P Is For Phone: Mobile Phone (A Short Story)
by Manu Mottammal
Translated from the original Malayalam by P V Ariel
“Get out!” the Principal shouted.
“What is this? An Application…? Idiot! Take it and get it out of my sight”
“Where these fellows come from, just a waste of my time… scoundrels!
“Sir, what happened, what is the problem?
“Don’t you know what the problem is?”
“How will I know unless you tell me Sir?
This just angered the principal even more. He shouted again, “Where do you fellows creep up from?”
“No Sir I came walking.”
“Oh! Is it?!! You need not write the exam then.”
“Why Sir? What’s the reason?”
The Principal turning red in anger, took out the application form, he said, “Do you even know what you have written in the application form? If you write like this how can I allow you to write the exam? You think you can write any non-sense in the application!”
Saying this he read out the filled up application form loudly.
“Name: Kannan: (Do not know exactly, Kunniyamma called me like that)
Father’s Name: Don’t know
Mother’s Name: Don’t know
Birth Place: Don’t know
Post: Don’t know
Village: Don’t know
District: Now Calicut (Sometimes it may change)
State: Now Kerala (it may change tomorrow)
Caste: Don’t know
Religion: Don’t know
Phone No. 94********5
1. Two spots on the right side of the forehead.
2. Part of one ear is cut off.”
He stops and asks, “Is this the way to fill up an S.S.L.C. Exam Application form?”
“What’s wrong in that Sir? I don’t know anything more apart from that.”
The Principal with shivering anger, shouts on him saying, “All you have is a mobile number mentioned on the form. You need not write the exam… no use… why don’t you go and work as a domestic help or get some field work or some other odd jobs. It’s difficult these days to get people for such jobs. People like you that will fit in”
Saying this, the principal scrambled and threw away the application form, shouting at the boy yet again.
“Get out from here!”
The boy imagines himself standing in a dark moment of place and the principal like a big fiery ball fast approaching towards him.
Even before he could shake himself out, a blow on his head made Kannan realize the grave situation.
He picked up the scrambled paper and came out of principal’s room. As he walked through the veranda of the school premises, hopeless, his memories ran back to his childhood.
“May be the new principal does not know anything about me or my past,” he thought. Kannan was still perplexed on why the principal shouted on him in that manner. He thought for himself again, “I did not write anything wrong in the paper, what all I wrote in the paper is truth and absolutely plain truth.”
Kannan’s mind slowly reeled back to the old days of his life with Kunniyamma.
The phone rang. A familiar number, he placed the phone at his ear and started walking….
Last two three days Ravunni Mash was busy with checking the application forms of the students who appear for the final examination. I must send it by tomorrow though the last day is a week ahead there is enough time still I must send it tomorrow, without any mistake, though checked several times still there is an inner fear, is everything ok! If a small overlook will really affect the candidate’s future and he will lose one year. This happened in one occasion earlier, so Ravunni Mash very carefully checked everything ones again and tied it properly to send it to the head quarters.
Principal Ravunni Maash called peon to get a black tea for him,
Peon Kumaaran went out for getting tea.
Mash again looked at the exam schedule and other papers.
Kumaaran came back with tea and he brought along a letter too.
He said Sir, there is a letter for you
Ok keep it on the table. Mash said.
Kumaaran kept the tea and the letter on the table and went to the veranda.
Mash sipped the tea and opened the letter.
Seeing the words in the letter Mash became angrier, it was the letter of the boy who wrote all nonsense in the application form, His face become red and finally decided to read the letter.
To Dear Principal Sir,
Kannan writing. Sir, I even do not know Kannan is my name. Kunniyamma used to call me with that name. I was with Kunniyamma almost 6 years. She got me from the midst of a bush, once she told me. (Reading that Mash become a bit cool and he continued reading). She went near to a bush for the nature’s call and suddenly heard a small child’s cry and a dog’s murmuring, slowly she went that side and found a child and a dog biting the child’s ear, suddenly she drew away the dog with the stick she always carry to walk and took the child by covering it with a piece of cloth from her baggage. Later she applied some kind of medicine prepared with some ayurvedic medicinal plants on my wounded ear. Still the ear got damaged and she took me to a government hospital and treated me and it got cured but I lost part of my ear, this is true Sir, that is why I wrote this mark as an identification mark in the application form. This is not false Sir, later Kunniyamma looked after me as her child and she fed me with the left overs she receives from houses by begging. Though many a times she spend her night without eating anything, but she fed me with the left overs. Holding the supporting stick in the right hand and holding me with her left hand and placing her baggage on her head she went for begging from cities to cities.
