Appukuttan or Appu, as he was more popularly known, was 10 years older than me but behaved as if he were a 6-7 year old. Since my primary school days he was my soulmate during the summer vacations, remaining with me like a shadow for these 2 months every year. It took me some maturity to learn the fact that Appu was not normal, that he was mentally retarded. But that did not deter me at all. Our bond grew stronger and stronger and stronger with every passing year. I had become used to that familiar stammered call of “Sssss…anndu” ( as Sandu was what he lovingly called me). Tucking up his lungi every now and then was his hallmark. His description is incomplete without the mention of the heavy Gandhian glass he wore. A constant source of worry for his father, a new pair of glasses would not survive more than a week. His father’s novel idea of tying a string around his neck attached to the glasses to prevent them from falling down wasn’t much of a help either. Yes, it did bring some improvement in the survival time of the glasses. Appu was a staunch believer of cleanliness. Just a speck of dust on his glasses, and he would give them a nice wipe with his lungi. In this way he ended cleaning up his glasses nearly 35-40 times a day. So thorough was the wipe he gave them that many a time while cleaning the glasses, the glasses would succeed in finding their way out of the frame that seemed to imprison them.
The next moment I realized that I was laughing my heart out and Vasu, the cart owner was giving me an amusing look. “Saar! Bet you just saw a very nice dream, didn’t you?”. “ No Vasu” , I replied, “Just remembered my good old Krishnapuram days. Those 2 month summer vacations every year when this place was my heavenly abode. By the way, anything new in Krishnapuram? What about the Bhagawathi temple?”. Vasu answered in a sad tone, “That temple’s now in ruins saar. After Unni Namboothiri’s untimely demise 5 years back, the temple has had no caretaker. Even the suspension bridge to the temple is in a very bad state. Every year the politicians pledge to repair the whole thing but do a disappearing act after the elections. Even the public is not interested saar. The world is definitely going to end soon, with the people having no time to spare for their creator. Oh God!! Please forgive. Shiva, Shiva.”
The cart was speeding its way through the jungle. I felt sorry for the state of the temple. The good old Bhagawathi temple on the other side of the swaying suspension bridge, poised on top of a pinnacle like hillock that seemed to soar out of the swirling waters. We would sit there for hours over viewing the beauties of nature. I used to luxuriate there in the gentle pace of unhurried activity engulfed in an enlightening divine feeling. Here, overlooking the land which celebrates the bounty of nature with a riot of vegetation, I relaxed and contemplated the seconds as they ticked by. Sailing with Appu across the Bharatapuzha river which kissed Krishnapuram was like drifting into a mysterious world untouched by time. Our days used to start with a bath in the river, often accompanied by my father. Ever heard of someone taking a tumbler along to the river for a bath? That was me, as I didn’t know to swim and neither did Appu. But that did not deter us from going to the river for a bath. We would set about with a professional swimmer like stature. Villagers would enquire where the Siamese twins (villagers gave us this name) were heading for and Appu would give them a prompt reply, “To the river to have a bath. Ssss…andu is too scared to go all alone you see. Moreover he doesn’t know swimming as well.” As if he himself was a born swimmer. The villagers would giggle at his reply and I too couldn’t help giving a faint smile. Once near the river bank we would just go knee deep into the waters as we knew our limitations and then use to exchange turns to use the tumbler, with the river serving as a bucket for us. Appu would often treat me with a soda at Renjith’s store where his father had opened him an account in his name. Appu was a complete movie buff. Sometimes even I would doubt on his mental status when I would hear him delivering dialogues from each and every movie he had seen till date. Appu was my soulmate and I would confide in him everything. He would be really concerned to hear my problems. No one could break our friendship; no one could take us apart.
To be continued...