ETWA|Ch17b: Chaperoning Change

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Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“Has it though? What about that incident at Papa’s wedding?” I suggest as casually as I can. Achams gives me the side eye knowing that I am tricking her into extending story time.

“That’s true. I’ll rephrase. I have changed so much since the time I was 16. But yes, on your father’s wedding day I realised that outside my bubble, nothing much had changed. It was ridiculous. By then, Echumu had been living with me in this house for years. She welcomed the bride at the entrance with the traditional lamp because I thought a spinster would be more auspicious than a widow. Oh, I definitely thought wrong. I’ll remember that feeling till the day I die. There were around 50 people there but as Echumu came out onto the portico with the lamp, silence fell. To your mother’s credit, she took the lamp from her and entered the house. But then that growing silence imploded with a great hollow boom. 

They called her inauspicious. They called her much worse. They said I was sabotaging my son’s future. That this is what happens when men don’t run the household. That they would reconsider the alliance.

“What did you say?” I asked, though I knew this story inside out.

“Nothing. These things have a way of working themselves out. I lived on property that belonged to me as per my husband’s will. I had lived on my own without a male shadow since your father was little. I had brought up two boys capable of making their own decisions. And most importantly, I still earned a salary. I didn’t owe anyone anything. The only person I told off was your mother’s father who used some vile caste slurs against Echumu. 

I told him politely that he couldn’t do that in my house. And that if he wanted to reconsider his daughter’s marriage based on my actions, then he should definitely do that. I believe he had never before heard a woman speak up. He stared at me for a while before walking away. That was just the beginning. Anyway, all this was nothing compared to my days as a young unemployed window without a future to look forward to.  

I told him politely that he couldn’t do that in my house. And that if he wanted to reconsider his daughter’s marriage based on my actions, then he should definitely do that.

After your uncle was born, I had two miscarriages. I was so anaemic that I looked like a ghost. Your uncle would sit on the mat next to me and make baby noises. I didn’t even have the energy to take him in my arms. That’s when Echumu first started entering the house—to care for the baby.

Achams pauses, deep in thought. “Your father, he really brought me back from the dead.” He brought such joy to my life. Your grandfather doted on him. At dinner, he would seat both his sons on either side of him and feed them mouthfuls of rice alternately.

Having heard these stories many times before, I knew that it wasn’t long before she succumbed to a painful memory from the past. I quickly changed the subject. Tell me about that time when Achachan caught Papa with the cashew plants.

“Hahaha, atho”, she laughs, her eyes twinkling. Vinu was still very young, three or four maybe. Achachan had brought home cashew saplings for planting on the property. There were 5-6 of them sitting on the side of the house, arranged in two rows of six. When Vinu asked him about it, Achachan had said that he was waiting for their roots to grow a little bigger before planting. 

A couple of days later Achachan noticed that the plants were looking sickly and drooping. He watered them and moved them to a cooler spot. A couple more days went by before he noticed that one or two of them had completely dried up. On close inspection he found that the soil around the saplings had been disturbed. Who could be doing this? A bandicoot perhaps or maybe a thief? He wondered. He decided to pay closer attention to his saplings and told all of us in the house to keep an eye out. 

The next day, Echumu was the one who found it and called all of us to come quietly and see what was going on. Your Papa was uprooting one plant at a time and looking at its roots. Achachan ran up to him with a stick and chased him around the yard in mock anger, “What are you doing?”

“I am checking if the cashew roots are growing” your Papa said innocently. Achachan picked him up in a hug, laughing.   

“Achachan and Echumu were friends?”

Hmm, I wouldn’t say that. But he often argued with his mother about how she treated her employees, Echumu in particular. His mother did not take well to anyone meddling in the running of her household. Having said that, Achachan was her only child that had survived and she loved him dearly. When he died so unexpectedly, she was devastated. They say she died of diabetes but I think she died of heartbreak. 

After Achachan passed, it was just her, me and Echumu in this big house. She was inconsolable. She just didn’t have the will to live anymore. She barely got out of bed. Sometimes I think I should have done more to help her. I know how hard losing an unborn child can be. But I cannot imagine outliving your adult child. She didn’t even give herself a chance. She lived for another five years, bedridden for the last two.

How did you manage with the kids, the job and everything?, I asked, beginning to feel sleep knock on my eyelids.

I had a lot of help. Echumu and I would wake up early, cook meals and bathe his mother. She was a well-built woman and it was particularly difficult in summers. My job was in a school started by someone in Achachan’s family. So I had some leeway there because I was related to the administrators. But so many people said that I should stay home and take care of his mother. It was a good thing that his mother didn’t care about anything by that point. And I am so glad I didn’t listen to anyone. It made all the difference. My first salary was Rs.100. But still it meant so much to me to have that.

“Man or woman, having a job makes you interact with the world based on your capability. True that I got the job because of my family name but it was me that taught with all those children…” I heard her say as sleep carried me into the realm of dreams.

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