Want me to skin you alive?’ Sorna Akka [akka-older sister] bellowed at the garbage -cleaner, her face contorted, eyes emitting fire. ‘Why do you bunk quite often? Aren’t you paid for your work?’ The bloke stood like a hunted deer, devastated, his head bent. Soon, the diatribe turned foul and loathsome when Sorna Akka [SA] started flinging at him a series of cuss words, her usual lingo. She didn’t stop her tirade against the beleaguered garbage cleaner even when people gathered around her witness the ‘gift of the gab’ she was endowed with.
An hour passed. The street regained peace after witnessing many fire-works and thunderbolts. The garbage-cleaner had since swept clean the street and made it tidier. He, who was almost dead of verbal wrath from SA, was now sitting on a broken stool in front of her thatched hut, getting fed by her. They were all smiles now, laughing intermittently.
SA was in her mid-40s, always sporting a rupee size kumkum on her forehead. A Fatso and crow black complexioned, she would wear only cheap weaves - got her long hair braided intricately. A sheathed knife was always found tucked at her left hip. Her wicked laughter and hoarse voice unleashed terror in our colony. She had a sort of haughtiness that well sat on her hefty body.
SA was a queer mixture of an ape and angel. She was always cheerful, felt herself dismantled only when her husband had walked out on her, years back. Her thatched hut, almost a shanty, found her swarming with people with all sorts of problems ranging from missing of a cow to a girl. She was believed to be having a sort of mystical power- call it the feminine power or the onslaught of a virulent tongue. She became the queen of our colony right through her decibels and her yeomen service to the residents.
When our colony streets were inundated by rain water and became slushy, SA fought with the authorities-concerned and got storm water canals constructed in our area. Another issue she had successfully dealt with was setting right the erratic power supply in our area, the cause of which was a faulty transformer. After all her representations fell on deaf ears, she, along with her henchmen, went and gheraoed the officials at the EB. She locked all the office doors and sat at the gate, fasting. She was stubborn, held her ground even when a posse of policemen threatened to use force against her. The EB officials had no option but to concede to her demand. When she came back to our colony, riding on the waves of victory, we gave our Joan of Arc a rousing welcome.
She was also adept at handling people’s personal problems. Once when a girl from the colony eloped with a boy, she pursued them at the request of the girl’s parents and brought them back to the colony in no time. However, after knowing that the girl was in deep love with the boy, SA talked with the parents of the boy and the girl and arranged for their marriage. Though she was perceived officious, she thought she did a noble thing of uniting two loving hearts.
‘Aiyyaa’ [Sir] she would always call me with a sort of parental affection and bond as if she had known me for ages. She would talk to me nicely without sniggering or sneering. She had a soft corner for all menial staff of the Corporation. She would often complain about people calling the garbage cleaner as ‘garbage’. ‘His name is Senthil. No one calls him by his name’, she would resent.
Whenever I was up late in nights either reading or attending some paper work, SA would call me, she would be standing on the street by the side of my house, looking at one of the windows. The moment I open the window, she would shout at me. ‘Aiyyaa, would you like some tea. I’m just pushing myself to the roadside tea stall.’ ‘Thanks, akka. I don’t take tea’, I would answer her in haste not willing to interact with her any further in the dead of night. She would then resume her night-rounds, rather disappointed.
Contemptuous of SA, my wife would always tag her with many appellations like shrew, ruffian and heartless apparition. But to me, she is like a Jackfruit, enormous and prickly outside and once you crack open the fruit you will find inside sweet pods or ‘bulbs’.
On an ill-fated night SA died all of a sudden. It was election time. When some goons tried to enter the colony and distribute cash for votes, she stopped them saying the residents of the colony are elite and educated people and none would get cash for votes. And there ensued a scuffle between SA and the goons.
It was only early in the morning we saw her lying in a pool of blood. Her body bore many wounds. She was declared ‘brought dead’ when we took her to a hospital. She was gone defending our honesty. We have lost a benevolent tigress roaming our colony day in and day out. Now, I avoid sitting in my room late at nights. For, I hear about a coarse voice calling me from the street: ‘Aiyyaa’ … ‘Aiyyaa’