Christmas wishes

This night
We pray
Our lives
Will show

This dream
He had
Each child
Still knows

We are waiting
We have not forgotten

On this night
On this night
On this very Christmas night

This is my last post of this year.
We are going away for holidays until the 2nd of January.

This is my Christmas wish for all of you
May you have a family to love you
May you have good memories to remember
May you have a good friend to lean on
May you be blessed with joy and happiness

My wish for my family
That we will be able to celebrate one Christmas, just one Christmas together, so Yaya’s wish will come true and she can boast to her friends, she celebrated Christmas with her Grandpa and Grandma.


I woke up hearing a lot of din coming from the kitchen. I knew I should, rather I must help Amma in the kitchen. But it was Christmas morning, and a perfect time to hide under my blanket and dream.
I pulled my blanket and covered my head, hoping that I will be able to shut the noise out and sleep a little while more. Besides I felt, if Amma needs help, she would know to come and call me.
I thought of all my family members. I thought about my father and all the times, he held my hands, while lighting the fire crakers. I wondered how Appa would be celebrating his Christmas. I hoped he received my Christmas card.

I thought of Maria and all the times the two of us collected foil candy wrappers, so we could wrap the cassurina seeds and make home made baubles for our Christmas tree. I hoped she would have a wonderful Christmas as well.

I thought of Ammachi. I hoped she would remember today is Christmas and celebrate. I hoped Kochumol aunty would visit Ammachi at least today. Then I remembered something that Ammachi and I did years ago, when I stayed with her during my Christmas holidays. I knew I must do it for Ammachi one last time. I didn’t know how I would be able to. I was feeling restless and I quickly got up from the bed and went to the kitchen. Amma was in the kitchen, struggling to remove the Appam that was stuck on the pan.
She looked at me
“Oh, your royal highness finally decided to wake up?”
I ignored her sarcasm and wished her
“Merry Christmas Amma”
“Merry Christmas” She mumbled.
I looked at the kitchen counter. There were bits and pieces of Appam all over the kitchen counter.
“Can I make the Appam?” I asked her
Oh pinney, You think you are better than me? The batter isn’t right, that is why it is sticking on the pan”
“Amma, I will make the Appam”
I took an onion and cut it in to half. Amma looked at the onion in my hand and spoke
“Nina, this is Appam batter, not uthappam(dosai) batter”
“I know Amma, Can I please do my job, without you interfering?”
Amma looked at me and the onion in my hand. She didn’t say anything. But I knew, she is waiting for me to make the biggest blunder, so she can rub it in.
Using a spatula, I removed all the burnt Appam from the pan and and warmed the pan on low fire. I rubbed the cut side of the onion on the pan.
“Appam will smell of onion” Amma spoke
I poured the batter, swirled the pan and closed the lid.
“You didn’t swirl it properly. It is not perfectly round”
“You know something Amma?” I asked her
“Thank God,you don’t have a son, you would have made your daugher in law’s life miserable!”
Amma glared at me.
“What difference would it make, if the Appam is a perfect circle or a square? Anyway it is going in your tummy right?” I asked her
she didn’t respond.
I opend the pan cover and removed the Appam carefully from the pan. Not a bit of it was stuck on the pan and the appam looked neat with crispy lacy edge and soft fluffy center. I looked at Amma’s face to see her reaction. She turned and walked away
“you just can’t say that I am good eh?” I asked her. She pretended she didn’t hear me.

We sat at the dining table and ate Appam and stew for breakfast. In the beginning there were 6 of us, now only 4, next week, there would only be three. I looked at my mother. In a few years time, Liza would leave and then Sally. My mother would be all alone like Ammachi. I didn’t want Amma to have the same fate as Ammachi. I will take care of her, when she is old. I know I will have to, because I know my sisters. They are not going to waste their energy taking care of an old grumpy woman. She is already so grumpy, imagine how difficult she would be to handle when she is senile!

After breakfast, Amma cut the rest of the Christmas cake in to slices and placed few slices in to a plate
“Liza, go and give this to Akashavani. It is not nice not to share Christmas goodies”
“I am not going there, Why don’t you ask Sally?”
“Sally, go and give this” Amma asked Sally
“No Amma, Sujith always teases me, calling me names. I don’t want to go there”
“Oh God, you children are too much. Nina, go and give this”
I took the plate from her hand and walked to Akashavani’s house. Their gate was locked, so I knocked the gate.
I watched Sujith opening the door and peeking out.
“Give me a second, I will go and wear my shirt”
Aiyyah, I came to give this to your mother” I was feeling shy, But he had already gone inside.
Few seconds later, he came out, while buttoning his long sleeved shirt. He was wearing a lungi(sarong) and looked very funny.
“Kochumaharani, how is Bangalore?”
“How would I know?, you will have to ask Bangalore that”
“Why kochumaharani, you are in a foul mood in the morning itself?”
“Is your mom home?”
“She is gone to visit her mother this morning”
“You didn’t go?”
“I have exams next month. So I am expected to sit at home and study”
“Oh!”.”here, Amma send this” I gave the plate to him
“You are welcome” I turned and walked off. I knew I had to do something. I turned back and looked at Sujith. He was just about to close the door
“Sujith” I called
“Yes” He opened the door and looked at me
“Can I ask you a favour?”
“What?” He started to walk towards the gate.
“promise me, you won’t tell anyone”
“Promise, What is it Nina?”
“Will you send a telegram to my college on 2nd of January?”
Why, I couldn’t tell him why, I had to find a good excuse
“because I have a test on 4th of January and I haven’t studied anything.”
“Why don’t you stay here, till your exams are over?”
“You think Amma will let me? She will kill me”
“So what is your plan?”
“Well, you send a telegram saying that, ‘grandfather seriously ill, start immediately’. College has to give me leave, if my grandfather is ill, don’t you think?” I asked him
“They should, but where will you go?”
“Chengannur, my dad’s house. I will stay there with my grandmother for a couple of days and then go back. I will have the ticket to prove that I really went to Chengannur”
“Do you have a grandfather?”
“Nah, he died when my dad was a little boy”
“Oh, so you want to kill him again?”
Sujit was laughing. I started to laugh too.
“I will pay you the money for the telegram”
“Nah, let us do it this way, you owe me free treatment for the rest of my life”
“Thank you kapalanga(papaya)
“You are welcome valmakri(tadpole)
valmakri(tadpole), is your mother in law”
“Aunty, Nina is calling you a tadpole” Sujit looked over our gate and screamed
“Shh, shut up, my mother is not your mother in law”
“We will see”
I stuck my tongue at him and ran all the way back home. Amma was standing on the veranda.
“What were you talking to him so long?” Amma looked pretty angry
“Oh nothing Amma, we were just discussing politics”
“What politics?” Amma looked at me
“You won’t know Amma” and I quickly walked to my room.

