(Narrator, talking to himself:)
Suseela is writing stories. Let her write, what do I care? But then again, should I tell myself so and keep quiet? Her stories are getting published too, you know. Just yesterday, she started writing and now she beat me to it! What are they thinking? Are they in their right mind? She showed her stories to me a few days back. Not one was good, to tell the truth. Even she didn’t know where the story was heading. No grip, no style, nothing. More like she scribbled away whatever came to her mind. And they’re getting published! A stroke of luck, I suppose. After all, a woman’s writing, who wouldn’t publish them?
Okay, she is writing fiction. And let’s say they’re indulging her ’cause she’s a woman. Darn it. Why give her the first prize in the contest? It’s not even a page and a half long. Alright, let’s say that’s okay too. I think I’ve seen it somewhere, I remember now, vaguely. I’m not going to discuss whether it is hackneyed or not. That’s not my business, I admit that. Who says two people cannot entertain the same thought.
Come to think of it, the story was not all that bad. I say it’s not a good story, maybe because I am jealous. To speak the truth, she may do very well, if she puts a little more effort into it. Let’s take the story she showed to me earlier. It’s not bad, not bad at all. The real question is how do you think she could achieve that level? She saw my writings and then she started too. At first, she did not have as many published as I did. Within a year, she was on par with me, and I pretty sure she will outdo me soon. As is, I’m afraid of getting my story rejected, and now this additional fear.
Let’s say I use a female pseudonym, but then, how would Suseela know that I wrote that story? Maybe I can tell her that it’s mine. No, that’s not going to work. I have to have at least one story published under one name and then only I can think of another name, right?
Now I don’t feel like meeting Suseela anymore, not like I used to in the past. Her story got published and that’s gotten to her head. She barely spoke three words to me the other day. She mumbled something, hardly audible, as if she had no time to talk to me. She said, “See you later. Got to go home and finish the story tonight.” She didn’t even care that a gentleman was standing next to me. Shouldn’t she have some decency? Yes, she is a writer, so what! How dare she walk away like that? Not even a writer produced ten times more would do that. She’s still raw, that’s what it is. Seeing her name in print pushed her eyes up to the sky, I guess. The only way I can bring her down to the reality is to have a few of my stories published. That will stop her, she will never pick up the pen again, I am positive. Probably nobody wants my stories. I spent four days mulling over a story, struggled two days to finish it and finally sent it to the contest. It was rejected as totally worthless.
That’s the problem. Had I not stopped writing, I’d have ten to twelve stories on my desk by now. What can I do? It’s my work at the office. I can no way get out of the office unless I worked my tail off each day. After such a hard slog, I am so beat up, how can I think of writing anything. Suseela, on the other hand, has the entire day free, from dawn to dusk. No matter how you slice it, she can easily scribble away a story a day. If I had so many facilities, not just one, I would have produced a hundred a day. I too would’ve been a notable writer by now. Then, Suseela would have come to me with her stories for my advice. Is she above the rest of the others like Ramani and Varalakshmi? How? Didn’t they all send out their stories only after I had corrected them first? Haven’t they all been published? Forget all that. Take the story she’d sent recently. Haven’t I discussed the theme and suggested a different format?
The other day she asked me to go to her house to discuss the story she was working on. I went there, read her story and gave my comments and returned home. In those days she was not like this, so conceited. And today, I ran into her in the bazaar; she barely spoke three words to me and walked away, how dare she? Let’s say she really was in the middle of a story and was in a hurry to go home and finish it. What about the next day? I went to her home for a chat. Barely I walked in, she stood up and said, “Kumari and I are on our way to the movies. You want to come?” She knew full well that I would not watch the movies. Couldn’t she go to the movies some other day? You would think that they had plans already, but that’s not the case either. Suseela said she would go to Kumari’s house, pick her up and then go to the movies. Who wouldn’t be upset under the circumstances? I was disgusted with her, after learning the whole story. I returned home, boiling inside. It chewed me up, why can’t she come to me later and offer some kind of an explanation at the least?
I couldn’t hold myself anymore. Two days back, I went and asked her, “My friends have started sahiti samiti [literary circle], Suseela, you can join too!” Despite any apprehensions she may have, she should have said yes because I asked. But, no. She gave me some lame excuse. That ticked me off. I decided not to talk to her again. Once I made up my mind, that’s the kind of person I am. Right now, I can sit down and write a story an hour, if I want to. In general, I am an easy-going person. But once I set my mind to it, that’s it, I am not the same self anymore. She’ll know soon enough what I am capable of. She’ll have to break into tears when I am done. She may be thinking she is the greatest writer on earth. I’ve seen them all, not one but thousands. Well, she put herself through hell, and managed to get one prize. I’m sure she got it ’cause she’s a woman. Just watch me, by this time next year, I’ll throw some twenty published stories of mine in her face.
