Saturday, 17 November 2007


When the sun was exuding exuberance; when the pair of paddy fields and coconut trees were waltzing out in the ball room set by the docile breeze; when the stream was skipping around in the indulgence of its pristine glory; I advanced through the tar road, albeit marred with potholes. I let my mind to soak itself in the respite from the impoverished, chaotic and polluted life in the metro. My mind thanked me for redeeming it from the reins of statute books, suits, arguments and court chambers.

“Hey, vakil(advocate) sir” .My enjoyment of Kerala country side was interrupted by some rustic call.

I turned back; only to see Mr.Thankappan. He is THE man of the Panchayath. His name literally translates to ‘Lord of Gold’, and he is gifted with a long golden tongue. Professionally he is a barber. But in real life he is something more. While grooming peoples’ head and face, he will groom the information which he has shrewdly extracted from them. Disseminator of (mis)information, monger of gossips and scandals, manipulator of news- these are the titles which he has acquired during the course of his career, flanked across four decades, which determined the local man’s style statement. His small barber shop, which is nothing but a small kiosk made of wooden cardboard, established on the road side, has assumed the status of broadcaster of exclusive news items and repository of unfathomable secrets of legions of people.

Countless are the marriages which materialized due to him. More countless are the marriages which broke due to him. The epicenter of all disputes and the facilitator of negotiations- both are two different facets of his persona.

This garrulous fellow has not only made his presence felt in the social life of the Panchayath but in its political realm too. He is the most devoted subscriber of the Communist-Marxist ideology. As a committed Party member, he has helped in spreading its sacred ideology and in mobilizing public opinion in its favor. Apart from gossips and verbal duels, his shop has witnessed brainstorming discussions which had a great bearing on the local politics.

Vakil Sir, How is your practice in Supreme Court going?”

“Fine. I’m here for a two week vacation”

“Sir, you are badly in need of a haircut and shave. Why don’t you come to my shop? I’ll give you a lawyer’s look.”

I complied. He thus succeeded in soliciting a customer for his scissors and his tongue.

He led me into his shop. His shop is of the size to accommodate one chair and he himself. There is a bench kept outside for waiting customers. All available newspapers and magazines in Malayalam are kept there. Pictures of Krishna, Jesus and Allah kept at the table. On the side wall photos of film actors ranging from Rajnikanth to Mohanlal to Amitabh Bachan are hung. Epitome of secularism and national integration!!

He started his work. If I say it progressed at snail’s pace, it might cause disgrace to snail. He advanced his scissors through my unruly curly bush in such a way as to cause the least possible pain to the hair. Before cutting down, he caressed each hair, as if to bid adieu to it. Finally he broke his silence.

“Sir, you know one thing?”


“We can’t trust amerrikka”

“What!!” I wondered how his observation came out of blue.

“Yes Sir. They are very cunning. We can’t trust them. All this nuclear deal and stuff is a farce. Our PM is very naïve. As our national leader has said, he is a very earnest man. But Bush has made a fool out of him. They will invade India also, like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Russia is ok. And we should make friendship with Kuba and Chavez’s Veneshuella”

“How does it matter to both of us? Finish the work fast”. My capitalist and pro-American attitude couldn’t digest his blabberings. But I was in no mood for a debate. It should be done with equals.

“Sir” he continued “I haven’t gone to college. I dropped out of school at third forum. I might not have gone beyond the boundaries of this Panchayath. But Sir, I know a lot about this World. You cannot imagine who all have been my customers. Great politicians, writers, artists, lawyers, doctors and all. Constant interactions with such people have made me quite knowledgeable.”

I thought he was offended by my statement. I wanted to clarify. But he won’t let me open mouth.

“Hey Sir, you saw that lady who just passed by. Janu. She is a witch. She kicked out her husband from home.

“For God’s Sake. Will you concentrate on my head?” I was really annoyed.

Loquaciousness personified stood behind me with a razor and a tongue sharper than the razor.

Despite my outburst, he was calm.

“Sir, you saw that photo?”

I looked up. A forty year old photo hanging on the wall, where a forty year less old Thankappan was cutting the hair of some other gentleman.

