‘Two people in one person,’ Charu was telling her husband Jayan. From his meagre acquaintance with her for a few days, Jayan knew it to be the beginning of yet another yarn. However, he did not express his inner perplexity. Jayan was a simple guy. Some of the things Charu said baffled him by refusing to enter his head.
‘Have you seen Raat aur Din (Night and Day), Nargis’s film? It’s almost like that—two individuals in one person. One is nice, the other awful. When one goes about smoking cigars, the other sports bindi and sandal paste marks on her forehead. One is like a river, the other resembles a lake. My next story is going to be along similar lines.’
Before marriage, Jayan had not known that Charu wrote stories. Frankly, he went to meet her because he was thrilled by her name. On hearing the name ‘Charu,’ he felt ‘a sort of something,’ as if a little softness was dropped into his mind. He also remembered the lines he had listened to in school classes which started with ‘charu’. But he could appreciate the ‘charuness’ of Charu well only after marriage. Weren’t we talking about story writing? Jayan did read three four stories of Charu after their marriage. But when she asked him for his opinion, he said he didn’t know enough to assess whether they were good or bad. Charu felt a sudden rush of love at the simplicity of the reply and planted a kiss on his cheek.
‘Can’t you wait till the day after tomorrow to write your story? I will be off then.’
‘No, I’ve to write it now. Parts of the story are throbbing within me—it’s as if my mind is splitting up and I’m becoming someone else. It should be written right now. Till I finish the story, my head will get heated and heated and I’ll feel like mad.’
Jayan was frightened.
‘Do you feel so terrible when you write?’ ‘Yes, the mind will be totally turbulent.’
Before she could say anything more, Jayan put his hands around her shoulders and drew her close to his body. But Charu was in no mood to stop.
‘Do you know how I got the theme of this story? Yesterday while I was walking the path of a dream, I felt myself splitting into two people— two Charus; one was called Sakshi (witness) in the dream. Can’t remember the name of the other. Both were aspects of me. When I woke up in the morning, I had forgotten the rest of the dream. But I was determined to write a story on that. If I don’t finish the story before you leave, I’ll send you a copy, okay?’
Jayan worked in a ship. His marriage proposal came when Charu was planning to write a Titanic–based story. Her head was getting heated up—ship; captain’s daughter; the Ancient Mariner’s song; long eyes of the mermaids; ocean of love; Jack, come back—quite a romantic theme. Charu liked Jayan without even seeing him. She hoped when he came to meet her, he would carry with him the primeval smell of the sea and that she would get drowned in it. But when they met, all that her nose could take in was the mild scent of a perfume. On the bridal night too, though she sought the sea in his sweat, she got only the smell of green grapes.
‘Jayan, don’t you miss the sea?’ Charu asked abruptly. Jayan nodded his head indifferently.
‘The tracks of the sea . . . don’t you remember that smell?’ ‘No.’
Charu thought of the poem she wrote long ago about her desire for the smell of the sea.
‘It’s getting cold . . . ’ Charu nestled against Jayan. They were sitting on the floor of the verandah in Charu’s house. Darkness was thickening outside. The cold breeze carrying the scent of December passed back and forth through the yellow fog of the verandah light. Charu felt she should be remembering the past at such a time. But she could not decide on what to remember. She began thinking of the melodious ghazal sung by Chitra Singh, which had been her craze during the previous winter. Finally she returned to the story she was planning to write. It would be good to make one of the characters in the story walk along the deserted city streets frozen up by the December cold at midnight.
‘Are you thinking of your story?’
Charu suddenly remembered the presence of Jayan. She felt a rush of affection for him when he asked about her story.
‘Yes, but how did you know?’
It was just the other day he had asked her how she wrote stories, about what she wrote and so on. She had explained a number of story- writing techniques to him. But Jayan could follow only half of it. The few things he understood were these—the story should refer to the newest happenings in the world, especially in the field of film, pop music album, sports If a story is written three or four months after something has
happened, then it won’t make any impact. One should never ever write on topics like women’s emancipation, suppression of women and such others. Every story should have at least one or two dramatic moments. The title of the story should not give any indication about its theme. The general tone of the story should be one of universal mockery. For example, one and the same story can mock feminism and those who fight it. One can write about things which go against one’s own convictions as well. However, social commitment is a must and stories should be written on nuclear experiments, Kannur murders, death of E.M.S. and such things the instant they occur.
Jayan remembered that Charu while speaking endlessly about such things had also talked about certain things quite unrelated to the topic. As he was drifting along the road to sleep then, he didn’t think about it that day. But he remembered that her face looked quite changed then—overwrought or pale. Sometimes she was like that. In the midst of
conversation, she would suddenly lose herself. Then she would either sit lost in thought or speak about something totally unconnected to the earlier topic. On such occasions, Jayan comforted himself thinking that it must be the peculiarity of writers.
