Thursday, September 27, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Epiloque

Ammomma died three years later in her sleep. Along with her breath was gone the one true memory of Madan Tharavad. While the pyre was lite by father in the courtyard near the cowshed, I sat on the bed in her small room where she had lived most of her aged life.

The wooden window panels still streaked with white lime fingerprints, red paan stained the outside ledge of the window where her spit fell short. I reached under the bed and pulled out the copper spittoon. The contents inside swirled. I went outside to the well and from the water in the bucket, rinsed the spittoon. I reached for the ash ,kept in the coconut shell near the well for washing vessels, and scrubbed the spittoon clean using the coconut husk. I was vigorously scrubbing it with the husk, when I felt my mothers touch on my shoulder.

She kneeled next to me and put her hands over mine, stopping me. I leaned against her, burying my face into her sari. I felt her tears drop on my head.

We left the village to take up a place in the city when I joined a collage there. Our house was rented to the new village postmaster. My visits to the village was at best erratic in the beginning, which slowly ceased to naught in the coming years.

I came to know through Bala who visited me once that Madan Tharavad was now under property dispute . After the disappearance of the only legal heir , Maya Anthurjanam, there was a legal haggle over the property. The main players seemed to have been some distant relatives of Bhargavi Amma, Vishnu Naboodri's wife.

After my college, my parents started arranging for my marriage. A part of me wanted to revolt against their wishes, but seeing my father's worsening health, I went along with it. The bridegroom was a shy , young man with a wisp of a moustache who was a doctor in America. I liked his smile.

Invitations for the marriage had been sent to everyone in the village. Many turned up with their well wishes and steel vessels as presents. Aathu was there with a grin as wide as his face. His hair finally tamed. Basheer had got a visa and had gone to Dubai.

I left with my newly acquired husband to the shores of America two months after our marriage.

It was for my fathers funeral that I visited my village again. He had insisted that he be cremated in his property. I was not saddened at his death. He had been bedridden a long time. Death came like a long awaited friend.

I stayed over after the funeral at our house, along with Amma, as the post master's guest for a couple of days. My husband had chosen to stay with the kids back in States. I had taken a months break from my job at the university. I had to make a decision about Amma, the last thread binding me to my past ; to all that was me.

The village had changed in my absence, in subtle ways. Where Madhavan's cashew trees stood, now was covered with lines of rubber trees, each wearing a coconut shell, looking to me for a moment like girls carrying the lamps at the temple deeparadhana. The old mud paths have made way to tarred road with pot holes. I walked towards Madan Tharavad.

A large wall covered the compound, with shredded glass embedded on top to discourage trespassers. Through the wrought iron gate I saw a well maintained garden and a pebbled pathway leading to a concrete mansion. On the gate was welded a Beware of the dog sign with a portrait of an Alsatian Dog painted for good measure. On cue I heard the distant barks of the model.

I walked back to our house.

In the evening , a knock on the door announced a visitor. It was Aathu. A taller, fatter, older Aathu, with the same wide smile. We spoke through the night, sitting in the Varandha, sipping pipping hot black coffee. Aathu kept on puffing at his India King. He spoke of reservation, caste rights, communism , of white khadi shirts and red flags. I listened. I remembered the little boy who clung to my skirt. I smiled.

Just before my return to the States, my mother made her decision to stay back in the village, refusing my offer of coming back with me. She occupied the small room where Ammomma stayed. The room had been whitewashed . The window panels painted a light blue.

I left the next day. I watched my village pass through the window of the Ambassador car which sped towards the airport. The car drove through the road that passed the tharavad. As we sped fast , I caught a glimpse of a figure at the wrought iron gate.

It was a small girl of nine in a white petty coat.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 9

It was a school holiday. I had grabbed Achan's big black umbrella and ran out into the rain after rushing through a breakfast of puttu mixed with ripe padayamkulam banana and sugar.

Amma called out something. It was drowned in the rain.

A chilly wind swept over me, while the rain pitter pattered on my umbrella. I walked faster. My skirt and shirt getting drenched by the rain that was blown in by the wind. At the side of the road, Madhavan's cow grazed, oblivious to the rain. Its dung lay like greenish brown cakes ,on the grass , pitted by the rain.

I climbed through the fence and entered the Madan tharavad.

The ground was soggy due to the rain. I was worried about the snakes, since their usual haunts would have been flooded. I stepped gingerly over the debris. I reached the veranda of the illum. The remains of its roof offered a respite from the downpour. I kept the umbrella open , as I walked into the illum. Mini water falls from the roofs had flooded the insides.

I looked for Maya everywhere in the illum and could not find her. The old store room laid empty and open to the nature. Water was pooling on the floor , her bedding and the pathayam soaked. I wanted to call out to her but knew that I would not get any answers.

