Thursday, March 31, 2016

Story tellers are born ...

A few words go a long way in life. Jeffrey Archer's interview on radio was playing on Kannan's car loud and clear. The monotony of the daily commute to the office was broken by the only companion Radio. Questions and answers about his books, scam, politics and the most desired question from the interviewer grabbed Kannan's attention

"What would you suggest people who want to be writers"
and quick was the reply from Jeffrey "Story tellers are born"

There was a brief silence and it meant a lot. It was a blow to the question and Kannan's indelible marker in the mind wrote it down in the mind forever. He was  reminded of the story with vivid explanations and expressions given to it by Thatha... 

The smell of the night, the flowers, the familiar smell of holy ash and the freshness of the soap, Thatha chewing his pan, his dhoti after his prayers all rushed to Kannan's mind. He became the same kid who sat next to the easy chair where Thatha sat chewing the betel leaves and started

"Once there was a man who never wanted to work. He was married and his wife was sick and tired of the laziness of her husband. She shouted at him..." and  Thatha's eyes had all the expressions for Kannan and Akka to see the character in the story well in his face.

"Don't you feel like taking care of the family ... won't you earn a single penny" Thatha narrated wiping a drop of the red spit from the pan he was chewing with a hand towel he had covered his shoulder.

"Dum dum dum" he continued "And the person from the palace was announcing...." he changed his voice like the announcement from the court of the kind
“Lend me your ears of lover of letters ... The Royal court of Raja Raja Chozhan  hereby announce a sum of 1000 gold coins for the best poem about his majesty Raja Raja Chozan, the lover of letters" 

Hearing this Kannan and Pachai opened their eyes wide with hands on their cheeks with amazement.

"Hey you mannunnimaappilayae (lazy bones) ... listen... at least write something and get the prize money" the wife shouted and threw a pot at her husband,  said Thatha. Kannan chuckled along with Pachai.

Thatha continued with the story "... and he set out with packed lunch of thaiyir saadam (Curd rice) and  pickles. He walked to a nearby temple and sat in the shade. He started to try and write a few lines and wrote the first thing that came to his mind "Mannunni maappilayae" (Lazy bones) and looked up the tree and saw a crow and wrote "kaakrirae" (You sound like a crow), then he turned to see a nightingale sing and wrote "Kookirayae" (You hoot like a bird). And he was hungry and ate the whole lunch" Thatha said patting his stomach as if he had had the lunch. "The food made him tired and he slept off... woken up by a huge rodent which ran by him from the temple. He got irritated and wrote down in his poem as "Ungappan kovil peruchaazhi" (The rodent in the temple which belongs to your father). The poor lazy bones looked for more and more inspiration to find nothing. Finally by dusk he had reached the palace and he wrote the closing which came to his mind "Kana pinna thenna manna chozhanga perumaane" (Random words with a salutation as a closing to the king)

Kannan was on the verge of an excitement outbreak though he would have heard the same story many times. He asked "and then .. thathta". Pachai gave a nasty look to Kannan and ask him to sit silent and listen to the story.

"and where were we" asked Thatha and recollecting the point where Kannan had interrupted and continued...

"So the poem was ready and it read

Mannunni maappilayae
kaakiraye kookiraye
ungappan kovil peruchaazhi
kanna pinna thenna manna
chozhanga perumaane"

Thatha took another betel leaf and slowly applied the white chuna on it and chewed it with a few pieces of broken betel nut before he went on with the story"And he went and submitted the poem to the king. He was the last to reach and the piece of leaf in which he had scribbled the lines reached the minister. The minister had to read it out and was scared as he could lose his head for reading out this poem but he could not but read it aloud. And the minster said "Amazing amazing ... best possible ... simply divine ... oh what lines ... superb" Kannan and Pachai saw Thatha transform himself as the minister who announced it.

Thatha smiled and looked at the excitement of his dear grandchildren and went on ..."The king wanted to know what the lines where and the minister started...  "what was the first line" asked Thatha

"Mannunni maappilaye ...(Literally translated as the son in law who eats mud to mean lazy bones)" Kannan shouted with excitement

Thatha leaned forward to Kannan and Pachai and said "The minister said ... what an opening the son in law who eats mud...The son in law of the Lord himself... Lord Krishna who ate mud in his childhood... amazing amazing...kaakiraye ... you protect the world ... kookiraye ... you are the ruler of the world ... ungappan (Your father)  ko (World's) vil (Bows) peru(Big) chaazhi (Lion) ... means your father is a great warrior who was a lion in archery. When the minster stopped, the King Rajaraja chozhan asked ... wonderful... what's the last line. To which the minister replied"

"Kanna pinna thenna manna chozhanga perumane" was the turn of Pachai who could not hold back the excitement.

"Hmmmm thaththa said Kannanukku pin thennattukku mannanaakiya chozhanga perumaane ....(The only apt ruler for the southern land after Lord Krishna is you your Majesty" and the King was so happy to make him the courts poet and gift him the promised 1000 gold coins..And he lived happily ever after" thus ending the story, thatha hugged Kannan and Pachai saying "Muththu charam, thanga kudam" and take them to bed.

The story was so vivid that Kannan tries, even now, when he gets a chance to be with kids, to tell the story how Thatha had told him. But as Jeffrey said, Thatha was a story teller and Kannan could never match him in anyway. As he drove away from the traffic Kannan had those last lines in his lips "Kanna pinna thenna manna chozhanga perumaane ..." and repeated them like the young Kannan used to dance and say those lines and  smiled.

