Monday, October 3, 2016

The Time Machine



He swerved the car into the narrow street on the right that could have been easily missed as old land marks he remembered where all gone, but yet he had the hunch that this was the one. He was not wrong. .As he let the car gently down the asphalt country road that was once, long winding dusty strip strewn disorderly with stones – granite metal which made walking along an exercise that demanded some effort and deftness if one was not wearing thick soled footwear. Now, when the car moved along the winding stretch, he mused about the past, long ago when he was little- vacations from school was often spent in this country side that knew no bounds and time was elastic and gaiety & fun seamless; where sun above was not hot but only warm, when people were people.

The warm days of summer beginning March stayed warm until the manna pelted down as summer rains in mid of April. It was usual for the sun to be dispassionately severe through each day, as severe as it could; until one day on an afternoon unannounced thunderous cumulus nimbus and cumulus stratus would gather menacingly, condense and rain down. Marvelous and awesome blazing silver fiery streaks flash across the skies packed with dark ominous clouds, like the whipping of urumi- the curling sword of gods, thunderous clangouring of their steel armour-clasp of the cymbal in the skies deafeningly transform the air. Beasts, birds and man young and old their senses awed by the shift in the air, scramble towards shelter. Hailstorms were not often an exception that lashed the earth during summer and enlivened children who ran helter-skelter with aluminum pans and vessels upside down over their heads as protection from the pelting from the sky- scrambling to pick the stones of ice. They would refuse to barter it with fistful of diamonds, but to their dismay in even time hail stones would melt into water.

 The summer rains was often, a timely elixir from the heavens to quench the parched lands and paddy fields. Mayflies that appear from nowhere and with no warning swarm the afternoon; rain clouds – grey and dark grey gather above. The rains pour down always in the mid afternoon when humidity reached its apogee and could even threaten the fishes that surface in the ponds for air. Lightning and thunder makes a signature statement. Occasionally lightning struck a tall coconut palm and they appear like burning torches of the god of fire – “Agni” up in the heavens. Soon the rain quenches the fire but the tree would be scorched and lifeless, smoking from its top as from chimney and by then destined to stand, remain like tall detritus relic of an ancient era bearing an ineluctable fate. He reminisced how once three tall coconut trees were struck by the bolt of lightning and stood burning at their top even in the rain. It was an awesome sight. To be appreciated with humility – the insignificance of our being. The power of Nature!

The morning after was always feast for the mynas, the sparrows, the mina and crows and pheasants, indulging on the carcasses of Mayflies. Cattle Egrets flock in from their usual pastures in the paddy fields. Green jack fruits dazzled on the tree trunks with regained freshness, the dark green leaves washed off the summer dust, sparkle in the morning sunrays.
The land will have regained its stymied vitality, the soil, the grass, the trees, the fresh look water in the ponds, and the puddles on the pathways -élan vital.

Then again, the sun got back with vengeance to burn unrelenting on the mortals below attempting perhaps to dampen the hubris of man.

The lull in the in the downpour till the month of May is ephemeral and the monsoon arrives. The monsoon is announced by the presence of dragon flies. It was said that they flew in ahead of the monsoon sailing in its current over the Indian Ocean from far away Africa. The arrival of the monsoon rains in late May, early June gathering from far out in the sea off the southern coast of Thiruvanathapuram, reaches central Travancore in a day. It is then pell-mell.

Poets and the pleasant hearted relate the monsoon downpour to the ragas; the fall, the beating of the rain drops to the gentle percussion, the rain itself –the romantic melody from the soul of the Veena of the Gods. Did the Gods by themselves render the Amruthavarshiniraga that propitiates heavens to bring forth the rain? The Ramayana describes that when the Asura King of Lanka Ravanan set fire to the tail of Rama’s messenger – the monkey Hanuman, the mischievous primate set fire to entire Lanka. Then Ravana played the Amruthavarshini raga on his Veena and brought forth rain to douse the flames around his city.

It would be deluge- water, water everywhere! Tiny country boats and thatched kettuvallams would look like distant ghostly arks in the streams, backwaters and the expanse of the Vembanadlake. Lush green shrubs lined the peripheries as fences. They lined serpentine pathways demarcating lands. The path way was dug out a few feet in width and was called thodu as they were also meant to let water flow along in the monsoon and rains. Monsoon brought much profusion of water, that water form ponds that fringed the fences overflowed into the thodu in the monsoon, and along with it, in it, little fishes, tiny crustaceans and even small fresh water turtles. Tadpoles seemed to outnumber their exotic amphibian cousins –fishes, silver, yellow, red and some plain and dull. Frogs croaked in chorus as if they were accompanying music to a waltz – male frogs calling to attract a mate. In the night lashed by the wind and the rain, in the lull in the rain male frogs call from where numerous males have converged on breeding sites by the pond and among the damp peats. It was common near the edges of ponds to see frogs' embryos typically surrounded by several layers of off white gelatinous material- several eggs clumped together, frogspawn.

Life was manifestly profuse and effervescing in those surroundings and waters during and after the monsoon. Life frolicked after the rains while it was sedate and brimming under the surface at other times eager to erupt free. Walking along the thodu was almost impossible then. One had to wade.
The palm fringed beach, white sand, backwaters, paddy fields that seemed to extend beyond the horizon, sacred groves and mammoth mango trees that dropped ripened sweet fruits at the whiff of a breeze in the warmer climes of summer nights and days always beckoned. Mangoes-ambrosia, sweeter than any elixir from the heavens, some fell off the trees pecked and half eaten by crows, squirrels and birds. They fell with little thud and sometimes like meteorite showers. Under the huge Chakarachi, some would even roll down the periphery of the pond by which the tree stood; her huge trunk, lush green canopy, heavy boughs older than any surviving man or woman around. Some of the trees would make one feel that the trees came first, then the faraway mountains, the rivers, backwaters and the sea. They certainly were older than the mad karnavar at the kizhakeytilillam!
Some house hold land had three to four ponds and most of them were fringed by huge mango trees, brindle-berry ( Kudam puli) and other tropical green giants some that bore fruit, some edible and relished by man, animals and birds, yet some ignored by even the avian. Coconut palms were dispersed ubiquitously around. Their long palm leaves moving, flapping, swaying in the breeze and wind. Some of the palms were marked by tappers who religiously climb them at dawn and dusk to retrieve the nectar- toddy that gather in the clay pot placed on tree tops.

There were no brick walls and walled partitions with granite stones, to sequester lands and identify one’s own. Three to four  feet tall thicket fences with mostly bush of hibiscus with myriad colours of flowers and an ubiquitous shrub that was simply called “pacha”. Pacha had two meanings in Malayalam- one denoting its color and the other its profuse growth-they were called “communist pacha”. Though they predated communism-the universally rebellious atheistic philosophy from a faraway land that in some way one can say, usurped the shrub and rechristened it after its increasingly prolific growth in the minds of the young, the working class- the proletariat. Communism spread in Kerala quicker than the whirl wind and wild fire, fast towards the middle of 20th century. The “pacaha” shrub also spread very riotous like Communism and thereupon, the rechristening- “Communist Pacha”.“There was a time when communism was unheard of. And red was just a colour. Red was not related to blood. It was then less sanguinary days”. Elders used to muse.

Households had ponds meant for varied purpose. The sarpakulam was in the sacred grove – “the sarpakavu” and extra care was put to not violate its holiness. Woman folk seldom ventured near it or entered its waters while they were in their monthly cycle. It was exclusively used by the priest for ritualistic bath and other rites. The pathrakulam on the north, outside the kitchen was meant for cleaning and washing utensils. The pond that was accessed by all stood on the south west and that was the waters where kids frolicked. The disused pond with green moss and stubbornly still water that occasionally broke into ripples when a fish dived back from the surface with its lungs full of air was straddled by the chakarachi - the huge mango tree that stood like a behemoth. She seemed to relish the banter and fun that went under her huge branches and her leaves would flutter in acknowledgement. Only that she might be a bit playfully-rude and disappointing that she would hold on to her sought after fruits that tantalizingly dangled from her tall branches rousing  and inviting, wonderful than any honey as she refuses to let them fall off her even when prodded by a swift breeze. This was disappointing for the kids who wait, alert as the wind blows ,  eyes roving and ears cocked- waiting for the little thud somewhere around and then to spurt to be the first to grab the fruit. It was the sense of hearing that locks on to the spot where the fruit fell. They hone in to the fallen fruit that lies amongst the dry leaves with the instinct of the fruit bats that descend at dusk from the trees in the sacred grove. When disappointed, they would then dislodge raw mangoes from the tree nearby- the less assuming moovandan, and devour them- with pinch of salt and vattalumulaku. The deviled mango!

