red check shirt

My second year pre-degree exam was starting in 7 days time and I realized unlike SSLC exams, I haven’t studied anything. I looked at all the books on the table. There was English, French, Physics, Chemistry and biology to learn and I had roughly a day to study for each subjects. I also had to re-write 2 papers from last year. I needed more time to study french, I figured If I study english subject in a day, then may be I will have more time to study the rest of the subjects. I picked up the English text book. There were poetry to learn by heart and there was stories to read. I looked at the stories, there were 12 short stories and I had no time to read all the stories. I shouldn’t have bunked all the classes. I cursed my own stupidity. There was only one option.
Amma was in the kitchen.
“Amma I will come now”
“Where are you going Nina?”
“To the library. I will be back in 1/2 hour”
I took 3 ten Rs note from the inside cover of my record book and was just going out of the door
“Nina can I come with you?” Sally asked
“I am just going to the library Liza! You will be bored”
“Please Nina, Liza is gone for the basketball practise and I am bored. Please can I come with you?”
“Ok. Come, go change your clothes”
“Amma I am taking Sally with me” I announced as I closed the door.

We walked past the BCM college library.
“Are you not going to the library?” Sally asked me
“Then were are we going?” She looked at me suspeciously
“Shhh. don’t tell Amma. I am going to meet my boyfriend.”
“You have a boyfriend?” My sister looked too scandalized
“Why? I can’t have a boyfriend? What is wrong in having a boyfriend?”
“You really have a boyfriend? God promise Nina?”
” God promise? Don’t you know you shouldn’t swear on God? Promise Yes, I really do have a boyfriend. please don’t tell Amma. I trust you to keep a secret”
“What does he do?”
“He is studying”
“Studying what?”
Aiyyah You are asking too much question. wait till you meet him!”
“Is he handsome?”
“Oh Sally, What a silly question! You think I will fall in love with a monkey? He is tall and have the most mesmerising eyes!”
“Where are you going to meet him?”
“Wait la. You need to learn something called patience!”
We reached the traffic light near the post office.
“come, we need to cross the road” I held Sally’s hand and crossed the road and walked to Vidyarthimithram book shop.
“Are you seeing him in the book shop?”
“May be!, Hurry up” I pulled her hand and walked inside
I asked the girl at the counter
“Do you have Assissi guide books for Pre-degree English”
I watched her checking through the shelf.
“No we don’t. We will have new supply in July.”
I wanted to tell her, by then I will be either dead or in a medical college studying medicine.
“Come” I pulled Sally’s hand
“Where is your boyfriend?”
“Come, I will show you” We walked to the bookshop near CMS college. They too didn’t have any stock. Next to the book shop was a small bakery.
“Nina, can you buy me a meat puff?”
“You have money?” I asked her
My baby sister pouted her lips and showed me such a pityful face.
“Yeah yeah, pout your lips. You know I will fall for that! Come, I will buy meat puffs for you”
We sat on the rickety bench.
“2 meat puffs please” I ordered
“2 torino please” Sally ordered
I stared at my sister, the audacity she has! She had a sheepish grin on her face. I felt like pinching her for being so cheeky. But then again she is my baby sister!.
As we ate our puffs, I watched a guy parking his motorbike and entering the shop. Soon few other guys came inside, followed by more girls. They must have been studying in CMS college. This is the life I would have had, if I studied in CMS college, instead I am stuck with nuns, who think wearing jeans and sleeveless top is a sin against humanity. I watched them talking and laughing and it occured to me, I don’t even have a friend.
I looked at the guy who came in first. He was wearing a red check shirt. Suddenly he looked up and our eyes met. I quickly looked down. I cursed myself for staring at him. Now I will be a laughing stock. I expected him to tell his friends about me and waited for them to laugh at me. But that didn’t happen. I could see him stealing glances at me and our eyes met again and he smiled. I would have sat there, till the shop closed in the evening, but I still haven’t managed to find the books I was looking for. I wished I had the guts like matsalleh women and walk up to the apple of my eyes and give him my phone number. I paid the bills and I knew, he was still looking at me. Sadly I walked out of the shop. I passed the bike he was riding, I memorised the registration number 5184. My fascination for red check shirts and bikes began that moment.

“Nina, where are we going now? Sally asked me as we walked to the last book shop near the muncipal office.
“walk and stop talking” I was in no mood to talk to Sally. I was thinking of the odds of ever meeting my red check shirt guy.
Silently we walked to the book shop. An old Appachan with Soda kannadi(spectacles) at the tip of nose, lifted his head and looked at us.
“hmmm?” He asked
“Guide books for pre-degree” I was too scared to add anymore words.
“hmm” He muttered.
I watched him climb the ricketty old chair and getting a bundle of old, dusty books from the top of the shelf. Holding the books in one hand, he climbed down slowly. He patted the books to remove the dust and looked at me
I watched him turn the books and checking the date
“You are wasting your money. Syllabus changes this year!”
“I know, the books are for this year”
Appachan suppressed a sudden cough. I hoped he won’t die of heart attack. I must have been the first student in his life he would have seen buying guide books a week before the exams.
As I paid the bills and walked out of the shop, there were too many mixed emotions going through my head. I haven’t studied anything for the exams and failure is something I don’t want to tackle. I also fell in love with an unattainable image. All I know is a bike registarion number!
“Where is your boy friend?”
Aiyyah Sally, Don’t you know I was fooling you”
“But you said promise”
“yes I did.. I was talking about promise toothpaste!”
“Go Nina, you always cheat. I am not talking to you anymore”

May the light shine..

