God’s games

“What is wrong with you Maria? Has the devil got in to you?” Amma asked her, the look of absolute bewilderment was on her face.
“Devil? You are the devil. You are the root cause of all the troubles in this family”
How many times, I have hid in the banana thicket and promised myself that one day I will tell Amma that she is the problem in our house, yet when Maria told the same thing that I always wanted to tell Amma and when I saw the pain in Amma’s eyes, I regretted even thinking about vengeance.
“What have I done to you Maria? Have I not been there for you all these years? Have I not gone back to your father and suffered all his abuses, so you will have a good future?I was earning enough money to sustain both of us, wasn’t I? I wanted you to have a father, that is why even when your father threw us both out, I still went back. I did all this for you Maria! How can you now turn around and speak like this to me?” tears were rolling down my mother’s cheeks
“Oh, don’t try your Hindi movie tactics. you are an evil woman. You think, I will fall for your tears? They are crocodile tears!”
I watched my mother sadly turning away from Maria and going to the kitchen sink to wash her face. She opened the tap and let the water run. Water was gushing out and falling on to the cemented sink and splashing all over.
“Why are you running away woman? For the first time in your life, why aren’t you talking? You used to have thousand tongues to fight with my father, now what happend? Why? is the guilty consciousness pricking your mind?”
Amma was leaning on the kitchen sink for support and her body was getting wet. I looked at Maria. She had a victorious smile on her face. I didn’t understand why she was so happy. I didn’t understand how she could have forgotten all that Amma did for her.
“I will make you suffer for all that you did to me, woman”
‘woman?’ That is the second time Maria called Amma, Woman.How could she call Amma woman? What has Amma done so badly that Maria refused to call her Amma anymore?
I walked to the sink to shut the tap.
“Get lost Nina” Amma yelled at me. She turned the tap on, this time turned it fully. Now even the floor was getting wet.
I remembered Ammachi’s favourite saying
odicha lekkillenkil moothammakkirunnottey(it is easy to blame someone else, when things aren’t going the way one expected). I ignored Amma’s stubborness.

My sisters were standing near the dining table. I wanted to go and hold them. But I was also scared to leave Amma and Maria alone. I was scared of one of them killing the other. Both have nothing to lose. I stood there for what felt like an eternity. The only sound was the annoying sound of water falling on to the hard cemeneted surface and splashing. I so very badly wanted to shut it off as the sound felt like something was drilling my head. Eventually Maria went to her room and Amma went to her room to change her clothes. I ran and shut the tap. It felt so good, when I didn’t have to hear the noise anymore. I took the kitchen cloth and started to wipe the floor. I didn’t want Amma to slip on the wet floor and fall down.
“Don’t you have some common sense Nina? That cloth is used to wipe the dishes, not the floor”
“I know that Amma, but there is nothing else to wipe the floor. I didn’t want you to slip and fall down”
“As though you care. give me the towel” she snatched the towel from my hand and again turned on the tap. I had enough. I quickly walked out of the kitchen. There was no way I can make my mother understand that, I care for her, that I love her, through all her faults.
“Nina what is going on?” Sally asked me
“Get lost. Mind your own business” I snapped and walked to my room. I went and laid down on my bed.
Suddenly it occured to me’goodness, I screamed at my sister for no fault of hers’ I hated myself for being so mean. I got up quickly from the bed and ran to the living room. Tears were falling down my baby sister’s face. She is as confused as I am and I should be supporting her, not screaming at her.
“I am sorry Sally. I am so sorry for screaming at you. Please forgive me”
I tried to hug her and she pushed me away.
“If anyone gives me a kiss before I finish counting 5, then I will buy them a poompatta magazine. I started to count, 1, 2, 3, 4.. Liza’s face still looked sad and there was no way she was going to give me a kiss. 4.1,, before I reach 4.9, if I don’t get a kiss, then no pink colour surprise either.
“What pink colour surprise?” Sally asked
I ignored her question and started to count, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.7.. 4.9 is coming soon and the pink colour surprise will go to Liza” I announced
“Ok, I will give you a kiss” Sally came close to me and gave me a kiss on my cheeks. I felt peaceful, knowing that she has forgiven me.
“What is the surprise?”
“You will get it tomorrow”
“Is it going to be like Ganapathy’s wedding?”
“Oh No, I promise, you will get your pink colour surprise tomorrow”
“What is my surprise Nina?”
“You have to wait till tomorrow!” I patted her cheeks and made a mental note to go to ladies corner shop and look for something in pink.

It was dinner time and there was no sign of any dinner. Amma went to lay down in her bed and Maria was in her room, which meant, I will have to make something for my sisters. I was scared to cook when Amma is around, she always find fault in everything I do. I checked the fridge to see, if there is anything that can be re-heated. There was nothing. Rice was not enough for all of us either. I decided to make wheat flour dosai. Carefully, I took the wheat flour from the cupboard. I placed a newspaper on the kitchen counter, over that I placed the bowl In that way, if I spill any flour, I can save it. I didn’t want to take too many utensils, lest Amma, screams at me for using all the kitchen equipments for making 5 dosais!. I made the dosais, cleaned the gas stove, kitchen counter and the sink, so Amma won’t scream at me.
“Liza, Sally come for dinner” I called
I went to Amma’s room to call her. Amma was lying down on her bed. She was staring at the empty space above her head. For a second I thought she is dead and my heart missed a beat. I quickly walked over to her, to see if she was breathing. When I saw her chest moving, I was overcome with such relief, that nothing felt that good the whole day. All I have in this world is my mother and all she has in this world is me. I promised myself, I will love her till the day she dies. She deserves to be loved.
I sat on the edge of her bed.
“Amma” I touched her arms slowly. Her skin was all wrinkled and tanned. I realised I don’t even remember when was the last time I touched my own mother.
“Amma” I called her again. I was tempter to touch her hands, to hold it and give her the assurances that I am there for her.
“hmm” she grunted, without even looking at me.
“I made dosais, please come and eat”
“I will eat later. You go and eat”
I looked at my mother’s face. A strand of hair was on her forehead. I was tempted to push that away, but I wasn’t sure, if she would scream at me for doing that. I wanted to lay down next to her, I wanted to tell her that I love her, that she will always have me.but sometimes, much as you try, words never come out. I got up, I passed Maria’s room. I stood outside the closed door, trying to think,if I should call my mean big sister for dinner. Then it occured to me, What ever happend, she is always my sister and I knocked the door gently
“Maria, dinner is ready”
“Get lost” She yelled back
“Ok” I walked to the dining room. My sisters were already eating the dosai I made. I looked around the table. We started of as a family of 6, now there is only 3 left. What kind of cruel game is God playing? I wondered.

