Wanderers in Eternity – Chapter 1


Table of Contents: Preface | Life Cycle | Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05 | Chapter 06 | Chapter 07 | Chapter 08 | Chapter 09



Sundaram and Family

1958 -1959

Sundaram lived in a shed near the old Dutch canal in Delkanda Junction. Not alone though. His wife Thangamani, six year old daughter Janaki and three year old son Ranganadan lived with him. The hut consisted of a single room made out of wooden slats. The rusted corrugated iron roof extended beyond the wooden walls and in these shaded areas on one side were the three stones on which the pots were placed while cooking and on the other side were the hemp sacks, bottles, old tin cans and newspapers that Sundaram collected.

Most of the newspapers were stacked inside the shed. Hidden by these newspapers, closer to the wall, were safely stored lead, tin and aluminum containers. For the newspapers collected from houses, he exchanged these vessels and bangles. Multicoloured glass bangles were stored underneath the camper bed.

Sundaram slept on this bed. A child would sleep here only if he or she got sick. Thangamani and the two children slept on a raggedy mat spread on the dirt floor. Inside the shed which had two doorways was a semidarkness all day and night. All the wooden slats were moldy black. Inside the shed was this moldy smell. In the rainy seasons the damp musty smell increased. The odor of the arrack which Sundaram drank for the cold mingled into this moldy stench. The burning tobacco stink of the cigar he smoked to relax after a hard day’s work had permeated through all the nooks and crannies of the hut.

Yet, this was their home. Most of Thangamani’s day was spent outside the shed under the corrugated roof by the hearth. The acrid smoke that arose from the rubber wood lit by her continuous blowing into the fire also snaked through the wooden slats and filled the shed. Thangamani wondered whether Ranganadan coughed from a very early age because of this firewood smoke.

Thangamani often lamented about their sorrowful existence in this capital of Colombo. How many times did she contemplate about going back to her relatives in Yalpanam up north. But this was merely a dream. She lived her life in Sundaram’s dream. His dream was of buying a small piece of land and building a house with the money saved by selling sacks, bottles, and old newspapers. This house would be for his son Ranganadan. This was only one part of Sundaram’s dream. The rest of it consisted of giving a good education to Janaki and finding a suitable husband for her. For this a reasonable amount of money had to be saved as a dowry. From the money earned each day only a minimum was spent on food. To the green leaves plucked from the canal shore was added some rice and dhal. An onion or a potato was fried with chili on a rare occasion. That would be a heavenly treat.

Six year old Janaki showed signs of turning into a beauty even now. She had a tanned skin like her mother and her eyes were beautiful. The lips were full. Thangamani knew that anyone seeing her daughter would turn around to take a second look. She placed a black pottu on the girl’s forehead to take away any evil-eye curse. There was a similar pottu marking on Ranganadan’s forehead as well. He still ran around naked with only a holy thread tied around his waist. Whenever he tried to go towards the canal it was Janaki who obstructed his way.

Since Janaki was attending school these mornings, Thangamani tied her son to a pillar on the porch. A thin rope was attached to the thread around his waist. When the other end of the rope was tied to the pillar she could do her daily chores without any disturbances. Ranga would cry for awhile and then eat a chunk of sweet jaggery given by Amma and play with stones and pieces of wood nearby. When he started this game playing he would forget that he was tied to a pillar. This is how he would spend his mornings.

Thangamani would say many things for her son to hear. “Son, let’s go to Yalpanam. Yes… There your grandpa lives. Yes. Yes Appo we will take the train and go to Yalpanam. Kuchu, kuchu, kuchu, kuchu, hooo…”

Ranga would hoot along with his mother and laugh. This was their little game. Thangamani would laugh along with her son and then blow into the fire. The dahl would cook with the chili. While this is happening, she would cut up with the broad knife the green leaves that she had gathered from here and there.

Thoughts about Janaki and Sundaram would fill her mind every so often. In the depth of her heart was the constant prayer that they should come home safely.