(Talking to Suseela:)
Who’s that? You, Suseela? What, lost your way and ended up here? You’ve forgotten me, haven’t you? You are a great [woman] writer. How can you find time for folks like me? Probably don’t even remember me. You need all the time for your writing–to come up with a theme, to stretch it with all the twists and turns like kondaveeti rope, fair copy it, and then mail it–that’s a lot. How could you have time for me? You have no life beyond you and your stories, I suppose. Will you ever get out of the bounds of those four walls? Even if you stepped out, probably some friend of yours would come and snatch you away to a movie or something. No question of seeing me, right? If you ever find some free time and think of me, then again, you’d say “not now” and pass it up. If I swallow my pride and come to you, even then, you’d speak barely a word or two and walk away quickly. I must admit, I’m surprised to see you here now. Maybe you’re running some errand and stopped here for a second. Maybe you thought it would not be nice not to see me, having come all this way; or, just thought, “might as well …”?
Okay, for whatever reason, you’re here. Like a monkey grabbing a coconut, I have no choice but ask you to sit down. Unlike you, I don’t have any friends to drag me to a movie or something. So, sit down and talk away as long as you like. I am all ears, and have the time to while away. These Sundays you know, I am so totally free, from the moment I got up to the moment I am back in bed. I can fill the time with writing but then again I would rather rest, after six long days of toiling in the office. You, on the other hand, have all the 364 days in a year at your disposal. You can write just to kill the time. How is it possible that for me? A gem needs polish to shine. You keep on writing and your style improves. People like me write once in a blue moon, where is the room for improvement? Anyway, I wrestle with it for a few days, fair copy it and send it to some magazine, and guess what, I’ll wait for two more months before I knew it’s fate. All I can do is to wait like for the Derby results. And then I get the rejection letter, and start working on it just as hard again, and send it to another magazine. The second one publishes it, maybe out of pity, maybe I just luck out. How can a person like me handle that kind of delays. One gets excited only when his or her story is published and feels like writing more. In your case, you send out ten. Let’s say five of them get rejected, there’re still five more that got published.
So, you’re writing fiction nowadays, I suppose. Keep writing. The publishers are dying to get your stuff. Since you’ve all the “facilities”, you should continue to write; giving up is no good. I’ve read your two stories recently published. They’re okay. Take your prize story for instance. It is short but good. If you continue to write in the same style, that helps. It is a huge improvement over the stories you’d shown me in the past. I am not saying this to please you. I’m telling you the way it is. There is a lot of difference between your previous stories and the current ones. You’ve gotten far ahead of most of us. If you keep it up, you’re sure to become one of the great writers. After you became a big writer, I can brag to my friends that “That great writer is my friend.” If somebody writes your biography, my name will be in it too. Or, better still, I ac undertake writing your biography myself. At the moment, Andhra Pradesh is short of famous female writers. If you don’t mind, you put yourself to work and you can reach that level.
There is one more thing. One of my friends commented on your prize story. He said he vaguely remembered reading it somewhere sometime back. Don’t worry, I gave it to him. I told him, “Let’s say all the students in a class were asked to write an essay on a topic of their choice. Each one of them may choose a different topic, but then, a couple of them could choose the same topic. Based on that, we can’t blame them of plagiarism. Each one will have his or her own style. In other words, we just cannot accuse her [you] of copying a previously published story.” Served him right, he shut up and went away, murmuring, “maybe, that is possible.”
I’m telling you. Whenever a story is published, you’ll hear all kind of comments. Some may say “It’s good”, and others may say, “shove it.” And then there are also the middle-ground folks. “Well, she wrote something.” No matter what the comments are, we are not going to stop writing, right? You know the old adage, the stray dogs bark as the royal elephant walks by on the royal road. The elephant is not going to quit because the dogs are barking. We can survive even for a few years only as long as we’re willing to put up with this kind of obstacles. We should have the courage to take a stand, if we made a mistake.
It’s going to be hard until we’ve achieved certain standard in our writing. We work so hard, write a story and send it a magazine; it hurts when it gets rejected, no doubt. That’s also the time we should show our grit. They say women have better forbearance. So, if one story gets rejected, you should send another. If the same thing happens again, send yet another story. There is nothing to be ashamed of in it. All those great writers of today underwent the same process. Whatever happens, it is going to be so only for a couple of years. After that, they will shower heaps of flowers on you. Requests for your stories come pouring in from every nook and corner. You will even get to a point, where you’ll have to tell them that you don’t time to write for them. You can laugh all you want now. The day is sure to come when you’ll admit, “Today that man’s words have turned out to be true.” That is when you’ll remember me. You may even have a soft spot for me and drop a note saying, “You’re right. Things happened the same way you had predicted.” Or, you may put a stop to that train of thought and dismiss me forever.
