Literature & Fiction | 49 Chapters
Author: Lalithashri Shankar
‘I love wearing short skirts and sleeveless tops. Romantic Hollywood movies and hard rock music are my all-time favorites. My name is Lavanya Sitaraman. I live in a remote village of India. One fine day I was told I won’t study further and will be married to somebody I didn't even know.’ It is the 80’s. Lavanya is young, beautiful and exceptionally brilliant. Her life takes a turn when destiny brings her to London where she happens to mee....
May, 1988 Thirukkad
The afternoon was at its peak and the scorching sun, with its head held high, showed no mercy on any living being. Its partner in crime humidity, made its presence significant. There was this inevitable frown on every face, and anger was considered a basic birthright. On the contrary, there stood these huge trees relentlessly offering the optimum shade they could without a sign of breeze moving them. The birds flying here and there for titbits not giving up for a second; the animals tired of their search for food looking helplessly at any soul passing by. Little did they know that every soul was cursing someone or something! The beauty of the village was gravely overlooked without an iota of hesitation. Yet there were a couple of enthusiasts lost in their very own world.
‘The man in the dark blue shirt; sitting on the last row by the window; thick moustache guy, its ‘Him’! Shoba ma’am is having an affair with ‘Him’…hey donkey, don’t look back now,’ she hissed, ‘he’ll suspect I’m telling you something about him,’ said the two plaited, uniform clad fifteen-year old to the other.
‘But I’m just too curious to know who it is. By the way, how did you know he is the one?’ responded the other, pushing her oily, ribboned plait behind her shoulder.
‘I see him meeting her every second day, behind the playground, under the mangroves. Now look behind after counting three, I’ll take my bag,’ the first girl said moving towards the front.
‘Oh my god, I don’t believe this. This decayed pumpkin gets attention from Shoba madam? Ewww! Gross! Our school watchman is way better than him!’ the second one hissed shutting her eyes and making the most disgusted facial expression. It seemed she had tasted something awfully bitter.
The two had gone astray, gossiping with each other, carefully picking up the choicest words from the English vocabulary, and delicately quoting them with an accent.
The village bus, (known for its speciality of providing a free joy ride with its extra tilted frame) honked and revved through the undulated passages of Thirukkad. A bunch of widened eyeballs, and open mouths swung from one girl to the other.
Thirukkad, not a very well-known place to most of us, is a small village in the borders of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It consisted of those rare people, highly contented with their simple lives. Spoken English was new to them but like almost every Indian, they were spellbound by it.
‘Lavanya…Ragini…! Stop Vandachu…. Veham erunguga ma (stop has come, get down fast)’ the bus conductor roared in pure Tamil. He was delegated the duty by the girls’ fathers to make sure the girls reach school on time and come back home safely. Every girl in Thirukkad went to the local school run by the most educated man there. It was more like a Gurukkul, the only difference being the former was privileged enough to have a roof, benches and a blackboard! Lavanya literally fought with her parents to travel 30 kms away from home to go to a proper school in the city. She was just 9 years of age, when one fine day she decided she wouldn’t eat until her father agrees to send her to the big school Ragini went to. The stories that Ragini told her, of school, kept her fascinating. Sadly, unlike Ragini she wasn’t the child of a rich man. Lavu’s parents did all that they could to make her understand the truth, but to no avail.
Lavanya was an extraordinary child. Her thirst for knowledge was insatiable. She would leave her guru speechless at times. One fine day, with the help of Ragini’s dad and her local guru she was taken in the city school under a special case of ‘scholarship’. Post an elongated version of an interview by the Principal and a few teachers, she was asked to wait outside for a while. She was on tenterhooks, biting her nails fretfully, with her head drooped, standing outside the principal’s office till she heard Ragini’s dad announce the biggest joy of her life. She had conquered the seat effortlessly. The Principal was left awestruck and had honestly confessed that he hadn’t come across such a brilliant child. That day, that very moment remains the ultimate delight of her life.
Ragini on the other hand was the daughter of the richest man in the village. And to serve as an icing to the cake she was the only child. Her father always wanted to give her the best. He initially would drive her down to school but later needed the car out for his business ventures. Now, that Ragini was not alone and had Lavanya’s company he was relieved and sent them by the local bus.
The bus would leave them at the end of a narrow lane. Few metres into the lane stood Lavanya’s humble abode bang opposite Ragini’s lavish bungalow. The girls swiftly got down from the bus and ran towards their respective homes. It was a daily practice to race back home, as they found an unknown thrill in discovering who would reach first.
‘Rags…can we watch a movie today?’ Lavanya yelled, running ahead, panting as she maliciously smiled looking back at Ragini, who was trying to get in pace with her.
