Children's Literature

Mangali's Unfinished 'Ka'

by Khagendra Sangraula

Written: 1997;
Translated: from the Nepali original, 'Mangaliko Adhuro Ka' by Mary Des Chene;
Illustrated: from the Nepali edition by Yuvak Shrestha;
Published: in Sangraula, Khagendra. 2059v.s.[2002]. An Uphill Tale. Kathmandu: Vivek Srijanashil Prakashan; the English translation of Sangraula, Khagendra. 2058v.s.[2001]. Ukaaliko Katha. Kathmandu: Srijanashil Prakashan.
HTML Markup: For in December, 2001.

"Oh Grandma, send me to school, won't you". Spoonfeeding milk to Grandma, Mangali said, "If you just tell them Grandma. And then they'll send me to school".

Laying back exhausted, unsure if she can swallow or not, Grandma gathers her strength and swallows the milk. With cloudy eyes she looks fixedly at Mangali. Poor Grandma doesn't even have enough strength left to speak. Tears teeter at the corners of her eyes, not quite falling.


"Grandma! Grandma!! Grandma!!"

When she sees Grandma not speaking, just like that Mangali's mind grows uneasy. If Grandma spoke to them how it would be! If she said one word to Father, how it would be. 'Son, this Mangali takes care of my needs. She's just a child, how much trouble she goes to for my sake! Send her to school my dear, it will be a blessing upon you too.' Mangali's young mind always makes its appeal this way–'If Grandma said just this much, how it would be!'

But Grandma doesn't speak. Poor Grandma, she just goes on silently staring.

Kathmandu isn't Mangali's home, it's down in the hot southern plains called the Tarai. She's the daughter of an ever so poor Tharu. How her nasty papa used to beat her mother! Unable to stand the beatings, her mother secretly eloped when she was still very little. Her mother was gone and, in her infancy, Mangali was left helpless. Sometimes she carried the babies of the high caste people. Sometimes she scrubbed someone or other's pots and pans. Sometimes she washed glasses at the shopkeeper's tea stall. And then her father sent her to this Grandma's–who is somehow or other a relative, who knows how–to her place there in the Tarai.

"Grandma! Grandma!! Grandma!!"

Grandma stares at Mangali, saying nothing. She can't speak at all. Mangali's mind grows more and more uneasy. 'If anything happened to Grandma!....If anything happened what would she do? How many people there are in Kathmandu, how many cars there are. And so many many roads! If anything happened to Grandma and she lost her way in Kathmandu!....' Mangali's mind trembles with fear. The world before her eyes looks dark, so dark.

"Grandma! Speak won't you, my wise Grandma!!"

Grandma still doesn't speak. She can't speak, that Grandma.

Now Mangali is feeding pomegranate seeds to Grandma. Ever so slowly, stopping over and over, Grandma is eating the pomegranate. Her eyes are fixed right on Mangali's eyes. Those eyes say, 'I have something to say'. But they can't say anything.

In the language of grief, Mangali pours her suffering from her eyes to Grandma's–'Grandma! Bringing me with you to Kathmandu, father said they might send me to school. So where are they then. Who will send me Grandma?' Mangali was pouring out the burning pain in her heart. 'How hard is it for me Grandma? Come back over here, get back over there. See to the shit, see to the pee. Dry the floor. Wash the dishes. Do this Mangali, do that Mangali. Don't do that Mangali, not like that Mangali. How hard it is for me Grandma!'

"Grandma! Grandma!! Grandma!!!" Mangali felt like shouting really really loudly.

"Tell them not to abuse me, won't you Grandma!" Putting her mouth next to Grandma's ear, Mangali delivered her plea. "Yesterday watching TV how they scolded me! When I'm singing they laugh all together, Grandma. How they put me down! Won't you tell them Grandma–'Don't put Mangali down like that, don't abuse her'. Grandma, your son and daughter-in-law mind what you say. Your grandson and grandaughter mind what you say. Grandma, say just a word to them, won't you, my Grandma!"

Grandma doesn't say anything. She can't speak at all. Tears glistened in the corners of Grandma's eyes. Staring intently, those cloudy eyes were glued right to Mangali's.

