“Two people in one person”, said Charu to her husband Jayan. In the few days of his acquaintance with his wife, Jayan recognised this for the start of a long harangue. But he did not express his confusion. Jayan was a simple youth. He felt troubled that some of Charu’s sayings never quite made it into his head.
“You’ve seen Nargis’ film ‘Night and Day?’ Much like that. Two selves within one individual. One good, the other bad. When one swaggers with a cigarette, the other trips in traditional bindi-sandalwood mode. One like a river – the other like a lake. That is the kind of story I am going to write next.”
Jayan hadn’t known that Charu was a writer of fiction when the arranged marriage was initiated. To tell the truth, it was the thrill of her name that persuaded him to go for the bride-meeting ritual. At the very sound of the name, Charu, he felt a tingling sensation in his mind – as if something soft had landed on his heart. All kinds of lovely meanings that could be associated with the word, even those heard and forgotten during school days, came to his mind. For all that, Jayan’s real love of Charu’s “charuness” came after marriage.
Now, weren’t we talking about stories? After marriage, Jayan had read three or four of her stories. When Charu asked for his opinion, he said that he did not know enough to say whether or not they were good. That had got Charu all sympathetic, and in a burst of affection she had jumped up and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“Couldn’t you write your story day after tomorrow, after I leave?”Jayan asked.
“No, it has to be written immediately. Bits of the story keep swelling inside me. My mind splits as though I am becoming all kinds of other people. It must be written now to come out right. Until the story is written, my head burns and burns, as if I have become mad.”
Jayan got scared: “You always feel like that when you write?” “Hm. My mind becomes entirely disturbed.”
Before Charu could hold forth any further, Jayan put his arm around her shoulders and drew her close to him but Charu was not about to stop.
“This theme that I am going to write about – you know when I got it? Last night in my sleep.”
“Walking along in a dream, I felt myself breaking up into two-two Charus! The name of one in the dream was Witness. I don’t remember the name of the other. The two like two aspects of me. By the time I woke up in the morning, I forgot the rest of the dream. But then itself, I decided that I should write a story on it. If I don’t finish it by the time you leave, I sure will send you a copy later.”
Jayan worked on a ship. Charu had been walking around with burning head, in the throes of a story happening on the Titanic, when Jayan’s proposal came. Ship; captain’s daughter; ancient mariner’s song; the elongated eyes of mermaids; ocean of love; Jack, come back! – a good romantic subject. Even before she met him, Charu approved of Jayan. She anticipated that when he came to see her, the ancient scent of the sea would come with him and she would get drowned in it. But her nose caught only the faint smell of some perfume at the bride-meeting. On the wedding night as well, a Charu, seeking the scent of the sea in his sweat, only came up with what felt like the smell of green grapes.
“Don’t you miss the ship?”, Charu asked suddenly. Jayan shook his head without enthusiasm.
“The pathways of the sea? Its smell . . . , no yearning?” “No,”
Charu recalled a poem she had written some time ago, laden with nostalgia for the smell of the sea.
“Really cold . . .”, Charu snuggled closer to Jayan. They were sitting on the floor of the veranda in Charu’s home. The darkness had begun to thicken. A cold wind with the smell of December wafted in and out through the yellow fog of the veranda light. Time for some old recollections, thought Charu. She could not decide on what to recollect. She started thinking of a gazal by Chitra Singh, her weakness in the last cold season. In the end, Charu came back again to the story she was going to write. Of the two identities in the story, it would be good to have one do a midnight stroll through city pathways emptied by the December cold.
“Thinking of the story?” That is when she remembered Jayan’s presence.
The question about the story brought on a surge of love for him: “Yes. How did you know?”
