“What kind of name is Issac Ganapathy?” I snorted and immediately regretted it. I ought not offend him if I was going to survive my two weeks of summer holidays in this god-forsaken village with my surly grandmother.
“Your name is not exactly music to my ears too. Achyuthan reminds me of soo-soo,” he replied with a generous dose of acid. I blushed and realized that he was not exactly thrilled to spend time with me, either. But his father, who milked the cows for my grandmother, had been instructed to bring his son to play with me and usually, no one in their right mind dared to refuse my grandmother. Her temper was legendary. She had once peeled a swathe of hair off the cook’s scalp with her bare hands, when she found a twiggy strand floating in her sambhar.
My grandmother was obsessed with two things in her life. Her death and her food.
She believed, by professing her piety and purity to the Gods, she could get a sea view suite in Vaikundam. Every day, after her bath, she would spend an hour in front of the benevolently smiling gods, invoking them to give her a peaceful death. At the end of that hour, she would sprinkle herself with a concoction made of rose water and cow urine, the mixture she believed that sanitized all her sins, that might or might not include tonsuring hapless cooks. I think the rose water was just added as an afterthought to mask the smell of the key ingredient.
“It cleanses the body and the soul. Now get out before I tear away that smirk on your face.”
She snarled at me and reminded me to take a bath in the outer privy before entering the house.
“You and your mother may be modern people. But you don’t get to enter my house without a bath, after mixing with all and sundry.”
The jibe about my mother was to show that my grandmother was not happy with me playing with Issac, but she was arm twisted by her daughter to find me company, for how would she attain Moksha if I, her only grandson, did not light the pyre?
Issac’s father did the unenviable job of collecting the veritable excretion every day. He would hold a wide-mouthed aluminium vessel strategically in place and wait for the cow to finish her business and take the still warm liquid to my grandmother, who would then transfer a required measure into a brass tumbler to make the revered concoction.
Her second weakness was food, especially sweets. Despite her doctor warning her that her blood sugar level was enough to stun an elephant into languor, she ignored his advice as scientific superstition and continued savouring her laddoos, mysurpas and polis, but she did that surreptitiously, lest people thought she lacked self-control.
It was one of grandmother’s laddoos which I had stolen earlier from her stash in the cupboard that I offered to Issac as a peace offering, now. He smiled as I divided the sugary balls speckled with cashews and offered a bigger half to him. A stolen sweet for a forbidden friendship, I suddenly felt all grown up and illicit.
Every day, I would wait for the metal back gate to groan open and would run to meet Issac. For the next few hours, until Issac’s father was done milking the cow, cleaning the cow shelter and generally doing what my grandmother harangued him to do, Issac and I were free to play in the backyard climbing trees, catching chameleons and racing each other.
One day, towards the end of my vacation, while we were digging up for worms near the cow shelter, Issac’s father called him.
“Issac, give this to Amma and see that you don’t touch her while handing it over,” he said.
Issac murmured he did not plan on touching anyone who sprinkled herself with cow soo-soo.
As Issac gingerly carried the liquid cargo towards the back door of the house, I followed him, tittering at his scrunched up nose that was trying to keep the ammonic fumes away.
“Wanna race?” I asked, and with a glint in his eyes, he agreed.
I zoomed, and Issac followed, ignoring the valuable liquid threatening to spill. In a sharp turn leading to the back door of the house, Issac stumbled and sent the aluminium vessels flying in the air. It landed with a clamour, emptying itself of the urine so carefully collected.
“What is that noise?” I heard my grandmother ambling towards the door from inside, and at the same time, was mortified to see the vessels had no remnant to salvage us, not a drop or a trickle.
I not only had put myself in the path of my grandmother’s wrath, but had also recruited Issac to join me. In the ensuing second, I did what I thought was best for both of us. I quickly undid my shorts and contributed from my bladder what had spilt a few seconds before. After all, it looked and smelled the same when rose water was added to it. But my flow could not add up to the copious amount collected from the cow. Issac stepped in to make up for the rest of it and between the two of us, we aced the quantity easily.
By the time my grandmother could peer out of the door, Issac and I were ready with the required content in appropriate measure, with no hint of any mischief having taken place.
“Don’t touch me, you fool. I don’t want to pollute myself before my prayers.” She barked at Issac before ladling generous amounts of what she thought was her beloved animal’s effluence into her brass tumbler. We sighed in relief and congratulated each other on our brains and bladder for living up to the moment.
After an hour, while Issac and I were plucking mangoes, we heard a howl from the house. It was my grandmother’s caretaker, who was screaming that my grandmother would not wake up after her mid-morning nap.
My mother arrived from the city as soon as she heard the news. I overheard the caretaker lament to her that my grandmother had gone to take her beauty sleep as she always did after her purification rituals and breakfast. Then, she had passed away in her sleep. “All these years of strict adherence to rituals finally paid off. She died peacefully,” the caretaker sniffled and added a bit of drama that was utmost necessary during such situations.
The doctor told my mother that it could be her uncontrolled diabetes. But only Issac and I believed that our potent contribution had worked miracles. For a brief period, we were even contemplating a business venture, with a tagline, Simply Sanitize Your Soul.