By Jaimala Danait
As translated from the Konkani by Glenis M. Mendonça
Tch! Tch! The lizard on the beam clicked.
‘What has happened, why are you clicking?’, the lizard on the wall inquired.
‘Look, how happy they are here…,” the first one remarked.
‘So, why is there a need to click?’ the second one got furious.
‘My dear, listen now. Don’t count the chickens before they are hatched. Today all of them are sitting together and happily chatting. But tomorrow at this time you will see them morose as this house will be cast in a pall of gloom ... tch ... tch,’ the lizard could predict the future.
‘See how that lizard is clicking. Oh Lord, save us from evil !’ Touching her fingers to either cheek, the eldest woman of the family made a small prayer.
Beckoning the little toddler nephew who had just begun to take his first steps, the man murmured, ‘Mother believes in all sorts of superstitions ... the lizard clicked she says. The lizards too may be having a happy noisy conversation like us. Tunna, come my shana boy ...,’ And back again the family was engrossed in their happy-go-lucky world.
‘You will know my child ... the faith of this old lady!’ Bangles have no mirror to reflect. Our predictions never go unrealised ...’, the lizard felt sorry for the youngster who treated them with disdain.
And it turned out to be true. The next day while the sun was setting in the Western sky, right about the same time at the break of dusk, the Yamraj (God of death) had aimed the noose of death around this house ...
‘Aiee ... ge ... Aiee ... ge …! , the house resounded with screams. Without uttering a word to anyone, the female head of the family turned her back to this industrious world and set off to her eternal voyage, never to return. A dark cloud of gloom descended on their peaceful family life. She had complained of a chest-pain and then rested, but the lady never managed to stand on her feet again. It was a mad rush—doctors, specialists were summoned. But in moments, the game was all over. It was as if the backbone of the family had snapped.
‘Tch ... tch, this puts an end to an era! Now this family will surely face the stormy tribulations of life.’ The lizard told her companion while chomping the insect she had caught, and munching on it as if it was a betel-nut.
‘Don’t talk hogwash. Such a lovely home! The family members have a heart of gold! They will keep the family strong with their unity!' The second lizard cautioned the first.
‘You shall see for yourself! The old lady has toppled, but we have a long way to go till our bones are put to rest. Speak after seeing with your own eyes! Feeling extremely sad for her poor daughter, tch … tch!’ Seeing the young girl crying in gasps on the floor, the lizard clicked regretfully.
‘Hey, don’t click without a reason. So what if the mother is no more? She has two brothers, as strong as pillars. Instead of the mother, she has sisters-in-law. Why pity her?’ the second lizard remarked.
‘Look here,’ the lizard was speaking while attempting to catch a moth entangled in a spider’s web on the pillar. This is a whirlpool of enticement, the wicked wheel! Unknowingly, the spider is weaving its web around the insect which is caught within its grasp. In the same manner, the wicked ones here are weaving a malicious web and in that the victim will be this young person. Tchuk .. tchuk!’ This example given by the lizard through its chatter silenced the other one.
Darkness reigned through the house that night. There was neither a tube nor bulb light. The only source of light was the mellow light emerging from the lamp hooked on the lamp-stand. Even the children were unusually silent. Like the family members, the lizard too had to go on a hungry stomach.
‘Not a single bloody insect to feed on. They too must have kicked the bucket with the old woman,’ the lizard was frustrated with the continuous waiting.
‘So what, if you starve for a day you will not die! If there is no source of light, where will the insects come from? We lizards have to share the misfortune with the family. How can that be missed! Go and sleep soundly ...!’ In the dead darkness of the house, only the eerie clicking of the lizards was audible. While waiting for the family members to come back, the words spoken by the old woman came to mind.
The next day’s sunrise brought with it a crowd of visitors. Relatives, friends and well-wishers were frequenting the house. The house looked like a festive jatra. The family members had almost parched their throats and dried their teary eyes by relentlessly uttering praises of their mother to those who dropped in to offer condolences. Five or six days later the parents of the eldest daughter-in-law came in for a visit from Malvan.
‘Tch ... tch ...’ the lizard clicked.
‘Just shut up there! We are supposed to be mourning here!’ the other companion reprimanded her.
‘Seems like the mourning spell is just for the two of us. Look, here enters a mortal sin! Tch .. tch ..!’ the lizard murmured in her companion’s ears.
The mother was pacifying the daughter who was bitterly crying with her head on the mother’s shoulder. ‘Now don’t cry ! You will ruin your health if you don’t stop crying like this.
‘This unfortunate incident had to happen so suddenly!’ the father spoke while drying his teary eyes with the edge of his dhoti.
