When I used to be a small boy, one of my paternal uncles, Narayanan aphan (aphan means paternal uncle) always used to stay away from home with his family. He used to work as priest in temples at faraway places. This incident happened when he was doing pooja (priesthood) at a temple in a place called Ampalloor. Once I went to visit him and cheriyamma (aunty) there. I also remember I stayed there for a few days. In childhood it used to be very exciting to go and stay with your relatives, especially if they stay at a little distant place. The bus journey required to reach the place was a bonus. Travelling by road (those days one never encountered the traffic jams that you encounter these days) has always been a passion for me. It was always exciting and I am never tired of long journeys by road.
Aphan had a timepiece, which was enclosed in a wooden box with glass front cover so that you can see the time without opening the door. The box was fixed on a window using nails. The hands and the hour spots had a little bit of radium on them which glittered during the night. It was very fascinating to watch the glittering of the hands and the hour spots. It used to be pure ecstasy to watch them when the whole room was pitch dark. It was my habit to climb on the window, because I was so small and couldn’t reach the box otherwise, to look closely at the timepiece to watch the glitter during nights.
On one night, as usual, as soon as I woke up in the middle of the night, I ran to the window and climbed on to the first step to look closely at the timepiece. But in my hurry and due to carelessness I miscalculated the position of the box containing the timepiece. I hadn’t switched on the lights since the glittering would not be visible then. As I raised my head after climbing on the window, it strongly struck at the sharp corner of the wooden box. Suddenly I thought a lightening had emanated from or struck on my head. There was also very sharp pain. I could not help myself from shouting aloud, “Ayyo” (Malayalam for “Ouch!”). I sat down on the floor clutching my head. Aphan and cheriyamma came rushing. There was a small cut on my head, fortunately not very deep, though. They applied some medicated cream. The pain lasted several hours. That was the last time I ever wanted to see the shining of the hands and hour spots of a timepiece.
The next day, when aphan came from temple, I saw him and cheriyamma talking in some code language using signs and single syllables. I did not understand what they were talking. But I knew that cheriyamma wanted to know something which aphan was reluctant to reveal. Playfully, of course. At last cheriyamma got the answer to her query. The moment she got the answer, she rushed inside. She came back with a packet and handed it over to me telling, “Jayanthan, this is for you”. The packet contained a shirt and a pair of knickers for me. I can’t explain how happy I was at that moment. I danced with joy. Unexpected presents give you great surprise and happiness, more so when you are a child. A shirt and a pair of knickers given to you as a present have got extra value and extra fondness than when they are purchased.
When aphan and cheriyamma shifted back to home, along with their children, they had brought the timepiece along with the box. Again they fitted it on a window. Whenever I used to look at the timepiece it used to remind me the whole episode in every detail as if it had happened only a couple of days ago. As if I had forgotten it! By then I had grown up and was tall enough not to need to climb on to the window, but I still avoided any contacts with the timepiece and the box.
For me, it was a haunted box!