chumma oru rasam

“Do you want me to come with you to the airport?” Amma asked me as I was getting ready to leave.
I wasn’t sure. I had travelled in a plane so many times as a child, so there was nothing new in going to the airport. I was still thinking when Amma spoke
“I have to pay premium rate for the auto from the airport, why waste money? Alley?”
“hmm. You are right Amma”
“Oh I forgot, your sisters had written a list, let me get it for you”
“What list Amma?”
“List of things they need!”
I saw Amma walking to her room and she returned with few sheets of paper.
“This is Liza’s foot print” She passed me a sheet with a drawing of Liza’s right feet.
“This one is Sally’s, and this is their list and this is mine” She passed me 4 sheets.
I glanced through Amma’s list. Pefumes, powder, Pears soap, Fa soap,7 seas cod liver oil tablets, Nivea cream, hair dye( make sure it is dark brown, not black), night gowns, slippers, steel wool for scrubbing the pots..list went on
I folded the papers and kept it in my back pack.
“Don’t forget to buy sneakers for Liza. She needs it”
“Ok. Amma”
“Remember to send money for Sally as soon as you reach there”
“Ok Amma” I checked the clock. It was almost 8.30 Am. My flight to Bombay was at 11 am.
“Amma I have to go now”
“Come let us pray”
“Huh?” I asked
“Liza, come, Nina is leaving. Let us pray before she leaves” Amma called out
“You can pray Amma, I will listen here” Liza spoke from her room
“Come here this instant Liza Thomas. Your sister is going on a long journey and you can’t even pray for her ah?” Amma yelled
“Ok ok, no need to scream” Liza came out
“Let us pray” Amma held mine and Liza’s hands and started to pray
“Dear God Almighty, we are gathered together this morning in your presence….”
Amma went on praying for all the neighbours, cousins, their extended families and it was going on and on and was taking a long time. I opened my eyes a little bit to look at the clock and that is when I noticed Liza was squinting and looking at Amma. We looked at each other and at Amma, who was still deep in prayer. Liza started to laugh and I quickly closed me eyes and looked down
“How dare you laugh in God’s presence?” I heard Amma asking Liza. “Look at Nina, See ! That is how you should stand in God’s presence”
veruthey aa ninneyokkey valarthunney (it is a waste raising you guys)Amma mumbled
“Sorry Amma” Liza spoke
“hmm” Amma grunted and started to pray. I opened my eyes when I was sure that Amma was deep in prayer. Liza was looking at me and I stuck my tongue at her.
“I will get you” She mimed
“oh pinney I replied
Then we heard the words we were waiting
“In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit”
“Amen” We shouted as loud as we can and I tried to pull my hands from Amma’s grasp
“Not yet” She held my hands tight
“Lords prayer” “Our father..” She continued. I let Liza and Amma say the Lord’s prayer.
“Nina” Amma called out angrily
“Our father who art in heaven..” I joined in quickly. I didn’t bother to open my eyes to look at Liza. I knew she would be waiting to stick her tongue at me.
After the prayer, Amma kissed me
poyittu va money” She spoke
“Bye Amma, Bye Liza” I grabbed my bag and left without looking at Liza.
I walked down the steps and opened the gate. Then I remembered Sally, who had gone to school in the morning
“Amma, say Bye to Sally for me” I looked up
Amma nodded her head. Liza was standing behind Amma and she wasted no time to stick her tongue at me.
Amma must have seen her, Because I heard her asking Liza
“Why are you konjanam kuthifying your sister?”
“Bye Amma, Bye Liza” I said my byes quickly and let Liza do the explaining!

