THE LEGACY

It was afternoon when Malini reached the lawyer’s office. It had taken  her about ten minutes to  locate it in the by lanes of Luz. “ Srinivasan and Shashtri” was a small unpretentious law firm tucked away in the back streets of Kutchery road.  She was engulfed in darkness as she entered the cool interiors of the old house that housed the firm.  As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she looked around and found herself face to face with Ramu her cousin.

“ You are half an hour late” he said accusingly looking at his watch.

“ Well, I got lost, trying to find the place. Anyway, if you knew the place you could have offered me a lift. We would have then been on time” she snapped back!

Ramu was the son of her father’s youngest brother. A Chartered accountant by profession and a miser by choice. Chasing money was his passion and nothing pleased him more than discussing investments. Though he was younger than her by a good five years he behaved as though he was older than her by a decade. Malini has always detested him ..! It was unfortunate, but it was now just the two of them left behind from her father’s side of the family..!

The door opened and a small man came out saying “ Sir will see you now”!

Ramu jumped up and walked inside. Malini followed slowly.

“ Please sit down” said Mr. Srinivasan ( or was it Mr. Shashtri?. ). The silence was stretching out between them. Malini watched as he looked through the file in front of him. Ramu of course, being the avaricious ass that he was asked quickly ” Is the will with you? “

“ Yes.. here it is”  he said taking it out.

Ramu all but jumped out of his chair trying to grab it out of the lawyer’s hand. Malini watched in a detached way as though she were a spectator in a scene from a play. Her mind wondered what Kalyani Chitti’s will was all about.  The lawyer was talking ‘… so the house will naturally go to both of you as the two sole surviving members of Mr. Sheshadri’s family…’ Ramu was interrupting and asking some questions.. Malini’s mind wandered. She really was not interested in any of this. She was not even sure why she was here. She suddenly wanted to return to her home in Singapore. She was tired of all this. The lawyer was now looking at her and saying something..’
and Ms Raman, this is for you.’  He said as he handed her an envelope and a key. He got up indicating that the meeting was over.

“ What is in that cover and what is that key”  asked Ramu jealously. “ I don’t know” said Malini tucking it into her bag. She made her way  towards the auto rickshaw stand nearby. “ Ok then, let us meet tomorrow at the house. We will see the condition it is in and decide what to do. I have already spoken to a few real estate agents”  said Ramu making his way to his car. Malini looked at him with disgust! All he cared about was money. He did not even have the courtesy to offer his only cousin a lift back to her flat –Adayar was after all not so far away. And anyway, he would have to pass it on his way to Thiruvanmiyur.  But then, courtesy and decent behavior was too much to expect from Ramu the spoilt brat!

‘ What is this letter all about?’ wondered Malini on her way to Adayar. She was curious to open it and read it right away but decided to wait till she reached the flat. “ I hope it is not in Tamil “ she prayed because her reading skills in Tamil would certainly not be good enough.  Thankfully, it wasn’t as she discovered when she eventually settled down in her living room to read it. It was written in
English.. Strange, she did not think that Kalyani Chitti could communicate in English.

My dear Malu,

  I know you will be surprised to read this letter in English.. I have been trying to improve my fluency in English over the last few years so I don’t think there will be many mistakes. Life at seventy holds few attractions for me. After your Chittappa’s   death I have little to occupy my  time with. I never realized how much of my time was spent caring for him. “

Malini’s mind wandered back to the past.  Raghu chittappa and Kalyani Chitti’s marriage. She remembered her aunt as a very beautiful bride- huge eyes, waist length hair and a peaches n cream complexion. Her uncle in comparison looked like a dried up prune. She was so drawn to her aunt right from the first time she set her eyes of her.  The attraction was obviously mutual.. otherwise how was it that Kalyani Chitti who had number of nieces and nephews from her side of the family should choose to shower her love on Malini..

