sacrificial lamb

Amma didn’t even call me to eat food that day. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t believe me. I thought of the all the incidents that happend after we were introduced to him. I thought of the times Amma hit me. Then I remembered the time she slapped me.
I had to go for French tuition in Kalathipady junction which was 2o minutes away from where I lived. My tuition was from 5.30 to 6.30pm. There was only one bus from Kalathipady to Kottayam at 6.45pm. The next bus was at 7.30 pm. I always made sure that, I wouldn’t miss the 6.45pm bus, because towards night, there are more men travel by bus than woman and it isn’t safe.
That day, my tuition teacher was celebrating her son’s birthday.
“Nina stay for few minutes and eat the cake before you go” She told me after the lessons
“No, Madam, I will miss the bus and I will be late”
“Nina, there is a bus at 7.15 pm and I will wait with you at the bus stand”
I couldn’t resist a piece of cake and I stayed back and took the 7.15 pm bus. There were hardly any female passengers in the bus and all the women’s only seats were occupied by men. some of them were whistling at me and passing rude jokes. I was so angry with myself for staying back, just to eat a piece of cake, instead of leaving on time.
I was relieved when the bus reached Collectorate junction. When I was geetting down from the bus, I saw Amma standing there. I was so happy to see her. Amma came towards me and slapped me infront of everyone at the bus stand and asked me
“Where were you till now?”
I didn’t understand why she slapped me. Everyone around us was looking at me.
“I went for my french tuition Amma” I spoke indignantly
“Really? Amma sniffed around my body “Then why does your hair smell cigarette smoke?”
I didn’t know why my hair smelled of cigarette. I didn’t smoke. I tried to explain to her about the birthday party at the teacher’s house. Amma didn’t listen and she pulled my hand and dragged me home. If Amma got upset with me then, why didn’t she trust me now? Then it occured to me, I am the sacrificial lamb. I was my mother’s offering to her god.
I wanted to teach her a lesson. Wait till the morning. I will teach her a lesson. I knew what I am going to do.
When I woke up in the morning, my head was hurting, yet I was calm. This was my day to teach Amma a lesson. I wrote a letter to my father. I wrote only one sentence.
‘You were never there, when I needed you”
I wrote another letter to Sally
“Whatever happend to me, you were never at fault. I want you to study and do well in life” I didn’t want my baby sister to think that she was in anyway responsible for what happend to me.
I had nothing to write to Liza or Maria. I kept both the letters in the drawer, between all my college notes. I knew Amma would go through my notes, the moment I am out of the house. She thinks that I am hiding some state secret and systematically goes through my personal items. I didn’t want her to find the letters today. I wanted her to find the note tomorrow, by then it will be too late. I wanted her heart to cry, that she didn’t get a letter from me.
My classes starts at 9.30 AM and I got ready as usual. I didn’t bother to say bye to Amma. I walked out, with my head held high. Today, Methran Thambi’s grand daughter will have the last laugh. I walked past the parade ground, past the lawyers offices. Normally, I should take left to go to my college. Today I took the right. I walked down the road, pass the MT seminary school. There was an immense satisfaction knowing that I could punish my mother in the most beautiful way. I could see her pretend tears, her crocodile tears.

When I reached the railway station, I looked for the auto driver who sang the kannade nee enne song the last time I was there. I wanted him to be the part of the farewell. I thought of him saying sadly
Ayyoda, ethiney alley njan annu kaliakkiye. Kashtam, pavam kochu”

He wasn’t there. I laughed at my own stupidity thinking about the odds in finding an auto driver among all the auto drivers in Kottayam. Some train had arrived and there were absolute chaos infront of the station. I saw a man getting out of the auto and helping his mother to get out. She wore white chatta and mundu.I watched him asking the porter
Chetta, Did Jayanthi arrive already?”
“Aiyyo Mone, Jayanthi is about to leave now. Run along. Don’t waste your time to buy the ticket. Tell the TTE (travelling ticket examiner) that you didn’t get time to buy the ticket and he would understand”
“Ammachi va(come)” I watched the man holding his mother’s hand and walking quickly. I too followed. I too have an Ammachi, even if she doesn’t want me, she never ceases to be my Ammachi.
It was the first time in my life, I travelled without a ticket. I was petrified. I thought of all the possible excuses I would give the TTE. I found a seat and I sat down. from where I sat, I could see the connecting door that connects one bogie to another. I kept looking at the door to see if the TTE is coming. Everytime a tea/coffee seller came through the connecting door, my heart missed a beat.

Finally when the train reached Chengannur station, I was the first passenger out. I still had one obstacle. The dreaded ticket collector. There were many passengers near the entrance. I smiled at the ticket collector and told him
“My Amma is waiting behind the queue with the tickets. I am going to get an auto”
he nodded his head and I ran out holding my heart in my hand. I had no money to take a bus, so I walked, past Ammachi’s and mine favourite parippuvada shop near the corner of the main road and railway station road. Chengannur hasn’t changed a bit in the last 6 years. I wondered what Ammachi would say, when she sees me. When I reached the junction near my home, I looked for Mathai Chettan. There was no sign of him. I loooked at the thattukada(corner shop) to see if Mathai Chettan is sleeping infront of the shop. The man who runs the shop came out, when he saw me. He was staring at me and I smiled at him. There was no way Unnichettan would forget me, after all I am the one who asked him for peda pazham, When he said, there are no more poovanpazham.
“Nina, is that you?”
I smiled and nodded my head.
“Did you get any peda pazham?”
“Go, Unnichetta, Stop teasing me”
“Why didn’t you come home all these days? Your Ammachi never stopped talking about you”
“I am home Unnichetta, I am finally home.”
I couldn’t wait to meet my Ammachi.
“I will see you later Unnichetta” I ran down the slope, where Appa used to hold me. I tried to see if I could spot a bit of the thatched roof of my home. I couldn’t.

