A New Beginning
In the weeks and months that followed, Blue slowly but surely blended into Elisa’s family. Several years later, when Elisa looked back at the early years when Blue came into her family, it would be the girl’s resolve that she would admire most. Despite her emaciated appearance, Blue had arrived in Malaysia with a steely resolve. She had taken the hand that Elisa had stretched out to her, telling herself that if adjusting and changing herself was what was needed to make a difference for herself, she would do that. “Not unlike her great-grandfather who came out here and made a life for himself with nothing,” said Lalitha smiling, thinking of Swamy when Elisa spoke about Blue to her in private. “She is quite a determined young lady.” Some of the old Blue would surface occasionally when she was stressed or when she didn’t understand some things about a culture that was so different from what she had known. For example, when she came home late one evening after being out with some girls from the school, Dharmishton made it clear that he felt she was still too new to the city to be out after dark. “You don’t know the place yet. It could be unsafe. I don’t want you out this late in the evening.” What he obviously did not say, which he had discussed with Lalitha earlier in the evening, was that he still did not trust her completely. He was not completely convinced that she was not the same Blue who had lived any way she liked, in San Jose. Both Lalitha and Elisa could see the flicker of defiance in Blue’s eyes as she tossed her hair back in readiness to retort. But it was also obvious to them when she quickly stopped herself and meekly apologized, promising to come home sooner in future. Elisa of course quickly stepped forward to diffuse the tense situation by patting her on the back and saying, “Grandpa is just worried about your safety. He is right. You still don’t know this place. If not anything, you could get lost. He just doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
There were times when the old Blue, who didn’t like to be told what to do, would have minor exchanges with people outside the family. Blue had started to work in the school fulltime as a Girl Friday. She watched the girls dance sometimes when she had some free time, while Elisa waited for her to express some interest in learning dance. “I would prefer that she do things that she wants to do. I would love for her to learn the art because I think she will do well. But it should come from her,” she told Lalitha. One time when she was standing outside the dance hall watching the girls, Selvi who was teaching them, turned around and said, “You shouldn’t be here as there is no one in the office. I am sure there will be phone calls that will come in and you will miss them.” Selvi was right but she was also bossy by nature and slightly envious of this new girl who had come out of nowhere and become Elisa’s constant companion. “You’re not my boss,” Blue snapped back smartly, her eyes flashing. “You don’t have a right to tell me what to do.” There was an uncomfortable silence after this as the girls stopped dancing and watched the two nervously, their eyes darting from one to another. Selvi reddened and was about to say something when Blue swung around and walked away. When the class was over, Selvi was just about to storm into the office and tell Blue exactly what she thought, when Elisa walked into the school. She had been out and about all morning arranging the school’s next performance in India. This time it was going to be in the temple in Guruvayur and a strange sense of excitement was slowly growing in her. When she saw Blue she immediately sensed that something was wrong by the subdued manner in which Blue returned her greeting and the way she was avoiding her gaze. When Selvi walked into the room, Elisa guessed what the trouble could have been and was quick to whisk Selvi away into a discussion that she felt was so urgent that it had to be had right at that moment.
Later that evening when Elisa drove home with Blue, she made it a point to tell her how much she admired her for making the adjustments that she had made and working so hard at blending into a life that was different from anything that she had ever known. “In fact, I am so proud of you that I really think you need a treat. How would you like to come with the group to India? We really need someone who can take care of everything, you know, the costumes and everything, when we are there. Would you like to come?” Whatever anger Blue had felt earlier, vanished and its place was sheer excitement and anticipation. Blue was almost like a little girl who had been given a new toy. “Are you serious?” she squealed. “Well, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be,” was Elisa’s laughing response. The days after that were spent in a frenzied flurry of activity with Blue in the thick of it all.
The desire and the eagerness to see India was especially deep for Blue because she secretly looked forward to seeing the land of her father’s family. In all the months that she had stayed in Elisa’s home, she had not ventured any question about her father and they had judiciously avoided talking about him or Savithri. There were, of course, times when their names came up and awkward silences followed but nothing was ever said directly to Blue. Elisa was particular that the questions should come from Blue. “I wanted her to have a home and a new life. That was really all that I intended in bringing her out here. And that was for Savithri Paati. I wanted her debt to Grace and Blue to be cleared. I will do everything I can to ensure that Blue becomes independent and that she is in a position to take care of herself. With that, my job will be done. ” It was hard to keep avoiding Savithri’s name or speaking about her. Whenever Savithri was talked about, there was an awkward silence, and then Elisa or Lalitha would change the subject. It was hardest when Blue was looking through family albums. Thankfully, there were hardly any pictures of Blue’s father but there were many of Savithri and Elisa would often find Blue looking closely at Savithri’s pictures. These were times when Elisa felt like she needed to speak to Blue about Savithri but she stopped herself. She hoped that Blue would discover for herself that even perfect dolls could have little cracks because of the way they were made or handled.
