My father normally comes in the morning and it was already way past lunch time. We don’t have a clock in Chengannur house and so I asked Ammachi
“Ammachi, What time is it?”
She looked outside and told me
“must be about 1 pm.”
“How can you tell the time without a clock Ammachi?
“Will you teach me how to tell the time without a clock?”
“For what?, When you are older you get a watch and you can check the time on your watch”.
I was not in a mood to argue with her. I was worried that my father hasn’t come home yet. I was worried that something terrible has happend at home.
Ammachi made chakkapuzhukku (boiled jackfruit with coconut and chilli). I helped her to transfer the chakkapuzhukku to a serving bowl. We heard the sound of bus stopping at the junction and we went to the veranda to see if Appa is coming.
The monsoon has given us a temporary respite. It was a bright day.
I saw people walking on the bund road. Most of them coming home after the sunday church service. Women were walking fast, so they could start cooking the lunch.Little kids were still wearing their white scarf on their head. Some of the men used the black umbrella and the others used the bible as a shield to preotect their face from the sun. My father wasn’t in the group that disembarked from the bus.
“Nina, come, let us go and eat our lunch”. Ammachi told me
“No Ammachi, I will wait for Appa”
“He hasn’t come home yet, and there has to be a reason why he is late. But there is no reason why you should stay hungry” She told me
I looked at her trying to figure out what exactly she meant. My mother waits for my father everyday, even when she had a fight with him. She never eats before Appa eats. So are all my aunties and cousins.
Ammachi walked to the kitchen and told me, “come and eat and I will tell you the story of Naranthu Branthan(lunatic from Naranam)”.
“Who is Naranathu branthan?” I asked her
“He is Chackochan’s older brother!”
“What?, you really mean Chackochan’s older brother is mad?”
“No, Nina I was just kidding. But Chackochan and Naranathu branthan have one thing in common, both were mad as mad can be”
Chakki was laughing hearing Ammachi speak about Chackochan.
“Why are you laughing Chakki?” Ammachi asked her
“Just like that Ammachi.”
“Hmmm, another sign of madness, laughing without a reason”. Ammachi told her.
Chakki winked at me, and I knew she was laughing because she knows Ammachi and Chackochan are in love.
I follwed her to the kitchen. Chakki had already set the table. Three steel plates, 2 glass tumblers and 1 steel tumbler filled with water taken from the earthen pot. When I saw the three plates on the table, I felt guilty. I didn’t want to eat without my father. It just wasn’t right.
Ammachi started to eat the chakkapuzhukku (boiled jackfruit with coconut) and it smelled good. I was tempted and hungry. Finally I decided to eat as well. I mixed my chakkapuzhukku with buttermilk curry and ate. It was really tasty. I took a second serve. Ammachi took some chakkapuzhukku and placed it in Appa’s plate. She took some for herself, gave me some more and passed the rest to Chakki
“Call your husband and eat, when it is hot.”
Chakki went out to call Kutten.
Ammachi started her story.
“Naranathu branthan(lunatic from Naranam) was mad. He didn’t have the normal madness. he didn’t stand at the bus stop to scare people. He didn’t steal food. He cooked his own food, whereever and whenever he felt.”
“How did her get the food?”
“He begs for the food and because he belonged to the high class, people often gave him food”.
“But that wasn’t the only thing he did. Every morning he would push a huge rock up a steep hill. The rock was really big and heavy. But he wasn’t worried. he would struggle and struggle pushing the heavy rock up the hill. Most of the time, the rock fell down and rolled over Naranathu branthan. But he never gave up. He pushed and pushed and by sunset he would reach the top of the hill.”
“Tell me, what do you think Naraanathu branthan did with the rock?” Ammachi asked me.
“He built something?”
“No, he didn’t, he would bring the rock that he struggled to push up the hill, to the edge of the steep hill and drop the rock. He would laugh watching the rock rolling and tumbling down the hill”
“Why did he do that Ammachi?”
“Because he was mad”
I stared at her, trying to grasp the deeper meaning of why exactly Naranathu branthan did that.
“Nina, he was trying to teach us something. We do everything for nothing. You wait for your father without eating your lunch. Probably the bus tire would have had a puncture and while waiting for the repair, your father would have eaten something. Even if he didn’t, you by staying hungry, wouldn’t diminish his hunger. So you are staying hungry for nothing”
“Then why do women wait for their husband to come home before they eat?”
“Because they are mad like Naranathu branthan”.
“No, Ammachi, they do it because they love their husband.”
Ammachi shook her head.”No, Nina, just because you waited for your husband to eat your lunch even when he is very late, you don’t love him. You love your husband because you want to love him.”