The wind flowing from west to east made the smoke to pervade entire village. It was so engulfing thatif so much smoke shows up, people should get scared that somewhere something was getting burnt. But, it was not unknown to anyone over there. Everyone was accustomed to it.
Embers were visible. Flame was not there, smoke emanated. ‘Aati’ was burning in low intensity. It was a layered arrangement. At the bottom, dried paddy grass was spread, on which was placed evenly the rice-husk, then, the ’Gaanu’ – the iron ring – was placed, again on top of it husk; the hard anthracite coal lumps and dung-cakes were finally arranged on top in such a way that the husk-layer was not visible to outside at all. When finished arranging thus, and after pouring kerosene oil around on top, and igniting using match stick, the fire that started, first traced a circular path and then passed through coal, dung-cakes, husk and grass to have culminated for a momentary blaze, and finally subsided to slowly simmer and smolder while emitting smoke, both the iron-rings.
Whenever wind was flowing, the red burning husk was resembling as if it were the exposed gums of open-mouthed monkey’s trademark annoying and sarcastic glee. The work starts, when the iron ring that is inside, gets heated up from the flames and fires of the burning of grass, husk and dung-cakes. In fact, when all the combustibles burn up, and when the burnt dung-cakes exhaust and cool down, the actual work starts. Dung-cakes catch fire only after husk totally burns up.
Ligalu stood there and heaved a sigh of despair, while looking at that burning circle of fire. He works with fire-pit. As a hereditary vocation, he had been doing the same job. Blacksmith-work was the craft sanctioned by his caste. He was the only destination for that entire village for any work with wood or with iron. When needed to work with crowbars for breaking the earth, with spades for moistening the leveled-earth, with axes for felling and splitting the wood, with double-edged crow-bars for breaking, with the knives and spears for piercing, with the blades and sickles for cutting, with the small spades for weeding out, with the ploughs for tilling the land; and when they get blunt and needed to be re-sharpened and re-elongated in curvy, flat, lean and straight forms; Lingalu is needed. The fire-pit is required!
Lingalu was a workman having good name and fame for making carts, drawn by double oxen. Even in the neighboring villages, such workman was not available. All of them would come here, when needed; would get their work done; and then return.
Lingalu had two fools with him. In reality, they were no fools. He was calling them big fool and small fool. But, villagers were referring to them as Kudi-Bhujam (Literally, right-hand) and Edama-Bhujam (Literally, left-hand). Nobody knew their names. During their childhood, when they were found wandering along the railway track, Lingalu offered them food, and took them into his fold, and they remained with him since then. Generally, Edama-Bhujam blows air, Kudi-bhujam hands him tools.
Lingalu gets up pretty early in the mornings, and after finishing morning routines (ablutions), enters the fire-pit shed. The shed, in fact, was just a sheet on top of four iron-bars. After offering prayers, and lighting incense stick to the furnace, he puts coal-pieces inside it so that the previous night embers start catching fire.
The two long iron-flats that Nancharayya brought the previous day, when bent in circular fashion and placed on the floor, their ends while becoming husband wife, were facing each other and chitchatting about conjoining.
He completed the process of joining the ends the previous day. He made them with such a fine skill that the joint has almost become invisible. The long flats have become fine rings. They were now being heated.
When Lingalu hits hard with sledge-hammer and stretches, or when does so lightly on with small-hammer to agglutinate into a lump, or makes a hole by holding with forging-tongs, it looks so charming. Just like the malleable cheeks of cuddly babies, iron lumps elongate when stretched and conjoin when left. Iron, even large in quantity, just follows Lingalu’s directions, mellows down to his melodies. Stretches when sought so, welds when told so, fires when says so, heats when yells so, just like the pet-monkey that follows the directions of its charmer, the iron, in his furnace, plays to his tunes, and collects money for him.
All his ancestors had led pretty decent lives in their vocation of blacksmith work. They were not having any problems as far as basic amenities are concerned. But, it was not so now, becoming increasingly difficult even to make both ends just meet.
