Orthodox Syrian christian wedding

“What did you wear for your wedding, Ammachi?” I watched my grandmother closing her eyes as though she was viewing herself in the mind theatre. Then she spoke,” I wore my first chatta and mundu on that day. Being a Syrian Christian and a wife-to-be, my mother felt it was only right that I wore the traditional chatta and mundu. It was so funny wearing a mundu for the first time.
“Can you imagine a long white piece of cloth tied around you and with a tail at the back?” She turned and asked me.

“It took me ages to learn how to tie a mundu properly.” Ammachi chuckled.” My mother gave me her best neriyathu to wear along with the chatta and mundu. It was also the first time I used neriyathu. I feared that if I didn’t hold the neriyathu on my head properly, it would fall on my face and everyone would laugh at me So I walked with my head firmly fixed straight so the neriyathu would stay put. But my neck began to hurt after a while and I moved my head, which made the neriyathu slip on to my back. My mother saw this and knocked my head with her knuckles. She warned me not to drop the neriyathu while at church and embarrass her in front of all the relatives.
I have not worn a scarf to church yet. It is customary that orthodox Syrian Christian woman cover their head when they enter the church. My mother doesn’t like to follow the orthodox customs. Her family belonged to the Anglican church. Although my father’s family belongs to the Syrian church, my mother would try to fight the cutoms and traditions of Orthodox Christians. My friend Anila has a white lace scarf and I too wanted one like that. When we went to church I showed amma Anila’s scarf and asked her
” Would you buy me scarf like that?”
Amma shook her head. “Nina, bible never mentioned that women should cover their head”. I wanted to ask her, then why is she covering her head with the saree whenever we went to church.
I promised myself, when I grow up and earn my own money, I will buy my own scarf, beautiful white lace scarf with tassels at the border. I was always fascinated to see how I would look when I cover my head. When no one is at home I would use a towel as a scarf and pretend I am at the church, going to take my first communion. Balancing the towel on my head, holding it with one hand and gracefully walking to the altar.
The rain was now very heavy and ammachi was worried that paddy field would get flooded and destroy then crops. The non stop rain would weaken the stalks of the paddy causing the grains to drop in to the wet soil and be damaged. Ammachi went to the back of the house, cut a leaf from the yam plant and used it as an umbrella to go into the fields to survey her crops. Normally Ammachi would never let me out when it rains, for if I get fever, Amma would fight with Ammachi for allowing me to play in the rain. But this time Ammachi gave me a yam leaf too.
We walked slowly in the rain to the paddy field holding the yam leaf over our head. I was accustomed to using an umbrella and was delighted in the novelty of holding a yam leaf over my head to keep dry. Suddenly I felt the right side of my body is getting drenched with rainwater so I tilted the leaf in that direction, but then the rain started beating down on the left side of my body and all of a sudden the wind started billowing causing my yam leaf to sway and one point the leaf nearly turned upside down, allowing me to get completely soaked. Ammachi saw me struggling with the leaf and quickly scooped me up with one arm and held the leaf over my head. Ammachi let go of her leaf and was getting wet while making sure my head stayed dry.
After surveying the paddy, we cautiously but hurriedly returned to Chengannur house. And Ammachi used a towel to dry my head and body. She removed my wet dress and wrapped the towel around me to keep me warm. Ammachi then wringed my dress and hung it on the slats meant for the rubber sheets inside the kitchen. I looked anxiously at the bund to see if my parents are coming back. I silently prayed that Amma and Appa wouldn’t come to fetch me until later. If Amma saw me without my clothes on, she would be upset with Ammachi for allowing me to play in the rain. I didn’t want Ammachi and Amma to fight, which would eventually lead to a fight between my father and mother.

Ammachi’s concern about the rain destroying the crop is proving to be right, the field was getting flooded and there is nothing much she could do other than to hope that it would stop raining soon. But I couldn’t hold my excitement learning about Ammachi’s marriage ceremony,” Tell me about the wedding”

The best reason why you should get married!

