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  • 1. EVERYTHINGS ARRANGED8) A story written in the early to mid-1960s; published in Tenggara, no. 1, 1967, Rayrirath (Raybooks) Publications,Kuala Lumpur, pp. 38-51, and in Twenty-two Malaysian Stories: An Anthology of Writing in English, selected andedited by Lloyd Fernando, Heinemann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd., Singapore, 1968, pp. 185-205. Corrections ofsome minor printing and other errors in the published versions have been incorporated here.© Siew-Yue Killingley 1965; © Heinemann 1968, the author retaining the right to include the work in anycollection exclusively of her own works two years after 1968.The last day of term was always dreary for Rukumani and Devanayagam. They hadto say goodbye many times over before going to their respective homes, his in Lipisand hers in Ipoh. This being their last day together, they were also tempted to dorather dangerous things, such as walking back to the Third College and sitting in thevery public lounge where fellow students who were remotely related to them andCeylonese parents who came to fetch their offspring home would see them. Going tomore secluded parts of the campus was even worse although it meant less chance ofbeing gazed at, for if they were seen by people who knew them and their families,they would be accused of making love in quiet corners. It was better to sit in publicand take the risk of being seen by family friends, some of whom might just casuallymention to their respective families, Your son is a friend of Rukus or Your daughteris getting some help in her work from Deva, it seems. Saw them in the Third RClounge, and leave it at that.The long vacation stretched wearily before them both. Devanayagam thought ofcoming back for the last two months or so to read in the library, but they both knewthat it was hopeless for Rukumani to do that. Like most people, her parents had theidea that terms at the university were like school terms; also, that if she went back tostay at the hostel, she would be open to all sorts of dangers and temptations, sincethere would be no classes to attend and therefore no lecturers to keep an eye on herchastity. At the same time they liked to pretend that Rukumani was too spiritual toknow anything about sex, and that topic was never mentioned at home. The time forher marriage to be arranged would soon come and she would find out all about thatafter she was married. Marriage was such a spiritual thing, really, that if sex werebrought into it, it would give her the wrong ideas, such as those of the Modern Girl.Sitting in the lounge, watching the distracting and excited girls rushing by withpacked cases, longing to go home to some decent food, Rukumani askedDevanayagam,This time you think you can write or not? can send to Amys house, what. Mymother likes her mother. I can easily go there to get your letters. But I think better youdont put my name outside. Can just put "Miss Amy Wong". She knows your writingand wont open.I think so can, replied Devanayagam, but helluva difficult, man. See ah, mysisters, brothers all, running all over the house, and if I write they all ask if Im
  • 2. learning and want to look. Also ah, if I go to post letter, that clerk at the post officecan see me. Hes a joker, so sure tell my father I send love letters. But still, try lah!Rukumani was a little piqued. It was all right for Deva to be put off writing to herbecause he could go out to shows with his friends. Moreover, he had the tail-end ofthe vacation to look forward to, when he could come back to the U and not have hisfamily on top of him. She would have to suffer all sorts of deprivations in Ipoh.Suppose you tell them you want to go for shows. Then can simply go somewhereand just scribble a note to me. Dont think Im so hard up ah, but since I suffer for you,at least you should write to me when youre free.Okay, okay lah! Not that I dont want ah, but very difficult. Also, if you know that Ilove, then should be sufficient what; what for want to write the whole time?They both felt uncomfortable. Being surrounded by lots of people, they both saidthings without being sufficiently careful not to hurt, and their mutual fear at theirdaring clandestine affair could not but be obvious, although each considered it abetrayal to reveal this fear to the other. In the end, they decided that it was time forthem to part for the vacation, both feeling depressed and irritated, envying the morefortunate couples, especially the Chinese ones, who went about openly holding hands.Rukumani had to get a taxi to the railway station to catch the afternoon train back toIpoh. Devanayagam was to get a taxi to the Ampang Street bus station to catch theEast Coast bus. They silently wished that they could go in one