Did all the uncles hug their nieces like this? That was the biggest question I had. I wanted to speak to someone. But there was no one to speak to. Maria was laying down in the bed and reading a novel. I wanted to ask her, so I sat up in my bed. I tried to think of a way, I could ask Maria, if my uncle’s behaviour is normal or not? Would she laugh at me, like the time she laughed at me, when I got my periods the first time? I didn’t know anything about periods and I thought I had cancer. Maria and Amma laughed at me so much, when I went to them crying and saying I had cancer. I am tired of everyone laughing at me and calling me buddumas(ignoramus).
Maria got up to adjust her pillows and she saw me looking at her.
“What are you staring at me for?”
I wanted so badly to tell her what is bothering me. I just couldn’t. Maria was not the type of sister you could discuss your problems with.
“Nothing”. I went back to bed.
When I woke up in the morning, I knew what I would do. I will make sure, I am not alone with Acha. It was a simple and neat plan.
When I went to the dining room to eat my breakfast, everything was normal
“Had a good sleep Nina?” Acha asked. He was looking at me and smiling kindly.
“Yes, I did. Thank you” I responed. I didn’t understand anything anymore. I was so confused. I wish I had a best friend, whom I could ask, how does a normal uncle behave. I so very badly wanted to go back to Kerala. My house in Kerala even without all the fancy trimmings was a safe haven.

We were leaving on saturday evening. Normally the driver drops us to Bangalore railway station. This time Acha said he would drop us to the station as he was going to Chickamagalore. I counted the hours to go back home. Before leaving Amma still had shopping to do.
“Why don’t you and Maria go for shopping?” Acha asked Amma.
I wanted to go too, not because I wanted to shop, but I was safe with my mother and sister
“Can I come too?” I asked Amma
“Nina, stay here with your sisters and help me to pack the bags”
“No Amma, I want to come with you” I pleaded.
“Come on Nina, stop being a pest” Maria spoke
Why don’t you people understand that I don’t want to be alone with Acha. I wanted the words to come out. But it didn’t. I watched the car leaving with my only security in this world. The gates of the hell was closed and I was still inside. I consoled myself as I had my younger sisters.
“Liza and Sally, come and help me to pack the bags” I ordered and quickly went to the bedroom. Acha was watching us and I knew, he won’t touch me infront of my sisters.
I finished packing all the bags and I wanted to bath before we leave.
“Liza and Sally, I am going to have my bath. You guys are going to stay here. Till I come out of the shower, don’t move from here”
“Ok Nina” Liza agreed
“You guys understand right? You will not move from here till I come out of the shower”
“Yes Nina, we understood” Liza sounded annoyed
I went confidentally for my shower, knowing that I am safe, if my sisters are outside the door. I was actually proud of my intelligence.
I must have taken the fastest shower I have ever taken in my life, because I was also worried about leaving my sisters alone outside. I quickly got dressed and opened the door.
My sisters were not in the room, but he was there. His eyes were twinkiling and the look on his face, that haunts me to this day.

“You tell your mother, I will kill both of you” That was his parting words. I was numb. I couldn’t think any more. I walked out of the room and found my sisters. They were cycling outside
“Liza and Sally.. Didn’t I tell you not to leave the room till I come out of the shower?” I was so mad at them, I wanted to kill both of them.
“Your sister is jealous because I didn’t get a bicycle for her” He was still smiling kindly.
I sat down on the step, I watched my mother and sister returning. They must have been blind, because they didn’t see the dry tears in my eyes, or perhaps they too were playing the same game and it was normal for them. I watched Amma asking Acha
“Where did you get the bicycles?”
“Across the street. They rent bicycles in one of the shops there. I thought, they might as well learn to bicycle”
On the way back to Bangalore in his car, I wasn’t sure who I was. The Nina I knew was dead. This was somebody else. I felt like a stranger to myself. There was an emptiness, that I couldn’t understand anymore. But I knew, come what may, I will tell my mother about her wonderful brother. I couldn’t speak to her in the train as there were other passengers. When the train reached Kottayam, I counted the seconds before I could reach home. The auto was struggling up the hill from the railway station. I wanted to kill the driver for going slow. When we reached our home, Amma was taking a long time to open the door.
“Give me the key” I yelled.
Amma looked at me stunned. I snatched the key from her hands and opened the door. The house was dusty and smelled terrible.
“Oh god, it will take me the whole day to clean and get this house back in order” I heard Amma speaking. I wanted to tell her, but Liza and Sally were with me. I watched Amma going to the kitchen, she took the broom from behind the kitchen door and I followed her. Like a dam the burst the wall, I told my mother everything that happend to me in Mysore. Amma still had the broom in her hand, she came towards me.
“How dare you lie Nina” She started to hit me
“Do you know what that man has done for us?” Do you know if it wasn’t for him, I would have killed myself many years ago? You arrogant bitch, you still wear the bangles he bought for you and speak ill of a man who did so much for you?”
Maria must have heard Amma screaming and she ran to the kitchen. Amma must have told her what I said about him. because Maria too started to hit me.
“You liar, you are jealous that he gave me so much of stuff? How can you lie like this? Where did you learn to speak like this? My god Nina, how low can you sink?”
I don’t remember when they finished hitting me. After a certain period, it stopped paining. I went to my room and shut the door. That is when I noticed the bangle in my hand. I sat down on the ground and hit the ground with my arm. Most of the bangles broke, except two stubborn ones. I hit and hit, till they broke in to pieces. My hand was bleeding. But it didn’t hurt. I knew I would never wear a bangle ever in my life, my hands didn’t deserve bangles.