I am sure, holding my hand and walking through the city she was not an ornament to the city but I do not know Sir was she a curse to the city! But one thing I noticed that many looked at me and her with a bad eye indeed there was a kind of hatredness developed in people’s mind.
I lived with Kunniyamma all those six years we slept on the sides of the roads and on the veranda of the shops. I could notice the love she showed towards me, though she faced many difficulties because of me, still she loved me, brought me along with her wherever she went. In the heavy cold weather she covered me with the old blanket and hugged me and slept. When I woke up she will feed me with some food she collected from the road side begging.
One morning when I woke up I could not see Kunniyamma near to me. I looked around but I could not find her anywhere near. But my search found her by the side of a road, I called her but there was no response, I do not know what happened, the body was covered with flies. In the initial stage I could not understand why kunniyamma is lying there, I tried to call her several times but in vain, there was no response from Kunniyamma. People were passed by but no one cared. I was hungry and I cried but no one noticed me or cared. I stayed with Kunniyama the whole night.
(Master Ravunni’s face faded and he continued reading.)
In the wee hours of next day morning; a Municipality van came and pulled out Kunniyamma’s body, dumped into the van and drove away.
No one bothered noticing me while I stood there all alone.
I was crying in hunger, but people simply looked at and passed by…
Kunniyamma will not be with me anymore… I slowly realized the fact and took Kunniyamma’s lone property, a bundle which has a plate, a glass tumbler and few old clothes.
I walked forward carrying that bundle without any aim where I was headed to…
Sir, how can I call her Mother? Or how will I call her Father? She held a special place that is higher than that… a Goddess or may be an Angel.
(Master Ravunni’s face faded and he continued reading.)
That walk with hunger ended in a school’s kitchen shelter where in they cook food-the mid-day meals. There I fell down due to hunger.
Kaarthiyaayani Chechi, (elder sister) the cook who prepared the meals for the children gave me some porridge, I ate and later slept there in the shelter since there was no other place for me to go. That dark night, I slept alone with much fear. The next morning Kaarthiyaayani Chechi came and asked me, “Hey, you are still here! Why didn’t you go?”
“Where will I go Chechi? I have no place to go.” I told her everything that happened to me.
She felt pity upon me and had made a cup of black tea for me and I had it with much eagerness…
(Suddenly Master Ravunni felt the black tea he had was very bitter. He kept that aside and continued reading).
…“Later I helped Kaarthiyaayani Chechi with her chores and stayed back with her. At that time I was around six, or seven years old. During this period, the A E O visited the school for inspection, so was I told. There was a commotion at the principal’s office, the first standard was short by one student for the class. The A.E.O mentioned that if this is not filled up, the school will lose the appointment of a teacher and the aid from the Government.
The Manager and the school Owner were worried about this situation, and that is when Kaarthiyaayani Chechi intervened and suggested my presence for that vacant place. That was really a timely help to the school, the manager and the school owner. I was given a new shirt and trouser for the first time in my life!
This situation helped me join the first standard in the school. There was no need for an application form to be filled in, instead, only the name was entered in the attendance register.
With the provisions of morning tea by Kaarthiyaayani Chechi, the mid-day meals by the school and the same left-overs in the night, I continued my study in this school staying in the school’s kitchen shelter. I was so happy that I could become a student of the school.
I had to study 3 years in the 1st Standard, until someone took my place and got promoted to the 2nd Standard. Later that year, Swaraswathi teacher gave me couple of uniforms and some old books to study. I started studying diligently and became one of the best students in my class.
The teachers took pity on me and started collecting money and helped me. Meanwhile, I too started distributing newspapers in the houses and as time passed by, the newspaper agent gave me an old mobile phone to get in touch with him to keep track of my distribution and collections of money from the houses.
I reached my 10th standard, but then, kicking me out from the school without allowing me to write the exam all my efforts and hopes fell apart.
