Christmas season. It is 30 minutes to midnight. I can hear drums and singing in the distance.
The carol party will not visit our house this year. We have failed, for the first time as far as I can remember, to put up a star in front.
I don't know whether Amma and Achchan are listening to the carol. But they are awake, I am sure. They cannot sleep tonight.
Tomorrow some people will come to take away our dark blue Ambassador car. I know it is very tough on my parents. It was Achchan's first marriage anniversary gift to Amma. That was in 1968. Eight years before I was born.
I can vividly recall my childhood evenings when Amma used to sit me in her lap and wait for Achchan to return from office. On hearing our car's horn at a faraway curve she would whisper, "Kanna, your Achchan is coming." And when the car appeared at the gate, Achchan would turn and smile at us before driving into the porch.
Right from my childhood, this dark blue Ambassador was so much part of my happiness and security. Today I didn't know how to console Achchan when he said, "Kanna, the yield from our rubber estate is not enough to pay even the monthly bank interest. Achchan was left with no other choice."
I know why he sounded apologetic. He had often said not just me but my children too would be escorted to our marriage in this dark blue Ambassador of ours.
My poor father. He is suffering. Even when the rubber price was at its peak he had not opted for a stylish and luxurious car.
What can I, a penniless internee reporter, do to make him happy? I feel like a miserable parasite.
It was only three years ago I argued vehemently for globalisation during the inter-collegiate debating competition. I wanted restrictions to go. I demanded trade barriers be dismantled. I was against all forms of protection.
But then I never thought I would have to part with my dark blue Ambassador.
Next day. It is almost midnight and our porch is empty. I can feel the blankness.
They had come in the morning. I kept to my room. Amma was in the kitchen. She didn't come out from there till evening.
But Achchan had no choice. He had to make it look like a normal business transaction. A rich planter selling his old Ambassador!
When I heard the car door open, I knew it was not Achchan. He never opened the door so roughly. I heard the door shut. A stranger had slipped behind the wheel of our Ambassador.
Amma never allowed anyone but Achchan to sit in the driver's seat. Only in the most unavoidable of instances did she permit even me to drive.
Amma's only condition for selling our car was it should be given to someone at least 200 kilometres from our place. She didn't want to face it again without Achchan at the wheel.
The buyer was from Thrissur -- 400 kilometres from our town. He turned the ignition thrice. The car didn't start. That was unusual. There was a sudden excitement. A sudden hope.
But another try and the engine came to life. I was shattered.
I heard the horn for the last time at that faraway curve. I cried.
We spoke nothing of the car for the rest of the day. We just stared at the television. Achchan tried to joke. Amma didn't smile.
Two years later. I am at the shooting location of Malayalam movie star Mohanlal's latest film. And I saw my Ambassador... for the last time in my life.
Painted white and in a deplorable condition. But the number it was mine. KLE 6743. As much mine as my name.
I was waiting for the star to complete his shot when I saw it. A unit boy squatted behind it, fixing a fake number plate over the original.
I asked him what they were going to do with the car. He smiled and said the car was a 'dupe'.
A scene required the hero's car to be torched by assailants. Mohanlal will be driving a new Ambassador when he is waylaid by villains.
But the car that is set to flames will be my Ambassador. My dark blue Ambassador, which was once redolent with Achchan's smell.
It was cruel. Too cruel. I left the location without interviewing Mohanlal.
My bureau chief was livid. I ignored him.
The only thing that crossed my mind was Achchan and Amma should never know of it.
Another two years. I decide to contribute to Rediff Diary.
But I will not give them my real name. The real me cannot admit we sold our most beloved possession.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh