I slammed my alarm shut and rolled about in bed. I gave a punch to his pillow and settled comfortably. Outside I could hear the familiar sounds of water poured into the big cement tub. The familiar pungent scent of cow dung hit my nostrils; I glanced at my alarm clock whose neon coated dial flashed 5.10AM. I sighed. Time to get up; He grabbed his toothbrush, squirted some toothpaste and walked outside. I had about ten minutes before he had to collect the fresh cow dung and take it to Valli akka next door. I leant against the back door and looked at his grandfather.
Kannaiah bustled around carrying a stack of hay to feed the cows. His dark skin glistened in the early light, the rays reflecting through the drops of sweat that moistened his skin, creating a faint aura about him. At sixty-five, his body held the scars of a lifetime of hard work and battles toned down by the delicate web of wrinkles that covered him all over. His tuft of white silvery grey hair was barely visible through the red bandana that covered his head. He turned around to look at his grandson and his eyes crinkled with a smile.
“Hurry up, lad! “He mused with enthusiasm. “Tomorrow is a big day.”
I tried to hide my resignation behind a small frown. Tomorrow was Maatu Pongal. My grandfather will be spending his whole day today with our Mookkan. He would give him a thorough bath with his ash powder and Lifebuoy soap. He would paint the stud bull’s sharp horns with a bright blue paint and adorn it with yellow ribbons. He would spend the whole evening bugging our vet and preparing a jasmine garland for our Bos indicus. And just like the last couple of years, he would sit staring at the wall all day tomorrow, hoping against hope for an announcement.
We couldn’t talk him out of it. It was a routine of twenty odd years of him, and it was the 200-year-old heritage of my family lineage. Generations after generations we have been proud owners of the Zebu stud bulls that won a record number of bull taming competitions. They were our proud brothers who resembled the epitome of virility and sheer strength. And every one of them left behind a herd of male off-springs that upheld the whole economic stability of our village, and every one of them was named Mookkan honouring our forefather who lived two hundred odd years ago.
I tagged along with my grandfather to the separate shed were Mookkan tied. The black humped animal shuffled its legs restlessly and stamped his hoofs. All the rage of being confined into the small shed glowered in his bloodshot eyes. With the Jallikattu ban, the farmers of the surrounding villages were slowly training their bulls to take up domestic chores. Our grandfather was hell bent against the idea.
“Mookkan is a Sallikattu kaalai, and he would be that till he dies” he had said.
He walked up to the bull and started murmuring gentle coaxing words to it. He went about the routine of decorating Mookkan, knowing that this usual habit gave my grandfather solace. He finished tying the yellow ribbon and took the kum kum box from him. His fingers trembled as he placed a big dot of bhindi of the stud’s forehead. He took back a step and viewed his handy work, he touched the animal’s forehead in a soft caress; and he fell.
“Grandpa! Wake up!” I shook him gently. He was trying his level best to fight the void that was threatening to engulf him. The doctor advised us not to have any high hopes. After two days of unconsciousness my grandfather resurfaced to reality, he absorbed the concerned faces around with a sad smile. He motioned me to sit beside him. He looked at my father and signalled towards the rickety wooden cupboard. “Salli mootai” he murmured. My dad rushed to the closet and came back with a large pouch made of a mouldy yellow cloth. I recognised it at once. It was my grandfather’s possession. It was the pile of silver coins that he won in his last ever Jallikattu match. He thrust the pouch in my hands. “Take care of Chinna Mookkan,” he said, “And uphold the tradition” he breathed. He looked one last time all around as if trying to memorise all the faces, he closed his eyes one last, and he was gone.
I brought in the unruly little calf where its father was tied just two days back. Mookkan had passed away within two days of my grandfather’s death. Maybe he sensed the loss of his beloved owner.I let out a deep breath and caressed the calf. My phone vibrated in my pocket. There was a WhatsApp message.
“Protest against Jallikattu ban at Alanganallur machan! Come and join!” the message read. I straightened my shoulders with a sense of purpose and gave one last pat to Chinna Mookkan. “We are going to play” I murmured and strode back to my home
I walked into my home with my mother at about ten thirty after sending off my cousin to the Trump country. My tenant Mohini akka was out in the biting cold with a maroon scarf covering her silky hair. Her dark face had a smear of white running across from cheek to her chin. She held a small cup of White chalk powder in her hand. I forgot about it completely. It was New Year’s Eve.It was Rangoli time.
“Help Mohini with the Rangoli!” my mom staged a loud whisper and walked into the house.