taxi, first droppingRukumani off and then letting Devanayagam go on to Ampang Street. Neithermentioned it in case they were seen in town and that would be extremely dangerous,since townspeople were certain to let their parents know if they were seen together,whereas university people could sometimes be relied on to keep their mouths shut.They remembered also Rukumanis uncle on her mothers side by marriage who was aC.C. in some branch of the Malayan Railways, and although he had seen Rukumanijust once at Deepavali, he remembered her very well and always referred to her as hisniece at the U. Fearing, therefore, to worsen the already tense situation between them,they left each other to finish packing and left separately for home.The train compartment was full of sleeping people, mainly women with babies.There was a Chinese woman who had a veritable brood with her, and she was havingan argument with the ticket inspector, who said that her children could not all shareone ticket. Rukumani was too engrossed with her own problems to follow theargument to its end, but after a while the inspector seemed to have given up arguing,because he left with a shake of the head. Seeing that the woman seemed ratherharassed about her children, who were spilling all over two seats, Rukumani smiled ather and edged nearer the window so that one of the children could come and share herseat. To her great annoyance and some shame, the woman prevented one of herchildren from leaving the overcrowded seat with a muttered Kiling mui! After thisinsult, Rukumani took no further notice of the woman and her litter, but reached forher book bag on the shelf, took out Benhams Economics and read the chapter on
  • 3. supply and demand without any interest but with a comforting sense of beinglearned, while the silly Chinese children stared, picked their noses and bullied oneanother.As they neared Kampar, someone passed Rukumani on the way to the lavatory andexclaimed, I say! Diden know you also on this train. If not, sure I come and keep youcompany, man. Train journey boring like hell.With pleasure, Rukumani recognized her class-mate Johnny Chew, who wasregarded with respect as the walking economics bible. Not only did he know all theimpressive technical terms used by overpowering economists like Benham, Hanson,and Keynes, he also remembered and often used in his essays economic terms coinedby the lecturers, thereby earning their respect and a reputation as a dedicated scholar.He also had a knack of coining terms himself which had the proper ring of a technicalword, and this earned him greater fame in the department. Everyone betted that hewas sure going to get first class. They chatted for a bit, Johnny sitting on the arm ofRukumanis seat, to the disapproval of the Chinese woman with the brood. She passedRukumani some dirty looks when Johnny excused himself to go to the lavatory, andwhen he came back again after that, the woman looked displeased and aggrieved. Forher part, Rukumani was a bit apprehensive that Devanayagam would hear about thisin case he misunderstood the circumstances or objected to her being so free with amale fellow student. Still, she was so bored and fed up that she decided to riskanyones displeasure in order to shorten the journey.So after Finals what you intend to do?She asked the current question of the year.Oh, myself? Sure fail, man, came the classic answer in an unconvincing tone.Eh, dont joke, man. I think you sure become Assistant Lecturer in the department,if not Lecturer.The flattered Johnny was led to reveal his real ambition to become a SalesRepresentative in one of the big firms.Not to say what ah, to become a lecturer is all right. But think of it ah, now we givethem helluva headache; if myself become one, sure die, man. Sure, sure, got prestigeand all, but cant be boddered, man. Too much trouble. Better still become Executive.Supply and demand what. Know that means know everything. Also ah, you knowwhat I can take if I get fed up? Can take that what you call Ford pills for ExecutiveFatigue. Then also can easily save on big salary, can buy nice Jag and take girl friendsfor drives. Can easily tackle and get a good wifie too, but that better not want toosoon, because why? Trapped lah! After, they want this want that, then worse headachethan marking essays, what you think?It was not that Rukumani had heard this for the first time, since Johnny was alwayssaying these things over and over again. Today, she listened partly out of having therest of the journey empty in front of her, and partly because she could not helpenvying Johnny his freedom. She dreaded the end of her university career as it meant
