“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
“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?”
“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.