My favourite word in the English dictionary is epiphany..
I am a Piscean and have always had strong intuition and I have had so many epiphanies in my life.
This is one such epiphany.
The year was 2003 and I was living in a 2 bedroom apt in Mumbai with three kids.
Yaya was 5, toothless was 3 and baby was a year old then. Kids and I had been used to having a bigger place in Malaysia and to move in to a tiny place in Mumbai was tough on all of us. By the end of the day, I was so exhausted both mentally and physically taking care of three kids 5 and below.
I needed some ‘me’ time, so I used to tuck the kids to bed early,then read something and decompress. I cherished those few hours of solitude. No sounds of horn blaring, no sounds of people talking loudly outside, no street vendors calling out!
It was very peaceful and I absolutely enjoyed those hours. Until one day, someone started to sing.
It wasn’t that his voice was bad, actually his voice was beautiful. He was singing Urdu ballads.
I had nothing against anyone singing, but there is a time and place for everything, not in the middle of the night, not when I was enjoying some ‘me’ time.
But because I follow the live and let live philosophy, I tolerated his singing, hoping he would just go away.
He would come once every two or three days and sing for at least an hour!! and I would be cursing and swearing.
But one evening after enduring a hell of a time with my mother who pointed out all my flaws and let me know that i am a total failure, all I wanted was to disappear in to my world of books. It was around 11 pm at night and the singing started. This time right underneath my bedroom window.
I remember storming out of my apt, taking the lift to the ground level and searching for the person who had the temerity to sing at that time of the night,
It was pretty easy to spot him.He was leaning against the wall and sitting down. He had some sort of a rag bundle in front of him. I walked straight to him, hoping to give him a piece of my mind.
I was ready to call him an idiot. I had all the curses in English translated to Hindi in my mind by the time I reached where he was sitting.
I stood right in front of him.
It was a moment of epiphany.
He nust have sensed my presence. He interrupted his singing for a few seconds, smiled and then continued.
I said he must have sensed my presence, because he was blind. He was so totally blind!!
I felt so bad!
Here was a man, who would never know what is day and what is night and I was angry with him because I needed a few minutes of solitude.
My anger vanished
and I am sure if anyone had seen me at that moment, they would have thought that i had gone bonkers, for I sat on the kerb and listened to the songs that I didn’t understand in the middle of the night.
I also learned a valuable lesson..that I really should live and let live!!!
There are moments in life one realize how dumb one can be..I didn’t just have a moment.. I had 20 odd years to figure this out and only did so last week.
I was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in one ear when I was about 11.
I had a walkman from that time, but could never enjoy listening to music using headphones. Everytime I used a headphone, it would hurt my ears and I knew it had something to do with my deafness. But had absolutely no clue why it was hurting.
Last Christmas I was asked what I wanted by the family and I asked for an ipod.
I was so excited to finally own an ipod. I spend days downloading all my favourite songs.
Then i had the same problem,
My ears were hurting when I used the headphones. For two months I did what the fox did in the Aesop’s fables (munthiringa pulikkum) and ignored the ipod. But I really wanted to listen to music, especially when I read.
I wanted to know why i was having so much trouble with head phones.
I finally figured it out.
Stereo and Mono sound!!!!
With single sided deafness, I need mono.
And I finally found a company that makes products for people with deafness.
I can finally use an ipod! Why I didn’t know this earlier?
I wish I know why I do things the way I do.
It was a pretty simple thing.
Doing the laundry.
Clothes were in the machine on soak wash program. I was planning to start the machine after I dropped the kids to school.
As soon as I came back, Amma asked me
“Don’t you want to start the machine?”
Of course I wanted.
But because she asked me, I didn’t.
Why? I don’t know.
If she had not asked me, I would have done it.
But that is not the only issue. If I had done it yesterday as I had planned, all the clothes would have been dry by now, as yesterday was sunny. Today it is raining cats, dogs and men!
