One kancheepuram saree

Amma and I were walking down the railway station road.”Where is Mr Aiyappan’s office, Amma?”
“On the other side of the railway tracks, we can take the short cut by walking across the tracks”
“Won’t they scold us?”
“Railway people”
“Why should they scold you, you are crossing the track, just like you are crossing the road, instead of looking for a bus or truck, you look left and right to see if there is a train coming”
“I am scared Amma”
“For what?”
“What if a train hit me?”
“Don’t worry Nina, you can see the train coming from far away”.
As we reached near the railway tracks, Amma lifted the barbed wire fence for me and I slowly entered the railway compound. Then I held the fence for her.
I heard the sound of train approaching and I watched the a train stopping at the station.
“Hurry up Nina, cross the track”
“But Amma there is a train at the station”
“Nina, that is stopped at the station. It will not start for another 5 minutes.”
“What about them?” I pointed the bogeys that are on the track in front of us.
“Oh Nina, can’t you see, those bogeys have no engine?, They are spare bogeys!”
She held my hand and guided me across the tracks. I was so worried that the train would start suddenly and bang in to me, I kept looking left and right to make sure there is no train approaching us in full speed. I watched my mother skillfully negotiating the abandoned bogeys on the tracks by bending down and walking underneath the carriage. I followed her. When I reached the other side I was already a master in railway track crossings. It is just so easy. Why was I thinking and worrying so much? I stood there for waited another minute to watch the train I saw earlier zooming by*.

Mr. Aiyappan’s office is on the 1st floor. There were many people waiting in queue by the time we reached there. We too stood in the line. I counted 16 people ahead of us. We are in for a long wait. I thought.
The lady in front of us asked Amma
“What are you going to buy?”
I was just about to say Hero cycle. Before I could open my mouth, Amma pinched me on my upper arm. It was so painful. I looked at her. She pretended that she didn’t do anything. She spoke to the lady
“Oh, we are just here to see if he has any sarees. My servant wants a Kancheepuram saree. You know how these poor people are! Once they decide they want something, they will pester you always saying,
“Chechy please buy me a silk saree’.” Amma imitated Akkachi.
The other lady nodded her head in agreement.”Greedy people, poor people and servants should have cheap dreams. alle?” She asked Amma
Amma nodded her head and asked her
“What are you planning to buy?”
“I was thinking of buying a cupboard. The godrej one that comes with a lock and key. You can’t trust anyone these days. It is better to have safe box at home!”
“Oh that one Ah? Be careful, I heard someone telling the other day that what Mr. Aiyappan sells are all ‘reject’ quality and the keys can be easily duplicated.”
“If you are using for storing cloths, then I am sure it would be fine, but if you are trying to use it as a safe, be careful. Mr. Aiyappan is after all a pandi, He could make a duplicate key to the safe and give it to someone. He knows where you are staying from the order form!!!”
“true also”. The lady nodded her head and agreed. The queue in front of us was getting shorter and just as we are about to reach the door, the lady in front of us suddenly turned
“I think what you said is true. I might as well buy the cupboard from S.Koder. Atleast they are reliable! Thank you for your advice.” She smiled and walked away.
I looked at Amma trying to see her reaction.
“Why are you staring at me?” She asked
I shrugged my shoulder and said “nothing”. I wanted to ask her, if the cupboard is a reject quality, then why are we buying it? But I didn’t get a chance to ask, as we were the next customers.
I watched Amma speaking to the secretary.
“My daughter wants a different colour bicycle. Can we change the colour?”
“Oh, any change in the order, you have to speak to Mr. Aiyappan first.”
‘parumala thirumeni please, please I beg you, please give Mr. Aiyappan a kind heart. I don’t want the same colour bicycle as Liza’ I prayed
“Come with me, I will take you to Mr. Aiyappan’s office”. We followed the secretary and she knocked at the door. I heard a soft voice saying
“Come in”
The secretary opened the door, and the first thing I felt was the cold air. I haven’t been to an airconditioned room, Since we left Malaysia. I looked around the room. There were photos of every single Diety on the wall. Each one had a single small light lit in front. I noticed the photo of Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswathi, Lord Shiva and his wife parvathy, Lord Ganesha and finally I saw Mr. Aiyappan sitting at the table and looking at us.
He spoke in a tamil drenched malayalam and asked us
“What are you here for?”
Before Amma could speak, I spoke in tamil and told him, I want to change the bicycle colour.
“Wow, you speak tamil very well. Where did you learn?” he asked me
I looked at Amma to save me. I am not supposed to tell anyone that I am a Malaysian.
“She learned it when we were in Malaysia”. Amma spoke in tamil to Mr. Aiyappan
“Oh Malaysia, it is a beautiful country.”
“Hmm, We nodded our head.”have you been there?” Amma aasked him
“Not yet, one day I want to go and visit all these places” He replied.
“What class are you studying in?” he asked me
“Standard 6” I replied
“You must be a smart girl. I am sure you are the first in the class!.”
I wanted to tell him, ‘No, I am the last’ and before I could open my mouth, Amma pinched me on the side of my thigh. She twisted the skin on my thigh and it was burning. I gently rubbed my thigh and promised myself, ‘one day when I am big, I will pinch Amma. Then she will know how much it hurts’.
I wanted to cry because it was the second pinch in a single morning, But I didn’t want Mr. Aiyappan to see me crying.
“We have 2 requests, I would like to change my daughter’s bicycle colour and also look at the kancheepuram sarees you have”
I watched Mr. Aiyappan pressing the silver colour bell on his table. He saw me looking and asked me
“Do you want to press the bell?”
I didn’t want another pinch and I quickly shook my head and said “No”
“Yes Sir”. Mr Aiyappan’s secretary opened the door and waited for his command.
“Please bring tea for us and also bring the saree samples.” he turned and looked at me
“You like tea?”
I have been wanting to taste the ‘thums up’ cola since we came to India. Amma would never buy it saying that it is expensive. I thought of telling him, instead of tea, I would like to have bottle of Thums up’.
“Don’t worry sir, we just had our breakfast” Amma replied.
I wanted to ask Amma, what is your problem, he is offering it free. I was angry with her, but the earlier pinch was still painful. So I kept quiet
“No such thing, You are like my people, I haven’t spoken tamil since I came here and you are not leaving till you had a cup of tea.” Mr. Aiyappan spoke.

‘Phew, atleast we get some free tea!” I consoled my slef. May be the next time I will ask for Thums up.

