“I don’t want to get married, Mama.”
This, from Kutty Malu a college student, incensed Paru Amma. Just when marriage proposals were streaming in for Kutty Malu,
this whine from her!
She knew it was not old times. All the same, she charged: “Then what on earth are you going to do? Write stories?”
Kutty Malu’s face glowed: “Exactly. How did you know, Mama?”
“Girl, behave yourself. Oh, you’re going to write!” Paru Amma brandished a log of firewood.
“I want to write.”
Kutty Malu’s expression arrested Paru Amma. She summoned her husband for support, “Did you hear what the girl said…”
“What are you screaming about, woman?” Kittunni Kurup, who had fallen asleep in the easy chair on the porch, asked with all the resentment of having been woken up.
“So you haven’t heard any of what your darling daughter said? She doesn’t want to get married. She wants to write stories!”
“So all these people who write stories cannot get married?” Kittunni Kurup professed to doubt.
“It’s because you, father and brothers raise her to the skies that she has become so misguided.” Paru Amma grumbled her way to the kitchen.
She was troubled. If the girl goes on so, what can be done? The little sister to four brothers – the only feminine speck in the household – one who is to carry on the family line. What led the girl into such misguided thoughts?
She was no giddy girl. More of a quiet turn. Seated on the parapet in the quadrangle she would sit as if she had her sights planted in the skies; beside such day-dreaming, she had no other bad habits. Which was of course, why she was sent up for studies. She was good looking and had a very good horoscope. Before she turned eighteen, marriage proposals crowded in. The royal family, aristocratic families, all sent envoys of marriage. Which to choose was all the issue left. That was when the girl threw in this discordant note.
Even though the family’s wealth had declined with feasts and festivals, its name and fame had not dimmed. All four boys were industrious, thriving on farming and business. It was Paru Amma who had decided that they should not work under others. Just because an elephant has grown thin, does it get tethered to the stable? The price of coconut was down. Wages have risen beyond the bearing for farmers. It was with difficulty the home was being managed. Even so Kutty Malu never lacked anything. Yet if the girl shows no empathy for the family?
She laid the problem before her sons.
“Times have changed. Let her study mother,” said Kutty Malu’s eldest brother. That brother had three children. Not a day passed without his wife complaining that he gave all his earnings to his mother. He had difficulty enough raising his own family – now his sister’s marriage…, let her study!
Her eldest brother’s words made Kutty Malu break out in a sweat. She hadn’t thought this far when she said she did not want to get married. Mother had thrown a wrench into the scene. At college, what the professors taught never made it into her head. She just kept scribbling idly in her notebook all the time.
“Are you writing a story there? If you are not paying attention, you may please leave the class,” her English professor has once berated. That was when story-writing got into her head.
Why shouldn’t she write a story? One doesn’t need a degree to write one. When it’s a story one can say whatever comes to one’s mind. No questioning a story – says the proverb. So try, she must.
She tried. She wrote up a great deal of whatever, sent it to the newspapers under a pseudonym and set out to wait in anticipation. Whatever she wrote was top-notch. Bound to come in print, Kutty Malu was certain. Seated on the parapet in the quadrangle, looking up at the sky, colourful dreams filled Kutty Malu’s soul: Father and brothers must be thunderstruck at the multitude of newspapermen seeking out her house.
“Is not this the house of the famous author K. Malu?”
“Who on earth is this K. Malu?” Bewilderment on father’s face.
Then Kutty Malu, alias K.Malu, grave in mien, steps down. “Who are these, child?”
“Newspapermen, father.” She says, face beaming with pride. “Why have they come here?”
“Your daughter is a famous author now. Got an award.” “Is it a large sum?” Joy resplendent on the brothers’ faces.
“When did you change your name, chit?” Father seemed uncertain. “Father, it…
The newsmen rescued her in time, “Madam, we would like an interview.”
. . . . .
Awards over and over again. Recognition. Wealth. Mother alone remained annoyed even then.
“The seedling for the family line – if she sets out like this…”
“Wait a little longer, mother. Now, there is not a single soul here who does not know her. Pretty soon marriage proposers will be queuing up,” the eldest brother assures mother in consolation.
As time passes on, Kutty Malu gets bored. Meetings forever, speeches and back-biting colleagues. She gets tired of her solitary life. She wants companionship but how does she broach it to her brothers? They seemed to have forgotten that they had to get her married. The eldest brother was busy looking out for proposals for his own daughter. It was her mother who came to her rescue.
“Nobody says you shouldn’t write stories. Does marriage block such inspiration?”
“If you are that resolute mother, so be it. But on one condition, I want to talk personally to whoever comes to meet the bride,” she was not to let up on her pride.
Mother sent a messenger to broker Narayanan. With that began the ritual of bride-meeting, daily. Kutty Malu was not prepared to stand coyly holding a coffee tray. She sat in the porch talking literature with those who came. Talked about relatives accusing that her fictional characters resembled them and walking away offended. Talked loudly of the incompetence of politicians and the crookedness of men.
“I don’t care who takes offence. I could be writing about my husband and children.”
By the time she finished, most of the men turned pale. None of them returned.
When even a literary figure who had argued endlessly for women’s independence withdrew, she had to stop the ritual of bride meeting.
“On her account, all relatives have turned into enemies.” “Girl, a woman needs to behave like a woman!”
“Okay, cower in your corner, dried up and grey!” Mother shed tears.
Should she stand with head bent shyly and tea tray in hand, like any ordinary girl?
Heaven forbid! She is a writer who argues incessantly for women’s rights. She can never go against herself.
“It is the aggrieved and the jealous kind who gossip about her. Let them talk. Isn’t that news too? Is there a newspaper that comes out now without her name in it?”
“In the Face-to-Face the other day, why didn’t you mention my name, lass?” There was pride in her brother Kuttan’s voice. A trace of grievance as well.
Kutty Malu was in deep distress. To think that her brothers could be so lost to affection – their one and only sister – yet not a thought for her. Had there been, would it have been so? Not one said a word that she had better not talk to those who came. Kutty Malu went into a depression. Her hair was beginning to grey here and there? Have wrinkles beset her face? That handsome youth from the Menon household was going to wed her eldest brother’s daughter Sumitra. Kutty Malu jumped up unconsciously and ran to look into the mirror.
Her hair was not grey.
Face was not wrinkled either. She was still eighteen.
She called out into the kitchen, spontaneously: “Mother, I don’t want to write stories…”
“What are you screaming?” Mother was beside her. “Nothing. I just said I don’t want to write any stories.” “Then…?” A mischievous look on mother’s face.
Kutty Malu shyly bent her head.
(Specially written for this volume)
(The original in Malayalam is titled “Kadha Tudarunnilla”).
Translated by Sreedevi K. Nair