MADHAVI strode on. She was delighted. She raised her pavade to the level of her calf. She jumped again. Reaching the final step, she stopped; she let go of the bright blue pavade embroidered with silk flowers. Madhavi smiled joyfully. Looking down, she pretended to be giddy. Then, quickly, she pulled back the end of her pavade to her calf and ran down the stairs as fast as possible.
Fun, she thought, out of breath.
“You look delighted!”
Madhavi was startled for a moment. Her eyes glanced to her left and right.
Then, very politely, she rearranged the black mundani which covered her chest.
“It’s nothing, Ravi Mama. Just for fun.”
Ravi Kumar who had a thick moustache, smiled. He approached Madhavi and caressed her loosened hair. Madhavi bowed shyly. Her soft cheeks reddened.
“Paapa, you like running up the stairs?”
Madhavi nodded faintly. It was true that she enjoyed going up the stairs. That was the main reason for her visits to Ravi Kumar’s house every day. Or a secondary factor.
“Do you want to stay permanently in this house?”
Madhavi looked up at Ravi Kumar. He was thirty-two years old: twice her age. Ravi Kumar took the opportunity to gaze at her face for a long time. Then, at her body. Madhavi smiled shyly. Then she ran towards the front door.
“Hey, wait! What’s the reason for your visit, paapa?”
Madhavi stopped; she remembered the actual reason for coming.
“Haren’s pacifier was left behind just now,” she said while walking up the stairs. Yet, this time, she did not run like before; even though she really wanted to do so. “In Viji Mama’s room.”
In Vijay Kumar’s room, Madhavi looked at the books scattered on the floor.
“Untirutable,” she grumbled as she collected the books one by one and put them on the rack.
“Unthirutable,” she repeated.
Madhavi was not sure what language that was. According to Vijay Kumar, it was a colloquialism which could be translated as “unchangeable behaviour”.
Vijay Kumar was a year older than Madhavi. But he was really bright. Maybe he had a lot of blessings from Kalaimahal. He could speak English. He spoke fluently in Malay. He knew about Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination two years ago. He knew that Indonesia was in the midst of gaining her independence. Also, he knew stories of India’s independence.
Madhavi was grateful to be able to listen to those stories. Then, she prayed that her homeland would also obtain independence quickly.
For Madhavi, ever since her grandfather, Kumara Kurunadhar, had arrived here from Kerala as a kangani in the past and been involved alongside others in the economic development of Malaya, this land had become her motherland. Also, on that same basis, Vijay Kumar actively participated with other citizens to free this country from the shackles of the colonisers.
Vijay Kumar’s dream was for the ethnic parties of MCA, MIC and UMNO to unite, cooperate and work together towards independence.
“If not us, who else?” Vijay Kumar had once asked such a question. “If in Indonesia, there is General Sudirman, here too in this country, a Sudirman will be born!”
Madhavi normally giggled every time she heard such words. But it was not to make fun of him. And it was far from wanting to insult him. Madhavi greatly admired Vijay Kumar’s dream.
Educated people like Viji Mama needed to be in the forefront preventing the spread of colonial power, her heart whispered. And Madhavi would always be behind them with support and assistance.
Madhavi smiled to herself. When they were married later on, Madhavi wanted to actively join Vijay Kumar’s struggle for independence.
At that time, surely Viji Mama would teach me to speak English fluently. Surely Viji Mama would be a loving and caring husband, and ready to guide me, her thoughts ran on.
Madhavi covered her face with both hands. Bashfully and shyly, she imagined her future.
“What are you doing here?” She was greeted by a lad in a striped shirt of black, red and blue, with a big collar and purple pants. The hint of a moustache added to the glow on his face.
Madhavi immediately stood up from the chair facing the green metal window frame; she pretended to look for the pacifier which she knew for sure was on top of the piles of books of Subramaniam Barathi’s poems and Rabindranath Tagore’s collection of short stories.
“The pacifier.” Her voice was soft. Her cheeks were red.
Her eyes sparkled. Her heart beat fast. Her lips curved into a smile. The glass bangles on her wrists clinked.
Vijay Kumar picked up the pacifier and handed it to Madhavi. Madhavi took it and ran out of the room. She descended the stairs. Vijay Kumar grinned sweetly.
Madhavi stopped at the front door. Ravi Kumar walked towards her, smiling broadly.
“You cannot behave like this anymore. Walk; don’t run. You are sixteen now!”
Madhavi did not understand the reason for her uncle’s advice. Didn’t she always run away when her eyes met Vijay Kumar’s? Ravi Kumar surely didn’t know because Madhavi had never told anyone about it.
Maybe only she and Vijay Kumar were aware of the presence of those delicate feelings in her soul. Or maybe Vijay Kumar himself did not realise it. Maybe Vijay Kumar had yet to succeed in interpreting the meanings of the smiles, the bowing of the head and Madhavi’s feeling of shyness every time their eyes met.
“Tomorrow evening, I’ll be going to your house to ask for your hand. Hasn’t your mum informed you yet?”
Madhavi’s face was glowing. She looked at her uncle’s face. Then she turned towards Vijay Kumar who was standing outside his room, upstairs.
Ravi Kumar laughed softly. Madhavi’s head was bowing lower and lower out of sheer embarrassment. Shyly and bashfully, but happily.
“Isn’t he a patriotic soul? He is always busy. This evening, he wants to attend a speech on the freedom of women at the Siru Kambam Main Hall.”
adhavi looked at Vijay Kumar. He smiled indifferently. Then he went into his room as Madhavi stole another glance at him.
“It’s fine if he’s not present,” said Ravi Kumar, pouting his lips.
Madhavi ran out in delight.
“Hey! Don’t run ...”
Madhavi ran straight home without caring about his advice.
(The above extract from “Nayagi, Mistress of Destiny” was translated from Uthaya Sankar SB’s “Nayagi” and published in Sea of Rainbows: An Anthology of Multi-Cultural Short Stories from Malaysia, 2009. Click HERE for more articles in English.)