Amma — 2  

  Vol II : issue 5

  Pete Seeger
  S.K. Singh
  Vladislava Gordic
  N.S. Madhavan
Nida Fazli
  Vinay Lal
  Only in Print

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N.S. Madhavan

Day. Outdoor. Waves break against the boundary walls of Bekal Fort. A short distance away a train — not very long — goes by without whistling. Rotten cashew fruits eaten through by ants lie in the sand. An open padipura [6] at the end of the road. An ancient tharavad [7]— of the type one sees in film sets — can be seen through the opening. An old man is lying in an armchair on the verandah. His glasses are not powerful enough to help him make out his visitors. Then recognition dawns.

Old man: "Yes, I’m Kelu Nambiar. The infamous sub-inspector of Neeleshwaram police station."

Susan: "What happened that night?"

Kelu Nambiar: "The night patrol had been made extra vigilant because it was the new moon. So there was hardly anyone in the police station. Just me, the wireless operator and a section of Malabar Special Police. Suddenly the lights went out. I was lighting the oil-lamp when I heard the uproar at the gate. I thought that oxen driven down from Mangalapuram market — intended for the butcher’s knife — had strayed into the station compound. I stepped out to chase them away. It was then that I saw the crowd of women running up with sickles and choppers, shouting slogans. Unfortunately, the wireless crackled to life just then… they killed the wireless operator."

Susan: "Did Sarasamma lead the women?"

Kelu Nambiar: "Yes, in khaki uniform. I didn’t know her name at that time. The women got hold of all the guns and started firing blindly. Three out of four policemen died. Sarasamma asked again and again: ‘Where is Kelu Nambiar? Where is that womaniser Nambiar?’ I ran out and hid in the urinal behind the station. But one of the women tracked me down. She struck at me with her sickle; I ran out."

Susan: "And then?"

Kelu Nambiar: "Then what! I became a cripple. The papers made me a ‘national villain’. Sarasamma became a heroine overnight — Jhansi ki Rani! The government pensioned me off. I hear Sarasamma now lives happily with her daughter in a multi-storied apartment in Ernakulam."

A group of women in the verandah of a beedi factory in Kanjangad.

Yashodamma: "He was a cruel man, that Kelu Nambiar. When Ganesh Beedi factory in Mangalapuram shut down and we were all starving, he would come along with his propositions: ‘Do as I say and you won’t go hungry.’"

Susan: "When did Sarasamma come to live here?"

Janakiamma: "When the strike in the beedi factory began. Amma came often, without slippers or umbrella. She would tell us stories about Mao day and night."

Vilasiniamma: "The children loved Amma. She used to gather them around her and tell them a lot of things. She also had some knowledge of medicine."

Susan: "Did Sarasamma say that Kelu Nambiar should be killed?"

Janakiamma: "Everyone hated Kelu Nambiar. Haven’t you seen him? Ears full of hair… chhee!"

The old women laughed aloud, their laughter tinged with bashfulness. Susan watched with curiosity.

Janakiamma: "This Vilasini’s eldest daughter was coming home through the fields one day, after finishing work in the tile company. Velichappadu [8] Theyyunni says Kelu Nambiar raped her — then killed her. We decided to surround the station and set fire to it that very night. But Amma said, ‘Wait till the new moon. Then we’ll all go together and kill him. That is politics.’"

Vilasiniamma: "We practised the attack for four or five nights… like rehearsing a play. Retired soldiers taught us how to use guns."

Susan: "Sarasamma was arrested immediately after the incident, wasn’t she?"

Janakiamma: "Yes. On the fourth day. Someone betrayed her. I was sitting on a floor of the jeep when they pushed her in. She fell on me… said ‘Sorry!’ and smiled."

Susan: "Then?"

Janakiamma: "We were taken to the police camp. There Amma came to know that Kilori too had been arrested. They made her stand on a table and beat her. They stripped her and took photos of her. There is nothing they didn’t do to her with their lathis. For three days she went about the camp limping, naked…"

Susan: "Hmm…"

Janakiamma: "She was in Kannur Jail for a year. When Kilori’s cancer worsened they were both released on parole for a month. The next thing we heard was that they had escaped to Calcutta. Kilori died there, didn’t he?"

