Category Archives: Telugu Stories in English

Dear Almighty! A Letter to God (sketch)

By Nidadavolu Malathi

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for my questions, for starters:

  You have given me jobs not commensurate with my qualifications,

  Relocated me to places I did not care for,

  Delivered goods I did not want at my door.

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

How fair is that?

What did I do to deserve this?

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

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

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

Respectfully Yours,

A Tiny Speck in Your Universe.

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


August 12, 2021.

Kalipatnam Rama Rao. The Yearning

By Kalipatnam Rama Rao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pydayya was happy that Bangari stopped there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Sanni broke into a big laugh.

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

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

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

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

“Shout and see.”

“What if nobody can hear it?”

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

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

“I should call whom?”

“Call Dali.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, Neeli was not kidding.

“For sure?” Ankemma asked.

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

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

“True,” she said to Sanni.

Sanni did not move, showed no signs of emotion.

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

Regardless, her heart started beating faster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still Sanni said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What actually happened?” Pydayya asked.

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

“Didn’t you receive my letters?”

She did not reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanni stood there with tearful eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The bitch got it,” they all laughed.

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

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

“How are things there?”

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

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

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

“Like here,” said one old woman.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anyway, what do you do there?”

“I work as a day laborer.”

“What does that mean?”

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

“How much you make per day?”

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

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

“In season.”

“What about out of season?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You knew?” Peddamma asked her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pydayya finally understood. He recalled the incident.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about food?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Pydayya thought so too but did not want to believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kannayya said he had left with his head down.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pydayya told her the places he had been to.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gangamma stirred the gruel well and put the ladle down.

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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever you have,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

“Where did I send?” asked Bangari.

“Did you not send him anywhere?”

“You tell me.”

“You tell me.”

“You started it.”

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

“If it is my fault, I will for sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, they brought him home.”

“Where from?” Yerremma asked.

Bangari did not reply.

“Why did they have to carry him?”

Bangari did not reply to that either.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I am saying that is is enough.”

“Alright, tell me why he went there.”

“I did not send him there. Ask him. ”

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

“He is eating.”

“I will wait until he is finished eating.”

“Why? Can’t you come in?”

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

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

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

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

“What happened now?”

“He says he cannot take this bickering anymore.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Oh, you scoundrel!” said Yerremma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Are you leaving?” Kotayya yelled.

Pydayya was quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

Kotayya walked in big strides toward her house.

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

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

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

“Out, get going,” Kotayya howled.

Sanni came out, trembling.

“Come on, move,” he said harshly.

Sanni came out, shivering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Bariki did not move.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narayudu took the hint and kept quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asirnayudu would tolerate anything except stealing and misconduct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who are they?” asked Asirnayudu.

“Witnesses, Babu, witnesses,” Narasamma said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, that is the problem?” he asked.

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

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

“… … …”

“Are you Yerremma’s lawyer or witness?”

“… … …”

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

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

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

Sanni said yes.

“What is your name?”

Sanni replied.

“Your surname?”

Sanni mentioned her in-law’s surname.

“Yerremma! What is your surname?”

“Don’t you know?” Yerremma asked.

“You say it, bitch.”

Yerremma answered at once.

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

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

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

The last sentence hit Narayudu hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nice,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whip the bitch,” Asirnayudu howled.

Yerremma stood up, whining.

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

Bangari said yes.  

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not hungry?” Sanni asked.

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

“Then, why are you not eating?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also grateful to www.kathanilayam for the Telugu original)

(July 8, 2021)

Heavenly Bliss by Poranki Dakshina Murthy

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cow bellowed again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TWO GLASS BUBBLES by Nidadavolu Malathi

We are living in a glass bubble

Constantly looking for germs

Washing hands with lotion

Brushing teeth Wearing socks and shoes

Also, worrying about athlete’s foot

Washing all the fruits and vegetables

With special anti-bacterial waters

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

She crosses the ocean and arrives in a small village.

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

In her pink dress

Sees a little child playing in the dust.

The child picks up the fruit

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

“Oh, no! She didn’t wash it”

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

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

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

And extends her hand With a friendly gesture

Towards the little child.

The child kicks to her heels like a drill sergeant

And runs toward the pink lady,

Her hand still moistfrom the fruit she just bit into.

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

The hand is not clean

Not clean at all!

The pink lady links her fingers round the little ones

And walks the distance to the child’s room.

The child proudly displays her earthly possessions –

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


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

A prized possession!

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

For the little girl, it is a prized possession.

The pink lady returns to her room

Washes her hands with soap

Wipes with a lotion cloth

Rubs with ointments and looks at the palms.

She can still feel the little fingers clutched into her own

The wet dirty hands.

She washes again

Wipes again

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

At the same time at the other end of the street

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

The girl stares at her hands.


No answer.

“Come on, move.”

The girl won’t move.

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

Still the same stare. No sign of moving.

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

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

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

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

“I don’t have to wash”she whispers.

For the housemother, it is puzzling.

“Are you okay?”


“Don’t you want to eat?”

No answer.

“Go. Wash your hands.”

“I don’t have to.”


The house mother is confused.

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

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

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

The house mother complains to the head mother.

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

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


Published on, June 2001.

***** ******

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

Yalla Achuta Ramayya. Freedom in the Cage

(Translated by Sharada, Australia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello, madam, how are you all!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sripathi. The Enemy.

(Translated by B. Indira)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper-currency blew away silver coins,

The paper remains paper,

Hungry stomach remains hungry…”

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

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

### ### ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

### ### ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jagganna looked at Narasanna whose face turned pale.

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

Jagganna entrusted the work to Cinnodu and followed Narasanna.

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

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

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

### ### ###.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lakshmana Murthy handed him a cup of tea.

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

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

Jagannadham looked inquisitive.

“Drawing master…” Lakshmana Murthy paused.

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

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

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

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

### ### ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nukaraju kept mum.

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

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

On the way Nukaraju told him of last night…

Seeing Nukaraju people on the street talked among themselves.

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

Nagaraju suddenly turned bold. Stubbornly bold…

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

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

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

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

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

### ### ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nukaraju, Sarada, and the mother haunted them.


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

Andallu and the Onions by I. V. S. Atchyutavalli

Andallu stood before the mirror, tucked a huge bunch of roses in her long braid, and finished the braid with the gold bells tying tightly at the end. Rolling her big beautiful eyes all over the image in the mirror, she watched herself as if she was taken by her beauty. She did not notice the arrival of Lakshmanacharyulu or the plantain leaf packet in his hand.

Lakshmanam watched his wife’s absorption with her beauty and coughed a small cough.

Andallu jerked turned around; her wide eyes became wider. “Ah, you! How long since you’ve come,” she said in a kind of dragging tone and put the coffee flask on the table.

“What does it matter how long I’ve been here? Been standing so long, my legs are hurting; yet you won’t let go of your love for your primary husband for me,” he replied somberly.

Andallu twitched.

“Don’t worry my beautiful! I meant the full-length mirror fastened to the dresser your primary husband, no other person. Am I not second to him? Don’t you do all those things only in front of him? Whether it is a new sari, flowers in your hairdo, the dot on your forehead and the eye make up—the entire make up is only for him, isn’t that right? You don’t even look at me without his permission.”

“Uh, go away. You’re too much. You are turning into a poet par excellence,” she said, chuckling.

“Haven’t our great teachers (predecessors) stated that the poet may see what the sun cannot? Am I not a poet? My namesake, Lakshmana kavi, translated the Bhartruhari’s poetry and left at that. I would have written a lot more inculcating all the three rasas—the sensuous, the liberating, and the devotional,” he said, smiling.

Andallu saw the packet on the table and asked, “What’s that?”

“Things you like very much, Devi!” he said, teasingly.

“Things I like very much?” she said, warily.

There was a reason for Andallu to be apprehensive. Andallu was pregnant for the first time. She was five months along. She was a beautiful woman to begin with. And, with the pregnancy and the morning sickness, she became even more beautiful, that is thinner and more delicate like a kasiratnam vine.

Lakshmanam loved her immensely because she was his first cousin and also pregnant. He was the only son to his parents. Now, within one year of his marriage, he was going to have a son to prolong his pedigree. Right away, he wrote to his mother and mother-in-law. Andallu had said, “don’t” but he did not listen to her pleas.

On the previous day, Andallu was bored and so went to her neighbor Subhadra’s house. Subhadra was frying potato pieces and onions. Andallu’s mouth watered not the fried dark brown potato pieces but for the onion pieces which glowed brilliantly in the steel pan.

Subhadra continued to blabbing this and that and asking questions in between. None of the words went into Andallu’s ears. All her eyes were glued to the onion pieces in the steel pan. She was lost in imagining the onion bits in her mouth, even savored each drop of the sweet juice scrumptiously; her tongue experienced the taste of hot pepper as well.

“Fifth month along, I suppose. How come your mother has not come yet? First time pregnant, you might be yearning for various things to eat. If mother is here, she will know what appeals to your tongue and makes it for you. You are a loner by nature. You know what they say—young wife’s managing the household is like splinters ablaze; no steady, lasting flames. If you feel like eating something, tell me—chutney or curry, anything. I’ll make it for you. You are no different from my younger sister. Anyway, you are still young, why bother about traditions? You know, these men run to the hotels and eat all kinds of junk and nobody questions them. Again the same fellows go at it, isn’t that great?” said Subhadra warmly.

At once, Andallu wanted to say, “Please, akka, let me have a bit of the curry” but again thought, Cha, how can I ask?” Subhadra would announce the story to the entire town. “I might as well buy the ingredients and make the curry myself,” she told herself and returned home, fettering her thoughts tight in her head.

