Sunday, June 29, 2014

My only option

I was sitting scared in my room with police detective Ms. Agnes. She put her arm gently around me to assuage my fears and said softly “Sujitha, I have a daughter of your age. I think you are eight and realize your shock and grief. Don’t fear. I have come to help you to find your mom’s killer. Nothing has been stolen. You were the only one in the house then and should be able to throw some light. Nothing is missing”
“Tell me, Suji, do your parents quarrel frequently? Were there any issues between them?”
“There were occasionally petty arguments on what to make for dinner or where to go for weekends or house being unclean. Nothing major” and I added “I am having splitting head ache. Can we talk tomorrow please?”
“OK, I will come tomorrow morning. I need your cooperation to find the killer, Suji”
The events in the last few days passed through my mind very clearly.
Both my dad and mom loved me much. They never denied anything I wanted. In fact I was the sole bonding factor between the two. My dad, a travelling salesman was out for half the month. He kept my mom and me in great comfort. My mom felt bored with nothing to do and started learning painting at our home from a master who lived nearby. That uncle came almost daily and frequently gave me chocolates and toys but I hated him for some inexplicable reason. I never liked my mom being jovial with him and not with dad.
Whenever my dad was in town the master never came. May be he came when I was at school. One night when I got up to drink water, I heard my parents arguing in anger and my mom telling something about the master and that she was not happy with dad.
The next day around 3pm I was in my room at first floor doing home work when I heard dad’s car unexpectedly drawing up. My mom was learning painting in the rear room of the ground floor. I heard two gunshots. I ran down only to see my dad’s car speeding away. My mom lay dying amidst blood in disheveled clothes on the couch and the master was not to be seen. When I shook her, she opened her eyes and in whisper requested me not to betray dad for my own good. She died in a few minutes before I called relatives.

When the flashback ended, I was in great turmoil as I knew I may blurt out under pressure.. I loved my dad and could understand his anger though faintly. I loved my mom very much and did not want her name sullied. I went to my mom’s medical chest and swallowed all the sleeping tablets. Poor Agnes, she will be disappointed, I thought with a wry smile. Assured that was the only way I could save my dad and mom’s honor, I slept peacefully and happily.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sevanthi’s wish

