Thursday, September 1, 2016

தேவதை - Ariadne

Ariadne - Jeyamohan  தேவதை-ஜெயமோகன்

Certainly, you must have thumbed through the review articles of this book in literary magazines. According to Times Magazine’s highly acclaimed review “African influence in Western classical music” is one of the greatest musical research books published in last 50 years. As with any finest research work, elevating from its touchdown domain, this book appeals to the entire course of human culture. Spy girls popularized this book excerpting this wonder quote “Music makes me feel like worm” from the book to the extent that every street busker invariably ad-libs. When doyenne Mary Benham Flowood enunciated those lines for the book, I was composing, letter by letter in the typewriter. You might have noticed my name on the credit page. I claim this book as the greatest accomplishment of my 20 odd turbulent year life. My biological mother eloped with her then beau, out of Nigeria. After their happy marriage, venturing into successful laundry business, when they domiciled in London with their 4 more children, I turned as an expendable burden to their family. Albeit had been in despair to divest every tie with the family, throughout my upbringing, I lingered till completion my schooling. Upon schooling over, packing most everything, ran away to stay along with my spinster friend. My unquenchable passion for language rolled me to learn the type writing process. Soon sulking away from the earlier misfortune periods, I settled as a proud type writing assistant.

Didn’t it ring the bell, when I mention Mary Bensam name? You must have little knowledge about African politics. In the history of Nigeria, an immortal photograph has a special place. You must be aware of eminent political leader Devid Kwame Abacha. In common parlance, not only in Nigeria, in whole Africa he was referred as Pure-Soul Abacha. He was always considered to be a parallel political figure of Mahatma Gandhi. That picture was taken when, he was dandling a white child in a perky mood. Background filled with curlicue clouds in gradient  sky, her frock swirled, tress straightened as arrow, she was frozen in the air. Both of their eyes inundated with shine and effervescence. This photo was captured with eternal love instead of flash, wrote a writer in an article.

That sprier munchkin in the picture was Mary Benham. Her father Edward Bensam Flowood, an Anglican communion priest came as a missionary to Africa, later settled in Nigeria. As a goodwill visiting guest of his father, one lambent evening, during their walk in a flush meadows park, when Abacha was cuddling her, veteran photographer John Graham Willmann shot that photo. This photo was published first time in daily “Logas Times” heaving a huge public furor, sweeping  entire Nigeria, published in every other major magazine around the world, stealing the heart of millions, eventually made her a global child icon. This public response must have left a great impression on Mary’s psyche more than anyone else, immediately after completion of her studies, she entered into Abacha’s residence “The house of Christ” as a disciple and soon became Abacha’s primary serving acolyte. She appeared alongside with Abacha , in most of his thereafter photographs.

Abacha lived in an ascetic hut , following Christian simplicity diligently in every aspect of his life. Setting himself as an extreme example, he called entire nation to follow the ethos of personal austerity and never failed to insist this principle to each one visited him. He was born in southern Nigeria to a major cowherd-man community called Yoruba. Abacha was sold to chattel slavery when he had a little faculty of memory. Should you not have, I highly recommend, to read his famous autobiography “I experienced Christ” . There are very few books interacts directly with our atman such as this book. When white racism was at its lugubrious pinnacle, toiling through the white slave drivers unimaginable  forced fiendish bone-weary work, Abacha emerged as a pristine clean soul. He learned reading and writing with the help of charcoal on the walls of stable. Once he collected a purged old Bible of his master’s, bursting into tears, he sank his teeth completely in reading as though he found a treasure. He kept on reading those divine quotes and recited the grasped wordings beating his brain out, over and over in his mind. Once he etched the bible wordings wholly to his heart, he never read any other book, in his life. If I say his political gumption, worldly knowledge, oration capabilities were groomed just by Bible wordings, you will be awed.

Shortly after his 20th birthday, Abacha released himself from  enslavement with the money he earned eking out during slavery. Immediately, he joined Catholic Church, volunteered himself for Jesuit training. Soon he devoted himself to missionary work among the Housa community  of North Nigeria. You might be aware that Nigeria is a country, consist of more than 225 different ethnic groups. Throughout the history,  amidst  ceaseless inter-communal wars, 2 big empires, and 27 small kingdoms ruled Nigeria. There were four prominent ethnic group Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani. All these groups had deep enmity rooted , to the extent that ,they  pound the flesh at the sight of each other.  Until Frederick Lugard, exerting  his military strength and political expertise, instituted an integrated union,  amalgamating  fragmented provinces, Nigeria was never a single nation. In  very short time,   Abacha's charisma and assiduous charity activities gained popularity in public.  Stirring the Nigerian people beings to the core,  Abacha obtained  love and affection invariably among all the intensely incensing ethnic groups  and consecrated as pure soul Abacha. Those were incredulous moments of the world history, reassures belief in tall terms like compassion, human wisdom, in the era when whole Europe was burning in war . Some section of people  even believed that he had miraculous  healing capabilities which cured severe physical ailments.

Slowly all  radical ethnic groups, shedding the hatred,  mended together in the name of Abacha. They  venerated him as a saintly spiritual leader. Soon he became the religious symbol of   Nigerian people.  He was the central figure of nascent Nigerian national identity.  Under the tutelage of Abacha, league of leaders,  Fulani leader Abubakkar Thafawa ,  Yoruba ethnic group’s Avalova Obafemi, Scion of Igbo community Azikiwe, Nnamdi  and Efik representative Hogan Ekpo joined  hand together formed a political organization called National Alliance party . Later  renamed as Nigerian Peoples Congress party with well-defined non-retaliatory philosophy, a singular force  called people for the independent movement against the  suppression of the British colonial rule.  Abacha claimed his struggle was not  Black’s racist war against white racists instead peasants, hunters, workers, fishermen’s  peaceful revolution against British supremacy. His quote “A devil for devil makes the whole world devil” rarely missed in publication of all the major western magazines. That surreal photograph of love was believed to be the inception of this sublime dream for peace, not  only for Nigeria, for all other colonies around the world.

As though came alive from that very same photograph, Abacha and Mary Bensam repaired to Nigeria,  camping in the remote villages   for several months, met with people. They curated independence campaign  amidst  Nigerian public in the forecourts of Churches,  Marketplaces and community halls.  A vast concourse of people,  pushing  against each other, ecstatically got a glimpse of Abacha and Bensam. There were occurrences of the stampede, just to  have a tactile sense of  both.  Later another  photo gained prominence, in which benign Abacha  was taking cherubic Mary under his wings. These photos embellished the homes of millions of Nigerian households. I myself had seen those photos, in her memorabilia collection. In the age of 47, Mary  did not betray me as she still sustained her adult years beauty.  The foremost reason for her elegance was, she remained unmarried. There was something unfathomable mystery buried in her attractive  insouciant face.

When I first  met her in London,  She lived  alone in a huge mansion, at Fo street. A menage of  a  butler, 5 chamber servants, and 2 cook maids served  her. Mary never allowed any of these assistants to stay along  with her. Her usual day filled with listening music from her huge collection of 40,000 music plates. Her other main hobby was  making her presence in every other musical event around the city, with the entourage of 2 maids, in her Volkswagen car . Occasionally African minstrel artist harped for her in person. She seldom had time for any other activity.  Mary had a strong liking for Africans. Barring a maid and a cook, all of her servants are Africans. From my observation, I was the only soul with whom she talks oftentimes, although the topic was strictly focused on my writing work.

