The Thursday Movie


(Based on a true story shared with me by one of my dearest friends)

Today

The coconut trees surrounding the Nair Tharavad in the village of Poovakulam swayed in the gentle
afternoon breeze. The sun’s ferocity was trapped by the netted fronds, allowing only the requisite
amount of light and heat to fall on the sprawling, ancestral home below. The occasional caws of lazy
crows could be heard. Further away from the main homestead, water gently rippled and shimmered
in the Tharavad’s huge pond; where dried twigs and leaves floated lazily on the surface, as they
enjoyed their afternoon siesta.

Courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

On this day, however, the usual afternoon calm of the Tharavad was broken. The place was bustling
with activity. Two cars had arrived from the city; with the sons and daughters of the family, who had
come with their own spouses and children to celebrate the annual family reunion during the summer
holidays.

There were six grandchildren in all, ranging from the ages of one to thirteen; their feet scampering
around the yard, and their voices echoing across the Tharavad. Their parents, who had grown up in
this beautiful environ, stopped to soak-in the feeling of being home after a whole year of sweating it
out in the mad cities. This annual reunion was the highpoint of each of their summer vacations.
None of the family members lived in the Tharavad anymore. Unni, the caretaker, and his wife, Omana
jointly took care of the property. Their family had worked in the Tharavad and its fields for
generations.

The children continued to explore the Tharavad and its beautiful gardens and groves. They ran hither
and thither, getting acclimatized to this bit of paradise that they visited every year. Soon, the pond
would echo with the laughter of these children, as they spent hours splashing about in its cool waters;
the youngest ones getting their first swimming lessons from the local coconut picker, who would string
the fibrous part of many coconut shells together to create environment-friendly floats that would help
the novices learn.

Soon, the whole family sat cross-legged on the floor to eat a sumptuous sadya, served on huge
plantain leaves from the estate. The leaves soon filled up with mounds of boiled rice, sambar, rasam,
avial, pappadam, an assortment of vegetables – raw banana, yam and potatoes. There was pachidi
made of ginger and tamarind, fresh buttermilk and lots of pickle; not to forget the crisp banana chips
fried in fresh coconut oil. As the family tucked into the wonderful meal, lovingly prepared by Omana,
there were contented sighs and silences, interspersed with laughter and a lot of catching up.

After lunch, the adults moved to the nadu muttam, an open-to-sky courtyard, that served as the
midpoint of the Tharavad. All rooms in the house opened out into this courtyard. The children were
back amongst the coconut trees and mango trees, the older ones trying to climb the mango trees to
get their hands on the raw, green mangoes that dangled enticingly.

Later that week, the family received a visit from the committee members of the local village council,
who invited the family to the theatre to watch a movie on Sunday, and thereafter stay for a celebration
to commemorate the golden jubilee of the theatre.
And that’s when the children heard the story of their grandparents, and especially their grandmother,
who had been instrumental in the theatre’s establishment.

Many, many years ago

The village council had come to meet with Mrs & Mr. Nair. The council members were seated in the
cool confines of the huge living room, flanked by teak pillars and squeaky-clean wooden floors.
The men had come with a proposal. Soon, the matriarch, Shreedevi Nair, walked in with her husband, Venugopalan Nair. She was petite, but had such a strong presence that the seated men stood up
unconsciously. She waved for them to sit and peered atthem through narrowed eyes. She knew the
lot of them from their childhood and asked after their families and parents.

Finally, the President of the Council put forth their proposal. The village was growing, and the farmers
worked hard throughout the week. By way of entertainment, the Council wanted to build a cinema theatre that would screen movies to the villagers. The problem was with both money and space.

The council members sought the Nairs’ help with their proposal. Shreedevi Nair thought about it for some time. She had herself seen only one movie in a cinema theatre many years ago, when she had accompanied her husband to Mumbai on a work trip. It would help
people unwind and relax after a long, tiring day working under the blistering sun.

