All She Needs is Love
Broken slate and a lovely dream
Lukose master was going through the slates of his students in Class IV in St Thomas School, Karukachal. He found that the tall slender girl who was sitting in the last row on the cement floor had written so neatly, all the letters of the Malayalam alphabet.
He said ‘Sabash!’ meaning ‘excellent’.
The girl, who was clad in a white chatta and mundu, felt happy and looked at her friends with a proud smile. Her name was Mariamma.
Lukose master was a terror not only for the students, but also for most of the teachers. No one used to be bothered much about the headmaster Kuriachan Sir who was regularly irregular to the school. Kuriachan sir was more interested to look after his chena (yam), kappa (tapioca), kaachil (another variety of yam) and a host of vegetables in his land rather than teaching students
and supervising teachers.
and supervising teachers.
Parents respected Lukose Master who was very sincere and punctual in his work. Kuriachan Sir was very happy for having Lukose Master in his School because he ensured discipline there. Whenever the School Educational Officer inspected the School, it was Lukose master who answered all the questions posed. Kuriachan Sir used to say, ‘Lukose is a bachelor who doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. So he can afford to be more dedicated to the school than I can be. He does not have a large tract of land, two cows, three sheep, a nagging wife and eight children!’
No one really knew why Lukose sir continued to lead his bachelor life. Some believed that he sacrificed his life for his brothers and sisters. He had six sisters and three younger brothers to be looked after. He couldn’t possibly think of getting married with all the burden of marrying off his sisters and educating his brothers.
Marrying off a lady in Kerala Society was always and continues to be a big burden for the families because of the huge dowry demanded or expected by most of the bridegrooms and their parents.
It was customary to give the bridegroom (not to the bride!) jewellery, cash, and other gifts. And the demand of the bridegroom turned husband continues all seasons, festivals and stages of life and his in-laws get permanently indebted to him fearing that he will ill-treat their daughter. So every festival like Christmas, Onam, Easter, parish church feast etc are not occasions of joy but suffering, because of the lavish treat to be given to the son-in-law. Similarly, a good news from the husband that he successfully impregnated his wife would also be accompanied by implicit expectations of a reward. And he will happily dump his ‘incapacitated’ wife for next ten months in her parents’ home. Even after the delivery of the child, he will wait for an auspicious occasion to take the wife and child back to his house, which may take several months. Parents have to be perennial givers to the daughters’ families at every stage of her life. She is literally homeless in the initial years of married life as she would not feel belonged to either her house or her husband’s house.
Lukose sir might have sacrificed his prime age for fulfilling the demands of the husbands of his six sisters. In his post-marriageable age, the school was the only gainer as he contributed his best to his students devoting considerable time as compared to all other teachers who were more preoccupied with their spouses and children.
In a society and educational system which regarded the girl child to be less privileged as compared to the boy, Lukose sir was a teacher of a different breed. He motivated his girl students to come up in life successfully. Success, for him, meant financial independence. He learned how much his sisters suffered in their husband’s families due to their dependency on their husbands for every single need, starting from buying a black rope to tie their hair. He encouraged his girl students to study as much as they can and try to gain a job as a School teacher or a government employee.
Mariamma was his favourite student. He found her to be very bright and inquisitive. She would be the first to answer the questions in the class.
Lukose Sir asked Mariamma that day:
‘What do you want to become when you grow up? ’
‘ I want to be a lawyer like Anna Chandy and then want to become a judge.’
She had heard his father mentioning about a woman named Anna Chandy who was admitted to the Travancore bar recently.
Mariamma ran to her house. It was always like that. She would start immediately after the school bell at 4 PM and run to her house so that she would not get scolded by her mother. There were hundreds of tasks waiting for her. Being the elder girl of the house she had the onerous task of completing most of the household work, feeding and bathing the siblings as well as the cow and the goat, cleaning the house and its surroundings, washing the utensils used for cooking and serving the meals etc. And, if it is a weekend, she, along with her younger sister Aliamma needed to spend hours in washing the clothes of all the family members. Her mother was pregnant and that had increased her workload at home.
On reaching home, she found her neighbours and her aunt in the front veranda of the house.
Rosamma Aunty said, ‘Mariamma, you have two more younger brothers to look after now!’
She peeped through the door to find two babies lying beside her mother. Aunt said: ‘Don’t go there now. Vayattatti (midwife) is inside’.
Mariamma went to the kitchen and had kanji. Then she went around completing all her pending domestic tasks.
“Let Mariamma stop her studies. She has to look after her younger siblings.” Announced her father in the late evening. That was a jolt to Mariamma who was serving meals to him.
She said, ‘No, I can’t stop school’.
Her father said, ‘You must. Otherwise who will look after the twins?
Tears started flowing and Mariamma could not resist crying loudly. And she cried very loudly.
Amma asked: ‘Mariamma, why are you weeping?’
Mariamma screamed, ‘Appa tells me not to go to school anymore! But I want to go to school.
Amma did not respond. She knew that the father has the last word in the house. She also too felt that Mariamma’s presence is going to be essential at home during day time. Without her help how could she bring up these little twins?
Mariamma did not eat her dinner. She sobbed and lied down in her bed beside her sister, thinking about the school, the friends and Lukose Master. Late night, when everybody slept, she took her slate and started doing her home work. She wrote neatly with her clay pencil. She slipped into a deep sleep after deciding to plead to her father next day morning.
In case you missed:
Chatta is a half or full sleeved white blouse that reaches the waist, which is a traditional dress of Kerala Syrian Christian ladies
The mundu is a dhoti frilled in the back in the form of a vishari(a hand held fan made of vettiver) like appendage. More the number of frills and fringes more the charm of this dress)
 Anna Chandy joined the bar in 1928 and became a judge in the year 1937, the first woman judge in India