“Aah! Aah! What a performance! What can I say, Swamy! The audience went into a trance as they listened to your narration!” Venkatadri Naidu, the village head, said.
“Is that right? Is it that appealing?” Harinarayana Sarma Bhagavatar responded modestly.
“You are making it sound very ordinary, sir. The truth is each word hit us like a piece of diamond. You might think I am saying this to flatter you. No sir. I swear on Draupadi amma. I have heard it so many times in my life, this is the twenty-second. I have seen persons narrating Rajasuyam, Vastrapaharanam] and even Vishaneellu But I’ve never heard anybody narrate the dice story with such a fervor and so lusciously …”
“That’s good, Naidu! I was hesitant at first. You know why. Your accent is different from mine. If your people fail to follow my language, it is of no use, no matter how much I scream. That’s fine. You are speaking from your heart. I am so happy I could be riding an elephant. You might be wondering why I give so much importance to the story of dice. I do have my own reasons. Sit down. I will tell you why. Let me first go into the yard and wash my hands and feet. I will be back in a second.”
“I will wait here, Swamy!” Venkatadri Naidu said and sat down in a chair on the porch. Harinarayana Sarma hung up his gold-threaded upper garment on a hook, changed from his silk dhoti to an ordinary one and went into the backyard.
During summer it is common for the farmers to celebrate Bharata yajnam in the villages. When the summer sun is blazing, the water in the well hits rock bottom, and the trees shed all the leaves. The farmers, while waiting for the rains, would hold such performances. Usually they would have “daytime stories” at noontime and plays at night. The occasion was an eighteen-day celebration corresponding to the Great War fought for eighteen days according to the epic Maha Bharatam. But then what is so special about this celebration? Who does not know the story of Maha Bharatam? Even an old hag who has no knowledge of even one letter of the alphabet can tell the story. Imagine how superb one has to be to narrate it in a way that could capture the audience—a story that is well-known to everybody, from the littlest child to the oldest in the entire community, a story that is infused into the lifeblood of the entire race. The narrator should have several qualifications like scholarship, worldly knowledge, good timing, melodic skills, a sense of humor and more. In addition, the ability to answer the complex questions and explain the finer distinctions of dharma is also important. Venkatadri Naidu was searching for a Bhagavatar of that distinction and he heard about Harinarayana Sarma.
“I have been listening to these narrations since my childhood days. Are you saying this Bhagavatar is better than Erpedu Subbarama dasu, Santapeta Tiruvengada dasu, Sompalli Surnayarana sastrulu? In what way he is superior to all these bhagavatars?” Venkatadri Naidu quesioned him.
Now the time has come for the other person to “save his deposit.” He said, “Look, Naidu! Do you think Harinarayana Sarma is my relative or something? No! But can I eat sugar and call it bitter? That is the only reason I mentioned it. Where is the need for me to argue in his behalf? What is the point in describing the sweetness of a mango in words? You will know only if you taste it. Have you heard Adibhatla Narayanadasu ever? He is known as the grandfather of harikatha [stories of gods]. Narayanadasu was a bhagavatar with a moustache. This Harinarayana Sarma has no moustache. That is my introduction to him to put it briefly. If you want me to, I am prepared to give you a longer version. Harinarayana Sarma does not wear all that jewelry all Bhagavatars wear traditionally—like the gold bracelets with lion head decorations, rings on fingers, and such. But then, don’t you think he has no jewelry. He has bundled them up and thrown them into the attic. He looks like a stupid brahmin for all appearances. In fact, he is like that magician who plays the flute and all the children follow him. When Sarma opens his voice, it is the same way with the audience. Do you want to know how I came to know about all this? Once I went to Palnadu to buy turmeric. On my way I stopped in Vinukonda for the night. Somebody told me about the harikatha [performance] and so I went there. The organizers probably wanted to test the skills of the Bhagavatar. They asked him to present the story of Sita’s wedding with sorrow as the dominant rasa. The audience were surprised wondering how could a wedding be described with sorrow as its dominant theme. You know what Sarma did? He opened with the anecdote where the father, Janaka, sends off Sita to the in-law’s house. Trust me, he squeezed our hearts out. There was not a soul that did not shed a tear.”
