Return from the Ashes (Sreedevi Krishnan)



Lissy's hurried walk turned into a desperate run, when she saw the yellow-striped,over-crowded bus was about to start.But, with her twenty years' of bus-travel- induced  confidence, she managed to push through the  young, adventurous foot-board travelers, entered the bus and  sank into the window seat.  After getting a ticket to the 'New Looks' stop, Lissy leaned back comfortably on her seat, glanced at her watch showing 7.30 and heaved a sigh of relief. She was on time for her appointment at 9 in the beauty parlor.

Lissy  could not help smiling, when she remembered the stern warning of Sheila, 'Lissy, you must be there by 9,just when Mrs. Mehta starts her parlor, you're her first  client  and I told you,she's busy, very busy. With much difficulty, I registered your name and I won't   forgive you if you mess it up by your late appearance.  You know, I would've come with you except for the parent- teacher meeting in Roshini's School, and Saraswathytoo, is away, Anyway,  don't worry, all the best', squeezing her palm, Sheila said.  

When Lissy thought of her young friendsSheila and  her cousin Saras, tears welled into her eyes, how they had changed her life from a living hell to something worth-living.

 'Flower shop stop, Flower shop' the conductor's screaming, after a shrill whistle, brought Lissy back to the present.

She sighed deeply, sat on the edge of the seat and looked through the window. The familiar sight of the huge flower shop with its artistically arranged bouquets, red roses, marigolds, deep orange December- flowers, alas! heaps and heaps of jasmine buds, uh! the most hated jasmines. Lissy closed her eyes tight, though she could almost get over her phobia for jasmine, yes, she did not dread at its sight anymore, but she could not help getting repelled by it. For Lissy, jasmine garlands were associated with her marriage to Rajan, his addiction to alcohol, their repulsive sex, his violence followed  by his tears of repentance, promises and pleadings not to leave him……….

 Somehow, those deliberately- forgotten years enveloped Lissy again  her mind raced back to the day of Rajan and his parents coming to her house for official 'bride-viewing'.  That evening, Amma, who was proud of Lissy's curly, lustrous hair, braided it and adorned it with lots of jasmine buds. She insisted on Lissy wearing  her light  blue georgette  sari with pearl accessories.Lissy remembered  her Amma's angry retort, when Asok, her elder brother, made fun of her dark complexion in spite of Amma applying her home- made 'fairness cream', made of  turmeric, rose water  and crème of milk  daily.  

'Oh shut up Asok, "Can't you see how charming my daughter is, though dark, she has flawless complexion, sparkling eyes and lovely smile like VidyaBalan, That boy's   lucky, my daughter is Virgo, she would bringhim luck, just you wait and see'

 "Poor Amma, if only she were alive!! She was too young to die, just in her early fifties, that too barely after a couple of months after my marriage.  Oh! she was a tower of strength and I could've leaned on her for ever. She certainly would n't have been like my father, who was complacent about performing his fatherly duties by marrying me off to  one of the richest families of Nagerkoil,  that too ,as he used to say, 'giving a fat dowry and lots and lots of jewelry to compensate Lissy's dark complexion, a legacy from her mother's side'. Asok, whom I admired so much, turned out to be the worst opportunist. Our mother's unexpected death and my broken marriage took him closer to his goal of being a Doctor in the US. Now, well-settled in the US, his responsibility to our octogenarian father   is  that fixed amount sent to an Old Age Home in Kerala, for father's stay….

" Looking back, I think, Amma had some premonition about the impending disaster. How she had insisted on my continuing job even after my   marriage!    Coming to think of it, it was her childhood friend, Miss. John, the then Principal, who had appointed me in this very School, years ago,  twenty years ago , how time flew!

 Perhaps it was my Amma's blessings that I  at least could retain my sanity and clung to my job as a teacher, despite the physical and mental torture I had to endure from Rajan, my violent, alcoholic   husband ., 'a humanlyimpossible feat',as Saraswathyoften remarked"……..

' New Looks' stop ,New looks stop'the conductor's shrill whistle.

Lissy got out of the bus, looked around to make sure that none of the passersby  was watching her entering the famous beauty Parlor. Won't they be amused to see a dark, ordinary looking woman in her fifties, visiting beauty parlor?