(The story has many lines in Tamizh and the translations are in the parenthesis. The language is retained to keep the authenticity and the way it is told)

Pain ... left over

The counseling room was neat and tidy but those who walked into the room had made a mess out of their minds. Kannan had been practicing in the hospital for a few years now. At the age of 45 he was already looking 60. Like the winds in the desert leaves the dunes with ripples the wrinkles on the face of Kannan spoke volumes about his life. tied long hair, salt and pepper beard with a red pull over he would look like Santaclaus. The white coat for doctors was just a cover to the over-sized Counselor dressed in back shirt and dark blue denims. The door outside had the white board Kannan Iyer Clinical Psychologist. The white tissue covered bed was not meant for most of the patients who walk into his room, and so the sheets were white as it had been laid. The table had a few books, a Diagnostic Manual DSM V, and a writing pad and a pen. Kannan was on a call when the nurse walked in

"Sir... “the nurse interrupted.

Kannan pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his long nose and looked towards her as if to ask what it was.

"Bala is back with his daughter" she replied
"I will call back" said Kannan over the phone and gestured the nurse to send them in.

Bala, a man of around 35, well dressed with uncombed hair and shabby beard, sunken eyes tired from crying walked in. He took his seat and asked his daughter to sit, with gestures. The room was very silent. strangely it did not look as if the child was in the room. Kannan looked at her and asked

"So how is my sweetheart?"

She nodded with a smile. With her well braided hair, bright brown eyes, smooth baby skin shining, faded blue denim jacket and the jeans, the cute 7 year old said nothing but nodded and smiled.

"Will she talk to me doc" Bala asked and could not hold his tears back

Kannan buzzed the attendant and a young lady in white uniform walked in. 

"Take Henna to the play area" he said.

As the attendant took Henna out of the room, Kannan turned his attention towards Bala

"Henna could not bear the loss and she has lost her mother Bala, you know adults can't handle losses ... she is a kid. But let me refer you to Dr. Sreekumar, he will do the needful. It is temporary ... she is in shock and will be alright" assured Kannan and quickly wrote a referral note on the pad and handed it over to Bala. Bala took the referral note and walked out of the room. 

The mind is so misunderstood yet no one minds it, thought Kannan to himself. Bala and Henna were the last to visit him on the late Wednesday afternoon. Kannan reclined on the chair and on the intercom checked for anymore patients. The answer that he was free for the evening reeled Kannan into the past. 

With closed eyes he could still remember the room where his uncle Natarajan was admitted. The dimly lit, enough wide corridors, of Lakshmi Nursing Home with rooms on either side with ailments of all kinds. The corridors smelled of Dettol and had a few cleaning it over and over again leaving the moist smell to penetrate the nose, leaving it numb for a while. The night fall made the whole hospital sleepy and silent. Kannan was a boy of 7 when Natarajan Mama was admitted for an appendicitis operation. He knew nothing about the procedure, but that his mama was not well and operation would be done on him. As they say in kiddish language, his mama had uvvavu.

Kannan walked into the room with Amma, to see the dense and curly black haired Natarajan mama with a thick moustache like a brush, in bed and trying to sit up. He was wearing the green uniform given to him by the hospital. It looked funny enough for Kannan to see his uncle in a lady like dress.

"So the procedure is tomorrow" Amma said, for which he nodded with a smile.

Kannan was in his own world and sketching something on his small sketch book. Amma and Natarajan mama were talking about a whole lot of things, when their attention was broken by a knock on the door.

"Have to give him an injection" said the nurse in a stern voice. 

The sight of the needle made Kannan and Natarajan mama equally nervous. After the scare bout was over and the nurse stepped out, Kannan saw a girl  standing at the door.

"Can I come in...” she asked

She was in her teens for sure. Dark complexioned, with a brown long blouse and a green long skirt, big eyes like a white saucer holding a black ball, and loosely tied hair with oil on it. She walked in and asked

"Uncle ... you are afraid of needles ... right"

Natarajan mama laughed. She wished Amma and lightly pat on Kannan's face. Sat down on the bystander cot in the room. She was smiling for sure but had a  strange sadness on her face. 

"This is Keerthana ... she is in the next room" said Natarajan Mama to Amma.

She went on talking to both of them as if she had known them for years. About her house, about her school, her friends, her likes, dislikes and a whole lot. She stopped for a moment and asked.

"Can I sing a song for you ... in Sreeragam... classical?"

Natarajan mama who used to play the Mrudangam professionally showed his interest and accepted the offer from the girl. They were all ears. Kannan's eyes shined as he loved music too. 

"Akka sings ... she sings Sreeragam well" he broke in with his comment.

For which Keerthana smiled and started singing "Karuna cheyvaan enthu .... thaamasam krishna ...." And as soon as she started singing the whole corridors filled with melodious voice and filled it with a unique ambiance. But from the moment she started singing she had tears rolling down her cheeks. She was crying and singing incessantly. She would neither stop singing or crying. The breath pauses became moments to wipe tears and take breath with great difficulty as they had sobs blocking the flow of the song. The tears shocked Amma and Natarajan Mama alike, as they did not know anything but that she used to come and visit Natarajn mama once in a while, and took her to be a bye-stander in the next room. Kannan did not understand what was happening. In the meanwhile a nurse came running from the nurse station a few rooms away hearing Keerthana sing. 

"She is in shock as her first stage performance as a singer had to be halted with a news of death of her mother" saying this she gave Keerthana a shot of sedative and slowly the song faded as she slipped into the induced sleep. Two attendants came in and lifted her by her arms and legs and took the bag of sleeping music to her room.

