Who is Sheryl Varghese?
Who is Sheryl Varghese?7 mins 176 7 mins 176
Charu stopped the car and got out. She pulled the polaroid photo out of her bag.
“Yes, it is the same villa”, She murmured.
She holds up the photo and compares it to the Villa, a few meters away. It is definitely, the villa from the photo albeit a little more aged, showing signs of neglect, but still standing proud amidst the sea of surrounding modern abodes.
Charu walks up to the gate of the villa with a rapidly increasing heartbeat. As she nears it, she starts to hear someone humming an upbeat Malayalam folk song. She peers through the bars of the gate and sees an embodiment of joy.
There is an old lady dressed up in battered dungarees with a white bandana tied on her head. Her rubber gloved hands are busy pruning the flowers, while she hums her tune. A mongrel of indeterminate age and pedigree is sunning himself at her feet.
To Charu, the old lady seems like a pixie come alive, just watching her lovingly take care of flowers, brings a smile on her face.
“Bow! Bow! Bow!” Charu is startled out of her revere. She looks at the dog, who is slowly walking towards her, barking.
The old lady turns towards Charu and says, “Hello?”. The dog, his duty down flops down to sun himself again.
The old lady walks towards the gate and smiles. Her smile is like undiluted moonbeam that takes away sorrow, Charu finds her smiling in response, her impression of the lady being a pixie strengthened.
“How may I help you?”, the old lady enquires. Suddenly, Charu is tongue-tied and wants for words, “I ah oh…..”, she holds up the book that brought her to the Villa and shows it to the lady.
The old lady takes off her glove and reaching into her pocket pulls out a pair of specs and puts them on and peers closely at the book. She is still confused. Charu remembers the polaroid and pulls it out and shows the lady.
“Oh…” says the old Lady, “Where did you find it?”
“At the bookstore next to the library on the David Hall Road.”
“Pardon my manners”, said the Lady. “Come in dear, it is quite warm today.”, She continued, opening the gate and taking Charu by her arm and walking towards the door of the villa. The dog, still sprawled, follows them with his eyes.
The lady ushers Charu in and tells her to sit down on the sofa. Charu looks around the room. It is clean but aged like the owner. She sees pictures of the younger version of the lady on the walls.
In the center of one of the walls is a formal portrait of a young couple smiling self-consciously at the camera.
“That’s Peter, my husband, friend and partner. It’s been 10 years, since he left for his heavenly abode.”
Charu turns and see the old lady standing in front of her. Charu really sees her for the first time. The old lady looks to be a sprightly seventy-year-old with more salt than pepper hair cut in a page boy style. The most arresting feature was her eyes. They had a self-confident look about them and an odd serenity that comes only with a life time of victory over struggles.
“I am Sheryl Varghese.”, she stretches her hand out. Charu jumps up and grasps her hand and gently shakes it
“I am Charu.”
“Sit down my dear, would you like some lemonade?” asks Sheryl.
“No Thank you”., answers Charu.
“So, who are you and what brings you here?”
Charu feels self-conscious as it was just an idle quest that brought her here.
“ I ah.. um studying law at NYU and have come down to Kerala to visit my grandmother, who is seriously ill.”
“We stay at Fort Kochi and my father, Mr. Oomen is a carpet exporter”
“What is your grandmother’s name?”, asks Sheryl
“Grace. Grace Oomen”
“Did she attend the Santa Cruz High School?”
“Yes! She did.”
“Wow it is a small world”, exclaims Sheryl
“Do you know her?”, asks Charu eagerly
“Yes. Grace and I were best mates in the school.”
“But, she never mentioned you.”
“Not surprising. After the incident we drifted apart and lost touch completely when she got married.”, says Sheryl wistfully.
“What incident?”, Charu
“Never mind. Tell me what happened to Grace?”
“She is having multiple problems and is confined to the bed. Tell me Sheryl how was my grandma in school?”
Sheryl smiles and says, “Oh Grace was the original rebel, a complete tomboy. In fact, she was the reason why I have this pageboy cut.”
“My grandma?”, Charu wonders. She always remembered her grandma with long well-oiled and braided hair.
“Yes, we both used to smuggle Hollywood magazines and ape the actresses. Once day Grace decided that she was Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and both of us chopped our hair off.”
Charu and Sheryl laugh out loud. “My grandma, unbelievable!”
“We both were beaten and confined to the house.”
“Your great grandfather was a martinet. Grace relented and grow her long again, but I continued, as my father supported me.”
“I still remember the first time I stole my father’s cigarettes and sneaked out with Grace to the beach and smoked them.”
Charu, looks on wonderingly.
Sheryl looks Charu in the eye and says, “Your grandma is a free spirit. She is like an eagle born in a sparrow’s nest. She always wanted to soar the skies, but her parents held her back.”
“Not their fault, really, it was the feudal society that we lived in. Its same, even today.”
Sheryl looks at the novel, Charu is holding in her hand and asks, “Have you read it?”
“No. Before I could the picture fell out and I ended up here with you.”
“Do you know, who wrote the novel?”, Sheryl questions.
Charu looks at the cover and says, “it says Savitri, here.”
“Savitri is a pseudonym.”
“Do you know the author?”, Charu eagerly.
“Yes. Even you do.”
“Me!”, exclaims Charu.
“It was written by Grace, your grandma.”
“What!”, Charu is completely stunned.
“Not many people know that Grace was a brilliant writer. She would bring the world alive through her writing.”
Sheryl looks at Charu sitting stunned with the novel held, limply in their hands.
“Notice anything about the cover?”, she enquires
“Yes. It is a strange one. What is the meaning of a face without eyes, but with tears, nose and lips.?”
“The cover was designed by our arts teacher, Mr. Richard. In fact, he was the one, who encouraged Grace to write. Watching them together was like seeing Pygmalion come alive.”
“Grace wrote the novel depicting the life of a young intelligent girl bound by old traditions and practices in feudal India.”
Sheryl continues, “The painting of women says it all. We want our girls to be able to normal and use all senses except seeing. We don’t want them to observe society and its mores. But we want them to live normal lives. This is suffocating and that is the reason for tears and no eyes.”
“Grace poured her heart and soul in the writing of this novel. It was brilliant. Mr. Richard tried to find publishers for it but could not, so he ended up putting his life saving into printing 100 copies and distributing them. Everyone loved it, but most of the people raged against the unknown author.”
“Then one day, somehow people came to know that Grace had written the novel and Mr. Richard had helped.”
“Grace was taken out of the school, beaten and shut in her home. Mr. Richard lost his job and was thrown out of his residence provided by the school. There was a police case against him.”
“Few days later, he was found murdered in the hotel room, where he was staying.”
“That was the last I heard of both Grace and Mr. Richard. My father sent me away to England for studies. There I heard that Grace had gotten married. I lost touch.”
“When I returned, my mother had given away all my old things including the novel you are holding in your hand.”, Sheryl said, wiping away the stray tear.
Charu sat stunned, but yet oddly proud of her grandma, who never revealed the great strength that she had shown in the past. Grace was a silent fighter and even now on her deathbed, she was fighting.
While Charu is sitting and wondering, the doorbell rings.
“Who can it be?”, mutters Sheryl as she moves towards the door and opens it.
Charu looks towards the door and sees a tall handsome young man walk in and hug Sheryl and gently lift her off her feet.
Sheryl laughs and turns towards Charu and says, “This is my grandson Andrew.”
“Andrew, she is Charu, Grace’s granddaughter.”