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WAGES OF SIN (Prof.Sreedevi Krishnan)

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Savi'sfrenzied fingers typed on and on while her mind raced back to her past, dredging out memories she deliberately wanted to forget. But she marveled at her capacity to unravel the mystery covering a span of twenty long years without any emotion, as though it was all happening to someone else. Perhaps, she developed this strange immunity due to her survival instinct; otherwise, how could she bare her soul to a stranger on the other side of the globe? Stranger? Huh! How could she ever consider her daughter, her own flesh and blood, her ‘Kutty Malu’, a stranger? Was it that easy to sever the bond of a mother and daughter relationship ?

Savi remembered, her life was nothing but a string of seemingly unimportant events, but nevertheless an unbroken chain of strange coincidences. Otherwise how could she account for her chance encounter with Mayura, an intern visiting from New York, that too, in a small veterinary clinic in the suburbs of Chennai? And how could Mayura find the uncanny resemblance betweena stranger, Savithri Banerji, sitting next to her in the veterinary clinic and her close friend from New York, Malavika Menon?

Savi, deliberately brought her mind back to the inauguration of the Arts Club of Maharajah’s College, Ernakulam a quarter century ago. Clad in an off-white sari with zari border, her ankle length hair in a tight ponytail, Savy enthralled the audience with a semi-classical, Malayalam song. Later, when she received the Trophy from the Governor, she could almost feel the admiring eyes of a young, smart, Lieutenant Menon, the ADC to the Governor. Ignoring the loud drum beats in her heart, she walked away as if it was a pleasant dream......

Soon the dream turned into a nightmare for Savi , when everyone started noticing Menon’s motorbike hovering around the Women’s College area, daily.  She dreaded a scandal. She knew this would surely break her poor, widowed mother Meenakshyamma’s heart. She knew only too well her mother’s whole life revolved around her daughter’s settling down with a suitable, loving husband, after her graduation.

One evening, with that middle- class- morality-induced courage, Savi confronted Menon.
“What do you take me for? Why are you following me, please stop this practice right now ...clear, c-l-e-a-r?”
The closeness of the innocent face with a pair of hauntingly beautiful, luminous eyes flashing fire, unnerved Menon for a second. But recovering from the initial shock, Menon smiled, then broke into a shoulder-shaking laughter giving the impression that his shoulders were laughing. Savi could not help noticing his fine set of teeth and the curves of his mouth transforming his cherubic face with a slightly receding hairline, instantly into an innocent schoolboy’s look. Her anger suddenly gave way to curiosity towards this cheeky but good looking Naval officer.

“Madam, you would agree with me that this College Campus is not an ideal place for confrontation’, said Menon, sounding as polite as she was rude. “Please take a ride with me, let’s go to the ‘India Coffee house’. I will need a strong cup of coffee to defend myself.” Menon laughed again. Looking back, Savi did not know how and why she had agreed to go with him, that too
Dear as his pillion rider on his motorbike.......

Over a cup of coffee, Menon spoke with surprising eloquence. “ Savi, you stole my heart the moment you sang on the stage, a month ago? I never felt this, uh, this, this…” Menon searched for the right word, and added, “this feeling for any other girl in my life. I fell in love with you at first sight, and I want to share the rest of my life with you. If you just say you like me, that’s enough for now. We can get to know each other before I leave for Bombay, on transfer, three weeks from now.”

Amidst the unforgettable three weeks of hurried phone calls, they paid a couple of unsuccessful visits to convince the matriarch of  his wealthy illustrious family, Menon’s mother and her powerful bureaucrat brother. Despite the tsunami of opposition from his family,Menon married Savi in a simple ceremony in Guruvayur temple. …..

Though tears did not sting her eyes, Savi felt a heavy lump in her throat -- the memories of forgotten years ...her husband and his endless efforts to transform her to a sophisticated Naval wife, their family life..Menon turning to be a functional alcoholic with only routine work on his mind...spoke less and less and noticed her less and less...Menon's mother never missing an opportunity to point out the glaring differences in their backgrounds and caste..

Savi remembered how the news of Malavika’s birth had brought Menon’s mother to Bombay and how she had adored her angelic granddaughter. But she could not forgive or forget Savi for snatching away her only son, ‘my Babu’, as she had referred to Menon,
Savi often compared her to her own mother. For Amma, Malavika was a pure bundle of joy. ‘So, you’re, ‘malu' for your Achan, Kuttymalu for your Amma and for me, Kannamma; you know, ‘kannu’ means ‘Eyes’ in Malayalam and you’ve inherited your Amma’s beautiful, sparkling eyes. Would you object to my calling you Kannamma when you grow up and become ‘Little Miss India’?” Amma cooed, while bathing the baby.

