Months had flown by and Ali had already left. But before the friends parted they hugged for a long time each consoling the other and promising to keep in touch in future.
”Don’t forget my offer Kanna. Here is my address. Don’t forget to write to me” reminded Ali.
Kannan still had four months of punishment left and he wondered how he would get past them. He began to spend more and more time in the library reading every piece of literature he could come across. Impressed by the boy’s enthusiasm, the warden began to lend him books from his own private library. It was also a turning point in their relationship for Kannan realized that the warden was after all a good man though a strict disciplinarian when it came to guiding juvenile kids.
Kannan was presently reading a piece on Indian history which the warden had lent him, when the warden called him into his room. He thought perhaps the warden wanted his book back. Taking the book along with him he made his way to the warden’s office.
“I have just begun reading…….” He had begun to say as he entered the room when he saw his father seated in front of the warden. From the look on their faces Kannan sensed something was wrong.
“Kannan, your father is here to take you home for the day. Two constables will accompany you with whom you shall return tomorrow” said the warden.
Kannan nodded in spite of not comprehending the strange scenario.
Once they were seated in the car, Raman placed his hands on Kannan’s shoulders and said,
“There’s some bad news. Your grandfather passed away yesterday night. It was his last wish that you perform his final rites.”
Kannan silently gazed outside the window. It had now begun to rain heavily while tears ran down his face endlessly. Not another word was exchanged between the father and son during the remaining journey.
As Kannan got out of the car, a crowd had gathered to see him. The atmosphere was filled with murmurs and some even pointed fingers. Kannan pretended to ignore them.
He got onto the boat with his father and felt as if Ayappan too cast a hateful glance towards him. Kannan could already see a huge gathering outside Ullas Villa from the river.
As he got down and walked towards his house he could feel each and every eye watching him. He tried to hide himself between the constables but to no avail. They had all seen him and probably were wondering why the old man had wanted the little criminal to do his last rites.
His grandfather had been laid in the front veranda, his head towards the south where a lamp was burning. Some old man was reciting verses from the Ramayana and the air was filled with the smell of incense. Near the body lay his grandmother, mother and aunt crying incessantly while women around were trying to pacify them. Kannan too was crying now as he bowed down to pay obeisance to his grandfather.
“Get up you imbecile” cried Janakiamma. “The poor man,” she added, “blamed himself for your sins till his last breath.”
Kannan was taken aback by his grandmother’s sudden outburst.
“If it weren’t for his last wish I wouldn’t have let you touch his body” she cried out.
He stared helplessly at Janakiamma and then turned around to look at his mother for some support but she seemed to ignore his presence. But it was his aunt whom he had feared to face, who bore a sympathetic expression towards his agony.
“Calm down Janakiamma. Let’s not be disrespectful to the soul” said an old lady as she pulled back Janakiamma, who seemed ready to pounce on Kannan and tear his heart out. To an extent she had succeeded, for his heart now bled; it seemed unfair for he too mourned the death of his grandfather but Janakiamma was trying to disallow him even this right.
O.G, who was present in the crowd came forward and helped a crying Kannan onto his knees.
“Come let us not waste time. The rites have to be performed” he said.
By the time Kannan had bathed and come up from the river in a drenched dhoti, the body had been bathed and laid on a pyre in the garden behind the house. A clay pot with water was placed on his shoulder, and a hole was made in it. He was then asked to circumbulate the body three times as water dripped from the pot, after which the pot was broken and finally the pyre was lit. As the pyre burnt he watched his grandfather become one with ether. In the background one could hear the muffled cries of women but Kannan’s ears only held the sound of the burning embers.
He spent the entire night sitting in the veranda gazing at the river. With morning came the further rites after which the ashes were collected in a clay pot and hung by a rope from the ceiling. It would be only disposed off after more rites on the 15th day of mourning. With few more hours to spare before he left Nellur, Kannan decide to talk to his mother. But to his dismay she was nowhere to be found. From the veranda he could see his gang from Bomanchery fields standing at the bank. Seeing his old friends he became happy and ran towards them calling out their names, Jayu, Raghu……but the boys on seeing him approach began to pick up stones and throw them at Kannan.
“Go away you murderer. Go away. We are not your friends” they said.
Kannan began to move backwards trying to dodge the stones but he had already been hit and was bleeding. He almost fell down when someone caught him from behind. He turned around to see Chelan, Chinnan’s father, supporting him from behind and Kannan instantly gave out a scream.
“Please don’t kill me” he cried trying to wriggle out of Chelan’s hands.
“No, I won’t. Come let me put some medicine on your wounds” said Chelan with a soft smile.
He called out to Janu to bring some iodine and cotton. He then cleansed the wounds and dabbed iodine on them.
Kannan, who was afraid to his core sat like a statue as his uncle tended to him. Seeing the pale expression on the boy’s face, Chelan smiled sympathetically and said, “Kanna, don’t be scared. I want you to know that neither I nor your aunt holds any grudge against you. We have accepted Chinnan’s untimely death as his fate and of all the people in the world we know that he loved you the most and you likewise, and there is no reason why you would intentionally kill him. It was an accident and we want you also to never hold it against yourself. I am sure Chinnan would never want you to. You are a good boy. It’s just a bad phase and it shall pass. Keep faith.”
Kannan stared unbelievably at his uncle and thought, this man whom he had always imagined to be a living monster was today the only compassionate soul he knew.
“Time to say good bye” said the constable to Kannan, who was lost in remorse and regret over his past. He bade farewell to Chelan and his father; there was no one else who seemed to want to be present as he left Ullas Villa, not even his mother.
Yes it was time to say good bye to everyone and everything at Nellur, time to say good bye to his past. There was no way he was coming back here again. It was not his home anymore.