By Devanoora Mahadeva
Translated from Kannada by Susan Daniel
Ah la la – lah! how it shook and bumped, Turamma’s hut, palm-leaf thatch and all else; and following Turamma’s gesturing hands, Eery’s hands working, as they did now – grinding spices and masala. To the smells that rose from there dank smells of floors just washed and wet with cow dung paste, mingling, on the nearside, a rooster, it’s head lying ahead of its body, yet its body in no seeming flutter – drops of water having trickled down its beak before it was cut. Yet those tardy little breaths in muscle and sinew, fluttered, and flitted one last time, before leaving. Close to this, in a bowl that held the rooster’s blood – the blood beginning to clot – a few crystals of salt strewn over it, sat without dissolving. In front of all this, the lit incense sticks burning on; and this scent joining smells of masala and dung. Eery then plucked the rooster clean and singed it over the fire,the onrush of smells such that it could rile these nostrils, smearing over all that breathed there – all!
These scents playing around in this way, on the far side, Eery, her ritual bath over and observing a fast: her forehead smeared with sacred ash and vermilion, her hair combed down like never before, the castor oil she’d used oozing ever so gently and smoothing over her cheeks, and those red hair ends in a knot that seemed like a live coal. Atop this (seemingly) live coal – three flowers, sat a-smiling.
The mother so,
the son gets bathed in hot water, his bony body touched over with sacred ash, and spent, he lay with his face to the wall,as if he sniffed none of those smells that wafted around.
Eery filled love into her piety, and scrubbed the copper bowl that filled, could feed ten men. Scrubbed it to a gleam, and having drawn three lines with sacred ash around the outer rim of the bowl, lit joss sticks to it, and with folded hands touched
carrying all that she’d cooked and curried to the copper bowl,
she pressed it to her eyes one by one… pouring:
the parboiled rice like blossoms …
and enough to mix in, the smell-good Uduka
on top – the kidney, liver, tender meat
a palm full
next to it the brimming pot of sweet payasa and
beside this, the bun and rose-petal-jam that was brought.
the burning castor-oil-lamp held high, and intent, she placed the betel leaves and areca, and over it… the burning lamp.
Eery bustling this way and that; and Turamma nodding( seeing how well she had learned the rite), and Eery jubilant in her joy.
Covering the copper bowl with a newly made wicker basket Eery rises, and picks up coals for the aarati. She puts incense over the coals: the smoke from it puffing around. Raising the aarati in her hands, and coming to the hearth (that gave her the coals), she circles it with the incense plate in her right hand, touches her forehead to the ground, and worships. To the pot of holy water tied with turmeric threads, she raises the aarati, bows low, prostrates, and rising, she comes to where the copper bowl is, and now incensing it with the raised aarati – Eery’s breath is in a sweat with this. Now picking up the cloth dipped in holy water,she sets it down, and circling the aarati over it and incensing the cloth, she prostrates, and then coming to where her offspring lay, ‘baby,’ Eery said, stroking his head. He opened his eyes.
‘I’ll step out and be back soon, son. Under that basket I’ve got something for you. If you are hungry,eat,my child.’
He nodded his head. Eery then hid herself beside Turamma – her eyes planted on her child.
If he put it off another moment…? But his large gut playing as if it would take on the small,and with no sign of his mother’s return, Eery’s boy lifted his head. Eery’s boy who couldn’t raise his head, pulled himself up.
Eeary’s boy who picked himself up now thinks he hears his mother’s voice, and it coaxes his eyes and ears and drags him to the basket. However, the effort of lifting the basket with the might of both his hands nearly takes his breath away. Gazing at the empire of food spread over the copper bowl, he thinks. His wide open eyes, open wider. And wide eyed he sees: a leaf is laid out for him … and squatting on it is the lamp spirit, glowing!
Those eyes peeled open, are now wide open. Inside him is a well of sweat
– from where all that sweat ? It is tearing away and splashing down,
and the boy is gazing at the bowl-brimful, and it is filling the boy’s eyes
and his joy is flowing over, and running in his body,
and joy is filling the child’s face,
this joy reaching mother-eery and grandma turamma
who stood there with bated breath,
and this becoming that
withal those bodies too are joyful.
Joyfully gazing at the spread in the copper bowl,
‘Will I eat? Or cover myself ?’ he wonders
and those wide open eyes, open wider
yet that body too faint to feast, is all a tremble,
a trembling finger dipping into the smell-good curry
and the finger from the curry coming to the tongue
and the tongue smacking on it noisily, and sending it off for payasa
and chuckling as it licked up that sticky payasa that came back stuck
and stretching for the gulkan jam over here
and rolling that rose-petal jam on its tongue
and picking up bits of liver and kidney and sucking on it
and at once the life blood smoothing through those bones
and rummy about what to eat next, and not knowing whether to
and not knowing what to, and trying so much to …
and that body losing sense,
senseless it slumps over onto its side.
Turamma rushes forward, groping
but Eery is still, and at a standstill
stilled – ah! Eery stood stock-still
Ready and near at hand
waiting for the life juices
to score in those bones
Death devoured them in other ways.
The copper bowl-full
set deep in the child’s eyes
and Eery’s child’s face all of a smile
stricken by that smile
that deliberate Death leaves
that open mouth – open
those wide open eyes – wide open
and walks away –
– way and away!
Who were the ones who came. Who the ones who left. Who knows who came?
Someone gathered up those bones. Someone ritually bathed the bones clean.
Someone carried it, and, shifting it from shoulder to shoulder, some people walked
Someone buried it. Buried it and returned! Then in front of Eery – a smile smeared on her face – someone placed a pot of holy water with three betel leaves. Some one else lit incense before the brass pot, and the smoke drifting around, someone placed a mirror beside the pot. And that mirror – in it Eery’s face set fair with a smile – and that mirror now showing that smile.