Witness – சாட்சி – Sujatha.

To me, Sujatha still remains the most popular writer in Tamil Language. As I have mentioned before, some of his short stories are really good. He is a master storyteller. He constructs his stories concisely and the conversations are always precise. Even a two line description would provide the background and the characters of the story come to life with that precise conversation.

The story below, I am sure would help readers understand what am I talking about and the O Henry type ending is just amazing.

Witness – Sujatha.

சாட்சி – சுஜாதா

The unfortunate incident happened when Sarala went to Amir bhai’s shop to buy hundred grams of mustard. Before describing the incident, it’s a good idea to talk about who is Sarala, her family background, the locality they and the time when the incident happened. Sarala is Narayanan’s wife. Daughter in law of Mr. and Mrs. Natesan. Sister in law of Gopal and Swetha. Mother of three year old Mahalakshmi called Chinnali without any rhyme or reason. A woman machine, who does all million chores at home without missing a smile. Words like holiday, cinema, going out for dinner and Kodaikanal don’t exist in her vocabulary. Every Friday, she went to a multi purpose temple with her mother in law, which had an assortment of Lord Hanuman, Navagruhas, Lord Ganesan and Lord Balaji. That is the only time she could breathe a bit of fresh air. She did not have leisure time to read a weekly magazine or listen to music or watch TV. She was so innocent even when the maid told her, “Amma please rinse all these cloths and hang them out for drying,” she would say, “OK Kamala, I will do that.”

Amir bhai’s shop was located at the end of the street where they lived. There was a bakery and electric shop adjacent to Amir bhai’ shop and petty shop as well. The colony was relatively a new one. Small house were being built by the side of the railway track. The houses were scattered all over the place and new ones were being constructed. There was no running water or street lights as the municipality has still not shown mercy on them. Frequently lorries, yellow in colour, carrying rocks and other construction material would pass by raising lot of dust and noise. It would take five minutes for the dust to settle down. At night you could listen to frogs calling from nearby farmland and movie dialogues from the nearby cinema.

Sarala went to Amir bhai’s shop in the afternoon and he welcomed her, “What Saralamma, you are not to be seen for quiet some time.”

“Too much work at home Amir bhai.”

Just then two young men riding a motor cycle, stopped their bike, got down and went towards the petty shop. They did not see Sarala waiting at Amir bhai’s shop entrance. Sarala has seen the guy who was wearing a red handkerchief often at their neighbours place. His name was Krishna. Sarala has seen the guy who came with Krishna and thought his name was Sreenu or something. Both went straight to Vasu who was standing at the petty shop. One of them held Vasu and asked him, “Hey will you tease Rathi?” Then one of them closed his mouth and the other took out a knife and stabbed Vasu below his ribs at dead centre.

Vasu just fell down on the tub where beetle leaves were kept shrieking, ‘Aiyoo.’ They stood him up and stabbed him repeatedly by the side of his ribs.

At first the terror of the scene did not strike Sarala. Only when they finished the stabbing, mounted on their bike left billowing dust all over the place, she shrieked, ‘Ayyooo.’

“What happened Saralamma?” asked Amir bhai. He had gone inside to measure the mustard, he did not see the incident.

“They have stabbed Vasu and ran away.”

Vasu stumbled slowly and fell in front of Amir bhai’s shop. His mouth opened either to breathe or to say something. One of his hand shook as if he had an epileptic attack and stopped.

Vasu was dead.

Sarala was shaking all over. She closed her mouth with her saree and kept repeating, “What an injustice. This is too bad.” She backed down from the shop.

Slowly a small crowd gathered around Vasu as Amir bhai ran out of the shop. Some one brought a hand fan, someone a bucket of water. But Sarala, the only eye witness to the incident, ran towards her house.

“What Sarala what happened? Why are you running like this?”

“Mom – (Sarala called her mother in law – mom) at Amir bhai shop’s entrance….”

“What happened at the entrance?”

“Someone stabbed Vasu. He lost lot of blood and he is dead.”

“Come quick, come inside.”

Her mother in law locked all the doors from inside.

Sarala went inside bathroom and poured lot of water on her face. Her hands were shaking and her mouth had gone dry. She held her chest for a moment and let out a deep breathe.

When she came back to the living room wiping her face with a towel, her mother in law was peeping through a small opening in the window.

“Is he definitely dead?”

“It looked like that.”

“How did you end up there? How can these things happen in the day time? Now the police has arrived.”

Sarala asked, “What will they do?”

“They will take the body to hospital for postmortem. Sarala you go inside.”

The police inspector was asking questions with Amir bhai and he showed Sarala’s house. Inspector nodded his head and started walking towards Sarala’s house.

“Aiyyo Sarala he is coming here. You go inside the kitchen and wait.”

The inspector used his stick and knocked gently on the door. MIL asked, “Who is this?”

“Police. Please open the door.”

“Men folk are not at home.”

“Open the door.”

