“Amma please. Venda amma. Please”, Lakshmi was pleading with her mother.
“Lachu, chonna kelu. You should not say no”, her mother tried to convince her.
“Aenna, come here. Please convince Lachu”, Lakshmi’s mother called her father.
“Kondhe, why are you saying no? Do as your ammai says dear”, her father animatedly said looking over The Hindu paper. However, he was partly irritated because his morning dose of filter kaapi was getting delayed due to the unforeseen twist of events.
“Appa, you too?” Lachu sighed helplessly.
“Adhei, leave Lachu. If she doesn’t want to do, let her not do”, finally announced the father, thereby startling the mother. “You go and get me the kaapi”, added the father.
“Everyone do as your wish. Who am I in this house? My thangai ponnu Keerthana listens to her mother and doesn’t do anything against her wishes. But here! Naan vaangeendu vandha varam…”
“Keerthana is seven years old. And I am seventeen!” Lachu interjected.
“Rama… Rama… Rama…. What are you arguing upon? Rama… Rama… Rama…” came the voice from across the living room.
Thathi was chanting her usual “Rama… Rama…” chants and starting her day after the head bath. She lives her life based on a timetable – Wake up at six in the morning, apply oil to the hair and body, take an elaborate hot water bath (unmindful of the weather or availability of water or even power cuts for that matter), dry the hair in the sun and start chanting verses from Vishnu Sahasranamam on Mondays and Thursdays, Lalitha Sahasranamam on Tuesdays and Fridays apart from the daily chanting of Bhagavat Gita and Narayaneeyam. Of course, Lingashtakam on Pradosham and Kandha Sashti Kavasam on Shashti.
“Amma, Lachu says she doesn’t want to tie the nombu charadu” announced the mother and Lachu bit her lips. Thathi is the most powerful weapon that her mother uses on her for almost anything and everything.
“Lachu ma, don’t say no. Tie the charadu like a chamathu. Do you know, when Yamadharmaraja took Satyavan’s life with Him, Savitri – a pure pathivrathai – followed Yama to get her Praananathan’s life back. Yama was confused. He didn’t know what to do. He tried to make Savithri understand that it is impossible to give back the dead and that it is against the law of nature. But, Savithri was adamant. “I will not go without my husband”, she said determinedly. Yama impressed by her devotion towards husband, offered three boons.
“Oh Yamadharmaraja! Thanks a lot for showering me with mercy. I feel blessed. First, please bless my father with a son.”
“Thathaasthu!” said Lord Yama
Second, kindly reinstate my in-laws their kingdom with full glory.
“Thathaasthu!” said Lord Yama”
Finally, I would like to bear my husband’s children.”
“Thathaasthu!” said Lord Yama and soon realized that he was tricked by Savithri and let her reunite with her husband”
“Lachu ma, ippo chollu, don’t you want to be brave and smart like Savithri?”
Lachu has been listening to this story year after year. She knew that no trick would work with her thathi.
Reluctantly, Lachu tied the yellow thread around her neck and prayed to God as her mother offered nombu adai to God.
That day, Lachu didn’t feel like going to school although her practical examination was going on. She had always wanted to take Humanities and pursue a career in journalism. But, her mother, grandmother and other extended family members persuaded her to take Pure Science. “Your appa is a doctor and you should also become a doctor. Don’t worry, you have secured 95% in SSLC and you will do well”, said everyone.
“Kondhe, if you want to do journalism, then do it. Don’t listen to others. Appa is there with you”, Lachu’s father had said one evening over the usual morning kaapi session. That was also the moment when Lachu decided that she should become a doctor.
As she walked across the familiar school verandah, Lachu displayed a brave face. She was prepared for the worse.
“Lakshmi, when did you get married? Why didn’t you invite me?”
“Did you parents sense that you may not be able to clear your twelfth standard? Is that why they married you off in such a tender age?”
“Isn’t child marriage banned in India? Or wait, are you eighteen already? Oldie…!”
Lachu tried to be as patient as possible. She gritted her teeth at times and sometimes giggled within. She has been hearing these comments year after year. She remembered that she had even cried once when she was eight years old. She thought that her parents were trying to fix her marriage because some of her friends had enlightened her with the fact that only married woman wear yellow thread around their neck.
But that day, Lachu didn’t care. Her thathi’s words resonated in her mind – “Don’t you want to be brave and smart like Savithri?” –“Yes”, she whispered within her and walked confidently into the examination hall.
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