legitimate to illegitimate

“How can it be? How can he do this to me? How does he expect to get all of you married off? Sally is only 10 years old, what am I going to do? Oh Lord, why are you punishing me like this?” Amma started to cry.
I wanted to hold her and hug her, but I couldn’t, because I was afraid that she might push me away.
What was Appa thinking anyway? He can just walk away like that? What about us, don’t we mean anything to him? Doesn’t he know we are girls? Who will marry a girl from a broken family? I was so angry with my father. I hated to think that I adored and loved this man, who now wants to cut us off from his life. I wish I could tell Appa, how much I hate him!

“No, I won’t let him do this to me. I will fight that bastard. He isn’t going to walk away just like that” I watched Amma getting up and wiping the tears off her face. She looked really angry and I didn’t say a word.
I watched her picking up the phone and dialling. I sat down on the chair and watched her. I wanted to be there, if she needs me.
I knew Amma was calling up the ‘godman’ in Bangalore. I watched her explaining the whole situation about the divorce petition and the eviction notice. I heard her telling him
“I will retire in another 1 1/2 years. I have to stay here till then to be eligible for full pension”
Godman must have told Amma something, as I watched her turning around and looking at me and said “hmm” over the phone.
Suddenly the conversation started to be one sided with Amma saying”hmm” every few seconds.
Then she covered the mouth piece and looked at me
“Why are you sitting here? You are trying to get all the information and give it to your father ah?”
I looked at her stunned.
“huh?” I asked
“Oh Nina, stop acting dumb. I know you. You are on your father’s side. You always liked him and I am sure both of you have planned all these. What is he giving you? Chengannur property?”
I got up slowly. I didn’t know who I should hate anymore. How can Amma even think that, I will snitch on her? She is my mother for heaven’s sake! I was so upset. I went to my room. Few minutes later I heard footsteps and when I looked up, I saw Amma’s body swiftly moving across the corridoor. I knew she was spying on me. I looked at the clock. I still had another 2 hours to catch the train to Bangalore. I didn’t want to stay at home anymore. I grabbed my bag and walked out. I didn’t bother to say goodbye to Amma.
I walked past the parade ground. There is a short cut to the railway station near the catholic church. I decided to take that. Few minutes later it occured to me that, I am in no hurry to reach the railway station. I might as well take the long and winding road. I turned back and saw someone that looked like Liza trying to hide behind the church wall. I guess she didn’t expect me to turn around.
‘Is it Liza? Why is she following me?’ I wanted to know
I walked quickly to where she was hiding. The moment she saw me, she started to run and I ran after her and caught her hand
“What are you doing Liza? Why are you following me?”
“Let me go” She tried to break free.
“No” I screamed at her. “Answer me Liza, why are you following me? Did Amma ask you to follow me?”
“Let me go” She bit my hand and I let go off her. I watched her running back towards home. Amma must have send her to spy on me.
My heart felt so heavy. I felt so alone. Nothing I ever did was right. My family hates me, my classmates hates me. I had no one, not one person to tell me that they love me.
Maria hates me because Appa loves me, Amma hates me because Appa loves me, Appa hates me because he thinks I love Amma and now Amma has turned my youngest sisters too against me. What kind of thaleyvara (fate) is this?
I wanted to run away, far away from everyone and start my life all over. May be one day, I will find a man, who will help me to get out of this nightmare. May be one day I will find someone, who will love me. All I ever wanted was to have someone to love me for what I am. I dreamed of the day I can be happy. I dreamed of the day, I will get married and have lots of children. I promised myself, I will never let my chidlren go through any of these nightmares. I will never turn my kids against each other. I will be the best mother, they could ever get.
Though I was upset with whatever that was happening at home, I went back to Bangalore. I needed to study, that was the only way I could escape from my family.
Aparna and Shylaja was already in the room when I reached the hostel
“Did you bring me Black Halwa?” Aparna asked as soon as I entered the room.
“Sorry Aparna, I didn’t have time to get it. I will bring it next time”
“Oh, Ok” She shrugged her shoulder and went back to talk to Shylaja. They were discussing the things they did, during the holidays. I was glad that Aparna wasn’t upset.
I was all sweaty and dirty, so I decided to go and have my shower. I took the change of clothes, soap and the bucket and walked to the bathroom. I collected the hot water from the heater and I realized, I didn’t bring my shampoo. I walked back to my room to take the shampoo. Just as I reached the door I heard Aparna speak
“Nina is so stingy No? She didn’t have time to buy Halwa, as though it takes so much time. Do you really think her father really works for the British Government?”
“Nah, I don’t think so. If her father was so important, then how come he didn’t come to drop her to college? She came with her uncle, No?” Shylaja asked
“There is something fishy No? Why does her uncle and sister drop her to the college?” Aparna spoke
“I heard that her uncle is some big shot” Shylaja spoke
“You know what I think? I think, she must be that man’s illegitimate child. That is why, she was not dropped by her father. She is lying about her father working for the British government, by saying her father works overseas, she can always pretend that she really has a father!” Aparna spoke.
I wanted so badly to open that door and tell them both that, I really do have a real father. But what is the point now? My father doesn’t want me anymore. I went back to the bathroom. My bucket was still in the same place I had left it. I checked the water. It was tepid. I didn’t feel like throwing the water and filling the bucket with more hot water.
I dragged the bucket to the bathroom. I could hear Aparna’s words over and over in my head, that she thinks, the man I hate the most in my life is my father. I wanted to sit down. I looked around. The bathroom floor was wet. I threw the water from the bucket and turned it upside down. The bottom of the bucket was still wet. I didn’t bother. I sat on it. I looked at my right hand. I had exactly the same birth marks, my father has on his right hand. I remembered all the times, my cousins would ask Appa and me to show our birthmarks. One was a black mole on the upper arm and the other was a cafe au lait patch on the left side of the lower arm. I remembered how proud I was that only I had the same birthmarks as Appa and not my sisters. And now others even have doubt as to who is my father. How can I fight for a man, who doesn’t want me as his daughter?

