And Kusuma so …
Channa’s mother, who sat glued to the door of her hut (that hadn’t seen lime or colour wash not even for the fire walking festival), had her eyes turned to her husband. Her husband sat where he always did.
‘What now,’ she said. The exact same expression of ‘what now’ in his eyes, Channa’s father turned to look at her.
‘Come over here, won’t you?’ Channa’s mother called.
Not rising from where he sat, Channa’s father said, ‘If you spoke from there, think I wouldn’t hear you?’
‘That same thing, dear, it’s on everybody’s lips …It’d be good if we could go see him.’
A laugh rippling through his cough, Channa’s father said, ‘Foolish woman. What d’ you know about a place like Bombay, unh? You think I haven’t asked around? Get this
right woman, people say everything on that side of that city is nothing but water. Hardly three paisa worth of what we call land! So, even if the trinity of-Hari, Hara, and Brahma were to come down from above, folks would be hard pressed. It’s that kind of place!How on Earth d’ you think the likes of us will ever enter there …? Just what are you wanting me to say, woman …?’
‘That’s just it. We’ll go as far as the gates of the king’s durbar hall. Our boy will surely be there. After all he has his many duties.’
‘Oh, you senseless woman …. Let’s say we do … think we can walk all the way? As it goes they say it takes no less than three days by the railway. Three more to return! Anything up to a hundred rupees per head. Yess!How much d’ you think we’ll need? Tot it up yourself … just how much?’
‘That’s just it. We’ll put our other son to bonded labour and then, maybe lease out that bit of land …?’
‘Ayee, you stupid one … think that’ll do? Say we beg from those who have and run into debt or losses so we can … then soon as he lays his eyes on us, that king says, “Oh, so you be Channa’s relations, and he an Untouchable …?” And he takes it upon himself to slice off our baby’s head … what then? Coming to think of it, there being nothing but water over there … and if he chops off our boy’s head and tosses it into the water … there’d be nothing left for the likes of us to ….’
‘There you go off again! The moment we set our eyes on that king, we’ll fall at his feet and say, “We be the bonded labourers in the house of Channarasa who works for your majesty … We were only passing by, your highness ….”‘ Then if he goes on and asks us about anything else …
“‘Our master, Channarasa, he belongs to a big family, royal highness, his shop the biggest in town and such that three men can stretch end to end! Whether it be jowar or ragi or millet used for cooking uppittu … whatever it is the eye wishes to see and as much … piled sky high over there! A5 for those gunny sacks filled with tea leaves and coffee powder that lie around … you must see it to believe it, your highness!”
‘That’s just what we’ll say… and more! And when we’re to leave, won’t our Channa walk a piece of the way with us … slip a something from his finger’s grip into my palm … and holding my hand, won’t he say … “Amma … this a hundred rupees for you …”
‘Oh, you silly woman. Listen to me, will you …. Say I were to give heed and go on and do all you say, we’re doubly sure to find ourselves in more trouble than we’d asked for. Enough of that woman. Just remember this, my dear. If we bide by our words and our deeds, one day or the other, he’s bound to come back to us. Then he might come to us as a fortune teller … or he might come to us as a songster … who knows?
… He might even come back as a sorcerer ….
‘Whatever form he chooses … and whichever day he does … one day or the other … won’t he come back to us? Won’t he … ever …?’
‘And why won’t he, woman? The bonds of blood … they’re big, bigger than everything else … dear …!’
Her Eyes Turned to her Husband
And Kusuma so …