Every Time It Rains
Every Time It Rains
The tattered, old pair of black Bata sandals, that had been kept out to dry in the corner of the terrace, wore a shrivelled look. It looked like they had been left there for days.
It had been pouring incessantly for over a week. The Rain God had unfurled his myriad emotions on the quaint little town of Kanjampara. Kanjampara is an erstwhile zamindari estate, which was ruled by the Rajah of Kozhikode, known for its beige-sand beaches, hospitality and sumptuous food then and even now in the early 90s.
Gopalan Menon was the former principal of Kanjampara Polytechnic College. An amiable man, he was extremely popular among students and colleagues. Admired and revered by one and all, he was on the verge of retirement; four more years, to be precise.
They say - behind every successful man is a woman. Menon would agree to this adage, wholeheartedly. Radhamma, his wife of 35 years, had indeed been the crucial anchor of his life. Kind and soft spoken, most women in the neighbourhood looked up to her. She was a mother to their only son Sharath, as she was to Devu, their cook, Alaudin, Menon’s peon, or Simon, their auto rickshaw driver.
Sharath was an exceptionally bright boy. Even as a child, he could memorize lines from Kunjan Nambiar’s poetry after reading them just once.
When he reached fifth grade, his parents decided that he must be sent to the Model English Medium School in the city. And so, one June morning, when the sun was in hibernation as it rained cats and dogs, Sharath’s bags were packed and he was bundled off to the boys’ hostel run by the school itself.
Days turned into months, and months into years. Sharath finished school with flying colours. After bagging the 4th rank in the board exams, he could easily secure a scholarship in a top university abroad and pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. Radhamma, though distraught at the very thought of not having her son around, was immensely proud. How many people from Kanjampara had even heard of MIT?
Sharath, barely 18, was already a legend. Almost the whole of the Menon clan as well as neighbours congregated at the Kozhikode International Airport to bid Sharath farewell. Garlanded, and lugging a VIP suitcase, which had been a wedding gift to his parents from his maternal grandparents, Sharath looked back one last time at his parents. His father, chest swollen with pride, couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. His mother, on the other hand, was inconsolable.
As Sharath boarded the aircraft, and found his way to his seat, he was glad it was all over. That he was away from it all. He did feel bad for his parents. They were already preparing for his next arrival, back from the U.S!
Back in Kanjampara, life continued as usual for the Menon couple. Every year, they would wait eagerly for the summer (in US). July heralded Sharath’s arrival. It marked the start of a flurry of activities in the household. The walls of Sharath’s room would be whitewashed, new bedspreads would be bought, his favourite fish, vegetables, and sweets would be brought home. And before they would know it, he would be home, and gone, in a whoosh.
After graduating, Sharath decided to work in New York for some time. Radhamma resented this decision, but her husband thought it was the right thing to do. Never the one to raise her voice against her husband, she suppressed her thoughts and emotions deep inside her bosom, till they were lost in the unknown and forgotten.
After retiring from his job, Menon took up the responsibility of imparting tuition to underprivileged children around his locality. It gave him a kind of pleasure that he had never felt before. But, as the years rolled on, he developed glaucoma, and was forced to discontinue his philanthropic work.
“How I wish we had another child. A daughter, to be honest. Our only child seems to have forgotten us. Just dumped us off his mind, and heart”, lamented Radhamma. Menon agreed, though he didn’t say it aloud.
It was an unbearably humid summer morning, and he had just got back from the market, fish, and vegetables held in both hands. His wife was busy in the kitchen, fixing them both a simple lunch that usually consisted of choru (rice), molu chaaru (fish curry), avial (mixed veg stew), pachadi (pumpkin curry), moru (beaten curd curry) and a bowl of payasam (dessert).
“It was your idea to have him study at a boarding school. What’s the use of complaining now? You got him used to being away from us”, she would tell Menon during heated arguments. In the same breath she added, “I no longer pine for him the way I used to. I’d rather spend the rest of my days tending to my plants, and looking after Ammu.”
Ammu was a pigeon, named so by Devu. One day, as the couple sipped on a cup of fragrant Sulaimani (black lemon tea), the pigeon fell from the roof with a broken wing one languorous afternoon, its screech loud enough to wake up the dead,. Out of curiosity, Radhamma poured out a few drops of the tea on a saucer and offered it to the bird. And then tended to it. It recovered in a couple of days. Soon the pigeon started sweeping down every day for a bit of tea.
Inadvertently, Ammu had become an integral part of the family. Slowly but surely, she filled the void that had been created by the absence of Sharath, who had married to a Brit, moved to Norway, and applied for citizenship there. Letters from him were few and far in between, and calls were made only to make sure his parents were alive (as Radhamma thought bitterly).
“It is intolerably hot today. I hope we get some rains soon”, prayed Radhamma as her husband nodded his head in concurrence. Their, along with many others’, prayers were answered as ominous looking grey clouds cast a gloomy look to the afternoon sky.
As afternoon gave way to evening, the sky began to pour. A faint drizzle, initially, that soon turned in to a heavy downpour. The dry, cracked earth thirstily drank up the generous dollops of heavenly elixir. And rain it did, for the next seven days... so steady, it seemed unstoppable. Those seven days there was no sign of Ammu. It was assumed that like in the case of most people, she too had been rendered immobile by the onslaught of rain.
And then, it stopped. The sun was seen after days. It’s bright, warm presence was welcomed by one and all. The sleepy town had woken up and was back to life again.
Linda was in the final month of her pregnancy. The baby was due any time now. After spending a sleepless night with a cramping wife,
Sharath decided it was time to take her to the hospital. The telephone rang. Radhamma answered. “Hello?”
“Amma, I am at the hospital. You’ll be a grandmother, soon. I’ll call you with the good news.”
Click. The line went dead. He had not bothered to ask about their well-being. He never did. But Radhamma did not let that bother her this time. She was anxious now, like any grandmother-to- be. But unlike other grandparents, they won’t be around to hold the newborn in their arms, or feed him/her a honey drop.
It pained her. “Menonehh”, she called. “Marumolu (daughter-in- law) is going to deliver soon”, she reminded.
Menon was listening to his favourite Saigal classics that sunny afternoon when his wife announced that tea had been served.
“Your tea must be growing cold. It’s kept on the dining table, by the window. Drink it, quickly”, said Radhamma, and hurried out of the house to chase couple of stray cats out of her kitchen.
But Menon was traveling back in time, reminiscing about the days when he was young, ambitious, romantic, and had just brought home a lovely wife.
Lost in those warm, comforting thoughts, he forgot about the tea. “Ei, will you have your tea or not?”, yelled Radhamma from the front courtyard.
Rudely jolted out of his trance, he turned the radio off, and proceeded towards the hall where the dining table stood. There he was greeted by none other than Ammu, who was sitting gingerly on the edge of the table and making sad sounds. Ammu fell of the table and before he knew what was happening Ammu breathed her last.
And Menon cried. All the tears that he had held back till now came flooding out. He kept weeping bitterly, desolately, all evening.
Linda went in to labour at the same time. She gave birth to a baby girl. Linda wanted to name her Amanda. Sharath decided to call her Ammu.