We always see the young generation have better grasp on advancement in technology. We caught up with computing (how to use a PC and Laptop) better than our parents did and see our children use social media and smart phone so effortlessly when we are baffled by it. I call myself very tech savvy, but it was Rachna, my daughter, who taught me how to write blogs on WordPress.
The story narrates once such change.
This is one more story which will keep you enthralled.
Father by my side.
பக்கத்தில் வந்த அப்பா
Raju Periappa (uncle) is actually a cousin to my father. But he was closer to him than his own brothers. When my father’s family lost everything and father was struggling to find a foothold in life with his young wife, it was Raju periappa who gave a helping hand. He transferred one of his money-making agencies to my father’s name. Only then my father could come up in life and became a name in the society. And my father carried this gratitude at the center of his heart. And my mother whole heartedly supported this. Whenever they talked about Raju uncle, they would become very emotional. Since our mother has narrated these stories many time to us, Ramani and I have started thinking of him as God.
Raju uncle would visit us only once in a year. When the letter reached us informing the date of his arrival, our house would go through an enormous transformation. He would sleep only in the rope cot. So, it would be taken out to the backyard and given a boiling hot-water bath to get rid of the bugs. Mom would make all the dry vegetables and pickles which were our uncle’s favorites. Dad would buy small hand-held fans with golden borders. In the afternoons, when uncle used to take his nap after lunch, Ramani and I would stand on either side of the cot and fan him. Ramani would always give me the foot side of the bed, her logic is I would not fan him on the face without hitting him. When mom called her, I would immediately switch to head side of the cot. And uncle would know this. He will let out a very thin smile and the smile would be so beautiful exposing reddish beetle stain on his lips. He had his favourite loom and father would buy special dhotis for uncle. Mom and dad would go and check which banana leaf to be cut for serving food to uncle. He would visit when our cow would have given birth and father would exclaim how uncle is always lucky to get very good milk.
Raju uncle’s family was big; he would comment one and half of a dozen (18). It was an exaggeration. Actually, it was fourteen. He had thirty grandsons and granddaughters. There was just one kitchen for the extended family. So, from this background when he came visiting us, he felt relieved. When he would try to leave, dad would make him stay back for few more days. Both would reminiscence their childhood days for hours on end and complete the conversation with a statement ‘everything has gone to dogs now.’ They would talk late into the night and wake up early in the morning and continue their talk. Father would actually feel bad that he had to leave uncle and go to the shop for work.
Telephone was not popular those days. One day an employee of the exchange came to our house and said there was a call from Cochin for dad. Mom and dad were crestfallen. Raju uncle lived in Cochin. I wanted to see dad’s face. But I could not go and stand in front of him. He would be in flames. A flame that would split into countless tongues, rise and hit the roof. In these times, as usual, I would climb on to the neem tree near the compound wall. I did the same that day. When the breeze moved the curtain of the window, I could see the flame and his face through it. I would explore his state of mind. Ramani had no such difficulties. She would go straight to him. She would even stand near his feet. Sometimes, dad would look around and he would give her a light hug and touch her forehead with affection. From the neem tree, I would watch this scene and Ramani would know it. She would look at me triumphantly to covey that father is hugging her and she is his pet. I would drag my mouth to a side to give her a nasty look. If the wind does not move the curtain fast enough, I would have to repeat my act many times.
I was looking at dad’s face with intent. His face had reddened. When he was worried, his left-hand fingers would press the bottom of his lips and push the muscles in chin upwards. He would keep staring at an object. Sometimes he would let out a big breath as if to show he has transformed his worries into the air. But I have not seen him with such a worried face. I got down from the neem tree and came by the front door and leaned against a pillar. I was sure he was not going to shout. “Call mom” he said very softly. I have never seen him speaking with such soft voice. I got down the steps and rubbed my feet on the doormat. He would think I am a wise boy. Only if they give me chance I can prove that I am also intelligent. It’s not that only Ramani has brains. Many times, even my brain works very well. But they are not giving me opportunities to show it. Mom came and stood behind the window which was looking at the entrance and cleared her throat. That was her place and clearing the throat announced her arrival. From now on, dad would look at the birds, the plants the coconut trees and ask many questions with or without relevance and mom would answer looking at the back of his head. If he asks silly questions, she would mimic towards us and reply to him in a soft voice.
