Sunday, September 28, 2008

An Unceremonious Death

‘Unky’, as he was popularly known, died when the last vicious bacteria dug deep into his tuberculosis lungs. He was known to everyone but lived a very unpopular life. He staggered along the village road in drunken stupor. Stretched his arms for his insatiate thirst for alcohol. The inevitable happened at the age 54.
As a young man he pulled and pushed handcarts full of Monday Market provisions in huge gunny bags. Carried on his back, quintals of dry fish, and pushed them into huge National Permit Trucks. All the while he enjoyed the drunken enrichments of the adulterated toddy, consumed in large quantities from his favourite Athirampuzha ‘Shaap’. During the day he had his fists full of wet currencies smelt of sweat and salt but by evening, he staggered back home with an empty pocket.

In the last days of his life, when he was no more able to pull handcarts and coughed up crimson phlegm, many people who knew him in Athirampuzha sympathetically placed a few coins in his palm as he walked his unsteady steps to his self determined destiny. God had pity on him and he died in his peaceful morning slumber this morning.

He had a very beautiful wife, married after a relationship of courtship, who gave birth to his two kids, a boy and girl. When she could no longer stand his drunken madness and abusive ways, she gave up and ran away, never to return. Both his children did well enough to settle in life comfortably. May be, somewhere in his heart he had a glitter, that made people sympathise for him. I know that he was a loving father, who told me once….”I have not been able to give them any thing but God looked after them.”

There is a tinge of pain in my heart when I think of him because I would often see him and he would always speak to me with a spirit of warmth and smile. May be, society needs to take serious stock of such people. May be, we have a greater responsibility as social beings.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wife's Absence

Emili is away from this morning on a weeklong retreat in Ernakulam. Anne seemed to enjoy the freedom of my wife’s absence. When I came home she was navigating the front door with her big toe balanced on the bottom bolt. The hinges whimpered mildly and bent slightly towards her. As I yelled from the gate, she jumped confidently on to the sofa and landed safely. She seemed to have perfected the art in our absence.

By the time I parked my sedan and got into the house she was sitting disciplined in front of her homework. I stretched my hand to give her the customary sweet bun. I sugared my words with surplus concern as I did not want her to feel my wife’s absence. She did ask me about her but I turned her mind away to the sweet bun and moved up.

The day was beginning to darken without my wife in the house and Anne was playing with her story books downstairs. The bun was over and she was fed up with pictures. Here she comes to the library. “Chachei, I want to see Amma”, her voice whimpered. I knew I have a problem in hand. She has not been without her mother for a long time now. Emily always stood by her when she woke up, ate, studied or slept and today was different and she did not want it that way.

I took her in my arms and held her closer and whispered to her ears and made her understand. She wouldn’t budge. “I want to call Amma” she demanded. Mobiles were banned in the retreat centre. I took her around, read stories from books and in the next one hour she was asleep.
I did struggle for an hour. As she slept lying in my lap I admired my wife’s patience. When she raised her voice in dealing with my daughter I had protested. It was wrong. You know the worth of a mother only in her absence.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Parents never change.

Yet another Sunday. With the excess energy of an excited child I pushed my newly acquired lawn mower through the buffalo grass that had grown wild in the never ending monsoon rains of this season. Anne was at it again, standing between the handles of the mower and my tightly held arms. She wanted to push me away and take control as I was trying to discipline the unruly mower that wobbled in my grips. She wouldn’t go, so I tightly pressed her ear between my nails. She slipped away with a loud cry and ran to the kitchen where Emili was cooking lunch.

She managed to convince her mother that we needed to go to the hospital to see my brother’s wife. So lunch had to be taken immediately. We did plan that earlier, but Anne and I had agreed to try the mower which would delay the plan, against the wishes of my wife. Humiliated by her father, Anne joined hands with her mother and pulled my hands off the mower.

Ann always liked to sit in the front seat of the car along with my wife. Either she would sit on my wife’s lap or on the edge of the seat and on top of the gear knob. Her growing weight necessitated my wife to push her aside and that meant she completely occupied the gear which prevented me using it with some comfort. I would raise my voice and this has often ended up as a calamity in the car. Today, I pulled out a ‘kit kat’ from my pocket and tempted her to the rear seat and happily drove to the hospital. But as the last munch of chocolate went down her throat she was back where she was; on my wife’s lap, and with a push from her, on the knob.

