Mylai-k-kalai - BY KALKI, EDITOR, ANANDA VIKATAN (Translated from Tamil by P. Mahadevan)
  • *Mylai-k-kalai *1


    *(Translated from *Tamil *by P. Mahadevan)*
    * *


    Krishna Konan was a lusty youth of twenty. As the cowherd of the village,
    it was his job to lead his charge, after the harvesting season, through the
    fields of stubble. Whenever the line-maistries were not watching, he would
    drive the animals across the Rajan Channel, and allow them to stray in the
    succulent pastures concealed in the dense wood separating the channel from
    the bank of the Coleroon. He would retrieve his charge in good time, and
    return to the village before the day was swallowed in darkness; whenever he
    was belated, he would cause considerable anxiety to his aged mother.

    Yesterday, he had managed to take the flock to the edge of the forest,
    while he himself lingered on the bank of the river. His thoughts strayed
    away from his charge to Poongodi, the queen of his heart. It was more than
    a month since he saw her last; much longer since he had exchanged a word
    with her. Then he remembered that she was attending on her ailing and
    bedridden uncle. He became angry with the old man who thus monopolised all
    her attention; clearly he was too long a-dying. After his death, what would
    become of his beloved? Impossible that she could live in that house,
    specially with that devil of a woman, her termagant aunt. As it was, her
    lot was anything but pleasant even now, with the old man still breathing;
    how intolerable it would be after his death. As last his slow-moving mind
    came to the conclusion that he must marry her. A poor girl no doubt; and an
    orphan into the bargain. His mother was sure to object to such a
    combination. But he was prepared to defy a mother�s will in this one

    While his thoughts were thus pursuing a delectable prospect, his eyes saw
    without comprehension, Mylai, his favourite bull, breaking away from the
    herd, and plunging across the channel into the forest beyond. In his
    pre-occupation, he made no attempt to warn it back to the fold. The result
    was that he had to return to the village that evening without his bull. But
    he determined to go in search of it the first thing in the morning.

    On the morrow was the festival of �Masi Makam.� The whole village emptied
    itself out to take part in the celebrations at Omampuliyur, not far off.
    But Krishnan went in search of his bull all alone in the forest. After an
    early breakfast off cold rice, savoured with salt and raw chillies, he had
    started, flute in hand, and anxiety at heart. The flute was his inseparable
    companion; he was an expert executant on it, for he could breathe out of it
    such strains as would delight the ears of even seasoned dilettantes. It
    also helped him to draw his flock to him, and keep them in order.

    He crossed the channel, and entered the forest. It was full of thorny
    undergrowth, and was trackless except for an infrequent line of foot-path
    emerging here and there. Snakes, mongooses and jackals were the only
    enemies to be dreaded. Krishnan combed the forest without success till the
    sun began to decline. At last, he decided to give up his bull for lost, and
    retraced his steps sadly. He reconstructed the probable end of his
    favourite bull. It had, perhaps, gone to the edge of the river to quench
    its thirst, slipped and been drawn in by* *the current to become the prey
    of some prowling crocodile. His heart grew heavy at the untoward fate of
    his beloved Mylai�.

    Then he remembered that this tragedy was caused by Poongodi! His anger
    surged up against her. If he had not been brooding over her, he might have
    saved his bull in time. And then, what price her thinking about him, even
    as he had been foolish to think about her? If she cared at all for him, she
    could have easily managed to see him, or indicate her feelings for him in
    some way or other. But nothing of the kind happened. Surely he was a fool
    to be obsessed with such a person. What had he gained from his devotion to
    her except the loss of his bull!�.Krishnan was getting muddled in his
    misery which made him equate a gain to a loss�.

    However, he felt no further obligation to displease his mother, and so
    mentally broke off the engagement he had made earlier to marry her! He
    might as well think of some girl with a portion. Thus he resolved to erase
    her image from his mind.


    The stillness that surrounded him was suddenly disturbed by a rustling
    noise. He looked up in the direction from which it came. She, whom but a
    minute ago he had heroically determined to forget, was seen-advancing
    towards him through the bushes. The next minute they became aware of each
    other, and after a hesitant pause they came face to face. And now, I must
    disappoint the reader by warning him beforehand that the conversation that
    ensued between them was far from romantic.

