Kaveri - the Girl Child.
by Suryaprabha Easwar
(Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Prelude: Kaveri is a six year old orphaned girl child in the south eastern coast of the Indian subcontinent who lost her mother in a natural calamity (the deadly Tsunami) and afflicted with a killer disease. She is a carefree child living day by day lovingly unaware of what future has in store for her. The short story is dedicated to “The Girl Child of India.
Kaveri - A Short Story
The huge dark clouds melted away giving way to the sun who seemed to muscle his way into the sky after a lazy day’s rest. It had been pouring heavily over Devipattinam for the past few days and the Met. Department had warned, this would last for another few weeks before the autumn sets in. Kaveri was looking, eyes rolled up at the sky, a long solitary stare, wondering “Why isn’t the sky looking bright today?”. She had one hand on her cheek and the other making marks on the dull brown sand of the Devipattinam beach. She had a dark brown skin and body donned in a large-size blue flowery gown. Her ears were pierced but had no earrings and her feet bare. The brown hair was cut short like a boy. She had dark bright eyes and gleaming teeth, slightly over-sized for the small aching jaws. “You are growing now…” Shanta amma had said, “and you will be growing more teeth”.
It was Sunday, a holiday for her and the morning gave her a chance to recoil into her own small world and relate to nature, away from the busy week days when she would spend most of the time making soft toys, playing and doing chores at Baal Niketan, her one and only HOME. Not that she did not like her stay there - with all the love and care showered upon her by Shanta amma and Father Joseph; it was simply that sitting here on the wrecked boat of the young fisherman Abdul and looking at the sunset and sunrise above the greenish-blue wavy horizon just made her feel complete.
Kaveri was a six year old girl child, deposited at the orphanage Baal Niketan, a privately owned non-profit organization, which had extended its kindness to accommodate the orphans and women who had lost everything including the loved ones in natural calamities or accidents. She was under the foster care of Shanta amma, the care-taker for the orphanage, and used to help her with small chores around the place like watering the plants, dusting the doorways etc. Kaveri was also getting a small income on daily basis for the soft toys which she made out of wool, cloth rags and lining materials collected from the nearby tailor shops. She knew she could get some extra income if she worked on Sundays too, but she did not care. She was not interested in savings. Amma had advised her “My child, live life one day at a time and live to its fullest. God has put us in the world and he knows how to take care of us too.” Shanta amma, to her was the only Mother she knew existed. She had over-heard the elders in the orphanage talking about her on several occasions in the past and to some of the visitors who came to see her.
She understood, it was some other woman who had given birth to her before and she had come to the orphanage at the time when one of the deadliest gestures of natures had struck the shores of Ramanathapuram district in the South-eastern coast of India – the Tsunami on December 26, 2004.
Her natural mother had died shortly after that. She had heard stories about this from the locals who used to meet up at Ashram on various occasions and she knew she was called “The Tsunami child” for she was handed over at the ashram just after the disaster. She was just about three then. She never thought who her father could be and strangely never felt the need to know. Her only father was Father Joseph from the Oriyur church who visited the orphanage twice a week. He often brought small gifts for Kaveri which was always reciprocated with a tight hug and a slight kiss on the bearded cheek of the old man.
Kaveri suddenly looked up away from her thought. At some distance she saw groups of families. Ah! Sunday morning and city-dwellers would come out to have a day-long picnic and make the beach dirty. Sunder ( the rag-picker-cum-cleaner) and his friends will have a tough time tomorrow morning cleaning the beach sands. She then turned and her gaze shifted to two young children, a boy and a girl who were making a sand castle… ‘I know,’ she thought ‘I have tried this several times and the waves sweep them away every-time, but it is interesting too.’ She then looked down at her herself and remembered fondly the faces of the white couple who had come to see her last Christmas and had gifted her some gowns and lots of eatables. She remembered the day very well…….they had gone around the orphanage with amma, visited the classrooms, the living rooms of the children, seen the children playing and also took her out to the church that day. That was a Sunday too.