The Nairs conferred for a while, and generously donated a tract of land that lay at the edge of the
huge Tharavad estate for the Cinema Theatre to be constructed. The couple also donated money to
get the project off the ground.

The theatre took nearly a year and a half to build, and with the theatre to be inaugurated soon, the
excitement in and around Poovakulam was palpable.

Shreedevi & Venugopalan Nair were the Chief Guests, who inaugurated the Theatre; and watched the
screening of the first Malayalam movie in the theatre with all the people in the village. To express their gratitude for the Nairs’ generosity, the Theatre Owners Association gave them a letter of appreciation, and free-tickets to any show, on any day, for all members of the Nair family, for life.

The Theatre grew from strength to strength, and slowly added a food-stall that sold peanuts, popcorn,
vadas and samosas, along with hot tea and coffee, or cold drinks for those who needed them.

Back in the Tharavad, Shreedevi Nair, fell in love with the silver screen. She looked forward to every
new movie that was screened. Every Thursday evening was ‘movie time’ for the matriarch. And the
whole Tharavad and Theatre Complex geared up for these visits. She would always attend the 6 – 9
p.m. show in the evening, preparations for which would start in the afternoon. After a simple lunch
and her afternoon siesta, Shreedevi Nair would have a nice bath. Earlier in the day, Kuttan, the man
who ironed clothes for a living, and who was also a benefactor of Shreedevi Nair’s generosity, came
to pick up the set mundu and matching blouse. His ‘ironing shop-on-wheels’ was always stationed
under the cool shade of the coconut trees on the Tharavad’s land, from where he served all his
customers. When Kuttan arrived to pick up the set mundu, Shreedevi Nair always told him to iron the
clothes to perfection and deliver them on time.
And never once, in all the years that Shreedevi Nair visited the theatre did Kuttan ever fail her.

Every Thursday, the beautiful set mundu – that was ironed and folded neatly – was delivered at 4 pm sharp.
Kuttan’s arrival coincided with tea time for Shreedevi Nair. She would have a strong cup of chai, seated
on her favourite easy chair; chai that was flavoured with cardamom or ginger. After her cup of chai
Shreedevi Nair would get ready for the movie, set mundu neatly pleated. She would then powder her face and apply chaandu (a red coloured liquid that is used to apply the red dot or bindi on the forehead). The next important item on the list was her chellam or chella petti, which was a box containing betel leaves, betel nuts, lime, and a very aromatic variety of tobacco.

At 5.45 p.m., she would dab on a little perfume, and proceed to the theatre. The Tharavad’s watchman alerted the Theatre office about her arrival. Everybody in the theatre and its vicinity knew Shreedevi Nair, or Shreedevi Amma, as they called her – the tea stall owner, the peanut seller, the ticket collector, and of course the owners. All of them paid their respects to her, as she walked into the theatre. A special seat was reserved for her in the middle of the second last row.
The doorman would not allow anyone to sit on that ‘reserved’ seat on Thursdays.

During intermission, the owner, and later the owner’s kids would come and enquire about the movie and about Shreedevi Amma’s health and her family. They drew a lot of comfort by her presence. In many ways she was their lucky mascot.

Shreedevi Amma watched every single movie that was screened in the theatre, till she died at the age
of seventy-nine. She became one with the characters and the plots; and would bring home her views
about the movie, discuss the movie with family members, hum the songs and curse the villains whohad troubled the movie’s protagonist or ‘hero’.

Sadly, none of her children enjoyed watching movies, much to Shreedevi Amma’s disappointment. However, she never changed her Thursday movie-watching ritual for anyone. With her charismatic presence and generosity, she lit up the lives of the people in the village. The peanut seller, Kuttan – the iron-man, the theatre’s doorman, the chai wallah – all of them remembered her kindness, her generosity and her humility.

Now

The Nair grandchildren walked into the theatre with their parents. The family occupied one whole
row. The current owner of the theatre, who was the grandson of the first owner, guided the family to
their seats.