It was getting dark and I started to walk faster. By the time I reached the collectorate, I could hear the Christmas carols from the church. The choir was singing Joy to the World . I started to sing along, almost surprised to know that I still remember the lyrics.
From the distance, the church looked beautiful. It isn’t often one get to see all the lights switched on inside the church as the normal services are almost always in the mornings. In the midst of the darkness, the church stood bright, with the lights streaming out through all the doors and windows and the music filled the air. It was such a beautiful moment, beautiful church, beautiful songs and a happy heart.
I thought of entering the church and listening to the choir service, but I am Methran Thambi’s grand daughter and I don’t go back on my words! Besides the church is already crowded and there is no place for me to sit anyway.
‘Excuses, excuses excuses. you are always full of excuses Nina’ I talked to myself

I started to walk quickly towards home, just as I reached the parade ground road, I saw my youngest sisters running towards me
“Oh Nina, where did you go? We were so worried. Amma looked for you everywhere and now she is at home crying” I saw tears in Liza’s eyes.
My heart felt so heavy. Gosh, how stupid was I?
Aiyyah, Why are you crying like a baby? I just went out for a walk.” I wiped the tears from her eyes
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Sally asked
“You weren’t home, how to tell you when you aren’t home?”
“You could have written a note”
“I know. I am sorry I got you all worried. Come, let us go home” I held their hands and we walked quickly. I wanted to reach home faster. I didn’t want Amma to worry about me and have a heart attack.
When I opened the main gate, I could see Amma sitting on the veranda floor, leaning against the wall. Her eyes were closed. I thought she died. I ran to her calling
She didn’t open her eyes and I shook her shoulder
“Amma, open your eyes”
She opened her eyes and I could see that she was crying. She looked at me. There was fear written all over her face.
“Where did you go Nina?” her voice was quivering
“Amma, I just went for a walk”
“Walk? At this time of the day? Do you know how worried I was?
When I came home and found that you have gone, I didn’t know what to do. What do you expect me to do? Where do I go and look for you? Who do I ask for help? Do we have any men here, who will help me? Your father just left all four you with me. Who will help me Nina?” She was gasping
I held her hand. It was cold. I felt I was the stupidest person on planet earth. How could I make my mother worry about me like this? Few hours ago I thought my presence or absence made no difference to my family and now I understood, how much my mother needs me.
“Amma, I am sorry for making you get worried. I didn’t think you would be worried. I am so sorry. Come Amma, let us go inside” I gave her my hand helped her to get up from the floor.
As I entered the dining room, I noticed the Christmas cake on the table. It was a small cake with white icing and orange colour flowers.
“Now can we cut the cake?” Liza asked Amma. She looked at me and spoke
“Nina, Amma didn’t let us cut the cake. She said we can only cut it, when you are home”
I looked at Amma, she was staring at me. Between the two of us, we knew we love each other very much, but when we speak, that is a different story all together.
“I am sorry Amma for hurting you” I walked towards her and kissed her on her forehead. She wiped it off saying
“I don’t want your thuppal umma”
“That wasn’t thuppal umma, that was honey umma
oh pinney, what are you? a bee?”
I stuck my tongue at her.
Amma shook her head saying “It is a waste of time, you studying for medicine. Look at you, you are still acting like little kid”
“Can someone please cut the cake?” Liza shouted a little more louder
“Oh god! Nina, go and cut the cake, before your sister shouts and bring the whole world down”
I took the knife from the kitchen and cut the cake. I gave the first slice to Amma
“Nah, I don’t want. Give it to Liza” Amma spoke
I knew there is no point in trying to make Amma eat the cake. She just won’t change her views. According to her, a good mother always keeps the best food for her children.

After dinner, I went to my room. I had brought along three Sidney Sheldon novels with me from Bangalore. I liked to read Sidney Sheldon books. I adjusted my pillow and lay down on my bed and started to read ‘Bloodline’.
“Nina, quick, off the light in your room” Amma yelled from her room
“What for? why?”
“Carollers! I can hear them singing”
“Off the light, you idiot. I don’t want the carollers to know we are home”
I didn’t know why I had to switch off the light, but since I am expected to listen to her, I switched off the light in my room. By the time I came out of the room, our house was in total darkness. I am afraid of darkness and I quickly walked to Amma’s bedroom
“What is going on?” I asked Amma
“Shh, carollers are here” Liza spoke.
I walked towards the window. Both my sisters were standing on the window ledge and peeking outside.
I climbed on Amma’s bed and looked outside through the window. I could see a bunch of carollers standing outside our main gate. Soon they started to bang the cymbals and drums and sing We wish you a Merry Christmas. When the song was over, few of the carollers started to bang our gate.
“I think they are sleeping, let us sing another song”
They started to sing Silent night
While singing, few of the carollers kept banging our gate every few seconds, hoping to wake us up.
“Eda, I don’t think anyone is home here” I heard a guy wearing the santa costume speaking.
No da I saw the light was on, when we were coming down the road”
“Aha, they are hiding ah!” Santa started to shake our gate. Soon others too joined the santa
“ente karthavey (oh lord) They are going to destoy the gate today!” Amma whispered “I told you to switch off the light!” Amma was so angry with me.
“Why do you want to hide?” I whispered and asked Amma
“If I give them money, then they will go and tell their friends and soon, you will have hundreds of carollers singing outside your gate and expecting you to pay them. I am not going to waste my money unnecessarily.”
“Come da,let us go. I don’t think anyone is home” I heard someone telling Santa.
I watched Santa turning to leave. But just before leaving, he turned around and kicked the gate with all his strength. Perhaps Santa didn’t know that kicking a metal gate is injurious to bones in the feet. We watched the Santa limping and going to Akashavani’s house.

Song that I came to sing

It was getting dark and Amma and my sisters haven’t come back from the bakery yet. Akshavani had visitors. I could hear people talking and laughing in her house, while I was all alone in my home.
I felt very restless, mostly because I had the audacity to ask my mother, why she married my father and destroyed his life, when I knew very well that he is a lousy husband. I had no right to judge my mother and there was no way I could undo the damage. I felt that I am such a colossal failure.
What is the point of living like this? I will always be a burden to my family. I got up from my bed and locked the house and started to walk. I didn’t have any idea where I was going. All I felt was the need to get out of the house.
The road near the parade ground was desserted. All the lawyers offices were closed. Even the tuck shop near the corner was closed. I walked aimlessly in search of peace on the eve of Christmas.
I could see lots of people walking towards the CSI church near the collectorate. Why are they all in a rush? I wondered
When I reached the church, I understood why! It was the Christmas eve Carol service. It is the most important day for all the Church choir members. After months of practice, they perform the Christmas carols on Christmas eve. Achakuttichayan must be with the choir members at the back of the church, doing last minute rehearsal. He will paly his mouth organ and make everyone do the vocal exercise. I know that, because I used to sing in the choir.
“Hey that is Nina” I heard someone shouting. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, so I walked away quickly. I had promised myself 3 years ago, never again, will I enter the CSI church in Kottayam and I intend to keep my promise.

I walked past the Collectorate, the bus stop in front of the collectorate was empty. Even the kadalakkaran(peanut seller), who used to stand near the auto stand and fry peanuts in a huge wok was missing.
Everyone goes home to celebrate Christmas. That is everyone except me. I don’t have a home, just like Methran Thambi, the most famous Methran Thambi, my grand father.
Nobody knows where he is buried. His body lies in an unmarked grave. Nobody goes to the cemetry and pray for him on his death anniversary. Nobody asks for special prayers for him at the church. But does that mean he is unlucky? I think he is one lucky guy. He escaped from all the responsibilities. How nice it would be to just sleep for eternity?

The railway bridge was only a km away. I started to walk fast, every time I saw someone familiar walking towards me, I looked down, so I won’t have to make any eye contact and waste my time talking irrelevant things.
There were hardly any cars or buses on the road. That is a good thing, I thought.

