Usha and Varkey are our best friends.
Actually they are my husband’s classmates & best friends. Husband’s friends do not mean that their Chemistry should click with mine. But this couple became my close friends too.
A Karnataka girl so fluent in Malayalam, you will never see in your life that is Usha! Both Usha & I are not fair, may be that’s why our frequencies synchronized. We understood each other very well. We didn’t have to explain too much about anything. We understood!
Even if it is only for few days, when we visited India, we tried to see each other. Last year, when we were just passing by, we stopped for half an hour at Varkey’s.
They were just finishing the evening clinic, when we walked in. I was in typical Kerala style, Saree, matching Blouse, Hair put up and so on…
The Temperature was in 90’s. I started to sweat once I was out of the Air-conditioned Car. There was a surprised look on Usha’s face, when she saw my attire. Our relationship is so straight forward, we didn’t need any formalities to start our conversation. Usha was very casual in pants & top.
Usha asked me.
“Why are you wearing this heavy Saree in a hot day like this? Why don’t you wear pants or salvar?”
I know… I am trying to be modest. I am suffering. I couldn’t stand the heat & humidity.
“Oh, I can’t help it. Once I land in Kerala, I go back to my old self. Also my elder brother once told me that here in Kerala after certain age women from good families don’t wear Salvar! So here I am, sweating in this attire!”, I was very honest.
“Come on! You just came from US and I know that it is very cold there in US at this time of the year and this hot & humid weather will be too hot for you. I don’t know how you can stand this humidity!”, Usha was concerned!
I didn’t have any thing else to say. I go back to my old self when I come back to my native place. I can’t help it.
Usha was wearing a simple top with a Pant.
“Do you know something? Something really funny happened to me.” Usha started.
“I went to buy some Kurta from the Mall . I saw few which I like. I was looking for some shawls to match with the two Kurtas I liked most. But I couldn’t find any. One young sales person was with me trying to help me to find the shawls. He may be in his early twenties. He was some what handsome too. He tried his best to find what I am looking for. But all in vein! So I decided not to buy any, since there was no matching shawl to go with the Kurtas.”
“I was almost going to walk out of the shop. The Sales boy looked at my face. He wanted to say something before I left. So I stopped.”
“Madam, how old are you? I know it is rude to ask a lady the age, still… ”, he stopped in the middle.
I am not that sensitive about it, so I told him. “I am in my sixties”
“See, Madam, just looking at your face people know which age group you are, then why should they bother to look at you further down…?”
“You don’t need a shawl Madam. Those Kurtas fit quite well.” He added.
“I walked back to the store and bought both Kurtas. This is one of them”, Usha showed what she was wearing…
That was a good story. It made me understand my vanities. I stopped looking for shawls! Who cares what I wear? I am in my sixties! LOL. That salesperson’s words were kind of rude to swallow, but too sweet to spit out!
It reminded me of something which happened in my life.
I was in my early thirties. That day I didn’t have to wake up early as I usually do to go to work, since it was a public holiday. But my husband had work. So he got up early.
He didn’t bother to wake me up for coffee, since the automatic Coffee Machine I set up yesterday night was punctual in brewing the coffee. He took shower and got dressed. I was half asleep, when he gave the usual peck on my cheek. (That was an unwritten agreement between us, who ever leaves first, should give a kiss to the other before leaving.)
I told my husband from my sleep,
“Don’t forget to lock the front door and back door when you leave. Don’t forget, when you leave in a hurry.”
“I am alone and sleeping… If somebody comes in, I will not know. Yesterday, I heard over the radio that somebody was raped in a nearby town, when the woman was alone in the house.”
He gave me a peck again and said,
“Don’t worry too much. Who will come to rape you, other than me?”
I threw my pillow at him. He took his car keys and ran out laughing…
Oh my God! It is something I can’t prove and I don’t want it to be proved either.
I laughed a lot. Whenever I think about this episode, it brings a smile to my face.
Too sweet to spit out, too sour to swallow! But I liked it.
I have told this joke to my very close friends at different times. Only once, after hearing the joke, one young girl asked me…
“How can you let him put you down like that?”
I was speechless!
This is the last night I have with Maya & Nora my grand-daughters on our short visit with them. Tomorrow they have School. So they have to go to sleep early. It is already past 9:15 pm.
Nobody will be here, in this house, to say “goodbye” to us when we leave tomorrow around 11:00 am. My kids would have gone to work as early as 7:00 am. Both Maya & Nora would have gone to School by 8:30 am.
Maya had promised me when she visited us for summer vacation that she would be ready with a Malayalam Song, I already gave her to record for me to upload to the YouTube. But it didn’t happen… Last three days I was with her, but we were too busy doing other stuff. Now it is too late to practice or to record… I know that she didn’t practice it well enough to record.
She called me to her room, asked me to sit down in front of the iPad to play the music and an iPhone to record it. As soon as she started, in the first take itself, I knew that she has not practiced it enough to record. So I said,
“May be you can practice it some more, record it later & then send to me”
Her face became gloomy.
“No, Pancho, No! I will practice one more time and then we will record it.”
She insisted. But I didn’t want to rush her.
“No hurry. Take it easy. We can do it later”
She still insisted. Her eyes are pleading…
So we started to record it.
Nora was there to prompt the starting …
“One, two, three”, Nora said and started the iPad.
I started the iPhone. Maya started her song. Then Nora got up and walked around in the room.
Everything went well till the 6th line. Then there was a mix up.
Maya shouted at Nora,
“It is your entire fault. You broke my concentration. When you are going through my stuff, how can I concentrate?”
