Ravi’s Story: Part 1
Ravi drags himself up from his broken state. His sight is blurry from pained tears and swollen eyelid. Holding his painful ribs, he peers around their rented house. Ransacked and upside down, not even a shadow of its recent homely air remains. Suresh had made sure of that before he went off again to return God-knows-when, though not before kicking Uma in her stomach. If only his dogged ways in being cruel to his wife and stealing her money be put into the effort to be a good father and husband. Why can’t his father be like his friends’? They never hit their wives. And while they still enforce corporal punishment in educating their children, they never do it to hurt; those punishments are always meant as a lesson. At least that’s what Ahmad told him (surprisingly). Amir still grumbles when he is punished, but Ahmad seems to admit his faults quite readily. ‘*Kembang jarak kembang jagung, berani buat berani tanggung,’ he will say while grinning. ‘Then why do you still do them?’ Ravi will ask. And Ahmad will pause before grinning full-force, ‘Because it’s fun!’. But Suresh? He literally never pulls his punches, aiming where it will hurt the most and with no sensible reason. Ravi wonders if Suresh has ever loved them at all.
With difficulties, he pulls his body forward on the floor, trying to reach his unconscious mother. The quiet in the house is unnerving and it feeds into his fear even more when his mother doesn’t respond even after being called and shaken many times. ‘Amma, amma! Wake up, amma!’. Uma is as still as a dead body; Ravi can’t help but feel a chill runs up his spine. A soft click resounds, and Ammu is suddenly by his side weeping. ‘Amma, amma!’ she sobs, Meena held closely to her chest. Ravi doesn’t know what to do. He is the eldest son, the ‘man’ in the house now that Suresh has become useless. But he doesn’t know what to do. Then, as if God-sent, a familiar voice is heard at the front door.
Ravi turns his head round, blinking back tears. He begs — painfully, ‘Amat, please help us.’
With a pale face but a firm voice, Ahmad says, ‘Wait here.’. Then he ran.
Ravi watches, at least with what is allowed of his swollen eye, as his grandmother pleads Ahmad not to tell his father. His stomach churns with fury, coming out as big fat tears, gritted teeth and fisted palms. Amir, who arrives a few minutes after Ahmad had run to his grandparents’ house is looking on the scene anxiously. He had been mad because Ravi didn’t arrive at his house at the promised time. With Ahmad’s suggestion (who wasn’t supposed to be at his house in the first place), they had both gone to look for Ravi to ‘scold’ him. Then he had stayed with his best friend and his distraught sisters until Ahmad returned with Ravi’s grandmother.
Ravi had gone back to fetch a book he has forgotten when he heard his mother screaming for Ammu to close the bedroom door. He had run in and had tried to stop his father from continuing to rain blows on his mother. Of course, an eleven-year-old boy is no match to a raging adult man. And Uma tried hard to shield him from Suresh’s violence, as usual to no avail. His grandmother had said thank God his father was madder at his wife than at their only son. Ravi had to swallow the lump in his throat together with the want to scream at his grandmother; no thanks should be made to God when his mother is lying there battered. Ahmad stares at his best friend’s grandmother with an uncharacteristic quiet and an expressionless face. Yet, there is no question about his real feelings. Not with waves of frosty hostility coming off of his tiny body. Ravi knows this is why no adult could ever truly dislike Ahmad. That reliability and sense of justice when he is supposed to be just Ahmad the Urchin, Ahmad the Rascal, Ahmad the Menace. It’s the reason Ahmad is one of Ravi’s favourite persons. More than what meets the eye, and always, always when the time needs it, that ‘more’ shines through. Ravi cringes when his grandmother keeps her pleas while ignoring the gravity of the situation.
‘Aren’t you our Ravi’s best friend? If you tell your father, what will happen to Ravi and his siblings? *Patti begs you, don’t make Ravi’s father go to jail!’
‘Don’t listen to her! Tell your father, Amat! Whether he’s around or not, what’s the difference? At least we won’t get beaten anymore!’ Ravi screams in his heart.
‘Patti, I thought you’d get help for Auntie first.’
The old woman freezes. She wipes her tears with the edge of her saree.
‘Of course I will help Uma, but you have to promise me you won’t tell your father about what happened.’
‘Patti, I don’t think that’s important now. Auntie has been out cold for a long time. Suppose she’s hurt more seriously than we thought? Ravi also needs treatment.’
‘Should I ask the neighbour to call an ambulance?’
‘No! Not the ambulance!’
‘Then I’ll ask them to call my house.’
‘Oh, Amat! Please, take pity! Alright, call the ambulance.’
Ahmad doesn’t seem very interested in the snivelling and weeping that is going on. He goes away again, this time next door to borrow the neighbour’s phone. Amir, now less nervous, helps to fill a small bucket with water from the bathroom while Ammu looks for a cloth to wipe Uma’s bloody, bruised face. The grandmother stays with Meena, soothing the hiccupping little girl. She looks at Ravi and smiles weakly; apologetically. At least she understands how misplaced her concerns are.
Ten minutes passes, then the ambulance arrives. Stay-at-home housewives gather together outside their gate — whispering among them, bad-mouthing Suresh. Some of the more discreet neighbours peek in-between window panes and curtains, shaking their heads and watching piteously as Ravi is helped into the ambulance after his still unconscious mother is brought in on a stroller. Ravi ducks his head, sad and shameful as he notices Ahmad’s observing gaze and Amir’s gloomy look.
- Kembang jarak kembang jagung, berani buat berani tanggung: A Malay pantun (a form of classical poetry) which literal meaning is ‘if you dare to do it (usually something bad), you have to also dare to face the consequences’. Take note that only the second line carries the real meaning while the first line, called the pembayang (literal translation: shadow) verse, works to start the pantun (pronounced pun-tone) beautifully, while setting its rhyme and rhythm. Kembang jarak and kembang jagung refer to types of flowers. Kembang jarak is a flower from the jarak plant known for its medicinal properties in the Nusantara while kembang jagung is the flower of the corn plant! For a simplified reading on the Malay pantun, go to: http://poetscollective.org/poetryforms/pantun/
- Patti: Tamil for grandmother.