Venkatadri Naidu’s determination is like that of a mongoose. He would not sleep until he accomplishes his aim once he sets his mind to do something. He took Appoji Reddy, the ex-munsif [village administrator], with him and got on the train, the Tirumala Express, and arrived in Vijayawada. From there, they reached Gudlavalleru by bus. Harinarayanadasu lives in a small village two kilometers away from Gudlavalleru. They reached there and found that Harinarayana Sarma had gone to another town, Annavaram. It was brahmotsavam time in the Annavaram temple.
“Appoji! Swamy is not here. What do you think we should do now?” Naidu asked his friend for his advice.
“What else is there to do? Why not find out where that Annavaram is? We have come all the way here, why go back?” Appoji said.
They both got on the train and reached Annavaram. By now four days of the performance were over, with three more to go.
“Look Appoji! The hill, temple and the lake are beautiful. Shall we stay here for the three days and listen to the story?” Naidu asked.
“Let’s do that. We can visit the god at dawn and dusk as well. At night we can listen to the story. Nothing more pleasurable,” Appoji supported the idea.
The three nights flew away like three seconds for them.
On the final night, Sarma finished the show with the usual mangalam and was about to leave the stage. Naidu, along with Appoji, rushed forward and stood in front of Sarma holding out a tamboolam for Sarma.
“What is this?” Sarma asked. Naidu’s attire appeared strange. Naidu has a bushy moustache, and a long namam on his forehead. He wore a long-sleeve shirt and had a cane in one hand while clutching the frills of his dhoti with the other hand.
“I will explain to you, Swamy! Please, accept this tamboolam,” Naidu said.
Sarma garu took the tamboolam and said, “What’s this for? Tamboolam with money? You are being silly, why?” Sarma asked, surprised.
“Swamy! Please, I am imploring you,” Naidu cleared his throat and continued, “Accept this, Swamy! We are from Chittoor district in the Rayalaseema area. Our village is called Bugga agraharam, 15 miles south of Tirupati township. My name is Venkatadri Naidu. He is Appoji Reddy. We have Dharmaraju temple in our village. We have the tradition of performing Dharmaraju yajnam [vedic ritual] each year—narratives of epic stories in the daytime and outdoor stage performances at night. We were discussing who we could invite. By chance, we heard your name. We set out right away, went to your village and then heard about your performance here. We came here three days ago. For the time we took, we were able to pay a visit to the Lord and also listen to your narrative on the temple porch. My education is very little. I am not qualified to describe your excellence. This time you must come to our village for our bharatam celebrations. We cannot worship a mountain-size Lord with that big heap of flowers. We will show you our abilities and our respect for you. We have heard your narrative but that is not enough. All the people in our area must listen to your story. Swamy! That is what I am begging for.” He stood there with folded hands respectfully.
Sarma was quite taken by Naidu’s demeanor, his appeal and the way he presented it, but was a little apprehensive. He put his hands on Naidu’s shoulder and said, “Your manner is impressive. You have stalled me before I could object. My heart would not allow me to refuse the tamboolam that has been given to me on the temple premises. But you must know, I have never been to any place beyond Nellore for storytelling. I have no knowledge of your traditions. There is a striking difference in the manner you and I talk. I don’t know if your people could follow my narrative style.”
“Please, Swamy, do not think on those lines. We have been listening to your narrative for the past three nights. We could understand, why could not our people? Swamy! Don’t they say all the forests are the same for a lion to roam around?”
Sarma laughed aloud. “You say you are not educated but you do have a way with words. I don’t know how but you have gotten my assent. Good, Naidu. I will be there. Tell me how to get there and when.”
“We will give you all those details before we leave,” Naidu said.
That is how Harinarayana Sarma happened to arrive at Bugga agraharam.
Sarma was satisfied with the arrangements Naidu has made for him. Naidu got the building that was vacated by the headmaster after his transfer to another place. He got it remodeled with all the amenities, like a small size travelers’ bungalow. He also got a chef from Tirupati for cooking food. Sarma was especially impressed by the scenic beauty and also by the interest the local people have evinced in the epics of Maha Bharatam and Ramayanam.
