Leaving a trail of dust, a huge van speeded into Devigramam, disturbing its quiet siesta. Sundaran came out of his hair-cutting saloon to stare after the van. Appu Nair and Kunhiraman also came out from the provision store and the tea-shop respectively. The tableau of people relaxing on the shop pavements slowly came to life.
What kind of a vehicle is this! Appu Nair remarked in surprise.
Such a one has never before come to this village!
The white van that looked like an ambulance stopped at the turning to the left of the road from where a steep slope began its descent to the front yard of a small house. Two young men jumped down from the van and moved aggressively towards the house. The van reversed a bit, moved forward slightly, did this zigzag movement again, and finally stopped with its face turned to the house. A third person, with the help of the driver, placed a big and dark object on the front seat and sat next to it, looking through it at the house. The driver got down from his seat, as if his job was over.
Sundaran was vexed to find that all this was happening in front of Prabhakaran’s house. For, it is in this house that Sundaran has deposited his heart for safe-keeping. It has been two months and seven days since he surrendered his heart to Indu Kumari, the only daughter of Prabhakaran. The villagers say that Indu Kumari has in her keeping five or six hearts more, but that those have crossed the expiry date. Sundaran has never taken such remarks seriously. It is only natural for people to spread scandalous stories about pretty cuties. But Sundaran has to admit
that he has never liked certain habits of Indu Kumari—like putting on heavy facial makeup, decking herself in gaudy dresses, and flirting with almost every one. He is waiting to seize her in wedlock so that he could teach her dignified and chaste behaviour. But this van . . . how can a poor barber stand up against the affluence of a luxury van?
Come, let’s see what is happening, Sundaran told Kunhiraman and started running towards the house, followed by the people.
Let us call the two young men who move towards the house by the common name A. The first A is slim and has glasses while the second A, without glasses, is huge and seems to have some difficulty fitting his bulging parts into the trousers. The corpulent A has a scarf with red and black checks tied around his neck in the Arafat way.
Sundaran and friends intuitively sensed that something was wrong.
The village mob flowed down the slope and filled the courtyard of Prabhakaran’s house. But the house was still in siesta, blissfully unaware of what was happening around it.
Emaciated A knocked at the front door with a strength that no one would associate with his physique. Not giving the knock enough time to reach the ears of the sleeping people, he knocked again.
Hey, what is the matter? Sundaran shouted at the two As who did not bother to reply. Instead, Emaciated A knocked again.
This time the door was opened, and Kunjannama, wife of Prabhakaran, stood there bewildered. She seemed to be still in the daze of siesta. Her sari, slipping from the shoulder, proclaimed that her blouse needed the services of a safety-pin very badly.
Who are you people? What do you want? She asked, her eyes flitting over the two As and the crowd.
Call Indu Kumari. Emaciated A told her.
Indu? Kunjannamma appeared confused. Why should I call her? That we’ll tell her! CALL HER. Emaciated A thundered. Corpulent
A merely looked on.
Why do you want to see Indu Kumari? Sundaran raised his voice. Kunhiraman and Appu Nair noticed the latent possessive note in his voice.
No one replied to him as none of them shared Sundaran’s soft corner for Indu Kumari. She had more of Kunjannamma’s sensuousness than Prabhakaran’s meekness; so the orthodox sect of the village never liked her. The way she walked to the polytechnic in the city every morning and back home in the evening with that characteristic swaying movement, used to increase the heartbeats of some among them. She was the cynosure of many a gossip, the latest being the squabble over a love letter which she had accepted from a boy at the bus stop. Does this formidable van have anything to do with that incident?
Indu Kumari appeared behind Kunjannamma’s bulky figure. Come here Indu Kumari, Emaciated A ordered.
No! Go inside, Kunjannamma shouted at her. Go, wake your Papa. Indu stood confused.
