She stood in front of me, smiling. I blinked.
Eight years had passed. It was unbelievable. But today, as she stood in front of me, smiling as she always used to, I felt nothing had changed. The years in between vanished from memory. I felt as if I had never left Anjarakandy.
‘You haven’t changed!’, she said to me.
‘Neither have you’, I replied.
‘I have a baby now!’, she said to me.
‘I know’, I said.
‘You never kept in touch! I tried contacting you on so many occasions. Your number had changed. I even thought of visiting your house to get in touch, but I thought you might have locked up the house and gone’, she complained.
‘Life changed a lot, you see. It was a tough battle. The situation was worse than it was when I used to work here. I just found myself drifting with the flow’, I replied.
‘I remember how it was for you’, she sighed.
We were both silent for a moment, lost in reflections of the past.
‘Dad passed away. In 2011’, I continued.
We talked about life after Anjarakandy. I told her about the events surrounding my father’s death.
‘What about your father?’, I asked.
‘He passed away too. In sleep. It was a good death.’
I nodded. I remembered her account of her life with her father. He had never given the family a moment’s peace. I couldn’t believe there could be fathers like that. Her brother had taken his place. He used to run the household from a young age. The clashes between father and son were severe. The son would walk away and the father would vent out his anger on the women. The women were the ultimate victims. They had learnt to accept it as their lot. They had reconciled with the fact that it was a man’s world.
‘How about ECG ummumma’?, I asked her.
‘You remember her? She passed away too’. She replied.
‘How could I forget her? The lady who had put to good use the ECG recording and used it to fuel the chulha! How could one forget her?’, I replied.
‘So how is your married life? How does it feel to be married?’, I asked her.
‘I think the best life is to have the luxury of solitude. My husband is a good man. So are his parents. But marriage has brought with it responsibilities that I had never anticipated. Also struggle of a different kind’, she replied.
‘The first question many people asked me was about marriage. Lakshmanettan was the worst. He wouldn’t just let go of the topic!’, I said.
‘Why can’t people leave others alone? There is a throbbing and bleeding mind within each one of us. Only we are aware of how it throbs and bleeds. And so, we are the best judges of what we want in life. Why can’t people understand this?’, she introspected.
I was surprised by her maturity.
‘Lakshmanettan still lives in the old world, Fousiya. He means well, but he doesn’t realize that times have changed and people have changed dramatically. Relationships and marriages are no longer what they used to be’, I said.
‘Yes, that is true. He still lives in the old world’, she repeated.
‘At times, it is fun to answer these questions. Usha sister had asked me the same question. She had advised me that it wouldn’t be easy at times when one needs help and support. To that I had replied-
It certainly isn’t easy now either. I feel both marriage and singlehood come with their own set of risks and problems. It is just a matter of which type of risk one is willing to take. You were more comfortable with taking the risk of marriage and I was more comfortable taking the risk of being single.
She didn’t say anything further’, I stated.
‘Her jaw must have dropped’, she replied.
‘You bet!’, I said.
We both laughed aloud.
‘After you left, I lost my laughter. I didn’t realize, but the other sisters would always say that I had changed after you left and that I rarely laughed’, she said.
I was touched by her warmth. Her ability to preserve the sanctity of those moments. The truth in her emotions. Something I miss in modern times. Something that I feel only when I watch an old movie. She was full of old memories. I could hear their tinkle in her mind. I always feel drawn to people who cherish memories and talk about them with nostalgia. I feel they are capable of much good. Lohithadas had said that too.
‘How much we used to laugh when you were here. Remember Subeesh? What a team we were. So much so that the Nursing Superintendent had shifted me from the Medicine Department because she couldn’t bear to see us so happy’, she recollected.
‘But that didn’t kill our happiness. We found our own ways to get past all those hurdles. In truth, we were knee deep into problems, but that made us cherish these moments all the more’, she added.
I was silent. The silence that communicated the joy of those years. The memories that I guard in the sanctum sanctorum of my mind. That phase of my life could have found a place in Basheer’s novel.
‘I tried committing suicide’, she said.
I snapped out of my reverie.
‘What? When? Why?’, I asked.
‘My engagement was called off. I had got into a long-distance relationship. A relative had introduced me to him. We had never met, but we used to speak for long hours. I grew dependent on those conversations. Our families went ahead with the engagement and a date was fixed. My brother arranged for all the gold. We had our house painted. At work, everybody knew. After Ramzan, he came down for the wedding. When we finally met up, he said I looked very different from what he had seen of me in the picture. He backed off. There were no further conversations. I had got used to them. I couldn’t bear the void I felt within and on an impulse, I swallowed some pills. I was at work then and I managed to get hold of a random assortment of pills. Antibiotics, antihistaminics and whatever I could get my hands on. I fainted and was admitted. Nothing happened though. I was discharged after a day of observation. I applied for medical leave and was home for quite some time. Those days were probably the worst times in my life. I couldn’t lift my spirits. People in the neighbourhood were making up stories about my wedding being called off. Eventually, I decided to get back to work. I was in need of distraction. I had never wanted to get married thereafter, but my brother wouldn’t marry until I was married. There was a lot of pressure, and I eventually gave in to an arranged marriage. I talked to my husband about this tragedy and he was very accepting and considerate. And thus, I got married. But I hadn’t come out of my misery. Misery slowly gave way to numbness. But my husband was accommodating. He left to Dubai after a month’, she explained.