I sighed. I knew it was going to happen. I went inside and changed into my nightie and came back outside. Mohini akka had finished the skeleton layout by then. The beautiful floral pattern started with a six petal flower and bloomed into an elaborate pattern of concentric circles. It was mesmerising. We discussed the colour combinations and started mixing the glitter to the many colour powders, and that’s when I saw the earthworm.
It was slowly dragging its way from the petal pattern towards the first circle. I asked Mohini akka to remove it with a stick and cast it aside. She cringed.
“It gives me the creep, can you throw it away!” she mumbled.
“I don’t want to disturb it. Let it crawl through” I said. “Let’s continue with the colouring.” We made short work of the petals and came around to colouring the area where the earthworm was slowly crawling its way out. I started putting the colour powder on top of the worm assuming it wouldn’t hurt the thing that lived all the time in the muddy soil. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. It gave a sudden jerk, shuddered and curled itself into a protective ball. It remained that way for a minute or two, slowly unfurled and continued its journey. Unfortunately, it happened to pass my way again, and I threw little more colour powder on it because, hey I wanted to finish this Rangoli and get back home. The same thing happened to the worm. I stood staring at it with fascination. That’s when I heard them walk by.
They were a group of rough looking boys, probably aged between 17 and 21. They shuffled unsteadily walking hand in hand. One of them did a wolf whistle. Mohini akka and I proceeded with our task, ignoring them. They started getting bolder.
“I like ripe mangoes” he slurred. He tapped at the stocky looking guy beside him.
“You can peel it machan! I’ll keep sucking at it all day long.” Both Mohini akka and I exchanged nervous glances. A chill crept through my spine, but I chose to ignore it and continue my work. I watched the earthworm again. I had accidentally put colour on it the third time. It shrivelled back to its protective posture. I kept staring at it. I heard another voice behind. This one was explicit and ten times more skin-crawly in nature.
“There are certain derriere’s in the world that are broad enough for five long sticks” the stocky one purred. The most comfortable position is when two of you can hold the legs and hands. The men leered. I looked down at the earthworm again. It was slowly unfurling from its fetal position and tried to move forward. Its movements were sluggish, thanks to my constant throw of colour powder. It dragged itself along trying its level best to escape from another possible assault. I knew it would die if it had one more round of hell circle to cross. I took a deep breath. I picked up a stick and placed it near the earthworm. It went back to its protective mode thinking it was another assault. It realised the help a few moments later. It slowly crawled up on the stick. I picked the stick up gingerly and placed it near a Neem tree; far away from the threats of danger. I took the black stone that lay nearby. I turned and hurled it straight at the group of men.
There was initial shock from the crowd. I started throwing stone after stone on them, and Mohini akka seized the chance to call the people from our home. As they rushed in the guys started retreating. The women folk gave us some free advice regarding the danger of instigating such men. Our Rangoli still had two more circles to go. I turned to Mohini akka‘s husband with pleading eyes. He took up a small colour bowl and started colouring. My dad followed cue. While the men folk did the colours we completed all the motifs that went inside the circles we finished it up in comfortable silence and the men started wrapping up the leftovers. We agreed to do it together for the next event. I added the words “Wish you a very happy new year 2017” warped around the Rangoli in a circular pattern. I brought out my mobile and clicked a photo of our handiwork. I turned towards the Neem tree and spotted the earthworm slowly crawling towards a dead yellow Neem leaf. “Happy new year” I murmured to it. I think it turned back and gave me a smile.
Akka: Tamizh term for sister.
I would say it started at nothing. But then, everything does, doesn’t it? And one fine winter morning you gather up all your nothings and your coffee; you sit sipping your cuppa and think about all your nothings…
When you realize it is everything.
My blog was a fun experiment that started way back in December 2011. LN gifted “Merila.gln.me” to me five years ago. It was brand new, wonderful and absolutely ready to rock. Three posts in rapid fire mode and Bam! It was forgotten. Remember that little keyboard that was gifted to you when you were five years old? For the first six months, you ate with it, slept with it, played it all the time and so well that your mom boasted that you were going to be the next A. R.Rahman. Soon, other toys came up, other interests dragged you away and your little keyboard was left to gather dust on the loft. After few years you would have seen some dramas in life; out of boredom, curiosity, regret and almost nothing else to do, you go back and clean your house. And that’s when you would go back to your loft. You would see that little keyboard, dusty from years of negligence yet surreal, pure and untouched. All the happy memories would come back rushing and you would hear yourself chuckle with a happy tear in your eyes when you touch one of those little keys that make the same sweet sound that you so loved. It becomes a memoir, a token of happy times, a four-leaved clover that you would hold for luck and love.
That keyboard is my blog.
