Monday, July 10, 2017

The Jungle Book

In an impassioned essay quoting ten acclaimed literary creations that has adoption as the storytelling theme, The Guardian said,   “A profound human experience- and also a brilliant plot device- adoption has inspired endless stories from Shakespeare to the contemporary”.

Those are in literature. But outside, in the real world adoption is yet to resonate among human beings as an epoch and ground breaking act of love, caring, compassion and pathos. If a pack of wolves could adopt a ‘man child’ in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’, why not man?

A few years ago, a Dutch acquaintance narrated why he and his wife decided not to beget children. They were married after the Second World War and during the acme of the Cold war era. Nuclear Armageddon was imminent and many like the gentleman and his bride decided not to bring forth children into a world that was hurtling down inexorably into cataclysmic termination. In retrospect that may seem to be a highly cynical decision, but it is all the more pertinent today and sapient. Today it’s the man-made existential threat that hulk like the more definite threat of environmental and ecological melt down but also the utter chaos & anarchy in social, economic and political environment. Well the sleight of the hand of human kind is reflecting in all the dire prophecies.

I was driving past a city school this morning and the traffic was moving as fast as the fastest tortoise ever could. It was rush hour for the school and there was long winding queue of school kids waiting to go in through the half open school gate. May be some five hundred of them! Little, young, cheerful looking lads and girls all in their adolescence. I wondered about the less than a decade from now, when these kids pass out at different stages in their education, what prospects does the world hold out to them?

In a world already burdened and plowed down by over population and consequent unsustainable living, already vitiating the natural environment and heralding ominous climate change pushing human race farther into perilousness; in a world where political and social environment offer nothing but despair; where macabre of religion and xenophobia eclipse acts what we often proudly attribute to human sensibilities, what can these kids and hundreds and thousands of them expect from the World? Nothing but stolidity and desertion. The Gods are silent too even if they did exist.

In India we may touch the 1.5 billion mark in population as fast as in a decade and little more. Which means well within the fertility age of our progenies. An exhortation to the fecund generation to restrain from begetting would be termed as selfish and pessimistic alarm. But it is not, certainly! In fact it will be an act of cruelty, selfishness and crime if human race continues to be driven by the irresistible social and cultural urge, exhortation or custom to procreate. This world as it is hurtling along offer no solace or hope for mankind. More because humankind is in an irreversible kamikaze gear and obstinately so.

This is where adoption can be a nobler and wise deed than the act of copulating for procreation. Almost two thirds of infants in India are malnourished. “World Bank data indicates that India has one of the world’s highest demographics of children suffering from malnutrition – said to be double that of Sub-Saharan Africa with dire consequences. India’s Global Hunger Index India ranking of 67 the 80 nations with the worst hunger situation places us even below North Korea or Sudan. 44% of children under the age of 5 are underweight, while 72% of infants have anemia!”

To argue emotionally that biological bonding cannot be replicated or substituted with acts of philanthropy is quite naïve. Aren’t there enough instances and stories happening around us to the contrary, where an artificial bonding proves to be far more potent and enduring than the trappings of cognateness?

Leaving all that aside, one hard look at the world around us will make one rethink of ever begetting and there are plenty of lives waiting to be rescued from what otherwise would be a sure dystopian life.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Cinderellas

It is often quite true that empathy is  nonexistent in a person or hard to come by because he or she may not have been through a situation to feel the scars  desolation can bring about. But at the same time what distinguishes or what we daringly claim to distinguish man from beasts is empathy! The feeling for and oneness with a fellow being! I firmly believe so. Yet often we are found barren, indifferent smug and abounding in or given to pompous or aphoristic moralising. Ironically some video footage that are viral on the NET from the wilderness of Africa tell us that beasts sometimes outflank man in empathy and acts of compassion.

Yesterday a few of us got together at home and we chanced upon a discussion on the trauma of child abuse and the  indelible scars that it  leaves upon the person as he or she moves through adult hood and even late in life.

A few things became apparently reinforced to me from the argument we had. Men are men like the clichéd quote of some idiotic politician, “boys’ are boys” while commenting callously on sexual violence against women. Indeed men are men that (may be with some exceptions, mercifully)! But the vast majority regardless of their education and sophistication are egocentric chauvinistic porcine.

Is it not true about people confiding their deepest mind to even a comparative stranger or a new acquaintance, even traumatic experiences and thoughts which they otherwise bear like dark menacing shadows in the farthest corners of their minds? Is it not true that friendships develop early in life and is it not also a fact that bonds that develop in later life may stay stronger than a bond through years of familiarity from the cradle? One fellow was so sure that such a thing as confiding one’s deepest secret and very personal matter is inappropriate and suspecting and that it belittles the person and her or his acceptance as a decent human being. Utterly,utterly obnoxious thought,I argued.  

“Who among you would arise from a severe traumatic beating very early in childhood and then look life in the face?” I asked the women folk. I explained seeing their confused faces. I rammed it in further. They had to nod their head in utter disbelief when I narrated. But then was it not rather naïve and foolish to disclose that to another person and worst of all one’s spouse- husband? This is where the male chauvinism and hypocrisy boils over, one that I mentioned earlier. Worst of all women endorse the right of the man to be offended and rattled by the news of the abused childhood of his spouse. Utterly shameful I had to say, particularly in a moment when his understanding and acceptance would serve as panacea for the years of mental trauma and profound horror she was plowed under. But that is not to be and men are men and boys are boys. It sucks!

It takes courage and that deserts most men and women to be honest with the new people in their life about their past, to admit  the trauma of their abuse as part of what makes them who they are rather than trying to enshroud  like it’s something to be dishonoured  and penitent about. That is potently honourable and courageous! “A frank brave heart she has triumphed over pain and set a courageous example by leading her safely out of the dark stalking shadows of her abuse." Some women cannot understand that any man could accept the courage and perseverance of a woman, whereas they seem to be more comfortable with the existence of a spouse who would be enraged and offended by the unveiling of the abused past of the woman and his relating virtue of the bride to her virginity. Is it not natural for men to be so? To be piqued by such a past? A trite and a pity I was indignant!

The epilogue- “by calling herself Cinderella she is standing her ground. This isn’t a girl running to a man to be rescued. This is a girl saying here I’m scars and all take it or leave it, but don’t expect me to be something that I’m not. A fairy tale can’t get more empowering! Cinderella is without a future and resigned to her fate only until she finds the courage to stand up to her abuser, her stepmother. Once Cinderella decides to try and attend the ball, when she realises her worth of a better life, that she doesn’t have to live this way, then amazing things begin to happen before the prince even enters her life.”

The story of the ever present prince is just the extended narrative of male priggery and chauvinism. For it is fed to us no Cinderella shall be complete without the chocolate faced rubicund charming young Knight or a Prince on a horse back!

Yet what is ignored is the Prince bewitched by an evil spell cast on him and transformed to a toad, could break the spell and regain his form as the charming prince only when the beautiful princes kissed him and broke the spell. Yet this narrative and its ideal is lost in the wilderness of what is our society. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Glenlivet Moment

I have come across men and women too, of whom I long to keep no memory and I have come across a few men and women of who, I would always think with pleasantness and with deference.
He was a man in his early sixties and a doctor. It was in 2010 that I first communicated with him through comments that were exchanged on my blog.  For an amateur writer I was easily excited with an endorsement of sort on my views and writings per se, it was fantastic. There were disagreements too but he was quite impressed with my style of penning.   We found that we were from the same city. He was living in the UAE and his spouse was in Thiruvananthapuram. It was then that he messaged me that he would like to meet me and another friend of mine with whom he developed acquaintance on the blog. That chap was a fantastic writer and a passionate poet. His verses used to drip with feel and pathos. Doctor was very impressed with him.

