Wednesday, October 14, 2020

TRICHUR


It was 1933, when this affair shook my life, and I remember it led me into smoking. As a teenager I always thought it to be a bad idea, but I was beyond twenty now, mature enough to test the thing’s reputation as a stress reliever. One would be initiated into smoking not with cigarettes then, but with
beedi. If you are from my generation you’ll recall that cigarette was out-of-favour in the whole of India, in deference to Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Swadesi’ call. I’d pass hours at my brooding-point under a clump of swaying coconut palms under the gaze of the under-repair Tangasseri Point lighthouse at Quilon, trying to emit smoke-rings, which was quite a task with beedies, given the measly amounts of smoke they produced. Peace reigned, to the sound of the emerald waves lapping on the shore, kites swooping down to pick up the stray matti that popped up like a cork now and then. Good old Quilon coast! I could watch these sights but not feel them inside, alas, given the prevailing circumstance.

The trademark red diagonal stripes of the stately lighthouse were, I remember, largely blotted out by patches of jacketing that served to mend the cracks that had sprung up here and there, which, under the dying lights of the setting sun, looked like gnarled hands of a bloody gigantic witch clasping the tower. And what was I doing at Quilon, I was in attendance upon Acchachan, my grandfather, who lay very sick at District Hospital, Quilon, which, on account of the skills and care bestowed upon patients by the Swiss Holy Cross Sisters offered the best medical care in the whole of the Travancore state.

But to fully appreciate what I relate, you must follow me through the crazy maze of kinship that Kerala society once was. Or like a bloody house of mirrors you may say. Vivekananda called Kerala a ‘mad-house of castes’. Even Malayalees of the present generations are surprised to be told about unsavoury practices like Mulakkaram, or the breast tax, and I suspect modern Keralites think it best to let the skeletons lie in forgotten cupboards of society. But, this is what I feel, contemporary social evils can all be traced to the Nambudiri bhumi atyagraham which loosely means ‘greed for land’. And every social thing in Kerala is ultimately traced back to Parasurama, who reputedly created the Kerala cosmos, and planted Brahmin clans there. Detractors claim that the Nambudiri Brahmins were created by him out of fishermen, by fashioning the fishing-rod strings into sacred thread, that is the yadhnyopavitham, a claim not to be taken seriously, for, in reality, they had migrated from the north. Parasurama is still around, the Puranas say… niṅṅaḷ dirghakalaṁ jīvikkaṭṭe daivam!

My Acchan, who harboured some scientific curiosity loved to say that kinship in Kerala is as complex as the theory of relativity. You’ll notice the laboured pun in the idea, concerned as it was with ‘relatives’. Just to highlight our scientific temperament, Einstein, like no other scientist, caught the fancy of the Malayalee mind, and it is a matter of record, Albert Einstein was offered a Professor’s post in the fledgling University of Travancore by the Travancore State Diwan, Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Aiyar, for a fixed monthly pay of Rupees 6000.00! Alas he chose Princeton over Travancore. Acchan, charlatan, thought that was brilliant business, the pun and all, though I was not impressed. Not that Acchan cared overmuch for others’ opinion. His manners, or as we say in Malayalam, maanyers were highly boisterous, his right hand perpetually raised, seeking to  imprint a high-five on the companion’s hand, to the shriek of adipoli!! or kidduu!!!

But Acchan’s Acchan, that is Acchachan, was the very opposite of that- restrained and stoic, philosophical. Kind, profound…I am somewhere in between, but closer to Acchachan, I fondly hoped once..no longer, as you’ll soon witness. Apparently his genetic imprint, and his father’s, were so dominating, my Ammooma always said, that in the clan, ceṟumakan mutt Acchaneaṭ samyamuṇṭ- boys take after grandfathers!

