hand suitcase in the cabin above’

I showed her my bags and added, ‘the other movable asset is the mother of my children sitting here, though by virtue of her size whether you will able to move her away is a matter of concern’

Parasu who was overhearing our conversation, intervened. The boy you are talking about, I mean your lover, is a tall guy, right?’ He asked her.

‘Yes sir,’ she replied, ‘ he is the most handsome boy, I ever met. He is fair and has curly hairs like yours’

‘Then, he is my son. And I am the possessor of all the properties you mentioned’

‘Could be,’  I endorsed, ‘Child, now address him as “Appa”

‘am sorry for the trouble I gave you, uncle,’ The innocent one apologized.

‘Kiran told me that his father was leaving for US by this flight and it is easy to identify him by his dothy and hence, I troubled you, Sir. Now I will speak to that gentleman’

‘But that ‘gentleman’ in not wearing doggy,’  Ammalu chipped in.

‘That doesn’t matter now. He is in possession of a large estate, two breweries and three 5-star hotels anyway.’

I was worried that crooked Parasu might take advantage of that innocent girl’s plight and I wanted to save her.

‘Child, think twice before you talk to him. He has already transferred all those properties in his daughter’s name . That was the reason why my son loved and subsequently married her’  

‘’Who is telling lie, who is telling truth, I’m totally confused.’

‘Both of them are liars,’ Ammalu  commented and added, ‘Your Kiran too is a lier’

‘Madam, Kiran too?’

‘Yes, undoubtedly. Do you know where does he come from?”

‘Hyderabad, he said’

‘Which part?’

‘He didn’t tell me that’

‘And you didn’t ask. You know his parents?’

‘No, they are very wealthy, he said’

‘You don’t have any other information about him?’

‘No, but I can collect’

‘Ok. Do that. Then, you approach this gentleman whose card I’m giving you.

He is closely related to us. Treat him as your close relative and consult him before you move an inch in your love. I too will be in contact with him and learn the progress.

Where do your parents live?”

She pointed to the roof of the plane, with swollen eyes

‘Sorry,’ said Ammalu, ‘ we are your parents now on.

‘My fear is Kiran’s intentions are not good. You are good looking; have a good job. A boy who tries to win the heart of girl declaring his wealthy background, without giving any other particulars, not even his house address, can’t be very trustworthy. . Thai is my assessment. Anyway we will find a solution’

Ammalu hugged the girl heartily and both were silent for sometime.

The air hostess said, ‘excuse me, mom” and went to receive another passenger.

‘So, Ammalu, our family is growing further,’ I taunted her, ‘madam to mom is a big jump’

‘It is, I’m proud of my new status’  Her happiness was blossoming on her eyes.


Nove. 15, 2011



Sent from my iPad

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My maiden visit to USA – Chapter 03

Sambharam and Sarpagandhi

‘As a security measure, Pantalu garu,’ remarked the smiling man on the counter when we went for check- in, ‘we want to ensure that you packed your suitcases, yourself ‘
‘No, sir. I didn’t.’
My reply was curt and with my standard head shake to emphasize my point.
He stared at me as if I told him that I had lost my passport. The Professor too was equally stunned by my answer and came forward to offer an explanation.
‘Are you the passenger, Sir?’ the official asked him.
‘No, I am not. But it was me who helped him in packing, considering his age . And the packing was done in his presence’
‘The packing was not done in my presence and it was not done by the learned professor, my relative. It was done by a dozen people who dumped their things into these suitcases, with my permission, of course’
The prof. again wanted to say something but the official cut him short, ‘let the passenger continue. He seems to be an innocent truth-speaking villager’
‘Excuse me sir, I’m not innocent and I’m not a villager, but as you said I’m truth -speaking. I have been always and everyone in this city knows this truth. Are you in Hyderabad from 1959?’
‘I was not born then’
‘There lies the root of the problem. Now, coming back to the suit cases, the first two boxes were packed by my wife herself and the other two doesn’t contain a single item of mine. They are all gift items, packed by my friends in my suitcase for delivery to their kin’
‘Could you at least tell me what they contain?’
‘How on earth can I , young man? I didn’t pack them nor the packing was done in my presence’

The official consulted someone sitting behind him with a dull face and dry look and reluctantly said , ‘ very sorry Pantulu garu, we cannot accept those two baggage’

‘There is a sloka in Sanskrit–‘ I started to recite an old one.
‘Sorry sir, I do not know Sanskrit’
‘I too do not know that language’, I admitted

‘Ayya, meekku dandalu,’ making a mock salutation, the professor intervened, ‘ tell me what I am to do with the rejected baggage? Carry on my head around your colony, locate the owners and distribute the materials?’. Had I been younger to him, he would have slapped me on my face.

But the professor had no reason to get angry. The owners were waiting at a distance to ensure the safe passage of their goods!. The Bolaram airport of those days, allowed visitors to come up to a point close to the baggage check-in counters.

Ammalu was sad and angry.

‘What all I could have carried for my children ! He wasted two suitcase-space unnecessarily,’ she complained about me, to the prof.

The officer at the immigration counter was stiff and formal. He looked at me and Ammalu alternately and twinkling over his thick- framed spectacle, asked her with an insipid smile,’ so, madam, you are going to America, to celebrate the wedding of your son or daughter and this Pantulu will be conducting the wedding ?’

‘No. Pantalu na pathi devudandi -he is my husband’

I looked deep into her eyes for her calling me ‘pantalu’ for the first time.
‘Just for pun’, she smiled and added, ‘didn’t I ask you to wear your pants and not your usual Panchagatcham?’

