She Spoke in Tongues - 8

Glory Sasikala

Serialized novel, by Glory Sasikala

CHAPTER 8
Someone sang a country song, someone played a tune
How soothing is the moonlight, how beautiful is the moon!

Was he intimidating because he was so big and huge or because he was Rudrayunsh, the Zamindar of Rasapalayam? But the truth was that he was a gentle, fun-loving man with a good sense of justice. He was a family man who loved his wife and children very much. He was also considered a very good landlord by all those who came under his jurisdiction. The zamindari system has been abolished in India, but his family still retained some personal property. He had wisely aligned himself with the political parties of his times, being a neutral player and only interested in the social upliftment of his people. The payoff from this was that he still wielded quite some power. He was well known in the surrounding villages, as are most aristocratic families, and he was treated with immense respect and love wherever he went.
He now sat in the big wooden swing in his huge living room. It was a misnomer to call it a living room. It was so big it was more of a hall that could accommodate a hundred or more guests at a time. This was his house, this beautiful, palatial building of marble and stone, the house where he had grown up, the house that his children grew up in, and the house that would be passed on to his grandchildren as their homestead too.
The swing was a big wooden plank made of teakwood, and it was suspended from the ceiling by four strong iron chains. It was right in the middle of the hall. Adjacent to the hall was the dining room.
He swung himself to and fro gently, lost deep in thought. Then he seemed to come to a decision. He called out, "Mohan!" Only, his voice was so deep that it sounded like a Boom! His shout made his wife, Savitri, who was in the kitchen adjacent to the hall, drop the vessel that she was holding. They had been married 40 years now, but even then, she had not got used to his booming voice. She glared at him from the kitchen, having retrieved the vessel. "Why are you shouting?"
He turned to her, "Arrey! I'm not shouting. I am calling."
She turned back to the stove, "One of these days, you'll catch a cold and lose your voice. Then you'll be squeaking like a mouse. Squeak! Squeak!"
Rudra looked affectionately towards the kitchen, "You’ll be there to make me a warm concoction should that happen."
“Ai, a very bitter tasting one,” she chuckled back.
Meanwhile, the odd-job man named Mohan had come in. He alternated as the chief gardener as well. He was standing deferentially, with his hands folded, waiting for his master to speak.
"Mohan, how's the garden work coming along?"
"Very well, Sir. I've just planted some hybrid variety of coconut trees. They're short but the yield is very good."
"Glad to hear that. Mohan, you live on the other side of the village, don't you?"
"Yes Sir."
"And the schoolmaster lives near your house?”
“Yes Sir, he does. He and his daughter Devika run the school.”
“Devika....how old is she?”
“I’m not sure, Sir. I have known her since she was born. She must be about 20 now, the same age as my daughter.”
“Good, good. Is she getting married?”
"No Sir, not that I know of. They are poor people, Sir. She has no mother. Her mother died when she was a baby. Her father brought her up single-handedly. The women who live near them—even my wife—they took care of the baby. Very good girl, Sir, if I may say so. Very respectful. She's well educated. She has completed her degree. That's why she is able to help her father.”
“I've heard that she is very beautiful.”
"Yes Sir! She is. A lot of young men come asking for her, but when they realize how poor they are, they leave. Dowry is more important in our society than beauty and goodness and education.”
Rudra swung to and fro thoughtfully. Then he looked up and said, "You may go, Mohan. Thank you."
After Mohan had gone, Rudra called a number, “Khalil, could you come over?”
Savitri, who had been too busy in the kitchen to hear any of the conversation between her husband and Mohan, now came out of the kitchen and said, "Breakfast is ready. Please come to the table."
Rudra nodded and got off the swing and went over to wash his hands. He was still eating his breakfast when Khalil arrived. Khalil was the supervisor that Rudra had appointed to check on Ramesh. He was Rudra’s bosom friend and trusted right-hand man. Rudra and Khalil had grown up together, studied in the same class and been to the same college. Khalil stood in no ceremony with Rudra and was considered a member of the family. He came up to the table and sat down in a chair adjacent to Rudra’s chair.
“Have you eaten?" asked Savitri.
“Yes, Akka, I have. They won't allow me to step out without eating.”
