Continued from here:
Sumi looked helplessly at Sundar. They both got up, unsure of what to do next. Kanakambal, realizing that she was wasting her energy, had shut up. She strode up to Sumi and Sundar. Hands on her hips, she launched into another tirade. “Now, will you tell me what is the meaning of all this? How dare you bring this devil to Bombay, to poison the air of this city? What is everyone going to say? Everything is ruined now, and all because of you (vicious glance at Sumi) and her. I knew that Lakshmi was possessed by the devil, that’s why her husband threw her out. I kept quiet, to preserve my family’s good name. Oh, God, what sin did I commit that something like this should happen to me? Now with her in this city, I cannot go ahead with Malini’s wedding…” She was getting hysterical now.
Sumi stared at her, aghast. She could not believe what she had just heard. A feeling of such strong hatred for Kanakambal surged in her that she felt momentarily light-headed. The New Sumi continued to evolve. She confronted Kanakambal.
“What do you mean, you knew? You knew that Aunt Lakshmi was not well and you did not tell anyone? I could have taken her to a specialist months ago….and now, look at her suffering like this. And all you care about is yourself and your name? Don’t you care that Aunt Lakshmi is very seriously sick? How can you talk about being possessed by the devil! There is no such thing! Devil is what people say when they are illiterate and stupid!”
Sumi was so upset she was sobbing now. She did not care that she had just called Kanakambal illiterate and stupid. She was illiterate and stupid, with all her talk of possession and devils.
Sumi took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself down. The sight of Kanakambal made her sick. With her face twisted with rage and her hard, pitiless eyes, she looked like a veritable demoness. Sumi was the sort of person who would blow away a mosquito rather than swat at it, but she was now angry enough that she would have gladly slapped Kanakambal and pushed her out of the room. She decided she would have nothing more to do with Kanakambal. She turned to Sundar. He looked terrible. He was in a horrible situation with no good outcome. Stretched on a rack between his mother and mother-in-law. And with a screaming-banshee wife. Sumi took one look at his stricken face, and immediately understood his dilemma. And saw that there was only one solution.
Gently, she spoke to him, "I will keep Aunt Lakshmi with me. Your flat is not big enough, and mine is too big for just Kannan and me.”
She left unspoken the most important part, about his wife and Kanakambal. Sundar looked gratefully at Sumi. He did not dare look at Kanakambal who was glaring at Sumi.
Kanakambal spoke, her voice still loud and angry, “Just get that woman out of here. Put her in a mad people’s home, lock her up, just don’t bring her anywhere near me or my daughters”.
Sumi ignored her. She addressed Sundar again, “Don’t worry, I’ll manage her. I’ll take her back home by plane and take her to a specialist there.” She paused. “Did you know about any previous…incidents… like this? Like what she (merest glance at Kanakambal) said?”
Sundar shook his head. “No, I had no idea. Appa just put her on a train and sent her to me, and Amma would not say anything either. I was sure she would contact Appa and go back to him eventually, but nothing like that happened. Of course, as you know, she was with us for only three weeks.”
He looked embarrassed, but Sumi needed no explanation. Aunt Lakshmi had described each day in excruciating detail. Poor Sundar was like a puppet with his strings pulled by his wife and Kanakambal. A decent, obedient, powerless puppet.
By this time, Aunt Lakshmi was fast asleep. The cook and the butler tiptoed around the room, putting things back in their place and trying to tidy up the living room. The doctor had slipped away, already inventing in his head the tale of how he had been savagely attacked by a madwoman, and how he alone had been brave enough to tranquilize her while everyone else had trembled around him. Things were quiet again. Kanakambal had run out of steam. Now the reality of the situation overwhelmed her. Malini, in a limbo-land between single woman-hood and married woman-hood, destined to languish there forever? A thousand wedding guests waiting, wondering, and a thousand tongues, gossiping maliciously, eyebrow-raisingly. Oh, god. With a moan she left the room. Out of Sumi’s life. Forever.
Sundar heaved a sigh of relief. He knew there would be hell to pay later, but at least for now, his suffocating mother-in-law was out of the way, and he could breathe. He tried to think big-picture thoughts, but it was more than he could handle. He decided to tackle things one small step at a time. He made arrangements for plane tickets for Sumi and Aunt Lakshmi to return the following morning. He ordered a taxi to come to the guest-house the next morning to take them to the airport. He called up Kannan and gave him a brief but thorough account of everything that had transpired. He helped the cook and butler clean up the mess. Sumi’s sari, the peacock green one with the gold polka dots which she had planned to wear for the wedding, had been torn to shreds, its pieces scattered all over the room. He picked them up, methodically, one by one, draping the pieces over his arm. As long as he was doing something, he did not have to think. At last, everything that had to be done, for now, had been done. There was nothing more to do.
He sat down next to his mother, and ran his hand gently over her matted hair. Reality hit him like a punch in the stomach. He bent over, overcome by a sense of profound loss and grief. He knew that what Sumi had suggested was the best solution, and he hated himself for that. Aunt Lakshmi was his mother, he was the son, he should be taking care of her. For the first twenty eight years of his life he had been controlled by his mother. When he got married, the puppet strings had been snatched by his wife (with Kanakambal tugging firmly at them as well). Three strong women in his life – he had no chance of standing up to them. He got up and told Sumi he had to go. Back to whatever hell awaited him. With a last, lingering look at his mother, he walked out.
Life carries on. There are no “happily ever afters” or “sadly ever afters”. Just good days and bad days. So it was with Sumi and Aunt Lakshmi. Back at home, Sumi took her to every specialist she could think of. They poked her, they prodded her, they took her blood, they took her urine, they took images of her brain, her heart, her bones, her intestines. They peered down her throat, they stared into her eyes, they squinted into her ears. And they all said the same thing: there was nothing wrong with Aunt Lakshmi. She was as healthy as a twenty year old. As for that whole business of her divine singing, perhaps, ahem, it had been imagined? No medical textbook described anything remotely like that.
Sumi, frustrated and worried, did not know what to do next. Sure, Aunt Lakshmi had made a remarkable recovery. She had been completely silent on her way back from Bombay, and had slept for an entire day after she returned. Then woke up with the old sparkle back in her eye, the zest, the loud laugh, the badgering of Palani, the nagging of Dhanam, the whole Aunt Lakshmi package. She made no mention of her trip to Bombay. No mention of Malini, Kanakambal, Sundar or her daughter-in-law. As if she had carved them out of her life and thrown them away. She refused to talk to any of the doctors that she was taken to, and sat with a distant look while Sumi described what had happened. When questioned, she said she had no memory of those events.
Life returned to its old routine. The morning spent on household chores, the afternoons spent reminiscing with Aunt Lakshmi. Months passed. Only two things happened that brought memories of that nightmarish day back to Sumi. Several months later, an invitation arrived in the mail for Sumi and Kannan. From Sundar. An invitation to Malini’s wedding. Another place, another bridegroom. Sumi read it with pursed lips and threw it away. And for her first wedding anniversary, Aunt Lakshmi presented her with a sari. It was a peacock green sari with gold polka dots.