Some people can memorize the multiplication tables effortlessly. It’s as if the wind has unraveled the web in one’s mind and laid it out neatly. As a child, I never got the math right; it used to scare me like the devil himself. Algebra was puzzling and even the simple math problems were sordid. Life made me an ordinary man since I could not handle even ordinary, simple math. The country handed me down only average happiness. I understood, much later, that not all the people who could not handle simple math were living simple lives. Not just me, there is not a single political leader or social reformer who was good at even simple math. Nobody understands the commonplace life; nobody understands the sensitive side, the complexity of average life.
Let’s see who are these people whom I am calling my family? Rajyam is not my wife who’s married to me and living with me for the past eight years. She’s the core of elegance that has been sharing my life with me. Kameswari is not my sister who is enjoying her marriage and two children; my father performed the ritual of giving away the bride but I was the one who had the satisfaction, I made it happen. Radha is not my younger sister who’s studying B.Sc. final year but my ever-increasing responsibility. About Gopi and Ramu? They are not my younger brothers but the last two cravings in the marital life of my parents. And then, the baby; she’s the outcome of a five-minute excitement, brought into this world despite all my efforts to prevent it. My mother and father are the two old adults passing through the stage of vanaprastham2 in this country where people are not allowed even to pick fruits or roots without paying a price. They’re the couple who awarded me a form and the world. Me? Nobody can describe who I am. I am a piece of meat that has been commuting between home and office for over ten years. I am the ego who is staring at my own form in the mirror! I’m the form that would turn around and say yes anytime called out, “Rajasekharam!” I am the man who thinks he is a man and feels numerous emotions like pain, pleasure, anger and love and many, many more.
Yesterday I came home with my heart bouncing, although I, as a person, was not bouncing. I parked the bicycle on the porch and went in. My father was yelling at Gopi, “You, idiot, can’t even learn the 13 times table?” Then he added, “In your brother’s time, finding job was no big problem. Now, if you don’t put yourself to work and pass the exam, you’ll end up begging on the streets.” Mother put on her reading glasses and was busy cleaning the rice. Radha was busy with her studies. Ramu was fixing the torchlight. He saw me and announced, “Annayya is here”. I opened the little box I brought in and put it on the table. I invited them all to gather and handed the box to amma.
“What’s the occasion?” nanna asked.
“I got bonus. They gave us after all the rumpus we’ve raised,” he said, biting a piece of kova.3
“We were so worried that they might give us the slip, in the name of inflation,” he added.
Rajyam took a piece of kova and went into the kitchen, with a little smile, which spoke volumes.
“What’s the total amount you’ve got?” amma asked.
“Two thousand, five hundred rupees.”
“That’s good, very good. Radha is lucky, I must say,” amma said, watching Radha.
Radha, shyly, picked up a book. I looked at her and felt a lump in my throat. It’s barely four years since I’ve paid for the expenses in regard to Kameswari’s marriage and two of her deliveries. I just recovered; seem like only yesterday, I was done with the recurring expenses Kameswari had been adding up. Today I got bonus. Now, the younger one, Radha is blushing! My wife, who is a goldmine as far as I’m concerned, never asked me for gold. Radha wears all the good sarees I bought for Rajyam. Rajyam says, “I told her myself, to wear them. She goes to college. What does it matter how I look; I stay home all day, scrubbing floors.” Only once, on the day after our marriage, she told me of her only wish. That wish is eight-years old now. That wish got to me, growing stronger by the minute and is refusing to listen to me. I promised myself that I would fulfill her wish for sure after I received my bonus money. That’s the reason I came home with a bouncing heart. After hearing amma’s comment, I wasn’t sure how to respond. It’s true that her logic is tenable. I have now part of it, at the least. I could take out a loan for the rest of the money and arrange for Radha’s marriage. But, what about Rajyam?
That night, I was getting ready to turn in. Rajyam said, “Do as attagaru said. She said the right thing. That’s fair. Save the money for Radha’s marriage. We can have the marriage performed as soon as the rest of the money comes through.”
“This amount is not enough, right? We’ll have to take out a loan anyways. We might as well borrow the entire amount when it the time comes. For now, let’s stick to our original plan,” I said, although I didn’t mean it wholeheartedly.
“It may not be enough but reduces the loan amount. Take your mother’s suggestion. Forget the other thought, for now?” Rajyam said. She said it all right, but she didn’t mean it wholeheartedly either. There was a trace of tears barely visible in her eyes. Her eyes managed to retract them.
“Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m not hurt. That’s what it’s all about, family!”
That was yesterday. Today I’m feeling bogged down. Suddenly, I came to a decision. One idiotic thought washed me up to the shoreline. My legs walked me home as if they had eyes, knew their way on their own. I sat down on the bed and announced so mother and father could hear as well, “Rajyam and I will be going to Simhachalam tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll also go with you,” Radha said.
“Don’t you have exams?”
