Stranger in my prayers

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Every day I do the usual prayers of Orthodox Christians….Our father… Holy Mary….

I knew them by-heart and learned them in my childhood. When I was trying to learn them by-heart, I was refused lunch at times when I couldn’t do it by-heart within the time limit given to study. Who in their right mind, on a summer vacation, at the age of ten would like to sit down and recite prayers hundred times to remember them by-heart? Instead I played in the yard in the hot sun, climbed the Guava and Mango Trees, played on the swings made of Coir yarn, tried to catch fish with home-made fishing rods. I didn’t have money to buy hooks or the lines for fishing. My fishing rods were of any thin long sticks from any tree I could get hold of. I made hooks from paper clips, I stole from my father’s office room. My floats were small twigs. Lures were worms and they were plenty and easily available too. If I was caught fishing in the canal in front of our house, I got a lot of scolding from everybody in the house. It was a taboo for a girl from a good home to fish even if she did it in front of the house. I did it anyway. I was caught most of the time.

Even now I postpone the daily prayer to the very last chore of the day before I go to sleep. I try to blame this postponement as an act of all the Devils dwelling in me trying to make me a good follower of them. When I pray, most of the time, my mouth will be repeating what I learned and my thoughts will be wandering all over the world. When I become conscious about this wandering of the mind, I scold myself & try to concentrate in the prayer. At the end of these by-heart prayers, there is a small prayer which comes from the bottom of my Heart, I confide to God. I try to remember almost all the people somehow connected to me, including my family, siblings, close relatives, friends, cousins, in-laws, all the people who are good. Actually all the good people in this world do not need my recommendation, I know. Then comes the silhouette of a young white guy.. I don’t remember his face. I don’t remember his clothes, hair style or its color. But I remember him in my prayers and God will know whom I am thinking about. I pray to God to look after him give him everything good, not to give him any sorrow and only good things should happen in his life….

I will not be able to identify him, unless he comes & tells me, that he is the one I am talking about.

That day I was late to work. I didn’t have cash with me for the Lunch. I used to take lunch from home. Then I stopped it. It was my decision. I used to take left over of dinner for my next day’s Lunch. I hated to eat cold food. It reminds me of my school lunches. How much I yearned for warm food for my lunch when I was in School. My house was far away and sending a person from home just for bringing warm lunch for me was a waste of time & effort of a person. Once the Microwave was introduced to this world, I knew it is specially sent for me by God. At the office, we had a Microwave in a small side room on the side of the main Hall where everybody had their cubicles. When food is warmed in the microwave, the smell of the spices in the food with the steam filled the small room and it spread to the Hall too. Not all the American food has strong spices like Indian dishes. So I was kind of embarrassed when the smell of ‘Biriyani’ or fried fish or ‘Sambar’ lingered into the Hall when I warmed my lunch. Nobody complained, but I thought for somebody who was not used to these smells, these different smells would be a punishment. So I stopped taking Lunch to my Office. So I needed lunch money to buy lunch today.

This particular day was very cloudy. It looked like as if it is going to rain. The weather was cold. I need some cash. I have to buy lunch. If I go through the Bank’s drive-through, I could save some time. So I went to the Bank’s drive through. There were two drive ways at the back of the Bank for drive-through, one very near to the Bank building with a cashier at the window, the other in front of two ATM machines on an Island of Concrete.

It started to drizzle. There were one car in front of the Cashier, and another in front of the ATM and one small Truck in front of me, not sure of whether to go to the Cashier or to the ATM.

I waited for the two Cars to move and the Truck to make up its mind where to go. Two cars in the front left and Truck didn’t move for half a minute or so, so I assumed that, it might be going to the ATM. Till today I have no idea why I assumed so! I moved my Car through the left of the Truck & tried to go to the Cashier. Because of the drizzle & the wiper moving slowly I couldn’t see well. But as soon as I moved to the front of the Truck, I understood that I did cut the line.

I could see the face of the Truck Driver. He was very upset. I stepped on the Break. Car stopped. All my calculations & assumptions were wrong. I could see through the right side mirror of my car that the corner of the Island of the ATMs had gone under my Car between the front & back tires. I could see the eyes of the Cashier bulging..

I didn’t know whether to cry or scream….

No way would I be able to drive my car out of this mess myself.

I didn’t have a choice, other than going to the Truck Driver asking for his help.

I was embarrassed, but I was very humbled, I knew that I was wrong, but I didn’t know I was cutting the line when I drove in front of that Truck.

I walked slowly to the Truck Driver.

