“Ammachi, What are you scared of?”. I asked her as we were eating our dinner.
“You are not scared of anything?”
“No, Nina, I am not scared of anything, but I am weary hunger”.
“You mean, you are not scared of death?”
“No, Infact I once saw the white light and it wasn’t scary”
“What white light?”
“That is a long story Nina”
“Tell me the story Ammachi”I pleaded.
“After you grandfather died,
“Ammachi how did my grandfather die?”I interrupted her
“Child, do you want to hear the story or not?” She asked me annoyed.
“Your grandfather just died one day. ok?”
“ok”. I replied knowing very well that if I asked her how, she might stop telling me the story of the white light.
“After his death, my mother in law felt I should go back to my mother’s house”
“Why ?” I aske Ammachi
” Your grandfather was the only son and she had 3 daughters. If I go back to my parents house, then she can give this land to her daughters”
“Did you go back Ammachi?”
“No, I didn’t, but she made sure she would try everything to make me leave. She didn’t give me food most days, made me do all the work in the land, hit me many times”
“Why didn’t you leave?”
“Nina, this land belongs to your father. I had to stay to make sure he gets his inheritance”
“One day, after digging the soil for planting tapioca, I came home tired. My mother in law was sitting on this veranda and she smiled at me. it was the first time she ever smiled at me and I thought may be she changed. She asked me if I want to drink something and I nodded my head. She went to the kitchen and got me a glass of buttermilk”
“Was it white moru Ammachi?
“Yes, white moru ” She replied
“I was so happy. It was the first time since I got married, my mother in law gave me a glass of drink. After a long day working in the field the buttermilk tasted refreshing. But then I don’t remember what happend”
“What happend Ammachi?”
“My mother came to this house to give a jackfruit seedling from the sweet jackfruit in our house. When she came, my mother in law was sitting on this veranda fanning herself with a towel and I was lying down on the floor, chocking on my own vomit”
“Why were you vomiting Ammachi?”
“Because my mother in law gave me a poisoned drink and she was waiting patiently for the soul bus to take me to heaven”.
“What did your mother do Ammachi?”
“She screamed and screamed and got all the neighbours and fortunately for me, Travencore king’s personal physician had come to Bhagavathy temple and he saved my life”
“Didn’t everyone scold your mother in law ammachi?”
“No, Nina, My mother in law told everyone, I tried to commit suicide”
“What about your mother? Did she too think that you tried to kill yourself?”
“No, Nina, she knew the truth and from then on, she send food for me everyday.”
“Is that when, you saw the white light Ammachi?”
“hmmm.. I saw this long tunnel and a bright light. It was very peaceful”

