It was Baby who told Tampi and Joy that a man is visiting their home that day.
“Did you know that your alian is visiting today to marry your sister?”
They had in fact noticed a flurry of activities in sprucing up the house and the kitchen was abuzz with goodies making. Now they understood the importance of it all.
“Alian is coming to see my sister, alian is seeing my sister today.” , the boys aged 11, ran around the houses and shouted at everyone.
Their sister was getting ready to ‘see’ her prospective groom in the conventional ‘arranged-marriage’ style prevalent in South Indian village of Vallamkulam, Kerala in the late 1940’s. What they hadn’t realized was that the visiting suitor may or may not end up being an alian, Malayalam word for sister’s husband. In fact, their loud merrymaking aggravated their father so much that he even pounced on them with a disciplining rod.
However, it turned out that the visitor eventually did become their sister’s husband. The memory of the boys running around with shouts of joy and later being disciplined became a jocular anecdote that was passed down to me years later in late 60’s or early 70’s.
They were one of the most amazing couples I have ever known. The lived together 64 long years until yesterday when my uncle passed away in Bangalore. He had been on a ventilator support in medical ICU for about a week. Tampi, now 75, had visited him just a couple of days back. His wife, my aunt, always preferred to be called Mrs.Thomas and not by her name, is a subject of another story in its own merit. Although ailing very much, she made it a point to visit her comatose husband in the ICU two times every day until the day of death.
Vignettes of my uncle, Pappachayan, aka, Mr. Thomas flash by:
“Next year you are going to be in which grade in school?”
“That’s high school, my boy! You will be a big boy!”
His evening walks to Vallamkulam always included a sitting chat with Mathew of grocery shop. I used to go there, but always found Mathew aloof and businesslike. But here was my uncle on equal terms with him sitting on a stool opposite the cashier’s table and chatting!
“This is excellent, fine froth.” I would exclaim seeing his shaving expedition in the morning down to the well. There was no water running down a tap behind the bedroom those days.
I recall him sitting on the Jeep next to the driver and giving directions as my newly – wed wife and I sat in the rear seat. He had picked us up from a bus depot called Kalassa, some 150 km north of Mangalore to take us to the coffee plantations where he worked as manager those days. On one of those days, he just tripped down near a coffee plant. We giggled.
He quickly resumed his posture and beamed: “Oh! I was just examining the root of the plant.”
But the most famous one liner that I would remember is this: “You should have uttered a word.” He was responding to my announcement that we would be off from his estate the next day. Actually we hadn’t told him that in the beginning, neither had he asked.
May Pappachayan’s soul rest in peace!