Tears in God’s Own Country
CROSS-TOED AMMU was the first to notice Chenda’s
body. Initially, the strange object on the northwest bank of the
Alumaram River looked like a buffalo carcass.
She saw the dark object during her obsessive spitting
from the bridge onto the river on her way to the market at
the Alumaram Village junction to sell vegetables. She
ignored it because it was not unusual for the river to dump
tree branches, debris, and animal carcasses on its banks.
But the continuous loud barking of a stray dog at the object
prompted her to look again. Confused, she screwed up her
eyes, studied it closely, and still couldn’t figure it out. She
pointed out the object to her niece Kamala, who
accompanied her to the market, and asked, “Edi, what is
that? A buffalo?”
“No. It definitely is not a buffalo,” Kamala replied. “It’s
difficult to see clearly from here. But I’m sure it’s not a
So, they slowly walked from the bridge down the slope to
the riverbank to check it out. Their bare toes provided a firm
grip, like a bird’s claws on the steep slope, preventing them
from slipping and rolling into the river.
“Ayyo, Dhyvamey! Pretam. A dead body,” screamed
Cross-toed Ammu as soon as she had a closer view of the
object. She trembled with trepidation and grabbed her niece
for support. Kamala covered her mouth with her hand in
horror. They looked closer.
“This is our Chenda!” Cross-toed Ammu screamed again.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my Amman Devi!” Kamala whimpered
and held Cross-toed Ammu’s hand tightly for support.
“We’ve to tell Big-legged Appu and astrologer Guru,” she
They rushed from the riverbank onto the bridge and then
to the junction, the heart of Alumaram Village. Driven by
adrenalin and gripped by fear and confusion, they walked the
one-mile unpaved street within half the time it would
otherwise take to reach her destination. On the way, in
trembling voices, they told whomever they met about their
“Our Chenda is dead. His body is under the bridge,”
Cross-toed Ammu told Appu.
He listened carefully, but suspiciously, and asked, “Are
you sure it was Chenda? Our Chenda?”
“I swear it was our Chenda,” she asserted, annoyed at
Appu for doubting her. “I’m going to astrologer Guru’s house
to tell him. He should know this.”
“Tell Guru I’m on my way to the river,” Appu said. His
hands and the scissors worked feverishly to finish clipping a
customer’s hair, told a waiting customer to come later, and
closed the barber shop. He took his bicycle, made sure the
pedal didn’t chafe his right leg with elephantiasis, and rode
like a maniac to the Alumaram River.
ON THEIR way to the make-shift market at the junction, the
duo took a detour to Guru’s house. They gave him a rapid
fire description of what they saw. Guru sat dazed on his
verandah as if he had been hit by lightning. He wiped his face
with his hands, put on a white shirt, and told loudly to his wife
Leela in the kitchen, “I’m going out. I heard that something
had happened to Chenda. Please light the oil lamp in the
pooja room and say prayers.” He took a deep breath, tucked
his umbrella under his armpit, and left before his wife could
come out of the kitchen and ask for details. With a
combination of running and walking, Guru went to the river.
By then, the news of Chenda’s death had spread like the
monsoon waters. Customers at the Brahminal Hotel and the
Military Hotel at the junction gobbled up their food and
hurried to the river. As soon as they left, Kuttan, owner of the
Brahminal Hotel, and Kader, who owns the Military Hotel,
half-shuttered their eateries and set toward the river. And
tailor Gopi followed them. The Amman Devi temple and the
Juma Masjid were deserted as the worshippers had already left
to see Chenda’s body. The make-shift market at the junction,
which bustled with vendors, haggling customers, and crows,
was eerily silent.
“Edi, there’s not even a single soul to buy vegetables,”
Cross-toed Ammu told Kamala. “I think the whole village is
at the river. I feel sad. Depressed. Scared. Let’s go there.”
Young men ran, middle-aged men and women walked in
haste, and some rode their bicycles. They passed by huts and
shops charred from the fire set off by rioters a week earlier.
Sivan, who was on his way in his bullock cart to see the
body, didn’t mind when a couple of teenagers jumped on the
cart for the free ride. It was like going to a carnival; they didn’t
want to be la
A crowd had already formed around Chenda. The crowd
was big, much bigger than Comrade Doctor Vijayan’s first
election rally. Cross-toed Ammu and Kamala squeezed
through the crowd for an unobstructed view of the body, like
teenagers vying for front-row seats in a drama theater.
Thick, sad monsoon clouds hovered over the village like a
huge gray umbrella.