The Dollar Bill and the unknown fruit…

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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.”

He continued:

“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”

Priest said,

“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.

She said,

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remembering my Grandfather..

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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.

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About Michael, a memoir from my time in Nigeria…

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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.

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The Greatest Love Story I witnessed…..

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I witnessed this Love Story every day of my life, but at that time, I didn’t know this is what the Love is all about. It was just a part of my life. I didn’t notice anything special about it… all just a routine…

My mother was chosen as my father’s wife by my grandfather. It took only few minutes for my grandfather to choose that twelve year old girl who came to the neighbor’s well to fetch water as his daughter-in-law.

When my father saw her for the first time, she was sitting on the top of a tree. It was the summer vacation for a 7th grader and what better way to spend time on an afternoon in summer!

When the marriage was fixed, mother’s grandmother came to see my mother’s mother. Grandmother held my mother & wept.

“Why don’t you drown her in the river instead of sending her to a mother-in-law like that?” That was my grandmother’s complaint to my mother’s mother.

Whatever the opposition and whoever opposed, that marriage took place. My father had high fever when he was tying the knot. He even fainted & taken to the Hospital immediately after the marriage. He had Pneumonia. He had to spend more than ten days in the Hospital. What a Honeymoon!

My mother delivered 5 times, but had 6 kids. She had twin sons before me. Family planning was unknown at that time. She stopped getting pregnant after her 4th delivery, I think, but then accidentally I was conceived after a 6 years’ break. So I was the 6th kid.

My mother’s mother and father died few years before I was born. So my father & mother had to take care of my mother’s siblings too.  Thus, two boys & one girl, from my mother’s side became a part of our family. Our family became a big family. My father took care of everybody, six kids of his own and three from mother’s side.

My father was about 5’8” tall and slender. He was dark in complexion. He had thin lips & long thin nose. I often wondered how my mother fell in love with my father.

He was just an ordinary person in his looks, but he could mesmerize the whole audience once he opened his mouth & started talking…

Comparing to him, mother was very fair and good looking. But according to her the standard beauty of nose, lips, height and everything is as of my father’s. From her opinion I also believed my father’s nose is the way nose should be, long & thin…

When I started seeing English movies during my teenage, I wondered about the noses of the actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor etc. They had short nose, so how could they be pretty? The standard of these English people!

Father tried all kinds of trades to fend for the family. First he was a Teacher, and then moved to a town far away from his native village and he became a salesman. He even tried to run a Jewelry shop.

Every day, a big pot of hot water was there in the bathroom for his bath. In the mornings, even if there were plenty of jobs to attend to in the kitchen, mother used to help him in his bath. It was a daily ritual. Nobody saw anything odd about this, just like the way they slept together. They always slept in the same bed. Sometimes, I sneaked in between them, if I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep, scared of the dark.

After the bath, father would wear the ironed & neatly folded white clothes, already kept on the bed by mother. Then he would lie on his special Recliner. Mother will be ready there with a comb and a little powder in her palm. She combed his hair & put powder on his face. Then she would fold his full length arms of the shirt half way.

I have asked her many times, why she was combing his hair, why couldn’t he do it himself?

“He doesn’t even know to divide/part his hair on the side as I do” mother said.

She would put the shawl around his neck, before he left.

All these rituals were done every day in front of everybody. So nobody found it anything special.

When she made rice, before she served to anybody, she kept the first serving in a plate & kept for my father who came late for his lunch.

Anytime when he came back home, even if mother was fully immersed in some work, even cutting fish, she would clean up quickly and run to the front of the house to welcome him. All of us would follow her. If my father had anything in his hands, my mother would shout,

“Go get the load from his hands. Can’t you see, he is tired and with his health, how can he carry that entire load?”

We would run to him & fight with each other to get the stuff from him.

She had painted him as a person very next to God and treated him like that and made sure all of us also loved & treated him the same way.

She always sat in front of him, when he ate his late Lunch. In between each mouthful, he would be explaining to her where he went, what he saw, whom he met and what he talked about from the time he left that morning till he reached back. It was very interesting to hear his descriptions, so sometimes I would also join them. I was thus convinced what an interesting character he was.

Father was very hot tempered at times. Even if it was not mother’s fault, I never saw her talking back to him. She would be silent all the time, while he was shouting at the top of his voice. All of us, the kids, would hide some where he wouldn’t see us while this commotion was going on.

The most important person in my mother’s life was my father. To her, he was the most handsome and desirable man in this world. He was the smartest guy in the whole world.

She loved him more than anybody or anything. She couldn’t enjoy anything, if father was not around. They were very much in love with each other.

According to my mother, ‘nothing is impossible for him’.

So when he died, she found nothing to hold on. Her kids were second to him. I didn’t know my mother that well before my father’s death. There was nobody to tell us, the kids, about her greatness. But all that time she was there to make us believe what a great guy my father was.

When I lost my father, I felt as if I lost more than half of my attachment to my family.

Because that’s the way my mother made us believe. Then little by little I started to see my mother, in a different way. She had only 7th grade pass. She didn’t know English. But my father was very proficient in English and he taught mother to sign her name in English. In 60’s when pressure cookers appeared in the shops, mother started using them. She had three pressure cookers at the same time. At times, all of them will be on the cooking range one with rice, one with fish or meat and the last with Sambar or Aviyal. Mother’s dreams about me were that I should be able to play any tune I hear on the Piano and should be able to drive a car. I learnt classical music and instrumental music for more than 6 years. But I did never reach the level to play any tune I hear on a Piano. But I learned to drive. Most of the time, when I drive, I remember mother, how happy she should be to see me driving.

Father established a Coir Mats and Mattings Export Business all by himself in early 60’s. I remember him typing with two fingers, the letters for the business at night, when his manager was not around to help him.

Mother had a small patch of Tapioca farm in the yard. When she put fertilizer or harvested the Tapioca, father would join her and then I have heard him explaining his business deals and problems with customers in Amsterdam, Germany, Ireland etc., to mother, somebody who doesn’t know English!

When his friends visited him in some evenings for a tea, in front of her, father would talk very highly about her Tapioca farm, but when she was not around, I have heard him making fun of her to his friends explaining in Rupees, how much she spent for it, how much she earned from it. He praised her at times reciting the verses in the Bible. ‘A wife is like a merchant ship… a wife is like a crown to her husband …’ Even though she showed that she is least interested in these praises the secret smile on her face proved otherwise.

Father made sure to fulfill all her dreams.

‘To have a house in the Town’

‘There should be road to reach the house.’

‘There should be pipe water in the house.’

These were her dreams.

Where we lived for fourteen years, there was no good road to reach the house. There was no pipe water. We had to go about one mile to get pipe water.

During Monsoon, our yard was filled with flood water. Sometimes water came into the rooms even.

Father bought a house and it was exactly the way mother wanted.

Cars came in its Patio. There were pipes for water inside the house.

Mother treated father as her first born and took care of everything as if “your wish is my command”.

I have seen and observed many couples in my life, some very closely than others, but I have never seen the love & understanding my parents had each other, anywhere else. I will never say that they were perfect… but their love-life was amazing and perfect.

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Slavery or child labor at the age of six or seven?

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I can’t hold it any more… I have to tell somebody. What a shame…in front of the whole class that Joseph Sir had to say it to Leelavathi Teacher…. It was just an end of term examination.. not the year ending examination.

Yesterday was Mathematics and today we have Social Studies. Each kid had the Black slate in front. Everybody was busy minding their own business of writing the answers of the questions written on the Black Board. Our slates were submitted after each exam & graded by the Teacher then itself.

It was very quiet. Occasional scratching of slate pencil on the slate or a small cough or movement of feet on the cement floor, shuffling of clothes when the kids moved/shifted on their seat broke that quietness in between.