Acchachan was a Nambudiri, so also Acchan, like the Adi Sankaracharya, members of the Brahmin sub-caste considered widely to be the acme of Vedic culture, very orthodox. A strict code of bloody ‘purity’ was built around themselves by the Nambudiris. Just to illustrate,  every lower caste was prescribed a distance upto which they could accost a Nambudiri. For example the safe distance to be maintained by fisher-folk was 24 arms-lengths! But this holy whiff entirely bypassed me, in spite of my being a direct male descendant of Acchachan! I was a Nair, not a Brahmin, but a kshatriya technically.

Of course all this was to finally change with the Madras Nambudiri Act 1933, and Acchachan was part of the reform movement, as I shall shortly explain. But see how bloody mulish are bad habits, here and there you will still find relics of Marumakathayam or matrilineal ways in our language and culture- for example even today the wife often addresses the husband as chetta, something like bhaiyya!  So a Nair family consisted not of husband, wife and children, but of brother, sister and the sister’s children from the man who in turn inhabited in his family in his sister’s homestead. If a Nair boy somehow happened to marry a Nambudiri girl, for Nairs, their children would be, Nambudiri  and vice versa, because the Nambudiri was above the Nair in social hierarchy, even though the latter was much smarter!

Acchachan, being the first born, inherited the family estates as per the Nambudiri practices and was the paterfamilias of the illam, that is the correct word for a Nambudiri estate. Acchachan never used his caste title, but was known to everyone as Kesavan, and would, impishly, sign as ‘K7’. Acchan, that is dad, was spared of that responsibility, and he was the youngest of Acchachan’s sons. Only the eldest son could have a regular marriage, so that the pre-eminence of the eldest son remained unquestionable, and the younger sons had to rest content with Sambandam, an informal arrangement basically for procreation. A man could enter into Sambandam merely by gifting a mundu, in the presence of an oil-lamp, to the Nair girl, who belonging as she did to a matrilineal set-up, could say poda to her ‘husband’ by simmbly returning the bloody mundu. My Ammachi, though, I should mention, treasured her mundu and kept it along with her jewellery in a private corner of the family steel cupboard! Such was their love, Acchan frequently stayed with us…

All that ended with the Madras Marumakathayam Act 1933, after which no Sambandam remained and the bloody thrill was gone! But while it prevailed, the maternal uncle of children was responsible for their upbringing, not the biological father, and the household or Tharavad was headed by the senior-most lady, or the matriarch, though the real power still vested with the eldest male, the karnavar..

So I and Acchachan were like two parallel lines running close like rails of a railway track, never meeting but drawn towards a common point. He had a certain fondness for me. One, both of us were very fair, and I bore uncanny resemblance to the child Kesavan, Ammoman used to say, which was of a piece of her formula of ceṟumakan muttAcchaneaṭ samyamuṇṭ!

I and Acchachan had much in common, both of us were equally drawn to literature and painting. The late 19th century and the early 20th were the renaissance years for Malayalam literature. Christian missionaries with their perseverance and curiosity were the prime movers of this literary movement. The Samuel Johnson of Malayalam, who painstakingly compiled the first Malayalam-English dictionary was  German missionary, Herman Gundert. Acchachan had a well-stocked library, and the most well-thumbed  books in his collection were the Malayalam-English dictionary by Gundert, the Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa translated by Kerala Varma, and not the least, his beloved novel, Chandhu Menon’s Indulekha, said to be the first Malayalam novel to be written. It’s about Nair society, though the preoccupation of Acchachan was Nambudiri reform, but as dad used to say, Nambudiris and Nairs are two sides of the same coin!