“I didn’t touch any of your stuff.” Nora screamed back.
“It is all right. We will do it again.”
One more and one more…
More mix ups. That was the end.
Tears started rolling down on Maya’s cheeks.
She blew her nose.
She tried hard not to show her emotions.
She sobbed quietly.
“It is all right Maya. You can do it some other time. I understand. I am not upset. It is already late. Don’t you have to get up early tomorrow morning to go to school? You may go to sleep now.” I tried hard to calm her down.
Nora was standing still not knowing what to say.
Between the sobs, Maya was repeating…
“No Pancho, I want to do it now. Otherwise I will not forgive myself. I know how much you love to hear it. If I don’t do it now, I will never be able to do it.”
I didn’t know what to do. She went on and on.
Then I said,
“Ok. Then read the lyrics one more time to make sure no more mix up of lines. Don’t sing, just read.”
I am not a music director. I have never done this before. I have learned some songs when I was young. I had learned classical music for few years, when I was a Teenager, just to please my mother. I was not a talented musician. As I told Nora, when she was shying away from singing, saying she was not talented.
“Not everybody is born talented. Very few are… Others study & train a lot to reach that talented state. I myself was not at all talented in music. I took lessons and became a good singer and competed in School competitions and won first and second prizes many times. So Nora, with proper training you can also become a good singer.”
Nora listened to me. It made sense to her. She learned two songs with Maya and I recorded them.
Maya wiped her face. She read the lyrics.
“Are you ready, Maya?” I asked.
“Now you wait for 5 minutes. My face is all puffed up… I will look pathetic in the video.”
She ran to the bathroom. Washed her face, wiped with a towel and came back.
Her face was all puffed up. She still had teary eyes.
“Maya, Are you not in bed, yet?”
I could hear Priya, their mother, yelling from downstairs.
“Tomorrow you have school. It is almost 10:00 pm. Go to bed.”
We were silent for a minute.
“Ok, Maya, we will do it now. It will not take more than 5 minutes to record it.”
“Ok, Nora, you prompt…”
“Ready, one, two, three…” Nora prompted, then started the iPad.
I started the recording.
This time, Maya did it right. No mix up… no mistake.
It may not be that great to hear. But she did it for me. That made the difference.
I don’t know what I did to deserve this great love.
Here is Maya’s song on YouTube: DAIVASNEHAM…
“My Heart is aching. I don’t know how to explain to you my situation.”
It was the beginning of a long distance phone call between Soumya & I.
She is my College-mate. Soumya is a bubbly character. Her face all lighted up with a big smile, is what comes to my mind when I think about her. She doesn’t need much to start the laughter. She is very humble and kind. I enjoyed her company a lot. When she walks into a gloomy room, she can light up the whole room with her simple laughter. Her happiness is contagious. Without any persuasion from her side, all around her will start feeling the same state of happiness.
So when Soumya started talking about her heart-ache, I was concerned.
“So tell me, I am all ears.” I said.
“My son wrote me an email saying that his parents may be the worst parents in the whole world. I can’t believe, my son wrote to me like that. You know that financially we are self-sufficient. I don’t need any money from my kids. I don’t need anything from them, other than few words of love, a phone call once in a while…an occasional visit.”
I was searching my brain for proper words to console her. Something related to that situation. If she were near me, I would have given her a Bear-hug.
Then I remembered something. I was only four years old. My mother might be in her late 30’s. My mother and I were travelling alone in a Boat.
Now I know that I was travelling through the Pamba River. Other than that I don’t remember the reason or anything else about that travel. There were other passengers in the Boat. It was almost full with passengers. I sat on my mother’s lap for sometime. Then she asked me to lay down on a Towel, she made for me on the floor.
One old woman was sitting near my mother. They were getting to know each other and a very interesting conversation was taking place. She had three children, boys, all grown up, married and had children of their own.
She was wearing a white “Rouka” (Blouse) which was tied at the bottom. A simple white “Mundu” for the waist and a small white shawl around her neck were the rest of her clothes. I could see the skinny folded stomach of her between her Rouka & Mundu. How many kids she would have carried in that folded stomach? She looked very graceful with her white hair tied up at the top of her head in a Bun. She was very thin & tall. She looked very classy to me. But her face was very sad and depressed. I was not paying much attention to their conversation. All of a sudden that Grandma started crying. Then I started listening to their conversation.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks. She was trying her best to hide her sorrow from other passengers.
My mother prodded her to talk about herself.
“My kid! You can’t imagine how cruel your kids can become when you become very old like me, when you can’t fend for yourself and when you need their help for everything.”
She wiped her eyes with the end of the shawl. Her eyes welled up with tears.
“Do you know something? Our enemies in our previous life are our children in this life. They make us learn to forgive and forget like Mother Earth. They will teach us to share. They will teach us how to love unconditionally.” She stopped to wipe her tears.
“Do you know what my son told me? He told me to get out of his house and he never wants to see me again.”
I was shocked to hear this.
My mother asked her, “What about your daughter-in-law? What did she say, when she heard this?”
“She joined with him. She threw my Box & clothing to the yard”, she sobbed.
“Thus she made it easier for me to pack my stuff.”
My eldest brother at that time was about twenty years old. He is still in College. I imagined him few years ahead after he becomes older & got married, then I tried to put him in that grandmother’s son’s position. It didn’t fit. I don’t think my eldest brother will ever throw my mother out like that son. I can’t imagine my brother in that position at all.
But I saw the pain of a mother for the first time. Still she didn’t curse her son even once. She cursed her fate for the heart-breaking things happening in her life.
