It must have been some time in the fourth quarter of the year 1974 when the “Trunk Petti” (Box) made its entry to our home. The reason I remember the year is by logic. This being one of the first memories of my childhood and me never being a bright student or a scholar, I guess I should have been at least 4 years old to have remembered the auspicious event. The shining sky blue colored guest to our household was welcomed with surprise and awe by everyone. You are in for a surprise my friend because, in my household everyone means ,ten children, my Umma (mother), her hens, ducks, cocks, cows, and all the ants, insects, flies and mosquitoes! Everyone in unison welcomed the respectful guest in blue as My Waappa (father) entered the foyer of our home carrying it and placed it very gently and proudly on the floor. He had probably contemplated a lot and also borrowed money from one of his nuclear family friends in our neighborhood to buy this “Trunk Petti”. My young mind was amused beyond comprehension on the size of the “Trunk petti”. My innocent question to Umma was an enquiry on the use of this “Trunk petti”. I wanted to confirm, if that was the box in which my Waappa was to be carried off to his grave to the mosque far away. The only answer to my query was a whack on my neck by one of my bullying brothers. I have four trigger happy brothers who were young men, ready to hand out a blow to discipline their siblings. My Waappa started narration on the great bargain he got for this second hand “Trunk petti” that was kept on sale in our society’s exclusive department store (I have no clue why these shops were called department stores; even now). He also had to take it to the nearby workshop to get a touch of paint done. He cautioned my Umma to cut down on expenses to compensate on the luxury bestowed on her in the form of the “Trunk petti”.
She carefully cleaned the “Trunk petti” and very excitedly started placing her stuff in it. She had neatly stacked hers and her youngest three children’s clothes, which included mine too. It reminds me how meager the supply of linen was, for all of us. It was in such contrast to my one-year-old child’s wardrobe today, that is overflowing with clothes and what not.
The image of the blue “Trunk petti” with the black corners is etched vividly in my childhood memories. My dear friend, the thoughts that rush into my mind now is not of thrill and Joy. On the contrary, it drives me to a melancholic frame of mind with immense sympathy or rather empathy towards myself the child and to all my siblings and our parents. We dwelled in the 2-bedroom cottage that my Waappa was allocated by the Government of India for being a Government servant. “Government servant”…. what is it? The only fact I knew is that Waappa could not afford a servant at home. In those days and I guess even now, people in India feel safe to be a Government servant (there are stories of stampedes happening at such employment centers in India when such government Jobs are for the grabs). But there are immensely rich government servants too and those are the ones who are bold enough to deal under the table. Generally, government servants are lesser dreamers, content with their lives or rather ready to compromise, and struggle with whatever they have! The Government will take care of them and will provide food, clothes and shelter until they retire, upon which they get a percentage of their salary as pension until their death. Their lucky wives (provided these angels manage to survive beyond their husbands) were also provided with a partial survival amount. But usually they too follow their spouses soon. We Indians believe that it is due to the intense bond they share…. Tell me about it!!!!
To put light onto what I wish to say, I need to narrate a minor incident that happened to this government servant and his family. It was a fine morning; sunny and bright (I still don’t understand why sunny and bright relates to a fine morning, why not rainy and cloudy day be a fine morning?…(No wonder why we are the largest consumers of fairness creams)! My siblings that included my 7 year old elder sister, my five year old elder brother and my one year old brother, were surprised with an announcement from my Waappa about a trip to Alapuzha with him and Umma. We were all very happy; the excitement was immeasurable. Such a trip had never happened in our life. All three of us ran to him and chatted to him about the trip. I bet that our children would never have been this excited even if the offer was a trip to Disney Land. But for us, a field trip with my parents and the closest people in my life ….Oh what more could I ask for. My umma was also very excited since Alapuzha is where she was also born, though she seldom visits her ancestral home. Early one morning, dressed up in the best of clothes from our meager supply, we set out. Please be reminded that best clothes were easy to choose for us, as the choice was from the previous year’s “Eid” dress or this year’s.
The journey commenced from our quarters located on the 12th Cross road, south end, Willington Island. We hopped on to a double decker bus that plied at those times in my area. We climbed to the upper deck escorted by Waappa. My little child mind just couldn’t control the happiness I was experiencing at that time. Sitting with my brothers and sister, I watched in awe, the beautiful office buildings passing by. I wondered why they were all moving backwards as the bus flew past them. The sights we saw that day is engraved deep in my mind like the illustrations from a children’s book. We crossed the bridge, the aerodrome, the wharf gate. My umma explained to us about all the fishing boats that we saw, the small “Machuwas”(boats) with passengers crossing the “Vembanaattu Kaayal”( backwaters), swaying profusely behind the wake of the huge mechanized fishing boats. A few ships were anchored far away at the wharf and we could see tiny yellow men carrying “kottas” (baskets) of sulphur on their heads crawling like ants on the gangway of the huge sulphur ships. I was so fascinated with the colour of these men that I promised myself to be a sulphur carrier when I grew up and never work in an office like my Waappa. My young heart was in constant vibration with excitement, thrill and happiness. As me, my siblings and our parents travelled along in the double decker bus, which was moving towards the bus stand from where we were supposed to catch the bus to Allapuzha.
We reached the bus stand and Waappa being our leader, walked in front, with his “weekly”(magazine) which comes every once a week clutched under his armpit as if it was the most precious asset that belonged to him. He had to move around deftly from one bus parking to the other, to find out the cheapest and the best option that could take us to our destination. Such cheap buses are called “ordinary” buses that usually stop at every bus stop and for anyone who raises his hands on the street, even to scratch his head! Fifteen feet behind him, we where mimicking his moves. My brother was settled on my Umma’s hips; I was holding her left hand. The blue “Trunk petti” (heavy with all our stuff) was in her right hand. My elder brother was holding her saree’s pallu(end part of the drape) and walking behind; my elder sister also was holding my Umma’s right hand that held the “Trunk petti”. After numerous deft moves, we followed Waappa and got onto the bus that took us to Alappuzha where I still believe, we all had the best holiday of our life.
A month later, I saw Waappa come in with a dejected face and show a magazine to Umma. He turned the leaves to a particular page and showed her a photo in the magazine. At the first glance none of us could recognize what it was….but then it cleared up. It was the picture of an elderly man resembling Waappa, walking some distance in front of his family, with a weekly under his armpit dodging in between buses parked in the bus stand. The family behind him was a lady similar to my Umma carrying a child on her hips, holding a blue “Trunk petti” in her right hand with a girl holding on to the same hand; a boy resembling me holding her left hand and an elder boy holding her saree Pallu. It was the Magazine’s award winning photo of the month; and the caption underneath read, “The heights of Male Chauvinism”…! After many years, I understood that this photo was of us on that sunny day in the bus stand.
Contrary to the belief of the world, the reality was the story of a loyal, loving and responsible man who happened to be struggling to make ends meet and did not have the means of providing the best for his family in the yonder days. I remember my Waappa’s treasured advice to us on that day. He said, “Dear children, remember not to judge anyone and everyone based on just what you see; like us ,they also might have a story of their own to tell”!
How many times do we make this simple yet fatal mistake of being negatively judgmental on people who could have ended up as our treasured friends and played positive roles in our life only if we had been a little more patient. Sadly those people move on and make their own colorful lives with the lucky few who stuck around with them. My dear friends we need to realize that by not being judgmental, we are actually not giving them a chance but giving ourselves a chance for acquiring the greatest value adds of our lives.
Illustration Courtesy :- Farhan Kabeer (Kabeer)