In Tami: Maalan
Translation in Hindi:Anuradha Krishnaswamy
पैर के अंगूठे में अपने शरीर की पूरी ताकत भर उसने अपने शरीर को ज़ोर से हवा में पीछे उछाल दिया. शरीर के उछाल से गति पाकर आंगन में लगा विशाल आकर का झूला जिसपर एक साथ तीन से चार लोग बैठ सकतें हैं ,उसे ले हवा से बातें करने लगा. जब जब झूला आगे आता वापस इसके पैर उसे पीछे धकेल देते . एक बच्चा अपने हाथों में कागज के कुछ टुकड़े पकड़े “टिकेट-टिकेट “चिल्लाकर झुले में बैठे बच्चों को दे रहा था ,बिल्कुल वैसे ही जैसे किसी बस का कंडक्टर बस यात्रियों को टिकेट दे रहा हो.
दूसरा राग अलाप रहा था
“ज़ोर लगा के हइसा”
और तीसरा अपने एक हाथ से झूले की जंजीर पकड़ दूसरे हाथ को हवा में उछाल उछाल कर चिल्ला रहा था –
“ज़ोर से भाभी ,और ज़ोर से”
ये सब देख इसे हंसी आ रही थी.
अपने भरे -पूरे सुडौल शरीर की वजह से वो 40 -45 की लगती थी.
बच्चों के बीच बच्ची बनी एक अधेड़ उम्र की औरत झूले पर बैठी झूलने के मज़े बिल्कुल वैसे ही ले रही थी जैसे कोई बच्चा किसी मेले में अपने मनपसंद झूले के ले।
अब ये नज़ारा देख किसे हंसी नही आएगी ?
बच्चों के झुंड में बच्ची बन खेलती ये औरत दरअसल किसी की भाभी है ही नहीं .
शादी के दस -बारह साल बाद भी जब भाभी को संतान सुख ना मिला तब दूर के रिश्ते से इसे गोद लिया गया था.
पता नही क्यों ? इसका मन उसे माँ पुकारने का नहीं हुआ.
तकरीबन आठ साल का था ये उस समय जब इसे गोद लिया गया,नाक बहती रहती थी और शरीर में दिलोदिमाग और उम्र के अनुसार बदलाव हो रहे थे ।शायद बदलती उम्र का तकाजा था इसने उसे भाभी कहना शुरू कर दिया।
तब उसे ये शब्द अजीब लग रहा था क्योंकि मन में एक दबी इच्छा थी माँ बनने की।तब से ये शब्द ही उसकी पहचान बन गया है।घर हो ,रिशेतेदारी हो, अडोस -पड़ोस हो या हो गली -मोहल्ला।
और वो बन गई गई सबकी भाभी।
भाभी का कोई बच्चा नही था । जीवन के इस क्रूर सत्य के बावजूद वो कभी निराश नहीं हुई ,उसने अपने अंदर कड़वाहट को कभी कोई जगह नहीं बनाने दी,सभी से ऐसे घुल -मिल कर रहती जैसे घी -खिचड़ी।
पूरे गाँव को दिल से स्वीकार कर लिया था उसने ।सबके लिए उसके पास सिर्फ प्यार था।
प्यार जो सामने वाले को गले लगाकर प्यार के बोझ से दबा न डाले ।
प्यार जो ज्यादा बात ना करे
प्यार जो बर्ताव में दिखे
प्यार जो शांति दे
प्यार सहज प्यार .
बिना किसी आडम्बर के
चाँद -सूरज की रोशनी सा
सबके लिए एक सा
उसके प्यार की इस गरमाहट में ना जाने कितने जीवों ने जीवन पाया।
फले -फूले ।
उनमें “भुवना”भी एक थी।
इसे भुवना के बारे में ऐसा लगता था जैसे वो इसी के लिए बनी हो। इसके पास ढंग का कोई काम धंधा ना होने के कारण वो कुछ माह पहले किसी और से ब्याह कर चली गई. इस बात का इसको ज्यादा दुख नहीं था,मगर मायूस था।अपने अंदर ही सिमट गया है ये तबसे।
पर भाभी तो केवल नाम की भाभी थी।असल में तो उसने माँ बनकर पाला था इसे। बिना इसके कुछ बताये भी समझती थी वो इसके मन की व्यथा ।किसी भी कारण इसका मन दुखी ना हो इसका विशेष ध्यान रखती थी भाभी।
भाभी को देखते ही ये अपने मनोभावों पर नियत्रण खो बैठता और इसकी रुलाई फूट पड़ती ।
और भाभी बिना एक शब्द कहे ना जाने कैसे इसे सम्भाल लेती ।
एक दिन जब ये घर लौटा तो देखा भाभी घर के आंगन में बैठ चावल साफ कर रही थी।इसको देखते ही उठ खड़ी हुई ।
ये हाथ -मुंह धो झूले पर बैठा ही था कि भाभी इसके लिए कॉफी लिए हाज़िर हो गई .। कॉफी का गिलास इसके हाथ में देते हुए बोली –
“आज सरस्वती आई थी.” ”
“क्या चाहिए उसे ”
“भुवना और दामाद को कल खाने पर बुलाया है उन्होंने ”
इसके चेहरे के भावों को पढ़ने का प्रयास करते भाभी बोली –
“कह रही थी कि यदि मेहमानों की खातिरदारी हमारे घर में हो तो अच्छा रहेगा ,अगर हमें कोई एतराज़ ना हो तो ? मैनें हाँ कर दी”
“अब तुम ज़रा मदद कर देते मेरी, तो इस झूले को उतार कर अंदर रख देते हैं.”