  • 4. that the preparations for her wedding to whomever the family were at that momentdeciding for her would be intensified. Somehow, the journey was suddenly over andthey were still talking about this and that. With a shock, Rukumani realized that thehead which appeared at the window belonged to her father. Johnny was not perturbed.Hello, Uncle, he hailed most heartily, your daughter and myself were having amost interesting talk.Two sorrowful eyes looked steadily at Rukumani for signs of shame.This is my father, Mr. Sambanthan. Hes the C.C. in the Ipoh branch of the—.Rukumani mentioned some department that Johnny had never heard of. After a fewmore exchanges, Johnny left for his home in Sweet Dreams Housing Estate while Mr.Sambanthan led Rukumani to a taxi to take them to Lovely Housing Estate.Who that young chap? Mr. Sambanthan asked, trying to keep the note of suspicionout of his voice.I told you at the station, Pa. Hes Johnny Chew, and hes in my class. He oftenhelps me with my work. Hes very brilliant.Mr. Sambanthan felt a little relieved.You know where his father working?Income tax.Ahhh!The respectability of Johnny thus settled, they continued in silence to LovelyHousing Estate.Rukumani had a younger sister called Baby by the rest of the family as well as byother people who were not in the family, but who knew them rather well. This Babywas approaching her eighteenth year and was preparing to enter university thefollowing year, but the childhood name had stuck, to her embarassment. Besides thissister, whose real name was Susheela, there was a younger brother of twelve calledBoy, although again, he too had another name, Nadarajah. Rukumani was not quitesure she could trust Baby with her secret, but she knew for certain that if Boy knewabout it, her parents would be upon her in no time, as he enjoyed being their favouriteand indulged in unconcealed tale-bearing. In addition to her parents and brother andsister, the tiny house in Lovely Housing Estate also housed her grandmother on herfathers side, who always held forth on the degeneracy of young girls nowadays. Thisoften included Rukumanis mother, who, indeed, could never hope to be a young girlagain except in the next incarnation, perhaps. Rukumanis mother, in order to shiftsome of the blame from herself, sometimes tried to get her mother-in-law on her sideby lamenting loudly that the young generation of daughters was becoming toomodern, and shouted for either Baby or Rukumani to fetch her things which werenearer her than them, just to test their obedience and to show her mother-in-law thatshe had her girls in hand. In addition to the members of the household who werepermanently living in the house, there was a periphery of aunts on both sides, nieces,and stray relatives from Sungkai Estate or Menglembu who sometimes came to stay,
  • 5. especially around Deepavali, when the tiny house became even more noisy and over-crowded, like the little poutry-run in the back garden. Babies whose parents had leftthem behind in the house while they visited yet other relatives in Ipoh became thecharges of Baby or Rukumani, since their mother would often accompany the visitingrelatives on their calls.It was way past nine oclock by the time Rukumani and her father arrived home.Some visitors were staying overnight, obviously, as Rukumani could see some half-naked children sprawling on the concrete walk outside the house and eating some verysticky rice sweet. Their parents were inside, talking in loud tones to Rukumanismother and grandmother. It was really the women who were doing most of thetalking, the men adding a grunt or two when their opinions were asked. Rukumani feltthat she was inevitably home when she heard the shrill mixture of voices whichsounded more as if they were quarrelling than conversing. When she had walked pastthe gaping children with her luggage, Rukumani appeared at the door and greeted hergrandmother, mother and the visitors. She did not remember any of the visitors, butsince there were three women and one man, she just said uncle once and auntie threetimes and wished she could have a little food and then go to bed. Her mother was in alively mood that night. Drawing her sari round her ample frame, she said to thecompany, You remember Girlie, dont you? do you think she has changed?Getting near marriageable age, remarked one of the women.Better you dont put ideas into young peoples heads, advised the man, who wasprobably the husband of the woman. When we were young, our mother nevermentioned the word "marriage" to any of my seven sisters until two days before theywere to be married. Everything fix first, then talk. If not, all the young people think ofis girl friends, boy friends, what for?Ah, sighed the wife, but nowadays different. Especially when someone like Girlie,so pretty, going to get university degree and all, better to fix everything while stillpossible to control. Once they grow older, just