games powerful people play

That night after Maria’s birthday party, Amma was in a bad mood. She was yelling at us for every single thing. The only way to escape the trouble was to sleep and I tucked my sisters to bed and I went to bed. It was very cold outside. From my window I could see the moon shining. I tried to find the stars Appa has shown me, when I was little. Why couldn’t my father be like Acha? It is not that we don’t have money! Appa for sure earns more than Acha. I was tired of blaming my destiny for all the unhappiness in my life. Maria and I are born in the same family, yet Maria gets everything and I get nothing. Why am I so unlucky. I hoped atleast in the future, I would be happy. I so very badly wanted to find someone who would love me and care for me the same way Acha treats Maria. I hoped one day my father would come back and we will have a normal family. I dreamed of the day, I would meet someone who would celebrate my birthday with a cake. Ever since Akkachi left, no one ever baked a birthday cake for me. I wanted a white cake with pink rose flowers.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up with a shock. I could hear someone yelling and people running. I looked around me and everything was dark. It took me sometime to find my bearings and realize that I am in Mysore. The first thing I thought was my sisters. I got up from the bed and went to check on Maria. Her bed was empty, I ran to my sisters room. Liza was sound asleep. Sally was sitting on the bed and crying
“What is going on Nina? Why is everyone screaming? I am scared Nina.”
“Don’t worry Sally. I am here”. I hugged her. I could hear my heart going dub dub dub.
“Wait here Sally. I will go and see what is going on”
“Nina, please don’t go. I am scared” Sally was crying
“I will come now. I need to know what is going on”. I was worried about Maria and my mother. I pushed Sally’s hand from my hand and walked out. My heart was beating so fast, I thought I would die. I tried to think of all the ways I can protect myself from gunshots. I listened for the sounds and slowly opened the door to the living room. I was too scared to go out. What if Acha is standing there in the living room with his gun pointed to our door and waiting for me to come out? What if he had already killed Maria and Amma? Is he going to kill my sisters and me too? I suddenly felt so stupid to have opened the door. I shouldn’t have opened the door. I was trying to see what I should do next and I heard Amma speaking to Acha. Phew! I was glad that Amma is alive and I slowly walked in to the living room.

From the living room, what I saw was unbelievable. The most powerful man after the chief minister in Bangalore was jumping up and down on his bed, holding a gun and screaming
“what is going on?” I asked
“Nothing, you go back to bed” Amma yelled.
I had no intention of going back to bed. I watched Amma telling Acha
“Come on, you must have imagined the cockroach. There is no cockroach any where in this house”
“No. I saw it crawling under bed” screamed my unlce waving the gun and all of us took few steps back wards. It took me a few minutes to realize that my wonderful powerful uncle is scared of cockroaches. I wanted to laugh, but my uncle still had the gun. I watched the security guard bringing in the ridsect spray. My mother finally convinced Acha to get down from his bed.
Amma turned around and saw me
“What are you standing there for? Didn’t I tell you to go back to bed?” She screamed. I quickly closed the door and went back to Sally’s room.
“What is going on Nina?” Sally asked me
“You won’t believe it! Acha is scared of cockroaches!”
“really? Is that why he was screaming?” Sally asked me
“yep.. He was standing on the bed, with his gun in his hand and screaming. I think he was going to shoot the cockaroach”
Sally and I laughed so much.

Things are never the way you think they are. The place that I thought would be my home was beginning to be my jail. One evening while everyone was sitting down for dinner, Acha asked me
“Nina, can you get me my pills. It is on the right side of my bed table”. I was glad that Acha asked me for help. I was very jealous of Maria getting all the attention. Maria didn’t look pleased that Acha asked me to get his medicine and said.
“I can get the medicine for you Acha” and Maria got up from the chair.
“Maria, I asked Nina for help. You will help when I ask you” Acha spoke.
Wow! He stood up for me. I so very badly wanted to stick my tongue at Maria. I knew I would get in to trouble, if I did that infront of Acha, so I walked towards the room and just when I reached the door I turned around and stuck my tongue out.
“She stuck her tongue at me” Maria screamed.
“No I didn’t” I quickly walked in to Acha’s room. There were 2 bedside tables on either side of his bed. I couldn’t find the pill box on either side. I was just about to go out and ask Acha where he kept the medicines and I heard him speaking
aiyyo Your sister is blind as a bat. Look how long she takes to get the medicne. I am sure she doesn’t even know what is a bed side table!”
Maria was laughing and I was mad. I knew what is a bed side table and there is no medicine box anywhere on either side of the table. I marched out fuming and I bumped in to Acha near the door. He was grinning and he started to hug me. It didn’t feel normal. I started to push him and the more I struggled, the more stronger he became. Eventually he let go of me. He was still grinning and he spoke
bodoh, the medicine is there, see, on the bedside table” I was breathless, angry and upset. I watched my uncle walking to his cupboard and taking the medicines out of the cupboard. I suddenly understood, this is a totally different game and I have no idea, what are the rules. I wanted to tell Amma, what Acha did to me, but I also knew my mother.

mother to daughter

We were leaving Mysore on saturday morning. Before we left I saw Amma going to the garden and taking seeds and seedlings to plant in our house in Kottayam. I don’t know why, but I felt angry.
Although I know she only took few seeds and plants, to me, her actions were sacrilegeous. She was desecrating my Acha’s garden. I so very badly wanted to tell her to leave Acha’s garden alone, but between the two of us, I didn’t know, who Acha belonged.
As the driver started to drive, I watched the guard opening the door and the moment we crossed the gate, he locked up the gate again. I wasn’t sure, when the gate would open for me again, But I knew deep in my heart, this is home and I will be back.
Within 2 days after coming back home, we got a new telephone connection. I thought of my father. I could write to him and tell him our new number. But then I thought, why should I bother? He doesn’t want me. Anyway I have Acha now. A new father, better than the original.
Acha started calling everyday evening at 7 pm. All of us would crowd around the phone to speak to him.
“Amma, Can I speak to Acha first? Maria gets to speak to him first everyday” I asked Amma
“Oh, Nina, what difference does it make?”
I couldn’t explain to her, what difference does it make. Initially Maria spoke for 5 minutes and then gave the phone to me. As the days passed, she was speaking to him for hours and I was tired to wait for my turn. I couldn’t understand, why Acha never asks for me. Why Maria gets everything? All I ever wanted was for someone to love me. Maria gets my mother’s love, uncle George adores her, Tante Ida adores her, now Acha also loves her more than me. Why don’t anyone love me? Why am I so unlucky?
Ammachi used to love me, but then she didn’t want me anymore, Akkachi loved me and she went off without even saying a bye to me. There was nobody for me. I had absolutely no one to love me.

We went back to Mysore during Christmas holidays. I thought I would feel excited. But I didn’t. The last 2 months, Acha never once asked for me or spoke to me. I couldn’t make Acha love me. Maria was the lucky one.

Acha send the driver to pick us up from Bangalore railway station. On the way the driver asked us, if we wanted to eat something
“No, we don’t want to waste time. Just hurry up” Maria sounded annoyed.
I was hungry and my sister didn’t even bother to ask, if I wanted to eat anything. Nobody ever think of me.
As the car pulled up the drive way, I saw Acha waiting for us near the main door. I watched Maria running to him and then jumping up and down screaming”Oh my goodness, Oh my goodness”
What is going on? I walked up to the main entrance. There was a huge banner in the living room written”Happy Birthday Maria”
I looked at Acha and Amma. it didn’t make sense to me, Maria’s birthday is in November.I watched Acha holding Maria’s hand and going inside the house. He didn’t even say Hello to me.
I heard him telling Maria,”I wanted to surprise you, although it is 7 weeks late”
On the dining table there was a beautifully wrapped gift. Acha gave the gift to chechy and told her
“Go on, open it”
I watched Maria opening the pink colour wrapping paper. Inside, there was the most beautiful Binny Silk* saree. Turquoise blue saree with navy blue border. There was also a matching blue blouse.
“Go wear it” Acha ordered
Maria ran to the room to change. I watched Acha signalling to the maid and her bringing a new gift and placing it on the table. I was jealous of Maria. Nobody ever gave me a birthday gift and she is getting 2 gifts on the same day.

When Maria came out of the room, she looked exquisite. The name kochumaharani (little princess) fitted her more than me.
Maria saw the new gift on the table. She looked at Acha and said
“Oh Acha, you shouldn’t have bought all these”
“Open it” Acha ordered again
I watched Maria opening the wrapping paper. Inside the gift box, there were 2 blue jewellery boxes. Maria opened the first one.
“Oh my goodness, Oh my goodeness! Amma see this” She ran towards Amma to show her. I craned my neck to look. Acha gave her a complete set of turquoise(semi precious stone) jewellery. There was a chain, 4 bangles and a pair of earrings.
Maria opened the other blue box, it had a pearl set.
“Maria, these are real pearls. You have to take good care of them. You see this cloth?” Acha opened the box and showed her a piece of silk cloth.
“You have to wipe the pearls clean, each time, after you wore the pearls, or the sweat will discolour the pearls”
“Do you know why I gave you 2 sets of jewellery” Acha asked her
Maria shook her head
“When you wear the saree in the morning, wear the pearl jewellery. It looks more sophisticated. At night, when you go for a party wear the turquoise jewellery. By changing the accessories, you can change the way you look”
“You didn’t have to buy all these” Amma didn’t sound too happy.
Acha ignored Amma
I heard someone singing Happy Birthday and I turned to look. The maid was bringing in the birthday cake. Everyone started to sing. The maid kept the cake on the table. I watched her lighting 24 candles. The cake had the same colour icing as Chechy’s saree. I watched Acha holding Maria’s hand to cut the cake. Chechy gave the first piece to Acha. I looked at my mother. She had hatred in her eyes and I felt sorry for my mother.

*Binny Silk: In the mid 80’s, Binny silk sarees were very popular in Kerala. It was ‘the’ saree to wear for weddings. Most had, the mustard yellow saree with navy blue border.


After my riding lessons I came home to find Maria and Amma discussing with Acha. I don’t trust my mother when it comes to making a decision. So I sat outside in the verandah, pretending to read the paper, so I could hear what they are talking. I know, Maria has already received 2 offer from the companies that came to her University for campus interview.
“What is your plan, Maria?” Acha asked her
“I want to go to US to study. I want to do master’s degree”
“That is a good idea” Acha agreed
‘phew!, I was relieved. I felt I don’t have to stick around and listen to the rest of the conversation. Anyway, Acha is well educated. He will make the right choices. I got up from the chair and I heard
“Would your father be supporting you financially?” Acha asked
“I don’t know!” Maria was not sure.
“You can’t got to US without any financial security Maria. It is not like India, where you can survive even with 1000RS/month. You need money for your books, accomodation, transport, even winter cloths. If you are not sure of your father’s financial help, then you are taking a big risk”
“What do you think Mary? Do you think he will send her money?” Acha asked Amma
“That man? He will rather, his daughters starve and die than spend money on their education”
It hurt, when Amma speak like that about my father. I know Appa can be mean. But he is my father and I wished Amma will stop speaking so badly about my father.
“Why don’t you work in India for couple of years, save money and then go to US”
“Maria, I think, That is a splendid idea” Amma spoke.
“I don’t know!” Maria answered. “All my friends are going to US and Uncle Geroge is there in New York. I am sure, if I need any help, he will certainly help me!”
“George? Our Dr. George? That henpecked doctor? Oh Maria, He needs his wife’s permission to pee!. I stayed with them, when I went to New York. I don’t know how he lives with that woman. She is the one who wears pant in their house and there is no way, she will give you money. She is so stingy. When I was there in september, she decided they will observe the 8 day lent. You know why?” Acha asked chechy
“no” Chechy shook her head
“Because, they didn’t want to cook meat!. Meat is expensive!. I had kanji and payaru(porridge) everyday for dinner! They never even go to church, because she doesn’t want to put money in the offertory and imagine them observing the lent!” “Besides, how are you going to cope with racism?”
“What racism?” Chechy asked
“Don’t you know, they target Asian woman there? I saw it myself. This Indian lady, wearing saree and pottu, was walking down the road. Two punks came and pushed her off the pavement in to the road. She missed the front wheel of the bus by a millimeter”
“How can they do that? Why did they do that?
“Well, they think the Indians are taking all their jobs, which is true in a way. They don’t like Indians. They call them ABCD’s”
“ABCD’s? What is that?” Maria asked
“American Born Confused Desi” Acha was laughing.
I wish I knew this earlier, then I could have called my cousins ABCD, when they called me Turkey.
“Then what happend?” Maria asked Acha
“You mean to the lady?” Acha asked her
“Yes”Maria nodded her head
” No one bothered to help her. Everyone is afraid of the punks. Eventually, the driver of the bus had to get down and help her to get up. She was bleeding from the wound in her head. So the driver called 911 and the ambulance came to take her to the hospital”
“What about the punks?”
“Who knows, they just ran away. The cops over there, protect their own kind!”
I didn’t know racism was that bad in US. I didn’t want anyone to hurt my big sister.
“Tell you what Maria, why don’t you join my company? Work for me for couple of years and I will get the company to send you to US on full scholorship”