‘Ammalu Madam!’ Addressing Ammalu with a tinge of sarcasm, I said, ‘ there should be compatibility between husband and wife, not only in attitude, but in appearance and apparel too’

‘ If I look much younger, it is because, I’m younger to you and my habits and thoughts are clean. The change over to salwar kameeze is to help my easy movement in elevators and as per the instruction of my daughter in law. Unreasonable attachment to anything, all the more to orthodoxy, is unhelpful’
The officer was not interested in our arguments. ‘OK, OK, I am sorry for my wrong assessment’ .

Glancing at my face and photograph in the passport alternately, he asked with a suspicious look, ‘ are you sure sir, this is your passport?’
‘Of course, it is mine’
‘Then the face is not yours’. He enjoyed his joke and promoted by facial expression, others too to laugh.
‘Yes, you are right. I didn’t like my earlier face; so I got it transformed’
‘Through surgery?’
‘No, through forgery’
‘How, how?’
Sankaracharya. through a rare Yoga practice, could exchange his body. I used the same Yoga to change my face’

The people around started crowding me and someone commented, ‘See his new face is glowing’
‘An young lady from behind, pushed aside others and enquired, Sankaracharya garu, ekkada unnarendi- where is Sankaracharya?’
Prof. Nandur, just returned after distributing dolls and others to the concerned owners, was fuming with anger. He answered the lady, pointing his finger towards me , ‘Mee mungattanae unnaru- he is standing before you ‘

The officer didn’t like my becoming popular in his office. He was sure that I was not the original Sankaracharya, but there was some mystery in my appearance and argument, he would have thought. So, he cut me short.

‘Ok, in the passport photo, you are with a turban. What didn’t you wear that turban on your new head?’
‘My scalp is not bald now’
His senior from the next table came and admonished my interviewer.
‘Anjayya, you are wasting time. Has he got a head?’
‘yes, Sir?’
‘Stamp the papers and attend the next passenger’

He stamped my paper, stood up as a mark of respect or to prompt me to move quickly.

Next, security check.

‘Shoes and coat? Please place in that basket’
‘Your waist-pouch, belt or wallet?’
‘Any other stuff not allowed to carry in person’
‘What lethandi, lethandi?’ He was vexed with my monotonous reply. ‘This flight is not for Gopisetty palayam’
‘Look, gentleman, I have a valid passport and boarding pass.That is all what I need to board the flight whether it flies to New York or Nellikkuppam. And you need not worry about my security. Have you heard of Kalarippayyattu, the martial art of Kerala? I am an expert in that’
‘But, you do not appear to be a martial master’
‘Don’t go by appearance. Once upon a time —‘
‘That is OK, what do you have in that small bag?”
‘Sambharam, sarpagandhi—‘

The immigration officials, from coastal Andhra, had never before heard those names.
‘Sambharam?’ what is that? one fellow asked. His companion could not wait for my reply, ‘sarpagandhi, what is that?’ he asked, searching my bag.

I removed a bottle of white liquid from my bag and showed them.
‘Ghudumbha laga undhe!’, remarked one fellow who was familiar with country liquors.
‘This is sambharam, diluted butter milk, aptly flavored and spiced with curry leaves, salt, pepper powder etc’.
`Let me taste it.’ said the Ghudumba expert.
`Brahmandamandi, marvelous,’ the team gulped the entire liquid and cast away the empty bottle.
‘Sorry sir, we can’t allow any liquid in the flight. This is a new rule’
‘But that was not a liquid,’ I mentioned casually, looking at the opposite direction.
‘What was it then?’ They started worrying.
‘It was a gas. But don’t worry; it was a purgative. A mild one though,’ I gave a small explanation also, ‘ I have a problem for bowl-clearance ; was therefore carrying sufficient stock for six months’
‘Devuda, six month quota of purgative, three of us consumed in a matter of few seconds! EdugondalavAdA! ‘
‘Excuse me, I will be back in a moment’ One fellow rushed towards the toilet . The second one moved his palm across his tummy and the third one, with a hand signal warned those around him, to move away. After all, it was a gas and gas vaporizes. Some of the passengers who were in Que too had a feeling that they too were involuntarily inflicted by the malady of sambharam.
When calm was restored the enquiry on sarpagandhi was taken up.
‘That is a medicine for my blood pressure,’ I explained to the concerned officer.’ you can have that too’
‘But, I have no blood pressure’
‘You have a head! Any one with a head or a wife, is bound to have a head ache’
‘If this Brahmin stays here for another five minutes, we all will have not only blood pressure and head ache but we will go mad.’ His staff were united in their opinion.
‘Vellandi, vellandi please carry on’. The head of Security was in a hurry to dispose me off.
Raising his hands above his head, Prof. Nandur , wished us a safe journey and remarked, ‘Have a comfortable journey and memorable stay in US’
‘Chala thanks andi Nandur garu. Memorable indeed will be his sojourn in US, even for our neighbors!’

‘There is a Sanskrit sloka,’ Ammalu said, while boarding the flight and recited a funny couplet in Malayalam which says that a dog’s tail will never get straightened, even after keeping in a straight tube for thousand years:

‘Aayiram kalam kuzhalilitteedilum–…’
‘Hei, wait,’ I interposed; ‘that is not Sanskrit’
‘You told the airport fellow that you don’t know Sanskrit!’

To continue