I wish I knew why I do things like this.
I wish Amma understands that I have been doing all the chores on my own without her telling me to do so. She doesn’t have to tell me. She doesn’t have to remind me.
Alas.. she won’t understand
and I will continue to be defiant and loose the battle !
I was asked this morning “Why I didn’t go and call Amma when she didn’t come out of the room during the party”
Why didn’t I?
I thought she was old enough to understand that it was Yaya’s b’day party and that is she part of our family. That is why I didn’t go to her room and asked her why she is staying inside.
May be I was wrong.
Perhaps Amma just wanted to feel that she was wanted and I ignored her.
This is really not easy.
I no longer know what to think any more.
All I want is not to regret when she is gone that I didn’t do enough and somehow I feel that it is going to happen
Today we had Yaya’s 12th birthday party and so far this was the most stress free party I have ever had for the kids.
Yaya wanted a mall treasure hunt party.
She made the invitation
She decided how many people she was going to invite and invited 9 friends.
Initially she was planning to give money to her friends and they had to buy stuff that is on the list. Financially it wasn’t viable.
So then she divided her friends in to group of three. Gave each group 6 dollars, each group member had to buy nail polsih, earring or hairband for 2 dollars each which they could take home.
She also asked her friends to bring a camera and they had to take photos of the items in the list.
some of the items in the list were
all purpose flour
etc (40 items)
We went to the mall by bus.
I took a book with me and read while the kids were busy hunting for treasures.
Winning team got a price.
For goody bag, she bought a Smiggles pencil, a bar of Lindt chocolate and a pen.
I baked meat pies, made hot dogs, served with fries.
Yaya wanted a giant cookie instead of a birthday cake and I made this. It was awesome.
Every one had fun.
I had peace of mind.
No more parties until Jan.
Wait a minute there is Thanks giving and Halloween coming up!
(my mother hid in the room all through the party!!! She couldn’t be bothered to even consider Yaya’s feelings)
There are some people one never forgets.
Penakkaran is one of them.
Again, I don’t remember his name.
I don’t think he ever told me his name.
He had a tiny pen repair shop by the side of GS street in Kottayam. A small box like, windowless shop.
He lived in Cochin and travelled by train each day to Kottayam. Most evenings I would see him walking back to the railway station to catch the venadu express.
He always wore blue shirts and carried a briefcase in his hand.
We shared a very unique friendship!
I was a calamity Jane! (still am, but will deny it vehemently!!!!)
and that simply meant I had the absolute knack to drop my fountain pen and break the nib on a regular basis.
If Amma knew I broke the nib, I would get thrashed. So I could never tell her.
Instead, I go to his shop straight from school and to get the nib replaced.
I think he somehow understood that I don’t have much money and that if he didn’t repair my pen, Amma would skin me alive.
He always repaired my pen, charging me very little money. Sometimes on credit too!
When he hands the pen to me he always said the same thing.
“I think I should start buying nibs in bulk for you”
He never once scolded me for breaking the nib.
He never criticized.
He just fixed the pen.
I knew I could count on him.
Then I grew up.
Started using those horrible Reynolds ball point pens. (Appa used to bring box full of those blue and white pens, I hated the fine nib on those pens. I spend a better part of my teenage years trying to get rid of those pens, so I could buy a new decent pen. But was never successful. If it wasn’t Appa, one of the Gulf cousins would gift us a box of Reynolds pens!.)
One day he stopped coming to Kottayam.
I heard from Amma that the shop was no longer making enough money for him to travel all the way from Cochin to Kottayam.
I never told the penakkaran thank you.
I don’t remember how I met her. I have thought about it often. But I just can’t remember where or when I met her. I don’t remember her name either.
She had grey hair that she wore in a bun. she wore blue and white check print sarong and a blouse.
She would come home once every few weeks. I would have collected what she needed by then.
