Flash Fiction

RED HIBISCUS

By Sushi

When Romeo the Rat ran across the road – full of love and hope – for his sweetheart who lived on the other side, he got run over.

His little heart throbbed like crazy as his body twitched under the morning sun. He looked around with his eyes half open.

A young man stood staring at him at a traffic signal.

“God,”he said.

The woman near him covered her mouth with a slender palm.

“How awful,”she said.

“Hope he passes peacefully,”said the man.

“I wish humans weren’t in such a hurry always,”said the woman.

“Well, one can’t help it sometimes,”said the man.

“We get nowhere despite all the hurry we show. Why not slow down and see where that takes us?”

The man smiled.

“How do we do that?”he asked.

The traffic lights changed as the man and woman crossed the road, still talking. Romeo’s pale eyes followed the couple.

“Where do you work?”asked the man.

The woman spoke in a sing-song voice now.

“Juuust round the corner.”

The man asked her out for coffee. She raised her eyebrows but a flirty smile played on her lips.

“We will go slow, I promise,”he said.

Romeo breathed his last as the woman laughed.

All the love in his little heart pooled around him like the petals of a red hibiscus. It was Romeo’s parting gift to the couple. A new love story had begun as his ended.

(ends)

Poem by 17th century poet Khush Hal Khan Khattak (the national poet of Afghanistan)

Know thou well this world its state, what is, is; what is not, is not:
Whether Rake or Devotee, what is, is; what is not, is not.
Whether much or little thine, count it all as passed away;
Be thou of the Prophet’s nature, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
If for life thou grievest, what cause if thyself thou knowest;
Alive to thy grave thou goest, what is, is; what is not, is not.
Of sea and land the Monarch thou, if wet and dry alike thou countest;
Be thou then the Monarch of the age, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
Whether pearls or jewels, whether flowers or trees,
Take no account of all, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
Ill thy wishes, bad thy actions, causeless grief and envy thine;
In patience be thou wealthy, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
Weep thou not, nor yet rejoice; leave alike both grief and joy;
Be acquainted with this secret, what is, is; what is not, is not.
Alas! what though it collects, with no one does it here remain:
Of gold and silver be thou free, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
Of thy loved one seek for kindness, and thou find it not, then weep:
Do thou as thy loved one wills thee, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
Whether Union or Separation, to me they both are all alike:
Be thou at ease as thou art, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
Why dost thou strive and struggle, and day and night art full of concern?
Be thou the same whatever betide, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
Short is life, and many its troubles; why so anxious in your heart?
Be thou satisfied with wet or dry, for what is, is; what is not, is not.
Consider thou thy special talent, while alive make good use of it,
O Khush-hal! a Lion be thou, for what is, is; what is not, is not.

Translated by C E Biddulph

From Poets.org

Krishn (Hindi)


devaki ke putr
meera ki praan
arjun ke saarathi
radha ki jaan

kans ki raat
bhor gokul ka
sudama ke mitr
panchali ka maan

ye sab toh tha
unka baahri alok
na koi tha unka
kisike na the woh

behti ik dhaar
megh mayur ka pyaar
jeevan se raazi
sukh dukh ke paar

hazaar roop jiske
hain hazaaron naam
dekha jisne dil mein
saakshi samaan bhagwaan.

Flash Fiction

MR VARKEY RENOUNCES HIS BLACK ROSARY

By Sushi


“These autorickshaw drivers will all go to hell,”rasped old Mr Varkey.


He sat on the wooden bench of his village church and retied his white cotton sarong.
A handsome Christ welcomed him with arms as open as the sky, but Mr Varkey ignored Him.


“I would have paid the idiot some extra money for waiting…but he had to go…I hope all autorickshaw drivers drown in this storm.”


Mr Varkey then closed his eyes and turned his black rosary.


“Thy will be done…O Lord our God…not my will, but yours.”


He stopped his little prayer as a swollen sea grumbled behind the church.


“I hope the monsoon doesn’t create havoc this year,”he said.


There was no one there except the Christ and him.


“Not that the summer was good. The heat was so bad it may have melted the mountains.”


