It was another hot summer’s day in the village of Pattanapalli. The women folk were busy with their morning chores, most of the men folk had already left for the rice fields, and would only come back at sundown. The village was organized into three neat rows, small brick houses with huge backyards, with pulley-wells for drawing water, coconut trees, mango trees and neem trees. At one end of the village was the beautiful Bhairavar Temple, the deity that guarded and protected the village. There was a very old banyan tree just outside the temple, that had dropped its buttress roots all around it, providing cool shade, impromptu swings for children and a platform that hosted gossiping men at night, women in the afternoons and children throughout the day.
In this tiny village there lived a pair of twins named Veeran and Velan, aged 8. The boys were inseparable and were curious, naughty and always out to have a good time; just like all little eight year old boys around the world.
On this particular day, they had woken up and had just eaten their breakfast, rava upma, made out of broken wheat. Unbeknownst to their mother, the two imps had painstakingly picked out the small pieces of onion & vegetables and stuffed them under their plates. With innocent looks and smothered giggles the twins made their way out of the kitchen to enjoy another long day of fun.
Their grandmother, with her hawk-eyes watched them from her corner of the ‘thinnai‘ or platform that ran on either side of the main door of the house. She positioned herself at a vantage point, where she could observe both the people on the village street & the goings-on inside the house.
Over the last few years, she had lost all her teeth and chewed on betel leaves and mumbled prayers throughout the day, while her sharp eyes would follow the boys going about their various activities, sometimes harmless, but mostly tricks that they were planning on some unsuspecting neighbour.
Today, the boys were in a mood to play a game of marbles, so they opened their metal trunk and took out an old oil tin, which contained their beautiful marbles. The boys took great pride in these marbles and had named each one, the one that was light green with flecks of gold was Puyal (storm in Tamil), since it always won them points, one was calledShakuni (named after a famous character in the Mahabharata), for its deceptive size but powerful action, and so on. Just as they gathered the marbles in their hands to step out of the house, they heard somebody call out their names, “Veeran, Velan, come here.”
It was their friend Ayyavu. He called out again with some urgency, “I have some interesting news for you,” he said.
“What is it?” asked Veeran.
“The Gudugudupandi was seen in the next village this morning and the milkman who passed by told my mother that he was going to be coming to our village later today.”
“Gudugudupandi, who is that?” asked the twins in unison.
“You don’t know who a ‘Gudugudupandi’ is?..Ask your grandma, she will explain, I have to rush now,” said Ayyavu and ran away, guiding his vehicle, which was an old bicycle tyre controlled by a long rod, curved at the front. All little boys had their own versions of this vehicle.
The twins’ curiosity was piqued; they ran to where their grandmother was dozing, while still sitting.
“Paati, paati (grandmom),” they shook her gently. “Wake up.”
Their grandmom opened her eyes and mumbled, “What is it boys? What mischief are you up to now?”
“Paati, who is a Gudugudupandi?” they asked her.
“A Gudugudupandi is a soothsayer, who follows the dictates of Goddess Jakkamma. He goes from door to door and utters predictions about the residents of the house. He carries a small drum that he rattles as he utters his predictions. He also precedes his statements with a chant that goes something like this, “Nalla kaalam pirakkudu”, meaning good times are here for your family.”
“They are supposed to be very wise people with magic powers,” she added. “They ask for money and if the owner of the house refuses, then sometimes they curse the family,” she said.
Two pairs of eyes, that were like saucers, stared at her.
“Does the Gudugudpandi know about our family and what we do?” asked Velan
“Yes, yes, he knows everything that you boys do & he has also been known to take away naughty boys,” said their grandmother, wanting to get back to her mid-morning nap. “Off with you boys now.”
The two boys looked at each other and knew instantly what the other was thinking. They went to their backyard, under the shade of the mango tree, and had their conference.
Velan said, “What if the Gudugudupandi knows about all the naughty things we have done?”
Veeran said, “I am quite afraid that Mom will come to know of all our pranks, what if he decides to take us away?”
Velan said, “We have done some pretty mean stuff these holidays, hiding the spade & shovel of Farmer Natesan, hiding granny’s glasses because she did not allow us to play, mixing red brick powder with mom’s fresh chilly powder, attaching a tin-can chain to Lakshmi’s skirt as she went to draw water…..ugh, I feel sick with worry.”
Veeran’s eyes filled up with tears, “I am sure he will take us away, why don’t we just go away to the Banyan tree and play, that way if he comes we will not be at home? “
Velan agreed and the boys quietly entered the kitchen, the living room and were about to leave the house, when their mom called out to them, “Veeran & Velan, where are you going? It is very hot outside today, so stay indoors please.”
The boys pleaded with their mother, who was strangely firm about not letting them play outside.
They sat on the thinnai, ran indoors, came back again, back and forth, back and forth, sick with worry about this unknown Gudugudupandi.
Lunch time came and went, but there was still no sign of the Gudugudupandi. They decided to sneak out of the house, when their mom and granny dozed in the afternoon, to check with Ayyavu if he had any news.
By 3.00 p.m. their granny’s gentle snores could be heard, their mom’s breathing had also settled down, so the little boys stepped out of the house, carefully ensuring that the front door did not creak. They turned away from the door, Velan had barely reached the centre of their courtyard, when he sensed a form standing at the entrance to the courtyard. Velan was paralysed with fear, as his eyes caught a rattling drum and his ears heard that strange chant, “Nalla kaalam pirakkudu”.
Veeran stood rooted to the spot, as he took in the Gudugudupandi’s big eyes, huge turban and clothes. His eyes were mesmerized by the rattling drum.
“Call your mother, boys,” said the Gudugudpandi.
Velan’s legs had become jelly-like; Veeran could not breathe.
“Boys, is there nobody at home?” asked the Gudugudupandi.
“Amma…..”, Velan let out a big cry. Veeran’s voice also joined in.
Calling out to their mother had given them the strength to run indoors, they shook their mother and granny awake. “The Gudugudpandi is here, he is asking for you Amma.”
“Oh! ok, ok, I am coming,” she said. She went into the kitchen and brought with her a packet of raw rice; some coins jingled in her hand as she opened the front door.
“How are you?” she asked the Gudugudupandi. “We don’t see you here in these parts anymore?”
Two pairs of eyes peeped at the Gudugudupandi from either side of their mother’s legs.
“Thank you sister, for the rice and money. I have not seen any naughty boys in these parts in recent times to carry away, so I haven’t been coming this side. But today, I have seen these two boys, so I may come back again to visit. Tell me if they misbehave ok ?” He smiled and walked away.
The twins were sure the Gudugudupandi could hear their hearts thudding.
Later in the evening, Ayyavu came by. He asked, “Veeran & Velan, did you meet the Gudugudupandi?”
The boys were prepared and answered with bravado, “Oh! he was alright! Not at all scary.”