This is Yashoda. Sometimes writing a letter gives comfort. Need not face the opponent. Don’t have to look into the eyes. If eyes gaze, mind will speak the truth. That’s why, this letter.
It is dawn. Like bouncing rabbits, the morning rays pierce through the darkness. The window is open. In the beauty of the moment, the sound of the slowly moving window in the breeze becomes the background music. If amma wakes up, she won’t let me open the windows. Even though there are a lot of houses huddling together, there is fear of theft. How is your area, Srinivas? But, I am not afraid. I wear a gold plated chain. My handbag has the bus fare for tomorrow. Jewellery? Psst… What is there to feel sad about, except for the grey hair on the forehead?
My reflection in the mirror. Even in this hazy darkness, my grey forehead is clearly visible. What can be done about it? Thirty-two completed, thirty-three running. How far will it run? If it slips, thirty-four. Half-a-hag. True. Perhaps, I have realised this. These days, I don’t look into the mirror before leaving for the office. Even this morning, a college student asked me, “Auntie, can you hold these books?” “Oh, yes.” I received them gladly. What is there to lose! Just helping each other. While alighting, he said, without forgetting “Thanks, auntie.” That is when, the thought of dying my hair occurred.
Thinking of allotting some money in the budget. Imagine! I missed my stop. With the conductor shouting, as I was getting off, I heard an old man say: “Poor things! After finishing the household work and packing the children to school — if these women get a seat in the bus…. they forget the world.” That is when I understood that I am old. I don’t need the hair dye. Moreover, I cannot afford it.
Why am I saying all this to you? I’m hesitant, but I must tell you. For the friendly words you said in the morning, I must begin my reply in this manner. You must have seen people eating leftovers outside the hotels. Without a sense of shame and keeping in view only their hunger, they scramble for somebody’s leftovers. Sometimes, a dog or two share their meal. Community feast! We are like them — the lower middle class.
We graze on the remnants flung by rich people and politicians. We don’t have our own desires. We have passed that day without hunger, that’s all. At this juncture, it becomes necessary to introduce my family to you. Overworked and exhausted, my father — a pensioner. Like a tempest-struck mast, my mother –struggling to run the family within his limited income. The stories of my sisters are different. Why, interesting too.
We got my eldest sister married quite well. My brother-in-law was a gentleman. Sitting amidst us, he used to tell us movie and adventure stories. The killer disease that is the villain in any good Tamil movie affected him. In six months, he suffered a lot. Sad. Akka’s jewels vanished. There were two children as well. After my brother-in-law passed away, she had a royal treatment in her in-law’s house. The monetary dues came in. After that, she couldn’t stay there and came back home. These are all balances, which cannot be tallied in any account, Srinivas.
My second sister stays with her husband. She too has two children. But, she is beaten and harassed all the time. So, she stays here half the time. When her husband comes, she goes back to him. Even last week she was here. “I am trying my best not to come here. But Yasho, I can’t take the beatings any more,” she said. I was in tears. Just embraced her.
Next, my younger brother. It was a good job in Singapore — borrowed fifty thousand rupees on interest and paid the money to the agent — sent him. We received a letter saying that neither his job nor his pay was good. A five-year contract. Three years are over. “Only two more years. Just bear with it and come back. You are very precious to us,” appa wrote. And then, there’s my youngest sister. I’ll talk about her at the end.
The sky has reddened like henna. Moonlike, the sky wife pinched by her husband. Lyric, eh? If one sits down to write a letter early in the morning, maybe such thoughts will appear. What was I telling you? Yeah … I think you would have understood my family to some extent.
Yesterday morning, you were very cheerful. It was not merely the joy of the face, but the blooming of the mind. I thought it might be your birthday. You smiled a lot at me. You talked a lot to me. Till that unexpected moment, your joy infected me like a yawn.
|“Shall we have coffee?” you asked. I happily came to the canteen. Coffee is a suitable beverage for all occasions.
“You are a very good friend. I am not denying it. But, recently, my mind is moving past that limit to desire you. I hope you understand,” you paused.
I abruptly went away. I think the fact that I am writing what you told me is because it is pleasurable. In that moment, joy, confusion and cowardice overwhelmed me. I know you didn’t complete your conversation. I was eager to know more. I looked at you through the canteen window. My confusion had cast a shadow on you. In spite of myself, I felt like holding your hands. But I couldn’t do it.
Why? No murder had happened to make my palms moist and heart palpitate. Then, why?
It was an auspicious occasion. I think it was tai masam. Right. It was just after Pongal. We had gone for my cousin’s wedding. When everyone kept asking, “Nothing settled yet, for Yasho?” embarrassment gnawed at me. Now, I won’t feel that way. I have crossed all those things. At each stage, we either lose or overcome an emotion. Now, I have by-passed love, shyness and shame. In a train journey, we don’t keep counting the trees we have already crossed, do we?
I met him at that wedding. Someone introduced us. An MBBS, studying MD! Talked good-humouredly. My youth got awakened. At seven that evening, we happened to meet alone in an empty room in the marriage hall. Nothing planned. Just happened. Only began as a conversation. Then hands clasped. Felt it was wrong. But, my twenty-nine year-old body triumphed. While leaving, he called. “What?” I asked.
“Keep this.” He pressed a five hundred-rupee note in my hand.
“Hey! I am not that kind of girl.”
“I know. Did I say so? Your petticoat is torn badly. That’s why.”
I hesitated. True. That was a petticoat, which revealed even my thighs. But, that was the best I had. I took the money he gave me.
Because of this, you think I did that frequently? No. Srinivas. That was the first and the last…. It won’t happen again. It was an overflow of bodily lust. Couldn’t tell a lie. You may have degrading thoughts about me. I can’t change that. I am only sharing my experience with a good friend.
The milkman has come. It is getting late. Have to leave for the office. Somehow, have to give this letter to you today. I am a finished chapter. Why restart this, I ask myself. Not necessary, says my mind. That is my decision too.
Have to finish the letter? It is my belief that it does not have to end conventionally with “Yours, Yashoda.” I said I would tell you about my youngest sister. She is Shyamala, a sales girl. Roams around in the sun to sell coffee powder. She has become sun burnt. When she got back home last evening, her face was downcast. I asked her the reason. After a long hesitation, told me the story. On the pretext of buying coffee powder, some man called her inside his house. “I will pay you double for a packet. Look, your slippers have snapped. Why don’t you wear a good pair?” he asked. She cried. I felt scared Srinivas. That is why, this early morning letter. I am not forcing you. You shouldn’t think that way. But, I cannot forget my tattered petticoat.
Translated from Tamil by V. Bharathi Harishankar.
DAMAYANTI. Belongs to the present generation of women writers in Tamil. She has four short story collections to her credit, including Damayantiyin Sirukathaigal, Akkakka Kuruvigal, Murpagal Rajjiyam and Sambal Kinnam. Her first novel will be published very soon. Damayanti’s short stories are noted for their acute perception of life at all levels. There is a pronounced criticism of institutions rather than individuals. Rather than emphasizing an abstract ideology or morality, her stories focus on individuals, their decisions and the contexts against which they are taken.
BHARATHI V. HARISHANKAR. Is Principal Project Officer, TeNet Group, IIT Madras. She received her Ph.D on Comparative Post-Colonial Fiction from the University of Hyderabad. She has taught courses, guided research and published extensively in this area. She translates from Tamil into English. She has also published translations from English into Tamil.