Joseph Sir was the supervising Teacher. He was sitting in front of his Teacher’s desk. He was entering the marks in the register. He was our Mathematics Teacher. Leelavathi Teacher came inside the class room to pick up something from Joseph Sir.

I was looking at the Black Board for the next question. Accidentally my eyes met with Joseph Sir’s eyes. As if burnt, I looked down. I know that I didn’t do well in Mathematics. So I didn’t want to face him. What a shame!

“Leelavathi Teacher, Do you know what Gigi got for Mathematics?”

There was a hidden mockery in his voice.

“Oh my God! Please …please don’t say…”  I closed my eyes & prayed. “Why is he so loud! “

Class became so quiet… no more sounds…not even the scratching of slate pencil.. nobody was breathing even… Everybody was waiting for the next words coming out of Joseph Sir’s mouth.

“It is a big Elephant Egg” everybody laughed loudly..

I could see the laughing face of Leelavathi Teacher even if I was looking down.

Leelavathi Teacher liked me. I knew that. My God.. all her impression about smartness had gone down the drain. I wished the Earth would split open & swallow me then & there itself. But nothing happened. My eyes welled up. I wiped my eyes with the end of my frock, tried my best to do it secretly, so that nobody would know that I was crying. Never in my life, I felt that much humiliation.

All the way back home, I was thinking & visualizing what happened in the class. What would I do? What would happen when my father know about it. I couldn’t tell anybody in my house about this…. I would die suffocating in my thoughts. I felt like somebody putting a dagger through my heart and piercing it again and again…

Oh my God I had no friends. I had nobody to confide my fear & guilt. I brought shame for my father and for my family as well by getting zero for Mathematics examination. I could have waited till the class Teacher gave the Progress Card. Now I had to suffer much earlier than that.

I had to confide it to somebody.  Otherwise I would die. My heart was aching so badly, I thought it was going to break.

I can’t hold it any more… I have to tell somebody. What a shame…

My Twin brothers are six years older than me. I reached a decision.  I could trust them. If I told them not to tell anybody, they would keep my secret as long I wanted. They were trustworthy. That’s what brothers were for. I could trust them. So I told them about what happened in the class. They promised not to tell anybody.

“ See, they are my brothers, they love me, they are trustworthy, they are everything a sister can dream of…”  My stress level decreased tremendously once I shared my secret with my brothers.

Everything went as I wished.

Next morning, I was just waking up; the first order came from my youngest twin brother,

“Go & bring a coffee for me from kitchen”

Second twin chimed, “for me too”

I was the youngest, pampered by everybody and so spoiled too.

My answer was fast, “I can’t”

They repeated the orders again and I repeated my answer louder than before.

“Ediiiiiiiiiiiii      Do you want us to say ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”.

I wished to drop dead that very second.

“They were not that loud, so nobody would have overheard. Thank God! “ I thought.

I marched to the kitchen in a run and brought coffee for both of them. There was a look of supremacy on the faces of my Twin brothers. There after I had to run a lot of errands like that for both of them, like fetching anything they want from anywhere in the house. I obeyed each & every order I got from them. I started blaming myself for trusting these two culprits. But still my first word was always, “can’t” Then they had to remind me the letter “Z”. Literally,  I became a slave to both of them.

One day I was sitting near my Mother, Twins were around.

They gave me an order to fetch something. As usual I said, “can’t”

They made the sound, “ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”

I jumped up fast, to do what they asked. My mother heard it and knew there was something fishy going on. So she asked them, “What is ZZZZZZZZZZ?”

Not a word came out from their mouths.

“Hm, they kept their word.” I felt relieved.  But my mother felt as if they were hiding something from her.

She questioned them again. Both chorused “Nothing!”

She turned to me.. “You, tell me, what is going on? “

I said innocently, “nothing”.

She held me closely and asked me again, “you better tell me or ….”

I looked at her eyes & knew that she was deadly serious about the whole thing and there was no way I could let go off lying to the teeth.