try to control, and see.Here the company sighed, and there was a momentary silence as they rememberedthis womans young daughter whom she had loved so much that she had allowed herto enter the university several years ago, even though she was a girl. This ungratefulchild, whom she had looked forward to comforting her old age with dutiful attentionand obedience, had proved a disgraceful and shameless hussy by rejecting a matchwith a promising lawyer who was willing to accept a cheap dowry because of herBSc, and had run away to marry a class-mate of hers who was a Chinese Artsgraduate. Not only did this prove her shamelessness, it certainly showed everyonehow stupid she was to offer herself to a mere BA. Everyone was too kind to voicetheir thoughts, although those not involved secretly felt self-satisfied that no suchmisdemeanour had occurred in their families. Rukumani was feeling too tired and toodisgusted at the reminder that she was Girlie at home to notice much that washappening. After some further comments on her looks and that she must be too proud
  • 6. to know them now, the visitors collected their scattered children and left.Come and take some food, said Rukumanis mother after the visitors had left.Youre a lucky girl. You know why Auntie come to see me? Never mind, take first,talk afterwards.They sat down together in the kitchen. Boy was in bed, but when Baby, who hadbeen washing up in the kitchen, tried to join in, she was shooed away by her mother.Go, go, do your homework. How you think you can be like Akka and go to theM.U. if you dont study? You think very easy to feed you all? Better not make meshow temper, I tell you.Rukumani was silent over dinner. The rest had eaten, and she did not really enjoythe cold rice and curry, but ate it out of boredom. Then, through her half-sleepy mind,her mothers chatter made some sense and she felt alarmed. She realized thesignificance of the visit they had just received. By some tenuous relationship, she wasa very distant cousin of the man who had spoken to her, since his wife, the long-suffering mother, was a sort of cousin of an aunt of her mothers. This man had arelative whose son was at the moment in his final year at the university, and they hadcome at the invitation of Rukumanis mother to see about the possibility of there beinga match between Rukumani and this young man. It was unusual for the representativeof the would-be groom to visit the family of the girl, but in this case, Rukumanismother proudly hinted, they were in a strong position since they were richer than theother family, although this should not put Rukumani off, as her husband-to-be wouldhave a high income as soon as he graduated. At least Civil Service Super-scale. Shealso reminded Rukumani of her duty to her family in setting a good example to Baby,and, when she was married, she was to be sure to coax her husband to live in Ipoh andnot in his home town, where his family would surely eat up all his income, graspingwretches that they were. Rukumani did not want to believe that all this was reallygoing to happen, so she just kept quiet and went to bed. Baby, who had retiredsomewhat earlier, was not asleep yet, and tried to tell Rukumani in whispers what hadbeen cooking at home during the last term when Rukumani had been away. AlthoughRukumani wanted to keep her dignity as Elder Sister intact and not lose any authorityover Baby by descending to whispering secrets with her, this time the sense of dangerto her own arrangements made her swallow her pride a little and listen. What Babytold her confirmed her fears as she realized that her parents, especially her mother,had been making arrangements for a long time, and that this proposed match was nomere whim of her mothers. She began to feel rather cross with Baby for confirmingher fears, and kept a resolute silence, refusing to comment and finally succeeding infooling Baby that she was asleep.The vacation was long and dragging. Sometimes Rukumani went shopping with hermother or with a visiting aunt. These trips gave her no pleasure now. It had notthrilled her to be taken to John Littles, where there were gleaming modern glasswarein one department, ready-made dresses and high-heeled shoes in another, and so on
