I remember a time in school, looking out the window I could see the lone kanikonna* in our school grounds. The blooming of that tree signified a lot of things. To every true blood mallu it heralded the imminent festival of Vishu. But for most school going children it was like a lighthouse calling out the arrival of the summer holidays. Unlike the rest of the country, schools in Kerala broke for the two month vacation earlier in the year, by March end.
The kanikonna is attributed several qualities besides of course the obvious aesthetic one. In Ayurveda it’s used as a laxative which reminds me of the time when a certain friend extracted the white sap from it and tried to convince his sister that it was milk. Good thing the bond of trust between the siblings was so strong that she didn’t buy the idea despite his heavy persuasions. I bet had he tried a dose of reverse psychology and had asked her not to drink it she would have downed the whole thing in a gulp. The dynamics of a brother sister relationship I know can barely be fit in anything less than a PhD thesis. The parental protective shield means that that brothers the world over needs to seek such subtle subterfuge to extract their small victories in the lifelong battle of the sibling. But one thing the konna isn’t known for is the strength of its branches.
This lone konna of the school grounds hadn’t bloomed so far that year. Exams were pretty much over, Vishu was just a few weeks away, but the tree stood ‘unblossomed’. We had biology exams that day, which for me always seemed the easiest paper (This was high school. Cut to 11th standard and Biology had turned into an unconquerable monster for me). Having got over with the 2 hour paper in a little more than an hour I was dozing off over the answer sheet killing time till the bell rang. I nudged Vinay who was sitting just ahead of me to finish it off so we can get out together. Vinay, who was the perpetual last ranker in the class for some reason was almost always the last to get out of the exam hall. You have to give it to him for trying. He would try to peep into the papers of those sitting next to him, turn around periodically trying to make out my cryptic handwriting and fail miserably. All he had to show for the effort at the end of the exam was a cringed neck. Seeing no signs of him getting up I rested my head on the desk and stared out the window. Just one exam to go, that too Moral Science (I had catechism instead, and nobody studied anything for those.) and the konna didn’t have a single flower. Crap, doesn’t it realize that without that tree in bloom I just wouldn’t feel like it’s the summer holidays.
Handing over the paper to the invigilator, Vinay was as in the high hopes. He always was. Not once had I ever heard him say that he had an exam tough.
Vinay: “Dude how about catching the noon show of the latest Mohanlal flick?”
Me: “You crazy? How do you even suppose we get past Pattalam (the security guard)”
V: It’s all planned my ‘little’ friend. He snickered.
Vinay was 6ft 3 and a 110 kgs. For him he was the right size and the rest of us little. We were quite the Laurel and Hardy pair of the class.
With utmost stealth we walked the corridors of the school, breathing suspended, heartbeats paused. The tensest moment was crossing the doors of the principal’s room and then it was a dash down the stairs taken four at a time and the final jump over eight stairs to the bottom landing. Teachers still claim that the nursery wing of the school was rebuilt because Vinay’s jump caused a crack in the foundation. Once we were outside the building the dusty open school ground lay before, offering no cover from any of the teachers who might be glancing out the window in the staff room. Or worse, what if the Princy himself was out in the corridor to spit out his paan. Vinay was always two steps ahead in his thinking. As I looked bewildered, Vinay laid himself flat on the dusty ground and started rolling. The white shirt and white trouser turned a reddish brown. That’s when I remembered that Predator was his favourite movie till date. He got up spitting dust from his mouth and smiled at me with a sense of accomplishment. I said, “no ways dude, I’m not doing that”. He didn’t wait for my approval but scooped up a pile of fine sand and threw it over me. Those big hands were like bulldozer buckets. In three or four handfuls I was brown head to toe. The camouflage done, we started running across the ground towards the konna. Vinay was always the leader and by the time I caught up to the tree he had started pulling on to the lowest branch. The plan was to scale the school wall by climbing the tree and then on to the other side. I couldn’t believe him, the tree would never…..
CRAAACKKKK…… the next thing I knew I was lying under piles of leaves and branches and my best bud some distance away calling for his mummy and clutching his left arm. I couldn’t lift myself under the weight of the branches over me. I could hear voices coming from the direction of the school. Obviously Vinay’s call for his mummy, although didn’t get as far as his mum, but definitely had reached several people in the school. I decided to wait until somebody came to assist and rested my head on the ground. Up above on a branch thus far hidden due to the branch that had come down, I could see a bunch of yellow flowers, swaying in the wind. The konna had indeed blossomed.
*konna OR kanikonna – golden shower tree or Bendra lathi in hindi.
I hope you too get to rejoice on the memories of your childhood this Vishu.