Devil’s side kick

Before I was consumed by the desire to become a doctor, now after speaking to Ammachi, I was afraid. I was no longer sure what I wanted to do. Anyone can become a doctor. All it takes is hard work. Is that what I wanted?
I thought of all the things I wanted to achieve. Honestly all I really, really wanted was to leave home. I wanted to be able to live without worrying about my mother and sisters. I wanted to be free of the burdens I carry.
I desparately wanted to speak to someone, discuss my options and make the right decision. I so very badly wanted to speak to Amma, but she was always busy. Finally on saturday morning, I saw that Amma was reading the news paper. I felt it is a good time to go and ask her.
“Amma can I talk to you?” I asked her
“Oh Nina, I just sat down. You children won’t let me sit down and rest for a minute. Can’t you see how much I am struggling? Do I ask you for any help? All you ever do is to move your butt from the bed to the dining chair.”
I was so mad at my own stupidity, thinking that Amma would help me to make the right decision. I should have known my mother. Without saying another word, I walked back to my room
“What is that you want to talk Nina?”
“Oh nothing Amma”
“One minute they say they want to talk, the next minute they say “oh nothing”. What is wrong with all of you?”
I didn’t bother to respond. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do. I am going to do medicine. I am not going to live with Amma. I needed to get out of this mad house.
I took my physics text book and started to revise. I flipped the pages of the text book and realized that, I hardly studied anything in that book. What if I failed the pre-degree exam? I consoled myself saying’whatever has to happen will happen!’. I started to by heart all the formulas.
“Nina, I am going out ‘over there’ for a little while. Rice and curry are on the kitchen counter. Make sure your sisters do their home work and study”
I didn’t even bother to say ‘ok’ to Amma. She didn’t even wait to hear my response either.
As soon as Amma closed the gate, Liza ran in to my room
“Nina, Amma is gone, can we play Lexicon card?”
“Don’t you have homework?” I asked her
“I promise, I will do it later, Please Nina, can we play?”
Anyway I was bored reading Newton’s law.
“Ok, go get the cards”
“Sally, Nina said we can play the Lexicon cards, get the english dictionary, othewise Nina will cheat us!”
“I never cheat you guys!”
“Ofcourse you do, you always create new words, I don’t trust you any more”
We sat down at the dining table.
“I will deal the cards” I spoke.( ofcouse I know which cards are the vowels, because I did make a small mark on the right hand corner of all those cards!)
“No, I will” Liza spoke
“Then I am not playing. I started to get up
“Liza please, Give the cards to Nina” Sally begged
“Not fair, she always get to deal the cards” Grudgingly she passed me the cards. When I came across a vowel that I wanted, I asked
“Did you hear any sound?”
“What sound?” Both of them asked in unison and I placed the card in my pile.
“You cheated Nina, I saw you keeping a card in your pile. That card is supposed to be mine. See I have three cards, you have 5. You are a cheat Nina”
“Oh, I am sorry. I made a mistake” grudgingly I handed her the vowel card. My sisters are getting too smart, I thought sadly
As we played the game, I did hear an auto rickshaw stopping outside our gate.
“Did you hear any sound?”
“Sally,Don’t look. She is trying to cheat us. She is waiting for us to turn our head to steal the cards”
“I am serious. I heard the auto stopping outside our gate!”
“yeah right, and you are deaf in one ear!” Liza spoke
Aiyyah How do I explain to my sisters that, sound in a certain frequency I can hear better than anyone else.
I heard someone opening the main gate.
“Wait here. let me go and check” I placed my cards face down on the table.
“Don’t you dare touch my cards” I warned them
I opened the door and walked towads the main gate. I watched the figure wearing a rust coloured Kashmiri shawl paying the fare to the rickshaw driver. ‘Who wears a shawl in Kerala?, I was about to laugh, till the person paid the money to the auto driver and turned to face me. In an instant everything stood still. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. The contrast was too much for me to bear. There was an ugly stranger standing there, who once was my beautiful older sister with hair almost reaching her butt. This stranger had rosy cheeks, blood red lipstick, huge shell framed speactacles that almost covered half of her face. Worst was her hair. It was now shoulder level, with the crown in tight curls and the rest straight. I thought, Gosh she looks like a kappiri kozhi.
Maria wakled past me, without even uttering a single word, as though I don’t exist any more. I walked behind her, trying to understand what is happening.
As soon as she entered the house, she found the lexicon cards on the table
“Who asked you to touch my Lexicon cards?” She screamed even before my sisters could greet her
“it is not your cards Maria. Amma bought it for all of us” Liza replied
“How dare you speak to me like that?” Before Liza could react, Maria was pulling her hair and hitting her
“Stop it Maria” I screamed.” What is wrong with you?” I pulled Maria away from Liza.
“Ouch” Liza was howling and I saw cluster of hair in Maria’s hands
“Nina, she pulled my hair” Liza was screaming
“I will pull every single tooth, if you are ever rude to me again, Do you understand that?”
“Wait till Amma comes back. I will tell her” Liza was rubbing her head and crying
“Do you think I care?” Maria was going back to hurt Liza again
I jumped in front of Maria
“You will not hurt her” I told her
“Who are you to tell me that?” She scratched me on my arms
“Why did you have to come? Why don’t you stay in Bangalore?” I was so mad
“I will do what I want to do. This is my home and I will come and go as I please” I watched her going to her room
I looked at my arms. There were 2 lines of scrath marks on my left hand. It was burning. I regretted having a sister. Why did God give us a sister like this?
Liza picked up the hair from the floor
“I am going to show this to Amma, My head is still hurting Nina” She pointed to the side of her head.
“Come here” I held her close to me and massaged her scalp. If only I had a brother, then he could have protected us from this vicious creature.