My mother told me, ‘Thangamma, your father and I are growing old and who will buy you a pavada (skirt) if anything happens to us? You are growing up too fast and you can’t wear the same pavada (skirt)for the rest of your life. We are getting you married off so that there will be someone to buy you a pavada (skirt)and you don’t have to worry about your clothes and food”.

“Well for a eleven year old then that idea seemed most logical. Besides, I thought by getting married I would not only get a new dress to wear, but also plenty of payasam(kheer) to drink. In those times, payasam (Kheer) was made only for divine festivals and weddings. You need to buy the dhal which is the main ingredient and we normally didn’t have the money for it.”
I could not imagine not having money and not going to the shop to buy things. So I asked, “Ammachi, didn’t you go shopping at all?”

Ammachi explained,” When I was young, people’s needs were different. We had cows that would give milk, hens that would give eggs and meat, and we would catch fish from the river near home. Rice was grown in our fields and so were all the vegetables. We even made our own oil from coconuts. When we wanted a vegetable that didn’t grow in our fields we would go to the market and barter trade. Our only need then was a nice neriyathu with a good amount of zari to wear for weddings and Easter church service and a nice gold bangle.”

I knew what a neriyathu was. I have seen Ammachi and other elderly woman wear the neriyathu with chatta and mundu in the church. The more gold zari embroidery on the neriyathu the more expensive it was. Ammachi always pinned her neriyathu on her chatta with a nice flower shaped brooch with pink stones on it.
I noticed that Ammachi took special care of hers; every time she came back from church, she would take it off from her chatta and hang it neatly on the clothesline. She couldn’t wash it after every use and made sure that nothing ever dropped on it. Of all her clothes, Ammachi never allowed her grandchildren to touch her neriyathu. It was the most precious thing she ever owned. Ammachi kept all her clothes in an old leather suite case.
Whenever I visit her I try to play with her leather suitcase and Ammachi would always tell me’ Nina, when you get married, you have to take the clothes to your husband’s house in that suitcase, so please don’t spoil the suitcase.’
Inside the suitcase, there was always a brand new chatta, mundu and neriyathu still in the original brown paper cover. Ammachi has never worn that, even when her clothes are old and torn, Ammachi wouldn’t touch the new set in her suitcase. I didn’t understand why Ammachi never wore that. So I asked her one day
“Ammachi why don’t you ever wear the new chatta, mundu and neriyathu in the suitcase?’
She told me,”when I die, I want you to give me the ritual bath and drape my body in the new set of clothes’ . I don’t want anyone to spend their hard earned money buying burial clothes for me and I don’t want to wear my old clothes when you bury me.
I looked at her shocked. I couldn’t understand how could my grandmother die, and how does she expect me to bath her when she is dead? How can a 10 year old bath a 50 year old woman?
Ammachi carried me and hugged me close to her and told me, “Nina, life and death are a part of life”.
I didn’t understand what Ammachi was trying to tell me, but at that moment her hug and the smell of the coconut oil on her hair was comforting to me. And I never asked her about the new sets of clothes in the suitcase.
note: Chatta, mundu and neriyathu are the traditional dress worn by the orthodox syrian christian woman in Kerala, India.