I dusted it and brought it back to life in 2014. When all else was bleak, that was my ray of sunshine. An idea would spark when I take bath and I hold it close in my thoughts till wee hours of the night when I could let it flow free. They were the little mirrors that reflected the many shades of the society. Those dreadful nights when I desperately updated resume and wrote sample articles for interviews, an empty white MS Word document was my only point of recess. I created stories that I felt were nothings. I started every story I wrote with a chant “Here goes nothing”. I created those nothings without realizing that they were creating me, molding the lump of clay that was me into something more profound, real and something very much… ME. I realized it was time to make it my name, my identity, a definition of who I am. Towards the end of 2014 “Merila.gln.me” became “Krupawrites.com” from that I guess there’s no stopping. We’ve enjoyed occasional breaks, little mishaps, and month long fights but she’s the sleek beauty who keeps me running. She is the symphony I strung together by my many little nothings.
This little article is a dedication to Lakshmi Narayanan; because you should ever be thankful for that person who gave you your little keyboard that paved way for your symphonies; also because I owe him his own Island and collection of cars and this is a tiny bribe to make him go a little easy on me. Dude! I’ll get there please bear with me.
Until my next post, Ciao!
I walked into my home with a dreadful premonition. This has been my reaction for the last four months. I paraded through the house opening every door as I went. The bedroom was quiet. I had received a text around noon from my wife. “Going to my friend’s home for a short stay. Will be back in a couple of days. No food at home. Do whatever!” the message read. The darlings and sweethearts vanished in a relatively quicker time. I sighed.
I walked into my mother’s room. Strangely even that was quiet. Instead of a WhatsApp text, my mother had done what she could do; she had left behind a neatly folded letter on her coffee table held in place by her favourite crystal swan showpiece. “Son! Leaving to my sister’s house. Need some peace. I’ll come back in two days. Ask your wife to cook some food at least these two days” My mother’s clear words stared back at me with me a strict, rigid glance. I sighed with resignation.
Six months into marriage and this was the last thing on my mind. I fell on my bed drained out; physically and emotionally. I closed my eyes, trying to stop the tears that clouded my eyes. Men of this country are never supposed to cry… Chuck it! I wanted to cry anyway. Maybe it could push some of the burdens out and clear my chest to help me breathe easy. As tears started rolling down, I walked down the memory lane to the moment I first laid eyes on my wife.
I know I fell for the name. It was an arranged marriage and she was the only girl who attracted my eyes and belonged to one of the five families my mother approved. Her father was a retired judge and her mother was a third-page celebrity. She grew up with all the lushness, polish and, poise expected for her stature. My mom was happy with the dowry they had quoted. The tag of Masters degree and a double-digit Lakh per annum salary was matched with the brand new Accent car and 60 sovereign of gold jewellery. It was a match made in heaven obviously.
The initial days were amazing. Avanika took to my mother like her own and they both spent their evenings chattering away. The bonding and sexing that happened during the nights was scintillating. We had a three-week honeymoon in Langkawi. It was magic. I came back home with a terrific tan and a wide grin.
Things started changing after that.
The morning after we had returned from our honeymoon, I found two coffee cups on my bedside table. I was confused. Maybe Avani left hers on the desk and went to bath. I picked up my usual cup and left behind the cup that my wife had gotten me during our trip. I took a sip of my coffee and the bathroom door burst open. Avani stood livid, gritting her teeth. “What happened Avani?” I asked with a shock.
“Why did you pick that cup?” she asked with an accusing finger at my coffee cup.
“This is my cup” I answered back with confusion.
“I made coffee for you and brought it in our new cup” she shouted at me with tears rolling down her cheek. I kept my cup aside, jumped out of my bed and hugged her. “Am sorry darling!” I kissed her neck. “I didn’t know that. I’ll drink from our new cup.” I took the new cup and took a sip. She smiled. I walked over to my mother’s room to wish her good morning.
“What was that shouting all about?” My mother enquired.
“Oh, Nothing! I shook my head with nonchalance. “She also brought some coffee for me. I didn’t realize it and drank from my usual cup” I smiled to communicate the pettiness of my wife to my mother. She did not return it back.
“So, which coffee did you drink?” My mother asked.
“The one she made obviously!” I mused.
“Ah!” my mother said. “Ok! Go ahead and get ready for work” she dismissed me with a little bitterness in her tone that I failed to recognize.
I kissed my wife goodbye near the doorway; I heard my mother’s distinct cough as she entered the hall. I stepped back guiltily from my wife, winked at her and left to work. I never realized these were the initial symptoms to indicate the storm that was about to follow; and follow it did.
