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Like Her Jackfruit Tree, This Woman Who Gave Birth To Me

Posted: May 26, 2020

I married him only after he promised me he would let me work and he did keep his promise! He ensured I worked in his home and around his routine.

The third winner of our May 2020 Muse of the Month contest is Rajlakshmi Kurup.

“This tree hasn’t changed in all these years,” she sighed with her eyes fixed up. She fell silent for some time as though reliving her memories through each part of the tree.

I also remember the tree, even though it was 14 years ago. Our vacations would be the time of fruits – jackfruits, mangoes, cashews, and many more. Even as a child, the jackfruit tree was my favourite. Oh, how we devoured the sweet fruit! Every part of the fruit was used in some way or the other. The raw kernels were used to prepare savoury dishes while the seeds were used in aviyals (a mixed vegetable dish) and a whole lot of preparations. No part of the fruit went waste, except for the thorny skin. The leaves of the tree were shaped into spoons to eat the staple food of Kerala, kanji or a rice porridge eaten with chakkakoru thoran (jackfruit seed dish) or chakka aviyal (jackfruit sabji). The jackfruit was a hero and thankfully, even now it is!

“Are you coming inside?” I looked up to see her standing at the door signalling me to follow her.

I nodded. I raised my head to look at the house. It must be more than 60 years old but still looks fresh and beautiful. There have been some renovations to the house, but thank God that the soul of the house still stands intact. The house had meant freedom for me as a child. No one reprimanded you for running around or climbing over furniture. The elders only asked us to be careful.

In city homes, it is not so, where homes mean expensive décor. You cannot touch the white sofa, you cannot draw on the walls and you certainly can’t drop anything. When you grow up listening to many nos, you forget what your true self is. It goes on to drain your confidence and before you know it, you aspire to hide inside a cocoon even when you are an adult.

“Prabha, What are you staring at?”

I had to take a detour from my thoughts and hurry back inside.

“Why were you staring at the house for long?” she smiled.

“Nothing. I was thinking it was nice that the renovations did not affect the integrity of the house.”

“There hasn’t been any major change, except for the couple of repairs. Some wood walls and roofs had to be replaced with concrete. You were there for one of the repairing times, do you remember? You were only 6!”

I looked up as our eyes met. Did I see regret or longing? What did she see in mine?

She looked away.

“Did you ever see me in your memories?” Her voiced seemed far away.

“Yes, but you were always the villain,” I regretted it soon after I said it, but the arrow was off.

She turned to me and smiled, “What was I wearing?”

What? And here I thought it will hurt her! She had a sense of humour, I noticed it today earlier on. We both laughed. Was the ice breaking?

Not yet. I needed some other topics. “So, how does it feel to live in the same house most of your life?”

“I never thought about it. I guess I don’t see any difference. Sometimes, your roots confine you in such a way that you get used to staying at one place. At times, you maybe even relieved that you are where you should be.”

“Just like the jackfruit tree!”

“No,” she contradicted. “Trees don’t stand there on their own will. I am sure if they could, they would. Wander about in search of friends and family.”

“And make jackfruit colonies.”

Her face brightened. She seemed to like the idea.

“Or coconut clusters or jackfruit jungles!”

We both laughed but this time, it lasted for a few seconds.

Then, she glanced at me and blurted out a sigh. “Sometimes, you set out to seek freedom cutting off your roots but the wounds remain fresh and poke you forever.”

I looked at the woman I despised for years. I had imagined her as a selfish, crazy woman who proudly exhibited her independence. Every time I felt alone, during my first periods, my SSC exams, and at every milestone of my life, I screamed at her, howling inside my room. I blamed her for my depression. Every night I took my pills, I cursed her.

The hatred wouldn’t leave me, no matter what I tried. Meditation, counselling, Yoga – I tried it all.

Then, having a father who fuelled my embers helped to push me deep back whenever I tried to crawl out. He saw the loathing but not the pain and loneliness that seethed inside. Did he ever even see me? Or was he ashamed of me? A car wreck compared to his well-groomed new daughters!

Why had I come here? For a closure? To suffocate her with my accusations? For a whole day, she was right in front of me. Why didn’t I do it?

This woman was nothing like the villain I imagined. She seemed real and heroic in many ways. Her appearance and action matched. Her light pink cotton saree matched her calm smile. Through her grey mop of hair and large eyes, I saw a confidence and a person who seemed to have it together. Nothing like me at all!

