Hyphenated Identities: Sujata Sankranti

Sujata Sankranti was born in the coastal state of Kerala and was educated in New Delhi. She worked as Associate Professor in the Department of English, S.V College, University of Delhi. She was the All-round Winner of the prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the year 1998. She has published a volume of short stories entitled The Warp and the Weft and other stories. Her debut novel In the Shadow of Legends was published in 2011. Many of her short stories have been published in journals and anthologies in India and abroad. Currently she lives in Mumbai.


Kris Versus Krishna
          
Through swirling flakes of snow, as the car turned into Austin Street he fumbled for the remote and reached for its smooth luminous centre. The right amount of pressure…  the garage door, he was sure, had responded without any protest. The remote in his hands empowered him. He could dictate, control and bring distances closer.
         He turned the key, pushed the door open and peeped in.
        Hi I am home. Anybody in?
His voice boomed and came back to him. Apart from the swish and starts of the dish washer there was absolute silence. The blackboard standing in the island of the kitchen had as many scrawls on it as the space permitted. The round artistic handwriting of his wife, educated in a convent in Malabar stood out against the casual irregular scribble of his daughter and son who went to schools in Evanston 
  I am at Jennifer’s. Esther has come down to arrange for the garage sale. I am helping her to catalogue Jennifer’s stuff
Oh Yes. He reminded himself, Jennifer, the old dame from the opposite ranch house, his girlfriend as she was famously known, was no more. Her daughter had arrived to take stock of her belongings—catalogue and fix price tags to her precious stuff. And Devi, his wife was there to assist her.
A day in early June. Jennifer made a desperate call to Kris. The pick-up van had failed to turn up. She wanted him to drive her down to the soup kitchen. Until a few years ago, she used to drive around. Without much problem. After the fall she had three winters ago, she had hardly moved out of the house on her own.
          It was a spring morning. Jennifer made him roll down the glass. She put her head out to look at the green shoots of the maple leaves. She told Kris again and again she loved spring and summer. Naturally. Winter of this city of icy winds was too much for her old brittle bones. Kris gave her the special herbal oil he had brought from India. The oil had miraculously eased Jennifer’s knotted joints and she nicknamed it ‘Malabar magic’ Kris had become her favourite, ever since.
          As the car sped past avenues and highways Kris turned quizzically to the old dame. Jennifer, why do you insist on going to the soup kitchen? You donate a huge sum every month. Is that not enough charity service?
           Oh Kris, don’t you ever talk like George and Esther` Ladling out stew and salad to those hapless crowd, watching them enjoy every bite and every gulp. Don’t you think it is much more satisfying than signing away lifeless cheques?
         She bowed before an old man, ruffled a youngster’s unruly hair. Coaxed someone to eat a little more. And the ecstatic looks on her face! It was mesmerizing. The glint of Jennifer’s irises, a curious blue stood out against her papery white face and Kris felt as though he was crystal-gazing
x xx
          Amma’s face tired but excited as he saw her for the last time in their ancestral house flashed before him. She had insisted on getting out of her sick bed to watch the annadanam, poor feeding which was a yearly ritual of the family. Kris wrapped her in her favourite red blanket and. carried her to the courtyard and made her sit in the easy chair.
Don’t pamper her Unni She is too week. And there is a cold wind blowing If she sits in the courtyard, she will catch a cold. As it is, she is asthmatic You will not have to take care of her. You come like a guest and will be off in a day.
His sisters had protested.   Why did they have to remind him with such vicious pleasure that he had failed in his duty towards their mother? 
Unni, the whole village waits anxiously for this yearly event. The milk payasam of our cook is their favourite. Give a little more rice to that boy sitting in the corner. And give some pickle to those women at the far end.
Kris was moved at her palpable concern for the poor folk
Yes. There is no end to her wishes Not just annadanam she is planning to give a godanam now. Does she have any idea how much a cow will cost.
          Kris ignored his sister’s taunt
He had left the estate, the ancestral house and most of mother’s belongings to the sisters. Had brought back with him only the leather-bound copy of her Ramayana and the wooden stand on which she used to keep it.
            Jennifer used to complain to Kris about her children’s utter indifference to the artefacts she had collected. The laquerd jewel box from Burma, the spider lantern from Venice…. each one of those rare pieces was for her a sacred memory. But to Esther who had majored in Psychology it was just hoarding syndrome.   Jennifer had asked Kris to take whatever he liked from her collections. But he couldn’t bring himself to touch any of her treasures At last when Jennifer insisted that he should take something from her as a token of love he had agreed to accept her Bible, which he knew she was in the habit of reading every day. She left it for him with the peacock feather he had presented her once, placed as a bookmark on the Book of Job. On the top shelf of his bedroom closet he had reverently put it away along with his mother’s Ramayana.
           With the fourth peg of whiskey Kris had grown groggy-eyed and lethargic. Like a robot he propelled himself to the black board. Picked up the pink rayon and willed his right hand across the board. Just below where Perry had scrawled, Jennifer’s chess board is for me and the oval mirror is for Molly, he wrote.
 Prasanna, not Perry, Malavika, not Molly, mark my words.  You are not going to take anything from Jennifer and Shri devi, get in touch with the travel agent, we are returning to India.
             Through blurred eyes he peered at the black board. The letters swam in front of him. But his distant vision was getting clearer. He could see Amma not as he saw her last withered and wasted. She was sitting in front of the kitchen churning curds into hillocks of butter. He could hear her calling out to him in her sing-song voice.
My little Krishna. Unni Krishna.
Come fast

Let me feed you butter. As big as an elephant’s head….

1 comment :

  1. The hyphen gathers new meaning in this wonderfully dramatized agony of divided existence. Kudos to Sujata Sankranti's magical creative comment on the troubling binary. And the title of the story absolutely nails it!

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