Category Archives: Telugu Stories in English

Munipalle Raju. Beyond the Shores of the River Existentialism

Beyond the Shores of the River Existentialism By Munipalle Raju, translated by Nidadavolu Malathi.

An Anthology of short stories in Telugu by Eminent scholar and writer, Munipalle Raju, entitled Astitvanadam avali teerana, translated into English by Nidadavolu Malathi, under the title Beyond the Shores of the River Existentialism, and published by Kendra Sahitya Akademi, is available now at Swati, Temple Road, New Delhi, 110 001, India. You may also contact Rs.270.00
This project had been quite a challenge for me. Among other things, the stories are imbued with Mr. Raju’s vast knowledge of ancient works, Indian and Telugu culture and traditions. In fact, had I provided notes and explanations for all the references he had woven into his stories, it would be one more book, possibly, bigger. I have noted some of the challenges in the book under the title, “Translating astitvanadam avali teerana; A Unique Learning Experience,” though.
In short, reading these stories would be a unique experience for readers interested in Indian culture, traditions and the essence of Indian philosophy.
I have provided some footnotes, sometimes, with the help of my knowledgeable friends. I am grateful to them.
With nearly twenty years of experience in translating fiction from Telugu into English, this is my best work yet, I would add. I hope you will enjoy these stories in English.
Much obliged for your kind comments. Thanks in advance.

Nidadavolu Malathi

P. Sathyavathi. The Song

                                         My Song by P.Sathyavathi

   I checked my appearance in the mirror and felt satisfied. The sweet face that looked back at me
was indeed, enticing. I was about to embark on a journey on to the other bank of the river.

I was inexplicably happy that day, perhaps due to my youthful energy, or due to an imaginative
mind that always desired for the moon. Armed with a confidence that I could get that moon if I
wanted to, I was on the clouds. I picked up my colourful bags, three of them, made with coloured
beads, bright flowers and colourful threads. Of course, I wouldn’t leave my friend behind, the ever present song on my lips, would I? In fact, I cunningly extracted a promise from the song, never to leave my lips.

Thus equipped to face the life, I stood on the bank of the river, watching the sun rise, awe struck. A small boat came along. It looked a pretty sight, swaying in the mighty, dignified river. There was a man in the boat.  He had a smile fixed on his lips and looked very handsome, indeed.

“Do you want to jump in?” he asked.
“Now, what are those bags?” he enquired further.
“These bags? My friendships, my memories, my ambitions, my likes, my talents and many things that define me,” I replied.
“I see! Ok, jump in. Don’t forget all those bags. You might bring that song on your lips too. Do you need to hold my hand to get into the boat?”
“Of course not! I can get into the boat all by myself, thank you. In fact, I know how to row the boat, as well. By the way, where are you off to?”
“Nowhere in particular. I will row as long as I can and stop when I feel tired. You can get down
where ever you want to get down,” he replied flippantly.
The idea appealed to me and I jumped into the boat.
“Welcome aboard,” he said as he looked into my eyes with a smile. I saw the light in his eyes and felt an inexplicable thrill.

The river flowed silently, displaying all her moods and colours. The blue hills along the banks, the greenery in the fields, the clear sky above, my song on my lips, the lively whistle of my friend, his witty talk, everything made me blissful. He told me about all his dreams, opinions and desires Lulled into a drowsy sleep with his songs accompanied by the ripple of the river, I hoped the journey would go on forever! In that happy, carefree moment I invited the young man into my thoughts and my heart. I shared everything with him, all that I called mine. I felt richer by the experience. I sang in ecstatic abandon. We vowed under the beautiful moon that we shall travel together always.

Up to that moment we had been taking turns in rowing the boat. But then he said, “Darling, you
look tired. Your bright eyes are drooping with sleep. Why don’t you take a rest while I do the
rowing?” I was proud of the love I inspired in him.

I closed my eyes listening to one of the songs he composed for me. Then he disappeared. I woke
up in fright. My song on my lips called him loudly. He returned panting.

“Where did you disappear?” I asked in fright.
“My dear! I realised we have a long way to row before we settle down. It is going to be a tiring,
boring job. I am trying to make a machine that will row this boat automatically.” He replied
“Oh yeah? What will you do if the boat is going all by it self? Look into my eyes all the time, I
suppose!” I teased him.
“My poor baby! We are young now. Do you want to spend the entire life rowing the boat? Don’t we need to settle down? Don’t we need to live happily ever after, like kings? I can’t have you rowing this stupid boat for ever! That is why I am slogging now, so that we can reach the other bank quickly, then build a nice big house and settle down comfortably.”

“What is this comfortable living?” I asked curiously.
“We will discuss that later, but now get me some food.” He became impatient.
“Did you not bring anything to eat with you?”
“No, I am going to be busy for a while with that machine. Here after it is your business to organize food for both of us.” He declared.
I got up yawning. I plunged into work. My friend, the song got bored. It said, “Hey, you seem to be too busy to notice me. I am going for a walk in the woods.” So saying it left me to go for a stroll.
“Don’t leave me now. I find it easier to work when you are with me,” I begged. “Don’t be silly. I will be back,” it replied hurrying out.

Eventually my lover found that he had no time to listen to my song. Nor did he have time to adore me.  When I stopped the boat near the bank to cook food, he searched in the nearby bushes to gather some material and filled the boat.  He demanded that I organize all that material and clean the boat to make it look nice. He began hoarding material.

His focus and hard work got to me. I admired his determination and strength. He is so strong and
loving, I thought happily. I decided to make him happy and keep him free of worries, at all times
and by all means. I cooked for him with more devotion; I shared his work to give him some free
time and relaxation. I insisted on taking turns with rowing. I did all this with love and sincerity.

The boat started to get filled with different kinds of things. Just for the sake of reaching the other
bank and settle down to live happily ever after he accumulated lot of material. The boat also
started to be filled with different kinds of noises. Hammering, sawing, drilling nails and all kinds of mechanical jobs made peculiar, unfamiliar noises in the boat.

One day, I was startled when I remembered that my song had left me long ago. “Where did it go
for such a long time? How could I stay for such a long time without my best friend?” I wondered. I called my song loudly. It came after a long time, reluctantly. I missed the affection in its voice which was always there.

“Where were you all these days? I had to call you loudly, to bring you here,” I complained. “What else could I do? I couldn’t bear the noises in this boat any more. In the beginning I found some rhythm in his hammering, sawing and drilling. I tried to join them. But slowly I started hating that sound, so I left. I cannot stay in this cacophony. I will come and visit you once in a while, if you want me to,” the song said defiantly. I did not know what to say. “Come on, let’s go for a small walk in the trees,” my song invited me.

“I can only come once in a while to comfort you. I cannot live on your lips any more, I am sorry!” so saying my song left me.

I lost the man who invited me into the boat with brightly shining eyes, the man who offered to help me into the boat, and the man whose face seemed to be fixed with a smile. I saw him only at meal times. All that laughter, that chattering, those songs, that love, everything disappeared. He seem to spend all his time and energy filling the boat with material and machines. I saw him working at something new one day. I asked him about it. He said that it was a weapon to protect us with.

I felt restless. I thought I will open my bags and look at my friendships, memories and my
belongings. But I could not find my bags. I searched everywhere on the boat. Looking under the
bricks, inside the tool box, under the hammers and every other inch of the boat yielded no result.

“My bags! I have lost them. My talents, my memories, my experiences, everything is lost. Where
are they? How could I have lost them?” I wept inconsolably. Did I forget myself in my love for him? Have I lost everything that belonged to me?

He took my grief very lightly. “Oh, don’t make such a big fuss. We must have chucked it out of the boat some day while cleaning. But, first come and see what I have got for you.” He led me into his work shop. “At last, I have finished what I had started. This machine will run the boat automatically.
You need not work hard any more. Take rest, here after. Look at yourself. Your hair started to turn grey. Your skin lost its lustre. You can leave the rowing and spend time looking after yourself. Make yourself beautiful as before. I still have some more things to finish. I don’t know if I have accumulated enough things to live happily ever after. Here, press this button. Throw those miserable oars into the river. I am making many more machines like this to make life easy for you. All that you’ve to do is to press the buttons.”

I pressed a button. The boat sped up. I sat down. I lost my song. I lost my beaded bag with
flowers. I hardly see my beloved. Now I don’t even have the job of rowing the boat. What do I do with myself?

“What shall I do now? I lost all my talents. Can I work with you in the work shop?” I asked him
eagerly one day.

“Oh no!  You take it easy and look after your beautiful figure. Cook for me. Look after me. That will be sufficient.”

I looked at my reflection in water. My lips looked dried after the song left them. The innocent sweet face with which I jumped into the boat looked jaded and tired. The boat went speeding, cutting the river. It suddenly seemed to be getting heavier.

I did not know what all things he filled the boat with, for us to live like kings, for a future full of
riches. Strangely, right from child hood I hated riches and kings. To live like kings we need to feel superior over others, which I disliked. I detested equally riches and treasures. What can we do with all the treasure in the world, except buying more and more meaningless stuff, I used to think.  My beloved harped on those two words which began to annoy me.

