2nd Innings – Part 1

The train was slowly pulling out of the station, shrieking with gusto. Two figures were trotting along the train – a young man in an easy sprint and a not-so young woman in a slow jog. “This is our compartment, get in”, shouted Muthu jumping into the train with the ease of young, supple limbs.  He laughed at the huffing and puffing woman who was falling by the wayside.  “At this rate, Kumari – you’ll be stranded at the station”. So saying he grabbed the woman by her waist and hoisted her into the train.

A jolt of electricity surged through Kumari, embarrassing her with its intensity. “Come on”, said Muthu and dragged her to their 2nd class compartment. 6 pairs of eyes fastened on them, devouring them with curiosity. Realizing too late that they still had their garlands on, Kumari tried to disappear into her seat. I can really use some privacy, she thought.

The train was chugging along. The woman in the opposite seat moved closer to Kumari and asked her sotto voce, “Is that your younger brother?” – her eyes were burning with curiosity. Yes, I have my best silk sari on and we’re both garlanded. This is how sisters travel with their brothers, thought Kumari dryly. I can’t blame the woman, thought Kumari. After all, Muthu is only 20 and I’m 32. From now on, she should get accustomed to such questions. She suddenly felt very tired.

The train stopped at a station. Some station. “Let me get you some tea”, said Muthu, jumping out of the train with alacrity. Kumari leaned against her seat, thinking back to the time she first met Muthu.

* * * * *

It had been another soul-less morning – toiling in the kitchen, making forgettable food. Washing a mountain of dirty dishes, since the maid was AWOL. Even the maid gets a day off to do what she wanted to do. What do I want to do, wondered Kumari. Her mother-in-law’s acerbic voice punctured her reverie. “You’ve managed to waste the milk yet again, Kumari?” The burning smell of milk pervaded the kitchen, as Kumari looked around helplessly, feeling inadequate.

Chithi (Step mom), sew this button on my shirt, its getting late for me!” – Babu was yelling from the hall. “Chithi, where is my uniform? Have you ironed it?” – screamed Lalitha from her room. The Pressure Cooker was adding to the din, whistling its way to glory. Kumari plugged her eats, vainly trying to shut out the myriad noises.

“Sir, Sir!” called a voice from the verandah. “Can somebody get the door?” begged Kumari. “Sir, Sir!” called the voice again. Something snapped inside Kumari. She stormed onto the verandah. A young man of about 20 was tapping the door. “Is there no end to tormenting me? How many hands do you think I have?” she roared. The young man was taken aback. “My! I thought I had come to my boss’s house. Evidently, I’ve come to the lion’s lair”, he said with mocking eyes, grinning mischievously.

“What’s all the commotion, Kumari?” asked Chettiar, coming to the verandah. “Oh, Muthu. Its you. Any updates?” he asked the young man. “Yes, Sir. The rice bags have arrived. I’m unloading them in the warehouse. I was about to tell Madam, but Madam is – a little tired”. Abashed, Kumari looked down, unable to face Muthu.

“Go back to the kitchen, Kumari” said Chettiar. “Don’t you have work to do? Can’t you hear Babu and Lalitha calling for you?”

* * * * *

Chettiar, her husband. “I could only find coffee in the railway canteen”, said Muthu, handing her a plastic cup. No, no. Kumari shook her head vigorously. Chettiar is no longer my husband.  Muthu is my husband from now onwards.

“We’re going directly to my friend’s house in Chennai,” said Muthu. “He’ll help me find a job and a house to stay”. He took a sip of coffee and grimaced. “I’m tired of eating out. But from now on, I have you. You can make me all the dishes I love”, he said, caressing her cheek.

The bottom fell out of Kumari’s stomach. She hated cooking. She detested the kitchen. If given a chance, she’ll live on bread, fresh milk and water. “Of course, I’ll make your favorite dishes” she said, managing a smile. “Take your hands off my face Muthu, everyone’s looking at us goggle-eyed. That fat woman in the corner seat is so shocked she might die of a cardiac arrest”.

“I’m touching my wife,” said Muthu loudly so everyone could hear. “If someone thinks that’s wrong, it’s none of their business, that’s all”. Kumari reddened in spite of herself. “I can’t understand his ardor now, can I”, she thought. He’s only 20 and I’m 32.