I would not digress here. So there, then was the Doctor, during his visit home arriving one evening to meet us with a bottle Glenlivet Single Malt. What fabulous way to toast a friendship, I mused! It was during the course of that evening which lasted till late into the night that I told a little bit of myself. It was the immediate aftermath of a nerve racking and ravaging turmoil in my life and the Doctor could gather a little bit from my conversation, though pride ensured, I revealed little as possible or necessary.

But the doc ( as I began to address him) got a complete status report of myself from my friend  and he invited me to go to the UAE and I could use his home as a base for any venture I want to prospect there. “That can be your home too.” he said. I was wordless!

I soon reached Sharjha and he was at the Airport driving some 125 kilometers from Fujairah, where he lived. I lived there for more than t a month and he was absolutely unbelievable. It was an apartment with a huge bedroom a living room and kitchen. The very first day itself he picked up his mattress and began sleeping on the sofa in the living room. It was awkward that he did that and told me, the bedroom was mine. He ensured the kitchen was packed with food and asked me to feel free to use whatever I wanted in there. I was quite embarrassed to be a piggybacking on him. He out rightly refused to take money from me and after finding that one day I replenished something for the kitchen by picking up things from the Super market down below, he chided me and sent down an instruction to the Super market to provide me whatever I wanted , but not to take any payment from me. It was awkward but humbling! I remembered the Shylocks I have encountered!

Doc ensured that the liquor cabinet was always full and we used to sit and chat over a few drinks in the evenings after he came back from his clinic past 8 in the night. In course of those conversations we got to know more about each other, our life, our past, our disappointments and triumphs.
One day, Doc offered to help me revive my wrecked business back home. I was utterly speechless and plowed down by his offer. It was gracious of him, but I told him the chapter was closed.
We are in touch often and meet up when he is in Thiruvanathapuram. And again during one of those meetings Doc was at his altruistic self. My daughter was going abroad for her studies and he egged me to feel easy to ask him any help that I require to provide for her.

I wonder often why at all must a person who has had no long term connect no relationship through blood or clanship offer and actually selflessly do things for you. Perhaps such people with their acts goading the world to turn around!

Can’t agree more with H.G.Wells, “One of the darkest evils of our world is surely the unteachable wildness of the Good”.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My Space ?

The question that I ask myself when folks fret over what they claim is their personal space in social media, as if it were their private fiefdom and abode, that they bought paying a few million. Worse still, social media have brought about a paradigm shift in the definition of friends and friendship. That sucks. It really sucks!

My understanding is there are no written rules in social media but civility and keeping away gauche is an established conduct that users must bear in mind. Civility doesn’t mean being tacit in face of conventional narratives or being mute when encountered with strong opposition to opinions, nor does it mean indulging in language and opinions which are  not only gauche but utterly fit for the sewage tank.

A few years ago Karan Thappar interviewed two well-known political figures- the two who came to prominence, one by her association with a political icon but later carving a niche for herself and notoriously too; the other rode into fame through sheer shenanigans that were examples of infamy and full of guile. Karan Thappar’s prodding interview was too much for the man to handle that it must have been like strapped to the electric chair and bombarded with high volts of electric. He gave up unable to stand scrutiny that Karan Thappar attempted through his questions and he fumbled to pull out his lapel mike, drank a glass of water and escaped looking miserable and disheveled.  The woman fought back with arrogance though her discomfiture was there to see. Many who sympathised with her accused Thappar of fielding uncomfortable questions.

What irked me was the allegation against Thappar and that he was uncivil to a lady and for incessantly prodding in the interview. The question is when you are a politician it is like being on social media and your past and present conduct & words are scrutinised. If you cannot stand up to that well quit -it is at your peril if you do not. Is it wise to blame the interviewer for asking inconvenient questions?

Likewise if one choose to be on social media and expresses one’s opinion he or she must be prepared to take accolades and brickbats with equanimity. To frown, fret, fume and cry foul when countered with disagreements and varied opinions is nonsensical and silly. One must either be able to handle it with reason and élan or must accept to be a sore loser; one can perhaps even consider changing one’s opinion in face of substantiation and reason and that is not vain in any way. But to hold on to one’s contention peevishly accusing the whole world of being unfair and uncivil is childish obstinacy.

Some folks cannot stand satire and sarcasm. Sarcasm is more or less the sine qua non of argumentation. That, particularly in the Kerala milieu! Being impish about that is infantile. Unfortunately lamenting about hurt sentiments is a national pastime and an unworthy pursuit zealously followed these days. This is when any opinion that is against the popular narrative is considered offensive and that is absolutely superfluous and primitive.

What I strongly feel is persuasions do matter. We form opinions based on our awareness and knowledge that we strive for and acquire. It is when blinkers are put and an inane bullheadedness & refusal to see fresh avenues and opinions blind us that we fret. We fret when the comparative cocoon of our long held beliefs and judgments, our bias and with it our comfort is threatened. We would rather be an infantile infliction than be a matured being who is willing to change his ideas and opinions when encountered by reason, and fresh idea, however foreign it may seem. Is there something belittling in accepting that we were wrong and yes, thankfully the new awareness helped us? Faith & creed, political leanings and cultural fancies are crutches that we latch on obstinately and often unwisely.

If I do not appreciate a strong opinions and a strong critical definition of my opinion, I feel I must not air the opinion in public. For if I air it in public, I must be prepared for critical evaluation, else I must stay shut.

Unfortunately in the times we live the social fabric has been so corroded that a narrative or opinion that is not acceptable to the popularly held belief is frowned upon and even rubbished in feral ways. We just do not want to let go our belief systems and come out of the comfort zone we are cocooned in. For that we wail, we cry offense and then if  all that fails we fume, for our vain pride takes the better of our being!

“Vanity dies hard; in some obstinate cases it outlives the man.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Thursday, March 2, 2017


“ All this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that anyone of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country’s pride.”         Bertrand Russell.

 Every person who is   not an exalted nationalist (like the folks of the BJP, ABVP and the Sangh) would wish that he or she had a daughter like Gurmehar Kaur, the conscientious and brave young lady. I hope that my own girl has the courage to stand upright and speak conscientiously as Gurmehar Kaur.  I think one must use ‘audacity’ in lieu of the word ‘courage’ if you must, so as to throw more punch into that wonderful trait.

But it requires a different sort of mental makeup, deep moral bankruptcy and arrogance to call Gurmehar’s brave polemic, anti national and attack her on the social media like mad swarm of wasps brandishing and using their uniquely nationalistic (sic) vitriolic as the ABVP members and  Sanghis did.  
 What did they do?                                                                                                                     They trolled her and posted invective that tell us how morally depraved, blind, sick, petty, unjust, bloodthirsty, licentious, rapists, misogynistic, racist, genocidal, filicidal, sadistic and feral uncouth they are. The wider and glaringly ominous matter is that the trolls were mostly all by folks in their youth. That tell us that the future of the country is precariously on the verge of doom; so is the place and status of women in the society. Imagine that a few years from now we may have such depraved minds lording over us. Oh well, they already are!

