Saturday, 15 March 2014

A Lease of Life

Human existence is punctuated by various phases: from one particular stage with its joyfulness and specific crisis to another realm. We therefore, have to alternate between exuberance and apathy, when life is light and easy, and those periods when obstacles block us in every direction.

For Maniamma, a woman hailing from Muthukulam village in Kerala, it was the veritable test of time, loyalty and patience when her husband met with an accident while climbing a coconut tree. On that fateful day, Maniamma and her husband accompanied by a few villagers were on their way towards the coconut grove to fetch the coconuts from the trees.

The muddy roads of Muthukulam with the crags and whorls and the verdant landscape is still untouched by commercialization retains its rustic charm. Boating in the backwaters bordered with coconut trees is a major hub for visitors.  The tuck shops and boating are usually operated by the locals and Ayappa owned a small shop. He closed his shop after the morning session and decided to pluck some coconuts for the temple. For the religiously inclined a short track from the main road led to the Karthika temple. It was a moment frozen in time when the shocking incident took place in front of Maniamma.

Ayappa, the local vendor was way up the coconut tree as he was expertly maneuvering the climb, when he swayed all of a sudden and then collapsed into the ground. Nearly eight to ten people standing underneath were transfixed as they suddenly saw Ayappa falling headlong into the ground with a sudden thud and terrifying scream. Maniamma yelled in fright as she saw the horror unfolding before her eyes with terrible certainty – the rope used for stepping up the tall tree suddenly giving way and sent her husband crashing into the solid earth with a resounding sound.

Suddenly a misstep and darkness for Ayappa. Instantly the men rushed towards the falling Ayappa to save him, but of no avail.realizing the danger he was in the villagers present gathered his mangled body with terrible gashes on his limbs and blood spurting out from his forehead. Maniamma just stood there frozen. She couldn’t even move. The whole impact of the tragedy struck her when they carried the still body of her husband and were shouting for assistance. She wailed and ran wildly after the men carrying Ayappa and the women came swarming around to try and console her. She struggled in their grip as if possessed, her eyes blank as she imagined that she had lost her husband. 

A few hours after the incident, the villagers took Ayappa to the local hospital in Kayankulam. Maniamma pushed her way through the crowded OPD . The doctors looked grim as they examined Ayappa. It was then that she started to weep as the reality hit her. After a lot of investigations, mostly unknown to her, Ayappa was taken to the ICU.  This was followed by a series of discussions by the senior doctors and the final intimation was as they predicted was paralysis which would probably condemn him for life. But Maniamma’s efforts as she tended to her husband’s ailment were exceptional.

When Maniamma was suddenly left bereft with the sudden misfortune, she thought that her life had come to a standstill. However, the power of love and her stoic resistance to her predicament triumphed over the loss. Her faith in her ability to overcome all obstacles and determination was an illustration of prodigious human courage. There is something life-affirming about the qualities of love and trust, a lifetime of experience that often includes loss and heartbreak, illness and aging which are awe inspiring.

Manimma was hugely overwhelmed with grief when the tragedy struck and the endless hours of tending to her husband’s ailment initially deterred her; what could she possibly do to save her husband? Poverty and lack of amenities were the possible impediments. Her happily married life suddenly received a major setback. An unlettered village girl found her hopes dashed and it was the beginning of a long, gruelling, anxious process of care-giving when she finally returned home from the hospital. And yet, deep down, she had never lost that kernel of certainty. God would help her. And she felt sure he would.

Several months crept by. And the burden of the whole house-hold seemed to press down on her shoulders. With a paralyzed husband and an infant to look after she was faced with an immense ordeal. Her meagre income proved inadequate. Her trials and tribulations often depressed her. What concerned her mainly was Ayappa’s persisting feeling of nausea, lack of appetite and acute depression. The morbid scene was excruciating. Ayappa’s bedridden condition, trapped in a hopeless situation, Maniamma knew that the impending crisis will rout their lives.

She was lucky to have cooperative neighbors who did everything to help her. She had to look after the vendor shop, her sick husband and her baby which was indeed a daunting task. With immense patience she tended to her husband’s needs, looked after her bay and minded the shop multitasking efficiently. As she emerged from the winding road surrounded by green trees cradling her infant in her arms and walked towards her shop, an aura of self-belief seemed to emanate from her. She was determined to face the hurdles and did everything for Ayappa’s sustenance. Her life which appeared like a narrative riddled with negatives however, could not buckle her. The imperious sensibilities of some villagers, especially the men aggravated her dilemma. 