‘Wow!. Full scholorship! I was happy for Maria. Finally she gets everything she wanted. She is safe in Acha’s company and in a few years, she will go to US’

Friday evening I watched the maid packing Acha’s bags
“Why are you packing his bag?” I asked her
“He is going home to Chickamagalore today!”
I watched the maid packing new sarees and salwars that Acha bought for his wife and daughter.
Only then I realized, he does have another family. Much as I wanted, he isn’t my father. He is somebody’s father. I couldn’t understand, why everybody else gets everything better and I am the only one who gets the crumbs under the table.

How far is worst?

My appointment at the hospital was at 9 AM. Amma and Acha came with me. As I entered the hospital, I felt terminally ill. There were 6 doctors attending to me.
One doctor in white coat asked me
“Can you walk? do you need a wheel chair?”
I looked at my mother, because I got so worried. I thought may be there is something really wrong with me. May be I have cancer and that is why Amma bought me here. Except for occasional fever and running nose, I wasn’t sick at all. Then I remembered the ear infection I had some months ago. Was that a sign of cancer? Is that why she brought me here? Am I dying? Is that why Acha is nice to me?
Amma looked at me angrily, because I didn’t answer the doctor who asked me if I needed a wheel chair.
“No, she is fine. She is a little bit shy” Amma spoke on my behalf. The moment the doctor turned his back, my mother screetched in Malay
“Can’t you bloody answer the doctor? Must you be so dumb?”
I didn’t answer back. I hoped Acha would understand me. He too didn’t say anything.
I had three tests for hearing. I wasn’t worried about the results. I knew I am deaf and there is nothing could be done about it. The chief consultant came with all my tests results. I watched him explaining to Amma and Acha my tests results. When he finished all the explanations I asked him
“Will I be able to do medicine?”
I could see the disbelief in my mother’s face. Her deaf and dumb and blind daughter wants to do medicine!. She gave me ‘How stupid can anyone get’ kind of look. I ignored her.
The doctor looked at me and at my audiogram report. He smiled at me and spoke
” You can be a doctor Nina. You are only deaf in 2 frequency ranges. You won’t hear a phone ringing or a car honking, but you will be able to hear a heartbeat using a stethoscope. God has been kind to you!”
I nodded my head and said”Thank you”.
As we left the hospital Acha spoke to me
“I didn’t know you want to do medicine”
“She is like her father, always wants things you can’t get and then cry like the wolf who couldn’t eat the grapes and said it is sour. She just deosn’t know to dream about achievable dreams!” Amma spoke
“Mary, if she wants to do medicine, let her. She can chose what she wants to do in her life”
That was the moment, I promised, I will never forget Acha for the rest of my life. Acha was the first person in my life, who stood up for me and I loved him more than anything else. I felt I owe my life to him.

In the evening we went to the Mysore gardens to watch the dancing lights. While everyone stood to watch, someone got chairs for us to sit inside the barricaded area. I could see people pointing to us and saying
I felt so important. I sat on my chair with my feet tucked neatly under the chair and my hands folded on my lap. I had to act dignified, not the dookkily malayalee from Kerala.

I was awaken in the morning by the maid with a cup of earl grey tea brewed to perfection.
“Madam, your riding instructor is waiting for you outside.”
I looked at Maria who was drinking her tea and reading the paper and asked her
“What riding instructor?”
“We are going to learn horseback riding Nina”
“Really?” I couldn’t beleive it.
“Yes really, the instructor is bringing all our stuff today. Acha ordered brand new breeches, boots and helmets for us”
I loved Acha. He was the best thing that ever happend to me.