How many times she would have given him bath, cleaned his bottom, wiped his face off his vomit, and fed him? What else she wouldn’t have done for her kid when he was growing up?
Later, (at that age of four) I asked my Mother, “Will it happen to you? Will my eldest brother throw you out one day like that old woman’s son did?”
“Oh, no! He wouldn’t do that to me.” My mother said.
She was immersed in her thoughts for some time. Then she added,
“People can change, I will never know!”
This incident I have never forgotten. Now I could see that Boat crowded with passengers, Towel on the floor, and that Grandma…
So I told Soumya:
“Soumya, I am also wondering why a son should write like that to his Mom? Even if the parents were bad, nobody says so directly.”
“Have you heard a saying in Kerala? Your children in this life are the reincarnation of your enemies in your last life. That makes sense. They teach us patience. They test our patience. We forgive them as if we have never forgiven anybody else. We do all kinds of sacrifices for them. We loose our sleep for them. We spend our time coaching them or helping them with their home work, even if we have other 101 things to do. We waste our time, transporting them from home to School, school to different playgrounds or places. We know that our kids are never going to become another Michael Jordan or K.J.Yesudas or Miley Cyrus, but still we take them to participate in all kinds of sports, send them to music and dance classes. We buy the best clothes & shoes we can afford to give our kids. We spend our hard earned money for the College fees… What else we don’t do for our kids? Even if our kids are the worst in the neighborhood and we know this truth, still we wouldn’t exchange them for the best”
“I know, I know… Let me ask you one question. Do you think we are the worst parents as he wrote? I loved & cared my kids more than my husband. Now I feel guilty about that. My husband is the one who gave me those wonderful kids. I tried to straighten out my kids when they failed. I tried to help them & direct them as I know, through the right path when they strayed. There is not any book to follow or to know the method of bringing up children correctly. I tried everything from my wisdom to educate them. I didn’t beat them up. But I had caned my kids to discipline them. Haven’t you?”
I couldn’t see Soumya’s face, but I know she was crying.
“Yes, I did too.” I admitted.
“You are not worst parents.” I didn’t know what else to say to console her.
I told her that I will pray.
Here is my prayer for all the mothers who are going through this kind of a situation:
Just praying to God to open the inner eyes of our kids to see the mother’s unconditional love for them… God, you can see our mind, our thoughts and everything. Please, God, don’t punish them for their behavior because if you punish them, it will hurt their mother’s Heart.
This is written by one Mother.
From the moment you were born my heart was yours
I looked in your eyes and saw all my hopes come alive in you.
I LOVE you more than you ever know,
For now for always .”
Almost all mothers think this way.
To all Kids,
Love your mother & father without any selfishness.
Tell them “I love you” any time you get a chance because you never know when they say the final Good Bye. Other wise you are the loser and when you regret later in your life for not expressing your love to them, then they will not be there to hug you and say “It is all right. I understand. Everything will be all right. You are mine, so how can I keep a grudge against you?”
After the church Service, the five miles walk to my home was always tedious. Hunger, thirst & tiredness are the main reasons. Even though we would have reached the church half to one hour late, the long Service would still take another two hours or so to end.
At an Orthodox church most of the time, you have to stand throughout the Service. Seven year olds like me standing still for a long time doing nothing is something impossible to do. I will try to stand on one foot for some time, so that the other foot will get a break… If we try to kneel on the side wall, there is an old mean lady who stands behind us will come and pinch us first and then move us to stand in a row straight in the front not touching the wall or the large Pillars. So standing on one foot was a better way to give a break to the tiredness.
Even though the Service was boring, I liked to sing the songs towards the end of the Service and once you get immersed in singing, Time will pass faster.
Another thing I liked in the church was a fifteen to twenty minutes Sermon delivered by the Priest in the middle of the Service. There will be some interesting stuff like one of his experiences or a short story he will describe to make his Sermon interesting. I still remember a part of his Sermon he delivered after his short visit to USA. That was the time very few people travelled overseas. At that time, in ‘Malayala Manorama’ News Paper, there appeared pictures of people going to UK or USA or some other foreign countries with a short description of the person and the reason of their visits.
I used to read those News, but I never felt jealous of these guys who are so lucky to travel to another continent, since I was not at all interested to see other contries. But I remember when I was in my Teenage, just like any average person in India where no foreign goods were imported legally in bulk at that time I liked Contraband stuff like Crepe & Chinese silk Saris and perfumes available in the black market.
When the Priest started that Sermon, dramatically he took out a ‘one Dollar Bill’ from his pocket and said:
“This is an American ‘one Dollar Bill’. I want all of you to see it and try to read what is printed on it.”
While the ‘one Dollar Bill’ was being circulated among the parishioners, people who knew English tried to read the print on it and the Priest continued his Sermon:
“America is the richest country in the world. Actually I don’t know how to describe what I saw there. Where ever you go, it is very neat. The public restrooms are so clean and nice smelling, you wouldn’t mind sleeping on those floors. May be you can compare it to Heaven. I have not seen Heaven, but still I can imagine the Heaven will be beautiful like America.”
“It is the richest country in the world. It is the most developed country in the world. Do you know why America is the number one country in the world?”
He paused for few seconds waiting to hear an answer from us. But nobody said a word. We are the ignorant people who have not seen Heaven or America… How do we know the reason for America to become the number one country in the world?
The ‘one Dollar Bill’ had almost reached the last row of people in the church.
The priest asked,
“Is there anybody who could read the words printed on that ‘one Dollar Bill’?”
