Summer Vacation-5

At this, Achutan removed his bidi from his mouth and put it away by the fireplace. He continued earnestly, ‘Not merely in this house. In the entire village, there isn’t a single soul whom Achutan loves as much as he loves you. Are aware of that child?’

I shook my head, meaning that I didn’t know. Wanting to change the subject, I asked him,’ Where were you born, Achutan?’

‘Achutan’s birth place! It’s nowhere nearby. It is a place called Perindri, you must have heard of it. Oh Dear, I can’t afford to stay here forever indulging in small talk with you. I mustn’t forget those greedy women waiting in the Tekkini. I have to serve that set of gossips their coffee and snacks, or else your Muthassi will kill me.’

‘Achutan, you don’t like those women, do you?’ I asked in a lowered voice.

‘No, I can’t stand the very sight of them. I don’t like women who go and gossip from one house to another.’

He put four vadas on a plate and gave it to me.  ‘By the time you finish eating those vadas your milk will be ready.’

Even the vadas smelt of Achutan’s bidis. But somehow I didn’t have heart to scold him.

At noon Muthassi sat on verandah, reading excerpts from the Ramayana. She used a pair of broken spectacles, holding them to her nose with her left hand.

I was very sleepy,so I stretched myself out on the bare tiled floor. I could see the shy through the railings of verandah: a glistening, silvery expanse.

‘Muthassi,’ I called out.

‘Mm?’ She stopped her reading and turned to me.

‘Will you be unhappy when I leave?’


‘Terribly unhappy?’

‘Why should I be terribly unhappy, Ammu? You’ll come again next year, won’t you?’

‘But…if you die meanwhile…’

Muthassi brushed aside my fears with a laugh.

‘ I won’t die so soon, Ammu. I will live long enough to see you married and have children. Isn’t that enough?’

‘Muthassi, please tell me. Who will I marry?’

‘Who knows!’ Muthassi turned her gaze to the sky. ‘I don’t know. Only god knows.’

It was very comforting to put my head on the Muthassi’s lap. Gradually my eyes closed. I could hear the humming of a bumble bee from some part of the verandah. Muthassi explained, ‘ The bumble bee is building its nest.’

Very much later, I work up to find Muthassi was not there. I was lying on a woven grass mat with a pillow under my head. Where had Muthassi disappeared? I had strange sensation of having slept for years together, during which time Muthassi had died. I sat up, startled. The bumble bee was still humming.

‘Muthassi,’ I called out.

From somewhere below came Muthassi’s answer to my call. I got up, went slowly down the stairs and reached Tekkini. Nani Amma who earned her livelihood by pounding rice was there with her five-year-old daughter. As soon as the little girl saw me, she hid her face with one end of her mother’s mundu.

Muthassi was sitting by the inner courtyard,  making cotton wicks for the oil lamp. She had stretched her legs out on a bamboo mat and was putting away cotton wicks, one by one, into a biscuit tin.

‘Nani, do you think I can go on having avil made just to provide you with a job? The avil you pounded last time is not yet finished. I know you have lot of money worries, but I have no way of helping you if you come to me every other day with your requests. ‘

Nani Amma bowed her head. She stroked her daughter’s hair and smiled. I was fascinated by the iron ring she wore on her right hand, a ring with intricate work on it. She wore a shabby mundu and torn blouse. And yet, I thought, she was lucky to be wearing such unusual ring.

I went near them to take a closer look at the child. She came upto my shoulders, and was dark skinned – so dark that it was difficult to make out here  the roots of her hair started. I would call that colour the very essence of black.  The only clothing she had on was a skirt with red spots. There was a black knotted thread around her neck.

I asked her, ‘ What is your name?’ She did not reply, but hid her face and most of her body behind Nani Amma’s mundu.

Nani Amma answered, ‘Amini- that’s her name.’

Now Muthassi asked, ‘ How old is the girl Nani?’

‘She was born when that terrible storm stuck our village;’ Nani Amma said dramatically. Everyone was in a hurry to leave their houses with their beds and their cooking vessels. Only I remained, unable to get up from where I was lying. I told myself, if I am destined to die like this, then let me die.’

‘But the fact is,’Muthassi interjected jokingly, ‘that you didn’t die. That means your time hadn’t come, Nani.’

Putting away all the cotton wicks in the tin, Muthassi stood up. ‘Come, Nani,come to the Vedakkini. Let me give the little girl something to eat, maybe the dosas left over from breakfast.’

The Vedakkini, as I remember it, it was a dark room with a jackfruit in one corner, kept there for ripening, along with a basket of tamarind.

‘Sit down,’ Muthassi said to Nani Amma. Nani Amma whispered softly into child’s ears. She wiped the floor by brushing it with her bare feet, took the mundu from her shoulders, spread it on floor and sat on it. The child stood behind her, only her shining eyes visible in the darkness. It seemed to me there was no child,  only those eyes suspended in the darkness.

I went to the kitchen in search of Muthassi. She was busy putting out pieces of dosa on a plantain leaf. The dosas were stale, having been left in the open, on the window-still, since morning.

‘Are you going to give those pieces of dosa to that child?’ I asked Muthassi.

She nodded.

‘Haven’t they been left in the open for rather a long time? I saw flies hovering there. Don’t you think the child might fall ill if she eats them?’

Muthassi hesitated for a moment. Then she said with a laugh, ‘All right, Ammu, I won’t given them to her. What about the snacks that were prepared this afternoon? Are you happy now?’

Half an hour later, I saw Nani Amma had food and tea. She was carrying a small basket containing the rice Muthassi had given to her. She said to her child,’Amini, just hold his basket for a moment. Let me tie my mundu properly.’