I'm not superstitious. I don't believe in psychic powers, omens, palmistry or astrology. But.....I do believe in 'kari naakku' a Malayalam word, which means 'black tongue' referring to a black mole on the tongue!! Reason? My husband has one.... and whatever he predicts, comes true! Unbelievable? I know..but it is the truth! Unfortunately, I can't narrate all of those innumerable instances for want of space. So, I' m selecting a few unforgettable incidents to prove my point..!
It was a beautiful Sunday morning in August , when I was woken up by the shrill rings of my telephone. Bleary-eyed, I listened to my Principal, asking me to reach the auditorium at 7.30 AM , to make sure that everything was organized properly for the meeting of the "University Women's Association' that was to begin at 10 AM. Tara Cherian, wife of the then Governor , Cherian, was the Chief Guest. As though, sensing my reluctance, the Principal emphatically reminded me that she was the President of the UWA and I, the Secretary and that it was our duty to see to it that everything was perfect for the great occasion. Further, I was to pick up Sheila, our Treasurer, on my way, as her driver would turn up only after 8 am.
Hah! My original plan of having a leisurely breakfast, taking my time to dress up in my new salmon -pink , Bengal cotton sari, with matching accessories and taking a ride in Sheila chauffeur- driven car so as to avoid my driving and creasing my crisp, cotton sari with my pallu tucked around my waist for safe driving, was completely sabotaged by just one telephone call...!
I knew that I needed my husband's help to get ready on time. So, handing him his hot morning filter coffee, I waited patiently for his first sip and ' 'satisfied look. Then, flashing my brilliant smile , I pleaded , "Please iron my pink blouse that's on the bed and please take out my pink pearl necklace from the the locker compartment . Okay? I've to leave in an hour's time for
'Tara Cheriyan,Governor's meeting' that I told you about". I said with a tinge of pride..
Ignoring the frown forming on his face, I darted into the kitchen.
Remembering all the good lectures from my mother (who, according to me, was the greatest 'Cooking-time-management' guru who ever walked on this planet) I put idli batter into the idli steamer , turned on the stove, and simultaneously put the grated coconut and other chutney ingredients into the blender and switched it on. Then I heard my husband shouting at the top of his voice, "Why do you want to iron this blouse, it's absolutely new"
"Oh, it has just come from the tailor and I'm sure it must be crumpled..ah! so much explanation for a small favor", I shouted back. Then, I opened the lid of the mixer and to my utter shock, the chutney was not ground at all. I tried again and found that my mixer was not working. Cursing my fate, I started manually grinding the chutney on my stone grinder , when I heard my husband's gentle voice behind, 'Oh, mixer is not working, eh? You should n't have bothered to grind chutney at all. . Well..well….eh.. why don't you take the Fiat car today, instead of Maruti? It's in good condition after the repair and if we both don't use it, it'll again be rusty and useless. Moreover, Fiat is a sturdy car unlike your Maruti, especially in a rainy season like this and…"
Oh God! hinting of rain when the sun blazed brilliantly, can't he say something good with his 'Kari nakku? But, cleverly hiding my anger, I said,
'Please stop it. How can you be so ridiculously sentimental about this Fiat? You have the Office car and I have the Maruti. Why don't you dispose of your 'lucky' Fiat car? Forgot the way it got stuck after leaving Sherry at the airport to go to Singapore, for her USMLE Exams? You took this junk of a car for her luck". To which he replied, "You're so ungrateful..Fiat took us safely to the airport and brought luck for Sherry's Exams. Only on our way back, did it stall, that too, very near our house. Do what you want, I just suggested,..."
I was in a self-congratulatory mood, when I reached Sheila's place on time, as planned, in my Maruti. . Sheila's lavish compliments about my sari, lifted my spirits further and we reached the 'Adyar signals' and stopped at the light. But, even when the red changed to green, my car refused to start. Forced to swing into action, due to the non stop horns and traffic jam, the traffic Police man with the help of a couple of good Samaritans pushed my car to the safe corner. Sheila, then, got into an auto rickshaw and left, promising to notify my mechanic, whose workshop was on the way . I was optimistic that my loyal and efficient mechanic would send one of his assistants right away, my car would be fixed in a jiffy and that I might even be able to reach the auditorium before Sheila ..Alas!it was not to be…
Time just slipped by ..the sunny morning gave way to a windy day with drizzling rain. There was no sign of my mechanic. The time showed well past 10 and what started as a drizzle was turning into a heavy downpour. I gave up all my hopes of attending the UWA meeting.
Oh my husband's karinakku. My new Maruti is stuck for the first time and it's raining too. Why can't he say something nice with his blessed tongue?
