| Sudha Vishwanath | July 2023 | Short Story |
‘Kausalya Supraja Rama Poorva Sandhya Pravarthathe. Uthishtaa…‘
The Venkatesha Suprabhatam  in the melodious voice of Smt MS Subbhalakshmi  reverberated through the corridors of Rajan Namboodiri’s ‘Laksmi illam .
The illam situated a little to the interior of Kottayam District in Kerala, was renowned for its consecrated atmosphere. It was a magnificent two-storey construction in the middle of lush green fields that all belonged to Rajan Namboodiri. It was his ancestral property that he had inherited.
Rice being the main harvest, the property also boasted of luscious fruit gardens.
Being busy as the Thirumeni  in the temple, Rajan Namboodiri had employed a few people to work in his fields and fruit gardens. Harvest had always been abundant and the house ever prosperous.
It was a chaste Hindu family that followed strict rules about religious activities. The Pooja room in the illam with idols and frames of umpteen Gods and Goddesses spoke about the piousness of the household. Every morning the fragrance of the bunch of rose-flavored incense sticks traveled all over the house from the Pooja room along with the Venkatesha Suprabhatam.
Today, the aroma of the semiya  payasam  simmering on a medium flame, wafted from the kitchen and engulfed the fragrance of the burning incense sticks. Savitri, gracefully adorned in the traditional Namboodiri attire of mundu  neriyatu,  judicially added some cardamom powder to the payasam, and the aroma enhanced further.
Some old memories emerged in Savitri’s mind bringing back waves of nostalgia.
“Have you made my favorite semiya payasam? Why is there no aroma of cardamom?” Ranjitha sniffed hard as she hopped from her school bus. Semiya payasam was a delicacy that was a must on all her birthdays and it was her 10th birthday.
“Sorry mutthe , achacha  could not find the right semiya, so it is paal payasam. We don’t use cardamom in that” Savitri said, taking the school bag from Ranjitha.
Ranjitha was visibly upset. She ran to the window sill and perched on it looking at the field outside. This was her favorite spot whenever she was angry. It took another hour for her father Rajan Namboodiri to placate her and get her to eat lunch. “I will buy the semiya next week when I go to the main city. Eat your lunch today. Look even achachan has not eaten.” He hugged her.
Savitri’s eyes brimmed with tears as she recollected the incident.
Today Ranjitha turned 47, everything seems such a coincidence. The daughter of the house coming home after twenty-five long years. That too on her birthday!
Savitri cautiously stirred the payasam.
Her daughter-in-law, Omana, looked at her through the edges of her eyes. She felt a sudden gush of emotions. Wasn’t she in a way responsible for this long absence of Ranjitha? Omana’s lips parted in an agonizing sigh. She could have coaxed her husband to let go of his ego, but hadn’t she also been selfish by choosing to remain passive?
‘Twenty-five long years!’ Rajan Namboodiri pouted his lips, sitting on the porch on his easy chair. He adored his daughter. Born after having visited temple after temple praying for a girl child, she was the apple of his eye.
Rajan Namboodiri had wished to name her after his family Goddess, Bhagavathy . He staunchly believed that it was Her blessings that had brought the tiny feet of a daughter into the house. However, Savitri had expressed her desire to name their daughter Ranjitha since their son was called Ranjith.
The elder brother adored his sister, who was nearly twelve years younger than him. It was a close-knit family. Rajan had not imposed his ideologies on his kids and had given his son the option of choosing between gaining higher education or stepping into his father’s shoes thereby serving in the temple and taking care of their harvest.
Ranjith chose the latter. He studied up to class 12th and blended with the family tradition. Having got himself adept with the education in Veda  he would go to the temple both morning and evening to conduct rituals and would spend the noon in the rice fields and fruit garden. Rajan Namboodiri took pride in his son’s ability to handle everything with such verve.
Ranjitha was given the liberty to carry on with her education, as per her desire. She was a brilliant student. Savitri had groomed her daughter such that nothing came in the way of her following the family traditions. She attended college in the traditional attire of the Namboodiris.
Ranjith got married to Omana when Ranjitha was in her final year of college. Everything was going fine in the Namboodri household. The illam was, in fact celebrating the good news of an addition to the family with a sadhya  on a Sunday.
