Standing at the intersection of the four roads, it bellows. A bull huge like an elephant! Solid and white like a massive chunk of cheese! It looks powerful enough to pull a locomotive were it yoked to it……..
“Somebody’s perhaps?” Shifting the weight of the KAVADI from one shoulder to another, casting a greedy sidelong look at it, sucking his lips, Guruvulu goes his way, grumbling to himself, “Perhaps it has lost its way!”
The bull roars again and the crossroads quake under the thundering sound.
“Looks a lion, the damned thing! What fools to let it loose like this?” Venkayya expresses his astonishment between delectable puffs at his cigar.
The Sun shoots up into the sky from the horizon.
Shortly, everybody around suspends his work and busies himself in probing into the ownership of the bull.
The bull steps this way and that with almost a dancing gait, shakes his dewlap which resembles a white-foamed wave, makes the sound “grr….grr….”
“Mother of mothers!… My child will be killed!” shouts a mother dragging away hastily her child and abusing the bull as if the road were her own property and the bull were trespassing on it and spoilt her child’s right of playing on it. “Where the heck can we go if this devil is set scot-free on the road like this?” She says hugging her child to her and looking daggers at the bull. A few others, after weighing all probabilities and decide the bull is not theirs and take leave of one another and go their ways.
Nookamma is at her doorstep, arranging cow-dung cakes before her house right up to middle of the road. She is peeling them off the wall and throwing them on the ground to dry. Though she is absorbed in her work, it does not mean that she is not alive to the goings-on around her.
She sees the bull. Her senses have also grasped the fact that others are interesting themselves in the bull.
Nookamma is Nookamma……She is no ordinary person. She is like the “Mother of mothers” to us, say her neighbours.
In the bright sun, her red sari is of a brighter red and her black blouse looks even more striking.
The bull looks round in every direction as if challenging whether there is anybody around on the crossroads bold enough to put the rope through his nostrils, and then bellows.
“It has not yet been yoked perhaps…..probably it is somebody’s bull …… A superb specimen!” says Nookamma to herself continuing to arrange the cow-dung cakes without breaking them up.
She turns to the bull. The bull stares back at her.
“Come here, you whore!” shouts Nookamma with a hint of vehemence.
Like Nandi, the king of bulls shakes its dewlap and steps forward with a royal air. In fact, Nookamma’s abuse reflects her ignorance of my masculinity, thinks the bull.
It is unjust to Nookamma to say that she is frightened. She stands up, draws the end of her sari across her breast and tucks it in at the waist.
If only she were to open her mouth a tremor will rock the four streets around.
As the bull moves forward, the cow dung cakes which were still wet and soft, turn into sticky putty under its hoofs.
Nookamma is enraged.
As if to say, “It is you who called me,” the bull grrr……s and shakes its head.
“Damn your blunt horns….”, Nookamma says and seizes hold of the bull’s neck suddenly.
It is, of course, not true that the bull’s horns are blunt, but it is certain that if it gives a heave with them, Nookamma will be thrown to the far side.
But that big bull too is frightened! Not that Nookamma knows any tricks or magic. Are not a red sari and a shrewish voice sufficient in themselves.
Of course, lorries do not come that way. Other vehicles, passing that way, have to move in the space left vacant by the rows of cow-dung cakes. If anybody fails to do so, then Nookamma will burst like a thunderstorm over him. Let us not talk of the crushed cow-dung cakes. It is the bull that matters, not an ordinary bull by any means but the veritable Nandi that the passers-by gaze at, wonderstruck. Some of them could not contain their enthusiasm, and taking courage, began making enquiries about the bull. With this, Nookamma gained confidence…..
“Then it does not belong to any of the neighbours….it must be coming from some other village”, Nookamma reflects.
“It belongs to my relatives,” says Nookamma aloud. “They brought it to town for selling it….it will fetch three to four hundred…it is not a bull merely, it is the veritable Govardhanam hillock…..”
Still there is one man who can rattle her and that is Jaggadu. He comes swaggering along in his checked lungi and Glasgow mull shirt and silk handkerchief thrown round his neck and jokes, “What is this?…..Sister-in-law Nookamma has brought a bull… she has dared so much without letting me know! How come?” He crosses the doorstep.
