The First Shadows of Cruelty

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Here’s a short story by Aarathi that explores the complexities of relationships. It was penned during a Creative Writing Workshop, conducted by our Editor-in-Chief, Arindam. A Different Truths exclusive.

She wasn’t quite the girl with blue eyes, but she was the kindest spirit I ever knew. She always watered the plants after school telling us, “Before mother comes in the evening, these poor plants will die.” Even with minimal food she ate, she pranced around energy-packed displaying two prominent front teeth covered by brown gums and rode a bicycle with the strength of a boy. Once she quoted Neha, “We shouldn’t eat chicken, because chicken also has a family, they will be worried”. I was somewhat amused by how deeply she followed her elder sister’s instructions as I realised later with a guilty pang that this bright idea by Neha was in order to prevent her eating a share of the chicken cooked in the house.  

Neela had a round pretty face, beautiful small eyes, wore two long plaits (never allowed to be cut because she wanted hair up to the waist). I almost felt she was my child and I had raised her, even though I have done neither. She was a stickler for cleanliness and used to sweep the floor, wash vessels and preferred our clean bathroom to hers. She looked upon me and my parents as playmates for rummy, doll’s kitchen and Go Stone. Sometimes, she threw tantrums for biscuits and other times, she inculcated the spirit of her grandmother praying to God, while chanting the Lakshmi Mantra. She danced gracefully, taught me a few steps from Bharat Natyam counting 1-2-3 steps showing all the mudras and reciting their names in a single breath. She spoke and sang rhymes in English with a high pitch and so fluently that it was comparable to the voice record in computer games. While leaving for school, she usually called each one of us by name, Ammooma, Appoopa, and Chechi to say bye individually from the common veranda.

Achan is never available for anything”, she complained about her father one Sunday morning, “he is always out for work and party meetings.” Vincent was a college lecturer in the History department and a locally known activist of the Communist Party; the media invited him as subject matter expert during international crisis situations and he has already produced several books to his credit in Malayalam. Half an hour later, Bindhu came telling, “Aunty, my friend has come. We are going to the beauty parlour and afterwards shopping. Vincent has gone out. The kids are here. Please look after them.” As it was a regular affair, I didn’t react much.

Neha started playing with friends in the LIC flat compound. Neela went down, tried to join their gang for some time, and then came back up crying, saying that those kids were not letting her into their gang. I was surprised because previously I had observed that those two girls were quite friendly with Neela. Upon detailed enquiry, I came to know that Neha always puts up a picture that Neela was behaving in an improper manner at home and so it is not worthwhile for the gang to have her as a friend. Since she was very commanding and pretended to be a leader, Nimmy and Riju had no choice but to obey Neha. I felt that the matter was going out of hand.

Neela sat listlessly in the room watching Cartoon Network the entire day. The cartoons were surely not educative, neither had they appeared entertaining to me. Since she was afraid to sit alone in her house, I was accompanying her in watching them as well. Suddenly, Neha came up, started changing the Cartoon Network to Star Plus for hearing songs;  infuriating her more. Then, I saw Neha beating her ruthlessly when she started protesting and taking back the remote. Next, Neha opened the fridge and began to eat a slab of butter alone without bread. After her mother came, Neela related everything, but Bindhu was busy with WhatsApp and Facebook. In the meantime, Vincent brought a guest home and she became busy with welcoming him and chit-chat. Neela’s drawing containing the hut picture and four family members holding hands on the side with the sun on top floated around unnoticed and uncared for.

©Aarathi Kanthamani

Photos from the Internet

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Aarathi Kanthamani, Ph.D student at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi has a flair for observing and creating characters from real life. She captures the complexity in relationships between people in the truest manner possible. She gives a different treatment to run-of-the mill incidents which usually don’t require careful consideration and makes an attempt to bring audience attention towards that. She boldly questions social issues and conservative family mind-sets working under social duress.