As his wife expired, daughter stopped studies to degenerate into drudgery of house-work. She was yet to be married off. The son, who was studying in city, was consistent in constantly reminding him of his monetary requirements. Both his little assistants grew to turn into adults and became hungrier. He was not able to even ensure enough food for them three times a day. If they leave, he just cannot even move his limbs, let alone work with the pit.
When Lingalu thought that the rings might have become malleable enough as he saw that smoke subsided and smoldering intensified in that arrangement that situated inthe courtyard across his house on the other side of the railway track, he went, checked and returned crossing the fires, his house, into the shed, and said to his assistants, after placing the towel on the stool and sitting on “May have to wait for some more time”
His daughter came and left after announcing that almost-emptying rice-stock was put on for boiling, and it would only be pickle to eat with. Lingalu thought that it itself was a blessing. The other two heaved a sigh of despair while sitting.
Dry-farming, Insufficient rains, no harvest to reap. Farmer’s situation became dreadful. If it rains, if it reaps and if farmer becomes happy, then Lingaalu too would become a happy-person! Now, he became the unhappy-person.
After spokes got cut, rim-parts formed, the central hub made from the wooden-logs that Nancharayya brought; and after drilling the bore for iron-axle to rotate in, carving holes for spokes to sit in; making holes in rim-parts for other ends of the spokes to fit in; after fitting all spokes in the hub; and covering it with rim-parts, the wheel got formed tightly in a wonderful way. Only Lingalu could do with such a fine quality. Without leaving any scope for revisiting it either for forming or for grinding or for drilling or for sharpening or for upsetting or for bending or for straightening, making such a fine joint between spokes and rim was not possible for others. That’s why so much of importance exists for Lingalu! They looked so fantastic that even without having iron rings covering them; they looked ready to roll along the road.
By that time, the yoke that had to be placed on the carriage-shaft was ready. The holes, in which the tape would be inserted into, made in that yoke, were so smooth that they were appearing as if butter was applied; soft and without any roughness.
The flat wooden pieces on the back of carriage-shaft, and the ties underside those flats were arranged strongly. The log, the square one that was sitting on the iron-axle; the carriage shaft made strongly with straight and cross wooden pieces; when attached with wheels, and when iron-rings would be worn around the wheels, the wheels would be ready. Cart would be ready!
Nancharayya came along to see the condition of his cart. When Lingalu asked about money, the customer laughed. He could not understand the meaning of that laughter.
The charges for making both timber work and iron work for the cart amounted to Rupees Two thousand, all the materials to be supplied by customer only. Only for labour-work, two thousand. Lingalu asked about amount when he started working itself. “Where would it go?”, said Nancharayya with nonchalance emanating from those words. During hub-work, flats-work and timber-work, Lingalu had been asking about it for almost ten days by then. Nancharayya, without changing his words, was repeating every time “Where would it go?”. Lingalu, not even caring for his dignity, told that he was not even able to make his ends meet. Nancharayya laughed a foolish laugh.
“Would the cart-work be completed by tonight,” asked Nancharayya. Lingalu moved his head in affirmation.
When asked, “Can it be taken out?”; Lingalu replied, “When dried, tomorrow morning, it can be connected ”.
Kudibhujam, when sitting for defecating by the side of the boundary fence, saw Nancharayya walking among the shrubs.
When the issue regarding the new cart appeared in the talk of Nalla Chintayya, and asked “How would you arrange money?”, Nancharayya replied, “Difficult to arrange money”.
When told “If you don’t pay, Lingalu may not hand the cart over,”; Nancharayya replied, “With sweet talk, I would first get my cart out into my farm, and leave in my cowshed, then it should be over. When I would be comfortable, it can be adjusted,”.
“It seems, the charges due for getting tools reshaped during the crop time, were not yet paid to Lingalu?”
“It seems, written off?”
“As of now, yes! When comfortable, would see. Depends on our fortune, and his righteousness.”
“He may not hand over the cart in the evening!”
“Would he be remaining in town, if he doesn’t give?”