Slings and stones were used to target mangoes high up in the branches. When they fall down and roll down the sides of the pond into the water kids jumped after it damaging the well manicured edges of the pond. Chinni Peramma would shout from her kitchen window in annoyance and rebuke. Unable to wreak her authority she sometimes chased the kids and this was often a spectacle. They enjoyed her agitation. He had little to fear as she always had something special for him. She would single him out from the gang. “After all”, she used to say, “You are my Kochu Kesavan’s boy aren’t you”. She was in her late- seventies but agile, alert and the hunch of old age had not touched her, she did not walk, she trotted. She had a routine that began at six at dawn and wound up at eight in the night. She would dip bathe in the pond little before sunset, light the wick in the tiny oil lamp at the Thulasi plant that stood in front of her house. Before her meal she took two glasses of toddy that was retrieved from the palm at dusk. This was followed by dinner, a meal that consisted of rice gruel made with rich brown rice, curry of yam or jackfruit sautéed with coconut and spices and the pickled tiny mangoes, the “kannimanaga” she stored under her cot in Chinese jar. She ate the meal deftly scooping from the dish with the leaf of the jack tree ingeniously made into a cone-that served as the spoon. Once the meal was done she would retire to her little room .Some nights she would smoke a beedi. It was a strange and interesting spectacle to see the woman smoke. Was it an audacious intrusion of sorts into man’s realm and privilege, a bloomer?  She was a spinster.
Many giant trees-mammoths stood unperturbed through years of sun and rain, having seen many moons and monsoons, their vast canopies lending shades of cover and haven for roosting birds. The old tamarind tree with low thick branches and small but lush leaves was the roosting place of Chinni Perama’s roosters and hens. It seemed to be in their evolutionary code that when the sun has set they must climb up to the safety of the tamarind tree. Chiniperama did not keep a pen, a cage contraption for her chicken. They followed the routine roosting in the tree by night “cock-a-doodle-doo” and fly down when dawn broke in the east.

Sadly indeed a giant tree, often a mango or the jack fruit tree was felled when a death happened in the house hold and served as firewood for the funeral pyre. It was one such melancholy occasion when his great uncle Narayan Panicker passed away-and elders surveyed walking around the vast property and chose the Anjili (Jungle Jack) that unobtrusively stood on the northern side outside the sarpakavu.  It was almost on the fringe of the land after which one entered the slope to the vast punjapadams- on the east extending into Thakazhi and further into the bosom of Kuttanad. He was about nine then. He was always astounded by the huge tall tree and he was sure that while on top most branches one can see the end of the world and perhaps touch the heavens too. He would recollect the animated comic story of ‘Jack and the Bean stalk’ where in little Jack climbed up the bean stalk that grew into the clouds and to the abode of the ogre. He often stood watching birds feast on its fruits and the crows nested on its branches.

“How tall and big can a man grow if he lives a hundred?” The old namboothiri karanavar who lived in the Illam nearby shouted once in askance. He could not understand the logic of chopping down a tree that has seen more than two centuries of sun and rain to burn to dust a cadaver which was left behind by someone who lived for about seventy- may be eighty odd years. Why must people cut down a tree when men die?  To only serve as fuel to cremate the dead! This hubris of man! Yes the old man has a point hasn’t he thought the boy. He, figured in his mind the tree must be older than the lunatic karnavar. How old would the karnavar be?

KochuKalli the pulaya hag who often went to the illam to gather firewood- twigs and pick coconuts that fell from palm trees would authoritatively claim he was one hundred and six. She could be precise and accurate about that she would say with exaggerated confidence. And she also adds, “bhrandhankizhavan is living on extended time”. If that was the case how old would his mother be? She was seldom seen outside. She is blind, Kochu Kali says and that was why she seldom ventured outside the house. He was not prepared to take KochuKalli’s assertion at its face value. For she seldom spoke well about the old fellow, in fact she made an oafish of him. She had a rage against him after being chased away from his land one day, into which she would often sneak in through the opening she made out in the thicket fence. She was using those audacious expeditions to stealthily gather kappa which was grown in there. The old karnavar would for a while wonder about the uprooted kappa stems and would curse the hedgehogs and field rats for the foul. It was by chance that one day he, perhaps in his saner moment’s noticed KochuKalli and her basket full of kappa . He chased her shrieking and waving his long stick. KochuKalli booted through the opening she had made in the fence and yelled, “bharandhanennekollunney”. Since that day KochuKalli spun pitiless stories and intrigues about the old fellow. She even claimed that he killed his old mother and plowed her underground in the parambu. She swore on all gods that she often had seen the ghost of the old woman - even at mid-day sitting in the house. When kids wondered loudly how ghosts could walk about at mid-day, she would gape with her reddish eyes, curl her lips and open her cavity displaying the vettila stained sparsely remaining ugly stumps that seemed to be fossilized remains of what could be called teeth. She would regurgitate the slimy content from her throat and jet it out through her two fingers clasped to her lips. She would then lean forward and whisper,”Namboothirimarudey pretham pakallunadukkum makkale”.

Well, as a boy, he could not make out the truth for long, for he would not see him. He could not gather the temerity to sneak in through the fence. All that he knew of the old man for long, since the days he could remember there, from his tot days- was his loud oration and at other times recitation of poetry in a sonorous voice and often the gibberish loud monologues late in the night, monologues from the works of Shakespeare, rendition of Victorian poetry and sometimes kathakali lyrics without injustice to their ragam and thalam. His voice was sonorous, clear, without flavoured accent, they were chaste.
“Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace tonight. Thrice hath Calphurnia in her sleep cried out,   “Help, ho! They murder Caesar!”—who’s within?”
Pause followed by some gibberish tongue twisting language spoken as if like Greek, stomping of wood and then again.
“Go bid the priests do present sacrifice, and bring me their opinions of success.”
“Caesar shall forth. The things that threatened me, Ne’er looked but on my back. When they shall see the face of Caesar, they are vanished.”

From KochuKalli’s description and stories, he pictured the old man, bent at the back-freckled skin under the arms dangle supple like loosely stuck to the bone with glue. He was sure that he heard the creaking of his bones when the man moved about in the ‘parambu’. He would sit with bated breath on the outside of the thicket fence and listen to the gibberish the man spoke to himself. He was sure he was speaking to himself as he never heard another voice however much he strained to hear one. The mottled skin and withered face with the silvery grey kudumi at the back of his head sparsely populated and stained teeth in a blood shot mouth calloused with the stain of years of chewing vettila, over grown silver hair on his wrinkled weather beaten chest and arms, that refused to drop …! But he must be surprisingly spry for his age and physical appearance if he chased Kocukalli around the compound. She said he ran with a hunch and ran faster than kids would; then she added, “Well if not faster almost as fast. Certainly faster than a gecko”! She stated his spine was bend though not as much as a bow that he could not stand straight, even with the walking stick which is also his aid to move around and scare or frighten children who peep in through the thicket fence, to kill people with a blow on the temple. The derelict old illam and the old man who lived there added to the mystery that was attractive about the place.

He, his cousin who was a few months his younger , the elder cousins, Chakki the eldest of Madhav Vaidyans three girls and friends roamed about spending almost all of the day under the mango and tamarind trees or by the ponds. The fallen leaves, grey, brown and yellowish were always strewn around and formed thick carpet over the soft white sand. Sometimes they set off to fish with baits hung on tiny hooks tied to thin ropes made of jute tied to long sticks, the  marrow of the tapioca stem used as the float; the ponds were dense with fishes of different hues. The backwater stream further down towards the vast expanse of paddy fields would brim with biral a special fish that was fancied by the locals. Kids were forbidden to go towards the backwater canals but they have by stealth been afar.

 They often ventured out into the paddy fields, to catch crabs and crickets. Such excursions were distressful for the harmless reptiles such as the timorous garden lizards’, chameleons and geckos. Those days when the kids raided the fields’, times would be difficult for the timid and harmless water snakes that refuged in those marshy fields. The kids seldom spared any of the unfortunate ones who they saw often basking in the sun with their neck extended and a nit-wit, mortis (sic) look in their eyes. The hapless creatures were snared by a lasso made of coconut palm fronds. The dumb they are, they seldom noticed the snare dropping down their head from behind. One tug and the knot tie tight, the poor reptile wriggles dangling unable to free. At times they manage to break free and slither away faster than one bates the eyelids. There was one boy, his cousin who would disobey the collective decision of the group to free the snared creatures alive.

The pond by the sarpakulam at the far end, on the periphery of the sarpakavu was out of bounds for fishing and the kids seldom ventured there. The water was dark, covered with water lilies and choked with weeds; wantoning creepers and flowering shrubs entwined severely and densely. There was always eerie silence in the grove and the waning light in the evenings would lend certain mysterious air and foreboding appearance to it. By night fireflies flirted about and glow worms too .In the grove even by day birds and crickets refrained from banter. Birds would perch quietly on the trees in there and take off without any ado. Squirrels seldom squeaked. The parrots that lived in the hollows of the tall coconut tree made lifeless by lightning bolts were mindful and did not shriek when they flew over the sarpakavu. The mysterious bats hung on precariously upside down on the high branches of the peral. They occasionally flap their wings and soon continue their inverted existence, perhaps surveying the less arboreal ones moving about below. By dusk they would be a sort of frantic activity up in the tree as the bats ready themselves for their nocturnal wanderings. However, he did notice quite often the family of mongoose scamper about in there and he wondered at their audacity. Or was it foolishness? He could understand the temerity of the bats as they are high up in the trees, somewhat cocooned from the reach of serpents who lived in the kavu. Yet, what about the serpents that KochuKalli claims she has seen dangling from the trees and vines in the kavu, the arboreal ones?  With deep sough the wind snared by the thick foliage of the trees forcefully brush past, the bamboo stalks screech intermittently and the hoot of the screech owl in the still of the night would shiver timber.