‘Such a lovely woman, as broad and strong as a slate ! What could have happened to her?’ The mother inquired with her Malvani dialect.
‘Till yesterday she was fine. Suddenly she got an attack!’ The daughter sniffed and sobbed.
‘No final words spoken, not a word uttered nor deed done ... nothing.’ The son expressed his heartfelt feelings.
‘Alas! She passed off peacefully without troubling anyone; she was on her feet while she passed away. Not a wee bit of trouble to anyone!’
‘How can one speak at the eleventh hour? Did she manage to distribute her wealth?’ the mother inquired. Before this was mentioned nobody had even thought about it.
‘Tch ... tch ... strife has entered the house!,’ the lizard clicked. In the other room, the young daughter was choking on tears, recalling memories of her mother.
Twelve days later, the youngest daughter-in-law’s brother and his wife came in for a visit all the way from Karwar.
‘Ai-yo-yo! Such a lovely lady! How did it happen so suddenly!’ The wife asked her sister-in-law.
‘How … the chest-pain was the only indication! There was nothing else …. ! she replied with her typical Karwari mournful way.
‘Did she manage to give her final instructions or did she lose her speech … ! The brother asked his sister’s husband.
‘Final instructions? She herself didn’t realise that her final hour was near,’ the son’s eyes turned crimson with tears.
‘So had she done her final will ? It should not create any future problems for anybody, you see. This can avoid unnecessary skirmishes. It’s always good when the elders settle all their property before they pass off’.'
‘There’s a grown-up daughter too. Marrying her off is a burdensome responsibility,’ the brother disclosed to his brother-in-law.
Hearing this, the youngest son had a brain-wave. He tightly knotted these words in his mind.
‘This fellow is mahakali. Nobody can bear to see the good done by others!' the lizard mumbled.
‘The closest relatives are the ones who spell destruction,’ the other lizard seconded her opinion.
‘Even before their mother’s twelfth day rituals were over, the evil ideas were already sown in the minds of the children. There was a month-long spell of gloom in the family. One would expect the brothers to sit along with their sister and bring back memories of their mother; the daughters-in-law to sing praises of their mother-in-law and wipe the tears from the eyes of their husband’s sister. The days stretched at turtle pace. The yearning for the mother gradually declined; the passing time began to heal the grief. The house was once again cheerful.
‘You see. Dada’s marriage has been fixed. I have just received a letter from my mother to come to her for a month. So I have to go there,’ the eldest daughter-in-law informed her husband at night.
‘Yes, but it’s not even a year since mother has passed away. Won’t people start gossiping?’ the husband expressed his doubts.
‘Don’t talk about people! So what if a year has not elapsed! My one and only brother is getting married! Will I get an occasion like this again?' She fumed at him.
‘All right, you go then. But how is it possible that you go a month in advance? All the responsibility of running the house will fall on your sister-in-law, isn’t it? I too have to think of settling the girl. I have to wrap up this matter before mother’s first death anniversary, or else we will have to wait for three long years,’ the husband explained.
‘Oh! So concerned about her, eh! Your wife can go to hell! Does it matter ? I am going for a month, that’s it! And, is Bai’s responsibility on your shoulders, alone? She’s another hawk roosting over us!’ In a fit of rage, she would spout Malvani abuses.
‘So, am I not her elder brother?’ he asked.
‘Let the elder brother go to the hell-hole! Oh yes, don’t forget to get the jewellery from the bank-locker tomorrow. And along with my jewellery, do get your mother’s hollow-beaded pair and necklace,’ the wife instructed.
‘Tch ... tch ...’ The lizard clicked. ‘Tch … shoooo … softly!’ The other cautioned her.
‘Isn’t your gold sufficient to adorn you from head to toe? Why do you want mother’s gold? Let it remain there. It will come handy for Bai’s wedding,’ the husband tried to make her understand.
‘This is it! You are such a scatter-brain! Just get all the gold in my custody. It doesn’t matter if it belongs to your mother or your grandmother,’ she huffed.
‘But you see, all of us have a right over that gold. I will ask my younger brother tomorrow …’ the husband said.
‘Such a nandibail! That too without horns … why do you have to tell him? Just to get his wife furious! There is no need,’ the elder daughter-in-law grumbled.
‘Phatach …’ the lizard leapt on her right shoulder.
‘Urgggh! ...’ she screamed frightened.
‘What happened vaini ?’ the unmarried sister-in-law from the adjacent room enquired.
‘Tch ... tch … why did you jump on her like this?’ the other lizard asked the one who had now jumped off the woman’s shoulder to scamper onto the nearby wall.
