Open 2020, Short Stories - Brian Marshall



By Muralidharan Parrthasarathy 


“Whether the code is in Python or Java doesn’t alter the purpose, per se is the end user’s search linking him to his target sites in the order of relevance and content. The bug is in the search engine range which is deficient and omits all the tags in various contents. Relevant code needs revisit.”


Within minutes of Lekha’s ‘reply all’ mail Luciana called her over the phone, “Thanks a lot Lekha, the manager was convinced that my choice, Java was the cause for the new app failing in launch. The tag-search interface was taken care of by Juim. Your mail hit the nail. Now the manager has asked Juim to test run his portion of coding in tag-search interface.”


“Come on, you could’ve told him, Lucy.”


“You know, Lekha, how scared I am of the manager, Zhang Yong. He always looks for leads where I can be targeted. Today you work from home so I was a lot more nervous.”


“No need, Lucy. Our work will speak for itself. You and I, aren’t we clear on the sequence in which the codes will run during launch?”

“Thanks, once again. Have your parents arrived?”


“My elder brother has gone to pick them up.”


“One who lives in Millbrae?”


“I’ve only one sibling; he is my brother working for Quora, living in Millbrae, SF.”


“Have a great weekend, Lekha!”


“Thanks.” Mention of her brother Madhavan reminded Lekha about his ten-year-old son Hariharan who was left by his dad an hour back with her. She put her laptop on sleep mode and opened the balcony door. The boy was swimming in the pool. She decided to go and bring him home to feed him something. Sunnyvale was quite bright and hot, a typical day in April. She cautiously checked that the door keys are with her before slamming it shut.


When she opened the glass door of the pool arena she found the boy Hariharan was engaged in some conversation with a white girl, around five years of age. As she neared them he asked her, “What’s your father?”


The girl curtly replied, “The question is un-American.”


Lekha smiled and when she patted Hariharan the girl had already dived into the pool.


“Shall we go to Komalavilas?” The boy happily nodded.


She ordered food for 6 people and mentioned ‘to go’. This prudence’s fruit was appreciated by Hariharan when he saw around 10 people lined up to place an order on the spot. She purchased some ration from the neighboring Indian Store.


When both of them returned home, the living-room was full. Her mom immediately embraced Hariharan. Her brother and her husband Gobi were engrossed in some conversation. She said “Hi dad,” and returned to her room and laptop.


In an hour her mom knocked on the door and entered, “Join us for dinner, Lekhe.”


“I’ve got work, you people go ahead.”


“Look, Lekhe. Aren’t you even aware that we’ve come from India? You won't know of the long queues of more than two hours in Chennai, Dubai, and SF to screen us for Corona. We suffered these to come to visit to you and Gobi. Tomorrow and the day after are weekends, I know, Lekhe. Why don’t you join us?”


“Do you have any idea about the nature of my work? Do you know anything about coding, testing, launching or debugging?” Lekha pushed the laptop on the bed raising her voice.

“Is this the way to talk to your mother? We’ve come fourteen thousand kilometers anxious about the crisis?”


“What crisis? Who asked you to come? Is it Gobi? Then go and ask him.”


Her mother left.


About half an hour later a very soft knock on the balcony door was strange. Lekha ignored it nevertheless wondering what could have caused a sharp sound from inside the balcony. She continued her coding. After a short while, the knock was louder and continuous. She saved the work completed and got up.


“I’m Chitra,” a slender looking woman of her mother’s age clad in white blouse and saree greeted her and extended her hand. A Cal train speeded behind the housing complex. How did this woman land here? Who’s she?


“Are you perplexed? I’m from Guruvayur. Thought of meeting one Nattukkaari .”


Lekha found her fraternal move appealing but was still not out of the shock of seeing her suddenly in the balcony.


“I wanted to show you my younger days Molae.”


“Chitra madam, how did you reach here? And who exactly are you?”


Before Lekha could shoot the questions the balcony’s grill mesh opened into a small village in Kerala. A big house and a small hut stood side by side, within its premises. In that natural atmosphere both of them were standing exactly at the doorstep of the hut.


“Lekhe, see now the door will open and I will come out young!” excitement in Chitra’s voice went up in pitch.


