Those days I lived with my husband’s parents in their ancestral home in the village. A tiny hamlet tucked up a couple of kilometers from the sea - the way the crow flew, and dotted with coconut palms, Jack, Cashew and Mango trees. An old town and serene little place by the sea! A 17th century Portugese construct church and not far away a Devi temple stood as symbols of social amity, if I may. I wondered why my husband’s parents chose to settle down in that place where they were but only about half dozen families from their own Muslim community.Nevertheless my father-in law turned out to be a succesfull business man and highly respected human being.No one noticed or cared that he always sported a skull cap or well groomed goatty beard,and unfailingly went to the ancient little masjid for five namaz each day, and they were not used to identify his faith then. They were personal, peripheral and incosnpicuous. My father- in-law was simply Kochukunju Musaliar to the village folks. Nothing more nothing less!There were no muizins balaring out through loud speakers, and the six families took turns to announce the call for prayer. The gulf boom brought with it migaration and today we see quite a few neo rich Muslims who bought land in the village and flaunting their petro-dollar wealth . That also brought with it a new mosque and its fancy and unaesthetic ornamentaion. How could they resist being content with an ancient Masjid that is as spartan,nondescript and silent though an enduring symnbol like the ancinet temple or the gothic church?. My father- in- law’s objection to having muizins announce prayers through a loud speaker was ignored. They shouted down his question why a loud speaker, a prochronism during the Prophet’s time when the purists insit life must be pedantic to the dictations of the Koran and the Hadith. The Gulf money spoke and they funded the new mosque.
That goes about as the introduction to the old town near the sea.
I smiled like I would to an elderly acquaintace or relative and said, “No, I live here.”
His avancular expression was noticeable. “ Oh, old man that I’m do not remember seeing you. By the way which household dear?”
“I’m Kochukunju Musaliar’s daughter in law.”
“No, my husband works in the town and comes back only on weekends.”I said feeling a liitle awkward.
“Oh , goodnes, save this girl holy Mary mother of God.” He looked heavenward and then he continued. “How unkind of your husband to leave you an young woman alone here!”
“ No, no, I’m not alone, I live with my father and mother-in-law.I take care of them.”
I was quite uneasy and was swiftly on guard.
“Ha, Oh you know what I mean. The acrobatics with your husband can happen only over weekends. That is a pity dear.”
“ Dear how do you tolerate this unkindness.. you see if female vagina is untouched for long it sews up tight naturally.” He winked again and the repulsive chuckle followed.
I stopped and turned looking him in the eyes. ” Look, stranger. I do not know you, and do not care to know either.Now, what is your problem here? It is my life and my privacy. You shouldn’t be concerned about it let alone come up to me from nowhere , ask such outrageous questions and make unsolicited suggestions.”
“ I want to talk to the priest - the Father? “I said breathlessly.
It was then that I noticed that it was the same old man Ouseph I was addressing. That group of a dozen parishshoners, looked t me with curioisty. I repeated my demand with firmness. “ Where is the Father. I want to speak to him.”
“Oh my dear young woman, what brings Kochukunju Muslaiar’s daughter in law in to this church?” said a parishoner.
“ What is it my little girl. Fathima’s daughter in law is mine too. What ails you? If there is something we could do, we should not wait fror the priest.”
“But how could that be so? She is not a parishoner. And non parishoner that too from another community sitting here itself is not appropriate.” That was one Sebastin Muthalali who has the department store in the village. He returned from Kuwait a few years ago.
“ I want the Father to be present. I’ll wait for him or I will go to the police.”
The alatar man a lean scrawny figure shouted from the door to the priest’s chamber . “ Atchan has gone to town. He left a few minutes ago. Won’t be back till late evening.”
“ Haa that is not surprising. He must have sneaked out hearing all this.When has the Father ever handled an issue. Is it not his creed to escape such situations.” Mariamma Chettathi was candid.
“ Koche, don’t you know it is common for men to pass lighthearted comments? If you begin to take up every word and utterances there will be no time left in a day to pursue other important matters.” I did not care to see who among that motely group said that.
“ Mariamma Chettathi will you come with me to the man’s house?”
I asked and soon a small group volunteered to join me, albeit reluctantly and after strong persuasion from Mariamma Chettathi.
“Yes , girls should not be this obstinate . This is arrogance. Let these things pass.” I looked towards the man who said that, and he cast his eyes down not meeting my gaze.
A man of about 40 came out smiling . “ Yes, yes welcome welcome the parish committee is out early today on fund collection I suppose.”
“ Nothing to do with fund collection. It is about Appachan, your father.”The elderly man in the group announced.
“What about him?” asked the son, a bit curious and surprised.
I moved to the verandha and said.” Appacha why don’t you please come out for a moment?”
Ouseph timidly looked at me and cast his eyes down and without looking at me he muttered feebly “What my dear girl? What can I do for you?”
“ Appacha. Now why don’t you tell these folks what you spoke to me this morning?”
“My girl, I’m old as your grandfather.”I could barely hear him.
“Yes Appacha. That is what stopped me back from slapping you, your age.”
“ Ha Ousephe, is it true what she says? Surely you know why we all are here.All said and done , what you said to her was too gross. You ought to have thought about the holy sacrament you take before being so offensive and indecent and that to a girl who is just as old as your grand child. Shameful!”
“ See that is what embolden people like this appachan. Your husband ought to be ashamed. Don’t you folks have a girl child growing up? Will he advise the same to her when someone tries this on her?” I could see the man’s head from over the compound wall go down, and the expressionless face of his daughter.
“Ouseph , it won’t help if you sit quiet like this. Tell yes or no if what this girl says are true.” The senior in the group said.
Ouseph was sitting expressionless both palms supporting his head, his eyes cast down.Obviously unable to meet our eyes. That pitful image seemed to be melting my fury inside, I could not but pity that miserable old creature. He sat there like a cornored old stag, its antlers broke and hanging.I turned to the son said, “ Chetta , who else is with Appachan besides you?”
“ What has that got to do with this drama ?”
“ Old age and lonliness Chetta. You have avenues to entertain and make merry, obviously friends too. But think of the old . There is no one to talk to , to express their feelings , some banter and fun.”
”Koche what are you trying to tell? I don’t take care of my father?”
“ Chetta , please do not be presumptuous. Did I say so?”
“Then what. Clara sends bank draft every month. She sends it in his name , she dosen’t trust me with money , that stupid woman. Every day, three or four times he can have sumptuous food. Every day mutton , beef and fish. He even gets brandy bottles twice a month from town. He has televison and cable. What more should I give a parent. You folks can easily conclude . I take care of my father very well. Now don’t expect me to sit by his feet and massage all day.”
I almost lost my bearings ,I stopped in my track and gathering my wit I moved up to him – glaring and looking him in the eye, I said. “ Yes, you can call me a slut. Isn’t that the easiest way of defense you men know. I have been warned that if I make an issue of this it will hurt me , my respectability and family’s status. So be it. Brother, I understand your wife works in the Gulf and sends you money so that you and this Appachan could built this bungalow and live merrily. Did your Appachan not tell you that if your wife did not have regular sex , her vagina might get sewed up naturally? He warned me this morning.So better take care my friend.”
I turned around and walked back leaving behind a thrilled Marimma Chettathi as I could see from her face, and obviously a stunt son. The rest of the group may have stared at my receding figure.