“Lets finalise this alliance , Shastriji” said Ganapathy Iyer. Shastriji replied,” It’s a wise decision Iyer and I am sure you will never regret it. Paapa will be happy. “ “ Mami, give me some water”, he continued at the same breadth to Ganapathy Iyer’s wife, Kamalam, who was meekly standing behind the door listening to the conversation both the men were having. She went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water and a plate and said,”Not just water, Shastriji. Please have this barfi also. You have brought such wonderful news today”.Shastriji drank the water in one gulp and took 4-5 barfis in his large hands and said,”Okay Iyer, I will take your leave now. Have thousand and eight tasks to complete. Please pass on my blessings and wishes to Paapa”. He took his yellow coloured cloth , which proudly displayed the name of the local textile shop in one hand and a palm leaf fan in another and set off to his next “client”.
Shastriji,whose real name was Narayana Iyer was the village pandit who conducted all rites and rituals for the families in the village. He was a rotund figure, with a huge belly and a pleasant disposition. Since he was the contact point for all the families in the village, he was the possessor of the most important information – the list of boys and girls of marriageable age. He was a fore runner to the present day matrimonial sites. The list he had was an exhaustive one which included the person’s name, age, family background, caste, sub-sect. In case of boys the list would include qualification, job, salary and in case of girls there will be a remark listing out her domestic and artistic abilities. He acted as a mediator between the families and helped them settle on the terms of marriage. More than his usual job, he liked this better because this had huge monetary benefits and the fact that people listened to him gave his ego , an occasional boost.
Ganapathy Iyerwas at the door watching the receding form of Shastriji until he took the right off the street corner and disappeared from sight. He came back inside and sat on his big “easy-chair” and called out to his wife, “kamalam” said he,” Get me a glass of buttermilk”. Ever the obedient wife, she came with the buttermilk almost immediately as if she was just waiting for him to ask. While Iyer took the glass and poured mouthfuls of buttermilk (sipping was forbidden), Kamalam started fanning her husband with a worn down palm leaf fan, which certainly had seen better days. Clearing the throat after drinking the buttermilk, he laid back on his chairand said,”Kamalam, I hope we have made the right decision. Paapa will go to well-settled familyand the dowry is almost nil.WE can utilize the money saved for Pattu’s wedding. What do you say?”. Kamalam was taken aback. Never before had she been asked for an opinion and she took a while before replying, “I am certain that you have made the right decision. E will have to make Paapa understand , which I am sure she will. So please don’t have any doubts and lets start making arrangements . What is the date Shasyriji said will be auspicious for the engagement? And why are you looking at me like that?”. She was referring to the surprised look her husband was giving her. Actually, Iyer had never heard his wife talking with so much certainty. He was surprised and happy at the same time. “Nothing,” he replied. “The date is towards the end of the month. Shastriji said that he will consult with the groom’s side and let me know tomorrow when we will meet in the temple. By the way, where is Paapa?” “She must be here any moment. She has gone to the village pond to wash the clothes,” replied Kamalam. Iyer closed his eyes for a short nap and Kamalam returned to kitchen sto finish her pending chores.
About 15 minutes later, Paapa entered. Paapa to her parents, Chella to friends and Chellama for official purposes. She was 18, fair , slim , browny eyed and a long thick hair with a tinge of brown . She was a picture perfect beauty but somehow it didn’t help her in getting married. Girls of her age were married and had children. The ladies in the village greeted her sweetly on the face and just as her back turned they would snigger and predict how she will end up as an old maid. Paapa was used to this but she never took them to heart. She was happy with her parents. But her parents were not and would not be happy until they got her married. She was aware of this too.
She had listened to fresh comments this morning too in the pond while washing clothes. She stuck to her job and returned home with the bucket heavy with the washed and wet clothes. Just as she entered, she saw her father dozing on his easy chair and proceeded on tip-toe to the kitchen where she saw her mother busy washing vessels in the kitchen. She continued to the backyard, where she hung out the washed clothes to dry. She wiped her hands dry and took a glass of water from the mudpot and drank greedily. She went to her mother and said, “ Here , let me do the remaining dishes. You go rest.” Her mother said,” I am almost done. Just a minute. Stay here. I need to tell you something.”
Kamalam finished her cleaning, wiped her hands dry on her sari’s pallu and ten straightened her sari. She took Paapa to the back door ans sat down with her on the steps. This was their favourite place where Paapa would tell her mother about what happened at the village pond and would bring news from the other ladies who came to the pond. The morning report over, Paapa asked Kamalam, “Tell me , ma, what is it that you wanted to tell me?”Kamalam took a deep breadth. She had to make Paapa ready for the marriage decided earlier in the day. She started, “ Paapa, you are 18 now and are well aware that ideally you should have been married by now”. Paapa nodded. Kamalam continued, “ God knows what I go through when I get to hear what people talk about you and their ideas for the delay in you marriage.” She paused to wipe her tears welling up. Paapa started to protest saying, “But ma, why do you..” Kamalam stopped her at that and said,” Wait, listen to me. They may be wrong in the way say. But the fact is that girls your age are already mothers and it is high time we got you married. Money was a major factor till date as we could not meet the dowry demands. Just as your father nad I were almost on the verge of giving up and resigning to our fate, Shastriji came here today with an alliance. They have no demands. It seems the boy saw you at the temple and has insisted on marrying you only. Your father and I have agreed to proceed further. Finally, our prayers are being answered.”. Paapa smiled and lowered her head while Kamalam continued, “The boy stays in the town. He had come to visit his sister who is married to the lawyer Raman Iyer. They had gone to the temple which is where he saw you. “. Paapa was blushing and her cheeks were deep red by now. Noticing this, Kamalam went on to tell the other details. With each and every detail, Paapa’s smile reduced and when her mother finished and asked “ Isnt that lovely?” All she could do was nod her head. Kamalam was thrilled, She hugged Paapa and went to the hall to tell her husband that they can start making arrangements.
Paapa slowly lifted her head and stared ahead. The “boy “ her mother mentioned was 40 years old and how on earth will she be able to mother 3 girls , the eldest of whom was just 2 years her junior?