How To Say No

Work long hours and travel frequently to keep a steady income for your mother and three younger sisters. Soon enough, the five of you will shrink to three. 

Let your skin darken from too much sun, and your hands grow callouses where they clutch the handlebars of your genuine imported Italian Vespa scooter; your one indulgence. Bury your nose in the newspaper and allow your mother’s complaints about your complexion to wash over you. Keep your nose buried when she asks when you’ll marry. 

 The author's uncle on his Vespa with one of his younger sisters

The author's uncle on his Vespa with one of his younger sisters

Store away the Nos you want to say. You’ll need them later.

Cultivate a fearsome moustache, at first for gravitas at work, and then to scare your nieces and nephews into good behaviour. Your moustache and the bulging of your eyes allow you the freedom to not raise your voice to them. 

Marriage in your forties will release the Nos.

Learn to drop your voice into a resonant baritone when you say No. Imbue the two syllables of the Malayalam word with all the resistance and rejection you’ve locked deep inside, all the Nos you’ve never said; vēnda.

Speak little, laugh often and heartily, and raise your voice only to say No. Vēn-DA.

When your wife, constantly moving, constantly talking to fill the silences you leave, insists you have a second helping at lunch, boom vēnda without looking up from your plate. Laugh unrestrainedly when your tiny grandnephews giggle at the scene. Pull them, still giggling, onto your lap and teach them to say vēnda too.

 The author's uncle with her children in 2006

The author's uncle with her children in 2006

 

 

author's note: Malayalam doesn't have a generalised word for No. Instead, it directly negates verbs. Vēnda means "doesn't/don't want".

- Asha Rajan