What do you want? Who the hell are you? Kunjannamma retrieved her fire, but she kept on looking at the villagers, silently seeking support. Prabhakaran, evidently woken by all the noise, appeared at the other door that opened into the verandah. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the crowd in the courtyard and the two men on the verandah. Kunjannamma turned upon him ferociously –
Man, don’t stand there blinking. Will you please ask these people what their business is in our house? Coming to the house just like that and asking a girl to come out . . . What do they think this is, fools’ kingdom?
Don’t be scared Prabhakaran chetta, Sundaran hollered. We are all with you. He uttered the last sentence with his eyes fixed on Indu Kumari’s face.
What is all this? Who are you? What do you want? Prabhakaran recovered himself.
Emaciated A smiled at him. A smile that spread innocence on his unattractive countenance. He informed Prabhakaran cheerfully –
We have come to abduct Indu Kumari. The crowd froze for a second.
Then some people started talking aloud while some others stood with a strange and enigmatic silence shrouded with a sly smile as if they knew what was up the sleeve.
Abduct? Sundaran took a step forward. Well, I would like to see you doing that!
Do you think that there are no men folk in this village? Appu Nair also came forward, donning his dhoti in a ready-to-fight manner.
Please wait a few more moments and we will show you how we do it, said Emaciated A. We are going to take away Indu Kumari in that van.
Some turned to look apprehensively at the van while some others tried to suppress an urge to laugh.
As long as there is any life left in me . . . , Sundaran leapt forward, shouting. Someone stopped him by tugging at his shirt. It was the driver of the van, whispering shhh . . . shhh . . .
Aniyaa, look here, said he.
Move away. Take your hands off me. Sundaran snapped at him and then tried to continue what he was shouting – As long as there is any life left in me . . .
Kunjannamma began weeping – Oh, Holy Mother Mary . . .
But Prabhakaran could only stand stunned, voice frozen in his throat.
Indu Kumari, walk to the van. Emaciated A told her. Don’t make us resort to violence.
Sundaran really regretted not having taken his hair-cutting scissors. He leapt again, but this time it was Appu Nair who pulled him by the shirt and stopped him.
Sundara, wait. Listen to this guy.
And the driver told him – Aniya, look, there is a camera in the van.
Some of the villagers also told him in a low voice – Sundaranchetta, look. A camera!
When Sundaran turned to look, the man in the van behind the camera waved at him.
It is a shooting, the driver told him. Haven’t you seen such programmes on TV channels? They just pretend to kidnap her. Just a trick. They will take her up to that junction and bring her back. She will get a lot of prizes too.
Before moving to another man who too seemed to have some doubts, the driver whispered to Sundaran – Make some hubbub; it will keep the viewers interested. But don’t interrupt the shooting.
Meanwhile Prabhakaran was putting up a fight. Resisting the advance of Emaciated A, he shouted at his daughter – Go inside the house.
But Indu Kumari had already spotted the camera inside the van. A regular viewer of TV programmes, she realized that it was a reality show. It had been her lifelong ambition to participate in a TV programme. She wished she were informed about this show in advance so that she could have put on more cosmetics. Her oily skin would glisten unless enough powder was put on. Her nose, especially, would shine.
She turned her face and rubbed her nose on the shawl round her neck—like a bird rubbing its beak.
Hey, what are you doing? I told you to go inside. Kunjannamma pulled her by the hand.
Thinking that all this would be telecast, Indu Kumari put on a coy expression and said – Oh, leave me alone, Amma.
Emaciated A raised his voice – For the last time I am asking you, will you come without creating problems?
Indu Kumari placed her first step forward like a shy bride, but Kunjannamma pulled her fiercely back. Losing her balance, Indu Kumari stumbled.
Prabhakaran, standing between his daughter and Emaciated A, asked in a heart-rending tone – Brother, what do you think you are doing?
Show of emotions forms an integral part of reality shows and Emaciated A laughed aloud. Then he turned to Corpulent A and signaled with his eyes. Corpulent A who had been standing still so far like a statue, suddenly came to life. He grabbed Indu by the hand and pulled her down from the verandah into the courtyard.
Why are you all looking on? Don’t you see what is happening?
