Many, many arguments later, I decided I had to leave the place. I set out the most essential clothes, books and writing materials, and sent a telegram to Aunt Mabel about my arrival. On my way back after sending the telegram, I phoned Purushothaman: that I had already sent a telegram to Aunt Mabel, and that I was leaving by the evening train.
“You don’t have such an Aunt Mabel. Don’t keep idly kicking up trouble.” Purushothaman kept repeating the same words.
“Don’t leave till I get back. Where are you calling from?”
I could tell from this end that he was flinging the phone in insufferable rage.
It was Purushothaman’s trick; to obstruct and hold me back from going to Aunt Mabel. It has been staged before. But this time I am determined to go.
Yesterday, absorbed in deep thought about my new creation, I was lying on a mat on the floor in the passageway. I plan to turn a theme of grave import into a novel. Unidentifiable shadows lurk in the secrecy of the passageway. They disturbed me. That is how I knew that the walls shook. They shook and travelled. Before I had time to be alarmed, the walls crept up and squeezed me. Light and air to the passage were blocked out. Breathless in the squeeze of these possessed walls, I thrashed my limbs around.
One day, I had gone out. When I returned and was about to open the door, the walls closed round me like a grill of molten wax drippings, netting and squeezing me. Another day, the pots and pans left under the tap to be washed, stood up and talked, giving birth to stinky piles of soured table scrap, and rolled along with a war cry over the sink, kitchen, and the dining table. They vomited out their very guts. Like a character in an absurd drama, I fell flat on my face. No more. It’s terrifying. I need peace and leisure.
Aunt Mabel’s house does not have walls. It is made of beautiful, light, picturesque shades. It has no grills or locks. It’s arteries it has; a pulsating network of them.
To its west is the endless coastline of the wide open sea. To read and write, I have a room of my own which has three windows with a view of the horizon. Aunt Mabel never throws a soiled spread on my thoughts or drops a grinding stone on the aspirations taking shape in my mind.
Of late, I live entirely in my creative world. With a much burdened mind absorbed in my creation, whatever I say or do becomes artificial. When the burden of the outside world becomes too much for me, I turn weak and collapse. Those are the days when I yearn to curl up! If only I could shrink back into the original darkness and silence of my mother’s womb! I cannot bring out my words except in utter privacy. What I need is a birthing room; a room unconnected with anything outside the door.
Purushothaman’s order would come, be content with writing the way you have been writing so far. What I have written so far are several devotional songs, strings of hymns and love songs. Even in those, I wrote a lot about love accepting the Radha-Krishna image as a major metaphor. Separation and sacrifice frothed through my veins like an intoxicant. It is I who discovered that unfulfilled love and lust could be laid to rest in Krishna. I perfected the art of turning illusion into seeming truth, and developed it into an alchemy.
So, in writers’ conferences of a serious nature, my creations were kept out. When the world was going hungry, love is an extravagance, they bellowed. I regret that I have only created characters that worship
with flowers at the same shrine, shed tears like an endless broken dam, or bow their heads with suppressed sobs behind bolted doors. It has become necessary to bring my true state out in the open. It is time to announce that I suffer love like splattered spittle on one’s face, and motherhood an iron chain strangling one’s neck.
I need peace, and I need to slow down. In snatched moments of relief, if I go and collapse in the easy chair on the porch with hopes of pleasant thoughts, Purushothaman’s underwears tightly bundled up in the bedroom, come flying at me. With insufferable stink, they follow fast on one another to fall on my face, neck and chest and suffocate me. A sword of indignity sinks into my heart. I must leave. By the time Purushothaman gets back I must be over the doorstep with my bagful of things.
Purushothaman is bound to ask, what do we do with the children? I need to make him understand that I have become well aware that more than helplessness, hidden in that question is a violent accusation. It is not going to be sweetness and light as it was in the beginning. He has got to know that.
It is not unlikely that there will be occasions at Aunt Mabel’s house when thoughts of the children pain me. After the twilight has darkened, when the night falls on the ocean, my life may float over its surface like a despairing lullaby. My heart might suffer the immeasurable sadness of parting from them. But I need a release through which I must recreate myself.
I do not know if the travelling walls will now hunt down Purushothaman instead of me. But then, Purushothaman has more sturdy muscles, and if it is as he claims, he has “some stuff” in his upper storey. He could use them to try not to become helpless.
The fare for the journey is still a problem for me. It is not to Aunt Mabel’s house alone that I wish to travel. Seated in the front seat with a view, with no particular destination and quite free, the air I breathe will shape my creations.
Whether Aunt Mabel will be able to do anything about the money problem, I do not know. How she manages her day-to-day needs, and
how she maintains her beautiful home and garden so well, is worth knowing. Some days she does not make meals. She would suggest that I go out to eat. I find that walk by the sea, alone and free, very pleasant. I keep my eyes and ears wide open as I walk. To wander around by whichever lane I pleased, seeing everything, hearing everything, and returning with a packet of food for Aunt Mabel – these are the evening trips I thoroughly enjoy. Deep thoughts stir in my brain, and I respectfully lead them to my heart. I feel proud and hold my head high.
