“Doodlekins. .., honey, I am going to make your warble the theme song to the story I am writing today,” said the lady in the auto-rickshaw.
Theme song? For a story? It did not trouble the eighteen month old riding with her for whom, all future stories, poems, theme songs . .. were going to be.
“Dada’s oneykins, Mama’s oneykins, Sissy’s oneykins,” drooled ‘appy, ‘appy oneykins in an explosion of good cheer.
Mama resisted correcting doodlekins’ diction. It would lose its beauty. Besides, the language only stood to gain a couple of new words.
By now, it should be plain to the reader that the lady in the auto rickshaw is not merely a mother, but one barely managing to contain a story bubbling in her breast. If not, please read carefully the above mentioned conversation with darling honeykins once again.
What’s more, please understand mama is also a Central government clerk.
A government clerk – what a term! A skeletal comprehensive!
– in true keeping with its boredom. Whoever coined that term deserves a bouquet of flowers.
That may be. But to go on with the story, mother and son in auto rickshaw draw up at a child-care centre. The son changes front
immediately. The song changes theme. All lisps drop out of the diction. “No, Noo, No-o-o! Darling not go crèche.”
Mama turns distraught at her son’s aversion to the crèche. Mischief makers may wonder whether this is the child’s way of insisting on a change of theme song. However, spurred on by the burgeoning story within her, mama rang the door bell. Three minutes went by. Should she ring the bell again? Ringing the bell unnecessarily will wake up sleeping children, admonished a notice by the door.
A caregiver in attendance finally appeared to open the door just enough. Mothers and fathers were denied entry beyond the door step.
Once she had dared to carry her mother act across the threshold. Every detail of that vision remained etched in her memory. An 8’x8′ room like a rabbit hutch. On the left, beside the entrance, lay a pile of children’s lunch bags, mostly red plastic woven baskets; ants revelled on a scattering of cookie crumbs on the floor; empty baby bottles lay on their sides. An open wall cupboard displayed an assortment of toys in shades and smudges that bespoke of colours gone by. A couple of tricycles with missing rear wheels lay in a corner; children screaming – children painfully suppressing sobs – all under the age of four. How vivid was that memory! Including even the swings in the room with footrests for the little mites!
“Come,” said the attendant.
Honeykins turned his head away in displeasure. “What’s all this? Come.”
Today mama had on another hat, an impatient author fuming to write. She was only too eager to palm off her son on somebody: “Go on, my babe.”
To no one in particular (that is an old fashioned cliché; sheer carelessness makes me use it. In truth, it is always directed to someone in particular. In this case, it is the caregiver) the mother said,
“The auto is waiting.”
“You go ma’am. It is when you are around that he acts up. After you leave, he will be okay.”
And what will you do with your tantrums then, my little one? Mama picked up her son and thrust him on to the caregiver while he arched his body backwards in stiff resistance much like the sea animal hydra. That is what came to her mind, but what she said was:
“Darling, give mama a huggy-buggy-kissy-kiss!”
The attendant smiled. Daily repeats carried meaning in to these meaningless words.
The usage doesn’t figure in dictionaries. So, for the sake of the uninitiated, let me give its sense here: huggy-buggy-kissy-kiss – an encompassing embrace by darling son to loving mother sealed with a smacking kiss.
Painful silence. Mama repeats the yearning plea: “Come on honeykins, mama has to go.”
Son turns his head in mute disdain – petition denied.Mama waits, then sorrowfully leaves, accepting defeat. She walked out to the auto- rickshaw and gave the direction, “Library” with the crescendo of her darling’s screams coming from behind the closed door. What a screech! Her little boy might well be the poet laureate of screams.
Do I leave my son thus to go into the world of fiction? Should I? As she rumbled away, her wrenched innards begged her dear son to bless her venture, bless her efforts to write a good story that day. The eighteen month old dispenser of blessings continued to scream from the innards behind that door.
She tried to console herself. This was not the first time she was leaving her son at the crèche. It started when her maternity leave ended at three months. That was when she realised that a woman’s body recalls a child on its own. A man’s body does not.
Aching breasts gorged with milk, denied the hungry seeking mouth, had often forced consciousness of her son on her. She recalled the office washrooms, reeking of urine, where she squeezed out milk to relieve pain – then burst into tears thinking of her deprived son. The poet
Kunhiraman Nair’s lines, comparing the wail of tortured earth to that of a milking cow separated from its young one was borne in on her in all its ramifications then. What an education!
As the auto drew up by the library gate, she saw Ruksana enter it. Ruksana was the Librarian but that wasn’t the reason why she cared about her. Every now and then, she garnered words of encouragement from her.
“Hey, that story/poem I read, it was great!”
But no sooner did she hear those words than she would divine the opposite. The unspoken implication she ascribed would be: “I read your story/poem. It sucks!”
Even so, she craved the praise, hypocritical or otherwise. “Hi Ruk, wait! “, she hailed – and also marvelled, not without a sense of guilt: how quickly had she moved from her little darling to Ruksana.
