As I rest here in the middle of nowhere, the veins within my now charred skin aglow with the tangerine shade of the flames, I wonder what keeps my spirit alive. Well, it is partly the blaze that arose out of the lit match that was thrown at me, the flames were intended to kill, but they keep me alive.
Also, I have to narrate the legitimacy of the tale floating around, about me, to someone. I have to clear the air of those rumours. It could be anyone, not necessarily someone from my upper-caste village. What soothes me here is the pleasure of waiting; for his arrival.
‘Footsteps.’ I hear the others huddle.
It is the keeper of the graveyard. There is a collective cry of disapproval.
After innumerable attempts of trying to recount my saga, I have given up on the keeper. I do not blame him. There are many of us floating around here. He has no time to listen to us. For all spirits here are of the same caste, the one that he doesn’t belong to.
From my position in the wind, the vision of the earth and your beings are all the same. Your pride has painted the mud in scarlet shades of doom. Back then, when I was one among you, only one thing stood apart in the bewildering hues of my village- a spark that guided me to wisdom. That glow has a name. Dhana, he was called; a short for Dhananjaya.
I saw Dhana as this tall lad with charming looks, and curls concealing his entire forehead; his mind bursting with knowledge, sending fertile pods across the village, where they bloomed in all glory.
I saw a compassionate, selfless and intellectual man who was completely oblivious to the gifts he had. The fields of his mind were always lush, abundant with a harvest throughout the year. However, to the world around, he was just another lower-caste boy. You know the kind that was presumed to have no self-respect, meant for illegal slavery, that kind of caste.
I don’t mind telling you the names of my bull-headed upper caste and his defenceless lower caste. But, you know what happened to the humble Tamil writer whom Dhana had great regard for. He had mentioned the names of certain castes and doomsday followed. The caste ferocity and sentiments follow you all the way to the purgatory.
Dhana read all kinds of religious scripts. He believed in unity, in… Well, his belief does not matter, for he has been sucked deep into the layers of our lush soil; deeper than the tiers that could yield water.
They buried him- the most evergreen perennial, into the abysmal pit of our red foam soil. Along with him, they interred the promise of change and the fundamental principles of unity that he stood for. I wait with hope to meet him here; in the air.
These imbecile beings around our village believe that I, the daughter of a landlord was impregnated with the child of our farm help, Dhana, who happens to be my classmate.
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The mouths of my brethren that sang my praises, turned into ones that uttered the words like ‘dispose of’. The hands that held me through my first steps and first bicycle rides turned vengeful.
The more I think of it, the more the flames ignite here on my pyre. The heat becomes unbearable. To turn this torridity into pleasant warmness, I rekindle his memories- his humble smile, his idealistic eyes and his ubiquitous charm.
Shades of Love
I hear spirits around me speak of the dynamics of love. The young girls know a shade of love that the old women here do not understand. As the gentle breeze from the Tamirabharani River prods the branches on the tamarind and neem trees into a tranquil dance, Mythili, the 19-year-old is the first to reminiscence,
‘You know Akka, our love was sweet, tangy, and bitter like a mixture of the tamarind pods and neem leaves here. There were fights. He was very possessive.’
‘This foolish girl,’ Rajathi Amma shoots. Her 55-year-old spirit, having seen everything, is not in a trance, like most of us here. ‘You have the wrong idea of love. Love is……’
‘What you had with your husband,’ the 26-year-old Kalai completes. The bruises on her face from having been pushed from atop the cliff are now healing and she is gradually learning to smile, again. ‘The love so strong that it compelled him to kill you, Amma.’
‘He did not kill me!’ Rajathi Amma lashes.
‘Ok. You did. But his love was so true that you handled his abuse and infidelity and killed yourself for him,’ Meenu backs Kalai with her sarcastic comment.
‘You silly women! Don’t you all realise that some of your lovers are still alive and they may soon marry the girl of their parents’ choice and live happily?’ Rajathi Amma steers the conversation elsewhere.
There is a collective cry of denial. They argue for some more time.
‘On the other hand, if you adults are so cynical about early love….’ Kalai calms the others with her thoughts.
‘They are just jealous, Akka,’ Meenu, the feisty one interrupts. ‘These women were forced into marriage very young, even before they know what hormones could do to you.’
‘Yes. It is hormones. There is no love.’ Rajathi Amma finishes.
‘There is.’ I interrupt.
‘Someone is finally speaking,’ Mythili smiles. The others hush her and ask me to continue.
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‘I don’t know how it was for you all. Remember on the days we didn’t have power, we lit a mud lamp and huddled around it and were content with that faint light. I was like that. I thought that the mere illusion of light is love. But then, I got close to Dhana and I saw the power of the luminous dawn sun. It was innate, enriching, and pure.’