Amma normally comes back by 5pm, today there was no sign of her even at 6 pm. I was getting worried. I watched silently as Maria went through every single document in Amma’s cupboard. She checked Amma’s diary, Amma’s office files, finally she was checking Amma’s cupboard. I looked at the old suitcase by the side of the cupboard. If she opened that suitcase, I knew I will be dead meat. I had my escape route in my mind. If she opened that suitcase, I will run to Aunty Reena’s house. I was so relieved, when she closed the cupboard and didn’t bother to open the suitcase. She then went to my room and started to go through my books
“What are you doing?” I asked her
“What do you think I am doing?”
“You can’t touch my books”
“Really? Try stopping me”
I knew I couldn’t stop her. I heard someone opening the main gate and I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief. Atleast Amma will know what to do with Maria. I was just going to open the door for Amma and Maria pushed me.
“You are not opening the door” She pushed me away
“What?” I asked her
She didn’t respond.
Amma knocked at the door “Nina, open the door”
I tried to open and Maria pushed me away
“Amma, Maria won’t let me open the door” I screamed
“What time is it? Do you think, you can come and go any time you please ah? Is this an Inn? You are raising daughters for heavens sake! Don’t you even care?” Maria asked Amma
“Who are you to ask me that question Maria?” Amma screamed from outside
“You can stay out side then” Smiled the vicious Maria
Liza and Sally were screaming and crying and Maria was smiling.
“Open the door” Amma was kicking the door. I watched Maria putting all three bolts. She leaned on the dining table victoriously, knowing that, there is no way Amma can break the door open.
“Liza, go and open the kitchen door.” I ordered. Maria tried to run after Liza and I stopped her. I pushed her towards the wall and She started to hit me. I didn’t let go of my hands, but when she started to pull my hair and I let go. By the time Maria reached the kitchen, Amma was already inside.

Indra and the ants

“Why Nina?”
“Why what Ammachi?” I asked her.
she didn’t respond and I lifted my head from her shoulder and looked at her. Ammachi was looking straight ahead. She spoke slowly
“We have enough land to sustain another 3 generations. We have a house. Actually we have everything except salt here. Why does your father have to work under someone, when he is the boss here? I don’t get it Nina. First he said he wanted to study, so I let him, then he wanted to work in the city, I let him, then he wanted to travel, I let him. He always said he is following his dreams. I didn’t want to be the one who stood in his way, so I let him do what he wants. Do you think he is still following his dreams Nina?”
I thought about it. Appa always said, he is working to save money for our dowry. He never said anything about his dreams. I didn’t know my father too had dreams. I felt so stupid, because I knew nothing about anyone. Somehow I never thought about anyone else’s dreams. I was only bothered about me.
“I don’t know Ammachi. I really don’t know.”
“No Nina, he stopped dreaming long ago. He is now following excuses. Better house, better car, betterr this and better that. He is blind to see that, we have the best here”.
I leaned on her shoulder thinking of all that Ammachi said. In front of me there was a line of ants, each following the one ahead of him. I used my toe and drew a line across the ants’ path and watched them running helter skelter, within seconds they formed a new line. I was about to draw another line with my big toe
Ammachi tapped me on my leg and scolded
“Stop it Nina. Don’t disturb the Indra’s”
“Indira? Who? The prime minister Indira Gandhi? She died 5 years ago! you should read newspaper!.”
Ammachi shook her head and which ofcourse is the sign that, I am an idiot.
“What Indira are you talking about Ammachi?”
“Oh Nina, when are you ever going to learn all these?”
“Stop scolding me and start telling me then” I was irritated with Ammachi. I don’t like to be an idiot!
“Long ago, a demon swallowed every drop of water on earth. There was a huge drought and everything was dying. Lord Indra had to save the world. He slew the demon with thunderbolts and water gushed out from the belly of the demon. Indra was proud of his achievements, He felt he is mighty and powerful and he decided to build a mighty palace, befitting the mighty God that he is. He called Vishwakarman( divine architect) and asked him to build a palace for him. Each time Vishwakarman build something, Indra would change the plan, he always wanted something bigger and better. Vishwakarman was getting tired and he went to Brahma the creator and begged him to help him. Brahma went to Lord Vishnu for help. The next day a boy came to Indra’s palace and asked to meet the Lord. Indra asked him,
“What brings you here my dear boy?”
The boy replied” I heard that you are building a palace,like no other Indra before you ever built”
Indra was taken aback, because he only knew one Indra and that was himself.

So he asked the boy” How many other Indra’s have you known?”
The boy replied, “you can count the stars in the sky, or the grains of sand in the beach, but you will never count the number of Indra’s. Each time Brahma the creator openes his eyes, the world comes in to being and when he closes his eyes, the world goes out of being. How many Brahma’s are there in this galaxy and the next and the one after that? You will never know!”
“Hmm” I mumbled. “What about the ants?” I asked Ammachi
“Patience Nina!” Ammachi hushed me
“Just as the boy and Indra was speaking an army of ants marched by them on the floor and seeing the ants the boy laughed.
“why are you laughing?” Indra asked the boy
“These ants were all Indra’s one time, by virtue of the good deeds, they ascended to the ranks of Gods and then they use thunderbolt to kill an adversary and think they are smart only to return to the lowest form, to go through the rebirth cycle all over again!”
“hmmm” I nodded
“Even Lord Indra wanted bigger and better palace and even Lord Indra didn’t get it Nina”
“Hmm” I mumbled again
I adjusted my head on her shoulder and watched the ants marching by. They must be moving their food to higher ground as they know it will rain soon. I thought of telling Ammachi, that I know it will rain soon, by watching the ants scurrying. But I knew in my heart that, She knew lots more than I will ever..

