Category Archives: Telugu Stories in English

Too Small for the Big Picture by Malathi Nidadavolu.

My name is Malathi, nicknamed Smallathi, always in the front row in group pictures. Back home I was considered average height. Here in the States, just cute.
I sit in my living room watching the snowflakes as they whirl and descend on the branches; hear the nerve wracking noises of the snow plow from below my unit. They seem to highlight the anomaly in my little world. Up until now the jarring noise from the snow plow has been music to my ears.
It’s ten years today since I moved in. I’ve been watching the snowflakes gracing the window panes, some balancing on the bare branches of the trees on the lot line, and flocks of birds forming a sharp cone and heading south. A strong urge for hot tea springs my head. I go to the kitchen, fill a cup with water from the faucet, and put it in the microwave.
Flop, flop … drops of water trickle from the faucet to a beat. Probably it’s not shut it fully. I push the handle down, swing it left and right. The trickle stops. Ha, my mistake. I drop a teabag in the cup, and return to the dazzling sight of the rising sun. The whiteout cloaks the branches.
I recall my realtor’s words when I started looking for a house. “For you, condo is the way to go,” she, Jenny, said. ”You can own a home without worrying about shoveling snow or mowing lawn. Trust me, that rattling of those machines will be music to your ears. You may even enjoy watching ’em with a book in your lap. … It’s a small complex you see, just four buildings, thirty-two units, just like your home in India, the extended family and all …”
I could see that she was trying to impress me with her knowledge of my culture. I turned away.
“Beautiful view of the trees and the lake farther up there,” she said.
I strained my eyes to see the water glistening through the branches.
I had nothing to say. Sold! I moved to my own place the following month.
A car pulls out from the garage across from my unit and stops. A lady gets out of the car, goes into the garage, returns with a shovel, and starts clearing the snow that piled up in front of her garage entry. That means I have to do the same. I go out and shovel the snow in front of my garage. She sees me and smiles, I smile back. No big deal, shoveling a little snow is not all that bad.
But the faucet is another story, it is erratic, sometimes drips and other times doesn’t. I can’t decide whether I should call a plumber or not. Maybe the manager can help me. It seems such a small problem.
I call the manager.
“Hello, this is Malathi.”
“Who? Monica?”
“No, not Monica, Malathi. I am in South Oaks complex.”
He doesn’t remember, which is understandable. He manages three complexes.
“Sorry, what’s your name again, Molina?”
I waddle through the spelling. “No, not Malina. Malathi. Em as in mother, A as in …” I go blank.. I can’t think of a word that starts with A.
“M as in Mary, A as in Adam?”
“Yesyesyes, sir. Adam. And then L as in lost.”
“N as in Nancy?”
“No, L,” I yell, almost. Better be careful lest I should offend him.
I get through my name. Now, to the real problem.
“My kitchen faucet is leaking?”
“Leak … uh …Faucet. The faucet leaking.”
“Ma’am, you’ve to speak slowly. Tell me again. Start with your unit number.”
I start all over again. Like English composition class. Spellings, similes, metaphors, …
“The problem inside your unit is your responsibility. You need to call a plumber.”
“Okay,” I hang up. I don’t know any plumber. I was hoping the manager could find a plumber for me. I’m wrong, hum. What the heck, maybe easier to live with an occasionally leaking faucet than finding a plumber. I decide to postpone the call until the faucet gets real bad.
It has not always been like this. At the beginning there was no professional manager. The unit owners formed into an association in my third year. Everybody pitched in, yard work, gardening, little repairs, suggestions for improvements … we worked together. We hired professionals for snow removal, mowing the lawn, and trimming the trees, etc. We all felt the pleasure of living in a condo, pride of home-ownership. For over four years now, we have a board of directors, a manager; and things are changing fast.
The board calls for a meeting. The president looks around, counts the heads, twenty-three, “We’ve quorum.”
President’s report, Secretary’s report, Treasurer’s report. President speaks of a brilliant idea suggested by the manager; he says his plan helps our units to appreciate in value. He suggests to buy the piece of land between our complex and the lake and build more units. A great investment opportunity, he says. The board of directors agrees. A couple of unit owners disagree. Who owns the building? We all own, we’ll be shareholders Who’s got the money for such a big project?
“I can advance the money,” the manager says.
Somebody from the back row says, “We thought all units are owner-occupied.”
“We’ll offer the units with a rent-to-own option. In a few years, we can convert them to owner-occupied. Since there is a lake, the units will be sold as lakefront properties. The entire complex appreciates in value.”
There is one more glitch. Before we embark on that project, we need to make improvements on our lot. Chop the trees and put something contemporary like a rock park.
“No, we like the trees. They serve as a barricade shielding our buildings from the street.”
“The trees are old and rotting. They’re going to come down soon enough. You don’t want that kind of problems.”
He has ready-made answers for every question raised. Every rule has loopholes, only you have to find them …
The discussion is over. A unit owner in the front row makes a motion and another seconds it. The secretary counts the votes – eleven ‘yeah’s, eight ‘nay’s and four abstain. The motion carried.
What a crock, my heart moans. Look at the numbers. In a complex of thirty-two owners, a board of five draft a proposal and six more approve it. Just eleven, that is 33%, and they succeed in getting a proposal put in place. Put it another way, twenty-one unit owners – nine unit owners who did not care to show up, eight nays, and four abstentions – do not support this proposal. Still the motion carried.
My pleasure of home-ownership starts to fizzle. A white hair gleans on my dark sleeve. Am I losing my hair? Am I going to lose an arm and a leg, and a piece of my mind too with all the new things that are being proposed to help the complex appreciate in value?
Then comes my heating bill. A whopping one hundred and fifty percent higher than the preceding season, a shocker. I always kept the thermostat setting at the same level. I get online and check the degree days in Wisconsin which gives me a comparison of heat for the past three years. There numbers seem to be fairly the same, there is nothing to show that this year temperatures are much higher than in the previous years. And I certainly did not leave the doors and windows wide open. How is this possible? I don’t remember ever seeing heating bills like these – for five months in a row the amounts are $72, 53, 75, 53, and 75. Strange sequence, unbelievable. Somebody should rewrite the old adage that women and weather are unpredictable, I guess. I return the bill to the manager asking him to see if he made a mistake.
Six months go by, no word from the manager. Maybe too busy for small things like my heating bill. For someone who could advance money for an eight-unit building, $200.00 is probably lunch money. Or, is it just me?
Finally, I receive a letter from the manager. There is no explanation for the ridiculous hike in my bills; just a reminder, a “past overdue” notice. It ticks me off. What happened to my request to check the bill for accuracy?
I sit down to write another letter reminding him politely of the contents in my previous letter. I know they, the board and the manager, prefer a phone call but I am not a phone person. We in India are used to be around each other, sitting in the same room, eating in the same kitchen, and sleeping in the same room most of the time. Even after thirty years in the States, I haven’t gotten used to the phone. It feels like talking to a wall (come to think of it, I do stare at the wall while on the phone). Besides, in a case like this it is hard to explain a lot of things on the phone. I can’t. When I write, I can think, edit, rearrange my thoughts and present them clearly.
Anyway, I start writing again, giving all the details why I thought the bill was a mistake. Once again, no response.
A few weeks go by, and a third bill arrives with the amounts showing past overdue. What is he doing with my letters? Is this his way of telling me that I must call if I want his attention?
Frustrated, I write to the board. I don’t hear from them, but the manager shows up.
“Let me check your thermostat,” he says.
“It’s working fine. It’s new. I installed last year.”
“Let’s see. That’s a start.”
I say okay. After a few minutes he tells me the thermostat is working fine.
“What next?”
He says he’ll be back next week and leaves.
A month goes by. No sign of the manager. Time for the next billing cycle. I get the bill for October. I did not notice that the heat was on in October. Nevertheless I got the bill showing my usage and the amount due. My anger reaches a new level.
I ask my neighbor about their heating bills. Nothing unusual in his bill. I tell him my sad story.
“Well, the manager has no time to look into all the details,” he says.
Details? I don’t understand. I am not talking about a twenty or thirty dollar hike; two hundred dollars is big enough amount, a cause for concern for me at least. If I let it continue, this year my heating bill will exceed my mortgage. My blood boils. Somebody has to account for this atrocity. Manager is not giving me answers, nor the board president or the secretary. And I can’t expect answers from the other unit owners.
I find an attorney and try to explain the problem. He shakes his head, “No, you don’t want to involve me in this. Try to work it out with the management.”
“Can you send the manager or the board a letter at least?”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Let’s see what the manager says.”
I am losing it on the double. I turn on the TV. Peoples court is on. A tenant suing the manager and the manager counter-suing the tenant. The case is about the plaintiff blaming the manager for not taking care of repairs and the manager, claiming he never got a phone call from the tenant.
Amusing, almost similar to my situation. I pull up my chair and turn up the volume.
I go over various scenarios in my mind, what if I drag my manager and the board of directors to the court.
The judge on the 24″ screen delivers the verdict, “It is your word against his. You say you’d written to him and he says he never received your letters. You don’t have his replies to show that he had received them. I feel sorry for you but I need evidence. Without evidence you have no case.”
I slouch in my couch and let the steam out. I hate the judges who say “You have a case but you did not prove it.” In disgust, I flip the channel.
The president is delivering his weekly speech, clutching the dais tight.
“We are winning.” Really? Why don’t you talk about the soldiers who are being killed every day and the families that depended on them?
“We are making progress.” What progress? Where are we heading?
“The economy is booming. We have created 150,000 new jobs.” People are taking low-paid jobs with no benefits. Does that count? You call that economic boom?
The president throws his arms into the air and says with a plastic smile, “You should look at the big picture.”
The big picture – that throws me off. Next president, next war, next disaster – the same argument, the big picture … the greater good. There lies the crux of the problem. You look up, look at the big picture, and you lose sight of the little people at the ground zero level. They don’t mean a thing for those who are looking up and looking at the big picture.
I get the message. This complex is growing big and I am too small for the big picture. Something inside my head snaps. I am not going to go away without letting the big picture folks feel my existence.
I sit down to write my last letter to the manager.
“I haven’t heard from you in a month. I’m not going to wait for one more season, go through the same rigmarole one more time, and let you blame it on the power company and the hurricane Katrina for the big hike in my next heating bill. If you don’t or can’t do it, I’ll arrange for an inspection by a professional heating system inspector myself and deduct the cost from the condo fee.”
This time the letter goes by registered post, requesting for acknowledgement.
“Don’t hold your breath. You know you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip,” my neighbor says.
I see her point. I pick up the phone to call Jenny, my realtor. “Let’s meet. I want to move out.”
She comes in that evening. “Where do you want to move?”, she asks, with her eyes gawking the lot across from the street.
I see the big picture again, writ large on her face.
(Published in, September 2006 and, October 2006)

Moist eyes by Vedula Sakuntala

The day was waning like an aged body; the twilight was blushing like a new bride on her way to join her husband. The sun was setting on the western horizon. Looked like a father exhausted after a finishing a life-long task of raising his children.

At that time …

Venkatratnam set out on his daily walk toward the park as usual. That’s one thing he would never miss. He wore a khaddar shirt, dhoti, and a pair of sandals. He stopped at the third house.

It was an old house. The weak, saggy beams seemed to be holding on as if bound by duty; probably they have taken in all the pain and suffering that went on for a very long time under that roof silently; and, now dribbling down the dust like tears through the termite holes.

The walls appeared to be too tired to comfort the owners; more like helpless relatives and powerless friends who were lost for ideas to offer help the owners.

Venkatratnam called for Chandram.

“Coming,” Chandram replied, walking down the steps. He stopped on the stairs and said, turning toward the house, “Do something, whatever”.

