In the village that morning there was great excitement. Thankamma had let everyone know that her grandson was missing and a meeting was called at in the village gathering ground under the banyan tree. All the elders assembled and the women sat behind them. The children peeked from behind tree trunks in an effort to glean as much gossip and information as they could. As is wont in youth, the children were only curious and some of them even felt that Madhavan was a lucky chap to have escaped school forever. None of them thought that he would ever come back; though if you asked them why they thought so, they would not have been able to tell you. The brows of the elders however, were creased with worry. Each and everyone knew what lay beyond the forest and no one wanted to speak out their fears. Thankamma said nothing at all as she sat on one side of the congregation , deep in thought. She could not imagine what could have made her grandson play truant like this. He had always been a mite michevious and forever getting into trouble , but Thankamma had never known him to be disobedient. Now, she wondered where he could have wandered off and why .
As the meeting was set into motion, the village headman came striding up to his place of honour – a makeshift, rickety bamboo chair which protested loudly as he lowered his ample frame into it. The village people rose in respect and sat down again as he accepted their salutation . The people waited eagerly for the headman to begin , buthe did not seem overtly anxious about Madhavan . Thankamma snorted derisively to herself. She knew all about this village headman . With little intelligence but an excessive amount of self importance, all he wanted was that the village people should cower in his presence and make him feel that he was mightier than the king himself. Thankamma knew that the whereabouts of Madhavan mattered little to him. Still, she was grateful that he had at least had the sense to call a general meeting, even if it was to boost his own already much inflated ego.
The conch was sounded and the meeting formally began. The purpose of the meeting was detailed by the headman’s assistant while the headman himself sat on his hunches smoking a chillum, as if deep in thought. Thankamma seethed because she knew quite well that the man was thinking not about the problem at hand but possibly preening about his appearance at that moment. However, she saw that the villagers were listening with rapt attention and that somewhat placated her. The particulars of all that happened were read out and Thankamma began feeling somewhat embarrassed as the details of her irrelevant, light tiffs with Madhavan was made public knowledge. They read out specifics about Madhavan’s mischief and her querulous ways. Some of the apparently harsh treatments that she had meted out to her grandson were made public and some of the women snickered while a few men looked accusingly at her. But Thankamma was beyond any feeling of guilt or reproach. All she sought now was news of her beloved grandson.
Sitting under the great banyan tree, her mind went back to the day when little Madhavan had come into the world. Her son, Thankamma recalled unhappily, had been a good for nothing who had married the daughter of a flower seller from the next village. Thankamma had nothing against the girl except that she had been too young and vulnerable to see through the cunning ways of her useless son . Married at fifteen, she was already with child within two months and by the time her belly was too big for her to move around with, her husband had abandoned her and she was left with Thankamma and her unborn child.
That fateful night it had rained as it had never rained before in the past fifty years. The village was lashed by thunder storms, strong rains and howling winds. It seemed nature was conniving with the heavens to bring forth misery into the world . Thankamma and her daughter in law had sat huddled in their hut. The water was already rising up to the little steps that led to their verandah anda muddy stream swirled and eddied as it rushed past their hut into the darkness and oblivion. Even the odd fox’s plaintive howl was quietened by the magnitude of nature’s fury.
A sudden moan made Thankamma turn towards her daughter in law . She was lying on her side on a grass mat, her knees drawn up and her face contorted with pain. Thankamma raised her eyes heavenward and with a sigh got up and went to the girl’s side. It was obvious that her time was nearing ; Thankamma pursed her lips tightly and went to light the stove for hot water. She knew it would only be a matter of hours before the girl would begin to push.
A shrill piercing cry announced the entry of Madahavan into the world that night, but it also took away his young child mother. Thankamma had known there were problems but had been helpless. Braving the thunderstorm, she had tried to go out into the dark, rainy night to fetch the village doctor, but had had to turn back after the first half mile. The water was rising alarmingly and Thankamma worried that if it swept into her hut, then both mother and child would find escape difficult. So she turned back and tried to hurry home as fast as she could . Her sari caught in the eddying water several times and tore when it was snatched by brambles and stray twigs. As she neared her hut, she could her the screams of her daughter in law and knew that a grandchild was on the way.
In the hut, the mother to be was writhing in agony as labour pains tore at her insides. She was sweating profusely and calling out to all that she held dear to end her misery. Thankamma hurried inside to the kitchen and got the pot of boiling water . She then carried a bucket of cold water and some old saris and settled down beside her daughter in law. Thankamma was not used to showing affection and although she knew that the girl must be going through hellish pain, she was unable to bring herself to utter anything consoling or take the girl in her arms. She did take a wet cloth however and mopped her forehead. The girl , by now unable to control the contractions, was whimpering and screaming alternately as the contractions came and went. Finally after what seemed like hours, Thankamma saw that it was time and bent forward to retrieve her grandchild. She grasped the head of the newborn as it slid out into her waiting hands and the mother uttered a long whispering sigh and her whole body sagged.
Thankamma did not have time to pay heed to her daughter in law. She was too busy bathing her newborn grandson and cocooning him in folds of soft cotton cloth. The little mite yelled lustily for a while making Thankammaforget the wrath of nature outside. Finally, the little child quietened and Thnakamma laid it on a mat and went to attend to his mother.
The child woman was lying on her back n an expression of exhaustion and fatigue imprinted on her features. Thankamma shook her face gently to awaken her and was startled when her head lolled suddenly to one side. Thankamma drew back as the sudden chill of realization hit her. Quickly she touched her daughter in law’s forehead and then began to rub her feet and palms alternately. Within about half an hour of vigorous rubbing Thankamma realized that it was no use.
A shrill piercing cry announced the entry of Madahavan into the world that night, but it also took away his youngchildmother. Thankamma
and her grandson were now the lone survivors in this world.
I hope this will go through this time - my server is so slow that it disconnects. Anyway, as I wanted to say earlier - a sad and write, Shoma. So beautifully written! I felt I was running side by side in the rain with Thankamma - and stood by her side as she helped in delivering her grandson. I agree with Tracey, I felt I was observer. Brilliant work, Shoma!
You are a born story teller Shoma! You know how to hold the readers interest! will be back for next part later;-)
Reviewed by Tracey L. O' Very (Reader)
This part holds so many truths in it like the part about the head villager. and is so sad. I love the way you ended this part, and told all about the child's birth. You really get me into this story as if I'm an observer and not a reader.
Very good Part 3 onto 4!