Govindan Nair did not like it at all. Being highborn, a scholar, a one-time journalist and presently a scribe for various newspapers, Govindan Nair considered it below his dignity to permit his wife to work as a teacher in the neighbouring houses.
‘It does not suit either a woman’s femininity or her husband’s manliness when a woman begins to earn money for her livelihood. I know many men who are willing to use their wife’s money as their own. But I am not of that kind. I won’t live on my wife’s earnings. The moment a woman begins to work outside, she loses her womanliness and dignity. I don’t want that for my wife. What’s your problem? I am here to help
you in all possible manner.’ Govindan Nair continued, putting his arms around his wife’s waist, ‘Moreover, what do you know that you can teach children? Have you read the works of Cicero, Aristotle, Plato, or Spencer? You are stark mad. That’s why you get such ideas. How much money do you need? After all, I’m there.’ Govindan Nair kissed his wife and sent her off.
What reply could Kalyani Amma give! They still caressed each other like newly weds. They loved each other very much. Even though she liked him, she felt bad that he never considered her intelligent. But she suppressed this because of her excessive love for him.
Though Kalyani Amma didn’t respond to his query, it didn’t solve the problem. Money had to be paid at the store for rice and provisions. The milkman had not been paid for three months. The baker
and the butcher had threatened to file a suit against him. Reddy, who sold butter, nagged for money daily. So did the dhobi.
As already mentioned, Govindan Nair was a prolific writer. It took him only a week to finish articles that would fill one ream of paper. For each of those articles, he had been sure the editor would pay at least fifty rupees, but they were all rejected. However, Govindan Nair was never disappointed. He was very enthusiastic by nature. Besides, he was proud and conceited. If the editor rejected his article, that meant he didn’t have the brains to appreciate it. This was the experience of all great writers of the world. Others could not understand their talents. Thus he went on, daily assuring his wife that he would get paid the next week.
Govindan Nair belonged to an ancient affluent family. But he had no right to the property. He was quite well–known in the locality as a renowned public speaker and journalist. His fame rested not solely on his accomplishments. His views were usually different from those of others. As a policy, he made them different for the sake of fame. Govindan Nair usually dressed in a sophisticated manner. If possible, he would even have adopted a European lifestyle.
He married into a decadent Nair family, which had just enough property for a moderate living. With his elite status, though he would have got a wife from a better family, he married Kalyani Amma stating he would rather promote a family by his marriage than gain anything for himself. Kalyani Amma lived with her mother in their ancestral house. Her mother, who was taken in by the fine looks, reputation and status of her son-in-law was ready to suffer any hardship for him. All that Kalyani Amma got from Govindan Nair were some dresses, soaps, Banaras saris and perfumes which he bought for her just after their marriage. Occasionally he got some money for his articles. But that was rather paltry, considering his daily expenses. The rest of the expenditure was met by her mother, to ensure a comfortable life for her son-in-law. She would have managed the household expenses as well, only if he had had a conventional lifestyle. But his European-model routine quickly drained the family property. Every month, Govindan Nair made excuses that he would get money from his home, or that he had to pay for printing. Time went by. Kalyani Amma’s ancestral property got halved. And then mother passed away. Probably, she was unable to bear the plight of her
daughter’s life, or she wanted her daughter to take over the management of the house, or maybe she just completed her time cycle. Kalyani Amma kept on having many children. Finally it became difficult to run the family without additional help. Then Kalyani Amma came to know that her new neighbours were on the lookout for a teacher to instruct their children for an hour every day. That was when she asked Govindan Nair whether she could accept it. No wonder the great Govindan Nair considered it much below his dignity!
