It is Amma’s Birthday. She follows the Malayalam calendar and so it is difficult to keep track. She normally goes to the Sree Krishna temple on her birthdays. Today we cannot go to her usual temple. My cousin died on Friday and it is his funeral today. We need to go to Kottayam.
Syam picks up another cousin of mine before coming to pick us up. We have a very long drive ahead of us. Sobhana chechi chats incessantly throughout the journey. She doesn’t need much encouragement. We hardly feel the time pass.
On the way Syam stops at a temple and we go in to say our prayers. We are not supposed to visit a temple, but Syam tells us that it is fine. As a Brahmin, he knows the ins and outs of temple traditions and rituals. Counted as one of the major Shiva and Bhagavathy temples in Kerala, it has it’s own legendary stories to tell. The satellite temple is a Sree Krishna temple and Amma is happy that she is able to make it on her birthday. We have a short comfort break at a restaurant before reaching Sasi annan’s house in time for the function.
Sasi Annan, my cousin is about 7 years older than me. My first encounter with him was almost 50 years ago during an Onam season. We were in India for a few weeks, my first visit to India. We visited Kallada on the day after Onam, my dad’s birth place, and I was introduced to my cousins. As the oldest in my family, I didn’t have older brothers or sisters to look up to. Now I was surrounded by all these relatives, both older and younger. Out of all my cousins during that visit I remember Sasi Annan the most. Somehow I felt like I had an older brother to look up to and we had a special kinship.
Over the years, after my uncle’s death, family problems got in the way and I thought that our friendship was lost. Amma reminds me that Annan bought us stuff during our medical school days. Sarees and stethoscopes. The last and only time I’ve been to Kottayam was when Annan’s daughter got married three years ago. I was in India at the time by chance, and Annan rang and invited me specially. I had a good time that day at the wedding. Today I am in the same house, this time for the sad occasion.
I realise that for the two major occasions in my cousin’s life I have been here with him. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe I just didn’t see it, but I think the special kinship we had has always been there but we both missed it during his lifetime. As the priest goes through the rituals and prayers are being said, I remember that afternoon. it was just the two of us on the swing put up specially for Onam. I had an older brother who was telling me stories, the last time I truly felt that I had a bigger brother to look up to. Now I know that he was always there, It is too late, but I am glad I was able to be here to say my goodbyes to my big brother.