Author Archives: Nidadavolu Malathi

Dear Almighty! A Letter to God (sketch)

By Nidadavolu Malathi

Highly regarded, most revered, Almighty and Omniscient Devudu garu,

I, one of the tiny specks from your vast universe of zillions of creatures, am presenting this letter with utmost respect and humility for your kindest consideration, and may I add, appropriate action. It is my pious hope that you would take a minute from your very busy schedule, and take my appeal seriously.

I do believe that I have a right to make this appeal since I am one of the zillions and zillions of creatures you have created and you are responsible for. By the same logic, you are also responsible for my birth and death. Ever since I was a child, my parents and grandparents taught me to trust you and seek answers from you.

That you are responsible for my birth and death has been established. My birth is a thing of past. It has happened, it is over and we can’t do anything about it. My grandma said even God cannot change the past. Thus we can work only on the present and future. So, we will leave it at that. As for death, my friends do not appreciate my referring to it so early in this appeal. So, it is deferred for now.

Now let us talk about the time in between, that is my birth and death.  Just like you, I have got this avatar and I think I have executed my assignment superbly. Well, I can be modest and say, “to the best of my ability,” but I do not see any need for that. After all you are omniscient, and being so, you know what I am capable of doing and not doing.

Probably, this is right time to say something about my language skills. I know this is not written in a highly sophisticated lingo. However you need to understand that I can work only with the matter you have put in my head. My limitations come with the territory. As and when you choose to put better quality matter in it, I promise to compose a better version. So, for now, this is the only version I can provide. (Once again I can be cute and say “deal with it” but probably not a good idea. So, I leave it as an aside).

As for my questions, for starters:

  You have given me jobs not commensurate with my qualifications,

  Relocated me to places I did not care for,

  Delivered goods I did not want at my door.

  And when I ask for something I would like to have, you suggest I do penance for one hundred years standing on one leg!

How fair is that?

What did I do to deserve this?

My next question is about avatars.  You told Arjuna that you take an avatar as and when Dharma is violated. So, where are you? Don’t you see the world is in a turmoil, and people are suffering horrendously. Most of the population is bewildered for want of direction and the other few are busy making it worse. What are you waiting for? Do you think it is not the right time yet? Well, I beg to differ. When a loser acts like a winner and even gather support for his crazy idea, I think this is the time for intervention, I mean your next avatar. If you are really committed to protecting the innocent and punishing the wicked, this IS the time in my humble opinion.  You see I am still being humble.

Now I will come to my avatar. I will have to refer to your teachings once again. You have stated that detachment means accepting all criticism, positive and negative, equally, including neglect. Frankly, I don’t have any control over those who criticize. Therefore, you have to intervene and tell them to give me criticism, positive and negative, in equal proportions. Then I will have a chance to accept all of them.

As I said earlier, you delivered me in this avatar, ill-equipped I might add. Regardless I have completed my assignment. It is time for I assume another avatar. It need not be on this earth specifically. As you may be aware, I am very adaptive and can fit into any place or position.

Respectfully Yours,

A Tiny Speck in Your Universe.

P.S.: I may have to tell your mother if you don’t reply to me. My apologies in advance.  

000

August 12, 2021.

Kalipatnam Rama Rao. The Yearning

By Kalipatnam Rama Rao

That was the month the Sun enters the house of Sagittarius. It was early morning of the day before Bhogi. Nevertheless no house in the village received a coating of whitewash, except those of the rich. Between the village and Malapeta the green fields used to look to be in full bloom. Now there was only a parched Pumpkin patch.

In Malapeta, Pydayya sat in the front yard in a two-foot patch of sunshine. His older brother Narayudu’s children were sitting next to him.  Narayudu washed his face and turned to the Sun God to offer his daily prayers. Facing them, Yerremma stood, not too far from them.

“So, is that it?” Yerremma asked Pydayya, looking straight into his face. He was her son-in-law.

Yerremma was about forty years old. Crushed by hard times, she was looking like well over fifty.

“Is that what you think too? If so, I will leave right now,” she added.

She tried to speak as softly as she could. Pydayya had never heard her speak in such a restrained voice!

Pydayya was barely twenty-five. After moving to the city, he had grown a bit taller and was looking robust. He wore a sleeveless t-shirt and striped silk shorts. The naked children around him looked like baby crows with bald heads and white streaks on their dark faces even the mother crow would not coddle. “Nevertheless they are looking like round sweet balls, must be gobbling alright,” Yerremma thought.

“So, should I leave?”, she asked again raising her voice.

Bangari could not hold any longer. She was patting mud on the patio wall while listening to Yerremma’s words. She went ballistic. “Why keep asking, ‘shall I leave, shall I leave?’ Who asked you to come here in the first place? Did we send a special invitation? Why did you come running to us? Who invited you, me, my son, who asked you to come here? Don’t you remember? You’ve said you will not set foot in my front door, unless and until my son and I go to your place and beg you on our knees, didn’t you? How could you show up here now? You came here, we did not go to your place. You have no shame to come here. Never mind. You’ve come and said whatever you wanted to say. Now you are done talking, you had better leave. Now, just go, go back to your hut,” Bangari said and returned to her work.

Pydayya was happy that Bangari stopped there.

Yerremma for whatever reason listened to all that bantering without speaking a word.

After a while, Bangari scoffed, “She is your kid, your blood. That is why she went with you. I am her mother-in-law yet she ignored me, my words, and went with you. You may say he is your son-in-law but you know he is my son first, and then only your son-in-law. He is my son as much as she is your daughter. Anyway, take him with you, if you can. I am not going to stop you.”  

It sounded like a matter of bondage for Yerremma. She took it as such and decided to step up. “You want to split them apart?” she asked

“I don’t have to do anything, you’ve done it long time ago.”

“If that was my intent, I would not have shown up at your door at all,” Yerremma said, shaking her fist in the air.  

Bangari saw that and washed her hands in a fit of rage.

Oh, God, these two women are going to go at each other again, Pydayya thought. Narayudu intervened and bawled at his mother, “You, stop it.” Then turned to Yerremma and pleaded with her, “Please, Yerremma, I am begging you, go home for now. We are not ignoring your words. We are saying he will go with you if he wants to. After all, he is not a kid you know. We can’t force him either to stay here or go with you. He is a grown man. He will do what he wants to do. Let’s not pull the rope until it snaps. Listen to me, go home for now.”

Narayudu literally held her chin and begged her. Yerremma had never lost in this miserable way, never in her entire life. She swiftly turned around and walked away furiously. She went a few steps, turned around and shouted, “Hey, hey, Iyyaparaala!, Listen, I’m telling you today, you are separating your son and daughter-in-law. For that, you will rot in hell not only after your death now but for the next several lives. In the next life, you’ll vegetate in bed forever. I am telling you today, as the Sun is my witness. You keep that in mind.” She walked away in big strides to her home, just a few blocks away.

“Go away, truth-teller! Be gone. If your curses and mine have the power the entire world would have been burned down long ago,” Bangari broke into a big laugh and then turned to her work.

* * *

Sankranti is six months away from Aviti, it is said.

“I will bring my daughter home every six months. You may be her mother-in-law but you have no right to stop me,” Yerremma argued.

Aviti is a chariot festival, an annual celebration observed in the Ganjam district, previously part of the State of Orissa. These two families were living in an area that was part of the previous Ganjam district. Just like the people there, the customs and traditions of both Orissa and Andhra got mixed up.  

Bangari said, “Take her as many times as you want, either before or after the festival, keep her for a couple of days and send her back. After all, we all are in the same village.”

“Whatever you are thinking? Bringing a daughter home every six months is traditional, especially during Sankranti and Aviti festivities. You can’t say it is different simply because we are in the same village. Tradition is tradition, whether we are in this village or the next village; rules are the same everywhere and always,” Yerremma argued.

“If you are so particular about festivities, take her the day before the holiday, keep her as long as you want, a month or two, I won’t say no,” Bangari protested.

“Who are you to tell me when I can or can’t take my daughter to my home? Maybe before, maybe after, it is and should be my decision. I am the one bringing her home, you know. You have no right to dictate one way or the other,” retorted .Yerramma.

Those gathered there also dismissed Bangari’s argument. As long as she was willing to send her daughter-in-law home, what difference did it make, before or after the festival, how did it matter, they said.

Bangari could not explain her real reason. She could not explain to them that one of her daughters-in-law had gone to her natal home for the delivery and another had died. If she let go of Sanni, she would have to manage the household all alone, all by herself. She was too old for that.

Yerremma’s counter-argument was, she sent her daughter to have a life with Bangari’s son and not as a servant to work for Bangari.

Pydayya’s move to the city for a job gave further support to her argument. If he stayed at home, Bangari could argue that he could not live without her, and she could do nothing about it. But that was not the case.

Yerremma came to take her daughter home a month ahead of festivities. Bangari raised hell.

“I won’t send her,” said one woman. “Come on, let’s go,” the other woman seized the girl’s arm and dragged her toward the door. “I’ll see how you can take her,” one woman said. “I’ll see how you can stop me,” the other woman said. The entire village gathered to watch them.

Poor thing, Sanni was embarrassed. She endured their push and pull for a few minutes and then broke into sobs. The two women stepped back. A few minutes later, the two brawlers went at each other again – grabbed each other by the hairs, scratched, and stoned each other. Only after the villagers interfered and separated them apart they stopped the squabble.

Yerremma, being the outsider,  sustained more wounds. Sanni saw her mother bleeding. She could not take it anymore. She followed her home.

“If you leave now, I will not let you set foot in this house again,” Bangari barked.

* * *

In the evening three girls were picking grass on the banks of river Tummalcheruvu. One of them just started wearing half sari. She came for picking grass for the first time. Quietness spread  like the Great Sea. They were feeling suffocated.

Neeli stopped digging and asked, “Oley, Sanni, do you think it reaches the village if I shout from here?”

“Don’t you worry, nobody is going to snatch and run away,” Ankemma snickered.

“Who is going to snatch me? Nobody cares about me. If at all, they will pick you up and run away, or, your friend here. You two are in the prime of life. It can happen only to girls like you.”

Sanni broke into a big laugh.

“You, naughty girl!” Ankemma said with a touch of disdain.

“Don’t I know why you two come to this god-forsaken corner while there is so much greenery all around the village,” Neeli said in retort.

And then added, bringing her face closer to theirs, “Kotthapeta is not too from here, isn’t it? Your man will come to see you later in the day. That’s the real reason.”

Sanni and Ankemma burst out into a big, side-splitting laughter. After a few minutes, Neeli asked, “Come on, Sanni, tell me the truth. If I shout from here, can they hear it in the village?”

“Shout and see.”

“What if nobody can hear it?”

“I’m telling you, just shout and see.”

Neeli stood up and looked toward the village. There was no sign of a human as far as she could see.

“I should call whom?”

“Call Dali.”

Neeli pretended not to hear it. Dali was Neeli’s husband, he was from the same village. She was nine at the time she was married.

Neeli pulled herself up and shouted, “Hey Pydayyaa mama!”

Ankemma giggled. Sanni smiled and said, “Not good enough. Shout louder.”

Neeli again mustered all the strength in her body and shouted louder, “Oooooooooh, Pydayya mamaaaaaaaa!”

“Ooh”, Sanni chirped like a bird in the mango grove.

“Aha! No need to laugh at me. He is coming for real,” Neeli bluffed. Then she crashed onto the ground.

“Oh my God! He is here, He is coming, for real.”

No, Neeli was not kidding.

“For sure?” Ankemma asked.

“I swear. Come here and see for yourself. I saw him climb up the banks past the Tummala grove. At first, I thought it may be somebody else. But then, I clearly noticed his striped shirt and lungi I’d seen before. That certainly is him,” Neeli said.

Ankemma stood up slowly and sat down right away. She saw Pydayya.

“True,” she said to Sanni.

Sanni did not move, showed no signs of emotion.

“So, what? Let him come,” she said, sounding casual.

Regardless, her heart started beating faster.

In the next minute, the other two girls became serious.   

“You stay here. We’ll see you later,” Ankemma said, picking up her basket to leave. Neeli kept pulling the grass.

“No, Don’t go.” Sanni’s voice sounded harsh. Ankemma was ticked off.

“That’s cute. Have you lost your mind? Your mother and his mother are fighting, fine. Don’t you let it get under your skin, He did nothing wrong,” she reprimanded her gently and went to the Palm Grove along with Neeli.

As Sanni continued to pluck the grass she noticed two dark feet in front of her. Her heart jumped to her throat. She was trying desperately to keep her shaky hands under control. Finally, she asked, “Found time at last?”

“When one is far away, it is hard to find the time.  Fine. What about them, who don’t talk to the person right in front of them? What is that?” Pydayya asked, sitting on the grass, making sure clothes did not get dirty.

Sanni lifted her eyes and lowered them again, without stopping her work.

“Can’t open that mouth,” Pydayya asked.

Still Sanni said nothing.

Pydayya was wearing a colored silk shirt and freshly washed white lungi.

Sanni was wearing a colored sari, it was faded and looking dirty although Sanni had washed it earlier on that day. She wore a rubber bangle on her right hand and wool thread on her left hand. If she stayed in her mother-in-law’s place, she would not have been in that condition.

“I’ve come from so far away, can’t you say something, not even one word? What have you got to lose?” Pydayya said.

Sanni had no good sari to wear and no valuable jewelry yet she was beautiful. She always took good care of her body. She took care of her looks even when she was busy or not well.

Pydayya was watching her keenly and imagining how her honey-colored figure would look in the yellow sari with red border and green silk bangles he had brought for her under that evening sunlight.

“How long you are going to stay?” Sanni asked, shaking off the dirt on the roots of the grass she had collected so far.

“I will stay for four day if you are nice to me, counting today that is. Otherwise, I’ll be gone by tomorrow.”

Pydayya expected the word “nice” to hit her hard. But there were no complaints from Sanni.

“What actually happened?” Pydayya asked.

“What can I say?” replied Sanni. She lifted her face slightly,  there was a little warmth in her voice.

“Didn’t you receive my letters?”

She did not reply.

“Everybody tells me how the squabble took place but nobody tells me how it started,” he said teasingly.

Sanni was about to tell everything but changed her mind and returned to digging.

“I don’t know either how it started. Even if I knew, it is not appropriate for me to tell you.”

“How telling the way it is would be improper?”

“The mother who has given birth to me on one hand and on the other the mother-in-law who is supposed to take care of me. I’ll be in trouble whichever side I appeared to have taken.”

Pydayya had no answer. After a while, he said, “Alright. If you want to act like you’ve nothing to do with it, I have nothing to say either.”

“We can’t dismiss it as ‘whatever happened has happened and so be it.’ They’ve gotten into argument today again. I am in a fix, it is like a well in front and a ditch behind. Tell me what I am supposed to do now at least,” Pydayya said.

For some reason, he thought she would say something but she did not. He was annoyed. “If you don’t tell me this either, I would have to assume that you are angry with me and my mother.”

Water welled up in Sanni’s eyes. She stopped digging, filled the basket with the grass she had dug so far, and replied in a hoarse voice, “You do whatever you want. I am only a woman after all. In matters such as this, I must not tell you what to do. Even if I had said something, you must not listen.” She picked up the basket and stood.

Pydayya was hurt by her words and even more by her walking away in that manner. Ever since he had set foot in the village, his mother, brother and even his wife got into fights, and now, she was telling him, ‘you do as you please.’ He felt he was being punished for a crime he did not commit. Even a passerby would show some sympathy in times like this. His own relatives were showing no concern! He suddenly stood up and said, “Alright, I will leave tomorrow morning. If I set foot on this soil again that would be my ashes only,” and went away.

Sanni stood there with tearful eyes.

Pydayya walked away in big strides, his legs floating. Earlier, his heart was beating the same way as he approached Sanni. On his way here, he thought about what he would ask her. And what did he do?

What he did was wrong. He turned around quickly and came back to Sanni. As he did so, he noticed that Ankemma and Neeli were watching them both from behind Palm Grove.  

 “Can you come to Tavitappa’s home later in the evening?” he begged. He was about to break into tears. His voice sounded desperate. Sanni noticed it. After that she found it hard to say no but she had to.

“You come to my place,” she said, lowering her head and looking away.

Pydayya could not take it anymore. He left without looking back. He was coming home once every three months and stayed for three days. Both of them lived like that, he in the city and she in the village, for the past three years.

The other two home girls came back to Sanni. She wiped her tears and stayed there for a long time.

* * *

Lights were lit by the time Sanni returned home. Yerremma saw that the basket was only half full and growled, “Is this all you could bring, after spending the entire day on the field?”

Sanni was going in to put away the sickle under the eaves. Yerremma’s question annoyed her. She was shaking as she spoke, “I did not come here to be your slave, not to cook and feed you and kids. I came here because you asked me to. Tell me if that bothers you, I’ll leave right now.” That is what she wanted to say but could not.

Instead, their next-door neighbor Narasamma took it upon herself to say so. “You, old brat, shut up. Her husband is in town and you want her do chores for you? I haven’t seen anyone like you. You shoot off your mouth and think that it saves you? You don’t care how much she is hurting or what she is longing for?  You are angry because she has brought a few strands of grass short today?” she yelled at Yerremma.

Narasamma was a few years older than Yerremma, whichever way you looked at it. She was the only one Yerremma would not talk back to.

Yerremma changed the tune and played stupid. She said, “What did I say? All I asked was why smaller bundle? I was worried if she was not well or something. My bad luck, my words didn’t come out right. That’s all there is to it, I said nothing wrong,” and went in.

After she left, Narasamma turned to Sanni and asked softly, “I’ve heard that your husband went in your direction. Did you see him?”

It is not unusual for the word to reach the entire village before the man has made it to his home. Therefore, Sanni was not surprised.

“I’ll come to your home a little later,” she replied and went into the house. However, she did not go to see Narasamma, not a little later, not even after much much later. Narasamma decided to go to Sanni herself.

Sanni did not enter the kitchen the whole day. It was late evening, she spread a small jute mat in her room and lay down. Her mother went to get groceries.

The present Malapeta was on the North side of the village that was developed in course of time. A new street was formed by combining two streets, each with three rows of houses. Yerremma’s house was on the new street. Between the new street and Malapeta, there was a tobacco farm. Between that and the village, there were vegetable fields and tender sprouts in preparation for replanting.

Yerremma set up a make-shift stove under the eaves facing the street and started cooking. A small wall stood between the stove and the street. The room Sanni was sleeping in had a door toward the street but not to the back. At night Sanni and her six younger sisters would sleep in the same room. Yerremma would make room for herself in the kitchen to sleep. The veranda had just enough room for a cot for an asthma patient. Yerremma’s husband would sleep there wheezing all night. His only past-time was to lay in the cot and listen to Yerremma cursing him.

Yerremma cooked and fed the kids. Sanni said she was not hungry. Yerremma put away the pots in the slings hanging from the roof, closed the door, and went away.

After she left, Narasamma came. She held Sanni’s shoulder, helped her to get up and said, “Listen to me, let’s go to my place.”

Her father and her sister, who had not fallen asleep yet were watching them with curiosity. Sanni understood that there was no use protesting anymore. As they proceeded, Yerremma came out and saw them.

At Narasamma’s house there were two young kids but no male member. The kids were sleeping.

 Narasamma cleaned the ashes in the coal stove, set the pot on the stove, brought the lamp from outside, and sat next to Sanni. She said, “I am like your mother. Listen to me carefully. Families break up or make up on occasions like this. I suggest you follow his suggestion. Trust me, take his advice.”

Sanni felt like her life had become a tabloid story, she was heartbroken. She covered her face with her sari end and cried. Yerremma heard her cries from next door but could not pull herself to go into the house.

“Stop it, whatever happened that you should start crying?” Narasamma said, a bit annoyed.

“My life has gone to dogs. Fine, see how low he’s gone. He asked me to go to the hut every scoundrel visits.”

“That’s right. That’s why I am telling you to take care of yourself. He is stupid. If you neglect him, no doubt another girl grabs him and runs away. That’s why I’m saying, you need to heed to his words.”

Those words caused Sanni further grief. “Why can’t he come to my place?” she said, overwhelmed by grief. She was aware however that her expectation was meaningless.

“How can he? Even on the wedding night, he did not want to go to your place. It is worse than a pigsty. Tell me, is there anything that can make one want to stay there?” Narasamma said.

It sounded harsh but there was truth in her words. The kids would not be able to sleep in the front yard, with only worn-out sari pieces for sheets to cover in the chilling cold weather. They would have to cuddle next their older sister or mother and sleep in the same room. That was the reason, although he had spent all day at her house, he had to take her to his home at night.

“I cannot say you sleep at my place. That won’t do. Your Atta holds a grudge against me for something I had said sometime back. It sure is bound to get us into trouble.”

Sanni could not see a way out. She hid her head in her knees and was silent. A little later Narasamma said, “That’s why I am telling you to forget these stupid ideas. Just do what he says. I’ve got hot water ready for you. Wait for a second, I’ll fix your hair. I have sent my little boy to watch when Pydayya arrives and let’s know. You get ready before he reaches home. Take the boy with you to be safe. On your way back, bring your husband along with you.”

