E Harikumar

To The Unknown Realms

E Harikumar


As suspected, they have not had their lunch yet. The time was 2:45. I quickly went to the bathroom, washed my face. Indira had kept my dhoti with gilt border on the bed. I wore the dhoti and came out.

"Where is Vandana?"

"She's upstairs."

"What's she doing up there?"

"Who knows?"

Suddenly I grasped the situation. I asked Indira.

"You scolded her, isn't it?"

I did not need her affirmation. I went upstairs. Vandana is lying on the bed facing the wall.

"Darling, why do you lie down?"

She turned her face. I could make out that she was crying.

"Come, let's have lunch."

"I am not hungry, Daddy."

"That won't do. The birthday boy won't eat without his darling pet by his side. Come, get up."

She started to cry. I sat on the bed and gently caressed her shoulder.

"You're so sensitive like a touch-me-not plant. Why should you cry? Just because Mom scolded you?"

I do not know what was that Indira told her. She believed that there is some danger lurking in that chess board and had hidden it from me. She was not altogether wrong in it.

"Now get up." I kissed on her forehead. She got up and asked.

"What's the problem with that chess board?"

"Problem? Nothing. All these are mom's feelings."

"I know there is something about it. I understood it from what Mom has said. Otherwise Mom won't scold me so harshly."

"Darling, there is nothing to it. I am telling you. We got it from the attic when we were kids, and I was playing with it all the time. And when it became evident that I would be failing in my exams, your grandpa took it from me. I didn't see it after that."

"But Dad, you can't play with it. The pieces are etched in it."

"Not playing chess. I was carrying it with me all the time, and then I won't study. So your grandpa thought this won't do because he was preparing to enroll me in a college in Calicut. That's all to it."

She was obviously not convinced with my explanation. "Dad, you could've studied even if you are carrying it with you. Is there a spell on that board?"

"Spell? No, there is no spell."

Vandana is under the impression that it was spell bound.

"Dad was by nature lazy. He spent all his time in the compound or sitting on the trees or in the pond, swimming. This was the reason for my lagging in studies. But your grandpa thought it was because of the chess board."

Vandana was somehow convinced about my new explanation.

"You come down darling, the time is nearing 3 and I have almost lost my appetite."

She climbed down the stairs with me.

"Oh, she was crying? I thought she was doing something on the computer." Indira said.

"Just see." I told Vandana, "You need not take mother's scolding that seriously."

"Scolding? I didn't scold her." Indira said, "You spoil her, and the boy who'll marry her has had it. What a touch-me-not!"

"Let him suffer a bit, like I had suffered on account of you." I turned to Vandana who sat next to me on the floor and continued, "Isn't it my pretty touch-me-not? This is Dad's touch-me-not without thorns."

Vandana is happy now. Her pensiveness has disappeared. On birthdays we sit on the floor on a mat made of long reeds of grass for lunch as is the custom. Lunch will be served on a tender plantain leaf. On the right we leave a leaf with lunch in front of the brass oil lamp for Lord Ganapathy.

On Saturdays I sleep upstairs to get undisturbed sleep. Vandana would help Mom with dish washing. There would be the din made in the kitchen on the ground floor. But these noises will not reach upstairs and I will get good sleep for two hours. I get back the energy lost during the week in these two hours. But I couldn't sleep today. I got up and opened the draw of my computer table and looked for the chess board. My guess was right. It was there. An eight inch square copper plate with etching of a play half finished. It was covered with an old newspaper. The picture looked bright. Probably Vandana has cleaned it thoroughly, since the picture of the chess pieces looked dark in contrast to the bright copper background. On the lower right corner the etching was covered with a scar due to oxidation. I remembered it was that way even those days. It doesn't cover the main pieces in play. They were pawns, only you can't figure out how many steps they have gone forward. I caressed the plate that I had carried with me for two years and disappeared suddenly. The figures on it felt like they were embossed. It could be just a feeling, because the plate was finely polished. I kept the chess board back in the drawer and opened my computer.

Let me have a look at the masterpiece created by Vandana once again. I pressed the shortcut on the desktop that started the animation. In the background the picture of the chess board which has a play stopped abruptly appeared. On this stationery background drops down letters to form HAPPY and then on the second row BIRTHDAY and on the third TO and the last row DADDY. When all the words form the Birthday Wishes it flashes four to five times and then disappears only to start all over again. It was really surprising. I had downloaded the beta version of an animator only couple of weeks back and she has mastered it so soon and created such a marvel!

