Every year during school vacation, we used to take the first available train and travel to the village of Anadhikritapuram. In an age and time, when the inventors of satellite TV and mobile phones were still roaming around in their diapers, we children had to be innovative to spend time. We used to explore the village, chase butterflies and try to balance ourselves on buffaloes on their way to the pastures. We used to play the whole day and one of the places where we loved to run around was inside the village community centre. This was a huge hall in the middle of our village, where marriages and large public functions were held. While the enclosed walls, kept the football in, the roof on the top kept the rain out. This hall was owned by a relative of ours, and we were allowed to play there, as long as we did not break any of the windows or damage the chairs stacked neatly on one side.
This owner of the hall was called PS by all, which must have been his initials. About five feet tall and bald, he was in his early sixties, when I first met him. Technically, it would be wrong to call him bald. He had about ten long strands of hair on his head, which he had
dyed black and use to comb back across his shiny head. It was supposed to provide an illusion of his having a head full of hair, which is if you looked at him from a particular angle. This illusion would have worked, but for the fact that almost the entire village was almost a head taller than PS.
He was always dressed in a spotless white shirt and a white dhoti – a bed-sheet like garment, men in south India wind around the lower part of their bodies. Besides owning this community hall, he also owned a number of houses which he used to rent out.
PS had a slight behavioral problem, he considered himself as the Indian or rather the Anadhikritapuram version of Casanova and Romeo, rolled into one. The fact that he was already in his sixties, never seemed to deter him. Any woman who happened to pass by him was sure to get an admiring glance followed by some comments, though not always in that order. Now don’t go running away with the notion that these comments were rude or vulgar in any way. It could be a question here a remark there.
‘Kalyani, your sari looks very bright. Is it a new one?’
‘Janamma, where are you rushing, is everything ok?’
‘Ganga, why have you suddenly started dying your hair, you don’t look that old’.
The fact that these Kalyani, Janamma and Ganga’s could be in their graceful fifties and sixties did not matter to PS at all. For him they were all young and beautiful. Visiting our homes, he would directly make for the kitchen ignoring all the men sitting in the veranda. There in the kitchen he would gossip with the ladies, checking on what was cooking and also catching up on the latest social gossip. He was also a good cook and give tips on how to garnish dishes and spice up the already hot Kerala curries.
Every morning at eight sharp, he would be standing outside the gates of the marriage hall. Knowing him, the reason was very simple to guess. There were two schools on the same road and morning time was when the streets would be full of mothers bringing in their children. He would be busy talking to all of them, careful not to miss even a single person. Though from all accounts, he confined himself to this causal flirting. Nothing serious every turned up against his name, for not only was he happily married, he was also a grandfather.
Half way into our vacation, the marriage of one of my cousins was fixed. While the marriage was to be held in the same hall, we had to distribute invitations to the whole village. My cousin’s parents along with a couple of aunties and uncles went over to PS’s house to invite them over. He was sitting in the veranda, reading a newspaper. Briefly acknowledged our presence, he went back to his reading. His wife, Sumati aunty came out and took the ladies in our group inside. When Sumati aunty came out with some snacks, one of my uncles made a comment about how young she was looking, a comment that made us all laugh and aunty blush. PS did not look amused. He looked over the rim of his glasses, a frown on his face. The uncle, who had made the comment, froze half way through his laugh. Quickly we drank the hot tea and made our way out of his house. PS in his home was a different person, serious and quiet, the exact opposite of what he was outside.
Years later, while returning to our village, I came to know that PS had passed away in his eighties. In our village after a person’s death, a small structure is built which contains a brass pot with the dead person’s ashes. Every day after sunset, a member of the family burns an oil lamp at this structure, as a mark of respect and remembrance. Visiting PS’s home one evening, I saw his grand-daughter light the lamp and for a second I felt sad, but then I noticed some thing a bit strange. The structure built for PS appeared to be placed awkwardly near the boundary wall. Not sure if it was by accident or design, while it was far away from his house, it was right next to the boundary wall of the local women’s college.
- A life wasted (shortstoriesfromlife.wordpress.com)
- The Odd Couple (shortstoriesfromlife.wordpress.com)
- Some yoga soup for the soul (shortstoriesfromlife.wordpress.com)
- The doctor is in (shortstoriesfromlife.wordpress.com)
- The rise of the proletariat (shortstoriesfromlife.wordpress.com)
- The family that steals together stays together (shortstoriesfromlife.wordpress.com)