today and everyday..
in your life
Happy Deepavali to all my Beloved Readers


As I walked on the bund road, for the first time, I didn’t look for the thatched roof. I looked down on the ground in front of me as I walked. Perhaps I didn’t want to step in to cow dung, perhaps the burden that I was carrying was too heavy for me that I couldn’t look over my shoulder and find the thatched roof that was always there.
From the bund wall I stepped on to the concrete slab over the brook. Ammachi usually sits on the parapet wall and wait for me. She wasn’t there.
‘Where did she go’, I wondered’ Doesn’t she know today is thursday? Why can’t she wait for me?’
“What happend? Why you didn’t scream and shout and call my name from the main road” I was taken aback to hearing her voice, just when I was thinking about her. It was so sudden and completely unexpected. My heart was beating so fast, I couldn’t breath. I looked around to see, where Ammachi was hiding. I looked down in to the brook and found my grandmother standing in the middle of the brooke.
“You scared me” I scolded her.” Why are you hiding inside the brook?”
“Who said I am hiding? I came to look for kudampuli !”
“Kudampuli grows on the tree, not in the brook!”
“Did you by any chance, look in the mirror when you woke up this morning?”
“Why?” Subconsciously I wiped my face, thinking that I might still have the remnants of ‘modern bread’ and pineapple jam breakfast on my face.
“I was wondering, you must have seen your own face this morning, that is why you are in a foul mood. Don’t you know Kochumaharani, that the kudampuli that grows on the tree usually fall down, when it is ripe and in this case, the tree is near the brook and the fruits fall inside the brook. Or is it that you thought the fruits march and come in to the kitchen on their own?”
Athey, Old woman, don’t make me angry. You know who I am?” I asked her
“Who are you?”
“You don’t know who I am? After all these years? Aiya ya ya! I shook my head disapprovingly.
Ammachi was laughing.” You are Methran Thambi’s grand daughter. There is no doubt about it! Get down here, I will show you something”
“What did you find?” I asked her
“come here Nina”
“Are you going to fool me?”
“If you don’t want to see, then don’t. Ammachi turned and started to walk.
“Wait wait Ammachi, I am coming. I placed my books on the concrete slab. Slowly I climbed down to the mud wall that separates the brook from the paddy field. The brook was dry and I climbed down to the smooth stones that lined the bottom and ran to where Ammachi was standing.
“what did you find?” I asked her again
“come, she held my hand and we walked to the area where the brook is wider, near Chackochan’s paddy field
“Are you going to cut the mud wall again?” I looked around to see if Chackochan is watching us.
“You never forgets eh?”
“How to, when I have a grand mother like you?”
I watched Ammachi taking a stick from the side of the brook. She picked something white like a long strip of cloth from the ground using the stick.
“What is that?” I asked her
“Snake skin”
Ente Ammoo,” Saying I ran. I quickly climbed on to the safety of the mud wall and pleaded with Ammachi
“Put it down Ammachi. What if the snake gets angry with you? Please put it down and come back. I don’t want you to die”
oh Pinney, As if the snake is going to come after me for this old skin.” Ammachi started to walk towards me, still holding the snake skin on the end of the stick.
“You can stay here with the snakes and get bitten. I am going home.”
I hate snakes and I didn’t want to be anywhere near them. I started to run back to the safety of my home. The nearest hospital is 20 minutes away. I tried to remember how to tie the tourniquet, if Ammachi was bitten by the snake. Why can’t my grandmother play safe? Why does she have to go and look for snake skin?
Chakki was in the kitchen, lighing the fire.
“Aha, Kochumaharani, I didn’t hear you coming. Have you seen Ammachi?”
“She is there in the brook, saying kinnaram(sweet words) to the snake”
“What snake?”
“Don’t know. She found a snake skin. I told her to leave it. But you know her! I think she is bringing it home”
“Must be the moorkhan(cobra snake). There are so many of them near the brook”
Moorkhan? That is the most poisonous snake!”
I went back to the veranda, desperately hoping my grandmother would get out of that brook. Finally I saw her walking on top of the concrete slab.
“Nina, your books are still here.”
Aiyyah” I muttered to myself. Now I will have to listen to an hour long lecture about responsibility. Grudgingly I walked towards the bund. I looked at my grandmother’s hands, to make sure, she is not holding the snake skin. I rather lose my books than be near to snake or its skin. Fortunately she didn’t take the skin.
“Why do you hate snakes Nina?”
“Because it is evil!”
“Who told you it is evil?”
“the bible!, it was the snake that made Adam and Eve to sin”
“And it was the snake that healed the Israelites!”
“When did the snake heal?” I asked Ammachi
“don’ you remember Moses was asked to make a statue of bronze snake(Nehustan in Hebrew) and hang it on a staff for everyone to see? Those who were bitten by the venomous snake could look up on the snake statue and be healed?”
“But Ammachi, snakes are ugly, they look scary and their bite can kill”
“Ofcourse. But won’t it be the same with everything on earth Nina?”
“What do you mean?”
“Think Nina, where ever there is evil, there is also goodness”
“But there is no goodness in snake. It is just a creeppy crawly! an annoying pest”
“You are only seeing what you want to see Nina”
I looked at my grandmother to see what she sees in a snake that I don’t.
“Snakes can bite you, but they also eat the mice, that destroys our crops! But that is not why I showed you the snake skin”
“Why did you show me the snake skin Ammachi?”
Ammachi looked at me, hoping that I would guess. But I couldn’t.
“Nina, even the snake can remove the old unwanted damaged skin. Every few months, it creates a new skin and get rid of the old one”
“hmmm” I nodded my head. I had plenty of shedding to do.


I was ironing my sister’s school uniform in the morning. Amma was in the room changing her clothes.
“Nina, it is almost 2 months, when is Maria going to send me new hair clips?” Sally asked me.
“Oh Sally, she will send. May be she is busy, may be she didn’t have time to go out shopping. I am sure she will send it soon”
“I am tired of waiting Nina. My friends all call me a liar. I told them 2 months ago that I am going to get new hair clips. They now call me, Miss pulu (liar)”
“Did you see that?” I pointed my hand and showed my sister the big jackfruit tree in Akashavani’s property through the window
“See what?” Sally looked at the tree and at me
“You didn’t see the Mynah? There were 2 Mynahs. If you see 2 of them, then you will get a letter. So that means, you will get a letter from Maria today”
“Where? I don’t see any Mynah” Sally was desperately trying to look for the non existent birds.
“I think you need to get your eyes tested. How can you not see the birds that are sitting on the right edge of that big branch?”
Sally turned to look at me to ask “Where?”
“Aiyyah, see ! it just flew away. You missed it. Ask Amma if you don’t beleive me.
“Amma did you see the birds?” Sally asked Amma
I quickly winked at Amma.
“Yes Sally, I saw the birds flying away. There were two of them”
“See! Now do you believe me?” I asked my baby sister.”Here, give this shirt to Liza and go get dressed quickly.”
I could hear Sally talking excitedly to Liza
“Liza, Nina and I saw 2 Mynahs. That meand, today we will get Maria’s letter. Tomorrow I will show Anjali my brand new hairclips. Oh I can’t wait for tomorrow”