Govindan Nair’s style of writing was not that popular with the ordinary people. Kalyani Amma would have liked to read his articles and speeches before they were sent to the papers or magazines. Initially, she used to give her opinions. However, Govindan Nair not only did not appreciate them, but even scoffed her expertise in literature, confined as she always was to the kitchen. Finding that she would never flatter him, Govindan Nair stopped reading out his articles to her. In fact, Kalyani Amma could never make anything out of Govindan Nair’s speeches. He angrily flung away all his rejected articles to a corner. Kalyani Amma read those articles and commented with a sigh, ‘Your readers won’t be as learned and intelligent as you are. The editors will accept and publish only those articles which the readers can understand and appreciate. Ninety percent of those who read papers and magazines these days are ordinary people like me. So, if I can’t follow and enjoy your speeches and stories, they won’t be able to either.’ But Govindan Nair dismissed her suggestion with a scornful smile, and never bothered to consider whether it had any sense. Though Govindan Nair was fond of his wife, he was generally contemptuous of women. He was prepared to testify in any court that women were not endowed with intelligence for literary appreciation. He was even prepared to prove that all the books published under women’s names were actually written either by their husbands or their friends.
As his article got rejected again, Govindan Nair remarked with disgust, ‘All these idiotic journalists are against me. No doubt about that. I have criticized many of them in Swathanthryakhoshini. They haven’t got over the grudge yet. What does this Balakrishnan Nair’s speeches and stories have that my stories don’t have? All the magazines carry only Balakrishnan Nair’s stories. Well, they may be fine. But he
surely doesn’t have my lucid and elegant style. He doesn’t have even a faint notion of Sanskrit. Writers like him . . . for them, Kalyani In fact,
Balakrishnan Nair’s story ‘Swayamkrithamaya Apathu’ (Self-created hazard) in the latest issue of Khoshini really surprised me, though it lacked verbal felicity. But I would never have developed the story like that.’ He went on. Since Kalyani Amma was stitching an intricate pattern on her blouse, Govindan Nair could not clearly see her face.
Days went by. All the magazines carried Balakrishnan Nair’s stories. Almost all the articles of Govindan Nair kept coming back. As his name was somewhat popular, a few of his articles on current issues were accepted but the remuneration was too meagre and inadequate to cover the expenses of his sophisticated daily routine.
Many days later, Govindan Nair approached his wife with a piece of paper and said in an urgent tone, ‘Kalyani, see, this is just what I wanted. I had been waiting so long for such an opportunity. The Bhashasahityaparipalini Committee has invited books for a contest. The best social novel will get a prize money of Rs. 500. The second best Rs. 300, and the third Rs. 200. I’ll certainly get the first prize. Luckily, an interesting idea struck me on seeing this. After all, even the third prize of Rs. 200 is not that bad.’
‘The committee members won’t be as partial as the editors. They decide the prize collectively. So there is no likelihood of partiality or malice. Kalyani, we have pawned your ear studs and bangles, haven’t we? Don’t worry. The prizes will be announced on the 25th of the month of Kanni. When we go for the Arattu festival in the month of Thulam, you can wear all the jewellery. I’ll also order a fine Banaras sari and a pair of bangles for you. Our bad days are all over. The prize money itself is Rs.500. Anyone would offer no less than Rs.1000 for the copyright to publish the first edition. That makes it Rs.1500. We won’t find it difficult to propose it as a school text. Mr Aiyer will do as I say. That means by next year at least six editions will be needed. Rs.1000 for one edition will make it Rs.6000. Altogether we will get seven to eight thousand rupees. What more do we need? You should do one thing though. See to it that the children don’t cry. All should be silent when I work. I’ll have to sit late into the night. Ask the milkman to give more milk in the evening. We will settle his accounts without delay. Poor thing! He seems to be in
financial straits. Let me get the money. Maybe, we’ll give him one hundred rupees. He can buy more cows with that money. He can return our money in installments. It won’t matter even if he doesn’t return the money. He can give us milk instead. It is as good as money for us.’
Kalyani Amma who was familiar with her husband’s grand ambitions and the disappointments and mental anguish that followed, asked him to reserve his generosity till he got the prize money. Nair didn’t like her comment. But he never got angry with his wife because he knew that she didn’t have the education or intelligence to assess his merits.
Kalyani Amma took the paper from her husband, carefully read the advertisement and reflected over it for a long time. Finally she asked, ‘How many days do you need to write the story?’
