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They had chosen the village as their impenetrable refuge- Malar from her broken relationship, and Madhavi from the war. Each of them meant the world to the other: a mother, sister, daughter and all.
She started packing her bags. As she went around collecting her books that lay scattered across the floor, she caught a glimpse of her bleeding lips and a swollen eye, reflected on the glass cabinet. Grabbing her bags, she walked over to Vaishnav’s room. A sickly sweet aura of tobacco and alcohol assaulted her senses. Bile welled up in her throat, as she stopped to stared at her drunk abuser for several minutes. Or hours. Or seconds.
“Good bye, Vaishnav. I have to go”, she whispered to the alcohol infested being that lay sprawled on the floor. Without a second glance, she walked out.
Madhavi was frying fish as Malar entered the kitchen. “Wow! Fish fry? Good for me!”
Madhavi grinned at her. “What do you think? Has it been done well? Guess what, Malar akka? This is my maiden attempt! I’ve never cooked fish before.”
Malar sat cross legged next to her and reached over to a large chunk of fish from the stainless plate on the kitchen floor.
“Hmm…delicious!” she said, through a mouth laden with the spicy delight. “..Mm…Remarkable for a first attempt!”
Madhavi blushed. “Come on Malar akka, now you are just kidding.”
Malar knew her enough to see that it was Madhavi’s way of acknowledging a compliment. She continued munching away some more fish in contented silence.
It was at the Mandapam refugees’ camp that Malar had first met Madhavi. The nine year old skinny girl in a tattered Paavadai-Chattai was sitting with resolute uprightness, with her dead grandfather’s head on her lap. “He is just sleeping out of exhaustion”, she repeated stubbornly. “He was wide awake all night wondering who was going to water the trees and feed the goats…”
She would not let them take him away from her. She could not lose him. Not after the war had taken away her parents, her little brother and Valli Chithi. And suddenly, she knew that it was she who was lost.
It was six months since Malar had reached the coastal village and joined the NGO that operated to serve the basic needs of the refugees. She had seen dying men and desolate, desperate women, but nothing had shaken her as much as the little girl who would not let go of her dead grandfather.
She turned on the TV. A prominent political leader was speaking, “If only you would promise your vote to my party, I would save my kin and kith dying out there in the war, across the sea…if only you would pledge your vote…”
She turned off the device, shaking with rage. She knew she had to do something. She walked over to her makeshift cardboard book case and took out her father’s diary. She opened it up and the scrawled words on the first page read, ‘Be the change you want to see.’
A year later, all formalities were complied with, and Madhavi was legally adopted by Malar.
“Yumm…wish you had cooked more of them… yummy fish, you know”, said Malar as she walked hand in hand with Madhavi on the sea shore. Madhavi looked up at the guardian angel walking by her side and offered a silent prayer of gratitude. She knew she was not lost anymore, as she walked on, looking up at the sky merging with the sea in an seamless blend of freedom, hope and peace.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: YouTube
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