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.