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A Red-necked Green Bird: Read an excerpt from Ambai’s award-winning book

A Red-necked Green Bird: Read an excerpt from Ambai’s award-winning book

He had left behind a brief note. Not a letter. Just a brief note. I am leaving. This house, and the life around it, no longer interest me. Thenmozhi who looks unblinkingly at my lips when I speak. The question mark evident in her face. Why, your smile as if nothing is the matter. I can’t stand anything. I don’t need to. I am a free man. I hate all bonds. You know it. So, I am going. Holding the note in her hand, she looked out of the window. Green trees. A banyan planted by someone sometime spreading its branches. The guava tree that suffered from stone attacks every day. In between, finding its place, the maulsari tree. A duo of palm trees. A male and a female. Sparrows and squirrels have become rare in Mumbai. It seemed as if crows and kites had multiplied. The pigeons came searching however, when it was time to build nests. The crows and the pigeons build nests suited to the urban environment. Why, even yesterday, a kite was flying with a piece of electric wire in its mouth. The ones which never lost hope were the honeybirds. Screeching keech keech. Her thoughts ran all over uncontrolled, and her eyes were focussed on nothing, as she looked out. ‘Vasanthan could have talked about this’, she said loudly. There was no answer. She realised that she had spoken looking away from Thenmozhi instead of facing her. Thenmozhi couldn’t hear. But she was trained to read lips and speak. Nobody could realise that she was deaf when she spoke. But sometimes, when she got tired after speaking for a while she would start to talk in sign-language. One couldn’t forget the day a hearing aid was fixed to her ear. She screamed so much. She was in agony. Distressed. It was only when she fixed it to her own ear that she realised that everything—the noise of motorcars, the din of birds, the sound of flying planes, the crash of sea waves, speech—was at the same sound level, whether at a distance or near. To separate human speech from the general noise was a very difficult task. When she gave it to Vasanthan, he fixed it to his ear and exclaimed, his face going pale, ‘Aiyo, it seems that sound is assaulting my ear!’ He had expected that Thenmozhi would start prattling immediately once the machine was fixed. He held the machine in his hand and cried. He was the one who named her Thenmozhi, honey-tongued. Thenmozhi was in the kitchen cutting vegetables for dinner. She was deseeding capsicum, hollowing them out with a knife. She had kept paneer ready. It seemed that she was going to make paneer-stuffed capsicum for the night. Thenmozhi would feel like cooking only once in a while. Today was one such day. Paneer stuffed capsicum was one of Vasanthan’s favourites. She went to Thenmozhi, touched and made her turn. ‘Then, Appa won’t be home for dinner,’ she said. Thenmozhi, who was reading her lips, kept the knife down. ‘Why?’ ‘Appa has gone out of town in a hurry. He will be back only in a few days.’ Thenmozhi looked at her closely. She had X-ray vision. She came near and said, ‘Lies!’ ‘What is that in your hand?’ she asked and snatched the note Vasanthan had written before she could hide it. She read the note. Bit her lips. ‘Sorry, Thili,’ she said. ‘So sorry.’ Thenmozhi leant on her and she hugged Thenmozhi and both of them broke out in great sobs. It took them a while to calm down. Then, both of them sat down in silence. Thenmozhi was curled up on the sofa and she was rocking on her rocking chair. (Excerpted with permission from the story A Red-necked Green Bird from the collection of short stories of the same name, written by Ambai and translated from the Tamil by GJV Prasad; published by S&S India, 2021) .

lifestyle 2022-01-08 hindustantimes