Friday, May 7, 2010

Adhu Ellaam Oru Kaalam - Part 1

The phone rings its monotonous, rather irritating ring at an untimely hour . My hand reaches for the receiver and brings it toward my face.The familiar, naturally loud voice that woke me up from my myriad slumbers  through college life, blares into my ear yet another time. Somewhat soothed by the fact that the voice isn't panic ridden, I ask my grandmother how she is doing, trying hard to mask the grogginess in my voice. After a hurried exchange of pleasantries like, "Were you asleep? Oho! I thought you'd be up by now", she blurts out the reason for her call:
"Today she tried to jump off the balcony!" I sit up startled and bark into the mouth piece, "What? Who?"
"Kollu Pati, who else?" she says.
Sensing that things were now under control and that she was simply relating to me the happenings of the day, I patiently wait for the rest of the story.

"She seems to have lost it these days!" she says.
"Amma, (I call my grandmother that too), its just that she's aging, I'm sure she doesn't realize what she's doing" I try to reason with her.
"Yes, but what will everyone think when they see her in the balcony screaming and wailing? The other day it was the gas incident, and today this? I am an old woman too you know, and what if no one is around when she acts up, it could endanger her life!"
Just as I open my mouth to say something, she exclaims "Aiyyo! I hear her in the kitchen,I hope she isn't up to anything new. I'll call you later". The line goes dead.
"Time and yage spare no one!" a heavily accented, prototypical tam brahm voice exclaims in my head, in an abnoxiously melodramatic tone...

"Rajalakshmi - the Goddess of all wealth....that's what my father named me and that's exactly how my childhood was - like that of a Goddess!
Basket fulls of rare fruits like the mangusteen, sweet apples like no one in India would ever have tasted...and the sour star fruit! (clicks her tongue as if tasting it). A big house filled with servants, one for each chore. I never so much as lifted a finger to do anything when I was young... I grew up like a princess!" she would say, pausing to noisily suck off some more of the cool dripping malai from her stick of elaichi kulfi.
"And then,....what else paati?" One of us in the audience would ask her, breaking her reverie. "Kulpi!" she would say, due to the inability of her toothless mouth to utter the consonant "fi" . "What you get here in this wretched country is not even close to the ones the kulpi wala used to bring us back home....those used to have so much more malai in them and I did not have to wait for anyone to bring me one as an after thought. Hmmmmmm! Adhu ellaam oru kaalam! (those were the days!).
All my friends used to envy me for my luck, and lucky I had to be, for after all, I was born with so many moles over my body" she would point out at all the tiny red and black warts/moles over her wrinkled skin. "My father married me off in much grandeur, I was given in marriage to your thatha clad in 300 souverins of gold (a number that increased every time she narrated her story and had by now doubled), three trunk fulls of silver vessels and a pair off blue jager studded vaira thodu (diamond earings) and ettu kal besari (8 diamond nose stud)" she would shout out pompously, focusing her earlobe toward the light to let her gleaming diamonds shine in all their resplendence, much like her eyes at the moment.
"Your Kollu thatha was much older than I and I was all of thirteen years old. I hadn't even come of age! At your age," she would say randomly pointing at one of us in our early teens, "I had borne Mani"..."Everything is gone now....all that gold and trunk fulls of silver..... our home and property. If only there hadn't been a war!" she would sigh with a longing, masked unsuccessfully by her resignation to fate.

Kozhikode Subramania Iyer had chosen the hard way out years ago, when he could've without protest settled for a life of mediocrity handed to him on a platter. He had insisted on making it on his own, had left to serve in the far off land of Burma that on acquest by its self proclaimed masters, had been merged with its neighbor, as part of the British colony of India. Very much like most men that belonged to his community of  educated Iyers, he had prospered under the British rule. Had created a place for himself among the Indian society of Rangoon. His parents had found him a bride, and a wise one at that. He had been blessed with everything a man could ask for, except a Varisu (offspring). A few that were born hadn't made it through. After much yearning and prayer they had been blessed with a baby girl. He had, in keeping with tradition, named her after his mother - Rajalakshmi. His little girl had brought upon the family much joy and luck. Subramania Iyer was now the owner of Street 52, Rangoon flanked on either sides with  rows of two storeyed houses. She grew up being the apple of his eye. And when she had barely turned twelve he decided to give her away in marriage. He had a boy in mind, a rather ambitious, smart lad but with a bit of a temper. Nothing my Rajam can't handle he had coaxed himself. He found the boy a job under the Raj and gave them one of his myriad homes to live in. He took immense satisfaction in the fact that they would after all live within the range of his vision. Rangoon had given him in abundance. This was him home now. He sold off all his ancestral inheritance but for the humble home he grew up in and returned to Rangoon, only to discover in a matter of months the natural course of fate bequeathed upon a colony.

"Where Pati? Where did all your gold go?", a voice would urge her to go on with her story and she invariably would oblige. We were, after all, the only set of ears that allowed her the indulgence of reliving her golden past, one of the few things that still gave her pleasure apart from her mid morning Sun TV soaps and her plastic cover collection.
Noisily smoothing out the creases off a stiff plastic cover and folding it into a neat little square, she would carefully arrange it with myriad others in her imported airbag that held what's left of her long cumbersome life - her chungdi sarees, a few silk, her white translucent hakkoba cotton blouses that she knotted up at the ends, her plastic cover collection, a tin dabba in which she kept some of her pension and her most priced possession of the lot- her tiger balm in their jewel like hexagonal glass containers. The one thing all her grandchildren conveniently brought her while visiting from abroad. "Rangoon used to be beautiful back then" she would continue...


  1. Interesting read! Awaiting part 2.

  2. Thanks Jo,
    and yaaaaaay! u commented :) I'm all smiles ;)
    Yes,I hope part 2 comes out as expected

  3. this is beautifully written!

  4. Thanks Vee :)
    means so much to me coming from you :)

  5. Dear Puppy, We never knew that you could write so well and we are really proud of you Pappu. (After all whose daughter?) Awaiting to read more from you- Your Mom and Dad