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RENITA D’SILVA | UGLY SISTER SHOORPANAKHA

RENITA D’SILVA

Ugly Sister Shoorpanakha
A SHORT STORY www.renitadsilva.com

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RENITA D’SILVA | UGLY SISTER SHOORPANAKHA

Ugly Sister Shoorpanakha

‘Shirin was dead when she was born,’ Madhu liked to declare, to any audience
willing to listen, her face distorted in an over-exaggerated expression of horror. She was extremely pleased when there were new faces to tell the tale to – everyone in the village had already heard it many times over. She would corner the fresh audience with glee and putting on her most mournful expression, start her story, with the first sentence designed to shock. Shirin always thought that if circumstances had not dictated otherwise, Madhu would have found her vocation as an actress. As it was, her claim to fame was that she had acted as Shoorpanakha, Ravana’s ugly sister in the performance of Ramayana for the occasion of Mari. Mari was a festival of the Tulu speaking population of the village. As part of the celebrations, the Tulu community feasted on their best chickens, and then had an ‘Aata’- an all-night song and dance extravaganza depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

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RENITA D’SILVA | UGLY SISTER SHOORPANAKHA

People started collecting on the hill where the play was to be performed as dusk fell, carrying with them their cane mats, so they could lie down and watch and maybe have a quick nap when things got a bit boring. The excitement was palpable as everyone jostled for space. The tired hill became a teeming mass of bobbing heads, the yellowing grass obscured by fraying mats and old saris. The arrack shops were open all night and did great business, supplying audiences with un-distilled alcohol and roasted ‘kadle’: small brown nuts. The air was fragrant, spicy with pungent overtones. Men with huge flasks of tea and home-made golibhaji circulated, and good natured bantering would ensue. ‘Hey, Dhooma, why are you selling that tea for such an outrageous price? There is not enough here for two sips. I will complain to your wife tomorrow,’ a man leaning on his elbow would demand of his friend, with whom he had shared umpteen glasses of tea, some of them laced with cashew liquor. ‘Give me five rupees and I will give you one golibhaji for free,’ the vendor would retort, grinning. ‘One, only one, thoo,’ his friend would laugh. And as the sun set and dusk wiped the sky of colour, as mosquitoes buzzed and the first glow-worm dared to make an appearance, an anticipatory hush would settle on the crowd. Shirin, along with the rest of the village got used to sleeping through the loud jarring music which reverberated all through the night whenever an ‘Aata’ was on, thanks to the two huge speakers donated by the Tulu association of Dommur to the Tulu community of Taipur. She got used to this as she had to hearing the Namaz called out over the loudspeakers at dawn every day, and the Hindu Bhajans blaring out

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RENITA D’SILVA | UGLY SISTER SHOORPANAKHA

of the neighbours’ tape recorders, accompanied by the cloying rose scent of Agarbhathi as she brushed her teeth by the jackfruit tree every morning. Madhu had excelled in her role as Shoorpanakha- she was an absolute natural- and ever since, the actors at the Aata were trying to persuade her to join them. But for all her assumed bravado, Madhu was quite shy and she had resisted. When the latest member of the troupe arrived, Shirin was in the courtyard playing hopscotch. ‘Is Madhu there?’ he asked of her, tentatively. He was quite handsome, Shirin noted, and younger than the ones who had been before. ‘Madhu!’ she yelled, balancing on one leg, not wanting to lose her place on the hopscotch board. Dumdie, the latest mongrel to be adopted by Madhu, came bounding up, barking vigorously, leaving paw marks all over the board Shirin had drawn in the mud, almost knocking Shirin over. ‘Now look what you’ve done!’ Shirin screamed and Dumdie looked at her with mournful eyes and emitted a chastised whine. ‘What’s all this racket?’ Madhu asked, rushing out of the kitchen, ‘I will burn the onions…’ She faltered when she saw the young man, blushed furiously, and started fiddling with her sari. ‘The Aata…It’s Krishna this time…You can choose the part you want to play,’ he said hesitantly.