Thus when her husband said the packet contained something she wanted, she thought it might be onions; she was worried that he had found out about her craving for onions. The reason for her fear was Andallu talked in her sleep sometimes; it became a pattern for her. Sometime back, she had wished for a red gold-threaded sari and that night in her dream, she had said, “I wish I could wear a red gold-threaded sari and go to the movies with you.” The next morning, soon after he woke, he went to the store and bought a red gold-threaded sari. At that time also, she had asked as always, what the packed had contained. He had responded the same way, “Something you always wanted.” She had opened the packet and was surprised to see the red sari. He had explained to her later about her speaking in her sleep. Now Andallu feared that she had talked in her sleep possibly. For that reason, she could not reach the leaf packet and open it. She was scared that she might find a pesarattu or onion in it. No matter how much her heart craved for it, how much her husband loved her, she did not have the courage to ask him for something that would flout the family traditions. She looked at him with hesitation and embarrassment.

“Come on, open it and see,” he said teasingly.

That frightened her even more.

“Ah, Andi,

Oh, Andi,

Open and see Andi,

See and take Andi.”

Lakshmanam kept humming a Punjabi style tune as he unwound the thread around the packet.

Andallu felt sick in the stomach with fear. She ran to the backyard, threw up, washed and sat down in a chair, wiping her face with a towel.

Lakshmanam brought a spoonful of maadi fruit juice to calm her nausea. Then he said, “You’ve not opened the packet yourself” and finished opening it. It was a bunch of swarna sampenga flowers. Quite taken by their aroma, Andallu, said, “ha!“ and took a deep breath.
The next day, after her husband had left for work, Andallu bought onions and garlic from the vegetable vendor. She packed them carefully in a newspaper and hid them in the midst of the stack of her saris. She planned to fry potatoes and onions in the evening and eat. She cut the vegetables and was about to fry.

Suddenly, Lakshmanam appeared out of nowhere like a villain of the piece.

“Andi, I booked tickets for the movie Navarang. Quick, go and change. We can eat after we returned,” he said.

Andallu who was planning to make the onion curry and eat before he came, was dumbstruck. He did not tell her about it in advance. Anyway, she quickly threw the onion and potato cuts in to a dish, washed her hands first with cow dung, then with soap and returned. Poor thing, she did not have the pleasure of watching a movie on that day.

The next day, she told her this is not way to do it. She started making pakora as soon as her husband had left for work. She put the frying pan on the stove, poured oil into the pan and turned the heat on. Then she mixed chick pea flour with chili powder and salt; started chopping ginger, green chillies, and onion finely.

Just in that moment, Vimalamma, a neighbor, pushed the door open and walked in. She laid the sitting plank and asked, “What are you doing, pregnant woman? Are you making some snack? Is that Bajji?”

Andallu hesitated for a moment; then told herself, “She is here, so what? I feel like eating and so I’ll make them.” Then, she hesitated again. “Gosh, isn’t she going to announce to the entire town?” By nature, Andallu was a nervous woman by nature. She thought for a second and in one quick move, she threw away the onion pieces, cut green plantain and made bajji.

Vimalamma gave her a couple of sweet mysorepak pieces, “Here, eat.”

Andallu put several pieces of bajji on a steel plate and gave them to Vimalamma, “Here, give them to your kids.”

By the time this event ended … the maid came … then it was time to cook supper … Lakshmanam arrived … The day was over with the routine as always.

Throughout the night, Andallu dreamt about onion fries and pakora.

Ever since she woke up, she waited for her husband to leave for office.

As soon as he left, she shut the doors tight and ground mung beans, chopped ginger, green peppers and onions finely and made pesarattu,, well almost … Before she poured the dough on the grill to make pesarattu, she heard somebody banging on the door. Whoever could be? Andallu was nearly in tears. She sighed, threw the onion pieces out the back door, scrubbed her hands with dirt until the smell was gone and then opened the door.

Her mother-in-law Ragavamma and sister-in-law Thayaru were standing in front of her.

Andallu’s face turned pale.

‘“What are you doing, Vadina! My brother is not home and you’ve shut the door and started cooking all your favorite dishes?” Thayaru said, teasingly.

“Ha, that’s funny! It surely looks like she is eating! Andallu! You’re so skinny, why? Seems like you’ve lost plenty of weight. If you’re too shy to ask me, why didn’t you write to your mother, you silly,” said Ragavamma, putting her hand round Andallu’s shoulders lovingly.

After that a few days went by wildly with things like bathing and eating, Ragavamma making dosa with the dough Andallu had prepared, distributing the sweets she brought—the sugar minapasunne, ariselu, chakrakeli bananas—to neighbors, and so on. They stayed for two months, Andallu was seven months pregnant.

During those two months, every time Lakshmanam got ready to go to the store, Andallu’s face looked restless as if she wanted to say something. He tried to coax her into saying it but she never said a word. He was restless.

Towards the end of the seventh month, her mother Ravanjamma and sister-in-law Alivelu came to bring her home for delivery. The house buzzed with relatives and festivities and special dishes for the next four days. Yet there was no sign of the pregnant woman getting her craving satisfied. Whom she could tell and what could she tell? Had she told? … Wouldn’t that be ridiculous, regardless they were her relatives? She thought of telling her mother or sister-in-law about her craving. Each time her heart pushed her forward her tongue pulled back.

Her mother-in-law said to Andahllu’s mother, “Vadina, talk to your daughter and find out what she wants. I’ve made several dishes but she ate none with relish. You are the mother, you should know. If she tells what she wants, I can make it for her. She is the only daughter-in-law for me. At this age, I am not happy unless I make her favorite dishes and feed her.”

“Ha, ha ha!” Ravanjamma burst into a big laugh and turned to her daughter, “Andi, why don’t you tell us what you want. Looking for the two bits mom dishes out (smacking) or what?”


“Come on, Vadina, say it. If you don’t say and have it now, the baby would be born with puss in the ear. People like us are supposed to fulfill all the yearnings before a pregnant woman turns mom,” said Alivelu, laughing.


“Is that true, I mean the puss in baby’s ear?” said Andallu looking worried; her eyes and face were taut.


“What? Are you not convinced still? Or, is your heart craving for fish soup or something for heaven’s sake? We have the saying—Each one of them is a Vaishnavite, yet the crab soup disappeared, ha, ha,” Alivelu went on laughing.


Mother and Vadina told Andallu to pack the box so could leave soon.


Andallu shook her head shyly and said, “Wait for a few more days.”


Both Thayaru and Alivelu broke into a big laugh. “We know, we know the whole story. Your heart is yearning to go to movies and walks with my brother, after we are gone. Isn’t that right? That is the reason you want to avoid going with us,” they teased her.


Andallu pouted, assumed a bharatanatyam style posture of anger, went into the backyard and sat down.


“Don’t sit outside in the open at the twilight time; this is the time for demons supposedly. It’s okay with us if you’re angry with us, just don’t sit here in the out,” said Alivelu, tucking a bunch of chrysanthemum flowers in Andallu’s hairdo and stroking on her cheeks fondly.


The next day the house was pretty quiet. Andallu started getting back to her routine sluggishly; she had outgrown the habit in the past two months.

Lakshmanam sat on the doorframe and kept watching her ample mien, her eyes bashfully drooping, and the cheeks glowing with blush off and on for no reason.


In Andallu’s mind well-cooked onions bits were glowing and spreading a heartening aroma around. She looked at her husband with salivating tongue.


“What is it, Andi? You look strange, why?” Lakshmanam asked.


“Nothing. What do you suggest for the side dish?” she asked. In that moment, she wished with all her heart that her husband would bring onions and garlic, make a heap of them in front of her, and tell her, “Here, make soup with some onions, fry some with potato cubes, save some to make pesarattu in the evening, make pakora with a few in the afternoon, fry bits of garlic and toss into the lentil chutney and bits of fried onions in gongura chutney; also, add a few fried bits of telakapindi powder (a by-product in sesame oil production) and chili powder.”


Lakshmanam laughed and said, “What does it matter what I want nowadays? You do whatever you feel like eating.”


After he finished eating, Lakshmanam was ready to leave for office. He called Andallu to find a handkerchief for him.


“Look in the chest of drawers. I am in madi sari. I cannot change until after I am done eating,” she said.


He went into the bedroom and tossed and turned all the clothes in the chest. Suddenly, a paper packet fell on to the floor. He opened it; onions! At first he was surprised and then walked into the kitchen. “Andi, the kerchief smells of something,” he said, smiling.

“What smell? Two days back at the festivities time, I distributed some scent bottles and stowed away the remaining two bottles in the chest. Why? Aren’t they good? They called it Rehana or Nurjahan or something, I don’t know for sure,” she said, lowering her head and eating dinner.


“Hum, it would’ve been nice if it was the scent. This smell is something else,” he said, pretending to be thinking.


Then Andallu understood what he was saying. Hurt, she looked pitiably into his mocking eyes.


“Couldn’t you tell me? Don’t I deserve that much of a chance to satisfy your desire?” he said affectionately.


Later in the evening, on his way home from work, he went straight to the hotel.


“Do you have onion pesarattu?”


“We make them only in the mornings, Sir,” the server said.


“How about pakora?”


“We have it with cashew.”


“Let it be. Have sambar to go with idli?” Lakshmanam asked, annoyed.


“No Sir. Today’s sambar has drum sticks,” server said, a little surprised at Lakshmanam’s love of onions.


“To hell with the idiot face! … Stupid town, stupid, stupid town. What else can we expect after driving away all the Tamil friends out of the state? We have such a huge town yet only one hotel!” thus cursing, he expressed his brotherly love for Tamilians.


Next morning, he headed for the hotel as soon as he woke up.


“Come, Sir, come. Be the first to eat, the fresh, super fresh pesarattu awash with onions,” server went in and brought four pesarattus with extra onions.


Lakshmanam carefully packed them in his kerchief and dashed home in a whiz.

