Chataka Bird

Chataka Birds part 7

7

Bhanumurthy came to the bus stand with Chitti to receive Geetha. Geetha was elated to see Babayi and Chitti. Chitti wound around her legs, “Akka!” She patted him on the shoulder lovingly, and introduced Jagadeesh to them. At that moment, he looked like not as a protector but a little brother to her. She felt one notch grown up as a young woman!
Bhanumurthy went and returned with a rickshaw. Geetha and Chitti got into the rickshaw. Jagadeesh sat on the backseat of Bhanumurthy’s bicycle. Both the vehicles headed toward home.
At home, Kamakshi told Geetha about the prospective groom and his family. Geetha staring at the floor, said almost inaudibly, “I want to complete the B.A. studies.”
“So what? Is there a rule you must not continue studies, if married?”
“We don’t know whether they would let me continue the studies.”
“Don’t you remember? Your younger aunt’s daughter finished high school and college after her marriage.”
“Yes, but older aunt’s daughter’s studies bit the dust because of her marriage, isn’t it?”
“Let’s see what their thoughts are. He comes from a respectable family; is studying medicine. They are not asking for dowry. ‘If the boy and the girl like each other, we are set,’ they said.”
Geetha spent all night thinking about a young man, who was studying medicine, well-behaved, had a prospect of making good money, and did not want dowry.
The expected Sunday was here. The entire house was bubbling with excitement and teasing.
“Keep an eye on this poor Babayi. I can’t pay high fees,” Bhanumurthy teased Geetha.
“Akka, if you get married and go away, will you be back to see me?” Chitti asked, soundling sad.
“Wife of a doctor, wow! You may forget little people like me,” Doramma, their neighbor poked fun at her.
All those jokes threw Geetha into an inexplicable mix of emotions–fear, anxiety, and maybe, even slight bitterness.
She got up, went into the backyard, and stood under the Parijatha(Night Jasmine) tree.
The braches from above showered Parijatha flowers, sending her reeling into a pleasant feeling. A little bird cooed at a distance. She was enthralled for a moment. She put her hand on the tree trunk. Caterpillars moved. She cringed, pulling back quickly. She tiptoed back into the house.
Kamakshi rebuked her mildly, “You are still in the same saree? Go, change. It is almost time for them to arrive. Wash the face and wear thr violet Georgette saree. I made jasmine garlands and put at the Goddess’ seat in the kitchen. Pray to the Goddess Gowri, and wear the garland in your hair.”
“what is the hurry? It is not even 3:00 yet. They said they would not be coming until after 5:00 because of varjyam[ Virjyam: Inauspicious period in a given day according to Lunar Calendar.],” Geetha said, walking toward bathroom.
She washed her face with soap, changed into the Georgette saree, and looked at herself in the mirror. The carefully applied red dot on the forehead, a dab of Collyrium[ Collyrium, a paste made of lampblack and oil and applied to the lower eyeline. In addition to enhance the beauty of the eye, also supposed to have medicial value. ] on the lower eyeline, the glimmering lips, and the saree slipping off of her shoulder–all made her blush.
She did not notice Nagamma atta behind her. “That is not the way to wear a sari, girl,” she said, and pulled it off, and wrapped it on her again, and said, “See, this is how you should wear it, like a college girl, not like a grandma.”
Geetha was embarrassed, “Go away, Atta.”
“Ah, would you say ‘Go away’ had I had a son of suitable age,” Nagamma said with a teasing smile, pinched her cheek, and went into the kitchen.
Paramesam returned from store, handed a bag containing pan leaves, betel nuts, fruits and flowers to Kamakshi.
Bhanumurthy came in and announced that the grooms’ family had arrived. Paramesam went to the front door and welcomed them courteously.
The groom and his parents got out of the car. In addition, they thought 3 was not a good number, and so, invited the groom’s brother, and another woman for moral support, the mediator, and two children who refused to be left behind. In all, six adults and two children arrived.
“It looks like the entire groom’s wedding party is here, you might as well perform the wedding,” Nagamma commented.
“Sh, be quiet. They may take offense, if they hear it,” Kamakshi said, with concern. She returned to the living room, with snacks and coffee.
While the guests were sipping coffee, Kamakshi went in and returned with Geetha.
Geetha sat on the edge of a chair, looking down.
“Don’t be shy, Ammayi. Nothing to worry about. No strangers here. Look up,” the mediator said.
“What did she study?” the groom’s mother asked.
“She has completed high school. Also, she learned to type, and attended a few Hindi classes,” Paramesam recounted her qualifications.
“We were told that she was attending college in Guntur. Why Guntur?” groom’s brother asked.
“Because there was a women’s college.”
“There is one here too.”
“Never mind that. Apparently, you are inclined to see her getting married. Does that mean she will quit college right after she is married?”
“Whatever you say, Sir. Let’s say for the sake of argument, you would prefer to postpone taking her in until after the young man completed his medicine studies. Then she will stay here with us and complete the B.A. degree course,” Paramesam said, suggesting a compromise.
Kamakshi did not relish the suggestion but kept quiet. Nobody asked for Geetha’s opinion.
“Can’t we talk about it later,” the groom said coyly.
“True. No need to talk about it now,” the ‘moral support’ woman said.
“Alright. Just one more thought. Can you perform the wedding next month? The following month is not auspicious to perform weddings,” the groom’s mother asked.
“We too want to perform the wedding as soon as possible. We want to have it performed while Bamma garu is around. She is getting old, you know,” Paramesam said.
The guests stayed for another 30 minutes, chit chatting about this and that, not necessarily relevant to the occasion.
Paramesam walked them to their car, and came back.
“What did they say?”
“They will let us know in a day or two, his father said.”
“I am going to Saroja’s house, Amma,” Geetha said.
“Why now? You can go tomorrow,” Kamakshi did not want her to go out as it was getting late.
Geetha was disappointed. She changed into an ordinary cotton saree and sat on her bed with an old magazine.
***

Geetha and Jagadeesh returned to Guntur the following day. Siva Rao came to the bus station, picked them and took them home.
It was too late to go to college. Geetha skipped classes for the day. The next day she went to college.
“Why didn’t you come yesterday?” Satyam asked.
“Just. Didn’t feel like.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Went home.”
“You could have returned Sunday evening.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
“pellichupulu?”
Geetha was startled by the question. “How did you know?”
“What else girls like us will have? It is not like we have earth-shaking issues to resolve. Your face is showing; and also, I think this is the first time for you,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Her apathy toward marriage was puzzling to Geetha.
“What is he doing?” Satyam asked.
“Studying medicine.”
Satyam was quiet for a few minutes. She said, “I don’t even remember for how long this farce of pellichupulu is going on.
“My oldest sister was sick of this farce and ran away with a good-for-nothing fellow. She said that was a better option than this stupid tradition. My parents learned nothing from the step she had taken. The story with my second sister started all over again.”
That was horrible, Geetha felt sick in the stomach. “Time for class, let’s move,” she said, walking toward the classroom.
000

(Continued)
(June 24, 2022)

Chataka Birds part 6

6

The election fever took over the entire atmosphere at the college and spread even to the students’ homes. Geetha learned quite a few things not only from Syam’s lectures but also from other students on campus. Especially, things about castes was quite an education for her. If a Kamma girl competed with a Reddy girl, all the Kamma girls supported her. Nayudu students joined the Reddy girls. Brahmins supported the Nayudu girl but not the Reddy girl. All this mix and match of castes made no sense to Geetha. She also found out that the poor supported the rich; nobody supported the poor; a woman, who dressed up like a movie star, got plenty of followers; nobody cared about the woman, who was simple and wore plain clothes. She tried to see some rationale underlying this mania but found none. The entire ruckus about the election appeared to be more perplexing than the nature of Lord Brahma. It is stupid, if you ask me, she told herself.
At home, Syam’s craze for Mary heated up, much to the discomfort of Geetha. Kanakam noticed it too. She stepped up her efforts to shield Geetha without making a fuss about it. Geetha was in a fix; she could not tell Syam to cut it out, nor could she explain the real problem with Syam to Kanakam.
“Why are you so fixated on Mary?” Geetha asked Syam one day.
“What do you mean why? How could you be so calm about the things that are happening at your college? As citizens, we must pay attentions to what is happening around us and in the country. That is our duty,” he said, reiterating some hollow speeches he had heard.
“But all your concern is only about Mary.”
“That is a talk by the narrow-minded. If Mary is not a girl, you would not raise this question, would you?”
“If Mary is not a girl, would you still be so excited about this election?”
The question sent him reeling. He pulled up straight, went on rambling randomly, “Look, little sister, you need to expand your horizon. You should stop thinking about people as girls and boys. You should get involved in local matters. Unfortunately, we are in a country where shouting ‘rape’ has become common just for a boy looking at a girl. That is so small-minded thinking. We have to change. In other countries, this is not like that at all. There, men and women walk around hand in hand, and kiss in public. Nobody thinks of it as immoral, much less a transgression.”
His rambling made no sense to Geetha. She saw no relevance between her question and his answer. She asked again, “Tell me this. Are you focused on the elections or Mary?”
Syam was annoyed. “You are coming to the same point over and again. Your entire question is because Mary is a girl, and I am a boy.”
“Is that not so?”
“That is not the point. Your question should be about the main issue. I am committed to one ideology, not to one person.”
“Oh!” Geetha said. She thought that Syam probably was a great philosopher, and that his mode of thinking was too complicated for a simpleton like herself.
***

The election fever peaked in town. Not only in the women’s college but also in men’s college, it raged uncontrollably. One day, one party’s cronies grabbed their opponent, took him to a deserted place, marred him with blades, and left him to bleed under the bridge. Somebody told his parents about the incident. They ran to the place with heartbreaking sobs, and took him to a nearby hospital.
The District Collector learned about the incident, canceled the elections, and told the principals of both colleges to find an alternative method of electing the college president.
Students in both colleges lost interest in the elections. They all were looking for peace on their campuses. That incident threw Geetha off her mindset; it crushed her spirits. Satyam, who was usually calm and collected, also was worried sick. That wounded boy and she were childhood friends, she said. She wanted to visit him at the hospital and asked Geetha to go with her. Geetha did not like it, but she agreed to her friend’s request; she wanted to be there for her friend.
At the hospital, the boy’s parents sat on a bench on the porch, crying their hearts out. They said he was their only son, and were hoping he would finish college and help them out in their old age. Inside the room, the boy lay on the bed, wrapped up in bandages; barely identifiable. Geetha could not stand the sight; she turned back and left quickly. After a few minutes, Satyam came out. Both expressed their sympathies to the parents and took leave of them. They went into the front-yard, sat down under the Neem tree. Satyam broke into heartrending sobs. Geetha could not weep; her heart and brain froze.
***

Geetha entered the hallway with a livid face. Kanakam was there, sitting by the window and reading Bhagavatam. She was alarmed to see Geetha’s pale face. “What happened? Are you alright?” she closed the book and asked her with concern.
Geetha said, “nothing,” as she threw herself on the sofa. She could not control herself anymore. She told Kanakam about the tragic event, and her trip to the hospital with Satyam; she broke into big, uncontrollable sobs.
Kanakam took her into her arms, and consoled her the best she could. She said gently, “Come, come, you need to be brave. Why did you go to the hospital, anyway? Don’t go there ever again.” She also decided to warn Satyam not to take Geetha to such places again.
That night, Geetha could not eat food. Kanakam sat by her side, and made her take a few bites, almost by force.
It took considerable time for Geetha to recover from the shock. She had not seen the hatred and violence at that level, ever. Kanakam was also getting more and more worried about her. “I told you,” she said to her husband, and blamed him for the situation Geetha was in. The couple took her to the movies for a diversion. They even arranged a party, just to keep her mind off the topic.
Geetha noticed how worried they were about her and tried to collect herself. She poured herself on her books, hoping they would feel better.
The following week, Bhanumurthy called and asked them to send Geetha home on the next Friday.
Kanakam said, with a chuckle, “Why? Is your Vadina garu homesick for her little girl? Tell her Geetha is fine, no worries.”
“Oh, no, no. We know she is safe at your home, as good as being in a royal palace. We want her to be here for pellichupulu[1]A preliminary event in arranged marriages. The prospective groom and his parents pay a visit to the prospective bride and her parents.. It is set for upcoming Monday.”
“What? Pellichulu now? She just started college!” Kanakam said. She felt like she had an obligation to protect Geetha and her education from other distractions.
“Well, nothing is settled yet. This is only a start, not the end, right. Pellichupulu does not mean the wedding is set to go.”
“If you are not sure it is not going to happen, why arrange it at all? For her, it would be a distraction.”
“Probably, we too would talk like that, if my brother had all boys.” He took a sly jab at her because she had only boys, and that hurt her.
“Fine. I will tell Uncle later. He is still at work,” Kanakam replied, sounding sour, and hung up.
Later in the evening, she gave the message to Siva Rao.
“Now? She just started college,” he said.
“Um. Their daughter, their decision. Whatever pleases them,” Kanakam said, struggling to hide her irritation. She was still rancid about Bhanumurthy’s crack at her kids being all boys.
“Okay. Is that all? Did he say anything else?”
“Not much. Naturally, girl’s parents would like to see their girl married as soon as possible, and feel good about completing their duty. We can’t blame them,” Kanakam said.
“She is barely seventeen. If they keeping drumming up the song ‘marriage’, how can she stay focused on her studies?”
“That is the way the girl’s parents think. They are anxious to do what is right for any parent. We can’t blame them either.”
Siva Rao shook his head, called Geetha and asked if she would like to go home for the weekend.
Her face lit up like on a Diwali day. She nodded eagerly.
Kanakam felt a little jab at heart; no matter however caring and loving she was, it was not equal to mother’s love; the girl’s heart was anchored in her mother!, she told herself.
“I will put you on the bus here, and tell Bhanumurthy about her arrival. He will meet you at the bus station and take you home.”
Geetha agreed, but it did not sound right for Kanakam. “They might think we are irresponsible if we send her alone. Why don’t you go with her?” Kanakam said.
“I can’t. I have business to take care of. How about sending Syam with her?”
“Why Syam?” Kanakam quickly expressed her objection. She had noticed that he had been around Geetha a little too much, and that was uncomfortable for her.
Finally, the couple decided to send their fourth son, Jagadeesh, with her, just to be on the safe side. For her, it did not make sense. How a boy ten years younger than she could be her protector? She, however, did not want to make a fuss about it, she let it go.
Siva Rao called Bhanumurthy and told him about the time of Geetha’s arrival in Vijayawada. Bhanumurthy assured him that he would be at the bus station and receive Geetha and Jagadeesh.
***

(Continued)

June 17, 2022)

References

References
1 A preliminary event in arranged marriages. The prospective groom and his parents pay a visit to the prospective bride and her parents.