He made a quick sign of the cross on his chest and hobbled out to see angry clouds surround him like Satan’s army. Mr Varkey stuffed his rosary in his pocket and opened his umbrella.


“Damn!”


He stared through the small hole in his worn umbrella.


“How many times have I asked that stupid wife of mine to get this repaired?”


He threw the umbrella down and stood with his arms on his hips.


A pack of stray dogs howled near him.


“Damn these dirty creatures.”


Mr Varkey picked up the umbrella and walked fast.


He ducked as a raven performed a jubilant somersault in the air.


“What the hell!”


An autorickshaw whizzed past just then. Mr Varkey cursed himself for not waving it down. A few drops of rain hit his forehead as the wind picked up speed.


A hornbill laughed and a bull frog croaked as he ran.


Mr Varkey struggled to hold on to his umbrella but a strong gust ripped whatever remained of it and pushed him to the middle of the road.


“God…oh my Lord God…are you not seeing this madness?”


He stopped to catch his breath under a sprawling tree that danced in the rain. Mr Varkey scanned the street for a rickshaw but a wild peacock landed before him just then. It spread out its brilliant feathers and shook its crown.


“Was it you that invaded my garden a few weeks ago?”


The eyespots on the bird’s blue-green feathers stared at him as if he were an aberration…as if he didn’t belong there. Mr Varkey’s eyes met the bird’s curious gaze, and that’s when he sensed the absurdity of being the only one on the street to have resisted such a magnificent morning.


He stood open-mouthed as the rain fell on him like rocks.


The bird flew up to sit on a tree while Mr Varkey listened to the sea. It echoed back his little prayer.


Thy will be done…O Lord our God…not my will, but yours.


Mr Varkey suddenly fumbled in his pocket to find his rosary missing.


He was about to look for it on the street when the peacock screeched. Mr Varkey glanced up to see his own dead prayer — his black rosary — dangling from the bird’s greyish beak. He closed his eyes and mumbled.


“Forgive me.”


The wind pierced his skin and the sky rumbled. He heard the waves behind the church lash out like pythons in the wild. The dogs howled and frogs jumped from puddles.


But old Mr Varkey remembered his prayer.


His rosary fell from the bird’s beak and landed near his feet, but Mr Varkey didn’t pick it up. He walked home in the rain knowing the world as his rosary, and never needed his black beads again.


(ends)

See This Fast

By Sushi

see this sweetheart
this dancing arch
a wave from heaven
a bit of god
come see it fast
before it’s lost
like the love we held
the dreams we saw
how fast they broke
like mist or smog
the colors of our rainbow
our fickle hearts
but see this sweetheart
this dancing arch
come see it with me
before it’s lost.