I cried first, then I told her everything.. She listened patiently.

I was expecting immediate scolding or caning, but instead she held me in her hands and told me, “It is all right. It is not a big deal… If you were weak in Mathematics this time, you will study harder for next time and become the first in your class.”

Those words were the sweetest things my Mother had ever told me.

All my shame, ache and the slavery…. all lifted off me and I felt what is peace of mind after a three weeks’ agony for the first time.

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Talking about myself?

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Talking about myself?… when it is a serious question, it is very difficult to explain who I am.

I was just a kid, born in an ordinary family, not that rich to own a Car or a cycle. Most probably my birth was an accident. When my Mom was relaxing for almost  five+ years after her last delivery of twins which were a handful to her, here comes another one and it was a girl and the top it all she was very dark…

When my Mom was bed-ridden, one day, when I was lying down near her, I asked her “Isn’t true that I was an accident, right?

She didn’t say anything, but I saw a smile on her face assuring me that I guessed right. Then I asked her, “then, how did you feel when you saw that it was a girl and dark in complexion too?”

There was another smile on her face to answer that question.. But I insisted, “No, no, you have to tell me the thoughts went through your mind, when you saw me…please”

Then she said, “I was wondering whether I will live long enough to see her getting married because my mother died in her 50’s and I am already 33 years old.”

I do remember one particular event in my childhood. May be I was less than 1 year old and I am lying on my back and I can see around me all familiar faces of my siblings and my Mom’s too. They are cutting my hair.

I didn’t have great ambitions when I was a kid. I liked to play with the same age kids in the neighborhood and I was not allowed to go to the neighbors’ houses. I used to play with the kids in the neighborhood standing near the fence. We imitated every grownup we knew. The milkman, the maid, the fisherman, shop keeper, Dad & Mom. We took turns to act each one of them.  We tied ropes to the fence and pretended them as our cows. We made rice & curries with sand & grass…We had great fights & reconciliations as husbands & wives.

My Mom was the one who pushed me to study. When she was tied up with all the house work, she appointed an old retired middle school Teacher to give me tuition. Actually it was not tuition, but she wanted somebody to sit with me and make sure that I re-read what I learned that day and make me do  my homework. This Teacher was an old guy probably in his 70’s and my Mom gave him a place to sleep and even gave him food as well as warm water for his bath. Even at the tender age of 5, my Mom used to say, “You are not going to be any good to do any physical labor and please your mother-in-law, so if you study & become somebody, when you bring salary every month at least she will be kind to you.”

From that age itself I was wondering about the monster called “mother-in-law” who may treat me badly if I don’t bring money home.

My father was a very hard working person. I loved him very much, but I hated him at times. He was very hot-tempered. When he was not in a good mood, it was very quiet in the household. Everybody just hid or whispered to stay away from him. I never heard my Mom shouting back to him. It was always a one way fight. I hated him when I have to get my progress card to be signed by him. I will be keeping the progress Card till the last day to get it signed, but fuming inside from the day I got it from my class teacher.  Even if I had good marks, he would drill me with questions like “Are you the highest in the class?”

“Who got the highest in the class?”

“What did she/he get?”

“Why didn’t you get”

“Why did you lose 2 marks?”

“What were you doing?”

“Did anybody ask you to help at home?”

“Then why didn’t you get the highest mark?”…..  It goes and goes on like that.

I never had a decent answer to any of those questions to satisfy him.

I am grounded for the rest of my life…. Then after two or three days everybody forgets the whole episode and we are back to square one.

My father goes to work around 7:30 am and some days he comes home for lunch around 3:00 pm and then goes out again at 5:00 pm after the Tea and comes back around 8:00 pm for dinner.

Even for the short period of 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm, if school is off, I am supposed to be sitting in front of my books. It was very difficult for me to do that. So I learned to sit in front of an open book and travel to all kinds of dream worlds. I made up actors and stories in my dream world. I was very thrilled & happy to create a world like that and not letting anybody know about it. Still I hated my father when he came home for lunch.

