Friday, September 30, 2011

Contrasts in God's Own Land

When I go to Kerala I live in two different worlds. One is the rather
basic, ancient home of my in-laws and the other is the modern house of
my brother-in-law. The contrasts couldn't be more pronounced.

The first is a rather basic farming home. Its toilet is outside the
house, the bathroom is accessed near to the family well, with a tin
for a door and a concrete tank for a water storage. There may be
rubber sheets laid to dry which gives off a pungent smell. There is an
abundance of wood and wooden construction. Over the years I have got
used to the smell. If you feel like going in the night, there's no
alternative but to hold on. Or, else, use very innovative methods for
your communion, er, with nature. The facilities are a bit antiquated.
But the house is beautifully situated and looks out to verdant green
fields, expanses of wide rice fields, trees and plants. The courtyard
is shaded by an evergreen jackfruit tree which makes it cool to rest
there even during the hot tropical days.

The other house, one belonging to my brother-in law has attached
bathrooms, modern plumbings, has glazed tiles, is a wonder of modern
construction. It has a courtyard strewn with sand and the show plants
and, flowering trees and conifer trees lend it an exotic air. I feel
most relaxed in this peaceful haven, which I termed as a sort of
heaven. It is situated near a town and all modern accessories of
modern life are available close by. Its recent addition is an
automated teller machine which makes it easy to withdraw money and
spend it. Spendthrift that I am.

Which one do I prefer? Do I like one better.

Both houses are studies in contrasts. One is the old traditional
"Tharavad". The other is the modern home, which is slowly grabbing the
landscape. I don't know which one I prefer. I love both homes. The old
is giving way to the new, the old order is changing, slowly, with the
demise of the old "achayans" and "karanavars" of Kerala.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

K'Naan's Account of Returning to Somalia

This is K'Naan's account of what he finds in Somalia, to which he returned after 20 years. If you don't know who he is, here's the lowdown: K'Naan is the singer and poet who sang the theme song "Waving Flag" at the soccer world cup in South Africa.

Excerpt:

"The final and most devastating stop for me was Banadir Hospital, where I was born. The doctors are like hostages of hopelessness, surrounded and outnumbered. Mothers hum lullabies holding the skeletal heads of their children. It seems eyes are the only ornament left of their beautiful faces; eyes like lanterns holding out a glimmer of faint hope. Volunteers are doing jobs they aren't qualified for. The wards are over-crowded, mixing gun wound, malnutrition and cholera patients.

"Death is in every corner of this place. It's lying on the mattresses holding the tiny wrists of half-sleeping children. It's near the exposed breasts of girls turned mothers too soon. It folds in the cots, all-knowing and silent; its mournful wind swells the black sheets. Here, each life ends sadly, too suddenly and casually to be memorialized."

I (this blogger) had a few Somalian friends in Saudi Arabia. One was Moosa who had left behind his family and migrated permanently to Saudi. He was a jolly chap ever-willing to crack a joke. The other was the driver Ahmed whose favourite word was "Atillo," the meaning of which I couldn't figure out. Whenever I would ask him what "Atillo" mean, he would sidetrack the issue or offer some vague explanation.

Indeed sad what's happening in that country. What? Indeed, it's sad what's happening in all developing countries. In today's papers I read that Manmohan Singh said in the UN that the world - which opened its arms to globalisation not long ago - is trying to come to terms with its aftermath. The aftermath isn't very good or congenial since it has wiped out whole socio-economic systems and replaced it with the system of greed. Today world is suffering from multiple maladies which have no known solution. We are hurtling... hurtling... don't know where (that's all I can say). 

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

United States Against Sweatshops

United States Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a student body in the US which acts against organisations outsourcing work to developing nations to cut costs. Its motive is to discourage such organisations that outsource to companies that exploit employees by making them work overtime without pay, and, in general, offer unhygenic and egregious working conditions.

