Simple games

Aunty Reena’s mother was watching me. She had the look on her face that asked
‘Oh my!, that phone call was really short. Why? What happend?’
I smiled and told her
“Amma is busy with a meeting, May be I will call her later.”
Suddenly her facial expression changed to one that said,
‘you want to make another phone call?, you are not paying for it. My daughter pays the bill at the end of month’
Immediately I told her “I think I will wait for Amma to come this evening than phone her. Any way it isn’t that urgent.”
She now had an understanding, kind smile on her face.
“Do you want something to drink? Does your leg hurt?” She asked me
“No, Ammachi I am fine. Thank you for letting me use your phone.”
“You are welcome Nina, and Please close the main gate on your way out”
“I will”
As I closed the main gate and walked towards my home, I was angry. I was angry with the Indian government because they don’t issue phone connection to everyone and just because of that, I have to beg my neighbours to make a simple phone call. I tried to kick the rocks that was on the floor and soon realised my own folly. It is difficult to kick anything with a leg covered with a heavy plaster cast. I limped and dragged my feet and walked towards home.
I thought about my mother. Where did she go? What is she hiding? My mind kept telling me, There is something wrong. First Amma went to Bangalore, now she said she is going to work and she is on leave.
I knew I had to do something. I could only think of letting Appa know all these. May be he will know what to do. I will write a letter to Appa. I walked home fast. If I write a letter now, I can send it today itself, before Amma returns.
Akkachi was waiting for me near the main door.
“Did you speak to your mother?”
“No Akkachi, Aunty Reena’s phone is out of order.” I quickly walked to my room. I was confused and upset. I just lied to Akkachi. I don’t know why I did that. ‘Why couldn’t I tell Aunty Reena’s mother and Akkachi that my stupid mother is doing something wrong? Why do I have to protect her and sin by lying.? ‘
I quickly tore a piece of paper from my english work book. I sat down on my bed and started to write.
Dear Appa,
I hope you are fine. I am writing this letter to let you know that..

I didn’t know what to write. Let Appa know what? How do I tell my father, what my mother is doing? I wanted to scream at the top of my voice. Because I don’t know what is going on. I have no one to talk to. I can’t ask Amma, what she is doing and I can’t tell Appa what Amma is doing. All I know is something is very wrong and I just can’t fix it. I was angry. Angry to be born in to this family. I crumpled and squashed the piece of paper in my hand. It didn’t feel good. I opened the paper, straightened it out, and tore it in to thousands of tiny pieces.
I got up from my bed to take the rubbish bin from under my desk. That is when I saw the picture of Jesus on the wall. It was a beautiful picture, Chacha Appachan gave Amma before he went to US. A framed picture of Jesus praying in Gethsemene.
I looked at Jesus on the picture and told him
‘You told me to honour my mother and father. I cannot do it any more and you are not going to sit there and look at me’.
I climbed on the table and pulled the frame down. It slipped out of my hand and fell on to the floor. Akkachi came to my room running
“What broke? I heard the sound of something breaking! Are you Ok Nina?”
I slowly climbed down from the table. Akkachi took the frame from the floor. I could see the glass was broken.
“Oh my goodness the glass is broken. Now we will have 7 years of bad luck. Why did you touch the picture Nina? And that too you climbed the table with your broken leg!. What is wrong with you Nina?”
“Sorry Akkachi, I was just adjusting the frame and putting it properly”.
“Now wait till your mother comes, she will see the broken glass and going to scold you for that. You just love to invite trouble all the time don’t you?”
I wanted to tell Akkachi, If I open my mouth and tell the truth, Amma would be in bigger trouble than me. But I couldn’t tell her that. I suddenly felt very worried about the 7 years of bad luck.
“Sorry Akkachi, I won’t do anything naughty, I promise”
Akkachi went to get a broom to sweep the glass from the floor. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to walk over the broken glass pieces and get hurt.
After cleaning the floor, Akkachi hung the picture back on the wall.
“I hope your mother doesn’t see that the glass is broken. You don’t open your mouth and tell her anything. Do you understand that Nina Thomas?”
“Yes I understand Akkachi Thomas.”
“I am not a Thomas and I am not going to laugh at your silly joke. I am forever worried thinking about what trouble you are going to get in to next”
I wanted to yell and tell Akkachi,’Help me Akkachi, I am carrying too much burden and there would be big trouble soon.’ but I couldn’t crucify my own mother.
Akkachi went to the kitchen and I went to lay down on my bed.

Amma came in the evening on time. I got up from the bed and took my father’s letter.
“Amma, there is a letter from Appa”
“Oh really, that man finally remembered he has a family?, Impressive!”. She took the letter from my hand and read.
“Where is the cheque Nina?”
“He send a draft” and I gave it to Amma.
“Now that he send money, perhaps you could buy me a gold bangle, to replace the one you sold to buy stuff for chechy”
“You are one selfish child, you only think about your self. I just got some money and all you think of is your bangle?”
“I am your daughter for sure, so I must have inherited your traits”
“What do you mean by that?”
I didn’t want to argue. I shrugged my shoulder and walked back to my room.
“Wait there.” Amma pulled me around and I saw myself facing her fiery eyes
“How dare you call me selfish, After working the whole day, I walked to Arya Bhavan and bought masala dosa for my children. See this??” She pulled out the dosa parcel from her bag. “You call me selfish? How dare you Nina?”
I pulled my hand from her grasp and before she had a chance to say ‘I am not going to feed ungrateful children; and deny me the dosa, I told her,
“I don’t want to eat your masala dosa”
I walked to my room smiling, because I beat my mother in her game.