Savitri smiled. By “they,” he meant his family: his wife and three children.
“How are the children?”
He threw up his hands in mock despair, "Please don't even ask! It's holidays and they're ripping the house apart. Oooofff!! Running here and there, jumping up and down! It feels crazy!"
Savitri laughed and Rudra smiled, "They're children. This is the time to enjoy life. Just look at us! All the time worrying about something or the other.”
Savitri looked sharply at her husband, wondering what was worrying him. She was attuned to his body language and she knew that he was deeply troubled. However, she did not say anything.
Khalil had also looked sharply at him.
“You called me?”
“Yes Khalil, I called you.”
Rudra finished his meal and got up to wash his hands. He then picked up the coffee that his wife had placed. Khalil picked up his cup too, and they moved back to the swing. Rudra once again sat on the swing and Khalil pulled up a chair nearby and sat down.
“Please tell me what's bothering you.”
Rudra turned to his wife, “Savitri, I need you to come and join this conversation.”
She nodded and stopped clearing up the table, washed her hands, and came and sat down on the swing, next to him.
“Isn't there something you should be telling me?” Rudra asked Khalil.
Khalil squirmed uneasily in his seat, “Maybe.”
"I put you in charge of my son. Then I took you out of it. Did that tell you that your duty towards this family is over?”
“No, no! It was not like that! How can that be? I was out of station, you know that! I've only been back a week now." Then he lowered his head, “But when I came back, I heard...there were rumours...”
He looked up, “So I checked. I needed proof before I came to you. I didn't want you saying that I was making false accusations against your son.”
“And?”
“And, well, now I have proof.”
Khalil searched in his phone and found the video he was looking for, and showed it to Rudra. Both Rudra and Savitri watched it. It showed Ramesh getting off his bike and going into the apartment building where Tharani and her family lived.
“Is it possible he is innocent?”
“The lady is well known to be a fleecer. I had warned him about her.”
“He did not listen?”
Khalil shrugged, “She is extremely manipulative. You know how it is.”
Rudra nodded. Savitri turned to him angrily, “How do you know how it is?”
He looked at his wife, “Arrey! I'm a Zamindar. I deal with such cases.”
He winked at Khalil and said slyly to her, “What did you think it was?”
She shook her head haughtily, “Never mind what I thought. This is about our son. Continue.”
“But I thought you said...”
“Never mind what I said. Continue!”
Rudra turned to Khalil and said seriously, “This has got to stop right now.”
Khalil nodded.
“Can they…can she be bought off?”
Khalil shook his head, “I'm not sure. The previous person was fleeced to death...literally.”
“Oh!” Rudra thought for a while, and then he shrugged, “That leaves me with only one other option: to speak to my son and get him to see reason….and to agree to get married. It is high time he got married.”
Both Khalil and Savitri looked at him in surprise. Whatever else it was that they had expected him to say, it was certainly not this. While Khalil remained silent, Savitri asked, "But who will marry a boy like that? True, he is a Zamindar's son, but which girl will want an unfaithful husband? Even I will not wish such a boy on my own daughter.”
“I was speaking to Mohan today morning,” said Rudra, “He said that the village schoolmaster has a beautiful daughter named Devika. They're good people. She is well educated, intelligent, respectful, and from a good family. But they are poor."
Khalil’s eyes widened and so did Savitri's. "Don't you think that you're making a mistake?” asked Khalil, “You are talking about a girl's life here.”
“No, I'm not making a mistake.”
"The girl also has a dosha (discrepancy) in her horoscope,” added Khalil.
“All the better!” said Rudra, enthusiastically.
This time, both of them said simultaneously, "How is it ‘all the better’?”
“They will at least consider the possibility of a marriage, while others won't do even that,” explained Rudra.
They were both silent and looked mutinous. So he continued,
"Look, my son has made a mistake...is making a mistake. And I feel marriage will set him right. After the marriage, I will hand over the running of the estate to him. With the huge responsibility he won’t be able to play around all that much. He will sober up. But for that, I need a nice girl. She must be from a good family. I’m not very particular about her caste or horoscope. I don’t believe in all that. I'm willing to overlook somethings in this girl, and in return...”