But, alas, it was not to be, Amma passed away peacefully in her sleep, when Kutty Malu was barely eight months..........

‘Amma was lucky to escape this world right on time, before witnessing her daughter falling into this inescapable hell’. ….
 
Sighing deeply, Savi remembered that it was on Kutty Malu’s third birthday, she first set eyes on the very young, debonair Lt. Banerji. Though Menon, who was the commanding Officer of INS Shanthi, mentioned the new addition to his ship, a very young and smart Lt. Banerji, Savi never expected him to be so handsome and boyish-looking.
 During malu's birthday party,Uncle Banerji’ entertained the exhausted kids by bringing alive the ‘jungle world’, with his superb mimicking of mooing cows, clucking hens , meowing cats and barking dogs!

Both Menon and Savi were extremely grateful to the ‘young hero ‘of the evening. A generally reserved Menon, who gave the false impression of being unapproachable, could not help praising   Amit Banerji for not only entertaining the kids but also taking full control of some of the older children, especially the known bully, nine-year old Vikram, their neighbor’s son.

Promising an adamant, unwilling malu that he would come next weekend, Banerji was about to leave, when Menon suggested, ‘Savi,why can’t Amit have dinner with us?” Then turning to Amit, he added,   ‘Amit, I’m a strict vegetarian unlike my wife and daughter, who can’t eat a single morsel without fish, so, Savi has always some fish in the fridge, right Savi?’

Concealing her annoyance at this unexpected invitation, Savy quickly added, ‘I was about to ask Lt. Banerji to come for lunch on Sunday. Never mind, you’re most welcome now too, if you don’t mind I’ve fish curry made in typical Kerala style, I can fry some marinated king- fish too, please, join us’ , said Savi, walking  towards the kitchen.....”

Banerji enjoyed the viciously red, hot, fish curry and rice and praised Savi to the skies.                        
“Mrs. Menon’s a great cook but since you’re a pure vegetarian, there must’ve been some other way to your heart, not cooking, right Sir?”


“Oh, ours is not exactly a very romantic story, it’s love at first sight, for me”, stressing the word ‘ME’, he continued, ‘I happened to hear Savi singing in their Arts Club inauguration, while I was also on the stage as the ADC to the Governor of Kerala. Within a month we got married in Guruvayur, that’s all, not very romantic, ” Menon laughed, shaking his shoulders.


‘‘Huh! So, it’s Mrs. Menon’s music, that’s very romantic, Sir, as the Bard says ``if music is the food of life, play on”. Today Mrs. Menon is tired and I’ve to wait till Sunday lunch to hear Mrs. Menon singing, how sad!” Everyone laughed, including little Malavika.

Enjoying Sunday lunch and the special dish ‘fish molie’, Banerji said, “Please call me Amit, I’m at home here except for that ‘Banerji’ bit?”

Savi promptly replied, ‘Okay, then call me ‘Didi’, Amit’.

Amit looked up and for a split second, his eyes met Savi’s and Amit said, “I can’t call you Didi, you must be younger, so I’ll call you ‘Sabi’, we, Bengalis say ‘b’ instead of ‘v” okay?’

“Ok...thank you for the compliment . you made my day, Amit!”Savi broke into peals of laughter, sending electric waves through Amit’s spine.

From then on, every Saturday loaded with gifts for little Mala, Amit accompanied the Menons to the Gymkhana club. While a grateful Menon enjoyed his ‘Tombola’ with a couple of scotches uninterrupted, Savi enjoyed the handsome, young man’s unconcealed admiration for her and affection for Mala.

Soon, Sunday lunch at Menon’s place was followed by Savi’s songs and Amit’s watching English films with Savi, when Menon napped with a tired Mala………..

In less than a month, Menon’s dream came true with his selection for submarine training in Russia. But the initial enthusiasm was considerably dampened due to Menon’s mother’s refusal to come and stay in Bombay with the family, that too, with the lame excuse of her Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala.
But convinced thoroughly by Amit’s repeated reassurance that it was his duty to look after Menon’s family as his own, Menon bid a tearful farewell to Mala, Savi and Amit.

As promised to Menon, Amit started visiting Savi and Mala daily and either stayed back for Savi’s delicious non-vegetarian dinner or took them out to posh restaurants.