On thursday Amma went back to work. My school would re-open only on Monday. I envied my sisters. They were busy playing hide and seek with their friends. I regretted climbing up the fence. If only I didn’t climb, then I wouldn’t have fallen down, then I wouldn’t have broken my leg.
“Nina, salt finished, I have to cook lunch now!” Akkachi told me
” Oh oh. What are we going to do Akkachi? I can’t walk all the way to Anichettan’s shop with this leg Akkachi.
“Can I send Liza to the shop?” Akkachi asked me
“Ofcourse, that is a good idea.”
Akkachi went out and called Liza. From the living room I could hear the conversation.
“Liza, go to Anichettan’s shop and buy some salt”
“Akkachi, can’t you see I am busy? Besides I am not going to walk in this hot sun to Anichettan’s shop”
“Then you will have to eat lunch without any salt”
“That is Fine” She replied
“Please Liza, I am only asking you to go and buy salt, it only takes 10 minutes of your time. I am not asking you to go and buy an elephant”
“Then why don’t you go and buy, I am not going anywhere”

Akkachi came back inside and looked at me. I knew she is mad.
“How can the four of you come from the same parents and can be so different?”
“I don’t know Akkachi.”
“Never mind, I will go and buy the salt”
I know why Akkachi doesn’t want to go to Anichettan’s shop. Anichettan always touches her hands when he hands her the balance and Akkachi hates that.
“Akkachi, how much is salt?”
“Must be about 80 paise”
“Take the exact change and go, then he doesn’t have to touch your hand.”
“That idiot will still touch my hands, when he hands me the salt packet.”
“Akkachi, take the yellow kayam bag and open it and ask him to put the salt inside. then he won’t touch your hands. he will only be touching the bag”
“If I take that yellow bag with me, everyone would call me ‘pandi'”
“What do you want, Anichettan’s massage or “
Before I could complete, Akkachi hushed me
“keep quiet, Don’t talk about that creep. I will take the bag”
I saw Akkachi folding the yellow bag in to a tiny bundle and walking out grumblinng and mumbling.

I was all alone at home. After yesterday’s gypsy incident, I was a bit worried. ‘May be I will go and lay down’. I closed the main door and dragged my feet and walked to my bedroom.
I was just about reaching my room and I heard someone knocking the main door. My heart started to beat fast and I was scared. I thought may be I would pretend that nobody is home. Whoever is outside will knock and wait for sometime and then leave thinking that there is nobody home.
Then someone announced
‘Oh my goodness, that is the post man’. “Coming”. I yelled. Chechy must have send a letter. I dragged my leg and ran all the way to the main door.
ShankaranChettan is our post man. He was waiting outside with a stack of letters in his armpit and one envelope in his hand. he looked at my leg
“How did this happen?”
“I fell down from the fence wall!”
edi koche when will you stop climbing the walls?”
“When I am old like you, then I will stop”. I grinned and told him
“Is your mother home? I will tell her that you called me an old man”
“my mother is not home, you have to walk all the way to town to tell her that”
“You are too smart. Sign here” he pointed a torn piece of paper.
“Sign?”. I looked at him bewildered
“Write your name here”. He showed me the column. It was a small column and not enough space to write Nina Thomas. I took the paper from Shankaranchettan’s hand and slowly wrote my name. I could only write Nina Tho in the column. I looked at Shankaranchettan, trying to see if I can write the rest of my name in the other column.
“That is enough”. he pulled the paper from my hand and gave me the letter.
I watched him leave, holding his old black umbrella to shade his face from the sun. Only then I looked at the envelope in my hand. It had a beautiful stamp. Beautiful bird picture and I tried to read the country name. RHODESIA.
I looked at the address. The hand writing looked familiar. It took me a few seconds to realize that it is not a letter from chechy. it is my father’s letter. My hands were shivering and I couldn’t breath. I opened the letter quickly. There was a white paper folded neatly inside and I opened it. A piece of paper fell down as I opened the letter.
There was just four sentences. I am fine, I work in Rhodesia now, sending some money. Hope the kids are fine.
‘Money?’. There is no money inside the envelope. I read the letter again. I looked inside the envelope. There is no money. ‘Could Shankaranchettan have taken the money?’. I checked the envelope. There was no sign of tampering on the envelope.
I picked up the piece of paper from the floor. It was a draft for 2000RS. I sat on my bed. There were too many things going in my mind. My father send a letter, and we have money now. I don’t know where is Rhodesia. I also felt bad for doubting ShankaranChettan. “parumala thirumeni, maappakkane” ( Please forgive my sins). I prayed.
I saw Akkachi entering the courtyard.
“Akkachi, Appa send a letter”.
“Really Nina?”.
“Here, see the letter”. I gave the letter to Akkachi.
She read it and asked me
“Where is Rhodesia?”
“I don’t know Akkachi. Do you think I should let Amma know?”
“I think so, she will be relieved to know that there is a letter from your father.”
“I will go to Aunty Reena’s house and make a phone call to Amma”
“Can you walk that far?”
“Ofcourse I can, Aunty Reena’s house is just three houses away. I can certainly walk that far”
I was excited. I am the first one to know that my father is alive and working in Rhodesia. I am bringing good news for my mother. She would be so happy that, even if my leg is broken I walked all the way to Aunty Reena’s house to make a phone call.

I knocked at Aunty Reena’s door. Her mother opened the door
“Ammachi, may I make a short phone call?”
“Who are you calling?”
“My mother”
“Ok, make it short”
“I only need to tell her something, it will only take a minute”
“Ok, You can use the phone”
I took the reciever in my hand and dialled Amma’s office number. My heart was beating fast with excitement. I heard the telephone operator saying “hello”.
“Hello, Can I speak to Mary Thomas?”
“Oh she is on leave today,Who is that calling?”
I put the receiver down.