Sundaram who went from house to house since early morning, collecting old newspapers and bottles would go to the school gate by the time of the last school bell. When he saw his daughter coming towards him with a big smile, all the thirst and weariness within his body would be washed away as if by a cool stream. He would get hold of her hand and balance the wicker basket on his head and return to the hut by the canal.

The smell of the rice cooked by Thangamani would awaken the hunger of Sundaram and Janaki. But the first thing that both of them would do immediately on returning home was to drink water from the coconut shell. Removing her school uniform, Janaki in her underpants would sit near her Amma and jabber many things which she had learned that day in school. The girl was fluent in both Sinhala and Tamil languages. She would recite out loud a poem which she had learned.

“May gassey boho peni dodam thibey

Pahila idila bimata namila barawela athu”

Mallitai matai gedi dekak athi

Wediya kadana naraka lamai hema nowey api.”

(This tree has many sweet oranges, ripe and juicy they bend the branches to the ground. Younger brother and I, we need only two fruits. We are not bad children who would pluck too many.)

Releasing her brother from the pillar and taking his hand Janaki would walk towards the canal. While Sundaram relaxed on the camper bed he would say out loud “Be careful, Janaki.”

“Yes, Appa,” Janaki would yell back. When the two kids talked out loud and laughed, Sundaram would forget the pain in his legs. How many miles had he walked this morning? How many times did he yell out “Goni Bothaal” (sacks and bottles) while his throat tasted like blood? He would hide all the money collected so far in the day under his pillow.

Thangamani would dole out rice, dhal, and cooked green leaves into three tin plates. The biggest portion is for Sundaram. Whatever amount he ate, his jet black body was always skinny. Thangamani thought that he walked many many miles with his thin legs because of the courage in his heart.

“Soru sapidu pohuram…waanga Janaki” (“Come, Janaki, come and eat”) she would yell out to the kids for her husband to hear as well.

They would eat their meal in the section where the fire is lit. Sundaram would sit on the small short bench. Thangamani would hand over the plate to him as if she was making an offering at the kovil. The next plate is for Janaki. She would sit on the floor near Appa. Thangamani would eat from the third plate while feeding her son while leaning against a pillar.

There was never much conversation between them. Thangamani would mutter nonsense to Ranga. The child would learn new words and swallow the rice with much difficulty. After this there was a lot of chores for Thangamani to do. While she was washing the pots and plates, Janaki would put her young brother to sleep. He would fall asleep in the darkness of the shed. Sundaram would lay down only for a little while. Some days, Janaki would rub sesame oil on her father’s legs.

After finishing her cooking chores, Thangamani would separate the sacks and bottles and papers brought home by her husband. When Sooriyan Sami’s cart came by once a week, a lot of this would be loaded onto it. Or else, Kandasami’s lorry would take certain things. The aluminum and tin vessels were brought to the shed in Kandasami’s lorry. All money was handled by Thangamani. She was the one who would hide the extra money in the clay pot buried underground under the bed.

Until it was time to prepare the evening meal, Thangamani would separate the sacks and bottles, wrap pieces of thread into balls, patch up old torn clothes and attend to the vegetable patch in the yard. In this plot by the canal other than the leafy greens were a couple of tomato plants, a lime tree and a bean vine. How easy it would have been if one could grow dahl and onions the same way, she often thought. But all that and rice had to be bought at the store. Cooking oil, sugar, spices, tea all this needed money. There was no way that one could save every penny that was earned. She always thought about her children’s welfare. She would see even in her dreams how Ranganadan would become a big businessman. But weren’t these merely dreams? Yalpanam, Yalpanam- the beat of her heart would say to the rhythm of the wheels of a moving train. Yalpanam, Yalpanam.

Janaki had created her own little world by the canal shore. Among the Habarala leaves she built a little house. Pieces of cardboard, bits of oil cloth. She had no girl friends to help her in preparing make-believe rice. Who would come near this dirty canal shore? Only mosquitoes and frogs. Once in a while an iguana would come and stick out its tongue and lick in a fly. Occasionally a beautiful butterfly would flutter its wings searching for flowers unseen and leave.