“No one is here; only I have to go” shouted dad. Ramani and I moved to mom’s side. Through the window curtain I started counting the moles and dots on dad’s back. In a way father’s shouting was right. He has not gone anywhere. For his personal work and for our work either Sreenu uncle and Natraj uncle would go. Even Ananda aunty has gone on an errand after abruptly stopping the cooking she was doing in the kitchen. He has not gone to a post office or a hospital or a general store or to our school.
“Let’s see if someone is coming” mom said.
“Has anyone come here to help in an emergency? For everything, only I have to go” dad shouted harshly. Mom was about to laugh but she gently put her hands on her mouth and suppressed it. Ramani did the same and I pretended that I was getting the biggest laugh of all, and covered my mouth with both my hands. Otherwise Ramani would think I don’t understand the situation and she would insult me later. She won’t get her sleep unless she insults me. “Where is the phone call from?” mom asked for the third time. Though she knew the answer, she asked to calm things down. Dad did not reply as if to indicate there is no point in talking to fools.
Suddenly as if a lightning struck him, he wore his sandals and got down the stairs. Mom got frightened. “You go with him” she shouted at me. I was elated with this as I was considered not worthy of a penny.
By this time, dad had reached the main gate; he turned and shouted at mom, “why do I need him?”
Mom replied, “he would carry the umbrella.” Nothing can match mom’s presence of mind. Only if she says that I am useful for nonconsequential thing, dad would allow me to come with him. How mom knows all this? I ran to dad’s room, picked up his umbrella, hugged it close to my chest. No one has touched his umbrella before. When I came out, dad had travelled quite a distance that would be difficult to catch up. But I was not going to give up easily. I ran like wind after him. I braked at the right moment so that I would not dash against him. He has not even reached big school’s compound. When he looked at me he said, “fool why didn’t you wear your shirt?” That’s not the usual ‘fool’ he would say. That ‘fool’ was immersed in love. “I will wear and come back” I said and got ready to go back. “No! it’s OK. You are only a small kid” said dad. I was happy he called me small kid. I felt a huge flame was slowly turning into ice and the ice block was beginning to hug me. This is not imagination. Dad really took hold of my hands. How soft his gesture was! I wanted to roll down inside the ice block. His touch was making me feel like I was touched by mild electricity. I was keeping up pace with him, holding the umbrella.
The telephone exchange was next to high school. As you enter there was a big veranda. On the right-hand side, there was a large bench. On the left-hand side, a telephone cubicle was there. Dad has to go inside to talk on the telephone. I started to observe everything closely. I was sure I could help dad and make him talk about me highly with mom. Dad sat on the bench visibly tired. He was sweating profusely. I missed an opportunity. I should have held the umbrella for him. It proved that I was a ‘fool.’ But I can make amends. I wanted to console him and started thinking what mom would say on such occasions. It would be great if they inform that the call from Cochin was not for us.
I peeped into the office. A lady was sitting on the first seat. Mom has clearly taught us how to address people. She had taught whom to address ‘sister’ and whom to call ‘aunty.’ I felt she was more than sister but less than aunty. She was wearing a headphone like a pilot and removing wires and putting them back in many slots in-front of her. I said, “sister” and informed my name. She just indicated me to wait on the bench. I went and sat near dad. Every second was moving like an hour.
Suddenly she shouted my dad’s name and said, “please speak sir.” Dad with lot of confusion opened the glass door, picked up the receiver, kept it near his ears and shouted, “it’s me, it’s me”. The lady said, “Sir please don’t shout. Just wait. I am connecting your line.”
Since I have opened the door and kept my head inside, dad’s shouting was heard outside by everyone. I felt they were laughing at us. A young man, leaning on one of the pillars outside and smoking said, “what do you mean by saying it’s me, it’s me? You should tell your name.” I understood clearly. I told my dad, “dad tell your name.” Dad said seven or eight times, “it’s Sankaran.” He turned towards me and said, “I am not able to hear anything Balu” with lot of sadness and bitterness in his voice. I was happy that he was sharing his tough moments with me. I asked him, “can I talk dad?” I have become very courageous. He said, “OK you talk” and gave me the receiver. I said, “hello hello” immediately. That he has not used the word hello but I said that at the beginning must have surprised him, I thought. “Dad the voice is very clear. It’s Sreenu.” “OK talk” dad encouraged me. He kept his right hands on my shoulders. “Uncle is dead. Cousin is crying” I said. Dad got startled and took the receiver from me and said, “what Raju brother is dead” in a very loud voice. “Sir three minutes over” said a voice from inside the office.