'Oh, c'mon,why should I be bothered about other people's opinion -  that too,  after  so many years of divorce,    Am I  still haunted by Rajan's most insulting words of my being dark, ugly and unsophisticated?  It's time I get rid off my complex and move on. Perhaps Sheila's right, this National award for the Best Teacher, this recognition of my work, and the love and respect of my innumerable students must prove as a turning point in my life too'…


Once inside ,   the air conditioned room with swivelchairs, recliners,  mirrors  , marble  counter tops cluttered  with attractive ,colorful  containers with  crèmes, lotions, combs and  brushes of various  sizes and colors  and other unfamiliar gadgets made Lissy nervous. Besides,she could feel  four pairs of scrutinizingeyes of  young girls,  uniformly   dressed in   white blouse, green and white checkered short- skirts which stopped well above their knees and  matching olive green aprons, on her. Trying hard to conceal her nervousness, Lissy cleared her throat and asked for Mrs. Mehta.,

'Please sit down, ma'm", the tallest of the girls with slanting eyes and well- arched eyebrows, said,  'Mrs. Mehta's expecting you'and  went inside.


 In no time, a tall, fair, painfully slim lady with an equine face, in blue jeans and  red kurti appeared. Giving her best smile, she said very politely, "I'm Madhu, Madhu Mehta, you're Lissy, right? Your friends Sheila and Sarasare my regular clients". Then   turning towards the tall girl, she ordered, "hair dye, bleaching, facial, manicure, pedicure and body massage, get all the imported items, quick."

Lissy   could hear her  heart- beats, she brought only Rs. 1000 to pay for her beauty treatment as well as to buy a shawl for her Delhi trip, would that be enough?

 As though answering Lissy's unasked question, Mrs. Mehta said, raising her jet black, well- shaped eye- brows which, gave her a perpetual 'surprised' look

 "It's all paid for, it's your friends' treat for your getting National award for the Best Teacher, by the way, my hearty congrats, we're lucky, it's not everyday we could be of service to celebrities'

Though puzzled by Sheila and Saras' unexpected, generous gesture, Lissy was amused to hear her referred as 'celebrity'. She could almost hear Rajan'ssneering remarks after a few drinks, a prelude to his usual violence, "who would've married you except a fool like me? Short, dark and rustic, worse than our maid. Except for your convent English, you'd have been mistaken for my servant. Thank God, that old woman, your mother, had the sense to send you to a good School and training College, at least you've a definite income , though it's only a pittance, fromthe School'

 Lissy smiled a nervous smile and said, "Thanks, but I'm a very ordinary teacher and honestly I'm surprised that I'm chosen for an honor like this,"

 Handing Lissy a loose, front open gown to put on, after removing her sari, Mrs. Mehta said, "Oh, that's very modest of you; your friends think the world of you. Looks like, first time you're inside a beauty parlor, don't worry, just relax, I'm sure, you would enjoy our attention and  would visit us every month with your friends."

Once Mrs.  Mehta left the place, two of the girls came forward,   one of them   removed Lissy's hair -do and exclaimed, "wow, what lustrous hair,you don' have much grey either

Then with an amazing dexterity  she parted  Lissy's curly hair with  the  long handle of the comb, then combed and clipped them, while the other girl applied hair dye with a smooth  brush, taking care to wipe off the  drops of dye from  her  fore- head with a soft tissue.

Choking with unshed tears, Lissy remembered her Amma's massaging medicated oil   on her thick, curly hair and insisting her washing it off after about an hour, with home - made hibiscus leaves' shampoo, an unfailingly regular ritual, every Sunday.    

Lissy inhaled deeply, remembering her Amma's uncontrollable crying and sobbing, when she took leave for going to Chennai, after her marriage. ..

 'Though I too shed token tears, I was full of excitement, love and pride for the well-built, handsome husband; perhaps, my head was clouded with romantic, private dreams which I've woven with the help of all those romantic novels and poems. . What ismore, I knew I could cook very well and enter Rajan's heart through his stomach and if love could win him over who would be a better wife than I, with all the love and compassion drilled into my head from early childhood? I was almost sure of my looks as my Ammaand my friends keep praising my charm despite the dusky complexion.Ah!!What a jolt for my over confidence on my very first night!!"…….

'Oh, ma'm,you dozed off?Shall I apply this natural color nail polish which would suit you,",the girl attending to her feet ,gently shook her shoulder.  Lissy could not help admiring the good job done by the two girls who, managed to work simultaneously and finish hair-dyeing as well as manicure  pedicure in less than an hour.

'Now, close your eyes ma'm forshaping your eyebrows and upper lip, after thisMrs. Mehta will  do your facial in the next room' said the over smiling girl, pointing towards the bigger room . Once they started moving the thread backand forth   very fast on her eyebrows,tears flowed from Lissy's closedeyes.

'Hurting? Because this's the first time, sorry, sorry, it's over", said one of the girls.