My best friends and my song left me and never returned. I lost my man whom I loved above
everything else. Why did I stat this journey and where am I going now, I wondered. What is my
destiny? Why did I fall in love with him as soon as I saw him? Why did I jump into this boat upon his invitation? I lost all that I shared with him. He mesmerised me with his eyes, with his smiles and with his love. He threw away all my belongings when they annoyed him. He promised to make a beautiful world for me. I surrendered my heart and my soul to him. Where has he disappeared?

I heard a small groan. I was surprised and got up to look. In this boat it is only both of us living.
Then whose voice was that? The boat was still running. Whenever the boat complained of increasing burden, he threw away old stuff. He threw away old memories, old habits and everything else he felt useless. Only the machines remained.

Then I heard somebody laugh. I was more surprised. Who groaned and who laughed?
“Yes of course, it is me who laughed. Could you figure out who groaned?” asked the rowing
machine.  It paused for a while and said, “I think it is time for you to jump out of this boat. I
cannot stand your weight any more.”

“First let us call him. Both of us will jump out of this wretched boat together. Or even better, we will kill you and row the boat with our oars as before,” I replied angrily.

“Call him? He won’t be able to come. He is stuck among those machines that he made and those
he plans to make. He is never going to make his way out of those desires in his mind,” the
machine laughed cruelly.

“Oh no! That is not going to happen. I am going to free him from those monstrous machines. All
these days I was in a kind of trance. He always managed to convince me into obeying him. Why did I listen to him? Why did I not convince him? Why did I not save him from these meaningless
desires? Why did I not hold on to my bags? How did I loose all my belongings? How could I be so careless? I want all those back, I also want my man,” I lamented.

“He is beyond your help now. You lost your song too. Who will help you in getting him out? Forget about him and jump out of the boat. Otherwise I am going to sink under all this weight.” The boat warned me.  

Who cares about this miserable little boat, I thought. But I am not the one to give up like that. I
raised my voice and called my song. I put my heart and soul into it. Of course, the song was my
best friend. It came rushing to my aid. It settled on my lips as always. Together we set out. To get him back, with the things that he loved.

To get back my man who invited me into this boat, to make new beaded bags, to throw away all the rubbish we accumulated in this journey, to keep only what we needed and liked, to live a life fully with some work, some creativity, some imagination, lot of love and to spare some thought for others, to fill my beaded bags with values, I set out with the help of my song. With my best friend on my lips, I was confident of a victory.

(The Telugu original, nenostunnaanu, was published in Andhra jyoti.
Translated by Sharada, Australia, and published on, August 2008.)

Lead me to Light! by Vasireddy Sitadevi.