After the usual niceties, Ruksana dished out the anticipated praise. But this time it took a different form: “What happened? I don’t see any writing out?”
“Broke the monthly ritual.”
They burst out laughing thinking of the periodic ritual familiar to both. When she first started writing, she had written continuously – and published continuously. At the time, an author friend of theirs had asked Ruksana, “Are her children all grown up – for such unbroken monthly output?”
She had then taunted, ‘Yes, my writing is as regular as my periods, exactly one a month – how does it concern that monkey?’
It is that memory that made Ruksana laugh now. “What brings you here today?”
“To do some reading.”
Lie. But she could not say she had come to write; that she had come in search of the privacy she did not have at home. Ruksana might
not say it out loud, but her thought would certainly be: ‘Oh! great writer!!!’ Why expose herself to scorn?
By the reading room, she got rid of Ruksana. It was 10 o’clock. 10- 1, 2-5. Six hours of writing without a thought for anybody! A darling bawling himself into knots – a gas stove burner as cold as a cow’s nose, laundered clothes to be sorted and put away. . . all may await the return of the housewife. Like a bespectacled old goldsmith, forceps in hand, searching around him for precious gold dust scattered around, she searched within for fettered inspiration.
She picked up her pen to write, and that author came to mind again. He once told her with a laugh that before writing he always mentally bowed before Goddess Saraswathi seeking her blessings for the incessant flow of apt words. These writers are a worthy lot. They bow to no other god but words.
That memory brought a smile as she picked up the paper and prepared to tame her characters. It was not easy. As most of her characters were alive, they might well cut through her disguise. Moreover, she needed to keep track of words such as ‘then’, ‘again’, etc. to keep off from repeating them too often. No matter how diligent she was, a second reading always brought up the yawn provoking ‘then’s and ‘again’s.
And so she recalled, she remembered, she forgot; and in the process, laid out a delicate vision on paper, as gentle as the breeze that fluttered its corners. These stories were like one-act dreams for her, lost on interruption. Time flew. “Get up.”
The writer’s mind – mirror shattered. “Somebody wants to see you” said Ruksana. Who might be her spectator? She got up, stretched her fingers and set out, humming the tune of a movie song she had heard in the morning H’m… h’m… h’m… Not bad, it had not died within her in all that time.
In Ruksana’s office was a young man she had met at some conference. Ruksana’s slender hands pointed to a chair and commanded “sit down.” Those beautiful hands gave the impression of a subdued lamp burning within them allowing the sublime beams to shine through.
Whenever she saw those hands she damned her own and tried to hide them.
H’m… h’m… h’m…
Continuing her hum silently, she sat down.
“We’ve decided we are not going to let you read”, said Ruksana. “Many thanks”, said the guest.
H’m… h’m… h’m…
The inward humming continued.
“Will you be free on the 18th?” asked the young man. She looked at him waiting for the elaboration.
“We are conducting a seminar at the Town Hall, on the prime importance of women’s reservation.”
“Women’s reservation?” she repeated, as if hearing such a notion for the first time in her life. Conveniently setting aside memories of the changing governments in power during the last three years, and their tearful pleas on the passing of the women’s reservation bill, she acted innocent.
“Don’t you think we need it?”, came respectfully from the young
“Of course, of course. If the parliament will not pass such bills, the
Town Hall should.”
“Please don’t evade the issue with a quip”, pleaded the young man. She looked at Ruksana doodling on the table with her wax-like hands. She felt like humming the movie song again.
H’m… h’m… h’m…
She said: ” Suppose we are ready to speak for the bill. The other side was ready even earlier.” “The other side?”
“Yes, the supporters of those Yadavs in the parliament. ”
Sharat Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Surendra Yadav,… She vividly recalled the anti-damsel pirouette all those Yadavs together staged.
Actually, she had no other interest than writing – not wealth, not politics, not fame. All the same, be it indifferently, her brain seems to have recorded those Yadav acts. Inexplicable!
“You must be very explicit in your speech, ma’am”, said the young
“Then women’s bill will lose support; think of what happened
when Sonia Gandhi sought explicit speech from her party workers”, said Ruksana.
“The general seats will diminish. That’s what all the fogies are afraid of”, she said. “Not that…”, she stopped for a moment to delve into her mind. The humming was still going on. H’m… h’m… h’m… Incurable romantic, oiled and nursed over the years! In the mind where she reigns, a politician can never hold on for any appreciable time. Literature and politics are two different things. The former is for “me”; the latter for whomever.
“This is a righteous revolt to decide what should be the minimum representation for women”, said the impassioned young man. “Shouldn’t women themselves take responsibility for that?”
Maybe. Whoever wants to win the point is welcome to it. It’s not for me, though, she thought sadly. One day down the drain. Where was the point in packing my little pet to the crèche and sitting here? As Shaw remarked, arguing about women’s reservation just transfers carbolic acid from mouths to atmosphere.
She moved to stand up.