Chandappan and the Chin Hair


By Sushi


“Is that so, my little twinkling Star?”
Chandappan put an arm around his secret lover as she gabbed about her stupid husband.
“Stop calling me star and sun and moon,”she said.
“That’s all I know, my little Planet…I studied astrophysics…and…”
“You studied that decades ago…you are jobless now.”
Chandappan didn’t love her or anything.
He fooled around with married women because he knew they would never leave their homes.
They complained about their husbands and cursed their in-laws and wanted to push their children back into their wombs…
…but they never wanted to leave their homes.
Chandappan felt safe in the arms of married women.
And this one was beautiful…
BUT…
His eyes now fell on the thick little shoots of hair that sprouted around her upper lip like a virgin forest. They made her look like an insect.
UGGGGH!
The pandemic had closed all beauty parlours and men now had to suffer the double whammy of the virus plus all this facial hair on women.
A coiled black strand rolled out from under her chin too. It reminded him of a mountain goat he had seen in Karnataka.
“Hmmm…hmmm…then what did you do, my Halley’s Comet?”asked Chandappan.
Her husband was a nobody from the wrestling federation of Kerala. The guy was out looking for donations because he wanted to participate in the Olympics.
Wrestling Federation.
Olympics.
Donations.
IMAGINE.
The nutcase woman had married someone like that…and now she was cursing her fate.
Chandappan was not a scientist or anything but he was associated with something so much higher than wrestling…or kusti or gusti or whatever…
Who ever takes a wrestler seriously?
HAHAHHAHAHAHA!
“Why are you laughing?”she asked.
“Oh…I was…coughing…not laughing…my lovely Pole Star.”
Chandappan stroked her face and kept his eyes far from her chin, but his fingers accidentally touched the goat hair.
He almost jerked his hand off in disgust.
“What happened?”she asked.
How to tell her?
Chandappan thought he would pinch her chin playfully and pull the hideous hair out, but…
“Aiyyo! What are you doing, Chandappa?”
“Nothing…just pinching your dimpled chin…my gorgeous Milky Way.”
“Ya…when my husband PUNCHES your dimpled chin…then?”
She started talking about the wrestler again but Chandappan had to pull the goat hair out. He held her face in his hands.
“You are the Sun and I am the Earth,”he said.
His fingers slowly slipped down and twisted the hair. He had just about pinched it when something as heavy as a comet fell on his head.
Chandappan saw the entire galaxy and solar system as someone shouted in his ears.
“You dirty dog!”
It was the wrestler’s voice.
The wrestler’s hand was the comet that had fallen on Chandappan’s head.
The woman yelled.
“I told you he knows…he followed me here!”
The wrestler stood behind Chandappan like a mountain, and that reminded Chandappan again of the mountain goat…and the hair…
He slowly stood up as the woman bit and scratched the wrestler. Even as she cursed and spat, all that Chandappan could see was the goat hair under her chin.
The wrestler twisted her hand. She shrieked.
“Chandappa!”
Chandappan sprang upon the couple and used his entire body weight to keep them both on the ground.
The woman almost choked but Chandappan didn’t get up till his fingers could find the goat hair and pull it out.
“Here it is.”
“Here is what?”asked the wrestler.
“Here is what?”asked the woman.
Chandappan knew the woman would spit on him too if he showed her the goat hair. So he pulled out his wallet.
“Here it is… a small donation for the Olympics.”
The wrestler had tears in his eyes when he saw the money.
He quickly stood up and hugged Chandappan. Then he pulled the woman up too.
“Here is your Sun, Chandappa. You deserve her more.”
Chandappan’s head spun faster than any planet he had known.
“Who…who told you I want her?”
He threw many fake laughs at them and shouted.
“Who ever takes a wrestler seriously?”
The comet landed on Chandappan’s head again.
And this time, his little twinkling Star didn’t come to his rescue. They both stomped all over his face as he lay on the road like a big Black Hole.
(ends)

The Miracle of a Clean Heart


By Sushi

“Mahadeva…what’s wrong with this bell now?”


The priest squinted at the temple bell that sulked before a sanctum of the Hindu god Shiva.


“This clapper is jammed,”he said.


The bell rang aloud as the priest used all his strength to move the clapper.


“Aiyyo! I’ll go deaf like this.”


Shiva sat listening to the priest’s melodrama.


White moon flowers lay around Him like sleeping brides and a lamp burned in a corner. He looked at the bell.


“Why do you not want to ring anymore?”


Before the bell could answer, someone pushed its clapper.


Once, twice, thrice.


TING! TING! TING!

The man prayed and clambered down the steps.


“This is why,”said the bell.


“Why…What’s wrong?”


“The fool who just rang me…he didn’t even stop to lose himself in my eternal music…he bowed and left before my hymn was over.”


Shiva laughed but the bell didn’t.


“No one touches me with faith or love, O Mighty One.”


A young couple held up their baby to the bell and grinned as the toddler swung from the clapper.


“Look at these idiots,”said the bell.


Shiva laughed again.


“Leave the others…why do YOU not want to ring anymore?”


“O mighty One…I represent that which echoes beyond time and space…the first hymn…that first chant.”


The bell trembled with self-importance.


“I will not sing for these ignorant fools.”


Just then, a young mother climbed the steps of the temple with a child in her arms. The little girl screamed and flailed about. She looked at nothing and no one. The mother tried to calm her down and soon gave up.


Shiva looked at the bell again.