“What are you studying at the moment?” Her question startled me, perhaps the first personal question between us.

“Nothing. I have taken a break.”

“What is that you want to do, you know, in life?”

“Why is that everyone has to do something in life? Haven’t you done enough? What did you want? Did you get it?” Hope she sensed my sarcasm.

She let a grin slip. “I wanted to be a government clerk!”

What? How could anyone wish for something like that?

She might have sensed my question. “Well, after I graduated, and you know, I was the first girl in the entire district to have done so? “

I was shocked. Am I talking to a pioneer?

“As I was saying, after I became a graduate, I wanted to apply for a government job as I wanted to go to an office and earn money, be important.”

She seemed lost. “But studying till graduation was the only freedom my parents and uncles were ready to give me. They were in a sort of hurry to get me married, as if I was a time bomb ticking away.”

“So, you gave in? Got married and bid goodbye to your aspirations?”

“No! I married him only after he promised me he would let me work and he did keep his promise! He ensured I worked in his home and around his routine. He never understood why his wife had to go to an office when he was earning enough for a good life. His words, not mine.”

“Yet, you stayed on for 10 years!”

“The first few years were tolerable and then you were with me. I thought that was my new duty. Dreams and aspirations somehow slipped far away as priorities changed.”

I kept quiet. I did not want to disrupt the flow.

“We could not get along. He screamed to win arguments, I focused on conversations. Gradually, his anger started leaving marks on my face and body and slowly, my mind.”

I stared at her. I knew my father had a temper and a furious ego, but this!

“I knew the time had come to get out. I did not want my child to grow in an abusive environment. I started applying for jobs in Kerala. By that time, my parents too had a whiff of what was going on. They said I should return.”

I wanted to ask her about me. She left. Without me.. why? But words refused to come out.

“I know your question,” she continued as though reading my mind, “He would not allow it and asked me to meet him in court. I had no money and more so, I could not imagine a 9-year-old standing helplessly in a court watching her parents argue and accuse each other.”

I felt heaviness in my heart as if someone tried to uncover it from the shackles of multiple emotions.

Only, if I had tried reaching out to her earlier, only if I had sought my answers sooner! I could have minimised the damage, to everyone.

This woman, who gave me birth, was nothing like me. She suffered for long, but never gave up, she fell many times, but got up and walked, no… ran again. Today, as I look at her, I see a calm person, with a clean heart minus judgements but only content in her life. If she had her moments, she let it pass and not overpower her.

I remembered this quote I had read on a library wall, “Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we’ve ever met.” The moment I saw it , I clicked it because I was so sure then my mother was strange and crazy. But now this quote bore such a different meaning!

“So,” I heard her clearing her throat. Was she choking? “Are you really leaving today? Will you have some time to come tomorrow? We could go out.”

“No!” I blurted. She looked crestfallen but as usual, she hid it smartly under that smile.

“I mean, I want to see how long those tiny jackfruits will take to grow up and get ripe. I am longing to swallow some yellow ones.”

The soothing breeze gave a loving nudge to the jackfruit branches as the leaves fluttered in the comfort.

**

Editor’s note: French author Marguerite Duras (4 April 1914 – 3 March 1996) was one of a kind, and one of France’s early feminist women writers – a French novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker. Her script for the film Hiroshima mon amour earned her a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.

A rebel, she disowned her family name of Donnadieu when her first book, which was considered “too risqué” by her family, was published, and took the name of Duras, from her “village of her father’s origins, distancing herself from her family, and binding herself to the emanations of that place name, which is pronounced with a regionally southern French preference for a sibilant ‘S.’”

Much of her publishing career was a struggle against the hardwired misogyny and sexism, even more so in her career as a filmmaker, where she nevertheless came up with some extraordinary, cutting edge ideas. In the 1950s, male critics called her talent “masculine,” “hardball,” and “virile”—and they meant these as insults! As a ‘meek and feeble’ female, she was supposed to have no right to her air of aloofness and outspokenness, or even her confidence that was considered ‘outrageous’ in a woman.

Here are some of her books available in an English version.

The cue, perfect for a month that has Mother’s Day, is this quote by her: “Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we’ve ever met.”

Rajlakshmi Kurup wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: a still from the film Thira

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Rajlakshmi Kurup is a freelance writer. An introvert most of the time, she loves some

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