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Chapter 33: Public Enemy
"Enikku kanam, enikku kanam! Moluttikku kanan pattanille?" ( I see her. I see her! Don't you?) she heard him ask and shook her head slowly as she stared out the window at the spot that her brother was staring at, evidently seeing things that she couldn't.
"Valiyammayi allanurappano?"(Are you sure it's not great-aunt?) she asked, fighting the icy fingers of fear that had clutched her belly ever since her brother had come for this vacation.
"Aa kuttikku kanilla, molutti! Ninakkentha kanan vayyathe?" (She has no eyes, molutti! How can you not see her?)
"Unniyettan mathralle valiyammayiye kandittullu. Njanum ichechiyum ithu vare kandittillallo. Chillapam Unniyettanu mathramyirikkum anganeyulla athmakkale kanal pattuvollu". (Only you have seen great-aunt; neither I nor didi have seen her. So, maybe this is like that too. Maybe only you can see such souls.)
Even though various family members and visitors to the house had occasionally had sightings of her great-aunt, of the three of them, only her brother had ever seen Lakshmi's ghost. And it had never scared him before. As old as their house was and as old as their family was, there have been a number of such stories over many years and more than a few ghosts, although in her lifetime it had only ever been Lakshmi.
The fact that her brother now appeared to be seeing, if she was interpreting his ramblings correctly, the ghost of his now long-deceased eye-donor was…mystifying.
The girl had been dead eight years now and in all this time, he had never talked about seeing her. But then again, her brother had also not been taking drugs in the previous eight years. She didn't know what sort of drugs he was taking, nor did she know all the various types of drugs out there, but she knew for sure that he was on something. His mood and behavior had become erratic, he disappeared for long periods into the room overlooking the woods and stayed locked in there, he constantly complained of dry mouth, had lost a whole lot of weight, and his eyes were sleep-deprived or bleak. He tried to hide it from their father, but mainly by disappearing somewhere into the house.
None of them talked about it openly. They couldn't. Her father obviously couldn't talk about it with his young girls. And she and her sister would not acknowledge it either. They were too afraid of what was happening to their brother. Not to mention their fear that if they talked about it, it would truly be real.
The next few days were relatively quiet, only because he suddenly seemed to take to sleeping. She hadn't realized that she had taken to standing guard for him until on her fifth time doing the rounds by the room where he slept that day, she found her father inside the room. She hid just outside the room and watched her father just stand by the bed and watch her brother sleep. There were times when her brother mumbed, often things that made no sense. After some time she saw her father rub quickly at his eyes and she hid behind the open panel of the door as he walked out of the room.
"Avide olichu nikkanda kuttiyee." (You don't have to hide there, my girl.) He said as he left, catching her by surprise.
She found her father going through her brother's bags later than evening; after a while, he found a bag with little squares of translucent paper and took it away.
That next morning she saw her brother tear his bag apart trying to find what her father had taken out. When he couldn't, he shut himself in his room all day and all night. Her father told both her and her sister to leave their brother be. He finally came out of the room the day after and wandered the hallways for a long while, preoccupied and seeming lost.
And she finally lay down on her sister's lap and cried herself silly.
Later than evening, her sister started playing the veena. She played it for almost a half hour before she saw her brother walk over and sit down next to her sister. Her sister played for almost an hour after that… until that lost look finally vanished from her brother's eyes.
The next day was better. And within two days, her old brother was almost back. He spent another week with them for his vacation.
The day before he left, she heard her father ask him to stay and to not go back to the medical college. She saw her brother hesitate for a moment before he shook his head. He needed to go back and finish his degree, he said. He was alright now… he would be alright… he said.
After dinner that night, her brother sang some of the old keerthans that had been their mother's favorite. Her father lay back on his rocking chair with his eyes closed while she sat next to her brother and sister, who was playing the veena.
"Kuttiyoru nritham cheyyo?" (Would you do a dance?) Her father asked after her brother had sung a number of songs.
She was surprised. She knew her father had just as much appreciation for the arts as much as anyone in their family, but he had always preferred her brother's singing and her sister's veena to her own dancing. It had taken her a while to figure out that her father watched with fear as the older she grew, the more and more she looked like her great-aunt. However, her great-aunt had always been described as a most graceful dancer. Thus, she found no similarities there with her great-aunt, except for their strikingly identical looks and their penchant for the art of movement.
Her brother smiled at her and asked her what she wanted to dance to and she suggested a particularly tame number, thinking that that's what their father would prefer, but her father shook his head and named a song that was her personal favorite one to dance to.
She looked at her sister in confusion while her brother said that it was too difficult for him to sing to and that the rhythm of the song needed the accompaniment of thabla and mrithangam and thus they moved to the bigger hall while her brother retrieved the recording of the song.
She danced with a sort of abandon as the fervor of the music took over. Afterwards, her brother and her sister clapped wildly while her father lay back on his chair, rocking back and forth.
After a while, he finally spoke. "Unni kettitundo Devaki antharjanathine patti?" (Have you heard of Devaki Antharjanam, Unni?)
No one said anything for several moments. Devaki was generally spoken about in secret rather than in the open. No men in their family discussed her and the stories that she herself had heard of this notorious persona was through one of her cousins who had overheard a couple of their aunts talking.
Devaki had lived in this house about 150 or so years ago. She had been married into the family at the age of fifteen, which had not been unusual back then. Pretty soon after she arrived in the house, it had become clear to the people here that she was… different. She had an almost irreverent disregard for the traditions of the illam or even the rules that guided the deportment of Namboothiri women. Her husband, a young brash man – from the sound of it – tried his best to instill obedience in his wife, who did not appear to be amenable to him in any way. Such insubordination was not tolerated and from what Kashi had heard, the man often locked Devaki in a room for days, only giving her water, hoping to starve her into subservience. She didn't know if anyone tried to intervene; it didn't look like they did, because Devaki had been becoming somewhat of a problem for the reputation of their illam. Unruly and incousiant, she was called, and some even said that she had a darkness in her. Maybe Devaki truly had darkness in her or maybe Devaki just decided to live up to the reputation that they had already given her, but no amount of starvation achieved its goal. Pretty soon, her husband gave up and tried to send her back to her home. She wouldn't return, obstinately so. And so she stayed. She became an outcast in this big illam, feared and shunned amongst most of its members, young and old. She didn't seem to care one way or the other, or so they said. She started disappearing into the woods for long periods eventually… sometimes for days. Kashi didn't know at what point people started believing that she dabbled in the dark arts, but when her husband died one bright morning from a complete freak accident – a cluster of coconuts fell on his head, of all things – Devaki was somehow found to blame. From then on, it only continued… Everything that ever went wrong had Devaki behind it somehow. With the way things worked back then- with the women being essentially home-bound at all times - there was enough domestic strife in the illam while the men went about their business, generally unconcerned. Devaki, thus had become the number one public enemy at the Kalarikkal Illam.
"Athikamonnum ariyillacha." (We don't know much). Her brother finally answered.
Kashi wondered why her father even brough the subject up.
"Kuttikalude amma, Ambika Antharjanam, ee kutti janichappol ennodu paranju. Ee Kuttikku Devaki-nnu peridannu. Njan ente antharjanathinodu paranju shapamulla perittu ee kunju kidavine vishamipikkanonnu. Appol avalennodu paranjathu njanippozhumorkunnundu. Shapam maranayittanu peridandathennu. Enikappol manasilayilla aval paranjathinte porulenthannu. Njan anuvathichumilla. Angane kuttikku Kaverinnu perittu. Aa punyam porengil kuttikku Kashinnoromana perumittu." (Your mother, Ambika Andarjanam, told me when this girl was born that she should be named Devaki. I asked her why we would want to make our child suffer with a cursed name. I remember what she told me then to this day. She said, "It's to erase the curse that we have to name her Devaki." I didn't understand then the meaning of what she said. I didn't give her permission either. And thus we named you Kaveri. And if that is not sacred enough, we also gave you the petname Kashi.)
They were all quiet after her father told the story, Kashi reeling from her mother's request.
After several moments, her father spoke again, "Ippol enikku manasilavunnu avalenthina angine paranjathennu." (Now I know why she asked me what she did.)
It had been an odd revelation from her father and it had put them into a reflective mood as they sat there together as a family, late into the evening, in the aftermath of a bit of the arts and a bit of their own strange history.
She hadn't known then that it would be the last time their brother would be with them.
When he had left the next day, he had been in good spirits, the sweet endearing brother he had always been.
A month after that, they had brought his dead body home from the medical college. There had been no drugs in his system. Cause of death had been ruled unknown.
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