Achan enna ormma

ടി പി കിഷോർ എന്ന വ്യക്തി യഥാർത്ഥത്തിൽ ആരാണെന്നു എനിക്കറിയില്ല. എനിക്ക് അദ്ദേഹം അച്ഛൻ മാത്രമാണ്. ഒരു മൂടൽമഞ്ഞിലൂടെ ഞാൻ കാണുന്ന, വർഷങ്ങളായി തേടുന്ന, രൂപം.

ഓരോ വർഷവും ഈ ദിവസത്തിൽ അച്ഛനെ ഓർത്തു പല കൂട്ടുകാരും എഴുതും. എനിക്കറിയാത്ത അച്ഛന്റെ മുഖങ്ങൾ ഏറെയാണ് എന്ന് ഈ കുറിപ്പുകൾ എന്നെ ഓർമ്മിപ്പിക്കുന്നു.

അച്ഛൻ ഒരു പ്രതിഭയായിരുന്നോ? അതോ ഒന്നും നേടാനാവാതെ പിൻവാങ്ങിയ ഒരു പാവം മനുഷ്യനോ? ഒന്നും നേടിയില്ലെങ്കിലും ഇരുപതു വർഷങ്ങൾ കഴിഞ്ഞും പലരും അദ്ദേഹത്തെ ഓർക്കുന്നു, വാത്സല്യത്തോടെ, വിങ്ങലോടെ. അപ്പോൾ അദ്ദേഹം എന്തോക്കെയോ നേടിയിരുന്നില്ലേ?

വേണമെങ്കിൽ ഭൂതകാലത്തിലേക്ക് ഒരു യാത്ര തുടങ്ങാം. അച്ഛന്റെ കഥകൾ എടുത്തു വായിക്കാം. അച്ഛനെ അറിഞ്ഞിരുന്ന പലരോടും സംസാരിക്കാം.

പക്ഷെ വേണ്ട.

ഇപ്പോൾ മനസ്സിലുള്ള അച്ഛന് ഞാൻ കൊടുത്ത മുഖമാണ്. അത് തച്ചുടക്കാൻ ധൈര്യമില്ല. ടി പി കിഷോർ എന്ന മനുഷ്യൻ ഇന്ന് എനിക്കൊരു അപരിചിതനാണ്. അയാളെ എനിക്കിപ്പോൾ പരിചയപ്പെടേണ്ട.

പണ്ട് വളപ്പൊട്ടുകളും കണ്ണാടിച്ചില്ലുകളും കൊണ്ട് kaleidoscope ഉണ്ടാക്കിയത് പോലെ എനിക്കിഷ്ടമുള്ള ഓർമ്മശകലങ്ങൾ കൊണ്ട് അച്ഛനെ കുറിച്ച് നെയ്ത കഥകളുടെ ലോകത്തു ജീവിക്കാനാണ് എനിക്കിഷ്ടം.

 

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The scent of loss

  1. Will you not tell me your pain?

An empty hall. My stroke-stricken grandmother sleeping in the other room, with her home nurse dozing by her bedside. Neelu had come home crying, limping, her leg bandaged from knee to ankle. She’d had a bad fall, and my uncle and aunt had dropped her off here for a while. I didn’t know what to do to cheer her up. So, I sang this song instead, accompanied by a ridiculous dance routine.

“Manikyaveenayumayen manassinte thamara poovilunarnnavale, paadukille, veena meettukille, ninte vedana ennodu chollukille?”

You who took form in the lotus of my heart with your magical veena, will you not sing? Will you not play the veena? Will you not tell me your pain?

Dressed in nothing but a petticoat and with my hair standing on end, I would have presented an absurd little figure. She sat on the window seat, laughing so hard that tears rolled down her cheeks. Every time I sang “Will you not tell me your pain?”, she would take swipes at me from her seat, shouting “Yes, come here, I will tell you!” and I would dance out of her reach…

I can still hear the laughter.

2. Daisy

“Ormathan vaasantha nandana thoppil…”

In the garden of memory, only one flower remains.

It was Achan’s cassette. He used to play these songs on Sunday mornings on our old, fat two-in-one that sat on the bench in the terrace outside our bedroom, while he shaved, and Amma oiled our hair.  Daisy sounded like a happy song to me. I used to sing along, shouting “Daisy… Daisy…” along with the chorus.

Years later, Amma, Nandu and I lay in the dark, night after night, listening to this cassette. Somewhere along the way, I stopped wondering who Daisy was and listened to the lyrics instead. It was a song of love and loss. Funny how I’d never noticed.

To this day, I cannot listen to the happiest song in Daisy without feeling disturbed.

3. The fragrance of memory

“Ormakalkkendu sugandham… en atmavin nashta sugandham…”

Oh, the fragrance of memory! The scent of my soul’s loss!

Something was choking up my nose and throat, pricking my eyes, threatening to spill out. Thankfully, I was squatting on the floor with my back turned away from everyone. I stared blindly at the screen, scenes flashing through my head. I wanted to whimper, but I didn’t. I just sat unmoving, my hands clenching my knees…

And then abruptly, the song changed. The jingle of an advertisement for soap or biscuits came on. When I eventually turned around, I saw Amma disappear behind her paper, her cheeks wet too.