Harvest and congress party

After all the workers went home Ammachi and I sat on the parapet wall. Ammachi was applying oil on my hair. She makes the herb oil herself, by boiling coconut oil and adding a mix of herbs that are found around our house.
“Your hair is so thin, why can’t you apply oil on your hair?” she asked me.
“Why can’t you stay with me and apply oil on my head everyday?” I asked her back.
“Then who will take care of the farm?”
‘then who will put oil on my head?”
She knocked my head with the end of the comb and told me
“You always have an answer for everything eh?”
“After all I am Methran Thambi’s grand daughter and you should know jathyagunam thothal poovula!!”(you can’t really erase genetic link to your grandparents!!!!)
I heard footsteps and looked out to see two men standing in front of our house. They both wore white kasavu mundu and white jubba. I nudged Ammachi to show her that we have visitors.
Ammachi looked at them and they at us. They were pushing and stoving each other saying”you speak” to each other. To me it looked comical. Two grown men,standing in front of our doorstep and pushing and stoving each other.
Ammachi continued to apply oil on my hair.
“Ammachi, we are from the Congress party” Spoke the one with a diary in his armpit
“Really?”. Ammachi responded
“Yes, Our party is fighting on behalf of all the farmers in Kerala”
“Really? and What are you fighting for?” Ammachi asked them
“We are fighting for a standard base price for copra. We know how the farming community is suffering because the copra has no value now”
“I am glad you are fighting for the farming community, but why are you in my house?”
It looked like both of them had lice in their head and they started to scratch their head. They were stammering and struggling to explain.
Eventually the one without a diary spoke
“We are collecting fund for our party. We understand you had a good harvest and we know you are very generous. That is why we came today itself”
The one with a diary opened his book and took a pen from his pocket
“How much should I write next to your name Ammachi? Aiyroor Thambi gave RS.10 and I am sure Ammachi wouldn’t want to pay less than that”
“Ofcourse not”Ammachi replied.
“Son before I forget, How much is the price for copra now?” Ammachi asked the one with Diary.
Again both of them had lice on their head and started to scratch.
Finally they shook their head and replied”We don’t know Ammachi”
“Oh! Like that eh? So which shop are you visiting today?”
They looked at Ammachi puzzled.
eda nayinte mone, you want a share of my harvest to pay for your party fund, so you can have a nice toddy drinking session at the shop, and then you have the audacity to fool me and say you are fighting for us, when you don’t even know the price of copra”
“Now the one with the diary was getting visibly mad
he pointed his finger at Ammachi and spoke
“Old, lady, you have no idea with whom you are playing with. You are playing with fire”
“Son, grow up!. are you trying to scare me with a rubber snake? I have seen live cobra in this land and I have killed them with my hand.”
” I will count 5 and you will run. If I still see you in my land after I count 5, i will assume you are trespassing my land and will take action.”
Defiantly the one with the diary walked towards us.Ammachi pushed me away and took the sickle that was on the floor. She now looked like goddess kali on a war path.
Instantly he stopped in his tracks. I have never been this scared in my life. My heart was beating so fast I could hear my own heart beat. The man with a diary was big and strong and my grandmother was small. There was no way Ammachi could win this fight.
Ammachi started to count and the one without the diary disappeared quickly.
The one with a diary looked back to see his friend leaving and he too started to leave.
“This isn’t over yet old lady”. He spoke as he was leaving.
Ammachi came back and sat on the parapet wall. I didn’t want to sit. What if they come with their own sickle and attack us?.
“Ammachi, should we go and look, if they are still in our land”
She shook her head. “They would have gone by now”
“Why couldn’t you pay them some money instead of fighting?”I asked her
“Nina, I don’t need any political party to fight for me. This is my land. What I earn in this land is the product of my sweat and blood. Nobody is going to come and take a share of that. Nobody” she shook her head and I knew she meant what she said.
“and don’t forget, Methran Thambi was a communist” she spoke.

Bangles and a widow

I thought about the bangles and kajal. I always wanted glass bangles. Amma would never buy them telling me, they all break and it is a waste of money.
“I thought about the nadodi who doesn’t come to our house. Then I understood why.
I marched to where Ammachi was standing. She was talking to the workers.
I asked her
“Why can’t you wear glass bangles and kajal?”
“huh?” She looked at me surprised.
“Why are you not wearing bangles?. Why are you not wearing a saree and bangles?”
“Because I can’t Nina”
“Why can’t you?”
“Because I am a widow.”
“why shouldn’t you wear bangles, because you are a widow?”
“Nina, the society expects me to dress like this. White chatta and mundu and no glass bangles and kajal”
“Who is the society Ammachi?”
“Why are you asking me about bangles Nina?” She asked me
“because you don’t wear bangles, nadodi seller won’t come to our house and now you see, I won’t be able buy any bangles.”
“ want bangles!”
“Yes, Ammachi, like the ones Ammalu is going to buy. I want lots of glass bangles, that will make noise every time I move my hand”
“Do you have money to buy the bangles”
I shook my head
“Will you buy me bangles?” I asked her
“What about you, will you buy bangles for you too?” I asked her.
“Then we can both wear matching bangles”. I told her.
Workers were listening to our conversation all these while. They looked at me and then to Ammachi. I could see their facial expressions changing from normal to disgust, they were not happy to even think about my widowed grandmother wearing bangles.
“Nina, we will talk about it later, Go and see if Chakki made coffee” Ammachi shooed me away.

I walked back to the kitchen. I was angry with the society for not allowing my grandmother to wear glass bangles. I wasn’t sure who the society was,but I knew one day I will find them and ask them.


After lunch, I went to the paddy fields again. Workers were sitting around the jackfruit tree, talking and chewing pan. It was too hot and I looked for a shady spot to sit.
I decided to sit under the mango tree. I picked 5 round stones and started to play jumping jacks with the stone.