guns and roses

“What is the only thing you really want? Acha asked us.”Sally, you are the youngest and you get the first chance.”
I watched Sally’s face beaming with joy. Sally spend the least amount of time with Appa compared to all four of us. I was happy for my baby sister. She finally gets to feel the love and affection of a father.
“I want a new school bag, new shoes and crayons” replied Sally
“What about you Liza?” Acha asked her
“I want a new dress”
I knew I have to tell Acha next, what I really wanted. I thought of all the things I wanted. New dress?New shoes? Then I remembered.
“Bangles!. I want green colour glass bangles”
“Ok. What about you Maria?” Acha asked her
“Silver anklets. I always wanted a silver anklet.”
“Me too” I spoke. When Appa came home last time, I begged him to buy me a silver anklett. He said it is a waste of money.
“Well, Nina, you already made your choice. You said you wanted glass bangles and you will get that.”
I couldn’t get it. How could my sister be so smart and me so dumb? Why did I choose bangles, of all the possible things that I could get? I was angry with myself, for being so stupid.
We went to the town to shop. On the way, Acha pointed the Mysore palace. The silhouette of the palace was lit with thousands of lights and the whole palace stood out magnificiently in the middle of nowhere.
“Who can guess how many bulbs they have used for lighting the palace?” Acha asked us
“I don’t know” Sally spoke
“1000?” Liza answered
“10.000” I said
“30, 000” Maria replied
oh pinney, 30,000!. You must be joking. How can anyone put 30,000 bulbs to light a place. I was pretty sure, there would be maximum of 10,000 lights. I waited for my uncle to announce the winner.
“None of you got it right. There are more than 95,000 bulbs”
I looked at the palace again. I just couldn’t believe there were that much of lights.
“Tomorrow, you guys can visit the palace and watch the bands practicing for the Dasera parade”
“What is Dasera parade?” Maria asked.
“You mean, you don’t know?” Acha asked chechy
She shook her head and said “No”
“What did you guys learn in school?” He sounded irritated
I wanted to tell him, I learned about 2 trains travelling from A to B, and which one reached faster. But I kept quiet
“Do you guys know, how Mysore got its name?”
Normally I would have been the first to answer when it comes to the stories behind names. But Puthenveetil Thangamma, w/o Methran Thambi too didn’t know the story behind Mysore.
None of us answered and Acha asked the driver something in Kannada.
He too shook his head
I assumed even the driver didn’t know the story.
“Long ago, a buffallo headed demon named Mahisha ruled this land. He prayed to Brahma and was granted his wish, that ‘he would only die in the hand of a woman’. Mahisha knew he is invincible and started to terrorise the people, even the gods were not spared. Finally, goddess Parvathy, who is Lord Siva’s wife heard the prayers of the people and was born as Durga and killed the buffallo headed demon. This is the ooru(home/place) of Mahisha and it was called Mahishur, which later became Mysore. It took Goddess Durga 10 days to slain Mahisha and Dasera is celebrated every year, for 10 days to remember that goodness always win over the evil”
I was impressed. I knew another story to tell Ammachi. Then I thought of life in Chengannur house. No electricity in the evenings, working in the farm, cleaning the cattle shed every morning.. Compared to all that, right now I live like a real princess. I was ashamed of my own back ground. I didn’t want to be the Nina Thomas from Puthenveetil house. I wanted to be the Nina Thomas from Mysore.

Acha bought me 2 dozens of green glass bangles. I wore 6 on each hand and saved the rest. I kept moving my hand to hear the bangles making the sound. I was so happy. We went to eat dinner at the Ananthavihar restaurent. By the time we finished eating dinner, I was tired. I watched my uncle telling something to the driver and him opening the glove compartment of the car. I saw him taking out something. I watched in horror as my uncle took out a revolver from the brown holder and checking it
“You have a gun?” I asked him
“For protection”
I looked at him, hoping he would explain. Why does he need a gun?
“Nina, We are going up Chamundi hills. I want to show you guys, the city from the top of the hills and the best time to view the city is in the night. Unfortunately, there used to be some highway robbers there earlier and I just want to make sure, we are safe”
I didn’t want to be safe with a gun. I couldn’t understand anything anymore. My father never carried a gun and I was safe without one till now. Does it mean that, everyone who works for my uncle carries a gun? Does the driver too carry a gun? What am I getting myself in to?


“We have reached home” Announced my uncle.
Home? I looked outside. Unaka kolli (Goodness gracious),This isn’t home, this is a mansion.
The house was a colonial building with a tall pointed roof, walls were painted yellow and windows were painted blue. There was a beautiful garden with lots of roses and so many other plants, I have never seen before. The best part of all was the pond in the middle of the garden with a fountain from a statue of a woman holding a pot. I hoped there would be fish in the pond.
I watched the guard opening the gate and standing in attention and saluting. My uncle just nodded his head. The driver got out of the car first and ran to the other side to open the door for my uncle.
‘Why can’t he just open the door by himself?’ I couldn’t understand all these formalities. I wanted to open the door and get out, but Amma was on one side and Maria was on the other side and both waited for the driver to open the door. Suddenly,my poor humble family became very posh and formal. I was irritated with my mother and my sister. Till yesterday, they travelled in public bus and now they can’t even open a car door.
I got out of the car and walked towards the main entrance.There was a plaque on the wall near the main. I started to read it, while everyone was busy getting the luggage out. The house was built by some British guy in 1912. The total cost for the building the house was 12000 Rs. ‘wow, that was so cheap!’ I thought.
My uncle was watching me.
“You see the house across the road?” he pointed across the road
“Hmmm” I nodded my head. There was another colonial mansion across the street with an out door patio and trellis roof.
“Sometime ago a famous malayalam movie was shot there.”
“Which movie? Who was acting? Did you see the actors?” I asked
“Nah, I don’t have time to sit around and watch all these things”
I thought, ‘Silly old man. Full of ‘show’. Don’t have time to see who was the actor. As though he runs India!’ I wanted to stick my tongue out, but all of a sudden, the brave Methran Thambi’s grand daughter wasn’t as brave as she thought.
My mother was about to enter the house and I heard my uncle telling her
“Mary, Enter, with your right feet in first!”
‘Right feet?’ I looked at him and at my mother. She was giggling and I looked at Maria, she had no change in her expression. I felt I shouldn’t be the kanjile patta (cockroach in the porridge) and ignored what I thought
was obvious.
The maid, her husband and their daughter came to say hello. I looked at the daughter. She was wearing a long skirt and blouse. She must be my age. I smiled at her. She looked at me disgustingly. I wanted to ask her’What is your problem? You forgot your smile somewhere this morning?’. Why are the people so different? Chakki would have hugged me by now.

