“Parvati! You are hardly twenty years old. Your beauty is all wasted, like the moonlight on a forest. Come with me. I will show you, what it is to live happily. I will take you with me into the blissful heaven,” Ramesh hugged Parvati.
Parvati moved away from him. “How can you talk like this? I am married to another man. When a woman is married, all her happiness is with her husband.”
“What rubbish! You’ve been in this village all your life. You’ve not seen how the rest of the world is moving on. You’ve got only one life. God has given you this divine beauty. What for, I wonder. Certainly not to make cow dung cakes and slog in the farm, I am sure. Like the lamp in a blind man’s hand, your life is getting wasted in the hands of that bull who calls himself your husband! Open your eyes, girl!”
“Really? Will you promise never to leave my side?”
“Of course not! To leave a beauty like you! Do you think I am blind?” He pressed her hand lovingly.
The astrologer fell asleep in the cool shade, under the tree. The parrot in the cage hummed merrily. The cat strutted across. “Hey little parrot! I feel so sad when I see you. You are stuck in that cage, aren’t you, you poor creature?” it sighed sadly.
The parrot looked surprised. “Why? What’s the matter? I am quite happy here in this cage. By the way, who are you? What do you do? You have such cool eyes!”
“I am Mr.Cat. I chase the rats and give them a good workout. I teach them how to run about freely and show them the value of freedom,” purred the cat smugly.
“Freedom? What is it?” The parrot asked curiously.
“Freedom is doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Look at the ripe mango at the end of that branch, over there. You fly there, eat it to your heart’s content, and then you’ll know what I am talking about.”
“Really? But I can’t come out of this cage, can I?”
“Says who? I can open the cage quietly. Then you can fly out, can’t you?”
Telephone rang incessantly. Ramadevi hurried into the living room and picked up the receiver. “Hallo! Akka! It is me, Parvati. I am ruined, akka! That auto driver, Ramesh, he has cheated me, akka! He enticed me to elope with him and robbed me clean. I lost all the money and he disappeared,” Parvati was sobbing miserably on the phone.
“Calm down, Parvati. We have been searching for you everywhere. Where are you speaking from?” Ramadevi asked anxiously.
“In Rajamundry. We stayed in a hotel. They refused to let me out unless I paid the remaining rent that we owed to the hotel. Somehow I managed to slip out and searched everywhere for Ramesh. I finally realised that I have been duped. I felt ashamed of myself and decided to commit suicide. But Nagamani found me and stopped me. Do you remember Nagamani? She lives in our village and she sells arrack. She made me call you. I did not have even one rupee coin to call you. I brought ruin on the family. I don’t deserve to live. Just look after my three kids, akka! My husband is such a drunkard, you can’t trust him to do anything,” Parvati was uncontrollably weeping.
“Don’t talk rubbish! Why should you die if somebody has cheated you? You’ve to think of your kids and be brave. Just stay where you are. We will come and pick you up. Where is Nagamani now? Can I talk to her?”
“Yes, she is here with me. Talk to her.” Parvati handed the phone over to Nagamani.
“Hello, madam, how are you all!”
“What to say, Nagamani! After she eloped, we have become the laughing stock of the town. We will be there at Rajamundry by tomorrow morning. Please keep an eye on her, so that she doesn’t act harshly. I will repay all the money you spent on her when we meet.”
“Oh, don’t worry about the money, madam! It is the life that cannot be bought back. I will look after her till you come here, don’t worry!”
Ramadevi gave further instructions to Nagamani and disconnected the telephone. She called her husband Prakash on telephone and explained the matter to him. Prakash promised to pick up their two kids from their school, drop them off at her brother’s home and then buy bus tickets for both of them to Rajamundry.
Ramadevi’s thoughts were racing the bus. In a big city like Hyderabad, her sister’s eloping with the auto driver became a talk of the town. She wondered how her parents were facing the humiliation in their tiny village, Goranta. As it is, they were struggling under financial burdens, before this added difficulty.
Ramadevi’s elder brother deserted their parents and left home with his wife. Parvati was younger than Ramadevi by two years. Right from childhood, she had been a boisterous and headstrong girl. Her adventures that began with stealing mangoes in the neighbour’s garden ended with eloping with Ramesh to Rajamundry.
