My Amma’s favourite singer
Around 8 am I noticed Amma had changed her clothes and was getting ready to go somewhere. Perhaps she was going to Sally’s boarding school. I wanted to go as well. So I asked
“Where are you going Amma?”
May be it was years of conditioning, because I honestly was expecting her to tell me ‘just over there’
“No more rice” Amma spoke
“oh! so where are you going?”
Amma looked at me as though I was the dumbest person on earth, which I no doubt was. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out where would one go to buy rice. Amma must have wanted to go to Vannarppet market or to the one near St. Philomena’s hospital*
“I mean Amma, if you are planning to buy the groceries, we could go to Nilgiris”
Amma was looking at me and I wondered what she was thinking. May be she would have thought how she could give birth to a dumb nut like me? Why would anyone want to go all the way to Nilgiris to buy few kilos of rice?
“What time do they open?” Amma asked
“Well, hmm, I don’t know Amma” I looked at her sheepishly
“Ninakku pinney enna mannankatti aa ariyavunney? (do you know anything in life?)”
I couldn’t stop smiling, because my mother just knew how to put me down each and every time.
“kilicho, athenkilum ariyavallo” (Go ahead, Grin! At least you know to do that”
I tried to stop grinning, but I couldn’t.
“You know something Nina, You have always have a smile on your face. How do you do it? Even as a child I remember you always had a smile!”
“hmm” Amma mumbled.
I wasn’t sure how to react. Should I be happy that my mother said something nice or should I wait for her next complain and the associated curses?
Amma looked at me.
“I wonder whose smile you inherited? Certainly not your father or anyone from his family”
I didn’t reply. Discussions regarding Appa or his family was a ‘no entry’ street for me.I knew Amma hated the fact that I like Appa and Ammachi. She wanted me to hate them just the way she hates them.
“Any news from your father?” Amma asked
“nope” I was quick to reply
I didn’t want to tell her that I received yet another letter from Appa warning me not to be like Amma when I grow up or my poor future husband would end up suffering like my innocent god loving father.
“Don’t know, must be busy with work”
“Work? Your lazy father and work don’t get along”
I wanted to fight for my father. I wanted to tell Amma that, if Appa wasn’t good at what he does, then he would have lost the job long ago. But what was the point? What would I gain by fighting Appa’s battle?
“true” I mumbled. I felt a tinge of sadness. May be a lot more than a tinge.. I could almost feel Appa sayng ‘Et tu Brute”
I told myself
‘Ama et fac quod vis'( Love and do what you want/wish!)’
Appa knows I love him and I felt he knew why I agreed with Amma instead of fighting with her.
“May be we could eat Dosai for breakfast and then go to Nilgiris. By then they should have opened”
Again as soon as I spoke, I regretted talking. I knew Amma was going to ask
‘entha nintey thantha dosai undakkuvo?( Is your father making the Dosai?’
“Let us go to Shivaji Nagar market. Then we can also go to St Mary’s Church. Someone told me if you pray there, your prayers really will be answered”
There was so many things I wanted to tell Amma.
I wanted to tell her, if she believed in God, then she should know that God is everywhere. You don’t have to go to a particular church and pray. But again I kept quiet.
“Go, get ready” Amma spoke
I must have taken less than 10 minutes to get ready and Amma was staring at me when I came out of the bathroom.
“Again?” She asked
“What?” I looked at my clothes and at Amma. “Again what?”
“You wear that blue t shirt every time”
“So?” Amma stared at me as though my question was really dumb.
“Well, you wear the same saree every time” I spoke
“That is because this saree is very easy to wash and it dries fast.”
I just couldn’t resist telling Amma
“Apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree!”
“You are wasting your time at the medical college. You should have done LLB!” Amma replied.
I looked at Amma. She was smiling and I didn’t feel like talking back.
“What time is Liza going to come back after her sports practice?” I asked Amma
“Don’t know” Amma replied
Don’t you think you should know? I wanted to ask Amma.
Amma took the key from her bag and locked the house.
“Liza has a spare key” She spoke
“hmm” I replied
There was an auto waiting near the main road and I called out
Amma pulled my hand and I turned and asked
“Why do you want to waste the money? There is a bus stand in Shivaji nagar! We will go by bus”
“pishukki( stingy)” I mumbled
“What did you say?” Amma asked
“Nothing. I was saying ‘sure Amma’,
“It sounded like pishukki “
I smiled again.