 'Hurting'! huh!Poor girl, what did she know about the pain I had endured for five long years?

  'Please go and lie down on the cot in the next room, for your facial.'

 The girl's words brought Lissy back to the present.

 The dim lit, spacious air- conditioned room, cozy bed and  the Hindi film-song flowing from the stereo,  strangely reminded Lissy of her first night in the five-star Hotel- suite  where, they had their first night……………….

  Lissy waited   in all her bridal glory for Rajan to come and admire her. After all, she knew she was looking charming in deep blue sari with intricate zari design on palu and blouse with matching Safire and pearl studded necklace, ear drops and bracelet, her Amma's special gift and an elaborate hair- do with pearls and jasmine buds pinned on it ,highlighting her slender neck and glowing face. Not only her Amma, herconstant confidence-booster, but also her colleagues from the school were surprised at her metamorphosis. "youlook so much like Nanditha Das now," they chorused.

 Lissy knew Rajan was too busy shaking hands with innumerable guests even to notice, leave alone, comment  on his bride's looks. So, she waited for Rajan to come and see her in all her bridal glory.

Suddenly the door was pushed open and Rajan exclaimed in between his loud ,uncontrollable,contemptuous laughter "My God! still wearing your bridal out fit, for Heavens' sake, change into some thing comfortable. Looking at you, I'm getting suffocated," Rajancontinued his laughter.

 Once inside the bath room, controlling her unshed tears, Lissy tried to justify Rajan. 'How silly of me, behaving like a moon -struck teenager when, I'm on the wrong side of twenty and that too a respectable school teacher, a role model for young girls. Further, how can I expect Rajan,a successful, middle aged business man to behave like a road -side Romeo?"

 Lissy hurried back to the room in her imported negligee ,her aunt's gift, toweling her wet, lustrous hair vigorously.  Rajan was busy switching off the bright lights and putting on soft music. Without even lifting his head, he said, "Lie down and take some rest, I'll join you after a few seconds"

 Lissy lay down, the soft bed, dim lit room with the romantic film song flowing from the music system,made her doze off. Suddenly, she was woken up by the gurgle slurp of Rajan's drinking. Through half-opened eyes, she saw her husband sitting on the edge of the bed and drinking from an exquisitely designed glass.  Lifting his drink, he said, "cheers, this is whisky on rocks, I need at least two pegs a day, Doctor's order, you see, best for de-stressing; want to try, this's not the cheap stuff your Nagarcoil men drink,' he laughed, his villainous laugh.  Before Lissy could react, headded, 'Don't sleep off darling, our first night is not meant to be wasted on sleep".

The rest was a nightmare. Lissy was dozing off, when she felt the weight of Rajan on her, soon she felt Rajan's rough, frenzied fingers squeezing her nipples, and exploring the various parts of her body .And…she felt a sharp pain, when he moved deeper and deeper into her. Before she could get over the shock and react to his assault, she heard her husband's exulting, repulsive grunts, which muffled her cries of utter despair and helplessness. Nauseated, she dragged herself to the bathroom for a hot water shower, to clean her filthy body smelling of alcohol and tobacco. By the time Lissy was back in the bed room, her exhausted husband was snoring away…

From then on, she dreaded sex.   She could not believe what happened to her that night, that hurtful, humiliating act was sex, the pleasant surprise she had been waiting for….

Days and weeks crawled by.Lissy realized with a shock that, Rajan was an impossible alcoholic andb his rich parents forced him into this marriage, with the hope of reforming him. Once Lissy left for school, Rajan came back home to drink and drown his 'business worries'. And Lissy became the convenient target for all his failure.

"Your people cheated me, what's   Rs. ten lakhsand some junk jewelry as dowry for a dark girl like you? You're not even capable of giving birth to my child, your aunt, father's own sister has no children, and this's in the family. I wouldn't have touched drinks, if I were blessed with a child' he lamented.

Gradually, Rajan stopped going to his  so-called Office and stayed back at home. Lissy had to get up early, prepare a whole meal for him before starting for her School, that too tolerating his filthy remarks, "you're a flirt, the way you dress up for the School, as though you're going for your first date. What's the point in yourmake up, black like coal,thooo!"

 Lissy dreaded nights; tired exhausted after a day's hard work, when all Lissy wanted, was sleep,Rajan would invariably approach her to satisfy his lust.Lissy experienced the truth behind the Bard's words,

'Alcohol provokes the desire, but takes away the performance'.

If she refused sex, he became violent, "you're a flirt, as though I don't know how you lived in your Hostel, away from home, happily going around with men".