I think when we started off with this outsourcing thing it was a sweet frisky little monkey that obediently complied with norms. Sweatshop (such as the ones I worked in) had good cafeteria, free food, game rooms, etc. But gradually as the monkey developed into a gorilla these were withdrawn. "We no longer are a monkey but a gorilla," was the refrain. The dirty word was - profits at whatever costs. No longer are there cafeterias, free food, games, etc. It's work, work, work, all the time and forget even free tea. Hm. An outsourcer with whom I worked used to charge us for the tea we drank.

So, if you know any employer that exploits its workers, you know who to get in touch with.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meet Once Lover Who Are Ditched by Each Other

This came via Amit Varma of Indiauncut.com, via Joy Bhattacharjya.

Meet Once Lover Who Are Ditched by Each Other.

Atal Behari Vajpayee made fun of such advertisements which exhorted, "Why don't we me once at least?" written on the walls of Delhi. There's such naked desperation in the ads. It's like the hacks in slums of Bombay whose signboards read "Dr. Satra, Physician and Surgeon." He neither knows what a physicians or surgeon is, and calls himself a doctor. Hm. Grr.

I am giving below some of my own interpretations:

  • Meet me, the fake doctor, all ye who have been ditched.
  • Come to me and I will let you meet the lover who has ditched you.
  • When lovers ditch each other, it's by mutual consent. Good. So, come to me, I will give you my blessings.
  • Meet the lover you ditched once. I will call him/her and make him/her come to you.
  • Some expletive deleted, expletive deleted, expletive deleted.
  • Some other interpretation which is open to you dear reader. In which case, write me a comment.
Our country is not lacking in quacks, of all kinds.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Visit to the Bungalow of Rudyard Kipling's Birth in Bombay

The gate to J.J.School of Art was open. So what if I trespassed a bit, broke the law for a literary indulgence. The campus before me is full of trees: banyan, coconut, palm, mango, etc. Nothing seems to be maintained. There are unswept leaves on the pathways. There are wild growth of plants and vines. There are only stray individuals here and there in the campus. So I walk with authority not bothering to look like a stranger to these parts.

This must be the place where he fantasised about There's a fire by a fungus-infested small shed. Some youngsters, possibly students, hang around nearby. There aren't any security men around, so I can just walk in without asking for permission. (I know if I seek their permission I probably might never get it.) It's from these trees that the to-be writer must have gathered his first inspiration. It's these paths he trod for the first time in his life, reminiscing about his trips to Crawford Market nearby. He is the man who made India famous in his tales of the Jungle. He was Rudyard Kipling, author of Jungle Book, and other works of the British Raj days. His father John Lockwood Kipling, a sculptor and potter, was the Principal and Professor of Architectural Sculpture at the newly founded Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art and Industry, Bombay. I walk along the narrow path, ask a couple where the bungalow where Kipling was born is and the man indicates the space behind a rather run down shed. I look around at the aged trees in the compound littered with dead leaves and the moisture of rain. It's these trees he must have swung on as a mischievous child who terrorised his aunt. Then I see the somewhat majestic looking wooden structure painted green. There are vines, ancient balconies, outhouses for servants, all harking back to an age long gone. Truly, that was a different age.

Yes, terrorised his aunt, it is recorded. In a biography I read somewhere his aunt would cry out when young Rudyard would pound down the stairs, "Ruddy is coming, Ruddy is coming." He only lived in the bungalow for five years before he was shifted to England under the care of Capt. and Mrs. Holloway. (According to historians the actual bungalow has been pulled down for the present one, which seems entirely made of wood.) About the couple he wrote, "If you cross-examine a child of seven or eight on his day's doings (specially when he wants to go to sleep) he will contradict himself very satisfactorily. If each contradiction be set down as a lie and retailed at breakfast, life is not easy. I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture — religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort".

About Bombay he once wrote:

Mother of Cities to me,
For I was born in her gate,
Between the palms and the sea,
Where the world-end steamers wait.