I walked towards the temple. She could have taken shelter under the banyan tree.

The monsoon had darkened the sky. A lightening flashed across, illuminating the illum in a blinding white , followed closely by the loud clap of thunder, startling me.

I reached the banyan tree. She was not there.

I looked around frantically. There was no place for her to go to; to hide from this rain. One part of my mind reminded me that she has survived many monsoons before my acquaintance, with out any help.

The ottupurra in the village temple?

No, she would not risk being seen.

The tharavad pond. The enclosure had a roof and the parapet would offer a good place away from the rain.

Yes. She would probably be watching the rain fall in the pond. I made my way to the pond.

Something made me stop as i neared the enclosure.

Some one was calling out her name.


I cautiously walked towards the voice.

There was someone standing outside the ponds entrance.

I stayed hidden in the midst of the estate, the rain concealing my presence, while I watched.

The lone figure stood outside, exposed to the rain, his back to me. Grey matted locks of hair was piled above his head in a large knot. In one arm he held a trident, around the neck of which was tied a black cloth that hung limp wet.

He stood stark naked.

A naga sanyassi.

'Maya' He called again.

From within the enclosure Maya emerged out, hesitatingly to the open wooden door. She stood by the door looking with the same emotionless eyes at the man that stood drenched in the thulavarshum rain.

'Maya' he addressed her, there was calmness in that voice. A confidence. As if this naked old man owned the universe. 'Come'

Maya stepped out into the rain . She stood facing the fearsome figure.

'I have come to you as Brahman' I heard him say.

'Swami' Maya whispered. Her face contorted as if in agony. The rain mercifully washed her tears as it emerged.

The sanyassi, stepped towards Maya and gently removed the thin towel that served as her anga vastram and dropped it to the ground.

Then he reached and undid her mundu, letting it fall.

Maya stood naked before him.

He then put forth his cupped palms and let the rain collect in it. This he poured over Maya Anthurjanam's head. Anointing her.

He placed the open palms on her head and chanted :

Guru Brahmo , guru vishnu, guru devo mahaswara
Guru sakshal parabh brahmo tastmai sree guruve namaha

Maya kneeled and touched the feet of the sanyassi. He helped her to her feet.

I backed off from where I stood and started walking towards the path that lead to the fence. The rain had eased. Drops of rain , trapped in the leaves of the trees dripped down. I looked back.

They were no longer there.

All that remained were the pile of Maya Anthujanam's mundu and thorthu lying in the mud being soaked by the gentle rain.

Glossary :

Guru brahmo... : Guru is the creator Brahma, Guru is the preserver Vishnu, Guru is the destroyer Siva. Guru is directly the supreme spirit — I offer my salutations to this Guru

thorthu : a thin cotton towel.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 8

I sat up in the bed and leaned against the head board.

'Ammomma,' I asked, ' Was Vishnu Namboodri a bad man?'

Ammomma was silent for sometime. I thought she had not heard me.

'No kutti,' she answered, still looking at the full moon that shined silver through the silhouette of the coconut trees; ' Vishnu Naboodri was the result of those days. He was loved in this village for many of his qualities. He was a generous man. He was also feared for his temper but he acted much like any other father would have done.'

She lapsed into her silence. The only sound being the chewing of her paan.

' You think Achan will let me marry Athu?' I asked apprehensively

Ammomma turned to me; her lips curved into a smile , she took me in her arms. I snuggled into her vast bosom.

She released me to spit into the copper spitoon which was kept under the bed.

' I promise not to kick Athu in the chest' Ammommma said, laughing, which shook her big pendulous breasts, as she lay down beside me.

I curled closer to her, taking in her spicy smell.

' If the Namboodri was bad, then all of us were bad, kutti' She whispered almost to herself.

I kept silent. Waiting for her to continue. She didn't.

I heard her breathing growing heavy after sometime. I lay awake listening to her soft snores.

' I saw Maya Anthurjanam today' I said softly.

Ammomma snored on. I waited for some kind of response. Anything.


At the near drowsiness in the advent of sleep, I thought I heard Ammomma.

'Poor Maya.'

In the months that followed , my visits to Madan Tharavadu became a routine. I never mentioned those trips to anybody. It was to remain my little secret.

I sighted Maya Anthurjanam more often in these trip. I found out that she seemed to have a routine. She spend most of her time in the vicinity of the thravad temple beneath the large banyan tree. She apparently always ate the food she got from the temple in the remnants of her room.That seemed to be the only meal she took.I always saw the fresh banana leaf on top of the decaying pile of previously used leaves. She also slept in the same room , the same place, on top of the pathayam. She bathed everyday evening at the pond. She wore the same tattered mundu.