“Andi, Andi, come quick,” he called out for her, bubbling with excitement.


Andallu came in, quite pleased for her husband’s affection and care for her, and devotion and attention towards her. Her eyes were wet. She was about to unwind the thread on the packet.


“Girl, what are you doing?” her brother Venkatacharyulu showed up.


Andallu was baffled. She was not sure whether she should be happy to see her brother, whom she had not seen for a while or feel sorry that her heart’s desire remained unfulfilled.


“Girl, they told me that today is an auspicious day. Sastrulu told mother that moodham (adverse days per lunar calendar) sets in soon. She asked me to bring you home today. Bava! Don’t lose heart about her. I’ll send her back along with the son in the third month, I promise,” Venkatacharyulu said.


Andallu looked at her husband, disheartened.


Lakshmanam watched her as she tossed the packet out the window sadly and said, “All right. Write to me regularly.”


After coming to her natal home, it became even more stressful for Andallu. The place was out and out rustic to the core. In that village, her people were the acharyas (religious mentors). With whom she could share wish?


As her pregnancy advanced, her fear that the baby could have puss in his ear was getting stronger than the wish to eat onions. Whether her eyes were open or shut, all she could see was a beautiful baby boy cute as jackfruit and his ears wet with puss! That became the constant vision in her mind’s eye! That was her doing too, isn’t it? How is it going to be resolved?


She was suffering inexplicable pain in her heart. Lakshmanam was writing letters and asking, “How are you? Has your desire been fulfilled yet?” What could say? She had not told him about possibility of the puss in the baby’s ear, and that was better. Had he known, he would have made her eat onions, regardless how many people protested. In such matters he could be very aggressive. As she recollected her husband’s range of capabilities, she got goose bumps all over.


It was vaikunta ekadasi day (special holiday for Hindus). Ravanjamma and Alivelu fasted per tradition. Since Andallu reached full term, Alivelu cooked food only for Andallu and Venkatacharyulu.


In the evening, Venkatacharyulu said to his mother, “Amma, I am taking the cart to Palem. The movie Bhakta Ambarisha is playing. Do you want to come?”


Andallu was elated at the mention of a movie by her brother as if she found something that had been lost for a while. “Yes, amma, you should go. You’ll be back by eleven anyways,” She said eagerly.


“I’ll stay with Andallu. Yes, attha, you go,” Alivelu said, being the daughter-in-law in the house, she felt it was her duty.


Andallu insisted over and again. She said, “Just go, you both should go. What is the harm if you two are gone for a few hours? If I am not here, you would have to take turns anyways. But now I am here, and I will take care of the house. You go,” and convinced them—both of them to leave together. After they were gone, she closed the front door and went to the neighbor Sastrulu’s house through the back door.


Baamma garu invited her tenderly. “Come dear, come. Sit down,” she said, peeling onions.


“What are you doing, baamma garu? Where is Raji? She is not home?” Andallu said.


“Would she be here? As soon as your brother Venkati brought the cart, she jumped in and sat in it … Who knows when god will give you relief?” she said, by way of comforting Andallu.


“What are making for supper?” asked Andallu casually.


“See these? Making soup with these saligrams (precious stones of worship),” she said, pointing to the onions in her hand.


Something on the stove made a hissing noise.


“You sit here. I think the rice is boiling over. I’ll remove the excess water and be back,” said bamma garu and went into the kitchen.


Andallu grabbed a few onion bits, hid them in her sari palloo and said, “Baamma garu, my back is hurting. I’ll go home and lie down,” and left quickly.


“Wait, I’ll give you coconut sweet balls,” bamma’s words vanished into the thin air.


Andallu took a bit of thick tamarind juice in a pan, added a little jaggery, onion pieces, green chilli pieces, salt and turmeric and put it on the stove and sat there fanning the flames. As it started simmering, she held her two hands over the dish to catch the flavor, brought them to her nose and enjoyed the aroma, swallowing the water in her mouth. She kept thinking—the soup must simmer first then cool down and then she should eat to her fill!


Just below the patio, the parijatham buds were opening one after another. The almond tree in the backyard shook its leaves as if it understood the circumstances and her condition. In that breezy evening, the potato and onion fry, pesarattu, pakora, and lentil chutney were hovering around in steel plates in front of her eyes. Andallu suddenly curled up; something in her stomach hurt; she felt like throwing up. Finally, she understood the main problem.


Quickly she took the hot dish from the stove, emptied it into the rim under the almond tree, and lay back against the jute-rope cot. She called bamma garu for help.


That evening, Ravanjamma garu and Alivelu returned from the movies and found a blue-collar midwife Veeramma giving bath to the baby boy, the size of a juicy mango fruit and bamma garu tying a piece of cloth around the new-mother’s waist.


Alivelu was overwhelmed as she watched her newly born nephew. Andallu, eyelids wavering lightly and she brimming with the love of a new mother, said to Alivelu, “Vadina, check the baby’s ear. Is there puss?”


The words, spoken in a feeble voice got lost in the resounding voice of Ravanjamma; she was saying, “Where is the metal dish, Andallu?” The voice sounded like a bell.


Alivelu could not hear Andallu’s question.


Lakshmanam received the telegram sent by his brother-in-law Venkatacharyulu. At once, he rushed all his colleagues to the hotel and ordered onion pesarattu and pakora for everybody.


“Lakshmanam, you’re celebrating your son’s birth, you should feed us sweets but not this hot stuff that scorches our tongues. Come, bring us sweets,” his friends said.


“You finish these items first. We’ll have sweets too,” Lakshmanam said, overwhelmed and bubbling like the sea.

His friends could not figure out why Lakshmanam ordered those items; yet, it was lunch time and they all were starving. So, they ate.

Lakshmanam could see the satisfied face of Andallu and the baby vaguely. He smiled to himself contentedly.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, June 2010.


All this, Just For You! by Nidadavolu Malathi

Snowstorm is blasting away! Trees and cars on the street are barely visible.

Dharani is sitting by the window and watching the blast. “Thank goodness it is Sunday,” she told herself for the fourth time. Or else, it would have been a hell of a ride to work. She is brooding over the argument she had with her husband Dinakar last night. It is still raw in her mind. Her eyes turn towards the bedroom. There, he is sleeping like a baby; not a care in the world as far as he is concerned. It is getting close to nine. There is no sign of waking up anytime soon.

The snowbirds are heading south announcing the arrival of winter in their own language. They form a sharp cone, like soldiers in a drill session; for Dharani, it is a sight to watch. She watches them every year; the fascination never ends. She turns her eyes to the squirrels on the yard. They are busy collecting nuts and transporting them to their abodes at the base of trees. Somewhere she has read that they would collect them just enough for one winter. Wonder why humans do not have that kind of sense. Man is called rational animal. But then, who said that? Man, of course! Only we have to certify ourselves! Maybe the birds and animals are laughing at us for being so full of ourselves!

The day Dharani set foot in America, it is a fond memory. Her husband doted on her and she was elated. He kept asking, “What do you want?” “What would you like to have?” “What is your wish?” and provided it on the double. He bought new furniture and new window curtains. He was proud to show off his new wife, introducing her as “my missus.” She could not help thinking, “Wow, what a great love he has for me!”

He tells her ten times a day that she is gorgeous and that she, in her new sari, is blinding him. He repeats, “I love you” as if it were a tirumantra. One day he even asked her why she does not say she loves him. “Do you not love me?” he asked.

Dharani laughed casually, “I don’t know. Maybe because we don’t use that kind of language back home.”

Lady luck smiled on him at the same time as his better half joined him in America. A huge project fell into his lap. He flipped over. “All this, because of your luck. You must have worshipped the gods with gold blossoms in your previous life. That is why you have been blessed with a genius like me,” he said, inhaling air into his lungs and expanding his chest.

Dharani laughed happily.

All good things do come to an end. Dinu’s project ended. After that, he had a couple of other projects. Two years went by in a jiff. Currently, he is waiting for another good project. The word “good” is notable. After two big projects, he is in no mood to accept small projects. He is determined to accept only the projects that could put his abilities to the best use. He is waiting for that colossal project.

Dharani’s thoughts are traveling in a different direction. At first, she did not mind. As the time went by, a tiny fear has started sprouting, grown into branches, and now stood as a huge tree in front of her eyes. It is frightening. When Dinu passed two or three projects, it did not bother her. She even seemed to have understood his logic. “Of course, who would not want a job that is challenging to his abilities?” She told herself. Days, weeks, and months went by. Now it is getting scary as the time “he is unemployed” is stretching to new length each day. The thought that it actually decreases his prospects for big projects is chewing her up. Her heart is writhing inside with the question, “Why Dinu, who claims to be a man of unusual talent, cannot see that?”

One of those days, Dinu received a call from a Microsoft subsidiary for an interview. Dinu did not go.

“Why?” Dharani asked, narrowing her eyes. Anybody else would have jumped at the prospect.

“That manager and I attended the same school. He does not have even a half of my IQ. Why would I want to work for him? Absurd,” he said.

Dharani was surprised. He did not even go for the interview; he is already speaking as if he had gotten the job! She did not say it aloud though. After four weeks or so, he received another call from another company and again he disregarded it. Why? Because the CEO in the company is his friend’s brother. He went to Colorado for an interview but dismissed it as stupid job. His reason: he did not like the neighborhood where the office is located.

Dharani is getting more and more worried by the minute. She wonders whether he has any interest in work at all. As the saying goes udyogam purushalakshanam [Work is a characteristic of man]. Nowadays, not only men but women also are not whiling away their time sitting at home and clipping nails. How could anybody sit around doing nothing, as if he hung his head on the hook like a shirt?

Dharani could not do so. She joined the workforce within a year after she had landed in America.