One person at the back row stood up and said:
“One, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GOD WE TRUST”
“I don’t want to hear any more… IN GOD WE TRUST. That’s the key to all their progress. They give importance to God. They are not ashamed to declare that IN GOD WE TRUST on their currency. This is what I want you to think about. Are you ashamed to admit in front of the whole world that you are a believer in God?”
That’s how the Sermon ended. That seven year old is now sitting here in America or Heaven as our priest said. I was not even that eager to visit America after hearing that Sermon. But I was impressed by the Trust America bragged about on that one Dollar Bill. I never wanted to leave my small town in India. I was happy and content with what I had. Also I was more than ready and patient to see the Heaven after my death. But God had different plans.
I am hungry, tired… We have reached the end of the public road to my House. The remaining roads to my home are good for pedestrians or cycles only and too narrow for any other kind of vehicles. At the end of the public road there was a Cart. It was full of some kind of fruit. The Cart was overflowing with its content. Some fruits were on the floor. The color of the fruit was dark green. It was big and round like pumpkins. I have never seen that fruit. One of them was split opened and left near the Cart to lure the passersby. I have never seen such a beautiful color.
Dark Maroon color… Inside, it had black seeds like pearls shattered around its center.
It was very inviting…
I asked my mother,
“What is that fruit? I want one…”
I don’t care what it is, I wanted one. I am very hungry too.
That color has already mesmerized me to think it should be sweet.
“It is Watermelon. You wouldn’t like the taste.”
I don’t want to hear a ‘No’.
I started nagging her.
“I want one.”
There is no point in creating a tantrum. It will not work with my mother.
I started crying…
I was hungry and tired after the long walk from the church. So it was very easy for me to cry…
At last she gave in, but on one condition…
If we buy, I have to carry it all the way to my house which was almost two miles away from where we stood.
I agreed. Mother paid the money.
I took the biggest Watermelon and started walking. It weighed more than 6 lbs at least. It was heavy for a seven year old who was not that healthy. But I had to keep my word. So I carried it.
First I had to climb the huge bridge with about 20 steps up and then 20 steps down.
There were few more narrow bridges on my way. The huge Bridge we passed.
Watermelon is not in a bag. I am holding it with my two hands. My hands are getting tired. My mother could see it. She would have laughed in her mind.
My enthusiasm was diminishing every second…
I looked at my Mother, pleading through my eyes. She just ignored it.
Pride is something I do not know of at that age, especially to show my Mother.
At last I gave in. I sat on the side of the path. Put the Watermelon down.
“I can’t carry it.”
A simple statement…
Mother looked at me. She started mumbling to herself,
“Will not listen to what I say. Now I have to carry it all the way. I knew it is coming… That’s why I said not to buy… No way! She won’t listen”
Then she took the Watermelon. She carried it all the way home.
I know she was hungry and tired too. But still she carried it for me.
When I reached home I was in a hurry to cut it. She opened it for me.
The first bite I took, I knew my Mother was right. I didn’t like the taste.
That’s the first time I was convinced myself that my Mother is always right.
She knows me better than myself.
I stopped questioning her judgments about my Taste buds.
She knew what I liked, better than me.
The way of life a group of people follows.
What exactly is it?
It is not something you can describe in few words. It is the way people are or the customs followed by people from generation to generation. You can not teach Culture as we teach Mathematics or Science.
You have to grow up in a culture to know what actually it is and still you will not know the whole lot of that culture, if you move away from that place. Culture changes from place to place … like village to village, Town to Town, City to City or Country to Country… Even this is a Ball Park assessment. There are always exceptions
Now I am not sure whether I know the Kerala Culture that well in which I grew up, since I left Kerala at the age of 25.
I was born and brought up in an Orthodox family. So the customs I followed were the one in an Orthodox family. I came to know a little bit of Muslim and Hindu Cultures from our neighbors & friends with whom I studied.
Respect for the religions other than their own is an inborn thing among common people in Kerala. Religious Fanatics are exceptions, just like Terrorists or Traitors in any country.
In an Orthodox Christian family the Man is the Head (forget about the exceptions here…LOL) and the position of the wife is that of a Chief Minister, supporting the decisions of the Head.
Till I met Parvathi Kavu, I saw any woman in any household as a second class citizen. Later, I met some Nair girls and it changed my outlook. But I couldn’t make any changes accordingly with respect to my life…
I lived with a Muslim friend who conducted the 5 times’ prayer everyday and my other Muslim friend was a firm believer, but didn’t do the 5 times’ everyday prayer. They both were nice and I didn’t see them differently.
There are many wonderful and interesting customs in some cultures we come across, but some of the customs may be difficult for us to digest. Then we ignore it saying, “Oh that’s their culture, why should we bother!”
I had heard about Old people’s homes (Manors and assisted living homes) in the US even before I came to the US.
Labor is expensive in the US. Baby sitting costs… There is a price-tag for any service.
To maintain a some what good standard of life, here both husband & wife need to work.
Living all their life as a single/nuclear family and being leading an independent life, it is difficult for these old generation to move to their children’s home to have a different life pace with the new generation, so mostly they try to live alone in their old cocoon as much as they can. When they become less healthy and need assistance for everyday routines, they move to Retirement Homes or Manors (Skilled Nursing Homes) or assisted-living homes. There, they wait for their final destination of Heaven or Hell. There are cheap subsidized Manors as well as private ones. There are also expensive private Retirement Homes/ Skilled Nursing Homes. There are good as well as bad Old people’s Homes. You will never know which one is better unless you live there few days.
This is something we can’t digest. Why can’t children take care of their parents in their old age?
Then as I said before:
We should ignore it saying, “Oh that’s their culture, why should we bother!”
