Saturday, March 04, 2006

An Ordinary Life 6 - Chellam

When she lifted the lid off the idly pot, Chellam's 75-year-old mother Savitri knew it was going to be a bad day. The rice-dal batter had formed itself into coagulated lumps, sour steam was chasing out of the risen lid.
Ever since she had entered the kitchen at the age of seven, Savitri had measured her superstition with what was on the stove. Non-circular chappatis, non-crisp dosas, saltless upmas, clotting kesaris were all indications of evil and unhappiness just as a fine payasam, tasty oothappams meant a good day ahead. In Savitri's bad omen listing, soggy idlies topped: the day would be calamitous. Almost always, for Chellam.
"Look here. Today is going to be a bad day for you," she told her daughter, who was just coming out of the bathroom, sari wrapped around her still wet body. "Amma, don't you start your nonsense again. I don't have time for your superstition today," she threw back.
That shut Savitri up, but she spent a few extra minutes in front of the gilt-framed deity on the kitchen wall. She stopped an exasperated Chellam and smeared a wee bit more kumkum and vibhuthi than usual on her forehead. Just in case.

* * *

Chellam ran a small sweet meat stall next to Aminjikarai bus-stand. State Government issue blue booth under the disabled quota. Not that Chellam was disabled. She paid a monthly rent of Rs.400 to the original alottee, a man with deteriorating vision in one eye.
Which actually was a big drain on her meagre income, but a booth was a booth. Better than Aachi's open idly and aapam shop to her right, no protection from the sun and rain, that. Chellam sold cough drops, mint drops, betel nut and leaf, murukkus, thattais, excessively sweet coconut burfi and the regular ground nut balls, the sweet meats she and her mother prepared assiduously at home.
And after repeated requests from regular customers, very reluctantly started stocking cigarettes and shiny sachets of pan parag. It was something her mother and she felt very uncomfortable about, but "business was business," she rationalised. Once every week, her mother distributed sundal at the Pillayar temple nearby, hoping to neutralise the sin of selling cigarrettes.

* * *

Chellam boarded the bus as usual and sat in the rear, in the woman's section right next to the exit. In the third stop, the bus braked hard suddenly to avoid a two wheeler and Chellam was thrown against the iron bar in front of her. It was a rude jolt and her lip began bleeding from the impact. In five minutes, it had swollen like a lemon and Conductor Mohan asked her with concern, "Maami, your time must be bad. "
"Tch! Superstition again," Chellam muttered under her breath, but smiled at him. And as he went on to deliver a mini lecture about how man's life is dictated by the writing on his forehead, Chellam smiled lamely, and dabbed at the blood on her lip with the end of her cotton saree, afraid to disagree with him.

* * *

Chellam was taken aback when she saw her blue-shack lying upturned on the road. Other small shops nearby were being run over by a yellow earth mover. Her regular customers, some policemen from the nearby police station hung around, providing "security" for the demolition machine. As they saw her run towards them, palpitating, sweating, her hand on her heart, distraught, they tried to play the whole thing down, " Ah! Maami! There you are! Regular road widening work, you see. " They took her aside and, in conspiratorial whispers, told her how it would be o.k. "Once they go away, you can set up shop again. Just be patient," they told her.

Her swollen lip throbbed painfully and she was ready to weep as she let her eyes roam the destruction and havoc the machine had caused. Aachi was sitting on the ground and wailing. Beside her, aluminum vessels lay upturned in the mud, their contents colouring the earth.
That was when Chellam saw them: white, puffy, idlies, some of them slighlty brown from the mud, cocking a snook at her.

* * *
The policemen on bandobust couldn't see why Chellam should be laughing at all.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the story. It was good and well-narrated.

10:33 pm

Blogger the wannabe indian punkster said...

very touching story and great you believe in superstitions Ramya?
BTW check out my new post....maybe you can join the initiative too.
I still cant figure out if I believe in superstitions or not though....:|

10:48 pm

Blogger SamY said...

my favourite of the lot ... u plannin to put up a short stories buk like R.K.Narayanans, do consider saving the best of stories

ha ha I luv'd the stuff on distributing sundals in compensation for some sin

incidents like these make a lot'a ppl succumb to superstitions, end of the day it works for those who believe in it :)

real nice post ;)

12:03 am

Blogger Casement said...

