My father gets arrested
They came for Gopalan, Indu’s father, a few days later. The police jeep arrived early in the morning as the maids turned up to sweep the front yards and draw water for the kitchens of the middle-class houses on the road. On that morning the roads were quiet except for the bicycle bell of the milkman and the creaks of the wheels of the shit carts.
The two policemen in the jeep were in mufti, and looked left and right furtively as they closed the doors of the jeep. They walked towards the house, throwing away their half-smoked beedies.
Gopalan, sleepless and weary, and Indu, saw them from the upstairs window and was ready for them, but when they took the handcuffs out, he blanched.
The policemen looked at each other, then at Gopalan’s bony wrists and his sparse body.
‘See, my bag is packed and I am going with you,’ Gopalan said. His voice trembled a little on the last phrase.
‘It’s not you we are worried about,’ they said, but they put the handcuffs away.
Gopalan picked up his suitcase and went down the stairs in front of the men.
At the foot of the stairs was his mother’s room; he stooped under the low wooden lintel of the door. He had not thought of the words for this moment, he who had words for all occasions.
‘Ammey, I'm going,’ he said.
She was curled up on her bed in her dark cave of a room and he could just see her white face and the rough grey blanket pulled up to her shoulders. The room smelled faintly of the ripe bananas and rice for the household stored under her bed, and her medicines.
Ammini struggled up and let her legs dangle over the side of the bed. As she did so she took in the two men standing grimly behind him.
‘Who are they? And where are you going?’
Gopalan put his case down and bent to touch her feet for her blessing, but she turned away from him and lay down again on her bed, turning her face to the wall.
‘Ammey,’ he pleaded, but she did not move.
Devi and Shinnu came out of the kitchen with Mani and looked at the scene in front of Ammini’s doorway. They clutched each other, and the two girls stared, terrified.
'Time to go,’Gopalan said looking at Devi's frantic face. ‘Don’t upset the children.’ He picked up his suitcase again.
‘No,’ Indu screamed as she hurled herself on her father, sobbing. ‘No-o-o. Tell them to go away, Acha, tell them.’
Mani ran to him then. ‘Elayacha. If you go…‘ She was sobbing too.
Gopalan bent down and gathered the girls in his arms.
‘Listen, Mani. You've got to look after both of you. And help Devi Ammamma. You mustn't cry. They’ll all start crying and what will I do then?’
The two men stared woodenly as Gopalan turned to leave. They followed him out of the house and through the front gate. When they reached the jeep they bundled him into the back and got clumsily into the front, hurrying to get away.
As the car started, it became apparent why they had come so early and silently: a small crowd of men and boys walked towards the car. They looked belligerent and some of them had stones or sticks in their hands.
As the first stone hit the windscreen, the policeman at the wheel revved up the engine and accelerated away.
Indu and Mani ran to the gate.
‘Come inside,’ Devi called out, but there was too much noise and excitement and the girls pretended they had not heard. After the car drove away and the crowd dispersed they stood at the gate, watching the few loiterers.
‘When will Elayachan come back?’ Mani asked. She seemed more disturbed than Indu, who had not quite understood that this was an arrest, and her father was going to jail.
‘In the evening,’ Indu answered, a little contemptuously. Achan always came back in the evening. Mani started crying. Indu watched perplexed as this was a truly unusual thing, Mani normally bit her lip and shut her eyes tight against the world when she was upset, but refused to be seen crying.
Mani picked up Indu’s hand and started walking towards the house. She did this also rarely; she was not given to demonstrations of affection.
When Achan did not come back in the evening, Indu slept in Devi’s bed.
‘Ammammey, wake me up when Achan comes,’ she said to Devi. Both girls called her ‘Ammamma’ – mother’s mother, as though to compensate for the fact that she was childless.
‘Yes, soon as he comes,’ Devi murmured, and for once she put her arms round the child and drew her close.