Contemporary writers in Aunt Mabel’s city are likely to hold meetings. Not once have I been able to take part to the end in literary discussions. The reason was the five metal rings that lay embedded in the flesh on my leg. My mother had had it made specially for me, and put it on me, as soon as I was born. Then I grew, and the metal rings did not, and gradually flesh came to cover it. The loud-mouthed five metal rings that ran around settled into the flesh, laid innumerable eggs that hatched into rings and multiplied. If I had to sit long with my legs down, the metal rings loudly proclaimed their existence by running around and thrusting me into burning throes of pain.
In the evenings, quite often I saw two poet friends sit on the handrails of the bridge that spanned the river, engaged in endless literary discussion. Behind their shoulders had sprouted marvellous wings. Golden wings! They talked of literary matters with their wings fully spread against the breeze from the river. In the evening light, their golden wings blazed and sparkled. It was quite a sight to see. They always had a group of listeners and observers.
On my way to buy vegetables, or bringing the children back from the doctor’s, I too wished to join them. With long, loose, flowing robes and beard which matched with their wings, they talked. One needs to take an informed position on issues, they said. Such discussions can deeply influence one’s perception of life.
I stood there long, wishing intensely that I could join their discussion. They looked at the wilting vegetables, or at the child’s face beginning to pucker, or at the darkening dusk. They reminded that it was getting late for me. Or, they shook open their wings and courteously
offered to see me home. But they never resumed the conversation where it was left off.
When I invited them home, I spent all my time in the kitchen getting tea and refreshments ready, while they talked to Purushothaman in the front veranda. I picked and stacked in my mind what I wanted to discuss with them through the meal, while I cleared up, and while I tidied the room. But by the time I joined them, they yawned and thanked me for the great meal, swished their bright coloured wings and flew away!
I will certainly be able to take part in the literary meetings in Aunt Mabel’s city. Perhaps, I may not be able to say anything in such gatherings. Even so, like rain on parched roasted land, my mind will suck it all. It is a shame to be kept back from knowledge in the name of delicate skins and soft bodies. Considering that my burning mind can take in anything, standing aside to save my skin must not be repeated. My fury needs expression other than by smashing teacups.
Purushothaman who accompanies me to literary meets only to start yawning by 6 o’clock, keep looking at his watch, then surreptitiously nudge me up, will not be with me. And so my train of thought will not be broken. When I return, what Aunt Mabel asks first will be how well I participated in the day’s debate. Then with my mind in turmoil, I can lay back on the bed. Or with an awakened mind, sit down to write. And if not that either, with the roar of the sea in my ears I can lie quietly absorbed in deep creative thoughts.
Let me put my things in this cloth bag and get ready. If only I had a good friend to help me with some money!
It is my friend Jayadevan who advised me to choose Aunt Mabel’s house to work on one of my works. Our thoughts and tastes were complementary. The discussions that followed our joint reading or writing rounded them to completeness. My agitated brains were able to find fulfilment in Jayadevan’s agitated brains. The days I spend with him lend depth and expanse to my writing.
Aunt Mabel’s peaceful, beautiful abode was an ideal arbour for the flowering of love. Aunt Mabel believed she would be happy if we fell
in love with one another. But it did not occur to me to fall in love with Jayadevan. Jayadevan also maintained that there was no need to insist that all relationships should end in love. What grew between us was the unimaginable joy of companionship. Laughing, quarrelling, singing out loud, we retrieved past youth and laid it out before Aunt Mabel. Whenever I tell Purushothaman about that calm, heartfelt, kinship, he Explodes.
“Lies! Which Aunt Mabel? Which Jayadevan? Go, don’t talk madness!”
It is Purushothaman’s ruse to stir the whiff of madness in my head! Now that I have recognised it, and have decided to bring it out into the open, I can go away.
Before Purushothaman arrives, I should be down on the steps, ready for the journey. I will not subject myself to a retrial inside, and there is not going to be a rehashing of this matter. When all tricks fail Purushothaman will keep repeating the romantic lie that he cannot live without me.
I slung my bag over my shoulder and picked up what money I had with me.
Before I reached the front steps Purushothaman came running and panting:
“Started again?”, he gasped. I stood staring at him scornfully.
Sympathetically, he tried to remove my bag off my shoulder but I brushed his hand away and in one spring got to the doorstep.”I am going to Aunt Mabel’s. ” I went down the steps.
“Who is this damned Aunt Mabel?” Purushothaman shouted.
Purushothaman can keep trying his tricks. I walked on.
I closed the gate behind me and looked back at Purushothaman. He was standing on the doorstep, deep in thought. Someone has punished him. As to who and what, he needs to find out for himself. I am helpless here.
I swung my arms and walked. My hands touched places and returned. Breeze with wings shook out the strands of my hair and the tips of my clothes. My hair came undone and hit the skies and my skirt swirled to cover the earth.
(The original in Malayalam is titled “Ooro Ezhuthukaariyude Ullilum”.
Paapathara. Thrissur: Current, 1990.)
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.