Chataka Birds part 5

5

Geetha got out of the car and walked slowly behind Siva Rao. As she appeared at the doorway, Kanakamma, Siva Rao’s wife, came to her, with an inviting smile. She put her arm around Geetha’s shoulders and walked her into the house. Her gesture made Geetha happy.
Siva Rao watched them walk into the house, arm in arm. He was pleased and felt that he had made a right decision.
Kanakamma walked Geetha to the sofa, and said, “Sit down. I will bring coffee,” and went into the kitchen.
Siva Rao sat next to Geetha, and stroking her hair gently, said, “Don’t you worry. Attayya is just like your mother. Don’t hesitate to ask for whatever you want or need. Nothing to worry. You can go home for holidays. I will take you myself.”
Geetha nodded yes.
Kanakamma gave the coffee cups to them and inquired about each one of her family. Geetha replied that all of them were doing well. And then Kanakamma asked if Geetha would take a bath.
Geetha shook her head side to side no. Something was holding her back from moving from her seat.
“Take a bath. You will feel relaxed,” Siva Rao said.
Geetha got up, and went in, took a saree and blouse, came back, and looked at Kanakamma. She said, “come on,” and led her the bathroom.
She came back. Siva Rao told Kanakamma the reason for bringing Geetha to their home.
“That is a hasty decision,” she said.
“What do you mean by hasty? I am sure I have thought it through. She is a smart girl. Paramesam is in no position to send her to college. We always wanted to have a girl. Would it not be wonderful to see a girl walking around in our home?” Siva Rao put forth all his arguments.
In matters like these, men are short-sighted; they do not think clearly. They may lecture at meetings or write long articles, but do not show any understanding of having a girl at home. Only women have a good understanding of such situations.
“She is still young, yet to grow up. She should be under the care of her mother. We do wish her well, no doubt. As they say, think of the bad and the good. See, they mentioned the bad first,” Kanakamma said, with the shrewdness of a worldly wise woman.
Siva Rao stared into his wife’s face straight. “How could anything bad happen while you are there for her, like a mother?”
“That’s what I am fretting about. You do as you please, make promises, and then pass them on to me, without a care in the world. We have grown boys here. We wish and hope things go smoothly. Did you ever think that one of our boys could act up in a crazy moment?”
Siva Rao took a second to respond. “Alright, let’s say our boy shows some interest in her. We can arrange their marriage, can’t we? You know Paramesam cannot get any better match for her.”
Kanakamma, short of beating her head, said, “That is what I am worried about. You are only thinking from your side. I know I am his mother, so, I should not be saying this. But think about it. Can you honestly say that our boy deserves her?”
Siva Rao was stunned. For the first time, he got it; she was talking about their son’s behavior. Their son was not exactly a model boy, and was frequently getting into trouble at school, and in the neighborhood as well. Kanakamma and Siva Rao tried their best to teach him some manners, but to no avail. Kanakamma was aware of that. Siva Rao understood it, only after she had pointed it out.
***

Siva Rao accompanied Geetha to admit her into the college. He paid the late fee and completed the admission process. The following day, Geetha set out to go to attend the class. Siva the fear on her face, and decided to go with her. He got into the car, and on the way to the college, he stopped in front of a house and called out, “Ammayi[1]Ammayi: Girl. Satyam!”
A young woman pushed aside the old saree, used as a curtain, and stepped outside. Geetha looked at her. The girl was of average height, fair complexion, and not stunningly beautiful; but, any passerby may turn around to take a second look at her because of her sharp eyes.
“Mamayya garu!” she said, acknowledging him.
“Aren’t you going to college?”
“I am, Mamayya garu! I am just about to leave,” Satyam replied.
“Me too. Come, get into the car. I will drop you there. This is Geetha. Consider her as our girl. She is new here, you know. I was hoping you will show her around.”
“I will, Mamayya garu. I will do so. Wait for a second. I will get my books,” she said, and went in.
Papamma, Satyam’s mother, came in, wiping her hands on her sari end, and greeted Siva Rao, “How are you Babu[2]Babu: Sir, a polite address to male adults. garu?”
He said he and his family were doing well, and inquired about her well-being, and told her to ask him if they needed anything.
Satyam returned with books and got into the car. The car left, heading toward college.
***

Geetha got used to Siva’s home, Kanakamma atta, their sons and the college environment. Satyam became her best friend. Most of the time, Geetha did not see the boys; it was like they all were dodging her on purpose. The only exception was Syam, their second son. Lately, he was talking to Geetha, for some reason or other.
One day, Syam came into the room while Geetha was studying. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing. I have to write an essay for my Telugu class, it is due tomorrow. Studying for the essay,” she said, put a piece of paper for a bookmark, and closed it.
“I heard nominations were called for student president in your college.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, they did, I know. Probably, Rani Rao will contest again. She knows nothing. she is stupid. You must support Govindamma.”
“Why?”
“Because Govindamma belongs to our caste. Besides Rani Rao nincompoop, knows nothing. Muslims and Christians support her, and they comprise not even 30% of the students. Mary is running for secretary position. That’s why you need to support Govindamma.”
Geetha’s jaw fell. She looked at him with amazement.
“Why?”
“Govindamma is one of ours. Rani Rao is arrogant. Actually, she has no support at all. You may think Muslims and Christians support her, but they are only 30%. Mary is her running mate. Mary is an amazing person. That’s why you must support Govindamma.”
Geetha was dumbfounded. He was tiptoeing around her like a shadow, barely visible; and yet, he was so knowledgeable in local politics? And how was it possible that he knew so much about the elections in her college?
“But Mary is Christian, is it not?”
“In fact, she belongs to our caste. Three generations back, her ancestors converted to Christianity but they are really one of us. She is devoted to our Gods and religion. She goes to Hanuman temple every Saturday.”
Syam also went to Hanuman temple on Saturdays, regularly. Now she understood his devotion to Lord Hanuman. She was amused.
“What are you two talking about?” Kanakam came into the room.
“Nothing,” Syam said, and left quickly.
“He is a chatterbox. You stay focused on your studies. Let me know if he bothers you. I will talk to him,” Kanakam said and left.
Syam reappeared as soon as Kanakam left.
Geetha cringed; Kanakam’s words were still fresh in her mind.
“Look, I don’t know why my mother is annoyed about me talking with you. I would like to talk with you only because I have no sisters. You are like a sister I never had. That is all I am saying,” he said, sounding brotherly.
That made sense, Geetha thought. “It’s okay, I understand. I have to study, though,” she said.
Kanakam called for Syam from the adjoining room.
Syam quickly shoved a small note in Geetha’s hand, saying, “this… this,” and left in a hurry.
Geetha shivered. The paper in her fist soaked wet with sweat.
“Still studying,” Kanakam came. It was her habit. Every night, Geetha would fall asleep leaning on the book she was reading, and Kanakam would come in, wake her up, help her to her bed, and then, she puts away the books, and turns off the light.
“I could not sleep,” Geetha said.
“Just lie down, close your eyes. You will fall asleep soon,” Kanakam said, taking away the book from her.
Geetha went to bed and lay down, pulling the sheet over. The scrap of paper was getting scrunched in her fist. The stories she had read and the movies she had seen were fluttering around in her head. She waited until after everybody was asleep, and then went into the bathroom. She opened the fist slowly, straightened the scrunched note, with her heart beating twice as fast. It read, “Tell Mary to come to Hanuman Temple tomorrow. Urgent.”
It was not signed, but it was obvious who wrote it and what it meant. Disappointment rose at her heart, just for a split second. It took two minutes for her to realize what she had expected and what had happened. It took her all night to figure out what she should do under the circumstances.
Next morning, she prayed to all the thousand Gods and hoped she did not see Syam again. The Gods must have heard her prayers; Syam was nowhere to be found. He told his mother that he had an early session and left very early in the morning.
At college, Geetha racked her brains all morning, and finally asked Satyam who Mary was.
“Why?” Satyam asked.
“Nothing. I just thought it would be nice to know. She is running for the Secretary position, so, I should know a little about her?”
“Did Syam say so?”
“How do you know?”
“Ha ha! You are living in the age of Lord Rama. You think people can keep such things secret. The entire city knows about Syamasundarudu, maiden Mariamma,[3]Satyam was sarcastic. She compared Syam and Mary to Syamasundarudu (Lord Krishna) and Mariamma(Virgin Mary in the Bible). and their circumambulations around Hanuman temple.”
Geetha was stunned. She thought she had an inscrutable secret in her palm; and, Satyam dismissed it with a snarl.
“There,” Satyam pointed toward a skinny girl at a distance. As Geetha stepped toward that girl, Satyam gripped her arm, and said, “Look Geetha, you are smart enough to study well and get great marks. Don’t get me wrong, but you need to have a different kind of brains to deliver these messages. Why do you want to get into this muck?”
Geetha stopped for a second and then went to Mary. She handed the note to her and said, “Syam asked me to give it to you.”
Mary grabbed the note without looking at Geetha and left quickly. Geetha remembered Satyam’s advice; probably she knew a lot about Mary, Geetha thought.
At home, Syam was nowhere to be found. His younger brother, Jagadeesh, said Syam went to the movies. Suddenly she felt like she was all alone, wanted to talk to somebody.
“Can I go to Satyam?” she asked Kanakam.
“It is getting dark. Not safe to go out now.”
“Can I go to Hanuman temple? It is only one street away.”
“That is a good idea. Let’s go. I will go with you.”
They both went to the temple. At the temple, Geetha kept looking around as if she was looking for somebody. Kanakam noticed it and thought that she might be homesick.
***

(Continued)

(June 10, 2022)

References

References
1 Ammayi: Girl.
2 Babu: Sir, a polite address to male adults.
3 Satyam was sarcastic. She compared Syam and Mary to Syamasundarudu (Lord Krishna) and Mariamma(Virgin Mary in the Bible).

Lakshmi Puja Day by Bhandaru Acchamamba

(Translator’s note: The Telugu original, dhanatrayodasi, by Bhandaru Acchamamba(1874-1905) has been published, originally, in Hindusundari monthly, November 1902. Reprinted on www.bhumika.org in 2006.

My translation has been published in 2009 on this site, and included in the anthology, Penscape, An Anthology of Telugu Short Stories. The art work on the cover has been created by highly acclaimed artist, Seela Veerraju garu. It reflects the theme of this story. – Nidadavolu Malathi, translator.
The day of the festivity occurs two days before Diwali day, and celebrated by Hindus seeking health, wealth and prosperity. Also, referred to as Lakshmi Puja Day.

)

000

Lakshmi Puja Day

Around 7:00 in the evening on the day of Dhanathrayodasi[1]Two days before Diwali day, the Festival of Lights, Dhanathrayodasi(Lakshmi Puja) day is celebrated in some communities, the entire city of Bombay was celebrating the festival exuberantly. There were not as many lamps as on the deepavali day, but each house was glowing with the little lamps in clay dishes, enough to display the contour and the beauty of the house. Firecrakers were making huge sounds from every corner. People adorned Goddess Lakshmi with gold and diamond jewelry, and performed the Lakshmi puja per custom.