  • 7. through countless high-class departments. Nobody in their house wore frocks or high-heels. Anyway, the things at John Littles were too big for them, and the girls a bitsaucy whenever they did try on something for the thrill of it, for they always remarkedhaughtily, Cannot fit, lah! All these European size. Better you go to Hugh Low Streetshops.This sort of thing always angered Rukumanis mother, and she would annoy theshop-girls further by asking for something as unlikely as nylon stockings. Sometimesshe also let drop statements like, My daughter need this to go back to M.U. when longvac over.This sometimes earned her some respect, but at other times did not create any stir.The shopping trips usually took them to the Sari Emporium, where Rukumanismother and aunts fingered lengths of Senior Kashmir, rejecting saris made of JuniorKashmir, no matter how pretty Rukumani thought they were. This was because theysaid that Junior Kashmir could be recognized as something inferior from as far awayas twenty yards, whereas Senior Kashmir got class. The shopkeepers, anxious toplease, hounded them on the pavement even before they entered the shop withrepetitions of hullo, yes? Rukumani knew that all this shopping and shop-gazingwere leading up to the one thing she dreaded, and she lived in a state of apprehensionand boredom. She decided to write to the papers, and her letter appeared in the AuntieSally column together with Auntie Sallys reply:Dear Auntie Sally,I am a girl of twenty-two and am in the final year at the university. I am madly in love with a boy wholives far, far away. My parents do not know of my romance. They want me to marry someone whom I donot know. At times I think of committing suicide but I am not sure how to kill myself. My boy friend hasnot written to me yet and does not know of my sorrows. I fear I shall make him kill himself too if I killmyself. Sometimes I think of becoming a nun, but I am not a Christian. Please give me some advices as Ido not know what to do.Broken-heartedDear Broken-hearted,Silly girl! Do not think Im heartless. I am always willing and happy to help a deserving case. But look atyou! have you no sense of shame or gratitude? I do feel sorry for your poor parents who have suffered tosend you to the university, and this is your way of repaying them, with ingratitude, deceit, shamelessbehaviour. You are too young to think of boy friends. The time for that will come after your studies. Youare lucky that your parents love you so much and are thinking of your welfare. Think of others lessfortunate than yourself. Count your blessings and accept your parents choice of a husband for you. Motherknows best! Your parents have your welfare at heart.Love fromAuntie SallyThis reply appeared in the papers at the same time as a letter for Rukumani fromDevanayagam. Amy rang up and told Rukumani there was something for her.Rukumani tore out the bit in the paper where her letter and Auntie Sallys reply had
  • 8. appeared and flushed it down the lavatory bowl. Then, telling her mother that she wasgoing to Amys to study, she took her copy of Benhams Economics and took the busto Greentown.Amy was quite ecstatic when she saw Rukumani. She took her up to her room,chased her younger sisters out of it, and locked the door. From under a chest-of-drawers, she took out her copy of Benhams Economics and withdrew from it a letter.Then she discreetly pretended to read her book while Rukumani read her letter.Rukumani wanted to prolong the pleasure of anticipation by just looking at theenvelope for some time, but Amy became rather impatient with her, in spite of notwanting to give the impression of intruding. Amy kept glancing up fromher Economics at the hesitant Rukumani and at last grunted, Open, man! What forwant to keep on staring-staring?Rukumani did at last open the envelope and took out her love-letter. DearestDarling Ruku, it began. Rukumani could feel a funny, not unplesant, sensation downher spine. Devanayagam was never so ardent in speech as in letters. Dearest DarlingRuku was quite a change from his spoken eh, Ruku, or at the most, Dar or D,which were abbreviated endearments which they and other courting couples used intheir tender moments. She read on:I wonder whether you are thinking of me as often as I am thinking of you, dear Ruku. This thoughtoccurs to me often, especially when the moon is full. It is a universal symbol of our love, the spiritualmoon. On the way to a show with my friends, I often think of you and I feel glad that you can be trusted notto be like other girls who are too modern and like going for shows with boys. I know you are waitingpatiently for me.There is something I must tell you. Please do not worry, for two reasons. First, let me tell you the news.My parents have arranged a marriage for me with a distant cousin. They say she will give a big dowry andthat she is very beautiful. Moreover, she is going to get a B.A. and is very fair-skinned. Why you mustntworry, let me tell you first. I dont want to marry this girl because I love you. Secondly, if I am forced tomarry her, you will know that it was not my own wish and that spiritually we belong together. But do notworry. After I leave the U, I shall be able to get a job and we can get married. I have hinted very strongly tomy mother, father and uncle that I may want to choose somebody myself, and