“That is Sakhavu(Comrade) Divakaran. He was my first customer. Actually, he asked me to set up this shop. During the heydays of Naxalism I used to meet and help the activists secretly. That’s how I met Sakhavu Divakaran. When days of Naxalism were over, he became a great leader. He helped me in establishing this shop. He is now no more. Great martyr. In all sense he is my Godfather.”

Meanwhile an auto-rickshaw halted near the shop. Someone inside called him. He went near it. After a while he came back.

“Sir, Varkey,my friend is in deep trouble. I need to meet him urgently. I’ll be back in five minutes”

“Hey, finish my work and go. Stop there”

But he didn’t heed. He jumped into the rickshaw and it sped away.

I was fuming with anger. How could he dare to commit a grave breach of duty before a Supreme Court lawyer? I saw my reflection in the mirror with half cut hair. I looked like a joker. I felt like banging my head on to the mirror.

Minutes ticked away. No sign of barber. I could hear passer-bys chuckling at me.

‘Oh! What a disgrace’

I enquired about Thankappan to one of them.

“He’s in the toddy shop.” Someone replied.

GOD! There’s no point in waiting for him. Even if he returns, he won’t be sober. I covered my clownish head with a towel and went out.

On the way I met Thankappan in an inebriated state. He was on his ‘four wheels’.

“You nasty fellow. Don’t you know to finish off the work? Don’t think that you can get away from me easily”. I lashed out at him.

“What will you do? File a case against me? Then do. Didn’t I ask you to wait.? And don’t call me names. Who do you think you are? Don’t try to show your capitalist and bourgeoisie attitude at me. Our party is ruling the State. Days of feudal lords are over.

And give my cash.”

He was completely out of his senses.

“Cash??For half work. I’m not giving it. You go and file case. Or complain to your Party.”

I left the scene. I was terribly restless as I couldn’t let out the ire and wrath which have accumulated in me against him.

It was after a week that I met him again.

“Sir, I’m terribly sorry for that day. I wasn’t in my senses. I shouldn’t have behaved in that manner” he confessed.

“Hmm. Self-realization is good” I wanted to avoid him.

“I’m in deep trouble.”

“What happened?”

“The Government people have given me notice. They want to evict me and my shop from the place. They are going to build some national highway or expressway or something like that. I don’t know what to do. This is my only means to bread and butter.” He said this with an unusual stammer.

“If they ask you to leave then you must. I hope you have the title deed and other related documents. In that case you will get the appropriate compensation”. I took a very indifferent stance.

“No Sir. I don’t have any title deed. I set up this shop on the road side on the advice of Sakhavu Divakaran.”

“Oh. That means you are an encroacher. Then you don’t accrue any right. Just take your stuff and flee.” I spoke like a lawyer.

“No Sir. Don’t say like that. It’s my life. How can they do it? Sakhavu Divakaran inaugurated it. And our Party is in power. How can they go against Sakhavu Divakaran.?”

“Then you go and ask your Party. I have to go now. See you later”

I felt some kind of sadistic pleasure. State is taking revenge on my behalf.

Next day I saw him coming out of the Party office. He looked very gloomy.

“Any new developments?” I asked him.

“No sir. It seems they have also forsaken me. They also want the expressway to come up. They are no more regarding Sakhavu Divakaran. I don’t know what good the express way will do to this Panchayath. Many poor people like me will be evicted. All those paddy fields, coconut trees and streams will be gone. It will only help the bourgeoisie and capitalist brats to race their SUVs. I don’t know what has happened to the Party?”

“Hey, You idiot. Grow up. This is twenty first century. And a six-lane express way will do more good to this village than a venom-spewing barber.”

I felt very elated having said this. Some relief for my vendetta against him.

Next day the state squadron came to evict the encroachers. Thankappan was in a total inebriated state. He clung hard to the shop with his arms. The bulldozer came with a roar.

“You can’t do it. You’ve to kill me to do it.” he yelled.

The Police men pushed him back and held him tightly. He tried to jump out of their tight hold. The fragile shop was not at all a test for the monstrous machine. A gentle touch. And the entire structure collapsed down. He screamed. It was louder than the roar of the machine. It came from the depth of his heart. It appeared poignant even for me. Unknowingly, my eyes filled.

Thankappan jumped out of Policemen’s grip. He picked up something from the rubble. The photo of Sakhavu Divakaran inaugurating his shop. Its frame was broken. He held it to his chest.