I turned around and whispered to Amma
“I need some money. I will buy the clips from Ladies corner shop.”
“Take the money from my hand bag”
“ok Amma”
I was getting worried about Maria. It is almost 2 months since she left. She hasn’t called or send a letter. Maria can make free phone call from ‘his’ office. That is one of the perks ‘he’ gets being a senior government official. Why hasn’t she done that?
I wanted to write a letter to Maria and remind her of all the promises she made. I wanted to ask her, what happend to the promise of giving Amma her first salary? Didn’t she say, she owed all her success to Amma and there is no better way than to gift Amma the first month pay?
“Amma, can I have Maria’s address?” I asked
“Nina. I don’t have her address”
I looked at my mother to see if she really meant what she said. Amma saw me staring at her.
“Nina, Acha arranged accomodation for Maria. I wanted Maria to stay in the YWCA hostel. Acha said, Maria will get lonely, so , he arranged a paying guest accomodation for her with some Malayalee family in Ulsoor.”
“Why don’t you call him and ask him for her address?”
“I tried”
“What do you mean, you tried? Why doesn’t he give you the address?”
“I have been trying to speak to him since your sister left. Apparently he is attending some conference in Delhi. But his secratary promised me she will pass on the message, the moment he comes back”
I had to sit down somewhere. I switched off the iron and went outside to sit on the easy chair. My heart fealt so heavy and I was so angry. My family was disintegrating in to unrecognizable pieces. Who would believe, what is happening to my family? Who would believe that my uncle took my sister away? I felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do. There was no one I could ask for help.
I hated my father that moment. If he did his job as a father, none of this would have happend. Why is everyone so selfish in my family?
“May be Acha must have gone to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister, remember he was talking about the new position they were offering him?” Amma spoke as though she wanted to convince me of something.
‘for 2 months?’ I had the urge to get up from the chair and go and slap my mother. Stupid woman, she still trust that ‘idiot’. When is she going to wake up?

I so very badly wanted to tell Amma, she is a world class idiot. I wanted to tell Amma, each time she phoned him, ‘he’ would have been standing right next to his secratary and telling her exactly what to say. I wanted to tell Amma, she destroyed Maria’s life. I hated my mother too. Why did she had to bring ‘him’ in to our life? But there was no point going after my mother, when she is still holding on to old, torn silk sarees.

I took 2 ten Rs notes from Amma’s hand bag and walked to Ladies corner shop.

“Uncle do you have any butterfly hair clip?” I asked the owner of the shop
“Aha, who is this? Nina, Where have you been? Why haven’t you come to the church all these days? By the way, you still haven’t given us a treat for scoring such good marks for SSLC”
I smiled at him. If he knew I scored the highest marks in the church, then he should have stood up for me. He didn’t and I don’t owe him an apology or a treat.
“Uncle I am in a hurry, Do you have any butterfly hair clips with pink stones in it”
“I have these”, he took the red plastic box from inside the shelf and kept it on the counter. I watched him going through the covers and finally he pulled out two clips. “These are from Dubai, It is the latest fashion”
I took the clips from his hand. First thin I noticed was the price tag. 7.50/piece.
‘goodness, that is expensive’. I thought. The clips were beautiful, with baby pink net material for the wings. Body of the butterfly too was made of net material rolled with gold thread holding it in place.
“Don’t you have anything cheaper?” I asked the owner
“I have these” he showed me oridnary slides in different shades
“Not these, I want butterfly shape”
“No Nina, I only have these 2 slides” He pointed to the ones on the table that costs 7.50 each.
“I will take them. I also want a pencil case”
“what kind?”
“Any kind that cost less than 5 Rs”
I watched him going to the other side of the shop and digging through the boxes. he came back holding a mickey mouse pencil case.
“This is the cheapest one I have. It is 6 Rs”
“Unlce, I only have 20 Rs. Keep this here. Don’t sell it to anyone. I will run home and get 1 Rs”
“No need Nina, pay me 20 Rs. It is ok”
“No. I will come now”
I walked back home quickly and took 1 Rs from my pencil case and walked back all the way to the shop. As I walked past the lawyers office near the parade ground, past the church, past the saw mill and the S.Koder shop, I tried to think what is worng with me. Why couldn’t I take the stuff, when the shop keeper told me, it is ok. I didn’t understand my own quirkiness.

I wrapped the gifts and placed them in a brown envelope and wrote my sisters name and our address on the cover. I took an old used stamp from my stamp collection and stuck it on the envelope and placed the envelope in the mail box. I had Chemistry practicals that morning. I knew I would get in to trouble for skipping the class. But as I stood leaning on the gate for support, I wondered, how many more promises do I have to honour on behalf of my family members? My future looked very scary, more scarier than Sr Agnes, my dreaded chemistry teacher. I went back inside and laid down on my bed. I wanted to sleep, because only in my sleep I was safe from my worries.
I woke up hearing the excited laughter from my youngest sisters
“Maria send hair clips. She kept her word. I love Maria. She is the best sister in the whole world” Sally was screaming
I placed the pillow on my head, lest I would go mad and scream.