When Nancharayya and Nalla Chintayya left, the heart-burnt Kudibhujam ran, arrived and narrated entire exchange of conversation, without leaving even a single word out, to Lingalu. While listening to those words, Lingalu felt as if he became hungry. The phrase “Would he be remaining in town” left huge pain-inducing stir in his stomach.
When asked, “Where are the iron-pegs meant for the new cart”, Edama-Bhujam while chiming the pegs, jumped and replied, “See, they are here,”
“Put them in niche in the roof”, said Lingalu.
“Shut your mouths,” Lingalu said.
“If open mouths?” no sooner had he uttered, than Bhujams replied “you would lift your leg”
In spite of being in so much of hunger, Lingalu guffawed for a moment.
They hid the iron-pegs in the roof-niche.
Iron-peg is that, which when inserted in the hole in the axle, holds hub tightly and prevents wheels to derail due to hub slipping out of axle.
“Come and have food,” called daughter.
Lingalu went inside the house along with both his Bhujams.
While telling that after finishing a nap, he would tighten the iron-rings around the wheels; he told Bhujams to wake him up, when dung-cakes turn to ashes, and coal-pieces cover themselves up with ashen cinders, and he spread the towel, after shaking it off, on the flat-stone.
Sun was beginning to set down the slope.
Dung-cakes were turning to ashes, and falling on the hot burning coal pieces.
The iron-rings turned red-hot.
Lingalu’s snoring stopped.
When both Bhujams moved both of his shoulders, Lingalu woke up and sat.
“Lingalu is working with rings”, when announced thus, all the children, unseen till then, gathered over there.
After removing ash of dung-cakes to a side, all the three, by holding the ring on three sides with forging-tongs, brought and placed it on the ground, and, then, inserted the wheel into it. While the inserting wooden-wheel was crackling, wherever it was becoming difficult to get in, he hit with hammer to set in, and then after subduing the fire, and ensuring that the iron-rings were perfectly set around the wheels, Lingalu heaved a sigh of pleasant satisfaction. Sand was spread. Fire extinguished.
Until the red-colored ring acquired its signature colour of iron after passing through copper-colour and black-colour, it was made to cool in air. Finally, just like the lacquer, the air-cooled ring tensely got fastened.
When both the wheels were ready, “Go and return O! Fools,” said Lingalu.
Each Bhujams rolled the wheels separately. Yelling with joy, kids followed them. Lingalu became blissful while observing the yells, shouts and kids’ gaiety.
The joy, that a great artiste feels when his work of art becomes useful for the humanity, was what was being felt by Lingalu when he was looking at the running kids and rolling wheels.
When Kudi-bhujam and Edama-Bhujam were returning by rolling them after took them to a considerable distance, and when kids were requesting “we too?”, then after allowing elder kids for rolling and younger ones for touching them, the Bhujams brought the wheels back by ensuring that they did not fall sideways even once.
The carriage-shaft tightly tied with axle, and tape on one side; and readily made iron-ring fastened wheels on another side were lying on the ground. Like the burning undertaken around the belly button to alleviate the acute pain that children suffer, like burning performed for earth’s stomach-pain in circular fashion on either side of its belly-button, the dung-cakes and coal pieces that got burnt to ashes, after having heated the iron-rings, left ash-circles, dried and looking dynamic while lifting into air.Like spraying and mixing of ashes-remains of pious and great people in all Indian rivers, this ash lifted, and while spreading entire town, it permeated like air-flow over farm-land. When this prayer would fructify, and if farm lands would reap good harvest, then farmers would lead happy livesin great mirth. Like the country, that becomes happy when its children become successful while spreading wide and far across earth; like the great literary luminary, who feels joyous, when his literary output enthralls entire world; like a great musician, whoredeems himself by having his song etched as an eternal god-of-sound indelibly in the air-waves, Lingalu was becoming blissfully mirthful of unlimited magnitude looking at the ash that was lifting and moving in the air. it appears pretty strange when Lingalu feels loving attachment over the ash that was getting carried off, instead of on the readily-made cart that was stable.