“How could you do this to me? How could Party do this to me?” He lamented.

Suddenly, he started twirling about due to some muscular spasm. He fell down to ground unconscious.

Next day I was making my preparations for my return journey. Later, I heard that Thankappan died yesterday because of massive heart attack. As my car passed by the Party Office I overheard the funeral speech made by some Party Leader.

“Thankappan is a martyr. By wielding the Party Flag in one hand and the razor in the other hand, he led a life on the razor’s edge….”

My car sped away through the prospective expressway. I felt some kind of pricking sensation at my heart.


Saturday, 21 April 2007


The car proceeded manoevring the undulating hairpin curves embracing the Western Ghats. It has been a long time since the vehicle has left the bustling Cochin City.Mary John looked out through the window pane.The tar road is getting scorched in the ruthless sun.Mary John's sixty year old eyes scanned the entire sky-not even a sign of Monsoon clouds.She did not find any difference in this sky and the Dubai sky.When she is coming to Kerala after a long gap of three years,that too in the month of June,when Monsoon is ought to be in its peak,this kind of behaviour from the clouds is totally unexpected.Not that her heart was yearning for monsoon.When you have set foot in your enemy's territory ,you know you will have to come across him today or tomorrow.And the delay in the encounter will deteriorate your mental strength.She knew, she will have to witness the monsoon romancing,dancing and ravaging through;today or tomorrow.
Has it not been raining here?”,she asked the driver.
“Rains!!Eh..The monsoon has been behaving very oddly for the last three years.Year before last year it rained like hell.It caused mass destruction.Landslips,thunderbolts,cyclones..Lots of people died.However last year it was the exact opposite.It was very scanty.That too after much delay.And it resulted in famine.Many farmers committed suicide.This year,it seems its worse.Its almost the end of June.But not even a single drop yet.And its boiling.People are dying of sunstroke.Such things were unheard of,atleast in Kerala.Monsoon has become totally unreliable now.”He replied.
'It was always unreliable'Mary thought in mind.
The surroundings corroborated his statement.Parched tree trunks with drooping leaves.The meadows which used to be lush green now turned brownThe mountains denuded now due to the absence of the waterfalls which used to garland them.
The vehicle stopped at a tea-shop and Mary John and her husband Mr.John Thomas got down.A rusty board installed by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation read-”Valara Waterfalls”.The board is still there.But where is the waterfall.Mary was shocked to see the majestic waterfall which used to enthrall many minds with its grandeur,being shrunk to a thin fibre.What waterfall without water.
“Kerala boiling.Meteorologists say that monsoon may not hit Kerala for the next two weeks”An old radio in the tea-shop screamed.Before it could complete what it was saying,it went off.
“Oh!!This power cut.All the dams are empty.Then how can there be power.What an ill fate!!”The tea-shop owner cursed.
“I hope it won't rain for tomorrow's funeral.”David,who was sleeping througout the journey,opened his mouth.He is Mary's cousin.He came to pick them up from Ariport.Mary and her husband were leading their life in Dubai.Three years back,she had vowed that she won't ever set foot in this dreaded place.But the love and gratitude for Jose uncle forced here to break her vow.Tomorrow is that octogenerian's funeral.If it was'nt for Jose uncle there would not have been Mary John.Joseph uncle was a suitable substitute for her parents.Perhaps her own parents could not have given her the love and care that Jose unlce gave.
Those days were golden days.For the ten year old Mary her Adimaly village was a paradise.She with her Appa,Amma and her one year old little brother Appu lived happily.She used to throb around her lovely village like a lamb.And the month of June-July,when Monsoon would be dancing down the earth,is the time when nature looked the most beautiful.The callous summer sun would leave the land bereft of the passionate touch of monsoon.The heated up,thirsty virgin earth will passionately wait for the skies to open up and to come down to her.Finally,as an answer to all that impatient waiting,the winds will bring the dark dense Monsoon clouds, which will drive away the blazing sun which won't be able to witness the sacramental marriage of sky and land.Thunderbolts will lit up the entire area and will announce the advent of the dark handsome groom.All the trees nodding to give consent to this holy ceremony.Finally, with the permission of all forces of nature, sky will embrace land.Rain drops kiss the land and the intoxicating smell of earth emanates from the land surface.
