The Chemistry-Lover who doesn’t have a Nuclear Sense
As we returned from the proposed nuclear power plant, we carried a pamphlet with us. When we reached back our village, the electricity had stopped.
I ran to the room where Kochchaappa1 lay. Without being able to measure the length of that last breath which he drew in, I stood near his bed, holding a hand-fan.
I was not able to fan him in the consternation that followed his efforts to exhale, with the air forming a ball in his throat where the outward bound breath was trapped. Those who were gathered around Kochchaappa were petrified, perspiring profusely as the sun was blazing away during that noontime. In the mist of all this, even Umma2 who was standing there, tears streaming down her face, could not put the last drops of water into his mouth.
As Kochchumma3 sitting in the next house was busy writing a seminar report, she was not aware of any of the goings-on. So, it was Kochchuraman, who had come along with me, who poured the water into his throat. Many remarked that it was significant as a sign.
It was not my friends or I who decided what elements should go into the Oesophagus or Larynx of a man. It was a third person. I don’t have enough knowledge in Chemistry to speculate what-all are the elements that encroached into the atrophied throat of my Kochchaappa.
On my part, I had discarded all subjects from my mind as I was trapped in a most complex sort of love affair. It was my wont to watch the day burn itself out and wait for sleep the whole night those days. Throughout the following days, my daily routine went haywire on account of the hullaballoo related to the pouring of the last drops of water into Kochchaapa’s throat. I have the suspicion that this was a secret mission organised by Kochchumma. It was a relative who held great influence over the family who turned the issue into a complex problem. On all occasions that presented themselves, he would burn in and blaze out, spreading the fire.
As soon as this man entered the house, the plants in the yard would wait with bated breath, the flowing out of toxic fumes. It was a boy from the neighbourhood who said, those plants were all full of flowers and fruits.
I remembered reading from Uppuppa’s4 diary entry of a day in 1936 about an event involving his planting a tree, watering it daily and seeing it put on flowers for the first time after a quarter century. Only much later did I get to know that it was the entry for the Temple Entry Declaration.5
The books in the full shelves are all dust-covered. They had earlier been neatly arranged according to topics. That relative had come in and ransacked through the whole thing. One of the two books that lay in the lowest shelf, forgotten, carried the cover picture if the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The picture on the other book was Phule’s6
This long Facebook post of A.S. ends here.
A.S. had not at all liked the way one of his friends, who had been attempting to teach him chemistry, had spoken of the painting styles of Paul Cezanne and Monet, without the least notions about art. Not only that, since A.S. used to enjoy autonomy of movement during study times and conversations, he had not learned chemical names and terminology related to chemical reactions.
Yet he had attempted to learn about the isotope called Tritium, and withdrawn himself conceding defeat.
A.S. discovered with an inner thrill that he was the first one to think ‘what use a Chemistry student is who has not been able to critically analyse Mendeleev’s 108 elements and their common characteristics.’ A.S. had once told his friends that his life’s mission was to invent a machine that can measure the levels of communication between two human beings. The friends had then made fun of him saying, ‘unrealisable concepts are the hallmark of the mentally deranged.’
It was on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, that his childhood playmate Sameera Fatima had once again crept into his life. Even during the period when she was his classmate as a Chemistry student, she had raised the curtain of romance in his mind, shaking up his subconscious mind. Sameera kept reminding him that their first love tryst should begin by discussing the fate of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A demonstration rally in their city had passed on in between them, splitting the pair into two separate beings.
Once A.S. recorded on his Facebook wall that he had been trying to convince his beloved that unknown elements found in this earth which are considered to be safe, are creating ecologically dangerous conditions.
When Sammera had demanded an explanation on the elements that are creating this imbalance, he merely said that he had been studying about it.
It was by turning upside down the view of life of our protagonist who had been confounded having been trapped in the world of intense ideas, that this girl student of Chemistry, who was, till then, lying prone on repetition tables, made her first entry.
As once he made clear through one of his essays, there are limitations in leading the human race to virtue, through the explosive ideas of Alfred Nobel.
There is nothing wrong if he had preferred to choose a Chemistry student as his wife, at a time when pesticides and noxious gases were lying in wait to attack and to establish their sway around his plot of land.
How can one suggest a path of liberation through a chemical formula for mankind that is advancing through the theory of knowledge? One has to separate the organic elements within one’s home and sustain them, while eradicating the elements that are anti-organic. To this end, A.S. began the task of removing from his home polluting agents like mosquito repellents, ant-destroyers, anti-cockroach chalks, plastic pollutants etc. But he had to face opposition from his family members, except Umma. It was on this occasion that a discussion was held on the threat raised by atomic plants, and anxieties about the Chernobyl tragedy. Though she didn’t understand anything, Umma was there with them, with a large enough mind to understand whatever was there.
“You had to wait seventeen long years to regain a chance to talk to her, hadn’t you?”
Now he feels that whatever Umma said then was somewhat true. He had a lot of lessons to learn yet about the elements that Sameera Fatima, the scientist, was trying to discover and decipher the secrets of, and also about the depths of her mind.
Umma had never joined Kochchaappa on his vacation trips. He had to visit certain factories for iduring the journeys. He avoided Umma because he deemed that only Kochchuma qualified to be his travelling companion. All the money he had sent from Russia was to Kochchumma’s account.
