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A portrait of Mrs & Mr. KR

 

Chirichenne mayakkiya midukki penne…..Honeymoon kondadum jnan Amerikkayil……, Kottayathonnirangum jnan varunna vazhi……..

.( Hey smart girl who seduced me with your laugh……{We} will spend my honeymoon in America, land in Kottayam and buy a tiny dress for…) 


A popular malayalam song of the sixties which the characters described here seemed to have enacted word by word!!!!


Achan, who used to read newspapers and novels well into the wee hours of the night without skipping a single line, that included even the ubiquitous obituaries that appeared in the Malayalam dailies, knew London well enough, needless to say, because of his reading habits - Sherlock Holmes and P G Wodehouse being some of his favourites. Added to this Achan, having lived through the vestiges of colonial rule, witnessed the genesis of the Republic of India. So the hybrid education of Malayalam and English mediums also with a spatter of Sanskrit had gifted him with a deeper understanding of the cultural differences and similarities. 


He used to comment on totally comic situations quoting from Shakespeare or Dr. Johnson, even while the idea would be serious and thought provoking, sending his listeners into splits of laughter, though the authors would probably have somersaulted in their graves! Agatha Christie, Bernard Shaw, A.J.Cronin to name a few, were some of the authors he enjoyed thoroughly. The repertoire of writers he keenly followed over the years included his admiration for a sense of humour. An avid reader of a contemporary American cartoonist, author, humorist, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit, best known for his cartoons and short stories, James A.Thurber, contrasted with his habit of regaling us with poems of triumvirate poets (Adhhunikakavithrayam) of Malayalam poetry - N. Kumaran Asan, Vallathol Narayana Menon and Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer - as he drove the car, keeping us entertained in those bygone days when music devices did not exist. His appreciation of humour even went to the extent of his breaking his vow not to watch movies, for he did take us kids to watch 101 Dalmatians, That Darn Cat,  Chitty,chitty, bang, bang and a couple of Charlie Chaplin movies. Among the writers and thinkers, Winston Churchill whom he admired greatly did pop up in between.


Achan’s favourite destinations that he walked or drove to on his visits home were the British Council and Public Library at Trivandrum where he often took us with the promise of  a Masala dosa or a bite from a Cadbury chocolate bar (only a bite mind you!! – sharing was ingrained in us at an early age. Another stricture he followed with us was window shopping – it was strictly that - admire the goodies from afar, a habit that does not die hard even in these days of gross commercialization) I still remember curling up on the huge comfortable sofa covered in blue, in the reading section of Trivandrum Public Library, devouring Orlando, the Marmalade Cat ! 

 

The fact that Achan was of a different mettle and stood out in a crowd was proven many a time. One interesting fact that Achan recounted whenever there was a reference to the World War II and Hiroshima bombing was his observation at local teashops, (a virtual news hub of Kerala even today). The only one to understand the gory significance of the Holocaust, the Bombing and its fall out, he had to often explain its significance in detail to the locals gathered early in the morning for a frothy cup of tea accompanied by foaming and fizzy news.



Late Dr. N.S. Warrier, retired as Principal,
 University College, Thiruvanathapuram,
 Kerala


Amma, though a school dropout, was very much aware of England and London. Her brother-in-law Dr. N.S Warrier, who retired as the Principal, University College, Trivandrum had received his research degree in Organic Chemistry from Birbeck, University of London. On his return, he had gifted Amma with a golden watch which I used to wear proudly, reminisce Chandri. though she regrets that she never bothered to know the brand! 


Amma’s knowledge of England and the English was limited but Amma was not unpretentious though….for she boasted that she delivered Chandri two weeks after Queen Elizabeth delivered Prince Charles on the  14th of November 1948, as though it mattered a lot that she had labored like the Queen !


Despite the fact that Amma had attended school only five years she was an avid reader of the Malayalam newspaper and her general knowledge was surprisingly and sufficiently intelligent. Her day started early with full throated music practice to the accompaniment of the beat of the whole family’s laundry that she washed. The music continued as she plucked flowers for offering to her array of Gods while at the same time she watered the garden. Around 7.45 am she avidly practiced music lessons transmitted on the radio to the exclusion of all duties at that point of time, even though it was the crucial moment when all of us started for school or college. Wet from her gardening, her long wet thick black hair tied in a rough chignon, her full throated singing voice would often silence us into submission, meekly ironing our dress and packing our lunch.