“Is that Gopalam? Why are you walking away as if you’ve not seen me?” Rama Sastry called out.
Gopalam was startled. He was lost in his thoughts; did not pay attention to whereabouts. He turned around and saw a vague outline, short, stout, and rounded as if three balls were stacked up. The man who addressed him was of fair complexion and wore no shirt. He wrapped a green silk shawl around his shoulders, and his tummy was peeking through its folds. He wore a dhoti up to his knees, lion-headed bracelets on his hands, and big red dot on his forehead. Gopalam felt like laughing but did not.
“You’re looking at me as if I am a stranger. What’s new? How is father?”
“Oh, no, no. I got distracted; thinking of something. Yes, father is fine. He talks about you sometimes.”
“I’d like to see him. I’ve been so busy lately, no time at all.”
“Of course, I understand. I’m sure you’ve heard about our conditions at home after father’s retirement,” Gopalam thought.
Rama Sastry was a well-known priest. So, he would get calls for all festive occasions in the houses of high ranking officers and ministers. He had no match in drafting horoscopes. He made good money and earned some clout in social circles. All his children recieved good education and landed good jobs.
“How is father’s health? Are you done with your schooling?” The concern in his voice sounded unnatural.
“Father’s health is not good. I finished B.A. in first rank. I’ve been trying to get a job for the past six months. That is one more worry for father,” Gopalam said sadly.
“What’s the point in worrying? Father knows that is the way life is; Why worry about such small matters?” Sastry’s face glimmered with his philosophy.
Gopalam was irritated. He wanted to tell Sastry to recall the life he had had when he first came to this town. At the time, Gopalam was just twelve. He could still visualize the day Sastry had been sitting there, looking desperate. Gopalam’s father had cheered him up.
“Wouldn’t there be problems for people who are knowledgeable about life?”
“Of course, there will be. But, does it help if you beat yourself up? Praptavyamartham labhyate manushyah. Devopi tam langhayitum na saktih,” Sastry said, with partly closed eyes and waving his hands in the air.
“I don’t know Sanskrit. Can you please tell me the meaning?” Gopalam asked, irately.
“Certainly, listen. It means man will receive whatever he’s supposed to receive. Even God cannot prevent that,” Sastry replied, submerged in the thought.
“Are you saying that whatever we’re destined to receive, will come to us on its own? And even God cannot do anything to change it?”
“That’s correct, Gopalam,” Sastry replied proudly and with a smile.
“That means God cannot save a man. So, tell me what is it that God can do?” Gopalam, smiling, asked him.
Sastry was baffled. He took out the gold-plated snuff box from his waistband and sniggrf a pinch. “Where’re you going?” he changed the subject.
“From zero to infinity,” Gopalam replied, watching Sastry keenly.
Sastry missed the sarcasm in Gopalam’s words. He burst into a laugh. “You speak strange, Gopalam. Where did you get this vocabulary?” he said and finished the rest of the snuff in his palm. He wiped his nose and hand on his shawl.
“And you? From where to where?”
“Me? I’m coming from the collector’s house. He got a son, the savior of his lineage, after four daughters. I drew up his birth chart. He is an extraordinarily fortunate boy. That is the chart, that’s the way one’s a chart should be. He’ll live ninety years; enjoy a royal life. Let’s go, we can talk on the way.”
Gopalam followed him without questioning whereto. Today, Gopalam did not want to let go of Sastry that easy. He set out without thinking where he would go to; just wanted to kill time. Thoughts about future were eating him up inside, like a bug.
“So, Sastry garu, you say collector’s son is a blessed boy. What if your chart were …” Before he finished the sentence, Sastry cut him and said,
“Oh, no, How could you say that! Are you questioning the chart I’d drawn?” Sastry’s voice was sharp.
“Maybe you’ve forgotten but you said the same thing about me to my father. You’d drawn an extraordinary chart for me, too. You’d written that I would attain a high status,” Gopalam said, staring into Sastry’s face.
“Yes, I said. Are you suffering hardships now? How much you’ve seen in your life that you should question my chart? Just watch. You will soon enough the Lady Luck comes to embrace you,” Sastry chided Gopalam.
“Lady Ill-Luck embraced me long since,” Gopalam mumbled, as if he was talking to himself.
Both of them kept walking silently. Gopalam asked, breaking the silence, “So, you’re sure that the collector’s son will live ninety years as you predicted.”
“Yes,” Sastry replied in calm and steady voice.
“What if the boy dies in a day or two?”
“No way that can happen. No matter how many dangers he encounters, he will live to be ninety,” Sastry said firmly.
“Then, Guruji, can you tell me what do people mean when they say akaala mrutyu?[1]
Sastry felt cornered. He pretended to be looking at something far away and not listening to Gopalam as kept walking.
“When time comes, nobody can evade death, that’s what you’re saying, right?” Gopalam was persistent.
“Yes. It has been prescribed in our texts, na kale mriyate kaschit praapte kale na jivati[2].
“That means if I am down with fever and am destined to die, even a million attempts to remedy me are sure to fail.”
“That’s true, my boy. What is in our hands? We are simply human. How can our attempts stack up against the decision of that inexplicable Lord?”
“But you took your sick son to Dr. Nair a few years back, why? I heard that you were down on your knees and begged him to save your son. You claim to know everything, yet groveled in front of another human, begged him to save your son’s life, why?”
Sastry was stuck like a rat in a cage.
udyoginam purushasimham upaiti Lakshmi. Boy, we must do the best we can.”
Gopalam broke into a big laugh. Sastry stopped walking.
“Keep walking. We can talk while walking,” Gopalam said, smiling.
Sastry thought, “There is nothing more stupid than debating these young fools. Modern day youth! Oh Lord Rama! The world is going to the dogs, no fear of god at all! What kind of education they are getting? Atheists are growing in number by the minute.”
“What’s it, Guruji? You are lost in a reverie. Look, the baby goat in the arms of that little girl, a charmer, isn’t it?”
“Yes, yes,” Sastry said, unable to figure out Gopalam’s approach.
“Let’s say that she is destined to die in six months per her horoscope. You’re saying nobody could kill her in the meantime.”
“As the proverb goes, even an ant will not sting without an order from Lord Siva.”
“All right. I’ll kill her right now while you’re watching. What can you say for that?” Gopalam looked into Sastry’s face. He thought this would dries up Sastry’s mouth.
Sastry’s face was lit up with a mix of smile and solemnity. “If she is destined to die today, Lord Siva would cause you to think of it,” he replied, and took a pinch of snuff and rubbed his nose with his palm. The sight made Gopalam feel sick in his stomach.
“You mean our brain makes us to act per our destiny.”
“Correct,” Sastry said zealously.
“That means our brain does not act independently; and man is not responsible for his actions. That means man does not have to account for his good and evil deeds. All the dharma sastras and legal canons, which stipulate rules, are meaningless, I suppose.”
Sastry continued to walk, looking around. He hastened his steps. Gopalam also hastened his pace. He said, “Sastry garu, I have a small doubt.”
“What?” Sastry growled.
“Man’s brain does not act independently but follows the lord’s command. If that is so, why does not God make all people do only good deeds?”
Sastry was upset. He was baffled for want of a good response. He asked, “Gopalam, Have you ever made the mistake of going to the temple?” He was disgusted.
Gopalam laughed a big laugh. “Why are you upset? You’ve not given me an answer to my question. Let it be. I’ll give you my answer to your question. I used to visit the Anjaneya temple along with my mother in my childhood days. Do you know why? For the prasadam.[3] I’d never been to any temple as an adult. My heart is still pure. There is no need for me to go to the temple and wash off my sins,” Gopalam spoke fervently.
“So, in your mind, all those people who go to the temple have committed sins?”
Gopalam was shocked by the ire in Sastry’s tone, stopped for a few seconds, and then, continued walking. He said, “I didn’t say that. But I do think that most of them are that kind. Some people go to have their wishes fulfilled, and a few others to have their hardships cleared. You tell me how many go there simply with a sense of devotion and only devotion?”
“How do you I know? You tell me that too,” Sastry said, stressing each word as he spoke.
Gopalam felt like laughing but did not; he pursed his lips tight. He was afraid of Sastry getting further annoyed. “Today, I’ve learned a very important lesson from you. I’ll remain grateful to you for the rest of my life,” he said, sounding casual. But Sastry noted a streak of sarcasm in it.
“What is that?” Sastry asked.
“The man who has sinned need not be afraid, nor he be afraid of god.”
Sastry stopped suddenly. He was surprised; he looked into Gopalam’s face for a second, and said, “Oh, Lord Rama, did I say that?”
“You’ve said it just a few minutes ago. You’ve said the brain is not independent and that it acts as preordained. Whether the lord made the man perform good or bad deeds, man need not be afraid of it.”
“I don’t know how to respond to atheists like you. We’ve believed our guru’s words. We never raised gawky questions like you are doing now,” he said, unable to come up with a better answer.
“Oh, no. We’ve come too far, while chatting. Come on, let’s go to the public gardens. We will sit there for a few minutes,” Gopalam said. He was feeling down; this would be good pastime, he thought.
“What for? So you could kill me with your questions?”
Gopalam giggled to himself.
Suddenly, they came across a dead body on a stretcher. The carriers were chanting ‘Hare Rama, Hare Rama’. Some of them looked sad. The dead man’s son was walking ahead with a pot on his head.
“Don’t walk in front of it, come here,” Sastry grabbed Gopalam’s shoulder and pulled him to a side. Then, he stood to a side, closed his eyes and prayed to the lord, “Oh Lord, may his soul be blessed with peace.”
Gopalam stood there watching Sastry. Several questions about life and death rose in his mind, “What is that life has and death does not have? How does the life’s inner stream, that has been alive up until then, dry up so suddenly? How does that consciousness freeze abruptly? The issues and hardships, which pervade life, do not exist in death. But, why is man afraid of death? Is it because he is afraid to imagine this world without himself in it?”
Sastry commented ardently, “Today is mukkoti ekadasi.[4] He must have done many good deeds to die on this day!”
“Sastry garu, you’re so happy as if you that attained status yourself,” Gopalam blurted and regretted it in the next second.
Sastry eyeballed Gopalam. Gopalam turned away, as if he did not notice Sastry’s displeasure. “So, Guruji, you believe those who died today would go to the heaven straight.”
The question threw Sastry into a spell of ecstasy again. “Yes, Gopalam, today all the doors to the heaven are open. One can go straight to the feet of Lord Vishnu.” Sastry closed his eyes partly and was overwhelmed by the heavenly beatitude.
“Then, Guruji, do you believe there is something called Atman?”
“What kind of question is that? There is of course Atman in this temporal body. Atman has no death; it is immortal. This body is like a shirt on our bodies. When the shirt is dirty, we’ll remove it and wear a new one. The Atman discards the decayed body the same way.”
“But sometimes it also discards a child’s or youthful body, how come?”
Sastry was furious; he knotted his eyebrows. “That’s because of their actions in their previous lives. Each one lives in this world only to settle the account, based on their good deeds or evil deeds in the previous lives, and then they goes back,” he said.