    Said Krishnan: �Why, didn�t you go for the festival?�

    She countered: �Why, didn�t* *you?�

    �How could I, when I�m here!�

    �How could I, seeing that I also am here.�

    �Pretty, pretty as a parrot��and Krishnan smiled. But Poongodi fetched a
    sigh from the depths. �I wish I were a parrot�free to roam about through
    the woods the live-long day; and not be miserably cooped up in the house
    like a prisoner.�

    �Indeed, yes,� chimed in Krishnan, �If we were a pair of birds, how happily
    we could fly away together! But as the proverb says, if your aunt can grow
    whiskers, you need not pine for an uncle.�

    But Poongodi was in no mood to enjoy that hoary witticism; and so he
    continued, in an injured tone: �But how is it you are so invisible these

    �As if you don�t know! Poor uncle, palsied and bedridden. My aunt pays him
    no attention; and so I have to be by, and attend to his wants.�

    �True; but once or twice you deliberately cut me, I think. How do you
    explain *that*?�

    A smile of ingenuous candour played about her lips. �We are not kids, any
    more, are we? And aunt rated me one day for talking with young men. After
    all, she was right; *what would the world say*?�

    For a moment, Krishnan wondered if she had come to the forest specially to
    meet him; the very notion sent a pleasurable thrill through his frame. But
    the next moment, he dismissed it as unlikely. She could have known nothing
    of his search for Mylai. Further, he remembered an embarrassed look in her
    eyes when she first became aware of his presence. He felt that there was
    some mystery behind her presence there�.

    �What brings you here?� he asked bluntly.

    �I can�t tell you that,� she replied in evident confusion, nervously
    plucking the leaves from a near-by bush, and scattering them at her feet.

    Immediately Krishnan�s mind became a prey to a painful suspicion. Was it an
    assignation with another lover? A murderous frenzy against his unknown
    rival seized him. Poongodi was drawing intricate patterns on the ground
    with her toes. Then looking up, she faltered in a troubled voice: �Hear me,
    and be assured of one thing. I have done nothing wrong. I swear it
    solemnly. But not a soul should know why I have come here today. Will you

    �If you will make a clean breast of it to me.�

    �Not now. Trust me to do it at the proper time. Don�t press me till then.
    Don�t you believe me?�Or do you think I am capable of anything underhand?�

    They wrangled for some time more; but the woman won at last.

    �Look here, Poongodi, I promise. But if you betray me, I shall�I don�t know
    what I�ll do.�

    �Betray! What does that mean?� she asked in astonishment�.

    Together they went as far as the Rajan Channel. There Krishnan lingered,
    while Poongodi darted forward and was soon lost in the outskirts of the
    village. Then he followed her in a thoughtful mood until he reached his
    home, where, in the manger, the first thing he saw was his truant Mylai
    peacefully chewing the cud! Ordinarily, he would have given it a sound
    thrashing for the worry it had caused him, and for cheating him of his
    holiday. But he was in a mood of elation on account of his encounter with
    his beloved. Wherefore, he embraced Mylai round the neck, and patted its
    cheeks with extraordinary tenderness.


    I must apologise to the reader for my inability to introduce Perumal Konar
    to him; for he died just before I could reach his place in the story. But,
    here is his wife instead, whose real name nobody knew, but who was
    popularly or unpopularly known as Pidari. She was the second wife of
    Perumal Konar, the first having died childless. Though she gave him three
    children, he lived long enough to repent his second choice. When therefore
    he died, Pidari heaved a sigh of relief! She gloated over the prospect of
    being the mistress of her husband�s house and lands; and as her only son
    was but five years old. she looked forward to a long lease of power.

    I beg the reader to sympathise with Madam Pidari; she has quite an arguable
    case. The late Konar was a hard man to tackle. He curbed her will as long
    as he lived. When he became bedridden, he would not allow her anywhere near
    his presence. It was always Poongodi for this, Poongodi for that: and so
    Poongodi was ever by his side. What airs the little minx assumed! Now was
    the turn of the repressed wife to take it all out of that little vixen.....

    It was four days since the Konar was buried; condoling relations had come
    and gone. When there was nobody in the house, Pidari closed the front door,
    and went to the granary in the middle of the *kudam*. 2* *On one side of
    it, she removed two bricks from the floor, and then put her hand through in
    search of something. The expression on her face at that moment was like
    that of the jackal sneaking its way into an unsuspecting sheep-fold. The
    next moment, however, that face showed disappointment and panic. Her hand
    redoubled its frantic exploration; only an old piece of rag came into its

    Where could* *the box have gone? Who could have stolen it?

