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New Pair of Wings

Gayathri Swaminathan

Kannamma whisked the broom hard, complaining “How come the cleaning broom itself is so dirty?”. She put on her whole strength and bent down to clear the pile of papers, cardboard boxes and other cluttering junks away. Her nose ring shimmered, complimenting her incredible tone. Her hair bun with little hair peeping out messily made her look seamlessly attractive for her age. Though she looked matronly, her energy boasted otherwise. Wasting no time, she cleared our whole living room. With pearls of sweat in her forehead, she turned back to me asking, “Ayya, what do you want for breakfast? uthappam or idli. Every dish that she makes, is like an art in itself. I was no gourmet, but became one after eating from her. From the simplest idlis which were spongy and porous enough to cut my grinding efforts to its partner Mr. Sambar, the mighty mix of heavenly spice and dal, she made me a fan of her culinary flair in no time. The morning seemed to move in tortoise strides, to gear up its pace, I asked her to make something crunchy and flavorful. In all these years of her being our maid never once she went against my demands by putting her comfort first. Somedays I felt as if she is one in our family, an irreplaceable person. Though she always has been addressing me with honorifics and was cited only as a maid to our family from outside, she just had that thickly wound bond with all of us. My thoughts had it going all about her, till it got struck with the Aloo Gobi’s aroma wafting close to me. The sense of strong smell overpowered my busy mind. I looked at my dining table, only to catch a glimpse of fluffy pooris and hot aloo gobi next to it. The steam rose high and vanished before making circles in air. Both my tongue and mouth got immersed in immense saliva, with that FOODFUL sight. It felt like my morning has just begun. Smacking lips and twisting tongue, I devoured 5 pooris and a khatori full of aloo gobi. The roasted bean coffee added the zing that I yearned for that morning.
Skimming my newspaper after my coffee had cleared my head enough, I looked around for Kannamma. Her alcoholic husband must now be doing rounds around bars and brothels. She turned a recluse every time when we spoke about him. I always had something to say about him, but never said it all the time to save her from becoming a reticent. As we loved her chirping around in joy, telling tales of yesterday, today and tomorrow, we debarred ourselves from mentioning even his name. But what happened yesterday stayed fresh in my mind, also pestering me badly to talk about it to her. Muthayyan, her husband did get drunk and called me names in street, abusing me for taking Kannamma in my house. Much of his foul language skill got exposed from his cooked add on accusing both of us for being in an affair. This cannot be a surprise as from a chap who has lost himself to alcohol and women, he can’t say sensible things at anyone’s face. The alcohol had its part in making him a notorious loafer. And those women who made money out of his thing, added only worse to this. Years ago, it felt I can bring him out of his addiction as he was partly sane then, working in day and drinking only at night. His misogyny and egoistic insecurity blew big as Kannamma started making more money and relied very little on him. These alcoholic men take everything on their way to blame their inability to quit drinking. Muthayyan’s every blaming behavior was directed only towards Kannamma’s act. Once in a while, whenever he turned sober, he blamed his marriage for turning him an alcoholic. He affirmed his lady love brought it to him. Except for his fellow looser gang, none found a great logic in his reasons. So hardly anyone ever cared to change his views. Accustomed to years of this lifestyle, he became a booze bag who never got his head cleared, while reeking alcohol all time.
The most disruptive behavior was when his insecurities overflowed and he has to calm it with blows and hits on Kannamma’s body. Few were mild, while most were physically severe, tampering her with pain for days. I kept wondering why can’t she hit him back, step out from being related to him as wife. Like any typical Indian Naari, her response was to accept her fate for the sake of her child, in this case it was her daughter. Several days, she has taken refuge in our home citing his aggressive violence now and then. If it is so very ghastly, why can’t she even leave him for her own good, I fumed inside. That guy is going to die with alcohol in his stomach, be whenever it is to happen. Her stubbornness in not leaving him faded all the advice we got for her marital life. We talked about anything and everything but never about Muthayyan. She may know the best of it than us, I assumed. The weekend’s lunch was always a platter full of varieties. It had the south’s usual wholesome curry, fries, rice, rasam, appalam and the cherry on top-the softest vadas. Belching out like a hippo, I resorted to a mid-day siesta. It’s a mandatory thing for a weekend. Facing a spinning fan, I rested my head in pillow. The evening was for movie and so we watched our favorite movie of 80’s. I did some taxes for our bills and called it a day. The energy on any late evening was always less, especially the weekend ones. It is like a day starts with a blast and it ends flat with no zest. I was in our porch swing, post our dinner, looking at our gate.