Threat of rape and incessant abuse forced Gurmehar Kaur to back off. She asked to be left alone. It is a sad reflection of the times we live in, that a young woman is not allowed to express herself. We call this a free country! That these rowdy elements and barbarians had to take recourse to threats of rape, violence and abuse tells us the fact that the premise of their outrage and anger is baseless and they cannot argue for their beliefs with clarity, logic, truth and substance.“ The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head !’ she said , without even looking round.” Lewis Carol, Alice in Wonderland.

Indeed it was the war that killed her father and not Pakistan; indeed it was not a Hindu that gored out the foetus from the womb of a Muslim woman in the cleansing programme in Gujarat, it was the indoctrination of religious hatred; it is not Muslim men who kill hundreds in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan every other day detonating  suicide vests strapped on them, but it is the vile religious hatred which they succumbed for. More often than not is it not the thought process that leads a person to commit a crime that must be seen as culpable, than the person who commits the crime physically?

Gulmehar Kaur has in her young mind wisdom, that perhaps we heard before from renowned thinkers like Bertrand Russell .“ Of all evils of war the greatest is purely the spiritual: the hatred, then injustice, the repudiation of truth, the artificial conflict.”
 It is the pathetic state of the minds of these men who hounded her and that of their handlers in this Government in power that sanctioned them to abuse this young woman for what she opined and eventually threatened her with the most potent weapon in the male armoury- the threat of rape. True, rape is very much part of the Indian masculinity(sic) that these rogues laud about and often is used wantonly by authorities in Kashmir, North East and against the Maoist & Tribal women. Rape- a potent male weapon to pound, plow down and scythe women into submission, submission of abject state, when they lose all semblance of self respect and worth.

I wonder if these men or their handlers in power would ever be able to logically, intellectually and with civility repudiate each of the arguments Gurmehar Kaur made and earnestly used in favour of her plea for peace and cessation of hostilities with Pakistan. No they won’t. They can’t. For just as the military establishment in Pakistan wants perpetual simmering hostility with India, the BJP needs the Pakistan bogey to stay in power when all the  sophistry, loot and lies come to light and people get restless.

But until then we need to be in awe of this   young lady whose wisdom and courage, we can only hope pollinates many such young minds.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Tiny Window

“And now I may dismiss my heroine to the sleepless couch, which is the true heroine’s portion - to a pillow strewed with thorns and wet with tears. And lucky may say she think herself if she gets another, goodnight’s rest in the course of three months.” Jane Austen

We did not keep count of the coffee and lemonade that we drank. It has been quite a while since we sat down under the canopy paved with coconut fronds. The fan above was gently blowing breeze so we did not feel the warm day building up outside. When we wanted to smoke we moved to the shade of the mulberry tree outside. We already had a couple of Gold Flakes each. He was keeping a tight leash on the cigarettes as he noticed my habit of devouring them when a little vexed in mind. A habit that was formed after marriage and ostensibly as a distraction from the rumble-rough-and-tumble of wedlock. We human beings, always beg to find alibis and self- justifications for our actions. Don’t we?

It is true with many women that their natural ambition is through marriage to climb up, leaning upon a man; perhaps I was no different! I was running away in resentment towards my childhood and teen. I thought he would be a refuge! But it soon became clear in even time when he began to feel that the sheen of wedlock was ebbing and the scent of fresh meat became cold  that I’m a loner and destined to be one. My value as spouse was stuffed with the rag clothes and I realised that after all, not necessarily a woman needs a man to lean on and she can be great without the help of any man, just as she is. But then I was afraid to break the shackles that tethered me.
Slut is an offensive word and often addressed towards women as an ultimate form of abuse. But there is no word with equal power of flailing and venom to direct back at men. And no man will probably take such an abuse lying down.  His male pride and self professed virtue will dust its mane like a spited lion and arise. Yet, I often think, but what did I do when he repeatedly pronounced me slut and whore’ and all other unique expletives in his lexicon that he always preserved for me? Even when he abused and violated me physically? The mental rape and pain he poured over me is another matter. Not for just once, not twice, but for twenty five odd years?   
  The young stewardess came around to enquire if we would like to have another mug of coffee. I smiled and told her not for now. She smiled, cleared the empty cups and sandwich plates before she  left. She was a debonair and her smile stayed at the table even after she was gone. Some folks leave behind their fragrance. Don’t they?  
 I said, continuing our conversation. “Coming to the matter, like the widely espoused duty bound Indian woman I bore the brunt of all of his idiosyncrasies, his feral words and yielded to his carnal penchants. Yet he directed all invective at me when he was plowed down by alcohol and even when he was not? But when I try to explain his behaviour as a psychological condition -paranoia. Even try to explain with the reasoning of professional diagnosis – ‘paranoid schizophrenia’, and then you accuse me of equivocation.”                                  
“You are. You are searching for a reason to explain him? You know why? It’s because of this traditional woman syndrome, the very same you just mentioned. The stereo typing of Indian woman as meek and submissive and you folks accept it as a matter of fact, gleefully. Because women are the miserable descendants and heirs to the legacy of Draupadi and Sita. You believe that they are destined to be pinned down by the weight of a narcissistic, feral, megalomaniacal, chauvinistic, selfish male; and that they must as dutiful spouses mutely and meekly assent.”                                                                                                                                                                 His angst was more from irritation than resentment towards my argument. I know many might see my stand as inane and lame. But you know no one actually would be foolish to bear this for these many years in the hope that there will be change. So would I be peeved by such remarks against my stand?  Hell NO! I know it may be equivocation, and I sometimes feel that I continue to fool myself. My adamant being! No he is right, in some ways only, I like to think.

I pounced on what he said and retorted “Well mercifully I need to only bear his stink and odour, his foul, filthy temperance and his specious love talk when he crawls to my side slobbering  and cloying in moments of lecherous itches!  The consolation is Draupadi had to act dutifully to not just one lustful eunuch but five hogs.”

“You are one hell of impossibility”, he threw up his arms partly in exasperation and partly with a grimace that told me he acknowledges my position.                                                                            You are equally impossible”, I riposted, leaning forward and pushing him fondly.                                                                                                                                                                     It was nearing 11 in the morning and there were still few people at the tables in the café. I could not suppress laughter when he replied to an inquisitive  lady  with whom we happened to casually pick up a conversation of a word or two, who first enquired if we were spouses and when we said  no, she asked how long we were friends and known each other. “Well it has been a few generations since, but we are now catching up for some lost time.” How much I laughed! It made the woman squirm and show some annoyance before she excused and went. That was a metaphorical statement and lo I told him so once and he sat for a while in silence and musing for a moment before agreeing to what I said. But soon thereafter he did not forget to tease me as he always does for my faith in reincarnations and after- life. He asserts that there is nothing esoteric about my belief in rebirths and all that is load of mumbo jumbo and gibberish. Something we rather aggressively disagree amongst ourselves. He told me that when I argue with him over my convinced belief in rebirths, I countenance the exact expression of the woman in a Malayalam flick who is obsessed with a fairy tale of ancient and refuses to accept when her version is disputed. A bit of obstinacy I guess, but rebirths are close to my heart for it gives me hope and I told him that.

