Monthly Story, May 2022
Image → A.Savin
Archetype → Caregiver
Rasa → Karuna (compassion, sorrow), with Adbūtha (wonder) as secondary and tertiary bhībhatsa (disgust)
Although Siri’s hands were watering the turmeric plants with perfect automation, her ears and mind were elsewhere. The loudspeaker tied to the coconut palm down the street was screaming something from the political protest being held at the edge of her watta—the little suburban quarter that Siri lived in. It bordered the dirty canal. Siri didn’t care for politics; She saw it as a game already lost. But, this government has pushed things beyond loss. The prices were brutal. Business had been so bad; and most of her clients, being as broke as she was, could no longer afford to escape their homes or wives. So, she half-listened to the political clamour while wishing they would just shut up and elect a real human for President. Why is the President never a real person who has had to stand in the gas line, or walk on asphalt under the Colombo sun when the bus fares hike?
Why is the President always a clown, a thief, or a psychopath dressed in human skin?
She sighed into the plants. At least, the turmeric plants were doing well. They’re going for two-fifty for fifty now. Siri scanned the leaves, picked up a young snail and flicked it into the canal through the wire fence. She watched the snail float away in the black waters with a flicker of guilt.
Do we live in a world where we have to steal someone else’s opportunity to feed ourselves?
Siri told herself that the snail will find sanctuary on the drainage barrier stopping the leftovers of city greed from floating into the sea. She caught herself reflected on the canal waters, broken into streaks of small currents. Siri felt utterly alone. Her bedmate hadn’t come home this week either; He could barely afford to drive his tuk-tuk to Colombo after the fuel shortage. But, what made Siri feel more lonely was the realisation that she didn’t really miss him; she just wanted someone to tend to. She watched the slow flow of the waters, unconsciously pulling at old hurts that are better left lost.
Siri was Siripāla then; another man with a job, wife and kids. Everything changed the day Siripāla came home to find his wife Leela arrested by the police counter-subversion unit. Soon, all that was left of Leela were old clothes, photographs and a certificate of disappearance. Their two boys were sent to their grandparents amidst the hills and paddies while Siri rented a cheap bunk room in the city to save every possible Rupee. This is where Siri first shared a room with a man. In the strange years that came, there were fewer and fewer visits home to the boys. Siri thought of her two sons; Jayantha would be fifteen now, and Jothi ten. She briefly toyed with the fantasy of bringing them here to live with her, but quickly threw the thought into the canal to float away with the snail.
Too much had changed to go back again.
Knees creaking laboriously, Siri got up to her feet and stood over the turmeric patch. The smell of sea salt came with the wind, making a strange combination with the canal stench. The protest up the street was still shouting about the cost of living. Whatever said and done, Siri was glad to have her house; She was free from the weight of rent that hung over the many heads in her watta. The ownership certificate for this perch-and-a-half plot cost her life’s savings. The canal bordering it was filthy, and the house was mostly gypsum board. But it’s hers. Siri just wished it wasn’t so empty. The devilishly loud children next door were getting an earful from their mother. Siri thought of the pandemonium that surrounded her in the tiny rented house all those years ago when she had a family—in another life. A full moon was swimming on the black canal water; it also swam in the liquid in her eyes.
Like the ocean, like the river, like water… always one with the other.
>>Reading list for this MS episode