He was fuming. He was shouting at the top of his voice blaming me for the mess I was in. I listened and then I wanted to say, “I am sorry, I didn’t know that I was cutting you. I thought..”

But, he didn’t give me a chance to talk. He didn’t want to listen to what I had to say.

I was going to ask him to help me to get my Car out of that Island.

He continued his shouting…

In this commotion, I could see a man hunching on my side…

He asked me, “Mam, Shall I help you to drive your Car?”

I couldn’t hear him well because of the shouting of the Truck Driver.

He held his hand to me and said, “Give me the key, Mam”

I gave him the key. He didn’t say another word.

He went to my Car and brought it out, gave back my key, thanked me as if I did him a favor & walked to his car in the line at the far end.

True, he was sent by God to help me from my embarrassment. I didn’t see his face clearly and so I can’t remember his face.

I don’t know his name. But he has a special place in my daily prayers and in my Heart till I live. I pray to God “bless that stranger”.

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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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Buy one get one free…

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‘From Address’ for that envelope was local Cemetery.

It was addressed to me. So I opened it thinking some local Tax or a donation request.

But the letter inside started as

“We are pleased to offer you a free lot in our Cemetery. It is an offer of buy one, get one free. Pay only $500.00 for one lot.”

I didn’t read the rest of it.

It was a shock to me.

‘Have I reached that age?’

‘Sixty four’, is it that old to get ready for the last trip?

When my eyes skim through the Obituary page of the Daily News Paper, I usually check the places to see is there anybody I know?  If I am bored and I have nothing else to do & some time to kill, then I check just the ages of all those people gone, just to do a comparison, are they very old, or just few years older than me or just my age or younger than  me? That is just a game for me. Nothing serious….

But this mail gave me a shock of reality.

Come to think of age…

The 60th Birthday, “Shashtiabdapoorthi” of my father, we celebrated.

I thought at the age of 60 he was too old. I never knew at that time that the soul would not age with the body. Now at this age, I know that fact. History repeats…the younger generation still doesn’t know this fact.

I remember my mother used to say that my father’s Sandals never broke, but always Sandals’ soles became worn out because he walked in them every day more than five to ten miles. I was happy to present him something he would use every day. So I bought a pair of Sandals as a present for his “Shashtiabdapoorthi”. Rest of the siblings bought Shirt, ‘Mundu’, Shawl, Umbrella etc. He worn all the presents he got for the special occasion and went to church on Sunday. All of us accompanied him to the church. After the Service when father came out from the church, he noticed that he lost his new Sandals & Umbrella to somebody who needed them more than him.

I tried not to think about age or death, but those thoughts linger in my mind all the time.

I was no more interested in material things. When I went for shopping, jewelry or clothes or kitchen stuff did not interest me any more. I saw them as a waste. There is no point in accumulating any of that stuff if I can’t guarantee that I will be alive to use them. I looked at the stuff in my showcases. What is the purpose of holding on to them, if I am not around to enjoy them? I used to change my chain or Bracelet or ear drops once in a while. Now I was no more interested in any of those rituals. My nail polish is all chipped, but it didn’t bother me anymore. Who cares?

I talked to my husband about the mail next day.

He told me, “I was thinking that we should buy some lots”

“Do you like it in public Cemetery or the one belonging to our church?” he added.

It was just a matter of fact conversation.

He didn’t ask me about burying in my Native land. He knew that I don’t like the dead bodies to be carried around for the funeral to far away places. I have told that it is always better to do the funeral where ever the person dies, instead of carrying it to far away places. Close relatives will be already sad because of the demise and prolonging the funeral by carrying dead body around will only make them more miserable.

When my Mother visited me once she asked me.

“Do you want to see me dead before the funeral, if you were not near me, when I die?”

Nobody likes to talk about death. Before I could answer that she said,

“Isn’t it better to remember my face as live, than dead? I don’t want to be placed in a mortuary. Promise me that you will not request to keep my body in a mortuary, when I die.”

I thought about it for a minute, before I answered “Yes”. So I promised her that I will not request to keep her in the mortuary.

One early morning when I got the news of her death, I said to my eldest brother over the phone,

“You don’t have to keep her in the mortuary for me to see her before the funeral”

Then he said, “Any way she is kept in the mortuary, you may come if you wish”

So I went home to witness her funeral. I understood the fact that a dead person has no choice.

Then one day my husband told me,

“This is not where we grew up, so there will not be relatives or elders to take care of when we die, so we should buy the lots. Our children are not living nearby, so they should not be bothered with all these, when it happens.”

So next time when I went to the church, I talked to Zid, the person in charge of the church lots. He gave me the plan of the church Cemetery.

