The sky grew darker and darker as the large clouds came crowding in. The outpour had begun but somehow it wasn’t as heavy as the words that fell out of Kannan’s mouth, the words of confession, the words saturated with guilt.
Yet it had the similar effect as that of the relief generated when the much awaited rain clears the persistent humidity in the atmosphere, the humidity of remorseful sorrow. Kannan though relieved to an extent was so deeply ashamed that he found it difficult to face O.G, who he felt, would be extremely disappointed. But to his amazement, O.G’s face bore no signs of shock or disapproval, there was only sympathy and understanding.
It had been a week since the incident had occurred yet the wounds of guilt were still afresh. O.G realised that having to take the responsibility for the unforeseen consequences of a small prank was more than the boy could handle. But he still considered it a good lesson for Kannan to remember for the rest of his life.
“Forget it boy, what is done is past,” consoled O.G, “but promise yourself that you will think twice before you play such pranks in the future.”
“I promise appoopan, no more pranks appoopa, no more” said Kannan, his face lighting up a bit.
Relieved to have brought about some change in the atmosphere, O.G decided to gear the mood into an interesting one by bringing up the topic of Shankaran Nair’s new found friend, the magician Chandrahasan; they had bumped into him on their way back from Thekkadi.
“Oh is he the one who laughs like a demon” suddenly remembering the deep guttural laughter he had heard a few nights ago.
“Yes, yes he does have a peculiar laugh” agreed O.G in good humour.
“So does he do tricks like the disappearing act, can he bring a rabbit out of the hat………’ the questions began to come one after the other from Kannan, who was bubbling with curiosity and anticipation
“I guess you better ask him the next time he is here. He has a couple of shows in Nellur in the future and the temple committee has agreed to include his show in the temple festival this year. So I guess you’ll be seeing a lot of him.” replied O.G.
O.G could see that Kannan had been suddenly distracted for he seemed to be only barely listening.
He was about to enquire when Janu announced lunch.
“Go ahead boy,” said O.G, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Kannan almost turned to go when he stopped abruptly and asked, “Appoopa, do you think I should go and apologize to him?”
“Who, Chandrahasan?” asked O.G absentmindedly, busy setting aside his medicines from the trunk.
“No, I mean Pisharadi master,” said Kannan.
“Oh! I am sorry I did not follow you earlier. Come here boy” he said, motioning Kannan to come and sit on the bed.
“Kanna, I think what you asked just now is quite significant. It will be good for everyone if you went and apologized. Besides you will be able to forgive yourself to some extent. And Pisharadi master deserves to know the truth.”
Kannan knew it was a difficult task but he had to go through it somehow. How he wished if someone would be there to accompany him. He knew he couldn’t expect any of his gang members to support him after the last weeks’ fiasco. He was not sure if he should ask Chinnan either.
Sensing his insecurity, O.G suggested, “Take Chinnan along with you.”
Well that’s decided then, thought Kannan, tomorrow I shall go. The earlier the better.
As he got up and walked away, O.G tried to imagine the turmoil within Kannan. He genuinely felt sorry for the boy. Meeting Pisharadi would not be easy but it was the least the boys could do for their innocent but thoughtless prank that had resulted in such a big catastrophe.
He had been twisting and turning in the bed the whole night. It was difficult to fall asleep considering the gargantuan task that lay before him the following day. He had mentally rephrased his confession to Pisharadi at least a hundred times by then, as if a slight change in the vocabulary could lessen the impact of his deeds. Yet another reason for his restlessness was his concern over being unable to convince Chinnan to tag along. Sure, he had stood by him when all his friends had pointed accusing fingers at him but the idea of meeting Pisharadi was perhaps one that even his loyal cousin would turn down.
Finally when the first rays of daylight had almost begun to filter through the holes in the window frame, Kannan reached at a consensus with himself - to meet Pisharadi in any case, with or without Chinnan.
So at around forenoon he made his way to the kadavu. He had neither had a morsel of food nor uttered a word to anyone since morning. Besides there was no one to inform, Shankaran Nair was too busy with the fund raising activities for the temple festival, his mother had left at the break of day for god only knows where, O.G was engaged in some busy account work and Janakiamma couldn’t care less.
Now as he sat in the boat, he could feel a tugging in his gut, a hunger pang perhaps or worse an anxiety attack. He decided to distract himself for a while and stare at the river but even she looked brutally cold and silent today.
On reaching the kadavu Kannan got off the boat and walked towards Chinnan’s house. He found his cousin feeding the hens. He could perceive that Chinnan was lost in some deep thought, his actions being purely mechanical and without a tinge of genuine interest.