A visit by Kuttapan, their neighbour, that morning, rattled the peace of the house.
“Rajettan I have come now knowing well that Ranjitha is not home.” Kuttapan began hesitantly.
“She has gone to a friend’s house to complete some journal work. Final exams are approaching, you see.” Savitri, who came with a cup of coffee, asserted.
Ranjith did not miss the acerbic smile that escaped Kuttapan’s twitched lips.
“Rajettan, I would like to talk to you personally,” Kuttapan cleared his throat.
“You can speak in front of my family members,” Rajan Namboodiri replied.
“It is something regarding your daughter,” Kuttapan uttered each word with caution.
“What is it ettan  ?” Ranjith enquired, a lump blocking his throat. A kind of premonition ran through him.
“She has been going around with a boy in her class. My son is in the same college and he told me about this. All her classmates are aware of the affair.”
There was a deafening silence for a while. Both Rajan and Savitri who had placed unparalleled trust in their daughter were in for a shock. It was Ranjith who broke the silence. “If what you say is true we shall confront her today.”
“I don’t think what I say is going to get an enthusiastic response from you all,” Kuttapan asserted.
“The boy belongs to the Christian community. The boy’s family has come to know about the affair and has not raised any objection. My son says that they are planning to visit you in a couple of days to finalize the proposal with your consent. And right now your daughter has not gone to any friend’s house. I just saw her with the boy, entering a restaurant near the town bus stand.”
Savitri began wailing no sooner than she heard this. Rajan Namboodiri sat transfixed on his chair, the world blurring in front of him. The Namboodiri Tharavadu  was known for its chastity and sanctity. Marriage into another caste itself was sacrilegious.
Ranjith unleashed a wave of angry words accusing the parents of giving their daughter too much independence, while his wife caressed her bulging tummy and said, “We are soon going to have a child in the family. Such atrocities can’t be tolerated. You should talk to her today and stop her studies. Let us get her married off soon.”
Rajan Namboodiri was aghast. Ranjitha was a rank holder and was looking forward to getting first place in her final exams. Studies had always been her priority. Then how did her mind waver like this?
What followed was disastrous. Ranjith spoke on behalf of the Namboodiri family as Rajan Namboodiri was too stunned to say anything. Ranjith fought tooth and nail with his sister and with the Thatil family who gracefully came to finalize the proposal.
“Do you know what Namboodiri Tharavadu is? We don’t wed into a family with another Surname and you are dreaming of taking a girl from our house as your daughter-in-law? You eat non-vegetarian food and the very mention of it is a taboo in our household. That is just one difference I am talking about. We are like the sky and the earth.”
The Thatil family members were non-contentious people. They did not utter a harsh word.
Ranjitha stood by her decision. Falling in love is no sin, she argued. She tried her best to convince her parents, knowing well that her love for John was never going to be accepted by her family. “Achacha, Amma, I love him dearly and he loves me too. I am sure I will adjust to their household.” Ranjitha avered.
But the Namboodiri household did not budge or give up any of their so called devoutness. Ranjitha was accepted wholeheartedly by John’s family. They soon got married. No one from Rajan Namboodiri’s family attended the wedding.
Ranjith had sternly said that Ranjitha would inherit nothing from the Namboodiri Tharavadu and would have no ownership on any of the jewelry and other things amassed for her wedding. Since she chose to marry someone whom she had selected, Ranjith averred that she had no right to claim anything from this household.
Ranjith and Omana would not compromise even when the parents had let go of their egos and wanted to bless their daughter.
“After all we had made all this jewelries for her and her off spring. At least let us give her those things amassed for her wedding if not the share in property.” The parents implored, but their son stood stubborn.
“What will people say? Rajan Namboodiri relinquished the sanctity of his Tharavadu and went ahead to attend a Catholic wedding in a Church to bless his disobedient and vociferous daughter?” Ranjith snapped.
“It is either us or her,” he gave the final word. Rajan’s aging shoulders needed support. He couldn’t antagonize his only son.
The family heard of Ranjitha clearing her finals with flying colours and then the Thatil family left the town for better prospects. John had come to seek his in-laws’ blessings before leaving. He had brought along Ranjitha too. But Ranjith was adamant. Accosting them at the foyer itself, he spoke ruthlessly and sent them back.