Mother Nina

When I reached back home, Sally was sitting in the verandah. She had a ripe mango in one hand and a drinking straw in the other hand. It looked a bit odd and I stood near the gate and watched her. She was poking the mango with the drinking straw and saying “Maza Maza”.
“Give it to me, you are not doing it right” I watched Liza snatching the mango and the drinking straw from Sally’s hand. Soon she too started to poke the mango with the straw and shouting “Maza Maza”. I opened the gate and both my sisters heard the noise. I saw them hide the mango behind their school bag.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked both of them
“Nothing. We are just sitting here Nina” Liza replied
“Why are you holding a straw in your hand?”
Chumma (just like that)” They shrugged their shoulders.
” Why were you poking the mango and saying “Maza Maza?” I asked
Liza was trying to control her sheepish grin, while Sally was laughing
“We are trying to make mango juice Nina”
“Mango juice? How?”
“Nina, in the TV, the uncle pokes the mango with the straw and say ‘Maza Maza’ and a bottle of Maza mango juice comes in his hand. We are trying to do the same thing”
I looked at my youngest sisters. There are certain moments in life, when you feel overwhelmigly protective of your siblings. It was one such moment, where I knew I would do anything to protect their innocence. I knew I am all they have.
“Do you want to drink mango juice?” I asked
“yes, yes yes” both nodded their head
“Come, let us go to Paico. I will buy you something to drink from Best bakery”
“Will you buy us meat puffs?” Sally asked
I held both their hands and walked. In the morning Amma was holding Sally’s hand and now, It is my turn. I felt I am filling in the mothering void, my mother created in pursuit of her own happiness. I could not fail my sisters. I had to make sure, I am there for them.
“3 meat puffs and 2 Maza mango juice please” I spoke to the aunty at the counter. I watched her taking the juice from the fridge and shaking the bottle to mix the juice well. She used the bottle opener and opened the bottle
“Me first” Liza snatched the mango juice from the her hand
“Where is my juice? Why Liza gets everything first?” Sally was about to cry
Aiyyah Sally, stop crying. Let her open the bottle first” I turned around and spoke to the aunty “Children!!, they have no patience!”
I watched my sisters drinking the juice. Both of them didn’t ask what about you Nina? Why didn’t you order a Maza juice for yourself? They didn’t ask, if I wanted to share a bit of their Maza. I thought of all the times Amma bought us things and didn’t buy anything for herself. I thought of all the times, I didn’t offer her a share of my drink.
I had enough money to order another drink. But I didn’t want to waste my money. With that money, I could buy something else for my sisters, besides I could always drink water. I won’t die, just because I didn’t have a bottle of mango juice.
“Nina, will you buy me a poompatta magazine?” Liza asked
I counted all the changes in my hand.
We walked to Paico book shop.
“Nina look Kapish” Sally was jumping up and down, pointing to the kapish toy that was on the shelf.
“My friend Anjali has the same toy. If you squeeze the tummy, it would make sounds just like a monkey”
I picked up the toy from the shelf.
“Can I see? Liza was screaming
“I saw it first, I want to see it first” Sally was screaming. Everyone in the shop was looking at us and I didn’t know how to handle the situation.
“Guys, please don’t scream. You both can see it. Just wait for one person to see it first and then the other person can see it. Sally saw it first. Let her have a look at it first. Besides Liza, you are older and wiser and ofcourse smarter” I tried to pacify Liza
“I hate you Nina. You always like Sally more than me”
“No I don’t. both of you are my sisters and I love both of you equally”
“Now ask Sally to give me the toy. She held it for more than 5 minutes!”
“Sally, give the toy to Liza. Let her have a look”
“No. It is mine”
“Give it to me”, Liza was screaming and pulling it from Sally’s hand and both of them were screaming. All the uncles and aunties in the shop were enjoying free comedy show and I didn’t know how to settle the problem. I watched in horror,Liza pulling Sally’s hair and snatching the toy from her hand and I watched Sally kicking her and pulling the toy from Liza’s hand. The plastic cover was now torn and the stupid monkey was making sound each time one of them pulled it from the other’s hands, as though the monkey was having fun.
“What is going on here?” A burly looking man asked us. “Give me the toy” He ordered and my sisters handed the toy to him.
“it is mine” Liza spoke
“Mine” Sally spoke
Koche, your sisters tore the plastic cover, No one will buy the toy without the cover. You damaged it, so you have to buy it.” I looked at the price tag. 10Rs. that was 10 freaking Rs for a stupid rubber monkey. I wanted to cry. But I chose to take care of my sisters and I had to do my job well. I followed the man to the counter and paid the 10Rs, from the money Ammachi gave me for ticekt.
As I left the shop I heard him telling the lady at the counter
“My God, such uncultured kids. Is this how parents raise their kids?”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked back to him
“What is your problem? Did I take the toy without paying? I paid you the cost of the monkey, didn’t I? For heaven’s sake, they are kids, don’t you dare call my sisters uncultured” I stormed out of the shop, holding the toy in my hand and my sisters by my side.
The road ahead didn’t look easy. I didn’t know, how I would raise my sisters. I wondered why I should waste my life, taking care of my sisters. Isn’t that my mother’s job? I knew the answers to all those questions. I knew my mother would destroy their life, just like she did Maria’s, Just like she is doing to mine. I will not let her do that.

In the mid 80’s there used to be a Maza Mango juice ad on TV.. The guy would hold a ripe juicy mango on his hand and tap it with a straw and say Maza Maza and voila! a juice bottle appears in his hand.. The same guy also acted in the ECE bulb ad, where he would ride his scooter and his wife sings from the balcony, bhool na jana, ECE bulb lana!

There are times that I wonder what makes me miss Kerala so much.. here are the reasons..