‘Today is 16th of Mithunam. Before the tenth of Chingam, the novel should reach the secretary of the committee. Almost seven weeks. I need six weeks to write the story.’
‘So you won’t get time to write anything else in the meantime?’
‘I can’t write anymore to newspapers and magazines. We don’t need that profit. We can do without that.’
Whether Kalyani Amma approved of it was not sure, but she didn’t make any comments.
Govindan Nair locked himself up in his room and started writing the novel from that day onwards. Kalyani Amma remained in the kitchen, making sure that the children didn’t cry. A month went by and nearly half the novel was written. Nair was completely engrossed in his work. ‘Kalyani, no one has ever written a novel like this in Malayalam. All the nine rasas are treated in this. Our poverty is about to end. How did you buy the palm leaves to thatch the roof? I felt ashamed when I saw the milkman. But he didn’t ask me anything. Even the man in the store is not asking for money these days. He merely asked whether you and the children are fine. I wonder whether he is planning to file a case! But then he needn’t have been courteous to me. They know we will make the payment when we get money. That is it. Kalyani, today Gopala Menon, the editor of Anandadayini, and two of his friends are coming from
Kozhikode to visit me. We have to entertain them. I’ve invited four local people also. Be ready with coffee and snacks for eight people. Mutton cutlets, boli, laddu, roti, bananas and coffee will be enough. Everything should be ready by four o’clock. They all have a very high opinion about me. They were very hospitable to me when I went to Kozhikode for the Nair Society meeting. So we have to do at least this. Gopala Menon might expect me to invite him to stay here. Considering our present situation, that will be difficult. See to it that everything is ready by four o’ clock. Give neatly pressed dresses for the children; or better leave them next door. They can come back after the guests have left. ’
Yet another day, getting annoyed with the articles which were promptly being returned, Govindan Nair told Kalyani Amma: ‘What to do? How can these silly editors know my worth? They can appreciate only the rubbish written by that Balakrishnan Nair. He has turned out to be my rival. All the magazines carry his stories and articles. I think this Balakrishnan Nair may turn out to be a great writer of the times. Not that he has the potential – but people want the type of trash he writes. If it had not been for his articles, mine would not have been returned. His advent seems to be my ruin.’ Kalyani Amma didn’t intervene since she was engrossed in other activities. But she finally said, ‘You told me the other day that his story ‘Swayamkrithamaya Apathu’ that appeared in Khoshini was quite good.’
‘Yes, I only meant it was better than the usual ones. Not that I liked it. Anyhow, he has turned to be harmful for me. I detest him intensely.’
Kalyani Amma quickly studied her husband and said, ‘Oh! Don’t say that. Maybe, like us, he too writes because he has no other way to earn a livelihood. You shouldn’t consider him your rival, merely because his style is different from yours.’
‘Well, if there is someone willing to write rubbish, people will never bother to read my serious articles which are difficult to be understood. I am not going to send any more articles to newspapers.’
Finally the novel was completed and sent to the committee on the scheduled date. The novel was indeed remarkable. It was the story of a very poor man who became rich by hard work and then led a righteous
life. Govindan Nair decided that the novel should not merely be a story, but also contain a valuable lesson for the people. Though novelists in general followed this policy, Nair’s style was distinct in its own way.
Govindan Nair now idled away his time, saying that he needed rest for several days. He knew that his wife took good care of him. She never disturbed him while he was working on his novel. If the creditors pestered her for money, she herself sent them away with some excuse. Poor thing! She remained in the kitchen all the time, ensuring that the children never cried. They were never seen outside. The main door was always locked, so that the children’s voices would not reach his study. She was very discreet about their activities, and vigilant about his requirements.