Mr. Aiyappan opened the cover of all the kancheepuram sarees he has and placed them on the table. I saw the red and the blue saree and told Amma
“This one Amma, this is a nice one.”
Amma opened the saree and checked it. it had beautiful bird motif in the border.
‘Akkachi would love this’. I thought.
“How much is this?” Amma asked
“Original cost is 1700Rs, I am selling it here for 900Rs and for you, I will sell for 7oo Rs”
I watched Amma’s face. There was no change in her expression. She checked the saree over and over turning it this way and that way.
“Oh, there is a damage on this saree!”
“Where? Can’t be, this one is straight from the mill.” Mr Aiyappan spoke
Amma showed him a single thread sticking out near the pallav.
Mr Aiyappan and Amma looked at the thread and the damage.
I wanted to tell Amma, Akkachi isn’t going to worry about a slight defect. All she wants is a new saree.
“I will pay 300Rs for this saree”. Amma said
“300Rs? No way, where can you get an original kancheepuram for 300 Rs?”
“Damaged saree has no ratail value, 300Rs is my best offer”
“Your mother is a good negotiator” Mr Aiyappan smiled and told me
“400Rs and the saree is yours”. Mr Aiyappan agreed
‘Wow, I was impressed. my mother is indeed a tough negotiator. Akkachi is getting the saree for half the price!’ I was proud of my mother.
I watched Amma and Mr. Aiyappan going through the paper works. Amma took 4 months installment plan for the saree. Finally they also changed my bicycle colour to red. Just as we were about to leave Mr Aiyappan called me
“here something for you.” he took a pen from the his desk drawer and gave it to me.
I took it from his hand and I told him” Thank you,I will always remember you”.
He smiled and I was on cloud 9.
As soon as we were out of the building, Amma stopped me
“Don’t tell Akkachi anything about the saree. Tell her it was too expensive.”
“But you got it for 400Rs Amma”
“You idiot, why should a servant wear a kancheepuram saree? they should be happy that they have clothes to cover their body. I negotiated and haggled, so the saree is mine. Now give me the pen Mr. Aiyappan gave, you never take care of your things!”
I was angry with my mother for cheating Akkachi.”If you want a pen, go and ask Mr. Aiyappan. This one is mine” I started to walk home.

milk+ water

The whole evening,I could think of nothing else, but my brand new bike. I imagined the look on Jessy’s face when she sees my cycle. She is sure going to be jealous. Her father got her a magical ruler, but my mother is buying me a brand new hero bicycle. may be she would want to be my friend. Should I let her ride my bicycle? She didn’t let me touch her magical ruler. May be i won’t let her ride my bicycle. Anyway she always calls me a pandi. She wouldn’t want to ride a pandi’s bicycle.
I imagined Akkachi coming out of the kitchen saying
‘oh God, what I am I going to do, salt is finished and the curry is almost ready’ and Super Nina will tell Akkachi ‘Don’t worry Akkachi, I will buy salt for you’ and I will zoom in my bicycle to Anichettan’s shop and buy salt for Akkachi. If Amma is sick and need to go to the hospital, Super Nina will make Amma sit in front of her bicycle and zoom to the hospital. My head felt light and dizzy thinking of all the things I would be able to do with my bicycle.
I went to bed hoping that tomorrow would come faster and we can go to Mr. Aiyappan’s office.
I woke up hearing the milk seller ringing his cycle bell.
“Akkachi, I will get the milk ” I quickly got up and went to the kitchen to collect the milk pot.
“Today the pigs will fly!!, Kochumaharani woke up ahead of the birds!!! May be the world is coming to an end!”
I took the milk pot from Akkachi’s hand and stuck my tongue at her. I ran outside to the main gate.
“Aha, who is this? What happend Nina? Where is your servant?”
“Akkachi is inside. I thought I will help her today.”
I gave the milk pot to Shankaran Chettan and watched him meassure 2 lit of milk from the big aluminium milk can.
I looked at his bicycle. It was an old junk.
“Chetta, how did you learn to ride a bicycle?” I asked him
“Riding a bicycle? That is very easy. You sit on the seat and hold the handle and pedal”
“Really? Is that all?” I asked him
“Ofcourse, riding a cycle is as easy as saying 1.2.3. When I was young I could even ride without holding the handle”
“Will I also be able to ride without holding the handle?”
He looked at me
“Why Nina? Are you getting a new bicycle?”
I remembered the promise I made with Amma.
“No, no, I am not getting a new bicycle, but I always wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle”
I quickly grabbed the milk pot from him and walked back to the house slowly and carefully so as not to spill the milk.
I gave the pot to Akkachi and she placed it on the gas stove to boil.
“Akkachi, I will stir the milk, Why don’t you make tea for Amma?”
“Why Kochumaharani, you seem to be in a hurry this morning?”
“Don’t you remember? Today we are going to Mr Aiyappan’s offfice to change my bicycle colour?”
“Oh, so that is why Kochumaharani woke up early today”
“Hmm”. I nodded my head.
“Will you do me a favour Nina?” She asked me
“Ofcourse, What do you want me to do for you?”
“Shhh don’t tell your mother, Come with me” I watched Akkachi reducing the gas flame. She held my hand and and took me to the shed where she keeps all her clothes.
She took an old magazine from the bottom of her suitcase. I watched her flipping through the pages and then she stopped.
“Look at this saree Nina” She pointed to a photo of an actress in her wedding photo. “Will you see if Mr Aiyappan has the same type of blue kancheepuram saree with a red border and find out how much it is”.
“Whose photo is this Akkachi?”
“This is Sharada, and this is Prem Nasir. They acted in so many movies together”
“Did she marry him? Is this her wedding photo?”
Aiyyo Nina, She didn’t marry Prem Nasir, She is a hindu and he is a muslim. This is a picture from the movie called ‘Vishukkaineetam’
“Oh I see. I thought it is a real wedding photo. Why can’t a hindu marry a muslim Akkachi?”
“because that is how it is”.
We could smell something burning
aiyyo milk” Screamed Akkachi and we ran back to the kitchen. I saw the milk pot with the milk bubbling on top and spilling outside.
Ente Ammo I am going to be in trouble. Stupid gas stove!” I watched Akkachi quickly removing the milk pot from the fire.
“Nina get me the dish cloth” She pointed to the cloth that was near the sink and I grabbed it and gave it to Akkachi. I grabbed another dish cloth and started to clean the mess
“Be careful Nina, stove is hot.”
“hmm” I mumbled.
After cleaning the stove Akkachi looked at the pot. The top edge of the pot already has a layer of dried burned milk.
“Akkachi, pour the milk in to another bowl and wash the pot before Amma see it” I told her
“That is a good idea Nina” I watched Akkachi pouring the hot milk to another steel bowl and washing the milk pot. She poured the milk back. She looked inside the pot and said
bhagavathy, What am I going to do? Atleast half a liter of milk is gone. Stupid gas stove. I reduced the flame before we went. Your mother is going to kill me today”
“Add some water Akkachi”.
” Then it will be too diluted Nina. Shankaran Chettan already adds half liter of water to every liter of milk!”
“Akkachi that is true and Amma knows that. So Amma will blame Shankaran chettan, not you.”
Akkachi looked at me and then at the pot.
“Do it before Amma gets up Akkachi” I hurried her
Akkachi took a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water from the kitchen tap and poured it in to the milk pot. She stirred the milk. it looked extremely diluted. Unfortunately It didn’t reach the 2 lit mark. If she added another glass of water, Amma for sure would have doubts.
“Don’t worry Akkachi, Tell Amma, I drank the rest. Now make some tea, So I can wake up Amma”.