Once trying to catch a butterfly Janaki chased it and fell into the canal. She dragged herself out covered in mud. She did not go near the shed till her clothes dried. Not to be seen by her parents, she walked along the canal shore towards the junction.

But seeing the vehicles and people moving hither thither she got scared and came back running.

“Nee enga ponai?” (Where did you go?) Thangamani yelled. Janaki did not reply.

“Speak up, speak up,” Thangamani slapped her daughter twice. When tears welled in Janaki’s eyes, Thangamani also started to cry. “Don’t you have brains?”

When there was no reply from Janaki, Thangamani also went quiet. Janaki picked up a book, went outside the hut and started reading. She looked at the book only for a few seconds. Afterwards she tried to read whatever was printed on some of the old newspapers that were stacked nearby. She was forbidden to untie any of the already bundled up papers. She read whatever was visible on the pages. If there were any photographs these drew her attention more. She always tried to read both Sinhala and English letters with effort.

Thangamani who came to the porch after a little while stared at her daughter surreptitiously. The girl’s effort created an affection with pride within the mother. After watching the girl who was placing her fingertips and gathering letters together to form words to read, Thangamani rushed to her daughter to hug her.

Janaki muttered “Amma” and started to cry.

“Don’t go anywhere without telling me,” saying this Thangamani also cried. In a little while, she combed her daughter’s hair and picked up a new piece of ribbon and tied the locks into a style.

Towards evening she went with her two kids to the common public well to bathe. This was some distance away. The common well was situated between the railroad and the main road. If the place was crowded, Thangamani would sit to a side. Till her turn came she would rub soap on dirty clothes and bang them against a rock. The two little ones would play in the shade of a tree.

Sundaram always went to bathe later in the evening. He lived as if he were afraid of the world. He had never accompanied his wife and the kids to the common well. Though there were separate sections for men and women to bathe, Sundaram always went to the well alone late at night. When he came back to lie down next to her after washing away his sweat and weariness with cool water and scented soap, Thangamani also awakened in the darkness of the night. They pleased each other while the kids were in their own dream worlds. In this darkness they forgot all their troubles and sorrows. The damp moldy smell of the shed and the mud of the canal were all so far away from their beautiful world.

One day when Sundaram went on his second round to collect bottles and sacks, Thangamani was busy tying up old newspapers into bundles. She could hear the kids talking softly by the canal. As long as she could hear their chatter she would listen intently. When she heard their voices again her hands would quicken at her chore.

This day, the kids’ voices stopped abruptly. Then someone said something in a lamenting high voice. It was like a poem recited to a rhythm. In a moment the two kids came rushing to the shed and clung on to Thangamani.

From the outside came the continued recitation.

“Manalada puthey kiri dunney ma numbata?”

(Did I measure my milk when I gave it to you my son?)

While the kids hid behind her, Thangamani walked outside. On the canal shore stood an old bent woman. She wore a dirty white cloth and a ragged jacket but was pleasant and fair of face. In one hand was a bag made of reeds. On her other hand was a walking stick. A small red towel covered part of her silver hair.

“What do you want?” Thangamani asked.

“I am hungry, maam,” the woman replied. “I did not eat anything all day.”

With all these mansions all around, isn’t it amazing that his woman had to come to this spot, Thangamani thought.

“Come, come,” she said. There was one roti left from morning.

As the beggar woman came to the shade of the section where the hearth was, Thangamani brought the plate with the roti from within the shed. The old woman sat on the bench and asked for some water.

“Janaki, go get some water.”

From Thangamani’s order, the girl filled a coconut shell with water and gave it to the old woman.

“A lot of merit to you, sweet child,” the beggar woman said before taking the cup of cold water with both hands and drinking.

Thangamani hurriedly made a sambol by scraping some coconut and crushing an onion and a couple of red chillis with it and squeezing the juice of half a lime into the mixture.

The old woman swallowed the roti with this concoction hurriedly and greedily.

