What would you do if you were left alone at 21?
And burdened with an enterprise you have no passion for?
If you were normal, you would run away or at least wish you could.
But I, Sharanya Murugan, the sole owner of ‘Murugan Textile Mills Limited’ am making rounds of the factory with my floor manager.
My father disappeared when I was 10 years old. I was heartbroken.
My mother was not very saddened by it. I didn’t think much of it then, but now it feels strange. She continued to manage the factory with aunt Gayatri, till she too disappeared 5 years ago. I was aghast. How could it happen to me, twice?
My aunt, a spinster took me along to the factory whenever I came home from the boarding school and then from college.
“You should learn the ropes Sharanya Kutti, I am growing old and you need to take over soon”.
No, she didn’t disappear. She quietly left for an ashram after calling me to say,
“You are competent enough now, Sharanya. It is time I moved away from all this” and added as an afterthought,
“Don’t think you have lost your parents. They are very much around and watching over you.”
So here I am, a graduate in textile engineering, inspecting the machines and the people operating them.
I do not like my life.
Today is the 12th anniversary of Appa’s disappearance. For the first time, I am spending this day alone. In this densely populated city of Madurai, he had vanished into thin air on a full moon night, as if he had walked through a door into another world.
I look at my parents’ photo on the wall. It just hangs there without a garland or a dot of vermillion. They are not dead to me, yet. But I still ask Kamatchi to prepare kheer and meduvada and hold a special prayer.
I try to burrow and look into the recesses of my memories. Something to hold on to, other than an odd endearment or a throw in the air. But draw a blank.
I step into the room that used to be my parents’. I rarely visit this room. I don’t like the mixed feelings it brings. Kamatchi has kept the room spic and span, just as it was back then.
I gaze at two hand-woven wall hangings. The first one- a castle in a dense forest and the other one - a big building with smokeless chimneys. What an odd combination!
Now that I’m in this room, I look for any hint or clue to solve the puzzle. But how could I? The best of Madurai Police had failed to do so.
I sit in my office after signing a few purchase orders. I have a meeting coming up with my marketing team in fifteen minutes. Ganesan, my office assistant walks in.
“Madam, an old man is waiting to meet you. He says he is from Kancheepuram. Shall I send him in?”
I look at my watch and signal to send him in.
An old man of about 80 years walks in. He looks tired and fragile. He is wearing a crisp white dhoti, a bush shirt with an angavastram thrown on his left shoulder. I get up from my chair and say,
“Vanakkam, please take a seat, sir. What brings you here?”
He studies my face intently and then says with a smile,
“You are your father’s daughter, both in looks and in manners”
I am taken aback and say defensively,
“Let’s talk about the reason for your visit, sir. I have an important meeting coming up”
He is not thrown off by my abrupt change in tone but continues amicably,
“I own a Handloom Weaving factory. I am selling it off. While taking inventory we came across a packed unit in the stores. It was not purchased by us.”
I look at the door impatiently.
“On opening it and looking at the frame, we saw the label Murugan Textile Mills”
My ears perk up. Now, I want to know more.
“Anbu Murugan was your age when he came to me. He had already worked in a Coimbatore mill for five years. A hardworking, smart boy.”
He knew about my father more than I did! I struggled with this new information, I wanted to know more despite a stabbing pain in my heart.
“Anyway, to come to the point, we found out it had been sent to us sometime during 2015.”
I feel nauseous. 2015, the year Amma disappeared!
“Imagine, it had been lying there all these years without anyone noticing it! No wonder, my son ran the company to the ground. Kaduvuley! I should not be talking ill about the dead though!”
The old man says with sadness laced with anger.
I feel a sense of kinship with the old man.
“Sir, would you like to have a cup of coffee?” I enquire and ring the bell without waiting for an answer.
Ganesan peeps in and I ask for coffee. I get a glimpse of my marketing team waiting outside.
“We don’t know why it was sent to us. Probably to fix it or as a gift. Anyway, I thought it was proper to return it.”
The old man stands up with an effort. I try to keep him for some more time. But he leaves without finishing his coffee.
“Where is that loom kept?” I ask the storekeeper.
“In the east corner of the room madam, I will take you there”
“No need, I can find it,” I tell as I close the door behind me.
I stand in front of the sturdy-looking Handloom Mill. I run my fingers across the frame and a fine film of dust comes off it.
It feels familiar, like an old endearment, a warm coconut oil head massage.
I come out of the room and tell the storekeeper,
“Palani, get it transported to home and tell Saleem to set it up”.
He seems perplexed and asks,
“Your home, madam?”
I give him a fixing stare aunt Gayatri would be proud of and tell,
The loom is set in my parents’ room much to the chagrin of Kamatchi. I am not very pleased with this arrangement but it is as if something out of my control is making me do it.
I frequent the room now. I feel drawn to it.
I set the spindles, shuttle and a pattern.
I sit and weave late at night at times. A sense of calmness fills me then.
A fortnight later, I have arrived midway through a pattern. I look out of the window; see the full moon.
I continue to work the harness and pass the shuttles as the vivid pattern of dancing forms emerge on the cloth. I had always wanted to be a Bharatanatyam dancer, but here I am sitting and weaving!
I look up at the frame and see its edges glowing. The pattern in the middle has become translucent. It is as if I am staring at a magical window!
My hands pass the shuttles to and fro as I see a distant picture through it. A middle-aged man in a futuristic cabin of a big manufacturing unit is studying holographic projection in front of him. I shout “Appa, what are you doing there?”, but he can’t hear it. A young woman enters the cabin. I can’t see her face but her stance looks familiar. Both of them leave the cabin and move towards a hovercraft waiting outside. The woman driving it gives a big smile as they arrive. “Amma!!” I scream when I look at her.
I pass out.
After a month, again on a full moon night, I see my mother through the same window. She is living in a castle with a crown on her head, deep into woods inhabited only by women. I don’t see Appa there, but I catch a glimpse of my alter-ego in the castle.
This time I am careful.
My reasoning evades me but I know both of them are living the life of their dreams.
How did they stumble across this window? Why did it never occur to them to come back?
After many more moons, and a great deal of observation, I deciphered the code.
You weave a pattern of your deepest desires and greatest ambitions into the loom and it will transport you to your ideal world. A world where you live with no previous memories. A world from which you cannot return.
Did aunt Gayatri know about this secret? Was she the one who had packed and sent it off because it got too tempting for her? Should I use it?