The sarpakavu was used by the middle aged namboothiri priest who religiously arrived on the day of “ailyam” each calendar month. Rituals called “ailyampooja” were performed by the namboothiri, clad in loin cloth and the sacred thread across his torso. He would take a dip in the pond to cleanse his being before conducting the rituals.

Sarapakalm would be dexterously drawn out on the small cement platform opposite the serpent deities in the grove. Coloured powder- red, black, green, purple, blue and yellow turmeric; rice flour and other fancy powders, all bought from the Haji Koya’s shop at the west gate of the big temple.
The serpent deities- the nagaraja, nagayakshi, inside the grove was appeased with milk and turmeric powder. Noorum-Palum are offered to remove sarpadosham. This is followed by the Pulluvanpattu and the pulluva couples would sing to mollify the serpents. The festivity is more prominent during the ailyam day in the months of Thulam, Kanni and Kumbham. Those were the days the Ailyam festivities were held at the Manarasala a few miles away.

Elders believed that ritualistic offering each month may have ensured no reported sightings or bites of poisonous snakes. The last recorded snake bite was of his father’s grandfather, before he was born. The victim was rushed to the vishavaidhyan who practiced the traditional therapy for snake bit. It was said that the snake that bit the man was among the most feared and poisonous who probably was incensed by irreverence to the serpents and there was no way the mendicant could save the grand uncle. The story went wild and indulgent about the length of the serpent that bit the grandfather. Imaginations and fantasy was abound and unrestrained. It was said that the serpent was very enraged that it bit him on the ankle a few times over and chased him further down the fields and bit repeatedly on the fallen man’s face until its venom was exhausted. He lost consciousness a few minutes after the bite and died the next day. Stories were plenty of the wrathful serpent being seen outside the grove and many fantastic tales and lore were spun by the folks. And the ailyam rituals have never waned since then.

The temple festival was a fascinating. He was very impressed and delighted with the Vellakali the pantomime martial dance where men dressed as Nair warriors in bright traditional costumes and bearing swords and shields enact war dance to the synchronised accompaniment of the martial music in front of the entrance to the sanctum of sanctorum. To the accompaniment of panchavadyam–  the maddalam, thavil, ilathalam, kombu and kuzhal the warriors move to the rhythm of the percussion. Later, at the precincts of the temple pond, the vellakali would be performed and was called kullathilvela.
The Nadakasalasadhya on the ninth day of the temple festival was a melee that was meant for grownups and not children. It was during one such event that he saw the old namboothiri . He was sitting at the kottiambalam near the natakashala while the frenzied revelry went about. One of his elder cousins pointed to the old man and murmured “there, there see the mad namboothiri!” A middle aged man with peppered hair and beard. His mundu was somewhat soiled and wore a half buttoned cotton shirt. He sat there, massaging his beard and keenly observing the ongoing melee of the natakashala sadhya . He shouted suddenly,”Damn the Gods who will be appeased only when lot of food is wasted, thrown around like missiles; this is robbing from the hungry.” Then after an afterthought, “If God was appeased by that waste, so be it. It is he who lords over.” He stopped abruptly with resignation and continued to feel his beard.
.              
Of the many legends subsumed with the origin and chronicle of Velakali the victory of the good over evil, of justice over injustice stood out with the legends that were associated with its origin. The statutes of the warring chieftains of Chembakaseri Mathoor Panicker and Velloor Kurup  who are associated with the origin of the dance was placed on  the ceiling at the entrance of the nadakasala   and always aroused fascination. Of the many aspects that he cherished and that he was also fortunate to experience as a child on his many vacations, were the stories, folklore and legends of yore that elders told. That was an informal education of immense value. Any child’s fascination and awe would gradually turn into skepticism and enquiry. Certainly they may have helped in later life when thrown about by the rough and tumble. It is satisfying to walk without crutches.  Isn’t it?  
  
Now, he stood reliving the past and transfixed on the poltergeists of many moments of the days he spent there on vacation from school, perhaps the only sanguine and salubrious days of his childhood that were his twice a year. For a moment he wanted to be in a time machine and go back into the past. It could be true that even if there is nothing that is left behind like - souls when people are gone, there could be their smell, their breaths -  the aroma of Chiniperama’s jackfruit curry, the lingering flavor of mackerel curry with sour mango and coconut gravy Appachi used to cook for dinner, all hanging  about in the air!

 Now, as he stood there watching the small ripples in the greenish water of the pond, he was startled back from the images of the past by a voice from behind. It was Bhadra his cousin. “Musing over the past? The old will not come back to live the days, the people, the place or time”. She said.
He laughed wryly and said. “Yes I read that, but look at what has become of this place. I can recall, with precision what this place was during those days. Don’t you remember? Everything has changed, though it seems to have been yesterday.”
“Yes. But then who are we to decide that what we feel is good should outlive everything?” He sensed a certain degree of resignation in her voice.
“But yet, still- what a change!” He exclaimed. Travelling along the panchayat road to here, that is now well laid and asphalted - there is nothing that has not changed. There are little of the old. The old land marks, the trees, the groves, the houses- their facades, the ponds all have made way. Lush paddy fields have made way to ugly looking houses with gaudy coloured paint. The unavoidability? Yes the people all are gone, faded. New faces, new house, strangers everywhere!” He wondered loudly if it is the same God in the temple or has he too vanished from the scene? She gently rebuked him for being presumptuous in matters of God. He felt a sense of derision and pity for the palace and could feel a feeling of sympathy for the people dead and resignation for those who lived there now. The past- retentions are like butterflies, wise it is to let them fly away and watch their beauty and remember the gentle flapping of their wings, while they were near.

“Ha, I’m the only person, perhaps, that you may know. I may be the only one around here who knows you.”  She wiped the perspiration on her face with the pallu of her sari and continued. “The new generation, they do not have time and patience. They want instant gratification, money and luxury. Why should they retain their land here? Every one, both amongst us and around the neighbourhood have sold their lands and moved away to the Middle East, to Mumbai, to Kochi and some have crossed the far seas to the USA. Children are being educated. Where do they have time and the inclination to hold on to the old, for preserving the old? Why must they? I cannot tell who will live here in this house after me; the kids will not want to live here or even maintain it.”
“Do you still follow the aillyam rituals?”
“Yes, I do but mostly tokenism. Gone are the grove that we all were careful to keep away, and all those eerie stories about. The grove has been cleared and made way for the feeder road to the Railway station that has come up in the town. You see we have trains that pass through this town. Ernakulam is only an hour from here by train, and Alleppy ten minutes. Don’t you remember we spent almost two hour on the road to reach Alleppy- by bus for the Nehru trophy boat race? The long walk to Kacheripadi, then the wait for the bus…under the tamarind tree!  Now the government has come up with an order that traditional groves are to be preserved. Funny indeed, now after most, almost all of the groves around here have been cleared and made way for houses. They pay Rupees Three thousand as a onetime grant to preserve groves. And one is supposed to fence the grove with steel wire mesh and ensure its preservation. Where will one find men to maintain and upkeep the place, which has to be re-fenced every year? Let us assume that one agrees to pay from ones resources, but it is next to impossible to even arrange a man to fell coconuts from the palms. Who wants to walk about climbing trees? That is no longer a means of livelihood.”

While they walked back to the house he surveyed. The horizon has vanished and in its place brick walls plastered and white washed, some coated with strange colours. They all, the houses and its dwellers were cocooned inside their own concrete contraptions – comforted by the delusion of their safety, of their seclusion, where the vision into the horizon ended at the walls that surrounded the land on which houses stood. Their where no neighbours , but only strangers . The chakarachi, the  sarpakulam, the grove, and a sizeable area of the paddy field had vanished and  strange houses with strange colours sprung up. Where the chakarachi stood, there now was the garage of the nearby house. Wonder whose cadaver burnt in the fire fueled by ‘Chakarachi’s’ wood! Or did they sell the wood to the brick-kilns? Chiniperama’s pond had vanished; her house collapsed out of disuse after her and her widowed sister’s death. His cousin told him, that the land which she owned was bought by a Chacko who runs a jewelry shop in Alleppy.

He enquired about the mad karnavar. He passed away. The illam was bought by a gulf expatriate Rawoothar and he demolished the derelict old home of the Karnavar and there now stood a multistoried insipid concrete incubus. The old trees in the compound were cut down and sold by the new owner. The small grove in the land that was exclusive to the illam was pulled down to its roots, the idols of serpent Gods were evicted thrown outside and coco plants where planted. Of what significance is tradition and culture subsumed in a grove to this neo rich Gulf-Malayalee? To him the grove was nothing but an unkempt area ridden with wildly growing shrubs, vines, undergrowth and a haven to nasty creatures like raccoons, hedgehogs and reptiles. His monotheistic didactic faith made it easy for him to exercise iconoclasm. It only made it convenient for him to pull down the grove and with it exorcise and banish the pagan gods who may have dwelled in it, even without batting an eyelid or a moment’s vacillation. The house is looked after by a caretaker and the Gulf expatriate’s old parents live there-strangers. Strangers to the neighbours, to the land they live in and are seldom seen outside. The windows and doors of the twin storied house were shut tight through day and night, the faint hum of the air conditioners mounted outside the windows reminded and conveyed the message that someone after all lived in there. He wondered if it was the ill-fated destiny attributed to the land where the illam stood that those who live there are looked at with a sense of curiousness.
“There is a rumour that the Muslim expatriate is negotiating to buy the couple of adjacent properties too. These people have the money and they can even shell out a few extra lakhs to possess what they want” his cousin said.