इसने बिना कुछ कहे -सुने एक झटके से झूले से उठ,पलक झपकते ही झूले को नीचे उतार झूले की जंजीर को ऊपर लटके हुक में अटका दिया।
भाभी ने पानी से पूरा आंगन साफ करके सुंदर सी रंगोली बनाई और आँगन को एकदम सजा दी।
अचानक इसे अपना ही घर बहुत सुंदर दिखने लगा ।
तभी इसकी नज़र हुक में टंगी झूले की जंजीर पर पड़ी ।
वो जंजीर इसे भुवना के शादी के दिन उसके के गले में पड़ी वरमाला की तरह दिखने लगी ।
उस पूरे दिन जब भी वो जंजीर हिलती, इसे भुवना याद आती ।
हर बार उस जंजीर को गले में डालकर लटक जाने का मन करता रहा था इसे।
अंतर्द्वंद ऐसा जैसे जीवन -मृत्यु की परीक्षा चल रही हो इसकी ।
हवा में लटकी झूले की जंज़ीरें एक -दूसरे से टकराकर आवाज़ें कर रही थी ।इसे लगा जैसे जंज़ीरें “भुवना -भुवना “कह इसे चिढ़ा रहीं हैं .
जंज़ीरों की आवाज़ो को रोकने के लिए ये उन पर लटककर कसरत करने लगा।
जब उतरा तो जंज़ीरें वापस “भुवना -भुवना”कहने लगी .
इस बार इसने उन आवाज़ों को रोकने के लिए मेहमानों के बच्चों को झूले पर बैठा उन्हें झुलाना शुरू कर दिया।
जंज़ीरों की आवाज़ को और कम करने के लिए इसने जंज़ीरों को तेज तेज़ धक्का देना शुरू कर दिया ।इससे घबराकर बच्चे चिल्लाने लगे और उनको को चिल्लाते देख इसके मन को एक अजब सी शांति मिली। परपीड़क सी खुशी ।
बच्चों की इस पीड़ा से इसे लगा जैसे इसने भुवना से बदला ले लिया हो ।
मेहमानों के चले जाने के बाद जब झूले को वापस लगाने के लिए निकाला तो इसे झूले पर पैरों के निशान दिखाई दिए ।
उन निशानों ने झूले को बहुत गंदा कर दिया था।इसने झूले को साफ करने की नाकामयाब कोशिश की।
जितनी कोशिश करता, निशान ज्यादा गहरा और भद्दा होता जाता।
बिल्कुल भुवना की याद की तरह ।
भुवना की याद को अपने दिलोदिमाग से मिटाने की जितनी ज्यादा कोशिश करता, याद उतनी ही ज्यादा गहरी होती जाती थीं।
किसी के आने की आहट सुन इसने पुस्तक से सिर निकाल देखा तो पड़ोस वाली सरस्वती जी दिखाई दीं ।बिना किसी औपचारिकता के वो अंदर चलीं आई जैसे अपने ही घर में आई हों।
सरस्वती काकी आँगन से ही ज़ोर से बोली –
-भाभी ,दूध का बर्तन तुम्हारे यहां छोड़े जा रही हूँ। दूधवाला आये तो उससे दूध लेकर गर्म कर रख लेना ।
-ठीक है .कहाँ जा रही हो?फ़िल्म देखने जा रही हो क्या ?
-लगता है भुवना के बापू कहीं बाहर गए हुऐ हैं .
-हाँ ,कैम्प में गये हैं ,उनके होते कहीँ निकल सकती हूँ क्या ? जान ना ले लेंगे वो मेरी .
सुबह से चावल की बड़ियां और पापड़ बना रही थी ,आँगन में सूखने डाला है।
भुवना के लिए लेकर जाना है ।
लो, इन सब चक्करों में तुम्हें एक बात तो बताना ही भूल गई ,जवाई बाबू की चिट्ठी आई है, खुशखबरी है।लिखा है भुवना पेट से है ।
अब ये आ जाएं कैम्प से , तब भुवना के यहाँ जाएंगे ।
भाभी जो अभी तक अंदर से ही बात कर रही थी , ये खबर सुन मुस्कराती हुई बाहर आई ।
सरस्वती को गले लगा उसे बधाइयाँ देने के साथ साथ भुवना और उसके होने वाले बच्चे के लिए भी आशीर्वचनों की झड़ी लगा दी भाभी ने .
ये किताब पढ़ना बन्द कर बाहर आ गया ।
हवा का नामोनिशान ना था ,पेड़ों के पत्ते तक जहाँ के तहाँ रुके हुए थे।
सृष्टि मानो थम सी गई थी ।
अचानक ज़ोरों की बारिश शुरू हो गई और चांदी के तारों सी पानी की रेखाएँ आसमान से ज़मीन तक खींच गई ।
भाभी सरस्वती के घर की तरफ दौड़ी,उसे वहाँ सूख रहे पापड़ और बड़ियों की चिंता थी ।
पापड़ और बड़ियाँ जिस चटाई पर सूख रही थीं , उसे खींचती हुऐ ,मदद के लिए भाभी ने इसको आवाज़ लगाई .
-कल्याणी ,जल्दी आओ इन बड़ियों को अंदर रखवा दो , वरना सब खराब हो जायेंगी, बेचारी सरस्वती ने इतनी मेहनत की है अपनी गर्भवती बेटी के लिए बनाई है और
ये बारिश उसकी सारी मेहनत पर पानी फेर देगी “।
भाभी का सरस्वती के लिए ये दयाभाव देख इसे गुस्सा आ गया .
