The bus travelled towards the village leaving the city heart. She checked the time in her wrist watch.
Forty minutes had to be over to reach the stop. Her heartbeats rose with tension about her kids who were alone at home then.
She took the mobile frequently from her ash handbag and checked whether there were any missed calls from them. What might have they done then? She thought. Two sweet loaves had been kept on the table when she left the home in the morning.
They might have returned from school, and might be eating the loaves. She had telephoned them just before she entered the bus. She always enquired whether there were any problems or not. They would reply that there weren’t any problems and would also give a list of things she should buy when she returns.
During their holidays, while she was away with her job, she used to call them each and every hour with a burning heart.
‘Why do you become so worried? It is silly to meet trouble half-way’. Her husband said.
But, she turned a deaf ear to his comment. Because she had answers for it as clear as crystals.
She knows a list of persons who may come the home during the day....
A woman with a child in her hip and a bundle in her shoulder. May be a thief, in disguise.
The robbers who planned to rob closed houses....
Bill collectors of several items....
Others who may come unexpectedly....
The person to distribute gas cylinder...
The list is not completed.
We can’t believe all of them as honest, sincere or trustworthy.
How can a mother be tension-free in a world filled with the wicked who torture even the little kids if they get a chance?
Embers of worry were scooped in her mind when she read some news in the news papers.
‘The child who had been playing in the courtyard was missing.’
‘The girl who had gone to tuition was kidnapped.’
‘A girl was stabbed to death when she was returning from school.’
‘The girl who was tortured by her father was rescued in a shelter.’
‘A housewife was attacked and killed in the midday while robbery.’
This is more than flesh and blood can suffer and was a dagger to her heart.
Not only this.
Accidents may happen even inside the house. Servants also may become unbelievable.
‘My God! Have mercy upon my children! Oh !...to all children......
She prayed and pleaded to all Gods and Saints with a painful heart.
Doesn’t each mother stand before God with this same prayer in her melting heart with tears???
‘Don’t go for a job if you have this much anxiety.’
It is the ultimatum of her husband.
School fee, new dresses...... , picnic......, film......., insurance premium....
She strained every nerve because the necessities never end.
It is to support her husband, to make both ends meet that she works.
"Madam, why don’t you get off the bus? Your stop has reached."
The door checker’s words woke her up. Getting off the bus, she fled towards her home swifter than an eagle.
She was received with open arms by her children with a smile like the nestlings who obediently waited for their mother bird.
It snowed in her heart with a gentle breeze of consolation.
The worries of a mother never end.
Sunday. The midday sun shone brightly overhead the hostel building. I was preparing some notes for the next day seminar. It was then Johana, my friend and hostel mate came to my room with a strange request.
‘Can you please come with me?’
‘To the nearby church.’
‘Church? Sometimes all services might have finished now…’
‘ It doesn’t matter. I want to go there now itself. Please do come.’
‘All right.’ I agreed without asking more about the purpose. Wearing a frock as white as snow, she appeared as an angel. Its frills were so soft that the clouds in the sky may wonder. It was a sight to see!!! Her lustrous and lively eyes shone like pearls and her face was aglow with pleasure which she couldn’t help expressing….
It was already known to everybody about her love with Christy, who was a handsome boy in my class. It was in the ‘get together’ party, meant to enable the newcomers to mingle with each other in order to avoid shyness and stage fear that they first met. All the first year post graduate students were shuffled and put into different groups and had to present some programmes. In one programme Johana and Christy came together and they did it very well amazingly better than any other. In this first meeting itself she was attracted in his smartness and funny nature which separated him from all other boys there. Gradually she loved him very much but he always avoided her purposefully.
After a few months she succeeded in her tedious attempt to win his heart. Actually she was pleading for his love with all her might which a noble human heart cannot deny. However she made him understand that she would never live without him.
‘Are you ready?’ Johana’s voice aroused me suddenly from my thoughts.
‘Yes. I’m ready. One minute…let me get the permission of the warden.’
‘Oh…. You need not. I have already got it.’
‘Is it? …. Wonderful..!’
‘Let’s go fast….’ She hurried.’