Things started taking a nose dive. The lovey-dovey marriage days were gone. I never knew that such a personality existed in my mother. My mother started jibing at me with words for the mistakes I never knew I did. She cried saying that she was losing me. My wife started pushing me away from her and suddenly out of nowhere pillows had materialized to define our borders in bed. I tried to console my mother. I was her only child and I understood things were getting harder for her. I had been her only company for almost fifteen years. This move pushed my wife to a different height and she changed tactics. That night, the pillows had disappeared and my wife was sprawled on the space wearing a red satin negligee. I lost the game. She exhausted me that night and did that with a vengeance.
I was completely submerged and lost among the two gigantic waves of emotional tsunamis that hit me from two opposite directions. I felt like a battered, barely alive Catamaran searching for a shore. It was suffocating and I found it hard to breathe. I turned to my friends for advice and the only thing they could suggest was a Beer. I realized that I was not the only man who went through this. I took their advice and sipped my first ever beer. I went straight to bed. For the first time in many weeks, I slept like a piece of log.
The sleep I had yesterday night had transformed itself into a nightmare today morning. “I want us to go alone and live as a separate family!” were the first words my wife said as soon as I woke up. My head whizzed. “What? NO!” my mother shouted even before I could answer.
“How dare you think you could take my son away from me!” she fumed.
“Aren’t you decent enough to move away from your son now that he is married?” Avani bit back rude.
“I’ve brought up my son alone for 15 years, do you think things would change just because you are living with us?” my mom was equally rude.
“So, am supposed to leave the house where I ruled like a princess for 25 years only to become a servant for you two?” my wife shouted.
“SHUT UP! BOTH OF YOU!” I went ballistic.
“For once can you both realize that you’re dealing with another human being here and not a crappy piece of jewellery?” I bellowed.
“You are my mother!” I said, pointing at my mother “and you are my wife!” I said looking at Avani.
“I made a promise to love, care and cherish both of you!” I shouted.”
One to my dead father and the other to your father.” I yelled, facing my wife. “You both better learn to live with that!” I yelled and stormed away.
I had yelled and walked away, thinking that it was going to solve the problem. But I realized it was wrong the minute I entered my house. Each had taken the same tactic to bend my will. This silence at my home was the ultimatum the women of my life had given me. It all narrowed down to whom I call first. I made a decision; I took a deep breath; I browsed my contacts list and dialed a number.
Forty-five minutes later:
I heard my doorbell ring. I ran to the door with excitement. “There you are!” I smiled at the person standing in my doorway. “Thank god you came so early “I smiled with relief.
“Here’s your BBQ chicken and two bottles of beer machan!” my friend Vinod smiled as he handed me the parcels.
“Bachelor’s party again, eh?” he winked as his phone rang.
“Ok! House authority has called” he murmured.
“Damn! wish I could join you man!” he sighed as he started his bike. I waved with a smile.
I closed the door, switched on the TV, fell on the couch and made myself comfortable. “Yes! There are problems” I said to myself.
I smirked as I opened my beer bottle.
Maybe, that’s why they say, “Men will be Men!”
I parked my Pulsar in the portico and stepped into my house. I kicked off my shoes, reveling in the subtle feeling of rebellion to see it land berserk on my wife’s meticulously polished sandals. We’ll have an argument for this am sure. But it was fun to see her chide me while placing a hot cup of coffee while I peel down my socks and place it dutifully in the dirty laundry basket. She takes extraordinary care when it comes to our home. There was never a thing that was out of place.
The large fruit basket always rested in the middle of the circular teak wood table, the stack of little ducks that sat on top of our TV always stood in ascending order. The stack of magazines stood in military attention with the Thursday’s Kumudham always on top. Even her saree did not rebel the stiff pleats that she made. And she always came to the living room when she hears my Pulsar, with a hand towel in her hand. Today something was terribly wrong. I didn’t find her at our living room, and I threw away my socks looking around for a colorful blur of saree. I went inside looking for her and stood frozen at the sight that greeted me.
My wife stood near the window, her shoulders stooped. I went closer and her shoulder started shaking with tears. My wife was crying hard. I’ve never seen her do it in our seven years of marriage. Not even when her beloved grandmother passed away. ”
“Archu!” I turned her around. “What happened ma?” I gently lifted her face to mine. And she was smiling. What happened to her? My wife was never the kind of woman who showed any emotions in the extreme and this completely extreme and opposite reactions emanating simultaneously from her confused and scared me. As her answer, she handed me a long, thin, white and blue strip.
It had two red lines.
I clenched her hard as a sharp jolt of pleasure ran through like a pulse of electricity.
“Are you..?” I choked on my voice. “Are we?” I kept asking her unable to believe my eyes.
“I hope so… “My wife said through her tears, “I really, really hope so “and all her pain, hope, and disbelief oozed through her voice and touched my soul.