It sounded reasonable at first. Then it occurred to her that this news would not be a secret for long. She was devastated. She broke into big sobs, muttering, “No, no, I can’t go, I can’t,” and shaking her head vigorously.

Narasamma tried to explain to her in so ways but Sanni remained stubborn. Narasamma was exhausted and yelled at her, “would you rather kill your marriage?”

Sanni kept staring at the floor. Narasamma said, “Tell me what are you thinking exactly. You think he will come to you today or tomorrow, or maybe the day after. Well, listen to what your Atta has to say,” and then shouted out, “Oley Yerremma, come here for  a second.”

Yerremma came in. “Sit down,” Narasamma yowled. Yerremma sat down. Narasamma said, “Tell her what the Dokkolla woman had said to you.”

 “You tell her,” Yerremma said, looking away.

“She said that your Atta had laid down two conditions to let you back into her home. First,  you must promise that you’ll never raise the question of visiting your natal home for the next three years, not until she feels like it and say ‘you may go’. Second, your mother should go to her and admit that she (your mother) was wrong. Unless those two conditions are met, she would not share the same roof with you as long as she lived. You know full well how stubborn she is. Your husband and his brothers will never cross her. Now, tell me whether you will listen to him and save your marriage or give in and let your Atta have her way.”

“I may take his advice but where is the guarantee Atta will have a change of heart?” Sanni said. She was irritated.

“Who can tell what is going to turn out how? When the man and wife join hands nobody, not Atta not the Goddess over her head, can split them apart. Otherwise you have got nothing. Any bitch can break you up.”

“If that is what you think will happen, I have had it. I will not go to him at all. As far as I am concerned his people are as important to him as my mother and siblings are to me. I am not going to use my body as bait to get him.”

Hardly Sanni finished her sentence, Yerremma stood up ready to leave. On her way out she kept muttering, “haven’t I said so? She, her Atta, her husband, and all of them are the same. I am the only one, the outsider. They all blame me as if my girl has joined me and pouring her earnings into my lap. All I’ve got is the blame. Ask her. Ask her if she has ever given me or my kids one paisa, just one paisa. There is the mirror and there is the face. Ask her straight. She keeps feeding that worthless idiot like a pig. I’ve told her time and again that it is the same for you whether he lived or died. But she won’t listen. She keeps feeding him bottle after bottle. I would ask her why? She says the gusty winds cause him to shiver miserably and she could not watch it. Well, as they say, if he dies today tomorrow is another day. How is he helping anybody by staying alive? It is a hassle for him and a hassle for the family. She stood by such a worthless idiot and got it to this point.

“I did not want to go there to bring her home. I’ve told her that her Atta is stubborn. I told her since there is no produce this year no work either, and no point in bringing her home. But she insisted that I go there and bring her home. So, I went to fetch her. And, see what happened. I have got broken bones and was confined to bed for four days.

“Yes, she is here. What good has come of it? She has got nothing, not even enough to buy a rag of a sari for the festival. That’s what she has accomplished. You are suggesting I should fall on her feet for this girl’s sake.  Her marriage goes to dogs and people will spit in my face, you say. This is my karma, that’s all I can say,” Yerremma left, mumbling and smacking her forehead.

Among the rich, there are rich, very rich, and super-rich. Among the poor, there are poor, very poor, and dirt poor. Yerremma was very poor.

Yerremma owned a hut. She possessed a few clay pots fairly in good condition, some aluminum and bell metal dishes. Also, one cracked aluminum pot, a badly dented vessel that was no good for pawning, and two dinner plates. Thus she was very poor, she must not be categorized as dirt poor.

Compared to her, Bangari was just poor. In her house, there were not only aluminum dishes but also three bell metal dishes good for pawning, two brass platters, brought by her daughters-in-law, and a small brass pot. She also had four water tumblers. She possessed a few other assets as well.  

She also owned a house featuring a raised front porch and a door to the backyard. On one side, there was a small porch just enough to hold a cot and a small backyard. After Sanni had joined them as a daughter-in-law, the backyard was fenced in. Above all, she had a small strip of wasteland, which was like a  pregnant buffalo that keeps gobbling fodder endlessly but never produces milk. Therefore, many people referred to them as ‘haves.’

Immediately after Bangari had been married into this family, her mother-in-law had divided the property. Bangari and her husband received a farm that yielded four or five bags of paddy and a peanut farm that yielded four bags of peanuts if they worked right. They barely had anything to eat. In their lives having a piece of cloth was considered a luxury. They learned to manage barely.  

The family grew bigger in course of time. Then came the War. Although the land continued to yield now and then, costs went up, commodities disappeared, and newly the black market came into play. The costs of commodities shot up sky high as they reached the village. Out of necessity, people took loans, failed to pay back, and were forced to sell their lands.

Thus, under the rule of the previous government farmlands of several farmers were wiped out. They had been told that under the new government things would be different. Some said the new government was going to be like the rule of Lord Rama. A few others believed it would be the Mala rule, that they would determine the administrative policies.  

“Jobs for Mala folks, houses for Mala folks, and all the wasteland for Mala folks,” the landlords said. Some of them even said that the rules of the new government were laid out by a Mala gentleman.

It was nice to hear them but in action it was different. Wherever the Malas turned the Kapu men confronted them with sticks. The Mala folks in the end received some barren land, quite rocky and in a far off location. It was a horrendous task to break the rocks and cultivate the land.

Bangari’s husband had to implore the Village Accountant desperately, offer gifts, and perform numerous odd jobs around Munsif’s house for umpteen months. He was nearly worn out by the time he obtained a small strip, located in the middle of a dried-up river. He died in the same year. Folks said the land was accursed. Bangari ignored those comments and kept the land.

The children were still young. Only Narayudu grew up and taller. Bangari assumed the responsibility as the head of the household with Narayudu by her side. From what she had seen so far she understood a few things about life. She told herself, “It never gets better for the poor. If they try to get something they don’t have, they will lose everything including the things they have had. The poor may starve days on end yet they do not die. That being the case, why lose the things they have had on hand?” She decided that she would not try to get something she did not have previously and would not let go of the things she had on hand, even if her life depended on it. She put it into action to the letter, never budged an inch. Under her management, they did not lose a blade of grass.

The other Mala folks, who did not have that kind of fortitude and, who believed that the Mala rule would happen, sold pots and pans, sweated blood, and turned the wasteland into a viable farm. As they say, the fresh water washes away the existing water too. The expenses wiped out the profits. They were left with nothing but their houses and their bodies.

The rich would not buy the houses in Malapeta. The poor could not afford to buy a house. It was the same with the bodies. Sacred texts and jurisprudence would allow renting out the bodies occasionally and for a brief period, but not to sell them with full rights. Thus most of them ended up becoming dirt poor. Or else, they would have been very poor.

Bangari was doing fine until all the four sons had grown up and two daughters-in-law joined the family. They saved a little cash and a few seeds in season and invested them in the land. After the season ended, they managed the best they could without taking out loans. They ate whatever they had and even when they had nothing they managed.

In course of time, Bangari’s third son Pydayya grew up. Usually, young men in the early stages of youth entertain a love for life and develop belief in their vigor and brains. Additionally, Pydayya was married. He started complaining that their mother had no mettle, and people without mettle remain stuck in the same place like floor mats.

“You do as you please but no loans, I will not let you borrow. Put up fences, gather dry cow-dung chips, move dirt from the pond, pour sand, add fertilizer, dig ditches and grow greenery, anything and everything you can and want you may do. I am not going to stand in your way. You work hard, I like it too, but no loans,” Bangari told them a few times.

Pydayya was ticked off. He declared that he decided to move to the city at the first sign of an opportunity. “Ah, go, I don’t care,” said Bangari. Pydayya wasted no time. He left for the city.

* * *

Pydayya struggled for about six months in the city and by the end of the year, he made it fairly well. It was not clear what happened but he found no work. In the past two years, he had been struggling with no income in sight.  

Back in the village, Bangari’s oldest daughter-in-law died in the same year Pydayya left for the city. For the next three years, the yield on the land was far from satisfactory. The yield kept diminishing, first one quarter, next one half, and at the end the entire yield. The entire village was thrown into spasms of fear and uncertainty. It was like the floods after heavy rains. Tiny grass blades were drowned at first and the huge trees and weaker trees were knocked out next. The villagers were suffocating. Bangari lost her mind.

Dogs fight for the morsels of food off the dirty plates in the garbage. Those who eat on those plates might not understand why those dogs fight. Only those who had starved for a year can comprehend the underlying philosophy.

Before the Aviti festival, people could find work like digging and sowing peanut seeds for a month. After Aviti there would be no work until after three or four weeks. There would be plenty of work, like reaping the harvest one month before Sankranti. It, however, would depend on rains-no life without rains.

That was the reason Yerremma
 wanted to take her daughter home before the festival. That was the reason Bangari wanted to let her go after the festival.

In Yerremma’s household, there were only two female laborers, including Sanni. In Bangari’s home, there were four male laborers and two female laborers, not counting Sanni. Yet Bangari would not let go of Sanni.

*   * *

On the following day, Pydayya took bath per tradition, ate bitter-sweet chutney and set out to go to Peddamma’s house.

“Why now? Why not go later in the afternoon?” asked Narayudu.  Pydayya promised to return home in time for the festive meal. Narayudu agreed.  

The night before Pydayya could not sleep and the next morning he was feeling down. He had to talk to someone to find a solution to his problem. Peddamma’s village was one and a half miles away from his village. His close friend Kannayya was there in Peddamma’s home.

The eldest daughter of Peddamma had died fifteen years ago. Kannayya was her only son. After her death, he moved to his uncle’s home. Pydayya and Kannayya had been friends since childhood. Pydayya thought he would feel better if he spoke with Kannayya.

At Peddamma’s home, everybody was thrilled to see Pydayya; it was like seeing God. They set a seat made of palm-tree strands for him and gathered around him. Kannayya was not home. Somebody went to fetch him.

An aged, withered old woman was lying in the cot on the porch. She looked like a bag of skin and bones and barely covered with a few rags. She was woken by the noise. “Who is there? Who is that?” she squealed weakly.

Peddamma went close to her, held three fingers in front of her face, and shouted, “My sister’s son, the third boy, the third.”

Pydayya also went to her and said, “It’s me, me, your great-grandson, Kannayya’s friend.”

The old woman got it finally. “Ah,” she said with a glimmer in her eyes.

“The bitch got it,” they all laughed.

Whether she understood or not, the entire neighborhood got the message. Those who had known him for a long time came to greet him. Peddamma welcomed them all and showed them places to sit.

After the usual chitchat for a while, they started inquiring about the city.

“How are things there?”

“What can I say? Same as here,” Pydayya replied, clearing his throat.

 “No, not that. What about rationing? We heard a lot about rationing of the items like rice and such, can you get them easily?”

“Yes, we can get them you know in the black market. You can get them if you can pay twice the price.”

“Like here,” said one old woman.

“Work?”

“That too is the same as here; some find it, some don’t.”

Then, they all asked him about life in the city. It was a  very big city, ten miles away from his village. It was like three adjoining villages put together into one in size, their village could not compare even to one neighborhood in the city. It was surrounded by mountains on three sides and the sea on the fourth side.

They all listened to Pydayya’s presentation of the city with great enthusiasm.

One young woman said, “Yes, you would have to see it at night if you really want to see it, I was told. It would be like all the stars fell into the valley in the dark, I believe. It would cost them millions of rupees you know. My uncle told me.” She kept watching Pydayya and the others as she spoke.

Pydayya looked at her and guessed she might be about 25. She could be mistaken for Sanni’s sister if one saw her suddenly. She was standing in front of him, leaning against the palm tree trunk pillar.

“Our Bariki Ramayya’s Kodalu,” Peddamma said.

Pydayya realized that he was staring at her and that it was not appropriate. He turned away.

“Anyway, what do you do there?”

“I work as a day laborer.”

“What does that mean?”

Pydayya explained: In the city, there was a marketplace called Pedda Bazaar. Millions and billions of rupees changed hands by wholesale dealers every day. The businesses included clothes, sugar, grains, tamarind, and many other items. His employer was handling onions and vegetables. Since Pydayya was good at math, he was assigned bookkeeping and the supplies of commodities to small stores. Occasionally, he also moved bags when necessary.

“How much you make per day?”

For several reasons, Pydayya did not give a straight answer. “it depends on seasons and luck. If the transportation is good and supplies are running smoothly, one can make as much as ten rupees. Or else, two or three, sometimes not even that.”

The others did not stop there. “Make 70, 80 rupees a month?”

“In season.”

“What about out of season?”

“One way or the other, no less than fifty.”

That is good, they all looked at each other and shook heads in assent. Pydayya, pretending to be casual, looked at Kodalu and noticed that her eyes were fixed on him.

“By the way, what do you do for meals?” Peddamma asked.

“There is a group of eight workers. A woman from their caste cooks for them. Each of them gives two rupees in the morning. She serves cold rice in the morning and usual meals at noon and night.”

“Is she the same woman from way back?” Kodalu asked.

Pydayya could not figure out whom she was referring to. He thought she might be talking just to get his attention. The others knew it was normal for her.

“You knew?” Peddamma asked her.

“Is she not the same woman? She was married to the village watchman Appayya of Kotturu.  After she had run away with a snake-catcher or tanner, he got married again,” said Kodalu.

She was blabbering like an old hag, thought Peddamma, it was annoyed to her.

“That was so long ago,” she sneered at her.

“Long ago? Hardly ten years back, maybe fifteen,” Kodalu said, watching Pydayya, “Didn’t my uncle come to visit you? He said he had seen her and greeted her but she turned away.”

Pydayya kept staring at her pretending not to understand what she was saying. Well-formed figure, Sanni may look like her at that age, he thought.

“Never mind who she is. Forget what your uncle has said. He can’t recognize today someone he had seen yesterday. You think he has recognized somebody he had seen ten years ago!” Peddamma said.

Pydayya was confused still. Peddamma explained to him, unraveling like a ball of wool. “Remember last year watchman Ramayya came looking for you? The dark, tall deaf man. He told us that he had eaten at your place. This girl is his daughter-in-law. She has been repeating his words ever since.”

Pydayya finally understood. He recalled the incident.

* * *

A year ago one day he had received the goods and was on his way home late in the evening.

“You have got a guest,” said one of his coworkers. Pydayya looked at that person but could not recall who he was.  

“Who are you looking for, sir?” Pydayya asked politely.

The stranger did not tell directly who he was. He first established for himself Pydayya was the person he was looking for, and then said he was a relative of Peddamma. On his way back from another town, he stopped to see Pydayya since  Peddamma had asked him to.

Based on his own relationship with Peddamma, Pydayya extended hospitality to his guest. He took him to the restaurant, both ate there and then went to a movie.

Ramayya was tall like a pole, dark and skinny, and leaned forward. He wore a white shirt and a dhoti on his head as turban. Below the waist, he was wearing only loin-cloth. Being a watchman, he would never leave without a cane. Standing next to Ramayya, Pydayya looked like a dwarf.

The movie was an old movie but the theater was a dazzling new theater. It took some time for Ramayya to get used to the dazzle. After that, he was so overwhelmed, there was no telling how much.

The old man could not follow the storyline. He kept asking questions. He was partially deaf. Pydayya could not raise his voice because of the others around him, and if he lowered his voice the old man could not understand. After the interval, the old man felt sleepy, Pydayya felt relieved. But, as soon as they left the theatre, the old man resumed asking questions again.

“Why the theatre is so glamorous? Don’t they have theaters where you can sit on the floor comfortably? Have you heard of touring cinemas?”

The conversation went on like that for a while. Then he started asking about the city: Why places are so far apart in the same city? Why didn’t you bring your family? Men without family don’t behave well, don’t they say?

And more questions about men and women passing by, the stores remained open after midnight, moving buses and rickshaws – endless questions.

Pydayya did not have a room of his own. He slept on the porch in the marketplace. For some reason, there were no lights there. As Ramayya walked past the gate, a bandicoot ran across his path. After that, he was terrified each time he stepped on a rotten eggplant or decomposed cucumber.

Pydayya pulled the old jute mats and rags from the eaves, dusted them off, and spread them on the floor.

The old man did not go to sleep. He kept asking, “Why it is so dark on the porch when the entire city is bright with lights? Why did you not wash this patio?” He could not sleep for a long time, worried about getting bitten by bedbugs, rats, and bandicoots.

Pydayya thought this experience would make him leave. But he did not leave. He wanted to see the city. Pydayya had no other choice. He sent word to his manager that he was taking the day off, told the woman to cook for one more person, and set out to show the city to Ramayya. He showed the huge buildings, skyscrapers, hospitals, and offices, explained about them as much as he could. By one o’clock, Ramayya was hungry and tired. “Let’s go home,” he said.

“I don’t have a home,” Pydayya replied.

“Where do you keep your stuff like bags, clothes, and all?”

“Right there in a corner in the marketplace,” Pydayya said.

“What about food?”

He explained about his food arrangements. Behind the market, there was a block of slums like any other slums in any other city. This one, however, being in the middle of the city,  was small. Since it was small, the houses in it were also small. People huddled in those houses, built one on the top of another on the marshland on either side of a gutter. On either side of that locality, the streets were full of multi-story buildings, a stunning movie theatre, and a few restaurants that depended on the theatre for business. On the fourth side, the Grand Trunk Road with endless traffic ran.

As he walked in, his first question was, “You live here?” 

The hutments, which they called homes, were built of clay-wall surrounds. The roofs were made up of garbage like old rotten palm leaves, rusty copperplate mats from the times immemorial, and jute mat pieces. Rusty copper plates served as doors.

Ramayya was shocked to learn that a room barely enough to hold a cot was rented for ten rupees. He could not creep in through the small hole, which served as door. He sat outside, managed to eat the gruel served to him, and washed his feet rubbing hard. He said, “One might as well starve to death, if you ask me. That’s what I think.”

Pydayya did not realize the kind of dump he was living in until Ramayya pointed it out. One-fifth of the city’s population was living in those huts. He felt good, it felt okay for him as long as he had some cash. But whenever he was short for cash, Ramayya’s words came to mind.

Pydayya was startled by Kodalu’s voice. Kodalu was telling Peddamma, “Not that, I am not talking about castes. Who cares about castes nowadays. I just asked if that woman was the same woman as we had known.”

“Who knows what you are saying or why. Never mind your words. Your father-in-law also ate the food she served. If his caste is tainted, so is my son’s. If his caste is not tainted, my son’s caste is not tainted either.”

They all laughed. Nobody said a word for a few minutes.

Suddenly, one of the women shouted, “Why ask me? I did not go there, nor seen it. Ask your uncle yourself.”

A 15-year-old girl, sitting by the door, was embarrassed for being caught thus and pouted. She shoved the older woman from behind.

Pydayya understood that she was Kannayya’s wife, based on the relational term she used.

“What? What?” those around him also wanted to know. The older woman explained. Further Peddamma added, “Yes, son, tell them. She is dying to know. A few days back, her husband made a big fuss about joining you in the city. He said he was tired of working here as a farmhand. He calmed down a bit only after Ramayya returned and described the city life. Now she started it again. Maybe she would just go away someday. Tell her what she wants to know.”

One of her aunts said, “Just because she asked about the wages, it doesn’t mean she is moving to the city.”

“Do you really think she will leave your grandson and go away?” one old woman asked.

“Who knows? It is not unusual nowadays. There is a group of folks for whom the city is heaven. You know they have a guru too,” Peddamma said, pointing to Kodalu. The young woman would not take it. She retorted, “What is wrong if I go?”

Peddamma did not reply. Kodalu got bolder. “What do we have got to lose? Isn’t it better to go to the city rather than wriggle here with empty stomachs,” she turned to the others around and asked. Nobody replied.

Peddamma said, “Go, girl, go. Who is stopping you? Please, go there, and wallow in the mire filled with flies,  pigs, and bandicoots. Nobody is going to stop you.”

“Yes it is wrong to go there and wallow in the swamp leaving behind all this great life we are living, all these mansions, costly beds, and all,” she said mockingly.

“Nothing there, nothing here, we might as well die here,” another old woman commented.

“Here we have a morsel to eat at least. What do you have there?” added another young woman.

The rest of the women joined the fray. Pydayya understood from their ranting that the reason for this bickering lay not in the current situation but in a feud that had been brewing for quite some time.

“Yes, yes, we are not eating here,” Peddamma prolonged the conversation.

Kodalu was annoyed. She countered, “We are eating true, it is so obvious. Let us see what your son has done. He has been a farmhand under Venkatrayudu for over eight years. The first four years it went well, they paid him alright. After that, they kept feeding excuses: ‘Tomorrow,’ ‘In a couple of days,’ ‘Just wait, wait until the new moon,’ ‘After full-moon,’ so on and on. It was a fierce struggle to get paid even once in the first six months. Then they said they would pay after bringing the produce home. Then they said the produce was ruined. Produce was not ruined, nothing happened, they were doing fine. We kept begging and begging, and even told them we were starving. Finally, they yielded, gave us three months’ worth of grain. The remaining wages only after the next yield, they said. They have not given us anything in the past two years, I swear. Nobody dares ask them for fear of getting beat up.  

