Home At Last
Rangan loved Malaya the minute he stepped into it. Unlike Savithri, who missed home because the sights in Malaya reminded her so much of it, Rangan felt completely at home and at peace for exactly the same reason. Something about Malaya made him feel at ease, a feeling that he would carry with him to his grave. From the time Rangan began to live in Malaya, home for him would always mean Malaya. As the car that he was in, with his sister and brother-in-law, moved slowly towards Mantin Hills, Rangan soaked in the luxuriously green and dense tropical foliage, the variety of people and the placid, unhurried pace of life that was so reminiscent of what he was used to in Chandrashekarapuram. He looked forward to his life in this place, and he felt a gradually growing energy that he had never ever felt before. He silently thanked his brother-in-law, who was telling him about the jobs that were available, and the job that he felt would be best for Rangan. “I will take whichever job that you think is best for me,” was Rangan’s response.
Swamy quickly made arrangements for Rangan to be employed in Nair’s estate so that he would not have to be too far from him and Savithri. Nair’s estate was big and there was room for a junior clerk. Nair and his wife gladly let Rangan live with them for as long as it would take him to get adjusted to life in Malaya. So one Sunday morning, about two weeks after Rangan had arrived in Malaya, Swamy and Savithri took Rangan to Nair’s home in Rinching Estate. It was here that Ranganathan really began his life in Malaya.
Madhavan Nair immediately took Rangan under his wing and taught him the ropes of working in an estate in Malaya. Rangan had to first learn how to speak English well and that was a challenge for him. Unlike Savithri, who was so quick to learn languages that she already spoke a smattering of Malay, the local language, Rangan was slow, largely because of his shy and inhibited nature. His skill lay in numbers, and he soon impressed his bosses with this skill. They also grew to like him because of his willingness to work any number of hours. “You continue like this and you will soon be a big boss,” Nair would say laughingly, slapping Rangan on the back.
Rangan’s life in Rinching Estate was very humdrum. He worked hard from Monday to Saturday afternoon. Then on Saturday afternoon, he would hitch a ride after work, with one of the vehicles that came into the estate either to pick up rubber sheets or to deliver supplies of some sort to the nearest train station where he would catch a train to his sister’s house. He would stay there for the weekend and then return to Rinching Estate on Monday morning. When he was back in Savithri’s home, Swamy would indulgently let the two relive their childhood. He would sometimes take them both to nearby towns.
As the days went by quickly and Savithri grew bigger, Swamy arranged for a midwife to be with her when she delivered. The estate doctor who was treating her was confident that she would be fine, and that they would have a healthy child. For Savithri, life was turning out be far better than she had ever imagined. Her husband was attentive and considerate, provided for her very well and what was better was that he was good to her brother, and felt responsible for his wellbeing.
Rangan could see that his sister was genuinely cheerful and that Swamy took care of her really well. Their difference in age did not seem to be a huge impediment to their happiness. “Can you think of any man who would take so much trouble to bring his wife’s brother all the way from India to Malaya? Don’t you think we are really lucky that I married Swamy?” she would ask Rangan. For the most part, Rangan agreed with his sister and he genuinely liked his brother-in-law. But a tiny hollowness that he would carry to his grave, persisted inside him, especially when he was alone and simply watching the pitch blackness of the night, and listening to crickets and woodpeckers clamoring for attention. Sometimes the brother in him just couldn’t help feeling a little disgust that his young sister was carrying the child of one so old.
The estate doctor was wrong. Savithri’s baby was born dead. The siblings, who had both been convinced that their mother was coming back in the form of the child that was to be born to Savithri, were shattered. Savithri was inconsolable while Rangan watched wretchedly. Swamy’s appeared to be dealing well with his loss probably because of his age and characteristic stoicism. But one never knew with Swamy because he always remained the solid, block of dependability throughout his life with Savithri. In fact, anyone watching Savithri and Swamy would be struck not just by the disparity in age but also by the stark difference in the way each one approached anything.
Most people who knew Savithri well knew what she was thinking at any point in time while it was never the case with Swamy. Even Savithri could never say with certainty what was on her husband’s mind. This is perhaps why she would never really know that his thoughts were always about her, and her life after him. In fact, it was this preoccupation that goaded him to look for positions in a more urban area after the loss of the child. He had had enough of estate life, its loneliness, and its utter isolation. He wanted to move to either Penang or Singapore which were larger towns and start afresh. But it would be another two years before he would actually make that move.
Life gradually returned to its usual rhythm after the initial shock of the tragedy. Rangan and Savithri would both receive letters from Subbhu and Seetha. Subbhu would typically ask about their well-being and tell them about their village. Seetha would simply ask for money, presumably without Subbhu’s knowledge. There was always a need for extra money in Seetha’s household. It was either Ponna’s wedding or something that needed to be done in the home. Quite clearly, Seetha felt that the siblings owed her for her generosity towards them and their mother. Rangan willingly sent money, while Savithri did her best to save some from her household expenses so that she could send some on and off. She was a little embarrassed about asking Swamy openly for money to send to her aunt so she would save as much as she could and then add it to Rangan’s money order every now and then. She would quietly slip the money to Rangan when Swamy was not around or when she thought he was not looking. Many years later, both would laugh about it as an example of Savithri’s naiveté in her early years as a wife.
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