When sky had given away all that it had to give, land will get satisfied,but still yearning for more.New life will sprout out at the denouement of their love making.All the trees and plants get rejuvenated.Seeds sprouting out.All streams and rivers inundated with vociferously
flowing water,which is now abundant with different schools of fish.All energy stored in the clouds now redistributed among all life forms.
Next day sun revisits.Not as blazing as before.Those rain drops which felt shy of landing on earth and had taken refuge on the leaves reflecting the sunrays to produce different kinds of spectrum.Kids appear with fishing rods.Some find fun in floating paper baots in puddles.The miniature form of Titanic hit against a pebble and started to sink.Kids were re-enacting the melodrama of the James Cameroon epic.The advent of monsoon made people very cheerful.
That was the nature of monsoon during those days.It was very punctual.And docile.But sometimes it will turn a bit naughty and will play some pranks.Such a prank overturned Mary's life.It was like any other day.It was evening and the clouds had started to envelope sun. She was getting ready to go to church for the choir practice.Before leaving she gave a kiss on the rosy cheeks of little Appu.She found her brother a wonderful creation.He was unbelievably small.She wondered whether human beings can be so small and tiny.His soft plummish limbs,small round face,tiny sparkling eyes.So astonishing.She could'nt imagine that one day this tiny cute creature will be as tall and big as her dad.She took him in her arms and tickled him.And the baby started chuckling.She did'nt want to keep him down.
“Oh!You have'nt gone yet.Go before it satrts raining.Dont forget the umbrella.”Mother strated to scold.
As soon as she kept him down,he started crying.He wanted to be in her arms.He wanted to accompany her.It is said that babie being incarnation of heavenly agentsthey can foresee future.However,since human beings can't understand their heavenly language properly,they can't comprehend anything.
As the choir practice was going on,wind started to blow.It was not the normal genteel wind.It blew belligerently.All the candles in the church were blown off.All the doors and windows were shaking on their rickety hinges.All the coconut trees oscillating madly.Mary felt scared.It was dark inside the church.Suddenly a thunderbolt struck.The gilrs felt that the sky has broken into pieces and is falling down.They started reciting rosary.It was thickly dark in the church.It started raining heavily.Rain,wind and thunder competing against each other to prove who is the most aggressive.It was like pebbles showering on the tin sheets of the church.In the lightning Mary could see the crucifix.It appeared scary.Lightning only illuminating the blood stains and the stigmata.Not the graceful face of Christ.It was very gory.Mary screamed.It rained heavily the entire night.The girls had to spend the night inside the church.
Next morning Jose uncle came to church to pick up Mary.His face was gloomstruck.She could see banana plantations lying flat on ground;coconut trees uprooted.Houses demolished.There was a crowd near her house.Besides a fire engine,ambulance and police jeep.She was bewildered.She was shocked to see a huge boulder at the place where her home situated.Home totally demolished.Her house situated at the foot of a hill.During yesterday night's heavy rain, the land above her house slipped and slided down.And the huge boulder rolled down and crashed on her home.Entire home ground.And in the ambulance was kept the frozen bodies of Appa,Amma and Appu.She was'nt able to comprehend anything.Jose unlce came near her”They've left.They've left us.”And statred to sob.She got into the ambulance.She wanted to see Appa,Amma and Appu.Then the people came and took her out.They did'nt want her to see the horrificaly deformed bodies of Appa,Amma and Appu.
That was the first time she realized how ruthlessly monsoon can play with lives.After that she grew up in Jose uncle's home.They brought her up with utmost love and care.But that grave incident left an indelible imprint in her mind.She got really scared of rain.She used to have nightmaresof hurricanes,bloodstained crucifix lit by lightning ,Appu screaming under the boulder and all.And the doctors advised that,further stay in this place might may prove detrimental for her mental strength.So she was sent to a convent school in Hyderabad.She studied well.She visited her village only during summer vacation.Time made her mature.Still,when the skies opened up,she felt some sort of fear at the depth of her heart.It made her very uncomfortable.She completed her graduation and got a job in Dubai.There she met John.They fell in love and got married.After waiting for four years,God gifted them with a son,Martin.They lived in Dubai happily.They often used to go to Kerala.But never visited Adimaly.Just because Mary was not comfortable with it.
