Suspense 2019, Short Stories - Monisha Gowri Raman



The Appalling Woes of the Paddy Keepers

By Monisha Gowri Raman


The late monsoon sun peeks slyly from behind the distant hills, struggling its way up as Pappathi makes her way to the paddy fields. Ponamma, her neighbour, ally and her sole comrade trails along. Ponamma’s red bindi like today always reflects hope. The women tie the edges of their saree tightly up on their hips as they near the fields and then roll their hair into a tight bun.


The now spreading dawn light reflects cheer on their suntanned skin. Pappathi’s sharp features with big black eyes complement her tall and slim frame. Ponamma’s stout frame is quick to drain at the roughly five- kilometre brisk stroll from their homes. As the omniscient sun spreads forth its soothing arms, Pappathi, the first to reach the edge of the field shrieks in horror. Her abdomen, barren and dry, threatens to hop out of her mouth.


She holds her lip tight suppressing a loud wail. Ponamma rushing to her side is dumbfounded. Pappathi’s one-acre lush field, damp and ornate with freshly laid paddy saplings is flooded with a greasy liquid, almost drowning the cherished young life. The emanating foul odour threatens to engulf them both along with the powerless kraits around.


The old Palaniswamy approaches them mouthing an elegy in an offset tune:

Cursed are we- You and Me
Born of the soil, we did not choose
To rot in the soil, we do not choose.


He stops and cries at the sight of them, his tears competing with the betel stained saliva.


‘What is this thatha? How did this happen? Pappathi moans helplessly.


‘It is from the underground pipeline set by the oil company, kannu,’ he responds gasping for breath between sobs.


‘How did it come to our fields?’ both the women shriek helplessly.


‘There is a break in the pipeline, I guess. That dirty liquid has spread to 20 acres now, covering Kaliappan’s, Valimma’s and many in the village,’ he wipes his tears. His frail limbs are ready to give in anytime soon.


‘I warned you all when this entire spectacle started. I asked you all not to give in to the meager sum as short-term relief. Who listens to old people?’ he continues to bemoan. The three of them rush to the village carrying the message of doom. Pappathi’s mother-in-law, Sarasammma, begins the ritual lament.


‘You wretched creature! You are a curse from the hinterland,’ she begins the usual way blaming Pappathi for all the mishaps in their vicinity.


‘In five years of you stepping into my home, you gobbled my only son. I have always forgiven you for letting my lineage bloom with the two boys you birthed. But now…. My field? Our only source of income? What are we both supposed to do now to raise these boys?’ she does not stop even to take a deep breath.


‘The decision we made on not selling the land was consensual after deep discussions with family. Stay quite now, Athai. I am going to attend the meeting.’ Pappathi retorts with her steady calmness.


‘Yes, go to the meeting like you are the man of this family.’ Sarasamma continues her bawl as Ponamma and Pappathi leave the hut to attend the gathering in the village square.


There is a huge outcry at the square. Almost every person living in the 80 odd houses in the hamlet are present at the venue. The blame game results in an unusual pandemonium.

The village head calms the uproar and speaks at the highest decibel level his vocal folds could favour.


‘It was an individual choice to sell or not sell land. Some of you who chose to sell are not at fault. Those of you who have not sold and wish to sell now must be aware that the company will be willing to pay just half the price, though the mistake was theirs.’ The uproar continues. The head interrupts the clamour with a firm decision.


‘For now, we will approach our advocate. We know that the damage is huge. The case can be subdued locally by the powerful lobbies. We need media attention for the authorities to be aware of our plight.’


Upon reaching an agreement, the young and old with soil-stained sarees and dhotis make a beeline to the State Highway, spreading the agonies of a life destined to decay with the soil, along the path. Soon the numbers swell bringing in the much-needed spotlight. It takes 48 hours for what they term peace talks to kickoff. Once the ill-fated protestors decide to call the strike off, the subsequent negotiations progress at a snail’s pace.


Meanwhile, the tarnish on the divine land is irreversible. A meager amount is given as ‘compensation’ to the families that bore the brunt of the corporate house’s apathy. A few of the villagers including Pappathi and Ponamma do not succumb to the sloppiness. Legal hassles ensue with the handful of villagers visiting every other public service office in the neighbouring town. The villager’s perseverance gets mightier with every passing day.

On one of those revolting nights when the night sky lit with a spurious promise, Pappathi hears a knock. It is Ponamma looking like she just woke up from a slumber, without the cheerful bindi.


‘There are folks from the VAO Office. They need us to sign the documents again.’ Ponamma almost chatters in anxiety.


‘We just did yesterday. Why again at this hour?’ Pappathi exhales her ambiguity.


‘They have added pointers, and these have to be sent at 9.00 in the morning.’ Ponamma confesses.


Soon they leave frantically accompanied by strangers. As the dawn breaks unusually faltering in a few hours, there is a hysterical shriek in the outskirts that reverberates across the cursed fields and the village. The two women, hand in hand, float in the village water hole, infusing their destructive wrath into the precious liquid. The fury will soon accelerate in multitudes across the boundaries of the village.



A content editor by profession, Monisha finds solace in words. A borderline compulsive reader, she has been published by Womens Web and Juggernaut (writing platform). Despite being a graduate in Science, she pursued her love for the written word. She is passionate about traveling and considers coffee the elixir of life.


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