The wait for the mechanic was starting to make me ravenously hungry and I opened my packed idlies. I began to shovel big pieces of chutney-soaked idlies into my mouth . The pleasure of sipping the hot coffee from my flask, in between bites of the soft , delicious idlies , on a rainy day , in the privacy of my car, of course, made me see the 'silver lining' in my present cloud too.
Aha! What a rain...reminiscing of my childhood days in Kottayam of playing in the rain, listening to my favorite Malayalam songs in the car, while eating my hot idlies ...what bliss..! The road was almost empty except for some rag-picker's children frolicking in tea -colored puddles, at a distance. This was a million times better than listening to those boring speeches at the meeting and giving 'Vote of Thanks' in the end, to a disinterested audience ..who were there mainly for the grand buffet!
Just then, a chauffeur-driven posh car came to a grinding halt parallel to my poor Maruti and a debonair, middle-aged gentleman from the back seat boomed,
"Mrs. Krishnan, remember me? Oh! You're eating in your car, in this rain?? You are that hungry…ha. ha. ha……….??"
Swallowing a big piece of idly and my pride, I stammered, "Oh, Mr. Sahani, how're you? How's your family?" (I did n't remember anything about his family, as he himself was known to me only vaguely as the District Governor of the Lions Club. So, the questioning was only a desperate attempt to hide my great embarrassment !
My family is fine Mrs. Krishnan...I need your advice actually...you're the right one to guide me... look, you remember my son Abhilash, He got selected for the Merchant Navy ,but, both my wife and I feel that it's very risky. You know better , as your husband is a Captain. What do you say?"
I was eloquent .."What risk, Mr. Sahani? He can sail around the world, get a fantastic pay and when he becomes Captain, can take his family with him, all for free , at the Company's expense. Abhilash is lucky".
Then Sahani's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, 'But…. but…but…Mrs. Krishnan, Abhilash is my 'only' (stretching and stressing 'only') son."
"And Mr. Sahani, Krishnan is my 'only ' husband," I replied, imitating the way he stressed the 'only'. I felt redeemed, after he had caught me stuffing my mouth with idlies! With a wry smile, Sahani said a weak, 'Bye, then." and ordered his driver to drive on.
The rain stopped and so, I decided to walk to my mechanic's shop . His assistant, a teenager, walked back with me to my car. He just turned the key and my car started with a roar! The boy's triumphant grin and look, unmistakably said, 'Oh! You're a real fool with all that smug look of yours'!
Now do you see the effect of my husband's karinaakku making me end up as a perfect fool , when I was all dressed up for the meeting getting ready to make a lasting impression on my principal………… ?
Here's another instance, where my husband's words came true….
Years ago, in Cochin, my husband happened to notice our friend Vani , driving with another Naval Officer's wife, Lalitha, to INS Ashwini, the Naval Hospital. She was taking Lalitha for her periodical check up for pregnancy.Vani explained to my husband that as the husbands were all busy with their offices, she was driving Lalitha to the hospital. Then, my husband asked in a voice full of concern,"Vani, but, but, why're you driving Lalitha? I don't think you should drive ...that too when Lalitha's in this condition. I can take her, as the Hospital's on my way'.
Vani was furious at his hint of her lack of experience in driving. She said, "What Krish! I have my license and I drive inside this residential area where there's absolutely no traffic. Anyway, thanks for the offer and say 'Hi' to Sreedevi !" , and drove off. After about 50 meters, her car hit a stationary truck and was severely damaged. Luckily, both Vani and Laitha escaped unhurt. Vani was a cautious driver and used to drive in that area at least once a day without getting involved in any accident. So, how do you account for this weird accident , It had to be my husband's 'kari nakku? And on top of it, poor Vani had to tolerate my husband's "I told you so' look too, as he was the first one to rush to her help from his Office, which happened to be the nearest to the accident spot…….!
Now, listen to another unforgettable experience.
I have been visiting my children in the US annually once, for the past 15 years. Despite the warnings from my husband, of the sniffer dogs at the airport, I would regularly 'smuggle 'successfully my homegrown fruits, guavas, mangoes, custard apples and snacks , the crunchy South Indian murukkus and thattas which my grandkids call 'Indian cookies', every year. I argued vehemently that my 'illegal activities', (as he called it) was like a balm to soothe my regrets for missing the simple pleasure of feeding my grandkids with my special 'Chennai' items.
So one time, while we were busy packing to go to New York, my husband noticed a big packet that I had put without his knowledge into our duffel bag. . I told him it was the eatables packed along with an oval-shaped mirror with a lovely seashell and 'mother of pearl' frame. This was for my friend Lissy in New York. She was fascinated by it during her last visit to our Chennai home. Immediately my husband said, "For Heavens' sake, don't take that, because if the mirror breaks , it's a bad omen."