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I ran to the dining room. Amma was sitting down on the chair and reading the letter again and again.
“What is it Amma? What is wrong?”
“Chacha Appachan has send us an eviction letter?”
“Which Chacha Appachan?”
“Your father -in-law” Amma was mad. I hate it when Amma speaks like this.
I tried to understand which Chacha Appachan send what eviction letter. Then it occured to me
“Oh, you mean Chacha Appachan, your mother’s brother, the man who owns this house?”
“hmmm” She grunted
“Why Amma?”
“Because, I didn’t pay rent for three months. Only the last three months. I paid the rent first of every month all these while. I needed money to pay the rent advance for Maria, so I didn’t pay the last three months. Look at this Nina, he used John’s( another cousin) law firm to send this letter.”
I knew what my mother was thinking. Chacha Appachan is her uncle and he lives in US with his son. He won’t die if he didn’t get the rent for three months. He didn’t have to embarass Amma by going to a lawyer within the family. Now everyone in the extended family would laugh at Amma. Why are people so cruel? Why do family members treat each other with this much contempt?
“What are we going to do Amma?”
“I don’t know Nina”

I was expected to bring goodies from home when I go back to the hostel. I already have a long list of things to buy for my classmates. Most of them wanted Banana chips. Aparna wanted Black Halwa( king of malayalee sweets). I waited until now, hoping that Appa would come home and I can ask him for money. Now What am i going to do? How can I ask Amma for money to buy things for my classmates? I could’t do it, not when she is already so worried.

Saturday morning, I was packing my bags. There was nothing much to pack, just my clothes.
“Nina, come and help me to hang the laundry” Amma called
I went to the laundry room and Amma gave me a bucket full of clothes. The top most one was the new designer brown saree, I created for Amma. I wanted to drop the bucket and run.
Amma still hasn’t seen the art work I created. I walked slowly to the clothes line. Just few more hours and I can escape. Amma shouldn’t be allowed to see the saree. I thought hard, how best to avoid her seeing the damage. I folded the saree and hung it on the line, the double layer prevents the sun light from seeping through. I hung all the other clothes neatly. I stood a few feet away and surveyed the saree again, just to make sure Amma won’t notice any changes. Everything was perfect. I went back to my room.
Little while later I heard Amma yelling
“Nina Thomas, Is this how you hang a saree to dry? Don’t you have common sense? You are going to be a doctor and you don’t know if you hang clothes in double layer, it will take longer to dry?”
I stood on the veranda and watched my mother removing the clothes peg from either side, opening the saree and shaking it. My heart was beating so fast. There are things you know you should never do and because you do them, you get in to unnecessary trouble. That line on my head(thaleyvara) is only for getting me in to trouble.
“What are you standing there like a tiang telefon(telephone post)? Come and help me”
I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I regretted my own stupidity. Slowly I walked to where Amma was standing. She gave me one end of her precious brown saree. Together we opened the saree completely and I looked. I could see hundreds of holes. I looked at Amma. I was so relieved to see that she didn’t notice it. I helped her to hang the saree on the clothes line.
“Oh god, I forgot to take the rice of the fire. Nina, here you put the clothes peg” Amma handed me the clothes peg and ran inside. I looked at the heaven above and said the most gracious thanks.

I was in my room helping Liza to do her homework and I heard someone opening the gate. It must be Appa. I knew he would come. I quickly ran to the main door. Again it was the post man
“Who is it Nina?” Amma called out from the kitchen
“It is the Post man Amma. You have a registered letter”
“Again?” Amma came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on the edge of her saree pallav.
I watched Amma signing and collecting the letter from the postman. It was another brown envelope
Why does Chacha Appachan keep sending lawyers notices like this? Doesn’t he have anything else to do? I wondered
“What is that old man up to Now?” Amma was very angry with Chacha Appachan
Amma tore the side of the envelope and took the thick bundle of paper out. I watched her facial expressions changing from anger to bewilderment to shock.
“What is it Amma?”
She didn’t respond. I grabbed the letter from her hand. It was all in legal lingo and I didn’t understand anything
“What is it Amma?”
“That Bastard, he now wants to divorce me!. He must have found someone else younger. Oh god, that is the second misfortune. They say, misfortune always comes in three, Now what is the third one going to be?”
I looked outside. The designer brow saree was swaying in the wind.
I knew, the words that are spoken, the stones that are thrown in to the river and the saree that is damaged with an incense stick…you can’t take it back. I promised myself, when I get my first salary, I will buy Amma a new silk saree.

Another letter

I was supposed to go back to Bangalore on Saturday 22 of October. I desperately wanted to see Appa before leaving.
“Amma can I go to Chengannur?”
“No. You are not going anywhere”
“Why not Amma?”
“Because I told you so”
“Amma, I want to see Appa” I pleaded
“Well, he is the one who walked away, I will make him come back. Let him come and see his children!”
I knew there is no point in arguing. I couldn’t sneak out and go to Chengannur either. If Amma ever knew I disobeyed her and went to Chengannur, she would kill me.

Deep in my heart I knew Appa will come home before I leave, even if I don’t go to Chengannur. He will want to see me. I am his favourite daughter anyway. I waited each day and on Friday I was certain Appa would come home that day. I got up early in the morning and went to sweep the courtyard. Amma came out to get the newspaper and she found me sweeping
“Oh, cleaning the house trying to impress your father eh?
I ignored her
“He is not going to come Nina. You are wasting your time!” She spoke again
“How do you know?”I asked her
“See this?” She pulled the thali chain on her neck.” The day he tied the noose around my neck, I learned. Your father is sadistic. He enjoys hurting others. Actually I can’t blame him, It is all your grandmother’s fault. She should have raised her son well”
“What do you mean it is Ammachi’s fault? She raised him all by herself after Appachan died! how can it be Ammachi’s fault Amma?”
“You are supporting that nasty woman? Do you know what she did? The other day I went to a sorcerer and he told me, your grandmother did ‘black magic’ on chechy, that is why she is not getting any marriage proposals!”
“Oh really? Was it her black magic that makes you fight with your husband all the time?”
“What do you mean Nina? You mean I start the fight all the time?”
“Ofcourse you do” I was so mad at my mother, because she always blames Ammachi for everything that goes wrong.
“How dare you speak like that Nina? Don’t you see how much your father hurts me?”
“Ofcourse, but why don’t you ever keep your mouth shut?”
“Why should I? I have kept my mouth shut all these years Nina. I am not going to keep quiet anymore”
“Why not Amma? Don’t we, your children deserve a normal life, where the father and mother live together happily?”
“You are expecting a Cinema style life Nina, just like your father. His idea of a marriage is maram chutti premam(bollywood style romance, dancing around a tree, singing a romantic song). Only in movies parents live happily and not fight.”
I thought of all my classmates. Do their parents fight like this? I didn’t know.