As parents, they don’t want their children to be bothered with their aches and pains.
So I was under the impression, in US, when people get old, they move to some kind of old people’s Home. But in this fast paced culture in the US, I found an exception.
Her name is Pat. She is my grandkids’ Piano Teacher. She is in her 40’s. Pat came to my house once a week.
Pat is a quiet lady; her smile is kind of apologetic as if announcing ‘I do not like disturbing anybody even with this smile ’
Her mother Pauline was always with her. Pauline sat on a chair near the Piano patiently, waiting for her daughter to finish the lessons.
Pauline’s age I am not sure, may be in late 60’s. Pauline & I went to the same Church. So I have known her even before she started to come with Pat.
Pauline always has a pleasant smile and a big hug to share with anybody she comes across.
One day when they came, Pauline was in a very pretty blouse. I did compliment her and she said:
“Now-a-days it is Pat who selects my clothes”.
I asked Pat,
“So do you live with your Mom?”
Usually grown up kids do not come back to live with their parents here in the US, unless they are broke or recuperating from some other kind of falls in their life.
“She left her family & came to live with me once my husband passed away last year.”
“She refused to come to my house and I felt she needed company, so I resigned my job and came to live with her.”
I was kind of shocked to hear these facts.
“What about your husband and the kids? How do they manage without you at home?”
“My husband comes home during the weekend.”
“I felt Mom is very lonely, but she is too stubborn to leave her house, so I thought if so I would move with her. My husband will retire soon, and then he is sure to join us.”
I thought I am hearing a fairy tale. I am the one who proudly say that I belong to a Culture where old generation is well taken care of fully in the old age as an extended family. This is new to me. Here is somebody who resigned her job and came from a far away place just to keep company for her own mother. Pat takes her Mom where ever she goes.
Her Mom is her best friend.
Not a dull moment among them…
I can’t believe it. I thought, I loved my Mom so much. But would I ever think of something like this to do for my Mom. I felt like a Mustard seed. I am nothing… just a zero comparing to these great guys I meet in my life once in a while.
Then I saw this passage in face book:
I was shocked, confused, bewildered
As I entered Heaven’s door,
Not by the beauty of it all,
Nor the lights or its decor.
But it was the folks in Heaven
Who made me sputter and gasp–
The thieves, the liars, the sinners,
The alcoholics and the trash.
There stood the kid from seventh grade
Who swiped my lunch money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbor
Who never said anything nice.
Bob, who I always thought
Was rotting away in hell,
Was sitting pretty on cloud nine,
Looking incredibly well.
I nudged Jesus, ‘What’s the deal?
I would love to hear Your take.
How’d all these sinners get up here?
God must’ve made a mistake.
‘And why is everyone so quiet,
So somber – give me a clue.
’ ‘Hush, child,’ He said,
‘they’re all in shock.
No one thought they’d be seeing you.’
JUDGE NOT!! Remember…Just going to church doesn’t make you a
Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.
Every saint has a PAST…
Every sinner has a FUTURE!
Think about it… Are we better than our enemies or anybody else we know?
I started using the wireless Phone probably in 1995, when I had to travel about sixty five miles to reach the work place. It was bulky and it was placed in a big handbag of its own. The other details of it, like its make, range etc. I don’t remember. But it was a necessity at that time, since I left home early in the morning around 5:45 am and during the winter time that was the only way to let my husband know that I reached safely at my office. Years passed by and the shape, size and style of the wireless Phone changed so fast. I still like the simplest form of Cell Phone. When Cell Phone started to provide camera with it, I was very surprised. Where I worked, Cameras were prohibited. So I didn’t buy the one with Camera.
My kids are crazy about the latest models of Cell Phones and they always competed to buy the latest makes in the market. Later I owned a somewhat modern Cell Phone which had the camera, but most of the other options provided in it, I seldom used. Then the iPhone came in the market. Kids bought them almost immediately. Then after about one year since the iPhone appeared in the market, one day my husband bought iPhones for both of us.
The first day, I took my iPhone to my office, I hid it from others. My intention of hiding it from others was only because I didn’t want the other two girls in the Office to feel bad, since they couldn’t afford to buy one yet. But after two days, one of them happened to see my new iPhone and picked it up and asked me when I bought it.
“Only two days ago.” I said.
She took my Phone to the other girl to show her.
I felt embarrassed feeling guiltier for owning something they couldn’t afford.
Then something happened. Both of them took out their own Phones and compared with mine. Their iPhones had beautiful case while mine was kind of naked, without a case…
That’s when I knew that these two girls had iPhones for the last one year or so…
What do I know about people? Nothing…
As my eldest son advises,
“Do not assume.”
I can write hundreds of Blogs about this subject. The main reason is that I am dark in complexion. I am the darkest in my family. I was not that conscious about it until I heard from my mother. She was worried about my color and was thinking way ahead about my future. I have heard her thinking out loud about my color. She got hold of anything which could make her dark-skinned girl more beautiful. She bought different necklaces of stones, gold and pearls, beautiful ribbons for my hair and Bangles of all colors available in the market at that time she could afford. There were no ready-made dresses at that time. So she designed and stitched elegant clothes for me to wear from her imagination… all to make me even more beautiful. She made sure I was presentable at any time of the day to anybody.
She taught me the importance of wearing beautiful clothes. She said,
“When you wear something it should add beauty to you and it should not diminish it. Same with your ornaments, they should increase your beauty…”
She never bought me black or very dark clothes. In her opinion those colors diminished my beauty.