Sir, what I wrote in that application is true and nothing but the truth, Now I do not have any idea what to do, where to go.
Sir if I’m not wrong, ‘If anyone wants to join in a big English medium school I am sure these things are not required.’ If you have money everything will be taken care of by the school authorities. And everything will be filled accordingly.
The Father’s name, Mother’s name, religion and cast everything will be taken care by the authorities. But Sir, what about a person like me…?
I have only one option laid before me which Kunniyamma showed me in the streets. The same streets that people ignore us and consider us as nobodies. I am afraid of one thing, Sir, I may go from one city to another. I am afraid of one thing only Sir, perhaps yet another life like me may born on this earth through me, that too some dogs may drag to some bushes. … that may not be of my mistake Sir, either the fault of someone else, instead it’s a curse of the street…
Some age old saint gifted this to the street long back. Or may be a fate.
Sir, Please forgive me if I had caused you any distress, but I did not have the courage to stand in front of you and tell you all these things in person, that is why I took the adventure of writing this letter to you.
I am sorry for that Sir. I wish all good to you Sir.
Yours Loving disciple.
“After reading the letter, the principal’s hand shivered, and the black tea that was kept on the table had already become cold, this is the first time he had experienced such bitterness of the cold tea as he drank. He then leaned back to his chair closing his eyes deep in his thoughts…
Suddenly his phone rang! It was a familiar number, but doesn’t recognize it.
He answers the call.
“Isn’t this Ravunni Master, the principal?
Sir, I am Gopalan the head-clerk from the DEO’s office.”
“Yes, Gopalan! Tell me”
“Sir, I just wanted to check with you, how far have the arrangements for the exams come?”
“Everything is fine! I will send you the filled in forms at the earliest.”
“That’s okay, Sir”
“Bye” (Call ends).
Ravunni falls into his deep thoughts again, immediately gets up from the chair like he has come to a decision, opens the cupboard, takes out a paper and pen, and starts writing a letter.
Son, I regret scolding you earlier, I had no idea of a past like this. I would not have scolded you if I knew this.
The characters like Kunniyamma and Kannan, was there in the past, is still in the present and will continue so in the future; this is a lesson that history repeats. I know I can’t change that, but I’m sure I can help you Kannan I know now.
Do not worry my Son, I will add my name as the father’s name, my wife’s name as your mother, our religion and caste will be the same for you.
It’s the Government’s policy that all these details are mandatory in the application form. These are laws that neither you nor I nor the Government can change ever; these were made by someone for someone else and have no proper purpose in our lives. These have been tied around and bound us for all these years.
Son, let’s dream all these bounds will untie one day, hopefully.
Let your future shine brightly and reflect a better example to change all these bounds for children like you that strive for education. Our land needs people like you my boy. May God help you to face all these problems before you. Wherever you are you must come back soon. I will surely do what all I can do for you. You must write the exam this year itself… that is not only your need but also mine too. Kanna, now this is my need.
He finished writing the letter and inserted that into an envelope and closed. Suddenly he realized, where is the address of Kannan? Only his name and the post office name is written on the letter. Oh My Goodness! what to do now!
He started thinking.And lastly he wrote his name the address on the cover
Maankaav P O
Kozhikkode – 7
He wrote a small note to the post master in charge:
If kannan visit here again please hand over this letter to him.
Writing this note on the cover he handed over the letter to Kumaran to post it.
Seeing Master’s sad face Kumaaran asked,
Master, What happened, to whom you are writing this letter. What happened suddenly?
Raavunni: yey, nothing!
Kumaaran: what happened Sir, your eyes are wet!
Raavunni: may be some dust might have fallen in the eyes.
Kumaran: Shall I check Sir?
Raavunni: yah, no problem it will go. Diverting his face to the other side Raavunni master said.
Kumaaran, you please go and post that letter immediately.
Kumaaran went out to post the letter.
Making sure that Kumaaran went, master went and sat on his chair and closed his eyes. He fall into a deep sleep, suddenly the mobile rang, he got up and thought that the mobile want to say something serious to me. He noticed the phone number, a familiar one but do not remember whose number it is, thinking that he placed the mobile into his ear. ** END
Manu Mottammal Manama, Bahrain
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