slate, chalk and marriage

I knew about slate and chalks as I too used it when I came back to Kerala from Malaysia. On my first day at Stanley memorial school in Kottayam, my mother bought me a black slate with a wood border and a box of chalk from the Jacob’s store near the bus stand. I had to learn to read and write Malayalam language and my mother felt it is better I use a slate. The shop also sold colourful chalk and I wanted them as well and Amma told me
“If I keep buying you everything you want, there won’t be any money left to pay your dowry”. So I only got white colour chalk.
My teacher would write the words on the black board and I would copy it on my slate.
After the school is over in the evening while waiting for the school bus to take me back home, I would spend hours doodling on my slate.
Ammachi continued her story
“My parents bought a packet of chalk beginning of each school year and it was expected that the chalks should last the whole year. I had to use a chalk till the very last bit, and sometimes my writings wouldn’t be legible at all, imagine writing with a chalk the size of a green pea!
When my hand hurt from holding such a tiny bit of chalk, I would borrow some from my brother. My parents bought him new chalk every time his chalk finished. They used to say,
‘he is just a boy and you can’t expect him to be careful all the time’, besides he needs all the help in studying so he can find a job in the Government sector. For each chalk piece that my brother gave me I had to trade a feather from my collection.
Those days I used to find beautiful feathers on the ground and collected them in a small container. Once my friend Mariakutty who stays near the school, gave me a peacock feather and told me,
’ Thangamma, if you hide the peacock feather inside your book and never expose it to the sun, it will give you new baby feathers.’
So I kept the peacock feather in my father’s Syriac bible – it was the only book in our house that no one used, except when the priest came over for prayer meetings. The bible had brown leather cover with a golden cross on the cover. My father kept all the title deed for the house and other important documents inside it for safe keeping. He told us children not to play with it, but I wanted my peacock feather to give birth to new baby feathers, so without anyone seeing I placed the feather inside the book. Every evening I hid under my bed, checking to see if my peacock feather gave birth. When I saw no new feather babies I thought may be I accidentally exposed the feather to sunlight. I was sad that I would never get any more baby peacock feathers.

“One day my father told me, ‘ Thnagaamma, you don’t have to go to school any more.’

‘Why Appa, why shouldn’t I be going to school?’ I asked him. After all, my school headmaster visited our home just a few weeks ago telling my father how well I was doing at school. I still remember what he said. ‘Your daughter is one of our brightest and most hardworking students. We hope she will be the first of our girls to write the matriculation exam.’

“Ammachi, how come no other girl ever wrote the matriculation exam before?”
“Nina, most Syrian Christian girls were married off when they were 12 or 13 years old and they stopped studying after that. You can only write the matriculation examination after completing ten years of schooling and most girls got married before that.
“ I had no idea what marriage means then, of course my cousins all got married but I never thought about my own marriage. At the age of 11, I was more preoccupied with the fish in the river and having a good time with my friends chasing the elusive Uppan bird and finding cashews and eating green mangoes with salt and red chilli powder without anyone catching me.”
I knew about the Uppan. It had a peculiar cry and it sounded like ‘uppa, uppa – the reason why the bird was called Uppan. The bird was brown in colour, always alone and quick to fly. I have spotted it only three times so far, but heard its cry far more often. Every time I heard the bird crying I would run outside in search of the bird while singing a rhyme:
Uppa Uppa
Uppante ammakku
Uppu Veno?
Uppa Uppa
Uppante achanu
Uppu veno?

(uppan bird, does your mother want salt? does your father want salt?)

Ammachi continued with her story. “My father told me, ‘You are a big girl now, and we have found a boy to marry you. Soon there is going to be big celebration as you – my only daughter – is getting married.’ I suddenly felt scared. My friends all had funny knowing smiles on their faces when they heard the news and they stopped coming to my house. I couldn’t understand why. My father told them to stop coming to our house, as he wanted me to act like a woman and not run around with them. Suddenly I had no one to talk to.
“So I asked my mother, ‘Amma, why are you getting me married off?’

the rain!!!!!

‘Ammachi, Mazha varunnu, Mazha varunnu’…. (it is going to rain!!!)