“Can I play with you? “
I looked up and saw the same girl I saw working in the fields in the morning. She wore a green long skirt and green colour blouse. The skirt was supposed to be long and reach up to her ankle. The skirt she wore was neither long nor short. It readched 4 inches above her ankle. In my school, if anyone wore a long skirt above the ankles, the gilrs would ask
“Oh is there a flood?, is that why you wearing your skirt high?”
I looked at the girl again, she had a happy face and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
“What is your name?”I asked her
“Where do you stay?” I asked her
“In the cheri (slum)” she replied.
She sat down across me on the floor. She didn’t bother to clean the floor.
“What is your name?” She asked me
“Nina, I am Ammachi’s grand daughter”. I replied
“Are you the one who came from Malaya”.
“Yes”, I nodded my head.
“You are so lucky”
“Why so?” I asked her
“You live in a big house, you don’t have to work in the fields, your hands are always clean, see my hands, she opened her hands and showed me.
I looked at her hand. her plams and arms were full of cuts.
“How did you get all these cuts?”
“The paddy leaves are very sharp and cuts your hand, when you cut the hay”.
“Does it hurt?”
“nah”..she shook her head.
We both started to play the jumping jacks. It was my turn and I could only catch 3 stones. Ammalu was very good. She could catch all five stones on the back of her hand. She then threw the stones up and managed to catch all the stones again.
“Will you teach me how to play that?” I asked her
“It is easy, you do like this” and she demonstrated.
“Why are you working in the fields?”. I asked her
“Because I need the money”.
“Why do you need the money?”
“to buy food for my family”
“Where are your parents?”
“My mother has asthma and lays in the bed all day and my father is an alcoholic, he comes home each evening to collect money for his drink. I have 7 siblings and I am the oldest. I have to work, so they can eat”
“You are not going to school?”
“I do, every wednesday, that is when they serve free lunch at our school for poor children”.
“Really, you get free lunch in school”
“Yes”, she nodded her head again.”We get uppuma”
“somedays if I am lucky, I can even hide some food for my siblings in my dubba”
“You know what happend last time?” She asked me
“no, tell me”
Unnimash who used to cook the food is retired and the new one is Chacko. I don’t like him.He has big bushy mustache and he twists the end and makes it look even more scary. Last time he caught me when I took food for my siblings from my leaf and kept it in the dubba, he took the dubba from my hand and opened it and threw all the food out. He scolded me and called me a thief.”
He told me ‘government is paying money for feeding you, not your family”
“I didn’t steal the food from anyone, I only took a bit from my share from my leaf and he still called me a thief.”
“you know something?” She asked again
“Your Ammachi always gives me extra food to take home. I like working for your Ammachi”.
“Can I tell you a secret?”. She asked
“Promise me you won’t tell anyone”
“I promise” I made a sign of promise by hooking my index finger to her index finger.
She put her hand inside her skirt pocket and took out a small clothes bag. She opened it carefully and inside there was a single 1RS note.
“This is my saving, I am saving money to buy bangles, chanthupottu(liquid bindi) and kajal.”
“Where are you going to buy all that from?” I asked her
“From the nadodi”. She comes to our cheri(slum) once in a month. She has so many different colours of bangles, and she even has a chanthu pottu(liquid bindi) bottle that has all the clours in the world in it”
She nodded her head and said “really. it has so many bottles in a circle. all the bottles have different colour and the center one is white. It also has a cover with gold letters on it. Real gold, you know”.
“Ammalukttiye, don’t you want to work today?”. One of the women shouted from the fields.
“Bye,I will see you tomorrow,”She quickly got up, used her hand and wiped her bottom and ran off.
I thought about the Chanthupottu bottle with all the colours in the world. Akkachi only uses brown colour Sringar chanthu(liquid bindi) for her bindi. Before I go to school, she will draw a bindi on my forehead with Sringar chanthupottu.If the bindi is little big, the girls at my school would ask me”why did an elephant step on your forehead this morning?”. Then they all will laugh and I wait for the interval break, so I can go to the washroom and wash the bindi off from my forehead.
I thought about the free uppuma that Ammalu gets. I got up and ran to the kitchen.
“Chakki, will you make uppuma for me?”
“uppuma?” Chakki looked at me as though I asked for manna from heaven.
“Where did you get that idea for uppuma?”
“Will you make for me or not?” I asked her again
“Nina, Not now, we don’t buy sooji in our house and you can’t make uppuma without sooji.”
I sat on the kitchen bench and thought how lucky Ammalu is.

