What bothers the father in the story "NeiPayasam" by Kamala Das?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"NeiPayasam" by Kamala Das tells the story of a family: a mother, a father, and three sons.  When one part of the family is taken,  the ones left behind must shoulder a heavy responsibility.  This is subject of this sensitive story of a mother's death. 

The family loved each other.  There were many struggles that they faced: no money, no laughter, illnesses, physical changes.  None of which altered the loved shared by the parents in the story.

One day the husband and the children leave the house for a routine day.  The mother is left in her crumpled sari to tend to the house and her day.  At the end of the day, the husband comes home to find the boys outside playing basketball.  He enters the house and finds the wife dead on the floor from a heart attack. 

After the funeral and cremation on the same day, the father returns home. Beginning the stages of grief, he is immediately angry with his wife for leaving him.  Irrational though it seems since the mother did not want to leave her family, this is one of the steps to easing the pain of the loss of a loved one. 

Now the father must shoulder the burden of the family. Who wil care for the boys? Everything will come to him.  He will apply for a leave.  His boss will tell him he is sorry for his loss.  What does the boss know? He did not know his wife or care about her. This is the husband's loss. 

Wanting to be strong and not show his emotions, the father fights off his tears.  The tears are not just for himself, but for his boys who will miss their mother so much.

They do not know about her death.

But they are too young to understand.  Unni just stood there watching me when I put her in the taxi.  Only the youngest one cried.  But that was  because he wanted to get into the taxi too.Certainly, they did not know the meaning of death.

When he goes inside the house, the oldest boy is awake. Out of habit he looks around for his wife, but she is not there.  She had made her characteristic foods for the supper and the children. They were waiting on the window sill as usual. 

The father first thinks that the children should not eat the food which has been touched by death.  The oldest boy asks about his mother, but the father does not tell him the truth.  Why ruin the boy's last night of normal sleep?

The oldest boy dips his finger into the neipayasam, a coconut like milk recipe and happily exclaims that their mother makes this dish splendidly. The father realizes that the boy should eat the last dish that his mother ever made for him.  As the boy begins to eat, the father rushes to the bathroom to hide his grief. 

 

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