“Would you like to learn how to play the piano?” Achakuttichayan asked me
“Ofcourse, I would love to”. ‘I always wanted to learn to play the piano’.
“Ok, then come every monday and friday at 5 pm for lessons. Bring a 5 lined note book too.”
I was thrilled thinking about the piano lessons starting tomorrow evening. I was glad that I didn’t run away from the church when everyone was laughing at my gooseberries.

Achakuttichayan asked me to sit with the girls in the soprano section. I looked around me. There were about 15 girls in the soprano section. Some of the older girls were snickering and nudging each other. I knew they were laughing at me. ‘Too bad if you can see my breast. I have nothing that you don’t have’. I told myself.

When I went back home, Amma has already gone to ‘just over there’. Akkachi was busy ironing my clothes. She had placed my blanket on the floor and used it as a makeshift ironing board. I sat next to her on the floor.
“Akkachi, I am going to learn how to play the piano”
“What is a piano Nina?”
Aiyyo Akkachi don’t you know what is a piano?”
“No, I don’t”
“It is the huge thingy that is often placed near the altar, How come you have never seen it?”
“I have never been to a church Kochumaharani”
“How come?”
“You never took me Kochumaharani.”
“You never said you want to come to the church with me, Akkachi Maharani!”
“One day I will play the piano at the church, that day you will come with me to church and watch me playing. Agreed?” I looked at her trying to see her response
“Agreed Kochumaharani, but there is one small problem, People at the church may not be happy to see a low caste pariah hindu woman attending the church.”
“What is Pariah Akkachi?”
“huh? Explain Akkachi, instead of speaking in riddles.”
“I am a low caste untouchable woman, Nina”
“No you are not, Amma told me your father is a brahmin. Then how can you be a low caste?”
“It is a long story Nina.”
“Tell me the story”
“Not now Nina, I will tell you the story one day.”
“Akkachi, please Akkachi, tell me the story, I promise I will be a good girl.”
Akkachi looked at me
“Promise me you will never tell anyone this story.”
“I promise”
I made a hook with my index finger and Akkachi did the same with her right hand index finger. We linked our index fingers, signing that we would never break our promise. Akkachi switched off the iron and stretched her legs and leaned on the wall.
“The story started in a slum many moons ago. A beautiful baby girl was born to a poor family. Her mother and father used to work as labourers for the royal family. They took their daughter with them when they went to work in the fields.”
“Then what happend?” I was too eager to find out
“patience Nina, irikunnathinu mumpe kalu neettathe!( Don’t try to stretch your legs even before you sit down, you will fall and break your bones!!)
“Ok, Ok, I won’t stretch my legs, now tell me”
“The kochu thamburan (youngest prince of the royal family) was also her age. When no one was looking, they used to play together. He even taught her how to read”
“Why couldn’t they play when everyone was looking”
Aiyyo Kochumaharani, she is a low caste girl, he is an upper caste brahmin. They can’t play together. That is unthinkable.”
“But both of them are human, Akkachi! There is no difference.”
“true Nina, but the rules are rules.”
“Then it is a stupid rule”
“May be.”
“Then what happend?”
“The girl grew up to be a beautiful maiden and the kochuthamburan fell in love with her. They both knew, they could never live together. But their love was strong and eventually she got preganant.”
“How did she get preganant?”
“When you fall in love, you will get preganant!”
“Really!” Akkachi nodded her head.
I made a mental note, never to fall in love with anyone. I didn’t want to get pregnant.
“The prince couldn’t marry her, her parents didn’t want her. They were ashamed that their unmarried daughter is preganant. They threw her out of the house.”
“Did her parents really do that? How can parents do such a thing Akkachi?”
“Don’t know Nina.”
“What did the girl do? What happend to the baby?”
“The girl didn’t have any money, so she became a nishashalabham(night butterfly)
“What happend to the baby she gave birth to?” I looked at Akkachi, suddenly I understood. ” Akkachi, that baby girl is you, right?”
“Right Nina”. Akkachi nodded her head.

15 thoughts on “Nishashalabham

  1. thats sad.. but in those days caste was a real criminal!.. and things haven;t changed once you go into rural areas!.. however cities have changed but things still exists!

  2. Nishashalabham or night butterfly sounds so romantic while the reality that it hides is a ageold blot on humanity.

    However, I thought kings/princes (and in kerala the Brahmins) were allowed to have women in lower castes as their wives just that they wont be the first choice wife.

    It is a loophole in the Manuvadi theory that was scientific motivated too. Bring the good (beautiful) genes that women from lower castes would have into the upper classes but dont allow the same to go other way around since India and Manuvadi theory is predominantly patriarchial.

  3. Sarah,
    Now you are speaking in riddles. What does night butterfly mean? And do u still play the piano. Passed thru kottayam this weekend and was trying to keep track of all the places u mention…the cream bun bakery and the bus stand….

  4. Nigth butterfly is a euphemism for “night duty” or a prostitute if I am not mistaken..this is how women typically enter the flesh trade..abandoned by their lovers..or else it means a concubine
    am i right?
    No wonder so many mallu movies are based on the scars of illegitimate is so real in society..and the stigma attached to that..


  5. I think that was difficult for Akkachi to tell … it’s something which must have hurt her! It is such a pity the father and her mom couldn’t marry … this cast-system is SO cruel!
    Beautifully narrated – I love the way you are writing!

  6. When Akkachi told me her mother is a nisha shalabham, i thought it is a job like a doctor or engineer. My malayalam was bad then, and the word sounded too sophisticated. Now I do understand what her mother did, but I also understand the reason why she did.. She is good enough to bear a child for the upper class, but not good enough to be a life partner.

    Thanu: Yes i did learn the piano..

    Starrynights: It is still same today.. We still look for status, caste and creed when we look for a suitable proposal for our children..

    Lg: i know. her story had to be told…

    Sujit: if we learn that we are all same.. then this world would be a better place

    Ullas: manusmriti is the root cause of all trouble in India..It glorified the caste system..
    In kerala, a Hypergamous marriage where a nair women is allowed to marry an upperclass enhance the stauts of her tharavadu..
    Upper class man is allowed to cocubines in the lower class..that would only be for sexual relationship..because the offspring of that relation doesn’t have any inhritance rights.. .

    Adrika: have you found the better bakery, near kanjikuzhy junction?? Hope you had lunch at besthotel??

    Displaced _mallu: I guess, if there was never a caste system, so many children like Akkachi wouldn’t have had to carry the unncessary burden..

    I love Munich: We had the caste system, but the British.. when they ruled us, they took it to the limits..they used the caste system to divide India further..
    Life was hard for people like Akkachi..and there are so many like them..

    has to be me: I agree

    Mathew: Now you know how naive I was.. I really thought that was how babies were born( akkachi’s theory abt the zipper in my tummy!)

    Shankari: It is still there..wrecking the lives of many

    Too many: There comes a time, when you love someone truly, you have to let them Gibran said..if you truly love someone, let him go.. if he come back, he is yours, if he didn’t, then he was never meant to be yours.. I think Akkachi’s mother followed that..She loved him truly!

  7. Peolpe rarely broach the bird n the bees with kids n thats where u hear kids saying one would get pregnant kissing 😉

    It is sad the stories one unearths just by listening –

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