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AN INNOCOUS OLD-AGE SYNDROME

 
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.
Baltimore
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:
‘Gopala!’
‘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
Sent from my iPad
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OH! MANASSILAYI

– 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.
“Could you hold this for a moment?” 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 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.
“They are not my luggage” She replied.” They belong 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.”
”Manasiilayo? Sami?” She inquired again.
I nodded my head vigorously and replied,
”Oh! Manassilayi, manssilayi”
” 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
Sent from my iPad

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The Truth or the story of Erappae Eakambharam

 
THE TRUTH
‘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
prosperity’
‘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
misbehavior.
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’

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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 Google.com, 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? “
“yes”
“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?”
“Yes”
‘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
happen?”
“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.”
Baltimore
Aug 22, 2007

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DHARUBHOOTHO MURARI


“A cool breeze is coming, creeping near,
I’ve realized it’s that time of year.
The trees turn a beautiful red, yellow, orange, and brown,
As little leaves fall to the ground.
I stare at the orange sky,
Watching the pinkish clouds float by.
I feel the ever-changing fall breeze,
And the pumpkin pies that bring me to my knees.
But, I gaze out my window before I go to bed,
Watching the majestic, fall sunset”
( Author unknown)
Like the poet, I too have enjoyed the ‘majestic, fall sunset’, watching through the window in my son’s house at Baltimore.
The season of autumn, known as ‘fall’ in North America, marks the transition from summer into winter, when deciduous trees shed their leaves. The green leaves of the maple, pine and other trees, slowly turn to yellow,red, purple and similar other colours and it is a pleasure to watch them in rows, on both sides of the roads as well as in gardens, forests, lakes and other places. The roads, wide, clean and bordered with lush green lawns, as  such, are majestic and magnetizing . Added to that, when, during the fall, the trees bearing baskets- full of different colour leaves, parade with angelical  glamour on both sides when you drive through- it is a unique experience. It looks, as if the Nature is honoring the trees  with garlands of different colours, for the joy and happiness they spread all around and as a departing gesture from the bees, birds and butter flies for the shelter, feeds and solace provided. Then, one after the other, the leaves, slowly and steadily fall under the tree when the mother earth embraces them; they again become a part of her.
The tree, having lost all its children, stands barren and bereaved, with no birds chirping around or bees humming ; the benevolent sky hugs and embraces it with snow and sprinkles chilled water into each and every cell of it, making it fit to receive the life-promoting rays of the sun from a far,far heaven. The tree wakes up from the meditation, with a new life, developed in the form of leaves all over it’s body. Then it is celebration again, of a new life of vibration, growth and vitality, the wind and birds and insects sharing the joy.
Visualizing the above seen in my mind’s eye, sitting on the step of my house at Hyderabad, I was fully absorbed of the thought that why we, the human beings are deprived of such a painless casting away of bodies, as the leaves do and why should we die being brutally killed by a bus or a bomb or tortured in the hospital. If one goes by ‘ vasamsi geernani—- –‘, death should be as painless as removing a soiled shirt . But, often it is not so.
Seeing me seated motinless like a statue, my friend, Vishnu Namboodiri, who had just entered the house, with a prasadam packet in his hand, remarked, ‘darubhootho Murari,’ went inside and kept the packet in my pooja room. For me, there is no fixed time for bathing or eating or sleeping and Vishnu knows that. So, as a matter of routine, while returning from the temple, he brings prasadam everyday and leaves the packet in my pooja room.He knows that I enjoy applying  a thin layer of sandal paste, anytime during day or night, after my bath .
Vishnu went inside the kitchen, prepared two cups of hot tea and placing one cup before  me,  said,
“Seeing you  cocooned in deep thoughts, I recall a story about  Murari Kavi”
“The predecessor of Kalidasa  who composed ‘Sreekrishna karnamritham?’ I asked ,” which is said to excel Kalidasa’s works in sheer poetic beauty?”