“I understand your pain, my friend…but you exist because of humans…THEY made you…the hymn you sing is THEIR gift to you.”


“Well…I don’t think they remember my hymn anymore.”


“How does it matter what they do or don’t do?”


The girl squirmed on the ground and laughed as her mother tried to drag her up.


“I am sorry…O Mighty One…this temple will never hear the eternal hymn again.”


The metal wire that held the bell grew taut and stiff.


Shiva chuckled.


“Do you think the eternal hymn rests only in you?”


The bell was about to reply when the girl got up and ran into the sanctum.


She moved like a bolt of lightning, full of chaos.


Her little hands and legs stiffened when she reached the threshold.


She stumbled into the sanctum.


“This girl will ruin those flowers,”said the bell.


The girl swayed and shook and moaned. She finally grabbed a flower and got up.


“Why isn’t the priest driving her out, O Mighty One?”


Shiva shone like a pole star as the girl circled Him.


“She is as close to me as the priest or you…”


“How can you say this, O mighty One? I am the divine sound of the universe, the one that echoes beyond time & space…”


Shiva interrupted.


“So is she.”


Before the bell could speak, the little girl hummed.


She sat in a corner with the flower in her hand and hummed again and again — like a windless jungle at night, like a waveless sea.


Her voice reverberated around the sanctum and surrounding forests to emerge as a constant, consistent tune — the hymn of the universe.


It embraced the deity and priest, the bell and bees, the trees and soil, and all of Shiva’s stupefied devotees.


“How…?”asked the bell. “O Mighty One…just how?”


“It’s really her heart speaking, my friend…with no pomposity or pride.”


The metal wire that held the bell ripped the ceiling and crashed into the ground.


The jolt released the jammed clapper of the bell and it rang — once, twice, thrice…a hundred times.


“My god…what a cacophony…”said the priest.


He removed the bell and never replaced it…


…because all those that stood at Shiva’s temple that day had opened the doors of their heart to the instinctive hum of a special child.


It brought them closer to the black stone of their timeless god.


It bound them to Him like no bell ever had.


(ends)

Flash Fiction

THE BHAGAWAAN IN KANNAN

By Sushi

*********

“Kanna!”

Old Mrs Nair pulled Kannan’s thick leash.

“Don’t run off now, you naughty dog!”

She was afraid he would dash away again.

Kannan sniffed the air with his small black nose and scanned the noisy highway.

His senses promised false heavens every time he saw the main road.

“I won’t look for you if you run away again.”

The garden was full of tall coconut trees and mud tracks for people to run on.

“Kanna…don’t chase the doves!”

Kannan ran up a mound of earth.

“Aiyyo…Kanna!”

He looked at the woman’s tired face.

“No pulling,”she said.

“Hello…Mrs Nair!”

A man in a blue t-shirt and red shorts waved at her.

He had a big water bottle stuck to his hip. A white towel lay coiled around his fleshy neck.

“You adopted a dog?”he asked, as if it was the most foolish thing to do.

Kannan looked at the beads of sweat dripping from the man’s chin.

Perhaps Mr Bottle was right.

Mrs Nair could have just stayed home and avoided the heat if she had let Kannan die outside her gate.

The dog stared at Mrs Nair’s wheezing mouth.

“Yes, yes…he is a street dog… Kannan.”

“Kannan?”

Mr Bottle glared at Kannan.

“You mean…”

Mr Bottle folded his hands and looked up at the sky.

Mrs Nair laughed.

“Yes, yes…Kannan meaning the Almighty.”

Kannan’s ears moved this way and that. The old woman had named him after god?

She patted him and spoke again.

“He is so sweet.”

Mr Bottle sat cross-legged on the mud track.

“Our blue-skinned lord with eyes shaped like lotuses…and hair like monsoon clouds…really, Mrs Nair…this street mutt…”

“Call him Kannan…or don’t call him anything…”

Mrs Nair’s voice cut Mr Bottle like a knife.

But then…if god was blue-skinned with hair like clouds…wasn’t Mr Bottle right?

Kannan smelled the fishy breath on his nostrils. He studied the dry skin around his legs. His fur was dirty brown in color with patches missing here and there.