The car stopped at Jose uncle's home.Mary felt that her whole body was trembling.All the memories brought back.Things she did'nt want to recollect.Her husband guided her in.There was lying the ninety five year old body of Jose uncle.More than the bereavemnt of her guardian,the involuntary recollection of the past was painful.Throughout the funeral ceremony all the memories about Martin popped up in her mind.She was having a knife in her heart.The only solace for her was that it did'nt rain.
Martin turned 18.He was smart and handsome.He completed his twelth from Dubai.For a long time he has been pestering Mary for a visit to her hamlet,Adimaly.However,she was reluctant to that idea.She had only pricking memories about that place.It was a haunted place for her.But now,she could also feel her heart yearning for visit to her village.And she has gotover her phobia for rain.She could bear rain in Hyderabad and Cochin.Then why not rain in Adimaly.
So they decided to go to Adimaly.They got a very warm welcome there.All the people gathered to have a glance of Mary and her family.It has been over a decade since she has visited her village.All the love that was remaining stagnant in the hearts outflowed.
“Ma,it's a crime that you hid this place from me.”Martin complained.And it was another monsoon season.Martin could'nt do anything but to love it.He danced according to its rhythm.Its music intoxicated him.He could sense the soul of monsoon beckoning his.
One day he and his localite friend Rajamany went out in a bike to capture the scenic beuty of the village in lens.He was a photography freak.But it was the day when rain gods decided to let loose.Madness unleashed.It danced down franticly.Martin did'nt return that night.
Next day his body clad in white was brought to their home.While he was taking the snap of mountains standing at the edge of a cliff , a thunderbolt struck him.He died instantaneously.
It was something Mary could'nt bear.It totally devastated her.Her only son.Only hope.Only reason why she was living.Taken way.Taken away by the same monsoon which left her an orphan at a tender age.Same villain.Same victim.She screamed.She yelled.She was raging with grief,despair,anger and revenge.It rained even on the day of his funeral.Each raindrops harrowing her.Vendetta solidified in her mind.If monsoon takes a human form and stands infront of her,she would chop it off and would set it ablaze.She threw stones at the clouds.
“You,ve taken my Appa,Amma and Appu.Now you've taken my only son.Why don't you take me?What grave sin have I committed?”She yelled.He husband was more composed and he tried to make her calm.
After that both of them returned to Dubai.They tried to forget everything.They donated all their wealth to orphanges.
Funeral. of Jose uncle was over.She was now roaming around the dry,dusty and parched up village.She reached the place where here home was situated.Now people are digging a tube well there.
“What to do Ma'm?All groundwater dried up.Now we have to dig deep”They said
'Monsoon playing another prank'She sighed.
A banner caught her attention-”All religions' prayer meeting for rain at Panchayath Auditorium.Tomorrow at 5 30 PM.Please come and co-operate.”
She went for it.The Vicar of the church ,Moulvi of the Masjid and the Head of the Temple were leading the prayer meeting.
Quintessential display of secularism.!
“We all know,rain plays a pivotial role in sustaining our lives.It is the life-giver.It is the life-supporter.But for the last two three years rain has not been blessing us.If it is because of our sins that rain is cursing us ,then lets pray for the forgival of our sins.Lets pray to God Almighty.”The vicar was speaking.As he saw Mary he stammered a bit.Everybody know the havoc wreaked in Mary's life by rain.Life-destroyer being hailed as life-saver and life-supporter.
Mary also joined the prayer.”You ruined my life.Don't ruin the life of these poor villagers.Please come down.Before leaving this village I want to experience you.Probably our last encounter”
Next day the car came to take Mary and husband to airport.As they were packing up a wind blew.A cool breeze.A refreshing breeze.As they looked up, they could see sun hiding behind the advancing clouds.Sky turned dark.Faces lit up.Rumbles of thunder and people started to dance according to its beat.
“RAIN!!RAIN!!ITS GOING TO RAIN!!” People screamed in joy.
Mary looked up the sky.A rain drop fell on her wrinkled face.An apology from the skies.Then the next one.Next one.And the heavy downpour.Mary and husband got into car and drove off.Not wanting to witness one more monsoon