Amma went to work and I dropped my sisters to the bus stand. As I walked back home, I thought of trying my luck.
‘If I see 2 white fiat cars before I count 100, Appa would surely come home today’
I looked around and found the first white fiat car near the lawyers office, even before I counted up to ten. I was excited. I needed to see one more car, just one more! I found two black Ambassodors, a blue fiat and a blue maruti car, not a single white fiat. I even counted 90.1, 90.2 hoping to stretch the time, so I could find another white fiat car. I cursed myself for chosing a white fiat car. I should have chosen black Ambassodor, atleast Appa would have come home.

Later I laughed at my own stupidity, how can seeing two same colour cars can bring my father home?
I went to the kitchen to see what I can give my father for lunch. I was sure, He would have taken the 10AM bus from Chengannur and would reach home by lunch time. There was only some red fish curry in the fridge. I decided to make moru(yogurt curry). Appa loves fish curry with moru(yogurt curry). I cooked rice and moru, took the fish curry from the fridge and warmed that as well. There was no vege. I didn’t have time to scrape the coconut and make a thoran. So I decided to make potato mezhukkupuratti(spicy,fried potato). I took 4 potatos from the basket and the peeler from the drawer and walked towards the sink. If Amma was here, she would have never let me use the peeler to peel the potato. She thinks the peeler wastes too much of potato, so she expects me to use a knife and scrape the skin off the potato. I was so happy that Amma isn’t home. If she had seen me using the peeler, she would have had a heart attack! I peeled the potato, washed it and was busy slicing the potato and I heard someone opening the gate.
I looked at the clock, it was 10 minutes past 12. I knew Appa would be here by lunch time. I was proud of my ability to guess the time. I wiped my hand and went to open the door with a big huge giant grin on my face.
Kizhava(old man)I knew you would..”
“There is a registered mail for your mother” The post man was standing in front of me.
“Oh I am so sorry, I thought it is my father”
” Your father has a nice name!” Post man was laughing
I was angry with him. Why did he have to come now and spoil my mood?
“Sign here” he handed me the paper. This time I put my signature neatly.
I collected the brown envelore from him. It was heavy. I looked at the stamp. it was posted on the 16th of October. The address was typed on the envelope.
Must be from Amma’s office. I left the letter on of the fridge and went back to the kitchen.
12.45 pm. Still no sign of Appa. May be the bus tire would have had a puncture. ‘KSRTC buses! They should make sure their buses are roadworthy. Poor passengers have to suffer, all because they never maintain their buses’.
If the bus had a punctured tyre, Appa would have taken the next available bus. I knew Appa would be home by 2pm. I was hungry, but still I decided to wait for Appa. After he goes back to Dubai, when will I get a chance to see him again and have a meal with him?, besides, it is not nice, when my father is hungry and I eat my lunch.
I waited and waited and waited. I was really hungry. I made a cup of coffee and drank.
‘Where is my father? Did the bus had an accident? I was getting worried.

3.45 Pm, I had to go and fetch my sisters from their school. I set the table, kept Appa’s favourite Corelle plate( white plate with a blue flower motif on the edge) on the table, filled the glass with cold water, made sure there was a spoon in each pot, so Appa won’t have to hunt for serving spoons. I wrote a note to say that the house key is with Akashavani and stuck the note on the gate. I left the house key with Kapalanga(Sujith), with clear instructions to tell Appa that lunch is on the table.
I fetched my sisters from the bus stand. My sisters were walking like a snail
“Come on guys, hurry up, Appa will be home by now”
“Is he coming home today? How do you know Nina?”
“I know he will come to see me before I leave. I am leaving tomorrow right? So today for sure he will come home”
“Ok” They didn’t look excited. I felt I am the only one who loves my father.

When we reached home, I checked the gate first. It was locked. May be Appa would have locked the gate. I was just about to climb the gate and I heard Kapalanga(Sujith) calling me
Athey Why do you want to climb the gate, when you have the key?” He shook the key chain to show me that, he has my house key.
I felt stupid. I took the key from him and opened the gate. With a heavy heart I walked inside. I opened the living room door. From there I could see the table I set before leaving to fetch my sisters. My sisters too saw the food on the table
“Nina, what did you make?” Both of them ran to the table.
I watched Liza serving rice in to Appa’s favourite plate. Sally took the plate I left for myself.
“Oh Nina, you are so sweet. You even set the table for us. You are the best sister in the whole wide world”
“Your potato mezhukkupuratti is so yummy”
I didn’t feel hungry anymore. I hated my father. How can he not come and see me when he knew I will be leaving for Bangalore tomorrow? He should know his wife would never let me go to Chengannur. How could he hurt me like this. I knew, for once Amma was right. My father enjoys hurting others.

When Amma came back from work, I handed her the envelope
“From where?” She looked the letter and asked
“don’t know” I shrugged my shoulder and walked towards my room. I was just about to close the door and I heard Amma howling
“Oh my god”