Who was Mrs Nair fooling?

Kannan sat down.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,”said Mr Bottle.

He drank some water.

“I know you saved him from the gutter near your home, Mrs Nair…during the flood…I know the story…”

Kannan’s face fell.

All his siblings…five of them…they had drowned in those dark waters.

But something had goaded him to catch hold of a slab and haul himself up.

Kannan had trudged to Mrs Nair’s gate at dawn — cold and hungry — not knowing if he would live.

Something told him to stay by that gate, and he did.

Kannan sneaked a peek at Mrs Nair now.

Her eyebrows were tugged together and the bun on her head bounced as she spoke.

“People like you…will never know god…He lives in all beings.”

Kannan avoided looking at the doves that gathered near Mr Bottle. They flew again as a warm breeze rustled up some dead leaves.

“But…Mrs Nair…”

Mr Bottle toweled his hair. The flesh under his arms moved like a bulldog’s jowls.

“This being has teeth and claws, and it bites!”

Kannan didn’t know he could bite.

But he vowed not to…if Mrs Nair had named him after such a beautiful god, the least he could do was to live up to that name.

“I see Bhagawaan in him,”said Mrs Nair.

This was a new word.

Kannan didn’t know what it meant.

Mrs Nair gritted her teeth and pointed a finger at Mr Bottle.

“You see only his claws and teeth. I see Bhagawaan in him.”

The old woman dropped the leash and stood with her fists clenched at her sides.

Kannan wondered if there was Bhagawaan in Mrs Nair too.

He wanted to tell the old woman that Mr Bottle wasn’t entirely wrong.

What godliness did he have? He was just a street dog, not a savior.

Mr Bottle shook his head.

“Mrs Nair…there is a limit to being spiritual and all that trash…”

The doves gathered and flew again as a strong gust swept the garden.

Kannan’s eyes followed the birds, but a sudden movement behind him caught his attention.

There was a stone in Mrs Nair’s hand now…and she was shouting…

“I am telling you…if you call him a mutt ever again…I will break your head.”

Kannan licked his lips. His body grew tense.

Was Bhagawaan in Mr Bottle too?

He looked at Mrs Nair’s trembling face. She stood like a warrior with her legs slightly apart.

Mr Bottle jumped up.

“Oho! I want to see you throw that stone at me,”he said.

“Mrs Nair…you are going crazy with this dog…”

The leash still lay on the ground like a dead snake.

Kannan whined as Mr Bottle tied his towel around his head.

Something told Kannan it was time…but time for what?

A wild breeze knocked a frond off a coconut tree and kicked up a small dust storm.

Mr Bottle and Mrs Nair ignored all this. They yelled at each other.

“If there is Bhagawaan in this dirty, drooling, stinking mutt…Mrs Nair…”

“I am warning you…you scoundrel…”

A dove landed on Mr Bottle’s head.

“I challenge you to prove it to me…Mrs Nair…”

Mr Bottle couldn’t finish his sentence.

Kannan charged at the dove and jumped up Mr Bottle’s shocked face.

The man stumbled. He fell a few steps away.

Kannan stood on his chest and barked at the fluttering bird.

A bunch of tender green coconuts crashed into the ground just then…exactly at the spot where Mr Bottle had challenged Mrs Nair’s idea of Bhagawaan.

My god!

Kannan imagined Bhagawaan to be the most powerful. Perhaps he looked like the Rottweiler that had pounced on Kannan once.

The dog turned to sniff Mr Bottle’s towel. The poor man’s eyes were as wide as an owl’s.

Mr Bottle glared at the coconuts and the little crater on the mud track…and at the big brown dog on his heaving chest.

The animal’s warm breath was on his face.

Kannan wanted to snarl. He wanted to scratch and bite this man who had offended old Mrs Nair.

But something in him reminded him of his vow.

He lowered his ears and whined instead.

“Bhagawaane,”mumbled Mr Bottle.

Kannan’s eyes shone with a sudden sense of recognition.

Bhagawaan was this…this something…this something that led him from the gutter to the gate…this something that led to better things always.