“These little ones were scared when I recited the poem,” she said afterwards. “I did not say it to scare the little ones.” With the water left in the coconut shell she washed her mouth and her hands and gave thanks to Thangamani and the kids with a lengthy twaddle. None of this was understood by the others. The two kids listened while hanging onto their mother.

“My name is Suduhaminay,” the woman said.

“What is the name of this daughter?”


“And the brother’s name?”


“Appa, that’s a beautiful name. Those days I also had a beautiful long name. Now I am just Suduhaminay. Those days I also lived in a big house. In Atthanagalla.” Suduhaminay’s eyes were filled with tears. “I also had children. My daughter ran away. My son’s wife chased me away.”

Janaki filled the coconut shell with water once more and handed it to Suduhaminay.

“Oh, this dear girl will have the best of everything wherever she goes. May she get all the comforts… at the end of all worldly comforts and heavenly comforts may she attain Nirvana.”

Suduhaminay wiped away her tears. “Yes, Appo, I also had a house and a family. Now I live near the temple. At night, I sleep on the porch of the village meeting hall. What can I do, dear daughter? It’s karma”

“Suduhaminay, you can come here any time you want to,” Thangamani said. “I will give you a little bit or rice.”

“Oh, great merit to you. There were no leftovers at the temple today after their almsgiving. Otherwise I would always get some burnt rice scraps from there. I will come again.”

Giving many thanks on the way, Suduhaminay got on to the road from the canal shore. After this incidence they did not see Suduhaminay for a long while.

Life went on as usual.

But everything happened with unbelievable speed.

There was a change in government. A new prime minister was elected and according to many, a new era was dawning under his leadership. Everything was nationalized. Sinhala became the official language.

Sundaram who came to the main road one morning, saw a brand new bus. How different was this from the old jalopies that resembled snake-gourd scaffolds? On the side of the red bus were written the letters CTB. The bus was empty of passengers. Probably it was on a learning route.

Then he noticed the letter “Sri” on the number plate of an automobile. Before this only letters such as CN and EN were on these number plates. There were signs of obvious changes. But Sundaram never dreamt how gravely this change would affect him.

At the Nugegoda junction a gang surrounded him.

“Hey you Tamil” one yelled out and yanked the wicker basket from the top of his head and threw it on the ground. “You alien Tamil.”

“Aiya, shaami.. oh, sir, don’t don’t beat me…oh!”

Though Sundaram rattled on and on, the gangsters did not hear any of this. The only thing they could see was a human form that was slightly different from them. “Don’t, don’t, don’t, oh, God.”

“Your people are killing our people.”

“We will kill all of you.”

“We will give you squashed rice.”

“Bring the bastard over here.”

“Hey, stop that bowser.”

The brakes of a huge oil truck screeched and it came to a halt. Sundaram closed his eyes for a moment. Deep in his lungs he could smell all the sweat of the gangsters pressing against him. Everything they said was only a great din.

Several fists landed on Sundaram’s thin black body. He cried out loud.

“Aiyo Mathiya, Oh, Sir… don’t… I am an innocent man.”

“Hit this bastard hard.”

Through the pain and the pounding noise Sundaram opened his eyes and saw the pump attached to the tap at the back of the bowser. The sun was shining brilliantly. When he shut his eyes everything looked red under those lids.

Thoughts about Thangamani and the two kids rushed to Sundaram’s mind. Janaki.. Ranga. Though he yelled out these names through the parched lips and throat no one heard any of it. When they dragged him along the asphalt road, his whole body was bruised. He could taste blood. His forehead went cold. His neck and his t-shirt were covered from the blood that gushed from his head.

He shivered like a deer caught by some hyenas. All at once he felt as if everything was cooling. The stench of petrol covered his brain and his lungs. Trying to get up, Sundaram knelt down. Washing away his blood the gasoline was flowing. He coughed. Unable to say anymore, he went on coughing. The pungent harshness burned his eyes. His arms and legs were convulsing.

“Oh, God Oh, God” his subconscious muttered.

