Kinasseri Times 19
By Rani Menon, translated by Suneetha Balakrishnan
(Extract from Kinasseri Chronicles, a to-be-published work in Malayalam)
The Kinasseri brand of humour is renowned. The ‘Junction’, or the crossroad by the river at Kinasseri, is where anyone can say anything about anybody. And that’s the place where monikers are born; where all the countrymen get sobriquets slapped on them, according to their peculiarities or perversions.
This naming ceremony is a collective one. Therefore, no one owns the patent rights. The baptism mentioned can happen to anyone, at any time. You could be twenty-eight or ninety. (Age no bar, or as they say in Malayalam, ‘Age is not an issue at a Bar’)
No Kinasserian has ever died, or will die hereafter, without this cognomen, over and above the name their parents have given or appearing in their Ration Card and Aadhar!
Now, all this is a build-up to the story of Clint-ettan and Hillary-edathi .
Clintettan or Nanappan and Hillaryedathi or Naniyamma married for love. And such love! The modernists would term it ‘deep-boned’. Their love was all of twenty-four carats, accomplished by a strong sustained fight; they stood in valour, solidly resilient to the objections, imprecations, and suicide-threats from both their families.
As they came out of the Sree Bhoothanatha Temple, Naniyamma was in red silk. (Sorry, she did not bear a sword or wear heavy anklets. Those weren’t available.) Nanappan was in a zari-bordered dhoti, a fine veshti thrown across his shoulder. With tulsi garlands round their necks, they made a fantastic picture, which elated tens of bachelors and spinsters of marriageable age. It’s tens, because there really weren’t hundreds of bachelors and spinsters of marriageable age in Kinasseri.
The elders who saw this drama panicked and screamed in unison, ‘Scoot inside! What are you waiting to watch’?
The Ramanans with pre-peach-fuzz faces and the Chandrikas rushed inside and made their doors fast in fear. But they baptised their love the same day, by sketching the first alphabet of their lover’s name on the first page of the book of love. That in blood, and drawn from their fingers with a safety pin. (These pages later reeked in the dustbin of Time).
Since Naniyamma was employed as a Village Officer, the young lovers did not go hungry. Nanappan later became Nanappettan, and then Comrade Nanappan, and then reached the zenith of political ambition for a Kinasserian - he became the Panchayath President. (By the way, he was a Congress guy, but Kinasserians were in the habit of addressing all politicians by ‘Comrade’. No one raised objections to that either.)
The Husband being the Panchayath President and the Wife the Village Officer (the conditions won’t change even if its vice versa: the Wife being the Panchayath President and the Husband the Village Officer); in such circumstances what can happen in a panchayath like Kinasseri?
You said it, corruption!
The couple collaborated well in appropriating huge amounts through various projects. They soon acquired a grand house, a car, acres of farmland, prestige…and whatnot.
They had to prove much to those who objected to their pure love, to those who wagered that the lovers would part ways soon.
Money has a problem. If it’s not hard-earned, it’s like cholesterol. It settles in, pokes between our ribs, and destroys us. It happened so here too.
The first murmurs were in undertones, and out of Naniyamma’s hearing. Then the buzz rose and broke as they saw her approach. Soon it did not seem to matter, and they spoke on in her hearing.
Nanppan was in an extramarital affair.
Like all loyal and honourable women (although her heart drummed loud enough) Naniyamma too declared aloud, “My Nanappettan will not look at the face of another woman!”
Then, Kunjunnooli, the Clerk, sniggered, “Then where does he look?”
Naniyamma had a reason for believing what she declared. Nanappan had established a routine of stepping out of his home only with the auspicious ‘darshan’ of Naniyamma. He had succeeded in convincing Naniyamma in words, looks and deeds, that he firmly believed Naniyamma was, Naniyamma alone was, and only Naniyamma was, at the forefront, middle and rearward of all his achievements. (This is an area where most of the erring fail utterly and hopelessly)
The first teeny-weeny seed of doubt was sown when the Village Officer herself witnessed Remani the Sweeper pinning up her saree, just in front of the Panchayath President’s room. But since Remani’s saree had this lazy habit of slipping down before anybody, Naniyamma denied the thought ten times, and became the predecessor to Aamir Khan’s Three Idiot character, who chants ‘All Izz Well’ and creates magic.
But then again, came evidence which could not be discarded in disbelief.
Once, the Village Officer walked into the Panchayath President’s room without knocking, and witnessed the visualisation of Irayimman Thampi’s celebrated erotic verse. Naniyamma apologised without twitching a muscle, and left the scene. Nanappan discarded the ‘creative freedom’ on his lap in haste, and ran out after her, calling sweetly, ‘Nanikkuttee’.
But Nanappan’s Nanikkutty did not heed the call. She went back to her own office room like it was any normal day, attended the noon meeting called by the Panchayath President in the capacity of Member Secretary, prepared the draft of the minutes of the meeting, and placed it for the President’s comments on his table before she left for home at five.
Nanppettan arrived home seeking courage from a bottle of ‘tree-brew’, but Nanikutty did not give Nanappettan any response.
Their only daughter was married and living at her marital home, so the home accommodated just ‘her’ and ‘him’. Nanappan could not bear it anymore. He called out sweetly, ‘Nanikkuttee’.
‘Yes?’, she responded. ‘Is it time for your dinner? Shall I serve?’
Dinner and the usual betel quid passed without any conversation. By the time Nanappettan reached the bedroom, Nanikutty had already crashed. Nanappettan reached out to stroke her cheeks, weeping copious tears. Nanikutty opened her palms and slapped hard.
‘Bang!’, the Lady Sparrow resident in the attic was jolted out of sleep at the noise and witnessed Nanappettan getting up from the floor. His face was swollen like a basket. Naniyamma got up and moved to their daughter’s empty room. Nanappettan did not become wayward again, ever, but Naniyamma never changed bedrooms after that.
All this would not have been known, if the Lady Sparrow resident in the attic of the couple had not repeated the scene to the Lord Sparrow resident in the attic of the unmarried Ayyappan. And if Ayyappan, the unmarried, who journaled in English, had not sighed deeply and jotted ‘Hil(l)arious’, in his diary!
What can one do? But they say it was destined otherwise. The whole county was now privy to what happened. And, Nanappan and Naniyamma became Clint-ettan and Hillary-ettathi in the sobriquet journal of Kinasseri.