(the last part I’m putting of my first-ever attempt at a historical novella/novel. My second one is pretty much on the drawing board, and will be done in some time)
Chandrasegaran knew that it was well past his normal sleeping hour, but still kept up. He, after all, had company tonight.
His second cousins, who’d been on a visit to Thanjavur.
He was using his father’s huge, cozy bed with its beautifully patterned drapery and sheets, and in fact, that entitled him to Brahmarajan’s whole room. He knew that his mother wouldn’t turn up all of a sudden, so thanked his lucky stars. She spent a very long time in the bath, after all. And this room…made her…feel strange…..
“Tell me how we will plan this, whole wedding that they will be having.” He was, of ocurse, always eager to start his conversations with the issues that his companions faced. “Really, I must say that having such a big sacrificial fire for such a small ceremony will be unnecessary. What is he going to spend, I wonder? I mean, with all the money that the man makes and the amount his family dump on him, he must be having enough to throw around and waste in general on such a massive thing.”
The two young men on the bed both laughed as well.
“Tell me Chandrasegaran, what sort of wedding would you have? When will you have yours anyway?” This was Nilakanth, the older of the two, who didn’t look like the person to pass up an invitation to any woman’s house for a good night. This question put Chandrasegaran on guard in an instant. He inspected the faces of both Nilakanth and his other relation, Devam, searching their eyes for an answer of some sort.
“Well,” he began after a moment’s pause, “I’ll be turning sixteen tomorrow, so maybe”-he wrung his hands a bit-“I expect to have my wedding soon. Maybe to some girl I’ve never even met before, don’t get me wrong. It was how my father had got married, after all. Strange thing is, it’s not just a wedding I want, with hundreds of guests, a big ceremony and a jeweled bride. I want a marriage one day. One that lasts for life, one that’s true.”
His eyes darted as he sighed and stretched out on the bed, cradling the pillow.
“That’s what I want. But really now, how is your uncle going to pay for something like that? What has the bride’s family offered to give him?”
“The bride,” answered Nilakanth, “owns many acres of paddy lands in the Kaveri as I’ve heard, and is of a good age too. Lucky.” He and Devam both shook their heads in acknowledgement.
“But wait, what does your mother say about this?” he asked Chandra. The boy’s head cocked up suddenly. “I…I don’t know. Ever since my brother went abroad to fight alongside my father, and in fact, ever since Father came back home, I haven’t talked to her that much. Well, it was nice talking to the two of you. Goodnight then.” Clearly, it seemed to the young men that talking about Minakshi had put their relation at ease. Poor Chandrasegaran was after all, just a boy. How else could he feel anyway?
Minakshi strummed her long fingers across the strings of the old Saraswati veena as she gazed out of the window of her room. All around, her old family finery hung around, and the haunting moonlight lit them up, casting faint glimmers that danced on the walls and on her skin. She kept looking at the Temple, its central tower, its sky-kissing vimana standing erect and proud against the cold night. It was always beautiful at night. How so many intricate and delicate carvings had been incised into such hard granite, she would, and could, never know. Worshippers from everywhere seemed to flock here at the Big Temple, simply to awe at its majesty and splendor at times. Very few of them really did have something to say to the gods.
Sure, she’d been there.
For an instant, she strummed her veena once more. She moved over to the tuning pegs, turning them to adjust her pitch.
A low, hollow note carried through the room, rising on the cool air and then dying away before her. Where it ended its journey was something that Minakshi had always kept around, for a very long time. The white sari. She looked at it curiously. “When you marry a Hindu man,” her aunt had told her one day, many years ago, “and he passes away, you have the option of living the life of a nun, forever austere, forever in white, forever in mourning.” Somehow, Minakshi felt a cold shiver down her spine, and the white sari seemed to call her.
Unblinkingly, she arose.
Quickly closing the window and the curtain, and locking the heavy door, Minakshi stripped off her bodice and her soft, warm red sari with its gold and green floral borders. The soft light from the lamps around her highlighted the right side of her perfect figure, thus lighting up the walls as well as they reflected off her. She inspected her shadow for a minute.
This was what Brahmarajan had seen when he’d married her. What Kassapa had wanted during their brief fling. Minakshi ran her hands all over herself, caressing her neck and torso, lying on the bed and letting her hair flow across the covers once more. Like she was young, Like when Brahmarajan had taken her to their nuptial bed, and loved her more passionately than she could ever have been loved…Absently, she played with her hair as she looked into the mostly darkened out room.
