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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

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Short story:

Avurudu Kumari

The village of Dombaketiya was astir with preparation for the New Year. Oil cakes sizzled in the pans. New clothes went stitch... stitch... stitch on the machines. The smell of fresh paint and whitewash pervaded the air, while curls of smoke emerged from rooftops.

Village boys and girls combed the nearby ‘badde’ for firewood and dragged home coconut branches and more especially ‘hanasu’ (the dried sheath of the coconut flower) to be used in the preparation of ‘Konde Kawun’, the top priority oil-cake.

The young girls at the village well giggled and joked as they scrubbed each other’s backs, and made constant references to the fast approaching new year, with its trail of festivities chief among which was the selection of the ‘Avurudu Kumari’. This last was their main topic of conversation as it related to them chiefly.

”Somi! Scrub Rathi’s back well, so that her fair skin will be shown to advantage when she wears her low-backed jacket,” joked Nandi.

”Nothing to worry about her low-backed jacket, it will all be covered with her dark cascading hair so that when she turns the black and white will be shown to advantage.”

”You need not be necessarily fair to be chosen ‘Avurudu Kumari’, commented Rathi.

”What about our dark-complexioned beauty ‘Kalu Kumari’. She has a shapely figure, a charming smile and a dark but clear complexion, and with her ‘omari’ walk, she’s sure to capture the hearts of the judges this time.”

Kumari gave a rueful smile. It was true she had all the qualities of the ‘Pancha Kalyani’ except colour and she was deeply conscious of it. It was she, who had captured the hearts of most of the young eligibles of the village, save one and that was Sirimal, the avowed admirer of Rathi, and the young man she herself had set her heart on. The young girls of the village were naturally rather jealous of Kumari for she was a great attraction.

Kumari’s close friend Premanie sensing that this chance comment would lead to unnecessary insinuations collected her washing and called out to Kumari.

”Kumari, I’m going home, I have to help mother to prepare the ‘mung kawum’ today. You can help us too as you know it’s no easy task preparing ‘mung kawum’.

So saying Premanie wheedled Kumari into going home.

The New Year day dawned with a bang! There was a great bustle in the village as festivities were on, in full swing, interspersed with a sudden burst of crackers and the intermittent beating of ‘raban pada’. Sounds of laughter and merry-making were heard on every side, as young maiden went sky-high on swings, in their colourful clothes and their long trailing hair.

The menfolk were busy playing chuk-gudu or casting dice, while the womenfolk were busy preparing the mid-day meal complete with the ‘hath maalu’ or the curry of seven vegetables including cadju. Trays of sweetmeats were being carried hither and thither and altogether there seemed to be very cordial relations and gay camaraderie.

But the highlights of the day would be the ‘Aluth avurudu’ festivities to be held in the afternoon and the selection of the ‘Avurudu Kumari’ and they all looked forward to it. By 3 p.m.

All the villagers, young and old, even those who had to be helped to get there, assembled and watched with great delight as the men and women vied at various competitions. Climbing the greasy pole was the most hilarious, besides the exciting and strenuous tug-o-war.

For the housewives there was the cadjan weaving and coconut scraping competition. To crown it all there was the comic skit by the young comedians of the village. Then came the selection of the ‘Avurudu Kumari’ to bring the festivities to a close.

Almost all the village belles participated in this, not so much for the sake of winning the title, although it was a coveted one in the village, but for the sheer joy of participation.

Besides, it provided them with the rare opportunity of parading in all their rural finery before an admiring crowd. This opportunity came their way but once a year, and who could let such an opportunity pass.

The bevy of girls in their eye-catching and figure-hugging cloth and jacket combinations their throatlets and cascading hair provided a very pretty picture and there were rounds of applause as they paraded on the green.

Kumari appeared to be the most popular of them all, for she was a lissom beauty despite her colour.

Rathi too looked quite pretty, and in her heart of hearts was bent on winning the title. But her heartbeat wildly with misgiving as she saw how stunningly attractive Kumari looked and how her crowd of admirers cheered her on.

In the crowd Rathi caught a glimpse of Sirimal looking at her in open admiration and it spurred her on.

In that instant Kumari spotted the earnestness on Sirimal’s face as he looked on at Rathi. It diverted her attention for an instant from the matter of the moment, and in that instant she heard the burst of crackers and a thunderous applause as she was hailed the Avurudu Kumari.

She could hardly believe it, but there was her own dear Premanie overcome with happiness for her friend’s good fortune expressing her joy; besides, here was Rathi who she expected would win, pressing her hands in an expression of congratulation. The chief guest was coming forward to crown her.

As Kumari stood there in her moment of triumph, she looked in the direction where she had spotted Sirimal. He wasn’t there.

Scanning the green she looked on wistfully, as she spotted him leading Rathi home, a consoling arm around her waist. She thought to herself “I may be the queen of the village but she is the queen of his heart.”

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