Tomorrow is 19th November, and my Ammu’s fourth birthday. And two days later, on 21st is the seventh birthday of my Anagha. Asha ruminated how their birthdays were celebrated splendidly last year when her husband was with them. God was cruel enough to call him back leaving these two kids on her shoulder. She now has to work hard as a daily labour for the sustenance of the family. She has to look after her mother also. Her husband Laxman was indeed a yacht to her and the kids, and they knew no worries and enjoyed voyaging from shore to shore of pleasures and happiness. He was overrun by a car when he was returning from the factory on his bike.
“Dear, I don’t have any money to celebrate our daughters’ birthdays separately as you have done in the previous years,” Asha whispered looking at her husband’s photo. In the previous years the relatives as well as close neighbours were invited for the dinner. And amid jubilant crowd, Anagha and Ammu, wearing dazzling, costly dress, lit birthday candles to the accompaniment of “Happy birthday to you…” and then cut the cakes and served to everyone assembled there. The kids were given birthday gifts. How they went with those treasures to their bed rooms and how elated they were when they took out the contents! Gone are those golden days. “Dear darling, let there be a minimum celebration at least. Buy for them new dress and let them be happy tomorrow,” her husband seemed to tell her. Asha decided to celebrate the kids’ birthdays together wearing them new dresses, as her husband wished.
“Ma, tomorrow is Ammu’s birthday. And on Tuesday, Anagha’s. We shall celebrate the days together tomorrow. Let me go to the dress mart to buy new churidars for them. Though your son is gone, we have to celebrate the birthdays in a minimum manner.”
“True my daughter. Had he been alive, how jolly would have been the house tomorrow! Asha, have you got money to buy dress for the kids?”
“Yes ma, I have conserved some money for the purpose.”
“Mummy, let me also come to the shop,” Ammu cried.
“No Ammu. You may go with the grandma to collect some flowers for tomorrow. Ma, get some flowers from our neighbour, Rahim’s meadow. You will get bluebells and daisies there.”
“Ok daughter. You may go now or you can’t come back before it is dark.”
Asha walked along the road to the town. The gentle breeze and the chirping of the birds seemed to her wishing happy birthday to Ammu and Anagha. She entered a small textile shop, for there only she will get cheap dress. She selected a churidar each for the daughters. The stuff is not that good, for she has only two hundred rupees with her.
“What’s the cost of these?”
“Three hundred and fifty rupees.”
“I have only two hundred rupees with me. Kindly show me cheaper churidars.” It was better that she had not brought the daughters or they would have cried for more attractive dress. She selected two churidars that would cost within her budget. The kids may not like them much, for their papa bought for them elegant dress in the previous years. They will understand our wretched position, she thought. Asha bought half a kilo cake from a bakery to be cut my Ammu and Anagha, the next day. She also bought some candles.
She hurried along the road. The sun has been bidding adieu to the day and the moon is peeping from the eastern sky. She reached her house and the front door was kept open. Asha got into the rooms and found none there. ‘Hasn’t ma come back with the flowers?’ She thought. She called loudly, “Ma… Ammu…Anagha…” No reply. She went to her neghbour, Ravi’s house. Only Ravi’s ten year old daughter was there. “Mini, do you know where my Ammu, Anagha and Matha have gone?” “Auntie, Ammu is missing. All have gone to the river bank in search of her.” “My darling Ammu…….Where are you?” yelling she flew to the direction of the river. The entire neighbourhood was thronged at the river bank. Seeing the crowd Asha screamed, “My Ammu, what happened to you?” Her shriek was echoed from the nearby hill and the birds reechoed it to every nook and corner of the village and to the sky so that Ammu should respond to her mother’s call. But there was no reply from Ammu. “Ma where is our Ammu? Tell me,” Asha asked her Ma. With choking voice, and tears running like rivers, Ma said, “As there were no flowers in Rahim’s meadow, we came over here. Telling Ammu to sit here, I and Anagha went there on the riverbed to pluck some flowers. When we returned, Ammu wasn’t found here. We searched for her everywhere…..and then informed our neighbours.” The neighbours told her that they had searched for Ammu everywhere, and even in the water. Some of them were found still in the river diving and searching. “Mummy, where has gone our Ammu….” Anagha continued crying hugging her Ma. “Ammu, here is your birthday churidar. Here is the cake for you. Come my darling…Take them darling…” Asha became almost hysterical and threw the dress and cake to the river. The neighbours tried to console her. But who can console a mother who has lost her darling child? She was beating her chest and crying. Was Ammu called back by her papa to the heaven? Is he celebrating her first birthday there?
“Dear students, what do you say about this story?” English Professor, Dr. Sankar asked his degree students after reading the entire story in the class room.
“Who wrote this story, sir? Just an ordinary one,” Joseph responded.
“What moral is there in this story, sir? We are fed up of reading such tragic incidents in the newspapers,” Meera exclaimed.
“What Meera said is true, sir. We need to hear something merry and pleasant. The very life is full of miseries and sorrows. So we ought to seek something good-humoured,” the philosophic Hari emphasised.
“What justification is there in the tragedy of Ammu, sir? She was an angel who hasn’t committed a sin in her life. Yet she was called back by the Creator. Is the Creator a sadist?” the leftist Abdul retorted.
“Any more comments?” Dr. Sankar asked.
There was no more response from the students.
“My dear students, I honour your reactions. What Joseph said is true. This is just an ordinary story. I am not revealing the author’s name. And what relevance has an author in a work as per New Criticism? The author has mentioned as a footnote that the story is based on a tragedy at a village in North Kerala. As Meera has complained we are reading such tragic lives every day. Dear students, don’t forget the fact that our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts, as Shelley has written. The more we read such things the more compassionate and humane we should become. Such literature purges our mind and we get karunyam (compassion) rasa. We should not turn our faces to miseries and tragedies of others. Such tragedies are part of the flow of the system and as participatory beings we should flow with the system. Mysterious are the ways of the Creator and our little intelligence can’t find justifications for the multitudinous activities of the Almighty. Hope you are satisfied with my answers,” Dr. Sankar ended his lecture.
“Yes Sir. Thank you very much,” the class responded.