“‘Payasam’, and People who are there always – Love in the Times of Corona” by Meera Kumar Menon
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA

Staying in a village during this quarantine phase comes with it’s pros and cons. While there is plenty to find fault with, starting from the poor network connectivity to constant distractions, I remind myself that this is the place where I picked up my reading habit, as a single child left with scarce options for alternate entertainment.

Kamalamma, who helps out at home, is about a good seventy years. We recently requested her not to come down for a while, until the prevailing situation got better. “Let us know if you need anything,” I heard Amma offering. After cleaning a few dishes and reminding me that I should start helping around the house more, she seemed rather tensed. “Ente budhi oracha kaalam thottu ingane onnu kettitilya kuttye” (Haven’t heard of anything like this from the time I’m able to recollect), she tells me. With all the confidence I can muster, I reassure her that staying at home is all that we need to do, that this would go away, life will get back to normal and that she need not worry. Watching her walk away past the gate, I shout out.. “Kamalamme, We will call you”.

I wonder what she meant by “budhioracha kaalam” ( when her mind was set?). When would that have happened? How far back can we trace our memory to? what was my first? What was yours?

In not one of those, could the old woman remember a time like this, I tell myself and pick up a copy of Orwell’s “1984”, which has been on my ‘to read’ list for long. “About time”, I sigh , crawling into the armchair in the courtyard, my favourite reading spot.

As I struggle to contain my thoughts, random premonitions of apocalypse, with Orwell in hand, Neelandettan, a man of 80, walks in with a steady stride, beaming, telling me that he is off to get some milk from the society. Amma reminds me that the we would need some extra milk tomorrow. Achan who hasn’t finished with the paper, informs how milma has stopped collecting milk from the societies. If we were to get it from there instead of buying milk packets, it might help our people, he remarks casually.

The thought police from Orwell’s mock at me, for all I had had in mind so far was some payasam Amma had promised me.

Having regained my pace, I get back to my book, connecting 1984,- it’s past and it’s future.
The present, however, was rather lost on me until I heard Neelandettan at the gate.

“poooi”, he would call out, announcing himself, each time he walks in, a man who has worked in our fields as far as my memory could stretch.

With an unpleasant jolt, I take the milk vessel this time, missing our little milk man, a tad bit.

“Avattolokke poyi lle”, he enquires keenly about the bulbuls who have left the nest and a little piece of my heart, rather empty. I nod, disheartened. A few days into the quarantine, little things like distractions from reading had started to tick me off.

I hear Neelandettan, in the distance, weeding the backyard, doing his usuals. “Isn’t he supposed to stay at home like kamalamma?” I ask achan. “Well, for one, he just works in the field by himself and lives close by, so its safe. But more importantly, he has been doing this for years. Not that he has anything much to do here, but this is his home, as much as it is ours, the older he gets the more he wants to be with his plants, and his garden.. when he doesn’t have any work, he would come along anyway, and make some. We have never stopped him.”

Thought police glares at me from the half open novel, “since when was it ‘My garden’ anyway”, I ask myself. I don’t even know the kinds of plants in there, just that they were all Neelandettan’s friends.

Concern, for the people in my village is a word with far too many connotations, I was beginning to understand. Not just, man to man, but birds, plants, animals, life.

Slightly disillusioned, I walk in, this time finding a more private space to savour my book. In the bedroom, I assure myself, there will be no distractions. Hardly a few minutes pass and Amma walks in trying to strike a conversation.

“Could you leave me alone please!, I’ve been trying to read since morning, I tell her”, a little irritated.
Watching the colour drain off her face quickly, remorse seeps in as she walks out of the room.

Orwell’s thought police almost had me in cuffs, so I drop the book and follow her. “It’s been eight years since I’ve left home, so I’m used to living alone now Amma, forgive me” I chide.

Amma turns around from the payasam on the stove and looks me in the eye. “It’s been eight years since you left Ammu, I’m used to being on my own too.”
She blows at a small spoon of payasam, carefully feeding it to me to check if it’s sweet enough.
“And that’s why, when you are here, I cannot stop following you around”, she adds.

“Payasam is perfect”, I tell her, savouring it, hiding the lump in my throat.

Its about five in the evening and I have made little progress with Orwell. Maybe apocalypse isn’t the spirit of this day, I tell myself.
Along with his daily wages, Neelandettan takes home some payasam for the evening. “Avatyokke poyille”, I hear him point at the Bulbul nest and recount to Amma, on his way to the gate.
“Maybe they will care to visit us now and then”, she tells him, smiling.

“Poooi, Nale kaanam”, (See you, tomorrow) he calls out to me promising a better tomorrow. “Kaanam”, I tell him, and close the book.

P.S. While some of us are forced to work from home, and some are forced not to work at home, While days are waning by, and anxieties waxing, life might not be too easy, but here is hoping, that love keep us most busy.

Stay tuned for more about “Love in the times of Corona” 😊 
With Conscious Care, Together we shall overcome!

Care Consciously! #DefeatCorona !

Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.