Little Chandrika (1).
Chandrika (Moonlight in Malayalam), was a full fifty years old when she adopted two more children. It wasn’t your routine midlife crisis that pushed her into it. In fact, going by all indicators, fifties aren’t going to be ‘midlife’ for her by any chance. Her people don’t live much. And she is no different. She has been pushed into hard labour at the age of eight. She only has a faint memory of her parents. Not because they died early. They were around till her thirties or so. But then, she left home at eight to work at a nair house eighty kilometres from where she was born. They didn’t sell her per se, but for all practical purposes, she left home forever.
As a child, she used to wonder what she was doing there. The family was kind, took good care of her. Of course, they made her do all the chores. A child shouldn’t be made to do that, she knows. But then, seeing what her peers went through, she was extremely lucky. The household was serene, and nobody hurt her. At the days of hard labour, which wasn’t scarce, they would even give her something extra. Life later did teach her that what she perceived as unconditional kindness was in fact a control mechanism to keep her there. Even when they married her off, she knew that it wasn’t an act of kindness. The deep guilt inside her masters had metamorphosed into a kind of love that stuck to her forever. She cried uncontrollably when her mistress died many years later. They were the only family she knew. They were her aspiration, and inspiration too. She wanted a serene atmosphere for her kids to grow up. But she wouldn’t have it.
Her husband was an alcoholic. He smoked weed too, but she knew it only later. The only thing she remembers from that broken marriage was its initial days. She was confused, but then there were hormones. Plenty of them. Enough to forget the heat of the midsummer honeymoon. Enough to fuel a little thud inside her every time they fornicated. Once, her head hit the wall while they were at it. The new sleeping mat wasn’t holding its position to the newly plastered floor in her one room house. And in the heat of the moment, they got too close to the wall and it was her head that bore the brunt. And that’s all that remains as a memory of love making in her. A sharp pain in the back of the head. He didn’t stop nevertheless. She didn’t forget, once when he troubled her too much in drunken stupor, she beat him on the head with a dead tubelight. The tubelight exploded into a thousand pieces on his head. Strangely, it resembled the fabled orgasm that she desired her whole life. And that was the end of her marital bliss.
Her daughters grew up without a father. He wasn’t dead. But he wasn’t alive either. He drank his way through the isolated patches of their sleepy town. They lived in a paper municipality, but for all she knew, the place wasn’t any different from the many villages around them. It had plenty of green cover and people who pried. There were middle aged men who sleep-walked and stumbled on her house at midnight. They were surprisingly well dressed and wore cheap perfumes that disgusted her. The steel well bucket came handy at times. Once, she drenched a menon, and stamped his bald head with it. Little joys of being a single mother. The only regret remains is that her daughters didn’t grow up in the serene atmosphere that she deeply desired. The house wept when it rained. Little droplets of water found a way through the roof, no matter how meticulously she sealed it. Like the torrents of sorrow that found her irrespective of her best attempts, water droplets always found her when it rained. She felt a weight forming inside her chest whenever it rained. The other thousand elements of nostalgia she saw in movies were in fact all dreaded to her people. She never felt that she was poor, for she always detested the thought. Poverty robbed her off her memories too. When she was moderately well off later, she saw it first hand. That many things she dreaded - like torrential rains for instance - filled unexplainable joy in the mind of people. At the margins of society, things are very different. Like the canal that encroached her little house inch by inch every monsoon, certain forces in life constantly gnawed into her little life. She has grown to accept it over time, still she knew that her life was a taut string, never loosening a bit. Whenever a reprieve was on the horizon, something bad always happened. So when she saw the two children and their mother being thrown out of their home, she didn’t think twice before taking them in.
Sindhu was barely thirty years old and she had two kids. They haven’t eaten for days when Chandrika found them. For the fear of her drunkard husband, people were afraid to go there and enquire. The night before, Sindhu was beaten blue once again. But she didn’t feel the pain. She was already in a delirium for the want of food and water. She remembers eating a few leaves from the Tulsi plant that grew inside her kitchen and vomiting uncontrollably afterwards. Ironically, her cries brought no one. The loud retching at midnight is what alerted Chandrika out of her sleep. She went outside the home. Sindhu was staying just twelve houses away from her and none of the houses had any compound. They all lived at a plot allocated to someone decades ago. They were particular about the hibiscus plants and skinny bamboo sticks that demarcated their properties though. Nobody preferred crossing over the dwelling of the other. The only way to reach Sindhu’s house was around the colony. Even when they lived twenty metres apart, they practically lived in two different places. Soon, Chandrika will discover that they lived in two worlds too. When she fed Sindhu the leftover kanji from dinner, she vomited again. She could only feed her two spoons at a time for the next two days. Hunger will not only make you weak, it will also make you hate the food. Chandrika knew it all too well. She took Sindhu and the kids under her wings.
It wasn’t an act of unconditional altruism though. Chandrika remembered the words of the Moulana of Beema Palli, where she used to go for Thursday sermons. He spoke animatedly about feeding the hungry and doing whatever little one could do. That was an inspiration. But what weighed in her mind more was how her act of kindness will come to be respected around. From whatever little she has made in her life, not much is left. A little good karma and a respect from the locality would do no harm. The people around, despite being in such a pitiful state, never helped around. She wished to lead them by example. The random act of kindness, as it was seen by her naive daughters, wasn’t so random at all.
But things wouldn’t be so easy for her. It if were, the world would have been a really different place. What happened later was hilarious. But depressing too. Unlike the fairy tales of this world, this story refuses to entertain. But this isn’t a conscious decision, for this tale has no real control over the world we live in. This tale will definitely be told, but you’ll have to wait. This installation will hence end with the most repeated words on this blog. Stay tuned.
[To be continued…]