"Sir... the vehicle has come" said the young man dressed in formals. The drift back in memories were broken by his information. The little Kannan who saw the tears in Keerthana's eyes had the same pain when Kannan saw Henna's smile, who lost her ability to speak when she saw her dear mother die. 

"We carry pain in our hearts so much that the pain remains even when the scars of the wounds which caused vanish." Kannan thought to himself. 

Trying to make a change in the lives of people who are distressed, Kannan awaits another day when people with more pain would walk into his room. Henna will speak to Bala soon...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Faith .... Forever

Heated discussions were always intriguing for Kannan throughout his life, whether he was a part or no.  Many of his thoughts, actions and decisions were born out of such discussions. It is during the teens when everyone had the urge to leave the blood boil and think to rebel against anything conventional. Kannan had strong belief in God and was so devout, that he would spend hours praying even at a tender age of five. He had his own set of idols and considered them more sacred than anything in the world. The young mind of four was influenced by many instances which made him more and more intense in his prayers. The prayer time was when he used to talk to his Gods in person. Ask them what they wanted, tell them about school and friends and everything that happened to him on a day to day basis.

"Would he take a path of an ascetic" Amma thought seeing all this and shared the worry with Appa, who was alarmed but kept his cool.

He was put to drawing and painting, which was his other passion other than prayers, as that could take him away from the path Appa and Amma worried he would take. But even when he lived his passion of being in the world of colors, the faith in him was going strong. He had his own time with God in private for hours still. It was also the outcome of how he was treated by his cousins who kept him away from all the fun they had as he was too small. 

The cousins together had a game of "City City" where each one would have a part to play more like a live arcade game or Farmville. Deepika, Mohan mama's daughter, would run a mock restaurant "Rock View Restaurant" on the pile of Stones on one corner with Dosa made of Paper being served in small aluminum plates, Pachai would become the vegetable dealer with all that she could gather from the area - like the small garden huckleberries (Manathakkali as they call it), ripe guavas and jamun from the tree in front of Mohan Mama's house or even tamarind from the nearby trees, they had their own currency and Krishna and Ram, the elder ones would take their cycles and be the public transport. The city even had police and Raj would be the one with his cute police uniform with a whistle on  dangling in a rope nicely tucked in the top left pocket of the shirt.

"You are God's child and you should run the temple" said the elder ones to Kannan

He would wait for someone to come to the temple where he would have an orange colored Hanuman fridge magnet as the deity. But everyone would be busy in their work.

"Please come to the temple for darshan or aarti" Kannan would plead to the other
"Don’t come out of the temple, be there" would be the reply

The game would go on till dusk, where they would have successfully avoided the menace of handling the young Kannan. He would keep on talking to God with his bright big eyes filled with tears.

"Why don’t they let me play... Please Hanuman.. Please Maruti..." he would plead.

But this was a daily affair and he was taken closer to Gods who would listen to him without rebuke. He moved into his own world of prayers and colors. He felt safe being alone than being avoided by the others. Had that made him more secluded and remorse or is it the faith that was built through the stories of Gods and Goddesses he heard. 

Every moment of his life was spent in thoughts of Gods and prayers. He was stuck on to it for a very long time till one day. He was walking by the side of the old tiled house of Mohan mama. He was pulled by a heated argument. It was a discussion between Murugan anna and Mohan mama. Murugan Anna was doing his engineering, but had his mind in Magic. He had a green trunk filled with magic items and he would perform from time to time. The twelve year old Kannan looked up to him and thought he would be a great magician one day. His thoughts were different and were considered rebellious. 

"Mohan mama ... I don’t agree with your thought" He said and Kannan thought, how anyone can talk like that to Mohan mama like that.

It was a discussion between the past and the present, a dialogue between generations. Murugan was in his carelessly folded full sleeve white shirt and Khakis and Mohan mama was in the tradition dhoti and shirt with his forehead smeared with holy ash and sandal paste. Murugan was fair and turned red while talking to Mohan mama who kept his calm silent nature and would speak in a very low tone. 

"These temples and your beliefs all are false..." Kannan was shattered to hear it from Murugan, someone who was his idol.

For a second he thought... "Is it true, Gods, temples.... " He was more fascinated by the thought 

"You put money in the temple and ask for what you want. You pay money as offering for something in return, is that not bribe" Murugan asked in a raised voice to one of the respected personalities of the family, Mohan mama.

"These are communist thoughts and we don’t think like that in our family. You are misled" said Mohan mama.

But that was an answer not very satisfying for Kannan or Murugan, though he was not in the discussion. The discussion moved into rational thoughts and things which Kannan had never heard before. He could see Mohan mama fuming in Anger when his sister son was speaking a language no one spoke in the very orthodox family. The words like culture, tradition and higher spirituality was being thrown on Murugan, which was dealt with thoughts of Voltaire, Engels and other rational thinkers with facts and figures. The discussion ended with a decision that Murugans thoughts have been poisoned by bad influence. 

It was a turning point in Kannan's life too. He thoughts started moving astray and with no one to guide him. His choice of books moved from classics and mythology to Engels, Rousseau and more on rational thoughts. After moving to Trivandrum, Kannan's loneliness and thoughts made him difficult to manage for Amma alone. They got him a tutror, a college student, who would make him sit in one place and study. Tutored by a Suresh, an ardent Communist Marxist Leninist doctrine follower, Kannan was moving more towards Atheism and Rationalism. Their study time turned to be study classes for extreme communism. From Cuba to Chile and China to Russia. More than tutor and student, they became comrades discussing revolution and rationalism. He stopped prayers and spent very less time in them. He moved towards the world of letter and books, still alone. The loneliness built a world of his own within himself.