    Ten days ago, Perumal Naicker had come to settle his loan account. Her
    husband had asked her to bring the promissory note from the box hidden in
    the hole. It was exchanged for currency notes of the value of Rs. 150.
    Konar wrapped them in a piece of paper, and put them underneath his pillow.
    A little later, Pidari offered to put back the money in the cash-box. But
    the ailing man shooed her off with unconcealed irritation. That night,
    Pidari pretended to go to sleep, but really watched the old man with
    lynx-eyed sharpness. At dead of night, Konar sat up in bed, and looked
    round warily. Taking the sheaf of notes in his hand, he crawled painfully
    across to the granary. He took out a box from a crevice, put the notes in
    it, and the box in its hiding place, and then returned to his bed. His wife
    had observed the whole proceeding intently. She then knew where the Konar
    was keeping his savings. As long as he lived it was not possible for her to
    abstract the box without being detected. The sick man had taken his bed in
    full view of the granary. But she had consoled herself with the thought
    that as the money could not disappear from that place, she could come by it
    after his death. And now it had disappeared mysteriously. She made a
    thorough search for it in every nook and corner of the house, but in vain;
    the box was gone indeed. And then, suddenly, her suspicions turned on
    Poongodi. Why, of course, she must be the thief! And she determined to get
    back the money, as well as payoff a few of her old scores. She shouted for
    her, and when she came she burst out: �Look here, own up and return the

    �I know nothing of your money; I have not taken it.� Pidari was in great
    form; but all her threats were of no avail. Poongodi stuck to her innocence.

    The Konar�s obsequies were terminated on the sixteenth day. Soon after,
    Poongodi received an ultimatum: �You must* *have stolen the money. If you
    do not return it at once, out you go from this house. And look sharp about
    it either way.�

    �Very well. I was only waiting for this dismissal. Since my poor uncle�s
    death, I have had no heart to live* *here. I shall certainly go.�


    Meanwhile, Krishnan was living in a romantic world of his own. He mixed up
    his daily duties in the most unaccountable fashion. Preparing the
    seed-cakes for the animals, he put them in the well instead of in the
    feeding-trough. He led the calf of the buffalo as a preliminary to milk the
    cow. The soaked cotton-seeds intended for the milch-cow were given to the
    gelding. He was often found talking to himself aloud. �How nice to fly away
    like a pair of birds!��and he would laugh to himself like a child absorbed
    in its own game. �If YOU betray me!��and he would gnash his teeth with a
    ferocious expression. He remembered how he had chucked Poongodi under the
    chin, when he saw her last; and her protest: �Chi, Chi, we are no more
    children.��Her form would dance before his eyes bashful, demure; or gaily
    laughing. He would rub his hands, and contort his face to a thousand
    shapes, often exclaiming; �Mind, if you forget me�!

    All this did not go unobserved by his fond mother. She was horrified; the
    symptoms were unmistakable. � Mohini 3 has bewitched him��she moaned; and
    she set about devising the only cure for such a disease. It was nothing but
    a marriage; the sooner the better.

    Often she would find him pre-occupied and distant even while taking his
    meals, �Dear, dear, what�s the matter with you? He would flare up at her,
    and call her a silly old thing for her pains. But she persisted: �Oh, you
    have never been like this. Mariamma, save my son! And I will offer you a
    grand sacrifice.�

    Since the death of Perumal Konar, Krishnan�s mental derangement became more
    pronounced. Everybody knew the helpless state of Poongodi; her lot under
    the heel of Pidari would certainly be a hard one.......

    One day Krishnan faced his mother:

    �Well, old woman, what do you think will happen to that girl, now that her
    uncle is dead?�

    �Which girl?�

    �Why, Poongodi, of course!�

    �Pidari will certainly drive her out; she has called her a thief, don�t you

    �What?� asked Krishnan, angry and incredulous.

    �Yes, indeed: it appears that Konar had left some money and that it has
    disappeared since his death. She naturally puts it on the girl. But I don�t
    believe it; anyway, it is a good excuse to get rid of the girl.�

    Krishnan felt as if he was stabbed. He remembered the encounter with her on
    that day in the forest, and wondered uneasily if the girl was after all a
    thief. What was she doing there? The evidence was too damning; Pidari must
    be right in her accusation. How cruel if he should come across the
    concealed box in the forest, as he went on his daily round with the flock!
    His faith in Poongodi wavered.


    Krishnan was having his breakfast. The neighbour�s voice came across the
    eaves, and the owner of it soon followed.

    �Have you heard the news?� she began addressing Krishnan�s mother.

    �What is it?�

    �Poongodi has been bundled out of the house by that Pidari. There she is
    marching out of the village in tears.�

    �Poor thing! Where can she go?� exclaimed Krishnan�s mother pityingly.

    �Where indeed! Where her *Karma *takes her. I shouldn�t wonder if she
    should drown herself in the river.�

    Krishnan heard no more. He rushed out of the house, and saw Poongodi
    disappearing at the end of the village street. He cut across a shorter
    path, and confronted her. �Where are you going?�

    �Whose business is it to know?� she sobbed and dashed the tears from her

    �I won�t let you go unless you tell me.�

    �Well, then, to Shiyali, in search of work in the mill.�

    �Why leave the place where you have lived all your life?�

    �What else can I do? I have no home here, as my aunt won�t have me.�

    �Why, have you displeased her?�

    Poongodi was silent for a while. Then she said: �Anyway it�s none of your
    business. I hate that house, and I�m going away; that is all.�

    �Hear me, Poongodi; fling back the money of that bitch; no one else need
    know. We shall.��

    �So you too suspect me for a thief?�, she broke in. �I wish I were dead. O,
    let me go!�, she cried in anguish.

