Blatant lies

Uma was doing her homework with her face resting on her palm. I was sitting motionless on the chair patiently waiting for her to finish. This is not what usually happened. She would write half her homework and then ask me for help. There would be lisps and whimpers and then an outburst of rage that would boil over in the dusk. Yet children, like animals, are extremely sensitive to and can absorb all the love and the anger that fills the atmosphere. I had seen her look twice at me, a look that was a delicious mixture of curiosity and anxiety. I maintained a silence. A book How to Make Children Good lay on my lap. But I had stopped reading it a while ago. My mind was full of the happenings of the evening.

I had gone out shopping and went to Uma’s school thinking I would pick her up. A number of scooters and cars were parked in the yard which was full of parents standing alone or in groups, chatting, gossiping, speaking loudly or softly of themselves and their achievements or finding fault with something or the other. It was after I had run the gauntlet that I met Sister Loretta, the Principal. ‘One minute, madam. Aren’t you Uma Praseeda’s mother? Uma in the 1st standard, I B, Malayalam medium?’ In the sudden silence that followed, I nodded in affirmation. The voice of Sister Loretta turned harsh when she accused, ‘Do you know that for the past one week your ward has not been doing her homework?’ Her class teacher said with a certain amount of disgust, ‘On Monday, she told me that her mother was sick. On Tuesday, she said that her mother had to have an operation. On Wednesday, she claimed

Blatant Lies

that her home was full of guests and hence, she could not do her homework. Yesterday, she said that the power supply had failed and so on ‘

I felt weak and worried. My child! A liar! Sister Loretta thundered, ‘I would like all of you to understand something. Don’t think that when you have found a good school to which you can send your children, your job is over. Children need to be monitored all the time.’ She looked pointedly at me and added, ‘Children always tend to take after elders.’

The bell that pealed out saved me. Uma ran out helter-skelter as the bells stopped and amidst the sarcasm latent in the jingle of house keys, gold bangles and anklets, I walked with Uma with a bowed head asking myself, ‘What should I do now?’

As an educated mother, I knew that I needed to talk to Uma. I did decide on it. The question was what I should tell her. In anxious desperation, I searched my memory. I recalled being caught by my mother, her raised hand brandishing a twig of the tamarind tree. I recalled my mother’s brows twisted in anger. Yet I could not remember why I was being punished. So? My mind took over. Had I quit telling lies? Opposite to where I was sitting was the framed wedding photograph that seemed to smile at me. As I stared at the wedding photo, I felt that it was a huge lie! Even those who had punished me for lying had welcomed my lies at one stage. Why did they do that? They had often actively promoted my lies as the gospel truth. Why? With disquiet, I withdrew my gaze. I was not sure what I should tell Uma. With tenderness I called, ‘Ammu, come here.’ As soon as she heard me call, she threw down her pencil and paper and came running to me. She tried to climb on my lap. I stopped her and put her on a chair close by, ‘Wait, I need to ask you something.’ Eyes like marbles roamed my face. The gaze was innocent and fearless. ‘I heard that you have not been doing your homework. Is that true?’ ‘Um,’ she agreed. I was amazed. ‘Yesterday and the day before that Umakutty did not do her homework,’ she agreed. ‘Why didn’t you?’ My voice rose. ‘Did you lie that your mother was in hospital and that we had a lot of visitors?’ Playing with a piece of paper she had picked up, Uma said, ‘I was not lying. I was just joking.’ I was not about to give up, ‘You said three lies.’ I repeated. ‘I was just joking. Do you remember when those uncles who wanted to collect funds for something or the other came and

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (January 2008) Vol.8.No.1


you told me to tell them no one was home? I did give them the message that I was asked to tell them no one was at home. Didn’t we all laugh at that?’