International news reporters and African journalists were swarming incessantly, on the heels of Mary,  yet no one could interlope into Mary’s privacy. Immediately after the demise of Abacha, Mary returned back  to London, forsaking Nigeria. Upon expiry of her  Aunty Nancy Christina Flowood, she inherited a hefty fortune. This could be the reason of her permanent stay in London. It was strange that in these 30 years, as though in a fugue state,  Mary never spoke a word about Abacha. When Nigerian government decided to commemorate Abacha’s Birthday as a National festival day, even after a persistent invitation  by then president Acikivi Namsti, to attend a ceremony where she was to be awarded as a noble ambassador, she was  uninflected in her denial.  The place where she spent good whole 18 years of her life, the place where her parents buried and their memorial structure erected, she never intended to visit,  raised eyebrows of lot many.

I must throw some light on the proceeded political events. In 1947, the British government decided to dissolve colonial rule and install an interim Democratic co-alliance government, as a first  step towards forming  full self-governance  Nigeria.  Tensions soared up among all ethnic groups, a power struggle ensued between major ethnic groups, as a result,  halcyon days bygone. With no clear mandate to transfer power, in 1954 British government, passed a referendum in a lurch,  which granted permission to  each state to become independent on their wish.   Northern Nigeria comprised of major   Housa and Fulani  ethnic groups. Southern parts are dominated by Igbo ethnic groups. Each group had its representative political parties. Thus far they  co-worked as a single National party,  Nigerian National Congress party. That political amity collapsed. The buried bitterness which was groomed during British’s earlier divide and conquer policy, dredging up monstrously,  ravaged near a million civilians lives in riots and chaos. The Independence  which Nigeria acquired in the 1960s was celebrated amidst the pool of bloodshed.

The very same Abacha who was  sanctified as a symbol of ethnic unity, all of a sudden, turned as an untoward senile burden to the boiling nation. As arm struggle intensified, achieving complete military victory over opposite groups was the only ultimate solution forced upon all ethnic groups. Naturally, Abacha's pleading to disarm and engage in a peace process  looked as askance and  opposed  by jingoistic conspiracy rhetorics by all the  politicians turned military leaders, in chorus. Islamic Hausa groups, after slaughtering around 40 thousand Christian Igbo innocent public in a group sponsored riot known as “The week of long spears”,  swore oath  to establish an independent Biafra government, launched a military campaign. Nigerian army and security force comprised Christian  majority  of Hausa, Fulani  members, every time tension escalated,  state-sponsored terrorism was unleashed over the other ethnic group civilians.  Dead youth’s corpse lying in the roadside, became a common sight. Abacha saw his dream of peace, capsizing, front of his own eyes. “Resurrected Jesus Christ’s   body, dead and rotting in the riots,” wrote Abacha in his daily column. But this labyrinth of crisis never deterred him. He was a strong believer of his inner spiritual strength. By clutching  cross tightly around his chest, he traveled to the Imo province along with his apostles,  which was the epicenter of gruesome massacres and rub his nose in the fury of Yoruba major ethnic group by visiting Ogan province.  Everywhere he went, local civilians were hostile towards him,  remonstrated him by throwing rotten eggs and cow dungs. In some places, they even pelted stones at them. As to many one’s surprise, the arsons, riots slowly abated in 3 weeks.

At this  crucial juncture, Independent African Daily published a gossipy news,  that Mary was Abacha’s significant other. This canard  did not cause any row instead everyone’s initial reaction was  mixed . But we garden variety human choose devil over god, as we look every news through  our  base mind’s  execrable glass.This cause celebres  wavered in air for a much more proceeded months. At last, decided to blow the lid off  ,   Avlo Obebemi  visited   House of Christ where Abacha lived at that time. In his initial  inquiry with servants , he found that Abacha has been asking Mary to sleep with him in nights. Petulant Obebemi swearing  invectives,  gatecrashed  Abacha’s room. Loud altercation voice of Obafemi,  resounded for a long time.

After the departure of  irascible Obafemi, on that  same day, during evening prayer, Abacha delivered few words, which put  Catholic church and Nigerian public in permanent addle. To protect himself from the barreling attacks of Satan  which he received in the form of ignoble thoughts, he conducted an experiment, in which he prevailed upon  Mary whom at that time in the age of his granddaughter, to sleep daily along with  him in his bed. According to Abacha’,  virtuous purity of Mary spindling  around his heart,   formed an impregnable shield , with that he withstood so many virulent personal political storms of his life. But, in cold reality,  the sight of  innocent people died in conflict befuddled Abacha. He was not able to curtail the violence, penetrating the hearts of rioters with his moxie.  He had suspicion over the veracity of much proclaimed pure-soul sobriquet consecrated by  millions of people across the globe.  He slowly lost belief in his inner soul strength. His struggle exasperated day by day, with these thoughts ceaselessly swirling him in days and nights. Every day,  brimming with tears, genuflecting in front of Jesus statue, he implored  to resurrect the purity of Jesus Christ from his deep.

One capital day, he undertook an  anomaly in his usual experiment of  Christ vs Lucifer. On that day, after Mary was in deep slumber,  leaving no cloth in his frame , approaching closer than ever towards her,  he slept entwining around her body. On that moment  when realized that, his body aroused to the warmness of woman body at the age of 72, he had a nervous meltdown.  By shouting  Jesus Christ name, disgorging the assembly, he scampered  out and sprinted fast  in the street. “I have lost it, I lost my purity in that moment” realizing himself nothing but a mere worm, a minuscule, a  particle,   in the middle of the millions the stars in the galaxy, wailed Abacha. Assemblage women invariably spat in disgust  upon learning about what happened.  Men group though,  elicited a subdued chuckle, turning their back. Without looking at anyone’s eyes, Abacha “Do not call me high-soul do not venerate me, I am an ordinary human. since I accepted your consecration, I am lower than everyone. ” He was lurching back to his room  like a lifeless person as per the verbatim of the people who  were present during that extreme event. Mary was sitting motionless in the middle of assembly like a statue with a drooped head.

Ababa was assassinated  at the footsteps of sacred heart Cathedral in capital city Logas,   by an Yoruba youth on 1957 January 13. The photograph of dead body of Abacha, as though pleading  succor , with the spread arm, appearing like Jesus’s cross pose, rattled the hearts of millions of people across the globe. Thousands of  people attended  Abacha’s funeral , broken to core. Many of them committed suicide upon hearing the demise news. The very last word he uttered “Oh Jesus” melted  every Christian who learned about that. The assassin  committed suicide by shooting himself. Paparazzi Benjamin Dupling Jr. captured the moment, tall towers of  Cathedral , footsteps and cross symbol clearly visible in the background, sagely face of Abacha in the front. From that moment onwards, Abacha  regained back to his pure soul image indelibly.

The murderer Salamon Shakari was indeed  a redeemer from heaven.  Hardship fastings and lone ostracism Abacha imposed on himself,  turned himfeathery  thin as butterfly. He was already at the door of the death. Barring few women, most of the earlier visitors renounced his prayer sessions. Pale looking,  eyes rolled in, with tears streaming down his eyes, penancing Abacha, was truly a poor soul. Not a day passed in Nigeria, without publicing of vitriol aspersion articles  casting Abacha and Mary. As though relieved from shackle , every common people gathered in street corner, celebrated the fall of Abacha with smutty , harem jokes. “Mary Mary , twerk  your private soul” a colloquial lascivious ditty was most renowned  in the Shongai language. Upon the death of Abacha, these acrimonious hoo-ha reactions, tapered of like  blasted sea foam disappears in  a sudden downpour. Guilty filled people fervently recommenced to venerate Abacha,  more than ever. Moreover, Yoruba ethnic leader Awalovo  Obefemi put  all his chips in post facto undertaking and  made sure many more good old days photos  of him along with Abacha  kept on publishing. In his efforts of re-establishing of Abacha’s fallen image,  he succeeded more than his expectation.