“Look, I do not want to mince my words here and do not care if my words hurt. I do not want to pat your back in appreciation and say hey great going, keep it up, when I know what it is. You have told in your own words what its. Haven’t you?”
I touched his palms that were cupped together on the table. “No, certainly no. I can understand what you feel and why you may use strong words.”

“Twenty five years is fairly long time to be grappling with. It’s actually a considerable length of time, a little more than a quarter of an average human life time. If you could not live a happy life with someone for twenty five plus years there is no way you going to do that now and here after. If you have put up with the nastiness and abuse of that person for a quarter century, bore with his insanity all the while, you will only do what you have been doing till your days are up. Compassion, understanding and love, these are qualities that are just a stupid reaction to some fancy idea of sympathy that you keep. You can continue with your cleaning his vomit, washing his piss off the closet seat, and try to show that you are still mesmerised with his slobbering for satisfying his libido, but he will still live in his misogynistic delusion and paranoia as you see it. He will still see you as a slut and suspect you of liaison with every man and boy you speak to.  You think he will change? Do you really believe that his condition is illness that can be cured? You can hope for, and live another quarter century if your body carries you that far, or if he survives with you that long. But then? But then, what if your wishes were lame horses that could not even walk let alone sprout wings to fly?”

I listened to him patiently and said. “It was not sympathy that kept me in this. It is empathy. I have no sympathy, all that has long gone. So is love. I do not have any left for him. But yes empathy, not from love or affection but an acknowledgement of his condition. I like to believe it will. I could have walked out when things got intolerable long ago. But what would one do if it was a malady that was terminal and long drawn? Will one forsake a person because he is terminally ill?  I admit there is no love left in me for him and he never had, never, in the first place. It was just gagging to possess me also so that he could satisfy his lust whenever he wanted to and he did win.”

“You were temperamental and impetuous.” He said. 

“Perhaps yes, I was. For I was a fool and temperamental, that I presumed a leap into such a relationship would be my way of making a forceful statement to folks at home that I don’t care for their social and conventional propriety and my act was a retaliation for a forgetful childhood that they made me bear. I let him have complete control over me- my physique and my life eventually. But believe me 25 years of atrocities that he piled on me have not killed my spirit. He cannot touch that. It was the case then and even now. It is I who on my volition decided to stick by him and not him. My spirit and my soul he cannot touch. He knows that.”

He clasped his hands and then applauded. I new straight away that was his way of mocking and chiding. He did not forget to tell me that was great piece of oration. He said. “To compare his condition (as you call it) with that of a terminally ill man is queer and not the correct way of seeing things here; sticking by a misogynist and the man who has no regard for his spouse , who sees her as expendable , who distrusts her and is a miserable wreck to be always doubting her chastity….! It sucks. It doesn’t matter if one is terminally ill or he is a person with perverted thoughts about all and sundry his spouse interacts with or whatever crazy condition you said the counselor made you believe. You ought to have walked out years ago. Any self respecting woman would do that. And chastity my foot! Come on you folks accept that chastity and virginity are preconditions for a nice woman . Now which matters most respectability and  self respect  or virginity and chastity? The problem lies there in such bizarre notion  that virginity and chastity are requisites for a respectable and self-respecting status and there is nothing sick with a moronic man demanding something ridiculous as that.”

“I feel for your angst. But you don’t understand. Do you think I would have borne with all this if not for my children? During all this cruelty that he meted out to me, he was good to them. And they loved the father too. I just could not break the twain that tied them to him; it was unfair if I did. If he had shown one instance of violence or abuse towards either of them, the very moment I’d have picked them up and left him.”

“I cannot understand your mind and the way you reason out. Kids, yes I understand. But what you say is strange to me, for if it was my kids and they saw me abuse their mother without an end, they‘d sure turn against me. All kids would.”
“Hmm, may be yes. But you know my girl actually told me not once but a few occasions, ‘Ma if this relationship didn’t work for you for a quarter century it will not work. Understand that and move on. Let him fend for himself.’ You see kids change their outlook when they grow to a certain age, when they can think independently."
“But you still hope. Don’t you? That is wonderful! I cannot understand.”
“You would not believe. There is a change. He even said that he cannot be without me. He doesn’t snoop as he used to. At least I guess he is making an effort. You see the medications may have begun having an effect.”
“Oh yes, really? Now you forgot that he threw his infamous fits and allegations yet again, didn’t he the past week? I could not understand how educated, civilised and cultivated woman like you would submit meekly and let him access all your personal communications, your social media accounts and so on, only because he has a delusion that you are a hussy and cheating on him. How could you?”
“But you see he is making a genuine effort.”
“Yes, indeed! Whether he makes an effort or not, you are doing an effort as you always have been for the past twenty five years. The trouble is with you and your lot, where such misogynists are emboldened. The very woman who makes a statement with her haute couture display and an active participation in women’s liberation or woman’s rights platform is a meek, pathetic figure at home where she either cannot tell between a canoodling by the master of the house for carnal favours or render meekly when he demands. Remember she is the very same woman who may have spoken sonorously against marital rape. I cannot understand your tribe.”

“I told you that I’m trying. I tried all the while. It is on my terms now. He knows that he cannot have his way anymore. One word of abuse and he knows he can be sure of fending for himself for the rest of his life. He can’t touch me. He was surprised that I have been resisting like never before. He asked what has suddenly emboldened me and that I no more quiver or fidget when he glares at me. In fact I began retaliating years ago. But the energy and resoluteness that I now feel that has been given to me, was not felt before. I told him it is nothing but the tempering of the past twenty five years. But I also know that a small window has opened a little for me.”

He smiled! We smiled! I smiled thinking of my intuitive feeling, the sixth sense that has shown me the tiny window open and his smile I was certain was for my esoteric thought as he would call it. "When all doors are closed, somewhere there will be a tiny window open!"


Monday, October 3, 2016

The Time Machine

He swerved the car into the narrow street on the right that could have been easily missed as old land marks he remembered where all gone, but yet he had the hunch that this was the one. He was not wrong. .As he let the car gently down the asphalt country road that was once, long winding dusty strip strewn disorderly with stones – granite metal which made walking along an exercise that demanded some effort and deftness if one was not wearing thick soled footwear. Now, when the car moved along the winding stretch, he mused about the past, long ago when he was little- vacations from school was often spent in this country side that knew no bounds and time was elastic and gaiety & fun seamless; where sun above was not hot but only warm, when people were people.

The warm days of summer beginning March stayed warm until the manna pelted down as summer rains in mid of April. It was usual for the sun to be dispassionately severe through each day, as severe as it could; until one day on an afternoon unannounced thunderous cumulus nimbus and cumulus stratus would gather menacingly, condense and rain down. Marvelous and awesome blazing silver fiery streaks flash across the skies packed with dark ominous clouds, like the whipping of urumi- the curling sword of gods, thunderous clangouring of their steel armour-clasp of the cymbal in the skies deafeningly transform the air. Beasts, birds and man young and old their senses awed by the shift in the air, scramble towards shelter. Hailstorms were not often an exception that lashed the earth during summer and enlivened children who ran helter-skelter with aluminum pans and vessels upside down over their heads as protection from the pelting from the sky- scrambling to pick the stones of ice. They would refuse to barter it with fistful of diamonds, but to their dismay in even time hail stones would melt into water.

