Poniyamman, her family and the animals
Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

A fiction

Bhagavadgita: 18.23. An action which is obligatory, which is performed without attachment, without love or hate by

one undesirous of fruit,  that is said to be of "goodness."

The Ever Toiling Wife

A woman named Poniyamman lived in a town with her in-laws, husband, one son, one daughter, a dog, a cat and a mouse. This looked like a good setup for conflict. She also tended cows, bulls, goats and sheep in her backyard. She had a car, a driver and a help in the kitchen. She got along well with all of them. Others were not so. The dog, the cat and the mouse had a natural antipathy towards each other. The son and the daughter were at odds with each other, always vying for dominance.  The son was younger, though he thought he was better than his sister and always took help from her doing his homework.

The mother-in-law (MIL) was vixen superior, always finding fault with the daughter-in-law (DIL). She was not good enough. She claimed she raised her children better than Poniyamman and took care of her husband better than she did. 

MIL: Look at you. You are a sight to see. Your grooming is atrocious. You are a married woman. Why are you not wearing your flowers? Why is your pottu (forehead mark of a married woman) so small?

FIL: Mannu, don’t talk to your DIL like that. She is doing the best she can. She works all day long taking care of the family, the animals… Did you ever milk the cow in the backyard? And yet you want your coffee right on time, that too served on the bed before you even move a muscle.

MIL: Then why don’t you milk the cow, the goat… and clean the shed. You sit in the front yard under the mango tree and read the newspaper all day long.

FIL: I was the provider of my family and in my retirement, I want to relax and do what I like.

DIL did not want to take sides and get busted and burnt with venomous words from MIL.

The dog was chasing the cat and the cat was after the mouse. The cat jumped on the kitchen shelf and was beyond the reach of the yelping dog. The mouse ran into a hole in the backyard and disappeared. With this event resolved, the animals were safe. A temporary peace prevailed.

The son pulls on the pigtail of his sister. She turns around and tickles him to death in the armpits. He begs her to let him loose and promises he would not yank down her hair. 

Daughter: If you continue to yank my hair, I won’t help you with your homework. Got it. Behave.

Brother: Yes, Sis. Whatever.

Husband returns home from work and brings two strands of jasmine flowers for his wife and tells them to get ready for an evening out. The parents, the children and the dog take off in the car; the driver was given the rest of the day off.

The purring of the car fades and disappears.

MIL: Look at your son. He did not take us with him. I did so much for him. I am a nobody in the house.

FIL: What are you talking about? You have been bossing everyone around in this house. Even the dog and the cat treat you with deference. The cat stops mewing, the dog stops yelping, and the cow stops mooing at your command. The mouse is nowhere to be found.

MIL: Why does our son not take us with him?

FIL: There is no room in the car for all of us. Besides, our son would like privacy with his family. Don’t you remember that you did not want my parents to go with us on our outings?

The mouse ran across the kitchen, the cat chased it and the dog is nowhere to be found. Yes, it went for an outing with the family. Pots and pans clanged and rolled as the cat pounced in and out of them. That was enough to set off the crankiness in high gear in grandma.

MIL: When are we going to get rid of these pests?

FIL: The children like these three companion animals. They go only to the children. The mouse has no fear of them and eats cheese right out of their hands.

The family went to the beach and the children were playing boomerang and Frisbee with the dog.  The dog liked the Frisbee because he could catch it but got frustrated with the boomerang since it came back to the launcher. It was a fun evening for the kids. The snack venders always gravitate to wherever the children are. So it happened. They ate anything he sold.

They took rides in the beach with the dog.  The orange orb of the sun was dipping into the ocean. It was time to go back home.

Everyone freshened up and got ready for the evening meal.  Yes, it was grandma’s cooking. MIL took pride in cooking meals for everybody and appreciated the accolades about her cooking from the family members, esp. the children.  She lived for that moment.

