K Saraswathi Amma: Ramani (Part 5)

“Sush burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably. Her tears found their way into my heart and stayed there as hatred for the very race of men. She controlled her sobs and continued: When I asked him about the solution Lina had found, he shrieked like a demon: ‘It was her lifeless corpse that I saw next morning that told me what her solution was! In front of it, I took an oath – that I will douse the fire in me only with vengeance. That is how I came down here along with Krishnan Nair. Because I am capable of lively speech and pleasing behaviour – maybe also because of Providence – I gained what I wished. Because I did not know who my Hindu opponent was, I picked a young Hindu girl who was as pretty and young as my Lina to despoil. Our faith tells us to show the other cheek when slapped on one. But human beings are incomplete. The actual answer in situations like this is – the book says on thing, but the act, another. But personally, I am only full of affection for you, Rani. Helpless I am! A man’s lust destroyed my sister; my revenge has dirtied you too. But I am still sad. That Rani has not suffered the inevitable humiliation that Lina had to suffer!’

“I said nothing. ‘I now leave the beauteous Sushama Rani – literally, the Queen of Beauty — for my ugly bride. That’s the life God has laid out for me’, said he, leaving, leaping over the wall. Scared and frozen, I stood there petrified for some time, and then somehow reached the terrace. I saw the servant standing there and knew that the humiliation was going to soon follow. Though she asked if the laughter that had woken her up was Babu’s, and she had no way of knowing as he had leapt over the wall and left, I made no reply. She asked me, ‘Kochu rani, are you wandering about at night like this with your mother’s knowledge?’ and the question angered me. ‘Don’t you two meet like this each night?’ she asked, and her arrogance riled me further and so I turned around, faced her, and asked, ‘If we were meeting every night, you must have seen us? Tell me, have you seen us?’ She paid no heed to my irritation and said, ‘So what if I haven’t seen? I am a human, a woman, too, am I not?’ Saying this, she went back into her room and shut the door. Probably because of her efforts and perhaps of Babu’s too, this story has followed me wherever I went. You must have heard of it too, Santhi?”

“Yes, but her fancy has not even approached the truth?”

“Whatever that may be, she was shown the door the very next day.” Sushama smiled. “My courage ended the day my exams were over. I was bed-ridden. Amma had overheard the servant girl mumblinf something, and I asked her to get my older brother to come.” Then Sush turned to me and asked, “Do you want me to describe our meeting, Santhi?”

“Not necessarily,” said I. “Chetan picked up the machete; Amma lunged at his hand — must be something of that sort?”

“How sad! People who were powerless to see me weep, do you think they would be able to shed my blood? Ah, really, my Santhi!” Sush said that in a voice throbbing with pain. “What a horrid, terrible secret! Having to tell that with shame that cut into your very guts, with a prayer of supplication — I prayed that day that no other girl may face such a fate. It was as if the confession strangled the very air in that room; the silence was rent by such suppressed sobs and sighs. In the end my brother said: ‘What has happened has happened, anyhow. You get up, Sush. We’ll do something about it. Does he know of it?” No, I told him. He seemed relieved at my reply. ‘It will all be good in two days,’ he assured me, leaving the room, with my mother following.”

“Good,” I said. “Only if all older brothers were so magnanimous!”

Like she hadn’t heard me, Sush continued: “Chetan’s keen intelligence found a way to throw the sand into the eyes of a curious world. Father arrived, to see off my brother who was going to travel, in the interest of gaining knowledge. Of their meeting I knew something, when I saw Father leave with tear-filled reddened eyes. On the night before his departure, when there were several guests at home, I begged Father to let me travel with him. ‘Let Sush and her mother go with him then,’ said Father. ‘Whoever thought that Sush would have a younger sibling! Let her mother deliver her baby abroad. That will be a novelty in the family!’ Father went on in this vein.”