    Krishnan pondered for a minute or two, Then he said: �Very well, let us go.�


    �Home, of course!�

    �Whose home?�

    �Why, to mine! You are not going to Shiyali or to find work in a mill. It
    shan�t happen as long as I live.�

    �But, how can I�..�

    �Never fear; I will ask the purohit to fix a day for our marriage, that�s

    �And expose yourself to the village as the husband of a thief?�

    �If any should call you* *that,* *I�ll bash their brains. Let them beware!�

    But Poongodi was pertinacious: �What about your mother? She might forbid me
    the house.�

    If she does, then we will both* *go away together to Shiyali.�

    �Do you mean it really?�


    �Swear it then.�

    �I swear it; come along.�


    The marriage of Krishnan and Poongodi was celebrated on an auspicious day.
    The whole village, minus Pidari, attended the wedding, and blessed the
    happy couple. Appropriate comments were made about the wicked absentee, and
    her more wicked aspersions on the fair name of Poongodi. But the happiest
    person next to the bridal pair was old Soundaram, Krishnan�s mother. She
    rejoiced in the deliverance of her son from the clutches of Mohini, and now
    looked forward to her reign as a mother-in-law!....�..

    Some days after, Poongodi asked her husband to accompany her to the forest.

    �What on earth for?�

    �I have a duty to discharge. I want to fulfill my promise to tell
    you*, *unasked,
    why I went to the forest on the day you saw me there.�

    Then Krishnan remembered; but somehow he didn�t like the invitation just
    then. But as she pressed him, he agreed to go with her. Poongodi marched
    ahead, pot on hip, as if to bathe in the river; Krishnan followed, driving
    the cattle, to lead them to their pasture. Once across Rajan�s Channel,
    Poongodi ran like a deer. Krishnan grew more and more uneasy. She halted at
    the foot of an ancient banyan tree, and soon scaled up its branches with
    agile grace. She pulled out some rushes from a point where two boughs
    branched out and revealed a natural hollow in the trunk of the tree. Into
    it she put her hand and fetched a small box. Balancing it in one hand, she
    sang out to him below: �Here catch this.�

    �What�s it?�

    �Find out for yourself.� He did, and saw notes and sovereigns inside it.

    �After all, she is* *the thief! ��he reflected in bitter humiliation. �And
    Pidari was right in what she said and did!�

    But all he said was: �Why do you give it to me?�

    �Oh, I�m giving it to its owner, as you asked me to. Didn�t you ask?�

    �I see, you want me to return it to Pidari?�

    �I don�t know about that; but I have done my duty.�

    Krishnan was naturally mystified. �Nonsense,� he cried angrily, �you are
    talking in riddles.�

    �I am not. Look into the box carefully.�

    At the bottom, he found a letter folded to the size of the box.

    He took it out, and read:

    �This is the last will and testament of Perumal Konar, son of Muthu Konar,
    written by himself while of sound mind. This box contains Rs. 420 in notes,
    and 12 sovereigns in gold. All this represents my own self-acquired
    property. I bequeath the whole of it to the apple of my eye, Poongodi, my
    niece. I give it to her as her dowry. The man who marries her will get it.
    I recommend to him that he should invest it either in lands or in a house.
    Not a pie should be spent in senseless extravagance. I further desire this
    bequest to be kept a secret until after the marriage of my niece, both for
    her own sake, lest she should be beguiled by any scheming fortune-hunter,
    and also to prevent her aunt from laying hands upon her portion. I am
    confident that Poongodi will scrupulously observe the vow of secrecy I have
    imposed on her. Lastly, may the man who becomes the master of my niece and
    this money so treat her as to give her all the happiness she deserves!�

    Krishnan�s felicity was full to overflowing. Looking back upon the
    chequered course of his love, he decided that he owed his final happiness
    to Mylai, the bull. Although many tempting offers came to him, he refused
    to part with it. Instead, he went in for a small *rekla, *and coaxed Mylai
    to tolerate the shafts. And he never allowed anyone else to drive it except
    himself or Poongodi.

    1 A bull speckled blue-black on the neck.

    2 Court-yard.

    3 Symptoms of adolescent behaviour, supposed, in rustic lore, to be the
    work of a goddess. The usual remedy is marriage!
    �*Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man*� � Nobel
    laureate, Rabindranath Tagore

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