Radha heard me. The expression on her face responded, right, I can’t go.
“Why this sudden trip? What’s this all about?” amma asked.
“I took a vow that I’d pay a visit to the Simhachalam Lord if and when I got the bonus money. That’s all.”
“Good thought, after all! Good, take baby also with you,” amma said.
“She has cold. The cold weather uphill is not good for her.”
Rajyam kept quiet. Probably she was wondering, “Why Simhachalam?” Nanna remained neutral, as always. My two younger brothers wanted to go but were afraid to ask. The long and short of it, Rajyam and I left the following morning on our trip.
“If we run into Madhava Rao, he is sure to insist on us spending the night at his place. It’s possible we won’t be back tonight. Don’t cook for us unless we are back.”
“That’s fine. If you happen to stay there for the night, make sure you’re back by dinner time tomorrow,” amma said.
“Bring prasadam for all of us,” Radha said.
“We’ll. I wrote the permission letter and left it on the table. Send it to my office with Gopi first thing in the morning,” I said as I left with Rajyam.
As soon as I set foot on the street, I felt like I broke loose of all ties and started walking freely; felt like the sky was lifted off my head. I was flying away with Rajyam. She said, “I am not able to see what’s this all about? Last night I asked you so many times but you would not answer my question. Why Simhachalam now?”
“You’ll understand soon enough. We are not going to Simhachalam. We are going to Vizag,” I said, looking straight into her eyes.
“Vizag? What for?” she asked.
“Every dog has his day! Today is mine. I decided that today I’d do whatever I please. And I want to go to Vizag. So, I am going to Vizag.”
“Why go to Vizag without any specific reason? Why now?” Rajyam said again.
“Where did it say that we have to have a reason to go to Vizag? I know only too well how much you like the beach, 70 mm Movie Theater, and the scuttle of the crowds!”
On our way, in the bus, Rajyam slept like a baby. I felt a wave of sympathy as I watched her. I kept her jailed for eight years. She lived in one jam-packed room for eight years. I squashed all her hopes and dreams.
After we reached Vizag, I rented a double room in a hotel. The room has no A/C but is fairly decent.
I jumped on to the bed, whistling happily. “This is way over my head,” Rajyam said.
“There is nothing to worry. I brought you here to the city so you and I can be alone, without anybody or anything else present in the vicinity of our hearts. If you make fun of me or let me down, I’d be very upset,” I said, and opened my briefcase. I pulled out a saree with printed flowers, white pants, and white shirt. I handed her shampoo, soap and towel and said to her, “Take a shower and wear this saree.”
“Crazy you,” she said as she walked toward bathroom.
I rang bell and ordered two coffees and a pack of Wills cigarettes, started humming a tune exuberantly. Rajyam came out of the bathroom, dabbing her wet hair with the towel. Along with her, came a whiff of the shampoo and soap. “Ah! Beautiful!” I said.
“The aroma,” I said, smelling her hair that’s dripping water drops. “I’ll also take a shower,” I said and I went into the bathroom. I played with the water spray for over twenty minutes. I came out of the bathroom. Rajyam wore the new saree and was drying her hair.
“The flowers on your saree are looking as if they’ve bloomed right on your body.”
“They did not bloom on my body. It must be something with your vision. You’re pining for it, I think” Rajyam laughed.
I saw flowers in that laugh too. “You’re right, I am pining for you,” I replied, tucking in my white shirt in my pants.
Suddenly Rajyam noticed the keys, “Oh, no. I brought the entire bunch of keys—the key for milk cabinet and all other boxes. I saw the cat come in this morning and I locked up the milk cabinet. What are we supposed to do now? What would they do? What about the milk for the baby?”
“They’ll think up of something,” I said, slipping the key-bunch into my pocket. “How do I look?” I asked Rajyam, fixing my shirt folds.
“Like an overripe ear of corn,” Rajyam laughed.
“I told you not to make fun of me.”
“I am not saying it for fun. That is the truth. You are an eyeful after you washed your hair—partly gray and partly black. Wait until your hair is dried. Then I’ll show you.”
No wonder it hurts when truth is spoken.
“Don’t you worry about the hair. You’ve said several times that I look handsome when I wore white shirt and tucked it in white pants. That’s why I searched for it in the middle of the night, found it and packed it in my briefcase. See what you’re saying now!”
“Sorry. You’re looking good. I’m not saying you’re not looking good. We can’t hide our age. Can I hide the wrinkles on my stomach? Can I lose a few pounds around my waist? I lost my dainty figure; I am big now. You lost your youth and started aging. That’s the way it is. What can we do?”
“That’s not right. You are looking good and so am I. You must learn to see things the way I do. Then you’ll see me the way I see you.”
“All right. We both are looking good. You seem to be imagining things and worrying about it.”
“My worry is only about one thing. I’ve been holding a job for ten years; yet I could not fulfill your wish. Is it my fault, you tell me? I had to arrange for my sisters’ weddings and send my brothers to college. Is it my sin that I was born the eldest in the family? Is it a sin to be a good person?” I asked in a fit of outburst.