As I walked on the bund road, as usual I tried to spot the thatched roof. I thought I saw a tiny part of the roof through the foliage and I walked faster hoping, I really did spot the roof.. Suddenly I stepped in to something and I looked down. My right feet was in the middle of fresh cowdung. From the sides of my slipper, the cowdung reached all the way to my sole and it was stinking. I was so angry.
‘Which idiot took his cow out for a morning walk? It must have been Chackochan. Couldn’t he do anything better in the morning? I slowly removed my leg from the dung and removed my slipper. My feet looked gross. I quickly rubbed and rubbed my feet on the grass to remove the sticky yucky dung. My feet was sticky. I took the dried leaves from the floor and wiped most of the dung in the slipper. It was still stinking and I didn’t want to wear it. I held the slipper in my hand holding the strap and started to walk, holding one slipper in my hand and wearing the other on my leg. The gravel stones were poking and hurting my feet. All I wanted was to wash my leg and my slipper. I marched home, hoping to wash my leg before Ammachi sees me and make fun of me.
But the laws of life is such that, when you really don’t want to see your grandmother is when she waits for you sitting on the parapet wall.
“Kochumaharani, why are you wearing a slipper on your hand?” She pointed to the slipper in my hand.
Edi Chakki, Come and see this, Didn’t I tell you the world is ending soon. See people are wearing slipper in their hand” Ammachi was laughing at me and I was mad at her, at the guy who took his cow out for a walk in the morning and at the guy who rubbed his thigh against mine. I looked for the brasspot (kindi) that is always kept on the parapet wall with water to wash legs. In its place there was a shining new stainless steel pot.
“Where is my brass pot?” I asked Ammachi
“Your brass pot?” She looked at me and asked
“Yes mine. The one Methran Thambi brought with his own money and kept here, so everyone can wash their leg”
“Oh that one.. I sold it”
“You sold it? You sold my brass pot without my permission? How dare you?” I was hopping mad
Ammachi was holding her stomach and laughing. I didn’t find it funny so I asked her
“why did you sell it?”
“Why can’t I sell it?”
“Because it is mine. Every single tiny rock in this land is mine”
“Oh like that ah. But Kochumaharani, didn’t you learn in school that brass pot is not made of rock, it is made from copper” Ammachi was trying to show a straight face and I knew she was laughing at me inside her head.
“I am not talking to you” I walked towards the well
I heard Ammachi shouting
Edi Chakki, draw some water for her, normally people bring apples and oranges when they visit their grandmother. Mine brought cow dung”
I turned around and stuck my tongue at her. But Ammachi was looking at the kitchen and speaking to Chakki and didn’t see it.
‘Today is not my day’. I muttered.
Chakki helped me to wash my legs and hands. My feet was still stinking.
“Wait here Kochumaharani” I watched her plucking few tender mango leaves. She used her hand to bruise the leaves and rubbed on my leg to remove the smell.
When I entered the kitchen, Ammachi was waiting for me with a glass of hot coffee with ghee. I took it from her hand and walked to the kitchen counter to get more sugar
“I already added extra sugar. You should taste before assuming”
I didn’t respond. Quietly I walked towards the bench and sat on it. I am not going to talk to anyone who is laughing at me. I didn’t purposely walk in to the cow dung and there was no need for Ammachi to laugh at me like this. Not enough, she even sold my brass pot, which by the way, my grandfather bought.
Edi Chakki, why don’t you bring me some of that jackfruit chips we fried yesterday?” Ammachi asked Chakki
‘Jackfruit chips? wow, I love them. But I still didn’t want to talk to Ammachi’
I watched Chakki using the tip of the knife and opening the golden colour biscuit tin and taking handful of chips out and placing in a brass bowl. Chakki closed the lid of the tin
edi Chakki, why are you taking only a little bit of chips. You know she likes to eat it.Take some more and give the plate to Nina” Ammachi looked at me and said “Actually, give the whole tin to her. Do you remember Chakki, how she used stand next to me while I fried the chips?”
“Oh yes Ammachi, I remember how she would jump up and down while holding the hot chips in her hand.”
I tried to remember. But I couldn’t. I took the chips from the bowl and started to eat. Each golden yellow chips fried and salted to perfection. As I ate the chips, I felt peaceful. I felt good.
There was something about Chengannur house that when you sit in the smoky kitchen, munching the chips that your grandmother made with love, your anger vanishes and peace comes to you in abundence. I looked around the kitchen. At the bottom of the kitchen counter, next to where Ammachi keeps the firewood I saw the brass pot.
“You didn’t sell the pot. You lied!. Why Ammachi, why did you lie?” I asked her
“Nina, when you got angry, you looked just like your father. I just wanted to see that angry face”
“Oh, so you miss Methran Thambi’s son ah?”
“I never said I don’t”
“Then why didn’t you open all the letters he send?”
“If I read the letters, would it make me miss your father less?”
“No, but you will know if he is ok”
“If he isn’t ok, can I do something, when he is miles away? Can I go there and take care of him?”
“No, but still Ammachi”
“Nina, there is no but( ennalum) in life.”
“There is”
“No there isn’t”
“How do you know?” I asked her
“Why were you angry this morning?” She asked me
I told her about the guy in the bus who rubbed his thigh on mine.
“Why didn’t you tell him, what was bothering you?”
“How can I Ammachi?”
“What are you afraid of Nina? You sat in that bus, you endured the torture, because you didn’t want to hurt his feelings. You didn’t want to embarass him. But it is ok for you to sell your feelings?”
“I didn’t sell my feelings” I was so mad at Ammachi for saying that
“Oh yes, you did. You told that man, that it is ok for him to do it, because, whatever happens, you will protect his feelings. Ennalum (but, because) he is a man, respected member of the society, a father, a husband, you didn’t want his name to be spoiled. You surrendered yourself Nina”
“I did not. What else could I have done? Slap him? Punch him?” I asked her
“What is the strongest weapon Nina?”
I didn’t have to think hard
“Nuclear Bomb”
“Who made it?”
“Who used it?”
“No Nina, I meant, who gave the authority to use the bomb against the Japanese?”
“Oh Nina, man made the bomb,man gave the order, man followed the command, man dropped the bomb.”
” Man was in control, not the bomb. There is nothing stronger than the man. He controls a bomb that can kill thousands, yet you can’t tell someone when he bothers you?”
I looked at my grandmother. I, could climb trees, I could swim, I could run, I scored 529 marks for SSLC, yet I couldn’t open my own mouth?