In one home, however, there was no sign of the festival. It could be called not a home but a hut. That hut was located between mansions of two rich business persons. It was like the Goddess Jyeshta, [2]Goddess of poverty, came to watch the celebration of her younger sister, Lakshmi[3]The two goddesses are considered sisters in Hindu mythology. Jyeshta is the goddess of poverty and Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth. People in the neighborhood were happy, on one hand, to see the cleanliness and tidiness of the hut; on the other hand, they were upset because the hut was ruining the beauty of the wealthy neighborhood. My dear sisters!(neighbors), you are upset, probably, because I am narrating the story of a poor family instead of the rich on this festive occasion in this great city. Sisters! If you stop being annoyed and listen to me carefully, you would know that the story of this hut is extraordinary.

I have stated earlier that there were two great mansions on either side of the hut. Those mansions lit several lamps all around their homes, but the hut in the middle had only one lamp shining brightly at the center of it. Vijayalakshmi, the lady of the hut, was sowing a blouse, which she had agreed to make for another woman, for a little cash. A four-year-old girl and a cute three-year-old boy sat next to her. They were showing her their toys and asking questions. They made her happy.

Vijayalakshmi finished cooking, and was waiting for her husband to come home. Her husband, Venkataratnam, was working as a clerk for a rich business owner, Setty. She knew it was Dhana trayodasi day, and her husband would be home only after the puja at his boss’s house had concluded. Therefore, she fed the children and ended the state of madi[4]A person is considered being in a state of madi during puja and cooking time. During that period, usually one or two hours, the person takes bath, wears freshly washed clothes and avoids physical … Continue reading. She sat down to work on the blouse again. Ah! Her face was glowing with the signs of awaiting her husband‘s arrival. Only those, who had seen her with their own eyes, could appreciate it but not everybody. Her physical eyes were focused on the blouse, but her mind’s eye was on her husband’s coming home.

Her cute son threw his arms around her neck tightly, calling for her attention. Up until then, she was answering his questions with a brief “ha” or “um”, without paying attention, as she continued to work on the blouse. The sweet little boy held on to her neck so tightly that she had to put aside her sowing and take him into her arms. She said softly, “Nayanaa! [5]Literally, dad. Also used as a vocative to address a male child What do you want? You have been playing with your sister. Go, play for a little longer. I have to finish this sowing.”

The cute little boy followed her suggestion and went away. Outside, he saw the bright lights from the fireworks in front of their neighbor’s house; he clapped and laughed gleefully. He said to his mother, in his baby-like words, “Look, Amma, it is so beautiful. May I go there and watch the fireworks?”

It was not too far away from their home. Therefore, Vijayalakshmi called her daughter, Rukmini, and said to her, “My little girl! you take Ramu to watch the festivities at our neighbor’s home. Be careful, don’t go too close to the fireworks, and don’t fight with anyone there.”

The two children went to their neighbor’s home. As the mother watched them leave, her eyes were filled with tears, and her grief was hard to handle. Poor woman! Probably she remembered the first day of the festivities. It was the day of fireworks. Children had wanted to light fireworks; she managed to calm them down somehow. After that, the children never asked for them again. Now they asked for her permission to watch it at their neighbor’s home. She could not help but think of their remarkable behavior; she felt sorry again that she did not have the money to fulfill the wishes of such well-behaved children. The thought was even more painful to her. She was distressed that they did not have a good home to live in, good clothes to wear, and no sumptuous meals even on a special holiday. She was spending her days happily in the company of her worthy husband, despite several hardships they had been facing each day. However, when she thought of the pain of her children , her grief was enormous. She grieved for her children’s suffering especially because she had experienced unlimited wealth in the past.

Both Vijayalakshmi and Venkataratnam had been wealthy in their childhood. Venkataratnam was the only son of Mallayya, a prominent man in Kolakaluru village. Therefore, his wedding was celebrated on a grand scale. He was ten-years- old at the time. A sum of fifteen thousand rupees was spent on the ceremony. Oh, God! The couple, on whose wedding, fifteen thousand rupees had been spent, were not even in a position to lay their eyes on such a big amount of money now. Maybe, it is no surprise for those, whose agraharams[6]An endowment of a small township had been ruined. Anyway, Mallayya’s agraharam had been pawned partly even before Venkataratnam’s wedding took place. Yet, they continued to take out more and more loans and celebrate more and more events. Under those circumstances, Mallayya thought the time for his only son’s wedding was slipping away fast.

Mallayya took out one more loan and performed the ceremony. Venkataratnam and the family suffered unbearable, adverse circumstances. There was no food in the house. The couple were devastated as they watched the children suffer because of their poverty. During Mallayya’s time, creditors had not bothered them. But, immediately after his death, All the creditors came together and collected their dues from what was left of Venkataratnam’s assets, at the rate of one half of one rupee. Poor Venkataratnam, he had to experience the travails resulting from either the stupidity or cleverness of his ancestors. Venkataratnam was an honorable man. Although he had lived the rich life as the son of an agraharam owner, he had not acquired their bad habits, such as egotism, conceit, and indolence. The pecuniary circumstances were painful, yet he was managing because his wife was also bound by the same Dharma as he. By the time his father died, he had passed the Entrance exam. Although he was young enough to continue his studies and improve his qualifications, he had no money to do so. The time was not in his favor. He had to find a job. He joined as a clerk under Setty, a business owner, for ten rupees per month. They were managing barely with those ten rupees. It is only natural for them to worry about the children under the circumstances.

I have stated earlier that Vijayalakshmi was worried about her children’s plight. The recalled the rich life they had enjoyed previously; the way it had been destroyed, and the hardships the children had been through. She was struggling to keep her uncontrollable sorrow in check.

Just then, she heard Ramu’s cries. She stood up quickly and went to her neighbor’s house. She reached their home and saw that her neighbor was beating Ramu. She asked what had happened. The woman said that Ramu had taken a firecracker with no wick, broken it into two, and put them next to the lamp. The lamp was put out as a result. In reality, the neighbor’s child beat Ramu and Ramu started to cry. The boy was afraid that his mother might beat him. So, he turned around and said Ramu hit him first. The boy’s mother believed her son and hit Ramu as if she was beating not a little boy but an animal. Even those mothers, who usually beat their own children, would not take it, if somebody beats them like that. Imagine how difficult it was for Vijayalakshmi, who never beat her children, to see somebody beat her child. She was angry beyond words, yet, controlled herself, and brought Rukmini and Ramu home. She consoled the two children, but could not control her own grief. She was heartbroken; she told herself that her children were suffering only because of their poverty. She ran her fingers over Ramu’s bruises tenderly, and shed tears incessantly. There was nobody to comfort her. If Venkataratnam was there, he would have comforted her. Look! Even now, she was thinking of him kindly only.

Vijayalakshmi heard her husband’s footsteps, hid her sorrow, and put on a happy face. Oh! Vijayalakshmi! Who can count your fine qualities? You are so considerate of your husband’s feelings; you hide your sorrow, wipe your tears, and appear before him with a happy face, and the baby in your arms. If all women cherish similar values, imagine how our country could prosper?

Venkataratnam came home. He did not look happy and pleasant as he used to; he was sad and down. He was sweating all over. Usually, he would come home, speak to his wife with a smile, kiss the baby and then he go into the next room to change. But today, he went in, without speaking to his wife or kissing the baby.

Vijayalakshmi thought he, probably, had overworked and was tired. She started dabbing the sweat off of his face. The baby in her arms was sleepy. She went in, put the baby to bed, and returned to give him fresh clothes to change into.

Venkataratnam changed his clothes, handed the old clothes to his wife and sat down, leaning on the rolled bed on the floor. Vijayalakshmi watched his behavior, and wondered if he had a headache. He went close to him, put her palm on his forehead, and asked, “Why are you quiet today? Do you have a headache? Is it hurting bad?”

Venkataratnam said he had no headache.

She was not convinced. She asked again, “If you do not have a headache, why are you so quiet?”

Venkataratnam looked at her, and felt sad. He asked her, “Are you thinking of our misfortunes, and worrying?”

As she heard his words, Vijayalakshmi recalled the grief she had suffered a few minutes back, thought her husband might be worried in the same manner, and stifled her own grief. She put on a happy face, and said, “Is that all? Why would I worry for such a small matter? I am not worried even in the least bit.”

“Ha, you are amazing! When I think of the wealth we have had before and the miseries we are subjected to now, I feel very sad. We had a great life in the past. Now we are living in dire poverty, and that is hard. Today, all the others have put their valuable jewelry together and worshiped it. You had worn several valuable gold and diamond ornaments. But today, you do not have even one piece of jewelry on you. Are you not troubled about it, at least a little?”

Vijayalakshmi, said, “I am not troubled, not even a little bit. You are worried that we do not have riches, right? I would consider our situation the best, when I watch the egotism and the lack of judgment in some of the rich people. Had we been wealthy, we would not have had this superb pleasure, which we are enjoying by following the righteous path. As for me, I would not consider any other kind of riches other than your affection.”

Venkataratnam heard her words and cringed. The expression on his face showed the scare in his heart. He, who had been virtuous so far, showed signs of fear in his face. He was surprised; he was not sure how to respond to his wife. Finally, he picked up the courage and said, “Dear wife! What would you do with wilted affection?”

Vijayalakshmi did not notice the change of expression on his face but was distressed by his words. She said, “You are causing me only pain by such talk.”
Venkataratnam: If so, I will not speak at all. Do you not worry about our children’s sad plight a little, at least? While the others’ children wore fine clothes, ate sumptuous meals and set off fireworks merrily, our children stood there with miserable looks on their faces. Does that not bother you?

Vijayalakshmi: Why would I feel sad for that? I do not have even a little bit of sadness in me. Let it be. Why are you saying unnecessary things today? You are creating problems which are not there to start with, and then, worrying about them, why? Did our children ask for anything ever, big or small?

Venkataratnam: That is the reason I am even more depressed.

As he spoke, he chocked with sadness, “If I tell you something … never mind.“ He bit his tongue. His face looked as if he was going to say something horrible but he held back. Poor woman, Vijayalakshmi noticed his behavior; she was lost for words. After a while, she came to and asked, “You were going to say what?”

Venkataratnam collected himself, and said, “Nothing. Let it be. You spoke the truth. Why should we dwell on unimportant things and worry?” Nevertheless, while he was saying those words, the expression on his face indicated that he was hiding a secret. But Vijayalakshmi, being naive, could not understand his secrecy. She believed his words.

He said, “I am hungry. I worked hard today, and it is frustrating. Let us eat quickly and go to bed.”

Vijayalakshmi went into the kitchen, and changed into madi sari. She served him food. She ate after he was finished, cleaned the kitchen, and went to bed. By then, Venkataratnam was asleep. It was getting late. Therefore, Vijayalakshmi also decided not to continue to sew, and went to bed straight.

Since Vijayalakshmi was guileless, she fell asleep as soon as she lay down. But, Venkataratnam, being worried, could not sleep but pretended to have fallen asleep. The incident that had happened earlier at work kept him from sleeping comfortably.


Earlier that evening, Setty had performed Lakshmi puja, and Venkataratnam stayed there longer than usual to help them. At that time, the senior clerk, Krishnamurthy, pulled him to a side and said secretly, “Venkataratnam, I am asking your help since you are smart. You promise me that you will tell not anybody about what I am going to tell you.”

Venkataratnam had known the old clerk to be a good and trustworthy person, and so, promised him to keep his secret.

Then, Krishnamurthy said, “Venkataratnam! Did you see all this valuable jewelry they had taken out from the chest for the purpose of Lakshmi puja? This jewelry is nothing to them. In their store, they have jewelry that is thousand times more valuable. You do not know about this, do you?”

Venkataratnam could not follow where the clerk was leading, He said, “Yes, I know.”

Senior clerk: Since you know, you should also know that the entire money is in my custody.

Venkataratnam: Yes. Setty garu trusts you, immensely. Therefore, he gave you the keys to the chest.

Senior clerk: Because they have that kind of faith in me, I am engaged in an activity that will not fail them, I am sure.

The Senior clerk’s words gave rise to a little suspicion in Venkataratnam’s mind. Yet he kept quiet, waiting to hear what else he was going to say.

Senior clerk: Since they have so much money, it is not wrong if we take a little from it. And it is not going to be a big loss for him, either. For us, it rids the Lady Poverty of our lives. I am a senior clerk and my salary is only fifty rupees. And for you, it is only ten rupees. You know, it is impossible for us to run our families on such small income. You need not worry that the secret might come out. I will take care of it. This suggestion of mine must be carried out before the year-end accounting is completed. There are only two more days left for us to act. What do you say?”

As the senior clerk continued to talk, Venkataratnam became irate, and his eyes turned red. He wanted to stop him, but swallowed his irritation and kept quiet since that person was his senior and more powerful. After the senior clerk finished his speech, Venkataratnam said, “Sir! Krishnamurthy garu! If you are suggesting this to me for fun, that is all right. If it is real, your suggestion is absolutely not acceptable to me. Since I have given you my word, I will not reveal this to anybody else, though.”

From Krishnamurthy’s demeanor, it was obvious that his enthusiasm had been curtailed by the powerful argument put forth by Venkataratnam. Yet, the senior clerk was determined, and so, continued to persuade Venkataratnam.

