Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Sultan's Jewels (PART 3)


Karthu knew something was amiss when Nisha insited that the young girls leave the room. But Karthu was never the curious kinds; she believed each family had their right to keep secrets - just as she knew had faithfully kept hers....

"Oh Nisha - I forgot to ask.... did you put my oil bottle in the fridge?"

"Ofcourse Amma! This is not the first time you are visiting us!" Nisha had herself taken the bottle from Amma's hands and placed it in the fridge, even though she could never fathom why coconut hair oil deserved such previleged settings.

"Amma..... Coconut oil does not get spoiled outside, no? And it is so much more difficult to take out solidified oil when you need it for your hair massage, then why do you keep the oil in the fridge?" Nisha helped Amma get up from the bed - Amma seemed to have aged faster since she last saw her.

"Well, this oil has many herbs which need to be kept cold... you will not understand the old folks' wisdom, so let it be.” It was already evening and it was time for the evening prayers.

After the prayers, Karthu asked Shambhavi "You are about twenty five, no? Around Karuna's age?"

Shambhavi laughed. "Oh no, Amma. I am much senior to her. Infact, I was already teaching in the college when she started studying there."

"Oh," Karthu's eyes narrowed, and she looked across the room at a nervous Nisha watching the entire conversation. "I thought you two were friends from college,"

"Yes, we are friends, but not from the same class.... I will come back in a little while, Amma - we have some things to pack into her bags," Shambhavi said as she was being pulled away by an impatient Karuna

Nisha came in with the tea, biscuits and some explanation. The other relatives, including Nisha's husband gathered around the dining table, and there was a strange, pregnant pause around the table.

"Amma, sorry I didn't tell you the whole truth about Shambhavi...." Nisha began, as Amma carefully sipped the hot tea. "You remember Dechchu? The lady who ......"

"Ofcourse Amma knows Dechchu!" Nisha's brother interrupted her, a little irritated that she would bring out unpleasant memories. "Dechchu was here when Amma was getting married, no?"

"That’s enough!" Karthu said, standing up. "The least you can do is to call her Dechchu-Amma .... Considering that most of you here have been bathed and fed by her when you were babies! Do college degrees take away your respect for elders?"

Karthu's outburst stunned everyone. It was a known fact that Karthyayani had hated Dechchu and her son.

"Sorry Amma," Nisha was holding her hand, pleading her to sit down. "Shambhavi is Dechchu ...Amma's granddaughter. Her son Kumaran's daughter. Kumaran died a couple of years ago, and there was some condition in your mothers' will about taking care of Shambhavi's education, so we have been in touch. I swear we wouldn't have if it was not for the condition in the will. Though why the will had a condition like that we never knew.........."

Karthu sat down, looking as though she would faint.
Dechchu Amma's grand-daughter.....
Kumaran's daughter.....

That explained the eyes, the smile. That explained all the beautiful dreams she had .....
“Amma! Are you alright? Amma, please don’t worry. She will be here only for Karuna’s wedding, and then she will be gone to her life again.” There was fear in Nisha’s eyes.

“Does the girl know me? I mean does she know I did not get along well with her father and her grandmother?”

Nisha nodded her head slowly. “I told her you wouldn’t like it. But she was insistent. She said she only wanted to see you once.”

“You don’t need to take my permission to call your guests – it’s your house, your daughter’s wedding and entirely your decision. But I would have liked it if you told me the truth. I think I want to lie down for a little while. All this journey is not dong my old bones any good…..” Karthu seemed to have recovered from the initial shock of seeing a sworn enemy’s daughter, and she did not seek any further explanations.
* * *
Karthu woke up from a dreamless sleep in the morning.

“Good Morning Amma. I hope you slept well…..” Nisha said while she served Amma her breakfast. “The kids are out looking for the right footwear for the trousseau. I agree with you Amma, these things should have been taken care of much before. I have no idea why they wait till the last day……”

“Nisha, you don’t need to shoo them out of the house on my account. I don’t really know how many more weddings I will see.... call them and tell them to come home. I would like to spend some time with Shambhavi too ….. Old Dechchu Amma would have liked that, no?”

A surprised but happy Nisha went to call her daughter back home, while Karthu went to the kitchen, and took out the bottle of coconut oil. When the girls returned, Karthu was applying oil on her hair. The girls gasped when they saw the lushness of the old lady’s hair.

Karthu smiled as she called them to her side. “You girls don’t oil your hair enough. Just watch, you will be putting those terrible chemical dyes to cover your white hair, before you can even be thirty!”

“But I have already crossed thirty, Amma!” Shambhavi said playfully.

“Then you should be married already…. Are you?” Karthu had to admit, Shambhavi was a beautiful woman.

“Oh, no Amma!” Shambhavi said in mock terror “Marriage is not meant for people like me. I have so much to do already – my husband would be a real unhappy soul if I married!”

When Nisha called out to Karuna to have her bath, Karthu was glad to be able to talk to Shambhavi alone. “Come here, dear. Do you want me to put oil in your hair?” Shambhavi was surprised at the softness of the tone, and slowly sat down on the floor with her head near Karthu’s knees.

* * *
“Don’t tell me the old woman is now spending time with that girl!” Nisha’s brother was skeptical about this from the very beginning – and now it was apparent that Amma preferred to spend most of her day with Shambhavi!

“Shut up, you silly man! Don’t you know the crazy history of that family? They tend to give away wealth to servants. So behave yourself, if you want your kids to get any of the property that she keeps close to her chest. For now, she has only shared the recipe for the hair oil – it could be other stuff too, if you and I are not nice to her…..”

Karthu was in the bathroom while they were talking. Noise does not carry through the thick wooden doors. But the bathroom also had skylights which opened to the corridor. Karthu somehow, felt relieved when she heard the siblings talk; like she was liberated from the false emotions that surrounded her all the time.

* * *
On the wedding day, Karuna looked beautiful in her wedding attire. Karthu took out the beautiful gold chain and matching earrings that she bought for her granddaughter. Nisha was overjoyed to see that Amma had also handed over a heavy envelope to Karuna, telling her that she could buy stuff for her new home.

Nisha’s brother wondered if he should get his son married off while Karthu was still able to attend weddings. Karthu was treated with utmost respect by the groom’s relatives too. She seemed to be handing out gifts and cash to everyone who was seeing her after a long time.

The aftermath of the festivities usually wears a hushed silence. And in this hushed silence, Karthu decided she had to now leave for her home. But before she left, she handed over the bottle of oil to Shambhavi.

“Melt the whole thing out and pour it into another bottle as soon as you reach home, and take good care of your hair.” Karthu had whispered into her ear. "And you have to get married soon. You should have people in your life who will love you even if you had nothing to give!"

As Karthu left the large gate and the sounds of her childhood behind, she was glad that one weight had been taken off her sholders…… 

(TO BE CONTD.) (Final Part


  1. I ma so intrigued now about the old lady and Shambhavi...

    going on a tangent here i long to go to wedding back home to our home , once upon a time it was so full of people .. sadly it is not anymore..

    anyway back to story ... I wonder what the secret is .. :) now waiting for part 4 ..

    but for the record let me tell you not happy :)


    1. I completely agree, Bikram - weddings now have become like any other party - go, eat and come back!! None of the earlier masti is left :-(

  2. Nice, the story builds up.. Come to think of it - I can relate to a person who is a lot like Karthu in my family too.. however me not too close with her.. maybe I'll ask her is she has a special oil :D

    Lovely read, Nirvana :)

    1. Hehehe ... do ask her if she has a specil oil - since you have already read the ending of the story,you understand why ;-)