“What about you Nina? What are you planning to do after pre-degree?”
“I want to do medicine Ammachi”
“That is my dream Ammachi. That is why!”
“What exactly is your dream Nina?”
“I want to study, become a famous doctor, work in a hospital, save lives, earn tons of money, build a nice big house and own a nice car. Simple dreams Ammachi.. Very simple dreams”
“You are so wrong Nina. So very wrong!”
“What do you mean?”
“You are trying to swim upstream Nina!”
“No Ammachi, I am not. I have the brain to do it. I can be what I want to be. You told me that.”
“Of course you can Nina. I never doubted that. But what price are you going to pay Nina?”
“There is no price to pay Ammachi. I just have to study.”
“You don’t get it Nina, do you?”
“No Ammachi, I don’t understand what you are saying”
“You can always swim upstrem Nina.. You can swim against the currents. But you must remember, one day it will tire you out”
” No Ammachi you are wrong.” I could see my future, I could see the Dr. Nina Thomas, I could see me walking in the hospital wearing a white coat and saving lives. There was nothing that would tire me out. Absolutely nothing.
“I hope I am wrong Nina. Come let us go home”
As we walked together, I had an uneasy feeling in my heart. Am I doing the right thing? I like Chengannur house, but I couldn’t see myself living there. I couldn’t imagine living without electricity. What is life without buniad and chitrahar(TV programs)? I don’t want my kids to go to a kudipallikkoodam(schools for the poor villagers without any facilities). I did hear a little voice at the back of my head that said, even your father went to a kudipallikkodam. I shut the voice out. Just because my father did well, didn’t mean that everyone else could and would!. I couldn’t live in Chengannur house. There was a world out side chengannur, waiting for me to conquer. I had no intention of wasting my life in Chengannur. I wanted to live my dreams! And I knew I will.


“Chakki, where is Ammachi?” I asked as I entered the kitchen. Chakki was taking the rubber sheets from the slats above the kitchen counter.
She jumped and screamed “Oh, you scared me Nina”
“Oh Chakki I am sorry. I was not planning to scare you. Where is Ammachi? I looked for her every where!”
“She went to the rubber estate in the morning”
“Kutten noticed that few of the trees have some sort of disease. Ammachi went this morning to check it out”
“Oh Ok. I will go there and see, what is going on!”
I started to walk towards our rubber estate which is another 3 KM away. I walked past Upadeshi Appachan and Fridge Ammachi’s house. As usual Upadeshi Appachan was laying down on the easy chair. I thought I might as well say hello to him
“Hello Appacha”
“Who is that?” I watched him lifting his head up and trying to see who was standing near the entrance of his house
“It is me Nina”
“Nina, Methran Thambi’s grand daughter”
I watched him getting up from the easy chair and walking towards me.
“My God, you have changed so much. What happend to the little girl, who used to hold her grandmother’s hand and walked? What are you doing now?”
“I completed pre-degree Appacha”
“Good, very good. So what are you planning to do?”
“Medicine Appacha”
“Medicine? Hmm,That is wonderful Nina, so Thambi’s grand daughter will be the first doctor from this kara (side of the land) eh?”
“Hmm, where is fri..” I quickly swallowed my saliva and the rest of the ‘dge’ “Where is Ammachi?” I tried to control the sheepish grin on my face. Upadeshi Appachan gave me that look, that said, I know you were about to call my wife Fridge Ammachi.
“She is gone to America, to stay with our son and help him take care of our grand daughter”
“Oh! So who is staying here with you?”
“No one Mole,(daughter). In the end the old man is all alone!”
“Why didn’t you go to America and stay with your son Appacha?”
ente kunjei(my child), I am an old man now. I can’t wear all those kappada (huge)woollen clothes and walk in the snow and eat bread for breakfast. This is my home. I built this home with my own hands” He lifted his hands and showed me.”These hands, each and every brick was laid with these hands!. I want to die here.”
“hmmm” I nodded my head. I suddenly felt uncomfortable thinking that, this man, who once spoke about God and his love is now waiting each day for death to come a calling.
“I will see you later Appacha” I walked off without even waiting to hear him say good bye.
As I reached the rubber estate, I looked for Ammachi. There was no sign of her. I thought of calling out to her. Then I thought. I will surprise her. I started to walk through the rows and rows of rubber trees. There was no sign of Ammachi. I was getting scared. All I had for company was rows and rows of rubber trees, each with a coconut shell tied on it to collect the sap. I checked the coconut shells, white colour sap was trickling in to the shell from the freshly tapped tree trunk. That means Kutten has already tapped the rubber in the morning and he will only come around 2pm to collect the sap. Dried leaves on the floor crackled as I walked and in the morning stillness, it sounded like a giant was walking.
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t find Ammachi and I am scared of snakes. What if a snake bite me? I am never going to get out of this place alive. ‘Why did my grandmother had to visit the rubber estate today?’
I wanted to go back home. I looked all around me one last time before leaving and on the right hand corner near the jackfruit tree, I thought I saw something white. I started to walk fast and the dried leaves under my feet were making so much of noise. As I reached the jackfruit tree, I saw someone getting up.
“Why are you here?”
I looked at my grandmother. Her eyes were red. Ammachi saw me staring at her eyes and she quickly tried to wipe the tears off from her cheeks
“Why are you crying Ammachi?”
“I am not crying. Who said I am crying? Have you gone mad?”
“Why are you crying Ammachi?” I raised my voice.”tell me why are you crying?”
I walked to her hugged her tightly and wiped her tears.” What is bothering you Thangamma?”
“Nothing” She pushed me away.”Come, let us go home” Ammachi started to walk
“I am not going anywhere, I am going to sit here,till you tell me, why you cried.” I sat down on the exact same spot where Ammachi was sitting.
“Go ahead. Did I tell you there are snakes there?” Ammachi started to walk.
“Let the snakes bite me. Let me die. Then you can live the rest of your life peacefully, knowing that, your stubborness killed your precious grand daughter”
“Precious? Who told you that, you are my precious grand daughter? I have 5 more grand children. You are not the only one!”
“ok. Bye Ammachi” I checked for ants on the tree trunk and leaned back and closed my eyes.
Time never moves faster, when two stubborn people are on silent war. Waiting with the eyes closed, felt like eternity. Eventually I heard the leaves crackling and footsteps coming closer.
“Move” Ammachi ordered.
I opened my eyes and looked at her
“Oh, you are back? How are your other 5 grand children?”
Ammachi didn’t respond. I moved my butt and gave her a little bit of space to sit next to me. Ammachi looked at me and at the space on the floor
“Oh ok. I got up from the floor “Your butt is huge. you should eat less chicken!”
Ammachi sat down.
“Come sit here” She removed the leaves on the right side with her hand. i sat down next to her. The tree trunk was not big enough for both of us to lean on. So I leaned on Ammachi
“How was your exams”
“it was ok. I will pass for sure. I won’t get distinction this time”
“hmm” I also mumbled.
“I am tired Nina”
“Tired? Ofcourse you will be. Who asked you to walk all the way here?. You should know you are growing old!.”
“If I don’t do all these, who will do it Nina?”
The realization hit me only then and I realized how stupid I was.
“When your grand father died, your father was a little boy, I raised him and your aunty all by myself. I was sure one day your father will grow up to be a man and take over the responsibilities from me. I struggled each day Nina, every single day and It never ends Nina. My responsibilities never end and I am tired Nina. My knees hurt as I walk. Somedays I can’t even get up from the bed” tears were rolling down Ammachi’s cheeks.
I didn’t know what to say. I have been taking for granted that Ammachi would forever be there taking care of our farm. I know the burdens my grandmother carried all these years, yet I never once offered her any help. I very much wanted to take over the responsibilities from her, but I wanted to do medicine. I wanted to live my dream.
Rubber trees