If she saw me, she never gave any signs. In the beginning I started attributing it to blindness. I tested my assumption by moving her clothes from the steps and placing it on the parapet while she was taking a bath, one evening,at the pond

I watched the result of my experiment through the gap in the enclosure door. I saw her step naked onto the steps and climb the stairs to reach her cloths. Water dripped from her grey locks of hair. She seemed oblivious to her nakedness.

She could see.

But there was no emotion in that sight. No annoyance. No recognition. Just an acceptance of everything.

That evening I stood by the door while she dressed and walked out , passing me.

She just walked past.

So that's how it remained.

I always kept a distance from Maya Anthurjanam. Since I knew her whereabouts, I always seek ed her out when I visited the tharavad. I found her proximity comforting . I did try to leave things for her , like food and clothes; but always found it remaining in the same place, untouched, the next day. Eventually I stopped trying to befriend her. I just let her be and she never did acknowledge me.

It seemed inevitable that soon I was spending more of my free time in the silent company of Maya Anthurjanam than with my friends. To avoid their suspicious queries, I started spending a token period with them and then excusing myself in the pretext of going back home. The boys didn't seem to mind my absence, even though I did note a wary look in Athu's eyes. I avoided looking at him when I went away.

It was October. Thula varsham had started. The time of torrential rains , fearful thunder and lightening. I was not to know then but my clandestine tryst with Maya Anthurjanam and her cursed tharavad was soon coming to an end.


Kutti : child

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Maya Aanthurjanam - Chapter 7

Over the days I managed to sneak into Madan Tharavadu many times. I went alone. Somehow I felt safe there. Leaving when it started getting dark.

I used to go there during the weekends when the rest of the kids where playing in the fields or swimming in the river. I spend a lot of time just roaming around inside the illum. I explored every bit of Madan Tharavadu. I found a nest of sparrows on the roof beams in one of the inner rooms. I spend time drawing on the inside wall with charcoal pieces that I found inside the house.

It was on my fifth visit to the tharavad that I saw Maya Aantharjanam again.

I had wandered into the enclosure of the tharavad pond. It was a Sunday afternoon. I had come to the tharavadu after my lunch. I had told Amma that I was going fishing with Aathu. To show the honesty of my intention, I had taken along with me the fishing rod, which was a sturdy long guava branch with 3 meter of nylon thread at the end of which was tied a hook. A round pebble was tied about ten inches away from the hook to serve as a sinker and a piece of banana stem was tied about midway which served as the float. I had wound the nylon string around the rod and had pierced the hook into the wood to hold it in place. I had no intention of going with Athu. I had seen the Tharavad pond in one of my sojourns and had decided that I will try my luck there.

The Illum offered me a solitude which I used to find very comforting. Moreover I did not have any friends of my gender. The boys were more fun to be around with than Meenakshi, Lekshimi and Fatima , who also studied in the same class. But off late I had been feeling the need to distance myself from them. I preferred my own company. I found their games like spearing mud crabs revolting. I also hated it when they used to make me be the watch while they did all the fun stuff.

I entered the enclosure that held the pond. The wooden door opened into a fleet of stone stairs that lead down to the pond. On both side of the stairs was a parapet. Above the stairs was the remnants of a terracotta tiled roof. The entire pond was enclosed within the walls, that was made from large clay bricks which was covered in moss.

The pond was green due to the algae, dry leaves partly covered its surface. I sat at the last step and cast my line. Large dragon flies skimped the surface of the pond. It was peacefully quite , broken by the occasional faint splash of some fish that had broken the surface to catch an unsuspecting insect.

I must have dozed off, because suddenly I realized that it was getting late. I had no bite either. I pulled in my line and wrapped it around the rod. I scooped a handful of water after clearing away the leaves and washed my face with it. The water, to my surprise was not smelling bad, instead was cool and refreshing. I wiped my face on my skirt and turned around to walk up the stairs.

That's when I saw her.

She was sitting hunched on the parapet. She sat in the darkness under the shade of the roof overhead.

I froze where I stood.

She did not appear to be looking at me. She stared straight ahead at some unknown sight. Immobile. Like a statue.

I wondered how long she has been there. Was she sitting there when I had come? If she was I would not have noticed. She was so silent.

I slowly started climbing the stairs. My eyes fixed on the impassive figure. She did not move or even acknowledge my presence. I reached the opened wooden door and ran outside. A sound of movement from within the enclosure made me stop. I went back to the door and peered through the opening, keeping my body hidden behind it.