Third or fourth house from the railway bridge, I could see a mother, trying to pull her son away from the gate.
‘Oh, come on, get lost, go away’ I tried to mentally tell the boy and his mother to leave. I was just 200 meters away from the railway bridge and the last thing I wanted to have is people around me.

money(son) if we are late, daddy will be angry with us, ” I heard the mother telling the boy. He pretended he didn’t hear his mother.
“Hurry up, we are going to be late for the Church service” She started to yell, while trying to pry open his little hands and free him from the gate. He was holding on to the gate with all his might.
I looked at the boy, he was all dressed in his best clothes for the church service. What is he looking at? I wondered
“Oh, please, come let us go, if we don’t go now, we won’t get any place to sit in the church, I promise I will let you watch this as long as you want on the way back”
The boy didn’t budge and the mother started to hit him while yelling
“You won’t listen to me? I will teach you a lesson”
She was screaming and the boy was crying.
Why do parents have to hit their children like this? I didn’t know
I watched the mother pulling and dragging her son, who was now howling at the top of his voice and she started to walk towards the church.
‘Come on lady, it is Christmas eve, Why do you have to make that kid cry?’ I wanted to ask her
When she reached near me, she looked at me and smiled a nervous smile and pointed to the crying child
“Oh, this child never listens. I am tired of raising him. He just wants to stand there and watch. I don’t know what he sees there”
I smiled at her, as though I understood, how hard it is to raise kids. I didn’t have any rights to tell her, how to raise her son.
What was the boy watching? I didn’t know. I quickly walked towards the house where the boy was standing and looking just now.
‘Oh my goodness’
The entire car porch has been converted to a giant crib.
Black tarpauline was used to make the shape of a cave. Inside the cave, there were statues of Mary, Joseph and the three wisemen from the east, each carrying a gift for the new born baby.
Baby Jesus was laying down in a small box covered with hay. There were cows, lambs, donkeys and even hens all around baby Jesus and looking at him. There was even a tiny water fall by the side of the cave. I have never seen anything like this before. Someone really had so much of patience to create all these.
I looked at mother Mary. She was wearing a blue and white dress. Her face was smooth and glistening. She looked so peaceful, that I felt like going and touching her face.
She was looking at her son with so much of love in her eyes, much more love than I ever saw in my own mother’s eyes.
I thought, Here is a woman, that according to the legend, carried God’s child at a time, when she would have been judged for her morality. Yet she never gave up her life. She did what she has to do and here I am, trying to end something, just because my mother, my father,my sisters and my friends don’t love me.

I looked at Joseph’s statue. He wore a long red and blue robe. He was holding a staff and standing close to Mary and looking at the baby. He was standing by the woman, who is his wife, but the child isn’t his. Even he could love a woman, who didn’t carry his child, While I was meassuring my love with what I got in return

I looked at the three wise men from east, They each followed their heart and found what they were looking for.

I looked at the statues of angels guarding the cave. I felt they were trying to tell me,
‘We are always near you Nina. You just have to look’

That is the moment I realized, though my idea of Christmas is a tree, christmas star, christmas cake, fire crackers and a family together, there is much more to Christmas.
Christmas is not just about families being together, laughing and merry making. Christmas is also about doing your job, that each of are send here to do and that I am yet to do. I remembered what Tagore wrote
I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung

Song Unsung
The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing and in unstringing my instrument.
The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set;
only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.
The blossom has not opened; only the wind is sighing by.
I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice;
only I have heard his gentle footsteps from the road before my house.
The livelong day has passed in spreading his seat on the floor;
but the lamp has not been lit and I cannot ask him into my house.
I live in the hope of meeting with him; but this meeting is not yet.

Tagore’s Gitanjali


On the way back home, we passed by Best bakery.
“Nina, can we go inside and look at the Christmas cakes?” Sally asked
“No Sally, I don’t have any more money, knowing you, you will ask me, can you buy me puffs. or the cashew cakes or something else in the shop”
“I promise Nina, I won’t ask you to buy anything. Please Nina, please can we go inside and see the Christmas cake?”
I wasn’t sure, I really didn’t want to be embarassed in the shop.
“Please Nina, please” She started to plead
“Ok. But if you as much as open your mouth and ask me to buy you anything, I will kill you”
We walked in to the bakery. Inside the shop it was crowded. People were busy buying the Christmas cakes. We walked towards the display cabinet, there were so many different types of Christmas cakes, all covered with the white icing. Most cakes were decorated with pink roses made with icing on top and the words Merry Christmas was written with red icing.
“Nina, look at this cake” Liza shouted pointing to a cake in the corner .
I turned to look. On the table near the corner, there was a three tiered cake with lots of yellow flowers and golden ribbon was tied around each layer.
“Wow, that is a big Christmas cake, must be for some rich family. A cake that size surely costs a lot of money!” Liza spoke
“Shh” I tried to hush her. I didn’t want anyone to know that we are poor.
“That isn’t a Christmas cake, That is a wedding cake” Spoke the lady standing next to us
“oh” The three of us were awed.
My sisters and I have never been to a wedding till now. I wished Maria would get married soon, so atleast then we can eat a wedding cake.
“Come let us go” I pulled Sally’s hand
“Will you buy me a cream bun?” She asked me
It is only 50 paise!” Sally spoke again
I was so angry. I made her promise that she won’t ask me to buy anything and still she asked
“No” I answered
“Please Nina, please buy me a cream bun, How can you forget all the times I shared my cream bun with you?”
People in the shop were staring at us
“I said No, come let us go” I started to walk towards the door
“You are a mean sister Nina, all these while, you ate my cream bun, and now when I ask you to buy me one bun, you say No” Sally shouted, in front of everyone.
I started to walk towards home. I didn’t understand, why the word gratitude is so difficult to find in my family. Nobody ever gets satisfied with anything I do for them. I am still expected to do more. I told Sally before we went inside the shop that I have no money and don’t ask me to buy anything.

Amma was home, by the time I came back
“Where did you all go. I was getting worried about you”
“Oh, so you do get worried! I thought may be I am the only one who gets worried, when you go in the morning and don’t come back till night” I took all my frustrations on Amma
“What do you mean Nina, you think I am having a good time? Who will do all the work for me? You think it is all easy? I went all the way to Fisheries in Cochin to buy fish for my children and I just came back and you are already accusing me?”
“Why do you have to go to Cochi to buy fish? Don’t you get fish in Kottayam?”
“I went to Fisheries in Cochi, so I can get fresh fish for my daughters. At Fisheries, they only sell freshly caught fish. In Kottayam, you get fish that is kept in ice for days!”
“Oh, so you buy fresh fish from the fisheries and then travel in the train for an hour and a half to Kottayam! What difference would it make Amma, buying the fish that is kept on ice from Kottayam market or buying the freshly caught fish from Cochi and travel all the way from there without any ice?. By the time you reach home from Cochi, the fish is already at room temperature for more than 2 hours!”
“I should never waste my energy doing things for my children. They are so ungrateful. See, my daughter just came back home and she is already accusing me”
“I am not accusing you, but you should remember you have daughters Amma, you can’t just leave them home alone. There was not even any food for them to eat today”
“Who said there was no food? I made kapalanga thoran(green papaya with coconut) before I left”
“Amma, how do you expect them to eat rice and a dry curry?”
“There is yogurt in the fridge”
“Ofcourse with worms in it”
“What worms?”
“the real wriggly worms, I saw it inside the yogurt”
oh pinney. Worms grow in yogurt! Did you learn that in the medical college? It is the first time I am hearing it”
I was so mad at Amma. I wanted to show her the evidence. I walked to the kitchen,took the yogurt bottle, poured a bit of yogurt in to a saucer and brought it back to the living room
“Can you see? Can you see them moving?” I shoved the plate close to her face
Amma took the saucer from my hand, adjusted her spectacles and inspected the worms.
“Hmm, this is the first time I am seeing this. May be your sisters must have left the bottle opened and a fly would have laid eggs inside the bottle”
“Amma, stop blaming my sisters. This has nothing to do with my sisters. This is because, you don’t know how to make yogurt.” I was shouting at her
“Oh! my daughter went to the medical college for 6 months and now she is teaching me, her mother, how to make yogurt! Whatelse do they teach you there?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake Amma, you keep adding milk to the old yogurt in the bottle and that is not how you do it. To make yogurt properly, you just need to add a spoonful of yogurt in to warm milk and keep it outside for 6 hours, so it would set. “
“Well, this is my home, and I will do it the way I want. When you have your own home, you can set yogurt by adding a spoon of yogurt in to warm milk and keep it aside for 6 hours”Amma was mocking me
“Oh I intend to. I can’t wait to get out your stupid house. I wish I didn’t come home and instead stayed back in the hostel. At least in the hostel I can get three meals in a day and that too without any worms.”
“Did I ask you to come?”
Her words were like a sharp knife and it poked my heart. My heart felt so heavy. I knew what Amma said was true. She never asked me to come home. Why didn’t she abort me, when she had the chance? I had no right or reason to be born in to this world.
I walked back to my room, leaving the Christmas star and the fire cracker bag on the dining table. I will go back to the medical college on 26th.
I could hear Liza and Sally telling Amma about me taking them to Lakshminivas for lunch and buying them the Christmas star
“Where is the star?” I heard Amma asking
“I think Nina has it, I will go and ask her” I heard Liza speaking
She came to my room
“Nina, where is the star you bought?” Liza asked
“On the dining table”
“Amma, it is on the dining table” Liza shouted
I heard Amma asking
“How much did she pay for this star?”
“15Rs” Liza answered
“15Rs? She paid 15Rs for this cheap star?”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up walked back to the dining room and asked Amma
“Why didn’t you buy a star yourself?”
“What?” Amma stared at me
“You heard me, today is the Christmas eve, If you are so knowledgeable about Chrsitmas stars, why didn’t you buy a Christmas star yourself?”
“Who are you to ask me that?”
“Who are you to comment on the star I bought with my money?”
“Your money? When did you start earning your money?”
“Appa send me the money, so it is mine”
“And he is your father because of me. I married him”
“Why Amma? Of all the men, including your brother/lover in Bangalore, did you have to marry and destroy my poor father’s life?”
I don’t know what made me say that, but the moment those words came out, I regretted it. I wanted to take those words back, but it was too late.
I watched Amma getting up and walking towards me and I saw her hand coming in top speed towards my face. I could have blocked her hand with mine. The moment her palm hit my cheeks, a thousand lights flashed across my eyes and a thousand bees started to buzz in my ears. I watched her twisting and scrunching the christmas star that I bought for my sisters.
I looked at my sisters and I could see the hatred in their eyes.
“Come Liza and Sally, let us go out and buy a Christmas cake, before Best bakery closes” Amma spoke
I watched Amma holding their hands and going out. Liza turned and looked at me, just as they reached the gate. A look that said, you are a loser Nina.

