To a woman, love is a peculiar sweetmeat. Drugged in the sweetness of love, you can, like a magician, take her anywhere and get away with anything. You have only to take care that she does not awaken from the emotional stupor to intellectual awareness. You need not then fear that she would shake off the dizziness.
Perhaps there may be rare exceptions to this. But conversely, don’t exceptions strengthen the usual rules?
In truth, is this dizziness strange? As long as she sees in it happiness rather than sorrow and as long as the aim of man is pleasure, does she deserve our commiseration or our applause?
Surendran and Kanthimathi met, got acquainted, liked, loved and got married with the benign approval of their parents. It was a relationship that had stood the tests of time.
They acquired the luck that very few people of the present social contexts did not. The maxim that has the scholars’ confirmation is that love marriages fail because marriage brings in its wake disillusion, which sets in as familiarity breeds contempt. Kanthimathi saw to it that she did not commit this dangerous mistake.
Yet, what question is there in this world that does not have two sides? A marriage that does not have disagreements or quarrels was according to observers, a total failure. Won’t people fed on sweets alone, long for spicy tangy flavors?
To tell you the truth, Surendran and Kanthimathi did not differ in their outlook even in the smallest of things; even their wishes were the same. Even if they spoke on the universal or the eternal, what he began, she would complete and invariably he complemented her. Her wishes were his too as his wishes were hers. Why elaborate? If Kanthimathi chose to take up a fan in winter, he would fan her vigorously, as many swear to have seen.
Surendran was determined that there would be no discord in the sweet harmony. He persuaded others that Kanthimathi’s wishes were naturally, his too.
Kanthimathi persuaded her friends, with examples, to believe that her mind chose to accept the perfect amity of their likes and had thus persuaded her to accept his suit. It was not because her heart melted when she became aware of Surendran’s love. The indication was that she had lost even the discernment that she was in love.
They held similar views, especially in the sphere of power of each marital partner. Kanthimati hated a husband who sought to impose corporal brutality on the wife, even if he were the repository of all virtues. Surendran shared her antipathy. He believed that a man who did not understand that a woman responded better to a caress rather than a beating was little better than a beast, intellectually and emotionally. He did not much approve of husbands who chose to throw their plates at their wives when the meals did not appeal to their taste. Kanthimati thrilled to hear him extol and quote Manu who had decreed that women should not be beaten even with a flower.
It was after they and everyone they knew were persuaded that they were born to marry each other that they tied the knot.
On the very day of their marriage, they shifted to a small house of Surendran’s choice.
In the heady days of the honeymoon, lost in the allure of the new delights, Kanthimati was not aware of subtle changes in their relationship. He must have congratulated himself on his ability to make her forget herself.
Gradually she became aware, when the initial giddiness wore off, that the routine she had followed at her parents had changed, without her becoming aware of it. Not just in the eternal and the universal. Even in personal matters. She had been fascinated by vibrant colors but now could not abide them. She was a coffee-drinker and did not like tea. Yet she found herself liking tea. The list was long.
Surendran was determined that their marriage, like the course of their love must be sweet and peaceful. Even without his having to say so, it was evident that his likes were rapidly becoming that of Kanthimathi’s.
Are you wondering how Kanthimathi gave way to the total change without a single word? Think about birds and beasts equipped to blend into the colors of nature. Nature, the great witch, had caused Kanthimathi’s mind to change suitably.
Yet Kanthi realized at times that her likes were not being followed. She told herself, ‘A person’s preferences and actions may well be wrong
. . . It is perhaps a good thing that there is a diligent person who could put it right. That is not the power of the oppressor but the right of love.’
Wasn’t her attitude the example of the dictum, ‘A man’s position of power rests in his wife’s economic dependence?’ Wasn’t that why she found herself amenable to the change without any prompting from tradition? Or was it because of the superior physical structure of the man?
Whatever be the case, the all-encompassing admiration of the lover’s gaze had not yet given way to the bored and critical gaze of the husband. Surendran’s critical quips were expressed through honeyed words and sweet ways. Not only did he desist hitting her with a flower or a bunch of flowers, he gave up vague or distant signs of even thinking about it.
