It was someone’s birthday at Ambazhathel – I’m not sure whose – the day there was a cyclone. Ettan, my elder brother, and I were invited to the feast there that day. Malathikutty took us to the serpent shrine before lunch. We watched Meenakshi Edathi setting out turmeric, milk and bananas for the snakes.

     Meenakshi Edathi was a distant relative of the Ambazhathel family. Being poor, she was dependent on their generosity. She was dark- skinned and middle-aged. She spent her time rushing around the house and compound, never stopping to rest, her face perpetually wearing an expression that asked for forgiveness. She had only certain trivial duties to perform, like welcoming the oracle with an offering of paddy when he came in a procession, lighting all the lamps at dusk, churning the curd and taking out the butter for the children, and drawing designs with rice batter on the door on the day of the Nira festival. There were innumerable servants to carry out all other tasks. However, the family could not have existed happily for a single day without Meenakshi Edathi. She was the only one who knew how much paddy should be boiled each time to make enough rice for the household or how many mundus had been given to the washerman or when to give the children a purgative.
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.
middle aged woman.jpg
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!
Meanings of difficult words:
cyclonea tropical storm
trivialordinary, of little value
oraclea priest who gave people wise but often mysterious advice from a God
paddyrice before threshing or in the husk
purgativea medicine tending to facilitate evacuation of the bowels
processionas part of a ceremony
churnshake (milk or cream) in a machine in order to produce butter
State Council of Educational Research and Training (2019). Term-3 English Standard-6. A Childhood in Malabar: A Memoir - Kamala Das (pp 84-89). Published by the Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation.