The Man from Kerala

By Lisa Khlif

There once was a man from Kerala state in India who went to school to become an engineer. He graduated with high honors but though he searched high and low, he could never find a job that was more than mediocre.

His love life was equally poor. He had a difficult time finding a girl who would love him the way he wanted to be loved. Though he tried for years, he couldn’t find such a girl. He supposed that this was due to his features for he was nearly bald, in spite of the fact that he had just turned thirty. He had irregularly large ears that reminded most people he met of Ganapati, and he had bad breath. He tried for years to find a love match but he eventually got frustrated and gave up.

Shortly after this, his father and mother approached him about an arranged marriage and he reluctantly agreed. He doubted that his parents would find anyone desperate enough to accept him for a husband but he was willing to let them try. After all, who knew but that love might develop from that mystical thing called an arranged marriage.

It took a good year, but the man’s parents eventually found him a suitable match who did not flinch from the whiff of his breath or shrink back at the sight of his bald head. Shortly thereafter, the man and his new bride celebrated their wedding day. A year after that, the bride received the joyous news that she was pregnant. She was so excited that she had soon told her joyous news to everyone in the village.

Her husband however, constantly bit his fingernails and scratched his bald head till the skin started to flake off. His wife asked him what was bothering him and at first he said nothing but as her belly grew bigger, the wife continually pondered her husband’s despair. One day, when she was asking him about her news yet again, she pressed him all the harder. She was determined to find out why he was so distressed when everyone else, including the man’s parents, were happy about the coming birth of their first child.

That day, he finally gave in to her pleas for answers and told her the truth. He feared that his son would turn out to be just like him: ugly, rejected, and bald. He worried that his son might also be denied the love match that he himself had dreamed of but had never been able to achieve. And if it was a girl, well then the future looked even bleaker for her. Even with a dowry of a billion rupees, no man would dare to marry such an ugly girl as he was sure to produce.

“My darling husband,” his wife said to him. “Do not think so low of yourself or of me. You are a brilliant engineer. And I, though I am not the most beautiful woman in Kerala, am not entirely ugly. Do not suppose that we will have ugly or stupid children for I have prayed and asked Durga for help. She will not fail us. She always grants my requests as she did when I prayed for a husband.”

The husband thought about this and it made sense to him. Also, he trusted his wife for since he had married her, he had had nothing but good luck. The fact that she was willing to marry him when no one else would spoke well of her. The more he thought about these things, the better he felt until he became completely at ease about her pregnancy.

The time came when she would soon deliver her baby. The wife’s mother moved in with them to assist them and was there when it was time for her to give birth.

When the baby emerged from the womb, it was found to be a girl child. This was a great disappointment to everyone. The new grandmother went home crying, and apologizing to the husband that her daughter had given him a girl instead of a boy. The man’s parents refused to even come and see their new grandchild. They also suggested that he go with his wife to a different temple to pray when her next pregnancy occurred.

The man however, was overjoyed for the baby girl appeared, by all accounts, to be very beautiful. Some said perhaps even more beautiful than her mother. Of course, compared to the father, any baby was beautiful. He had been born with those hideous ears, after all. The man dared to hope that his daughter would grow up normal and with none of his bad features. “Perhaps,” he thought, “my daughter might one day have a love match. How happy I will be!”

The man’s joy was short-lived, for three months after the birth of his daughter, his wife died. The birth had been too much for her, the other women said. Once again the man felt the curse that was his life fall back on his shoulders. His daughter was healthy but his wife was dead. For a while, he wished with all his heart that the situation was reversed. He knew that he would never find such a love match again.

The years went on and the man never remarried. His parents begged him and begged him to let them try to arrange another match for him but he could not bear it. He missed his wife more, not less, as the years passed and he constantly reviewed his memories of her in his mind.

Meanwhile he did his best to raise his daughter the way he thought his wife would want but wasn’t really sure what that meant. He had had such little time with his wife while she was alive and during that time she never told him how she wanted her daughter to be raised. He couldn’t even remember her telling him how she would have wanted a son to be raised. They had been so in love and happy that they didn’t have time to discuss those things and the man now regretted that.

He also refused to take his parents’ advice to leave the girl with his wife’s parents. He doubted that they would have wanted her anyway. Besides that, his daughter was the only thing that he had left from his wife and he was determined to hold on to her. As she grew, she still resembled her mother, only she became far more beautiful than her. It was commonly said amongst the villagers, that she was the most beautiful girl in the village.

The village where the man and his daughter lived had a large population of Christians. It was said that St. Thomas the apostle had visited that town and the village had a church erected in the very spot where he was said to have preached a sermon.

The man and his daughter were Hindus. However, not all of their neighbors were. As the population of the village’s Christians grew so did the distaste of the practice of asking for large dowries from the parents of village brides. Seeing this, some Hindus also began to question the practice. The man was one of them.

One day he and many of the other men in the village decided that they would refuse to allow their daughters to marry any man who asked for a large dowry. They decided that if they all stuck together, they could force this custom into extinction. Even if it meant their daughters would never marry, they would hold steadfast to this course of action.

At the same time, the men also worried that the unmarried boys in the village might decide to try to seduce their daughters instead of marrying them since many parents of boys might refuse to accept a girl with a small dowry. Faced with the prospect of living their lives without a wife, or with a wife that they may not like, many might chose to just get what they want from her and thus avoid the dowry dispute between the two parents.

To keep their daughters from becoming prey to such a scheme, the men decided to forbid them from ever talking to any boy over the age of ten. No talking would mean no seduction. Feeling satisfied with this plan, the man continued to follow it throughout his daughter’s life.

Years later, as his daughter reached the age of seventeen. The man knew that it would soon be time for her to marry and having stressed the importance of the ban on his daughter, he felt confident that he could find her a good husband without paying an extravagant dowry. Half the village was already in love with her. The man did not know however, that a clever young man of a higher caste was scheming for a way to convince the daughter to let him have his way with her.

This young man tried many times to start up a conversation with the girl but she never answered him. One time he threw himself at her feet and grabbed on to her ankles with both hands but she managed to free herself from him without saying a word. She loved her father and she took his instructions very seriously.

The boy was becoming desperate and so he went to the temple of Ganapati to pray for the means to get the girl to talk with him. After many weeks of prayer and fasting, Ganapati, who was honored by his devotion, heard the boy’s prayer. The god gave him the power to transform himself into an elephant.

Now the girl loved elephants and the boy knew this. He had seen her going to Snake Park many times to talk to the elephants there. He noticed that she gazed at them with adoring eyes.

The boy waited for the perfect day. On this day, when he saw the girl go to the park one day after school, he seized the moment. He repeated the incantation that Ganapati had taught him and was transformed into an elephant. He then waited for the girl outside the park gates and amused himself by twirling his trunk around in a circular motion.

The girl came out and caught him doing this. Thinking that he was an elephant and not a boy, she walked over towards him and began talking to him. She was astonished when he answered her back but the boy told her that he was a lonely elephant who had no mate but had been given the power of speech by Ganapati in hopes that he might find a mate among the human species.

They talked long into the afternoon and the girl soon forgot about her father whom she had previously been desperate to get home to. In the evening the girl was seen walking about town talking to the elephant who only listened while they were within earshot of the other villagers. Thinking the girl had gone crazy, someone ran to tell her father but by the time he arrived where she had last been seen it was too late. The girl had gone off into the forest with the elephant-boy.

When the darkness came, Ganapati’s spell broke and the boy’s true form was revealed but by this time, the girl had fallen in love with him. She no longer cared whether he was a man or an elephant. She wanted to be with him for the rest of her life.

So the boy got what he wanted from her and stayed there in the forest till she fell asleep. Then he got up, put his clothes on, and left.

When the morning dawned and the girl awoke, she found herself naked and alone under the tree. Realizing that she had been betrayed she screamed, then quickly put on her clothes and returned to her father.

The father was ashamed of her and sent her away to a distant relative’s house in Pune. There the girl hid until it was time for her to give birth. When her baby was born, he was bald and he had the ears of an elephant.

The girl stayed with her relatives in a backroom in the house, never to be taken out until she died of grief a few years later. Her son was then released into the wild to find his own way and he spent his time looking for the grandfather that turned his mother out of the house.

When he approached the village and learned that his grandfather had died he decided to go after the man who sired him. He found the house where the man lived. He called to him from behind a tree one day as he stepped out of the house. When the man got close, he saw the elephant boy and was frightened. He tried to run away but the boy chanted a familiar incantation, turning himself into an elephant before the man’s very eyes. Then he remembered what he had done to the girl and realized that Ganapati had now turned against him.

He screamed for his wife. She ran out just in time to see him being trampled to death by a stray elephant. The elephant then ran away. The villagers searched for the elephant for weeks and found him crying in the jungle because he missed his mother.

When he had told them his story, they were moved to tears themselves. Realizing that justice had been done to the evil man, the villagers brought him back to the village where a feast was celebrated in his honor. To this day he remains in that village, sharing his wisdom with anyone who comes to him with honest motives.

The End