‘Oh…! Lavu, shh... Look ahead’, Ragini’s last two words were literally inaudible.
‘What?’ Lavanya shrieked, turning in front.
Rag’s expression was quite explanatory though. Before she could repeat the words, Lavu bumped into Senthil, who could note the day and the second as the most auspicious in his life. He was not the pride of Thirukkad but he got fair grades, he was not the most powerful man around, but he always fought to rescue the vulnerable and he was not the best looking stud, but he could give a fair competition to any macho in town.
There he stood with his fair, 6 foot, athletic frame, his eyes covered in a pair of jazzy sunglasses which he pushed up his silky hair.
‘Back from school?’ Senthil asked in broken English with a heavy coating of Tamil accent. His perfume was strong enough to penetrate into her nostrils, causing an unsettling effect in her.
‘No, we had been to lay eggs in town…there’s a dearth I suppose’, Lavanya responded looking straight into his eyes. The two girls burst out in laughter looking at each other.
Senthil couldn’t utter a word; he smiled sheepishly thinking what to speak next. He knew he was knocked out as usual. It was something too obvious to be asked. The girls were in their school uniforms and he just saw them getting down from the city bus as well.
‘Could you excuse me please?’ Lavanya said as she pushed his arm aside with her elbow.
Now if you think Lavanya portrayed impudence, it surely wasn’t her fault either. It was a daily affair. Same time every day, the moment they got down from the bus they would find Senthil somewhere or the other. Either he would be riding his cycle down the lane, or sitting in his balcony pretending to read a book with his eyes focussing only on Lavanya or simply walking down the streets, as he was doing that day.
Just that one glimpse of her and a slight touch (if he was lucky enough to get) would make his life worthwhile. God knows whether he washed his arms thereafter, but one thing was evident, his heart, overflowing with love for Lavanya; was tired of negligence. However he kept looking back at her, and carefully noticed every move of hers. She was laughing away to glory saying something to Ragini. She then gave her a high five, and waved bye to her with those svelte hands which Senthil was dying to hold. She was looking as stunning as ever; those twinkling eyes, long lustrous hair, pink lips and sweet voice. He stood there like a statue till she sashayed into her home.
Awesome Threesome - I
Vaishnavi, Ragini’s first cousin, resided in the UK. Right from her childhood, every vacation, she would look forward to visit Thirukkad. She was no doubt attached to her sister, but found her best buddy in Lavu (Lavanya). The threesome knew each other in and out; their dreams, their wishes and what each liked or disliked the most. They had grown up together, fighting, competing, sharing and playing the weirdest of games. They played roles of models walking down the ramp, teachers, fairies or mothers of a whole lot of children making a living in the forest. Of the three Lavu’s imagination knew no bounds. She would come up with ideas that thrilled them all. Lavu was thus their Protagonist!
When Vash came to Thirukkad, she made it a point to get a whole lot of English videos and books not for Ragini, but for Lavanya. Vash struck chords with Lavanya more than with anyone she knew. Vash could see a zest for learning in her eyes and the way she fought against all odds to achieve something if it was related to gaining knowledge or information. This inquisitiveness instigated Vash to go out of the way and help her. Rags on the other hand enjoyed being in the company of this brainy, informative body of knowledge.
The threesome would have a gala time for one whole month and would create memories that would last till her next visit. They would await Vash’s arrival throughout the year, and the countdown began a month prior.
Vash would call Ragini’s home every weekend and make it a point to speak with Lavanya. Vash barely spoke any Indian language; she was born and brought up in the UK. She spoke accented English, which Lavanya responded to radiantly. Vash was a boon to Lavu; she was not only the one that aided in enhancing her personality but also served as an extravagant goody bag to her.
The fairy tales, short stories and novels were read, understood and reread umpteen times by Lavu. The videos constituted the English classic movies which she loved more than anything else. ‘Pretty Woman’ was her favourite. She would imagine herself in those strikingly beautiful clothes Julia Roberts wore and would immaculately narrate her dialogues. She would watch them at Ragini’s again and again, especially when her parents were out or sleeping. Ragini’s home was the utopia, Thirukkad awed and coveted, for it had a special machine that played magnificent movies. The moment a rectangular black thin box was inserted in the machine’s socket, it showed the best of films on the TV. It left the villagers in total bewilderment. It was those days, the video cassette player had just come in the stores of the nearest town and Rag’s dad had grabbed it in no time.
