Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A QUESTION OF DOWRY

A QUESTION OF DOWRY
Siew-Yue Killingley (1965)

There was much excitement in Mrs. Ramachandran’s household. The daughter of the house, Sivasothie, was going to be engaged. The festive air was laden with the spicy smell of curries and wades sizzled in the kwali saucepan. The young lady of the house as befitted her present condition, assumed a calm pose amidst the general bustle and noise. Mrs. Ramachandran flew here and there, as fast as her hundred and sixty pounds would allow her, and helped with her commanding suggestions.

‘Don’t put too much coconut milk in at once, Ayah! It’s got to go in by stages. The last bit-the richest part, must be kept to the last! Now, Tamby, go out and play-but don’t dirty your shirt. What will Uncle Thiruchelvam think if you’re dirty?’

Just then, Mr. Ramachandran came into the kitchen and beckoned to his wife. She went out dutifully, for she managed her husband well-obeying him in the little things with such readiness that he thought himself lord of everything else as well. In their room, Mr. Ramachandran asked his wife where she had put the chain which they were giving their daughter as a personal present. Mrs. Ramachandran went up to her cupboard and unlocked an iron casket in which were many glittering trinkets. From the mess of glitter, she extracted a heavy gold chain carved rather much in detail. She sighed with contentment.

‘Thiruchelvam’s mother and his double-tongued sister can’t possibly mistake the value of this necklace. I’m glad we decided to give this. It can be kept for her daughter when she gets married. Thiruchelvam’s mother! What a grasping woman she is-so surprising that she should be one, because her husband earns so much a month. Her son is more like his father, thank goodness! I’m sure she takes most of his salary now-but then, doctors always have a lot-though he’d better think twice before giving too much to his mother now, since he’s going to have a family of his own soon. Oh, Ramachandran! You must have a talk with that young man some time and give him a few helpful hints on how to save for his future family. You see, he’s got to realize that his sons must have a good education, and that his daughters must have enough dowry. These young men never realize what they should do for their future and for their families.

‘Well, Ramachandran, I leave all this to you-you can handle everything so well, especially young people, I always say! Anyway, you have done well by our daughter! Twenty thousand dollars is not to be scoffed at-that’s more than I can say for what Thangathurai gave his daughter when our son married her-and she had only passed her Form IV too! I was never for that match-but Arul has always been a stubborn and unfilial boy-how could he insist on choosing his own wife? Well, that’s past. Now, I really must leave you. There’s so much work to see to’

Mr. Ramachandran had been trying to get a word in, and when his wife paused for breath (for she was really going to continue), he grabbed his chance.

‘We have to return the necklace.’

‘Return it? Why, what will Thiruchelvam’s mother and-‘
Mr. Ramachandran raised his hand.

‘There’s something which I’ve wanted to tell you for some time, but I didn’t want to worry you. We can’t pay for the necklace. Do you remember the land we were going to sell to get the dowry and money for the necklace?

‘Oh, be careful, you old man! Do you want people to think that we have no money for our daughter?’ Mrs. Ramachandran hissed in fierce whispers. Then, continuing in a more normal tone, she inquired loudly, ‘Which piece of land do you mean? My father gave us four for my dowry, and our second son received three as his wife’s dowry.’

‘Come now, wife!’ remonstrated Mr. Ramachandran. ‘Don’t you remember? We have only one piece of land left from your dowry-we sold the other three for our third and fourth son’s weddings. You asked me to do it yourself. As for Anandakrishna’s land, that belongs to him, and he’s already rented it out to some householders in order to get cash for his eternal drinks.’

Afraid of further secrets being revealed to prying ears, and being anxious to save her family’s face, Mrs. Ramachandran motioned to her husband to drop the subject. However, Mr. Ramachandran continued.

‘About the land, I’m afraid it is impossible to sell it at a quarter of its former price. You see, water has been seeing out from some well for about ten years, and so the land is now too marshy for house-holding. Unless we were to drain it, no one would buy it at our sum.’

