Soon after I turned seven, I returned to my hometown in Kerala with my family. When my grandfather turned up at the bus stop, he was dressed in a neatly pressed, lightly starched shirt and dhoti with an umbrella in one hand and a clerk’s bag in the other. For his pains to impress us, he received a chubby boy in a bahama shirt, checkered shorts with a videogame in one hand and a fruit packet in the other. It was an awkward meeting.

Almost immediately after moving into my grandparents’ home, I began to view Appuppan as a distant figurehead out of tune with my life. I desperately shut him out along with everything in our quiet village. I silently ignored him and whiled away the mind-numbingly slow moments on my videogame. I would have played it that whole summer too had it not died.

Kerala’s climate has never been forgiving to delicate electronics. It was either the scorching sun or the endless downpour that killed my toy. I don’t know which to blame. One day, I left it on the roofless porch of our house in a lapse of judgment. A few hours later, I returned to find it dead. I dismantled it and made some feeble attempts to reassemble it, but the game did not yield. It just sat there, lifeless.

I tried to pretend nothing had happened. But I could not have been more bored. As I began ranting, the peaceful quiet of our house came under attack. I unnerved everyone in the family with my constant complaints. I don’t know what I was looking for, but I seemed to have struck a nerve because soon enough, Appuppan got up from his chair and stepped outside the house.

He walked up to a short, young coconut tree and sliced off a leaf with his rusty machete. Coconut leaves are special; unlike banana leaves, they are extremely thin, long and durable. And until then, I never thought of them as more than leaves. In Appuppan’s ancient hands, they turned into clay. Reaching into the depths of his childhood memories, he twisted the ends of the leaf here, there, across, under and over itself until lo and behold, a rounded cube sat in his hands. He handed it to me and said, β€œSee, it’s a ball.”

The pessimist that I am, I expected it to unravel immediately. But, it lasted more than three whole days. And even after I had exhausted its utility, Appuppan was more than happy to slice off another leaf and work his magic. As the days flew by, I invented new games to while away the time. And Appuppan was always there to refill the supply. An average coconut tree has something like twenty branches and more than a hundred leaves on each branch. That summer, between him and I, we barely used an entire branch. To a tree, that’s like pulling a hair off your head. But to my Appuppan and me, it was a limb across the gulf between us.

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16 thoughts on “In his hands

  1. A limb across the Gulf indeed…beautiful post. Reminds me of my cuz’s from Germany and how bored they were when they came down for a holiday because we had not yet arrived from Blr. After our arrival they learnt that Kerala was a giant amusement park. There is so much to see and do. They learnt a whole lot things besides making a ball from coconut leaf. Making small bubbles on hibiscus leaves and then bursting it on each others forehead, and a soft cactus leaf that can be split to make a bubble, or pouring water into a Yam leaf and making pretty pearly patterns and so much more… πŸ™‚

  2. wows..abhishek..you are such a talented writer..two of my cousin sisters lived out of india and came only for their summer vacations..which was kind of their training period..you know how to climb trees, eat mango dipped in coconut oil-chilli powder-salt combo, catch fish etc..<>I don’t know what I was looking for, but I seemed to have struck a nerve because soon enough, Appuppan got up from his chair and stepped outside the house.<>sounds like a familiar task…the one that we have in front of us at SK πŸ™‚ will we be able to make all those people get up from their chairs.

  3. awesome man…even i used to begin every vacation in my native place cribbing about the absence of anything resembling a city…grandparents certainly are the link to our roots for most of us mallus…some of my strongest and still vivid memories of chilhood are those of the kaaranavanmaar and the vacations at my native places…superb post! still remember this one time long back my appachan took me hunting…and we caught a rabbit…and how we both came strutting back home to display our trophy. my dad just cant digest it that grandpa and i are like best buddies!

  4. One of my enduring memories is of the time I stole and tasted my grandma’s <>vethhila<> and betel nuts. The headache I had for the rest of the day cured me of <>that<> habit.Your post brought back some treasured memories. πŸ™‚

  5. @silverineYeah, our front yard wasn’t that well tended (due to lack of manual labour), so banana trees, tulasi, thetti flowers and coconut trees were the only ones that grew there. Have you ever sucked the juice out those thetti flowers? Oh, Kerala is a veritable garden…@mosilagerhehe, was your father a naxal by night and a citizen by day? πŸ˜‰j/k but my appuppan could make a mean bow out of a banana tree branch, so they must have been sakaakal…@MindNooooo…now you have started an irreversible chain reaction in my stomach that often ends in my salivating for those those things…in vain.I like the analogy you drew for SK..so true.@jibywow, did you grow up near a forest? I don’t know if rabbits can be found in the wild anymore. You know despite all these environmental concerns, many indigenous species have disappeared from our native village. There used to be wild lotuses, frogs, parrots and so much more…sachinOld people have such nasty habits don’t they? Hehe, I think as you age, your sensory organs grow number and you need a natural “high” to able to taste anything anymore…not that I would know that, at least not for another 35 years I hope.

  6. Such a lovely post..brot back a lot of memories. My granddad too was famous for whipping up all sorts of things with ola and vazha leaves to the delight of his grandkids. My dad too has a talent for this and one of my favorite objects that he made for me as a kid was an ola watch (plenty of times) which I refused to take off till it fell apart. πŸ™‚ And oh, I read in your response to silverine’s comment that you like thetti flowers..are’nt those the lovely bunch of orange flowers (I always used to think they look like soldiers..all upright and grouped together)..I have by the way and it is awesome. πŸ™‚And silverine, I too have done the beedi deed…stubs more like it, but I have to tell you it was an experience indeed. πŸ™‚commented once before but my Internet connectivity decided to take a hike at that precise moment unfortunately. 😦

  7. Nicely done…loved the flow ! you’ve got some flair man. Its these small stuff that bridges the strangeness across generations, brought back so many memories…now that the old man is gone. thank you for the post πŸ™‚

  8. Lovely! Remember the days when our cuzs used to come from ‘gelf’ and we used to take them around the vast fields in the countryside for the feasts that they present.That touch of coconut leaves being that limb across the gulf – Awesome!

  9. u struck a raw nerve there….i just remembered that my grandpa had also made stuff for me with coconut leaves.. man!! i miss the guy..

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