Ponniamman woke up from the bed early in the morning. It was time to milk the cows, whose turgid udders were having spontaneous letdown of milk from the teats. It was time to let the calf suckle and relieve the tension in the udders. The calf ran to the udder, gave it a good muzzle-butting and suckled eagerly. As the calf was satiated with milk, Ponniamman cleaned the teats and milked the cow with no problem. The cow yielded enough milk for the whole family.  Ponniamman never had to tie the legs and restrain the cow for milking. She and the cow got along well with each other and the milk yield was always abundant.

To take up the challenge coming from her husband, MIL once tried to milk the cow in the past. It was a disaster. The cow hit MIL on her rump with its muzzle. That was the end of that experimental challenge. Grandma gave up milking the cow since then. With her bruised ego and rear end, she was bedridden in the prone position for a few days.  Guess, who took care of her needs? Yes, it is DIL.

MIL could not stand the mouse dashing across the kitchen and her bedroom, looking at her mockingly with front paws up in the air.  The children laughed and FIL chided them for their irreverent laughter.  The girl picked up the mouse, stroked it gently on its back and let it go.

The cat was the first one to get up in the house and lick the milk dripping from the cow’s udder. The dog always followed the cat and made it hard for it to lap the cow’s milk from the floor.  Ponniamman tied the dog to a post so it would not bother the cat.

The woman of the house rented her bullocks for field work and earned income to pay for the children’s education and books.

Once the cow ceased to be a milch cow from old age, Ponniamman did not sell it to the local butcher. An animal retirement home was run by a non-profit agency, where old animals retired to die of natural causes.

There were cases of brucellosis in the town. The vets and the doctors recommended the public they boiled the milk before consumption. Some people drank the raw cow’s milk and came down with the disease. Some infants and old people died of the disease.  Ponniamman always boiled the milk before she let her family drink it.

She collected the cow dung and made patties and slapped them on the walls of the barn. Once the cow dung patties were bone dry, she used them as fuel for cooking. She always washed her hands after making the patties.

She found it took too much of her time to tend to the goats and sheep. She sold them to the marketers of goat’s milk.

She worked hard and supplemented her husband’s income to maintain a good standard of living. The children helped her maintain a vegetable garden, where they grew okra, brinjal (eggplant), greens and herbs for daily use in the kitchen.

One day, when Ponniamman went to her bedroom to wake her up for coffee, she found MIL was having stertorous breathing. FIL was fast asleep and did not even hear her noisy breathing. MIL was unconscious. She placed a call for an ambulance and took her to the hospital. Mil stayed there for two weeks and luckily was not handicapped with paralysis. She recovered fully.

MIL thought if it were not for her DIL, she might have died or been paralyzed permanently. She appreciated DIL's timely help. DIL gave the daily medications right on time to MIL.

MIL had a change of heart and mind after so many years of putting down her DIL. The fact she was alive and well was due to timely help she received from her DIL.  FIL was also happy with DIL’s timely help for him to stay as a couple with his wife. Children and the father were happy they had grandma around the house.

The family realized how much burden DIL carried on her shoulders in keeping the family fed, nurished and nurtured. Out of true love, they decided they will have a Mother's Day. That was the day, they celebrated the Mother who worked for no remuneration. Her work was one of love. DIl received a repieve from daily chores and was out with the entire family for a sumptuous meal in a restaurant.

She had no washer and dryer. She did all the washing and dried the clothes on the clothes line. Luckily for her, the daughter did all the coaching and help with the homework for her brother. Here again, a mother was in the making.  

The father walked the dog every day of the week.

The father took his parents and the family every Friday to the local temple by bus. Once a month, he took his wife to eatery, leaving the children and his parents at home. That was her day in the month. 

March 25, 2016

Vicious Dog Attacks Husband

One day, on the way back home from the bustop (The car was in the shop.), he was attacked by a dog a few blocks from the home and was admitted with leg injuries and lacerations. When the family was waiting anxiously for him, a phone call came saying he was admitted in the hospital for lacerations. DIL rushed to the hospital and stayed by his bedside all night long. Next day, he was discharged. He took 2 weeks to recover from the dog bite and go back to work. Luckily for him, he did not need rabies shots. He was on antibiotics. That was a vicious dog, and was reported to the Kusalam City Animal Control Department. That dog was a known biter. This time, the ACD put him to sleep, which Ponniamman family regretted. Their own dog was people lover and always wagged its tail even to strangers. And yet it liked to chase the cat more as a play activity.

