The end of a legend
K S S Pillai
In a large country like ours, it is unrealistic to expect a white-collar job of one’s choice near one’s residence. It makes migration to other parts of the country or even another country normal. I have traversed this route and settled in a distant part of the country, but I make it a point to visit my village at least once a year.
One of the reasons why I returned to my village in the past was Raman Nair’s teashop. That shop had been a landmark of the village since my childhood. The eatables prepared there were popular as they retained the original taste. Even fishermen from across the Pamba river used to cross the river in their small country boats to be the early customers of the shop. Tea was always prepared by Raman Nair himself in the traditional Kerala style, while the other dishes were made by his two sons. The batter of idlis and dosas was still prepared manually in the old grinding stone by the sons.
Raman Nair’s teashop had the approval of the womenfolk, too. They thought highly of the idlis and dosas prepared in this shop. While encouraging the menfolk to have their tea and breakfast in the shop, they would also ask them to bring some for them, too.
Some more teashops have come up in the village over the years. They are modern in their looks, seating arrangement, and the varieties of dishes sold there. They are patronized mainly by the younger generation.
I used to accompany my father to the shop early in the morning and have my tea and breakfast there. No eyebrows were raised those days when a boy drank tea. I thought I could never find the taste of tea prepared by Raman Nair anywhere else, including my home.
There was a grocery shop in front of the shop, owned by a middle-aged widow Komalam. Her shop supplied groceries to almost every house in the village. A sprawling old cashew tree stood by the side of her shop. Children played, and grown-ups gambled under that tree. There was a rumour that there was a clandestine love affair between Komalam and Raman Nair, but no one dared to talk about it openly.
It was routine for Raman Nair to visit the toddy shop near the riverbank late in the evening. The chicken curry prepared by Velumbi, the mother of the toddy shop owner, was famous. People visited it as much for the toddy as for the chicken curry. It attracted customers even from outside the village. Another reason for tipplers to visit the shop was the belief that the toddy sold there was not diluted with water or adulterated with intoxicants.
Raman Nair would announce his wobbling return home to the whole world by singing old filmy songs at the top of his voice. He would be silent only for a few minutes when he was in front of Purushothaman Sir’s house. He was the principal of the local high school and highly respected by the whole village.
During my last visit, I went, as usual, to Raman Nair’s shop early in the morning to have my first cup of tea. And a couple of hot dosas on pieces of banana leaves with coconut chutney. I had told the womenfolk the previous evening not to get up early to prepare tea for me. They knew the reason.
I was shocked when I had my first sip of the brew. The magic taste was missing. “Who prepared the tea?” I asked the waiter, who was a distant relative of Raman Nair. “Soman,” he replied. Soman was the second son of Nair. “Why not Raman Nair?” I asked. “Didn’t you know? He passed away a couple of months ago.”
With Raman Nair’s death, another reason for my annual visit to my village has disappeared permanently.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to The Kashmir Vision, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)