Prakash married his sister’s daughter, Ramadevi. Prakash was a broad minded, modern young man. He took pity upon his sister who was sick with worry about unaffordable dowries. He convinced his parents and married Ramadevi. Shortly later, Parvati married a distant relative, Ramana. He worked as a construction laborer and lived with Parvati’s parents.
Unfortunately, Ramana was slave to many vices. He spent all the money he earned on drink. To make matters worse, he sold the household items to indulge in gambling.
Prakash and Ramadevi tried to convince Ramana to change his ways. But all their efforts failed. Ramadevi helped her sister financially now and then. She invested money and helped Parvati to open a small grocery store in the village.
Ramesh had joined the village vet as an assistant, some time ago. To add to his income, he drove an auto between Gorinta and Samarlakota. He never told anyone that he was already a married man. He would bring groceries to Parvati’s shop from Samarlakota. Slowly he sweet-talked her into leaving her family and eloping with him.
Ramana vowed to kill Ramesh on sight and carried a knife with him always.
Ramadevi thought of all this and thanked God that her sister was alive and well. She felt indebted to Nagamani who rescued her sister. Nagamani belonged to their village. Along with her husband, she did liquor business and earned enough money to live comfortably. There were some rumours about her character in the village. Whatever she was, she saved my sister, thought Ramadevi with relief.
Prakash and Ramadevi rushed to the hotel at which Parvati stayed in Rajamundry. Parvati started crying as soon as she saw her sister. Nagamani, with her dark complexion, a big bindi on her forehead, and a big ring on her nose looked like one
of the deities in a temple, thought Prakash.
“Thank you so much, Nagamani. How can we ever repay your kindness? Could you please tell me how much money you’ve spent so far?” He opened his purse to repay her.
Nagamani pulled her saree edge around her. “Oh, no sir! Don’t bother about it now. It is in these difficult times that we should help each other. Who cares about money? Parvati was born in front of my eyes. Let us first think what we should do next, se suggested politely.
“I figured it all out. I will take her to Hyderabad with me. I will get her into tailoring and she can stand on her own feet. She can leave her kids with my parents till she settles down,” opined Ramadevi.
Nagamani said hesitantly, “Madam! I am older than you and so in spite of being an ignorant fool I will tell you what I think is right. Don’t misunderstand me. It might not be a very good idea for Parvati to live with your family. She will have to live all by herself, to save her reputation and that will be all the more difficult. In her young age, to live alone would be nearly impossible these days. Instead it might be better to beg Ramana to forgive her and accept back into the family fold.”
“But will that be possible? He might be a drunkard, but will he forgive his wife who has eloped with another man?” Ramadevi was worried.
Prakash interjected, “Rama! Why to use such big words as “eloped” etc.? Some cheat had tempted her and being innocent and gullible, she fell for his charms. She is a victim, not a criminal. If she had received husband’s love and affection, she wouldn’t have been attracted to another man, would she? Ramana too is responsible to some extent for this mishap.”
“Sir! Let’s all go to the village. We will discuss this with the village heads and see what they will decide. Ramana is indeed a drunk, but might listen to common sense,” Nagamani concluded.
“Rama! I think Nagamani is correct. Let’s try to settle her back in her family.”
“How can she live in that village after all this humiliation?” doubted Ramadevi.
“Listen to me madam! As long as there is a husband, he will look after the wife, won’t he? If she were living alone, every man would like to take advantage of her.”
They fell into a thoughtful silence. After long discussions, they decided to go to Goranta with Parvati.
All the village elders sat under the peepal tree beside the temple. The remaining people settled down on the ground on mats. Parvati’s parents did not attend the meeting since they wanted to babysit the kids. The village sarpanch Sitaramiah started the meeting. The priest Krishnamoorthy explained the case to the attendants.
“Parvati! Do you accept that you are guilty?” asked Sitaramiah gently. Parvati broke into tears. Ramadevi tried to console her sister.
Prakash rose to his feet and said, “Sir! You are the village elder. You know everything. Parvati’s husband Ramana is quite an irresponsible man. This made her vulnerable to the attempts of that rouge. Please understand her plight and give her another chance to mend her ways. ”
“Ramana! Whether you like it or not, she is your wife. You should forgive her at least for the sake of your kids,” said Sitaramiah.