After waiting like what felt like a lifetime we managed to catch the bus to Shivaji Nagar. There were so many passengers in the bus and I was sure the bus was going to topple over. The conductor as usual didn’t have enough change to give back the balance and he scribbled the balance at the back of my ticket.
“It is their trick” Amma spoke
“These conductors don’t give you the change back, because they are hoping that you would forget to collect the money at the end of the trip and they could pocket the extra cash. This is all a scam”
“No probably. definitely” Amma was sure
When the bus reached the last but one stop, Amma nudged me.
“Ask for the balance” She spoke
“But we are not getting off here, the bus stand is the next stop”
“I know that. But what if the conductor runs off when we reach the bus stand?”
“Why would he?”
“Ask for the balance” Amma’s voice was stern.
I knew there was no point in arguing with Amma, so I asked for the balance.
The conductor was staring at me
“You are going to the bus stand Nah?”
I nodded my head.
“Then you can collect the change there” He was so rude. and some of the passengers were snickering. I was sure they were laughing at me. Here I was wearing a Levi jeans and looking so posh, yet was desperate to collect few paise change from a poor BMT conductor.
“happy now?” I snapped at Amma
She didn’t reply.
When the bus reached the station, the conductor made sure we got the money the last.
I was so angry with Amma. She didn’t have to make me go through this much of humiliation.
I wanted to be nice to Amma.
I knew I was all Amma had.
I could understand her hatred towards Appa and his family, I could understand her love for George, I could understand her faith in George, but I could never understand why she enjoyed humiliating me in public. She thrived on humiliating me and I hated her for that.
*( Does anyone remember the name of this market? Left turn near the hospital and all the way to the end of the road and the market was near the Jacobite church)
I never understood why when you want time to fly, it would move at snail pace and when you just want a few more hours, especially the day before the exams, time usually flies.
I planned to wake up late and was up at 5 AM. I wanted to read, but was afraid that Amma would be angry for wasting electricity. I didn’t want to lay down and do nothing, because that is when I think and when I think, I usually end up hating myself.
I tried not to think anything but ended up thinking if I was successful in my attempt to not think.
I gave up the idea of not thinking.
I thought about about Beautiful Eyes. My heart ached when I remembered all the wonderful times we spend together.
Was it the optimist in me that was sure everything will be alright tomorrow,may be the day after, may be three years from now when I complete the medical degree. He was my future. He was all I had.
I knew I just had to explain everything to him and he would understand. I still had time.
I was sure I still had time..and that he would understand.
The house was too quiet and I missed my baby sister. I wondered how she was doing. I knew her classes would start only on Monday, would that mean Maria would drop her at the boarding on Sunday evening? Or would she do the same thing she did to me and leave Sally alone at the boarding school on Friday evening?
Poor baby, I hoped my baby sister would have the courage to survive.
Then I thought, She should, after all she too is Methran Thambi’s grand daughter.
Methran Thambi. The mere chant of the name was enough to invoke power and courage.
The name Methran Thambi was my personal magical sword, like Arthur’s Excalibur.
I could almost picture 16 year old King Arthur fighting tishum tishum with the nobles of England who refused to accept a young and inexperienced boy as their king.
How Arthur waited until everyone thought he was losing the battle and unsheathed the Excalibur at the very last minute and won the war.
It was the same for me wasn’t it?
I won each and every war that everyone expected me to lose, Didn’t I?
I felt proud.
I was like the mighty King Arthur. I, Dr. Nina Thomas grand daughter of Methran Thambi was as courageous as King Arthur.
My over inflated pride didn’t last too long, for I remembered how the story of Arthur ended.
Incest, infidelity,betrayal and ego destroyed King Arthur.
That is 3 out of 4 for me
Nashicha Methran Thambi and his family. I spoke quietly
“Yeah nashicha Methran Thambi and his family” Sensible one started to chant
chattaney pottan chathichal, pottaney daivam chathikkum! Perhaps it should have been Appaney potti chathichal, pottiyey daivam chathikkum!!
I lied to Appa and see what happened to me? I was the one who told Appa that Sally could stay as a paying guest in Bangalore and study in a good school. I just wanted Appa to send money for Sally. I never thought Amma would send Sally to a boarding school.
A part of me wanted to say God has punished me by taking my sister away from me. But the other part of me wanted to take the responsibility. I did wrong and I deserved what I got, sans God in the equation.