I was making tea when I heard Amma coming in. I didn’t speak to her as I knew, we will have a fight shorlty over the 20 Rs I have spend. I watched her going to her room to change. Liza and sally were watching TV.
“Maria” I heard her calling.
There was no response from Maria
“Children, where is Maria?” Amma asked Liza and Sally
They shook their head and went back to watching TV.
“I asked you, where is Maria?” Amma stood infront of the TV, trying to block it.
“Move Amma, I said already I don’t know” Liza screamed at Amma
“How dare you scream at me Liza?”
“Then you shouldn’t disturb me while I am watching the TV”
“Really? Then nobody watches TV in this house” Amma switched off the TV
“You can’t stop me” I watched in horror as Liza got up and pushed Amma away from the TV and switched it back on. Till now I was under the impression that my sisters are little babies. Only when Liza pushed Amma, it occured to me, she has grown and is now almost the same height as Amma and more stronger than her.
“You pushed me? How dare you?” Amma was trying to hit Liza.
Liza held Amma’s right hand and screamed
“That is enough Amma. If you want to hit someone, go and hit Nina. She is the only one who won’t hit you back. If you hit me Amma, I promise I will hit you back”
I didn’t want Liza to hit Amma, so I ran to the TV room.
“That is enough. Liza, let go Amma’s hands” I begged
“She is hitting me for no reason Nina”
I desperately wanted to tell her ‘I know Liza’. But that would have made things different.
“Leave it Liza.” I pleaded
“I will teach you a lesson” Amma screamed, and she pushed Liza and walked off. I quickly held Liza, if not she would have hit her head on the wall.
“She is mad” Liza screamed. I covered her mouth with my hand and pleaded
“Please Liza, leave it. Don’t make it worst”
“You are lucky Nina, you don’t have to see her everyday. You are staying in your medical college hostel. But I have to live with her. Do you know how hard it is? She makes the batter for dosai and keep it in the fridge. We have to make dosai and eat every evening when we come back from school. Do you know how sour the batter is after one week? Even the krumi(hook worm) in my tummy would have died! Wors of all, Week ends I don’t know where she is going or when she will come back!”
“She is going to ‘just over there’ Liza” I couldn’t stop laughing
“just over there! mannankatti(my foot!). Everyone laughs at me in my school, because I am the only one whose father never comes for the PTA, and my mother wears the same saree each time she comes to my school. Do you know my friends ask me, if that brown saree is Amma’s uniform?”
Now that indeed is a big problem. My mother has over 50 sarees in her cupboard. But she wears only the brown saree all the time. It wouldn’t have been a big problem, if she wore a matching blouse with that saree. She only wears a cream blouse, which everyone notices as she looks like a panda(brown colour ofcourse!)
“Don’t worry. I will solve your problem tomorrow” I knew I have to do something.
“What are you going to do?”
“Leave it to me. I will handle it”
“Why isn’t there any sugar in the tea?” Amma was screaming from the kitchen
“Argh! Now it is my turn to get whacked” I whispered to Liza
“What did you do?” She asked me
“Didn’t buy sugar”
“No money!”
“She gave you money this morning, right?”
“Spend it already!”
“How?” Before I could answer, I heard Amma screaming
“Nina, come here right now”
Like a lamb about to be slaughtered, I walked slowly to the kitchen.
“Why didn’t you buy sugar?”
“I didn’t have money”
“You didn’t have money? I gave you 20Rs before I went to work this morning! Didn’t I?”
“I bought lunch for Chechy”
Amma was staring at me.
“Chechy went back to Bangalore. There was nothing to eat here, so I bought food for her from the railway station”
Amma didn’t speak anything
“Are you not going to ask me Amma, why chechy went to Bangalore all of a suddent Amma?” I looked at Amma. She didn’t look like she wanted to know. But I wanted her to know
“Dr. Suzy is marrying the guy who came to see Chechy”
“That was your sister’s fault. She was the one who put so much oil in her hair and wore that old faded blouse. God! She looked so ugly!”
“Which one are you talking about Amma?Dr. Suzy is marrying the one eye blind man!”
“No way”
“You can deny all you want Amma, but the truth is, if it wasn’t for you, we would be busy organizing Maria’s wedding right now”
“No, I will not let her marry a blind man” “I will get a good guy for her” Amma sounded so adamant
“Sure, everyone would want to marry Maria,especially when they learn that girl’s parents are on the brink of a divorce”
“What is your problem Nina?” Amma was screaming
“My problem is YOU.” I screamed at her back.” You are the root cause of all troubles in this family. You just don’t get it do you?”
“You want to blame me? I should have left all of you with that mad man and walked off”
“Why didn’t you? Who asked you to stay Amma?”
“I should hear it!.. This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have sacrificed my life for all of you. I should have allowed your father to destroy all your future. His idea of a bride groom for a his oldest daughter is a blind man!, What do you think, he would find for you? Atleast Maria is physically alright. You are deaf and blind”
“How come, the blind guy is ok for Dr. Suzy’s parents?” I asked
“may be, her parents didn’t want to pay any dowry!”
There was no point in arguing with my mother. She always had answers for all the questions.
“Go and buy sugar” Amma ordered
I looked outside. It was already getting darker.
“I am not going out at this time of the day Amma”
“Liza, take Sally with you and go and buy sugar” Amma ordered
“No Amma, they are not going either. You are not sending my sisters out at this time of the day.”
“What is wrong? There are man eating lions out there?”
“Don’t you remember, how someone tried to hurt me, the last time I went out in the night to buy rice for you Amma?”
“Oh pinney, the same man is waiting there, because he knows your sisters are going to buy sugar!”
There are moments, you want to shake your mother, so you can put some sense in to her. This was one such moment
“Say what you want Amma, but they are not going. I won’t let them”
I knew my mother is vengeful, but I didn’t know how vengeful she can be, till I heard the phone ringing and Amma telling the caller
“Find a school for Liza in Bangalore. I am sending her to a boarding school. She is getting too difficult to handle”
It didn’t matter to my mother that, Liza is already in the 9th standard and next year she will write her 10th std public exam. It didn’t matter to my mother that, Liza will have to learn Kannada and will have to pass Kannada as a subject in her 10th std. Nothing mattered to my mother. She just wanted to win, even if it is at the expense of her daughter’s future and in the same breath she would say, she sacrificed her life for her daughters.

The next day while Amma was at work, I took her precious brown saree from the laundry basket. I couldn’t tear it, because I knew she would know it is me who tore her saree and never leave me alone for the rest of my life.
I had to find a better way. I remembered how I damaged my saree accidentally at the biochemistry lab, when I spilled a drop of sulfuric acid. The acid made a hole on the saree. I tried to darn the saree, but unlike a long tear, a hole is difficult to darn. I wanted to make sure, Amma won’t be able to darn the saree. I looked around the house.
Finally I found the right thing.
Incense stick!
Amma had bought it the last time, when we got someone to clean our septic tank. I lit the insence stick, used it and poked the saree. Initially I was only planning to make a single gaping hole. But it felt good, when the fire burned a neat hole on the saree. Soon I was busy making holes all around the saree.