We started walking towards the church. We had to cross a coconut field to reach there. The field was deserted as it was a noon. No sound was heard except the patter of some squirrels and the rustling of leaves under our feet. Wind swayed the coconut leaves as in a swing. A crow flew overhead fluttering its wings.
‘Why do you go in this noon itself?’I couldn’t keep for long my eagerness. She didn’t reply but a smile flashed in her face like a lightning.
‘It is a surprise. You will know it soon’ she whispered gently.
We reached the church where Christy and his friend Alfie were waiting for us. It was a surprise to see that Christy was in white dress too!!!
All of us stood for a moment and looked each other. ‘Who will break the silence bubble?’ A question was thrown from each face….. Then Christy announced looking at Alfie and me, ‘we are going to marry. You are the witnesses!’
Hearing this unexpected news, Alfie stood as if nothing had happened but my face became death pale. As I was shivering with fear I couldn’t utter any word…
‘This must be a secret. Don’t tell this to anybody. Only we know this.’
Christy’s warning fell to my ears as a thunderbolt.
I already knew that those practices were not allowed in any community, religion or society. If anybody had known about that, all of us would have been accused. Sometimes we would have been dismissed from the college and hostel….But the lovers were not in a mood to think any of those arguments or facts. They hadn’t any fear of anybody.
The doors of the church lay opened as it was a Sunday. Nobody was there except the standstill idols of saints, angels, Jesus and Mary. They might have been blessing the lovers silently…. I thought.
All of us entered the church and stood before the holy altar. Christy pulled out a small wooden cross strung together in a black thread from his pocket. Johana stood in front of him bending her neck. We, Alfie and I, the only two witnesses stood like two other idols. With shivering fingers the bridegroom tied it in his bride’s neck. A wedding without priests…parents…relatives…wedding rings or bells!!!!
The couple heaved a sigh of relief…For a few moments nobody did talk anything. A thick blanket of silence covered us all…
After sometime Johana and I returned to our hostel. Christy and his friend went to their hostel saying good bye to us and once again reminding us to keep the secret.
That night was a moonlit one where every leaf and flower was brightened well. The silvery branches swayed in the cool wind as it blessed someone. Johana was with me and we sat in the veranda outside our room. Having the mind fixed only in her groom she whispered in my ears ‘today is our first night. Here is a bride without her groom….’
A smile flashed in my face but I didn’t reply anything. My mind was so puzzled that I didn’t know how to keep that secret bomb safely.
Days passed as nothing had happened. Their love flourished like a fascinating river flows gently in and around the campus. Gracefully I also forgot about that secret bomb.
Final year classes had begun. It was a must to refer many books in the library. Post graduate section was separated and the boys and girls were allowed to sit together to discuss about the topics they had to study. As the hall became the platform of many lovebirds rather than learning discussion a notice appeared one day in the entrance, pointing towards two directions--- ’men only’ , ‘women only’.
One fine morning, a news was flashed which spread among every nook and corner of the campus like wild fire. In order to withstand the resistance from Christy’s family they had undergone a register marriage!!! Once again a wedding without any jingles!!
Any bells or rings…! The bride might have said again,’ a bride without her groom!’
Who had ever stopped the clouds from raining? Who had ever changed the ocean currents’ way from whirling round? The flames of love would never turn into ashes…. But are alive like hidden embers illuminated inside. Like evergreen trees they never shed their leaves but sprout always and spread the green canopies. Even in the hottest deserts they originate like the cool oasis and fill the minds.
Classes were over by the end of February throwing the final year students to the frying pans of study leave. I returned to home as I found comfortable to study in the lonely scenic hills there with rubber plantations where my only companions were Browny, our dog and a goat which had one or two kids. I was busy with studying the lessons which I felt like the Herculean task to finish.
One noon on the last days of March, I found the postman coming towards my house. As it was a period of waiting letters from friends, I hurried to know about it.
A cover was there in the veranda smiling at me. I opened it eagerly. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was the wedding invitation card sent by Christy! Their marriage was fixed by their parents to be conducted in his parish church in the coming month.