Thank you.. If you ever read this

When the train reached Kottayam railway station, I was so excited. I didn’t want to waste time walking, so I took an auto rickshaw to go home. There were lots of things I wanted to do. First thing is to get a Christmas tree andthen I will help my sisters to make a crib and we will place it near the entrance. I alse wanted to bake a Christmas cake.
When the auto reached the main gate, I was so disappointed to notice that, my sisters haven’t even bothered to hang the christmas star.
I took my handbag to pay the auto driver
“Where are you coming from?” He asked “From Bangalore ah?” He looked at me
I looked at him. He was about 26 0r 27 years old and why does he want to know where I came from?
I ignored the question
“Is this your home?” He wasn’t going to give up
“No” I spoke
“It is my husband’s house” I spoke
“oh, you are married ah!”
“Ah” I gave him the money and walked inside. I never understood the malayalee mentality. They all seems to wanting to know everyone’s personal details. As though, their entire survival depends on knowing other people’s life history.

Sally came out to see who has come
“Hey, it is Nina” She shouted
She ran to me and held me tightly and gave me a hug
“Missed you Nina” She spoke
“I missed you too Sally”
“Why haven’t you hung the star?” I asked her
“Amma said this year we can’t hang the star”
“because, Appa is not with us and Amma says, it is not fair, we get to celebrate while he is all alone”
“Oh! but he has always been all alone!”
“Yeah!, But you know Amma”

Liza was sitting infront of the TV and watching some Hindi movie. She didn’t even bother to get up and say hello to me.
“Hi Liza, How are you?” I asked her
“Good”, She spoke without even taking her eyes off the TV
“Where is Amma?” I asked Sally.
“Gone out in the morning”
“hmm”, saturday also, she won’t stay at home, even when she knows I am coming back, still she can’t stay back and wait for me.
“What is for lunch?” I asked Sally
“Rice with what?” I asked Sally
“There is kapalanga thoran(green papaya with coconut)”
My mother couldn’t cook anything special for me, even when she knows, hostel food is really terrrible
With a heavy heart, I took some rice and a bit of kapalanga thoran(green papaya with coconut). It was too dry and I searched the fridge for some gravy. There was nothing. Finally I found the bottle of yogurt in the bottom rack of the fridge. I opened the bottle and poured some yogurt on to my rice. It smelled awful, but I was hungry. Just when I was about to mix the rice, I saw something moving.
I lifted the plate to have a closer inspection. There were tiny worms all over the yogurt.
I didn’t know if I should cry or laugh. Here I am, grand daughter of a janmi(feudal lord?), daughter of a senior British government employee, and now having to eat worms for lunch. I threw the plate in to the sink. I thought of taking the next train and going back to Bangalore. Atleast I won’t have to eat worms in the hostel. But what will I tell my seniors? That my mother’s idea of lunch is kapalanga thoran and worms?
“Sally have you eaten something?” I asked her
“I had bread for breakfast”
“Go, get ready, We will go out and eat”
“Can I come too?” Liza asked
“Ofcourse you can. You are my sister, for heaven’s sake”
Together we walked to Lakshminivas restaurent on KK road. On the way we passed by BCM college and I looked at my former alma mater. I didn’t feel any nostalgia. I was just glad that I didn’t have to deal with nuns any more.

The restaurent was crowded. We found a table near the entrance and ordered 3 Ghee Dosai. Everyone was looking at us.
‘Why is it a big crime, if a woman goes to a restaurent to eat?’ I didn’t have an answer
Liza finished her dosai fast and was looking at my plate
“Do you want another one?” I asked her
“Can I?” She looked at me, trying to see, if I would be angry
“Ofcourse” I orederd another dosai for her
“My god, look at her da, she eats more than us” I heard someone speaking from the table behind me, I turned to look at him.
“Is that a boy or a girl?” Asked his friend
“What is your problem?” I got up from my seat and walked towards the table behind me
“Oh nothing, We were just joking” Both of them were grinning that ugly smile.
“If my sister wants to eat, one or two or three dosai, that would be none of your business. I am the one who is paying for it. And as long as you are not asked to pay for it, you will shut your bloody mouth! Do you understand that?” I was so mad.
They both pretended to eat the food infront of them.
I walked back to my table to find Liza weeping
“Why are you crying now?” I asked her
“Nina, I told Amma so many times, not to cut my hair short, but she won’t listen. See, everyone laughs at me”
Only then it occured to me, Amma never lets me,Liza or Sally to grow our hair, at the same time, she lets Maria to grow her hair. She always pestered and nagged me, if my hair was an inch long. She always insisted that I get a boy’s hair style. I didn’t understand why she was doing that. I will ask her that today

After eating dosai, we went to Seematti junction and bought a Christmas star. A simple red star, with hundreds of neat holes punched on the paper. The light would shine nicely from inside the star
“Nina can we have some fire crakers?” Sally asked. There was a fire cracker seller across the road.
“Sally, they are expensive, I don’t have that much money” She looked disappointed. But I only had 20 Rs with me
“Come let us go” I held her hands and started to walk towards home.
I remembered all the time, Appa bought Fire crackers for me. he bought them for Deepavali, Christmas and for Chinese New year. My sisters were too young then. I didn’t think they would even remember the time when we were in Malaysia.
“Wait here, I will come now” I made them wait infront of Seematti and walked back to the Fire cracker stall.
The seller had a push cart in front of him with so many different types of fire crackers. poothiri, rocket, amittu, eru padakkam, nila chakram, all colourfully wrapped. Most of the buyers were father’s with little children and I watched the children pointing to the crackers in the packets and the fathers buying it. My father used to do that. He bought me what ever I asked him.
When the crowd infront of the seller disappeared, I walked up to him
Chetta, I only have 20 Rs, give me any fire crackers you have for that money”
He looked at me and at the 2 ten Rs notes in my hand
“You can’t get anything for that price”
“I know, Please chetta, give me something. I am all my sisters have and I want to buy it for them” I pointed to my sisters waiting infront of Seematti
“Where is your father?”
I shrugged my shoulder, How can tell him, my father is working in Dubai? Why would I be begging when my father is alive and earning a good income. Tears were threatening to break free from my eyelids, perhaps the seller saw it.
He took few eru padakkam and few of poothiri and put in a plastic bag and gave it to me
I whispered a silent thank you and walked back home with my sisters.

