standing guard behind my book fence. My wife, after all, was pregnant.
Could I frighten her? How, else could I protect her?
We ate and then went to bed. The two of us slept upstairs. The woman
called Kaanchanai slept in the front room.
I was merely lying on the bed. Did not close my eyelids.
How could I? Heaven knows how long I lay like that. My heart was
beating fast, wondering whether last night’s smell would return.
Somewhere a clock began its process of striking the midnight hour.
The echo of the eleventh stroke had not yet died away.
Somewhere a door creaked.
Suddenly, sharp nails fell upon my hand, scratched across and slid
Shaking all over, I sat up. Thank goodness, I did not babble.
It was my wife’s hand that had fallen thus.
Was it really hers?
I got up, bent over and observed her closely. She was fast asleep and
I was eager to go down and investigate, but afraid!
I went. I climbed down softly, my footsteps making no noise.
It felt as if a whole yuga passed by.
Quietly I peeped into the front room. The outside door was closed.
Moonlight streaming in through the open window nearby, pointed to the
empty mat and pillow.
My legs wouldn’t hold up. They trembled violently.
Without turning around, walking backwards, I reached the stairs. Had
she gone upstairs perhaps?
I hurried upstairs.
It was quiet there.
As peaceful as before.
My mind would not clear.
I stood by the window and watched the moonlight.
There was no human movement to be seen.
Only a dog howled somewhere, raising a lament which faded away.
From the opposite corner of the sky a giant bat flew towards our house.
As I stood watching, my fear began to ebb. I became calm, assuring
myself that it was an illusion.
I was eager to see once more.
I went downstairs.
I didn’t have the courage to go in.
But there! Kaanchanai was indeed sitting on her mat. She smiled at me. A
poisonous smile. My heart froze. Pretending to be calm, I went up the stairs,
muttering, “What is it, can’t you sleep?”
Was there a smell of frankincense then? I seem to remember it being there.
When I woke up, it was very late.
My wife woke me up saying, “What’s happening to you, as time goes on,
you seem to be sleeping the days away. The coffee is getting cold.”
At daytime, when darkness or fear do not have a place to hide, everything
certainly looks different. But deep within the mind, fear had taken root. How
was I to get rid of this danger?
Can you seek comfort by sharing with someone else the mental torment
you experience because of your wife’s adultery? This situation was like that.
said, “I felt as it something bit my throat and sucked my blood.”
I peered at her throat closely.
At the hollow of her throat, there was a tiny spot of blood, like a
pinhead. Her entire body was shaking.
“Don’t be afraid, I lied deliberately.”You must have thought of something
strange as you feel asleep.”
Her body was trembling. She slid back on the bed in a faint.
At that very moment there was the sound of a temple gong.
Some strange song in a cacophonous voice.
A voice, calling out with authority, “Kaanchanai! Kaanchanai!
A wild scream which seemed to shake my entire house. All the doors
Then a silence. The deep silence of the cremation ground.
I got up and peeped towards the entrance of the house.
A man stood in the middle of the street. What a countenance!
“Come here,” he signalled. Like a puppet on a string, I climbed down the
stairs and went out.
As I passed the room where Kaanchanai slept, I could not help looking
inside. As expected, she wasn’t there.
I went into the street.
He said, “Rub this on amma’s forehead. Kaanchanai won’t trouble you
hereafter. Go and do it immediately. Don’t wake her up”.
The vibhuti felt hot.
I brought it inside and rubbed it on my wife’s forehead. Was it ordinary
vibhuti? I couldn’t be sure. I certainly remembered he did not hold a bell in his
Three days passed.
As she gave my coffee in the morning, my wife said, “These men are all like that,” What could I say?
FOR READERS PRACTICE
I. Answer the following questions:
1. What is the problem with the narrator?
2. What is the significance of stench in the story?
3. Describe the beggar woman.
4. Why did the narrator object to the suggestion of employing the beggar woman?
5. Narrate the story the beggar woman was telling.
6. Why does the narrator call it a miracle?
7. What was the narrator afraid of?
8. What is the role played by stench again?
9. What did he observe on the last night?
10. What brought relief to her author?
11. Pick out at least two occasions in the story that is horrifying?
12. What do you think Kanchana was?
II. Read the passage and answer the questions:
My heart would not consent to leave my wife alone with her. Heaven knew what might happen. Once the mind is overtaken by fear, can there be a limit to the trembling with in?
I went inside. They were merrily chatting, when I entered, having summoned a forced smile. I was greeted with barbed words. “ what business do you have amongst us women folk?”
The woman who called herself Kanchanai was bent low chopping something. A smile brimming with mischief played at the corner of her mouth. Unable to say anything further, I became the sentry once more, standing guard behind my book fence. My wife, after all, was pregnant. Could I frighten her?
1. What made the narrator get a disturbed mind?
2. Why did he force a smile?
3. What did he want to tell his wife?
4. Why did he not tell his wife, what he wanted to say?
5. How did Kanchanai react to narrator’s entry?
I. Rearrange the following sentences in the correct sequence:
1. Narrator’s wife takes the beggar woman as a servant.
2. The beggar woman said her name was Kanchanai
3. Narrator has a premonition that something bad will happen.
4. Narrator’s wife takes the Kanchanai into confidence.
5. The narrator was awake all through the night.
6. That night narrator’s wife complained that something bit her throat.
7. Next morning a beggar woman comes.
8. The man gave Vibhuti to apply on his wife’s forehead.
9. A man stood in the middle of the street.
10. There was a tiny spot of blood on his wife’s throat.
II. Answer in an essay developing the hints:
Why did the narrator get antagonised to the beggar woman and how did he get relieved from horror?
Narrator - writer - previous night disturbed - stench - uneasiness - next day - beggar woman - uneasy about her - his wife employs her - sleepless night eerie sensation - Kanchanai story - next night Kanchanai not in bed - wife screams - a man gives vibhuthi - feels relieved.