They were talking to amma about taking her with them but something happened after that which was beyond her understanding and they never returned to the orphanage after that. “They are sweet and kind, aren’t they?” she had asked Shanta amma after they left. “Indeed they are and they have come a long way to see the children in our ashram.” amma had replied, but she did not utter a word more than that to Kaveri’s surpise. The old woman usually was very patient and told long stories to children when they insisted, and taught them small lessons in science and literature on the weekdays. In her mind Kaveri thought “probably because I am special, amma would never give me away to anyone.” She used to call the old lady ‘amma’ meaning Mother in Indian. The thought made her smile to herself and she looked up at the sky again. This time the sun was shining bright and she instinctively covered her forehead with her small brown palm.
She knew she could not go out on a picnic with her family – mother, father, brother or sister like the people scattered on the beach – but she also felt great that she was always treated specially by the orphanage-residents. She had a reason to be proud of … that day.
Somebody waved at her from a distance, she could not see clearly, though she waved back. But she did not budge from her place. She knew she was being watched over by Abdul kaka’s wife from the nearby shanty lest she wandered away in the crowd. “Never talk to strangers.” Amma had reminded her several times.
As she sat there, she noticed her shadow had just slid below her now and realized kaka would soon return from the sea with his catch for the day and they would have lunch cooked by his wife. Sunday was always special for Kaveri for so many reasons – she would have an extra item in her plate today – “fish” which she loved to eat more than anything, even more than the candies and ice creams brought by kind ashram-visitors often. There was something special about this fisherman couple. Their small shanty always made her feel cozy and comfortable.
She knew there was some reason, probably something from the past why the fisherman and his wife loved her so much, but she had not got the chance to ask and learn. She knew certain things were not nice to ask and for some reason she knew she would not get a satisfactory answer. It was , in fact, the fear of the unknown , the basic human insecurity which stopped her from asking Shanta amma the questions she always wanted to ask “ Who brought me to the ashram ? Don’t I have any relatives like – an uncle or aunt or grandparents?”
A humming sound far up in the sky diverted her thought back to her surroundings and she looked up again. There was a airplane tearing past the clear blue sky and she thought “ I want to be up there, some day..” She turned as she felt the gentle touch on her shoulders and a wave of happiness surged down her body to see him return “the sea is not safe during this season”…she knew ‘thank God, kaka returned safely.’ . Abdul kaka had just anchored his rented boat a little distance away and walked up to her. His own boat was wrecked during the sea-storms last monsoons.
They went together to his small house and squatted down on the floor near the earthen oven and she sniffed the hot flavoury aroma of para , her favorite fish and freshly cooked rice. There was also a light gravy of cooked daal to soak up the rice. Kaveri had a hearty lunch as she knew she would only be able to get this luxury a week later again. She smiled at the fisherman’s wife and waved at her as Abdul was getting ready to take her back to the orphanage.
There was one more reason why Sunday was exciting for Kaveri. She was regularly visited by Doctor Kumar on Sunday evenings for special check ups while the other children in the orphanage only were seen when they fell sick. She knew, “Probably, because amma loves me more and takes extra care of me.” What she did not know was - why.
As Doctor Kumar did his usual ritual of checking Kaveri, she chirped as usual: ‘ Doctor, you should take me to you clinic someday. I want to see the bone models you keep there.’ “Sure..someday soon.” replied the doctor. “One more thing, doctor, today I could not see clearly while I was in the beach….:”
Doctor Kumar turned his face away from Kaveri’s questioning eyes to hide the changing colour on it as his eyes began to moisten while he still held her. He had begun to see what was coming. The signs were already showing up…..the pain was yet to come. He finished off his check up. ‘You’ll be alright, he said, we all will pray for you.’ Once again, she felt proud of herself. But she did not realize why.
Copyright © 2007 Suryaprabha Easwar