Kannan's faith was replaced by red thoughts. He remained between being Agnostic or Atheist till his time in Dubai in 1998. He had left his job and was about to return. With not much money left with him even to buy a square meal, the scorching summer sun, and the thoughts of why all this had to happen was dragging him into more thoughts. All he had were a few friends. The beared cafeteria shawarma make Ismailikka, Feroz, the waiter their, Javed at the restaurant on his way back, Parvez and a few other. He had nothing to tell them, nothing to give them. Kannan was leaving for good and had no idea what his next moment would be. His thoughts were as dry as his throat cracking for a drop of water. He wished he had a coin to pick up a bottle of cold water from the vending machine.

"Is there God... Why is it that I have to go through all this ..." Kannan wondered

He was walking by the wayside when his thoughts were disrupted by a call from behind

"Iyer ... Iyer..." Javed called out at the top of his voice. 

He would meet Javed on the late evening walks from office to the apartment every day. Javed and his friends worked for a small restaurant and they had not been getting their salaries for months. The chacha who used to make rotis in the restaurant used to give him rotis at times.

Javed, with his red waiters vest and black pants, came running and took a bunch of soiled notes and placed it in Kannan's hands, a few hundred dirhams in total. 

"We would have done the same if our brother was stranded here ...Keep this ... you will need it" Javed's eyes had tears of joy and Kannan's heart filled with tears which were looking for an outlet through the eyes. Kannan never new whether he would be able to repay them for the love they showered on him then. He looked up to the sky with a scorching sun or was it his mind where he felt the heat but the wind of love cooled him in an instant.

A moment can change your life for sure and this one did change Kannan's life. God’s works in ways we can never decipher. The touch on the shoulder from Javed was God’s hands for sure. Kannan never doubted his faith from then on. Every breath was more of a prayer since then ... even today.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The "One day" Master Chefs ...

"Kanna ... you cut the onions" Akka took the charge of the kitchen and instructed how the onions should be sliced.

Appa and Amma had gone for a wedding to Coimbatore and the house was left to the kids for two days. Akka being the elder one took charge and dinner was the point of contention. The plan was to make something light for dinner. The discussion finally culminated on making bread upma. Akka started with a smile, a person who rarely entered the kitchen when Amma was at work and she was feeding Akka before she had to rush to the school. The bookworm of sorts, the only three things she loved were text books, notes and sleep. Tall fair and tender as a climber, her name Pachai was apt... green. She could also be dubbed charulatha, the tender branch of a sapling. Her big spectacles, twin braided long hair, fair skin, bright eyes like Appa and silent disposition she looked more like a doctor even when she was at school. She was 17 and Kannan was 14. Not kids anymore, but to parents they are always kids. The teen team ransacked the kitchen to gather all they needed to make Bread Upma. Kannan was confident that a girl of her age would know what to do. Systematic Akka made the checklist and Kannan was the assistant to the "Sous Chef" of the day at home.

Bread, Onion, Tomato, Ginger, Turmeric powder, Sambar powder, Ghee, Salt, Oil, Mustard seeds, and fresh green chilles and a few Curry leaves from the plant in the backyard. 

"Long or small pieces" Kannan checked with Akka
"Anyway you like... just the two of us... no decorations needed, but I would prefer it long" replied Akka seriously thinking about the procedure ahead - cooking.
Tears rolled down Kannan's eyes.... not of sorrow or happiness but the onions. The acrid onions were nicely cut and chilies washed and cut too. Kannan started with the ginger and tomatoes.

She cut the bread into squares meticulously as if she had a lab exam of dissecting the bread pieces. Put the kadai on the gas cook top and poured the ghee. She put the sliced bread and started mixing it. 

"Pachai...." Kannan shouted mockingly “if you are frying the bread, better have the burner on"

Though Akka did not like the comment and seemed another fight was imminent between the siblings, she smiled and lit the gas stove. 
The bread turning golden brown in the kadai and the kitchen filled with the smell of ghee and fried bread. Kannan was getting hungry and the aroma fired the passion in his stomach - to eat. Akka switched the gas off and waited thinking what to do next. 

It was for the first time, Amma had left them alone and every time they were alone they would start a fight. Amma was worried but had to attend the wedding. Clear instructions were given to Akka about what needs to be done and what not. Kannan was told just one thing.

"Be a good boy and take care of Akka"

Akka, like a master chef, poured oil into the pan and added the mustard seeds. She was not used to the splutter and it was very obvious with how she moved away and stood as if she had lit a fire cracker waiting to go off. Kannan looked up and gave her the onions, ginger, green chilies and curry leaves. All were added and the cooking lab came to life. The Onions sweat to a transparent white and the smell was heavenly or was it because of the hunger which had struck both of them.

Then the red chopped tomatoes were added for color, a pinch turmeric powder, a spoonful of sambar powder, a little salt. The cooking would yield them their dinner, or that was the intention. Tomatoes lost all hope and got squished in the heat. Everything seemed to be going nice. The bread pieces were added and tossing started. Akka kept looking at Kannan and the kadai and Kannan did vice versa. The fruits of their efforts. The smiles on their face was at the crescendo. 
"Akka knew how to make bread upma ..." Kannan thought.