* * * * *

In the movie, the heroine hugged the hero and asked him the question “Darling, do you like this song?” It was all so romantic. Eons ago, when they were newlyweds –a lifetime ago, it seemed to her – Kumari tried it on Chettiar, in the breathless whisper used by the heroine. Chettiar looked up from his ledger distastefully. “Songs don’t put food on the table”, he said grumpily. “And for god’s sake, don’t touch me or use terms of endearment at home. The children might see that”.

Gradually, Kumari learned to swallow her questions. How do I look in this sari? Whom do you think we should vote for? By the way, I read an interesting book – can I discuss that with you? Did you like what I made for dinner?

Chettiar ran a grocery store in our town. Rice, pulses, tamarind, chilly, oil – these were his world. His universe was small. He got up at 5 AM thinking about his grocery store. He went to bed at 11 PM, mentally figuring out the profits he made that day. His dreams were filled with Tea bags, Sugar sacks and Soap cartons that he could sell the next day.

In between, he made some time for his 2 children from a previous marriage. Sometimes when Chettiar caught sight of Kumari, there was a note of surprise in this face, as if wondering whom this entity was, and how it came into being.

* * * * *

They found a house in Triplicane. Muthu found a job in a local super-market. Kumari started doing what she had always been doing – cook, clean and wash. Life hit the “routine” button, as it has a way of doing.

Kumari sometimes wondered if she felt guilty about leaving Chettiar. Sometimes she did, other times she just felt relief. It was all so confusing. Life isn’t simple like a moral science lesson, she thought.

“I heard you have 2 step-children,” asked the granny next door. Babu and Lalitha. Kumari wondered who ironed their clothes now.

“I don’t mean to pry” began granny. “What made you leave your first husband?” Granny had become a friend, purely due to her proximity. Kumari sighed.

She looked around her 1 bedroom flat. If someone had told her that she’d elope with Muthu 6 months back, she would have laughed aloud. “Muthu looked like a savior to me”, she said slowly. Yes, a savior. To rescue her from her drudgery, from a life that had become soulless.

I have been saved, Kumari reiterated to herself. And I’ll be happy this time. “Have you met Nalini, Muthu’s young deputy?”, asked granny. “No”, said Kumari. “Why do you ask?”


  1. Quote

    Ah! Finally you decided to write this up. Even after several years this story is still fresh in my mind. Excellent work. Cliffhanger is well positioned – since I know the ending already 🙂

  2. Quote

    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment.

    Special thanks for helping me edit this post.

  3. Quote
    Aravind said April 27, 2011, 1:53 am:

    Quite nice and well written. Look forward to reading the part 2 and beyond. Kumari’s life won’t be smooth sailing with this young deputy, Nalini?

  4. Quote
    Kavitha said April 27, 2011, 7:03 am:

    Very interesting Priya and bold story lines past couple of times that I have read. Eagerly await part 2…

  5. Quote

    Aravind – Thanks for your comment.

    I believe we hold the reins of our life in our own hands. Let’s see if Kumari is capable of doing it.

  6. Quote

    Kavitha – Thanks for your comment.

    I’ll publish Part-2 on Friday/Saturday.

  7. Quote

    Beautifully written. Looking forward to Part 2

  8. Quote

    Narain – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

  9. Quote
    Kumaran said April 27, 2011, 11:43 am:

    Nice one. May be in “Bedazzled” coming along. 🙂

    good to sustain interest.

  10. Quote

    This is really good…waiting for the second part. I was really engrossed into this…

  11. Quote

    Kumaran – Thanks for your comment.

  12. Quote

    Shruti – Thanks for your comment & interest.

  13. Quote
    Nimmy (subscribed) said April 29, 2011, 10:54 am:

    Great narration! Racy, do they call it? 🙂
    Awaiting part 2. Don’t make us wait too long. 😉

    PS: Special moments in the story – Humor and this – “Kumari sometimes wondered if she felt guilty about leaving Chettiar. Sometimes she did, other times she just felt relief. It was all so confusing. Life isn’t simple like a moral science lesson, she thought.”

    PS #2: I visualize myself placing an order for your book, on Flipkart. 😀

  14. Quote

    Nimmy – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    Me writing a book – If I do, it will probably sell 10 copies 😉

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