Revisiting childhood by Kandukuri Venkata Mahalakshmi

Katyayini start wondering. To be frank, why is she going there now? Did her cousin and his wife really invite her because of their affection for her, because they wanted her to attend the wedding? Her cousin mailed the invitation card announcing his daughter’s wedding, which looked more like a matter of formality. Katyayini saw the invitation card, and packed a few clothes in a bag. She told her husband and left. That was two days before the said wedding date.

When she told her husband that she was going to her uncle’s granddaughter’s wedding, he was surprised and puzzled. He looked at her but there was no response from her. He went away without another word. The reason being he is well aware that there is no communication between Katyayini and her cousin—no visits, no letters, none whatsoever. And this is not even the first celebration in their home. There had been several others. Each time Katyayini read the invitation cards and put them aside. That is why he is surprised by Katyayini’s decision to attend the wedding. But he does not dare to ask her. They are husband and wife by marriage yet the interaction between them is nominal.

Their relationship has been deteriorating ever since the day they got married. Never mind whose fault it is, but there has never been the fondness or closeness that should be part of husband-wife relationship. They have two children, as a sign of their association in the early days of their marriage. For Katyayini, as a punishment for bearing the children, it became her responsibility to raise them and take care of their education, and so on. Both the sons became post-grads and found jobs in two different cities. After they settled in jobs, their marriages also were performed as a matter of course. Katyayini began feeling the strain of loneliness. Her husband is not going to change. She keeps cooking and serving the food, taking care of the household and in return he lets her eat.

Katyayini set out on this trip because she wants to extricate herself from this rut, and more than that, wants to dig up the old memories and mull over.

Katyayini sits in the train reflecting. Her heart goes to the days, thirty-years back.

We are three daughters to my parents. I am the middle one. We all got married and moved to three different towns. Every summer, we would start the same evening the vacation began and reach our home in the village. We three have two children each. I have two sons. My eldest sister is three years older than I. She has two daughters. My younger sister has one daughter and one son.

As soon as we arrived there, my parents would say “children are here,” and there would be no end to the hullabaloo they would make. Mother would engage a cook and have several special items made for us. Father would arrange to bring several varieties of fruits like coconuts, mangoes, and guava from the farms for us to eat. During the entire summer, we would forget our homes in our towns, become children and run around the groves and fields. Father would gather all the six children, play with them, sing with them and turn into a child himself amidst them.

We would have great fun through out the summer and then return to our homes. We would put in boxes all the sweets and snacks mother had packed for us and return to our routine lives in about a week.

It had become common for us to go to mother and father every year, and wait for the next summer again. It also became a habit for us to mull over the memories and continue to swim in the ocean of family life, enduring the annoyances and the quandary, which necessarily accompanied it.

A great man once said, if the time remains the same always, there will be no stories. Only the time has the ability to keep going foreword without paying attention to anybody’s wellbeing and without turning back even for a second.

Father passed away. Mother tried to cover up his absence by becoming both mother and father for us, continued to invite us and did everything for us as usual.

After a few years, mother also passed away. Since we all were flung in far-off places, we decided that we had nothing in that town. We sold the house and the farm, took our shares and returned to our present homes. But for the letters we occasionally exchanged, we sisters lost touch with each other. There were no visits like before. We met only for the weddings of our six children. There are no more meetings each year like in the past. We all are swamped by our own family matters. We are growing older and each one of has our own daughters-in-law and sons-in-law. Each of us is so absorbed in our lives with husbands, children, and their families; none of us has any more time to think of others.

I lost touch with even my own sisters after my parents were gone. What can I say about my uncle’s children? Occasionally, they mail an invitation card. That is about it. This cousin of mine has never attended any of celebration at my home, why am I going to a wedding in his house?

Katyayini wants to see the town and the house she grew up in. She wants to see how much the town has changed. Her heart is elated as she mulls over; the heart, which is withered for so long, oozes sweet memories, drenching the heart with joy, and turning into tears of joy. It feels like she. Overwhelmed. Seems to be keeping the beat as the train engine hoots.

Katyayini wrote letters to both her sisters before she left her home. She asked them to attend the wedding so they could visit their hometown, where her mother and father were not present anymore, and reminisce.

As planned, the three sisters attend the wedding. Her uncle, his son and daughter-in-law are very happy to see them. They also meet several old relatives at the wedding. The three days of celebrities go by with excitement.

After the bride left for her in-law’s place, the three sisters visit their village. The village has changed to a point, it is not recognizable anymore. The gardens they used to play around were not there any more. People have built homes there. In the past there were only two movie theaters. Now there are more than a dozen. After going around the village for a while, they finally arrive at their parents’ home. That house has not changed much but for a few small alterations.

The sisters stand in front of the house and argue for a while as to who should go in first. Each wants the other to lead. Finally Katyayini steps forward and knocks on the door. A 70-year old woman opens the door and looks at them, confused. Katyayini smiles a friendly smile.

The woman invites them in and spreads a mat to sit. The sisters sit and look around. The woman does not understand the behavior of these three sisters. After a while, Katyayini looks at her and says, “Aunty, my father built this house. After he passed away, we three sold the house since we live far away. At that time, none of us felt like keeping it. Now we came here to attend my cousin’s daughter’s wedding in the town next door. We came here to see our village. The same way, we took the liberty and came in to see the house our parents had owned.”

The old woman is pleased at Katyayini’s words, and shows them around.

In the backyard, the sapota tree is full of ripe fruits. As they watch the winter apple and guava, they remember the old times. They ask for the woman’s permission to go into the garden. The pleasure is beyond words. For a moment, they feel the presence of their father inside the house. They tell the woman that they are leaving. The woman says kindly, “Wait. You came all the way here. Eat before you go.” They could not say no to that generous lady. They stay for a little longer, eat.

The woman also gives them blouse pieces, coconuts, turmeric and kumkum per custom. The sisters gratefully accept the gifts, bow in obeisance and seek her blessings.

In that moment, an elderly gentleman walks in through the front door. The woman of the house introduces the three young women to him. He nods kindly at Katyayini and her sisters and talks with them fondly. The sisters tell him how hard their father had worked for building this house and how he collected various plants and planted in the garden, and such.

After hearing their enthusiastic story, the older man says, “Girls, my son will be returning from abroad next month. He wants us to live with him. We are thinking of selling this house and moving in with him. We have already put it on the market. If one of you is interested, I am willing to sell it for less. Think about it and let me know. I noticed the affinity you seem to be having with this house. It seems this house brings memories of your parents to you.”

The three sisters are awestruck by his words. After their mother and father passed away, they never came to this place again. Their ties with this village had been broken. They came here because they wanted to break away from the web in which their hearts had been caught like in a spider’s web all these years. They came to the wedding and then to this village in which they had been raised. But they have no intention of settling down here. They all bought plots in the towns they are living now. But then, how come these words spoken by this elderly person have taken them to thirty-years back? Why? The thought starts picking their brains. They look at each other.

The same thoughts spring in their hearts simultaneously—they sold the property in the past because of the weight of the responsibilities on their shoulders. Now they are free from them. They are getting old. It is possible to take turns and each spend ten days at a time in this house built by mother and father, eat the fruits and vegetables from the garden raised by them, and live blissfully and away from all worries and vexations.

They tell him their thought, put down deposit, and have the papers drawn. They return to their homes jubilantly like three children.

[End]Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, September 2008.

(The Telugu original, tirigocchina baalyam, was published in priyadatta biweekly magazine, 2003.)