After I finished my master piece I lifted the saree and held it towards the light. It looked magnificient! The light was seeping through the hundrends of holes in the saree, like the stars in the sky.

Christmas gifts!

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Amma was ranting non stop after they came back from Chengannur. From her rants I learned that boy was from US, he is working in Newyork as a doctor.

Apparently the future mother in law came to the kitchen to inspect the house on the pretext of wanting to use the washroom and saw Maria who was standing near the kitchen door. She didn’t even let her son see Maria and they left immediately. Amma was upset that they didn’t even stay for coffee, especailly after she struggled with the wood fire and made coffee.

Maria never spoke a word. She went to her room. I wished I could do something for her. I knew all she ever wanted was Appa and Amma to agree on they guy she ought to marry. Even that won’t happen in our house. Why can’t my parents for once think of their children? Maria is already 25 years old. When is she ever going to get married? I was so worried for her

Things at home went back to as normal as it can be in a mad house. Amma went to work each day, Maria slept most of the time, I send and fetched my sisters from school. It started as yet another normal day. Amma asked me to buy grocery and gave me 20 Rs. I decided to buy the grocery in the evening on the way back from my sister’s school. I was sitting at the dining table and reading the newspaper and the phone started to ring. I don’t like to answer the phone, as I had no way of telling who is the caller. I didn’t want to speak to certain people.
“Nina, pick up the phone” Maria yelled
“Why don’t you pick up the phone?” I yelled back
Anyway I didn’t have anyone to phone me and I had nothing to lose. I ignored the phone and continued reading the paper.
Phone rang for a while and it stopped. After 5 minutes it started to ring again.
Maria came out of the room and picked up the phone.
I tried to listen to the conversation. I heard my sister saying
“Suzy, Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen you for so long”
I was relieved that, it was Maria’s pre-degree classmate, not the villain from Bangalore. Suzy did medicine at Kottayam medical college.
“Getting married? Wow ! What is he doing?” Maria asked
“Doctor? You are moving to US?”
Maria’s voice had changed and I looked up
“What is his name?” I heard Maria asking.
I watched Maria slowly sitting down on the floor.
I thought ‘Oh my goodness, it must be the same guy who came to see Maria’.
Maria didn’t speak much, she just mumbled yes and sure and put the phone down.
I desperately wanted to hug her. We were so close, just 5 feet away from each other. Yet I couldn’t reach out and hold my sister. I couldn’t tell her ‘it is ok, you will find someone else’.
Maria got up slowly and went back to her room.

I wanted to kill my parents. If I had a gun, I would have shot both of them dead. I rather speand 12 years in jail than see my family suffer like this. If only I had a gun!
“Tell Amma, I am going back to Bangalore” I looked up to see Maria holding her bag and walking towards the door.
“Wait, I will come with you”
I quickly got up and locked the house and ran to the main gate. I was actually surprised to see her waiting by the gate. Together we walked to the railway station. We passed by the thattukada(tuck shop) near the Railway station.
“Wait” I told Chechy
She turned and looked at me.
I walked back to the shop. I still had 20 Rs in my pocket that Amma had given me in the morning.
randu naranga vellam”( 2 glasses of yummy delicious sweet lime juice) I ordered
“With Soda?” The seller asked
I shook my head and said “no”
I saw Maria checking her watch.
“Don’t worry, you still have time. The train won’t be here for atleast another hour”
I passed one glass of line juice to Maria and walked to the back of the shop and sat on the cemented railing.
“Do you remember a little girl who went with her grandmother to church 20 years ago?” I asked Maria
She stared at me
“Do you remember how she stopped, when she reached the thattukada(tuck shop) near the Chengannur ITI junction?”
Maria was staring at me
“Do you remember how she wiped her forehead and said ‘avoo vallatha daham’(ah! I am so thirsty)”
Maria was grinning.”How did you know that. You weren’t even born then?”
“I am pyschic. Don’t you know that yet”
“Psychic! ninte ammayippante thala(your father-in-law’s head!)
“Let the head be on his neck!”I answered
“True, He needs his head, if he gets you as his daughter in law!” She was laughing.”Who told you about the lemon juice story?” Maria asked again
“Sorry, super secret. I am not at liberty to reveal my sources”
Some secrets just can’t be revealed.
“Appa must have told you that”
“May be” I played along.
“Do you want kadalamuttai( indian version of M&M’s, but better)”
“Euh, I am not going to eat those filthy candies”
“Too bad” I bought 10 kadalamuttai(candies) and together we walked to the railway station.
The red colour coating on the candies started to melt and stain my palm and I wished I was a little girl. I could have licked it. Sadly I wiped my palm on my dress.
Maria bought a ticket to Bangalore. She managed to get a reservation. When she collected her ticket, she spoke
“Oh I forgot, One platform ticket please”
“What for?” I pulled her away from the counter
“Don’t you want a ticket?”
“Nah,Don’t waste your money I will just jump over the fence”
“You are mad”
“That is genetic!” I replied
Together we walked down the stairs. We still had another 45 minutes
“Hungry?” I asked her
“Are you nuts? I just had a glass of lemon juice”
“I didn’t ask you, if you are thirsty? I asked you if you are hungry”
“I give up” She raised her plam and walked towards the cement bench
“They have excellent vegetarian lunch here” I showed the shop to Maria.”Come,let us eat some lunch”
“You have money?” She asked
pinney(ofcourse) Amma gave 20 rs in the morning”
“What are you going to tell her, when she asks you what you did with the money”
“I will deal with that later” “Come” I pulled Maria’s hand and went inside the railway restaurent.
People were staring at us with the look that said’how dare you? How dare you girls come inside a restaurent without a man accompanying you’
We found a table in the corner and ordered 2 veg lunch. The waited placed the banana leaf infront of us. We ate the rice in silence.
After the lunch I still had 2 more Rs.
“wait here” I told Maria and I walked towards the Milma store on the extreme end of the platform. I bought 2 pedas(sweets) and asked them to pack it.
“This is for you.” I gave Maria the small packet
“What is it?”
“Elephant’s head” I replied
“Hmm” Maria looked at the small parcel” which part of the elephant’s head?”
“When you eat it, you will know”
We sat on the cement bench. We had so much to talk, yet no words were spoken. We watched the train approaching the station.
“Take care” I hugged Maria
“You too” She hugged me back
I watched the train leaving the station. I felt uneasy. I couldn’t really pin point why I was feeling that way. I walked to the end of the platform and when no one was looking I climbed the fence and jumped out.