Fortunately, by this time we were approaching the guarded railway gate, which was closed. I have always prayed that the gate is always be open, so I could just drive without interruption. My daughter always prayed otherwise. She was ready to wait any longer, to enjoy the thrill of a train whizzing past. When she was in the car, God always heard her prayer. So I got out of the car and relaxed.

Then my memory traveled back to a time when I got the chance to get into a coal powered train from Ettumanoor, for the first time in my life. Surely, I had experienced grater excitement than my daughter, in those young school days. It is always true that you forget the pranks and excitement of your young days, when you deal with your children.

Parents never change.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Manikunjettan is dead

This evening I was standing outside the wall of a friend’s house, listening to the mournful strains of a traditional funeral chant. His father’s body lay frozen in a glass casket as an air of emptiness filled the hearts of all those who loved him so dearly. The rich odour of burning incense filled the air and bouquets and wreaths decorated his body.

We will not hear the high pitched, resonant voice of Manikunjettan anymore, holding articles in raised arms, selling them in auction on a Mission Sunday in the front veranda of the church. He was the official auctioneer of the church.

I have also seen him holding the hands of his granddaughters and sons and walking along with them on the Lisieux Road. Those clenched hands today hold the crucifix. In the chill of death, his children have lost the warm embrace of their father who held them close and make them hear the ‘tick’ of his heart that beat for them.

The song echoed the dead man’s voice of bidding the last goodbye to the piece of earth that he held so dear to his heart, the people he loved and treasured as his own, the walls he leaned, the chairs and cots that gave him rest.

He lived just three houses away from where I lived. I have seen him for many years…even in the feeblest memories of my childhood. Today he has become just a memory.

Death ends life, only memory remains but not for long. Do you want your memory to be long, for many generations… have a huge task to do. Some memories die fast, some memories remain forever. Bye.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Antony had been sitting on the hard cement wall for more than an hour, intensely watching a game of basket ball that his seniors played. He never wanted to leave but the boys stopped playing and went home.

Usually, when the court emptied, he sat alone in the balcony. Very few children were seen watching the game for such a long time; either they didn't want to, or their parents did not let them hang around so late after school.

Anthony walked slowly homeward. His text books hung lazily by his side in a rather fancy cloth bag. He had no footwear, but felt no strain on his feet as he transferred his weight confidently to the potholed, pebble strewn PWD road. He had got used to it. He thrust forth and enjoyed the familiar evening warmth of the molten bitumen below his hardened feet. He would sometimes look down and was thrilled by the retreating road between his legs. He derived a strange pleasure in dropping his head and in return missed many people and events on the way. Or was he contemplating on the faces and events that pulled his head down?

He sometimes raised his head and surveyed the tall yellow house of his old friend, which had many windows and windowpanes, some splintered, framed in dark and grained teak wood but sun and rain had dimmed the yellow paint of the decorated walls. Roof-tiles had darkened and mossy edges let moisture seep into the interiors of the house. His grandfather had owned tea estates but his riches did not last long enough to reach his grandson. The tall structure still faintly bore the splendour of rich old times.

This year when the school reopened his friend did not come back to school. He had joined a new school in his mother’s hometown and Anthony knew about it very late, because his friend never told him anything about going to a new school. May be, it was decided during the long summer holidays, when friends never met each other away from school. He did not see him ever since.

Further down the road the wooden billboard of a Muslim astrologer caught his imagination, which condensed the types of human misfortunes that the astrologer could find a solution to. In the early days he never figured out what it meant, nor did he care to seek an explanation. He also looked with interest at a pretty young girl, who often played around the house of the astrologer, in a long skirt and smiled. He was not sure what pulled his eyes to the board, the board or the girl.

After the road curved and straightened, the minaret of the mosque jetted out from the shadow of a tall light green enclosure and two bell shaped loud speakers announced the call for prayer “La ilaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah”, five times a day.

All the other houses, on this hundred meter stretch, after my friend’s bungalow, on either side belonged to Muslims. Women, with flying veils pinned tightly to their long hairs, cautiously crisscrossed the road and men in their white caps and bearded faces walked in and out of the mosque.