“Some people die as soon as they are born; they enjoy nothing. And then there are others who are born dead.”
Sastry’s was getting angrier by the minute. He kept walking without a word.
“You’re angry with me, I think.”
“What for?” Sastry said.
“May I ask one question?”
“Will you leave it there if I say no? Ask.”
“What does Atman mean? Will it be affected by the little annoyances the body suffers? Will the Atman also suffer along with the body?” Gopalam asked him, with a show of humility.
Sastry’s face reddened with irritation. “Way to go,” he told himself, his face was solemn.
“There is something beyond body, senses, heart and mind, and a manifestation of Truth, Beauty and Beatitude. That is Atman. Atman is a self-created bliss. It has no pain. Atman is simply another manifestation of the Lord. It will not be touched by the affliction the body suffers from.” Sastry went on a sermon.
“Is the Atman in you the same as the one resident in me?”
“Exactly. In you, me, and the Atman resident in all the animate things is the same one. It is a fragment of the Lord. Since it is covered by illusion, the Atman forgets its original form, and craves for corporal pleasures.”
Gopalam looked at Sastry while he was lecturing like a great philosopher. He smiled.
“What are you smiling about?” Sastry asked, annoyed.
“I am smiling at your arguments, which seem to cross each other out,” Gopalam replied with a smile.
Sastry felt like he was thrown on to a bed of burning coals.
“Come here, let’s sit on the bench,” Gopalam headed toward the park bench near the gate, without looking for Sastry’s response. Sastry followed him mechanically. His mind was hovering around Gopalam’s question. This nut had always been like this even from his childhood. There had been one incident when Gopalam was eight-years old.
Sastry was telling Gopalam’s father about somebody’s death. Gopalam sat on the floor and was cutting pictures from his picture book. He stood up and came near his father and asked him, “How do people die?”
“They just die, that’s all,” his father replied, not knowing how else to answer.
“What does it mean to die?” Gopalam asked again.
“Go to bed, you and your stupid questions,” his father yelled at him. Gopalam did not move.
“Dying means the life leaving the body,” Sastry replied.
“What do you mean by life leaving the body?”
“Life leaving the body means the person cannot talk or walk; he becomes stiff like the bat you play with. Then he is burned to ashes,” Sastry replied.
The little boy’s face was filled with fear and curiosity, one after another. “How does the life leave the body?”
“It flies away.”
“Does the life have wings like a bird?” Gopalam asked him, with surprise, and glaring at him.
“No. … Yes. …” Sastry was perplexed and did not know how to answer.
“Where does life come from?”
“From god,” Gopalam’s father replied.
“Where will it go again?”
“To the same god.”
“Will the god take it back himself?”
“Yes,” Sastry replied.
“Do the lives of people in Japan and America also go to the same god?”
“Yes,” Sastry said.
“Is the same God causing wars?”
“Does that mean god is not a good person?”
Sastry and Gopalam’s father stared at each other. A little puppy appeared in the front yard. Gopalam ran quickly to the puppy, forgetting everything else. That had happened long time ago.
Gopalam brought him back to the present with his question, “Guruji, what’s it? You seemed to have been lost in deep thought. You didn’t answer my question.”
Sastry returned to the present and thought, “I couldn’t answer your question on that day; and certainly not today.” He turned to Gopalam somberly and replied, “You say that my arguments are contradicting each other, right?”
“Yes, sir. On one hand, you’re saying Atman is a manifestation of beatitude and is independent; it will not be touched by ordinary problems and evil. At the same time, you’re also saying the Atman is shrouded by illusion, and thus, craving for carnal pleasures. How can the Atman, independent and a fragment of the Lord, be shrouded by illusion? Earlier, when we saw the dead body, you’d prayed for the peace of Atman. What is the point of praying for the peace of the Atman, if Atman is already a manifestation of Truth, Beauty and Bliss? You’ve also said the Atman would go straight to the heaven since he had died on the mukkoti ekadasi day. The Atman had already been a part of the Lord, where else would it go if not to Him? Better yet, life and death are only physical attributes of the body; that being the case …” Gopalam stopped abruptly, looking into Sastry’s face.
Drops of sweat were glistening on Sastry’s face, like pearls. His face turned crimson. He took the remaining snuff and snorted. Gopalam felt sorry for him. “He is senior, why bother him? He has his beliefs, why not leave him alone?” he thought. But the problem was such people would try to rub their beliefs on others and that’s what bothered him.
“Please, come to my house. Father is thinking about you,” Gopalam said, changing the subject.
“I’ll,” Sastry said, feeling relieved.
“Shall we go to the exhibition grounds? Today, a sixteen-year-old boy, doused in kerosene, will set himself on fire and jump into a three-hundred-yard deep well,” Sastry said, in an attempt to preempt Gopalam from reverting to the earlier topic.
Gopalam was surprised. He looked into Sastry’s face, “You have such interests too?”
“Just for fun,” Sastry laughed aloud. Gopalam could not understand his humor.
“That’s true. For many people, watching others in danger is a pleasure,” he said.
Sastry could not understand Gopalam’s comment; he frowned.
Gopalam continued, “Guruji, why do people get excited about watching things like boxing, circus, and or somebody standing amid lions and tigers, and poking at them? Why people want to watch them?”
“What do you mean why? That’s fun and pastime. Why do you consider it as watching people in danger?” Sastry was getting vexed with him.
“Don’t be annoyed with me. I am just asking. Why don’t the same people show the same enthusiasm, if it was playing with dogs or cats? But they buy tickets and go to watch someone jumping from a ten-foot-high structure? Why would anybody go there? What is special about it?”
“Don’t ask me what is special about it; say where is the danger in it?”
“Are you saying there is cruelty in wanting to watch these sports?”
“In a way yes. This is the proof to say that the humans evolved from beasts. Actually, you can see the animal qualities in human beings. In some, they are dormant. Man needs to satisfy his animal instincts.”
“I don’t know, Gopalam. I don’t understand your logic. Just tell me, are you going to the exhibition grounds or not?” Sastry asked.
Gopalam, by nature, was not interested in watching such shows. In his childhood, he could not watch the dommari girls tumbling on the top of long poles; he shut his eyes then. His friends called him a coward. But today, Gopalam was feeling down. Spending time with Sastry was a welcome pastime for him. “I’ll go with you, let’s go,” he said.
It was dark by the time Sastry and Gopalam reached the exhibition grounds. The entire area was splendid with dazzling lights. People were pouring in. Gopalam was surprised to find that the number of women and children to be higher than he had expected. He wondered why children should be brought to this kind of shows.
They both bought tickets and went in. People had filled the seats closest to the well. Gopalam did not like people gathering so early there either. In fact, he did not even like watching that spectacle. He wanted to see the young performer. Sastry’s eyes were looking for someone. They both kept walking and chatting. They saw a small crowd at a distance and walked toward the crowd. There were about ten to fifteen people gathered there, and a young boy in khaki knickers. He was zealously answering their questions. Sastry and Gopalam understood who the boy was. They both elbowed into the crowd.
Suddenly, a man with bushy moustache walked into the crowd and suggested to disperse. He saw Sastry, folded both hands respectfully and greeted him. Sastry’s face opened up like a fresh blossom.
“Sir, come on, come here. I sent for you earlier this morning,” he said. His name was Yadagiri. He was very happy Sastry had come to his show.
“Yes, I’ve got your message. I could not meet you in the morning. That’s why I came now,” Said Sastry.
“You should not have bought the ticket. Had I known I’d have come to fetch you personally.”
“No problem. This young man bought the tickets. He is a good friend of mine,” said Sastry. Yadagiri greeted Gopalam with folded hands. Gopalam also joined his hands in namasthe. Yadagiri escorted them and the boy away from the crowd. Gopalam was trying to figure out the connection between Sastry and Yadagiri.
All the four disappeared into the tent that was ten-feet away from the well.
“The reason I’ve sent for you is, I would like to perform the Satyanararayana puja at our new house the day after tomorrow,” Yadagiri said.
Yadagiri has been conducting the merry-go-rounds, lucky-dips, and other stunts, at village fairs and other places. He had entertained people in several ways and earned one hundred thousand rupees. He had a new house built. He invited Sastry for all the pujas and rituals. He was not afraid of hell but believed in god.
“Sure, I’ll perform the puja for you,” Sastry replied. He thought of the gifts he would get on the occasion. His eyes, however, were fixed on the boy.
The boy looked at Sastry with curiosity and joined both hands in reverence. The boy was fair-complexioned and chubby. His features were well-defined and attractive. In his eyes under the bushy eyebrows were splarkling with several hopes and ideas. A dark line over strong upper lip seemed to highlight his youth, and also was prepared to take over his body. The signs of childhood seemed to leave the charming face rather reluctantly.
Yadagiri left them in the tent and went away. He told them he would be back soon.
Gopalam’s heart shook at the thought that crossed his mind, “What if this boy died in the flames?”’
Sastry asked the boy with curiosity, “What’s your name?”
“Nagesh.” His voice sounded like a puff of wind came out of a broken bamboo stem. Gopalam was amused by the voice; the voice at that age would sound strange.
“How long have been performing this feat?” Gopalam asked Nagesh.
“This is the first time,” he replied.
“First time? Aren’t you afraid?” Gopalam asked again, pitying him and gazing keenly into his eyes. What a charming face; looked like he was educated.
“Afraid? Why?” Nagesh answered with a question and a smile. Gopalam thought if he had asked the emperor, Sikinder, who was on a mission to conquer the world, he probably would have answered the same way.
“Who taught you this act?” Sastry asked him.
“Nobody. This is our family vocation,” Nagesh replied.
“Are you saying your father also performed the same feat?” Gopalam asked him, anxiously.
“Yes. Not only my father but also his father and his grandfather were in the same business,” Nagesh answered with renewed enthusiasm.
“Is your father around?”
“No, sir. My father died while performing the act in Pune last year.”
Gopalam cringed and looked deep into Nagesh’s eyes. He could see nothing in the boy’s eyes; they filled with tears at the thought of his father.
“How did your grandfather die?” There was pain in Gopalam’s tone.
“My grandfather was also performing the same feat for a long time, and eventually died while performing.”
“And then, what about his father?” Gopalam’s concern was escalating. Sastry was tired of this line of questioning.
“He died of natural causes. He fell sick and died, I was told,” Nagesh replied with a smile.
Gopalam sighed. “You are aware of all this, and yet, are willing to perform?” Although it was intended for Nagesh, it sounded more like he was asking himself. He tried to look far into the future of Nagesh.
Nagesh broke into a hearty laugh. Gopalam looked at him, with a stupid expression.
“Sir, let’s say your father and grandfather had died at work in an office. Would you be scared to work in the same office?”
Gopalam did not know how to respond to that question. Surprised, he kept staring at the boy for a second.
