The big wall clock in the opposite house struck 12, and I tried to sleep. I wasn’t aware then that something exciting awaited me the very next day. In the evening, that day, when I was at the cinema theatre premises, the owner of the petty shop there after buying some bhajji from me, asked me, “What’s your name, madam?”He hastened to add, “If you don’t want to tell me, it’s ok…”
I looked at his bent face, and it seemed like he was a nice man.
I replied, “My name is Parimala.” Encouraged, he said further, “I’ve been intending to speak to you about something…” He stopped as two buyers approached his shop. He sent me away with a nod and said, “Please do come tomorrow”.
A kind of excitement gripped me.
I left his shop greatly agitated guessing what was in the offing. I was not my real self all day. I rolled on the bed restlessly, the entire night, in a queer mood of being both happy and unhappy at the same time.
When I reached his shop the next day, there was no one in the vicinity. He smiled at me shyly, and while handing me a letter said in a soft tone, “I was somewhat afraid you might be angry and might not come today…”
“Take your time to answer me.” “Alright.”
I mumbled and left after placing his letter at the bottom of my basket. I reached home around 6:30pm. It was summer and, there was sufficient sunlight. My younger sister Janaki, had not yet returned.
“Thank God!’’ I said to myself, as I entered the bathroom, to read the letter without being noticed.
I began to read the first epistle of love I’d received, holding it in trembling hands.
Let me tell you at the outset, I am not
a rogue waiting for a chance to molest young women. I hope you will trust my statement as you’ve been observing me since long. I’m very attracted to you and wish to marry you. If you’re interested, we’ll discuss the matter further, at your convenience.
(I am not a Brahmin and I belong to the Mudaliar community.) I hope to hear an affirmative response.)
I went through the letter several times. In spite of my despair, I felt an ecstasy coursing through my whole being. I cried more than I smiled!
That night too, I did not sleep a wink. ‘Why not elope with Natesan!’ said a sudden voice in my head. Immediately, the other voice reasoned, ‘But the future of my sister, Janaki, will be jeopardised. No one would marry the sister of a girl who eloped with someone of a lower caste.” And once again I transformed into the good, old, docile Parimala of conscience and cowardice.
Subsequently, I penned down my thoughts. “Dear Mr. Natesan, I’m at a loss for words to express my gratitude to you. But I can’t marry you. I do not nurture caste feelings at all. I know you are a good man. My heart is full of love for you. But I can’t marry you, as my doing so will stand in the way of my younger sister’s marriage. Please do forgive me.”
I woke up next morning with a splitting headache. Janaki sensed something was wrong with me. She stood before me, her sharp gaze riveted upon me, and asked, “Akka! You do not seem to be in your usual mood. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Janaki. I have a severe headache.”
At that moment, our father walked into the room. Janaki’s intent gaze was fixed on him. She accosted him, “Appa, I want to speak to you!”
I stopped grinding and looked on.
“What’s it, Janaki?”
“When are you going to find a bridegroom for Parimala? After she goes completely grey?”
I was shocked. He lowered his head, apparently unable to withstand Janaki’s sharp gaze. He had no answer, but his silence did not deter her.
Father’s eyes welled up. Without lifting his head, he said, “What can I do, Janaki, without any money?”
Janaki stung back, “Had you not remarried at the age of 42, with five more children, would this have been the case today?”
Our father glared at her and said, “Chi! How unwomanly and shameless you are!”
Janaki guffawed, clapping her hands derisively, “My God! I’m shameless! You or me? It is you who should be ashamed of having begotten five children, without arranging the marriages of your grown-up daughters!”
Though I knew Janaki’s nature, I never imagined she would go to such an extent!
Father departed from there crestfallen.
“What’s this, Janaki? Whatever his follies, he is still your father.” Janaki looked daggers at me: “From the very time he brought chithi home, he ceased to be a father for me. If
I were you, I would have eloped with a man of my choice,” Janki trotted off.
I was stunned.
With Natesan’s letter kept at the bottom of my basket, I left in the afternoon for his shop. Noticing Natesan’s hopeful eyes fixed on me, I feared
I might break down.
He looked at me, smiling confidently. Avoiding his gaze, I took out two packets of bhajji and kept them before him. When he took out his purse to pay for them. I brushed his gesture away.
“But how can you give this free on all days?” he asked, and laughed.
But I did not laugh. I could not even smile. My lips quivered. I took out my letter, placed it in front of him and left abruptly, without a word. I felt giddy. My legs tottered. It was very difficult to keep my tears in check. I didn’t know how I managed to reach home. I understood for the first time what it was like to be heartbroken. Yet, I found solace in the thought that I did the right thing for Janaki’s sake. I never went to Natesan’s shop after that…
After a full year, one day, in a weak moment, my determination shattered. I longed to see Natesan–at least once–and approached his shop. But Natesan was not there. A stout middle-aged man was doing business. On my asking about Natesan, he told me he’d left after selling his shop to him and had no idea of where he had gone.
Something within me collapsed. My head reeled but I consoled myself that it was all for the good that Natesan had left . I returned… with a heart that was all too heavy and too empty, all at once.
After a week, on a Friday, I’d returned home earlier and was standing at the entrance to my house, awaiting Janaki. I saw Janaki at the street end. I noticed she was all smiles, while nearing the house. I asked her, “You seem to be very happy, smiling to yourself! What is the matter?”
She was visibly taken aback. Then she said, “I thought of a joke I read long back. Nothing else!”
But I didn’t believe her. I sensed she was concealing something from me.
After two days, I came to know. “Akka! I want to tell you something….”
“Tell me, Janaki! I’ve been observing you’re very happy for the past two or three days. In fact, I wanted to ask you about it…”
“Akka! I’m going to marry…”
I stood paralysed, looking for words.
“Why are you silent, Akka?”
“I am at a loss for words, Janaki! Please forgive me… I am very, very happy. Who is the lucky chap? Have you told Appa?”
“No. I’m only telling you. Let them all
“Please tell me clearly Janaki…”
“I’m going to elope! If Appa comes to know who the boy is, he may beat me up. He’s a Nair, not a Brahmin!”
“Tell me more, Janaki!”
“Do you know Kesavan Nair who runs a big shop on the main road?”
“Yes. I know.”
“His younger brother, Madhavan Nair.”
“That fair and tall chap?”
“Yes. For the past two years, we have been in a relationship. I thought of marrying only after you. But his family members are in a hurry. They are going to sell away the shop here and settle down in Kerala, I’ve planned to go with them…”
“I’m indeed very happy, Janaki. But is it fair that you’ve concealed it from me for the past two years?” I asked her.
My heart began to bleed when I thought what a great loss I had been subjected to, because of my not knowing about her relationship earlier. I thought of Natesan’s genuine love for me, his letter, and his kind eyes I was shattered inside. In turn, I also thought how I too could have told Janaki about Natesan’s love for me, before.
Janaki was silent for a few moments, and then embraced me, and whispered in a voice choked with emotion, “Bless me, Akka!”
Failing miserably for words, I stroked her back. “Janaki! My blessings will always be with you! You need not ask for them!”
I pressed my chin on her shoulder. I could not fight back my tears…
–By Jyothirllata Girija
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