“No!” said Savitri, firmly. They both looked at her. “I know Devika. She comes to the temple and we get along very well. She's a very good girl: very respectful and extremely beautiful and talented. She is poor, but so what? Doesn't she deserve someone better? I know I’m speaking about my son, and I love him very much, but I would not wish him on her.”
“But the decision will be hers,” Rudra pointed out, "I’m not going to deceive them. I’m going to tell them everything, and then, let them decide.”
“But you're still being manipulative. You're taking advantage of their situation in life.”
“Yes, I am being manipulative. I'm going to them only because I feel they'll consider the alliance. Is that being manipulative? Yes. But they will know that! They will know that I'm being manipulative. And they will also know that I am a beggar....begging for my son to be given a chance....”
His voice shook, and Savitri put a hand on his shoulder to steady him.
Khalil asked, "Shall I come with you?"
“No, you go. You have a lot of work to do. But stop being selfish and take care of my work too.”
Khalil glared at him, "When have I...?” Then he saw the grin on Rudra's face, “Oh please! Seriously Akka, how do you put up with him?"
Savitri smiled, “I don't.”
The men laughed at that. “Well, I'll be on my way. If you want anything done, shout out. Good luck!”
After he left, the couple were silent for a while. Then Savitri said, “I have something to tell you.”
Rudra looked at her.
She hesitated, “I...my jewels are missing.”
Rudra raised his brow, "What do you mean missing?"
"My gold jewellery, some of them are missing. Two necklaces and some bangles.”
“You're telling me now?!! Why is everyone being so deceptive?”
Savitri looked angrily at him, “Well, I found out only today morning as I was checking out what to wear to the wedding reception today evening. And why should I be afraid of you, pray? You may be Zamindar of Rasapalayam, but to me you're....you're my husband!”
“And that doesn't scare you?”
“No. Oh! Stop provoking me and talk about our son.”
“Well, I'm going right now to meet the girl and her father.”
“Do you think that’s right?” asked Savitri, doubtfully.
“We'll never know till we've asked.”
“What if they are angry and tell everyone?”
“Everyone will either know my son is a wastrel puppy or that his father is a master manipulator. How does it matter in a flood how much water goes over your head? It’s a flood!”
“Hmmm...”
“What are you hmmming about? You did a bad job bringing up that boy!”
Savitri got up from the swing and looked deeply into Rudra's eyes, “Well, I did my best. But guess what? He turned out to be just like his father!”
And she walked away, nose in air, leaving Rudra spluttering in rage.
In earlier days, an emissary would first be sent to announce the arrival of the landlord or king, but in modern times... Rudra, the Zamindar, sat in his car and stared out.
“It's a mud track Sir. Can't go there by car.”
“I can see that. I suppose I will have to get out and walk. How far is it to the village?”
"Two kilometres, Sir.”
"Two kilometres in the hot Sun! Are you kidding me?”
“No Sir. That's the only way to get there.”
“I need to do something about this. Why haven’t I got a road laid here yet?”
All the same, he got out and opened his umbrella.
“Should I wait here, Sir?”
Rudra looked at his driver, “I saw a pub a little way off. Stay there. I'll be back.”
“Okay Sir.”
Half-an-hour later, Rudra arrived at the village, hot and tired. He called to a lady passing by with a pot of water, "Where's the schoolmaster's house?”
“Schoolmaster? That one!”
She pointed to a gate and what looked like a lush garden behind it. The house wasn’t visible at all.
“Inside that gate?”
“Yes.”
“Thank you.”
He went over and opened the gate and went it.
It was a beautiful garden with flower bushes and trees. The house was a tiny cottage nestled within. A man sat in the porch, reading a newspaper. He was tiny and skinny old man, rather nondescript, with grey hair and a wrinkled face. He had on spectacles. But he also looked dignified and strict. Very much the village schoolmaster.
He looked up when Rudra walked in. “Who is it?”
Rudra went up to him, “I'm Rudra, Zamindar of Rasapalayam.”
“Oh! Oh my God! Please come in! Devika! Please come in Sir.” The man looked flustered.
Rudra removed his slippers and followed the man into the living room. It was a bright and airy room, very tastefully decorated. The schoolmaster said, “Please sit down.”
Rudra chose a comfortable chair and settled down.