Hotel boy brought coffee. Rajyam stopped talking and took the coffee cup. I drank my coffee, lit a cigarette and blew a puff. After we finished coffee, we went out, wandered on the streets for about one half hour, ate special meals in an A/C. room, and watched a movie, chewing paan.
“Look at the people in the hotels and movie theaters. It makes me feel like there is not a single problem in the world. They all look so happy and frolicking. One would wonder if there is really poverty in our country,” I commented.
“People go to the movies and hotels only to forget their miseries. Just the way you brought me here today,” Rajyam replied.
We enjoyed the movie and went to the beach in an auto-rickshaw. The moon is already there at the beach even before we arrived. We went to a private spot and I jumped with joy until I am exhausted. I picked up Rajyam in my arms and went into the water. The waves are digging out the sand under my feet; Rajyam is getting heavier and I feared for her. I returned to the shore and threw her down on the sand. Rajyam screamed, “abbha!” nursing her waist, and added, “My back’s broken. I’m not young, you know. This could confine me to bed, and then, only God would know your fate.”
“This is how it’s going to be for today. There’s no question of ‘no’s on your part, no matter what I do.”
“That’s cute but crazy. I can’t stop thinking about them at home; they must be scrambling for the keys,” Rajyam said.
Something hit me as she said the same thing one more time. I was beside myself. I pulled out the keys from my pocket and threw them into the sea with all might.
“Oh, no! What did you do? How could you throw away the keys like that? chha! You’re really crazy.”
“What else can I do? You’re so stuck on milk cabinet, the yogurt, and the cockroaches; instead of the sea and the moon that are right in front of you!”
Rajyam turned away and sat there quietly. She is upset while there are so many things in front of her to be happy about—the sea, the cool breeze, the moonlight which is looking like squash flowers, the brilliant moon, the lighthouse, and red streaks of street lamps.
I hugged her and said, “Forget the keys. Look at the sea. Isn’t that beautiful?” The waves in the sea are breaking the moonbeams into tiny bits in much the same way my heart is crushed by my thoughts. Rajyam has been dreaming about this engaging moon and for a moment, free of troubles, of lovemaking under the moon. Wouldn’t she—like everybody else—want to roll in a bed filled with lots of jasmine flowers, and after that, go out, both wearing matching outfits, sing romantic songs by waterfalls, on the open fields and in mountain caves? Wouldn’t she want to visit spectacular sites and want to watch them along with me? All her life, she lived in a narrow room with a zero-watt bulb but never had a chance see the world. I wanted to ask Rajyam only one question, “Can you forgive me? We can never have a honeymoon again.”
“Forget about the honeymoon. Everybody says you’re a successful man since you’ve gotten your sisters married. Aren’t happy with that thought? The sky is not going to fall because we did not have a honeymoon. We are here today. Doesn’t that count for something?”
It’s true we’ve come to Vizag today. That is a two-hour trip we took together during a period of eight years. The moon churned the sea with his beams, causing the foam to rise like butter. I wanted to gather it into my hands and take it to our home. Rajyam and me—the struggle in my heart, the sea and its roars—when I leave all this behind and walk into the street, I will be facing again the same high and low, the pain and the duties. Human being is a social being yet cannot lead an ordinary life in the same society. Each person puts on a color for survival and strives constantly to make sure that that color is not washed out and gets worn out in the process. He protects that color even if it meant burning his dreams and hopes.
I blockaded my thoughts; we two lay down on the sand. I returned to the present and looked into her eyes. I know the sunrays create moonlight; now, that moonlight reflected in the eyes of Rajyam, turned into a soothing light and gave me an enormous peace of mind. We both, lying under that moonlight, felt embarrassed. How can explain this feeling—a desire that has been fulfilled in this manner, after eight-years of marriage? I saw the white saree with printed flowers and Rajyam noticed the pair of white shirt and pants. We both had hearty laugh!
“What’s that?” Rajyam pointed to something white and shiny and asked.
“We found a treasure,” I said, watching the shiny thing under the moonlight
We both walked close to it.
“Not any treasure. It’s the key-bunch you’d thrown away earlier,” Rajyam picked it up, elated, and shaking off the sand.
“That’s not it. That’s the responsibility that will not leave us even after we, the average people, throw it away.”
(The Telugu original, “sagatu candrudu” was published in Andhra Prabha, 23 April 1980, and later included in the anthology, “Sankar Kathalu” published by Chaso Sphurti Trust, Vizianagaram, 1995.
Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, March 2005)
1 Giving away daughter in marriage.
2 Hinduim prescribes four stages of life— brahmacaryam [time for education], gruhastha [family life], vanaprastha [retirement in preparation of detachment], and sanyasi stage, which means moving to the forest in pursuit of nirvana.
3 Sweet item made of milk and sugar.