Everyday evening, Meera would get off 278E, the bus from Shivaji Nagar and would religiously buy flowers from the flower vendor sitting outside the temple. The florist woman would measure the artfully strung flowers placing the free end to the tip of the middle finger measuring it up to the elbow joint – ”Oru Muzham – Patthu Roopa!’’ After buying the flowers, she would quietly take the road next to the Krishna temple. One day, the curious woman asked, “Amma, whom are you buying these flowers for?” Her eyes were moist with tears as she bravely replied, “For my husband. He died in the valley of flowers fighting for the country”. Meera’s answer lingered in the air for her Krishna to respond…
To see unfeigned happiness is a rarity. On that Diwali day, I was lucky enough to witness unadulterated joy. Crackers were going off in all directions, diyas lined the walls of houses and the balconies, joy filled the bright faces. I was bursting crackers and that was when, “Anna, anna oru pattaas kudukkaraengala?” (Brother, would you give me a Cracker?), a feeble but excited voice asked. Turning around, I saw a shabby looking kid probably from the nearby slums. Before even he could have completed the sentence, my mouth had uttered an unpleasant “No”. It took me just a few seconds to realize my mistake but by then the kid had disappeared into the festive crowd. Later in the night, I saw him digging into the cracker rubbish. He was collecting crackers that had failed to fire. With remorse, I approached him and tried to make it up for my inglorious act of the evening. I gifted him a small box full of sparklers and crackers. I also gave him a few unused T-Shirts of my nephew hoping that they would fit his frail frame. He quietly collected the packet and ran away without expressing any visible signs of gratitude. Five minutes later, I saw his cheerful eyes lit up with joy as he held the color sparklers wearing one of the T-shirts that I had gifted, which drooped halfway down his forearms! Happy Diwali, I told myself.
Stopping his car at the Pettikada the Man asked, “Naranga muttai undo? Randu Roopaikku!” (The cheapest sweet that one can get in the villages and pettikada is the small shop by the roadside esp. in villages). The Man looked at the glass jar filled with colorful sweets. Shopkeeper looked quizzically at the man and took a handful, wrapped it in a newspaper and handed the pack to the Man. As the windows of his BMW rolled up, he popped one mittai into his mouth and closed his eyes slipping into a trance. There, he became “Anthonikutty” wearing “Valli” trouser and wheeling a punctured cycle tyre through the mud roads.
Lost and Found
“Enji mittai, Enji mittaai”, “Choodulla vartha Choodulla vartha Mullaperiyar Anakettilil Villal, Vyapari Vyavasayi sammelanithil sangattenum 5 paerku parikku”. Varghese double checked the zip of his bag. The private bus to Pariyaram was about to start. 15 minutes of incident free journey to Pariyaram from Chalakudy, he prayed. He heard a whistle and the engine came to life… **** “Pariyaram…” He woke up startled. The bag was gone. His heart skipped a few beats and he felt short of breath. He had two lakhs of cash in that bag taken as loan for his daughter’s marriage. “Chetta… Here, your bag. You had slept off and the bag had fallen off.” He did not know how to thank that man. He just said, “Thanks…”
“Heeeyya.. Heeyya…” Ramu hid behind his dad’s Mundu tightly gripping his hands. It was his first week in India. The Oracle clad in a red cloth and a waist-let of jingling bells (aramani) paced in frenzy in and out of the temple courtyard. He carried a sword in his right hand and an anklet in his left. His family and other devotees stood in a circle. In the red oil lamps of the Bhagavathi temple, the Oracle resembled a mad man, jumping and dancing hysterically to the sounds of drum and illathalam. Then all of a sudden, he hit his head with the sword and blood oozed out of his head. Ramu’s grip on his dad’s fingers tightened. Then the drumbeats eased and his pace slowed. He approached Ramu’s grandmother and murmured something in her ears.
On their way back home, munching the tasty Prasadam, Ramu inquired his dad, “Acha, who was that? That was pretty frightening!!!” “Kuttaa, athaanu Velichappadu. Bhagavathi, through him answers all the questions we have in our minds. Once he gets possessed he speaks god’s voice”, his Dad explained to a wide-eyed Ramu.
“Really? I had one question in my mind. But, he didn’t answer that!” Ramu was sad as he said that. “What’s that?” asked his dad. “Where did Mom go?” Ramu looked at his dad’s gloomy face and his head drooped. Behind, in the rufescent lights of the flickering oil lamps, the exhausted oracle was stripping his makeup off.