She disappeared the door mumbling something. It did not escape Venkatratnam’s notice. This was quite common; he had been that dialogue almost every day -could be about the school fee for his son, some outstanding debt … something or other; probably today it was about groceries. Why should this happen each day when he shows up?

“Let’s go”, Venkatratnam said and started walking quietly. In his heart, a sense of indifference and disapproval were gathering toward Chandram. This had been happening for a long time – this feeling of indifference and disapproval. He would nurse these feelings for a while each day and then either ignored or forgot them. The next day, he would invite his friend for walks as always; it became a habit.

If we sort out the thoughts amassed in his heart, they would be like these:

Some people are careless while making money; squander their earnings as they pleased; and then the day comes when they don’t have any money left and they envy people like me!

Why can’t they be careful like I was? Did I ever throw away my money on movies and restaurants? Why do they have to pick up all those bad habits? I never wasted my earnings on movies, cigarettes, restaurants, and fashionable clothes, but for a cup of coffee now and then. That’s how I saved enough cash. Now everybody has his eye on my savings. At home, the sons – they’re not kids any more – want me to turn over all my savings to them! They don’t have the courage to say it to my face though, lucky me; or else, they would’ve burnt the cash long time ago.

They spend all their own earnings on the stupid whims of their wives. Have they ever thought of giving even a little cash for household expenses? No. Well, they’ll know when they have a kid or two of their own.

But then again, maybe they would never know. I’ll to wait to see them wriggle, like this Chandram, and then, I’ll give them a piece of my mind! Look at Chandram, right in front of our eyes; father of six children. The two eldest children are girls, waiting to be married; that’s going to be a very long wait. Not until Chandram had met all the demands of the loan sharks called sons-in-law. If he is lucky he could get a son-in-law at a lower price, but that is a big if, considering Chandram’s net worth. All he has is this house and whoever would buy this dump? I am sure he is cooking up a plan to unload it on me. Everybody, who has any contact with me, is dying to cash in on my friendship; my own family, friends, relatives and even neighbors – they all have their eyes on me.

Venkatratnam got carried away into a maze of rambling thoughts and went past the park entrance. Chandram grabbed his shoulder and stopped him, “Emoy, my friend, are you all right? Where’re you going? Here is the park gate. You seem to be miles away. Are you feeling okay?”

Venkatratnam felt his friend’s on his shoulder; it gave him goose bumps, truly, in that one moment. Only Chandram is close enough to put his hand on his shoulder and address him as emoy. Venkatratnam removed his eyeglasses; he felt a film of wetness in his eyes, just for a second; in the next second, he shuddered as if a cobra had jumped on him. He knew that the same hand that patted on his shoulder gently today can bother him tomorrow for a loan; the same hand would be begging for his help; asking him to look into the eyes of his two marriageable girls and the sorrow-stricken face of their mother, and ask him to do the right thing. Venkatratnam was determined to keep his distance.

He removed Chandram’s hand from his shoulder gently and said, “Oh, no. These eyeglasses – their days are over; the pieces are scratched all over and the case is broken too. Nobody cares about any of my things at home. I want to get them fixed, been thinking about it for some time. The pension money is so little, barely enough to meet the household expenses and other incidentals. It’s killing me. You’d think I have sons, earning members. But that money never gets home. Here, listen, Chandram, we the old people lose their respect after our retirement. They consider any expense incurred for the old man is a waste. They’ll say, ‘Why waste 25 rupees on a pair of eyeglasses? Why don’t you find some other way of passing time?’ Forget it. Do you know what my own wife has said the other day? The woman – I’ve supported all her life – said, ‘Festive occasion, but don’t buy a saree for me. Buy clothes for sons, daughters-in-law and our daughter; she’s coming to her natal home and would want a nice saree. You and I are old, what do we need new clothes for?’ Doesn’t that mean that any expense incurred for her and me is a waste? So, I am good enough to earn and save for the kids but not take out a little money from my own savings and buy something for myself. Never mind, Chandram, I am pouring out my heart as if you have no problems of your own, probably, twice as many.”

Venatratnam sat down on a bench and looked up into Chandram’s face; he was trying to assess how much effect his words had on him.

The two friends sat there for almost an hour. Chandram was watching the children playing on the grass by the gate, hawkers were selling roasted peanuts; he was responding to Venkatratnam’s questions rarely and only in one or two words. Venkatratnam noticed it and heaved a sigh of relief, contented. He recollected the proverbial doctor who would prescribe only the medicine the patient was asking for. He fixed the uttareeyam on his shoulder, feeling proud of himself; he was certain that Chandram would not approach him for any loan in near future.

They both got up to return home. On the way, at the fork split, they saw an old beggar with a gunnysack spread in front of him. The blind beggar put a tin box on the gunnysack and was begging, “Babu, dharmam, kindness, babu, one paisa, kind mothers, caring fathers, you, children of the goddess Lakshmi, toss a paisa for the poor, blind man, sir, madam”. Venkatratnam looked at him and said, moving away disgustingly, “Look at him, Chandra, that’s all a show. I’m sure there are several idiots behind him. They all make this old man sit here and beg while they’re messing around somewhere. They use children and old people to make money this way. A big rip off. Did you see that? The tin was empty earlier and now it’s half full. He made so much in just about one hour, more than the hard-working men. Chi, rogues, that’s why I hate these beggars.” He finished his speech and walked away in big strides.

The beggar bawled again, nearly splitting his ribs for all the screaming and howling. A science teacher were present there, he could have easily given a lesson on skeletons, using the beggar as an example.

Chandram mustered his courage and slid his hand into his pocket. He felt a few papers — an acknowledgment receipt, duly signed by the storekeeper, his son had brought him earlier; a letter from a man who would have been her daughter’s father-in-law; the letter stated we liked your daughter but her beauty alone is not enough to accept the proposals; since you’re giving us hard time regarding the dowry we have decided to drop it; and the grocery list for the upcoming festivities his wife had jotted down for him. Chandram smiled feebly and told himself, “At this point, he’s better off than I am. He has a little change in the tin box at least.” Then he hastened and joined Venkatratnam.

The entire street was riotous. He couldn’t help wondering. People complain about the escalating prices, and that the lives of the ordinary people are going to dogs; at the same time, the department stores, soda shops, hotels, and clothes stores are bursting with people; they all continue to discuss politics, five-year plans, criticize movie directors; talk about the future of new companies and the five-star hotels in Bombay, or the new car a movie star is going to buy; the women writers’ conference in Rajamundry or the miseries of residents in Vijayawada during summer; the upcoming trade exhibition in Hyderabad; the elections and the candidates; and their gold fillings in their teeth, the silver-headed canes, and their foreign-bred dogs and the food the dogs would eat; and umpteen other things.

The entire marketplace was in chaos, like the silly jokes people would exchange at a wedding party.

The festive mood sang welcome song at all the homes in the region.

On that day –

Chandram’s wife put aside the usual worries for the moment and woke up with a smile. Her heart jumped with joy. Her children washed the rooms, drew colorful rangavalli on the floor, smeared turmeric paste on the doorframe on the lower beam of the door, and hung inviting mango leaves at the top. She blessed them; wish you all the best and a happy married life to each of you in the coming year. She blessed them with the same wish last year too. That’s the beauty of festivities. It makes us forget the past and feel like plenty of happiness lies ahead. That’s why a festive occasion is a blessing for many people.


Venkatratnam had a long, leisurely bath while dwelling on the expenses and making note of the amount wasted in the process. He told himself, he must make the others also see the wastage; he had to wait for the chance. He believed strongly that all festive occasions are waste of money; they’re more like lenders that are dead set on collecting their dues.

They all finished eating. Venkatratnam lay back in his chair, relaxed. His daughters and sons-in-law were playing cards, wagering real money. They were playing for fun, yet the fact that they put down real money angered him. The daughters-in-law were planning to go to the movies. That was even more annoying. He eyed them gruffly. His wife was putting away the leftover sweets. He cursed her, only to himself though; she wasted a week’s worth of groceries as far as he’s concerned.

Amidst all this, Venkatratnam couldn’t help recollecting Narusu’s words. This was what happened earlier: On that auspicious day, he blessed a few more people with his abusive language – the college students who put up a benefit show for Save the Country Fund and forced him to buy the tickets. A second incident was when, Ramadas, a neighbor, walked in with his son, slouched the baby in his lap and said, “He has no grandparents. You two are his grandpa and grandma. Please give him your blessings.” Then his wife rushed out of the kitchen merrily; she folded her hands and prayed to the Lord Venkataramana, hoping they would have a similar gem of a boy next year at the least crawling in their hallway; then she turned to her husband and said almost commanding, “What’re you looking at? He put your grandson in your lap. Give him five rupees.” Venkatratnam jumped out of his skin, almost. He had no choice but pull out a five-rupee bill from his pocket and shove it in the boy’s fist. Ramadas giggled and said, “Oh, no, auntie, it’s not fair to bother uncle,” picked up the boy and the cash and left. Venkatratnam was so angry; he could have gulped down Ramadas without chewing! He turned to his wife; he would have burnt her with his looks; but she had gone into the kitchen, lucky for her. Instead of her, his son-in-law was standing, looking angrily his own wife, Venkatratnam’s daughter. His looks were saying, “See, you idiot. Had we had a son by now, we would’ve gotten that five-rupee bill, maybe, even a ten-rupee bill.”

Venkatratnam felt scorpions crawling all over his body. He cursed Ramadas to his heart’s content and then lay back in his armchair, exhausted. He closed his eyes. To him, the entire family members appeared to be vultures or some horrible demons with scruffy hair and keen on chewing him up alive. Chi, they all are chomping me, he told himself. He opened his eyes. There, the maid, Narusu, was standing in front of him.

She was no sight to look at. Her hair was scruffy, face was sweaty, and two of her front teeth stuck out. She said, giggling, “hee, hee, what’s it, babu? Napping before eating? I’m going home. Festival, you know, want to go to the temple. I asked amma garu for a little change, she said ask babu garu. Babu, festival bonus. Let me have a couple of rupees.”

“Yeah, you and your amma garu have nothing better do. What’re you thinking? Do you think I have a stash to throw away? Go. Ask your amma garu,” he yelled at her.

“What’s it, babu? Why yell at me, what for? You are a Rajah, aren’t you? No reason to talk about any stash. Just give me a couple of rupees and I’m gone. In fact, two rupees are not enough either. One rupee goes to the temple and then the other rupee goes to the movies, my man and I will go to the movies. That’s all, there’s nothing to save. Never mind all that. Just give me the money and I’m gone,” she kept giggling and babbling.

Venkatratnam looked at her and yelled again, “Hey, what’re you chattering about? Why do I have to give you anything in the first place? If you had not saved the money, why go to the movies? Just, go home, get lost. I have no money to give.”

Narusu’s face was jet black, her eyes always red and her voice hoarse. And when she’s angry, all the features would reach one level up. Almost all the people who knew her would know that.

She started shouting at Venkatratnam; she was quivering as if she was possessed, even without the neem branches in her hand and wagging them. Venkatratnam froze in his chair.

His sons rushed to the scene. “Nanna garu, what’s it? Why do act like this? The more control you have the worse you behave. Why bicker with a maid? Why not toss a couple of rupees to her? Festive occasion, can’t you see that much?” his eldest son said and turned to the maid, “Here, Narusu, why didn’t you ask me? I could have given you without this rumpus. Why did you go to him? Here, take this money. In future, you always come to me, not him. You know his ways, okay?” He pulled out a five-rupee bill from his pocket and gave it to her.