Carrying in hard cane baskets, Muslim men sold aluminium pots and pans in the neighbouring villages and towns. Some traded in goats, butchered them and sold religiously prepared meat. Some scaled fish without any rites and sold them in the market and made more money. Anthony knew a middle-aged woman called Kunjalu Maakka very closely, who made delicious appams at home and sold them in households for breakfast, for their women couldn't make such soft and milky appams as Kunjalu Maakka did.

He always followed Noushad with awe, a stylish dribbler and a sharp three point shooter, who led the school basket ball team. The girls from St. Mary’s secretly dreamed about his fair skin, curved nose shaped like the beak of a falcon, and Bruce Lee hair cropping, waved down his collar. With every twist of his torso he would wriggle past advancing players and rising in the air wrestled the leather ball into the ring amidst cheering admirers like Anthony.

The middles aged, frail doc at ‘Keeners’, delayed her concoctions in the inner room, while kids with leaking noses, aching intestines and burning foreheads waited on their mother’s laps, for sweet homeo balls.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The fury of rain

I typed these words as I placed myself comfortably at a home-stay in Vaithiry, in Wayanad, where I had come an hour ago. We had started from home the previous day, wandered aimlessly and finally ended up on the balcony of a small house on the bank of Viathiry Lake.

As we reached the lake, everything was drenched as a chilly drizzle discouraged people to venture into the topless fibre boats lined up in the jetty. We just stood on the bank, staring at the thick fog that stood still above the water. The thick jungle growth around the water looked like a painting seen through a tinted glass.

Thankfully, I couldn’t see the lake from here because the trees had grown wild and hid it from what could have been a much costlier balcony. The air was peaceful if you don’t mind crickets that were bent on making that shrill and penetrating noise with monotonous insistence. Then rain lashed and wind blew wild and drowned even crickets. Now it sounded like waves of an ocean.

I needed to finish noting down a few lines before my daughter arrived, or else, she would be where my ‘lap’ top was, dictating terms with my literary pursuits. She was in the shower, forcefully pushed under water by my wife and it’s quite a long time since. She was expected there at any time, I feared.

Before I could not push my pen any further the worst that I feared happened. My daughter appeared, flying up the staircase, with a bathing towel in one hand and, ‘O my God’, my precious camera in the other. “Give it to me, you will drop it now”, I yelled. I bolted out of my seat and grabbed it before the worst could happen.

I had no doubt that the usual duel had taken place and my wife would soon follow. She could not run as fast as my daughter did because of a ‘chicken gunia’ knee. I always played the referee and my wife always downed by a big margin.

As my wife explained, my daughter wriggled out of her hand while she wiped wetness off her hair and ran upstairs with the camera, which according to my daughter’s version, was ‘far from truth’.

Rain gathered momentum, and the wind tilted it towards the balcony forcing me to retreat further backwards and all three of us sat in different chairs watching the merciless dance of wind and water. It rained with great fury, drowning every word that we tried to shout at each other and so the fight was over.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Yogic Powers of Jesus

It was half past eight, and I was in the chapel yet again, to fight the power cut hour of the Kerala Electricity Board. There was none inside, except my family, so I stretched my hands and twisted my waist both ways, and then a deep bow, and cut the knuckles, palms locked and hands stretched upward. The warm up is over.

Then I placed my hand reverently on an English Bible, lying frayed, on a wooden stand. An old English edition of the Catholic RSV version. Slowly I flipped open Mark and went straight to the wilderness, where Jesus was tempted by Satan. He fasted for forty days, and that too, day and night, not like the Muslims, who only fast during the day. Haven’t you heard that some of the Indian Yogi’s are able to do it? Was Jesus a Yogi? An ordinary man would die in a week or two of hunger of thirst and how on earth Jesus could do it. Is it an acquired power, through a yogic regimen of life? There may be a possibility, like John the Baptist, Jesus also must have gone to the wilderness and spent long stretches of solitude to attain what you call a strong control over his manhood. His Father was very strict with him, and he would never give him anything for free. He had to earn his Godliness. That could be the reason, why Jesus never spoke a word, before the age of 33, lest he would make mistake. What a preparation?

Here comes my daughter, envelops me with both her hands, over my shoulders and rests her chest on the back of my thoughts. It’s time for her to go and I hardly achieve anything, prolonging my stay there. This is why lay people achieve very little, by way of spirituality as you have the hands of your kids weighing over your shoulders.