Friday, October 17, 2008
Every thing looked right except my growing restlessness. Anger and sorrow filled the lungs. I expected a rope appear before me any time to climb up to disappear in to the thin silence above.
I slept sparsely, filled with dreams. Reading, characters question me of their existence. Places hound me. Later, the boy who ran away from the home, spider killed by a girl, pirate after a failed attack, a race horse shot when he is aged, a discarded car after an accident, a stabbed man, everyone will appear to pay homage to my sleep.
Morning, I will rent a bicycle from the near by Seth’s shop and browse the Town for hours - Beach road, Ground, Light house, the silent narrow roads between aged coir factories - and when loneliness tire my bones, I stop at Rajan’s Tea shop near Beach Hospital. A small hut made of coconut leaves, his shop was always alive with politics-surly leftist- or cinema gossips. Whenever he feels up to it, Rajan will tell me amid endless coughs and beedi, of the town’s past communist leaders and their visit to this small shop.
His father was a communist, and participated in the Punnappra- Vayalar Communist uprising of 1946. From him I understood, in terms of its role in the course of the political destiny of Kerala, Punnappra-Vayalar is the biggest struggle of its kind. Estimates put the number of casualties on both sides in the armed confrontation between the army of Sir C.P Ramaswami Iyer, the then Diwan of the erstwhile Travancore State, and Communist revolutionaries in Punnappra and Vayalar at around a thousand. Rajan’s father was one of them.
My politics was different. I was trying to interpret the politics of my body, my adolescence. It was like reading a book without understanding the meaning of it. I just felt it, unable to understand.
I just heard him, of the injustice of sweeping the issue away from the independence struggle, telling that the activists, throughout their struggle, had not raised slogans against British imperialism. Then some times the discussions will take an another tack, about instigating the cadres to face the bullets alone, an act of cruelty since all the leaders escaped from the scene after hatching the conspiracy to attack the police camp.
I was not aware of the politics behind it. But I was aware of the pain in Rajan’s eyes as an orphan he had suffered. Now only a yellowish black and white photo of Rajan’s father hung on the tea shop’s wall: eyes staring ahead, ears listening from the martyrdom.
For them nothing changed socially even after the bloodshed. Everyone lived in the same huts as before, same hunger ruled the lives, same fear attacked them, and same social injustices prevailed.
Rajan’s family also belonged here. Living in a small uncompleted brick house, with mud encased courtyard, goat’s cage and the smell of fresh coir, his wife and two kids helped him in the shop.
Anjana was Rajan’s sister in law. It was strange, the feeling, seeing Anjana first time. Her eyes locked into mine for a moment and a frost wrapped my heart. A chill touched my spine, breathless and frozen; I fell in to a dark pool of solitude. Fragrance of old coconut oil spread as a thin mist from her hair entered my nostrils connecting me with a new sense of body. Slowly the chill turned into a pain, unbearable and infinite. My loin seemed to be in fire; a smile so feeble escaped her lips and touched me. Her dark body with round face and protruding breasts through a long blouse and skirt transformed the emperor with papaya leaf sword into a man.
That night, in my dream, I have seen an antique port town with a pier. The sand was gold, everything glittering. From the gaslights a shy light fell on everything casting a shadow and glitter. Above, the lantern beam from the lighthouse circled as a white tail of a jinni. The sea shore was empty. Only the sound of waves repeated rhythmically. Slowly overpowering the lingering silence a foghorn sounded. A ship with two vast wings appeared on the horizon.
Waiting on the old pier, I have seen her disembark and walk on the water to me with faceless black men and women like a panther. Fragrance of old coconut oil, Smokey smell of Copra, pepper and rotten sea weed filled my nostrils. She was wearing a mist so thin, which melted and evaporated a mile away by my breath. I extended a hand to touch her, and everything diluted and spread on the sea as an iridescent carpet.
A fire so hot melted my abdomen. Loneliness so cold froze my heart. Night, sweating and numb I lay staring at the spiraling fan above like a screw tightened in to the air.
It was the first pain I wasn’t disclosed to my grandma.
My experiences with death started on a Sunday. My father was in government service and this time we have shifted to a small village. A place nature painted with different tones of green and gray. Here my childhood synchronized with the rhythm of nature for the first time. We have lived in a large spread of land with a pond, mango trees, banana plantation, a big tamarind tree and several other small trees. I was the emperor among them and I ruled the kingdom with a papaya leaf sword.
I was alone in my shell. One lonely afternoon I have sketched a boy soldier’s picture in my bedroom’s wall from a Russian Children’s book. He became my guardian angel from scary dreams. I talked and talked to him of my dreams and fears. He must have disappeared under the stones when the house demolished for reconstruction later.