Kochu Maharani

Most of the workers were already in the field cutting the hay. They all tucked their lungi high and wore a towel turban. The women knealt down and cut the hay with the sickle and the men helped to stack them in bundles.
Once in a while they would get up ,stretch their back.Then they would remove the towel from their head, open it wipe their face and their neck. Occassionally they would walk to the small bund where they keep their steel drink container. They would twist the top and open the container. Take a little bit of water and wash their face, then drink a bit, swirl it in their mouth and spit. Then they would hold the container up and tilt and drink the water that is now flowing out.
All the women must have been in their 30’s except one. She was the smallest. When she brought the hay stack to the store I saw her face. She probably was my age. She smiled at me. I wanted to talk to her, but she went back to the field.
Once in a while, one of the men would start singing and the women would follow. I couldn’t understand what they were singing. But it was really nice to hear it. The man leading and the women singing in chorus.
I saw Chakki bringing a big steel pot. She kept the pot on the small bund and spoke something to the workers. Soon all of them stopped working and walked towards the pot.
I wanted to ask Chakki, what is inside the pot, but I was still angry with her for not hugging me after Ammachi beat me. I saw Chakki walking towards where I was sitting. I pretended I didn’t see her.
Chakki stood right infront of me and I explored the beauty of my toes.
“Kochu maharani, would you be wanting to eat your lunch?” she asked me.
I pretended I didn’t hear.
“I made payaruthoran (green gram curry)for the royal lunch today”. She announced again.
I looked at her from the corner of my eyes and could see the warm smile on her face.
“I could carry your royal highness to the kitchen”. She spoke again.
I couldn’t stay angry with her anymore and I got up. She carried me all the way to the kitchen.
“Kochu maharani, you are getting too heavy”. She said
“that is because, you cook nice food Chakki”.
Ammachi was in the kitchen and I didn’t want to speak to her.
She looked at me and I stared back thinking to myself ‘if you are Methran Thambi’s wife, I am his grand daughter.aha’.
She must have know what I was thinking, because she burst out laughing and I ran to her and she hugged me.
“Nina, next time you take anything from my cupboard, ask me first”.
“ok.ok ok”
Ammachi and I sat down to have our lunch and I asked her
“Why did you make me cut the paddy this morning?”
“Nina, now this is your land, you are the boss and you should start the harvest” “What about Appa and Maria?
“Your father is good for nothing!!”
I looked at her and told her with a smile on my face
“Don’t you say anything bad about my father”
“oho..and Why is that?” she asked me
“Because he has a daughter to speak for him”. I replied.
“Like father like daughter..good for nothing!!”
We both laughed. I wondered what my father would do, if he knew his own mother thinks that he is good for nothing.
“What about Maria, she is older than me.?” I asked her
“Can you even imagine Maria getting her feet and hands dirty?.
I thought how Maria never come out and play with us, she thinks the sun would make her complexion dark. I couldn’t picture Maria being a farmer. But I could imagine myself following my grandmother’s foot step and one day stay in this house and manage this farm. My land,my home.

Destroying Hindu temples the Malaysian govt way.

I am taking a break from posting my story today as i want the world to know what the elected representatives of Malaysian govt are up to.
Most outsiders are not aware that, non muslims in Malaysia has been suffering when it comes to religious worship. Though the Malaysian govt actively builds mosques and surau’s, they will not grant permission to build churches, temples for hindus and budhists believers.
It took 28 years for the Catholic church to build a church in their own land in Shah Alam, capital of Selangor state.
Religious persecution can be better understood if you read the following article

When you live in a land with 60% muslim population, then your voice gets drowned in the islamic manifesto.
We have lived with this, because most of us have learned that we are second class citizens and there is the ever looming threat of ISA ( internal security act) that can detain us for 2 years without a trial.
Now things have gone too far.
Yeasterday Kuala Lumpur city hall has demolished a temple that is 100 years old.

They are also planning to demolish another 100 year old temple in the coming days.
If you look at the link, you can see, it is a Kerala Link, because our local papers are owned and controlled by the govt leaders and their cronies.

This destruction in the name of religion will go on, unless there is an international outcry. Taliban destroyed Bamiyan Budhist sculpture.. We are heading the same way. Unless the world let Malaysian govt know that they are being watched.
Please dear readers.. Support Malaysian citizens for their quest to achieve their freedom enshrined in the constitution to worship their god.
Article 3 of the Malaysian Constitution clearly states

“Islam is the religion of the federation, but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the federation”

Does destroying a century old temple on some trumped up charge suggests that we are able to practise our religion in peace and harmony?