 The summer rains was often, a timely elixir from the heavens to quench the parched lands and paddy fields. Mayflies that appear from nowhere and with no warning swarm the afternoon; rain clouds – grey and dark grey gather above. The rains pour down always in the mid afternoon when humidity reached its apogee and could even threaten the fishes that surface in the ponds for air. Lightning and thunder makes a signature statement. Occasionally lightning struck a tall coconut palm and they appear like burning torches of the god of fire – “Agni” up in the heavens. Soon the rain quenches the fire but the tree would be scorched and lifeless, smoking from its top as from chimney and by then destined to stand, remain like tall detritus relic of an ancient era bearing an ineluctable fate. He reminisced how once three tall coconut trees were struck by the bolt of lightning and stood burning at their top even in the rain. It was an awesome sight. To be appreciated with humility – the insignificance of our being. The power of Nature!

The morning after was always feast for the mynas, the sparrows, the mina and crows and pheasants, indulging on the carcasses of Mayflies. Cattle Egrets flock in from their usual pastures in the paddy fields. Green jack fruits dazzled on the tree trunks with regained freshness, the dark green leaves washed off the summer dust, sparkle in the morning sunrays.
The land will have regained its stymied vitality, the soil, the grass, the trees, the fresh look water in the ponds, and the puddles on the pathways -élan vital.

Then again, the sun got back with vengeance to burn unrelenting on the mortals below attempting perhaps to dampen the hubris of man.

The lull in the in the downpour till the month of May is ephemeral and the monsoon arrives. The monsoon is announced by the presence of dragon flies. It was said that they flew in ahead of the monsoon sailing in its current over the Indian Ocean from far away Africa. The arrival of the monsoon rains in late May, early June gathering from far out in the sea off the southern coast of Thiruvanathapuram, reaches central Travancore in a day. It is then pell-mell.

Poets and the pleasant hearted relate the monsoon downpour to the ragas; the fall, the beating of the rain drops to the gentle percussion, the rain itself –the romantic melody from the soul of the Veena of the Gods. Did the Gods by themselves render the Amruthavarshiniraga that propitiates heavens to bring forth the rain? The Ramayana describes that when the Asura King of Lanka Ravanan set fire to the tail of Rama’s messenger – the monkey Hanuman, the mischievous primate set fire to entire Lanka. Then Ravana played the Amruthavarshini raga on his Veena and brought forth rain to douse the flames around his city.

It would be deluge- water, water everywhere! Tiny country boats and thatched kettuvallams would look like distant ghostly arks in the streams, backwaters and the expanse of the Vembanadlake. Lush green shrubs lined the peripheries as fences. They lined serpentine pathways demarcating lands. The path way was dug out a few feet in width and was called thodu as they were also meant to let water flow along in the monsoon and rains. Monsoon brought much profusion of water, that water form ponds that fringed the fences overflowed into the thodu in the monsoon, and along with it, in it, little fishes, tiny crustaceans and even small fresh water turtles. Tadpoles seemed to outnumber their exotic amphibian cousins –fishes, silver, yellow, red and some plain and dull. Frogs croaked in chorus as if they were accompanying music to a waltz – male frogs calling to attract a mate. In the night lashed by the wind and the rain, in the lull in the rain male frogs call from where numerous males have converged on breeding sites by the pond and among the damp peats. It was common near the edges of ponds to see frogs' embryos typically surrounded by several layers of off white gelatinous material- several eggs clumped together, frogspawn.

Life was manifestly profuse and effervescing in those surroundings and waters during and after the monsoon. Life frolicked after the rains while it was sedate and brimming under the surface at other times eager to erupt free. Walking along the thodu was almost impossible then. One had to wade.
The palm fringed beach, white sand, backwaters, paddy fields that seemed to extend beyond the horizon, sacred groves and mammoth mango trees that dropped ripened sweet fruits at the whiff of a breeze in the warmer climes of summer nights and days always beckoned. Mangoes-ambrosia, sweeter than any elixir from the heavens, some fell off the trees pecked and half eaten by crows, squirrels and birds. They fell with little thud and sometimes like meteorite showers. Under the huge Chakarachi, some would even roll down the periphery of the pond by which the tree stood; her huge trunk, lush green canopy, heavy boughs older than any surviving man or woman around. Some of the trees would make one feel that the trees came first, then the faraway mountains, the rivers, backwaters and the sea. They certainly were older than the mad karnavar at the kizhakeytilillam!
Some house hold land had three to four ponds and most of them were fringed by huge mango trees, brindle-berry ( Kudam puli) and other tropical green giants some that bore fruit, some edible and relished by man, animals and birds, yet some ignored by even the avian. Coconut palms were dispersed ubiquitously around. Their long palm leaves moving, flapping, swaying in the breeze and wind. Some of the palms were marked by tappers who religiously climb them at dawn and dusk to retrieve the nectar- toddy that gather in the clay pot placed on tree tops.

There were no brick walls and walled partitions with granite stones, to sequester lands and identify one’s own. Three to four  feet tall thicket fences with mostly bush of hibiscus with myriad colours of flowers and an ubiquitous shrub that was simply called “pacha”. Pacha had two meanings in Malayalam- one denoting its color and the other its profuse growth-they were called “communist pacha”. Though they predated communism-the universally rebellious atheistic philosophy from a faraway land that in some way one can say, usurped the shrub and rechristened it after its increasingly prolific growth in the minds of the young, the working class- the proletariat. Communism spread in Kerala quicker than the whirl wind and wild fire, fast towards the middle of 20th century. The “pacaha” shrub also spread very riotous like Communism and thereupon, the rechristening- “Communist Pacha”.“There was a time when communism was unheard of. And red was just a colour. Red was not related to blood. It was then less sanguinary days”. Elders used to muse.

Households had ponds meant for varied purpose. The sarpakulam was in the sacred grove – “the sarpakavu” and extra care was put to not violate its holiness. Woman folk seldom ventured near it or entered its waters while they were in their monthly cycle. It was exclusively used by the priest for ritualistic bath and other rites. The pathrakulam on the north, outside the kitchen was meant for cleaning and washing utensils. The pond that was accessed by all stood on the south west and that was the waters where kids frolicked. The disused pond with green moss and stubbornly still water that occasionally broke into ripples when a fish dived back from the surface with its lungs full of air was straddled by the chakarachi - the huge mango tree that stood like a behemoth. She seemed to relish the banter and fun that went under her huge branches and her leaves would flutter in acknowledgement. Only that she might be a bit playfully-rude and disappointing that she would hold on to her sought after fruits that tantalizingly dangled from her tall branches rousing  and inviting, wonderful than any honey as she refuses to let them fall off her even when prodded by a swift breeze. This was disappointing for the kids who wait, alert as the wind blows ,  eyes roving and ears cocked- waiting for the little thud somewhere around and then to spurt to be the first to grab the fruit. It was the sense of hearing that locks on to the spot where the fruit fell. They hone in to the fallen fruit that lies amongst the dry leaves with the instinct of the fruit bats that descend at dusk from the trees in the sacred grove. When disappointed, they would then dislodge raw mangoes from the tree nearby- the less assuming moovandan, and devour them- with pinch of salt and vattalumulaku. The deviled mango!