And it was in him as much as it was in old Mrs Nair or mean Mr Bottle. How else did they know of it?

Mr Bottle stared at the light in the animal’s grey eyes. They reflected existence in all its intensity.

“Kanna…come here…”

The dog turned to see Mrs Nair hobbling towards him.

“Kanna…don’t run off…come here…!”

Kannan sniffed the air. The main road wasn’t far.

But he didn’t budge.

He waited to be led…not by his senses…but by what drove him from the gutter to the gate, from violence to vow, from street dog to savior of a poor man’s soul.

Kannan didn’t want false heavens anymore.

(ends)

Serpent of Sorrow

By Sushi


“Thankam, are you listening?”


Iyer dipped a piece of thosai in hot vegetable stew and popped it into his mouth.


“Our son will land at Kochi by noon…he will be home for dinner…”


An orange sarong hugged Iyer’s ample stomach. A thin white thread — which hung vertically across his bare body — whispered his religious status.


Iyer and his wife belonged to the Brahmin village of Kalpathy in central Kerala where the mythical black serpent of sorrow thrived.


“Will he even remember the way to his house?”asked Thankam.


She mixed the thosai batter with a ladle and pushed the long end of her dull blue kanjeevaram sari into her underskirt.


“The black serpent will show him the way,”said Iyer.

Thankam looked at the surrounding hillside from the slatted window of her kitchen.


“There is no such thing…the black serpent is just a myth,”she said.


Iyer rubbed his bald head and laughed.


“Is that why you light a lamp every evening on that wall in the yard?”


“Everyone here does it…so I do it too…I have never seen a serpent anywhere in this village…or on the hillside.”


Thankam’s earrings shone in the faint light that fell through the bricked ceiling. Her gold bangles tinkled as she pulled a big red sticker bindi from the refrigerator door and stuck it on her wrinkled forehead.


“He is bringing Aisha too,”said Iyer. “Remember…his friend…in America.”


“Mmm.”


“Make some of that spicy sambar saadam…along with yam fry and milk pudding,”said Iyer.


“Will the girl like it?”


“Her name is Aisha…”


Thankam pursed her lips.


“Will she like it?”


“I think so,”he said. “Shall I cut some banana leaves for the night?”


“Will she eat from a leaf?”


“Aisha is a nice girl…you should talk to her once.”


“For what?”


Iyer drank some water.


“He wants to marry her.”


Thankam stopped breathing for a second. Iyer continued to speak…a little faster than before.


“How she turned him around, no?”


“Why didn’t he tell ME that he wants to marry her?”


“He wanted you to meet her first.”


Iyer watched her turn slowly, like a ghost. She didn’t say anything.


“I heard he hasn’t touched alcohol in a very long time…Thankam…are you listening?”


Thankam’s voice sliced the air.


“Yes, yes…everything that girl only did…what was I doing then… swatting flies?”


Iyer stopped eating.


“U also tried, Thankam.”


“Tried?”


Thankam switched off the stove and flung the ladle on the floor.


“I TRIED?”


Their dog fled the kitchen and whined in the yard. Thankam marched to the back door and threw a matchbox at the dog.


“Get out, you mongrel. Find a girl and go away…and tell everyone how great she is and how she transformed you…go!”


She picked up the ladle and hurled it into the sink. It made a clattering sound.


“You are overreacting, Thankam…”


The rickety wooden bench on which Iyer sat creaked as Thankam sat next to him.


“I gave my life for us…for our son…my whole life…grinding and cleaning and washing…”


Iyer glanced at the dark corridor that led to the verandah of their home.


“Do you have to shout?”he asked.


“All my life…and you say i TRIED?”


Iyer played with a piece of thosai. It had lost its crispness.


Thankam shook him by the arm and shouted.


“I took him to school and tuition class. I arranged music teachers and violin sessions.”


She wheezed as she spoke.


“I taught him how to swim and I taught him how to walk and I taught him how to eat and I showed him how to put on his pants…and comb his hair and wear his shoes and slip down from a slide…and…I only tried?”


She squeezed his arm.