“I asked your son, ‘Why work for the wages you may never see?’ I told him to quit but your son says, ‘If I quit now, I may lose everything. If I stay, maybe one day the produce comes home, and maybe they will disburse our share to us.’ I will say we may earn a couple of rupees in the city but he won’t see it that way.”  

“Jobs are not free for grabs in the city either,” Peddamma said.

“Neither here nor there. That’s what I am saying. What do we have here except toiling and moiling? We are starving but not seeing one paisa in return. There, we may live in a pigsty, fight flies and bandicoots, but we’ll have some gruel at the end of the day. Why not move to the city? Why toil on the farms and fields for nothing? And why be kicked and pounced upon, be called pinchers and stealers by these worthless folks?” Kodalu stopped.

“So it is all about you only?” Peddamma asked.

Kodalu retorted, “What do you mean all about me? Did I say you should not go?”

“Do you think the city is teaming with jobs? Who knows how many others had gone there in the past and could not find work? Sometime back, Kopparam Pothayya and his brothers had sold their property, moved to the city, and returned within six months. His wife left him for somebody else while they were there,” Peddamma snickered.

“Why talk about those that had come back? Why not talk about those who remained there and are doing fine?”

“They too will be back tomorrow, if not today.”

“Fine. Probably we will also return some day. For now, let’s live like this.”

“Is that all you can say? Don’t you think about others?”

Kodalu was lost for words for a few minutes. Then she came back with renewed vigor, “Alright, I don’t think about others. You think and tell me what you will suggest.”

What could Peddamma say? She sought God’s help. Kannayya appeared at the door.

Kannayya, without saying one word, wrapped his upper garment around his head, went to Pydayya, and started yelling, “You scoundrel, get up, up.” He kept hitting him on his forehead and chest with his fist.

Pydayya could not take it; he left his seat. Kannayya sat on it and continued his attack, “Son of a bitch, don’t you know you should come to me and not the other way round?  Come, come here, sit at my feet.” Pydayya did not sit at his feet. Then Kannayya lunged at him, both went into a big fight like two ferocious bulls while others watched. They went on fighting until Peddamma came with a stick and threatened to thrash them.

* * *

Pydayya did not keep his word to his brother. He had said he would return home for supper but he did not. Peddamma did not let him go until he had eaten at her place. Instead of going home he went to the pond and sat on the banks. The midday heat was turning into a soft warm glow. The cool breeze was getting breezier. There was no sign of Sanni. He looked around. Somebody was walking by the Palm Grove at a distance. Pydayya told himself that he would wait until that person went past the Palm grove and then leave.

Pydayya was waiting for Sanni but his mind was not on Sanni. Ramayya’s Kodalu had taken over his heart and soul. She was like a well-ripened fruit or a fully blossomed flower. His heart was craving for her but he was scared also. At Peddamma’s house, he had noticed that her eyes were devouring him. She took his side while arguing with Peddamma. Her eyes, the moisture in her eyes, the glimmer in that moisture and its reflection in her face, amity in her voice, and her indignation – they all were haunting him.

He recalled his conversation with Kannayya about Kodalu earlier that afternoon. They left Peddamma’s house and arrived at the village limits. Pydayya asked Kannayya about Kodalu. Kannayya said, “She may appear like that but she is not worldly-wise, very naive I should say. She is not that kind of a person, as far as I know.”

Pydayya thought so too but did not want to believe.

Then Kannayya related to him of an incident that had occurred sometime back. According to him, Kannayya visited Kodalu’s place and as he was about to leave, she said, “Leaving already?”  

“Why? Are you cooking for me?” Kannayya asked.

“Why should I? Aren’t there women in your home? Or, they don’t know how to cook?” she said.

Kodalu had been thinking about moving to the city for a while. Her husband had the muscle but not the guts. Therefore she started working on Kannayya. He stalled her for a few days. The more he avoided the more persistent she was. The pressure was building up by the day. Finally, he decided to find out her real intentions. He tried to get close to her a couple of times but she dodged him cleverly. And then he got hold of her while she alone.

“Where would you go now?” Kannayya asked her.

“I am not going anywhere but I will tell you one thing. One must not steal as long as one can get by. It is the same with couples. When one has a spouse, one must not resort to evil ways. Tell me if you don’t have a wife at home. I will even go along if she is ill. But I am not going to break up families for no reason. All men are alike and so also all women,” she said.

Kannayya said he had left with his head down.   

The story got to Pydayya. He thought Sanni was no contest to that woman, and himself no contest to Kannayya.

Pydayya was feeling tired. He looked around again. A woman carrying a basket was climbing up the ridge. Probably fifty-years-old. The sun was down. Pydayya gave up on Sanni and got up to leave. “Just one more minute,” his heart was pulling him back.

He thought of something that had happened a few days before Sanni had moved in with his family. Pydayya was wandering in a neighbor’s Palm Grove looking for palm fruits. The Sun was prickly hot. He saw a girl alone amid hillocks.

There was no other human being in sight under the scorching Sun. But for the gusty winds blowing through the trees, there was no other noise, not even birds chirping.

The cool breeze from the sea was caressing but he was feeling burning hot. Occasionally dry winds blew and that made him even more frustrated. With pounding heart and longing eyes, he looked around like a thief. He picked up the courage and went into the crags of the small mounds. Madiga Appayya’s daughter was there snuck in a corner. She bit one of the mangoes she had stolen from a nearby Mango Grove. She pushed one side of her upper garment and tucked the other mangoes in her sari folds at the waist. She was startled by Pydayya and quickly tried to hide her mangoes with her torn sari end.

For the crime he had committed on that day he could not stare into her eyes again for a very long time. Now he was thinking it was not his fault. Hunger is the mother of all evils.

Pydayya was in the same mood today as he had been on that day. His mind was scattered; he could not decide as to what he should do.

Sanni will not come, he told himself and stood up to leave. As he stood, he felt a flood of something at heart, he was not sure whether it was sorrow or frustration. Whatever it was, there was no way out. He dusted off his clothes, turned westward, and thought it was a few hours for the sun to go down. He walked halfway along the banks and arrived at the temple of the local goddess. Something reminded him of Gangamma. He felt relieved for some uncanny reason and proceeded to cross the pond. Halfway past the pond, there was Chennangi grove and Gangamma’s hut ahead of the grove.

He walked a few more steps past halfway. Right there was the hut of Dayyala Gangamma.

“You here? Are you lost?” Gangamma greeted him with a question, “Lost maybe but the same old path,” Pydayya replied.

Gangamma cleaned the front yard, set up three stones for a make-shift stove. She was cooking gruel.

Pydayya sat on a boulder across from her. His face looked like a partially burned charcoal with bright sun rays shining on his dark face.

“Why that face?” Gangamma asked him, watching the fire in the stove.

“I have been roaming around since morning, totally beat up. I was hoping I will get some cold water,” Pydayya replied.

Gangamma read hunger in his face like a doctor would the illness in a patient’s face. She was going to refer to the winter weather, instead, she asked, “Where did you go?” as she proceeded to fetch firewood.

Pydayya told her the places he had been to.  

The old man inside heard voices and asked in a streaky voice, “Who’s that? Narayudu?”

Gangamma’s first husband had left her after four or five years of marriage and eloped with another woman. Gangamma remained without a man for about ten years. Her present husband invited her into his life after his first wife had died. After she had moved in with him, he fell ill with some unmanageable disease and lost both his legs. Gangamma nevertheless held on to him faithfully more than his life.

“No, not Narayudu, it is his younger brother Pydayya,” she spoke loudly so it could be heard inside.

Pydayya went into the room and said, “I have no cheroot but how about a beedi, old man?”

There was nothing in that room but a water jug and a cot. There was no room for anything else, he thought. He did not notice the dustpan under the cot and the two clay pots in the sling hanging from the beam.

“Whatever it is, I will take it,” the old man said in a raspy voice. For Pydayya it was hard to watch the old man’s pale face and the drawn-in eyes, which looked like cotton balls. He looked away, lit up one beedi, handed it to the old man, put another by his side, and went back to the front yard.

Gangamma stirred the gruel well and put the ladle down.

She waited for Pydayya to say something. He was quiet. She started asking about his life in the city. Then she brought up the question of the squabble between the two women and asked if there was truth in what she had heard.

Pydayya gave her short answers but did not get into any real conversation.

After a while, she asked, “Why are you here?”

“I told you I was thirsty,” he looked up, pointing to his throat.

“If you are thirsty you should go to a liquor store. What do I have to give?” she said in a steady voice.

“Whatever you have,” he said.

“All I have is this gruel. I can starve the old man and give it to you,” she said, smiling. She checked the rice if it was cooked well and took it inside. In a few minutes, she returned, put out the fire, and removed the ashes.

Pydayya started to speak in a trembling voice, “I am starving for a woman for the past six months. My mother and mother-in-law are bickering and causing a rift between me and my wife. Last night I asked Sanni to come to Tavitappa’s house. Even she does not understand my suffering. I am telling you, I have thought of picking up a knife, stab them both and kill myself but I don’t have the guts. I would not be in this miserable position if I had the guts.”

Pydayya went on to relate the history behind the current situation. He said, “At a time when things were tough at home, somebody from my brother’s wife’s side suggested to him to go to the city. His wife begged him to take up on the offer. My brother refused. Then I took that advice and went to the city. God only knows how much I have suffered, am still suffering for that decision. Leaving my wife behind, went there and have been toiling and moiling day and night. I’ve been sending home some money, five or ten, whatever I could. But my folks don’t understand, they can’t see that I come home once in six months after slaving away in the city.”

Pydayya stopped and sat there looking down. He wondered if he was telling her what he had wanted to tell Kannayya earlier that afternoon.  

“I could have conducted myself anyway I pleased in the city if I wanted to. I watch the hardships my coworkers are going through. I can easily do everything they do, but not when it comes to women. If I go for a woman in the neighborhood, It ruins the family. If I go after a young girl, her innocence would pester me for the rest of my life. There are streetwalkers but I am sure that sends me reeling to some hospital. That means no work and lost wages. That’s what I am saying, only I know and God knows my pain.”

Darkness was creeping in. He sat there for a while scribbling on the ground with a twig.

“Even now I would not have asked you. The thoughts I had last night are killing me, I am scared that I might do something horrible in that frenzy. Now, I leave it to you, whatever it is, I will take it as your pleasure and my luck.”

He sounded the same now as six years back. Six years back he had come on a sunny afternoon just like today. She could not recall whether Pydayya had been married by then or not, but for sure Sanni had not come to their home yet. Gangamma agreed to his request on the condition he would not ask for such a favor again. He has not grown since, she thought.

“You’ve heard what the old man said earlier. He mistook you for your older brother. Now I am your brother’s wife. He will be here soon,”  she said.

Pydayya was stunned by her account, sat there like a stone carving. Gangamma was sorry for him and asked, “Can you handle country liquor?” She sounded like a mother at that moment.

Pydayya had drinks on few occasions, but he did not answer her question. She understood, went in, and returned with a bottle.

“This is two rounds for your brother. You talk one half and leave the other half for him,” she said, putting the bottle and snacks by his side. Then she went to feed the old man. She ate some, washed the dishes, and returned to Pydayya.

Pydayya warmed up and started talking. Within 30 to 45 minutes, he was flying high.

The bottle was half empty. Gangamma told him to stop.

“You’ve said you are my sister-in-law and I accepted it. You can’t have it your way in everything. That is not going to happen,” he said.

Gangamma heard him and decided she had better let him drink. She knew about drunks full well. Pydayya passed the limit, but did not lose his wits though.

“My brother thought about the children at home and decided not to remarry. He did the right thing, I thought. But then I also wondered how he was managing. Now I know this is how has been managing.

“I think this is good too. He is happy there and you are happy here. What else is there for the moiling folks like us? We can never, not even in thousand years, fill our stomachs. Consummation is the best of all pleasures. For the moment, this is a pleasure, but there is a fee for this. And then some damage too. For that pleasure, no fee, no damage. That is the happiness God has provided for the poor. For me, even that has become out of reach. Look what I’ve longed for and what I’ve got. Lovely.”  

Pydayya went on prattling about his life. Even in that state of drunkenness, he did not blame any one individual nor God. After a while, he calmed down. Before Gangamma could bring some straw to make a bed for him, he threw up and screamed. Gangamma tried to hold him, but he pushed her away and fell down, fell in his own vomit.

* * *

“Hey, hey, Bangari, come here, you bitch,” Yerremma shouted a Sugreeva shout.

Friends and relatives gathered at Yerremma’s house to celebrate the Sankranti festival. The Sun was down by the time they arrived. They all sat down to eat.

“Can’t you hear, Iyaparaala, come here,” Yerremma shouted from outside. It was heard inside. Narayudu was about to get up, Bangari stopped him. “You must not get up from the festival dinner. You have fasted all day and you must have the prasadam. It would be an affront to our ancestors to get up without eating prasadam. I’ll take care of her,” said Bangari.

“Listen, don’t be hasty. Tell her to wait, I’ll be there in a minute. I’ll talk to her,” Narayudu said.

Yerremma, with sandalwood paste smeared on her throat and red Hibiscus flower in her hairdo, stood in the front yard like a belligerent warrior. As soon as Bangari appeared at the door, Yerremma howled, “You, where did you send your son last night?”

“Where did I send?” asked Bangari.

“Did you not send him anywhere?”

“You tell me.”

“You tell me.”

“You started it.”

“Alright, I will tell you. Will you take a smack from me with my sandal.”

“If it is my fault, I will for sure.”

“Maybe it is your fault, maybe it is your son’s fault, the fact remains he has transgressed the rule.”

“If something wrong has happened, I will take the blame for it.”

“Where did your son go last night? Did they, the two men, not bring your son home last night on their shoulders?”

“What son from what town? What two men?”  

“Your two sons Narayudu and Kotayya brought your third son home,” said Yerremma.

“Yes, they brought him home.”

“Where from?” Yerremma asked.

Bangari did not reply.

“Why did they have to carry him?”

Bangari did not reply to that either.

“Why? Doesn’t your son have legs to walk? He left early in the morning and did not return home until late at night. What was he doing all day? Your oldest son went in search of him and returned at what time? To where did your two sons rush kicking and screaming? And then, brought him home in the middle of the night secretly, why secretively? Where is the need for secrecy if it is only him getting drunk and losing control? Your first son is a drunk, your second son is a drunk but this one never drinks. Why did he drink now? Where did he drink? I understand if he had a drink in a toddy store or in a country liquor store. But why at some bitch’s house? Why go to her for a swig, for anything for that matter? Is he related to her? How is he related? Are they of the same age? He should be home at that time but he went to her house, why? Is that his idea or some bitch taught him?”

She stopped to take a breath. In the meantime, a huge crowd started gathering in the yard.

“Are you done or is there something more?” Bangari asked calmly.

”Why? Isn’t that enough?” Yerremma said.

“Yes, I am saying that is is enough.”

“Alright, tell me why he went there.”

“I did not send him there. Ask him. ”

“Well, I will ask him. Tell him to come out. “

“He is eating.”

“I will wait until he is finished eating.”

“Why? Can’t you come in?”

“I will not step inside until your son comes to my place.”

“Well then stay here,” Bangari said and went in.

“Hey, don’t the special occasions mean anything to you?” the crowd taunted Yerremma. She attacked them too.

“She did not come here for nothing, she came here to wrangle,” Bangari said as she walked in and saw Pydayya washing his hand. She did not ask why. Narayudu said, “He is leaving.”

“What happened now?”

“He says he cannot take this bickering anymore.”

“What is this nonsense? It is like taking out the ire of Atta on the cattle. Alright, go away if that is what you want,” Bangari said.

“That is enough. He is worn out as it is. On top of it, you two- you here and Yerremma there – are acting the same,” Narayudu said.

By then, Kotayya was done eating. He belched loudly and went into the front yard.

Yerremma looked at him as if wondering “why he?” and asked, “Your little brother has not done eating yet?”

She thought Kotayya was going somewhere. He walked straight to Yerremma and said, “You get up.”

“Why?”

“Get up from here, I said,” he yelled at her. Not only Yerremma but all the others also were startled.

“Oh, you scoundrel!” said Yerremma.

Kotayya jumped on her, hit her with his fist several times and kicked her. “Now, get up,” he said again.

Yerremma got up crying out loud, “Oh my God, oh my God.”

“Go, be gone,” he said, pointing to the street towards her home.

She started out in that direction shaking calling on her parents. She went a few yards, turned around, and cursed Kotayya for his behavior.

By now the other villagers joined the neighborhood crowd and kept watching them.

Kotayya took two steps toward her and said, “Should I come and get you again? Go, just get lost.”

Yerremma took four steps backwards, did not stop cursing him though.

She included even his mother, wife, and brothers too in her barrage of curses.

Kotayya went it. Inside, Pydayya was getting ready to leave.

“What? Are you leaving?” Kotayya yelled.

Pydayya was quiet.

“If you want to go, go to your wife. Or, bring her here. Don’t go somewhere else like a cry baby,” he said, dusting off the patio floor with his upper garment and settling down.

Kotayya’s face turned red like a beetroot. Narayudu was anxious to pacify Kotayya desperately but was worried about how he might react also.

“Tell me if you can’t go. I’ll go and get her,” Kotayya jumped to his feet as he spoke.

“Wait, assailing them is not going to help,” Narayudu followed him,  pleading. Kotayya ignored his pleas and left.

Yerremma’s two daughters seized her on either side and dragged her toward their home. She was stepping back and forth, growling, shaking off her daughters, and throwing her arms into the air, while continued to spew profanities.

Kotayya walked in big strides toward her house.

“Come in,” Sanni squealed standing in the doorway. Probably Yerremma noticed it, she gave in to her daughters. Nevertheless, she resumed her angry outbursts as soon as she reached home.

“Why? What is he thinking? She is not beautiful enough for him? Not young enough? Is there a caste issue? Short of his moral standards? Why? Why? What is the reason for him to go to another woman?” Yerremma kept asking and waving her fist in the air.

She had a point for being angry and frustrated. But her outburst meant nothing to Kotayya. He was focused on Sanni bringing home. It frightened Sanni. She quickly went in and was about to close the door. The door did not close.

“Out, get going,” Kotayya howled.

Sanni came out, trembling.

“Come on, move,” he said harshly.

Sanni came out, shivering.

Sanni’s father saw that and said to Kotayya, “Orey Kotayya, calm down, calm down.” It was hard for him to speak because of wheezing.

“You keep quiet, Mava! You don’t know,” Kotayya said. It sounded more like a warning.

Yerremma was crying. Neighbors heard her cries and came out of their homes. Sanni’s kid sisters hugged her and cried.

Kotayya seized her by the shoulder, dragged her out and pushed her crudely.

The entire neighborhood heard Yerremma’s cries and came out of their homes and were watching the commotion.

Kotayya pushed her once again. Sanni started running toward her mother-in-law’s house.  

Yerremma saw the crowd and started crying louder, “Oh my God, oh my God, what can I do? They are attacking us.” She ran and stood  in Sanni’s path, telling her not to go.

Kotayya stood between the two and pulled them apart. He threw his turban around Sanni’s waist to avoid holding her physically, and dragged her toward his house.

Yerremma fell to the ground, got up, attacked Kotayya, beat him, and scratched him while bad-mouthing him. The folks from both the villagers tried to pull them apart. Kotayya pushed away those who stood in his way.

Kotayya saw his mother coming toward them. He let go of Sanni, pushed her towards Bangari, and went away shaking off his turban.

Sanni saw Bangari, collapsed to the ground, and broke into big sobs. Bangari took her into her arms, “Don’t worry, don’t you be afraid, my girl, don’t you worry,” and walked her toward her home.

Yerremma fell to the ground and cried. After Kotayya, Sanni and Bangari left, the folks who gathered around started arguing, taking sides.

“Well, she went to their place first and now he came to her place,” said one person.

“Is it the same? A woman going to their place to pick up a squabble is not the same as a man coming here and attacking her,” one old woman said.

“He may be her brother-in-law but to drag her by the shoulder and take her home is inexcusable. I’ve never seen such an atrocity,” a young woman commented.

“It is okay if it was her husband. But for a brother-in-law to put a hand on her and drag her is wrong, totally wrong,” one old man said.

“This has happened only because she is a woman and her husband is disabled. Had she had a son, heads would be flying by now,” a hot-blooded youth commented.

* * *

It was during that period, Asirnayudu, the village-head, decided to talk with Bariki Papayya. He was looking for a ram to sacrifice at the upcoming Kanumu festival. Asirnayudu noticed the commotion from a distance, went closer and asked the people close by what was the matter.

None of them could explain to him clearly. Then he called Bariki Papayya. Papayya explained to him the entire episode briefly.

“So, the man who dragged her and escorted her to his home is not her husband?” Asirnayudu asked angrily.

“No Babu, he is not. He is her husband’s second older brother, Kotayya,” Papayya replied.

“Bring that scoundrel here right now,” Asirnayudu said.

Bariki did not move.

“If he refuses, pick him up, seize him by the hair and drag him to me,” Asirnayudu shouted louder.

“Yes, sir,” Papayya said, still did not move.

Asirnayudu became suspicious. “Why? Does he drink?” he sneered.

