Jul 18, 2017

Come morning, we draw our drinking water from the well next to the old kitchen. Most mallu concrete homes have an extended, appended second kitchen since the one inside, in a bit of cement-tinted fate, starts—right after the paalukaachal—leaving the entire house smelling like roasted chillies after half an hour of frantic cooking. Some say that is a good thing. Our entire extended family disagreed and built the second kitchen in an act of misguided conformity anyway.

It is not that the water pump refuses to run off an absence of electricity. Mallu kids are trained to not trust tap water from a very young age. (Some of our bedtime stories were actually tales of horror from Bolivia. In terror, we would hold tight to our party membership cards pinned to our diapers.) But we would drink off the copper taps at the school or from the heavy, galvanised iron ones that poke a hole through their milestone bases on the road, along the paddy fields we appropriated as playgrounds during the two-three dull months after harvest. At home, we draw water in used rubber-tube-buckets tied to ropes, looped around well oiled wooden rollers, hung from hooks above the wells in various states of disarray. The ropes, yellow plastic ones peppered in ambiguous red markers, twisted and untwisted as our mothers and fathers and feisty grandmothers drew bucket after bucket, craning their necks to see if the clothesline is in any danger of getting soaked in the impending rain.

Drawing from the well is easy during the monsoon months; the water comes up to meet the bucket less than halfway down its usual plight. The rope is tied short and the extra length coiled into a heap on the net that covers the well. Re-purposed mosquito net stocking-s the well, put in place after both of us boys graduated from our hostels with our mosquito nets intact. The water is crystal clear too. On days when all the nocturnal typing leaves me waking up past everybody else and missing the water-drawing deadline, I try hiding my shame commenting on this clarity, obsessively chopping tender elephant-leaf leaves into some semblance of order, for lunch. The misdirection never works; my mother’s notion of the ‘irresponsible elder child’ is too insurmountable a summit that early in the morning. Underslept and out of topics of diversion, I drown her complaints instead in the only radio station that makes sense that side of seven.

As I peer down the well, I am reminded of Lakshadweep-getaway photos behind postcards other people bring home from vacations in other places far from the Dweeps. In the well, the water is a bluish green. The level has climbed up, and is about to breach that one step where snakes shed their skin come summer. The last two summers, we had to remove at least four of those. The year before my grandfather was bedridden, he used freshly upturned soil around our piece of land for one of his tapioca plantation adventures. The oversized rats that year took care of the crop, and laid the underground tunnel system these snakes so readily borrow on their way to the well. We were very calm about the whole plantation business though, since the last one had turned sour, after the local drinking fraternity uprooted fresh stems-along the main road-and stuck them back in, upside down. Tapioca refuses to grow well that way. The alcoholically inclined were protesting his objection to drunken brawls near the bus-stop across the road, refusing to let go of their party membership cards and the diapers. (There is no easy way of telling when the tapioca stems are inverted. During planting, they are marked, or aligned a specific way to make sure they go into the earth the way they came out.) Grandfather was very nice and forgave them their subversion with a smile. He never went back to criticising their ways in public. The snakes were happier last summer.