“How can the two instances be the same? Anyway, why didn’t you learn the feat from your father?” This time, it was Sastry’s turn to raise the question.
“My father did not like my going into this profession. He did not even allow me to watch his performance. A couple of times, I sneaked in and watched him. Later he came to know about it and beat me up.”
“What did your father want you to be?” Gopalam asked him, curiously.
“He wanted me to go to school, study well, and take a good job.”
“What did you study?”
“I finished high school two days back.”
Both Sastry and Gopalam were shocked to hear his response.
“You’ve finished high school, and still want to pursue this profession. Why? Why don’t you find a job, as your father wanted?” Gopalam said.
Nagesh laughed a funny laugh, like a veteran thinker. He said, “Babu, you don’t seem to understand the situation. Nowadays even people with M.A. and B.A. degrees are scrambling for jobs. Who would give me a job, especially without a recommendation. Haven’t you heard of a recent incident? An engineer went for a lower division clerk position and the officer turned him down. Probably, the officer had a B.A. degree and got the job, based on recommendation from a politician. Possibly he was afraid to take a better qualified person under his supervision.” Blood shot to his cheeks as Nagesh spoke ardently.
Gopalam was surprised by the boy’s knowledge.
“So, after all that education, are you going to settle down in the same profession?” Sastry asked him.
Nagesh looked somber beyond his age. He was thinking quietly. And then his eyes flashed; the glow overtook the somberness in his face.
“No. I will study further, pass the I.A.S. exam and will become a collector,” he said, looking far into the horizon. The words sounded like he was making the decision for himself.
“You sure can become a great man, boy! Your face is radiating with signs of royalty. Look at that forehead, Gopalam. What a superior forehead that is!” Sastry said zealously.
“Sastry garu, read his palm,” Gopalam suggested.
Nagesh, out of curiosity, looked at Sastry, and then toward the almanac under his arm, and stretched his hand toward Sastry.
Sastry took Nagesh’s hand in his own, studied it, and said, “Vow, extraordinarily fortunate boy you are! You’re sure to become a collector. When you do, you must reward me with a pair of dhotis.”
Nagesh blushed. He opened his wallet, gave a five-rupee bill to Sastry, and touched his feet seeking his blessings. Sastry hesitated to take the bill for a second. He said no but took it anyway and stuffed it at the waist, next to his snuff box. Gopalam felt bad for a second. He looked at Sastry resentfully. Sastry was not embarrassed; he did not notice Gopalam’s resentment.
Suddenly, Gopalam got a brilliant idea. “Sastry garu, tell me how long he will live?”
Sastry examined the boy’s palm carefully and said, “No doubt, he will live eighty years, at least.”
“Pay look closely,” Gopalam asked him nervously.
“I did. See this line? Straight as an arrow. There is not even a single crossline. Anyway, Gopalam, you don’t believe in such things. Why now?”
“I feel like believing now,” Gopalam replied. On any other occasion, Gopalam would not have believed it. Now, haunted by several feelings, he wanted to believe, just for a change. He turned to Nagesh and asked him, “You said you wanted to pursue further studies. Can you afford it?”
“I am free for two months. I will perform during these two months and make money. Today’s earnings already reached five-hundred-rupee mark. I will get hundred rupees atleast as my share.”
“Who gets the rest of it?”
“Some of it goes to cover the expenses. Contractor Yadagiri garu and I split the net proceeds. He takes care of the arrangements.”
“After that?” Sastry asked.
“I’ll earn three thousand rupees atleast during these two months. The income is big since I am young. I have an older sister, and my mother is worried about her marriage. I will arrange her marriage. I will earn the money needed for my education by performing whenever I get a break from school,” Nagesh was talking with great fervor. Imagine several Niagara water falls that could make up for the outburst in Nagesh!
“But you did not learn this technique from your father. How could you perform? What if …” Gopalam’s voice registered a note of discord.
“I will not face any danger. Look here, a locket with Anjaneya swamy picture. My father used to wear it when he performed and so also my grandfather. You see, now I am wearing it. Nothing is going to happen to me,” so saying, Nagesh unbuttoned his shirt and showed them a palm-sized copper locket hung around his neck by a black thread. It contained a distinct picture of Anjaneya holding up the sanjiva mountain in his palm. Nagesh brought the locket up to his eyes humbly, let it down on his chest, and buttoned up his shirt again.
Sastry looked into Gopalam’s face pompously.
“What about the day your father had died? Did he not wear it?” Gopalam asked him. The question enraged Sastry very much.
“No, he didn’t. He had forgotten it. That morning my mother had polished it with tamarind mush and worshipped it. My father forgot about it and went away. My mother talks about it and weeps every day.”
“Even if that is the case, I am sure that locket alone is not enough to save you. I am sure there are some guidelines specific to the feat, and the clothes also might be of a specific kind. Why don’t you ask your mother about them?” Gopalam suggested; his heart was sinking.
“My mother does not know about this. I told her that I was going to visit a friend in Hyderabad. Had she known, she would never let me go, not on her life,” Nagesh replied, peeking through the tent.
Gopalam became nervous. He said, “It’s not a good idea for you to perform without proper training and knowledge of the art. Postpone it for today. We’ll figure it out later.”
“How is that possible, Babu?” Nagesh said wistfully.
“Why not? Just return their money to the audience. We can ask the contractor to explain them that you fell ill,” Gopalam suggested.
Sastry cut in quickly, “Do you think this crowd would let go of Yadagiri alive, after all this humdrum? Anjaneya swamy is blazing forth splendidly on his chest; Why fear? Atheists like you do not understand the powers of the swamy. Besides, look at the lines in his hand, so perfect! He will live for eighty years, no question. He has a great future.”
Beams of light filled Nagesh’s eyes. Life flowed in each particle of this body wholly. Gopalam watched the boy without batting an eyelid. Commotion started in the crowd by the well at a distance. Nagesh cringed and looked in that direction.
Contractor Yadagiri’s voice resounded through the mike. “Quick, come on quick! In about five minutes, there is going to be a world-shaking performance right here. The entry fee is just one quarter of a rupee! Twenty-five naya paise! Quick, Come on, time is running out!”
Nagesh stood up.
Sastry got goose bumps.
Gopalam shivered.
“A performance nobody has ever heard of in the entire world! Come and watch a raw, sixteen-year old boy turn into a ball of fire and jump from a height of three hundred feet into the well of death. Just for a quarter! Well of death for the price of a cup of coffee! The cost of two balloons! Twenty-five naya paise. Hurry, the show will begin in a few minutes! Well of death!” Yadagiri’s voice shouted at a high pitch.
“Well of death.” The voice was ringing in Gopalam’s ears. His head was aching. He stood up, approached Nagesh, and grabbed his hand.
Sastry’s heart wobbled.
Nagesh spoke, “Babu garu, don’t be scared. Time for me to go. I’ll be back in a half hour and meet with you. Don’t go away without seeing me again,” he said, bowed to both Sastry and Gopalam, and rushed out.
Gopalam followed Nagesh and stood there. He kept staring keenly at Nagesh. He was standing at the foot of the ladder by the well, a little away from them. Sastry tapped on Gopalam’s shoulder and said, “let’s go. Let’s watch the show.”
“I’ll wait here. You go,” Gopalam said; his voice sounded like it came from the bottom of a well.
Sastry stared into his face with surprise and went away, cutting through the crowd.
Two minutes went by. Nagesh started climbing the steel steps. Thousands of eyes were following the boy up the ladder, step by step. They all were watching him holding, their breath.
Gopalam looked up, straining his neck. Nagesh looked like a moon amidst stars at the top of the steel frame under the expansive sky and clusters of black and white clouds. The sixteen-year-old Nagesh looked small, more like a five-year old.
The crowd around the well was so thick, specks of sand would not seep through. They were anxiously looking up. A pregnant woman in her second trimester and with an eighteen-month old baby in her arms, was staring at the boy nervously.
Nagesh pulled out a bottle from his pocket. People shouted, “petrol, petrol.” Nagesh doused himself with the liquid and threw down the bottle into the well. He pulled out a matchbox from the other pocket and showed around to the audience. Everybody understood what he was showing, although the matchbox was not visible.
Sastry was sweating slightly; the almanac under his arm and the five-rupee bill at his waist were dampening. He wanted badly to have a pinch of snuff, but what if the show opened at that precise moment? He could not sniff!
“Grappling with death! Well of death!” Yadagiri’s voice stopped instantly. A big bell rang at once.
One! Two! Three!
The fire broke lose like the hunger of a poor man. Along with the blazing flames, a desperate cry came out exploding even more ghastly. The sizzling form came down twirling and fell not into the well but on the heads of the crowd!
The gathering scattered in all directions in panic. Some of them caught fire. They ran away, stomping on each other, unmindful of the others, young and old, men and women, alike; it was a huge rampage. The only dharma in that rampage appeared to be saving oneself even if it meant walking on the people on the ground.
Gopalam’s heart broke; balls of fire flared up in his mind. In the next moment, darkness enveloped him. Indistinct shapes hovered around. He was not aware of his surroundings until Sastry came and pulled him by the shoulder. Gopalam came to his senses, stood up, shook off the dust, and walked out, holding on to Sastry.
The exhibition ground, which was bubbling with enthusiasm, excitement, and crackling up until a few minutes back, turned into a terrible sight, and was crammed with desperate wailings. Sastry and Gopalam saw it and left the scene mechanically.
Gopalam was walking on a paved street; was dragging along as if he was walking on sand. By his side, Sastry’s feet were hitting the ground furiously. Silence stood between the two like the Himalayas. Gopalam’s brain was in a very cold place suitable for solidifying. Sastry’s brain was like a snowball, ready to melt.
Gopalam heard something, stopped, and without thinking. Sastry also stopped, watching him.
They both heard the bells coming from the Anjaneya swamy temple. Since it was Saturday, the temple was packed with devotees. The chanting of Anjaneya swamy prayer was clearly audible from sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
Gopalam could not see anything; it was all dark. Darkness inside and outside. He folded his hands and entered the temple premises, as if drawn in by a supreme power.
Sastry watched him with astonishment. He was about to take a step in that direction but stopped, like a machine after a power failure. He felt something soft under his foot; he heard a feeble screech. That could be a baby crying for milk or a fetus from the full-term mother he had seen earier!
Sastry shook his head vigorously, opened the almanac, and studied it for a few minutes. His eyes were burning like lamps. He tossed it on the dog that was rolling in the garbage by the temple walls. He pulled out the five rupee bill from his dhoti folds and gave it to the blind beggar at the temple entrance. He sniffed two pinches of snuff. He shook his head as if he had a revelation and left hastily in big strides and past Anjaneya swamy temple.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, January 2006.
(The Telugu original, tamaso maa jyotirgamaya, was published in Jayasri, 1967)