Please tell the Malaysian Govt to stop demolishing temples and other places of religious worship.
We need your help
The prime minister’s office can be reached

and his email is (Mr.Abduallah Ahammed Badawi, Prime minister of Malaysia)
Thank you

Ponds Snow

After washing my body umpteen times I finally gave up trying to remove the muck smell from my body. There was nothing much I could do and I wrapped the towel around my body and walked to Ammachi’s room to change.
I opened Ammachi’s cupboard to take my clothes and that is when I saw it. On top right corner of the shelf, ‘Ammachi’s snow’!,
Small white glossy bottle with a blue lid. “Ponds cold Cream”, Ammachi calls it ‘snow’. My dad’s cousin Joymon brought it for her all the way from Persia and Ammachi won’t let any of us, her grandchildren touch it.
I peered through the window and looked for Ammachi. She was no where near the house and I knew she is busy with the workers in the paddy field. I quietly tiptoed to the bedroom door. I peeped quietly and saw chakki busy cooking. I tried to close the door and it was making too much noise.
I tiptoed back to the cupboard. The only way I could reach the top shelf was either bring a chair from the dining room and stand on it, or climb on the first shelf inside the cupboard and balance and get the bottle. Bringing a chair from the dining room warrants unnecessary attention and I decided to climb. I removed the clothes from the middle shelf and holding the shelf above I managed to climb up and using my free hand I grabbed the ‘snow’.
I have never seen snow before. My father once told me, on a very cold day, the top of Mount Kinabalu would be covered in ice. My father is lucky, he gets to travel everywhere and see all the beautiful places. I never even saw Mount kinabalu once.
This was my opportunity to see snow for the first time. I sat down on Ammachi’s bed and slowly opened the bottle. It smelled heavenly. Like the white lillies my mother has in her garden. I took a small amount of cream in my hand and my hand smelled heavenly. I looked at my mucky feet.
I applied a liberal dose of ‘snow’ on my legs. My legs now smelled like the white lillies and I decided to apply some on my arms. Then on my face.
I heard Ammachi walking in to the kitchen annd asking Chakki
“What is that smell? Did you spill something?
I quickly closed the lid and hid the ‘snow’ inside among Ammachi’s clothes and, put all the clothes I removed earlier back in the cupboard.
That is when I saw my feet and arm. They were glossy and shiny. I looked around and found ammachi’s chatta on the bed and quickly tried to wipe the snow off my body.
“Nina Thomas, what did you do?”
“Why are you holding my chatta?
“Oh Ammachi, I was just helping you to fold your clothes”. I tried to give her a nice caring loving smile
By now Ammachi saw my glossy limbs. I must also have been reeking of Ponds snow fragrance.
Did you touch the snow bottle?
I shook my head.
Ammachi opened the cupboard and all her neatly folded clothes now resembled a battle field. Snow bottle was missing in action as well.
“Where is the ‘snow’ bottle?”
” I don’t know”. I replied
Ammachi started to rummage inside the messy cupboard and soon found the ‘snow’ bottle.
She opened the bottle and I could hear her gasping. ‘my god, it is empty’
“Chakki, bring me a stick” Ammachi roared.
“Ammachi please don’t hit me”
“I won’t do it again, God promise”. I pleaded.
“Nina, didn’t I tell you not to touch it?, Do you know how expensive it is?, Who will buy me a ‘snow’ bottle now?”
I could see Chakki walking in to the bedroom with a stick. She probably would have taken it from the broom stick. It is a thin stick and that means more pain.
“Ammachi don’t hit me, please don’t hit me. I am sorry I took your ‘snow'”
By the time Ammachi finished hitting me, there were plenty of welt marks on my snow adorned glossy skin.
“I am not going to talk to you and I am not going to love you”. I walked away and went to the kitchen. I knew Chakki loves me. I knew she would hug me like the last time, when Amma hit me for playing with the water.
Chakki was busy making lunch for the workers. She ignored me.
“Chakki, Ammachi hit me”. I cried and showed her the welt marks on my hands.”See the marks”
“Serves you right Nina. You asked for it. Why did you take Ammachi’s ‘snow’?”
“Why are you crying like a baby after you did something naughty?”
I thought Chakki would console me, instead she was adding more salt to my already bruised heart.
I knew nobody loves me and I walked to the paddy field. I sat on the bund with a bleeding heavy heart and watched the workers harvesting the paddy.