Savi, no doubt, was changing though unwilling to accept that even to herself - a sort of narcissistic, frequenting beauty parlor, always wearing transparent georgette saris which accentuated her curves. Her efforts of course were amply rewarded as she could feel the admiring glances of Amit followed by a shower of compliments, invariably resulting in her violent heart beats.
 
Then one fateful Sunday night while watching “Roman Holiday’, Amit said, “You know Sabi, you look very much like ‘Audrey Hepburn’, he paused, moving closer to Savi and gently running his fingers through her lustrous hair, continued, his voice dropping to a whisper, ‘except for your ankle-length hair. If you chop off your hair and wear jeans and shirts, you can be mistaken for ‘Audrey Hepburn’...Savi did not move away, instead, she rested her head on Amit’s shoulders, inhaling his faint, masculine perfume, listening to her own loud heart beats for a moment. Next moment, she was in his arms, her slender arms enveloping him, responding to his mouth, lips and tongue. She guided his feverish fingers to explore every part of her body. She did not say anything, language was superfluous, her moans let him know that she never experienced this ecstasy; their bodies dancing to a rhythm dictated by anatomy, they lay on the sofa, her fair skin against his wheatish skin, her soft rose petal body against his hard body, her firm full breasts against his broad, hairy chest......

That Sunday’s ecstatic experience was just the beginning of a never-ending whirlwind of illicit romance of several months. But both Savi and Amit had no regrets; in fact they were happy to recognize the truth----- their fatal attraction was hopelessly linked up with libidinal drive. In that moment of recognition, their past, present and future faded away.

A thousand tongues wagged about Savi’s sudden, almost unrecognizable metamorphosis from a respectable Naval Officer’s wife to a short haired, glamorous, seductress, reveling in Amit’s attention. Savi ignored the gossip, she was in a different world where nothing else mattered, except Amit’s love and no one else existed, except Amit……
 
But Menon’s brief letter dropped the first bombshell -- his mother’s arrival the following weekend with the intention of staying with Menon for the rest of her life.

Crying inconsolably, Savi told Amit about her only option, ‘suicide’.  She just could not face Menon’s mother and dreaded her visit .

Wiping Savi’s tears, Amit kissed her gently, laid her down whispering, “How could you think of suicide? I love you Sabi, you just relax, let me fix a drink”, he walked towards the fridge. Later, after a couple of drinks and a hurried lovemaking, Amit left.

That night, tossing and turning in his bed, Amit cursed himself for his indiscretion, his dangerous liaison with a Senior Officer’s wife. Unrepentant, he hated Savi’s seducing him every possible way, “After all I’m a man, and she purposely led me to this hell. I didn’t rape her, she wanted this badly, expected it right from day one. Now, threatening with suicide, huh! Already my Senior Officers look at me with contempt, talk to me in a threatening tone, what did her idiotic husband think of me, a gay man? , when he forced me to visit his house every day?”

But deep inside, Amit was scared stiff of Savi’s suicide threat ..Next morning greeted Amit with the nerve-shattering news, his transfer order to Andaman Islands - a discreet punishment – transfer for tarnishing the image of the Indian Navy!

A frustrated Amit planned a strategy to save his life and career, by marrying Savi. Torn by the magnitude of her guilt, Savi cried inconsolably. Controlling his urge to strangle the weeping temptresses, Amit muttered some consoling words, patting Savi’s back indifferently.

Looking back, Savi realized that the crack in the idyll of their relationship appeared on the very first night of their life together.
   
Months and years crawled by witnessing the transition of the charming, bubbly Mrs. Savithry Menon to a very quiet, much older–looking, pitiable Mrs. Sabithry Banerji, a mute witness to her handsome, young husband’s making advances to attractive girls. Turning into a monstrous, suspicious bully, Amit, that ‘model of geniality’ did not spare Savi from questioning her relationship even with the domestics , labeling her as a ‘Nymphomaniac’.

Once in a big party hosted by the Captain of a Merchant ship, Amit, in his drunken stupor kissed his dancing partner, a pretty air hostess, passionately on her lips in front of a jeering crowd. 

Later, when Savi protested, Amit came towards her maniacally. With clenching teeth, he thundered, “Shut up, don’t provoke me to hit you, just one hit, you, sickly woman, would die and I’ll be in jail. How dare you accuse me after ruining my life and my career? Your ex-husband Menon is now a hero with a great job in Naval attaché, enjoying his life like a blooming bachelor, while I’m accused as a wife-snatcher, breaking the sacred tradition of the Indian Navy, all because you seduced me to satisfy your accumulated lust. You can get out and mind you, I’m not going to buy your suicide-threat anymore. Go ahead, commit suicide, this ‘hurt-wife’ role doesn’t suit you, darling!”, expressing his uncontrollable fury through his flaring up nostrils, and curling upper lip, Amit said with unmistakable sarcasm.

