Vallunnichettan, my brother – the “grand” or “big” Unni is no more. He is my ‘cousin’ but the intricacy of our relationship is lost on me though it has been told to me several times. To me he is … or was, now that he is no more…..a “rakhee” brother as they say up north, an Uncle, a guardian, a Guru.. whatever. No words can describe either our relationship or affection for each other.
He was the brother who indulges in all my whims and fancies, often at variance to my mother’s orders – my first, red high-heeled sandals, that I hardly ever could manage to walk on – my first tennis kit, my maroon-coloured swimsuit……………..the list is endless. A constant figure sprawled out on the cane chair with a newspaper hiding his face, Vallunnichettan “big brother Unni” as he was fondly referred to in contrast to “Kochunni” the eldest sibling in our family who was shorter, he would be a silent observer to all the madness that went around him. The caustic remarks of his observations would often surface only during the evening get-togethers of the family gathered on the veranda, enjoying the gentle, jamine–laden sea-breeze. He was a permanent fixture at Kala Vihar or the playground of Kala, aptly named, as we moved in a year after I was born. My tearful protests never stopped him from addressing my friends using nicknames.
My initiation to Harold Robbins, Alister Mc Lean and many other paperbacks – an upgradation from the staple diet of Mills & Boons, was thanks to him. They were left around for us to read and later discussed in different contexts. My father held a permanent grudge against him for ‘spoiling’ the minds of us teenagers – my sister and myself!
He was an unending source of information in an era when neither televisions nor computers existed – he even freely spoke (and I staunchly refused to believe) of the ‘black-dyed hair of Mrs. Gandhi’ whom my father supported even during the Emergency, despite Unnichettan divulging many of the goings-on at the time. His pet topics discussed were generally the skeletons in the closet of the ruling parties. From minute details related to even the “Crusaders” to fantastique and logical-sounding conclusions like that of Cleopatra hailing from the Konkan Coast – he had it all stored in his then –active brains.
The bang of the latch on the wooden-framed metal-sheet gate accompanied by the scraping noise as his sandals dragged over the sand on the concrete steps would be my signal to be at the window near the telephone to hand over the keys to his rooms – the outhouse rented to his company. As his unofficially nominated ‘Secretary’, I would be ready with precise details related to phone calls and letters received including at times queries related to tenders floated which I was supposed to answer – the accommodation being his official office-cum-residence.
An unforgettable incidence is the night when he and Kochunnichettan, the smaller brother Unni, came at mid-night and tried to wake me up without waking up my Dad who was sleeping at the other end of the room. (Woken up at an unearthly hour my father was like a wounded tiger! ) Their efforts were in vain and I woke up in the morning, body aching all over from the stones, chappals and what have you thrown on my bed and the two of them were asleep in uncomfortable positions on the veranda!
He was the brother who unobstrusively kept track of me and kept an invisible barrier between me, the naïve, small-town teenager and the big bad world outside. I still hold a grudge against him for having cruelly broken off a, who knows may be, what could have been a budding romance! A vague character kept ringing up to befriend me but fortunately or unfortunately one of the calls was received by my self-appointed local “guardian”and then there were no more calls!!!! “My big-brother Unni” never knew of the umpteen teenagers I used to roam around with though I suppose, as persipicacious as he was, he must have made out that they were just innocent friendships whereas this one seemed to be a wolf on the prowl!
The most touching moment in our life was the day when he came to meet me as we boarded the train after selling ‘Kala Vihar’. Holding tight on to a sandalwood Ganapathy he just sat on the bunker. Neither of us had much to say but our lack of words expressed a world of affection.
Coerced by my mother to marry a charming and soft girl, petrified of him, at the late age of 36, she ended up being his sole support in all ways with the debilitating onset of Alzeihmers. Death has now brought relief to both but our loss is immeasurable.