Maya Anthurjanam was standing at the last step. Her back was towards me. She took off the piece of cloth that was draped around her shoulder and placed it on the step beside her. Then she undid the knot of her mundu and folding it , she placed it on top of her other garment. She stood thus naked for sometime, looking straight ahead. She reached behind her head with both her hands and untied her bundled hair, letting a tumble of grey dreadlocks fall back , stopping just short of her buttocks. All her movements were graceful. I watched mesmerised.

Her body looked youthful. If not for her grey hair, she would have been mistaken for someone far younger than her actual years. She walked into the pond, stopping where it reached up to her shoulder. Then with a thrust she swam to the middle of the pond. Cutting through the carpet of dry leaves, she left a trail of green water behind her.

I do not know if she saw me. Perhaps she did see me but she made no sign of it. I watched her swim in that deserted pond, in which the legend said her mother had drowned in. I stood there while the setting sun cast a reddish glow on the pond and its swimmer.

When I reached home that day, I realized that I had left my fishing rod at the entrance of the Madan Tharavadu pond.

That night I lay next to Ammomma. She had just finished preparing her paan and wiped the trace of lime from her finger on the wooden window sill. The sill was covered with the white lime markings. If I sat and counted , I probably would have been able to calculate how many paan Ammomma must have chewed in that room.

She sat next to me and looked out of the open window. I lay awake watching her in the darkness. The moonlight outside lit up the inside of the room in its silvery glaze. I fell asleep watching Ammomma staring out lost in her thoughts.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Maya Aanthurjanam - Chapter 6

'I think the whole of the village heard your screams last night' I laughingly told Athu. We were on the way to the Government School where we studied.

Athu looked up at me and then continued looking at his feet as we walked through the dusty path to the school. He was sulking. He blamed me for his beatings.

'How many did you get?' I asked.

'Ten.' He answered, barely audible.

'With the stick?' I tried to show interest. Athu's mother normally beats him with whatever comes in her hand. Off late she has started keeping a cane specifically dedicated to beat Athu. The cane was long and yellow and was kept tucked into the tatch of the roof inside.

Athu nodded.

'Where?' I asked.

'On my bum' He replied, his left hand stroked it in memory.

'I got beaten too' I lied. I thought that would make him cheer up a little bit.

Athu looked at me , interested.

'I got hit on the hand. Achan never hits me anywhere else.' I knew that if I had said that I got hit on my behind, Athu would have asked me to show the marks. He knew that I have on occasions stretched the truth a little bit.

Athu just nodded.

'Hey Athu, Mashi chedi!' I said excitedly.

'Where?' Athu asked.

There was a clump of mashi chedi growing on the side of the path. We plucked the succulent stems out. Next to a water soaked handkerchief, mashi chedi stems were the best thing to wipe our slates clean.

We picked up our slates and slate pencils , which we had thrown aside. With a pocket full of Mashi chedi stems, we continued towards the school.

'I hope Kellu gets bitten by a snake.' Athu said.

'I hope he gets bitten by a cobra' I countered.

Athu laughed. We heard the distant ringing of the school bell and saw Basheer, Bala and others running to the school.

'Come on' I cried and started running to join the others.

In the evening, we all walked back to our homes through Madhavan's parambu which was filled with cashew trees. The pungent, rich smell of over ripe cashew apples filled the air. We picked up red cashew apple that had fallen on the ground. Basheer was busy plucking out the nuts from the fruits, which we planned to roast. Athu was on top of one tree reliving himself . A yellow arc of his piss splashed on the dry cashew leaves. Bala was throwing the cashew apples at Athu.

I sat on a low branch , munching on a cashew apple. The juice had spilled onto the front of my white shirt creating a yellow stain for which Iam sure of getting a shouting from Amma.

My thoughts were about Maya Aanthurjanam. I was sure of having seen her. I did not tell anyone about it. Not even to Athu.

Maya Aanthurjanam was old. She would have been younger than Ammomma but was old never the less. She had seemed like a shadow. Very frail. What I had noticed was how she was watching us. There was nothing behind that look ,apart from watching.

A shadow. I wondered if that was what madness was about. Seeing but not registering. Being but aloof. Alive but dead within.

In the distance I saw Madhavan coming towards us at a fast pace. I whistled the warning ,jumped down from the branch, picked up the pile of slates and pencils and ran towards the boys, who were already running out of the estate.

Glossary :

Parambu : property/estate/field

Monday, September 17, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 5

Green moss covered the walls of the tharavadu. The whitewashed walls were now in some areas black. Partial parts of the roof remained. Broken tiles, pieces of termite ridden wood and parts of the broken walls littered the vicinity. Weeds had encroached inside the illum.

Attu and I stood at the courtyard, where Sashi was kicked and spat at.

'Lets go in' I whispered .

