|Photo credits jewelvalley.blogspot.in|
PART 1 / PART 2 / PART 3
On the ride back home, Karthu was transported back into her childhood home.
Karthu did not know when she had started seeing Kumaran as an enemy. She had remembered snippets of her life when they would play together under the mango tree, study together when the tutor came home to teach her, and eat delicious sweetmeats prepared by Dechchu for them. There were times when Kumaran had stolen money from Dechchu to buy her ice candy. There had been times when she had hidden the tutor’s rod for fear of Kumaran being hit for not answering correctly.
But gradually, she felt envious of him. He seemed to get all the attention from her mother. Her mother was more interested in his progress from the tutor. She would give him more money every festival. “He is a growing boy,” she would say “he needs money. What will you do with the money? Your father gets you everything you ask for, even if you have just whispered it in your sleep!”
When she was old enough to understand the kitchen gossip, young Karthyayani learnt that Dechchu had accompanied her mother as part of the dowry, along with a son whose father no one knew about. There were stories of Dechchu being an unwed mother, and yet others of the father being killed by the British soldiers. Armed with this knowledge, young, rebellious Karthu had once called him a bastard. Kumaran had not responded, but Karthu’s mother had slapped her hard. She refused to speak with Karthu till she apologized.
A little later, Kumaran moved into the city with a government job; Karthu got married and that was the last she had seen him.
It was a few years later, Karthu, already widowed, was called home to meet her dying mother. Her mother had been saving up energy to tell her the truth. “Karthu, you need to know something…. I would have preferred to let this go to the grave with me, but I can’t bear to see you alone your entire life, dear.”
"I have always loved you more than anyone else, and you know that. I can understand why you got angry with Kumaran – you were jealous, weren’t you? You were also right in calling him what you did - his father died before he could get married to Kumaran’s mother ……. But Karthu, Dechchu is not his mother – I am! Dechchu was just the solution to keep my son close to me even after I was married – I had refused to get married otherwise…….. Now, you have to tell me if you can forgive me – so that I die in peace……”
Karthu had forgiven her, and had also vowed to keep the secret close to her heart, so she never sought out Kumaran to mend bridges. She had, however, cried into Dechchu’s bosom when her mother had died, the tears from both women washing away all the past misgivings……
And today, she thought of Shambhavi’s smile again. She now knew where she had seen the same smile before. It is said that genes skipped a generation – it couldn’t have held truer for Shambhavi, as she was a splitting image of Karthu’s gentle mother…….
Karthu had wanted to kiss Shambhavi one more time before leaving. She had also wanted to bless her with many more gifts than the one thing she had given her. But she couldn’t let tongues wag again, so she had let the moment pass. But Karthu had done enough to make her mother proud…..
Karthu did not have any dreams that night, not even of the little girl with the little arms.
She died peacefully in her sleep.
* * *
Shambhavi was overwhelmed when Karthyayani had parted with the bottle of coconut oil that she so possessively guarded all her life, and that too, after she had conspired with the family to meet Karthu…
She remembered Karthu’s instructions only when the telephone call from Nisha had come - Karthyayani had died the night before.
Shambhavi was shocked for a while. Later, she decided she would do what the old lady had wanted her to. She took out the bottle of lovingly prepared oil, now opaque and solid, out of the fridge. She melted it with care, so that the bottle did not crack.
When the oil had melted, she saw a little plastic pouch at the bottom. She poured out the oil and carefully extricated the plastic pouch. Opening it was a difficult task, as it had been carefully sealed. Her hands shaking with exhaustion and concentration, Shambhavi finally opened the little packet, and overturned it on to her palm.
Over a dozen little spots of brilliant colors touched her skin now shaking for different reasons. The stories about the Sultan’s heirlooms were true, apparently….