Friday, March 16, 2012

Than Kopam Thannai Chudum!

This is a VERY long post. It is intended to be. This post really means that much to me!!!

"Than Kopam Thannai Chudum"

Roughly translated as "Your Anger Will Consume You", it is a saying in Tamil that is very dear to me.

As a kid (not as a teenager, but as a kid), I was very angry. I lost my temper easily and once I did, there was no stopping me. People really, really close to me now know that it has not changed much over the years. I am stil extremely short-tempered.

I was in the 5th Grade (living in Chennai at that time) when we hired a new maid. Her name was Indrani. She was really, really old and she walked slowly. But she was a great help and support to mom as Dad (like most Keralites of his generation) was abroad.

Indrani, whom me and my sister called "Aayah", was previously working in some chemical factory where in a freak accident, she lost most of her face - burned. She had no lips (I am called "Bittu" at home. She could say it only as "Kittu"), half of her nose was gone, and so was 2 of her fingers. The doctor who tried to fix it did a sloppy job - given that she was poor and could not afford good service. She had lost her husband already and lived with her son and daughter-in-law (who loved her!). They had 3 kids out of which 2 were gals and the middle one was a guy who was affected with polio and could not walk.

I was initially scared of her due to the condition of her face - don't judge me, I was a kid. But later she became as much the part of the family as any. So, when I was bad enough to even scream at my mom, imagine what she would have gone through. She lost her temper at times too (could't really blame her!) but she always loved me as much as she loved her grandchildren. And so, she always told me, "Kittu, Than Kopam Thannai Chudum"

After my 6th Grade, we left Chennai and she was taken back to her son's house. I saw her cry. I have not seen her for a long time after that. A really long time. And with all things kids forget when they grow up, I forgot her too. My mom was still in touch with her through snail mail. Her grandchildren would write letters for her in English so that mom could read and they would translate mom's letters to her. Occasionally, money was sent too, but now I realize that the amount was more of a gesture that of any real help. 

It is now July 2009 and I am working for a company at Trivandrum, Kerala. I had a month's work at our branch in Ascendas, Chennai and was staying at our guest house at Adyar. Mom called and said, "I have messaged you Aayah's son number. Call him and then go see her. She will be really happy."

I was not really excited given that I knew now that she is really, really old and I do not know if she even would recognize me. Anyhow, I called up a couple of friends and we set out in a car to find her house. I got directions from her son over phone, but it was not helping. We were lost, it was late into the night and I was loosing my patience.

"Forget it guys, let us go back. Will tell them that we couldn't find the place. Atleast we tried." I said

My friend who was driving was silent. He was irritated too.

The other friend, sitting on the backseat said, "No. Let us find the place. It would mean a lot to her. Do you have any idea when you will be able to see her again or even if you will be able to see her again at all?" (To this day, this is the best thing this particular friend has done for me, and I owe him big for it. He has no idea though - he probably forgot!)

Finally we did find the house. "You go on, we will wait in the car" they said. So, I went in. They had shifted to a better house and all 3 kids were so big now - all grown up. The son was still on wheelchair (to help with Polio!) but all 3 were now educated and employed. They all seemed honestly happy to see me. I sat down on the floor. They gave me a glass of water. Then her son told me, "Aayah is really old now. Her condition is not good. At times she even forgets who I am. So I am not sure if she will even understand who you are. Do not be disappointed. Also, she has no idea that you are coming to visit her. We did not tell her cos' we were not sure you would come, to be honest"

He led me to her room. I prepared myself for the worst.

She was lying on the ground on a straw mat. Her son slowly woke her up and removed the sheet that was covering her. She was now nothing but a bunch of skin and bones. Really thin. Her son sat her up and adjusted her saree and then asked her, "Amma, someone has come to see you. Do you know who this is?"

Long pause. Silence. Her daughter-in-law and her youngest granddaughter came to the door and stood silently.

