The grove was beautiful to say the least; nestled deep into the laps of what they call “God’s Own Country”. With the rain playing on the lush green leaves and the deep black barks. Surprisingly, not one dhothied wood-cutter had ventured into this forest to axe wood and make his dinner stove or sell it to the middle-man that stank of beetelnut and stale coconut oil and stuffed a split 10 rupee note in return for what the forest had taken a good hundred years to foster. But they did come.
Kutti was only seven years old when they saw that he was different. His mother, Lakshmi did odd jobs and his father Krishnan, odder. They saw that their little boy couldn’t speak like Narayana’s nor could he listen like Mohan’s. He did speak and listen though; only differently. Mohan suggested they called the local witch-doctor to set things right; to make him do the same odd jobs that they all did. They didn’t think it odd though.
And so they did. He suggested that Kutti went to Chotanikkara; a place where the Devi cured such ‘ailments’ with her own style. And so Lakshmi and Kutti obeyed. The consultation left them 10 rupee poorer and hence a meal-hungry. Krishnan couldn’t notice Lakshmi’s lonely tear-drop in his drunken slumber. She fell asleep at a minute before daybreak, before resuming her oddities at dawn. Krishnan didn’t wake up until he felt Lakshmi’s bristly broom brush against his nostrils. He beat her again. They saw Kutti smile when their brawl woke him up. They beat him. He still smiled. And so did Lakshmi and Krishnan obey. It left them another meal-hungry but they would eat Kutti’s too at the next one. And so did Lakshmi and Krishnan obey.
The procedure was rather simple. Kutti was nailed by his hair to the bark of a hundred year old tree that many a dhothied wood cutter would love to axe but wouldn’t because the Devi would punish him by nailing him to the same tree that he tried to axe; a tree that many a beetelnut chewing, stale coconut oil smelling middle man would make a fortune on, on selling it to one of his scapegoats, one of those for whom the little bedside table that they would make out of it would cost more than the wood itself; a tree that Lakshmi and Krishnan would themselves worship as the Devi herself who would put some brains into little Kutti’s head while he tugs to break away. And so did Lakshmi and Krishnan obey. They left Kutti sleeping in the effect of the intoxicant that the priest had fed him to make the nailing easier. They resumed their odd jobs. Lakshmi still swept near Krishnan’s nose and Krishnan still beat her with last night’s hangover from yesterday’s kallu.
Kutti woke up. The nails wouldn’t let him move too much. He sat there, crying in his silence.
It happened one night. He was a beetelnut chewing middleman who reeked of coconut oil. He came not to cut the tree that he’d eyed since he was born and sell it to a paandi dolt who would pay what he quoted for the wood. He was kind to Kutti. Kutti cried as he caressed his bleeding scalp, promising he’d come some day to set him free. He brought Kutti things to eat. There was puttu, which he devoured like a hungry dog. There was chakka, which he savoured in his little mouth until there was nothing sweet left in the pulp, which he swallowed and smiled. And there was a sweet drink. The middleman said that it was a paayasam, which he’d gotten blessed by the priest. The middleman smiled as Kutti drank it all up, like a good boy…
Kutti woke up. The nails wouldn’t let him move too much. Neither would his legs. He felt limp. He couldn’t sit. He writhed in the pain as he crawled up into a bloody foetus. He sat there, crying in his silence, watching the blood slide down his thighs.
Kutti left the place one night, never to be seen by the priest or Lakshmi or Krishnan or woodcutters or middlemen. All that remained was his thick black hair, stuck to the nails on the trees that had seen all; the trees that still bore testimony to what they had seen. There were holes in some; possibly proving freedom. A freedom from evil faith.