The first time I met her was 4 years ago when I attended a fundraiser. Her brother is an accomplished cellist and was walking on to the stage to play the cello. She ran across the aisle, screaming at the top of her voice. Everyone was looking at her, that didn’t bother her. She was screaming and screaming and saying something totally incoherent and only stopped when her brother kept the cello on the stand, came down from the stage, held her hand and walked to where their parents were sitting.  Lovingly he patted her hair, said something to her and she nodded her head. He went back to the stage and played the cello. He was 12 years old then and she must have been 8.

Most of my friends think that I am totally nuts for driving long distance to eat good food. I think, you will understand this quest for good food if you are a Malaysian   When my children were little, I used to drive from KL to port Klang to eat seafood dinner. ( 40 km one way) My son loved to eat crab and a restaurant there served the best Singapore Crab ! There were plenty of seafood restaurants within walking distance from my home, but I still preferred to drive to all the way to Port Klang to get the best !

There is a Chinese restaurant ( Lucky Corner ) in Oxley that serve the best Char Kway teow. The place is tiny, looks run down, but the food is exceptionally good. So, even though it is very far away from my home, I still drive all the way there to eat Char Kway teow. I was surprised to see her family there. Apparently, I am not the only crazy one who drives such a long distance to eat good food.

While waiting for my food, this is what I saw. She mumbled something incoherent, her brother gave her pieces of chicken from his plate. Another mumble, he filled her glass with water. then she screamed and ran out of the restaurant, her  brother got up to get the toilet keys from the staff and run after her. When they came back, he pulled the chair out for his sister, made sure she is comfortable before sitting down to eat his meal. In the half an hour they were at the restaurant, she ran out thrice, each time her brother ran after her to take her to the toilet or even just to watch the cars. Not once he got mad at her.

Pottan surely had a real name, but I don’t know what it is. He lived next door to my mother’s ancestral home. I heard him, even before I met him. Amma’s ancestral home was at the bottom of a hill and as  we  got off the bus and walked down the road to her home, you could hear Pottan’s cry. It was not like any cry I have ever heard in my life. It felt like someone inside Pottan is screaming to get out. All through my childhood, I knew the existence of Pottan by hearing his screaming. I also knew Pottan was mad and his family chained him to the wall at home all day. I have heard his mother and his brothers cursing him and  thrashing him when his screaming got louder.

I was in the 10th standard when I actually met him for the first time. He was chained to the coconut tree and was given a spade to dig around the tree. Scrawny looking man with sunken eyes and his  ribs were sticking out. He saw me and mumbled something. He could hardly lift the spade. His brother was sitting outside in a cane easy chair and when he saw that Pottan is not doing his work, he got up from his chair, walked to where Pottan was chained and slapped him hard. I ran inside the house and even then I could hear the brother screaming at  him and threatening  him with bodily harm, if he stopped digging. Years later, when I read Nazi history and saw the photos of the prisoners of war, I was not shocked, for I had seen a human being in worst form in my own hometown.  Everyone knew what was going on in that house. Everyone kept quiet. Human rights are only for those who can fight.

What happened to Pottan after that is totally hearsay. Apparently someone forgot to lock him up one day and he escaped. Unfortunately, some neighbour saw him running away and called his brother..he was caught and beaten. No one has seen him after that.

There is no moral of the story here..when I heard the little girl screaming and running out of the restaurant, I remembered Pottan and felt his story should be told.

2 thoughts on “Pottan

  1. How awful! M.T Vasudevan Nair’s story ‘Iruttinte atmav’ talks about a ‘bhranthan’ who is similarly chained and ill treated. This rang a bell.

    • AP: I googled Iruttintey Athmavu and there was even a movie with Prem Nazir in lead role. I would love to see that movie.
      You know what is sad, My grandmother’s brother, who inherited the ancestral home was a well learned man who was a senior bureaucrat . He used to sit outside everyday and read the morning paper and would have heard Pottan’s cry for help. Not once, he went up to the neighbours and told them off. He too felt pottan deserved the punishments..I have always wondered how is it that he never saw Pottan as a human?

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