Seeing Kannan he suddenly snapped out of his thoughts. He promptly put down the feed and walked towards Kannan. There was a shade of confusion on his face. The cousins stood silently for a while until Kannan decided to break the ice.
“I …… I am going to see Pisharadi master, you know tell him the truth and apologise.. I was wondering whether …..whether you would accompany me….you don’t have to say anything, I’ll take the blame for everything…you just have to come with me..that is only if you want to,” Kannan said, a bit relieved having said what was on his mind.”
He tried to study his cousin’s reaction, who seemed to be highly sceptical about the proposition. Chinnan seemed to be pondering for a long time on the matter, unsure of what decision to make. All of a sudden he turned back to go into the house without uttering a single word to Kannan.
Kannan stared on, confused and heartbroken, after all it seemed like even Chinnan had left his side. After waiting a while, he began to turn and walk towards the kadavu half heartedly, when Chinnan called out to him from behind, “Wait for me.”
Kannan felt a surge of joy rush through him as he saw Chinnan come running towards him. He had obviously gone in for a change of clothes.
“Let’s go,” he said as he caught up with Kannan, not wanting to lose the momentum.
From the kadavu, they caught the next boat to Chandothkadavu. Throughout the journey, they remained silent and after what seemed like a painfully long ten minutes they arrived at Chandothkadavu.
From the distance they could make out Pisharadi’s house, which was just a few furlongs away. It was a relatively large house compared to its neighbours but the walls looked as if they had not been painted for years now.
The entrance door had been left open but there seemed to be no sign of anyone. However, not wanting to seem impolite, the cousins decided to knock on the door and wait for a reply. Their gentle tapping brought no response and so Kannan called out, “anybody here”
The house must be really empty, thought Kannan as he heard his voice echo throughout the house. This time, however, they got a reply. It was the sound of a bell ringing from one of the rooms inside. Entering the house they moved in the direction of the room from where the sound was emanating.
As they stepped inside they saw the sad figure of Pisharadi lying on a cot, his left hand holding the end of a rope that was connected to a bell. The cousins moved closer so that Pisharadi could see them better. Pisharadi’s tilted his head with difficulty to look but his face bore no expression even as his soulless eyes stared at them.
Kannan knew that there was no better or worse time for what he was about to do and so kneeled down in front of Pisharadi and broke down into tears as he confessed his folly. He continued to weep deeply until he was distracted by the gentle voice of a girl.
“Did you want something?” asked the voice. The voice had a strange quality of gentleness and sympathy that Kannan lifted his head up to see its owner.
The girl was perhaps his age or younger and her face bore the same gentleness and sympathy possessed by her voice that it looked almost angelic. She was now standing by the foot of the bed and smiling at Pisharadi. Pisharadi lifting his left hand weakly motioned towards the desk. The girl having caught the cue obediently went to the desk and picked up the pen and book lying on it. She brought them to Pisharadi and held it for him as he began to scribble something on it. Both his disability as well as inexperience with the left hand was making it a humungous task. Once he had finished he signalled to hand it over to Kannan.
Kannan wiped his tears and tried to make out Pisharadi’s message to him. It said
“Fate is the only treacherous culprit
You but his mere instrument
Forgiveness is the only panacea
To soothe this grievous malady.”
Kannan found himself crumbling in front of the magnanimity of Pisharadi master. The man they had dreaded so much was after all just a turtle shell. The atmosphere was now so saturated with emotions that Kannan found it difficult to reply.
To his relief, the girl spoke up again, “Master shall I bring some soup?”
Pisharadi made a sign again to which the girl replied,
“Yes, I shall get some for them too” and promptly went off to the kitchen.
The boys decided to follow the girl into the kitchen to help. Besides it was an uncomfortable position, being in Pisharadi’s room, pretending not to be disturbed by his condition. There was also the curiosity to know more about this girl who was serving Pisharadi so faithfully.
Kannan and Chinnan offered to wash and dry the bowls while the girl fried popaadums. In between Kannan aptly struck up a conversation.
“What is your name?” he asked the girl.
“Sheela” she replied with a weak smile, “and what are your names?” she asked.
“I am Kannan and this is my cousin Chinnan. We live on the opposite bank. What about you?” Kannan asked.
“I’ve been with Thampuran for a long time now. This has been my home ever since I could remember. My parents served him before but then they died during the floods leaving me an orphan. But Thampuran was kind enough to give me refuge.” Then she stopped abruptly, the sobs choking her words.
“He has been like a father to me. You know he has taught me everything you learn at school. He was even planning to send me to school next year, so generous, so generous….I just can’t bear to see him in this condition.”