It was during a summer when he was plunged into severe romance-related disasters that A.S. took out his old, crumpled up clothes.
“I hate people who wear their cloths without washing and ironing them,” she had said.
It was on the day he had gone to meet the bank manager along with her to apply for a loan. The first sentence that signified the change that was taking place within her.
Yet, her wondrous bicycle-riding childhood kept tempting A.S. no end.
It was when she was studying in the Seventh Standard. He still remembers each frame of that bicycle trip that so impressed his mind.
She had ridden that bicycle at noon that day to her home, to remove the mosquito mat someone had brought and switched on in her younger sister’s room. She had ventured on that adventurous trip following his instructions.
The series of their first rendezvous was when Kochchaappa had come back home from Chernobyl city on vacation, and she joined her Bapa7 in enthusiastically lending her ears to the Russian story.
“It’s not the brains of a Standard Two pupil that she has. She will surpass even him, who is in the Fifth Standard.”
It was this comment of Kochchaappa that made her pictures to find a place in the books and diaries of A.S., one after the other.
Following that, it was because she regularly attended the congregation for Hiroshma Day observance each year without fail, that there was a change in A.S.’s thinking about her.
In recent days, many of her arguments have turned repulsive to his mind. Once, when she met him at the railway station, she told him sharply:
“Run along, friend. Today I have a lot to think about. I don’t have time to discuss things like credit deposit rates.”
Though he had invited her for Women’s Day Celebrations and Women’s Theatre meet, she had not attended. These times, she was sitting in Kochchaappa’s room.
Kochchaappa had spent just two days with Umma after he returned from Russia. After that Kochchumma had taken him away.
When Sameera Fatima received an appointment memo for a job with a very high salary, it was Kochchaappa who took the credit for it all. He kept praising Sameera, lying on his sickbed, even forgetting his own feeble health condition.
All the expenses related to Kochchaappa’s treatment were met from the contingency fund accumulated over a very long time, with the money Umma had put away.
But when he was in Russia, he would talk only to Kochchumma over the phone.
“You are helping out Iththa 8at least once in a while, aren’t you?”
A.S. remembers Kochchumma humming distastefully in reply, and then handing over a small amount to Umma the next day.
Once he heard Kochchumma tell Kochchaappa over phone: ”Iththa is burying all the money in green leaves.”
Kochchumma was under the impression that even the plants and leaves that had taken over our compound would have laughed in agreement hearing her comment.
Kochchaappa watched bemusedly as Kochchumma invested money in the plantations of rubber and eucalyptus. Before she ventured on one of her new projects, she would consult Sameera Fatima. But on none of these occasions she had revealed that she was talking over the phone to Sameera.
A.S. is once again reading his diary entries in which he had written that he thought it would be only him in her thoughts during each lonely night she spent. At the end of his reading, heaving deep sighs, he kept looking at Sameera’s photo in her Facebook album in which she was seen standing in front of the proposed atomic power plant. What Kochchumma said during her conversation thus, still wounds A.S. :
“Now the two of you are at two different levels. Hey, she can’t even comprehend you now.”
Sameera drove her long-bodied sedan without a registration number, straight into the courtyard. She entered Kochchaappa’s room only after capturing images of Umma’s kitchen garden and the procedures for making organic manure. He was under a severe attack of asphyxiation. It was A.S. who answered when Sameera enquired about Kochchumma.
“She will return from Moscow only after participating in one more seminar.”
Though Kochchaappa, after heaving a long sigh, made as if to say something, he swallowed his words, and both of them were aware of it. In between, he drank with relish the fresh vegetable juice Umma had offered him.
Kochchaappa, returning after the last of the chemotherapy sessions, had asked A.S.to go and meet Sameera Fatima. But he tried to that only three months after Kochchaapa died. It was on the day she had reported for the new job.
It was along with a friend that A.S. reached the proposed nuclear power plant. His friend had said that Sameera had been troubled, plunged into a stste of confusion. He made A.S. believe that she had gone to the proposed nuclear plant only to collect back her original certificates.
The campus of the proposed plant was filled with banners, signboards and crowds. The moment A.S. stepped in, the crowd surrounded him. Releasing A.S. from the affection they heaped on him, his friend said:
“We’ll bring one more person from this plant, to meet you.”
It was after a very long wait that Sameera made an appearance. As soon as she emerged, she said: “It was a very critical meeting. I could not come out any earlier. Sorry. It was on my head the turn to write a lengthy report has fallen. Anyway, let’s part only after a cup of tea together.”
- Kochchaappa: Father’s younger brother, in a Kerala Muslim family. Here, apparently A.S.’s father, whom he calls so fondly.
- Umma: mother.
- Kochchumma: Mother’s sister; here, the father’s second wife, younger to the first one.
- Uppuppa: grandfather.
- Declaration in 1936, by the progressive young monarch of Travancore, His Highness Shree Chithira Tirunal Bala Rama Varma, to the effect that believing Hindus belonging to all caste denominations and even those outside the caste system were permitted to enter any temple within his kingdom. It was won after a prolonged struggle spanning more than a decade.
- Phule: Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, the revered Dalit leader from Maharashtra, who paved the way for great figures like Dr.Bhimrao Ambedkar.
- Bapa: father.
- Iththa: Elder sister. Here, the elder of the wives.
Translated from Malayalam by: A.J.Thomas :
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