The plaster cast on my leg was heavy and I could hardly walk. I was hoping to enjoy every bit of the 10 day onam school holidays. Now I have no choice, but to watch everyoneelse enjoying.
Amma was busy stitching a new blouse for the saree she got from Bangalore. My sisters went to play with the neighbourhood children and Akkachi was washing the clothes.
I felt bored lying down on my bed all day, so I got up and hopped on one leg all the way to the main entrance. I sat down on the door step. The sky was beautiful blue with hardly a cloud in sight. I thought about my grandmother and what would she have said when she learned that I broke my leg? She certainly would have scolded me. After all suriani kristiani girls are not supposed to climb on fence or trees. May be I should tell her, how Amma beat me up. Perhaps, I should tell her, that I probably didn’t break any bones on my own, Amma beat and broke my bones. Now that would have been a super idea. I would love to get Amma in to trouble for hurting me so much. May be I should let Ammachi know, what Amma is up to. But I have no money, so I can’t send any letters to her. Then I remembered the clouds, and how Ammachi told me the story of Kalidasa and Megaduta.
I looked at the sky and found one tiny wisp of cloud. I decided to send a message through the clouds to Ammachi. The cloud that I spotted was really small. May be it is a baby cloud, so it may not understand complicated messages. I closed my eyes and said a simple request
‘oh my dear cloud, go to Chengannur and tell Ammachi, Amma hit me and broke my bones’. I imagined the cloud travelling all the way, past the Kodimatha Bridge, Pallom, Karimpumkala junction,Chingavanom bus stand, Changanasseri bus stand, Thiruvalla bus stand and then reaching the Chengannur.
“Amma. Amma” I was shocked to hear a really strange voice calling me Amma and nearly fell off from the door step. My heart was beating so fast. I thought of running inside to the safety of my house and shut the door. But my leg was not following me. I looked at the gate and the origin of the voice that called me Amma.
A lady was standing there, leaning on the gate. She had a big smile on her face. She wore a green colour saree and a red blouse. Her hair was cut so short that if she didn’t wear a saree, she would have looked like a man. I looked at her and with a heart that was beating so fast, I mustered enough strength to ask her
“What?”. But when I heard my own voice, I wanted to laugh. I sounded very much like someone was strangling my neck.
She replied in a tamil slanged Malayalam.
“I am Kaliamman’s disciple. I have good news for you.”
“Really? What good news?”
She slowly opened the gate and walked in. She placed the cloth bag that was on her shoulder on the ground and squatted in front of me.
“I will tell you my first good news, your sister got university admission”
I was stunned. How did this strange woman know that Chechy got admission to do engineering?
“I will tell you my second secret. You fell down from the wall yesterday and broke your leg.”
My goodness, this woman knows everything. I have two questions that needed answer. May be I will ask her
“If you know everything, tell me Where is my father?”
She closed her eyes for a minute as though she is looking for my father.
She opened her eyes slowly and quickly covered her mouth. There was fear in her eyes.
“What? What is wrong? Why did you cover your mouth?”
“Youe father’s life is in danger. I have to do special pooja for Kaliamman to save his life”
“Why? What happend to my father?”
“If I don’t do the special pooja, your father will Die!”
Oh my goodness, What Am I going to do?
“How will you do special pooja?” I asked her
“There is a temple in the forest. Nobody knows about that temple. Kaliamman showed me the place one day, when I was travelling in the forest. I will go there and do special pooja for your father”
“Can you go now?”
“Ofcourse, but I need to buy all the ingredients for the pooja. For that I need money”
“I don’t have any money. Will you please do me a favour and go and pray for my father?” I begged her.
“Sure, I will.” She looked at me from top to bottom and her eyes rested on my ears.
“Give me your gold earring. I will pawn it and get money.”
“My mother will kill me, if I loose my earring”
“What is more important to you? You want to save your father’s life or worry about your mother?”
I thought about my father. I didn’t want anything to happen to him. I slowly unscrewed my earring.
“Who are you speaking to Nina?” I could hear Amma walking towards us
“Hurry up, give me the earring quick” The lady’s hand was in front of my face, trying to pull my earring from my ears
“Oh my goodness”. I heard my mother shouting. “How dare you try to steal the earring from my daughter’s face? Thief Thief, somebody help” Amma was yelling
The lady quickly took her bag from the floor and ran out, Amma close in pursuit. But the lady was fast. She disappeared quickly down the road.Amma took stones from the floor and threw at her in anger. That is when I saw Akashavani’s son ducking his head near our gate.
It didn’t make any sense. How did that lady know that chechy got University admission? What is Akashavani’s son doing outside our gate? Then I figured it out, Akashavani’s son gave her all the information. He was hiding behind the gate and enjoying, seeing how I nearly became a victim of an Indian Gypsy.
“Are you ok Nina? Did she hurt you?” Amma asked me
“No Amma, I am fine”.
“I think from now on, we should lock the gate. And Nina the next time when someone try to hurt you, just scream at the top of your voice.”
“Ok, Amma”.
“My god, what is happening to this world? My poor innocent daughter’s leg is broken and people try to steal her earrings!. kali kala vaibhavam”
I said silently kali kala Vaibhavam

