The story is written by Kamala Das. It is about the childhood days that spent in Kerala, in the Malabar coastal region. She has written it in a narrative style as she explains the incidents through her eyes.
It was a stormy day in their place. It was also someone's birthday at a place called Ambazhathel. Kamala did not know whose birthday it was, but she knew that she was invited to the feast that day. Malathikutty took Kamala and her elder brother Ettan to the snake temple before lunch. Meenakshi Edathi was arranging items like turmeric, milk and bananas as food for the snake.
It was a stormy day!
Meenakshi Edathi (Edathi means brother's wife in Malayalam) was a relative of the Ambazhathel family. Since she came from a poor background, she depended on the financial support of the family. She had dark skin and was in her middle-age. She was always running around the house, doing some errands. She never took rest; her face looked like she was ever grateful for all that the family had offered her. Her duties were not much:
- She had to welcome the priest by offering him rice (with husk) when he came during ceremonial festivals.
- She lit the lamps every evening.
- She made butter for the children by churning the curd.
- During Nira (harvest) festival, she drew designs on the door with rice batter.
Meenakshi Edathi was always doing some chores around the house! (Image for reference only)
There were many servants at home to do all the work. But without Meenakshi Edathi, the family could not live peacefully, even for a day! Only she knew how much rice had to be cooked for the family, how many mundus (the traditional dress of Keralites) had been given for laundry and even when to provide medicines for the kids to clear their stomachs!
Back in the snake temple, Kamala asked why the snake did not come out of the snake hill. Meenakshi Edathi replied that snakes do not come out when people are around. She added that the black snake named Krishnasarpam would move out smoothly as soon as they left the place.
Snakes do not come out of the snake hill if humans are around!
After lunch, Kamala began to feel sleepy. Malathikutty also went back to Nalapat with Kamala and her brother Ettan. After about an hour, they heard the sound of strong winds. It came through the coconut palms from the compound in the south side of the house, with a huge trembling noise. There was a small pond around which dry leaves had gathered; it flew upwards in a twisting position aggressively. The branches shook in the strong wind. There was a swing that hung from the ilanji tree and the seat fell down.
The swing from the ilanji tree had fallen due to the storm!
Ammamma refers to mother's mother in Malayalam. Ammamma wondered if it was a cyclone brewing up and she exclaimed that the sounds scared her. She asked all the kids to sit in the middle room in the top floor and gave them a metal dice to play with. She had lit brass lamps as it was getting darker due to the rains. Muthassi (father's mother) called from the room in the south, called as thekkini in Malayalam to ask Kochu whether she had closed all the small windows. Ammamma replied that she would close all the windows. There was a massive sound like screams of a crowd of people, which was actually the sound of the lashing rains, from the south-west direction. Ammamma closed the windows forcefully, using all her strength. The raindrops splashed on her face from outside and it shined on her skin.
It had become dark by four pm that day!
Ammamma said it had become very dark outside and the time was just four pm. Malathikutty said that she wanted to see Kutti Oppu. Ammamma replied that she would come around 6 pm. But Malathikutty was persistent, and she said she wanted to go to Ambazhathel that time itself. Ammamma tried to convince her by saying that she would send her after the storm calms down. Malathikutty knew the storm was not about to calm down anytime soon, and she started crying loudly. They all heard a huge crashing sound from the garden. A coconut palm had fallen due to the stormy winds. Muthassi asked Kochu what the sound was and whether the house would crumble down.
Ammamma said it was the sound of a coconut palm and not to worry about it. She added that they could go and see the condition once rain stops. She told them to chant prayers quietly. All of them assembled in the southern room as told by Ammamma.
She had mentioned that the room had the strongest ceiling. The southern room was filled with rainwater already and the courtyard of the central hall called as nalukettu was submerged. It was a hall in the middle of the house with four wooden pillars for support. The kids and grandmothers (Ammamma and Muthassi) sat on rolled-up beds arranged on the floor, while the servant woman took shelter in the temporary toilet near the room.
