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Rant #503
(published September 9, 2010)
Saudi Deluge
by Durga Vijaykumar
Balummama came on his annual leave every year with Ammai and his two girls. Come July and the household got busy. Fried snacks filled steel containers. Outside in the sun, rice pappadums, runner beans and sweet mango pickle dried. In a large basin, green chillies gradually changed colour in curd. The heat from them made passers sneeze. Once dried, some would be packed, to be taken to Saudi Arabia, the rest polished off at meals. Every year at the same time, various uncles and aunts called to enquire when Balu's flight would land. When the day finally dawned, it brought unexpected butterflies in the stomach. I would wait with grandmother, running restlessly up and down the steps. We craned our necks to spot the Ambassador turn the curve, two suitcases tied with rope to the carrier. Sankaran, the male help, would hasten to the gate, carry the smaller bags triumphantly, Kochammu, the maid would embrace the little girl and hoist her to her hips. Between excited greetings and exclamations, Balummama would settle the taxi driver, with an ease that comes with prosperity.

Day four. The suitcases got opened on day four. Post lunch, the house gathered in the cool bedroom to witness the important ritual. Purses, umbrellas(ones that opened with a touch button) sarees, perfumes and packets of raisins were handed out. Grandmother solemnly earmarked who would get what. I got several dresses, some with matching belts and shoes. The older girl was a year younger than me, but grew faster. The hand downs were a big hit at school. On Saturday mornings, after a special class or music lesson, I loved the way the heeled shoe hit the tiled school courtyard. For two months, the house slept late and woke up early so no excitement would be missed. Under my supervision, the girls went to the pond, walked along the fields of paddy and climbed the slippery branches of the breadfruit tree. A taxi waited all the time. There were people to see, places to visit, things to buy.

When they finally left, in great sorrow I breathed deeply. Fragrances of Brut, Fa, Lux and Toblerone hung heavy for days. Ammai's glossies would be read into night. Kochammu dusted the bedroom and rolled the mattresses. Visitors who had missed Balummama's arrival got treated to a little bit of everything—a chocolate, a bottle of honey, soap. Until we ran out.

Durga Vijaykumar lives and writes in Botswana, but "I come from a state called Kerala, where a huge percentage work in the Middle East. Their holidays, arrivals and departures are an integral part of life in Kerala."

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