Day dawned on the 25th of the month of Kanni. The day when the prizes would be announced! Nair had made all arrangements to get the report as soon as it was published. A big parcel and a paper came by the next day’s post. He opened the bundle apprehensively and with a pale face said, ‘The novel has come back. Alas! No reason is given as to why they rejected it. Sure, they may not even have read the novel. Do they have time to read everything? They must have given the prize to someone in their group. Let me see.’ The paper contained the report of the committee. He opened it and read out the prize winners’ list. Kalyani Amma, who was usually very composed, held onto the edge of the table and enquired nervously about the prize winner.
‘What is there to ask? It has gone to that scoundrel Balakrishnan Nair. Haven’t I told you? His emergence has been for my ruin.’
Kalyani Amma took a look at the paper – ‘First prize Rs.500 –
K. Balakrishnan Nair.’
Govindan Nair took a deep breath and said, ‘This Balakrishnan Nair has proved to be my bane.’
Kalyani Amma anxiously replied, ‘Please, don’t say anything about Balakrishnan Nair – I am that Balakrishnan Nair.’
‘It was I who wrote under the pen name Balakrishnan Nair. I found no other way to meet our expenses. After mother’s death, it was
really difficult to make both ends meet. You used to dismiss all my suggestions. I sent one or two stories to some newspapers to see whether they would appreciate it. They were readily accepted. The publishers sent me money and asked for more such stories. I got that money when we badly needed it for mother’s death anniversary. Then I got more requests from the editors of some other newspapers and they sent the remuneration in advance. Since we needed money, instead of returning the advance amount, I went on sending stories. I got more and more requests. So far, I have never received huge sums which you expected. But I was never disappointed. I never wanted to compete with you. So please don’t feel angry with me.’
‘I see, so far I have been living on your labour, Kalyani. I never suspected this. Now I realise why the creditors never pestered me. All I have to say is this. I don’t want to live on the money earned by a woman. Now I am sure you are capable of maintaining yourself and your children. If I remain here that will be a burden for you. This is just against my wish. It never occurred to me that the money I got from newspapers wouldn’t suffice even to meet my own expense. From now on I am not going to stay here. I am leaving today itself. I renounce my association with literature too. I am incapable of literary experiments that would appeal to the interests of today’s readers. All my efforts so far have been in vain. I will spend the rest of my life in my ancestral house reading some books or helping my brothers in the farm. I will definitely never make any literary endeavours again. I won’t feel jealous of Balakrishnan . . . Kalyani any more. If I had any ill feelings towards him, it was only because he deprived me of the fame and wealth which I wanted to give you. So far I kept on writing articles and was never disappointed in spite of many setbacks. This was just to make your life happy. Anyhow, now I am relieved.’
Govindan Nair was all set to go. Since Kalyani Amma was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, and said she would be desolate if he abandoned her, he consented to remain there as a guest till her delivery.
The next day morning Kalyani Amma delivered. In the afternoon she said that she wanted to see her husband. Nair stood hesitantly at the door. She said in a tired voice, ‘Come inside. I can’t speak loudly.’ As he stepped inside, Kalyani Amma told him, ‘Take care of the children. They don’t have anyone else. I think I’m going to die.’
Govindan Nair was terribly shocked. He held on to her hand and tearfully asked her, ‘No Kalyani. With whom do you entrust me? What will I do?’
‘It is better to die than live by myself with my children. Maybe I got terribly tired because of writing that novel. Will you use the prize money and the copyright money to take care of the children?’
‘Kalyani, if you die I won’t touch that money.’ ‘What if I do not die?’
‘Then . . . I will live as you tell me. Hereafter, I will help you in all possible ways in your literary career. I am even prepared to modify my efforts according to your suggestions. Just assure me that you won’t die. There is no one else in the world whom I love and respect more than you.’
‘So you won’t abandon me?’
‘No, Kalyani. Where would I go leaving my heart here with you?’ ‘Then I won’t die. We will spend the rest of our lives by our joint
‘Great! Kalyani, I swear, I shall never again say that women are brainless.’
“Thalachorillatha Streekal” (Adhyakala Sthree Kathakal. Comp.
M.M. Basheer. Kozhikode: Lipi, 2004: 35-47), translated by Supriya M.