Attu shook his head violently to negate my proposal. He moved closer to me.

The illum did not look as bad as had imagined it to be. A forsaken place. Neglected.Not evil.

I grabbed Attu by the wrist and walked towards the illum.

Attu , by the time I reached the steps that lead to the veranda of the illum, was a dead weight. I was so angry at his fright and glared at him.

He looked back like a panic stricken animal.

'Come on' I snapped.

We walked hand in hand into the Illum. The steps that lead to the inner rooms had crumbled .The stones laid exposed where the mortar that held it together had worn away. A carpet of dark, moist dead leaves covered the floor. Large cobwebs covered the corners of the wooden skeleton of the roof, through which sunlight sneaked its way into the illum.

'Watch out for snakes.' I whispered to Attu. I felt Attus hands tighten in mine.

Attu was scared. Wait till I let the gang knows about this.

I was hoping that the snakes will avoid us when they hear our foot steps on the leaves . Then I recalled the sluggish viper that bite the rubber tapper Kumaran. It lay coiled in the dry leaves , completely camouflaged. Kumaran was bite when he came ten inches near the snake. Kesu Ammavan who heard Kumaran's cries of agony, together with the neighbours, carried Kumaran to the Visha Vaidyan. Ammomma said that it was only the miraculous power of the Vaidyan that saved Kumaran from a painful death.

A feeling of chill crept up my spine at my inauspicious memory.

I still wanted to see the store room. We walked into the dark recess of the building.

I pushed open the remnants of a door and entered a room. The room smelled musty. In the corner of the filthy room, sat an ancient reclining chair, the canvas seat ,which had lost all color to become a non distinct grey color ,was still intact.

Both of us stood at the door way.

'Vishnu Namboodri!' screamed Attu breaking away from my grip and running towards the chair.

He jumped onto the canvas seat , turning in midair to land on his behind . There was a loud crash.

Attu had fallen through the rotted cloth. His legs protruded out of the frame of the chair.

I fell on the floor laughing. From within the broken chair came Attu's giggles.

I helped Attu to his feet and urged him to be quite.

We proceeded with our snooping, forgetting all about snakes and ghosts; caught in this wonderful moment of adventure.

'Look what I found!' Attu screamed from somewhere in the Illum. His shouting startled me in the midst of digging in the draw of a dilapidated cupboard.

'I found the store room!' Attu's voice reverberated within the ruin.

I ran towards it.

Attu was standing at the entrance to a room . I pushed past him and entered the store room.

It was nothing like I imagined. Part of the roof no longer existed. The afternoon sun lite the small room. Surprisingly the room was well kept and neat. The pathayam ,an old wooden box, which in ancient times was used for storing rice, still stood under the part of the room where the roof was intact. A tattered sack cloth was spread on top of it.

This is where she sleeps. My heart was racing in the excitement. I looked around , half expecting to see the infamous pile of shit in the corner. There was nothing there. Just the Pathayam with the makeshift bedding.

Attu and I spend a long time in that small room. Outside the window there was a pile of banana leaves; most dried and wilted brown but some still green.

Maya Aanthurjanam was still alive! She still lived in the illum!

I felt a tug on my petticoat.Attu had a pleading look in his eyes.

' Lets go' he begged,' its getting dark and Amma will get worried.'

I knew that Attu had a guaranteed beating when he gets back home for being late and not going home for lunch.

I took Aattu's hand and walked out to the veranda. Dusk was approaching. The crows were coming back to the estate trees to roost. Their cawing filled the air.

By now Attu was leading me, hurrying to get back home. I looked back at the illum.

At the veranda stood a forlorn figure.

She stood at the doorway and was watching us.

I gasped. Attu turned towards me with a look of total alarm.

'What!?' he asked, fear wrinkling his brows, eyes pleading not to have us go back again.

'Nothing.' I replied.

We walked back to our homes.


Visha Vaidyan : An ayurvedic medicine practitioner who specializes in snake bites

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 4

In the beginning, the villagers heard Maya Anthurjanam . Cries in the night. Sudden laughter echoing from the estate. Soon, some started catching glimpses of a woman in tattered clothing, covered in dirt with wild hair. The villagers left the woman alone. Some where deep inside their collective souls ,they felt responsible for her fate by not acting. The guilt made them sympathetic.

The village children named her Madan Bhranthi. The name stuck. The poojari of the Devi temple left her the temple prasad, served on a banana leaf,every night at the oottupura floor.No one in the village taunted her. No stone were thrown at her. No children teased her by calling her names and chasing her. The village left her alone. They left the cursed thravad alone. They left her to her dreams and memories - or whatever was left of it.

