“Who will marry you, Kuttyappa?” these were the last words that his mother said to him, before her last breath.
“No lady will marry me. I don’t have a personality. I am fat, poor. I will die alone”, Kuttyappan cried. He was on his bullock cart, carrying firewood and returning home. It was two in the morning. It was January and the visibility was very poor, even on a full moon day. His only friends were the oxen. He cried his heart out with the animals and he believed that they listened, without judging him. Parvathy and her parents, who lived, near his house, threw him out, because he asked her hand in marriage. “Am I that bad looking, that even a girl, whom, no man wants in the village, doesn’t like me?” he wept.
The dirt track curved through a forest with thick vegetation, on both the sides. The bells tied to the necks of the cattle, gave tune and rhythm to his sob song. They were brisk and seemed to tap dance to the song. Kuttyappan was a simpleton. He worked all day and saved his hard earned moneys for his marriage and future. “I am not going to cry anymore. I will marry the most beautiful girl. God, never gives-up on good people”, he consoled himself.
Suddenly, he saw a beautiful woman by the side of the road, crying. He stopped the cart, went over to her, and asked what the matter was. The woman kept on weeping, without giving a reply. After he persisted, she finally told him that she has been going somewhere and had lost her way. When it became dark, she did not know what to do.
“Why don’t you come with me to my house?” he felt sorry for her. She hesitated, but she was left with a Hobson’s choice. She decided to get on to the cart and go to his house. She remained silent all through the ride. Kuttyappan, who was generally chatty, felt it was appropriate to stay quiet.
When they reached home, it was dawn already, and the red bright ball was rising to the rooster’s tune.
“Can I take a bath? I feel very sweaty”, she wondered and found her way to the bath area near the well, before he could respond. Kuttyappan decided to stay inside the house to provide her some privacy. He was tired, ‘cause of the journey, but was very confused at the happenings. She entered the house with only a towel wrapped around. She smiled at him, paused and quickly went inside. “Wow, she is so beautiful”, he said to himself. “There are some saris, which were worn by my mother in the top shelf. You can use them”, and smiled.
“My name is Madhavi”, she took charge of the kitchen and was busy preparing puttu for breakfast. “You are a gentleman and thank you so much for helping me. Please, could I stay here today?” he nodded without saying a word, but was also worried, about how his neighbours might react.
The breakfast was very delicious and soon he left for the market in the neighbouring town, to buy some tools. The incidents of the previous night, left him with more questions, but he was very excited at the sudden change of fortunes.
It was evening when he reached the house, and could hear some voices from inside the house. Madhavi was chatting with some neighbours. They were laughing at her jokes. They seemed comfortable with her. He walked slowly inside, and the ladies got up, bid goodbyes, as if they knew her all their lives. The old mischievous lady winked at him, and the others had a sheepish smile, as they left the house. “Your neighbours are very friendly. I took the liberty of introducing myself. Hope it is okey with you?” she looked at him with her eyebrows raised, like a V. He just smiled and proceeded inside.
Kuttyappan freshened up and found the towel and new clothes ready. Dinner was ready and she was waiting to serve. He had been alone for sometime after the death of his mother and was pleasantly surprised and worried at the same time. “I do not want to go back to my home. I am alone and do not have anyone for me”, she starting crying. “I really like you. Will you marry me? I will take care of all your needs”.
Kuttyappan was very startled at what he had heard. For the first time in his life, a woman, a beautiful one has told him that she likes him, leave alone marrying him. He liked her too. Actually, he was smitten the moment he laid his eyes on her. He was ecstatic, but showed a little restraint. “Yes”, he ducked his head in embarrassment, “I love you too”. Both their eyes met and smiled together.
Kuttyappan and Madhavi got married within a month, and they were the most popular couple in the village. He held his head high when he walked with her, and the women folk were fraught with jealousy. After a couple of years, they had a child.
One night as Kuttyappan was eating his dinner, he decided that it needed more salt. He asked Madhavi to get some. The salt container was kept high on a shelf, and as he watched her reach for it, he was horrified to see her fingers grow longer and longer. He trembled with fear. Once she grasped the salt pot, her fingers returned to normal. Madhavi turned around and saw her husband shivering with fright. “You are a yakshi (ghost), aren’t you? he was terrified. Though she was worried that he had finally discovered her true self, she smiled at him.
“Yes I am a yakshi, but I am surprised, that it took so many years for you to discover,” she was candid. “Perhaps your love for me has reduced and now you have started to look at only my blemishes”.
“Why did you not tell me this, the first day we met?” he was angry and afraid at the same time.
“Form and source did not matter to you then, and you did not ask me where I was from. You were smitten by me. You longed for my body, every available moment. Love blindfolded your eyes”, she was composed. “I loved you too, with all my heart and body, but worried, that you might discover my true self some day and would banish me”.
“Do you know something? Today is the first day, you had asked for salt in your food. I had never put salt ever in the past so many years. Maybe you have become bored of me now. Maybe you have started looking for newer pastures.”
“I love you darling. Please don’t be afraid of me. Please don’t send me away”, she was on her knees now.
“You have lived a lie all these years, wretched yakshi. You deserve no mercy. I do not want to live in fear of death or that you might endanger the life of my child”, he was furious now.
“Have you forgotten all the innumerous days that I have taken care, every minute of your day and night? Why are you so selfish? If I have not harmed you in all these years, why is my form suddenly worrisome? I love you darling. Please don’t send me out,” she cried profusely.
Kuttyappan in a fit of rage and anger held her hair, dragged her outside the house and bolted the door from behind. It was midnight now.
He secured his child next to him in the bed, and put off the lamps.
“Please don’t leave me alone. I am afraid of darkness. I am afraid of the night”. He heard her cry all night. His anger would not subside, but he slept after sometime.
“Madhavi!” he woke up suddenly. It was dawn. He was sweating profusely. His child next to him was missing. “Oh my god, what have I done. Madhavi!” he opened the door with a bang.
There was no Madhavi. He wept and repeatedly banged his forehead against the door. He was lonely again.
This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.