stained life

Akkachi was cleaning my leg and I asked her
“Akkachi, Why does Amma hate me so much?”
“She doesn’t hate you Nina.”
“Ofcourse She does. I do everything for her and still she hates me. She always calls me deaf and dumb and blind”
“Nina, Do you love your mother”
“That is a silly question Akkachi, ofcourse I love my mother. She is my mother, How can I hate her?”
“Same thing Nina, You are her daughter Nina, How can she hate you?”
“Then why is she so mean?”
“Who asked you to climb the fence wall?, you are the one who was naughty and she punished you because you are naughty!”
“Nina, I think you broke your bones, May be we should go to the hospital”
Amma was in the living room with my sisters
“Chechy, Could you come and see Nina’s legs. I think she broke her bones” Akkachi spoke to Amma
“Keep quiet Akkachi, don’t tell her that I broke my bones, She will hit me again”
I tried to hush Akkachi.
Amma came with my sisters to inspect my leg.
“hmm, May be you are right Akkachi, Take her to the hospital tomorrow morning”
“Chechy, Don’t you think we should take her to the hospital now?”
“No” Amma screamed. “I want her to know how much it will hurt her. So she won’t climb the fence wall again”.
“See this” Amma pointed my leg to my sisters. “the same thing will happen to you, if you don’t obey me, you understand that?” She asked them
“Yes Amma, we understand, we will not disobey you”. They replied.
Amma went back to the living room.
I didn’t say anything. In my heart I knew, why Amma didn’t want me to go to the hospital. Night time, Autorickshaw drivers charge double rate and she doesn’t want to pay that. I thought, One day when I am big, I will make sure, my children won’t go through all these. If they want to climb the fence wall, I will let them. If they fall down, I will take them to the hospital. May be I will become a doctor, so I can take of my children better. That is a super idea, So I thought.
“You know something Akkachi, When I am big, I am going to be a doctor”
Amma over heard me and she responded
“May be you forgot, you are deaf, that means you can’t hear. Doctors use stethoscope to diagnose, and you won’t be able to do that Nina. Perhaps you should learn to dream less ambitious dreams!”
“Can’t you keep quiet Nina? You are talking too much” Akkachi was mad at me. She came close to me and whispered
“You can be, whatever you want Nina. You are a smart girl. But don’t tell your mother anything. She will always find fault.”
I whispered back” I didn’t tell anything to Amma, she over heard me.”
“Next time, remember when you speak unnecessary things, You are giving your mother, more reasons to hurt you”
“ok. I will remember”. I whisperd back.
“Wait here, I will come now.”
“Where are you going Akkachi?”
“I will get some medicine for you”
Akkachi took the sickle and went to the back yard. I looked at me leg. It is now twice the original size and it was painful. I tired to press my leg slowly to see, where it is broken. I couldn’t figure it out. I pictured myself to be a doctor and seeing her patient.
‘oh, you poor little thing, how did this happen? It must be hurting you a lot. I will give you an injection. and the smart courageuos Nina who is not scared of needle, unlike normal children, will smile and show her arm for the Dr to give injection’
“There is a place specially meant for those who smile without any reason. It is called ulanpara.(mental hospital)”
I woke up from my reverie to see Akkachi standing in front of me with a bowl full of green mush.
“I was not smiling. What is that in the bowl Akkachi?”
“medicine for your leg, This will reduce the pain and swelling”. Akkachi applied the medicine on my leg, It felt very cold and funny.
“Stay still Nina,Don’t move your leg”. Akkachi ordered.
“Akkachi what are you doing there?” Amma called out from the living room
“Chechy, I ground some communist pacha leaves with turmeric and made a paste for Nina’s leg”
“Put an old cloth on her bed, the medicine will stain the bed sheet otherwise”
“I will” said Akkachi.

Broken.. spirit?

“Nina can we do skiing?” Asked my sisters
“Skiing? in our house? What exactly have you in mind?”
“What if we stand on something and you pull us? we can take turns!”
“Good idea, but what do we use to stand on?”
“We can use pala(petiole of palm leaf)!” Liza suggested.
We ran to the areca nut tree in the corner of our house. There was one dried palm leaf on the ground.
“Oh we are so lucky” Exclaimed my sisters.
“Go and get the knife and find some rope” I ordered
Within minutes my sisters were back with a knife and a rope. I sat on the washing stone, cut the palm leaf petiole in to half and used the bottom part. I tied the rope on my body and Liza stood on the petiole and held the rope that was tied on my body.
“Akkachi we are going to do pala(petiole) skiing”. I yelled
Akkachi was inside the kitchen making tea and she popped her head out of the kitchen window and said
“Whatever you do, be careful, your mother would kill us all, if anything untoward happens”
“Don’t worry Akkachi, We will be careful”.
We took turns and were having so much fun, then the untoward happend.
“Oh No, what are we going to do?”
“it is your fault Nina” screamed Liza
“How is it my fault?”
“You ran fast”
“but you are the one who was standing on the leaf, so you broke it”
“No you ran fast and you are the reason the leaf broke.”.
“I am not going to play with you any more”
I pulled the rope away from her hand and removed the knot from my body.
“You are a mean sister, Nina, I wish I never had a sister like you”
“Too bad, it is too late to find a new sister.”
“I hate you”. She ran inside.
“Nina, can we get another pala(petiole)?Sally asked
“There are no more palm leaf, Sally. Amma cut them all up for firewood”
“There is one on the tree”
“ofcourse, it is a palm tree, it has to have leaves on it, bodoh(stupid).”
“No Nina, there is a dried leaf, just about to drop, on the tree”
I looked up at the tree, What Sally said was true. There is a semi dried leaf still hanging on the tree. I couldn’t reach it from the ground level. But if I climbed on the fence wall, I will be able to grab the leaf and pull it down.
“Tell you what, Move away from the bottom of the tree, I will climb the fence wall and pull it down.”
“Nina, you are not allowed to climb the fence wall”
“I know, but Amma won’t know, Do me a favour, go and check the road and see if Amma is coming, if you see her, yell and call my name. I will climb down quickly. ok?”
“Nina, are you sure, you will be ok?”
“Ofcourse, I will be, I am Methran Thampi’s granddaughter!”
“Nina, who is Methran Thampi?”
” He is our famous grandfather”
“What is he famous for?”
“That I have no idea, but there is a feeling, when you say I am Methran Thampi’s granddaughter!!!, Now go and stand near the main gate and look out for Amma”
Although I boasted that I am the courageous grand daughter of famous Methran Thampi, climbing the fence wall was no small task. For one thing the wall is 5 feet tall and the top part is curved and smooth to prevent people from walking on it. I analysed my options and finally figured the best way to climb the wall. I will stand on the washing stone and reach the top of the wall and slowly lift my body up. Once I am on top, I have to quickly grab the leaf and jump down. All I have to make sure is that my landing spot is free of stones and the leaf won’t fall on top of me. That is an easy task, so I thought.
Confidentally I climbed the washing stone, I reached for the top of the fence wall and I managed to lift my body up and slowly managed to stand on top of the fence wall.
‘Wow, I felt like, I am on top of the world’. I slowly craned my neck and looked all around me. That is when I heard
maram keri Mariya,maram keri Malaysian Maria”.(Maria, the tree climber from Malaysia). Akashavani’s son was jumping up and down and yelling .
“I am not Maria, I am Nina” I was so mad and I quickly turned. One minute I was on top of the Fence wall, the next minute I wasn’t. I landed on the washing stone.
I tried to get up , my legs didn’t move. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t even breath.
“Akkachi, Nina fell down from the fence wall” Sally was howling
Akkachi ran out from the kitchen
“Did you hit your head Nina? Where does it hurt? Oh my goodness, Nina speak something.” Akkachi was shaking me
“I am ok Akkachi, but my leg is hurting”
“Oh my goodness, I think you have broken your leg Nina!, Oh god, What are we going to do?”
“Serves you right Nina, See Jesus punished you, because you are a nasty mean sister”
I turned to look and saw Liza grinning happily
“Go away Liza, How can you be so mean, Chechy has hurt her legs and you want to rub more salt in to her wound?” Sally asked her.
“Let Amma come, I am going to tell her, I am going to tell Amma everything and make sure, she beats the life out of you, Nina”
Before I could get up from the floor, we heard Amma opening the main gate
“Amma Nina climbed on the fence and fell down” Liza ran to the main gate to tell Amma the good news.
“How dare she disobey me”. Amma ran to where I was lying down, took the part of the palm leaf that I cut earlier and started to hit me
“How dare you Nina? How dare you disobey me? Your father is not here, if anything happens to you, who will take care of you? You are already deaf and dumb and blind and now you want to break your body too? What do you think I am? A millionaire? To save so much dowry for a disabled”
“Chechy, Enough” Akkachi splayed her hand across and tried to protect me from further blows
“You are siding and protecting her? You take care of her!” Amma dropped the leaf and grabbed my sisters hand and went inside.
I couldn’t cry till then, now the tears started to flow
“Never mind Nina, don’t cry, it is ok”
Akkachi slowly lifted me up. She held my hand and we walked to the kitchen. I sat on the kitchen door step and Akkachi slowly washed the dirt from my legs. My feet was getting swollen.