That was when Akka remembered the procedure to make Rava Upma .... water for cooking. And she poured enough water to sink all their efforts into the pan. The water made the dish look like a colored paste. Everything turned to be a blob. As the say in Hindi ... kiye karaye pe paani phir gaya. The ghastly looks on their face was worth an Oscar. The bubbles on the blob made it look like some pink paste that was being incinerated in a cauldron by the witches... sticky and viscous. The silence crept in .. the dreams of dinner slowly started vanishing. What to do ...

Akka put in all her strength to heat the water out of the dish that would have been dinner tonight. The pan started moving with the ladle as the paste was getting thicker. 

"All in vain" the same thought filled the young minds. 

Probably the symbolism of the light bulb above a person's head for a bright new idea was understood by Pachai that day. The bulb did glow with a new idea. She quickly took the container with gram flour, added some salt and chili powder and poured the villain - water and missed it to a fine paste. She took the cool paste and made it into balls, dipped it in the gram flour paste and dropped it into the hot oil in a frying pan which she had set by then. Kannan did not have a clue what was happening. But lo... a new dish was born.

"Pachai ... what do we call this", Kannan asked trying to eat one fried new dish by the master chef.
"Blajji" Akka smiled and christened it.

Tasted good but the looks did not matter. The plate full of Blajji's were taken to the dining table with respect and kitchen lights were switched off, with no intention to return in the near future. Later "Blajji" was a dish to remember for both of them. However good or bad a dish looks, the hunger makes it taste so good!!!... A new lesson learnt.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Last Moments ...

After years of service in the Harijan Welfare department Sivaswami Iyer, a respected government official, devout father and Thatha as Kannan called him, retired from official duty. His life and family could only move on, only if he had a job to pursue as his sons were yet to secure a job and one was still in school and his daughter, Lakshmi got married just four years back. His life revolved around his home, temple and his work. 

A six foot tall, strong man with silver white hair colored black with the trutone stick, always wearing his preferred snuff brown colored shirt and dhoti, with the holy ash smeared on his forehead, his charisma is something which can never be described with mere words. He stood tall undaunted even when he had to work as an account in an electronics shop at the ripe age of 61. The man who loved Sheaffers and Waterman pens, but could never afford it. His earning barely could make both ends meet, but the smile never left his face, the hope which his prayers gave him made him strive with a smile. His happiness knew no bounds with the birth of Lakshmi's daughter, Pachai, the first daughter in the next generation. His treasure was enriched by the birth of Kannan after three years. Every time they came home for vacations, Sivaswami would stretch himself to the limits to give them the best he could.

Kannan always remembered the stories, the way he prayed morning and night, the trips they use to go together, the temple visits, the journey to the beach in the double decker, his workplace, his humility. He was a living text book to Kannan in all ways. 

"Muththucharam, thangakudam", he meant every letter in those words as he considered Akka and Kennan the treasures of his life, the pearl necklace and the golden pot.

Every night was story time for Kannan and Akka by the side of the cane easy chair in the verandah of the twin house. By late evening, tired from work Thatha would come home with special treats for his treasures. Sweets, pakoras, mangoes or whatever he could get with the little money he spared for the special time of the year in his wooden safe box. He looked forward to that time of the year when they would be home.

When his four sons, and Kannan's family would be having dinner, Thatha would finish his wash and be sitting in front of the pictures of Gods in a white dhoti, with a silver lamp glowing in its divine brightness. He was fair and the color of the holy white ash could barely be seen different in his forehead or chest. He would be chanting the Lalithasahahranam with a pinch of holy ash held tight between his fingers of the right hand. Having finished his prayers he would go to the kitchen and find hardly anything to have for dinner. He would have a glass of buttermilk and consider it dinner with the happiness of having fed everyone in the house. He would then walk across the road to get his regular betel nuts, leaves and relish the pan to its fullest. For Kannan and Akka that was an interesting sight to watch when he would chew green leaves and make his tongue turn red.

After the pan, was the time for the favorite stories of Saharamallan the thief, Ekabudhdhi the frog, The Lion who married the girl, and many many stories. His stories were accompanied by the smell of the flowers in the courtyard, the smell of betel leaves and fruits specially bought for his dear ones. Stories would end with both of them yelling 

"Thatha ... one more story ... one more story ..." and the tell a tale would continue till late.

Kannan's last memories of Thatha was when he had arrived at the Railway station while Appa, Amma, Kannan and Akka were on their way to Bombay for a vacation. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the Railway station, Kannan saw Thatha in his regular brown shirt and dhoti with a Watermelon in his hand. The ten year old Kannan's eyes sparkled. Thatha gave Amma the watermelon and said

"Lakshmi ... kids will love this. It is very sweet. Take care of them"

They reached Bombay after three days. They booked for all the trips and sightseeing and returned to the room in BARC Quarters in Trombay. The next morning was fun filled for Kannan and Akka. They went on clicking pictures and getting excited about the new place and the sights.


The same morning back home Thatha was not feeling well. He called Venki and Padmanabhan his two sons and wished to go to see a doctor as he was feeling uncomfortable.

"Should be Gas trouble" said Padhu and by then Venki went to the taxi stand to get the taxi.

Three of them got ready and Thatha opened his wooden safe box and took some cash and put it in his pocket. He pinned his black pen in the shirt and wore his bakelite shell frame glasses on. They were about to reach the hospital and Thatha smiled at Padhu. Put his hand into his shirt pocket and handed the money to  him. 

"You will need the money"

He kept his hand on the shoulder of Venki and smiled. 