Cradling her babe, Maniamma started her daily chore by first wiping her husband’s forehead with a damp cloth as the toddler whined, picked up a bowl of sambhar mixed idli bits and fed her husband gently. It was an uphill task for a woman to take care of an invalid single-handed. But Maniamma’s invincible courage urged her to carry on against all odds. For this simple village housewife it was indeed a massive effort but her hard work and sheer will power kindled a hope within her-to overcome this crisis.

She believed that one day Ayappa would recover. He would be able to talk and walk. At times is often a feeling of it all being too much to cope with. There were tears of frustration, exhaustion and pain when she saw her husband forlorn, lying helpless in bed with a look of apathy that wrenched her heart. The more she struggled looking for solutions,the less she found a way out:her efforts to cure her husband by her limited funds seemed to be in vain. She could only tend the shop in the afternoons after her drudgery.  But her infinite trust and faith in god steered her towards her goal by embracing a new perspective- to provide some happiness to her ailing husband.

Ayappa could only express his emotions through his eyes, and to Maniamma, his eyes spoke of despair. His quivering lips struggled to utter words but alas! His facial muscles would contract and get distorted in his attempt to speak, but no words came out. Despite the pathos, believing that the ongoing process might not last long, she patiently and reverently tried to tread towards creating a better tomorrow for Ayappa. As his strength waned, she worried about his listless state and tried her best to rejuvenate him through laughing anecdotes, preparing delicacies and speaking lovingly to him.

At times he looked at her endearingly but the spark would soon disappear replaced by gloom. Was that a sign of his inevitable doom? Or, was it simply his lack of faith and confidence in his self? Maniamma’s dedicated service and her optimism was a portal to light and has motivated her to survive in a conservative and rural community in Kerala the world outside the four walls of her home was forbidden territory. But she realized that she had to cross those boundaries to sustain life for her family. Despite the backlashes her efforts of care -giving as well as earning a livelihood by managing Ayappa’s small shop was a shift in the paradigm. But the extraordinary power of love triumphed over all obstacles and her heartrending vignette has a lot to offer in reality.

Fending off the lascivious remarks of men was another ordeal. Sudarshan would often follow her in the evenings and openly suggest to spend a night with her. Her dusky looks and supple figure was sensuous. His persistent appeal was stifling and exasperating. She was facing grief, accepting a situation that she had no power to change, whose refusal was draining her. The problems were accentuating for her. All she wished was the look of joy in her husband’s eyes. If she could borrow some money from Sudarshan and purchase a television for Ayappa, his grief would lessen. It would give a new dimension to his frustrated, poverty ridden life. His eyes would light up in anticipation of better days. She would be able to offer him renewed existence. A sense of profound joy enveloped her.

The emerging truth was however, was stark as Maniamma braced herself before approaching Sudarshan near the desolate backwaters. It was her tryst with destiny - her binary self in action. Her devotion for her frail husband and her uncharacteristic behaviour. As she surrendered herself reluctantly to the lecher. Her body recoiled as Sudarshan forced himself on her and her fingers coiled in a tight fist as if to offer resistance. Nearby her baby yelled lying in a mat. She returned home looking deathly pale and haggard. She held her husband’s bony hands and lay awake for hours.

Her crisis registers a deep appeal to life and throws light on a newer perception of human character. Her attitude was a resounding rebuttal to life’s calamity and to the callous society. The glimmer of hope in Ayappa’s eyes and his facial gesture justified Maniamma’s deed. As he lay there watching the various programs with an animated look, Maniamma knew there was still hope. Her husband would regain his lost confidence and would awake and arise. He will trod the ground again, surmount the obstacles and be humane again. A new dawn has ushered in their lives. Ayappa looked at her with gratitude and conviction as she held his hands. A flicker of enduring love surfaced between them offering lifetime sustenance. And so, despite its difficulties, life becomes a fascinating odyssey and love transformed into an infinite source of wonder and gratitude. Maniamma’s love has outshone all hazards and has given their existence a fullness and magnitude. The tragedy which could have diminished their love has actually brought them closer. They have traversed a far and arduous journey to reach each other’s soul.

This is a post for the contest 'Go further to get closer'. To watch the ad by British airways, check out the video below.


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