God’s mistake

From my bedroom, I could hear my parents saying good bye to the visitor. I was sure that, Appa would have walked with them up to the main gate. I heard the car leaving and someone closing the main gate. Few minutes later, I heard the living room door being closed.
I waited in anticipation, listening to the sounds, hoping to know if Maria liked the boy. I wanted her to get married. I wanted a niece. I wanted a niece with two pig tails and beautiful pink frock with a satin bow, black dancing shoes. I imagined holding her hands and going to Cubbon park and taking her for the train ride. I will buy her a pink colour cotton candy. What if I have a nephew? nah.. I wanted a niece.

I could hear Appa, Amma and Maria talking. Initially it was all in normal tone and progressively the tempo started to increase and My father started to scream. I was sure Maria didn’t like the boy and my father is forcing her to get married to him. I wanted to go and see what is happening. But I somehow felt my presence would only make matters worst. Few minutes later I heard Appa yelling
“Go, call Nina”
‘Oh no, the guy liked me, not Maria, but he didn’t see me!, is he the one I winked at the last time I was at the bus station to go to Chengannur. He must have tracked me down. Aiyyah Why did I wink at him? He looked really cute and I did the unthinkable. Why oh why do I get myself in to trouble like this?’ Lesson 2 of the week. Never wink at cute looking boys!

I heard someone knocking my door and I opened it slowly.
“Nina, Appa wants to see you” Sally spoke. I looked at her face to see, if there is any sign that I would get in to trouble. There was none
Slowly both of us walked to the living room.
“Nina, what are the possibility that if a person lost sight in one eye after an accident, he would lose the sight in the other eye if he is met with another accident?”
“Huh?” I looked at my father. I had not a clue what he was asking
“You are asking that idiot for opinion?” Amma asked Appa
“Shut up” Appa screamed.
I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I was just relieved that my stupid winking isn’t the cause of all these trouble
“Nina, is it possible that if a man lost eye sight in one eye, will have more chances of losing eye sight in the other eye, if he has another accident”

I thought hard, most of the mallu movies shows the hero losing the eye sight during an accident, will always gain the sight back, when the villain hits the hero’s head with a stone/rock/boulder etc while the hero was busy saving the life of the heroine. The rock/stone/boulder etc acted as a fuse wire and fixed the nerves that was disconnected!
“No” I answered confidentally.
“There! you heard it” Appa asked Amma
“Oh for heavens sake, she knows nothing. She has only been to the medical college for 3 months. I can bet with you, she is not even going to pass the first year!. I am not going to let my daughter marry a half blind man”
“What is your problem woman? Your daughter likes the boy, he is well educated, the only fault he has is, he lost the sight of one eye, during an accident!”
“What is he loses the sight in the other eye? My daughter will have to live with a blind man for the rest of her life. I am not going to let her destroy her life!”
“What do you say Maria?” Appa asked her
“I will only marry a guy, if both of you agree”
I don’t really know what happend next. All of a sudden, my father went inside, came out with his bags and said he is leaving
“Where are you going?” I asked him
“I am leaving your mother”
“huh? What?” I asked him
Oh pinney, ola pambine eduthu pedippikathe manusya, njan ethethra kandatha!( I don’t fall for your scare tactics anymore!)
Appa was walking towards the gate
“Wait Appa. Don’t go.” I ran after him
“I can’t live with your mother anymore Nina. Tell your sister, the next time anyone wants to see her, they will have to see her in Chengannur house.”
“But she doesn’t want to Appa.”
I knew Chechy never wanted the prospective grooms to see her in Chengannur house, because there is no guarentee that the first proposal would work, and people(neighbours/cousins etc)will start talking and mocking at her. Here in Kottayam house, no one knows how many boys have come to see her and nobody talks badly about my sisters misfortunes.
“Too bad” Appa shrugged his shoulder and started to walk.
I leaned on the gate and watched my father leaving. Why is it so hard for 2 people to live together happily? Why do parents fight like this? Is Appa really going to leave Amma? Does that mean my parents are getting divorced? Why oh Why can’t I have a normal family?
I walked back inside with a heavy heart. My mother was standing near the veranda
“What did you say? How do you know, he will not go blind in the other eye? You think you are too smart? Do you know, Acha will not like it, if you get your father to make Maria marry a blind man?”
“Why should Acha like it? Is he her father?” I was so mad
“How dare you speak like that about him Nina after all he has done for you?”
“Done for me? What did his holy highness do for me?”
“You are jealous, because he doesn’t like you the way he likes Maria”
“You are mad, mother” I spoke
“What did you call me?”
Amma was coming to attack me and I pushed her and went to my room
“I will teach you a lesson” She screamed
“Good luck” I screamed back.

The next day Appa telephoned and ordered Maria to come to Chengannur on Thursday with Amma as there is another boy wanting to view her.
I didn’t want to interfere in anything, so I didn’t bother to go to Amma’s or Maria’s room. But just as they were about to leave
I heard Amma shouting
“What have you done to yourself? You are not going like this”
I quickly went out to see what is going on. What I saw was beyond words can describe
My beautiful older sister had put so much oil in her hair that hair was stuck to her scalp. She had silver eye shadow and pink rouge on her cheeks. She wore a faded old black blouse that now looked grey with a purple colour polyester saree.
“You are not going like this. The boy will not even look at you” My mother was screaming.
I watched Maria walking towards the main gate, Amma took her hand bag and ran after her.
God created mothers to nurture the young ones and mine was a mistake. A big huge giant mistake.