If one has to summarise the social changes that were in the offing, one has merely to remember Indulekha! The British, steeped in Victorian tradition never ceased to be horrified with Nambudiri excesses, Sambandam marriages, and the apparent promiscuity prevalent in society. The Church was also in a ‘reformatory’ mode, even as the Queen was not amused. The attempts to remould Kerala society in the British mould was bound to succeed as the Royal House of Travancore (and Cochin as well) threw its weight behind the movement. Basically the contradictions between a society trying to emulate the patriarchal  West, and the matrilineal systems at home became too much for the Travancore royalty. With their sharp intellect, the ruling class read the writing on the wall and correctly concluded that the world of the future would be dominated by the western mode. Queen Victoria, it is said, was delighted with the famous Travancore queen Rani Lakshmi Bayi when she refused to divorce her husband Kerala Varma, that is the writer of the Malayalam Abhijnanasakuntalam, at the behest of scheming courtiers. Queen Victoria appreciated the ‘moral fibre’ of the Rani and gradually Christian morality percolated downwards. The writer Chandhu Menon was himself an employee of the British administration.    

Madhavi, the heroine of Indulekha was the new ideal for Malayalee womanhood who wouldn’t suffer Nambudiri excesses. She is dedicated to her husband, and fights back when her virtue is questioned. Her sensibilities are very English. My Acchachan would illustrate his points with instances from Madhavi’s life with such fervor that as a child I always thought Madhavi was some real handsome lady in our neighbourhood! In fact, Madhavi was the heroine’s horoscope name and Indulekha was a sobriquet lavished on her on account of her beauty by Krishna uncle. However the name Madhavi is used only by her soul-mate, that is Madhavan! Madhavan-Madhavi, you see!

Acchachan loved Raja Ravi Varma and his paintings, every Ravi Varma tells a story he would insist. He is the creator of the creators, and the images of various Gods that reside in the Hindu mind are his creations! His favourite painting was Ata Acchan Varunnu that is, “There Comes Papa”. The painting depicts Ravi Varma’s daughter Mavalikera holding the baby Setu Lakhmi Bayi, the one who, as an adult happened to impress Queen Victoria, as I told you earlier, with the family dog beside, waiting expectantly for the father to arrive, as if, to complete the picture of a modern nuclear family!

So basically Acchachan saw the world through English eyes and therefore found allies in the reform movement. He would talk about V.T.Bhattathiripad, the very talented leader of the Nambudiri Yogakshema Mahasabha much his junior. Known as VT, he had, just like Acchachan stopped using the caste-name Nambudiri. Somehow Acchachan often visited Trichur, where he had occasion to watch the progress of VT, who studied at the Edakunni Nambudiri School, where he also edited the youth magazine Vidyarthi copy of which Acchachan invariably came back with. Made me read the editorial note, which of course was of no interest to me, I would rather trawl magazines with pictures, or read the Kaumudi..

The reforms attempted by the Mahasabha revolved around the plight of unmarried Nambudiri women and Nambudiri widows. The eldest Nambudiri son was expected to take on a Nambudiri bride, or several of them, and the younger ones, like Acchan entered into Sambandam with Nair girls thus leaving out one set of women: the unmarried Nambudiri women who were cursed to remain life-long virgins. A Nambudiri widow could not re-marry. Together they constituted the bloody ‘Antherjanams’, or ‘people inside the house’, meaning they could not step out of the household, and if at all they had to, they had to move about in a formation more like a Roman phalanx, lest the eyes of a stranger fall on them. The system, if it can be called so, resulted in a matrimonial gender imbalance which caused social tensions, and created opportunity for the Nambudiri male to revel in debauchery, while all the time earning punyam, because all this apparently had the sanctions of Parasurama! The slogan VT gave was “transform the Nambudiri into a human being”. And Acchachan with his sense of compassion and equality of all human beings became their torch-bearer in Venad!

Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come, and so it was with the Reforms .As a result of the many Resolutions that were passed by the Mahasabha, the conferences and not the least, stage shows, the Prahasanams, under their aegis, a number of legislations were enacted by the Houses of Travancore and Cochin, though the Kerala Nambudiri Act was passed after Independence.