Since she had a master’s degree in biology, she tried to get into Ph.D. program in an American university. She was told that she needed to study a few M.Sc. courses first. Unwilling to repeat the courses, she started looking for jobs. Her prospects were quite good in Minneapolis and Chicago but she did not want to move because it would hurt her husband’s work. Of course, she had seen couples living in different cities and commuting for weekend get-together but she was not interested in that lifestyle. Therefore, she took a part-time position as a customer rep in a local bank. No, it was not a dream job; not something, she was dying for. She took it only to escape from the house-arrest condition within the four walls. The Bank manager recognized her talent soon enough and made her full-time supervisor within six months. The income is good.

Dinu is not like that. It is not in his nature to settle for anything but the top position. The day Dharani told him that she was taking a position at the bank he was displeased. He said, “I would never settle for such a crummy job.” In his mind, that was the worst of the worst lot.

Dharani is upset. The entire situation is annoying. This man recites I love you mantra endlessly yet does not care how I feel in reality. He is not even looking for a job. What am I supposed to think of him? Given the current economy, even those who have jobs are worried sick about keeping them, and here this man is hoping that somebody comes looking for him and hand him a high rank position on a silver platter.


Dharani is reading today’s newspaper. She sees a job in the classifieds and says to her husband, “Did you see this?” pushing the paper towards him.

It ticks him off. He flips. “What’s the matter? When did it come to this? You’re looking for jobs for me? Are you saying I am incapable of finding a job for myself?” he shouts.

Dharani is taken aback. “Did I say you cannot look for it by yourself? I happen to see it and so asked you if you saw it,” she says coyly.

“What made you think that I did not see it?”

“’Cause the paper has arrived just now and I picked it up first.”

“Why don’t you say what is on your mind? You think this is fun for me, I enjoy goofing around like this, right?”

“Why do you put words into my mouth? Did I say that?”

“Well, then give it to me straight. Come on. Does it bother you that I am in your face all day? You may think so now. Just wait and see. After I land a dazzling position, and get too busy to be home, you yourself will complain that you hardly see, if at all. To speak the truth, do you know how many women are wailing that their husbands are hardly ever home?”

“Alright. It’s my fault. I will never speak again.”

Dharani goes into the next room. As they say, one word begets another—that is the way with the words. She is trying the best she could to be patient yet the issue is piercing her heart. Yes, family life is meant to be “for worse and for better”. It also means talking openly and freely. How can she put up with him when he is distorting every word she speaks? He keeps asking her what she wants. Does she not also want to know what he wants and help him to achieve that goal? What is wrong with her wanting to help him?

Her mode of thinking is plausible all right but she is lost as to how to convey it to him. Here in America everybody says, “Talk, talk.” How can she talk when he is in no mood to listen? Does it not take two to “talk”? If one person is willing to talk the other must be willing to listen as well. And that is the problem. It is not in his character. It just is not in him to listen.

Dinu calms down after an hour or so. “Poor thing. She is a simpleton, no street smart,” he tells himself and comes back to her. He says coaxingly, “Look, how can I take it if you act like you don’t believe in me?”

“Did I say I don’t believe in you?” Dharani says softly.

“Think about it. You know what Dinakar means. The Sun, who submerges the world with his brilliant rays and wakens, right? That is who I am. A day comes when a big company realizes my brilliance and invites me to help them. Then you will tell yourself, ‘I gave him hard time only because of my stupidity,’” he says laughing loudly.

Dharani does not find it amusing. He seems to believe it with all his heart, for all she could see.

“Okay, I agree you meant well. I am sorry I raised my voice. It will never happen again,” he apologizes and reassures her. He also suggests that she should go in and change. He wants to treat her to a fancy dinner at a high-class hotel.

She goes in and puts on her favorite dress—milky white blouse with light blue flowers and matching pants. She returns into the living room.

He looks and says, “Nice,” but the tone says, uh.

“What? You don’t like it?” she asks.

“You look awesome in the maroon dress,” he says. He bought it on one of those occasions—when a man feels obliged to bring a present to appease his wife.

Maroon is not her favorite color. “I wore it last week when we went to visit Prakash. I’ve worn it so many times. So, I thought I would wear this for a change. Okay, I will change. No big deal,” she goes in.

Deep down at heart, she wishes, “Why can’t he say, ‘No big deal, you don’t have to change.’ If he is so particular, why not buy another dress in the colors I like?” She even mentioned it once.

“What do you mean? You don’t think my selection is super?” he asked.

Dharani changes into maroon color dress and returns. “See how stunningly beautiful you are! The people at the hotel will forget to eat, watching you,” he says exuberantly.

“You and your silly talk,” she says.

The next day also Dinu continues to apologize repeatedly. That evening he says, “I will cook the dinner this evening. I will make eggplant fry, your favorite.”

“Never mind. I will make stuffed eggplant your way,” Dharani says.

“Let’s make both varieties,” he says jubilantly.

Dharani’s heart aches. No doubt, it is easy to make two dishes with the same vegetable. Would it not be nice if it is possible to wear two dresses at the same time?

She finishes cooking and sets the table. Dinu comes to the table. “The eggplant tastes soooo good. When you are angry, the dishes turn out tastier,” he says flippantly.

His words are exhilarating to her ears. Her food pleases his taste buds. The air clears for the moment.


Then a day comes when Dharani musters the courage to say to him, “You obviously are not interested in working under anybody. There are no companies that can offer you a position commensurate with your qualifications. Why worry that nobody recognizes your talent. Start your business and prove your brains. Then you are your own boss plus you will be the man that can provide jobs for a couple of others to boot.”

The words shock Dinu. He jerks his head like a goaded cobra and gapes at her, narrowing his eyes. He wonders, “Is she saying that I am good-for-nothing bum? Is she making fun of me?” He is furious.

“Shut up,” he shouts at the top of his voice.

Dharani shakes like a tender mango sprout. Her heart races. She has never seen him so irate. She has never thought of him even capable of that level rage. Frankly, she has never seen in all her life anybody blasting off like that. Her parents had always been very gentle with her. During her childhood, when her father had been exasperated, all he would say, “You are so stubborn. What am I supposed with you?” and nothing more. When her classmates at school said something like “My father would flank me alive” or “My mother would beat me up”, Dharani could not believe that such things could occur in real life. At school, her teachers had just loved her. She had been a model student.

Dharani stares back. Blood rushes from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head.

He thrusts his face into hers and says, “I don’t need your advice. Understand? Never talk to me like that again.”

She pulls away from his face and shudders. The globe whirls around in front of her eyes. She hurries out of the room.

Dinu drops the coffee cup on the table and whizzes out. Coffee spills over, stains the papers on the table and the carpet underneath.

He returns at midnight, after wandering around aimlessly for several hours. He has cooled down by now. He apologizes to his wife again and again, “Sorry, terribly sorry. I am soooo sorry. Even I didn’t know that I possess anger that intense, nit until now.” He also promises her that he would never let that happen again.

“Okay,” she says.


At work, Stella notices that something is bothering her. Dharani seems to be miles away.

Stella is a new rep, joined just a few days back. She likes Dharani and often seeks her help in work. She has heard a lot about Indian culture and is curious about our ways.

“Are you okay?” Stella asks Dharani.

Her kind words blow on Dharani as a cool breeze; it is soothing. In that moment, it feels like Stella is the only person in the world who cares about her. Not that she has nobody. Back home, there is a host of them—mother, father, sister, brothers, and childhood friends with whom she had shared food and bed. Yet, in this particular moment, there is no one but Stella who would ask her, “How are you?” Well, there is one person but he does not think about it, or so it seems.

Dharani’s heart mourns quietly. “I am okay,” she says softly, lowering her eyes.

Stella waits for a few seconds and says, “Almost lunch time. Let’s take early lunch.”

Dharani says okay, and gets up. They both sit down in a corner in the coffee room. The room is empty. Other members have not come yet.

Dharani narrates the last night’s events briefly and says, “I don’t know what to do. He is young, at the prime of his life, very well qualified, and yet sits at home doing nothing. It is several months now. I can’t understand his attitude.”

“In your country, wouldn’t they consider it incompetent for a young, educated man to sit idly at home like that?”

“I am not saying that is always the case. I think it is the same in your country too, I mean two generations back. Man is the breadwinner and woman the homemaker. Things are changing in India too. Probably, my grandmother would have called him a bum and told him that he should be ashamed to live off of a woman’s earnings. In my mother’s time, she started working and my father helped her, nominally though. Currently, men are participating actively in domestic chores. However, there are no separate accounts like in this country, not yet anyway.” Dharani tries to explain the situation in India in general terms. Things seem to be getting clearer even to herself as she spoke.

Stella ducks the issue of the state of affairs two generations back and says, “Here in our country nobody sits at home doing nothing. They find some job, one way or another. Nobody sits waiting for somebody to come and hand over a job on a silver platter. In recent times, the stay-at-home dad trend is growing. That happens only when they have children and the wife has a better job than the husband. Even then, the husband finds some kind of work suitable for his skills.”

Dharani is quiet for a few seconds and then says, almost mumbling, “I apologized.”

“What did he say?”

Dharani shakes her head. “He keeps telling me that he loves me.”

“Well, mere words are nothing. It should show in action too. If it rained, the ground will be wet, doesn’t it?” Stella pauses and then adds, “I would suggest counseling.”

“No, that certainly is not going to work,” Dharani says quickly and then adds, ‘He thinks he is the greatest genius on earth. How can he agree to seek help from somebody else?”

“He will learn,” says Stella.

Dharani nods. Both return to their desks.