Slings and stones were used to target mangoes high up in the branches. When they fall down and roll down the sides of the pond into the water kids jumped after it damaging the well manicured edges of the pond. Chinni Peramma would shout from her kitchen window in annoyance and rebuke. Unable to wreak her authority she sometimes chased the kids and this was often a spectacle. They enjoyed her agitation. He had little to fear as she always had something special for him. She would single him out from the gang. “After all”, she used to say, “You are my Kochu Kesavan’s boy aren’t you”. She was in her late- seventies but agile, alert and the hunch of old age had not touched her, she did not walk, she trotted. She had a routine that began at six at dawn and wound up at eight in the night. She would dip bathe in the pond little before sunset, light the wick in the tiny oil lamp at the Thulasi plant that stood in front of her house. Before her meal she took two glasses of toddy that was retrieved from the palm at dusk. This was followed by dinner, a meal that consisted of rice gruel made with rich brown rice, curry of yam or jackfruit sautéed with coconut and spices and the pickled tiny mangoes, the “kannimanaga” she stored under her cot in Chinese jar. She ate the meal deftly scooping from the dish with the leaf of the jack tree ingeniously made into a cone-that served as the spoon. Once the meal was done she would retire to her little room .Some nights she would smoke a beedi. It was a strange and interesting spectacle to see the woman smoke. Was it an audacious intrusion of sorts into man’s realm and privilege, a bloomer?  She was a spinster.
Many giant trees-mammoths stood unperturbed through years of sun and rain, having seen many moons and monsoons, their vast canopies lending shades of cover and haven for roosting birds. The old tamarind tree with low thick branches and small but lush leaves was the roosting place of Chinni Perama’s roosters and hens. It seemed to be in their evolutionary code that when the sun has set they must climb up to the safety of the tamarind tree. Chiniperama did not keep a pen, a cage contraption for her chicken. They followed the routine roosting in the tree by night “cock-a-doodle-doo” and fly down when dawn broke in the east.

Sadly indeed a giant tree, often a mango or the jack fruit tree was felled when a death happened in the house hold and served as firewood for the funeral pyre. It was one such melancholy occasion when his great uncle Narayan Panicker passed away-and elders surveyed walking around the vast property and chose the Anjili (Jungle Jack) that unobtrusively stood on the northern side outside the sarpakavu.  It was almost on the fringe of the land after which one entered the slope to the vast punjapadams- on the east extending into Thakazhi and further into the bosom of Kuttanad. He was about nine then. He was always astounded by the huge tall tree and he was sure that while on top most branches one can see the end of the world and perhaps touch the heavens too. He would recollect the animated comic story of ‘Jack and the Bean stalk’ where in little Jack climbed up the bean stalk that grew into the clouds and to the abode of the ogre. He often stood watching birds feast on its fruits and the crows nested on its branches.

“How tall and big can a man grow if he lives a hundred?” The old namboothiri karanavar who lived in the Illam nearby shouted once in askance. He could not understand the logic of chopping down a tree that has seen more than two centuries of sun and rain to burn to dust a cadaver which was left behind by someone who lived for about seventy- may be eighty odd years. Why must people cut down a tree when men die?  To only serve as fuel to cremate the dead! This hubris of man! Yes the old man has a point hasn’t he thought the boy. He, figured in his mind the tree must be older than the lunatic karnavar. How old would the karnavar be?

KochuKalli the pulaya hag who often went to the illam to gather firewood- twigs and pick coconuts that fell from palm trees would authoritatively claim he was one hundred and six. She could be precise and accurate about that she would say with exaggerated confidence. And she also adds, “bhrandhankizhavan is living on extended time”. If that was the case how old would his mother be? She was seldom seen outside. She is blind, Kochu Kali says and that was why she seldom ventured outside the house. He was not prepared to take KochuKalli’s assertion at its face value. For she seldom spoke well about the old fellow, in fact she made an oafish of him. She had a rage against him after being chased away from his land one day, into which she would often sneak in through the opening she made out in the thicket fence. She was using those audacious expeditions to stealthily gather kappa which was grown in there. The old karnavar would for a while wonder about the uprooted kappa stems and would curse the hedgehogs and field rats for the foul. It was by chance that one day he, perhaps in his saner moment’s noticed KochuKalli and her basket full of kappa . He chased her shrieking and waving his long stick. KochuKalli booted through the opening she had made in the fence and yelled, “bharandhanennekollunney”. Since that day KochuKalli spun pitiless stories and intrigues about the old fellow. She even claimed that he killed his old mother and plowed her underground in the parambu. She swore on all gods that she often had seen the ghost of the old woman - even at mid-day sitting in the house. When kids wondered loudly how ghosts could walk about at mid-day, she would gape with her reddish eyes, curl her lips and open her cavity displaying the vettila stained sparsely remaining ugly stumps that seemed to be fossilized remains of what could be called teeth. She would regurgitate the slimy content from her throat and jet it out through her two fingers clasped to her lips. She would then lean forward and whisper,”Namboothirimarudey pretham pakallunadukkum makkale”.

Well, as a boy, he could not make out the truth for long, for he would not see him. He could not gather the temerity to sneak in through the fence. All that he knew of the old man for long, since the days he could remember there, from his tot days- was his loud oration and at other times recitation of poetry in a sonorous voice and often the gibberish loud monologues late in the night, monologues from the works of Shakespeare, rendition of Victorian poetry and sometimes kathakali lyrics without injustice to their ragam and thalam. His voice was sonorous, clear, without flavoured accent, they were chaste.
“Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace tonight. Thrice hath Calphurnia in her sleep cried out,   “Help, ho! They murder Caesar!”—who’s within?”
Pause followed by some gibberish tongue twisting language spoken as if like Greek, stomping of wood and then again.
“Go bid the priests do present sacrifice, and bring me their opinions of success.”
“Caesar shall forth. The things that threatened me, Ne’er looked but on my back. When they shall see the face of Caesar, they are vanished.”

From KochuKalli’s description and stories, he pictured the old man, bent at the back-freckled skin under the arms dangle supple like loosely stuck to the bone with glue. He was sure that he heard the creaking of his bones when the man moved about in the ‘parambu’. He would sit with bated breath on the outside of the thicket fence and listen to the gibberish the man spoke to himself. He was sure he was speaking to himself as he never heard another voice however much he strained to hear one. The mottled skin and withered face with the silvery grey kudumi at the back of his head sparsely populated and stained teeth in a blood shot mouth calloused with the stain of years of chewing vettila, over grown silver hair on his wrinkled weather beaten chest and arms, that refused to drop …! But he must be surprisingly spry for his age and physical appearance if he chased Kocukalli around the compound. She said he ran with a hunch and ran faster than kids would; then she added, “Well if not faster almost as fast. Certainly faster than a gecko”! She stated his spine was bend though not as much as a bow that he could not stand straight, even with the walking stick which is also his aid to move around and scare or frighten children who peep in through the thicket fence, to kill people with a blow on the temple. The derelict old illam and the old man who lived there added to the mystery that was attractive about the place.

He, his cousin who was a few months his younger , the elder cousins, Chakki the eldest of Madhav Vaidyans three girls and friends roamed about spending almost all of the day under the mango and tamarind trees or by the ponds. The fallen leaves, grey, brown and yellowish were always strewn around and formed thick carpet over the soft white sand. Sometimes they set off to fish with baits hung on tiny hooks tied to thin ropes made of jute tied to long sticks, the  marrow of the tapioca stem used as the float; the ponds were dense with fishes of different hues. The backwater stream further down towards the vast expanse of paddy fields would brim with biral a special fish that was fancied by the locals. Kids were forbidden to go towards the backwater canals but they have by stealth been afar.

