“Is it a fact or fiction?” is what many ask in different ways on reading my piece, Dialogue with the Dead.

Ajay Om asked, “Did you really experience the characters talking to you?” Gautam Om put it differently: “Though I am curious and want to confirm whether it is fiction or reality but I guess certain things are better left to the imagination”. Jyothi Harish has his way: “Very beautiful article. Was it fiction or true?”

I owe it to my readers to clarify. My answer is: it is a combination of facts and fiction. Here’s how the story evolved.

Aunty and I had to visit US for five consecutive years for a stay of minimum six months each time to retain our Green Card status. Whether in Phoenix or in San Jose, whenever our son and daughter in law leave for office, we used to walk to the nearest Library. We spend hours there. Aunty’s favourite authors are John Grisham, Robin Cook, Jeffrey Archer…I bring books home for reading, and utilize my time in Library to read magazines.

One magazine I unfailingly pick up is the Writers’ Digest – any unread issue. It has articles of both budding and established authors and tips on what triggered them to do the piece, how to approach a situation, how to develop a story, and the like.

In one issue they gave an imaginary situation for readers to weave a story around it. It was something this: You are going on a long drive with your friend or family and the car gets stuck late evening, forcing you to spend the night in a nearby dilapidated house. The rooms, furniture, broken windows, take you down the memory lane… Yes, more like Bimal Roy’s good old Madhumati film featuring Dilip Kumar and Vijayanthimala.

I attempted a piece – yes, Dialogue with the Dead – though not exactly on the lines they suggested. Now here’s separating the chaff from the grain in my story.

It is a fact that our ancestral house was up for grabs, and we wanted to clear all the items stored before sale.  My eldest brother went down from Bombay, did it without much fanfare or goof up, and handed over everything to the Village President. However, to fit my story, I took it upon myself the assignment and crowned the ‘perfectionist’ tag on me. The fact is, ‘Slip shod’ is the expression my brothers reserve for me. But I added the former tag to justify my claim to the assignment.

That my grandpa was a philanthropist is a fact; also many of the utensils stored were used for mass feeding.  Equally so, many of them were used for purposes other than intended during my father’s time. Since I did not at all undertake the assignment, the story of my grandpa appearing before me, etc. is all a figment of imagination.

All that was said about Madhavan Kutty (name changed) is a fact. He was the Man Friday for every household. Poor fellow committed suicide at a young age, probably unable to make both ends meet. He was especially fond of us, village boys, and would prepare a make-do cricket bat with the coconut tree branch stem.

Also everything said about Ponnu Thai (here again, name changed) is true. She did Devi puja in her house every Friday evenings to the drumbeat of Chendai (Asura Vaadyam, or, musical instrument of the Asuras – probably for its deafening decibel), and we children used to get scared and cling on to our youngest aunt (now in her 90s in New Jersey). She would reassure that all that sound of the sword-wielding and occasional scream of the oracle was part of the religious proceedings. Nothing to worry about.

The ten king-size Tanjore paintings is a fact. Also they were embossed with gold here and there. Also the gold pieces were all plucked away, God alone knows when, while the house remained vacant for long.

Last but not the least, Chudamani (name changed) is the one and only soul who chose to stay in the village. In later years he became the Village President and did many welfare activities. At 82 he is still kicking and braves the busy roads of Palakkad in his two-wheeler, wearing his thick glasses which are an inalienable part of him since childhood.

Sorry if my piece was imagination running riot, but if in the process it kept you engaged, that makes my day.

Pay Anything You Like

Sundaram Venkatesh

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