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RENITA D’SILVA | UGLY SISTER SHOORPANAKHA

Madhu did not look at him as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, saying, ‘I…I can’t…’ Shirin stood, one leg off the ground in the parody of a hop, mesmerised by the drama unfolding in front of her. ‘Go on, Madhu, we can manage a few times without you, you know,’ Shirin’s mother, Jacinta, who must have been eavesdropping, yelled from inside. Madhu bristled at this. ‘It’s a busy time, what with Christmas coming and all. I haven’t even started on the Kuswar. You are busy as well, with Parish meetings. What about the kids? No, I can’t go.’ Shirin noticed that she glanced quickly at the handsome actor as she said this, before lowering her eyes, and blushing, her fingers playing busily with the pallu of her worn pink sari. ‘What nonsense, Madhu, of course you can. If things get too busy, I will ask Baby to come and help for a bit.’ Madhu snorted. ‘Baby! Ha! What good would she do? I am not going,’ she announced, for once looking directly at the young man. This time, he blushed, disconcerted by her glance. ‘Ok,’ he said sounding defeated and turning to go. ‘Wait, have something to eat first, seeing as you have come all the way.’ Madhu rushed into the kitchen and returned with a plate of masala dosa and a tumbler of cinnamon and ginger spiced tea.

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RENITA D’SILVA | UGLY SISTER SHOORPANAKHA

The man perched on the veranda outside the kitchen and tucked in, Madhu leaning against the doorpost and watching him with that satisfied look she sported when people devoured the food she had cooked. ‘You are such a good cook, as well as everything else,’ he said, after a couple of bites, giving Madhu an appraising look and eliciting another blush, ‘These dosas are melt in the mouth and the bhaji is the best I have ever tasted.’ Afterwards, he set his plate and tumbler aside and stretched. Dumdie, , came bounding up to him and sniffed his legs, anticipating a treat. ‘So you are definitely not coming then?’ Madhu shook her head, no. ‘Shame.’ Madhu watched as he walked away, his shoulders slumped. He turned back once, and she quickly lowered her head, and busied herself with worrying her pallu. When he disappeared round the bend, she walked into the kitchen and started ferociously grinding the masala for the afternoon’s fish curry. Jacinta sighed in exasperation and walked into the living room. Shirin sat beside Madhu and watched her grind. Deepak, who had also witnessed this exchange rushed past wearing torn shorts and nothing else and yelling, ‘Madhu likes the actor man, Madhu’s got a boyfriend.’ Shirin shouted after him, ‘Shut up, Deepak,’ while Madhu started grinding harder than ever, angrily brushing at her eyes with her free hand.
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RENITA D’SILVA | UGLY SISTER SHOORPANAKHA

The actor troupe persevered but Madhu never did go. Instead she used her amateur acting talents in her daily life, on unsuspecting people, to whom she described, her expressive face working overtime, Shirin’s miraculous return to life after being born dead. ‘Really?’ her unsuspecting audience would exclaim when she dropped the bombshell about Shirin’s sad birth, not wanting to believe it but doing so anyway. ‘Would I lie to you?’ Madhu would say her eyes wide and innocent. ‘Three days, poor Ma’am was in labour with her, three whole agonising days! Unprecedented in a second baby! And then they deliver this little thing and it’s not breathing! Imagine how she must have felt- devastated, absolutely devastated!’ At this point, there would be real tears in Madhu’s eyes. She would pause, a minute or two, for effect and to roughly wipe away the tears. To give her credit, Madhu did describe the scene beautifully, and everyone believed she had been present at Shirin’s birth. In actual fact, she had been in Nagappa’s house, looking after little Deepak, while the matrons of the village helped Jacinta deliver the baby next door. ‘Everyone started whispering- the baby is dead. Some of them started wailing like they do.’ At this point, she scrunched up her flat little stub of a nose in disgust. ‘No sense of decency these people- will start crying crocodile tears at anything, not caring that there are people who want to grieve in peace. Poor Ma’am was crying quietly in the corner.’ (Madhu insisted on calling Jacinta Ma’am, much to her embarrassment.

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RENITA D’SILVA | UGLY SISTER SHOORPANAKHA

She had tried very hard to get Madhu to call her something else, anything else. It hadn’t worked– yet. Jacinta was still trying). ‘Then...’ here she paused again, making her audience lean forward and say, ‘Then what?’ ‘Then, someone decided to hold the baby upside down, and slap it hard. The baby started screaming, and everyone started laughing with joy and celebrating. And so...’ she would continue without as much as a pause, ‘Here she is, our miracle baby. Shirin...’ Madhu would have loved Shirin to appear at this crucial point, say, ‘Ta Da’ and maybe pirouette or something, but she was always disappointed in this. Shirin was hiding at this point, too embarrassed to be anywhere near Madhu. But Madhu, unfazed would continue, ‘She’s here somewhere anyway, and she’s a real miracle. Now I have to go and get on with making lunch. Nice seeing you,’ and off she would disappear into the kitchen leaving her audience vaguely disappointed and wanting to hear more.

THE END

Discover more about Renita’s full-length novel Monsoon Memories at www.renitadsilva.com

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