Vallom Kali

“Hurry up, eat your porridge fast, we are going to watch vallamkali(boat race)”. I urged my sisters.
I thought I would be upset, eating porridge instead of a full course ona sadya. But it didn’t matter at all. I was too excited thinking about the boat race I am going to watch today. I kept singing the vanchipattu (boatman’s song) over and over.
“Stop it Nina, your song is giving me a headache” Liza spoke.
I stuck my tongue at her.
“Akkachi, Nina is showing me faces” Liza yelled
“Oh Nina” Akkachi came out of her room
That is when I noticed her. She wore a half saree, instead of her normal pavada (long skirt) and blouse.
“Oh, what is going on Akkachi? You are all dressed up?Are you going to meet your ‘special’ someone at the boat race?”
“Shh Nina, you are too much. Stop teasing me and go and get dressed”

We took the bus to Kumarakom. I was expecting to see a small river, with one or two boats and few people standing on either side of the river and cheering the race. What I saw there was beyond my imagination. The river was huge. There were thousands of people, young ones, old ones even great grandmothers, who can hardly walk were there, holding their grandchildren’s hands for support.
“Akkachi Why didn’t these people go home to celebrate the festival? In Malaysia, we go back to our village to celebrate festivals.( balik Kampong*)”
“This is home Nina!”

We heard the announcer speaking.
“The first part of the program is water skiing”
“What is water skiing Nina?” Sally asked me.
“I have no idea”.
We could hear the sounds of excitement approaching us and we turned to look. From the distance, I saw a speed boat coming towards us. ‘Is this speed boat called water skiing’? We have thousands of them in Malaysia. Silly people. I was just about to turn my head away, then I heard Liza yelling
“Look, there is a matsalleh(white guy) walking on the water!”
That was true. Right behind the speed boat, a white guy was walking on the water, swaying side to side and doing stunts.
“How does he do that?” All of us asked.
As the boat reached us, we saw him holding a rope tied to the boat.
“Oh!, so this is what called water skiing” We said in unison
“Handsome looking guy eh? Akkachi said
“Yes Akkachi, he looks really good, nice blond hair”
“Who are you looking at Nina?”
“the guy who was on the water ski!!”
“I was talking about the boat driver”
“Oh!, he is also handsome” I was grinning
aiyyedi, you are only 11 years old and you are already looking at men eh?”
“Go, Akkachi”
“Why, Kochumaharani, Why were you looking at the white guy?”
“This is my eyes, and I have a right to look at anyone I want” I pointed my eyes and told Akkachi.
“You can look, but also look for your grandmother with a sickle in her hand, if you look too much, she might cut your head off”
“You know something Akkachi, when I am big, I am going to marry a white guy and live in a castle like Cinderella!”
“athmavinu shanthi undayirikkate.(may your soul have peace)” Akkachi spoke
“Who are you telling that to?”
“That is an advance peace greetings for your soul !”
“Go, Akkachi, now you are too much.”
“next is the chundan vallam(snake boat) race” We heard the announcer, announcing.
Everyone started to push forward. In the ensuing melee, couple of the front row spectators fell in to the water. I thought ‘oh, now they are going to fight’
“Get out of the water, you are delaying the race” Everyone rushed forward to help those who fell in to the water. Nobody had time to fight.
In the distance I could see 5 boats. Ready for the race. I couldn’t see them clearly. Akkachi told me earlier that boats were really big. it didn’t look that big to me.
The race started.
From where I stood, each boat looked like a giant bird just about to take off to fly, and then decided not to fly, instead run in the water. From a bird, it became a giant dragon with thousand legs, slithering and swimming. I couldn’t see the individual oarsmen or their ors. All I could see was. this huge dragon coming towards me, with great speed, everything moving in perfect harmony. The crowd was cheering like the race depended entirely on how much they cheered. As the boat approached the place where I was standing, I realized, this is nothing like I have ever imagined. This is a giant boat. There was too much energy, too much rhythm. I became part of the race. I could feel my hands rowing along with the oarsmen. My heart, singing along, thithithara thithithara thi they thaka they tho.
Each boat had one guy standing right in front of the boat, facing the oarsmen. He was singing at the top of his voice, urging the oarmen to push and push, and row faster and faster. Another guy stood balanced in the middle among the oarsmen and was doing the same. There were atleast 100 people in each boat. Even with the 100 oars hitting the water with each and every stroke, the boat was moving gracefully. There was not a single out of place stroke. People around us were jumping and cheering. If Akkachi didn’t hold me, I would have jumped in to the water.
It was a race, where it didn’t matter who won or who lost. It was the moments that mattered. The moment that I became part of the race, the moment I cheered without any partiality for each boat that passed in front of me, the moment the first boat reached the finishing point. I was part of the winning team. I was also part of each and every boat that reached the finishing point.
Then when the last boat reached the finshing point, my heart sunk. I have to wait another 365 days to feel this joy and excitement again!. I promised myself, As long as I am alive, I will never miss another vallamkali.

