(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
It was summer.
Mangamma, a woman of the Kammalar caste, had angrily left her home in a neighboring village. It was mid afternoon and the sun was bearing down on her so she was desperately looking around for water. Unlike modern times, mesquite trees grew densely in the area. White flowered vines covered the trees and exuded a heavy smell of honey. Crickets were constantly chirping. The intense heat made it so even the smallest sounds could be heard.
Her tongue was bone dry. She had covered her head with her sari to provide shade and to hide her heavy, golden pambaddam earrings. To keep her sari from dropping, she held it with her teeth and the cloth soaked up any vestiges of moisture remaining in her mouth. She heard the screeches of parrots and guessed that there would be an orchard with water nearby. Mangamma could choose between continuing on the road or going onto a narrow path branching down and off. She picked the path.
Soon she saw signs indicating the presence of water. Tall, luscious jamun trees came into sight. A water-fowl and her chicks hid themselves when they saw her. Mangamma saw bulrush reeds that had tops resembling millet ears. She heard the call of the grey francolin.
The path brought her to a pond. Had she remained on the road, she would have arrived here as well.
The water in this pond lasted through the hottest of summers and was as sweet as coconut water. Truly, it was a gift from Mother Nature for all who passed by.
Things happen near water as it is a precious gift. If a gift like that is isolated, anything could happen.
A crab digs a hole for its own devices. What does it have to do with the kuravai fish? Water ebbs and flows against the hole, making a slush that is perfect for worms. The fish make use of the hole to eat the worms. To eat the fish, an egret waits on one leg. To eat the egret, a fox waits slyly on the side.
Even hunters wait near the pond as they know animals would have to come there for water. Of course, animals would do the same for their own prey.
This struggle occurred during the night as well. Polecats would hunt birds and violent fights would break out with palm civets – their competition.
The pond would bear witness to this constant feeding in exchange for life.
Mangamma rushed towards the water. A man watched her as he was also out hunting.
She fought the urge to throw herself into the pond instead of cupping the water delicately with her hand. Mangamma tucked her sari into her waist and began drinking mouthfuls of the water. She began splashing herself with the cool liquid, drenching her face and neck. She pressed her face into her cupped palms like a mother pressing her face into her child’s soft stomach.
The hunter fixated on her golden earrings and moved towards her.
Mangamma caught movement in her peripheral vision. Instead of being afraid, she faced him with a smile. “This water is delicious!”
The innocence in her smile almost changed his heart. But his mind was focused on the task at hand. “Give me your earrings! If you shout, I’ll drown you.” He yelled. “Quickly!”
The woman froze. She couldn’t speak or move. Her hands remained cupped as though begging him for mercy. Water dripped from her fingers.
Her silent fear drove him into action. The hunter shoved Mangamma into the water and she screamed out unintelligibly. Water rushed into her nose and mouth.
While keeping her under the water with his feet, the hunter tore her earrings off.
Two things happened next.
As he pressed down on her face with his feet, she bit down on his toe. Her bite grew stronger with each passing second.
An ox-cart arrived.