What happened to Saraswathy

Juliet looked with curiosity at the little packet her dad was holding. He had come back for good after retirement to his hometown Kerala from Bangalore to join her and mother, who were already settled in Kerala 10 years back due to the strong pressure exerted by her mother who wanted to come back to her hometown at least in her old age for she was fed up with the life in another state for quarter century.

Juliet asked her Dad, "Dad, what is that you are holding so preciously so long. I don't see anything special from outside." Juliet felt that there was pain in her Dad's voice when he replied. "It is sand. A handful of sand where our house stood. Where all six of you were born and brought up." Since three days her Dad was busy unpacking the packages that he sent by Road transport after disposing the house and plot we owned at Bangalore. It's better to say houses, because other than the house we lived, we had three other little houses given out for rent. Seeing the sentimental nostalgic scenario, Juliet's mother intervened. "Well this is our hometown, our church, our people and our language. You used to cough daily at that place, but now I find you in good health. This is the ancestral place where we are born and we should die here to be buried." Mom voted her "Sons of the soil spirit." Even the Arabs who developed their country purely with the help of foreigners or expatriates were keen in Localisation. Juliet knew that her Dad was not only a landlord in Bangalore but a person of reputation. Being the PRO of the prestigious firm HAL established by the British before independence was not an ordinary post. Juliet spent only her childhood there, later she had to settle in Kerala along with her mother leaving behind the elder ones with her Dad, as she being the youngest was tied with her mother.

Sensing her Dad's sentimental state, Juliet thought she would lighten the atmosphere and casually stated, "Anyway the land and the house did fetch a fortune, didn't it Dad?" He paused to reply "...hmm but because after that unfortunate incident in one house, we had to reduce the prize for the entire plot and we didn't get the anticipated amount." "Really?" Juliet didn't know about that as she was back here at Kerala. So people black- listed that home as haunted one. Dad replied, "Yes, as you see people never come out of their superstition." Juliet had completed her Degree exams and was waiting for her results, meanwhile enjoying the period prior to PG Course. She spent most of her time with her favourite hobby -reading. But now seated in her room with a book and she was not able to concentrate. So one of their house was looked down as a haunted one, this thought kept on haunting Juliet. What happened to Saraswathy Akka? Thank God she was not there to witness that pathetic scene of Saraswthay Akka. She knew that her Dad and Mom are not going to narrate the entire incident. But Juliet who had finished climbing the ladder of teenage and was 20 now, tired to put the pieces of the Jig Jaw Puzzle in order.

Juliet remembered very well that she was only 7 years old when she met Saraswathy Akka for the first time. A tall, charming, dark complexioned, can say honey coloured lady with black curly knee length hair, always with a shy expression. Anantharayar had occupied one of the houses for rent one month before his marriage that Juliet's Dad has owned. Then he brought Saraswathy Akka the newly wedded bride from his hometown Chennai to Bangalore. She didn't know anyone there. So whenever Juliet and her friends peeped into that little house when Ananthrayar left for office, she came out smiling at us. All of them used to gaze at her with admiration. If a poet or artist had been there, he would have definitely made her a character. The face always coated with saffron and the palm too had that colour as she applied it. She had a red nose stud and to match with it a bright red kumkum line in the head at the centre of the parted hair. Different coloured glass bangles on both her hands which made cling clang noise whenever she tried to explain things to us with her hands as we had language problem. The most interesting of all was the U shaped toe ring that adorned her 2nd toe in the right leg. Children used to touch that gently when she sat on the Veranda of the house to chat. She explained that it was inserted by her husband as a part of the marriage ritual. The next thing Juliet remembered was Saraswathy Akka in her pregnancy state and after that delivering a dark chubby baby. Children used to have their turn in cuddling the baby Roopan when she gently placed him upon each ones lap. The other tenants in the remaining two little houses were a family from Coorg with 3 children and in another a young handsome bachelor Ponappa from Coorg. These people got along fine as they spoke the same language. Evenings were filled with loud voice and laughter. Coorg people were pretty, loving and merry going.

That was the time Juliet had to leave Bangalore and settle down at Kerala. The next long visit Juliet had was after the completion of her 10th standard, waiting for the results nearly 3 months. But Juliet had a shock when she saw Saraswathy Akka. There was no more charm. Eyes were not twinkling. Shocking part is, she had her hair cut in an awkward style just covering her ears. Some clinging to the scalp. Juliet observed that, one of her palm was twisted and looked semi-paralysed. With a dry smile of recognition she asked, "Juliet?...so you are back...? "Yeah... its vacation for me." Juliet somehow controlled herself for she was totally confused, as clinging to her saree was a little fair boy with a beaming smile. Juliet immediately asked, "Who is this smart boy?" Juliet missed an pained expression which passed Saraswathy's face when she replied. "This is Roopan's brother." Juliet waited anxiously for her sister to return from office that evening. As soon as her sister Theresa entered the house Juliet asked, "What happened to Saraswathy Akka? Her hair, her charm and her health?" Theresa paused for a while. She was composing in mind as to what exact words she need to say for explaining things to a 15 years old sister. She said, "Saraswathy is not okay, she is undergoing treatment. Her partial paralysis is due to shock treatment. She cut off her long hair all by herself." "How about Ananthrayar?" I asked. She replied, "He is totally boozed these days."

After a few days, Saraswathy approached Juliet, while she was watering the plants. "Can we go for a matinee? There is a good tamil movie running at Rajeswari Theatre." I was excited and told her, "Why not, am bored here." So we went for movie together. Unlike the Saraswathy I knew earlier she was quite silent now. The little sweet boy always with a beaming smile took turn in holding my hand while we walked to the theatre. The mother and son looked like day and night.

That evening when Theresa returned, Juliet excitedly told her, "I saw a movie, a real love story starring Kamal Hassan and Sreepriya." Theresa with a raised eyebrow immediately asked, "With Whom?" Juliet answered, "Who else, our Saraswathy Akka." "Don't ever go anywhere with her. She is not a good woman." There was no further explanation from Theresa. Juliet was hurt and confused. But then things were left as it was. Vacation was over. Juliet resumed her higher studies back at Kerala. After a few years, it was Juliet's mother who shared the sad new which she had known through a letter from her Dad. "Saraswathy had committed suicide." She hung herself in the ceiling of the house they have rented. Her mother who never indulges in any sort of gossip stories of others; never gave further explanation.

But now here dad had come back to settle and had to struggled to dispose the house just because Saraswathy committed suicide. Juliet went back to that vacation period in mind. What was it that Saraswathy spoke last to her. Yes, she remembered, She asked, "Do you know anything about Ponappa, the bachelor who rented another house of yours? Does your Dad have his address?" I didn't know why she enquired about him. But Juliet remembered when she conveyed the same to Theresa, the reply she gave was not clear at that time. Theresa had replied, "Tell her that we do not know or have any details of Ponappa other than that he as taken a transfer to Coorg. Then lowering her voice Theresa had stated, "May be she hopes her son would meet his father. Poor thing! An exact carbon copy. Anybody can guess." Juliet couldn't put the correct piece of the puzzle then but now she could guess, what happened to Saraswathy...

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