You must have construed  by now, the reason behind relentless pursuing of  journalists . Mary never spilled any information about that mysterious incident . She died at the age of 51 when she was at the peak of her career as a renowned  music researcher and author. Once I was confabulating with her, on the possibility of her return to Nigeria, in a spur of moment, I asked  Mary on about that day. Much to my surprise, she replied “ I believe, in future, you will become a good novelist. I can share that you as only you can understand”.

“ You never forgave Abacha for revealing that closed room incident in front of all the assemblage? Didn't  you? !!” I asked.

“ No , not that. When he undressed, came closer to me, I was wide awake. Without protest, I waited on his next move. When he ran out deranged, I instinctively simpered in dark.”

“I was not sure about the energy thrived  deep within me at that moment. But one thing was certain, I was the one who smoothly segued him to that place, I did that without my conscious. ” Mary smiled.  “In fact,  I knew how it happened. But did not  want to accept even to me. When he ran out, I felt like, pulling with a thread tied to my tiny finger, I caused a monumental stone tower, cave in. I felt like, I was the most powerful person on the earth, who can make mountains fly just by blowing ”

“It is unbelievable that you  accepted this to yourself” I replied.

“Yah, Once I accepted that. I lost all the weights suppressed me. I felt levitated. Like Abacha mentioned, my eyes too brimmed with water. I felt like a worm amidst the millions of stars in the galaxy. But I was on top of the world, in  foremost happiest state of my life. Poor Abacha, really a nice person” sighed Mary.

After Mary’s death, I wrote a novel based on her story. I was  awarded  commonwealth woman writer’s golden swan for my novel. I altered the story a great deal, especially  changed the backdrop completely. I desired to spend a part of my award  money to the place where Mahatma Gandhi born, a  beautiful country on earth with simple people. The land of Gandhi looked just as I imagined.


 

Notes
=======
1] John Graham Willmann -  British Photographer and Anglican Church Jesuit
2] “Logas Times” oldest News Daily of Nigeria, published 1830 onwards, initially owned by British
3] ‘ I Experimented Christ! ‘ Devid Kwame Abacha . Biography .Oxford University Press 1951
4] Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, (1858-1945),  a British soldier, mercenary, explorer of Africa and pioneer in establishing British colonial rule in Nigeria, he was the first Governor-General of Nigeria [1912-1919]
5] Yoruba , Ibo Southern Ethnic groups; Hausa, Fulani Northern Ethnic groups
6] Sir Abubakar Tafawa (1912-1966), First Prime minister of Nigeria (1960-1966) . Azikiwe, Nnamdi (1904- ), First president of Nigeria (1963-66). Awolowo, Obafemi (1909-87), Ruler of Western Nigeria during [1954-1959]
7] Republic of Biafra. was a secessionist state in eastern Nigeria proclaimed in 1968 by Igbo people; Military campaign was suppressed in 1970s, reintegrated into Nigeria
8] The Independent African - Pro-Leftist commercial daily
9] Benjamin Dupling Jr. - A paparazzi, later worked for Times Magazine


<The End>

Sunday, June 2, 2013

சோற்றுக்கணக்கு - A Valued Meal

சோற்றுக்கணக்கு - A Valued Meal


There is a high chance that you may not have heard about “Kettle Sahib”. He owned a  restaurant abutting Sri Padmanabha Movie Theatre, off the Thiruvananthapuram Bazaar road roundabout. Circa 1960-1970, had a Thiruvananthapuram denizen not dined at his restaurant, he must be a vegetarian. He was running that restaurant until his demise  1978.

While his relatives still continue to serve meals at the same original premises on these days, as a filial respect, his son has been devolving the legacy of father in a new brand name of “Mubarak hotel” with the ample of  ‘father and sons’ offshoot restaurant chains across the city. Ever palatable fish curry and succulent chicken gravy tastes scrumptious even today. Crowds swarming to the restaurant, joining the waiting queue and then eat, as though each day a high season. A neo-adage “Amateurs visit Thiruvananthapuram, but professionals consummate, dining at Mubarak hotel” is widely believed across the meat-eating trenchermen of Kerala.
There is something legendary about restaurateur Kettle Sahib. Allow me to narrate that.


These days, the restaurant is running under a tin-roofed, twig wattle fence gabled, wooden shelter filled with uncluttered bamboo cane strapped chairs and benches, inside a retroussé tipped alleyway. It was a coconut leaf thatch roofed, 15x8 feet shed, sort of a bothy, in those early days. Amiably ventilated four-way open shed, endowed with a persistent patter of rain during the diuturnal monsoon of Kerala. Nevertheless, the ever thronging crowd seldom slumped.


Did I say ever? On what day he opened the restaurant for all time? He opens the lunch session on the dot 12 mid noon and unfurl the door around 3’o clock and later he’d unlatch the hatch at 1900 for dinner and when the clock just about to chime on 10 the doors shuts down finally. Yet as early as 11 am , the crowd begin to constellate, one after other, in front of opposite ‘Rahmath villas’ tailor shop’s scaffold and at the forecourt of nearby ‘Karu.Pazha.Arunachalam Chettiar & sons departmental store’s warehouse. Nestling against each other, half of the hunkered crowd would pore over Mathruboomi or Keralakowmuthi daily and argue over K.Balakrishnan’s blistering political articles. Looming arguments occasionally may turn into scathing disputes.


This hurly burly cacophony ceases at once the sight of a pock-faced, 7+ foot man with shins and hands resembling the towers of Charminar, giving an impression of imposing burly figure, approaching the restaurant, commence to unravel the jute screen door like rolling up the shutter hood, follow by a call “Phareen” in a deep basso voice, take it as “Restaurant opened”. As though the whole gaggle perched on tip of the world waiting for this signal, jamming the daily paper in their underarm, skittering out of the nest, coalesced together, funneling through the restaurant threshold, fill the chairs. Kettle Sahib is bung-eyed, whose left eye could be comparable only with the shell of cowry and other one appearing like an earthy guttering clinker. You can invariably find him with refined netted white cotton topi cap on the pate, henna-tinted sorrel color beard minus mustache and a tartan lungi(*) clad around his waist fastened by a salient green hip pack belt. His features are well suited to his body.  Albeit being a Malayali, nonchalant Kettle Sahib native Malayalam accent is spotty, once in a while, unassuming words in strongly marked   Arabi Malayalam  accent escape from his mouth. 


No commissionaire needed at entrance, conjuring fragrance of assorted piece de resistance(s) starting with hen breast pepper roast, pullet chicken gravy, spicy prawn fry, seasoned sardine fish stew, marinated pearl spot fish fry,  wafting across the streets, usher you in. I never savored such a lip smacking taste in any other restaurant till now.  Vasudevan Nayar says “Natural corollary of calculative planning and handling of supplies. If larder supplier and food preparer are far apart, it will never have such a flavor. Kettle Sahib purchase not only the fishes and chickens, also rice and groceries himself in person, uncompromising even a wee retrograde in quality. Fished Prawns delivered directly from the brackish backwaters of Kayal Lake off the Cherai beach. Fleshy tellichery pullets unloaded as early as 3am from Cochin daily goods lorry service. The gamut of Fishes, culled from the fishnet of bobbling catamaran belongs to fisher Pappie a Mappila(1), haggled at once he about to wade out, before he steps onto the shore, get dispatched to a restaurant. Above all these, immutable probity has its own unique sapidness, Pal!!”