Come to think of it now, I know that my father gave me the environment for my success & my mother molded my character. My mother instilled fear & respect in us for our father. He was treated royally in our house. There was nobody in the household to say anything against his order, not even my mother. All of us obeyed him without questioning. He was a very loving & caring person, but he acted tough to make sure that all of us behaved.

Only because of my parents’ hard work I became an Engineer.

Without them I am nobody!

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In memory of..

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“Sudha”, that was her name. I met her when was in 7th grade. She was in the same grade, but was in a different division. We didn’t have much in common. She is just an average person, not that great looking either! But she was gem of a character. It showed even at that tender age. Sometimes, my pride or vanity even tried to hide my friendship with her from my other friends.

But Sudha kind of worshiped me. In my heart, I knew she was my best friend at that time. Both of us had certain things in common, like reading was our main hobby. We were budding writers. I was not that great, still she complimented me always, even if there was nothing special about my writings. As a matter of fact, I knew this truth, but still I enjoyed her praises. She was from a Nair family. Her family lived in a small rented house. There was no yard or fence for that house. The Verandah of the house was open to the main road. Transport buses, cars, cycle rickshaws roamed in that main road. They didn’t have much privacy from the public. Her mother was a pretty woman, very thin, looked tired. From the look of her, she may be from a good family. Sudha was the eldest and she had one sister & a brother. Remaining years in the School and one year in College we studied together.  Her father was also thin and he had a graying Mustache which was very common among Police men at that time.

When Sudha was in 9th, her father was suspended from Police Force. The reason was the evidence stuff collected from some thief disappeared from the Police Station. Sudha’s family, moved from that rented home to a place about 10 miles away from my hometown, since they couldn’t afford the rent. We were in the same College for a year. But after that we never got a chance to see each other for the next 6 years, since I went to a different College.

After my graduation, I started to apply for jobs, but that was the worst time for fresh Engineers. Jobs were scarce. My father didn’t want me to move to faraway places for a job, so I didn’t apply to many vacancies. I didn’t have any money with me, other than some pocket money I got from my mother whenever I asked her. Then, my marriage was fixed. That was the normal thing to do. After studies, parents find a suitable match and girl gets married. I thought of Sudha and searched through my old autographs in College & found her address and sent an invitation with a small note asking her to come to my house any day before the marriage, if she could not attend the marriage.

One week before the marriage, I was shopping for my wedding Sari in a shop in the town. My mother and sister-in-law were with me.

Somebody from the back closed my eyes.

“Tell who it is”

I did recognize her voice. Sudha… Sudha…

I was very happy to see her. She has grown up to a young woman. She was wearing a cheap off-white Sari with small blue flowers all over it. She was simple but looked elegant. She was very happy to see me. “The bus stopped in front of this shop and from here I was going to walk to your house. Then I saw you. What a luck!”

I was no more interested in shopping, as Sudha was briefing me about what happened in her life in the last 6 years. Her father’s suspension ruined their family and he was never cleared from the accusations. They were living in a small hut like house which was built in three cents of property Sudha’s mother got from her family. There was not enough money for anything. Sudha was sent to Trivandrum to stay with her Uncle’s family. Her life at Uncle’s house was also not that pleasant. She was treated as a maid there. But she didn’t mind that. But she completed privately “Vidvan” a diploma in Hindi language. Now she was staying with her parents. She had started applying for job, but so far no luck… She didn’t get a job yet.

Finally, two Saris were selected by my mother as wedding Saris. At that time for Rs.100 a Pattu Sari can be bought. The Saris selected for the wedding was Rs.2500 and Rs.5000. I had to select one of them. My heart was aching listening to Sudha’s story. I didn’t want to spend too much money for a Sari. So I selected the less evil, the one of Rs.2500. Even spending that much money for a wedding Sari, I felt it like a waste. Wedding happens only once, so it is not an extravaganza, I consoled myself. I persuaded Sudha to have lunch with me at my home. She obliged.