Though he was an imperialist his writing remains one of the best in the annals of literature on India. So I saluted his bust which I found placed in the narrow verandah beside a chair, which should have been occupied by a security guard, who, alas, is not to be seen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reading Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha

I am reading Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. Hermann Hesse and I have a family connection, however distant. His grandfather Hermann Gundert was a missionary who worked in Kerala when my great-great-great-uncle George Mathan was also an Anglican priest thereabouts. Both the priests wrote grammar books in Malayalam. Though Gundert's grammar book was published first (circa 1850s) Mathan's Malayalam grammar book was published later (circa 1860s).

(In picture alongside George Mathan is in the white priestly robe and Hermann Gundert is the one with the side whiskers.)

However (this is a position I will defend with my word of honour), Mathan's work was much more detailed and exhaustive and the government of Kerala chose the book over Gundert work as the authoritative volume of Malayalam grammar then. I don't know if the two contemporaries met, but there must have been a healthy rivalry between the two priestly gentlemen, I am sure. Gundert and Mathan both maintained that Malayalam was a distinct language in the proto-Tamil family of Dravidian languages, unlike what is prevalent in Kerala nowadays. Let me clarify. Nowadays Malayalam is heavily Sanskrit-ised as to be unrecognisable from the Malayalam of those days.

In those days writing was done mostly by priests and the kind of language they wrote, containing western ideas of grammar, punctuation, syntax is today known as "Padiri (Priestly) Malayalam." All things considered, these pioneering priests were the first to think about compiling a grammar book when none existed in the eighties. Their contribution must never be overlooked.

Hermann Gundert made significant contributions to Malayalam language. He also went on to write - after he retired to Germany - a dictionary in Malayalam.

There is another Indian connection. Hesse's Siddhartha was made into a movie starring Shashi Kapoor and Simi Grewal.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is Good Manners a Western Thing?

Nothing much to write about. Nothing significant happened, that's why. But, yes there's something, now that I think about it. It happened as I was walking towards Victoria Terminus on the way back from work. I prefer to walk rather than catch a cab. I love to walk in the city, roads that are familiar, full of the sights of my youth.

A youth touched my hand while walking. I don't like to be touched in public. So I turned and glared at him. But he walked past as if nothing happened. I was appalled at the lack of manners. But what manners? Isn't manners a western invention? Is there manners here? A neighbour insulted me when I told him that we had to discuss a common problem. (Ah, forget I ever mentioned it here.) I think he didn't have the guts to apologise. In train, similarly, if you touch anyone, even in their private forbidden parts, no need to be embarrassed or say sorry. Just pretend nothing happened. It has happened many times. Many, many times. What's our words for excuse me, sorry?

Kshama chahata hoon. (such a long sentence).

Maaf karo (short but still unwieldy)

Dayavayi kshamikula (Malayalam for have patience, too long)

Ergo, people are excessively flattering or vilely abusive. Look at the internet and you can see the best educated and best behaved people talking filth. 

Yes, manners is a western invention. It isn't Indian at all. But querulousness is an Indian invention. So suppose this is the sceneario of what happens to us ordinary folks living in ordinary city in India when something untoward happens. Suppose I touch someone unknowingly and apologise. The following is what would happen. Instead of a smile and an acknowledgement, here's what I can expect:

Are you blind?

Have you no shame?

I will see you?

I will teach you a lesson?

Who are you to apologise? Big man? A westerner, a brown sahib? A firang?

You think you are someone big, eh? Wait till I show you.

All threats and insults. Yes, we are quite good at threats and insults. They come very easy to us. As if nothing matters except to smother the other person with insults, degrade him, make him bite the dust, let him never look up straight again. 

That brings me to this conclusion. Maybe it's a sweeping generalisation. Maybe I am biased. Yes, apparently, good manners is a western thing. Not in our culture. We are embarrassed when we have to apologise or say sorry.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tenth Anniversary of September 11, It's Today

God! It's the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers. Or, World Trade Centre. I keenly watched it's progress as it was being built in the sixties and seventies. Yes, the sixties and seventies. It was conceived in the forties but several hurdles delayed the actual construction and it was not until 1970 that the inauguration took place. I was in school at that time. I kept reading about it in the newspapers which showcased it as the happening piece of architecture coming up in the world. There was wonderment in the air, a sense of anticipation, as before a train arrives. 