Narusu calmed down like a possessed woman would after breaking a coconut and offering harati. “I know, babu, but then, he is the head of the family. So, I thought I must go to him first. It is nice if came from him. Not that I can’t ask you and you can’t give; just a matter of respect,” she said and left.

Venkatratnam sat in his chair. He could hear his sons’ ornery comments; his wife’s grumbling from the kitchen, and the son-in-law criticizing him … he heard all of them. But the one word Narusu said was screeching in his ears like a howl. He wiped the sweat off his face. His heart was jumbled; his thoughts were all tangled up. He finished eating and went to bed. He closed his eyes. The thoughts wouldn’t go away; they were haunting him without a break. He dozed off.

His younger son woke him up. “Nanna garu, here, this is for you,” he put a packet on the bed.

Venkatratnam was now wide-awake and noticed the packet. “What’s it?” he asked, putting on his glasses.

“Not much. You bought clothes for all of us, but didn’t get any for yourself. We didn’t think it was right. Annayya and I went to the store and bought clothes for you and amma also. Here, wear them,” he said and left.

Venkatratnam looked up. The photos on the calendar on the wall across the room looked new. It felt like he was seeing them for the first time; the entire house looked new.

His eldest son called out from the porch, “Nanna garu, are you up? Chandram garu is here; came to see you.”

“I’m coming,” Venkatratnam replied, got up and went into the backyard. He washed his face, feet, and hands, and came out. Chandram wore new clothes, was sitting in a chair, and sipping coffee. “I am waiting for you,” he said. For Venkatratnam, several images came to his mind – the pinnacle of happiness; Lord Siva who swallowed poison and kept on smiling; Lord Vishnu who lay back on the divine serpent on the crest of milky waves; and a few others. He sat down and picked up his coffee cup. Chandram was talking exuberantly. He finished his coffee and said, “Venkatratnam, can you go out with me, just for a few minutes?”

Venkatratnam was confused a little. It was not yet time for their usual walk. Is he in some kind of financial trouble? There are no visible signs of any such thing. Never mind, I’ll know soon enough, he told himself; and said yes to Chandram, went in, put on his new clothes, sandals and came out in fifteen minutes.

Venkatratnam said proudly, walking down the stairs, “My sons bought me.” Chandram laughed and commented, “That’s obvious. You would not go for expensive clothes like that.”

Venkatratnam felt put down. Chandram patted on his shoulder and said kindly, “I didn’t mean to insult you. You buy so many things for them all but don’t take care of yourself. True, you work so hard but you are also anxious for everybody to notice your sacrifice. In a way, you are unselfish. But then, it’s not fair to expect all others to be like you. Life is priceless. Only experiences are the ones that stay with you to the end and show a new world and offer a meaning to life for that matter.

“What is the worth of a man who draws a circle around him and sits at the center? He is more like a dead tree, without any experiences, none whatsoever. A true man is that one person who experiences in every cell of his body the genuine feelings like compassion, sympathy, mercy and closeness every minute of his life. That’s what makes him a true man. A man can be rich only when these qualities are flowing like an undercurrent through his body. On the other hand, a man who keeps building dams each time an emotion kicks in, he is destitute even if he had a hoard of cash. He will be living a battle, being separated from his family, friends and relatives.

“Never mind all that. Can you guess why I asked you to come with me? Today, I felt like doing a good deed. Not a big thing. You are a good friend and I want to buy a new pair of glasses for you. I want it to be a symbol of our friendship forever. Oh, no, don’t look surprised. Hear me out. Yesterday I went to a doctor I’ve known for a long time. He said he would examine your glasses and change them as needed. I’ve already paid the deposit yesterday. Please, let me do this one good deed. I know you can buy for yourself, or your sons can buy for you. But then that’s not what gives me the satisfaction, right? Don’t think about my finances. Frankly, nothing compares, not even a million rupees, to the pleasure I will experience when I spent twenty-five rupees on a good friend. Please, don’t deny me this pleasure. Grant this poor friend this one wish.”

“Chandram!” Venkatratnam could not speak any more than that. A number of emotions like excitement, shame, impatience and hurt, burst forth at his heart like lava. It took a few minutes for him to collect himself. All of a sudden, he saw a brand new world and a new life.

That evening, he did not go for a walk, as usual. Chandram went to the temple but Venkatratnam did not go with him to the temple either. He put on the new glasses his friend had bought for him, wore the clothes his sons had bought him and went to the store, walking in big strides.

He reached the corner where the road split into two, where the blind beggar usually sits with his gunnysack spread in front of him. His heart was in a rush to do a good deed that day.

But, the beggar was not there on that day. Venkatratnam removed his glasses and looked around. No, there was no sign of that particular beggar or any other beggar for that matter.

Venkatratnam’s eyes turned moist rather unexpectedly and the moisture never left.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, August 2004.

(Telugu original, taDi aarani kaLLu, was published in Viswaracana.)


[1] Casual form of address between close friends.

THE VERVE OF A TENDER SHOOT by Nidadavolu Malathi

“Mommy…” Kinjalka came running, from school.

“Ah! Don’t jump on my like that,” Sarada said, annoyed a little. Kinjalka’s face fell.

Sarada noticed her mistake. “Come here,” she said, pulling her close.

That’s all the little Kinjalka wanted. What does she know the havoc in mommy’s heart?

Sarada can’t explain it either. Poor thing. A simple “Come here” is enough to please her!

Kinjalka showed the picture she painted at school.

“See. This is for you,” she said.

“Beautiful. I like it very much. I’ll put it on the refrigerator,” Sarada said.

Kinjalka’s face blossomed like an early morning bud.

Murari walked in. “Here, a telegram from your mother,” he said, throwing the piece of paper in her lap.

“Telegram?” Apparently it was a surprise to her too!

“Yeah! She is coming at the end of this month.”

Sarada did not say anything.

“Send another to her; tell her it’s not a good time,” he said, trying to me casual about it.

“Ha?!” Sarada was almost shocked.

“I mean…” He did not finish the sentence.

“It is over ten years now. Not a weekend passes by without setting one more plate at the table. They are all your friends. Now, for once, one person, my mother to be specific, would like to visit us; and, you want me to tell her that it is not a good time?”

“You know what I mean. Do you, honestly, believe that she can have a good time under the circumstances?”

Sarada turned to Kinjalka and said, “Grandma is coming.”

“Really! When?” Kinjalka felt elated at the prospect. She didn’t spend a lot of time with the grandma, but remembers her very well, because of all the gifts that keep coming from her. Grandma sends silk outfits and jewelry through the friends, traveling back and forth.

“So, are you going to do it, or should I?” Murari pressed for an answer.

“I won’t,” Sarada replied, watching Kinjalka, playing with her saree end. The atmosphere in the room is getting tense; and that showed in the the little face.

Sarada added, “See this. She did it at school today.” She showed the picture to him.

“Wow! Beautiful. You will become a great artist, one day. You know, my cousin on my father’s side, thrice removed, is an artist. It is in your genes,” he said enthusiastically.

“I will make one for you tomorrow, daddy,” Kinjalka said, expressing her sense of fairness. She does not want daddy to feel left out.

“I’ll put it on the fridge. We all can enjoy it,” Sarada repeated her offer.

“Come. Let’s go shopping.”

“What for? Why now?”

“Your birthday is coming soon. Isn’t it?”

“Not yet, you silly,” Kinjalka said, with a naughty smile.

“I know that, you silly! Just, in case I am not in town at the time,” he replied.

Sarada sighed, and got up to go into the kitchen.


Mother arrived the same day, as planned. Sarada went to the airport, and brought her home.

Kinjalka jumped at her like a leopard, even at the door, “ammummaa..”.

Mother’s face lit up like a hundred-watt bulb. She wouldn’t mind traveling ten thousand miles for that brief moment!

She stroked the little girl’s cheeks gently, and said, “You are so thin. What is your mom feeding you?”

Kinjalka cracked up, “I told you.”

“Look. I don’t understand all this wishy-washy language. You must talk to me in Telugu,” said mother.

“Okay,” Kinjalka shrugged her shoulders as she replied in English.

Sarada explained with a smile. “In India, people always say ‘you’re losing weight’ all the time; as a matter of concern, you know! She thinks it’s funny,” and added, “Come in. I will show you the bathroom.”

While mother was freshening up, Sarada made coffee. After taking a sip, mother opened her suitcase and started pulling out the gifts—a silk saree for Sarada, a pair of dhoti for Murari, a silk skirt, and jewelry for Kinjalka…

Kinjalka could hardly contain her joy, for all the gifts she is getting.

Sarada’s heart sank.

Murari left the room, sulking.

“You shouldn’t have gotten all these things. There is no need…” Sarada mumbled, trying to hide her heartache.

Mother kept quiet.


Mother kept herself busy with Kinjalka. She is teaching the little one, songs and games, playing with her, getting her ready for school, putting her to bed, and so on…

There is one song, Kinjalka liked very much, and learned to sing, very quickly.

chitti chilkamma, amma kottindaa? (Little birdie, Did your mom spank you?)

thota kellaavaa? pandu thechaavaa? (You went to the grove? Brought a fruit?)

gutlo pettaavaa? Gutukku mingaavaa? (Put it in the cupboard? Gobbled it up in a snap?)

Kinjalka started singing ‘chitti chilkamma, kinjalkamma’. It was fun, to build her name into the song. Mother tried to correct it but Kinjalka wouldn’t listen.

“My mommy will never spank me,” she said firmly.

Mother tried to explain to her, that it is not about her mom; that is the way the song was.

Sarada laughed. “You can’t argue with her,” she said.

The phone rang. Sarada picked it up and said, “hello!”.

Revati was at the other end. She called to invite the family for dinner on Saturday.

“I heard, your mother came from India. How was the flight? How is she? Please, bring her along,” Revati added.

In the evening, Sarada told Murari about the dinner invitation.

“I am busy. You all can go,” he said.

“Come on, daddy. It will be fun. You like Vishnu uncle too!” Kinjalka wants him to go with them.

“Not now. I have work to do. We will see next time,” he replied.

“You tell him,” Kinjalka would not let go. She wanted her mom to try.

“May be, you can make time, for this once. All the other children come with both the parents,” Sarada tried to be as specific as possible.

“I will go with you next time, I promise,” he is just about as stubborn.

Sarada got up to do laundry, and asked mother to bring her clothes for washing as well.

While sorting the clothes, she felt something in Kinjalka’s pocket. It was a pack of cigarettes.

“It’s not mine,” Kinjalka said.

“How did it get into your pocket?”

Kinjalka closed her lips tight.

“Come on. You have to tell me. How did they get into your pocket, if they are not yours?” Sarada asked tauntingly.

“I am telling you. They are not mine.”

“What happened?” Murari walked in.

He heard the story and hit the roof. Hell was let loose.

He starting stomping all over the living room. He wanted to know what Sarada was doing, while the child was taking to bad habits; Isn’t it her job to take care of the child? Isn’t it her responsibility to teach propriety and good behavior? Today, she started with cigarettes, and tomorrow she would steal cars… Mom is at home, doing what?

“That’s cute. If she shows talent, it’s in dad’s genes; and, if she errs, that’s mom’s fault,” Sarada commented calmly.

“Stop, daddy! It is not mommy’s fault,” Kinjalka said.

“Never mind whose fault. How did they get into your pocket?” he insisted.

After a few minutes of wrangling, Kinjalka finally let the cat out of the bag–a boy from the fifth grade asked her to save the pack for him; he was afraid that his mother would kill him, if she finds out.

“There is a smart idea! What are you thinking? Your mommy would give you a big hug, and pat you on the back?” mother asked her.

“My mommy won’t spank me,” Kinjalka said, pouting.