By the way, what do you think of the story I sent to the contest. Remember I’d read it to you the other day. Well, maybe it was not that good. If it were good, I would have got the prize. I wrote it in thirty minutes, while sitting around, having nothing else. Then I saw the announcement and thought “might as well send it”. I fair copied and sent it right away. Frankly, I wasn’t thinking about the prize at all. How can I get any prize while writers like you are around? When I showed the story, you went into raptures over it, maybe as a matter of courtesy. You said, “you’re sure to win.” I knew right then it was not a prize story. That’s the reason I said at the time, “If that were the case, why would I rot in this clerical job? I would move to Madras and spend my time writing scripts.” Let it be. At least one of us got the prize, not some outsider. I am just as happy to be your friend as you are for winning.
Don’t think that I am all praise for you because your story had won, and would have called it a stupid story, if, by some mishap, had not won. Maybe you’ll think so but not me. But then again, am I qualified to comment on your story? You have landed a spot in the rank and file of writers. There is that much difference between the two of us. It must be embarrassing for you even to speak with people like me. Whatever the reason, you’re talking to me, maybe out of kindness or respect for me, and I am happy for that. As for me, I am beginning to be scared of even talking to you. Like I said, you belong in the ranks of big writers. I am afraid that you might catch even the smallest mistake in my language and highlight it. Oh, no, don’t say you’re not a big writer. Isn’t that why you did not join our literary circle? Our literary circle is formed with a group of small time writers. Why would a big writer join our little circle? Disgraceful, right? Anyway, what’s the point? I’m blabbering away nonsense. Don’t get me wrong. About your stories, take my advice, do as I said. By this time next year, you will be a great writer, or else, call me a liar.
(Talking behind her back:)
Are you talking about Suseela’s story? Yes, I have seen it too. Stupid stuff. One day, I was bored and had nothing better to do, so, I opened the magazine and read her story. Stupid story. I must admit, how could they award prize for that story? It’s so short yet contained the styles of four or five other writers. She shouldn’t have written if she couldn’t. Why steal others’ styles? The story has no storyline, no theme to begin with. It looks like she jotted down whatever came to her mind, like the erratic winds. I’ve told her so many times not to imitate the styles of others, she wouldn’t listen. It looks okay at the outset but what is the use at the end of the day? Well, she got a small prize, is that all? To be frank, is there a life for a person with self-respect nowadays?
Never mind that. Let’s discuss the story in question. They have published such stories in the past, three or four times a year. Just three months back, I saw a story, very much like this one. Suseela took it, made a few minor changes and produced a patchwork story. Aren’t you surprised that got prize? Anyway, we can’t blame them either for awarding the prize. Poor people, what can they do? How would they know the hackneyed entries from the original stories? They trusted the individuals who sent them in. Had they expected it, they would never have organized the contest. I’m telling you, all we need nowadays is lies and cheating. You can play the game anyway you like, as long as you’re good at it. Take my story for instance. A great story, written in excellent style and contained beautiful theme. Yet it did not win the prize, why do you think it is so? I knew why and for the same reason I didn’t even want to enter in the contest. My friends, they all insisted that I should send it. I did say no at first. And then, Suseela came and asked, “Have you sent your story to the contest?” I said no once again but she kept insisting that I should send. So, I fair copied it even as she was waiting and sent it in. If I were seriously interested in entering the contest, wouldn’t I sit down, think up an excellent plot in extraordinary detail and produce a great story?
Anyway, it was written on the spot and Suseela commended it. She said I was sure to get the prize. After I read my story, she said her story was no good and changed her mind about sending it in. Then, I persuaded her and made her mail it in. Not just me, even Suseela was surprised when she learned that her story received the prize. Didn’t she say just two days back that she did not think even in her dream that her story would win.
The real reason is she got the prize because she’s a woman. Nowadays women are being given special treatment everywhere. Wherever you go, ladies first and then only the others get their turn. I can accept it in all other areas, but in contests too? If that is the case, how can you call it a contest? If they are so stuck on women, why can’t they conduct separate contests for women only?
A few days back, I went to Suseela’s home. She read her stories aloud to me, and asked me, “What do you think?” What can I say? Will she accept if I say the way it is, “They are no good.”? At the same time, how can I say, “They’re the best I’d ever seen”, knowing full well that they are the worst of their kind. That’s why I said, “They are okay,” somewhat evasively. She got it, I believe. “No, you’re being evasive. There are mistakes, I think, show me.” I took the bunch home, made corrections–deleted some parts, added a few more lines in some places, gave them a form–almost wrote entirely anew and returned them to her. Suseela sent them out and a couple of them got published too.