Even though I couldn’t attend it, I prayed and wished that it might be a marriage with true wedding bells and rings, with the blessings of priests, parents, relatives and with a true symphony of music. They would have enjoyed the most delightful moments in their life as the couple who had undergone the most severe hardships to blossom their love.
My friend would never say again ‘a bride without her groom’. I heard the nightingales singing merrily from far away woods.
The Crawling Ant-hill.
A sweet melody was heard in the kitchen from a radio. It was early morning and Mrs. Mabel was busy with cooking breakfast and lunch for the family. Her children had to leave the home to school at seven thirty a.m. So she was doing everything fast as a housewife who had arisen late. One window of the kitchen was opened to the courtyard where crows were sitting here and there in the branch of a Tamarind tree, looking keenly around to find if there was anything to peck. One crow tried to pick a small rat which came out running from the outhouse unexpectedly, thinking that it was still night. The crow couldn't hold it in its beak for more than a few seconds as the rat made a shrill cry and escaped to the ground. Yet the crow tried an attempt to fly after the running rat in vain.
It was then that Mrs. Mabel noticed a zig zag shaped, a short finger thick, about half a meter long ant- hill made by termites against the boundary wall of the courtyard. Wonderful! She hadn't seen this much thick ant- hill anywhere. Ah! The termites may be eating chicken! A smile flashed in her face.
While cutting the vegetables she again looked at the ant-hill. Eh! The ant-hill is moving! Creeping downwards vertically!! What!!?? A moving ant-hill???
Mrs. Mabel soon wore her spectacles and looked keenly again.
Oh! God! It’s a snake!! May be a baby snake?
“Snake! Snake! Here’s a snake!” A voice came out from her throat like the groaning of a drum.
Laura and Lilian, her daughters who were in the study room threw away their books and ran towards their mother. Mr. Wilfred, her husband and Glen, her son who were still in bed pulled open their eyes and hurried downstairs fast. Like eagles coming from different directions towards the same prey, the whole house rushed to the kitchen immediately.
“Where? Where is it??”
Everybody asked in a chorus.
“There!” Mrs. Mable pointed towards the wall. The reptile was crawling downwards and it scrambled among the logs piled up behind the outhouse in the twinkling of an eye. The visitors could see only its tail.
“Oh! God! It is there! Logs, broken tiles, unwanted materials…….. Everything is mixed there! It found a safe place to hide!” Somebody said.
“Now what can we do? Let it go its own way!” remarked another.
For the next two days Mr. Wilfred didn’t water the carpet grass in the courtyard !
For the next three days Laura, Lilian and Glen didn’t park their cycles in the backyard of the house!!
For the next four days Mrs. Mable didn’t open the French windows towards the garden!!!
From the heap of rubbish, from the hill of dust, from the dale of pain, I shall tell a tale of toil. The toil of us who had been thrown half alive into the unwanted waste near the courtyard. Being the only one who escaped from the horrible hands though my neck had been cut, while my sisters were cruelly haunted, devoid of all beauty, and torn apart, somehow I managed to open my lips to whisper the last words; the pangs that we had gone through, the swan song, on my last legs.
One may wonder thinking about what I am trying to express. If so, hear me out. We were sown by a gardener, germinated by the gentle touch and music of water drops and bathed in sunlight in the lap of the earth to be grown in a far away garden. We were varied in colours, fragrance, size and kind. Our inflorescences were like young lovely women who wore beautiful magical robes adorned with pearls and ruby. The handsome, naughty visitors, the beetles, the butterflies, the bees, the sparrows and the enormous flies always fluttered their wings and rested upon our spongy petals in the widely spread floral kingdom.
We were well off and competed each other by nodding and swaying our floral faces to attract and receive their sweet hugs when they came to suck the nectar.The gardener, every inch a prodigy in his work came near each and every one of us in all dawns and dusks to nurse us, his children. Having dues and glistening sunrays in our petals we shone like the fairest of the fair, the sweetest of the sweet and the loveliest of the lovely.
One day the gardener came with a big scissors and began to cut all of us, the blossomed flowers, which made our blood creep. We didn't understand what was going to happen. He fastened us into big and small bundles and arranged in a basket. Travelling a long distance, we reached in a large city. Many were waiting there with flower baskets.
