Art And Culture

Ani’s Tea Palace

Anil Thomas runs a tea shop by the side of his house, which is located on a roadside. He lives with his father and mother. He has a sister who is now married off. He had many opportunities to go to the Gulf to work there. He could not leave the place that he is so rooted in. His house is located in the beautiful countryside of Kerala alongside a river which rarely has any water flowing in it. He cherishes the friendship of his school-time buddies, swims in the river, goes fishing every now and then, sits under the banyan tree chatting endlessly with friends, etc. He finds time to play football in the nearby paddy fields. The high point is the activities and fun during the annual festival at the local temple. The list goes on.

His father, Thoma, stays at home as he suffered a cardiac arrest many years ago and has since refused to go to any work. He occasionally fishes in the river. His mother Mary, is the anchor of the house. She assists Ani with the chores of his tea shop, though it barely looks like one. His sister Anila after finishing her 10th grade, is married off to Joji. Joji is a peon in a nationalized bank. In this marriage, Ani’s family had to part with 3 cents of their land out of a total of 6 cents. Now the remaining 3 cents, with a house standing on it, are left with them. The remaining is registered in the name of Joji as a privileged marriage arrangement with a government employee.

Now that his sister is married off, the obligations and responsibilities seem to be complete. He can think for himself now. His aunt (mother’s younger sister) Molly brings in a marriage proposal for him. Through this alliance, he can get some money to upgrade his tea shop to a hotel and do some repair work in the house. Mary, his mother, is very excited that she might get a helping hand in her day-to-day house chores, whereas Thoma, Ani’s father, is very sarcastic about getting married or even trying to get married. He says that he doesn’t have a penny to spend on his wedding (he said the same when his daughter was getting married). He also asks, “What is the hurry? Marriage can happen later as well,” listing out a huge list of current priorities and requirements. Ani says that he has got a bit of savings left with the Panickarettan, who runs a chit fund in the village. He is the local bank for the villagers. Anyhow, they decided to go and see the girl. Molly, his aunt, stays a bit far away, and the girl’s family lives closer to her place.

It’s Sunday and the entire family is in church attending the Sunday mass. The Priest in his homily, criticises the waywardness of the people and also points out that they are not contributing enough financially towards the church expenses. He also talks about the plans to rebuild the old church. He also warns them that later they shouldn’t approach him for various certificates like baptism, marriage, etc. without first clearing the church dues.

Ani and his family seek the priest’s blessings before leaving for Molly auntie’s place. On the way, they meet various people and exchange pleasantries. Though the drizzling rain has made their long journey a bit difficult, Mary and Ani are pretty excited. They reach Molly auntie’s place and stay there for the night in order to go to the girl’s place the next morning. The next day goes as planned. Ani liked the girl, so did Mary. The marriage is fixed, Ani is on cloud 9. Molly auntie quietly slips in the phone number of the girl, Shiny, into his palm. Ani instantly sends a whatsapp message to which Shiny responds immediately. Thereafter, a series of chat erupts between them. The date of the marriage will be fixed after consulting with the family elders later.

Molly Auntie has prepared a small feast at her residence to celebrate the occasion. Her husband, Joy, is a painter. Molly insists that they stay for at least one more day at her place. It is very rare that they visit her. Molly’s husband is not very keen though. Ani expresses that it is very difficult for him to keep his shop closed, even for a day. After dinner, they all sit and watch the TV news. The situation due to incessant rain is getting worse by the hour and an orange alert has been announced. This forces them to stay at Molly’s place.

The situation worsened as the days passed. Ani and his family are stuck at Molly’s place. Ani’s village has faced the most brunt of the floods. He is completely devastated to see the extent of the damage on TV. On the other hand, it has become increasingly difficult to continue at Molly auntie’s place as her husband Joy is constantly cribbing. On the other hand, Shiny has been calling him. Ani sets out for his village, leaving his parents at Molly auntie’s place. The news received so far is very discouraging, though, so he decides to find it out by himself.

The long journey back has become longer as access to those areas has been lost. All throughout the journey, Shiny had been constantly calling and chatting with him. The roads are damaged, and one has to detour and find various new routes. Finally, he manages to reach a place closer to his house. From there onwards, the entire land is washed away, including the places where his house was situated. He is devastated at the very sight of such destruction.