Cost of grass!

Over the years, I watched silently as everyone around me changed and I always thought, I am the same person and that I will never change. I didn’t want to be like Maria, who don’t even call now a days. We didn’t matter to her anymore. I wanted to be the one who took care of her mother and sisters.
Somehow something changed the moment I submitted the botany practical answer sheets.
There is something magical about pre-degree exams, that changes you inside. The person who went to BCM college and the person who came out of BCM college after 2 years were two different people and the nuns had nothing to do with the metamorphosis.
The Nina I knew, would have never left her mother in the college and walked home alone. The Nina I knew would have never yelled at a stranger (and most likely he is waiting for me with a bottle of acid in the name of vengeance). More than all of that, I suddenly felt, I could do what I wanted to do. I was no longer afraid of my own dreams. I felt an inner strength that I never known before. After all I am now, Nina Thomas-Pre degree..who would soon be Dr. Nina Thomas MBBS( xyz,asdf etc). I was ready for all the battles that lay ahead of me.

When Amma came in the evening, she spoke
“I spoke to someone and he suggested that you write the Vellore CMC entrance exam as there are reservations for Christians.You just have to write an extra paper on bible, which I am sure, no one knows more than you do. Tomorrow we will go and meet the bishop and get a recommendation letter from him. “
I thought of asking her, if that ‘someone’ gave Maria’s new address? I thought of asking her, if that someone finally came back from Delhi? But then again I knew my mother, she was master of excuses and lies.
“I am not writing an exam on bible Amma!”
“Why not?”
“Because I don’t want to”
“You think you are so intelligent ah? You think you can pass the entrance just like that ah? People write the exams 5 to 6 times, before they pass! Even Shiny the top scorer in your school two years ago, she still hasn’t passed the entrance exam and is doing B.Sc in CMS college. Do you know why I took half day leave and came to your college today? Because I care for you.!
I came to your college today itself, so I can beg your principal to give you admission for B.Sc. I know you are going to get motta(zero marks) for your pre-degree anyway!. Don’t think I have not watched you all these days. I know how much you have studied. Even your French teacher said that you can’t speak a word of French”
“True Amma, absolutely true. My father doesn’t speak French, my mother doesn’t speak French, Actually speaking, no one in my family speaks French. But somehow my mother and older sister thought it is better for me to learn French. I wonder why? I never said I wanted to study French. You made me study that. I would have done better,if I studied Malayalam or Hindi as my second language”
“How dare you speak to me like that Nina?”
“Truth hurts eh?”
Amma lifted her hand to strike me and I grabbed it and held it forcefully
“Don’t you raise your hand on me. Don’t you ever raise your hand on me Amma. I have listened to all your commands till now. It is my life Amma and I will live the way I want to” I pushed her hand away.
Amma was just about to open her mouth to curse me. I knew she was just about to say
Nee orikkalum konam pidikkathilla(you will never do well in your life!)’
“Don’t Amma, don’t waste your energy to curse me. Your curses don’t work. My father would have died miserably years ago, if your curses had any effect. So don’t bother.” I wanted to add a little bit more spice so I told her
“By the way, I studied that ribs cover the heart and lungs, so if you hit your chest, it will only hurt the muscles, so don’t bother doing that stunt either!”
I walked back to my room thinking My goodness, what is happening to me? I wasn’t sure anymore.

