Sunday, 14 September 2008


A wisp from the scented Agarbatti smoke waft towards me--the perfect background to the Kaniyaan’s words as he studies carefully the series of criss crossed lines on my outstretched palm.

After a long pause, he murmurs inaudibly, then sits back thoughtfully.

"Times are not good, kutty," he continues in the Palakkad slang I love to hear so much...

"Go home.You are not meant to be alone. Nobody is. Not even the stars. Even they need planetary movements to support their existence." He closes his books and sets his board aside, a soft wave of 70 years of experience crossing his face as he puts a wrinkled hand on my shoulder and nods his head in a way that reminds me of my father.

Outside,the rains are less forgiving.

Future has a way of arriving unnoticed, I muse aloud. Like the summer rains.

Half way down the ride, the autorickshaw I am travelling in comes to a rickety halt. The driver whisphers a drenched curse and pulls vigorously at a lever beside me.

Twenty minutes later, I am walking down the road, my wet hair hanging by my sides, the numbness enveloping me. I do not know if its the rain or the sharp slivers from my own cold emotions.

A pink board urging to fight breast cancer catch my eye. I stop to read. I see the smiling faces on the board and think of their darkest moments. I wonder if it was like mine. Did their thoughts get sucked in by the tiny nodes that were plugged on to their forehead? Could they feel the lashing waves that frothed at the end of their mouths?


A red and yellow board screams at me. I call the Kaniyaan again. I ask him how much longer I would live. The astrologer in him dissapears and my father's best friend begs me to return home. I disconnect the line during one of his helpless pauses. I know he is praying for me.

My pulse quickens at the urgency I feel somewhere inside my head.Desolation. I know I will dissapear into one of those dark tunnels again. Those unexplainable time warps that gnaw painfully at the ends of my nerves. I usually wake up from those episodes, my throat parched and covered in perspiration.

Today I feel prepared. I will fight them. I remember Achen's and Amma's faces over me. Achen's eyebrows narrowed in perpetual worry, Amma's face pale from crying. The medicines never helped then. The thick ropes did. The local temple priest narrated examples of countless people diagnosed with MPD(Multiple Personality Disorders) who were ‘disciplined by the gods.’ Prehistoric, but Achen and Amma succumbed to some raw reality that worked with the tautness of those ropes where the science behind chemicals failed.

I see a tea shop and step inside. I sit next to one of the surprised faces.The cantankerous noise inside ceases with my presence but an overwhelming stench is too strong to bear. A man in his early forties clad in just a chequered loin cloth rushes to my side, "Can I have a glass of hot tea, please?"I ask him almost immediately.

He looks around for a minute and then giving a wry smile tells me, "This is a toddy shop chechi.For men only."

His last line brings forth a blend of thunderous laughter and hoot-cries.

Of course, it is.How could I not recognise the stench.

I could now feel the knot within me unfurling itself like as if it had lost all hopes to remain taut and diplomatic and was eager to unleash its fury to the hilt.

Clearing my throat, I repeat my request more feebly than I want it to be. The man doesn't understand and my request is answered with more raucous laughter.

I stand up and  feel a strong nauseous wave throw me off balance. Ignoring it, I  march towards the kitchen , my insides threatening to burst out through my head.
A cold wet smell greets me as I enter the kitchen.I look around me for something to silence those countless groans of pain in my head.
Suddenly a noise startles me . I turn behind and see a young woman hurriedly searching for something among the dark silhouettes of the pots and pans. Clad in a knit top, muddied pair of chinos and flip flops, I am surprised to see someone like her within the dark interiors of a rustic toddy shop in a remote town in Kerala.
Murmuring something to herself in an irate tone,  she searches hurriedly among the numerous pots and pans that are now angrily strewn all across the floor.
“ Get out of my kitchen else I will call the police, you mad woman,” a male voice shrieks from the corner. The sharp glare of the daylight from outside prevents me from seeing the person to whom the voice belong. I look beside me and see the girl look at the doorway for a minute, before turning her head away. As if realising that her time was running out, she runs to the tap above a broken wash basin and holding her mouth very close to the rust coated pipe, drink with loud noisy slurps.
I had felt a deep sense of calm seeing her all along that I had forgotten my despair.Yet even as she drank the water, I could feel an inner thirst being quenched. I would have been staring at her pointedly for she suddenly raise her head and wipes wet strands away from her face and looking at me smiles and says, “I think I might not make it this time,Indu.I can no longer hear myself think.”
From beside the basin she takes an ugly knife and slashes both her wrists. There is a loud noise of rushing feet and people trying to jump over the broken shards of glass and pottery.
Suddenly I can only sense two beings in the room: just the two of us. I try to understand her smile but I know fate has delayed me as we look at each other.
Noiselessly she crumples on to the floor, the smile on her face frozen for time.
I had already felt the cold unwelcome touch of the hard kitchen floor.


Patrick said...

A great read Indu. You've got what it takes. A short stories book is just a short distance away, Keep at it. Patrick

Anonymous said...

Fantastic... never read anything like this before in my life!!

idiot of indian origin said...

i am originally from kerala. stumbled on you,while i was searching for another indu someone recommended. A rewarding accident i reckon !
this post of yours is frighteningly beautiful! girl, you are gifted.incredibly so. the way you described the 'chaayakada' was superb.meticulous 'n observant. lemme go back 'n read all of you.
- muralee maadhav.