THOMA’S PARADISE – SARAT SADASIVAN PILLAI

Author : Sarat Sadasivan Pillai
Company : TATA ELXSI
Email : sarat.s97@gmail.com

THOMA’S PARADISE

Thomaa!.. da Thomaa!.. the sound seemed to echo for Thoma as he lazily rubbed his eyes before trying to open them. It had been raining all night and he could through his window see the water drops dripping down from his thanked roof. Bubbles danced in the small pools formed by the rain outside and the fresh smell in the air made him more lazy. He turned to the other side and slowly closed his eyes as another call for his sounded across his ears. It was his mother again and he was sure that she will come in any minute now with not a very pleasant face. Its been 3 weeks since school closed for Thoma and as every vacation he was expected to help his father with his farming. The long stretch of paddy fields that his father possessed were ready for harvesting. For Thoma, it was hell on earth, going into the cold muddy fields that too during the early hours of the day. He would prefer to cuddle in his bed than to step into the messy fields.

As Thoma had predicted to himself, like storm his mother rushed in to pull him out of bed. He could hear her heavy  steps on the clay floor, approaching fast and furious. Thoma managed to drag himself up before his mother had an opportunity for. She stood there staring at him as if he had committed a big crime, but Thoma was cool, looked up on her face and smiled innocently. Covering her laughter seeing Thomas expression she maintained her serious tone and said, do you know what time it is? Your father already left. She pulled the blanket away which was still covering Thomas head. I will back if you don’t show up in another couple of minutes she said as she went back to chores.

Thomas mother Katrina was a healthy fair petite lady. She spent most of her time on household chores and looking after her cattle and poultry. She also had her own vegetable cultivation. she was very strict on the point that Thoma should help his father during his vacations and this was one such period, Thoma had just completed his 9th grade exams and was on 2 months vacation. Thomas father Varkey was a lean and dark and hardworking man. He knew the importance of education and always encouraged Thoma and his sister Lillykutty. Lillykutty was 2 yrs elder to Thoma and was the class topper. Thoma on the other had always struggled to get through exams, his interests were  in to arts and theater and was even a member of the local drama troupe. Varkey was not  against it though he never encouraged it also. Thoma was also good in singing and was one of the prime members of the coir group in his church. The family as a whole was god fearing and fun loving group.

Lillykutty’s best friend and neighbor was Lissy, Thoma had a soft corner towards Lissy and always made sure he sees her daily, even as little as a glimpse. Lissy was a very reserved and shy girl who would be seen hiding behind her mothers saree and looking down. The pleasant smile on her fair face was one motivation for Thoma to be in the coir group, Lissy was also a member in it. Coir practice would be the only time Lissys voice would be heard loud that too without her mothers company. Thoma very strongly believed that Lissys vision crossed him at least once during the coir practice sessions, though his close friend Mathai never approved it. Mathai was never a part of the coir but would accompany Thoma and wait for him outside the church munching on to something, as he was generally seen.

Mathai’s father owned the only grocery store in the village and Mathai used to help him after school hours. During vacation time Mathai would be seen managing the shop well. Mathai’s father Kochukunju was always proud f him except the fact that Mathai had a weakness towards food. He was worried that his already overweight boy wold keep on gaining weight. Thoma was very dear to Mathai and they were mostly seen together. The only thing on which they had difference of opinion was Lissy, Mathai always was of the opinion that Lissy was not as a simpleton as she seems.

 

Thoma got out from bed lazily walked towards the kitchen where he was sure that his cup of black tea would be waiting. Lillykutty was up and as always had had her bath and was helping her mother with cooking, as she say Thoma she smiles sarcastically and poured some black tea for him. Thoma didn’t care about her expressions and after taking a sip or two walked outside, his first glimpse was towards Lissys house which was a few yards away from his and separated by a small fens. Between the green banana leaves which were even greener after the rain, he could see her rooms window which was wide open. No, she was not there, Thoma stood there for a while finishing his tea and walked in. He could hear his mother calling again, asking him to join his father who had already left.

The days went by with Thoma being puled out of bed by his mother and Thoma working in the field with his father till late evening. Thoma was give easy tasks but for him it was torture and he counted the days for school reopening. Sunday was the only day he was free from work and also the day when he could get a glimpse of Lissy at church. Later evening after work Thoma would go to the nearby river for a bath with Mathai. Mathai was allergic to taking bath but would accompany Thoma. He would sit on the banks eating something as Thoma would enjoy the dips in the cool shallow water. They would then talk about everything that happened in that village that day. Mathai would have lots to say as he overhears all the talks and discussions at the shop. Some of them like politics and scandals were much above their perception still they would try to analyze the issue.