-ऐसी भी क्या फ़िल्म देखना कि अपनी ज़िम्मेदारियाँ ही भूल जाओ,वो भी एक घटिया और बकवास फ़िल्म .
-अरे ,इतनी झुलसती गर्मी में बारिश आ जायेगी ,ये उस बेचारी को थोड़े ही पता था ?अगर उसे पता होता , तो वह बड़ियां बनाती ही क्यों ?
जब भाभी पड़ोसन की पैरवी कर इसे समझा रही थी , तभी
हाँ ,तभी वो हादसा हुआ ।
पीछे से लहराता झूला आकर भाभी की पीठ से टकराया ।
भाभी का पैर उन बड़ियां पर पड़ा जो बारिश के पानी की वजह से बुरी तरह गीली हो चुकी थी। उन पर पैर पड़ते ही भाभी जो फिसली फिर सम्भल ना पाई, मुँह के बल ज़मीन से जा टकराई ।
ज़मीन से टकराते ही उनका माथा ,मुँह और ठोडी इतने बुरे तरह से फट गये कि अंदर की सारी हड्डियां दिखाई देने लगी।
और भाभी के आस पास
बस खून ही खून .
अचानक हुए इस हादसे से सहमे बच्चे झटके से झूले से उतरे और भाभी को घेरकर खड़े हो गए ।
उनकी आंखों में डर था ।उनमें से कुछ तो ज़ोरों से रोने लगे ।
एक छोटा बच्चा जिसके छोटे से जीवन में अभी तक किसी चोट , दुख- दर्द का अनुभव नहीं था,
वो भाभी के चेहरे पर लगे बड़ी के छोटे -छोटे टुकड़ों को देख खिलखिलाकर हँसने लगा ।
बच्चों की हंसी कल्याणी सहन ना कर पाया.
उस बच्चे को ज़मीन पर पटक बेहरहमी से पीटना और उस पर चिल्लाना शुरू कर दिया उसने ।
-भाभी को इतनी चोट लगी है और तुम्हें हंसी सूझ रही है ….
-अरे,बच्चे को क्यों मार रहे हो ?
अपने असहनीय दर्द के बावजूद, भाभी बच्चे का बचाव करते बोली।
भाभी नहीं रहीं .
सब अलग -अलग कारण बता रहे थे .
कोई कह रहा था कि टिटनेस की वजह से तो कोई कह रहा था खून ज्यादा बह गया था और समय पर सही इलाज ना मिला ।
भाभी का मृत शरीर झूले पर रखा हुआ था ,उनको देख ऐसा लग रहा था जैसे शांति से सोई हुई हों ।
झूले पर ही उनको अंतिम स्नान करवाया गया और वहीं से उनकों अन्तिम संस्कार के लिए ले गए ।
वे सारे बच्चे जिन्हें भाभी और जो भाभी को दिलोजान से चाहते थे , झूले को घेरकर खड़े थे ।
भुवना और उसका पति भी .
भाभी लेटी हुई थी .
किसी से कोई बात नहीं
ना किसी से कोई शिकवा
ना किसी बात का कोई जबाब
सब घड़े भर -भरकर उनपर पानी डाल उन्हें स्नान करवा रहे थे।
उनके साथ स्नान कर रहा था झूला भी ।
लगभग डूब गया था झूला पानी में ।
इस दुर्घटना को हुए बहुत समय बीत चुका ।
ये भी भूल चुका है कल्याणी ।
पर जब भी झूले को देखता .
उसे छू कर देखता .
झूला गीला ही महसूस होता ।
जो मौजूद थी
इसके अंदर -बाहर
एक ऐसी नमी
जिसे चाह कर भी सुखाया नहीं जा सकता
उसे सुखाने की चाह कभी हुई ही नहीं इसको.
To read the story in Tamil: http://www.akshra.org/%e0%ae%88%e0%ae%b0%e0%ae%ae%e0%af%8d/
In Tamil: Subrabharathimanian
English Translation: Prof. Ramgopal
The morning sky was dull. The moon had gone somewhere and had disappeared. The clouds gathered together, formed and
deformed giant shapes. It was days since Muthulakshmi looked at the morning sky like that. Benazir told that she would escape from the dovecote for two days. “Is this place so congested? Of course, there may not be enough space to move around freely, but there is space enough to lie down. Instead of calling the houses dovecotes, one could call them line-houses. That is more convenient and easier,” Muthulaksmi thought.
Benazir was going home. As the morning journey would be less tiresome and more comfortable, she had chosen it. It‘s a twelve-hour journey. She had received an urgent message to come home.
She had some chit money with her, a small amount.
“They’ve asked me to come home immediately as though they have some secret for me! Perhaps my father or mother may be ill!”
“Why, there may be some good news!”
“I don’t think so!”
“On reaching home you’ll know it…Why worry now?”
Muthulakhsmi had earlier thought that she should quarrel with Benazir over the bad experience she had had at the ration shop.
But when Benazir came late and told her about going to her native place on an urgent trip, she did not open the topic. Muthulakshimi felt that she should not have looked at his new dress so eagerly.
His Jeans were torn here and there. There were holes in his shirt too. He was wearing a stud in his ears. His black hair was dyed brown here and there.
“There is no separate queue for you!”
“There is no separate second queue for you!”
“I told you I know that!”
“I mean the one for the handicapped!”
“That too I know!”
“It’s enough if you have understood!”
“You have come for attaching an additional sheet to your ration card. You can attach an additional hand as well!”
“You’re crossing your limits!”
“It’s just a suggestion!”
“You can attach an artificial hand!”