In all these 15 long years, there is no single instance of lapse, in the great finesse taste. It is hard to explain the enthralling elan events of the kitchen. I reckon added to probity, he has combination of focused level-head and occult knack. There is no waiter to reel out list of items, no tardy menu-card flipping, no grumpy post order waiting time, Sahib’s raw energized facile hands dexterously replenish the devouring diner’s plate with simmering gravies, soups and roasts in a dipper straight out from oven, whilst his eyes intently enumerating the in-flow customers, aligning them with foreseen count, culinary ingredients  get concocted into the skillet in chronological order. Even so, restaurant acolytes no other than his beevi (2) and two sons. They too totally under the purview of Kettle Sahib and following his order to the letter. People conferring about his gustatory experiments done  just by a sniffle, is not hyperbole.  But the truth is, there is an Angel manned in, no no not an Angel, a Genie, not an Arabian one, an Indian Genie, lobbed from a deep-flung teensy tehsil vill of Malabar, reared and batten by Kallayi puzha (3) water. 


Kettle Sahib and his family bid riddance to their native when a gut-wrenching famine gloomed upon. Sahib such a private, pauciloquent  rarely speaks as only hypnotizing is the  only way to make him vocal, no one could pry about where he originally come from. Once, Malayalam Poet Yousufali Kechery’s acclaimed serenade “Kallayi puzha oru Manavati (4)” rucking up the air, Sahib’s son stopped at a half-opened door and suddenly let out in his new adolescent, scratchy voice “ Isn’t it our Kallayi river?”, only on that moment, it was corroborated that Kettle Sahib’s origin is Malabar. That’s all they know about his background. Extreme penury forced him to shoulder the family at an age little less than boy. Lugging a jumbo tea kettle, he footslogged fore and aft the streets of Thiruvananthapuram, eventually acquired the befitting sobriquet. In his 20s, he tendered fried fish trundling around a pedestrian kiosk hand cart, later venturing to own a cubbyhole eatery.   Believe it or not, the laureate Kaumuthi Balakrishnan, his himself make a beeline to relish Kettle sahib’s chaya(5) from the podium everytime upon winding up his council speech. Anandhan nayar once said “There is no chaya to peer with piquant Chaya of Kettle Sahib “ succinctly.  


Kettle Sahib enjoyed a sound monetary surfeit in his later pastures of life. And so, he could solemnize his 3 daughters marriage with Mappillas from well-respected tantamount families in unpretentious ceremonies, also aided each of the New-(m)applaes to own the spin-off brand restaurants. As a quinquagenarian, he reclined along with the ensembled joint-family members in a palatial white house at the coronal locality Ambalamuk of the Thiruvananthapuram city. You may not wonder even slightly, if I tell you, he was able to accomplish all these as a pushover, solely by the courtesy of his ever cash registering restaurant chains. But If I explain how he operates his kaarobaar (6), you will lo and behold for certain. Starting from his pre-teen days, throughout his heydays, he never accepted cash for his service, in lieu; he places a tin-cashbox on the right corner in front of the restaurant, hooding it with coconut leaf thatched sheet. Upon finishing the meal, while they about to leave the restaurant, customers can pay as much as their whim in the box. They are allowed to leave without dropping a  bittie centime rupee coin. Whether they drop payment in cashbox, if they do, how much they paid, he never gave a least sign of noticing it. 


People say, he’s been has raised like this, ever since his boyhoods when he sold tea  flitted around in hitched up tank topless dungaree shorts  plus a winsome kufi topi (7). He just keeps a dinky little box with him always. Unlike other tea sellers, he never intones the prices of the items he sold. Indeed, some customers did insist him to quote the price, but he never quoted the price. Yes, there were occasions, the street thugs and barrel-chested hustlers intimidated him wrangling over his attitude. They bullied him by dropping papers, muddy wrappers in cashbox, sometimes they mugged him, decamping with cashbox itself. Many others swigged tea for days, months and years for nothing. None of these did ever fret Kettle Sahib. It had not even occurred to him to recollect those faces.  


 Only once, Kettle Sahib whipped his palm on a bloke’s cheek bone.  On that day, an outsider woman, a fugitive peon, absconded famine from an unknown Tamilnadu village, who sold winnowed cumins and pepper in the street, was sipping the tea. Karamanai Kochukuttan Pillai, a famed tutor, ordering  tea,  turning around, falling into her eyes, leveled a concupiscent glare over her body for few moments. All of a sudden, besetting  her, incapacitating her constitution , he began to cram her nipple. Either her sweating clamminess or yappy growl must have enticed him. Locking  her twitching  body, undressing her on the way,  schlepped her  to the nearby alley. Kettle Sahib  followed him silently right on his heels  through the alley, pulling his shoulder around, landed a slap smack in the middle of his cheek, echoing through out that inversely-tapering street. Rabbit in headlights, Kuttanpillai snorted snot, blood hemorrhaged from his nose and ears. His sphincter was squeezing shut, letting out sour heated urine, he conked off like a miss clipped dress slithers and falls down from wash-line. As if nothing occurred, Kettle Sahib recommenced his tea sale. 


Kuttan Pillai’s cohorts  admitted him in hospital. He spent intensive 18 days,  convalescing after that incident.  Ever since the day, he permanently lost bowel and bladder control, could never walk or hear properly. The slap  shambling his jaw, caused his head shaking vigorously. He endured chronic pain and epileptic seizures sporadically.  Seven months later, Kuttan Pillai slipped over Karamanai river and drifted away while waded in for bath. His bloated dead body was found wedged into some branches that struck over the water.  In-furious, clan Nayars up in arms, remonstrated  in front of  chaalai Mahadevar Temple Trustee Anandhan Nayar, sarpanch “How on, the name of Lord Mahadevar, a Muslim Mapple bludgeon a lofty clan Nayar?.  He brushed aside them,  “Every unjust  act warrants its duly punishment, either by snake in his own couch or by ant in forest.  For certain his own karma caused his death” exclaiming  once and for all. Thereafter was no further tit or tat.


I savored my first meal at Kettle Sahib’s restaurant in 1968. I originally hail from  a coastal village   Osaravilai  situated in India’s southern most tip.   My father,  a feeble family man, never enjoyed a strong sense of occupational calling, an accounting and bookkeeper of a  Rice Mill at Kottar. I was a listless lanky lad,  good only at studies. Upon completing my 11th standard,  attained an age sufficient for the next stage in the rite of passage, keen to join as the freshman in college . Throughout my upbringing , my family had been pinching paisa in the puny salary of my father, as a result,  twice a meal  per day became extravagant.  It was unimaginable to help my higher studies at that moment. Decided to seek aid from, my close relative uncle,  presumed to be in higher housing ladder than ours, who owes my father debt, was residing at afield Thiruvananthapuram Pettai .  Matriarch Aunt was from Thazhakudi a small town  in the  out-with of  Kanyakumari city. By  lambent afternoon, we alighted from the bus at Thampanoor, heart of Thiruvananthapuram and had to hoof it till Pettai in bare foot.  My father held me close with him, tightly entwining my arm within his.  Somberly brushed up hairdo exuding coconut oil with sweat in my temple and forehead, clutching a  round clay pot (a.k.a)  holdall  for my  companionless  Dhoti and half white shift enfolded deep in,  I was hunching along with him.  It was the first city that I saw. 


At Pettai, my uncle family was eking out in a distemper dilapidating, timbers poked out, gaunt tenement printing press. As my father succored him out of woods during his difficult days, he could not decline. I soon enrolled in university college B.A English literature course.  By jamming a rusty one rupee coin in my palm firmly, my father uttered “Do not spend this, Uncle will take care of you.  Waving Aunty towards him “Look here Subbamma, he is not your son-in-law anymore, He is your son” parted out heaving a sigh of relieve. There was a note in  the dubious  gesturing of my uncle, inattentive squiggle line of mouth smile of the aunt, which tentatively signaled, ‘you are unwelcome’.    On that evening,  dinner capped off with the warm plates containing boiled rice, (*)sambar , fried vegetable, baked lentil-flour crisps, uninvited therefore unattended.  Much later in the night, I was offered rice water with morsel drops of  gravy, only in the kitchen, that too in an aluminum plate, which further affirmed that  I was a revolting addition to their family. 


