This story was a submission towards Times of India’s “Write India campaign” under the tutelage of 11 of the best Indian writers of today. This was a pan-India competition which was rolled out under different writer-mentors that you could pick and choose. I chose Anita Nair, who I think is one of the better writers we have and I really enjoy her work. Anita Nair’s offered all the interested participants a prompt that we were to use in our fiction piece of not more than 2500 words. The other conditions to adhere by included –
1)Name of the Story: How Blue is my Sapphire
2) Must be literary fiction that leaps off the page. Literary fiction is best defined as “works that offer deliberate social commentary or political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.”
3) The story shouldn’t have more than four characters and an animal
4) The story should play out in 24 hours
Prompt – All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am…..
My story submission did not make it to the top 10 but I am happy I was able to participate. I am sharing it on my blog for everyone to read and let me know what they truly think about it.
My story is based in Kerala and characters are not as fictional as they are supposed to be.
How Blue is my Sapphire
Nanikuttyamma looked around her with anxious eyes. The hazy forms of people around relaxed her. The nurse adjusted the drip on her wrinkled hand. A dull pain prevented her from slipping back to blissful slumber. The disease had ravaged her frail body and bouts of agonizing pain made her cry out like a wounded animal. Nanikuttyamma prayed that her ordeal should end because there was only so much her body of 78 years could endure.
A warm hand caressed her left hand and Nanikuttyamma looked up to see that it was Kamalam. Her first-born, Kamalam was fair and beautiful, long dark tresses flowing. Her dark eyes lined with kohl looked at her with sadness. Nanikuttyamma retracted her hand and looked away. The nurse meanwhile injected morphine which made Nanikuttyamma wince and close her eyes.
Kamalam had been sitting by her mother’s side for several hours. The radio in the neighboring hospital bed crackled noisily about the setting up of the Mandal Commission by the President of India. It disturbed her train of thought. Staring at her mother’s face, she realized how much she resembled her. Perhaps it was one of the many reasons why Nanikuttyamma was agitated by Kamalam’s presence. She looked toward her half–sister, Saudamini sitting next to her, gazing pensively into space. Kamalam felt guilty for taking up the space in this world that did not belong to her.
Morphine induced sleep is a teleportation device. Nanikuttyamma was 19 again and instantly realized she was dreaming. How else would she have travelled 60 years back in time! The young Nani woke up and straightened the folds of her crumpled half- sari and took a quick look at the mirror by her bedside. Her mother called her vain and arrogant whenever she caught her adoring her own reflection in the mirror. “This vanity of yours is going to be the end of you, Nani”, she heard her mother shriek from across the room. Her beloved brother, Kacheriettan must be on his way back from the court. She was the youngest while Kacheriettan was the oldest and despite their age difference they were very close. Nani pretended to be engaged in folding clothes while her eyes were on the door. She leaped with joy when she saw the familiar figure walking on the dusty path leading to their home. She threw the tangle of freshly laundered clothes in a heap and ran to the door. She peered more closely to see another man accompanying her brother. In the dazzling sunlight, something sparkly caught her eye. When the stranger drew closer she noticed a ring with a stone of the colour of clear skies. The stranger stopped and at that precise moment their eyes met.
Amma (Mother) might slip away any time during the night; the doctor had informed them. But why did Amma have to put her in such an awkward position. She gazed uncomfortably at the blue sapphire ring in her fingers. Kamaleduthi (older sister) was the rightful owner but Amma wanted Saudamini to have it. The ring lay heavily in her middle finger, shining under the lights of the hospital ward.
N.P Krishnan Iyer
Beautiful things always allured this great lawyer. Known as NP among his friends and colleagues, he prided himself in collecting the most beautiful paintings from around the region, the prettiest of jewels for his family members and pets like elephants. Standing there at his lawyer colleague’s door, his heart stopped when his eyes fell on this beautiful creature. With doe-like eyes, soft wavy hair, and skin that had a pearl-like glimmer, he felt captivated. He noticed that she was glaring at his Sapphire ring, which made him smile. He was convinced that he had met his match.
Nanikuttyamma remembered the day that she was getting married. The whole village had turned up for the wedding because it was a novelty to see a high caste Brahmin marrying a Nair caste woman. Everybody talked about Nani’s good luck that the most successful lawyer in Madras Presidency was marrying her. She couldn’t wait to move to her palatial home with several servants at her beck and call.
