Beware and behave yourself, otherwise I would hand you over to Bakku , Amma used to say to Deng.

The very mention of the name Bakku was enough to silence the extremely volatile and naughty Deng. Usually when no other option was left out to silence Deng, Amma used to invoke Bakku.

Bakku , who was called as Arumugam by Appa, was a normal human being who did odd jobs for the people of our block in Neyveli. A very versatile person, he could climb any tree and take care of the garden like mending the fences, watering the plants, removing the weeds etc. Especially during the season of jack fruits, Bakku was in great demand for his ability to bring down the jack fruit in full. Bringing down an over sized jack fruit without any collateral damage either to the fruit or to the earthlings standing under the tree needs all the skills of a mechanical engineer and a structural engineer with some elementary knowledge of pulleys and ropes, weight and mass calculations and the intricacies of the gravity of earth ( Bakku had been to school once to fetch a ripe jack fruit. With that ended his tryst with school life ). Once the fruit was brought down, the auction for the same would start and the family would get a lump sum.

But the speciality of our house’s jack fruit was that once a trader buys from our house, he would not turn up the next year. This despite the fact that the fruit of our trees would be the biggest in the entire area. The reason why they wouldn’t turn up the subsequent year was that the fruit when opened and peeled off of the outer layer, would not attract ants, honey bees or house flies. Even when you spread the cut fruit in an open plate, there used to be house flies spread all over the place but not on the open fruit. We usually used to have the fruit along with a litre of honey. Otherwise it would be like eating a piece of rubber. So, the trader when he turns up for the first time at our house, we would have to use all our skills to sell off the fruit to him. And having been taken in by the size of the jack, the trade would offer to pay our price and would repent later.

Bakku knew about the attributes of our fruit but would never open his mouth in front of the gullible traders. He would execute his job with the perfection of an artist and walk away only to turn back later when the trader would have left to claim his share of the fleece.

However calm Bakku would be when on the job, his voice could be heard over a mile when he was out of work. Thus he ensured that either Appa or our neighbors always kept him busy with some task or the other.

Bakku used to be the “Ammathai” for Deng from the latters’ early years. Deng had the unsurpassable ability to create as much trouble to anybody as was humanly possible for 4 people to create. Deng usually came home to sleep. Never one to sleep on trees, he was a regular at home during dinner time. This did not mean that he would not be fed by Amma running behind him in the local play ground, utensil containing the food in one hand and the “Maththu” on the other ( Maththu was the local wooden contraption to churn butter from curd ). Maththu being wooden, was considered “aacharam” and hence was a constant tool of utility at all Iyengar homes then (Current day Iyengars observe so much “aacharam” that they buy un-salted butter wrapped in aluminum foil.)

However cranky could Deng become during food times, the very mention of “Bakku” used to bring him down to earth. All his tempers would come down in a jiffy and he would behave as though he were a docile kitten. Whether Bakku would be seen in the vicinity or not, his presence would probably be felt by Deng and would make him see sense.

Bakku, apart from being the local deity to pacify Deng, also acted as the paramour for the wife of another person of his village who also doubled up as his assistant sometimes. This was the talk of the whole street then. When inquired about that, Bakku would laugh out aloud and wish that away. One would never know if he agreed to that or not.

Despite his loud and rusty voice that could be heard for several miles, he somehow did not have a matching physique. Not that he was thin but his voice was disproportionate to his build up.

After several years of college and work in another part of the country, I had come back to Neyveli for a short vacation. There was an extremely thin and diseased looking man perched in front of our house. He called out to me ” Thambi, Thambi”. The voice was so feeble that I couldn’t make out that he was calling out for me. Something in his face struck a chord and I asked, “Are you Bakku ?”, and out came the same old laughter but now many times subdued. Reminded me of a tiger suddenly becoming a cat and meowing when it actually wanted to roar and looking pathetically upon itself probably reminiscing a long lost glory of the past.


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