PrEm Ji

TWISTED (Short story)

 

 

TWISTED

 

It was nearing 9.20 pm in the evening. Venad express was late for almost an hour. I was the last passenger left in the first class compartment awaiting ‘decommissioning’ after a meritorious service of 25 long years. I started walking towards the auto-rickshaw stand slowly.

My mobile phone started making noise.

“Premji… Your younger son didn’t eat anything today…” my wife was on the line.

“Is it? What shall I get him now?” I was in dare-straights as shops around the railway station were almost closed.

Both of our boys were eagerly waiting for me when I had reached home. As usual, my little one began to search my shoulder bag. He was a bit disappointed as he couldn’t find his favourite cookies. He left the bag there itself and started walking towards his mother. His eyes were about to flood.

“Eyyy… come here… You didn’t search it completely,” I told him showing a small paper packet. “It’s for you.”

The boy was reluctant to collect it.

“Your father has brought Murukku* for you,” My wife told him while opening the packet with great care. She broke a small piece of that crunchy snack. My sons snatched it from her within no time.

 “It tastes like that of Beevathumma’s…,” she told me while offering a small piece…

“It’s made by her…dear…”

But, she couldn’t believe my words.

“Did you meet her?”

“Yes”

“How is she? Did she start any business?”

(Murukku is crunchy snack, originated in the Tamil Nadu state of India, and its name derives from the Tamil word for "twisted")

Inefficiency is considered as a blessing in disguise by many of the government employees. Higher officials simply keep them away from important duties. Unfortunately, I belong to such a group, and my higher officials consider me as a useless brat. ‘Useless’ is a divine status! I used to enjoy that status till our current director took over the post. Someone, very close to him, told about the crazy ideas of mine. He, personally, summoned me to him office at Ernakulam, nearly 120 km away from Kollam city where I am residing. I was forced to travel in the general compartment of Sabari express, heading towards Hyderabad, as I didn’t have enough time to reserve a seat.

The compartment was almost filled with season ticket holders. I kept my bag on the luggage carrier and started reading a daily from one of the co-passengers.

“Sir, please sit here,” one of the guys, who resembled a street urchin, offered his seat.

“Then, what about you?” I couldn’t stop asking.

“Sir… I will get down soon,” he replied while getting up and soon he was away from my vicinity.

“Why did he get up?” I asked myself…

“Because of your crude looks… You resemble a cop in every move,” my inner-conscience replied. Unfortunately, it was the opinion of my close friends! An aged woman, clad in an old faded Burkha – the traditional Muslim dress, with several patches, was sitting next to me, sleeping. Train began to slow down as it was covering some caution area where railway extension work was going on. The excessive shocks made the woman wake up. Soon she was back after freshening up.

“Prem!”

It was Beevathumma… and I had been meeting her after six years…

My wife comes from a place very near to Kovalam, an important beach in the international tourism map. Fortunately, she has a beach in her backyard! We are happily married for the past fourteen years.

“I like to eat some murukku,” she told my mother-in-law during the early stages of pregnancy.

Soon, Beevathumma reached our home with her utensils. She was accompanied by two of her beautiful daughters too. They resembled the full-moon! Beevathumma was a very jovial woman around fifty… Her face was very pleasant always and she cracked jokes regularly… People, who carry the worst of all storms inside, cover it with an innocent happy smile always!

My mother-in-law supplied her several small bagful of rice flour and urad dal flour, a huge can full of coconut oil and many other ingredients. With my personal heap, she made a local fire-hearth using three large stones inside a temporary shed adjoining to our house and started making a mix of rice flour, urad dal flour, with water, salt, asafetida and some kind of black seeds.

“What’s that?” I asked Beevathumma.

“Sesame seeds…”

“We use cumin seeds in our place.”

“Moly (my wife) doesn’t like it,” Beevathumma smiled.

Soon, we became very close friends.  Beevathumma began to knead the mix into dough and started making spiral shapes by hand, upon a metallic mould. Her daughters too joined her.