“Yes. As a boy he always used to get lost in thoughts and when he failed to answer a question in the class, his teacher made a sarcastic remark, “dharubhoodho Murari” meaning Murari has become (as immobile  as)  as a trunk.
The boy immediately, got up from his seat and recited the following sloka, which he had instantaneously composed.:
(Murari is one of the several names of Lord Mahavishnu, the God who is poetically described as relaxing on a serpent bed in the ocean)
‘Aeka bharya prakrithi- rachala, chanchala cha dwideeya,
Puthro- ananga, thribhuvna jayee, chandrasooryowcha nethran,
Bhoghee sayya, bhavanmudahi, vahanam pannagari,
Smaram,smaram swajnakalham, darubhootho Murari”
” His  one wife (Bhoomi), doesn’t move at all, whereas, the other( Lakshmi), is always on the move.;; His son Kama (despite having lost his physical body), conquers the three worlds; sun and moon (with exactly opposite characters ) form His eyes ;Vahanam is Garuda, the celestial bird and his opponent (Serpent) is the bed; house is (the noisy and turbulent) sea. Brooding over his family skirmish, Murari became a trunk.”
Concluding his story, Vishnu asked me “what made you a ‘daru’, when you don’t have any of the problems the Supreme God has ?’
“True. I have none of His problems, fortunately” I replied” but I have seen or heard about several men and women who had become “darus” or even stones, due to various problems. The foremost, among them are Ahalya and Appukuttan, the former, wife of Gowthamamaharshi and the second person my neighbor, who got married recently.
“You equate Ahalya  of the epic Ramayana with your neighbour!” Vishnu exclaimed.
”Ahalya  is always in my mind as other unfortunate epic women- Sita, Kunthi, Gandhari and Droupathy are” I clarified and continued.
” Ahalya would have become a ‘daru’ much before her husband cursed her and converted her lovely body into a hard stone. She simply could not believe that the mighty king of devas could stoop to such a low level and steal the honor of a Rishi’s wife ;It was nothing but ‘chappatharam’ in Pattar’s language.
“Indra could have ordered the lord of fire  to burn her or the wind lord to lift her up physically or
the lord of death,”katham karo’ , convert her into another Ramba or Urvashi and enjoyed her dancing,instead of stealing her honour” said  Nambudiri. ” I am also surprised that he was given a predominant place  above Maha Vishnu, and worshiped.”

‘”There is some gulumal there , Namboori,” I said,” after all, these stories were not written by a single person; there were several authors spread over several centuries. We don’t know which are the original and which the interpolation”
‘Like Balivadam?”
“Yes, like Balivadam.I cannot believe Rama prompted the two monkey brothers to fight each other and killed one of them, hiding behind a tree. He would have said, ‘Seetha or no Seetha but I will never do such a crime’. My belief is confirmed by his subsequent action, when he permitted the disarmed  enemy Ravan to go back home and come better prepared to the battle field next day, instead of killing him on the spot .
“You justify the action of  Ahalya’s husband?”
‘These Rishies, who were not in a position to control their ego and anger, even after performing thapas for several years, are not worth to be called Rishies.. You and I are much better than them . But, if the story of Indra’s committal of the crime is true, then Ahalya would have, on her own, undertaken the penance in the from of a stone, for self purification. Hundred gowthama’s wouldn’t be capable of cursing such a virtuous woman. After all, she tops the list of panchakanyas”  I was silent for sometime brooding over Ahalya’s plight and then added, “If I get an opportunity, I myself would like to become a stone, facing the tortures of the wind and sun and rains, pray for ages and ages and wait for the day when the lotus feet of my Lord will touch my head. What a waiting it was, Vishnu ? Don’t you worship Indra just for giving Ahalya that opportunity? otherwise, she would have just passed away, into the cavern of past, like any other sannyasini”
“Mathi, mathi-enough! Don’t get emotional. Tell me  about your neighbor, Appukuttan?” asked Vishnu.
