Of the ten children my grandparents had, Unni uncle was the fourth and the least popular in the family. The family lived in the ancestral home, in the village of
Anadhikritapuram. Every year during the two months when the schools closed, family members from across all part of the country used to travel to this village. Grandfather with his hard work had set up a flourishing business. After his death in the sixties, the senior most uncles took over the business.
Unni in the local language of malayalam, meant ’child’ or ‘baby’. Years ago he definitely must have been a child but it seemed a silly name for a grown up ,who was a well-built six footer. He was a mystery to us kids. U uncle’s entry and exit into the house always went unnoticed. He would get up around two in the afternoon, opening the door of his room with a bang, go brush his teeth, take a bath and then come into the kitchen. The cooks would hurriedly make way for him as he was known for his temper. There had been times when he had dashed cooking pots against the kitchen wall just because there was a slight delay in serving him. He was a terror, hardly listened to anyone not even to his own mother. Grandmother had given up on him years back. Not that she hadn’t tried, but Uncle U was beyond improvement. After his breakfast cum lunch, which he had about three in the evening, he would get dressed and then leave the house. Some said it was drugs, others said it was alcohol, but the overall effect on uncle U was that he had turned into a social misfit. Given to violent tantrums, occasionally arguing and quarrelling with the family members, he was a disgrace to the family. Having said all that, he was a hero for us kids. Never ever did he misbehave with us, he even used to get us sweets and cheap toys once in a while. He also had access to the local movie theatre from where he used to get us movie reel clippings. occasionally we used to get to watch movies at the local theatre sitting in the projector room, all thanks to Uncle U.
Then one day there was a huge argument in the house. Not sure what the matter was but there was Uncle U on one side and the rest of the family on the other. There was a lot of shouting and screaming, the voices were carrying all over, for people walking on the street were climbing on to the boundary wall to have a look at what the commotion was all about. Then towards the evening things settled down a bit and all the elders went their ways. Uncle U went into his room and remained there for hours. Late in the evening the door opened with a bang as usual, there was a lot of smoke coming out. He must have been smoking the smelly powders he kept in his room. He stumbled out, eyes all red and blood-shot. Walked out of the main gate, he disappeared down the streets.
That night as the family was settling down for dinner, we heard some one shouting and banging on the main gates. It was one of the farm hands. Uncle U had climbed up an electric transformer and caught hold of some live wires, the high voltage had thrown him some meters away unconscious. The farm hands had carried him over. Quickly the gates were opened and still unconscious, he was taken to a hospital. It was not clear if it had been a suicide attempt or an overdose of the drugs that he had been smoking, whatever it was, it took him a week to recover. Grandmother maintained a bedside vigil for him throughout the time he was under sedation. There was a change in Uncle U after he returned from the hospital. He started getting up early, would take a bath and then go to the local temple. Evenings, again he would have a bath and make another visit to the temple. The family thought this was a the start of a recovery phase and was happy. By now our vacations were over and one by one the families returned .
In India, back in the seventies telephones were not as common as nowadays, and important news were conveyed by telegrams. One month after we returned from our vacations, a telegram arrived at our home. Uncle U had made a second attempt and this time had remained stuck on the transformer. The lights in the neighborhood had tripped and turned off the electricity, but by then Uncle U’s heart had already stopped.
Later the details of the final day came to us in a letter. On the fateful day he had got up early, had a bath and gone up to my eldest uncle and apologized for causing him all the trouble. He said he was sorry that he had caused so much pain and anguish to the family.Elder uncle had asked him to calm down and told him to forget about the past and to make a new start, even asked him to start looking into some the family business. Uncle U only smiled and nodded, then he had walked out of the house. Uncle U was 32 when he died.
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