Christmas time

It felt so good to be able to go back home finally. I missed my mother and my sisters. I missed home cooked food.
I have been having (rock) chapthis, and curry that looked, smelled and tasted same, but was called ‘sambar’ one day, ‘rasam’ the next day, ‘dal’ on the third day.
The ladies hostel mess contractor was on his way to become the richest man on earth and he had the skills to achieve that.He could cook one single chicken and serve Chicken Curry to 350 students.
I wanted to eat some good food, atleast a piece of chicken, not a fragment of chicken and I looked forward to going back home.

All the malayalee girls and boys were leaving the college together. No one asked me, if I would like to join them. I took an autorickshaw and went to the railway station on my own. When I reached the road where the Tibetans used to sell sweaters, I stopped the auto and got off. I wanted to find the lady selling jewelleries and perhaps buy something from her, so I can pay her back for the tea she bought me.
There were only 2 traders in the entire stretch of road. And it wasn’t like before, when they used to hang the sweaters on the railings at the back of their make shift shops, the two traders had kept the sweaters inside 2 big plastic bags and if someone wanted to see a sweater, they took it out from the plastic bag and showed it, if they didn’t buy it, they folded it and kept it back inside the plastic bag
I asked the first trader in Hindi
“Where did everyone go? Where is the lady who sold the jewelleries?”
He ignored me and kept looking at both sides of the road.
An old man sitting on the pavement spoke to me in Kannada
“They have all gone. Police came and took all their sweaters, saying they can’t sell anything here, because they are illegals”
“But they are not illegals, Indian government gave them asylum” I spoke
“Amma” the old man called me, It is winter now and the police officers want free sweaters and they use one excuse or the other to get it. How can you fight with the police?”
I already had a sweater and if I bought another one, Amma would skin me alive. I thought of giving the trader some money, but the disgust on his face clearly spoke volumes of how much he hated, people like me. Even after escaping the Chinese regime, we don’t allow them to live peacefully and earn an honest income.

I walked back to the railway station and what a difference it was compared to a trip to Kottayam railway station. No one sang romantic songs asking me to marry him, no one asked me, if I need a ride, no one whistled, and best of all, all the men in Bangalore are healthier, they don’t suffer from sudden body spasm when they walk near a woman and touch her breast or butt to regain their balance. It felt so good to be able to walk on the street without being harassed and molested.

The station was crowded with everyone wanting to go back home in time for Christmas. I didn’t have any reservation, so I bought a normal ticket and went to the platform to find the ladies compartment.
I knew it would be crowded and the journey is going to be a nightmare. Amma doesn’t like wasting money to reserve a berth. I wished my mother knows how hard it is to travel in a crowded compartment
When I reached the ladies compartement, it was just as I thought, It was very crowded, but this time, everyone was in high spirits. One aunty moved a little bit and gave me a little space to sit.
Everyone was talking to each other, telling each other about their Christmas plans.
“This year, we are going to my mother’s house for Christmas” Spoke one lady excitedly
“Oh you are so lucky, My husband won’t allow me to go to my mother’s house for Christmas, he wants us to go to his family home” spoke another young lady. She had a small baby on her lap.
“Where is your husband?” Asked someone else
“He is working in Dubai and I stay with my parents in Bangalore. She is my parent’s first grand child” The lady pointed to the baby on her lap
“My husband won’t let her spend her first Christmas with my parents. He called me yesterday and told me, I must go to Kerala and spend Christmas with his parents. I didn’t even get a train reservation. If he wanted me to go, he could have told me earlier No? I could have got a reservation and didn’t have to struggle in a ladies compartment with a 9 month old baby. My parents did so much for my husband, they paid money for him to get visa to go to Dubai, they bought him the air ticket, his parents didn’t even buy a dress for their grand daughter, and still my husband won’t let my parents celebrate Christmas with their grand daughter”
“Never mind. It is alright, Men are like that. They never think, what we women go through. It is only a Christmas, your parents will have lots of Christmas with their grand daughter later” Another women spoke
The one with the baby just shook her head, she and we, the rest of the passengers knew the truth, that once you are married, your husband decides everything for you.
“Are you studying in Bangalore?” someone asked me
“Hmm” I nodded my head
“Nursing ah?”
“Medicine” I spoke
“Oh” There was a sudden change in everyone’s attitude. I didn’t understand why I should be considered different just because I am doing medicine. I am still the same old person.
In the morning, I looked out of the train window. From the dry parched land of Tamil Nadu, it is soothing to the soul to see the Kerala landscape.
Green grass on the ground, the paddy fields, the rivers, the coconut trees, those tiny brick houses with thatched roofs and now, most of the houses had a Christmas star hung outside.
So many different types of stars, some were small, some were home made, some were hung outside homes that also had a thulasi thara(Hindu homes).

I just wanted the train to go faster, so I can be home soon. Home for Christmas. I started to sing

I’ll be home for Christmas
I’ll be home just in time
I can’t wait ’till I see you
Feel your heart next to mine

We’ll Be Together again like before
You and I all alone
I’ll hold you close when I walk through that door
I’ll be home for Christmas

We can stay by the fire
With the lights turned down low
We can watch happy children
As they play in the snow

Though I may be far away from you now
Darling I promise this
It wont be long ’till we’re sharing a kiss
I’ll be home for Christmas

‘ll be home for Christmas
I’ll be home Christmas time
When you wait Christmas morning
I’ll be there by your side.
Boney M

Every one was watching me and I couldn’t care less. I was so excited.
“sing another song” I heard someone speaking
“yes, yes sing another song” aunty next to me nudged me
I sang Silent Night and I could hear some of the ladies singing along. it felt so good, just to be in Kerala in time for Christmas.


First year internal exams were starting on monday the 19th and I spend all of saturday and the all morning sunday studying physiology and biochemistry.

By sunday evening, I started to study anatomy. I hated anatomy. I just couldn’t remember the origin and nerve, artery supply of each and every muscle. And we are not talking just one or two muscles!. Around 50 muscles in the upper arm alone! There are about 650 skeletal muscles in a human body!

As the clock needle moved forward, so did my frustrations. I had so much to revise and so little time.
Shylaja was studying with other Kannadiga students and Aparna was studying with the Tamilian students. By right, I should be studying with the Malayalee students, but they didn’t want to even talk to me. I was already a pariah.
It hurts very much when you see everyone having friends, that is everyone except you. Nobody wanted to be my friend. I was such a bad person. My sister had ensured that much!
I couldn’t do anything to change the situation I am in. Who would have believed me anyway?
Shylaja came to the room around 8.30pm.
“Guess what, Brachial plexus is going to be the main question tomorrow”
“Really? How did you know that?”
“Dr. Rajesh gave a hint this morning to Arjun and he told me”
“Are you sure?” I asked her
“Ofcourse, I am only studying that”
I was so glad to have such a good room mate. There was no need for Shylaja to come to my room and tell me the question. She is such a nice person. Most students would have just kept the information as a secret.
“Thank you so much Shylaja”
“That is ok” and she went back to her friend’s room. I took Chaurasia’s text book and started reading about brachial plexus
I knew If I wrote the main question well, then the chances for passing the exam is high. I only need 20 marks out of 50 to pass the test. Main question itself is for 20 marks.
I was so relieved. I sat and studied the entire brachial plexus till 3Am. I didn’t have time to read the rest of the anatomy, but I wasn’t worried at all. All I need is 20 marks!
In the morning, I got ready, revised the brachial plexus again and went to the exam hall. Everyone was doing last minute revision and I never liked to do last minute revision. Dr. Rajesh was standing near the door
“You look very confident, you must have revised well” He spoke
I smiled. I didn’t know how to tell him my thanks for giving us the clue. I felt I owe my success to him. May be I will tell him my thanks later, after the exam.
I walked inside the hall and sat at my usual place.
At 9am Dr. Rajesh handed the question paper. I watched everyone around me praying before reading the question paper. I knew what the first question is going to be and I was just about to draw the brachial plexus in my answer sheet, so I won’t forget the nerve connections, but then I felt, I should read the question paper and see how many short questions, I can answer. I took the question paper and read. I felt my eyes can’t read anymore. My vision was getting blurred. I rubbed my eyes and tried to read the question again.
1. Describe in detail the blood supply of mammary gland.
I turned and looked at Shylaja. She was already holding a blue and red sketch pen in her hand( to draw the artery and the veins)
‘Oh, my goodness, she cheated me. She lied to me, How stupid was I to trust her?’
I didn’t study anything about mammary gland. I looked at the question paper again. There was only one short question for 5 marks on brachial plexus.