After she is done for the day, Dharani heads home but not in a mood to go home straight. As she drives past Lake Mendota, she pulls over, and gets out of the car. She sits close to the water, watching the sailboats on the horizon, children playing in the water while parents are standing nearby and chatting … The entire scenery is quite comforting. Nevertheless, she is beset with distressing thoughts. Last night, as they were about to go to bed, Dinu said, “This is all only for you, only for your sake. Don’t you see, this is all for you.” She can’t help wondering. Is this all really for me? Is this what I wanted in life? What did I want in life? Really! What would have happened if I had not come to America? I would have become a Reader in some college by now. I would not have to wash dishes and clothes as I am doing now. Additionally, I would have attained a better status in society. So also, more money and the comforts money could buy. … And then? Can’t say. Then again, what have I accomplished here? I took a job, which has nothing to do with my biology education. They offered me the position because of my master’s degree, not because of the knowledge I had acquired in a specific field.

At work, in the early days, one of her coworkers asked, “What does your husband do?”

“Nothing,” she replied casually.

“Nothing?” her coworker was shocked.

Dharani looked at her face and realized that the joke was lost. She quickly corrected her statement, “I mean presently. He is an engineer. Just finished one huge project and waiting for another. I mean he is in between jobs.”

“I see,” said the coworker, “So, you’re wearing the pants at home.”

Dharani turns pallid. Later the colleague apologized for being rude. For Dharani, it was hard to ignore it all the same. In the following few weeks, she heard her colleagues make casual conversations about their husbands:

“Tom was sitting at home doing nothing, you know. I told him I can’t take it and threw him out. Who wants a man like that?”

“My husband has been a couch potato for quite sometime. I am making him do all the chores, including driving me to and from work. Let’s say I am the husband.”

“Good for you! Why marry a man who cannot take care of you? Might as well get a dog.”

“There must be some problem. Or else, how can one not find a job for so long?”

“Maybe personality issue.”

“Guess so. Must be either lack of social skills, team spirit, or fear of failure.”

“Maybe, it is okay in India. Nobody here sits around waiting for somebody to offer him a job on a silver platter. One has to prove oneself first and then may be one gets better offers. Not by doing nothing, no way!”

Dharani is having hard time listening to these comments. How come her husband acts like he does not know that?


At home, Dinu is sitting in the second bedroom, converted as office room, and pondering over. He is agitating over the fact that his wife is unable to see things his way.

Don’t I know that her parents are calling me “a bum, and thinking that I am living off my wife’s earnings? To speak the truth, did I say I will not work? All I am saying is I am waiting for a job befitting my qualifications. What is wrong with that? Let’s face it. Won’t she jump at the prospect when I shine in my field? If I only wait until I get a job that can utilize all my strengths and capabilities, I shall shine like a star. And who benefit from that? She and the children we will have. Is it not right? If I accept a mediocre position now, what happens? How can I prove my abilities extraordinaire? Will I ever be able to recover from the damage the low position causes? Why can’t she understand how people interpret that kind of situation?

They would say,

“If you are really that smart, why did you accept it?”

“Why are you working in this low rank position for so long?”

“If you are really qualified, your company would have made you a director by now, wouldn’t they?”

Dharani does not understand all this. She does not even try to understand. Wouldn’t I grab any opportunity that is commensurate with my exceptional brain? He is convinced that his exceptional brains would be wasted, if he accepts a mediocre position. Then she will never know that her husband is amply gifted and he is the one for the next Nobel Prize award. She does not know that, unlike in India, here people do not care what I do with my life. Nobody is going to look down on me because I am not working.

Dinu is convinced that he is on the right path to glory.


It is past 7:00 p.m. Dharani leaves the shoes at the door and asks, “Had coffee?”

Dinu is in the living room reading today’s paper. “No.”

Dharani goes into the kitchen, makes coffee and returns with two cups. She hands one cup to her husband, and settles in the sofa across from him, with the second cup. “I phoned you that I would be late. You could have had your coffee,” she says.

“Thought I’d wait for you, to keep company,” he says without looking up.

Dharani looks at him. He is totally rapt in today’s events in the newspaper. Stella’s words are hovering in her head. The stark naked truth is taking shape and becoming clearer by the minute. She has to do something. Action is important. The intent must show in one’ actions. If it rained, it should show on the ground. “This is all for you, for you only,” Dinu says. Saying is not enough. Acting is just as important, if not more.

“Find any job?” she asks.

Dinu says from behind the paper, “I’ll get it. Haven’t I told you? Just wait.”

Then follows the same old argument. He says again, as always, “For whom do you think I am waiting for a great job patiently? I want you to be proud of me, proud that you have a great husband. This is all for you.”

This time the wife does not back off as before. She is calm but forceful in her tone. She says, “No, it is not for me. It does not look like it is for me. I am not feeling that way. You are sitting around without work only to please yourself. One hundred percent for your own sake. You are doing it to satisfy your own stupid ego. Nobody in this country sits around waiting for somebody to hand over a high rank position on a silver platter. If you want to do something for me, I mean really for me, get a job. Prove that you are capable of finding a job. Show it in action.”

Dinu, stunned, drops the paper. His livid face shows.

The wife continues, “I am going on a Caribbean cruise with Stella at the end of this month. By the time I returned, I hope to see you either as employed in some company or the owner of your own business.”

Dinu picks on the opportunity to change the subject. “Why Stella? Let us go together, you and me, on our second honeymoon.”

“I am going with Stella. By the time I return I want to see you either employed or as the owner of your own business,” she repeats firmly.

“Or else?”

“You will see,” Dharani gets up and walks toward the kitchen royally.


(Translated by author and published on, June 2009)



LIFE AS A RITUAL By Nidadavolu Malathi

Sitapati took his wife Sita to the restaurant on their sixteenth anniversary per local custom.
Sita is watching the people around. There are about 2 or 3 at each table- a young couple, an
old man and his wife, a father and two children, another mother with six children, probably a
birthday party. They all have paper hats on their heads and balloons in their hands. They
are talking loudly- about movies, new videos, games, songs, music, about classes they liked
or did not like, mortgages, credit card debts, the weather, winter, summer, South Africa,

Sita looked at her husband. He is lost in his own thoughts. What could that be, she
wondered. It is sixteen years since they are married. First two or three years it was fun. After
that he is living his life and she is living hers…

“How are you today?” the waitress inquired with a pleasant smile. She told them her name
and the house specials and asked if they were ready to order.

Sitapati told her that they were doing great and turned to Sita. “It is your anniversary. You
should tell what do you want?”

That is one of his habits. He always talks as he is doing everything for her sake. “Why? Am I
the only one married? You are not?”

Sitapati laughed and asked the waitress for her suggestion. He recited the list again like the
sacred mantra- specialty of the day, specialty of the house, her personal choice, and people’
s choice… Sitapati ordered specialty of the house for himself and Pina Colada for Sita.

“Would like grilled vegetable?”

“I have been ordering the same every time. I think I will have a salad today.”

He slipped in to his own world again.

She kept looking around.

He remembered about their wedding anniversary about four days back. “What do you want
for your anniversary?” he asked her with great enthusiasm.

She understood that he would get her something whether she wants it or not. Since they
come to this country this has become a custom. She cannot remember Indian festivals like
Diwali and Pongal. But these local customs are taking over. Every year he asks her and buys
something or other. So she will keep up with him and buy something for him. They start with
asking each other, protesting that he or she does not want anything, and then go out buy
something or other, wrap them up in colorful wrapping paper, then hide until the day comes,
send the children to neighbor’s house and they go out to eat…
Sita is not into the local these ways.

Sitapati could never understand her likes and dislikes. Not in the past 16 years he could
figure out what she really wanted out of life. He never forced her to do anything. He never
forced anybody to do anything. It is not just in his nature.

He respects his wife very much. In fact he has great respect for all women. He has lot of
friends. He is always there for them in their miseries. He is happy when they are happy. He
thinks highly of their brains. He has as much admiration for their wealth too Sita believes.

That is a moot point. Whenever somebody belittles women, he would take it up on himself to
rescue the reputation of those women. No. He does not physically attack them but certainly
will make sure that the men learn to respect women! Then some people teased him that his
name is justified. Sitapati literally means the husband of Sita. So you see. They have a point.

But then Sitapati did not take offense. He said he is proud to be Sita’s husband. He could not
figure out Sita. He would be able to get what she wants only if he knows what she wants.
Then he would go to the end of the world if necessary, and bring it, give it to her, make her
happy and feels great about himself. Unfortunately that is not happening.

Waitress brought plates and drinks. She arranged them neatly on the table and asked if they
would like to have anything else.

“We are fine,” Sitapati told her, and started nibbling chips. Sita looked at him for a second
and she too took a piece.

He lifted the glass and said, “To many happy years.”

“Many happy years,” Sita said.

“How is it?”


Looked at the table next to them. A middle-aged couple was sitting in the place of the young
couple that was there before. Sita smiled.

“Why are you smiling?”

“I am looking at the couple next to us. Earlier there was a young couple. Now they are middle-
aged. Feels like we are here for a generation long”.

Sitapati kept quiet.

The couple at the next table is planning their vacation. She suggested that they should go to
Florida. He says Colorado. Her argument is if they go to Florida they could visit with their
children. His argument is they could spend time with their friends. Either of them thinks his or
her argument is the most reasonable one.

“We haven’t seen our Telugu folks for a while,” Sita said.


“How about inviting them next week.”

“I might not be in town.”


“That’s okay. They all are your friends, anyways. Go ahead and invite them.”
Sita continued to eat. She looked at her husband. It seems he has a lot of faith in the words
of the waitress. Eating like he had not eaten in weeks. She could not swallow a bite. Is he
really enjoying it? Is he really aware what he is eating? She heard voices from behind.

“Have any plans for Friday?”


Sita turned her head a little and tried to see them without making it that obvious. She noticed
a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, probably 15 or 16.

“There is a small restaurant outside town.”

Sita imagined the expression on their faces. Probably he is looking at her mischievously and
may be she is raising her eyebrows with curiosity.

