The Sweetmeat: K Saraswathi Amma

Love, as far as Woman is concerned, is a terribly alluring sweetmeat. You can intoxicate her with it and like a skilled magician, lead her anywhere; make her do anything. All you need to do is to make sure that her intelligence and discretion do not have a chance to ignite the life-force and rouse her from that emotional languor. Fear not – at no time will she free herself from that daze.

There might be rare exceptions to this perhaps. But don’t exceptions usually prove the rule?

But truly, is there anything wrong with such lassitude? As long as she sees happiness in it and not sorrow, since the very aim of human life is the attainment of happiness, what does she deserve – our praise, or our pity? ….

Surendran and Kanthimathi had known each other, grown familiar, become friends, fallen in love, and in the end, married, all with the knowledge of their parents.

They thus experienced the good fortune that very few enjoy in the present state of society. The expert opinion, of course, is that love matches fail because the attraction produced by distance fades – because the faraway image loses its sheen as one draws closer. Kanthimathi was particularly alert not to make that dangerous mistake.

But then where in the world have there not been two sides to every issue? Those who felt that marriages with no discord were dry and boring had no doubt that their union would be pure failure. If there is no sourness, no chilli, at all, won’t you start tiring of sweetness and sweetness alone?

In truth, over the past five or six years, not even once did Surendran and Kanthimathi disagree with each other; never did their views part ways. Even if it were about a universal matter or a timeless one, what he started to articulate, she would complete, and vice-versa. He liked what she wished; she would wish what he liked. What more? Even in winters in which it was impossible not to feel cold, if he found her with a fan in her hand, he would insist on taking it from her and fanning the sweat off. This, many people had actually seen.

Surendran was determined that no difference of opinion should ever introduce a false note into the dulcet tune of their love. He convinced others that they shared each others’ liked fully, and naturally.

Kanthimathi, on the other hand, explained to her girl-friends with illustrations that it was not her heart melting in Surendran’s love, but their unity in views, that had tamed her intellect and drawn her into the marriage. In short, she had lost even the ability to realize that she was already under the intoxicating spell of love.

Of all the issues they agreed upon, the closest one was about the limits of powers partners possessed in marriage. Kanthimathi was in utter contempt of husbands who resorted to violence against their wives, however severe the latters’ failings may have been. She felt that they should be condemned even if they were virtuous men otherwise. In this matter, only Surendran could match her fervour. He was of the view that a man who did not know that a woman must be made to obey not through blows but through gentle caresses was but a brute at heart and a boor in mind. He even felt utterly revolted by the mindsets of husbands who showed their displeasure flinging aside plates when the meal was not tasty enough. His proclamations that quoted Manu’s precept that a woman should not be beaten even with a flower often sent Kanthimathi into thrills of ecstasy.

And thus, only when they and others were firmly convinced that they were born to be husband and wife did Surendran and Kanthimathi marry.

After the wedding, on that very day, they moved into a smaller house on Surendran’s decision.

The honeymoon brought a flood of new, sensuous, delightful experiences, and Kanthimathi hardly noticed the tiny changes. He must have congratulated himself about the power of his love to induce such self-forgetfulness in her.

Then, gradually, as the intoxication wore off, Kanthimathi felt that after leaving her parents, her ways had changed without her even sensing it. Not just in universal questions and timeless issues, but even in personal matters. Her craze for colourful clothes had turned into aversion now. Her dislike for tea born out of the habit of drinking coffee regularly had somehow left her – and so on.

Surendran wanted their marriage to be as serenely beautiful as their romance had been. The fact that his preferences were turning out to be her preferences was evident to anyone without his saying so.

Are you wondering how Kanthimathi could have succumbed to these all-encompassing changes silently? Think of Nature which gave creatures colours and limbs to adapt to their living environments. The Inimitable Weaver of such magic was also making such appropriate changes in Kanthimathi’s mental make-up.

Kanthi did notice sometimes that her choices were not being respected, but she thought to herself, “No matter how old you get, human beings may go wrong in their choices and deeds. How good it is to have someone to observe you carefully and make the necessary corrections? That isn’t the power of dominance; it is Love’s tender right.”

This concession which she made – urged by nothing other than Tradition — does it not establish clearly the fundamental principle that the wife’s financial dependence is the root of the husband’s dominance? Or is it caused by the man’s physical superiority?

