There is no rest for some
November 8, 2008 1 Comment
In my life, I had been moving thru a number of places and assignments. Finally I returned here and my parents – had they been alive – would have been quite happy to have me back in the ancestral house. Over the years, the quiet village had peripherally coalesced with the bustling town that now stands where the lush forest once was. Apartments and shopping centers have sprung up like mushrooms after the first rains. Quickly I settled down to an easy paced schedule that included a morning walk to the shrine of the banyan that had survived the changes, tending a small vegetable patch and some flowering plants at the back of my house, a restful midday siesta, an evening session to dispense some free medical advice to the neighborhood and late after-dinner walks. I sought out the few old time residents who chose to or were forced to live on in their old quarters, to catch up on the lost times and to find out the current coordinates of many old cohabitants of the village.
Within a week of my return, I ran into Malligai who on one evening fell in step with me on my routine late after-dinner walk. I recognized her with some effort only after she accosted me. She had aged gracefully, but a melancholy look that I had not seen before, had taken over. That did not stop the joy shining through of finding someone from the pleasant past and the feeling was mutual. After the preliminaries, I then easily slipped into recalling those happier times in the village and the episode of the girl’s roaming spirit. Pulling ourselves back to the present, I pointed to the forestland and vegetation that had vanished without a trace. And when I carelessly jested about the plight of the roaming spirits robbed of their habitat, she agreed in a sad and somber tone: “Yes, there is no rest for some.” And she warned me ominously to be wary of the times we lived in without being specific. I let that cryptic comment pass, marking it down for checking up with her later on its import. Before we had reached halfway on my walk, she appeared restless and keen to take leave of me. We parted on my invitation that she could always come home at any time of the day. Later, I recalled I had done most of the talking and had not inquired enough of her though I had detected a certain reserve in her manner. I planned to make amends at the next meeting.
A few weeks later I suddenly realized that I had not met again with Malligai as we had agreed and worse, I did not know where she lived. I went to Pandiyan’s shop to make enquiries. Pandiyan had set up a modest shop with his grown-up son assisting him now – Mani had moved on to greener pastures (or grayer concrete jungles) and was heard to be commanding long queues of waiting women outside his shop. Pandiyan’s son was well informed especially on the whereabouts of the fellows of the old neighborhood. He looked at me quizzically, “Uncle, father didn’t tell you about Malligai? I clearly remember the day – it was like election time in the village, suddenly with so many cars and people as never seen before. The authorities were auctioning the lots carved out of the forestland to be cleared for new housing. She breathed her last that evening. They said she had contracted some unknown ailment and had wasted away rapidly. That was some five years ago.”
I came away with a heavy heart. I was clueless on what I could do to buy her the final rest. I doubted if she had the answer for herself. And I was sure at that moment she would never cross my path in those parts. For some reason, neither could I imagine her turning bitter and evil. “
And my grandfather let out a big sigh. As if on cue my grandmother announced lunch. Her cheerful invitation dragged my grandfather out of his reverie as we marched to the dining room in silence.
(Original piece authored by Nithya Anand)