“Really. Good food too.”

“We’ll see,” said the girl.

“We can go to a movie later.”

“I’ll call you.”
“How about sevenish?”

Sita took a deep breath.

“What is that for?” Sitapati asked.

“Nothing. I was listening to the conversation of the kids behind me.”

“What is that about?”

“It is funny. In our families the adults go to so much trouble to arrange a marriage. Here the
kids go to as much trouble to impress each other.”

Waitress showed up again.

“Any dessert today?”

“You order,” Sitapati asked his wife again.

“I don’t want anything.”

“Have ice cream. You like ice cream.”


He ordered two ice creams and lost in his own thoughts.

The group at the other table started singing “happy birthday to you”. All the guests at all the
tables looked up. After the song the birthday baby blew away the 16 candles. Everybody
clapped. Sita also clapped. Sitapati is miles away. Sita did not feel like eating ice cream.
“Why?” Sitapati asked and without waiting for her reply finished her share also.
Suddenly Sita remembered Parvati. She met Parvati about four years back in the airport, on
her way to India.
*                *                *

Due to dense fog flights were cancelled. She was standing in the corridor and looking around
and noticed another Telugu woman. Parvati’s face lit up like firecrackers. They got in to

Parvati came to the airport to receive her mother. Since the planes were cancelled Parvati
was about to return home alone. She invited Sita to her place for the night. Sita felt a little
embarrassed but Parvati would not let go. She said her home was not far from the airport
and there was nobody else in the house.

“This is what we miss most in this country. I mean the meaningless chatting. I was born in a
small village. You know how it is. We stand at the front door or gather near the village well
and get in to chatting like “what curry” “what is new in town?” “Is that a new saree?” Here we
have neither time nor people to get in to such chatting,” commented Parvati with a nostalgic
look on her face. Sita realized something about Parvati just then. Parvati is 5 months
pregnant. With her arm around her shoulder she said, “Okay, let’s go.

“Are you done?”


“Listening to others’ conversations,” Sitapati said sarcastically.

“Well. I’d listen to you if you talk,” she snapped.

“Alright. Let’s go,” he got up, leaving some cash for tip.

*                 *                *

As soon as they opened the door, the phone started ringing. Sitapati rushed to pick up the
phone. Sita sighed, “Anniversary is over.” She threw herself in to the couch and turned on
the T.V.

Somebody must have said “happy anniversary” on the other end. Sitapati thanked them. By
the time he finished talking, one sitcom is over and a second one started.

“What are you watching?”

“Some sitcom.”

“Stupid show. Turn it off.”

Before Sita could say something, the phone rang again. Saved by the bell. He won’t be back
for another half hour. Sita could never understand that part. He could spend hours talking to
somebody on the phone. But if she tries to strike a conversation, he would put an end to the
conversation with “yup” and “nope”. He has no problem chatting with the young and old, men
and women, pundits and the ignorant, white or colored… anybody except her. How come?
Is it possible that in his opinion she does not belong in any of these categories? While he is
at home he acts like he is on pins and needles, waiting for that phone call. No matter from
whom, as long as there is call. Probably he took a full-page ad and told them that anybody
could call him anytime of the day. And it also appears that they all took him for his word.
They do call him at all times as if to please him, without thinking twice about the family he is
supposed to have…

Sita got tired of watching T.V. She turned it off and went in to the bedroom and picked up a
book to read. After almost an hour Sitapati came in. In her mind the mantra of a daily ritual
flashed through—“pushpam samarpayami (I am offering flowers), achamaneeyam
(offering water)”.

“Are you done talking?” she said, somewhat annoyed.

“You know TANA conferences are approaching. They want my advice. What can I say?” he
replied, slipping in to his pajamas.

“It is always something or other. I am not sure of the Almighty Lord but I am sure the world will
come to an end without your help.”

“Well, we all have to do our share.”
*                *                *

In the middle of the night the phone rang again. Sita woke up for the noise.
“Wait, I will take it in the other room,” Sitapati said and got up.

Sita turned over wondering how the other party could be so insensitive. He may have told
them they can call at all odd times but shouldn’t they have some sense? Sitapati was not on
the phone for long. But it was quarter to 4 by the time he returned to bed. Sita was just about
to doze off.

“Where did you go?”

“Hush. Lower your voice.”


“Komala is in the next room.”

“What?” Sita asked, startled.

“For sometime they are having marital problems, I mean Komala and Bhaskaram.”

“They are having marital problems. And so you brought her to our house in the middle of the
night?” Sita could not believe it.

“Go to bed. We will see what we can do tomorrow.”

Sita was furious.

“Of course, I’d go to bed. What else can I do? First explain to me why you have to go in the
middle of the night and bring her here,” she asked gnashing her teeth. She knows that it is a
hobby for her husband to run to rescue damsels in distress. Where is he going to draw the

Sitapati explained calmly. “Don’t talk like a blockhead. Bhaskaram has been fooling around
with a woman in his office. Now he brought her home. He says he would marry her.”

Sita wasn’t sure whether she should laugh or cry. “I must be really a blockhead. This is
beyond my comprehension. Bhaskaram brought some woman to his house and so you went
and brought his wife to our house?”

“Don’t be silly. This is totally different. Can’t you see?”

“Obviously. You have to tell me what I can and can’t see. Now you tell me whom should I call?
Who should I tell that my husband brought another woman to our house?”

“How can you talk like that? Are you kidding? You know I am not that kind of a person. If you
really suspect my intensions, I will drop her off at her home right now,” he said.

Sita could not speak for irritation. She does not suspect her husband. But she could not
understand this wild gusto of his either. His rescue missions are getting to her.

“So what do you think you would do now?”

“Let’s see. Think of something in the morning. Her brother is Canada. I’ll call him and tell him
and put her on the plane. Then our job is done.”

Sita suddenly felt like she is watching a movie. “What happened?” she asked him.

“He is a stupid fellow. Look at Komala. She is smart, beautiful, and everything anybody could
ask for.”

“Then what is his problem?”

“He says he is helping the other woman to get her immigration status.”
Sita is lost for words. She pushed away her husband and turned to the other side. She
knows her husband is kind to women in general. She also believed like Lata  that men in our
country supported women. She did not agree with Ranganayakamma  that men are
categorically hell-bent on ill-treating women.

In fact Sita appreciated her husband’s kind heart to start with. In her natal home nobody ever
put her down for being a female. Nobody ever told her “Go to the kitchen. Act like a woman.”
After her marriage she did not hear such language from her husband either. So it is hard to
digest what is going on now. She is confused as to when “help” crosses the line. When can
one say, “enough is enough”, “this is inappropriate”? Where are the meters that can
measure kindness?

She decided to see it the next morning. “Make or break,” she told herself.
She could not “make or break” next morning.
It was still a little dark. She woke up, finished her daily worship and was about to sit down with
her cup of coffee.

Komala walked in slowly as if she was walking on burning coal. Her eyes sunk in. Face was
pale. Seemed like might break down any second.

Sita was taken aback. After a few seconds she collected herself, “Come. Here, have some
coffee,” she said pushing her cup towards Komala.

“No. You have it.” Komala said. Her voice was hardly audible.

Sita thought of  Parvati again. We all have the same problem. Living ten thousand miles
away from mom and home, the one thing we can never get over is the family support we
have there.

Sitapati put Komala on plane that afternoon and returned home. “Calmed down?” he asked
Sita in a lighter vein.

“You never get it, do you? You saw only my anger but not my frustration,” Sita replied.

“Look. She is in trouble. I helped her. What is wrong with that? Do you really expect me to do

“I am not talking about this specific instance. I agree that in this case it is justified. But you
are always on a mission with the same passion. You would jump and run if she broke a nail in
much the same way. It is the amount of time you spend rescuing others and ignoring that
there is a person at home who might want your attention…”

“Alright. Next time I will consult you. I will ask for your approval first,” in the same mocking

Sita knows his words mean nothing but she has no answer for that kind of language. It is like
fighting with somebody who threw in the towel.

So what happens next?

Well, Sitapati suggests they would go out to eat.

Then the phone rings…

It is just like the same ritual performed everyday inanely!

Author’s note: (Hindus traditionally perform a daily ritual, which involves several physical motions. Sometimes people go through these motions almost involuntarily, unmindful of the underlying philosophy. For foreigners the local customs can become such meaningless motions, just a peripheral activity. Dining out is just that if not understood as time for communication, a way of “being together.” That sets tone for the rest of the story

.(The Telugu original devi puja was published in Swati monthly, 1988.

English translation by the author published on, December 2002.)




“You held me tight in your strong arms.”

Sita was in the living room holding the 8-page letter Gayatri had written to Sita’s husband, Sitapati. The letter left a bad taste in her mouth. Her face turned pale. Sitapati was acting strange for a few days now. Sita noticed that much. All of a sudden, for no obvious reason, he became an ideal husband. He started doing chores, rearranging the furniture, washing dishes, folding clothes and was eager to take children for a ride. The children were not little anymore, though. They were grown up. They said, “Thanks, dad!” and took off on their bikes.

Sita threw down the letter in despair. No need to read this trash to the end, she told herself. Her eyes scanned the room and came back to the same pages again.

“That one-day… after 23 years…”

“You said you’d take me to…”

“Your secret letter…”

“The thing you’ve forgotten in our bathroom…”

Sita was burning inside. She wanted to stomp on those papers, but she could not. After all, the paper is Goddess Saraswati!  Was he going to all this trouble just to cover up his affair with Gayatri? At first, she was surprised at her husband’s sudden interest in the household chores. But then, she convinced herself that he changed much the same way she had. Now she was beginning to see the clear light of the day. Sitapati had gone to India as a visiting professor and returned home, after six months, as a whole new Sitapati! He was not the same person she had spent the last 17 years with.

