As summer sets in, daily life and work wrangle people of their stamina. There is no trace of rain, wind, or chill. The UV index will increase these days, and the sun’s vertical glares will cause more discomfort. The annual experience of the horrible summer makes the children weary, and the only happiness during summer is having the mid-summer vacation. Recreation felt good, being away from schooling and examination. I had ample time but couldn’t enjoy it fully as outdoor games are unsafe. The villains, like allergies, prickly heat, sunburns, etc., made the situation more horrible.
In those olden days, the means of transportation were minimal. People usually prefer walking or going by hiring bullocks carts for long distances. As a gesture of benevolence, Nani (Grandma) usually made buttermilk, adding crushed ginger, green chili, and curry leaves, and poured it into a big jar with a glass tumbler placed next to it under the big jackfruit tree around 10 am daily till the end of the season. The passersby mainly were people riding bullock carts. They halted under the apparition and quenched their thirst by tying the bulls near the shadow.
I curiously scanned the people who visited my Nana’s (Grandpa’s) workshop to fix the iron shoes called Laadam (animal shoes) for the poor animals. Seeing the pain these poor animals endured while repairing it was terrifying. The legs were tied, and I was wondering and questioning my Nana about the purpose of the cruel masquerade.
Nana explained to me the benefits of fixing Laadam. Otherwise, walking on a hard surface took a lot of work. However, the pain would subside gradually, the Laadam would become like permanent shoes to them, and their journey became comfortable.
Nana playfully told me they couldn’t go and buy a chapel to wear, so we made one for lifelong use. Anyway, I decided not to go near the place or gaze at it again. The unbearable crying sound, the flowing saliva as foam from the mouth, and the tearful stares were like nightmares for me. The men stayed in the courtyard and prepared their meals, mostly rice gruel with jackfruit or tapioca curry, which they collected from our compound. The aroma of the masala and seasonings were stimulating, but we were used to something else in our home. They dug small pits in the ground and placed folded vatta leaves collected from the enclosure, and served kanji and curry, munching comfortably. Not far away, my watchful eyes followed every tiny fragment of their act. Although, after seeing me, they sometimes offered a share of their banquet, which I was dying to have, I knew my Nani didn’t like the idea of accepting anything from strangers, so I rejected their offer as if I didn’t want it.
As days pass-through, one day, a group of barely clad gypsies comprising women, children, and animals arrived with huge sacks on their shoulders. They sought permission to make a temporary shed and a place nearby to prepare an elixir made of black langur for business purposes. They claimed the potion is a delicious Rasayanam for health, and the ingredients include dried plant medicines, jaggary, ghee, etc., including the flesh of a black monkey.
The children were holding two restless monkeys tied to their legs. I was afraid of the animals having glossy black fur and golden brown on their heads. Their frightening sounds and the long sharp tooth were a cause of concern to me. After much discussion and the repeated plea of the men, my grandparents allowed them to stay in the backyard for a while, subject to certain conditions. Within no time, the place was turned into a visual treat for the onlookers. They gathered thatched coconut leaves, bamboo ply, logs, etc., and made a temporary shed for sleeping and keeping their things. While watching the monkeys, fear started creeping into my mind. I wanted to clarify it, so I asked my Nana, do they kill the monkey? Nana pacified me. No, dear, these are all their business tricks. I was thrilled to watch the men at work.
Even though my Nani wanted to keep me away from those people, I used to visit the place secretly whenever I got a chance. I liked seeing the small child with them, he was almost naked, and the only luxury was a black thread tied to his waist with a metal Elas fixed in it. He held a metal toy with a head and tail that produced a giggling sound while jerking, and he laughed upon hearing the sound. At first, he was reluctant to come near me but told his mother, “Nodi, nodi Akka” whenever he saw me. I didn’t know what he tried to say, but his mother told me he happily acknowledged my presence to her.
Slowly we became friends. I often shared the sweet snacks prepared by my nani with the child secretly. I saw Nani gave old clothes to those people, so I asked her to provide a pair of clothes for the baby too. But she was unhappy with me befriending them, which made me sad.
I noticed the small boy ate whatever was given to him with both his hands. I saw hunger and poverty in their eyes. Yet, even though they lacked basic amenities, moving from place to place for a living, they were always happy. I found out that those children seldom bathe. I followed them and saw the children scooped and dived like fishes into the nearby muddy water of the small stream, which I was not particularly eager to tread in.
As days passed, the atmosphere was filled with the smell of jaggery, ayurvedic medicines, ghee, etc. The elixir was in the enormous vessels under preparation. On seeing me near the place, they told me to give a bottle of the product for free as a token of gratitude. Hearing this, I felt thrilled.
But fate had in store some strange and unfortunate incident that shattered the whole lineage. One fateful night everything went upside down. A massive fire engulfed the shed. Smoke and blaze and frantic wailing of the people awakened me at midnight. I was trembling with fear and couldn’t understand anything. Help was not visible nearby. When people gathered, everything was over. With much compulsion on my part, after a couple of days, Nani took me to the accident site. Above a heap of ashes, I saw the orphaned metal toy.
After a while, I understood the painful truth. A feeble child, a weeping woman, the screaming men hung out in my dreams for several years. The sufferings of the victims and the unbelievable cruelty of nature made my holidays look like a horror movie that ravaged the innocent smile of the sweet baby forever. Those broken pieces never mended, but I could still listen to “Nodi, nodi, Akka” and the sweet giggling voice not far away from my memories.
Contributing Writer & Poet, Art Of How To,
Retired Finance Officer, Kerala State Electricity Board
Daydreamer, Traveller, Freelance Writer
Home Chef, Mother & Wife
An over-thinker who finds solace in the cathartic effect of writing.
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