The opening lines of Erich Segal’s Love story goes like this.
“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And Brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.”
Sumithra, the translation of “Ithra Mathra” by Kalpetta Narayanan begins in the same fashion. The difference is just that Sumithra, the girl who died is 38 years old and was not suspecting her death. She used to sleep with her hand tightly crossing her chest. She didn’t wake up the next day. Her husband Vasudevan went for a morning walk and spent few extra minutes observing fishes and birds near the local lake. When he came back he realizes he lost his wife.
The novel traces the life of Sumithra, who had always been a given in her life. She was a mother to a motherless child, confidante to her high school and college room mates, more of a child to an old man who had no one to take care of him when he was ill, a playful companion who didn’t care about the society when she was a close friend to a sex worker. The novel traces all these parts of her life in non-linear fashion.
There are women in everybody’s life. As sisters, friends, mothers, cousins and more. I wonder how well do we know them? I mean, I know my sister as my sister. But when she gets married, would I ever know how good a wife she is? How good a mother she will be? I am always amazed by the transformation these girls make into woman. Its so sudden like the dusk in villages. You will be playing like there is no tomorrow and suddenly there will be darkness falling upon you without even a hint.
Sumithra was one such girl. The second episode of the novel has some lines about scenes in funeral home. Its a crime to translate it into English, but I am doing it here.
People who is affectionate on others will feel a tide of affection grow in them. The vibration a death makes is so strong. If you ask for a loan there, the chances of you getting it is very high there. The people who have skeletons in their closet will feel the burden in their chest. The funeral house is a big canvas. It paints the walls of the house with the Monalisa mystery. Death teaches us lot of things ruthlessly
The dampness and chillness of Wayanad and the customs of Kalpetta village has been wonderfully handled in the novel. What can be interesting in a girl’s life who got married to an uninteresting person in Wayanad? you may think. But believe me, it is interesting just like the life of yours and mine. People always reach out for her, they enjoy and moved to tears when she does something they like without them saying it to her. She takes care of her husband like a mother. Throughout the novel, you cannot see her ask something for herself. She borrows some money from neighbours just to be in touch with them.
All the people who come to her funeral, still search for something she had left behind. The motherless child, still looks for a mother in her and the old man still looks for a daughter in her even though they can never get it from the corpse that is lying in front of them. Women’s life is like this. We always expect something from them. Right from socks when we go to school to reading glasses when our eyesight eludes us, we always look up on them and they happily oblige. Not only materialistic but also emotionally women are always expected to give more than they receive. They are giving it endlessly even if there is nothing to give.
Be it wife, sister or a close friend when the soul leaves the body, its just a corpse. We have seasoned ourselves not to be around corpse for so long. We cannot endure the silences and the reality that weigh upon us in a funeral house. In western countries they use tablets to control from breaking down. People who came for the funeral house at some point of time loses their patience. To them it is to bury or burn them and get on with their life. So they do to Sumithra, who had done so much to people around her by the evening and carry on with their work. The people who she helped may not remember her in the passing months. The novel ends here.
The novel sunk so deep in me that I put the book aside and sat for few minutes reflecting about my own life. And then I read the first page of the book again.
In Mahabaratha, Yaksha asks question to Yudhirshtra
Yaksha : What do you think is the most surprising thing in this earth?
Yudhirshtra : Thousands of people die daily and reach the fort of Lord Yama. But the rest of the world carries on as though they are going to live here forever and earth is for them to stay forever. What can be more surprising than this
Now Yakshan and Yudhirshtra would be looking at me surprised.