‘That is a more interesting story”, I said. ” Though he was after a pig tailed, brown eyed beauty, bowing to the wishes of his parents, Appu married Alamu, selected by his parents, at the age of 35. I accompanied him to see the girl along with his parents and two unmarried sisters. Appu’ s mother Pattumami, praised the beauty of Alamu, mentioned that she was distantly related to her and as a kid, had played with her son, who was 12 years elder. She would not, therefore, take a pie as dowry, though would not reject if her father gives a house or a car or whatever he wants to, for her daughter’s comforts and happiness. Alamu was no doubt a beautiful girl, but, she would look more beautiful “if the line separating her dark hairs was shifted slightly towards left from it’s present middle position”, suggested  Appu’s mother.
Appukuttan and Alamu got married and her father gave much more than what Appu’s mother expected as dowry. As suggested by Pattumami, Alamu changed her hair style, from ‘nermakidu’ to konamakidu’, shifting the hair separating border to one side, before entering the wedding stage. She hated her own face with the changed hair -style, when she peered at  the mirror, but overtly applauded her mother-in-law’s suggestion and endured her new look.
For the first few weeks, Pattumami treated her newly arrived daughter-in- law kindly but when she found that her son  was leaning more towards his wife, she was afraid that she might lose him permanently in which case,she feared unnecessarily, that her two daughters would remain unmarried.   Under no circumstances, would she allow him to go out of her control, mami decided and started finding fault with Alamu for all her actions. All her complaints were of minor nature such as coffee was not tasty, the sugar dabba was displaced to the second shelf of the cupboard from the first, the  vegetables were not cut evenly etc. The compassion and concern for each other gave way to conflict and confrontation .
Despite the fact that Alamu was a working girl and returned from the office late sometime, neither mami nor her daughters extended a helping hand to her in house keeping. .On the other hand, she evolved so many methods to impress on her son that his wife was good- for- nothing and the entire household activities were carried out by mami and her daughters. Following the behavior of animals in herd- attacking their prey, they moved cautiously and communicating through eye signals, surrounded Alamu and pounced on her at every opportunity.
Alamu tolerated all the humiliation and ill treatment with the proverbial patience of mother earth but the hell broke out when one day, the Pattumami, despite her best attempts didn’t find any cause to spit venom on her daughter-in-law and therefore commented on her hair style:
“This house became a hell the moment you entered with this hair stylel-‘ Kona makudu vandhu kudumbham kuttichorachu.”  She cursed and abused her.
Amala, with her priestly discipline had so far, worn all insults with dignity and rejected the natural intent to lash out. “‘I have swallowed enough insults and has no space to receive any more” she thought and told the old woman. in a low, measured firm voice:” Look, Amma!  I changed my hair style only on your suggestion and I am not going to change it again to satisfy you. I have however, one solution for this.”
And  without waiting for the response, she walked into the beauty parlor next door, got her hair trimmed and shortened in such a way that there was no more scope to turn the hairs one way or the other.
Hearing the shouts and counter shouts from his house, consequent to the above action,
Appu became a ‘daru”
‘ I looked at Namboodiri, who was delighted to hear my story and  slowly opened his betel box. nodding his head in applauding  Amala’s action.
I am sure that you would have come across several such instances and in future, if you happen to see such ‘darus’ or you, yourself become a daru, remember what Murari, the child poet did. Immediately after ‘daru bhutho murari”, he sang ‘Santhakaram, bhujagasayanam- –“, that famous dyanslokam of Bhishmapitamaha, praising the sleeping posture of the Lord, in peace and tranquility.
Inspite of all his family problems, If  the Lord Vishnu could maintain his “santhakaram” and continue to sleep on the serpent bed, in absolute peace, why not we ?