Not only Sundaram’s tongue and nostrils, but his innards all could smell the gasoline. Suddenly from somewhere came a flame which lit his head. The flames that snaked along the flowing gasoline, burned his face and his neck and turned his clothes into ashes in a moment. Sundaram fell on the ground and rolled.

Amidst the yelling and screaming and the amazement could be heard laughter. From the burning body came a hissing noise. From the great heat came a cooling. That was the coolness of the blood that was pouring out of every hole in his body. For a momnet everything turned red and then went dark. Everywhere was one great chaotic din. It was a rush coming from the darkest depth of the sea. My woman..my eternity… Thangamani.. My sansaram. For a second, seeing Thangamani’s eyes, Surandaram forgot all the pain and the sorrow. His legs burned and twisted and shook. Everything was pitch dark. Amidst the fading clamor, everything became still.

Janaki who was waiting by the school gate for her father to show up became very restless. “Appa inga vaanga, Father come here..” she murmured. “Please come soon please come soon.”

All the other children had left the premises by now. There was one automobile parked in the grounds.

A stranger came and asked her something. Janaki was shaken. Clutching the bag of books to her chest she ran to the main road. Usually with her father she turned to the left. She started running that way. If she could keep on going this way, she thought that she would eventually get home. Perhaps she would meet her father on the way. Hugging the bag, she ran panting and sweating under the boiling sun. She did not really notice or see all the people that walked by her.

Along with some others who had come to the Nugegoda junction, she crossed the road. She had to pass two more junctions. Gamsabhawa, where the village meeting hall was and Delkanda.

“Appa… Appa… Amma… Amma…” under her breath Janaki muttered to a rhythm.

A big red gasoline truck came to the main road from one side. Someone held her hand and stopped her. “Appa?” No it was not her father. Janaki shook off that hand.

“Be careful, little girl.”

Passing the gasoline station, she saw the few people who were standing nearby talking. For a moment, she felt an emptiness. In front of the gasoline station on the asphalt was a great big black patch. She jumped over it and ran.

“Appa… Appa… Amma… Amma…”

Only a little ways to go yet. Mother will definitely scold her for coming home alone. “Where’s Appa?”

“There are many juicy oranges on this tree…”



Mother who showed up from nowhere stopped Janaki. Mother was carrying younger brother.

Mother placed Ranga on the ground and hugged Janaki and started to cry. Ranga cried as well. Janaki also started to cry without knowing why.

“Why mother, why?”

“Oh, Janaki, father is no more.”

Everything that mother jabbered was lost in her tears.

Mother gave the bundle in her hand to Janaki. She hugged that parcel which carried all the smells of the shed. Thangamani who picked up Ranga held onto Janaki with her free hand and walked towards the village meeting hall.

They eventually came to a stop under the shade of the Bodhi tree in the temple ground. Since it was noon time no one was around. From above came only the cawing of the crows. Sitting in front of the Bodhi tree, Thangamani covered her face with both hands. Ranga started to draw lines on the sandy earth.

Janaki undid the bundle in her hands. Inside were two rotis among some clothes. Unable to tolerate her hunger, Janaki broke off bits of the roti and nibbled on it. Thangamani cried continuously while covering her head with the sash of the sari and her face with both hands. Janaki fed some roti to her younger brother.

Though she was hungry enough to eat the second roti, she left it alone, thinking of her parents. Then she went in search of a water tap. She quelled the rest of her hunger by drinking cold water from the faucet which was covered with a white gauze. There were no signs of mother getting up in a hurry from her place on the sandy ground. Taking off her shoes and hiding them in the bundle, Janaki ambled towards the main building of the temple. A myriad of floral and incense smells from within were enticing her to enter the sanctuary. She succumbed to this invitation and climbed the steps leading to the interior. The soles of her feet felt the coolness of the shiny tiles on the temple floor.

