Cats and Porcupines



‘Next time I will make you a porcupine,’ says my elder daughter. It is a warning in the guise of sibling love.

‘Nah! Persian cat with green eyes. The one which asked God whether He was seated in her chair!’  My younger girl replies. That is a rejoinder of untrammeled self confidence which is utterly undisguised.

The sequel of my daughter’s novel ‘Scientia’ is undergoing publication. It is called Eva, short for Evangelista. It is peppered with feisty women scientists, wise mentors, handsome men, and cats…

Little girl has trouble over the fact that the pesky cat does not get to star much in the book unlike the first one. Chechi has been ruthless with her pen; and has snipped off her  nose-in-the air, prima donna scenes mercilessly.

‘You get to banter with the dog, be thankful for that, brat!’

‘Huh! I know, I know.’

I conclude that in the scenes where she does appear, she gets an upper-claw over a doggy. Poor dog.

‘I have a serious issue to bring to your notice. Whenever grandma calls, she asks about you first. That is major unfairness. We have been studying equity and equality recently in school.’ Persian cat purrs dangerously.

Chechi cackles in abandoned glee.

‘Well, well, certain facts in life have to be accepted. She loves me more.’

‘There is something called majority opinion.’

‘Since when has one been a majority?’

‘ I am adding my cousins here. You should not hog all the attention all the time.’ Persian cat bares her pretty teeth.

Chechi giggles openly. She knows that certain statements need no answers. They are the divine truth.


I advise my mother that certain family undercurrents need firm resolution. She should be neutral when it came to showing her love for the grand kids.

She chortles like my elder girl. They share the same eyes, delicate bone structure, and the indomitable will.

I am determined to not let that laugh sidetrack me.

‘Please call the little girl today. Ask about her this time!’

‘ Okay. I will have a chat with her soon. You know she is exactly like you. Remember when you were always cribbing over your brother getting all the attention? That child has your eyes and attitude by the way.’

Now I am in the mood to ask my elder girl to create a couple of more porcupine relatives in the next book….



Painting Tears

I reach out to pick her paint brush: I want to smudge a bit of  flake white hue on the peacock’s neck, just for fun!

A sheer cry of outrage emerges, ‘Not on my bird!’

‘ Hey! Once upon a time, I used to take classes with a renowned artist, my dear! Come on, let me dab a bit of paint too!’ I plead in vain.

The verdict is clear. Amma has to keep her hands off the oil painting. It is hers.


I remember the oil painting of the crying Mother Mary that I had made all those years ago.Dattan Sir had asked me to copy a masterpiece painting. The amount of white, brown and blue that I had used up- the specks, the smears, the dots and daubs!

I had taken the painting to my ship uncle. For some reason- definitely influenced by years of tension and trauma speckling those tangled skeins of family relationships- he was affected strongly by the art work and thought that I had intentionally ushered in tears in its wake. I heard that he  spoke about it and then refused to keep the painting with him. Did the painting return to me? I still do not remember.

It took decades before he could understand that I was simply  a teenager, who had offered her first oil painting, out of love and respect to the believer who prayed daily to the Holy Mother. To be a harbinger of pain – by painting the Pieta- was the last thing I had intended.


The proclivity for colours and doodling has passed on to the young one. Along with the obstinacy and the rest of the stubborn ilk.

‘ You can paint your own bird,’ she tells me, flicking her brush.

‘ Yes, it has been a long time,’ I murmur, still caught up in memories, ‘but  we should not usher in tears if we can…’

She looks askance at me. Then, shrugging it off as another irrelevant Amma-talk , dips her brush in burnt sienna.

I look at ship uncle’s photograph kept on the side table.

From somewhere, he gazes back at me. Now, he understands.

Tears have no colour, do they? For a moment, I could have sworn, I saw tears in those eyes.



Neypayasam: Madhavi Kutty ( Story Translation from Malayalam ) Part 2

Was it likely that the children had slept? Had they eaten something? Had they cried themselves to sleep? They were not mature enough to grieve. Or would Unni have stood staring when he had hurriedly carried her into the taxi? The little one had cried, because he insisted on boarding the taxi too. He had not comprehended the meaning of death.

Had he known himself? No. Had he ever suspected that she- always present in that house- would one day drop dead on the ground?  That too without bidding farewell to anyone?

He had peeped through the kitchen window when he had returned from the office. She was not there. The sounds of the children playing had risen from the courtyard. Unni was yelling, ‘ First class shot!’

He had opened the front door with his key. Then he had caught sight of her. She was lying  sideways, with her mouth slightly open. He had assumed that she had fallen unconscious due to dizziness. But the doctor had given the verdict at the hospital :

‘ Heart attack. She has been dead the past one hour or so.’

A deluge of emotions had engulfed him. He had felt unreasonably angry at her. How could she have just left like that, leaving all the responsibilities on his shoulders? Who would give bath to the kids now? Who would make them snacks? Who would take care of them when they fell sick?

‘My wife is dead,’ he  had murmured to himself. ‘ Because of the unexpected demise of my wife due to heart attack today, I request for two days leave.’ What a fine leave application that would be! It was not stating that his wife was sick; instead, it said that she was dead!