I had very long straight hair. I was short and my hair was up to my knees. Mother took time to comb my hair off the knots every day and braided it before I went to School. My Mother had curly hair. I liked her curly hair more than my straight hair.
One kid in my school always dressed as Krishna on the stage for her “Radha and Krishna” dance. She had long curly hair and she left it loose for that occasion. It looked very pretty to me. When my mother knew that I was very fond of curly hair like my classmate’s she did something very special for me. One evening, she washed my hair with native shampoo “Chemparathi Thali” to remove all the oil. Then she dried it and braided it to about thirty braids. The next morning, she opened all the braids and lightly combed my hair. Oh my God, my hair looked curly and more beautiful. I went to school with my long curly hair left loose. All my classmates came to see it and they complimented me. Even children from the other Divisions came to see my hair…
I was the Star of the School for the day. Even the Teachers noticed the style and complimented me. I felt as if I was at the top of the world. But towards the evening, all of the curls disappeared. It was just like a dog’s tail trying to be straightened…
Even though she came up with all kinds of ideas to make me more beautiful, my mother was still worried about my future. She would have imagined how many rejections I would have to face in the market, when it was time to find a suitable boy for me.
“May be by the time she is old enough to get married somebody would have found something to make dark skin to white, since modern medicine is developing so fast”.
But no miracle or medicine happened to change my color, by the time I reached the age to get married. But I was not allowed to fall in love with anybody, even though I came across few desirable characters in my life, before my marriage.
When I was in fourth grade, I had a friend, Vijayalakshmi. She lived very near to the School and was from a well-known family. She was very fair, beautiful and soft-spoken. Her eyes reminded me of Lotus’ petal. In the class, when the Malayalam teacher described the beauty of the Heroine in any lesson, I always looked back to make sure that it should be exactly like Vijayalakshmi’s eyes.
One day, Vijayalakshmi saw me walking on my way back home. She was in their private Boat with her parents on their way to her father’s home or “Tharavadu” in “Kavalam”. She waved to me from the Boat. Her parents also acknowledged me and waved to me. The very next day when I saw Vijayalakshmi, she told me,
“Amma was surprised yesterday to see you still walking to your house… such a long way to walk? Also my Amma said that you are so cute and beautiful”
Oh my God, Vijayalaksmi’s Mom giving me a compliment like that! I felt like I was at the top of the world, for getting a compliment from the mother of the most beautiful girl in my class. That’s the first compliment I got about my dark-beauty from somebody I thought very highly about. After all these years, my memories are still vivid.
After forty seven years, I tried to find out where Vijayalakshmi is, and at last found where she was settled. One day I went to her house. Her children had all grown up and moved to different places. She lived in a beautiful Mansion with her husband and her Mother. Her father had passed away a few years back. Her mother recognized me. I was happier to see her mother than her.
I described to her mother about the incident above and how much her compliment made a little dark-girl so happy and gave her the confidence about her own beauty, otherwise how low she would have thought about herself.
I will write more about this in my future blogs..
Because I was the last-born in my family, I was not lucky to know my Grandfather closely or get pampered by him. Yet, my memories about my paternal Grandfather are vivid. I remember him as a very tall, slender man who appeared quite healthy and elegant and seldom worn a shirt. The usual occasions when he did wear a shirt was when he went to church or for a long journey. He stood very straight and wore a simple “Mundu” and shawl always. He had a walking stick in his hand when he walked, but his walking was majestic. His hands had tremor since he had Parkinson’s disease. In those days, most people were ignorant of Parkinson’s disease. I had heard people say that he probably would have killed a cat and that the tremors were the result of the curse for killing a cat.
He could eat himself, but needed somebody to hold his drink for him. I seldom saw him when I was a small kid. He stayed with his youngest son’s family in the Village. We lived in the city far away. But I remember him calling me “Vellakka kanni” (very small tender coconut eye) since my eyes were very big. He chewed betel leaves and usually had a small packet of betel leaves and other chewing stuff wrapped in a plantain leaf and all again wrapped in an old Newspaper. There was also a small pocket knife inside the wrap. He used it to scrape off the outside of the “Areca nut” and also to cut it into small pieces. Occasionally, he allowed me to play with his pocket knife. He smelled of betel leaf. So I didn’t like his hugs & kisses. He was kind of stranger to me, since he stayed with us only once in a blue moon for at the most a month in all the ten years I was around. He liked to stay with us, but he didn’t know anybody to talk with in this town and missed the village life. Strangers, who walked in the road in front of our house, were too busy to stop and talk to an old man with a friendly face, standing in front of the gate. He had nothing else to do other than sleep or nap in between the meals. He felt lonely, so he liked to go back to the village, even if he was very fond of my father.
The restrictions on spitting anywhere at his convenience, a requirement of wearing shirt all the time, lack of a single childhood friend to converse…..might have been the reasons he didn’t like to stay with us more frequently.
His wife (my grandmother) had died when she was in her 40’s. They had three kids, two boys and one girl, my father the eldest. My Grandfather might be in late 40’s at that time.
When Grandfather visited us, my mother took care of him well with respect and love, but still he missed the social life in the village where he grew up. He was very sharp in observing things. He was very proud of my father. He believed in his capabilities. He called his son “my Bank” since he knew he is rich enough to take care of everybody’s needs.
I remember occasional, joyful trips in a rented ‘special’ car to the village, whenever my father got a telephone call from his brother saying “father’s condition is serious, come to see him before he goes”. For me, it was a pleasure trip. I don’t have to go to school that day. No homework, no Tuition, no chores of any kind at home… I liked those car rides. I could see the places and people I would have never known otherwise. I was allowed to listen to the grown-ups’ talk inside the car. Nobody could ask me to go away, as they usually did at home, once they started talking about serious matters kids shouldn’t be listening. I could see all my cousins, (especially my age group to play with) living in the village even though I didn’t know any of them that close.