Sarada is losing heart. “Please, mother! Let me handle this,” she said meekly.

“A fine way to raise a kid,” mother said, seized the child by the arm, and whisked her away into the next room. Instinctively, she knew that this argument between the husband and the wife was not going to end in near future.


At night, Sarada lied down, next to the child in her bed, and tried to talk to her. In this country, people’d say, “Talk, talk, talk.” But, she never knew how to do that. She did not grow up “talking” to the parents. They talked, and she listened. She didn’t find anything wrong with that either. Actually, she became a good listener, in the process! Now, it is time for her to talk; but, the child is growing up in a different culture, with a different set of values.

Sarada could not figure out a viable way, between these two streams!

“Are you angry with me?” she asked, after what seemed to be an eternity.

“No,” the child replied.

“Do you want to talk?”


“Do you want to talk to someone else?” Sarada asked, holding her breath.

“Can I?” Kinjalka almost jumped at the prospect.

Sarada’s heart felt a thump in her heart.

“With whom? Amy?”


“Why not? You’ve been friends all your lives.”

“Her mom says you will leave us.”


Oh God! The words were lashed out across her face like a whip. She held the child tight to her bosom.

For the first time, a huge fit of sorrow leapt to her throat, like a massive tidal wave. All this time, she was thinking, only about the other children, who might give Kinjalka hard time. She never thought, that other mothers could be as cruel! All along, she was looking at the problem as her own. People keep asking her how she (Sarada) is doing, but nobody seem to think how a child thinks; I mean, the workings of the little mind. Of course, they do ask, “How is she?” or “How is she taking it?” But, who knows what really is going on, in the child’s mind?

“Sorry, mommy” Kinjalka said.

“It’s okay,” Sarada said, and stayed with her until she fell asleep.


Next morning, she woke up early, to make coffee. Mother walked in, and asked, “Did she sleep okay with you?”

Sarada was confused. “What are you talking about?”

It seems Kinjalka woke up in the middle of the night, and said that she would go, and sleep in mommy’s bed. But, she did not go to mommy. She was not in the house.

Murari heard the noise, and woke up.

All the three started searching all the rooms, under the beds, in the closets, in the garage… and even inquired the neighbors … hoping, and praying, that the child is okay, somewhere…

The phone rang, as they were about to call the police.

Janet called to ask, if they wanted her to keep Kinjalka for today, also.

Janet is a long-time friend. She knew Kinjalka from the day she was born. She lives nearby. It’s a five-minute walk, if one takes the short-cut, and a ten-minute drive, on the road, by car.

Relief and anxiety took over; Sarada talked, simultaneously, to Murari and mother on this side, and to Janet, on the other side, over the phone. She said that the child is okay; and told Janet that she is on her way, to come and get the child.

Kinjalka, after telling her grandma that she was going to sleep in her mom’s bed, grabbed some shirt, slipped it on; opened the door; and went straight to Janet’s house. She knocked on the door; and told Janet, that there was some family emergency at home; grandma had to be taken to the hospital, and so, they dropped her off, here, at Janet’s door. Nobody ever thought that Kinjalka could fabricate a story like that, not until now.

Murari was irate, like any father would, under the circumstances. How could a six-year old child leave home in the middle of the night, like that? What was she thinking? It seems she is past the “talking” stage; he must take some drastic measures to make her understand; yesterday it was cigarettes, and today running away?… Where will she stop?.. How could a mother not know when the child is not home?…

“You two squabble as you please, and as long as you please. I will take the child back to India,” mother said.

“I am not going anywhere,” Kinjalka said, crossly.

“Pull her out of that school. We will send her to a private school, or to a boarding school,” Murari said, making the decision on the spot.

“I am not going anywhere,” Kinjalka was just as firm.

“First, tell me why did you run away like that, in the middle of the night?” he asked her straight.

“I did not run away.”

“What would you call it, leaving home in the middle of the night, like that, without telling us?”

“I went to see Janet. Janet is nice. She understands.”

“Look! You might as well get this straight, right here, and right now. You are not going to do any such thing again. Understood?”

“I don’t have to listen to you.”

“Oh, yes, you will. You must listen to mom and dad. Got it?” Murari nearly screamed.

He was losing patience.

“I hate you.”

“Shut up. Learn to listen.”


“ ’Cause I am your dad!”

“I don’t care. Did I ask you to be my dad?”

Wow! Mom and dad were stunned, and looked at each other. Where is she getting these ideas from?

Sarada picked up the child abruptly, and took her to the next room.

Mother went into the kitchen. Murari disappeared into his office.

Sarada kept thinking all day. “Choices” is a huge buzzword in this country. The grown-ups “choose” to marry whomever, and whenever they please; “Choose” to have a child, when, they think, they’re ready; they even get to “choose” the gender; and “choose” to get a divorce as and whenever they want.

Where is the choice for the child? Does anybody think what the child might “choose” to have or not to have?

Who decides, what the child wishes to have, or not to have?

The adults and the courts decide, pretty much, like kicking a football; and the child falls wherever she is destined to!

Sarada couldn’t help wondering, how many children would “choose” to be born into this world–a world brimming with violence, hatred, greed, and selfishness!


On Saturday, Sarada and Kinjalka asked Murari one more time to go with them. He said he has work to do, and stayed home. The others left, without him.

At Revati’s home, it was an interesting mix. There were about 30 adults and six children. They all were speaking in about half a dozen Indian languages, between English phrases and sentences. The atmosphere is funny for mother. She has some knowledge of English, but, this hybrid language is hard to follow. She sat in a corner, feeling a little lost.

At the other end of the room, Revati’s father-in-law, Krishnaya was sitting, looking, just as much, amused, or lost, or both! After his wife passed away, a year ago, his son, Vishnu and the daughter-in-law, Revati insisted that he move to the States, and spend his golden years with them.

Krishnaya and mother struck a conversation.

“How are you managing in this god-forsaken country? It is about a week, since I arrived here. I am feeling like the chataka bird, hanging upside down, in the sky. What is it our people see here, that is such a big draw?” mother wondered, sounding a little despondent.

Krishnaya smiled complacently. “It is all in our minds. Once we set our mind to it, and create an environment for ourselves, these outward trappings will not touch us,” he said, philosophically.

“Probably, you are right.”

“Could you, please, come this way,” he said, as he walked toward the fourth bedroom.

Mother and Sarada followed him.

It is a small room, could be a walk-in closet. It is sparkling clean, and filled with floor decorations. The traditional designs on the floor; the red and yellow dots, the green mango leaves—all comprised of plastic and oil paints, yet, for some reason, did not look odd. Against the eastside wall, there was a wood frame, built like a little temple. In the center, the Goddess Syamaladevi was set, looking gorgeous, in a silk saree, and jewelry.

Krishnaya lit up an incense stick, and, suddenly, went into a reverie.

In an uplifting voice, he started singing the famous verse, Syamalaa dandakam, in praise of the Goddess Syamaladevi…

Maanikyaveenaam upalaalayanteem madaalasaam…

    The music was from out of this world. Krishnaya was miles away.

Maatangee, madasaaleenee, maahendradyuti…

Sarada, also, was lost in the reverberating sounds. She was feeling goose bumps all over.

Saagaraabdha sangeetha sambhramaalola..

She did not realize when Kinjalka came in. The little girl was sitting, cozily curled up, next to her. The child was staring at the entire setup, with amazement.

The noises in the next room, also, subsided.

Krishnaya finished the song softly, like a plane landing, and prayed for a few more seconds. After that, he gave them raisins for prasadam.

Kinjalka held out both her palms, respectfully, and looked at her mom. Sarada nodded with a little smile. The child took her palms near her eyes, as per custom, and ate the prasadam.

Krishnaya gently touched her cheek, and said, “The goddess is gorgeous, like you.”

“I know,” Kinjalka replied, narrowing her eyes playfully.

Sarada laughed. “You’ll have to excuse us. We are a little short on humility,” she sounded apologetic.

Krishnaya did not laugh. “No! That’s good. We all have to have that self-esteem. That is important for survival,” he said solemnly.

They stayed there for a while, and were ready to leave.

“Can I get a ride?” Raghava asked Sarada. He lives, not too far from their home.

“Sure,” she said, and walked toward their car. Raghava sat in the backseat, next to Kinjalka.

Raghava started talking. “I can’t understand our people. Our Indians are so brilliant, yet, they act like total morons. Here, in the West, the scientists are building ladders to the skies. We, Indians, are still digging deeper and deeper into the nether lands, like ostriches. In stead of looking up, we are wallowing in the rut of the outmoded traditions; we, continue to believe, that the boulders and tree trunks save us from our miseries. While the West is producing great scientists, we are looking to the stones for rational solutions. Look at Krishnaya. He is an intelligent man, I am sure. Why can’t he use his faculties for some logical thinking?”

“So be it, Raghava. We all follow our hearts,” mother said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Yes, madam, I agree. At the same time, what is wrong in developing some concrete mode of thinking. He has a stunning voice. I’ll give it to him. He will be a smash hit, if he holds a concert. But invoking a goddess? Ludicrous, if you ask me! The man is deluded.”

“No, he is not,” Kinjalka said.

Raghava looked at her, surprised, as if he couldn’t believe what he just heard.

Sarada looked, at both of them, in the rear view mirror, and turned to mother.

Mother was, complacently, looking straight ahead.

“I saw her too. She is beautiful,” Kinjalka said again.

For some reason, Raghava did not want to continue his speech, anymore. Sarada dropped him at his place, and reached home by about 9:30.

Murari and a couple of his friends were playing cards in the living room.

“You said you had work to do,” Kinjalka asked.

“I did. I just finished it. They just got here, a few minutes ago. How come you are home early?”

“Mother is not used to staying up late,” Sarada said and went in quickly. She was in no mood to offer explanations to anybody.

She changed into pajamas, and was going to the kitchen for a glass of water. She heard mother talking to Kinjalka and stopped at the door.

“Come with me to India, honey! You can play with grandpa, uncles, aunts, and your cousins. They all can teach you songs, games, and all that, you know,” mother said to Kinjalka.

“No, ammumma! I can’t. I have to be here. Mommy and daddy need me. Don’t you worry. That little girl will take care of us,” Kinjalka said.

Sarada forgot about the water. She went straight to bed, and kept thinking about the words Kinju said, for a long time.

The verse Krishnaya sang was an elaborate description of an adult woman, in the prime of her life. Kinjalka called her the “little girl”. That is strange!

But the words that kept coming back to her, all night, were “Mommy and dad need me”!


Published on, March 2002

SALTY WATER by Sadanand Sarada

It was her first day on the college campus for Kamala. She was walking along with others but her caste put her million miles away from them. Was she left with nothing but loneliness?

Poor woman! She was shaking like a deer that wandered off into wilderness … Her fearful eyes were drifting away in all directions.

“New here?” somebody asked her.

Yes, She nodded.



“Which class?”
“She? Second class!” Somebody else replied. They all burst into a big laugh.

Their laughter frightened Kamala even more. She was thirsty for a while, and their laughter dried out her throat completely.

“You are wearing a skirt and a half-saree? That to a degree college? What do you think this is? Second grade?”

“No madam. I joined the second year Intermediate class,” Kamala replied, fumbling for words.

“Is that right? We thought maybe our college has introduced the second grade recently, and that you were admitted in the second grade.”

“No, it’s not like that.”

“So, tell me, you’re in what class?”

“B.Com. first year,” Kamala said. She felt relieved that she managed to give them a correct response this time, and it was a relief.

“Telugu medium or English?”

“Telugu medium.”

“Ha, Telugu medium. Hey, Lata, come ‘ere. Meet this girl, she’s also from your caste,” she called out to Lata.