Mother in law was mumbling, ‘where did the man (her husband) go?’ and opened the door and Sarala could see through a small opening in the door, a young inspector standing outside.

“Who is Sarala here?”

“Why?”

“There was a murder at Amir bhai shop. It seems Saralamma saw that. Bhai told us.”

“No. No one saw anything.”

“Can you please call Sarala?”

Natesan came and joined them. He asked the inspector, “Who are you?”

“Sir My name is Inspector Raviraj. We want to talk to Sarala amma.”

“Regarding what?”

“The whole street is under commotion and you are asking regarding what? Someone has stabbed Petty shop Vasu.”

“So?”

“They want to talk to Sarala.”

“Why Sarala? How is she involved in this?”

The inspector was losing a bit of cool. “Only she saw what happened. People in bhai shop told us.”

Natesan spoke in a confident tone, “She would not have seen anything. She can’t be a witness for anything. She is an innocent lady.”

“Sir. She is the only witness. So we would like to talk to her and ask her if she can identify the people who stabbed him.”

Natesan refused again and the inspector said, “What non sense. Please do one thing. I will come back in half an hour. Please decide before that time whether you would let us talk to Mrs. Sarala. Otherwise we would get a court order and ask her to be a witness. I have a lot of work and I can’t stand here arguing with you. I will be back in half an hour.”

Once the inspector left, Natesan called Swetha and told her, “Call your brother. He would know the rules. Where is Sarala?”

“She is hiding in the kitchen.”

“Sarala please come out. Don’t worry. No one can force you to say or do anything.”

Sarala came out with some hesitation. Natesan asked her, “You did not see anything. No?”

“I saw dad.”

“What did you see?”

“Two people stabbed Vasu repeatedly.”

“Who is they?”

“A guy who comes to our neighbour’s house regularly. I think the name is Krishnan. He and his friend.”

“Oh that rowdy! Are you sure.”

“yes appa, I am sure.”

Natesan with a worried face asked, “Where is this rascal Gopu?”

Gopalakrishnan came inside, removed his footwear and commented, “Vasu close. Intestine has come out!”

“Don’t shout. Talk quietly.”

“Manni (Sister in law) why are you looking as if you are hit by a ghost?”

“She had seen!”

“What did she see?”

“Gopu, you know Krishnan, the one comes to our neighbour’s house in a  motor cycle. He is the one.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Gopu lowered his voice, “Don’t tell this to anyone outside. He is a big rowdy. He will come to stab us. He has selected a girl called Bharathi. But that girl said she would marry only Vasu.”

“Oh the black girl with rettai pinnal (two pleases of hair)?”

“Yes, she is the one?”

“So much fight over that girl?”

“Manni don’t tell anyone that Krishnan did this. Let me say this again, he is big rowdy. He has buried two people in the coconut farm.”

“The police will come back in half an hour to conduct their enquiry.”

“Tell them you did not see anything. Otherwise it will be a problem and dangerous for all of us.”

“Anyway, let Narayanan (Sarala’s husband) come. You go inside Sarala.”

Natesan phoned Narayanan and he came home in fifteen minutes. When everyone was discussing what happened, Sarala was siting in the kitchen terrified and watching the scenario. Chinnali was drinking milk by her side.

“Amma did she see what happened? Is she sure?”

“She said yes many times and confirmed it was Krishna.”

“She is innocent. She would see anyone and say it is Krishna.”

“Bro, manni has good observation. She would not mistake anyone else for Krishna.”

“Suppose she tells the police it was Krishna, what would happen next?”

“The police would arrest him and he would come out in bail in two days and come here directly.”

“Why would he come here?”

“Why? To warn us or kill us. We should have nothing to do with him. He is a murderer. You tell her clearly that she would not take Krishna’s name. Already she is a coward and now she is shivering like hell.”

“No one else saw what happened?”

“It was day time and not many people around the shop. Even if anyone had seen they would not come forward as witness. Amir bhai silently indicated Sarala’s name to the police.”

“Bro let us not get into this.”

“What right the inspector has got to come to our place? As a citizen, how could he enter our house?”

“Let it go. Let us not have any confrontation with police.”

“How?”

“She can say, ‘I don’t know what happened. I was just buying mustard and did not see what happened!'”

‘That’s a good idea. She could also say she did not go to the shop at that time.”

“That’s risky. We don’t know what Amir bhai has told the police.”

Narayanan called Sarala and his brother warned him, “Don’t talk harshly with her. She is already terrified.”

Sarala came out of kitchen with the child. Narayanan hugged her and said, “Look Sarala. It was definitely a big shock to you as you had seen what happened. Let’s call it fate. But if you tell the police it was Krishna, we will get into trouble. You have seen no? He would not be scared to murder someone. If you talk as witness he would come chasing you. At the same time we can’t tell the police that we won’t be a witness. Do you understand?”

Sarala nodded her head to say ‘Yes I understand.’

“The inspector will now come back to complete his enquiry. Do you know what to say?”

“You only talk to police.”

“No he would want to hear from you.”