Monday morning, I had nothing to do at home. No classes to bunk, no practicals to copy, no nothing to do. I was really bored. I might as well go to Chengannur. I got ready and locked the house. As I walked out of the house to the main road, I started to feel a bit scared. I looked around for the guy wearing mundu. As I looked around I spotted a group of women walking towards me on the road. I thought perhaps the guy in mundu will forget my face and won’t recognize me in the crowd, so I walked behind the group of women, who were on their way to the fields near the railway station to cut grass. There were 5 of them and they wore colourful sarong and covered their bosom with a thorthu. All of them had a cane basket on one hand and a sickle on the other hand. I knew I am safe, with them next to me.
They were chewing tobacco and talking loudly. Every few minute one of them would stop, put two fingers on her lips and spit the tobacco out. I walked carefully dodging the flying spit. when we reached the lawyers offices I saw one of them wearing a red blouse nudging the lady next to her with her shoulder and whispering “lawyereman!!” (the lawyer boss!)
I overheard the other one asking
“Is he the one?” and pointing to the lawyer who was standing near the door and speaking to someone. The woman wearing the red blouse started to giggle, she looked down and started to sway her body and walk. I looked at the Lawyereman and the grass cutter.
Lawyereman wore a neat white shirt with not a single crease on it and a white pant. I saw his peon walking in, holding 4 glasses of tea in a metal glass holder. Everyone went inside to drink tea.
“Did he see me?” The red blouse wala asked her friend
“Ofcourse. He had a smile on his face when he saw you” spoke her friend
‘huh? What smile? I didn’t see him smile’ I wondered
“How much did he pay?” Asked her friend
“50 Rs”
Ente ammoo Grass now costs 50 RS?. We never had to buy grass for our cows in Chengannur. There is always abundant supply of grass and hay for our cows in Chengannur. I must tell Ammachi, how much grass costs in Kottayam!. No wonder fresh milk is so expensive here!

women wearing lungi and thorthu
Thanu send me this link.. It is awesome!

action and reaction

I woke up early on the day of the exams. I read the whole guide book again, checked my pencil case and made sure I have enough pens. Although I was worried that I haven’t really studied much for the exams, there was also an inner peace. If I have to fail, it will happen. There is nothing much I could do about it, after all I wasted my time!.
Amma was in the kitchen packing school lunch for my sisters.
“Amma I am leaving” I spoke to her. She turned around and smiled.
“Good luck Nina”
“Thanks Amma” As I turned to leave I heard Amma saying
“Nina, we haven’t prayed.”
“Liza, Sally, come here. Let us pray before Nina leaves”
My sisters and I stood near Amma and she started to pray
“Dear Lord Jesus, be with Nina, as she writes her exams, Help her to remember everything she studied”
‘Remember everything I studied? I slowly opened my eyes and found Sally trying to control her laughter. Even she knew, it is impossible for the Lord to help me. I am a lost case!

As I walked in to the college, all the girls were busy reading and revising. Some were walking up and down the corridoor doing the last minute revision. Some were going through previous years questions. I felt like a total idiot. I didn’t bring any books with me and I realized my journey from SSLC to Pre-degree was one badly planned trip. I promised myself, never again, will I let myself down!

My last practicals was botany. As I handed over my answer sheet, I felt liberated. I am finally out of BCM college and their silly rules. I can now wear jeans and sleeveless tops, rather, I can be me. I don’t have to follow any rules, because it would make me a better docile Indian woman! I thought of shouting “Yipppee”, But across the corridoor I saw Sister Margaret talking to someone. I noticed that, the stranger was wearing the exact same saree Amma had. Light yellow saree with orange colour flower print. It must be a popular saree! What is even more weird is the stranger did look like my mother.
‘I should get my eyes tested, How can Amma be at my college? Why should she come now? I must be dreaming!’ I didn’t want to speak to Sister Margaret and I thought I might as well avoid her. I turned back and walked towards the staircase by the side of the building. I thought I would take the long and winding route from the back of the college.
That did sound like my mother. ‘What did I do now?’I quickened my pace, hoping that Amma would think I didn’t hear her.
“Nina” I heard Sister Margaret calling my name. The staircase was just 3 feet away from me. I could still run for it and later pretend that I didn’t hear them calling me.
As luck would have it, someone came out from one of the class rooms on the right side and pointed to me
“Sister Margaret is calling you”
Ullu ka patha! I really really really wanted to stick my tongue at her. Why does she have to interfere in other people’s life. I turned around slowly.
“Amma? Oh I didn’t see you. Good afternoon Sister Margaret”
“How was your exams?” Amma asked me
“good, Why are you here Amma?”
“I came to ask about admission for B.Sc”
“For whom?”
“Ofcourse for you Nina”
“I am not doing B.Sc” ‘Certainly not in this silly college’, I whispered in my head.
“So you are planning to sit at home?”
“I am planning to write the entrance exam Amma!”
“What if you don’t get admission? You are going to sit at home and waste another year?”
“That is exactly what I am going to do. If I don’t pass the exams, I am going to sit at home and study for the entrance exam.”
Amma looked at Sister Margaret, pointed her hands towards me and spoke ” she is mad” ” There is no way I am going to let her sit at home and waste a year. Can I collect the application for B.Sc now?”
Sister Margaret nodded her head.
I watched Amma and sister Margaret walking towards the office and I walked out. ‘She can get the application and she can join the B.Sc. If my name is Nina Thomas, I will not do B.Sc’.
As I walked home, I was mad. I was mad with that line on my forehead, that made me born as my mother’s child. Even an orphan had a better life than me. As I reached the parade ground, out of no where a man wearing mundu and shirt came and stood right infront of me. He grinned an ugly grin and asked
Oru chumbanam tharatte?” ( can I kiss you?)
I have taken enough and I screamed at the top of my voice
eda nainte money, ninte veetillu pennungal illey? Ninte thalleykku kondu kodukkada ninte chumbanam(son of a bitch, go and kiss your own mother)
He was stunned, so was I. I never knew I could scream like that. I watched him bending his head and quickly walking away, I saw few people coming out of the lawyers office. One man still wearing his lawyers coat asked me
Mole(daughter), What did he tell you?”
“He said he wants to kiss me”
I watched the lawyer pushing the man and asking him “Ain’t you ashamed of yourself? you won’t let girls walk on the street peacefully ah? If I see your shadow anywhere here, I will personally go to the police and make them arrest you”
I didn’t want to stand around, so I walked home. As the realization of what I just did occured to me, I started to feel scared. What if the man comes after me and attack me? What if he pours acid on my face and scar me for the rest of my life? What if he rapes me?. I started to run towards home. Every few feet, I turned to look if any one is following me. I was relieved to see our house. I quickly opened the door, entered the house and shut the door. My heart was beating so fast, I thought, I would die. I realized, why women don’t react to eve teasing in India.. It is easier to react than face the consequences of the reaction..