“What do you mean your caste?” Lata asked sourly.

“I mean, Commerce, Telugu medium.”

“You should say vaanijya sastram,” another friend said, giving the correct Telugu term for commerce.

“No dear, no way can I utter a word that long!” the first woman said and she turned to Lata again, “Here, this girl is in your Telugu Commerce class. Poor thing, see, she’s looking lost. Show her your classroom,” Leela Srinivas said to Lata.

Leela Srinivas would call a Hindu ‘Hindu’, Telugu ‘Telugu’ and claimed that her mother-tongue was Tamil.

Lata introduced a few more boys and girls to Kamala. Kamala folded both hands politely to all of them and said namaskaaram.

Kamala could not figure out why all those students were so kind to her and sought her friendship, not until it was time for the student union elections in her college.

Lata was in second year B.Com. Telugu medium class. She was walking with Kamala toward the first year class.

Kamala said softly she was thirsty; her tone was barely audible.

“There’s a water-cooler in that corner. Come on, I’ll show you,” Lata said.

The water cooler in the corner with two faded plastic glasses by its side seemed to showcase the extent of poverty in our country and the dishonesty in our people. A white plank with black lettering, attached to the water cooler, read that the water cooler was donated by Bahadur Adireddy in memory of his mother for the use of students. The plank would catch each the eye of each and every one that came to drink water from the tap regardless one was wearing glasses or not.

That great man, Adireddy, was known to be a generous man, who had set up the cooler for supplying cool water to the thirsty. Probably he had furnished one or two metal glasses for the use of general public; possibly the metal glasses were being used in somebody’s house. Now only the cooler stood there, carrying Adireddy’s mother’s name.

There was no way Kamala could lean forward, cup her palms and drink the water from that cooler. She had no choice but to drink from that plastic glass, which was disgusting to look at and smelling rotten.

The cool water slid down Kamala’s throat, and it was refreshing; the dissipating lifeforce in her seemed to have returned to her. She walked into the classroom Lata pointed out and sat down. All the girls sat on the benches next to the wall. Boys occupied other benches far back, leaving the first few rows to collect dust.

A young lecturer wearing a tie and high shoes walked into the class. He went on lecturing in English and in Telugu, switching back and forth. He told the class repeatedly that he’d be teaching accounting. He reiterated the importance of purchasing the notebooks and textbooks, told them which notebooks and which textbooks to buy several times, and how important it was to purchase the English versions along with the Telugu books published by the Academy, a branch of the state government. He stated that if a student wanted to score high marks, he must study the English textbooks, in addition to the Telugu versions, which were filled with mistakes. He even wrote the names of the English textbooks on the board.

Kamala noted down all those names meticulously.


Thus the first one week was all introductions, lectures on textbooks and the syllabus. During that one week, Kamala got to know not only Vinati and Janaki in her class but also Lata from the second year class.

By second week, the routine of taking attendance and teaching the lessons has set in.


One day, the English madam noticed that some of the students had not bought the textbooks yet and she was very angry. She yelled at them. In reality, she was showing off the fact that she was related to the principal. Even the second year students were scared of her, no need to mention how scared the first years were.

On another day, she asked the students with no textbooks to stand up. Kamala was one of them.

Madam also suggested that the boys should sell their shoes and shirts to buy the books. She was however a little kind toward girls. She told them to skip a meal a day and buy the books with the savings. Apparently she believed that everybody were eating three meals a day.

Kamala thought about her situation. She was aware that her father had to take out a loan to buy clothes for her. It would be painful for her to ask him to take out one more loan for her books. If she waited for a couple of months, the first loan would be paid off, and then they could borrow the money for books. She convinced herself that she must manage somehow until then.

Kamala was attentive in class and taking notes diligently. She would purchase the books whenever she could. Nevertheless, the English madam was not impressed with Kamala’s mode of thinking; she was annoyed.


One day, Kamala saw Lata in the bus.

“You get in here at this stop everyday?” Lata asked her.

Kamala nodded.

“Do you live close by?”

“There, I live there,” Kamala pointed toward the colony.

“That colony! Isn’t that Harijan colony?”

Kamal nodded again.

A few other students in the bus heard the conversation and turned their eyes in that direction.

The boys in striped shirts also looked at her.

Kamala lowered her eyes; it was getting uncomfortable for her.

That afternoon, she was sitting on the lawn and reading her class notes.

Vinati was standing at a distance and talking with another student. Lata joined them. She said, “Hey, you know, your classmate Kamala is a Harijan.”

Vinati told Lata, “I was friends with two Harijans in my Intermediate class. I used to shake hands with them everyday, sit on the same bench and eat lunch with them too.” Apparently, she was proud of herself for doing so. She also suggested that Lata should make friendship with Kamala; that would help her to win all the Harijan votes.

Lata was planning to contest for the general secretary position in the upcoming student union elections.

Kamala could hear their conversation. The letters in her notes were changing shapes.

Her classmate Kishore also joined Lata and the group.

After a while, they all turned to Kamala, and walked toward her. Vinati and Lata sat next to Kamala, almost leaning on her shoulders. Lata was talking and tapping on Kamala’s shoulder again and again. Kamala felt as if she was sitting on a bed of thorns. She twitched each time Lata put her arm on her shoulder.

The ice cream cart came.

Lata bought ice cream for all. We have to remember here once again that she was a contestant in the upcoming students union elections for the general secretary position.

Vinati exchanged her ice cream cone with that of Kamala, and looked at her friends, as if she wanted them to notice her big heart.

Kamala understood Vinati’s looks; the icecream in her hand tasted bitter and scorched her stomach.

Up until now, Vinati and Lata were saying hello to Kamala, now that had changed. Vinati started shaking Kamala’s hand; not just shake the hand and leave it at that; she would clutch Kamala’s hand and wait until several of her friends had noticed it.

Kamala was getting tired of this special treatment.


One day, Kamala was walking from college to the bus stop alone.

Behind her, Jivan was walking with a friend, and they were talking.

Kamala increased her pace. Nevertheless, she could hear Jivan’s words. “We tried so hard and still we could not get my sister admitted in medical college. I wish we’d belonged to a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe. We could’ve gotten the admission in a snap. Do you know what the SC stands for? Supreme Caste! They’ve reservations everywhere – in colleges, job market; they have scholarships, free education, free accommodation in hostels … Theirs is the life, if you ask me. I’m telling you, one must be born in a scheduled caste, not in this forward class like ours. Those bastards will not let us live, I’m tellin’ you.”

The words pierced through Kamala’s heart like a javeline. The bus stop was not too far, yet it felt like miles away.


One day a genteman came to her English class. He assured the English madam that he had obtained the permission from the principal, and showed the letter to her. He added, “The local M.L.A. Mohandas sent me to distribute free textbooks to the harijan students in the class.”

The English madam asked the SC and ST students to stand up.

There were not many SC and ST students in that. In fact, Kamala was the only SC student in the B.Com. Telugu first year class. A few of her classmates turned their eyes toward her. Kamala could feel their looks on her skin. She was too embarrassed even to look up; she could not bring herself to stand up.

Madam looked around, “No SCs here?”

Kamala was hoping that that gentleman would go away.

Vinati nudged her with her elbow, and said, “Here, Kamala is here, madam.”

Kamala had no choice but get up. The entire class was watching her. She stood up like a felon.

Madam was upset that Kamala did not stand up the first time she had urged the SCs to stand up. She poured a torrent of curses on her for ten minutes; she did so in English of course. It was not just yelling; she hurled abuses at her in English. She had a Ph.D. in English, you know. And then, she wondered for five more minutes, what a nerve! Why not come up and take the books freely given?


On a second Saturday and the following Sunday, the college, under the National Service Scheme (NSS) planned a camp for two days. This time the camp participation was limited to the Telugu B.Com. first year students.

The camp site was a small village. The students were proud of themselves for participitaing in that camp, which included activities like paving streets and planting trees.

Vinati found out that Kamala did not sign up for the camp.

“Aren’t you going to the camp?” she asked.

“No,” Kamala replied.

“Most of our classmates are going, you know. Come on, it’ll be fun. We can spend a couple of days together,” Janaki said, and added, “We are going to work in your harijan colony, I understand.”

Just then, the peon came and said that the economics lecturer and NSS program coordinator, Sarveswara Rao, wanted to talk to Kamala, and that he was waiting for her in the staff room.

As soon as Kamala walked into the staff room, Sarveswara Rao said, “Aren’t you going to the camp with us?”

“No sir,” Kamala replied.

“We’ll be leaving Saturday morning and be back by Sunday evening, you know.”

Kamala was quiet; she kept staring at the legs of his chair.

“I’m putting down your name.”

“No, sir, please, don’t.”

“Why not? How does it look if we don’t have even one Harijan student in our camp? We received orders from the bosses above, asking us to submit a list of participants with a breakdown based on caste. If we can show that we do have SC students, we look good and have a better shot at funding. Not only that. One of the programs in our camp includes a Harijan student, right? And the only Harijan student in our class is …”

Harijan student … Kamala is a Harijan student, Kamala, the Harijan student … her heart went into a fit of rampage, she moaned silently.

“I’m putting down your name. You must go to the camp with us. Or else, we will have to take action on you,” he said, looking at her. The look said you can go now.


At camp, they were done with their activities on Saturday. That night, Sarveswara Rao sat down with the students and explained the next day’s activities.

He said that there was one very important item on their schedule. He had used his clout and arranged to have the newspaper, radio and T.V. reporters to be present at the event; the students’ photos will be printed in the newspapers, and broadcast on the radio and TV stations.

At the mention of TV and the radio, the students got excited; they seemed to be wishing that that tomorrow were here right here and right now.

They checked their suitcases for neatly pressed shirts and pants.

Some of them were counting the hours for that tomorrow to come.

Some of them concluded that it was unfair to have twenty-four hours in a day.

“So, what is that particular item scheduled for tomorrow?” someone asked, dying with curiosity.

“A Harijan student Kamala from our class will enter the temple,” Sarveswara Rao said ardently.

A huge applause broke loose and resounded through the sky. Some students whistled ecstatically. And they all clapped again, expressing their happiness for being part of such an innovative program.

Most of the students could not sleep that night overwhelmed with the thoughts of the photos that were going to appear in the newspapers and on the TV. They spent most of the night pondering over the right posture for the photo shoot.

Kamala wanted to run away from that place, wished that that tomorrow would never come. In her mind, she pictured the people and the photographers – they all were pointing fingers at her the Harijan girl. She closed her eyes.

Is it possible for that tomorrow not to come because somebody is going to get hurt?

No. That tomorrow did come after all.

The group made Kamala take a bath early in the morning and wear new clothes.

They garlanded her. They made Kamala a sacrificial beast.

They took her to the temple in a parade.

Vinati held Kamala’s hand, would not leave even for a second.

Lata walked in front of Kamala as if she was responsible for the historic event of Kamala entering the temple.

Each time the cameras turned toward Kamala, both Vinati and Lata clung to her.

Even Parijatam, who never had talked to Kamala until now, came close to her and talked to her with a big smile. She wore a silk saree, probably because she wanted to appear beautiful on the TV.

“What’s her name?” somebody asked, pointing to Kamala. Several students said “Kamala”, competing to be the first to say her name; hoping that their names also would appear in the newspapers.

People gathered all along the street.

Two illiterate men looked at the crowd and were confused. One of the asked, “Hey, what’s gonna happin? What’s those flowers on’er neck for?” The other replied, “That’s tanner gal, says gonna go into temp’l,” the other person said.

Reporters and photographers were scrambling for good spot.

“Oh! Is she the Harijan student? … Look here, madam, just one snap, please, smile, okay, good.”

