Short Story: Husband By V.N.Giritharan [English Translation From Tamil By Latha Ramakrishnan]

Canadian Tamil Literature
Sababathi stood there in the balcony eyeing the scenes that lay spread in front, without actually seeing them. Buildings, s far as the eyes could travel. Tall, short, wide, narrow structures. “As Desomond Morris said ‘cages where two-legged human animals live. And the cities are but Human zoo that shelter human-animals. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong in his observation. In fact, for the basic problems that encounter the man of today, cities can also be a reason in a way. Most of the changes that come over animals when they are forced to live in cages can well be perceived in these human animals too, who suffocate within the narrow walls of these concrete jungles. It is from being in the cities only that the modern men wield power over his fellowmen. If one is to go by logical reasoning of mathematics that X=Y, Y=Z; Therefore X=Z, then city men becomes the main reason for all the problems that befalls the man of today. Isn’t so? But Sababathi was not in a mood to ponder over these things.

Cold is more than usual this year. The snowfall has not yet started. During the early days of his stay in Toronto when the winter season was on itsway itself he would start getting severe headache. And, the thought of his native place would invariably turn him nostalgic. He would be overwhelmed with the urge to take a deep plunge in Cashorina beach. The yearning to recline near the Navali sand mounds and enjoy watching the fields spread far and wide, the crownland seashore that could be seen faraway, ‘Kallundai’ space, the palm girls swaying in the wind would grip him painfully. But, as years passed he became accustomed to Toronto. Winter season and the snow do not threaten him now. They too have become familiar to him. These days darkness sets in early. By 4.30 or 5 o’clock darkness comes to shroud everywhere. In the mild darkness this concrete jungle is all ready to retire for the day. Tall and long, the CN Tower could be seen faraway and even from a great distance its outline stands out in all elegance. For the heart and mind that enjoy all these usually, today seem to be a holiday. For, the heart keeps thinking of Banu and aching for Banu alone. Bhanumathi is his better half. It would take at least an hour for the better half to reach home. Some how a solution should be found out to this problem, before the close of today. Arriving at this decision within, he goes inside. And there, taking Taquila and Marguerite and mixing them in proportion and taking out ice-cubes from the fridge and putting them also, he comes back to the balcony. While in his native place his favorite drinks were ‘Panag Kallu’ and ‘Kuranku’ (palmwine and arrack). Whoever has named it ‘Kuranku’ (Monkey), God blesses her/him soul and that blessed person should be given a mouthful of sugar for giving such a name. That monkey was powerful enough to clear the doubts of these who nurtured doubts about our ancestry. And, of the drinks of this country none is to his liking. Whatever large quantities gulped he never could get from ‘Kuranku’. It could be a symptom of his getting on in age. But, this Taquela he likes to some extent.

The very introduction of Taquila came his way only because of his going to play ‘guitar’. Please don’t break your head wondering what could be the relevance of Taquila to guitar playing. Playing guitar is the code-language for washing the dishes in the restaurant. That’s all. The first job that came his way on his arrival in Canada was this ‘playing guitar’. Greek’s restaurant. When it comes to work, as Kaundamani (Tamil comedy actor) would often say ‘ he would slog like a bull’. And, the Greeks like such human bulls very much. And, they also like to extract work that required animal strength. But, if you work to their content then they would treat you so well as none else could.

Before coming to Canada itself he was working in a Greek ship. Thus he had learnt a little about the Greeks. When he was writing G.C.E (O/L) he had studied something about such scientists as ‘Archimdedes’. The Greeks have an important role in the growth and development of human civilization. It is a human race that reigned supreme once upon a time. Just like us the Greeks too love to speak about past glory. That too, just like us they would feel extremely joyous if we were to utter the name of Archimedes or Plato. The knowledge that Sababathi had gained about the Greeks always come handy whenever he works with the Greeks. The restaurant owner Peter who was also bowled over by his ‘Greek’ knowledge, quality of work and pleasing manners would mix a drink with proportionate cocktail with his own hands, when Sababathi would be leaving for home after the day’s work. Refreshing it with the fatigue of the day’s toil leaving him the Greek would listen to his words about Aristotle all too eagerly. ‘The English alone are responsible for all the problems of the world. Not just your country alone, but they have ruined us also”, So Peter would often say. That restaurant experience helps him today

He drinks one mouthful. That is indeed soothing to the heart. Again, thoughts about Bhanumathi fill him. Problem is this. He and Bhanumathy got married just one year back. The problem that has not arisen for the whole year has come to be for the past one month. All because of a story that he heard last month. The story that was floated around in a small party thrown by a friend was the cause for the rise of a scorching tongue of flame in his mind. In drunken severely his friends were discussing about the fraudulent action committed of late by a few in the name of agents. They were shedding tears for those hapless women who are undergoing all kinds of travails and trauma in Thailand and Singapore. Among the friends one was working as an agent. He got angry and shouted at those who were speaking ill of the agent-clan. ‘There are criminals everywhere, in all fields. For that, decrying all agents and calling them all scoundrels is wrong.’ That was his line of argument. Of course, true only. ‘But for those called agents the population of our people would not have multiplied here. Aren’t our agents experts in finding a way even through the needle-hole’. Sababathi also has come to Canada through an agent only. Criminals are there at all levels and it applies in the case of agents also. This is Sabbath’s contention too. The way our men are being ruined it is all because of our country’s prevailing climate. It is this climate that forces every one of us to run hither and thither for shelter. This is the source foe all kind of problems. Therefore, if our country’s condition could improve then all the mischiefs and mismanagement would rapidly go down’, so another friend was reasoning out. Till that point there was no problem for Sababathi. It was only after that when they started discussing about an agent the problem started.