Than pathi, daivam pathi.. (Your 50%,God’s 50%=100%) I remembered the old saying as I sat at the dining table to have my coffee. Like Bobban and Molly, I too was suddenly inspired. With God’s 50% I will atleast pass the exams.
“Will you pray for me Ammachi?” I knew she would, but I just wanted to hear it from her.
I thought I didn’t hear it well, so I looked at Ammachi. Chakki too turned to look at Ammachi
“huh?” I asked
“Nina, you will reap, what you sow. You are responsible for your own actions. You should have known, if you don’t study, you will fail!”
I wasn’t expecting such an answer from the one person who loves me the most. I was expecting sympathy. Ammachi should have known life was really hard for me. How could she be so mean
“Then why did God say” Ask and it shall be given?”
“Nina, if I pray for you and you passed, then you will always expect God to bail you out, every single turn in your life. You will only look for God, when you are in trouble. That is not what God is all about.”
“Then what is God all about?” I was so mad at Ammachi
“That you will have to find yourself!. You will have to find out yourself What is God for you!”
I thought of asking Ammachi, what is God for her? But I had no time. I didn’t want to stay in Chengannur house another minute. All I ever wanted was someone to support me and all of a sudden, I learned, I am all alone, in this whole wide world. The least my grandmother could do was to stand by me.
“I am going home. I have to study” I got up
“Ok” Ammachi too got up
I glanced at Chakki, she patted her chest, folded her hands in front and gestured that she will pray for me. I nodded my head. Ammachi walked with me, I normally give her a kiss before I leave, But I was angry. She is not getting any kiss from me. As I reached the steps that leads to the courtyard I heard her saying
“sukha-duhkhe same krtva
labhalabhau jayajayau
tato yuddhaya yujyasva
naivam papam avapsyasi”
I turned and looked. Ammachi was leaning on the door with her hands folded and looking at me. She had such a beautiful smile on her face.
“What does it mean?” I asked her
“Nina, Joy and Sorrow, success and failure, victory and defeat are all the same. Fight your battles, irrelevant of the results”
I walked back to where she was standing. I didn’t feel angry anymore. Why should I be angry with Ammachi for me not doing my work? I hugged her and kissed her on her cheeks. The moment I lifted my lips, Ammachi used the back of her palm and wiped her cheeks.
“Why are you removing my kiss?”. I kissed her again on her cheeks.
“Don’t wipe it off” I ordered.
“Bye Ammachi, I will see soon”
As I walked on the bund road, I kept turning and looking at Ammachi, to make sure she won’t wipe my kiss off her face. As I crossed Chackochan’s field, I could still see a bit of Ammachi’s mundu. There was peace in my heart, knowing that, I still have my Ammachi. While I stood near the junction waiting for the bus, I knew one thing, that I will pass the exams. I have to. I am Methran Thambi’s grand daughter!.

When I reached home, I went to my room and organized all my books on the floor. I will read each subject for 2 hours. In that way I won’t get bored. I read through the english guide books. I will by heart the poems later.
I heard my sisters coming in. I didn’t have time to talk to them. I continued to study. A little while later I heard a soft knock on the door.
“What is it?” I scremed
“it is me Nina, would you please open the door”
“Sally, I have to study. Go away”
“Please Nina”
“Oh, you are such a pest” I got up to open the door. I was just about to whack Sally on her head, What I saw in front of me was unbelievable. Sally was holding a steel glass in one hand and a cream bun in the other
“I made hot chocolate for you Nina”
“Oh Sally, I am so sorry, I screamed at you!” I took the glass from her hand. I hated myself for screaming at her.
“Try the hot chocolate Nina”
I looked at the glass. There was a lump of undisolved bournvita floating on top of the milk. I slowly drank the cold chocolate made with so much love.
“Is it good”
“Hmmmmmmmm, It is the best hot chocolate I ever had in my whole entire life”
“here, eat the cream bun. I know you will be hungry” Sally gave me the cream bun
“I am not hungry Sally. I am full, I just had a glassful of yummy hot chocolate. You can have the bun. Thank you for the hot chocolate”
“You want me to help you with your studies?” my baby sister asked me
“That would be wonderful. When I finished learning the poems, I will recite the poem and you can check for mistakes. Can you do that?”
“Yes, yes. I can”
“Ok, go and play now. I will call you when I finished studying.
I watched Sally going and telling Liza
“Nina said I can help her with her studies”
“What about me Nina?” Liza asked
“You too can help”
I closed the door, happy that I have wonderful sisters and worried that, the clock needle is turning non-stop. Time waits for no one.


Mama, what is Deepavali ?
It was the first question I heard this morning, when I wished my kids Happy deepavali. I tried to explain to them what is Deepavali. I couldn’t explain the essence of Deepavali to my kids, because to me Deepavali is being a Malaysian.

It is to wake up early in the morning, bath, wear new skirt and blouse and rush to Letchumi’s house and wish them Happy Deepavali and eat my breakfast of sweet rice, kesari bhath and ofcourse steal a bit of freshly made ghee urundai, the moment patti( grandmother) turns her head and talk to the visitors!

This followed by playing tag with all the kids in the neighbourhood, often bumping in to the stream of visitors, wishing them happy deepavali, helping to carry their gifts to the bedroom( in between shaking it to see, what could be inside!). My duties included, serving drinks to the visitors, filling up the murukku bowl and clearing away the used drinking glasses. When my parents come to Letchumi’s house to wish them happy deepavali, I serve them drinks and Murukku as well!.
In the evening, I would help Letchumi to light the diyas and place it all around the house. After the diyas are lit, All the kids sit outside next to the patti( grandmother) and she would tell us the stories about how goodness always win in the end. As the sun set, the diyas would illuminate the 2 bedroom single story house. It is a magical moment, until an hour ago, the house was the same like every other house in the street, walls unpainted, floor cracked, but with the diyas all around, it gets transformed in to a beautiful palace. You don’t see the cracked walls, You see a beautiful happy house. The happiness and the peace of those moments when you are with people you love is what Deepavali is all about.. It is a time to be happy, time to share, time to know that there is goodness, everywhere..
And as a Malaysian Indian, Deepavali will always be celebrated at my house, to remember those good old days and to remind my children that we will always be Malaysians, that we are fortunate to be Malaysians and can celebrate Onam, Deepavali, Hari raya, Christmas,Harvest festival and Chinese New year!, and that beyond our racial lines lay our identity.