“What a beautiful bride you have NP! Where ever did you get her?” She remembered NP smiling meekly at his friends as he introduced them to her at the outhouse of his ancestral home. He couldn’t dare take her to his house where his mother was simmering with rage. It was very late by the time his friends left. Under a flickering light bulb, NP started undressing her slowly. That very moment, they heard a sharp rap on the door. NP rushed to the door while she stayed back on the bed, half-undressed. She heard an altercation at the door but didn’t know if it was appropriate to interfere. She heard her father in law’s gruff voice, “You better come back home, Krishna! Your mother is upset. She hasn’t eaten a morsel since yesterday.”
She heard the door being bolted from outside and that is when she realized, life wasn’t going to be anything like she had imagined.
“Amma, can you hear me?” Saudamini whispered into Nanikuttyamma’s ears. She saw her mother’s eyes open.
“Amma, can I say something? Why don’t you give this Sapphire ring to Kamaledathi! It belongs to her and not me.”,
Nanikuttyamma spoke in raspy breath, “Amini, this Sapphire ring was mine and now it is yours. Forget about Kamalam”
Saudiamini cringed on hearing her mother’s harsh words about her beloved step-sister and said,”Amma, this is the only time you have to make amends. This sapphire ring is making you hold on to your past. By giving it to the rightful owner, you will set yourself free.”
On her wedding night, Nanikuttyamma sat on her cot wondering how her life was going to be as an outcast. She wept for hours when she realized that her husband of a few hours had chosen to spend the night with his family without the slightest regard for her feelings. By the time it was morning she heard loud thudding sounds outside and someone unbolting it from the door. The servant of the house came in to serve some tea. Nanikuttyamma was grateful for the tumbler of hot tea after a sleepless night. But the swishy-swashy sound outside attracted her attention. She stepped outside to be welcomed by the most glorious looking elephant. Even in her morphine –induced hallucinations, Nanikuttyamma was vividly able to recall the divine form of Devi. The tusker moved gracefully without minding the new presence looking at her. Looking at Devi, Nanikuttyamma felt hopeful. In the first few months, she settled down in the tiny outhouse where food was sent to her and a servant was provided to do chores. Devi visited Nanikuttyamma in the mornings where the two friends spent hours together. Nanikuttyamma’s new husband became estranged with and days would pass before he would make an appearance in the night to do the ritual. It was early monsoon when Nanikuttyamma found that she was pregnant. It had been a year since she was married but she hadn’t stepped into her husband’s house and no one but her husband and the servants came to visit her. She longed to go back to her home but that would mean relatives and villagers wagging their tongue. She remembered the fateful day when her servant came late in the morning. Devi was not to be seen, which worried Nanikuttyamma and she asked the servant of Devi’s whereabouts.
“Chechi, Devi will not be visiting you today. She is busy with the wedding preparations of the the “Vakeel” (lawyer).” Nanikuttyamma’s heart stopped and she dismissed the servant. In the hospital bed, Nanikuttyamma began to breathe heavy and the nurse was immediately summoned.
NP Krishnan Iyer
After more than 58 years, NP sat on the hospital chair looking at his dying ex-wife. He remembered how beautiful she was when he had married her. He recalled how she spoke out in the Court demanding her right. He winced at the thought of the humiliation he put her through, in the court. What a coward he had been! That day in the court he insulted Nanikuttyamma who stood there with their daughter Kamalam.
“Your Honour, this woman deserves nothing. I made a mistake of marrying below my caste. Asking for maintenance from my family is ridiculous! I appeal to the court to dismiss the case without delay”
Nanikuttyamma glared at him with intensity that made his stomach fold.
Kacheriettan fought the case for Nanikuttyamma with a ferocity that was so unlike his usual benign self. Nanikuttyamma asked for maintenance citing reasons of no adequate income to support her daughter. The court ruled in Nanikuttyamma’s favour and NP had to pay maintenance of 25 Rupees each month. After losing his case, he met Nanikuttyamma outside the court where she demanded that he part with his Sapphire ring if he wanted to live in peace. He handed over the ring without a word for he wanted to move on from this scandalous episode and start afresh with his new wife.
Over the years, he tried to make amends with his daughter and ex-wife but every attempt was futile.
Kamalam watched her father, the great NP Krishnan Iyer weep silently and she saw him as a man consumed by guilt and remorse. “How did you forgive me, my child?”, he asked her in a shaky voice.
“Father, all of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am.”, Kamalam said in a solemn voice.