I refused to cry, but I knew I am sinking. The marks from internal exams are send to Bangalore university and will be added to my final score. If I don’t do my internal exam well, then the chances of me failing the first year is extremely high. If I failed and repeated any subject during the 5 years of medicine, then I won’t be able to write most PG entrance exams.
I struggled so hard in my life, still I can’t win. Why is my life so difficult? This is the worst thaleyvara anyone could have!
I waited for the bell to ring and the moment it rang, I walked up to where Shylaja was sitting
“Why did you lie to me Shylaja? What have I done to you?”
“Oh No Nina, I didn’t lie, I was told that Brachial plexus will be the main question. Even I didn’t do the test well. I don’t think I will pass” She started to cry
When she told me that, she also won’t pass, I though may be she is telling the truth and I didn’t want to fight with her.
“Never mind, We will do the externals well. Don’t cry Shylaja. It is ok” I tried to console her.

I wrote Physiology and Biochemistry exams well and was so relieved that the exams are finally over. We had normal lessons on thursday and I looked forward to friday, because we are having holidays. My college was closing for Christmas holidays. I had already packed my bag. I just wanted to go home.

At the dissection hall on Friday, Dr. Rajesh came with our reports. He called each student by name and announced the mark. Aparna got 38 marks and I was getting worried. I didn’t want to be the only student who failed. I knew Shylaja would fail too, and when Dr. Rajesh called Shylaja’s name, my heart was beating non stop
“You scored the highest marks Shylaja. You got 48 marks. Congrats” Everyone was clapping their hands and Shylaja was beaming in pride. A pride she gained by cheating a totally innocent, ignoramus, village woman, who has to fight each day just to stay alive.
I knew women can be vicious, but some how, I never thought, you would find them in a medical college, where you are being trained to save human lives, where compassion is the most important trait.

oh I forgot to mention: I scored 4 marks! out of 50. One mark more than Himanshu, who has been writing first year exams for 3 years!. So I didn’t score the lowest marks.. yay!!

Rich boy friend

When I reached my medical college hostel, it was just coming in to life. Another busy day was just about to begin. Gangamma, ladies hostel caretaker has already opened the hostel gate. The milk seller was at the mess hall entrace and I watched the mess operator helping the milk seller to carry the huge aluminium milk can inside. Most of the students were still asleep. I could hear some one singing Suprabatham from one of the rooms on the third floor.

Deep in my heart, I knew I am going to be in big trouble, but somehow I also felt a bit courageous, as I felt that I am now the king of my destiny. I am not a soldier anymore.
Like Tracy Whitney of If tomorrow comes.(Sidney Sheldon). I vowed that I will destroy anyone who dares to mess my life. If Tracey could do it, so could I.
My room door was locked from inside and I knocked at the door and waited for like eternity. No one opened the door and I knocked the door again. I could hear someone opening the next room door. I watched Anitha coming out and staring at me
“Nina, Where did you go on friday?
“Home” I replied
“Home? You are lying. Your sister was here on saturday and she said you didn’t come home.”
“She is lying”
“Really?” Anitha didn’t even bother to hear my reply. She went back to her room and slammed the door. I didn’t feel bad, because I know in my heart that I went home. My home is in Chengannur and I don’t need to prove that to anyone.
I knocked my room door again. Finally I heard footsteps coming towards the door and Shylaja opened the door.
“Where have you been? Every one was worried about you”
“You got all of us in to so much trouble. Your sister came and scolded all of us, because we didn’t know where you went. Your sister was so worried about you. She even went through all the stuff in your cupboard, looking for any clues as to where you might be”
“hmm” I mumbled again
“Where did you go Nina?”
I didn’t bother to answer her. She doesn’t have to know what I do with my life and I don’t owe her any explanation.
“Princy(Principal) was here on saturday and he asked me to tell you that, you have to meet him before attending the class” Shylaja spoke again, in such a tone that suggested, you are going to be in big trouble, Oh yeah yeah yeah.
I ignored the sarcasm in her voice.
Princy comes to the office only at 9.30am, and that means, I will miss the morning lectures. I watched Aparna and Shylaja getting ready. Aparna didn’t even speak to me and I couldn’t care less. I am not going to apologize to my friends, because my sister lied to them. Meanwhile students from other rooms must have heard about my arrival and started coming to my room on one pre-text or the other. Everyone wanted to know where I went and for the first time in my life, I used my mother’s magic Mantra to the fullest extent.
“Oh,Just over there”
When Aparna and Shylaja finally left the room to go for the classes, I opened my cupboard to see what Chechy has taken
My diary was missing. I didn’t write my dairy everyday. I only wrote the important dates, that I wanted to remember. It had the address of all my friends from my 10th standard. Now that is gone. Maria took the Diary Siti gave me, when we left Malaysia and I lost the adress of Siti and all my friends from Church and school. Now I lost my 10th standard and pre-degree classmates address. I really didn’t understand what Maria’s problems were, but if I could get my hands on her, I would have surely killed her.

Around 9am , I went to the bathroom, had a nice shower, changed my clothes and came back and waited in my room. I could hear Ammachi’s voice over and over in my head,”Let the storm come, you can always rebuild”.
I was not going to give up now.
Exactly at 9.30am, I walked to the Princy’s office. His peon was standing outside the door. He stared at me and I stared at him back.
He lifted his eyebrows and asked”What?”
“I want to see the Princy”
“None of your business” I was stunned, when those words came out of my mouth. I tried to do some damage control, but it was too late. I watched the peon entering the room and coming back again.
“Princy will see you now”
“Ok”. I opened the door and entered
“You!, bevakoof, how dare you leave the college without permission? You are suspended. Get out of my room Now, pack your bags and leave the college this very minute. This college is not for bevakoofs” He had his hands pointed out to the door.
“Get out, Get out” He started to yell.
I didn’t bother to leave. I am not going to let him suspend me, just because I went home without permission
I stood there
“Why are you standing here, I said get out” He yelled some more
“Sorry sir, but you will have to give me the reason, why you are suspending me”
He stared at me. His face was all distorted.
“I don’t have to give you Bevakoof any reasons. I am the principal of this college. I have the right to suspend you. You left the college premises, without permission, that is an offence”
“Sorry Sir, that isn’t an offence under Bangalore University rules”
“Who said? Where does it say?” Princy suddenly looked a bit worried
“The rules are there in the hand book you gave me when I joined the college sir.”
He was staring at me, while I was trying to think, what I would have to do next, if he asked his peon to bring the handbook. I had no idea, what the University rules were, but I knew in my heart, no university is going to suspend a student for visiting her grandmother, with or without permission.
I watched the Princy sitting down on his chair.
“Where did you go?” He asked me in a much calmer voice
“Home Sir”
“But your sister was here, saying you never came home”
“I didn’t go to her house in Bangalore sir, I went to Chengannur. That is my ancestral home and I have proof” I took the train ticket from my purse and showed him,
He took the ticket from my hand and checked
“Where is Chengannur?”
“It is in Kerala sir, about 19 hours by train from Bangalore”
“Who is there?”
“My grandmother sir”
“hmm, Why did you go without getting permission?”
“Sir, I was feeling home sick, and I knew I won’t get the permission from the warden, even if it was only for 2 days. That is why I left without permission. I am really sorry sir, but I promise I will never leave the college without permission”
“If you ever leave the college without permission, I will suspend you, regardless of what the Bangalore University rules are. Do you understand that?”
“yes sir”
“ok. Take this note to your class and give it to your professor” he handed me a permission slip
“Thank you sir” I smiled the sweetest smile and walked out with my head held high.
When I reached outside, the peon was waiting with a nasty, mean smile on his face
Suspend Agidra?”(did you get suspended?)
illa”(nope), I looked at him and gave him a victorious smile and watched the smirkness from his face changing in to astonishment. I walked to my class and knocked at the door
“yes” dr. Rajesh came and opened the door
“Why are you here? You have to meet the Principal. You can’t attend my class”
I gave him the note from Princy. He read it, looked at me, read it again and spoke
“Go and find a place to sit”
“Thank you sir”
Everyone was staring at me, especially boys, I have done something even the boys never dared to do. But then again, I am Methran Thambi’s grand daughter!!!

In the evening after the anatomy dissection class, I walked back to my hostel. Usually on monday I would go to the canteen and today, I didn’t feel like going to the canteen. From the distance I could see Maria standing near the hostel entrance. I wanted her to wait. So I walked back to the canteen. Ate a plate of egg Bhaji slowly, relishing every tiny bit of it. I had taken some extra tomato saauce with the Bhaji and I didn’t want to waste it. So I ordered another plate of egg Bhaji and ate that slowly.
Then I went to the library. After the ragging session, when I had to count the books in the library, I have never been to the library. I looked at all the books and found The essential Clinical Anatomy by Keith L Moore. I picked up the book, found a cosy corner and started to read. For the first time since I joined the medical college, I could understand what I was reading, especially when I knew I am making my sister wait.
Some time later, I heard footsteps. I looked up to see Aparna and Shylaja walking towards me
“Oh, there you are, we were looking for you every where. Your sister is waiting for you in the room”
“Oh really?” I got up slowly, kept the book back on the rack, picked up my coat and books from the table and walked with Aparna and Shylaja
When I reached the room Maria was pacing up and down
“She was at the library” Aparna told Maria
“hmm, Can you give us a few minutes” Maria asked them
“Sure” I watched them leaving the room and closing the door on the way out.
“Where did you go?”
“None of your business Maria”
“How dare you speak like that to me? Who said it isn’t my business? I am your local guardian and I have the right to know”. She was screaming
“I didn’t make you my local guardian. I have a father and a mother and if anyone can ask me where I went, that would be Appa and Amma. Not you”
“Who is the red check shirt guy?”
“A friend” Maria must have read about him in my diary. Lesson number one when you are a king, never write a diary!
“Did you go to Mysore? You couldn’t have been in Bangalore!”
“How do you know that?”
“Acha send police to raid all the hotels in Bangalore, So there is no way you would stayed in a hotel in Bangalore. Did you go to Mysore?”
“I think it is time for you to leave Maria. I have to study”
“So you went to Mysore! I knew it!”
“may be, may be not” I looked at Maria with a winning smile on my face
“This is not over yet Nina. You will never leave the college again. I have already written a letter to your Principal, telling him, I will hold him and the college liable, if you have ever leave this hostel without a leave letter signed by me”
“Oh, and where is the blue saree, the one I got for you from Bangalore? It is not there in your cupboard”
“oh that, I lost it” I hoped Gangamma didn’t wear that saree this morning.

I didn’t want to speak to my sister any longer. I took my library card and left the room. I needed to learn Anatomy and Maria needed to go through all my personal belongings to find more clues as to where I have been the last 2 days.
I wondered what she would be thinking when she finds my new salwar khameez in the laundry bag! Probably she would think I have a rich boyfriend!