I took an auto to the airport. As the auto turned right in to the airport, I looked at all the bikes parked by the side of the road. I knew he would come. I was sure I would be able to find his bike. He knew what flight I would be taking and I knew he would come to the airport to see me off. When we reached the end of the bike park, I realized his bike wasn’t there.
May be he parked out side. May be he borrowed someone else’s bike.
I paid the auto and walked in to the airport. I looked every where for him. There were lots of people outside the airport. Parents were hugging their children who must be going to Dubai or some place like that to work. Women in sarees were smiling and then turning around to wipe the tears in their eyes using the saree pallu, so no one would see them crying. Little children were hugging their father one last time till the next long leave would bring their father home and I was alone. I was alone in a crowd of families. I had no one to see me off. I looked around the airport one last time. He didn’t come. He could have, he should have, but he didn’t.
As I entered the airport I realized, I had no idea what to do. As a child I held my father’s hand to guide me through all the airport formalities and now I was all alone. I felt so alone and miserable and lost
I saw a security guard standing near the door on the left side and I walked towards him
“Ticket” He asked
I took my ticket from the bag and showed him.
He let me in.
It took me a while to figure out what to do next and finally I managed to reach the boarding area.
Eventually the announcement came
“Indian Airline’s flight to Bombay is ready for boarding”
Suddenly all the people at the lounge got up and started to run outside. I wasn’t sure why everyone was running!
I looked outside. I could see the aircraft in the tarmac and every single passenger was running towards it, so I too decided to run. I ran like all those times I ran when I saw the KSRTC bus at the stand.
I found my seat and sat down, glad that I got the window seat. A little while later a dignified looking lady came and sat next to me
“Hello. I am Mrs.Murthy” She looked at me and smiled
“Hello Aunty. I am Nina” I replied
“Going to Bombay?”
“hmm” I replied
“No. I am going to Dubai”
“Oh I see. I am going to Bombay to visit my son. He is a scientist at Bhabha Atomic Research Center”
“oh” I replied.
“What do you do?” She asked
“I am a second year medical student”
“Your parents are working in Dubai?”
“Only my father”
“You stay in Bangalore?”
“Yes Aunty”

Before the flight took off, the hostess came holding a brass plate full of candies. I took an orange colour candy and Mrs Murthy reached her hand out. Her fingers were stretched as wide as possible. In an instant the hostess tried to pull the plate away, but she was a tad too late. Mrs.Murthy had already managed to grab a handful of candies.
Goodness She is so greedy, I thought
I noticed the disgust on the face of the hostess, but Mrs Murthy didn’t seem like she was concerned what the hostess thought about her.
Somehow Mrs. Murthy reminded me of my own mother. Amma always stole plants! I used to dread going with her for the flower show at the park in Kottayam. I never understood why my mother had to steal plants when she could buy them? I hated Amma for trying to save money by stealing instead of buying plants. After all Plants are not like diamonds. They don’t cost so much of money
I looked at Mrs.Murthy. She was wearing a Kashmir silk saree and she had a navaratna bangle on one hand and a dozen of gold bangles on the other hand. She also had a diamond mukkuthi on her nose. She certainly didn’t look like she was in financial dire straits!
May be she really wasn’t greedy. May be she was diabetic and on medication. May be she was saving the candies for emergency. I felt bad for thinking that she was greedy. Why do I always jump in to conclusions?
‘You need to learn to not to judge people’ I told myself.
By the time the aircraft landed, Mrs.Murthy had taken all the magazines and the barf bag from the front pouch and kept it in her bag. she took the jam, butter, bread roll, sugar and coffee creamer and even the plastic cutlery from her meal tray and kept them in her hand bag too. When the flight was about to land she took the pillow that was given to her, so she could rest her neck and stuffed that too in her bag. She then looked at me and smiled. She had the same smile on her face that said
chumma oru rasam.

Tool kit

I studied all through the night. By 6 in the morning my head felt heavy. Why did I ever chose to do medicine? I wondered. Like my mother wanted, I should have taken home science. I wouldn’t have had to work like this.
Vinasha kaley vipareetha budhi!