Then the final inauguration and I read about how the building sways a few feet in the strong winds of the Hudson. I read how the engineers had erected the towers, the shafts, restrooms, three stairwells, and other support spaces. All in all, a great structure - the tallest in the world - was coming up. And it was the World Trade Centre. Who wouldn't want to work in it? Point it out to people and say, "I work there." I thought I will see it at some point in my life. I didn't. I never went to the U.S. as I had expected. That dream eluded me, that country bypassed me.

But then what happened on September 11, ten years ago? I saw, on television, planes smashing into it, people running, dust as thick as a fog, fire-fighters rescuing, the television anchors in a dither over their shocked reportage, the world looking in shocked silence. Then it was newspapers, now it's the electronic media. News comes through wires and cables. Then it was newspapers and magazines. Then I read. Now I listen. There's a cacophony of voices. Was reading better than listening? I think it is. The whole paradigm changed. With visuals people now know the extent of their deprivation. People want to take revenge. Isolation crept into peoples' hearts. They are alienated. Acts of extremism has a basis in economic need. They aren't always religious in nature. 

God! Is it really 10 years? How long will this madness go on?  

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Can Civil Society Draft Laws?

So, Aruna Roy says civil society can't make a law. I think she is right. Or, is she? I am of two minds about the whole l'affaire, the episode, the gruesome blackmail, well, whatever. I remember being numb with confusion. What are our lawmakers there for? They are a well paid lot, I hear. They have allowances, free travel, junkets to far lands of Thigh-land (no reference to the beautiful country), China (obviously to study the drainage system in Shanghai, but why Shanghai? Why not Paris?) and Timbuctoo, allowance to keep secretaries, fawning lackeys, mahila anuyayi (female followers) and it seems they have a huge laundry allowance, the way their dhotis and mundus are so well starched and ironed. (At least A.K.Antony is the best turned out of the lot, as is Vayalar Ravi. I don't know if they every tie their mundus as half-mast [above knees] as most of my states-men are fond of doing.) I am digressing. As a common, no-brainer, often reviled member of the citizenry I think I have a right to know.

That brings me to the question of what the honourable members of parliament are doing in the august body. Lalloo Yadav was caught napping by Meira Kumar. Here's proof on Youtube. As I understand law makers are there not to change names of states, re-name streets, create new states, and speak about their constituencies and states in glowing terms. They are there to see that secretaries draft laws and pass them. Isn't it so? 

How can a group of people (what's their locus standii?) draft a law and ask the government to rubber stamp it? It beats my ingenuous mind. I am not the vocal, vociferous type. Apart from singing in the bathroom I don't raise my voice unless I am too much provoked. Then I lose it really bad. 

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Coming Back to Bombay

I notice the lady with the child immediately. I note her because what I thought was a backpack worn in front is actually a baby and he/she is resting, head covered, only hands showing against the lady's bosom.

There's a bomb blast. In Delhi, this time. I thought Delhi was safe. No more. Nowhere is safe anymore. Our mofussils are bad lands of marauders and violent thieves.

There's a flash of beautiful sunlight. Sunlight is so rare on these monsoon days. A lot of my thoughts centre around death these days because the in-laws aren't well and the "what if" of it lingers in the mind. "You have to bear your pain," doesn't explain anything. Again "what if" comes to mind like a recurring nightmare. Coming back to Bombay was a new experience altogether: grey skies, dampness, water everywhere, the crowded trains, the walking in the slush and most important of all no dry clothes. Clothes take a long time to dry. A journey is most disrupting. And you wanted to be a travel writer? Ah!

What has been lost is not innocence but a lack of proper education and schooling. Yes, I mean schooling. There was hope for this world by means of some old fashioned education. We must start education all over again from schools. Children aren't reading books anymore. In our days we used to be punished for reading the wrong books. My friend gave me a sexy book to read. I read it on the sly and gave it back. Innocent stuff! His dad later found it on his bookshelf. He called me to advise me on propriety, and all that stuff. Actually my friend told him that I had given him the book to read. Oh, the embarrassment! These days there's no punishment for even seeing the most lewd and sexy innuendos on television. It's open fare. It's freedom. But the freedom can cost us a lot.

Enough ranting. Got to go back to where I came from.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Journey to Bombay from Kerala

Did you see the rain? Did you see the rain?

Yes.

What did you see?

The rain.

Did you see how it falls?

Yes. It falls flat. It falls with a roar. What's special about it? What's unusual.

There's a lot unusual. I say knowingly. That's global warming. The heat generates more vapour and the vapour comes down as rain. Expect more rain and the sea levels to rise in the coming years.

That's it. It has been raining continuously for the past three days. The sky looks like molten lead and the land is green. The rain is falling in a roar as we pass through some of the most scenic country in the world. Absolutely stunning. Perhaps a bit tiring, too. There's wetness in the air. The engines wail like screaming banshees and disappear into the night, the compartments disappearing across us are a long stretches of streaming light that pass by within moments. I am on my way to Bombay from Kerala and the above is the conversation between me and wifey. 

Sprawling uncultivated fields filled with weeds unfold in the afternoon mist, coconut groves emerge from bends on the fertile soil, thick with moisture and rain, the green foliage is like a thick green carpet on the ground. 

The dark sleepy guy wakes up and tells me that he makes Endosulphan, the deadly insecticide. Whatever makes him confess this I don't know. He is an M.Tech in chemical engineering and he is the engineer responsible for its production in India. Nothing has happened to me, he says showing me his hands, then, don't believe the media. He gestures and tells me that he picks up endosulphan in his hands (gestures) and nothing has happened to him. Then what's this noise all about? I ask. It's some multinational's ploy to introduce their own expensive product.

I don't know whom to believe except that we have taken enough liberties with nature. 

The train is late by 16 hours. We sit in the compartment and conversation is witty and full of punch. My co-passengers are young people bound for the Persian Gulf. There's water all around but no water in the toilet. The passengers without reservation had exhausted that precious resource the previous day. A human tendency to be corrupt is obvious. For most part inside Kerala the compartment is filled with people who don't have a reservation. There are eleven people in the coupe instead of only eight. I feel a bit angry, but then I adjust, as I must. Just returning from a house warming, says an ex-serviceman who worked in the Air Force in Punjab and Assam. He is well turned out stands erect and doesn't slouch. He has seen enough cruelty in his life and is now retired and working in the district collector's office in Kannoor. Death, torture, encounters, he has seen them all. I wonder what interesting people you meet on a journey.

There are two western tourists in the compartment. Big, smooth-faced, backpack-carrying youth and his girlfriend who fill the compartment with their size. They look majestic. There is a religious group of friends who offer prayers by turns on the window seats joined together. They pray morning, afternoon and night.

We hear the train is diverted from Madgaon towards Belgaum, Bellary, Kolhapur and Pune to Panvel, where I live. I didn't know Pune and Panvel are connected. Around Belgaum is a picturesque station called Castle Rock, the English sound making it rather exotic and near it rises the majestic waterfall of the Dudh Sagar (Sea of Milk). I stare at it's majesty atop a hill as our train courses its tortuous path below. Three or four streams converge below into a rather swollen stream below. Water, the vital primitive forces roar and gush below, disintegrating into white foam.

The best traveller is someone who enjoys the scenery on a detour. Read it somewhere, don't know exactly where. I was amazed by the beauty I passed that day. Dams, rivers in spate, waterfalls, amazing green fields, coconut and arecanut groves they passed by in the most serendipitous manner. They linger in the mind and will remain there for a long time.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Susamma's Story

Note: It's after a long time that I am writing a short story (being preoccupied with a novel that took away lot of my time in the past four years). Here it is. As usual comments are welcome.
--------------------------

Susamma's Story

Nobody knows how Susamma died. Some say she was killed, some say it was suicide, some say it was a natural death – a heart attack. Her husband was not at home. So a murder was ruled out. She had a red mark on her neck. People interpreted this as suicide by hanging. But then how can she die if she tied the knot, changed her mind, and decided not to kill herself? I knew Susamma wouldn't kill herself. Even though she went through many hardships she always bore it with a smile and a kind word. No, Susamma can't kill herself. She is not that type.