‘This is not like that at all. This is not a matter to laugh over. It is wrong to tell lies. It is a sin.’ I spoke softly to her. ‘I thought you were a good little girl. I was so upset when Sister Loretta scolded me.’ She did not listen at all. She was leafing through my discarded book lying on my lap, trying to see if there were any pictures in it. She read the title painstakingly and asked, ‘Aren’t there books to better adults, Amma?’ I pretended as if I hadn’t heard her. I took the book away from her and continued, ‘When you tell lies, it will be chronicled by Chitraguptan. After death you will have to go through seven hells. Do you know what it is like in hell? There will be snakes and gargoyles.’ I said all that came to my mind to make her fearful of hell, not knowing what would touch her. Her face became serious and still quite suddenly. I looked at her, and stopped talking. She asked, ‘Will snakes bite Grandma Narayani? She had told me a number of stories. Ajju Chechi told me yesterday that they were all a pack of lies.’ I walked to the window in confusion. On the wall I saw the smiling photograph of grandma. Outside, a star twinkled. It was such a peaceful night. My disappointed heart was soothed by the silence of the stars, light years away.

I realized that Sister Loretta would never understand this. Children’s minds were like meandering streams, bearing on it the light as well as the shadows. Uma’s tinkling laugh rang out, which reminded one of the bells of a lamb as it raced in abandon down a hillside. She was sniping paper with a scissor as she recollected, ‘Sheikh Feroz of my class got caned today also. Do you know why? He got on to the bench and proclaimed in Mohanlal style that he was in love with Meena V. R and that he was marrying her the next day. As soon as she heard this, Meena

V. R began to cry. We ran to tell teacher about this. She was so surprised that her eyes popped out. Then she caned Sheikh.’ I smiled. ‘Then?’ ‘What then? Meena and Sheikh sat near each other hollering away. Meena V. R said that she would never speak to Sheikh again. We shouldn’t say the word “love” should we? It is a bad word, isn’t it?’

I was so furious that I turned on her. ‘Who told you that?’ I demanded. ‘It is. It is. I know that “love” is a dirty word. That is why teacher caned Sheikh,’ she insisted. I collapsed on the chair, unable to

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (January 2008) Vol.8.No.1

Blatant Lies

counteract the dirty notions that the world had instilled in Uma’s mind. ‘During the interval, Sheikh declared that he would never love again.’ I could only murmur, ‘How sad’ in response. Secure in the camaraderie of the last few minutes, she confided, ‘These teachers don’t have any mercy. I too got caned for not doing my homework.’

‘Why did you tell lies? Isn’t that why you were caned? My darling, you must never lie. It is those who lie that become thieves and are caught by the police. They are sent to prison when they grow older.’ I ran soothing fingers on the weals that the teacher’s cane had raised on the soft skin of her thighs. Her eyes filled with fear and hiding her face on my breast she sat in silence. Then lifting her face, she inquired, ‘Amma, have you ever said a lie?’ What a child! What a question! As I searched desperately for an answer, she twined her arms around my neck and yawned, ‘Umakutty is sleepy.’ Her eyes drooped. Curls dropped on her forehead in disarray. Her warm breath touched the skin of my throat. Her little heart beat close to mine. As I gazed at her, I felt all the aspects and the beauty of love touch me. Images crowded in my mind. The picture of my mother’s hand raised in anger, my laughing grandmother, my ancestors, the winking stars, my yet to arrive grandchildren, the laughing, flowering trees and the all encompassing silence. In that tender moment, my mind sobbed. Words cannot describe what I felt. Only the music of the violin could evoke the emotion. Tenderly kissing her, I said with love, ‘Sleep, Ammu.’ With the magnanimity of a child, she agreed as she settled to go to sleep, curled like a kitten on my lap sucking her thumb, ‘Umakutty will never tell lies again.’ All I could manage was an anxious kiss. Before her eyelids dropped over her eyes, she asked, ‘Amma have you ever lied?’ I did not dare to stir or answer her. I sat there with her in my arms, lulling her to sleep, hoping she would sleep. ‘Amma, you will never lie, will you?’ This was not a question. It was the expression of faith. It was this innocent expression of faith that made life bearable, which made the world attractive. As I did not want to lose that, I shook my head to signify ‘No.’ Immediately I felt I should not have done so. I saw the blatant lie sink, irretrievably into the blue depths of her mind. Now I am in the process of trying to believe that I was not lying, only joking.

“Kalluvecha Nunakal” (Mounathinte Naanarthangal. Ed. N.K. Raveendran. Thrissur: Haritham Books, 1993: 111-118), translated by Hema Nair R.

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (January 2008) Vol.8.No.1

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