Monthly Archives: November 2009

Interested only in ‘interest’

“Amen”, the audience said in chorus, drew the sign of the cross, murmured the last prayer and made a dash to the exit after the mass on Saturday morning. People who weren’t free from their commitments on Saturdays were the first ones to scoot. You’d witness a mixture of people, kids rushing for tuition classes, uncles and aunties who had to be the first in line at the butcher’s shop, ammachis who were offered a free ride in their kids’ cars for the weekend etc. The only ones who stayed back were people who had nothing else to do on a Saturday morning. Some of them would pray for a little longer, recite the rosary, some of them would go to the statues and photos in the church for a ‘special recommendation’ so that their prayers were answered soon. This also included members of different organizations working under the aegis of the church for the betterment of the society we live in. (At least the annual reports they present says so). Everyone is given a fair chance to be a part of any organization. There is a league for the kids, a movement of the youth, a forum for the mothers and fathers and some other groups named after saints when people felt they didn’t fit into any of the other groups. The St. Anthony’s society included the grandpas and grandmas, retired personnel, the omnipresent members who belonged to every organization etc. Some enthusiastic members would exit fast to grab the front row seats in the meeting for no apparent reason. By the time the oldies limp, hobble and make their way, the meeting would’ve already begun with another prayer and sign of the cross.

It was on one such Saturday that Ammini had come for the meeting, seeking financial help. She needed money to complete the construction of her house. Now, members of the group have burnt their fingers in many cases like this (it’s about money after all) and hence, pounced on her with questions. The number of questions asked and time taken for background check is always proportional to the number of years the group has been in existence. Now, the group members consist of people from all backgrounds. From the Retd.Colonel to the headmaster, from the accountants to the theatre artist, everyone had their share of inquiries. The accountants are considered to be the most inhumane of the lot, even though towards the end of the FY, when accounts are to be settled they are given a royal treatment. They are the ones with the most number of questions too. Ammini gasped for breath as she kept answering the rapid fire round of questions. Applying for a bank loan and the paper work wouldn’t be so tedious, she thought. Finally, the problem was laid for consideration.

Ammini lives with her husband and two kids. The husband cannot stand still until his internal organs are dissolved in alcohol. Ammini is the sole breadwinner, doing menial jobs in the area.Thankfully, both her daughters understood the importance of getting educated and were enrolled for a degree course in the college run by the Church. She had received a loan of 30k from the government for construction of her house. She was directed to approach St.Anthony’s society by a Good Samaritan who preferred to keep a low profile and thus, was instructed not to give out his identity. The accountants who had retired from govt. service raised their objection while others pondered on who the Good Samaritan could be. “Wasn’t that much money enough that many years ago to complete the construction?” they questioned considering themselves to be the keepers of the govt. treasury. The pinch of tax money you see… though the highest tax-payer from the group, nicknamed ‘Blade Chacko’ seemed disinterested. His only interest in life was to live on the interest he extorted.

Discussion ensued and the group concluded that, rather than providing the money for construction, they’d provide for her kids’ education, in the institution run by the Church authorities. Ammini didn’t seem satisfied and so did her handful of supporters which included the highly emotional Katrinammachi, who swore that these people are so heartless. Ammini insisted on getting help in cash than in kind. ‘Blade Chacko’, who normally never spoke up, tried vouching for her. But, majority of the members refused to provide money for the construction. They asked Ammini to wait outside and continued debating. Finally, they reached a decision and called her inside. The President cleared his throat, modulated his diplomatic tone and made the most neutral face he could ever manage to and said, “See Ammini, we can’t give you money to complete the construction. We are ready to provide free education for your kids in the college run by us, but any sort of monetary help can’t be provided at the moment”. If one could translate his words to harsh reality it meant ‘Take it or leave it’.

“Ayyoooo, njan Chackochante palisha engane adachu theerkum (how will I repay the interest I’m due to pay to Chackochan)”, Ammini wailed when she realized there was no way she’d get the money from the society. She then turned to ‘Blade Chacko’ and screamed, “ingeru paranjitta njan ivde vanne. Ende swarnam  ingerde aduthu panayathila. Palisha koduthillenkil ingerenne jeevikkan sammathikkilla( I came here because he asked me to do so. The little gold I have is in his custody. I need to pay him the regular interest or he makes my life a living hell).

‘Blade Chacko’ the so-called Good Samaritan stood frozen to the ground and all eyes remained fixed on him.

This is the story of Blade Chacko who sent a debtor to the church so that the fund made available is paid to him as interest money. The same ‘Blade Chacko’ who is a member of every organization in the church, the one who never misses a Holy Mass, the one who is actively involved in every activity of the church. There is no dearth of such ‘Blade Chackos’ in our part of the world. Last week, the Sunday homily involved a letter from the Bishop on efforts made by the church and allied organizations for serving the poor and downtrodden. But, with members like ‘Blade Chacko’ running the show, how far are these efforts realized? Self-interest and exorbitant rates of interest! *sigh *

(based on a true incident)


What you learn from kids

A few weeks back I was at my cousins’ school for their Annual Sports day. Not that I was too enthufied to attend a sports day. In school, I’d hide behind the crowds so that the teacher wouldn’t pick me to run a race. I was too young to understand that ‘trying is more important than victory’ yet old enough to understand how embarrassing it was to finish at the tail end of a race. The only thing we nonathletic people had to do on sports day was to be the ‘cheering group’ or else the PT display.