India was not merely an experience for Blue. It was a rebirth into a new reality. The noise, the crowds, the jostling, the various unfamiliar languages, and generally the pandemonium were not something that Blue had ever imagined. “I‘ve not even had a nightmare like this...” she laughed nervously much to Elisa’s amusement. In the first two or three days, she just couldn’t do the job that she had been brought out to do because she was too busy staring about her. She was of no help to the troupe. In fact, they had to keep herding her so that she wouldn’t get lost in the milieu. She walked around with an alertness that was almost comical to the others like she expected something to happen to her any minute. Even when a bicyclist whizzed past, ringing his bell violently, as was quite common, just to warn anyone who was even thinking of crossing his path, Blue jumped, startled, with her eyes darting, expecting a huge calamity. The others teased her mercilessly and Blue laughed good-naturedly. Elisa could not help thinking of the time when Blue had literally flown across her classroom to almost scratch out the eyes of a girl who had giggled at her for something. Mr. Mitchell had suspended her and warned her that that was her last chance. He had made it clear that the next time she would face expulsion.
When they arrived in Kerala, both Elisa and Blue could barely contain their excitement at being in the land of their ancestors. Fascinated by the surroundings and mystified by where and how their ancestors would have lived in those verdant lands, both Elisa and Blue soaked in their respective experiences eagerly, each one for her own reasons. Elisa looked about her and wondered where the church of her grandfather or the agraharam of her grandmother would have been. She asked around and was delighted to discover that the church still stood but was disappointed that the idyllic agraharam had long since given way to unsightly buildings. She took Blue with her to the church that once stood in peace in the midst of a green rice field, surrounded by coconut trees that swayed gracefully in the gentle evening breeze, to the happy chirping of sparrows and mellifluous songs of nightingales. The same church now struggled to provide peace for its members amidst the rude honking of impatient traffic that surrounded it every single second of the day. It was almost comical even for Elisa as she did her best to listen to her own languorous thoughts about her grandparents in the midst of that chaos. Every time she tried to picture her grandfather, a gentle and soft-spoken man and her tall, beautiful grandmother together when they married in that very church, her thoughts would be heinously shattered by the loud, blaring horn of a bus bulldozing its way through the maze of lesser vehicles. But still, she could not help a wistful smile as she remembered them together, deeply attached by a restrained, understated love that each one felt for the other.
Mary had died just six months after George, without completely recovering from his loss. “I was always amazed by just how well my grandparents were matched. They seemed to be always of one mind. I am not sure, but I think my grandmother eloped with my grandfather as their relationship was forbidden at that time. My grandfather was Christian while my grandmother was from an orthodox Brahmin family,” related Elisa to a fascinated Blue. If Mary and George had been present, they would have been amused in their characteristic reticent way at the romance that was supposed to have ornamented their union. Mary, in particular, would have smiled satirically as she thought of the vacuum that she had felt, the pain she had suffered because of the separation from her mother whom she had not seen after that, and most of all, the trauma that she had suffered in the hands of her captors. After their marriage, it had taken George almost two years to even come close to touching her without her trembling or whimpering in fear.
Blue listened to Elisa’s narration of her grandparents’ story with wide-eyes, wondering what the stories were about her own great-grandparents and where they had come from. She knew nothing and what Elisa told her were little snippets that she herself had heard from her own mother and Savithri. Mary had told her about Neela and Elisa made it a point to relate this Blue. “She was my great-great grandmother and your great-great-great grandmother,” Elisa laughed. “Just think; it has taken so many generations for one of us to help her dream come to some sort of fruition. I hope she will finally be at peace now.” As she spoke, Elisa’s eyes widened, like she had suddenly come upon a revelation. “Did you know that your name, Blue, is Neela in Sanskrit? Who would have thought…?” As much as Blue tried to create a picture of her father’s family from the bits and pieces that she had gathered from Elisa, it was difficult for her to visualize a family that she had barely seen and did not know. But she desperately wanted to be a part of it, to give herself something to relate when she herself had children. So she listened intently to everything that Elisa said, promising herself that she would ask Lalitha for everything that she knew as soon as she got home.
In the meantime, she got busy with the performance that Elisa and her troupe of dancers had come for to Kerala. She rushed around helping them with their costumes and makeup and stood at the wings when they performed, suddenly feeling a pang that she had not felt for the eight months that she had stayed with Elisa. She wanted to be on stage and not in the wings. With her spirit soaring with enthusiasm, Blue waited to tell Elisa. She wasn’t sure how Elisa would react as neither had spoken about it. As far as Elisa was concerned, she was happy that Blue had a home where she could be safe and off the streets. She was not heading in the same direction as Grace. She was hoping that Blue would like working at the school and at least take over the administration part of it if she did not have an interest in learning the art. She remembered that Blue liked dance and was good at it but Bharatha Natyam was different. Elisa wasn’t sure that Blue had the kind of dedication and focus that was required to be really good at it and to be engaged in it. She still was not convinced that Blue was single-minded about learning something.
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