When we neared the high school, dad sat down in the veranda and he was tired. He could not walk. Tears were falling down his cheeks. He kept his spectacles inside the pocket and cleared his tears with a kerchief. With one hand, he dragged and hugged me. I was feeling sad but at the same time I was feeling little pity for dad. I wanted to do something big but could not figure out what to do. Just like The God Hanuman in Susindram temple, I wanted to grow big in size, take my father on my shoulders, fly and gently drop in the terrace of our house. I pulled his hands and slowly guided him to our house.
He walked by the side of the house and reached the backyard and drew water from the well and took bath. He poured water on my head as well. Slowly he started bathing me. I was beginning to feel shy. Ramani was watching us from a distance. Dad was bathing me for a long time without realizing anything.
Even when mom compelled him to eat, he did not listen. He just put the mat on the floor and lied down. “What did we achieve by eating on time always?” he pondered loudly. I went near him, took the hand fan and swung it. Ramani was watching me all the time. But I did not care about it. There is no need for this anymore. If he is her father, he is my father too.
When he woke up, without asking him, mom put the plate and served food. When she started serving the rice on the plate, dad came and sat in front of the leaf. I was watching him. He did not say a word. I thought he was eating as usual. When he finished, he went and sat on the thinnai (a seating arrangement made of stone at the entrance of the house). Mom came and stood behind the window.
“The exchange is near the high school. Is it not?” asked mom. This actually meant she wanted dad to explain everything from the start. Dad let out huge breath and started. I went around the house and without dad seeing me, went near mom and sat under her feet. Now dad will tell everything about what I have accomplished today.
But as he started speaking, I realized it was taking a different direction. Not only he did not mention that I spoke on the telephone, he narrated as if he had managed everything by himself. I have bragged about my achievements to mom and Ramani. I pinched mom’s legs. She asked, “did Balu carry the umbrella for you?” “Why Balu? Could I not carry the umbrella? What does he know? He is a child. Has he seen a telephone or has he seen a Government office?” he said.
In the evening when Natarajan uncle and Sreenu uncle came he narrated the story again about uncle’s death. “Death will come to us all. We can’t prevent it” he said. He must have felt uncomfortable seeing me standing there. “Go inside and study!” he shouted at me. That old father again and the old shouting again.
I went through the backside and climbed on neem tree. As usual I held on to a branch and put my legs down. Ramani caught hold of it and climbed on top. She adjusted her skirt and sat on another branch. “All your sack of lies did not stand for even few minutes” she said.
“I swear on God Hanuman. I only spoke on the telephone and dad hugged me.” I shouted.
“For your empty lies don’t drag The God Hanuman” Ramani said.
I waited for a few minutes without saying anything. Lot of emotions were filing my heart.
“There is one more uncle who visit us Ramani. Is he younger or elder to Raju uncle?”
“Much elder” replied Ramani.
“Even when he dies phone call will come. That time also I will go with dad. You follow us and you will know the truth” I shouted not able to hold my anger.
“Fool, don’t blabber!” said Ramani.
Sundara Ramaswamy (1931–2005), fondly known as “Su.Ra” in literary circles, was one of the exponents of Tamil modern literature. He edited and published a literary magazine called Kalachuvadu. He wrote poetry under the penname “Pasuvayya”. His novels are Oru Puliya Marathin Kathai(Tamarind History), tr, Blake Wentworth, Penguin 2013, J.J Silakuripukal (J.J: Some Jottings, tr, A.R Venkatachalapathy, Katha, 2004) and Kuzhanthaigal, Pengal, Aangal (Children, Women, Men), tr, Lakshmi Holmstrom, Penguin 2013.
Ramaswamy was born on 30 May 1931, in Thazhuviya MahadevarKovil, (a village in Nagercoil). At 20, he began his literary career, translating Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai‘s Malayalam novel, Thottiyude Makan into Tamil and writing his first short story, “Muthalum Mudivum”, which he published in Pudimaipithan Ninaivu Malar. He died on 15 October 2005 (IST) aged 74.