“Nina, Liza, Sally, Come and see this.” Amma called out
We were playing hop scotch behind the house and we didn’t even notice that Amma had come home.
“What is it Amma?” I asked.I didn’t want to leave the game half way through, not when I was about to win.
“I got a surprise for all of you, come and see”
Surprise? I had just 2 more sqaures to jump while balancing the stone on my head. I watched Sally running towards Amma. I gently craned my neck while balancing the stone on my head to see what Liza is doing and the stone fell down.
“You lost, I won” screamed Liza and she bolted towards Amma. I didn’t want to miss out on the surprise, so I too ran. I wasn’t going to let Liza beat me again. I pushed Liza just as she was about to reach Amma. I wanted to be first.
“Amma, Nina pushed me” Liza yelled
“She blocked my way” I replied.
“You are ungrateful children, I go and find nice things for my children and look at what they are doing to each other. Selfish ungrateful kids.”
“What did you get Amma?”
thengakkula!!. Bunch of coconuts!!!” She huffed and walked inside
I nudged Liza and together we spoke
“Sorry Amma, we won’t fight any more, what did you get for us?”
I looked at her hand. She was holding couple of bills. She must have bought something. she must have bought the magical ruler. God must have heard my prayers.
“Amma, You are the best mother in the whole world. Thank you so much for buying us things” I tried to butter my mother
“That is true, Amma. You are the best mother.” Liza agreed
We watched Amma pulling the chair and sitting down at the dining table. Akkachi also came out of the kitchen. Amma placed all the paper in her hands on the table.
“What are the papers for Amma?” I asked her
“I bought you and Liza a hero bicycle”
“What about me?” Asked Sally
“Where is the cycle?” I asked her. I looked outside to see, if Amma kept it outside.
“Wait children. None of you know the meaning of patience.”
“Sally, you are too young to ride a bicycle. I will buy you a bicycle next year.”
“Where is the cycle Amma?” I asked again.
“I have to pay another 4 more monthly installment, then Mr.Aiyappan will deliver the cycle.”
“Aiyappan? Who is Aiyappan Amma?” I asked her
“He is originally from Madras, He works as a senior office at the Madras customs office. Apparently all these items were confisicated from people over the years for not paying the taxes. Mr Aiyappan has been entrusted by the government to dispose off the stock. I went to his office this evening. You know something, his office has an aircondition!! Government is so grateful to him for going to all these places and selling the items that they provide everything for him. He is staying at Aida hotel, he has a car and a driver, all paid for by the government!”
“How do you know he is not a crook Amma?”
“Simple, crooks don’t have airconditioned office, they won’t have a government car and a driver and his secretary is my colleague Leela’s sister. She is the one who told us about all these. I had to go today itself and order all these before Mr Aiyappan runs out of stock. The actual cost of the bicycle is 500Rs. I am getting one for 250 Rs.Now you don’t go and tell anyone about this. If everyone goes to Mr. Aiyappan, then he will get greedy and raise the cost.
“We won’t tell anyone Amma, Promise.” I nudged Liza again and she too nodded her head. I so desperately wanted to tell my friends about my brand new bicycle. I knew they are going to be jealous. I might as well keep it as a secrtet. Otherwise they will also buy a cycle and I will lose my importance!
“What else he sells Chechy?” Akkachi asked
“Everything Akkachi, cooking pots, pressure cooker, dinner sets, even sarees.”
“What kind of sarees?” Asked Akkachi
“Kancheepuram Saree. I saw the sample saree today. It is certainly 100%genuine. You can feel the material and you know it is genuine.”
“How much is he asking for the saree and can we choose the colour?”
“He is asking 800Rs for the saree. Actual costs is around 1300 Rs”
I saw the sad look on Akkachi’s face.
I wanted to change the subject
“What else did you buy Amma?”
“I bought a godrej cupboard and a prestige pressure cooker. When Maria gets married, we need to give utensils and cupboards for her as part of the dowry, so I thought I might as well start buying things for her future”
It sounded funny. I couldn’t imagine my big sister getting married. I just couldn’t picture Maria as a wife of someone. I imagined her visiting us holding her children’s hands. I pictured a niece in pig tails wearing a pink frock. I imagined teaching my niece how to play jumping jacks with stones. May be that is not a good idea. The stones might hurt her tiny baby hands. I made a mental note to find the smoothest rocks and keep it safe for the future.
“What colour is my bicycle Amma?” I asked
“Black. It will not get dirty as easily.”
“What about Liza’s bicycle?”
“Black also.”
“I don’t want the same colour bicycle as Liza’s. I want a different colour one. She will damage her bicycle and then would claim my bicyclee is hers. Please Amma, can we ask for a different colour bicycle?”
“You are right, it is better to have different colour bicycles. In that way you won’t kill each other. Tomorrow we will go to Mr. Aiyappan’s office and we will ask for a different colour bicycle.”
“Chechy, how much money do I have to pay each month to buy the Kancheepuram Saree?” Akkachi asked Amma
“About 200Rs a month.” Amma replied
I watched Akkachi using her fingers and toes and trying to calculate. She shook her head dejectedly. “Has he got any other cheap sarees?”
“I didn’t look today, What kind of saree are you looking for?” Amma asked Akkachi
“Any kind Chechy, I always wanted to own a brand new saree.”
“What difference does it make Akkachi, if it is second hand or brand new? Who is going to notice all that?”
“No one will notice chechy, but when you wear a brand new saree it makes you feel good, Chechy.”
“It makes you feel good on the first day Akkachi, what is new today is old tomorrow!”Amma replied
” True also, but we all have desires.. Don’t we?”
“Hmm “Amma nodded
I thought about what Amma told Akkachi., What is new today is old tomorrow, I never saw it that way, yet it is so true. I have a very smart mother. I thought.


After lunch I walked with Alice to the play ground. Nobody wanted to play with us. I am a pandi and Alice is a poor farmer girl with no father. We sat under the casurina tree.
“Can we play jumping jacks?” Alice asked me
“Ofcourse”. We looked around us and found 5 smooth stones to play.
I showed Alice how to throw all the stones up and catch it all in one go
“Where did you learn that?” Alice asked me
“Ammalu taught me, She used to work for my Ammachi, Her father sold her to someone from Madras.”
“hmm” I nodded my head.
“You know Nina, I always wish, my father is still alive. He used to play so much with us when I was little. During summer holidays we would go to his house in Idukki. Now after he died, my uncles refuse to let us visit them”
“Your uncles, you mean your father’s brothers?”
“Hmm, they don’t want to give us my father’s share of the family property”
“Because they are greedy and we are girls. If only I was a boy, then I could have gone and kicked them like Bruce Lee.”
I started to laugh.
“Why are you laughing?” She asked me
“Remember how I fooled all our classmates telling them the story about chasing the robber and falling down from the fence wall?” I asked her
“Ofcourse, and did you get any letter from your guruji granting you permission to teach karate?” She asked me and we both started to laugh
“Nina, look there are 2 mynas there. If you see a pair of mynas, it means you will get a letter. If you see only one myna, it is bad luck.”
“Really, are you sure?”
“God promise Nina, my sister taught me that”
“may be I will get a letter from Appa today.”
“Do you love your father Nina?”
“Ofcourse I do”
“You are very lucky Nina”
I remembered Ammachi and the Vararuchi story. I looked at my best friend and told her
“There is no such thing called luck. It is all destiny”.
Alice looked at me surprised. That dialogue was probably the wisest thing I ever said to her.
We heard the bell ringing and we ran to our class.