A traditional home in Kerala - a hall with pillars!
Ammayi (mother-in-law) came there soaked wet in the rain, totally not conscious of the thunder, lightning and lashing rain. Ammamma scolded her saying she had been so foolish, as they can fall ill because of the rains. Ammayi laughed and handed over Kutti Oppu. Malathikutty was overjoyed and Ammayi hugged her.
Cheriamma (mother's younger sister) told we could suggest aksharaslokams to distract themselves from the fear. (Akshara Slokam is a traditional way of sloka chanting, a poetic entertainment developed in Malayalam. It is in a classical format with strict rules on the meter of quatrains called slokas. Several scholars sit together to recite either Sanskrit or Malayalm slokas). Each person had to say a verse and the next person began with the first letter of the third verse that had been chanted by the earlier person. No one was willing to start. Cheriamma herself started with the first verse from "Vallathol’s imprisoned Aniruddhan". Ammamma said she couldn't remember even a single sloka. Muthassi, on the other hand, was worried about the house; she hoped that the house doesn't crumble down.
Cheriamma started chanting the aksharaslokams herself!
Ammamma and Ammayi went upstairs. The servant lady started to cry loudly as he kept banging her head with her hands. Ammamma scolded her saying what she did was madness and whether she wanted to break open her head. The servant lady was worried if she would be able to see her family, ever again. She thought they would all die in the storm. Muthassi convinced her saying that she could go home the next day morning after the rain stopped. The lady replied that rain would never stop and that they would all die in the violent storm.
Muthassi asked if the lady was insane. Suddenly they heard more sounds - trees falling, a dog crying in a high-pitched sound in the western yard. Ammamma suddenly remembered about the cowshed and wondered what if it collapsed down. She asked Sankara to bring in the cows and tie them in the washing area near the kitchen. Sankaran Nair replied that the cowshed wouldn't fall as the beams were quite strong. He had gone to check the conditions outside the house. Ammamma replied that the cows could stay there itself then.
Sankaran said the cowshed beams were strong and there was nothing to worry!
Sankaran continued to say that the water level was knee-deep in the yard. Kamala cried that she wanted to swim. Her brother Ettan said she could swim in the courtyard of the hall. Kamala dipped her hand in the water collected in the courtyard and complained that it was cold as ice. Ammamma instructed the kids not to play in the water. The kids got back on the bed. From the southern side, they heard a knocking sound. When Sankaran opened, he saw the thoroughly drenched, black and white pet dog, Thumbi.
Thumbi, the family pet dog stood drenched in the rain!
Sankaran felt pity for the poor dog. He must have come along with Balamani Amma, he guessed. The kids looked at Thumbi and he looked back at them. He was trembling due to the chillness. Sankaran spread a jute sack on the porch and told Thumbi to lie down on the sack. In a storm condition like this, man and animals cannot be differentiated in their needs, Sankaran mentioned. Thumbi lied down and looked satisfied at Kamala and her brother. They all spent the night in the southern room and by morning, the rains had subsided.
Kamala woke up with the sound of a pleading voice that asked them to open the gate. A young man stood at the entrance and the water level was till his waist. He said that he was from Vadekkara and asked if everyone were doing fine. Ammamma replied that they were doing good and no one was injured there. She asked Balan how he had reached. He replied that he started when the sun rose and walked through the water with great effort. He replied that he was really smart. The situation was worse outside as a lot of huts and trees had fallen down; domestic hens and goats were floating dead in the water and it was a nasty sight! Ammamma asked Balan to come inside and change his dress (mundu).
Balan said the situation outside was worse and the whole area was flooded!
Kamala, innocently asked if they had sent any snacks for them from Vadekkara, like murukkus (a crunchy Indian snack made of rice flour) or dates. Balan smiled with his protruding teeth and said he had come empty-handed! Ammamma's mother murmured that this child was asking for snacks at a wrong time. Kamala hung her head in embarrassment.