One day he made coffee by the time she woke up. “What is this? It almost looks like you have learned quite a few things back home. What did you do there, teach or learn?” she said teasingly.

“Well, we all learn at some point, don’t we?” he replied facetiously.

Sita’s eyes fell on the letter again. “The thing you’ve forgotten in our bathroom.” What could that be? What is it that a man would take off, leave in the bathroom and forget it? It’s got to be his wristwatch or lungi.  Of course, nobody walks around without the lungi on. That thing must be his wristwatch. She remembered Sitapati telling her his watch was broken in India.
She bent down and picked up the papers. What should she do now? Hand them casually over to him and say, “Here, these are yours?” Or, hide them? Burn them? Even as she continued to brood, she tore them up, unwittingly. “The world is not going to fall apart if he doesn’t see this one letter,” she told herself.

“You have been cooking for 17 years without a break. I will cook today. Tell me. What would you like?” Sitapati said, as he walked in boisterously only to find Sita was not in the room. He was a little puzzled. Rani and Bobby were not home. He found
Sita in the bedroom.

“Lying down at this hour? Are you okay?” he approached her and felt her forehead to see if she was running fever.
She pushed away his hand. “Who is Gayatri?”

“Just a friend from childhood days.” He sounded casual.

“Friendly enough to hug and kiss?”

“What kiss? What are you talking about?”

The argument went on for about one half hour. Then, Sita gave up. Not because she believed him, but she was no match for him in debates. Sitapati, however, was content. In his mind, he did not do anything wrong. Gayatri had poured her heart out on that day. He felt bad for her, and so, he put his arm around her shoulder just to comfort her. What else could he do? That was the way he had always been, ever since he was a kid. Any time somebody was hurt his heart cried for that person. That was one thing he could never understand–what is wrong if one person embraces another? It certainly did not mean that he had broken his vows to his wife any more than it broke Gayatri’s vows to her husband. Certainly, there is no reason for raising hullabaloo about it.

Sita thought there would be no more secrets after her confrontation. She was wrong. That night she heard him talking on the phone with somebody in India. She expected him to tell her about it the next day. It did not happen. Once again, she was confused. Why would one make a phone call from half way across the world in the middle of the night if it was not an emergency? She decided to let go of it.

The following day, Sitapati brought mail from the mailbox, slipped one letter into his pocket, and handed the rest of the mail to Sita. “Here, check them, I can wait,” he said with a touch of sarcasm. Sita felt firecrackers explode in her head. There is a Telugu proverb, a woman, good at flirting, is good at lying, too. She wondered why this proverb was stated with reference to women only. On that day, Sitapati vacuumed the rooms with renewed vigor. He bought presents for the children on some lame excuse. He even took Sita to a movie. Sita also was acting as if nothing happened. The pain in the pit of her stomach lingered on.

The following day Sitapati left for a conference in Philadelphia. That afternoon a telegram came in the mail. “The boy got admission in the college here,” it said. That was from the same Gayatri. Life was getting hard for her. Somebody’s boy was admitted in some college. Does that call for a telegram? Or, is it possible that the boy is not “somebody’s boy”? Sita felt sick in her stomach again. Her husband, apparently, was hiding something from her. What was it? And why? At this point, she was certain of only one thing–she could not rest until she knew the whole truth. Maybe that was needed to understand him, maybe for her own satisfaction. She had to know the whole truth and nothing but truth. There was no point in asking him, either. In the past 15 days he never gave her any straight answers. He was beating around the bush smoothly, kindly, arrogantly, snootily, angrily… He was shutting her up every which way but would not come clean.

A few months back, Sita told her husband, “Listen. I don’t trust your words and I don’t want to discuss this matter with others, either. That is why I am asking you straight.”

Sitapati did his usual routine. “I hate lying,” he said. “It hurts to think that you don’t believe me,” he said. “What about my reputation,” he said. “Hell with it,” Sita told herself.

Something occurred to Sita. She got up with a jolt, went into the basement and looked around. It did not take even 5 minutes. There were letters, pictures of two women, and a phone number scribbled on a piece of paper. Sita threw herself down in a chair with the letters in her hand. The letters were written by not one woman, not two, but three women.

“My husband is not in town. I am holding a new sari and thinking…”

“I wish I could come there and be with you…”

“Next time you come, you must stay only with me…”

“Loneliness, depression…”

“Forget your analytical skills. You’re the king of experience, for sure.”

“I want to put my arms around your neck.”

“I want to nibble your earlobes.”

Sita threw down the letters furiously. Then she picked them up again and looked at the dates. Some of them were received here, in the States, and some while he was in India. Thoughts started hovering in her head like bumblebees. A small smile came on to her lips. So many women in America said to her that “Indian women are oppressed.” These letters vouch for the complete freedom Indian women have achieved. The question is what they are doing with that freedom? These photos and letters did not look like they were just about friendship. It did not look like a matter of simple crying and comforting. “King of experience,” it says. What experience? Did the experience precede or follow his critique? Did she offer experience in exchange for his critique? Or, is it the other way round? Not bad. Not bad at all. Next time he goes to India, he might as well announce, “Consult Sitapati for experiential critique!”

She looked at the photos again. One of them seemed to be very young. That could be Sobha. Had he married a few years earlier, he could have a daughter of that age. Sita felt sick. She was disgusted. God, tell me what to do? I want to do something desperate. But what? Take the car out and hit a tree? Kill somebody—him, the children, those women, whom? Whom could I kill? How about confront those women? But, what can I ask? What is there to ask? I should be asking my husband only. What can I say to him? What is this with these married women? Why fool around with others? What kind of pleasure he gets in playing a second husband? Sita felt there were really no questions she could ask.

Sita closed her eyes for a second. What was the crux of her problem? She was not able to see it herself. Like Major Barbara says in Shaw’s play, she thought she stood on a rock eternal; and without a word of warning, it reeled and crumbled under her feet. She hoped Sitapati would cherish some values although he did not believe in our culture or religion. She expected him to show some decency at the very least. Probably that is what is bothering her most. She could see he is lying to her, but could not figure out why. What did he hope to accomplish by that? She heard garage door open.
Sitapati walked into the room.

“I saw the letters,” Sita said.

“What letters?”

“The letters from your female friends.”

“Not again. I told you that there is nothing going on. Didn’t I?”

“The letters are saying a different story.”

Back to square one.

“They are after me. I am not after them,” he said. “Nothing happened,” he added. “Nothing that you should worry about.” Then he continued to explain. “Something terrible happened to Gayatri and that led to depression. I am trying to help her restore her self-esteem.” And he also said that Sobha was a writer, and that was how the women writers write. Then, he asked in all earnestness, “What can I do if they write like that?” He assured her that he would tell them to stop writing to him.
Sita did not believe a word he said, but kept quiet.

“Stop all those stupid thoughts. Let’s go out,” Sitapati suggested.

“I am not going anywhere. The children will be back any minute,” Sita said, crossly.

“It’s okay. They are not babies. They can take care of themselves.”

Sita went into the next room without saying a word.

Sitapati was in the basement studying. Sita was in the bedroom. She thought her skull would crack open with frustration. Why did my life turn like this? I’ve been adjusting to his needs the best I could. In this god-forsaken country, whom else could I turn to but him? And what is my life like here? My day is nothing but making coffee, fixing breakfast, packing lunch, driving children to school, again bringing them home, shopping, cleaning, washing dishes, washing clothes, snow blowing in winter, mowing the lawn in summer, raking leaves in fall…No. These chores do not tire me out, but they sure do take the entire day. Amid all this, if I find a free minute, I would rather sit down doing nothing than get myself busy with something, don’t even feel like write a letter. In this amazing land of affluence, with all the gadgets, if I want a cup of coffee, I have to make it myself or forget it. Hell. There are times when I skipped having a cup of coffee simply because it entails washing three dishes. And then the food. I have to have Indian curries, at least, once in two days. For the children all the three meals are American style. And then Sitapati. Of course, he does not spell it out, but he does have his preferences.

Amid all this, Sita could neither account for her time nor could she say she had plenty of free time. It was a catch 22 for her. Sitapati did not follow any traditions, except the one that included entertaining guests non-stop. His complaint was Sita was not living up to his idea of a traditional wife. Is that the reason he is running after other women? Sita felt totally debilitated. A weak smile hovered on her lips. God knows whether Sitapati reinstated self-esteem in Gayatri or not, but, right now, her own self-esteem hit the bottom. She felt like crying but could not. She wanted to talk to somebody. But with whom? Up until now, she listened to others, but never took her problems to them. She started remembering all those friends, one by one. No. There is no use. It is not going to happen. It is not like back home. Here you cannot go to somebody’s home anytime, as you please.  “We have plans,” they would say. “We didn’t expect you,” they would say. “Please call me, next time,” they would say.

How about a movie, Sita wondered. Her body refused to move. She turned the T.V. on. Some soap. A wife sees a photo of another woman in her husband’s pocket. Sita laughed. No matter where she turns, the story is the same. She was about to turn it off, and then again, changed her mind. She wanted to see what would happen in the story. She knew life is not like movies but then there is some consolation. The TV wife started drinking to forget her problems. What if I start drinking? Well, the problem is you need to drink until you forget everything. Then you would not know whether you found a solution or not. It could scare the children, too. She recalled the proverb, “try to make a master, end up with a monkey.”
Sita was losing her mind. She wanted to do something drastic, but was not sure what it was. She picked up the phone and called her friend, Kamakshi.


“It’s me.”

“Oh, Sita! How are you? What is new?”

“Nothing. What are making for lunch?”

She heard a small laugh. “Stuffed eggplant. Want to come?”

“Are you kidding? You had better be careful. I might show up.”

“I am not kidding. Come on.”

“Okay. Be there in ten minutes,” Sita said and hung up.