I moved forward and took her frail hands in mine and I said, "Aayah... I am..."

"KITTU!" She shouted, probably at the top of her voice. A smile broke out on her lipless mouth.

I was dumbstruck! I couldn't move!

"Kittu, my kuzhandhai. I knew you would come to see me. I always told these people that you would come. They never believed me." She turned to her son "Do you believe now? Do you? I knew he would come"

I sat down next to her on her mat. Her son and the others left the room. Tears were streaming down her face and she was talking non-stop. I could not understand half of what she was saying. It has been long since I heard that mispronounced tamil. But I understood clearly that she was really happy. She asked about my mom, dad and all the details about my sister's recent marriage.

"When will your sister and husband come to see me?" she asked.

"She will Aayah, she will come to see you!" I said. She seemed happy with that reply. I spent some more time listening to her and trying to reply to whatever I could.

"I have to leave now Aayah, it is getting really late. You should go back to sleep"

She mumbled something about sleeping all the time and nodded her head in agreement. Then she pulled up my hand and kissed it. I quickly checked my wallet and found a Rs.500 note. She wouldn't take it. "I have taken enough money from your mother all my life. Not anymore" she said.

"This is not her money, Aayah. This is mine. I earned it. I am working now and this is my money. I wan't you to have it."

Her eyes filled up again, "You are earning? My God, you are a big boy now!" She said with a wicked smile showing shades of her better days, as I remembered her!

She took the money from me and said, "I will never spend this! Never!"

I thanked her family for letting me see her and went back. The drive back home was silent. Nobody spoke a word. I did not sleep that night.


It is now February 2011. The full family is in the car when I ask mom, "Do you still send money to Aayah?"


"To Aayah, Indrani?"

"Oh she passed away long ago, right?"

"WHAT? How come nobody told me?" I screamed

"You hardly have to time to discuss anything with us, you are always in front of your laptop with your earphones plugged in. Everybody else knew." Mom shot back

"I didn't know, nobody told me too!" My sister started shouting now

"Me neither" Dad mumbled

"Oh! Then I must have forgotten! I am getting old, you know..." Mom said slowly

I prayed to the gods to take care of her. Bless her soul. I still couldn't believe that she was gone and nobody told me.

All of us were now silent. All probably thinking of our time with this one person who was so much a part of our lives.


"Than Koppam Thannai Chudum!" From that day on, I have tried my best to control my temper and I can proudly say that I am getting there [I estimate a 50% improvement ;)] and that I will never stop trying throughout my life. I owe that much to her.

May Her Soul Rest in Peace!

P.S. If you really did spend so much of your valuable time reading the whole thing, I admire you! Thanks a lot. It really means a lot to me.

P. P.S. I have been meaning to write this since February 2011, but then I decided that I wanted to first try and change my character as much as I could before writing this. A year later, I can say proudly that I have tried and will continue to.

P.P.P.S. The main thing that prompted me to write this now is an article in The Hindu newspaper regarding the extremely cruel treatment meted out to domestic helps in India. They are people too. And the more you love them, you will find out how much you mean to them!

This post is dedicated to my friend who convinced me to go meet Aayah! You have always been much more than just a friend to me! Thanks Bro!


  1. Now this comes directly from your heart and its seen in your words. Even though I have heard this story before,got lumps in ma throat.

    1. That was a special moment for me! Glad you like it!!! :)

  2. god bless her. i am sure she is in a happy place.
    as for the length of the post,as i scrolled up & down, it did seem very long but when i was reading, never felt it. the narration hooks the reader

    1. Thanks a lot, Sujatha... I am really happy that you read the whole thing... :)

  3. That's a heartfelt post Nikhil!! its nice to know ur trying to control ur anger..anger can be very damaging! so three cheers to your efforts!!

    1. Yes, I understood that as I grew up!!! It's better late than never, right? Thanks. Glad you read the post and that you like it :)



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