“What about Esthappen?”
“He died long ago. His daughter Kochu Maria sold the land to the panchayat society whose members could not yet decide what they would do on that property. So now the land is ridden with undergrowth and the rundown house of Esthappen with no roof and dilapidated walls.”
“Esthappn’s daughter now lives with her daughter in Chennai. Her husband passed away a few years back and she sold the land and moved with her daughter immediately after. I think Babu has still some contact with them. You know they are rich, no more the old nazrani family that we saw. They are very, very rich!”

The house which cousin Bhadra gained from the assets that her mother ,( his appachi) bequeathed was reworked upon and now has a modern outer sheen about it like the town itself -an artificial facade, a decorated mask; the verandah that went around the house, and the forecourt where “Thiruvathirakalli” used to be performed by women, the cold verandah floor where elders and kids used to get together in the evenings, when the night air erupted with songs, mono acts and laughter, were now laid with some exotic coloured tiles. Even the interior , the walls, the flooring were all done , new  sofas with upholstery stood in the living room and curtains with drapes upon  the window. The framed photographs that hung on the wall long ago were all gone and replaced with that of some Bollywood nymphs.

“What happened to all those framed pictures that hung here on the walls?”
She helplessly shrugged and said. “Children do not like them hung on the walls. What can I tell? It is they who decide now.” She paused and continued. “Besides, some remind of melancholy days and moments. It was good they are gone. Often it was like watching ghosts hung in frames on the wall.”
“Well, is there any picture of him that I have not seen? When he lived here for a while? You know I last saw him some six years before he died.”
Yes there was one picture which Krishanan chettan brought after he attended his funeral.”
“Can I see it?”
“Why must you? No. Don’t. Do not ask to see. It is sad, the picture. Why do you want to see his lifeless picture?”

It was thirty three years to be precise that he was there last. A land, place and people he simply let go or did they go farther away? Things towards which as a child he felt much kinship and was matter of delight. He used to lie awake with muffled and restless anticipation for hours well into the late night the day before he was send there to spend vacations. The last time he was there was for the sixteenth day observance and rituals after his paternal grandmother’s passing. After a few months the umbilical cord that connected him to the place, the land and people was severed. Was he since then walking with the limp end of the umbilical cord in hand? Or did he throw it away knowing that there once was a connection? He did not feel disconnected. That was a lucky matter, in a strange sense!

This journey now was not of rediscovery, or attempts to recover the past, it was not to mend and it was a decision to come as the severity of the wound and the sourness that curdled memories were less bludgeoning, now that three and more decades have sailed past insouciantly. Time, it humbles, and time is a catalyst too.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Helplessness


“What should I do when there is nothing that I could do?” He ululated helplessly and the sea howled back with turbulent waves one after the other lashing angrily on the shore on that overcast monsoon morning. Yelling, his cries sucked up without trace by the constant sound of beastly waves beating on the shore and the howling incessant roar of the wind   he went down on his knees and punched his fist on the wet sand in anger and wretchedness. The sea continued to roar its tumultuous vitriol.

He was swept over with disgust and wrath- like in epic scale.  When all that he can do is watch and watch in utter impuissance, like a mute spectator, a eunuch!  He wished he could seize the situation and pluck her out from the infestation; bludgeon the  maggots who feasted on her and like a child does with care to a cocoon- cup safely in his closed palms and run farther and farther away from the beasts and the interminable selfish parasites . A pearl not cared for and it’s worth unnoticed. He felt a deep pang incessantly hammering in him. 
  If only one could go back in time machine! He wished.

In a suspended state of self inflicted denial, perpetually fooling her and the people who wished her good, she was hoping to conjure a feeling of goodness, and quiet; of love and harmony. Not many human beings would refuse to be be plowed down like she and still not be disheveled. Well at least in appearance.  The wounds and the scars of these years were well masked. The outward gaiety and exuberance was a decoy, nevertheless the courage and the clarity of thought was sublime and unseen. The pleasantness in the face and the  serene pulchritude was unmatched.

 Yet the fact remained that what shows on the surface- the seeming placidness is a facade meant for the world, the world of unholy curiosity and callousness

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Its not the Cows....



Crocodile tears are a metaphorical usage.  But some people shedding crocodile tears will put to shame even those prehistoric predatory beasts known for its stealth and ruthless predatory skills. In the battle field of Kurukshetra the most infamous treachery and untruth were enacted like seasoned thespians by folks who are even to this day considered noble and epitome of honesty and righteousness. Mr. Narendra Modi’s theatrics, the past week, in a well stage managed interactive session (as he wants us to believe) resembling the customary interactions of the US Presidents was something akin to the vile and perfidious innocence displayed by the Panadava clan and their interlocutor, modulator and cahoots- the Charioteer of Arjuna!

It took almost a year for this man Narendra Madhav Modi to utter one word on the barbarism of the Cow vigilantes who have been unleashed by his party and its ideologue parent body the Sangh. It was in September last that a depraved mob propelled by the very hideous ideology pedaled by the Sangh and the VHP set upon an old Muslim man in Dadri and lynched him allegedly because he retained in his house cow meat. The number of incidences that regularly followed this cannibalism of the nationalists was systematic and heinous. Muslims and Dalits were handpicked for thrashing and bludgeoning by these criminals. While Mr. Modi   jet -set across continents and shook hands with Presidents and Prime ministers, some of whom until a couple of years ago had branded him pariah and untouchable. He missed no photo opportunity, all well orchestrated by his PR Company. All the while Cow vigilantes ran amok and Kashmir burnt, with such atrocities inflicted on Kashmiris that pales what the Zionist state of Israel perpetrate in Palestine.

Finally when he spake in his sonorous yelping fashion, he spoke with riders and with contrived sincerity. He did not repudiate the cow vigilante goons in toto but selectively branded a few criminals who were hounding “Dalits”. The man who elevated sophistry into a craft and higher art form went on to say in a pleading voice ,”Shoot me if you want but spare the Dalits”.

What the heck is this guy, a reincarnation of Jesus of Nazareth? Or is he a 21 st century self advocate of vicarious redemption of sorts? He has clearly questioned the faculty of the average Indian. It is true that a chief executive may not necessarily have to be involved in subjects that fall under the purview of States such as law and order. But these incidences were not trivial. In any case it is incumbent upon the Central government to monitor the law and order in States. For a Prime minister to claim that killing and daily persecution of Dalits & Muslims by cow protection group which is necessarily a bunch of thugs and urchins owing allegiance to his party, the RSS and VHP is not a matter within his purview is willful  dereliction of responsibility.

What I intend to take umbrage here is that, firstly in no uncertain words he alluded that Cow vigilantes are people with his and his governments ( meaning the RSS’s) patronage , though a few criminals may have infiltrated. It is they he asserts who cannot be tolerated. Meaning the ex officio cow vigilantes will be let loose. Then his very specious pleading,”don’t shoot the Dalit, shoot me instead if you must”.  I feel total revulsion at this remonstration of the man, the messiah for the many asinine middle class Indians. If there is unfeigned and an uncompromising will, what will it take him and his government  to unequivocally clamp down on these criminals, these savages of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the Sangh   who pose as cow protectors?  Five minutes! The law of the land is absolutely clear as to how criminality must be confronted and put down. Why prevaricate and bay? But he has not moved a finger since the Dadri in September last, while letting loose the Sadhvis and his party members who went ranting their feral and dangerous invective on Dalits and Muslims.
Thirdly, when he pleaded to shoot him and not the Dalits, he conveniently ignored the atrocities on Muslims who for generations have been eking livelihood from leather processing and trade in leather. His Sanghi bred detestation for Muslims was blatantly manifest in his silence on lynching and hounding of Muslims in the name of cow protection. His government’s unpardonable indifference and disastrous engagements in Kashmir is yet another proof of this. That State is as good as lost- lost because a generation of young has been permanently alienated; and when one’s future looks bleak & hopeless , desperation naturally kicks in. This is what we see in Kashmir today.

Where do we position ourselves as a society and as a country with an elected chief executive who is specious in his utterances, who is unconcerned about the heinous practice of un-touchability and plight of Dalits, who harbours total disdain for Muslims and a general apathy and intolerance towards dissent?

Successive Congress governments beginning with that of Indira Gandhi’s have played the religion & caste card and ensured that fault lines and divisiveness became permanent feature of the polity. Mr. Modi has taken over from there and given a newer meaning to divide and rule and to ushering in a RSS dictated Indianness by distancing Dalits and Muslims from the national milieu. His cow vigilantism is solely orchestrated towards this end.