“Do you want to try some?” Beevathumma asked me.

“Why not!” the kid within me replied louder. “I never miss any chance to learn anything new!”

“Then I will teach you how to make kaimurukku…”

Soon, my wife too joined us. The spirals were then fried in hot coconut oil. ‘Frying’ was the only area she didn’t allow her daughters to take care of. Yes, fire decides the taste of anything! (even including life). The first of the fried up murukku was offered to the almighty…

“How is your husband now?” my wife asked her.

“Not feeling well… He is suffering from liver cirrhosis…,” Beevathumma replied while checking the degree of frying. “Even Allah can’t stop his drinking.”

“And what about your five girls? Does he have any plans to get at least two of them married?” asked my mother-in-law.

“I don’t know…” Beevathumma replied calmly. “She is twenty four now,” she pointed towards her elder daughter. “And the youngest one is nearing twelve. Life is always bitter Madam.” She put a small piece of murukku in her mouth and started kindling the fire. The heat emanating from the open fire-hearth was nothing before her inner-hearth named mind. “My life is like these metal moulds… always exposed to fire and heat… or rust…” she cracked another joke while taking out those hot metal plates from boiling oil.

We made six or seven different varieties of murukku, starting from mullu murukku to achu murukku… Those were the best of all murukkus, I had ever eaten in my life.

My mother-in-law gave her a car-load of gifts and we left them in their shack, beside the sea-shore, in the evening.

“What is the secret behind her magical taste?” I asked my wife while returning back in our jeep.

“I don’t know…but, I am really worried about her girls…” she stopped in the middle… “I know, your mother-in-law will help her in every possible way she can… She is so fond of her”

“Someone might marry them without any dowry… Sometimes, beauty is also a boon… ” I tried to console her.

And that was what exactly happened later! 

Train picked up speed and the metal wheels began to make horrible noise…

“Prem… how are you?”

“I am fine… Beevathumma…”

“What about Moly and boys?”

“They are also fine…”

“Inshah Allah…” she thanked the Almighty…

“How is your Murukku business? Are you getting orders regularly?”

“Very rarely…my son…  Nobody likes to take pains now-a-days… You know, everything is readily available in bakeries…  Big sharks are eating away the share of poor-folks too…”

“May be… But… none can beat your taste…” I praised her.

“Thank you… So, where are you going?”

“I am going to Ernakulam… What about you?”

“Hyderabad… I am going all the way for the first time…” Beevathumma replied calmly.

“Hyderabad? Alone?”

“Abida, my third daughter is studying for nursing there…  She needs some money very urgently… ”

“You could have taken your elder son-in-law also with you?” I asked her innocently.

“He left her uttering ‘Talaaq’ thrice… it is the worst of all words invented by man…” Beevathumma stopped talking for some time. “She too delivered three unlucky girls! The last one is just five months old,” the poor woman wiped her eyes. “Her husband was forcing her to leave the little girls in some orphanage…  Amina went to Saudi Arabia, two months back, as a house-maid as her husband doesn’t pay anything for the little girls. But, her meager salary won’t be enough to look after them… ”

“How sad…” even my eyes began to flood. 

“I was forced to leave the little girls in with Noorji…” she looked outside as she couldn’t hide her tears.

“Noorji?” I couldn’t believe her words.

Carefully, she picked out an old book and prayer beads from her bag. It contained some hymns written in Arabic language. She opened a faded page and started turning the prayer beads. Fortunately, she was illiterate! Why do you need many languages for true prayers other than silence?

The compartment was almost emptied when the train reached Kayamkulam station. Noorji… I tried to remember her innocent face. She was a dumb girl from childhood, partially retarded too!

Ten years back… We were back to my wife’s house for Christmas / New Year celebrations as I had ten days of leave. I loved jogging through the seashore in the Sunday morning. Nobody was there in front of the house when I reached back, completely drenched in sweat. Three women were crying bitterly when I reached our backyard. Noorji stood beside them smiling innocently. They all wiped their tears immediately when they had seen me.