Ramana dusted the towel on his head angrily and said, “How can any man accept a woman who has gone astray?”
Nagamani who was sitting in a corner stood up and said, “Sir! If all the women in the village vowed never to live with men who strayed, there would not be a single unbroken family living in this village. This Ramana here who is accusing his wife was caught red-handed with Gowri. They were tied up to this tree and tried. His father came and paid the fine and freed his son. Parvati did not leave him then. Even before that we all know how many times he was caught misbehaving with women.”
“Oh, you shut up! Nobody asked your opinion,” interjected Krishnamoorthy. “In the low castes it is not a big deal. If a proper fine is paid, those women are accepted by their men,” he concluded.
“Let’s not bring castes into this, sir! Castes are just like professional associations. There is nothing ‘low’ or ’high’ about them,” said Prakash indignantly.
Pastor Esupadam intervened, “Prakash! We respect you as a son-in-law of this village and due to your high education. But I have to disagree with you in this matter. If we accept this girl, we are encouraging all such sinners and we are encouraging prostitution.”
Prakash felt slightly irritated, but controlled himself. He wanted to settle the issue as amicably as possible. “Sir! What can I tell you? You surely remember what Christ said, when a prostitute was to be stoned by the villagers.
He said, “Only those who have never sinned before should stone her.” So does that mean that Christ himself encouraged prostitution? These days the marriages in our society are so much lacking in love that people are straying away from marital commitments. It is very natural to get attracted to a stranger when one doesn’t get enough love from family members.”
Nagamani rose again and shouted, “Prakash babu says correctly. Only those who have never sinned have a right to judge this issue. I might then reveal the names of the people who regularly visit me surreptitiously.”
Krishnamoorthy said, “Oh, you be quiet now! We are all looking into it, aren’t we? “
Everybody looked uncomfortable.
Sarpanch Sitaramiah cleared his throat and finally declared, “Look here Ramana! We all know about you. Your wife coped up with all your misdeeds. Then why can’t you forgive her once? She is young and has been misled due to her naivete. If you throw her out now, who will look after you in your old age? We are all telling you- forget about this incident and live with her as usual. Let that auto driver enter the village again and then we will show him!”
Ramana tied up his turban on to his head, “Yes, sir! But she has to promise that she will never do it again.”
Nagamani again jumped to her feet. “Oh yeah? Will you make a similar promise, then?” She asked sarcastically.
“Nagamani! That’s enough! Don’t keep teasing everybody,” said Sitaramiah sternly and turned to Parvati. “Parvati? Are you willing to live with Ramana as usual?” he asked.
Parvati walked from her hiding spot behind the tree timidly. “Sir! At least one person cares about what I want. Do I have any other choice? The auto driver actually opened my eyes to reality. All men are indeed the same, sir! Why will I ever do such a thing again? I’ve understood that my husband is not worse than any other man!” replied Parvati.
The parrot slowly walked out of the cage. “Mr.Cat! Thanks a lot. Because of you, I am free at last.” It remembered the mango on the branch and tried to fly. It felt weak in the wings. Then it remembered that the astrologer clipped his wings, to prevent it from flying. A dog that was watching the parrot from a distance made a move towards the parrot. The cool cat that set the parrot ‘free’ started approaching from the other end, with a mean, gloating look on its face. The parrot realized suddenly that is was in mortal
danger and tried to escape from them. Helpless and scared it hurried back into the cage and closed the cage door. It felt safe inside the cage. The astrologer who clipped my wings is my savior, it thought.
Bus started to move. “Thanks Prakash! You’ve found a solution to my sister’s problem and settled her again,” said Ramadevi.
“Rama! We did not find any solution. We just gave a symptomatic treatment. The real problem is still alive. Now we understand why women stay in marriage in spite of men treating them badly! When the outside world is infested with dogs and cats, safety is inside the cage, thinks an innocent parrot. It is a similar situation, isn’t it?” he leaned back and closes his eyes.
Translated by Sharada and published on thulika.net, July 2007.
(The Telugu original, panjaramlo swetchha, was published in Andhra Jyothy Sunday edition, September 30, 2007.)