The village was surrounded by mountains. Along the mountain slopes, there was a river flowing incessantly. On either side of the river, there were several trees with a variety of fruits and stretches of green farm lands. Amidst the valleys there was mound on which Bugga agraharam was situated. The Dharmaraju temple was just outside the village and in the middle of a tamarind grove. Huge tamarind trees, standing tall, encircled the temple. The temple was situated close to the periphery and faced the east. Although it was referred to as a temple, in reality, it was a compound for carts. In that nine-acre building, one fourth of it was used as a porch and the rest of it was used as temple. Inside the temple, there were statues of the five Pandava princes and Draupadi. A little further away, the statues of Krishna and Potharaju were situated. All of them were made of wood. Outside the temple, the villagers put up a temporary roofing with matted coconut leaves on a one-acre area. They brought in sand and poured it on the ground. Across from the tent, at about one hundred meters distance, they raised a stage for the performance. On either side of the stage, they also built huts with thatched roofing in semicircles. Some of them were used for selling sweets, cool drinks, and snack shops.
Sarma stood on the stage and looked around. The entire scenery was breathtaking. In great excitement he felt as if Vyasa bhagavan and the trinity of poets had entered his spirit. Sarma opened his narrative of the fifth veda [maha bharatam] in a reverie. It took the entire first day just to sing the praise of the Maha Bharatam. In the next five days he covered Menaka Viswamitra story, Sakuntala Dushyanta, birth of Bharata, Ganga Santana story, Bhishma’s vow, and Satyavati’s wedding and moved on to Khandava dahanam and finished the first of the 18 segments. Then followed Rajasuyam and Sisupala vadha. On the seventh day, he was to present Maya sabha, maya dyutham [crafty dice game] and Draupadi mana samrakshanam [saving Draupadi from public disgrace]. Sarma however felt like he needed to level the playing field before he could proceed to the dice game and so stopped there. Usually, most narrators would finish the story in about ten minutes. Sarma spent one and a half hours and kept the audience spellbound the entire time.
“Tell us, Swamy!” Naidu asked with curiosity.
Sarma lay back in the armchair.
“Naidu, do you know why Janamejayudu did the Serpent yagam?”
“Oh, wouldn’t I know? His father was bitten by a snake, wasn’t he? For that reason, he was hell-bent on destroying the entire species of snakes …”
“That is true. In the same way, I am enraged by the dice game. I am angry up to my neck. Of course, there are lots of evils that are destroying our country. Among those destructive elements this gambling mentality tops the list, I think. Human beings do have weakness, I agree. That is natural. But the family, educational institutions and the government must take the responsibility to eliminate those weaknesses, instill plausible values and make them responsible citizens. On the other hand, if the fence eats up the farm where do we turn for help? Here is my question. Aren’t you all, indirectly if not directly, in deed if not in words, spreading the message that, ‘You idiot, obvviously it is unreasonable to hope that you could climb the ladder with your hard-earned money in this world. Therefore you had better find some shortcuts.’ Don’t you know the name of this game? Lottery! Every state–Haryana lottery, Andhra Pradesh lottery, Manipur lottery, Meghalaya … in fact where is a state which is not running a lottery? Some hundreds and thousands of people burn their hands so one person could become a millionaire. They claim that they can create a happy, contented Rama rajyam, based on this philosophy. Look Naidu! Don’t these arguments drive you crazy? I am losing my mind. I have a younger brother who got caught in this mess of the lottery and got burnt …”
“Oh! Is that true, Swamy! You are so knowledgeable. Could you not talk some sense into him?” Naidu said, express sympathy.