We knew the truth beyond all questions only then. It was for sale the gardener grew us with that much toil. Our eyes were so dimmed with tears that everything appeared through a mist. We consoled ourselves thinking that our f ate was to become a decoration somewhere.
The florists bargained and bargained shamelessly and finally owned us. Sometimes they might fondle and caress us...We longed for in vain as we were buoyant and adaptable. We had almost forgotten the deceiving gardener by that time and there was no love lost between us, as he played us false. Can two walk together except they are agreed??
Soon we reached in a flower shop near the road side. There we met our sisters; a lot of beautiful flowers in rows. Some of us were turned into wreaths. Some were turned as beautiful bouquets.Then we saw somebody came running hurriedly and bargaining something. We listened carefully. Though we didn't know who was the dignitary, we were clear...A famous personality passed away!!More wreaths were wanted. So half of us again became wreaths. The beautiful lovely flowers bid farewell to us with yell. Remaining flowers looked each other wondering, “Oh! God! Their fate is to suffer suffocation and the resulting death in the concrete tomb!” All dawns traverse to dusks and all feet march to grave!
The rich ladies came and took away lot of bunches to adorn their flower vases. We realized, in the midst of the life we were in death!
Some of us again left behind. It never rains but it pours. It was then, some girls wearing golden bordered cream colour sarees with the bells of anklets came to the shop. The bangles in their hands giggled lightly and the jasmine buds tucked into their hair jeered at us. We heard the girls bargaining to the florist who was as tough as leather. Floral arrangement competition was going to be held in their college!!In order to win they bought the heap of flowers at a high cost and put them into their vanity bags.
When we entered the gate of the college building, we saw a beautiful garden with full of fragrant flowers. Were they also in pain??We looked each other as if the lost friends met after a long time. No. There wasn't any gloom in their faces. All of them were happy in the cool breeze. Their petals were soft, lovely.They stood as though they were blowing the trumpet of pleasure and beating the drum of victory, without a grain of salt of being worried. “The girls might be telling a fairy tale!”We thought.
All of us reached in different class rooms where we saw rows of magnificent bunch of flowers, buds, leaves and vines. A garden inside! Arranged for the Red-Letter Day!!! Everyone passed the ray of smile to each other. Neither had we got a hint of the severe disaster that was waiting to come nor did we know that a dark cloud was hanging over our fate.
As a bolt from the blue, the bell rang after sometime which sounded like a knell. A fall from the frying pan into the fire! A lot of lovely girls walked into the room with blades and scissors and started to cut us into tiny pieces. Horrible!!! The handicapped petals of my sisters with incurable weariness made my flesh creep. Closing my eyes, I feared that at any time I would also be a helpless prey in their merciless hands. However, I was not taken by anybody. Numb and cast down I opened my little eyes slowly to watch everything; the aimless inhumanity and brutality.
In the amazing designs drawn in the smooth floor, they arranged the handicapped, dead, scattered and crumpled petals neatly. Finally it became a marvellous floral arrangement of tattered, lifeless flowers. Oil-lamps were lit; silk, bananas, gold coins and flower vines of coconut trees were also arranged.
It was not known how long the petals lay likewise. The arrival of some women wearing white gown, black head- dress and long chains having wooden cross in their neck was seen. They stood near each pookkalam*, evaluated the merits and demerits, murmured something, smiled proudly about their genius disciples who make every celebration colourful and fantastic, attractively, calculated the beauty and marked it in a paper with one voice.
An honour to the embellishment of beauty!
A tribute to the dignity of flowers!!!
Unimaginable, invaluable, and unforgettable!!!
As the glorified life of a candle melting to die while giving light!!!!
The lifeless, handicapped and tortured petals of my sisters lay there for long like frozen corpses…Nobody did hear a cry in the wilderness……..
Many walked inside, praised about their glory, preached about their goodness, uttered words of flattery and enjoyed the thrill.
With gales of laughter, the girls stood around them as if blossomed lilies beside a hillside and smiled cheerfully while flashes sparkled making them an everlasting imprint in their albums.