To this, NP said, “Atonement for my sins is the only way the Lord will grant me ‘moksha’ (redemption). Hope your mother can forgive me.”
Nanikuttyamma was aware that he ex-husband was around in the hospital to see her.
“Amini, make sure that man does not come close. His face shall not be the last thing I see before I die.”
Nanikuttyamma missed her second husband but he was long gone. She treasured all the life memories that they had together but now the mere presence of NP in the hospital ward was making her irritable.
“Maybe he has come to get his Sapphire ring back. Don’t allow him to lay his hands on it, Amini. That Sapphire ring is the sign of my triumph over the vanity and the cruelty of his family. I won’t let him take that away from me.”
With these intense words, Nanikuttyamma slipped back into the subconscious realm. Back in the safe abode of her beloved brother, Kamalam was born in the early morning of Khumbham of 1920. Soon she grew up to be a clingy toddler who Nanikuttyamma couldn’t bear to look at. To Nanikuttyamma, Kamalam was a testimony of her dreadful days in the Iyer household. Being the beauty that she was, Nanikuttyamma found herself flooded with marriage proposals from suitors. After much deliberation she decided to marry her brother’s close friend and also a lawyer by profession, Shreekumaran Menon. Nanikuttyamma fondly remembered her second husband who loved her with much tenderness. He called her his “sotha” (wealth). Nanikuttyamma smiled in her sleep as she reminisced the good years she spent with Shree.
NP Krishnan Iyer
NP remembered being badgered by his mother into accepting a marriage proposal from a girl of his caste. He knew he had wronged Nanikuttyamma but he didn’t have the courage to face his mother’s wrath. His mother wore down his fancy for Nanikuttyamma’s beauty by constantly reminding him of his duty. Looking at Nanikuttyamma living like an outcaste stopped bothering him as he immersed himself in his work. NP knew how Devi’s presence provided much needed succor to Nanikuttyamma’s loneliness. But that enraged his mother who demanded that the elephant should stop visiting the outhouse. Finally he succumbed to the pressure of getting married to a Brahmin girl, knowing well that it was illegal to marry another woman without divorcing the first one. That night, for the very first time, he saw Nanikuttyamma crossing the boundary of the outhouse and standing outside his bedroom window. She looked at him and his new bride, her face flushed with anger. She shrieked and raised a ruckus to which his mother responded with equal fierceness. His mother banished Nanikuttyamma and demanded that NP divorce her at the earliest.
After her estranged husband brought himself a new wife, Naanikuttyamma fell into despair. The next morning she waited for Devi with her favourite sugarcane. When Devi didn’t make an appearance, she asked her servant who filled her with more agonizing news that Devi was given away to a faraway temple as a gift. Nanikuttyamma felt like NP and his family closing all the doors on her face. Immediately she packed her things and took off to her brother’s home. She resolved to make NP and his family pay for how they had mistreated her.
“Kacherietta, you have to make sure they are humiliated!”, she spat out in rage. Kacherietta was beside himself with anger for what NP had done to his beloved sister. “Let the child be born, Nani. I will make sure they pay for their misdoings.”, Kacheriettan promised.
Nanikuttyamma couldn’t wait to deliver the child. During these taxing days, Nanikuttyamma remembered getting court summons for a divorce from NP. She was about to promptly sign it but Kacheriettan stopped her. “Don’t let them get away so easy Nani. I am going to file a case against NP for illegally marrying again without divorcing. Once I drag them to court, I am going to make them pay maintenance to you for the rest of their life.”
Nanikuttyamma relished the memories of the court where her ex-husband and his family wrung their hands in agitation at being humiliated in public. In 1922, that was the first ever case in the court where a wife asked for maintenance from her husband and won the case. She celebrated by visiting Devi at the temple and hugged her old friend.
“Tatha(Father), I think you should go. Let her pass peacefully. Your presence irks her.”
Kamalam pleaded with tears in her eyes. This time NP agreed and walked out of the room. She turned her attention to her ailing mother and noticed that she was motioning her and Saudamini to come closer.
“Kamalam, I have wronged you. I thought you were a curse because you reminded me of the dark times. I know it is too late to repair the damage I have inflicted on you but you need to be a bigger person and forgive me.” Nanikuttyamma spoke in whispers.
She asked Saudamini to remove the sapphire ring and give it to Kamalam. The Sapphire ring sat daintily on Kamalam’s finger like it had found its owner.