I have done so much for her, she has no gratitude. She clung to my feet as long as she needed me and then went for my hair. I wish I’d known her type in the beginning itself. She should have come and told me as soon as the story was published. No, she wouldn’t until I saw her on the street and confronted her. She didn’t even broach the subject until I started it. Huh, talk about gratitude? Would a dog, seated on a royal throne, change his old ways? Here I am, accepting her as my friend and trying to push her up the ladder, and she is acting like, “What do I care?” Would I ever help her again as long as I live. That’s why people say, “Never help a friend.” Strangers would show gratitude at least. To speak the truth, those stories would not have gotten published but for me. How can she let this get to her head this way? She should have the sense to think on these lines. No point trying to help people of her sorts.
The more I think about it the more I’m convinced she did not get the prize because of her abilities. Just so happened, she just lucked out. That being the case, how can we call her a great writer? How can we call the story, plagiarized from four other stories, good writing?
Listen, I’m telling you. The truth will come out tomorrow, if not today. Then, writers like her will be washed away. Never mind all that. If I had only set my mind to it, can’t I write a critique on her story and send it some magazine? Why do you think I did not do so? Simply because she is one of us, I am keeping quiet, willing to ignore her mistakes, stealing from others and all that. Would anybody else keep quiet like that? Shouldn’t she be thinking about it if she’d cared even in the least bit? Had she showed some respect for me, I would not be blabbering about her on and on like this, would I? I can look away and forget everything. I’d have accepted that she is behaving like this because she is stupid. But she is acting like this knowing full well what I am thinking. Or else, why would she dodge me and walk away when we ran into each other in the bazaar the other day? After that, when I went to see her at her home, how could she go away to the movies? Let’s say, all these things are small matters and I should ignore them. Why could she not come to me and tell me herself that her story has been published?
I’m telling you, success has gotten to her head lately. Believe it or not, Suseela is not the same person she used to be, she’s different in thousand ways. A handful of her stories are published, and, she thinks there’s no writer greater than herself, I suppose. To tell you the truth, her stories are no comparison to mine. No, I’m not bigheaded. I am just speaking the truth. To be frank, I’m only quoting the comments I’ve gathered from friends like you, some half-dozen said so. Know what Suseela said? She said, “My stories are nothing compared to yours.”
In fact, it’s no surprise Suseela is writing stories. Think of the time she has on her hands. Take away the hours she sleeps, rest of the day is totally free time for her, right? Men would go to the bazaar, park, or some other place, when they have nothing else to do. Can women do the same? No, they can’t. That’s why they sit at home and write fiction to kill time. Thus all the conditions being in her favor, it is no big feat she writes. If I had that kind of free time, I would’ve written god knows how many. I would have produced tons of them, pile them up to the hilt. I do want write but where is the time? I get up early in the morning, go to work, and hustle the files until dark. After that, don’t I need to unwind a little? So, I go for a walk, return home by about 7 or 8, eat and relax a bit. By then, it is nine. What can I write then? Even if I try to put myself to work at that ungodly hour, and start to write, my eyelids would shut up in thirty minutes. I would think I might make mistakes if I continue under the circumstances, and stop for the day, hoping to return to it the next day … the same story each day. Where do I have the time? If, like Suseela, I had the time to sit around all day, with nothing else to do, wouldn’t I produce stories by the hour?
Forget it. I am saying all this only to show the kind of person she is. Two days back, I swallowed my pride and went to her house and said, “Suseela, I am signing you up for sahiti samiti [literary guild].” She said, “Don’t. I don’t have the time to attend those meetings. I’m always on the move you know, here today and gone tomorrow.” Did you see her impudence, like she’s the only writer around and rest of us are a bunch of idiots. If I set my mind to it, I can make one hundred others writers like her. Usually, I am not concerned about anything. But, once I am on it, I will not stop until I am finished. Just watch me, you’ll see for yourself what I am going to be by this time next year!
Translator’s Note: The story illustrates three perspectives on a social condition–women’s writing in the sixties. The narrator, a male writer, highlights a particular type of behavior in Andhra Pradesh at a time when the women’s writing was at its peak. –
Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, October 2006.
(Telugu original, trikonam, is included in the anthology, hlaadini and other stories, by the author, published by Jayabharat book depot, 1962.)
 A popular proverb, kallu nettikekku, literally eyes shifted to the head, meaning something go to his/head.
 A popular phrase, kondaveeti chemtaadu, refers to the fact that in the village, Kondaveedu, the wells are very deep, and thus need a very long rope to draw water from. Anything unusually lengthy.
 A proverb, kotiki kobbarikaaya dorikinatte, meaning “something out of the ordinary” happening.
 The actual proverb in Telugu is, andite juttu, andakapote kaallu, meaning seize the hair if you can reach, or go for one’ feet, meaning bash the person if you can, or get down on your knees and beg. In this context, the author slightly changed to mean that Suseela was an opportunist.