“Tea is served sir” Announced the maid.
All of us went to the dining room. There was a huge teak dining table with intricately carved dining chairs. There were 6 chairs, like the table in our house and my uncle sat at the head of the table. Amma on the left, Maria on the right.
I felt it didn’t look right, but I also had the time of my life. Nobody ever saluted me before. Nobody ever bought me parippuvada (lentil fritters), I never stayed in a big mansion like this. Chengannur house has just 2 bedrooms and this house has 7 bedrooms and a separate cottage for the house keeper. I thought of my father , then I justfied, he is the one who walked away, I shouldn’t be worried about him anymore. It is his destiny.
When we finished out tea, my uncle spoke
“Why don’t you all go have your shower and get ready. We will go to the town and do some shopping”
“Shopping? Yeah” squealed Liza and Sally
I was also excited. I had to beg Amma to buy something for me. We never went for shopping. We ran to our room to bath and change. Maria and I shared a room, Amma had her own room and Liza and Sally shared another room.
I was taking the change of clothes from my bag and Maria spoke to me
“You know something Nina, the way we call him uncle, there is no love in that, may be we should call him ‘Acha'” Maria suggested
“Maria, Acha is father in Malayalam. He isn’t our father! “
“He is 1000 times better than our father!.. When was the last time you had a good time with Appa?”
I tried to think of all the times I spend with my father. Sure, there were good times, but at the back of all those good times, there were fear. I realized after all what my mother said all these years were true. My father is indeed good for nothing.
“Ok, we will call him Acha” I agreed

Medhu vada

Someone once told me, life is like a game of chess, you keep playing with life as a pawn hoping to get the king. Now I am faced with the reality of worrying how the ‘king’ will react.
On one hand is my story and that of many women like me, on the other hand is my safety and that of my sisters. I have kept quiet till now, because I was worried about my family’s safety.
I have often wondered, Should I be a coward. or should I go for the kill?
Then I realized, that was ‘his’ intention. He ruled by instilling fear. Fear of retaliation. I am aware that, he is still capable of inflicting harm, but my story has to be told. So that, the next powerful man will know, power and authority comes with responsibilities. If it isn’t today, then tomorrow someone will find their voice.
So to all of you who wants to know who ‘he’ is, I can only tell you this much right now. At one time, he held the highest power of authority in the Indian civil service. He dined with ministers, travelled with diplomats , even got the police to arrest people I know on trumped up charges and wrecked what was left of my family. He is my nemesis and my uncle.

Medhu Vada
I was still in shock. I was like Alice in wonderland. Although everyone called me kochumaharani, that was just a name. Now I really felt I am the little royal princess. As we walked to the car, the driver and the security guard, cleared the way for us. I could see the awe in the eyes of strangers. 10 minutes ago, the same strangers were pushing and shoving me and now they stood in attention and was watching us with respect. I felt important.
He sat in the front seat and the five of us sat at the back seat. I watched the driver barking at people, so they move away from the car.
A lot of things were coming clear in my head. I remembered the fights my mother had with her mother,regarding someone in India. I remembered my father fighting with Amma for the same reason. I remembered Tante Ida telling us about her brother, who came to study in India and decided to stay on. But none of it mattered anymore. Here I am, travelling in an official car, with someone very important.
looked outside. The landscape and the people were so different from that of Kerala. The green colour hills of Kerala was different. They had a charm, while Bangalore looked completely different. There were few trees here and there with dusty green leaves, occasional lakes and even the houses by the side of the roads were different. They lacked the charm of a red tiled roof.
I saw my first vineyard. Vines growing on granite poles. My mother and Maria was speaking to him in english and I didn’t understand anything.
Little while later, I heard him speaking to the driver in a language that sounded very funny.
“Uncle, what language are you speaking?” Liza asked him
“I spoke Kannada, and you know something, Kannada is very easy to learn. All the words that start with “pa” in Malayalam is.”ha” in Kannada. For example Palu(milk) is Halu, pallu(tooth) is hallu”
“So is patti(dog) hatti?” I asked him.
He turned and glared at me.
patti(dog) is ‘naya’ in Kannada”
Amma pinched me on my leg, and I looked at her. She had fire in her eyes. I tried to figure out, what did I do wrong? He is the one who said about ‘pa’ and ‘ha’. How am I to know Patti is not Hatti in Kannada!.
Driver stopped and parked the car by the side of the road. My uncle took the wallet from his pocket and took some money out. That is when I noticed, he had a thick bundle of 100Rs notes. I haven’t seen that much of money since we came to India. In Malaysia,my father’s salary was paid in cash and he used to come home and count the the bundles of RM 50 notes.
I watched the driver crossing the road and going to a restaurent and buying something. He came back to the car and gave the parcel to my uncle. I watched him opening the newspaper bundle. Inside was a dried leaf and he opened that and took something that looked like parippuvada (lentil fritters).
He gave one to each of us saying
“This is called Medhu vada, They make the best medhu vada here and I know someone here likes to eat parippuvada(lentil fritters)”
I was so surprised that, he knew I love parippuvada(lentil fritters). I was on cloud 9. Finally there is someone who cares for me. Although I did wonder how he knew so much about me, I tried to ignore that. Because what mattered now was, I have someone who cares for me.

Those jigzaw puzzles

“We are going to Mysore on friday” Amma announced as I came home.
“What?” I was really surprised. “Why are we going to Mysore?”
“To see the Doctor for your check up!”
“What check up?” The only image that went through my head was the image of a mental hospital. Is Amma taking me to a mental hospital, because I have been giving her so much trouble? Is she going to lock me up in some institution? I looked at my mother to see, what kind of a trap she is putting me in.
“Nina, remember, when we first went to the audiologist at the District hospital, he said that,I should take you to the All India Institute of hearing in Mysore?”
I tried to remember. Yeah, something like that was said at that time.
“But Amma why now? I don’t have any hearing problems and I can ‘lip read’ well. Besides the Dr. did say that, my nerves are affected and nothing can be done!”
“I want a second opinion Nina”
Wow, I couldn’t believe my ears. My mother wants me to see a specialist. Finally she is concerned about my hearing. It was the best news I have ever heard. Not only that, we are going to Mysore. A long distance journey. Apart from the few places in Kerala, I have only been to Madras. I was so excited.
“Amma, is Mysore ‘cold’ like Kashmir? Does it snow there?”
“Oh no Nina, It doesn’t snow there. It will be a bit cold, that is all”
I was disappointed. I wanted to see the snow. I wanted to make a snow man and place a carrot as a nose like in the story books. But the thought of going for a trip, after such a long time, that was exciting.