We sat for the lunch. She had a big smile on her face all the time. She had a very beautiful smile. We were talking non-stop. My mother and others were also listening to our conversation. Everybody was happy to see our excitement.

I asked her to stay till evening. She tried to explain to me what kind of rumor it could create in the neighborhood if a young girl like her reached home late at night, in a small village like hers.

I saw a small purse in Sudha’s hands.

“Let me see that. It is very pretty..” I asked her.

“Do you like it? I don’t have anything to give you for your wedding… You can have it, if you like.” Sudha was very anxious when she said that.

I was just pretending that I liked it.

“Let me see what is inside.” I showed extra enthusiasm.

I opened the bag. There were few coins & a dirty note of Rs.10.

I felt guilty for Rs.2500 I had to spend for the wedding Sari, when I saw the contents of that purse. I didn’t have much money with me. I took whatever I had in my purse & put in her bag. I made sure that Sudha didn’t see me putting the money in her bag. I knew her very well. She was too proud and I knew that she wouldn’t take any donation from anybody. When she left, we hugged. She wished me happy married life. I could see her eyes welled up when she left.

It was a Monday. Next Monday was my marriage. After the marriage, I had to stay in my husband’s house till Thursday. When we came back to my house on Thursday, we were welcomed with traditional lighted “Nilavilakku” and a Pot full of water. Everybody was very happy to see us. There was even a small fireworks staged by my nephews. It was fun.

After the formalities, when everybody was settled down, my mother brought an old Newspaper. There I saw the news.

Family suicide using Paramour. That was the headline.

“Two daughters died. Son and the Father are at the Hospital in serious condition.” Two columns described all about that suicide attempt. It was Sudha & her sister who died. The family was troubled by not having enough money even for food for a long time. That particular day, there was some kind of fight between the father & the daughter. Sudha suggested suicide & took Paramour first, her sister & brother followed. After seeing this, father also took Paramour. Mother was not at home when all this happened. Very next day Sudha got an appointment letter. But she had already left this world without waiting for it. What a tragedy…

I often wondered whether that Rs.2500 I spent for my wedding Sari would have saved that whole family! What a waste!

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ജോസഫ്‌ സാറും സൂചിയും….

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ക്ലാസ്സ്‌ തുടങ്ങുന്നത് പത്തുമണിയ്ക്ക് അന്നെങ്ങിലും അന്ന് പത്ര ആയിട്ടും ജോസഫ്‌ സർ ക്ലാസ്സിൽ വന്നില്ല. എൽസി യും ഇന്ദിരയും തമ്മിൽ എന്തൊക്കയോ ചരുപുര പറയുന്നുണ്ട്. സ്ലേറ്റ് തുടക്കുന്ന മഷിത്തണ്ട് പങ്കു വയ്ക്ക്ന്ന തിരക്കാണ് ഫസുരയും ഖബരുനീസായും.  എനിക്കും ഒരു കഷണം കിട്ടിയാൽ കൊള്ളാമായിരുന്നു…പക്ഷെ ചോദിയ്ക്കാൻ ഒരു മടി.  അല്ലേലും ചോതിച്ചാൽ തരണമെന്നില്ല, ഇന്നലെ വര്മഥ പറഞ്ഞവരുടെ പേര് ടീച്ചർക്ക്‌ കൊടുത്തതിൽ ഖബരുനീസയുടയും ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നു. ഇനി ഇപ്പൊ എന്ത് പ്രയശ്ചിതും ചെയ്യും ഒന്ന് കൂട്ട് കൂടാൻ ? ഗോവിന്ദന സർ അല്ലെ ദുസ്ടരും ആയി വരുന്നത്?  സോഷ്യൽ സ്ടുടീസ് പഠിപ്പിക്കുന്ന ഗോവിന്ദന മാഷ് രസികനാണ്. രാമായണത്തിലും ഭാഗവതത്തിലും ഉള്ള നല്ല നല്ല കഥകൾ പറഞ്ഞുതന്നിരുന്നതെല്ലാം ഗോവിണ്ടാന്മാഷ് ആയിരുന്നു. എല്ലാവര്ക്കും വലിയ സന്തോഷം..

“ജിജി പോയി ഒരു ചോക്ക് എടുത്തോണ്ട് വാ.”

ഗോവിന്ദന സർ പറഞ്ഞു. സ്റ്റാഫ്‌ റൂംഇൽ  പോകാൻ കിട്ടിയ അവസരം ആണ്. ഒറ്റ ഓട്ടത്തിന് സ്റ്റാഫ്‌ റൂമിൽ എത്തി. ലീലാവതി ടീച്ചറും, ഭാഗീരതി ടീച്ചറും, ചെല്ലപ്പാൻ സർ ഒക്കെ സ്റ്റാഫ്‌ റൂമിൽ ഉണ്ട്. എല്ലാവരുടയും മുഖത്തൊരു ദുഖഭാവം .

“എന്നാലും എന്റെ സാറെ എങ്ങിനാ ആ കൊച്ചു ഇതിരിക്കൊളും ഉള്ള ഒരു സൂചി സ്വന്തം ദേഹത്തിൽ കുതികെറ്റുന്നതു ?”

ലീലാവതി ടീച്ചറുടെ ശബ്ദം..

“ജോസഫ്‌ സർ കേട്ട പാടെ കരച്ചിലായിരുന്നു . ഇപ്പോൾ അങ്ങ് എത്തിക്കാനും അല്ലെ സാറെ ?” ചെല്ലപ്പൻ സർനോടാണ്.

ജോസഫ്‌ സാറിന് ഒരു കൊച്ചുമകൻ ഉണ്ടന്നു ഞങ്ങള്കെല്ലാം അറിയാം. എന്റെ ദൈവമെ കഷ്ടം തന്നെ.

വന്ന സ്പീഡിൽ തന്നെ ഞാൻ തിരികെ ക്ലാസ്സിൽ എത്തി. അടുത്തിരുന്ന ത്രേസ്സിയുടെ ചെവിയ്ൽ മന്ത്രിച്ചു കിട്ടിയ ന്യൂസ്‌… “”

“ജോസഫ്‌ സാറിന്റെ മോന്റെ ദേഹത്തിൽ സൂചി കയറി. ഹോസ്പിറ്റലിൽ അന്ന്. ജോസഫ്‌ സാർ കരച്ചിൽ ആന്നു. “

പത്തു മിനിറ്റ് കൊണ്ട് ആ വാർത്ത‍ ക്ലാസ്സിലെ മുപ്പത്തഞ്ചു കുട്ടികളുടെ ചെവിയിലും എത്തി.

പിന്നെ എല്ലാവരും അവരവര്ക് അറിയാവുന്ന ജ്ഞാനം കൂട്ടി കുഴച്ചു ശബ്ദം താഴ്ത്തി ചർച്ചയിൽ മുഴുകി. എല്ലാവരും ജോസഫ്‌ സാറിന്റെ ദുഖത്തിൽ ഭാഗഭാക്കായി.ആ നിമിഷം  ഞങ്ങളുടെ എല്ലാവരുടയും ഉറ്റവൻ  ആയി ഒരിക്കലും ഞങ്ങളാരും കണ്ടിട്ടില്ലാത്ത ആ കൊച്ചു പയ്യൻ . ജോസഫ്‌ സാറിന്റെ  ദുഖം ഞങ്ങളുടെ ദുഖം ആയി.

മരണം എന്തെന്ന്‌ കണ്ടിട്ടില്ലാത്ത ഞങ്ങളൊക്കെ അന്ന് മരണത്തെ അടുത്ത് കണ്ടത് പോലെ തോന്നി.