Modi is no Nelson Mandela. In fact even a remote attempt at comparison is offensive to the late icon of African resistance. When South Africa was tethering at the precipice of disintegration and racial violence soon after the dismantling of apartheid, a Modi would have doubly ensured that the natives or the majority blacks were let loose on the Afrikaners and eventually made a dystopian waste land of South Africa. What we need today is the man of the hour,  a person with vision who can like Nelson Mandela bring about reconciliation and oneness;  understand that a multicultural and diverse India is as rainbow a country like South Africa.  History can be a tool to reconcile and also to ensure that history doesn’t repeat. But for that we need a leader with character and the lack of it is what we have to bemoan.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Small Saga



The narrow panchayat road wound through the periphery of the Lower Primary Government School and abruptly ended sloping at the entry into the vast expanse of the paddy fields that stretched beyond into Kuttanad.. From the school it took about twenty minutes, a distance of about three quarter of a mile to reach the cul de sac in the road, on nights when the moon was free from clouds that often threw their mantle across its lucent face. 

 One could see the couple of street lights en route, atop the tall poles with moths and insects swarming around the glow of the bulbs and occulting their incandescence. Some dead and stuck on the face of the bulbs like barnacles. The street lamps gave the image of forgotten ancient detritus.  Folks depended more on the torch made out of a bunch of coconut fronds than the faint glow of those electric street lights.  The tall Kanjiram stood on the Ouseppachan’s small plot and silhouetted at night like a lone cliff over the plains. It dwarfed the Jack trees and the Poovarasu that together threw a thick canopy over the house . The panchayat road ended little further down the wired gates of the house.

It was usual for Esthappen to sit at the gate, a movable barrier made of wire mesh and pieces of log. Some nights, he would recline in his easy- chair on the verandah pulling profusely on the beedi stubs and lighting another when the dried rolled tobacco had burnt-over almost scorching his parched lips. Old  Esthappen had since long forgotten to sleep and he cohabited with insomnia. His hallucinations and fantastic woolgathering were probably the result of that.

The bats that lived in the kanjiram would circle about and shriek occasionally from their inverted berth high up on the branches. They moved about in the night sky in silence, their dark silhouettes gliding, their wings flapping gently in flight often conveyed awe and yet to some an eerie sight to behold. Those innocuous winged mammals often are alleged representatives of evil and harbingers of evil forces in the stories told a dozen and more times by Esthappen. He was quite deft in mimicking while narrating stories and folklore, something that enthused the fascination of kids and Esthappen happy.

On some nights, Esthappen’s mongrel “Kaiser” would howl looking aimlessly into the night sky. Perhaps he saw something we could not; something Estahppen could not notice. Kaiser may have been annoyed by a phantasm- a psychedelic shadow, a field rat scurrying past, or the glowing moon.
Folklore has been unkind to dogs; old mother tales and chronicles in which dogs have some strange sense of perception, power to see the unknown, feel things that we could not and to foresee bad omen. Esthappen swore that the street dogs which strayed around the LP school compound wailed in unionism while the old karnavar at the Thekkeparambu  thravad laid battling snake venom that had paralysed all of his body. The dogs signaled his end was near-his death by their howling and strange wailing the whole night until he passed at dawn and as soon as he died their howling stopped abruptly. Esthappen asserted that most deaths were forewarned by dogs.

The thatched shed that housed the two cows kept by Esthappen’s daughter Kochu Maria was a few yards from where he rested on the verandha. The occasional shuffle of the bovines , their snorting and Esthappen’s phlegmatic cough interrupted the silence of the night.
It was rumoured that Estahappen smoked strange dry leaves rolled up in the beedis.  He also used them as added flavour to the  beetle leaf he chewed .The old man often spoke about floating through the clouds and sometimes galloping across mountains and valleys on a horse. He would fly through the sky on a beast, which would sprout wings and appears like a white stallion- a Pegausus! He would be brought back little before day break. Old man spoke about retinue of fairies who would guide him through the journey. Esthappen claimed that these mysterious night odysseys have happened many times and he unfailingly would narrate to the children the very next day.       
      
 His fantasies were fantastic as fairytales of yore and about solo crossings of men, of men flying through the skies on white Pegasus and magic carpets, crossing oceans to faraway heavens by night, when the rest of the world sleeps. To come back by daybreak with intrigues and privy to them only; their stories- apparently mostly contrived and images of sorcery, of which most have survived ages not only as fables and folk tales but as apocryphal beliefs. Beliefs for which men and women are prepared to forsake their lives, to snuff out another life, to wound and kill without a feel of remorse or guilt, but with casuist fervour.

Esthappen’s molars had all fallen out except a couple and all that remained of the rest of the teeth was the incisors. And they stood precariously. The perpetual stubble on his cheeks resembled the parched paddy fields, dry and life less like after the harvest. Because of age his eyes were rheumy. His hearing was faulty and he often bowed angling his head and holding his palm to the ear as a deflective barrier to direct the sound he wanted to pick up. This created an impression that he was eager to listen, while often he meant the opposite. He loved to chatter, tell stories and of adventures from his days in the Army and before that his life as the cook at the bungalow of the plantation manager the English man. Esthappen was eighty five.

Ouseppachan, his son-in-law bought the 18 cents of land with a loan on his retirement funds and the house was painstakingly put up. The majestic jack fruit tree stood at the gate and mocked at the seasons with the perennial bearing of green jack fruits. Folks were awed how that tree produced those fruits round the year in such spectacle of abundance all over its trunk and bow. In fact the tree bore fruits even when jack fruits were an unseen thing in the market.

Esthappen was the errand and cook to the British manager of the plantation who lived for long in Peeremade, in Idukki before he went back to England. But before the English man went away he did not forget to reward Esthappen for his loyalty and most of all for his culinary skills. No one knew how he acquired his culinary attainments. In any case Esthappen by the stroke of fortune became the owner of five acres of Tea and Cardamom plantation in Idukki.

His daughter Kochu Maria was from his earlier wedlock. When his wife died young soon after childbirth he married again, something that he would later rue. As ill-luck may have it, his new bride who was about half his age and little older than his own daughter was a termagant and feral woman. Her parents did not care much about the age of the widowed Estappen and had no qualms in giving away the young lass Rahel.

The past in Rahel’s life were not without mysteries so as to attract a young suitable boy from a respectable denomination. A widower was the best bet. When she was nineteen Rahel eloped with a Tamil labourer, a tea picker from a nearby tea estate. She spent about a year with him in some town across the border in Tamilnad before presumably when matters had got unbearable, took the rickety bus that deposited her back at her father’s door step. She would not talk a word about her whereabouts, the fellow with whom she eloped or her life with him. It is a fact of our times that sententious folks are common but of little value. Equally obnoxious are the ones who pass pharisaical judgments and have scornful opinions on other people’s lives, their follies and personal grief.  Esthappne understood that well.   When he solemnly took the wedding vow accepting Rahel as his bride at the altar of the St Joseph church in Peeremade, Esthappen was not eschewed by such queasy lots, the people who chose to be unkind and rude, alleged malicious stories about his bride. Esthappen's large heart, was not touched and was not to be shriveled by vicious comments, all of which he rubbished as innuendos. He was unmoved by those shenanigans.  He did not probe Rahel with disquieting and unkind questions. As a good Christian he believed in the salutary effect of forgiving and forgetting and also acknowledged the frailty of man. He was only concerned of making a secure home for his little daughter Kochu Maria and did not want her live through childhood, motherless. A foster mother is a consolation than not having the affection of one, he presumed. For that he needed a woman- a wife. He hoped to found one in Rahel.

However his bride for that matter was incisive about the tidy fortune of Esthappen- the gift left to him by the Englishman, than a life with the man who was her father’s age. She was not to be impressed about having to be foster mother to his daughter. Rahel was cantankerous and rude to Esthappen and the little girl. She did not bother to hide her dislike for both.

When war reached the Indo-Burma border, Esthappen volunteered to go to the front. Unable to bear the shrew wife, quite upset and saddened he enlisted in the Army. He entrusted his adolescent daughter to a catholic nunnery run by the order of the Congregation of the Mothers of Carmalite in Vandiperiyar. He left Rahel and the two sons she bore him and journeyed to the place of his stationing, in the trenches in the jungles of North East Frontier.

Four years was a long period but they went fleetingly. When Esthappen returned to Peeremade after the war he realised that Rahel had not changed her ways and was crotchety as before. He felt unwanted, a stranger and an intruder. It was during one of those days then that a robust young man, a tall dark complexioned and well-built fellow of about thirty came to see him. His hair was black as a raven’s, well-oiled and combed back. Thick tooth brush moustache was well trimmed .He wore kakhi drill trousers and white short-sleeved cotton shirt neatly buttoned and well tucked inside the waist of his trousers. However his brown leather shoes were untidy and badly needed a coat of polish.
He spoke head held high and straight into Esthappen’s face. “I’m Ouseph, the mechanic at the Merchiston Tea Estate in Vandiperiyar. I was born up north, in Malabar. Though, now for all practical purpose my home is here in Idukki .My mother passed away a few years back and since then I have not been to my native town. In fact I do not have any close relatives back there”.    