“Whoever tried to talk sense to him, each one of us, became his sworn enemy. Only those who encouraged him to buy lottery tickets were his dearest friends. His dream was, by the grace of God, if he would win some three hundred thousand rupees in some lottery, he could build a huge mansion, put the rest of the money in a fixed deposit, and quit the stupid job he had. In his eyes all the other things like the happiness of his family, future of his children, his accountability on the job, even his own pleasure appeared to be insignificant and despicable. God knows how many tickets he bought and how much money he spent. He was always in debt. His life was revolving round buying the lottery tickets and waiting for the results. The bus bringing the newspapers arrives at midnight to the village where he was working. And this idiot would be there at the bus station waiting for the bus. He also found a friend who was equally crazy about the lottery. At one time they got into an argument and the friend said, “Even if you pray standing on your head, you will not get the first prize in this lifetime.” That depressed my brother. He grew a beard and moustache. Then he got a huge amount from his office as some sort of backpay. He went and bought hundreds of tickets with that money on some bumper lottery series.”
“He did not get the prize even after buying so many tickets, Swamy?”
“He missed the chance of second prize just by one number.”
“He would have taken it well, if not for something else. I mentioned earlier about another friend of his who was taunting him. He got the same prize my brother missed by one number. That was an insult my brother could not take—it was like Duryodhana in Maya sabha. He felt like he was being fried in the fire of humiliation. That was the last of him. Nobody ever saw him again.
Nobody knew where he went. We have reported to the police. We have engaged people to find him and took even ads in the papers. The result is nil.”
Naidu went on listening without a word.
“The worst part is we could not even say that the winner was happy. He kept his prize ticket in his pocket and went into the city. He consulted several people about depositing the money in a bank. Among the people he consulted there was also a topnotch pickpocket. He was so good—he could remove the eyeball while the eye is wide open. That smooth-talking thief picked his pocket, replaced it with a phony ticket and disappeared. This friend found out about the deception and cried his heart out. He kept going to the police station for about a month. After understanding that it was of no use, he hung himself right there and ended his life. …”
“I am sorry …”
“Sorry for what? The people who run these lotteries must take the blame. You have the power. If you put your mind to it, you can stop this depravity, this injustice and all evil paths. But it does not look like you have such humane thought. You are saying that there should not be class distinctions. At the same time you are creating these evil ways suitable for each of these classes. Horse races for the high class, the lotteries for the middle class, and the matka games for the lower class. … Let us not worry about the high class. Let it be. What about the matka? The rikshaw driver, the errand boy in the tea stall, paan shop owner, the compositor in the press, the little businessman in the market, waiter in the small hotels, the servant in small stores … are not they all ripped off through these games. They work all day to earn the money and spend it on the games at night. By dawn, they come out losers. Again go to work, earn money, again play the game, get robbed … Does this vicious circle have to keep spinning eternally? Would it ever stop?”
“Don’t know, Swamy! It is doubtful if it would ever stop.”
“That is why I hate gambling. The gambling habit has spread all over the world like a horrible, contagious disease. It has seized the society like a forest fire. The human race is bitten by its vicious fangs and is distorted like the emperor Nala who was bitten by the snake Karkotaka. People like us can only find imaginary solutions but can do nothing in reality. Let me share with you my thoughts. Sometimes, I feel like performing a vedic ritual like Janamejaya and invite into the sacred fire all those who create these games—those who invite the players and those who encourage gambling.”
Sarma kept quiet for a few minutes and then said, “I just remembered. The story of tonight’s play is about gambling, right?”
“Yes, Swamy! You must watch that play. Did I not tell you that the players are Kanga troupe. They are very famous in the area for their presentation of the stories of Bharatam.”
“I have not seen their performance but I heard a lot about it. And you have set up microphones that could shake even the mountains. I think I heard their play on the radio. But then one can never really experience the essence of it unless one watches it on the stage. Let us satisfy that craving too. You be here by nine-thirty. We can watch for about a half hour or so and return. …”
“We will do that, Swamy!” Naidu said and got up to leave.
The Bharatam mound was like a huge tent built with dark curtains and huge flood lights flushed in. The light bulbs hanging from poles, beams, and the branches of trees were looking like buds. The noise from the crowds was resounding—incessant, hollow and baffling—in all the directions like the great ocean on a full moon day. People from all the neighboring villages came in huge crowds, bringing their jute mats, spreading them and the settling down in the open arena. A festive mood spread all over. They were shouting at the top of their voices. Laughter was spreading like flowers thrown around.
