Once upon a time… that is the way every story should start. Well, once upon a time, somewhere in the dark ages shrouded in the mists of time, I was a journalist. That is to say, I wrote for a living. Today, I struggle to find excuses to satisfy my editor for not meeting his given deadline. And my pet kuttichathan sits cross-legged on my monitor and chortles his glee at my predicament.
Where does a kuttichathan come into this story, you ask. Well, once upon a time before my brain atrophied from disuse, I made the mistake of writing about my very own kuttichathan for a web magazine. And my pet kuttichathan preened and wallowed in his five minutes of fame.
It has been three years or more since I first set his story down. And my kuttichathan has found out what countless others had discovered before him – fame is a fickle mistress. My kuttichathan is not used to being ignored. It makes him sulk. When he sulks, I lose more things than I ordinarily do.
Once again, I am getting before myself. Let me begin at the very beginning. My introduction to the kuttichathan came just after I got married. He lived quietly behind an ancient radio in my husband’s flat in Bombay. Every once in a while, he would pocket a few important papers, some costume jewellery (I have never really discovered what use he has for jewellery) safety pins, hair slides, and pens – always pens. Once I knew the kuttichathan was responsible, I lay back and relaxed. After all, it wasn’t my fault that my husband’s life insurance policy disappeared. It was comforting to have someone to blame.
Then we came to the US and in the chaos of relocation, we left him behind. However, we hadn’t reckoned with his loyalty. He hitched a ride to the US two years later and since then, we have continued to lose things periodically. Even as I write this, he has been with us for over 6 years.
It was during this period that I wrote a long lament about the kuttichathan and missing things. For some reason, my plaint struck a chord among many other Malayalis. It set off a storm of nostalgia and e-mails poured in from those who had read the story and wanted to share their own experiences with me. And my pet kuttichathan read my mail over my shoulder and shook with laughter.
And many more things disappeared. One thing I have noticed – if my kuttichathan is happy, I lose things. If he is angry, things are misplaced. If he is sad or sulky, things vanish. By now you must have figured out – no matter what he feels, things disappear.
Anyway, to cut the long story short, my kuttichathan was as happy as can be. Until, that is, he found out that I was more famous than he was. It happened this way. I had sent the kuttichathan’s story to a friend of mine. She liked the story so much that she started to refer to me as ‘kuttichathan’. In fact, she even introduces me to others as such. This was too much for my kuttichathan to bear. After all, he was the reason I was famous. So, he sulked. I guess you know what happened next.
Tonight, as I sit at my keyboard wondering what to write about and where to start and how, he jumps down from the top of the monitor and up onto my shoulder. His features wreathed in what he assumes to be an ingratiating smile, he eggs me on to write about him again. I reached up absently to move him to a more comfortable position when my eyes fell on a little statue of Ganapati that stared at me from the shelf above.
It is a little pillayar, carved out of a betel nut. I looked at it with deep affection. To me, it represents the happy days of my employment in Madras, and is a replica of the statue that was stolen from me one dismal day long ago. I will be honest. I am obsessed with Ganapati. Everywhere I go, my gaze is drawn to statues of the elephant god. Invariably, I buy another.
Not having much faith in organised religion with all its attendant rituals, I nevertheless have a strong personal relationship with the god of auspicious beginnings. It is a relationship that has lasted over a decade. I talk to him. I hold long intense conversations with him, and he listens to me, his elephantine ears quivering with the intensity of his attention. He does not always heed me, or my wishes, but like old friends, he is always there when I need him.
Four years ago, I blamed him for a personal tragedy and turned my back on him, breaking off all relations, refusing even to dust the shelf on which he sat. It took a long time for the wound to heal, and it was only four months ago that I could bear to heal the rift. As always, he forgave me, and large ears shaking with delight, filled me in with all the gossip I had missed in the intervening years.
As I am writing this, he stepped off the shelf, and moving portentously onto the top of my monitor, deigned to step gingerly off onto my hand and thence to my other shoulder. For a pot-bellied figure, he is immensely graceful. He peered near-sightedly at the screen and gave a huge belly laugh upon seeing his name. He is not in search of personal fame, yet it gave him great delight to see the evidence of my faith in him. It is enough and anyway, it was time for his midnight snack.
Ganapati waddled off, leaving behind a red-faced kuttichathan, who was jumping up and down with fury. He had just realised that Ganapati is sharing print space with him (the kuttichathan is a slow reader). Ganapati turned back – his mischievous soul cannot resist taking a pot shot at the kuttichathan. He shuffled past the kuttichathan saying something that sounded suspiciously like “She likes me more than you”. It was difficult to pacify my kuttichathan, especially when all my pens and pencils were flying all over the room with the ferocity of a whirlwind. I know I will not find even one of them again. I gave up.
As I saved the file and closed the screen, he was still muttering dire things under his breath. I heard phrases like ‘vendetta’, ‘...will show him’ ‘revenge’ etc. Ignoring him, I followed Ganapati out the room. What neither the pillayar nor I knew was that tomorrow, my little red pot-bellied figurine would be missing. And there will be a smirk on the face of my kuttichathan.
© Anuradha Warrier