 They often ventured out into the paddy fields, to catch crabs and crickets. Such excursions were distressful for the harmless reptiles such as the timorous garden lizards’, chameleons and geckos. Those days when the kids raided the fields’, times would be difficult for the timid and harmless water snakes that refuged in those marshy fields. The kids seldom spared any of the unfortunate ones who they saw often basking in the sun with their neck extended and a nit-wit, mortis (sic) look in their eyes. The hapless creatures were snared by a lasso made of coconut palm fronds. The dumb they are, they seldom noticed the snare dropping down their head from behind. One tug and the knot tie tight, the poor reptile wriggles dangling unable to free. At times they manage to break free and slither away faster than one bates the eyelids. There was one boy, his cousin who would disobey the collective decision of the group to free the snared creatures alive.

The pond by the sarpakulam at the far end, on the periphery of the sarpakavu was out of bounds for fishing and the kids seldom ventured there. The water was dark, covered with water lilies and choked with weeds; wantoning creepers and flowering shrubs entwined severely and densely. There was always eerie silence in the grove and the waning light in the evenings would lend certain mysterious air and foreboding appearance to it. By night fireflies flirted about and glow worms too .In the grove even by day birds and crickets refrained from banter. Birds would perch quietly on the trees in there and take off without any ado. Squirrels seldom squeaked. The parrots that lived in the hollows of the tall coconut tree made lifeless by lightning bolts were mindful and did not shriek when they flew over the sarpakavu. The mysterious bats hung on precariously upside down on the high branches of the peral. They occasionally flap their wings and soon continue their inverted existence, perhaps surveying the less arboreal ones moving about below. By dusk they would be a sort of frantic activity up in the tree as the bats ready themselves for their nocturnal wanderings. However, he did notice quite often the family of mongoose scamper about in there and he wondered at their audacity. Or was it foolishness? He could understand the temerity of the bats as they are high up in the trees, somewhat cocooned from the reach of serpents who lived in the kavu. Yet, what about the serpents that KochuKalli claims she has seen dangling from the trees and vines in the kavu, the arboreal ones?  With deep sough the wind snared by the thick foliage of the trees forcefully brush past, the bamboo stalks screech intermittently and the hoot of the screech owl in the still of the night would shiver timber.

The sarpakavu was used by the middle aged namboothiri priest who religiously arrived on the day of “ailyam” each calendar month. Rituals called “ailyampooja” were performed by the namboothiri, clad in loin cloth and the sacred thread across his torso. He would take a dip in the pond to cleanse his being before conducting the rituals.

Sarapakalm would be dexterously drawn out on the small cement platform opposite the serpent deities in the grove. Coloured powder- red, black, green, purple, blue and yellow turmeric; rice flour and other fancy powders, all bought from the Haji Koya’s shop at the west gate of the big temple.
The serpent deities- the nagaraja, nagayakshi, inside the grove was appeased with milk and turmeric powder. Noorum-Palum are offered to remove sarpadosham. This is followed by the Pulluvanpattu and the pulluva couples would sing to mollify the serpents. The festivity is more prominent during the ailyam day in the months of Thulam, Kanni and Kumbham. Those were the days the Ailyam festivities were held at the Manarasala a few miles away.

Elders believed that ritualistic offering each month may have ensured no reported sightings or bites of poisonous snakes. The last recorded snake bite was of his father’s grandfather, before he was born. The victim was rushed to the vishavaidhyan who practiced the traditional therapy for snake bit. It was said that the snake that bit the man was among the most feared and poisonous who probably was incensed by irreverence to the serpents and there was no way the mendicant could save the grand uncle. The story went wild and indulgent about the length of the serpent that bit the grandfather. Imaginations and fantasy was abound and unrestrained. It was said that the serpent was very enraged that it bit him on the ankle a few times over and chased him further down the fields and bit repeatedly on the fallen man’s face until its venom was exhausted. He lost consciousness a few minutes after the bite and died the next day. Stories were plenty of the wrathful serpent being seen outside the grove and many fantastic tales and lore were spun by the folks. And the ailyam rituals have never waned since then.

The temple festival was a fascinating. He was very impressed and delighted with the Vellakali the pantomime martial dance where men dressed as Nair warriors in bright traditional costumes and bearing swords and shields enact war dance to the synchronised accompaniment of the martial music in front of the entrance to the sanctum of sanctorum. To the accompaniment of panchavadyam–  the maddalam, thavil, ilathalam, kombu and kuzhal the warriors move to the rhythm of the percussion. Later, at the precincts of the temple pond, the vellakali would be performed and was called kullathilvela.
The Nadakasalasadhya on the ninth day of the temple festival was a melee that was meant for grownups and not children. It was during one such event that he saw the old namboothiri . He was sitting at the kottiambalam near the natakashala while the frenzied revelry went about. One of his elder cousins pointed to the old man and murmured “there, there see the mad namboothiri!” A middle aged man with peppered hair and beard. His mundu was somewhat soiled and wore a half buttoned cotton shirt. He sat there, massaging his beard and keenly observing the ongoing melee of the natakashala sadhya . He shouted suddenly,”Damn the Gods who will be appeased only when lot of food is wasted, thrown around like missiles; this is robbing from the hungry.” Then after an afterthought, “If God was appeased by that waste, so be it. It is he who lords over.” He stopped abruptly with resignation and continued to feel his beard.
Of the many legends subsumed with the origin and chronicle of Velakali the victory of the good over evil, of justice over injustice stood out with the legends that were associated with its origin. The statutes of the warring chieftains of Chembakaseri Mathoor Panicker and Velloor Kurup  who are associated with the origin of the dance was placed on  the ceiling at the entrance of the nadakasala   and always aroused fascination. Of the many aspects that he cherished and that he was also fortunate to experience as a child on his many vacations, were the stories, folklore and legends of yore that elders told. That was an informal education of immense value. Any child’s fascination and awe would gradually turn into skepticism and enquiry. Certainly they may have helped in later life when thrown about by the rough and tumble. It is satisfying to walk without crutches.  Isn’t it?  
Now, he stood reliving the past and transfixed on the poltergeists of many moments of the days he spent there on vacation from school, perhaps the only sanguine and salubrious days of his childhood that were his twice a year. For a moment he wanted to be in a time machine and go back into the past. It could be true that even if there is nothing that is left behind like - souls when people are gone, there could be their smell, their breaths -  the aroma of Chiniperama’s jackfruit curry, the lingering flavor of mackerel curry with sour mango and coconut gravy Appachi used to cook for dinner, all hanging  about in the air!