“After he calms down, after an hour or so, they all will come to you, Babu. If we get involved now, we will not have enough time to go to Venkayyapalem and bring the ram. Shouldn’t we take care of that first,” Papayya replied cleverly.

It made sense to Asirnayudu. “Bastards, whatever got into their heads, they are acting like scoundrels. Somebody has to teach them a lesson,” he left, mumbling. Bariki Papayya followed him.

* * *

“We are eating whatever we have and living our lives quietly. Why work as farmhands for some landlord?” Narayudu’s younger brothers would say. Nobody  understands how this story would have turned if they had not had those rules and if Papayya had not intervened.

Papayya was right. The village regained peace after an hour or so.

Yerremma, leaning on two men’s shoulders, went to Asirnayudu’s house. Some of her neighbors followed her for support. A group of drunks from the same area put up a drums and bells show and went around asking for donations.

Sanni was sitting on the back porch. She cried until she was tired of it. Bangari tried to persuade her to freshen up and wear a new sari. Narayudu heard that Asirnayudu was angry and sent Kotayya away to his in-law’s place. Kotayya hardly crossed the outskirts, Bariki Papayya appeared at their door with the message that they should appear before Asirnayudu.

Following Bariki Papayya’s advice, Narayudu told Pydayya to stay home and went alone to meet with Asirnayudu. As they reached Asirnayudu’s home, Papayya told Narayudu to wait outside until after he was done talking with Asirnayudu.

Sun was down. The backyard was noisy with the animals returned home from grazing. Yerremma and her supporters were sitting in a corner on the veranda. Village entertainers heard about Asirnayudu’s visit and came per custom. The entire village was looking forward to the entertainment enthusiastically.

Bariki came back and repeated what he had told him earlier. After the drummers had left, Bariki Papayya addressed Asirnayudu, “Babu, Babu.” Asirnayudu turned toward him. Bariki said, “Narayudu is here, Babu. His second brother, Yerremma’s son-in-law that is, had gone somewhere. His mother promised to send him to us as soon as he returned. The other brother had gone to his in-law’s place, tomorrow is Kanumu, you know.” He sounded casual.

“They whisked him away. Did I not say so? They whisked him away,” Narasamma said, crying.

“You shut up. They should be crying, if anybody. You keep quiet,” Papayya yelled at her.

“Of course you are upset with me. You all are the same party,” Narasamma replied. Asirnayudu ignored her.

Narayudu came rushing and said to Asirnayudu, “Babu, Babu, I am begging you.” He was very polite but that did not stop Asirnayudu from screaming at all of them. “You, scoundrel, what’s gotten into your heads, you scumbags, what were you thinking? You broke into her house for what? Because she is a helpless woman? How dare you barge into her house and beat her? What do you think this is-a  village or jungle?

“No, Babu, I was not there,” Narayudu was about to say.

“Shut up, bastard, how dare you speak again. Did I not see the wounds? Do think there are no witnesses?” Asirnayudu stood up.

Narayudu did not know what to say. Papayya said, “You be quiet. Babu had seen everything on his way to Venkayyapalem.”

Narayudu took the hint and kept quiet.

Asirnayudu continued, “I had seen everything. That bastard dragged her down the street like a beast. If I had a stick, I would have broken his bones and sent him to the hospital for six months. Let him show up, I will take care of him like he never forgets, scoundrel.” He stopped and returned to his chair.

Narayudu waited until he calmed down and then said, “Yes, Babu, it was wrong. If she had not provoked him, it would not have come to this. After fasting all day, we sat down to eat and she showed up like a bumblebee. My mother saw her and turned away, she did not say a word. My younger brother, you know young blood, could not control himself. This is not a one time thing, she has been plaguing us for over a month. She comes in storming, and I tell her to stop but she would not listen.” He presented his counter-argument.

Yerremma was about to say something, Asirnayudu told her to be quiet and turned to Narayudu, “If she came to your house, you should have come to me. You should not have gone to her house.”

“Yes, Babu, yes. That was wrong,” Narayudu said. One should not punish a person after he admits his guilt, that is the rule. Therefore, Asirnayudu slowed down.

Then followed a torrent of comments from those present there – Asirnayudu’s wife, their neighbor Subbamma, Setty who had supplied sugar to Asirnayudu, the local barber who came to give a massage to Asirnayudu. They all agreed that nobody should resort to violence, no crime should be tolerated. Not one person said violence was acceptable. If there was a disagreement, they should not settle it by going at each other but go to the proper authorities and seek resolution. Everybody suffers from anger and frustration no surprise there. Decent people contain them.

Narayudu listened to all those comments, readily agreed with all of them, “Yes, ma’am,” “Yes, babu,” “I agree, totally agree.”

After that, Asirnayudu settled down. “Where is the girl now?” he asked Narayudu.

“She is with us, Babu,” he replied respectfully.

“You take her back and hand her over to her mother. You bring your younger brother here tomorrow. Yerremma will bring her daughter. I will find out what exactly happened, all the details, and let you know my decision,” Asirnayudu said.

Narayudu said, “yes, Babu,” and heaved a sigh of relief.

Yerremma’s supporters looked at each other, their faces fell.

“You left out the one person critical to all this, Babu,” Narasamma said timidly as Asirnayudu got up to leave.

“Yes, I forgot. Bring your mother too,” he said to Narayudu. With that, the party’s faces brightened.

* * *

The rich festival falls on a new moon day, they say. But this festival was not a rich festival and so it had the misfortune of falling on a full moon day, it was said.

Bangari’s house was crowded with folks anxious to hear what Asirnayudu had said. Pydayya was sitting on a cot in the front yard.

Soon enough, people started coming out one by one.  Sanni was one of the last five or six persons. Under the white moonlight, her yellow sari looked white and the red marigolds in her dark hair looked dark. She walked past Pydayya with Narayudu behind her.

A little away, Yerremma’s supporters stood like shadows. Narayudu took her precisely to the same point Kotayya had dragged her and handed her over to Yerremma.

* * *

Asirnayudu was basically a small person. If he was weighed, his bones might not add up to one KG. Hard to imagine where God hid that power in him but Asirnayudu was a tiger whether he opened his mouth or threw his palm like a lion’s paw. People feared him and worshipped him.

The day his wife had set foot in their house with amazing qualities like those of Goddess Lakshmi, the family had begun flourishing in leaps and bounds. On the same day, Asirnayudu brought together all the fields under one head and set out to cultivate them. He performed his two daughters’ weddings. The girls were gems and the grooms were majestic. Three of his sons landed big jobs in big cities. The fourth son was very smart and appeared to be heading to a foreign country in course of time.

“That’s what I’d call luck, Bava! Without leaving your chair, you have managed to get the boys educated at the expense of the government. With the high dowries the sons brought, you have performed the weddings of both your daughters. In the town, you’ve got clout and assets, which you can enjoy as long as you live. That is what I would call ‘things falling in place,’” commented a local MLA.

The MLA was afraid that Asirnayudu might run against him in the next election. That however was uncalled for.

Asirnayudu hated politics. He often said that politics existed only to destroy the young and the old alike. He had been Gandhi’s follower sometime back and wearing khadi garments too. However, all that ended after Gandhi died.

Now, his village was his kingdom and his current politics were confined to the villagers’ welfare. His goal was to make sure that the villagers adhered to the path of Dharma and lived amicably. He would say, “Life is ephemeral, it is here today and gone tomorrow; only dharma stays forever. The world would turn upside down if dharma is not adhered to.”

Folks would listen to him and shake their heads in assent. In practice, however, they forget.

Asirnayudu would tolerate anything except stealing and misconduct.

“Bastards, if you have nothing to eat, go begging door to door. It is better to die than steal. By stealing you lose your souls in both the worlds – heaven and earth. Why can’t you understand that?” he would ask.

There is a pride in stealing and maybe hard work too. Therefore that is tolerable. Stealing from the fields is different. Hard work and karma depend on one’s faith and trust in others. No matter how many farmhands a farmer has, it is not possible to watch the fields round the clock. Asirnayudu would not tolerate stealing from farmers. He would stop at nothing until the justice was served.

“Bastard, what are you thinking? It is you mother’s property? Or your father’s? Did you work on that field?” So saying, he would beat him up black and blue and throw him out.

However, stealing had been happening. Asirnayudu let go some without much fuss and others with mild curses, yelled at some offenders, mildly cursed a few others, and occasionally he took some to task. One way or the other, he got it under control. It was the same with misconduct. He made it his mission to keep them all under control.

Because he hated violence so much, Kotayya’s action the day before infuriated him. That was the reason he told them to come to him for settling the matter. He did not care about the festivities.

Asirnayudu said he would settle the matter the next morning but he did not attend to it in the morning, not even in the afternoon. It was getting late. Papayya said to him, “Babu, these folks have not eaten all morning, are worried you might call them any minute. If it is not settled by evening, Pydayya cannot be present. He needs to be in the city by tomorrow.”

“Okay, ask them to come at noon after they are done eating.”

Papayya went to the parties well before mealtime, gathered them and brought them to Asirnayudu’s house.

They all waited and waited, and were nearly exhausted by the time Asirnayudu came out. He asked Papayya, “Are they all here?” and went in again.  

He had coffee, came out, and sat in his chair. Across from him, a little to a side, Narayudu and his mother sat. Next to his mother, Pydayya squatted, he was dressed up like a city man. Two women were standing behind them.

Yerremma sat in a corner with bandages on her body and around her head. Her two daughters sat next to her. Behind her, her neighbor Narasamma and a few other men and women were standing.

“Who are they?” asked Asirnayudu.

“Witnesses, Babu, witnesses,” Narasamma said.

“She has no mouth? You, Yerremma, what are they for?” he said, nodding toward them.

“They have beat me up yesterday, Babu. Look at these bandages. They have broken every bone in my body.”

“Serves you right, bitch! They should have shut up your mouth. That scoundrel broke only your bones, he should have taken a blunt knife and cut off his tongue. That’s what I would have done,” he said.

The women on Narayudu’s side turned aside and giggled.

“Babu, if you go easy on them, they are going to go even wilder,” a man in Yerremma’s group said from behind.

“You all scoundrels, you are the problem. You all gather around them and cause trouble. Or else, why would you bring witnesses and evidence for the problem I had resolved yesterday?” Asirnayudu yelled at him. That shut them all up.

Yerremma wanted to confront him, “What resolution? All that cursing of yours got nowhere, and so are my wounds,” but decided not to. As the way things were, he was already spitting fire, and if she spoke, he might go into another fit of rage.

He was quiet for a few minutes and then said softly, “I have been watching you all for years. You always keep bickering with each other for something or other, why? Why do you have got to gain? What is wrong with you? Do you have properties to fight for? Land to infringe upon? Water resources to fight for? Roads? What is it you have got that justifies these quarrels, tell me.”

He stopped, looked around until they all bent their heads down, and then continued his preliminary statement. “God has given you all the muscle. That’s what you all have got. If all the adults go out and bring home some dough, you have enough to eat for a week or ten days. That being the case, why can’t you all stand by each other be happy? Is there pleasure in these squabbles? Don’t you have brains? Or, some worms have gotten into your heads and eating them away?”

What could they say? What could they say that would make sense to him?

“Therefore, take my word, stop bickering, learn to put a stop to these squabbles,” Asirnayudu said. Then he asked them what was the main reason for their quarrel.

Yerremma and those who accompanied her could not explain the issue clearly. They kept repeating who said what, to whom, by whom, when, and after that, who did what, why they did so, but none of them could explain in a way Asirnayudu could understand.

Then Narayudu summarized the arguments of both sides the best he could and without prejudice.   

Asirnayudu listened to some of it and ignored the rest. It was pretty much the same as Papayya had told him on their way to Venkayyapalem earlier.

“So, that is the problem?” he asked.

“There is one more thing,” Narasamma said, “I heard some rumor, Babu, I have not heard it myself though. It seems Bangari said, ‘What an arrogance! What does she have that she could be so arrogant? It seems she said she would arrange her son’s marriage with another girl within a year, or else, her name is not Bangari.’ Then Yerremma started asking questions. I don’t know what she had found out, but that’s the reason she went after Bangari yesterday. They beat her up and sent her home.”

Bangari was about to say something. Asirnayudu stopped her and asked Narasamma, “Is your name Narasamma?”

“… … …”

“Are you Yerremma’s lawyer or witness?”

“… … …”

“I am asking you if she has asked you to speak on her behalf.”

“Babu, babu,” Yerremma said, “I asked her to speak on my behalf. Polite words do not come out of my mouth. Besides, I am not feeling well either.”  

“Are you sick?” he dissed her and turned to Sanni, “Who is her daughter, you?”

Sanni said yes.

“What is your name?”

Sanni replied.

“Your surname?”

Sanni mentioned her in-law’s surname.

“Yerremma! What is your surname?”

“Don’t you know?” Yerremma asked.

“You say it, bitch.”

Yerremma answered at once.

“That’s right. She might be your girl way back then but not now. If she wants to and her husband wants to, she will come to you. If not, she will not. If her husband and her mother-in-law please, they will send her to you. By law, you have no right to insist that you can take your daughter anytime as you please. Now, you shut up and sit down,” Asirnayudu said.

Yerremma had no tears in her eyes to shed. She kept staring at him with her dry eyes.

“If you really want, beg them to let you take your daughter home. Or, ask your daughter if she is willing to walk away from her marriage.”

The last sentence hit Narayudu hard.

“Babu, that is not right. We have a saying, ‘How can the man who tied the knot has more rights than the woman who has given birth to her?’ The truth is she has her rights and we have ours. When it comes to a girl, both parties have rights. We are not going to deny that,” Narayudu said, sounding kind.

He continued, “Maybe she was upset and so raised a hell. Here is what probably Yerremma thinks: She (Bangari) has four sons and two daughters-in-law. What’s wrong if she lets me have one girl. But Babu, you know the bigger the tree the gustier the winds. 

“During my father’s time, you have granted us a strip of land for farming. It was about one cent of land located in the middle of a dried-up pond. For us, it was a royal elephant or a barren cow. It gobbles up everything we have and produces nothing. I told my mother and younger brothers to stop working on it but they would not listen. My mother was also worried that if we take out a loan, we would lose the land just like all the others. That is why my second brother went to the city to make money.

“All we see is only his hardships there but no dough. We are constantly worried that he might get hurt there. We continue to worry about him, despite our problems here. We can’t ask him to set up his family in the city since there is not enough money. He cannot run a household in the city and be left with enough to send to us. Also, my sister-in-law is not worldly-wise, she is very naive.

“I have thought about our situation thoroughly and told them, ‘These are not the times to take a chance, let’s be content with the measly food we have and stay here, let’s not run.’ My kid brother was upset. He said, ‘Do we have acres and acres of land to cultivate? Are we producing barrels and barrels of grain? It is getting hard even to find day labor. In hard times, you say it is enough if we have a strip of land to work on and a sip of gruel, at least some of us live if not all.’ But they don’t understand, heavy storms and gusty winds together will put an end  to the story

“Anyway, by mid-year they have understood the truth in my words. They tell themselves to wait and see one more year, holding on to their hopes. It is two years now. He brings some clothes but has saved nothing. In fact, things are the same here too, getting harder to live. My mother can’t watch these motherless kids cry. I try to tell her that there are kids that are in a worse position than ours. That is how this fire started, it has arisen from that pain in the pit of the stomach.”

Asirnayudu thought there might be some truth in his words, if not entirely. Narayudu stopped for a few seconds and then continued, “I am not going to say my mother is right because she is my mother, and I am not going to blame Yerremma because she is an outsider. I have told my mother that Sanni loves her mother even as we love our mother. My mother does not accept that the grand-kids are as much her grand-kids as Yerremma’s. It is the same with Yerremma too. She thinks Pydayya is her son-in-law but does not think that he is my mother’s son too. She has been hoping secretly for a very long time that Sanni and Pydayya would move to the city.” Narayudu stopped.  

“Oh, my God, oh my God,” Yerremma was about to say something.

Narayudu stopped her and said, “Okay, if you don’t think so, let’s us say I am thinking like that, or maybe, these folks think so too. Anybody can entertain such a thought. That is why I am saying. I thought about it a lot. Once they leave they leave for good, no coming back. Think about Yerremma. She is alone and her husband is disabled. She has no relatives, close or distant. Her husband has a brother somewhere in the West but she cannot count on him. In other words, she has no other support but this or another son-in-law. Our situation is totally different. In her case, Pydayya is the only one she can turn to if she needs help, not until another daughter gets married at least. What else is there for folks like us but fellow folks? No land, no chattel, we have nothing. We have to take care of each other. But they don’t get it, Babu.”

They all understood what he was saying but some of them were not willing to accept it. Not one of them could see the difference between Asirnayudu’s judgment and Narayudu’s explanation. It was not clear whether Asirnayudu got his point.

Asirnayudu turned to Yerremma and asked, “Oley, you stupid bitch, did you hear what he has said?”

“Nice,” she said.

“Shut up, slut,” Asirnayudu sneered. After he was done scolding her, the others did not have the guts to open their mouths. They did not notice when the sun was down and the lights were turned on.

“Why the light on the street-side is not turned on?” asked Asirnayudu. Somebody turned on the lights in the veranda but left out the one facing the street since there was enough moonlight. The light was turned on right away. It startled everyone except Pydayya.

Asirnayudu looked at the gathering and said, “How long you are going to sit around like this? Ask if you have questions.”

“What can we say? You shout at us even before we open our mouths,” Yerremma said.

Asirnayudu noticed the change in her voice and kept quiet. After a few minutes, Papayya came forward, “Oley, Yerremma, get up,” he said, poking her with his stick.

“You stop, scoundrel! Don’t you show off,” she snarled at him.

“Whip the bitch,” Asirnayudu howled.

Yerremma stood up, whining.

“Go, go, be nice to your son-in-law, speak with him and bring him home,” he said to her. Then he turned to Bangari and asked her, “What did you say your name is? Bangari?”

Bangari said yes.  

“For this once, go easy on whatever wrong she has done. Don’t you two get into fights and create problems for your kids. Remember one more thing. You are a scrap better than she is. Her suffering brings no good to you or your children.”

Bangari wanted to ask, “What about my suffering and my kids’ suffering? That brings no good to whom?” Asirnayudu was gone by then.

Everything was back to normal after that incident. The husband and wife, who should have gotten together the night before, finally got together that night.

* * *

That night at 9:00, Pydayya sat down to eat in front of the plate like a beast at the water tub after beaten badly.  

Sanni sat by his side and was serving the food. Yerremma was in the front yard with her grand-kids. From there she shouted to Sanni, “Give him the pulusu Nayaralu had given us earlier.” Nayaralu had given them not only pulusu but also cooked rice and a few curries.

After the matter was settled and they were on their way home, Papayya went to Yerremma and said, “Forget the squabble. Nayaralu wants to give you some food from the feast. Go to her.”

Yerremma went to the front door and saw not Nayaralu but Asirnayudu. He said, “You are such an idiot. Listen to me carefully and try to understand why I am saying this. You have no money and no people to help you in times of need. They are doing better. Be nice to them. You can’t fight with them and win. That is the reason I suggested an amicable solution. I will tell you one more thing. Looks like he is a good boy. Win him over and help them to set up a family in the city. Your daughter will have a good life. Maybe, you may even get a crumb in the process. If everything goes well, you may even be able to send one or two of your other kids to the city. Unlike here, they will have work year-round. With enough support, older women also can find work. Narayudu likes everybody to stay here but I don’t think that helps. Nobody would have enough to eat here. Empty stomachs do cause problems for sure.” Thus he gave her the  lesson one more time about the need to be amicable, called his wife, and told her to give Yerremma rice, curries, and other dishes.

Pydayya went to his home first and then went to Yerremma’s house. By then Yerremma had fed the little kids. She saw Pydayya and told Sanni to set the plate for him.

Sanni set the plate and served pulusu. He bit a piece of curry and kept mingling rice and pulusu. He was jolted by Yerremma’s words. He put food in his mouth but could not get it down.

“Not hungry?” Sanni asked.

“Not hungry? Of course I am hungry,” he said.

“Then, why are you not eating?”

Pydayya could not lift his face or food to his mouth.

Sanni waited for a couple of minutes and asked, “How much did you pay for this sari?”

Pydayya took a bite and said, “I can’t get it down.”

Sanni felt bad for him. “Never mind, leave it,” she said and went in.

Pydayya was in a dilemma. He would be hungry if he does not eat, and if eats it, he cannot stomach the handout from the haves.

He looked around and thought, “if it comes to that, what is there that is not a handout here?”

Sanni returned with an empty bowl and put it in front of him. Pydayya washed his hand in the bowl quickly.

* * *   

(The Telugu original, aarti has been published in Andhra Jyothi weekly, May, June1969.

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi, with author’s kind permission.

Also grateful to www.kathanilayam for the Telugu original)

000

(July 7, 2021)

Heavenly Bliss by Poranki Dakshina Murthy

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, people started pouring into our town; not just a few small crowds, but a multitude of them.  

Our shelter was flooded with folks day in and day out. And there were who had no room anywhere. They started cooking on somebody’s front porch. A few others set up tents near the village well. It was a chaos.