The sari was all that seemed bright and inviting…
And Minakshi’s mind went fuzzy as she wrapped the white sari around herself. She felt its fabric cradling her form, wrapping tightly around her hips as she pinned the tight, white bodice at last. It was like she was forever born to wear it, to live with it.
It clung to her like her sons had when they were little, like when her husband had when he had needed her on their nights together. Minakshi, for a minute, found it difficult to breathe, but finally got the hang of it. Well, she had got this when she was much, much smaller, and now her large bosom felt suffocated with this bodice embracing it, holding on like it never wanted to leave…
She had married a Hindu, she was not one!
Minakshi was not like those women who would follow their men like dogs…who would follow them to the pyre just because their religion told them to….or be lonely old widows who spent an eternity weeping…
She was proud…
She was proud…
“I will not!!!”
A sudden burst of energy and she ripped through the white fabric. The sari and all of its threads seemed to be like tears getting shed into the night as she flung its remains onto the floor, quickly reaching for her old one, and rejoicing in its red warmth as she felt it cradle her body and finally, it was done.
“Goodbye, memories, goodbye cruel fate.” She said it with a hint of sarcasm as she looked at the white sari, lying in a wretched heap on the carpeted floor.
“Looks like I’ve never needed you, and guess what? I never will.”
She let herself breathe once more. Minakshi then unlocked the great door quickly, striding out of her room and stepping lightly down the staircase as she wandered the rooms of the house. She was looking for one room and one room only though. This was in the centre of the house itself, always kept locked up, with absolutely no furniture whatsoever. It was a flat, great expanse of polished marble floor and a few mats kept rolled up in a corner. There used to be a carpet here, but no more, for it had attracted rats, and the house had become a breeding ground for them. So, this slippery but beautiful surface was all that remained.
Minakshi locked the door firmly behind her.
And then she closed her eyes for an instant, hands clapped in prayer as her mind was filled with a million sounds. Drums of various kinds, brought from the farthest corners of India, Lanka and Ramanya in the east. The rhythm was unending, the tunes were so heavenly, played rather randomly but they were like an orchestra of the gods. Everything made perfect sense to Minakshi, as she pricked up her ears further. The drummers kept on going, going, going forever, as she got into her favorite pose, legs apart, raised arms, hands in their mudra, ready for the time to come out….
Then came the haunting, silent tunes of the lyre, or as it was called in Tamil, the yal.
This lute, her favorite instrument, sent its melodies shooting through her head, and filled her up. Minakshi put one foot forward and nature took over. A light wind blew past the paper-thin curtain that covered the window, and it shook slightly, as did a wind chimer that joined in the orchestra. As she swirled, her hair was lit up by a stray moonbeam, so soft, so wild, so free and heavenly, with its jasmine-scented oils to give it a bit more appeal. And Minakshi herself felt lit up as she moved with the music within her, her whole body now doing what it had been doing for years.
“Still got it, still got it,” she laughed over the music, “no widow’s saris for me! I danced once, I kept dancing, I will dance till I die.” She suddenly felt herself in the middle of a pooja in the Temple, with her whole troupe, swaying wonderfully to the beat of the instruments that flowed in her blood and penetrated her. The youngest of the group too. It was all a religious ceremony, true, but that was when she’d been drawing out the attentions of many men with her unusual northern fairness, slender waist, full bosom and perfectly shaped hips. And her expressions. Minakshi sweated, and her sari was soon soaked as she went through the final moves of her dance. Now she spun, and fell down in a heap on the floor, panting and breathing, stomach heaving with every gasp, her sari feeling loose around her.
“Still got it.” That was all she could say as she sat there in respite.
She felt alive.
She truly, truly felt proud.
“Mother? Mother, are…are you there?”
It was Chandrasegaran.
“What?” Minakshi’s voice still held little quivers and the signs of exertion as she panted, her body glowing with sweat. “Wait, let me…let me get the door.”
That was the reply he’d expected, right? She sensed tenseness on the other side of the door. There was a pause in which she seemed to be ill at ease. It was like Minakshi wanted to be able to embrace the inviting white fabric of her other sari, but she still managed to put on her usually spirited voice, “Yes, son, what is it? What is it, Chandrasegaran?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”
He too felt the weight in the air as he pushed his body to the wooden door, feeling the hardness of the carvings under his naked torso and slightly rough hands. However, the click of the lock being opened, sounded so welcoming that he, with a sudden, “Mother,” got in too quickly. Chandrasegaran almost slipped, and Minakshi quickly steadied her son, arms around his waist.
