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  The flower — 2  

  Middle class
  Vol I : issue 3

  Ashis Nandy
  Amit Chaudhuri
  Kamala Das
  Paula Gunn Allen
  
Karen Swenson
  Only in Print

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Kamala Das

He fell asleep after a while. She lay listening to his regular breathing for some time, then got up and went out quietly.

She went to the room that Muthassi used to sleep in, sat down on the cot, leaned against the wall and said, "Look, thatís my husband. I love him and he loves me."

Her words crashed into the corners of the room. She sat still, her face pressed against her knees. If only she could have an answer, however insignificant: the soft sound of a footfall or a sigh from the darkness. Something, anything ó "Do all of you give me your consent?"

There was a faint sound behind a picture of Sri Krishna that hung on the wall. She stared at it. A huge spider came out and crawled over the glass.

She thought sadly, she could not even remember what Muthassiís face looked like. Was it on her left cheek that she had had a mole? She was not sure. She got up and went to the room where he lay asleep.

He woke up as soon as she lay down, but showed no surprise. He moved closer to the wall to make place for her. His hair looked coppery in the moonlight.

"Ölike rotten fruit falling on the ground."

"What?"

"The dead."

"Itís not good for you to think about dead people all the time like this."

"Shall I stop thinking about them and make them more dead?"

"Sleep, child. Youíre tired."

His body felt cold in the misty air. She suddenly remembered that it was the season of the Thiruvathira festival.

"Letís close the window. Itís misty and cold."

She went to the window, but caught sight of the giant mango tree that looked like a demon with its hair spread out and came back without closing it.

"I used to play under that mango tree."

"You did?" he asked.

"The mangoes were pale yellow in colour."

"It was two years ago that I first ate mangoes. Before I came to India."

"ShhhÖ"

"Oh, I forgot. That I donít have a past of my own, a past that is not yours." He laughed.

"How boring writers are."

In the darkness, both of them laughed together.

"When I was a child I wrote a poem about God. Philosophy and all that."

"MmmÖ"

"Now I write about rats and so onÖ"

He fell asleep again. She lay awake, thinking. Old memories floated around her, disordered and chaotic. Of pale yellow mangoes falling down when the wind blew. Of pale white roses swaying on their stems in the front yard of the house, robbed of their scent by the rain. Of crows that looked like shining black salagramam stones, swooping down to settle on the paddy laid out to dry in the sun. Of a little calf with blue bells tied around its neck cavorting on slender legs.

She woke up before the sun rose. He was already up and had put on his shoes. Actually, it was his footsteps on the verandah that had woken her up.

There was a faded picture of Shiva with snakes wound around his neck on the wall. She closed her eyes and murmured, "Parvathi, wife of Shiva."

He came into the room. "Youíre up? What did you say?"

He had combed his hair. She touched his fingers.

"Donít you love me?" she asked.

"Yes, I love you."

"Can you say that in Malayalam?"

"Why should I?"

She got up.

"Come, letís go back before it gets too bright."

They put out the lamps and closed the windows. She washed her face and put on a sari.

When she had finally locked the door and put the key in her handbag, he took out a wooden doll from his pocket and showed it to her. It was a female form crudely carved in rosewood. Its hair was tied in a knot over its head and its hands were clasped across its chest.

"Ah, my wooden doll!"

Although she was looking at it after many years, she remembered it well. And that was not all, she remembered the carpenter who had made it and his teeth stained red with betel, the way Muthassi had laughed when she first saw the doll: she remembered everything.

"Why did you bring this away?"

He threw his arm around her shoulder.

"For our son to play with."

She looked into his eyes with gratitude.

They walked a little, then she turned and looked back. There were no leaves on the tree in front of the house, the one that dipped to the left. There were only clusters of butter-coloured flowers.

"Do you know what that tree is called?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"The neermadalam."

They walked on.

"Itís a beautiful tree," he said.

"As a child, when I got up in the morning and went into the yard, the ground would be covered with the flowers that had fallen down and they would be wet with dew. IÖ"

"You would pick them up and smell them. When you realised they had no fragrance, you would throw them on the ground."

"How did you know that?"

He looked into her eyes and smiled but said nothing.

His hair was as golden as the morning sunlight. She was reminded of paddy fields ready for the harvest shining in the bright glare of noon.

 

 

Translated from the Malayalam short story, Neermadalathinte Pookkal, by Gita Krishnankutty


Glossary

Uruli: Shallow, flat, cicular cooking vessel made of bell-metal.

Muthassan: Grandfather

Muthassi: Grandmother

Salagramam stone: A piece of black stone that is worshipped


p. 1 p. 2

 
Kamala Das, a leading writer of India, has written short stories and novellas in Malayalam
under the pen name Madhavikutty, and poems and articles in English. An eternal rebel, she has recently embraced Islam and is now known as Kamala Suraiya