In the evening I was eager to go home and see if the mynas really brought me letters. I opend the main door and yelled
“Akkachi, I am home. Are there any letters for me?”
“huh? Why are you asking for letters, why, you got a boyfriend to send you love letters ah?”
“Go Akkachi, you always think about boyfriends. I don’t have any boyfriend. Now tell me, are there any letters?”
“There is a letter for your mother, I think it is from Malaysia”
“From Malaysia? Really? please show me”
Akkachi took the letter from the top of the fridge and gave it to me
I checked the stamp, I saw the familiar butterfly picture stamps.
“This is from Malaysia, may be my grandmother finally decided to write to us.”
“Why doesn’t she ever write Nina?”
“Because Amma and she always fight!”
“Why Nina?”
“Don’t know Akkachi. But they never talk to each other. I only see my grandmother at the church on sundays. Amma won’t let us visit her either.”
“Hmm”, I looked at the envelope in my hand. I was relieved holding it. I felt finally my family is going to be together. Grandparents, parents, uncles aunties and all the cousins, One big family. I quickly opened the letter
It was in Malay. That is odd I thought. My grandmother never writes in Malay. She writes in English.
“Who is the letter from?” Akkachi asked me
“Don’t know Akkachi. it is in Malay”
“Look at the bottom Nina, see who signed it.”
I looked at the bottom of the page and read the name
“Ida, this letter is from tante Ida”
“Who is tante Ida?” Akkachi asked
“She is my favourite aunty. My grandfather and her father are brothers, she was born in Indonesia. Then they all came to Malaysia and settled down. She never speaks to Amma. But they stayed closer to our house and during school holidays I will visit her without telling Amma. She makes the best fried rice on planet earth.”
“What does the letter say?” Akkachi asked me
“wait Akkachi, let me read it”. I suddenly realized I have forgotten most of the malay words. I sat down on top of the gas cylinder and slowly read the letter. I didn’t understand what tante Ida wrote.
“I don’t understand anything Akkachi!”
“What do you mean?”
“She wrote, I never thought I would be forced to write to you. But your recent behaviour suggests otherwise. There was a letter from Rebecca and she mentioned that, you are back and she wants the family to intervene.
You should know that he is married and so are you. I don’t have to tell you what you should do. But I will tell you this. Stay away from my brother.”
I looked at Akkachi “I don’t understand this Akkachi. I never knew tante Ida had a brother. Where is her brother? Why does she tell Amma to stay away from her brother?”
Akkachi took the letter from me and started to tear it.
“What are you doing Akkachi?”
“If your mother knows that you opened the letter meant for her and read it, you are going to be in big trouble. Don’t you say anything about this letter!. There was never a mail from your aunty. Do you understand that Nina?”
“hmm”. I nodded my head. I watched Akkachi placing the torn pieces on the floor and lighting a match stick and burning it. After the letter completely burned to ash, Akkachi removed the ash and threw it in the bin. She then wet a dish cloth and wiped the floor. There was no sign of a letter from tante Ida.
I didn’t understand anything. My head and my heart felt heavy. I knew there is something terrible is going on. What it is I had no idea.
tante is the dutch word for aunty commonly used in Indonesia.

I noticed that my stats couner has over 10000 hits. When I started my blog and I wished one day I will have 100 visits. I never even thought that I would have 10,000 hits. So here is for all of you.
Thank you, nandi, terimah kasi, nandri,dhaniyavaadaalu,shukriya,domo,kiitos, Dank u wel and merci beaucoup for reading my blog

promises made, promises kept

I checked the coins in the pouch over and over. May be I made a mistake in the calculation. 25+25+5+5+5+5. That is only 70 paise. I need 75 paise. I checked the pouch again, desperately praying ‘god please give me another 5 paise more, I promise I will donate 10% of the 1 lakh to poor people. God didn’t hear my prayer
I heard Amma opening the bathroom door
I cursed myself for my stupidity. Any moment now I will get caught for stealing money from her. I looked around the room. Trying to find a place to hide the coin pouch. I thought of placing it inside my desk drawer. I quickly walked towards my desk and tried to pull open the drawer. It was stuck. I pulled it hard and the whole thing fell down on my leg.
“What is that noise?” I could hear Amma running to my room. I pulled my leg from under the drawer and quickly hid the coin pouch under my pillow.
My legs were hurting and my big toe felt like it was on fire.I sat on my bed and started to cry
“Are you ok Nina? What happend here?” Amma surveyed my room and saw the drawer on the floor.
“How did that fall down?” She asked me
“It came out when I tried to open the drawer and my toe is hurting Amma.”
“Oh Nina, why are you not careful? Look at your big toe, you are going to loose the nail now.”
” Akkachi” Amma called out” go and fetch some communist pacha leaves”
“What happend chechy? why do you need the leaves?” Akkachi came to my room. When I saw Akkachi I cried even more louder. I couldn’t bear the pain anymore. My big toe was swollen and the toe nail was becoming blue.
“Oh Nina, what have you done? Come with me, I will put some ice on your toe”
Amma was sitting down on my bed, I didn’t want to get up. I was worried that Amma might lift my pillow and see her coin pouch under my pillow
“I can’t walk Akkachi, my leg is hurting”
“Come, I will carry you. You can soak your leg in a bucket of cold water. You will feel better.”
“Never mind Akkachi, I will sit here. You can bring the bucket here.”
“You know what is your problem Nina, you never listen to those who are older than you. You have a mind of your own. Now listen to me and stop arguing.”
I knew Akkachi is mad at me and I didn’t want to argue with her. I slowly lifted my hands and she carried me.
I casually looked over Akkachi’s shoulder at my pillow to see, if any part of the Amma’s coin pouch is visible. It wasn’t and I prayed silently
‘parumala thirumeni, Please don’t allow Amma to check under my pillow’.

Akkachi took the ice cubes from the fridge and placed them in the red bucket. She then filled the bucket up to the middle with water.
” Soak your leg in the cold water Nina, I hope you haven’t broken your bones, you are a walking disaster! Look at the nail, the base is already turning blue. You will loose the nail now!, Why can’t you be careful Nina?”
“I was careful Akkachi, I was just trying to open the drawer and it fell down on its own. I didn’t make it fall down”
“Just like how you accidentally fell down from the fence wall, right? You were careful right? the wall made you fall right?”
I was angry with Akkachi. I was planning to buy a jimikki earring for her and look at the way she is mocking me. I am not going to talk to her. I lifted my leg out of the bucket and walked back to my room.
“I don’t want to soak anymore. I am going to bed, I don’t want dinner also.”
“If you don’t want to soak your leg, don’t do it. it is your leg that is painful, not mine. Don’t eat your dinner if you don’t want. I am not going to beg anyone to eat dinner.”
“I know” I muttered
I went back to my room and laid down on the bed. When everyone is asleep I will go and put the coing pouch back in Amma’s handbag. I regretted not saving money. I regretted paying the offeratory at the church on sunday. Amma gave me 10 paise last sunday. I should have just pretended to place the money in the offeratory box. Who would have noticed if I put the money or not. Any way why does the church need so much money?