[1] Untimely death.
[2] Nobody dies when it is not time, and nobody lives after reaching the time to die.
[3] The food offered to god and distributed to devotees.
[4] A special holiday. Hindus believe that death on that specific day helps the soul to go to the heaven.

Lakshmi Puja Day by Bhandaru Acchamamba

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

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



Lakshmi Puja Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venkataratnam said he had no headache.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles:
Bhandaru Acchamamba. The Outstanding Life and Work of Bhandaru Acchamamba.

Bhandaru Acchamamba’s Stories. A Review

Bhandaru Acchamamba. First Telugu Story Writer

(Revised. June 6, 2022.)


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

Evolving Values by J.P. Sarma

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

Grandmother’s Letter:

Dear Chiranjeevi Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi(1) Kamakshi,

This is your grandmother Narasamma writing to you…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Care, dear!
Your Loving Grandma,

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

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

(June 1, 2022)

Festival of the Ancestors by Endapalli Bharathi

Translated by V.B. Sowmya


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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


(March 10, 2022)

Mother Figure (Short story)

Sarada is waiting for the elevator.

The man next to her pressed the button for a third time, staring at the number on the wall, 3. Looks like somebody stopped it on the third floor. A young man in plaid shirt comes running and presses the button, that is already bright. Sarada has been watching him for a week now. His office is only two flights up. He can take the stairs as easily but he wouldn’t. He just stands there as long as he has to, fidgety and annoyed.

He presses the button again.

Sarada is amused.

“All this technology is supposed to save time,” he says.

“That is the message, I guess, like in the story of the hare and the tortoise,” Sarada says with a twinkle in her eye.

There, Julie appears at the other end of the corridor, walking hastily towards them, and waves, as if asking to stop the elevator.

Sarada looks up at the row of numbers, number 3 still.

“Perhaps I should take the stairs,” the young man in plaid shirt says, addressing no one in particular.

Julie is getting closer.

The thought of taking stairs flashes across Sarada’s mind for a split second. She looks up; number 3 dimmed, finally. She grits her teeth, feels cheated. It’s not fair. Two, one. Elevator has arrived, doors wide open.

Julie has not caught up, not close enough yet. She yells, “Hey, wait, stop.”

Sarada quickly says, “hi” and walks into the elevator.

The young man in the plaid shirt pushes close button.

Julie, gasping for breath, sticks her foot between the doors and slides into the elevator. “Ha, I made it,” she says, with a satisfactory smile.

“Yes,” Sarada nods vaguely.

“How’re you?”

“Okay. How’re you?”

”Fine, just fine.”

“Anything new?” Sarada asks sounding casual, as if it was expected of her.

“Yes,” Julie responds with a glee.

THAT is a surprise. She has never finished a sentence with a single, dry ‘yes’.

Ninth floor. Both of them step out on to the corridor and walk to our desks, without another word. They hardly settle down in their seats, Julie’s cell rings.

Sarada has been watching her for six months now. Almost everyday, the phone rings a dozen times. Always, it is about an hour-long chat. If not phone, somebody comes to her desk and chats with her for 30 to 40 minutes. Amidst all of this, Julie finds time to shoot a volley of questions at her.

“Indira Gandhi is acting like a dictator. What do you think of that?”

“I heard of the huge population in your country. What do you people manage?”

“Isn’t poverty in India appalling?”

Finally, one fine day, Sarada gives it to her. “Look, first of all, I don’t have the stomach for politics. Secondly, I do have enough things to keep myself busy and not worry about fixing the world. So, don’t ask me these questions.”

Julie is silent for few seconds, and then pulls out a cigarette, “Mind?”

Yes, I do mind, she told herself but gives her ‘go ahead’ nod, reluctantly. Julie knows that too.

“Seen the news today? A woman stabbed her hubby with a kitchen knife. It says he beat her up constantly as if it is his birthright. Do men in India beat their wives? And the women take it without protest?”

These questions, doubts, preconceived notions about her motherland drives her crazy.

Heinous position of women in my society …

Appalling poverty …

Bride-burning …

Arranged marriages …

Numerous Babas and umpteen gods …

Endless questions, on and on.

“Have we gotten the mail yet?” the usual question to change the subject.

“Not yet. Me too, waiting for the mail, I mean,” the same response, as always.

“Let me check. Excuse me,” Sarada gets up from her seat, just finding an excuse to leave the desk. She knows the mailman brings mail to her desk in a few minutes.

“Why? Something special?” Julie asks.

Before she could come up with an answer, Julie’s cell started ringtones. That ties her up for another 3o to 40 minutes. What a relief! Sarada dismisses the idea of going for the mail and opens the files on her desk.

It is hard to focus on work, she frowns. However much she has tried, she could not focus on work because she is so annoyed by Julie’s demeanor. Your country, your government, Indira Gandhi, women’s plight, homeless children, hungry population … Ugh, rubbish.

Why does she have to worry about these matters?

Doesn’t she have any thing else in her life to worry about?

Is she or is she not happy? No peace of mind, not even for a day? Why not find some gratifying avocation? Why can’t she get busy with her work? Why did she take this job in the first place?

Julie hangs up and looks out the window. “Isn’t it gorgeous?” she mumbles as if she is talking to herself.

“Yes,” Sarada says, knowing full-well her colleague isn’t really looking for a response. In the country where she comes from, it is more often than not, they feel scorched by the unbearable heat.

“It must be very hot there? I wonder how you people could take all that heat,” Julie says again.

Mail has arrived. Sarada thanks her stars and starts opening them—a couple of catalogs, a promo notification from an insurance company, explaining what could happen if she died without insurance, another explaining an easy plan to make millions without spending a dime, … She throws them into the wastepaper basket and turns to work on hand.

She couldn’t help looking at Julie. Julies is staring at the letter in her hand, looking tense.

Sarada goes to Peter’s office to discuss an important matter. When she returned to her seat, she finds Julie still in the same posture, staring at the same letter.

“Where did you go?” She asked her, weakly.

Sarada is in no mood to chat. She makes a faint gesture towards Peter’s office and buries herself in the files.

“In there for quite a while. What’s the problem?”

Sarada knows what she meant. A few others also have made similar insinuations. She also knows Peter does not have a special interest in her. It is not hard to guess why. She works like a donkey for one and a half person’s work and gets paid three quarters of wages. But Julie does not believe that. “You know Peter has left his wife,” she says with a wry smile.

Sarada hates that kind of insinuations.

“Look, I don’t care a damn about his personal life. As far as I am concerned, people in this office are no different from this pile of files,” she says, holding a bunch of files and waving them at her.

Julie’s face turns pales. Perhaps, it was too harsh, maybe. Maybe, she could’ve tried to be a little polite, for the sake of appearances, at least.

Julie pulls out a cigarette from the packet, looks at it as if she is having second thoughts.

Sarada turns to her files again. She had a long discussion with Peter, but it didn’t help. It is frustrating.

Julie noticed it. “What is it about?” she says, pointing to the files.

Sarada makes some uncanny noise and shakes her head, “Nothing.”

Julie looks at her cigarette and puts it back into the box.

Sarada is taken aback. She’s never seen Julie return a cigarette to the packet. It is like Lord Rama’s arrow; once set in the bow, it must be shot.

She asks gently, “What’s the matter?”

Julie keeps staring at the paper in front of her. Something must be seriously wrong; must be very painful.

Suddenly, Julie jumps to her feet, and walks to Sarada’s desk. “See this,” she hands a newspaper clipping to her.

It is an obituary notification, announcing a woman named Harriet A. Christensen in a city called Peoria has died of heart attack. Age 50. Funeral service to be held next Sunday.

Sarada is confused. Julie has told her previously that her mother’s name was Barbara. So, what is the connection? How does this fit into Julie’s life?
“A close relative?”

Julie does not respond right away. Takes a few minutes and then says slowly, hardly audible, “She was the woman who’d given birth to me.“

Sarada is stunned, feels like a huge boulder hit her in the head.

Time seems to be moving slowly, very slowly, at a snail’s pace.

Julie continues in a very low voice, “She was my mother. It took me 16 years to learn this truth. I was eleven when I first came to know that Sorensons are my adoptive parents. Ever since I’ve learned my status, I’ve been going crazy to find my birth mother. I can’t even count how many people I’ve contacted–doctors, nurses, resident doctors, student nurses, schools, newspapers, county clerks, and even people in the neighborhoods I thought she might be living … I’ve even visited a couple of morgues. Just for this purpose, I’ve joined three organizations in three states.”

She stops for a minute, and sighs. For some reason, it doesn’t feel like it is a sigh of relief. “Yesterday, finally, I received this letter notifying me that she is in Peoria. I spent all night thinking about her, about her looks, what she might be thinking, wondering if she was looking for me, thinking of visiting her …”

She smiles a faint smile and takes the newspaper clipping from Sarada’s hand. “Isn’t it funny that I saw her, or at least would like to think so, I’ve seen her when I was born. For the second time, I would see her when she’s gone. Ironic, isn’t it,” she weeps silently.

Sarada feels a knot in her stomach. Almost involuntarily, she gets up, puts her arm around her shoulder, and says, “Come on, let’s have some coffee.”

Julie looks up into her face. Tears in her eyes are glistening.

