Augury, Agony and the Shadows…

2018-04-04-PHOTO-00007827

http://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/books/2018/mar/31/between-darkness-and-luminance-1794416.html

https://scroll.in/article/874308/kr-meeras-new-novel-returns-to-familiar-themes-of-longing-loss-and-obsession?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=public

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I am currently reading a collection of brilliant essays by many writers who underwent depression: ‘Unholy Ghost,’ edited by Nell Casey.

As I read the essay ‘ From darkness visible’, by William Styron, I was struck by the similarity in the nature of some  characters in the book above, ( which I loved translating) and Styron’s analysis of his own heroines.

‘ Suicide has been a persistent theme in my books-three of my major characters killed themselves.In rereading, for the first time in years, sequence from my novels- passages where my heroines have lurched down pathways toward doom- I was stunned to perceive how accurately I had created the landscape of depression in the minds of these young women, describing with what could only be instinct, out of a subconscious already roiled by disturbances of mood,the psychic imbalances that led them to destruction.’

I also read ‘Noon time’: Lauren Slater’s  stunning essay about being intensely depressed during her pregnancy…

‘ I will call her Clara, for clear, and Eve, which in Hebrew means life, and I will hope the gap between her name and her life is small. Clear Life. A life without depression. That is what she means, this little girl…’

( I remember with gratitude, the quote about serendipity…that it is a small miracle where God prefers to remain anonymous!)

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Neypayasam: Madhavi Kutty ( Story Translation from Malayalam ) Part 2

Was it likely that the children had slept? Had they eaten something? Had they cried themselves to sleep? They were not mature enough to grieve. Or would Unni have stood staring when he had hurriedly carried her into the taxi? The little one had cried, because he insisted on boarding the taxi too. He had not comprehended the meaning of death.

Had he known himself? No. Had he ever suspected that she- always present in that house- would one day drop dead on the ground?  That too without bidding farewell to anyone?

He had peeped through the kitchen window when he had returned from the office. She was not there. The sounds of the children playing had risen from the courtyard. Unni was yelling, ‘ First class shot!’

He had opened the front door with his key. Then he had caught sight of her. She was lying  sideways, with her mouth slightly open. He had assumed that she had fallen unconscious due to dizziness. But the doctor had given the verdict at the hospital :

‘ Heart attack. She has been dead the past one hour or so.’

A deluge of emotions had engulfed him. He had felt unreasonably angry at her. How could she have just left like that, leaving all the responsibilities on his shoulders? Who would give bath to the kids now? Who would make them snacks? Who would take care of them when they fell sick?

‘My wife is dead,’ he  had murmured to himself. ‘ Because of the unexpected demise of my wife due to heart attack today, I request for two days leave.’ What a fine leave application that would be! It was not stating that his wife was sick; instead, it said that she was dead!

Perhaps his boss might call him to his cabin. ‘ My deepest condolences!’ He might say. Ha! His condolences, indeed! He had never known her. Her hair that curled at the tips, her tremulous smile, the soft gait… the boss had known nothing! Those were his losses….his alone.

When the door opened, the youngest child came scampering to him.

‘ Amma has not returned,’ he chirped.

How was it possible that they had forgotten everything so soon? Did he expect the body carried into that taxi, to return by itself?

He walked towards the kitchen, holding his son’s tiny hand.

‘ Unni!’ He called. Unni, got up from the cot and went to him.

‘ Balan slept off…’

‘ Hmm… did you all eat anything?’

‘ No…’

He removed the lids from the vessels kept on the kitchen ledge. The food that she had prepared for them: chappati, rice, potato curry, upperi, curd, and then Neypayasam-that she made occasionally for the kids- inside a crystal bowl.

Food that had been touched by death! No, they should not eat that!

‘ I shall make some upma, these have grown cold…’, he said.

‘ Accha..’, Unni spoke, ‘ When is Amma going to come back? Has she not recovered yet?’