.” I am definitely, not capable of doing it ,” said Vishnu,” of course, that is why He is Mahavishnu and I am just, Vishnu”
Namboodiri picked up his silver betal-leaf box, moved his head up and down once as if to say that he was happy to be ‘just Vishnu and not Mahavishnu’, put on his upper garment and walked towards the exit.
I could hear his ‘ Balea,Balea’ sound in appreciation of my story, when he started pedaling his bicycle. Or was  it in appreciation of the tranquility and smile-‘santhakaram’- of my neighbour Appukuttan, who was then approaching from the opposite direction?

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My Dad, A Crow

 
I have spent countless hours, peeping through the window in the spacious libray, in my son’s house in Baltimore, facing the vast meadows boardered by maple and oak trees, looking for my charming childhood- friend- a crow, any crow! I have been dreaming that he would perch on the maple or pine tree across, with a slanted head or moving his neck right and left and glancing me through a corner of his eye. That was how, as a kid lying on my mother’s lap, I had been seeing crows playing, and picking and enjoying the paddy seeds, spread for drying, in front of our Olavakkode house. Neither the crows worried about my mother’s presence nor she, about the loss of paddy stock. It was a mutual understanding, which perfectly worked, to keep me in good moods.
“Kakke,kakke,koodevidea?
”koottinakthoru kunjundo?”
Where is your nest, crow?
Isn’t there, a small baby inside it, crow?”
This song, heard several decades ago, from my mother’s lips, is still fresh in my mind, though I have forgotten my Shelly and Shakespeare, learned, much later.
There is a high level ‘sit-out’ or deck, at the extension of our dining-hall, in Baltimore, separated by a glass door, where I spend most of my time during summer months, reading or just watching the trees or the vast stretch of lawns, beautifully manicured, spread all around. One day, I was sitting there and enjoying the sunset with my grand daughter, Ananya, a two and half year old lovely power pack. For a moment she became still and pointing her tiny finger towards a pine tree, exclaimed, “thath, what is that?” I turned my head towards that direction and lo, and behold, there was a crow perched on the branch of a pine. I was thrilled at the sight of the guest for whom I was eagerly waiting for. Leaping from my seat, I yelled and invited all inmates to come out and see the wonderful sight.
‘What bird is that?’. The child repeated her question.”That is a crow, the bird on which I have told you many stories ”
She was equally excited and enjoyed my action imitating the bird’s fly and neck movement. Except us, the oldest and youngest in the family, others didn’t seem to understand the importance of the event and they retired . The same was also the case, when the other day, a squirrel climbed a tree, ditching the efforts of a cat which gave it a hot pursuit. Something is wrong somewhere in the behaviour of the youngsters.
‘”Catch it; I want to play with it”, ordered the sweet little one.
I didn’t succeed in my effort to obey her orders and therefore Went on to the next best task- I explained to her, with appropriate body movements, about my expertise in crow-catching and the statistics of the male and female crows, whom I had conquered when I was of her age.
Kids are the best lie-detectors. She was not impressed and started crying. I did what any sensible person would do on such occasions- I shouted at her.
‘Madaya Mahasamudramey!-you, the ocean of idiocy!” I heard someone shouting at me and looked around to locate the source of those words, which were the most familiar ones, I used to hear from my father. He, in fact used to call me “madaya siromani- the crown-jewel of idiots, in the early days but later, when I grew big, perhaps thought that the appellation too mild and changed it to ‘madaya mahasamudram’ or the ocean of idiocy, to fit to my intellectual growth. I stood in stunned silence when the crow said, turning its one eye towards me, “I say don’t scream at the child!”
Now, wait . No doubt, it is the crow who spoke and the voice was my dad’s !
Thanks to my association with Vishnu Namboodiri who had inherited the knowledge of crows’ language, from his ancestor, Kakkassery Battathirippad, I am in a position to communicate with crows and therefore, I asked the crow “Tell me the truth crow! Are you really my Appa?”