‘Are you insulting my poor father? He give me a piece of sodden land? Impossible! Oh, if he had known what sort of a son-in-law he was getting, he would have made a wiser decision. But I shall have a better son-in-law who’ll not depend on his wife’s dowry. He’s a doctor, and he has his own income!’

With that she stalked out, after having locked the gold chain security in its container again. Mr. Ramachandran looked worried, but resigned. He always found himself at a loss for words when his wife was most eloquent.

Mrs. Ramachandran called to her daughter, and the latter came dutifully from the chaste quiet of her bedroom.

‘Sivasothie, you are a very lucky girl. You’ll have a doctor for your husband-and Mrs. Muthu will have a fit from envy. But you are so much better than her daughter. Now! Thiruchelvam is coming in half an hour, and-well, you’re nicely dressed, I see. Do pin up the jasmine flowers-they’re too drooping on your left side-there! That’s better-oh, why did you move? Look what you’ve made me do. You’ve made me knock two off-no matter! This looks better-not so crowded. He loves you very, very much-his father told your father so’

Sivasothie looked shy and glanced away with a modest droop of the head. Tamby yelled:

‘Peria akka! Uncle Thiruchelvam has come to see you! Peria akka! He’s waiting for you in the hall! I’ve told him you’ve been waiting for the last two hours.’

The two women were horrified. Mrs Ramachandran snatched the happy Tamby as he danced into the room and spanked him hard.

‘Silly boy! Don’t should those fibs. Why, your sister has been hard at work in the kitchen’ (this very loudy). ‘Just because she looks so fresh and tidy, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t working. Do you think she’s so lazy as to sit and not do anything? Go out and play.’

Tamby hurried off, surprised and unbelieving. Sivasothie and her mother went out into the hall, where the former, permitting herself the most modest of glances at her ardent pursuer, and permitting him to receive from her the merest minimum of shy smiles, shuffled discreetly and retiringly into the kitchen.

‘Good morning, Auntie’, said Thiruchelvam, ‘I’ve come to see Uncle Ramachandran. He rang me up this morning.’

‘Please sit down and I’ll get Sivasothie to fetch you a drink. Do taste some muruku. They’re newly-made and crisp-Sivasothie is so clever-but of course’, she added coyly and slyly, ‘you know that! Sit down! Sit down! Make this your home, though it’s not comparable to yours, of course. And how is your dear mother? I must go and see her soon-we’ll have so much to talk about. But that’s not surprising-we have the same interest-and that, of course is your happiness. Now, do sit down and I’ll ask-

‘No, no, please don’t bother. I’m vert busy, and I must see Uncle Ramachandran and go. Do call him down, please.’

Mrs. Ramachandran knew when not to cross a person and she gave in with good grace.

‘Well, I’m sure you have a lot to discuss; so I’ll fetch him for you.’

Thiruchelvam sat down awkwardly, attempting not to show his annoyance. What a silly mother-her daughter’s modest airs-did Mrs. Ramachandran have them when she was young too? Well, a man had to have a wife, so why not have one with a reasonable dowry?

Mr. Ramachandran came in with his wife, and after further pleasantries on the latter’s part, she departed for the kitchen. Mr. Ramanchandran then proceeded to tell his future son-in-law what he had already told his wife earlier. Thiruchelvam, having less faith in Mrs. Ramachandran’s father, believed the news about the devalued land.

After Thiruchelvam had left for his dispensary, Mr. Ramachandran had to let his wife and daughter know about the changed situation.

‘Well’, commented Mrs. Ramachandran stoically, ‘there’s more than one doctor in our community, and it’s up to you, Ramachandran, to do your duty as a father.’

Sivasothie went into the kitchen, her head bowed modestly.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you it really help me a lot...God Bless You...!

October 12, 2005 11:00 PM  
Anonymous kiiller said...

what is this???

March 14, 2010 3:10 PM  
Anonymous justmy2cents said...

thx 4 the post. hope you can put up more of k.s. maniam's works.

May 30, 2010 2:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

from what country ito?

September 20, 2010 10:03 PM  
Anonymous JM said...

Siew-Yue Killingley –



A Malaysian Chinese Poet, Dramatist & Linguist

(December 17, 1940 – June 8, 2004)

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