my life has been a difficult one. You uncle’s illness was something that I had not bargained for.  Some people tell me that he was suffering from this illness when we got married. But how is one to know?  People began to blame me for his condition saying that I had brought in bad luck for him. Your grandmother was one of the few who never said anything but then I guess she knew about his state of health when she brought the proposal for marriage to my family. My husband’s illness and my childless state made my life a living hell.. that is until the time you came to live with us”

Malini remembered the brief period of time in her life when she lived with Kalyani Chitti. She was about six years old. Her father had been posted in some way out town in a state that was now called Chattisgarh. Amma had gone with him and she was left behind with Paati, Kalyani Chitti and Raghu Chittappa in Chennai. Paati, her grandmother was almost a recluse. She never communicated or talked to anyone much. People said that she had become like that after her husband’s death. Raghu chittappa of course was another enigma. At least it seemed like that to her then. The Schizophrenia probably had turned him into that.

Her father’s family seemed so strange to her now. Appa the oldest, had  seemed to be determined to run away from his mother and younger brother lest he be burdened with looking after them. Ramesh Chittappa the youngest brother preferred to live with his wife’s family. So there it was the huge cavernous house in Mylapore containing three adults and a little girl..  But life in “ Shobha” her ancestral home was not as unhappy as it might have seemed to others outside. Kalyani Chitti had seen to that! She used to prepare Malini’s  favorite food at every meal-Chitti was a wonderful cook!  Evenings were spent playing on the beach which was only walking distance away. Chitti used to stitch beautiful frocks for her on that hand operated sewing machine in the back room.  The nights used to be spent hugging chitti and going to sleep listening to the lullabies that she sang so beautifully..!

your presence in my life gave me that experience of motherhood that I could never have otherwise had . I remember you with that dimple in your left cheek and the long list of questions. Malu  my dear I can never thank you enough for the gift you gave me.. you made me feel for a brief moment like a normal woman. “  

It was strange how little she had remembered of her time with Kalyani chitti until now.  There had been whispered rumors about her aunt that she had often overheard during her teens. “ Oh.. that Ravi fellow why does he visit her so often? “  she remembered a neighbor whispering to her mother during Paati’s funeral.

Normalcy Malu, is a relative concept. What constitutes normal depends on what people perceive as abnormal. Nobody ever thought about how abnormal my life was. Married at nineteen to a man who was mentally ill and lived on to be his wife until his death forty seven years later! What did people think I should do? Live like a nun in the prime of my youth? You have probably heard all that gossip people spread about me. My so called relationship with my English tutor. Ravi was five years younger than me but like you he brought hope into my life. I lived for those two hours every evening when he would come home to teach me English. He taught me more than the language. He introduced me to the literature in English, the poetry and the stories. He kindled in me emotions that I thought I had successfully killed! There were often opportunities to act out my feelings for him. But we always maintained that distance because of the fear of society. It was terrible  after your grandmother’s death. People just assumed the worst. And finally one day he decided to quit this job. He said he was going to get married and settle somewhere else. Who was I to say anything? I went on as before..! This terrible burden of beauty that I carried seemed to attract more attention than necessary. There have been many occasions where men have tried to take advantage of me. “

Malini felt her eyes fill with tears. She felt guilty about the way she had forgotten this aunt so easily when she had gone back to join her parents. She remembered seeing Chitti at her wedding but it was only a fleeting presence. She had not even stayed for lunch.. Later after her divorce, when she had moved to Singapore she had completely forgotten about her aunt. Her parents did not mention her much either-almost as though she was embarrassment they could do without! Kalyani Chitti had faded out of her memory until last week when she had received that call from Ramu asking her to come to Chennai to deal with Chitti’s will. Her beautiful aunt had passed away in her sleep one evening. The maid had discovered her dead and one of the neighbors had called Ramesh Chittappa . Ramu had performed the last rites. No one from Kalyani Chitti’s family had attended the funeral.. She was probably a shameful reminder of their own greed. A greed  that had made them “sell” away a beautiful daughter to a mentally ill man in return for powerful family connections.