There was a crowd comprising of a few men and more than a dozen women outside Sevanthi’s thatched hut.The hut sat on the middle of a large plot of land with many coconut trees around the periphery. There were a couple of mango trees and a small curry leave tree too. The people were standing in clusters outside the hut talking in hushed tones.
The silence was broken by someone asking loudly at no one in particular “Any idea when the old woman actually died?”
Someone replied “The girl who supplied milk daily got no response yesterday. When she did not get any reply today also to her repeated knocking of the door and had also smelt a bad odour emanating from inside, she informed her mother.Sevanthi must have died day before yesterday or the previous night”
A woman added “We could not stand the stench when we went inside to see her body. She must have died of diarrhea for she lay on filth. Poor woman, she had no one to take care of her in her twilight years. She seemed a nice person though she was aloof and never mixed with others”
Another woman in the crowd said “I know we should not speak ill of the dead but I think she was a bit haughty as she never allowed anyone to mingle with her. Otherwise we would have come to her help instead of letting her die uncared for like this.”
“Do not talk rubbish, you foul mouthed woman” shouted an elderly man and added “Do you know the sufferings she had gone through her life. Anyone else in her position would have ended her life years back”
“How will I know? I came to this village only a few years back. Why don’t you tell us? You have been here for decades” prodded that woman.
“Ok, let me tell you all briefly” he said as the people came close to him.”She was in her late twenties when she came as a bride to a local man who was about 15 years older than her.. She was good looking and worked hard in the fields to supplement the income. They got a son after a year. I have not seen any of her relatives visit her. After the birth of the son they used to quarrel frequently because the man used to come home drunk. When her son Vadivel was five years, her husband eloped with another woman older than him and never came back.”
“How cruel. You said she was good looking. Why did that useless fellow go after an older woman?”asked one woman.
“Who knows? She must have had money to give this fellow for his alcohol in return for his physical company” said another.
“That is of no relevance now. Let me finish soon for we have to arrange for her cremation” said the village elder.”Sevanthi worked in several homes when the harvest season was over and brought up the boy. She was a virtuous woman who even complained to local panchayat that some men who knew she was single were harassing her by knocking her door in the nights. As advised she had a new hut amidst several others and was safe and secure. The boy studied up to class 8, learnt a bit of plumbing and electrical work and joined the municipality of the adjacent town. They continued to live here and he had a cycle.”
“Where is he? Did he also desert his mother like his wicked father? I don’t see him at all” asked one hasty woman.
“No, he was a good son and fond of his mother. He was aware of the hardships in her life. But as ill luck would have it, in the course of his work he went down a well that was not in use for some time to check the pipe work. The poisonous gas therein took his life away. Some kind lawyer in that town fought for her to get her good compensation from the municipality and the government. With half the money that good man bought in her name this big ground for a song and had a thatched hut built. She lived on the interest from the balance. She gave the coconuts to the needy. She never objected to people entering her plot to pluck curry leaves. She would smile at young kids stealing fallen mangoes. Sometimes she would call them inside and give two apiece to the surprised children. Her only past time was making brooms from the fallen coconut leaves” he completed.
“Anyway, let us make arrangements to give her a decent funeral as she belonged to this village. It is delayed and foul smelling already. Someone go and fetch the priest.”
One by one most of the men and the women slipped away unwilling to participate. There were however a few who managed to get the body cremated spending some money from their pockets. People who accused Sevanthi of being aloof and reserved were actually distant when a need arose to lend their shoulders.
A week later most of the village folks had assembled under the large banyan tree for a meeting called by panchayat to condole on her demise. They all stood in silence for a minute in memory of the departed soul.
Raman Nair who ran a tea shop in the village stood up and said “I was unfortunate to be away from the village on the day the cremation took place. She was like a mother to me. She used to send coconuts to my shop free telling that I was doing a service to the village by running the tea shop. I regret I was not there to do her funeral rites” He could not stop the tears flooding his eyes as others pacified him.
Everyone heard a shrill voice of a woman from the crowd “What happens now to the plot and the hut? It is very big in the middle of village”
The village elder in anger shouted her down saying “We have assembled here to pay our respects to the dead soul and bemoan the loss to the village. This is not an occasion to bring extraneous issues”
An elderly man apparently not belonging to the village stood up and said “I have a few words to tell you all”
“Who are you? You don’t seem to be from this place” asked the village elder
“I am Santhosham, a social worker by inclination and a lawyer by profession. I live in the adjacent municipal town. About three decades back, I fought for the deceased woman for a fair compensation when her only son died in tragic circumstances in the course of duty. Since then I have helped her whenever she came to me. I came to know of her demise only yesterday. It is good that I am here by chance when the condolence meeting is being held. She has left a registered will for the disposal of her property after her death. I have been made an executor and trustee.”
“What is the gist of the will? Let the villagers know” said the village elder.
“She has not mentioned anyone in the village specifically as beneficiary” the lawyer said with a pause.
Some murmurs were heard from the crowd. Raman Nair said loudly “It is her property and her prerogative to do what she wanted. Why are some of you so mean?”
Someone from the crowd was heard to say “I suspect that man.He must have got the property in his name by giving her his rotten tea and stale idlies now and then to ingratiate himself to the old woman”
Santhosham lifted his hands and said “Do not rush to wrong conclusions and rashly accuse anyone. Sevanthi ammal felt bad that the children of this village and adjacent villages had to walk three kilometers to the nearest school. She has bequeathed her plot and the money in deposits to start an elementary school. She has nominated me, the village elder, Raman Nair and a lady chosen by village women to do the needful. I would need the cooperation of all to fulfill her wish.”
There was a hushed silence in utter disbelief at the compassion and large hearted nature of Sevanthi for the village community. Many were seen wiping their moist eyes overwhelmed by the way Sevanthi had touched the hearts of the all in the village.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The bully