Another day, Jayan had asked Charu how she wrote her stories, what she wrote about and so on. Charu told him a lot about the many techniques. Jayan understood only half of them. What he did understand were such as: the story should include discussions of the latest events in the world especially in cinema, pop albums, sports . . . Writing about an event three or four months after it has occurred is to lose all effect. Women’s liberation, suppression and such matters should never be written about. The story should have at least one or two dramatic climaxes. The story’s title should not give the readers a foretaste of the conclusion. In general it should have a mild, mocking tone. For instance, feminism, as well as those who ridicule feminism, can both be held to ridicule in the story. Matters that contradict one’s own line of thought can also be extolled. Stories must show social commitment. Nuclear testing, Kannur assassinations, the death of political leaders like EMS – whenever such events occur, a story should be shot out in its wake.
Jayan recalled that Charu had talked and talked of all that and a good deal else in a disconnected manner. As sleep was well on its way, he had not thought more about it then but he remembered that Charu’s face had changed then – become drawn, or pale. She is like that at times.
In the middle of conversation, she sometimes loses herself. Then she will either sit thoughtful and speechless, or talk of something totally unrelated to what they were talking about. At such times, Jayan consoled himself by attributing it to some particular trait of story writers.
Jayan woke up from his thoughts. “What are you thinking of?”
Jayan gave a slightly embarrassed laugh: “Thinking of your writing and all.”
Like a cock clucking, Charu gave her laugh from the throat. Jayan had heard this laugh now and then. When she hears something she considers really amusing is when Charu laughs this way. Then her eyes get narrow and her lips tighten; her shoulders, the strands of hair touching them, and her body, all gently shake in rhythm with the laughter. Like the movement of waves in the ocean, Jayan had once thought. Afraid Charu may ridicule the thought, he hadn’t told her about it.
Dinner over, Jayan was talking to others on matters related to his work, when Charu got up and went out. The darkness was intense. Charu stared into the piercing blackness until she felt her head swell; as if her inner being was cracking up into two. As in television serials of puranic stories where one being comes out of another, here was another woman sliding out of her body. Charu felt like laughing. Was this Witness, or the one with an unknown name? They must be the sum total of all my stories
– Charu performed her cock laugh again. That is when Jayan called from inside. Together with the cock-laugh, Witness, the unknown woman, the nostalgia for the smell of the sea – all got left out in the cold and the darkness, and Charu went indoors.
All that day and the next, Charu was very busy. Packing Jayan’s bags and entertaining relatives, she never got so much as near her writing table. The story within threatened to burst. Now and then, she felt its shape was losing definition and fading. But then, some chore or other came up and she forgot about it.
The next day, in the afternoon, with a downcast face, Jayan took leave of her.
“Write to me regularly. Write your story too.” He said. But Charu did not feel downcast at all. How come? She wondered.
Then again, she consoled herself – no big deal if one does not feel
When Jayan had driven out of the gate in the taxi, and the others
had gone back into the house, Charu sat out alone on the veranda. The faint smell of green grapes lingered by the wall. Charu looked at the path Jayan had taken. She looked at the partly opened gate, the cemented driveway and the monstrous steps. The sun blazed outside. Staring into the glare, her head seemed to bloat. So also her body. And from that swollen state two people jumped out of her. Charu recognised one as Witness, and the other as the nameless character. As she gazed, Witness and the no-name woman went down the steps and past the gate. Then one turned left, the other right, and they walked away. “Let them go”, thought Charu in disgust. The one who turned left would go past the road and the river to reach the sea and exult in the smell of the sea. She would find her way to one end of a steamer meandering slowly through, clamber up and stand there with her arms flung open. The one who turned right would go past the road and the jungle to hug up a coyly standing mountain beyond and stand astride its peak. Good imagination
– with a laugh Charu got up. Let the two dames stand there for the time being!
As she was turning in, the cry of “Post” arrested her. When she looked, she found a letter and a postcard, both addressed to her. The postcard only held a few lines of diatribe about one of her stories from a male, disgruntled with jealousy. She opened the letter: a friendly editor asking for a story to be sent as soon as possible.
Holding the envelope in her hand, Charu gave her cock-clucking laugh. Her body shook like the sea.
(The original in Malayalam is titled “Chaaruvinde Kadha”.Agniyum Kadhakalum. Kozhikode: Mathrubhumi, 2000.)
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.