It was raining heavily. Gayathri looked out through the window. She saw the coconut and arecanut palms swaying in the strong wind. Rain was pouring in sheets, soaking everything, “purifying everything”, thought Gayathri. She ran outside, and stood in the rain so that she too could be purified, washed off of all her sins. She stood there for a long time. All her life she had heard people describe rain as the blessing of God. For Gayathri, it had always been God’s tears – tears of desperation at His children who were destroying his greatest work of art, the Nature. The thunder and lightning had always been God’s anger at the earthlings – the flash of His eyes and the boom of His voice. She could interpret the rain in a thousand and one ways, for rain had always been a reflection of her mood.
“Hey, Thatri kutty1… Why are you standing in the rain? Come inside. You will fall sick”, called out Malu Amma. She had seen Gayathri getting soaked in the rain from the window in the kitchen. Seeing that Gayathri was not paying any heed to her, she rushed out with an umbrella, and pulled her inside. “What is wrong with you? Why are you getting yourself wet like this? Don’t you know you will fall ill”, she chided, took a towel and started drying her. Gayathri sat silently looking and enjoying the pitter-patter of the rain. She was then pushed into her room to change to dry clothes. This she did in a very mechanical manner still looking out at the rain through the window, somehow mesmersied by the falling drops.
Malu Amma sat there with the towel in her hand thinking how happy their household had once been. Malu Amma had been a part of that household from her childhood. She used to do the daily chores in that house. Gayathri and her parents would arrive for every summer vacation, for they were staying, in the city to visit her grand parents. Palakathu Tharavadu 2 would then be bustling with activities, and she never could sit and take rest. Her husband had also been there as the ‘Karyasthan’3 of the Tharavadu. But she had detested him. And now the house was empty, only memories remained of those cheerful days. “Those were days…”, sighed she and continued with her daily chores.
Meanwhile, Gayathri had changed to another dress, and walked out of her room and sat on the steps by the front door. The rain had reduced, it no longer poured with full force, and the noise had also reduced. “The rain is now softer, like a shy newly-wed bride”, thought Gayathri. She loved and hated rain at the same time, for all important events and misfortunes in her life seemed to happen during the rainy season. She was born on a night when it was pouring cats and dogs, her Granny had told her. She had met her best friend on a rainy evening. While coming back from school, she had slipped and fallen. It was then that Malavika had come along and helped her out. That had been the beginning of a bond which to this day is very dear to her.
Gayathri had lost her parents and grand parents, during a pilgrimage trip at the tender age of 5, to floods caused, again, by the harsh downpour – she visualized rain, then as an all-devouring monster, gobbling up everything in sight, including her near and dear ones. She had not accompanied them and had been spared by the Rains. Coming of rains had marked everything significant in her life.
Life had moved on for her. With her parents dead, her uncles had decided to leave her in her father’s ancestral home in Palakkad – in the Palakathu Tharavadu. She had been removed from the school in the city and left under Malu Amma’s care by her uncles. The Uncles and their wives stayed in the house till all rituals for the dead had been completed and had then left for their own abodes, leaving an aging Malu Amma with a big responsibility. Malu Amma who had always been loyal to the family had taken it up happily, with no qualms.
Her life at Palakkad moved at a sedate pace. She joined a Government school there, but seldom attended school. With no one to guide her or scold her, it was a life with very few interruptions or interventions. All day long she roamed around the village. She led a life with very few interruptions and little or no socializing. Nobody could guess what was going on in her mind. Now and then she would think of her parents. She remembered their faces very clearly. At such melancholy moments she would break into sobs, tears rolling down cheeks, feeling very lonely, cursing Fate at having grabbed her parents from her even before she could fully enjoy their love and affection.
In her daily ramblings, she explored a different place each day, and enjoyed the nature. On one day she would hop through the bushes and on another slosh through puddles, dance in the rains and so went the days and months. Seasons flew, and Gayathri grew into a tall beautiful 15 year old, well versed with every nook and corner of the village. And though she did not attend school regularly, she managed to clear all her exams. She hardly ever bothered about her appearance and was not aware of how attractive she was.
On a June morning, when the rainy season sets off with gusto in Kerala, Gayathri started off her daily walk after her breakfast. The sky was cloudy, but it had not started raining yet. She walked through the narrow paths and reached the forest. She had come here before – the forest led to the Nelliampathy hills. She walked around for some time looking at the beautiful birds chirping from the trees, picking up arinellikka4, pulinchikka5 etc which had fallen down. Chewing the tamarind leaves to suck in the juices and spitting the leaves. The forest was a sought after haven for her – she embraced it for she felt at home there. There were no uncles to scold her and no aunts who smirked at her unkempt appearance and no cousins to giggle at her. On this particular day, she walked on eating all the nuts and fruits that she plucked from the trees and bushes and watching and enjoying the nature. All of a sudden it started raining heavily. She jumped with joy, for one more of her friend had just joined her. As she looked around, she saw that the mud was forming into puddles everywhere, and then a small hut, standing at some distance, caught her eye. She ran into it for cover. She went inside and stood and watched as the whole forest stood under the shower – it was then that she realized that she was in a part of the forest that she had never been before. She guessed that she must have walked too deep into the forest, for the muddy path was no longer visible. She was not scared, but was little surprised at how she had come this far and not realized it.
