E Harikumar

To The Unknown Realms

E Harikumar


For some months I have hardly slept without dreams. Dreams without any meaning attached to it. I wake up startled, go to the bathroom, have a glass of water and go back to sleep. But then as I drift into sleep the dream begins to haunt me again. Am I really asleep or am I just wide awake thinking of the dream.

But yesterday night I was in a dreamless world and I realized it when I woke up at six. Sipping tea I thought, I couldn't make the morning walk. Every morning I walk for an hour. Vandana has already taken a bath and came to me wearing a beautiful dress.

"Isn’t my darling daughter very pretty?"

"Today is Dad's birthday. I am going to the temple with Mom."

That is why Indira also took a bath so early. Otherwise she used to take bath after having finished all her work. So they've decided to celebrate both my Malayalam and English birthdays.

"By the time we come back from temple with prasadam, you finish your bath, Daddy."

I took bath as soon as they went. There is a lot of time till they come back. Indira won't come out of the temple that easily. So I prefer to visit the temple alone. The way she prays at each and every idol in the temple and the time taken for each prayer get me annoyed.

I used to tease her. "The way you pray, with its length and intensity, the Gods must have escaped to somewhere else."

Indira wouldn't smile. For her all these are blasphemy and without my watching she would tap her own cheeks to do penance.

I went upstairs and switched on the computer. Sitting there I can see through window the stretch of courtyard up to the gate and beyond. I noticed a new shortcut on the desktop. Below it is written 'Happy Birthday to Daddy'. Could it be some sort of virus? Then I realized that this is what Vandana has been creating yesterday night sitting late up to 10 O'clock. I clicked on it.

It was an animation. Moving pictures that makes the monitor active, and at the end letters drop down one by one to create the sentence. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DADDY". Again the whole thing repeats itself to create the same wish. It was fascinating. Suddenly I noticed the background of the gif. My God! I was stuck in front of the computer unable to move. My heart beat faster. It was the picture of a chess board. A chess board with etching of the pieces in various squares as if a position is on. Where was this blasted board all these years? That board made of copper plate with the squares and coins etched on it was lost to me for twenty seven years at the age of eighteen, the day I had gone to Calicut to join the college. How did Vandana get hold of it?

I was in such a state of mind that I didn't notice Vandana standing on my back side.

"How is it Dad?"

I turned back with a start. From a small piece of banana leaf held in her palm she took the paste of sandalwood, a prasadam from temple, with the tip of her forefinger and applied it on my forehead. She might have felt the strangeness on my face. She asked.

"Isn't it nice Dad?'

"Yes, it's good, indeed very good."

She was pleased. She drew up a chair and sat by my side. She wants to hear from me more about my opinion or rather compliments on her creation. But instead of talking about the animation I asked her curtly.

"Where did you get this chess board?"

"That board?........ I won’t tell. It's a secret."

She is in a teasing mood. I do not want the present state of my mind or my urgency to know, to spoil her playfulness.

"Daddy's pet you are, won't you tell me where you got this?"

Between my sweet words and coaxing she discovered my anxiety and urgency. She was on her guard. She asked.

"Don't you really know it, Dad?"

"No, my pretty doll, I really don't know it."

"You swear?." She stretched her hand. That's the way it is. You have to tap on her palm to prove your sincerity and earnestness.

Rather than tapping her outstretched palm I put my hand on her head. "Upon my daughter, I am telling the truth. I don't know."

"I got it from Mom's trunk." Her face was gloomy. She might have thought that Mom is keeping a secret hiding it from Dad and that she just let it out into the open. She also realized that the chess board has some importance which she could not understand.

I was watching the animation creating the birthday wishes all over again and again, and when I raised my head to congratulate her, I saw her face has become so gloomy and tears welling up her eyes ready to spill over.

"What happened darling?"

She started crying, and in between sobs said. "Don't tell Mom about this."

"Silly girl, you are crying for that." I wiped the tears from her face. "What if we tell Mom? I had this board when I was a boy, and when I went to college I lost it somewhere. Mom must have located it and kept safely. We'll ask Mom. Come on."

I got up and holding her shoulders took her downstairs.

Indira, who was preparing dosa for breakfast said.

"I don't have it. You two are playing with it. You must have kept it somewhere. Did you look for it in the cupboard?"

As usual she was not listening to what I tell her. She thought it was the wooden chess set with which we play. That set was a presentation given to Vandana for one of her birthdays. The pieces were made of sandalwood.

"Not that dear," I said "I am talking about the chess board we had long time back. The copper one with etchings of pieces on it..... Don't you remember?"

Indira fell silent. Holding the spatula in her hand she was on a journey to the olden days. The dosa on the pan is ready. Vandana took hold of the spatula from mother's hand and took it from the frying pan.

"Our sweet daughter has created a Happy Birthday animation with its picture."

"She did? Where did she get that damn thing from?"

Vandana got frightened at the sudden change of mother's countenance. Her face darkened. She is by now sure that there is some secret in that chess board and that she is not a party to the secret. She was gloomy. She is still that jealous 3 year old baby who used to sleep right between her dad and mom laying her hands on both of them as if to assert ownership. Vandana was looking at me. I smiled at her to comfort her.

"I had kept it safely. Why did she take it out now?"

"Let it be, you owe me a lot of explanation." I said. "Where was this chess board all these twenty seven years?"

I said, as if to make it clear that it is she who owes an explanation to me and not other way round.

"Do you want tea or coffee for breakfast?" She asked. It seems she wanted to change the topic altogether. I too felt it better, because today being Saturday office works only half day and I can't be late in the office. I will obviously get late if I start a dialogue with Indira. Birthday is not the right day for such unpleasantness.

"I need coffee." Vandana said. I love tea with breakfast, but for Vandana I switched my preference.

I have a feeling that my troubled days are coming back. The object that took away my peace of mind thirty years ago has come back looking for me with a vengeance, to haunt me.

Getting into the elevator to reach my 4th floor office on Mahatma Gandhi Road I dropped all my memories in the recycle bin. I should somehow get home today on time. The working time on Saturdays is up to 1.30, but the staff in accounts, especially the accountant cannot get out before 5 p.m. It's the fate of people in accounts. Vandana will wait for Dad to turn up for lunch. She always has a birthday feast with Dad. But another side of my mind says that it is not the only reason why I wanted to go home early. I was trying to fool myself into believing that it was the only reason, but now I realize that memories are still in the hard disk occupying a lot of space. They have not gone into the recycle bin.

About this translation

An unusual novel by E Harikumar originally published in Malayalam (Ariyathalangalilekk oru kavatam അറിയാത്തലങ്ങളി'ലേക്ക് ഒരു കവാടം). In this novel, you will see many things beyond your logic. Every fifteen years a wonderful and unusual phenomenon changes a person's life completely. Irrational ecstasies often take the character to the mysterious levels of time.

അനുബന്ധ വായനയ്ക്ക്