“I can’t live in that house anymore.”

Kamakshi stared at her and said softly, “Want some coffee?”

Sita nodded as started telling her story.

“Did you ask him?”

“I did. I also told him that I wanted to keep it between him and me, and not take it to others. He babbled some nonsense, as usual. You know his rhetorical skills. It sounds okay for the moment. And then, a letter or a note appears making it only too obvious that they have him wrapped around their little fingers.”
Kamakshi did not know what to say. As far as she could tell, both the husband and wife were reasonable people, both knew right from wrong.

“The more I think about it, the clearer it is getting. It is not just that one question—whether he slept with one woman or not. In the past ten years, he has always been so wrapped up in the lives of others—their problems, their worries, their tears, their health, their children’s education, their marriages, on and on. That is his life. And now it has gotten down to hugs, kisses and lies. If he does not care about our traditional values, why should I? His ‘saving women program’ has reached the peak.” Sita stopped.

“Like Veeresalingam?”  Kamakshi said partly in jest, also, trying to clear the air.

“Yeah,” Sita replied, and then, with a weak smile, added, “No. Actually there is a difference. Veeresalingam tried to save

‘vidhavalu’ [widows] by arranging remarriage for them. Here, this man is messing around with housewives, making their husbands

‘vedhavalu’ [Idiots][ A pun on the word vidhava. Actually, there is a slight difference in the pronunciation of the first syllable.].”

Kamakshi smiled. Sita stayed there a little longer, and left. Kamakshi said a few more comforting words and told her not to act in haste.

Sita felt a little lighter after taking to Kamakshi, but the pain did not go away. Her heart was numb. There were occasions when she argued with others about the situation of women in India. Not only with other Americans, but with Sitapati as well. She argued that in Andhra Pradesh men always supported women.

Sitapati did not agree with her.

“Veeresalingam arranged marriages only for young widows for fear that they would seduce men. Even women’s education he promoted was about making women dutiful housewives.” His arguments about Chalam  were also on the same lines. He said Chalam advocated sexual freedom for women only to ingratiate men. What an irony? Now one woman complained her husband ill-treated her, and another woman claimed her husband allowed her total freedom—and both ended up in his bed! Wow! Sita felt was if she was hitting her head against a brick wall.

That night, after one more round of wrestling, each of them said ‘go to hell,’ and then they split. He went into the basement and she went into the bedroom. Sita wanted to believe her husband’s words. He never acted like a total jerk in the past 17 years. Besides, if he really wanted to fool around, aren’t there opportunities here? Why did he wait this long? Why so far away? What kind of secrecy is this? Such a joke! What should she think? Is he too smart or too stupid? Or, did he think she was stupid?

One week went by. Sita went into the basement for some book. A letter slipped out of the book and fell on the floor. The letter was addressed to Gayatri. Sita was taken aback. For a third time, the same situation! She recalled a couple of lines Rani had written when she was 9-years-old: “Believe me they say, trust me they say, and when I trust them, everything goes wrong.” A smart observation for a nine-year old! What is this? At a time she was trying to convince herself, she found four more letters—two of them from the two women, and the other two from Sitapati to them. Sita felt dizzy. She threw herself in the chair. Even the dumbest of the dumb would know when they see these letters that Sitapati was bluffing all along.

“I want to hug you.”

“I want to kiss you.”

“I want to go to Khajuraho  with you.”

“I am surprised that you know so much about birthmarks.”

“Now the room is vacant. This time there won’t be any problem. Kids no problem.”

“Bring me size 34 bra. Bring me gold. Bring me nylon saris. Bring me camera.”

Sita stopped for a minute as if to make sense of all this. And then, she continued to read again. The letter that shot through her heart was the one written by Sitapati to Sobha. “You have a right to hug me. You have a right to kiss me. You have a right to go to Khajuraho with me.”

A huge fit of anger choked her. She came upstairs, holding the letters in her hand. She sat down slowly in the couch. The snow outside was bright white like a heap of salt. Sitapati’s words in the lettter, “You have a right to hug me and kiss me.” hit her the most. Sita asked herself, “So, what rights I have? Snow blowing, lawn mowing, washing clothes and dishes? Is that it?” She recalled her words to Sitapati during one of their arguments, “If you think I will stay here for the sake of your reputation while you mess around with others, you are wrong. Don’t count on it.”

It is clear now. She decided that she could not stay in that house anymore, not a minute longer. She decided to leave. She felt the burden off her chest. For the first time in several days, she felt hungry. She got up and started cooking. “You are the only one who understood me. This time I may not stay long.” – The lines from the letters were pestering her like hungry dogs. Suddenly, she remembered the letters she wrote to her husband in the first few weeks of her marriage. She knew where they were kept. She quickly went there and pulled them out. She started reading them.

“Here also the sky is blue and the weather is cool.” “With the new status I attained after walking the seven steps  with you…” “When I asked you ‘what do you want’ and you responded ‘you just come’…” “Each person has so many layers of personalities. If you had seen me in my office…” “Waiting for the day when I can walk with a friend in the woods and whisper solitude is sweet…”
She felt totally exhausted. For the first time, tears sprang to her eyes. Sita did not get the life companion she was looking for. And he? Only he should know. She kept racking her brains. What happened in 17 years? Why? He did not hit her. He did not use obnoxious language. On the other hand, he told her, repeatedly, that she could do whatever she wanted. But, by the time she understood that, she also realized that his job and avocations stood in her way to do whatever she wanted to do. Six years passed by. In the freedom Sitapati allowed her, there were a lot of built in responsibilities—money management, part-time job, children’s needs, guests’ needs, household chores. … He kept telling her “You do such a great job,” and left everything to her. And he got used to spending time with his friends.

Sita tried to understand him from what could be his perspective. He said, “I leave home at 7:00 in the morning and return at 6:00 in the evening. During that period, I struggle to keep the job, work for promotions, try to prove my value, try to please everybody, it is pretty much like prostituting myself. After a long day, is it wrong if I want my wife to welcome me with a smiling face? Is it wrong if I ask about the children? If I have to observe formalities with my wife also, why marry at all? In America wives buy shirts for their husbands. You would not buy clothes for me. I love beauty in nature. Even from childhood days.”

Sita took a deep breath. That was his argument. Maybe there was some truth to it. But she was annoyed that he did not take into account all the chores she was doing. He complained that she was not acting like an American wife. But he did not do half the things the American husbands do. In fact, look what he is doing—fooling around with 2 or 3 women? Even that shows that his dream girl is a composite picture, a collage of several women. During one of their arguments, some three years back, Sita said, “If that is your idea of a wife, you might as well look elsewhere.”

He said, “If you think I would go to another woman, you don’t know anything about me.”
That was three years back. Now…?

That’s life, I guess. Days and months go by without we ever noticing it. People change unannounced. Their thoughts and opinions change, unconsciously.

Ding, ding, ding… Fire alarm went off. Sita rushed into the kitchen. The curry was burnt and turned into charcoal; heavy smoke set off the fire alarm. She turned off the stove and went into the bedroom. She stooped to pull out the suitcase from under the bed. The tali  in her neck from under her sari folds jingled, like cowbells. Yes, like cowbells, they made noise. Sitapati has changed. His values have changed. Today he is giving a new definition to the word, “marriage.” Sita removed the tali from her neck and threw it in the suitcase. She heard garage door open.

Sitapati walked in. He did not find Sita in the living room. Went in to the bedroom looking for her. “What now?” he said, looking at her and the suitcase.

“I am moving out,” Sita said, packing her suitcase, and without looking up.

Sitapati laughed. “What happened now?” He moved closer and patted on her hair.

She pushed away his hand.  “Don’t touch me, never again,” she said, and added, “I have warned you. I am not going to live with you, as if I am one of your sluts.”

“What?” Sitapati said, surprised.

Sita continued, as if she was narrating somebody else’s story, “I never called anybody a slut. Today the word came out very naturally .”

“Wow! Have you become a militant feminist?” He laughed a crude laugh.

“No. I did not become anything. I am and have always been the same. Great pundits like you read volumes of literature, deliver soapbox lectures, and produce more literature. And then, there are women like Sobha and Gayatri that keep blabbering about sympathy and empathy like the wrestlers in a pool of mire. They need to be saved, and you are there to save them. You all need each other. I am one of the million, very ordinary, Sitas who do not belong in either category. I spend my days, weeks and months like a bullock-cart on a country road, enjoying the peace and quiet, while you rush to save the world with your pedantic brain and heated debates. But then, I am not any less of a person just because you do not think so. Did you not hear the proverb–the turtle slithers making its way while the deer hops to its destination. That is their nature. Each person has her own way of life,” Sita said sounding unemotional.

Then she added, looking straight into his face, “Ironic, isn’t it? You go around lecturing about female voices, hear female voices across five continents, but not the voice that is right in front of you, and under your roof?”

(The Telugu original, “nijaaniki feminijaaniki madhya,” has been published in Andhra prabha weekly September 1987, and included an anthology titled, nijaaniki feminijaaniki madhya, published by BSR Publications, Vizianagaram. Later, the story has appeared in anthologies and on websites, I was told.
My translation, “Shortchanging Feminism” has been posted on December 2002.)
The story illustrates two points: 1. The cultural conflict foreigners face soon after their arrival in America. On one hand, they would want to keep their Indian values; and on the other hand, the intense need into assimilate in the local culture. Men cannot leave behind their beliefs and customs, but also want to adapt to the local culture. Women struggle with the lack of domestic help and family ties.

  1. In the name of feminism, both men and women violate established family and societal values, and use it as a self-serving ruse for their own gratification. I disagree with the critics who label it as a feminist story. The story, actually, exposes the hypocrisy of both men and women, who embrace the label to achieve their own goals.)

Translated by the author and published on, December 2002. Revised November 19, 2023)