Something strange or critical to my life occurs in a cycle of 15 years. As a cloud burst to a solemn river flowing smoothly, it changes the rhythm of my life and makes the tempo faster and uneasy. This is the third installment of the 15 year lot, and my 45th birthday. The first installment did occur when I was 15, to be precise on my 15th birthday itself, the second one on my 30th birthday. It could be a coincidence, but my life has been a chain of fortuities. I am not surprised at all, since my life, looking from outside, seemed to be an ordinary one, but when peering through its twisted alleys and mazes you find even the coincidences are so arranged to look so natural. As if someone is taking special interest in me. I feel comfortable when that feeling fills me. The bickering in the office, or the question whether to pay the phone bill or buy provision for the kitchen with the money left in my pocket, do not upset me. It's like a cool breeze that surprises you on a hot summer day. I do not try to find out the source of the breeze, but enjoy it as long as it blows. Today sitting in the office I had the same feeling, as if something is going to happen to me, something propitious that happens rarely to someone. I do not try to find out what it is since it is beyond my ability, but enjoy it as it unfolds in front of me.
Reaching home from office I could realize that my third encounter with the unknown also will end up changing my life. The first installment is still an enigma in front of me, but the second was an anticipated ritual. My marriage with Indira, my cousin was no secret. The moment I was borne, Uncle had cast me as his son-in-law for his daughter who was yet to appear on the set. So my marriage at the age of 30 was not a surprise at all. Now at the age of 45 I reach home with the inkling that something strange is going to happen.
Changing my clothes, I entered the bathroom for a quick shower, and in ten minutes I was at the dining table sipping tea with condiments. But something familiar is missing. I looked around. Where is my daughter? Usually when she knew her Dad had come she used to come down from her 'ivory tower'. The only bedroom on the upper story has been taken over by her completely with its old computer and its peripherals for quite some time. It was a bloodless coup. She has inscribed the name "The Ivory Tower" on the door. But for sleeping the 'brave' girl comes down to her bedroom next to ours. I asked Indira.
"Where is Vandana?"
Indira shrugged her shoulders and pursed her lips. "Coming from school she had tea and just went up. Said she is doing something important and that mom shouldn't disturb her."
She always resented the very limited access she has in her daughter's life. She'll express it in a monologue, 'dad and daughter! ....'
"She must be working on a project." I said.
"You alone are spoiling her. She'll be a spoilt brat one day. Just watch!"
This too is Indira's usual phrase when she is upset with her daughter. Am I spoiling her? I don't know. I love her too much, give her whatever she demands. I'll listen with patience to whatever she has to say; will show my affection. But I never felt that all these would spoil my sensible daughter. Indira is still living under the shadow of her autocratic father, whose shadow lingers on around her unwilling to depart.
Back in the olden days when her father lived, it was a huge mansion, nalukettu, which means four houses in one. This architectural marvel is a specialty of Kerala. It consists of a living room and bed rooms, ante rooms, kitchen and dining room all located around an opening in the roof through which skylight came through to brighten the interior which otherwise would have been cool and dark. Here, people are just shadows without voice. The only voice that reverberated through the corridors and low wooden ceiling made of teak and mahogany was that of uncle. The shadows that slumbered in the dark rooms startled on hearing that shouting. He was a terror.
While the neighboring houses had evolved their life styles according to the new trends, this nalukettu remained static frozen in the inexorable values of tradition. While many of the items used in those days were changed to decorative pieces in the sitting room as antique, inmates of this house were still held on to tradition using them in their chores, since uncle was a big but conventional farmer.
Now uncle is no more, and neither is aunty. Indira's big brother Kuttan married an American lady and is settled in the States. I live in Kochi. The big mansion lay sprawling on a 4 acre land unattended and covered with shrubs, tall trees entwined with thick creepers and under growth. Once in a month Kuttettan talks to me on phone from San Francisco. "Look, that house and plot of land belong to Indira alone. I do not want my share. Just send me a power of attorney and I will sign and send it back to you. Try to sell it of before anyone encroaches on it."
He is right. I should do something about it. But I feel bad thinking of losing that ancient house. It's not the love of things passé. It was the house which, when at the age of 12 things didn't appear to turn around in my favor, has given me asylum. It was in the living room of this nalukettu that I first kissed a girl. I also have a strong feeling that I am connected to that house through an unknown, hidden string. My mind swings strongly against the idea of selling it. Vandana's marriage will take place in about six or seven years and I want to settle down in that mansion with Indira lolling on memories of a turbulent but agreeable past. It could just end up as a dream only. The company where I am employed has a voluntary retirement scheme, and I hope the offer still remains after seven years, so that I could settle down in my native place tending coconut trees and cultivating vegetables. It is a life I cherish and if luck would have it I might as well get a small job somewhere around, enough for a blissful life.
Vandana is coming down the stairs. She has changed her school uniform, taken bath and changed into a salwar kameez. She has been wearing this light green kameez with small pink flowers on it for the last two years. She has no fad for dresses or ornaments. Whatever she asks me to buy are books, computer games or software. They are valuable for her mental growth. Is she going to be spoiled?
She came and stood near me.
"Mom, why is there no tea for me?"
"You are holed up in your room upstairs and you want me to prepare tea and pour it down the drain?"
She went to the kitchen and brought a cup of tea and a plate with biscuits and mixture. Vandana has already started eating from my plate.
"Dad, do you need the PC today?"
I don't need the computer at home. I use it in the morning just to check my mail and to read the newspapers. In between if I find any good books I download it for Vandana. I encourage her to read good books. Mark Twain's 'Tom Sawyer' and 'Huckleberry Finn' are her favorites.
"Why? You need it?"
"No, I need it only in the morning." I said. "You can use it."
"Another thing....." She continued. "Don't let anybody come up when I work."
"It's a secret, a big surprise. I'll show you tomorrow."
She was childlike even at the age of fifteen and looking at her cute face I thought, I live for this child, only for this child of mine. Indira used to chide me. No, this won't do. Nandetta, you too have a life as each has his own life to live with and live for. It is not fair to relinquish it even if for your own children. She is citing the example of watching TV shows. Why should we forego TV just because she is having her exams? Let her go to her room and study.......
I'd say, Haven't we enjoyed till her birth? I should say since your birth itself. Now we will start all over again when her marriage is over and she goes away, right from honeymoon!
I used to wonder if we had a boy child would Indira be having the same opinion. I think parents have difference in affinity towards their children. Fathers will be close to daughters and mothers to sons.
"What is so secretive about it?" I asked Vandana.
"Let it be suspense till morning tomorrow."
She has given us a wonder box of surprises only to be opened tomorrow morning and went upstairs, to her ivory tower. She is creating something in the computer and wants to show it only after completion. There is a say you shouldn't show half finished work even to your guru.
Even this could be a continuation of the pleasant feeling I had from the office, I thought.
During dinner time Vandana asked.
"Mom, what's for dessert tomorrow? What payasam?"
We only have payasam, made of rice, jaggery and coconut milk or with vermicelli with sugar and milk with sauté cashews and raisin for dessert on special occasions. I asked her.
"What's so special about tomorrow?"
"You don't even know that?" She said smiling, "It's your birthday tomorrow."
“Oh, I forgot.”
"We will follow our Malayalam calendar," Indira said, "According to that there is still one week for your birthday."
"That's pirannal and this is birthday. We should celebrate both days."
Now I know I have to buy provision for kitchen first thing in the morning. Phone bill can wait.
The sense of peace and tranquil still lingered on when I went to sleep. Fate is arranging something nice for me in a very elaborate way.