It was afternoon and Appa had upset his stomach owing to the change in food or water. They decided to rush back to the room. Kannan and Appa went first. Kannan as usual opened the door. There were two chits on the floor when the door opened. Kannan picked the chits when Appa was rushing in. He read out slowly as much as he could gather

"URGENT MESSAGE. To Mr. Gopal. Father-in-law expired"

Kannan understood nothing, but seeing Appa's eyes turn red and him standing still, gave him the gravity of the situation. He would hear no more stories from his beloved grandfather. He would see him no more. Kannan still remembers his Thatha as the man who would hold his hands tight at the beach when getting to feel the waves on his legs. The man with a red tongue telling him all the dear stories. The man who got him the sweetest of possible ways in the best way he could. Life moves on, but we tend to stop at certain junctures. By the time they reached Thatha had been cremated, leaving a void, never to have seen his still motionless body. His stories and chant are the treasures for Kannan and Akka to this date.

Kannan's secret ...

Every time Venki mama came home Kannan's happiness knew no bounds. When Amma got married he was just 12 years old. There was a time when mother and daughter went to the labour at the same time, owing to the child marriage times of the past. Venki mama was Venki to Kannan and more a brother than an uncle. 

It was another summer vacation when Venki mama had come home. He was a movie buff and his style varied according to the latest movies of Kamal Hassan or Mammootty. He was in college doing Pre Degree, Fourth Group, and Kannan looked up to him knowing not what that was. He was a singer, did mimicry and was a handsome young man. His style had some influence on Kannan too. But there were times too, when Kannan and Akka had a tough time when he used to bully them, take Kannan's tricycle and ride sitting on top of it in which he would never fit in. 

"Amma ... Venki has taken my cycle again ..." Kannan would wail at the top of his voice
Venki would smile when Amma would shout back from the kitchen ... "Venki ... they are kids ... leave them alone"

Probably Venki saw in Amma his mother too as they were very close to each other, more of inseparable brother and sister. Kannan much later even came to know that he hid under the bed when he accompanied Amma, when she had got married and come to their in-laws. 

Kannan's eyes brighten up when Venki would direct plays for all the cousins to be staged before the family, when he would sing film songs with ease, when he would draw and paint. He too loved Kannan a lot. They would use the tape recorder to record stories from comics and create never heard before audio books in their own style. They would play the LP records and dance to the tunes. Akka was more of a studious type so they would enjoy all that with just the two of them. 

"Paappa" as he used to call Amma as all others at home used to call her,” I am going out for a movie to Mymoon Cinema"

“Here ..." Amma handed a few crumpled notes, which she saved from her daily shopping and hid in the rice box. Venki smiled and took the money happily.

"Amma I want to go to the cinema too ..." Kannan rushed and hugged Amma's legs tightly as a plea...

Venki, to avoid taking him said quickly "It's a horror movie... you will get scared, I will take you tomorrow to Kamal's movie"

Kannan started crying pacified by Amma with a sweet laddoo from the lot Venki had brought from Ammamma. He walked away with a tough face towards Venki, but it still looked cute. A five year old naughtily trying to say with looks that he won’t share the laddoo. 

Venki rushed to the theatre. The white boards had black bold letters. Mymoon in orange letter had the name "Varumayin niram sivappu".

He turned and saw the huge yellow hued poster with Kamal on it, giving a feeling that the hero looking towards him. Huge larger than life cut out of Kamal Hassan waving his hand with red plastic flower garlands on them. Venki transformed to Venki Hassan and adjusted his hair and scanty beard started walking in a style which he thought was the way Kamal would, and thought to himself

"What is someone thinks that I am Kamal Hassan" The obvious thoughts many had looking at the poster.

He saw the queue for the Dress Circle at the cinema and thought to himself. I have enough cash for Balcony... and Mymoon has a beautiful one. Should enjoy this day. He walked up to counter where there were a few people. He looked around and saw young girls, old uncles and many others around him. Being Venki Hassan now, he tried to look away in style at the same time glance the girls. In fact a few of them were looking at him. He rubbed his beard a bit as Kamal would. His happiness knew no bounds, Kamal movie, Balcony, at the newly inaugurated Mymoon theatre, girls looking at him... what more to ask for...

In style he walked into the theatre and the movie started. In the dark he kept looking if someone else was looking at him thinking that Kamal was watching the movie with them. In fact he was watching the movie for the third time, but this time it was special.... alone in style. An hour and a half of the movie passed quickly. Intermission - the huge screen read. He got up retaining the airs around him. He walked out of the hall towards the cafeteria singing

"Sippi irukkuthu muththum irukkuthu kavitha paada neram illadi rasathi ..." the song which played in the movie and Kamal Hassan was at his best in it.

He moved into the whole lot of people stretching their arms towards the person serving coffee and bought a cup of coffee. He got his cup and carefully moved away towards the display wall with a whole lot of vertical glass strips. He looked at it and saw over a dozen of images of himself. He had a naughty smile seeing it and put his hand into the right pocket of his bell bottom pants, which was in vogue then. He had hid a pack of "Charminar" cigarette pack from the world, his personal secret. Took one and lit a match in style. He took a puff and looked at the mirrors to see over a dozen of images of the hero in him again and again. He took a puff and blew it out with his head tilted carelessly. He looked at those images and ... and.... Venki's heart sank. There appeared over a dozen images of Mohan mama, his sister's brother in law, behind him. The world seemed to melt inside him. 

"He saw me smoke. He would go and tell Paappa. Oh no..."