A monument of images reminding a memorable amusement!
A dedication to all torn and tattered buds!!
A memorial to the crumpled and tortured womanhood!!!
Why all this toil for triumphs of a moment??
By this time, they had removed the useless particles of the rest flowers, leaves and buds including me to a waste basket, leaving us in the lurch.
When the dusk came in its wings of gloom, all the tiny petals in the pookkalam* too were swept away to the heap of rubbish in the courtyard courner.All our dreams ended in smoke. The expectations were nipped in the bud. A melancholy cry of a hornbill in despair for a drop was heard. A star brightened suddenly and exploded somewhere in the sky and all the lights were put out.
Accepting this catastrophe to my heart, I lay there in the dust under the vast sky and looked above. In the nick of time, I saw the statue of infant Jesus with His father, the patron saint, on the roof of the college building, watching us plaintively and helplessly.
Even then the flowers in that courtyard garden smiled happily, swaying in the mild gale, unaware of the calamity that had happened to us, their sisters. I took away my breath watching the beetles hugging them softly, the sparrows sipping their honey joyfully, the bees humming in their ears sweetly and the butterflies awaiting to enfold their mellow petals with utmost love. A gentle breeze blew everywhere with a heavenly fragrance.
Neither had I cried out, nor any drop of tears rushed from my eyes as they were already crispy and dry. It is no use crying over spilt milk; but a whim, a fancy, a vain hope glimmered in my illusive vision where I dreamt; “if I have a re-birth, Oh! Lord! Make me to open my petals in this unparalleled eternal garden, since life is a dream!!”
Translation of the story published in the magazine of St.Joseph College of Teacher Education for Women, Ernakulam in 1994-’95.
*pookkalam—Floral Arrangement in Kerala during Onam festival.
Mr. Dev lay calmly, closing his eyes tight, with a bit of smile left in his lips. The face was pale. The long grey beard flowed from his cheeks up to his chest. Long candles burnt. Silver crosses were put behind him. The smell of joss-sticks spread everywhere. Somebody sprinkled a perfume over him. His sisters, sisters-in law, relatives and others sat near him. The maid of the house also stood very close to him, weeping. Somebody put a chair near him telling her to sit. Covering her head with the end of her white saree, she sat there. Tears coursed down her cheeks like raindrops through the petals of a flower.
Who was Mr. Dev to her?
It was about twenty years back that she came to the house as a maid after the first death anniversary of Mrs. Dev. She continued her service till the day.
Somebody sprinkled the perfume again. People gathered here and there in the rooms, veranda and outside.
Sad songs and hymns were sung.
A cat criss- crossed the rooms as if it had lost its master.
Where might be Mrs. Dev’s soul? Where might be all the souls after their death? Were they allowed returning to earth when their dear ones start their journey to eternity?
Would the souls of Mr.Dev and his wife unite again?
“But a man dies, and that is the end of him; he dies, and where is he then? Like rivers that stop running and lakes that go dry people die…………..”
A woman sat behind him and read from the Bible.
Relatives, neighbours and others came one by one...Some stood there and some others returned after expressing their condolence silently. The maid continued weeping.
Who was the maid to Mr. Dev?
He had worked as a mariner. He told the children the stories from Rani Padmini and about his sail to foreign countries. During his leave he returned to Calcutta where Mrs.Dev worked. She also sailed with him to foreign lands occasionally.
Unfortunately they had no children. Each time when Mrs.Dev visited Kerala the children in the family expected a baby’s giggles. They imagined playing with a cute doll which has life.
Even after long treatment, the dream remained as a dream.
The desert remained as a desert.
No rain fell. No dew snowed. No oasis was seen.
The priests came. A short prayer was heard. Candles burnt and burnt.
The smell of frankincense and joss- sticks spread everywhere.
The maid went to the kitchen, drank a glass of water, came back without talking to anybody and sat near the coffin, weeping silently.
“We are going to our final resting place and then there will be mourning in the streets…. The silver chain will snap, and the golden lamp will fall and break; the rope at the well will break and the water jar will be shattered. Our bodies will return to the dust of the earth and the breath of life will go back to God who gave it to us………………..”
