• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 12
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Surpanaka’s swag

A chubby boy dressed in scuffed khakis, a mailman’s hat with a bag overflowing with a chunky load of letters popped up on my WhatsApp from Amma.

“Who is this?” Amma had this strange habit of sharing pics with a guess-who-it-is or a peekaboo gif. My guesses fell flat for her connections reached beyond our family universe.

“Shanthamma’s grandson.”
Oh. A bulb switched on in my head. Amma’s response set me thirty years back in time.

It was my grandfather who had got Shanthamma’s husband Kannan a postmaster’s job in the nearby village. Though the office was was just an extension counter and the postmaster duty didn’t bring Kannan any of the central government job privileges or pension, it made Shanthamma walk in the air.

Accordingly, Shanthamma had some strict superiority-claims: The tarkari and flower vendor should park and honk at her place first; no wilting leftovers for her. She fixed salaries for house maids which she expected other ladies to follow.
“Surpanaka.”
The kids in the village used to refer to her.
When grandmother called all the ladies for summertime appalam-making, Shanthamma arrived at the nick of time with her cynosure-of-all-eyes Varanasi marble chakki and belan. Her work time gup-shup would be all about her soon-to-be-born fourth child.
“Astrologer Dharmambal says it is going to be a son- born with a Prince’s virtues.” Shanthamma’s eyes would be like two gleaming diamonds, her hands smoothing her rounded belly.

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Surpanaka’s swag

“Oh a real Raja to rule us all,” grandmother would be genuinely happy.
Exactly at 3 pm, when the cycle bell rang thrice, Shanthamma would pack up, leaving the other ladies to slog over the rest of the mountain of dough.

Soon Shanthamma’s pride bit the soil. When funds from his accounts went untallied, Kannan was alleged of mishandling. A daylight arrest and pounding investigations that followed wrecked the family. One afternoon, Kannan tried taking the cowardice’s route out and Shanthamma fell back at grandfather’s feet along with her four kids.

“He is the light of our lives,” she wept, her face, a sad, wilted flower she had vowed not to touch.
Grandfather not only saved Kannan’s life but pulled the right strings and got him reinstated. And like a yo-yo, Shanthamma left all her insecurities to reclaim her swag.

“This is her daughter’s son; the first male child in the family. Quite brainy. Wants to be a postmaster.” Amma gushed.
“Cute.” I guffawed sharing her happiness.

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