For the town’s storekeeper, it was a blessing though. He buried his head in the cash box and kept counting his earnings; he did not have time even to check which way the pin on the weighing scale was leaning.

Children could not stay home; they were bustling around, looking important and busy. Of course, how could they stay home while so many people swarmed the town? They were scurrying around, like at a wedding party, with hundreds of new faces, short braids, and tiny hairdos. The children went to receive them with great zeal. They were everywhere, like a shower of  pogaDa flowers, after the tree was shaken.

For the past four or five days, people started pouring in as if it were a village fair. The town was small, I mean very small. In fact, one cannot even call it a town. Originally, a few huts were built by the roadside. And then, during the reign of the great Vijayanagar empire, two wells had been dug and a few more families had found homes, hoping that the wells would provide water for their subsistence. Then they had settled down and started cultivating the land in the area. That’s how it had become a township. Nobody cared to give it a name. The people never needed it. The Revenue department however had the land registered under the name of the village next-door. The town had one specific advantage though. Since it was located by the roadside, other villagers, on their way to the city, found it convenient for a brief stop.

On that day, Sivanna, a farm hand, had no time even to breathe. Normally, he was not a sweaty type of man; no matter how hard he had worked, he never looked tired. Now, he kept working leaning over the work on hand. He had no time to think. Still, a thing or two kept surfacing in his mind off and on, poking at his heart. Whoever could have expected that such a huge catastrophe would befall their town?

*

No, nobody could have expected it; but it’s not unusual though, for the Rayala seema area. There are some dim-wits who’d call it ratanaala seema [diamond ore] but, it’s a rock bed to speak the truth. There are no canals to bring in water for farming in the area; and so, the farmers have to draw water from the wells, which nearly broke their backs. Sometimes, they would have no rains for four or five years at a stretch, causing drought; the wells would dry up, and the people would have to struggle even for a morsel of food. Often the poor families are forced to leave the land, which they had trusted for centuries. They would go away to far off lands, just to stay alive. That happens when families go away in huge clusters, leaving behind the gloomy townships. That is not unusual. But the people in this particular town had never faced it, not until now.

*

By the end of the day, the commotion died down. Sivanna finished packing all of his landlord’s stuff in boxes.

He went home and lit up the stove. The splinters caught fire and the flames shot up. He put a pot of water on the stove, added the maize grits and covered it with a lid. Then, he sat in front of the stove, watching the flames. He watched, without batting an eyelid, as the splinters blazed and the flames enveloped the pot. Puffs of steam were escaping from under the lid; the maize was cooking, hissing softly. He picked up the ladle and stirred the maize a few times, covered it again, and lowered the flames.

Squatting there, he made up his mind; he pushed away all the thoughts that were hovering around in his head. No matter however much he had to suffer loneliness in that hut he would not leave the town; he was not going to be like the rest of them.

His landlord was leaving with his family; he did not ask Sivanna to go with him, not  in so many  words; but his wife said something to that effect. At the time, for some odd reason, he had thought it would be nice if he went with them. He had waited for his landlord to say the same thing but that had not happened. He had been disappointed a little but not brought it up himself. Then he considered going to some other place, by himself if not with the landlord; he could make a new life for himself, as a day laborer or something. After all, he was just one person; could he not manage somehow? He was at the prime of youth and hard-working. Then again, other thoughts took over—the thought of leaving the native soil, however worthless it was, depressed him. What kind of a relationship he had with this soil? Can’t tell! He could not explain it. He never shed a tear in his twenty-years of life; yet, today the thought of leaving this place was agonizing.

Sivanna told himself, “I am not going anywhere; I will not. The entire townspeople can go away; the town can be totally desolate and all the houses abandoned, but I am not leaving my home.” He convinced himself that all this was great—lighting up the stove by himself, washing and pouring the maize in the pot, and emptying it into his plate after it was cooked, and sitting down with his food and a slice of pickle all by himself. Sitting for hours on end like that—all that seemed interesting and pleasurable for him; it even felt like a custom he must not sidestep ever.

Sivanna finished eating, spread a mat on the front yard in the open, and lay down with his hands tucked under his head. He kept staring into the sky. The moonlight spread sparsely on his face. He dozed off.

A little after midnight, the commotion stirred up again. Sivanna could hear the noises from the wheels of the moving carts and the jingling bells around the bulls’ necks. He got up quickly, washed up and went to the landlord’s house. By then, the carts were all there, lined up. Sivanna loaded  the boxes in one cart, single-handedly. The landlord’s family boarded the other two carts. Sivanna followed the carts to the outskirts of the town to bid farewell.

The landlady said to her husband, “I was hoping Sivanna would go with us.”

“Yes, that would’ve been nice. But I don’t think he would want to leave this place,” he replied, sounding casual.

Sivanna heard their conversation. He knew that those words were not spoken wholeheartedly.

That conversation would have hurt him under different circumstances but not today. He told himself again, “That’s true. I cannot leave this town and walk away.”

The carts went past the boundary line The landlord told Sivanna to turn around and go back; he shoved a ten-rupee bill in Sivanna’s hand. Sivanna did not want to accept it. He pulled back; the landlady called out for him. She said, “Look, Sivanna, this is our pleasure. Don’t say no. I am fully aware of all the things you’ve done for us; and I know this is nothing compared to that. Yet, please, don’t refuse it. Ayya 7 would be hurt. I know you don’t need this money. But later some day you might want to go somewhere and then you’ll need this. Save it for that purpose. One more thing. Keep an eye on our house.” Sivanna nodded politely.

The carts moved on. Sivanna stood there for a long time and after the carts were out of sight, turned around and went home. He did not step outside his hut for a couple of days.

In the meantime, almost all the houses in town were vacated. Even other villagers passing by stopped only for a few hours or a day and moved on. Some were on carts, some on foot, and a few older persons were carried by other men in dolis. Their animals followed behind them.

Sivanna came out of his hut on the third day; the sun was going down. He went to the village meeting place—the concrete patio—where people used to gather. He saw the three grimy stones, set to serve as a stove for the passersby. He walked a few steps but found nothing; but for a few rags and old papers; all the houses were filthy for want of care. Some of the streets were like dark tunnels; no smell from the animal sheds; no sight of greenery anywhere, not even for a sample. Sivanna kept walking, recalling the people in each house as he passed.

As he approached the well, he saw something white; it was moving. He went closer.

A cow!

He was taken aback. Poor thing; probably, she escaped from the herd and returned home. “Hum, you are also like me. Leaving home is a heart breaker, right?” he thought.

The cow lifted her face and looked up. Sivanna patted on its back gently and started walking, caressing her neck. The cow followed him; she kept looking back towards the well.

“You, silly animal, looking for water? Let’s go to my place. I’ll give you all the water you can drink,” he said. Then something else occurred to him. Where could he get fodder for the cow?

The cow was walking slowly, nibbling on the blades of grass, which fell off the carts that had gone by earlier. Sivanna chuckled.

A faint layer of moonlight spread on the cow, and seemed to condense on her. Sivanna was amused that he should find this new life at this place, where humans could not survive. He wondered whom she could have belonged to, and where she had come from. There was no way for him to know.

Sivanna was walking, smiling to himself. The cow was walking behind him. Suddenly, a kind of droning sound was heard from one of the side lanes. Sivanna did not hear it but the cow did and she stopped. She bellowed; her ears pricked. Sivanna also stopped and then heard sobs coming softly from the side lane. He was taken aback.

The cow bellowed again.

Sivanna went into the lane. The houses on either side were very close to each other and the lane was too narrow; it was like a dark tunnel. He went farther and heard the cries of a little girl. He went farther quickly and found her. She, barely five-years old, wore a skirt and a blouse; she was there alone. She saw him and stood there without moving.

Sivanna’s heart moaned at the sight of the child. He was confused; whose child she could be; who could have forgotten here, from which village? There was no way he could establish her identity.

He was baffled as he thought of the series of events that had occurred in his life.

He picked up the child and held tight to his chest. He said, “Don’t cry, baby. No need to be scared. Let’s go to our home. I’ll feed you, sing lullabies and put you to bed. Okay? You’ll not cry anymore, yes? We don’t have to worry about anything. You, I and our cow—we three will be all right. Let’s not leave this town ever. This whole town is ours now. Let’s not go anywhere any time, ever again. Okay?”

The child stopped crying but was gasping for breath. The cow was walking ahead of them. Sivanna told himself, “It must be a blessing; must be fruits of my good deeds from past several lifetimes. How else can I account for these strange events—this little child coming into my life at a time when the entire country was hit with drought, the entire town starved for food, and deserted the place. I was the only one, alone and scared, to stay back; how could I explain these new relationships in my empty life?”

He pulled the child’s face closer and kissed on her forehead. The little girl put her two hands around his neck and snuggled her face in his bosom.

The heavenly bliss he felt in his heart in that moment was beyond words. Only the full-blown moon up in the sky would know!

*

(The Telugu original, vennela panDina veLa was published in Jwala, Translated by Malathi Nidadavolu.

My thulika

Policies and Guidelines

Our Policies and Objectives, UPDATED APR. 2021

I started this website in June 2001 with a specific purpose, that is to introduce our Telugu culture and customs to non-Telugu audience. After I arrived in America in 1973, I noticed two things: First, there are plenty of misconceptions in each country–both in America and India-about the other country-.  Second, there is a plenty of interest among Americans to learn about our culture. Several of my friends ruged, spurred, motivated me to embark on this journey. It is my pious hope that these stories render a clearer picture of India a little  at least.

Translations of Telugu stories are designed to serve that purpose. Thus the selection for translations is based, not on the literary standing of the writers but on the stories that reflect, explain, elaborate on our culture and customs. In a way, this eliminates stories describing current day stories, since modern day Andhra Pradesh is Westernized and do not reflect our culture and customers.

 Over the years, close to 120 stories have been translated and published. About 20 articles  on various writers/topics of interest in Telugu literature have been published. Some of these stories are compiled into 3  anthologies and published by reputable publishers. The site has been quoted as useful source for researchers in some universities across the globe.

I hope this gives an idea of what this site is about and why it is so important to follow the guidelines given below.

Guidelines for submission:

Writers interested in submitting translations and articles may keep in mind my goals mentioned above and choose stories suitable for this site. Authors/translators are requested to follow guidelines.

— Make sure you have the right kind of story for this particular website. Highly praised story may or may not serve my purpose, in which case it will not be accepted.

— Translations should be suitable for global audience. Indian-English phrases and expressions are not acceptable. However, relational terms exclusively possible only in Indian culture like Amma, Nanna, Vadina may be used, with a little footnote explianing the actual meaning in a given context. So also terms peculiar to Telugu culture such as madi, gilakala bavi, gaarelu, and such.

–Editing is author’s job, not mine. Please, do not expect me to edit, spell-check, grammar-check, etc. And prepare a readable copy. Frankly, it would not be good since I would not have seen the original.

–This is not a commercial magazine. It is a one-person operation without absolutly no financial gain of any sort. There is no cost to you. The reward is in the exposure my site gives to your work.

I must however admit that some of the stories/translations failed to meet the standards I have set for myself. In future, I intend to be more careful in my selection.

Thanks for your interest.

Enjoy and leave your comments on the substance in the posts.

Malathi Nidadavolu

April 2021.

TWO GLASS BUBBLES by Nidadavolu Malathi

We are living in a glass bubble

Constantly looking for germs

Washing hands with lotion

Brushing teeth Wearing socks and shoes

Also, worrying about athlete’s foot

Washing all the fruits and vegetables

With special anti-bacterial waters

Swallowing follow up pills. A woman with similar habits feels a sudden urge to see the world

She crosses the ocean and arrives in a small village.

Floating around in a dream.he lady walking down the street

In her pink dress

Sees a little child playing in the dust.

The child picks up the fruit

And gently blows away the dust and takes a large bite.

“Oh, no! She didn’t wash it”

“She didn’t wipe off the dust on her frock”

The little child stands there staring at the lady, white as jasmine!

Child takes another bite of the fruit.The pink lady says almost instinctively “Come”

And extends her hand With a friendly gesture

Towards the little child.

The child kicks to her heels like a drill sergeant

And runs toward the pink lady,

Her hand still moistfrom the fruit she just bit into.

She wipes her hand on her frock yet it is a little sticky.

The hand is not clean

Not clean at all!

The pink lady links her fingers round the little ones

And walks the distance to the child’s room.

The child proudly displays her earthly possessions –

Two frocks, three books, a pencil, an eraser won in last night’s games and a wilted flower.

“See”

Yes. That is the flower the pink lady gave her yesterday.

A prized possession!

The lady picked it up from the ground under the tree.

For the little girl, it is a prized possession.

The pink lady returns to her room

Washes her hands with soap

Wipes with a lotion cloth

Rubs with ointments and looks at the palms.

She can still feel the little fingers clutched into her own

The wet dirty hands.

She washes again

Wipes again

No. The feeling of dirt won’t go away.

At the same time at the other end of the street

The house mother tells the little girl “Wash your hands. Time for supper”

The girl stares at her hands.

“What?”

No answer.

“Come on, move.”

The girl won’t move.

“What is the matter? You know the rules.”

Still the same stare. No sign of moving.

“You need to wash your hands  before eating. You know that.”

“I don’t have to wash” she says, watches her hands, “They are clean,” and mumbles vaguely.

She feels the clutch of the pink lady; She was so clean!

Her hands were so clean and beautiful like tender shoots on the mango tree. Pink, delicate and beautiful!

“I don’t have to wash”she whispers.

For the housemother, it is puzzling.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes”

“Don’t you want to eat?”

No answer.

“Go. Wash your hands.”

“I don’t have to.”

“What”

The house mother is confused.

The girl repeats as if in a dream”I don’t have to.”

“Well, you know you can’t eat unless you wash your hands”

No response.No amount of persuasion is going to help.The little girl will not wash her hands. She does not want the feeling to go away.

The house mother complains to the head mother.

“May be she is not hungry. May be she is not feeling well. Let it be. We will see tomorrow.”

They decide to leave the little girl alone.The little girl goes to bed clutching her hands tight and nudging them under the pillow.
At the other end of the street the pink lady goes to bed applying lotion one more time and thinking about the little girl, the fruit, the flower and the tight clutch touching the innermost chord!

[End]

Published on thulika.net, June 2001.

***** ******

Author’s Note: Our cultures determine our customs and habits and we live within their purview like in glass bubbles. We are not only creatures of habit but also of environment.
While I was visiting the children’s home I noticed that while we are so absorbed with our habits, there is also a side of human nature that just beats the odds and takes over. At that level the innermost chord vibrates and prevails. Willy-nilly we cherish our customs and habits but the cordiality always responds at the human level, irrespective of color, creed and/or race.

Yalla Achuta Ramayya. Freedom in the Cage

(Translated by Sharada, Australia)

“Parvati! You are hardly twenty years old. Your beauty is totally wasted, like the moonlight on a forest. Come with me. I will show you, what it is like to be alive. to be happy. I will take you with me into the blissful heaven,” Ramesh hugged Parvati.
Parvati moved away from him. “How can you talk like this? I am married to another man. When a woman is married, all her happiness is with her husband.”
“What rubbish! You’ve been in this village all your life. You’ve not seen how the rest of the world is moving on. You’ve got only one life. God has given you this divine beauty. What for, I wonder. Certainly not to make cow dung cakes and slog in the farm, I am sure. Like the lamp in a blind man’s hand, your life is getting wasted in the hands of that bull who calls himself your husband! Open your eyes, girl!”
“Really? Will you promise never to leave my side?”
“Of course not! To leave a beauty like you! Do you think I am blind?” He pressed her hand lovingly.
***
The astrologer fell asleep in the cool shade, under the tree. The parrot in the cage hummed merrily. The cat strutted across. “Hey little parrot! I feel so sad when I see you. You are stuck in that cage, aren’t you, you poor creature?” it sighed sadly.
The parrot looked surprised. “Why? What’s the matter? I am quite happy here in this cage. By the way, who are you? What do you do? You have such cool eyes!”

“I am Mr.Cat. I chase the rats and give them a good workout. I teach them how to run about freely and show them the value of freedom,” purred the cat smugly.
“Freedom? What is it?” The parrot asked curiously.
“Freedom is doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Look at the ripe mango at the end of that branch, over there. You fly there, eat it to your heart’s content, and then you’ll know what I am talking about.”
“Really? But I can’t come out of this cage, can I?”
“Says who? I can open the cage quietly. Then you can fly out, can’t you?”
***
Telephone rang incessantly. Ramadevi hurried into the living room and picked up the receiver. “Hallo! Akka! It is me, Parvati. I am ruined, akka! That auto driver, Ramesh, he has cheated me, akka! He enticed me to elope with him and robbed me clean. I lost all the money and he disappeared,” Parvati was sobbing miserably on the phone.

“Calm down, Parvati. We have been searching for you everywhere. Where are you speaking from?” Ramadevi asked anxiously.

“In Rajamundry. We stayed in a hotel. They refused to let me go unless I paid the remaining portion of the rent that we owed to them. Somehow, I managed to slip out and searched everywhere for Ramesh. I finally realized that I have been duped. I felt ashamed of myself and decided to commit suicide. But Nagamani found me and stopped me. Do you remember Nagamani? She lives in our village and she sells Arrack. She made me call you. I did not have even one rupee to call you. I brought ruin on the family. I don’t deserve to live. Just look after my three kids, akka! My husband is such a drunkard, you can’t trust him to do anything,” Parvati was uncontrollably weeping.

“Don’t talk rubbish! Why should you die if somebody has cheated you? You’ve to think of your kids and be brave. Just stay where you are. We will come and pick you up. Where is Nagamani now? Can I talk to her?”

“Yes, she is here with me. Talk to her.” Parvati handed the phone over to Nagamani.

“Hello, madam, how are you all!”

“What to say, Nagamani! After she eloped, we have become the laughing stock of the town. We will be there at Rajamundry by tomorrow morning. Please keep an eye on her, so that she doesn’t act harshly. I will repay all the money you spent on her when we meet.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the money, madam! It is the life that cannot be bought back. I will look after her till you come here, don’t worry!”

Ramadevi gave further instructions to Nagamani and disconnected the telephone. She called her husband Prakash on telephone and explained the matter to him. Prakash promised to pick up their two kids from their school, drop them off at her brother’s home and then buy bus tickets for both of them to Rajamundry.
***

Ramadevi’s thoughts were racing the bus. In a big city like Hyderabad, her sister’s eloping with the auto driver became a talk of the town. She wondered how her parents were facing the humiliation in their tiny village, Goranta. As it is, they were struggling under financial burdens, before this added difficulty.

Ramadevi’s elder brother deserted their parents and left home with his wife. Parvati was younger than Ramadevi by two years. Right from childhood, she had been a boisterous and headstrong girl. Her adventures that began with stealing mangoes in the neighbour’s garden ended with eloping with Ramesh to Rajamundry.

Prakash married his sister’s daughter, Ramadevi. Prakash was a broad minded, modern young man. He took pity upon his sister who was sick with worry about unaffordable dowries. He convinced his parents and married Ramadevi. Shortly later, Parvati married a distant relative, Ramana. He worked as a construction laborer and lived with Parvati’s parents.

Unfortunately, Ramana was slave to many vices. He spent all the money he earned on drink. To make matters worse, he sold the household items to indulge in gambling.
Prakash and Ramadevi tried to convince Ramana to change his ways. But all their efforts failed. Ramadevi helped her sister financially now and then. She invested money and helped Parvati to open a small grocery store in the village.

Ramesh had joined the village vet as an assistant, some time ago. To add to his income, he drove an auto between Gorinta and Samarlakota. He never told anyone that he was already a married man. He would bring groceries to Parvati’s shop from Samarlakota. Slowly he sweet-talked her into leaving her family and eloping with him.

Ramana vowed to kill Ramesh on sight and carried a knife with him always.
Ramadevi thought of all this and thanked God that her sister was alive and well. She felt indebted to Nagamani who rescued her sister. Nagamani belonged to their village. Along with her husband, she did liquor business and earned enough money to live comfortably. There were some rumours about her character in the village. Whatever she was, she saved my sister, thought Ramadevi with relief.

***

Prakash and Ramadevi rushed to the hotel at which Parvati stayed in Rajamundry.  Parvati started crying as soon as she saw her sister. Nagamani, with her dark complexion, a big bindi on her forehead, and a big ring on her nose looked like one
of the deities in a temple, thought Prakash.

“Thank you so much, Nagamani. How can we ever repay your kindness? Could you please tell me how much money you’ve spent so far?” He opened his purse to repay her.

Nagamani pulled her saree edge around her. “Oh, no sir! Don’t bother about it now. It is in these difficult times that we should help each other. Who cares about money? Parvati was born in front of my eyes. Let us first think what we should do next, se suggested politely.

“I figured it all out. I will take her to Hyderabad with me. I will get her into tailoring and she can stand on her own feet. She can leave her kids with my parents till she settles down,” opined Ramadevi.

Nagamani said hesitantly, “Madam! I am older than you and so in spite of being an ignorant fool I will tell you what I think is right. Don’t misunderstand me. It might not be a very good idea for Parvati to live with your family. She will have to live all by herself, to save her reputation and that will be all the more difficult. In her young age, to live alone would be nearly impossible these days. Instead it might be better to beg Ramana to forgive her and accept back into the family fold.”