I pulled her close to me and slowly kissed her tears away. “Let’s have a chat with Dr. Anu, shall we?” I asked my wife, smiling at her. She nodded back with a smile and started pulling away. She went out of the bedroom and minutes later I heard
“For heaven’s sake why can’t you keep your shoes on the rack” I chuckled. Yes. All was going to be absolutely fine.
After twelve damn weeks, I realized how utterly wrong that last sentence had been.
“Please be seated, Hari.” Doctor Anu said, gently touching my shoulder.
“Why Anu?” I exploded. “Why should this happen to her? To us?” I sat down clutching my head with both my hands.
“Is it because of the miscarriages? The uterus problems she had?” I asked. “Is it … because of me?” I whispered shivering with an unknown chill.
“Calm down Hari!” Anu patted me gently.
“This is a genetic defect that happens even when both parents are healthy. This happens due to the mess up of a chromosome. Nothing else but fate could be held responsible for this.”
“If it is tangible, I’ll squeeze the breath out of it and watch it die. Bloody fate!” I spat
“Don’t we all want to do that?” Anu murmured. “Let’s talk about solutions instead of problems,” she said.
“But you said Down syndrome is not curable” I burst out again.
“Yes it is not curable” Anu replied, “So you have two options in front of you. One; you start preparing yourself for it, take counsels from the doctors and therapists I suggest and start building an environment for the kid. Or” she halted.
“Or…?” I asked looking up at her.
She crossed her arms and took a breath which instantly gave me an awful sense of foreboding.
“Clean slate protocol” she murmured.
A stunned silence fell over the room. I didn’t realize it would hit home this hard, but it did and it hurt like hell. For the first time in the last ten minutes, I turned around and looked at my wife who sat erect in the corner seat. Her stance was erect, her face wiped off clean of every human emotion. Here I was moaning and thrashing and shouting and there was the woman who has much more severe impacts and pains out of it, sitting like a piece of chiseled rock.
I broke down. I started crying like a child. All the pains and sufferings that she went through flowed from like a tangible force and cut me deep and hard. I suffered all her pain and she sat there incapable of feeling any of the emotions. I turned back to Anu.
“Anu!” I said my voice resolute. “What are the possible risks if we terminate the pregnancy?”
“You’ll probably lose all your chances of further conceptions as your wife’s already week uterus would take further batter after this. We’ve already spoken about other methods of having a baby, maybe we could look at those options”
“No!” came my wife’s steely voice. “NO!”
“Archu!” I grabbed and shook her hard. “We did not go through seven years of whatever crap we went through to end up like this” I said. “All those prayers, the countless bloody treatments, and the harsh words our relatives shoved up our ass…” My wife cut me with a cold and angry glance.
“NONE.OF.IT “she enunciated slowly, “Not one of it gives us a reason to commit a murder.” she said.
“But, Archu…” I said, and she stopped with another cold glance.
“Do you think I can live with myself knowing that I have committed two murders before I could get my perfect child? I did it once” she said her lips trembling “I did this once and it has been killing me every damn day. Another one like that will send me to the grave Hari” she cried,
“I’ve always believed keeping things in the perfect order made my life perfect” she murmured more to herself “I’ll not kill my child because it is otherwise” she whispered and walked away.
“Our ducks on the TV stood in ascending order” I whispered as I cried my heart out my long time friend Anu, my tears slowly blurring out the determined woman with a straight posture who walked out of the room.
3 years later:
I parked my car in the portico and carefully removed my shoes and placed it besides a couple of pair of tiny little shoes that were thrown around in a haphazard manner.
“Bubba!” came a squeal followed by a fit of laughter.
I went inside, scooped my daughter and whirled her around. The whole room echoed with her squeal of delight.
“Lakshana kutti!” I cajoled as my transferred my daughter to my left hand to hold my wife who came in with a butterfly sticker stuck haphazardly on her head.
I gently removed it and gave her a kiss.
“Lakshu, let’s get appa some biscuits,” Archu said as she carried our little angel to the kitchen.
“Bichi” I heard her voice followed by pretty giggles.
I stood looking at my wife’s badly crinkled saree and her wide, bright grin. My eyes automatically went towards the little ducks on the TV. They all stood in random order each in a different direction; I reached out to arrange them but decided against it.
All was perfect, just the way it was.
