“What is that Nina?” Ammachi pointed to the plastic bag on the kitchen counter
“Dinner” I looked at her and grinned.
Ammachi frowned and looked at me. I looked at her face, She still looked so beautiful, she had hardly any wrinkles on her face. Her hair was still tied in a bun and she still had black hair. I looked at her neck, if it wasn’t for those wrinkles on her neck, no one would know that she is in her 60’s. I wasn’t sure how old she is. So I asked her
“Ammachi, how old are you?”
“Oh Nina, that is pretty easy to remember, I am a day older than I was yesterday and a day younger than I would be tomorrow”
She looked at me with that look that said, go ahead, ask, so how old were you yesterday?. I knew, she wants to tell me, ‘oh that is also simple, I was a day older than the previous day!’
I shook my head
“Nah, nah, we are not going down that road. I am not going to let you fool me. You want me to ask you, how old were you yesterday so you can tell me the same thing over and over!”
Ammachi shrugged her shoulder and opened the news paper wrapped parcel in the plastic bag. She lifted the parcel to smell it
“hmm, smells good”
“Ofcourse, that is pure kakkan’s(malabar muslim) food.”
I purposely used the word kakkan (malabar muslim) as a bait, hoping for her to say something about the muslims, so I could argue with her about religion.
“You are right, nothing can beat a kakkan’s kuruma!”.(Muslim way of making the curry)
I was stunned. Ammachi must have seen the disappointment on my face.
“This is not working eh?” She asked me
“What is not working Ammachi?”
“The way we used to eat each other’s head! When you were little, if I told you, I am a day older than yesterday, you would have gone, on and on and on and asked me how old I was the previous day. Now you are getting too smart for me and it is you who is trying to trick me!”
“hmm, after all I am ‘The’ Methran Thambi’s grand daughter!”
“Methran Thambi! Don’t you dare utter his name in my house” Ammachi screamed. ptui! she spat on the ground, pointed her finger at me and yelled. “don’t you dare use his name in my house, do you understand that?”
In an instant, I felt my whole world collapse. Methran Thambi was my foundation, my everything. He was my strength. I survived all the battles, because I felt I should be as courageous as Methran Thambi. And I was sure Ammachi encouraged me to think that way and now all of a sudden, she is mad at me, because I said, I am Methran Thambi’s grand daughter? And to make matters worst,she spat inside the kitchen. The same kitchen, where we are not even allowed in without washing our hands and feet. I looked at the spit on the floor and I felt sick. I knew without a doubt that my grandmother is going senile!
I watched Ammachi leaving the kitchen and going towards her room.
“Come and sleep Nina” Ammachi ordered, just as she entered her room.
‘oh my goodness, my grandmother is completely gone mad. Now she wants me to sleep at 4 pm!, Which sane human being sleeps at 4 in the evening? My grandmother needs urgent medical treatment!. I will have to take her to kuthiravattom(mental hospital)’
I looked at Ammachi’s room to see what she is up to? What if she gets violent and act like the mad people in the movies? What if she attacks me? What have I got myself in to? Am I being punished for cheating the Princy?
“Nina, come and lay down.If you sleep for a few hours now, you won’t feel sleepy in the night and can watch the whole performance?”
“oh!” I sighed
“What oh?” She yelled from her room
“Nothing” I shook my head.
I walked to her room. I felt guilty for thinking that she is gone mad.
“Ammachi, Move a bit, so I can lay down with you” I stood next to Ammachi’s bed and spoke
“That is your bed, you will lay down on that” Ammachi pointed to the bed on the other side of the room.
I didn’t bother to reply. I pulled the pillow from under Ammachi’s head, pushed her body, found a little space on her bed and lay down next to her.
“Get up Nina, I don’t like anyone sleeping on my bed, please Nina, get up” Ammachi tried to push me off her bed
I turned towards her, put my leg on top of her and hugged her with my right hand.
“Let go of me, I can’t breath, Nina please!” Ammachi tried to push my hand away.
“Nina, please, take your hand away, you are suffocating me, you are killing me, I can’t breath!”
“Ammachi, If I take my hand away, will you let me sleep with you?”
“Ok,ok Now please take your hand and leg off my body”
“Ok” I turned around.
It felt good sleeping next to my grandmother, but I just couldn’t sleep. There were too many questions that I needed to find the answer, but I didn’t know how to ask Ammachi all those questions.
Why was she mad at me, when I said I am Methran Thambi’s grand daughter? Methran Thambi was Ammachi’s husband, right? And Appa is his son and that means I am his grand daughter!. Then only I realized, I know nothing about Methran Thambi or his family. Did my grand father have any siblings? Do I have any other cousins? Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about him?
“Ammachi” I called her name softly
There was no response
“Ammachi” I called again
Still no response. I turned around to see my grandmother in deep sleep. I didn’t want to disturb her. I couldn’t sleep either. So I got up from the bed and went to sit in the veranda. I looked outside.
It felt like time stood standstill in Chengannur house. Everything was just as It was before, when I came to this house as a little child, years ago.
Every now and then, a gentle breeze would disturb all the trees and I felt even the leaves were protesting by soughing gently. Even they didn’t want to be disturbed. The walls of the house was still painted white. The windows were still the same blue colour.