Perhaps his boss might call him to his cabin. ‘ My deepest condolences!’ He might say. Ha! His condolences, indeed! He had never known her. Her hair that curled at the tips, her tremulous smile, the soft gait… the boss had known nothing! Those were his losses….his alone.

When the door opened, the youngest child came scampering to him.

‘ Amma has not returned,’ he chirped.

How was it possible that they had forgotten everything so soon? Did he expect the body carried into that taxi, to return by itself?

He walked towards the kitchen, holding his son’s tiny hand.

‘ Unni!’ He called. Unni, got up from the cot and went to him.

‘ Balan slept off…’

‘ Hmm… did you all eat anything?’

‘ No…’

He removed the lids from the vessels kept on the kitchen ledge. The food that she had prepared for them: chappati, rice, potato curry, upperi, curd, and then Neypayasam-that she made occasionally for the kids- inside a crystal bowl.

Food that had been touched by death! No, they should not eat that!

‘ I shall make some upma, these have grown cold…’, he said.

‘ Accha..’, Unni spoke, ‘ When is Amma going to come back? Has she not recovered yet?’

‘May the truth have the patience to wait for a day at least’, he  brooded deep. What would be the purpose in hurting the child that night?

‘ Amma will come…’, he replied.

He washed two bowls and kept them on the ground.

‘ Let Balan sleep. Do not wake him up,’ he said.

‘ Accha…Neypayasam!’ the youngest said, and dipped his forefinger into the bowl.

He sat down heavily on the wooden block that his wife had used.

‘ Unni, can you serve? Acchan is feeeling unwell…a headache…’

Let them have the food. The food prepared by their mother- they would never be able to eat that again.

The children started eating the Payasam. He sat dumb struck, staring at that scene. After a while, he queried:

‘ Don’t you want rice, Unni?’

‘ No, the Payasam will do…it is very delicious!’

The youngest child smiled, ‘ Yes…Amma made yummy Neypayasam…’

He got up swiftly and hurried to the bathroom. He wanted to hide his tears from them.









Neypayasam: Madhavi Kutty, (Story Translation from Malayalam)Part-1

(Neypayasam: A traditional sweet dish of Kerala made of jaggery, clarified butter, rice, raisins, cashew et al)

We shall call that man ‘ Acchan’ ( *Father): the one who has  somehow organised the funeral rites at minimal costs and has shown deferential gratitude to his work- colleagues, before wearily starting for his home at night. The reason behind that nomenclature is because, in that town, only three children recognise his true worth. And they call him, ‘ Acchan.’

Seated amongst strangers in the bus, he started segregating every single moment of that singular day.

He had woken up on hearing her voice.

‘ It is Monday! Unni, get up now! Do not burrow under the sheets!’ She was waking up their eldest son. Dressed in her white sari- that had seen better days-she had then started working in the kitchen. She had come to him with a huge tumbler full of coffee. Then, then…what had happened then? Had she mentioned something memorable to him?  Even after he pondered for long, he could not recollect  a single word of what she had spoken afterwards. ‘ It is Monday! Do not burrow under the sheets!’ That lone sentence reverberated in his memory. He murmured the words, as if they were part of the Lord’s name. He felt that his loss would become irreparable if he forgot that sentence.

She had packed  aluminium tiffin boxes with snacks, for the  children’s school recess. He had noticed the stain of turmeric on her right hand then. The children had joined him in the morning as he started for office-they had gone to town together.

He had not thought about her- not even once- at  his office. They had married after a year long love affair. Their families had not cooperated at all. Yet, they both had never regretted their decision. Of course, there had been hardships that had often exhausted them :the frequent bouts of illness which haunted their young children, and the precarious finances… She had slowly lost interest in dressing up. He had lost his capacity for bursting into a hearty laugh.

But they had loved each other. They also loved their three children. Three sons. They were aged ten, seven and five; and their faces were never clean. They were ordinary kids with nothing outstanding about them- either in beauty or intelligence.

Yet their parents often boasted about them:

‘ Unni is all set to be an engineer. He is always creating something or the other…’

‘ Balan- we should make him a doctor! Look at that intelligent forehead!’

‘Rajah is not even scared of the dark! He is very smart! He might join the army…’

Their residence was in that part of the town where the middle class lived. A flat with three rooms on the first floor of a building. A small verandah- where two people could just about stand together- abutted one room. A rose plant grew in a small flower pot in that space; Amma taking care of it meticulously. However, it had not bloomed till date.

On the kitchen wall hung various implements- spoons and their ilk. Near the stove was a worn out block of wood which Amma had used as a seat. She would be typically making chappatis, seated on the block, when Acchan returned from work.

He disembarked when the bus stopped. He felt a sudden flare of pain at one of his knees. Would it be the starting of rheumatism? If he were to fall sick, who would take care of the children? His eyes welled up suddenly. Wiping his tears with a rather soiled handkerchief, he quickly made his way home.

Would the children be sleeping? Have they eaten something? ( TO BE CONTINUED)