Venkataratnam was aware of the enormous wealth of Setty, but remained steady in his stance.

The senior clerk recounted the pecuniary circumstances of Venkataratnam and the hardships his wife and children were suffering from.

Tears started flowing from Venkataratnam’s eyes as he heard his own heartbreaking plight, aa narrated by the senior clerk, who was well seasoned in business dealings. He had been around for a very long time. The senior clerk saw Venkataratnam’s tears, and said, “Venkataratnam, what is it? Am I not correct in describing the conditions of your family?”

Venkataratnam: (Wiping his tears) Yes. It has been like that for sometime.

The senior clerk: If so, why would you not take my advice?

Venkataratnam: Chi. Krishnamurthy garu! Do not speak to me like that anymore. Your words cannot change my heart.

The senior clerk was well aware of human nature. He knew that if a person’s heart turned to evil, even a little, it would be very hard to bring it back to goodness. He thought it would help if he gave him some time to think. He said, “All right. Let it be, for now. I will not talk about it anymore. You think about it all night, com to my home tomorrow, and let me know your decision. Today, it is Deepavali festival, and probably, you have nothing at home to celebrate. Therefore, take this one-hundred rupee bill. Do not say you do not want it.” So saying, the senior clerk put the bill in Venkataratnam’s pocket.

On his way home from the store, numerous thoughts rose in the mind of Venkataratnam, a family man committed to his Dharma. Should he or should he not do as the old man had asked him to do? The question was troubling. His conscience was saying that such action would ruin his good family name. At the same time, the preaching of shrewd Krishnamurthy was coming back and encouraging him to accept the clerk’s proposition. Venkataratnam reached home with that mindset. You, the intelligent readers, probably had guessed by now that it was what Venkataratnam wanted to tell his wife yet was hesitant to do so.


Venkataratnam closed his eyes and pretended to be sleeping but could not. As stated earlier, several thoughts beset him. He could not decide what he was going to do though. He noticed that his wife had fallen asleep; he got up from the bed, and was pacing back and forth. He suddenly remembered the one-hundred rupee bill, the senior clerk had given him, took it out from his pocket, went closer to the lamp, and examined it. He had come to a decision. He told himself, “Yes, I will take his advice. He said it was only to help me. Is it not so?” He turned around and looked at his wife. Then the words she had spoken a few minutes back came to his mind. He forgot at once the decision he had made earlier and told himself, “Chi. I would never do such a thing.” He looked at the children, who were sleeping next to his wife, and the sight drove away the good thought he had entertained a moment ago. He thought, “I cannot see the miseries of these little children. Besides, nobody else will know what I am going to do.”

Just then, Vijayalakshmi woke for some inexplicable reason, and sat up.

Venkataratnam was dumbfounded, and leaned back on the wall. From his hand the bill fell on the floor.

Vijayalakshmi was not aware what had happened in the past few minutes. Surprised and worried, she approached her husband and asked, “What is this? Why are up still, at this hour? What are you doing at this time of the night? You seem to be worried since evening. Can you not tell me what is bothering you?” Then she saw the bill on the floor. It broke her heart. She said, almost crying, “Sir! What is this? From where did you get it? Can you not tell me, your wife, where from you have gotten this? Today, I have seen several bad omens. I pray, please, explain this to me.”

Venkataratnam was clever, and was influenced by the senior clerk’s words. He e tried to persuade his wife but to no avail.

Vijayalakshmi shuddered at the thought, and was anguished by his words. She was angry beyond control; her eyes turned red, and started shedding tears. Even in her anger, she did not think she should keep quiet because he was her husband. She was convinced that, if she ignored it now, he would take to evil ways, and that would ruin him. It is her duty to stop that from happening. Thus, she decided not to keep quiet. She said harshly, “I suspect you did not earn this money by fair means. What is your reason for doing so? Have I ever bothered you for jewelry or fine clothes? Have the children ever pestered us for something or other? If that is the reason for harboring such evil thought, I swear on your feet[7]a phrase, similar to ‘swear on my mother’s grave’ that I will never ask for anything, and make sure that children will not ask for anything. Please, be kind to us and stay away from evil path. You may say that others would not know of your action. Nevertheless, can you deceive the omniscient Lord and pursue your plan? If you do so, do you think your poor soul will be at peace as before? Can we have the same happiness with this stolen money as we do with the hard-earned ten rupees? Does it not bother you each time you touch it? Does it not remind you that you’ve gotten it through deception? Oh God! I cannot stop your plan. I cannot enjoy the happiness I have been enjoying so far from the present poverty.” She could not control her sorrow anymore. She wept pitiably.

Venkataratnam looked at her, pulled her close to his bosom, and said, “Oh, you are the best sati(wife). Your good words have dispelled the darkness of ignorance from my mind. I will never do a bad deed again. We will stay poor and enjoy the pleasure the righteous path bestowed on us. Oh! Only because I have a wife of impeccable virtues like you, I am redeemed from a huge sin. You are the very personification of the best in my life! The name Vijayalakshmi suits you very well. Today, I have earned the victory in the true sense of the word. A little while ago, I was worried that I did not have Goddess Lakshmi to worship, while the entire world was worshiping her. I have you, the very personification of Lakshmi right in front of me. Why should I worry about a Lakshmi made of metal? Today, I will worship only this Lakshmi.” So saying, Venkataratnam worshiped her and hugged her, who had no gold jewelry on her person but was decorated with impeccable virtues.

In that moment, Vijayalakshmi was elated and, unwittingly, leaned on his shoulder. She was worried beyond words that she had blamed her husband for no good reason. After a while, she said calmly, “You would not commit such act ever again. Is that right?”

Venkataratnam embraced her again and told her he would never do so again.

She snuggled by his fee; felt that her husband had been redeemed from a huge mistake and returned to her. Venkataratnam picked her up. They both spent the rest of the night in a hearty sleep with a clear conscience.The second day, it was Naraka Chaturdasi day[8]The day between Dhanatrayodasi and Diwali. So, they woke up at the crack of dawn. Vijayalakshmi made Rukmini offer harati[9]A piece of camphor put on a plate, lit up, and waved in front of a person or God in a circular motion, implicitly seeking their blessings. Same as ‘aarti’. to her father and brother. They all washed their hair and celebrated.

Venkataratnam received a piece of jaggary, his wife had given him, wore clean clothes, and went to Krishnamurthy, put the hundred rupee bill in front of him, and said, “I will not accept your proposition,” and turned around to leave.

Krishnamurthy stopped him, asked him to sit, and said, “You wait here until I come back,” and went into the house.

Venkataratnam sat there thinking about Krishnamurthy’s behavior; He was confused. On the previous day, Krishnamurthy had been disappointed when Venkataratnam refused to go along with his plan. Today, the same Krishnamurthy was happy about it. Venkataratnam kept thinking about the events while waiting for the senior clerk. Krishnamurthy returned along with Setty. Venkataratnam stood up respectfully.

Setty approached Venkataratnam, patted on his shoulder, and said, “Venkataratnam! You did the right thing!” Then added, “You are smart , honest and, you work hard. I wanted to test you to see if you are equally righteous. I asked Krishnamurthy to test you. You passed the test, and also your unbearable poverty. Yesterday, your heart wavered a little, I think. That was the fault of poverty, not yours. A man, who tried to commit an evil act but moved away from it, is a much greater person than the man who had never entertained an evil thought. It is possible to commit a sin by the first person but the second person will never know if he would commit an evil act. You have earned the hundred rupees you had received yesterday by sticking to your principles. I will also promote you as an assistant to Krishnamurthy with a salary of 20 rupees per month.”

Venkataratnam heard Setty’s words, and could not remain silent anymore. He did not like the praise that was being poured on him. He told them the conversation he had with his wife the night before.

Setty heard his story and was very happy. He sent for Vijayalakshmi. Setty told her, “Amma! You are Vijayalakshmi in the true sense of the term. You are like a daughter to me by virtue of your principles.”

Thereafter, Setty continued to treat Vijayalakshmi as his daughter. Venkataratnam loved his wife and treated her like a goddess. The couple enjoyed the riches they had received as a result of their courage and strength of dharma for a very long time.
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Related articles:
Bhandaru Acchamamba. The Outstanding Life and Work of Bhandaru Acchamamba.

Bhandaru Acchamamba’s Stories. A Review

Bhandaru Acchamamba. First Telugu Story Writer

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(Revised. June 6, 2022.)

References

References
1 Two days before Diwali day, the Festival of Lights, Dhanathrayodasi(Lakshmi Puja) day is celebrated in some communities
2 Goddess of poverty
3 The two goddesses are considered sisters in Hindu mythology. Jyeshta is the goddess of poverty and Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth
4 A person is considered being in a state of madi during puja and cooking time. During that period, usually one or two hours, the person takes bath, wears freshly washed clothes and avoids physical contact with others
5 Literally, dad. Also used as a vocative to address a male child
6 An endowment of a small township
7 a phrase, similar to ‘swear on my mother’s grave’
8 The day between Dhanatrayodasi and Diwali
9 A piece of camphor put on a plate, lit up, and waved in front of a person or God in a circular motion, implicitly seeking their blessings. Same as ‘aarti’.