“Will it work? I don’t know!”
“Can you spend your whole life with your single hand? Can a single hand produce sound?”
“It’s alright. What others can do with two hands, I can do with one hand!”
“I don’t think it’s a wise decision!”
“As you are standing just before me in the queue, I have to hear what all you say!”
“I’m telling what someone else will tell you!”
“Can you say anything …mm?”
“I told you frankly what I’ve felt!”
In the meantime, the queue moved forward, pushed her and made her stand before the clerk in the ration shop. The man standing near her had a yellow card. There were some white cards too. Will there be any separate card for sugar? She had no separate
card on her name— it was included in her father’s card. Perhaps, it would have been deleted, she thought. The inner sheets in the cards were almost protruding outside them.
“What’s this? Your card is in the name of a man?
“Are you a man?”
“It’s the house owner’s card!”
“You are a woman, aren’t you?”
“Yes…Do you need to do any research to know my sex?”
“The way you stand invites some analysis!”
“ Oh! My God!
“OK. Why talk unnecessarily? You ask the house owner to come!”
“The house owner!”
“I’ll ask him to come!”
She was angry and felt irritated over Sennappan and the fellow who stood before her and asked questions. She also was angry with Benazir for having given her that work. People always asked those who were without a job to do any sundry work.
“Sister I want to ask you something. Don’t mistake me!”
“OK. But don’t ask about my family!”
“No. It’s about me!”
“I came and stayed in your house. What made you put me in a mill?”
“First I thought of taking you with me to the banian company. But there you will be given only sweeping work first. It will take months to get into the checking section. I asked Basheer what to do with you. He is in the sixth house. He’s a mill-broker. He told me that he would talk to somebody.”
“I doubted for a while that you are a broker!”
“If I am a broker why do I rot in a banian company like this? That income would be enough. But there will be no peace of mind!”
“Do you want to become a broker?”
“No! If I become a broker, whatever happens anywhere will fall on my head. People who work as brokers need much courage. They must be ready to tell lies casually. This peace of mind given by Allah is enough for me! Just for a thousand rupees, they would put anybody anywhere. The wages of that sin would hit somebody in my family, somewhere, sometime!”
“Just a doubt sister, that’s all!”
“It’s a good thing that you have your doubts cleared!”
“But still why there is anger and irritation over Benazir… One can spit on a known face only! If Benazir knows about this anger and irritation what will happen? She may decide that she should not help anybody anymore!” Muthulakshmi pondered over.
Muthulakashmi had prepared tamarind rice in the previous night itself. In the early hours of the morning, she had prepared coconut rice too. The room was filled with the sweet fragrance of the food preparations. Such rare, mouth-wetting smells could be felt only in places where hungry people lived.
“Have you prepared the tamarind rice for my people at my home too- it is so much!”
The fragrance of the tamarind rice filled the whole room. She had put some ground nuts too in the tamarind rice. The nuts shone like stars in the sky.”
“Sister, why don’t you taste a bit now itself?”
Benazir, before taking a meal every time, used to take one small onion, a piece of amla and a bit of jaggery. Somebody had told her that if she took those things before taking food every time, they would increase the body’s resistance. Benazir never failed to take them.”
“It’s a big bonus to our health to live without any disease in this dirty town of winding ditches,” she once told Muthu.
To the people who work in the mill, the management itself gave jaggery. Muthulakshmi had heard that jaggery would easily drive the cotton dust down that was caught in the throat. But the mill in which Muthulakshmi was working under the ‘Sumangali’ scheme did not provide any such thing. They gave something, resembling a mask. One could close one’s mouth with that. If it was tied a bit tight, it made breathing difficult.
Within four days the mask would give out a foul smell. So nobody wore it. She had often thought that she could do as Benazir did. “Amla is easily available,” a person living in the line- houses told her. He used to take a small piece of coconut instead of amla. “If one keeps his body intact, he can command respect,” Benazir had told her
In the evenings the ladies in the line-houses gathered in front of their houses to draw decorative drawings on the ground. Otherwise, they remained inside. Nobody sat on the steps in the courtyard to greet their husbands.
“Is this an office job to go and come at fixed hours? They may come at any time; they may go at any time. The nature of the work in the banian company is like that!”
Nobody could find out whether Gopanna, living in the fifth house, was in the house or not. He came at odd hours. He stumbled for balance as he walked home. His wife used to tell that very rarely he came walking straight to the house!
Once the doors were closed, nobody opened them again. Taking his lunch bag in the morning, Gopanna returned only late night. Benazir had told her that almost all men living there were like that only.
“‘Eat and go when the Fate calls you’-the people living in this compound are perfect examples!” Benazir had told.
“Won’t they lit crackers together even for Deepavali?”
“All have come from far off places … their native places are elsewhere. For Deepavali they would be in a hurry to go to their native places even three days before the festival. When the ‘Karthikai’ festival comes, they firecrackers recalling Deepavali. Nowadays, ‘outsiders’ mean not only people from Kerala or Andhra but also people from Nepal, Orissa and Bengal!”
“To whom to rent a house- nobody follows any guideline. Anyone who is ready to pay the advance can easily get a house for rent here. Nobody cares about their whereabouts!”
The landlord was living in Thennampalayam. Every month he would come on the first Sunday to collect the rent. If not, Sennapan living in the second house would collect it and keep it.
Sennapan would attend to the problems in the three toilets or bathrooms. If there was any drainage- problem, or there was a quarrel in sharing the water from the two drinking water pipes,
Sennappan would play an important role. On these matters, he would pass his suggestions onto his wife. That he would do only in Kannada. On such occasions, Kannada would rule the roost.
