The day had not begun on a good note for Janakiamma but then it hadn’t for a long time now. The frustration and regret was so overwhelming that at times she felt suffocated. In the beginning there were days of optimism which weakened bit by bit till it transformed to that of utter hopelessness.
“Elope he said,” she was grumbling to herself while preparing the cow’s feed, “what does he know about it.” In truth Janakiamma had never eloped but it had been a marriage that took place with the heartless consent of her father Chandran. It was like how most love stories happened.
Janaki belonged to a very well known family from Palghat and being the eldest of six children, her father flourished on her all the luxury and love he could afford. Under her father’s dedicated guidance she became a trained singer in Karnatic music. She was so talented at the art that she became the constant highlight of the musical festival that was held at the Velliya Nair family house every year during Navami. The Velliya Nairs were the richest in Palghat and also distant relatives of Janaki’s family.
One such year during the festival when Janaki was just 16 her concentration was whisked away by a particular young man in the audience. Was it just the tricks of cupid or had he just smiled at her she wondered. It was with much effort that she had closed her eyes to sing and that she did with such passion that at the end of it tears came out of her eyes. It was followed by a standing ovation from the audience while her eyes searched for the young man and when their eyes met, everything else became oblivion.
After the recital she carefully withdrew from the crowd and walked towards the garden certain that the young man would follow. The young man none other than a young Shankaran Nair had already enquired about her and now as he followed her was wondering whether it was too soon to propose. But his doubts were vanquished in a second when Janaki turned and looked at him. It was the perfect situation, she young and talented, he handsome, charming and hailing from a royal family. They talked and they talked without a care for the world or the time but only for the closeness they felt. They would have just gone on and on had they not been interrupted by Janaki’s father, Chandran, who had been frantically searching for her.
“Here you are. Do you have any idea where all I’ve been searching for you?,” he asked and then turning towards Shankaran Nair with a disapproving look he said, “You are Shankaran isn’t it? Your mother too has been asking around for you.”
“Well we better leave,” he said abruptly and walked off with Janaki without casting another look towards Shankaran. Janaki understood that her father, a very shrewd man, had already guessed what had transpired between the two and obviously didn’t favour it.
But that did not stop Janaki from falling in love with Shankaran and their relationship blossomed in secrecy under the temple banyan tree, on the banks of the Kottayi River until Chandran caught them red handed.
“He is no good for you,” he told a stubborn Janaki.
“Don’t you see,” he continued, “he is the spoilt son of the Thampuran and he’ll never work, but just go around doing charity with other’s money or lavish it on himself. You’ll go hungry my dear.”
Janaki however being blinded by her love could not think of anything bad that could come out of marrying Shankaran Nair. In the end a very desolate Chandran Nair succumbed to his daughter’s wishes when she threatened to commit suicide. Thus the marriage was conducted in all pomp and glory and Chandran Nair gave his daughter with the same reluctant look that he had, when he met Shankaran Nair for the first time.
It must be said that it was a mismatch of sorts from the very beginning. Shankaran was tall, fair and overbearing while Janaki was short, dark and humble, facts that are easily overlooked in love. If he loved the sea, she loved the land, he liked the sounds of the city, she preferred the calm village life but such differences only get magnified truly when the trust and character of the relationship deteriorates.
Initially he made her very happy, taking her to several places, concerts, dramas etc. he also began to bring home singers, musicians and other artists. In the beginning Janaki, an art lover herself, was happy and thought nothing more of it, playing the dutiful hostess but then the frequency of such visitors began to increase and she began to feel the lack of privacy in her own home. Also Shankaran Nair was slowly emptying the treasury, giving his guests large sums as rewards.
To make matters worse debtors began to come knocking on the door asking for Shankaran Nair, and Janaki became shocked to learn that most of his fields had been pawned.
Another bone of contention was the hunting episodes, when Shankaran Nair would be off for several days with his friends leaving Janaki alone with the servant and the children. She slowly began to see what her father meant and the anxiety of the future began to trouble her day and night. She began to throw tantrums and Ullas villa became filled with the sounds of their arguments. The anger and desperation was slowly transforming into hatred. She began to look forward to Shankaran Nair’s absence to have the house and children to herself. Everyone in Nellur began to talk about the love story that was metamorphosising into a failure.
