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
kottu venam, Kuzhal vanam
Oh thithi thara thithi thara
thithey thaka they they tho
Para kettan alu venam
kodi thoranangal venam
kuthichu kuthichu payum
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 lailitharai..is kadichapottatha malayalam for me