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Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Story of the Felling Knife

[When I watch the climax in most of the films I wonder, ‘How is it that the villain, who had been extremely cruel till the previous scene, has suddenly become a symbol of all simplicity and all goodness when he is about to breath his last from the gun shot he received from the hero?’ He starts begging pardon from all the people (usually all the important characters in the movie are present in this scene). But is it possible for such a sudden change to take place in real life? The following incident shows it is.]

My father was a strict disciplinarian. He always used to hide his love and affection from us children in his mind and heart. This was probably due to the old belief that parents should be very strict so that children fear them. It was also believed that if only children feared their parents would they be disciplined. But father’s behaviour could also be because we did not belong to a very well-to-do family and hard times were more frequent than pleasant ones. Father was worried about our future. All this had made him very strict and, kind of, unapproachable to us. We used to be afraid of him, especially when he was in a bad mood. He used to be very aggressive then. He has never beaten us, but used to scold very sharply on occasions. When he was angry we tried to be as far away from him as possible.

One day, as usual, I returned home from school in the evening around five o’clock. Our classes used to be from 10 in the morning to 4 in the evening. When I reached home father had already left for doing pooja (worship) in a temple (for a salary). I found mother very agitated. One look at her face, and I knew that she had been weeping. Her eyes were red. Elder sister too was very silent and tensed. She too was sobbing. Something serious must have happened. I asked mother what was the matter. Initially she ignored my question.

But after some time she said, ‘When father returns, he will ask you about the small felling knife (vaakkathy in Malayalam). You don’t have to answer him. I shall respond.’

I immediately understood that the matter was far more serious than I had thought. Father must have been very aggressive, or else mother would never talk in this tone. After some time, when mother was a little more sober, I asked her what actually happened. I had to know.

She said, ‘The small felling knife is missing. For almost an hour before father’s departure to the temple, we searched for it. Father has blamed everybody for not keeping things in proper places. He was very angry. Bhadra [my elder sister] and I have been scolded very severely. Now it is your turn, when he returns.’

I was really scared. I know that when father gets terribly angry he loses control over himself. Not that he would physically harm us, but his anger was very frightening for us to face.

Seeing me upset mother said, ‘The small felling knife is on the wooden beam above the door in father’s room. He himself had kept it there several days ago when he wanted to open the metal can that he had fixed there.’ 

Father had fixed a small metal can on the wooden beam with nails. This can was used to drop coins into it. It was fixed in such a way that you could only drop coins into it. You cannot take those out. If you want to take out the coins, you need to remove the nails and then the can itself. When father was in need of some money a few weeks ago, he had opened the can using the small felling knife and had inadvertently left the tool back there.

The two hours that followed was full of tension for me and continuance of an ongoing tension for mother and sister. I feared the moment of father’s return. If I didn’t answer immediately on his asking he would get more upset. And mother had told me not to open my mouth at all.

Just as mother had predicted, the moment father entered, he asked, ‘Jayanthan, where is the small felling knife?’

I didn’t know what to do or say. Should I tell him that it is there on the beam in his room? Or should I …

Just then mother emerged from the kitchen. She said, ‘The small felling knife has been misplaced by you only. It is for you to search and find it out.’

This was totally unexpected. Father and I were completely taken aback. Mother had never, in my memory, talked in such a sharp and confronting manner to father. Father was truly shocked. He looked at her with disbelief and confusion. He realized that if mother said something with so much certainty, and with such sharpness, almost nearing vengeance, it could not be hollow words. Despite the occasional flare-ups, they loved and respected each other very much. [Please read another story regarding their love here.] Without uttering even a word he went to his room. Mother followed him.

She was not yet in a mood to relent. She said, ‘You had used it last and not by any of us. You can search and find it out.’

And she went to the kitchen leaving father in complete shock and disarray.

It was only after an hour, when father had somewhat cooled, that mother went and told him where the tool was and how it reached there.

Father was silent for a long time. He had thought that he was not the one to make mistakes. If a mistake had been done, it had to be committed by someone else. I dare say most of us have this tendency ­– to believe that we are perfect, none else is.

I stole a few glances at him from the other room very discreetly. I found him very thoughtful and in a pitiable condition. I could not then understand the changes that were taking place in his mind, behaviour, and character during those very moments. I am sure he must have relived the last few hours several times and blamed himself for being so unreasonable to mother and sister.

After that day I have never, ever found father angry or shouting till he breathed his last, several years later. His attitude had completely changed so much so that we used to wonder where this face of his had been hidden so far and where the familiar face had vanished. He became sober and softer. He also started expressing his love and affection to us. He started laughing more. He even started cracking jokes! It looked like as if we had got a new loving, caring, father and the previous one had gone away somewhere never to return. The change was unexpected, born from a very sad event, but welcome and wonderful!

Yes, events of a moment can change one’s attitude completely and permanently.