Naidu brought Sarma, showed him a place to sit making sure he was seated comfortably. Yakshaganam performance was just starting at the other end of the arena at the same time.
The announcer came to the stage, fully dressed in the traditional garb. He was wearing a long shirt, a glittering vest, a scarf round his neck, and a stick in his hand. He alerted the audience that the performance was going to start.
The king is entering the court!
Here is the King!
Here, the King has arrived!”
He ran back and forth on the stage looking in all the directions—a way of creating a sense of reality of the King’s arrival. Sarma could not contain a laugh. He burst into laughter and said, “This is great. Your actor is really living it.”
“Oh, You have seen nothing yet. You wait until Addala Munusamy comes. Then you will know,” Naidu said.
“Who is Addala Munusamy? There is no such character in bharatam.”
“Addala Munusamy is the person who plays the role of Duryodhana. When he comes on the stage, wearing dark sunglasses, glittering coat, wristwatch and sandals, even the dozing audience would get up and sit straight.”
Sarma slipped into a reverie. Not even Vyasa could have imagined a Duryodhana wearing dark sunglasses and wristwatch. But then there is something we have to remember. The art form changes according to the times. It is not a problem as far as this presentation of Bharatam goes even if the costumes were not appropriate, props were absurd, and delivery was unacceptable. It is enough if persons were inspired by the original message of the Bharatam.
The attention of Sarma was shifted from the performance to the crowds. People were standing like walls at the stalls on the either side of the stage. Some of them were enjoying the hot snacks straight out of the frying pan and blowing to cool them. Glasses of tea were changing hands nonstop. Items like paan leaves, betel nut, beedies, cigarettes, balloons, stainless steel and aluminum pans, and ribbons have become hot items. It is common for such things to sell well at festivals and on religious occasions.
Sarma was however astounded for one reason. Opposite these huts, there were bigger huts with dazzling lights. From the looks of huge crowds going that way, it would appear like something very special was going on there.
“Naidu, are those huts also shops?” Sarma asked.
“How could they also be shops? There are other things like lungaru, pin-board machines, tamarind seeds game, both inside and outside …”
“What on earth are they?”
“You have never seen them before?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about. How can ask me if I have seen them or not? Tell me this first, is it worth seeing at all?”
“Let’s go. You can see them for yourself.”
As Naidu moved forward, the crowds split and gave them way. Naidu took Sarma to a place where the crowd was very dense, like a crop that grows thick because of sumptuous supply of manure. A huge tree was providing the roof. Some ten to twelve petromax lamps were blazing bright there. Near each one of the lamp, there was a spinning wheel, eight inches above the ground. People gathered round the wheel.
“Look at it, saar! There is no deception, no illusion. Prize based on luck. See the five pictures—elephant, camel, horse, cow and lion. You may bet on whatever picture you like. If the wheel stops at the picture on which you have bet, I will double the amount—quarter for a quarter, a half rupee for a half rupee, a rupee for a rupee, a five for a five and a ten for a ten. Just luck saar. Come on, saar. Come on. Play saar.”
The person running the show was shouting in the megaphone like a thunder. Money was pouring in like hailstorm. The wheel was spinning fast, and slowing down and then coming to a stop. Those who bet on the picture where the needle stopped were getting paid. The rest of the stakes on the other pictures were going into the organizer’s box.
“This is called lungaru. Sometimes they can change the pictures and or colors. The game in general is the same.”
“This is called lungaru?” Sarma’s voice sounded weak like from the depths of a well. “So what is happening in that hut?” he pointed to another hut.
“That is where they play the pin-board game, Swamy!” Naidu walked toward that hut.
Sarma followed Naidu reluctantly. In that hut also the crowd was so thick, if you threw sand on them it would not reach the ground. Sarma looked over their heads and noticed a wheel near the bamboo partition, and it was spinning like a table fan. One can see clearly the colors on the wheel only when it stopped. While rotating all the colors mix up and become blurry. The players were throwing arrows on to the wheel like one would throw knives at a woman propped up against a wall.