The gigantic Buddha statue in the inner sanctum was visible in red and yellow through the flimsy curtains. In front of this on the altar were many fading flowers. Looking up, Janaki felt that the roof was far far away. Gods and goddesses were standing amidst clouds holding garlands in their hands. Some gods appeared as if they were actually floating in heaven. If they were connected to any wall this was only from the sash of a robe they were wearing.

Janaki left this place and through another door entered the outer hall. On either side of this area were statues depicting various incidences from Buddha’s life. The birth of Siddartha, the great renunciation, the crossing of the Neranjana river atop the horse Kanthaka, the years of great suffering, the seven weeks after attaining enlightenment, the offering of milk rice by Sujatha…

From here Janaki went through yet another door and entered another dark hall. More statues glistened in the semi darkness. Though she felt a trepidation she continued on.

The statues at the farthest end were darker. Above was Lord Buddha sitting on a jewelled chair. Below were the Yakshas and the Nagas. They were getting ready to fight with each other and were carrying sticks, swords and lances. Janaki was scared on seeing the frowning red eyes and the matted curly hair of the dark bodied Rakshas. They were truly horrible. Carrying weapons they appeared real. Janaki stood frozen for a few seconds. Her lips and her mouth were parched. The staring eyes were ready to jump at her. Crying out loud, Janaki ran out of the building.

Coming to the front porch she stumbled against a young novice monk. Without hearing the words of the robed one, she walked down the steps to the sandy ground and ran in search of the shade of the Bodhi tree.

The noise of the crows was endless. The Bo leaves parched in the sun rustled from a soft breeze. Thangamani had fallen asleep from hunger and weariness. Ranganadan was still lost in his own world while drawing lines on the sandy earth.

Janaki hugged her brother.

“Sister is good. Sister is good.”

“Brother is bad…. Brother is bad…”

Not allowing Ranga to cry, Janaki rocked him to a rhythm and then with him laid down next to their mother.

Thangamani opened her eyes as the sun went down. Until then she had been in a deep coma like sleep at the edge of the temple wall. Hearing someone’s voice she opened her eyes and saw an old woman sweeping the sandy grounds. Then she saw the two kids sleeping next to her. Both of them had the pottu marks she had placed on their foreheads. A certain fear enveloped her heart. She wet her finger with spit and wiped away the marking on Janaki’s forehead. That was when Janaki opened her eyes. While the girl was still lying still Thangamani erased the pottu on her son’s forehead.

“Let’s get going,” saying this to Janaki, Thangamani took off her earrings and the necklace and hid them in the bundle. She picked up the boy and gave the parcel to Janaki. The sweeping woman stopped her work to look at them and shake her head. As if not noticing her, Thangamani walked out of the temple grounds with the two kids.

Darkness gathered around them.

“Amma, when are we going to eat? Don’t we have any food?”

Thangamani who ignored her daughter’s nagging, heard her son’s cry. “Don’t cry, don’t cry,” she tried to console him.

She turned towards the railroad without a thought. All she wanted was to go home. By some divine miracle Sundaram may have returned home, she thought.

On the lamp posts, feeble lights appeared. While everything that happened during the day haunted her like a horrible nightmare, Thangamani tasted the continuously flowing tears with the tip of her tongue.

As they passed the common well, she could hear the sloshing of the water. People were pouring cold water over their bodies to wash away the heat and the sweat of the day.

“Mother, aren’t we going to bathe?” though Janaki asked out of habit, Thangamani walked by the well without a word. “Mother, don’t we have any dinner?”

“What a bother this is?” through her tears, words sputtered out of Thangamani’s mouth. Who will listen to her tragedy? Darkness of rain clouds was adding on to the evening sky. The canal appeared every so often across the road in a muddy hue. Thangamani walked in fear. Janaki was now silent. Unable to stand her hunger she nibbled at the second roti in the bundle.

A little further away, under a lamplight appeared a familiar face like that of an angel.


“Oh, this is our little ladies?” Suduhaminay held up Janaki’s chin.

“Oh, Suduhaminay…” Thangamani started to cry. “My man Sundaram.”

