Tuesday, 16 April 2013

7 Tabooed Days of Mrs. Prabha Matthew...

 A Novelette On Certain Uncertain Myths...

Prabha Shankaran Nambudiri/Prabha.S.Nambudiri, is the name she was known by, until she got married to Mr. Matthew, a business tycoon based in Kochi. To the feminist slogans of Identity crisis, I have heard her replying “Marriage might have changed my name but not my identity...though I miss my dad”. Prabha was born and brought up in one of the highly, aristocratic & orthodox Brahmin families, garnished with the traditional & cultural superstitions of the pastoral villages of Palakkad. If you can imagine a narrow path formed by the pedestrians between the lush green woods, leading to a typical Nalukettu, fenced by mantras, with an aura of Ayurveda, yes that’s where she belongs.  Just beside the Nalukettu, there is an outhouse – the Kootupura, thatched with palm-leaves, meant for the women in the house, to stay during their menses, as they were “Ashudh” for 7 days. Shankaran Nambudiri, a local physician & priest, & Narayani Varasyaar, a well adored home maker, never led their orthodoxy to eye their only daughter’s education.  Tradition and culture used to be in a constant conflict in her mind as she grew scientifically. She used to cry silently, when she was helpless and had to follow the ‘outhouse culture’, with nobody to reveal the reason why.

Just beside the Nadumuttam which was transformed into a Tamarakulam, there was a big glassed cupboard, overlooking the visitors, brimmed with tokens recognizing Prabha as the best dancer, singer, and orator and so on; as Shankaran Nambudiri proudly puts it “Oolu ente sarvakalakari alle”. On the whitely plastered wall, there was a framed certificate dangling from a rusted iron nail, which read:-

“All India Institute of Medical Sciences- Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery- This is to certify that Ms. Prabha.S.Nambudiri, having been examined in 2006, was found qualified for the degree of Bachelor of Science & Bachelor of Surgery.”     

It was during the house surgency that she met Mr. Matthew Tharakan. He was not only a cardiac patient, but also a well behaved gold merchant, running his family business; an extravagant friend of mine. The regular consultations ended up in their adventurous inter-caste marriage, but from that day till date, she is apartheid to the religiously liberal physician, Shankaran Nambudiri and to Narayani Varasyaar, who couldn’t stand her daughter’s inconceivable will power and was bed ridden.   

I first met Prabha on a train journey from Kollam to Kochi. To skip the tedious marketing PPT presentations which my mind was ruminating, I purposely searched and got a window seat to read Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. I remembered Matthew’s preaching “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you:” Just after 2-3 pages, a soft female voice broke my introvert silence, as I had to reciprocate with a short ‘hmm’ to “ So you are a fan of Achebe Sir?” by the one oppositely seated. As far as I know myself, the conversation would have ended with just that short reciprocation, but that suffixed “Sir”, was interesting enough for me to raise my eyes and look at the person. The fairly oiled hair and the dried sandal paste on her temple was a neat mismatch to the sleeveless Kurti and the tight jeans she wore. That made me a bit curious and I didn’t hide my embarrassment...

“I have never heard somebody addressing a writer with Sir, irrespective of how acclaimed he is”...I said. 

She smiled and replied... “You know that’s what my Appa has taught me, to address people with respect.” She seemed a bit proud about her Appa. “Well I am Prabha Shankaran Nambudiri”, as she leaned forward to shake hands with me... my mind was boggling over two things, is she an extrovert  or a nose poker and also on the goodness of her Appa’s teachings. But even then I just gave a “Namaste”... hoping she doesn’t find in me a reluctant.

Frankly speaking, she was one of the few people in this world whom I felt appealing at the first glance.  The way she was dressed, how she introduced herself, the unnecessary dragging of her Appa every now and then, all seemed weird but yet interesting in some way. So I punned ... “So you are a fan of Appa Sir” and she burst into laughter like a small child... “Nice humour sense dude” she replied and again laughed for a while...

“Well what you do...” she asked. This time I was eager to answer her “I am a Search Engine Marketing Executive” I replied with a notion that she won’t understand and I have to explain it again, like I usually do. “Oh you mean the online advertising, ad-creation etc”...she asked. “OMG”...I exclaimed with surprise that somebody on this earth knows what I do... “Exactly...that’s what I do...but how you know”...I asked in wonder. “Hmm, see I have a friend who does the same...it’s pretty interesting kinda job.. Isn’t it?”...she asked. “Oh Yeah” I replied with satisfaction and now it was my turn... “By the by what you do”...I asked ... “What you expect the daughter of a great physician to be...I am a doctor”...She replied.  It surprised me again...as I never expected a doctor to be like this. She was beating up my conceptions and I was entranced by the package of surprises she was putting forward. 

