The guest was totally unexpected. Uma had never expected to meet this guest ever in person. She remained in stupefied silence for some more time. She had been told that someone had called to see her twice earlier but had no idea that she was about to meet this particular person! The dusk was advancing fast. The colors were fading from the sky. When Uma suggested that they sit on the lawn, the visitor did not disagree.
The cane chairs still carried the warmth of the hot sun in which they had basked. ‘I had come here twice before and each time swore that it would be the last. I was so disappointed when I couldn’t meet you.’ When the guest spoke, a sliver of light fell on Uma’s face. She had gold- filled tooth and this added purity to her smile. Uma, who was in the grips of wonder, did not reply. She wanted to speak but feared that she would say the wrong thing. All this was strange. Yet couldn’t the uniqueness of certain people appear strange? The guest intoned, ‘I don’t know if you have heard of me. I am Mythili.’ Uma searched her memory but came up with nothing. Then she remembered. ‘I was with Gopikrishnan at college.’ Mythili appeared a little anxious when she made this announcement. Mythili! Uma remembered the day after her wedding when he had told her the story of Mythili to which she had listened in a dreamy state. The tale of a love that had endured the heat of dreams and had fallen tiredly on the way. Gopikrishnan said, ‘Her eyes were always wet. She was the daughter of an alcoholic and knew only to shed tears. At first I was full of sympathy. When I felt that it was sliding
to a kind of intimacy, I had no option but to withdraw. There was a lack of tension in the thread that held us together.’ As if to derive comfort, he rested his face on her forehead. She felt angry for an unfathomable reason. It was not the kind of grief that could be due to his earlier love for a stranger. Theirs was an arranged marriage and she had not yet, after a single night, developed a love intense enough to merit the grief such a revelation would engender. This was the culmination of several irritants that she had bottled up for a long time. Yes, that was the truth.
‘Yes, I do know of you. You are now . . .’ ‘I was abroad working as a teacher. Now I have ceased to be one.’ Was she experiencing the old heartache, the pain of the dead and dry past? ‘Uma, I was bored. I came back.’ Silence lay between them for a long time. The breeze carrying the distant memory of the winter blew many a time.
‘Are you angry with me?’ As soon as Uma said that she realized that she had made the first faux pas. Mythili laughed a bit too loudly. ‘If I were, would I have hurried here to see you?’ She asked with a half smile. ‘It is all a matter of luck, Uma. To Gopu . . . ,’ she dropped her eyes wavering in confusion. ‘Call him that, I don’t mind,’ Uma smiled. As if she were waiting for permission, Mythili continued. ‘When Gopu came to invite me for the wedding, I asked him what kind of girl he was marrying. It was an idle question. To someone who had no prospects and no idea of even unfolding the degree certificate, it was a kind of a joke. Even my love was a joke.’
Before she could put in a word, Mythili’s tears overflowed. She slowly wiped her tears and closed her eyes. ‘Luck is oft reserved for some people. There are also strokes of good fortune that arrive unexpectedly. That is no comfort however. This is what life has taught me…’ Mythili smiled through her tears. Twining her fingers on the armrest of the chair, Uma gazed at the sky. Is luck something that waited for you, a commodity for sale? Darkness was falling on the distant leafless, champak tree. From the ark and distant recess arose a scream. The heartrending scream of a mother. ‘My son, my treasure! Who is there for me now? Oh my son!’ Some tried to pull away the hands beating upon the breast in despair. They dragged her to the verandah. She was still screaming aloud in grief. By her feet, Ambika was bent double, crying aloud, shedding tears all over his pale and cold feet.
None tried to stop Uma. Dryness invaded her eyes. She twined her fingers in his hair and sat thus for a long time. No tears. No whimpers. Many burst into tears. Venu still had a smile hidden in a corner of his mouth. She had lost herself in madness many a dusk, wrapped in the security of his smile. He was seeing her though his eyes were shut. Could Venu disappear behind the curtain of death oblivious to her eyes that he had kissed to life and her ears that he had tickled so often? She did not know who forcibly lifted her away. Her hands were full of his hair as she was pulled away, however.