* balik kampong: Every chinese new year/ramadan/deepavali, Malaysians living in the city goes back to their ancestral village to celebrate the festival with their extended family.

While writing today’s blog, I realized, much as I try, there is no way I can explain the exact feeling I felt that day.. I aplogize

undesirable elements

The sun was already shining bright by the time we left the temple. I was very worried, because I prayed to a diety and I am not supposed to do that. I consoled myself by thinking that I didn’t say ‘bhagavan, please bring my father back’. I just said please bring my father back. May be I will go to hell for breaking the commandments. I was thinking of all the possible punishments I am entitled to, then I saw an open jeep coming along on the road, with one person holding a mike and the other throwing colourful pamphlets out.
Akkachi and I stopped in our tracks and watched.
vallamkali, vallamkali, ennu uchakku. Nadubhagam chundan, payippadu chundan, varunvin varuvin, nattukare vallamkali kanan varuvin”
(snake boat race.come and watch the snake boat race)
When the jeep reached us, they stopped and the man with the pamphlets in his hand got out of the jeep and personally gave Akkachi a blue colour pamphlet.
pengele nee varumallo?”. (sister will you come?). The guy with the megaphone asked. Everyone around looked at Akkachi and I saw Akkachi blushing. She dropped the pamphlet down and held my hand and dragged me. I wanted to pick a pink colour pamphlet. Akkachi didn’t let me. She only let go my hand when we reached the post office junction.
“Akkachi, Have you ever watched a boat race?
“Yes Nina, I watched the Aranmula boat race”
“What do they do?”
“You have never watched a boat race before?”
“No Akkachi, I have never seen a boat race”
” You should see the chundan vallam(snake boat) race. The boats, the songs, the rhythm, I can’t explain the feelings to you Nina. You have to watch it, you have to be a part of it, then you will know.”
“Can we go and watch today?”
“if your mother allows”
“Do you know the vanchipattu(boat man’s song)?
“No”. I shook my head
“Your Ammachi didn’t teach you?”
“No, she only taught me the rabban pattu(rabban song)”
“Then you should learn the song”
“Will you teach me?”
Akkachi sang the song

“Kuttanadan punchayile
kochupenne kuyilali
kottu venam, Kuzhal vanam
Kurava venam

Oh thithi thara thithi thara
thithey thaka they they tho

Para kettan alu venam
kodi thoranangal venam
vijayashree lalitharay
varunnu njangal

Oh.thithi thara….

Karutha chirakulloru
arayannathe pole
kuthichu kuthichu payum
Kuthira pole.

oh thithithara..

By the time we reached the collectorate junction, I was exhilarated. I may not have an ona sadya today. I may not have athapoo. But I felt happy. When I belted out the vanchipattu song with Akkachi, my heart was racing. There was no way I am going to miss the boat race.

When we reached home, Amma had already made breakfast. She made french toast. I was very hungry. I ate the no sugar one egg/loaf of bread, french toast without any complaints. Amma was getting ready to go out. She was pinning her favourite kancheepuram saree to her blouse. I felt the timing was perfect. I knew Amma won’t say no. She can’t say no.
“Amma, Can we go and watch the boat race?”
Amma stared at me, and I looked at her. We were ready for the war. Both of us knew, there is no single winner today. I could see anger in my mother’s eyes. But I felt happy, because I knew I am going to win today.
“Ok, go and watch”
I quickly turned around, so Amma won’t see the winning smile on my face.
“Akkachi, Amma gave permission to go and watch the boat race”.
Amma took her hand bag and walked out saying,
“I am just going over there, I will be a bit late”
“Amma”, I called after her, knowing very well that it would annoy her. My mother firmly believes that, when you call someone as they leave the house, it is a bad omen.
“What is it Nina? How many times have I told you not to call me when I am about to leave” She was livid.
“Sorry Amma, I forgot. But I need money for bus fare”
Amma took a 5 Rs note from her hand bag and threw it infront of me and walked off. I didn’t feel offended at all.