It was my 23rd visit. From having exact specifications like the centimeter thickness of the hair, I’ve drastically expanded my category to any female above 23 and below 28 years of age. I am thirty-one, with a diploma degree, a house under my name, some killer mechanic moves, and a brand new car that came second-hand thanks to the December Chennai rains. To modern standards, am more than qualified for a good looking town girl from a middle class who has completed her 12th standard or better, has a college degree. My parents started the bride hunt almost two years back, and it was all fun and frolic in the beginning. I remember my mom rejecting the first ever girl saying she had a crooked nose. From then we’ve gone through fat, small eyes, yellow teeth, no money, no own house, not enough jewelry and every other damn thing we could ever cook up. I laughed along with her back then. Not anymore. My cigarette gang started receding rapidly and last of my patience left me when my friend the bald headed Vinayagam got married. For God’s sake, I still had hair on my head.
I drove my car through the empty road, deeply lost in thought, not bothering to look at the lush green fields that engulfed the surrounding area, or listen to constant chatter that happened between my mom and sister in the back seat. I chanced a glance at them through my rear view mirror. They’re nowhere close to the definition of beauty that they had in mind, whenever they judged a strange woman. I could see a small crook in my mom’s nose and a very visible belly on my sister. But why didn’t it stop me from loving them? I wondered.
I took another right towards a narrowed lane and stopped my car in front of a lone palm leaf cottage. I turned towards the marriage broker for confirmation.
“This is the house of the girl, thambi!” The broker gushed, with a senile smile. I turned around just in time to catch a glimpse of my mother’s haughty stature and my sister’s displeased twist of lips. I saw them adjusting their silk sarees and jewellery that somehow elevated their arrogance and ugliness. Just then, a simple elderly woman came out of the house and started rushing towards us. She welcomed us all with a bright, warm smile and led us towards the house, through the neat pathway that led us to the house. I walked along with them, vividly absorbing my surroundings. The pathway was adorned with perfectly trimmed little hibiscus shrubs that looked like a hybrid version. To the right side, I could see a beautiful green patch of land with splashes of bright reds and dark purples which I later realised were tomatoes and brinjals. On the left, I could see flowers of many different breeds and varieties and a quaint looking well that had a shining brass bucket placed on its wall. There was a vast expanse of fields and plantations on the background and the little cottage looked picturesque and perfect. I could imagine my kids coming here for a summer vacation. “Bend and come thambi, the ceiling is low” I heard the elderly woman guiding me and I bent my down obediently. And that’s when I saw her feet.
A pair of dusky feet with perfectly filed nails peeped through a light green silk saree. Before I could have a second glance, they hurried behind a cardboard partition that completely blocked the view beyond the neatly arranged chairs in front of us. We sat down, while the elder woman sat on the small stool behind besides us. “I have two daughters” she started, “The younger one is in school, studying seventh class. The elder one went to college. Bright girl, but I had to stop her education with the first year because her father died”. She looked at us, expecting questions, seeking validation. My mom started “Is this your own house?”, my sister piped in asking “Does she know to cook?” and I ended up with “what did she start studying in college” Her mother started answering my mom first. “Yes, this is our own house. The three grounds of land behind this house also belong to us. We wanted to build a house, but her father passed away before we could. Kayal is very good at cooking, she cooks non-veg very well” the woman said. “She studied something with plants thambi”, she said looking towards me. “Something called po…po.. potheny… what is it called Kayal ? She shouted at the cardboard barrier. “Botany” came a sweet voice from the other side of the barrier. I smiled.
My father nudged my mother and she said aloud “Can we get some coffee?” And Kayal’s mother followed cue. “Kayal! Bring the coffee and snacks “I heard her anklets rush away. It came back in small measured steps, and seconds later a hot cup of coffee was held in front of me by a pair of long dusky hands. I lifted my eyes to see a captivating pair of dark eyes, small nose and big prominent cleft in the chin. She smiled a small smile, walked back and stood beside her mother. My parent spoke formalities while both of us remained silent. “How much jewellery can you afford?” My mother asked in a blunt tone. “I have around 5 sovereigns saved for my daughter.” Kayal’s mother said with a slight tremor in her voice. “Where is the bathroom in your house?” my sister asked from her side. “We don’t have a bathroom, it’s just the fields.” the old mother said with hesitation. My mother stood up. “We will write a letter to you after getting bac.,” she said and marched out. Everyone followed suit me being the last in the line. I chanced a glance back at Kayal. There was dejection etched all over her face. She glanced at me one last time and went back inside behind the cardboard barrier.
“What place is this? ” My mom shouted at the marriage broker. “They look filthy poor and they don’t even have a bathroom” “Yes, Uncle! ” My sister chipped in. “What if my brother wants to come and stay here for two days? What we can do if the house doesn’t even have a toilet to pee” “And the girl is not that good looking. She’s black and has an ugly cut in her chin”. “She is ugly than the rest of the girls we saw” my sister added as she thrust a pack of biscuits in front of me. I looked at her dark hands and sighed. She was two shades darker than Kayal. Does colour really matter? I questioned myself. A question that I didn’t have the courage to voice out loud.