“Oh, God and Buddha’s way… I heard all about it. Like a wild fire I heard all about it. Those awful people. Suduhaminay started to wail as well.

“We are going to see the shed, Suduhaminay.”

Silently, Suduhaminay stared. Some words which she could not mutter choked in her throat.

“If you all want to, you can come and sleep with me under the roof of the village meeting hall. That’s where I sleep at night. Under that roof.”

There was a pause. Shaking her head Suduhaminay said “Oh, Appo!” Then she added, “Go on, go on. Go and see what has happened before the looters come.”

Saying something more, Suduhaminay walked towards the well. Holding the girl’s hand and pressing the boy more to her bosom, Thangamani stepped towards the Delkanda junction.

It started to drizzle. Gradually the asphalt began to glisten. The fresh smell of the dampening earth filled their lungs.

All the vehicles went about as if nothing extraordinary had happened. Holding on to Janaki’s hand, Thangamani crossed the High Level road. To the left, the muddy water of the canal was churning. From there came a filthy smell.

Where the shed was now only ruins remained. On seeing this Janaki cried out loud. Sobbing, Thangamani covered her mouth from the sash of her sari to stifle the stream of sorrowful anger. The tears that ran down her cheeks fell on her jacket.

Ranganadan was sleeping on her bosom from hunger. Janaki walked among the ruins not knowing what she was searching for. Everything was a pile of ashes. Because of the drizzle a smoke was rising from the rubble. Pots and pans and bangles had all disappeared. The beautiful dream world that Sundaram had built was only a heap of dust and ashes.

Placing the boy on the ground, Thangamani started to claw the earth like a mad woman in a trance. Janaki crouched on the canal shore and stared at her mother through tear misty eyes. In the darkness Thangamani’s sari glimmered in white. Like a bitch she clawed and muttered. In a little while her fingers struck on something. This was the clay pot of money which she had buried under the bed. Making sure no one was around, she unearthed the till and with the fingers still covered with wet black earth, she counted the bills and hid it all quickly in her bosom.

“Sundaram, you will gain a lot of merit… Sundaram, thank you, thank you…” she jabbered on and on.

“Janaki come on. Let’s go.”

Janaki hugged her books and the bundle. Picking up Ranga and holding the girl’s hand, Thangamani walked towards the village meeting hall. The darkness all around was welcoming. But the drizzle was not a consolation. The annoying raindrops kept on falling. The vehicles that went splattering muddy water with their turning wheels were countless.

Thangamani did not stop until she reached the shade of the village meeting hall. Suduhaminay was waiting for them to show up. She held a packet of rice that she had begged from someone.

Thangamani who came near the old woman did not sit down, but she fell on the floor. She leaned against the wall as if she had saved the last of her strength for that single movement. By the stale smell of the rice, Janaki’s hunger was awakened.

“Come here, daughter,” Suduhaminay called for the girl. “You must be hungry. Here, eat.”

When Janaki dug into the rice with greed, Thangamani started to wail.

“Don’t cry, woman,” Suduhaminay said. “You have to save your lives and go from here for your children’s sake. You gave me a meal… I will never forget that.”

Someone came through the gateway and walked towards the building. He carried a flashlight.

“What are you all doing here? Oh, it’s Suduhaminay.”

“Sir, this is my daughter.”

“Stay on, stay on. It’s raining. It’s raining endlessly.” The man turned around and walked away.

“That’s the watchman here.” Suduhaminay explained. “He doesn’t bother me at all. So you won’t be bothered either.” She stroked Janaki’s hair while the girl was still eating.

“The girl is very hungry. She is very lucky.” The words came out of her effortlessly.

“Yalpanam Yalpanam ” Thangamani murmured while beating on her chest. “We are coming, we are coming.”

The drizzle continued. After all these years, Suduhaminay was not alone this night. But this was a warmth limited only for this one night. Early next morning, Thangamani picked up Ranga and while Janaki followed her, started on their journey north.


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Table of Contents: Preface | Life Cycle | Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05 | Chapter 06 | Chapter 07 | Chapter 08 | Chapter 09