The inherent Indian hospitality prevailed, “Will you have something to eat Sir?”
“No, no, I just had my breakfast. But a glass of water will be very welcome.”
“Sure. Devika!”
Rudra heard the pleasant tinkling sound of anklets, and then a girl appeared from inside the house. Rudra just stared at her. She was so beautiful! She was fair and slim...a little over five feet three inches maybe. Her face was radiant and glowing, with perfect features. Her eyes were a strange shade of blue-green. She wore a plain light pink sari in the traditional way. There was goodness in the face...and innocence. Rudra found that strange that in that age and time that a girl could look innocent.
"Devika, this is the Zamindar of Rasapalayam."
Devika folded her hands in namaste. "Please could you bring him some water? He's come from afar. Also, if you could make some coffee?”
“Sure Appa.”
The girl smiled at Rudra and turned and went in.
“Please sit down,” said Rudra to the schoolmaster.
The man continued to stand, unwilling to be on equal terms with the Zamindar.
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
"Well, actually, I came to talk to both you and your daughter. So we'll wait till she is here.”
Devika came in with the water and gave it to Rudra. “Child, the coffee can wait. Will you please sit down? I have come a long way to talk to you.”
She nodded, and unlike her father, had no qualms in occupying the chair next to Rudra. He could not take his eyes off her face.
He drank the water and placed the glass on the table, “I came here to ask you something.”
She did not say anything, just listened.
Rudra looked at the man standing, “Sir, you need to sit down. Please do take a seat.”
The schoolmaster reluctantly sat down opposite Rudra.
“I...I have heard a lot about you,” said Rudra to Devika, “I have heard that you are beautiful and very intelligent and well educated. I have heard that you're a teacher and that you help your father run the school.”
She nodded, “Yes Sir.”
“I appreciate that. Without people like you and your father, our children would not be able to dream of a life outside of this village.”
Devika smiled, as did her father, "Thank you Uncle. We try our best to keep it going.”
“Yes, I can see that. And now that I know how far this village is and how remote, I will certainly help out.”
“Thank you Uncle,” said Devika once more.
Rudra looked at his hands, “But that's not what I've come here to talk to you about.”
They were silent, waiting for him to continue.
Rudra continued to look at his hands, “I...I have a son, as you know…or probably don't.”
“I do know,” Devika interrupted, unexpectedly, "I had lost my way in the fair when I was 10 years old. He brought me back home.”
“Oh!” said Rudra, “So you have met him...a long time back?”
“Yes. I have seen him several times after that…on my way to my school…then college. He would pass by on his bike…sometimes with his friends.”
Something in her voice made Rudra look at her, startled. There was animation in that voice.
“He must have been a teenager when he helped you in the fair.”
“Yes.”
“I remember him telling us that he had helped a little girl who was lost. So that was you?”
“Yes.”
“Ah! So, yes, you know I have a son. His name is Ramesh. He went to college. He’s completed his engineering. He is now 26 years old. I have a lot of property. We have fields. Rice fields. So we have shops to sell the rice. And I had put Ramesh in charge of one of these shops. So, one day, a lady came to buy rice in that shop...”
He stopped and looked up at her, “She was not a nice lady...you understand?”
She looked uncertainly at him, then at her father. His face was expressionless. So she turned back to Rudra and nodded uncertainly.
“My son...he is caught by this lady...enamoured is the right word. She…she has him under her spell. I want to save my son. I want him to get back to the right path. Otherwise I will lose him. I also have a daughter, Meenakshi. She is to be married soon. Her life will be spoilt too.”
He was silent again. Devika looked at her father. His face had become very wooden now, completely devoid of expression. Years of living with him told her that he was livid with rage.
“I...I want to ask if you will marry my son.” It was out now. There was nothing he could do to take back his words. “I know what I'm asking is wrong, but...”
“But you heard that we're poor and that my daughter has a dosha in her horoscope and so you thought that you could manipulate us into accepting your useless son?” said the schoolmaster, getting up and glaring at Rudra, although in his heart, he was very afraid.
Rudra grew red with anger but he controlled himself and said politely, “You can say no, but don't call my son useless. I am a father just like you. I would not come to you if my son was a bad boy. He is not! He is just misled.”
“Well, then, the answer is no.”