She smiled at him, or at least tried to.
“I heard you talking to yourself here. And what are you doing up?” he further pressed. Minakshi just didn’t say anything, but stroked the side of his face with her hand. This was not the boy she had known all this while, was he? He was tall and slim, slimmer overall than the now slightly bulky Sivapalan, but with features that were more finely chiseled, and lean, solid muscle from his constant martial arts sessions with various warriors and masters. For one thing, this boy’s hair was always at shoulder-length, not something the her son Sivapalan would ever agree to.
But those eyes, thought Minakshi.
Such solemn eyes.
It was like Chandrasegaran was pondering some high-off truth, or that he was really, truly sad now. Yet, was he? She couldn’t read his expression, for his lips were together, his face was taught.
“Chandra…I’m alright, Chandrasegaran, I’m quite alright. Look,” she laughed, “I’m fine! Perfectly fine.”
“Really? Well I don’t but it. I know you’re sad about Sivapalan leaving, Mother. You have aright to feel that way, but I just”-he took a deep breath to cleanse his mind-“I just want to talk to you now.” His mother had turned her back on him, and she was now beside the window. He was clearly aware of her perfect figure, caught in the wandering moonbeams, how well she looked, silhouetted against the soft drapes. Wasn’t she interested? Didn’t she want to talk to him anymore?
“All I want to know is, why all the avoidance? Because of what I said long ago, is it? Well, look, I may be growing up now, but I still need you a lot, so…can’t we just talk?”
Suddenly, she turned and strode over to him.
“Chandra, Chandrasegaran, really, I just don’t get you anymore! I mean, one moment I’m smothering you, the next you want my love so badly, what is it now? And yes, I forgave you years ago, alright?”
She stopped awhile, just short of him while he stared into her eyes, although still looking down at her feet and arms, scared of what her reaction might turn out to be.
“When’s your brother coming back?”
“Still about Sivapalan? Look, I miss him, but”-
“Ah, there it is again! See, why do you put me through this strange situation my boy? First it’s your brother who finds that Lankan child and becomes his best friend, and then it’s his father who comes back after a century, and I…I need to worry, you silly little boy! He is on the front lines in some damned island, and I’m not supposed to worry? Is that what you’re saying? I mean, Chandrasegaran, this house has become a real hellhole for me, I feel so…”
She hesitated, biting her lip and fumbling for the right word…
They both said it.
The eyes of the pair met, and Minakshi took his head, placing it against hers.
But he drew away.
“I’m, I’m so sorry,” he cursed, biting his lip in anger at his thoughts. “Mother, please, look, I feel alone in this house too. I can understand how Kassapa got to you, but I won’t do the same thing! I only need a friend, and you’re all I’ve got.” Was that a tear in his eye? She gently took his hands and put them around her waist once more as she cradled him gently, like she’d done all those years ago. “It’s alright, it’s alright,” she sighed to him, as he felt his hands grow tense and sweaty, “we all feel that way once in our lives.”
“And I thought I was the controlled one of the family. Clearly my father’s rubbed off on me too much! But look, anyway,” said Chandrasegaran, trying to swallow down some of his disgust, “I’m also worried about Sivapalan, about my brother. And the Lankan boy, his good friend Kush. I have heard tell, and I don’t know if it’s true. Kush likes both men and women, but women more. I hope he doesn’t change and something happens to Sivapalan. That Kush! He’s really, really strange, that child. I’m worried, Mother, I’m worried for my brother.”
He drew away from her again, looking her in the eyes.
“And Father too.”
Minakshi saw him turn away, but called his name again. He faced her, and she smiled. A real smile, a smile worthy of a goddess. She slowly let the sensual rhythms flow again, music running through her ears as she lifted her arms and drew in a breath of refreshing air. Chandrasegaran felt her eyes piercing into him as she stepped to some unheard beats in her heart. The mudra was back, and it was all an invitation as she moved lightly across the slippery floor again with the elegance, poise and grace of a dancer half her age. After all, Minakshi had never really looked forty. She never tried anything to make her face more beautiful. She just was, and to Chandra, always would be as he attempted to follow her in her movements.
“You can’t catch me, my boy,” she smiled with a wink as she tossed her glossy mane with a whirl of her feet.
“I take that as a challenge,” came the reply. Minakshi smiled.