Whenever he had time he talked about the problems of line-houses. To a line- house in Badmavaram, a newcomer came. He took the wife of a fellow worker in a dyeing factory and was living with her there. One day the ‘old husband’ of that woman came there with an acid bottle and threw it. The uncovered portions of the ‘new husband’s’ body were badly burnt. There were blisters in his face. Wherever clothes covered, pieces of clothes stuck on his skin. The wounds were more than 30%. As the incident happened in a line-
house, it became a police case and three was a big problem.
“Here everybody is a drunkard. They have time enough only to drink and fall flat. So, no such problem here. That’s a good thing any way!”
“What good thing? Falling flat after drinking?”
“Otherwise they would land themselves in trouble!”
Once Sennappan told Benazir about two such drunkards who drank excessively. They were Nepalese and were working in a dyeing factory. They were young. After drinking heavily, without knowing what he was doing, one fellow took the compressor tube and inserted it into the other fellow’s anus.That fellow’s belly grew larger and larger and burst out. He died. The ‘murderer’ got a seven year sentence. Four people lost their lives!”
“Only two people!”
“No! The dead man, the jailed man, and their two wives— four people!”
Muthulakshmi accompanied Benazir, saying that she would see her off in the bus stand. It seemed that the unhurrying Time was hurrying everyone!
“You have a separate bag for carrying food…OK?”
“After you’ve started cooking, I could not help taking more food! Your preparations are very tasty. You told me that you would cook mutton today!”
“I’ll cook it after you return. I’ll cook whatever we get, even if it is a quail!”
There is a Sunday market- one which had newly come up. When she went there to buy chicken, Muthulakshmi got some new information- there was something new-a new variety in the chicken market, known as ‘Janatha Chicken’. It was selling like hot cakes. The people from Odissa waited eagerly to buy that. The bits of bone- waste with pieces of flesh sticking to them were kept in a freezer and sold. They cost less than the normal variety. One could prepare soup or put some spices and make some sort of curry.
She cooked once, just to feel its taste.
“This is in great demand, sister. People stand in the queue to buy it! Poor people!”
Once, Swarnavelu went to buy quail or partridge. As he could not get any, he bought ‘Janatha Chicken’.
Muthulakshmi took the lunch bag. Benazir carried the air bag with clothes on her shoulder. She felt that heavy wings had sprouted out from her suddenly.
“Sister! Would you stay long…? I’m afraid…Your bag is so big … You take too many clothes with you!”
“You are wearing a new sari… Is there any special occasion?”
“I don’t know! Father was asking me often to come home. I’ve just decided to go now!”
“I had a feeling of doubt…that’s why…”
“Nothing! All my saris have lost their colour. That’s why I’m wearing a new one which I’ve bought last month.”
The freshness in Benazir’s face made Muthulakshmi think that there must be some good news. Suppose if she had to stay at her place permanently, what would happen to her? She must search for another room. In all the rooms she could recall four or five ladies
were staying. It would be too difficult to get a room where only two could stay. Another work to find. Wherever she went in search of employment, she had to show her half hand and had to explain the accident, Muthulakshmi ruminated.
The mill told her that her compensation amount had been handed over to Stephen, the broker who had put her in the mill. They told her that in the letter she had given earlier to the mill when she had joined it, she had given him a general authorization. “As the amount could not be brought into any account, he had told us that he would pay you,” the Mill told her. She had a plan to go Stephen’s place with Swarnavelu. But then it became very difficult to spot Swarnavelu.
They were walking slowly as though they were enjoying the cool breeze of the morning. The people who were sleeping in the umbrella shelters in the bus-stand were lying like logs. There were shadows under the tall neon lamp post. Its top had dissolved the blueness of the sky.
“You have to return alone!”
“How long is it since we walked like this in the morning, Muthu? We don’t have time. We can’t even if we wish! You are alone! Be careful! If you feel boring, get some clothes from Selvi sister and undo the stitches. You can while away the time so. We have to think what to do next!”
Benazir took a polythene bag from her airbag and gave it to Muthulakshmi: “It’s a new sari!”
“A new sari! But why give it here?” She received the sari with her one hand. “To receive a gift with one hand… isn’t it bad manners?”
“I can receive with what I have, after all!” Her hand was cut in an accident in the mill. When she was working continuously for three shifts, her hand got caught in the cone- winding machine and was crushed. She was in search of accommodation and landed in Benazir’s room. More than a month had gone! Which job to take up, she could not decide yet. Benazir had comforted her many times, saying, “Let’s us wait and see!”
“Just to make a difference! Had I given it in the house, it would not have sprung a surprise at all. That’s why I’ve kept it in the bag and am giving it on the way!
From the Annalakshmi bakery on the right side the song, “Maruthamalai Ma Maniye Murugaiyaa” was floating in the air. The mirrors showed different types of cakes in the glow of the lights.
“I remember the tent talkies in my village when I hear this song, Muthu.”
“In all places, one will remember tents on hearing this song!”
“Shall we have some tea?”
“Your bus may come!”
“I can catch the next bus. There are plenty of buses!”
“It is months since we have taken tea from a tea shop!”
“Good cooks won’t take food from hotels.
She was returning with the polythene bag. The bag dangling in her hand created a “swhish…swhish” sound whenever it touched her sari. She saw two people standing near Gopalan’s flower shop. One of them was Swarnavelu. He was talking to a girl who was standing very close to him. She had seen the same girl talking with Swarnavelu once, at the Mariamman temple entrance. Swarnevelu was talking with that girl with his back turned. That girl’s face was half-lit. It was very beautiful. Beautiful faces always evoked feelings of jealousy in Muthu.
