Sonu’s English medium schooling

A short story
If the child is the studying kind, it will study anyhow!” Venkamma grumbles loudly from the kitchen. Relegated to the far end of the house the kitchen is a dark room. Rice bubbles on a copper pot over an old kerosene stove. The wall white washed for her son’s wedding has turned brown in patches. A three feet high trim of tar runs at the bottom of all the walls. The beams of the ceiling are painted with tar and Cashew rind oil. The heat from the wood fire and the summer make the tar ooze down towards the walls.

Your ears don’t hear?! I am talking to you!” Venkamma calls out angrily. 

Why shouldn’t my ears hear?!” Devaki snaps from the store room. A tongue without a bone, Venkamma says of her daughter-in-law, whenever she raises her voice a little above normal with a come-back.
 I want Sonu to go to an English medium school. What will he do with a Kannada medium education when people who can speak English don’t get jobs!!” She sighs and continues“Amma, if it were a girl, I wouldn’t worry so much. She would get married and with God’s grace to a man who would support her and the children. This is a boy, if we cannot give him an English medium education, he will just become an A/C mechanic or a painter with no future!”

The young woman walks into the kitchen, tucking in the corner of her saree into her waist, picks up a hand cloth and a kitchen wipe, both recycled from her husband’s *Mundu. With one cloth in each hand she bends down and lifts the still bubbling rice pot up and off the fire and walks thudding heavily to a wooden container, to drain the rice.

Where is Santhu going to find the money for an English medium education?!” Venkamma exclaimed. Santhu was Santhosh, her son. “Where? Where is he going to find the money from? Do you hear me?!” 

Yes! Amma! I hear you! I don’t know how or where he is going to find the money! Perhaps the same way he found it to gamble at the cock fight last week!” Devaki snaps. 

Venkamma mixes the chilli paste quietly and then after a a couple of minutes of silence, I wonder who he borrowed from this time. Irresponsible! He always was that way! I thought marriage would change him, then I thought fatherhood would. But he...” Venkamma stops and sighs.

Devaki’s lifts her arm slightly to press against her eyes. The sleeve of her green blouse snug against her upper arm show the dark stains of tears. She sniffs to contain her runny nose and resumes cleaning the Sardines. 

What did he sell this time? Is it your finger ring?” Venkamma urges Devaki to reveal. But the girl keeps silent. “Just don’t give him your **Kariyamani. I will not be able to bear the shame.” 

Devaki continues with her work. Tears roll out fresh. She cannot see what she was doing, but her hands know. The Kariyamani was gone along with the other gold. What she now wore was an ‘artificial’ necklace that resembled the real one. 

His father was not like that”, Venkamma continued. “A good man, drank occasionally, but never beat me or ask to sell my gold. My gold disappeared after he died. Santhu said he needed  the money to go to Saudi. We didn’t tell you as you were just married. He was offered a job at an oil company. One day he came in the evening, drunk, and told me that the oil company had closed down. The money he gave them was non-refundable. It was a beautiful set I had sold all for nothing...a necklace, a finger ring and ear studs. It is all fate.” She muttered indicating her forehead.

Devaki knew there had been no job in Saudi. He had sold the gold to bet on a India vs Pakistan cricket match and bet against India. India won.

Venkamma looked sideways at her daughter-in-law. She knew the Kariyamani was sold as was the other gold her daughter in law had worn for her wedding. But wondered when Devaki would tell her about it. She now regretted demanding that Devaki quit her job as a teacher in a municipality school. Should she propose she start working again? How could they afford the school fees every year if the child were to go to an English medium school? Santhu gave them just a hundred rupees a day, if at all, from his job as a painter. She was sure he must be earning at least four hundred rupees a day. 

But on the other hand, she thought, as she bent down to pick up the plate of cleaned fish, on the other hand, Santhu may start demanding her salary for his gambling and drinking. No, she decided as she finished coating the last fish with the chilli paste, best not to ask Devaki to get a job. She passed the plate on to Devaki who is standing nearby waiting for the fish. “There is just enough semolina to coat these fish, remember to buy some when you go out this evening.”

That evening after siesta, Devaki gets ready to go to the Central market to buy groceries. Venkamma calls out from the kitchen “Get my grandson dressed as well, I am coming out with you. I haven’t got out of the house for some time now.”

They get off the bus at the market. Venkamma holds on to Sonu’s arm and says “Let’s go to the jewellery store first. I am selling my mother’s diamond ear stud.”

Diamond?!” exclaims Devaki. “Diamond?!” 

Yes. It was my mother’s. Just one stud; I don’t have the other of the pair, it was sold long ago.” She said squinting at the shops they were passing by. “My grandfather, as you and the rest of the town is aware, was a rich man and we came from a good family, a very good family. Look, where we have come to now. Anyway, There are eight diamonds in it. We should get enough for my grandson’s admission to the English medium school.” She tousled the little boy’s hair. “Don’t tell Santhu about this. If he asks you how you managed to get the admission fee just tell him that I had some savings from over the years and decided this would be best time to use it. Do you hear me?!”

Devaki reaches out for her son’s free hand and says “I can hear you Amma.”

Whatever money is left over from the admission fee we can buy him uniforms, books, shoes and waterbottle” She said excitedly ”What kind of water bottle would you like Sonu?” Sonu keeps his head down and replies “Tom and Jerry”.

After we finish at the jewellery store lets go to the sugarcane juice shop. It is so hot today!”

As they near the store Venkamma thinks of the other diamond stud tied securedly within a knot of the end of an old saree, folded at the bottom of her trunk. She catches her breath when a blast of cold air from the air conditioning hits her face, as she enters the store. A soft satisfaction covers her chest.

All Rights Reserved. © 2011 Padmavani Karkera


*Mundu: A sarong like garment worn by men, usually at home. A full length Sarong that starts from the waist and reaches right down to the toes.
**Kariyamani: Kariya=Black Mani=Beads. A chain/necklace made of black beads and gold worn by a married woman. The most important piece of jewellery worn by a married women at all times.


  1. Hi Padmavani, I enjoyed this short story very much. It is multilayered and speaks of many things; the older woman who has had many years of living with a the son, and hence has learned to wisely 'put something away for a rainy day.' There is the tension at first between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, but this changes as the mother recognises the damage her son has caused more fully. She also realises that if her grandson is ever to get out of the same trap he must have an excellent education - the best, and for this she is willing to sacrifice. The only part of the story I am not so sure about is the beginning, in that most stories have somekind of an introduction, even if it just a sentence. This story immerses us immediately into the meat of the story. Even something like: Bhupal, Helmud Province, 1979 (obviously made up here!) would provide some kind of a setting to ground the reader as to the time and place at the beginning. Other than this it is a wonderfully written and worthwhile story which I related to a great deal as my father was a gambler, and there is intense shame involved for the family. I hope this is enough Padmavani, if you would like me to comment further, please let me know! Blessings, Elizabeth.

  2. Hi Padmavani, I absolutely loved this story. Very beautifully presented. I especially liked the relationship between the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, love hate!! There is hope and optimism in this story and I smiled at the ending. You are blessed with your words. I am looking forward to reading many such more stories. All the best!! Vidya


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