“As you walked toward the temple, how did you feel? I mean your thoughts, what were you thinking?”

Questions from the TV and radio reporters poured from everywhere. Students surrounded the TV reporters; each one of them wanted to be the closest to Kamala in that moment, and caught on tape holding her hand.

Two students from upper class commented. One said, “What a jamboree for a tanner girl? That’s what I call the roots.”

The other said, “Take ‘er and make ‘er your girl, you’ll have it too.”

The words pierced through Kamala’s heart like an arrow.

Anguish sprung to her eyes, gushing forth.

The TV and radio reporters jotted down tears of joy.


After returning home, Kamala threw herself into her father’s lap and broke into a fit of sobs.

“What’s happin baby? What’s happin’?” father asked her anxiously.

“Let’s go away dad, far far away where people see us like people. Let’s run away from this horrid town,” Kamala said, hugging her father tight, and pouring her heart out.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi, and published on, January 2006.

(Published in Andhrabhumi monthly, November 1982.)

Endless Night by Aduri Venkata Sitaramamurthy

Simhachalam arrived at the temple by the time the sun rose one foot above from the horizon and was blazing fully on the world. Simhachalam is hardly ten. If his father were alive and put him in school, he would’ve been in the 6th grade by now. But Simhachalam was not that fortunate. He was five when his father drank twice a day upto his neck and killed himself. At an age he should be walking to school with a slate in his hand, he had to hit the road with an empty stomach. The only property he had inherited from his father was a sick mother and a young sister who could not speak. Mother’s name was Kanakam; the sister’s name was Lakshmi.

At first, Kanakam worked as domestic help, washing dishes, etc., and was able to feed the two kids with rice broth. Then she was down with malaria, looked like a corpse, and was forced to quit her work at some houses. That meant lower income and more starving mouths. It was at that time Simhachalam came into this world. He was taken by the people on their way to a nearby temple. He began to wonder, “Who’s god?” He asked his mother.

“God means not a person; he is a Great Being,” she replied.

Then Simhachalam had another doubt. “If so, why do we do namaskaram to him?”

“We just do it, we have to. That’s it,” she said. She also added that, if we prayed to him, he would give us whatever we wanted. Then he understood for the first time that the God will give us whatever we wanted only after we do namaskaaram. He also thought all these people have everything and yet are going to the temple to pray to the god; why shouldn’t I do the same and went to the temple at once. He folded both his hands and prayed that his hunger be satisfied. As he walked out of the temple a woman called out for him. She was beautiful and rich; and she was about to get into her car. Up until then, everybody said go away but nobody said come here to him. So, Simhachalam responded to her call and ran to her. She gave him a half coconut, one banana, gestured to take them, got into her car and shut the door.

Simhachalam was surprised. He wondered if God had heard his prayer and sent her to him. Precisely beginning that day, there was a marked change in his behavior. The belief there is a being called god to take care of us set in his mind. He started spending half his time near the temple. He would eat part of the prasadam he received and take the rest to home every day.

It was not sweltering hot yet. Simhachalam sat near the temple like a crane on the lake shore. The children walking to the English medium school on the street looked like baby cranes yet to develop wings. They chatter in English. His heart would groan pensively at the sight of those kids. He was frustrated not because they were looking good but because he was not. There are two kinds of people in the world—those who whimper because they didn’t have … Well, Simhachalam belonged in the first group. He turned away and saw Peddiraju. Peddiraju also is a prasadam devotee.[1] He came with four more young men; they were his competition.

Simhachalam kept staring at the temple entrance. The devotees started coming out one by one. Sun was rising; the entrails in his stomach also were pricking the same way as the sunbeams. The rice broth he had last night was long gone.

Ever since his mother fell sick and could not go to work, she had to take a cut in her pay, and as a result, they could not have even the rice broth, not enough to fill their stomachs. Therefore, when Peddiraju called out and said he had a chore, Simhachalam jumped to his feet and went running to Peddiraju. They all had a rule that whoever received the prasadam the first time on any given day must share with the rest of them. Simhachalam ate his share of banana and filled the rest of his stomach with tap water, and felt a renewed vigor as never before.

Then Veerasamy appeared at the entrance with a club like Yama and shouted, “Hey, rogues, is it already time for you? Move, move away from the entrance.”

Veerasamy is temple watchman. He is six feet tall and looks scary with his bushy moustache. He is capable of keeping the people in line just using his voice. Although all the people are equal in the eyes of God, he has the knack to identify their status and respect those who come in cars and those who arrive on foot accordingly. He would drive away the street kids who swarm around like the flies on a lump of brown sugar. He is the Yama as far as they are concerned.

Simhachalam walked down the steps and stopped on the street. Just in that very moment, a car came by and stopped. It did not look like a car; it was more like a huge mythological bird. It could be the transportation of Kubera, the lord of wealth. The people who got out of it did not look like humans, nor demons; they were like gods. They wore clothes which were like divine garments. They did not look like ordinary couple but adi dampathulu[2] to him. A five-year old girl, who was walking next to them, looked like an ivory doll in a gold-colored frock. Simhachalam looked at her; his own sister came to his mind. He could see the difference between the two girls in spite of their equal age but he could not figure out the underlying reason for that difference. He did not have the faculty to scrutinize the difference between the haves and the have-nots, the existing walls between those classes, the lives that are crushed by those walls, and the brewing hatred and the spite behind those walls. He was not old enough to comprehend that.

The sun was blistering hot. Simhachalam sat on the ledge and was looking at the devotees expectantly. If he could get a few more coconut halves, he could go home. Then, all of a sudden, a man coming out of the temple caught his eye. It seemed like he had several wishes and broke several coconuts, one for each wish. He was carrying several coconut halves. Simhachalam got off the ledge, hoping he would get one piece, at the least. That man was probably about 40-years old. He looked like he lost something. Simhachalam kept watching him, forgetting his whereabouts for the moment. That man called out for the watchman and asked whatever it was. Watchman shook his head and called out all the kids including Simhachalam, who was watching them with curiousity. Simhachalam jumped and reached them in one huge jump.

“Hey kids! Babu garu says his new sandals are missing. Did any of you see them?”

Simhachalam’s heart sank with Veerasamy’s words. He was in a turmoil, like the sky was suddenly filled with dark clouds. All the kids said unanimously that they knew nothing about the sandals. Peddiraju looked at Simhachalam. Simhachalam saw whatever was there in those looks; his knees started shaking.

Veerasamy said, “Babu, this kind of stealing never happened near this temple, never, I am assuring you. Maybe somebody wore your sandals by mistake and walked away.” His own vote of confidence in the performance of his duty was evident; he was very devoted to his gods.

The man who lost sandals did not say a word. His face was asking, how could the sandals disappear if nobody had taken them? After seeing his face, Veerasamy had the same doubt in his mind. And he could not think of anybody else to suspect but the urchins who gathered there for prasadam.

“One of you must have picked them up. Or, must have seen them, at the least. You had better tell the truth or you’ll get it,” Veerasamy yelled, lifting his club in the air. He could act as he pleased. Last year he caught a kid while trying to take advantage of the crowd and pick a pocket. Veerasamy tied him to a lamppost for the entire day. Those who watched Veerasamy on that day, the beatings and cursing the kid took on that day, would understand the atrocities Veerasamy was capable of. Veerasamy’s specialty was he could be very nice to good people, smooth as butter, and crack up like a dry splinter in a fire when it comes to bad people. Therefore it was not a surprise that all those kids felt crushed now at the sight of Veerasamy’s present bearing.

Nukaraju suddenly blurted out, “I saw Simhachalam picking them up earlier.” Nukaraju was not only small in stature but also a coward. On hearing his words, Simhachalam’s heart wriggled like a lion in a cage.

“Yes, yes, I saw it too,” both Appi and Veerraju also confirmed it.

“You, did you take them?” Veerasamy gawked at him. His two eyes turned into not two red marbles but two burning charcoals. Simhachalam’s shirt was crumpled in Veerasamy’s fist like a rabbit in the mouth of a lion.

Simhachalam replied, “Yes, I took the sandals earlier. But I didn’t know whether they belonged to babu garu or not.”

Both of them, the gentleman who lost the sandals and Veerasamy, were stunned at those words. They did not believe that even the greatest of the great could to tell the truth like that; even more surprising was that the kid had the nerve to say so. Veerasamy let go of his shirt and said, “Wherever you hid them, bring them back and return them to the gentleman.”

“I did not hide them anywhere. I thought it was none of my business,” Simhachalam replied. The sandal-owner was even more surprised at this reply.

“Are you playing games?” Veerasamy gave him a big slap. For Simhachalam it was a death blow. His weak eyes turned yellow and were moist. With himself as the center, the entire area, including the temple, seemed to have swirled around for a second. Even the gentleman who lost the sandals could not take it—the sight of that kid at that moment was devastating. Under normal conditions in his class [he was a teacher], he would growl like a tiger. Now he softened like a kitten, stopped Veerasamy, and asked Simhachalam kindly, “Tell me, my boy. What did you do with my sandals?” Simhachalam did not cry for Veerasamy’s beating; but with those kind words from the gentleman, he burst into sobs. Tears rolled down his cheeks like pearls from their shells.

The gentleman even offered a bribe, “I’ll give you a half rupee. Go and get them.”

Simhachalam heard the word, money, and recalled an incident that took place a little earlier.



A young man in his twenties was sitting in front of the temple and called out for Simhachalam. He looked up, got off the ledge and started walking toward that man.

“Look, what’s your name?”

“Simhachalam, babu.”

“See those sandals there, the second from the door step. Could you bring them to me?” the young man asked him softly.

Simhachalam looked confused.

“They are mine, kid. I am too tired to get up and go there,” the young man assured him and also gave him 15 paise. Simhachalam was hesitant first but could not refuse after seeing the money in his palm. In addition, the man was bare-footed, well-dressed and was accompanied by his friends. Therefore he did not think twice about it.



Simhachalam repeated the same story, as is. Veerasamy could not take it, “Chup, you son of a bitch. You sold them to somebody and telling us stories?” and he turned to the gentleman, “Sir, don’t you be fooled by this idiot’s stories. He saw one too many movies and learned to make up stories. I know how to pull the truth out of him.” He stepped forward and questioned the kid, “Why do you have to bring them when a total stranger asked you? My point is not that to whom you’ve given them. I am asking you why did you give them?”

Simhachalam could not speak one word. Veerasamy did everything necessary to make him to tell the truth. The result was nil. All the others stood there like the audience who could not save the heroine from her miseries in the movies.

“I told the truth. Beyond that, I don’t know,” Simhachalam said at last. No other word could come out of his mouth. His entire body was burning like a sore rubbed with pepper, for all the beating he took. With that, he even forgot the pangs of hunger in his stomach. Tears in his eyes dried up. The skin on his hands behind him, tied around the pole, was ruptured.

The gentleman could not keep up his appearance as a gentleman anymore. He understood that he could do nothing, bounced like a monkey that stepped on a burning coal and left the scene.


Veearasamy also decided that he had done enough and went about his own business. Soon enough, Simhachalam was left alone, like a carcass of a deer, half mauled by a lion. In that moment, Simhachalam was disgusted with himself. The temple in front of him did not look great to him, unlike in the past. He thought the ordinary man is much better than this stone sculpture that remained silent while acts of injustice were being committed right under his nose. Now he understood what a stupid belief it was–accepting the prasadam given to him by somebody out of kindness of their hearts and thinking that god gave it to him. He asked himself how could all these differences—the poverty, the injustice, and so many atrocities could be committed if God really had existed. His eyes glittered at this revelation of truth, which was eluding him up until now.