Happy Deepavali to all of you

The photo is from www.nandyala.org. Indira’s husband Vijay took the picture last year.


On thursday morning I was in a really bad mood. I still haven’t read most of the subjects, I haven’t had a chance to go back to the bakery to look for the red check shirt wala and today is the day, I should be going to Chengannur. Do I go or not? Ever since I met the red check shirt wala, there was a funny ache in my heart. I tried to be sensible Nina, who isn’t stupid to fall in love with an image. What if he is a drug user? What if he is an alcoholic?, But then the romantic Nina would ask, what if he isn’t? What if he is everything you ever dreamed of.

Then I realized, all these feelings are Ammachi’s fault. She is the one who taught me to think like this. I took my Chemistry text book and locked the door. I will study in the bus. Anyway I have been reading novels, all those times I travelled in the bus to Chengannur, so instead of story book I will read the chemistry book. So in a way, except for walking to the bus stand, I haven’t really wasted any time. I will not take a bath today and use that time to compensate the walk to the bus stand. After all even the mighty elephant doesn’t bath every day!

How stupid I could get!.

As soon as I sat in the bus, I opened the text book and started to read. I had so much to study. I didn’t even waste time to look at the people sitting in the bus. Soon I heard the conductor whistling and the bus started to move. I read about periodic table and Isotopes. When the bus reached the turn near the Ida hotel, I heard a bike sound and I looked outside. I didn’t want to miss a chance of seeing the red check shirt wala. It was a bald old man with a pot belly on a Yezdi bike. There should be a law against old men riding bikes! Why can’t all these people buy a car? Do they think they can capture the youth that went, by riding a bike!.
Every bike that went by, I looked outside the window. I just didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see my red check shirt wala one more time. Soon from periodic table, I progressed to bike spotting. When the bus reached Changanasseri bus station, I thought of getting down and taking the next bus back to Kottayam. But what if the red check shirt wala was really from Chengannur side and he too is going home today?

I ran down the bund road. I didn’t have time to waste, looking for the thatched roof. I looked to see if Ammachi was sitting on the parapet wall. She wasn’t there. I looked for her in the brook, She wasn’t there either. Where is she gone?
As I entered the veranda, I could hear Ammachi and Chakki speaking outside and I walked towards the cattle shed. Ammachi was sitting on a small korandi(stool) and weaving the coconut leaf. She heard me walking and looked at me stunned
“Why are you here?”
“when is your exam Nina?”
“And you came all the way here, instead of studying!”
That moment I realized I am so stupid and that I have all the qualifications to be known as Nina Thomas, grand daughter of Methran Thambi, pre-degree drop out!. Instead of Dr.Nina Thomas. M.B.B.S and some other extra alphabets after that. My frustrations came out in the form of tears.
“Why are you crying Nina?”
“I don’t know”
Ammachi turned to look at Chakki and spoke to her
“You know Chakki, I remember my mother in law saying, Thambi’s great great uncle was also mad. This must be genetic!”
Pavam Nina Ammachi, stop laughing at her”
Chakki got up from her korandi(stool) and spoke
“Ignore your grandmother. She is also half mad!. Come inside the Nina, I will make coffee for you”, I watched Chakki walking towards the well to wash her hands. I looked at Ammachi. She was looking at me
“Why are you staring at me? Looking to see, if I have really gone crazy?”
“Do you know something?”
“30 odd years ago, your father too came home from the hostel 2 days before his exams”
“Really? Why?”
“Why are you here Nina?”
“I wanted to see you Ammachi. I don’t know why” I looked at Ammachi. She was still looking at me, as though she knew, that I knew exactly why I am here. I saw Chakki’s Korandi (stool) on the floor and I sat down on it
“Ammachi did you fall in love with anyone, when you were growing up?”
“Oh! so that is the issue!”
“What is the issue?” I looked at Ammachi
“You fell in love!” “Edi chakki, I was wrong, it is not madness, it is first love” Ammachi was screaming
“Shhh Ammachi. Stop screaming” I was feeling embarassed
“What is he? Suriani?”
“I don’t know”
“Good looking?”
“hmmm” I nodded my head vigorously.
“Which family?”
“I don’t know”
“What is his name?”
“I don’t know Ammachi” I was getting frustrated
“What do you know then?”
“Nothing. I saw him at the bakery and I know his bike number” I tried to show my grandmother that, there is still hope. At least I know the bike number.
Ammachi was looking at me.
“Nina,do you know how people find pearls?”
“ofcourse. Inside the oyster.”
“Does every oyster has a pearl?”
“I don’t know Ammachi”
“Oh Nina!.. When are you going to learn all these? Not all oyster has a pearl Nina. Oysters produce the pearls, when something irritates them, not other wise. But if you are looking for pearls, you have to keep looking, for that perfect pearl.
We all have a beautiful pearl somewhere in this world. Some stop looking the moment they found a pearl, they assume they found what they were looking. Some, don’t want to look and buy what is available at the shop, some don’t know that they have the most beautiful pearl and keep looking”
“Did you find your pearl Ammachi?” I had to ask her
“Where? Was Methran Thambi you pearl?”
“When is your exam Nina? isn’t it on monday?”
“Don’t change the subject. Answer me. Did you find your pearl?”
“Didn’t I just say yes?”
“That was not Methran Thambi, was it? Was it Chackochan?”
“Chackochan? Are you crazy? That old man? Gosh Nina, How can you even think like that, yuck” Ammachi pretended to vomit.
“Who was it?”
“Who was who?”
“Old woman, stop acting like a fool and answer me. You know exactly what I am asking!”
“Young woman, you should know then that, when it is time only then you will know. Now get up and go and drink coffee and go back home and study.”