100 watt smile

I wasn’t sure, when I would be able to visit Ammachi again. Although I have holidays for Christmas, I will have to go back to Kottayam. Since I won’t be able to see Ammachi for Christmas, I thought I might as well do something for her
“Ammachi, Where did you keep the Christmas star?”
“I can’t remember Nina, must be in the pathayam(granary). Why are you looking for the star now? It is only November!”
“Who said it is November? Today is 20th of December, Oh Ammachi, how can you not know the date? 5 days from now, it is Christmas and you are thinking it is still November? What would you have done, if I didn’t come home? You would have celebrated Christmas 1 month later!”
Ammachi looked at me. “You are trying to cheat me, Nina. It is only November”
“Do you think I am mad? Why do I have to cheat you?, you see, you won’t have all these problems, if you buy news paper every day, or atleast listen to the news in the radio. Atleast you would have heard the Christmas carols on the radio!”
“Radio isn’t working Nina, I asked your father to repair it and he kept telling me, he will do it tomorrow and never bothered to fix it”
“Why can’t you send it to the shop and repair it?”
“Nina, it costs money”
“Do me a favour Nina, go outside and shake the tree”
“Huh? What tree?”
“The tree where money grows, the one near the fence, go and shake and bring me some money, we will send the radio for repair today itself. May be we will buy a new radio. why waste money repairing an old radio, when you can buy a brand new one, right?”
“How come Ammachi? How come you don’t have any money?”
“From where do I get money from Nina? We don’t have paddy, now rubber has no value, where else do I get money from?”
“Don’t you have any savings?”
“Ofcourse, I have two kids and 6 grand children, that is considered a good savings, don’t you think?”
“ofcourse, but Ammachi, what did you do with all the money you got from selling the rubber and paddy all these years?”
“Nina, whatever money I got, went back to the land one way or the other. Do you think paddy just sprout in the field? You need to pay people to plant it, you need to pay for the fertilizer, you need to pay the workers for harvesting and sometimes after all these, the weather won’t be merciful and it rains and destroy the crops”
“Hmm, if you don’t have any money, Why don’t you ask Appa for money?”
“Do you think he will understand? He thinks I have too much of money?”
“Why don’t you explain to him?”
“Why should I Nina? He grew up in this house, he should know, how much money we can make from the farm. I don’t have to explain anything to him”
“What about the government?”
“What about the government Nina?”
“Can’t you get some sort of assistance from the government?”
“When your grandfather died, I could have got widow’s pension from the government!”
“Could have? what do you mean?”
“I didn’t collect the money then and I won’t do it now”
“Why Ammachi, why didn’t you collect the money?” I felt my grandmother is the biggest idiot of all
“Why should I? Why should the government pay me money just because my husband passed away? I have 2 legs, 2 hands and I live in a farm and and can earn my own money. I don’t need any help from the government. Besides Nina, there are so many other women out there, who needs help, like Suzy”
“Who is Suzy?”
“You don’t know her?”
I shook my head and said No.
“Suzy is my mother’s cousin’s daughter. The one who stays in Thiruvalla”
“What happend to her?”
“She was stupid enough to marry a widower, Actually she wasn’t stupid, her parents got her married to a widower with three kids, because they didn’t have to pay dowry. After the marriage, her wonderful husband told her, he doesn’t want her to have any kids, because he didn’t want her to show partiality to his kids from the first wife”
“And she agreed?”
“What do you think? If a husband says, I don’t want you to get pregnant, can a wife go against his words?”
“Then what happend?”
“She took care of his kids as though they are her children, raised them, they all got married and are well settled in life. One is a doctor, another works in the bank and the third one is teaching as a lecturer in some college”
“Then the husband died”
“He wrote his will before he died, giving all the property to his children. He was afraid, Suzy’s sister’s children would ask for a share of his property, because she doesn’t have kids of her own and whatever is hers will go to her sister’s kids”
“Can her sister’s children do that?”
“Ofcourse not, but who will a dying man listen to, his children or his common sense?”
“Then what happend?”
“After the funeral, when they came back from church, the children told Suzy, thank you for taking care of us, all these years, now that we are well settled in life, we don’t need you anymore, and they threw her out”
“Why did she leave Ammachi? Why didn’t she say, she has a right to stay in her house?” My blood was boiling, thinking about the injustice done to a helpless woman.
“Nina, if the children that you never gave birth, but you take care of, as though they are yours, if they throw you out of the house on the day your husband died, Do you think you would stand there and fight?”
“Where is she now Ammachi?”
“Don’t know Nina. She came here 2 days after they threw her out, She was asking if she could stay here with me”
“Your father was here, he said No”
“Why? Why did Appa say no?”
“Don’t know, may be he thought she would be a liability to him. Before she left he gave her 50Rs!.
50Rs Nina, that is all you are worth after struggling all your life, raising someone else’s children”
“Why didn’t you ask Appa to let her stay here Ammachi?”
“I can’t Nina, this is his land. I am just a servant”
I was stunned to hear Ammachi say that she considers herself to be a servant
“You are not a servant Ammachi”
“Oh yes I am. Your father will throw me out, when I am no longer useful to him. Like you throw the curry leaves from the moru before you eat the rice. I am just a stupid curry leaf Nina, I was only needed as a servant. If I wasn’t a servant, why did your great grandfather write in the will that a 10 year old boy is the owner of all these land?? They too knew I am a servant.”
“No Ammachi, you are not. You are not a servant. You are my grandmother”
I looked up and saw the tears in her eyes. How tormenting it is to live knowing that eventually you will only be a burden to the one and only person for whom you struggled each day, everyday? For the first time, I understood Ammachi’s heart ache and I didn’t wipe the tears that were rolling down her cheeks or mine.
My grandmother was 18 years old when she lost her husband. She could have re-married. But then her children would have lost their inheritance. She struggled for my father and he wasn’t worth it one bit.
I got up slowly, I had to find the Christmas star. I had to bring some light in to Ammachi’s life
I went to the pathayam(granary) near the kitchen. It was pitch dark inside. I tried to switch on the light. The bulb didn’t work. I went back to the kitchen, climbed the dining table and removed the bulb from the kitchen and took it back to the pathayam(granary). I removed the old bulb and fixed the bulb from the kitchen and swtiched on the light.
I looked around the room. This room was once the heart of Chengannur house. Ammachi used to keep the fresh produce from the farm here. She used to hang the bananas from a rope hanging from the ceiling while waiting for it to ripen, so the rats won’t eat the bananas. The rice was kept in a huge wooden box, coconuts used to be grouped together and kept near the corner.
Today there were dust and cobwebs everywhere. There were 4 empty ropes hanging from the ceilings that were once used to hang the bananas. There was 2 empty uri*, that at one time kept the fish curry and yogurt safely from the cats. There were few dried shrivelled coconuts on the floor near the door. In the corner, I noticed Ammachi has stacked up all the utensils used for paddy harvest, including the kuttakom(huge urn, used for par boiling the rice).
Kuttakom (urn) was always kept outside, It was our status symbal, that showed the visitors how much rice grew in our fields and now it is inside.
I desperatley wanted to recapture the magic of my childhhod. I wanted to bring back Chengannur house to its glory. I took the broom and started to clean the room and I started to sneeze
“What are you doing there? Why are you playing with dust? You see, you are sneezing already!” I turned my head to see Ammachi standing next to the door
“Nina, leave it. There is no point cleaning it. It is going to be dusty again. I don’t use the pathayam(granary) any more”
Ammachi turned and walked away. I stood there holding the broom in my hand and sneezing, trying to see, what I should do?
It feels awful, when you know you want to do a lot of things, yet you are helpless. I threw the broom and went out.

In the morning I was getting ready to leave. Ammachi bought me a Salwar Khameez yesterday and I decided to wear it.
“Nina, how much is the train fare?”
“don’t know. Must be around 100!”
“How come you don’t know? Didn’t you buy a ticket when you came?”
I looked at her and grinned
“Don’t tell me, you travelled all the way from Bangalore without a ticket?”
I grinned some more
“oh, Nina, they would have arrested you, if they found that you didn’t buy a ticket!. How can you be so irresponsible?”
“Ammachi, I didn’t have any money with me to buy a ticket and I didn’t have time to go to the bank to withdraw the money. I didn’t do it purposely”
“Here, take this money and next time buy a ticket when you travel in the train” she passed me three 100 Rs notes
“Why are you giving me so much money. I need only 150 Rs. “You take this”, I took two 100 notes and tried to give it back to Ammachi. “Give me a 50 Rs note”.
“I don’t have any change. You keep the money” Ammachi turned and walked away. I knew it is futile trying to give her the money back. I took one hundred note and kept it under her bible. I knew she will see it tonight.
When I went out Ammachi was sitting on the parapet wall.
“Nina, I am sorry, I don’t have any food to send with you to eat in the train”
“Ammachi, why do you have to be sorry? Even Amma doesn’t send any food. I buy my lunch and dinner from the railway station and I will be on time for breakfast at the college tomorrow. So don’t worry about me”
“Hmm” She looked away.
I went up to her, kissed her on her cheeks.”I will see you soon”
“hmm” She still didn’t look at me. Her eyes were already looking at the bund wall, waiting for me to return.
“Bye Ammachi” I whispered
“hmm, Nina, on the way will you stop at Thomas Kutty’s ration shop and tell him to send his son over? I will have to buy some rice flour and potato to make Appam&stew for Christmas. I must be growing very old, I really thought, Christmas is a month away.”
I walked up to the steps, turned around and looked at Ammachi. I was grinning
nee enthina avide ninnu ilikkunney? Vattu pidicho ente kunjinu?” (Why are you standing there and grinning like a mad woman?)
Athey Today is November 27, Christmas is one month away!”
“You!, you cheated me, ninne njan!”Ammachi was struggling to get up from the parapet wall. I knew she can’t chase me anymore. I walked back to her. She turned her head and looked inside the house.
“Thagamma, my darling Thangamma, have I ever told you how beautiful you look when you are angry?”
Thangamma didn’t respond
“Oh Thangamma, don’t break my poor heart. Turn around and look at me and give me a 70watt smile”
Thangamma was still mad at me
“Ok, at least a 3o watt smile?? Please Thangamma,Smile Thangamma. I won’t leave unless you smile and if I don’t leave now, I will miss my train and if I miss my train, I won’t be able to attend the class on monday and if I don’t attend the class on monday, they will suspend me, if they suspend me, I will never become a doctor”
She looked at me
“You really fooled me”
“Sorry Ammachi. I wasn’t planning to make you upset”
“I am really sorry Ammachi, I won’t fool you again”
“Ok, go now” Ammachi looked at me and smiled. I kissed her hand and walked again
“Nina, what is that, on your dress?”
“Where?” I turned and looked
“There, on the right side”
I pulled the salwar to the right to check the dress. I had actually checked the whole dress yesterday before buying it. May be I didn’t see any damage. Oh God! Now I don’t have time to go and exchange it. I pulled the dress and looked and looked, I couldn’t find anything
“Where Ammachi?” I turned to look at her
She had a 100 watt smile on her face
“You fooled me Ammachi, go Ammachi, I am not talking to you anymore” I huffed and walked away. I could hear her laughter all the way to the bund wall.

*uri: I have no idea what it is called in English. It is a contraption made with coir ropes and hung from the ceiling. One can keep a pot full of curry(often fish curry) inside the base of the uri and one can always find the neighbourhood cats laying down on the floor and looking at the uri and salivating!