  Esthappen heard out the young man, but was at the same time searching for some clue as to why he was standing there and telling Esthappen about himself. The reason for his coming was yet not evident in his words.Perhaps noticing Esthappen’s searching eyes, the young man decided to get to the point. But he had to speak about himself before he touched on the subject. It would not help to broach the subject without the preamble. Because who he was and what he was mattered most when the subject come up. “Of late, I  drive down to the St. Fathima convent daily on some substitution of work- you know transporting tea leaves and I happened to see your daughter there. I do not think that she would disagree with my decision to ask you her hand in marriage. Though I must confess I have not spoken a word to her or asked her willingness yet. But I do not have reason to believe that she may have a different opinion about this or about me.” He paused and followed Esthappen’s face, which now showed a mouth slightly agape and eyes squint in surprise. Seeing that he continued, “I can promise you that I shall take care of her for all her life". Esthappen was a bit surprised but impressed by the young man’s demeanour and frankness, the choice of his words and how he spoke in a voice of clarity and masculine. Esthapen surveyed him head to toe and looked him in the eyes and placed him as an exponent of free will, innocuous, youthful in spirit and perhaps pollyannaish in emotion. He was not wrong. Esthappen continued to watch the young man for some moment. But to the young man Ouseph time stood still. Would his words be seen as the audacity of youth and improper on a subject that is customarily dealt by elders? Esthappen rewound the young man’s words “I can promise you that I shall take care of her all her life”. He noticed the glint in the fellow’s eyes and he felt the fellow meant what he said. Esthappen studied him; he had a straight face, an honest face. He has shown the courage to seek his approval for his daughter’s hand. He is young and strong and he could not disbelieve that his daughter will be unsafe with him. There seemed to be nothing inscrutable in the man. His face seemed to evidence his personality, his words and how he let them flow vouched further. His countenance was reassuring.

Meanwhile, Rahel who was in the kitchen noticed the arrival of the stranger and sneaked behind Esthappen to eavesdrop-an exercise that she excelled. Rahel was seamlessly pleased when Kochumaria was sent to the convent. She only had to plot a bit and finesse Esthappen’s plans for his daughter. Plans, she thought could make her and her boys’ position weak and precarious. She must ensure that Kochumaria will not be coming home to be a threat to her and her children. She must ensure that the girl was ordained a nun. She had in fact with seductive lure of an enchantress, speciously confronted the war ravaged and disheveled Esthappen not long after he was back from the front; to persuade him by all means to accept the offer from the convent to let Kochumaria take up nun-hood. She knew the idea may not fail to work if tapped shrewdly as she was aware of Esthappen’s taste for matters of the Church. Rahel had not forgotten his penchant to sign off of his land to the church when the parish committee expressed anguish at the precarious state of the parish finances. Under no heavenly skies shall offering a girl to God and his church be a lesser sacrificial act than willing some ground of land laden with undergrowth.

Rahel knew the art of malarkey, when to blow hot and when to relent, when to stoop to conquer; most of all how and when to wrench. She would remind Esthappen of the words of the Genesis.              “Adam knew his wife Eve intimately and she conceived and bore Cain. She said, "I have had a male child with the LORD's help." Then she also gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel became a shepherd of a flock, but Cain cultivated the land.In the course of time Cain presented some of the land's produce as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also presented an offering-some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cane was furious and downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if thou do not do right, sin is crouching at the door.”

Nun-hood was the easiest and the surest way to eliminate the burden a girl child may become. At the outset and most importantly it may also appear as a sacrifice and penance by the girl and her family. A  deed, of piety! However the losers was the girl, who more out of condition than own volition consigns her life as if destined by fate into the dark, dreary, repressive cold world of cloisters and nuns. A renegade is ostracised by the Order, community and her family. It is a one way ticket for many young girls in Kerala who are driven to choose a life ostensibly pronounced and described as “God’s maidens”, “God’s beckoning”. Penury drives families to offer girl children to the Church and for some sending a girl into a nunnery is a convenient way of casting away an inconvenience or a liability.

 Alas, now here stands the spoiler in the form of this avtar, this intruder, this dark tall specter who descended here heaven knows where from, in quest of asking Kochumaria’s hand in marriage. Rahel’s agitated mind began to churn fast -thoughts, ideas, plots which only must have one end and that was to see that the girl Kochumaria stays inside the convent and as a nun. A life for the girl outside the convent would be disaster for Rahel. She was aware and apprehensive about Esthappen’s boundless affection for his daughter and will have no hesitation in bequeathing all that he has for her. She cannot let that infliction, the lass corner Esthappen’s modest fortunes.When she agreed for the wedding with this middle-aged man who was already at the threshold of edentulous existence, it was because she was desperate for a life, a life that will bring her some respectability and financial security, nothing more and nothing less. Derisive comments, spiked glances that impales alive, muffled derisive laughter when she attended the mass at the church services made her realise how insincerely, callously and cruelly society can attend to a woman; who have perhaps in hindsight foolishly tethered her life to the promises and gallant assurances of a man only to be tormented and abused by him later. It was then that she decided she needed a refuge even a decrepit one that will lend her respectability. It was not for nothing that she was quiet and pliant to the mental duress and emotional blackmail of her parents and others who delighted in bearing upon themselves the right to rubbish her. She decided to bore his children, cook him food, wash his clothes and asphyxiate in the vice like carnal grip of the old man. No woman can lie back and relive the odour of the sweat and slime of a man- a man she has no love for, a man whose proximity she despises, a man who she decided shall only be an instrument, an aid to wrench back self-worth and not barricade from the world any more. She will stand up to life’s betrayals and do not intend to be shriveled and closed with fear, shame and pain. She harboured no sympathy for this man Esthappen. She cannot love anymore, no man –and the feeling that stays within her is only the love for her.

Esthappen was unsure of giving the man his word either way. He was not displeased with this young fellow. But he needed time; he needed to discuss the matter with the parish priest. A shuffle of the feet made him turn and look towards the kitchen door behind. Rahel stood there looming like the goddess with eighteen arms, like a juggernaut; teeth bared, fire blazing from her mouth and nostrils. Her blood-red tongue extended dripping blood; eyes as amber intending to incinerate to ashes all that it surveyed. Rahel stood there with one hand on her hip and the other on the door frame, signaled him with the corner of her eyes to go in with her. ”You oafish, mister I do not want you standing there drooling and blinking like a nitwit bowled over by that fellow’s sugared monologue.”
 She was seething. She pushed Esthappen to the wall and thumbed her finger in his chest. “If not for your sake, at least for the sake of my two boys better not forget the vow I took in your name while you were holed up in some goddamn trench in some goddamn jungle eating grass and fighting somebody’s war for all the past four years. Remember your daughter is meant for the church, for the Lord and not for some vagabond whom you think have descended like a messiah.”

The day Ousepachan wed Kochu Maria, the Esthappen household was almost in shambles. Rahel vent her distress and anger on all that she saw. She threw the household goods all around, uprooted the banana plants, deracinated the coconut palms in the small nursery that Estappen maintained, chopped down pepper vines, she flailed the cows and starved the dog. She rubbished Esthappen’s entreaties to be at the Church for the wedding. Disheveled and incessantly wailing Rahel walked about the house like a schizophrenic. She cooked no food. She swore at Esthappen and Kochu Maria. She tore Estappens dhotis and shirts. She ensured utter cluttering and disarray. Her boys wailed and ran behind her tugging her.        
                       
 Sarah was eighteen and was the first one to discern that there is world beyond the fantasies and gibberish that Esthappan fed her and other children. She sensed that there is a wide and interesting world outside, big cities like Madras , Bombay and yonder. And she was not awed by the quite meaningless existence and life in that little hamlet where they lived.

Sarah was born to Ouspeh and Kochu Maria in the ninth year of their wedding.  Kochu Maria believed that she owed the child to the forty one days of novena she did at the Vellankani Church which  appeased and pleased the heavens that finally she and Ousepachan begot Sarah, their eldest child. Sarah, named after the wife of Abraham the Biblical patriarch of Israel, (who when Abraham and Sarah remained childless into their old age, took it upon herself to have children through a surrogate, her Egyptian handmaid). Apparently her fervent prayer for a child must have moved God over the top  that she begot 6 more children after Sarah!

Sarah often displayed an air of imperiousness. She demanded and ensured that she as the eldest of Ousepachan’s children deserved the best and preference in all matters. Sarah insisted that she be served food first. She chose the biggest chunk of fish Kochu Maria fried for lunch and dinner. Only she got to garnish her rice and lentil with butter that Kochu Maria made whipping the creamy milk from her cow which she otherwise  usually sold out. She had her own room, an alcove that she wrested and made an exclusive territory for her and hers alone- her private chamber.  She chose the most colourful cloth and the colourful flip-flops Ouspecahan bought for Xmas. She ate almost all the candy that he brought home leaving crumps and tit-bits for the rest. Worst of all she enjoyed the vicarious pleasure while she ate chocolates, the Cadbury bar she bought with the little money she shaves off from the groceries. She enjoyed eating them alone and not sharing with her siblings who stood about drooling like alley cats but fearful of being mauled if they asked for a crump. She sashayed. This display of dominance was a ploy to ensure the obedience and the pliancy of the younger ones. But unbeknownst to her, Sarah desired. She dreamt of a life that is rich, opulent and believed one day she will have servants and butlers waiting upon her and huge estates of land. Cars parked in the porch, huge wrought iron gates with gate keepers. Her parents will not have to break their back and be stressed for meeting ends. She will often take the airplane to distant lands and come back home with exotic gifts. She believed in the dream of possessing.