Hearing my screams everyone rushed out. Ammachi went to get the cows.. Kuttan quickly removed the rubber sheets that were hung on the clothesline, and Chakki, lifted the pleats of her saree and tucked them inside the skirt, so as not to get it wet and the saree wouldn’t cling on to her legs as she ran. She chased the hens in to their coop.
Ammachi saw me struggling with Manikutty and took the rope from my hand and suddenly the calf that was immovable all the while I was trying to bring her to the shed started walking like an obedient child behind Ammachi. Inside the shed Ammachi tied Manikutty close to the mother cow, and soon the mother cow started to lick Manikutty. I gently petted Manikutty’s wet snout as the mother and the calf nuzzled together. Ammachi pulled some hay from the haystack and placed in the tray near the mother calf.
The rain then started to fall heavily; Ammachi and I placed our hand on our head and made a dash from the cattle shed to the house. Ammachi went inside her bedroom and brought the towel with her and dried my hair. She then proceeded to dry her own hair. Kutten and Chakki were already inside the kitchen. Chakki used the end of her saree to dry her hair. Kutten just used his fingers and flicked the hair and then shook his head few times.
The rain was now falling heavy and Kutten went outside and scanned the horizon. He told Ammachi,
“ I don’t think the rain will stop today. I think we will go home now.” Ammachi went out to look at the sky and she too agreed with Kutten after seeing the grey clouds, and told the couple to go home. Kutten went out and cut two yam leaves, giving one to his wife. Chakki wrapped the end of her saree around her head and carried the rest with one hand and held the leaf with her other as they walked home.
I liked it when it rained for Ammachi would make delicious tapioca chips whenever it rained. It was a rainy day snack for her: fried tapioca chips eaten with slivers of coconut and jaggery(gula melaka). Ammachi went inside the pathayam(granary) where she stored the dried food items and the grains and brought out the big tin in which she keeps the tapioca she dried the previous summer. She put the big cheenachatti(Chinese wok) on fire and poured coconut oil in to it. She broke a small piece of dried tapioca and dropped in to the hot oil to check if the oil was hot enough to fry the chips. I enjoyed watching the chips swell and float to the surface. Ammachi knew that and she allowed me to drop the chips in to the oil, supervising so the hot oil wouldn’t splash. When the chips were golden brown Ammachi sprinkled salt water on it and used an old wooden scoop and lifted the chips from the oil and placed them in a small brass plate. She used a curved knife and scraped few pieces of coconut and jaggery (gula melaka). I carried the brass plate to the veranda and Ammachi after putting out the fire joined me. We would sit and watch the rain while Ammachi told me stories. I eagerly waited for today’s story telling session, and I silently hoped that Appa and Amma would be late to pick me up.

I asked Ammachi’ how did you meet Appachan(grandfather)?’
Ammachi tilted her head to one side and while munching the tapioca chips, simply replied, “I don’t remember much about your grandfather now, in fact, I can’t even remember what he looked like.”

I was taken aback; I just couldn’t understand how my grandmother could forget what her husband looked like. Ammachi saw the puzzled expressions on my face and imparted, “I was a young girl like you once up on a time, went to school in the morning, came back in the afternoon, helped my parents in the farm. Played hide and seek game with my friends in the evening and went to church on Sunday. My only worry then was if I would have enough chalk to write the entire term.

Leaf scoop

“ Babu mone, come and have your lunch” Ammachi called out from the kitchen. Appa folded the newspaper and placed it on the parapet wall and told me,
“I can smell your Ammachi made your favourite payaruthoran”
I nodded my head and we walked to the well to wash our hands. I sat with Appa on the bench and ate rice with yoghurt curry, payaru thoran and pappadam. Ammachi’s chicken curry is very spicy and I don’t like to eat it. After we ate, Amma and Ammachi sat down to have their lunch.
While they were eating I saw Chakki placing a pot of water on fire. She asked me
“You want to come with me and look for nice leaves?”
I know Chakki is looking for leaves to make a scoop for her and for husband. She uses a leaf scoop to eat her porridge.
I followed Chakki. We walked to the jackfruit tree near the brook. Chakki and I searched among the leaves on the floor for a clean unblemished leaf. Soon Chakki found two leaves. She folded each leaf in to a cone and held it in place with a small twig. I found a leaf for myself and Chakki helped me to make a scoop as well.
Chakki took 2 aluminium bowls from the bottom shelf and placed the rice in it. She then poured the hot water from the pot in to the bowl and made porridge. It looked yummy and although my stomach was full, I still wanted to try eating porridge with the leaf scoop.
I asked Chakki “ Can I eat with you?”
My mother was still in the kitchen
She screamed,“ Nina how many times do I have to tell you that you can’t eat with the servant?”
“You are an orthodox Syrian christian girl and you will not sit with a chovathi (lower caste)”
I didn’t want to say anything. Once my mother starts shouting, it is safer to keep quiet. Besides once she leaves for the wedding I can spend time with Chakki. may be i will ask Chakki to make porridge for me and I can eat it with my leaf scoop.
Chakki didn’t say anything either, she went out and called Kutten to come and have his lunch.