As they continue walking in the corridor, riding in the elevator, sitting down in the cafeteria, Julie keeps narrating her story, intermittently, her struggles with the one question: Why. Why did her mother had given her away, why didn’t she contact the daughter she had given away? And, she talks about the things she had said to other people in her desperation, the troubles she had to go through, the insults that had been poured on her, …

Sarada sits there listening to her, without saying one word. All of a sudden, she sees that Julie is like an open book. Everything about her–her words and her actions–become so clear! So natural!

Julie stops for a few minutes. Sarada is still in a state of shock, so to speak. She couldn’t find a word to say to her.

Then, as if in a reverie, she speaks, “I think marriages in your country are much less complicated. The adults will take care of everything. There won’t be any children, who knew nothing about their fathers.”

Sarada is cut to the quick. She has understood what she is saying. Julie asks her again, “Are you going to have an arranged marriage?”

That does it. Sarada jumps to her feet, “Oh, God, I almost forgot, there is a file I should have finished yesterday. I’ve to go. Talk to you later. Excuse me. Take care,” She rushes to her seat, leaving a couple of dollars on the table for coffee.

The earth seems to whirl around me.

Marriages in my country are less complicated.

The adults will take care of everything.

Everything much much better there.

Children, who knew nothing about their fathers.

Oh, God! Oh, God, help me,

she wails silently in her heart.


“I asked Peter for permission to go home. I won’t be in for a couple of days. Going to attend the funeral service.”

“I am sorry about your mother.”

“Thank you,” she says, heading towards the door.

Sarada nodded in acknowledgement.

Julie has left.


This is mind-boggling for Sarada. A turmoil in her head. Julie’s words are ringing in her head like church bells. She staring at the file in front of her. Everything is fuzzy. Looks at the watch; one more hour to go. Julie has just left. She can’t ask for permission to leave at the same time. No, Peter wouldn’t appreciate that.

Adults … arranged marriage … father unknown … I am going crazy.

She picks up the phone and dials uncle Chinnappa’s number.

“Hello,” aunt Kamakshi from the other side. Usually, she doesn’t pick up the phone.

“Hello, auntie,” Sarada says, a bit hesitant.


“Yes, auntie, it’s me Sarada! How’re you?”

“Good. You? How’re you?”

It took a minute to reply. “Yes, I am fine. Just … feeling bored. Thought I’d talk to you.”

“That’s fine. Glad you called.”

“Me too.”

“Good. What else? Haven’t heard from you for ages.”

“Nothing much, really, nothing in particular. Felt like talking to you today, catching up, you know. Can you come over … just for chat …” Sarada says, stumbling for words.

“Of course. Sure, I’ll be there. Tell me what is good time for you.”

“Today? Later in the evening, I can pick you up, after work. I’ll be done in about half hour. I’ll drive straight to your place, pick you up and we can go somewhere. Don’t worry, I’ll drive you back to your home again.” Sarada hangs up with a sigh of relief. Feels like she has won half the battle.

“Alright,” kamakshi says and hangs up. That is very much in step with her character. Each word sounds like she has carefully thought it out and weighed in each letter. She never asks, just listens.

“Will you call your uncle and tell him that I am going to your place?”

“Sure, I will.”


Sarada shows at uncle’s door at 5:15 sharp. Aunt Kamakshi is waiting at the door. She wore a light pink cotton sari and same color blouse. Sarada gets out of the car, walks around and opens the door on the passenger side. Kamakshi settles in her seat with a gentle smile. It is almost like she has understood the gravity of Sarada’s situation. It is a short ride along the lake. Cool breeze gently is blowing into their faces. Sarada slows down and says, “Let’s sit here. It is so pleasant ad comforting.”

They get out of the car and walk closer to water. Sand under their feet is tickling. Small waves are rolling leisurely at a calculated pace. A couple of ducks are gliding on the waves.

Sarada is struggling to find the right words.

Kamakshi is enjoying the beautiful scenery, as if there is not a care in the world. Perhaps, that is her way of giving the time Sarada might need.

A few minutes pass by.

“Have you heard from home?” Kamakshi asks.

Sarada is relieved. That’s what she likes about auntie. She knows what to say when

“Yes. I received a letter last week.”

Once again, silence prevails for a few minutes.

Sarada, looking into the horizon, speaks in a low voice, “I know my brother and sister-in-law are taking a very good care of my child. I am fully aware of it. No doubt. My baby is being raised with the best care any child could hope for. …” Sarada stops for a second, takes a deep breath and continues, “However, it is actually my responsibility, my duty. It is my job to raise my child. I have to do it. She should not be deprived of both the parents. I want to tell her that I care about her, I want her to be with me.”

Ha! Such a relief after speaking those few words; it is like a big burden lifted off her chest. She already feels elated as if she has the child in her arms, held tight to her bosom.

“That’s good. Good decision,” says Kamakshi.

Kamakshi looks at Sarada. Her face is so serene. Little smiles spread on their faces like the little ripples on the lake.

The very next thought that comes to Sarada is: Tomorrow I am going to tell Julie …


(March 8, 2022)

The Telugu original, “Amma tapana”, has been published in Andhra Jyothi Weekly, November 12, 1982.

Click here for the original Telugu story, అమ్మ తపన

(Translated by author in the mid-eighties.)

Past as Present by Mallipuram Jagadeesh

Translated by V.B. Sowmya

(Author’s note: Destruction takes the same path anywhere, anytime. Every political decision in any country in the world first affects its indigenous peoples. All the development or change that happened in the world involves sacrifice from many indigenous communities. This is what I want to convey through this story.

Translator’s note: “Chief Seattle’s speech” is a response by a Native American Chief Seattle (who gave his name to the port city Seattle, in United States) to the American Government’s land treaty that intended to buy their tribe’s lands to build the state of Washington. It was supposedly delivered in 1854, and multiple versions of the speech exist. In this story, the author uses it as a background and connects it with contemporary issues around the relation between man, land and development. Although I felt the narration switched between different topics and time periods too frequently, I found the mention of that speech in a Telugu story interesting, and I liked the way the author connected that with local issues. That motivated me to translate it into English.)

The Pas As Present

“Is the pamphlet ready, bro?” a friend asked on phone.
“It will be done by evening”, I replied.

Our village is surrounded by green hills and fields. Rows of cultivated fields border the hills. It looks like a flowing green waterfall. My childhood was filled with this greenery. We played various games such as – climb and catch, tamarind seed game, marble hole and stick games, etc in these green surroundings. Today, those trees that held me in their arms and those bushes that hugged me all my life are still visible. What about tomorrow? Kannedhara, Bodi, Erramanti1- every green hill is vanishing one after another. The areas that now house Saluru hills and Bauxite Mines were all erstwhile Adivasi abodes. We were driven away in the interest of mining, wealth, and development. The union of Adivasi associations decided to blockade ITDA2 to protest this. The pamphlet is about this event.

I checked the watch – it is time to go to school. The pamphlet that is waiting to be written, and lesson that is to be discussed in class today were playing in my mind. I started waiting for the bus, and confirmed that it did not arrive yet, as my usual co-passengers are still around.

This area was once a desolate place. It is now an important commercial center in this region. Tall buildings sprung up along the road. There are now shopping complexes featuring cashew nut traders, general provision shops, clothing and departmental stores, Bajaj bike and Maruthi car showrooms, and what not? Everything is a business in these modern shopping centers, all owned by non-Adivasi folks. How is it possible if these lands are supposed to be for Adivasi people? Is the 1 of 70 act3 not implemented here?

There is even a special deputy collector’s office to protect these lands. The office building is ready to collapse though. That post had been vacant for years. In the past, there used be only one or two non-Adivasi families who eyed our wealth. But look at how it is now! How could all these buildings come up? How did this happen? Where do all these cars come from?

The arrival of our bus stopped my chain of thought and reminded me of the school. I walked to get on the bus and go to school.

Students’ eyes brightened up the moment I stepped into the classroom. They are all Adivasi children. It is a welfare school for tribal kids. Everyone, including me, are Adivasis here.

We are discussing the lesson “What is man without beast?” in “Environment” class. It is a speech delivered by the Red Indian chief Seattle addressing American people. He gave this speech when he had to reluctantly agree to cede their lands to White Americans, so that they can build the state of Washington. It is a moving speech. Its green message still resonates among many hearts even now.

How would Seattle have agreed to give away his tribe’s lands, even reluctantly? How could the Americans who migrated from Europe have tempted the local Red Indians to do this? Or .. how did they threaten? What made him cede the lands to build the Washington state?

“Who are Red Indians, sir?”, a student asked.

Yes.. who are they? They are people who lost their lands. Who are the Red Indians? Should I say they are like our farmers who lost their lands to build the new state capital4? Should I say they are similar to the Adivasis who were displaced in Polavaram5? How can I answer this question?

“They are Adivasis like us. A group of ancient and primitive tribes. They are simple people who worship nature as their Goddess. They are an ancient society that believes in the sacredness of everything on earth. They believe that the memories of their ancestors flow as life inside the trees. They see flowers as their own siblings, and all human beings as their own. “ – I told them.