‘May the truth have the patience to wait for a day at least’, he  brooded deep. What would be the purpose in hurting the child that night?

‘ Amma will come…’, he replied.

He washed two bowls and kept them on the ground.

‘ Let Balan sleep. Do not wake him up,’ he said.

‘ Accha…Neypayasam!’ the youngest said, and dipped his forefinger into the bowl.

He sat down heavily on the wooden block that his wife had used.

‘ Unni, can you serve? Acchan is feeeling unwell…a headache…’

Let them have the food. The food prepared by their mother- they would never be able to eat that again.

The children started eating the Payasam. He sat dumb struck, staring at that scene. After a while, he queried:

‘ Don’t you want rice, Unni?’

‘ No, the Payasam will do…it is very delicious!’

The youngest child smiled, ‘ Yes…Amma made yummy Neypayasam…’

He got up swiftly and hurried to the bathroom. He wanted to hide his tears from them.

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Neypayasam: Madhavi Kutty, (Story Translation from Malayalam)Part-1

(Neypayasam: A traditional sweet dish of Kerala made of jaggery, clarified butter, rice, raisins, cashew et al)

We shall call that man ‘ Acchan’ ( *Father): the one who has  somehow organised the funeral rites at minimal costs and has shown deferential gratitude to his work- colleagues, before wearily starting for his home at night. The reason behind that nomenclature is because, in that town, only three children recognise his true worth. And they call him, ‘ Acchan.’

Seated amongst strangers in the bus, he started segregating every single moment of that singular day.

He had woken up on hearing her voice.

‘ It is Monday! Unni, get up now! Do not burrow under the sheets!’ She was waking up their eldest son. Dressed in her white sari- that had seen better days-she had then started working in the kitchen. She had come to him with a huge tumbler full of coffee. Then, then…what had happened then? Had she mentioned something memorable to him?  Even after he pondered for long, he could not recollect  a single word of what she had spoken afterwards. ‘ It is Monday! Do not burrow under the sheets!’ That lone sentence reverberated in his memory. He murmured the words, as if they were part of the Lord’s name. He felt that his loss would become irreparable if he forgot that sentence.

She had packed  aluminium tiffin boxes with snacks, for the  children’s school recess. He had noticed the stain of turmeric on her right hand then. The children had joined him in the morning as he started for office-they had gone to town together.

He had not thought about her- not even once- at  his office. They had married after a year long love affair. Their families had not cooperated at all. Yet, they both had never regretted their decision. Of course, there had been hardships that had often exhausted them :the frequent bouts of illness which haunted their young children, and the precarious finances… She had slowly lost interest in dressing up. He had lost his capacity for bursting into a hearty laugh.

But they had loved each other. They also loved their three children. Three sons. They were aged ten, seven and five; and their faces were never clean. They were ordinary kids with nothing outstanding about them- either in beauty or intelligence.

Yet their parents often boasted about them:

‘ Unni is all set to be an engineer. He is always creating something or the other…’

‘ Balan- we should make him a doctor! Look at that intelligent forehead!’

‘Rajah is not even scared of the dark! He is very smart! He might join the army…’

Their residence was in that part of the town where the middle class lived. A flat with three rooms on the first floor of a building. A small verandah- where two people could just about stand together- abutted one room. A rose plant grew in a small flower pot in that space; Amma taking care of it meticulously. However, it had not bloomed till date.

On the kitchen wall hung various implements- spoons and their ilk. Near the stove was a worn out block of wood which Amma had used as a seat. She would be typically making chappatis, seated on the block, when Acchan returned from work.

He disembarked when the bus stopped. He felt a sudden flare of pain at one of his knees. Would it be the starting of rheumatism? If he were to fall sick, who would take care of the children? His eyes welled up suddenly. Wiping his tears with a rather soiled handkerchief, he quickly made his way home.

Would the children be sleeping? Have they eaten something? ( TO BE CONTINUED)