Kutten came to work in Ammachi’s farm when he was 14 years old. He is now the official rubber tapper and is in charge of all the other manual labourers. He thinks he looks like a film star Jayan. In fact he would buy me poppins if I call him ‘film star Jayan’.
Kutten came wiping his hand on the end of his sarong. Chakki and Kutten sat on the floor of the kitchen and ate in silence. After they ate, there was still some more payaruthoran left in the bowl. I took a small steel saucer from the cupboard, scooped up the remaining payaru thoran and placed in the saucer. I walked to the veranda and sat on the parapet wall. Sitting down there I ate the rest of the payaru thoran. From where I sat, I couldn’t see the brook, it is at least 80 feet away. However I could see stretches of paddy fields and occasional coconut trees in between. It looked like a giant chequered saree. The colour changes according to the season, light green when the shoots of the paddy are growing, to dark green, when the paddy is flowering. It is almost golden yellow, when the paddy is ready for harvest, and brown when the harvest is done.
Appa and Amma got ready to leave for the wedding. Before they left Amma told me
“Nina don’t play with the water” I nodded my head.
Ammachi sat with me on the parapet wall and watched Appa and Amma walking on the bund, till they disappeared from our view.
I noticed Manikutty playing in the field. I asked Ammachi,” Can I play with Manikutty?”
“Yes, you can, but be careful, Don’t go near the mother cow and trouble her.”
Manikutty was the newest addition to the cattle herd at Chengannur house. She was white in colour and its mother was black. I never understood how a black cow could give birth to a white calf. I wanted to ask Amma, how that is possible. But then again I knew what Amma’s response would be. She would often complain that I ask too much unnecessary questions. She would tell me,
” it is more useful that you study what is there in your text book and score better marks for the exam than worry about such irrelevant matters”.
I untied the rope from the tree and led the calf around the fields, and me being small and the calf being playful, it was soon obvious that the calf was leading me. Soon the calf proceeded to the area where Ammachi grew yam and started to chew on the tender leaves. I knew if I didn’t get the calf out of that area fast Ammachi is going to be angry with me for damaging the yam. I started to tug the rope around Manikutty’s neck hard and the more I tugged the more the calf resisted.
Then all of a sudden the sky became dark. It happened so suddenly that I had just enough time to shout and tell….

chakki’s gift

I opened the bundle and saw raw cashew nuts inside. I love cashew nuts. Although Ammachi sells the cashews, Chakki always save some for me. She would roast them in the fire and then use a rock to crush and remove the burnt shell and gives me freshly roasted cashew nut.
“Will you roast the cashew for me now?” I asked her.
“Not now Nina, I have to cook rice for lunch. We will roast the cashews in the evening”
Chakki took rice from the wooden rice box. She measured the rice using an old cigarette tin. We walked to well. I sat on the washing stone near the well while Chakki washed the rice.
“Chakki, did you ever manage to catch the fish in the well with the bucket ? ”
“Of course Nina, few days ago we caught the catfish Ammachi had placed in the well last year. It was this big”. She gestured using her hand.
“How did you catch the fish?”
“I let the bucket sink to the bottom and wait. When the fish is swimming over the bucket, I quickly pull the bucket up and the fish will get trapped inside the bucket”
“Chakki, will you teach me how to catch the fish with the bucket?”
“Just now your mother punished you for playing with the water, and now you want to learn how to catch fish with a bucket?”
“If you don’t want to teach why don’t you tell so, I don’t like you anymore Chakki” and I walked off.
Ammachi and Appa were walking around the farm. Ammachi was showing Appa the new coconut trees saplings.
Then I remembered the candies I hid near the jackfruit tree, I quickly walked to the tree to collect them. Red ants were already eating my candies. I tried to rub the ants off and the ants started to run all over my hands and bite me. I shook my hands hoping to dislodge them from my hands. Finally I got rid of the ants, still few of them were stuck on the candies. I didn’t want Amma to catch me with the candies, so I walked quietly to the brook. There brook was dry. I climbed down slowly and sat at the bottom of the brook. I knew Amma wouldn’t be able to find me there. I used my dress and cleaned the ants off the candies. There were so many smooth glistening rocks around me. I collected 5 similar looking ones and started playing jumping jacks. I must have sat there for a long time, because I heard Amma calling out my name. I quickly climbed out of the brook and walked to the house.