Vacation was coming to an end and Thoma was reveled from work, he was granted 2 weeks of relaxation by his father before classes restarted.  Katrina was against the idea and couldn’t understand the need for 2 weeks of rest, Thomas father would smile every time she puts this topic up, Lillykutty was also in agreement with her. Thoma would spent most of the time  sleeping or roaming around the house, evenings were busy with Mathai coming over for a chat, they would then either go to the river bank or to the local drama club, where nothing much was happening.  Monsoon was fast approaching and so were the reopening dates.  Some unknown depression always haunted Thoma every year at this season,  clouds made him moody and so did the classes. The narrow road between coconut palms that lead to his school will be muddy and wet during monsoon, it lead to the paddy fields that his father  owned. Walking in between the long stretch of paddy field was cumbersome during monsoon, the splashing sound of Thomas rubber shoes will be accompanied by the rhythmic sound of water falling on his umbrella and the rippling sound of water falling on small poodles on the path. Lillykutty had no issues with all this, she would just run holding her umbrella and splashing muddy water, she loved rain and would at times sing her favorite folk songs as she run in between the long stretch of bright green paddy . at times  Lissy would be joining them and that would be the days when Thoma would enjoy the rain, Lissy would be walking just behind Thoma, she was not like Lillykutty, she hates to run and splash mud.  In between Thoma would help Lissy to cross mud poodles holding her rosy hands which she would extend to Thoma hesitatingly. Thoma used feel on top of the world being chivalrous.

Day before schools reopened Thomas father did not go to the fields, he was busy ironing Thomas and Lillykutty’s dress, covering their books and cleaning their old school bags. Every year he made sure that they had all the provisions needed. Thomas as usual was depressed, he sat near the window looking at the dark sky and the coconut palms waving in in the rain. Water sprayed on his face as wind blew toward his small house, he could see the river far off and the local boatman trying hard to steer his small boat. Lillykutty was very exited about the reopening, she very enthusiastically joined her father in all the activities and even tried on her new uniform. Thoma could not ever understand what was so exciting about going to school, to him it was sheer torture, mental and physical. Every time he thought about school the first face that came to his mind was that of kadua chandi. Chandi was their maths teacher and kadua or tiger was the addition to his name by his beloved students. He was a terror to them and was famous for his punishments. The long cane he used to carry under his arm was as long as his big long mustache. We wore black thick specs through which his big round eyes looked even bigger. The worst part of his caning was that he would punish only during lunch breaks that too outside the class, on the veranda where everyone would see who is getting punished.

Thomaa.. the call once again echoed across the house that morning. It was the first day of the academic year and Thoma knew he had to get up and go to school, Lillykutty was already up and all set to go. He could smell the fragrance of talcum powder filling the room as Lillykutty was at her finishing touch ups of getting ready. She sarcastically smiled at Thoma every time she ran across his bed. To make matters even worse he could see Lissy all dressed up and ready to go. He knew he will never make it before Lissy leaves her house. Mumbling something Thoma got up. As expected it was raining heavily and the narrow road was filled with muddy water, opening his umbrella Thoma started to walk, Lillykutty was already half way across the paddy field. Thoma could hear his mum calling out ‘its 10th standard, listen to your teachers and study well like Lillykutty…’, ‘study well like Lillykutty… ‘ Thoma said to himself as he suppressed his anger.