It was about an agent living in Toronto with his wife and children. It was that agent who brought Bhanumathi also to Canada. The fire of suspicion started raging high. With this agent Bhanumathi had retained herself in Singapore for a month. The very thought of it all proved unbearable. Bhanumathy’s beauty would drive everyone mad. And, it drove him insane to the core, to say the least. Voluptuous body. However much loosely the dresses are worn they would never hide her shapely body, its mounds and curves that would look swelling forever. The very reason for his growing fire of suspicion is her extra-ordinary beauty. Once again he gulped one mouthful. The drink that went inside started playing its tricks.

‘Shall I ask? Shall I spell out the doubt that is eating my heart? How to ask? Won’t she spit at me? But, it is remained unasked the turmoil within would surely break his head and soul. What to do? She is also toiling hard as a two-legged animal in a factory. And how to ask her who would be returning home utterly spent out…’ The more he tried to curb it the turmoil raging in his heart grew worse.

Christina would often say: “I will marry any Tom, Dick and Harry but never an Indian. Never at all.”

“Why Christina? There are none in the world as patient as the Indian men. Do you know that?”

“Come on, don’t bluff Sababathi. I’ve seen your Ramayana. Your God Rama himself suspected his wife and forced her to undergo the test by fire. Didn’t he? “ Christina worked with him as a waitress in that Greek restaurant. Some were color fanatics. They won’t chat much. Among them she was an exception. As far as she was concerned Sri Lanka or Pakistan or Bangladesh or India… those who came from these parts were all Indians only. In this she is a little different from those who are color-fanatics. For those color fanatics all those who come from these parts are Pakis. That alone is the difference.

“Sababathi, look at your Rama. You place him on a pedestal, call him God and worship him and give him your offerings. But, he couldn’t believe even his own wife. Whatever reason he could come out for his thought and deed of doubting his wife it was wrong on his part to have subjected Seetha to test by fire.”

“In truth, Rama didn’t suspect his wife at all. He knew that his wife was blemishless, purity-personified. He subjected her to that test only to let the world know of her chastity and loyalty.”

‘That very act is what I call wrong. Lord Rama himself who is an incarnation of God doing so makes it right on the part of one and all to suspect their wives and subject them to such tests.”

‘What is wrong in that? “

“Ofcourse, it is wrong. Marriage is not an ordinary thing. It is a rare kind of relationship or togetherness where they rely on each other and believe each other all through their lives. For this mutual belief if of paramount importance. Each one should respect the right of the other person. Did Seetha go to Ravana willingly? If the Epic was written in such a way that the people suspected her chastity and fidelity but Rama accepted her back whole heartedly with no doubt whatsoever then Ramayan would’ve been my favorite story. Look us at us. Till we get married we are living as we please. After marriage we are not bothered about our past lives. But you Indians, you would go with any number of women. But, your wife should be chaste and loyal.”

Christina’s voice could be heard within. It was as if she was giving out her typical laughter from closeby. Sababathi drinks another mouthful. His heart turns lighter still, and breaks. ‘In what way I am qualified to ask Bhanu? Do I have a valid reason to confront her with such a question? As a wife, has she ever let me down? Has she ever lacked in anything? Voicing my doubt to her, oh won’t I demean my status as a husband? When it is wrongful even to suspect our wife do I have atleast the moral right to do so? Or, to put it more precisely, an I qualified to do so?’

As the kick of the liquor increases Sababathi’s mind invariably starts walking down the memory’s lane. Memories that are snakes that come out from the snake hole and dance dangerously. At that time he had just set foot on the first step of youth. It was the time when he had started working in the ship and was busy listing down the differences between the beauty of the Thailand dames and that of South America. Has she ever told Bhanumathy about his past? By chance, listening about the wayward life style of those employed in the ship and growing suspicious if she were to come and seek explanation from him how bad it would make him feel?

“Look at us. After marriage we never bother about our past. But, you Indians…”

‘The full meaning of what you said was beyond my comprehension that day. But now…. ‘ Sababathi gulps the remaining drink. What happened to the headache that was throbbing unbearably? ‘It is time for cup of coffee for her who would be returning all exhausted after the day’s work?’ Sababathi gets ready to welcome his fatigue filled wife. If only Christina had witnessed this she would have surely reviewed her viewpoint about Indian husband.

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