A Plague raged in greater India in 1932-33, but thanks to the Public Health Department, which set up observation stations at every entry point, not a single case happened in Kerala! However fate had decided to corner Acchachan, and when he returned from the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Sabha held at Karalmanna near Trichur, he developed cough, cold and high fever, which was later diagnosed as Winter Fever, though there is hardly any winter in Kerala, only rain, rain, and more rain! Perhaps the strain of the 300 mile journey, changing trains, from Trichur to Sengottaii to Punalur to Quilon to Trivandrum to Attingal, got the better of him. Of course as the crow flies the distance may be half of that. Acchachan, though, was full of stories from the conference, boasting that one thousand Antherjanams had participated, and was particularly impressed by the Prahasanam staged by some amateurs, which he found more gripping than any Nambudiri Kathakali show or any Nair Kalaripayattu show! My Ammooma administered to him the usual turmeric prasadam, and the usual Nambudiri manthrams, but  Parasurama was unmoved, and given Acchachan’s faith in Missionaries, it was decided to take Acchachan to Quilon, which was, fortunately, quite close.

Naturally Acchachan’s choice of companion fell on me, and I always had a sense of loyalty towards him. But it was a sad journey. It was raining off and on and you can imagine what the Kerala landscape would offer, looking out of the window of a train in gently falling rain, an endless expanse of green, glassy rain-drops refracting myriad hues of green, but that day the shade of clouds played on my gloom. The only source of warmth was a wad of Rupees 5,000 which was entrusted with me by Acchachan at the commencement of journey, not that I had designs on it, but this was the first time I had touched so much of dough.

Acchan was a Bradshaw person, and would wait like a crow on a tree for the latest edition to arrive, and he generously donated one of his retired copies to us, according to which the rail distance was 40 miles, and after 2 hours of travel we reached Quilon. The Mahasabha guys were waiting impatiently for our arrival. A car with a TCQ number plate was pressed into service, and the old man, who had survived the epic journeys of the last few days was straight put on oxygen support. Apparently the entire admission formalities were completed by Mahasabha volunteers, save the mandatory what’s-it-called, which has to be filled up by ‘next-of-kin’. The fund for admission had been arranged before-hand by Acchachan, when and how remained a mystery to me.

The Quilon Hospital was a small affair, only 15 beds. It was a revelation to me, how rich Acchachan was. He was housed in the best room, with an ante-room for the attendant. Not that I had anything to do with the treatment, the Swiss Matron Annali was around when help was required. The main treatment as I learnt was Oxygen, for serum therapy was not indicated in acute cases, it worked in early detection. Sulphonamides and Penicillin were yet to be made commercially available.  Fever would sometimes reach as high as 106 degrees F and Acchachan would become delirious. For fever, he would be administered Salicin, which I suppose is same as Aspirin. The sisters would resort to sponging if temperature exceeded 104 deg.

During one such bouts, Sister Marieli rushed out of the old man’s room, I was lazing in the ante-room. They used to call him Opa, like the Tamils’ Appa, I thought. Opa wants you quickly she said. Opa was struggling with a bout of delirium. I was so worried, I stood with my legs shaking. Acchachan was deranged and unhinged, expostulating and desperate to tell me something and he waved out Sister saying doore po! doore po! Vaathil adaikkoo!!! Door close please!!

What he said next raised the hair on the back of my neck. Does Thaathri know about my illness Mone! he said, she will be very worried! A bolt of lightning struck me as I heard him say Thaathri. A hundred years of the sordid existence of Antherjanams, the meanness of Nambudiri society flashed across my mind. As it rose, it abated. Relieved I remembered Thaathri was lost to Kerala 30 year back and no, no, Acchachan could not have been one of her consorts.

I’m not sure about Indulekha, but Thaathri was for real, the Kerala Joan of Arc virtually burnt at the stake! Her life was not the subject of a novel like Indulekha by then, but was living, earthy memory in the first half of the 20th century. Only the previous year, that is 1932 had seen the demise of a prime character in the saga, Rajashri Sir Rama Varma XV, who was the Cochin King during the Smarthvicharam, Thaathri’s inquisition as per shastras.. The late King had aborted the inquiry proceedings in 1905, allegedly as he was the next on the list of Thaathri’s illicit consorts. He lent strength to this surmise by abdicating the throne in 1908. However as a matter of fact he had fallen out with the British Resident and decided that he had enough.