this made them angry, so Imkeeping quiet for a time. Please do not write to me or I shall get into trouble.When I get to the hostel for the last two months of the vacation I will write again and then you can replymy letter.Ever your faithfulDevaWhat he say? Secret ah? Inquired Amy.Nothing much lah. Rukumani tried to look unconcerned, and after an hour or twosgossip, returned home.How the long vacation went past Rukumani was never quite sure. She was oftenapprehensive, thought of writing to Auntie Sally again, started a few letters outliningher desperation and tore them up, flushing the pieces down the plumbing. She wastempted to write to Devanayagam but feared his displeasure if she got him intotrouble. Once or twice she tried to take Baby into her confidence, but that might mean
  • 9. losing her authority as the elder sister. Boy proved a continual source of irritation ashe liked rummaging in her boxes, which she kept under the bed she shared with Baby,and Rukumani was always in fear that Devanayagams love-letter would one day beexposed. Her mother and grandmother kept at her about her arranged marriage, andwhenever women relatives visited they were consulted, and in their turn gave advice.The most popular saying supplied by these advisors was that nowadays girls were toomodern, and had better be married off as soon as possible before something happenedto them. This something was never specified and remained nameless.One day Rukumani had a visitor. Boy ran into the house as she was drying her longhair and shouted, Ama! Akkas boy friend come.Rukumans mother and grandmother were in the kitchen and both looked horrified.You keep quiet, Boy! You too young to know about such things. You go out andplay. Rukumanis mother tried to quell him.In the meantime, Rukumani had hurriedly dried her hair, coiled it into a temporarybun, and went out in great fear—as well as anticipatory pleasure, expecting to seeDevanayagam. To her relief and disappointment, it was Johnny Chew.Hi, Ruku, you look cute like that, said Johnny. At the same time Rukumanismother came into the front room. She pretended not to have heard it. Rukumanilooked flustered and hastily introduced them. Then she composed herself and askedBaby to go and fetch a drink for her friend. Her mother stayed a bit in the room,examining Johnnys face until Johnny said, Dont let me disturb you, Auntie. Pleasego and carry on. Ruku and myself can sit here and have a chit-chat. Havent seen eachother for a long time, you know.Rukumanis mother left with as much dignity as she could muster. Baby came backwith a glass of pink syrup and milk which she presented to the cheeky Johnny, whoremarked in her presence, Cute little thing ah, your sis! Baby squirmed with shyness,satisfaction and dread, and shuffled out of the room. Fortunately, her mother wasalready out of earshot.So, how you getting on? I feel helluva bored, man. This town is a real sleepy-hollow. Im going back to the U for some fun. Here too many eyes and mouths. Canteven take my girl friends to pictures without gossipers talking.Rukumani had a feeling that Johnny had come to her hoping for a chance to talkabout Amy, but she still feared that his talk of girl friends might make her motherthink that they were indulging in improper conversation. She therefore brought upproblems about classwork and lectures so that, should her mother eavesdrop, shewould only hear harmless conversation going on. Johnny, however, was in adangerous mood, and would not be side-tracked.Eh, why you wont talk about your friend ah? You girls all stick together and frusus. If you help me I also can help you with Deva, you know.Rukumani went quite cold with fear. She hurriedly told Johnny not to talk aboutDevanayagam, and for once Johnny caught her mood of urgency and changed the
  • 10. subject. When Rukumani found that Johnny was going back to the university in acouple of days, she thought that he could give a letter from her to Devanayam. Therefollowed a whispered agreement between them that Johnny would come back for theletter the next day, as that was easier than Rukumanis cooking up an excuse to leavethe house alone to go and post her letter. Rukumani, meanwhile, said some veryencouraging things about the state of Amys affections for Johnny, and the latter,usually quite full of self-confidence, went away feeling all the more satisfied withhimself.As soon as Johnny had gone out of the front door, Rukumanis mother started.Young people nowadays have no shame. My mother would have sent me out of thehouse if I had entertained a boy friend as freely as that. All that whispering. What willthe neighbours think? A Chinese boy coming to whisper with my daughter. Do theRadakrishnans next door allow their daughters to run wild? Do you ever see a strangeboy visiting