Chataka Birds part 4

4
“So, what is new, Anna[1]Anna – Older brother. garu?” Kamakshi asked.
“Like I said, my eldest son is getting married on June 25th. You all should come to the wedding.”
“Nice. Who is the girl?”
“She is from Tadiparti family; well-respected in their town. She is the youngest; just finished first year of college. Nice girl, well-mannered and cordial. We heard a lot of good things about the family and the girl, too. We are sure she fits well into our family.”
“Good, that’s all we look for, right?” Kamakshi said.
Siva Rao turned to Geetha and asked, “Geetha, how’re you? Coming from college?”
“No, Mamayya[2] Mamayya – a relational term, meaning uncle. It is common In Indian families to address adults with a relational term rather than by name, even when they are not related. garu, coming from Hindi class.”
“Why aren’t you in college?” he said to her, and turned to Kamakshi. “Why is she not in college? It is not like your husband has lots of money to pass on to the kids. Why not give them a good education, at least?” he said, expressing his genuine concern and business acumen.
“You have to ask only your friend,” Kamakshi said, implying it was not her fault. Her brother’s offer and the family’s response were a sore point for her.
“I will for sure, let him come. I do not mince words,” Siva Rao said.
Geetha approached her mother, and said softly, “Haven’t we had enough bickering about it? Why start again?”
“What did I say? He asked me why we didn’t send you to college, and I said he should ask your father. Isn’t it a fact?” she said, sounding innocent.
“What is Bhanumurthy doing?” Siva Rao asked.
“He is working in a telephone company.”
“Making good money?”
“He gets 300 rupees per month, and some OTs (overtime) too.”
“What?” Siva Rao said; he was lost in his own thoughts for a moment.
“OTs or something, I am not sure; he gets more money for working more hours.”
“Oh, okay. That’s good,” Siva Rao stood up. he told them he had some business in town to take care and would be back soon.
***
It was dark by the time Paramesam came home. The clock struck 9 by the time Siva Rao returned home.
Paramesam was delighted to see his friend. “I was waiting for you. What is the rush? Why run off like that as soon as you’ve gotten off the train? Could you not take it easy for one afternoon? Can’t your business wait until tomorrow?” he expressed mild displeasure, like any good friend.
“Ha ha. If I were a schoolteacher like you, I would go to work on the stroke of ten, return home at 4:00 sharp, and while away my time like a jolly good fella. For us, business folks, there is no work time, free time, supper time, sleep time, and so on. It is all one long stretch of business time. We must be alert round the clock, or, we will fall prey to some crook,” Siva Rao replied, laughing.
“Cute, Siva! As Robert Frost has said, you do not know what lies on the road you have not taken. Had you been a teacher, you would not use words like ‘jolly good fella’ and ‘while away time’,” Paramesam said, sounding asinine.
“Alright, I will admit I misspoke. Don’t you start lecturing me now.”
“Enough talk; it’s getting late. Food is getting cold. Come on,” Kamakshi said, walking into the kitchen.
At supper, Siva Rao returned to the topic again. Paramesam was not prepared for it, though. His oldest son was in college, and there was the youngest Chitti to think about. Paramesam mentioned the same in defense of his position.
“This is the problem with our families. They will have more children than they can feed, and then say God will take care of them.”
“Are you lecturing me on family planning? Interesting. You have how many, sir? Two or three?” Paramesam said, teasingly.
“Alright, I admit I have six. But, I am also making enough to provide for all of them.”
Kamashi was serving rice into his plate. Siva Rao put his hand across his plate, and said, “No, Chellamma, I am full, have had more than enough. Please, no more.”
She went in and brought yogurt.
Bhanumurthy came home, washed hands and feet, and sat down next to his brother.
Siva Rao greeted him with a smile, and asked him how he was doing.
Bhanumurthy replied he was fine.
“You can argue all you want, Paramesam. I strongly believe that girls should be educated just like boys, no excetion,” he said, as his final thought.
“I have to be realistic, Siva. It is beyond my means. The oldest boy is in college. It takes two more years to get his degree. And there is one more, besides Geetha. I have to keep in mind him education too, you know.”
“Okay, as you please,” Siva Rao ended it there.
Paramesam did not want Siva take him the wrong way. “Hopefully, we will find a suitable match for her soon,” he said, as an explanation.
Siva Rao was surprised. “She is barely sixteen. Marriage already?”
Paramesam offered as many explanations as possible: She is not a baby; the higher the girl’s education the higher the boy’s education has to be; the higher the boy’s education the higher the demand for dowry would be.
“I understand. Here is another way. You keep looking for a groom. In the meantime, let her continue her studies,” Siva Rao said.
“Why does she need a college education? Is it necessary to serve a morsel of food to her man?” Bhanumurthy asked.
“Are you saying that her education comes in the way to serve a morsel of food?”
“That’s not what I am saying. I am saying it is useless. Look at Vadina. What education did she have? None, right? Yet, she is managing the entire family superbly.”
“Aha, talk about my education!” Kamakshi was not happy that the discussion had gone astray.
“Oh, no, Vadina! Today I am here; whatever I have accomplished, it is only because of you. Had you not supported me, God only knows where I would have ended,” Bhanumurthy said, genuinely appreciative of her.
Kamakshi’s face lit up for a second; his words were soothing. In the next minute, however, she felt let down as the topic changed. That did not escape the eyes of both Paramesam and Siva Rao. Both understood her mode of thinking. One of them was content and the other disappointed. For the same reason, one of them was determined to cut short the discussion, and the other to continue it.
“Listen to me, Paramesam. Let’s forget all this talk about the need for education for girls for a second. You too know that boys nowadays prefer educated girls. You wish the boy should be a graduate at least; and a boy with a bachelor’s degree does not make a lot of money. So, they hope a girl with a degree could help financially, in case a necessity arises. Whether the in-laws send her to work is up to them. I think there is nothing wrong with being prepared,” said Siva Rao.
“You have six sons. You can say anything you please. I just can’t put four children through college, with my income. That is the stark reality,” Paramesam replied.
“Ah, come on, you are talking like you’re penniless.”
“You are arguing like you are hell-bent on her getting a college degree. How about you take her with you, and put her through college in Guntur?” Bhanumurthy said.
His suggestion startled all the other three adults in the room. It was totally unexpected and, somewhat, inappropriate.
“You shut up, nitwit,” Paramesam yelled at him.
“Cute. I have said it so many times, ‘don’t say nothing, if you have nothing worth saying to say’,” Kamakshi said. His words annoyed her.
“Well-said,” Bamma garu said. Her comment went unnoticed.
Siva Rao swallowed the wad of food in his mouth, took a sip of water, and said, “That is a great idea. Yes, Paramesam, send her with me. She can stay at our place and attend college.”
“This is funny for you?” Paramesam said with knotted eyebrows.
“No, Anna garu, you are kind, but you don’t have to take on this responsibility. It is not appropriate for us either to let you do so,” Kamakshi echoed her husband’s opinion.
Siva Rao would not hear any of those objections. “Bhanu may be young but has said the right thing. In fact, it should have occurred to me. Please, send her with me. My wife and I have been dreaming for a girl, but that never happened. Geetha could fulfill our wish; she is like the Goddess Balathripura Sundari[3]Young girl goddess, known for extraordinary beauty..”
“Enough chitchat. Come on, let’s move,” Paramesam said, getting up to wash his hand.
Kamakshi was in a dilemma. She was not too excited about sending her daughter to someone’s home but the thought that she could continue her studies was tempting.
Paramesam was feeling down by the minute for the situation he was in.
Bhanumurthy was aghast. He did not expect his casual comment to take such an unexpected turn.
“Ridiculous, if you ask me,” Bamma garu said.
Geetha was trying to imagine how her life amid six boys would be like.
Paramesam fell asleep as soon as he hit the bed. Next morning, Geetha left for Hindi class by the time he woke up. Bhanumurthy left for work.
Paramesam freshened, ate breakfast and was on his way out. Siva Rao said, “Time for work already?”
“Um, what can I say. For you, the day broke now. I have to go. You will stay until I return, right?” Paramesam replied in a lighter vein.
“Of course, I will. I can’t whisk away Geetha without your blessings,” Siva Rao replied.
Paramesam pulled his foot back, turned around, and said, “I did not think you meant it seriously.”
“Of course, I meant it. I said it yesterday and I am saying it again now in all earnestness. Your vadina (Siva’s wife) would be thrilled to have a girl in our home.”
“Well, I have to ask Kamakshi what her thoughts are on the subject.”
“Of course, please, ask her. You can send her with me only if it is acceptable to both of you. The women’s college in Guntur is a well-established institution. Let me add, you keep looking for a suitable match. I’ll also keep an eye on it. In the meantime, let her study.”
Paramesam nodded, and left.
Siva Rao turned around to go to his room; Kamakshi was standing in the doorway, leaning on the door-frame.
“Like I said yesterday, it is not your responsibility, Anna garu; it would be a big task for both you and vadina garu. There is a college here too, you know,” said Kamakshi.
She, like any savvy mother, was thinking of the six boys at their home.
“Oh, no, Chellemma, never think like that. We two have always been wanting a girl, you know. And, Geetha is not a baby; we don’t have to worry about fixing her hair, dressing her up, or tucking in bed. She is old enough to take care of herself. I am sure it will be a great experience for her, too,” he said fondly.
“She is very naive, believes everything white is milk[4]A proverb. tellanivanni paalu anukuntundi, meaning not wordly-wise, trusting everybody to a point of fault.. Vadina garu cannot be everywhere, watching her all the time, I am afraid.”
“I understand your concern. I promise, we will take very good care of your daughter. Anyway, you think about it and let me know. Send her with me only if you are comfortable with it,” Siva Rao said, genuinely
“Oh, don’t say that. Of course, we are have full faith in you two,” said Kamakshi quickly.
Geetha returned from Hindi class.
“Would you like to stay at Siva Mamayya’s home and go to college?” Kamakshi asked her.
Geetha was grappling with this question ever since the subject had come up. Several issues beset her and rendered her restless. With her mother’s question, her heart pounded twice as fast. She even wished for a second that this had not happened.
“Why go there? Don’t we have a women’s college here?” Geetha said.
“What kind of question is that? You are talking as if they are strangers. You know that our two families have been close friends for three generations. Your father and Anna are like brothers. Both of them are thrilled to have you in their home. You know she prayed for a girl during every pregnancy. Maybe God planned to fulfill their wish in this manner. Anyway, it is only for four years; it will pass in no time,” Kamakshi offered as many reasons as she could.
Regardless, both of them knew that was not the whole truth; but, neither of them was prepared to accept the bitter truth.
Siva Rao stayed for the night, and was ready to leave the following morning.
As Geetha was packing her suitcase, Chitti started crying; he wanted to go with her. She gave him a half-rupee and comforted him. She assured him that she would be back soon.
Paramesam pulled Siva to a side, and said, “I can never repay your debt, Siva,” with tearful eyes.
“Sh, sh, don’t say that. Geetha means as much to me as to you,” Siva Rao said, patting on his shoulder gently.
Paramesam approached Geetha, told her to study well, to be careful, and not to hesitate to ask Mamayya or Attayya[5]Attayya, Atta: Aunt. whatever she wanted or needed. He also assured her that Siva was like a father and his wife, Kanakamma, was like a mother to her; and, either he or Bhanu would visit her as much as possible.
Geetha kept nodding, for she could not speak; she was overwhelmed. As the car started, she could not control herself anymore; she broke into sobs.
Bhanu gently stroked her head, and said, “Don’t be sad. Everything will be alright. Call me anytime you would like to talk. It is only an hour and a half trip, right? You can come on weekends. Be a good girl, study well, okay?” He shoved a five-rupee bill into Geetha’s palm lovingly.
“What for?” Geetha said, holding the bill tightly in her fist. Her voice sounded hoarse.
“Just, keep it.”
“You all, don’t worry about her. We will take good care of her,” Siva Rao assured them one more time from the moving car.
000

(Continued)

(June 3, 2022)

References

References
1 Anna – Older brother.
2 Mamayya – a relational term, meaning uncle. It is common In Indian families to address adults with a relational term rather than by name, even when they are not related.
3 Young girl goddess, known for extraordinary beauty.
4 A proverb. tellanivanni paalu anukuntundi, meaning not wordly-wise, trusting everybody to a point of fault.
5 Attayya, Atta: Aunt.

Evolving Values by J.P. Sarma

(The unpublished Telugu original, Ammamma Uttaram, translated by Dr. Suguna Kannan.)

Grandmother’s Letter:

Dear Chiranjeevi Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi(1) Kamakshi,

This is your grandmother Narasamma writing to you…

We do speak every day over the phone, but there are some things one cannot share over the phone so, this letter. Our neighbor’s son has promised to post it to you. Tomorrow, I will call the boy when you ring me up and you can share your postal address so he can write it down.

Anyway, my reason for writing to you is this …. in my youth, the auspicious month of Sravan2 used to fly by on golden wings. On Tuesdays and Fridays, our home would overflow with female friends, and the festivities would keep us all busy and engrossed. To add to the hubbub, would be the brouhaha caused by the occasional tiny showers common during this season. It would make the ladies worry about their silk saree getting wet. Unlike the present times, there was no craze among the ladies to deck themselves in costly grand sarees and expensive gold jewelry. Everyone dressed according to their capacity. Whether affluent or impoverished, their concerns were only about…. performing the pooja with reverence, visiting each other’s homes to receive the blessings and prasad (offerings to God) … inquiring about each other, and exchanging greetings and news… our lives were limited to these, and time passed by with no problem! By night, the whole house, covered with yellow turmeric, would appear golden. The sight would be gratifying to the heart. Maybe N.T Ramarao3 chose yellow as his party color hoping it would make Andhra Pradesh golden! Now neither the turmeric nor my husband is there in my life… What is the use of thinking about them?

By evening, about three kgs of the prasad(soaked chickpeas) would accumulate. I would grind it with salt, chilies, and some onions to make vadas (savory fried snacks native to South India) since your grandfather was very fond of those. I used to make them for four or five days after that and he would polish off half a dozen vadas after his afternoon nap while reading a book. All that revelry and merriment has vanished from this house. I see a few ladies visiting each other for the pooja but their faces are more likely to be colored white rather than yellow. Your grandfather’s departure to heaven has prevented them from coming to this house.

I was reminded of all this, my dear – I don’t know, why? Your uncle married as per his wish but what was the use? Your aunt could never see eye to eye with him on any issue! It is ten years since they left…. I don’t even know where they are! Maybe he does not even remember me! Okay! I got over that too … since your mother was in the same town…you are her only daughter…and what did she do… unnecessarily she sent you to America for further studies! You got married as per your choice…white or black what does it matter…he is not ours, No? So, where is the scope any longer for…Sravan month, poojas, and gaiety? I could not fulfill my yearning with your mother…. nor with you!

My mother used to perform the pooja with me and when I used to pay obeisance before her, she would bless me, “May the years of my lifespan be added to yours, and may you live happily for 100 years”. Finally, I seem to have taken the years from my parents’, your grandfather’s, and even your mother’s lifespan. I am still alive but there is no life in me.

By writing my thoughts, I feel unburdened, the tears that had long frozen in my eyes have melted. They flow down my cheeks providing me some relief. I know that memories are sorrowful but I have no one to share them with except you.