The dinner was light, always. We preferred a simple dinner over a rich one to aid our weakening metabolism. Even in childhood, our home had this routine then for my aging grandparents and parents. The summer breeze was elusive; The city’s heat was the only thing left in air after every summer dusk. Thanks to our peepal tree for saving some fresh air for decades in our courtyard. I moved in slow pattern, with my sandals making scratches in the mud below it. The swing creaked a grating sound for every movement I made. Kannamma had her day’s chores done, with a bag of her dinner and her other incentive offerings like fruits, nuts and occasional sweets, she walked towards the gate. “Ayya, sleep early. Else you will throw a waking tantrum in the morning”, she commented, chuckling. I was laughing at her to say “Your coffee has got to be my savior in mornings!”. “I may not be there to give you coffee every day ”, she said with a dark vagueness. I shrugged it off by asking her to watch her steps towards gate. The night got darker as the stars shone bright in the indigo sky. Drinking my last intake for the day, the milk, I did the bedding for slumber. Summer and slumber go hand in hand both in rhyme and in realm.
The bland ceiling looked frustrated as it heard us say we would paint it soon many a times, but never did till date. The old clock’s pendulum went to and fro chiming time for day and night. My wanderlust collectibles looked like they wanted new friends as I had stopped traveling after my lungs developed issues. The eerie night lamp glowed as if I got it blushing over me. Oh no! An aging man feels fuzzy in the dead of the night. I was quick to quench those with blankets over me. “No more fuzz. Let the night sink in! “I told myself. The next day, was not a usual one to state. My half cup coffee and half cup froth, didn’t come to save me. I yawned as the sun hit hard in my leg, that I felt a sharp heat over there. The curtain had a little uncovered window part, which let the sunshine inside our room stealthily. Yes, the sun woke me up and not my Redeemer-Kannamma’s coffee! The hallway was a mess with morning milk packet and newspaper one above other. The condensed water from the packet has already done its watery damage to my newspaper.
Grumbling about the catastrophe, I picked the paper and threw the milk packet in the coffee table. The bounce it made, got me feel as if it was jiggling in pride of having destroyed my newspaper. I wanted to say, “You will be left there to turn sour, beware!”. But my clock had me in shock, as it was already quarter past eight. I was made to skip my meticulous morning routine of having my coffee and breakfast before eight o clock. Whining and distorted, I did my ablutions and hopped out. The regular vegetable vendor gave me a weird stare, as I had never talked to him much before. It was always our chatty Kannamma, who engaged even him with tales that got sold to him letting him give vegetables at low price. But today I forced myself to build a conversation. ” Got any fresh mint and ginger”, I blurted out casually. He foraged his fingers into his vegetable pile to pick a tuft of fresh mint and a handful of ginger. I gave him a couple of bucks in return. My attempt to make a milk less tea didn’t yield the best of result. Rather it was like experimenting with a weird potion and being helpless enough to gulp it . Can’t this day get anymore off! Like it had heard me already, I saw my neighbor, Kannan running towards me. Did any mad dog chase him? No, he himself is raising one to avert such happening. I was too baffled to see him land right in my living area. He spoke with a heavy pant, “Police has got your maid ,Sir!”. The milk packet has shed the condensed water everywhere in the coffee table and glared at me with a paunchy tilt. “What must be the thing?”, I wondered. Pants on and umbrella open, I stepped out for the area police station. The summer’s heat dehydrated me badly till I sipped a cold sugarcane juice on my way. The thirst dropped a little but not my anxiety. How can a person like Kannamma end up in a thing with cop? She has been someone who dodged almost all controversies that could happen in the life of woman of her kind. Be it her alcoholic husband, wayward in laws or troubling neighbors. Back to back, I got stuck in the loop of my own thoughts. The inspector greeted me, since I had little to little eager to greet back, I sounded straight asking “What’s with taking Kannamma here?”. “Sirji, take your seat first”, he spoke in a pacifying tone. Besides he poured,” Your maid has beaten her husband brutally till he bled to die. This is more like a second-degree murder. Since this morning, she hasn’t spoken even a single word. You must ask her”. I swallowed a thin slime of saliva to digest this news first. Inside the lock up, Kannamma looked pale and her unkempt hair made her look even more strange. I looked the inspector in eyes and moved near her. “What happened Kannamma? Open up and speak. What did you do to Muthayyan? These allegations are going to end your whole life now.”, I said curtly. She sat still, only a breath passed out of her. In seconds, she wailed aloud shouting, “He touched my girl. I made sure he is no more”. The whole station looked perplexed upon this untimely confession. Her eyes spited anger with tears dissolving it. She held her head down again.
Inside the stripped cell, she had it look like she is utmost free now. Her face, once after her words, looked gleaming. The law may or not free her, but life has finally freed the cages she bore. I wish she got a new pair of wings back to fly high from here!


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