‘I was just trying to distract her from her wicked plans. Though with her half-Goan and half-Malvani ways the chances of her giving up her stubborn intention are bleak,’ the lizard predicted.
‘There are a lot of things which will happen here now and we will be mute spectators to the show …tch .., tch!’ the lizard said regretfully.
‘We have to pray that no evil ploy works here. Can we change what is destined to happen? You don’t have to get too industrious. There is an insect there, buzzing in front of you, swallow it!’ the lizard told her companion.
‘What happened vaini ? Why did you scream ...?’ the young girl asked again.
‘Nothing, there was this other lizard which fell!’ These days there are a lot of creatures which are bothering us in this house,’ the elder daughter-in-law remarked, trembling.
‘Mother always said that a lizard should never fall on the right shoulder. Go now, have a wash and light a lamp before the Gods. I am terrified of these lizards now. God alone knows what this beckons!’ the elder daughter-in-law expressed her doubts.
‘So what if she lights a lamp before the Gods, she should light the lamp in her brains first!’ ignoring the insects before her, the lizard mumbled.
Just because the lizard signalled, the predicted things did always materialise. The eldest daughter-in-law managed to get her husband under her sway. And when the younger one smelt a rat, she created a ruckus and brought the house down with her uproar. And the little sister for whom the mother’s gold was saved, was sitting silently as if she had swallowed a bitter pill. And from hereon began the wicked tittle-tattle between the two sisters-in-law. Responsibilities of the home were divided and sandwiched between the two was Bai.
Each of the sisters-in-law were injecting venom into their respective husband’s mind by complaining about the other. The children were being discriminated with regards to food and meals. One day there was an explosion. But before this happened, the lizards had already predicted the misfortune. While the children were playing among themselves, there was a fight between them. Unfortunately there was no grandmother to quell the fire with her love. They took the case to their respective mothers. The fire among the children was forgotten and now the music between the parents began to play. This was only an excuse to blow up. The two sisters-in-law brought the house down with their verbal battle. ‘You hit my son, did you?’ and ‘You battered my little one!’ While the children were engrossed with their duelling parents, the two lizards jumped over each other.
‘Goodness gracious! look at those lizards fighting like our Aai!’ one of the kids clapped his hands and yelped.
‘Tch ... tch, they think we are quarrelling - they don’t understand, do they? Their cantankerous mothers are out to claw each other furtively. But we are leaping on each other – it’s true, but lovingly. It is only so that they stop their battle.’ The lizards felt sorry about their ignorant ways.
‘The elders have no understanding, how will the little children have any?’ the second lizard remarked.
Just then Bai who had reached there said, ‘Oh Gosh! --- this pair of lizards falling between us --- such an inauspicious thing! Evil times have surely befallen our home!’
‘Shut up you old hag! Don’t have needless affection for these lizards! You are a lizard incarnate in our world!’ Hearing these words lambasted by the elder sister-in-law, Bai’s eyes welled up with tears and she entered the kitchen with a pitiable face.
And that very night there was a fiery altercation at home --- the fire which sparked off between the womenfolk spread to include the men. The smoke of evil had filled the house. The inevitable fights between the brothers over property matters got aggravated. And amidst the tittle-tattle of ‘this cheat’ and ‘that thief’, the house was divided into two. It was one home earlier, but now had two hearths. The daughters-in-law who had lived amicably and lovingly for so long were now at daggers drawn. The unity of the family had fallen apart. Gradually the electricity connection was made separate, and in all this the lizards too got separated. The lizard on the pillar now clicked her way into the elder daughter-in-law’s kitchen, while the lizard on the wall survived in the younger one’s kitchen.
Author: Jaimala Danait is a prolific, short fiction writer, essayist and translator from Goa. After her marriage, she moved to Mumbai and has written in Marathi, Hindi and Konkani post- liberation. Her short story collections include Kavaaso (1978), which bagged her the Konknai Bhasha Mandal’s 'Sahitya Puraskar, Saanj Sawali' (2014) and 'Zopallo' (2016). She has also published a collection of essays titled Karbat (1994) and literature in Konkani for children. Her translation of the Hindi Raag Darbari into Konkani bagged her the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 for translation. Her work awaits translation into English to take it to a wider audience.
Translator: Glenis Mendonça is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Carmel College Nuvem, Goa. She was recently awarded a PhD by Goa University, defending her thesis, Konkani Fiction in English Translation: A Critical Study. She has presented and published several research papers in national and international journals. Translation is a passion which evolved out of several workshops she attended at the World Konkani Centre in the last four years.