the daughters of Tharmaratnam? But my daughter different. She wants tobe modern and be seen with all sorts of men. Why do you want to make me suffer inmy old age? Cant you see that Im trying to arrange a good, respectable marriage foryou? Show your gratitude. Youre driving me to the grave!It was mainly Boys fault, thought Rukumani. If he had not announced Johnny likethat, perhaps her mother would not have got the wrong idea. She half-regretted askingJohnny to deliver her letter, because his reappearance the next day might cause furthercomplications. However, she was in such a state about Devanayagam that she wasalmost glad that her mother suspected Johnny of being in love with her.The next morning Johnny called. He stayed for some time because the front roomwas not quite empty and Rukumani could not pass him the letter, which she hadwritten in the dead of night with many sighs and tears. Even as she sat makingconversation, she thought of possible amendments to her letter, but decided that therewas no time or opportunity for that. In a fortunate moment when the front room wasempty, the letter did change hands and after more hearty conversation, Johnny left.After some time Rukumanis mother came out from the kitchen. Your father willknow how shameless you are. Passing love-letters to boy friends.Rukumani panicked. They knew about Devanayagam.We have been Ceylonese Tamils for a long time. Do you think you can spoil ourblood now?Saved! They thought it was Johnny. A reprieve, if an awkward one. The sight of aself-satisfied little figure peeping round the door convinced her that Boy hadsomehow seen her passing the letter to Johnny. She managed to force him to receiveher look of pure hate although he tried to avoid looking at her. That evening there wasa showdown when her father came home from the office. Both her mother andgrandmother had ignored her for the whole day, and Rukumani rejected the friendlyadvances of Baby, who could not help concealing her relief that it was not she whowas under fire. As for Boy, he was treated with lavish affection by the grown-ups,
  • 11. who more or less regarded him as the defender of the honour of their house. He didnot dare come within two feet of Rukumani but enjoyed his exalted position at a safedistance from her.Mr. Sambanthan was silent at first when his wife told him of their daughters guilt.Then he refused to eat and started to cry. He accused his wife of not teaching herdaughter morals. She offered to commit suicide. Boy cried and begged her not to killherself. Baby shivered with fear in case they started on her as a preventive measure.Mr. Sambanthans mother, who was silent for a long time, suddenly announced thatshe would either leave the house and beg, or kill herself if the family were disgracedby Rukumani. At this, Rukumanis mother, not to be outdone, offered afresh to killherself either by hanging herself or by swallowing poison. As an afterthought, shesaid she could starve herself after the fashion of Gandhi. Rukumani, after denying thatthere was anything between Johnny and herself, kept quiet and looked sullenly at theground. Sometimes she cried tears of vexation, at the same time feeling triumphantthat they had not discovered that she was really in love with Devanayagam. Wheneveryone was exhausted with tears and death-threats, it was time for bed. Rukumaniheard her parents quarrelling in their room. She heard snatches of conversation andgathered that they were going to make firmer arrangements for her wedding.When Johnny arrived at the First College, he saw Devanayagam lying on one of themulti-coloured plastic string chairs in front of the dining room.Eh, Deva, stop dreaming of your girl friend, man. I visited her in Ipoh lah, but dontbe jealous ah, because why? Here is a letter for you.Johnny threw Rukumanis letter towards the startled Devanayagam, and severalyoung men who were sitting around in their flip-flops tried to catch it. After a minorskirmish, Devanayagam retrieved the letter and retired to his room to read it.Dearest Deva, Rukumani believed that one way of making a man respect you wasto be a shade less ardent than he, and this was her answer to Devanayagams DearestDarling.I think of you very often but maybe you have forgotten me. I received your letter about your proposedmarriage. If you agree to that I cannot do anything to prevent it and I hope you will be very happy. But Ishall never forget you and hope that spiritually we shall remain close like brother and sister. I too havesome sad news to tell. My parents want me to marry a distant relation whom I have never met. I think he isgoing to be a B.A. but they dont mention his name. I have great troubles here and wish you could save me.Why is it that we have to be separated and bear such terrible burdens?Your ever-lovingRukuDevanayagam was quite touched by Rukumanis devotion. He felt a little guiltyhimself. His own objections at home had created such scenes of domestic strife that hehad persuaded himself into thinking that it would be heroic to give up his true lovefor the sake of the family. Therefore, before going away he had told his parents, Allright, all right lah! Stop bothering me and leave me in peace to study and Ill marry
