(Dedicated to Aparna Rajagopalan)
Of all of Illundavoor’s tales, the tale of Srirama Iyer was the most famous. Mothers fed little ones with the story. It was what families recounted with a laugh, sitting-as if in a round table conference-just after the satisfaction of a Kalyana saapadu*, in that little time just before the nalungu** began. It was what one can sum up, as an Illundavoor legend.
Srirama Iyer, was a Palakkad Iyer whose great-grandfather had resettled in the town of Illundavoor. In his heydays, Srirama Iyer, was the postmaster of Illundavoor. He lived in his spacious Injiperumaal Street bungalow with his ageing mother, plump wife Jaya, and his hyperactive son. His lawyer father had left him the house, and his father-in-law made sure that he got a motor cycle as a dowry*** back then. So Srirama Iyer had, what one might call, a very comfortable existence.
He was a man with a B.A. degree in English, which came in handy as the town’s postmaster. He would read for the unlettered and correspond on their behalf as well, for a nominal sum.
Srirama Iyer was a man respected by all and feared by many, as it was well-aware that he was a man with an easily ignited temper. His six-foot appearance only added to it. People generally held him in reverence and distance, unless absolutely needed.
Time went by. And with old age came senility. The once terrorizing Srirama Iyer became delusional. The son, Devan, married and a lawyer of repute like his grandfather, ruled over the household.
There were days when Srirama Iyer would start remembering things that had happened thirty years ago. At that time, they had just begun constructing a house in Tellinoor, the neighbouring town. Srirama Iyer would suddenly come and tell people in the house that the carpenter has come to repair the cupboards or that the contractor has come and needs cement.
He was so physically strong, despite his delusions that he used to haul around furniture at will. It was almost impossible to restrain the six footer!
There were other delusions as well. Of nightingale insects and daffodil insects feeding on crumbs of food that he would spill while eating. He would trace their trail with his blinking 5-year old chamaththu**** grandson Natarajan, whom they fondly called Nattu at home.
“Inga paaru da Nattu… theriyaratha… andha daffodil poochchi apdiye ennodu kaalu-la oora-pakkarathu!*****” he would startle the poor boy! Sometimes, he would recite whole chunks of letters he read or wrote in the bygone days, as a postmaster.
And then he had a quirky habit. At the ripe old age of 72, with his mind playing games, Srirama Iyer would suddenly wake up in the middle of the night and watch television. Old black and white films on Tamil channels, TNT movies and the occasional lingerie model on FTV (Much to Jaya Mami’s embarrassment).
Our legendary story begins one night in the month of Aippaci******, when rains persisted to drum on the roofs all night, and frogs croaked in the backyard. The entire household was asleep, when a thief snuck into the house of Srirama Iyer.
He entered through a window that had snapped ajar in the kitchen. Slowly, he made his way inside the house. Now, the house was very old-fashioned, unlike the one that Srirama Iyer had built in Tellinoor. Meandering passageways lead to innumerable store rooms. The inhabited part of the house was somewhere near the front.
After opening many a store room door and only discovering moth eaten sofa cushions and immobile cupboards, the thief realized that he had to slowly make his way to the front sections of the house.
Now, just as he crossed the long passageway, into the mittam******* and across to the living room, who did he see but our very own Srirama Iyer, sitting and watching “Guns of Navaronne” on an English Movie Channel!
The thief was taken aback to see that there was someone awake, right in the middle of the night, and most surprisingly, watching TV!
Srirama Iyer, noticing him, miraculously gathered his senses, jumped on to his feet and imposingly screamed, “KALLAN”******** and woke the entire house. The scared thief, grabbed the box from the table near him- the only object he could make out in the darkness as he whizzed past. He traced back his path and jumped out of the window before anyone could reach him.
When Devan asked his dad rhetorically, as to how he managed to raise an alarm sensibly, the old man seriously answered that “the nightingale police” had warned him.
After much search it was found that only Jaya Mami’s denture dabba********* had been stolen. “Toothless thief,” Srirama Iyer was often heard screaming in the afternoons at passers-by.
Kalyana saapadu*- Wedding feast
Nalungu**- A light-hearted post-wedding ritual involving the bride and groom and their families where games like ‘rolling the coconut’, ‘breaking the crispies’, ‘finding the ring’ etc are played amidst singing and other fanfare.
Dowry***- the payment in cash or/and kind by the bride's family to the bridegroom' s family along with the giving away of the bride
“Inga paaru da Nattu… theriyaratha… andha daffodil poochchi apdiye ennodu kaalu-la oora-pakkarathu!*****” -“Look here, Nattu…can you see? Those daffodil insects are trying to climb over my leg!”
Aippaci******- The Tamil month that falls between mid-October to mid-November, known to rain in Tamil Nadu.
“KALLAN” ********- rogue