When the fleeting thoughts of home came into her mind, Ponnu felt the itch of tears in her eyes. She blinked them back and looked around her new home – her husband’s. Though just a farmer’s home, it reflected the warmth in the hearts of people who lived there. The smell of the new coat of whitewash still lingered around and the mud floor was smooth from constant use. A few photographs of the gods on the wall, two wicker chairs and a floor mat were the only luxury to be found around. But they had built a new room for the newly weds and symbolically adorned it with a baby’s face laughing out of a calendar.
Ponnu’s in-laws were the kind sort. They treated her just the way they treated their daughter, Ammu. What more could Ponnu ask when all she heard were the stories of daughters-in-law burnt to death over dowries all around her.
Little did she know that her content was going to be briefly ruptured.
One fine morning Ponnu was pulled out of the kitchen by a very excited Ammu. She took her to the river bank. “It’s the kodanki”, Ammu cried as they neared a gypsy camp settled there that morning. The kodanki sat on the grass in a messy wrap of a sari. She had a big, dirty hobo bag made of cloth over her shoulder and inside that slept a tiny baby close to the mother’s skinny chest.
Ponnu turned and looked quizzically at Ammu who said “Get a tattoo done! Amma won’t allow me to because I’m not married…” Ponnu smiled and walked over to the gypsy. She asked “Will it pain much? Can I work after getting one?” kodanki pointed to a thin long needle resting on a bed of burning charcoal and said “Don’t worry ma, I have tattooed a thousand hands with this needle. Everybody started working from the next minute itself because I have this very special ash which I smear on the tattoo. You just tell me which tattoo you want. Looking at you, I have a feeling you are newly married. Then you should get the lotus. The lotus in full bloom at the sight of her husband, the Sun.”
Ponnu was delighted and sat on her haunches next to the kodanki and extended her wrist. The kodanki pulled out the needle with a small piece of cloth and dipped it in a dark liquid. The first prick did not hurt at all. But with the subsequent ones, blood started dripping down on the grass. Kodanki started singing a lullaby and Ponnu sat lost in it by the river in the morning sun.
Fifteen minutes later Kodanki was done and smeared a fistful of ashes on the new tattoo. She told Ponnu not to wash it for a day. Ponnu paid her 50 paisa and went in search of Ammu, who had happily skipped off to the gypsy camp.
Hardly had they reached home when the numbness gave away to searing pain. Ponnu bit her lip to prevent crying loud. Tears glided down her smooth cheeks. Ammu ran to fetch her mother, who made Ponnu sit down and put a wet cloth on the wound. She told her not to worry about the kitchen and hurried off to make the dinner. Ponnu’s cheeks burned with shame. How could she sit in her room when her mother-in-law toiled in the kitchen! She was sure Kannan would be all furious once he gets to know.
And how right she was! As soon as Kannan returned from the field, Ammu reported the news dutifully. He did not utter a word. Ponnu waited around him while he ate with a now-swollen wrist and wishing he at least shouted at her for once and for all. But the uncomfortable silence just spread all around and everybody left them alone to eat.
Once they were alone, Ponnu could bear it no more. She wept freely and more than the pain, it was the silence that was wrenching her heart. She told Kannan that she will never allow his mother to work so much and that she never would have got the tattoo had not the Kodanki mesmerized her with the story of lotus blooming for her husband. All the while Kannan just listened quitely while eating and once done, left for his room.
Ponnu cleaned up after him and thought how much he must hate her. She inwardly cursed Ammu who was the real culprit here and who was now softly snoring in her room. She turned down the oil lamp and tiptoed into her room hoping Kannan would be fast asleep.
But he was not. He sat waiting for her on the charpoy. Ponnu went and sat by his side, eyes down. She felt the tears start again at the bottom of her throat. Kannan slowly took her wrist and checked the damage. He then raised it to his lips, kissed the inflammation softly and asked, “Are you okay?”