They killed my mother again and again. This is what infuriates me. I know that my mother was no honourable woman by the standards of honour determined by the conventional morality. She was only a tea garden worker who spent most of her adult life plucking tea leaves. Most of her life! Why can’t I say all her life? I can’t. Because I know that at least a few of her nights were spent in the bedrooms of the estate manager and his friends. The bosses of the sprawling estate and the neighbouring villages – the custodians of conventional morality.
She was widowed three times. My mother was. Her first husband died of drinking. The second one died in an accident; he was a driver. And the third one was a tuberculosis patient. Such was the destiny she carried in her bosom nurtured by the grinding poverty of her childhood.
I know you are ready with a rebuttal. My mother deserted her third husband when he was bedridden with his illness. Your morality will raise the accusing finger at my mother as a woman who deserted her dying husband in the quest of her own happiness. But did she desert that man for her sake or did she desert him for my sake and the sake of my younger siblings, the two who were born to each of her first two of her husbands?
What is more important to a woman: her husband who is going to die any way or her children whose life is just beginning to blossom? What does your conventional morality say in answer? I don’t care what your answer is. Your answer must be circumscribed by the same church that writes the codes of morality. I don’t trust you any more than the religious leaders and the politicians.
They killed my mother again today. The religious leaders and the media. They published a report in the media that my mother was a prostitute and Father Bernard who killed her is a saint.
Father Bernard killed her.
I know it.
Father Bernard’s tomb is a pilgrimage centre today. He has been declared a saint of the suffering. Declared by the church. The same church that persecuted him after he killed my mother.
My mother used to go to Father Bernard for her confessions after each occasion of her adultery. Or fornication. I don’t know whether to call it adultery or fornication. You decide it using the scale of your morality. She had deserted her third husband and she was forty years old at that time. But when her dead body was found in the forest bordering the tea garden it was mistaken to be the body of a college girl. She was so beautiful at the age of forty.
Listening to her confessions about her nocturnal liaisons Father Bernard felt pity for her. The pity grew into. what shall I say, lust.
From the confessional my mother walked into Father Bernard’s bedroom.
And she conceived again. Her fourth child who was never born.
The fourth child was not born.
Because Father Bernard did not want it to be born.
“Abort it, Anna,” said Father Bernard. “Just get rid of it.”
My mother was stupefied.
You will laugh, I know. How can a woman who slept with so many men be stupefied with such a simple suggestion? Conventional morality will find that difficult to digest. I know.
My mother protested. She did not want to kill a life that had sprouted in her womb.
“How do you know it’s my child?” asked Fr Bernard. “You’ve slept with so many men.”
“A woman knows,” said my mother when she understood that confessions meant no more than the convenient lies she had told to the estate manager’s friends. “You priests think you know everything. You make the rules for us so that you can extract from us the most. When you have got what you want you will throw us out as garbage. Unless we come to you like dogs licking your feet.”
Mother was exceptionally worried that night when she came home. She told me what had transpired.
Two days later her dead body was found in the forest.
“I have seen Father Bernard in the dining room of the estate manager many times,” mother had told me.
The estate manager was more powerful than the church. So Fr Bernard was arrested.
Forty years have passed.
Father Bernard will soon be declared a saint. His tomb is attracting a lot of pilgrims, according to today’s newspaper.
Author’s note: a report that appeared in today’s [July 25, 2010] Malayala Manorama newspaper, page 7, Delhi edition is the inspiration.