Rudra's shoulders sagged in defeat, “Okay. Okay, I understand that. But I want you to understand that I...I won't deny that I was trying to take advantage of your…situation. But I also want you to remember that I overlooked all of them. Horoscope does not bother me neither does your poverty. But I did want a girl from a good family, that’s all. And I also want you to remember that I did not come to you in arrogance. I came to you humbly, with a request.”
"Would you ask a rich girl with a good horoscope to marry your son?”
“Under normal circumstances, possibly, yes. But now, no…they will not agree.”
“You have considered my daughter to be low…so low, so irredeemable that she will accept anyone who offers for her. We may be poor people, Sir, but we have our dignity.”
“Yes...I suppose that's how it appears,” Rudra got up, “I'm sorry. I did not mean to hurt either of you. Particularly you,” he said to Devika, “You certainly are a remarkable girl and very beautiful, if I may say so. In fact, the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. My wife, Savitri, says she meets you in the temple and that you are a very good girl. She seems to like you a lot.” He placed a hand on her head, “God Bless you child. You will make any man proud to be your husband.”
He turned to the schoolmaster and folded his hands, "Forgive me if you can.”
And he took leave.
There was silence after he had gone. The schoolmaster glared at the door through which he had gone, “The nerve of him! Coming to my house and insulting me!”
Devika looked up at her father and said, “I want to marry Ramesh.”
Her father gaped at her, stupefied. “What?” he said, thinking he had not heard right, “What did you say?”
“I said I want to marry Ramesh.”
“Are you out of your mind?? Have you gone crazy?? Didn't you hear the man?”
“Yes I did. That's why I'm saying I want to marry Ramesh.”
"What do you mean by that's why?"
“Appa, the man has a problem. His son has gone astray.”
“That's their business, not ours.”
“It's their only chance Appa.”
Her father moved here and there, agitated, “You're crazy! The boy has slept with a woman. He's possibly slept with so many other women. He's a zamindar's son. Did they come to us when he was okay? Oh! Why am I even trying to explain? This is just not happening.”
“Okay, Appa. If you don't want it, it's definitely not happening. But...I just happen to like Ramesh.”
“Like? You don't even know him.”
“I liked him when he rescued me.”
“You were 10 years old.”
“Yes...and he bought me this chain. I still have it with me. He put it around my neck and he said, “And now, we're married. You're my wife.” Then he laughed and left with his friends.”
“And so you think you are his wife?”
“No…not because of that. I just think it strange how he keeps walking into my life...”
“So you think you're both meant to be.”
“Yes. I...I really liked him then. And I've seen him quite often, you know. On my way to school…with my friends. He's very handsome.”
Her father stared at her.
“I really like him Appa.”
“Then you have to bury your liking. Because I will definitely not consent to this recklessness and give my only daughter, who is as pure as snow, to a wastrel.”
"Okay Appa.”
Devika got up and took the glass that Rudra had placed and went into the kitchen.
The schoolmaster collapsed in his chair, suddenly feeling very tired. As it turned out, his consent wasn't going to be necessary after all. When Devika woke up in the morning and found that her father was still asleep, she became alarmed. She tried to wake him up, but he wouldn't. She then called the village doctor, who came in, checked the pulse, and declared him dead.
When Rudra heard about the death of the schoolmaster, he was stricken with guilt. “Oh God! What have I done?” he said to his wife, Savitri.
She tried to console him, “Please, this is not your fault. You did not expect this to happen. I am sure you were polite. I am sure you did not hurt him.”
“But...my being there, asking him, that in itself was an insult. How could I do that?”
“You...you were not thinking. You were worried about your son. He was a father too. I am sure he forgave you.”
Khalil walked in. "Khalil, see what I've done! I’ve killed a man!” said Rudra.
Khalil snorted. “What did you do? The man was old, he died. He's been ailing for a while now. You just put the lid on it.”
“Really? Was he that ill?”
“Yes. Diabetes, high blood pressure, already had two strokes. He was on his way out. And, by the way, you think you're so powerful you can kill people with your words, is it?”
"Khalil, I believe so, going by the result.”
“Well, you're not. You're just an ordinary old Zamindar who went begging. So shut up.”
