My Tribal Godmother

Note: This story won first place in Penmancy’s #HarnessWriting Contest.

The Aftermath

I blinked in a desperate attempt to open my heavy eyelids. The drops of water sprinkled on me pierced like needles. I loved the cool, enigmatic darkness and wished to drift further into it till strong arms thrashed my insane desire and harshly pulled me into reality.

I gave up and slowly opened my eyes, much to the excitement and shouts of ‘Hola! Hola!’ from the large circle of native men and women surrounding me. They looked excited, elated and nervous when they saw me slowly returning to life. They tried to converse with me. But suddenly gave up and started celebrating. The song and dance continued for a long time, or so I thought.

I tried to pull myself up from the sand. My feet refused to obey my command. I looked down to judge this disobedience and was aghast at my appearance. My clothes, or what remained, stuck to my wet skin with the sand and grime. My dignity lay in shards. I desperately looked around for something to salvage my decency but found nothing.

Oh gosh! How long have I been here? Like this?

I opened my mouth to catch the attention of gyrating natives but ended up vomiting salty water. Tears welled up as I imagined the worst happening to me in an unknown place. I fell back, willing to sink into the sand deep down, never to be found.

And would have perhaps…..

The lady who caught me in her arms was strong, muscular to be specific.

She shouted out something in her native tongue to her people there. Everyone stopped the celebrations immediately and rushed to her call. Two of the ladies gave me their shoulder to lean on and slowly walked me to a huge log that lay about ten meters ahead of us. The strong lady gestured to them again and soon I found myself being draped in thick, colourful shawls, head to toe.

I folded my palms in appreciation. As much as I wished, words of gratitude lay stuck in my throat.

Dazed, I sat like a stone. No one disturbed me as I tried to recollect the incidents that led me here. I was thankful as I felt the blood rushing to my numb senses. I coaxed my tired mind to answer my desperate queries.

My life that was

I must have dozed off due to the extreme exhaustion but I felt much better physically as I woke up in a rickety bed to the aroma of tea- maybe that’s what it was.

The grey clouds of apprehension once again clouded my intellect and distress crept in, on silent paws.

The muscular lady handed me the hot sweetened drink and sipped some herself. I had not noticed before that she wore a long skirt of heavy silk. Her arms and neck were covered with jewellery made of some sparkling metal, silver perhaps. She wore thick anklets, studded with coloured gems.

Maybe she is the ruler here. By the way, I must find out where exactly I am.

She held my hand. Her rough voice catapulted a few questions which I surprisingly understood. She smiled and seemed to say, “Understanding and kindness know no barriers of language and speech. Whatever you say with trust and truth, I will believe and help you if I can.”

However, she called in a man to translate, I think.

I smiled back and began….

“I am Pratiksha. I am twenty years old. I was born and brought up in Delhi, the capital of India. I belong to a fairly wealthy family. My father is an industrialist and my mother helps him. She has her online store as well. I was sent to the best international school. I was good in my studies and performing arts. I was always given whatever I needed, except some family time with my parents.

While at school, I went to my grandparent’s place in Ujjain during the holidays as my parents were busy with work. Sometimes, they took me abroad to exotic locations. Yet, they invariably worked on such holidays with overseas clients and I was left to explore the place myself to the best possible extent.

As I grew up, the gaps between us grew wider. I made every effort to give my best and shine at school. It all paid off sweetly. After finishing high school, I went on to complete my civil engineering in a prestigious college. I passed out with top honours but my parents expected me to do more.

I wanted to get into construction but my dad prevailed upon my desires and forced me to get a management degree so that I could understand his business.”

She was listening with rapt attention. I didn’t stop to think how much she understood. It was as if a dam had burst within me.

“Aunty, that was perhaps the only time I failed in my choices. I was not interested in MBA. I bunked classes. I had a group of self-centered friends. We hung out regularly. I wasted my time in pubs and picnics. Slowly, I was drawn into drugs as well. I couldn’t live without them. I lost a huge amount of money.

My parents were at first oblivious to my errant behaviour but later they were called by the Dean of my college to give a written explanation and apologize on my behalf.

I was locked up in my room for long. I left my MBA course midway but didn’t feel inclined to pursue engineering as well. One of my dad’s friends had seen my solo dance performances on YouTube. He offered me a role in his theatre company. But I wanted to be alone, with drugs for company. I even ignored Preetha, my childhood bestie and the only mature girl I had ever met. She tried to convince me to get on with life and use my talents which hardly anyone else had.”

Aunty (I did not know her real name) asked as I paused, “So did your parents not help you even after they knew the truth?”

“Yes, they did try rehab and counselling. I was given the best possible treatment. I went through the sessions like a zombie. I even tried committing suicide but bad luck!”