One man bet five rupees on the red color and threw out three arrows. Two of them hit the white color. The third one hit the yellow color. Within minutes the five rupee bill went into the box of the manager.
“Bet, sir, bet. If one arrow hits the color you bet on, twice the returns, if two arrows hit, you will get two times four, and if all the three arrows the color, your returns are eight times your bet. Eight rupees for one rupee! Forty rupees for five, eighty for ten, … bet saar bet!”
“Naidu! Are all the other huts the same?” Sarma asked.
“Oh, no swamy! There is no comparison at all between these games and the games there. They are high stake games. The one in that booth is tamarind seeds game …”
Words from that booth were being broadcast through a megaphone, “Sir …forty-five … twelve … twenty, nine … four … thirty-three …”
One of the players shouted, “Stop, stop. It is over. Game! Game!”
Naidu continued to explain, “Twenty-four persons can play the game each time, Swamy! They have benches to sit on, like in a snack shop. In front of the benches, they will have desks for the players to play the game. Each desk carries 24 boards. Each board contains eight times eight, sixty-four squares. Each square contains random numbers. The manager pulls out a card and calls out the number written on the card. The players keep placing the tamarind seeds on the numbers called out. Whoever gets the tamarinds eight in a row first, either top to bottom, across, or corner to corner, is the winner. The charge to play is one rupee and the winner gets eighteen rupees. …”
“What about the other six?”
“As usual, the manager keeps the other six bets as his commission …”
“That’s enough, friend. I have heard and seen enough. I am starting to get a headache.”
“There is one more game, Swamy! That is the biggest game around here. It is called in-and-out.
They play with a deck of spades. That is played only by two persons. The people standing around can also place their stakes, if they feel like it. One of the two first cuts the stack of cards. Let us say he pulls a joker. They keep dealing the cards to those two persons. Whoever gets the joker first is the winner. One could win one hundred rupees in one minute. He might lose as much too.”
Sarma turned round swiftly and kept walking toward the main road. Naidu was shocked to see him walk away like that. “What happened, Swamy? Is your headache getting worse?” Naidu asked him and rushed to catch up with him.
Sarma arrived at the main road as if he was possessed by a ghost and was unable to control himself. It was like some heavy winds blew him away from that place. Then he stopped suddenly and turned around and looked.
“Swamy! Is your headache very bad? I can get you some pills,” Naidu said.
“Forget the headache. I have a question.”
“Tell me, Swamy?”
“You are the chief administrator of this temple. What is the idea in running these games during the same time as the maha bharatam festivities?”
“What is the idea? Swamy! Without those games there are no festivities either. Are you not aware of this? Do you think we let them have their stalls here for nothing? They must pay the rent strictly according to the agreement. The lungaru wheel pays ten rupees per day. The pin-board machine manager pays two thousand rupees for the entire 18 days. The tamarind game contract gets us four thousand. The game of spades yields us seven and a half thousand rupees. If we had not gotten that twenty thousand in total, how do you think we could manage these celebrations? The drama company alone includes six families. Just for their food alone we need one hundred rupees. In addition, they charge six thousand for the performance. The workers for putting up the tents and for the materials like the poles, beams and such the expenses are a little over two thousand. The electricity costs us one thousand at the least. And you know, the police need to be paid on the side so they would easy on us. And finally you. I know you did not insist on a specific amount, but we do have to make sure you go back happy, right?”
Sarma kept staring at Naidu without batting an eyelid, like a new-born baby staring at the world in amazement. It took him a few minutes to shake off the astonishment that shrouded him. Then he lowered his head and started walking towards the village as if he was a lonely soul up against the entire world.
From behind, the song of Nakula warning Dharmaraju was going after him.
Please, do not, do ott play the dice game
Do not play. It will cause only downfall.
Why play now? Do not be stubborn
Do not play, do not play dice
I swear on the Lord of Vemulapalle,
Please, do not.