Muthlakshmi walked fast. The bag that her cucumber like left hand held was about to slip. The entrance of the Mariamman temple was open and a song praising Mariamman, sung in a high pitch, was on the air.
The Kumaran street corner was filled completely with dolls made of clay. There were lots of Lord Vinayaga dolls with a big belly. Also there were dolls with big bellies to drive the evil spirits away. She thought that she would buy some doll, as it was a long time since she had bought a doll. But these clay dolls dissolved easily in water. The rain drops falling from the roof would easily dissolve them.
“Are these clay dolls?
“Plaster of Paris and then paper –mache!”
“Would they dissolve in water?”The woman who replied looked like a North Indian. She was wearing a heavy ‘garland’ made of beads. She wore in her hands bangles made of beads. For a minute, Muthulakshmi measured her with a strange look. She felt that she herself was dressed in strange clothes.
After seeing Benazir off in the bus stand, she looked for Swarnavelu. But he could not be seen anywhere. She had talked with him standing in many street corners often! “Today he wants a lady with full hands…mmm!” she thought. As she felt that her half hand had driven her away to the edge of the street, she covered it. The road was so long that she could see the bus disappearing as a dot at a distance. It was something of a wonder for her!
THE CAVE OF EMERSON
Essay by : Malayalam Poet Padmasree Vishnunarayanan Namboodiri
Translated by: P.K.N.Panicker
What did you gain from roaming around in the States for about six weeks? My friends asked me. I could answer them only in Vailoppilli Master’s idiom.+1 A few important instances; no, only moments! The master had taught me that they are the richest in the entire life time of a person. I am writing about a moment like that.
In the middle of June 1992 I took part in a friendly get together, as a poet, in the house of brother M.S.T. Majority of those who joined us were Malayalees. They welcomed me with heartful sweet words; but one among the gathering – a white man – was silently observing me. I could sense that. At some point M.S.T. introduced him to me as a poet, Mr. Emerson. Their friendship sprouted from the playground and so on. I do remember that communication between me and that gentleman had some hitch as his American accented English and my Indian English had to strain to find a common ground. That reminded me of what Bernard Shaw once told an American friend of his; ‘We are separated by the same language.’ Indeed it seemed apt between Emerson and me too! He communicated to me in short simple sentences that I could follow without much difficulty. He had occasion to read a short English article that I wrote sometime back on my visit to NASA in Houston. In that I had stated that ‘For mankind more important than winning over the outer space is to win over his inner space.’ It seems that my reference to ‘the inner space’ had touched Emerson. Our talk drifted to spirituality, ancient cultures, Vedanta and covered a host of inter suddenly and asked, ‘Why not you come with me? We shall go out for a little while.’
‘To my home – my cave, that is how I address my home. I shall drop you back soon. It is simply that I would like to show you a few things in my cave that may interest you.’
It was near midnight. After talking to my host M.S.T., I moved out with Emerson. We proceeded in his car. After about 15 minutes’ drive he pulled the brakes and we alighted, truly in the midst of a forest. Chirping of crickets alone welcomed us and we entered Emerson’s cave built of wood planks.
Once inside, I realized that it was an ordinary average house with all modern convenience.
(An average American house is many times better than an average Indian house). His wife and children were away in some distant place where she worked. He used to come and be alone in this house a couple of months every year.
‘What do you do here, alone?’
In answer he led me to each of the rooms, one after the other. Each room was a bit of an excellent library. Gandhiji, Vivekananda, J. Krishnamoorthy and others were there in the shelves, greeting each other.
Pointing out to the specially laid out mats and seats he explained that he is familiar to Meditation, Yoga and Pranayama.
He was of the opinion and belief that the time has arrived when modern man who so far was in search of increasing modern conveniences and luxurious easy life with the aid of advanced modern equipment, materials using innovative technical knowledge and skill and was increasingly making the earth dirty and dirtier turning it into a place non-livable to turn back to the reality – to the truth; if not he will be walking into total destruction. I could appreciate why he like my expression, ‘the inner space’.
Thereafter he invited me to the corridor to show his very special collection of many articles from far and near. I saw many musical instruments similar to Thappu, Thakil, Murichenda+2 and vessels like those used for ceremonial worship in temples, images made out of spun sweet grass similar to our Darbha grass, …………
‘What are these?’
Emerson told me that, they were collections related to his research on the beliefs and practices of worship among the Red Indians, who worshiped the Sun, lived on algae, acquired proficiency in music and dance and above all mastered the maturity to live in tandem with other living things – yes, there lived a people like that, the original inhabitants of this place now reduced to a consumer’s paradise. The white people annihilated them, converted to new beliefs, initiated to liquor and destroyed them. My mind travelled back into the active lifelike images that I came across in books such as ‘Black Elk Speaks’, ‘Bury My Heart at The Wounded Knee’ etc. The white race that destroyed that civilization, culture and lifestyle and spirituality of those black gods today stands trembling at the specter of a nuclear catastrophe and in search of the very essence of what they destroyed – Merely as an instrument to help the very existence! That civilization is totally erased; But it has got to be reinvented and revived through research.
While returning in Emerson’s car I thought, ‘In my dear Bharat (India) is a living civilization that continues for over Ten Thousand years with no break.’ While the most famous civilizations witnessed by the world, like those in Greece, Egypt, Ireland etc. got erased, lives one in India which refuses to die down. Even today there are people in India who continue to sustain the Vedas by word of mouth. As per Indian calendar this is 5093. In this India that is fast progressing according to the western model will a time come when we have to know of our past civilization through research? If that is to happen, then what is the meaning of my humble life? Shall I be content with a few poems, awards and excursions across the world? Or should I dedicate the rest of my life to uphold and help strengthen the civilization that nurtured me – that nurtures me?