Esthappen called aside his daughter Kochu Maria one day, few days before he died and he said, presciently, “The domineeringness Sarah shows is partly a ploy and partly her desire to possess. Sarah is a person who will not hesitate to invite hardships and sufferings upon her if that would help the family. For, she will carry the quality of benefaction and caring within her to an extent which will make your family obligated and bound to her for all your life. But even if she desires she will not find a life of comfort and happiness. She will in the end lose her youth and life in search of felicity. Yet, lo and behold sacrifices will never be truly beneficent, can one day extract more than its share of the pound of flesh. But pity the child for she will not know contentment and will be always seeking, stretching her hands to grab the mirage, the rainbow. People who lived by her will purloin her. She will not be shown gratitude. Her birth star is such”.

Sarah was endowed by Nature with qualities that compensated for the average chiseled beauty that she possessed. She had elegance and charm that would beguile any. But she was smitten by traces of hedonism. Sarah decided that she will not coagulate herself in that bottled place, she felt the yearning to fly out into the world. She heard about Bombay and the window of opportunity there, the life in a metropolis! Her hostel mate in the convent the Anglo Indian lass gave her rollicking stories of the city and the possibilities of life she could hit out there. She was ambitious and resolved that whatever may balk she will weather them.

One week-end evening after supper, after the younger ones were sent to their bedroom she confronted Ousepachan and Kochu Maria with her plan to go to Chennai. Her parents were aghast. Ousepachan had a couple of months more to retire. The thought of the loss of income that it will bring about was giving him sleepless nights. With  five young mouths to feed, clothe and school, two adult girls and old father what can his wife Kochu Maria do besides what she has been doing all these years, tend to the daily chores at home? But he refused to accept his daughter’s plan. “Sarah, I as your father cannot sit idle and in comfort while my daughter a young woman, who has not seen the world beyond a hundred kilometers from here venture out alone to a strange and far away city. Life is uncertain there, full of pitfalls and danger. Do you know that?”                                                                               

“ Appacha it is not that mysterious and frightening as you make out. I will be living with a friend, you know the Anglo Indian girl. She has been here last Xmas too. Don’t you remember Ammachi?” She turned excitement dancing in her face to Kochu Maria.
  
  “What do you know of her, her family? All that you know of her is in the few months she was in the school with you. And you decide to hitch your life to her fantasies? She is an Anglo Indian. A chattakari. They are very different from us. They claim to be more English than the English themselves. It doesn’t matter to them what others in the society speak about them.”
   
  “But Appacha, there is nothing to be worried of, besides I will get a job to begin with. She has promised to help me out. You see, her family has been there for a long time now. I could do a secretarial course and move on. The apprehension you have will be short-lived. I assure you that.” Sarah was now using her guile and persuasive tool.  Kochu Maria was uncomfortable and was unsure what she should say to dissuade the child. She was not happy with Sarah’s audacity. The looming retirement of her husband was scary though as her daughter’s proposal to travel to foreign lands in search of living. She fervently prayed that the girl gains reason and sense. She was different from the rest. She volunteers to take up responsibilities, she decides on matters that are at hand but the impetuosity of youth can lead to pitfalls. Yet she has been a yoke. Kochu Maria reminisced that time when Sarah ran to fetch the mid-wife in the blinding, rain five kilometers through the hilly terrain in Peeremade early before dawn. Kochu Maria had slipped into labour of her boy Cain and Sarah brought the nurse on the pillion of a bicycle well in time to assist Kochu Maria in her final wailing pushes to get out the child. She was as helpful in assisting in the parturition as the midwife herself. For her three younger children Sarah was like mother except she did not suckle them. How could they as parents let this young girl of eighteen, in fact she is a woman now, travel far away from home alone and live in a strange land with no one responsible to fall upon if need arose?    

Ousepachan was grim. “What do you think of us Sarah? That we can sit back idly, listen and enjoy the innuendos and slander people will throw at us for sending alone a young girl to Bombay?” No, certainly not. I will see if we can find you a job with some traders in the kambolam or even in Allapuzha. After all they will need someone who could handle English and their accounts. This is not America or England; this is a tiny village in Kerala. And we are not living in a western society. This is a little small town where even walls and lamp posts breathe, see and talk,”    
       
Sarah, from early childhood developed a close bond with her parents. Though Ousepachan would cane her when she was young for the many infarctions she was adept at, he did not let go a chance or a moment to be reproachful and showered unrestrained affection upon her.  But she was aghast at the prospect of having to spend the rest of her life marooned in that tiny village, where people still have medieval mind set and whose lecherous upper caste men folks are a bigger nuisance  than the vicissitude and  vagaries of life in a distant and foreign land. She was not sure if just being fortuitous is helpful. She shuddered at the prospect of having to run errand or commit to clerical work in the shadowy, smelly, narrow claustrophobic places at one of those many traders in the market.
Ousepahan asked Kochu Maria for a glass of water. He stood up from his chair at the table and went around and held Sarah around her shoulders and caressed her head. Sarah felt she would choke, the nerves from her toes tingled up to her forehead and she felt the blood gush about faster through her veins.

Esthappen coughed and called out from his capacious chair in the verandha. “KochuMariey, Ousephe,. don’t hold her back.”
Sarah stood up and looked pleadingly towards her father. He held her close and kissed her forehead. Sarah looked up into his eyes and her eyes widened seeing her father nod approvingly what her grandfather advised a moment ago. Before she could know she let out an ululation. She heard a muted murmur from her heart. “Really Appacha?”She kissed him in the cheek.                                                
 Ousephachan said, “If it is your wish, your destiny, yes my dear. God will be with you my child. I heed to your wish not with a quiet heart, but how can I decline my girl?” He walked towards the verandah and went down the steps, stood in the still night and inhaled a lungful of the cool night air. The wind blew across the paddy fields with a sough. He repeated the inhalation and exhalation as prolonged as he could so that he would not choke uncontrollably. He has never lost to his emotions, not when the children where around. He sensed that the courage and resolve that were his companions in youth seem to have deserted him. The long years of being a beast of burden- the commitments, the daily tussle to bring home bread, ensuring shelter and clothing for his seven children has taken its toll. His orphaned childhood life doing meanly works at workshops, earning about enough to sustain him and his widowed mother; at the young age he had to begin running for errand jobs, an age when kids are cavorting in their adolescent exuberance. Those periods of loneliness, isolation, rejection had whetted him and his resolve. Then his mother died. And suddenly he was left with nobody to call his. He had never known his relatives; his memory of his father was abstract. Later, he could get a permanent job as the errand boy at an automobile workshop owned by a Parsi. That gradually turned around his life. It gave him hope and the old Parsi was good teacher- a master of mechanics and an artful teacher of life. He learned a skill, the skill that would help him walk into any mechanical shop and ask for work. The skill that he mastered required just his hands and mind to finesse work. Tools were only an aid. He could even set up a shack by the road on the highway and offer his skills to earn enough to sustain him.  He   lived and worked with the Parsi for fifteen years. The Parsi had two sons, the elder a noodle and the younger who was not keen about the greasy business inside of a mechanical workshop. When the Parsi died and his son decided to close shop and move into newer pastures, Ouseph packed his canvas bag slung it across his shoulders and boarded a bus, a bus to nowhere. He did not care to notice the destination the bus would travel. The journey, nevertheless deposited him in the faraway hills of Idukki. There he began his new life. After a few days of wandering about in the town, he could found a job as the mechanical assistant in the workshop of Harrison & Cross Fields Plantation Estate. The life there was to take him to the convent and to Kochu Maria and later, one day he walked into Esthappen’s house boldly and proudly proclaimed that he had the capacity and will to take care of Esthappen’s daughter Kochu Maria, till death does part and hence he  ask of him , Esthappen, his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Now, soon in less than two months he will be retired. And he has been feeling for some time now that his knees where buckling, legs going weak. He looked up to the sky; the sky was undefiled by clouds and clear. The stars where twinkling or where they winking at him? The Southern Cross was in the south west horizon as he walked through the gate towards the fields; he needed some time alone, to himself. The soft and billowing green fecund paddy fields had a lambent shade in the dark blanket of nox.

Ousepachan walked along the hedge in the paddy field towards the, the althara  where the ancient Kalvilakku stood now for years. The solitary electric bulb on the leaning wooden post near the Kalvilakku emitted a hazy light. Did he yield to Sarah’s entreaties rather soon? Was he being a nincompoop, a careless father? She is just past eighteen and going on nineteen, Is he doing her justice by letting her go? Is he being too cushy a father, acquiescing to a daughter’s wish? Or is he being selfish? Is he foisting on her his burdens? What if she would one day accuse him of letting her wade into the squelch of life before she knew what life was about? What if she accused him of not being a persuasive and caring father to discourage her, talked her out of intemperance and the impertinence of youth? Yes, he will be jobless in a couple of months. He will be sixty in a month and with profuseness of jobless young walking around in desperation, young people who are willing to work for lesser wages and put in longer hours if need be, which employer would fancy a middle-aged man? His retirement savings were already spent in buying the land and putting up the house. He was unsure of how his pension would suffice in meeting the needs of the house.