Friday, 5 January 2007


6332 Trivandrum-Mumbai Express-the long python with an irresistible appetite for rails taking a short nap in the tumultuous Trivandrum railway station before starting another session of devouring of rails.
I got into the train and secured my seat. As of now there isn’t any one in my cabin. The air of solitude made me more comfortable.-an island in the sea of human beings. But soon the other claimants of the island came-a contingent of father, mother, son and sister. They were carrying bags and suitcases bigger than themselves. With great dexterity the father managed to stuff the baggage under the seat. Aroma of pineapple, bananas, halwas, jackfruits and other eatables were emanating from the gigantic bags. It seems that they are on a mission to do relief work in the famine stuck villages of North India.
Then the father, mother and the sister got out of the train deserting the son-a wannabe man of 17 or 18 year old. A sense of being disowned written all over his face. Then the father came to the window and gave him a list of instructions:
Do not stand at the door.
Do not get out of the train at stations.
Do not accept anything from strangers.
Call me as soon as you reach Mumbai
He nodded at every instruction. Every father would like to have a son like him.
Now it’s the turn of the mother .She held his hands through the window bars.
“Study well. My prayers will be always with you.” Her eyes were flooded.
“Yes amma.I will”. His reply came in a trembling voice.
“Potte Chetta “.Sister also bid adieu.
The train started to chug off. It was callously punctual today. The farewell scene was so heart-melting that it deserved to be continued for some more time.
I cannot understand why people sometimes express love in a manner, which defies all logic and rationale. They were weeping at the station as if their son is being sent to the gallows. Dear mother, do you want to have your son in your lap for the entire life?
I have also seen bewildering scenes of mothers sobbing at the occasion of their daughter’s wedding. At an occasion, which should make them happy, they shed tears. Its weird. May be the sense of parting with a person who was a part of their body for ten months is driving them to a melancholic mood. I don’t know. Love and logic never go hand in hand.
My companion was sitting there with his head stuck at the window bars. He was wandering in his own world.
“You are studying in Mumbai?” I asked him.
“Ha” He replied coldly.
I groped for some topics, which would keep the ball rolling.
“It seems that you don’t want to leave your native place.” I commented.
My comment made him to get up from his reclined posture.
“To be frank, I don’t want to leave home. It may sound quite babyish. Like a nursery kid crying ‘I don’t want to go to school’. But I wish I never had to return to that rat race. At home I feel that I’m someone. But there I’m just another person My life or existence doesn’t matter to anyone. I feel so tiny there. I wish I never had grown up. I want to be pampered for the whole life.”
I was wondering what made him to acquaint with me so much as to blurt out all his views about modern life.
“You feel lonely in the crowd, right?” I tried to sound a bit philosophical and abstract.
“Maybe. I’ve got lots of friends to hang out with. To chill out with. My co-celebrators. But none to confide in. No one to trust. Just a matter of existing with them and celebrating life with them. The more entertaining you are the more popular you are. Your acceptability among others depends upon your utility-how well others can make use of you. Everything is dynamic and vibrant-with all partying, clubbing and all. But there is some sort of hollowness everywhere.”
His sermon was getting into my nerves. He was sounding so pessimistic and desperate that I felt like jumping out of the train.
My companion again went back to his introspection. The boundaries of his own world wodened; to confront with the realization of his own negligibility in this world. Now he is just a drop in the distributary, which carries all sorts of sediments and sewage to the sea of people. Just to add another minute isle to the archipelago.
The train was moving ahead bisecting the dense rubber plantations of central Kerala.The rubber trees, which would determine the fate of lakhs of Malayalees.Train started to decelerate. Railway lines procreated. A yellow board with black wordings said
“For the attention of passengers…….”
Porters howling.
Engines whistling.
Rattling sound of trailers
The concert is in progress. The train’s monotonous voice was added to it and the concert culminated at a high note.
