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?”
“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”
“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
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.