Then how did she die? Nobody was at home. Her brother telephoned her twice the previous night and didn't get a reply. He got suspicious and went all the way to Thiruvalla, where he found her lying on the floor of the living room. In the big bungalow that was built with the money she earned as a nurse. She lay supine in her Mother Hubbard, her face a ghostly grey, her mouth dry. The bungalow was a two-storied one with four bedrooms for them and her daughter and for guests. It was done in the most modern fashion of the day. But then she went through many hardships before she started earning all that money. Many were the years she spent doing overtime on night shifts in operation theatres in the Persian Gulf city of Muscat to earn enough to make the bungalow.

I know her as a promising student in my class scoring the best marks. She was from a middle class Christina family, the sort who read the bible and prays every day. Her faith was a source of strength and pride to her. She was a good sportsperson and won the school championship trophy five years in a row. Teachers praised her as a model student who will succeed in life, will be an asset to the school and the community and society. Everyone praised her. She was the debating champion, the keen athlete, and nobody could beat her in running and long jump. She was goodlooking with her head full of curly hair and had a graceful walk. All my friends - Chako, Athiran, Chathukutty and Varghese lusted after her voluptuous figure and personage.

"Everybody should learn from Susamma. She is the house captain of the Green House even before she has reached the tenth standard, in the nineth standard itself. Everybody should emulate her hardwork and her application. If only we had more students like her," Basanti-teacher, the teacher assigned to our class said.

Then we graduated and I lost touch. I went away to my job and raised a family in distant Bombay. However, I kept hearing news of her whereabouts whenever I would come on vacation to Thiruvalla. She was married. Her parents – rustic farming people – thought they had a good match because the groom drew a good salary. Then her problems started. Her husband – Thankachen – was a salesman in Bangalore and she shifted to Bangalore to be with him.  Thankachen, being a salesman of plastic briefcases travelled on business quite a lot. He had the practicality and easy charm of a salesman and could talk very well. On the rare occasion he was in town he would drink too much and abuse her, beat her. Soon Susamma came to know why. Thankachen had a girlfriend in town and most of the time was spent in her company. He also spent most of his money on her. He found Susamma ordinary and not urbane enough. He got mad when Susamma couldn't use a fork and knife in a restaurant and couldn't use the western closet when on vacation in Goa.

Small differences became great fissures and then chasms. After a fight over the taste of fish curry, Thankachen beat her and left her with a puffed eye and then sought the company of his girlfriend. Susamma packed her bags and went back to live with her parents in Thiruvalla. She lived with her parents for seven years. She made use of this time to apprentice herself in Pushpagiri Hospital as a nurse. She learnt fast, as she was a good student, punctilious in acquiring knowledge and perspicacious in her studies. She soon got a job in the same hospital. She was also declared the best student and scored the highest marks in theory and practicals. During these seven years Thankachen never visited her even once. She is supposed to have said once to my sister Babykutty, "I am a woman who has suffered great emotional turmoil, you can't even imagine what I have been through."

Her next ambition was to go to the Persian Gulf. She got herself a passport. She was soon selected to work in the Royal Hospital of Oman. She did well there, rising fast to be a matron. Her salary induced Thankachen to re-establish contact with her again. He wrote her and asked for forgiveness. The reason was that his girlfriend had left him. He had become an alcoholic.

"I am sorry for all that I did to you. If you take me back I promise to be good to you and mend my ways. I am sure you will consider this in Christ our saviour's name."


Susamma forgave him. He soon got himself a passport and joined her in Muscat, Oman. He got a job as a salesman there. However, his ways hadn't changed. He drank heavily even in the country where drinking of liquors was prohibited. However, he didn't beat her. It was during this time that their daughter Sheena was born. Both Susamma and Thankachen were happy together for some time. Then Thankachen started doubting her and accusing her of being unfaithful. He even went to say Sheena wasn't his daughter.