Ponniyamman works in a hospital
Cat was shedding hair more than usual. It was licking the body with dry crusts and losing the hair. The vet diagnosed it as a fungal infection and gave cream to apply. The condition subsided and the hair was growing back again. It was again DIL who took care of the cat. The children did not catch any fungal infection from the cat.
Ponniamman had a degree in nursing and education. She was weighed down by family responsibilities that prevented her from keeping a fulltime job in nursing. To keep in touch with nursing advances, she worked in the local hospital in the emergency room. She took care of patients with heart attacks, infectious diseases, accidents…

March 27, 2016

She was on call, when a scheduled nurse called in sick, and worked on weekends. She went to schools and surrounding villages, when time permitted, to educate the people and children on hygiene, prevention and home remedies. Mosquitoes were a menace. It was not uncommon to see persons with mosquito borne illnesses like elephantiasis.  She was a popular educator and nurse among students and people. The students called her nurse Ponni.  Yes, she was a nurse instructor in her children's school. Her children were proud of her services to the community.

At her home, she had indoor toilets and running water and showers. The city water supply was erratic and unpredictable and so she had an overhead tank to insure constant supply of water.

People who did not have indoor plumbing used well water for toilets and showers, and drinking water fetched from a large local pond that collected rain water. It was full of debris, fecal matter... People boiled that water before drinking. People who did not boil suffered from diarrheal diseases. The well water was too brackish to drink.

Fun Times

For entertainment, people listened to the radio for music and plays, went to the movie houses, fares… There were street performers, vaudeville… Supple and lax-jointed adults and children showed their contortionist displays on the streets and open spaces. Children climbed poles and stood on heads on the upper end of the pole. People painted themselves over the bodies looking like tigers with yellow and black stripes and danced menacingly. Some people went from door to door taking their dancing bears to perform for a fee.  The monkey handlers squat on the bazar street and make the monkey to do jumping, vaulting and other tricks that delighted children and adults.  To make the monkey safe for the onlookers, the teeth were pulled out. They were fed bananas and soft food for nutrition. Then, there were the fortune tellers with parrot, which pulled cards with the fortune of the paying client written on it.  Bullocks were also used for entertainment. The handler went from house to house telling stories and seeking the approval of the bullock to which the bullock nodded its head. There were some but not many dog shows. 


There were snake charmers with snake baskets on a street show.  The charmer plugged the fang with wax so it cannot eject the poison. Pulling the fang was common. But it grew back. The snake charmer played a wind instrument (Pungi) moving it sideways and in a circular fashion pretending to charm the snake, which followed the motion of the wind instrument with an extended hood.  (The snake does not have ears and therefore it does not hear but feels the vibration and follows the motion of the Pungi.)

It was common to see a fight between a mongoose and a cobra arranged for a short period by the snake charmer. The mongoose giggles and tries to sink its teeth on the hood of hissing cobra.  Mongoose has mutations in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor that protect against snake venom. It is common to see a fight between a leashed mongoose and a cobra arranged for a short period by the snake charmer. The fight is short and sweet and so the cobra does not die. In actual fight, the cobra tires easily, while the giggling mongoose endures longer.


The circus came to town every few years.  The usual tiger, lion, elephant, horse, and dog shows were common. The daredevil motorbike stunt rides inside the grilled globe of death were common.

Ponniyamman dies of pneumonic Plague

Ponniamman developed flu-like symptoms with fever, headache, vomiting, cough, shortness of breath. and spitting of bloody sputum   She took antipyretic and went to see the doctor, who put her on doxycycline on suspicion it was pneumonic plague.  A few days later, she died. she went too late to the doctor. An autopsy was performed and specimens were sent for laboratory analysis. The entire family, on the advice of the doctor took prophylactic antibiotic for 7 days.

She was cremated. The family mourned for the loss, survived by MIL, FIL, husband, the children, the dog, the cat and the mouse. The millstone fell off her shoulders and she was liberated. Lab reports revealed that she died of pneumonic plague.