“But will that be possible? He might be a drunkard, but will he forgive his wife who has eloped with another man?” Ramadevi was worried.

Prakash interjected, “Rama! Why to use such big words as “eloped” etc.? Some cheat had tempted her and being innocent and gullible, she fell for his charms. She is a victim, not a criminal. If she had received husband’s love and affection, she wouldn’t have been attracted to another man, would she? Ramana too is responsible to some extent for this mishap.”

“Sir! Let’s all go to the village. We will discuss this with the village heads and see what they will decide. Ramana is indeed a drunk, but might listen to common sense,” Nagamani concluded.

“Rama!  I think Nagamani is correct. Let’s try to settle her back in her family.”

“How can she live in that village after all this humiliation?” doubted Ramadevi.

“Listen to me madam! As long as there is a husband, he will look after the wife, won’t he?  If she were living alone, every man would like to take advantage of her.”

They fell into a thoughtful silence. After long discussions, they decided to go to Goranta with Parvati.

***

All the village elders sat under the peepal tree beside the temple. The remaining people settled down on the ground on mats. Parvati’s parents did not attend the meeting since they wanted to babysit the kids. The village sarpanch Sitaramiah started the meeting. The priest Krishnamoorthy explained the case to the attendants.

“Parvati! Do you accept that you are guilty?” asked Sitaramiah gently. Parvati broke into tears. Ramadevi tried to console her sister.

Prakash rose to his feet and said, “Sir! You are the village elder. You know everything. Parvati’s husband Ramana is quite an irresponsible man. This made her vulnerable to the attempts of that rouge. Please understand her plight and give her another chance to mend her ways. ”

“Ramana! Whether you like it or not, she is your wife. You should forgive her at least for the sake of your kids,” said Sitaramiah.

Ramana dusted the towel on his head angrily and said, “How can any man accept a woman who has gone astray?”
Nagamani who was sitting in a corner stood up and said, “Sir! If all the women in the village vowed never to live with men who strayed, there would not be a single unbroken family living in this village. This Ramana here who is accusing his wife was caught red-handed with Gowri. They were tied up to this tree and tried. His father came and paid the fine and freed his son. Parvati did not leave him then. Even before that we all know how many times he was caught misbehaving with women.”

“Oh, you shut up! Nobody asked your opinion,” interjected Krishnamoorthy. “In the low castes it is not a big deal. If a proper fine is paid, those women are accepted by their men,” he concluded.

“Let’s not bring castes into this, sir! Castes are just like professional associations. There is nothing ‘low’ or ’high’ about them,” said Prakash indignantly.

Pastor Esupadam intervened, “Prakash! We respect you as a son-in-law of this village and due to your high education. But I have to disagree with you in this matter. If we accept this girl, we are encouraging all such sinners and we are encouraging prostitution.”

Prakash felt slightly irritated, but controlled himself. He wanted to settle the issue as amicably as possible. “Sir! What can I tell you? You surely remember what Christ said, when a prostitute was to be stoned by the villagers.

He said, “Only those who have never sinned before should stone her.” So does that mean that Christ himself encouraged prostitution? These days the marriages in our society are so much lacking in love that people are straying away from marital commitments. It is very natural to get attracted to a stranger when one doesn’t get enough love from family members.”

Nagamani rose again and shouted, “Prakash babu says correctly. Only those who have never sinned have a right to judge this issue. I might then reveal the names of the people who regularly visit me surreptitiously.”

Krishnamoorthy said, “Oh, you be quiet now! We are all looking into it, aren’t we? “
Everybody looked uncomfortable.

Sarpanch Sitaramiah cleared his throat and finally declared, “Look here Ramana! We all know about you. Your wife coped up with all your misdeeds. Then why can’t you forgive her once? She is young and has been misled due to her naivete. If you throw her out now, who will look after you in your old age? We are all telling you- forget about this incident and live with her as usual. Let that auto driver enter the village again and then we will show him!”

Ramana tied up his turban on to his head, “Yes, sir! But she has to promise that she will never do it again.”

Nagamani again jumped to her feet. “Oh yeah? Will you make a similar promise, then?” She asked sarcastically.

“Nagamani! That’s enough! Don’t keep teasing everybody,” said Sitaramiah sternly and turned to Parvati. “Parvati? Are you willing to live with Ramana as usual?” he asked.

Parvati walked from her hiding spot behind the tree timidly. “Sir! At least one person cares about what I want. Do I have any other choice? The auto driver actually opened my eyes to reality. All men are indeed the same, sir! Why will I ever do such a thing again? I’ve understood that my husband is not worse than any other man!” replied Parvati.
***
The parrot slowly walked out of the cage. “Mr.Cat! Thanks a lot. Because of you, I am free at last.” It remembered the mango on the branch and tried to fly. It felt weak in the wings. Then it remembered that the astrologer clipped his wings, to prevent it from flying. A dog that was watching the parrot from a distance made a move towards the parrot. The cool cat that set the parrot ‘free’ started approaching from the other end, with a mean, gloating look on its face. The parrot realized suddenly that is was in mortal
danger and tried to escape from them. Helpless and scared it hurried back into the cage and closed the cage door. It felt safe inside the cage. The astrologer who clipped my wings is my savior, it thought.
***
Bus started to move. “Thanks Prakash! You’ve found a solution to my sister’s problem and settled her again,” said Ramadevi.

“Rama! We did not find any solution. We just gave a symptomatic treatment. The real problem is still alive. Now we understand why women stay in marriage in spite of men treating them badly! When the outside world is infested with dogs and cats, safety is inside the cage, thinks an innocent parrot. It is a similar situation, isn’t it?” he leaned back and closes his eyes.

[End]
***
Translated by Sharada and published on thulika.net, July 2007.
(The Telugu original, panjaramlo swetchha, was published in Andhra Jyothy Sunday edition, September 30, 2007.)

Narayanarao by Adivi Bapiraju – a recollection by S. Narayanaswamy

This is neither a literary criticism nor a learned analysis of this classic novel. It is a reader’s fond recollection of his life-long association with this wonderful work of fiction. It is a personal attempt to define my fascination with the story and attachment to the eponymous protagonist.

The beginning

I think I came across this novel for the first time when I was 8 years old. I found it in one of the bookshelves at home – it was a rather old copy – the front cover and a few pages were missing. However, the name of the novel was printed on each page – Narayanarao. It had a nice ring to it. It was very close to my own name of which I was very fond and proud. I read a few pages. I quickly noticed that all his friends addressed him as Narayana – just what my friends and family called me. I felt instantly closer to him. A couple of pages into it, there was a full description of Narayanarao – tall, handsome, strong, with long thick jet-black hair, and very popular among friends – just what I wanted to be! I was hooked.

 

I don’t think I’ve read the whole novel at that time. The book was there at home. It was not going anywhere. I had more urgent things to do, yet I kept going back to it. Like all boys of that age, tales of magic and adventure held more appeal for me than fiction with social themes. (This is true even now – we bought two copies of each Harry Potter novel; one for my daughter and one for me). However, this novel continued to fascinate me – it was a fairy tale in its own way. It took me to a magical time and place, populated by noble, beautiful, artistic, eccentric and utterly fascinating characters. I fell in love with the book. Once my mother caught me with the book and scolded me – what was I doing, meddling with adult’s books? But, when she saw that it was Narayanarao, she thought it was okay and left me to my reading. I continued to read it and re-read it all the time I was growing up. And I still read a few pages occasionally – at least once a month – especially if I am feeling down. I have two copies at my home. In case somebody wants to borrow, I’d still have one for myself.

The story and the structure

The basic story is not very complicated. Narayanarao is the younger son of a large rich land-owner Brahmin family from Konaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. He has been studying law in Chennai. The Zamindar of Visvalapuram notices him on a railway platform and decides that he is the most suitable groom for his younger daughter, Sharada. The marriage takes place. Sharada’s mother does not like this match with a commoner family and tries her best to poison Sharada’s mind against Narayanarao. However, Narayanarao bears this tragedy with forbearance believing that Sharada would one day love him. Sharada comes of age and goes to live with her husband in Chennai as he sets up his law practice. Over a couple of years, Sharada slowly comes to realize Narayanarao’s multi-faceted greatness and begins to love him. The novel concludes with their union in an utterly cute and romantic scene.

That does not mean that the novel is simple. There is a multitude of characters. There are plots and sub plots. There are histories of families, regions and dynasties. There are heated debates about politics. There are passionate discussions about literature, music and art. Narayanarao’s younger brother-in-law goes off to America to pursue scientific studies – so we follow him now and then. One of Narayanarao’s friends goes off on a free love adventure – we follow him too. There is the family of four beautiful sisters – we keep checking on what’s going on with them. We take a peek into the lives of farm laborers and we look in on the unbridled debauchery of a feudal young lord. We make the acquaintance of the Anglo-Indian community, and we get to know the women folk of Narayana’s household. The final product is rich in texture, colorful in characterization and pulsing with life.

With all the sub plots and so many characters, the author establishes Narayanarao in the center of reader’s attention very firmly right from the beginning. Narayanarao’s attractive physique and his personal magnetism (Bapiraju frequently compares him to the legendary hero Arjuna) are described in loving detail – almost as lovingly as the ancient poet Valmiki describes his hero, Rama. Narayanarao excels in everything he tries – he is first in studies, he is a competent athlete in several sports, good at playing the violin in Carnatic style (This is how he first impresses the heroine), and he is an accomplished poet and painter too. He is a staunch Gandhian with passionate nationalistic fervor – wears only khadi clothes, yet he is also cool headed and logical.

Sripathi. The Enemy.

(Translated by B. Indira)

Cinnodu stood with the empty bucket after pouring the cane extract into the container. Jagganna sat close to the fire, which had been cooking the sugarcane extract, to warm himself. His eyelids were dropping under heavy sleep. “Did you hear…?” he asked Cinnodu. Cinnodu looked askance. He stood staring into Jagganna’s eyes.

Jagganna did not stir. Seated as he was without opening his mouth, he looked as if he was trying to gather his breath.

“That wench is sure to die, ra. She won’t live any longer. She’s stubborn too. She has been crying so much that she has reduced her self to half her size. She won’t survive, Cinnoda, she won’t!” Jagganna spoke after removing the tobacco role from his mouth to release the smoke. The red flame reflected as waves on his wrinkled face and graying hair.

“Cinnoda, bring the sugarcane bundle!” Jangamayya shouted feeding cane into the machine.

Cinnodu dropped the bucket at where he was standing and rushed to the northern end of the shed for the cane. He dropped the bundle near the machine and went back to the jaggery-stove.

The maim fellow who had been filling the stove with the cane-waste could not hear Jaganna’s words. He was outside at the southern end of the stove. He could only see Jagganna through the thatched walls of the enclosure though not hear.

“The fellow married off the daughter to a great son-in-law! Had he really thought twice before deciding? Does the son-in-law have any respect for relationships? Can any woman ever live with him as his wife? Leave aside all those diseases he contracted, wonder how long this gold of a girl will survive…! When the bastard who lives in the village could remain blind, how can one expect the bastard of the neighbouring village to exercise his discrimination? The magic of money! Nothing in this world gets visible…money blinds…! Money rendered his vision hazy. All he had seen was that the man came off a moneyed family. That too the only son! The lands! The properties! The gold! The money! The business! Nothing else seen. He was blind even to matters of right and wrong. Blind to name and fame! The money magic has clad his eyes with several layers. The girl? She is gold! The gold doll’s life has now been reduced to ashes!” Jagganna was all pain for the girl. He had seen Subhadra when he went home for his meal. It’s five or six weeks that the girl had touched any food. She looked like a lizard glued to the bed. The pain he experienced on seeing her had been haunting Jagganna. Jagganna himself had been uneasy when he heard of the marriage proposal. Don’t eat grass for the sake of money, he even warned Narsayya who didn’t bother to care his words.

Cinnodu saw that the flame was going low. “Have you finished your work…? O, Cottoda get some waste for the stove!” he shouted in irritation.

The fellow has a maimed leg. He can sit any length of time and work without getting tired. Jaggery generally gets cooked through out the night. The stove needs to be filled with the waste non-stop to keep it burning. It’s a difficult job for the day. Hence the work gets done only during the nights. The bulls had been turning the machine drearily. Jangamayya was busy feeding the cane into the machine. The extract had been continuously flowing itself into the bucket below. The machine had been making crude rhythmic noise. Dasu who had been tending the bulls while they rotated the machine heard Jagganna’s voice. He remembered how he cried one night telling the father to hang his sister with a noose instead of getting her married to that man. He decided then and there that he would beat up his father once he grew a little more. Mother always keeps her mouth shut. Even she fears the father. Why, how much he wanted to study… “No! Studies are not meant for the like of us,” ruled out the father. Dasu was forced to abandon his studies and gotten to work on the fields…recollected Dasu as he walked behind the animals.

Cinnodu had already heard of what Jagganna spoke of. He always liked Subhadra as the best in the family. Since his fourteenth year, he had been a field hand with Narasayya. It’s ten years now. The girl always addresses him as uncle. She’s yet to understand the social dynamics. Why, no body addresses a field hand as uncle! Cinnodu too felt unhappy when she was married off against her wishes. Just as the others, even he felt that the boy from the moneyed family was not the right choice of a husband for the girl. Now having heard Jagganna, Cinnodu felt that Narasayya had been greedy after money.

“What can be done now, tata  except to reconcile ourselves…At least before the three knots were tied…”

Cinnodu too heard that Subhadra had not eaten for the last three days. Nobody could force her to take food. When the marriage celebrated with great pomp had failed, every face lost its luster. All the relatives who intended to stay four or five days had left within a day or two.

“Times have changed. People have changed,” said Jagganna, once again puffing at his tobacco role. “How much difference between those days and these days! There was no money then. No greed as of now. Wonder how this money has been growing and how people have been after it spoiling their lives! Does this Narasayya lack any thing that he should give away his daughter into such a family? No respect for human feelings, good nature and righteous living! Cinnoda, everything Veera Brahmam prophesied is sure to happen. Every bit of it! A woman would rule the country, he said and here she’s ruling. The outcastes will become temple priests, he said and they have become. No respect for relationships, he said and there are no respectable relationships between man and woman. I’m an old timer. May not live longer. You’re a young fellow. You’ll live four seasons. You’ll see the way of the world with your own eyes. You’ll then mark my words. As children have we known pictures? Or these trains? Have we ever seen an airplane? Or this craze for currency? …Where does all this lead to?”

Jagganna had been resisting the heavy sleep and been speaking to none in particular. At times his voice broke into two or three different tones:

Paper-currency blew away silver coins,

The paper remains paper,

Hungry stomach remains hungry…”

 The maim fellow sang from outside in his unique way as if he understood Veera Brahmam’s philosophy. “World, Jagganna tata, this is the world,” he said with a wry smile.

 The cane mill continued to rotate. Fourteen-year-old Dasu had been driving the animals. The machine made grating though rhythmic sounds. The cold outside had slowly gathered its intensity.

### ### ###

Narasayya came walking to the shed with torchlight in hand. He searched everywhere under the thatch-roof where the machine had been working. He considered Jangamayya a thief to his core. He was sure that Jangamayya would steal whatever might be available in the vicinity. As for Jagganna, though almost a part of the family has the habit of dozing away at the drop of a hat. Cinnodu though a bull at work does not apply his brains to the work he may be doing. He won’t even know if something was lost. Cottodu, though brainy, is full of guile. Narsayya had no other option but to employ them. That’s one reason why Narasayya would never leave the machine shed. It had been just half an hour that he left for home for a meal. Yet his mind remained with the work at the shed.

The thatched machine-shed faces east. A fence made of leaves and branches protects the other three sides. Once inside the shed, on one side lay new earthen containers of terracotta for storing jaggery. About fifty-to-sixty containers have already been filled. A cot is laid on another side. A huge well-like stove measuring to the height of a man in its depth is seen to the east of the shed. There is also a pan equal to the stove in its diameter. Beside the stove, there lay the huge containers meant for preserving the juice extract measuring to the chest of a man in height. Several floor mats, bedspreads, blankets, grass, lighted petromax lamps completed the furnishings of the shed.

It’ll take another fifteen days at least to cook jaggery. Till then the shed is Narasayya’s home. Narasayya sat on the cot.

Cinnodu took the stick from Dasu and started driving the cattle. Dasu was about to go home when Narasayya stopped him. ‘I forgot to take my medicinal-pellets. Send them through Rangayya, my son,’ he said.

Narasayya had lost his peace of mind ever since the daughter’s marriage. He bought two acres of wetland. So far he hadn’t had the time to get it registered. He dare not trust the field hands in preparing jaggery. He had to attend to several jobs all by himself. Added to these, now there’s no happiness in having married off the daughter into a moneyed family.

“I prefer to jump into a well or a pit to end my life but I cannot live ayya…I cannot live in those concrete houses. You turned my life into ashes, ayya…!” is what she had been crying all the time. Her sorrow nagged Narasayya’s heart like a pest.

“Has Subbulu eaten?” Jagganna asked with his eyes still closed. Narsayya dared not utter a word. He is scared of Jagganna. Jaganna had warned him to think twice before he settled the alliance. Narasayya thought otherwise. He thought the marriage would improve his status in the village. He thought the marriage would bring both the families that had been at loggerheads for the last twenty-five years together. He thought the marriage would reduce the police harassment and going around courts of law. The family disputes have been taxing his purse heavily. Besides, the investment on money lending and even the lands would be his with the marriage. Narasayya thought that all these would sure resolve with the marriage that would benefit him and bring him peace of mind as never before.

“Saying you’ll hack her will not deter her. You’ll have to make her see reason,” said Jaggayya.

What does she lack? How have I been treating her! I sent her to a house that has lots of property, money, name and fame. She cries as if I had committed a big blunder. As for the son-in-law, tell me, who is a Sri Ram? Except that all his affairs have been exposed. Don’t many others carry on with their affairs stealthily? The man is full of youthful vigor…so what if he had affairs before the marriage… thought Narasayya before he had finalized the marriage. It’s beyond him to comprehend what could have gone wrong with the marriage. He had to cross and double cross the stiff competition from other prospective families vying for the alliance. It made Narasayya angry that the daughter had been obstinately kicking off his hard won victory. He even raised his hand against her in anger. “You threaten to die…Die if you so desire! I’ll burn your body at the graveyard, immerse your ashes in the nearby stream and assume that I’m no longer indebted to you!” he had shouted at her in irritation. It’s two days that he had seen the daughter!

The sweet aroma of the cooking jaggery filled the shed. In the silent starry winter night all that one heard was the sound of the cattle as they circled around the machine besides the sound of the cane-extract as it poured into the bucket. The country stove had been burning to its limit. Cottodu was busy feeding the stove with the waste. Jagganna was dozing in a sitting posture. Cinnodu was driving the cattle simultaneously filling the containers with the extract. Some movement was discernable from the nearby cattle driven mill. Overcome by slumber Narasayya stretched himself on the cot.

### ### ###

“Had you both the legs, you would gobble the whole world!” said Jagganna surprised at Cottodu’s expertise. Cottodu smiled dryly. Jangamayya complained of some discomfort in the stomach and had left for home. Cottodu was busy working at the machine sitting beside it. Jagganna was filling the containers.

Narasayya busied himself in filling the new earthen pots with the cooled extract of the night before. The day broke. One no longer felt cold as one got busy at work. Cinnodu was still driving the cattle. Cottodu simply fooled around.

Cinnodu saw Narasayya’s younger son rushing towards them. He was speeding along the cane-field bunds.

“Wonder why Subba Rao is rushing this way?” he said seeing him.

Narasayya didn’t pay heed. Jangamayya had been drying the cane-waste in a corner. From the shed, across the cane-fields the village is just a furlong away.

Subba Rao was panting. He walked straight to his father. “Ayya, mother wants you home—come with me—Subbappa…is missing!” He said holding his breath.

Jagganna looked at Narasanna whose face turned pale.

“Jagganna,” he called and walked towards the village with the son.

Jagganna entrusted the work to Cinnodu and followed Narasanna.

“Look what Subbulu has done…it seems she’s not home!” Narasanna’s voice broke. The entire village had already crammed full in the compound waiting for him. The daughter had turned him into a laughing stock. She had now become his enemy. Which well or pond she might have jumped into? He remembered her cries of helplessness. The news would soon reach her in-laws. That such and such Narasayya’s daughter jumped to her death would be the gossip of the village. They would conclude that the death was a protest against the marriage and the father.

Narasayya’s compound thronged with people. They were all under the pandal, still green

Narasayya imagined that the body had already been placed in front of the house and the villagers were now around it. People had already begun searching for the body in the village ponds and wells.

### ### ###.

Lakshmana Murthy had been preparing tea on a coal stove. Jagannadham was with him to listen to the news on the transistor radio. “Where’s the drawing master?” he asked as he sat in the easy chair placing the transistor in his lap.