Thaathri, is the Malayalam form of Sanskrit Dharitri, earth goddess. She was a Nambudiri girl married to an old widower as a mere 9 year old! Thaathri blossomed into an extremely beautiful girl, apart from being wily, and so bold, I don’t think even Parasurama could have looked her in her eye. But she burnt a hole in Parasurama’s creation when she struck like a meteor! As a fall-out of her Smarthvicharam conducted by a constellation of Namudiri priests, sixty-five ‘respectable’ citizens were arraigned, many were excommunicated, and a couple of them even communicated suicide. She had painstakingly documented her visitors’ capers, and could establish each and every intimacy, even placing accurately the grandees’ bloody moles on thighs and all .

But ‘Thaathri’ from Acchachan’s mouth..bhayamkara..ende ammo! It was perplexing to say the least…Anyway in Acchachan’s incoherent blabber Thaathri got transformed to Chitra. Chitra an ex-Antherjanam, Chitra, who had a big girl and an unni boy and stayed in Arimbur or Nadathara was it, in Trichur. The old man kept on raving incoherently and largely inaudibly. Something sounded like kuṭṭikaḷe paripālikkuka and enne kapatabhaktan siksikkuka Parasurama, admahatya ceyyuka, weeping in spells. Do you have a beedi Mone! he entreated in between! In his moments of alertness he seemed to have caught the smell of tobacco on my persona. The bloody long and short of it was that  Acchachan had what Tamilians call chinna veedu, little home, back in Trichur and, he felt guilty, entreating Parasurama to punish the hypocrite, and worried about the kids who were supposedly Acchan’s truant step-siblings, assuming whatever the old man was spouting was real! I was avoiding his wild gaze, nursing feelings of betrayal, anger, sorrow, pity..and wondering why the bloody hell I came here! “Thank God Chitru I met you before I came back from Karalmanna”,  he said..which I construed as circumstantial evidence for the veracity of the story…must be all true for he had just returned from Trichur. Ha ha, and so that’s why Ammooma used to wonder why he always had one foot in Trichur!

As a result of the sponging and pills, Acchachan’s temperature plunged, followed by my respect for my Acchachan. The moment I dreaded arrived soon enough. Acchachan recovered in a weeks’ time. Did he remember the Hamlet-like febrile soliloquy at all? Did I really hear what I thought I heard? Was it a bad dream? Acchachan would look on pensively at me, clear his throat and stop in his tracks, or so I thought. His brain was made of sterner stuff, and on the evening before his discharge he tentatively enquired, avoiding my glance, if in his unconscious spells he had talked about Chitra. Yes, I replied curtly, and I am sorry you are like any other Nambudiri yoke, that’s what you told me. Acchachan sat back resigned, wisely refraining from fanning the fires.

The trauma was unbearable. Here was my ideal, my beloved, my childhood friend, my Acchachan, revered Nambudiri reformer of Venad, who fought for the rights of Antherjanams, confessing to an illicit liaison with an Antherjanam, unbeknownst to anyone! It was as if I was carrying a bloody live grenade on my body, and which I could not cast away. So, what was I supposed to do? Tell Acchan- will he launch into a high-five? Tell Ammooma? Write an anonymous letter home? How could this trespass be forgotten and forgiven? At least someone apart from me should know..

The journey back home appeared much shorter than the up-journey. For the most of the time, I planted myself at the bogie entrance, eyes trained on the telegraph poles and wires, on which could be seen droplets of rain fall, tremblingly shuffle with the winds, coalesce and drop down to the earth. On the illam, there was a grand reception, and I was treated as a hero, who had pulled the old man from the jaws of death. Acchan even had tears in his eyes, that was the first and last time I saw him like that.