From the get go, pillories  and starvings  are part of my life. Personally, I could see a pattern, as much I endure, as extortionately it mounts . At Uncles home, I had to avail my self to do every other onerous  chores.  I was forced to get up  early in gray hours and bossed around to wipe  nooks and corners of the house, followed by foot-dragging the water gathered from well and fill it in the fussy number of pails. By the time  my first period about start in college,  I patiently tout math to their elder girl Ramalakshmi and hurriedly drop both their girls at school. Soon after the college hours, without reprieve,  I also had to pick them from school every day. In the night, I was allowed to sleep, only after stultifying  kitchen cleaning work.  Even after making these sacrifices, I was offered mere rice porridge with (*) achar with increasing irritation and a  5 x 3ft sleeping place in veranda. Invariably fractious, aunt evil-tongued every soul she got a chance to speak,  that I am bankrupting their family. Above all, she foamed at mouth upon seeing me open a book.


 Notwithstanding to the bombardments of humiliations,  I decided to remain in uncle’s house and face the issues by myself. As my father jettisoned me to focus  on my  brother and sister,   I refrained from writing  my miseries to him. Earlier at Osaravilai, every alternate day, we consumed, a low quality, defiled quick-sale  rice,  discarded from the near by Rice Mill, boiled and salt added,  gone slippery. From my memory’s earliest fetch moments , our daily lunch no more than river bank watercress lettuce  broth,  sans  coconut,  single chilly and just a  pinch of tamarind stirred, boiled and  churned . My mouth effuses water just for the boiling lettuce’s whiff. Once in a starshine day, mother goes to fish market and purchases sardine fish for 4 (*)anas, the whole day house would be repleted with a piety  smell.  We would also be blessed with the  consort of pristine white rice,  reserved for that day. No matter how much effort I put in, to  get hold of myself,  becoming lulled into the enticing sardine fish gravy smell, nothing would shunt me. Even the  few last drops of  fish broth blotched deep in the clay pot,  mixed with  remaining rice would get served by mother. As it was about to pan out, just as I claim my last  mouthful ball of rice broth mixer, my brother would  barge in for another palmful. 


I was due to pay my college tuition fees. Mincing my words, I let uncle aware about the fee due, more than several times, yet he did not give a sign of noted it. Brushing disgrace aside, I went ahead and asked him straight,  as expected he responded  back “I can offer just food and a place to stay. You write to your father. ” curtly, as though he laced on me. It was pointless to write father.  Within fortnight, I received a final reminder notice  from college, that I temporarily suspended until the fee due cleared. A frozen  stasis  pricking the skull, insistently seeping through my  temple, forehead and neck,  instigated  a startling mental injury. Aimlessly milling around the city , I reached Thambanoor railway station. On that whole day,  scarcely batting eyelids, hinging the stare limply on the Railway tracks , fancied killing myself  jumping in, recurrently.  Kumara Pillai, my  confrere, an easy company,  appeared and gave me a solution.  He brought me to J.Nagaraja Panikkar, a rice warehouse manager.  I joined as a jute rice bag account  keeper, with an offer of Rs.1 per day as initial wage. The work timing was best fit as I had to come  only at 5 PM after my college hours, stayed there until completion of daily accounts, which extended till 12 AM  occasionally. I was paid one and half month salary Rs.40 in advance, on the first day, with that I cleared my tuition fees debt. 


I was forced to skip the  drudgeries of uncles as my  evening work hours sucked the last ounce of energy out of my body and mind. Upon reaching the uncle’s home  mid-night  around 1 to 2 o clock, I threw myself on sedge mat right away, entering  a deep slumber with minimal or no dreams,  waking up as late as 7 AM, next day, having the time only to start to college. In college,  I had a  handy habit of listening the lectures intently, added to that I utilized every morsel minutes I got chance to study, including the interval time between college periods, as a  result I was a good student. University college was about 45 minutes walk away distance from Chaalai bazaar through Government Secretariat, touching Karamani road. Twice a week,  final period was conducted by professor Shanmugam Pillai. On my bad hair day, him commandingly pronouncing passionate lectures the period would extend way beyond 4.30.  By exerting a full fleet-footed sprint, through this  route, I can reach Panikkar go-down in 30 mins.  Even if I was late, just as little as 5 mins, Panikkar would induct usurper Paramasivam for that day’s accounts work, without commiseration. I lose my quarter salary  as  the goods transfer  only on 4 days out of a week. No point in arguing with him after the replacement. 


I did not receive the first month Salary, as  Panikar subtracted Rs.15 on for the account of  my advance salary.  Next morning as a first thing,  I found an old  notebook,  beginning to fray at the edges,  placed  conspicuously on top of my book stack.  As I pored through, much to my chagrin,  it was docketed  with food  expenditures.  Ana (*) 6  enumerated per day, summed total to Rs.48/- .  In the fit of exactitude,  Aunt punctiliously  detailed every food I consumed there, without missing single instance, beginning from my  day one at Thambanoor.  I tried to unravel the knots in my stomach,    “What is this  all Mami ?” I asked. She replied “There is no such a thing called free food. Your are earning now.  You must pay for it. Have you doubted my record, I shall revisit and update” inhaling furiously. 


Feeling an acute pressure in my throat, “ Mami, I was not expecting this” showing the notebook towards her, ”I.. My..My pay is so hard up.  I need  to buy books, my fees. ” I floundered . “You see,  We have two matured daughters, on the verge of marriage” She continued.  “At any time, we ought to arrange dowry money,  jewels too. Why on earth should we feed you free?  Your uncle is not raking in money here. Vouching on our fiduciary relationship, you must settle it ” replied Mami high and strident tone.  Attempting to rise my voice, failing miserably,  rather in squeaky voice “ I don’t even have paisa now. I assure to repay  part by part” I said. She said “On what basis, I put trust in you?”.  I had no word to reply .  Quitting the quibble,  I departed from my uncles home in next half an hour.  When I explained  my state to Panikkar, hoping to get a safe garret to stay, I could see a apparent suppressed delight in his face, that he got a  night watchmen for free of cost.  Aunty confiscated  my main coursework books as pawn. 


Life at Chaalai was strange, yet snuggly.  Morning began with a bath in Karamani river.  Emerging from river, I gobbled 4 idlies(˘*) soaked in sambar gravy in  Elisamma’s kiosk hotel on economy. Determining to defray as early as possible, I skipped the whole day food, save for the single biscuit and tea in evenings. As a result, day time dragged with indefinitely  pricking hunger.  I could not call my brain to anything other than food thoughts. I gawked upon every corpulent person passed me, as a teen lad ogles on bonny lass oozes sensuality  in each pore. Queer  questions, popped up, within me,  like how much food this fellow consume in a day. On bimonthly auspicious pradosam(*) days, rice pudding milk with banana fruit served in mini banana leaf offered as Prasadam(*) in Chaalai Mahadevar temple. Occasionally, road aside village god Saastha bestowed, boiled black Channa, motherly Isakki the  goddess with yellow rice. On these merciful days, I could save a single course meal paisa.  I still couldn’t quite put together enough money. When, I was little closer to settle the advance repayment, the next semester fee due was alerted. Yet, with whatever I had, I down paid  5 rupees to Mami as  I needed to take back my books before semester exams, scheduled at the end of month. 


Parsimonious dining approach had its own repercussions.  Mine already a delicate constitution, thinned further under the strain of food depression. In the middle of my studies,  a sudden hunger pang would knock me down, making me unconscious, before I will it back from that extreme 10 seconds. My mouth, invariably,  filled with a bitter taste. Since, all my properties writhed in agony perpetually, in the  elongated day time, It took more than an hour to reach college.  I fancied about good food in every idle moments. One day, while I was rambling, I found a dead dog in road hit by an accident. My hunger ennui pushed me to my wits end, that I had an outre dream about how I can take away this  carcass slyly to a hidden place and  kindling it  in the square stones and eat the spatchcock. My mouth filled with saliva, slobbered uncontrollably, wetting my shirts.  