“You’re not able to believe? This is me!” said Chitra in a chirpy voice as the young Chitra closed the thatched door of the hut behind her and came out. Flanked by the women and children of the house, seated on a wooden recliner chair in the veranda close to the main door was Iswaran Namboodiri, the head of the family, his forehead smeared with three thick parallel lines of ash and his pepper salt tuft from the center of his head extending the top ash line.


A pair of tri-twined white cotton strings ran across his upper body from left shoulders to his waist. The only member missing was Menaamba’s husband Manikandan. Medium built Chitra sporting a blouse and a white lungi on her waist with a hesitant gait was hesitant and face drawn treaded a small muddy path in between the banana trees, to reach the brick tiled footpath between the bamboo doors that opened to the street and the main door of the house. Sighting the family gathered as if waiting to watch her moves, she stopped and saluted Iswaran with folded hands.


“Poikko. Tirichi varumbol samsarikkam!” She understood that master wants to talk only after her return from the temple and nodded in affirmation and opened the waist-height bamboo doors center to the thick line of casuarinas trees grown to compound the front; she stepped into the bumpy mud street damp with the rains of the previous night and headed towards the temple.


The Bhagavathi Amman temple had been closed after the rituals for the noon worship. The teak doors of the temple’s sanctum sanctorum had been closed and locked. Crows, Myna, and sparrows were resting on the country tiled roof of the temple under the shades of a giant Peepal tree. Except for their chirps, the atmosphere was quiet.


When Chitra entered through the still open pair of outer wooden doors of the temple, there were seven men assembled at the shade of the large tree in the pavilion of the temple. All of them except the old man were priests of various temples Chitra could identify. Only the oldest was a man seated on a wooden chair. The remaining six were standing. He was about the age of Chitra’s master Iswaran and was in similar costume except for a thick golden chain with a big rudhraksha at its bottom resting on his belly.

Chitra stopped about twenty feet away from the men and saluted all of them in general with folded hands. The old man signaled with his right hand asking her to come closer and she obeyed leaving ten feet distance from them. “Enthaakinu gyangal villichittathaanu chitraikku ariyaamo?”


“Yes Sir, I understand why you have called me here.”


“Still you servant girl, I’ll formally tell you as we have assembled for Dasivicharam. You are the servant of your mistress Meenamba and as a Nair woman you must be knowing that Dasivicharam, is the first stage in Smarthavicharam the procedure which we follow in our community when some members of our community complain about an adulterous woman.”


When she informed Meenamba in the morning the mistress’ reaction was cold. Chitra had expected a firm denial and some guidance to face the Dasivicharam process.


“Chitra, do you know the name and identity of the person who she has been seeing recently?”


She remained silent. “Say yes or no,” thundered the head of the community.




“We have received the information that pepper merchant Gopalakrishnan is the person. Now can you recollect any info? Has he visited the house sneaking in the night time?”




“Have you seen him intercepting you both when you accompany her to the river for the bath?”




“Do you mean to say you don’t know the answers to those?”


“Yeah. When Meenamba amme was segregated from the house, and pushed to the hut put up as Anjampuri, then only I understood there was some problem.”


“Oh! They didn’t wait for this Dasivicharam procedure to segregate her! Only when I say there is some ground after this procedure Iswaran can do that. Anyway, that doesn’t alter this inquiry. Look, Chitre. Your evidence is crucial. Can you swear on your children and tell you don’t know anything and also that all you tell here is the truth?”


“Certainly,” tears rolled down on her cheeks,” I swear on my children.”


“Then I complete this Dasivicharam,” declared the old man.


Smarthan, in his bungalow, received Iswaran in the big hall. Many relatives common to both of them were seated and all men younger to Iswaran and women got up as a mark of respect. The context of his visit made that look ironical Iswaran felt. As if to make up for his embarrassment, Iswaran addressed the host in his first name, “Soman, shall we discuss another time?” skipping his position title Smarthan.

“No Iswaran, we will go to the pavilion.” A servant immediately brought two wooden chairs to the pavilion at the threshold of the house.