Suppressing my anger, I said, "you don't know how many trips I had to make to the Emporium to get this particular mirror .And the emporium employee, an expert in packing for tourists, wrapped this mirror in layers and layers of straw for a special fee so it won't break."
My husband laughed, "In any case, we've got some other gifts too for Lissy, if by chance the mirror cracks, it would still be okay". With great effort, I controlled my tremendous urge to scream, and walked away……..
My husband spent all his waking hours on our long flight to New York, blaming me for bringing eatables which would result in great embarrassment and fine, if caught. At the baggage claim we got two of our bags, but the duffel bag was missing. Then, to escape my husband's murderous looks and his 'karinakku' , I looked around. In the distance, I spotted a lady, who strongly resembled Julia Roberts, and with her was a handsome dog on a leash. What a chance to divert my husband's attention to this beautiful blonde and cool off his anger ! I nudged him, "Look at that blonde there with a cute dog, does n't she resemble Julia Roberts?" My husband looked at her and then gasped, "Oh, my God, are you blind ? Did n't you notice that your duffel bag is right there , next to the lady and the dog? She is the airport cop. Lets walk up to her and express our admiration ,she's waiting for us!"
To be frank, I was unrepentant. I was only terribly angry with my husband's karinakku, which alone was responsible for this unfortunate episode. How many times had I carried out this operation successfully without getting caught? After all, I was not smuggling any drugs ...just some home grown fruits for my grand kids!
An incident which happened in the same airport, 15 years ago, during my first visit to New York came flooding back into my memory as we sheepishly walked towards the lady and the dog......
Years ago, when I boarded the plane, I noticed an old couple looking very nervous and lost. They were occupying the seats in front of my seat. The old lady wore the typical Syrian Christian dress of Kerala, a white chatta, white mundu with a pleated fan behind and an off white and gold 'kavani' arranged with a gold brooch diagonally over her chest and slung over one shoulder. Her husband was in a striped shirt and an ill- fitting pants.
When we reached our stopover at Frankfurt, I befriended the old lady, who suddenly became very talkative after hearing me rattling in Malayalam. She said, they both belonged to Pala, and were on their first visit to see their daughter, a nurse in New York. As they could not speak English, I willingly took charge of them from Frankfurt and enjoyed their innocent talk, till we reached New York. But at JFK airport, the customs found dry beef in the old lady's handbag. The Officers nearly threw the dry beef in the trash can…...but even though I had a tough time translating the lady's innocent explanation that her daughter loved beef and so, she sun-dried fresh home-beef my intervention helped them save their beef .
After all, did n't I wait with the couple patiently and explain their position convincingly to the customs? How can my good deed go unrewarded now?
As we approached the white lady and the sniffer dog, I was getting ready with my story. My husband looked away in disgust as I explained that my 'pregnant' daughter (adding my own little spice to the old lady's story) had the 'craving' to eat those fruits from India ,as they were not available in New York. The lady laughed and shriekedin disbelief 'ummmmmmm,Amazing, you speak very good English, amazing".
I'm sure, from my sari clad,unimpressive appearance, she must have thought I belong to some tribe- just -discovered in India. Anyway, I praised her 'Julia Roberts' looks, which worked like magic and pleased her immensely . After a few minutes of friendly chat, I took leave from her carrying all my fruits with me, triumphantly…..
But, my happiness was short-lived. Next morning, when I opened the mirror packet, my heart sank. The mirror I had brought for Lissy was cracked in the middle, in spite of the expert- packing….. …. !
In all fairness, I must now narrate the one incident where my husband's karinaaku was actually a great blessing to the entire family ..
It happened thirty years ago, but we still cherish the sweet memories of that vacation. That year, on my children's summer vacation, we were flown by Krish's shipping company to Barcelona, Spain, to join him. On our way from the airport to the ship, my husband stopped the car to show us the statue of Columbus where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle had received him after his great discovery. While we were awe-struck at the enormous statue, my husband said , with a throaty laughter, "If by some unforeseen chance , no , no , by some miracle, the ship does n't set sail tomorrow, I'll be able to show you Santa Maria, Columbus' ship and his original diary written in his own handwriting. I can take you to watch the Flamenco dance, bull fight etc etc. This is a lovely place. You would enjoy Spanish paella and sangria too"
Hold your breath...! The very next morning, most unexpectedly, the Spanish stevedores had started a strike at the Barcelona harbour and my husband's chartered ship was stuck in Barcelona for, not one or two , but forty-five glorious days, which all of us enjoyed thoroughly……!! What were the chances of that happening if it were not for Krish'skarinaakku!
Oh God, oh no...my husband is coming...! He's going to look over my shoulders and see what I'm typing in the middle of night…..! Before he could say those dreaded words , "This is not going to be published", my frenzied fingers are busy turning off the computer ……………..!!