The wind was blowing incessantly and bringing along the monsoons. It was around 1 a.m and the whole village Teekoy was fast asleep except the few people gathered in Ayrookuzhiyil house. Tippi and Rambo were howling, and Ammini’s moos and cries felt like she was seeing the unseen. Muthu on the other hand was sulking in the coir door mat in the verandah just outside the drawing room with an occasional glance to the gate as though she was expecting someone. It’s said that the animals see death way before the normal beings like us realize it. Never believed in it until today – may be they see it coming – may be they know that the angels are on their way to take Ammachi along or for all you know they are around just waiting for the right time.
Ammachi’s daughters (including my mother) and her sons – in – law were seated around her along with some women who apparently are distant relatives but take charge of things when death is looming over any household in Teekoy. It surprises me as to how some beings can be so active and feel responsible towards handling death and the associated services. May be it is important to maintain balance in the society – every person has a role to play in a certain circumstance.
Her only daughter in law was busy attending to the extended family whereas her son was sitting quietly next to Muthu. It seemed like he was introspecting into his own life and his interactions with Ammachi. I never saw any streaks of regret or grief on his face or maybe I was wrong. After all she loved him the most- after all it was the love for her son that changed her life –
For the first time in life. I found myself doing exactly what he was doing and more importantly feeling that it was the right thing to do – remember the memories associated with the beautiful being who probably is waiting for the angels to take her home – for this was never her home.
Her home, as I remember was one of the most beautiful abodes I have seen. As you go uphill in one of the many small hills in Teekoy, nestled among the hundreds of mango trees, jackfruit trees and other trees whose English translations I do not know – the L –shaped home with tiled roof was indeed one of the biggest houses in Teekoy. The cemented courtyard was a play ground for ammachi’s grandchildren and the space to store hay during the harvest time.
I was never into games like hide and seek or seven stones. But I loved sitting on the half wall at the end of the courtyard and looking down the hill slope which slowly merged into the paddy fields. The paddy fields extended beyond what our eyes could see and I was told all of it belonged to Ammachi. Ammachi was rich.
Ammachi was rich and giving. Stories, of the era before I was born tell me that when drought used to hit Teekoy she used to distribute grains to all the farmers of Teekoy from her ‘kalavara’. There were no conditions attached and she never asked them to pay for it. However it is said that the farmers used to make it a point to refill her’kalavara’ when they had a good harvest for they knew she would need the grains to help them in their times of need. Ammachi was a true Christian, however for her people of all religion were the same. The only distinction she had was between a good soul and a bad soul.
Unlike any lady hailing from a Christian family, Ammachi was strictly against alcoholism. So when Kurumban got drunk and beat Kurumbi Ammachi took initiative to send Kurumban to a ‘dhanyakendram’ [rehabilitation centre]. When Narayani’s husband began to steal her wages to drink, Ammachi used to keep her wages and directly send the money to school for her children’s fees. She was instrumental in laying down unsaid rules for the husbands and sons and making a change in many families in Teekoy. However in the process she missed out on applying the same to her home or may be her love for her husband and son was so much that she could overlook the same.
Her husand was 14 years older to her, successful, helped her be an independent woman and most importantly drank within his limits. I have never seen a drunk Appachan – period. Her son was different. He was treated differently too. The first son after 7 daughters, two of them who died at birth he was pampered by every member of the family including his sisters. Expensive clothes, expensive vehicles and expensive habits paved way for his destruction and more so the legacy of Ayrookuzhiyil house and Ammachi’s good will.
Ammachi loved her daughters, sons- in law and her grandkids from her daughters. We were showered with all the love and affection in the world. Amazing vacations, Christmas gifts, bed time stories and much more. However her son had a special place in her world. After all he was god’s gift to her and the one who would take her legacy forward.
Ammachi soon handed over the reigns of her empire to her son. Her beautiful abode was demolished to be replaced by an enormous two storeyed building. Her paddy fields were converted into plots of land and sold away to the first buyer that came across. Her ‘kalvara’ no more existed. Her pillar of support – Appachan passed away. All what was left was her pride, her generous heart and her unconditional love for her son.
She never had enough money with her to give to the poor and needy of Teekoy. So she saved the money that was given to her by her daughters so that she can give to her followers. After all she could not leave anyone who came to Ayrookuzhiyil house empty handed. So Kurumbi still got an occasional Rs.100 to buy a new ‘mundu’ and a few thousands for her daughters delivery. The glory and the richness of Ayrookuzhiyil house no longer existed, however Ammachi’s heart and her giving nature did.
I remember her visits to my house occasionally. She was never the person I remember as a child and clearly not the hero in the stories I have heard of her. She had become silent and fragile. She spent the whole day reading the newspaper and the bible. She had studied till Class 4 and hence knew to read Malayalam and broken English. I vaguely remember trying to make her say that she was sexy in English which she flatly refused to. She clearly did not understand the meaning, but with her intelligence and worldly knowledge helped her figure out that her granddaughter was trying to put her into trouble!
She began to fall ill very frequently during the last years of her life. I do remember at least two times when the doctors also had given up on her. One of them occurred just about a week before my sister’s wedding. The entire family was upset due to her bad health and the fact that she will not be able to attend the wedding of her much loved grand daughter. While people were hovering around her she called me to her bed side by batting her eye lids. While I sat next to her holding her soft, fair wrinkled handles she passed a giggle and told me she is not planning to go anywhere until she saw my sister married. And she remained true to her words. She attended the wedding and blessed the couple. That day I realized that Ammachi was indeed special – she had control over the people, emotions and even death. May be her son was an exception to this or may be she never wanted to exercise her control After all the love for her son was beyond all.
I remember her breaking down once and speaking her mind- She missed her golden days, she missed her home – the view of the misty sky beyond the paddy fields as she looked beyond her courtyard. I didn’t know she too liked the view that I used to love!She did not get back anything what she missed in the years that came by except the view that both us loved. The son’s unaccounted spending and numerous bank loans to begin new business ventures had led to the two storied mansion to be handed over to the bank. They moved to a much smaller house which overlooked the paddy field and she could see the misty sky beyond the paddy fields every morning…………”
It was around 4 a.m and the sun was rising . It had stopped raining and Tiipu, Rambo, Ammini and Muthu had gone silent. I went to her room and found all children asleep around her including her son. She had woken up from her sleep and looked fresh as though she was ready for her long day of work, like in the past. She looked around and got hold of her sons hand and began to watch the fog move away to give way to give way to the sunrise. She looked extremely happy and content. I moved away silently without letting them know and went to the terrace to get a better view of the sunrise and more importantly give them space. 20 minutes later she passed away. I was told that she left us while she was in her sleep.
Soon the house was flooded with people. The entire Teekoy had come to pay homages to her. ‘Kurumbi’ and ‘Kali’ were wailing and crying out loud . Narayani’s son had come all the way from madras – after all Ammachi had paid for his education – gave him the life he had. Pujas were conducted for her afterlife at the ‘kaavu’ at Teekoy and entire Teekoy walked along with her to the church 10 kilometers away from home. Tippu and Rambo were not there usual self when she began her journey from home. Ammini tried to break free from where was tied. Muthu was sulking as usual.
I did not tell anyone what I had seen in the morning. But deep inside I was happy that she left the world while she was with her most prized possessions in the world – the misty sky beyond paddy fields (which was once hers) and her son….