Saturday, September 18, 2010

Where are the nails?

“Amma, Padmam…Where are the nails?”, cried Krisna swamy.
“ Look carefully. You’ll find it. Who needs your nails anyway?”, replied Padmambal from the kitchen where she was frying the kondattom( dried rice snacks)
“I had put it in the small room alongwith other such stuff. Now it is not there”
“You might have left it somewhere and forgotten about it”, said Padmaambal arriving on the scene and joining the search.
“Tomorrow that carpenter will come to mend the cowshed. I had kept it ready so that he works full day.”
“Aama(Yeah), that guy is a lazy bum. He works only when you cal him to have the coffee”
The search continued. No results

“Oh! This summer sun makes you thirsty. Give me some sambharam( buttermilk with chillies and curry leaves)
“I ‘ll get you soon”
“I thought that once our grandchildren went back to Mumbai, we’ll have nothing to do. But today seems to be more busier. What’s the time?”
“It is almost 2p.m. Didn’t notice at all. You and your nails.”
“ Did our son and family call after returning to Mumbai?
“oh! They would’ve reached only this morning. Might be resting after journey.”

“I’ll just check out the plantain grove. Will be back in an hour. Keep the coffee ready then”
“O.K. Take care. There are some snakes in the adjoining rubber plantation”
“I will wear those gumboots”

Silence. The late afternoon is very still. Padmaambal could hear the steps receding into the grove beyond. She reclined on the easy chair for a while thinking of her grandsons aged 5 and 8. Perfect scoundrels, they were. She could not lie down while they were here. She could hear fast steps approaching. Is he back already, she thought.

“Padmam, I found the nails”, panted Krishna Swamy
“Where from? Why is your hands and nails wet?”
“Just guess.”
“Well, your dear grandsons drove them home in couple of plants in the grove. All that just started to bear fruits. Just let them call. Hmmph”

Just then, the phone starts to ring. It is the son calling from Mumbai.
“Amma, we reached a bit late. Where is Appa?”
“He is fuming here”
“Why? What happened?”
“You ask”, said she handing over the mouthpiece to her husband
“Give it to Subbu” ( subbu was the elder kid)
“Hello”, squeaked a voice.
“ Why did you drive the nails into the plantain plants?”

“Oh! That. We wanted to see if it gives out sap like the rubber tree. We kept a coconut shell below to collect the sap. Ramu nailed 6 and I nailed 10. How much sap is collected? Send the money from selling it for Diwali. Bye Tatha(grandpa)”

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Chapter

It was the May of 1985. Dad bought the first car of his life , old rugged 1962 model ambassador. He used to work in central India then. And he bought the car from a doc in Kerala. He had this adventurous idea of driving it all the way up to Bhilai where our native town, Thrissur, covering more than 2000kms. So we got ourselves a mechanic and started off.

Summer in the Deccan is not one of the most pleasant regions to travel in a non Ac car. But there we were, driving through little villages with a trail of amused children and dust. We tasted all kinds of cuisines on the way from wayside little hotels and somewhat better restaurants. It was fun.

Well, we reached Hyderabad around 2 AM. And the town was asleep. We were new to the city and we did not how to get to the main road to the better hotels. We tried one or two, but they were kind of unwilling to take in late visitors and said"No rooms available". so we finally ended up in an old house converted into a hotel. It had one big squarish inner courtyard, around which the rooms were set. That night was horrible. The room was full of gigantic mosquitoes who made sure that we did not sleep a wink.

The next day we started off in search of a better hotel and found one. And we saw the Golconda fort and the Salar-e- jung museum. Drive to Bhilai from there took another two days. By the time we reached Bhilai, the driver had Chicken pox and I had fever.

The fever I had was peculiar. I ran high temperatures every alternate day and only at night. After about three cycles , I was hallucinating, seeing peacocks from my window, Amitabh Bachchan dancing by the bedside and so on... Soon, I ended up in the hospital in a double room where the other bed was occupied by a woman. I drifted off to sleep with IVs injecting medicines into me. I regained complete consciouness only by late afternoon. I had opened my eyes earlier and seen my mother talking with the woman on the bed. Now, she told me that her name was Kamala and that she had kidney failure.
" How are you feeling now?", Kamala asked
" Better", I managed.
" Oh! It's nothing. Look at me, I have dialysis twice a month but Iam OK".

I smiled. Mom took over the conversation part.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the adjoining room. A girl my age was being given Oxygen. I saw her some moments ago as she peeked into my room from the small corridor that joined the rooms. She was a bubbly, beautiful Punjabi girl. And when mom said that she being given oxygen, I did not believe it. She had a serious cardiac problem.

Next day, Kamala had a visitor. Her husband, a trucking businessman, had come over. They spoke in hushed tones. He was crying and she was trying to comfort him. And when he left, she told us that he would return the next day with the kids. She showed some photos of the kids - a three year daughter and a five year old son.

"Cute children, are'nt they?", asked Kamala.
" And who is this?", mom asked
"That's me. I looked beautiful then. It is at a wedding."
Tears welled up in her eyes. She was lost in thought.

Later she told mom that her treatment costs were getting out of hand and that her husband was the youngest brother and he could no more take money from the family business to treat her. But she held nothing against her in -laws. She believed in God and fate.

Next day, Kamala was up early, all dressed to see the kids. Soon, we heard chattering voices in the passage. The kids were here. They came and leapt at Kamala in joy.

"Come home", they said.

I was a witness to the poignant moment. Her husband and her eyes were happy and sad at the same time. The husband had brought some food. She fed the children with her hands. The elder was telling her about school, the younger one about her cousins. It was the first time I realised, the value of life.

That evening, she was mum, unlike her chattering self. By night, she said that she asked her husband not to show her body to the kids. She wants them to remember her as an active mother.

I got discharged the next day. Later we came to know, she was soon paralysed and her systems shut down one after other and she died. She was cremated nearby and not taken home as per her wishes.

I will always remember this chapter of my life.

P.S This post was originally published in

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gafur ka dost

Any Malayali worth the name will remember the snip from the movie- Naadodikattu. It comically brings out the scams that go on in the name of recruiting for overseas jobs. Lured into the net with dreams of a wealthy tomorrow, the hit duo Mohanlal-Sreenivasan, give Gafur, the agent whatever money they could manage for a ride on boat to gulf as they have no VISA. And they are fooled by the agent who tells them to hop off after an overnite ride to Chennai. He gives them a pair of Arab dress, teaches them some useful Arabic like Salaam Valaikum, Valaikum usalaam and tells them to blurt out Gafur ka dost if some one asks more.

Kerala is full of such agents. You get ‘Gafur ka dost’ for any job to be done- some take you for a ride while others deliver. It is really a difficult job to differentiate one from another. Maybe Kerala has the maximum no. of agents who provide gas connection, rail or air tickets, Visa help, school/college admissions, real estate, housemaid, home nurse, babysitter, painter, plumber, electrician, taxis, bystander at hospital if you have none in the family to do the service, beautiful well dressed girls to pose as bride’s friends and add glamour to a wedding and on goes the list. And the public is kind of wary but still uses these invaluable services, sometimes in the process losing all their valuables.

In this scenario, the simple Good Samaritan who tries to extend help to fellow beings in whatever way possible is gauged differently. The absolute free services don’t carry the same weight as paid service. So, the person you are trying to help either looks at other avenues or runs out of patience and rarely is able to receive a help well delivered.

Things have come to a pass where we find difficult to believe a person through and through. “Nothing comes for FREE” – is it getting a bit too much into our heads? Or are we losing patience working on computers as in “Hey, this page is taking forever to load, let’s try other options?”