She Spoke in Tongues - 1

Glory Sasikala

Chapter 1 of a serialized novel, by Glory Sasikala

for you to resolve your maybes and maybe nots
I could not wait
There was never a good time, and when there was
It was too late

She looked into the distance with seeking, craving eyes. East! Burma was East! How far they had come! They had walked for days and nights on end, over the North Eastern mountains, the Himalayas, and reached Calcutta. What day was it, what month? It must be going two months and more now…, And they were still on the move. Being South Indians, they had been put on the train to Madras. What beheld them when they reached Madras? A new life…hopefully a more secure one. She watched as the Howrah Bridge appeared, the Hoogly slowly and leisurely winding its way to the ocean, the boats gently floating, dancing to the rhythm of gentle waves, a glorious scene of receding Sunset twilight.
But she was far away in her thoughts, in another country, another time.
British colonization of Burma had somehow been inclusive, and the country stretched in a panoramic view, still a secluded sylvan haven of blue hills, green meadows, tropical forests, and, of course, the winding, blue zig-zagging line of the Irrawady river that cut through lush plains in a sure course to the ocean. Farmers tilled the land in the hot Sun, revelling in the abundance of water supply and the promise of a rich harvest. Time was still an abundant resource, even as inhabitants went about their dailies. There was time to listen to a bird call, stay with the radio till a song was over, serenade a maiden till she was ready to say yes, take a dog out for a walk over the fields, and wrap up the day with a glass of beer in the company of a friend. And there still was time for families to celebrate togetherness.
The day drew to its conclusion, and the little mites who had troubled the farmer by climbing over the stile to milk the cow, taken pot shots at the chameleon on the fence with a catapult, introduced mice in the classroom, played football in the rain, and swung down the branches of the old banyan tree to drop pell-mell into the flowing Irrawady river, were all now asleep, their faces in repose the very picture of innocence.
But in their heart of hearts, everyone knew that this time was precious, an interlude, because there was war and strife all over the world. World War II was on. Which side were they on? This, no one knew. They just knew that they were the perfect sitting duck target, Burma being situated as it was cocooned between India and China. Sometimes…no, nowadays, frequently, they all looked up at the sky, at the far horizon, for the dreaded sound of planes, of dropping bombs. It all seemed so unbelievable that it could happen. Look at the Earth, so quiet! So peaceful! So sylvan! And yet…
The night progressed, and soon it was that time before daybreak. Rosy twilight spread over the gardens, gaining ground over the darkness, and then on to the spacious bedroom, making the world a very pink place indeed. He stirred in his sleep and moved a hand to cover his eyes. He then opened his eyes tentatively and peered through his fingers. Not finding the twilight intrusive, he removed his hand and sighed deeply. Birds chirped vigorously outside, each one with its very own special morning song, heralding in the new day. He turned to look at her, lying there on her back, a little away from him. The view was delectable, as always. His wife was so very beautiful! Even in sleep, her features seemed sculpted. And then too, she was a courtesan! Yes, he had married a courtesan. Unbelievable! But there it was! He remembered the first time he had been to the courtyard with his friends. "I was so reluctant." He chuckled at the memory. It took his friends hours of coaxing to get him to go. And then, he had entered, taken one look at her, and decided that she would be his wife. He remembered his friends' faces full of dismay when he told them. They spent some more hours and days trying to coax him out of it, but he was quite sure in his heart that he had met his soul mate. The wedding had been a simple affair in a registrar's office. He had no family to speak of, no one protested. His friends had been there, of course..
Life after marriage had been wonderful. He could not get enough of her, or she of him. But she was a courtesan alright. Making love, wooing, knowing what turned on a man, it all came naturally to her. By birth a courtesan...  And she played up to other men too, she always had. Every time he brought his friends home, every time he introduced her to his business associates. He had been so jealous! So possessive! That was till Vineeth became his business partner and he met Shanthi, his beautiful wife. And then, of course, Tharani played up to Vineeth. Only this time, Sushanth was playing up too, and Shanthi was responding. No visibly at first, but then it became quite blatant. It did not help matters that they lived next doors and had to cross each other at the landing.
Mutual flirting had grown into a full-fledged relationship, and before he knew it…
Did he feel guilty? Well, at first, yes, but then he knew too that his wife, Tharani, was sleeping with Vineeth. How did he know that? He just knew. It worked like mutual, unspoken consent now. When Vineeth went out 'for a stroll' during office hours, Sushanth shrugged and kept quiet. If Shanthi was out 'to the beauty parlour', Vineeth shrugged and kept quiet too. And since it all did not seem to affect their respective marriages to their rightful partners, peace seemed to prevail, at least superficially.
Life couldn’t be better, thought Sushanth. He had the best of both worlds? Maybe…
He turned to his side and lifted himself on his elbow for a better perspective “How beautiful!” he thought for the millionth time. Winged eyebrows complemented only too perfectly by the long eyelashes of the downcast eyes, the just-about-right nose with the tiniest of diamonds in the left nostril. He watched as the diamond caught the morning sunlight and twinkled. Those luscious lips! How many times he had kissed them, and yet, they remained as sensuously inviting and full, seemingly unsullied and untouched. His eyes went to her well-rounded chin. When she smiled, those enticing dimples would magically appear and he really had to kiss each one of them. He traced the contour of her chin with his forefinger, then let it run over her lips, outlining them. She stirred in her sleep and frowned. He moved his finger away, but she opened her eyes, so tawny and gold. “Go away!”
He smiled, “Good morning!”
“It’s not morning yet. Turn to the other side and go to sleep.”
She tried to move him away, but his arm went round her and pulled her close.
“Why do you wake me up so soon? Long day ahead… Must sleep while I can…”
“Help you sleep?”
“It’s no. And no means no.”
He placed a hand over her breast. “Your body says ‘yes’.
“My body lies,” she mumbled against his chest.
“Your eyes say it too.”
“My eyes, ears, nose, body, mind, soul, spirit, they all lie!”
“Ah! So who are you?”
“I’m the one who wants to go to sleep, stupid.”
“And who is it that’s moving closer to me now?”
“That’s ole desire. Has nothing to do with me, I assure you. I still don’t want…”
He pushed her away. "If you really want to go to sleep so much, go ahead. I won't disturb you."
"Hey, don't do that! Don't push! What's wrong with you?" she asked, moving closer now. "Don't you want me?"
He rubbed his nose with his left hand and then lifted his right hand and pushed his hair back. She grinned.
“Why are you smiling?”
"Nothing," she said. The gesture was so familiar! He always did that when he was lying.
She moved closer to him and placed her head on the crook of his arm. She placed her hand his chest. "Hmmm...I guess I'll go to sleep."
"Not like this! Tharani, it's not fair."
"Everything is fair in..." but she got not further, as he pushed her down violently and claimed her lips with his own.
Outside, a little bird chirped severely, “Mind how you do it, do it!”

Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Mummy! Are you there? Open the door!”
A smaller voice called, “Daddy!”
Sushanth and Tharani hurriedly separated and looked towards the door. Then they turned towards each other and smiled.
“We’d better be quick. They’re quite likely to break open the door.”
They hurriedly got dressed, then Sushanth opened the door.
“What took you so long?” Sitara demanded. She was their second child, now 10 years old. “Do you know how long we’ve been standing here?”
“Sorry!” said Sushanth, holding his ears.
“Have you two been kissing?”
“Hmm…sort of.”
Sitara looked disgusted. Then she shrugged as she came into the room, “I don’t care anyways. It’s annual day. Yey!!! 
“Yey!!” said little five-year-old Sheila. She had, meanwhile, clambered up the bed and was now too safely and snugly settled in her mother’s arms to bother much about anything else. She plastered her mother’s face with kisses and looked up at her adoringly. “I love you!”
“I do too, darling!” said Tharani, meaning every word of it. She kissed her baby girl too. “You’re the best Mummy in the whole world!”
“And you’re the best baby in the whole world!”
Sitara snorted from where she stood by the bed, “Don’t pet her too much. She peed in her bed. I changed her clothes.”
And before her mother could reply, she turned impatiently to her father, “When are you coming to school?”
“Any time you want me to,” he replied with a sly smile.
“But… aren’t you going to work?”
He settled back on a pillow, “Um…I’m thinking not today. I’m thinking I’ll take leave.”
“Daddy!” she screamed and jumped right into his arms. “You’re the best!”
“Is that so?” he laughed.
“Yes, Daddy.” She put her palms on both sides of his face to direct his attention completely towards her, a warning for her father that she was going to make a fairly impossible request.
“Daddy, will you buy me this biology box.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s what the older students use for biology. For dissecting and stuff. It’s got all sorts of things in it, like scissors and knives. It’s also got a magnifying glass, Daddy.”
“Hmmm… why would you want that?”
She looked surprised, “For dissecting. What else would I want it for? I’m going to be a naturalist when I grow up. I need to collect insects and plants and things, and I need to dissect things.”
“I thought you were going to be an Airforce pilot?”
“Yes, that too! A lady pilot, imagine!” her beautiful tawny gold eyes gleamed. “I can be both.”
Sushanth smiled at this tomboy girl. “You’re ambitious.”
She sighed, “Yes…there’re so many interesting things to do. Daddy, will you get me the box?”
“We’ll see.”
Tharani, who was listening in on the conversation said sarcastically, “Yes, spoil her some more. As if she’s not enough trouble already. Her teacher is complaining that she threw Rashmi’s eraser out of the window. Why should a girl get so angry?”
“Mum, she ate my lunch!”
“Thank God someone ate it. I’m fed up of throwing food out daily. Anyways, you buy her that box, the house is going to be full of all sorts of insects. Even snakes, maybe. Who knows what goes on in her head?”
“Momze! You keep out of this okay? This doesn’t concern you.”
She turned to her father, “Daddy, please don’t listen to her. She’s always complaining about me.”
“We’ll see,” repeated Sushanth, pulling her hair.
She put her hand to her head, “My favourite curl is gone!”
And all her doting father could see was there were enough adorable curls all over her head and cascading down her shoulders.
“You have so many curls!”
“I’ll give you the second best curl if you get me the box.”
Sushanth turned to his wife, “Now, tell me, how do I say no to that?”
Tharani snorted, “Both father and daughter are not okay,” she said conversationally to Sheila.
“Mummy! You take that back!” said Sitara, “Say we’re good people.”
“No ways!” challenged Tharani, looking defiantly at this daughter of hers so very like her, both in looks and character. The same unruly curls, the same tawny gold eyes, and dusky, glowing complexion, and the same fearless fighting spirit. The lioness and her cub.
“I’ll make you!” said Sitara, jumping on to her mother’s side of the bed and on to her.
Sushanth got off the bed and lifted Sheila. “Come on, let’s go. They’re going to kill each other. We don’t want to be witnesses.”
“But I don’t want Mummy to die!”
“Don’t worry, darling. I’ll get you another mother.”
“Sushanth!” screamed Tharani, “How dare you!”
He chuckled and left the room with Sheila, calling back, “I’m switching on the geyser. Make breakfast if you’re still alive.”