She then started looking around the hut that had given her the shelter. It was cloudy and the light was poor and she was finding it difficult to look around. Soon her eyes grew accustomed to the dark and she found that the hut was quite bare. Water was leaking from the roof at many places. The hut was in quite a dilapidated state. “Just like my Tharavadu”, thought Gayathri. It didn’t seem to be inhabited for a really long time. There were a lot of cobwebs and she could hear some sounds of rats or some other creatures running around, probably. She walked around the hut, found a lot sticks piled up at one corner; a few earthen pots painted with some strange designs and kept upside down in a pyramidal arrangement. The designs of all the pots together merged to form a large bizarre image. It was a very colourful image – a mix of red, blue, purple, green all very bright and eye catching. She tried deciphering the image tilting her head at various angles, but the picture looked different at each angle and this puzzled her. “A mysterious image”, she said to herself. She went closer and sat down before it to have a closer view of the picture. As she sat down, something cold touched her feet; she looked beside her feet and saw an old photograph. It was covered with cobwebs, but she could see the glint of the glass. She sat down and started clearing the cobwebs. This revealed a photograph, enclosed in what was once a golden frame, now having lost all its sheen. The snap itself was quite faded, yet she could just make out two people standing. She walked towards the entrance of the hut to see the image clearly in the fading light. She could now make out it was a man and a woman. She could not still make out their faces. She started wondering who they could be, “probably the people who lived in this hut”, she said aloud at the same time wondering how people who lived in the heart of this forest and that too in a hut could have a photo. She continued looking at the photo. Just then there was a flash of lightning and God’s anger revealed to her the faces in the photo. They resembled the image etched in her memory many years back, the image which she had been longing to see all her life – her parents. “This is the photograph of my parents”, cried she in happiness. They were smiling and they looked happy.
“How did it come into this hut? What were they doing here? Maybe someone else brought it. But who could it be? And, why my parents?” Her train of thoughts ran so on and so forth but she could not find any answers. She set about exploring the hut once more, but this time more carefully, viewing the whole place with a different eye. She looked around the clay pots once more but she could figure out nothing. But she found that in the arrangement of the clay pots, there was a vacant slot, where the photograph would fit exactly. It seemed as though someone had been performing some rituals with this photograph. Could this have anything to do with her parent’s death? She was not sure, for she had been told they had been carried away by the floods.
By now, the rain had receded. She realised that it was getting late and decided to return and continue her exploration the next day. She carried the photograph with her. She started walking back. Very soon she realised that she did not know which way to go. There were no muddy tracks to help her for the rains had washed away even her foot marks in the mud. She looked around and the verdant canopy dressed in innumerable droplets of water, hosting a variety of chirping and twittering birds greeted her in every direction. “The rain again”, thought she, “has left me stranded in this old hut.” She looked at the picture again; tears welled in her eyes and broke into sobs. She walked back into the hut and placed the photo in the vacant slot among the clay pots.
All of a sudden the room filled with a bluish light and there was fragrance all around her, as though a whole garden of roses had bloomed just then. Gayathri was awed. In that bluish light the weird image drawn on the clay pot had been transformed and now became clear and to Gayathri it appeared no longer bizarre, for there in front of her was visible her own image, floating in the air. The image looked more primitively clad, but there definitely was her semblance. Gayathri could not understand what was happening. Things were happening too fast for her to grasp the full meaning. The image was smiling at her, beckoning her and she moved towards it as though drawn by some unknown force. She walked on; with the image always ahead of her by some distance. After some time, to her horror, she saw that her feet were no longer on the earth – she was still in the hut but in some other plane. This reminded her of her physics classes. Looking back she could still see the hut and the photo of her parents but they were far away. She was no longer surrounded by the greens of the forest but by dry arid lands with a few withering bushes, and it was raining all around her – quenching the thirst of those parched lands – thought Gayathri. She did not know where she was being taken but still she went on. After what seemed a very long walk they reached a strange place, where there was one giant banyan tree full of green leaves and many birds perched on its branches. Under the tree, stood four smiling people – her parents and her grand parents. She was thrilled and ran to their extended arms. She could not believe her eyes. Her mother hugged her and then her father and then she moved to her grand parents. “Where were you all these days? Why did you leave me alone?” she kept asking, but none of them replied. “talk to me Amma6”, she said repeatedly. She could see them moving their lips but she could not hear them. She could touch them feel them, see them but could not talk to them. She felt helpless and cried. Her mother hugged her and gave her a golden brooch and her father gave her a silk ribbon. She kept talking to them without knowing that they couldn’t hear her. Suddenly someone tapped on her shoulder.
