Our long hasty days-the hottest of the four seasons and its coming duly brought happiness to the mind of the children because it was the onset of the summer vacations. The blazing summer was otherwise not felt friendly. 

Could you imagine a person living without taking a bath for weeks or months? That was my paternal grandfather, Govindan Appooppan. His bathing was restricted to four days a year. Yes, you read that right. One during Onam, then for Deepavali, again another one before Vishu, and, the last one during Uchara. During these days, there were pujas(prayers) conducted in the ancestral shrine, and he was the one who conducted and performed pujas. The older people in the house mumble jokingly, that he was allergic to water. He always wore a lungie, a cloth wrapped around the waist and worn by men. It came up barely to his knee. Its original colour was unimaginable because washing the attire was also like his bathing behaviour.

With the long dirty nails he had, he loved to scratch his body. His pet cow liked to lick the salt and tasted the sweat of the exposed upper posterior with her coarse tongue. He adjusted his posture to make her efforts viable and made sounds like sh….sh….just like he was in a trance. The cohabitation between the two was a compelling sight.

Uchaara fell in the Malayalam month of Makarem, and the special offering” therali appam” was prepared under the guidance of Govindan Appooppan.

Rice flour mixed with jaggery, plantain, coconut, and a little bit of cardamom powder was filled in the cinnamon leaf tucked like a cone and steamed in a big brass vessel. Almost everyone including children was taken part in its preparation. At twilight, the shrine was lit up with lamps, and pujas were enacted to the main as well as subsidiary deities. As pujas and offerings were divided among those assembled there, and we were eagerly waiting for munching our the due share.

During Deepavali grandpa would donate some coins to my mother to buy coconut oil, as a part of the ritual to apply oil before an early morning bath. I didn’t like oil massaging at all, so blindfolded my mother and rubbed oil with my clothes. The most intriguing thing in Deepavali was watching grandpa bathing. He wore only a loin cloth and massage oil all over his body. Using a pail, he drew water from the open well and poured it over his body, rubbing hardly using an incha(bark of a tree used to clean) with red Carbolic soap. Now the dirt started trickling with water to turn its colour dark and grandpa’s body transformed into golden colour. 

The bathing extravaganza came to an end by wearing a neat lungie and applying a pinch of vermillion to his forehead from the ash bowl dangling in the verandah. Watching and enjoying the whole thing I sometimes go near him to smell the cleanup grandpa. At times he smiles at me, and that was enough for me to get excited because it was a rare benevolent edict from his part towards me.

During daytime he was busy in his “aala” (workplace near the main building). That fateful day I noticed grandpa was not around the hot fireplace. Usually, he never allowed us in his workplace, talking this opportunity I approached the igniting fireplace, where I saw a coconut cutta nearby, and simply put it in the fire. As the cutta caught fire I was afraid and threw it away, accidentally it fell on the sliding thatched roof and caught fire. “What would I do??” Out of fear an unusual sound escaped from my throat. Watching the fire spreading the mynah, Uppen, and parrot resting on the mango tree in front yard made a cry of shock and flew in different ways. 

Now I was in my grandpa’s quick and wicked hands. While preventing the fire from further spreading he hold my ear tightly and slapped my back with his stick. One, two, and three. I cursed those moments and somehow managed to escape from him. He dozed the fire but fumes and smoke spread and scented the area. A squeaky little voice began talking and consoling me, that was none other than the little parrot who was a frequent visitor to munch the ripe mango whom I had befriended. The other children older and younger began to mock, tease and make fun of me. They at that time called me a firebolt.

My childish hasty behaviour decided to take vengeance on the rude and offensive grandpa. It was not easy for me to settle down, I wanted to blast away the dynamite and calm my mind. One day I saw him sitting carelessly in the aala, the tail portion of the loincloth was flashing outward through his short lungie, he was busy with his work. There was no one around, secretly and quietly like a snail I approached him from behind and stole the tongs that were kept there and clipped them into the exposing loincloth.

My heart was thumbing vigorously as if it would come out at once. At a safe distance hiding from behind the tree nearby, I watched the hanging tongs when he stood up. He yelped aloud and looked around but couldn’t find the culprit. Heard his screams the children gathered there howled and laughed at him. Contentment inside me began to come up, I shared my happiness with the grasshoppers, ladybirds, butterflies, and lizards on the lawn who look at me sympathetically and encouraged me with this idea of melting the clouds of revenge hanging in my mind.

My sister Mani was his all-time favourite since her birth. Clenching her in his left hand and the stick in his right hand he gets hold of her when he moves out to the neighbourhood. I often imagined myself in her place, but that never happened in my entire childhood.

Likewise, the routine he followed to observe the habit of bathing his whole life didn’t change. Lasted till the end of his days. After a prolonged illness on a Deepavali day in the early morning, he lost his life. So he proved, he was able to take bath as usual. However, this time with a difference, his kith and kin took the responsibility to bathe him and prepared him for his last journey.

Sitting beside and pressed hard to the bygone days of that beautiful era, now there was no one on the road-neither those insulting siblings nor the terror-inducing elders trumpeting wild elephants gore to the tiny hearts, all are tuning fond music to the ears. The old mango tree, older than my grandpa is still there, housing a dozen birds and squirrels. If possible, I could hide in its branches behind thick green leaves and spy on this captivating world.

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