From Shards of Sunlight. Morning Rituals
The list: nobody would tell Indu what this list was. Since Ahmed’s visit the women in the kitchen talked about nothing else. That and something called Swaraj. What was that?
‘What is this list, Ammammey?’ Indu asked in her deliberately winsome voice the next morning, when Devi was performing her dawn ritual of lighting the devotional lamp. Sometimes an answer slipped out by mistake. ‘Is it like the list you make when the dhobi comes?’
Devi didn’t answer; she rarely had time for Indu’s many questions. She muttered prayers under her breath and pulled out the crumpled newspaper pushed into the neck of the coconut oil bottle in the puja corner. She sniffed at it. Then she tore up a piece of old mundu for wicks, and twisted three-inch strips to make points to light. She placed the wicks in the saucer of the lamp to soak and drew one end of each towards her.
The bit Indu loved came next. Devi pulled out the usually damp matchbox she kept behind the plaster Krishnan’s shoulder and started her battle with the matchsticks. Three fizzled out before she got a flame on the fourth, and the room filled with the familiar dawn smell of sulphur and coconut oil. When Indu had got her fill of that comforting smell she went out to sit in her favourite place on the veranda edge, carrying the dawn benediction with her. The sunbeams splintered into rainbow colours on the cracked cement floor. She put her hand over them and imagined she had caught the colours of the morning.
Devi came out a few minutes later with her pan box; this would be a good time to ask questions, Indu knew. Devi was always amiable when she was chewing pan.
‘What’s Swaraj, Ammammey?’ Indu asked. She smelled the green betel leaf smell and the sharp tang of chunamb, the white lime paste, which Devi put in minute quantities on the leaf, as she chewed.
‘Oh. It’s like – self-government.’ Devi said.
Just like adults. You ask them for the meaning of a short word and they give you a longer one. Indu gave up.