Lavu resided in Rag’s home more than in hers. She would in this time take utmost advantage of the marvels in her house. The tantalizing scent of the age old thick English novels of Rag’s dad (gifted to him, which the partly-educated man dreaded to read), the exceptionally romantic English film cassettes and the loud pulsing English pop of the early 80s, coated with a generous amount of dust. She didn’t leave a flaw in optimizing her opportunity to absorb every bit of knowledge, fun and happiness she was bestowed with. Lavanya’s command in English was thus fairly good, and in turn Rags too got into the groove. The two lovely village girls had an obsessive dream; they wanted to be that stylish Hollywood heroine for at least a day. The likelihood of it seemed nil, but Lavu’s master brains paired with her guts and determination to achieve what she wanted worked miracles. She would tell Vash what she exactly wanted, and Vash in turn knew it better than anybody. She would leave the best clothes for her sister and her best pal. They would wait for that golden opportunity when Rag’s parents would step out, ideally for a wedding feast or a funeral, that would keep them away for long.
There was once this epic when the girls borrowed torches, yes torches, from all the households making the silliest of excuses. Then they got these soda bottles, which came free from Senthil’s father’s shop; all it required was an impish grin from Lavu, simply asking for it. Then they hurriedly transferred the huge music system from Ragini’s hall to her parent’s bedroom. The torches covered with coloured cellophane papers were then turned on and placed in an appropriate way to make sure the focus remains in front of the mirror. The main door was shut, and subsequently the bed room door. Music was switched on; the lemon soda bottles were placed on the dressing table. They served the purpose of giving an appealing effect of having alcohol; albeit it was more than enough to take them to another level altogether. Now they tried those sexy outfits one by one. They would gyrate to the tunes and sip the soda in turns while flaunting those hot pants, spaghetti tops, lacy hip lingerie, bikinis and pose in front of the mirror. They would then roll a piece of paper make it into an imaginary cigarette and place it between their lips, taking long seductive drags. Those intoxicated eyes looked so real, as if they had really taken in the drug. Lavanya would look at her perfectly shaped curves, silky skin, beautiful face, and long lustrous locks; she could no doubt put a Greek Goddess to shame. She was shining and glamorous without a trace of makeup or hairdo. The peppy music, the coloured dim lights and the soda were ideal in giving them a surreal high.
‘Rags, imagine how Senthil would react if he saw me this way,’ Lavanya whispered into Rag’s ears, adjusting her top and burst out laughing.
‘He would become a statue forever, like the one of Liberty... Maybe…we should call him the statue of…uhhhh…puberty,’ Rags laughed aloud, only to find Lavu looking at her with a disgusted expression.
‘Oh! A bad joke, was it?’ Rags concluded.
‘Yes…a really bad one,’ she said pouting her lips and having a final look at her reflection in the mirror. ‘Ooo, now that’s a ten on ten,’ she said, tuning up the volume of music.
Rag’s scanned Lavu with the corner of her eye controlling her expressions of jealousy, and said... ‘And me an eleven on ten.’
Ragini could be called a typical tom boy when it came to appearance. She looked very smart as she stood tall, super thin with curly hair and a wheatish complexion. She had a very sweet, charming face and a great sense of dressing.
The girls had to shout to make themselves audible, for the music was so loud that the things in the room literally vibrated with the bass effect. The girls danced and danced, and quenched their thirsts’ of their only desire. It went on till their messenger, Savithri; the gardener’s wife threw a small stone aiming the bed room window. The bed room window faced the backyard where they lived. The stone meant, Rag’s dad’s car has arrived at the end of the narrow lane. They would immediately become characters shown in the fast forwarded videos; they were experienced and exactly knew what to do, but the precision was imperative. One would quickly hide the bottles below the bed; while one would switch off the music and take the system down. The torches, exhausted of battery were wrapped in a bed sheet and hidden below the pillows. The car came to a screeching halt and the door opened. The two girls quickly grabbed a book and buried their faces into it.
Rag’s parents entered the house in no time and looked at the two girls from top to bottom as if they had seen a ghost. The pompous girls at once skimmed through themselves only to realise that they were close to naked. Ragini was in an off shoulder short party gown and Lavanya in hot pants and tee. They were terrified to limits unknown. They cursed themselves as they recollected throwing their clothes stylishly in the corner of the room, the way a rock star would toss them at the audience. They stared at each other in dismay and rushed back to their rooms to change before the horrified spectators said something or perhaps fainted.
Lavanya was one of those kids who had a mysterious quality to charm you completely. The innocence on the face, the heavenly smile on the rosy lips and those eyes – Oh, it could keep you engaged for hours. They were so expressive, big and round, battling every now and then. The dark brown eyeballs moved from one corner to the other, up and down, as and when she found something intriguing. She was a child the Ad people ran after and the cameramen always looked for. It could make their work much easier; they could dress her up in the best of clothes and display her pictures on hoardings or film her in the best of ads. But to be frank, she belonged to a place where such people never came. The television in their house had entered only along with her arrival. Just a month before she was born, her father had won a lottery ticket, with which he bought the black and white television. Her family didn’t even know how to operate it.