The children were born in three phases, the eldest, Saraswathi during the happy days when Janakiamma still loved Shankaran Nair, the second Mahendran when Shankaran Nair had slowly begun to show his true shades, the third Lakshmi when the relationship had reached the peaks of its failure, the latter being the result of a moment’s weakness with Shankaran Nair rather than of love. But Janaki found solace in bringing up her children. She did not direct her anger and frustration towards them. She found self confidence and the necessity to do something for their welfare. She sold her gold and bought two cows and began to sell milk. Her hard work and toil helped her buy more cows and she began to make herself a good earning. With the money she bought back a field from one of the debtors and put it in her name. She employed farmers and began to raise crops. She educated her children taking loans from friends and repaying them every month from her earnings. She however made sure that Shankaran Nair did not get a single paisa from her. Shankaran Nair though embarrassed for having to live at his wife’s cost, never complained or discouraged Janaki. He was broadminded about women wanting to make a living for themselves.
The children too recognized their mother’s dilemma but nevertheless loved their father. He may have been a poor excuse for a husband but he was a good father. He trained his children to become good students and also tried to meet their needs even if it was by borrowing money from others.
The eldest, Saraswathi, was fair and beautiful taking her good looks from her father. In Saraswathi, Janaki found the friend and the sister with whom she shared her sorrows. Being a good student, Janaki sent her off to Trivandrum to complete her college degree. When Saraswathi returned after securing her degree and confessed to Janaki about her love affair with Raman, a Nair boy she met at college, Janaki was immensely disappointed. However she conceded and got them married but was always suspicious of Raman’s intentions for not taking Saraswathi with him to Persia, where he had acquired a job. But she didn’t complain as she was happy to have her daughter by her side.
The second child Mahendran, one year younger to Saraswathi, was short just like Janaki and also her favourite. He had been a sick child all his life suffering from some illness or the other constantly. Unlike other children he was not allowed to play in the Mayillatam by his mother due to the fear of him falling ill. He was the only one among the children who could sing like his mother. It was the loss of his life that completed Janaki’s misfortune. She never recovered completely from it, she began to talk less, eat less, and lose interest in daily chores. Had it not been for Saraswathi, Janaki would have totally given upon life.
Few months after the untimely demise of her son Janaki was sitting alone staring at the medal Mahendran had won for the last time, when she thought she heard her son call to her from the veranda. She ran frantically towards the door and opened it. On seeing Shankaran Nair standing outside, she suddenly burst out into tears. Unable to see his wife’s heart breaking sorrow he took her in his arms consoling her while crying at the same time. In that moment everything was forgotten, the anger, the hatred and both of them succumbed to each other. Thus was seeded the birth of the youngest child Lakshmi but the relationship between the parents went back to square one. Though Lakshmi was born due to a moment of weakness between her parents she showed no traits of the same in her character. She was a strong willed girl having her own ideas about her life. She was her father’s pet following his principles of charity and brotherhood. She broke the traditions of the higher caste families by making friends with children of the lower caste. In spite of Janakiamma’s constant bickering she never called the servants by their names, she referred to them as chechi or amma. Eventually she married a man from the lower caste in spite of anticipating her mother’s wrath.
No one understood Janakiamma’s distress when Lakshmi married Chelan but for Saraswathi. Janaki had always thought of Lakshmi as the gift that god had made up for his folly of having taken away her son. But then she too went away in a far more painful manner that Janaki thought that her death would have caused her lesser pain.
Janaki grew more and more bitter by the day and she learnt to curse Shankaran Nair, finding a strange peace in the same. She seemed to be angered even by Saraswathi and her grandchildren especially Chinnan, the fruit of a godforsaken relationship. She cursed the servants, the cows and god knows what not. According to her, only Mahendran had not wronged her, the only kindly soul she knew, but then God took him away so soon.
Only if he were alive, thought Janakiamma as she lay on the easy chair chewing on the betel nut leaf. The sun had already begun to set and she cast a pensive look towards the door wondering why Kannan was late.
“Must be off with those imbeciles running around in the fields,” she muttered.
She had almost begun to ask Saraswathi when she heard his voice in the distance. He seemed very excited now as he came running towards his mother, who had come to the veranda to receive him. Janaki watched as Kannan filled the otherwise silent atmosphere with his non-stop banter about the day’s events. Though she loathed such energy (in everything), she felt sad for the boy thinking of how much he must be longing for his father’s affection.
She turned away to look at the river that was so easily visible from the veranda. She was looking at the reflection cast on its waters by the setting sun.
The waves could not carry the reflection along with them nor did they survive once the sun went down.