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.