‘ Yes, I am; but call me ‘dad’ ” The crow replied, “and remember, birds do not lie”
”I know that birds and animals do not lie”, I agreed and extending my head towards the bird, asked- “could you just for my confirmation, say one or two more pet words, I was used to, during my childhood?”
‘”Muttal! Fool, you are keeping the book upside down!”
“Ha, ha, it is you, my dad! I am convinced and thrilled at your sight. How did you become a crow”
” Due to octoliea”
“What is that?”. I enquired. I have several manias and phobias but not this one .
“I had to tell lies to prosper in business’, dad conceded.. The number of lies, in my life time, exceeded seven per day and therefore I became a crow”
“Oh! I never knew that rule. Thank you for enlightening.” I replied. ” I shall see that I don’t cross the mystic number seven .”
“My worthy son, you’re!’ . He was always proud of me.
” If I exceed number seven, my soul will become dark and obtain a matching body, right dad?”
“I never doubted your I.Q” He nodded his head in full appreciation and added,” Yet I expected a more intelligent question from you!”
‘What is that dad?” I asked, wondering how there could be a more intelligent question than the one, I already raised.
“you didn’t ask, ‘ why the lord Mahavishnu is also dark in complexion?’
“Why dad, due to octroliea?”
“Due to hyper octroliea . I told you that the soul get darkened, if one tells lie regularly.There are multi million such darkened souls and ultimately where do they reach? At the feet of the Lord..Since He is the Soul of souls and his body doesn’t disintegrate, He became Hyper octrolieic.”
‘Great, dad. Your interest in Kathakali and carnatic music still continues?”
“Week ends, I go to Paris to watch dance in nightclubs”
“Glad you are enjoying your life. You deserve it dad, for all the trouble you took to give us good education, which led us and subsequently our children to the present prosperity”
“Thank Nancy for that”
“Who is she dad? I haven’t heard that name before.”
‘She was kalyani teacher who kicked me out of the school in the third class. She too have become a crow.” Dad said, ” I shall bring her here, one day.”
“She too became a crow for crossing the number seven?”
” Yes. One lie I am aware of is, she said that I had pulled her hand, which forced her to discard me from the class”
“The truth was?”
“I tried to pull down her sari.”
“I am not surprised dad, you were capable of pulling down many such things. But what is her contribution to the welfare of our family?””
“If she hadn’t kicked me out of the school, I wouldn’t have gone to business. I would have completed my matriculation and retired as a honest Government clerk and you wouldn’t be sitting doing nothing and talking to a crow, in America.. You would be selling vegetables, across the street of Kalpathy, pushing a cart, in the hot sun or pouring rain ”
“How is our neighbor Chami pattar, dad?”
“That guy who dropped invalid coins in the temple hundi, closing the vision of the deity, by standing in between ?”
“Yes, dad”.
“He has a busy time at Tirupathy, collecting coins thrown by the pilgrims on his towel spread on the road side”
“what would happen if the Tirupathy hundi is open for the offering of only pilgrims of higher class?”
“The Lord will keep both his hands high above his head and go down the hills crying “Govinda,Govinda’.
“And, God has two more hands”
“He will collect his jewels and valuables and catch the next available train to his place.”
“Why do they put such a big namam to the Lord of seven hills, which I feel, stands in the way of enjoying the beauty of His lovely face, his prominent nose and big eyes?”
“It is always easy to remember an unusual or abnormal object or event rather than a common one, we see everyday around us.” Dad clarified. The Lord of the seven hills with his big namam, high crown, conch and wheel kept high above the shoulder level and body decorated with colorful clothes and dazzling jewels, occupies the central seat in the heart of his devotees. Even without all the paraphernalia, his white broad namam in the dark back-ground is an ideal object for concentration.
“So is Ananthapadmanabha’s posture lying on the multi-hooded serpent, with a lotus developed from his naval supporting the Brahma. A marvelous product of the imagination of our ancestors, this statue is highly symbolic.