 Even after so many years, Lissy shuddered at the thought of Rajan's face, his blood-shot eyes flashing fire, his flared up nostrils and lips curling upwards, while  he  twisted his  leather belt  on  his fist… ….. Panting like an animal, with gritted teeth, he beat her black and blue with his leather belt and  then slept off peacefully.  The next morning, he would come with jasmine flowers, packed breakfast, and medicines. Adorning her hair with flowers, he would force her to eat. Then, with tears in his eyes, he would apply medicine on her cuts, bruises, apologizing profusely for his violence ,promising never to repeat his inhuman behavior .But, his promises were like pappadsmeant to be  broken invariably after a couple of days.

 Slowly the wife in Lissy died but the teacher in her could never die because she had the indomitable will to survive. She started concentrating more on her job, took extra care to groom her students for cultural activities which provided a sort of outlet for her love for music, theatre and oratorical skills.  When Lissy's students not only bagged most of the prizes in Inter-School competitions, but also won top ranks in the Board Exam, the School management too recognized Lissy's efforts And promoted her as the Head of the Dept. of English.

 Then, one night ,when Lissy resisted Rajan's sexual assaults, he shook her shoulders violently and yelled,

'I understand your aversion to sex; you've fun with all those grown up boys,supposed to be your students, s-t-u-d-e-n-t-s, and yes ... the question is ,what are you  teaching them in the name of extra, e-x-t-r-a activities"

That was the limit. Clenching her teeth, Lissy said, 'What a sick mind you've, you need psychiat…..". Before she could complete her sentence, Rajan held her by her long hair, dragged her to the bath room,and slammed her face into thewall again, again and again………….

 Lissy's two weeks' medical leave and dentures on the front row of teeth were, as usual, explained as the result of her temporary black out and hitting against the stone wall of the bathroom, while bathing.   Burdened with the innumerable duties of teachers, especially Management -School teachers, her colleagues were either satisfied by the explanations or at least pretended to be satisfied, except the bubbly Sheila.    Sheila, being the Music  and Dance teacher,   had to work closely with Lissy for training the students for the Inter School cultural meets. In course of time, though they became close friends, Lissy was ashamed to confide in the   bubbling, bustling Sheila, her marital problems and  spoil   her happiness. But Sheila, right from the very beginning, noticed that permanent sadness in Lissy's eyes. Lissy's reluctance to talk about Rajan, even when Sheila's talk was littered with 'Roy', Lissy's usual excuse of 'slipping and falling' whenever there was a visible injury etc, made Sheila very suspicious. But she never bothered Lissy for details, for fear of losing her friendship.  Even when Sheila wanted to visit Lissy during her medical leave,Lissy gave a lame excuse as Rajan being an introvert, would not like to entertain visitors

 Later, Lissy's explanation of her black out, falling and losing hertwo front teeth, was too much for Sheila to swallow and she confided in Saras her advocate cousin, her worst fears about Lissy's life. ……..

 That fateful Saturday, Lissy was relaxed as Rajan had left for Coimbatore to attend his close friend's marriage. Clad in a new blue Bengal cotton sari & blouse and unusually taking care to look presentable, Lissy reached theSchool, with a big parcel of mutton cutlets for Sheila, who always appreciated Lissy's cooking.

 At 1.30, just when Sheila was trying to convince Lissy to go with her to her place, Sheila's cell phone rang it was Saras, her cousin pleading with her to meet her at 'Satyam' theater, as her client had given three matinee tickets for the much talked about film "Provoked'.

Sheila was all enthusiasm "yes I'm coming with Lissy, you don't have to dispose off the extra ticket .Lissy brought lots of cutlets too, we'll be there in half an hour"

Then Sheila pleaded with Lissy, "C'mon Lissy, be a sport, you'll be home by 5.30, you can see Nandita Das, your look-alike ,please , please, please, it's great movie with Aishwarya Rai as heroine".

 It was ages since Lissy watched a movie in peace, leave alone going to a theater. With Rajan away in Coimbatore, that was the ideal day.  What's more she could meet Saras, the smart, advocate cousin of Sheila…….

 In the theatre,Lissy was excited like a teenager. She experienced a tremendous sense of freedom, a great relief from the usual tension and fear. But, her happiness and  excitement gave way to a deep sense of sadness and depression, when the married life of the heroine, the unfortunate victim of physical and emotional abuse was unraveled. It was not Aishwarya Rai any more; it was Lissyand her life with Rajan,on the screen.

