Ammalu stories

‘Oh, manassilayi’ (yes, I understood )

As the young ones enjoy disobeying their parents, we too derive pleasure in doing exactly opposite to what our children want us to do. Otherwise why should I prefer to travel by sleeper class, despite their standing instruction to travel by air, wherever feasible, otherwise by a/c class at least in train but never in a sleeper class?

I avoid domestic air travel as I hate to spend more time in commuting to and fro the air ports and waiting at the lounge, than the actual journey time. I also hate to sit behind others as the backs do not have eyes or tongue ! And this task of stretching and  straining  the head and neck to see what those in the front and back are doing is a nuisance.  It is equally sickening to be caged in an a/c coach  in a train like a safari lion in the zoo, semi-opaque screens shamelessly standing between you and the moving trees and flowing waters, sloping hills and sleeping meadows, charming faces of  women and children and many such free and fabulous sights . There is a thrill in traveling by sleeper class, meeting people who bluff, boast and blabber or open up their heart before you and tell you everything about them, unasked and carry your baggage unload and reload in your vehicle at your destination. You might also , at times, come across a co-passenger as I did, like the madmam Manssilayo, whom I am  introducing now.

I go to Kerala, to recharge my battery, quite often.  Mother Nature is lavish is her ceaseless celebration there in all her glory and more you move deeper down, more is your exhilaration in participating in a perennial panoramic presentation of pristine beauty and grace . The pre- dawn temple worship after a dip in a river or pond , Carnatic music in the evening followed by Kathakali at night, colorless, odorless  sweet water and smoke-free air, all around – all these remove impurities from mind and body and rejuvenate the system. And the puzhukkkalari (boiled brown rice ) choru with olan, kalan, avaial, pappadam and uppilittathu (side dishes) –aunh!i ikshayayai- real enjoyment! ( how miserably fails the art of translation in its attempt to convey the meaning of those two words in a different language !)

During my last return journey from Thiruvananthapuram  in Sabhari express, a very fair, fat, well-dressed woman with her husband with a pear-shaped head over a pencil-shaped body and half-a-dozen children of different ages and mixed shapes, boarded my compartment at Kottayam Junction. They had with them, unusually large volume of luggage and it was an ordeal for the couple to load their movable and immovable products into the compartments, before the train steamed out.

I got up from my seat to extend a helping hand but before I lifted up my back fully, the lady managed to push her generous bottom to occupy my seat.  Every millimeter space in the compartment had been fully filled by the intruders and yet, a few kids and cartons and a big jack fruit remained to be accommodated.

“Could you hold this for a moment?” Pleaded the lady and before I could answer, the big jack fruit was already placed on my head. I go mad at the sight of the sweet, juicy, flavored fruits.   But to carry a whole fruit with an unfriendly outer skin , over the head, in standing posture in a super-fast express train needs substantial  skill, stamina and patience. For a moment I tried to imagine that I was carrying that lady, just to make the load less acceptable, but that did not work. No comparison in surface statistics albeit the weight compatibility.

“I couldn’t make it to Pazhavangadi Pulliar, this time. Could this be his punishment?” I started worrying and simultaneously took a vow that during my next trip, I would visit first Pazhavangadi before moving to other temples. I wanted to pick up a coin from my right pocket and put it in the left one, to cement the vow but my hands were not free-they were holding the jack fruit.

But Pulliar answered my vow instantly and sent a cashew nut vendor to remove the load off my head and place it on the upper birth. I instantly removed a coin from my right pocket but hesitantly put it in the left one. After all, the job is done. Is it really necessary to please the elephant headed God ?

I continued to stand uncomfortably surrounded by children and luggage, looking at my seat being occupied by the woman, hoping that she would develop an urge to ease herself so that I could grab the seat the moment she gets up. But that didn’t happen. Her generous bottom refused to move by an inch. Her inner system which expels waste was haywire.

I picked up another coin from my right pocket and placed it in the left,  without hesitating for a moment as I am now convinced that only Pazhavangadi has the strength to push the intruder out of her seat which rightly belongs to me.

That coin was Perhaps a fake one! 

‘Carry your child”.  So said the fat lady,  and placed a kid on my hand, flashing an almost hypnotic smile

“My child!” I shivered and struggled to breath.

“All children are God’s children and God’s children are our children, while traveling in a sleeper class” She declared,  squinting her eyes.

She had a point there.

We reached Ernakulam Junction. The children bolted out of the compartment.

“Catch them, they are running on the platform” I screamed.

“Let them; they are not mine“ She replied shrugging as if I had asked for a hug.

Later, however, the kind lady explained that the children’s parents were in the next compartment and she had  brought them along with her, only to enjoy their company for a short while.

‘Manssilaayo? Understood?’  She spoke into my ear in a seductive whisper as if she was sure of my reply.

In fact, she was.

“Manssilayi- yes, under stood” I replied, blinking at her like a school-child seeking the pardon of his teacher for not completing the home -study-assignment.

At Trichur Junction, her husband, who was reading ‘Mathrubhumi’ weekly, sitting in a corner seat, got down and didn’t return..

‘Your husband didn’t return.” I alerted her with anxiety pumping up my blood-flow.

“He is not my husband” the worthy woman replied without even bothering to look at me.

She explained later that she took his help only to push the luggage in.

‘Every one who boards the compartment along with me can’t be my husband, right?” Arching her eyebrows she asked as if she was excusing me for committing a crime by mentioning the escape of the pear cum pencil shaped partner.

She has a point there too.

‘Manassilayo?’  She asked sweetly again , suppressing a wicked smile.

I nodded my head in the typical Malayalee style and replied  ‘Manassilayi, manassilayi ‘

I was to get down at  Palakkad junction. The lady got down before me and didn’t bother to unload her luggage.

“Madam, you have not removed your luggage” I shouted running behind her.
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“They are not mine’ She replied.” They belong to my friends in the next compartment and they will collect them at Coimbatore. You take care of them till the next station. Coimbatore to Palakkad is just one hour journey. “Manasiilayo? Sami?’’    Damn it ; the same dirty question again..

But again, like an idiot, I nodded my head vigorously and replied, ‘Oh! Manassilayi, manssilayi”

‘’ Enthu manssilayi -what is it that you understood ? Are we not alighting here ?” Ammalu enquired, her eyes and mouth wide opened..‘Enikku onnum manassilayillallo!”  She lamented that she  understood nothing .

‘Athum mansassilayi’  I nodded my head forcefully again. “I understood that too”.

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