Take Care, dear!
Your Loving Grandma,
Narsamma

Granddaughter’s Response:
Dear Ammamma(4),
Your granddaughter Kamakshi offers her namaskarams(5) to you through this letter.
We are all fine here and hope you are safe and sound there. After reading your letter, I wanted to reply to you. Ammamma, your letter reminded me of all the advice given by my mother as well as you and that is what inspired me to pen this letter. For me, it is a first …. I have never written to you earlier… I did not even know how to address you in a letter so I searched on Google for a long time. Pshaw! …. great Google had not the faintest idea… as if it could even think of such a thing! So, I thought …. I would write just as I talk to you on the phone!
Ammamma…. If I had stayed in our place, I might not have learned as much about Telugu as I have learned after coming here to New Jersey! Only after coming here, did I realize the value of our language (as they say the grass is greener on the other side). My first boss was from Andhra and he told me, “In our office, three-fourths of the employees are from Andhra. If you know Telugu, you will learn the job easily.” Those days the only language I heard was Telugu so I began to improve and refine my Telugu usage, which I had avoided earlier. My love and respect for the language grew. You always insisted that ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’…now it has been proven …QED as they say in Geometry. My thoughts about our language and you have undergone a sea change!
In this place, there is an organization called Silicon Andhra Manabadi(6), which teaches Telugu to children. These children have a greater grasp of Telugu compared to me. I learn from them without any embarrassment.
Incidentally, here also pujas are performed during the month of Sravan grandly with greater reverence and ritual purity. Here it is not just a formality to be completed but done with great interest and dedication. I met a lady doctor in the local hospital, where I had gone for my first formal medical check-up. I did not realize that she was from Andhra but she spoke in Telugu after seeing my name. She invited me home to her place and I went.
You cannot believe how much I have learned from her…she came here some fifty years ago. On my first visit to her home, I was surprised to find her looking just like you in a simple handloom saree with a long plait. It was quite contrary to the Western image I had formed of her in my mind. In their house, one whole wall is covered with a big bookshelf filled with volumes ranging from Ramayana to the latest Telugu books of poets like SriSri(7). I gained a lot of knowledge about Telugu culture but she very modestly says, ‘I learned all this only after coming here. Through her, I have become acquainted with many like-minded people. I have heard you say that in your youth, Andhras went to all other Indian states for employment; so, you will not be surprised to hear that now we find a multitude of Andhras in other countries too – so much so that at times I feel that I have not left our town. I am very surprised by the change in my thought processes during the past five years that I have been here. Doctor Aunty said that I would look nice in a skirt and half saree because I have a very adolescent appearance and look. I bought a skirt- half saree set online and wear it for festivals and special occasions. For the Varalakshmi Puja, she came home and instructed me on how to perform the puja. She had meals with us and praised my cooking a lot. After tasting the Gutthu Vankaayi (stuffed brinjal) I had made, she was surprised and said, “No matter how I make it, it never tastes so good”.
So, Ammamma, don’t worry! It is not as you imagine… our language and festivals are better respected and cherished here; as they say, “Farther from Temple, nearer to God”. My African-American husband has also learned Telugu. On festival days, when I wear silk sarees, he wears the traditional dhoti and kurta and looks like Veereslingam Pantulu(8). Ammamma, you know though he is dark, his heart is white and pure.
Incidentally, that Doctor Aunty has an only daughter…born and brought up here…she is in a live-in relationship with a South African and has gone off to some foreign country …. it’s been ten years…Aunty does not know where the girl is!
This seems to be the outcome of a free society. “World is a family” does not mean this, does it?
Poor lady! Whenever she sees me, her eyes fill up with tears but I can see a sort of happiness in them. I see my mother in her.
But one thing, Ammamma every family has a feeling of sorrow and success… it is unavoidable, isn’t it?
Bye then
Your affectionate granddaughter
Kamakshi

Foot Notes:
1. Chiranjeevi Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi – In Indian vernacular, elders while writing a letter to a younger person began traditionally with a blessing of long life (Chiranjeevi) and prosperity (Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi)
2. Sravan – Sravan is the fifth month of the Hindu Lunar calendar and is considered its holiest. It is choc-a-bloc with festivals and auspicious occasions.
3. N.T Ramarao – Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao popularly known as NTR, was an Indian actor, filmmaker, and politician who served as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for seven years over three terms.
4. Ammamma – Grandmother
5. Namaskarams- means “I bow to you.”
6. Silicon Andhra Manabadi- a global Telugu language learning platform.
7. SriSri – was an Indian poet and lyricist, famous for his works in Telugu literature and films.
8. Veeresalingam Pantulu – A famous Telugu social reformer and writer considered to be the father of the Telugu Renaissance movement.


(June 1, 2022)

NOTE: Comments box is not working. Thanks for your support. – Editor.

Chataka Birds part 3

3

Two days back, Radha called her to inquire how she was doing. Geetha said she was doing well softly, sounding lifeless. Radha understood her predicament; she knew it only too well. Almost all Telugu women went through that downtime in the first few months of their arrival in America.
She said, ”How is your family at home? Have you talked to them?”
“No, no phone in our house, you know. I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. I wrote to my mother.”
“That’s good. We all had been through that feeling, Geetha. It takes time to get used to it.”
“I hope so,” Geetha sighed.
“Look at it this way,” Radha said, trying to cheer her up, “You’ve said you were not very close to your brothers; you were arguing all the time. Now you don’t have those arguments.”
Geetha laughed, ”Well, yes. Still it is not the same. I still miss them, actually missing them more now.”
Radha too laughed and agreed that it was not the same. Also told Geetha it had been like that for her too, at first.
After the chat, Geetha’s spirits hit a new low. How on earth did this happen? I took one big leap in a split second, like I did not know it was a lifetime decision, she thought with awe. Her entire life rolled out in her mind like an old movie; it was like someone else’s story.
A decade and a half had passed since.
***

The Ramanatha Swami High School had published the final exam results. Students gathered in the schoolyard anxiously, looking for their names on the list posted on the big board. Those, who had passed the exam, were elated; they walked around like they had grown two inches taller. The students, whose names were not on the list, were eager to leave the place. The successful students were trying to stop them and speak some encouraging, deriding, or reassuring words to the failed folks: I am sure there will be a supplementary list; What’s the big deal; You can try again; There must be some mistake; and so on.
Some of them talked about their future plans: I will take Biology major; I want to go to law school; I don’t think my father lets me continue; I will probably learn to typewrite…
“I will go to America,” Ranga Rao said.
Several students quickly gathered around him.
“What do you do there?”
“I don’t know. I just want to go to America. That’s all I know for now.”
“Yes, yes. I’ve seen him buying a ticket at the train station yesterday,” somebody said, mockingly. Two students laughed. Four students snickered. Two students, standing next to Ranga Rao, took him seriously.
The entire atmosphere was boisterous with various emotions: happy, sad, disappointed, desperate; Aspirations, hopes, fears, and tears.
Geetha stood a few feet away from them, and watched the other students with a feeling of inexplicable apprehensiveness.
“What do you think you will do?” her friend Satyam asked her.
“Um. I don’t know.”
“Yes. For girls like us, no plan. Things just happen,” Satyam said inanely.
“You too think so?”
“Well, you know. My two brothers are in college, and two sisters are sitting there, waiting the wedding day. I know father can’t pay for my education.”
“I just don’t know what I want to do.”
Satyam sighed. “We’ll see. I have to go,” she said.
Both left for their respective homes.
Geetha’s father was on the porch, reading newspaper. He said, “Passed?”
She nodded in assent and went in.
“Glad it is done,” said her mother.
Geetha went into her room and stood in front of her bookshelf. Those books meant a lot up until last night, but now meant nothing. She sighed and turned around.
Her little brother, Chitti, was standing behind her, “You said you’d give me a quarter of a rupee, if you passed the exam.”
“When did I say that?”
“The other day when I was playing drum, you said you’d give me a quarter, if I stopped playing the drum and let you study.”
“Okay. I’ll give you later.”
Mother called her from the kitchen, “Geetha, go to Nagamma Atta’s [1]Atta: Aunt home, get some curry leaves. I am making pulihora.”
Geetha went to neighbor Nagamma Atta’s home. Nagamma Atta was making cotton wicks for her daily worship as Geetha walked in.
“Done with high school?” she asked.
“Yes Atta, passed. Amma sent me here to get curry leaves from your tree.”
“Sure, take them. What is the rush? Come here, sit down.”
“Amma is waiting for the curry leaves. I have better go.”
“Ah, okay, go. You will be in college soon, I guess.”
“I don’t know.”
“Why? Did your mother say no need for further studies?”
“No, she did not say anything.”
“Father?”
“No, Atta, nobody said anything. I have to go.”
“Well then, you tell them that you want to go to college. Stop being so naive. Times have changed. No boy would come forward to marry you without a college degree, at least.”
“I have to go,” Geetha said, and left.
***

Geetha knew there was would be some discussion at home sooner or later. That moment had come soon enough. At dinner that night, mother Kamakshi brought it up.
“Probably, college costs a lot of money,” Kamakshi said in a soft voice, while serving curry. She would like Geetha to go to college very much.
“I guess,” said father Paramesam, indicating it was on his mind too.
“Aren’t there scholarships or something like that?” Kamakshi asked.
“Oh, no, Vadina! [2]Vadina: Older brother’s wife. That is only for the rich and the mighty, not for folks like us,” Bhanumurthy, Paramesam’s younger brother, said, sarcastically.
Kamakshi was annoyed but kept quiet.
“Why does she need a college degree, anyway? All she is going to do is cook, clean and take care of the kids, right?” he added.
“You said it right, my boy! I think so, too,” said Bamma [3]Bamma: Grandmother garu from the hallway, where she was lying on the jute-rope cot and listening to the conversation.
Kamakshi did not say what was on her mind for fear of offending the woman one generation senior to her. She sighed, and went in to bring the yogurt.
Geetha sat there with her eyes glued to the food on her plate, and mixing the rice and curry clumsily. Father, Mother, Babayi and Bamma garu–they all were talking about her future. She was listening; it felt like it was not about her but somebody else.
The following Sunday, Geetha went to Saroja’s home for a party. It was late in the evening by the time she returned.
“How was the party?” Kamakshi asked. She knew what kind of questions she might have faced, and how painful it could be.
“Okay,” said Geetha, and went into the adjoining room to change.
After they all ate supper, Paramesam settled in the reclining chair on the porch with the newspaper.
Geetha spread the mats and set the pillows in the adjoining room. Usually, that room served as a chat room for the adults to discuss the day’s events, and as a study room for the kids to do their homework. On that day also, as usual, they all gathered there and started chatting.
“So,” said Bhanumurthy, lying on the mat on his stomach, and resting his elbows on the pillow, folded, under his chin.
“How many times have I told you not to fold the pillow like that. Use two pillows if one is not enough,” Kamakshi said.
Bhanumurthy, ignored her chiding, and continued as usual, “So, what is Saroja going to do?”
“She says she will study medicine,” Geetha replied.
“Ha ha. Is she that smart?” Bhanumurthy laughed. He got through high school with bare minimum marks, took the polytechnic course, and took a job as a telephone operator.
That hurt Geetha. She did not like Babayi[4]Babayi: Father’s younger brother. dismissing her friend’s aspirations in one curt sentence. “Saroja has gotten good marks, as always,” she said with knotted eye-brows.
Kamakshi did not like it either. “Who are we to tell how smart she is?” she retorted edgily. She wanted her daughter to go to college, very much. In her younger days, she had hoped to go to college, but that did not happen. Now she would love to have her daughter a college degree.
“Hindi class is good,” Bamma said from the hallway on the jute-rope cot, not that her suggestion mattered. She, however, considered herself part of the family since she was living under their roof; and, offered her advice, asked or not.
Geetha picked up the courage to say, “I want to go to college.”
“Think about it, college education does not come easy. It takes four years to obtain the degree. Your father retires by then,” Bhanumurthy said.
Geetha pretended not to hear his words, and said, “A degree in Hindi takes time, too.”
“It may take time, but not that expensive,” Bhanumurthy said. He was surprised that Geetha spoke. He wondered if that came from attending the party at Saroja’s home; who could have said what to her?
Kamakshi’s face fell, but nobody noticed it. “It would be nice if she could get a bachelor’s degree, at least,” she said.
Paramesam would like it too; but, he had overwhelming responsibilities. He was aware that it was beyond his means.
Bhanumurthy, however, did not let go of it. “What do you mean by ‘nice’, Vadina, tell me; enlighten me,” he said.
Paramesam came into the room, yawned, and said, “That’s enough. It is getting late. We need to wake up early. Go to bed.”
The discussion ended, leaving her future hanging in the balance.
***

Some of them had to find other venues. Saroja signed up for the Biology course, but Sambu could not, although he had received higher marks in high school. Lakshmi, Sundari, John Gopal, Ansari Ali, and others went their separate ways.
Geetha signed up for the Hindi class. She could not help but think of her classmates. Some of them would graduate from college and go for further studies. They just happened to be in a better position socially, and so, got better opportunities. She knew that some of them “managed” to pass the tests. She had gotten good marks, fared better than some of them; yet she could not go to college. She could not help but think that she would remain “a girl without a college degree” for the rest of her life.
Kamakshi’s younger brother, Ramana, was in America. He wrote that he was happy that Geetha had passed the high school exam, and would be happy to help her get admission in a local college. Kamakshi it twice and left it on the coffee table.
Geetha returned from her HIndi class.
“Did you write to him?” mother asked.
Geetha was confused. “Writing what? To whom?” she asked.
“To Ramana Mamayya[5]Mamayya: Maternal uncle., about passing the exam.”
“I did. So?” Geetha asked.
Kamakshi threw a scathing look at her and went into the kitchen.
“Yes, go, pack and leave right now. He has gotten a white girl; he will find a white boy for you too,” Bamma said, expressing her displeasure.
Ramana had left for America when he was 22, completed his studies, got a job, got citizenship, and settled in the U.S. He married his colleague, a white woman. That was a sore point for Bamma ever since.
Kamakshi was adding stirring the eggplant curry on the stove in the kitchen. Bamma’s comment ticked her off. She came into the hallway and said, “He married a white girl, so what? Our girl passed the exam. She was happy. So, she dropped a line to her uncle. He too was happy about it. What has one got to do with the other? It is not like we are taking him upon his offer, anyway.
“Let’s not forget how we treated him. He came home, after 12 years away from home, and how did we treat him? He is my only brother. You did not take into consideration even that. You insisted he must not enter the kitchen because he was married to a white girl. We should be happy that he offered to help us, despite such humiliation.” She struggled to stay calm while replying to Bamma.
“What did I say? Did I say anything that is not true, or, inappropriate?” Bamma fired back.
Geetha stood there watching this farce. She thought for a second about what would have happened if Babayi was there; then it occurred to her that Babayi would be home soon, and this bickering would continue.
She was right. Babayi started out the squabble again, after he returned from work. He raised several questions, starting with, “Where did she get the money to buy the aerogram,” to “Where did she get the idea of going to America.”
The truth was, she had heard about it at the party at Saroja’s house. Ranga Rao mentioned, casually, that it would be easier to go to America, if one had a relative or friends in America. Geetha thought about Ramana Mamayya.
Not that it had become an obsession with her, but when she saw some space on the aerogram her mother had given her to write Ramana’s address, and mail it. She scribbled a line about her passing the exam, and mailed it. It was all casual, no expectation of opportunities or, possibilities.
Bhanumurthy would not let go of it, so easily, though. “So, that is it, Vadina? I must give it to you. You’ve done a wonderful job of training her,” he said.
“Aha, that is my training? My training adds up to what, while you all are here to protect her?,” she replied edgily.
“So be it. Okay, Geethamma, please, don’t forget this poor, no good Babayi, please. Maybe, you can find a small job for me, too,” Bhanumurthy continued his brassy remarks.
Geetha felt terrible. She regretted her action; Oh, God, what have I done, she thought.
“Who knows what is in store, Bhanu! As they say, the barren land you have ridiculed could come to fruition some day[6]navvina naapa chene pandutundi. A barren land may yield produce.,” Kamakshi said, and left the room.
***