When back in M.S.T. ‘s house, I had reached a firm resolve about the rest of my life.
Notes: This essay was written in April 1996.
+1 Refers to another famous Malayalam poet Sri Vailoppilli Sreedhara Menon.
+2 Thappu – Small Drum; Thakil – Kettle Drum; Murichenda – One of the different types of percussion instruments generally known as Chenda – popular in South India, particularly so in Kerala.
Original in Konkani : Surya Ashok
English Translation : Suman G.Pai
‘Kanaka, when are you going to see Padmavathakka? It seems she had been telling the Doctor that she wanted to see you.’ Nandakesh asked his wife.
‘We have just now returned after the checkup, and I am feeling tired. Perhaps will consider going for tomorrow. It’s many years since we have seen that Akka. Even to think about her condition is pitiful.’
‘That is called fate.’
‘But their life used to be extremely stable! What was lacking in their life? Srinivas Uncle had a big business, a large house and four capable sons, what more was needed? In spite of all that, how did she reach the old age home? That’s what I am not able to understand.’
‘That’s true, but have you forgotten the way she behaved with you.’
‘I have not forgotten it. But let bygones be bygones’
‘Because of her we had to leave the village, didn’t we? She spread a lot of rumours about us.’
‘Her thinking was old fashioned. That is all. And we hadn’t run away from the village just like that. Wasn’t it done because of the transfer?’
‘Just transfer? Say it was a request transfer!’
“Anyway wasn’t it for our daughter’s future? Even with you retired, we all together live happily and life is well settled.’
‘It is really due to our upbringing of our daughter.’
‘It is not only because of that. Her husband Sridhar is also a gem.’
‘Yes, on all accounts we are very lucky. Let it be. Now that this Akka has reached here as if pursuing us, she will start trying to prick thorns in our lives. You just wait and watch.’
‘Why are you saying so? You did hear about her history which the Doctor had told us. Srinivas uncle died of heart attack. Not one son was ready to take care of her. As there is no one to look after her, Padmavathakka is now fighting with ill health in the old age home!’
‘Their sons are not with her?’
‘The eldest son got a job abroad. He married a rich girl in all pomp and glory. He took her abroad with him. Once abroad, it seems, even letters stopped coming. His father’s business was going on well. So he didn’t even have to send money home. So convenient! He just stopped enquiring about them!
‘Kanaka, all these details were not told today by the Doctor. Where did you get those from? ‘
‘I heard all that from somewhere else. You know Santhammakka, the village newspaper! She had come here once. She told me all these and much more. But probably she hadn’t got the latest news. Both husband and wife are living with their youngest son, was what she had said.’
‘Let it be. But they have other sons too. Where were they?’
‘Yes, the elder son took the second one abroad. He too got a good job. Within two or three years, heard he had married a foreigner and was living there comfortably.’
‘Oh! Is that so?’
‘Yes, Srinivas Uncle, being fearful that all the boys would go overseas, handed over his business to his third son. Thus, he thought, at least this one would continue to live in the village itself.’
‘Gave away his business? What a foolish thing to do! Then what could he do for a living?’
‘The sons will take care. Isn’t that everyone’s belief? Do you not remember the Uncle telling us? He has four sons and one or the other will surely look after them well? They will marry acquiring handsome dowries. The decision we took was unsound! It will be difficult for us to find a good alliance for a physically disabled child. We would have to work hard to get the dowry money. Is it assured that we can find a groom? The girl will remain unmarried all her life! Stating such misgivings, hadn’t Srinivas Uncle tried to bring us anguish?’
‘Yes, that is right. Anyway, you complete Padmavathakka’s story!’
‘The third son too got loads of dowry. The only daughter of a wealthy father. Excessively pampered one! It didn’t take long for him to start living in his father-in-law’s house. He too forgot his parents. Uncle, now, was deserted by his sons and had no business to fall upon. The three pillars of his life were gone.’
‘And the youngest?’
‘Having seen the elder ones’ treatment of the parents, he was distressed. But still, he was looking after them as much as he can from the meagre sum he got from his small job. On the top of it, Padmavathakka suffered a paralysis. The house and plot was sold for her treatment. There was some relief and she could move about, but with somebody’s help. They began to live in the house her son had rented. Santhammakka was saying that this son was looking after them well. Only now we heard the latest. What a misfortune!’
‘Yes, for sure. The remaining one and only light of hope, was extinguished with the unfortunate death of that son in an accident. Meanwhile, Uncle had a heart attack and died following his son’s death. Now Akka, it seems, is alone in the old age home fighting with her disease!’
‘Horrible! Oh God, such misfortune should not befall even our worst enemies!’
‘It is your noble mind that makes you think so. Our daughter too has a kind attitude. Look how well she looks after us now!’
‘By God’s grace, now we have a daughter and a son. It is Vrinda’s luck that she got a loving husband. And it’s our fortune too!’
‘What if he was brought up in a fostering institution? He is a gem’.
‘True! Is checking one’s family nobility required to find out the character of a person? He came asking for our daughter’s hand and we willingly handed her over to him’.
‘Vrinda’s handicap didn’t dissuade him.’
‘He could have thought; why should I have a lame girl? He must have recognized Vrinda’s beautiful mind. A Professor from her college itself, a very reputable job. And sterling character certificate from all! What more could one search for? Today we are all living together happily. How well she is looking after us!