  • 12. this girl,whoever she is.This he had not communicated to his true love, and his conscience was beginning tomake him feel uncomfortable. As he lay on his bed, he felt as if he wanted to be freeof all commitments, but at the same time felt too weak either to break off withRukumani or to disobey his family. The dowry had all been settled between thefamilies, and although he had said to his parents that he did not want to hear anythingabout it, his mother managed to let him know that he was getting $80,000 as well as ahouse and a plot of land, in spite of the fact that his bride would be a BA by the timethey got married.The Sambanthans were desperate. If they allowed Rukumani to return to theuniversity for her final term, they were sure that she would do something shamefulwith that Chinese boy. Already gossips were spreading rumours, and if these rumoursreached the ears of the bridegrooms family, they might withdraw their offer, and itwould be impossible to marry Rukumani off. On the other hand, if they refused toallow her to finish her degree at the university, their hopes of their daughter becominga BA would be dashed. Worst of all, the bridegrooms family would demand moredowry if she did not become a BA. Further quarrels ensued between various membersof the family, and aunts and uncles came and proffered advice. It was the aunts morethan the uncles who had a great deal to say. The uncles usually shook their heads atRukumani for causing all this pain, and said that such things never happened whenthey were young. The aunts were more dramatic. They wept often and talked aboutthe death of maidenly modesty and family honour. By this time their husbands hadsettled down in a little corner to argue about politics in Malaya and India. The auntscooked meals in-between their bouts of crying, and the person who enjoyed thesevisits most was Boy, because the aunts petted and over-fed him. He was safe from allaccusation of misdemeanour because he was considered too young to know aboutmarriage. Baby, on the contrary, trembled lest she should be included, and she wassometimes the object of a warning such as Let all young girls beware and not befooled into betraying their family name.Then the decision was taken. There would be no final term for Rukumani. It wasdecided that the increase of $20,000 in dowry was worth the risk of family disgrace.When negotiations with the other family were concluded, this was announced to her.Rukumani felt that the time had come for her to disclose her secret. She did so andnamed Devanayagam as her lover. She thought that the family would relent when theyfound out that her lover was a Ceylon Tamil after all. To her great surprise, furtherimprecations were heaped upon her head.How dare you choose somebody for yourself? Now you have gone and undone allour work, wept her mother. This Devanayagam was the one we had arranged for you.Now that you have been so brazen and shameless as to have spoilt yourself with him,do not expect us to let you marry him. In my youth, we never looked at a man until wewere married.
  • 13. Ama, I never did anything wrong with him, protested Rukumani.Dont try and tell me shameful things, cried her mother.Chaos again. The family had to meet delegations from the other side, who wereequally shocked that their son had had a secret lover all the time. There were moreexclamations about the shameless deception of the modern generation.Devanayagams father wrote him a very stern letter:My Son,You have this day filled our family with great shame. Your mother and I are heart-broken to hear thatyou were having an affair with the person whose name I wont mention. This is a judgment of God! Shewas the one we had chosen for you but fortunately we found out she was unworthy of our house and name.We wanted a bride for you who would earn more respect for our family, but she has been led by her greatshame to confess that you were going together at the U. Did you think you would fool us by pretending thatyou did not know that it was Mr. Sambanthans daughter who was to marry you? No wonder you were soobedient.Let me tell you this. Learn hard at the U and after this let it be a lesson to you that you should leaveeverything concerning marriage to your elders and betters. You are far too young to think of such mattersyourself.Your mothers and sisters are ill with grief.Your grieving parent,Pa