“Oh! So that’s how you are here.” A small crowd of natives had formed there to listen to my narrative.

Really! Did I try suicide again?

I laughed heartily for the first time in many days. They laughed with me.

“No,” I continued my saga. “I was invited to a yacht party to celebrate my friend’s birthday. And no, I did not take drugs there. We were suddenly in turbulent waters. And the next thing I saw was you all.” I said softly. “Thank you all for all your efforts till now. Though, I must say I will be equally glad to accept death as my companion.”

“So, is death so easy for you? Do you think it is something you can ‘buy’ online at your mother’s store the moment to face a challenge? But remember, your merits and demerits don’t just vanish if you end your life. Darling, the best remedy in life is to use your talents and face your challenges. Before you worry about satisfying your parents, think about what you will do to prove your mettle. There’s another road where one ends. One which changes your life if you walk well on it.”

I looked on, puzzled.

“I will tell you about me and the life of our Thampi tribes, especially women. I think you are a victim of the generation gap and misconstrued notions. But not today, you must rest.”

She walked away before I could protest. Everyone else left the dwelling after her.

Samuakka, my Godmother

The vast placid, golden island of Thylakuppe stretched for unending miles from the seashore. Only nature intervened in the changing colours and contours of the place. The migratory birds occasionally sang a few high-pitched notes in a chorus. The Sun, not exactly welcome every time, spread its arms wide and far during the day for most of the year. So much so that the moonlit sky had to cut down its stay on the island.  Except for a few hundred men, women and children of the Thampi tribes, hardly any human soul had come there in recent history, till maybe a few decades back.

I felt homesick and desperately thought of my return as I screened the seashore every evening when I went for a walk.

I have not listened to Aunty. She never told me about herself.

The next day, I pulled her away from the small farm she was supervising and sat her down to complete her story.

“Ok, so my turn has come,” she laughed. Her pearly-white teeth shone in contrast to her dark skin.

“Yes, I am all ears.” I clapped my hands in glee.

“There’s nothing to be so excited about, Prati. Our life here has been quite discomforting and full of challenges every day. This is a patriarchal society. You spoke about challenges in your career and choices, but that is nothing so difficult to handle. Myself and the women here have always been told what to do by men. We have been stripped of our rights to any form of meaningful living. We aren’t provided any education, by the Government or our men rulers. We are cut off from media, news, etc. so we do not know about the progress our nation has made or anything beyond this island. We are subjected to so much discrimination, right from what we can wear, eat, or where we can go. Health and nutrition are only for men, provided by women. Women must only keep the men happy. There is a serious power imbalance that continues, despite the modernization of the world. Women are even more vulnerable; first due to their tribal status, and second, due to their gender. Our tribes do not confer land rights to their women which opens floodgates of ways for tribal men to exploit women’s human rights.”

“But Aunty…”

“You just call me by my name dear, Samuakka.”

“But you are as old as my grandmother,” I smiled at her. “Tell me something, people regard you as their leader here. Even men. That doesn’t correlate to what you just said.”

“As I said, there’s always a new road at the end of the old one.”

Again, a puzzle!

“Ten years ago, our land was ravaged by a storm. We had no choice but to give in to the fury of nature. Our boats, houses, animals, and farmlands were all demolished in the havoc. Several men and women died in the catastrophe. The men who survived had nothing to do. In fact, they did not know anything except tending to cattle or farming. They tried working in other’s lands but it was hardly enough to support their family.

I did not give up after my husband’s death. I gathered all the women. We started cooking units and doing a few odd jobs to support our family. We restarted farming wherever we could. Our men tried to sell the produce to nearby villages.

Slowly, all the women started looking up to me as their mentor and hope for reformation. Now, we have reclaimed other lands and the Thampis are mostly prosperous. Given my lack of education and ignorance, I could have tried suicide like you, but I felt I had a much larger family to take care of. I had to think beyond myself and forgive the wrongdoers.”

“Hmm… Now I understand.” I pondered loudly.

“No, you don’t,” she said vehemently. “You realized what went wrong much better than me when after you were caught with drugs. There were so many opportunities thrown open to you, yet you decided on suicide. Don’t blame it on your parents. Think, whom could I have blamed for my situation? I just had to come out of it. I had to take the path that opened up in front of me. And that was my destiny.”

I hugged her. I realized what I had missed, which I needn’t have missed after all.

“Samuakka, please forgive me,” I sobbed. She was my protector and guide.

“You are just like my children here. Did you notice how cultured they were when they rescued you? I am happy to have set an example. And now, there’s an educated lady here to spread the word.” Her eyes glistened with pride.


As I crossed the sea, a week later, I couldn’t help but think of how my probable end was just a great beginning. And my miraculous tribal Godmother.




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