Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dr. Pepper

This is another story from the heartland of family lore.
My mother’s paternal grandfather, Manaveda Raja, was royalty. This of course meant he had to survey and maintain acres and acres of property as well as commandeer a formidable regiment of stewards, caretakers etc. This story is about one of those myriad figures that formed the cogs in his system. Once again the name eludes me in misty mazes of memory; however we shall not leave this figure nameless. Let’s call him Appu Nair (for the uninitiated, some of the commonest names in the uncommonly varied terrain of Keralite nomenclature are either ‘Unni’ or ‘Appu’). Appu Nair was a dedicated servant. His employer’s word was law. He followed instructions to the last syllable. Sadly, he was a little literal minded. As we will see in the following incident.

Kerala in the monsoon season is wetter than a fish. And so it wasn’t unusual to see people nursing snuffling nose, cattarhing coughs and throbbing heads. Appu Nair had got it bad. He let out regular bouts of sneezing and coughing and sniffing while shuffling miserably behind my great grandfather. The latter took pity on him and made the terrible mistake of suggesting a remedy.
“Appu Nair, why don’t you take some pepper? It brings the cold down very fast. “
A light shone in the bleary eyes.
“Really sir?”
“Absolutely! It’s worked for me several times.”
“How much should I take?”
“A pinch per meal should cure you in two days.”

When the master himself had such confidence in the cure how could the servant think twice? During his midday break Appu Nair sought out his store of pepper. Rejoicing at the thought of a mucus free nose and clear head he proceeded to take his dose. Sadly, in his eagerness to be rid of the ailment, Appu Nair over reached himself. Squeezing his ham sized hand into the tin he pulled out a pound of pepper and shoved the whole lot into his mouth. The shock of the impact lead to the swallowing of all that potent powder. Please remember this is pure pepper- none of your adulterated, processed namby- pamby stuff. When the master said a pinch- he was actually recommending a double dose.

First there was sneezing, then there was coughing. And it was all a blur. His head on fire, Appu Nair ran out of his house screaming in agony. Grazing cows stopped their chomping to watch the burly figure running down the slope like a mad man. Roosting pheasants took off in indignant flutters at the bellowing disturbance. At least four people were unceremoniously pushed out of the way, and often into the slush, when they made the mistake of being in his path. Appu Nair’s maddened run culminated into him jumping into the stream. Which would have been alright.
Had he known how to swim.
Glugging and glogging, he was swept away by the strong current.

Meanwhile, my great grandfather was taking a routine stroll around the irrigation bunds along with a couple of his other stewards. He was placidly walking along thinking how nice a neat set of paddy fields looked with a strong unpolluted stream running through them…hey wait a minute, there’s someone in the stream. He must be a very god swimmer. Oh look he’s waving. Hello to you too. He looks remarkably like Appu Nair. Oh my god it is Appu Nair!

Being an unhesitating person, he quickly had a few strong laborers to jump in and pull out the poor man. Following the plying of the safe solid comforts of a towel, blanket and a hot cup of tea, the entire story tumbled out of the now cooled mouth of the unfortunate. Perhaps it was astonishment that kept my great grandfather from laughing or from throwing the stupid man into the stream again.

But in all truth, you couldn’t fault his logic- if a pinch would cure him in two days; a handful should have cured him in a couple of hours. And the funniest part is- at the end of his pepper escapade he didn’t have a cold anymore. So maybe he wasn’t such a Suppandi after all.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Karuppan's Father

Karuppan, like most people, had a father. This was long back in the past of course, which is why I cannot recall his name at all. But the tales of his enterprises are perhaps more entertaining than his offspring's. But the most memorable among his considerable repertoire was the episode with the dog.

Karuppan's father loved a challenge and was always stretching his limits. At least that is the only thing that can explain why a person with a capacity for liquor that surpassed even Karuppan's was mostly tottering about smashed like a glass at a toddy shop. It was during such a drunken spell,late one night,weaving doggedly down the dancing tarmac road bordered by a hazy blur of verdant bamboo, coconut and jack fruit, that this story unfolds.

It was a fine December night, with just the right amount of chill in the air to make the liquor feel like a warm hug. And Karuppan's father had received a lot of hugs that night. The mist that swept in from the fields and the moonlight that painted the path gilded the night with a fairytale loveliness. All was bliss and at peace. Except for Karuppan's dad who expressed his happiness with loud discordant singing and unintentional ballet.

On the  climax note of his midnight serenade to nobody, Karuppan's father rounded the corner, reeled around from the inertia and came face to face with the Dog. The healthy flow of energizing spirits in his system had put him into a benevolent frame of mind regarding the whole world - even if it was twirling like a ballerina. He extended his swaying arm towards the dog in the middle (since that one was the only one with a single head and so seemed the real thing). With an encouraging,endearing grin, perfect for winning the heart of any average dog he reached for his new comrade. But this was no average dog. This was a canine which used to be dedicated to the alcoholics anonymous cause in it's past life. Or may be it just got a brush off from the local hot pattikutty. Anyway,one look at the inebriated figure in it's wake and Dog decided it was time to live up to the name "canine" by applying its canines. On the leg of the figure in front of it.


Karuppan's father then went on to perform the ancient Indian rain dance. Of course he wasn't aware of the heritage of his paroxysms. All the while the Dog, mission accomplished, sat on its haunches and watched with the avid attention of a dance connoisseur. Fifteen minutes of intense hopping and language that cannot be recreated or repeated later,the pater finally noticed the enragingly calm canine gazing at him with Dalai Lama-like equanimity. This naturally set his blood boiling. Letting go of the maligned leg, he up to the insufferable dog. Breathing harshly, his bloodshot eyes rolling with menace, he placed his hands on his hips and thundered-

"You Godforsaken lowlife chokli(mongrel),mutt!"
The Dog stared.
"I'll beat you up and feed you to the dogs,you dog!"
The dog scratched an itch behind it's ear.
"Who do you think you are! You think you're so great or what!"
The dog yawned.
This show of nonchalance by the dratted dog drew the enraged man into a fever pitch of fury.
"You sit there like you've swallowed a spear you stupid thing! If you have no fear then I dare you to bite my other leg you son of a bitch!"
The dog cocked it's head.
"Hah hah! Don't seem so smug now do you, you disgrace to dogdom! Hah hah hah spineless, sore ridden do- YEOOOOOOWWWWWWCH!!!!!!

There followed a reenactment of the rain dance only more violent and colourful- and that's not just the language. It didn't help that sometime during the hopping the poor man fell into a road side ditch. The dog meanwhile finally decided that discretion is the better part of valor, or may be the local hot pattikutty came along again. Whatever be the case, by the time Karuppan's dad pulled himself out, along with a variety of flora, fauna, thorns in uncomfortable places and other materials that one would not like to mull over, there wasn't a trace of the dog on the road. Life can be a bitch sometimes. The poor man had to satisfy himself with flinging a few stones into the dark, and shouting obscenities to the heavens. He tottered back to his shack with a few extra holes and the firm resolution to never tempt fate. Especially when it comes to dogs.