How shall we thank the cockroaches?

How shall we thank the cockroaches?

Teaching the  80 year old Kochamma small things like washing her hands before eating, rinsing her mouth after eating were totally impossible things. I had just come down for a little tea-a tea after my breakfast carrying my tea glass with me as usual at about 10 in the morning, when I heard voices flowing from the kitchen to the inner bedroom. The voices belonged to Kochamma and her daughter -in law, Ammani. "Wash your mouth, at least, you will not have to call Sonal (the family dentist) every now" an exasperated voice of Ammini called from the kitchen. Parting the curtains I entered the hall just in time to see Kochamma turn around to answer back her daughter -in law. She just would not heed to any requests, explanations or threats. Her answer was directed at me, "I've never done these things all these years, look at me! Am I not healthy, Thangam? she looked at me for a supporting answer - I played my cards carefully. Satisfied with my nod and smile, she moved to her room wiping her hand of the break-fast on her white cotton saree. "How can I drive some sense into this woman, chechi?" Ammani turned to me slapping her forehead.

 I am a distant relative and also their tenant and at times a mediator and supporter of both sides too. Her daughter in-law, Ammini is the most concerned, as the kids would also shy away from these basic habits at times, because their 'Acchamma (father's mother) also does not wash'. It takes a lot of effort on Ammani's side to explain to the little kids (two naughty imps) why one has to wash before and after eating, after going to the toilet etc., - the story of germs and so on and also caution then to keep an eye on their Acchamma to see if her hands are clean. (as she sometimes feeds them from her plate)  "All kinds of illness have raised its head, swine flu, chicken guniya and what not…, why don't you talk to her chechi". She turned to me for genuine help. Nodding my head positively I assured her "I will try and talk to her". I knew it was not an easy task and had to wait for the right situation and time.

A television set was provided for Kochamma for her entertainment in the privacy of her bedroom. The family sops that she watched started at 5:30 and would go on till 11:00 p.m. at intolerable decibels. And anything that happened between 5:30 and 11:00 could not disturb her come what may. Another thing Ammini found difficult was, to keep a track of the snack tin from wandering out of the kitchen store room to her cupboard in her bedroom. She just loved to snack and her son Unni, saw to it that his mother's snack tin was always filled. "Let her eat as long as she can" was her dear son's slogan. In spite of warning her mother in-law about ants and cockroaches finding their way into her cupboard to taste their share of the eateries, she continued to do so saying, "I cannot keep walking from my room to the kitchen every now and then, if its here all I have to do is just reach out."  The kids would also run to their granny's room the moment they hear the crumpling sound of the packets of eateries..

As was her habit every morning, after her bath, Kochamma got ready to the nearby Ayyappa Temple. She went to her room, pulled the drawer of her cupboard to take a few coins from her purse.

Suddenly a loud cry brought everyone out of their rooms - the kids, Ammini and Unni all looked at each other and then rushed to Kochamma's room.  The site shocked everyone, Kochamma was sitting among tattered pieces of paper spred on her cot.

Her face flushed, as she pulled out more and more bits of paper, tears glistened in her eyes. "See what these kids have done" she looked accusingly at the two kids. "We have not done anything" they chorused in unison. My daughter took a closer look at it and said, " Acchamma, it is not us but something has nibbled on it. Could be either rats or cockroaches, see !" and she held it up for the rest of us to see. She was right, it definitely didn't seem like rats but yes - it was the handy work of the cockroaches. They seemed to have a dinner of the currency notes to their hearts content instead of the eateries that were kept along with the purse. They must have found the currency notes tastier. Everyone burst into loud peels of laughter. Kochamma also could not hold herself from smiling.

"Don't worry, we'll get the notes exchanged at the RBI" consoled her son.  Ammini was not able to drive sense into her MIL but the tiny tough survivour from the prehistoric times did what she could not do with fretting and fuming. Kochamma replaced the snack tin back into the kitchen and also saw to it that she used plates to carry her snacks instead of her palm.

Kochamma never kept eateries in the cupboards even if it meant walking up and down to upload the snacks on her plate a few times more. A few more changes were seen there after- she washed her hands, rinsed her mouth and wiped them on hand towels instead of her saree. She saw to it that her room was free of crumbs, she didn't want the cockroaches to feel their way into her room.

I was happy to see the positive change in her, and left a note of caution as I got up to go up stairs to cook lunch "Amma, be careful, see that there are no traces of eateries on any clothes, least the cockroaches find their way back to your cupboard, there are so many lovely sarees that you have not yet worn." With a deep breath she thumped her palm on her chest and shook her head from left to right, for her mouth was full. As I turned around a happy Ammini commented, "Who said chechi, if you can't bend at 8 then you can never bend at 80?" Both of us laughed to our heart's content.   Three cheers for the cockroach, Hip Hip Hurray!!!   

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