4. Gold, not mud

“Chandrakantham kondu naalu kettu, athil chandanappadiyulla ponnoonjal!”

A naalukettu (house) built of moonbeams, in it a swing of gold with a sandalwood seat…

I was sitting on the Hero Honda, in front of Achan, a trophy clutched in my hand. We were returning triumphantly from a painting competition conducted by Nirmithi Kendra. I had won the third prize.

As a filler during the prize distribution ceremony, they had played this song and it was stuck in Achan’s head. On the way back home, he kept humming it.

“Chandrakantham kondu naalu kettu, athil chandanappadiyulla mannoonjal!”

I interrupted him, laughing, “Acha, mannoonjal alla, ponnoonjal!” (The swing is made of gold, not mud) He shrugged it off, smiling.

Nearly fifteen years later, SR and I were listening to this song. And as SR hummed “mannoonjal” instead of “ponnoonjal”, I burst into tears.

A Prophet without Honor. A Stranger among his People.

In about 9 days from now, my father would be dead for 14 years.

Black October. That’s what I used to call this unfortunate month when I was younger. At some point, I forgot that name. Just like I forgot to mourn his death anniversary.

Two or three years after his death, a journalist wrote a book called Avinasham. The protagonist of her story was modeled on my father. She even came to visit us at our home, not long after the book was published. I remember her only vaguely. I only remember that my aunt was choked up and that my mother was empty.

I tried to read the book then but most of it must have gone over my head, for I remember next to nothing. Strangely enough, I have not attempted to read it afterwards. I have often seen it sitting on our library shelf at home. Once or twice, I have reached out to take it, but hesitated. I was afraid that it would be too depressing. Depressing! As though the death of one’s father were not enough! As though one had to read about it all over again!

During my late teens, my father re-appeared in my life as a raw, gaping hole that I could not fill. I did not know enough about him. He was like the edge of a fading memory. Sometimes, I thought I could hardly remember him. But he came back in the form of a stranger’s moustache; or soft fingers with blunt nails; or a signature made in Malayalam. And I would remember his voice, his smile, the smell of coconut oil and sandal powder.

In those days of desperately wanting to know more about my father, I should have turned to that book. Tried to discover him through a stranger’s eyes. But I never did. And my father was reborn through my imagination and lies.

A few days from today, that book is being translated to English. I have been invited to its publicity event, where I can meet the author. She has sent me a touching personal mail. The moment I got it, I Googled her name. There were numerous articles, interviews… most of them mentioned my father. After all, he was her first muse.

“Her tryst with writing began when she worked in Thiruvananthapuram as a sub-editor in a Malayalam newspaper. One day at the night desk, she passed the obit of a writer named T.P. Kishore. It was a small, single-column report, while other newspapers carried detailed stories on the writer. “I was berated for the lapse,” she said.

Kishore left the world scribbling a note that read: ‘Maranathinappuram enthennariyamennulla ahanthayode’ (With the arrogance that I know what lies beyond death.)

“She authored it during a few months of painful seclusion that she forced upon herself as she struggled with an inexplicable inner unrest provoked by the suicide of a stranger, writer T P Kishore.”

“My protagonist, Avinash Suvarna was modeled after TP Kishore, who apparently lived an ordinary life and died an extraordinary death in proof of his extraordinary self.”

“A deeply philosophical novel about the trials of a writer, it revolves around a one-line suicide note left behind by a small time writer and how it reveals to a young journalist, the mysteries of living and the travails of creating one’s masterpiece.”

My father whose masterpiece was his suicide note. My father who lived an ordinary life and died an extraordinary death.

About 24 people commit suicide everyday in Kerala. What my father did, is it then, so extraordinary? I have not acknowledged it till today. But someone else has. Many others have.

Inexplicably — for I have tried my best to not become sentimental where he is concerned — I am stung by the repeated references to ‘a small-time writer’ that are splashed across the web. The phrase hints at an insignificance that I am unwilling to accept in him. I would like to shake his shoulders and scream at him,

“Is that all you were? Tell me! Tell me!”

Because, in my mind, he is much bigger. A complicated man with many dimensions. A sphinx. A leprechaun at the end of my rainbow. My secret source of smiles and sandalwood scent.

I can now see it — his self-deprecatory smile. The clink of beautiful liquor bottles. The sheets and sheets of A4 paper covered in his writing. This is what he wanted to escape. The words and days of judgment. The stifling need to prove his self. I am almost sorry for him.

And a little ashamed of myself.

What is the need for so much drama? Why not write a couple of lines in polite acknowledgement and attend the event? Tell her quite firmly that I don’t remember much about my father. Tell her that I am sorry, but I’ve not had a chance to read her book. Applaud, shake hands, walk out. Another chapter closed.

Prove to everyone that Gowri N Kishore is undamaged and whole. Not an emotional wreck. There are no skeletons in her cupboard. She is not a failure. She will not end up as one of the 24 Keralites.

I do not believe that ghosts walk among us. They merely draw up a chair and keep watching you from afar till you walk out and join them.

With the arrogance that you know what lies beyond death.

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