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A Soiled Vision

One morning George awoke to hear the disturbing news that a group of roving hoodlums had swept through some villages and agraharams, and had taken several women, married and unmarried, with them. The villagers were horrified and the people of the agraharams were devastated by the fact that several of their girls and women had been kidnapped and the honor and the sanctity of their homes forever destroyed. Much to George’s shock he discovered that one of the women who had been taken had been Balambal. 

She had been on her way to the temple with her usual escort, an old widowed relative who relied on Alamelu for her existence. The woman had run all the way home shrieking to petrified villagers, “Balambal is gone! They have taken her! We are destroyed!” The blow was severe to Alamelu who was known and generally disliked for her caustic tongue. She was a lonely old woman, who some people thought, was also a little deranged because she could often be seen pacing up and down in her front yard with a stick and muttering angrily about wicked brothers and cruel fathers. Her only consolation had been her daughter, Balambal, who was so protected that she was never ever seen without her companion, the old relative, even after her marriage. 

Alamelu was indescribably distressed while Balambal’s husband wrung his hands and shook his head with typical helplessness. Balambal was obviously lost forever both to the family and to the agraharam. Alamelu, Balambal’s mother blamed it on her brothers and their sins. She lamented, “If they had not been so cruel to my sister Neela, this would not have happened to their niece!” Her brothers who heard of her predicament scoffed at her loss and her lamentations. “She forgets the sins that she committed against us. This is fitting punishment for her. It is true what people say, our sister is a lunatic.” George heard all of this through friends and villagers and cried desperate tears. He had loved Balambal from a distance, completely aware that she was unattainable. Even when she had married, as much as he had tried to forget, he had only succeeded in pushing her to the back of his mind. The horror that he felt now at what she might be suffering in the hands of her abductors, made him realize the depth of what he felt for her. He prayed fervently and fiercely at the church, whenever he was not working in the school where he was employed. His prayers were frantic, pleading and tearful. 

Yaakob, puzzled by what he saw, watched silently as his deeply distraught nephew almost ranted and raved in whispers while he knelt at the altar. Initially, he was gratified by his nephew’s devoutness and his keen concern for the villagers and their recent loss. But soon he realized that there was something else happening and that his nephew was deeply troubled by more than what had happened at the village. Choosing to merely watch and attempt to understand for a few days, he refrained from asking him anything. But when his nephew’s seemingly bizarre behavior continued, he decided to act. The minute he broached the subject, George broke down, much to Yaakob’s astonishment, which quickly turned into dismay and then outrage. “You have sinned, George. I am ashamed of you!” he exploded. “She is a married woman! How could you even think…?” Yaakob’s revulsion at the very thought choked him. “You have sinned and sinned so terribly. And having been raised in the church, how could you have allowed your mind to even venture that way? Have I failed so much in imparting the right values to you? Have you always been like your wretched father, just a cheap womanizer?” he raged, his voice becoming loud and hoarse as he almost yelled at his nephew, who stood with eyes downcast. 

George listened quietly, with eyes downcast. He knew his uncle was right. He had sinned. It was a sin to think of a married woman in the way he had. But he was not such a terrible sinner for he had done nothing about his love for Balambal. He had only watched her from a distance. Now that she was lost, kidnapped by some vile human beings, he prayed ardently for her return. He could not see that as sinning. “I did not ever approach her Ammama. I have never as much as looked at her directly and she does not know of my existence. I have only watched her as she walked with her companion to the temple. I have not done anything that would make you ashamed of me. I love her but except for God, nobody knows this and now you do. If not for what has now happened to her now, even you would never have known, Ammama,” he said in a hushed tone. 

Yaakob was breathing heavily, exhausted by his anger that had now been somewhat doused by his nephew’s honest confession. He sat down and closed his eyes as if praying for restraint. When he opened his eyes and saw his young nephew still standing dejected in front of him, desperately wiping away tears that he did not want his uncle to see, Yaakob’s anger and disgust slowly began to dissolve. George was right. He had not done anything wrong. Perhaps his thoughts were wrong but if anyone, Yaakob knew how difficult it was to stop one’s thoughts from straying to where they wanted to be, especially when one was young. 

Yaakob drew a breath and released it as calm washed over him. He smiled wryly as he watched his nephew for a minute. George was a worrisome combination of his tender-hearted mother, Eliamma and his strikingly good-looking grandfather, Vakkachen. He silently prayed that the Lord would give his nephew direction. “I will pray with you, son,” said Yaakob gruffly. George looked up, his eyes still wet with unshed tears. “I am afraid that she is lost forever. But we will pray for her,” he continued, doing his best to sound reassuring as he stood up to leave the room, patting George gently on his back. 

Perhaps God heard them or perhaps Balambal’s abductors simply grew weary of her. One early but warm and humid, late September morning found an exhausted and bedraggled Balambal outside the church. Church workers discovered her sleeping under one of the benches outside the church, looking like she had not eaten or bathed in days with black and blue marks and scratches all over her face and body. The once tall and regal looking Balambal was now reduced to a cowering, terrified girl, startled by the slightest movement. The workers, who quickly realized that she was Balambal, sought out Yaakob, who in turn asked some of the women to help her with a bath, change of clothes and some food.

Childlike, she numbly followed instructions without offering a word to anyone. George who had heard about her arrival, rushed to the church to see Balambal for himself but his uncle who had seen him running up the path that led to the church stopped him in his tracks. “You should not see her for her own good. She is too disturbed to talk. As soon as she is rested, some of the church elders and I will take her to her home. We will have to be careful about how we deal with this as we do not want any trouble from anyone.” 

George was visibly disappointed but accepted his uncle’s decision. But more than anything, he was thankful that his prayers had been answered and so he knelt down exactly where he was on the dirt path outside the church and thanked God for his mercy and kindness. Looking up with veneration at the vast, cloudless pale blue sky and with just the brightly burning orange sun, the chirping sparrows and the whispering coconut trees for witnesses, George solemnly promised on that day, right there on that dirt path that he would serve God and his church for as long as he lived.

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