As soon as the train stopped a battalion of persons, aged between 60 and 65,made inroads into the train. They were pulaya people-the former untouchables of Kerala.These persons who were bare breasted and were clad in traditional lungi; whose sons who have got readymade collections of at least four or five brands. These persons who still acknowledges the fact that they are low-castes and still kneels before the so-called high castes; whose sons, who have placed themselves in the higher echelons of bureaucracy, thanks to Mandal, treading on the perpetrators of centuries of injustice in pursuit of vengeance. They were carrying lots of stuff. Following them were a middle aged man, a lady, probably his wife, two kids and an old lady of about 75 years of age, clad in traditional chatta-mundu .One of the battalion members dusted off the seat with his cloth and said in the humblest of humblest tone.
“Kochamme irunnalum”(Mistress, please take your seat)
The old lady sat there. She is a typical household Christian grandmother. Snowy hair, crumpled face. Ears, which got elongated due to wearing of the large circular earring, called kunukku. But her eyes were full of energy. They spoke the language of authority and stubbornness.
“Kochamme, will you forget us after reaching Bombay?” the battalion leader asked.
“How can I Kuttappa? You people will be always in my mind.” She replied.
“Even if you forget us, we can’t forget you. We and our coming generations will be always indebted to you and your family. It was your land, which gave us food. It sustained our lives. Now it may be in the hands of outsiders. But we will guard it till our last breath. Kochamme, you will be always in our memories. We are indebted to you.”
He joined his palms in front of his face. Tears were trickling down his cheeks.
“Kuttappa, the train is about to leave. Now you people may leave. Thanks for the help.”
The man said in a baritone voice. He offered three hundred rupees notes to him. He refused to take it.
“No sir. We didn’t do it for money.” The whole battalion moved out of the compartment.
The train started to move. It has witnessed lots of scenes like this and has now become quite indifferent to such emotional outbursts.
As the train started to gain speed, the old lady started to scream.
“Earthquake!!Earthquake!!Lord, save us”
The man and the lady went near her and consoled her. They made her to lie down and administered some pills, probably sleeping pills. She fell into deep slumber. Sound of her snoring resonating with thadak-thadak of train. Downfall of a powerful landlady!!
“Sorry. My mom is not used to train journeys. So she may behave quite oddly. We are sorry for that. Please cooperate.” The man apologized.
“She belongs to Pulimoottil family, which is one of the most powerful and affluent families of Kerala. You know, we were baptisized by St.Thomas. We owned most of the lands of Kottayam and Poonjar. And she used to manage all these lands. She was a lady with iron fist” The young lady started to brag off.
I didn’t understand on which fact the lady is taking pride in.-on the glorious past of that old lady from where she was uprooted or on the fact that the lady with iron fist is tied to their leash.
“ Now that she is old, it has become difficult for her to manage all the family property. And we, her children are scattered all over the globe. No one is interested in looking after the property. We kept on telling her ‘ sell it off. and shift with us to Bombay’. But she won’t admit. She was very adamant that she wouldn’t sell of ancestor’s property. She wanted to breathe her last in her forefather’s soil. We waited for three-four years. But everything has got a limit, right? This time all of us took a unanimous decision. We made her to sell of the land. And the proceeds were equally divided amongst us. Now she is coming with us to Bombay. There she will get better medical facilities. There will be anyone to attend to her, either me or she. Here who is there to look after her? These pulaya peoples who claim to be her trustful servants? You never know, when they will bite back.” The man justified his decision.
The old lady, bidding adieu to her hometown, forever. That too she couldn’t do properly, as she was in involuntarily induced slumber. These prolific coconut trees, lush green hillocks, golden paddy fields, vibrant River Meenachil, the Sunday Church Mass –everything fated to hide in her oblivion. If you try to replant a set tree from its milieu it will wither off. She wanted to embrace death in the soil, which witnessed her birth and growth; in the midst of her contemporaries. Now, she will have to undergo an alienated death; in any cold hospital room; in the midst of all gadgets; surrounded by persons speaking the language of jargons and lingoes. Her children could have granted her a tranquil death. However, sometimes avarice sucks out the last drop of humanity from you.
The train moved on. Past Kochi, Thrishur, Shornur, Palakkad. With great effort, it is now penetrating the Sahyadri Mountains. It was lunchtime. I was getting bored and decided to take a stroll across the compartments.
“Better you cut your nails before serving food “
I turned back. It was that retired Army Colonel yelling at the person serving food. I had met this fellow today morning. He was cribbing about the pathetic state of toilets. Now this fellow is taking on the pantry car fellow.