As the train slowed down at Alappuzha station, I could smell the Parippuvadas and Pazhamporis amidst the rhythmic “chaya chaaayeee...kaafi...kaafi...kaaafi chaaaye”. As I got up from my nap, she had already bought me a Nescafe. I felt a bit uneasy and said “Thank you...but how do you know that I like Coffee”...I asked with surprise again. “Oh... you like coffee...actually I like coffee very much so I just ordered two”...she started laughing again and that made me even more uneasy. She told me that she is specializing in cardiology and aspires to do her Masters in UK. I took her address and promised to bring my friend, Matthew to consult her, before bidding adieu. Both of them are still indebted to me for introducing them to one another, then for being their constant messenger and also the prime witness at the register office. Matthew was a nice guy and I was sure that he and his family members will always keep Prabha, secured and happy, which though made me contented, but the unknown face of Prabha’s Appa was heavy on my heart. I could feel in Prabha, the quest to overthrow the orthodox barriers set by her family, and an underneath conflict between her scientific and religious selves. The realization that her Appa has disowned her, though put her in a mental shock for a while, but very soon she made herself insecurely bold and strong. I was very grateful to know that Matthew’s family even though being very orthodox never wanted Prabha to convert to their religion. She was free enough to follow any religion of her will. 

The love life of Matthew and Prabha was worth enviable. Both shared a mutual respect towards each other which made their relationship even stronger, each day. They used to drag me in serious topics like politics, finance, science and even religion. I admired their mind which was ready to accept the goodness in each other’s religion. It was Matthew who used to drop her to the nearby temple, except on Sundays on which she used to attend the church prayers with Matthew and his family. Matthew was against the notion that the non-Hindus were not allowed to enter the temples, and indeed, it is supported silently by the democratic government. At this point Prabha’s scientific mind used to overrule her religious self and she used to shoulder her Matthaichan’s thoughts. Matthew used to substantiate his thoughts... “You know, the great Ganagandharvan is not allowed in Temples, just because he is a Christian Celebrity.  How many unknown and non popular Christians might have already visited the temple... who knows...?” I used to have a diplomatic stand on such topics but Prabha though used to support her husband; it was evident from her face that she is undergoing an inner conflict.

It’s really a wonder to know, how time flies away. It has been 3 years now that I met Prabha. Matthew was planning to build up a hospital and called me for a discussion again.  We met at SUBWAY in Panampilly Nagar, very near to his house. We ordered burger and coke, as he sipped his can; he continued “So what do you think, once she returns from UK, after her Masters, I will give this hospital to her?” A hospital as a gift was as easy as gifting a box of Mackintosh, for Matthew Tharakan. I sighed... “great idea”. As we entered his Mercedes, clouds started drizzling. As the car waded softly through the wet streets we could see people waiting in huge numbers outside “Dr.Prabha Matthew’s Cardio Clinic” and we acknowledged each other’s smiles.

After a week or so, I casually visited Prabhatham, a modernized Nalukettu, gifted by Matthew to his beloved on her birthday. It was walled with Matthew’s family house. As I opened the gate I saw Divakaran, the chauffeur, washing Matthew’s Mercedes. As he saw me, he smiled and said “Matthew Sir and Madam are going to the airport”. I was shocked as Matthew didn’t say anything though we met the last night too...something serious? I doubted. As I entered the living room, I could see at the far end, Matthew at the dining table enjoying his morning Hennessy. As I approached him, he seemed deaf to the extra loud questions of Prabha... “Matthaicha, wherz my passport..., my make-up box....coconut oil...sandal stick ...” the list continued, but Matthew was sad as he said “You know I made this villa just for her, so that she may always feel at home, I mean at Palakkad, you know, the sculptures, the wood, the grass lawn, the mud tiles, everything has been brought from her native land...you know I love her that much...now you see she is leaving me”.  “What’s the matter?”... I asked. “Last night they called from UK, she has to join the course within a week or her scholarship will get cancelled...she can return only after 5 long years.”... He sighed... I had nothing to say, because I know that my consoling words will go in vain when it’s Matthew, the strongest man I have ever seen after Hulk. I patted on his shoulders. I saw a glimpse of Prabha in the very next room...the door was wide open, the dress in the suitcase was scattered all around, and Prabha was on her Laptop confirming her ticket... she heard my foot steps and shouted “Matthaicha where were you...I called you so many times, why don’t you feel like helping me out with the nasty packing up of things...piles of works to do and ...” she stopped as she turned and saw me... “Oh, couldn’t inform you dear...It all happened too fast...hope Matthaichan has explained everything?” I could see the helplessness on her face that she has no time to explain even if Matthaichan has not explained the matter. I said “Yes...he told me...well how I can help you”... I asked...  “Oh great”...she just passed on her laptop to me and asked to look out for a business or economy class. I saw something missing in Prabha...

