Lucky Number?11 mins 374 11 mins 374
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents in this story may have uncanny resemblances to actual persons, animals, living or dead, or actual events. The Author has exercised his creative liberty and has no malafide intentions whatsoever.
It was a rainy day in Karalmanna, a tiny hamlet in the agrarian district of Palakkad in Kerala. Thick clouds had overcast the sky. The late monsoon had battered and crippled normal life in Kerala, even attracting international press.
Kuttoo, was encircling in joy after spotting a mud crab in the puddle.
A frail looking Ayyappan stepped out of his house for his daily work. Ayyappan worked as a coolie for MNREGA, the much-celebrated rural employment guarantee scheme of Government of India.
Chetta^1, you forgot your umbrella! shouted Chakki, Ayyappan's devout wife for the last 33 years.
(Chetta is brother in Malayalam, a popular way of addressing husbands in Kerala seen nowhere else in the world!)
Ayyappan walked back to collect the umbrella which had more holes than his dhoti.
Ayyappan and Chakki were Pariahs, one of the most backward communities in Kerala. They lived in a ramshackle hut with their pet dog Kuttoo. Ayyappan and Chakki were childless and treated Kuttoo like their own son. Poverty had left the couple devastated. Less said is better about the social ostracization they face for being Dalits.
Kuttoo, the trusted lieutenant, followed Ayyappan to the bus stop. Ayyappan worked in the nearby town.
Ayyappan boarded the "Thoufeeq travels" bus that he usually takes.
Ayyappan had a long tiring day at work. He was given the responsibility of building a 2km long roadside trench in Perinthalmanna town. There is no logical explanation for why the PWD department would undertake civic works during heavy monsoons.
Ayyappan washed his muddy feet and hands and wiped the sweat on his body and face. He clung on his dirty cloth bag and set out to his home. "Thoufeeq Travels" bus would arrive at 6PM at Perinthalmanna town bus stand. Ayyappan had a good 30 minutes time to spend. He took a stroll in the bus stand.
"Lottery, Lottery... Kerala Bumper Lottery" shouted "Lottery Balan", a small-time lottery seller in Perinthalmanna bus stand.
"Da Ayyappa" yelled Lottery Balan, at Ayyappan in a disrespectful tone. Lottery Balan knew Ayyappan very well and him not being a potential customer. Balan had no customers since morning. His lottery business was hugely impacted due to the monsoons and he would coax every other passerby into buying a lottery ticket.
"Do you want a lottery ticket? It's 10 rupees only" claimed Lottery Balan.
"Lotteries are not for poor souls like me, Lottery gods don't like us. There is no Raja Yoga (Royal Path) written in my destiny. Let it be Bala" smirked Ayyappan and walked away.
"Ayyappa, it's just 10 rupees. Why don't you give a final shot at your luck?" said Balan in a poking tone.
Ayyappan turned back hesitantly and told Balan "You will not let me live peacefully is it?".
"Give me a lottery" said Ayyappan as he flung a soiled 10 rupees note at Balan.
Ayyappan was wary of Chakki reprimanding him for wasteful expenditures. Ayyappan had purchased lotteries in the past too but without any luck!
Weeks together passed. MNREGA offers only 120 days of work in a year. Ayyappan worked in Raman Nair's farm during the other days. Raman Nair was a big-time landlord. He was an upper caste snob who illtreated the workers in his farm. Ayyappan was paid a measly amount for slogging it out throughout the day. A diluted version of Zamindari system is still prevalent in large parts of the country even after 74 years of Independence.
In the meanwhile, monsoons have intensified in Kerala adding to the woes of common man. It was a rainy day and Ayyappan had a day off from his work. Ayyappan was sipping on his 'Kattan Chaya" (Black Tea/Sulaimani) sitting on his "Thinna" (a raised platform of his hut).
Ayyappan saw somebody walking towards his house in a jiffy manner. Ayyappan's eyesight had diminished, and he could barely recognize people from that distance.
"Ayyappan Chetta, Ayyappan Chetta" (Ayyappan brother) shouted lottery Balan in an ecstatic manner. Ayyappan was taken aback. Never had Balan addressed him with such respect in the past. And never had Balan visited Ayyappan's house in his lifetime.
"What brings you here?" A seemingly confused Ayyappan asked Balan.
"Ayyappan Chetta, where is your lottery ticket?" asked Balan.
"Oh, I don't know" said Ayyappan.
"You have won Kerala Bumper Lottery Prize worth 25 Lakhs" said Balan.