“Calcutta kali with her protruded tongue, elongated charming eyes and eyelids extending to both sides and a similar central eye, on the forehead looking upward, is another memorable object for meditation.
“So is the Balarama, Krishna and Subadra combination of Puri with their round eyes and Dwaraka Krishna with his decorated turban turning to one side and Panduraanga with his short stature?” I enquired.
“And the image of Mahaganapathy, with a protruding big abdomen and unusually long nose,
sitting over a tiny mouse, according to you, is also so designed, to facilitate meditation?.”
“Yes.Even Guruvayoor krishnan’s dazling ‘kandojwalal Kousthupam’ and Koupeenam and also, Darmasatha’s yogic posture.
Dad continued his innovative finding.
“The Siva Lingam- there cannot a better symbol than Sivalingam to meditate on the Universal Parents,’Jagadapitharaah:’. The combination of lingam looking up and the yoni looking towards the earth, ready to pour amrithavarsha, the incessant flow of nectar of love and life . The moment you open your heart and pour on the lingam all your sorrows, all your needs, all your anxieties in the form of milk or gee or simple water.
All these symbols are meant to engrave the visual objects of your worship deep into your mind so that concentration becomes easy.
I am sure that in management science, you would have come across such tools of memorizing techniques.”
“So, a lot of thought have gone into these designing?” I asked.
“No doubt, our forebears, were not only great thinkers but men of great vision and imagination too.”
“Then what went wrong ?’ I asked
“‘We simply lived in our past, talking about our ancestral glory and doing nothing to carry on the torch handed over to us”
“Our community especially” father continued,” refused to change according to the time. Cocooning around the false notion that they were superior by birth to others and therefore entitled for free service from the society, many of our seniors refused to learn new skills; working under others was considered below their status. Trading or business activities were prohibited for them, they thought. A few had agricultural land but those were tilled by others who, in due course, became the owners legally. Many families survived on the free food provided by temples. Abject poverty and ignorance killed many. While other communities allowed their women to work and support the family, our women were mostly, subjugated within the four walls of the house, resulting in their lower education level and health consciousness”
“But dad, when we grew up” I intervened,” we realised the blunder committed by our elders and grabbed the limited opportunities available and did the best we could and came up in life”
“You did” Father agreed. “But when your children grew up, they mistook our culture and heritage as the root cause of all the problems in the family and threw away the baby along with the tub”.
“I beg to disagree, dad” I replied. “They have kept open all their windows and doors; fresh air which gushes in will wipe of only the foul smell. They would have discarded their sacred thread or any such external symbols, but they cannot exsiccate the cultural essence from their blood”
‘you are right.With all their backwardness in the standard of living, our forebears didn’t indulge in any illegal activities. They didn’t aspire for others properties or ask for any illegitimate favours. They silently suffered their deprivation; they didn’t harm others . I am glad that the present generation preserve the imbibed high principles and in fact outshine us”
The sun was setting. The sky was afire with the tints of gold and red and it was a splendor to behold that event . I forgot for a moment that I was far far away from my Hyderabad house. The sunrise and sunset, the sky and oceans, the moon and stars are same everywhere, whether you are at India or US.
“‘I should take leave of you, son” My dad said, turning his head to a side and looking at my eyes.”Let me fly back into darkness to rest in my nest and – to wake up again at the wee hours of the morning to announce the arrival of dawn”
‘Thank you for your visit dad, do come again” I murmured, wiping off the tear drops from my eyes.
“With whom are you taking Appa ?’ Enquired my daughter in law, Meghana, who just entered the premises along with her daughter.
‘Thath was talking to a crow” The tiny tot, replied pointing her little finger towards the pine tree .
“Don’t talk nonsense, Ananya! ” The mother rebuked.
“Children never talk nonsense, Meghana! And they never lie ” I wanted to tell her. Instead, I just smiled.
Baltimore,
Jan 2007