Wounds that heal

Dawn broke lazily over the village. The air was filled with the trills and cries of dulcet birds. And gnarled old trees whispered under a steady cool breeze. As I tramped over the long winding track, a pariah dog from the slumbering village tagged along and kept pace. I was in Thirunelly, a green hilly outpost in Wayanad, Kerala, known for its ancient temples and fabulous trekking trails. I was traversing interior Kerala gathering material for a coffee table book.

Coming out of a bend in the rutted track I nearly bumped into the woman by the wayside. Her eyes bored into mine. I blinked, noticing that her eyes were doleful. Breaking my stride, I eyed her warily. Tears promptly welled up in her eyes making them gleam and a thin streak rolled down her cheeks. That stopped me in my tracks, and I turned towards her, even if ambivalently.

Her face was a tapestry of torment, her eyes, pools of grief. Clearly, her mind was in a welter and she was desperate to connect with someone. So I listened as she began to talk. Of medium height, dusky and running to fat, she was clad in her native mundu and blouse. Jet-black hair gathered roughly in a tight bun at the back of her head... and the dim, tawny complexion flushed with a torrent of emotions. Mottled strands of hair streamed across her face in a sudden gust as she stood rooted, relating her pathos.

The dog sat on its haunches looking up hopefully, while the village slept in the soporific air.

A victim of domestic violence, she lived with her husband and son in the hut across from the road. As I listened to her words, I could feel a tug at my heart. I didn’t need another prompt. I accompanied her to her little shack. Tiled roof, mud walls and an earthy odour greeted me as I stepped under the awning.
Swarthy and middle-aged Vijayan, graying at the temples but with the fitness of a toiling villager, and lean and lanky Chandran, all of 18 years and bored to his bones from idleness, completed the family. The men in the house listened as I talked. It turned out they were victims themselves — of a harsh, uncaring world. Words struggled to convey the intensity of long silenced sorrows. It mattered little that I was a rank stranger. I was human, just as much as they were.

Vijayan, quick on his feet and possessed of a nervous energy, was the sole breadwinner. Owning no land, he was the janitor in the only hotel in the village where I had checked in the previous evening. Young Chandran finished schooling from the government school last year and did odd jobs in the fields during harvest times. And for the rest of the year, he was idle — spent brooding mostly and staring at a bleak future. Tremulous tears pooled in Chandran’s eyes as unspoken angst racked his face.

I’ve always had faith in the resourcefulness of the human mind; even one ravaged by circumstances and misfortunes. I sensed a surge of warmth radiating from my heart — and reaching out to Vijayan and his family. So I prodded, and little by little, they began to lighten their hearts. Young Chandran carried old emotional scars. The vacuous eyes told me that he had suffered serious deprivation. He probably was a loner while growing up — no rapport with his father or mother. And with good reason, he clamped shut at the mention of his early days. Eventually though, that triggered a slew of reactions: anger and aggression at his parents, and hurt — a deep suffering that had a poignant quality. Vijayan, on the other hand, sat dourly on the floor — just as he plodded through life, stoic and resolute.

Tact, understanding and support led to a gradual unearthing of the pathos of their lives: the marginalised existence, the emotional deprivation, the all too frequent outbursts, the poignant moments, the longings and the heartbreaks. I took the long journey with them into their aching lives until a gradual, seeming catharsis paved the way for what I thought was the beginning of a tentative healing. As if prodded by an unseen force, I urged them to consider the possibilities, options and promises in their lives — my Malayalam, unused for years, straining to cope.

I don’t remember how long I remained part of the charged air under that roof, but when I finally walked out of the shack, I felt drained. Yet, I had the palpable feeling of a transformation of sorts having taken place... of despair into hope and callousness into caring. Bitter barren hearts were brushed for once with finer feelings. Preparing to leave, I felt the urge to hand out something more tangible. I dug into my pockets and came up with a couple of hundred rupees stuck providentially somewhere. Saramma, for that was her name, refused to accept it, but I pressed it into her palm anyway.

As I returned to the village track the pariah dog sprang to its feet and trotted across wagging its tail. I seemed to have found a new friend.  As I resumed my walk, now back to the hotel, I looked over my shoulder. Saramma and family were at their doorstep contemplating my receding form. I waved and they waved a farewell. I noticed then that Chandran had his arm around his mother’s shoulder. I felt happy for Saramma. That view soaked into my psyche and seemed to accentuate my being. Sometimes we touch one another in such unexpected ways!
Few days later while I was researching material for an article I was writing for Life Positive magazine, I came across a saying by the renowned Sufi saint Kahlil Gibran: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
I sat motionless for a few moments.

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