Doofus Nina

In the classroom, I always sat on the first row in the same spot everyday, not because I wanted to create an impression with my professors that I am a studious person, but because it is easy for me to lip read and understand what he is talking about. I never told anyone at the college that I am (partially) deaf. I didn’t want anyone’s sympathy.
My batch shared the classroom with year 3 students. Usually after the anatomy dissection class, we wait outside the classroom for the year 3 to finish their lecture and leave the room. As usual as soon as the year 3 students left, I went and sat in my usual spot. There was a piece of paper on the table with my name on it. I took the paper, opened it and there was a single line message

@Q B(COS) U R 2(SEC) C

I thought it was a message from ‘him’. I didn’t know what it meant. Was it a death threat? I tried to read and understand. I knew it is some kind of code, but I couldn’t understand the code. My hands started to shake. Anitha was sitting next to me.
“What is it Nina?” She asked
“Nothing” I replied
“Give me the paper” She snatched the paper from my hand. She read the message and asked me
“What is this?”
“I don’t know”
Anitha passed the paper to the person who was sitting next to her. Suddenly all the girls were reading the note and trying to decode the message. Finally the girl who sat behind me decoded it
“Hey, it says I will f^*@ you because you are too sexy” She was so excited to be able to decode the message
“What is f@#$?” I asked
My transformation from Ms. Kottayam to incompetent, dimwit,nitwit to absolute doofus was quick.

I was just so happy to go back home for the Dussehra holidays. All the Malayalee girls booked the train tickets together and I watched them leaving the hostel together. They never asked, if I am going back home or if I want to follow them.
I didn’t feel bad, as myself didn’t know who I was?. Am I a Malayalee, am I a Malaysian? Am I the chosen one?
Appa had send me enough money(100Rs) to buy a one way ticket(99Rs) without reservation. Amma would have convinced him the need to save money for the dowry. I could actually picture her saying to Appa
“It is only 17 hours for heaven sake! Why should we waste money unnecessarily. She can travel in the unreserved compartment!”

At the Bangalore railway station platform, I could see my classmates(boys and girls) sitting on top of their bags, eating dinner. They were all laughing and having a good time. I didn’t belong to their group, not when I have 1 Rs to buy dinner. There was a huge crowd waiting to get inside the unreserved general compartment. I walked towards the ladies compartment. I didn’t want to have free massages from fellow male passengers the whole night.
By the time I reached the last compartment(ladies compartment), it was full. People were already sitting on the racks meant to keep the luggage. The lady sitting by the window had kept her bag next to her and was pretending to sleep hugging her bag. If she removed that bag, then I can sit there.
“Ma’am would you mind keeping the bag on the floor?” I gently tapped her shoulder.
She didn’t bother to wake up and I had no intention to stand 17 hours till the train reached Kottayam
“Ma’am please keep the bag on the floor” This time I tapped her shoulder a little bit harder.
She woke up very angrily
“What is your problem?” She asked me
“I want to sit” I told her
“Indian Railways have something called reservation for those who wanting to sit down” She spoke with a mocking tone
“True ma’am. But Indian railways have no special booking for those travelling in the ladies compartment to reserve a place for their handbag” I was mad
She was lost for a moment and then taunted me
“You can’t stop me from keeping my bag next to me!”
I don’t know what possessed me, I pulled the strap of her bag so hard that even she was pulled up from the seat. I pushed the bag to the floor and sat down. I had enough of people taking me for a ride. No one hassled me the rest of the journey. When the train reached Piravam road junction, a vada seller got inside the train and I bought 2 parippuvada(lentil fritters) for 1 Rs and ate. The vada tasted so good. I wished I had some more money, so I could buy some vada for Ammachi.

When I reached home, Appa was sitting down in the easy chair and reading a novel.
“Hello Appa”
He looked up.
“Oh you are home. Go help your mother. Someone is coming to see Maria this evening”
I watched Liza and Sally running out
“Hi Nina, What did you bring for us? Did you bring guava for me?” Sally asked
Only then I remembered the promise I made before going to Bangalore. I had promised my baby sister that I will buy her a pink guava( usually found in MG road, Bangalore). More than the fact that I had no money to buy, I felt bad because I forgot about it.
I shook my head sadly
“You didn’t buy? You never keep your promises Nina” She huffed and went back inside.
Amma was in the kitchen making Achappam(kuih rose).
“Oh, you have arrived already. Go and clean the living room. There is a proposal for chechy. They are coming to see her today”
I took the broom from behind the door and went to clean the living room. Nobody even asked me how am I doing? My arrival or for that matter my departure made no difference to my family.
I didn’t know where Maria was, but I assumed she would be in her room resting, so she would look really good this evening.
After I cleaned the house, I went to the kitchen. I was hungry. Everyone had already eaten their lunch before I came. I found the rice pot, took some rice in to my plate. There was a little bit bitter gourd curry in a bowl.
“Amma, Is there any other curry?”
“What do you think Nina?, that I have to cook something special just because you are home?. Eat what is available. You should be grateful that you have three meals in a day”
May be I live in Utopian highlands. Because, I don’t understand, how my mother cooks Maria’s favourite food each time she comes home and not do the same for me. I thought of throwing the plate in to the sink and walking off.
I should have just stayed in the hostel. Atleast I would have got some lousy sambar and vege for lunch. My stomach was growling. I took 2 eggs from the fridge. I kept the pan on fire and poured oil. I would have normally put only a teaspoon of oil, but I was mad. I poured 2 table spoon of oil in to the pan. Amma saw it
“You think we have a printing machine here to print money? Where do you think we get the money from? Your father and I struggle each day, not for you to waste money”. She took the pan from the fire and poured the oil back in to the oil can.
I didn’t respond. The moment she went out to give my father tea, I poured 4 table spoon of oil in to the pan and fried the omlette. The omlette was literally floating in the oil. I lefted it up from the pan using a spatula and placed it in my plate. I learned the first Lesson of the week, omlette taste awful when it is fried in way too much oil. But I was hungry, so I ate the horrible omlette with my rice.