Prabhakaran turned to the villagers desperately. Help please . . .
The villagers, who had by now been completely coached in the awareness course, put on a pseudo severity to hide their smiles. Most of them were trying their best not to look at the camera. Only Sundaran remained restless:
But . . . how can we merely look on when a girl is caught by the hand and pulled away like this?
Oh, come on Sundaran chetta, don’t we know this is all a mere show? The villagers pacified him. Just wait till she comes back with so many sponsored gifts!
Sundaran noticed that Indu Kumari who was being led to the van by Corpulent A had no trace of fear on her face. So . . . does she too know it’s a mere shooting? Prabhakaran, running after her, shrieking aloud, was suddenly drained of his strength and fell to the ground in a squatting position. Sundaran wondered whether he too was acting. Kunjannamma was lying on the verandah in a faint. Was that acting or had she really fainted?
Sundaran was really confused as to where the show ended and reality began.
More or less the same doubt had begun to peep into Indu Kumari’s mind too at that moment. Should the man grasp her arms with such strength? Should her tender body be thrown so ruthlessly into the van? Should the two As sitting on either side squeeze her body so tightly? After all it is mere shooting. Can’t they at least give her a sly smile? Or a wink?
The driver jumped on to his seat and started the van. He turned the van in a neat curve and winked at Sundaran as he raced forward.
The villagers, now free of all restraints, rushed to Prabhakaran with words of solace.
Don’t you worry Prabhakaran chetta . . . All that was shooting for some TV channel . . . there was a camera in the van . . . we didn’t say anything because we had seen the camera . . . Indu will come back just now . . . with a lot of prizes . . .
Prizes? What prizes? Prabhakaran, never an enthusiastic watcher of TV programmes, did not understand what they were trying to tell him.
You should watch TV more often, somebody advised him. Ask Kunjannamma chettathy when she wakes up. She will tell you. She never misses any TV programme.
Sundaran was worried that the van had disappeared from view. An unknown fear spread its wings in his mind. The villagers teased him:
Isn’t it a big van? Maybe they could not turn it at the junction. They may have to go to the main road to take the turn. They will come now, Sundaran chetta. Don’t make such a fuss about it!
I wonder what gifts she would be bringing home. Appu Nair thought aloud.
Someone answered him – we must know who the sponsors are to know what gifts she would get. When Indu Kumari comes back, we will ask her who the sponsors were.
“Sponsors Please” (Thattarakkudiyile Vigrahangal. Kollam: Sangeerthanam Publications, 2002: 84-90), translated by the author.
B. CHANDRIKA. Dr. B. Chandrika who writes short stories in Malayalam under the pen name Chandramati was formerly Reader in the Department of English, All Saints’ College, Thiruvananthapuram. She received the Professor Sivaprasad Foundation Award for ‘The Most Outstanding Teacher’ and The St. Berchman’s Award for ‘The Best
College Teacher’ . As a creative writer, Chandramati has published twenty books in Malayalam – nine collections of short stories, a novelette, an anthology of medieval Malayalam poetry, two collections of essays, two memoirs and five books translated from English. Her major works of
fiction include Reindeer, Devigramam (The Village of Goddess), Ente Priyappetta Kadhakal (My Favourite Stories), Thattarakkudiyile Vigrahangal (The Idols of Thattarakkudi), Vetala Kadhakal ( Stories of Vetal), Swayam Swantham (Oneself, One’s Own), Soorya Rajavinte Pranayini ( The Lover of Sun King), Njandukalude Naattil ( In the Land of Crabs) and Oridavela (An Interval). Chandrika is the recipient of several literary awards such as the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, Odakkuzhal Award, Katha National Award, Thoppil Ravi Foundation Award, Keli Award, State
Bank of Travancore Award, Muthukulam Parvathy Amma Prize, A.P.Kalakkad Award, Padmarajan Puraskaram and Avaneebala Puraskar. Dr. Chandrika is the author of four critical books and thirty six research papers in English. She has widely translated from and into
Malayalam and has received the Katha National Award for translation into English.