“Wake up Nina, We have work to do”
“Oh Ammachi please let me sleep for another 5 minutes”. I tried to hide my head under the pillow.
“Nina, wake up, everyone is waiting for you”. She removed the pillow from my head.
“Who is waiting for me?”I asked her .
“We will talk about it later, will you please hurry and get ready?”. She replied
I got up and sat down on the bed. “What is going on Ammachi, Why can’t you let me sleep for a little while? You are like my mother, allergic to seeing me sleeping peacefully”
“Oh Nina, the workers are waiting for you, so they can start the paddy harvest”
“huh?” I looked at her.
“Go, quickly brush your teeth and come to the paddy fields”
I had no idea, why everyone is waiting for me. I quickly brushed my teeth and went to the paddy field.
I saw atleast 10 women waiting near the field. Most of the women were squatting on the floor, talking to each other and occasionally spitting the tobacco. When they saw me coming, all of them got up and stood as though I am a teacher and they are showing me respect by standing up.
I looked at the women and at Ammachi. This is weird.
The women wore short saree blouse and colourful lungi. They didn’t cover their bosom. I felt extremely uncomfortable and shy. It is the first time I saw women wearing saree blouse and lungi and not covering their bosom.

Ammachi gave me a sickle and asked one of the women to take me to the field.
I followed her holding the sickle. I wasn’t sure how to hold the sickle.
Should I hold it up like a flag? or should I hold it down like a bag?.
I had no idea. Finally I held the sickle close to my chest like a newborn baby and walked towards the paddy. We stopped at the tiny bund that separates our field from our neighbour’s
“mole, you need to step down and cut the paddy stalk with your sickle. Before you cut,say a prayer in your heart for a bountiful harvest” the woman told me.

I contemplated if I should remove the hawai chappal before going down to the field. I didn’t want to get my feet dirty so I opted not to remove my beautiful chappal uncle Jacob got for me all the way from America.
I put my foot gingerly on the floor and my chappal along with my clean feet sank in to the wet mud. Soft mud squished between my toes. I tried to lift my feet up. It didn’t move. The mud reached up to my ankle and my imported hawai chappal was stuck in the mud. I now had one leg in the mud and another on the small bund. I had no intention of getting my other leg and my imported hawai chappal dirty. I tried to balance like the crane in the water on one leg and cut the paddy.
I turned and looked at Ammachi to see her reaction. She was laughing.
I knew it must have been a lovely sight, me balancing on the field and trying to cut the paddy.
‘aha, nobody is going to have fun at my expense’.I placed both my legs in the mud and stood up. My feet was itching and I held the sickle in one hand so i could use my other hand to itch my feet. It must have been the force needed to lift my hawai chappal out of the mud and the weight of the sickle working together, I fell on my butt in the wet mud.
I could hear everyone laughing.
“Shankari, don’t just stand and laugh, get down and help Nina”. Ammachi ordered while laughing at the same time.
Shankari gave me her hand and helped me to get up. My hair was on my face and I used my hands to push it away. I didn’t see I had mud in my hand and now I had mud in my mouth and on my face. It tasted yucky and I spat it out.
I quickly said a muddy prayer in my mind for the bountiful harvest and cut few stalks of paddy.
All the women yodelled.
I wanted to get out of the field and I couldn’t find my chappal. I had to use my hand and search for my chappal in the mud. I was so glad when I finally found it and quickly climbed out of the field holding the chappal in my hand. Ammachi laughed even more when she saw me, with mud on my face,hair,hands and up to my knee.
I didn’t want to look at her and I walked straight to the well so I could wash the mud off my body.
“Nina, ask chakki to give you some coconut fibres, so you can scrub your body”.
You only scrub the buffallo hide and I was angry with Ammachi for thinking that I belong with the animals. I stuck my tongue at her.(I couldn’t place my fingers behind my ears, because the clay was already drying and my fingers didn’t move)