Thus put in his place, Rudra did shut up. He and his wife went to the schoolmaster's house to pay homage and offer Devika all the help that she needed. The funeral took place in the afternoon.
“Savitri, you go back home. I'll stay here and see if I can be of further help,” Rudra told his wife.
She nodded and left for home soon after. Rudra stayed on, making arrangements for the memorial function the next day. He also enquired from her lawyer, Devika's financial status, to see if he could help her in any way. He didn’t get a chance to speak to her. She was too heartbroken and was crying. And later, she became involved in the funeral arrangements.
Rudra came back the next day for the memorial function and partook in the meal. It was then evening. The day had been a cloudy one, and now, a soft, cold wind blew through the garden, rustling the trees.
"Hi Uncle,” said a voice as he stood there in the garden, looking up at the darkened sky so full of clouds.
He turned around and saw Devika standing there.
“Hi child.”
“It's going to rain.”
“Yes. I should be going before it does.”
“Yes, I think you should. The track gets very muddy when it rains.”
“I must see that the road is laid soon,” said Rudra.
He looked at her, “Devika, I'm sorry about your father. I hope...I hope it was not my coming to your house that...”
“Oh no, Uncle. Appa had been unwell for a long time. He was upset, yes. But he had made up his mind, so I don't think he was too troubled.”
Rudra nodded, “I am glad to hear that.”
And then, because she was a simple and innocent young girl, “Uncle, I would like to marry your son.”
Rudra's reaction was so like her father’s. The same stupified stare, and then, “What?”
She waited for him to comprehend what she had just said, and he did, then he said, “What? What's that you're saying?”
“I mean it. I want to marry your son.”
Rudra shook his head, “You don't know what you're saying. You're still in shock.”
“I told my father that I wanted to marry him.”
Rudra looked startled, "But why did you tell him that?”
“Because that's what I want.”
“And why do you want to marry my son?”
She was blushing now, but she continued, "I.... he bought me a chain at the fair, and when he left me home, he put that chain around my neck and he said, ‘now we're married. You're my wife’.”
Rudra struggled to grasp this, "Okay...but you were very young then. It meant nothing.”
“No, not to him.”
“So..ah! It meant something to you! Is that what you're trying to say?”
“Yes.”
“You fell in love with him?”
“Yes.”
“But you haven't seen him since then.”
“I have. On my way to school...to college. He would go by on his bike...sometimes with his friends...sometimes alone.”
"Did he recognize you?”
“No. He never turned in my direction.”
“Ah! But you saw him and liked him.”
“Yes.”
“But then, your father said no.”
“My father is not here now. I will have to take a lot of decisions on my own.”
“And this is your decision? To marry my son?”
"Yes."
“Are you sure that's the only reason you want to marry my son? What if it's because you're broke and also afraid to live by yourself? What if you're afraid you will never get married?”
She looked at him straight in the face, “Yes, what if I was? What then? How does it matter what my reasons are?”
Rudra gaped at the girl, so young and slim, standing up to him so boldly, and he knew then a moment of sheer rage. How dare this impudent girl talk to him like that! Talk like that to the Zamindar of Rasapalayam! But then he cooled down and looked at her beautiful innocent face and laughed, “You're a very bold person. No one has spoken to me like that.”
“And no one has spoken to me like that either,” she said, simply.
He nodded, agreeing. If he could manipulate, so could she. Fair enough.
"Very well. What if my son doesn't come back to you? What if you are destroying your own life completely?”
“At least I would have married the man I love.”
Rudra believed in her then. This was no gold digger. This was a young girl deeply in love.
“Come here child.”
She went over to him. He looked deep into her eyes. He then placed a hand on her head and said, “Thank you.”
Her lips trembled and a teardrop rolled down her cheek, “I… I must go in... Appa.”
And she ran into the house.
A sudden gush of cold breeze swept around the Zamindar as he stood there, and then, a drop of rain fell on his head, followed by another, and another. He looked up at the sky and he could see the raindrops by the street light. He raised both hands to the sky and said, "Thank you Father!”

2 comments :

  1. this chapter is wonderfully penned. Amazed by the ease of interaction among the characters, so spontaneous, so lively! kudos dear mam.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you sooo much for reading Abu Siddik.

    ReplyDelete

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