“I will tell him that I don’t know anything. Nor did see anything. Why should we get into trouble?”

“Great. You also have brains. Mom what did you think of Sarala?”

Swetha asked, “Manni are you sure it was Krishna. Did you see?”

“Swetha you go inside. Don’t confuse her.”

“No confusion. I am very clear. I will tell the police I did not see anything.”

“Don’t get scared looking at the inspector.”

“I will look at you while replying to the police.”

“Police can’t do anything to you. So don’t worry.”

“Sure?”

“Sure. Don’t get scared.”

“It is not fear. Kind of a shock. A shiver since I saw that so closely. I don’t feel like eating. I am shivering. So much blood near him…..”

“Let us not stay in this area. We will sell the house and go elsewhere.”

Gopu started again, “Did he stab directly?”

“Gopu you keep quiet” said Narayanan and tried to take the child from Sarala’s hands. But Mahalakshmi refused to come to him.

“You go inside now Sarala.”

As Sarala walked back slowly to the kitchen, she could hear a know on the door. Inspector came inside and said, “Have you decided? Where is Sarala? Call her.” He removed his cap, swatted his head and sat down and continued, “This is an annoying case. Can you get me a glass of water?”

“I am Narayanan, Sarala’s husband.”

“First you call Sarala.”

“Why? She is the only witness who has seen what happened. Based on her witness statement only, we need to arrest those rowdies. Seems he is your neighbour. Some affair with a girl which had led to this. Mmmm. Call Mrs. Sarala immediately. Constable, find out where this Bhrathi girl is?”

“Inspector, my wife did not see anything. She definitely did not see anything.”

“Let her say that.”

“She is a shy a type.”

“Am I going to bite and eat her? Please call her. What is this?”

Narayanan looked at his dad and Natesan told Swetha, “Please go inside and bring Manni here.”

Swetha went inside the kitchen and said, “Manni they are calling you.”

“Swetha, my hands are shivering.”

“Don’t worry Manni. We are all there. Just tell them you don’t know anything. Then they won’t ask any further questions.

“Is he carrying a gun?”

“Pcch. Nothing will happen Manni. Just come out.”

Sarala came outside slowly and entered the hall. There was a heavy silence there. Inspector Raviraj stood up and said, “Mam. I am waiting for only you. Based on your witness statement we can proceed further and arrest the people involved. Please give an honest answer to my question. What did you see when you were standing in Amir bhai’s shop?”

Sarala looked at Narayan with fear in her eyes.

Narayanan said, “Don’t be scared. He won’t do anything. There would be problem only if you had seen something and you did not.”

With the child on her hips, Sarala started speaking slowly.

“When I went to Amir bhai’s shop to buy mustard, there is this guy Krishna who used to come to our neighbour’s house regularly. He and someone with him, his name is Sreenu or something. Both came in a motor cycle. They asked petty shop Vasu, “Hey would you tease our Rathi? Then one of them held Vasu and other one took out a knife and repeated stabbed Vasu below his rib cage and stomach. This is what I saw.”

************************                                                                                          1990s?

Sujatha (3 May 1935 – 27 February 2008) was the pseudonym of the Tamil author S. Rangarajan, author of over 100 novels, 250 short stories, ten books on science, ten stage plays, and a slim volume of poems. He was one of the most popular authors in Tamil literature, and a regular contributor to topical columns in Tamil periodicals such as Ananda VikatanKumudam and Kalki. He had a wide readership, and served for a brief period as the editor of Kumudam, and has also composed screenplays and dialogues for several Tamil movies.

Penning with his wife’s name, Sujatha’s Tamil literary career spanned more than four decades. An engineer by profession, he was proficient in the language of technology. Widely read and knowledgeable, he presented his knowledge in simple Tamil.

His works stood out during a time when Tamil composing was dominated by social/family dramas and historical novels. His identification with the masses, and his uncanny adoption of their way of talking, behavior, mindset and slang, helped make him popular across multiple demographic segments.

His popularization of technology was one of his greatest contributions – starting with his Silicon Chip composing in Dinamani Kadhir and Yen, Yedharku, Eppadi in Junior Vikatan. At one point, his composing was appearing in numerous Tamil weeklies and journals simultaneously, including Ananda VikatanKumudam, Kungumam, Kalki and Dhinamani Kadhir. Later he contributed as script/screenplay author for several Tamil movies. His notable movies included Vikram,Thiruda Thiruda, Boys and Sivaji. Most of his early novels/stories were made as movies, including Priya, Gaytri, Karaiyellam Senbagapoo and Anandha Thandavam, among others.

In his later days he restricted his composing to essays such as Katradhum-Petradhum. He began to spend more time reading, especially old rare Tamil composings and composings on the latest developments in information technology and computing.

As an engineer, he supervised the design and production of the electronic voting machine (EVM) during his tenure at Bharat Electronics Limited, a machine which is currently used in elections throughout India. As an author he inspired many authors, including BalakumaranMadhanCharu Nivedita. – Wikipedia

 

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