Anyway, even then, the lover’s adoring, appreciative gaze had not yet given way fully to the husband’s critical and tiresome look. Surendran’s fault-finding manifested through honey-soaked words and softly sweet expressions. Not only had he refrained from touching her with a flower or a flower-bough, even a vague sign of such a prospect did not surface in his mind.

Kanthimathi did not just take relief in the latter; it may be more correct to say that she rejoiced in it. The chief share of such joy and relief was partaken not by her mind but by her body.

One could perhaps say that the events of that unforgettable evening were triggered by such rare and peerless optimism. Or, one could say that it was a combination of circumstances and fate – that would not be wrong either.

That evening Surendran had left his office really famished. He had been working non-stop for two whole days; despite that, he could not leave office with a sense of relief that his work was done.

He reached home, sat down on a canvas chair before changing into home-wear, and started reading the newspaper. His mind still rankled from the displeasure that his superior had shown him that day, even though he had left home for work early that morning without even finishing the newspaper.

Kanthimathi hurriedly made some tea and handed it to her husband. He stretched his hand out, took the cup without taking his eyes off the newspaper, and brought it to his lips. Then he shot her a sharp glance.

Such a look she had never endured before; it pierced Kanthimathi’s heart. But what came out was a smile. Her freshly-bathed-and adorned look told him that she was preparing to present some sort of request. Experience made him guess that it was the plan of an outing together, and that was the reason for the impatience which made her forget to add sugar to his tea.

She smiled affectionately in an effort to soften his look and suggested, “Better to read the newspaper after you drink your tea?”

The hand that held the cup answered, rising towards her. She shut her eyes.

When the heat of the liquid struck, seeping through three different layers of cloth, Kanthi opened her eyes. The tea was dripping off her expensive blouse. On the floor near her husband’s chair was the empty cup.

For a few uncountable moments perhaps, Kanthi’s heart was wracked with pain. But soon enough, it bloomed again all the more. It’s fun to be bathing in tea; moreover, she had also heard that milk improves the complexion, makes the facial skin glow. And wouldn’t it have been much worse if the cup hit her face?

Anyhow, she was still convinced that the unity of their views was unbroken. What had just transpired was a decisive moment of test which unambiguously revealed that she who was subject to authority and he who could wield it both despised the use of force equally.

Surendran felt that his wife’s face mirrored triumphant joy rather than glum disappointment. He barked, “Go away!! Let me read in peace. Go away from me, I say!”

Kanthi did not stir; nor did her expression change. Before they married, this was the man who would have done anything to spend a minute with her. Her mind forgot to be shocked into surprise that it was the same man who now barked at her thus –so filled it was with optimism. What more did you require in life when there was the unity of perspective that bound you and your partner lifelong?

He bent down and started reading the paper. Kanthi stood there unmoving, not sure whether to declare her rights or to beg for sympathy.

She took a step towards him and with the authority of boundless love, said: “I have something to say. You can read the papers after.”

Surendran threw the paper aside and leapt up. Kanthimathi started and stepped back.

A sound, a loud one, unfamiliar to Kanthimathi, and in that house!

She clapped her hands on her ears. What sound is this? A bomb bursting? Where? In the laboratory of time? Where did it fall? On her back, her head, or somewhere inside?

Kanthimathi’s resplendent optimism, the last remaining common strand that had bound the couple together, Kanthimathi’s fundamental philosophy of conjugality, her smooth and tender cheek – with a single blow he shattered them all.

Surendran sat down and began to read his newspaper again.

The evening air watched them through the leaves of the trees, blushed red, and was weighed down with anxiety. It waited for the scene to unfold.

Surendran raised his head again, noticing that his wife had not yet turned away. She was standing right there, motionless, with the unwiped tears rolling down her reddened cheek and falling on her blouse. She had her unmoving gaze fixed on him.

Surendran flung the paper away and sprang up once again. He totally forgot the terrible workload at office, the supervisor’s dissatisfaction, and the bitter tea.

He also did not remember that the milky tea and the smudged kohl would ruin his new shirt.

Nature, witness to Adam and Eve, smiled at the sight, heaving a deep sigh through the evening breeze.

In her childhood, when she did something wrong, and was punished – the sweets that were offered to pacify her – did Kanthimathi remember them at that moment? Or did she?

[‘Madhurapalahaaram’, SaraswatiAmmayuteSampoornaKritikal, Kottayam: DC Books, 2001, pp. 577-82]

 

 

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