Thoma had a look at the notice board to find out which division he was and walled towards the class. School  looked the same, same old benches, dirty black board the deformed metal dustbin at the corner and the half torn duster. Thoma always preferred back seat, though he was not a very tall boy, he preferred being out of line of sight of the teacher. Less visibility less the chance of being caught for answers he used to say. Old friends were waiting for Thoma to join, Mathai and the gang greeted Thoma with a warm smile and welcomed him to the backbenchers union.  Rain had stopped by now and looking out of the window Thoma could see children coming in, closing thier umbrellas and shaking off the water before they entered the building. He could see kadua chandi entering the school campus on his old java byke, the front of the byke seemsed to resemble his face, big round headlight liek that of his eyes and the curved handle like his big mustache. A lightning of chill waved across Thomas body when he saw kaduva. The sound of caning echoed across his head and the memories of unbearable pain made Thoma close his eyes. Mathai always had lots to tell the gang, his spicy talks were an addiction to the gang. He had lots say after 2 months of service at his fathers shop, he had also brought some candy  from the shop which blended well with his updates. Thomas gang had 5 members, himself and Mathai were the proclaimed leaders. Other members were Muhammad who was also Mathai’s neighbor, Krishnankutty who was the class topper and Raman. Ramans official name was Ramanathan but was known as Raman. He was a Tamil Brahmin and was very close to Thoma. Raman was also very good in studies and had a cold war with Krishnankutty when it came to studies. Krishnankutty’s father was also the English teacher at their school and Raman’s father was a government clerk. Muhammad  came from a big middle class Muslim family and they had a family business of cosmetics in town.  Several of his relatives were into politics and he too was inclined towards a major political party. Thoma was the common bond between all of them as he was a ego less and friendly character. They gang was very much sincere to Thoma and was always ready to help him. As Thoma listened to Mathai’s stories his eyes wandered across the class room, it had 4 big windows. As his eyes swept across the class his eyes opened wide as he looked through the third window. Across the veranda he could see the next class and at the window seat was Lissy, chatting with his sister. Thoma was thrilled and unknowingly stood up with a stupid smile on his face. Mathai and the gang stopped their hot discussion and all eyes were on Thoma, with half opened candy filled mouths. Mathai’s eyes went in the same direction as Thomas, he also say Lissy. Mathai budges his elbow to the gang and showed them what Thomas was looking at, everyone saw Lissy and knew that Thoma had a soft-corner for her. They looked at each other and then it happened suddenly, Mathai gave a good slap on Thomas butt. Thoma as if from a dream jerked back to consciousness, looked around, then looked at the gang and tried to smile which he was not so successful.  ‘stupid.. she doesn’t even know you exists, who are you? Shah Rukh Khan? Mohanlal or Mammotty?.. to her you never even existed’ Mathai’s words were harsh but the gang knew it was true. Thomas eyes were filled with depression, he stared at the gang, and then Lissy and walked out. There was a mix of expressions on the gangs faces, but silence dominated the scene.

During lunch break Mathai went to Thoma who was sitting under the flag post of the school. His eyes were focused on the rusted ring at the top of the post. Mathai knew Thoma was depressed but as if he was ingredient approached Thoma and taped on his back. ‘did you take lunch?’ he asked casually. ‘yes’ Thoma mumbled, he was still looking up. ‘come on, the gang is waiting for you’ Mathai said. Thoma hesitated first , then walked sluggishly with Mathai. The gang was sitting under the big tamarind tree near the school ground. They all stopped their discussion and looked at Thoma and Mathai, they knew Thoma was not in a good mood. Someone in the gang offered a tamarind to Thoma, he took it and sat on one of the big round rocks below the tree, the breeze was cool and as it swept past some rain drops fell on Thoma and the gang.

As seniors in school the gang used to show off a bit, though they never bullied the junior guys they always made sure they got respect from them. Classes went on as usual and it was a week since schools had reopened. On the first day of the second week a new boy joined Thomas class. He was fair tall and chubby and from his attire it was very evident that he was rich. The gang did a close analysis of him as he walked past them after assembly.  Thoma looked at him and then looked at himself, he looks so good Thoma told Mathai who looked th Thomas lean and dark body and messy hair and then him. I don’t see much of a difference, Mathai s words did not sund convincing to Thoma. The new boys name was Rahul, he sat on the first bench, this was something that bothered Thoma, a s his tall body blocked his view to Lissys class. That afternoon the gang had a hot topic to discuss, who is Rahul. Mathai was the first one to comment, ‘he came from the public school in city, his father owns the marine exporting company at Cochin where Lissys father works as a supervisor’, the moment Thoma heard this a chill wept across his slim body, he caught hold of Mathai hand involuntarily ‘is it?, he asked. Thomas grip was rather hard and Mathai releasing Thomas hand said ‘yes, but why are you worried?’, there was no response from Thoma. Rahul came in a cycle, and expensive one with gear s which no one in school had, though silent he was gaining popularity in school as he was a multiple talented person. Time passed by and Rahul continued to prove his talents in studies as well as in curricular activities, he was a good singer  and guitarist. He never mixed with anyone and a casual smile was the only communication he maintained with Thomas gang. Rahul knew Lissy and this was one thing that bothered Thoma, as per Mathai’s report they even chat at the school veranda at times. Though no one other than Mathai had seen this but it was more than enough to disturb Thoma.