‘My husband is nice. So are his parents. But the financial responsibility of the family is on him. He has two siblings. Also, he suffers from Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. Until then, I hadn’t even known that something like that existed. I thought that was the end of my world. It took a long time to come to terms with that. Eventually, I spoke to a lot of doctors, read up articles on the internet and consulted physicians. I saved up enough to buy a CPAP for him. Also, I got to know a few others who suffer from this syndrome. That gave me some consolation. My husband always feels he couldn’t give me any happiness. But I tell him that my priorities are different. That he understands me and trusts me is most important to me. He would often push me for a divorce, but I would convince him eventually. Things are better now’, she concluded.
My eyes welled up with tears.
‘I took up BA English distance education. I cleared my first set of papers’, she said to me triumphantly.
I held her hand and said to her, ‘Fousiya, I think your life is beautiful. It is rich for it is so full of meaning. The little steps you both take to overcome the obstacles in your life and materialize your dreams, will add value to all your achievements. I remember my PG days. They had been so full of struggle. There was so much pressure from home and from my HOD. But when I eventually got my degree, there was a special sweetness to that degree. So don’t ever give up.’
She nodded. ‘Why are HODs like that? Our department HOD is also the same. She tortures her PG. The PG is a very nice girl. She is a divorcee and has a child. Despite all her problems, she works hard and does a good job. But the HOD always finds fault with her work. Sometimes she goes into her room and cries for hours. I console her and give her as much encouragement as I can. Why can’t people spread happiness? Why is it necessary to blow out somebody’s happiness in order to feel happy?’, she wondered aloud.
‘The world is like that, Fousiya. BTW, what should I get for you from home?’, I asked.
‘You don’t get me anything. I will make something for you one of these mornings. Remember the time you had come home for Ramzan? Those days were so much fun. We used to go out so often’, she said.
‘We can go out now as well. But what about your baby? Wouldn’t it be difficult?’, I asked.
‘No. He loves going out’, she replied.
‘In that case, we will go out. I must try getting in touch with Sri Devi too. I can never forget our trip to the paddy fields in Rasna’s village’, I said.
‘Are you writing anything these days? You used to write so much!’, she said.
‘Oh yes! I just finished writing my first book. But it will take time for it to be published. Perhaps next year’, I said.
I still remember my first day in Anjarakandy. The day I had started writing. The most beautiful day in my life.
‘Oh! That is so nice! Am I a character in that book?’, she asked.
‘No, Fousiya. This is a book on Malayalam Cinema’, I said.
‘Oh! You always said that I would certainly be a character in your book’, she said to me.
‘Yes. You will be a character in my second book. There is enough of life in you to be a character in a book. My second book will certainly be set against the backdrop of Anjarakandy. It will explore my bittersweet relationship with this place. Somehow, it reminds me of Shivapuram village in the film Mazha– the village that Bhadra is attached to. Nashtapetta Neelambari. Anjarakandy is truly that to me’, I replied.
We spoke some more, trying to remember every little perception that had created ripples in our mind.
In the evening, as I drove back home, I hugged this feeling. This ripple in my mind. This tinkle of memories. How else can I describe it? I drove past groves that were so dense that not much sunlight penetrated into them. Only the hum of crickets and the chirping of birds could be heard in their silence. I passed quaint little shops with wooden planks for shutters. They hadn’t lost their rustic charm. Age had made them beautiful. I passed paddy fields. I passed old gardens that continued to believe in the beauty of common flowers- hibiscus, rose, mandaram, jasmine and chethi (jungle flame), to name a few. The Anjarakandy river was not far away. This rendezvous with these old paths had now become a significant part of my day-to-day life here. They transported me back in time. For they remained the way I remembered them. Time hadn’t done too much damage to them.
These were my thoughts then:
“Some stories cannot begin where they ended. The end is the end. It is a permanent closure. For people change, circumstances change and we ourselves change.
And so, I am still reeling under the effect of this strange continuum of a long forgotten story in my life. Like I once wrote, I was never really comfortable with change. I long for people and places to retain their raw charm. I feel a deep sense of loss when circumstances and the battle with life robs them of this rawness and peels off their warmth, sensitivity and vulnerability- elements that define this rawness.”
It is gratitude I feel. I feel grateful for this ability to feel. Grateful for the kind of people who have touched my life. Grateful for the beautiful memories. Grateful for this warmth that surrounds me here at Anjarakandy.