He thought no more. The Kamal Hassan in him vanished. He was Venki again, caught red handed with a cigarette in it. He ran downstairs through the stairs in amazing speed. He would have a promise for India in the Olympics then. His eyes were red and tears started rolling. He ran home in the same speed. Amma was preparing dinner. Kannan was playing as usual with his toy gun on the sofa. Venki was panting... trying to get a breath...

"The movie is over ..." queried Amma 

"Paappa ..." Venki got a breath and replied...sweating profusely. "Come..." and grabbed Amma's hands and went into the kitchen. 

Appa was in the hall checking his account sheets from office. That grabbed Kannan's attention and he held his gun in hand and swiftly moved behind the kitchen door to know what the matter was. 

Still breathing hard Venki confessed to Amma

"Paappa ... Mohan mama saw me smoke ... don't say anything ... I will not do it again ... please"

His tone was apologetic and wanted an assurance that Thatha doesn’t know about it, which Amma would eventually do. Kannan had a smile on his face. He got something to keep Venki from taking his tricycle....may be get him to do what he wants...a secret. Kannan went back to the sofa with a smile, waiting for the opportunity to use his newly got secret. Moments of achievement...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

December will never be the same again ...

The month of December was very special to Kannan. Not just because it was the month of Christmas and holidays. Somehow many incidents were destined to happen in that month. It being the holy month of Christmas where he would be more a Santa Claus to many with gifts and help from his side, as much as he could. It was on the 8th of the month, when he got married against the wish of Appa and Amma. It was the month which gave him shivers when he heard the train in which Amma was coming from Palakkad had a bomb blast. Though Amma survived the accident, the date December 6th was not so happy for Kannan, so was it for many Indians for obvious reasons. There were many happy memories associated with that month too, but the one sad day, which was written with an  indelible ink in his book of life was the day December 17th. 

He had just turned 16 that October. The morning of 17th Appa and Amma were hurrying and looked very sad and shocked. Amma was in tears, she had come home from the hospital very late the previous night. Amma was in tears and her eyes were red. Appa was gravely silent. Kannan woke up to this and saw Akka also crying. The facts of life were not still engraved in the soft stone tablet, the young mind of Kannan. 

Amma walked into Kannan's room and she was incessantly crying. Kannan could not bear the sight as he never wanted to see her cry. He had seen her cry when his Thatha, her father passed away and by the time they reached from Bombay, he had already been cremated. The thought choked Kannan. Its Ammamma ... his mentor, friend, philosopher, singer, his grandmother.... Will he not see her again ...

"Kanna ...Ammamma ..." she said and broke into more tears.

Kannan was shocked and could not fathom the pain he felt in his heart. His thoughts drifted back in time ...

The old kitchen where Ammamma was making something special for them, as they reached the previous evening for the annual vacations.

"Nataraja.... grind it more fine" Ammamma said in a loud voice standing near the firewood stove with the huge black cauldron of oil. 

Kannan was standing and watching in awe, straight from the bed, awakened by the smell of frying and the sweet smell of sugar being made to a syrup. the way she poured the finely ground paste in a cloth piece and deftly fried jilebies on the hot oil. 

"Kanna ..." she fondly called and handed him a hot jilebi just lifted from the sugar syrup in the tray nearby by on the table with a blue self patterned rexine sheet snugly nailed. 

Kannan gobbled up the jilebi in no time and that was his first lesson in cooking. She had taught Akka and Kannan crochet, knitting, embroidery and all that she knew. Her swift hands made it look so easy then. Kannan came back to the present and saw Appa getting things packed. His mind drifted again

"Paahimaam sree rajarajeswari ..." the song lingered in his mind. 

Ammamma used to sing so many songs for Akka and him. The songs and the sweetness of the burfies, the jilebies, the sambar and idlies she made, the taste of the coffee, the curries all came to his mind again. The movies she used to love and the love she had in her eyes ... all were images flashing in Kannan's mind. The way she used to fondly fight with Thatha, the six foot fair handsome even at 60, who smelled of bhasmam (holy ash with the smell of roses) and sandal all the time. His snuff colored shirt and the Red silk saree, The diamond studded peacock nose pin, the white swan necklace, the jasmine flowers on her braided and put up hair and the gold bangles ammamma used to wear. Images were flashing as if someone had played video in rewind mode.

It was a cool December morning and Kannan was playing in front of the house when he saw Damodaran's cycle rickshaw. He saw from a distance Damodaran smoke the beedi in his usual style and kicked the pedals of the green flapped rickshaw was the one which used to take Kannan to his drawing classes. He saw Ammamma in it and was so delighted. He never understood why at that age as to why she had to be walked into the house with help. Her bag and a huge drum of burfee as usual were there. Kannan grabbed the burfee tin and walked along with Damodaran who helped her get down and walk with great difficulty. He saw Ammamma's hand bent and not moving. 

" 250 ... High Sugar" Kannan heard Amma tell Appa sadly. 

He felt he was in some spelling bee competition where he wished to ask for the meaning. He understood she won’t be able to make yummy jilebi's like before. Her eye sight was failing due to the condition and that she was under treatment. 

Then for many years he had seen the vibrant grandmother who used to deck up even for a movie she used to go turn to someone who could not see or move without help. She would talk to them about songs, cooking, art, craft, temples and even when in bed, she used to instruct the cooks in such a way that the dishes had the same taste as she used to make or at least near it. She could no longer enjoy the sweets, nor enjoy the coffee with sugar. Kannan and Akka used to watch her drink the bitter gourd juice which was supposed to be having medicinal values and the bitterness used to give her loose stomach convulsions. They used to keep watching the stomach move and laugh. Those laughs made her forget the bitterness and vacations were days when they enjoyed these sights and Thatha's stories. 