Amma didn’t bother to close the main gate. So I went after her to close the gate. I looked around my neighbourhood. Almost all the houses had an Athapoo( flower carpet) near the entrance. Our house didn’t have one. Amma has a good garden. But I knew, I would be pushing too far, if I pluck flowers from her garden.
I saw Akkachi going to the banana thicket and I knew what I could do.
“Akkachi will you let me have a banana blossom?”
“For what? It will stain your hand”
“I want to make an athapoo,. I don’t want to take flowers from Amma’s garden. So I will use a banana blossom and make athapoo”
Akkachi started to laugh.
“You never give up do you?”
“No, after all I am Methran Thambi’s grand daughter.”
“Nina, people will laugh seeing your banana blossom Athapoo!.”
“let them, but Mahabeli will not laugh at me. He will understand that I did the best of what I can”.
Akkachi cut a banana blossom for me and together we opened few of the purple bract. It now resembled something like a lotus flower. Victoriously I walked to the main entrance and planted my Athapoo.
paingili, what are you making ?”
I looked up and saw Akashavani’s son leaning on their gate and watching me with all the curiosity a teenager could have.
“What I do in my house is none of your business!”
“Is that a Malaysian style Athapoo?”
poda marathalaya”(get lost dead wood)
“Why, my paingili is getting angry? I saw your mother leaving earlier all dressed up! engottanavo ??(going where eh??)
“What my mother does is none of your business”
“yeah, you should understand, this is a good neighbourhood, we don’t want undesirable elements spoiling our name”
I couldn’t take his insults anymore. I ran all the way back inside my house. I hated my mother that moment, more than anything else.

Chandu.. Will you help me translate the Vanchipattu??..Vijayasree kadichapottatha malayalam for me

The Brahmin

Amma came back around 7pm, carrying a brown paper bag.
“You want to see what I bought for you?”
The packet looked small and it certainly wasn’t the usual news paper bag you get at the grocery store. But somehow I still hoped that she bought all the ingredients for the ona sadya.
“What did you buy Amma?” Liza was jumping up and down.
Amma slowly opened the brown paper bag and pulled out 2 bags of banana chips.
“See, I bought onam chips for all of you. Even if your father isn’t here, I still make sure my children get to eat the chips!”
I wanted to tell my mother, chips doesn’t equal an ona sadya. I couldn’t tell her that, because at that moment, my mother was revelling in the thought that she is providing the best for her children, even with the absence of my father.

In the night I over heard Akkachi asking Amma
“Chechy, can I go to the temple in the morning?”
“ofcourse you can”
I ran all the way to the kitchen
“May I go with Akkachi to the temple?”
I regretted the moment the words came out of my mouth. Now I am to hear the thing about us being suriani kristiani and how we shouldn’t accompany the servant to a temple. I looked at my mother expecting to hear the insults.
But she didn’t. She just grunted” hmm”
I continued looking at her, waiting for her outburst.
I saw Amma taking some chips from the packet and going out of the kitchen.
I turned around and looked at Akkachi
“Did you see that? Amma told me I could go to the temple with you. Which temple are you going to tomorrow Akkachi?”
“Nina, are you sure you want to get up early in the morning and walk all the way to the temple with me?”
“Ofcourse I do. Are you going to the Thirunakkara temple?”
“Akkachi,don’t forget to wake me up in the morning”
“Ok, I will, Now go and sleep. You have to get up early in the morning”

“Nina wake up” Akkachi was trying to shake me and wake me up.
I got up, sleepily but excited, because today is Thiruvonam(first day of Onam) and I can go to the temple with Akkachi.
“Here, something for you”
Akkachi placed something in my hand and in the darkness I couldn’t really see what it was. I felt around the thing in my hand. It was a coin.
“What is this for Akkachi?”
“It is kaineettam for you Nina”
“Really? Can I use this money?”
“Ofcourse you can”
“Will I be able to buy a coconut with this money?”
“Oh Nina” Akkachi hugged me. “Nina, I know you want to celebrate onam with a sadya. But we won’t get a coconut for 25 paise. This is all the money I have”
“Never mind Akkachi”
“Go and take your shower, there is hot water in the bucket”
“Shower in the morning? Why?”
aiyyedi you thought you can go to the temple without having your shower ah?
“How will the bhagavan know if I took my shower or not?” I asked her
“Bhagavan may not know, But I know and you are not following me, without taking your shower”
“You know something Akkachi, it is really difficult to live with you. I pity the guy who will have to live with you for the rest of his life.”
“You don’t have to worry about him, That is my job to worry about him, now go and have your shower, or I am going without you”
“Ok, ok. Don’t go without me, I will have my shower”
The water was warm and it really felt good to have my shower in the early morning. I wore my green long skirt with golden border and the matching blouse. The skirt was atleast 2 inches above my ankle. I was relieved that, my classmates won’t see me now. If they did, they would surely ask”Why Nina, is there a flood? Is that why you tie your skirt so high”

Akkachi knocked at the bathroom door and spoke “Kochumaharani, have you finished your neerattam(royal bath)?”
“I am just wearing my dress, Akkachi, I will come out in a minute”
Akkachi was waiting by the door with a comb in her hand.
“Hurry Nina, we have to go now”. She quickly combed my hair. We closed the door gently behind us. Amma and my sisters were still sleeping.