‘Do you write Kavithai?’ Kalai smiles. I nod. ‘Dhana wrote too. He had many notebooks filled with poems. In fact, in their street, he was called the modern-day Bharathiar.’
‘Yes. Except that he was no Brahamana like Bharathi. If he had the power to choose his birth, I wouldn’t be here.’
I ponder on what I just said. If only we could select our caste before we land in a womb! Dhana said since a choice prior to birth was impossible, we could adapt to bring in change, and if needed, a revolution.
Just then we hear the hustle of the wind. It is a strong one. The Peepal tree at a distance woot in response.
‘That must be another spirit approaching,’ Kalai, the wise one speaks.
‘Jyothi, it could be Dhana,’ Meenu seems anxious.
‘No. When it is him, I would know.’
Their conversation then moves to the bond I shared with Dhana. They speak of our connection. I hear someone mention ‘pure’. Yes; it was immaculate. It was platonic.
Our love was sacred. Some invisible, muffled channel in the cosmos connected my thoughts to his mind. We became one. One entity bearing a male half and a female half, but the same conscience; like Arthanareeswarar, the half-male, half-female deity who lives in the heart of our Tamil land.
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The howl of the wind gets intense; it lashes the branches with a vengeance. At a distance, a perturbed infant hollers. The gust gets stronger and in a flash, like the sudden flare of the lightning, there is another woman by our side. Her sobs get loud and bawl noisy enough to tear the human eardrums. We leave her alone. We have seen this happen.
In a few hours, when the moon is bright above, she narrates her tale. She wails and whimpers as she speaks of the one man she truly loved.
‘I did not want to die. I was persistent in putting up a brave fight,’ she recollects. ‘He may belong to another caste, but he has a job at the public sector energy plant. Our plan was to marry as soon as I found a teaching job.’
‘You should have left home after graduation.’ Kalai intervenes.
‘He was against it. Moreover, he did not want to hurt my family. He was going to approach the traditional way along with his parents.’
‘What have they done to him?’ Meenu is quick to ask.
‘He is away on an official tour. Will they harm him?’
‘They may. They may not.’ Kalai answers.
‘Jyothi’s Dhana was hit and buried in her field where nobody would suspect.’ Meenu recollects.
‘But…. Law?’ the newbie whimpers. There is a collective round of laughter. She is embarrassed.
‘I trusted my family. I never thought….’
‘We all trusted them too. Not once, even in the wildest of our dreams did we assume that our fathers and uncles would dare to kill us for their honour.’ Meenu’s voice carries the long-suppressed anger.
‘No. We made a mistake. We did not surrender. We should have pretended to surrender.’ I tell them.
‘All right women. Whatever unsuppressed desire is holding you all back, make sure you go seek ways to fulfil it. We should leave here soon.’ Rajathi Amma announces in her commanding voice.
There is a collective cry of disapproval. ‘We have to leave. There is a whole new world beyond this one.’ She tries to spread some optimism.
‘I have to find someone.’ I am the first to leave the conversation.
Why cannot I find one human in whom I can confide? I stay within the confined space, waiting for a trustworthy person. Dhana could be here anytime and we would take the last journey together.
‘Akka, please take me along.’ The newbie joins. ‘So, are you the woman who was impregnated?’
‘Yes and No. Yes, that woman is me. No, I do not carry his child.’
‘What!’ she gasps.
I tell her that contrary to her belief, I did not kill myself unable to withstand the disgrace. He did not disappear for the fear of being killed. Dhana has not even brushed his fingers on me. He was a victor of my heart; just that. I tell her that our death was a well-planned stage play.
I mention that I could douse all of them with fuel and light the same match that they threw on me. Like Kannagi, the chaste woman from a Tamil epic, I could have burnt this entire village with its delusional decision-makers to carry his child in my womb. But, I did not hold his seed in me.
‘Akka, is the face of honour so brutal that it incites a father to kill a child?’ she breaks the silence of the dark.
‘I had this bewilderment too. But you will soon learn to accept.’
‘My name is Amari. None of you had asked.’ She responds.
‘It means perpetuity,’ I smile.
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‘Yes, except it is not true. They drugged my food and hung me on the rafters of the ceiling.’
‘Oh. They burnt me alive.’
‘You said that already and I can see that.’
There is silence.
‘We are all perpetual in a sense, Amari. Our desires, our vengeance and our love will stay eternal. And along with it, we will too.’ I hold back from mentioning the curse.
With the midsummer cool air gently stoking the flames, my charred body gets heated. I feel the flush again; I feel alive. We both wait for just one person to convey the brazen truth of honour killing and most importantly the legitimacy of my virginity. Like the desire that we leave behind, hope is also infinite. Who knew there is hope in the air?