The other day I happened to talk to Peediye Chittappan (PC), and was glad to be reassured that he is his old self, except that his eyesight does not permit him to read his Malayala Manorama from the masthead to the printer's signoff on the last page (‘printed and published’). But still the essentials (obituaries and the main News) are all covered with some help from Kunjamma. He seems to be enjoying the the newly built house, which according to him has good privacy and airy rooms.
The nonchalant humor and the contentedness with the general state of affairs are still there. I recall how some of us used to try to catch PC on a wrong foot, but was driven mad trying to make sense of his reaction, seemingly absurd observations tossed at the interlocutors with a deadpan expression. Only later we would realize PC was having fun at our expense.
And the humor: I can recall many examples, like the following ones.
1. Asked about how he feels about the new house, PC is cryptic in his answer. “Now my poor forehead can be at peace”. The allusion is to the low upper beams of the doorframe of the old house with which PC’s forehead had frequent, painful disputes while entering the house. One’s forehead dashing against the said doorframe is not a very pleasant experience, and this was a major grouse of Chittappan against the old structure.
2. Commenting on a reckless youngster who was beaten up by a group of people (according to PC the youth himself invited the trouble): “This chap invited all those people for a State Conference (“Samsthana sammelanam”) and offered his body as a venue. They readily agreed and had instead a national convention itself at the offered venue and left it in the present bad shape!”
I am not sure whether I am able to convey the vivid imagery in English translation (“aalkkaare vilichu varuthi ente muthukathu samsthana sammelanam koodikko ennu paranju. Avaru vittilla, Ellavarum koodi vannu oru desiya sammelam thanne nadathi ellam adichu nerappaakki ittittu poyi!”)
3. The boys and Chittappan used to spend the afternoons together, trying to provoke each other. Many stories would be told, many jokes would be shared, taunts would be made and returned, and there will be lot of sparring with words trying to catch each other on the wrong foot. On one occasion, the discussion was about improving fishing methods. The current, traditional techniques were found wanting in catching the clever ones among the fish. These clever ones laugh at the ‘hook and bait’ (“choonda”) thrown at them, and have developed skills to evade more sophisticated techniques and equipments like nets. One of us boys had an inspiration and suggested a technique which according to him could not fail.
It was very simple, but was unconventional and needed lot of mental strength (and a thick skin to go with). The gentleman who is out to outwit the fish should station himself near a ‘thodu’ (a shallow stream which has a good traffic of fish colonies traveling up and down, especially those small fearless and clever variety). Now the crucial part of the technique is this: the gentleman takes off all his clothes and leans close to the stream. The fish, when they look up would be stunned and ashamed to see a man in his birthday suit leaning over the stream and would close their eyes to shut off the appalling view! What remains is child's play! Just pick off the disoriented blind fish one by one from the stream.
PC thought for a few seconds about the scheme. “The idea is good”, he said in all seriousness, “It may work in ideal conditions, but..”
“..but what? It is a cinch. You just go there, stand close to the stream and take off your clothes, and return with a basketful of fish”, the originator of the idea was willing to defend it.
“I said it will work under ideal conditions. Now consider this. Firstly, you need a stream with clear, transparent water. How can the fish see you, naked or not, from under the muddy water? Show me a clear stream in these parts, I will go with your idea!”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that..”
“Secondly, here is the major reason why your foolish trick will fail”, PC hadn’t finished. “ Have you ever seen a fish which is coy about naked looks? Have you ever seen a fish in clothes? As far as I know no fish ever wore any clothes. You cannot give them any surprise that way; They will simply laugh at you…my boy!”