I suddenly felt like I was floating.
‘Where am I going’ I wondered. It was funny at the same time it felt wonderful flying over the white fluffy clouds. I tried to touch the clouds. They felt like cotton candy, not sticky though. ‘Wow I am a bird!!!’ I thought
Soon I reached a huge golden gate.
‘My goodness, that gate sure must have costs a fortune!’ I thought
“She is here” I heard someone talking
“huh”, ‘who is she’ I thought.
“Send her in” I heard someone else speaking
I watched a man appoaching the gate and opening the door. He wore a shiny crown on his head and he had wings
‘Aiyya, What kind of creature is this? Why is he wearing a crown on his head and where did he get a wing?’
“Go inside” He ordered
I slowly walked inside. There were too many people, all had wings and crowns. I spotted Methran Thampi and his wife sitting side by side in golden chairs.
I was glad to see Methran Thampi finally. I have tried to ask his wife many times how he died?. She never told me. She always tells me that “he died one day”. Atleast now I will have a chance to ask him.
“Johnny bring her here”
‘Johnny, that is Methran Thampi’s brother. He passed away long time ago. I was so happy to see Johnny Appachan.
“Nice to meet you Johnny Appachan”. I told him. He pretended he didn’t hear
‘Ok, if you want to act big, go ahead. enna game ah everkokke’. I spoke to myself
I stood in front of Methran Thampi. I glanced at his wife,my Ammachi and smiled at her. She didn’t even smile at me. Ammachiukkum game ayo? I wondered.
“Oh, so this is Nina Thomas, my grand daughter!.”
“Yes Appacha”. I was finally so happy to meet my grandfather
“What are her sins Johnny?” He looked at his brother
“She stole money from her mother”.
“I didn’t steal, I tried to steal, but I didn’t take take the money, because there was not enough money.”
“Stealing and thinking about stealing are the same” Roared Methran Thampi
“No it isn’t. It is two different things” I argued
“See, I told you Appachan, she has a mind of her own.”. I looked around to see Akkachi. She too had a golden crown and wings.
‘What is this? Fancy dress competition? Everyone wearing matching dresses, crowns and wings?’ I wondered
“I don’t have a mind of my own. I am telling you the truth, yes I tried to borrow money from Amma, I would have paid her back the moment I won the lottery”
“Ha ha ha ha,”Laughed Methran Thampi.”How do you know you will win the lottery?
“That is what the ticket seller sings everyday.
I sang the song
oru roopa nottu koduthal
oru laksham koode poorum”. (Pay 1 RS today, RS 1Lakh will follow you)
“No” I heard someone else screaming. I turned around to see the ticket seller standing behind me. I looked at his legs. He has both legs now.
“How did you manage to get a new leg?” I asked him
He ignored me and spoke to Methran Thampi
“That is not how I sing my song, I sing like this
oru roopa nottu koduthal
oru laksham chilappol porum”(Pay 1 Rs and the 1 lakh may follow you home)”
“He is lying, I hear the song every day. That isn’t how he sings”
“She is lying” The ticket seller spoke
“Shut up” Roared Methran Thampi.
“What is the punishment for stealing?” He asked everyone in the room
“Burn her, burn her burn her” Everyone was yelling and screaming
“Those who agree to burn her, wash your hands” I saw Methran Thampi washing his hand by dipping in a golden bowl. He then gave the bowl to his wife.
“You are not going to agree to burn me, Are you?” I asked Ammachi
Ammachi didn’t even look at me. She too washed her hands. I couldn’t believe it. I watched Akkachi, Johnny Appachan and the lottery ticket seller washing their hands. Soon everyone in the whole room washed their hands. I saw someone bringing a huge Chinese wok.
“Don’t burn me, please don’t burn me”, I screamed
“Nina wake up, wake up, ” I felt someone shaking me
I opened my eyes to see Amma standing next to my bed.
“Are you ok Nina? Why are you screaming? Are you having a nightmare?”
I nodded my head. “I had a bad dream Amma”
“What did you dream?” She asked me
I can’t remember Amma”. I didn’t want to tell her my dream
“Why don’t you pray before you go to bed? then you won’t get any night mare”
“I will Amma”.
“Now pray and go back to bed, I have to go to work in the morning”
I watched Amma going back to her room. I waited for her to lay down on her bed. I took the coin pouch from under my pillow and tip toed to the living room. I took Amma’s handbag and placed the pouch bag.
‘It is ok, if I don’t have a magical ruler. I don’t want to be burned. I promised myself, I will never ever steal anything for the rest of my life.
which I have followed to this day.


“Hurry up, walk fast” I ordered my sisters. I had things to do as soon as we reached home.
“You are always nagging Nina. Nina is a nag, Nina is a nag” Liza started to sing
I ignored her. Anyway she doesn’t know about the 1 lakh I am going to get.
Wait till I get 1 lakh rupees. First I will buy all the magical rulers from Jacob’s store. Then I will buy a huge house. I will have my own room with a beautiful balcony. Then I will construct cellars in the basement. I wanted store rooms to store my favourite things. One room will have pakkavada(crisps), another room will have banana chips, another room I will store my favourite white rabbit candy. I made a mental note to write to Tante Ida to send me some white rabbit candy from Penang.
I will buy a big fridge and store ice cream. I like vanilla ice cream, I also like the milk peda(sweet) that is sold at the milma ice cream shop near the post office. May be I will buy 2 fridges. One for the ice cream and one for the peda(sweet). I was very excited thinking about all the things I am going to have. I walked faster.
“Akkachi I am home” I opened the living room door and yelled in my excitement.
“Nina, why did you have to scream? You scared me !”
Aiyya Akkachi, why do you get scared like this? i was only letting you know that I am home.
I saw Akkachi folding a sheet of paper. “What is that?” I pointed to the paper in her hand and asked.
“Oh, this!, remember the last time when we bought rice, it came in a colourful paper cover? I opened the cover today to see the pictures. Look at this photo Nina, see how pretty her earrings are”.
“Whose picture is this?” I asked Akkachi
Aiyyoo Nina, don’t you know who this is? This is Sheela. She is a famous actress. Look at her, see how pretty she is?
I looked at the photo, I had to agree with Akkachi. She was very pretty.
“Look at her earring. That is a Jimikki. When I earn enough money, I am going to buy myself a pair of Jimikki!.”
“That earring look like a bird cage Akkachi!”
“Bird cage!, nonsense. It is so pretty and you know something, when you wear it, your earring will jingle everytime you shake your head”. Akkachi showed me a bhratha natyam move with her head
“Akkachi don’t. your will break your neck!” I warned her
“Go away, I should be whacked on my head for talking to you.”
“You want me to whack you?”
Aiyya !! Oh Nina, what will I do with you?”
“You can make me a cup of tea!!”
” No tea for little kids. There is a glass of milk on the table.”
“Please Akkachi, make me cup of tea. You are my darling Akkachi, right? You will do anything for this poor little child right?”
“You? Poor little child? No way. You are a cheeky child!. I will make tea for you. Don’t tell your mother that i gave you tea. That would be enough for her to start another fight.”
“I promise I won’t”
I sat on the gas cylinder and waited for Akkachi to make me some tea. I thought of the jimikki earrings akkachi wanted to buy. May be when I get my 1 lakh I will buy Akkachi a pair of earrings. I wondered how Akkachi would react when she opens the yellow colour Alappattu jewellery box and open the purple tissue wrapper and see the Jimikki. I imgined Akkachi jumping up and down in happiness and then hugging mme. I wanted to make Akkachi happy.