“Please stay. You will come that day, won’t you?”
“I can’t, I can’t. Reading all those lectures and discussions published thus far in the newspapers itself will kill me!”
Not a persuasive joke by any means. But whatever jokes women crack merit laughter. So the young man laughed (reservation laughter?).
“Do sit down. Please suggest a few others I should bring by the collar to participate.”
“You people can do that.”
“Let’s invite X.”
“We may then have a recitation on all legendary heroines, Sita, Damayanthi, Savithri, Sheelavathi… Good heavens!”, said the young man. Ruksana and she relished the gossip.
“Okay, then we will invite that other lady.”
The young man turned his face slightly and smiled: “But she has her passport and visa firmly in her husband’s custody; not to be released easily.”
This time her humming broke out loud as she stood up: “H’m… h’m… h’m… tender love, tender love… in lotos-land…” The youth must have heard the song before. He abruptly turned around and asked her:
“What does your husband think about your writing?” What business was it of his? What a nuisance!
She answered carefully: “Very well. I haven’t yet started to write about him.” They laughed.
“Besides,” she said thoughtfully, “my horoscope says that my husband will be my ardent devotee.” They burst out in loud laughter. “Lend me that horoscope for a while…”
“Shall I give it away?” she looked at the youth. “Isn’t it a matter of someone gaining an admirer?”
She looked at her watch. Half past one. The late hour astonished the young man as well.
“In your company, I lost track of time.”
“Yes sir. That is the miracle feminine presence performs.” “Where did you leave your son?” It was Ruksana’s first enquiry
after her child that day.
“Left him at the crèche”, she said casually, as if it were an everyday
“At a crèche?” Ruksana pretended consternation. “At such a young
“Okay, then you go take care of him.” Ruksana and the youth smiled.
“Great! And you sit here and chatter?”, accused the youth. “Are you a mother?”
“No”, she admitted. “I am not a good mother”, she continued laughing sadly. “It is not for the first time that I left him there today but ever since my maternity leave ended. The world forgives me for that. After all, is it not to earn my salary?”
“She ‘s incensed”, said Ruksana.
“No, I’m not angry. I’m just learning that a mother cannot put her child in day-care merely to read or write”.
With a laugh, she walked away towards the Reading Room. But the pity was that the frolicking creature that had danced within her till then was no longer there. Not all the coaxing could bring it back. Did it get caught in the hunter’s trap?
Her draft lay on the table. A defeated day! Her stories were like dreams. Once broken, a dream does not pick up from where it was left off. Despite being both the producer and the audience of this drama, one has little control over its vagaries.
At 5 p.m. she left with two half written stories and an exhausted mind. Cipher! What a loser! She stopped the auto-rickshaw by the entrance to the crèche and in a voice fraught with fatigue, told the driver, “Just a moment, I will go get my child.”
It was the woman who ran the crèche who opened the door: “I had rang up at your office. Where were you?”
“Oh, what a wheezing! I called your husband’s office later.” Heavens!
But she did not reveal her anxiety. As she gathered her precious son into her arms, it seemed to her that a pigeon croaked from deep inside his chest.
Honeykins did not look up from her shoulder. Instead he sent a warm stream of urine on to her.
“Protest shower, little one?” – the owner and attendant of the crèche laughed.
“Honeykins, how about a huggy-buggy-kissy-kiss?” Honeykins raised his head and planted smacking kisses on her cheek, repeatedly. Feverish kisses, soft like flower petals! At that moment, the mother who had sacrificed her ailing son’s claim to the day on the altar of her writing, had an unexpected flash to the concluding line of her story. It is as follows:
Fathers in the world do not know something. Mothers carry a physician cum pharmacist, the like of mythical Dhanwantari, on their shoulders. When illness hits, children rub their faces onto the mother’s shoulder to prattle in fun with the resident physician. As for the mothers, until her child is well, both shoulders ceaselessly carry the scaffolding to the twin burdens.
It may not be suitable for pregnant women, women entertaining exalted notions of motherhood, and nursing mothers to read this, as the mother in the story is a bad example.
- In truth, the warning given above is the beginning of the story. I overlooked its inclusion. I appeal to my forgiving and much respected readers to add it at the beginning and then read the story all over again.
- Yet another appeal is that this story should not be read as a deconstruction of the very famous story of Nandanar titled “A Day in the Life of Unnikkuttan”.
- The letter:
31 July, ’98.
Herewith sending the story (post modern).
Yesterday, my husband happened to read my copy of the story. He asked, are the notes above necessary? I said, now that they are written, let them stay.
All well? With regards
(The original in Malayalam is titled “Unnikkuttande Ammayude Oru Divasam”. Gita Hiranyante Kadhakal. Thrissur: Current, 2008).
Translated by Sreedevi K. Nair
SREEDEVI K. NAIR. is Associate Professor of English, NSS College for Women, Neeramankara, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Her interest areas are Translation Studies and Women’s Writing. All the stories in this issue of Samyukta are translated by her.