Some faces can never go away from memory. They are etched in us. And elapse of time seldom eclipses or erases the face.. Even before adolescent days, I was sent to my ancestral house to spend summer vacations. The white sands of that place bordering the sea, with its un- demarcated boundaries between families and homes was indeed a vast expanse, a canvas that an adolescent mind saw as a never ending horizon.
It was there that I happened to know Meenakshi. This must have been in my early teen.
She was pretty and cute little girl perhaps thirteen or fourteen of age. her facial expressions where captivating and her eyes always seem to tell the wonder the world is .She was sparkling and loaded with life. She used to join us (I and a retinue of cousins) when we venture out to the mango groves and the lily ponds that where strewn all over. She was always effervescent amongst us and in what ever we did and where ever we went. The day used to begin at around 6 in the morn when we children from different house holds used to scamper around the vast expanse and beneath the mango trees in search of ripe fruits that may have fallen down during the night. And Meenakshi was always the first to be around. It was a sort of early bird gets the food kind of situation.. Hours used to be spent in the ponds frolicking and yelling, splashing water and diving deep and surfacing from nowhere. Meenakshi was ubiquitous in all and every where. She was the daughter of Kaikeki Amma.. Kaiki as we used to call the elder woman used to do house hold chores there. She used to venture to around four houses that where spread around .Meenakshi was the last child of her long line of seven children. Being the youngest of the siblings she had to at times absorb the audacious attitude of some of her big ones. Meenakshi used to tell me how much she loved her family her, mother, father and the sisters and brothers. The family was maintaining on a kind of collective pooling of resources that they bring home. And Meenakshi being the little one was let to enjoy some of the spoils and indulge at times, (but all that was free was always with a rider).
Every visit to the land of fun and frolic during each summer holidays, and Meenakshi seemed to be growing in splendour and lure. During one summer, I noticed that Meenakshi was not around to charm the holidays. I was told that she was married and had gone away with her spouse. I felt a bit forlorn for not only having lost her presence,but out of a bit of envy as well.
Years went by and I met her again during one of my visits to the ancestral home. She was into the mid forties and the travesty of life, I felt had corroded her beautiful face. There where streaks of grey on her forehead. The cheerful girl who used to charm and pleasant with her presence was now doing house hold chores for sustenance. Where she always used to sport a saffron hot red sindhooram , her fore head was pale.. Her family had hit it rich and moved away .They where now free from all the trappings of the country side and was immersed in affluence and pomp. Meenakshi told me that she visits her mother on most week ends. The old woman Kaikeki Amma who used to vex to meet ends working as house maid now employs a retinue of servants at her beck and call. She owns a rich farm as well. Meenakshi’s life had fallen by the wayside to ill luck and bad times. And she had to come back from the city she lived after her wedding, and take up what Kaikeki Amma , her mother did long before- work as maid at various house hold.
I asked her if she could not approach her family for assistance. She smiled wryly and said nothing. Then she whispered with a faint sob, that she went to see her mother to pay for the half liter of milk she takes home for herself from her mother's dairy farm. And all that her mother could tell her was to remind that she did not pay the month’s bill on time and that the price of milk is not what she pays. Her mother did not see that she was devoid of even the last strand of gold chain she used to wear. And that she had to sell it as a last resort to burn the kitchen stove. Kaikeki Amma either failed, or did not notice or simply turned her eyes away from the glaring fact that how bereft her daughter Meenakshi was.