Smarthan usually talked in a voice of authority but today his tone was different. “I am sorry, Iswaran,” he broke the ice once they took their seats in the pavilion. “When I came to your house and talked to your daughter in law Meenamba through the Nair maid very unfortunately, Meenamba admitted that she was in a relationship with that businessman. I didn’t want to break this to you in front of your family.” Iswaran didn’t reply and wiped the tears swelling in his eyes with his Angavastram.


“You did your duty, Soman,” Ishwaran’s voice was heavy with remorse,” Actually even neighbors came to know about this through Nayadis who came for alms. Since the sins were committed in thick jungles we never had any idea but I have to accept this after formally the headman did the dasivicharam and you completed the next stage of your inquiry.”


Tambiran was closeted with Smarthan. “As a king, I must think of better disposal for this Smarthan,” the king exhaled deeply.


“Your highness!" I don’t understand.”


“See at the end of all stages, I built a hut for her outside the neighborhood and accommodate her.”


“Ya, your highness is the age-old tradition of Smarthavicharam.”


“It’s very painful to do this for a namboodiri woman. Your community can think of alternatives.”


“We may have to talk to the authority at Mutt through Rajaguru, your highness.”

“I begged you several times before Smarthan came and interrogated you through my mediation. You were particular about confessing. You were particular about admitting. Why amme? “


Without a word, Meenamba came out of the hut and walked to the serene lonely riverbank in her new settlement. The fishermen and washer men had been instructed not to use that side of the river bank. The river was flowing smoothly and there was no turbulent current. But quietly the river was running with a good volume of water. It was twilight and only the polestar was visible. The moon was feebly somewhere and stars had almost vanished.


The Sun was not yet out and its red radiation was mildly visible in the east. The blended chirping of various birds was a treat. Chitra followed her mistress keeping a decent distance. Suddenly Meenamba stopped very close to the river and removed her saree and then her blouse and stood nude. Chitra didn't know how to react. She looked around and there was none and the visibility was still poor. Meenamba jumped into the river and started swimming.


A loud knock on the room door interrupted. Lekha left the balcony to enter her room and open the room door. Her parents and brother came inside, “We had thought of staying here tonight but you appear to be too busy,” her father’s voice did not hide the disappointment, “We are going to Milbrae to stay with Madhavan.”


Lekha didn’t reply. Her nephew Hariharan jumped on her bed and tried to open her laptop. “Do you know that Gopi’s parents arrived last week are staying with his maternal uncle in Stanford?” her mother shot up a question. Lekha chose to remain silent. Madhavan interfered and closed the topic, “It’s getting late, another one and half hours to Milbrae. If Hari falls asleep, then it will be difficult to carry him to my flat.” “Bye,” her father said and exited. Others followed him.


The main doorbell rang once, after a gap thrice. Why doesn’t Gopi open the door? She opened the room door and then the main door. It was the delivery of empty cardboard cartons from Home Depot. She had earmarked the weekend to pack her things up. The lease was in his name nevertheless. So some paperwork was saved. She felt hungry. The leftovers were still on the dining table. She mixed some sambar and rice and heated it in the microwave oven.


As she ate she wondered why she never visited this village through the balcony. Actually, the Caltrain track and beyond that a road that leads to the flyover on South Fair Oaks Road with Murphy Park in backdrop only were behind the apartment complex. After double knocking, the room door opened. Lekha found Gopi coming inside, taking a mobile charger and closing the door behind he left.


On Saturday Lekha’s parents, Madhavan, Gopi’s parents and Gopi had gathered in the living room of Madhavan’s flat. Madhavan’s wife had paved way for their free discussion by taking Hariharan out.


“Gopi, why is Lekha so silent? What happened?” Lekha’s father cleared his throat and started the discussion.


Lekha’s mother went into the kitchen, poured all the remaining milk from a plastic container into a utensil and then crushed the plastic bottle and disposed it off into thrash.



P. Muralidharan from India has contributed to English and Tamil in the creative arena. HydRaW chose his short story ‘Shoulder’ written in English for their annual Anthology 2020. Besides a number of his stories have been selected for upcoming anthologies and three have already been published in E-magazines. His recent nonfiction on Covid19 ‘Bubbles burst’ has won good reviews.


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