POET’S WIFE by Nayani Krishna Kumari.

There are only two characters in this story—the Poet who just returned home and the wife busy with chores at home. Between these two characters, there is the pen which is busy chiseling the letters, passing comments off and on, and babbling some silly things. This pen never learned to keep quiet.

“Lakshmi, Lakshmi,” the poet called a few times. His voice rose higher and higher, reached the highest note and then stopped. Lakshmi did not come into the room. The wicked wife not coming into the front room.

powife

“Huh. My voice’s getting gruff. This wicked witch of a wife hears me and still does not reply,” he told himself.

True, she heard his voice and not replied. She has not replied verbally; she walked in slowly. She came in, dabbing her wet hands to her saree palloo gently. “What is it, Sir! You’re shattering the tiles on the roof,” she said with a smile. She was watching the glow on his face in the light spreading from her moonlit smile. Her husband had the most beautiful face. He had a face that could put a value on her life.

“Oh, Devi[1]! The Generous one! The Woman with a heart brimming with waves of kindness! You’ve finally taken pity on this poor soul,” the poet knelt in front of her. Little waves of the river mandakini danced in her heart. That was the kind of dance the poet would describe in his poetry, she thought and suppressed a smile. She held her right hand in abhayamudra[2]. The poet was tickled at heart as he watched the tender palm.

“Um, come on, quick, speak your wish or else you’ll receive not a boon but a curse,” she said. The wife who had surrendered her entire life to the husband on his knees, was telling him that she might put a curse on him.

“May you grant me a strong cup of coffee,” he said gravely.

His eyes shone as they reflected the sheen of her teeth. The poet’s wife’s eyes turned toward the kitchen but her heart stayed put with the husband.

“Do not add too much sugar, Devi! May you be blessed with good grace”

The poet’s heart bubbled with joy. The muse in him gathered strength. The luster from her face was spreading over his heart like the rays of light. His hands fumbled all over the table and pulled out white papers. The pen’s cap settled on the back end; the pen was ready to smear the white pages.

Poet’s wife walked in with a steaming cup of coffee.

“What’s that?” As she handed him the cup, her mouth spit those harsh words. Her devotion to her husband surged in her heart yet remained silent.

Poet took the coffee.

Wife stood behind his chair and started playing with his hair. “Bavaa,” she called him softly.

Poet’s heart was moved. The term bavaa from his wife, his maternal uncle’s daughter, sent his heart into raptures. Poet flipped his head backwards; his eyes met hers.

“Shooting a sammohanastram[4]. What’s the story?” he asked.

 

Poet was writing not only poetry but fiction also. His wife wrote nothing. She would listened to his stories, enthralled. In her mind, her husband wrote poetry much better than all the others.

”I don’t have any story to tell. You’re the two-penny writer. You would write some rubbish, call them your stories, and boogie around like a monkey,” she said. She told herself that she’d expressed her anger very well. She was annoyed because he was playing with his papers instead of talking to her.

 

“Whatever has gotten into you? It seems your father’s created you only to chew me up,” poet said. These words did not emanate from the bottom of his heart but only from the tip of his tongue. She would not chew him up, would not be able to.

 

“Bless you and your mother for thousand years. What’d I care,” poet’s wife said. Her feet turned towards the kitchen. They were like swans in the poet’s heart, her face was the lotus in it, her arms the stalks, and the green saree she was wearing was a throng of moss. Poet’s heart swung rapturously.

 

“What could I say anything about you? You snap for nothing. Yet you’ll say all kinds of things about my writing, is that it?” poet spoke the truth. He did not say anything about her. Poet’s wife bit her tongue. Honestly, she did not say anything about his writings either.

 

“What’s it then? You sit there with those stupid papers and pen forever. Do you think ‘wife’ does not mean as much to you as those stories?”

 

Poet’s heart laughed aloud; he laughed because this woman who held the rudder of his lifeboat was speaking meaningless words.