Ammachi was in the kitchen frying the pappadam and Chakki was busy draining the water from the rice. After draining all the hot water from the boiled rice, Chakki used a scoop and placed the rice in to glass serving bowl. She placed the steaming hot rice on the kitchen table. Amma set the table and filled water in the glasses. Everyone except me gets water in a glass. She always gives me a stainless steel tumbler.
“Amma can you give me water in a glass?”
She gave me one look and I knew the answer is NO and i shouldn’t discuss any further. I climbed on the bench near the table in order to see what Ammachi cooked for me. I saw right away that Ammachi made my favourite payaru thoran (spicy green gram curry). Ammachi makes the best payaru thoran in the world and she knows it is my favourite dish. When no one was looking at me I quickly grabbed a handful of payaru thoran and put in my mouth. I ran out of the kitchen to the veranda. Appa was lying down on the lazy chair and reading th news paper. I climbed on the lazy chair next to Appa. He didn’t say anything and continued to read his paper.

Catching the catfish in the well

Appa greeted Ammachi and told her “I think another two more weeks and the crop is ready for harvest”. Ammachi nodded her head.
“Why were you so late?” She asked Appa.
“ As usual the tyre punctured just a few km after Thiruvalla bus station. We had to wait almost an hour to get a replacement bus!.”
Appa took the brass pot that is kept on the low wall and washed his leg and then Amma washed her leg. There was no more water inside the pot and I decided to go to the well and draw the water myself to wash my leg. I also wanted to see if I could catch the fish Ammachi keeps in the well. In the monsoon season, Ammachi would place the fish trap in the brook and the extra fish she caught, she would keep them in the well. In summer even when the brook is dry, Ammachi would still have fish for lunch. She would just scoop the fish out of the nearly dry well using a bucket.
I walked around the side of the house to the well. On the way I passed by the cattle shed. Appa says it is the only multi coloured cattle shed in the world. The cattle shed walls has been painted with, white, blue and yellow paint. Whenever Ammachi paints the house, the left over paint is used on the cattle shed wall. She says the same thing every time when my father complains
“cattle can’t see the colour and I don’t want to waste the paint”
The cattle shed was empty this morning. Ammachi has taken the cattle out to the pasture.
I walked towards the well. Took the metal bucket and lowered it in to the water. The bucket swished down the pulley and dropped in to the water with a thud.
Ammachi was making coffee for Appa in the kitchen and she heard the bucket slamming in to the water. She called out from the kitchen
” Nina, be careful, hold the rope tightly and gently drop the bucket to the water”
“Ok Ammachi” I replied.
I could see the fish in the water and tried navigating the bucket using the rope. Each time I got the bucket near the fish, it just dived and slid away. I pulled the bucket up and washed the mud off my leg with cold water. It felt wonderful, I drew water again and placed the brass pot inside the bucket to fill. I love to see the air bubbles coming out of the brass pot as it gets filled with the water. I must have been so engrossed playing with the water because I didn’t hear Amma’s footsteps. She saw me playing with the water. “Nina what are you doing?” She yelled at me
She rushed to where I was sitting and pulled me up “Haven’t I told you not to play with the water?” She pinched my ear hard and yelled. My ear was hurting and I struggled to get out her grip.
“Amma don’t hurt me, I won’t do it again, I promise.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to play with water before we came over?”
“Didn’t I Nina? Didn’t I explain to you that if you fall ill I have to take time off from work?” She took a twig that was lying near the well and started to hit me on my leg.
“Amma please don’t beat me, God promise I won’t do it again” I begged her. She finally let go of me when the twig was broken in to pieces.
My ear and legs were hurting and I was very angry with my mother for hurting me. I kicked the bucket and ran to the kitchen leaving the bucket and the brass pot behind. Chakki was watching us all the while. I ran to her and she held me. She lifted me to check my legs. There were multiple weals on my leg. Chakki gently massaged my leg.
”You are hurting me” I screamed at her while crying.
“Ok, I won’t hurt you, but I have something for you, I will give it to you only if you stop crying”
I wiped my face with my dress and told her” I am not crying anymore”
Chakki took a small newspaper wrapped bundle from the shelf and gave it to me.
“Why don’t you open it and see?”