In the middle of the second-last row, one seat was cordoned off by beautiful satin ribbons. The seat
was made of plush red velvet. On it was affixed a small plaque that read –

“In loving memory of our beloved Shreedevi Amma, a true lover of cinema. Your generosity will forever remain in our hearts.”

Shreedevi Amma’s sons and daughters teared-up as they remembered their mother.

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Lady Luck – A short story


When Jas, short for Jasmine, woke up that morning, she felt the sudden urge to burst into tears. She promptly indulged the desire by sobbing into her pillow. Her prospects looked bleak – she was out of a job, she had very little money left, she had a pile of unopened bills, her landlord would pounce on her the moment she stepped out of her apartment, and to top it all she had no family, no parents, no siblings, nobody. She cried bitterly – anger and self-pity snaking up and down like a sinusoidal wave.

Jas finally mustered the courage to get out of bed – to face another day of uncertainty, more job applications and many telephone calls. She dragged out a huge sigh from within, and with slumped shoulders walked to the bathroom to get started with her day.

She had three interviews lined up that month, one was in fact scheduled for the very next day. As she peered at her face in the bathroom mirror, she realized that her eyebrows needed some threading and trimming. She had to look at least reasonably presentable at the interview tomorrow. She would have to part with her precious money, but it had to be done. She set off to the salon at a brisk pace.

As she walked through the crowded market, the man at the lottery ticket shop was shouting to all passers-by that it was the last date to buy tickets for the state’s Summer Bumper lottery. The jackpot was four million.

Courtesy – http://www.istockphoto.com

Jas laughed, walked past and stopped. On a whim, she walked back and bought a Summer Bumper Lottery ticket. She was suddenly filled with hope and a strange feeling of elation. She smiled to herself, as she stuffed the lottery ticket into her bag and walked towards the salon.

She sat down and told the beautician what she wanted done, totally oblivious to the other ladies around her, all of whom were in various stages of beautification!

The lady in the seat next to Jas was Mrs.Briganza, one of the richest women in the city. She watched Jas and thought to herself how beautiful the young lady was – tall and slender, with a good complexion and beautiful hair.

Jas made brief eye contact with Mrs.Briganza, and then looked straight ahead, though she could still feel Mrs.Briganza’s eyes on her.

The beautician quickly threaded Jas’s eyebrows, and as Jas stood up to take her wallet out of her bag, her bag fell from her hands, and all its contents spilled out on the floor. Jas quickly stuffed everything back into her bag, made her payment and left the salon.

Just after Jas left, Mrs.Briganza found Jas’s lottery ticket under her chair. She told the beautician to run quickly and give it to the young woman who had just left, and to whom it most probably belonged.

The girl rushed out only to see that Jas had already crossed the street. She waved and signalled to a woman on the other side of the road to call Jas. When Jas turned around, she saw the beautician waving a small paper at her. She thought that the girl was asking her to come back and take the receipt for her threading. She waved her hand and signalled that she did not want it.

The girl looked puzzled and went back inside. She handed the lottery ticket to Mrs.Briganza.

When Mrs.Briganza went to her office, she called her assistant and gave her the ticket, and asked her to check the results when they were published.

The lottery ticket and the incident at the salon were soon forgotten by both Jas and Mrs.Briganza.

On Wednesday the next week, Jas sat in line to be called for an interview at the offices of Point to Point Logistics. She clasped and unclasped her hands, waiting for the ordeal to be over.

It was finally her turn. She walked in and saw a lady seated at a huge desk. Jas felt that she looked vaguely familiar.

When the lady looked up at Jas, she seemed startled, and said, “Hello Ms.Jasmine Ray, I am Mrs.Briganza, have a seat”.

Mrs.Briganza remembered the young lady so well, and she remembered the lottery ticket also. The interview went smoothly, and just as Jas got up to leave, Mrs.Briganza said, “Do you remember dropping….”