Kettle Sahib’s restaurant door swung wide open, when coolie Narayanan introduced it to me. It was unbelievable to hear that a restaurant owner offered every food items on the house. Only the willed customers can pay for what they eat. I ascertained with certitude, inquiring with several other people including some unknown strangers,  rest assured.  Yet I was not bold enough to venture there. Cogitating about having food at his hotel, replaced my every other earlier food thoughts.  Several times my concerted attempts failed. I was pussyfooting towards the hotel, waiting near the thresh-hold and returned back, as I had no gut to enter in. Fish, Chicken curry aroma permeating from the hotel, enticed me in great deal. I consumed fried fish only twice in my life, that too in a village lord house grand function. Next week, I had to dip into my means to pick 3 rupees in my hand , set off straight to kettle Sahib’s hotel.


My emaciated constitution was shaking when Sahib opened the door. Hiding behind the entire crowd,  I entered into hotel slyly as if I am about to commit a crime. Chin upon my chest, I chose a bench seat in the corner, not willing to notify any known face about my presence. The frolicking noise of chatter subdued my perturbation to some extent.  Sagely Sahib was serving  boiled rice to customers expeditiously. Inversely  placed lotus leaf was used as eating plate. Flambe red rice  was dished upon the plate, dousing reddish fish curry over it.  I noticed that  he glossed over chicken gravy to some and fried chicken gravy to some others.  It seemed like he served in a random manner,  but soon I deduced with astound that omniscient Sahib knew each and everyone. He did not wait neither the sign nor the acquiesce  of customers on what they want, instead either fish or chicken gravy or curry  naturally emerging from the utensils, infused into each plate according to their desire.  Also, I found, there was a none or less courteous words exchanged between Sahib and them. He served the first-course meal to every customer, only the second-course gravy was served by another assistant boy. 


He came near and looked at me speculatively then asked “What Pillai? new face?”.  I wondered, how on earth he found that I am Vellalan(*). He piled up rice on my plate, more than sufficient amount  and anointed gravy over to it. One huge tenderly fried chicken leg was crowned on top of the mixer. “Cadet , eat well!!” he ordered me in a hoarse voice.  My scrupulous mind calculated instinctively, that this food it self is valued more than my 3 rupees. As I began to partake, my rumpled stomach resisted the ingestion, the food was blocking in the throat, I huffed and puffed.  “What are you doing,!! Pinching rice with  thimble fingers, take the handful and eat  Pillai!!”   he coerced me. Without  losing any more seconds,  I wolfed down the food hurriedly. Savory,  Divinely  Manna,  unplugging my throat, cascading into  my core like cataract, enveloped every nook and corner of my  body and filled my soul.  Oh !! What a  heavenly taste!!  God, what have you done to me? You forbade me from savoring such a lovish food until this moment.  My eyes effusing  droplets, ceaselessly gushed out  through the side cheeks until dwindled into tickles.

In a small ladle he brought a  colloidal liquid looked like a cow ghee. He bastered it over the remaining rice of my plate, adding little extra gravy  to that “Mix well,  have it, fish spawn it is.” he said. It was  fresh water fish roe fat. Yellowish tallow liquid is taken from gill cover of the  fishes. It added taste to already a fit for god tasty food. It has been years since I had my feel full food, my thus far sealed stomach could not take any  more. He tried to strew out another rice full of a colander in my leaf plate. “Oh !! No, I am done!!” I was about to exclaim. He whacked  my blocking hand with that colander itself. “How dare you block the rice!!, Eat well  you Idiot!!” cried he. I felt the strain in my fingers. His reddish eyes warned me that he would surely lambaste me if I get up in the middle. I realized that leaving rice in the plate, will make him in-furious. Somehow I managed to finish it up without leaving dregs, but then I could not get up as I felt groggy.  I was able to stand only by holding the bench where I sat. I tread across, discarded  the lotus leaf and washed my hand.


My body quaver aggravated when I reached the tin cash box. Cocksure I  was  that Kettle Sahib was secretly monitoring the cash inflow in some way at some angle. My hunch was proved wrong, he was totally into serving the customers without glancing what is happening near cash box. Many customers did not drop money in the cash box. Though some of the others paid, they appeared very normal. I dropped my share 3 rupees after whiling, much of my features writhing. My imaginary eye was intent, looking for a voice or glance or betoken which recording my paying moment, through my back of a neck. But there wasn’t any. When I came out of the hotel, I felt as though my body losing all its weight, levitated  in  mild breeze swayed across the road. Trembling with excitement, with a void of thoughts, I returned back to my place as if possessed. 


I dared not to visit  even the precincts of a hotel  for the next week. Only when I managed to piece together 2 rupees, I got the gut to enter the hotel again. Kettle Sahib served me fish roe in  the same order. This gesture of him assured  that he acknowledged my presence. With out any minor deviation from my last meal course etiquette, pitch perfect coercing followed by ditto scolding, same hearty foods catered  by Sahib in his singular interest. Very same nose the delicious hearty food contents in carte blanche performed by me. This time, I paid money without any insanely quaking. In a gap of  three days,  I slogged out the work and tighten my belt to save as high as 7 rupees in my hand. My rational mind insisted me, that I should pay entire money on for my  pending debt to Mami in that evening. But my heart  induced me to spend 2 rupees from that amount at Hotel. On that stage of my life , spending more than 2 Ana for food was nothing but zenith of profligacy. It was impossible to disobey my heart, as the luscious taste did not allow me to think otherwise moreover my pleasant dreams of on those days, filled with the parade of  fish gravy and fried chickens of Kettle Sahib. I even composed a poem describing the Sahib’s tantalizing food varieties in the last empty pages of my notebook. On that day, when I was about to polish off my meal, I had a sudden urge that what if I skip the payment just like many others. 


That thought  itself poured piping hot acid in my stomach. Partaking meal turned as a cumber task as I could not swallow anymore.  I felt as though pushing a ball hard into the water from that moment onwards. My eyes rolled up made vision blurred. I slowly foot dragged, washing my hands,  moved towards the cash tin box. I could not hedge around the cash box. There was a sensation of pressure beating wildly at my temples and ears. All of a sudden, taking out the entire  7 rupees, I dropped  it in the tin box and scampered out quickly.  When I reached an airy place, only then I realized the magnitude of blunder I committed. My half month salary cash vanished into ash. Only 8 days were remaining for semester fee. How many such other dues are pending?  In an act  momentary brainfog, I put myself in utter nasty cropper. 


I sobbed from my deep in,  until my eyes became parched. I felt as though I lost some one very dear close to me in a disastrous accident. If at all, had my full-on job, not taken away all the energy in the brain, I would had even gone to an extent of throwing my self on the railway track and killed myself.  After much of brooding over the lapse, I finally decided, why should I need to worry? Let bygone be bygone.  I shall consume meal for free until it accounts for the entire money I dropped. I slumbered deeply, with that conclusive, consolable thoughts.

Next day college was over in the afternoon itself. I came directly to Kettle Sahib’s hotel. This time, I partook the food contents  in a sound and relaxed mind. As usual,  for my every little fidgety pause, he responded by cussing me “Eat you Idiot!!” at once,  thinking that I was about to get up. At the end of the meal, after I washed the hand, I structured the words in right order, as my reply to Sahib, in case he questions me for not paying for that day's meal. He was completely engrossed in his serving task and so he did not notice me skipping the payment. I was totally peeved off as I could not find any feet of clay in him , busting out I came out of the hotel. Gone completely ape-shit, powerful negative feelings sweeping away my thoughts, I  snubbed Sahib severely.  Sahib such a freebooter, thinking  himself as a generous guy. He is assuming the unadulterated benevolent status only as a direct result of largesse donated by ever frontrunning patrons. He is no more than any other typical merchant.  He is just pilfering the muslim customer’s Ramzan zakat money. Otherwise, how could he managed to own a house in upscale prime Thiruvananthapuram location? Either I pay or not , It doest not make any difference to him. Let me see , for how long he bears my non-payment.  I was totally consumed by that intense sick in the stomach feeling.