Her father Sitaraman was the village postman. He was one of the most qualified among the villagers. He had passed his tenth standard with flying colours. He knew how to read and write. In those days it was a big deal, people trusted him the most. His duty was not just to deliver letters but to open them, and read them out to the person concerned. Some also made him write replies to those letters. To say the least, he was underpaid.
Sitaraman was a man of strict principles. He had left the government job he got in the city, as he was exasperated realising that the people there were blatantly plunging into bribery and corruption. He was really happy with his present job; according to him he helped people, got to know all their problems and delivered them all kinds of free solutions. He had gained respect – a lot of respect in these years. What else did he need; an adequate amount of money to run the home, and substantial love from people. ‘Contented’ was the only asset he had! But, there was a slight hitch, which poked him like a thorn every now and then.
He married Lakshmi at a very young age. He was barely twenty and she was just sixteen. Lakshmi, like every girl of her generation mastered in cooking and housekeeping, she treated Sitaraman like God. Maybe more…a year later they were blessed with a daughter. They named her after her great grandmother - Meenakshi. Like any other villager, they too wanted a son, after all, the daughter isn’t your asset, and you bring her up and push her into some other home. ‘Who would take care of them in their old age?’ he thought. They needed an heir for the family. To attain this primitive goal they had another child exactly three years later, which didn’t really make them happy. It was a daughter again. Sitaraman’s mother started cursing Lakshmi, for her ill fate. She didn’t even wait for the naming ceremony. Even though the child’s arrival didn’t bring happiness, she was named ‘Anandini’. (Means happiness)
After umpteen quarrels, discussions and consolations, the couple gathered high hopes to try for a male child for the last time. This time when Lakshmi got pregnant she did all that she could from her end to accomplish the much awaited expedition. She fasted on most days for Lord Ganesha; she took many rounds of the temples, made all sorts of offerings to astrologers who would advise her some bizarre routes. She kept chanting prayers continuously, thus, she hardly spoke.
The due date had arrived. She was taken to the local hospital. The pain was unbearable, Lakshmi was struggling, but she didn’t stop chanting the prayers. Her daughters were in safe custody of her ever trusted neighbour, Latika (Ragini’s mom). Fear and excitement kept her hopes fluctuating to extremes. The fear conquered the excitement for a while, when she reminded herself of the ordeal she went through all these months. It really didn’t matter to her what the outcome would be, but she was tired of hearing her fate being called ill.
Finally they heard a cry; Sitaraman was sweating, rampaging here and there. The nurse came out and he heard the same despicable announcement yet again. ‘Sir, it’s a girl.’ His expression of confusion changed into grave anger. He was devoid of the urge of going inside Lakshmi’s room, he sauntered back home with a long face, reciting abuses as if his fate had plunged into despondency.
The only soul staying back with Lakshmi was her mother, Muniamma and they forlornly kept waiting for Sitaraman, but in vain. Lakshmi’s heart outgrown with sorrow and helplessness threw an outburst of tears down her cheeks. Her eyes all swollen and already weak with the labour pain seemed dead.
‘Don’t cry my child, all this is not in our hands, don’t spoil your health.’ Lakshmi’s mother convinced her.
Lakshmi could hardly hear a thing. She kept weeping and every tear resulted in loss of faith in everything she did.
‘Why is God so cruel with me? How will I face my family now? I want to die Amma,’ Lakshmi wailed so loudly that her words were hardly audible...
‘No no, my child, do not say that. Look at this baby, she is so beautiful, but there is no one to even look at her. At least you should, here take her,’ Lakshmi’s mom forcibly put the baby beside Lakshmi. Her tear filled eyes for the very first time looked at those big brown eyes, thick black curls, milky skin and chiselled features. It seemed God was in the happiest mood when he created her, such was the perfection of beauty. But she was not even close to happy. She would have been happier if the kid was way uglier, provided it was a boy. This was the history of Lavanya’s arrival.
It’s My Life!
‘Oh these flowers are way too less, I don’t want people from the boys side to pinpoint us.’ Sitaraman bellowed at Anandi, looking at the jasmine flowers she had plucked from various backyards.
After all it was the first wedding in the house and Sitaraman was one of the most famous men in the village. He had somehow arranged everything without taking monetary help from a single soul and was going through utmost tension. He had two more daughters in line to get married. If the first one could consume such a lot of money and effort, how would he manage the other two, he thought. He had spent his life accumulating money for his daughter’s weddings. The fine lines on his forehead became a tad less prominent as he shrugged himself from his thoughts.