“I failed, didn’t I?”


“No, Thankamma.”


“And…this girl…he has been with her for a year maybe?”


Her eyes were misty.


“This girl from nowhere…with hair like boys…she changed him?”


“She loves him…”


Thankam ignored Iyer.


“She changed him from what…to what…beast to Buddha?”


Iyer closed his eyes.


“Are you even listening, Thankam?”


She cracked her knuckles and mumbled.


“He learned how to sleep here…in my palms…I taught him how to laugh and cry…and…”


Thankam choked back a sob.


“…and I knew of his struggles too…and…”


Iyer shook his head.


“Thankam…not today…not now. Leave it.”


She pulled out the long end of her sari and covered her face with it.


“I knew what he fought against…every single day. Yet…”


“Why do you blame only yourself all the time…as if I don’t matter? I was here too…”


“…because everyone questions only ME all the time…”


Iyer got up and rinsed his plate.


“Shall i cut some banana leaves?”he asked.


“If you matter so much…why does everyone look at me — and only me — when they talk abt his alcoholism?”


“You aren’t listening, Thankam…shall I cut the leaves?”


Thankam’s hand gripped the table.


“Their eyes are full of accusations — Where were YOU? What did YOU do? How did YOU not see?”


“They ask me too, Thankam.”


“But you have an answer. You were working and travelling…and I was at home.”

She caught his sleeve when he tried to leave.


“God knows I tried…I took him to temples and doctors and priests and astrologers…and…and…I tried to find a girl for him…but…he wanted to leave.”


“He left…and he found a girl…and he is fine now…”


Iyer sat again. She left his sleeve and stared at a spot on the table.


“The first night he came home drunk…you weren’t home. I let him be…I didn’t scold him.”


“Listen, Thankam…”


“I didn’t trust you,”she said. “I didn’t tell you anything because…”


He let out a false laugh.


“You trusted no one with him, Thankam. Not even me.”


She scratched the table with a broken nail.


“So now it’s my problem.”


“You did what you thought was right. It just didn’t turn out well for him…he didn’t want your constant intervention. It made him feel weak. It made him look small.”


Thankam’s eyes flashed about and her nostrils flared.


“I know I went wrong somewhere…but…that girl…”


Iyer caught her cold, bony hands.


“That girl has a name — Aisha.”


Thankam looked away.


“I won’t call her anything at all.”


Iyer left her hands and held his head.


“Stop thinking only you have the right to know him, to heal him.”


“I am his mother…I looked after him…and…”


Iyer banged the table with his fist.


“Can’t another woman help him out? Does it always have to be you? Can’t she love him like you do?”


“Like I do?”


“Yes.”


“I am his…”


“You are his mother…so?”


Thankam’s eyes welled up as she glared at Iyer.


“Where is she from…what is her caste?”


“I don’t care about all that. She could help him because he let her.”


“I was ready to help him too,”she said.


“He didn’t want your help.”


“WHY?”


Iyer looked at his wife’s tired eyes.


“Because it came with expectations…you expect him to be just the way you want him to be…”


“I want him to be a good boy…to pray daily, to not drink, to not eat meat…to be a good Brahmin boy…is that too much to ask of a child I gave life to?”


“You gave him life?”


Iyer stood up and sat down again.


“Did you make him…with your own hands…did you make your own womb…the umbilical cord that held him to you…his blood vessels and organs and his little hands and feet…did YOU make them?”


Thankam felt a twitch in her gut. She noticed the sudden shift in her breath as Iyer continued to talk.


“Life makes life. It also destroys. We don’t make or unmake anything.”


Thankam blinked furiously.


“Oh…you and your philosophy…only I know the pain I suffered…”


“You didn’t command that pain…you only suffered it. It came to you when the time was right. You couldn’t have stopped it even if you wanted to.”


Thankam exhaled like a sick animal. She heard her stomach hiss.


“You don’t own his soul, Thankam.”


She saw the dog’s food bowl lying in a corner. Her son had found the mongrel swimming in the flood waters that had wrecked the village several years ago.


She still remembered her son’s thick eyelashes, his big black eyes. They brimmed with love for the little dog.