With the same ill-filled sick feeling, I went to hotel the next day. I expected Kettle Sahid not aware about my current thought works. Still I decided , if I could perceive wee little vagary in his attitude like If he treats me tad extra  special,  I decided to bid good-bye to his hotel,  declaring that his observing the payment inflow for each consumers. But on contrary to my expecting, he was immersed in serving  with usual serene, unsparing  manner.  Same fish caviar was glossed upon my plate. Placing a fried half chicken on my plate “Bolt this fried chicken, Pillai!” in unaltered coercing voice,  followed by serving a fish fry. I looked at him raptly and asked myself “ is he belonged to this very earthly world where I stand? is he really a Mappila or a Genie?”. Usually, when I am about the finish the meal, as a wrap-up process,  I mix rice with fried chilly powder and char fried shred of a chicken leg . I presumed that concealed this habit well enough not to draw the attention of Kettle Sahib. But I was only little surprised when he noted that and catered me ladle full to find me solace.


When I was about the consume that dumpling of rice mixer , leaping in the surge of emotions,  my heart began to condense tenderly and I wept hog-wild.  No one has ever fed food with such an unstinting benign manner  in my whole life. Even my own mother herself served the defiled meager rice broth that all my family members shared,  in her  niggling hands,  filled with dreariness. He is the foremost first person in my life, whom whole heartedly impetuously  serving me glut of food over and again eternally without any instance of tardiness. Motherly hands those are, the very  same soothing hands which  feed people in  bedridden final stages of life. Yes!! This hairy, hoarsely, bearly  hands are  my  matriarch hands. From that outset,  I never paid money for my meal at Kettle Sahib’s hotel. I can swear on my studies, not in  a mere sake of cashing the saved money. No nestling pays back for his own mother bird feedings.  From that day on-wards, for the next 5 whole years, I never dropped a single paisa in the cash tin box.  


There was no turn back in my life as I slowly raised in green wave propitiously , ever since then.  I began to partake daily once, either lunch or dinner at Kettle Sahib hotel.  That meal was sufficient  for that whole day.  Additionally, I just consumed 4 idlys in mornings. A tinge of shine emerged in my cheeks. From a boy, I became a sturdy man.  My pencil thin mustache turned intense. Adam’s apple vanished as my voice raised.  I started to confab cheerily with friends. I took my time to spruce myself and walked confidently with  a little swagger.  In panikar’s warehouse,  I was assigned to the position on par of a manager,  maintenance of the  inventory records and tracking the  goods transfer, put on to my shoulders with a hiked salary. Soon I cleared my fee dues and  retrieved back my  course workbooks from Aunty after ponied up my debt.  I even began to the money order, some of my saved amounts to my father. I rented a comfortable single room about Arunachalam Nadar departmental store. I also had money to  fulfill my mini childhood dream of own a bicycle.


As months passed on, I ensconced myself in Kettle Sahib foodshed.   I had a little  doubt  that  he is observing me, as it seemed like he slowly was  shedding  his asperity while serving me. There was a little chance that he is noticing myself turned as a man. Nevertheless, at the moment when I see those lovish motherly hands,  falling out of the scrupling thoughts,   consumed in imagining myself as a suckling who supping the breast milk of motherly Kettle Sahib’s. Over my home in Osaravillai,  my brother upon completing schooling, successfully  received the driving License. As a next step, he applied and mustered in government job of public transport bus driver with a sassy salary. Soon my family  drifted away from the glare of poverty. I visited my home more regularly than earlier. My mother started to buy  better brand rice and fishes to prepare the meal during my presence. She was a good cook with better ingredients, as the gravy well prepared by sauteing sardine fish, added tamarind water, pepper mixed with Samba(*)  Rice. But the lifelong poverty she dwelled with, cuffed  her serving tendency miserly.  If I ask for little extra gravy, she would respond with diminutive drops, by keeping an eye on the pot,  where she would toss it back the remaining gravy.  Such an effect of the lassitude serving by my mother, rice, broth dumpling in the fourth round would get the choke in my throat. “Eat it dear!!” she would insist feebly. I would unseat and wash my hand in next minute purging the remaining meal.


I scored second highest mark in University MA. Soon after valedictory gathering, I was offered a  job of lecturer in the same university college. Receiving the appointment order,  I cycled straight to Kettle Sahib. Hotel was not opened yet. Unable to wait to see face of Sahib,  furling through the juke sheet, I gate crashed  the back door. He was sprinkling the vegetable oil  poaching the  fish in a behemoth wok. His whole hands, eyes coordinately  focusing on the job. I did not want to distract him as it looked like he was conducting a prayer ceremony. I returned back and waited till the hotel open. In the afternoon lunch time, I saw the unimpeachable face of Kettle Sahib. As always, there was no special glance for me. I decided not share my happiness with him. That would  make no difference to him.


In the evening, I went to my home village Oosaravillai. I was not able to grasp the feeling of my mother as she always wore a surly face. My father though asked, “What is your salary, son?” . I said “It is just enough, Dad. ” trying to skulk away from the cold probe. He asked again “Would you get 200 per month?” I was offended  by the footling clerk in that question “ Including  allowance, I take home 700, Dad.” I said proudly. In a fleet moment, a conspicuous  vengeance  speckled and  disappeared in  the eyes of my father.  I  never forgot  those 2 seconds, in my entire life. As a  feckless account keeper, he never received more than 20 rupees per month until his retirement. It seemed like only my brother was honestly happy, “So, You will be lecturing in  English. Thats cool.  You write and speak English like British then?” bobbling around me. My mother piped in   “ Ok.  Fun aside, save the money  for future of our family. Do not spend extravagantly” said distraitly.

Using the opportune moment, my mother unleashed her suppressed ego fanning out to its  maximum degree ,  “Do you know the state of swanky Thazhakudi Aunty? What all  she spoke when she lived on clover ?   I saw her attending  Shanmugam marriage. She became thin as a weed.  Lord  punished her for all sinister deeds”  my mother emitted  scathe brickbats. “Why are you shouting, did she not lent her hand, fed your son on critical time? You should remember her timely help” said my father. “What a phony help from  that  stingy witch?  Let us settle that pelf amount. I can’t bear the sight of her tugging the sleeves at my threshold”  my mother. "Shut your mouth, you henpecking spoilage!!” shouted my father,  as a start to a fresh quarrel.

Next day, I went to Thazhakudi Aunty there. It had been 2 years since my uncle’s expiry. Everything occurred in a flash. He was admitted to hospital after a sudden febrile illness aggravated. I had taken care of bed-ridden uncle for a couple of days without realizing that he was in his final 2 days. The plaque built on his teeth cum sprawling the bacteria deep till his heart inflicted his death in the third day of admission. By the  second afternoon of cremation, we calculated the loan amount which exceeded slightly above Rs 2000 .  Press  owner compelled them to vacate.  She decided to short sell the printing press equipments in order to settle the loan. Later she decided to go back to her mother home at Thazhakudi, as she owned some land. With whatever remaining money, she took a home for rent. Ramalakshmi discontinued her studies intermediate 11th standard. Day by day,  money she held, ramped down rapidly. As a result, losing her will and withstand, she wilted in the wistful thoughts about future . On my every visit to Osaravillai, I took time to visit Aunty’s home for courtesy and keep ten rupee note on the table upon my return.