Mathew entered with his half filled glass, kept it on the wardrobe and started arranging the suitcase...meanwhile Prabha entered with a bunch of cosmetics...I smiled as I saw Parachute Coconut Oil also, in her hand. ... “Hey Prabha, you missed your sandal paste today, skipped God for UK or What? ...I just punned, but tears rolled down her cheeks...as she murmured... “It happens only with us women; I can’t go to any religious places just because I have periods. What a custom is this...God has created women like this ...how can the society put barriers...when it happens for the first time, they let the whole village know...I felt so embarrassed...then after that ...every month you have to be in that outhouse for seven days...Amma  says you are impure for the seven days..and even uttering God’s name is a taboo... when you are in utter pain, whom do they expect us to call? She was weeping... “I am chaste enough; I didn’t even allow Matthaichan to kiss me before marriage (he looked at me in embarrassment), as the usual lovers do these days...I don’t have any ill thoughts...and even then I will be considered impure for 84 days in an year. Even Matthaichan doesn’t allow me to go the Church either.  I don’t understand the logic...” (She was almost choking like a kid). For the first time I could clearly feel the volcano eruption, of the inner mind due to the suppressed conflict between the scientific and the religious selves of Prabha.  

I opened my Pandora’s Box of Philosophy, knowing that, it will be a futile attempt on an orthodoxly oppressed mind over years, questioned by a scientific conscience   ... “Prabha...see there are many questions in this world, which can’t be answered scientifically. There are times when you have to stay both scientific and religious at the same time. Ask your Matthaichan, (he stared at me) ...religion tells him that Adam and Eve are the first humans on earth, but science says man was evolved of apes. The ideas are contradictory, yet we tend to believe both at the same time.  Believe that there is an unknown power which controls everything and we should not break the equilibrium”.  While I was saying this, Matthew had already opened another tab on the browser and was asking Google the same...based on that info...he said “Prabha, see there is also science behind the same, the deities carved in stone are great sources of energy, and during periods your body and mind is too weak to conceive that amount of energy. You can’t pray properly with a weak mind, Prabha.”    

I know Prabha was not convinced as she said “I am strong enough, even the bleeding stopped, I may be allowed to go to the temple if I have a doctor’s certificate...and you know I am also a doctor...so I will go to the temple though it’s the 5th bloody tabooed day of mine...the ideologies and the customs should change...Divakara (she exclaimed)...wherez the key? I will drive...” I and Matthew were panic stricken at this decision of Prabha....so I hurriedly searched for big words to block her way... “Prabha...don’t forget that we follow the Achara-Shudhi, the visit is forbidden even at the time of Pula and Valayma. So it’s not always women who suffer...please listen...don’t go...don’t break the norms. “Sorry, this time I won’t listen to you...customs have to change, see nothing will happen I will show you...I am gonna sue the 7 tabooed days of mine” saying this she closed the door of the car. Matthew’s silence might have boosted her courage... “I will be back in the next 15 minutes Matthaicha...please keep the bag ready”...she waved and we stayed motionless until the minute glimpse of the car surpassed our eyesight.  “Come on, let’s do the rest of the packing...” he said. I followed him blankly. Within 10 minutes or so, Matthew’s mobile rang... “Hey, can you pick it up, it will be contractor Ali, tell him I will bring the hospital’s floor plan today.” I picked up the call with shivering hands...I still remember the guy’s local slang... “Saare ningada car palathinta thazye marinju kidakenu...begam vaata...Chechina Hospitalilotu Kondupoyekenu...Lakeshorelilantta...” His sound was loud enough for Matthew to fall on my shoulders... “Oh God!....he cried...I told her not to go...I told her....”

When we reached the hospital, Matthew was asked to sign certain papers immediately. We waited outside the operation theatre for more than 20 long hours. Finally the doctor came out... “Who is Matthew?” ...Matthew stood up... “Mr. Matthew, we tried our level best, she has been paralyzed, and she can’t move or talk either...but don’t give up hopes... haven’t you heard of Matthew’s preaching “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you:” Matthew was motionless and then collapsed over me. I had never seen him so hopeless...  Her reports revealed that when she was driving, she was under great mental trauma, It’s not the accidental injuries which had affected her, but a fatal stroke in the brain. 

I don’t know if it was the wrath of the Gods, or the inner stress or feeling, that I am gonna do something wrong, led Mrs. Prabha Matthew to her current situation. I couldn’t judge it religiously or scientifically. After 2-3 days, I saw a very old man, traditionally dressed, coming out of Prabha’s room... he asked me “Sir, what’s the time”...something struck in me... “Its 10.30 Sir”...I replied “Sir, from where can I get a bus to Palakkad” he asked... “Sir you will get it from Vytilla Hub...Shall I drop you there?”...I asked. “No thank you Sir”...the old man replied... “Sir, are you Prabha’s Appa?” I asked ...  tears rolled down his cheeks, he wiped it with his thorthu and said “NO!”


  1. a very elaborative and expressive post. keep blogging.. :)

  2. Her scientific and religious selves! Strangely, I do remember this old custom. Some traditions are for keeping and others for chucking away.

    1. Very True...but there is still something which keeps us bound towards following the age-old customs.


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