In the morning, I was helping Amma to make dosai and she was cutting the vegetable to make sambar.
“I think we should move to Bangalore”. Amma spoke
“Why? What for?” I asked her
“Anyway we are paying rent here, for the same rent we can get a house in Bangalore, and your sisters can study in either Bishop Cotton school or the Baldwin school. Schools in Bangalore are better than the ones here. Besides, Chechy can stay with us and we will all be together”
I looked at my mother, who was still busy peeling the potato. I wondered if she knew that I know why she wants to be in Bangalore? It was none of the reasons she gave me and I wondered, whether she will ever tell the truth.
Although Amma was standing just 2 feet away from me, each of her lies were adding layers of separation between us. Much as I wanted to break free from her, I was stuck. I couldn’t break free from her lies and her schemes.
I didn’t want to be in Bangalore. I didn’t want my younger sisters to be in Bangalore. I had an obligation to protect my sisters from ‘that’ man.
“Amma, I was thinking of joining Kottayam medical college” I spoke, knowing very well that I am going to hear a lot of criticism.
“Medical college? You have to write entrance exam and what is your guarentee that you will get admission? You don’t get admission because you got 529 marks for SSLC”
“Oh really? Oh I am so sorry, I didn’t know that. I thought I could just walk in to the medical college with my SSLC marks card.” I replied sarcastically
“Nina, there are plenty of courses you can join in Bangalore. You can do lab technology or B.Pharm. There is a huge demand for Pharmacist in US and you can ask my brother to sponsor you”
I looked at my mother again. She was cutting the potato in to cubes. I felt she was cutting my future, just so, she could achieve her dreams. My life meant nothing to her. I felt repulsed standing next to the woman who unfortunately gave birth to me.
“Amma, you can make the rest of the dosai. I want to go to the toilet”
“Oh running away to the toilet ah?” Amma picked up the steel plate to count the dosai I made.” My wonderful daughter got tired after making 10 dosai!
Has it ever occured to you, how much my back hurts making dosai for all of you? You thought all this is easy ah?”
I didn’t respond. How am I to tell her that, it is she I am sick off. I quickly went to the toilet and shut the door. I felt sick, thinking about how much my mother manipulates me. Maria couldn’t go to US because my uncle and his wife are misers and it is ok for me to go to US, because my mother knows the same misers will treat me well. I absolutely hated my mother for the way she treats me. But I couldn’t do anything. She gave birth to me and I owe my life to her.

I couldn’t wait for Thursday to come. I needed to see Ammachi. I thought of going to Chengannur on Monday. But that would create problems. The staff at BCM college is under the impression that every Thursday, I have an appointment at Kottayam medical college to fit a new hearing aid. I even showed them the proof of all the impressive audiogram reports from All India Institute of Hearing in Mysore. I didn’t want to create any trouble and lose the opportunity to go to Chengannur(kanjilu pattane enthina idunney?)

Thursday morning I woke up early.
“Nina can you comb my hair?” Sally came to my room with the comb.
“Ofcourse. Sit down on the chair”
I brushed my sister’s hair. Unlike me, she has soft curly hair.
“Chechy said, she will buy me new hair clips for me from Bangalore. I want a butterfly clip with shiny pink colour stones on it”
“That is nice Sally. Butterfly with shiny stones will look nice on your hair”
“I wish I had straight hair like you Nina. Your hair is so pretty”
“You know something?” I asked my baby sister
“What?” She turned around and looked at me
“I wish I had curly hair like you. Your hair is so pretty”.
“Really Nina? You really like my hair?”
“Yes, I cross my heart. Now get up, I will tuck your shirt properly.”
I helped her to tuck her school uniform shirt neatly.
“Sally, Hurry up, let us go. You will miss your school bus” Amma was shouting
“Go fast” I pushed my sister out of my room
“Nina, make sure the kitchen door is locked before you leave”
“ok Amma”
I watched Amma holding Sally’s hand and walking. Liza was walking next to Sally and they were talking and laughing. It was nice to see my sisters happy, but I had things to do. I closed the main door and went to my room. I had to get the money. I had hidden the money Ammachi gave in the inside cover of my record book. I slowly opened the cover and took 2 ten rupees notes and closed the cover back. I kept the money in my pencil case, took few of my books from the table and checked and locked all the doors. I waited till 9 AM to make sure Amma is in the office before leaving. In that way, chances of her seeing me in the bus stand is slim. When the clock chimed 9, I locked the door and walked towards BCM college. Till I reached the college main door, I wasn’t scared. As I passed the gate, there were so many students near the gate. My heart was beating fast.
‘What if someone sees me and ask me where I am going?’
I will cross that bridge when I have to. I quickened my pace. Taxi drivers waiting infront of the district hospital were whistling and commenting
“eda, Why there is no college today?, Is there a strike today?” I heard one speaking
“eda Which movie is playing in the theatre this morning?” Another one asked
“If you are alone this morning, Can I join you?” another one in Khaki shirt spoke as I walked. I had a black umbrella in my hand. I wish I knew how to do Karate and hit all of them one go with my umbrella. I was so angry. I didn’t know what their problem was. Men in India, just can’t leave a woman alone.
By the time I reached the bus stand I was sweating. I found the Trivandrum bus waiting at the bay. I got inside and found a seat near the window and wished silently that I would get a female passenger to sit next to me. I didn’t want free pinches and fondlings, so I kept my books next to me, as though the seat was reserved for someone.
Soon the conductor came. I gave him the 10 Rs and told him
“Chengannur. 1 ticket please”
“Don’t you have change?” he asked me
“Why do all of you get dressed up and come inside the bus, expecting me to have loose change. Why can’t you carry exact amount?” He was yelling at me
I looked at him. I didn’t respond. he scribbled the balance on the ticket and I snatched it from his hand, as I didn’t want the conductor to massage my hand on the pretext of giving me the ticket.
I looked outside the window.There were so many people in the bus stand. I remembered the time I went to Chengannur with Appa and us eating at the bus station canteen. I had money to go and eat. But there is no way, I could do that peacefully. A young girl going alone to eat in a bus staion canteen? It is not something that is socially accepted. Girls are not supposed to eat outside alone. I wondered who made such a silly rules.
“Is this seat occupied?” I turned my head to look.
A man in his late 40’s, wearing blue stripped shirt was grinning at me. He must hav been too excited to find a good catch in the morning. After all how often would you find a teenager alone in a bus!
There were so many seats vacant in the bus, yet he wanted to sit next to me. I didn’t respond. I took the books from the seat and placed it on my lap. He sat down next to me
Nina nna peru? (your name is Nina?)” He looked at the books on my lap.
I turned the book around.
“Where are you going?”
I didn’t respond
“You can’t hear? Are you deaf?” He sat closer to me and I tried to move further away. He moved even more closer. The disadvantage of the window seat is, the window prevents you from moving further. His thighs were rubbing mine. I looked at him. He was busy looking at the other side, as though he isn’t doing anything wrong. I looked around the bus. All the female passengers were with their husbands or fathers. No one travelled alone.
I sat there, angry and upset with my total inability to fight for my own rights to travel in a public bus without being harassed.
I could have got down near the junction after the Chengannur bus stand. I didn’t want to sit another minute next to the creep and I got off the bus, the moment it reached Chengannur. I walked home from the bus stand

