Abhayaranya (A Forest Sanctuary)

By Prakash S. Parienkar
As translated from the Konkani by Vidya Pai

Avdu tied up the cows in the shed and stepped into the front yard. She dropped the load of firewood on the verandah, shook out her crumpled sari and squatted at the edge of the yard. She had beaten the earth smooth and flattened this patch of land in front of her house just eight days ago, but the hens kept shitting and dirtying the place, so this morning, she had applied a fresh coat of dung paste all over its surface.

It was evening and the cool breeze made the whole area quite cold. Layers of darkness seemed to settle on the wooded hills in the distance and soon the area around the house would be submerged in shadows too. At times like this her little house-in-the-woods became a part of the surrounding darkness and staying there alone was a fearful proposition.

A hen and her brood of chicks were darting about in the yard. Champi, the little bitch, stood by the cowshed with her head turned towards the hills. She was barking without pause like she always did when she caught a whiff of some animal moving about in the forest. A calf lowed in the shed.
‘Forgot to set water for that poor calf … a curse be on me!’
Avdu grumbled as she lumbered painfully to her feet. She picked up a pot of water and made her way to the shed. The hen and chicks had settled down to roost when Avdu returned with Champi sniffing at the ground and frisking about at her heels. She picked up the large basket in the corner and covered the brood. As she stood there in the yard the shadows seemed to seep through her eyes and permeate her whole being, making her a part of the darkness all around. Why does she seem to merge into the surrounding gloom today? Who does she seek in this cold darkness that has trickled down the forested slope?

It must be something momentous or Avdu would not have been shaken to the core. Avdu is not weak-hearted, this mantle of darkness seeping down from the forest cannot scare her. She has been living in close proximity to these shadows in her solitary forest home for many years now.

How many years is it since she got married? She might not know the exact number of years but she has a fair idea. The jackfruit tree in front of the house, the one by which the hens roost at night, is exactly the same age as her marriage. Her father-in-law planted that jackfruit sapling during the first showers of Meerg in the year that she was wed. Her husband planted those four coconut palms in the orchard on one side of their house, the year their daughter Vasanthi was born. And Avdu dug pits in the ground and planted the other coconut saplings after the birth of their son Vasu. Three years had passed since her husband Bhathu died, but there was nothing around the house to mark that tragic event.

She hastily gathered the pile of firewood dumped on the verandah and made her way to the kitchen. Feeling her way around in the darkness, she picked up the matchbox from the hearth and lit a lamp. The small, two-room house that had been immersed in darkness all this while was suddenly filled with light. She set cotton wicks in place in the traditional lamaan-divo that was lit before the household gods and the tiny niranjan oil lamp. She lit both lamps and carried the niranjan to its niche beside the sacred tulsi plant in front of the house.


Read the full story in our print anthology ‘The Brave New World of Goan Writing 2018.’ Buy the anthology here.

Prakash S. Parienkar is a multi-award-winning writer and teaches at the Department of Konkani at Goa University. His awards include the Sarvotkrust Sahitya Puraskar 2008, and the Padmashree B. B. Borkar Memorial Literary Award 2007 .

Vidya Pai the translator, won the Konkani award at the Katha-British Council Translation Contest in 1993. She has translated six Konkani novels for major writers.