A shocked Ayyappan fainted and collapsed on the ground.
Kuttoo, sensing some danger to his master, started barking ferociously and charged towards Balan to chase him away.
Hearing the unusual dog bark, Chakki came running from inside and shouted at Kuttoo.
"Kuttoo, stay there… he is our guest".
A frightened Balan tripped over his dhoti and skid on the ground. His clothes & umbrella were soiled completely.
"Dirty dog" fumed Balan as he got up in pain rubbing the scratches on his arms.
Meanwhile, Chakki sprinkled some water on Ayyappan's face. Ayyappan gained consciousness and asked Chakki "Di, where is the lottery that I gave you few days ago"
"I will bring it" said Chakki and went inside. Chakki had put the lottery carefully in her Pogala Sanji (a small bag/potli used to store chewable tobacco).
"Is this the one?" asked Chakki as she pulled a Lottery Ticket out of her Sanji (Bag).
An ecstatic Ayyappan held Chakki's hands and said, "All our miseries are going to end soon… we have won a lottery worth 25 lakhs!!!!"
"Bhagavaneeeeeey" (hail almighty) cried a jubilant Chakki.
"Ayyappan Chetta, do you have a bank account?" asked an inquisitive Balan.
"Yes!" said Ayyappan. Ayyappan, like many other Indians had enrolled under the PM's Jan Dhan Yojana anticipating 5000 rupees to be deposited in his bank account by the government.
"Get ready. We will go to Perinthalmanna tomorrow to complete the formalities of claiming the prize money" exhalated Balan. Saying that, Balan left Ayyappan's hut. Balan had also hit a jackpot of sorts. He will be getting the biggest commission ever in his 15 long year lottery dealer career. On the way back home, Balan dreamt of buying a bike with his commission money. Balan tripped on a stone getting lost in his thoughts.
The D day had arrived. It was a bright sunny day. The clouds had receded. Balan was dressed chic in a white and white dhoti and shirt with a tinge of blue. His clothes looked soaked in Ujala fabric whitener. Balan arrived at Ayyappan's place much earlier than he had promised.
Ayyappan was still getting ready and, in the meanwhile, Chakki offered Balan some "Kattan Chaya" (Black Tea/Sulaimani). But much like other upper caste men, Balan was averse at the thought of eating or drinking anything at the hands of a Parachi (a slur used to refer lower caste women).
"No, I am on fast today" claimed Balan. The politest excuse to avoid food or drink when visiting somebody's house in Indian culture.
Balan had hired Saidalvi's auto rickshaw to go to Perinthalmanna. The rickshaw was parked outside Ayyappan's hut. Saidalvi had started honking giving an indication that he had been waiting for long.
Meanwhile, Ayyappan finished his bath and lit an oil lamp in front of the god and prayed that everything should go well. He applied a sandalwood vermilion on his forehead.
Ayyappan put his bank passbook and Aadhaar card into his dirty cloth bag. He carefully folded the lottery ticket and put that in his shirt's pocket.
He went up to Chakki and held her hands firmly. "Everything will be fine henceforth. Allow me to go now" said Ayyappan in a choked voice.
"Let's go now. It's getting late" said Balan as he patted gently on Ayyappan's back.
Ayyappan and Balan boarded the auto and headed towards Perinthalmanna town.
Saidalvi took the Palakkad Calicut road via Thootha Bridge to reach Perinthalmanna town. A little ahead of Priya's, the popular eating joint, Saidalvi realized he had lost control over the wheel owing to brake failure and rammed the Autorickshaw on to the parapet wall of the Thootha Bridge. The parapet wall was in a dilapidated state. Thootha bridge lacked maintenance and hadn't caught the eyes of the authorities for several years now. As tragic as it could get. The Autorickshaw plunged deep into a swollen Thootha river! The river currents were strong owing to the torrential rains. Ayyappan drowned along with his prized lottery ticket. His frail body couldn't resist the fury that the mighty Thootha had unleashed. Balan and Saidalvi tried hard to save themselves but the merciless Thootha carried them along with her.
In matter of minutes Ayyappan, Balan and Saidalvi had disappeared from the sight. Locals who had gathered near the bridge in large numbers had informed the local police. Policemen arrived on the spot with the district disaster management (DDM) team. DDM team plunged into the river with their life saving equipments. After a frantic search of 4 hours, DDM team fished all the 3 bodies out of the water. DDM team rushed the bodies to the Co-operative Hospital in Cherpulassery town.
