What is the signficance of the "payasam" in the story "Neipayasam" by Kamala Das?
Kamala Das wrote “Neipayasam” in Malayalam, an Indian dialect. When it was translated into English, the story was given the name “Sweet Milk.” The narration is omniscient third person focusing on the unnamed father as the protagonist of the story.
Without the father’s name revealed, he becomes a universal figure for all men who lose their wives and worry about how to cope without their partners. The story employs an unemotional quality which makes the story even more poignant. It illustrates the shock and dismay the father feels for his own life and his three boys.
A young mother is found dead from a heart attack in her kitchen. The story begins with the woman’s husband returning from the cremation and funeral of the wife. Tearful, it is obvious that he is in shock. His concern is for his children and how he will carry the responsibility for himself and his wife.
When the father arrives at home, two of his three boys are waiting for him. The middle boy is sleeping. Immediately, the father decides not to tell the boys about their mother until the next day. There is no reason to ruin their sleep. The boys inquire about their mother thinking that she had to spend the night in the hospital. The father responds by telling them that the mother will return.
The importance of the payasam
The mother has left a loving legacy for her children. Before the mother had her heart attack, she followed her usual routine preparing food and a special treat for the children when they returned from school, as well as potatoes for the evening meal. The boys loved their mother’s payasam. It was their favorite snack.
When he sees the boys, the father learns that they had not eaten. He offers to fix them a meal. All the boys want is their mother’s treat that she made especially for them. First, the father thought the boys should not eat the food their mother had prepared because it was touched by death. Then, with a melancholy feeling, he decided that they should be able to eat the payasam since it was the last thing that their mother would ever make for them.
As the oldest boy begins to eat, he comments that his mother made wonderful neipayasam.
They started eating the payasam. He [the father] sat motionless, watching them.
“We want only payasam. It’s very tasty."
"Yes, Mother has made splendid neipayasam," Rajan said happily.
With this comment concerning the food, the boy expresses his love for his mother and appreciation for her making them their favorite food. Sadly, he is unaware of the importance of this payasam, which is the last their mother will ever have made for them. They would never again be able to eat their mother’s cooking.
No longer can the father hold back his tears, and he rushes to the bathroom to hide his grief from his boys. What will tomorrow bring without the mother’s love!