There were names written for certain lots and some names were put in brackets.

Zid told me the names in brackets are booked ones. They are not dead, yet.

I started reading the names. The names in brackets or not I don’t know any of these guys. I don’t want to be buried near a stranger.

I started reading the names one by one slowly. At last I found a name I know well, Keegans. Oh my God. That lovely couple was my neighbors. They lived just in front of our house, in the same lot. They were Irish. They were always together. Even for doing the yard work outside, they were together. It was a pleasure to see them together like that even though they looked aged & tired.

We had gone to see Keegan one or two weeks after his wife Alice died.

He told us ‘how difficult it was to cope all alone especially since he was not any good in cooking’.

He died within one year. Somebody else bought that house and moved in soon.

Staying near somebody I know even if I will be in a coffin made my mind at ease.

Next week, when I met Zid, I told him that I found a spot near Keegans. He knew Keegans.

“Where exactly is your lot?” I asked Zid.

He told me that his was not very far away from Keegans.

“Anyway, don’t forget to invite us for the parties” I joked to him.

“Sure, I will not forget”, Zid said.

Last week, my husband got a mail from the same Public Cemetery.

“We are pleased to offer you a free lot in our Cemetery. It is an offer: Buy one, get one free. Pay only $634.00 for one lot.”

We had a good laugh…

“So, church lot is still cheaper…” Real Estate is still a good business.




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Exceptional Jeff

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Jeff, is a typical American. But he is not a Native American. I am not that good to guess the ancestry of people, especially white Americans. Black Americans will have root somewhere in Africa; Brown Americans will be from anywhere in Asia. But white, if they are not Native, they may be from anywhere in the world.

I don’t remember exactly when I met Jeff for the first time.

He is very thin, about 5’ 5” tall and probably weighed 150 lbs. He may be in his late fifties.

He always wore a battered hat. His hair is mostly grey. His eyes are the most prominent feature. They were sky blue.
He came to our house once to deliver some firewood for the winter, but eventually ended up helping me in anything and everything I needed help for. He has a full time job in a shop from 8 am to 2 pm, and when he is free, he did odd jobs for anybody who needed a helping hand. He is a jack of all Trades.

One afternoon he came to my house to fix some leaking pipe. I was busy in the kitchen frying some fish. He liked the smell of the fried fish with its masala of red pepper, black pepper, garlic and Vinegar. So he asked me what I am cooking.

I am always enthusiastic to share my Indian Culture with anybody. So I asked him, “Do you want some to taste?”

He was not that keen, but when I compelled, he agreed to taste. I gave him one piece of fried King fish. It was boneless. He broke a piece and put in his mouth…the rest of his actions were very fast. I could see his pathetic look, he didn’t know whether to swallow or spit it out. For him the masala was too much, especially the pepper taste. He swallowed what he put in his mouth & then in a hurry took few swings of Coco Cola on the table in a gulp. His face changed color. All red! It was red like a Tomato. I felt very bad. I didn’t mean to put him in a difficult situation like this.

“Sorry,  Jeff! I didn’t know that it would end up like this.”

“Hey, it’s not your fault. I am not used to spices at all. That’s the problem.”

After that episode I made sure to give him only sweet stuff to taste.

Jeff doesn’t ask for his money after each project. When it adds up to 100s he will bring his Bill.

One day he brought his dog with him. It was a big one and very friendly. It was actually too big I was scared and closed my eyes tightly when it came near me to smell me out. I wondered how Jeff feeds this big Dog.

Some days in the middle of the work, Jeff will go to get nails or something like that he needed for the repair from a shop in the town. Then sometimes, he will not be back that day.

I was upset one day when Jeff disappeared in the middle of the work. Next day when he came, I confronted him about his vanishing act. Later I found out the secret of this. There is a bar near the shop where Jeff went to buy stuff and bar was Jeff’s weakness. Once inside the bar, he forgets everything else and goes home happily after his drinks.

So I told him, “Jeff, there is Beer in my fridge, anytime you need, please help yourself. You don’t have to ask me.”

It reduced his vanishing acts, but did not stop it fully.

Bar is a Bar! I knew.

At times, Jeff helped me to move furniture and plants from the house to the Patio or bring them from outside to inside the house when weather changed to spring or fall. When Jeff carries them all by himself, I often wondered how a thin person like him can carry that much heavy load. When he carries the big plants outside, it reminded me of a small Ant carrying a load ten times heavier than its own weight. If I try to help him, he wouldn’t let me, saying that women are weaklings. He had carried more weight than this. This is nothing comparing to that.