Who will milk the cow? Who will take care of the dog and the cat? The mouse is on its own. Who will take care of cooking, cleaning and minding the children and the rest? Who will stand in her place, doing social work? Some needed immediate attention. The father assumed the responsibility. The millstone came to rest on his shoulders.

The bereft husband’s name was Pandiyan. He hired a woman to do all the household duties. The children and the grandparents were happy with her. She was a widowed woman living next door. Not much of a commute to work. She was about two years older than him. Luckily, no one knew her age. She looked younger than her chronological age. The salaried woman went by the name Kusali. She was unlike the now dead wife of Pandiyan. FIL and MIL liked her looks, her carriage and her dedication. The children adored her. She made it possible for children to treat her as their mother. The dog, the cat and the mouse were good too in their own way. The cow was very docile when she milked it. The stage is set for a romance between Pandiyan and Kusali. Both came from the same caste. The subcastes were different. That did not deter MIL, FIL and Pandiyan. The stage is set for a romance between Pandiyan and Kusali.  The children were not yet initiated into the ugliness of caste differences and hierarchy.
April 19, 2016

Pandiyan marries Kusali

Quickly, she transitioned from a helper to a date and finacee of Pandiyan. They went to movies, restaurants, parks, shopping… She became a virtual mother to the children, taking them to school, games… She became a welcome addition to the family and soon, they were married. The transition from a neighbor, to home help to date and finally to a spouse was on a fast track. She made that transition so easy for herself and for the rest of her new family.

Kusali was from a rich family and independently wealthy. She received steady income from her real estate.  Her now deceased husband left her immense wealth, another member of old money.  Why did she take up the job of a maid in Pandiyan household? She was really not a maid but a caretaker. She knew the family for many years and developed a liking for it. 

Since she had income coming every month, she employed servants to milk the cow and do the household chores and sold off other animals. Though she contributed substantially in the running of the family, she was not an arrogant woman and boasted to none of her wealth. She treated the children as her own and was a loving wife. The parents of Pandiyan were proud of their new daughter-in-law. She had a college degree in Home Science. She dedicated herself in social service in the town for two days a week.

April 21, 2016

Pandiyan , the councilman

Pandiyan worked for an export and import company and could afford to commute to work by car. His new wife encouraged him to stand in the election to become the councilman for his district. The erstwhile councilman was corrupt and forced to resign. The election cycle was due in the next few months. With his wife’s popularity as a social worker, Pandiyan had good chance of winning the elections. The families of Kusali and Pandiyan participated in the election campaign and he was elected the councilman for his ward. Special perks came with the job. Kusali and Pandiyan made a vow to each other that they would not abuse the privileges that came with the job. He drove to work every day and on his leisure time visited the schools, hospitals, wards… to enquire and learn their needs. He was a good councilman. With his contacts in the former position, he helped develop commerce in the city.  

The Hellhole of Corruption

The monthly income of Pandiyan went down considerably. He told his wife to run the family within his means. Contracts within his ward and the city need approval of the mayor and councilmen. This was where the incipient corruption crept in starting with the peons, councilmen, the mayor and the contractors.  Kickbacks from contractors to the ward councilman and the mayor were common. A watchdog commission oversaw all the contracts. That sacrosanct body became a victim of corruption. Pandiyan himself could not eradicate the corruption root and all. This was where his wife came in. She was fabulously rich with many buildings under her ownership and control. Her now dead husband built the hospital, the airport, the roads, the bridges…all under a transparent code of ethical conduct. He made it big just being honest. Kusali wanted to do the same with her money.  Yes, she had a bank in her name (Kusali Bank) which her late husband opened a few years before his death. With this background, they did not need to engage in corrupt practices. The police commissioner was Kusali’s brother.  Her other brother was one of the judges of the State Supreme Court.

