The alarm clock rang at 5 o' clock in the morning. These days it is more punctual than the neighbour's cock, who had been the time keeper for Unni's village for years. Age seems to be catching up with Poovalan. Maybe he is enjoying his retirement days like grandpa. The good morning cock-ara-kkoo siren now is sounded well past 7.00 am.
Why did man invent clock? Couldn't he have left time alone? Unni ignored the alarm and turned over.
Good things, like sleep, don't last long. In Unni's case, not beyond 5 am. Children should wake up early in the morning to study.
'Mind is fresh at that hour, free of everything. This is the time you will see algebra, physics and chemistry are human after all. Easily tamed.'
Unni's amma had told and retold the formula a million times. Unni was never convinced. Amma would say, "See you got 45 out of 50. If you didn't wake early, this would have been 30 out of 50." She would then go on to name children from the neighbourhood who scored poorly in exams only because they woke up late. Chandran, Kumaran, Satheesh, Raman...
Amma brought a vessel of cold water and placed Unni's feet in it. Another of her formulas to beat sleep. She then opened the mathematics textbook, chapter VI, and ticked a few questions for Unni to do.
-4x + 4y = -48
3x + 8y = -63
Unni looked at the first question. He had often wondered why his algebra problems always involved x, y and z; or p, q and r; or a, b, and c. Were they a family like achan, amma and Unni. X married Y and had a son Z.
He asked his maths teacher, Sathi madam, the same question a few days ago.
"Why do our equations always have x, y and z? Why can't they be d, e and f; or g, h and i?"
"Because I named the unknowns x, y, and z. If you want to name them g, h and i, you are free to do so."
"Why do we need to name them?"
"Names help us identify things easily. For example, why did your mother name you Unnikrishnan."
"My mother tells me she named me Unnikrishnan because I look like Krishna when he was a child."
Sathi teacher smiled and then said, "If she named you Keshavan, you would be called Keshavan. If she named you Sekhar, you would be Sekhar."
"Then can I give my algebra equations nice names like Pachu and Kovalan. Like Pachu + Kovalan = Abdul Qadar."
At this Sathi teacher laughed loudly, the entire class joined her, "Yes, you can."
Unni felt very proud of his joke.
He then applied his formula on the given equation
-4Pachu + 4Kovalan = -48
3Pachu + 8Kovalan = -63...
"Wake up Unni. You haven't done a single problem, it's already 7. Now get up and get ready for school."
Unni goes to school
World over, children walk to school and run home, said a famous advertisement catchline. But Unni doesn't run home, he runs to the grounds near the coconut farm to play cricket. By the time he reached the ground, the match had started. His friends had picked him in a team.
At home, Amma made dosa and kept waiting for him. Hot dosa and chutney and milk mixed with Complan. Enough energy to pick up the thread where he left it at 7 am in the morning.
-4x + 4y = -48
3x + 8y = -63
Amma still doesn't know of Unni's new system of nomenclature. But she knows evening is the next best time to study after early morning.
"He must have gone to play cricket with those good-for-nothings."
She took out a cane. It's not an ordinary cane. Much preparation has gone into making it the lethal weapon that it is.
"I have oiled it to perfection like your Sachin Tendulkar's bat," she often told her son.
Amma's cane is perfect for its intended use. It's elastic and bends to give maximum effect - leaves blood clots on the skin if effectively used. Unni's achan uses it more effectively than his mother. The cane is an extended arm for him like the bat is for Tendulkar.
Amma walked to the grounds stealthily and looked for her son. He was standing at the cover boundary, the last defence against Amit's deadly switch-hit, which he had made his own shot -- the village says Pietersen learnt it from Amit. But to Unni's amma, cricket made little sense, switch-hit made none at all.
The cane fell on Unni's thigh like a lightning. Just once. The boy didn't give his mother another chance to swing the cane. He ran, his mother chased, and the entire ground cheered them.
"Up, up Unni; down, down, aunty"
With 21 cricket players, 3 some cows, 5 goats and 4 dogs egging him on, Unni jumped on to a coconut tree, and climbed up till he reached the top - coconuts and leaves above his head, and the blue sky beyond. He looked down, and saw his mother sitting below. Then began the battle of nerves. The kind of thing he usually sees in Bollywood hostage dramas. Who'll blink first?
At some point, Unni's amma lowered her guard, and he, making full use of it, climbed half the way down, jumped the rest of the distance, and took off home. All the while he was cheered, "Up, up Unni; down, down aunty."
Amma ran behind him.
He had returned a hero, he felt like Sachin Tendulkar, though this happened every day. The chase, the climb, the jump were a habit for him just like scoring centuries was for Sachin.
All the heroics, however, were in vain. Unni did get a dose of the cane. The bad part was he didn't get the dosa and chutney. He was straightaway confronted with reality.
-4x + 4y = -48
3x + 8y = -63
As Unni sat there sobbing, fighting tears, wrestling with numbers, his ammumma (grandma) consoled him.
"You study well and grow up. You will become a bigger cricketer than Sachin Tendulkar. But if you cry and don't do the sums, how will you become a cricketer?"
Unni wiped his tears and said, "You are stupid ammumma, cricketers don't need to learn maths."
"Yes, I do not now anything. Why don't you do the sum and teach me?"
At a distance Unni saw his grandpa coming. Muthachan was returning from the tea shop. His routine - a cup of tea and masala vada. And there is something else to his routine. Unni's eyes lit up with expectation.
"Unni come here," said muthachan, "Take these laddoos and don't forget to share it with your friends."
Off went Unni, again to the ground, in time for his batting.
"You are responsible for spoiling him," shouted amma from inside the kitchen.
(Written on the international day for elders which fell on October 1. But muthachan and ammumma had to wait for Laloo to go to jail and Jagan to go on fast, before their story could be heard. But no problems, they are used to waiting for their turn.)