Thankachan came to our home regularly with his Amma and slowly merged into our household as a member. He was young, strong and entrusted with the role of an elder brother. He taught me to ride a bicycle, swim, raw a boat and to catch fish. I have followed him everywhere like a faithful puppy. It was a great learning experience and without my knowledge I have touched nature’s gentle fingers through him.
First time I have seen blood through a microscope was at Varghese uncle’s clinical laboratory. He was a handsome man with beard and sparkling eyes and had the lab in a small line building near a tailor shop. Once when testing the blood sample of my sister he allowed me to look through the microscope. I was awestruck. Something like little bedbugs in blood made me terrified. Even if he has explained me of blood cells and all, it hounded me for days. The odd shaped things traveling through my vein made me creepy. In sleep they came out of Varghese uncle’s microscope and formed a dominion inside me. In murky liquid of my horror they existed without any compassion. My Russian boy soldier was the only comfort.
By the time I have settled into the new diagram of life, Thankachan patiently listed to my complaints and tried to sort them out. When we have bought a big valve radio Thankachan and my father placed it on the shelf away from the reach of small children including me. At that point of time I never thought that radios always remember me of the death of a loved one.
It was a Sunday night and I was sitting in the veranda with my father listening to the radio. Thankachan was doing something nearby. Suddenly he started vomiting. My mother asked him and he said nothing. Then his friend Ravi, our neighbor came and said Thankachan ate a wild poison fruit betting with the friends that he will not die.
But he failed for the first time. Next day when his body arrived from the hospital in an ambulance, his serenity made me shivering. My eyes tried to break his tranquility and find a motion. Instead I have seen a small fleck of blood near his ears. Suddenly the entire surrounding froze. The chilling touch of red creepy bugs from Varghese uncle’s microscope slowly started to slink to my brain. A pale light enveloped and carried me into the caves of unconsciousness.
In a hot day – frozen cries and barking of a wooden bell in the background was the sound of death.
I have not seen him buried. When everything was quiet there was a white dhoti hanging in the cloth line. I tightened it around me like a shroud and cried. I cried alone for him- as one cry for his own life.
He has created the heavens
And the earth
With the truth,
And has given you shape
And made your shapes
Beautiful: and to Him
Is the final Return
- The Holy Qur-an
God has endowed man with unique aptitudes, faculties and capacities which raise him at his best to the position of vicegerent on earth. The land between the sea and the trellis of water flowing into it – was a gift to him. Obscure memories form Paleolithic age to modern history made the sands of this town silver white. My quaint little town is gracefully old now.
A small seashore town. Cool, aromatic, antique, brackish, and regal. Two canals end to end of the township, roads and connecting bridges were its signature – quiet, beautiful like my grandma. Both were content, spiritual and loved and ruled us with their heart.
Call for prayer from the Mosques, smells of coir, old pepper, kitchen and salty heat were the day. It ended under the soothing old blanket of my grandma at night. I called her Angumma in my language. I was the favorite spoiled grandchild from an army of different aged grandchildren from her Kingdome. And stories at night were my privilege. My summer holidays were always filled with narrations of her past, Arabic and animal stories.
When about three, my schooling started at home on a Vidhayrambham Day by Teacheramma. An old, tidy and scholarly lady lived alone in a small house nearby. My youngest uncle was like a son to her and later a will bestowed all her possessions to him. As per tradition most of us young ones started writing the first letter on rice by her. Still I can hear Teacheramma’s faint laughter and smell of betel leafs emerging from the dark corners of our ancestral home. Speaking in a slight Tamil accent she too narrated stories and past. In our home, there were always an aura of art, music and literature.
My grandma lost her husband at a very young age. He died of tuberculosis, forcing her to live alone with seven small children. The youngest was only seven months old. Living in that big house, even with her brother was not so easy. The scars those years were made etched to her eyes for ever. Nevertheless, with enormous willpower she kept the life flowing for them. Seasons changed and children got settled but nobody understood the pain and fire she locked away in her core.
It was not the only resemblance of my town with my grandma. Like her, every mark of pain concealed, it lay confined to its past. Many times, I felt they merged inseparable, intervened and surged into the ocean like a stream of roads.
The town rain is a beautiful experience. Sea with mountain like waves, a lighthouse immense in its structure and drenched as a scarecrow, football fields with rain water, coconut trees, bridges – especially Muppalam – the three bridges together near the sea shore, canals, crows, cows, bicycles, cycle rickshaws with its insect like look, lazy people with beedies in their hands, gloomy school children with their wet backpacks, silence, a parasol above the old tranquil structures - all participating in the celebration of monsoon. As an artist molding sculptures in an enormous space, sky with its cloud exhilarated the ambience. Monsoon with its drizzle and fury made everything fresh and sparkling.
My grandma’s mood was always good when raining. She conversed with every drop and comforted them to settle in the new atmosphere of fresh earth. It was nature and mother speaking through the chatter of monsoon. She heard. She understood. She shared.