Madan Bhranthi never left the illum or the estate, apart to snatch the banana leaf left for her at the temple, which was very close to the tharavadu. Her life became the bedtime story for a new generation of children. Every child who ever, out of curiosity, ventured into the tharavadu , was given a thrashing or at the very least, a toungue lashing. Madan Tharavadu and its Bharanthi stood at that realms where reality meets myth.

Attu had seen her once or he thinks. He had gone looking for the kutti that had been hit into the Madan Tharavadu estate. They had been playing kuttiyum kolum . Attu was one of the fielders. Balu hit the kutti right into the coconut grove that bordered our make shift play ground which was the village road. Being the smallest, Attu was bullied into retrieving the kutti from the estate. We stood at the edge of the thorn bush fence, while Attu climbed the fence and walked in exaggerated stealth into the darkness of the estate.

A few minutes passed. The only sound being the buzz of the dragon flies that hovered near the paddy fields. We peered with intense concentration at the faint khaki color of Attu's shorts , which was the only thing we could make out.

Then Attu screamed. In seconds he had jumped over the fence and continued running. We didn't question. All of us ran.

Attu ran all the way to his hut, with us following him in sheer panic, even though we had no idea what we were running from. We found Attu behind the wall of the well that stood behind his hut; squatting; his hands wrapped around his knees and shaking. Rivulets of oily sweat ran from his head onto his skinny back.

Attu had seen Madan Bhranthi!

Attu became a celebrity among us for quite sometime. Slowly we pieced together the whole story, eventhough Attu's version became more dramatic and colorful each time he retold his experiences.

Attu had gone into the estate , which was in some ancient time, a coconut grove, but now, completely overrun by shrubs. It was very dark there. The sunlight broke the foliage in few areas. He started walking in the general direction he had seen the kutti fly. He was looking , rummaging through the dry leaves , cursing Balu, when he suddenly got a feeling that he was not alone.

Here Attu's voice drops in decible, while he continues the rest of his story in whispers

Someone was standing in front of him.

It was Madan Bhranthi. She was old. Her matted grey hair fell upto her waist. The mundu she had wrapped around her waist was dirty and torn in many places. A thin thorthu was drapped across her shoulder, covering her breast. Attu could not take his eyes off her eyes. It was bright and searching. She reached out to Attu. In her hands , she held the Kutti.

Attu ran.

In the coming days, I convinced Attu to accompany me to Madan Tharavadu. The truth was that I lacked the courage to go there alone. Ammumma's rendition of Vishnu Namboodri hanging from the wooden beam had a profound impression on me. Infact that image scared me more than running into Madan Bharanthi.

Atleast she was alive.

On the designated day, we took the same route Attu had taken earlier. He led the way, with me holding onto the back of his shorts. He showed me the very spot where he had seen the Madan Bharanthi. I looked around expecting her to come rushing out with the kutti in her hand crying out : here take it, take it , take it...

There was no body there. All we heard was the chirpping of the crickets and the farway haunting call of a solitary Chempothu.

Upon my insistence , we walked further torwards the Illum. Now I walked in front, with Attu holding onto my petticoat.Every now and then, I pushed down Attu's hold on the tip of my petticoat to avoid it being raised too high.

Thus we walked , one behind the other, pushing our way through the thick vegetation , towards the legendary Madan Tharavadu.


Bhranthi : Mad woman. Bhrant means delusional.
Oottupura : Feeding halls in temples where free food is distribued to devotees and the hungry.
Chempothu : A fairly big black bird with red wings. Makes a hooting sound.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 3

It had taken one Ezhavan man to break the power that Vishnu Namboodri held over the village. Over the years that passed, Vishnu Namboodri watched the respect and fear he inspired among the villagers melt away. In a state of desperation he started holding the most extravegant festivals at the temple. He hired twenty five elephants for the processions. He had fireworks to rival Thrisoorpuram. But it was all in vain. The esteem he had lost among the people could never be bought back again.

Somewhere along the way, Vishnu Namboodri took to the toddy that came from his depliting estate.Bhargavi Anthurjanam was found dead, one morning, floating in the Tharavadu Pond. Whispered stories spread among the village that she committed suicide. Some said that she was drowned the Namboodri. Some just shook their heads and said a silent prayer against the Ezhavan's curse.

Maya was still remained a prisoner in the store room, where her food was placed everyday at the small window sill by Naniamma , the Madan Tharavadu cook .

Vishnu Namboodri lived long. He suffered long. He stayed within the Tharavadu. All news about the Tharaavdu came from Naniamma, who spoke of the once powerful Namboodri, now a shrivelled old man seated on the easy chair in the dark confines of Thekkini, mumbling to himself.

The villagers started talking about strange occurances in the vicinity of the Tharavadu.

