” Under the Rain Tree – Love in the Times of Corona” by Meera Kumar Menon
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA

The huge Rain tree in front of the house, just outside the gate, spread it’s branches astray, unapologetically claiming it’s space. On calm evenings when I sit in the yard scribbling a poem or reading a book, it often branches out, across my mind, reminding me of the tree of knowledge. On slightly sunny mornings, I see the localities sitting underneath it, often playing a game of cards, or children skipping at hopscotch.

As a kid, I had often taken it up on myself to teach the passers by a letter or two, always ready with my slate and pencil. Anyone who had a moment to spend would go home learning ABC, I was determined. More often than not my scapegoats were the less fortunate ones. Abbas, a man easily above 30 then, tall and handsome, reminding everyone of the popular actor mammotty, was my usual target. Living in a small shack nearby, his parents had left him at an early age. Slightly mentally unstable, (must be the Downs Syndrome, wasn’t familiar with these big names back then) he was both the laughing stock and the unpaid help in our village. While I was fairly warned to keep my Sampoorna Saksharatha mission to myself, there was no stopping a determined eight year old from her goal. On hot afternoons, when the elders slept, I meticulously taught him, and whoever else had the good will to assemble, letters and words, under our rain tree.Grandmother, who had to often come searching for me, a chirpy little girl roaming around in the village, as if i owned it all, found me again with Abbas and a few scurrying little children, who were there only for the Poppins, which I would promptly offer, after my class.

Not approving of my company, Achamma asked Abbas, “Don’t you have anything better to do? Weren’t you working somewhere?”.
“Yes, i was put up at a hotel in the town to wash dishes, but I left after two days”.. he had said. I had always found his battered speach funny. “Why did you leave then?” Achamma had a rather serious face, judging him for his lack of responsibility.

“Well..” started abbas matter of factly..”Well Thambratti, you know, at the hotel, they kept making me wash so many dishes. And each time I wash them and keep them clean, they would take it away and serve customers and make them dirty again. I got so angry that I had to leave.” Achamma and I broke into a laugh, while Abbas just stood there, not sure, what was funny. He was expecting a word of sympathy for the gross injustice metted out to him, maybe.

“Well then, you teach him some more ABC”, she said, and left us, probably realizing that, what is common between an eight year old girl and a thirty year old man with Downs, must be their unassuming, natural innocence.

In retrospect, Chaami was another one of our gardner’s whom I had befriended. Considered a little crack headed (might have been a case of social anxiety and depression, among others) I was asked to keep my distance from him. “He had set fire to his own house once, you better not get too close to him,” I was warned.

This meant that I would keep an arms distance from Chaami, “in case he decided to set me on fire, I must be ready to run”, I remember thinking. This wouldn’t keep me from talking to him though.

I would call out some tricky questions to him, as was my habit, entertaining the villagers. “Chaami, What would we call a spider that has lost its leg?” I ask him.
“Well, we would still call it a spider, he tells me, busy spading in the yard. “Thats not the right answer Mr!” I claim, with superior airs. “We call it a handicapped spider…Hahaha!” I laugh, my poor joke, completely lost on him.

“Nokku kuttye”, he tells me, “My friend koran, who lives nearby, fell from a tree and has almost lost his leg. We still call him koran!, alright.” He rationalises. “Alright then!” Annoyed, I decide to leave him alone and find another scapegoat.

Later that week, I see the local police men chasing some villagers who were playing cards for money. Abbas was, as usual a casual onlooker at the party. But the police decided to take him too. “Leave him alone, he is a lil crack headed” i hear chaami telling the police man. “Oh, then what about you? Neeyum Pottana”, says Abbas, as they are both taken away.

Will the police hit them? I wonder aloud. “Don’t worry, they will just be warned”, I’m reassured by achamma. Sure enough, a day or two later I see my crack headed friends busy helping in the farm.

“If they are crazy why are they not treated?”
I ask mom. “Well, a couple of times they were taken to the asylum by the villagers, after a few days, they return, better, but not completely cured. The asylums can’t keep orphans around forever can they?”

“Where is our Abbas and Chaami, these days amme,” I ask her recently. “Chaami passed away, last year Ammu. Abbas.. well, he is around.”

“Oh who takes care of him now?”.
“No one in particular. Everyone takes turns. He is better taken care of by the villagers here than elsewhere. He has a place in all our hearts, Belonging to no one and everyone at the same time”. Pottan.

It’s raining heavily today, as I sit here scribling. The huge branches of the Rain tree sways aimlessly making a ruckus. Has it gone crazy? I wonder.

Maybe we are all a little crazy. Maybe what we often shun as madness is merely a spectrum, were we can all accommodate ourselves at varying degrees. Maybe we will find it in our hearts to make a little space for the crazier ones and not to shun them, especially during these difficult times. Maybe we will have it in us to make peace with the crack heads around us, but more importantly, within us.Maybe a spider that lost a leg, can still be called a spider.

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.