 

 

 

“No, my queen. Excitement is the foundation for poetry. And who’s the foundation for that excitement? Your eyes which, like fish, swim in the beauty of your face, the more I watch you … the more I spend time in your presence, … and .. and …” He wanted say a lot more but words failed him. Words have been always like this … never came to his mind when needed; they’d show up only after the need was gone. Poet’s eyes wandered around in the four corners of the room, prayed to the cobwebs for words and returned.

 

Poet cleared his throat and said, “My life’s aim is to portray you, the very manifestation of my life, in undying letters and present to the world as a gift. That is my single goal in life; my single exercise. You are a goddess to me, a genuine lover and my dream girl.” The poet was caught in a stream of poetry.

Poet’s wife was listening. She was on the ground but his words sounded like they were from out of this world. She felt like she was lost, bathing in the celestial mandakini river surrounded by kamadhenu [the heavenly cow], kalpavruksham [the celestial tree] and the parijatha flowers in the heavenly garden, nandanavanam. Her husband was not just a husband but the lord Indra himself.

 

“Stop Swami[5]. Crazy men are better compared to you poets, I suppose.”

 

Poet’s wife knew that poets and crazy men belonged together. Her husband was not only a poet but also was madly in love with her.

 

“That mischief of yours is inborn I’d say. You are my arthangi [one half of husband], the woman who should be holding my hand and walking me through life. And yet you snap at me and my poetry even if I say so much as an ‘um’. What am I supposed to do? Tell me, is my poetry asking you for food or water?”

 

True, his poetry did not demand food or water. Not even did it [the poetry] find the means to provide food and water for the person who had loved it and created it. Poet’s wife knew that.

 

“Would be nice if it had asked. I would’ve tied it to a pole and fed him some garbage,” she said.

 

Poet felt sparks in his heart. His wife was a good match for him.

 

“Come on Lakshmi, you’re not towing its load, are you?”

 

The pen told itself no need for any comments here.

 

Husband and wife were engaged in a heart-to-heart talk.

 

“You can say that again … You are not speaking even one word with me. As soon as you walk in, you start your affair with that pile of papers. I don’t have a co-wife but there it is, a bigger one.”

 

“You! God bless your home. That’s what you’re complaining about? … Is it about only talking, or, are you planning a trip to some place too?”

 

Poet’s wife did not speak. The pen thought there was nothing wrong in adding a comment here since the poet’s wife was quiet.

 

Poet approached her, held her chin gently. She pushed him away. The bangles on her hand jingled. Without another word, poet went and sat in his chair.

 

He said, “Oh god! I asked you for a wife and you gave me a brahmarakshasi. [high rank demon]”.

 

brahmarakshasi would not have smiling eyes or dainty nose, and certainly not the skill to overpower one’s heart. Poet’s wife possessed all these qualities. Therefore she was not a brahmarakshasi. And poet knew that.

 

Poet’s wife was not speaking yet.

 

“I wish I could ditch these mundane ties and go away to Rameswaram or some other place,” he said.

 

Poet’s wife moved; threw piercing looks at him. She said, “Stop it, stop that ghastly talk. If that’s the case, why marry at all? Who asked you to marry?”

 

Poet laughed. He laughed freely like a child. He said, “If somebody asked me to marry, I would have told her ‘no’ straight to her face. How can I look into your face and say no?”

 

Poet’s wife budged. She moved, walking in consonance with the flow of blood rushing in her veins. She came close to the poet. She knelt, held the arms of his chair; her eyes stared into his.

“Huh, that’s so unfair! Did I ask you to marry me? What a shame, bavaa?”

“Yes, my uncle’s daughter! Do you have to open your mouth and ask? What about your eyes? Did they let me stay still for a second? Didn’t they chase me like bullets from a rifle? Do you suggest I take the bullets and die? Don’t I savor my life of one hundred years like everybody else?”

 

Poet’s wife struggled to suppress a laugh. She bit her lip with front teeth. Her entire face became a camphor cube lit up, meant to hold a victory harati to the poet. She said, “You’re devious poet. Had I known, do you think I would have married you?”

 

“Well, that has happened. Let it be. Divorce me and find someone else.”