How was he with his wife eradicate the corruption in the city of Kusalam? The forefathers of Kusali owned large tracts of agricultural land, which became the city. The city bore a name after the forefathers: Kusalam. Yes, Kusali owned half the town. She knew she and her husband had to tread carefully the thicket of corruption. Because of corruption, all the city’s public works cost a third more than the fair price. The contractors with predatory profit motive, used substandard material costing the city more in repairs… The city did not develop fully and there were large agricultural land belonging Kusali remaining unbuilt, vacant and unused for farming. She built a park at her expense with fruiting trees, flowering plants…and transferred the ownership to the city. The mayor opened the park and named it, Kusalam Park. The city maintained the park. With this charity and largess going to the city and the public, her name and fame grew. She had more clout in the city than the mayor himself. She and Pandiyan made sure that they did not step on the toes of authorities in the city. Their conduct was above reproach. Pandiyan was no more Pandiyan but Kusali’s husband. He did not mind and did not take it as an insult. His effacement of ego was remarkable and accommodated a love for his wife. Kusali’s respect for her husband was complete and undiminished from the time she married him. She kept her maiden name to honor her forefathers.  

The governor of the state was a close friend of Ms. Kusali. The prime and chief ministers visited with her in her house, while visiting the city. Kusali had no desire to hold an office in the city government. She was far away from any corruption. But she was determined to eradicate it with the help of her husband. She could not have a city of her forefathers be a hellhole of corruption. Her presence was the sine qua non of all governmental, social, and public events. Now that she married Pandiyan, he invariably accompanied her for all events.

There was a train of sycophants, job seekers, influence peddlers, contractors, mere citizens with grievances…lining up for an audience with her in her office. Her secretary disposed many with polite and helpful words but allowed people who needed grievance redress to visit with her. Whosoever got no audience with her were referred to the city government department and other facilities for resolution.

The businessmen, contractors, lobbyists…were always at the door to influence Pandiyan, the councilman. They were invariably reprimanded and rebuffed.  Other councilmen or womaen spread a welcome mat, and benefitted from them with goods and services. In return they received what they asked for. The cozy relationship was detrimental to the city.

April 25, 2016

The mayor hired known reformed crooks, put them on salary and spread them out in the city to keep a pulse on unethical and corrupt practices costing the city much wasted money. They gathered information and passed it on to the mayor. A businessman wanted to start a toothbrush manufacturing factory in the city. He hired an attorney to seek prime land at the lowest possible price, and get the license and the capital. The attorney went around scouting for the prime property. One belonged to Ms. Kusali and another belonged to co-op farming community.   Kusali was in no mood or need for money to sell the vacant lot for any price. The farmers were raising pumpkins, gourds, and other succulent fruits. That was their only source of income and refused to sell the land for one lump sum. The attorney dangled to the commission the prospect of hiring many workers, engineers, technicians… for the factory, which would generate taxes for the city government. There was a generous offer of paid vacations to the weakest but greedy and susceptible members of the commission.  The attorney was representing his client.


 These clandestine meetings took place in restaurants. The mayor through his police commissioner bugged the best tables in the restaurants by previous arrangement and recorded inculpatory conversations between the few corrupt members and the attorney, whereby the commission members through their surrogates would intimidate the farmers and make them sell the land below fair price. The farmers filed a complaint against the surrogates for intimidation to sell the land to the businessman. A connection between the surrogates and the commission members were established. A commission member was arrested for receiving a bale of currency notes in his office. The second commission member was arrested for seeking and obtaining an engineering job for his son in the firm for approval of the factory. The third one voluntarily resigned from the commission post because he got wind of the ongoing inquiry on their malfeasance. The attorney and the businessman escaped prosecution. Having established the incriminating evidence against the remaining two commission members, the mayor removed them from their posts.   That mayor was Kusalan, the brother of Kusali. When the arrests came, they did not even know the corrupted members were bugged. The case went to court: lawyers for the city vs. the councilors for the alleged culprits. The councilors for the malfeasants cast a net to catch the mayor Kusalan. A jury of peers dismissed the case against the Kusalam clan and the judge reprimanded them for their unethical behavior. Lucky for the miscreants, they did not go to jail. The drive against corruption was an ongoing problem in the city. Mayor Kusalan formed a new anticorruption panel, made of former judges, police commissioners and longstanding philanthropists. The corruption abated over many years.