I was in a hurry to leave Attingal as soon as possible. I graduated that year and got a scholarship to attend the Sir J J School of Art at Bombay. I may have turned my head away from Acchachan, but the values and aesthetics internalised since my childhood were like a reluctant legacy. An exposure to the outside world inculcated in me a more balanced and inclusive view of morality. Gradually, the feeling of betrayal lost its sting, and grudgingly I admitted to myself that extenuating circumstances were possible in Acchachan’s case. I had not sought any further information on the how this chinna veedu thing could have come about, at what stage of his life. The episode changed my mental make-up forever. Cigarettes started getting manufactured in India in a big way after Independence, and I could bid farewell to the beedi. I became more discreet, lest I should have to harbour secrets of my own, which I could accidentally reveal to my as yet unborn grandchild in a bout of Pneumonia!

The thought of spilling the beans on Acchachan never arose in my mind. Our relation was sacred, I still believed, all said and done. It would have been betrayal. But I never spoke or wrote to Acchachan after I left Trivandrum. Acchachan could be carrying an apprehension about my conduct, and worried about my depth to keep the secret known only to me in the whole clan. Never did I have any interest in knowing more about our larger family of Trichur, I ran from even thoughts about them!

One day I was to learn that the curtains had still not fallen upon the story. Acchachan left us seven years after the fateful days spent with Acchachan at Quilon. I did not feel an urge to attend his last rites, and by then the clan had grown, and I had outgrown the clan.  Shortly thereafter I got a letter from a solicitor in Quilon. Acchachan had left a letter for me with him. I was requested to call the solicitor and fix up an appointment which reluctantly I did. I was told to be there with my identification papers. Railways were a lot better by then, less zig-zag, or as we say sigg-sagg and I reached the law-firm’s office at Quilon at the appointed hour. The solicitor was a busy man and quite impersonally handed me a moderately heavy envelope, after checking my identification, took my acknowledgement, then showed me up to the door, at last uttering a few words of condolence, which I thought was kind of him. I went back to my lodge, envelope in my coat pocket. I carefully tore open the envelope, and out fell a steel key, a Godrej emblem etched on the bow. There was a letter in a shaky hand signed K7. Acchachan briefly thanked me for being such a valuable company at District Hospital and securing him from the jaws of death. This is the key to my locker in Kutchery branch of State Bank of Travancore, he wrote. Take the key with your identification papers to the Manager and take the contents, and surrender the key to the bank. Do not share information about this legacy with anyone please, Mone!

My return ticket was for the next evening. At 11.00 I reached the bank and went straight to the Manager. Acchachan was held in high esteem by the bank, and I was not told to come next day or next week, as is the common practice. Go to Mrs. Thangammal, show her your identification and access your locker, leave the key with her and take her acknowledgement. You also have the option to get the locker transferred to your name after opening a new account, we shall waive the Introduction, since you already have an account with our D.N.Road, Bombay branch. We wouldn’t mind that, that will be a blessing for you, there is a three year wait-list for our lockers. The lady was quite efficient, had no difficulty in interpreting my papers, took my signatures at roughly 18 places, and led me upto the locker, and left after operating her master-key. Inside the locker there was another envelope, which contained two wads of hundred rupee notes! Rupees 20,000!

 

My heart leapt! I looked at the vault door instinctively! The first time I held so much cash was also at the instance of Acchachan, and now after his departure. It should have been worth 600 tolas of gold! Or a palatial house in Quilon or why even Bombay! A wave of mortification swept through me! Narayana! Was I coveting those riches? I replaced the wads with their envelope in the locker. It was hush Money no doubt. The reward of keeping the old man’s secret. It was accompanied by no message, no missive, no explanation. He must have spent the rest of his life under threat of being stripped of his status, his dignity. I felt sorry for him, and livid at the same time for assuming I’d be ripe for a reward. To the best of my knowledge about family affairs, nobody got a windfall from Acchachan’s testaments. That Money was, for me, untouchable, and sure I was bitter at being presented with such a dilemma, and so crudely!