“Left for his town, sir,” replied Murthy. It’s only this year that Murthy had joined the village school as a secondary grade assistant. The drawing master joined ten days after him. Jagannadham likes to move with these young boys. He enjoys spending time especially with the drawing master for the political news he shares with him. Lakshmana Murthy is a highly disciplined man. His day starts very early. He exercises regularly and follows it up with a bath in the village pond even during winter. Once home, he performs his puja and cooks for the day. He is not interested in anything else, not even pictures. Lakshmana Murthy looked different after a fresh shave.

“Why had he left so suddenly? Without telling anyone?” asked Jagannadham.

Though a Telugu master, Jagannadham looks as stylish as a science master. Aren’t a dhoti, an upper cloth, a snuff-box, a namam similar to number 111 a must to a Telugu teacher, the younger teachers would always tease him. “For you I’ll dress that way when the EO visits the school,” he would tease them back.

Lakshmana Murthy didn’t know what to say. Gopalam of course asked him to inform Jagannadham of his leaving the village. But he didn’t know how to break the news… It scared him. Last night Gopalam had fled the village with Subhadra much to his dislike. Gopalam even asked Murthy to accompany him to the railway station. Murthy did not. He does not even know any of the routes beyond the village limits. On top of it is his timidity. In his fear he pleaded in vain with Gopalam not to elope with Subhadra. He even warned him of the risk involved to no avail. As long as the girl was with them in the room, Murthy had remained a nervous wreck. The girl’s dare-devilry surprised him. He wanted to rush to the math teacher for advice. The couple didn’t allow him any time. A torchlight in one hand and the girl’s hand in the other he had headed southward from the backyard across the fields. Lakshman Murthy shuddered in fear as he recollected the events. Sleep evaded him the whole night. He was sure the villagers might attack his house any moment.

The mud-walled hut Lakshmana Murthy lives in is to the west of the village. The hill-breeze comes directly into the hut. Though it’s past seven in the morning, the air had remained cold.

“They’ve been searching all the wells and ponds,” he said.

Lakshmana Murthy could not remain seated in the chill open air. News was on the AIR. Inside, the coal-stove had been spreading some warmth. He dropped some tea-leaves into the boiling water. He liked the aroma.

“Naxals killed the Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University… Smt. Indira Gandhi condemned the religious extremism in the country…An agreement seems to be in the offing concerning the royal jewelry…Improving the life of the common man is the topmost priority of the new Congress…”

“Elections! Elections! Elections! These politicians are killing us,” said Jagannadham forgetting every thing about the drawing master. He is intolerant to political propaganda. Elections irritate him. Once, a politician had forcibly transferred him for not campaigning for his party. At another village a political group had beaten him up for criticizing its leader contesting the election. There’s yet another instance when he was bullied into vacating the house he had rented because he spoke to the rival party. Finally when he had resisted the Head Master’s religious fanaticism he came on transfer to the village as a punishment. Jagannadham had become vary of political freedom or franchise.

Lakshmana Murthy handed him a cup of tea.

The cold had been bone biting. Lakshman Murthy wondered where the two might have gone in that bitter winter. Besides, there has always been the fear of bears, he thought to himself. Neither of them knew the way! Where could they be…? By morning the village was agog with the news that Subhadra jumped herself to death. He heard it while bathing at the pond. His fears compounded when he understood that the village had believed the rumour.

Tea was warm and tasty. “Subhadra didn’t die,” he said to Jagannadham who sat with him by the stove.

Jagannadham looked inquisitive.

“Drawing master…” Lakshmana Murthy paused.

The transistor belonged to the drawing master. He didn’t carry any of his belongings with him except the torchlight. His bed roll and his attaché had been lying in a corner.

“I’m nervous… won’t they blame me, sir?”

Jagannadham was lost in thought. A similar doubt occurred to him as well. Several times he personally experienced the ‘power’ of the so-called feudal lords. He didn’t know what to say.

In the fields to the west of the master’s hut there lays the harvested rice crop dotted in between with the cane crop. A small canal, with several rows of trees on its bund, passed through the fields. A little distance away, more into the west, is a mango grove crossing which one reaches the thick forest of Mahendragiri ranges. Jagannadham’s eyes stopped at the mountain range.

### ### ###

A group of five to six houses, to the south of the village is known as the dhobi-street. All the houses there face southward. The sugarcane fields of the village landlords start at the backyard of these houses. Beyond the fields is a small stream. The entire area is thick with trees, shrubs, bushes and so on.

In Nukaraju’s front yard the early sunrays looked like a pale yellow sari spread out for drying. On the cold windy morning Nukaraju had been busy lighting the coal in his iron-box.

Nukaraju had been feeling sleepy. His eyes were dropping. The whole night he had been walking and returned home before dawn. He had been with Subhadra and the drawing master as they waited for the train to arrive. He felt his body aching. The night had been weary and he longed to sleep. But he should deliver the ironed clothes to the teachers. The village clerk’s servant had already made a couple of trips to collect the clothes. He still had to iron them. The headmaster’s peon too was there for the ironed clothes. The village level worker (VLO) said he had to go to town…

Nukaraju picked up the washed clothes from the stone platform, sprinkled water, rolled them and kept the roll aside. By now the iron box had been well heated. He dipped his finger in a glass of water and threw the water drops on the box to check the heat. He first began with the munisif’s shirt.

Nukaraju thought of his wife while he ironed. He told Sarada to remain home. She didn’t. She went with the mother-in-law to the dhobhi-ghat.

Nukaraju finished ironing four shirts. He was about to start the fifth shirt when Cinnodu came. He stood at the door.

It’s Cinnodu’s habit to stop at Nukaraju whenever he went to Narasayya’s fields. He would stop to light his beedi there. Nukaraju and Cinnodu are buddies. They went to late shows together. They would go to the village fairs together. They went to the hills to collect firewood and coal together. Standing similar in their height and muscles, they can easily pass off as brothers. Since childhood it had been their habit to bathe together in the village pond.

When he saw Cinnodu, Nukaraju suspected that Narasayya must have sent him. Cinnodu thought that Nukaraju looked strange.

“Have you heard about Subbulu, Nukanna?” Cinnodu asked glancing obliquely.

Nukaraju kept mum.

“Subbulu fled somewhere. Somebody told Narasayya that you’re in the know of it. The President and the Village Head are at Narasayya’s house. They had sent me for you,” said Cinnodu briefing his mission.

“There’s no one home,” mumbled Nukaraju placing the iron-box aside and getting ready to follow Cinnodu.

On the way Nukaraju told him of last night…

Seeing Nukaraju people on the street talked among themselves.

In spite of the cold outside Nukaraju began to sweat profusely when he saw the village elders. He wasn’t sure if he should disclose the truth. What, if I don’t…? What, if I did…? What would they do to him…? His mind was full of questions.

Nagaraju suddenly turned bold. Stubbornly bold…

“What’ll they do? They’ll scold. If angrier, they’ll beat. What have I done? After all I didn’t elope with Narasayya’s daughter! I saw the drawing master and Subhadra. He’s a gentleman,” thought Nukaraju to himself. “Help us, Nukaraju,” the girl pleaded her eyes brimming with tears. Nothing came to his mind then. He simply accompanied them up to the railway station to show them the way in that darkness. Nukaraju thought he was on the top of the world when after boarding the train safely, they both held him by hand and said they would never forget his help

Now they would beat me up, let them, he thought. This alone needn’t be the reason to beat him up. They wield the power to beat him for any reason they deemed fit. Even kill him! Hadn’t the Naidu slapped him with his footwear, once? Didn’t the munisif trick him into a liquor case and had simply watched as the police beat him up? Hadn’t he offered his body submissively on either occasion? It’ll not be different now, thought Nukaraju.

There’s a cattle shed at a corner opposite to Nukaraju’s house. The shed was vacant as the cattle had been out for grazing. The bulls were any way at the cane-mill. The play-weary calves were fast asleep.

Nukaraju saw some village elders on the high rise platform. A couple of boys were playing in the shed. There weren’t any one else. The village folk had slipped away when they saw the village elders. Two field hands lost no time in leading Nukaraju into the shed and tie him up to a post. Cinnodu saw Nukaraju being led away. He couldn’t stand there any longer. Narasayya called him but Cinnodu didn’t care to stop. All he heard was a screaming Nukaraju. He wanted to bury all of the village elders alive.

Peda Naidu was still shouting… “How many of the young girls will you sell in the town? How many of them will you see off at the station? Where have you hidden the girl…?” Naidu seemed to be tired of shouting. He had been beating Nukaraju wherever possible. He poked him at his sides with a stick. When Nukaraju tried to shout, he gagged him with a stick. The daughter-in-law’s elopement was a great insult to Naidu. He felt beheaded by the act of hers. Except to peel the skin off Nukaraju, there was no other way to conceal her shameful act. By now Nukaraju had been whining and whimpering. His head hung loose.

### ### ###

The little stream stopped there as if to look at Sarada. The white cloud and the blue sky hid themselves under the stream to enjoy her beauty. The trees, creepers, flowers, grass everything on the banks had been busy singing to her.

It’s not even a fortnight that Sarada had come to the in-law’s for the first time after marriage. She has been slowly getting adapted to the village breeze its sun, its fields, its trees, its streams… She’s slowly getting tuned to Nukaraju’s mischievous eyes and talk, his body odours. Now she is like the earth stirring up to the first rays of the light. It’s only now she’s getting to replace ‘her’ people with the new relations. She has just begun to understand what it’s to be in love with life. She has just begun to trust strangers.

If my daughter had left for the in-laws, there wouldn’t be anyone for my support, thought Nukaraju’s mother. She decided to bring Sarada home for good. There were two other washer men busy at the ghat. The surrounding thick green hills made the ghat appear as no man’s land.

Sarada had heard about Nukaraju while she took the washed clothes from the mother-in-law for drying them on the bund.

The mother had abruptly left the work and ran crying “my son, oh, my son!” She was impervious to the young daughter-in-law or that she might scare her. Sarada too ran after her. “O, god, don’t kill my son! O, god, save my son!” She had been wailing all the way rushing to Narasayya’s house. By then the whole village including children had gathered at the house.

The mother saw Nukaraju tied to a post. She didn’t go to him. In stead she fell at Narasayya’s feet. “Babu, you’re our god…only you can save my son!” She innocently pleaded least suspecting that Narasayya had been behind all this.

“What Nukaraju…he’s no more!” Somebody murmured. The words didn’t reach her.

Jagannadham standing there began to brood: Is this violence or non-violence? Another teacher who was also in the crowd was surprised that none had protested. What’ll these village elders do next, Lakshmana Murthy was asking. “That he jumped himself to death will be the verdict. Later they’ll give the body for cremation,” answered the drill-master. If it proved that the girl jumped to death, whom would these elders have killed? The father married off the daughter to a diseased man for his selfish ends. Were she to die contracting one of those diseases, whom would these gentlemen kill in revenge? Just because the girl is happy that they caught hold of this innocent bastard, broke his bones, gagged him with a stick and finally killed him. Let it ripen! Let it ripen! Let all their sins ripen! Only the fully ripened fruit falls to the ground…brooded one among the crowd.

Even now the mother didn’t understand what had happened. Sarada too reached the spot. The crowd appeared like melting shadows to her. Her vision got blurred. She struggled in vain to search for her husband. She tried to wipe the tears she could not control in order to see things clearly. The world looked dark. At last she found him at the post. She failed to recognize him. Frightened on seeing the stream of blood she had fled the place, screaming wild towards east. She didn’t even turn her head back at least once. She ran as if a band of flesh-eaters chased her. Across the fields, banks and in spite of the thorns. In spite of slipping several times. She ran to her mother. Her father. Her brothers. Her companions. Her shelter. Her relatives. Her people who had been her strength. She decided she would lead the entire village equipped with brandishing swords, spears, bows and arrows. All to save the husband in the next village. Even if it involved the killing of the entire village.

The munisif’s younger brother is a first-class magistrate. The village leaders sent a messenger to him. The father-in-law’s nephew is a circle inspector. Another messenger had been sent to him. Narasayya’s wife’s brother himself is an advocate. Yet another man had been sent there. The sarpanch himself accompanied the local MLA.

The villagers who had witnessed the death could not eat that night.

Nukaraju, Sarada, and the mother haunted them.

[End]

Translated by B. Indira and published on thulika.net, March, 2011.

Nori Narasimha Sastry’s views on History and Historical Novel

Nori Narasimha Sastry discussed history and historical fiction at length n a couple of essays.

He put forth enormous amount of information in support of his theory that our way of studying our history if faulty. In the process he also defines the correlation between history and historical novel.

In the essay, swatantra bharatamulo charitra rachana (Writing History in independent India), he shows how our mode of thinking had been molded by the methods established by famous western historians such as Gibbon, Carlyle, the lord Prudhoe and Wells. Their works on history are valued as literature; they have shown us that historians are poets in essence.

However, we also need to remember that the British rulers introduced Macaulay Report in schools only to serve their purpose, which is to turn our people into tools for prolonging their rule in our country.
That led to us relying on English books to study our history to a point that we would not read our Telugu and Sanskrit texts unless they are given in English. This craze for English is extended to all the other fields as well—religion, society, politics, literature, science and even into geography.

Currently, the history of India is broken into three periods—the Hindu period, the Mohammedan period and the British period.

Narasihma Sastry goes to elaborate on the problems with this division as follows:

Originally, the Aryans came from outside, assailed the Dravidians and the Dasyulu and promulgated their religion in our country vigorously. Their cultural power however waned due to the hot climate in our country. Internal struggles eroded and some of them turned traitors. After the Aryans, the Mohammedan rulers came in multitudes and took over. They attacked the feeble Hindus. Later, they succumbed to mundane pleasures and lost their power. When the British came, the country was in shambles. They could easily drive away the Mohammedans and the other white rulers and take over the country. This is the gist of the division of the historical periods.

There is a perception that heat weakens individuals. This is not a proven fact though. Possibly others who are accustomed to cold climate may suffer from the heat in our country and vice versa. However this should not be an argument to let ourselves be slaves to the foreigners. Heat is a geographical issue and irrelevant to one’s strength or weakness. This is a pious land and the place for such sacred activities as bathing three times a day and offering prayers to the Sun god (sandyavandanam).

Narasimha Sastry continues to observe that since creation of the universe, 195 crores 85 lakhs and 550 years have passed. In this long span of the history of mankind, the British ruled our country for 190 years, the Moghuls for 181 years, the Lodis for 75 years, Sayyads for 37 years, Tughlaks for 94 years, and Khiljis 30 years.

Among the Indians, the Gupta period runs for 500 years and that is considered golden age. We read that the Satavahanas ruled for 464 years and no other reign had sway for a period that long. And the Kushans seemed to have ruled for 230 years, the Mauryans for 160 years, and the Nandas for 74 years. Also the Bimbisara and others ruled for over 200 years.

Thus, it is evident that the current history as we study in our books gives more importance to the time we had been under foreign rule. We should rewrite our history books expanding the times we had been free and proud, and delimit the period we had been subjected to slavery.

No doubt the British have ruled our country for about 200 years. There were some local rulers called Zamindaris but they existed only with the blessings from the British. Mohammedans stayed mostly in the north. Attempts of Tuglak and Aurangazeb to take over the southern part of India failed. At the time, the Kakateeya kings in the south were powerful. After that Vijayanagara kings prevailed in the south for one hundred years more. Thus, the label for these periods should be Kakatiya period, Vijayanagara period and so on. In the 18th century, the Maharashtra rulers were strong all the way from the southern end, the Sethu, to Himachal. Indian culture has flourished in the north for sometime and later the south enjoyed superiority. There were times when the Chola, Chalukya and Pallava kingdoms and Kancheepuram were at the peak. There is no reason to accept the labels given foreign rulers who ruled only the northern part of the country.

Other facts to note are: During 550-330 B.C., Persian kings ruled Punjab and Gandharam (current Nepal?). Later Greeks ruled over the same land for 150 years (200-20 B.C.). Kushans prevailed for sometime. There is also a misconception that all Mohammedans are the same. In reality, some of them were Shiites and others Sunnis. In the north, Persian culture was prominent while the Absenian culture prevailed in the south. The difference between these two is no less than the difference between the Greeks, Patheons, Sakuns, and Kushans. That being the case, it is unfair to lump them all together as one race.

Against this background, Narasimha Sastry suggests labels such as the Turkish threat, the Moghal menace, the Sunny hazzard, Shiaite turmoil, and the British tempest for periods our history. Also there are only two races—Aryans and non-Aryans, and one is productive and the other destructive, like any other living organism in the world.

It is important to note that the Aryans regard the land as their motherland and fatherland. For them, the land gives them birth, entertains them, and comforts them. It is karmabhumi [place of action], tapobhumi [place of contemplation], and punyabhumi [pious land]. For them, the entire India is one country and the Vedas and the Vedangas are the paradigms to live by. Sanskrit is the language of the polite society. The non-Aryans on the other hand are engrossed in self-promotion, their physical image, and abandonment.

The detailed discussions of dates for a given king are not important. The Puranas have recorded the history of the kings who reinstated the Aryan dharma following political and social turmoil. They should be the paradigms for us but not the texts written by foreigners such as the Greek travelers in Alexander’s time, Megasthanese during Chandragupta’s rule, the Chinese traveler Huen Tsang, and so on. We should read our history based on the data available in our texts produced by our poets. The texts by foreigners may be used as secondary texts. Historians should sift the falsehood propagated by foreign historians.

Let’s not forget that regardless of their affinity to the kings of their times, Valmiki and Vyasa maintained their stance as poets in their own status quo.

By the time Vyasa wrote Maha Bharata, 193 crores, 83 lakhs of years passed. He was fair in depicting the histories of the two dynasties, including the violations of Dharma by the Pandavas. The pundits who question Maha Bharata’s integrity need to separate the later interpolations and study the original carefully.

The historians should help us to revive the spirit of unity, nationalism. Valmiki and Veda Vyasa should be viewed as the archetypes, the protectors of dharma; they are historians and poets in true spirit.

Historical novel

The term “historical” implies narration of truth without fluff. On the other hand, novel requires invention specifically.

A novel may not contain even one page of authentic history in a 304 page book. Yet it may provide details about the political atmosphere, social customs, manners, travel amenities, and other facilities of its time without contradicting historical facts.

A novelist takes bits of history, “dry as dust” in Carlyle’s words, brings them together, adds other parts and grows into a big tree, sprays heavenly nectar on it and brings it to fruition.

Westerners store dead bodies in graveyards. They save important and unimportant incidents alike. The historians cull through these bits of data and elaborate on the past history. Because of this custom to save all the items, the historians are able to tell the stories of their people—poets, sculptors, lyricists, kings, ministers, their kept women, businessmen, priests, actors and actresses, soldiers, and beautiful women. The books, diaries, magazines, letters, inscriptions, and memorials carved on the graves—all these are available to their writers. However, despite the availability of all this information, the established theories are getting thrown out by new revelations. While interpretation of history keeps changing, great novels are being produced in the west.

We do not have the amenities to write historical fiction or biographical fiction the same way the westerners do. Nevertheless, we have produced great novels such as Bhagavan Parasuramudu by K. M. Munshi and Simha Senapathi by Rahul Sankrutyayan. The first one attempted to recreate the Vedic and the Pauranic works from the perspective of national spirit. The second one took the Vedic literature with Buddhist tradition as supreme ideal, and attempted to promote the current communist ideology. Both the works as great examples of our historical fiction.

In a country’s or even world’s history, what has happened is important. The dates and the names of individuals are like the body. The incidents are the life force behind these works. Beyond these two elements, there is also the Atman which is the dominant force in our lives. A historian must not forget the soul. From this perspective, we need to examine whether our historians have understood the supreme truth about our nation as much as the authors of our puranas.

Numerous plots and subplots embedded in the Ramayana and Maha Bharata appear to have happened actually. They might not have happened in that particular time and in that particular place but they seemed to carry certain authenticity about them. And they contain lessons for us. To collect such stories and record them is the primary responsibility of our historians.

The authors of our Puranas had a great sense of the timelessness of history and what must be recorded. We fail to appreciate their philosophy only because of our self-indulgence and our ignorance.

Greek historian Herodotus had written several fantasy stories in the name of history and we regard him as the king among historians. The Chinese travelers wrote history, depicting their own importance and we have accepted them as standard the same way as the histories written by Christians. The stories in their books are fabricated much the same way as the stories in our puranas. It is the same with personal letters, diaries and other writings.

The genre of novel may have been born in Italy or France but there is no clear-cut definition yet. It has been taking various forms in different times and different places, which is its distinctive nature.

A novel could be rendered in the form a play, story, biography, letters, diaries or a combination of several forms. It can be short like a little pond or like a great sea, a combination of several features.

We may create suitable platform and call works like Dasakumara charitra, Simhasana dwatrimsati, Bhoja charitra, pancatantra, Hitopadesa, neeti chadrika novels. Our critics called kalaa purnodayam a novel, although it is written in the form of poetry.

That being the case, it is a mistake to consider only the form set by westerners as the only standard form for a novel. We may even stay as far away as possible from the western mode of thinking and create much better novels.

Narasimha Sastry also points out that writing novel is a profession for westerners. And marketing it requires novelty constantly. In his opinion, they are short-lived for that reason. On the other hand, we consider novel as a literary genre, and thus maintain its quality.