“What’s the matter?” I couldn’t stop asking.

“Nothing…,” my wife pulled me inside to our house.

“What the hell is going on here?” I was getting angry.

“Somebody tried to rape Noorji yesterday, when nobody was there at home.”

“So? Beevathumma could have given a complaint to Police or women’s cell…”

“Complaints are of no use when the culprit is from within the family…”my wife was getting tensed.

“Then, why did she come to our house?”

“She needs my help to sterilize her daughter!”

“This is absolute madness!”

“Premji, it is not the time to differentiate between sanity and insanity… Not even the best of all writers across the world, could even express the pain of a mother’s heart even one percent. Beevathumma needs Noorji’s uterus is to be removed without anyone’s knowledge. And I am sure, I have to be with her. Dr Sasha will help her.  Are you coming with me or not?”

“Yes…” somehow, I managed to reply. “I will be always with you.”

“Thanks, my silly writer…”

I haven’t seen Beevathumma smiling after that… Soon, she started wearing a long Purdah, covering her whole body.  Were it to hide her pains?

Beevathumma was getting more and more uneasy as the train was about to stop in stations. Her fearful eyes were searching for someone.

“Don’t you have tickets?”

“Unfortunately, train was about to leave when I had reached Trivandrum railway station,” she replied calmly. “Ticket-less journey is not at all a problem in Tamilnadu and Andhrapradesh states,” she tried to console herself.

The train was getting emptier and at last we two remained in a single cabin.

“What about your second daughter?”

“She is working in Abu Dhabi as a nurse. Most of her salary is still used for paying back the debts…  paying dowry  for my elder daughter… and medical expenses of my late husband… but, what is the use?”

“Very sad…”

“When Abida completes her nursing course, she will get a job in the same hospital where her sister is working. I hope, I can get her elder daughter get married after that.”

“You still live in the same fishermen colony?”

“Yes… in the same shack!”

Her mobile phone began to cry instead of her… And the conversation lasted for some ten minutes… “Are you happy dear?”  Beevathumma was repeatedly asking her elder daughter… Poor woman began to weep like a child, so bitterly.

“It was her first call after one and a half month…” Beevathumma said.

I picked up a local daily, left by some passenger, lying on the next seat that of Beevathumma…  “Indian woman’s hand cut off by employer in Saudi Arabia” … unfortunately, that was the title. Allah had been merciful to her for the first time as He kept her illiterate all life!

Amina has been living in Rosaba Village of Saudi Arabia for the past two months. It is a dry village, they there are many greens like grass and shrubs all around. Her employer is a well-built man who runs a grocery shop in the village head-quarters. He has a beautiful wife and a small girl child. They lived in their traditional home with some milking cows and goats. A Philippine man is in charge of them.

Language was the biggest hurdle before Amina and she began to pick up as fast as possible. She had to look after the house owner’s wife and his new born baby girl. Fortunately, the little girl was her one and only solace for love is the only language known by children… They always lean for it… Whenever she was allowed to pick up the child, Amina’s breasts began to pain with excess production of milk. Though she is lovable by nature, the Arab woman used to scold her for her excess usage of water as it is a scarce commodity. Amina had been squeezing out the breast milk to relieve her during regular intervals, secretly. Unfortunately, the Arab woman caught hold of some strange type of desert fever for a week and her mammary glands dried up as a result. The little infant had been crying day in and day out for milk… The poor Arab mother began to lose all her charm…

“Shall I give her some milk?” Amina asked her one day, as her husband was away at shop, through gestures.

The poor mother couldn’t believe her eyes. She opened the cup-board and took out some expensive toilet soaps, neat towels and some of used, but expensive Purdahs.

“Take bath and wear this,” she told Amina.

“Water?”