And today, after more than two long decades, Ranjitha was coming home.
The illam seemed to have a new look. The living room looked elegant with the new upholstery and curtains embroidered exquisitely by Omana. The smell of the newly painted walls still lingered in the air. Everyone waited with bated breath for the arrival of the Thatil family.
The mini-bus with John, Ranjitha, and his relatives halted in front of Lakshmi illam at around 12 pm. Savitri’s eyes blurred as she saw her daughter alighting from it. Ranjitha had not changed much in these years. John looked graceful with his salt-and-pepper hair. Their daughter, Anne, looked exactly like how Ranjitha used to look when she was 21, with her brown almond shaped eyes and a smile that further enchanted everyone, forming beautiful dimples on her cheeks.
They entered the house along with John’s only brother, his wife, their daughter, Sarah, John’s parents and kith and kin.
It was a very delicate moment.
“Achacha how are you?” Ranjitha asked touching her father’s feet, trying hard to fight back the surging tears.
Rajan Namboodiri who was at the threshold of being called an octogenarian, fumbled for words to answer her. Tears began rolling down his sunken cheeks. How much he had missed his dear daughter! “I failed as a father,” he wept.
Ranjitha pacified him and assured him that neither she nor John had ever harnessed any ill feelings towards them.
Ranjitha embraced her mother. “Amma I can smell my favourite semiya payasam,” she laughed. Savitri couldn’t stop crying. Not just one or two years, but two and a half decades have passed since she last saw her daughter. She knew well Ranjitha would not come home without being invited after all the unpleasantness.
Often she had heard people referring to social media having been instrumental in bringing old friends together, but under the fear of triggering her son’s wrath, she never spoke about her desire to trace her daughter’s whereabouts. Savitri was not tech savvy to explore it herself. Many a time she had been tempted to ask her grandson about it. But Ranjith and Omana’s son, Arvind had only vaguely heard about his aunt, who, he was told, had married into a Christian family.
Today was the day God had designated for the lost ones to meet. Ranjith and Omana fidgeted looking rather clumsy in front of the guests. “Welcome,” Ranjith finally managed to mutter. Forgetting all their previous impertinence John and his family gracefully acknowledged the hospitality.
“The engagement ceremony is at 3 pm. Let us have lunch and get ready,” Omana regained her lost composure and ushered them in. Abashed by her past behaviour, Omana felt awkward to even face Ranjitha. But the initial rigidness slowly thawed and they began conversing freely.
Arvind, now a handsome man of twenty-five arrived in a white mundu and Kurta. He smiled at Sarah, his would-be wife.
Destiny had brought both of them together under the wings of the same University where Arvind pursued his Ph.D. and John and Ranjitha’s niece, Sarah, had enrolled for post-graduation.
If only they had stood by their daughter 25 years ago! Rajan Namboodiri and Savitri heaved an agonizing sigh.
“Those lost years will never return,” Savitri sadly told her husband.
“Our son who was against his sister’s wedding into a Christian family has accepted the same family’s daughter as his daughter-in-law. Perspectives have changed.” Rajan smiled.
After many years the illam bubbled with gurgling laughter and conversations.
*** Venkatesha Suprabhatam – A hymn sung early morning to awaken the Lord from sleep.  M S Subbhalakshmi – (late) a renowned Carnatic music vocalist.  illam – Malayalam word for the house of a Namboodiri Brahmin.  Thirumeni – The high priest who conducts Pooja in a temple.  Semiya – Vermicelli  Payasam – Sweet porridge  Mundu – A dhoti that is part of the traditional clothing of women in Kerala.  Neriyatu – a type of attire to cover the upper body of Namboodiri females worn over a blouse.  Mutthe – pearl  Achachan – Father  Bhagavathi – Common epithet for Godess Shakti  Veda – Ancient Indian scripture consisting of hymns and philosophy.  Sadhya – A full-fledged lunch.  Tharavadu – Ancestry  Ettan – A term used for an elder man( big brother)
Sudha Vishwanath is a retired tutor. She took to writing as a hobby, and soon went on to publish her work in magazines. She has some anthologies to her credit. Sudha also writes poems and has one of them published in an anthology.
She writes for various platforms and has won accolades for her writings. Many of her soul stirring articles have been published in Soul Curry of TOI.
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