Next day, early morning, Naidu took a stainless steel pot full of cow’s milk and went to Sarma’s place. He saw at once that the house was empty. He called out, “Swamy! Swamy!” There was no response. He looked toward the main entrance. He did not find Sarma’s sandals. He pushed the door open and saw that Sarma’s suitcase was gone. He started quivering and his entire body was wet with sweat.
Within minutes, the news of Bhagavatar Sarma’s disappearance spread through the entire village. In the next few minutes, they all gathered at the building.
While each of them was entertaining his own theory, Appoji Reddy pulled out a note from the cupboard. “See this! Looks like a little note for us,” he said, scrutinized it for a few seconds and said again, “It seems like Swamy has gone.”
“Read it, tell us what did he write?” Naidu asked, sounding desperate.
Appoji Reddy started reading.
“To my friend, Sri Venkatadri Naidu,
With my warm wishes for a long and happy life, …”
Yes, that is what I need, his blessings, … Naidu mumbled to himself.
Appoji Naidu continued, “You may not know this but I am reputed for my foolhardiness. That is true also. Good or bad, I do have certain set opinions about life. For several reasons, our society has become confounding. Take any field, we don’t see any relationship between words and actions. Politics are devoid of sincerity. The people without moral values are teaching mores. Newly built buildings are crumbling down. Education has become a market commodity. Each and every form of art has turned into a piece for sale. The people who are expected to save us are swallowing us. A good person is considered a worthless person. The worst of crooks is the most honored person. We may not be able to fix all this chaos but I strongly believe that we can at the least raise our small voices and express our protest. It is true the life has taken the form of a drama. Since we do have eyes and for that reason probably we do have to be the audience. But we do not have to become characters in that play. I did not realize that you were using the same gambling income as a means to have the Maha Bharatam narrated and played on the stage, despite the fact that the very message of Maha Bharatam is to bring to light the evil effects of the dice game. And as for me, this is the only way I could register my protest against such practice. I am leaving early in the morning by the first bus that leaves at 5:00 a.m. I am begging you not to seek me out. I will consider it a favor if you leave me alone. – Yours, Harinarayana Sarma.”
“Aah! What a stupid thing to do! What was I thinking? I was so stupid to take him to the play. Now he left us in the middle,” Naidu sat down, feeling crushed.
“Whatever. Look Naidu anna! He has scribbled some dumb note and left—acting like a child who bites the hand that feeds him. Why play band for a wedding that is over. Let’s decide what next?” Appoji Reddy said.
“Oh God! I don’t want this leadership, I don’t want it. And I don’t want that temple management either. I have done as long as I could. Swamy seem to be telling us there is some perversion in this. He knows what he was talking about. Please, you all do me a favor and leave me alone. Now on, one of you should take the responsibility and take care of things,” Naidu said.
Appoji Reddy jumped in right away, assembled several people and sent them in several directions to find another Bhagavatar, as Sugreeva sent messengers in search of Sitamma It is not clear which one of them turned into a Hanuman but his effort succeeded. By one thirty in the afternoon, he got down from the bus with Syamasundara Bhagavatar. As soon as he got off the bus, he went straight into his room, and applied face powder to his face so it would shine, applied sampangi oil to his curly hair, and perfume on his clothes. Then he went up the stage with all the perfumes emitting strong aroma all around. He took the entire audience by surprise with his quixotic gestures, half-closed and dreamy eyes, and provocative movements of lips and other body parts. Hardly 15 minutes passed by. He switched to cheap songs, like “The village dame walked in with her pot, she broke my heart,” with or without relevance, and jumping around. The entire area resounded with clapping, whistles, and shouts of ‘once more.’ Encouraged by their response, he became even more garrulous.
Let’s set aside for a moment the reality that the audience who came to listen to Sarma was different from the present audience. The one thing that was strikingly obvious was that the size of the audience now was twice as big.
The Maha Bharatam festivities in Bugga agraharam continued as usual, without break.
(Telugu original, “Jeevana prahasanam,” was published in Jyoti deepavali monthly, 1988 and later included in the anthology, Madhurantakam Rajaram kathalu,” published by Visalandhra Publishing House, 1991.)
Translated by © Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, June 2003.