“Use as much as you like,” a cute smile appeared on her face… what a smile of relief… Since then the infant has two mothers… She gave her a secret raise in salary too…

“My daughter is happy now… Prem… After all, she is also a mother… How can she abandon a hungry child, when her children are getting starved in our home? After all everything is the grace of Allah!” she wiped her tears.

Did I see a grain of smile upon her lips?

I bought two cups of tea from the next station as the train was put on halt for fifteen minutes for crossing. But, Beevathumma couldn’t drink even a single drop… I felt the hot tea as if I am drinking a hot cup of blood… She kept the tea for a quite a long time till it became cold like water. And at last she consumed it in a single gulp as if she was drinking the deadliest of all poisons. She took out the prayer book and the prayer beads. I opened my laptop and did the finishing touches of my power-point presentation on academic monitoring system. She was silent throughout the journey till my destination.

Ernakulam North Railway station… It was nearing twelve thirty in the afternoon…

I bought a packet of meal, two large bottles of water and some biscuits and handed them over through the window. She didn’t feel hunger since long… The train was about to move… I took out some money and a railway ticket from my pant pocket. I felt very angry upon my wife, as she keeps just enough money in my purse. She knows, I am a spendthrift…

Beevathumma was a bit reluctant first to accept it first…

“Please accept it mother… Even sons have right to support mothers… Please…” my eyes began to flood.

“I will accept it… but, on one condition… You will not disclose anything to Moly… It will hurt her a lot…”

“Surely…”

“Please give it to Moly,” Beevathumma handed over a small paper packet to me… “It’s her favorite Murukku….”

She blessed me with her feeble hands… The train tore away a part of my heart and continued its merciless journey… 

 ♠

“Did she start any business?” my wife asked again.

“She owns a small murukku factory now… Her life is getting twisted and twisted like her tasty murukkus,” I opened the tap to wash my face… Even Gods are incapable of separating tears from water!

October 2015

 

PREMJI

Comments1

  • L. B. Mek

    “Somebody tried to rape Noorji yesterday, when nobody was there at home.”
    *** “So?..." ***
    this: miniscule - single syllable of a word, is why
    “Complaints are of no use when the culprit is from: within..."
    ...
    and this is why, no matter what horror's the world projects
    there is no person
    who can judgementally Act: horrified, without acknowledging
    that they too, in a different way - maybe, posses
    the potential, to inflict the same horror;
    in that one moment, of alarmed anxiousness from witnessing
    'the heart-breaking tears of a wife or loved one's';
    and so - that seemingly inconsequential: "So,...": represents
    what our crude - raw, unfiltered selves, are capable of
    and that's
    from one of the most insightful and empathetic, writer's
    I have ever come across..
    what a sobering realisation, that we of humanity
    have to fight - against, our 'Learned' capacity
    for such depthless levels (momentary, as it may be for some)
    of self-serving: wilful Ignorance!
    (firstly, dear Poet
    I hope you don't take my observation of this one - tiny, point
    in your wide-lensed, scope
    of insightfully and painstakingly edited, didactive short story
    as any indictment on you, as a person or writer
    merely, I wanted (however feebly)
    to capitalise on an opportunity to exemplify
    just how unaware
    we sometimes become of our subconscious
    and the lessons it strives: to teach us...!
    *Secondly and most pertinently:
    I hope you know, you've just *Planted
    that 'Proustian - biscotti Madeleine'
    in your 'Premjian - Murukku snack'
    of inked wisdom
    that, one day: your children will *Read and *Taste
    to *Sprout: reminiscing mementos
    of their Parent's, devoted sweetness of selfless love)
    an Exceptional write of unquestionable Brilliance!
    keep perfecting, striving and growing, dear Poet
    because I for one, can't wait to witness
    your limitless potential being realised
    into that pristine
    of accessibly polished: artistic prowess!
    in my humble opinion

    • PrEm Ji

      Thank you...Thank you so much... Marcel Proust said, You can't take a dip twice in the same river...
      I am just a flowing river... I feel women are the strongest human-beings to manage human emotions...



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