The woman continued reading the Bible.
Mrs. Dev’s beautiful portrait, neatly framed was hung against the wall. Did she whisper anything?
Like the gentle beams from the Moon her sweet smile reached everyone.
Her love towards children was par excellence. When she came to her own home on leave she hugged the children tightly to her breast with utmost affection. They struggled in vain to escape from her arms as their bodies were full of sweat and dirt because of playing in the mud. She never allowed the naughty ones to run away from her arms. During those days they didn’t know anything about the cry of an infertile womb.
One day when she came, she brought saplings of mango trees and planted them in the courtyard. Now they have grown to big trees laden with sweet fruits. If one stood under them he would feel the light breeze of love touching and embracing him.
The priests again made another short prayer. Clouds of smoke rose from the incense burner spreading sweet smell everywhere. Candles and joss-sticks burnt one by one.
Many put wreaths on the frozen corpse.
It was about more than twenty years back the misfortune fell on his life. A telephone call informed the news of Mrs. Dev’s heart failure on one morning. She had been admitted to the well known hospital in the city but after struggling for a day her heart stopped functioning for ever followed by a cardiac arrest.Her very old mother shed her tears with unending grief. The mother was allowed to see her in her last moments. “I am well, mom. Do not worry. I’ll be alright soon…” these were her last words to her mom.
The feathered death flies swiftly and nobody can escape from it.
Standing outside the ICU, Mrs.Dev’s niece looked at the bracelet in her wrist which was the gift of her aunt. She had bought it from U.S during her visit there with Mr.Dev.Tears fell on the coral beads and shattered.
As a wife she had suffered a lot to adjust with her husband’s drinking habit. It was her long struggling that led her breath stop suddenly at an age of middle sixties. When she slept her last sleep as a bride, Mr. Dev sat inside his old fiat car drinking many pegs with grief. It was very difficult for him to go without his wife.
Humans are like a puff of smoke….
A creature of clay...
Like bubbles burst and earthen pots break life stops without any notice..!
Mr. Dev had been alone for one year. He took many pegs daily, uttered unconsciously about his lost wife and threatened about committing suicide many times.
During his younger age, he was happy and energetic with a smiling face like an illuminated star. He played with the children, called them by funny nicknames, read many books and told them many stories. Every child in the family liked to play in his company.
“All mankind are like grass and all their glory is like wild flower.
The grass withers and the flowers fall…………………..”
The woman continued reading the Bible.
The maid didn’t listen anything. Tears trickled from her eyes continuously as if a wet tree in a rainy day.
When he appointed her after his wife’s departure, he had his own reasons.
“Only women would cook delicious food.”
“Shall we give a servant boy who cooks well?”Somebody enquired.
He didn’t agree.
Nobody compelled him. Nobody approved him. Nobody visited him.
Everyone blamed. They kept away.
When one of the nieces dropped in the house the maid asked her who she was. Tears rushed from her eyes as Mrs.Dev had never asked such a question.
Many rumours were heard. Might be true. Might be false. Who knows?
Who spends time to look into all these..?
Who was the maid to Mr. Dev?
Who is a wife to a husband?
Is she merely a flesh and blood..?
Doesn’t she have a mind and soul which is alive even after death..?
“Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it. Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself………………………………for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife and the two will become one…………….” The woman
continued reading the Bible.
The maid never stopped her weeping.
The priests started the final prayers. Having finished all, the last journey started. The corpse was taken to the last resting place.
His close relatives offered the last homage by giving the last kiss on his forehead. The maid too.
It seemed as though Mr.Dev whispered something.
Thank you for visiting me.
Thank you for your love.
Thanks though you left me forever…
When I travel to the world unknown,
When I travel to the home of the dead,
Give me farewell…..”
Somebody helped the maid to walk towards the graveyard. Who was Mr.Dev to her?
The grave received him with all its gloom and silence.
Everybody put a handful of soil to the pit. The maid too.
The words of Byron slowly echoed there…..
“My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flower and fruit of love are gone;
The worm, the canker and the grief
Are mine alone………….”
Who might have recited it then..???