Anyways, my cousins have followed my footsteps and thus, the younger one went for her PT display carrying a pack of chips and other snacks. The purpose of my going there was to pick her up from school as the van wouldn’t ply that day. Thus, I went there, awed by the changes in the school, making the right expressions of ‘wow’ and ‘nice’ so that the little ones aren’t offended. Honestly, the school and the expenses remind me of the saying, “kaashu koduthu kadikkana patti vangikkua.” Out of the minimal working days they have 1/4th constitute some or the other celebration and the remaining days the cousins claim,” Today we enjoyed so much in class… nothing to do”. This is the case in a reputed convent run school here which have supermodels and PETA activists to claim in their alumni. The school is doing a good job at molding them too.

I was there feeling like a misfit amidst the various types of mommies and daddies. Kids displayed their athletic skills after which the chief guests and nuns displayed their oratory skills. The poor kids had enough, sitting in the hot sun. They just wanted to get over with it and head back home. Anyways, after waiting for ages, the ‘sports day’ ended after everyone was given a fair chance to display whatever ‘skills’ they possessed.

I was walking along with my cousins and witnessed a scene like this:

A kid (kid 1) was walking with her mother. Her friend came in the opposite direction and the mother of (kid 1) asked the friend (kid 2) the usual questions like ‘hi-how-are-you’

I don’t know what transpired between them but kid 2 continued walking and kid 1 yelled  ‘Have some manners ya. Is this how you speak to elders, at least give my mother a proper response and go’

The mother was embarrassed on the sudden outburst and tried hushing her daughter but I really admired  kid 1′ s guts. She stood up for what she believed was right.

It just reminded me of a similar incident that took place sometime back.

We were talking to the daughter of a so called acquaintance. She is as old as me. She has been here for a couple of months and we ran into each other in a rather unexpected place. Anyways, the daughter was with her friends and she was asking about where we stayed. Amma gave her the name of the location yet, the daughter started arguing with Amma about the name of the place. She was hell bent on making us accept that the name of the place was the one she said. Now who would know better about the name of the place we lived? My mom who has stayed here for 10+ 1 1/2  years or she who came here a few months back.What was the need for her to argue on such a trivial matter and that too in front of her gang of friends. What difference would it make for her? Yes,  sometimes I’m really embarrassed the way my generation behaves!

I wish I had guts like the kid to retort and teach her a lesson. That 7 year old kid had more sense than me. Me, thrice her age didn’t stand up for my mom, just chose to ignore it and gave up. Guess it isn’t so nice to be nice in this world these days.


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Changing times and traits

Say Kerala and the words ‘leftist, trade unionism and corruption’ are synonymous with it for the eternal cynics. A few months back, I was forced to speak on the same  ‘what ails Kerala’ in an interview by a panel member who held strong anti- Kerala views. In the mid 90s when we shifted to Kerala, well-wishers, family, friends everyone had an opinion to offer on how ‘Trivandrum is the epicenter of everything evil that exists in Kerala’. Yet, being the true blue mallu, any breeze that is a prelude to winds of change happening in this place cannot go unnoticed.

Circa 93-94

A couple of days after we reached Trivandrum, when the lorry carrying our belongings and furniture came, I was freaked out by the men clad in blue shirts, perched on different parts of the lorry. My seven-year old brain comprehended it as the ‘dacoits’ about whom you heard in stories. It was later on that I learnt they constituted the local trade union members. That was my first encounter with these Trade unionists who were despised by everyone in the locality. Being new to the place, we were cheated royally in terms of unloading charges and thus, began our cat and mouse chase with the Trade Union Members (TUs from now).

As per the rules those days, goods carried on hand carts could not be touched by these trade union members. Thus, a couple of months later, when we had to shift to another house in a nearby locality we hired a handcart to transport our stuff, with the sole purpose of avoiding these TU members. But, we had to pay a heavy price for it. The person who pushed the cart had to negotiate a steep slope, lost control for a few moments and our kanjoosi was repaid with a damage in the refrigerator, the door of my table refuses to budge even now, stuck in the 450 position and our furniture suffered a couple of dents.

It was not only the wear and tear that counted. The TUs came to know about what we did and staying in the same locality we invited the wrath of these people which was to be seen in years to come. They had a strong political backing those times and had a well-established network of informants who passed on the info about where, when and how load would arrive in the locality.