“As we traveled, revealing our real names and home only when absolutely necessary, the living blossom of the dead vine of my love appeared. Once the telegram was sent that I had a baby sister who looked exactly like my father, our fears subsided.”

“When my Santhi — my brother named her Santha Rani because her birth brought us peace, meant the end of our fear – was six months old, we ended our travels. We went to my aunt, in Coimbatore. From there, I returned to Ernakulam, my older brother left for England, and Mother and Santhi went back home.”

Trying to ease the strain of telling this story, Sush lay down on her side on the lawn, holding her head in her hand. I, who was immersed in the scenes of her well-told story, asked her after some time: ‘So you never saw Mr Babu again?’

“Oh! I did!” she said enthusiastically. “He came to my uncle in Ernakulam seeking a job.”

“Did you not speak?”

“I went over to him to talk.”

“Did your uncle let you,” I asked, surprised. “The slander connecting the two of you –“

“Santhi, how many times have I told you, no one refused my wishes.” The sadness that appeared and stayed constant on her face when she was by herself reappeared. ‘The truth is that his very appearance jolted me. How the troubles of an educated married man had destroyed his admirable good looks! When I pointed it out to him, he smiled pathetically and said, ‘I have no desire to live left in me.’ To test whether he had any suspicions about Santhi, I said, ‘Now I have a baby sister!’ His answer however was, ‘Ah then the affection that Ms Rani enjoys now is going to be divided!’.”

Sush sat up. “Santhi,” she continued. “That very day I decided that when I become the mistress of a house myself, I must help him in some way. All said and done is he not Santhi’s … right?”

“Will you not share this secret with Santhi?” I asked.

“My older brother will decide. Even his younger brother, my other brother, does not know. If he knew he would not forgive, for sure. Now you know, I have told you. And I have to tell another …”

“Who’s that?” I asked, really curious.

“The man who will marry me. With my older brother’s consent, I will tell him all.”

“What if he makes it public?”

“Phoo! Can there be such an animal? If he does make it public, then that moment, my older brother will admit that we were in love, but the rest of the story was concocted by me to test his love! No one will disbelieve my older brother. How will the world believe, since Amma went on the tour after she got pregnant, and the baby is the spitting image of my father? Why should it believe?”

“Then couldn’t it be that he does not believe your story at all?”

“What difference would that make? My heart can take comfort in that it has let free its terrible secret!”

“Is that not a wrong, Sush?”

“Look, Santhi,” Sushama began to offer up a bit of the Geetopadesha in the times of Kali. ” Nothing will work if you pay too much attention to truth and fairness. All you need to do is a little bit to convince the world in general. Thomas Hardy’s Tess you can read and enjoy but not emulate! We are born in this alluring world full of lovely rivulets and wild vines and colleges and cinema theatres to enjoy it!”

I asked her again, reluctantly, but unable to suppress my curiosity: “Aren’t you still in love with Mr Babu, Sushama?”

“Oh! Can a woman’s heart become so hard? The spring of that compassion has not yet dried up; it may never dry up, too. And, that love of mine – of then –:” Sush picked up Ramanan and sang sweetly:

Just a fleeting illusion,

Like a flower, a tender enchantment

An ardent blend of song, inspiring

That which sweetens the soul!

“So then, Sush, you are not ‘Ramani’ for sure!”

“Yes, to cast love before betrayal is sheer poverty! Coddling and enjoyment do not sharpen the will to sacrifice; they only wreck it. But tell me Santhi, who is Ramani in this story?”

“Lina!”

“The poor thing! One of the many girls who fall prey to Man’s lust out of the simplicity of heart inherent to Woman! The face of that girl waiting to get a glimpse of her brother’s face before she died is vividly before me. What is use of hearing stories like this again and again? Such things will continue to happen until the end of time!”

“Yes,” I said with a sad expression. “Aren’t they born of our blood?”

[‘Ramani’ was written in 1939; it appeared in the Mathrubhoomi Weekly in 1943]

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