Ouseph sat on the dark rough granite steps of the althara and looked into the horizon. It was dark yonder as dark as his thoughts. It will be a sometime before day breaks with streaks multi coloured linings and like a kaleidoscopic canvas.  The lush leaves of the pipal tree hustled and rustled in the wind. But mundane thoughts continued to perturb him.

It was his decision to ask Kochu Maria to politely decline her father’s offer of sharing his land with her and Rahel. “You should not accept heirloom from your father. Your foster mother and her children are the rightful heirs to that. I did not think of, nor did I enquire about your father’s wealth when I asked him your hand, because, my wealth is my will and the limbs God provided me to achieve my will- to work. God willing we will have enough to live.” People who knew Ouspepachan , scoffed at his bêtise. They decided he was naïve and blathering. Some of them warned him that he was being a dullard by declining his wife’s rightful share of her father’s estate. They advised him he should understand that he has seven children and five are girls. Where is he going to found the money to secure their future if he brushes aside what was coming to him rightfully?
He could not decide if he was hasty in the face of Sarah’s doggedness. Is he being mentally enervated? He cannot tell what Kochu Maria would make of all this, his decision. Will she think that he was weak and not caring? Why did he not discuss with her? Perhaps he should have let the subject lie and slept over it! The excitement in the girl would have ebbed and she would have cast away the fantasy. Maybe Sarah is right her life should not be tethered to the morass of this village. But yet…!

The shriek of a Screech Owl coupled with the frightened squeaking of a filed mouse from somewhere near in the fields woke Ousepachan out of the slumber and the wanderings of his mind. He could not tell how long he slept on the althara. It was quite late in to the night, must be past midnight. The stars have moved their positions. New constellations were in place. Nothing is constant. Movement is inevitable to survive and when you cease to move you are as good as dead- quietus! He began to walk back home in slow, measured steps. A veil of mist had fallen low over the fields like gossamer silk. There was slight nip in the air. The sough of the wind persisted. When he turned in the direction of his house, he saw the shimmering lone light in the verandah. As he entered through the wired gate, there was rustling in the stables. Daisy was awake and has noticed him come back. The bells on her neck jingled. “Calm down Daisy some hours to go before Kochu Maria is ready to milk you”, he mused. Kaiser must have dozed off tonight or he must be in the backyard sniffing rats in their boroughs.                                                                    

  “Why did you risk the chill, outside? Do you know what time it is? It is well past 2’o clock. If you have not come now, I wanted to send  Able to fetch you from the althara.” Kochu Maria was awake all this while. She never sleeps until Ouspeachan was in bed and he slept. He could not remember a day in their lives when she was not awake until after he slid into sleep and he cannot imagine of a day when she is not around to wake him at dawn.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Dystopian Kerala & Modi's Somalia


Mr.Modi’s Somalia comparison has for the past one week caught up much attention in this strip of land called Kerala (which , I’m sure historiographers(sic) of the Hindutva party would want to believe was allegedly carved out from the sea by a dreaded and conscientious  warrior, a Brahmin who detested Kshatriyas). The now infamous comment of Mr.Modi, who excels in sonorous rhetoric, laced half truths, innuendos apart from blatant lies and malarkey effectively aroused outrage in the State, but that seldom crossed the Western Ghats .Folks up north and elsewhere in the country wondered what the hullabaloo was all about and some may even have scampered to their computers to Google and find if Somalia in far away Africa suffered any tectonic shift. However  the chorus of protests over the PM’s comments  did create  some reverberation in distant Delhi among the minnows in the Modi government.

It was fun days over the past week, with an abuzz social media lampooning Modi and caricatures of his faux pass aplenty flying all over. I must admit that I missed no opportunity in sharing and commenting from my part- a contribution towards increasing the misery if I can, of one of the most disagreeable and detestable person to wrest  the Prime minister- ship of this country. Strong words? Cannot find any stronger ones, I must confess.

Now what I must address here is the allegation that Mallaus false pride was hurt by the comparison Mr.Modi made of Kerala with Somalia. Eventually Mallus hit bed with pleasure after satirising Modi’s comments with the economic and social index statistics of Gujarat.
 How true is the accusation? Indeed it is true to an extent. It is truer that than the truth of the hurt Malayalee pride, in fact it is the Mallus hypocritical heart that has been offended and hurt.

Keralites live in a house of wax- a house that is bedeviled with castes, superstition, sleaze, voyeurism, environmental destruction, cantankerous qualities and what not!  On the flip side agrarian and land reforms that communist ethos heralded, the social emancipation of a vast multitude of low caste, an universal education system, commendable health care, yet, I wonder if any Mallu even in his most ludicrous moment exclaim that Kerala is an epitome of Shangri-La. Century and more ago Swami Vivekananda painfully exclaimed that Kerala is a land of the insane. Many monsoons have since poured down on the land- communist social revolution heralded social and economic paradigm shift in the milieu, the Gulf boom created a tectonic transformation in the economics of the State. Today Keralites contribute 40 percent and more of the foreign remittances (i.e. Rupees 1 lakh crores). Ironically 3 million plus expatriates from other northern and north eastern states work in Kerala. All from States where IMR is abysmally pathetic let alone the plight of infants among Scheduled tribes.
Where does this place the Somalia of India?

As I mentioned I reveled in lampooning Mr.Modi. But the act was not out of hurt pride or obsessive hypocrisy , nor did I go to bed pleasurably for having mocked Mr.Modi, his gauche and inappropriate misleading comments, thus hoping to veil the supposed veracity of his statements. I savoured the pleasure of mocking a man who have apparently befooled the country and whose malarkey was laid thread bare by his own foul and boorish mouth and actions. A man who rode on to become the PM of the most populous country through means that was heart wrenching, and thrives on dispensation that is distasteful ,divide and rule.

The foremost issue that Mr.Modi raked up and which en masse the State took up in indignant chorus- was the mischievous and spliced , selective comparison with one of the most dystopian territories on the planet, “Somalia”. He claimed that “The unemployment in Kerala is at least three times the national average. Infant mortality in Kerala among Scheduled tribe community in Kerala is worse than that of Somalia. The State can meet only 13 percent of the requirement of their agricultural products. Even after 70 years after Independence, Kerala depends upon other states for 70 percent of its power requirements. Most of Kerala youth are forced to leave the State in search of jobs. Only through overall development can the State be brought back to its past glory.”      
 Past glory? I wonder what he was referring to.

It only requires little intelligence to understand that such has been Mr.Modi’s shenanigans and ploy, whereby he subtly proclaims wrong statistical data and spliced, selective data to mislead the audience. Instances during the previous general election were abundant. The specious statement over what black money stashed abroad can do to an individual Indian – who may stand to get Rs 15 lakh. More than a mouthful to fool the gullible!

The current plight of the Adivasis or the indigenous  forest dwellers of  India- the original inhabitants of the country even before the fair skinned Aryan invaders and later, the sacerdotal Hindus and the lesser ones  usurped their land is well documented statistically. The glaring indifference that Adivasis face in India is not an isolated case to be foisted on Kerala alone. True the mortality rate in Kerala is high among adivasis, but less than the national average (though that is not a status to pat one’s back). The fact is indifference to the original inhabitants has been not endemic to political parties or to Kerala.  And this Government with its mad Hindutva mind set has no reason to shed tear for the aborigines. Once electoral exercise is done with, scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and other non entities (as the RSS would see them) will be relegated into the septic tank. For, for a racial and religious purity that the Hindutva ideology calls for, there is no room for lesser beings.

Orchestrated bludgeoning of Universities & centers of learning and higher education is something that has been consistently practiced by fascists’ mobs (governments). This government under Mr. Modi has taken that exercise to newer levels. The matter is afresh in our minds and the process of clubbing into silence is going on.

As for the other falsehood Mr.Modi trumpeted, statistics on the Central Govt’s web sites of the economic survey gives enough information to rubbish his allegations. So copying them here is of less importance. A bakth yesterday stated indignantly that he doesn’t believe the statistics I quoted to rubbish Mr. Modi’s assertions. I   conveyed my empathy and told him that indeed with the Government headed by Modi one cannot even trust the official statistics to be true. For this government excels in rewriting and concocting everything and anything from cows to videos to economic data.

 This is what irks any conscientious person especially a Mallu , in the current context when a man with notoriety for presiding over a State government that did nothing to stop fanatic, religious madmen and marauders killing innocent people, goring and wrenching out entrails from human bowels, under whose watch gruesome killings which would shame Attila the Hun happened;  under whose watch his State actually went further down in Social Index parameters; a person who nonchalantly compared the Gujarat killings to a puppy being run over by a motor car, bays sententious statements and anguish at the plight of a Adivasis who have been hounded out in every State in India. If this is not hypocrisy , well what then does the word mean?

No, not over- his present government incessantly uses paramilitary and regular forces in the central heartlands of India to drive out the indigenous forest dwellers from their forest land so that the land can be given on a platter to his corporate benefactors. Why doesn’t Modi weep for the many tribes driven out of the Narmada valley when the monolith of a dam came across the Narmada to cater the over indulgence of Gujarat’s big cities and to quench the insatiable needs of big businesses?
Where is the inclusive development he speaks of? Rubbish utter, utter falsehood this comparison to Somalia!