 Now, as he stood there watching the small ripples in the greenish water of the pond, he was startled back from the images of the past by a voice from behind. It was Bhadra his cousin. “Musing over the past? The old will not come back to live the days, the people, the place or time”. She said.
He laughed wryly and said. “Yes I read that, but look at what has become of this place. I can recall, with precision what this place was during those days. Don’t you remember? Everything has changed, though it seems to have been yesterday.”
“Yes. But then who are we to decide that what we feel is good should outlive everything?” He sensed a certain degree of resignation in her voice.
“But yet, still- what a change!” He exclaimed. Travelling along the panchayat road to here, that is now well laid and asphalted - there is nothing that has not changed. There are little of the old. The old land marks, the trees, the groves, the houses- their facades, the ponds all have made way. Lush paddy fields have made way to ugly looking houses with gaudy coloured paint. The unavoidability? Yes the people all are gone, faded. New faces, new house, strangers everywhere!” He wondered loudly if it is the same God in the temple or has he too vanished from the scene? She gently rebuked him for being presumptuous in matters of God. He felt a sense of derision and pity for the palace and could feel a feeling of sympathy for the people dead and resignation for those who lived there now. The past- retentions are like butterflies, wise it is to let them fly away and watch their beauty and remember the gentle flapping of their wings, while they were near.

“Ha, I’m the only person, perhaps, that you may know. I may be the only one around here who knows you.”  She wiped the perspiration on her face with the pallu of her sari and continued. “The new generation, they do not have time and patience. They want instant gratification, money and luxury. Why should they retain their land here? Every one, both amongst us and around the neighbourhood have sold their lands and moved away to the Middle East, to Mumbai, to Kochi and some have crossed the far seas to the USA. Children are being educated. Where do they have time and the inclination to hold on to the old, for preserving the old? Why must they? I cannot tell who will live here in this house after me; the kids will not want to live here or even maintain it.”
“Do you still follow the aillyam rituals?”
“Yes, I do but mostly tokenism. Gone are the grove that we all were careful to keep away, and all those eerie stories about. The grove has been cleared and made way for the feeder road to the Railway station that has come up in the town. You see we have trains that pass through this town. Ernakulam is only an hour from here by train, and Alleppy ten minutes. Don’t you remember we spent almost two hour on the road to reach Alleppy- by bus for the Nehru trophy boat race? The long walk to Kacheripadi, then the wait for the bus…under the tamarind tree!  Now the government has come up with an order that traditional groves are to be preserved. Funny indeed, now after most, almost all of the groves around here have been cleared and made way for houses. They pay Rupees Three thousand as a onetime grant to preserve groves. And one is supposed to fence the grove with steel wire mesh and ensure its preservation. Where will one find men to maintain and upkeep the place, which has to be re-fenced every year? Let us assume that one agrees to pay from ones resources, but it is next to impossible to even arrange a man to fell coconuts from the palms. Who wants to walk about climbing trees? That is no longer a means of livelihood.”

While they walked back to the house he surveyed. The horizon has vanished and in its place brick walls plastered and white washed, some coated with strange colours. They all, the houses and its dwellers were cocooned inside their own concrete contraptions – comforted by the delusion of their safety, of their seclusion, where the vision into the horizon ended at the walls that surrounded the land on which houses stood. Their where no neighbours , but only strangers . The chakarachi, the  sarpakulam, the grove, and a sizeable area of the paddy field had vanished and  strange houses with strange colours sprung up. Where the chakarachi stood, there now was the garage of the nearby house. Wonder whose cadaver burnt in the fire fueled by ‘Chakarachi’s’ wood! Or did they sell the wood to the brick-kilns? Chiniperama’s pond had vanished; her house collapsed out of disuse after her and her widowed sister’s death. His cousin told him, that the land which she owned was bought by a Chacko who runs a jewelry shop in Alleppy.

He enquired about the mad karnavar. He passed away. The illam was bought by a gulf expatriate Rawoothar and he demolished the derelict old home of the Karnavar and there now stood a multistoried insipid concrete incubus. The old trees in the compound were cut down and sold by the new owner. The small grove in the land that was exclusive to the illam was pulled down to its roots, the idols of serpent Gods were evicted thrown outside and coco plants where planted. Of what significance is tradition and culture subsumed in a grove to this neo rich Gulf-Malayalee? To him the grove was nothing but an unkempt area ridden with wildly growing shrubs, vines, undergrowth and a haven to nasty creatures like raccoons, hedgehogs and reptiles. His monotheistic didactic faith made it easy for him to exercise iconoclasm. It only made it convenient for him to pull down the grove and with it exorcise and banish the pagan gods who may have dwelled in it, even without batting an eyelid or a moment’s vacillation. The house is looked after by a caretaker and the Gulf expatriate’s old parents live there-strangers. Strangers to the neighbours, to the land they live in and are seldom seen outside. The windows and doors of the twin storied house were shut tight through day and night, the faint hum of the air conditioners mounted outside the windows reminded and conveyed the message that someone after all lived in there. He wondered if it was the ill-fated destiny attributed to the land where the illam stood that those who live there are looked at with a sense of curiousness.
“There is a rumour that the Muslim expatriate is negotiating to buy the couple of adjacent properties too. These people have the money and they can even shell out a few extra lakhs to possess what they want” his cousin said.

“What about Esthappen?”
“He died long ago. His daughter Kochu Maria sold the land to the panchayat society whose members could not yet decide what they would do on that property. So now the land is ridden with undergrowth and the rundown house of Esthappen with no roof and dilapidated walls.”
“Esthappn’s daughter now lives with her daughter in Chennai. Her husband passed away a few years back and she sold the land and moved with her daughter immediately after. I think Babu has still some contact with them. You know they are rich, no more the old nazrani family that we saw. They are very, very rich!”

The house which cousin Bhadra gained from the assets that her mother ,( his appachi) bequeathed was reworked upon and now has a modern outer sheen about it like the town itself -an artificial facade, a decorated mask; the verandah that went around the house, and the forecourt where “Thiruvathirakalli” used to be performed by women, the cold verandah floor where elders and kids used to get together in the evenings, when the night air erupted with songs, mono acts and laughter, were now laid with some exotic coloured tiles. Even the interior , the walls, the flooring were all done , new  sofas with upholstery stood in the living room and curtains with drapes upon  the window. The framed photographs that hung on the wall long ago were all gone and replaced with that of some Bollywood nymphs.

“What happened to all those framed pictures that hung here on the walls?”
She helplessly shrugged and said. “Children do not like them hung on the walls. What can I tell? It is they who decide now.” She paused and continued. “Besides, some remind of melancholy days and moments. It was good they are gone. Often it was like watching ghosts hung in frames on the wall.”
“Well, is there any picture of him that I have not seen? When he lived here for a while? You know I last saw him some six years before he died.”
Yes there was one picture which Krishanan chettan brought after he attended his funeral.”
“Can I see it?”
“Why must you? No. Don’t. Do not ask to see. It is sad, the picture. Why do you want to see his lifeless picture?”

It was thirty three years to be precise that he was there last. A land, place and people he simply let go or did they go farther away? Things towards which as a child he felt much kinship and was matter of delight. He used to lie awake with muffled and restless anticipation for hours well into the late night the day before he was send there to spend vacations. The last time he was there was for the sixteenth day observance and rituals after his paternal grandmother’s passing. After a few months the umbilical cord that connected him to the place, the land and people was severed. Was he since then walking with the limp end of the umbilical cord in hand? Or did he throw it away knowing that there once was a connection? He did not feel disconnected. That was a lucky matter, in a strange sense!

This journey now was not of rediscovery, or attempts to recover the past, it was not to mend and it was a decision to come as the severity of the wound and the sourness that curdled memories were less bludgeoning, now that three and more decades have sailed past insouciantly. Time, it humbles, and time is a catalyst too.