A Woman Who Was Actually A Girl

It was six or seven months after Savithri’s arrival in the Mantin Hills estate in Malaya. Swamy had gone to work and she was alone in the large house writing another letter to her mother and brother while it rained buckets outside. She had to finish it quickly because the mail car that came to collect mail from the estate arrived in the afternoon when the estate children came back from school. Her life with Swamy had sort of settled into a routine. Swamy left early in the morning because he liked to be at the office when the workers arrived for muster at 5 am. He preferred to be present when the conductor marked attendance for payment to the workers. Swamy’s routine wasn’t very much different from what Savithri had seen in Kodunggalur, where Seshadhari and Hariharan had to leave by 5 in the morning when the workers arrived. The only difference was that back in the village Savithri only helped Mangalam who took charge of the cooking. Here, she was in charge and her childish mind relished the new experience where she was the mistress of the house. 


Sometimes the women who were the wives of the workers would come around and talk to her, full of complaints about husbands who spent their entire day’s earnings on toddy at the local toddy shops. They would talk while Savithri listened without contributing. She was still getting used to being a married woman. She was more at home chatting with the children of estate workers, gathered outside her bungalow as they waited for their taxi to take them to school. Not much older than them, she would sometimes play their little games like hop-scotch or five stones. She enjoyed these interactions as they took her back to her village and her friends. She would play with them till their taxis arrived, often already full with children from a neighboring estate. Unscrupulous drivers sometimes added ‘seats’ by placing little stools between the seats for children to perch on as they rode to school. 


Savithri looked forward to Swamy’s return in the evening. They would either join other workers and their wives in the estate community center and watch four hour long Tamil movies played on a single projector or ride on Swamy’s bicycle into the little town at the foot of the hill with Savithri sitting in front of Swamy on the bar. As time passed, and she had shed her shyness and her inhibitions she would laughingly ask,” Where is your car? My family got me married to you thinking you had bungalow and a car.” “Well, I didn’t tell your family that I had a car. If your family believed that I was rich, that is their problem. What can I do if I am just a poor clerk?” Swamy would retort. “But don’t worry. We will have everything someday,” he promised. “When? You are already an old man,” would be Savithri’s cheeky response and to this Swamy would say with finality, “Well, you are stuck with me even if I am an old man,” smiling benevolently at his wife. 


Actually, Savithri was beginning to like her new life. Initially, it was too quiet and lonely and she spent her days pining for home. But she soon got so used to the seclusion that in the years to come when they moved to bustling Singapore, she would miss the silence of the estates with a deep longing. Sometimes it was so quiet even during the day that she felt she could hear herself breathe. She would spend the day writing letters to her mother and brother and telling them about her life in Malaya. It was on one of those days when she was rushing to finish a letter when she got the news. 


The lunchtime drummer had just come around playing his drum announcing lunch to the workers when Swamy came home looking anxious, with a telegram in his hand. Meenakshi had died. As much as the thought that her mother was dying had been lurking in her mind, the reality of her death was excruciating. She suffered even more because of her concern for her brother who was now completely alone except for her uncle whom she knew to be not even a remote match to her aunt. In the days that followed, Savithri would simply sit staring out of the window, saying little and eating even less. She hardly spoke to Swamy and often seemed like she was listening to a voice that he could not hear. About a month after her mother’s death Savithri received a letter from Rangan.


Dear Savi


First of all, I have to thank your husband for helping us, me and Amma, so much. If not for him we would have been out on the streets. Seetha Mami just did not like us to stay here anymore, especially towards the end of Amma’s life. But your husband was sending us money all along and that also helped to get the best medical help we could for Amma. Unfortunately, it was all too late. Your husband has been extremely kind. Amma was right in her choice. You are very lucky to get a husband like him. He has already sent me a ticket and money to come there. I am so anxious to see you. Maybe Amma’s dreams are finally coming true. I leave India next month. Write to me and tell me what you want from here. 


Rangan


The letter was the balm she needed, the much-needed connection to her past; a connection that felt like it had withered with her mother’s death. The letter also laid the foundation for her unwavering devotion to Swamy. Meenakshi agreed with her brother. Her mother simply could not have done any better for her. 


A slow sense of hope grew within her as she reread the letter several times in the days that followed. Her sorrow about her mother’s demise slowly began to recede, just a little. She even began to feel some excitement about her brother’s arrival. There was also another reason for this excitement. She had just discovered that she was pregnant.

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