We took the Island express train from Kottayam. Maria had reserved a berth for all of us.
“I want the window seat” Liza was the first and she claimed the window seat.
Maria took the seat opposite to her.
“Can I sit at the window seat Maria?” I asked her
“No way”
“Amma, she always gets the window seat,whenever she went to Delhi. Why can’t I get the window seat?”
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself Nina? You are always full of complaints. We are going all the way to Mysore for your check up and you can’t be a little bit grateful can you?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to be the one, who spolied a good trip. I sat down next to Liza.
There were lots of people in the train. Amma was already busy speaking to the other passengers. I took my story book and started to read. I was not interested to speak to anyone. Most of the passengers got off in Ernakulam station. I had enough space to lay down and read my book. Some where after Thrissur an old man and his wife entered our compartment. They had two big bags with them and Amma helped them to place it under the seat. Till now I could lay down comfortably on the lower berth, Now I had to sit down and read, so the old man and his wife could sit down. Why did they have to enter this compartment?. The train has atleast 20 compartments and I am stuck with 2 old people.
“Which class are you in?” I heard the old man asking me. I pretended to be engrossed in my story.
“Nina, he is talking to you” Amma reached across from the other side and pulled the book from my hand. I looked at the old man and forced a sweet smile
“Sorry Appacha, I didn’t hear you”
“That is ok, So what are you studying?”
“Pre-degree”I answered
“First group ah?”
“No, second group”
“She got 98 marks for maths in SSLC and she didn’t want to do maths. These days, children make their own decisions. We, parents have no choice” Amma intervened.
“True, kids these days have everything given to them in a silver plate. In my time, we had to walk furlongs to go to school”
I suddenly liked the old man who was sitting next to me. There was only one another person I know meassured the distance in furlongs. My Ammachi. I looked at the old woman. She must be the same age as my Ammachi.
Suddenly the train sound changed. I looked outside. We were on a bridge.
“What river is this?” I asked Amma
“Bharathapuzha” Amma replied
“Do you know the story of mamankam?” The old man asked me
“Ofcourse” Chengannur Ammachi has told me the story of mamankam.“In the olden times, once every 12 years, there was a big festival, at the shore of the river Nila. The festival is called mamankam.” I replied.
“Where is the river Nila?” He asked me
I shook my head. I had no idea, where the river Nila is.
“You are travelling on top of river Nila right now!”
I looked outside again. The river was almost dry. Yet there is something very special, when you can link the story that you heard as a child to reality. I could see little kids running around. Some were waving at us. I wondered if they knew this is the shore, where a new king of Kerala was crowned every 12 years. This is the shore, music never stopped playing for 28 days. This is also the shore, where young male members of a family fought till their death.
“Do you know what is chaveru pada ( suicide squad)?” The old man asked me
“Hmmm”, I nodded. I saw the surprise on Amma’s and Maria’s face
I was proud that, I knew something, none of them knew. It was my turn to tell the story.
“When Parasurama created Kerala, he asked 64 brahmin families to settle down. The Brahmins decided that, they would have a new king every 12 years and he would be elected in the shores of Thirunavaya and there would be a festival to celebrate the occassion. Cochin Royal family was in chage of the festivals and later they gave the right to conduct the festival to Valluvakonathiri, ruler of Valluvanadu. But the Zamorin of Kozhikkodu, didn’t like that. He invaded Valluvanadu and took over the right to conduct the festival. Every 12 years at the time of mamankam, the Zamorin would dare Valluvakonathiri to kill him and take the control of the festival, by standing in the nilappadu thara,with his soldiers(16000 of them) all around him. Every 12 years, men loyal to Valluvakonathiri, would practice for the battle. They knew they could never defeat the Zamorin’s army, yet they fought for their king. Each of them gave up their life, for their king. The bodies of the warriors were buried in a well called manikkinar. Valluvakonathiri never defeated Zamorin”
“Then what happend?” Liza asked me
“Mysore king Hyder Ali defeated the Zamorin and there was never another mamankam”
I looked at the old man, to see his reaction. He was nodding his head. I knew he was impressed. I looked at Maria, I could see the jealosy in her eyes. I looked at Amma and saw the amazement on her face. I looked at my younger sisters and I saw the shock in their face. None of them knew, I knew all these stories.

The train reached Bangalore in the early morning.
“How are we going to Mysore, Amma?”
“Car would be waiting for us outside”
“Car? Whose Car?” I asked her
“You will see”
I didn’t understand. I helped Amma to carry the bags. We had to walk on the overhead bridge.I walked behind her, people were shoving and pushing each other. When we reached the middle of the bridge, I stopped. I looked down and saw the trains passing underneath the bridge. It was funny, because I used to stand on top of the tunnel in Kottyam and watch the trains passing by. There was a thrill, knowing that I am standing on top of a moving train
“Hurry up Nina, stop wasting the time. He is waiting for us”
“Who?” I asked Amma
She ingnored me and continued to walk. We reached the main gate and Amma handed our tickets to the ticket examiner. As soon as we passed the ticket examiner, Amma stopped. I watched a man approaching us. He was wearing a coat and a suite. He came to us smiling
“So how was the journey”
“Tiring la. Next time I will take the plane!” Amma answered
“So you are Maria?” He looked at chechy and chechy smiled and said “yes”
“And you must be Nina mol?”
A 1000 lights flashed in my head. I tried to shake it off.
“Apa khabar?” He smiled and asked me
I looked at him, there were too many ill fitting pieces in my jigzaw puzzle. Who is this guy? How does he know to speak Malay?
He said hello to my younger sisters. I watched him ordering his driver to take our bags to the car
“Do you want to eat something now or you want to wait? There is a nice restaurent on the way to Mysore. We can eat there, if you guys can wait another 1 hour.”
“We are not hungry now, we will eat later” Maria spoke
“Ok”. ” Come on”he held Liza’s and Sally’s hand and he started to walk towards his car. I watched the police man near the entrance saluting him. I suddenly understood.