I stood smoking in my cigarette stand when I saw Vinayagam getting out of an auto. He started walking towards me, as I dropped the burning butt and stepped on it. “Yes da?” I questioned him with a quizzical look. He handed me an envelope and smiled.
“My wife has her Bank exam today. I am taking her to the center. Can you please give the leave letter to the manager?” I got the letter from his hand.
“She is writing bank exam?” I was stunned. I didn’t expect his wife to be qualified beyond tenth standard. That is what my parents would have done. “Oh, you haven’t met her right?” Vinayagam said, “Come let me introduce” He dragged me towards the auto. His wife got down from the auto and I froze with shock looking at her form. She looked very fair and beautiful and nowhere in the same standards compared to my bald friend. It is then I noticed her feet. They were curved at odd angles. It took a moment to hide my shock but Vinayagam saw it.
“I’ll give him the details and come back Lakshmi, please wait in the auto”. He said to his wife and turned back to me.
“Come with me da” he dragged me back to the shop.
“What happened to the last bride visit?” “Ummm… Parents rejected!” I whispered. “Why?” he asked. “They did not have a bathroom in their house.” I said. And he burst out laughing. It sounded weird even to me when I said out loud. “Listen to me Babu” vinayagam said, “I was at the same place you are today. Lakshmi was the 37th woman I came across. She was such a bright young woman who couldn’t pursue her education after college because she had to take care of her family. Look how beautiful she is. But men rejected her because of her legs. I rejected many women over the years and tables turned once I started losing my hair. It hit me then. Appearances never tell you the real story Babu. It’s their character that tells you that. Each day is a blessing for me, with Lakshmi by my side. If your heart tells you it is fine, go ahead and do it”. He said and walked away towards his smiling wife.
Five months later:
Kayal came into our bedroom clad in a petticoat, her hair dripping wet, her dusky skin glistening with water droplets. I dragged her onto the bed. She leaned lightly onto me resting her head on my chest. “How was your shower bath?” I asked with a small tease. She lifted her face to look at me and I was touched by the tears that kissed her cheek. “Enna ma?” I asked, holding her close to me. “Thank you!” she whispered. “Thank you for helping me build this house, thank you for the comfortable toilet and bathroom, thank you for the college application, thank you for marrying…. I closed her endless thanks session with my mouth. “Thank you for making me a father” I said as I lightly touched her belly. “Thank you for the wonderful meals you cooked! Thanks for the love and care that you shower on my parents” I whispered as I trailed kisses through her cheek to her ear. “More importantly, thanks for showing me the exhilarating fun of Pump set baths “I murmured as my lips captured hers again.
It’s been seven days since he fell on the floor, lifeless. He haunted every minute of my day, every dream of my night. It’s not easy to let go when you’ve been with him for 12 long years. I still remember the first day I saw him; when he walked towards me in measured, uncertain steps. I had watched him with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. It hadn’t taken us a long to strike a bond. I had walked with him from that day on.
I walked around the garden, trying hard to distract my heart from the painful memories. I tried to see around me, absorb the white freshness of the hibiscus blossoms, only to remember the way he used to touch those flowers with love. I walked on the well-worn pebble path, only to remember him chasing me around in those wonderful days of the past.
I finished my walk and reached the wooden swing in my portico. Sitting there I let the breeze gently ruffle my clothes, imagining the way he ruffled it when we played. I stared at the pillar where he used to wait for me when I came back home from work. I could still see him standing there, with the expression of longing and love. Hot tears glided down my cheeks. I let it flow, knowing I could not stop it for long. I must let it out, sooner or later.
I swayed in the swing, rewinding back to the many wonderful days, I had spent in silence sitting there with him. I looked at the gate seeing the lonely board tied to the black iron grills. Its blue hue blurred and wavered with between my tears. I tried to walk to towards the gate, but my legs refused to budge. After few minutes or hours, God knows how long, I reached my gate. I touched the little blue card and my dam shattered into a million pieces.
I started re-living the last day with him. The doctor had said, he was beyond the point of saving. It was time to say good-bye; there was no next time.
I remembered the way he had slept in my lap those last couple of hours. I thought of the way he held my hands while he calmly waited for death to claim him. I relived the moment his body gave a convulsive shudder as he breathed his last. Tears choked my breath. I knew it was time to let go.
I untied the loop of wire that held the board on the gate. I glided my finger one last time through the cursive, engraved silver wordings. “Beware of our beloved Steph”; a drop of my tear fell near his glazed brown eyes that stared back at me from the card. It started rolling down, like a tear from his eyes. It wrenched my heart
I wiped away the drop of tear off his printed face. He looked back at me with the same laugh, with his tongue lolling out. “I’ll remember you this way!” I said to him, “My dark little, lazy scoundrel” He seemed to smile.
