Coconut pieces fell like snow down the shredder blade. Her thin frame bent double, Kalyani vigorously scraped the hell out of a coconut. From my perch on top of the steps in the veranda, I spotted a hen and her brood of chicks scurrying around for last morsels of food before they were caged for the night. A rooster sat sagely upon a branch.  As the light in the horizon dimmed, Kalyani unrolled her memories of home.

She was born into one of those respectable indigenous tribes of Wayanad. Shortly after hitting puberty, she fell in love with a handsome mason who came to her land seeking work. As the mason was of a lower caste, they eloped and got married secretly to escape the wrath of the Panchayat.

The house that the mason brought her into was no paradise. She had to work hard to feed her husband’s family too. Soon poverty and husband’s wayward life got better of her. She got into an affair and got pregnant.

Her in-laws reacted by closing the doors on her. That’s how she came with a tiny wailing baby on a rainy day looking for a place to sleep, at the very veranda were I was comfortably seated in my aunt’s house.

My uncle and aunt spared a little land along the border of their acres of land and helped her build a small house. She got wages for working in houses as well as in paddy fields during harvest times. But being of cantankerous nature, she often disappeared for weeks after quarrelling with my aunt.

After a long and hard day, she would wind down at the local toddy shop. As she walked towards her home she would scold her neighbours loudly and sing Malayalam songs about love into the night. One of those days, she had another bastard baby.

As the babies grew older, she gave them elementary school education and got them to work with her under construction contractors.  She did not fret with the usual mother’s anxiety about finding grooms for them. Instead she made them independent. They renovated the house and brought their first TV home. When the first-born had an affair with a Muslim, who left her after a short stint, she did not swamp herself with self-pity. She worked hard and after paying bit by bit, bought from my uncle the land where their home stood.

Kalyani smiled as she said that her daughters may not get married the traditional way. They are not pretty or flirtatious enough to rope in a guy either. But they are brave and proud. They know they are here today because they survived yesterday.


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