This time, Aunty was not there. I found lone Ramalakshmi reading a Rani Muthu Tamil novel in a home. Grown Ramalakshmi shedding her puerile out looked  pale  and attenuated just like her mother. Their jerry-built home just had a tiny front-yard, kitchen, and a small room. The awash mattress was hanging curly on the washing lines. I could see the cow dung mixer was sprayed generously in the house. She slipped out through the backdoors, returned back borrowing either sugar or tea powder and offered me black tea. No doubt, she was a supple, sprightly gaiety girl with just a demerit of ne'er-do-well in maths. I recollected , when I was  in Thiruvananthapuram, I  touted her calculation of compound interest itself as long as 20 days.   Hiding her entire constitution behind the door, she was peeking out through the door. I  just had a glance at her face.  I was silence as I was not sure what to talk to her. She looked like an entirely different person from whom I knew.

Not so comfortable minutes rolled slowly between us. As I was about to start back, Ramalakshmi  insisted “Mom would arrive at any time. Please wait!!”  uttering in a tender voice. “No, I got some work to do. I am leaving!!” I replied upon placing a 50 rupee note on top of the table.  I saw mami lurching in the opposite side, when  I was crossing the  edge of the ginnel. She held a crocheted basket on top of her head,  using her saree end as sort of a clipper to hold it still. In first few moments, she did not realize who it was, after some few seconds “Dear o God. It is you my son!! ” she exclaimed. Lifting the basket on my arm, I took down the basket by my shoulder.   It was filled with beige colored flaky stuff, looked like chaff. It appeared that she must have collected as wage for her coolie work.  “Come home dear!” called she, pulling my hands.  “No, I am in a hurry.  I got to go to Thiruvananthapuram today itself.” I replied. “Aunty, I got a job, in colleg,e” I said politely.  She was impassive in reacting as poverty benighted her perceiving sense.


Once bell rang in her brain,  “Great.. Long live you.. God  bless you.  dear !!” said she yanking my hand towards her. “I thought of ask you after you settled in  such a permanent job. As you  very well know ,  we are helpless. Devoid of any money. Have a look at the basket, this too, I earn by pounding rice for the whole day travailed in pain. If I don't sell this bran by today evening, we have to eat this very same bran.  This will tell you my  current situation. But don’t forget that when you were all at sea, I catered you. You turned a man only by consuming food with this  my very own hands, for 8 months as many times as 500. Every day I offered you rice and good curries. Poor Ramalakshmi down on her luck. She has been dreaming about you day and night. Offer her a toehold dear. If you don’t do the justification for the food you  consumed in my home, you ought to settle it eternally. I know very well, your mother will not heed to this proposal.  But I entreat you to give her life. dear! ” she delineated.

When I departed from Thazhakudy, I could clearly perceive the spurious theatrical voice of Aunty, grated on my nerves.  I felt as though my entire body effused with rancor. I was spitting continuously trying the eject the last bit of  bitterness. Had my  newly joined  work, perforce,  not consummate my brain in, I would be porting that bitterness for an elongated time. When I received my first month’s salary, I sent the money order to my mother impromptu. In the reply letter ”Subbamma came here and talked to your father. You father himself is not fully convinced. My suggestion is we don’t need her relation anymore. If at all, you think she did help you, we can settle in cash as your wish either 200 or 300 rupees as that girl’s marriage gift.  We should not be in a position to owe her. I advise you to marry a girl in a higher status.  That only, good for your life and our family. Incidentally , I received details about a groom from Poodapandi having a wealthy background, Can I proceed further with this?” my mother wrote to me. I was not in full mind. I embroiled over my mother words in that whole night. In the morning, my mind was as clear as kara man ai river “Just make sure the girl is educated” I jot down her back.


In the mid of my very first month job, I enrolled into Saminada Iyer’s chit fund saving scheme, subscribing to the sum amount  of 20,000 with monthly recurring deposit 500. As per the fund agreement, at the earliest lucky draw, my lot was matured soon after my 8th month installment. Thus I was offered  accumulated amount of  as high as Rs16,000/- . With ebullience, I  received the currency bundle enfolded in Mathrubhumi daily paper comprising, full and full of fleecy 100 rupee notes. I never touched that much cash in my entire life.  Scudding fast to my room, I  spread that amount in my bed and watched the currency for a long time in bloom. Effect of the money, fuzzing around me,  induced goose bumps in my hands. Even in my wildest dream, it never occurred to me that I will have this much money in my hand at one day. At that stage, I can by a small turnkey house in Thiruvananthapuram . I simpered with amusement that my mind already acclimated to the that effect of the enormous money within a very short time as the excitement slowly faded away.


At lunch time, I went to kettle Sahib’s restaurant. When he opened the door and  I made a beeline to cash tin box and began to drop the amount, imparting one by one from the bundle, through the small slot of cash box in a gingerly pace. Once the money filled the cash box, I requested Kettle Sahib to bring another box. “Hey Hameed, change the box” ordered Kettle Sahib and I recommenced payment. After finished depositing the entire money saving no paisa, I washed my hand and seated for the meal. Kettle sahib unfurling the leaf plate in front of me placed my favorite Prawn fry. As always he stewed out the boiled rice, anointed gravy on top of it. I knew very well that , there would  be no difference in his attitude. Not even an additional word. In the crowd of ever teeming customers,  there were two skimpily clad unprepossessing  lads seemed like Nayar  boys,  sitting together with their nerves all in shreds. It seemed like there were enmeshed in the full colander rice and curries that Kettle Sahib piled upon their plate.  When one of them, exhaling and coughing was about to balk away from  Kettle Sahib when he just began to serve fried chicken. Sahib smacked on top of that waif’s pate “Eat it, Idiot!!” duly . It was a painful blow. He sat down at once and gorged the food hurriedly. I presumed that the chilly power fell into his eyes caused him to sob uncontrollably. 


Serene Kettle Sahib was serving  Fish, Chicken , Prawn curries to customers accordance with their desire as usual. I expected a benign glance from his eye. Should not my host mother bird know about his nestling, grown enough, to spread his independent wings?  His eyes never met my eyes. When he brought fish gravy for the second course rice, I just saw his gracious, coarse hands. These bearly hands are my  hands, only these fathom the depth of my stomach . 


I returned back to home and tied knot with Ramalakshmi in forthcame Avani(*) month.







<The End>
Notes:-
  • Mappila  - The member of a largest Muslim group of Indian state of Kerala
  • Beevi – wife
  • Kallayi Puzha – River of North Kerala, orginates from Western Ghat (Puzha – River)
  •  Manavaati – Sweetheart 
  •  Chaya – Tea
  • Kaarobaar – Business 
  •  Kufi topi - brimless, short, and rounded cap worn by men in many populations in North Africa, East Africa, Western Africa and Asia
  •  Nair/Nayar - The member of group of warrior caste belongs to Indian state of  kerala
  • Sambar -  is a lentil-based vegetable stew or chowder based on a broth made with tamarind popular in South Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil cuisines
  •  Achar - (In Indian cookery) A type of pickle in which the food is preserved in spiced oil
  •  Ana - A currency unit formerly used in India, equals to 1/16th of rupees 
  • Mami - Aunty
  • Idly  - Boied Rice Cake an usual breakfast of Sound India
  • Pradosam - Bimonthly auspicious day connected to worship of Shiva
  • Prasadam - Food that is a religious offered food in Temples
  • Vellalar/Pillai -Agricultor landlord community of People in Tamilnadu,
  • Samba - A high brand rice variety grown in India and Srilanka
  • Avani - Auspicious Tamil month suitable for marriage ceremony occuring mid-august to mid-september