Amongst the bustle in an unusually scorching morning at the Coimbatore General Hospital, is a figure collapsed on to a cement floor near a pavement. Groups of relatives, friends and press intermittently appear around him, offering comfort and water. Before Veluchamy bursts into dejected sobs, his stony silence when asked about his son says enough. “He was quiet, just like this. No trouble, no fuss.” A daily labourer, he lost his wife when his three sons were very young. Since then, his life, he says, was “Work and home, eat your gruel and go to sleep.”
They knew their "place", he says, but he would rush to fulfill any little dream of his children. When Sankar was just 4, he once pointed at a picture of a helicopter hovering over a town. “He asked me if he could have that, and how could I say no? He was such an obedient child, he would even take no for an answer.” So Veluchamy whose days began at 5 am and ended at 10 pm, scampered for money, saved from his daily earnings, and bought him a toy helicopter for 40 rupees. "I just wanted him to be happy. Telling him that toy helicopters are not for people like us, that can crush a 4-year-old."
It’s a sombre scene outside the forensics department where a horde of relatives and friends are waiting, but for a brief moment, Sankar’s friends lose themselves in reminiscing over their friend's antics.
Soft-spoken and coy, his brother and friends say he was never one to pick a fight. “Even when someone would try to fight with him, he wouldn’t retaliate. He was too much of a sadhu for his own good,” his friend says, reminiscing, “But when we played carom after school, all that garb of a sadhu would come off. He was a very good player.” Long walks and looking at girls, the boys were through it all together. The friendships, his friend who has been there for Sankar since 1st standard says, probably seemed ordinary, but whenever Sankar was routinely threatened both before and after the marriage, they were there for him.
Image: Sankar's friend
In a college bus to Palani, Kausalya caught his eye. His cousin, who was also Kausalya’s friend did the due introductions. “He was happier, a little stronger around her,” his friends say. In time, Sankar’s fondness for Kausalya was evident as he dropped her home every day quietly. “You know, we’re young and looking for jobs and love. Caste is usually the last thing on our minds,” his friend clarifies. They saw each other at college often, went to places. A family friend of Kausalya’s happened to see the two together in a bus, and went to the family about this – who promptly, according to Sankar’s friend – “checked around for his caste.”
And then the threats began. Kausalya would tell Sankar how quickly she wanted to take matters into her hands and elope, while Sankar would request her to stay calm. Harassment growing by the day, her father left for Madurai to look for potential grooms. For Kausalya, that was the last straw.
On July 2015, she called Sankar and told him she wanted to marry him. He reached Palani and called his friends. “And it was done. They got married at the police station. But the police promptly called her parents and told them everything.”
Image: Sankar's family friends
For them, the two were a brave couple. “I don’t know how someone would live peacefully with their own relatives threatening them. But we wanted to do everything to protect them.” Kausalya dropped out of her course and began working at a tiles company. Her friends remember the effortless banter with Kausalya and Sankar in their cosy living room on Saturday evenings. According to them, she was very “modern” in her thinking.
After a long-drawn sigh, one of his friends say, “You know, she came forward. She came forward to marry him, not the other way round like we always think it should be.” His face sinks instantly after hearing himself out loud. “She was actually more brave than Sankar. I think that is what scared everyone the most.”