Paramesam’s father had enjoyed a fairly good life. They had enough to run the family, and help a couple of others as well. In course of time, however, the property had been used up for children’s education, weddings, etc.
Paramesam inherited a small single family home, and got a job as a teacher at a local middle school. That was about it. He had three sons and one daughter. First son finished college, got married, and moved to the big city. The second son was in the second year of college. Now Geetha was finished with high school, and the question of her studies was hanging in balance. The last child, Chitti was in the 4th grade.
Paramesam’s younger brother, Bhanumurthy, completed high school, and joined a telephone company as a telephone operator in the same town and moved in with them about 5 years back. His stay with them was helpful, financially; his thoughtless comments and ideas were annoying to both Kamakshi and Geetha. Basically, he had no college education, and so he saw no reason why Geetha should get a degree. Bamma garu was one more living soul in that household. She was Paramesam’s mother’s younger sister. She had a son, who refused to take care of her. Since she had no other place to go, Paramesam’s mother took her into her home.
***

Siva Rao was a childhood friend of Paramesam. They both had tea in the same tea stall, attended the same school, learned to smoke cigarettes and play cards from the same classmates, got a taste of the same rods from the same teachers. They received medications and reprimands from the same doctor. They were not born to the same parents, but grew up practically like brothers. After they were done with schooling, each settled in life in their own ways. Siva Rao married his mother’s brother’s daughter[7]Cross-cousins are permitted to marry in Telugu families. and settled in Guntur, taking care of his father-in-law’s business. Paramesam married the girl Kamakshi, his parents picked for him, and settled as a school teacher in Vijayawada. Both got busy with their own lives. There was no communication between the two families for a while.
One fine morning, Siva Rao came to visit Paramesam’s family.
Kamakshi welcomed him heartily, gave him a glass of water, and inquired about his family in Guntur.
“Haven’t seen you in a long time. I thought you’ve forgotten us,” said Bamma garu said, expressing mild displeasure.
Siva Rao sat in the reclining chair on the porch, sipping water.
“Oh, no, Bamma garu, my business is like that, hardly any time to do anything. We can’t trust anybody nowadays, can’t let the guards down, not even for a second. It’s killing me, no time even to die. If the Lord Yama[ God of Death. ] comes to take me away, I would have to tell him, not now, come later,” he said to her. Then he turned to Kamakshi, “They are doing well, Chellemma![8]Chellamma: Younger sister. Your vadina has some minor complaints like backache, but nothing serious.”
“Don’t your sons help?” Bamma garu asked.
“No, Bamma garu, too young to get into business.”
“So, what is new, Anna[9]Anna: Older brother. garu?” Kamakshi asked.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he smiled and said, “I have come to invite you all to my son’s wedding. It is set to be performed on June 25th.”
Geetha returned from her Hindi class, and stood on the last step to the porch, listening to their conversation. She tried to imagine a young man who was too young to take care of business but old enough to get married.
***

(Continued)

May 27, 2022)

References

References
1 Atta: Aunt
2 Vadina: Older brother’s wife.
3 Bamma: Grandmother
4 Babayi: Father’s younger brother.
5 Mamayya: Maternal uncle.
6 navvina naapa chene pandutundi. A barren land may yield produce.
7 Cross-cousins are permitted to marry in Telugu families.
8 Chellamma: Younger sister.
9 Anna: Older brother.

Chataka Birds Part 2

(Part 1) here

Part 2

Geetha opened her eyes and saw Hari sitting on the edge of her bed with a big smile.
She felt relieved for the first time since she had set foot in New York.
Hari took her hand and stroked gently, “How was the trip? Who put you on the plane in Mumbai airport? No problems anywhere? Did you get through Customs without hassle?”
Geetha laughed. “You have so many questions. If I keep answering all your questions, I won’t be getting any sleep for a week, at least.”
“Well, did I get you here in such a hurry so you can sleep endlessly?” he squinted his eyes and pouted.
“Hee hee,” Geetha giggled.
Then she went into the bathroom, freshened up and returned to the living room. Hari set the breakfast and coffee on the dining table. He said Peter and Susan had left for work.
“Oh, I am sorry. I should have woken early to take leave of them.”
“Ah, don’t you worry about it. That is the way it is around here. Everybody has to go about their business, or else, nothing gets done.”
In the airport, Hari led her to a lounge, told her to wait there, and went to check in. She was watching people rush every which way. Suddenly, a huge wave of loneliness overcame her amid this crowd of strangers; she felt exhausted and clueless.
Hari returned with two cups of coffee. She looked at him tenderly. In this whole wide world, Hari was the only friend she had, and that thought was comforting.
Hari settled next to her, and handed her the coffee. He put his arm around her shoulder, and stroked her gently. He understood her at that moment. “I am here for you,” his eyes told her.
***
Geetha reached her final destination. As she got out of the car, Hari pointed to one of the doors of a 2-storey building and said, “There, that is our heavenly abode.”
She could not figure out which door he was pointing to. She nodded and followed him. A cardboard sign of “welcome” on the door welcomed her. She stood behind him nervously.
Hari opened the door to their apartment and let her in. He showed her the rooms–the living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining room–all in one sweep, standing right where he was.
Geetha nodded, “Okay, got it.”
Everything was beautiful–a flower vase on the dining table, curtains matching the sofa set, kitchen looking like a showroom, everything in its place, a place for everything.
“What do you think?” Hari asked.
“Nice,” she replied.
Something was missing. There was no feeling of joining the in-law’s family to spend the rest of her life with them. It was more like vacationing in some unknown city for a few days!
That building had been the home of one huge family for two previous generations. The current owner converted it into a 4-unit complex by making a few changes like installing stoves in the bathrooms, and toilet seats in the bedrooms.
“Like it?” asked Hari.
She nodded quietly. She was still in a daze. Her brain was still in a silent mode. Nothing was penetrating her head. The tiny cells, where thoughts are generated, were filled with vague shades. How else anybody, thrown from one end of the globe to the other end in 36 hours would feel? There were two oceans and 10,000 miles of distance between the bed she had slept in yesterday and the bed she was going to sleep in today! Faces she had never seen, things she had never seen, and the language never heard anywhere! Her head reeled.
The phone rang.
Hari picked up the phone. It was from an old friend, Bhagyam. She had been in town for over ten years. She was the best friend and mentor for local Telugu families. She called to ask if the new bride, Geetha, had arrived safely, was the journey comfortable, and was there anything she could do for them.
Geetha lay back in the sofa, trying to listen to the conversation and wondering what was that about.
Hari was on the phone for the next hour and a half. As far as she could understand, most of the calls were to inquire about her and her journey. Rest of them seemed to be talking about politics; Nixon resigned, and then what? What would Ford do? Geetha dozed off.
Hari got off the phone at last, and said to her, “You are tired. Come on, have a bite and go to bed.”
Geetha got up, walked to the dining table, “You cooked?”
“Why? You think I can’t cook?”
“I don’t know. My friend Satyam used to say that Indian men, after a year or so in America, would rush back to India and get married to solve the cooking problem only.”
Hari burst into a big laugh. “Not bad, not bad at all. You are not as naive as I thought.”
Geetha too smiled, squinting playfully, and sticking out her tongue.
Hari kept asking, “how is this item?”, “how is that item,” as she ate.
Geetha kept saying, “good”, “nice”, tasty”, “what’s this? Spinach? Looks like Poi.”
Hari was excited; he was delighted beyond words. Just in a few hours, Geetha had changed tremendously. The future would be pure gold!
“It’s okay. Everything will be fine. You’ll get used to these things,” his eyes assured her.
It was nice for her too. She felt good. In that moment, he did not look like the NRI, who had appeared from nowhere, married her, and left in a hurry, but like a boon companion from previous life. It was gratifying.
He left for work.
She sat in the sofa, pondering over the day’s events. Hari said something about jet lag; the body reached America, but the heart was still in the Telugu land.
Next morning by the time she woke up, Hari made coffee.
“I didn’t think that life in America would be this charming,” she said, teasingly.
“You’ve seen nothing yet,” he said, smiling. The phone rang.
“Phone calls this early? I thought people in America don’t call this early.”
“Americans don’t, but for our people, there is no such thing as no good time. Phone calls start with the cock’s crowing,” he said, picking up the phone.
That was true. One of his friends, Madhav, called to ask if he and his wife, Radha, could stop by to say hello to Geetha briefly.
Hari told them to come, that’s fine, hung up, and conveyed the message to Geetha.
“Guests already? I still feel like I have not reached America yet,” Geetha said.
“What guests? Madhav is no guest. We two went to the same school and got a taste of the same rods from the same teachers. We are like brothers. Don’t worry. You don’t have to change sari or anything. They want to see you, that’s all. Here we all feel lost, ache for a Telugu face. Any new person is quite refreshing to us. You will understand soon enough. How can I say no, when he and his wife are so anxious to meet you?”
Geetha went into the other room, pulled out a sari and a blouse, and went into the bathroom to take a shower.
She returned to the living room and greeted Radha and Madhav.
“Where are the kids?” Hari asked. The couple had two kids, eight and ten.
“Our neighbors took them to the County Fair along with their kids. They will be back by noon. We thought of making the best of the free time this way,” Madhav said, explaining away their early morning visit.
Hari asked if they had breakfast.
Yes, they had breakfast, they just stopped by to greet Geetha briefly. “We will come some other time,” he added.
That some other time happened soon. The following Sunday Hari received a phone call from an old friend, Sumati. She and another friend, Tesh came. Tesh had no car and so he tagged along with Sumati. Within the next one hour, a few other friends, Pani, Vishu and Gnanesh came. All of them were bachelors.
This get together was unplanned and unexpected, and totally different from what Geetha had learned from her friends in India. For Hari, it was an ordinary event, nothing unusual, she understood.
Geetha made coffee. Hari went into the kitchen and returned with a plate full o f the sweets and savories, Geetha brought from India. He also brought cookies and crackers on another plate.
Pani took a cookie, that was his favorite, he said.
“Hey! How can you, with these authentic Pullareddy sweets from hometown? ” Gnanesh said.
“Come on, It is not a contest. I like them all. Each has its own taste. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. That’s all,” Viswam tried to appease him.
They all got into heated discussions on several topics. Excitement was in the air.
The clock chimed 12:30. “Okay, let’s go. I am sure Geetha garu likes to rest,” Sumati said.
“No, no. It’s lunchtime. Eat something and leave,” Hari said.
His friends protested, as is usual.
“Geetha garu needs rest.”
“We will come some other time.”
“We came just to see Geetha garu, say hello and leave.”
“No, no, we did not expect to eat lunch here.”
“Promise, some other time.”
Hari dismissed their protests, waving his hand. “Come on, I insist. There is plenty of food. Actually, I’ve got everything ready for you.”
Geetha was amused. She did not expect this but, apparently, some customs die hard. Indians are Indians anywhere. Unannounced visits and expected hosting!
“I still think it is not right to bother Geetha garu,” Sumati said.
“Don’t you worry, Sumati. I am not going to put your kid sister to work. I will make lunch myself,” Hari said.
“Kid sister”! It was so Indian, Geetha noticed.
Sumati laughed. “Ha, ha. We all have tasted your cooking. I will fix something. You stay out of the kitchen, that is a big help.”
Tesh followed Sumati into the kitchen. Pani and Gnanesh joined them. Geetha also went into the kitchen.
Sumati turned on the stove and started with making rice for puihora[1] Cooked rice mixed with tamarind mush and turmeric, also called yellow rice. . In another pan on another burner, and added two tea spoons of veggie oil, waited for a couple of minutes for the oil to heat, and threw in some mustard seeds, urad dal, and a few red pepper pods. While the mustard seeds popped, she took out two packets of cut beans and threw them into the pan. The pan made a big hissing noise and subsided.
Geetha was watching them with amazement.
While beans were cooking, Sumati took an potato and started slicing for bajji[2] Potato slices dipped in Besan batter and fried. Similar to onion rings..
“I will cut it,” Geetha said, taking a step toward Sumati. She feeling awkward to stand there, doing nothing.
“Don’t worry, I got it. You are still a new bride. We don’t let new brides work the first day,” Sumati said, playfully.
“I can’t just stand here doing nothing. After all, this is my house. I am supposed to be doing the cooking.”
“Ah, no, Geetha garu, for today we are the hosts here. Starting tomorrow, the kitchen is all yours. We will not enter the kitchen unless you beg us to.”
“To be frank, I am not much of a cook.”
“None of was at first. But, after a couple of months, everybody becomes a master chef.”
Geetha laughed.
Lunch was ready. Beans curry, Pulihora, Bajji.
As they were eating, Geetha made coffee.
“I haven’t had this good coffee since I left India. Geetha garu, Namaste to you,” Gnanesh said.
“You too can go home, get married, and bring the bride. You can have great coffee everyday,” Sumati teased him.
“Well, what if I don’t get a wife who can make coffee like Geetha garu. I would be a big loser on both counts.”
“You can ask her to make coffee when go to her home to meet her and her parents.”
“That is probably not a great option,” Gnanesh said.
Geetha was confused. How could they talk so lightly about such a grave subject, the institution of marriage?
“What is he talking about?” she asked Sumati, feeling there might more to it than his marriage or good coffee.
Sumati replied, “He has made a project of it. once a month, he sits down and make a list of things he wants in a girl: Fair skin, correct height, best features, etc. And then qualifications: A physician is good for taking care of kids, an economic major can take care of investments, and a home economics major, of course, will satisfy his taste buds. These priorities change each month, depending on the dominant zodiac sign on any given day.”
“Wow!”
“If you ask me, he really is not ready for marriage. All that talk is just past-time for him, and entertainment for us. That’s why we tease him.”
“Okay.”
All the fun and frolic were interesting to Geetha. Strange but not unusual, come to think of it. She felt right at home in their presence. She said so too.
“Back home, they told me Indians in America would behave very differently. You all are soooo Indian, I feel like I have not left home at all.”
“Well.”
“What?”
“Nothing.”
“It didn’t sound like nothing. Am I being naive?”
“I am not saying you are naive.”
“Then what?”
“Do you remember the proverb, ‘you don’t test each grain of rice to see if the entire pot is cooked’?[ annam antaa patti choodakkarledu. You don’t check each grain to know the entire pot of rice is cooked. ] That does not apply to humans. As far as I could see, humans come in all shapes, sizes and attitudes, everywhere. One wave does not make the ocean. One instance is not enough to understand the nature of anyone person, or a handful of people, for that matter.”
Geetha did not reply. Suddenly, she thought of Susan and Peter. She had told them the same thing, almost!
“I am just saying humans are very complex creatures. Just take it in stride.”
“Okay,” Geetha nodded.
“Never mind all this nonsense. You are tired. Go, get some rest,” suggested Gnanesh.
“Yes, you need to rest,” Viswam said.
Geetha said, “I am not tired. It’s okay,” feeling shyly.
“Come on. No formalities with us over here. We all know how it feels like after such a long journey. We are not going to find fault with you. Go, get some rest,” Pani insisted.
Hari also assured her that nobody blames her as lacking in manners.
Geetha took leave of them and retired.
***
Geetha was getting used to the new environment, but it was not getting any easier. Every little thing was a new lesson for her. Cold cereal for breakfast, air-tight rooms, very little semblance of any human to be seen anywhere; and Hari’s constant warnings, “don’t go out,” “don’t open the door,” “keep the doors locked,” etc. were depressing her. She was feeling suffocated. Mother, father, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, even the maid, and the vegetable vendors were coming to her mind constantly. That was her life. The thought of loneliness, like a huge wave, rose and engulfed her.
She recalled the brief conversation she had had with Radha two days back.
***
(Continued)