“Where is Amma gone? Why is she so late?” I asked Akkachi
“Who knows? May be she went to buy groceries”.
I desperately wanted to execute my master plan and just when I wanted my mother to come home early, she is late.
I went to my room to do my home work. I couldn’t concentrate. If only the schools were run by good people that never gave homework like my art teacher Mrs. Issac. How wonderful life would have been if I didn’t have to do tons of home work each and every day. I thought, If I have enough money, then I can pay someone else to do my homework. I will never get caned in school!!!

Amma came around 8pm. For once I wasn’t angry with her for coming late. I was just relieved that she is home and I could do what I want to do. I didn’t ask Amma where she went or why she is late. I was concerned that because it is late, Amma might not have her shower.
“Akkachi Amma is home, did you heat water for her?”. I wanted to make sure Amma will have her shower.
“I will heat it now .”
parumala thirumeni, please make Amma have her shower.’ I prayed.
I watched Amma placing her hand bag on top of the fridge and going to her room to take her nightdress. I waited for her to enter the bathroom and close the door. I stood outside the door to make sure that she started to take her bath. The moment I heard the water falling on the cement floor, I rushed to the dining room. Akkachi was setting the table for dinner
‘Hurry up Akkachi, go back to the kitchen’. I said silently hoping that she would understand and leave the room. After all I will be buying her a jimikki earring.
Just when I thought the coast is clear, Akkachi came back to the room with the water jug.
“I will help you fill the glasses Akkachi.” I grabbed the jug from her hand.
“Ok, if you want to do it, fine” Akkachi went back to the kitchen
I quickly grabbed Amma’s handbag. She keeps all the coins in her black leather coin pouch. I took it out of the bag and ran to my room. I hid behind the door and quickly opened the coin pouch. My heart was beating faster. All I needed is 75 paise more. I took the coins out and started to count. There were two 25 paise and four 5 paise coins.

oru roopa…….

When I entered the classroom on monday morning, all my classmats were crowding around Jessy.
“What is going on?, I asked Alice”
“Jessy’s father came from Persia yesterday. She got new pencil case and a shiny ruler with pictures. It is a magical ruler, if you move the ruler slowly, the picture also moves.”
“How can a picture move?, that is silly!”
“Go and see, if you don’t believe me.”
I walked to where everyone was standing.
“Can I see the ruler?” I asked Jessy.
“No”. Jessy quickly grabbed the ruler from Elsie’s hand and hid it inside her pencil case.
“Why not?’ Why can’t I see?”
“You are a loser, that is why. Remember when you came to the school first time and showed off”. “How you pretended that you can’t speak Malayalam!, You had all these accent. You were so Ash poosh, you even needed spoon to eat your lunch. You know something we don’t like you, all of knew that you are just pretending. How can you not know Malayalam, when your father and mother speaks malayalam?”.
“Because we didn’t speak malayalam at home. We spoke Tamil and Malay at home. That is why.”
“Oh, you spoke tamil ah. I didn’t know you were a “pandi”!
“I am not a pandi, just because I speak tamil doesn’t make me a pandi!”
“Only pandi speaks tamil, so you are a pandi.”
“I am not.” I screamed at her.
“See the pandi is getting angry” Jessy looked at everyone around us and they all started to laugh.
“Nina, never mind, don’t fight, come and sit in your seat”. Alice pulled my hand.
“Why are they so mean to me?” I asked Alice.” Remember the last time when they sat next to me on the bench and all of them got up at the same time and made me fall down?”
” Who knows why they do things like that, you don’t worry about all that. Anyway, I saw the same ruler at Jacob’s store the other day. It is 4 Rs for one ruler.”
“4 rs? That is really expensive.”
“yes it is, the uncle at the shop said, it is imported from Persia, that is why it is expensive. He has three types, one with animals on it, another one with fish and the third one is the best one, it has sun, moon and the stars.”
“Can we go and see in the evening, will you come with me?”

I waited for the last bell to ring and Alice and I quickly walked to Jacob’s store.
Uncle was busy serving some customers. We waited anxiously.
I prayed silently, ‘Jesus, don’t let anyone buy the star and the moon ruler, please keep it for me.’
When the other customers left, Uncle looked at us.
“Can you show us the magical rulers please. the one with the strars and the sun?” Alice asked him
Uncle took a small red box from the counter behind him and opened the plastic cover and took 2 rulers out.
“Where is the fish one?” Alice asked him
“I sold that already”.
Alice showed me the ruler, she slowly moved the ruler and the stars disappeared and the sun appeared.
“Where did the stars go?” I asked her
“it is magic, see if you turn this way, the stars will appear again.”
She passed the ruler to me and I moved it side to side. it was amazing. I looked at the bottom to see where the stars and the sun disappear to?. There was nothing there. I wanted to buy the ruler. But I only had 25 paise with me. I thought of asking Amma for money. But I knew that is going to be futile. All it would result in is another big lecture about saving money for dowry.
I gave the ruler back to uncle and told him
“I will get money from Amma and buy it tomorrow”
He nodded his head and I watched him place the rulers in the box and putting it back in the counter behind him.
Parumala thirumeni, have merci on me, please don’t let anyone buy that ruler.”
“Are you really going to buy the ruler tomorrow?” Alice asked me
“Hmm” I nodded my head
“Will you let me share it?”
“Of course I will.”
As we walked out of the shop I heard the song
oru roopa nottukoduthal
oru laksham koode porum”
(Pay Rs 1 and Rs I lakh will follow you home).
I heard the same song every day on my way back home from school.
The singer must have been about 40 years old. Like the non functioning traffic light and the police man with a big stop sign who directs the traffic everyday, standing inside the booth in the middle of the road, the singer too was part of the junction. He would be leaning on the wall and singing the same song at the top of his voice, over and over and over every single day. He sells lottery ticket for a living.
He wears the same yellow colour shirt and blue sarong that is folded and tucked neatly, exposing his crippled leg. He holds a stick for support. There were no fingers on his right hand, just an appendage. Everytime someone buys a ticket from him, he would hold the ticket book in his left hand and by using the right hand without any fingers, he would pull out a ticket. I stood there and watched him
“Come on, let us go”. Alice pulled my hand
“Why are you scared of him?” I aske Alice
“People like him will kidnap little children. Do you know what they do?”
“What?” I asked her
“They will heat a metal rod and poke the child’s eyes, so the child would be blind, then they will hit them and break their legs and hands”
“because, they get more money begging, if the child is blind and disabled!”
“No such thing. You are lying”
“God promise, I am not lying. My own mother told me this.”