The bull flourishes its horns as if to say, “I care two hoots whether it is Rowdy Jaggadu or King Jaggadu”.
Jaggadu panicks and leaps clear and from a safe distance, speaks bravely, “Hey, hey! Take care, this is His rowdiness Jaggadu! Ask Nookamma if you want to be sure….”
Nookamma looks up, and Jaggadu goes up to her.
“No, no! It cannot be one thing for goods, and another for animals,” says a male voice.
“Nothing doing!” replies a female voice with determination.
“Well! Put it at a hundred. After all, it is not your father’s property,” Jaggadu raises his voice menacingly.
Cha! Damn your greed!……How often have I not bought your stealing….make it fifty. Not more!” Nookamma flies into a rage.
“You slut! You want to drag hat day’s affair today, do you? Remember you swore not to say anything…..” Jaggadu is also enraged.
“Cha.cha! Ungrateful wretch!” hits back Nookamma.
“Khabardar! I will ruin your home!”Jaggadu gets up as if he is preparing for it. Like a whirlwind, he rushes out.
“If not this wretch, then his father! Is fifty not enough? Damned greed!” Nookamma lashes out.
Neighbour Veerasaami and acquaintance Polayya, both came there with the neighbourly intent of friendly enquiry.
“Unusually brother Veerayya is here; Polayya who never comes has also come. What is cooking?” Nookamma has her suspicions.
“The bull seems to be yours….Are there any good offers for it?”, the two ask under their breath.
Nookamma could not but falter for words. The burden of their talk appears to be that they have as much right to the profits from the bull as any that Jaggadu claims.
But it is not so easy to deal with her. “That belongs to my aunt’s son….it was brought here for sale….The boy is a good-for-nothing. Be kind and get a good offer and you may have a handsome commission….If not, better clear out from here,” shouts Nookamma.
The result: hostility.
Before the sun sets, Polayya tells Veerasaami, “Nookamma has said that Veerasaami’s wife is a whore.’
“She has said that Polayya has a stake in illicit liquor trade,”Veerasaami tells Polayya.
Both join together and come down like a ton of bricks on Nookamma.
When suddenly the police come to her house…. A thing that has not happened before…Nookamma gets panicky.
She thinks that it is on account of the bull, but the police seize the jewellary with her and take it away with her and take it away saying, “Come to the station and prove that these are yours and take them back.”
Nookamma beats her breasts. “These are mine, she cries. “They are pledged with me for loans.”
“This is stolen property. Tell us from whom you had taken them.”
Jaggadu stands ten yards away and twists his moustache boastfully to proclaim his valour.
“These are from that wretch there,” says Nookamma. The police ask Jaggadu also to come along with them.
“Not me, on my honour, Sirs! If I had stolen them, would I have told you about it?”
It is in vain.
Jaggadu is on tenterhooks to squeal out many more things about Nookamma.
But she is no whit inferior to him in such tactics. She says that she will recount all his crimes in order and have them proved by Veerasaami and Polayya.
With this everything blazes out like the spark that falls on a thatched roof. A lot of dirty linen is washed. It is all great fun for the police.
Having returned from the police station, Nookamma has not yet wiped her eyes dry when four sturdy men come and say, “Mother, this bull is ours.”
“May its horns shrive? Take it and jump into the nearest tank,” says Nookamma.
“This is very fine of you. You take a bull that has strayed out here and claim it as yours.” Saying this, they untie the bull and go away with it.
Nookamma, whose growl used to resound in the streets, moans her misfortune in silence.
“The feckless bull….It has wrecked me,” Saying this, she picks out the cow-dung cakes that had not been trampled upon by the bull and ground into paste.
After all she is a woman. She cracks her fingers and curses Jaggadu.
A doubt crosses her mind. “I cannot believe that its real owners have taken back that bull….The fellows who came to fetch it must be some opportunists…..”
(Translated from the original in Telugu by Neelam Hari)
(Published originally in Andhra Prabha Weekly, 1961, and was translated in to English and Russian. Also.published in the London Thought magazine on August 11, 1973.)