Bhagavathi temple

Ammachi and I walked silently on the road.
The silence was eery. I had to speak something
I asked her”Who is Bhagavathy?”
“She is Lord Shiva’s wife” Ammachi replied
“Do you know the story behind the Bhagavathi temple? She asked me.
I shook my head again
“Long ago, Siva was getting married to Parvathy on top of the kailas mountain. All the devas and their associates came for the wedding. Nobody wanted to miss the wedding dinner. There was 1000 varieties of payasam.”
“All the devas and junior devas started to crowd along one side of the mountian. I am sure there were all rushing to eat the payasam like how the people crowd near the KSRTC bus door!!!”
“What will happen if 10000’s of devas stood on one side of the mountain?” She asked me
“It will crack and crumble “I told her
“not only the mountian will crumble, the earth too will tilt to one side”
I tried to picture the earth tilting to one side and all of us sliding to the other side. May be I would be able to see Taj Mahal.
“Lord Siva got worried, he didn’t want the earth to tilt. He asked his trusted saint Agasthya to go to the south and stay there and try to balance the earth. The saint was sad, not only he is going to miss the wedding, but also the wedding dinner and all the payasam”
Lord Siva pacified the saint saying, I will come with my wife and stay with you in the south after the wedding. The saint came to Chengannur and built the Bhagavathi temple. Lord Siva and his wife Parvathi did come and stay in this temple”
“Ammachi do you really think it happend?”
“Nina. Do you really believe Jesus Christ came to save us?”
“Of course I do. It is said in the bible”
“Well the hindu’s have their puranas, and who are we to say it isn’t true?”

When we entered the temple ground, there were many people. I didn’t know a single person. But I did notice, most of the people giving way to Ammachi, as though she is a celebrity. We walked all the way to the front. Ammachi placed the mat on the ground and both of us sat down
“your granddaughter?”
Some one sitting next to my grandmother asked
Ammachi nodded her head.
“This is her first time watching Kathakali and I hope she will enojoy it”
Soon Ammachi told my entire life history to everyone around. That my father works for the British Government, that all of us were born in Malaya.
“It is not Malaya, Ammachi, It is Malaysia”
“It is the same”. She replied
Now everyone started looking at me as though I just landed from Moon. I pretended not to notice the attention I was getting and looked at the stage infront of us. There was nothing interesting except few palm leaves hanging here and there. An old cloth canopy hung on top of the stage as though it really didn’t want to be there. The only thing of interest in the whole stage was the lamp. it was a brass lamp and it was tall. Defenitely taller than me.It was the tallest lamp I have ever seen.
Then the banging on drums and cymbals started. After some songs, two men came to the stage with a small piece of cloth. They held it on either side like a mini curtain. The singer was singing and I didn’t understand a thing.
Then the Kathakali dancer started dancing behind the curtain. Every now and then he would lift his head over the curtain as though he is looking for someone.
“Ammachi why is he peeping? Is he looking for his family?”
“Nina, that is part of the dance. it is called thiranokku . He is representing the Lord Krishna today and creating a feeling of suspense.”
Then they removed the cloth and there were 2 players. One male and one female.
“Ammachi, why does the female looks like a man”
“Oh Nina, that is a man, who is acting a female part”
“Why are they not hiring females to act?”I asked
“ are talking too much. keep quiet and watch the show”.
I tried to understand what the dance is all about. All I saw was the eyes and how they rolled their eyes to football size.
I must have slept off, because all I remember is Ammachi shaking me and telling me to wake up.
“What time is it Ammachi?”
“Must be about 4.30AM”
“Ammachi and I walked home. Just as we reached the bund junction, Ammachi took the match box from inside her mundu and lighted the palm leaf bundle. In the darkness of the night, the palm leaf torch suddenly bathed the area around us with light. I could even see the grass on the ground with the light from the torch. Ammachi kept swaying the torch with her hand, so the fire won’t die out and we reached home.

Kathakali photos

suriani christiani and kathakali

Although days of life keeps turning, time stand still in Chengannur. Routines are the same each day and one afternoon Ammachi told me
“Nina, go and sleep for a few hours, we have to go out in the night?”
“Where are we going Ammachi?”
“It is the first day of festival at Bhagavathi temple, We are going to watch kathakali”
“We are going to a temple?”
“hmmm” Ammachi nodded her head
I stretched my neck up, straightened my shoulder and spoke like a prophet
“We are ORTHODOX SYRIAN CHRISTIANS, our church is the oldest, and our traditions go back to St.Thomas and our girls don’t even climb trees!!”
“hmmm Did I ever say we are not?” Ammachi asked me
“Then why are we going to the temple, hindus goes to the temple.”
“Nina, just because you went to a temple ground to watch kathakali,it doesn’t mean that you became a hindu.” You are not going to the temple to worship. Kathakali is our traditional dance and we watch it because, we enjoy it.