A lull in the day’s activities, before she gets into the last minute garnishing of the day’s menu, would see her spread on the floor, stretched under the fan with the newspaper in her hand. A sprig of green tulsi(basil) leaves and a white fresh pinwheel flower would be hiding in her long hair, spread out to dry on the yellow and green mosaic floor. Holding on tight to the flying sheets, she would read Kerala Kaumudi, the Malayalam newspaper - passing loud comments on the latest political news, politicians, and sundry news items to the exclusion of games. At times she would call out to Dad sitting and reading the English papers outside on the veranda the moment she notices anything funny … The long drawn endearment “e…..e’’ in Amma’s grating musical voice would elicit an immediate response from Achan, who would complete the sentence she is reading to the dot: and they would laugh together.... Achan, for knowing what she was going to say and Amma for Achan having found out what she was reading….he had an uncanny knack to preempt her thoughts. This was a game that all of us loved to witness and laugh altogether. 


Amma’s kindness and concern to all and sundry had no limits. Once in Kottayam she employed an itinerant seller of lemons as an assistant cook to her own cook with the only aim of helping him. Both the cooks had the same name, Krishnan..so one was white Krishnan while the other was addressed as black Krishnan. For just four in the family at the time, we had two cooks and two maids…a very potent alchemy…Often, our naughty and well-proportioned maid used to play practical jokes on these guys…..like the time, she took a rocksalt crystal tied to a thread and held just above the lips of the sleeping cook prompting his tongue to jut out to lick it!


Another instance that Chandri, a teenager herself, witnessed in those days was when the cooks’ quirky  habit of hastily getting rid of  stumps of the beedis they smoke on hearing Amma or Achan coming their way, ended up in them setting fire to the hay stack near the house at dead of night, close to the landlord’s  sawmill – luckily the sawmill escaped the raging inferno by the skin of the teeth.. the logs spread on the big yard still there - ready for to be transferred to the sawmill by elephants next morning. Neither did our sweet cow and nor its tiny calf get cooked fortunately!! 

 Kala: Chandri! Talking of Kottayam days, did Amma not appear for high school exams in Kottayam?

Chandrika:  Of course she did!!  It is another unforgettable event in Amma’s life. She appeared for S.S.L.C. along with Padminiedathi(Cousin Padmini)


Amma’s eldest sister, widowed at an early age had only one daughter among six boys. Cousin Padmini or Padminiedathi, as elder sisters are often addressed, being of marriageable age, Amma was keen on ensuring that she is well educated – which in those days meant to pass the secondary level examination called Secondary School Leaving Certificate or S.S.L.C. Amma’s enthusiasm was boundless and she decided to set an example by preparing for the examination herself, along with her niece, Padmini. So both of them were learning from the two masters… my cousins who stayed nearby and whose sense of humour was simply amazing. The poem Father Damien, my sister fondly remembers, they were learning by rote. The brothers would come out with new vocabulary, supposedly invented by the ladies…like for example, the understanding they decided meant to stand below or under!!!! To cut a long story short finally the day of the examination arrived and both of them, like excited schoolchildren, got ready and went for the exam. Their sense of achievement lasted for a month or so, light footed and forever laughing, repeating their lessons to each other but then the results were announced. 


In our days the results of the .S.S.L.C exam, published in newspapers, had a star adjacent  to the number of the student who got a first class. Nail biting and thoroughly excited,  Amma and Padminiedathi however could not find their numbers either in the first class with a star as they had prayed for – nor in the section without the star. The naughty tutor-brothers though were confident of the results very early in the day. Pretending they had a Eureka moment, they honoured the brave women with the degree S.A.B.F -  S.S.L.C.  Appeared But Failed.!  The ladies never took a repeat though they got more chances to further their adventures later in life when Padmini got married and we left for Trivandrum.

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