And the telephone rang. MrsBriganza signalled for Jas to wait as she answered the call.

It was her secretary, who said, “Mrs.Briganza, do you remember the lottery ticket you had asked me to check? Guess what? You just hit the jackpot of four million.”

Mrs.Briganza said, “Thank you, my dear”, and slowly put the phone down.

In a calm voice she said to Jas, “Sorry to keep you waiting Ms.Ray. You will hear from us shortly if we choose to hire you.”

Jas walked out of the cool airconditioned office into the hot summer day, and joined the sea of people going about their lives.

Published on Kindle…..


I am very happy to share with you all that my book of short stories for children, titled THE TIN CAT AND OTHER STORIES FOR CHILDREN, is now available on Kindle Publishing around the world.

There are 12 short stories, each of which deal with the various situations and emotions that children encounter in their everyday lives.

Would love to hear from you, after you have read the book!

The Happy Kite – A short story


The summer holidays had arrived. The small village of Tapanam was bustling with activity. From sun rise to sun down, little boys and girls ran around the village, played on make-shift swings made of car-tyres, played hopscotch, threw stones to fell ripe mangoes from the orchard nearby, and ran for their lives when the watchman chased them.

Games were quickly played and dropped, out of boredom. New ideas surfaced, quarrels broke out, food was consumed in huge quantities; and parents and grandparents watched, bemused.

On one such day, a little boy named Kavin came back from his grandparents’ home with a marvellous kite. The kite was a beauty, with stripes of yellow and magenta, and a nice fluttering tail of green.

image

            Courtesy – kitesfestival.com

Kavin came roaring down the street with his kite, and all the children ran behind him in glee. Another blissful afternoon flew by, and another, and yet another.

Later that week, the kite flew in abandon towards a blue sky, flirting with the birds, skimming over trees and laughing at the children below.  The children screamed and ran about in happiness.

That afternoon, however, there was a hush in the village. Even the crows seemed to have stopped their raucous gossiping.

The reason was soon apparent. Kavin’s kite had got entangled in the branches of a big mango tree.

Many sad faces moped about. Most of the fathers were at work, moms were too busy on the fields to help. 

Late in the afternoon, the distinct ‘tak tak’ sound of Grandpa Scarybeard’s walking stick could be heard. This was worse than the kite being up on the tree.

The Grandpa was terrifying and had never been known to speak to any living soul. Tales about the Grandpa had become popular bedtime stories, and his name was used to scare little boys and little girls into obeying and going to bed on time.

As the ‘tak tak’ sound grew louder, 15 odd kids hid behind the tree and behind steps and doors.

With his sharp eyes, Grandpa Scarybeard had already seen the little monsters trying to rescue their kite. If one observed him closely, one could see his eyes twinkling. 

And as the children watched, Grandpa came to a stop under the very tree that hosted their kite.

Grandpa Scarybeard took out his walking stick and prodded the branches gently and untangled their kite, very slowly. He placed the kite under the tree and went on his way.

There was an initial hush, followed by joyous whoops and puzzled looks directed towards the Grandpa’s back.

Happiness was in the air. Leaping children, enjoying their summer break, a lonely Grandpa who found loyal friends, and a happy kite that soared higher and higher.

The Imperceptible Nod – A short story


Aryan sensed that it would be one of ‘those’ weekends. He had gone home that weekend to unwind and catch up on some well deserved rest. He avoided prolonged conversations with his mom, because all she wanted to do these days was to get him to meet her friends’ daughters.

Adding to this aggravation was his happily married sister, who came up with lists of girls, who would be the perfect match for him.

Truth be told, he knew he would eventually marry, but right now, the thought of marriage scared him, and with his workload he hardly found any time to date.

A young man is no match for two determined women, and so he listened to both of them raving about this beautiful, young lady named Rhea, who worked in the same city as he did. Rhea was a teacher in a renowned private school, whose sister had gone to school with his.