Very well written...When I read the second para - I smiled that you chose Aminjikarai of all places, but, when I read about road-widening, things tallied:) Fiction is spicier when garnished with a bit of reality!

5:57 am

Blogger fat waif said...

hey ramya, loved the story! so thoughtful with the right kind of detail. and loved how you tied it up with road expansion works - an attempt at personalising the impersonal, disconnected events you read about in the papers(!) so so good. you are getting good at this, i must say!

love, me.

p.s. hope you are well otherwise
p.p.s. hope my friend who mailed you with queries wasn't too much of a pain, thanks for replying to her... she is quite confused.

9:13 pm

Blogger Rubic_Cube said...

that was a brilliant one! keep 'em coming!

11:36 pm

Blogger Shyam said...

Idlis as omens... is there no end to the uses for this simple item? :)

11:41 pm

Blogger b a l a j i said...

off topic...

can u get me the email id of Soma Basu please...please...

7:19 am

Blogger None said...





even if you dont believe in superstitions, the coincidences are mind-blowing! :) that's what this story is about.


1:12 pm

Blogger None said...


superstition? nope, i dont believe in them, and yet i find co-incidences amazing...
blank noise next!


1:13 pm

Blogger None said...


welcome and thanks! i like to tie these things up.


1:14 pm

Blogger None said...

fat waif,

i was just thinking i should msg you and there you are!
i guess i'm o.k. better than before certainly. what dyu think i should call it? turnaround at T? :)

your sis doing better, eh?
and thanks!
take care,


1:18 pm

Blogger None said...




I certainly used it for a story! :)


1:21 pm

Blogger None said...

b a l a j i

again, again, you ask for confidential details on a near public forum.
am afraid you have to mail me.

1:24 pm

Blogger hari said...

Hi Ramya,

Great narration. You have brought out the coincidence factor of superstitions very well and yes, it is amazingly true in most cases. Thats what gives a colour of authenticity to superstitions and instills belief in people.

Well done again.

4:17 pm

Blogger fat waif said...

ramya, idlis of portent? idli omens? idli predictions?
anyway, good to know youre doing better. my sister has got back to work and life... she's waiting to hear from american universities. and her eye sight has improved. life here goes on. always plenty of work ahead. miss you very much, me.

3:30 pm

Blogger ammani said...

Good one. Very well observed. Full of chuckle-worthy moments. Like the conductor and his unsoliticed advice. The prayachitham for selling cigarettes. What's the word for it? Irony?

4:41 pm

Blogger Diana said...

hi Ramya, i saw u first at the Asian college of journalism. I am in the current batch of ACJ.
I must say that u have brought out the minute details of an everyday life. Superstitions or coincidence?? This question even rises in my mind when some mishap happens with me too.
Only writers like can bring it out so beautifully.
great blog. keep blogging.

7:48 pm

Blogger Mukund said...

Hi ramya, great story this!! and the distribution of sundal part is exactly what my amma would have done too :-) just started blogging myself...would be great if u could check it out.

11:21 pm

Blogger None said...




guess you would huh? irony? hmm...


5:03 pm

Blogger None said...


i don't know why this comment box refuses to accept my reply. hmpf. i'm posting anyway hoping it will change it's mind later.
well, as for how i am, there are good times and bad times and i float effortlessly between the two.
do you remember idlis at vasantha bhavan? miss you too...


7:34 pm

Blogger None said...


:) welcome. I'll sure drop by!


7:34 pm

Blogger None said...


welcome! yes, i'm rather fascinated by co-incidences, even if it doesnt mean more!
and hey, thanks!


7:37 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ramya
That was wonderful!
The devil was indeed in the detailing! Loved it!
Keep going great guns...

9:17 pm

Blogger None said...


WB! where've u been? :) thanks!


9:48 pm

Blogger Mahadevan said...

An exotraordinary story on Ordinary Life. You have the gift of raising the Ridiculous to the Sublime and that is the hallmark of a creative writer.

12:45 pm

Blogger None said...


actually, you said it. i find my ordinary lives turning out to be extraordinary after all.
just goes to show...
and thanks, for reading!


3:26 pm

Blogger zorbathefenugreek said...

touching. very very touching account of a life we usually miss to see.

saying 'i enjoyed it' would be an understatement and wrong in context to the saddening subject matter. in fact, i loved the way you could see and present it.

why dont you be a part of

and let more and more people get in touch with those beautiful ordinary lives?

till the next moment

8:14 pm


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