My cousin Martinette (name changed, of course), about ten years older than me, held her hand behind her back and asked, ‘Where’s aunty’
‘Upstairs, with the seamstress’. I replied.
She walked backwards till the stairs, giving me vicious looks all the time, then whirled around so fast that i couldn’t see what she had in her hand, and bolted upstairs.
Martinette – i hated her. That look on her face portended impending danger for me. I was in the 7th standard, and did a lot of things Martinette didn’t approve of. I used to read a lot, something she believed spoilt a girl. And i read English novels. Some of the Erle Stanley Gardner books had covers of women who looked and dressed like Marylin Monroe. During one of her visits home earlier, Martinette carried one of them to my mother and told her i was reading pornography! Amma was shocked, distressed and furious. For two reasons. Her daughter was travelling down the primrose path that led to hell. Also, Martinette had a vicious tongue. She’ll make sure that the whole family with roots in many parts of kerala and India will come to know of the path chosen by amma’s darling daughter whom she had put through Nazareth convent for years, while she(poor me) should have been playing cricket with her brothers, and climbing trees. I still remember the way amma came into my room holding the Perry Mason thriller.
‘What rubbish are you reading?’ she demanded with anger and sadness in her eyes. The second emotion upset me, and i was furious with Martinette who stood triumphantly next to amma, her Iago like beady eyes moving expectantly between amma and me, her jaws literally dripping with the blood she was about to draw.
‘It’s not rubbish, amma’, i said.
‘It’s dirty, aunty, it’s dirty. I know, you read it if you want’, butted in Martinette.
‘Yes, you read it amma, and you’ll know it not a dirty novel’, i said, looking earnestly at
‘I don’t have to read it. I can see the picture on the cover’, amma said. It was the picture of a slim tall blonde win a red gown with plunging neckline and a long slit in the skirt which exposed most of her long leg. To make matters worse, she had a cigarette hanging from her lips.
Martinette was looking at me with such glee that that the well-bred soft-spoken girl that amma had brought up cracked like a mud face pack and the real me emerged. I jumped up, snatched the book from amma, grabbed Martinette by her hand and dragged her to my father who was reading newspaper in the living room.
“Where are you going, Molly. What are you doing? Leave Martinette alone’, she shouted after me, following me. Poor amma, she was really upset. Amma probably thought i was going to throw her out of the house or give her a beating. Martnette, then, would have something more to talk about me to all my relatives.
My father put down the paper and quietly sized up the situation. He seemed to have got the right picture of what was going on.
I held out the book to him and said, ‘is this a dirty book? Martinette says so and amma believes her.’
Ichayan (i call my father that) looked at the book and asked Martinette, ’what’s wrong with this book? Have you read this?’
‘No’ said Martinette sheepishly.
‘Then how do you know it is dirty?’ asked Ichayan.
‘Look at the cover’, said Martinette, still assertive and belligerent.
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, he told her. He then looked at amma and said, ‘i bought her this book yesterday’. That was not true. But i was delirious with happiness. So was amma. She was ecstatic that my father had removed the fuse out of a potentially explosive scandal.
To come back to the next episode, I wondered what she was up to as she raced up the stairs. In a few minutes, i heard amma call me and i went up, nervous.
Amma was reading my autograph! I was leaving the school i had studied in for seven years and had passed the autograph around to my friends. She looked at Martinette with a poker face and said. ‘Ask her’.
Martinette opened the autograph at page in which was written
Drink hot coffee, drink hot tea, burn your lips and think of me. The signature looked like Ram.
“Who’s this Ram? ‘asked Martinette.
I ignored that pest and, looking at amma, said, “Rama, amma, Shenoy’s daughter’.
‘Oh’, said amma, smiling.
Martinette opened another page in which it was written
Life is not a Midsummer Night’s dream
Nor is it a Tempest.
It’s a Comedy of Errors
So spend it As You Like It
‘Well’, i said looking at Martinette with all the contempt i could hoist on my face.
‘What a message! Is this what you talk among yourself? How you trivialise all the Christian values! How horrible your friends might be!’ she said, miffed that the first bullet proved to be an empty cartridge.
Again i ignored her. I turned to amma and said, ‘amma. Don’t you recognise that they are all Shakespearean titles?’
‘Of course, i did.’ she said calmly.
Martinette’s face clouded over with a malicious, hate filled expression.
‘What about this?’, she asked, trying to smile triumphantly but ending up with an ugly grimace. Her final salvo, she read out from the page.
You no worry, you no care
You go marry a millionaire
When he dies, you no cry
You go marry another guy.
I laughed. So did amma. Martinette’s jaw dropped in utter consternation.
‘Aunty, you don’t find anything wrong with the advice given to her?’ she asked, angry and bitterly disappointed.
‘I find it very funny’, said my mother laughing. ‘That’s just an exercise in rhyming.’
You should have seen Martinette’s face. If she had her way, she’d have punched amma till my mother passed out and would have pounced on me like a predator.
‘Molly, why don’t you call all your friends one day for lunch’, asked amma.
That busybody has ever since kept away from my house.