I came to Kerala from north India and like almost every north-Indian I too had a love for its beauty. It was early February when I reached here. I experienced a sudden change in the weather condition. My flight got late due to heavy fog in Delhi. As soon as I got down at Kochi airport I had to take off my woollen cloth due to heavy sweating inside. Soon I found that I had to spend a good amount of time for window shopping so that I would know about the shops from where I could buy my stuff. I use a particular brand of detergent powder and during my own kind of exploration of local market I didn’t find any shop where I could get that.
I used to go to see the nearby places during my evening walk and the Periyar river bank was my favourite haunt. One evening when I was returning from the walk I saw those detergent powder pouches hanging in a shop. I found them inviting me. I went to that shop and started searching for the shopkeeper. To my surprise and fear there appeared an old lady with a fearsome face on a thin body. She was wearing a wrap around kind of a dress that was surely neither sari nor skirt. At the first glance I found her decaying by the hands of cruel old age. She said something in Malyalam but as I didn’t know a single word in the language I stood dumbfounded. When she opened her mouth again to say something her teeth became visible to me they were black like coal. Suddenly all the bad women of my nani’s stories which I used to listen to in my childhood came alive. There were a few people but they seemed less bothered about us. She gave me one pouch as quickly as I gestured about what I wanted. I bought other item to avoid the problem of change but it went in vain when she gave me some discount. I got the word ‘discount’ only as it was said in English but couldn’t get how much it was. She tried two three times to explain it to me but I didn’t get that. Finally she joined both her palms as if she was worshipping and said pathu. She did that to two times and said the same word again only then my tube light lit up and I got to know how much money she wanted. I paid her twenty rupees. There was a great relief and satisfaction on her face and a smile too. My fear was gone and a smile came up. She asked something that too I didn’t get but I told her in English and with some gestures that I came here as a new teacher in Navodaya school. After hearing Navodaya and her smile appeared bigger. Somehow I found that smile very innocent. That day onwards whenever I went that side I waved her and she always replied it with a broad smile showing her those coal-black teeth. Then there came a break in that usual stroll when I left the place because of the two months vacation in school.
I reached back here last week. Kerala’s world famous early showers welcomed me and stopped me from going anywhere. I had to buy the same detergent powder. I directly went to that shop and saw her rushing into the shop as she had been waiting for me for the last two months. We exchanged smiles. Suddenly she started crying. She was crying and talking in Malyalam. I couldn’t get anything. She took out a picture of a young man and gestured that he was dead. I heard some words ‘drugs’, ‘hospital’, ‘operation’. I reached a quick conclusion that the man had died and there was a relation between those words and young man’s death. She sat down on the stool and showed me her purse there was not a single rupee! I brought my purse out and tried to give her a few hundred but she didn’t take. I found some tears in my eyes too. I started searching for whatever I could buy from her shop. I left her shop and came back to prepare a list of things.
Old age is an age of helplessness and being a single-old-woman it is the worst of all situation.