Candies..yummy ornage candies

Chakki placed the pot on fire and started to cook the chicken curry.
Then Ammachi spotted us walking towards the house, “Chakki, hurry they are coming”. Chakki quickly took the pot away from the fire, removed few pieces of firewood from the stove and dashed out of the kitchen. She went to the granary and opened the newspaper cover and took few candies out. Chakki quickly walked to the front of the house and placed the sweets on the few croton plants that formed a line around the parapet wall..
“ Is the chicken curry ready Chakki?”
“Not yet Ammachi, I just took the pot away from the fire so it won’t burn, I will put it back on the fire now”, and she walked back to the kitchen.

As we reached the paddy, Appa decided to stop and have a look at the crop. All the while Appa was carrying me I was silently praying that Ammachi would remember to get me the candy, and now I was getting annoyed with Appa for wasting time and looking at the paddy.
” Let me down, I will walk home on my own” Appa gently lowered me to the ground and told me” Don’t run, just walk” and I nodded my head and bolted. I ran straight to the front of the house. I could see Ammachi sitting on the parapet wall, My heart was racing with all the excitement and running. I shook the first croton plant, then the next, finally from the fourth plant the candies dropped to the grounds. I squealed in delight and picked them up. There were 4 more plants and greedily I shook them too, hoping that Chakki placed some sweets on them too.
Ammachi shook her head and told me” edi kothichi, there are only caterpillars and worms in those plants”. I was so mad at my grandmother for calling me a kothichi, and showed her my tongue.
“ Edi Chakki, did the baby monkey escape from the zoo?”
I got even madder with her for calling me a baby monkey. I didn’t bother to give her my customary kiss. I lifted the edge of my dress and made a pouch to place the candies inside and walked to where my parents were standing. This time I got yellow and green colour candies. Last time Ammachi gave me orange and green colour candies. Small pieces of candies that look like an orange segment. I put one in my mouth and walked slowly hoping to finish eating the candy already in my mouth before meeting my mother. On the way I stopped near the jackfruit tree. I have to hide some of the sweets before my mother sees me. I made a cone with the jackfruit leaf and placed few candies inside and hid it under a pile of dried leaves.
“Did you get any candies?
My mother asked me. I nodded my head and showed her the sweets in my hand. She took them from my hand and asked me
” Which colour you want today?”
“Green” She gave me two green candies and placed the rest in her hand bag. She looked at my father and said “ How many times have I told your mother that I don’t want her to give these cheap candies to Nina?” These sweets have no cover and how many people must have touched them?” Appa didn’t say anything. He held my hand and we walked together to the house.