Thatha had gone and now Ammamma. Kannan cried but was numb. Life ends for everyone. The lesson was being engraved in the mind by God himself. Losses ... may be time will lessen the pain, but the mind will never erase those memories.

"Kanna ..." Kannan heard the musical voice call him, but in his mind. A mother of five, who lived her life in style enjoying till the moment the "sugar" took the sweetness away from her life and then lived with the memories of those days, all which will now remain memories. Those were the thoughts when Kannan reached the hospital where everyone was silent or crying. A few were talking about the last moments of her life and Ammamma's body lay still in bed. 

Decembers for Kannan will never be the same again. Years later, whenever Kannan sang, or made sweets or watched movies, or even smiled he could hear Ammamma's voice call him again and again 

"Kanna ...."

The Signature ....

Morning office time was busy as usual at the Agency
"Sir ... signature please .... " said the office assistant.

Kannan was engrossed with a message on Whatsapp from Manoj. 

"Good work brother ... was nice meeting you"

The message had taken him back several years, not knowing that the office assistant was waiting with a blank expression on his face. Kannan drifted back to the school days. The morning school bell was a start to the new academic year. The assembly was special as everyone wore new uniforms and the air was filled with the smell of fresh new clothes. Every student was at his best for the first day at school after clearing the previous year of learning. The white shirts, red ties, with navy blue trousers and the smile on the face. The tie was crisp and did not have the ink from the previous years writing and learning. The belt was immaculate and the colors red and yellow remained so, which in due course would bleed to a dull orange mixed with the dirt of a year. The feeling in every student’s heart was just one. A new year, new class, new things to learn or was it, back to the same company as the previous year, more time to have fun and boring classes again with new subjects and new teachers. Whatever be it, the freshness was like a bright newly blossomed garden. 

The school band played the fanfare and the school flag hoisted. The excitement was in the air and prayers and national anthem ensued. Kids marched to their respective classes. Kannan ran to the band room in the basement to keep his trumpet back in the marked box and ran back to the class. The attendance was being taken and he interrupted

"Sir ... Please May I get in ..."

Classes and the breaks and recess and evening prayer and the long bells. Days passed with monthly exams and first term exams were over. After holidays school started again. It was the day when the signed black school dairy had to be checked for signatures from their father as instructed by Varghese Sir. Class Prefect, Vinod was on leave as he was down with fever. Kannan, being the vice prefect, started his official duty of checking the diaries. 62 students with a few missing, Kannan was fast enough to get the checking done before Varghese Sir would reach the class. He wrote down just three names and kept all the checked diaries on the Teachers table.

"Safeer, Bipin and Manoj" Varghese sir called out the names and they stood up.

The class had the atmosphere of interrogation and inquiry. The usual noise which was cut by the three student’s name who did not either sign their class diaries with the marks for the exam. Varghese sir walked towards the last bench where Safeer with his loosely knotted tie was standing there with a wicked smile. He knew it was coming and was ready with the reply

"Sir tomorrow"

Varghese sir nodded and moved towards Bipin. He started crying and said:

"Sir, me too ... tomorrow"

"hmmm" said Varghese sir and moved towards Manoj

Manoj was standing there silent, when Kannan stood up and raised the complaint as if he was a Public Prosecutor in a court who raises the objection. 

"Sir ... his mother signed and not his father" He said boldly

"Why..." Varghese sir asked Manoj looking stern

Manoj stood there silent. Varghese sir took the cane and tapped the desk strongly making it sound like a thunder for all the students. 

"Sir ... My father passed away when I was young"

The moment of silence had more to it. The teachers taking classes in the nearby classrooms could be heard. The open windows had sunlight falling into the class room. Kannan could not say anything. For him the day turned dark. The darkness made him shiver in his heart. 

"Sir down" said Varghese sir and looked at Kannan.

The facts of life was being passed on to him that very moment and the looks of the class teacher seemed to ask him a thousand questions. 

"Had I asked why ... but ... what have I done...?” Thoughts hunted Kannan down. His smile faded away as if ink was washed from a paper 

in water. He had a heavy heart. The whole class moved on but his heart remained at that moment. 

"Can I give him a hug" thought Kannan, but Manoj was nowhere around. That day was etched in his heart to this day.

"Sir ... signature please" Kannan heard the office assistant impatiently waiting for his signature.

Kannan looked up mechanically. The smell of chalk dust and the books were gone. The bench and desks were not anywhere to be seen. The smell of packed lunch boxes, books and bags, the familiar smell of the classroom, the sounds of the cane and the teachers were all replaced by the hum of the air conditioner, the soft music being played in the in house channel of the office and smells of a mix of perfumes. He travelled back to the present and quickly signed the paper. 

"Give it to Ali" Kannan instructed and picked the phone again.

"Sorry" he typed on a message window then deleted it and again typed "Sorry" and sent it to Manoj. It took Kannan more than two decades to say that one word, and kept the phone on the table.

bzzzzzzzzzzz ..... the phone vibrated and read

"Incoming call ...Manoj"

Kannan picked the call and with no words to say he picked the call ...

Kanna ... Did you send me a message saying Sorry ...

"Oh by mistake" Kannan said. His heart was as complex as many of us. Why is it difficult to apologize for a mistake. Why does it take long to make good for silly wrongs we do. Many questions still remains unanswered for Kannan like all others.