the trap

“Train number 6526 from Kanyakumari to Bangalore will arrive in platform number 1 in just a few minutes” We heard the announcement.
Maria got up from the bench. One porter wearing a colourful sarong and red shirt was standing next to us and Maria asked him
Chetta, where does S1 compartment stop?”
“Oh S1 Ah, that is over there” porter pointed the other end.
Aiyyo, why didn’t you check that first Maria? Now we have to carry the bags all the way there”
“Do you want me to carry the bags?” The porter asked Amma
“How much?”
He surveyed all the bags “10 Rs for all”
“10 Rs?? I can go all the way to Cochi with that money. Men!! Amma shook her head, they always take advantage of helpless women. Nina, carry the smaller bag, I will carry the big one.”
Amma started to drag the bag and run to the other end. I tried to carry the bag. It was heavy.
“Hurry up Nina, the train will be here in a minute” Amma was panicking.
I tried to lift the bag and it slipped from my hand
“Oh Nina, Be careful, I packed the pickle bottles inside that suicase”. I stared at her. instead of helping, she was ordering me around.
“Hurry up Nina” Amma turned around and was yelling
‘This is the last time, I am ever going to carry Maria’s bag’. I promised myself.
“Liza, you hold one end and I will hold the other end” I told my sister.
We could see the train approaching the station. People were jostling and pushing everyone on the platform. Peddlers were all out ready for the 3 mintues war. In between all the chaos, Liza and I tried to drag the bag.
The train reached the platform already and I was still far away from the S1 compartment. Maria ran to the compartment to check her name on the reservation list pasted by the side of the door.
“Hurry up Nina I will miss the train”
“Can’t you help Maria?” I asked her
“Oh Nina, my hands would ache for 2 days, if I carry anything heavy. You know I have to start to work on monday”
I didn’t say anything. My sisters life was full of excuses anyway. I used all my strength to carry her bag to her compartment. My hands were red, carrying the heavy bag.
Amma helped me to lift the bag up the steps to the compartment. Another porter was inside the compartment and he tried to pull the bag inside
“No, don’t touch that bag, She can carry it inside” Amma told him. “Aiyyeda, you are trying to touch the bag and charge me for that. My daughter is strong enough to carry it inside.”
“Whatever” The porter shook his head and walked away.
“Bye Amma” Maria hugged Amma. I will buy you a silk saree when I get my first salary.
“Bye Nina, Study well” She hugged me. I felt so uncomfortable. “Ok, ok” I pushed her away.
“Bye Liza, bye Sally” She held both my sisters close to her and hugged them
“Don’t forget to buy me Cadbury chocolates” Sally spoke
“ofcourse not”
We heard the train whistle and Maria entered the train. She stood near the door. I looked at her, trying to see, if she would know how to protect herself from getting hurt. Maria was waving her hand, as the train started to move. We watched the train accelerating and Maria’s hand getting smaller and smaller.
I knew my sister is going far away from me and I can’t protect her. I felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do to help my one and only big sister. I looked at my youngest sisters. I had to make sure, nothing would happen to them. I just had to.

good genes/bad genes

Maria was leaving for Bangalore on saturday, so she could start work on monday. I wanted to tell my oldest sister so badly that, one unique Binny silk saree doesn’t equate to unconditional love. But there was no way, I could convince my super intelligent IIT graduate sister that nothing in life comes free. You just can’t show light to someone who chooses to be blind.
I watched Maria packing her suitcase excitedly. Liza was helping her to fold the saree and Sally placed the matching blouse inside each saree
“Maria will you buy me a new school bag, when you get your first salary?” Liza asked
“Ofcourse! I will buy both of you a new school bag” I heard the ‘both of you’, not all three of you. It didn’t matter any more. I can carry my books in my hand. I don’t need a school bag. I saw Liza looking at me like a winner. I knew what that look meant
‘See Nina, Maria is going to buy me a new school bag, you are not going to get one’. I quickly walked away.
Amma was in the kitchen making pickles and chutneys for Maria to take. She was scraping the skin from the ginger.
“Do you want me to help you Amma?” I asked her
“Sure, can you slice the ginger in to tiny slivers?”
“Ofcourse” I took the ginger from her hand. I took the knife and cutting board and went to the dining table. It was easier to sit there and slice the ginger. I scrapped the skin neatly from the ginger and cut the ginger in to fine slices first and then cut each slice in to tiny slivers. I made sure each sliver was the same the thickness.
“where is th Sandal wood freshners Acha bought for me? Who took it?” I heard Maria yelling.” Amma did you see it? I left it in the suitcase this morning” Maria came to the kitchen to ask Amma. I continued to slice the ginger
“It must be in the suitcase Maria. Go and look properly” Amma told her
“I checked already. It isn’t there”
“I have blind daughters. My daugters just can’t use their eyes. I will find it for you” I could hear Amma washing her hand and murmering. I wanted to tell her, she was right about her daughters being blind. They must have inheritted the blindness from their mother. I kept quiet and continued to slice the ginger. I could hear Amma, Maria, Liza and Sally checking for one small clothes freshner.
“Nina, did you take it?” Amma asked
“She is lying Amma. She must have taken it, because I know for sure I kept it inside the suitcase this morning.”
“I didn’t take it”. I said with a straight face. I was impressed with my performance. I am beginning to be good at lying.
“I know you took it and I will find it”
“Go ahead” I told my sister
I watched my mother and my sisters going through every nook and corner of the house in search of the cherished pink satin covered sandal wood clothes freshner. I continued to slice the ginger in to fine slivers.
“Where did you hide it Nina? Tell me the truth” Maria was screaming at me
“I told you I didn’t take it” I replied
Amma was looking at me and I spoke to her
“Amma, all of you searched everywhere. you didn’t find it. It is obvious,Maria must have misplaced it somewhere and now I am blamed, like all the times anything goes wrong in this house”
“Is this how you cut ginger in to fine slivers? How could you cut them like this?” Amma took one long ginger sliver and was waving it like a sword
“You told me you want it in slivers” I wasn’t going to give up
“Yes I did, but you should have used the thing called brain in your head and figured out that, you need short slivers for injipuli( ginger pickle/curry)”
“Amma, you never told me, what curry you were making. How am I supposed to know, you were making injipuli?
“I shouldn’t have asked you for help. You are good for nothing. How could I give birth to a bodoh(stupid)?” Amma snatched the cutting board from my hand and marched to the kitchen. I still had the knife in my hand. For a fleeting second, I thought of going after her and whacking her with the knife. But then I remembered my father.
‘My goodness, I am thinking like Appa! there is absolutely no difference between me and my father’. My hands were shivering and I quickly dropped the knife on the table, I didn’t even want to hold the wretched knife in my hand. I didn’t want to be like my father. But somewhere deep in my mind there was a little voice that said
jathyagunam thoothal poovulla'( you can’t rinse your bad genes off).


