Fear and suspicion strike and strangulate weak minds, effortlessly.

‘Banian’ uncle came for night halt, a month after Kakkamma’s stealthy disappearnce with Kunjunni and looked hear and there as though she was still hiding,somewhere in a corner.

” I will not go near the backyard, to be on the safe side” he said thrice voluntarily, before going to bed.

However, next morning he was waiting near the pond within our compound, for father to come out, after his bath and morning prayers. He followed him with slow, measured steps,cleared his throat and asked in a voice scarcely above that of a whisper,”can I have a word with you, Anna?”

“Certainly, if it cannot wait till I complete my morning poojas”

“It can wait, it can wait” he murmered but father knew that it cannot wait and asked him to go ahead “You want to tell me something about Kakkamma, I presume?’

“Yes, Anna. Are you aboslutely certain that Kakkamma has left this place, for good?”

“Yes, I am. why, you have any doubt?”

“No doubt; I have no doubt; in fact I saw her in the Coimbatore market driving a bullock cart, yesterday”

“Then why did you ask me that stupid question, Venkitaraman?”

“No, Anna. just to confirm” He stammered and muttered,” because I saw a woman exactly like her, puffing a ‘churuttu’, in our back yard and immediately, I started reciting Panchakshari..”

“Even Sahsranamam, reciting God’s one thousand names, will not help you to come out of your fear” Father said indignantly.”because you do not trust your own eyes”

Did ‘Banian’ uncle really saw Kakkamma puffing her churuttu? Is she still visiting our house to smoke, incognito, during night hours?” I started worrying.

Next day morning, a chicken was found dead with twisted neck, on the road across.

” Has Kochunni also returned along with Kakkamma?” The old fear which was slowly subsiding got a sudden push but I had no courage to raise the topic with my father.

I glanced through the window. Suppu patty was entering our house. She was a distant relative, staying in the village,not far and used to visit my grand mother often, under some pretext or other.

“Revathy did not serve me coffee today in my brass tumbler and so I got angry and came off” She told to every person she met in the corridor, unasked. Revathy was her daughter- in- law, you would have presumed. The brass tumbler,she had brought with her from her mother’s house on her wedding day.

“A chicken was found strangulated in front of our house” I told her without bothering much about the brass tumbler . Though I made the remark in a casual tone, I expected her to reply that it was the handiwork of ‘odiyan’.

“It is Chudalachami’s work” She said confidently. Now here is a new name and a new devil.

“Who is he?” I enquired.”I know Ramchami who supplies us vegetables and Kittachami who comes from our village to enquire about grand mother’s health; but not this Chami”.

“He is the colourfully dressed,’kudukuduppandi’, who stands in front of your house, before you wake up,makes a ‘kudu,kudu’ sound from his mini drum and predicts future”

Suppu explained,moving her right hand to show the movement of the mini drum and the left one to prevent the slip of her pudavai’s tip from her clean shaven head.

“He goes to the creamation ground at mid-night and invokes Sudalaikkali, the goddess of the place and applies the holy ash collected from her hands all over his body, before dancing on the dead bodies along with the Kali”

“Does he also hold a trident and the blood-dripping head of a dead demon?” I enquired Suppu. “He doesn’t” she clarified.”He carries the trident only when he comes out on the street, with a skull hanging from his his neck suspended by a snake. The prophesy he makes facing the first house he visits on his return,will become true and then he returns only the next morning to stand before another house and tell the furture “

Now, that was a terrible image, strong enough to replace the shadows of Kakkamma and her odiyan lover

There was one good aspect about my head; There was no confusion of fears; A new fear always replaced the old one.

I was anxious to meet Chudalichami though I was afraid of his fearsome figure.

I woke up the next morning and the mornig after that, much earlier to my usual time, peeped through the window waited for some time to see the awesome figure but he did not come. I went back to my bed.

After a couple of days, cloth merchant Chettiar passed away. Whether he had accumulated wealth or not, he, undoubteldy had saved a lot of fat in his belly and other areas of his small body,with no excercise whatsoever and it was therefore not a big news that he was called back to the pavilion.But there was a rumour in the town that Chudalaippandi had predicted his death in his pre-dawn visit. Who kept awake to see his visit so early in the morning was not known but surely it was not me,.I developed a new fear now. Did Chudalai make some such prophesy in front of our house too? And I silently prayed that nothing should happen to my grandmother who was the oldest among us..

I asked my grandmother,whether Chudali would have predicted something adverse infront of our house too.”Don’t believe a word of what Suppu tells” She consoled me “Chudalai is a poor man who lives on the tricks of his pet monkey”

.When I returned form school next day, a coloufully dressed and turbaned tall man was standing in a corner of our shop at a respectable distance from my father, bowing his head a bit and holding a small monkey tied to a rope. He complained to may father that his wife was missing from the morning and would like to know when she would return. Father asked him to extend his palm and predicted that she would not return. “Look for another woman”. He suggested.

“Who was he, Appa?” I enquired after the turbaned man left.

‘Chudalaichamy.” Appa replied, pushing a betelnut preparation into his mouth. I was stunned. Chudalichami who could predict the death of Kuppan chettiar seeking father’s advice to know about his wife’s return!

“I never knew that you are an expert in prediction” I wondered. He smiled,”Shall I predict your next question?”

“Yes, Appa”

“‘ Appa, how did you predict so confidently?’ right?”

“Yes, yes. How did you predict so confidentley?’

“Simple common sense” Appa answered with a twinkle in his eye.”Last time he complained about a friend who visits his house often,looks smarter and earns more because his monkey plays better tricks”

What was the connection between missing wife and monkey tricks, I did not know, then. But no more questions; time to play.

Ocala

April 30, 2008

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