Novelist has a wide range of opportunities. A novel is not a short story and in that, there is no holding back. It is not a miniature painting; it does not have to flow in a monotonous manner as in a big story. Unlike a play, the novel does not rely on theaters, the vagaries of actors and actresses, and insensitive audience.

However, as in a drama, the writer may take the uniqueness of dialogues and incidents—the intrinsic qualities of a play, and incorporate poetic merit and musical quality in his novel. He may include his entire knowledge in it. A novel has the ability to reflect numerous varieties of literary genre in numerous ways. Novel is the supreme genre among the entire literary genre so far we have gotten. The proverb, naatakantam sahityam may be rewritten as navaalanatham sahityam.

The novel that contains history with the traits noted above may be called historical novel. When we study novel from that perspective, we find no contradiction between the noun “novel” and the adjective “historical”. On the other hand, the elite may even find a close affinity between the two terms.

It is common knowledge among intellectuals that it is hard to evaluate contemporary works, regardless how capable we are and how unbiased we are.

Unless we examine them from a distance, we cannot recognize their authentic value; the incidents do not rise to the level appropriate for plots of kavyas. This is the reason many poets in all countries at all times choose the stories related to their heroes and events from the past. That does not mean writers should not write about contemporary occurrences.

Critics sometimes comment that authors of historical fiction, being unable to face the modern day society and issues, choose incidents or people from the past and write about them. Their ignorance regarding the characteristics of kavya is evident in this kind of comments.

A novel may achieve the status of kavya even when it does not depict contemporary life? And that is so even when it does not aim to solve the current society’s problems. For instance, Tolstoy wrote War and Peace based on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Even as our rishis would, Tolstoy did not rely only on the history written by historians but conducted intense search for historical facts and thus was able to produce a unique work. Same thing can be said of Faust by Goethe, Paradise Lost by Milton, and so on.

Thus it is evident that poet, even when writing about the current events, can produce a high quality work only when he has the ability to look back in to the past. In support of this argument, He quotes an example from his own experience after China attacked India:

He says, “I was furious. I wanted to take over the entire nation of China in retaliation. I was irate that our government pledged to fight for the land up to McMohan line only. What about our ‌Manasa sarovaram, Kailasam that is the abode of Lord Siva, and the land that conjoined the sites where the two rivers Brahmaputra and Sindhu originated? I was so irate yet not a single poem came out of my mouth. So many people have written kavyas and sang songs. None of them appealed to me, when I try to read them as kavyas.

Secondly, dragon China’s national symbol. I searched hard for an quivalent term for dragon in Sanskrit. “Sarabham” or “Sarabhasaluvu” could be but did not sound right. In Rg veda, “ahi” had been mentioned. Some scholars used dragon for Ahi in their translation of Vedas into English. I remembered the verse in the vedas which described Indra at the time he killed Vritrasura. To my knowledge, nobody else thought of it yet even I could not view it in the form of a kavya. My heart has been sullied with my hatred for the Chinese. It will not reach the kavya level unless and until the hatred in my heart has been washed up.

If we think on these lines, the scholars who study the philosophy of kavyas may note that among all the genres of kavyas, the novel and among all varieties of novels the historical fiction is the highest.

Basically the Maha Bharata has been identified as history (ithihasa) and Ramayana as a purana (mythology). From the standpoint of tradition, both the works had been written by the writers who had lived in those times. Yet they became great works for the following reasons. Valmiki was a tapasvi (introspect). He was capable of distancing himself from contemporary life and observing it with uncontaminated eyes. Similarly, Vyasa was a rishi who could stay detached despite his kinship with all the characters in the story. He could stay in his hermitage quietly, contemplate and reflect on the story in his heart.

Some scholars accept that these two authors simply collected several stories told by several individuals and had them recorded by a few or several other individuals. There is no doubt that the incidents in these stories had been based on actual occurrences.

As is evident, the social, political, and dharma-related systems, the war strategies, philosophic reflections are narrated in these works focusing identifying the ultimate truth. No other work has that much influence on Indian culture. Despite the fact that these two works are based on Vedas, they have exerted more influence on our culture than the Vedas themselves. Without these two classic works, it is hard to imagine how far our culture could have deteriorated. This is deductible from the history of other countries where there is no such impact.

However, the Ramayana text and most of the Maha Bharata text are rendered in the form of poetry. It is not filled with difficult Sanskrit phraseology but written in a form that is close to modern prose. We can call them historical kavyas or historical novels written in the form of poetry. The difference is only in terminology but not in essence.

One of them is a great river flowing with zest like the River Ganges. The second one is the milky ocean encompassing several great rivers. Today’s historical novelist is a follower of those great authors, Valmiki and Vyasa.

They are not performers of death rituals who collect pieces of history. They are the visionaries who have attempted to identify the historical truths.

Modern day historians should search their souls and find to what extent they have understood these tenets and adapted them.

[End]

Published on thulika.net, June 2011.

(Translations of excerpts from two articles by Nori Narasimha Sastry. I am grateful to the writer and publishers of the volume Nori Narasimha Sastry. V. 5 Sahitya vyasaalu.

 – Niadavolu Malathi. May 30, 2011.)

 

DWIVEDULA VISALAKSHI: A STORYTELLER WITH FLAIR by Nidadavolu Malathi

In the nineteen sixties, women writers dominated the field of fiction in Andhra Pradesh. Visalakshi is one of those writers, who have captured large readership because of their ability to tell stories with charismatic elegance.

Historically, as a part of social reform movement and the country’s reorganization plans, women were encouraged to learn to read and write. And the women made the best of it by addressing contemporary social issues in their stories. The impact of western civilization on our values, women’s education, newly developed problems facing the educated women, their transformed status within the families and society, and the newly arisen challenges in arranged marriages—figured into the literature created by women writers at the time. Weekly and monthly magazines proliferated and the editors encouraged women writers with great enthusiasm. In that environment, a few women made their mark in literature, rightfully, I might add. Dwivedula Visalakshi is one of them.

Normally, there are two ways for writers express their views in their writings. Some writers present the issues as manifested in real life. Their goal is to highlight the inherent problems in society, which everybody knows yet ignores knowingly or unknowingly. They attempt to highlight the issues in order to create an awareness in the public. There are other writers, who identify the problem and position it in the environment of a hopeful future. They may not offer solutions yet present a positive vision nonetheless. Visalakshi belongs in the latter category. Her stories and novels leave the reader with a satisfaction that he has understood something about our society or human nature.

Dwivedula Visalakshi started writing short stories probably in the late forties. Her first novel, vaikuntapaali, won first prize in an annual competition held by a prominent weekly magazine, Andhra Prabha. It was serialized in the same magazine in 1963 and published as a book in 1965.

The core theme in the novel is adoption. In general, the word adoption carries a vague sense of suspicion. If the child is raised by a family without going through the ritual of adoption, it may create latter. Additionally, if the mother gives birth to another child after the first child is brought home, matters precipitate. I discussed this novel previously. (Click here for the full text.). It would suffice to say the novel illustrates the ensuing problems when a child is not legally adopted and the manner in which some people rationalize their actions.

In her second novel, maarina viluvalu[1] [Transformed values], Visalakshi delineates the status of educated women in our society in the face of changing values both at home and in society.

Janaki is the eldest of five children—three boys and two girls. The novel opens with the second daughter Santha announcing that she passed the Intermediate exam. Mother is not happy however; she is sad since her third son, Sambu, failed the same exam. In her opinion, education for women is not important. Ironically, there is one educated woman in the family and they are enjoying the benefits from her education. Yet, mother does not see it that way. In our society, while the social reformers, both male and female, scream for education for women, there are also some who remain deep rooted in tradition.

A second angle to this theme is the use of women’s property called stridhanam by her family. In the old days, it was the money given to a woman as gift at the time of her wedding, and meant exclusively for her use when a crisis strikes in her life. Using that money by other family members is considered deplorable. In modern times however, this opinion has changed significantly. Families now allow educated women to go out and earn much the same way a man does. However, son continues to command higher status regardless of woman’s earning power. All these variations in the relationship of woman and wealth are built into this novel, providing the readers with a piece of history in the making.

In the next chapter, the pivotal incident, which led Janaki to take up a job, is explained. Previously, her marriage had been arranged and aborted in the middle of the ceremony due to her father’s failure to come up with more money to give to the groom. Since it happened after tying the tali around her neck was over, she was technically a “married woman.” Later at night, Janaki went to the railway station to persuade the groom to return to the wedding arena but to no avail. Eventually, she obtained a job in an orphanage and started supporting the family both economically and emotionally.

The eldest son, Surya Rao, is spineless and constantly worried about public opinion. He does not have the guts to encourage his brother, Prakasam, in his business venture, fearing it might hurt their social status. He cannot accept that his youngest brother, Sambu, is not up to the demands of education. He does not know how to handle the situation. He cannot allow his sister, Santha, into the house after she ran away, and returned home, deceived.

Janaki is the female hero in the novel. She takes on the responsibilities, which should have been Surya Rao’s. She understands Prakasam’s abilities to go into business, Sambu’s inadequacies to grow as an individual, and Santha’s daring spirit.

At the end, the man, who had left Janaki on the wedding day, returns, asks her to go back to him and take care of him and the children of his second wife, now deceased. Janaki tells him that taking care of the children at the orphanage is more satisfying to her than going back to him.

A striking element in this novel is the author’s portrayal of women as strong characters. They are confident and determined to achieve their goals. In contrast, men are portrayed as weak and ineffectual. Prakasam, the second brother, is portrayed as successful but not without plenty of support from Janaki, and his sister-in-law, Kanakam.

Second daughter Santha may have made wrong choices in life yet she is shown as having the courage to pursue what she thought was right for her. In that, she is not the typical naïve young girl, commonly known in our society.

There are two incidents in this novel that need scrutiny. In the first chapter, Janaki goes to the railway station alone in the middle of the night. Recently, a young woman asked me, “Would such act on the part of a woman not be considered inappropriate in the sixties?” From what I know, the readers of the sixties did not raise this question. Secondly, to answer this question, we need to consider the social conditions of the times.

As I mentioned at the outset, the society was swarming with social reformers and political activists who encouraged women not only to learn to read and write but also to participate in the movement. In fact, the active participation by women in all the social and political movements had started even before we achieved independence. Thus, while majority of the women were still rooted in tradition, there were also women, who showed independent spirit. And several writers of the sixties depicted those women in their fiction.

Janaki’s independent spirit and progressive views have been established with the incident at the railway station. Possibly, the elite created strong-willed female characters in fiction by way of providing comfort to the feeble women in our society, even to provoke them into action.

The second incident in this story is the husband’s reappearance. Janaki refuses to go back to him, which again is in step with her character. In those times, this also could be viewed as improbable yet the readers did not raise this question in the sixties.

Last August, I met with the author. She told me of another incident, which possibly happened much later. Visalakshi said that a prominent movie director, C. S. Rao, approached her for permission to make the novel into a movie. He was interested in making the movie but asked her to change the ending. Per his suggestion, Janaki should ask for her husband’s forgiveness and go back to him.

Visalakshi refused to make the change and the director the movie idea. Here I see the traditional mode of thinking in the director and the author’s progressive views in her refusal to change the ending. Strangely, the director had no objection to Janaki going to the railway station alone in the middle of the night.

 

In the novel, grahanam vidichindi [The Eclipse Ended], written in 1967, the author addresses two issues—firstly, a young woman, Bharati’s psychological trauma after her husband’s sudden and untimely death, and secondly, the ensuing complications brought by the money she had acquired after his death. All her family members, on her side and the husband’s side, offer to help her and protect her money through investments in the products of their choice. Bharati starts suspecting their ulterior motives. While struggling with her emotions, she gets involved with her husband’s best friend and, in course of time, finds out that he also is interested in putting her money to work according to his own preferences. Disgusted, she decides to go to Hrushikesh, where she finds Babaji consoling at first, and later as a man with suggestions to invest her money. Once again, she feels betrayed and packs to leave. Babaji gives her a note on the eve of her departure, which explains the real problem in her mode of thinking. While living in the constant fear of being cheated by everybody, she is doing the same, which is clinging to her money. She realizes that she should consider the alternative possibility—that all the people around her might be genuinely interested in her welfare as well as her money; genuine affection and their interest in her money need not be mutually exclusive.

In her preface to this novel, author made it clear that the argument for widow remarriage in this novel should not be construed as an argument that all widows must remarry necessarily. In her opinion, one may remarry if that contributes toward one’s personal growth and only if that is her choice. In other words, it should be the choice of an individual, and not a rule to be honored by all widows categorically.

In Visalakshi’s short stories, we find an unusual flair in her choice of themes and her narrative technique. She chooses the language and the milieu appropriate for her narration.

Two stories, ittadi binde [brass pot] and teerani korika [unfulfilled wish] illustrate two different angles in the psychology of the rich. In the first story, a wealthy woman goes shopping in her car, just to kill time, and buys a six thousand rupee necklace. On her way home, the car breaks down and she decides to take the bus “for fun.” In the bus, fellow travelers are fascinated by a brass pot, a working class woman bought for thirty rupees. The rich woman is surprised by their fascination of the pot. Eventually, she learns that the young woman is her servant’s wife. Almost impulsively, she invites the couple to live in her outhouse. The story revolves around various emotions the rich woman goes through while watching the couple express their love for each other. The crux of the problem is her inability to sustain her generosity. It is an interesting twist.

In the second story, “teerani korika”, we find a different angle, once again, in the generosity of the rich. The protagonist, Rangaraya Bahaddur is a wealthy zamindar, whose generosity knows no bounds. He never says no to anyone who comes to him with an appeal. A new gentleman, by the name Potti Pantulu, arrives in town. Potti Pantulu needs help but does not go to the zamindar. Zamindar waits since he does not extend his help unless the person comes to him. People around him notice that the zamindar is troubled about something but do not know what it is. While zamindar is waiting for Potti Pantulu to appear at his door, Pantulu wins a huge sum in a lottery. Thus the zamindar’s wish is never fulfilled.

In both the stories, the author did a good job in depicting the psyche of the haves. In both the case, the issues appear to be small for most of us yet of consequence to those who would have to face them.

 

Normally, a lazy person, who squanders away his life, does not admit he is squandering away his life. In the story, kadalika [The Change], narrated in first person, the protagonist has no problem admitting that he is wasting his life like a branded bull. In Andhra Pradesh, a branded bull carries a ritualistic significance. In some families, as a part of death ritual, a bull is branded and let go on the streets to roam freely. Traditionally, people are not supposed to stop the bull in any manner for any reason.

The young man aware of the resemblance between his conduct and that of the branded bull on the street yet has no will to change his ways. He whiles away his time at the bus stops watching beautiful girls getting in and out of buses. One day, he sees an old man in stinky, tattered clothes getting off the bus. Being old and clumsy, the man reels off the step and falls on the ground. Another bus hurries through the street, running over the old man. The young man notices a medicine bottle and a prescription slip on the ground. He debates for a while in his mind and decides to go out of his way and pick up the two items. He learns from the prescription slip that a girl named Malli is waiting in some hospital for that medicine. He goes to the hospital only to find that Malli is a little girl and she died the night before because the medicine was not delivered in time. The doctor tells the young man that the body will be thrown into the municipal cart if he does not take it. The young man, despite his carefree lifestyle, is moved (the change) for some unknown reason. He takes the girl’s body to the outskirts of the town, buries it and returns home.

At home, his older brother yells at him for returning home late and slaps him. For the first time in his life, his older brother punished him. He notices the change in his brother’s demeanor and is surprised. Both his brother and sister-in-law never punished him, not even so much as raise their voices as long as he acted like a wild, branded bull. Now, for the first time in his life, he acted like a human being, did a good deed and in return, was slapped. The older brother did not know of the young man’s humanitarian act yet instinctively, he acted as if he had recognized the human element in him at that point in his life.

Annayya lifted his hand and slapped me a few times. “I am being so patient but there is no use; your behavior is getting worse each day. Tell me, where you’ve been? What did you do with the money Vadina gave you for books?”

Annayya pulled all the strength in his body and beat me.

I did not reply. I was surprised. I stood there watching him.

This is the first time Annayya has ever laid a hand on me. He did not have the heart to lift a finger as long as I sported the signs of a branded bull. Probably, he was scared that I might squash him with my horns and make a mush of him. Now, the branded bull within me has moved away and I am showing the signs of a human being, he has gotten the strength and the interest to punish me.

Had he punished me like this before, I would have thrown my head indifferently and walked away. But, his chiding today got the better of me completely. With that whack, my stupor has gone completely. They would not believe me even if I tell them what happened. Annayya knows me only too well to believe my words; I would not stand a chance!

“I lost the money. I was searching for it all this while,” I said.

Annayya knew that I was lying but he did not have the strength to beat me anymore. I knew I lied to them. There was no point in telling the truth. The old man’s soul would know that it was a lie. Malli, who was lying alone in the tamarind grove, knew it was a lie. But, they are not in a position to show up here and say that it was a lie.

This is what I liked about the story. The author’s keep perception into human nature. Self-analysis in a self-centered person is not an everyday event. However, it is not completely unlikely. That is what stories do—bring out the corners in huma psyche that is ignored in everyday lives.

As long as he acted like an unfettered bull, his brother and sister-in-law treated him just the way they would a branded bull -feed him and let him roam on the streets. After he imbibed a bit of human quality—kindness, they viewed him as a human being. Implicit are two perceptions: First, one may sense the change in another person intuitively. Second is the human value, which is to acknowledge that there are consequences for one’s actions. If a person is considered a human being, the other valuses such as discipline follow. Discipline means reward for good deeds and punishment for bad behavior. In this instance, the young man came home late and for that reason must be punished. He has done a good deed but the brother is not aware of it. Maybe the young man will be rewarded after the elder brother learns of it.

On a slightly different note, I must say I ran into some glitches while translating this story. It is filled with long, meandering sentences, and, at times, too much information is packed into just a few lines. There are inconsistencies in a couple of places. For instance, the narrator says the stores were closed because it was Sunday. If it was Sunday, why did the young man go to the bus stop to watch the college girls get off the bus. Are not the colleges closed on Sundays?

This is one of the traits we see in the sixties’ stories. In the story, “Travelling in a Ladies’ compartment”, published in March 2010 on this site, the narrator switches between the first and third persons in a couple of places. When I pointed out the inconsistency to the author, Subbalakshmi, she did not mind my changing the lines to make the narrative consistent.

“The first sale” is a short short story (3 pages) woven around a single incident. In the wee small hours of dawn, a graveyard watchman is losing hope because he has not had even one sale in the entire night. Unless he receives one dead body and collects the fee, he will not be able to buy medicine for his sick child. In the last minute, he sees a man approaching him with a bundle in his hand. Much to his dismay, it is his child, for whom he was hoping to buy medicine. It is time for the next guard. The next guard comes, looks at the dead body and is elated that he has a sale even before he started his shift!

I believe this is one of the few stories where burial ground is used powerfully as background. The story should remind the native speakers of the story of Harischandra, who also is forced to insist on receiving the fee for burying his own son. The guard is aptly named, Veeri gadu, which reminds us of Veerabahu in the story of Harischandra.

Like the wealth, death has several angles and the author succeeded in highlighting those angles which are usually not noticed or noticed but ignored. Visalakshi possesses a remarkable skill in crafting her stories. Her narrative oozes the native flavor.

She has traveled Malasia, America, Britain, and Switzerland. She has working knowledge of Hindi and English.

To her credit, she has 13 novels, 4 anthologies of short stories, and an anthology of essays, Malasia: then and now. Some of her novels have been translated into Kannada.

She has reviewed about 200 books, under the pseudonym, Sumana. Her works have been subjects for several Ph.D.s and M.Phil. degrees.

Visalakshi has received the prestigious Gruhalakshmi Swarnakankanam award in 1966, Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi award in 1982, and honorary D. Litt. from Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University in 1998 among several other awards.

I met her in August, 2009. She was willing to meet with me but no interviews she said. She further explained her reasons for not giving interviews. “These days, I am unable to recall the details. It would not be right on my part to give wrong information. Therefore, I decided not to give interviews”

I asked for permission to translate her stories. She said, “I can say I have no objection. However, it is not appropriate for me to do so, since I have donated all my books with full rights to Visakhapatnam public library. You should contact Bhamidipati Ramagopalam and Varahala Chetty, members of the board of trustees of the public library and obtain permission from them. I am sure they will have no objection but you should contact them.”

Accordingly, I met with Bhamidipati Ramagopalam and Varahala Chetty in the next two days. Both of them assured me it was not a problem. Mr. Varahala Chetty jotted a line on a piece of paper, which said “With the kind permission of the copyright holders, Visakhapatnam public library” and gave it to me.

After I returned home, I translated the story kadalika and mailed a copy to the author as a matter of courtesy. She wrote back to me that the story in question was not her choice for translation and that I must not publish it. Probably it was one of those instances of memory lapse. Regardless the copyright holders have given me the necessary permission, I discarded the translation.

[End]

Published on thulika.net, June 2010

[1] This novel is discussed at length in my book, Telugu Women Writers: 1950-1975 (a critical study). Author, 2008. (Available at Amazon.com.)