Where Peacocks Fly - 12
by Prema Sastri
Back to Chapter 11
Meera stood uncertain as to whether she should try to help restore order, or disappear before she had to face the vendors. Ramaswamy had laid a hand on Shankaran, and had hoisted him on his shoulder. Calling to Mangalam he walked briskly away. Meera followed though she could not help looking back and saw the vendor shaking a fist in her direction. They crossed the street and reached the comparative safety of a crowd of shoppers. Ramaswamy set Shankaran down and administered a sharp cuff on his ear. The boy rubbed his ear but did not cry. The rest of the shopping was completed in silence.
Meera thought of the last visit to her mother-in-law’s house in Tiruchirapalli. Her mother-in-law, an orthodox widow, had just had a bath and was about to go into the prayer room. Shankar had hurried across the room and collided with her. Her mother-in-law was furious. “Now I’ll have to have another bath and wash my clothes again. I am sure I shall catch a terrible chill. As it is I have not been feeling well since yesterday.” She let out a loud cough in verification. “My back is paining with all this extra work. One has nothing to do but look after a couple of children, and even that is not done properly.” Her mother-in-law limped towards the bathing room. Ramaswamy came in from the verandha.
“Really Meera,” he said, “you ought to have more consideration for my mother. As it is she has so much more work to do, now that we are here. She is breaking her back making snacks and sweets for us. The least you can do is to keep an eye on the children and see that they don’t come in her way.” A protest rose to Meera’s lips. Like all her protests it was never expressed. What was the use of pointing out that the extra work was unnecessary as her mother-in-law refused her offers of help? How could it help her to say that all the snacks were consumed by Ramaswamy? The constant feeling of being on trial had left her without an appetite. The children too felt the hostile atmosphere. They were cramped for lack of room and exercise and were seldom hungry. In any case the oily bondas and addais that her mother-in-law prepared was hard for them to digest. Sometimes she would get annoyed when they did not eat. “What is the use of my working hard all afternoon, if children refuse to eat what I have cooked? It looks as if it is below their dignity to eat Indian food.” Here she would sniff loudly. Ramaswamy would get up from his place and force the children to eat. In fear Meera too would swallow an extra mouthful. The next morning she and the children would have headaches and nausea.
Shankaran was calling for water. Meera filled a glass and gave it to him.
He was perspiring profusely. She remembered reading somewhere that excessive perspiration was the sign of an impending heart attack. Should she ring for the nurse? The nurse who had spoken to her was passing down the corridor. Meera called to her, and poured out her fears. The nurse picked up a towel and wiped the boy’s face. “Don’t be silly, Mrs. Ramaswamy. This is a sign that the boy is getting better. One of the junior doctors is at the desk writing up some case histories. If you like I’ll call him.” She did so.
A young doctor came in and smiled at Meera. He had the E.C.G. findings in his hand. “The E.C.G. reading is normal.” He said cheerfully. He put a hand on Shankaran’s forehead. “His fever is coming down. We’ll have to watch him for a day or two, but he should soon be alright.”
In a week Shankaran was sitting up in bed. Within a fortnight he was discharged from the hospital. Meera had kept a stock of rupee notes to tip the various attendants. To her surprise none of them were on the scene. She had expected a forest of hovering hands. She was glad she had tipped most of them during her stay in hospital. Ramaswamy had been annoyed. “They are being paid by the government already. You are only spoiling them.”
However, she had received such cheerful service and was so happy to see Shankaran cured that unknown to Ramaswamy she had disbursed generous amounts to the various hospital attendants.
When Meera returned home, she took up the threads of her daily life with a sense of shock. At first she had felt circumscribed. Soon she had got used to its limited space, the confines of its unchanging routine. It had saved her from having to make decisions and changes. In the evening they returned she noticed that Mangalam had grown much thinner. Her hair was tied in one plait and had lost its luster. “Yes I think I have lost a little weight,” she said in answer to Meera’s queries. “The maid servant never turned up or sent word. I think she has got a job with some foreigners.”
The next morning was a rush getting things ready in time for Ramaswamy and Mangalam. Shankaran was weak and needed looking after. Meera rang up Mrs. Lal and asked her to search for a servant. “These servants are all the same,” said Mrs. Lal. “No matter how well we treat them they are never satisfied till they get a job with a foreigner. There is a small girl available, but I don’t know how far she will be suitable.” The girl was sent and engaged by Meera. She was so tiny she could hardly hold a broom but Meera could not afford to refuse whatever help she could get.
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