‘Yes Kanaka, it’s good that Vrinda got a job in the same college’.
Both of them sat immersed in their own thoughts.
Nandakesh Uncle had retired from bank. The money received on retirement was invested a plot with a house and Uncle and Kanaka aunty lived happily with their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters.
The next day coming back from visiting Padmavathakka, Kanaka’s face reflected gloominess.
‘Kanaka, what happened? Did she dig the past?’
‘Yes! She cried a lot telling me over and over, her sorrows. Afterwards, she asked about Vrinda. She wanted to see Vrinda and her children. I went and committed myself to send them to see her. I am now really scared about what all she might tell them! I am worried about it being akin to giving a stick and get beaten in return.’
‘Nothing is going to happen, Kanaka. Don’t be anxious. Up to now we have lived happily. Let us hope that we will continue to do so in future too. We have never hurt anybody so far. Only have done a good deed. Definitely good will evolve out of it. So don’t even ponder over it.’
The next Sunday, Vrinda and her children who had gone to visit Padmavathakka were late in returning. The past woke up in her mind.
Even after 6 or 7 years of marriage, Kanaka was not able to bear any children. Coming to know this news, their neighbour Padmavathakka started to make up stories and spread them through the community. She was hurting them by the loose talk more than what could be borne by them! Their lives too craved for the first cry of a baby. They took treatments of many doctors, took medicines, went to many a temple for being blessed with a baby, took vows for the same. Twice she carried but both the times, she miscarried. The third time, when pregnant, she was advised complete bed rest.
Soon she delivered a full term, bonny baby boy and their happiness had no limit. But soon drowning all their dreams in sorrow, their happiness was momentary. It was all God’s game! After the baby was lost how depressed she had been…
Kanaka wiped her eyes. Think the children are coming… could hear their voices from afar.
Both the children came running, hugged and looked at her with teary faces. There won’t be much more delay in their bursting into wails. What had happened? Did Padmavathakka say something?
‘Ammamma… that old lady was saying…’
Kanaka was shocked. ‘What did she say…’
‘That Padmavathakka says… that you are not our real grandma, aren’t you?’ They wailed.
For a moment she wondered what to say. Did Vrinda know? What could be done now? Oh God, save me!
She pulled both of them to her, wiped their tears and then told them fondly-
‘Who said that I am not your grandmother? All of that is just lies. Does it look like that? Don’t believe everything that is told to you by all and sundry, keep that in mind. I am certainly your grandmother.’ She fondled their foreheads. ‘Now you go and play.’
The children were satisfied. How could such a person who loves them be not their grandmother? They kissed their grandma and went out to play.
When Vrinda came into the room, kanaka could not dare to look at her face.
‘Mother, why are you sitting like this? Did the children say something?’ Kanaka looked up wonderingly at Vrinda, had she not heard anything? Seeing her mother’s forlorn face looking at her, Vrinda came and sat beside her. She took both her mother’s palms in her hands and fondled them lovingly.
‘I knew many years ago whatever Padmavathakka told today.’
‘Oh God, how is that? Did I behave in that manner towards you?’
‘Not at all, Mother’. She pulled her mother closer and hugged her. ‘Both of you have brought me up as your own daughter. Nobody can say you are not my parents. Let Padmavathakka say anything.’ While talking her voice choked in great emotion. Kanaka’s eyes filled with tears. Wiping her mother’s tears, Vrinda said-
‘You have brought me up with so much love and affection.’
For some time, both sat quietly. Then Kanaka asked, ‘My dear daughter, how did you know? How did you come to know beforehand?’
‘One day, whilst in college, I went to clean up your cupboard and neaten things up. At that time, I found some old documents. Reading it, I nearly fainted. My very existence seemed threatened. Did I have any identity? Why should I live? My original parents did not want me. Life seemed meaningless. I was filled with disappointment, an aversion, a vacuum. Death alone seemed the way ahead! Death, take me! When I took such a decision…’ She could not go any further and burst into tears.
‘No, daughter, no! Please do not say any further.’ Mother and daughter started crying, hugging each other.
‘…But I was not a coward. That was not the way you had brought me up. You have taught me to bravely fight my disability. Your love held me back. I did not give way to death. I decided to go ahead bravely but my mind continued to be filled with grief. I did not want to go to college. I used to lie crying. Mother, don’t you remember those incidents?’
‘Was that for this? I thought that you were having problems in your college!’
‘No, no, it was this only! That day you consoled me very lovingly like I was your very own daughter! After four or five days, I began to go to college but I was totally unaware of the goings on in the class as I could not concentrate on anything! I could see only those documents in front of my eyes. Seeing my downcast and teary face, my professor called me into the staff room. Sobbing, I told my professor everything, that I was an adopted daughter, a child not wanted by her real parents! Hearing my sad story patiently, the professor consoled me. Both of you have brought me up so lovingly in the best manner possible! You have huge love for me. That is the indication of real parents. Who are more loving than you? The professor was worthy to do such consoling on all accounts. After all he was brought up in a fostering institution!’
‘Yes. He is the one! The rest of the story is known to you.’
‘Child, it is all our good fortune. You are our own daughter. Now you know the details. You should be aware of one more fact. You were not deserted by your parents. Fate gave us a chance to bring you up. Your mother was a distant relation of mine. When your mother was carrying you, her husband died in an accident. Unluckily she too died after a difficult delivery. Being lame by birth, nobody was ready to bring you up. By our good fortune we got you. Nobody can say you are not our daughter. You are our own daughter!’