The saree right on top was an off white saree with tiny blue flowers. I gently took it out and opened the first fold. There were so many silver fish inside the fold. I tried to remove the silverfish from the saree and where ever I touched, the saree was tearing and tears were falling down my cheeks.
I knew, I was holding the final remanents of my mothers dreams in my hands. The torn, useless saree was once a beautiful saree. She must have worn it, when she was young and happy.
Amma must have known these sarees could never be worn, yet she carried them with her whereever she went. Did she keep those sarees to remember the dreams she once had? Suddenly it occured to me, my mother is a human, not the monster I thought she was. She was once like me, dreaming of the knight in shining armour, marrying the man of her dreams, living in a beautiful house, with wonderful children and surrounded by laughter and happiness.
Instead, she is stuck in a loveless marriage with an abusive, irresponsible husband, who gifted her with 4 additional burdens.
My mother had no one to lean on. She was carrying the burdens all by herself. Even the one person, she thought would understand her, has betrayed her.
I felt my mother’s pain that day. I wished life treated her a little better. My mother deserved happiness. But she was in a bottomless pit, and there is no way out for her. I am the only one for her. I am the only one who can understand her.
Much as I hated my mother for not beleiving me, when I needed her to believe me, I knew I have to forgive her. I must forgive her.
With vengeance, I opened the saree and started to check for the silverfish and kill one by one. I am not going to let the stupid insect destroy, what is left of my mothers dreams. I opened each and every saree in the suitcase and shook them to remove the silverfish. I folded the sarees back carefully. The news paper lining at the bottom of the suitcase was tattered along the edges. I removed it, scrunched it up and threw it in the rubbish bin. I took few sheets of news paper from kitchen and placed it at the bottom of the suitcase neatly. I arranged the sarees back inside the suitcase. I couldn’t find any naphthalene balls in the house, then I remembered Maria has sandal wood freshners in her suitcase. I went to her room, took the pink colour satin pouch from her suitcase and placed it in the middle of Amma’s sarees and fastened the zipper and locked it. As I buckled the straps, I hoped, Amma would find happiness one day. I promised myself I will take care of her when she is old. I could see my mother living with me and playing with her grandchildren. I wanted her to be happy in the final years of her life. I owed my mother that much.

Old and New

No one was home when I came back home. Normally, I looked forward to not having anyone at home, because I could quickly cook something and eat. Today my tummy was full. There was no need to cook. I looked around the house. Maria’s suitcase was on her bed. She and Amma were busy buying new stuff for her to take to Mysore. I lifted the lid slowly and surveyed the contents. There were new sarees still in the plastic cover. There were new saree blouses, in every colour available. Before we left Mysore, ‘he’ had given Amma a plastic bag full of blouse material in almost all the shades!. I had overheard him tell Amma
“If you have a blouse, then you just have to go to the shop and buy a saree that matches your blouse and can wear the saree on the same day, instead of waiting 30 days to get a blouse stitched!”
My mother was so impressed with that wisdom. She kept saying, how bright ‘he’ is to have thought of such a brilliant idea. She said
” If you get the blouse stiched in advance, then you are not at the mercy of the tailor! Indian tailors never keep their word. They tell you, it will be ready next week and when you go there to collect the blouse, they will say it will be ready next week!”

I slowly checked the sarees. There were 5 new silk sarees, brought from the ‘Something Special Saree showroom’ near my college. New sarees have a unique smell that kind of make you want to wear them, to feel the smooth material on your skin. Although I very much wanted to open the cover and feel the soft and smooth material, I was scared, lest Maria notices that I touched her stuff and scolds me for touching and spoiling her brand new saree.
I have only worn a saree once, on the last day at my school for the farewell party. I wore a plain white saree and blouse. I suddenly had the urge to wear a saree. I knew Amma won’t notice, if I wore her saree. So I went to her room to get a saree from her cupboard.
By the side of the cupboard, Amma had kept her old leather case. She never let us children play with that leather case. When we were little we used to pretend and play saying the case had treassures. I wanted to know what was in the leather case, that has never once been opened all these years, but travelled with us from Malaysia to India. It had a rusted lock and I knew where Amma kept the key.
I was excited. I was finally going to discover what treassure the leather case was hiding all these years. I quickly went out and locked the living room door, so there is no way anyone can come inside and see what I am doing. I didn’t want to be caught.
My hands were shivering as I opened the godrej cupboard and took out the bundles of keys. I pulled the bag and placed it on floor. I wasn’t sure which key would open the lock and I tried one by one, finally I opened the lock. My heart was beating fast. My hands were shaking as I opend the three buckles, one big one in the center and 2 small ones on either side. I opened the buckle slowly and pulled it open. I tried to open the zipper. It was almost stuck and I struggled and pulled and pulled to open it. I wanted to know what was inside. I wanted to know why Amma never opened it. I had to know. So I used all my energy and pulled the zipper. There was a musty smell of naphthalene balls as I finally unfastened the rusty zipper. I opened the lid slowly and looked inside.
It was like looking at the crystal ball. As I looked at the old moth eaten silk sarees that my mother never wore, but kept all these years, I could see the past and I could see the future. Tears were flowing down my cheeks and I was so helpless. I wanted to scream, but not a single sound came from my throat.