The final examination for class 12 was a few weeks away. It was lunch time. I was sitting alone in the prayer hall where the students assembled daily in the morning. I saw Durai coming towards me. He is a school bully, tall, muscular, unruly hair and a copper bracelet on the wrist. Except for his cronies, the boys and girls gave a wide berth to him. Short in temper he was given to picking quarrels for flimsy reasons and turning violent. A back bencher he fared poorly in studies. The teachers too, given the fact that his dad was a local politician, did not trouble him. But he was good in Karate and had some belt.
I knew why he was coming towards me. I had warned him two days back to stay away from Sumitra our class mate. Whenever she walked past him, he made some indirect or indecent comments or sang film songs with double meaning much to the amusement of his buddies and embarrassment to her. Sometime he will try to indulge in inane talks with her. When she could tolerate it no more, she confided in me.
I have been studying with Sumitra for the last four years and there was nothing special between us except as class mates till we came to class 12.It was the beginning of the academic year and as I am wont to I sought refuge during lunch time in this corner of the prayer hall. There were none in the large hall except for some students passing through the hall at the other end. I was sort of dozing with my eyes half closed when a whiff of jasmine fragrance wafted across me. I opened my eyes to see Sumitra standing before me with some books in her hand. I smiled at her and arched my brows as if to ask what brought her to me.
“I have some doubt in geometry and unable to solve a few riders. I was initially hesitant but decided to come to you as you are a topper in the class” she said softly
“Sit down and show me the questions” I replied.
She sat on the bench a little away and spread the notebook on her lap. She opened the page in the geometry book and showed me the problems.
They were simple and I took the note book from her and drew the diagrams. She came closer to me craning her neck to see what I wrote. Her hair with jasmine concealed in it almost brushed my face. The intoxicating smell, the close proximity of a feminine figure was something new to me triggering unexplained feelings in me. As I was explaining the diagram and the construction needed to solve the problem, her hand brushed against me. I stopped explaining momentarily and she looked at me quizzically.
“I hope you do not mind my troubling you now and then like this, Raju. Things are clearer to me” she said with a shy smile
“Not at all. It is a pleasure to be of help to you. You can always approach me”
“Did you say a pleasure?” she said as she flashed a smile and scurried away.
There was a song in my heart as I got up looking at the receding beautiful girl.
The next day she came and thrust a note book saying “I have to rush. I have the unsolved problems in calculus. I will collect it tomorrow. I hope you won’t mind”
I opened the note book after she was gone and a peacock feather fell down. I smiled to myself. I inwardly knew that her getting her doubts cleared was only a pretext to be with me.
The exchange of note books with rose petals, flowers and small notes with names written graphically became a routine though we had not mentioned that we were in love with each other. The day before she mentioned about Durai, she said she would be joining SSM engineering college and wished that I also did the same.”We can be together for four more years. Choose ECE.”
I asked her mischievously “What about after four years? Won’t you like to be together?”
She said “Chee, chee “and ran away.
I was woken up from my reverie when I found Durai lifting me by my collar and dragging me outside the prayer hall to the gate. There were his buddies and many students standing in a circle’
“You skinny cheapster, who the hell are you to warn me to stay away? What is she to you?” he shook my body violently.
When I did not reply partly shaken by fear, he flexed his muscles and punched me in my face. There were laughter from his buddies and horror in the looks of other students.
“Are you dumb? Open your mouth if you wish to save your life” thundered Durai in rage.
I smelt blood and looked around. Another blow landed on me like a sledge hammer. I fell down. Someone came running towards me.
”Don’t anyone dare to come near us. It is a private quarrel or shall I say duel? I have decided to end the issue once and for all” he roared
Turning towards me he asked “Is she your lover? How close are you to her, you rascal? Keep away from her. Do you understand?”
I knew I cannot fight with him and he only wanted me to resist him so he can hit me more. My silence infuriated him so much that he kept raining blows on me even as I lay on the ground cowered in fear. Things turned black and I felt going unconscious.
It was then I heard faintly Sumitra’s shrieking voice “Stop it, Durai.I had only asked him to tell you. I have nothing for him. Leave him alone”
“Why are you so concerned about him? Are you in love with him?”Durai shouted
“I told you I have no love for him. I feel bad because he gets beating for what I asked him to do. In fact I do not like him at all. He is a puny book worm and nothing more. I beg you to leave him alone”
Durai gave one final kick and went away laughing with his buddies in the knowledge that Sumitra did not love me. I lay there shattered not by the blows of Durai but by the hurt and disbelief caused by Sumitra’s words. Are all the exchanges and interactions since the beginning of the year a deception, I wondered?
Both avoided each other studiously and I could see a spring in Durai’s walk after that violent incident.
The day after the final examinations were over, Anusha a common friend came home and gave me an envelope.”Please read this and I will come in the evening to collect your reply.Sumi is such a nice girl. You will understand” said Anusha before leaving.
“My dear Raju,
You must be having a very low opinion of me and I understand that. I could not bear that brute hitting you like a murderer overcome by jealousy that I love you. He has seen us together many times and always talked derogatingly of you. The only way I thought I could save you from being killed was by proclaiming that I hated you and satisfy his ego.
Please understand and forgive me. These days of silence between us have been a torture. I am looking forward to spending four years at the college with you and who knows thereafter? Send me a line through Anusha that you have forgiven me and that I could always come to you with problems in mathematics, lol
Love, S”
As I jumped in joy and made a jig, my mom entered the room and asked me “Why are you dancing, Raju? Any good news?”
I hugged my mom and said nothing with a smile.