He nodded without really paying attention. His mind took in a few words here and there, but he was more worried about whether he would reach home in time to watch the final of the soccer match on TV.

Finally, they spared him, and after quick hugs, and reminders to call Rhea, he drove back.

Once back at work, the weekend, and sleep, seemed like faraway destinations. He was into IT sales and  was busy chasing his number targets, meeting prospective customers and trying to close deals.

A couple of weeks later, he had a meeting with a new prospect – a private school. While he waited in the school’s lobby, he suddenly remembered that this was the school where Rhea worked.   He looked at the school through a different lens now.

There were two smart ladies manning the reception desk. He walked up to one of them and asked, “Hmm, Is there a teacher named Rhea, who works here?”

“Yes, sir. Would you like to meet her?” asked the receptionist.

“Oh, no, actually. I just know her through somebody”, he said.

And desperate to change the topic, he said, “Could I have the school brochure please?”

The receptionist replied, “Sure. Are you looking at admission for your children?”

He nodded vaguely, imperceptibly – a nod that could have meant a yes or a no! The receptionist walked over to a shelf and picked out some literature about the school. He thanked her and went back to his seat.

Suddenly, he heard the receptionist calling out to him, “Mr.Kumar, that’s Ms.Rhea. The one there in the grey dress.”

And as he turned to look at Rhea, he heard the receptionist calling out to her,  “Rhea, there’s a gentleman who wants to talk to you about school admissions for his children.”

He looked shocked as Rhea made her way across the lobby. She was beautiful.

“Mr.Kumar, I am Rhea. I teach primary classes here and am also the admissions coordinator for junior school. I understand you are looking at admitting your children here. What can I help you with?”

Aryan said, “Good to meet you. No, I mean…no children, I mean, (he realized he was blabbering). “Sorry, I am actually here for another meeting – with your IT department, so if you could give me your card, we can catch up at a later date?”

They exchanged business cards.

“Sure, no worries”, she said and walked away with a wave.

He had blown it and how! That irritating receptionist…grrrr. He would gladly throttle her.

Then again, the problem was non-existent. He would just not call Rhea again, and it would end right there. So what if she thought he had children.

He went on with his days, the incident completely forgotten.

A few days later, his sister called him to say that she was in town and asked him if they could meet up for lunch and if she could bring a friend?

He booked a table at an Italian restaurant. At 12.30 pm he was seated at the table, busy checking his email. He heard his sister before he saw her.

He looked up with a smile, and stood up to give her a hug. He froze when he saw that his sister’s friend was Rhea. His sister made the introductions and winked at him.

The colour drained from his face. Rhea smiled and looked at him as if his face was familiar. He could see that she was trying to recollect him from somewhere. She wrinkled her nose in concentration throughout lunch.

He wondered what his sister had told her about him. His sister looked at him strangely and was trying to make up for his lack of interest in the conversation.

Finally, and thankfully, the nightmare ended. His sister looked rather grim and said to him, “I will call you.”

From Rhea’s face, he knew that she had not placed him yet.  Thank God for small mercies.

The two ladies walked away and he breathed a sigh of relief.  It was over. He only had to give his sister some story about his strange behaviour during lunch. That would be a breeze.

He went home early and settled down before the TV with a drink. He was channel surfing, when he heard a ping on his phone.

It was an email about admission procedures at the private school where Rhea worked. It was signed simply as Rhea, Admissions Coordinator.

He cringed that she had placed him, and had let him know it this way.

Well…you can’t win them all, he thought to himself.

The Little Girl & A Rainy Day


The Little Girl watched the world outside through the window. And as she watched, the first big drops of rain fell. She plastered her nose to the window, and with her finger, traced each drop as it ran down.

Dare she go out? She quietly opened the door and stepped into the garden. The rain lashed away. Something broke loose in her heart and for the first time in a year and a half the Little Girl cried for her dead mother. She cried and cried, her body racked by sobs that shook her to her very core.