Again the chain of atrocities against her started. Though Thankachen didn't beat her he was cruel in his words and accused her of being unfaithful. With his drinking the accusations got worse. He accused her of having affairs with doctors. It seemed there was no end to Susamma's tears. That's when she decided enough was enough and decided to come back to live in Thiruvalla.
She bought a plot of land. She built a big bungalow with the money she accumulated in Muscat.

Thankachen, too, gave up his job and came back to live with her. Their daughter started studying in a residential school in Thiruvalla. Their fights would occur even in Thiruvalla. Susamma would go to her ancestral home where her father and mother lived and relate to them about sleepless nights and Thankachen's increasing demands for money to drink. The neighbourhood also came to know of what was happening. They then got used to the nightly shouting matches and to Susamma crying in the night.

Anyway, it was a sad end to such a promising life. A wrong choice of a man had made Susamma's life miserable. But nobody knows how she died. Neighbours said that the night before her death there was a big fight and Susamma was heard crying. The next day Thankachen left for Bombay to see his sister. There were all sorts of stories about her death. People said he killed her with his cruel words. Some say he strangled her before he left, in which case she would have been lying dead in the bungalow for a day. However, her body was warm and had not decayed. Suicide was also ruled out. The police was not summoned as her people didn't want an enquiry. Thankachen came back from Bombay and pleaded innocence.

I attended Susamma's funeral. So did my friend Chako, Athiran, Chathukutty and Varghese, all classmates of hers. We met for tea at my house after the funeral. We mourned the passing of a promising and talented classmate. That's Susamma's story.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mobile Phone and Youth

Yohannan, or, Yoman is a simple man. He is bald, has a fringe of white hair running across from ear to ear. His front teeth are missing, his chin is unshaved but when he talks his eyes twinkle and, this fact, together with his deep resonant voice has a magical effect on his listeners. He smiles quite a lot when he speaks and the effect is nice. He is dressed in a checked loin cloth with a handloom towel (the Kerala "thorthu") on his shoulder. After finishing some work, which is planting tapioca stems in the field owned by my brother-in law, he comes and sits on the verandah with us to share the news of the countryside. I like such conversations as I get to know a lot about the people and their thinking. Who knows maybe a topic for a short story, wandering somewhere in the consciousness. 

They talk about farming. I like to listen because I have never farmed in my life. It seems that the Kerala government subsidises farming, well, like it subsidises everything else, i.e., electricity. You get seeds, crop insurance, cheap fertilizers, machines to till the soil, harvest the crop, what not. It's the way he strings the Malayalam words together that brings out the hidden nuances and the beauty of the language of my forebears. Sometimes I have difficulty following him as I am not that well-versed in the local culture and history. And some of the local idioms and memes are lost on me. This leaves me quite nonplussed.

But as the conversation progresses his voice grows subdued and a wistful look comes over his face. He says moral standards of our society have gone down.


"What makes you think moral standards are down?"

"The youth used to respect authority, they used to be obedient. Nowadays, they don't care for a thing. Some of the things you see on television. Oh, God, it's atrocious."

"It's a free world and they are enjoying their freedom." I say, though I agree with him.

"From the time the 'mobile phone' came, the youth have become spoilt."

"Really? What are you saying?"

"Yes, the mobile phone is responsible."

"Tell me how."

"Previously, there never used to be so much communication. Nowadays, every boy and girl has a mobile phone. They are always speaking on the phone. What is there to talk so much? I hardly talk to my wife. You don't know what goes on in the name of school, college and higher studies these days."

"The whole society has become immoral. You don't know."

I know. Everyday at least half the paper is full of some minor's rape. There are other reports of crimes of passion. You hear about prostitution rackets in "God's Own Country" in which school children are involved. Why, there are even a few cases in which ministers of the state are involved. Read about the "Ice cream case" (do a search since my connectivity is bad).

As Yoman says, "Mobile-uh phone vannathoday nadu aakey maripoyi."

Translated it means, "With the coming of the mobile phone the land has changed drastically."

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.