“Sir, my nails are clean “he retorted.
“ It doesn’t matter. Dirt can accumulate under your nails. And it may get transferred to food. And the passengers may get affected. Why don’t you get a shave and hair cut? Are you coming from jail? Hair may fall of from your face or head and may contaminate food. If we have paid we must get quality service. “ The colonel was steaming.
“ Ok Sir. All of us will the get shave off all the hair on our head and face. And we will cut off our fingers also. Will it satisfy you? “ The fellow replied in a bit sarcastic manner.
“Adjust Colonel. Don’t get too much fussy about these things. Make some compromises.” His fellow passenger advised.
“Shut up!!Compromises, egh? This is the problem with our society. Compromise with everything. Today morning the toilet was stinking like sewer. When I was complaining about it, people told me to adjust. Shove off!! This country won’t progress. This stupid democracy is full of adjustments and compromises. It should be scrapped off and military rule should be established. It won’t give any room for adjustments and compromises. Then only this nation would progress.” The colonel said.
I moved on. To the AC compartment. To get some cool air. To get in touch with some posh and pomp.
Two ladies were talking.
“You know, it took 7500 bucks to straighten my hair. Isn’t it flowing now? “
“Ooh!!Awesome.It took almost the same to groom the hair of my dog, Tippu. He was a Labrador. But last month he died. Because of food poisoning. Negligence of my servant. After that I beat the hell out of him. You know, Tippu was very sweet and lovely. After that I lost the interest in life. I thought of even committing suicide. I miss him very much.”
I left the compartment. I can’t take more posh and pomp. The train is now passing through the Naxal dominated areas of Andhra Pradesh. I wondered what the Naxalites would have done had they overheard the ladies conversation. They might chop off the 7500 bucks-worth-straight haired-head; to bring equality in society; to bridge the gap between haves and have-nots
I went near the door of the compartment. A young man was standing there. Not exactly standing. Hanging from the compartment with one hand on the bar. He had one bottle of Coke in the other hand. It won’t take any rocket-science to make out that the contents of the bottle were not non-alcoholic. He was howling and yelling.
“ I wanna die. I wanna die”
“Dear brother, why do you want to die? You are too young for that” I said.
“Why shouldn’t I? Will you tell me one reason?” He asked me.
What can I answer. I was puzzled.
“ I am a bloody loser. Loser in every field of life. My parents disowned me. About academics, least said is the better. All my friends ditched me. And girls. I proposed to many girls but all turned me down. Why should I live?. My virility is challenged. I should die.”
“No girls. No friends. No money. I should die.”
He started to sing this.
“Sir, if you don’t let us travel, then we’ll have no other option but to jump from this running train and die”
This statement turned my attention from this hooligan. I looked at the direction from which the voice came. Sitting on the floor near the other door were a middle-aged man, his wife and their three children. Their clothes and physique betrayed the days of utter poverty and malnourishment they have had. The man was having an argument with the TTR.
“Please understand. I cannot let you travel without tickets. I have to abide by the rules. I’m accountable to the government.” TTR said.
“Government! Hugh!!. Where was your government when all our crops where affected by drought? Where was your government when the moneylenders and the bankers took away all our lands? Where was your government when many of my fellow farmers ended up their lives? At least, we are making an effort to survive in this ruthless world. If your government is still showing its callous attitude then we will jump out of this train now.”
The man said.
I was thinking who had got the better reasons to die-whether the hooligan at the other door or this farmer and his family in this door. Finally the TTR melted and he let them travel.
I got really fed up. I cannot take more human characters in my mind. I had seen enough of eccentricities. Enough of weirdness. Enough of contrasts. I went back to my seat and slept.
Next day train reached Mumbai. I got down from the train and got dissolved in the crowd. I hoped my first companion would get adjusted with the rat race. I hoped that the old lady would have a tranquil death. I hoped that Colonel’s dream of a disciplined India would materialize. I hoped that the lady’s straightening of hair would have a permanent effect. I hoped that the lady would get over the grief of her Tippu’s death. I hoped that the hooligan would get a girlfriend. I hoped that the farmer and his family would be able to make a decent living in Mumbai.
I moved on. To get in touch with more eccentricities, more weirdness and more contrasts of humanity.