“Ammama has started talking,” exclaimed Nivedita as she hurried past startled family members to convey the surprising news to her mother. Her eight year old little brother Saket excitedly followed her. The other members of the family stood spellbound at Nivedita’s statement.
The whole of the family had gathered at their ancestral home in connection with the demise of the eldest member of the family, Nivedita’s grandfather. The cremation had only concluded earlier that evening and several of the members were taken aback by this sudden zest.
Nivedita approached her mother and conveyed the news to her. “What? That can’t be true! Are you sure, my dear?”
“Yes, Amma. He asked for you. Come, come with me fast” she couldn’t wait any further.
“I really can’t believe this, Nivi” her mother said as she hurriedly followed her daughter to the other end of the home where her brother’s room was.
“Chechi is telling the truth, Amma,” Saket came to the support of Nivi.
“Oh God, it has been twenty five years. How did he start talking just like that?” their mother wondered loudly.
As they progressed to her brother’s room, the other family members also followed suit, eager to come to grips with what was happening. Damodaran Nair had mysteriously become dumb when he was in his twenties and nobody really knew why. Even though his sister and brother-in-law had taken him to consult several doctors, not even a single mode of treatment could get his speech back.
“Rukmini, I am able to speak now,”, he exclaimed as he saw his sister come into the room. “I was so happy that I wanted to talk to you after so long,” he continued in a childish excitement.
The others gaped in astonishment. All of them were happy amidst the gloomy mood to see Damodaran Nair speak again. Even when he was young, he had a loud, resonating voice and this was sorely missed by everyone who knew him.
“What happened to you? Why did you suddenly stop talking and now how did you get your speech back?” Rukmini asked her brother. “Tell us please” she implored.
“It’s a long story. Remember when we had a lake on the north end? One day I saw Achan strangling Velukutty to death. He was immersing Velukutty’s head in the water and after a few struggles he gave in. It was a gory sight and really shocking that I was rendered completely dumb immediately,” Damodaran Nair commenced his narrative.
“What? But…..but why would Achan do that? Velukutty couldn’t even harm a flea.” Rukmini could not believe what she was hearing. She had been very fond of Velukutty Nair who was then an assisting her father in running the affairs of the home.
“Velukutty was stealing grains from the barn. Achan had found that out and wanted to punish him. He had planned to expel Velukutty at first but then decided against it. He said that was too mild a punishment and wanted to give Velukutty something stern – so stern that he or his family members would never ever forget. I had heard him talk to Amma about this. But I didn’t realize that he had murder in his mind.” explained her brother.
“Velukutty and stealing, I don’t believe it. We all knew the grains were getting depleted from the barn but we thought it was the petty thief Kumaran’s job,” Rukmini vehemently denied the fact that Velukutty was a thief.
“That’s what even I thought when one day I saw Achan giving a piece of his mind to Velukutty. I overheard the conversation and Velukutty had almost confessed to what he had been doing,” Damodaran Nair clarified once and for all.
“Oh God, but why would he murder him? That was totally uncalled for. We thought Velukutty had died because he slipped and fell into the water. He did not know swimming,” Rukmini lamented.
“No, Achan mercilessly killed him. And when he turned around after his act he saw me and I was completely surrounded with utter fright that I couldn’t even scream. He merely looked at me and went about his chores as if nothing had happened. Somehow, he knew I would not be able to tell anybody about this,” continued Damodaran Nair in his solid, unwavering tone.
“How did you get your speech back now?” Nivi asked suddenly.
“I guess the shock just dissipated when Achan passed away. Nivi was sitting beside me talking and she asked me something and I was just able to mumble an answer. I couldn’t believe myself but Nivi got all worked up and that’s when I asked to see you.” her Ammama’s joy was there for all to see.
Everybody had been dispirited hearing about the dastardly act that happened several years ago and that too on the day the elderly man had died. But they were also quite relieved that Damodaran Nair was able to get his speech back. That was not something they hoped to see again.
The family members slowly dispersed from the room. Rukmini wiped off a tear and hugged her elder brother.
“Ammama, tell us the story of the temple elephant who went berserk” Nivi and Saket suddenly lighted up the atmosphere. They had heard about their Ammama’s penchant for storytelling and sat on either side of him as he smilingly started his tale.
Ammama – maternal uncle
Achan – father
Amma – mother
Chechi – elder sister