“Nina, go change your cloths. They should be here soon” I was washing the dishes that was left there, because my mother knew that I will come home and clean. There was even yesterday afternoon lunch plates in the sink. I could see that Amma had made beef perattal(syrian christian way of cooking beef) yesterday. There was left over coconut slivers stuck on the plates!
I quickly washed all the dishes,wiped my hand and ran to my room. I only bought one saree with me. It was my favourite saree. Appa had got it for Amma from Bombay and she didn’t like it, so she gave it to me. Brown cotton saree with a neat border. I wore the saree and went out. Maria was already dressed up for the occassion and was talking to my mother. She looked really beautiful in a blue Kanchepuram saree. Amma heard my footsteps and turned to look at me
“How dare you Nina? How dare you wear a saree? You want people to say, he came to view the older sister and married the younger sister? You can’t even be kind to your own sister? Why are you so mean?”
I looked at Maria and at my mother. Maria’s eyes were full of hatred and Amma’s eyes were full of anger. I didn’t understand what my mother said. She is the one who asked me to go and change, she is the one who gave me the saree, why did she say now that, I wore it to disrupt my sister’s marriage proposal? How can I even do anything like that? She is my one and only big sister,and what nonsense is that, the boy who is coming to see her would want to marry me?
I have tried all my life to have a normal relatioship with my big sister and I knew deep in my heart that Maria will never ever trust me, especially after my mother accused me of trying to steal her future husband. I ran back to my room and shut the door.
Later I heard a car arriving, people getting off, my mother and father laughing. I desperately wanted to see the man who is going to be my brother in law. But I didn’t want to leave the room. I didn’t want him to see me. I didn’t want to hear for the rest of my life that I destroyed my sister’s life.


I still had to find out what is Khazarvan? I asked Aparna and Shylaja, they didn’t know. I even checked the medical dictionary. Eventually I mustered enough courage and asked the kindest looking Malayalee senior. She was Annie from Bangalore. She was the only one who didn’t rag us and I knew she would help.
“Ma’am would you tell me what is Khazarvan?” I asked her
“I am not supposed to help you, but since you are a Malayalee, I will help you. Come inside and close the door.”
I did as I was asked to and She told me the answer.
“Don’t tell anyone that I told you the answer”
“I promise I won’t Ma’am”
I was so relieved to find the answer.

On tuesday, the whole class was taken for a visit to the anatomy dissection hall. As I waited for my turn to enter the hall, I was overwhelmed with the smell. I felt very nauseated. But still I was fine, until I entered the hall and saw what is laying on the table. Till that moment, I have never seen a dead body. I have never even been to a funeral.
No one ever told me, doing medicine was all about dismembering a dead body. I was under the illusion that, medicine was all about wearing a white coat and a steth around the neck and walking smartly in the hospital.
I looked at the shrunken cadaver on the table. It was a body of a girl, probably 13 or 14 years old. What is her body doing in my college? How did she die? I didn’t know the answer.
I sat on the metal stool. My eyes were burning and my head was hurting. The only question that went through my head is, What am I doing here? I wanted to get out, I wanted to leave the medical college. May be it is not too late to join B.Sc Home Science at BCM college.
I could hear my Anatomy professor Dr. Tiwari speaking about showing respect to the cadaver. I heard him saying
“Each of these cadavers are donated to the college, you will always treat them with utmost respect. Just because a dead person can’t talk, doesn’t mean, you can’t show respect. These bodies will teach you, how a human body works, these dead bodies will teach you, how you can help the living”
I looked at the body on the table. How could any parents donate the body of their child to the college? It was difficult for me, as my own family was trying to sell me and here is a body of a child not wanted by anyone else. What did this child do, that made her parents hate her so much,that they didn’t even bother to give her a proper funeral? May be they would have got paid for donating the body. I felt sick, thinking about the whole system.
“Tomorrow, all of you will read the first chapter of Cunningham’s manual. We will start the upper limb dissection” I heard Dr. Tiwari speaking. I knew, I don’t have to worry about reading some manual. I was leaving the medical college. I can’t do this anymore.
When the class was over, I was the first person out. I ran all the way back to my hostel. I will pack my bags and leave. I will take the Island express and go back to Kottayam.
I opened my door and the first thing I saw was the gunny sack. It was still in the same place I had left it last night, on the floor underneath my table. I felt the sack was telling me that if I leave this college, I would in all likelihood end up underneath someone else’s table in a gunny sack. I felt so sick and I sat on my bed.
I didn’t understand why my mother and my sister is doing this to me. What did I do to them? Then I remembered,’oh my goodness, Amma tried to introduce me to ‘him’ when I was 13 years old.
I was supposed to attend the girl guide Jamboree in Bangalore. Amma had to go to Delhi with my younger sisters to renew their passports. She was to leave for Delhi in the morning and I was to leave for Bangalore with the girl guides from Kottayam in the afternoon. Before she left, she told me
“By the way Nina, I have informed my cousin that you will be coming. He will be there at the station. So you don’t have to worry about anything”
“Cousin? Who?” I asked
“You won’t know him”
“Then how will I find him?” I asked
“Oh don’t worry. He knows you”
“Nina, Appam thinnal porey, kuzhi ennnano?”(you just have to eat the bread, why do you have to know where and how it is made?)
I felt something wasn’t right and the moment Amma and my sisters left for Delhi, I cancelled my ticket to Bangalore. I stayed one week alone in Kottayam. I had completely forgotten about that incident. So I am the chosen one? The sacrificial lamb? Why? I didn’t know the answer. I lay down on my bed trying to sleep. I could hear Aparana and Shylaja entering the room. I kept my eyes shut.
“Nina, don’t you have to meet the malayalee seniors at 5 pm?” I heard Shylaja asking
“What time is it?” I got up quickly to check my watch. It was already 5.20. I ran all the way to the canteen. There was a huge crowd infront of the canteen.Even Annie was there.
“So Ms. Kottayam, Did you find the answer? Do you know what is Khazarvan?” Asked one of the senior boys.
“Yes sir. Khazarvan is the dysentry commonly found in Karsargodu district in Kerala, that is why it is called Khazarvan. Symptoms are bloody stool and flatulence”
There was a pin drop silence, followed by roars of laughing. I looked at Annie. She was holding her mouth with her hand and laughing. I watched a burly looking giant walking towards me. He looked like an Arab.
“I am Khazarvan, how dare you call me a bloody dysentry”
There was no escape for me. The line on my head meant, that my family, my friends, my seniors and for that matter, any idiot I am associated with was out to make my life miserable. I wanted to die, atleast in death I would find peace.