It was still dark, the sky was turning grey to blue slowly. Children were busy singing and decorating Athapoo in the courtyards of the houses. There was joy and happiness everywhere. Everyone was ready to invite King Mahabeli for his annual visit.
Akkachi and I walked past the bus stand and the row of shops near the stand. We reached a huge stone monolith and Akkachi looked at the stone and said
athmavinu shanthi undavatte”(may your soul find peace)
“Why did you say that to the stone Akkachi?”
“Nina, this stone was actually a woman many years ago. She was cursed and she became a stone”
“Who is she? and Who cursed her?”
“I don’t know”
“Then why do you wish her peace ?”
“I don’t lose anything by wishing her, Nina. Every woman deserve peace Nina.”
We walked up the steps to the temple sanctum. I removed my slippers and went inside with Akkachi. There was a huge oil lamp and the diety looked beautiful under the light.People were walking around slowly muttering their prayers. I walked behind Akkachi, as she walked around the outer temple three times. I remembered Upadeshi Appachan and how he scolded Ammachi and me for going to the temple to watch Kathakali. I wondered what he would say, now that I am already inside the temple. I stood with Akkachi again in the main sanctum and the poojari came out with a lamp and and everyone touched the top of the flame and brought their hands to their eyes. I did too, but I wasn’t sure what I was doing that for. Then the Pujari brought some water and I extended my hand and he poured some water in to my hand. I drank that. Pujari gave everyone some flowers that were placed in the brass plate. With the flowers in her hand, Akkachi closed her eyes again and prayed. I realized then that I haven’t prayed. I was only watching till now.
I remembered the 10 commandments. ‘Worship no other god but me’. I looked at the diety again. He still looked beautiful and peaceful. I didn’t have a huge lists of wants. I only wanted one thing. I wanted my father back. I felt I am a suriani Kristiani in a Brahmin’s body. All I wanted was a simple request. I just couldn’t pray. I walked out of the temple with Akkachi. I stood outside to wear my slippers and I could still see the diety and the brass lamp. I was outside the temple and now I felt I am not breaking the commandments. I slowly prayed
“Please bring me back my father” I walked quickly away from the temple, hoping that Jesus won’t punish me for praying to a diety.

I found this link for the Thirunakkara temple.
To those of you, who hasn’t heard about the onam festival, more can be read here.
Does anyone know if that huge rock is still there infront of the Thirunakkara temple?


Akkachi was cleaning the dishes after lunch and singing
“uthradathinte annu
“what song is that Akkachi?”
“It is an onam song Nina”
“What does it mean?”
“It means on the day of Uthradam after lunch, all the women will be busy in Kerala, getting everything ready for the next day, to celebrate Onam”
“So what are we going to do for Onam tomorrow?”
“What do you mean nothing?”
“Your mother said, Since Appa is not with us this year, we are not celebrating onam”
“That is not fair, Akkachi. Everybody celebrates onam”
“Akkachi, where did Amma go this morning?”
“don’t know Nina, She told me, she is going’just over there’ and be back soon”
“May be she is gone to buy all the ingredients for the Onam Sadya, If we don’t celebrate onam, then Mahabeli won’t visit our house.”

“Akkachi, why don’t you go to your house for onam? won’t your mother wait for you?”
“I can’t go home Nina”
“Why not”
cigarattuvali arogyathinu hannekaram
veedukal manathinnu haneekaram” (cigarette smoking is injurious to health and home is injurious to one’s reputation)
“Why do you say that?”
“Because that is the truth”
“Where is your father Akkachi?”
“Nina, sometimes where or who gets swallowed by why?”
“What, what do you mean Akkachi?”
“Nina, it is n’t who is your father, or where he is that matters.. It is why?”
“Why, what Akkachi?”
“You will understand one day Nina”

I had no idea, what Akkachi was trying to say. How can going to one’s own home can be so bad? And what was she trying to tell me about her father?
“Akkachi, don’t you miss your mother?”
“No, Nina I don’t”
“How come?”
“Nina, I am happy here and that is all that matters, Right?”
My idea of family was different. In my family, father and mother lives happily with their children. We celebrate all the festivals. But in my house, there is something wrong. Even Akkachi don’t want to go back home to celebrate onam with her mother. Then I remembered Ammachi. I know she would be waiting for me sitting on the veranda, asking Chakki every few minutes, ‘Did you hear the bus stopping at the junction?’. At that moment I was angry with Ammachi. If she and Amma could get along like normal people, we wouldn’t have had to go through all these. Here I am talking to Akkachi, on the eve of onam, when even the poorest person will be getting ready to celebrate onam, we are cleaning empty, dirty dishes.
“No, Akkachi, we are going to celebrate onam.”
“Nina, there are only 2 potatoes and some dal. We can’t make any sadya with that.”
“We can Akkachi and we will”
“Kochumaharani, even Christ needed 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, we only have 2 potatoes”
“My disciple, if only thou had faith as big as the mustard seed!”
“So what is royal higness planning to do?”
“We make sambar with the potatoes”
“So we are having sambar ona sadya?”
Aiyyo, ente Akkachi, wait, let me think.
“We have some unripe bananas in the thicket right? We will make thoran with banana, we will make some rasam and fry pappadam and we have an ona sadya.”
“Kochumaharani, there is one small problem?”
“I don’t know how to climb the coconut tree. we don’t have any coconut here.”
I was getting really frustrated and I muttered
“All this is the fault of Ammachi, She should have raised her son well, none of this would have happend if she did just that”
I was sorry the moment I uttered that sentence. I know how much Ammachi struggled to raise her children.
“Never mind Akkachi, we won’t celebrate onam”. I walked to my room.

Happy 40th Birthday Alexis: for July 19th

Kahlil Gibran

Speak to us of Friendship!
And he answered, saying:
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love

and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger,
and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind
you fear not the “nay” in your own mind,
nor do you withhold the “ay”.
And when he is silent
your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words,
in friendship, all thoughts, all desires,
all expectations are born and shared,
with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend,
you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him
may be clearer in his absence,
as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship
save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure
of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth:
and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend
that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need,
but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship
let there be laughter,
and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things
the heart finds its morning and is refreshed

There are many people that we meet in our lives.But only a very few will make a lasting impression on our minds…Alexis is one such person. He is there always, when I need him. That is what makes him special.. a true friend.
He will be 40 on 19th of July and I would like to wish him a happy birthday..
To Alexis.. May you have peace and joy.. today and everyday. Happy birthday.
Since I got the date wrong.. We have one month.. Could you guys all add your greetings in the comments? And we will be able to have a beautiful collection of comments and wishes for Alexis