He had only removed the bolt on the huge iron gates. It parted in two with a strange noise – much like the tortured sob of an assaulted woman, he thought.
In the large front yard laid in concrete were unseemly patches of green weeds. That’s what made him notice the white painted grill of the dog house! He could never believe that in her own house, she would raise a dog imprisoned in a cage. But then, it could not have been all her sway in the house, he comforted himself.
He never feared guard dogs. Instead, he only felt an overwhelming sympathy for them. What he saw in them were sad moist eyes and a bewildered helplessness on their faces. But this dog house was empty. Nor was there any pet dog in sight.
As he rubbed his feet on the small mat at the door, he looked around. Before he could press his finger on the calling bell, the door was opened.
Her husband stood before him, summoning a thin smile. “I am Adityan…” he said extending his right hand.
As if he had not noticed it, the husband indicated the sofa, “Please sit down.”
He sat down on the velvet covered sofa and looked around. Could this be her house? A week’s dust lay on the TV stand – on the sofa and on the floor were scattered newspapers and magazines – somebody’s
drained teacup lay on the floor, an out of place tablecloth, an empty showcase with a few odd little cars…
Her husband went inside, said something in a lowered voice, and came back.
“It was yesterday that I came back from France. That’s when the news… “
“It’s okay. At least you have come now. It was after her death that I learnt she had so many friends. That there was such great demand for poets…”
Picking up a book of her poems from the floor, he smoothed out the crumpled cover and stroked it, saying, “True – her poems appealed to all types of people…”
“But it was well that you did not come, Adityan. None who loved her could bear to see her in that state. All the men blubbered. Their hearts writhed in pain. Tears flowed unashamedly.”
A cruel smile seemed to touch the tip of her husband’s thin lips. But if it did, it was extinguished in an instant. Was this calm, pleasant, discrete man the one he had seen when he had come before? Then, he was the fury of a turbulent, churned sea. Now, a veil seemed to have been drawn over those eyes.
His eyes searched the walls. He saw no picture of her laughing face; or anything anywhere that might have stirred waves of memory to billow into the heart and turn eyes moist.
The poor man must have collected them all into her writing room
– so that her memory did not reduce him to tears all the time. To change the subject, he asked: “Isn’t Darshna here?”
No. She has gone to college. All rituals were completed on the third day after death. Her first year exams are close – she’s studying medicine. The practicals cannot be missed. That’s why…”
“My younger brother’s wife and children. My mother has also come over. My brother is in Calcutta, you know? Our small house in the
village is locked up. How hard she worked – no, we worked, to build this house. It was her wish that we live in a respectable place…”
I know. I know she had many responsibilities. I know how she managed to build this big house. She was like a donkey, a beast of burden. Big job – big loans – expensive offerings to family for every occasion – and all she was left with were unending tears. I know that.
Adityan did not voice any of this. Instead, he only smiled; just contracted his brows and nodded his head as if to say he knew it all.
It did not seem to go down well with her husband. Calmness faded from his face. A ferocious animal of prey surfaced, preparing to tear one’s limb from limb. No; for only a moment. A thin smile, replete with sadness, wiped it all away.
“She doesn’t need to worry about anything anymore. Her daughter’s studies, marriage, all expenses, all burdens, are loaded on to my shoulders.”
What of the insurance premiums for hundreds of thousands she paid through all her commitments? Her National Savings Certificates? Her shares? To whom else will all that go, he asked himself.
He said softly: “I would like to see her writing room.”
“Hm,” Her husband forgot his sorrow and a bit of a guffaw escaped him: “Writing room? She had no writing room. She had only a book shelf in our daughter’s study. It was full of books. With her death, those interested in such have taken them away. Now that she is gone, what do we want them for? They will only bring to mind that last journey of hers; it was I who asked them to take it all. My daughter does not read that kind of stuff. Now my sister in law keeps her children’s clothes in that shelf.”
