Panjavarnam

Panjavarnam is only 4′ 8″ tall, she comes every morning at 5 a.m. swathed in nine yards of cotton sari, encased like a colourful mummy. I am not yet out of bed, I tell her. All the same she goes into my kitchen and cleans the dishes. She creates such a racket that I can’t get sleep anymore.

The woman next door pleads patience of me. Your stay in this village will be hell if you turn Panjavarnam out. She’ll stop others from her kuppam to work for you, the woman warned across the fence.

I make steaming hot coffee and offer Panjavarnam a glass, she drinks it in a hurry piping hot. She goes to the well with the tub of clothes to wash. The maddening noise of lashing the clothes on the stone jars the quietness of the morning.

This is crazy, I have come to the village to slow down. I do not want this small sized woman push my day through so fast.

That is how she is, my neighbor explains. She buzzes about the day working in one house, then the next and the next. She does not even sleep, she pumps water through the night and fills the tank that irrigates her field. She might just get a couple of hours of sleep (my neighbor knits her eyebrows as if she is involved in some mental calculation). She has been like this since her son went away and got killed in a gory road accident.

I get it now, she thinks he will come back one day.

Why would she? She knows he is dead. My neighbor is puzzled at the twist I give to the story.

Where does she live?

In a rundown cottage at the edge of the village, the woman vaguely points a direction.

I am bewildered by Panjavarnam’s behavior. I ask my neighbor questions about her family and things like that.

There is nothing much, she says. Panjavarnam was widowed young, now her son is dead as well. She gave a good and loud oppari at the losses, blew her nose after that and has moved on.

Is that it?

What else, my neighbor has become impatient.

That’s abnormal – her behavior, I point out to my neighbor.

What is, she asks as she picks and throws away the aubergines that are infested with worms.

Rushing around like this, showing so much purpose of action in a place like this. What is the need to keep so busy through the day in a village? Back in city that is how I am.

My neighbor looks at me with a new interest. She places her bag of vegetables on the ground, I can see her getting ready to find out about my life back in Chennai.

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