As I walked alone to my sister’s school, I thought about the magical ruler. I desperately wanted 4 RS. I wished Appa was here, he always bought me whatever I asked for. I thought about the lottery ticket seller and his song. I knew what I am going to do.

That line on the head!

“What payasam are you going to make Akkachi?”
“What would you like to have?”
pal payasam , just like the Ambalapuzha palpayasam.” I replied
“When did you drink Ambalapuzha palpayasam?”
“Ammachi gets it for me. Whenever Prakashchettan(his house is next door to Chackochan’s) goes to the temple, he will inform Ammachi and she gives him money to buy the payasam.
“Aha, like that ah!.. I thought your grandmother is a proud suriani kristiani! then how come she buys the offering from the temple?”
I tried to think of a good reason why Ammachi buys the payasam.
“I don’t know Akkachi, I don’t think I will go to hell, just because I had payasam from the temple. Akkachi, Do you think it is a sin to drink payasam from the temple? “
Akkachi looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes
Aiyyo Kochumaharani, I was just trying to tease you. I was hoping to hear one of your fiery responses. There is nothing wrong with drinking the payasam from the temple.”
“Go Akkachi, you always tease me.”
I sat on top of the gas cylinder and watched Akkachi making the payasam. As soon as she took the pot off the fire, I grabbed my bowl and held it on top of the pot, so Akkachi would notice me and give me the payasam.
“It is hot Nina, wait a little while”. Akkachi pushed my hand away and continued to stir the payasam
“No, I want it now.” I pushed Akkachi’s hand away and held the bowl above the pot.
“Oh Nina, patience is certainly not your virtue!. Bhagavathi(goddess Bhagavathy) I feel sorry for the guy who is going to marry this child. His is sure going to suffer!”
“That is his destiny. Remember, God drew on his head when he was born that he is going to marry Nina Thomas, grand daughter of Methran Thampi, and there is nothing you can do about it. So you don’t have to waste your energy worrying about that. Do you understand that Akkachi maharani?”
I pretended to be angry. Unfortunately my lips didn’t listen to me and slowly a smile started to form in the corner of my mouth and I quickly tried to close my mouth and bite my lips.
Nalla kapishinte montha!(you resemble kapish the monkey!), did you by any chance go near the printing press and showed your face? They must have copied your face, when they drew the monkey for the cartoon!”
“I am not a monkey.”
“Oh yes you are”.
“If I am a monkey, then you are a senior monkey. Akkachi monkey! One monkey can easily spot another monkey. Aha!”
“What is going on here?”. Akkachi and I turned around to see Amma standing in the kitchen. We didn’t even hear her enter the house.
“Nothing Chechy, I was just making some payasam.”
payasam? for what?”
Akkachi looked at me, silently asking me to help. I knew she can’t lie.
“Amma, It is Akkachi’s birthday today, so I suggested we will make some payasam”
Amma didn’t look too happy. She came to inspect the pot.
“Why did you have to make palpayasam?
I saw Amma looking at the empty milk pot.”You finished all the milk? Do you know how expensive milk is now? How could you do it?” Amma was enraged.
“Amma I asked Akkachi to make payasam. Don’t scream at her. It is her birthday for heaven’s sake!”
“She is older than you Nina, she should use that brain inside her head. She knows milk is expensive, if she wanted to cook payasam then she could have made Semia payasam. Semia requires very little milk.
“Sorry Amma, I didn’t know that”
We heard someone knocking our door and Amma went to open.
I peeped out of the door to see who it was
Aunty Reena and her family has come for a visit.
I could hear Amma, greeting them and asking them to have a seat.
“You came in the nick of time, Akkachi made excellent palpayasam.” Amma told them.
“Akkachi, why don’t you serve the paysam you made. Let Reena’s husband have some tasty payasam. I am sure he won’t get any payasam in Gulf!”
“Never mind Aunty, We only came to give you this. She handed Amma a small plastic bag. “Achachan brought this from Dubai for your children.”We haven’t visited anyone since he came, we have to visit others too, we will come someother day and have a meal here”.
‘Oh Jesus, Oh,Parumala thirumeni, please tell them to go, there is not enough payasam for all of them. Please help me, I don’t want to share my payasam‘ I prayed
“No such thing, you are not leaving till you tasted Akkachi’s payasam” Amma was insistent.
“Akkachi serve the payasam at the table”. Amma ordered
I saw Akkachi opening the shlef and taking the crystal bowls. She poured the payasam in to 6 bowls and placed then on the table.
‘there are only 5 people, so atleast I will get the 6th bowl’ I consoled myself
“Come have some palpayasam.” Amma invited them.
I watched silently as Aunty Reena, her husband, his mother and their daughters eating the payasam that was mine. Amma too joined them, savouring every bit of mine and Akkachi’s payasam. I watched Suma trying to use her finger and wipe the laast bit of payasam from her bowl
“Suma, that is disgusting. Where is your manners? Aunty Reena pulled the bowl from suma’s hands.
Liza and Sally came running inside, they saw everyone drinking payasam.
“Where is our payasam Amma?” They asked
“Go and ask Akkachi”
They ran to the kitchen screaming and asking for payasam
“Where is our payasam Akkachi?”
“Shh” Akkachi tried to hush them. “There is no more payasam“. They finsihed all the payasam. Akkachi pointed her fingers towards the dining room.
“I want payasam.” Liza started to cry. She was making a scene.
“shh..Stop crying, I will give you payasam. “
I wondered from where Akkachi is going to get the payasam, now that the 6th bowl is also gone.
I watched her mixing milk powder to water and pouring that in to the payasam pot. She scrapped the sides of the pot, added more sugar and poured it in to 2 steel glass and gave to my sisters. Akkachi placed the payasam pot in the sink.
I was angry and upset. Because I didn’t get even a drop of the payasam. I looked at Akkachi and told her
Athey, that line on our head, I think God only drew about making payasam for others and watching them drink it!.”