Lingalu broke the ceremonial coconut. Lighted the camphor. Wave-offered it. Distributed pulses and jaggery sweet to children. The fragranced world was flowing along.
All kids and elders joined together to insert the axle of one side of the carriage shaft into the wheel. The iron-peg nails should be inserted after either end of axle sits comfortably in the wheel-hubs. Not inserted. The iron-pegs were in niche in the house. The wooden pegs were put in axle-holes so that wheels would not detach and fall off. Wheels wouldn’t get imbalanced. Cart was ready. If iron-pegs inserted, then cart could be taken away. Otherwise, the cart, even though ready could not be taken away. After offering salutation to the cart with folded-hands, he performed the ceremonial religious activity purported to ward-off the evil-eyes off it.
Nancharayya brought two oxen. His thought was of carrying the cart off after tying. While arriving itself asked “Aa finished?”. “Oo!” replied Lingalu by moving his head in affirmation.
The cart-owner was ready to jump into, and tie the oxen after putting tapes on the yoke.
“Wages for three for two weeks. Did you bring two thousand?” asked Lingalu
“Where would it go. Where would money go?” uttering thus, Nancharayya started singing the tune.
“Telling the same thing right from the time when started the work. You don’t know what we ate, and whan we don’t. Famine times. Difficult times. After all, days should roll for me too” said Lingalu.
“Where would money go? If not today, tomorrow! Would Isay ‘no’? Would I say ‘will not’?”
“You won’t say! What should I call my hunger? For me it is just manual labour only! Do I have land or harvest?”
“Aa! We have. Farm-lands just for namesake. What benefit? Did they result into any harvest? Have we eaten?” sulkingly replied Nancharayya.
“If not this year, by next year wouldn’t land yield? Wouldn’t you be living? What is there for me Sraadham? If I perfrom this work, food! Otherwise, just nothing.”
“Everyone’s lives worsened like this only. What lands, what lives, where these lands reaped harvest, where did we eat?”
“Whatever it may be! To each according to his position. You can take away the cart once you pay me my charges.”
““If not given!”
“Will not give cart!”
“What you would give? I would take it away. I’d see who would come obstructing.”
“I myself! I’d see how you would take it away!”
“Okay then? Be ready.”
“Okay! Come, let us fight it out”
People, who were listening until matters reached this level, came into the middle and advised Nancharayya that it would be justifiable on his part to take the cart away only after making the payment to the blacksmith.
“Farmers are in precarious position. If not today, they would pay tomorrow. How would things move if one is not flexible?” They said thus to Lingalu.
“You might be thinking that I would not be able to carry it because iron-pegs were not there, can carry the cart off.”
“You might be thinking that if they were there, you would be able to take it away? You just cannot!”
People, who observed that this war of words was escalating, took Nancharayya away. Nancharayya was yelling from there. “Would come tomorrow morning, make iron-pegs ready. Would take cart.”
“If you don’t bring money, the iron-pegs, those in the niche, even if given to you, you cannot take cart away.”
“Wouldn’t bring money!”
“Wouldn’t give cart.”
“How could you not give? I’ll see.”
“How could you take it? I’ll see, too.”
“If available in the niche, bring out; if not yet made, make. How much it is for you to just flatten two iron pieces to make pegs? A worker is a worker only. You are weak. He got lot of support. You are alone. If he makes it a big issue, what value would hold your life? We like you, still we cannot support you,” while telling thus to Lingalu, they told Nancharayya “He finished the work. Throw his wages on his face. He is a lower-caste person. You are farmer. Wouldn’t it be ugly if you enter into argument with him? Listen to my word and decide either to pay him charges or make him agree to your words. Try to take the cart, which has to serve you for sufficiently long time, on good terms. Not in quarreling way. Why to invite misfortune, when you should be carrying it off in an auspicious way?”
Nancharayya took his oxen home. People too disbursed.
Lingalu and both Bhujams sat on the readily-made cart.
“If, without paying wages, he forcibly takes the cart, what should be done? Whom to tell? Whom, if told, hunger would be satiated?” Lingalu thoroughly inquired Kudi-Bhujam and Edama-bhujam.