Editing requires the very greatest creative insight. It confers a kind of divinity upon you; the power to shuffle events like a pack of cards… a power that God alone is supposed to have. Susan once again recognised this aspect of her work as she sat at the computer in the editing room. She began by eliminating all the long shots. TV is the medium of close-ups.

A young woman’s forefinger, nail painted a dull red, extending towards the doorbell.

Sarasamma sitting on a woven mat entertaining Baiju.

The bells of Kalighat — the photographs of Marx-Lenin-Engels, below them Vishwadeep Sanyal lying on a rope cot.

When her eyes began to ache Susan stood up. She told the cameraman: "Naresh, it just isn’t working."

"Hey, it’s wonderful. What a life that woman led!"

"No, it isn’t that. The beginning isn’t dramatic enough. People will switch channels."

Naresh thought for a while then suggested: "How about starting off from the sea near Bekal Fort? We will amplify the roar of the sea and add more colour." Susan closed her eyes, trying to visualise the sequence. Suddenly she sat down: "Yes, we’ll do that… and Sarasamma entertaining Baiju can be the last frame." Susan’s fingers travelled briskly over the keys of the computer… drawn into the whirlpool of events she spent the whole night in the editing room.

As she saw her mother come out of the bathroom wearing fresh clothes, Neelima smiled: "Amma, are you going out?"

"Aye, no. I just felt like it."

"I know. You are getting ready to watch the TV programme… I hope the power doesn’t go off tonight."

Sarasamma sat silently in front of the TV. After a while she told Neelima: "You take Baiju and go to Malu’s house. You can watch the programme there. I want to be alone."

After Neelima had left Sarasamma went from room to room switching off the lights. Finally there was just the glow from the TV screen. Then the screen brightened, the shadows deepened.

The roar of the sea. Bekal Fort. The sound of hooves. A woman’s voice: "Where is Kelu Nambiar?" Then a sudden ebb.

Susan’s calm voice introduced Sarasamma to the viewers. An old photograph of Sarasamma and Kilori’s wedding in a tiny room — the union office in Bombay. A.K.G. beside them, smiling.

Sarasamma suddenly remembered what Kilori had said on that wedding night: "A.K.G. is a simple man. He was a schoolmaster before he joined the Party. He used the cane frequently but afterwards, he would feel guilty. So in the evenings he’d go to play football with the boys. As the victims of his temper rushed forward with the ball, he would deliberately place himself before them — to accept a foul and exorcise his guilt…"

Sarasamma no longer watched the programme. She sat with her eyes closed, remembering how she had hugged Kilori and laughed… the sound of Baiju crying jerked her back into the present and she once again started watching.

Sarasamma: "Va, va, va, my mon shouldn’t cry,

shouldn’t cry, shouldn’t cry,

sundarakuttan shouldn’t cry,

chakkarakuttan shouldn’t cry: va, va, va…"

Baiju stops crying.

A close-up of Baiju drooling as she holds him, standing against the railing — the lake and the sky forming the background. A plane rises from Kochi airport, shimmering in the sunlight.

Susan’s narration: "Sarasamma lived to reach this blessed moment; to spend the twilight of her life peacefully with her daughter and grandson. Little Baiju is indeed fortunate. His grandmother can tell him stories no other child has heard."

A Channel Four presentation.

Produced for Channel Four by TV People, New Delhi.

Camera: Naresh Mohan

Assistant: Virender Khanna

Narration: Susan Mathen, Sunil Tandon

Music: Louis Banks

Sound: Geeta Khanna, Anshuman Aggarwal

Producer: Susan Mathen

Credits: Sarasamma Kilori, Neelima Kilori, P.K.Rao I.P.S., (SP Kasargod)

Home Department, Government of Kerala

Calcutta Municipal Corporation

Dinesh Beedi Cooperative Society.

Kelu Nambiar, Vilasiniamma, Janakiamma…

Mesmerised by the scrolling credits, Sarasamma sat in the dark with the remote control, unable to switch off the TV.



p. 1 p. 2  

6. Padipura — Traditional gateway
7. Tharavad — Boy
8. Velichappadu — One who is supposed to have occult powers; the ability of divination

N.S. Madhavan is an award-winning writer of Malayalam fiction.
A senior Indian civil servant, he is based in Patna