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Since father’s passing away two years back, mother has been staying with us. This has given her the opportunity to observe me, her daughter, at close quarters.

I cannot really say mother knew me as a person back when I lived with her, or that she was interested enough to find out who I was. At fourteen I was sent to boarding school, and afterwards to a college hostel for the duration of time I earned a degree. Though I was back home for my two years of post graduation, I moved (shoved out) out again to do a short stint of voluntary teaching at my parents’ favorite charity mission. Soon after I was married off and moved away permanently, to set up my home with the L&M in far away places, he being in the army.

In the succeeding years, up to the time she moved in with me, there have been lots of visits either ways, some as long as a month even. Those were different times when my world was all about bringing up children. I shunned political or religious talk, and any opinion I did have, I strictly kept to myself.

Perhaps it is age, but now, I am more outspoken about my views, especially in my own home (Okay, on Facebook too!). Besides, as I am wont to repeat, if I cannot be myself in my own home, where the hell can I be myself? I must say that I do make a lot of concessions for some people who visit my home and in spite of knowing where I stand with regards to things ‘throw-up (their pet theories) repeatedly, all over my clean carpet’. At those times, I hold my tongue for the sake of peace. Yeah, outspoken and holding my tongue, they don’t actually go together one might say. But I manage to do it.

At other times though, I lament, I rant, I rave, I reflect, I review and most importantly, I question, question, question…. and then again question. My audience consists of two, the L&M and Luci. Perhaps the L&M doesn’t agree with everything I say. He does with 90% – of things that matter – and that is good enough in a decent marriage, I feel. I am happy to let go of the other 10%. He can watch shows I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. He can also secretly laugh at the songs I listen to because they are in languages he doesn’t understand. Not that I understand the languages either, but songs are songs, language doesn’t matter. And I find I have infamously digressed.

Back to mother and the inescapable opportunity she got to acquaint herself with my way of thinking. One day, she hears me yet again questioning the system that will not let the less fortunate than us live with dignity and says thoughtfully, “You are an Ulpathishnu, like your great-grandfather.” Eh? Come again!

My great-grandfather is one of the five mahakavi‘s (great poets) of Kerala. I am familiar with his writings, poetry, drama, songs, compositions of Carnatic music, the translations done from Sanskrit to Malayalam. I know that though he was Poet Laureate of Travancore, he preferred to lead a life without the bowing and scraping that went with life in courts (Hearsay. I cannot vouchsafe for the veracity of this bit of information though I can so relate to it!). I also knew he died too early, at the age of forty-five.

What I didn’t know was that he was an ulpathishnu. Mother went on to say that he used to gather children of the neighborhood, children belonging to castes that were not meant to be educated in those times, and taught them in the premises of his house. My interest was piqued. This I NEVER knew about him. Why hadn’t anyone told me in all these years? Families talk of n unwanted things. why was this important bit left out? I needed to know more of this man!

Anyways, what the heck was an ulpathishnu? It was not a Malayalam word I was familiar with, and in fact was hearing it for the first time (I think!). I immediately set about searching and found my answer in the Malayalam to English dictionary. An Ulpathishnu was a Liberal. Ahaaa!

© Shail Mohan 2020