With all the work remaining, Parvathy was trying to ignore that by-now familiar tingling sensation deep around her navel, which she had the week before. Her mother-in-law had dismissed it completely.
“Oh it must just be a heartburn that has traveled to that area of your stomach. Why go meet a doctor and all that for those silly things?” she had said. And then, as she was walking away from her into Prabhakaran’s room, she paused a moment and added (with that laughter at the end of the sentence), “The fuss you girls these days create about being pregnant! I can’t imagine. Why, when I was pregnant I did all the jobs at home—washing (there was no washing machine those days), cooking, chopping, and getting water from the well at the backyard. (You are very lucky your father-in-law has employed enough help so you need only supervise the affairs at home.) And when it was time to deliver the baby, I didn’t even have a midwife attending to me (let alone my husband, like they have so shamelessly these days in the west and the Americas and all). I lay on the mat and the Ramesh just slipped out. In fact, it was so during both of their deliveries! I didn’t even feel the slightest pain! I think it was the result of all those good deeds I collected in my earlier lives.”
Thus, that subject distinctly erased from being brought up ever again, Parvathy continued to concentrate on her work—sweat drooling from her forehead and armpits like she could never remember during another summer. Her arms seemed to be melting away, with sweat oozing out from every pore. And Jaanu was nowhere to be seen.
Prabhakaran Menon had requested (for they were never rude to anyone, or ordering about) Jaanu to stay back a little longer than her usual five hours in a day because of the party and she had reluctantly obliged. But Parvathy could see that even as she stuck around for an hour longer, all she did was to sit in the corridor under the fan there cooling herself, and drinking tender coconut being felled by Shankaran.
Prabhakaran Menon would come out of the room once in a while to check the progress of the evening. “Mole,” he would say all enthusiastically. “Shine up everything. Don’t we need to show off right into the hearts of everyone how well we are doing together—even without Ramesh around at home?” And then, he would get back into the Master Bedroom. And once in a while the big-hearted man would check the clock too, just to ensure it isn’t too late for dear old Jaanu to return home. “We give our maids enough rest. They need it, you know. They work—so what if they shirk a little work, poor things—they are so sincere too. For they come home every time either I or Susheela needs them. And moreover, in a world today with the kind of goings on… Shiva, Shiva… One knows how important it is for even a woman of 50 to get back home from work early enough.”
However, the party went off well despite that slightly disturbing news from Sree before the party began. Puja was aborting her child, he had said half-minded. It seems the timing was all wrong about starting a family. Timing? What timing? How irresponsible these girls nowadays! And to think that they actually permitted their little boy to fall in love with this manipulator woman! The cheek! And how much more would they need to witness of her ‘independence’? Of course, it was clear as daylight how Puja manipulated Sree into letting her go ahead with it. There had to be some motive in it all! At least Susheela could not be fooled, she was sure about that. And like she did every time she was sure about something, she ensured Prabhakaran Menon felt just the way she did about this issue too!
Now, they couldn’t wait to get her on the telephone and give her a talk-down—yeah, sure, politely. They are kids—all of them, you know! They need to be shown the right from the wrong! And especially if their own parents can’t do that…. “Moreover, what if she took it wrongly and left our Sree all stranded?” Susheela had confessed to Parvathy. “Bhagavathy, one could never trust what these new-age girls were up to! What does one do? One has to just grin and bear.”
In any case, all that had to wait until the morning. Tonight, there were guests to be entertained, and matters such as Puja’s were to be dealt with in private! “Isn’t it, Mole?” Susheela had gushed back then! (What an ample relief to have a level-headed wife for her elder one. At least, they chose right!)
And so, the topic buried for the moment, the party wore on—and well too. Everyone there thought, just like the Menons had hoped for, that Parvathy was a beautiful and complete fit in their lives. Even they, for their part, reminded her of how lucky she was to be a part of the family that was so tender and caring of everyone that was a part of it. And then suddenly, as if on cue, Prabhakaran Menon remembered how much Jaanu had been a part of the family too (the dear old woman was with the family for almost a decade. In this day and age, who has loyalties as pronounced?) And right then, in consultation with Susheela (before the guests), he had asked Jaanu to leave home early—so what there is work that needed doing. “We will do it,” he beamed in pride at a slightly surprised Jaanu, who, nevertheless, jumped at the chance to leave for home.
“…So that she doesn’t feel too stressed. She has to come back in the morning too, no? And anyway, there is only just keeping everything back in its own place that is remaining—we can all do it ourselves, can’t we, Mole,” he had announced it to a shy and obliging Parvathy, all (of course) before the gathering.
So there it was, the party underway and done, Parvathy was back in the kitchen sorting all the glasses that had gone into the rounds of drinks.
Once again, that tingling sensation was back and this time with a slight feel of pain. Or was it that she imagined it? It could just have been stress and the unending heat—she had after all been on her toes all day long, needing to keep walking either into the kitchen or then the backyard to check on one thing or another. Her heels were swollen and her back hurt, but those she knew she could rest. What really worried her was that tingling sensation. Because despite her mother-in-law, she had heard Revathi—her best friend in college—talk of how the slightest complications during the early stages of pregnancy could be dangerous.
The memory of that information had her worried, and yet the sensation was yet too small to be discussed further—here. And moreover, there was the kitchen to be cleared up.
Finally, when the whole household had gone quiet from the party—the guests departed, the other helps around the house retired, with the constant low hum of air-conditioning in the Master Bedroom being the only noise, Parvathy was thankful. For, even as her back ached more than usual and the tingling sensation had started growing into an almost loud pain in her lower stomach, there was only the last bit of crockery that needed to be kept inside the 50-year-old antique cupboard in the kitchen. And she ached for the feel of her bed.
Slowly, Parvathy staggered into her room, turned on the fan, and lay on the bed. At some point, the heat had cooled off and a slight breeze had picked up outside as well. She opened the windows of her room and let in the flow of the air. The mosquitoes, be damned. There are other things to be worried about, she thought.
And just as rightly as she imagined, so there was.
Just as she got out of the bed to pick up the book that she had left reading so she could forget the exhaustion and drift off into sleep, she could feel a warm flow of some kind between her legs. She turned around to check, and found the blue flowers on her white and blue Bombay Dyeing bed cover clotted with her blood into an unnaturally purplish-maroon tinge.
Obviously, the call the Menons intended on making the next day had to wait.
Nobody really recalls what transpired in that household there on. But it seems the Menons are now on the lookout for a bride for their elder son Ramesh. (“We are looking for just the right kinds now!” “Yeah, the marriage didn’t last—she divorced him almost six months after marriage! Women these days!”)
And then there were one or two newspaper ads.
“Bride wanted for Male, 33, Hindu (Menon); All of 6 feet; fair (and endowed with looks of his princely maternal grandfather); working in the States; very lovable and family-oriented; once divorced. Good, reputed and very loving family. The bride needs to be more than five feet tall; fair; well-educated (preferably convent-educated); very loving, can gel with the family; dowry no concern.”
Bhagavathy Goddess (in this context, calling out to the goddess, in despair)