Achan (father) and I have a wonderful relationship. We both get along well even with all our differences of opinion we have on various matters. Our temperaments match. Something I am not very proud of. We both take decisions within fraction of seconds unlike our respective spouses. Not that we don’t apply our mind before reaching the final decision. Just that we don’t linger on with situations like many others. It’s either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. There’s never a ‘May be’ or ‘May be not’. And we stick to our decision irrespective of the consequences and wholeheartedly accept whatever the outcome is.
Achan happens to be my most favourite partner for a morning walk. On this short trip to Ramgarh, Acha and I went on a walk around the village while everyone else waited at the restaurant for the breakfast that was getting ready. We both can’t sit idle. If we have ten minutes to ourselves, we will either be found cleaning something/some place or walking or reading. It’s on a similar morning walk back from the temple some sixteen years ago that I had informed Dad about the Man’s proposal. That was the morning when I had thought that I had lost him and his unconditional love forever. Thanks to the Almighty that things improved for us with time. I can’t bear to lose him ever. He’s my bestest buddy.
This is the Dak Ghar at Malla Ramgarh (Upper Ramgarh). Dak Ghar is nothing but the local Post Office. Coming from the National Capital Territory where the Postal Services are now rarely heard of and are almost lost amidst the many courier and door-to-door delivery services, this building caught my attention. Why? Because we used to have a Post Office back home in Kerala inside our house. The post office for Pin Code number 679522, Cherukkattupulam, Kerala, used to run from a small cottage within our compound. We had leased the space to the Government of India for the Post Office at rupees twenty-five per month. Just for rupees 25. That used to be the daily milk expense at our place. And I used to tease my Ammamma (grandmother) every time she signed on the revenue stamp to collect the twenty-five rupees.
This Post Office brought back all the lovely memories I had of the Cherukkattupulam Post Office.
As mentioned earlier, ours was a highly orthodox and conservative family and even eggs were not allowed inside our compound. Muthacha (grandfather) who hailed from Kunnissery in Palakkad district used to bring along chicken fry or boiled Duck eggs for us on his way back from his hometown. He can’t enter the compound with any of this as Ammamma wouldn’t allow it at all. He used to be fun to be around. He would call us from outside the gate and take us to the post office in the evening hours when it was closed for the day. We would be made to sit on the cemented railings of the verandah (roofed, open-air gallery or porch) of the post office. He would lovingly feed us and tell us how we will become stronger and stronger after eating chicken and eggs . Once finished, he would make us wash ourselves with the water from the hand pump. And then we will go home. He would tease Ammamma saying we have entered with the chicken and eggs and will ask her if she would now throw us out of the house. And the entire evening would be one joyful one where Ammamma would keep repeating the same thing again and again lying on her bed till Muthacha made his false promise of not repeating it again. I am sure Ammamma would have missed his false promises and those pranks just like I missed them.
There was a red Hibiscus plant inside the post office and I had hidden a hundred thousand complaint chits underneath it. I would write all that had hurt me during the day and bury it under the tree so that no one found it ever. So many letters that I had not sent to Acha were also buried underneath this plant. I was sure nobody would ever be able to reach it.
There used to be a drunk old man who used to sleepover at the post office verandah in the nights. He was called Koppa. He would leave the place early in the morning before Govindankutty Mama reached from Trichur and he would be back at the same place as dusk fell. I used to be terribly scared of that bearded old man who smelled of only dirt and kallu (alcohol). Evenings were still okay as everyone was awake and around. At nights, as he sang some silly songs, I used to shiver with fear. And when Ammamma or Muthacha noticed my sobs or tears on my pillow, they would scream at the top of their voice in the middle of the night and ask Koppa to stop singing and go to sleep. I used to think they disliked him but the very next day I would see Muthacha or Ammamma asking the house help to provide him some food and water. When it used to rain, Muthacha would personally go and deliver a blanket to him.
That reminded me of Chettiyar. Chettiyar was also an old man who would come around afternoons asking for food. Mema (maternal aunt) would give him a bowl full of kanjhi (rice porridge) or vella-choru (fermented rice). Ammamma and Muthacha would scold her for giving him so much but she ignored them and would fill his bowl. He would sit on the front yard and eat till he burped. He rarely spoke. I don’t remember listening to his voice ever. Mema had told me that he was a rich man who was cheated by his friends or family. He was given some drug which made him lose his senses. He wasn’t clean. He carried dirty rugs. Yet I used to wait for him. I had a soft corner for him. I used to feel good seeing Mema give him the kanjhi and the way he ate it peacefully. I am sure if he was alive, he would have blessed Mema to relieve her of all her pains and agonies.
This post office was extremely special to me as I would run up to the boundary wall around 1 p.m. when the Post Master would call out the names on the letters and deliver it to the people who were present there at that moment. I would reach much earlier than anyone else and waited for her (we had a female post master) to pick up an Airmail envelope or an Aerogram. These are some of the things that this generation might never understand. The joy of waiting. Hoping against hope. And the breaking of heart every time there was no letter for me. The Post Master would then walk around the village to the various houses to deliver the letters to the sendees (a person to whom something is sent). Letter or no letter, she would drop at our place just to visit Ammamma who hadn’t stepped out of the house in ages owing to her terribly curved spine. I haven’t seen her upright ever. Those were the days when neighbours and fellow villagers were kind and courteous enough to come and check about the well-beings of all the elders and even spend a night or two at your place for help when someone was terribly ill.
This post office was also my secret hideout from Amma’s uncle, Govindankutty Mama. I used to hate the commotion in the house as he prepared to leave to Trichur by the 6 p.m. Sridevi bus only to return the very next morning by the 7.30 a.m. Raj bus. Yes. Small towns only have a few buses running on their routes and are identified by their name and not by any number. The bus stop was right in front of our gate and all the drivers were well-acquainted with Muthachan and everyone else in the family. If they happened to not see Muthachan around for over a week, they would stop by to enquire about his health.
Such simple people. Such simple lives they had. So much kindness. So much compassion. So much empathy. People enjoyed the joy of giving more than complaining about what they didn’t have. So much we learned from our surroundings and our elders. That indeed was a golden era and I regret that my children would never get to know that there was a period in history like that.