I just couldn’t keep awake anymore, so I set the alarm for 10 AM and went to bed.
I was woken up, when I felt someone was scratching my feet.
“Nina” I heard Amma’s voice
“What is it Amma?”
“Wake up. You will be late for your college”
I checked the time. 7.ooAM! I just went to bed an hour ago.
I managed to get 60 minutes of sleep! after studying all through the night.
“Amma, why did you have to wake me up? Didn’t I tell you yesterday that I am not going to college today? If I was going to my college, don’t you think I would know to wake up on my own? Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to go back to sleep, once I wake up? Do you know I was studying till 6 o clock and I just went to bed?” I screamed at her.
I watched Amma muttering something and going to the kitchen. I also noticed that Amma had switched off the fan in the room. I was too tired to get up and switch it on again.
I was so mad at Amma. Why does she do things like this? I am 19 years old and I am capable of taking care of myself. What is the big deal in attending all the classes? I pulled the blanket over my face and tried to sleep.
I just couldn’t sleep. There was too much of din going on inside the house. Amma was in the kitchen making breakfast and lunch for Sally. Liza had already switched on the TV and was watching some sports show. Sally was trying to do last minute homework, while eating her breakfast and trying to wear her school uniform all at the same time.
I was too tired to get up, so I continued to lay down. I wished my mother would leave me alone and let me live my life. I did tell her yesterday that I was planning to stay back home and study. Besides, I would have told Amma, if I wanted her to wake me up. I didn’t want to scream at her in the morning. But she asked for it.
Only I know how hard it is to do medicine. Unlike most people, I have to struggle extra hard, mostly because I only had 2 years of English education before joining medical college. I also have problems remembering all the drawings and diagrams in Pathology and Microbiology. The only reason I loved pharmacology was because it had no drawings! I could remember every single drug usage,dose and adverse effect. My mother doesn’t know how much I struggle and the least she could do for me was to leave me alone. But that was impossible. She just couldn’t leave me alone!
Around 10 am I got up. My head felt so heavy and I knew I was going to get a severe headache. But I had to give the passport copy and collect the ticket. I changed my cloths and looked for Amma. She was in the kitchen.
“I am going to the travel agency” I told her
nee evidey venam enkilum poyi thulanjo. (I don’t give a damn)” She replied.
I just walked off.
There was no auto at the stand I had no choice but to wait. There were too many people waiting for the bus, so I decided to move a little to the back. I can always see the auto coming up the road and it didn’t make any difference if I stood near the stand or not.
I wondered if I should go to Dubai and visit my father? Why should I care if Amma had money to pay for Sally’s school fees or if Liza had good dresses to wear to college? They are not my children. Why do I have to worry about them? By right, I should be attending the classes at the college. The last two weeks before the exams are the most crucial time. There would be extra practical sessions and I would be missing all that.
I looked around. The blind lady was already standing inside the phone booth. Staring straight ahead. Nothing affected her. She didn’t see all the monkey faces school kids made standing in front of her booth. She didn’t see the filth on and around her booth. She is lucky, I thought. Lucky to be blind.
I closed my eyes trying to see how it feels to be blind. I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear everything. I tried to identify the sounds. I could hear someone walking in front of me. I felt so proud that I could identify it was footsteps without using my eyes. After all I am smart, so I thought
I wondered if that footsteps I heard was a man or woman? I couldn’t figure it out. But it didn’t matter. Does it?
Then I heard a bus coming up the road and stopping few feet away from me.
Wow, I was getting good at identifying the sounds.
But what number bus was it? I didn’t know. I opened my eyes to see. It was 145A. I also saw there was an auto at the stand and someone was getting in to it. While I was busy closing my eyes and feeling proud because I could identify sounds, I didn’t notice that there was an auto waiting at the stand.
I felt so incredibily stupid. I was a second year medical student and I thought a blind lady was more fortunate than me!
All that lady sees in front of her is darkness. Pure darkness.
I realised there is nothing great about being able to identify a sound without seeing. But there is something great about a will to survive, even when all you see is darkness ahead of you. I looked at her. Yesterday, I was angry with her because she didn’t return my smile, then I felt sorry for her because she couldn’t see. Today I admired her. I admired her will to survive.
I waited for the next auto and went to Sita travels and collected my ticket.