Kuttiamma's cow fell sick of a mysterious ailment , which made the cow bloat up and break out in sores. It died 2 days later. The cow had grazed in the over grown courtyard of Madan Tharavadu.

Gopi saw a blue light floating above the Madan Tharavadu roof one night. He was coming back after his bath at the Temple pond and had squatted near the open wooden gate of the Tharavadu to relive himself. He ran all the way back to his hut.

Soon, every one in the village had their own personal experiences. Naniamma stopped staying over night at the Tharavadu. Instead she started attending to the Illums requirement at day time and returning to her hut in the village before nighfall. She was convinced that the Tharavadu was over run with Kuttichattan, yakshis and other demons. She spoke of noises in the attic. Kitchen utensils falling by itself in the kitchen.

The villagers stopped taking the shortcut of the Tharavadu coconut groove to reach their homes. The pathways used for many generations soon disappeared under the wild grass.

The thravadu itself started falling apart. The pond where Bhargavi Amma drowned was covered with dead leaves. The water had turned thick and green with algae . The tiles on the roof that had broken from falling coconut were not replaced. Weeds and creepers overran the courtyard which was no longer being swept. Moss started growing on the walls that has not been whitewashed for years.

One day the panchayat meeting was held for the planning the temple festival for that year. Vishnu Namboodri was not even informed. Next day, Nanniamma went to the illum and found Vishnu Namboodri's corpse hanging from the wooden beam of the ceiling. He had used his mundu for the deed.

Naniamma ran out screaming.

The panchayat came back in the afternoon with some brave souls, who cut the mundu and lowered Vishnu Namboodri's bdoy to the ground. A cremation was done the same day in the courtyard. The mango tree near the well was used as fuel.

While the pyre burned, Naniamma entered the Illum for one last time. She took the key from inside the cupboard in Namboodri's bedroom and unlocked the store room.

Some where in the night, while the embers of the pyre glowed , the tharavadu was looted. Some blamed it on the gang of gypsies who had camped at the periphery of the village. Ammomma said that it was Naniamma's relatives. Either way, the doors of the illum stood pry ed open and everything of any value had been carted away. The panchayat members inspected the illum along with the Police. Nothing had been spared. They pushed open the store room door to finally release the legendary Maya.

The inside of the store room was dark and filthy. A stench of excrement emitted from the room. They saw what appeared to be scratch marks on the wall.

The room was empty.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 2

Madan Tharavadu, droned my grandmother in her wavering old voice, while she rubbed lime onto the betel leaf in her palm; was once a very prosperous Illum. It was an nallu kettu. They were a very prominent Brahman family. Vishnu Namboodri used to hold the temple festival every year. Some say that it was his generosity and extravagance that ruined them in the end. Some said it was the curse of the Ezhavan (low cast) man who was in love with Maya, Vishnu Naboodri's only daughter.

Ammomma, took out the betel nut cracker from her Paan Box and placed a betel nut piece in between the blades and broke the nut , which she placed in the leaf. She took a pinch of tobacco from the box and placed that along with the betel nut piece and folded the leaf to a triangle which she placed in her mouth very delicately.

I waited patiently. Watching. She started chewing. Then she took the spittoon from under the bed and held it close to her lips and spat into it. She rubbed a trail of the red juice from the corner of her mouth with her mundu and resumed.

Maya was very beautiful. Not many have actually seen her because the Brahman girls rarely ventured out side their illums.

Then how do you know she was beautiful, Ammomma? I asked . I shifted by head on top of the pillow.

Some have seen her, Ammomma said, stroking my hair, they used to talk about her beauty, her grace and her gentle nature. They say that Vishnu Namboodri adored his daughter but the villagers also spoke about his violent temper . The Devi used to heed his prayers. We used to fear him. He was a very powerful person in our village. His caste and wealth assured him of that.

Is it true that you never used to cover your breast in the old days ? I asked, with a smile.

She gave me a tap on the head and laughed. Not the Brahman girls.

I started giggling. I had told Athu about it and showed him my breast. He was not very interested. So we played, with me pulling down the petticoat to my waist tied around like a mundu , while Athu tied a thread across his body and pretended to be Vishnu Namdoodri.

Amma caught us at our game and gave me the worst thrashing ever. Later on , lying in my bed weeping, I could not help wonder why Athu could walk around in his khaki colored shorts bare chested. His chest looked no different from mine.

Sasi was the toddy tapper Chellapan's son. Ammomma continued. Chellapan used to tap the coconuts in Vishnu Namboodri's plantation. Chellapan had worked for Vishnu Namboodri all his adult life but he used to say that he had never seen Vishnu Namboodri's face because custom demanded that he ,an ezhavan , must look down in presence of a Namboodri. Sasi used to go along with Chellapan on his daily morning ritual of climbing the coconut trees, making a slit on the tender coconut with his sickle and tieing the earthen pot to collect the sap, which when fermented became toddy. This was sold to all the Toddy shops in the village.