Thankam stood up and filled the bowl with rice and butter. Iyer spoke again.


“You made him feel guilty of who he was, Thankam. You held him responsible for what you have let yourself be — a controlling, resentful mother…are you even listening?”


“I am not deaf.”


Iyer stood up and shouted.


“You talk of his childhood as if you were never happy he was around, as if he gave you no joy. All your help — your so-called love — stands on your anxieties. It doesn’t rise from any genuine desire to understand your son or accept him the way he is.”


She shot an angry look at him but Iyer continued.


“You spent your life minding him because YOU wanted to do it. All your effort rises from YOUR desire to support him…in YOUR way. You don’t even know what he needs from you.”


Thankam ran out to the yard, spread her arms out and moaned.


“Is this what I get for worshipping you every single day of my despicable life?”


“Yes…first your son, now that serpent.”


She walked in to her kitchen again but Iyer babbled on like a mad man.


“YOU wanted a marriage. YOU wanted a child. YOU lit a lamp for this nonsensical serpent.”


Thankam had never seen her husband like this. He trembled with rage.


“YOU chose to do what you did…and now you blame us all for it.”


Iyer’s breath came in ragged spurts as he walked away. Thankam wanted to stop him but the mongrel in the yard whined again.


A warm tear made its way down Thankam’s face.


“Come,”she said.


The dog came running into the house carrying something in its mouth.


“What is this?”she asked.


It dropped the matchbox she had flung at it and looked at her with a love that was absolute and limitless.


Thankam’s throat tightened and her heart sank.


A wave of sorrow slithered up her spine as her gut coiled into itself. She clutched her stomach and stared at the blazing brown hillside.


“The serpent,”she mumbled.


It stung her hard, the black serpent of sorrow.


She sat on the floor with her arms around her stomach and howled like an animal. Her pain crushed her soul and cleansed her of all the venom she had carried all along. It churned her breath as she fell to her side – like a fetus – with her legs pulled up and her fists on her chest.She slept till her body relaxed and woke to feel a feathery lightness of heart that enlivened her.

The dog was still by her side.

Thankam got up and squinted through the window again to see the hill staring back at her. She kept the dog’s food bowl down on the floor. It raised its head for a minute as her fingers caressed its ears.


“What happened?”she asked.


It scanned her face with its probing eyes, as if it recognised something that wasn’t there before.


“Do you believe in the black serpent?”


The dog wagged its tail. She held its furry face in her palms and kissed it.


“I do too.”


And as the sun dived down to spread its golden glow over Kalpathy’s many little homes, Iyer smelled the sugary fragrance of rice pudding.


He peered into the kitchen to see Thankam in a bright red pattu saree.


“Shall I cut some banana leaves?”he asked.


Thankam stirred the pudding and spoke.


“Is there anything I have done right with him?”


Her voice was soft, like the sweet pudding on the stove.


“Aisha was born to Muslim parents in Iran,”said Iyer.


“She came to America as an immigrant and grew to embrace a culture our son knows nothing about.”


Thankam looked at him. Her eyes were grim yet peaceful.


“That he could accept her as she is and love her without conditions…that is your gift to him, Thankam…your constant need to change him gave him a deeper wisdom perhaps.”


Thankam opened her mouth to say something but Iyer stopped her.


“Life works in mysterious ways, Thankam…it’s okay to not understand everything.”


He went to the backyard for fresh green banana leaves to cut and wash.


Thankam soon followed. She carried an earthen lamp that filled the air with the smell of gingelly oil.


“Ah…”said Iyer. “…for the black serpent of sorrow.”


“It will show them the way, won’t it?”


“Who?”asked Iyer, as if he didn’t know.


Thankam noticed her breath rise and fall — as smooth as the wings of a flying sea gull.


“Anand and…Aisha.”


Iyer laughed.


“It’s a mythical creature, Thankam…probably a metaphor for…”


Thankam put a finger to her lips.


“Life works in mysterious ways…It’s okay to not understand everything.”


Iyer stood with his mouth open.


“For once…you were listening, Thankam!”


(ends)