PARVATHI

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Who left the gate open; is it her, she should be here by now. There must be some delay. She never falls to turn up for Onam, to see us, me: my granddaughter comes to visit us. How I long for those moments of my old frail life: to be together with my daughter’s children, living far away from us, my daughter’s grownup boys and girls.

Nothing more does this heart of mine crave for, nothing but seeing them walk again in this house; see them, even if only for a brief moment, in the yard they once used to play in. Oh it lights my days, these moments.
I like listening to my great granddaughter; she’s reading aloud now. The girl’s studying in college, BA, BSC; can’t really remember.

Here on the same veranda her mother studied, that was before she was born. On the same veranda they played and studied, my children. What lovely days they were.

Now I sit here on this wooden cot, watching the days go by, waiting for people to pass by, listening to my great granddaughter, not taking notice, of my arrogant son-in-law. My daughter looks after me well, but I don’t like her husband; wicked torturer who drove his son away to become a sanyasi; drove the poor boy away, making my fading years, days of hopeful waiting mixed with the sorrow of possible disappointment.

But wait I will; my son will come one day, as the Pannikar said. How can he forget us, how can he forget those days. How green, how fertile how happy, were those days. Out of four houses I owned we decided to move to this one; it used to be a temple. Trees everywhere, areca nut, jack fruit trees, mango trees, coconut trees, we had them all here. And how cool and pleasant the days were. Fields we owned in plenty; our fields as far as the eye could see. My husband, if only he’d been more responsible, we’d still be having them all. Drunk, he used to be most of the time and indifferent to my property. A beautiful house, with an acre of land around it, I sold for 160 rupees. My son tells me it’s been sold again for lakhs; if only he’d been more responsible, what a lovely house.

“Who left the gate open? Has she come? She never fails to come for Onam. My granddaughter comes to visit us. O to see her face. I hate getting up to pick my stick, it keeps falling down. Not that I don’t have the health. Eswaran has given me the health for my age. At my age of 85… Lakshmi, my daughter says I am 92, yet it was only yesterday I was 83; this great granddaughter of mine was only a tiny toddler then. She likes me, even chats with me, asking me for old stories. Anyone would like to know their precedents. I remember the civet cat we had in the stable then, his semen was expensive and many bought it from us. Velayudhan, my husband, forgot to shut the cage door one day after feeding it. Not like the dog, he never came back. But our parrot was as good as the dog, shouting thief on seeing anyone enter the compound. Funny bird. Oh, the pond I used to bathe in. What lovely sparkling water used to kiss my body; how healthy I was then, fair and strong, my breasts round and full, exposed in the sun. How I walked from the pond in my white dhoti. How my naked feet loved to feel the cold earth under the shady trees and the hot ground on treeless stretches. My feet scorched by the hot soil. So full of health, beauty, wealth everywhere. Now at this old age I cover my breasts; everybody does it. Time makes changes and I suppose many are for the good. How good it is to be able to chat with Kalyani next door who’s a Thiyya, though I flogged my daughter once for touching her.

Those days it rained till the place became wet and gloomy. No short dry spells in between. Water-logged the whole place used to be. It still gets water-logged but not as before. All my eight children used to stand here and watch the rain, me and their mother teasing them and them vying for our attention. How I enjoyed making sweets for them with their mother. But Chandran, my son-in-law, spread terror in the house. Wicked torturer, I hate him. He fell at my feet the other day for forgiveness because he raised his hand at me in a rage. My husband, despite being a drunk, had never ever said an unkind word to me. If he had not been my sister’s son I wouldn’t spare him. My beautiful sister, the best looking among us, died when her son was only four.

“My daughter’s got my tea ready, I’ll have it here itself today. Chanthu has his now too, but we seldom talk to each other. Torturer. Who left the gate open, has she come. My daughter will come for sure today. It’s rained well this year. I can’t see the way I used to, what with three eye operations; two not three I think. My daughter took me all the way to Calicut in her car for the operations. My sight improved after the second operation. Still I couldn’t see the snake crawling across the front yard this morning though I was sitting here. My great granddaughter was excited, afraid, shouting to us. Snakes were a frequent sight in my younger days and they didn’t scare me. Sometimes we’d have to chase one that had moved into the house. But no one was scared. The girl’s stopped reading for a while. I think it’s English poetry she was reading. I was taught Sanskrit as a kid. Sanskrit poetry: it was not easy. But we had to learn it; our father was keen that we learnt Sanskrit. Those shlokas were not easy.

The rice we ate those days was so delicious, nutritious; big round fat grain from our paddy fields. Lush, green, slushy paddy fields, crisscross red with mud borders. We walked through the green rice paddies, on the cool narrow paths of mud dotted with hard stones and carpeted with flat grass on either side, for if we fell we’d get slush-coated feet till we’d reached some pond nearby. I remember the birds I used to see: Kingfishers darting into and out of the water at great speed and flying over and above the fields making shapes in the air, green groups of parrots with their red beaks trying to steal the paddy ripe and heavy, jacanas walking on big leaves in the water. And on emerging out of long stretches of paddy into acres and acres of coconut trees with all other shady fruit filled trees. What noise the birds made in those places.

These days I hear only those noises. Actually, I hardly take notice of them; hardly ever see them; hardly ever think of them. I hear ghosts in the dark, howling my name sometimes while I have my siesta. Paru, Paru, Paru… I hear them. “No,’’ I shout back I’m not coming with you, leave me alone,’’ and they vanish to come some other time. But they don’t trouble me, after all this is my home and I have every right to be here sitting on my wooden cot in the verandah looking out in to the compound or out of the gate; inside in my room, alone, sleeping, not being able to sleep, or a wakeful sleep.

“Paaarruu, Parvathi, I hear those wails and if I don’t feel like refusing aloud I ignore them. All of us in this house have had our encounters with them. Yet this is no haunted house. All houses I know have these experiences. I still read the papers with my poor eyesight. Yes I spend some time with the papers, even the English ones. I haven’t forgotten the English I learnt. Last time when Hema’s children came here they made me repeat English sentences with them.

“I want to make love,’’ I have to say now whenever they come. Poor kids, they like playing with their grandmother. They enjoy these games with me.
It is a long time since I walked outside the house. All I manage is to move within the house. I have no difficulty with that. The name of the lord is on my mind and lips always. Though I don’t light the brass lamp at dusk anymore I never pass the prayer room without stopping to say a word of prayer. And when Lakshmi lights the lamp at twilight I never fail to cup my palms over the flame and touch my forehead with the utmost devotion. O mother Bhagavathi; Krishna Guruvayoorappa.

I wait now for my death, in peace with the world. I know I’ll see my runaway son before that day. What more is left in the way of wishes, nothing for this old lady. Death: how will it come, when will it visit this house? I’m the next Jere; unless fate has some cruel tricks. But take me soon is my prayer. How will that last moment come? On this cot, or inside my soft one with white sheets or in a hospital? I’m the only one left from my generation in the family. Ishwara Guruvayoorappa. I will be buried in the same compound with the other who went before me: our ancestors. My death will be natural. Age will not allow disaster to be my death, nor will my death leave behind painful memories. Who’d want to remember this old lady.

I remember the time when the owl hooted a series of two short rhythmic hoots long ago. Six deaths in the family. Awful time it was. The owl warned us of a disaster.
Isn’t that her voice? Oh she’s come. She must’ve come through the neighbour’s compound. Oh, the same old voice. Her very presence makes me happy let me see my daughter.

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