The boys remained silent not knowing how to comfort her. As if suddenly aware of the uncomfortable and helpless scene she was creating, she stopped crying and tried to calm herself down.
Taking advantage of the brief moment, Kannan enquired further.
“So doesn’t Pisharadi master have any family of his own?”
“Yes, he had a wife and a son. But then the boy died and his wife left him soon after for another man. His family house is somewhere at Ipparakadavu, where he has a brother. But he rarely even mentions about him.”
Kannan felt even more sorry for Pisharadi master now that he had heard of his pathetic personal life. Though he knew about Pisharadi’s ancestral house at ipparakadavu, the huge Pisharadi Mansion, he had not until now known anything about his family life.
“So you are his only family now?” asked Kannan.
“Yes and his cats” replied Sheela.
“Cats?!!!” exclaimed the cousins. Sheela found their reactions amusing and tried to suppress a smile.
“Yes” she replied, “he’s got nine of them. Here I’ll show you” saying which she went towards the opening adjacent to the well and called out, “minu, pichu, kittu,….” and shortly thereafter came an army of cats scrambling their way through the kitchen into Pisharadi’s room.. The boys curiously ran after to watch this amazing spectacle. There in Pisharadi’s room the cats were running all about, under and over the bed of the old man, some rubbing against his legs, the room was filled with their purring cries and Pisharadi let a tear trickle down. Sheela too had followed the boys but only after having taken the soup vessels and plates for everyone, and having seen Pisharadi’s sorrow said,
“Now, now master you mustn’t cry, you know how none of them can stand to see that” Pisharadi tried to force a smile as Sheela wiped the solitary tear on his cheek. Kannan gazed in awe at this little girl who seemed to be taking care of Pisharadi like his own mother. Sheela had now laid out the plates for Kannan and Chinnan and poured soup into them. There was also a large special plate of fish and rice for the cats, which she laid beside the foot of Pisharadi’s bed. After having attended dutifully to the guests she returned to Pisharadi and began to feed him the soup with a spoon, wiping every now and then the liquid or rice that seeped through Pisharadi’s mouth. It was too pathetic a scene to witness and Kannan though he would choke on his food. He looked beside at Chinnan only to see his cousin looking down at his plate and staring at his blurry reflection, an abyss of disgrace, guilt and confusion.
The boys however managed to drink the soup to its last drop, not wanting to hurt the feelings of either Pisharadi or Sheela. They then exchanged some pleasantries with Sheela and turned to Pisharadi to take permission to leave.
“We’ll come and visit you everyday” said Kannan as he was about to leave. Pisharadi’s face suddenly bore a perturbed expression and he began to ring the bell frantically. Sheela realized that the boys had upset Pisharadi and not wanting to create any further discomfort that could also prove lethal to Pisharadi’s health, she requested the cousins to leave.
The boys though a little shot off guard complied immediately. They did not want to be causing more trouble than they had already had. They slowly began their pace back to the kadavu. There was no boat at bay but they could make out one in the distance. They knew it would only harbour by the time they reached the bank. The sound of Sheela calling from behind made them stall and turn back. Seeing Sheela run towards them and thereby fearing perhaps a bad news, the boys felt their throats tie a knot.
Having caught up Sheela waited a moment to catch her breath bending down her body to relieve the mild discomfort in her stomach.
Regaining herself she said, “I am sorry about what happened back there. He reacts like that every time he feels that someone’s trying to sympathise with him. Please don’t take it to your heart. Please do come to visit him. It will do good for him.” She then stopped to look at the river as if suddenly yearning for its calmness. She left out a silent sigh and realizing that she had to get back, she bid the boys farewell once again. She then made a quick pace back to the house, not for once glancing back to see the boys.
Meanwhile, the boat had already reached the bank and the boys jumped into it just in time.
At apparakadavu the cousins stood for a while staring at the Mayillatam. Just like the river that linked the three land masses, the story of their lives too had been linked with that of Pisharadi and Sheela forever. For the river it was the consequence of the process of nature while for them it was the eventuality of the designs of fate.
Kannan felt grateful to his cousin for showing the courage and strength to be with him through the whole incident. It struck Kannan that though Chinnan was four years younger to him, his character possessed a maturity, a strange wisdom and Kannan truly appreciated it.
The boys felt relaxed as they continued to sit by the river, there was a cool breeze blowing, gently ruffling the mane on their foreheads and they closed their eyes in its soft soothing. A faint smile appeared on their faces, the day might have been trying upon their conscience but they definitely felt better and lighter. They relished in the drunken calmness that was settling upon them.
The calm………………………….before the tempest.