Katha kettutha.. – the words echoing in my ears for a month now. Did you hear the story? That’s the literal meaning of it. But the depth and profoundness of those words are unfathomable to me. Every time he asks if I ‘heard the story’ , there is a great deal of wisdom, love and thrill in his words. The undying spirit of a man eager to live life to its fullest. The man who’s only a memory now. But his words and his stories are etched forever in my thoughts.
So he died. Big deal. People die. Hundreds of thousands of people do. A hundred lives passed as I typed this sentence, all over the world. But when it’s close home, that’s when it halts the world. It was unexpected now. He was doing good, going by his life and taking care of ammammai, and watching over all of us. But I wouldn’t say it’s out of nowhere. He was old. And I thought he was dying a decade ago when he was hospitalised. Somehow with a certain age, you think people are ‘die-able’. And he was in that category. More than anyone else, he was the one who made peace with it the most. He wrote down his obituary, funeral arrangements, last wishes, and namesake will of all his and his wife’s belongings to the last detail. Neatly folded the document and entrusted with my dad for safekeeping, only to be presented when the ‘time’ comes. Without exaggeration, I literally wrote down his exact words with some fillers for his own obituary in the newspapers. I couldn’t believe I was doing so but did that without a thought anyway. Thatha never stops to awe you, never ever. He was a meticulous man, even in death.
It’s been exactly a month now. Am I seeking closure? A week ago when I started writing this, closure is what I sought. From the time of hearing the news, until this moment, I can’t stop hearing he asking me ‘katha kettutha’. Through the rites, I hardly cried. I was in a trance, shocked by this voice in my head. It felt like there are more stories he wanted to say, more memories he had to share and more about him that we all had to know. With time, of course the voice is fading. And that’s when I realized what I seek is not closure. What I seek is for his memory to stay with me. Not once a year during thavasham. Not when I taste a food he liked, or when I hear his name, or see ammammai. I want to bear him in my thoughts as a constant. A random story he once said, his mannerisms, his appearance, the ring he never let me have but always let me try steal..
I thought seeing ammammai without pottu would be the most heartbreaking thing after. It is the empty arm chair and the missing ring to steal that kill me though. It’s not what he was to others, it is who he was. S. Narayanan.
Janaki bhai. Or Janaki ammoomma? She made a transition to and fro between the two. She came into my life as my pseudo-nanny. She didn’t really baby-sit me, but picked me up from kindergarten and walked me to a day-care nearby. I’d spend my evening with Valsala ammoomma till dad came to pick me up. Valsala ammoomma had many kids my age to cater to, and an assistant, Mani chechi. By the time I reach the day-care, everyone would be up, having their evening snacks. Mani chechi would play with us for a while and soon leave, as the kids start leaving. One by one, all of them would leave, and it’d be just me and Valsala ammoomma. She’d then take me to her home adjacent to the day-care. I’d watch her make tea and crush the areca nut, layer the tobacco and make a cute betel leaf pocket with a touch of slaked lime. It is a beautiful sight to watch her meticulously prepare the murukkaan (paan’s Kerala version). Then she’d offer me a piping hot cup of tea to relish. I was hesitant initially, mostly because tea was a new thing and I was worried if parents wouldn’t approve of it. Mind you, I was barely 5. But when I finally took the cup, I tasted the most exquisite ‘chaaya‘ and the taste still lingers in my tongue. Every ‘good’ chaaya ever since takes me back to Valsala ammoomma’s kitchen and the kitchen doorway where I sat watching the bustling traffic. Memories like these come with a tinge of loss and a lot of happiness.
That was an unplanned digression. But one is incomplete without the other. Back to Janaki ammoomma, somewhere in the middle of all these, she got promoted as a house help for my working mom. As kindergarten came to an end and when day-care was not very exciting, I started coming back home to Janaki ammoomma who waited for me at the door. She’d clean and I’d watch TV, and she’d keep me company till parents come. Things changed when sister came into the scene and I grew old enough to be home alone. Amidst and beyond all of that, some things haven’t changed. The memory of she running to reach home lest I be alone, the rare occasions where the ‘auto chettan’ who picked me up from school picked her up too, panting and running on her way to our home. Her overgrown mole in the middle of her chin, her frail build, her rough hands that used to hold my hand walking from school to the day-care, her alcoholic son, and most of all her calling me “Soumyakkutty…”!
P.S. Ammoomma is Malayalam for grandma.
Classical music is something very close to my heart. Neither am I a singer nor can I even actually enjoy it. But it is a very nostalgic thing to me. It reminds me of the ‘horrific’ music classes I was forced to attend, the ‘rich’ family where most relatives have got something to do with music and all those dreadful Navaratri days when I was forced to sing at random homes. Most of my painful associations with music came to a stop ever since I passed on the baton to my sister. The only difference perhaps is that she actually sings. There was a time in life where I was very choosy about the genres of music. Over time, I’ve begun to realize music is all that matters, no matter the genre. I now listen to very random tunes and enjoy the presence of music in life. I’m no longer searching for the music of my life, but merely bobbing my head and tapping my toes to every tune that flows by. Life is so beautiful when you discover the music in it. Wavy and fluid.
Yet another train journey. Yet another set of co-passengers. Yet another episode of effortless conversation. This time with a kid, much younger than my little sis! Meaning, I have no experience talking to such small kids. So as anyone could dare, I started off the conversation with a casual smile which she returned, and we held on it. She was an easy person to talk to, despite her age. Forgot her name already, rather, I quite didn’t understand the name when she told me. A less heard unique name. But her life, in the quite two hours of acquaintance, seemed usual to me. Typical parents, asking her to do that, not do this, take this, not take that, look here, not there, sit straight, not clumsy, oh my, the list goes on! The kid was being instructed about how to place the water bottle on the holder, as upto how to adjust her legs for the co-passenger (which was me!)!! I grew embarrassed looking at the child. At her untold apprehension. And inexpressive mannerisms. She was asked to wash, she did. Eat, she did. Wash again, she did. Take hands of the window sill, she did. Fold her legs to keep it neat, she did. Holy crap! Did they just stop by giving birth to the kid or did they go upto even teaching her to breath, giving lectures on pranayama!?!
I don’t share a similar childhood. I have had a much free and liberal days of growing up, when I got to mould myself into what I genuinely cherished and totally desired! My life is my decisions. And that’s the best thing that anyone can look at onself and say, at all odds and evens! And may be, this realisation is why I so much pitied the child. The parents seemed too unaware about how protection of their has outgrown the requisites and grown into unfathomable levels of obssession and over protection! All I could was to smile at her, making her feel done-it-all-seen-it-all aura, that I earnestly cooked up!