“Then where did she do her writing? You must know – five or six books of hers have come out – with very good sales – a large number of books…”
“That’s right. She wrote books. She must also have received royalty for them. We never talked money. She had no writing table either. There
is a cane chair in a corner of the bedroom. Apparently, she wrote with a board across its arms. I believe she wrote whenever I was late coming home. My daughter now tells me that as soon as her mother heard my calling bell, she used to hide the board and the papers under the bed. She has never sat down to write in my presence. Here, she was an ordinary wife. A daughter’s mother. Once at midnight I woke up thirsty, and did not see her in the bed. Like a suspicious husband, without making any noise I looked for her all over the house. I even feared that she might have left the country with some young admirer. My daughter and I searched together. On the ground floor, in a room that held everybody’s junk, with a candle lit, sat she writing. That day, my control crumbled. I picked up my bag, intent on leaving the house. Only the thought of my daughter held me back.”
Her husband’s face grimaced over the bitter pill he had swallowed.
For all that, why did she have to write such poetry? Did she not have a good house? A husband? A child? Would the world have come to an end if she did not write?
Adityan smiled surreptitiously, and asked: “True. Why did she write poetry?”
It seemed to please her husband – it was only natural of him to bemoan that it was poetry that made his wife kill herself.
He wailed tearfully: “Poor thing – how very hard she worked to write – how much she achieved – how many were her admirers! And with all that, such a death…”
Anticipating an overflow of streaming tears, Adityan dropped his eyes in sympathy, his fingers closing and opening in his fist. Her husband’s mind seemed to be wandering aimlessly through the highways and byways of silence.
Her poems had been like little chicks hatched from the warmth of brooding misery. He recalled her poems. They throbbed with limitless love that never dried up.
Tired after his long travels, he stood up and stretched himself. He walked out to the small balcony beside the drawing room and stood
there. The sight of silver clouds moving in the sky, swaying as if in tandem with the breeze wetted his eyelashes.
My dear sister who had gone over to some illumined world, I have heard the silent cries that surged within you, seen your bleeding wounds, known that fulfilment never kissed your life – yet your compassion for your fellow beings was like the universal love that spread over the whole world. My heart had many times bowed to you with hands folded in prayer!
He felt a yearning to pour his heart out in tears. Before going on his journey, he had written to her:
Never say – not even inadvertently – that you have nobody. My Guru once said to me, “Young man, if from birth your heart brims with love, you will have time only to shed tears.” Every wound of yours had knocked against my heart. Then, I had looked up to the face of God and He promptly said to me: it is only to the deserving that I serve the nectar of sorrow. Is it my fault that your soul sister qualified for that? When I stood thunderstruck, He bestowed on me a silent smile.
On a corner of the balcony, along with a pile of footwear was a large sack, which he knocked accidentally to a loud clatter of brass.
The noise brought her husband over: “Is your leg hurt? They are all her awards. The sight of them in the showcase brings her to mind and make me cry. My daughter hence packed them all into a sack. In time when the sharpness of sorrow gets abated, they must all be arranged in a room, all things associated with her…”
With a faint shudder he looked down. The water oozing from under the rain soaked sack to wet his feet might as well have been tears. Unconsciously, he held up his saffron mundu even higher than his normal of barely below the knees. Tears surged up within him like a flood.
His eyes got moistened again. No more will her long loving letters reach the ashram. Nor would he read again poems that revealed her inner light, in weeklies and magazines. Never again will she long for sweet love. Her degraded existence made her sacrifice her very life. She threw away her sorrows as one would a tattered piece of clothing.
“She used to write to you regularly, didn’t she?” her husband
“Yes. I understood her. Knowing sorrow for sorrow –
understanding agony for agony, she was one who could embrace it all. Isn’t that why, even when I knew of her death, I did not cry until now?” he asked, in a voice devoid of emotion, his eyes wandering towards the empty dog house.
(The original in Malayalam is titled “Avalude Veedu”. Cholamarangalillatha Vazhi. Kozhikode: Current, 2012.)
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.