In that very moment, the eyes of a young man, Satyanandam, sparkled. He was the young man who used Simhachalam to obtain the sandals. He was blazing like a swan amidst crows, like a hero surrounded by extras, or, like a leader in the midst of a large crowd of ordinary people.

“When I say something I mean it. What a gal to say that he would see the end of me in front of the entire class,” Satyanandam uttered, with a big show off.

“Okay, you’ve shown him his place. What are you going to do now?” his best friend Appa Rao, who provoked him in the first place, asked him.

Satyanandam laughed as if he was going to accomplish something great, and said, “Well, we can turn these sandals to a tanner. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about money for our cigarettes today.”


That evening Simhachalam, looking like a baby crow hit by sunstroke, reached home. He was hoping that his mother would show up at the door, welcome him affectionately and comfort him as always. She was not there at the door. He sat down in the shade showered by the neem tree in front of his hut. His mute sister came out like a robot and signed him to go in. He went in.

His mother, lying in the broken, jute-rope cot like a shattered toy, groaned like a frog caught in the mouth of a snake. Sorrow rose like a storm at his heart. There was not one drop of tear in his eyes.


He pulled his sister close to his chest and stroked gently on her head. He wasn’t aware when his eyes closed. When he opened them, the crows on the temple were crowing. He got up, went to his mother’s cot, and felt for her heartbeat. There was no pain. No groaning. No gasping for breath. No anger either. She was motionless and cold like a frozen twig.


It was still dark.




Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on


(The Telugu original, “ee chikati vidipoledu” was published in Bharati monthly, September 1980, and included in the anthology, “Vennello paavurallu.” Vijayawada: Sri Mahalakshmi Publishing House, 1986. )


[1] Satirical comment on the people who go to the temple for the food, offered to god, prasadam.

[2] The original divine couple, traditionally Siva and Parvati are considered the first couple.


“Amma!” Ellamma’s older son stood next to her, wanted to ask her something.

“What?” Ellamma yelled at the boy.

The little boy in her lap was hungry and crying. She put her three-month old son in the cloth sling, and was trying to soothe him for an hour now. There was no end to his hungry wails.

“What’s it? Wanna eat?” she softened her tone and asked him gently.?

No, the older boy shook his head. He was six-years-old yet looked like a three-year old. His arms and legs were thin like dried sticks. All his growth was showing only on his belly. His worn out shorts could not stay put on his big belly; it slipped farther down. Waist up, there was nothing to cover his body.

He said slowly, spacing his words, “Amma, Ganesh is drinking milk, they say. True?”

“What Ganesh? Haven’t they dropped all those Ganesh statues in Hussain Sagar two days back, on the big “Immersion’ day? Where is Ganesh again?”

Ellamma picked up the little one and stood up. He was still weeping; he barely had enough strength in his body to cry aloud.

“He hasn’t had milk in a week. Where’s he getting this energy from,” Ellamma mumbled to herself.

It had not rain the entire year this time. In their village, Ayyavari palem, nobody had a chance to drive the plow into the field. For three years in a row they had been doomed by droughts, and this year it was the worst. Not even one drop from the clouds. The fields were parched and cracked all over. Those who trusted the land were starving. There was no water, not a drop to drink anywhere in the area. The only place they could find water was the old well on the outskirts, and it was so deep, one could hardly see the water at the bottom of the well. The women’s arms were nearly knocked out of their sockets as they drew water from that cavernous well.

Pochayya stared at the strip of the land that failed to yield one bit of grain. His heart shivered, ?Our guts gonna groan the whole year.” Grief lumped in his throat.

Then he saw Veerayya on his way home from the city. Pochayya asked him, “How’re thing there? Do ya think folks like us find work there?”

“Well, there’s always somethin’ to do if ya wanna work. No shortage for dough either. They’ve buildings kissin’ the clouds. You’ll make forty just for carrying one basket.”

Pochayya drew a deep breath. Buildings kissing the clouds! Is that why the clouds aren’t raining anymore? Buildings in their way?

Work and money, the two words got stuck on Pochayya’s mind. He decided to move to the city. He said to his wife, “Ellamma, Let’s go to the city. I heard there’s plenty o’ work there. Here, no sign of rains anytime soon. If we stay here, we gonna die. Let’s go to the city, make some money and then come’ome.”

The thought frightened Ellamma. “The city’s such a big place. No friends or relatives … How on earth can we make it there! But then again, let’s say we stay here. Then what? No food to eat, no water to drink. We’re sure to die. We can go to the city, save some money and maybe that’s not a bad idea after all,” she thought and said, “Yes, that’s a good idea.”

The same night, Ellamma packed the few belongings they had–a couple of warped aluminum pots, plates and glasses–in a bag. She folded the old eeta mat, rolled it in an old quilt and tied them up with a rope. She looked around, that’s all we have in this hut, what else? There was nothing else except a beat up rope cot, and some firewood by the wood stove. She turned to Pochayya and said, “Should I pack the firewood too? They say firewood is costly there?”

“Those logs are full o’ thorns. Why bother? Never mind those, come on, let’s go,” Pochayya said and picked up the two bundles his wife had packed, and walked out.

Ellamma picked up the little one in her arms, grabbed the older boy’s hand and followed her husband.

The night before, Pochayya had told her that they must leave at the crack of dawn, and get to city early; that way they would have time to find a place to settle down. She cooked some rice, added a dash of salt to the rice broth, and they all ate and went to bed.


At the crack of dawn, they set out to leave. The sunlight was barely visible on the horizon. The rice broth they had last night was gone, their stomachs were empty.

“Wasn’t there some rice in the box? Did you pack it?” Pochayya asked his wife.

“Yes, I did. Now, hurry, let’s go,” she said, hurrying her pace, and lugging the children along.

They reached the bus stop at dawn and waited. Soon it was noon but no sign of the bus. All the buses that headed for the city were jampacked and went zooming by without stopping at their stop. Finally one white bus stopped and the doors flung open.

Pochayya ran toward the bus with his bundle, and Ellamma with the two children.

“Sir, does this bus go to the city?” Pochayya asked the conductor politely.

“What, gonna go to the city?” the conductor stood in the doorway and laughed. “This is super express bus. The ticket costs twice as much as the regular bus. Got the cash?” He was still laughing. The other passengers and the driver joined him.

“How much?” Pochayya asked with a sinking heart.

Pochayya, Ellamma and the children had not eaten all day. Their stomachs were growling. They kept gulping water to fill their stomachs. The little one was chewing up mother’s breast, could not squeeze a drop. He was frustrated and started thumping her with his little fists. The older boy was hungry, and sagged like a stalk of spinach.

The conductor looked at them and laughed again. Pochayya put one foot on the step.

“Get down,” conductor seized Pochayya’s shoulder and shoved him away.

“Why? Isn’t it goin’ to the city?” Pochayya asked.

“Forty rupees per person, and a half ticket for that boy. Pay up first,” he said.

“Sir, what’s that? Isn’t it two rupees?”

“Ha, how long ago do you think that was?” conductor said, with a sarcastic laugh.

All the others in the bus joined him. Pochayya was downcast. Hunger on one hand and the busses zooming past on the other were tearing him apart. The one bus that stopped demanded too much for fare. He did not know what to do.

“Maybe we can find a lorry,” Ellamma said.

Pochayya kept running after every lorry that stopped there and begging them for a ride. Finally, one lorry driver agreed to give them ride for thirty rupees. Pochayya paid the money and they all got into the lorry.

It was midnight by the time they reached the city. Ellamma set up the stove by the wayside and cooked rice. They ate with the crushed pepper relish she had brought from home.

After two days, they found work, which paid forty rupees for man and thirty for woman. For Ellamma and Pochayya, it was good money, they were elated at the prospect. They also found a place to live in a nearby complex. “Our hardships are over, and good times are here,” they told themselves.


They got used to a routine life. Early in the morning Ellamma would cook rice and curry and then leave for work along with Pochayya. The older boy would eat with the parents, and take care of the baby. Ellamma would feed the baby first before she left for work, and would be back to feed him again. At noon, they would get one hour break to eat. Carrying bricks all day long was hard on Ellamma though. Her body was sore all over. She was not allowed to stop even for a second. The contractor would hurl foul words at her. Nevertheless they went about their work like a piece of machinery nonstop.

Then came the rainy season. Their space in the corner was not leaking and that was good but mosquitoes became a big nuisance. Pochayya kept scratching all night and his body was covered with sores from the scratching, and even bleeding. Ellamma came down with malaria. She went to the doctor. He jotted down prescriptions and handed it over to her. Two days’ income went to the doctor and four day’s income to buy the drugs.

The medications helped her to recover from the fever but she was still too weak to go to work. She could not get down a morsel, the bitter taste in her mouth was horrible. Let alone going to work, she was not even able to get up to cook for her husband and the kids. Pochayya cooked the food, fed the older kid and left for work.

With the fever, Ellamma’s breasts dried up completely. Up until now, the milk was just about enough for the baby but not anymore. The little baby sucked on and on but could not get even one drop. Out of frustration, he started crying. Mother put him in the cradle and tried to soothe him every which way but to no avail.

She said to Pochayya, “Ask the contractor for an advance and bring some rice.” She was waiting for him to return with the grain. It was a long wait. The little baby was crying without break. Helplessness and weakness were making her want to cry too.

The older boy walked in, calling out, “Amma!”

“What?” Ellamma yelled at him, choking with grief.

That did not deter the boy. He said slowly, spacing his words, “Amma, Ganesh is drinking milk, they say. Is that true?”

“What Ganesh? Haven’t they dropped all those Ganesh statues in Hussain Sagar two days back, on the big “Immersion” day? Where’s Ganesh again?”

“Not that Ganesh. I’m talkin’ about the Ganesh in the temple. All the people there were standing in front of the temple holding milk in pots and glasses.”

Ellamma imagined them standing in line with pots of milk.


“If I go there, I can get some milk.”

Ellamma rushed to the temple holding the little baby in her arms. The older boy followed her with his tin cup.

Several men and women, young and old, were standing there in colorful clothes, holding milk in glasses and small dishes.

“Acts of sin are spreading like wild fire on this land. That’s what God is telling us through his miracles,” one woman said. Next to her, a young man in jeans was standing with a glass of milk.

“Auntie, I took a leave of absence from work and came here to see this wonder,” he said.

“What do you mean ‘wonder’? Don’t you see? This is a manifestation of his miracle?” her voice clearly registered a protest.

“True. Even gods are unable to control the immorality that is spreading on the earth. The Almighty did say sambhavaami yuge, yuge [I’ll be born again in each epoch],” the man standing before the young man in jeans folded his hands reverently. The man in jeans stared at him, lightly touched his own cheeks, and folded his hands respectfully.

Ellamma stared at those people standing in line and holding milk glasses.

“Sir, please, pour me little milk. Here, this little baby is crying ’cause of hunger,” Ellamma held out the tin cup desperately.

“Chi, go away. Hum, these beggars are everywhere, even here! All these beggars must be banished from the country, if you ask me, they should be thrown in jail. Foreign tourists stopped coming to our country because of them only. No other country has this kind of nuisance.”

“What! Are you from abroad?” the man in jeans asked him curiously.

“Yes, I came from America for a short visit. I am a computer engineer back there,” he said proudly.

“Pour me little milk, saar. Hunger’s killin’ my little’un, ma’am,” Ellamma held the glass up to them again.

“Milk? This milk is for the god. I didn’t bring it all the way from home for beggars like you,” the woman screamed, adjusting the gold-threaded saree folds.

Her fury, like that of a pativrata, could burn a person to ashes. Two young women wearing punjabi dresses were standing next to her.