On Tuesday evening I decided to pack my bag. My suitcase was at the hostel.
“Amma, can I take Liza’s suitcase?” I asked
“What for? Ask Appa to buy you a new one. Why do you want to take a suitcase from here”
“ok” I didn’t want to argue with Amma. Although I didn’t understand what is the point in getting another suitcase when we already have so many!
“So what bag should I take?” I asked her
“Take the bag you take to your college?”
“Huh? You mean my back pack? It is so small!”
“Nina, if you carry stuff from here, it would add more weight to your luggage. So take as little as you can from here”
“What Oh? You need to use that thing called common sense once in a while”
I ignored Amma’s sarcasm
“By the way, Can you send some money as soon as you reach there. I need to pay Sally’s fees”
“ok Amma”
“Buy an electric kettle also”
“Oh Nina, it is easy to boil the water if you have an electric kettle”
“hmm” I mumbled. I thought of asking Amma what about the electricity bill that would be hefty if she uses an electric kettle? Who is going to pay that?
“Oh, I have been wanting to tell you this, I want you to buy a tool kit that comes with a magnet”
“I saw it in Kochappan’a house. Tools comes with a magnate, it is a very nice. You can arrange them on the wall!”
“Why do you need a tool set Amma?”
chumma oru rasam!” Amma was looking at me like a little child who was asking for a new toy. I just didn’t understand my mother. Here we are struggling to pay my sister’s school fees and my mother wants a tool kit!
The only thing that we ever have to fix in our house is to change the bulb when it gets spoiled. That certainly didn’t require a tool kit. “ok” I mumbled. I had no intention of buying a tool kit.
I packed few cloths and my pathology text book in my bag. It felt so weird.
Here I was going to visit my father and all I am taking with me is some cloths and a text book?
“Amma are you sure I don’t have to take anything for Amma from here?”
“Oh Nina, why do you keep asking the same silly questions over and over? All the good stuff from here are exported to middle east. Why do you want to take something inferior quality from here, when you get the best there?”
I didn’t reply. I just hoped Amma was right.