Lissy tried to control her tears; she did not want to upset her good friends. But, Lissy did not know when, why or how, a violent sob escaped her and how they all reached the Working Women's Hostel, where Saras lived.

 After an hours' of uninterrupted cryingand sobbing, Lissy regained her calm and she heard herself narrating every thing, every single detail, unashamedly to the shell shocked Saras andSheila.

 Wiping their tears and hugging Lissyclose,both Sheila and Saras asked in unison, "how are you, an educated, talented and charming person, putting up with that beast, unbelievable!'

"No. Lissy, you're not going back to that beast, I can't let you go", said Sheila, her face showing shock, pain, terror and anxiety.

"Lissy, this way, you'regoing to end up either in suicide or murder, No, no, you're not going back, you're going to stay here, right here, in this hostel from tonight. I can fight the divorce case for you, no charges, I mean it, but I   won't let you go", it was Saras with an unmistakable ring of authority in her voice.

  "Yes, Lissy, don't go, wish you had confided in me earlier, I never bought your stories of slipping and falling or the latest black out. You should've run away long ago", said Sheila.

Hah !what  did they know how much a woman could tolerate, when she was afraid , when she had   no place to escape, or none to fall back upon….

 Everything else happened in lightning speed. As Lissy did not claim any alimony or even her dowry back, 'Divorce by mutual consent' was granted………..

 'Now, look, how pretty you're with this light make up after our facial', thatwas Mrs. Mehtathrusting a hand mirror on Lissy. Lissy could not recognize her own reflection, shelooked years younger, with the dyed hair,shaped eye brows, glowing complexion with a touch of make up. 'Thank you, thankyou so much',Lissy beamed.

While walking towards the auto rickshaw stand, Lissy thought, 'my mother would've been certainly proud to watch me rising from the ashes like the legendary phoenix; perhaps she'salready watchingme from   there", Lissy looked up. A cool breeze flowed through the road -side trees  and caressed Lissylike her beloved Ammaand  filled her with great hope and confidence for a new beginning , and a new life

The  end

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അസഭ്യവും നിയമവിരുദ്ധവും അപകീര്‍ത്തികരവുമായ പരാമര്‍ശങ്ങള്‍ പാടില്ല. വ്യക്തിപരമായ അധിക്ഷേപങ്ങളും ഉണ്ടാവരുത്. അവ സൈബര്‍ നിയമപ്രകാരം കുറ്റകരമാണ്. അഭിപ്രായങ്ങള്‍ എഴുതുന്നയാളുടേത് മാത്രമാണ്. ഇ-മലയാളിയുടേതല്ല


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മറവിരോഗം ( കവിത: ഗംഗ.എസ്)

പ്രിയ സബർമതീ (അർച്ചന ഇന്ദിര ശങ്കർ)

ഡ്രൈവർ (കഥ- ഷഹീർ പുളിക്കൽ)

ദിവ്യവ്യദീപമേ നയിച്ചാലും !! (എല്‍സി യോഹന്നാന്‍ ശങ്കരത്തില്‍ ന്യൂയോര്‍ക്ക്)

വിഷുപ്പുലരി: കവിത, ഷാമിനി

വെളുത്ത വാൻ (കഥ: ജീന രാജേഷ്)

രാത്രിക്കള്ളൻ (കവിത: പി.എം.ഇഫാദ്)

പപ്പന്റെ പരോപകാരം (ചെറുകഥ: നിഷ മാവിലശ്ശേരില്‍)

നാല് സെൻസംവാദങ്ങൾ (കവിത: വേണുനമ്പ്യാർ)

അന്നൊരു നാളിൽ ( കവിത : അല്ലു സി.എച്ച് )

ആത്മാനുരാഗം (കവിത: രേഖാ ഷാജി)

കല്ല് (കവിത: സന്ധ്യ എം)

അശ്രാന്തം (കവിത: മഞ്ജുള ശിവദാസ്‌)


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ഇര (കവിത: അരുൺ.വി.സജീവ്)

പൂരപ്പറമ്പിലെ ഗന്ധങ്ങള്‍ (ശങ്കര്‍ ഒറ്റപ്പാലം)

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സെൻപങ്കുവെപ്പ് (കവിത: വേണുനമ്പ്യാർ)

വെയിലിനു വിലപേശുന്നവര്‍ (ബിന്ദു)

ഒരു കഥ പുനര്‍ജ്ജനിക്കുന്നു (കവിത: ആറ്റുമാലി)

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വാഹിനിയാവുന്നില്ല ഞാൻ ( കവിത : ഷീബ കദീജ തെരേസ )

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