When we reach there usually there will be a small crowd of people in my father’s brother’s house. They are the people waiting to witness the last minutes of the Grandfather. Grandfather will be lying in his bed, under a blanket, with his eyes closed. His walking stick would be near his bed as if his best companion. I would look intensely at his stomach to see whether there is any movement because that’s the only thing I knew about death… when you are dead nothing in your body moves….everything will stay standstill.
My father would shake him a little and call him “Appa”.
Then Grandfather would wake up as if from a deep sleep.
He would say, “oh, you came!”
Then he would say with a cunning smile, “Not this time!”
I don’t know whether the crowd gathered there was disappointed by his words. Eventually, they would disperse one by one. I would run to the bank of the “Pamba” river behind the house to play with my friends. I enjoyed every minute of it. I was treated superior, modern and more fashionable than any one of them by all my cousins because I was living in a famous faraway developed town. None of them had seen the sea or beach. They seldom see cars, buses or Lorries. The road in that village was not that great either. There were very few bicycles on those muddy roads.
After spending few hours, on the same day, we would go back home. The return trip in the car was equally pleasant, but I would be sad on my way back since I knew it was the ending of a good time.
Everything has to end sometime, good or bad!
On the way back home, my mother would pretend to be angry because of the sudden trip and all the daily chores piled up for her at home. My father would be quiet all the way back home. He would be feeling happy inside, I thought. I am sure now that he knew at the bottom of his Heart, that the whole episode was a conspiracy created by my Grandfather whenever he felt like to see his elder son. But my father never mentioned this. Now I am pretty sure that my mother was smart enough to understand that this was a conspiracy.
One time when Grandfather came for a few weeks stay, I remember something very special about my sister-in-law. Grandfather needed assistance to drink anything as usual. Somebody had to hold the glass for him. He still could walk slowly all by himself with the help of his walking stick. One day before lunch he was sitting in his room on his bed after his usual nap.
He called, “Mole”.
It could be addressed to any female in that house, my sister-in-law or my mother or I who was sitting in the corridor reading a book. I heard it, but as a teenager, just ignored it as if I didn’t hear it. I was very sure that he might be calling for a drink. My sister-in-law was in the kitchen farther away from him. She was very busy preparing lunch for everybody. With all the commotion going on in the Kitchen, she heard it and left everything and came in a hurry to the Grandfather. She asked him what he wanted. When he asked for the drink, she told him what drink was available buttermilk, coffee, Tea or “kanjivellam”. He chose what he liked and she brought it to him with the usual pleasant face. She held the glass for him and he drank comfortably. I stopped reading. I noticed everything. I was wondering about that love between these two people. My Grandfather is not a blood relation to my sister-in-law. She has not seen him in her childhood. She has not well-acquainted with him at all. She knew him only after she got married to this family. She saw him lesser than me. I felt ashamed of myself. I am his grandchild and I simply ignored his call because I guessed some work was involved.
I went to the Kitchen. My sister-in-law had resumed her lunch preparation as if nothing happened. I stood near her and looked at her. Her face is pleasant as usual.
“Let me ask you something. You are not related to grandfather, but I am. He called and I just ignored. But you, you showed so much enthusiasm & went to him and did what he asked so lovingly! How can you do that? “, I asked her.
Her reply was a laugh. I insisted that I wanted an answer for my question.
“It is my Grandfather and my own. I am his grand-daughter. You have to tell me how can you love somebody else’s grandfather as your own and show so much love and caring?”
Then she told me.
“I grew up with my grandparents and they were a part of my growing up. Now they are not in this world any more. So I see them in your grandfather.”
After this I tried to love my grandfather more and stopped ignoring his calls.
In my second year of Engineering, I remember Grandfather asking me how my studies are. When he knew that my branch is Electrical Engineering and I am in second year,
“So now you would have learned at least to climb up an Electrical post, right?” Grandfather teased me. He was very witty and sharp in his conversations just like my father. But he spoke less and most of the time he liked to be a good listener.
In 1970’s my father survived two heart attacks. My mother became so vigilant about his diet & bad habit of smoking. She usually caught him red-handed when he tried to smoke secretly. There were always fights between them about cigarette smoking. She made sure to give him fat-free milk. She tried to remove fat from all his diet to control his cholesterol.
Then one day we got a phone call as usual about Grand-father being serious. We all went in a car and I could see my father sitting in the front seat wiping tears from his eyes with his shawl all throughout the way. I am not a small kid any more. I am in my twenties. I was in College at that time and it was holiday times.
When we reached there, as usual a crowd had gathered near the house. Grandfather was in the bed. My father went near the bed and looked at him for a few seconds. Then he sat on the bed. He moved the blanket farther down from Grandfather’s body.
Grandfather opened his eyes. He looked tired and weak. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes lit up seeing his “bank”.
My father put his hands on his forehead, and then he said.
“Appa, I will pray for you. I will ask God to take you first. So that you will not be hurt seeing your son gone before you. You should also pray for that.”
Tears were flowing down his cheeks. Grandfather’s eyes were also filled with tears. They cried quietly.
I couldn’t stand there anymore. So I walked to the back of the house. “Pamba” river was flowing gently as usual. But I didn’t play with my friends that day. I was very sad.
I had never seen them giving each other hugs or kisses. But today I had witnessed the great love between a father and a son. I had heard from my mother that the biggest sorrow a person feels is when a child dies. I often wondered about that all my life.
