E Harikumar

To The Unknown Realms

E Harikumar


To explain to a 16 year old girl living in 2006 whatever had happened in the seventies is like taking her from a mega city and leaving her in the middle of a thick forest. She could still understand the forest. Time has changed so much. Since we go to the home town and live in that nalukettu for a few days once a month, she is more or less familiar with that place. But that alone won't do.

"Let me take a nap, and I will tell you after that. You go now."

"Okay..." She got up.

I shut down the computer and lay down on the bed. I need sleep. But my sleep is lost somewhere in the attic of that huge nalukettu mansion. I now realize the reason why Indira had hidden that chess board from me. But how did it reach her hands after all? Could it be after the death of uncle, her father?

I had faint memories of the days when I reached my uncle's house at the age of 13. Walking behind my mother I crossed the gate to a new life. My days of poverty and hunger have been replaced by days of affluence and satisfaction. My elder sister was also with us. They went back next day. It did not matter much to me that they were going back to a world of poverty and hunger. At that age one would think of his own stomach, especially a boy who was hungry and discontented.

The nalukettu seemed to me like a big machine, machine with huge wheels spinning at great speeds. Work, always work. The machine starts at 8 in the morning. Laborers start work in the compound plowing and preparing the earth to plant seedlings, to dig channels to pump water for the coconut trees and banana plants. Women threshing harvested rice and then chaffing and winnowing them on the courtyard floor made smooth with cow dung paste. Inside the barn the women pound the rice with a rhythm and the sound of glass bangles on their hands creating a soothing rhythm. Coming from the quiet of my humble house this sudden spurt in noise and activity shocked me. I had come to this house many times in the past, but stayed for couple of days only. It was a consolation that I would be going back to my home. Now I cannot fall back on it. This is my place and my future may be till I die.

I felt lonely and forlorn after mother and sister left. Kuttettan, who is two years elder, would come to where I sit and watch me for a time before returning. I did not know where he was going. That huge mansion looked as if it can accommodate a thousand people. Indira, who was eight years old will come to me and impart a painful pinch. When I look at her cross, she will frown and show faces at me. Forget running after her to punish her, I was incapable of even telling her that it hurts. I was weary and in such a bad condition.

It looked like my cousins did not like me staying there. It pained me. I felt as if I was a beggar. Things felt better towards night. All three of us sat on the floor and had our dinner. In those days people had lunch and dinner sitting on the floor. After dinner I washed and turned only to face Kuttettan standing behind me silently. He told me grimly. "Come with me."

I followed him. Climbing up the stairs we reached his room. He closed the door behind him and told me sternly. "Sit down."

I sat down meekly on one of the two chairs kept in front of the study table. He started talking, still very seriously.

"Look, Mummy asked me to share my bed with you. I will agree to it only if you meet certain conditions. Do you understand?"

I nodded. I didn't even ask what the conditions were. There was drama in that question and situation in which that was shot up. The bed was so wide four people can sleep comfortably on it. To allow sleeping on that bed I would have agreed to any conditions.

"First one, you shouldn't interfere when I lie to my mother. I mean you shouldn't say anything that'll betray me. To live with mother you have to tell a little bit of lie here and there. You'll understand it slowly."

I nodded.

"Secondly, you should not tell Indira whatever I am confiding in you. She is dangerous." Discerning doubt on my face he added. "She will double cross us. Because of her I got a huge lot of gifts from my father. You know what I mean? All girls are like that. You shouldn't trust any girls. Have you got any beating from father?"

I responded in the negative. My father died when I was two years old.

"I am not talking about your father, but my father, that is your uncle. Okay? No there was no chance of it. But I warn you, better to keep it that way. It is very painful, which is why I am telling you should be wary of Indira. Got it?"

That was the beginning of my friendship with Kuttettan. Now after thirty six years and a distance of fifty kilometers, I remember it was a good relation, a friendship that did not sway or falter. It could be because we had a common enemy. After that I never felt an outsider in that house.

When I told him about Indira's torture, Kuttettan said.

“We will stop it. Next time she comes to tweak you, just tell her that you are going to marry her. She won't come near you again.”

I tried the trick next time. When I realized that she is approaching me to gift that painful tweak, I told her in advance.

"Go ahead and do it, but I am going to marry you."

"Marry me?"

"Yes, marry you."


"It's not up to you to decide, but me."

She ran crying to her mother. I followed her. When she realized what the matter is, Aunty said.

"So what, he is your father's nephew, your lawful betroth."

"No, I don't want this brother as my husband....." She said in between crying.

I felt that by the time uncle comes across it is advisable to settle the matter and stop her crying. I said.

"Okay, I won't marry you, but you shouldn't pinch me anymore. It is very painful."

She stopped crying and nodded.

"Now, one more thing," I added, "When you grow up you shouldn't come after me begging for marriage. Okay, agreed?"


Aunty was all in smiles.

Backwards, a little bit of history to update. Four years after the birth of his son when my uncle had a baby girl the first thing he did was to send for his estranged sister. My mom carrying me in her arms set forth with my elder sister Radha to her big brother to see her 'daughter-in-law'. Mother told us later on that we had a rousing welcome at uncle's house. He had sent his manager out to buy underwear and a check shirt much bigger in size than me. It was my first male dress. Hitherto I was wearing only my sister’s old clothes. Uncle had arranged for a great feast. I couldn't have remembered all that happened on that fateful day. Had I known it would have depressed me due to its meaninglessness. This was matriarchal system followed in Nair families in order to avoid family wealth going outside of family. This system did not allow either the boy or the girl any freedom in choosing their own spouse. It was essentially an arrangement which everyone thought was acceptable to everyone including the boy and the girl. The affinity one feel towards a cousin might have been interpreted as agreement.

What was my attitude towards Indira? Frankly speaking I still do not know. Time has overtaken me to such an extent that made it impossible to think about such trivialities. Today watching Vandana who was intently looking at that chess board with pieces etched on it at various squares as if in a play, I remembered Indira as a girl, our adversary. That was the day Indira discovered the chess board hidden by us. When we returned after our badminton play in the compound we saw her standing in our room holding that copper board. She was looking at it in various angles. When she saw us she tried to hide it behind.

"Who told you to open our drawer?" Kuttettan shouted at her. "Give me that, fast."

Indira was running with it. Luck would have it we could catch her before she climbed down the staircase. We had started realizing that there is some secret hiding in that chess board and that it should not go to uncle or aunty. It could be damaging. Kuttettan grabbed the copper plate from her.

"I'll tell dad about it." She was going with a threat.

"Stop, let's talk." Kuttettan said.

Indira knew from experience that a bribe is on its way. However small it could be, she didn't have to go empty handed. Usually it is either a color pencil or as the graveness of our crime goes, more expensive items.

She sat comfortably leaning on the headboard of the bed.

"Now tell me what will you have?" Kuttettan started the bargain.

Indira knew instantly what was to ask. She said. "You should take me in your chess play."

"That........" Kuttettan said hesitatingly. "First of all it is a play meant for intelligent people. How can you play it?"

"You mean I am not intelligent? Okay then, don't add me in your play. I am going." She got up.

The menacing tone in her talk struck Kuttettan and he sprang up suddenly. He held Indira by her shoulders and made her sit on the bed. He said.

"Don't get annoyed and go. Let's us talk. You watch us play for a month and then you can play with us. Agree?"

Indira nodded. Kuttettan opened the drawer and took out a chess board and coins and started to field the armies. He explained patiently the various pieces and their relevance and their movements in the chess war. In a way, it was good. After a month, when Kuttettan went to Calicut to join college I got a partner to play chess, however bad she was.

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.

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