A Book About Violence, Trauma, Choice, Identity, And The Journey To Find Oneself In The Wild

Residents of a small town in Tamil Nadu are stunned by the beheading of a prominent man, whose head is missing from the scene of the crime. Everyone suspects Veni, a geography teacher at the local school, but she appears to have vanished from the face of the earth.

Anupama Mohan
Dec 13, 2022 13:47 IST
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Where Mayflies Live Forever

Where Mayflies Live Forever by Anupama Mohan is a suspenseful mystery and a story about one woman’s self-discovery in the natural world. An excerpt:


How does the day go for me now, you ask? The men leave in the morning after their silent ablutions and do not return until the sun has entered the trees. The boys come for their lunch, which they eat in silence, sometimes not even asking for more until I forcefully put some on their plates. Appa doesn’t join for lunch but returns by four o’clock, and then I give him his usual coffee with some fritters, and he waits quietly for dinner. The boys leave home aft er lunch and return late in the night, having eaten somewhere outside, and while Chinna does what he does, his elder brother keeps guard all the time, both sons lost to me now. And what to say of my husband? When evening becomes night, his fears return, he turns forgetful and is quick to go to sleep, seeking an escape from waking. We talk so little nowadays.

And then what do I do? I am turning down the lights, checking with the old woman, as the house grows still as a cemetery. No one watches the television anymore for fear of the news. Veni has taken the sounds of our home with her and tongueless we all are, as we sit, waiting for answers. You might say, I had this coming. I told her to be quiet when it all happened four years ago but I thought like a mother and I wanted to save her from the shame and suffering. You are a woman yourself, Amma, tell me, what would you have advised your daughter? But may God never visit such a fate on you or yours. What am I saying? Women must bear so much in silence and grief: so my mother taught me and so I said to my daughter. Was it wrong, you think? Have the times changed so much for women that there are alternatives? I can’t see past this, this fog of shame, so how could I tell my daughter any diff erent? A violation is for all time; like childbirth, we carry its mark for life. Can you rub out the scars?

They grow lighter, yes, but they remain. They can, however, be forgotten, little by little, like a bad dream one dimly remembers after many years, only its fear still haunting but all other details slowly misremembered or misplaced somewhere in a pocket of the mind. It can be done. I told her as much, but she wouldn’t let it go. She and her husband can work this out, despite the loss of the baby, I told her this. Little pāpa, barely knew life. Veni would joke with her brothers she was bringing them a gift but it was so big that wrapping it would take her nine months, at the end of which, she would present them with a surprise. There is no greater sorrow for a mother than the loss of her child, but I say, when you are young, you can rise from even this. I told her and her husband, they could try again for another child, but they needed to leave Sittanavasal. There was too much pain and woe in this place; here, they were like birdlings without a nest, too much in the open, too near the brink of eternal sorrow. But there was also danger, black as sin; nothing is as it used to be. So I suggested to both of them to move to Chennai; I have a few relatives there, and though they all know of the scandal, one or two of them agreed to quietly help. This is what family is for. How many nights I made this plea to this girl, but she would not relent. She had resolved to get back to her school-teaching and couldn’t be swayed from that decision. Her husband simply vanished after a point; I don’t know if he resigned from his job. I have heard that he has been seen occasionally in hotels, but no one has a fixed address for him.

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Veni did not run after him which I found so strange and, on this matter too, my pleas went unheeded. A mother is an unwanted thing after a certain age – who will listen to her warnings? Alas, I myself have been guilty of not listening to my mother or Aatha here, but now that it has befallen me, I know what they meant. Someday, Veni will know too. But now, they say, she has gone missing? It is beyond belief what they are saying, that she was seen walking with someone’s head in her hand. Is that even possible? Is she some Kali or Durga? She is Veni! Where were these people four years ago when my daughter screamed for help and cried for months on end? My whole family has been shattered by events beyond our control. If there is a god in the heavens, which I now greatly doubt, should my daughter continue to be punished in this way?

Excerpt from: Where Mayflies Live Forever by Anupama Mohan, ₹599, Picador India.  This excerpt has been published with permission from, Pan Macmillan India.

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#Where Mayflies Live Forever by Anupama Mohan