Muthamma and Pandyan – Family Short Story with Moral
It was a hot South Indian summer. The sun stared tirelessly from the sky, unmindful of clouds that floated past its face. The atmosphere was steel heat. Trees shrouded themselves with leaves in vain. Patches of wild green filled the fields.
Muthamma sat under a neem tree languidly waving an old newspaper. She was waving away the flies that buzzed around her sleeping baby. She was a simple woman working at construction sites when she wasn’t keeping an eye on her baby. The infant was fat and ebony with shiny skin that shone rich and black. She gently touched his soft black hair and fanned in more air even while she watched her husband in the field.
Pandyan sweated as he worked in the field. His two massive bulls ploughed the field effortlessly as he tanned in the eternal sun. The mud became a gooey chocolate slush, as he flicked his whip at the bulls, prodding them on. The soil was good and potent, storing in its womb the promise of a bountiful harvest.
Muthamma had woken early and cooked rice gruel and had ground mint chutney to go with it. The lovely aroma of rice cooking and mint filled the little house . Now she served Pandyan the gruel. He was through with ploughing. Having freed the bulls from the plough, he had tied them under the shade of a neem tree and had fed them fodder and water. And there they sat drooling froth and flicking their tails to keep the flies off.
So here we have an idyllic setting:
A contented farmer, fierce looking and healthy he wore his brown skin like a coat of mail, fortified by the sun.
A rustic simple woman, clad in a crisp red chungudi saree, smelling sweet of turmeric. She was naturally dusky. She had a thick short strand of jasmine tucked into her hair as was the custom of women hailing from Madurai and its neighbourhood. The sharp fragrance permeated the stagnant air around them, emanating from the tight white jasmine buds only just opening softly in bloom, spilling their sweetness into the mid afternoon heat. She watched her husband’s hunger abate as he slurped down the thick gruel and mint chutney. Her beautiful, dark midnight eyes melting at the sight of her baby still sound asleep….
A pair of bulls resting in the distant shade of a tree, well worked, well fed and well rested…..
A cool breeze rustling the warm stillness of this peaceful noon…..
Muthamma spread a coarse cloth upon which her husband lay at length, to snatch a midday wink of sleep.
The baby woke up, and let out a great cry that disrupted the peace and quiet. Crows flew away in fright, like fragments of the night sky. She watched cows grazing at a distance in the next field….she laid down near to her husband and tried in vain to sleep…. her mind still vigilant, keeping the flies off……
How did this young woman come to be here? Like any other village woman, born and bred in the sanctuary of remote villages, constituting over eighty percent of the Indian sub continent. That would be the immediate guess.
Not so though!
Their story is a long one, for neither Muthamma nor Pandyan had seen anything of a village since a year ago.
Muthamma hailed from a family of five, and she was the eldest.
She lived in the city of Madurai, with her family that knew nothing but hard times- her father having been a violent drunkard. The five children often slept without food, crouching wide eyed and frightened while their father beat their mother, in his drunken state. In the morning he did odd jobs, and spent his meagre income on drinks again at even tide.
Her mother bore it all, and slogged away washing dishes and cleaning homes all day. She tried to hide her money from her husband and bought food for the family, but inevitably, the husband always wangled the money out of her with sweet words or threats. She coughed piteously and the government hospital doctors certified she had Tb. She hardly had money for food leave alone medicine, so her mother ignored her health and one pallid night, had a coughing fit, vomited blood, and died at day break.
Muthamma carried the torment of grief deep within her and shouldered the family responsibilities as a matter of course.
Her father fumed in silence because the source of money had been severed. He felt no remorse over his wife’s loss. Within a span of a year, two of Muthamma’s siblings died of Tb, and she mothered the remaining two boys as best she could. She tried working in houses and construction sites.
One fine day, however, her father decided he had found a quicker and faster way to earn money, having watched one of his co-workers apply this method quite effectively.
He stopped Muthamma from going to work and said, they were going begging. At this Muthammma shuddered, for she would rather go hungry than beg, she said.
Her father doled her a few hard smacks across her face, and ordered her to mat her hair with wet mud and grime.
So off went Muthamma begging, repulsed to the core and thoroughly frightened and humiliated. The utter shame of begging hung about her like a wordless wraith. Her father accompanied her, of course and had a story to tell each donor they encountered. Muthamma had a marriage offer, but the bridegroom will not marry her till he gave two thousand rupee dowry. Muthamma dutifully repeated this story to every passerby, her hand stretched out, while her father limped behind for singular effect, as it were. They earned almost five hundred rupees the first day, for basically most Indians, in their generosity, like to see a young girl settle in life!
Muthamma hated the profession, in spite of the money that flowed in. She held on to some of the money for her brothers while her father blew the rest on drinks. Soon she found he grudged her even what she withheld for their food. The government had resourcefully granted free education for children. Hence she sent them to school where they were given free midday meals as well, and she felt content somewhat.
Pandyan, meanwhile, made his living as an auto driver. He was a duty conscious man, who detested his job, for his family had seen better times. A sudden financial misfortune had forced him to discontinue schooling and he took to odd jobs even as a boy.
And so it happened, as destiny would have it, Muthamma, in rags, and grime- matted hair came trudging with her father to the crowd- packed bazaar, where Pandyan halted his auto, waiting for a pick up. He leaned on his auto, whistling a tune, unheard for the din of people shopping and the traffic honking. Muthamma hesitated, for he was fierce looking even then, and she was sure he would shoo her away.
Her father prodded her though and she slowly made her way to him and her father repeated the tale about her dowry. Pandyan for some reason, eyed Muthamma for a while and said, “Forget the bridegroom, Ill marry you! Without a dowry too!”
Something within Muthamma broke like so many pieces of glass. She fell at his feet and cried her heart out. Pandyan looked down at her and saw her, a soft fragrant shenbagam flower at his feet. He didn’t see the grime and dirt. He didn’t smell the terrible stench!
And what of Muthamma’s father? He was uncontrollably furious, and argued his guts out. Some loiterers paused, and gave their point of view. Strangely, almost all on lookers were in favour of the marriage to Pandyan. They rebuked the old man who ought to be glad he was marrying his daughter off to an auto driver without a dowry! Her father’s pleas and arguments fell on deaf ears.
Muthamma wiped her eyes at length, took courage, and moved beside Pandyan. Her eyes were downcast….. Her father threatened and made as though to beat her. Pandyan stepped forward and said “I will take care of her, I will marry her”.
The look of terror on Muthamma’s face as she faced her father told him all. Muthamma left with Pandyan, her father threatening to go to the police. Muthamma and Pandyan picked up her siblings from the school.
The last I heard, she had admitted them in a boarding school run by Missionary Priests, and here they are being educated and taught a trade. Pandyan married Muthamma in a small temple under a banyan tree, by a calm blue- green river. Sold his auto, and with his little savings, bought this patch of land that earns them a reasonable income and thus the circuit ends returning us to the idyllic scene.
By Jayashree J