ETWA|Ch20b: Courage As Habit

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Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“This is the first snack Echu and I made together in this house. She moved in soon after my mother-in-law passed away and I was alone with the children. She and I would wake up early. We still had a wood-burning stove back then. We’d put rice on the stove and go for a walk around the house at dawn. We’d look at our garden patch for vegetables. Walk around to the back of the cowshed and pluck a couple of chillies for the day. We’d strip stalks of curry leaves that were growing as hedges. We’d walk through the tall coconut trees looking for fallen coconuts. We’d look at the kingfisher’s babies who lived in a hole in the walls of the well. At that time of the day, they’d always be crying, peeking out as they waited for their mother to bring them food. Except in monsoon when it rained in the mornings, our morning escapades were never missed. Before the children woke up, we would tie a towel around our heads to resist the nip in the air and go for a walk. It was our time to be together. 

“But you were always together, no?” I ask, trying to think of a time when they were apart.

“But once we got back, we’d get busy with chores just as we had practiced all those years when my mother-in-law was ill. We’d finish all the housework before we headed to work—sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, cooking.” Achams sighed, probably thinking back to all those years of work. 

“Why did you have to sweep and mop everyday?” I ask and Janu chuckles. 

“There was no reason to do it but we were creatures of habit.” says Achams before continuing.

“Though it was a family-run school, it took a couple of years for my position to be regularised. It was a crazy couple of years till I completed B.Ed and secured a government school job. It was possible only because Echu took care of everything else. All I had to do was wake up, study and go to work. She managed everything else—house, children, the property. All while holding down her part-time job as a cook at the local anganwadi. 

Achams falls silent for a while. Her silence is broken by the loud crunching of pappada vada. “Nannayind”, Janu tells Achams, commenting on how well their pappada vada turned out, essentially to pull her out of reverie. I’ve noticed that between Achams and Janu, many of their conversations run parallel. This one too continued without Janu getting a response. 

“I don’t remember so many of these details anymore. What I do remember is the first trip we took to Athirapally waterfalls. It was raining cats and dogs but that’s the best time to see a waterfall, isn’t it? It was a daytrip. We took the first bus out, changing buses at Thrissur. We could hear the thunderous roar of gushing water from far, far away. The closer we got to the waterfall, the cooler it became. Achams hugged herself as if the misty coolness of that memory had wrapped around her in this muggy afternoon. It was the first time all of us were seeing a waterfall. It was so majestic, just leaping out with such power and grace. 

You remember how Echu was always full of stories. She told Vinu that the waterfall was actually made out of milk. Those days, getting Vinu to drink milk was nearly impossible. She told him that there was a giant cow who lived in the mountains. She even had a title for her story. The calf of Western Ghats—paschima ghattathile paikutty. The cow had given birth to many, many calves who loved drinking her milk. But her youngest calf was a naughty little fellow. He ran around in the thicket all day, chasing butterflies up and down the mountain and making friends with tiny birds. But when it came time to drink milk, he would make excuses. 

She told him that there was a giant cow who lived in the mountains. She even had a title for her story. The calf of Western Ghats—paschima ghattathile paikutty.

I am not hungry. I don’t want milk. My stomach is hurting. Everyday it would be a new excuse.

And everyday the cow tried her best to make him drink milk. 

Milk will make you strong. Don’t you want to be a good boy? It’s really tasty. 

But the calf was persistent. One day the cow got very angry. She said, “Okay. Don’t drink the milk. I’ll throw it out. And she threw out all the milk that the calf was supposed to drink. It came down the mountain in huge crashing waves and became this big waterfall.

“What about the calf? What will the calf drink?” Vinu asked, ready to cry. “I don’t know. You tell me. What do you think happened to the calf now that it had no milk to drink?” Echu answered with a question. He burst out into tears then but since that day he began drinking his milk everyday.

“Janu, pappada vada nannayindu lle? Save some for Nandan and pack some for yourself before you put the rest in the store room.” Janu nodded at Achams’ instructions, tipping the last of the tea into her mouth and popping in the last of her snack.

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Next Chapter|Ch21a: Trust Begets Trust

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