“How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?” – Seattle asked.

The classroom suddenly transformed into a forest. Seattle was sitting on a rock, addressing the Americans in front of him. Other Red Indians were listening to him intently, sitting on their horses and buffaloes. Some of them were also sitting on their desk benches. A closer look told me they are my students.

Who is talking, sitting on that stone? Is it me or Chief Seattle?

Is this the Red Indian soil or my classroom?

“I got a letter from the white man today” I can hear the depth in my own voice. It seemed as if people within a three square kilometer radius can hear me. “They want to buy our land to build their state6. Should we let them do that?” – I asked loudly.

“Why would I give you my land?”, a voice questioned. I looked in its direction to see my father. The MRO was standing in front of him, holding some papers.

“We are extending the nursery here, and need the land which bears this hut”, the officer said.

“I will not give”, my father replied.

“Sir, what are you talking about?”, one of the students brought me back to current reality.
Irrespective of country time period, history is full of such instances of making tribals homeless by taking away land. Is this only history? Isn’t it also our present?

Am I in the past or present?

“The white man says they are building a new colony for our rehabilitation and is requesting us to move there. It sounds more like an order, though. Shall we go?”- Seattle asked, sitting on a rock on the other side of the classroom.

“No sir. Don’t give our lands to build the capital city. This is our land. We shouldn’t lose our livelihood to build a grand, glittery capital” – children shouted.

Who is shouting? Is it the children or those farmers losing their lands?

Suddenly, there was a commotion in the classroom.
“We are preparing an attractive package for you. We will develop your lands with world class investments. We will give you a plot once this is done, so that you can set up your businesses there” – It was a ploy, like applying jaggery on a child’s hand7.

“Farming is not profitable these days. Business is a better idea. We are in. We are in. Your package sounds great.” – someone in the crowd got up and declared a willingness to give away his land. A few more followed him. The state representatives felicitated them, fed them well and bid them farewell. One could see them turn into skeletons as they moved further and further away.

“Hey, stop! Stop! Who will farm if everyone thinks like this? What will future generations eat? Even as the earth fills up with plastic, man can eat only rice. This is 50,000 acres -not a small amount of land. A whole generation is going to lose food. Thousands of families will soon be displaced. Think! Think and stop!” – a few others shouted. There were some people on this side too. To control this group, the state discharged two arrows from their quiver – land acquisition and land encroachment. Both mean the same – it is the government taking away land from people. Both these arrows came in the form of a khakhi uniform and engulfed this commotion. Confused public rapidly dispersed in all directions, screaming in fear.

Seattle closed his eyes. He could predict this happening in future. That is why he agreed to silently surrender their lands to the white man.

“Chief, what does this silence mean?” – someone asked.
It is just one question, but it played in the minds of hundreds. No..perhaps thousands or lakhs… or innumerable voices.

I opened my eyes again. I could see the children of the forest in front of me, wearing school uniforms and sitting at their desks. Each looked like a question.

It is true – they all lost their home and land. They are all perpetually displaced adivasis who lose their rights each time.

All our primitive tribal children surrounded Chief Seattle, with heads down.

Seattle began speaking again – “We have to leave our lands. There is no choice. Otherwise, our tribe will vanish from the face of the earth. We cannot fight with these modern, treacherous powers. This is a dark age. If we start a war now, we shall perish. I don’t like that outcome. Leaving our homeland is now inevitable. “Emigration is also a war strategy” – a poet said. Let us vacate our lands and move into the new lands they give us” – Seattle possessed me. I could hear my voice mystically, yet, clearly.

Tears in my voice resembled the voices of lakhs of displaced people.

“All these new constructions – they are just destructions that make people homeless. They need votes, and crore rupee notes. They need assembly seats. New constructions!” – my voice is heard through the classroom walls.

“Sir, is this poetry?” -someone asked me. Did the question came from the classroom, or from inside my heart?

“No, no. It is the voice of the people. I am just translating their tears” – I responded.

“We did not understand. Can you rephrase? Can you give an example?” – someone sat on my lap and asked, with their hand on my cheek.

I got ready to answer. There is so much excitement spread out right in front of me, sitting on these benches, holding their books.

“This is the age of displacement. This is a time when all people will be displaced. They are losing not only their lands, but also their lives. We are all becoming deportees without even realizing it. This is an era where we are forgetting our humanity. Mankind is just vanishing slowly. Yes. We are losing the connection from one generation to another.

“Okay, what are the reasons for this?” – a student who couldn’t understand my ideas and my poetry asked.

I pulled him closer to me, and started rephrasing what I said.

“Look at this. Another new construction” – I said, pointing to some old newspapers.

“Sir, this is Polavaram project. They say it is a garland adorning our new state” – a student shouted in excitement.

I was amused by this comment and laughed out loudly.

“Why are you laughing, sir?” – the student was confused.

I put my arms around his shoulder and started walking with him. The class continued behind me. “Poetry is not just about artistic expression. It is also about talking about reality without fear” – I explained.

“Sir, does that mean what I said is not the truth?”
“Yes. You can’t base your poem on information from news alone.”

“Why, Sir?”

“Newspapers don’t always give the true story”


“Poetry should reflect the reality. Truth is not only what the government says or what the news shows. This is why I laughed when you said Polavaram is like a garland.”

“How will I know the truth, Sir?”

“Polavaram is not just another irrigation project. It is also the curse of all those displaced Adivasis. We can’t know the facts unless we speak with them.”

“Yes, I agree. We have no right to talk about Polavaram without visiting the area and speaking to all those displaced people.” – a last bencher said.

“That is why we are here.” – I paused for a moment.

The students were behind me. Our classroom which is far away from their hometowns, with its metal roofing and cement walls, transformed into a village of displaced people. It is full of teary eyed people who lost their lands and have no work. The students were interviewing them.

Who is talking with them? Is it me? Or a displaced person from Polavaram? Or the Red Indian Chief Seattle? – we are just talking. That’s all.

“I am a displaced Adivasi who lost myself in losing my land. My land is my right.”

Students were listening intently.

“You have to tell your children that the land under their feet is full of our ancestors’ remains. A modern poet echoed the same thought – “Land is the life flower born out of our ancestors’ skin and bones”. Do you know the meaning of this? You send this letter and want to take away our lands. You think you defeated us and our land. But the land won’t feel that way. It will laugh at your madness. No one can defeat land. Land is the one that conquers us. Man belongs to his land, but land belongs to no man. I don’t know when you will realize this truth, because, in your mind, I am an Adivasi…a tribal from the forest … and a fool.”

“We demand our rights.”

“It is not our land that drowned. It is our identity. Our life. Our home.”

“We demand the rights on our scheduled tribal areas” – slogans, flags, and protests with rising hands seemed like a sequel to Seattle’s speech. These are the cries authorities never hear.

“Mr Seattle, do you know where we are? What place are we talking about?” a villager sitting in the third bench asked.

“Yes, I know. Land is the same, irrespective of its country. Life is the same in any human. Pain is the same wherever the cry is coming from. Look there if you don’t believe me” – I pointed them in that direction.

They could see all that heavy construction work going on in Polavaram. Tall, iron walls were being erected there. On the opposite side is the river Godavari, full of water. No, it is not actual water but the tears of Adivasis whose lives are being drowned for the project’s sake. On this side are the newly built towns for the rehabilitation of Adivasis. Here lies the Adivasi who is being cheated by middlemen. There they are, the political leaders, laughing, and throwing away paltry packages at the adivasis.

“Sir, the period bell rang a while ago” – the teacher taking the next class said, standing outside the classroom.
Oh yes, one period ended.
As I came out of the classroom, my mobile phone rang. “We don’t have much time. We should send it for printing”, my friend reminded me about the pamphlet I was supposed to prepare.
Yes. There is no time.
1.Kannedhara Konda, Bodi Konda, Erramatti Konda – they are all erstwhile tribal hamlets in Eastern Andhra Pradesh, which became mining hubs now.
2.ITDA: Integrated Tribal Development Agency.
3.1/70 act: Land Transfer Regulation Act 1 of 1970 by Andhra Pradesh state Government in India, which regulates the transfer of Tribal lands to non-Tribals.
4.Amaravathi: is a town in Andhra Pradesh state, which was proposed as the capital when the new state was formed in 2014.
5.Polavaram is a large irrigation project on the river Godavari, in Andhra Pradesh.
6.State of Washington, USA.
7.The original Telugu idiom is “maMDa mIda bellaM rAsinaTTu” (మండ మీద బెల్లం రాసినట్టు”). In author’s words: “To control a naughty child, a mother applies jaggery on the back of the child’s hand and gets on with her work. The child licks the jaggery and is happy. It won’t satiate his hunger, but it distracts him from mischief. In the mean while, the mother finishes her task”.
(The Telugu Original, “gata varthamanam”, won first prize in Vizag Fest in 2018. Later it has been included in the author’s Telugu short story collection, “Guri”, published in 2019.)

February 6, 2022