Priyamvada is a beautiful college lecturer with dreamy eyes. She taught the beautiful subject of literature. It is easy to imagine a beauty like her . . .
She got married to a basketball star. He worked for the railways. There is no need to describe them further as they were a perfectly matched couple. With her star husband, my friend Priyamvada lived in the city. She taught in Ernakulam city, where she lived.
My friends, this is so beautiful . . .
Priyamvada often walked in the parks and the boat jetty in the evenings with her children. She carried with her an air of nobility and the joy of family life. Her husband and his family members always addressed her as ‘Priyamvada, my treasure.’ Priyamvada had trained her children to call her ‘mummy’, not the vernacular equivalent ‘Amma.’
I was wont to consider the life of my friend, whom I have just described, as a cool, comforting morning breeze.
I rarely see Priyamvada nowadays. I am the receptionist of a famous hotel in the city. It was usually late by the time my job got over in the evenings and then it would be time for me to reach the ladies’ hostel, where I stayed.
Yet, in spite of my busy life, my old friend from college days was close to my heart. Sometimes I would ask, ‘Priyamvada, didn’t we study in the college set up by the Maharajah? What a wonderfully evocative
name! What great professors we had! Remember the little trees that were almost rendered invisible by the flowers that covered them!’
Sometimes I would tell her, ‘Priyamvada, your life is my dream. You are inside life. I am outside it; but let me enjoy its beauty from the outside . . . ’
I used to engage in this kind of mental conversation with Priyamvada on the only day off work I had in a week. On that day I had just one job to do—washing my clothes before the water supply turned erratic, and spreading them out on the terrace to dry. Afterwards, I could have relaxed before the TV in the sitting room of the hostel.
But why should I watch TV? Don’t I see everything I watch on TV in the hotel and on the road? I watch the TV only once a year when the Wimbledon tennis match is being telecast. I watch that because I am excited about the competition of the women stars in the field.
So, friends, on my off-days, I dreamt of the wonderful life that Priyamvada was leading. This was because I was not Priyamvada. For the many who lived in the hostel, becoming Priyamvada was something impossible.
I know that what I say is true. Who could become Priyamvada? From the hostel warden to everyone else in the hostel, a wonderful life like that of Priyamvada would be true only in dreams.
Life is not beautiful even for Revamma Chechi, who worked for the Customs. She has both husband and children but never goes in search of them now. When I sat on the terrace on off-days, dreaming of Priyamvada, I would hear melodious strains of the violin from Revamma Chechi’s room. It was she who told my untutored self that music and musical instruments could comfort the human mind. She did not actually tell me so. It dawned on me when I listened to her music. She was not one given to daydreams like me. Let me not digress. Let me hold on to just one thing. My Priyamvada . . .
Why not light a lamp every day to pray for a life like Priyamvada’s? I thought. I put up a picture of Thirupathi Venkatachalapathy on the wall and began lighting a lamp every day. This was done with the hope that others in the hostel too would have a life like that of Priyamvada.
My room mate, Anne, an engineer with O.E.N. laughed at me when she saw this. ‘What madness is this? I have never seen you go to a temple. Do you think the presence of Thirupathy Venkitachalapathy is there in this room?’
I did not reply, but Anne knew that I lighted the lamp to save the many women in the hostel who had neither husbands nor families. Do you want to know what my critic Anne usually did? Every night before she slept, she would take out a Bible from under her pillow. She could not sleep until she had sung a few psalms. Why does Anne pray? Isn’t she doing so to have a better life? She regularly went to church on Sundays.
One day as I was preparing to light the lamp, Prema, a lady with a double M.A. came in with some books—the poems of the famous poets Sugatha Kumari and O.N.V. Prema had also brought some of her own fantastic poems. Besides these, she also had with her a lengthy article on the evolution of O.V. Vijayan’s thoughts. She had given up her research work in psychology to take up a job in the Cochin Refineries. I had at first wondered what Prema, the post-graduate in psychology, who would provide an analysis of what lay behind even the simple act of breathing, was doing at the Cochin Refineries. Then Prema told me of the monotony of her job and I found comfort. People like Prema and I could only dream of the kind of life Priyamvada was leading!
Indira Variyar was working in the Research and Analysis wing of a pharmaceutical company. She was as beautiful as her name. She had been a hockey star in her college days. She found it difficult to wear the sari. She looked more beautiful in her Punjabi garb of churidar. Every Sunday, she went to the Maha Vishnu temple at Thripoonithura. She would sometimes go to the Siva temple in the heart of the city. A number of rituals were involved in her visit to these temples. She had a ring set with opal on the third finger of her right hand, for she believed that it would grant her what she desired.
