delight. “You will not ruin my children’s life like you did mine.”
My grandmother had finished pinning her palu. She wound it around her waist in preparation for the battle, then turned to my mother. “Remember your place. This is my house. I have allowed you to stay. You are lucky.”
“You allow me to stay because you don’t want to lose face with your friends and our relatives.”
“You’re wrong. I let you stay because I shudder to think what disgrace you would bring on our family name if I allowed you to live on your own. What horrible mistakes you would make.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” My mother crossed her arms over her chest.
My grandmother let out a bark of a laugh. She leaned towards my mother. “Look at where your mistakes have brought your children. Look at them! Tamil, poor and undereducated! You’re a disgraceful mother. A failure!”
My mother gripped her chest tighter, eyes filling with tears.
Renu glared at me. I was the one who had brought this humiliation on our mother.
“I wish you were not my daughter.” My grandmother’s voice was melodious with longing. “Every day I wish it was so. But I accept that this is my karma, that I must have done something terrible in my previous life to deserve you. Through meritorious deeds at the temple, I am trying hard to work off the ill effects of that karma.” She pushed past my mother and left.
My mother began to weep.
“See what you have done,” Renu hissed. She rapped a tokka on my head. “Now we will be forced to leave and live on the road because of you. We will become beggars.”
I rushed out of the room. My grandmother was hurrying across the saleya. When I caught up with her on the verandah, she quickly scoured her cheeks with the heel of her palm then glared at me. “Go away, you wretched child.”
“Aachi, I … I promise I will be a good boy.” My voice was husky with fear. “Please don’t put us out on the road, please don’t let us become beggars.”
Her lips thinned in astonishment. Then a change came over her face, a readjustment. “All I want is your welfare,” she declared in a tone both haughty and injured. “That is all I want. The very best for you.”
“Yes, I know, I know.”
“Is it right for you to call me a gaani like I am some woman selling bananas at the corner? Is it right to say you hate me when I have shown you nothing but love?”
“If you had done your homework well, if you hadn’t played around with your pencil, breaking that point on purpose, none of this would have happened.”
“Yes, I was wrong, Aachi, I am sorry.” I massaged my right elbow as if it were tender.
“And what is a few strokes with a slipper? You had better get used to it, because in the school you are going to, there will be a lot more of those. And not from a frail old woman like me.”
I nodded vigorously, as if agreeing the punishment had been light.
“Hmm, anyway, you seem to have learnt your lesson. Which is a good thing. It shows you are an intelligent boy underneath this wildness you have brought with you.” She turned and went down to her waiting Bentley T in the carport.
I crept back to my room and curled up in bed.
My window opened onto the back verandah, and I could hear my mother seated at the opposite end, still crying. Rosalind clicked her tongue soothingly, as if she were feeding hens.
“I was wrong to return, Rosalind,” my mother said when she had quieted down. “This is a mistake. I must take the children away.”
“And live on what, baba? Loku Nona will not give you an allowance now. She has chosen him.”
“But it’s unbearable, Shivan being in this position.”
“Whatever punishment the poor child has to endure, his future is secure. Think carefully, Hema-baba. After all …,” the ayah was silent for a long moment, “she is not entirely to blame.”
“Rosalind! How can you say that?” My mother’s voice trilled with insincerity.
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