Now that I am over fifty and aware of the ground realities, I often wonder about Omana. I also understand why many of the important characters in the stories of Madhavikutty alias Kamala Das, are maids, houseboys, drivers and helpers around the house. Around and about them, a child hears and sees many things which he cannot understand and stores them up to recollect and classify in adulthood when he or she has acquired worldly wisdom.
Omana must have been around 13 when she was brought to our house by her father as a helper. She was dark with protruding cheeks and a comically ugly face. She had small skin eruptions on her arms and face.
The kitchen was the dominion of Thankamma, who was a widow of over 45 and who had been with us for years. Omana did the cleaning and other small odd jobs. We also had a man, who did the marketing and attended to my father’s needs like cleaning the car, putting his files in the jeep, marketing and so on. We were a big family by today’s standards, My Dad and Mom and five children besides the two maids and the man Sreedharan.
One day, soon after Omana joined us, I found my mother doing something that she had never ever done before or after till today. She sent Sreedharan out and summoned a cycle rickshaw and went off with Omana in it and came back after some time. She had never gone out alone before.
I heard her tell Thankamma, “ I went out to the back yard yesterday and found Omana sitting on the ground crying and trying to urinate. She was in a lot of pain. Her private parts are severely infected. That is why I took her to the doctor today.’
They exchanged knowing looks.
My sister kept her distance from Omana as she did have a rather disgusting appearance, and whenever we went out to the sea shore or the park, Omana was given the window seat and I had to sit next to her.
Omana used to sleep next to my cot on a mat on the floor. At night she would start groaning and I would wake up to find her asleep with her legs up in the air. Gradually, her sullenness disappeared; and so did her disfiguring skin eruptions which had dotted her arms and face. Her nightmares apparently went away as she started to sleep soundly. She also played with me in the evening and listened to the movie songs on the radio. She was a passionate gardener and grew cucumber and Okra in our garden, first burying green leaves of the Konna in the ground to prepare the soil and then planting the seedlings. She was even allowed to help out in the kitchen and my father praised her for her Rasam.
Two years went by comfortably and her parents just collected her wages. One day, when Omana turned 16, her father turned up.
‘We are taking her home. A marriage proposal has come for her from a Jawan and we would like to see her settled.’ he said.
It was agreed that he would come to collect her the next month.
I teased her about the soldier, but she seemed unhappy and slipped back into sullen brooding.
I heard my mother say to Thankamma, ‘He wants her back now that she is well and has blossomed into a young woman. What can we do? Poor thing.’
Omana left with her father after one month and I lost a friend and playmate.