“Kalamandalam Gopalakrishnan is playing today and I don’t want to miss it.”
The only actors I know are Mammootty and Rahman in Kerala and P Ramlee in Malaysia. I had no idea who is this Kalamandalam celebrity. I thought ‘my god!what a name..KALAMANDALAM’
“Do you know anything about Kathakali?” She asked me.
I shook my head.
I have seen photographs of Kathakali in the news papers. They looked scary. The actors have long hair, wear ghastly make up and their skirts are bulging as though they wear an upside down chatti under their skirt. To me they look like another version of Goddess Kali and I am scared of Goddess Kali.
“Sit down Nina”
I obliged. I sat on the floor and Ammachi sat on my grandfather’s chair. I knew we are in for a long session when Ammachi sits on my grandfather’s chair. There is no escape. I resigned to my fate.
“kathakali is katha(story) kali (play), where the dancers tells you a story using just the facial expression and hand signals. The stories can be from Ramayana or mahabharatha. There are 4 faces.
pacca (green),kathi(knife),thadi (beard) minukku(polished)
Tomorrow I am sure Kalamandalam GopalanKrishnana is playing the pacha(green). Nobody plays pacha (green) better than him.
She then showed me all the hand signals and I didn’t understand anything. Then Ammachi showed me the bhavam (facial expression). She looked so funny and I started laughing.
“Go and sleep, I should be the one who needs to get whacked for teaching this ignoramus child the fine art of kathakali”
“Shall I whack you? you said you should get whacked”
aiyo ente karthave I pity the guy who is going to marry this child”
“I am not getting married” I replied
“yeah, everyone say that when they are 10 yrs old, wait till you are 18”
I knew there is no point arguing with my grandmother and went to the bedroom to sleep. On the way I casually informed her
“I am sleeping on your bed”.

In the evening we could hear the beatings of the drum and Ammachi told me
“That is kellikottu. they are announcing that there would be kathakali performance today”
“What time does the performance start?”
“around 8 in the evening”

Ammachi went out and collected a bundle of dried palm leaves from the storage shed. She tied them in to a bundle.
“What are you doing?” I asked her
“I am making a torch”
“Torch with dried palm leaves?”
She nodded her head and told me ” you will see later”

After dinner, Ammachi went to get ready. She didn’t take too long unlike my mother who takes hours to get ready. She looked dignified in her pristine white chatta & mundu. Her neriyathu folded neatly and kept in place with her pink flower brooch.
Ammachi rolled her mattress and took the mat from the bottom of the bed.
“Why are you taking the mat?”
“to sit Nina”
“Won’t there be any chairs?”
“Oh Nina, you sit on the floor and watch kathakali”.
Ammachi closed the door and we started walking to the main road. I was holding the mat and Ammachi held the palm leaf bundle.
It was already dark and quiet. As we walked we didn’t see anyone on the bund. Occassionally the dogs from the houses barked as we walked. We passed the upadeshi appachan’s house. I half expected to see him sitting out side with his red and white megaphone.
“wait wait wait” someone shouted
Ammachi and I stopped in our tracks and looked back.
upadeshi appachan.

“Where is Ammachi and kochumol going in the middle of the night?” He asked
” Oh we are just going to watch the kathakali”. Ammachi replied
“Suriyani Christians like you are going to a temple to watch kathakali?
“Doesn’t it say in the 10 commandments, worship no other god but me?”
By now Ammachi was really getting mad at him and I knew he is going to be in trouble
upadeshi, when was the last time you read the holy bible?”Ammachi asked him.
“Why do you ask such questions, I read my bible everyday, infact I read whole holy bible 5 times already.”
“Then there is something wrong with your bible, because my bible only says worship no other god but me, it doesn’t say do not watch Kathakali”

upadeshi appachan didn’t enjoy losing and he spewed out his venom.
“No wonder you became a widow at such young age”
“Come Ammachi, lets go. We shouldn’t waste time talking to people like him”. I pulled my grandmother’s hand and started to walk.
As we reached the junction, under the lone street light I could see a tiny tear drop on my grandmother’s face and I wanted to kill upadeshi appachan for hurting my grandmother.

my suriani christiani grandmother tried to imitate these expressions!!