Monsoon had come to an end and it was lively everywhere, Lillykuttys small garden was full of flowers and butterflies, Lissy would come in once in a while to chat with Lillykutty and always made sure to take a rose as she left. Thoma would casually walk in to their conversations which made the girls silent for a while. Lillykutty hated Thoma intruding their personal space and used to express it bitterly, Lissy would just smile at the fuss created.

Rahul continued to go ahead with his talents and skills, he overtook Krishnankutty and Raman in studies and the teachers who were very linen t to them were now concentrating of Rahul. The gang had taken this constructively though Krishnankutty and Raman were trying their level best to keep up with the pace. Though Mathai’s words proved to be wrong, Thoma always had the feeling that Rahul was interested in Lissy, he had seen Rahul looking at Lissy through the window, ‘the bugger blocked my view and is now enjoying his opportunity’ he would think.  One evening, after school as Thoma and the gang were leaving for home, they saw Rahul coming out and getting on to his cycle, Thoma had noticed that Lissy and Lillykutty were also coming from behind them. Mathai said ‘his cycles look so cool’, no one in this village has a cycle with gears and all. ‘well my fathers cycle goes faster than this’ Thoma added. He could hear Muhammad giggling and trying hard to control it. Thoma stared at Muhammad when they heard a ‘thug’ sound from behind, it was Rahul’s bag that had fallen off his carrier. It was hanging half way down and Rahul was unable to hold on to the cycle or to release the bag. Thoma ran towards Rahul to help but before he reached Lissy and Lillykutty were already there and helping Rahul. Thoma stood there watching Rahul saying thank you and giving Lissy a hand shake, he felt like Lissy  was looking at Rahul as he moved on. The gang had come near Thoma by then and Thoma felt like a thousand violins playing a tragic tone as in numerous films he had seen. That day the gang didn’t return home after class they had an immediate meeting at ‘anappara’, it was a huge rock on the hill next to Ganesha temple. Many superstitious stories roam around the area and even the gang used to avoid going there after evening. As the sky rolled its red carpet for the beautiful full moon, the gang sat around Thoma who was in deep thought. Breaking the silence Krishnan said, now whats the big deal, she just helped one of her friends, I am sure shed do the same for you too if you  needed it. Before Thoma could say anything Mathai interrupted, ‘sure but then i am not sure she will stand there smiling as she did today…’ Thoma closed his opened mouth and took a deep breath.

Thoma didn’t appear for dinner that night, Varkey knew something was wrong and went to Thomas room. ‘Thoma..’ he called softly. Thoma was staring out at the sky through his window. Without turning around he told ‘i  need a cycle.. with gears’. There was a moment of silence, Thoma slowly looked around but Varkey was not there. Next evening Thoma returned from school to see a brand new cycle at his house, with gears and much better than what Rahul had, standing beside it was Varkey. He had a pleasant smile on his face. Thoma knew it was hard for his father to buy a cycle this expensive, his eyes were wet though he too was smiling. Running forward Thoma was confused whether to hug the cycle or his dear father. Thoma was eager to show the cycle to his gang. Throwing his bag on to the verandah he snatched the keys from Varkeys hands and jumped on to the cycle. It was red in color with attractive yellow and black stickers, in the evening sun it looked stunning with all greenery around to contrast. He could see the gang walking towards him far away and much before them was Lillykutty and Lissy. As he passed by them , both of them looked in excitement. Thomas heart was pumping hard and without giving his mind a chance to rethink he took a u-turn and stopped the cycle crossing the girls. Thoma could hear his heart beating in his years and his own deep and fast breath as sweat rolled down his neck. ‘Lissy, would you like to.. like to take a ride? ..’ somehow the words rolled down Thomas mouth. Lissys stared at Thoma as if he had slapped her, she was standing without even taking a breath or blinking her eyes. ‘yes…’ she whispered as she as if in a trance walked towards the cycle and sat on the handle bar. The fragrance of the flowers on her head slowly swept inside Thomas head. He could hardly believe what was happening Thoma pushed the cycle and slowly peddled it looking far away at the distant ‘anappara’, the world around him had suddenly turned to paradise.  Little far away the gang was standing frozen with shock, Mathai could not chew the banana piece which slowly slid down his mouth to the floor as Thomas cycle passed by them

The sky was decorated with bright stars that night as moonlight spread across anappara and the Ganesha temple. Two happy souls were still sitting there looking at the sky with no words spoken.

Comments

comments