I could almost picture all my Sunday school teachers, choir members from the Ascension church, Kottayam and Anitha pointing their fingers and chanting
“You don’t believe in God!! God will punish you”
I pulled the blanket over my head and tried to sleep. I wanted to say that I wasn’t afraid of divine retribution, but since I still prayed to God on occasions, I simply couldn’t ignore the fear of retribution. It would have been so easy if I didn’t ask for God’s favour.
Perhaps it was ok, since I didn’t ask for anything for myself. I only prayed for Ammachi and Sally. If there is God, then he perhaps would understand, won’t he?
“You will be punished” I could still hear all the church members chanting.
I wondered if there is anything more left for God to take from me.
He took my father away, He took Beautiful Eyes away, He took all my friends away and now he took Sally away from me. What else is left? Perhaps Me?
Go ahead dear God, take me away. You think I care Anymore?
Do you honestly think I care? I asked.
I carried every single cross you placed on my shoulders, Didn’t I?
You made me deaf, you made my mother hate me, you made my sisters hate me, but I still carried on Didn’t I?
Go ahead dear God, punish me, because I knew, I can’t believe in a God who is this cruel.
Love and cruelty never mix.
There is no love in cruelty. None at all.
Only an ignorant person can say “God loves you, that is why he is punishing you”
I thought of taking back my request asking to keep my sister safe. But again I thought, Nah I couldn’t do that. What if Sally was punished because of me? I didn’t want my sister to be punished for my sins. I couldn’t do that to her.
I wondered how she would cope. Alone in a boarding school at the age of 13. I remembered my first day at the hostel and I knew how lonely Sally would be. I wanted to hug her and tell her that she would feel better after a few days and will have tons of friends by the end of the week.
Would Maria call her on the first day at the boarding school? I hoped she would. She should, she too stayed in a hostel and would know how miserable Sally would be on the first day.
I hoped Maria would buy Sally all the stuff needed. New brush, paste, shampoo, soap, bucket, towel, comb, Pyjamas.
Gosh Pyjamas.Would Maria remember to buy Pyjamas for Sally? At home no one bothered what you wore, but at the hostel, everyone notices what you wear!
Sally needed new Pyjamas. I knew Maria would forget that. My sister was incapable of thinking. She would ask Sally to wear her old tattered clothes at the hostel. I got up quickly and walked to Amma’s room. I will ask Amma to call Maria and remind her to buy pyjamas.Sunday all the shops would be closed, so they have to buy the pyjamas tomorrow.
Amma was standing in front of the shelf. Everything that was on the shelf was on the floor. The books,tapes, plastic palm tree appa got from Dubai,Amma’s hair piece, old news papers were scattered all over the floor.
The realization of what was happening was too much for me to take.
I remembered each and every time I cleaned my closet when I was upset. I would start off by putting everything on the floor and then slowly put everything back. Cleaning the closet always made me feel better and my mother was doing exactly the same.
That means we were doing the same thing. I had something in common with my mother.
Was it genetics?
‘No you silly monkey, genes don’t carry closet cleaning DNA’ Sensible one spoke
I knew she was jealous. Even she noticed the similarity! So I ignored her sarcasm.
I walked to where Amma was standing. She looked at me for a second and continued to dust the plastic palm leaves. I never knew why she was keeping those palm trees. They looked ugly and it was difficult to clean the leaves.
I bend down and started to arrange the news paper. Edges straight, one paper facing forward and the next one facing backward, just the way Amma always kept the news papers.
I thought Amma would ask me to get lost. She didn’t.
There were some old medicine bottles on the floor and I picked then up.
“Do you want them?” I asked Amma
She took the bottles from my hand and checked the name.
“Do you think it is expired?” Amma asked
I took the big brown bottle from Amma’s hand and checked the expiry date.
“Yes Amma, this one expired in 1985”
“that long ah?” Amma looked at me disbelievingly
“hmm” I nodded my head
“So there is no point in keeping ah?”
I looked at Amma, trying to see if she was serious.
“This one was very expensive” Amma spoke again.”May be I should keep it. Don’t you think? May be the drug company simply put the expiry date, so everyone will buy new bottles, correct?”
I wanted to tell her that expired medicines would do more harm than good, besides I can always get her new medicines from my hospital.
But what more harm can befall on a woman, who already lost her husband and two daughters?
“Sure Amma, you can keep it” I told Amma.
restless mind..sometimes the pain just won’t go away..