 

“Where is the assurance that he also wouldn’t turn out to be a poet like you? Nowadays where is a man who has learned the alphabet and not babbled or scribbled some nonsense?”

The poet thought that his wife’s question was a good one. The question however did not remain a question but gave rise to another misgiving. That misgiving worried him. For that worry to come out, his face changed expression and assumed somberness.

 

“Okay Lakshmi, I have a question for you. I’ll ask and you answer.”

 

Poet’s wife was disconcerted for a second. In her mind, a change in his tone caused the worlds to collapse; she collected herself and glared into his face sharply.

 

“Ask,” she said.

 

“Lakshmi, Would you really call my writings are also worthless trash, like those written by all those who had just learned the alphabet and scribbled?”

 

Ha, Is that all! Poet’s wife laughed. Relieved, her runaway heart returned home. Her impish brain popped up as usual and bopped like a kid.

 

“What do I know, sir. Am I a poet? Can I write? Why ask me about the good and bad in your poetry?”

 

“Stop it. Whom can I ask if not you? Who else has the power to evaluate my good and bad qualities?”

 

Joy erupted in the heart of the poet’s wife. It rose ferociously like the river Godavari on a stormy day and flooded; washed away her consciousness of the world, the people, and the daily activities in her memory.

 

“When I read your writings, I think that my husband is a gem among poets and then my heart runs over.”

 

“Really? Is it true, my queen? In that case, I don’t care even if the entire world assailed me and my poetry.”

 

Poet’s face turned red with excitement. Poet’s wife chided him gently, “Ssh. This is what bothers me about you. Too much excitement?”

 

“Without excitement, where is the poetry, you silly? You see, right now I am in a mood to write one hundred poems about you—the way you stand, the looks your eyes disperse, the beams of light your face displays, … and … more….” Poet wanted to say a lot more. But words were not coming to his rescue. These words had been always like that. They would not come to mind in time of need. Poet was lost in thought. His eyes were staring at the ceiling. His heart was not to be found anywhere in the vicinity. Poet’s wife was troubled.

 

Bava, hey bavaa! What’s that? A fit of excitement?.” Her two hands seized his shoulders, shook him and then let go.

 

God bless you! Keep quiet for a second. I am on to a good poem.”

 

“That’s enough, that’s cute. Don’t make all my labor bite dust.”

 

That was hard! What’s that? Suspicion sprang in the poet’s heart.

 

“Don’t you remember what you’ve just said? We’re going on a trip, straight to the Royal talkies,” she said.

 

A big boulder descended in the poet’s heart. The thrill of his poetic brilliance was gone. Even the beautiful poem which was about to come out was gone. The Royal Talkies turned into a planet at his heart and wailed for help.

 

“We’ll eat and then go. See how fast I’ve finished cooking the food—your favorite potato curry. Get up. Why waste time?”

 

Poet was still in daze yet heard his wife’s voice. The potato cubes, cooked, peeled, and fried zesty brown were twirling around in his heart. But he was not enthused. There was no sign of poems shaping up in his mind anymore. Well, the potato cubes would not make the right stuff for poetry.

 

“You’re not going to get up,” she said. The Poet’s wife referred to him as meeru or nuvvu depending on what she thought of him—husband or uncle’s son at any given moment.

 

She assembled the papers in front of him, capped the pen, seized his hand and dragged him towards the kitchen, to serve his favorite potato curry and tell him to take her to the movies.

 

The form of the wife who had been nurturing him so fondly was glowing in his heart even more charmingly. But it would not be impossible for him to write poetry in that moment. His wife would not let him.

[End]

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, February 2008.

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[1] Goddess.

[2] A hand gesture usually associated with gods and goddesses granting a wish.

[3] Mother’s sister’s son. In Telugu homes, the marriage between cross-cousins is permitted.

[4] An arrow, sanctified with a particular mantra, is capable of causing delusion in the person hit by it.

[5] Commander, Chief.

[6] The wife uses second person, singular, informal nuvvu , and formal meeru based on her assessment of the situation. These two forms are translated as “you’ in English. Only those familiar with our culture can understand the way the wife plays on the two terms.