She wanted her mom and not the stepmom her Dad had married a few days ago.

The rain stopped. The Little Girl was spent, the heavy rain washing away the knot of grief that had lodged in her.

She looked like a bedraggled doll, hair plastered, teeth chattering.  A new emotion, fear, clawed at her heart. What would her stepmom say, would she yell? Would she be annoyed? Rainy days with her mother had been filled with hot chocolate, cuddles, giggles, her favourite samosas and ketchup.

This rainy day was dark, grey and unsettling. She ventured into the house without a sound.

Suddenly, she was enveloped in a fluffy warm pink towel, rubbed down vigorously, and given dry clothes to wear. When she went down after changing, she smelt hot chocolate & something being fried in the kitchen.

Her stepmom’s twinkling eyes beckoned to her to eat. She took  the plate of samosas and settled down in front of the TV.

Small wisps of love entered and fluttered in the Little Girl’s heart.

Weaving a tale – A short story


The rain beat down mercilessly; it had been pouring the whole week. Flashes of lightning captured snapshots of a group of people standing in the pouring rain, with the Banyan tree under which they stood offering only some semblance of cover.

But even louder than the noise of the falling rain was the loud pounding in Devan’s head, as he was berated and belittled by his community.

Devan stood with a bent head, as he heard things that seared through his heart.

Devan, and all the people who stood there that night, belonged to one of the oldest weaving communities in the country. Their history dated back to hundreds of years; they had been weavers for kings, queens, princes and princesses, and now in 1975, they wove for society’s elite. Their weaving techniques were a closely guarded secret, passed on from generation to generation.  They married only within the community, to protect their craft.

Devan’s daughter, Chella, had done the unthinkable. She had chosen her husband from outside the community; an act that the community considered treacherous; and one that could threaten the very fabric of their existence.

Chella had been forced to leave the village, and had been banned from ever entering it.

Devan’s wife had died when Chella was 9 years old. From then on, Devan had been both mother and father to the girl.

The people threatened to ostracize Devan if he attempted to revive ties with his daughter.

A broken father stood, facing his fellow-men, as his heart broke into a hundred pieces, as he thought about his daughter. He had not been given any time to talk to Chella, or tell her anything. The news had spread like wild fire in the small village and even the pouring rain couldn’t put out the fire.

It was a long night.

The sun rose the next day, and slowly life limped back to normal. Devan missed his daughter and ached to talk to her. The village has only one phone and that was in the Headman’s house. He resigned himself to his fate.

In their community, there was a practice that each time a girl got married, her father would weave the bridal saree, with motifs of all the things that the girl liked.

As Devan went about his chores, an idea took shape in his head. After his usual quota of weaving everyday, he started weaving a bridal saree for his daughter – every warp, every weft, woven with love and the agony of separation.

In a few weeks his gift was ready. On his next day off, he met a very old friend of his from a neighbouring village and sought his help in passing on the gift to his daughter. The friend swore his secrecy and took the saree with him.

Devan hoped and prayed that his daughter would be happy to receive the gift.

The friend made it to the small town and located Chella’s house. New bride though she was, the girl looked unhappy and sad. She perked up when she saw her Dad’s friend.

She cried for her father and his plight. She was happy that he was not mad at her and thrilled with the saree.

After her Dad’s friend left, she opened the saree and cried, as she saw each motif that her father had woven into it – from sunflowers to butterflies, lollipops and colourful ribbons, bits of her life leaped out at her. As she studied it, her trained weaver’s eye saw that there was a written message woven into the saree.

It read, “Chella, my dear. I love you and bless you with every happiness in your life. Have a good life. I bear no anger towards you. Believe in your dreams. You have made the right choice. I love you. Blessings – Papa.”

The burden of having chosen an untrodden path slowly fell away from Chella’s shoulders.

She smiled – a wide, beautiful and confident smile.