He walked out and entered the other room. A lone figure was seated at the centre of the room, a young 13-year-old girl, Yamini, his eldest born. She was a quiet child, studious and inclined to take life too seriously. Hers was a rare beauty, one that was not immediately recognizable. You had to look at her closely, take in the features of her face one by one, to realize that she was indeed extremely beautiful.  Her hair was long and done in plaits.

She looked despondent as she sat there, staring at the floor.


"Yes Daddy?"

"What's the matter, child?"

"Daddy, will I be able to speak well today?"

She was to do the Welcome Address at the Annual Day function at their school.

"Yes, of course! That's why they've chosen you.  They wouldn't if they thought you wouldn't be able to do it.  So many children, and yet they chose you. That should tell you something."

She looked at him with hopeful eyes then, "Yes...yes, you're right. I will do well."

She smiled cheerfully then.  "There!" said Sushanth. “Go and practice a few times more. The more you practice, the more comfortable you'll be."

"Okay Daddy."

And, it was at that very moment that the first boom sounded.

It sounds like it was coming from far, but after a short interval, a second boom sounded, this time too, it was distant. Vineeth was knocking frantically on the door. “Sushanth, open the door!” Bang! Bang! Bang!

Sushanth hurried to open the door. “Run for your lives, all of you! They’re bombing the place. Run! Hurry up!” and then, Vineeth pushed Shanthi in front of him and started running. When Sushanth looked out the gate, they were both gone!

It took a moment for what Vineeth had said to register, then he jumped into action. He grabbed Sheila’s hand, he pushed Yamini and Sitara in front of him and screamed, “Run! Run both of you!” They looked back at him, uncertain and hesitating. He screamed again, “Just run!” He turned and shouted, “Tharani, drop everything you’re doing and run!” Tharani was already out there. She heard him. She went in to switch off the gas. “Leave everything and run!” And Sushanth ran out of the house, holding Sheila’s hand. Tharani ran behind him, but soon he was out of the gate. She stopped, and went back into the house. She picked a bag, opened the wardrobe and emptied her gold jewels into it. She then stuffed a couple of saris over them. She then ran out, but hesitated once more. Vineeth’s house was open. She went in, and to the bedroom. The wardrobe was not locked. She opened it, emptied the jewels into her bag. Then she ran out of the gate, and as fast as she could. When she reached the end of the road, she turned to look back at their house, just in time to see a bomb flying down over it. BOOM!!

And then it all went grey.

[To be continued ...]

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