Jathya gunam

By Sunday evening, I was a nervous wreck. I still haven’t studied microbiology and I had almost half of Pathology text book yet to read! I contemplated if I should go back to College on Monday morning?
If I don’t go back, then I would miss all the practicals and also the clinics. But if I do go back, then I won’t have time to study for the internals. I also had to go to Sita travels to give a copy of my passport to collect the ticket. I decided to skip the classes.
Then I remembered Beautiful Eyes! I won’t get to see him before I go. I had to see him. I wanted to see him.
There was only one way.
I got up from my bed and changed my cloths
Amma was looking at me
“Where are you going?”
“I am just going out over there Amma” I said without thinking.
Then I realized what I just said.
I was almost smiling thinking of all the times Amma used to tell me “just over there”.
“Over where?”
“There Amma” I pointed to the door
I looked at her. She looked so angry. I wondered if she remembered how angry she used to make me feel all those times she used to say ‘over there’ when I used to ask ‘Where she was going?’
Amma ran to where I was standing and held my hand
“I asked you where you were going?”
“Why are you getting so mad?” I asked her, while trying to free my hand from her grasp
“Do you remember all those times you used to tell me ‘just over there?”
“When did I ever tell you like that? My god Nina, you have fertile imagination”
“MY god Amma, you forget things way too fast. Do you remember all those Saturdays and Sundays you used to vanish from home in the morning itself, leaving us alone and and when I asked where you were going, you would reply just over there?”
edi drohi, All those times, I went to get things for you. Your father left all of you with me and I had to manage the house all by myself. I did the best I could!
I even went all the way to Cochi to buy fresh fish for you”
“Right, you paid money and bought a train ticket and travelled all the way to Cochi from Kottayam and bought fresh fish and travelled all the way back! You couldn’t get fish in the Kottayam market?”
“Wait till you have children, then you will learn”
“Don’t worry about that Amma! I will be a better mother than you”
“Like your father, pandu thooriyathum paley thooriyathum orthu irunno! (remember every events of the past!)
Go ahead Amma, blame Appa for all the troubles.”
“My God Nina, After all your father has done, you still support him! you are unbelievable”
I knew my father was a mean husband and I wasn’t really trying to support him. But he is still my father. If he was the only bad person, then I wouldn’t minded Amma cursing him. But there wasn’t any saint among the thieves! So why keep blaming Appa for all the problems?
There was no point trying to explain my feelings to Amma. So I opened the door to go out.
“I am just going to the phone booth to make a phone call”
“You couldn’t say that in the first place?”Amma asked
I didn’t know the answer for that. Why couldn’t I just tell her the truth when Amma asked me? May be I was afraid Amma would ask whom am I calling?
As I walked down the steps, I told myself, ‘you idiot, if Amma had asked whom are you phoning, you could have said any one’s name! How was Amma going to verify that? Guilty conscious pricks the mind! Simple as that!
I walked to the phone booth near the temple. I had seen the booth when I was waiting for the bus.
The booth was a small green colour metal shed with a grill in the top half. The bottom of the shed was covered with tobacco spit. It looked so dirty. There was a sign underneath the grill that said ‘Donated by Rotary club Bangalore’
I wondered why Rotary club Bangalore donated such a lousy metal shed? Couldn’t they at least clean the shed?
I looked inside, there was a lady standing inside the shed. The phone was in front of her on a metal shelf.
The lady was looking at me and she asked “Yes?”
I smiled at her, but she ignored me
“Yes?” She asked again
She is so rude, I thought. What would happen, if you return a smile? Just because she owns a phone booth doesn’t make her so superior!
“Yes?” She asked again
“Can I make a phone call?” I asked her
“I rupee” She replied
“It costs 1 rupee” She was still staring at me
“What is this? Why do I have to pay before a phone call? I thought of walking off. I didn’t want to give business to such seemingly rude people. But I wanted to make a phone call and the only other place I can make a phone call is the grocery shop. But then the Malayalee owner might snitch on me!
I took 1 rupees coin from my pocket and threw it with all the disgust I felt for her on the shelf next to the phone. Without saying a word,the lady took the money, felt it between her fingers and opened the drawer and placed it inside.
“number?” She asked
Grudgingly I told her the number.
She was still looking at me and I saw her fingers move on the phone.
It took me a few seconds to realize that the lady was blind. That is why she didn’t smile, that is why she is asking for the money before the call and that is why her booth is so dirty!
I felt so bad for being such a bitch of the first order!
I looked at her apologetically. But she was still staring ahead.
After dialling the number, she held the phone close to her ear. Then I heard her saying
“Hello, please hold on”
She passed the phone to me through the grill.
My heart was pounding. I hoped no one would recognise my voice
“Can I speak to Beautiful Eyes?” I asked
“Can you hold on?”
I couldn’t figure out who picked up the phone in the men’s hostel. But he sure didn’t recognize my voice. From Anxiety my feelings changed to excitement. I was dying to hear his voice. Dying to hear the way he talks, the way he pronounce letter t as thee. Like, Nina do you wanth thu drink some thee?
“Madam, I am sorry, he has gone back home yesterday. Do you want to leave a message?”
I felt so disappointed. One minute my helium balloon was full of hope and excitement. The next minute it was gone!
“Ya” I replied
“Do you want to leave a message?”
“Nah, it is ok. Thanks”
I gave the phone back to the lady and walked off.
First I fought with Amma for no reason, then I got angry with a woman, who turned out to be blind and now Beautiful Eyes had gone home. Who knows when he would come back? I felt so miserable.
When I came back home Amma was sitting on my bed and folding my cloths and placing it in my bag.
“It is ok Amma, no need to put the cloths back. I am not going back tomorrow”
“Because I have to study for the exam”
“Nina, You can’t go on bunking classes like this. How can you pass the exam, if you keep bunking classes?Just because you passed the first year doesn’t mean you will be able to pass every time. I got a letter from your college. I know you have been skipping your classes. I know you only got 52% attendence this year. Don’t think I don’t know”
“When did you get a letter?”
“Few weeks ago?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why should I Nina? Why should I care?”
“then why did you tell me about the letter now?”
“I just wanted you to know that, I know you have been spending time with Arjun.”
“Don’t pretend that you are innocent. I know you are sleeping with Arjun”
“Shut up Amma” I was just so mad
“Why are you trying to shut me up? Truth hurts eh?”
I wanted to leave. I just wanted to get out of my stupid house. I never wanted to see my mother’s face again. I grabbed my bag from Amma’s hands. I looked around.
Sally was leaning on the door frame and looking at me. There was no expressions on her face. It looked as though she was wearing a mask. I knew beneath that mask, she was saying
“Walk away Nina, walk away like Maria did. It is easier to walk away than fight for your sisters”
I threw the bag on my bed. I could hear Amma muttering
jathya gunam thoothal povoolla, vallyamma nair dey purakey, thantha nayarachidey purakey, makalu marwadidey purakey