Malu… you will find with this letter a key. This is the key to my cupboard in which lie all those lovely silks that were given to me at my wedding but which I never had an occasion to wear. Please take them and wear them for me. Inside the safe you will find another key which is the key to the locker no 355 in the  Bank. It has the few pieces of jewelry that my parents gave me during my marriage. Please take them with you and wear them too. You are the closest that I have come to having a child and therefore whatever I can call mine is yours. Be happy and may god bless you with all the happiness in this world.

Yours with love,

Kalyani chitti”

Malini folded the letter and put it back into the envelope slowly. It was amazing how one woman had lived so alone and lonely through almost fifty years of marriage abandoned by her in laws and her own family! It called for a lot of courage to continue living through gossip and scandals. A courage that inspired Malini today as a single mother living alone in a foreign country caring for a child and old parents.  “This is your true legacy Chitti” said Malini as she gazed out into the horizon watching the setting sun!

( I have used a few Tamil words. So here are the translations Chitti- refers to aunt- mother’s younger sister or wife of father’s younger brother. Chitappa- father’s younger brother, Paati- grandmother, Appa- father, Amma- mother)

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bikram
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 23:26:45

    a beautiful story. I loved reading it as it shows so much of love , respect and what some people go through all life.

    In my own family we have a relative who left his wife the next day of the marriage and she is still alive , and living as a wife to him… and she is so sweet ..

    The little time Malini stayed with her was so beautiful for the lady .. I hope malini used the silks and jewelery properly and rememebr her aunt and respects her for all times to come..

    BEautiful story ..

    Reply

    • Meera
      Oct 19, 2011 @ 16:36:21

      I also hope Malini used the saris and jewellery. It is sad but we realize what we have lost when it is gone. There are so many women who live the way Kalyani Chitti and your aunt . But they are strong women in their own right! Thanks for visiting and reading my post

      Reply

  2. KP
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 04:07:51

    I find it difficult to write here with tears flowing from my eyes.The etching of Kalyani chitti’s life and character is superb.Meera, you are agreat wordsmith and can invest emotions in your words.I am really envious of your skill.
    It is a beautiful story, if it is not a real.You cannot abridge it without losing some of its charm.Each scene comes before my mind’s eye as if I am watching a movie.Great job,Meera.This is one of your best.Please send it to some well known magazine for a wider audience to appreciate your great skill

    Reply

    • Meera
      Oct 19, 2011 @ 16:37:24

      KP, I am convinced now that fiction writing on blogs is not for me. I am probably a traditional fiction writer. Wish I could do those small pieces like you- the challenge lies there.But thanks for the encouraging comments. Glad that you liked it!

      Reply

  3. Tharani
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 15:19:20

    You bring in so much emotions with your writing Meera..I am sitting here searching for words to write a comment..Beautiful story..

    Reply

  4. Meera
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 16:38:46

    Thanks Tharani.. You are a loyal friend and follower..!! Few like you!

    Reply

  5. Lopa
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 21:19:53

    I saw this post yesterday but didn’t get time to read. I read it this morning when I was stuck in the traffic jam, on my way to office in our office transport! It was really hot and I was feeling suffocated! And miracle happened when I started reading it! I was so engrossed and into reading it that I almost forgot about the traffic and the heat! How do you create such amazing flow that grips the reader?

    Reply

  6. Lopa
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 21:53:11

    Reply

  7. Leo
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 22:50:15

    Like Partha sir says, you bring to life each scene. I don’t know what you mean by you cant be a blog fiction writer. I for one feel not much difference between blog and paper.. Your story shines through, and Malini will through her legacy live what her Chitti couldn’t 🙂 Do write more, and share on Indivine too, as I’m not regular with following 🙂

    Leo @ I Rhyme Without Reason

    Reply

  8. Krishnapriya
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 11:55:00

    Hi, since i share my initials with Partha Sir, i am giving my full name here..
    I loved this piece of fiction because it was not the ending that is expected and it was touching.. you have portrayed very well as of how certain relations stay in heart even if it felt nothing at that time.. ! 🙂

    Reply

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