Now Mangali is massaging Grandma's aching calves. Responding to the soothing motion, Grandma goes to sleep and begins to snore. Mangali's mind shouts out anyway– 'Why don't you speak Grandma? If Grandma spoke one word to them how it would be!'

But she doesn't speak. Grandma can't speak at all.

"Grandma! Grandma!! Grandma!!!" Eyes brimming over with tears, Mangali pours out the pain in her mind, "Grandma! Today how Pratima kicked me. I put polish on the shoes. And then when I tried on the polished shoes she kicked me, Grandma". After saying that much, grasping Grandma's hand, Mangali began to cry, her tears falling steadily. Sobbing, she said, "Tell them not to beat me, won't you Grandma. I take good care of you, don't I. Even getting up in the night I help you to shit and pee, don't I. I feed you milk, don't I. I even massage your legs, don't I Grandma. Tell your son to send this Mangali to school too, won't you Grandma! Okay Grandma? Won't you say 'okay'?"

As if trying to say something, Grandma's lips moved sluggishly. But no speech came out. Whatever Grandma had tried to say faded away right on her lips.

The mother and father of this house go off to work. Pratima and Puja go off to school. All day long there is only Mangali and Grandma in the house. Every other moment Grandma needs to shit or pee. Hurting somewhere or other, every other moment she moans in agony, 'Aiyaa aathho!' Mangali has been tied to Grandma's side by a rope invisible to the eyes, inside an invisible fortress. She has no chance to slip off and go anywhere. With things this way there's not even a chance for her to take a carefree breath. In the afternoon it's just like that, at night just like that. Yesterday just like that, today just like that, tomorrow just like that. Now children are a restless sort. The poor child Mangali, tied up inside the fortress sitting in one place, how can she stand it?

"Grandma! Grandma!! Grandma!!!" Getting ready to feed Grandma water with a spoon, Mangali said, "Grandma, now I've started to study. Do get well quickly. After I study, such stories from books I'll read to you Grandma!"

Grandma is staring at Mangali in just the same way as ever.

Now there's a notebook in Mangali's hand, and a glass pen. Bought for her yesterday by Father. In the notebook is the great big 'Ka', the very first letter of the alphabet. Father wrote it for her. All over the pages of the notebook Mangali has written 'ka' after 'ka'. Looking at her own zig-zag 'ka's, she feels so joyful and proud. All over the notebook, how very many 'ka's there are!

"Grandma, I wrote all of these 'ka's. Look Grandma, look, see how many 'ka's I wrote?"


Grandma's eyes don't move. Grandma's eyes are worn out. Remembering last night's event, how afraid Mangali feels! Grandma was quickly coming to the end. How she had gasped for breath! And then how her eyes rolled up!

"Grandma, tell Father won't you Grandma, I'll go to school too."

Grandma doesn't speak. Even greater fear comes over Mangali. 'If anything happened to Grandma?. And then who would tell Father – 'Son, send this Mangali to school too'.'

Carrying her notebook in her hand, Mangali bent over Grandma's face. Her eyes filled with tears–yesterday what terrible shape Grandma was in! Mangali's teardrops fell upon Grandma's forehead. Grandma's heart melted. Tears glistened in the corners of her eyes.

"Grandma, tell Father won't you, I'll go to school too".

Moving her lips with great effort, speaking with shallow, wheezing breath, Grandma said, "Okay Mangali, maybe I'll tell him tomorrow".

Mangali was ever ever so happy. Her mind soared like a kite, into the sky.

Grandma died that very night. Awakening, Mangali realized mourning was going on all over the house.

"Grandma! Grandma!! Grandma!!!" Mangali's mind raced nervously.

Carrying her notebook in her hand, Mangali went to Grandma's side. Grandma's eyes, the eyes she had shown her 'ka' to, had closed never to open again.

Without having a chance to tell her son to send Mangali to school, Grandma had come to the end.

"Grandma! Grandma!! Grandma!!! Why have you gone away without sending me to school Grandma?"

Grandma was all stretched out, as if sleeping peacefully.

Eyes brimming with tears Mangali was standing right by her side.

The notebook covered with 'ka' after 'ka' still fluttering in her hand.