The people of the village and nearby places have taken refuge in a camp set up in a school. Anil finds many of his friends and known fellow villagers in the camp. Panickarettan is also there and tells Ani that he has lost everything. Shiny has been fervently calling him all throughout. She fears that now the alliance might be dropped as Ani has lost everything. Although Shiny’s family is living in a rented house, it is a great comfort for them to know that Ani has a house of his own. Ani fetches his parents from Molly auntie’s place and starts living in the camp. There, he discovers that the lives of those around him are in serious jeopardy, and their prospects are bleak. Regardless of caste, creed, status, etc., are staying in the camp together awaiting help and respite. Thousands of stories of the inhabitants’ struggle and survival engulf the camp, driving everyone to try to resurrect themselves. They also witness how the common man so selflessly jumped into the rescue of those affected and providing relief to the needy.

Constant calls from Shiny are making Ani irritated, and he feels that she is nagging too much. As of now, his priority is not love or marriage, but survival. Shiny tells him that her father is considering breaking the proposed alliance. She is pushing him to do something about it.

There in the camp, he finds another girl, Swapna, who is single handedly taking care of her family and facing the adversities with courage. They become friends, and she is indeed a great comfort to him in the troubled times.

Onam exhibits the will and resurrection of the common people against all odds. Among the first toddy shops were the first to resume operations. Malayalees celebrated onam immersing in toddy and liquor.

In the meantime, the government announces rehabilitation packages for the relief of the affected. Ani then runs from pillar to post to get the promised money and house. He gets nothing but frustration. Government machinery dribbles him from one end to another. Someone tells him to file an RTI to seek the status of the promised relief package. As per the RTI response letter, to his utter surprise, Anil Thomas has already received the money and the house has been handed over to him.

Ani is very disturbed and ponders all possible solutions to the issue at hand. He is even contemplating suicide. In the past, life had taught him many lessons, but this time it was different. He then decides to do something. He thinks enough is enough and has to do something about it. He musters courage and takes the government machinery head on.

The next morning, people in the camp were woken up by the sound of a police jeep entering the premise. They asked who Anil Thomas was. Ani filed a complaint that there was a robbery at his house and many valuables, including gold, were stolen or missing. The people could not understand how come it had happened as Ani does not have a house. He shows the RTI letter as proof.

The issue is now highlighted, and the media has taken it up. The political parties are using the issue to their advantage. The TV channels have taken it up big time. The case reached the court as well. The CM has categorically warned the government servants concerned, to rectify the issue at hand or else face strict action and consequences.

Finally, the nexus of contractors, corrupt government servants, and others bows down. They build a colony of one-room houses and hand them over to the people affected, including Ani. The people celebrate it as their great victory and media gives the much required attention to their achievement.

The colony is in a faraway land and has nothing but the bricks and the wall that makes it a house. For each and every need of theirs, they have to travel to the towns nearby. This lands them in further soup as they are deprived of any possibility of livelihood there and basic amenities. In fact, this was a pre-conceived trap by the cunning nexus of the contractors and officers. They then extended a buyback offer in exchange for some money.

Ani and the others had no other choice than to accept the offer.

On the side of a national highway, there is an old Maruti Omni van parked with a sign board saying, “ANI’s BIRYANI DURBAR”. Ani is serving platefuls of biryani to the travellers stopping by to have a quick bite.

Ani receives a call from Swapna, now his wife, asking him when he’ll be home for lunch. He replies to her that only a few plates are left to be sold and that he will reach home soon. She also reminded him to bring some cash along with him, as the landowner had come to fetch the house rent.

Ani’s Tea Palace is a story written by Melwyn Williams and is he is the owner of the copyright of the same. The story is stated to be made into a film. Those who’d like to produce the same into a feature film can get in touch with the writer

Melwyn Williams

Melwyn is a renowned film actor, producer, writer and director in the Indian film Industry. He is a writer as well as a journalist. He has contributed immensely to the world of art, literature and cinema. He is the founder of LADAKH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, LIFF. He has been active in the film industry for more than two decades. Melwyn believes that AESTHETICS is the next big thing to be incorporated in all spheres of life and technology. Website

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