Half of the stuff he tells me, I don’t understand because of his accent. He couldn’t understand most of the things I told him because of my accent. But we never had a communication problem, somehow we understood each other. He had a limp, when he walked. One day he told me it was the aftermath of a cow charging at him, when he was in his twenties.

In that accident, he broke his back bone and had to spend few months in the hospital. Even now, he can’t sleep on a flat bed. So he sleeps in a “Recliner”.

“Anyway I can’t sleep with my wife. She will spring out of the bed if a Telephone rings at night. So we keep our phone off its cradle at night. With my snoring she will not be able to sleep at all, if I sleep in the same bed with her.”

He made me laugh!

Once or twice in a year Jeff goes for two weeks’ vacations. His father-in-law has a Cabin near a lake.

When he goes there for vacation, if he is not fishing, he may be fixing that cabin. Sometimes he goes to another big Lake near Canada. One day when he came back after a fishing trip, I asked him.

“How many fish did you catch?”

“May be 10 or 12 between my grandchildren & I.”

“So what did you do with the fish? Did you fry them?”

“No, I let go off them.”

“Then why do you catch them, if you don’t like to eat them?”

“For the fun of it…”

I couldn’t understand the fun in catching the fish & letting it go… But most Americans do that.

“Do, you like fresh fish?” He asked.

“Yes, I do. I grew up near the Sea, so fresh fish are readily available and they are cheaper than meat. So we used to eat fish on a daily basis.”

“Ok, then I will bring some for you, next time when I come back after fishing.” He promised.

After that, any time, when Jeff went for fishing he made sure to bring me few fish. Also I made sure, to send “fish Molly” which is the mildest fish curry to him, prepared with his fish.

Our “Unniyappam” (banana fritters), “Ethakkaappam” (plantain fritters), “Bread Caramel pudding”, “Aviyal” (Vegetable Mix) etc. are few of the stuff he liked. I was happy to pack them for him to give his wife too.

Once there was big thunderstorm and power was out. Gas was also off. Electric Company informed that power will be re-stored only after 4 or 5 days.

‘The food in the Refrigerator or the Freezer is not going to survive.’ I thought.

We called almost all the big stores nearby to enquire about the availability of a Generator big enough to run the Refrigerator and the Freezer at least. But all of them had run out of Generators small or big suitable for a home.

Roads were littered by fallen trees & other debris of thunderstorm and not yet in good condition to travel.

‘What am I going to do with the food? Two days they will survive, but after 4 or 5 days, for sure, all those foods should be good only to throw away. what a waste!’ I thought.

I thought about the poor people in this world. Somehow, I have to save the food. But I didn’t know how to.

There were not any cars or other vehicles in the road which was near to our house. Because of the bad conditions of the road, people may be staying home.

Why take risk? Then I heard the sound of a truck coming to my driveway. Who would take a risk and travel in this condition? I was surprised.

I saw Jeff with his small Truck in my driveway. There was a small Generator at the back of his Truck.

He just walked in and announced.

“You guys will need a Generator with your Refrigerator & Freezer. So I borrowed one from my friend and brought for you.”

He was an angel sent by God at my difficult time.

My eyes welled up. I just touched his hands and said nothing. He understood what I meant. There was no need of saying anything.

But other than all these things happening in our friendship, something he told me later changed all my opinions about him. One day casually he told me that even though his children are all grown up and left home, one friend lives with him.

“How long he has been living with you?”

“Actually, he is not a friend of mine. He was a homeless person and he wanted a place to stay. He is living with us for more than 10 years.”

“After few months, I added a room to my house. He lives in that room. He goes to work and makes a living for himself.”

That conversation turned everything upside down for me. I thought of myself. I live in a big house with 5 bedrooms.  Since my kids are all grown up and moved away to faraway places finding jobs they liked, not all the rooms in my house are occupied now. But will I ever have the humbleness or broad mindedness to share my house with one or two homeless people, anytime in my lifetime? I am a Christian. A Christian is one who follows Christ teachings. I felt ashamed of myself. My respect & love for Jeff grew up to the sky. Jeff may be a Christian by birth. May be he had attended the services in a church with his parents when he was a kid. But I don’t think he attends any church now-a-days. What difference does it make by going to church? I don’t know any more…

For all my gratitude to Jeff, I started remembering Jeff & his family in my daily prayers. Then I thought, Jeff doesn’t need anybody’s prayers, not mine for sure, his name is already written in St. Peter’s Good Book in Heaven in golden letters and also his home in Heaven will not be a small one, but it will be a Mansion.

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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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