Vaastu (Abode of Joy)

By Meena Kakodkar
As translated from the Konkani by Vidya Pai

The following is an extract from the novel Vaastu which was awarded the Vimla Pai Vishwa Konkani Sahitya Puraskar, 2015. This translation from the Konkani to English by Vidya Pai was commissioned by the Konkani Language and Cultural Centre, Mangalore

If this whole exercise was being conducted to guide Soshakka’s soul from this world to the next one, it was all in vain, Mukta thought. Soshakka’s soul would hover about in this house, keeping an eye on everyone; it might even yell at someone if things were not up to its standards, she thought mischievously. She whispered her thoughts to Sudha, who laughed out loud, drawing a sharp rebuke from Sunanda. But, jokes apart, Mukta could almost feel Soshakka’s presence. The old woman would have been very happy to see so many people gathered in the house.

The responsibility of running the kitchen had settled on Sunanda’s shoulders and she was reduced to a nervous wreck as she worried about how something might go wrong and not a single crow appear in time to taste the kakol, or food set out on a plantain leaf for the spirit of the deceased.

‘Attya, there are so many crows creating a ruckus in the garden. One of them will surely swoop down on the food. Stop worrying, now,’ Mukta tried to re-assure her.

‘You don’t know Soshakka. If things aren’t up to her expectations, she won’t touch the kakol,’ Sunanda muttered, worriedly.

‘Who won’t touch the kakol, Attya?’ Mukta giggled.

‘Soshakka. No, no, the crow!’ Sunanda was totally confused.

It was two in the afternoon by the time the food was cooked and the rituals were done and everyone was famished. Rows of low wooden seats were set out in the hall with a plantain leaf and a tumbler of water placed before each seat. The whole place was awash with sunlight that streamed in through the glass panes fixed amidst the roof tiles. Everyone sat down and the women began to serve the food. They would begin to eat as soon as the ritual of offering the kakol to crows was done.

Unna and Jagannath placed the strip of plantain leaf with food on the garden wall, but strangely enough, the whole area was quiet and still. The crows that had been cawing furiously and creating a ruckus all morning had vanished. All that could be heard was Jagannath’s voice calling out ‘Kaa kaa…’ as though inviting a crow to appear.

‘She’s dead. But she’s still a nuisance!’ Vishwanath muttered angrily, eyeing the food laid out on the leaf platter before him. Someone giggled. Someone shushed them up. Attya was peering out of the window in the sala, her neck craned as she stared at the boughs overhead.

‘You said there were so many crows in the garden. Can you spot a single one now? Where did the scoundrels go ….’ Sunanda muttered, quite distraught.

‘Who, Attya? Are you saying Soshakka is a scoundrel?’ Mukta giggled.

‘No, no. The crow!’ Sunanda slapped her own cheeks contritely paying no attention to Mukta. ‘The children are hungry. Come quickly and taste the kakol’ she pleaded, and Mukta couldn’t decide whether she was addressing Soshakka or the absent Crow.

Suddenly a crow alighted on a bough of the drumstick tree. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief, but only for a moment, for he looked this way and that and then soared away again.

By now Unna was also calling out ‘kaaa…kaa….’ and Jagannath and he were earnestly exhorting the crows to swoop down on the kakol. Mahesh and Vishwanath had joined them by the garden wall and some of the children had begun to wail in hunger.

‘We mustn’t follow such old-fashioned rituals. Why should so many people stay hungry because of one wretched crow!’ Vishwanath grumbled, but Unna seemed to take it as a challenge. Let us see how long she keeps us waiting, he said to himself.

‘She troubled us no end, when she was alive. Continues to do so even now after she’s dead!’ Sunanda was clearly at the end of her tether. She suddenly thought of something and rushed out into the garden with Mukta by her side. She whispered into Unna’s ear and he went back to the spot by the garden wall and called out loudly as though addressing the invisible Soshakka, ‘Everything will be done as you wish. Just come and take the kakol, now.’

There was still no sign of a single crow. Sunanda turned to Mukta excitedly, ‘You must re-assure her now!’ she said.

‘I? What am I going to say?’ Mukta was startled.

‘You gave her your word, that day, didn’t you?’

‘Yes. But I don’t know what I promised.’

‘That doesn’t matter. Soshakka knows. Just assure her that you will do what she wants.’

‘Attya, what sort of madness is this?’

‘Madness or wisdom, I don’t know. Just listen to me…’

Soshakka had used the same phrase that day, “Just listen to me!” she had said. Mahesh, Vishwanath, Jagannath and the others were staring at Mukta as the sound of children’s wails began to get louder. Her heart was filled with resentment against Soshakka, the old woman continued to torment everyone even after her death.

‘What is it that you want? Why do you torment us, so? Take that Kakol at once…’ Mukta addressed Soshakka in her mind. Sure enough, a crow flew in from somewhere and alighted on a bough of the drumstick tree.

‘See …she’s come ….a crow has come … fold your palms and appeal to her ….’ Sunanda whispered, lest the crow get startled and fly away.

Mukta pressed her palms together and going against her own instinct, appealed to Soshakka, ‘Whatever you desire will be done,’ she said.

It was as though the crow were waiting for this opportune moment for it swooped down on the garden wall and flew off with the vada in its beak. In a matter of moments many more crows were cawing loudly and pecking at the contents on the plantain leaf.

‘Didn’t I tell you this would happen?’ Sunanda was quite composed at the turn of events, but Mukta was furious. The Crow seemed like an adversary that had forced her to behave as she did.

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.

Meena Kakodkar is an award-winning writer of short stories and novels, and a stage artist. Her published short story collections include Dongor Chanvalla, and two novels titled Vaastu and Sanvalya Rego. She is the recipient of several awards including the Sahitya Akademy Award for literature and the Konkani Bhasha Mandal.