December 13, Ki. Rajanarayanan Kammavar from Kovilpatti popularly known by Tamil initials as Ki. The Magical Deer , which came out in It was an immediate success. It was followed by many more short stories. The novels Gopalla Grammam lit.
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Everyone in our house suddenly began to feel this way. A friend of the family had paid us a visit the day before. He was a sub-judge. All we had in our house was a three-legged stool whose total height was just three-fourths of a foot. Paati, our grandmother, always sat on it when she churned the curds to make butter. As her figure was on the plump side, our grandfather had got the carpenter to make the seat a little extra broad.
The sub-judge, too, was a little on the portly side. There being nothing else in the house for him to sit on, we brought out the stool. He leaned one hand on its edge and attempted to seat himself. One fiendish thing about this three-legged stool was that if you leaned on one side of it instead of depositing your weight directly on top, it would fling you down.
We had fallen from it so many times whenever we failed to observe this precaution before climbing on it to steal a taste from the ghee-jar hanging from the rafters. Just as we were thinking, Poor sub-judge! And were about to open our mouths to warn him, he had toppled and was rolling on the floor. Unable to hold back our laughter, the three of us—my younger brother, our littlest sister who was the baby of the family, and I raced to the back garden.
Whenever the howls were about to subside, my sister would do an imitation of the sub-judge leaning his hand on the stool and keeling over. This would prolong our laughter. A further cause for mirth was the memory of how our parents had struggled to remain polite and suppress their own laughter as their guest took a tumble.
When the three of us had finished giggling and tiptoed back into the house like pussy cats, there was no sign of the portly sub-judge. Or of the three-legged stool. It was after this event that the decision was taken to get a chair made for the house.
But there was a practical difficulty: no sample was available. Neither was there a carpenter who knew how to make one. My father rejected it, saying no city chair would prove durable. Then Athai, our paternal aunt, came forward with the information that a highly competent carpenter was available in a nearby village.
She pointedly turned her face away. Appa called the servant and sent him to the village to search out that far-famed carpenter. Discussions began on the kind of wood to be used for making the chair. Our paati was very fond of her legs. At this moment, in walked Maamanaar, our maternal uncle. Peddanna ran inside and brought out the three-legged stool. For a while the very house shook with laughter before things settled down. Actually, however, Maamanaar was in no danger.
He always sat in the same spot whenever he came to our house. It was the southern corner of the front hall. Having seated himself on the floor, leaning against the pillar which stood there, the first thing he always did was to unwind his turf and shake out his long hair.
Then he would give his head a good scratching and tie up his turf again. This was his invariable habit. Having done this, he would peer closely at the floor around him. Peddanna would pretend to join in the search. They fell like paper arrows on him. Appa scurried behind her, meek as a baby goat, but intent on seeing what she was up to. When she returned a little later down the long passage from the kitchen, bearing aloft in one hand a silver tumbler full of buttermilk flavoured with asafetida, Appa was right behind.
Unseen by both sister and brother and entirely for our delight, he made faces and minced along, mimicking her walk exactly, with his empty hand holding up an imaginary tumbler: It seems her brother has come on a visit! Look at her fussing over him and serving buttermilk! He seemed to be saying.
The aroma of asafetida in the buttermilk made us want to have some right away. We were quite certain it must be just to drink buttermilk that Maamanaar came to our house so often. The buttermilk from our cow was divine nectar, no less. And Maamanaar was the worst miser in town; we believed he was so greedy he would never give anything away free. Maamanaar had bought that milch cow for his little sister, our Amma, at the Kannaavaram cattle fair.
Whenever he came over, the cow, give it a pat and some words of praise. Always few and frugal. My youngest brother and sister doted on its little calf.
The baleful glare from their two small faces should have pricked and pinched him all over. But there he was, drinking his buttermilk with relish. Maamanaar showed a lively interest in the deliberations about the chair and let it be known that he would like one made for himself as well.
We, too, were glad of some support in our enterprise. No one who sits on a neem-wood chair will ever suffer from piles. Appa had been talking to our farmhand only the day before yesterday about cutting down the ancient neem and laying it out to dry!
Its wood had seasoned and become diamond-hard over long years of standing in the unwatered cattle-pasture. Horrible to look at! After a few days we ourselves will start hating the sight of them. A luxury chair, fashioned out of some shiny black wood with a mirror-like gleam, with carved from legs, a back curved to support a reclining spine, rear legs stretching as though yawning languorously…The vision flashed before our eyes and faded away. It struck everyone that what she said was absolutely right.
And so it was at once arranged for two such chairs to be made, one for us and another for Maamanaar. They were like Rama and Lakshmana. And at once there was the doubt: had we sent away the better of the two? Each felt obliged to get up only because the next person had to have a chance. My youngest brother and sister fought over it all the time. Get up, da! Look at her, Amma! Like fire the news spread all over the village that a chair had come into our house.
Grown-ups and children came crowding in to have a look at it. Some ran their hands over it. One elderly person picked it up. Some days passed. One night, at around two, someone banged on our door.
Peddanna, who was sleeping on the inside verandah, opened the door. An important person in the village had just died, they said. Our chair was needed, they said, and took it away with them. Since the deceased was someone of consequence to us, we went as a family to attend the funeral. But when we went to the house of mourning, what a sight met our eyes! It was on our chair that they had propped up that eminent personage for his last journey!
So far, whoever died in our village had always been made to sit on the floor. A grinding stone would be laid on the ground and propped up to keep it from rolling away, and braced upon it would be a gunny sack stuffed with millet straw.
On this slanting bolster the corpse would be placed, as though it were reclining. Where our village people had now picked up this newfangled notion of seating corpses in chairs, we had no idea.
Just looking at it gave the children a fright. We had the servant take it to the well at the back, scrub it down with a handful of straw and wash it with fifteen large buckets of water. For several days no one had the courage to sit on it. Fortunately, one day a visitor came to our house. Alarmed that he would seat himself there and neglect the chair, the entire family rushed up to him to persuade him to sit on it.
The moment he did so, my little brother and sister fled to the backyard. Then they kept peeping in from time to time to see if anything happened to him. It was not until the next day, when a local elder dropped by and happened to sit on it, that we were reassured of its safety. The little ones were still afraid. Again, one night somebody died and they carried the chair away. This began to happen more and more often. Sadly we let them take it away each time.
Everyone in our house suddenly began to feel this way. A friend of the family had paid us a visit the day before. He was a sub-judge. All we had in our house was a three-legged stool whose total height was just three-fourths of a foot. Paati, our grandmother, always sat on it when she churned the curds to make butter.
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