As usual, we spent some time there and then we left. Everybody was gloomy on our way back home.
This time also Grandfather survived. Few more years passed by.
Even though my father earnestly prayed to God for his father’s death to happen before his death, my father died in 1978. My Grandfather had to witness his son’s funeral. There was nobody to console him for his loss. His bank has gone forever!
Grandfather became a different person. He was very quiet. Nothing interested him anymore. Thus Grandfather lived one and a half years more.
Grandfather was young when his wife died. I wonder now why he didn’t re-marry. At that time a second marriage was not a taboo for men at least. Now I feel sorry and great compassion for him thinking he never had anybody to confide his feelings to or to show special affection once his wife had gone and his children were all grown up and had their own families. When I was young I never thought this way about him. May be I never had the wisdom to see through him.
What a life!
May be there were other reasons for him, not to re-marry.
My mother had told me that Grandmother was a smart lady and very capable. Grandfather loved her very much. When she was kind of paralyzed one side (probably due to a heart attack), Grandfather brought the best “Vaidyan” available from some very faraway place to look at her and made all the native medicines for her at home as per the request of the “Vaidyan”. May be she had another heart attack, thus all the medicines had failed. May be Grandfather loved her so much he never wanted to replace her with another woman.
May be because by the time she died all the kids were married and had kids of their own…
May be at that time, the average life span was only 50 to 60 years. Who would have thought he would live fifty years more to outlive his own son?
Anyway what I noticed was that everybody was very fond of him, grownups as well as kids. There was always somebody to hold his glass for him. Always there were Kids to play with his pocket knife. The supply of Betel leaves and Areca Nuts never diminished. He always got the royal treatment from everybody and where ever he went for any function, he always had the VIP seat…. so maybe I am wrong to think that he might have been lonely inside.
There was a time in my life when I taught Mathematics & Physics to 8, 9 & 10 grades in a Technical College in Nigeria. I was in my early 30s.
Nigerians give very importance to education. Even though Nigeria was a gas-rich country at that time, majority of the people were poor. Most of the kids had to work hard to fend for the family. So usually in one family, while all the kids are engaged in some kind of work to make money for the family, at least one kid will be sent to school, hoping he/she would have some education and once he/she completes the education & finds a job with his/her qualifications, as soon as he/she gets a job, he/she will help his siblings to get their education. It may be an unwritten rule, but one who got the education, followed the rule religiously and never forgot his/her obligation to the family for sending him/her to get his/her education.
I liked to teach Nigerian kids. I have never seen such humble kids in my life. They gave respect to their elders & Teachers. They were also very eager to learn. I was more than willing to repeat the same thing again and again till everybody understood what I was teaching them. I insisted them to learn Multiplication Table by-heart even though it was not in their syllabus. I didn’t allow them to use the Calculator.
That particular year in 8th grade, when I was taking the attendance, each student got up to show the presence. There were about 35 kids in that class. Some of the kids in the class were taller & bigger than me. The ages of the kids were between 14 to 20 or so.
When I called out the name ‘Michael Achusim’, everybody turned their heads to the back, and the person whose name it was looked down. He was sitting at the back row, at the end. He was tall and might be about eighteen years old. He looked up and then again looked down. It was a shock to me too, when I saw his face. His upper lips had a big gap and one or two teeth were kind of protruding through that space. It was a very ugly sight. He had Cleft lip or Cleft palate. I tried my best not to show any expression on my face. And I succeeded. I continued teaching as normal.
In that 8th grade class whenever I taught Mathematics, I tried not to look at the last row because I was scared that the expression on my face would give me away and I didn’t want to hurt Michael in any way. I never asked him any questions. But I have heard him talking to other kids once or twice and he sounded differently since the wind passed through the gap of the lip and words were not clear.
My husband was a General Surgeon in one private Hospital in that town. One day I saw him drawing a Cleft lip and making some plans on it. Then I knew that he was doing that kind of Surgery at the Hospital. I thought about Michael. I guessed Michael would be coming from an ordinary family, so he would not be able to come to that Hospital to undergo that plastic surgery.
I talked about Michael to my husband.
He told me, “You know that it is not my Hospital and I am just working there. How can I do it free for him? I have no authority to do it free.”
I told him, how bad Michael was being treated by other kids and how conscious he was about his short coming…
At last my husband agreed to ask the accountant for a discount for Michael and the Accountant consulted the owner of the Hospital and he agreed too.
Next day when I went to School, I called Michael to my office and explained to him to go to my husband’s Hospital for a Surgery and his face fell. He knew that he couldn’t afford an operation in that Hospital. I told him that I had fixed a discount for him.
“Go to your village & inform your parents and bring as much money as you can get and go to the Hospital”
Next week Michael didn’t come to School. I knew he had followed what I told him. After one more week, one day Michael came to see me, not at the School, but at the quarters of the Hospital. I saw Michael. His bandage was already removed. He looked handsome. He smiled and he didn’t say much, but his eyes said everything to me.
I was so happy..
Next week when I went to School, I called the attendance. Michael was absent.
Next day also he didn’t come.
When I called ‘Michael Achusim’, the kids in the class laughed.
Somebody from the back commented:
“Mom, he will not come. He has to catch up with so many things, all the things he missed, all the girls..”
Kids laughed loudly. I stood there as if I didn’t understand!
I waited for him. But he never came to school.
I never saw Michael again. But I never regret for becoming the reason of his abandonment of his education somewhere in the middle like that.
I know that he is happy, where ever he is. I am happy too that I could do something for somebody.