After such fierce fights and most cruel accusations, Amit would apologize and promise not to repeat the brutal treatment. But, soon Savi realized that these promises were a routine affair, a means of gaining access to her body. Savy would not deny him the access, her only means to communicate to her husband, but could not respond to the ugly, unclean act of love-making with a man who hated her.

So, on one side lay a bad marriage, some semblance of security and an acceptance by society. On the other side lay the strange, alien and hostile world with a frighteningly oppressive,  male-oriented society, especially for a woman who had been not only just a housewife for several years, but also the worst transgressor breaking the ‘love-laws’ of the society, who should love whom, how and how much……..

Letting out a deep sigh, Savy surveyed the spectacular display of wealth around - the spacious living room with leather-upholstered sofas, Kashmiri carpet, display cabinet with Swarovski crystal curios, a splendid chandelier and  on one end of the living room, the wide, winding staircase with a polished banister and red-carpeted steps  and on  the other end, a bar with granite counter and an ornate glass cabinet in the rear, displaying choicest drinks - how Amit’s life had changed dramatically, almost from rags to riches when his notoriously corrupt, womanizer, ‘Uncle Biswas’, Biswas Banerji, became the Union Defense minister!

In the blink of an eye, Biswas Banerji got his nephew out of the Indian Navy, made him his trusted partner to manage his flourishing Business Empire. The ruthless, power-crazy politician wanted exactly someone like Amit Banerji, an unscrupulous, brainy and impressive ‘smiling villain’, to look after his shady Business interests when he was busy ‘serving the people of India’. No wonder, the honorable Defense minister rewarded his nephew with a huge bungalow, fancy cars, spacious Office with a bevy of beauties at his beck and call, frequent trips abroad etc.

Savi slowly withdrew into a world of her own, with her beloved, understanding companion, ‘Diana’, her brown Doberman . And then came the strangest of all coincidences in Savi’s life, that fatal, chance encounter with Mayura, her KuttyMalu’s friend, happened in the Pet Clinic, where Diana was taken for her vaccination…

The musical chiming of the multi-colored Swarovski-crystal clock brought Savi back to the present reality. She realized it took three hours to cover a span of twenty long years of her life, ‘only twenty years, seems an eternity’. But, she was happy that she could write ‘her story so far’ without any emotion, except that choking sensation in her throat.

Looking at the long letter to be posted to Dr. Malavika Menon of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, Savi, for the first time, stopped to think of her intention, the purpose of sharing the story of her life with a stranger.

‘So, you claim to be the mother of Dr. Malavika Menon? Impossible, her beautiful mom ‘Savithry kutty’ died in a car accident years ago while Commander Menon escaped, unhurt. Malavika’s Achamma, her paternal grandmother practically brought her up, because Menon was busy with Naval assignments”, Mayura words rang in Savi’s ears...

Sighing deeply, Savi shredded the long letter into hundreds of tiny bits and staggered towards her bedroom with a dizzy feeling. Lying on her soft bed, Savi closed her tired eyes and clutched her throat to prevent the massive lump from choking her.
“Wages of sin is death’’; Savy could hear distinctly the loud voice of the Pentecost Preacher from her Maharajah’s College junction. Frightened, she listened breathlessly……

Savithri Kutty, open your eyes, your beautiful eyes, just like your daughter Kannamma’s eyes and mine. Believe me, believe your own Amma, that Preacher is wrong. ‘Moley’, ‘Wages of sin is not death on the contrary it would be  living in this hell, like you’re doing now. Death is beautiful, the golden panacea for your haunting memories. Yes, death is the key to Heaven, enough of this life, come, ‘Moley’, come, I’ve been waiting for a very long time to hold you, hug you and kiss you. Savithrykutty, open your eyes and look at me, your Amma.”

Savi clearly saw her Amma, brilliant white sari-clad Meenakshi Amma, her wet, curly hair falling over her cheeks, fore-head adorned with a small line of sandal paste from the temple, standing with outstretched hands, in front of her. Savi could inhale the fragrance of fresh ‘tulsi’ leaves, sandal paste and camphor.
“Amma, I’m coming, I’m coming” ...

 End

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