They did not say anything.
Lingalu lied on cart itself while thinking.
“I am a wretched father, who cannot even fill your stomachs. You lives are miserable without any wages. Can you leave me and go? Can you go? Should go!
They did not say anything.
“If sold off, would definitely get a minimum of Twenty Thousand. Bring the pegs from niche, put yoke on your shouders and carry it, and you would be able to live after selling it off at some other place? I could tell Nancharayya that thieves stole it.”
Lingalu could not see, due to darkness, what were they looking at. They replied nothing.
“Leave it. Wherever you went, you would be found out, brought back, hit hard and punished.”
Night, rice was not prepared. They did not eat anything. They lsied on their backs on the cart. New moon night. So pitch dark a night that even when eyes were put to maximum, nothing was visible.
How? What if food is not there for a hard-worker to fill his stomach? Shouldn’t those, who work hard, eat? Is there no value for work?
Hunger is so harmful an existence. It forces one to do anything. The basis for dying and killing is hunger!
Hunger forces human relations to plunge into nadir! If the farmer and blacksmith, who should be treating each other as brothers, were talking as if they were enemies, the reason behind it was hunger.
Who would be able to understand?
Lingalu asked Bhujams, who did not get up until midnight, “Is Grass available?”
“Available,” replied both Bhujams
“How much kerosene oil, that Nancharayya brought, is still left?”
“Pour kerosene oil on the cart after bringing grass and spreading on it.”
Lingalu thundered “Do!”
They brought and covered the cart with dried paddy grass. The left-over dung-cakes were spread on them, and sprayed Kerosene oil.
“Where is match-box?”
“Inside the house! In the niche!”
“Bring! Stay there! I only would bring! Remain here only. Don’t allow anybody to come. I only would come,” Lingalu went inside the house.
Lingalu, after entering inside early hours in the morning, came out to the cart, very late in the morning. Match-box was not there in the hand. Iron-pegs were there.
When it was almost afternoon, accompanied by his assistant, who brought Haarathi-pallem, Nancharayya arrived with his oxen.
As soon as he arrived, holding the hands of Lingalu, he told “As could not adjust money, spoke rubbish. Don’t mind, Lingalu.”
“Hunger. Semi-hunger. For almost a week, no proper food. Night, we three did not eat any food. Hungry. Uttered incongruent and harsh words. Don’t mind,” said Lingalu.
“Night, roamed entire town, and suffered many difficulties while asking many,” Nancharayya said.
“Leave it, who is responsible for whose fate? It is our fate. Our hunger. That’s all! Solve our hunger as soon as possible. Ensure that we are not dead,” while saying so, he inserted the iron-pegs, “Tie to the cart and take it,” he said
“No, Lingalu. Got money from weekly-market,” Nancharayya said, and put in Lingalu’shands the Harati-Pallem containing cash, rice, betel leaf & areca nut.
Tears welled up in Lingalu’s eyes.
Those tears were not of weeping; it was not the joy of eradication of hunger; those of the love, which one human has for another one.
Daughter took the Harati-Pallem into the house.
Nancharayya, while tying oxen to the cart, removing the grass, could smell kerosene oil. “What is this?”, conveying this feeling he looked at Lingalu.
“In the early morning, decided to burn down the cart,” Lingalu wept inconsolably.
Nancharayya displayed hapless grief-stricken face.
“No loving father can kill his own child,” Lingalu continued weeping.
Nancharayya wept uncontrollably after having hugged Lingalu. Their crying… Not crying… Love!
Goparaju Venkata Ramesh.
(The Telugu original, kolimi¸ has been published in Katha 2008 anthology.)
 Sraadham – A ceremonial offering made to Brahmins during funeral ceremony. It is idiomatically used to describe ‘penury’.
 Haarathi-Pallem – A plate used in religious activities. Camphor is placed in it, and after lighting the camphor, it would be wave-offered to the deities by moving the plate in majestic circular and curvy fashions..