His heart raced and palms sweated in anticipation of the punishment he was going to receive. His father had never gotten so angry with him before. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was angry either. In his head, he frantically searched for a reason. One moment he was proudly showing his parents the little transistor radio he had bought, and the next his dad was shouting at him, and raging into kitchen to get the chooral out. His mother had immediately followed his father, trying to calm him down, and placate him, while Hari stood transfixed.
It was of no use. Twenty agonizing seconds later, his father stormed back into the hall, the chooral in hand. “Put your hand out!” he barked. Hari instantly obeyed. As terrified and confused as he was, it never occurred to Hari to not obey his father. His mother was still trying to reason with his father, but Hari couldn’t really hear it. In that moment, it was just him and his father; the chooral ready to give, his hand ready to receive. There was a low whistle, and then SMACK! It hit his palm. His palm stung as though he had touched one of the smouldering pieces of charcoal in their wood-fired stove. He winced, his hand flinched involuntarily, but remained outstretched. Tears streamed down his face, more from not knowing how he had caused his father this much anger, than from the pain.
“Stop it! That’s enough punishment!” Hari heard his mother saying. “Don’t you see he’s hurting?” His father looked at his mother, then looked back at him. Hari was still looking up at him, still with the silent tears – no sobs, no drama. He looked at Hari’s mother, and after a brief while, threw the chooral behind him, turned, walked over to the settee and sat down, glowering. Hari was still standing there, rooted to the spot. “Go to your room, Hari,” his mother said, gently lowering his hand. He turned to look at her face, searching her eyes for some explanation of what had just happened.
“Go on. It’s alright. Go to your room,” she coaxed him, softly, wiping his tears. She held his shoulders and gently pushed him to help him move from the spot. Hari lowered his eyes, sniffled, and crossed the hall to his room.
The chooral lay against the wall, looking benign. It had never been used before. It was kept on the shelf above the stove in the kitchen as a potential consequence of disobedience or bad behaviour. Just that was enough.
“He’s a good boy, you know he is,” Hari’s mother said to his father.
“That does not mean he can do anything he likes.”
“No. But he doesn’t know what he did.”
“What is there not to know? He spent money. He didn’t think it was necessary for him to ask me if he could. He didn’t even tell me he wanted a transistor. He is big enough, is he not? He doesn’t need me anymore then. He thinks the vishu kaineettam he got is money he earned, for him to spend as he likes. He’s independent now, is he not?”
“You don’t mind so much when he is independent about his studies, ” she retorted, sharply. Then she softened immediately. “Look,” she continued, “he doesn’t understand that. He probably thought that by using his vishu kaineedttam he was trying not to burden you. He’s 11 years old, still a boy. He adores you, looks up to you. He’s doing what he thinks is right by you. You need to let this go. He’s heartbroken that you are so angry with him. You saw that. I know you are upset too. Just let this go.”
His father sighed. “I know his love for music. I would have bought him a transistor. A better one. Why didn’t he just tell me? He never asks for anything. Why couldn’t he just ask me?”
He got up from the settee, walked over to where the chooral lay in the corner. He picked it up and looked at it intently. “My father…he always preferred the chooral over a simple scolding when we were growing up,” he said quietly. He walked into the kitchen. Hari’s mother heard the sharp snap of the cane breaking and the sound of the pieces being tossed into the stove. His father then walked out the back door. “I’ll be back in some time,” he said as he crossed the threshold.
Hari sat at his study stable looking out of the window, absently stroking the welt on his left palm. His books lay open in front of him. The new transistor stood on the right top corner of the table, against the wall. He was still hurt and confused about what had happened a mere hour ago. The transistor didn’t matter anymore.
Outside, the light had faded, and the crickets were coming to life. Somewhere close to his window, a frog croaked, Hari broke out of his reverie. He had homework to finish, lessons to revise. He picked up his pencil and restarted the math problem that he had been working on unaware that his father was watching him from the door of the room. “Hari,” he said, as he walked in, “homework nearly done?”
“Not yet, acha. I have two more problems to do.”
“Hmmm…Are you going to show me your new transistor or not? Tell me how it works,” his father said and sat down on Hari’s bed and smiled slightly.
Hari quickly brought the transistor to his father, explaining this and that feature. His father listened with interest, and nodded.
“So it runs on power?” he asked.
“No acha, batteries.”
“Then I guess you’ll need these before you can listen to music,” his father said fishing out a couple of batteries from his shirt pocket.
“Yes! Oh, thank you, acha!” Hari’s excitement made his father’s smile wider. As Hari was taking the batteries from him, his father got a glimpse of the angry, red streak on the boy’s palm. He took Hari’s hand gently, stroking it, “Does it hurt really bad?” Hari was silent. His father looked at his boy’s face, and after a moment, leaned forward to pick up the little bottle of coconut oil from the window sil. He poured a few drops on Hari’s palm, and spread it with the lightest, most tender touch. A single tear drop fell on the back of his father’s hand.
“It’s alright, acha. Doesn’t hurt all that much.”
“Hmmm.” His father got up from the bed and walked to the door. “Make sure you’re done with your homework before dinner,” he said without turning and walked out of the room.