Anyway I could also not leave the Money there, I was sure the bankmen would not pinch it, it would just rot, no? I picked the envelope and the bloody cash like a dead rat and deposited it into my coat pocket crinkling my nose mentally, unsure how I’d dispose of it. I informed Mrs. Thangammal of conclusion of my business on the way out, handing her over the Godrej key. She in return handed over the acknowledgement, which I would have certainly consigned to the waste-paper basket, had she not been around. Strangely, she accompanied me to the main door, and from the top of the staircase, pointed to a building. That’s the Quilon office of the Yogakshemam Mahasabha, she said. Your Appooppan was a famous Nambudiri man. My name may be Tamil, but I am a Nambudiri, sort of, she giggled. There is a photograph of your Appooppan in the office, the Maaaneger told me, you know, they have their account with us. Ha ha, the bank has nursed the Malayalee trait of knowing everything about everyone nicely, I thought. It was the idea of taking a glimpse of Acchachan’s photograph that hit me, I was so curious. I walked up to that dilapidated structure, and after hesitating a bit, walked in. Only one gentleman in a clean shining mundu, reading Manorama. The Sabha had fallen on bad times, with a running battle between the members and the office-bearers going on and on, all reported in the press. It appeared the office had no cleaning staff either. I froze when I looked at Acchachan’s picture above the side window. It was a young Kesavan. Nambudiri Kesavan, the legend said. Would Acchachan like the “Nambudiri” I thought . The VT culture had perhaps ended. The man looked up questioningly and seemed apologetic about the disarray, and said it is now like this only saar I sayyy… vera entha parayaa! Suddenly the expression turned to one of astonishment. Looking alternately at the picture and me he said are you the nephew of Kesavan Saar who was with him in his illness in the District Hospital? I only drove you from the station! God, you resemble him so much! It could be you picture, I sayyy..he he he ende ammo! I’m his grandson I explained. Irikku! Please sit saar! Ninnaḷkk keaphi kuṭikkumea? Coffee? Will take some time saar he he he! The picture we got from his home in Attingal! We lost a very great man, your uncle, I mean your grandpa I sayyy..! Tell me, what can I do for you!

 In a flash it came ! A divine revelation! I reached for the envelope with the cash, drew it out and placed it on the table. A donation I said, for the Sabha’s work. He hastily took out the cover and tried to comprehend the amount. Ammo! Tondy? This is more than what I earned in my whole life! He ran for the telephone frantically, but it was dead. He put on his slippers and started for the door, came back breathless, saying what should I tell the Secretary, he is in Trivandrum today, scratching his head. I said no, no, no please we don’t want publicity at all. I have to catch the flight, give me the receipt and let me go in God’s name!

They call me Ammavan, I’m the Treasurer, he said, rummaging drawers for the receipt book, which took a while...nobody donates or cares for poor Nambudiri women now, I sayyy…so the receipt book is…I don’t know…but there it is, he got it out of the drawer and dusting it he bowed to Acchahcan’s picture, counted the Money, and started writing slowly like a child. Even after he dies he remembers the Antherjanams, must be the biggest donation anybody gave them I sayyy…What is he writing for Donor’s Name I wondered, without asking me my name? Seemed impolite to me to ask. Finally he blew on the ink, carefully folded the yellowing paper, placed it in a decaying envelope and handed it over to me, eyes moist !

What a relief! I stepped out and after walking a dozen steps, and ensuring that Ammavan had retreated into the room, took out the envelope. I opened the receipt. It was filled in cursive letters fondly. The Donor’s Name said “Nambudiri Kesavan”! What a perceptive man, Ammavan, I thought. Knew what the situation demanded! Or that I looked appropriately destitute!

So I had check-mated Acchachan. The whereabouts of King Bali are not known, but Acchachan I’m sure is in heaven and smiling at his Mone’s smartness and generosity.

  

No comments: