Read Part 1 here
As Nisha and her husband brought Karthu up to date with all the happenings in the family, she kept looking out for familiar sights. “Amma how was your trip? I can’t believe that irresponsible fellow did not come with you! He has become just like these young city kids – no respect, no care …”
“Nisha!” Karthu interrupted her. “Everyone has their own lives these days. They have to, if they are to survive. If they fall short, it is people like you and me who will gossip about their failures, no?”
Karthyayani Nambiar was famous for her calm, unruffled one-liners, which quieted the loudest of battles – and this, evidently was one battle that she would not lose out. In all the years that she partook in their happiness and sadness, no one could ever point out that she was unfair to, or biased towards any special niece or nephew. She loved one and all, showered blessings (and gifts) to one and all. So Nisha was not surprised when Karthu defended Aravind – she knew if it ever came to that, Karthu would defend Nisha too.
The other thing that people knew about Karthu was that she had a gorgeous mane of waist-length hair. Even now, she had better hair than most women half her age – lustrous dark black, with only an enviable sprinkling of silver; which somehow, made her look more dignified. It was no surprise to anyone that Karthu took special care of her hair, applying specially concocted oil every day. She made the oil herself, by soaking herbs in coconut oil. She hadn’t shared the ingredients with anyone – her hair was the only thing she was known to be vain about.
Karthu did not want to delve further into details of Aravind’s lifestyle, so she thought it best to change the topic to something more pleasant. “So tell me, who all have already arrived at the Tharavdu (ancestral home) for the wedding? And this boy you have found for Karuna – does he have a government job?”
And while Nisha excitedly listed out the names of the relatives who were still arriving, or had arrived, Karthu smiled fondly at her quiet, but observant husband. She liked Nisha’s husband – he was the kind of man any woman could give their daughter away to, without worrying about their future. He now explained to her, in a very neutral tone, that the ‘boy’ was identified by Karuna herself. But, he quickly added, the boy had a good job in Mumbai, and that their daughter Karuna would move there soon.
* * *
As soon as they arrived at the imposing gate of the large house, Karthu could feel her heart thumping with the same exhilaration she felt, every time she came back ‘home’. Technically, she lived a few kilometers away in a smaller, more practical house, with much more facilities. She had a servant lady who stayed with her when she stayed in that house. But the Tharavadu, which formed part of her growing up years, was what she still saw in her dreams as her home.
As soon as the car turned on the gravel around the majestic banyan tree towards the front door of the Tharavadu, Karthu could hear whispers of the wind against the leaves of the trees, the welcome songs of the birds that only came during the mango season, and the unforgettable smells of the ripening jackfruit. She could also hear the whoops of joy from the children playing inside.
“Where’s my pretty angel?” Karthu asked Nisha, as soon as she had met up with all the nieces and nephews and grandchildren crowding her. “Oh… Karuna has gone to the beauty parlor, Amma. They have some kind of a treatment for brides these days. Haven’t you seen the movie stars; how their skin looks perfect? She will have the same kind of make up for her wedding too…..” Nisha stopped when she saw Amma smiling, not entirely without sarcasm.
"And she goes around town all alone five days before her wedding? I would have thought you of all people to follow some of the traditions, Nisha.” Amma’s voice was quiet, but it carried all the strength of the message she wanted to give across.
“No, Amma….. Her friend has also gone with her.” Nisha clarified.
"And do you know who I am, little one?” Karthu asked with a twinkle in her eyes to the youngest grandchild peering at her from behind a pillar. The child, a girl of about four, shook her head. “Priya, we told you… that’s your Grandmother!” The child’s flustered mother came forward with the intention of proving the statement.
“No, you didn’t.” The child stood her ground, much to the chagrin of the mother. “You said that was my Grandmother…” she said, pointing to a garlanded picture hanging on the wall. The picture was of Karthu’s first cousin – her maternal uncle’s daughter. “Then how can this be my Grandmother?"
Karthu burst out laughing, easing much of the tension for the mother of the erring child. “Well, let me explain. Your grandmother and I are cousins – like you and Karuna-chehi. So, I am your grandmother as well, right? Come here – I have something for you!”
All her relatives knew Karthu had no siblings of her own – so they were cautious to make their beloved Karthu Amma always feel at home – and even disastrous disclosures as the one that just happened did not refute the fact that they cared for her feelings.
“So who is this friend that Karuna has gone out with?”
Karthu’s eagle eyes thought she spotted some hesitation on Nisha’s part before she answered. “Oh, you have not met her before – she was a college friend and stays far away these days.” And while she answered, there was uneasiness in the eyes of more than a few people in the room. Well, maybe it was the journey, she thought.
* * *
“Amma……. Find me if you can......” Karthu knew she was dreaming – the little face and the little arms she knew so well by now..... this was a dream she had seen many times before, and each time she smiled in her sleep.This time, though, she woke up before the dream ended.
Karuna was smiling at her, and she hugged Karthu as soon as she opened her eyes. “Sorry Ammamma, I know you had a terrible journey – all because I decided to get married all of a sudden. You know I love you, right?”
Karthu was basking in the warmth of the adulation from her young granddaughter, when she spotted a beaming young lady next to Karuna. “And this is your friend?”
“Oh Yes, I forgot – Ammamma, meet Shambhavi……. Shambhavi, I present to you the famous Neelaparambil Karthyayani Nambiar – ta-da!!!” Karuna dragged the girl closer to Karthu.
“Hmmmm….. You are a pretty young thing. Have we met before? I have seen you somewhere, haven’t I?”
Karthu strained her eyes while pulling Shambhavi closer to her. Shambhavi folded her palms in respect, and shook her head. She had big almond-shaped eyes and an aristocratic nose. She was wearing jeans - not something Karthu would have liked young girls that age to wear. But she understood that the youth of today liked to dress similar to each other – the boys liked long hair and ear piercings, and the girls liked short hair, jeans and T shirts. But Shambhavi’s smile was what looked most familiar to Karthu….
Nisha had come running up the stairs, gasping for breath. She looked sternly at a cringing Karuna and asked “What are you two doing here? Didn’t I tell you Amma was sleeping?” She looked at all three of them, and seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces, she calmed visibly.
“So what, Nisha? Is this the first time my kids have come to me and woken me up from sleep? You know I don’t mind, then why are you creating such a noise?” Amma pulled Karuna and Shambhavi on to her bed, as she quietly rebuked her niece. “And by the way, you told me I don’t know Karuna’s friend, but I am sure I’ve seen her before… I just don’t remember where....”
Again, Karthu thought she saw discomfort in Nisha’s eyes.
(TO BE CONTD.) (Part 3 / Final Part)