‘Why are you silent?’
Jayan woke up from his thoughts. ‘What are you thinking about?’ Jayan gave her a nervous smile—
‘I was thinking . . . well, about your writing.’
Charu laughed her throaty clucking hen-laugh. Jayan had seen that laugh occasionally. She laughed like that when she heard something which she found really funny. Then her eyes narrowed, and she pursed her lips. Her shoulders, the hair touching them and her body swung to the tune of her laugh. Jayan once thought that it was like the waves moving up the ocean. But fearing that she would make fun of him, he didn’t tell her.
After dinner when Jayan was talking to the others about his job, Charu went and stood outside. Darkness lay thick all around. When she stood looking at the piercing darkness, Charu’s head became numb. She felt herself splitting into two. Just as one person is born out of another in the puranic serials, a woman slipped out of her body. Charu could not help laughing. Was she Sakshi or the nameless one? She ought to be the sum total of all her stories. Charu laughed her clucking hen-laugh. Just then Jayan called her. Shrugging off Sakshi, the nameless one and the nostalgia for the sea-smell and leaving them behind in the darkness and the cold outside, Charu went in.
That day and the day after, Charu was so busy with getting Jayan’s bags ready and entertaining visiting relatives that she could not even go near the writing table. Yet, the story throbbed within her persistently. At times, she felt that it was losing its form and was fading out. Right then, something demanded her attention and she forgot all about it.
The next afternoon Jayan bade goodbye to her with a crestfallen face. ‘Write to me regularly. Write stories too,’ he said. Charu did not feel
sad. How could it be so? She wondered. Later, she comforted herself that it was okay not to feel distressed.
After Jayan went out of the gate in a taxi and others went into the house, Charu sat alone in the veranda. The smell of green grapes still lingered near the wall. Charu’s eyes followed the path Jayan took. She looked at the half open gate, the cemented pathway and the giant steps leading to the house. Outside, the sun was shining hot. Gazing at the sun, Charu’s head got numb. Her body too numbed. When she was wholly insensate, two people jumped out from inside her. Charu realized that one was Sakshi and the other, the Nameless one. Even as Charu was looking on, Sakshi and the Nameless one descended the steps and went out of the gate. One walked to the left and the other went right. ‘Let them go,’ Charu thought with indifference. The one who went left, passed the road and the river and reached the sea. She would now drown herself in the smell of the sea, climb up a ship rolling slowly in the waters and stand with stretched out hands at the rim of the ship. The one who went to the right would clamber up the hill beyond the road and the forest and would set foot on top of the hill. Great imagination, Charu stood up with a smile. Let those two stand like that for the time being.
Charu, about to walk in, stopped abruptly on hearing the yell ‘post!’ A post card and an envelope were addressed to her. On the card were a few disparaging lines some jealous fellow had written about one of her stories. Charu opened the envelope—the letter from a sub-editor asking her to send a story as early as possible.
Holding the opened envelope in her hand, Charu laughed like a clucking hen.
Her body heaved like the sea.
“Charuvinte Katha” (Agniyum Kathakalum. Kozhikode: Pappiyon, 2000: 71-75), translated by Sreedevi K. Nair.
SITARA S. She is a popular short fiction writer in Malayalam. She has published a number of short stories touching on various social themes. Considered by critics as a significant voice from among the younger generation Malayalam women writers, her stories highlight the intricacies of modern life, especially from the perspective of women, and are often characterized by a defiant tone. She writes stories as well as poems. Her first book was Agniyum Kadhakalum ( Fire and other stories). Sitara’s story ‘Salvador Dali’ won the Katha Award in 2000. Her other collections are Idam (Space), Nrithasala (Dance House) and Veshappakkarcha (Impersonation).
SREEDEVI K. NAIR. worked as Associate Professor of English in NSS College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. Her doctoral and post doctoral research were in Translation Studies. She has translated extensively from Malayalam into English and vice-versa. She was awarded the Lalita Kala Akademy award for the Best Translator of an Art Book for her Malayalam translation of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s Introduction to Indian Art. Tales of Athiranippadam, her joint-translation with Dr. P. Radhika of Oru Desathinte Katha, won her the International Translation Grant from the International Center for Writing and Translation (ICWT), University of California, Irvine. She has translated Shakespeare, Bapsi Sidhwa, Sholom Aleichem and others into Malayalam and a host of Malayalam writers into English. She has received several Fellowships including three post-doctoral Fellowships.