My dears, all these women longed for a lifestyle like Priyamvada’s. That life was so sweet. The cool, beautiful home in the city where the children gamboled, the loving husband! Women have such small dreams and don’t they work for their dreams to come true?
You may not know Sharada Varma, who came to the city as a construction engineer. She works independently, canvassing for work and constructing homes for her clients. To eke out a living, she has to counter the sarcasm of the people who do not consider her job a suitable one for women, and fend off the enmity of her fellow competitors. Isn’t this because she had longed for a life like Priyamvada’s right from her adolescence? Sharada Chechi is in her late thirties. She eased all the financial burdens in her home by her hard work.
Sharada Chechi has never seen Priyamvada. She has no time for that. She does not have the time either to go to the park in the evening or flirt with boy friends at the cafeteria in the evenings. She has told me about the letters she gets from home. Her parents used the money she had earned to put her four sisters through school and college and to marry them off. At her age, it would be difficult to find a partner for herself. The homes she builds for others had won the praise and attention of a number of people. That would have to be her comfort.
One Sunday I was on the terrace dreaming of Priyamvada as usual. On an impulse, I decided to visit her that day and left for her home in Gandhi Nagar after an early lunch. Priyamvada, the beautiful friend of my dreams! I had thought that she would be on the verandah seated on the bamboo swing and playing with her children. But when I reached her home, there was no one in the verandah.
When I rang the bell, the servant opened the door. I thought the family had gone out on a visit to the home of relatives. I thought I would wait for them. After some time, the servant came with a cup of tea. I asked her where Priyamvada had gone.
‘Chechi, mistress has gone for her dance lessons,’ she was a bit reticent in volunteering this information.
I pondered over the kind of dance Priyamvada was learning as I sat there deep in thought. The telephone rang at that moment. The servant picked up the phone. It was Priyamvada. When the servant finished talking, I got the receiver from her.
‘Priyamvada, this is Sumathy.’
She was silent for a minute and then asked, ‘So, what news?’
‘Priyamvada, it’s you who have the news. What dance are you learning?’ I asked.
She waxed eloquent. She told me that she was bored with the dull monotony of her life. I asked anxiously, ‘What are you talking about? Aren’t your children and husband here? What is this dance you are learning?’
She replied excitedly, ‘It’s the cabaret, my friend. I was in Bombay for the holidays, last year with Suresh. We usually travel , for a change. Listen Sumathy, that was when I met Mary.’
I asked in perplexity, ‘Which Mary are you talking about?’ ‘Don’t you remember her? The famous cabaret artiste.’
I was beset by vague images that flashed in my memory. On the other side of the line Priyamvada bubbled, ‘Mary inspired me and I began this practice. It is a change, Sumathy, a good change. I got bored with teaching. I sent Suresh to Calcutta. He is with the North Eastern Railways. I sent the children to a boarding school in Ooty. Suresh can practice his basketball better in Calcutta. Anyway, Mary has been a real inspiration for me. I left my job. Forgive me Sumathy, but I long to become a cabaret artiste. I have practice tonight. Don’t wait for me. See you later.’ Priyamvada put the phone down.
I sat as if turned to stone for some time. What has happened to my Priyamvada? Can a college lecturer leave her home and family to become a cabaret artiste? What is the problem that led to this sorry turn? Who can I talk to? I walked away totally perplexed. She considered Mary as one who inspired her! Without understanding the theories and the crises of the world, I returned to the hostel. What are hostel inmates like us, who dreamt of Priyamvada’s perfect life to do now, my friends? Can you tell me?
“Priyamvada Maryodothu” (Mounathinte Naanarthangal. Ed. N.K. Raveendran. Thrissur: Haritham Books, 1993: 150-157), translated by Hema Nair R.
SUMATHY. She is a promising writer who has to her credit a few good stories. The story included here has a brilliant narrative style that holds the readers’ interest. The writer dwells on the way we attribute our ideals on to other people’s lives which we imagine to be perfect. Like the tale of Richard Cory in the poem of that name, we are surprised to find our ideal life unbearable for another individual.
HEMA NAIR R. Teaches English at the N.S.S. College for Women, Neeramankara, Thiruvananthapuram. Her doctoral work was on Doris Lessing. A regular contributor to research journals. Interested in Women’s Studies.