She turned back to see the image – her image – that had led her to her parents. She had completely forgotten about the image. She looked at it, and noticed that it was clad in the same clothes that she was wearing now. Had she not followed it and come she would have believe that she was now looking into a mirror. The image started talking to her in a strange wheezy sound, as though someone was squeezing her throat. It was not her voice, at least. The image only resembled her in appearance, mused Gayathri.
The image pointed to her parents and grand parents and said, “They will not be able to hear you, nor will u able to hear them. They are the souls and you are alive. That banyan tree marks the doorway to God’s world. For all these years they have been standing here, unwilling to go inside, wishing for something – wishing to see you and tell you something! I am their desire and since their desire was to see you, I took your form and your appearance. All these years I have been trying to bring you here, but their desire was not strong enough to let me bring you here. For the past 10 years they have been waiting for you, and in these 10 years, their desire has grown each day and today I gained enough strength to draw you here”. The Desire, as now Gayathri thought of her mirror image, paused and smiled at her.
“Your parents and grand parents want to tell you something about their death. Theirs was not a natural death. It was true that there were heavy floods. But they had escaped the floods. Your mother, grand father and grand mother had been together and had lost your father and Malu amma’s husband – Kelappan – in the floods. Kelappan had very cunningly killed each one of them so as to gain all the wealth. In fact it was he who had called up and informed your uncles about the demise of all the four. He had in fact been planning to kill you too, eventually. But, he died on his way back.”
Desire paused, she was fading slowly, she had lost the initial brightness. “Now”, continued Desire, “your grand parents will enter God’s world, but your parents will stand here and protect you, at every juncture, from your scheming uncles and aunts. You see, I cannot stay anymore, my duty is fulfilled and will soon fade away. Since the desire is fulfilled, my image holds no importance anymore. Good bye Gayathri. Keep those tokens of love given by your parents safe and with you. They will protect you”, so saying Desire vanished.
“Hey wait… wait… I have a few questions”, she shouted, but there was no one. She looked at the banyan tree, her parents waving at her. A large doorway had opened in the center of the banyan tree and her grand parents were going in through it, into the God’s world. She then started falling down. Her grand parents were sprinkling some brown liquid on her and she got a glimpse of the God’s world. “I don’t want to leave…” she cried and soon she fell with a thud.
She opened her eyes, and she had fallen down from the steps of the hut. She looked around, there was no photo, no earthen pots, no bizarre image, but the rain was pouring and it was only afternoon. She was perplexed – nothing was making sense. “Was it all a dream? What an odd dream…”, thought she, and got up. Something fell from her lap, and rolled forward – something golden in colour. She picked it up and to her surprise it was that golden brooch , “the one mother had given in me in my dream. Was it a dream?”, she wondered. Then she noticed the silk ribbon lying on the ground, the one her father had given. All this left her even more confused. She looked out of the hut and she could see the muddy track which had led her to the hut.
“When I looked for this track some time back, it was missing. And I felt that I was lost!!! What does all this mean? Am I dreaming, or did it happen?” she could not make up her mind. But the golden brooch and the red satin ribbon suggested it must have happened. “Whether it happened or not, I now know how my parents died and I saw them”, talking to herself in this manner she walked back to the Tharavadu. It started to mizzle and soon grew into a rainstorm. She rushed to a nearby banyan tree for cover. As she stood there, an invisible hand caressed her, someone called out “Thatri kutty..” , she then heard a creaking sound. Looking back she saw a door had opened in the middle of the banyan tree and out came a beautiful lady wearing a crown of raindrops, through which sunlight reflected and refracted to create a halo of rainbow around her. She smiled at the girl and gave her a small packet. Gayathri looked at the brown packet and looked up, to find that the lady had vanished and there was no door in the banyan tree and rains had stopped and sun shone down on her.
Reaching home she rushed to her room smuggling the parcel, lest Malu Amma saw it. She opened it and there lay a small dog-eared book. She flipped through the pages and started reading. It was a story named – A mysterious journey led by the Rains – a narrative of her own childhood and her journey to the banyan tree and how she met her parents.
1 Thatri kutty – Thatri was Gayathri’s pet name. Kutty is a Malayalam word to refer a small girl.
2 Palakathu Tharavadu – Tharavadu is the ancestral home. Ususally the families have a family name. Palakathu is the family name.
3 Karyasthan – It is the name of a position held by anyone who is the overall caretaker of the household – looking after the farms, and other monetary transactions.
4arinellikka, 5pulinchikka – wild fruits.
6Amma – mother