We were too young to know one must behave with propriety towards the mentally challenged woman who stood on the other side of the raod, outside our gate. My brother and I(6 and 5 years) clung to the gate provoking her. And then-- she uttered that four letter word in Malayalam. and she repeated it –over and over and over again, as tho’ it gave her some relief. This got us curious. What could that word mean? Of course, we knew it had to be an expletive but didn’t realize that it was the most forbidden word in Malayalam.
So off I went, looking for my mother who was my mobile dictionary. I came to the veranda off the kitchen. Three or four professional palaharam (snacks)makers were working full swing, making muruku, achappam, cheeda, laddus, mysore pak etc. we children were not allowed entry into the verandah because lighted stoves were kept on the floor of the veranda. Also we’d bring in dust and sand in the cooking area. And so there I stood in the backyard, at the bottom of the steps of the verandah, calling out to my mother.
Amma soon appeared on the verandah, warning me to stay away from it. I told her I wanted to ask her something important, and she asked me to go ahead and ask from where I was standing. Needless to say, I had to shout while I was talking to her on account of the distance between us.
Amma, amma, what does ---- mean?
All froze. The men busying themselves with their work and my mother. Yes. On that hot mid summer afternoon, they froze. all of them!
and the silence? it was deafening.
I knew something was amiss but didn’t realize what it was. Then amma stirred and started coming down the steps with a strange expression on her face. She walked towards me with a deadly calm, took my hand firmly, turned me around briskly and oh god, --I saw more stars than heavens could hold.
And to date, I have never ever uttered that word.