Friday, August 10, 2018

Ammanji and his mysterious box


(Written in 2009,most of my readers would not have read this story)
I was a young boy then studying in school. I came home daily for my lunch as the school was very close by. One afternoon when I came home, I saw my mother in tears. She asked me to accompany her to my grandfather’s house a few miles away. When I asked her why she was crying, she said “You know ammanji (maternal uncle’s son) at my father’s place. He died last night and the cremation will take place in a few hours. I am going there now and you must accompany me.” 
I said “Yes, I don’t know much of him except that he munched raw arecanut often and had stacked in his almirah carpenter’s kit, cobbler’s equipment besides an old wooden box. I shall come.” I was happy to play truant from school
I have seen him many times whenever I visited my grandpa’s place. A frail and short man with thick glasses, he wore a button less white upper garment that was neither a vest nor a shirt. He was no real cousin of my grandpa, presumably a distant relative. He had lost his wife several years ago and had no children. He had none to look after him in his old days. My grandpa who was well off with a sprawling big house with many servants persuaded his relative to stay with him. He was treated like any other family member with dignity and lot of respect. None knew how he was related to grandpa and yet everyone called him ammanji. He had worked as a teacher in a local school and was known for his high proficiency in English language. A voracious reader of English fiction with books usually from a local library, he was generally very reticent and yet when he spoke he made everyone laugh with his witticisms. An addict to arecanuts, I suspected he had not much income, except for his few daily needs. I must confide in you that I was never drawn to him and even feared him possibly his features reminding me of a bull dog. In fairness, I must admit he smiled at me whenever I was face to face with him. He used to give me round mint peppermints in white colour that tasted sweeter if you drank water after you had consumed them.
I remembered very well that he had a small almirah on the wall for his use. There was an old small wooden box in his almirah that he rarely took out in the presence of others. But we, the young boys who lived in that house, knew he opened it daily twice, once in the morning and again in the evening peering into it for a few minutes. Whenever I was in my grandpa’s place, it used to be a pastime for me to try to discover what he was shielding from the prying eyes of others. Try as we did, we never succeeded. It was always kept locked with the key tied to his thread across his shoulder and body. We boys used to surmise that it contained some valuable stuff like gold jewellery of his wife or currency. One roguish boy in his adolescence felt it could contain love letters. I mentioned about this strange habit of ammanji once to my uncle hoping that he would help us in resolving the mystery. Instead he rebuked me for my inquisitiveness in other’s personal matters and sternly asked me to cultivate good behaviour.
Memories flashed through my mind of the arecanut, the mint peppermints and the mysterious wooden box as I went along with my mother to grandpa’s house. Everyone at grandpa’s house was sad as if their close relative had passed away. My grandpa, whom I have always known as a strong personality, was in uncontrollable tears. Many elders and ammanji’s former students had assembled and were heard praising him for his pedagogic skill and his other virtuous qualities.
It was after about ten days when I had accompanied my mom again for some concluding day function, the topic of his mysterious box came up for discussion. My grandpa had the box brought by one of my uncles and he opened it with the key he had retrieved from his relative’s body. Everyone including uncles, aunts, my mom, cousins rushed to grand pa’s side to have a look at its contents. To their great disappointment, it was empty except for a few coins, a book of Bhagwat Gita and an old post card size black and white faded photo that had gone pale and brown by passage of time. My grandpa rubbed his eyes that had gone misty when he saw it and mumbled,” Ammanji and his wife.”

20 comments:

  1. must be ammanji saw his wife's photo daily or worshipped bhagavad gita

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  2. Human mind is mysterious. It can add sentimental values and priceless staus to people and things for touching reasons. Very nice

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  3. Amazing how you a create a visual picture with your words. I feel I am part of the story when I read them

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  4. It is well written and vividly described. It is as lije thst we get to live those moments.

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  5. Hmm...Gripping and as always suspense maintained till the end.

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  6. Vivid narration. Thanks for giving us a peek into your childhood

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  7. Love the suspense you build in your stories and the detailed description of simple things. Good story!

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  8. This is one of your best, brings every bit of it as a visual,👌👌👌

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  9. KP Sir, you have a way with words ! When we read your tales written in first person, you make us think that those tales are from the pages of your past ! Clever !!

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  10. What could be the most precious possession for a simple human being throughout his life, - the intent feelings, spiritual wealth and a very fair living devoid of greed and sophistication.. all these are beautifully imaged through the old photograph, Bhagbat Geeta and few coins.. For me it is an amazing story..

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  11. We could visualize the situation when you describe it. Curiosity was maintained till the end. No twist but still interesting to read. Thank you!

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  12. I don't remember reading this, even though I had been reading your blogs for a long time.
    Ammanji and his wife......... some times memories keep us going.
    Well written.

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  13. I too have a photo of my wife and self taken a day after marriage. It is fading; has no relevance for anyone but us. Brings fond memories.
    I love reading your short stories that touch a chord within us!

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  14. Written as narrative of a young boy puzzled with the contents of box and the reactions of elders around him have been well brought out. Preciousness of the faded photograph has been nicely spelt out by key in dead uncles packet.

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  15. I expected something more 'mysterious' to be inside the box :)

    Destination Infinity

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  16. Dear KP, the way Ammanji kept that box and its contents shows not only the importance and value he attached to it but also his emotional attachment to it. One reason he guarded it so strictly was probably because he feared it might be lost or damaged. Very nicely rendered anecdote.

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