Right infront of me was the same mango tree, that I climbed and was beaten up for climbing a tree, because Suriani Kristiani girls aren’t supposed to climb trees! I looked at tree, there were moss and lichen growing all over the tree trunk. Some of the branches were touching the roof. If it happend 2 years ago, Ammachi would have made Kutten cut those branches. The branches would damage the roof tiles. Now why doesn’t she do anything? Is it because, Kutten doesn’t want to help or is it that Ammachi has given up, taking care of our house? I didn’t know the answer.
On the right side of the house, my favourite chambakka (rose apple) tree was still there. I got out of the veranda and walked towards the tree. The tree trunk looked more whitish and shinier than I remembered. Most of the lower branches had been cut down. I looked up and was so pleased to see that there were few shiny, juicy rose apples on the top branches. But much as I tried,I couldn’t reach them. I tried to grab the end of the branch, so I could pull it down and pick the fruit. That didn’t work. Then I threw rocks at the fruit, hoping to knock the fruits off the tree. The rocks that I threw didn’t even go anywhere near the fruit.
“No, No, No, you are not getting away from my hands. I may have forgotten the fine art of throwing rocks and knocking fruits down, But I promise, I will find a way and will eat you today” I spoke to the rose apples as though they understood.
I knew the best option would be to climb the tree. I walked quietly back to Ammachi’s room to make sure that she is asleep. I didn’t want to get beaten up again for climbing the tree. I was relieved to note that she was sound asleep.
I walked back to the tree, took some mud from the ground and smeared it on my palm, so my palms wouldn’t be slippery.
Climbing a tree was as easy as learning abcd’s, so I thought. Besides I am a professional, when it comes to climbing trees. I have always climbed trees, when I was young.
“I am coming up to get you” I spoke to the shiny red rose apples.
I grabbed the tree trunk with my hands and tried to lift my body up. I looked down. My legs were still on the ground. I tried again and again. The sensible part of my brain kept telling me
‘Oh Nina, you have lost it. You can’t climb trees anymore’, but I wanted to, I desperately wanted to climb the tree. Everything I have known changed since I came back home this time. And now, Nina Thomas can’t even climb a tree? That isn’t how it works!
I tried to climb the tree again, this time by keeping my right foot on the trunk and trying to use the leg and the hands together, to lift my body up. I manged to climb one step high and just as I moved my hands to lift my body up, my palm slipped and my arm got scratched on a pointed part of the trunk and I let go my hand. The fall wasn’t that bad, but the realization that, I can no longer climb a tree was shocking. I lay down on the ground and looked up at the tree. For a second I felt the rose apples were laughing at me.
I was afraid, Ammachi would have heard the noise, so I quickly got up from the floor and dusted my clothes. My arm was burning and I checked to see what happend?
Blood was trickling down the abrasion on my arm. I quickly walked to the well to wash my hands. I don’t know if it was the pain, or the fact that I no longer can climb a tree that made me cry. Tears were rolling down my cheeks.
Until now, I was Methran Thambi’s grand daughter, the suriani kristiani, the maram keri mangga(climbing tree professional!) etc. In 4 hours since I reached this house, I no longer knew who I was.
My grandmother has changed dramatically since my last visit. It looked like she was waiting for someone. Who she was waiting, I don’t know. She even cooked totally strange food. To make matters worst, she spat on the ground when I spoke about my grand father.
My goodness, she really spat inside our kitchen! That was disgusting. But worst of all, I, Nina Thomas, who could climb any tree except the coconut tree( that was only because the paravan refused to share his climbing rope with me!) couldn’t even climb a small rose apple tree!.
My world rather my castle that I constructed so well was flattend to the ground. Everything has changed. Ammachi has changed, she no longer wants to hear her late husband’s name.
Chackochan died and I didn’t even know, Chakki has gone, Kutten doesn’t even talk to me.
Our paddy filed that once produced 200 para of rice is now a wasted land, the rubber trees that once gave up to 20 sheets a day now give enough latex to make about 6 or 7 rubber sheets.
The cattle shed, that always had atleast three cattles is now empty. I don’t even know what is the name of the new dog Ammachi has kept chained inside the store room next to the cattle shed and I didn’t bother to find out either.
I realized in between all these changes that were happening around me, The Nina that I thought I knew too has changed. The new Nina likes to wear nice cloths, eat pizzas, burgers and wear fashionable high heeled footwear.
I knew, much as I tried to quell the voices of guilt in my head, I wouldn’t want to come back and live in this house. Why would I want to live in a place, so far away from town, when I could live and work in Bangalore?
In Bangalore, I could go to Sweet Chariot(bakery) in Brigade road and eat my favourite pineapple cake, I could go to Mac’s fast food on church street and eat a pizza or a burger, I could shop in MG road and buy the latest fashion cloths, and if I am bored, I could go to Commercial street and spend the whole day there. Besides, if I settle down in Bangalore, it will be easier for my kids. I can send them to a good school in Bangalore. How can I let my kids go to a village school? How can I expect beautiful eyes to settle down here?