വിജയ ഡോക്ടറുടെ മകളാണ്. അതുകൊണ്ടുതന്നെ മെഡിക്കൽ അറിവ് അവൾക്കു കൂടുതലാണു എന്ന് ഞങ്ങളെല്ലാം വകവെച്ചു കൊടുത്തിരുന്നു.

“രക്തത്തിൽ സൂചി കയറിക്കഴിഞ്ഞാൽ പിന്നെ ഒരു രക്ഷയും ഇല്ല. അത് നേരെ ഹൃദയത്തിലോട്ടു വച്ചു  പിടിക്കും. എന്നാ സ്പീഡ് ആണെന്നോ! അതിനു മുൻപ് സൂചി പിടിച്ചു വച്ചാൽ രക്ഷ ഉണ്ട്.” വിജയ അവളുടെ വിജ്ഞാനം വിളമ്പി. ചിലര് അത് കേട്ട് കരഞ്ഞു. ചിലര് ദുഖം മനസ്സിൽ ഒളിപ്പിച്ചു.

ഞങ്ങൾ ഓരോരുത്തരും അവരവരുടെ ദൈവങ്ങളോട് പ്രാർത്ഥിച്ചു .. “ദൈവമെ, ആ സൂചി ഹൃദയത്തിൽ എത്തുന്നതിനു മുൻപ് ഡോക്ടര അത് കണ്ടുപിടിച്ചു എടുത്തു കളയണേ” എന്ന്.

ഒരാഴ്ച എടുത്തു ജോസഫ്‌ സർ തിരികെ സ്കൂളിൽ എത്താൻ. ആ ദിവസങ്ങളിലെല്ലാം ആ മുപ്പത്തഞ്ചു കുട്ടികളും ഹൃദയം ഉരുകി പ്രര്തിച്ചു ആ സൂചിക്ക് വേണ്ടി…

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My first blog starting with a memory of my sister’s wedding…

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I started writing on insistence of my niece and also for my younger son who makes  me repeat the childhood stories again and again and insisted me to write at least a page a day….

I am five years old. I slept with my elder sister..  One of my feet is kept on her body while my tiny hand held her… that’s how I fell asleep. She told me stories at night, till I fell asleep.

My sister was very fond of me. She would carry me always and she was ready to run any errand if allowed to take me with her. She gave me bath. She dressed me up. She fed me. She did everything for me. I felt closer to her than to my Mom.

I heard that my sister is getting married soon. What is marriage? How do I know?  I had never gone for a marriage.  So I didn’t know.. I heard one boy ties something to the girl…

I have seen the boy of my sister, when he came to see my sister. He was very fair and had very dark hair. Everybody liked him, especially my Mom. But me… I didn’t like him. He didn’t look that great to me to have my sister. But everybody in my household was happy and waiting as if it is going to be festival. New Sarees & Ornaments were bought for my sister. There was no ready-made clothes/dresses for kids or grown ups in the shops. Cloth was bought from the shop & taken to the Tailor shop. Tailor took measurements and gave us a date to pick up the dress he made…. But it never would be completed/finished on the day he said. All those days we were counting for that day to come, but now we had to wait again for one or two days more…. What a disappointment!

For any new dress stitched for me, if it was completed in one of the week days, I had to wait and wait for the Sunday to come to wear it for the first time. That was my Mom’s rule. Anybody having a new cloth, should wear it to the church service for the first time to show God the gratitude for giving that new one.

Even though I didn’t like a stranger coming to take my sister away from me, but I liked the commotion of the festivity in the house and the new dresses…

On our way to marriage, we had to stop at a house very near to the church, for the bride to change into her wedding Saree. Then I also insisted to change to another new dress. But my changing was not in the agenda, so I had to wear the same dress which I didn’t like a bit at the time.

After the marriage and the party, by the time, we reached back home, it was very late at night. Still I remember crying to sleep with my sister for a long time on that night and slept crying…I hated my brother-in-law and to me he was a monster who stole away my loving sister.

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