It would be more correct to say that Kanthimati reveled rather than found solace in the last of the above statements. Her happiness, in this regard, was more physical than mental.
We may say that it is this rare blessing of optimism that gave Kanthimathi the courage that led to the memorable events that evening. It may be equally right to say that the events were inspired by the context and by fate.
Surendran was famished when he left his office that evening. For two days he was working hard at his office. Yet even that day the work was not completed to his satisfaction.
As soon as he reached home, without bothering to change he dropped on the little canvas chair and began reading the newspaper. He was disturbed by the disapproval of his superior officer and aggrieved when he remembered that he had forgone even the pleasure of reading the newspaper that morning and had reached the office well ahead of the working hours – neither of which was appreciated.
Kanthimathi bustled to make tea and took it to her husband. Without raising his head, he stretched out a hand for the cup and sipped it, then lifted his head to look long and hard at her.
Though it hurt Kanthimathi to see the strange look, she hid it in a smile. He was warned of an imminent plea by the dress she wore and her fresh-from-the-bath look as well as her kohl darkened eyes and the bindi on her forehead. Or rather he guessed it. He knew that she wanted to go out. Perhaps it was her preoccupation with the idea that made her forget to add sugar to his tea.
To lessen the hardness of his gaze, Kanthimati asked with a sweet smile: ‘Why don’t you read the newspaper after drinking your tea?’
In answer to her question, she saw his hand with the cup snake out. She closed her eyes.
Kanthi opened her eyes when the heat of the tea penetrated the two or three layers of clothes she wore. Tea dripped down her costly blouse, the empty cup reposed near her husband’s chair.
For an endless moment Kanthi might have suffered a pain in her heart. But her heart soon piped up again. It is a new experience to bathe in tea. She had heard that milk was good for the skin. What would have happened if he had thrown the cup as well as the tea at her?
Kanthi was sure that their perfect bond of amity was not yet broken. A test of strength was as distasteful to her, who was ruled, as to him, the ruler. What happened had surely proved it beyond doubt.
Surendran felt that his wife’s face glowed with triumph rather than dropped with disappointed gloom. He said, ‘Go away and leave me in peace to read. Get lost.’
Kanthi did not move. Nor did her face change. She did not choose to remember that the man now desiring her absence was one who was willing to do anything to ensure her presence at his side even for a minute. Optimism filled her. What did she need other than the bond of thinking alike, a bond that would last a lifetime?
He bent to read the papers again. Kanthi stood still as if she were debating whether she should voice a declaration of rights or a plea of mercy.
She moved forward and declared with all the power that arose from eternal love, ‘I want to tell you something. Read the paper after you hear that.’
Surendran threw away the paper and sprang to his feet. Startled, Kanthimati moved back.
A strange and loud sound filled the room—a sound strange to Kanthimathi as it was to the house.
Kanthi pressed her head on both sides. What was that sound? Did a bomb detonate? Where? Was it in the workshop of time? Where did it explode? On her back? Her head? Her heart?
He destroyed at one stroke Kantihmathi’s brilliant optimism, the amity that the couple shared, the original thesis that Kanthi had about marriage and her tender cheek.
Surendran reverted to reading his paper. Dusk, rosy with anxiety, peeped through the glass panes as if waiting with bated breath for the events that would follow.
Surendran lifted his head once more from the paper when he realized that his wife was rooted to the spot and had not left him. She was standing stock still, staring at him, quite forgetting to wipe the tears that ran down her flushed cheek from her reddened eyes and fell, drop by drop, on her wet blouse.
Surendran threw away the hapless newspaper once more. He forgot the hard work in his office, the dissatisfaction of his superior officer and his unsweetened tea.
He did not think about the ruin his shirt would become on encountering milky tea and kohl darkened tears at close range.
Heaving a sigh that wafted as Zephyr, Nature smiled on seeing Adam and Eve.
I wonder if Kanthimathi remembered on this occasion how as a child she was given sweetmeats after she was caned for misdemeanor.
“Madhurapalaharam” (Mounathinte Naanarthangal. Ed. N.K. Raveendran. Thrissur: Haritham Books, 1993: 20-27), translated by Hema Nair R.