Monday, March 16, 2009

The House of Four Women - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - The Birds

My grandmother is a crafts aficionado. To use a polite term for unhealthy obsession. Some of her work is truly exqusite. But she stores everything - and I mean everything - the peel-off paper tops off of ice-cream cups, coconut shells, sweet wrappers with Lacto-king written on them. At first, it was a charming quirk; then when the house started to overflow with newspapers from the previous century and bottle caps of bottles long lost, it lost its dubious appeal. Someone decided it all had to go.

I don't think my grandmother ever fully got over losing her treasures. A couple of months ago, right after she was bed-ridden, she began making birds from whatever scrap material she could lay her hands on. Scary looking feathers from a hat, tongue depressors, carbon paper. There were gray birds with plastic wings. A cardboard cut out of a pen drawing that looked like a cross between a chicken and a dinosaur. And then insisted on showing them off to anyone who visited. Embarassed visitors would smile and then make some excuse to change the subject.

My aunt would almost die of mortification. It got so bad that the three of us would stiffen up whenever the word 'birds' was mentioned.

I haven't watched Alfred Hitchcock's aviary thriller, The Birds. But I know it has something to do with terrifying feathered denizens of the sky. We experienced the same thrill of horror when Achamma inevitably said, "Geetha, bring the birds. I want to show it to them", referring to whichever hapless victim(s) was visiting her then. My aunt would attempt to bluff it out, "No, they don't want to see that!" But Achamma was adamant. Geetha aunty would then proceed to display them with a ghastly smile.

Things went from bad to worse. Nightmares of embarrassment abounded. We were haunted by the phantoms of those accursed creatures during the day. My aunt decided something had to be done. She hid the birds where (she thought) they would never see light of day again. Everyone breathed easier. Achamma's questions were swept under evasive answers. The maid was vaguely blamed.

I don't know who left the maid unsupervised in Achamma's company. The next time we had visitors (posh relatives from Cochin), Achamma said, "Ah, let me show you the birds."

Achamma: Geetha! The birds!
Aunt: Oh, they're missing! I have no idea where they are. (with a genuine smile of relief)Achamma: No, no, didn't I tell you? They're in that drawer over there - we found them!

(Curtain: Knife-stab music from Psycho)

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