“Marathekeri.” That’s what her mother Mary calls Julie. She is different. She is a chattakari, chattakari meaning Anglo-Indian girl from Kerala. She does unusual things. She climbs trees, she sits under them and dreams and when Mary calls out to her to clean the fish and chop the beef she goes and sits near the backwaters and watches the boats glide by.
“Girl, how will you tend to your family if you are like this?” Mary would ask.
“Mamma, don’t get on my nerves,” Julie would say.
She likes dark colors. She paints her lips blood red.
People just stare at her, turn around and say, “There goes our chattakari.”
“Phoo, poda,” she would say to them.
She likes to read. She reads Jane Austen and William Makepeace Thackeray. “Vanity Fair” is a favorite. She thinks she is English though she is half Malayalee.
“She has a Madamma’s blood in her you know. That’s why she is like that,” people say.
That day she climbed and sat on a huge tree in the compound her home in Trivandrum. The tree is old and gnarled. It looks like a Banyan tree. She actually meant to climb to the topmost branch. But she lost interest half way and she just sat there watching some children play.
The day was hot; it was also humid. She heard Mary call her, “Marathekeri, you again on that old tree? Wait till Pappa comes. I will tell him.”
But she doesn’t listen. She is listening to the sound of her inner voice. A voice that tells her she shouldn’t be here sitting on this tree. A voice inside that tells her she should stop dreaming of where beautiful women sit in beautiful parlors and speaking in hushed tones in the English countryside.
“You tell him what you want, Mamma, I am not afraid,” She calls out to Mary.
Then she listens to her inner voices.
“Julie you should fall in love. Didn’t Dennis make an advance during the last Christmas dance at the Railway Institute?”
“But I don’t like Dennis, he is so naïve.”
“But then how will you be like the heroine Amelia and her suitor Dobbin in “Vanity Fair”?”
“But Dennis isn’t like Dobbin at all.”
“What’s the matter? It’s time you had someone. Momma calls you a “marathekeri” meaning climber of trees. You can’t climb trees like this all the time. You are older now. You have to give up your childish petulance.”
“I am not petulant. And don’t call me a “Marathekeri” just because I like climbing on trees.”
“Oh, how can I tell you something without you flinging it back at me?”
“I do what I like. I am Julie. I don’t need your advice.”
“Then do what you want. I am not bothered.”
She climbs down with a heavy heart. The day is still hot. Amelia was in her heart and her mind. She very much wanted Dennis to propose to her. But then what about her dream of Amelia, of being with soft gentle people who talk in whispers in the gentle countryside of England? Marrying Dennis would mean accepting the life of a railway man’s wife in some godforsaken remote railway station in India, like her mother Mary.
“Oh, tell me voice what should I do?”
The voice didn’t answer.
“Voice, voice, don’t leave me like this. Answer me. Don’t leave me like this.”
The voice didn’t answer.
"Oh, voice where are you? Don't leave me like this, please!" Julie cried bitterly.
The voice doesn't answer. The voice is dead.
Ó John P Matthew 2005