Clean & unclean

“Akkachi do you hate your mother?”
“No Nina, why do you ask that?”
I tried to think why I asked her that question
“Aren’t you upset that, you are working in my house as a maid,when you should be living in a palace as a true princess?”
“That is my destiny Nina.” She bend down and pointed the hair partition on her head. “See this line, God draws a line on your head when you are born and your destiny is fixed. You can’t do anything to change that!”
” Do I have a line on my head Akkachi?” I bend down and showed her my head.
“Of course you do!”
“What does my line say Akkachi”. She ran her fingers on my head lovingly
“hmm let me think.” Akkachi closed her eyes as though she is meditating.
I waited for her answer patiently, hoping that my destiny is going to be good
“Your destiny is going to be..”
“Going to be what?”
Aiyyo Nina, See you disturbed my trance. Now I lost my concentration. I can’t do it again.”
“Sorry Akkachi, Will you please try again and see what my destiny is?”
“Not today, may be someother day”
“Will I get married to a handsome guy?”
Aiyyeda you are only 11 and you are thinking of marriage already? Why Kochumaharani? Have you found someone already?”
“Go Akkachi, I didn’t find anyone. I am not that bad”.
“Hmm we will see”
Akkachi got up to switch on the iron. I helped her to hang the clothes in the hanger. I thought about Akkachi’s father
“Akkachi, have you ever seen your father?”
“When I was little, I did. He came to see us every few weeks. He loved my mother and me so much. He would bring clothes for me. Sometimes he would bring uniappam and payasam!. I still remember how one day he brought the palace teacher with him.”
“Why did he bring the palace teacher?”
“To start my vidyarambham* The teacher is supposed to make me sit on his lap and then do the ceremony. He refused to do that”.
“Because I am untouchable”
“Then what happend?”
“My father offered him a gold coin as payment. He agreed to do the ceremony. But he still refused to enter our house. So my father had to make me sit on his lap and sit on the door step. The teacher told me to open my mouth and stick my tongue out. He warned me not to close my mouth till he finished writing. He wrote on my tongue using the gold coin “hari sree ganapatheya nama” without touching the sides of my mouth. Then my father held my hand and made me write the hari sree ganapatheya nama on a plate of rice.
“Did the teacher take the gold coin?”
“Ofcourse he did. He washed it and placed it in his pouch”
I tried to understand the concept of clean and unclean. The teacher didn’t want to touch Akkachi, because Akkachi is born to a low caste woman, but the gold coin that touched Akkachi’s tongue is clean after washing it.

“Then what happend?”
” My father got married to a princess from another royal family.”
“How could he Akkachi? If he loved your mother, how could he get married to another person? Why did your mother not object?”
“Nina, my mother loved him knowing that she could never marry him. Love is like that.”
“Like what?”
“One day you will understand Nina.”
I didn’t understand. Why would you love someone, if you know you can never marry him? That was a silly thing to do.
“Then what happend Akkachi?”
“Don’t know Nina, he never came to visit us after that.”
“Did your mother ever go and find him? Is he alive still? Don’t you want to see him Akkachi?”
” No Nina. He belongs to another family.”
“But he is still your father”
I saw tears welling up in Akkachi’s eyes.
“I am sorry Akkachi, I didn’t want to make you cry. Please forgive me. You have me Akkachi. I love you more than anything else. Please don’t cry Akkachi”. I pleaded and begged.
I gave her a tight hug.
Akkachi wiped the tears off from her face using her blouse sleeves.
“You know something Nina, I haven’t had payasam for a long time, Come let us make some payasam.”
“What are you going to tell Amma, when she asks you why you made payasam?”
“Hmm, that is going to be a problem”. Akkachi responded
I desperately wanted Akkachi to have some payasam. I thought of all the possible excuses. We make payasam to celebrate festivals, weddings and birthdays. I knew suddenly how I can help Akkachi
“Birthday Akkachi, tell Amma today is your birthday”
“But my birthday is in November!”
“Does Amma know that?”
“Then I, Methran Thampi’s grand daughter decalre that today is your birthday.” I stretched my hand across and proclaimed like a queen.” Now don’t just stand there, come along, let us make some palpayasam“.
I dragged Akkachi’s hand and went to the kitchen.

*vidyarambham: Traditionally children between the age of 3 and 7 are introduced to formal learning on an auspicious day, where the priest/learned scholar will write on the tongue of the child”hari sree ganapatheya nama”, followed by the child writing the same on a plate of rice.


“Would you like to learn how to play the piano?” Achakuttichayan asked me
“Ofcourse, I would love to”. ‘I always wanted to learn to play the piano’.
“Ok, then come every monday and friday at 5 pm for lessons. Bring a 5 lined note book too.”
I was thrilled thinking about the piano lessons starting tomorrow evening. I was glad that I didn’t run away from the church when everyone was laughing at my gooseberries.

Achakuttichayan asked me to sit with the girls in the soprano section. I looked around me. There were about 15 girls in the soprano section. Some of the older girls were snickering and nudging each other. I knew they were laughing at me. ‘Too bad if you can see my breast. I have nothing that you don’t have’. I told myself.

When I went back home, Amma has already gone to ‘just over there’. Akkachi was busy ironing my clothes. She had placed my blanket on the floor and used it as a makeshift ironing board. I sat next to her on the floor.
“Akkachi, I am going to learn how to play the piano”
“What is a piano Nina?”
Aiyyo Akkachi don’t you know what is a piano?”
“No, I don’t”
“It is the huge thingy that is often placed near the altar, How come you have never seen it?”
“I have never been to a church Kochumaharani”
“How come?”
“You never took me Kochumaharani.”
“You never said you want to come to the church with me, Akkachi Maharani!”
“One day I will play the piano at the church, that day you will come with me to church and watch me playing. Agreed?” I looked at her trying to see her response
“Agreed Kochumaharani, but there is one small problem, People at the church may not be happy to see a low caste pariah hindu woman attending the church.”
“What is Pariah Akkachi?”
“huh? Explain Akkachi, instead of speaking in riddles.”
“I am a low caste untouchable woman, Nina”
“No you are not, Amma told me your father is a brahmin. Then how can you be a low caste?”
“It is a long story Nina.”
“Tell me the story”
“Not now Nina, I will tell you the story one day.”
“Akkachi, please Akkachi, tell me the story, I promise I will be a good girl.”
Akkachi looked at me
“Promise me you will never tell anyone this story.”
“I promise”
I made a hook with my index finger and Akkachi did the same with her right hand index finger. We linked our index fingers, signing that we would never break our promise. Akkachi switched off the iron and stretched her legs and leaned on the wall.
“The story started in a slum many moons ago. A beautiful baby girl was born to a poor family. Her mother and father used to work as labourers for the royal family. They took their daughter with them when they went to work in the fields.”
“Then what happend?” I was too eager to find out
“patience Nina, irikunnathinu mumpe kalu neettathe!( Don’t try to stretch your legs even before you sit down, you will fall and break your bones!!)
“Ok, Ok, I won’t stretch my legs, now tell me”
“The kochu thamburan (youngest prince of the royal family) was also her age. When no one was looking, they used to play together. He even taught her how to read”
“Why couldn’t they play when everyone was looking”
Aiyyo Kochumaharani, she is a low caste girl, he is an upper caste brahmin. They can’t play together. That is unthinkable.”
“But both of them are human, Akkachi! There is no difference.”
“true Nina, but the rules are rules.”
“Then it is a stupid rule”
“May be.”
“Then what happend?”
“The girl grew up to be a beautiful maiden and the kochuthamburan fell in love with her. They both knew, they could never live together. But their love was strong and eventually she got preganant.”
“How did she get preganant?”
“When you fall in love, you will get preganant!”
“Really!” Akkachi nodded her head.
I made a mental note, never to fall in love with anyone. I didn’t want to get pregnant.
“The prince couldn’t marry her, her parents didn’t want her. They were ashamed that their unmarried daughter is preganant. They threw her out of the house.”
“Did her parents really do that? How can parents do such a thing Akkachi?”
“Don’t know Nina.”
“What did the girl do? What happend to the baby?”
“The girl didn’t have any money, so she became a nishashalabham(night butterfly)
“What happend to the baby she gave birth to?” I looked at Akkachi, suddenly I understood. ” Akkachi, that baby girl is you, right?”
“Right Nina”. Akkachi nodded her head.