Monday, October 21, 2013
He felt a sudden need to scratch his foot – must be a mosquito. Without opening his eyes, he reached for his toes, scratched it and turned on the bed.
‘Oru maathrayenkilum kelkaathe vayyan nin Murali pozhikkunna gaanalaapam…’****
He heard K J Yesudas singing in his home. Amma had switched on their tape recorder, and it was belting out her favourite devotional songs. It was that time of the day when M S Subbulakshmi, P Leela, K S Chitra and other maestros performed for them. Amma never failed to play the cassettes in the morning – it was one of her ‘things’. The tapes were worn, and at times Yesudas sounded muffled or the songs dragged a bit, but that ritual never changed. It also meant she was done with her morning puja and she had moved onto her kingdom – the kitchen.
He felt someone gently shaking his shoulders. “Wake up Kanna…don’t you have to go to school…” It was Ammamma’s voice. She bent and gently kissed on his cheek and ruffled his hair. His Ammamma smelt of Chandrika soap, Cuticura talcum powder and incense sticks in the morning. He always associated her with purity – his Ammamma in the white mundum veshti, fresh like morning dew. He refused to open his eyes. Ammamma shook him gently again, amidst her ‘Rama, Rama’ chants. He heard a creaking noise, and felt the diffused sunlight on his face. Ammamma had pushed opened the wooden windows. He felt the morning chill, despite being under a blanket. He rolled himself into a ball. She left and he fell back into sleep.
He woke up with a start, to realize he had been whacked on his behind. “Get up, lazy bum!” It was Rukmini. He waved his arm to retaliate, but he heard her anklets as she left the room. “Look Amma, Appu’s still sleeping! Why is it that he gets to sleep till seven and I have to wake up at five in the morning?!” He heard her complain loudly. “He doesn’t have to write his 10th standard public examination this March. He’s only six years old, Rukku – let him sleep longer. Why don’t you act your age and stop whining...” He heard his Amma from the kitchen. He smiled.
He then heard the sounds of a broom at work; must be Chechi sweeping the courtyard, after which she’d have to get ready for school. He opened his eyes and looked at the walls. Today, the damp patches had created a new set of designs for his pleasure. One looked like an elephant to him. He kept staring to see what else would emerge. “Kanna, wake up now…you will get late” He heard Amma calling from the kitchen. He decided it was time and got out of bed. He walked out and saw Appa sitting at the table, across the nadumuttam. He went to the kitchen, and saw Amma at work on the stove. The idlis, sambar and chutney she made for breakfast was placed on the counter. She was busy preparing Appa’s lunch. The smell of coffee came wafting out. He took a deep breathe in. He liked the smell of coffee.
Amma’s back was wet from the water dripping from her hair. It looked as if she had stepped right out of the bath. He saw that it made damp patches on the back of her blouse; just like the ones he saw on the walls. There was a small strand of mullapoo in her hair. Whenever the jasmine hedges in the courtyard produced some buds, Amma would make a strand for the Gods and a small one for herself. He liked seeing flowers on Amma’s hair. She turned around, and saw him standing at the door. “Ahaaa…Kannan is up? Now be a good boy and brush your teeth. Amma will come by the time you’re done and Amma will help you get ready for school” He nodded as he smiled. He kept walking till he reached the table. Appa was reading the morning newspaper. He was waiting for his breakfast and coffee. He put his paper down, and smiled at him. He smiled back.
Appa left early in the mornings for work, because he had to catch a bus and a train to reach the bank. Some days, he doesn’t see him leave. As he looked at Appa, he realized that Appa’s face looked tired and old. Was it that he hadn’t he noticed it before? The lines on his face, the increasingly greying hair…his friends’ Appa looked young, but his Appa….
Amma served breakfast and Appa was having it quickly. He walked out to the verandah. He heard Amma and Appa talk about money for the maid, some books or guides for Chechi and medicines for Ammamma. He looked at the sky. It looked as if it would rain. He didn’t want it to rain today – at least not during the short break. He wanted to play outside, as it was becoming increasingly rare to do that, thanks to the monsoons. Appa took his black grandfather umbrella, tucked the small leather bag under his arm, took the lunch bag and left.
“Get up Kanna…do you want to go to school today? Feeling better?” It was Ammamma. He rubbed his eyes while opening it; it hurt these days, with all the crying he did. He looked at Ammamma. She still looked miserable; like yesterday. She didn’t wait for a response and left the room. These days, he hardly slept well. He tossed and turned before he could sleep and anything could startle him awake. He stared at the ceiling. He didn’t know what to do with this onslaught of emotions he felt; it always felt the worst on waking up.
He got out of bed, and walked out. There was no music, like before. Chechi was seated on the ground, leaning onto a pillar of the nadumuttam and staring intently at the ground, like she was lost in thoughts. He saw a silent tear run down her cheek. He looked around for Amma. She was seated on the table. He could see that her eyes were red and puffy from constant crying. Tears were silently streaming down her face. She had given up on wiping that steady stream. He looked helplessly at Ammamma – it appeared she was busy trying to attain peace of mind through prayers. She had her eyes shut tightly, forming furrows on her aged and crinkled forehead. She was chanting prayers under her breath.
He looked at the three of them, one by one. He then looked up at Appa’s photo. Amma had replaced yesterday’s garland, with a fresh string of jasmine today. He looked at Appa smiling in the photo. And he felt something tug at his heart – how could Appa smile when all of them were crying for him?
He went back to bed and curled himself. He shut his eyes. He should get back to sleep. Things would perhaps get back to normal, when he would wake up next time.
For non-Malayalis, here’s the meaning/explanation for some of the words I’ve used –
****Famous Devotional Song of Lord Guruvayurappan, sung by K J Yesudas
Amma – Mother
Ammamma – Grandmother
Appa – Father
Mundum veshti – the two-piece clothing, draped/worn like a saree (or a half-saree) by Malayali women
Chechi – Elder sister
Nadumuttam – the inner/central courtyard or quadrangle (a traditional architectural element of olden days)
Mullapoo – Jasmine flowers
I know, it's been really long - like really long, since I've updated this blog. I wonder if anyone who used to read me before even remember me now! If you do, say 'hello'! Maybe more on my absence on blogs in a later post. How are you all doing? I've been infrequently catching upon the blogs in my Reading list. Good to know you'll are still writing.