(May 20, 2022)

References

References
1 Cooked rice mixed with tamarind mush and turmeric, also called yellow rice.
2 Potato slices dipped in Besan batter and fried. Similar to onion rings.

Chataka Birds (Novel)

Chataka Birds
By Nidadavolu Malathi

[A first generation Indian woman’s immigrant experience in America]

Chataka Bird

Introduction.
I moved to America in 1973 from Andhra Pradesh, India. It took me a decade to get over the culture shock I had experienced. That was the starting point for this novel.
I worked on this novel with three basic premises:
1. Ill-conceived and/or unsubstantiated notions are prevalent in both cultures, about Americans in India and about Indians in America.
2. Basic human values, hopes, fears, aspirations, and primary needs such as food, shelter and human relationships, are the same across all cultures. The difference is in the manner in which each culture addresses those characteristics.
3. Those characteristics originate from environment, population, and available resources.
Also, I strongly believe that a good read must be able to transpose the reader into the story’s nuance. If it does not do so, it has failed its function, in my opinion.
I began writing this novel in my mother tongue, Telugu, in 1984, and completed it in 2004. It was serialized on www.APWeekly.com.
Currently, the novel is being serialized on www.neccheli.com. I have made extensive revisions in this version in 2021.
In this English version, once again, I have made significant changes, with the target audience, non-native speakers, in mind.
The title, Chataka refers to a mythological bird, supposed to be flying around in the sky, and awaiting, with its beaks turned upwards, the fresh raindrops from the sky for its food. According to the legend, the bird would not accept water from any other source except the fresh raindrops from the sky, and only in a specific season.
I used the metaphor to describe Indian immigrants in America in pursuit of happiness and material comforts. The comparison, however, ends there. The culture shock emanating from the cultural conflicts they face is a lot harsher and harder to handle.
I am thankful to my good friend and author, Judith Ann Adrian, https://judithadrian.com/ for her valuable suggestions.
I am thankful to my Facebook friends, Rama Neelakantham and Suman Latha Rudravajhala for providing information about Chataka bird.
Also, I must mention a comment I had received long time ago, when I had submitted my translation of a story to an American Journal. The editor wrote to me that footnotes were just right; not too many, not too few. To that end, the footnotes are meant not to be elaborate explanations, but only helpful in understanding the context in this story.

Read, enjoy, comment, if you please. Thanks.

Nidadavolu Malathi
May 13, 2022

The Chataka Birds Continue reading

Festival of the Ancestors by Endapalli Bharathi

Translated by V.B. Sowmya

000

“Annampoddu festival is here. Every woman in the village should now get ready for a day of backbreaking work!” – I sighed, as I sat to rest after whitewashing the house, cleaning the floor and drawing muggu1.

“Why do you sound so vexed, amma (mother)?” my daughter asked, walking towards me.

“What can I say? There is an endless list of tasks and there is no respite. Tomorrow is the festival day. I have to wake up before sunrise and perform poli around the whitewashed house.”

“What is that?”

“We apply cow dung paste in a circle around the house, to protect it from bad air. This is called poli”, I explained.

“What else do we do for this festival tomorrow, amma?”

“Tomorrow’s festival has three names Papa (child). Trees bloom in this season and cold weather starts giving way to warmer days. It will start getting hot (uga in Telugu) from now. Hence, this festival is called “Ugadi”. We have to complete poli before daybreak on this day. We buy new clothes for our dead ancestors and cook something they liked on this day. Since we remember our elders, it is also called Festival of the Ancestors. As part of our tradition, we buy a new pot from the potter and a new cheta (winnowing basket) from the medari (basket maker caste) for the festival. The pot is filled with water and decorated with naamam2 on its front. We sew banyan leaves to make five plates and arrange all the prepared food on these. New clothes are arranged next to them – we call this whole arrangement a nilupu. We then place any available pictures of our ancestors on nilupu and pay our respects to them.

We spread a green leaf over the newly bought sieve and prepare a mix of freshly plucked and trimmed neem flowers and smoothly ground jaggery. We put this in front of god as an offering. We finally break a coconut in front of all the gods and photos of our ancestors before annampoddu, that is, before 9 am, when we usually have our first meal. This is why it is called annampoddu festival. Of the five leaf plates, one is for the gods, one for our ancestors, one to leave on our rooftops, one to leave at the burial ground, and the final one for us to eat. We distribute the neem-jaggery mixture we prepare to all other homes in the village.

Even people who don’t get along with you expect to receive this mixture on the festival day. So, people share this mixture even with their arch enemies, to avoid hard feelings that can persist forever. If the elders between two families are not on talking terms, they send their children on this task of sharing the mixture. It has to be completed before noon according to our tradition. The earlier one finishes, the more restless others become. It is like a competition – who finishes first? “Aren’t you done yet?” Men start pestering.

So, women get no breathing space during the festival,” I explained to my daughter.

The festival day arrived. All the women in the village sat in groups on the streets after performing the rituals and enjoying a sumptuous meal. They sat there cutting betel leaf stems, and gossiped about who was the last to distribute the neem-jaggery mixture in the village this time.

“Maarakka’s daughter was the last to distribute this year” – one of them remarked.
“I wonder what kept her occupied for so long!” Another one exclaimed.
I went to my brother’s house to enquire. They were talking about his wife.

My sister-in-law sat there with a long face, leaning against a wall. My brother seemed to have done all the household chores – bathing the children, and performing the prayer rituals. They have two daughters. The younger one was naked and was crying for a new frock. The older one apparently went around to distribute the neem-jaggery mix earlier and was now eating lunch.

“Why is it so gloomy in your house on a festival day?” I asked.

“Look at her, akka (elder sister)! She is angry at me because I bought new clothes in memory of our father, but not her mother.”

“He never bought the bottle of red liquor (a reference to brandy) naayana (father) asked for when he was alive. This man now showers love on our father and bought new clothes for him! Are the dead people going to wear the new clothes we buy? Aren’t we eventually going to wear these new clothes in their name, anyway?!”, I thought to myself. I admonished them for quarrelling over petty issues and returned home.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law had come from her village. She visited her mother’s remains, offered a saree at the grave, broke a coconut and took them all back with her.

“Vadina (sister-in-law)! I bought this saree for my mother. It costs 1000 rupees. Does it look good?”

“Papa, it is good. But, do you remember the past? When your mother worked hard and saved money to buy a saree for herself, you never let her wear it. You always insisted on wearing her new saree. Did you even offer her a blouse piece when she was alive?! You have now bought her a 1000 rupee saree!” I vented. She hung her face in silence.

This is me. I say things to your face if I don’t like something. When her mother was sick, she asked her daughter to make her favorite poelee3. If she had prepared it for her mother back then, that is a different story. But, no. Now, she wants to offer her poelee, attirasalu4, betel leaves, liquor and what not! Is her dead mother going to return to life to eat all this?! She should have taken good care of her mother in the past! But people perhaps wait for sick elders to die!

Everyone remembers their elders only on this festival day. Their burial spots are surrounded by bushes, giving the place the look of a forest. All these people search for the right spots to pray at the burial ground, and break a coconut there without having a clue where the head or toes of the dead are.

The dasaris come to our house on this day. They go from house to house praising our dead elders in exchange for money or grains. They came to our house today. I gave them a basket full of rice and asked them to praise my mother.

They started singing –
“Gifting generously
your daughter asked us to praise you..
She gave silver coins for a high praise,
She gave copper coins for a loud praise
She gave us clothes –
our blessings will send you to vaikuntam6
Wherever you are, dear Yellamma!
That god, who called you up,
He will protect you there.

You did not come when she had muggu on the front yard
Nor when she welcomed you with flower petals
You never came when she remembered you
Nor did you show up on festival days
God gave you only half a life!

You left your house, you left your children..
Leaving everyone,
You reached God’s abode, Yellamma!
God will take care of you there!

As they sang this song beating their gummiti7, I had tears in my eyes.

000

Glossary:
1.Muggu: patterns drawn in front of the house or inside with flour and sometimes, using coloured powder.
2.Naamam: vertical lines drawn with kumkuma – a powder made with turmeric and slaked lime and vibuthi – ash powder, considered sacred and representing God.
3.Poelee: a sweet flatbread made of wheat flour, cooked lentils and jaggery
4.Attirasalu: a sweet dish made of rice flour and jaggery.
5.Dasaris: People belonging to the Dasari caste. One of their traditional occupations is to sing praises of people in return for gifts in cash or kind.
6.Vaikuntam: abode of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi
7.Gummiti: A pot like musical instrument for which the open end is closed by hand and the other end is hit like drum, to make a loud noise (an artist performing with this instrument can be seen in this youtube video).

000

The Telugu original, సచ్చినోళ్ల గేపకం/Sacchinolla Gepakam, appeared in the author’s Telugu short story collection “Edaari Batukulu” in 2019.
Translator’s note: The story describes the customs surrounding a festival in their village. Although such festivals exist in various cultures within India and in other countries, these traditions described in this story seem specific to this region and village community.

000

(March 10, 2022)