She would sit on the floor near the gate and wait for me to come back from school.
I never knew when she would turn up.
But always looked to see if she was outside, as I walked down the road to my house.
I loved her smile when she saw me coming. her face would light up.
She would ask me as soon as I came near her, how many?
and I would tell her how many I got.
You see, my job was to collect pakku (betel nuts) for her. We had few Areca trees and I would collect all the betel nuts for her.
She paid me 35 paise for 7 betel nuts. I don’t know how we worked out how much she should pay me. I was happy with the 35 paise and she was happy with 7 betel nuts. Sometimes I didn’t have 7 betel nuts and she would give me less money. Sometimes I had more than 7 and she would still give me 35 paise. It never bothered me.
she and I used to talk.
She told me about Konkani language and that it doesn’t have a script per se. I didn’t even know then that there was such a language!
She taught me the conversion of ana and kasu.
She always left before Amma came home.
The 35 paise she gave was enough for me to buy 2 bubble gum.
When I was in the 6th grade there was a new bubble gum in the market. Two coloured gum, wrapped in a waxy paper. There were rumours at that time that the gum was laced with narcotics to get the kids addicted. Ha!
As soon as she leaves, I used to run to the shop and buy 2 bubble gum ( 15 paise each) and it was such a treat. I didn’t have to share it with my sisters because I earned it.!
I also saved the 5 paise, which amma will take on the pretext of buying this or that with a promise that she will return it later!
Then one day my friend stopped coming.
I collected the betel nuts for her for a full year.
Amma threw them out one fine morning.
I figured she won’t be coming again.
Then I forgot all about her.
This morning I remembered her, but couldn’t remember the name of the bubble gum.
But he remembered!
He did remember the name.
Big fun bubble gum!
All through my childhood her common manthra was “I don’t need any of you ( us daughters + her husband). I will get Govt of India pension when I retire!”
I was actually glad as a child because I knew I would never have to worry about my mother. After all she is eligible for the GOI Pension!
What was my mother thinking?
Where was she planning to live?
With whom was she planning to live?
she has 4 daughters and she should have known that it is not culturally accepted for mothers to stay with daughters.
She was born in to a well to do family, got married in to a well to do family, she has been working since the age of 20.
Yet, here she is, 74 years old, no home to go to and no one to look after her.
All her wordly possessions occupies one suitcase.
She still gets the pension, which is not enough to buy her medicines.
For all that she did to me, I want to send her to an old folks home, far far away, so I will never have to see her again.
But she is still my mother.
And I will still take care of her.
Right now I wish I could do it without feeling bitter.
That is the hardest part.
I can spend money and take care of her. But I can’t do it with love.
I do it because it is my duty.
I hate myself
My son has to make sentences with the spelling words. Something he hates absolutely.
His spelling words!
In the cinema, a combustion engined air conditioner that ran on diesel, had a digital escalator attached to it that moved an excavator up and down through a fluorescent coloured cleaner that ran on electricity, but had to be fixed by an engineer that came in a foreign, genetically produced, hydraulic jumbo cruiser that was pulled by locomotive that was powered by medicine and produced holograms of the inside of the jumbo cruiser!
The manufacturers that were employed had to put the bicycles through the lubrication machine so that it would move easily.
Last month if someone told me that one day I will go back to Kerala and settle down, I would have laughed my heart out.
Me, living in Kerala?
The only connection I have with Kerala is that I own a Kerala saree, which by the way I haven’t worn for years.
I don’t think like a Malayalee or act like a Malayalee.
I love the comforts the western society offers.
I like my anonymity
Yet, beginning of this month, I thought about the monsoon rain, school reopening, bata shoes, eating fried unakka kappa with coconut slivers.
There was a tiny ache somewhere in the heart.
I tried to tell myself that it is nothing.
But I knew I am lying to myself.
It is time Kochu Maharani went home.
Perhaps it is time for the New Amma Maharani!