Meanwhile, it was 9PM in the night. Ayyappan had not reached home and Chakki started getting anxious. She took several turns to walk to and fro from the gate to her door. Chakki being the devout wife she is, had never eaten her dinner before Ayyappan's. She took some rice gruel(kanji) from the earthen pot and fed a portion of it to Kuttoo. She covered the lid and put off the lamp and lied down near the door awaiting her beloved better half. A mentally exhausted Chakki dozed off in few minutes.
It was 6 am in the morning and Chakki woke up to the sound of a police jeep. The Police jeep stopped right in front of her gate. Chakki's heart started pounding fast. She has never seen a policeman at her doorstep before. Chakki was engulfed with all kind of thoughts. Chakki hid behind the door as she had a tremendous fear of Policemen ever since her childhood, owing to the atrocities she & her family faced at the hands of police force during emergency days in India.
"Nobody here"? Shouted Police Constable Mathai, as he knocked the door with his Lathi.
"Entha Saare?" (What is it Sir?), asked a frightened Chakki.
"You have to come with us to a place" said Constable Mathai.
"I have done nothing wrong sir" pleaded, an innocent Chakki.
"We will take you to a hospital to identify a dead body" said the shrewd Mathai.
"Whose dead body, sir"? asked a perplexed Chakki.
"Your husband Ayyappan" yelled Mathai.
Chakki burst out in tears and collapsed on the ground.
"No sir… It can't be my husband" said Chakki weeping inconsolably.
"Don't waste our time. Get into the jeep quickly" shouted the ruthless constable.
Chakki was taken to Co-operative Hospital in Cherpulassery town by Mathai.
Chakki's heart was imploding at every step of her's inside the corridors of the hospital. She invoked her beloved God Guruvayurappan for Ayyappan's safety. She kept reassuring her selves in her mind that it was a case of mistaken identity and her Ayyappan chettan would return.
Policemen got Chakki to the mortuary. Mathai lifted the blanket from Ayyappan's dead body. Chakki shrieked loudly. She took no time to identify the body. It was indeed her beloved husband. She fell unconscious on the ground.
Ayyappan's body was brought in an ambulance to his hut. Pall of gloom had descended the place. The news of a lottery winner's death had spread like a wildfire in Palakkad. Whole of Karalmanna village, those who knew Ayyappan and those who didn't, had gathered outside his hut. They had come to catch the last glimpse of an unlucky lottery winner.
People were seen murmuring, gossiping with each other. One of them was heard saying. "This Chakki is a jinxed woman". The other one said Ayyappan had bequeathed some curse from his ancestors. Another neighbor claimed that she heard the eerie sounds of a Mottled Wood Owl two days ago. Mottled Wood owls (Kalankozhi in Malayalam) are believed to be the harbingers of death in the village folklore!
Ayyappan's body was to be buried in the backyard of the hut. Few good Samaritans and some party workers of the ruling party in the panchayat had arrived at the spot. They took the onus of digging the grave and making arrangements for the burial. Minutes later the Panchayat president, Comrade Kuttappan Nair arrived in a white Ambassador car. Kuttappan Nair waved hands at the gathered crowd. Comrade Kuttappan was no different from other netas in the country who attend funerals to score political brownies.
"Don't worry Chakki, we are all with you in this hour of grief" said Kuttappan Nair, who had promised to get Chakki an electricity connection 5 years ago.
Party workers dug up a 6 ft x 3 ft pit. The body was ready to be buried. Party workers and the good Samaritans lifted Ayyappan's body and lowered it carefully into the burial pit.
Chakki who couldn't control her grief, burst out in loud. Her wail had engulfed the place. She ran towards the burial pit. Ladies tried to stop Chakki and pulled her back with full force. Women are not allowed at the vicinity of burial pit in Hindu culture. Villagers who had once ignored Ayyappan, gave him a respectful final departure. "Paisa bolta hai boss…"!
The crowd dispersed in quick numbers.
Days together passed, but Chakki hadn't come to terms with her beloved better half's death. She was seen sitting in a corner and was often seen bursting in tears. Kuttoo was her only solace. Despite their hand-to-mouth existence. Kuttoo stayed loyal to the family. In a country where Dalits are not even allowed to dream, Ayyappan had gone too far in realizing his "Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne" moments. As the Hindi saying goes, "Mera Number Kab Ayega", Ayyappan's Lucky number had arrived. It was so near, yet so far!