I stopped the animation and looked for the images she had stored for creating it. There it was; the picture viewer presented it on full screen. Vandana must have scanned it in high resolution, for it was a lively reproduction. At least 300 dpi, but then you can't create a gif animation with that big a picture. She must have reduced it. Her BenQ Acer scanner was a gift from Kuttettan to his favorite niece last time when he came from the States. He used to give her a nice gift every time he comes for a visit. Last time he asked her what she would love to have and she said with the least tinge of hesitation.

"A color scanner."

"You ask him for something less expensive." I chided her. Even a simple scanner would cost around four thousand Rupees.

"You shut up." Kuttettan said. "Won't she ask for something she needs?"

He went out with Vandana and in another hour came back with this scanner. When Vandana told me the cost I said.

"Now your Kuttammama will be scared to come to India not only for your grandpa's death anniversary, but for any other matter."

He is a loving man. I always used to wonder how my uncle had such gem of a son.

Looking at the picture that covered the desktop I remembered all these. My childhood, the nostalgia associated with it. The pictures that came to mind were lively. Those pictures were very much alive in mind, since I am brushing them up during my visit to my home town once a month.

Looking at the picture that filled the screen I noticed that on the right hand lower corner there was some inscription. It was so tiny that I hadn't noticed it before. I magnified that portion to a comfortable size. It was a four digit figure. I still zoomed it higher. It is written 1131. 1131? I looked up again. Yes 1131. It was the year of my birth according to Malayalam calendar. What I thought was a particle or scar that crept in at the time of etching was the inscription of the year in which I was borne. The chess board was created by an ancestor long time ago in fact much before me or for that matter even my father was born. He died in 1085 or so. Could it be a coincidence that my birth year was inscribed in a chess board many years before his death? In some unexplained way fate was preserving something for me, only for me, because no one had hitherto taken that board seriously. Uncle had once said that it was made by his second uncle and that he was an eccentric. You do not take the actions of a mentally deranged person seriously. Even after knowing about this great granduncle I still took this board seriously and tried to find out the meaning of it thereby wasting my precious two years. It was a message meant only for me, but I am not able to decipher it.

Engulfed in thoughts I did not know Vandana was standing behind me.

"How's it, Dad?" She asked me when I turned to face her.

"Damn good. You've scanned it in high resolution and it is very crisp and clear."

"Dad, I want to study 3D animation."

"Is it? But then there are very few opportunities in animation. On the contrary if you study software you are assured a job immediately. When thousands of software engineers are needed few animators are in demand. In all the web sites they use flash animation. The scope of 3D animation is limited to cartoons and architecture. You'll have to look for a suitable vacancy."

"It doesn't matter, Dad." She was silent for a few moments, and then drew the chair close to me and asked. "Dad, will you give me the correct answer if I ask you a question?"

"You ask me." I have come to realize what the question was that she wanted to ask me.


"I swear." I slightly stroke her extended palm to confirm my earnestness.

"What is so special about this chess board? Why did Mom hide it from you?"

I hated to tell a lie to Vandana, but then I had to look to her future also. I did not want to spoil it. She should not know its secret. I said.

"There is nothing in it dear. It is just a useless chess board a crazy ancestor had created just to while away time."

"No, you are lying." She was cross with me.

"Can I tell you one thing my doll. This is the board that wasted my two years. You need not know about it. There is hardly anything to it that one should explain. There are only four months for your final exam. I do not want these silly things to distract your mind away from studies."

"No, I won't study without knowing what it is." She was firm and adamant.

Looking at her cute face I remembered an incident when she was just three years old. If we don't accede to any of her demands, she would threaten us.

"I will go to the courtyard without anything on."

We had warned her not to venture out without her clothes on. But when once she came up with this threat I said.

"Okay, go ahead, but if a big crow, as it flies above, sees you it might think that you are a peeled banana and pick you up. That's all."

She was scared of crows once after a crow snatched some eatable from her hand. Any way she has not threatened us anymore with her going nude!

"Why do you smile, Dad?"

"Nothing, dear." I said, "If you so insist I will tell everything. But I'll need two days, today and tomorrow to complete it. You should promise that after hearing the story you will concentrate on your studies. You shouldn't waste your time thinking about this."

"Agree, now tell me."

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