Sasi must have been sixteen when he fist saw Maya. They used to meet each other at the temple pond at night. Who knows how it started. How they first met. We came to know about this when Vishnu Namboodri found out. He confronted his wife Bhargavi Aammalu first, with his fists. We heard her screams at our Illum. The next day we came to know through Karthiyani, the cook, that Maya was locked up in the store room.

The same day, Chellapans hut was burned down. Chellapan was dragged to Madan Thravadu courtyard by the villagers and tied to the banyan tree near the wall. There he was whipped by Namboodri's people. Sasi was held back by the villagers , while Chellapan was beaten . Each time the whip slashed across his father back, Sasi screamed. Chellapan was silent.

Maybe they did not intend to but when then untied Chellapan , he just collapsed onto the ground . Sasi broke free and ran to his father. We all watched while he tried to wake his father up.

I hide behind my mother when Sasi turned towards us, Ammomma said. He looked at us. The whole village, who watched the spectacle fell silent. Chellapan gasped one last time. Sasi screamed . He screamed at all of us.

Then he got and walked straight to Vishnu Namboodri who was sitting in the veranda of the illum.

Sasi called out : Vishnu!

Namboodri got up from his easy chair. Some of the male relatives rushed towards Sasi. Namboodri raised his hands. They stood their ground. He looked at Sasi.

We all watched .

Sasi was looking Vishnu Namboodri in the eye.

He asked Vishnu Namboodri to release Maya. He told that they will leave this village and will never be seen again.He knew that Maya will be punished until she died for dishonouring the family name. He begged Vishnu Namboodri to let them go.

Vishnu Namboodri looked at the pathetic figure standing before him in silence. He walked towards the young man. He stopped in front of Sasi. He spat at his face and then lifted his leg and kicked Sasi on the chest.

Sasi flew across the courtyard. He lay there. Covered in red dust. He looked up. The spittle dripped across his face like clear blood. He stood up. He looked at his father, lying under the banyan tree, then at us gathered there, finally stopped at Vishnu Namboodri.

' You ceased to be a Brahman today' He whispered. Then he turned and walked out of the courtyard.

From within the walls of the Madan Tharavadu, we heard a wail hardly human.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 1

'Don't you ever go there. Next time I see you there or hear that you been near that place, I will tie you to the mango tree and give you such a trashing that you will never forget it' He roared.

I squirmed in his grip trying my best to get away. I knew that my father will never beat me. His bark has always been worse than his bite but his loud voice had the desired effect. I cried.

Amma , who was watching the whole scene from behind the door , came running and tore me away from Achan and held me. She turned to my father, standing there, suddenly looking very awkward and looked at him accusingly.

' I don't want her anywhere near that Illum' He muttered, 'Ammukutti , you know what people say about that place. Its not safe.'

' Shes just a child ' Amma countered,' what does she know about all this?'

I sobbed a little harder for effect. Inwardly I cursed Kellu for snitching about my visit to Madan Tharavadu to Chellammma, our cook, who in turn whispered it to Amma with great drama and extra spices and Amma dutifully mentioned it to Achan. All hell broke loose after that.

Madan Tharavadu was just a furlong away from our tharavadu. It was a derelict place. The illum itself has been abandoned and seen many rainy seasons. All that remained now of a once prosperous household was a few walls and the beams of the roofs with very few terracotta tiles remaining. The courtyard was over run with Communist Pacha and was supposedly teeming with cobras. Creepers with big leaves covered the walls . It was very dark there, even during summer afternoons. The surrounding trees blocked all sunlight. To my nine year old self, this was heaven.

Donned in my white petticoat , I used to play with my neighbourhood kids. Athu was my favourite of the lot.He was a skinny kid, younger than me, with a unruly hat of hair, which used to stand in tufts defying his mother's attempt to tame it by applying vast quantity of oil on it.As a result, he used to be dripping in oil, streaking down his face, which mingled with his sweat when we played - his hair still stood in tufts.

Madan thravadu was more attractive to me because it was a restricted place to be in. Stories were galore in our village about its history. Some said that the Illum was haunted and that it carried a curse. Ever since I was four, Ammommma , my grandmother, used to tell me stories about Madan Tharavadu, as she patted me to sleep.

I used to drift off to sleep with the wonderful spicy rich smell of her paan breath engulfing me, my hands stroking the papery skin of her hands while she told me stories about Madan Tharavadu and Maya Anthurjanam.