That was what really threw Pashumala. What Dipakaran used to, from the time of his birth till his death, call “perdition”, that “Tamil perdition” – as the culmination of a series of events beginning with the dwarf Kandasamy – after being exiled from India – discovering a cannabis plantation in the Nandikadal lagoon where the sea had jettisoned him and allowing it to flourish from circa 1960 onwards; later moving on to become a plantation slave; morphing into a swarthy muscleman; eloping with Ujjar, the half Dutch Sidappa’s daughter with pure Dutch features, in a breathless flight all the way to Kilinochi; their love blooming red like cannabis flowers during the sojourn in the old boathouse on blazing hot days redolent with the smells of the provenance of their clan; their life amidst the Tamil hordes that congregated inside it; their hunger, songs and eccentricities; and eventually Dipakaran being born in their midst as their son.

After being born in Sri Lanka as one in a pig-litter-like brood, after having forgotten the damp, earthy birth-smell of one’s hoary Tamil ancestry; after fleeing from Lanka as a child, debilitated by rickets, emaciated by chronic diarrhoea, and with hunger stuck to his desiccated bones like his fleshless skin; after having found sanctuary in the refugee camp in Dhanushkodi and getting baked in its hot sands in adolescence; and, later in his youth, when stuffing strips from the torn saree of Pashumala into the cracks in his arsehole caused by the bombs thrown by the soldier-dogs, and walking long, painful kilometres, spread-legged, holding his entrails in his right hand; and finally, when the bullets of treachery, propelled by rabid gunpowder, punctured holes precisely in his heart and his forehead, being drained of the last of his vital fluids and giving up his ghost and falling dead; then, getting torn into two halves, dumped for the mass burial in the swampy pits of the city of the dead, only to commingle with the air as a nauseating stench, only to be obliterated over and over again – the final destiny of Dipakaran, the dark, cataclysmic perdition – the primary destiny of every Sri Lankan Tamil…

That this fate came in search of her, too, crossing the sea to arrive at the Chennai court, as if it was something commonplace, surprised Pashumala no end.

For Pashumala, too, as a fitting finale to her astonishment, the end came in the form of a noose at the end of a hangman’s rope on the gallows placed somewhere in the court premises, the only difference being – if in the case of Dipakaran, it was the sticky black sea mud on his face – it was the roughness of the black cotton hangman’s hood for her. The death of a Tamilian which is very ordinary…The so very ordinary death of a Tamilian woman. Pashumala laughed aloud with her usual mischievousness.

The silence that pervaded the court shattered in its own helplessness. The Tamil-speaking roosting doves that had made its roof their cote, shuddered, flapped their wings and flew away. The judge was ill at ease and sweating profusely. His fingers kept grazing the judgement books on his desk.

Pashumala’s lawyer looked at his colleagues, seeking their validation for his argument that she was of unsound mind.

“Do you have anything to say? Say it now and be done with it,” the judge’s shaky voice echoed, as if from the innards of an old church’s antechamber.

“For myself? Uh-uh.”

With the innocence so characteristic of Tamilian women, Pashumala laughed again as if it were a sign of negation. The scorched muscles in her face tautened. The healed and dried-up wounds opened again. Her tongue snaked out from between her teeth to places which had no cheek shielding them. Tamil words became menacing, like the guttural growls of a hungry tigress.

“All perdition is me…every perdition is because of me…Only me…I am assuming responsibility, with pride, for all and any crimes committed by anyone for the glory of this Tamilian land.”

The judgement ran into 345 pages. When the judge pronounced the death sentence at the end of the reading, his voice splintered and was caught in an asthmatic wheeze out of shame. The court was suffused with the hallowed smell of gunpowder that starched, well-groomed Tamil words made when they split and fused. The public was stunned. The sea of sweat on the court announcer’s bald pate lapped on his forehead as waves and spread like slippery oil. The Tamil odour blew in, and in its heat, the secret conspiracy split into smithereens. Only Pashumala could see it burn up the man from inside.

As always, the Tamil breeze, with its usual acidic, stinging fumes, blew inside the court as a covert and relentless defence. With the rebellion’s vengeance and hostility, it squeezed and strangled the judge’s lungs.

“With pride…” Pashumala spoke serenely. Yet, her voice hung above the British-built court’s silence, its intensity reverberating off the lofty wooden ceiling and rafters. Bats and barn owls flew out in droves. The wind blew its conch, deafening the judge. He closed the judgement register. The court adjourned in the usual manner after the pronouncement of the death sentence.

The Lesbian Cow and Other Stories

Excerpted with permission from the short story titled “D”, from The Lesbian Cow and Other Stories by Indu Menon, translated from the Malayalam into English by Nandakumar K, Eka, Westland Books.