Ammachi and Chakki

The house had a beautiful veranda. Open on all three sides with a low parapet wall to sit on. Ammachi came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on the end of her mundu (sarong).She walked to the veranda and scanned the main road looking for us.
She asked Chakki, her maid” Edi Chakki, Did your hear the bus stopping at the junction?”
Chakki lifted her head as if to concentrate and replied“ No Ammachi, I haven’t heard the bus sound”
Ammachi sat on the parapet wall of the veranda with her back to the pillar. All the while having her eyes focussed on the main road. It was a hot day and she used and old Vanitha magazine and fanned herself. She said to herself, it is almost midday and why are they late?
Chakki was in the kitchen getting the ingredients ready for the chicken curry. Ammachi had slaughtered the hen that morning and both of them worked together and cleaned the chicken. Chakki placed the coconut and chillies on the grinding stone and started to grind moving the smooth cylindrical stone back and forth. After grinding the coconut chilli mixture in to a fine paste. Chakki used the base of the palm leaf and scooped up the mixture from the stone and placed in bowl.
“Edi Chakki, have you lighted the fire?”
“Ammachi, I have just finished grinding the masala. I will do it now”. She went to the small shed behind the kitchen. Chakki opened the door carefully, and the Karumban started to bark ferociously. Ammachi keeps the dog inside the shed and during the day. So he won’t kill the hens.
Chakki stared straight in to the dog’s eyes and hissed
“Keep quiet, you stupid ungrateful dog. Don’t I feed you everyday?” The dog continued to bark and Chakki picked a small log from the floor and threatened the dog.
“if you don’t stop barking, I will hit you.”
Soon the dog went to the corner and lied down, still panting and looking at Chakki. She collected few pieces of firewood and as she was leaving she waved the log at Karumban and warned him not to move. Chakki closed the shed door.
She placed the firewood neatly inside the stove. Big ones at the bottom and the small ones at the top. She took some paper and scrunched it and lit it using a matchstick. She placed the lit newspaper inside the stove and soon the kitchen was full of smoke. Ammachi called out from the veranda
“Edi Chakki, why don’t you use the tube and blow in to the fire? Do I have to tell you how to light the fire each time?
Chakki mumbled to herself softly, blowing and blowing like this, soon my lungs would come out.
Ammachi could hear Chakki mumbling and asked her ”Did you say something Chakki?”
Chakki shook her head and replied “No Ammachi, I didn’t say a word”

Chengannur house

We got off the bus near the junction from the main road. It was a very hot day and I pulled off the blue silk scarf Amma, my mother tied around my head to prevent me from falling sick while travelling in the bus. Amma took the scarf from my hand, folded and placed it in her handbag. The house was still another kilo meter away and as we walked over the bunds that separated the plots of paddy, I stood on tip-toe and craned my neck periodically to try to spot a bit of the thatched roof or a bit of its white walls or sky blue windows. It was a bit of a thrill for me: spotting the house before others did. My parents have come to Chengannur to attend a wedding. I insisted on coming along because I hadn’t seen Ammachi, my grandmother, for a while.
Although the house was called Puthenveedu, no one ever called it that: it has always been known as Chengannur house. A single story house on two acres of land on which Ammachi had planted with coconut, mango and jackfruit. The walls of the house were pristine white and the windows, which the house had plenty of, were painted sky blue.
Appa was in hurry. He was getting annoyed with me as I was still standing and trying to spot the house. He told me to hurry and I started to walk fast. Near the house the bund forms a slope. Every year during the monsoon the rain would wash away part of the bund near the slope. Appa would use his black umbrella for balance and gingerly tiptoes on the little pieces of rocks exposed after the mud has been washed off by the rain. I would stretch my hands to balance. And follow right behind Appa.
Appa walked down balancing on the rocks scattered here and there, when he reached the middle of the slope he turned and gave his hand to Amma. Amma lifted her saree and held it one hand, so it won’t get dirty while going down the muddy bunk and used the other hand to hold my father’s hand and he gently guided her down to the bottom of the slope. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes daring me to run down the slope. I was not too sure about running down the slope without any support to hold on. Then Appa challenged me, ”If you are my daughter and from the Puthenveedu family, then you would have the courage to run down this slope”?. That is all I wanted to hear and I made a dash down the slope. Appa held me as I reached the bottom of the slope. He was laughing. He carried me the rest of the walk to the house on his shoulder. Sitting on his shoulder I had a better view and I spotted the thatched roof of the house.
The house faced the paddy, and between the house and the paddy was a brook about five feet wide. In summer months, the brook would be absolutely dry and the smooth glistening rocks at the bottom would be exposed. And during monsoon season, it would overflow, flooding the field.