When the construction of our house began, these people acted like ‘hell hath no fury like a TU scorned’. That explains the exorbitant amounts we had to pay for loading and unloading purposes. People avoided these TUs like the plague. They would try to get the materials via an alternate route, or come past midnight, hoping none of them were around. But there was no respite from the shackles of these TUs. Many a times I’ve woken up at ungodly hours like 2-2.30 am hearing the brawls between the TUs and residents. While returning home from school, my bus stopped right in front of the TU office and I’ve witnessed them literally hijacking vehicles that carried stuff.

The TUs ruled all over the place. You could neither please them nor could you survive by infuriating them. The assemblage of a windmill in Amma’s office was stalled for a month coz these people weren’t allowed to unload the materials and the work was delayed by local interference. Thus, the initial encounters with the TUs left a bad taste in the mouth and we avoided any confrontation with them later on.

2008 March

Having settled down in this place, it was the series of transfers that unsettled us. Thus, it was time to move with half the lock, stock and barrels leaving the other half behind. Like everyone said ‘Avar ellam panku vechu pirinju’. Once, again we were at the mercy of the TUs for loading our stuff. Appa had his cash balances ready, with sky rocketing expectations and inherent fear of these TUs’ demands. He had his strategies prepared for bargaining but everything vanished with the minimal rates they demanded.

Now…

A year and half later, once again we had to get their services as the construction of the upper floor was delayed due to the jinx, and now things are finally settling down. We were contemplating exorbitant rates  and yet once again the rates made my Dad’s jaws drop to the floor. Decency, courtesy, reasonableness etc, replaced arrogance, violence, selfishness and other such traits which were considered typical of these TUs.

Now that we’ve known these people for a long time, the current chief had no qualms letting his guard down. Out of the 25 members who constituted the TU around 5 of them died of heart failure or cancer. They were cheated by their own representatives. He almost admitted that they were tired of this rampant hatred against their breed.

Now, these people are making efforts to shed the bad image they had. They have a contribution fund for the bereaved families of their union members, especially for educating their children. They are making significant contributions in the development fund of a government school in our area that had almost seen its final days. They are not aligned with any political party now. He said that they don’t go to the houses of poor people for loading-unloading purposes.

Somehow, all this felt like a sincere revelation with a tinge of repentance. Maybe it’s the harsh times, downward spiraling business or a change in attitude. I saw real human beings in them rather than the cold-blooded morons they are projected to be.

This is a personal experience and I cannot stake claim that things are the same all across the state. In things like this I do believe in the cheesy notion of little drops make an ocean yet,  the eternal cynics are blinded by notions and distorted views mostly from hearsay on ‘what ails Kerala’. Acknowledging change does not mean you have to go back on your words.

There was a time when I grumbled a lot about Kerala being the worst place to be, having endured some of the worst times here.

There may be a zillion negative accounts to counter my views, but, I’m an optimist in this case. Having seen the worst of times personally, seeing the better times and believing that the best of times is yet to come, I hope I get to see and my children get to live in the true ‘God’s own country’

[PS: I was quite pissed off with the anti-mallu attitude spread across media and people’s conversations (esp during those long tiring journeys from B’lore toTVM), thanks to the worst kind of self-deprecating breed that is us]


Home

Even though its been more than four years since I left this place and the transfers have geographically dislocated us, coming back home always sends me on wave of nostalgia. So please pardon me for the nostalgic high in the coming days. I feel like a school-kid writing a composition about home.

Home is the place

where every morning I wake up to the sound of the conch being blown at the nearby temple, even if it is as early as 5.00 a.m

where I learnt my first lessons in monopoly from our local fisherwoman Cicily and later, monopolistic competition when a new fisherman arrived.

where every nook and corner of the house reminds me of something in my growing up years

where I can’t resist rummaging through my parents’ old collection of books and unearth rare ones. ( those second-hand Russian books of the seventies are surely worth a read)

where I ensure my li’l treasures remain undiscovered

where I’m with people I’ve known for a lifetime, whose family folklores are enough fodder to write a novel

where I get the ‘freshest mathi‘ from Sreekariyam market

where I’m not a slave to the TV remote or internet

where the unforgivable speed of the PC doesn’t matter at all

where my comfort zone or stressbuster is in the corner at the terrace, under the shade of coconut leaves where I spend hours in the company of books, dreaming, thinking or just observing

where weekend bliss means sunset at ‘shangumugham’ beach

where I read all those journals I’d written years ago and laugh at my idiosyncrasies of those years

where friends and family are just a ‘local’ call away

where to satiate my taste buds all I need to do is pluck a few ‘kanthari mulaku‘ from the backyard and smash it in kanji

where the most of the things in my room remain untouched and unmoved, which seems like a frozen memory of the time I left this place.

where I know its tea time when the evening bhajan starts at the temple

where I get to revise random tidbits of those old school lessons listening to Sreekutty studying in her verandah

where life seems to move at a much slower pace

where I wish ‘everyday was today’

where I can snuggle into the comfort of my bed and sleep peacefully without being disturbed by vehicles zipping past throughout the night

where I don’t suffer from an identity crisis

where I can be free and claim that its my own right to be here than having to endure the ‘you bleddy mallu’ attitude

mathi- sardines

kanthari mulaku- bird’s eye chilli