Gopikrishnan was one of those who had crowded in that room. At the first meeting after the marriage was fixed, he said, ‘I thought at first you were his wife. I had lost touch with Venu earlier and knew nothing about his circumstances. I had come to the hospital to visit a friend. It was he who told me later that you were the love.’ Indifferently Uma asked, ‘Are you still ready to marry me?’ He gazed deep into her eyes. Eyes that revealed no trace of emotions. ‘When I learned that you were the girl that my parents wanted me to marry, I prayed that the marriage would take place. I saw the depths of your love when I saw you that day in the hospital where Venu lay dead. I was full of wonder that a woman could love as deeply as you did. When I make you mine, I will make your capacity to love also mine . . .’ Uma sat quietly, without uttering a single word. Her mind was full of hate, a hatred for her mother who was excitedly running about as if she were about to perform a kanyadaan. ‘What you did was terrible. What stories were doing the rounds in the hospital! What made you cry so hard? What was he to you?’ Her mother lost her temper and panted in anger. Fire sparked in her glance and Uma’s heart was singed.
‘You forgot your place and your family’s. Did you think of being buried with him? How dare you behave this way?’ Uma shut her eyes. She bit her lips. Her mother knew no mercy. Why should she when she was so clearly proud of her aristocratic origin? Uma was still in the midst of the mindless grief of a mother. A mother and a daughter were swept away in the huge tidal wave of poverty. Venu had once told her, ‘Uma, my mother and my sister are my hope but also my grief. When I told her of you, she cried a lot. She is afraid of the slightest sound at nights. She fears that someone will kill me.’ One new moon night, the
night of the dead, when according to popular legend, the souls slaked their thirst on tender coconut water, she waited on the sand for a soul. His arms gathered her close, he kissed her wet forehead. ‘I remember the old folk tale of the commoner’s love for the princess, my darling . . .’ ‘Do not pore over the sad tale.’ ‘Will you love my mom?’ he asked. Uma’s eyes filled with tears as pain swept through her. Her mother was chewing arecanaut and reading a book as she dried her hair. ‘Don’t you know where you should use “would” and where to use “should”?’ The cane descended on her palm. ‘Don’t you even know to pronounce the word “protractor”?’ ‘Why can’t reptiles crawl on polished floors?’ Before she could say that she didn’t know the answer, she was caned. Her mother’s eyes often glowed like fireballs that never died out. They burned to cinders all Uma’s dreams. Mythili was slowly coming to understand Uma, the Uma who cried for unfathomable reasons.
‘If all these are what you call luck, then I am lucky, Mythili.’ She thought of certain reminders that had crept in on futile bedroom scenes. The strength of love that was once evident in the hospital had now acquired new interpretations. There was a thousand fold magnitude in all recriminations. He growled, ‘It is about five years since our marriage. You will not give birth now. How many times did you have to go to the hospital when you were with him? You will run after another man scarcely ten days after I die. Didn’t you marry me before he turned cold in his grave?’ he spat in anger. The monsoon twilights had distilled tears on to the trumpet flowers and gurgled like the stream. She pieced together the jigsaw of dreams and memories, of why even the Roman Empire had fallen. In truth it is what we have lost that can be classified as good fortune—the coins of yesteryears that will not be accepted by any. ‘Mythili, do you love Gopu now?’ ‘No, Uma, I do not. I can now see how different mathematics and poetry is. I have not come to beg for love.’ ‘Are you still alone?’ ‘Yes.’ Before Mythili could walk away, Uma touched her feet. ‘Thanks for the good fortune that you have given me.’ Mythili bent to lift her up tenderly.
“Athidhi” (Mounathinte Naanarthangal. Ed. N.K. Raveendran. Thrissur: Haritham Books, 1993: 128-135), translated by Hema Nair R.