I walked back to the garden and placed the card amongst the plush hibiscus blossoms. I turned back one last time to see him. He smiled back at me through the flowers, feeling content.
This probably looks like a picture of badly maintained roads on a rainy day. On the contrary, this is the picture of my locality in Velachery taken around 5.30 pm today evening. With the weather forecasting long sunny days ahead, what’s with the roads here flooded fresh with water?
This is not the water from up above, this is the water from down below. Nothing has changed since December’s flood in Velachery. When all other places where filled with rainwater, my area was submerged with sewage water that started bubbling out as soon as the first batch of rains hit the ground. This is the story ever since. Our sewages start overflowing whenever it feels under the weather. The sewage system is blocked for over ten days now. Complaint has been lodged, but no action so far from the officials concerned. Bathrooms are flooded, and to prevent further damage nearby apartments pump out the excess water on a daily basis onto the roads. That is the scene you see in the picture above. The dirty water pumped out, floods the roads without any proper channel for release. People walk on these roads on a daily basis, and our doctors are super busy with the increasing number of skin infections and fever cases.
This picture is the backyard of my house. The backyard gets flooded every time one takes a bath. This is the case every single household in my locality. Velachery has become a big name for so many different things. We have big shopping complexes and new landmarks coming up every day. But this the true face of this low lying area in all its gory detail. There is a swearing in ceremony happening with all the grandeur tomorrow for the government that ruled last week to go to work this week. Instead of spending big bucks on unnecessary luxuries, it would be loads better if they could mend basic amenities that people require. This is Velachery, one of the busiest and well-developed hubs of Chennai. I cannot imagine the plight of other developing areas. This is not an attention-seeking ramble of a single person, but the silent cry of a community. We just hope it is heard.
This is the continuation of Shameen Rizwana’s Chapter 7 – Queen of the Cursed Land
She walked along the marble corridor which was illuminated by torches that held cold, blue fire. Everything about the place was cold. Dark. She passed through the tunnel of mist, dreading the coldness that would grip her and the torment it would unleash on her soul. The price one has to pay to see him.
“Master!” she quivered, looking at the tall dark figure that stood staring at the mirror, apparently seeing nothing.
“What do you have for me?” He asked, without turning around.
“The thirteenth queen the prophecy predicted is here, she was crowned nine hours back!” The news didn’t seem to bother the dark figure that stood erect, seemingly absorbed in the mirror.
“Tell me something new!” his voice whipped out like a lash cutting through the cold air.
She mewled with terror and her entire body trembled with fear “Zuta has gifted her The Riddler- the frog!” At that he turned and looked at her. She cast her eyes down, unable to face the lifeless blue eyes that swirled within like liquid mist.
“Ah”! He mused, “The power of a gift! Let’s see what she’s up to. Shall we?”
He ran his handsome fingers through the fine glass of the mirror. It rippled like a pool of liquid silver, whirl-pooled within the ornate golden frame and cleared. The mirror showed a reflection which was bright, well-lit and decorated. She looked at the familiar walls of the Queen’s chamber and an equally familiar form of a pretty woman with raven black hair garbed in a dress of blue lace. She was at the moment hovering beside the bedpost, slowly making her forward towards the frog. He watched intently as the scene unfolded itself on the mirror.
“Ok!” Priya murmured after a deep breath. “Ask away!”
“What is life, the way of everything and nothing? What is constant; day and night, life and death? What begins at the beginning and ends at the same?” the frog croaked.
Priya looked at the frog, churning its words in her mind. The answer came to her without effort, like it always wanted to come out.”A cycle! “She said, “I mean… a circle!”
The moment she said it, an arrow whipped past her, almost grazing her ear. It hit the frog with such a force that it pierced through it and pinned it to the wall. Queasy green liquid started oozing out of the little creature. “I still have time for one question” wheezed the frog, “Ask me the right one!”
“What is my destiny?” she whispered through her sobs.
The frog smiled and wheezed “Last of light, blood of Freyja! Seek the light within and the nine worlds. Vanquish the enemy that sees all and knows all. Seek the water that stills and flows, for there is the mirror where answer shows” With that last words and a wheeze life exited from the amber green eyes.
He saw the lifeless creature on the mirror and his black lips curved into a cold, gruelling smile.
Passing the torch to Salesh Dipak Fernando
This is an entry for the “Tagged” contest by Author Kaarthika and The Chennai Bloggers Club. Kaarthika’s new book “Tagged” hits the amazon store on the 29th of May 2016