Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I'd just put the stack of test papers on the table when the lights went off. Damn, I'd forgotten that the load-shedding was from seven to seven-thirty this week.

"Sharade!" I called. "Do you have the candles?"
"Yes, come out to the veranda. I've lit them here so that the children can study."

The test papers would have to wait. I went out to the veranda. Sharada had lit the two big candles and placed them on the half wall. The children were seated on either side, reading from their text-books. They both had exams the next day.

I hitched up my mundu and stepped out into the front yard. The moon was almost full, and cast a silvery shadow on everything. I paced the yard, from the veranda to the gate. Actually, I hadn't built a gate as yet - the house was separated from the unpaved public road only by a fence of tiny sticks. A gap in the fence was the entryway.

Our little yard was bright with the moonlight, but the road, tree-lined on both sides, was dark. I dared not go out there, for fear of stepping on a snake. Other families on our street were sitting outside too, to escape the heat. They fanned themselves with newspapers and talked of the day's happenings. I listened to the low murmur of their voices and wondered what they would do if the load-shedding suddenly stopped one day and they had no half-hour window in which to unwind.

The candles cast a flickering light on the children's faces as they studied. They slapped at the mosquitoes occasionally. Sharada sat on the other side of the half-wall, hugging her knees to her chest, staring at nothing. Her red nightie was blue in the moonlight. I wondered what she was thinking.

"Did you switch off the TV?" I asked.
"Yes, I think so," she replied automatically, not looking at me.

I sighed. Ever since we had moved here, she had done nothing but complain. She didn't like the house, she didn't like the village, she didn't like the neighbours. She didn't like the village school with its crumbling walls and its dodgy roof. She complained that having to move just before the exams would affect the children's performance.

"It's not like they're writing the SSLC exams this year!" I had shouted at her, exasperated. "What do you expect me to do, woman? I've been transferred and there's nothing I can do about it!"
She'd started crying then, and as usual, my anger had died in a flash and been replaced with helplessness.
"You could have done something about it. You could have looked the other way."
I had no answer. We had discussed this before.
"How many times, Renjith? How many times do you expect me to pack everything up and follow you?"
"As many times as.." I'd started, then stopped, unable to remember what I'd been about to say.
"As many times as it takes for your principles to erode," she had said cynically. "Because trust me, that will happen some time or the other."

I thought now of my principles. Because of them, my children had already studied in five different schools in five different cities. They had never quite learnt to call any place home. My wife had stopped unpacking anything except the essentials, because there was no point.

And now we had landed up here, in this peaceful little village. It was in the backwaters, and there were canals everywhere. The children went to school in the morning in a little boat. There were coconut trees and mango trees and jackfruit trees and neem trees and banyan trees. The people were nice and cared about you. The wind always carried the smell of cold water and when it rained, the raindrops played out a rhythmic orchestra on the banana leaves. It reminded me of my childhood home. I had been sent here on a 'punishment transfer,' but it felt like Heaven to me.

As for Sharada - I knew I could convince her. I would bribe her with the hope of a home. She was looking for stability, and I would offer her that. There couldn't be too many underhanded things going on in this tiny place. And even if there were - even if the local rich man mended the school roof so that his son could pass the exams with flying colours, or if the Principal was a bit careless with the school funds - well, one could always compromise. No compromise was too big if one got Heaven in exchange.

Powered by ScribeFire.
• • •