Ellamma turned to them and begged them for milk.

The two women, immersed in their own chitchat, did not notice Ellamma’s pleas at first. And then, one of them said, “I think I should give this milk to Parvati, everybody else is giving to Ganesh and Siva. Discrimination even here!”

“Stop it. You’re starting your feminist talk even here?” her friend said, laughing.

“What else, you tell me. Why should god be a man? Why not a woman?”

Ellamma reiterated her appeal, “ma’am, please, I’ll be your slave forever, just a few drops of milk,” she pushed the dish in front of them again.

One of them pointed toward a man sitting a little away from them, and said, “There, you see the man sitting there with a pot of milk. Go, ask him.”

Ellamma looked in that direction and ran toward that man. Her son hurried behind her.

“Saar, please, let me have a few drops for the baby,” she begged him.

“Milk? Do you have any idea how much this milk costs?” he screamed, “Thirty rupees per liter. Even at that rate, it’s not easy to get. Understand? You’re here holding a pot to beg for milk? Did you think you can get milk for nothing?”

Ellamma was ready to fall on his feet, “Saar, please, my baby’s hungry and dyin’. I’m touchin’ your feet and beggin’.”

The milk man quickly stepped back. “God knows where all you’ve been to. Don’t touch me; you’ll pollute the milk, you bitch, go away, just go,” he said, picking up a stick lying nearby.

Ellamma was shocked by his name-calling. She was bewildered, what else could she do? In her village, she had always been a giver but never a taker, never extended her hand in front of another person. She never said a bad word, and never was called names by others. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she kept brooding over, “There’s milk in everybody’s hand and not one man or woman is kind enough to pour a little into my dish. After the first son was born, two more were born and both died of fever even before they’d got to the clinic. This one is going to die of hunger, it seems.” She held the little boy to her chest and collapsed on the floor. And then she looked up for her other son. He was nowhere to be seen.

Panicked, she called out, “hey, boy, where are you?” She looked around and saw him. He came back, watching his step, and carrying his glass filled with milk.

“Is that milk? Where did you get it?” she asked, happy at the sight.

The boy was bubbly. He said, “Mom, there is so much milk flowing at the back of the temple, plenty flowing there.”

“Where’s the milk? Take me there,” Ellamma asked, getting up in a hurry. The boy hurried to the back of the temple, Ellamma followed him. Nobody was there. Milk was flowing in a stream from inside the temple through a small spout in the wall. It was the milk the devotees poured on the statues of Gods inside the temple.

Ellamma was ecstatic. “Oh god, I can feed my boys with this milk,” she said, overwhelmed, and gave the milk to the little baby, “Here, drink it, drink all you can, here,” she kept saying again and again. The little one was staring at her without batting an eyelid. Ellamma shook him.

“Take it,” she said, bringing the dish to his lips. The boy did not move, he was stiff!



Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi, and published on, July 2006.

(The Telugu story, paalu ponge punyabhoomi, was published in an anthology of stories by women writers, kadambam, 1996)

BEFORE THE DAWN OF A RAINBOW by Maduranthakam Narendra

“The blessings of Goddess Lakshmi are lingering in your face,” Swami said in soft voice.

Rajaratnam raised his head with a start and looked around.

There was a person standing in the street in front of the threshold of the house. With a turban, which was as big as a basket on the top of his lean frame, his appearance reminded one of a long broomstick. He put on four or five varieties of shirts, one over the other, and wore a shabby overcoat on top of them. The doti he tucked in the cloth tied round his waist was stretched only up to his knees. Some more old clothes, a few shirts and towels, adorned his shoulders as if the clothes he wore were not enough for him. His beard, which resembled the thorny bush, covered his lips completely. Over his bushy eyebrows, there was a big saffron mark dazzling like frozen blood. His turban was studded with charmed lockets and bronze amulets. His earrings, which seemed like the dead bodies of two big bugs, were awkwardly gaudy.

“Goddess Lakshmi has perched on your face. You have focussed your mind on a big deed. Hereafter nothing hinders your will,” said the budabukkala[1] man fluttering his hand-drum briskly.

Rajaratnam frowned at him and then glanced toward the bend of the street. Not even an inkling of the arrival of Govindaiah. Annoyed, and shrinking his face even more, he turned towards the buddabukkala man and shouted, “Move out, move out. There is nobody in the house to fetch alms for you.”

“The mission you are preoccupied with will be definitely accomplished,” said the buddabukkala man.


Rajaratnam shuddered again anxiously and stared impatiently toward the street corner. The road entering the village with a hairpin bend, getting moulded itself into a street while passing through the village and finally disappearing into a high ridge, appeared as if it was engulfing two infinities. The street blazed by the afternoon sun was like a stretch of desert. Between the two rows of the houses, with their doors gaping like a rat-cage, lined up on both sides of the street, there was not even the trace of at least a single human being. As the sun reached exactly the middle of the sky, the budabukkala man could not have the companionship of even his shadow.

Rajaratnam shivered with annoyance as he felt that the whole world sans himself in the house and the budabukkala man on the other side of the threshold of the house became uninhibited.

“The place where you stand now is extremely favourable to you”, said the budabukkala man continuing his effort to transform the silence of Rajaratnam into something that favours him. “The fortune line in you right palm is like a centipede. God Vinayaka is sitting cross-legged on your tongue. God Adiseshu unfurled his hood over your head to protect you. There are signs of wheels in the sole of your feet. You will not walk where you have already walked and you will not go where you have already gone.”

Rajaratnam turned his eyes once again to the street corner. Govindaiah was nowhere to be found. Rajaratnam was disappointed. He looked daggers at the budabukkala man and thundered, “Alright, alright! No budabukkala man ever came to me soliciting alms. You are as strong as a bull. You do not want to put your limbs to work, and so you have resorted to begging for alms. Go away, leave my place and get out”.

“That’s because I took a vow in the name of the mother Goddess to go around to the nearby villages and predict the future for those who are worthy of it. Why should I come to you when so many others in my village are waiting for me? Why should I predict the future of only you? It is all due to the mercy of the mother Goddess on you. Even the God of the Seven Hills nods his head in approval when this man, Peddanamala Tirudas, predicts one’s future. Even Siddeswara of Thalakona was startled in astonishment when I opened my mouth to forecast his future.”

Rajaratnam eyes were hovering on the curve of the road. There was not even a man or an animal on the street. “What happened to this Govindaiah? Is he going to come on time or not? That mango garden is as big as a forest. Turns out a terrific yield! One can earn no less than two lakhs, if one procures it for lease for two years. The competitors are eagerly waiting for the opportunity to grab it like a wicked fox hiding in the bushes”, he felt. Some people assured him that only Govindaiah could help him in winning the stake. However, a few others argued, “Why should you go to him for such a trivial favour? If you want, why don’t you get something great and remarkable from him? There is nothing that he cannot do.”

He was informed of Govindaiah greatness long ago. As a matter of principle, he was against asking anybody for anything, he did not even see Govindaiah’s face. But then, it became inevitable for him to seek his help and even send some money in advance as a part of the fee for his mediation. Some people were annoyed and cried, “How dare you send commission to him! That is grossly disrespectful.” But he knew that no matter how big a pumpkin is a tiny penknife is enough to cut it up. The mediator told him that Govindaiah has accepted the commission and promised him that he would arrive in time to help him. However, after sometime Rajaratnam began to suspect the mediator. He wondered if the mediator had double-crossed him, and maybe, Govindaiah had refused to accept the commission.

Rajaratnam began to wonder what kind of a man Govindaiah was? Will he or will he not come in time to him? Rajaratnam had undertaken many lucrative trades besides the mango business. Thus, for him, any time in a year has been a peak period in which he had to attend to many prior engagements. But this waiting for Govindaiah on that day forced him to stay at home. Govindaiah might show up any minute.

Rajaratnam was pacing up and down in the hallway restlessly since morning very much like a cat on the hot tin roof.

“You are eagerly waiting for something to happen from the past. Your wish will definitely be fulfilled. Nothing can come in the way of the blessing of the mother Goddess”, said Das looking directly into his eyes.

Suddenly, Rajaratnam got inspiration from hearing those words. Govindaiah might be coming soon, he felt. “Probably, he got delayed because of some unavoidable job. But he will surely keep his engagement with me. That’s all,” he thought.

“You will accomplish your goal definitely. But, we need to propitiate the God”, said Das in an attempt to ensnare Rajaratnam firmly in his plan.

“Everyone will have a wish for something or the other at one time or other. Is there a need for a God to come down to the earth to tell that? You can’t dupe me with your words. Don’t waste your time and energy to delude me. You can’t squeeze out a copper from me”, said Rajaratnam vainly trying to hide his curiosity in Das’s predictions.

Das removed the gunny bag from his shoulders and put down on the small pavement adjoining the house. Then he folded the umbrella and threw it besides the gunny bag. He sat cross-legged on the street in the hot sun in front of that house. “Don’t you dare to disregard the words of the mother Goddess”, he continued casually in a jarring tone, “She is known for not only compassion but also ferocity. I will predict everything clearly now. Listen carefully and with utmost devotion. You are leading a life of very hard work. You can count on nothing but your sweat. Your father and mother did not bequeath anything on you. Your in-laws come only to swindle you out of your barn. Those who were born from the same womb as you are jealous of you. Brothers-in-law would never wish for your betterment. But you have nothing to worry! All that you touch will turn into gold. Things you finger become silver. What ever you drink becomes nectar.”

Rajaratnam heard him for sometime and then screamed, “You can tell the same thing to my neighbour also. It suits him also pretty well.”

Das kept quiet for a while. Then he said, “You are doubting the mother Goddess. Hear me out carefully. I will explain everything. You can punish me in whatever way you want if I utter a lie. If you can prove that my prediction is not right, I am willing to break this drum and flee away without a qualm. But if I can convince you with my soothsaying, you must offer the mother Goddess whatever she demands. If you don’t oblige Goddess Lakshmi, you will infuriate her. Then she won’t ever turn her face towards you.”


While struggling to reflect the confidence of his words in the expression of his face, Rajaratnam retorted, “I will not be cowed down by your howl. I trust only my limbs which turn out hard work.”

“There is always a need for the grace of the God to reap a good harvest”, Das frowned at him and continued. “Hear me out one more time, and I will pronounce the words of the Goddess Mother further. You have given up voluntarily the income you had earned legitimately and begun gambling, staking the hard-earned money. And you were not satisfied with it. You planted one coin and two plants sprung up. One of them was dried out. The other one had given plenty of fruit. You had devoured them and buried the seeds in another field. There, two more trees sprung up. One of them died prematurely. The other one has spread branches abundantly. Two branches had developed roots also. One of those branches bore a big fruit. A big parrot had eaten that fruit and thrown the seed far away. There grew up a big tree. On the branches of that tree, Mother Goddess has perched. But you still believed in human beings only. And thus you scorned her.”

Rajaratnam was perturbed once again. The stretch of the street was glittering like a mirror reflecting the sun. “Did Govindaiah give him the slip? Did he join his hands with his competitors? Could he keep up his promise or ditch him?” ruminated Rajaratnam.

“Why did he disappear? If he doesn’t show up, I will force him to repay my commission”, said Rajaratnam unconsciously uttering aloud his thoughts. After speaking involuntarily and unwittingly, he felt perplexed like a thief caught red-handed.

Das continued his prediction enthusiastically as he felt elated with the few hints he got from Rajaratnam’s words quite accidentally. “You are an absolute terror to your wife. You are exceedingly irritable to your children. He who uses your money, challenges you to a duel. You are pulling the cart called family alone without any help. The yoke of responsibilities was permanently settled down on your neck. You don’t know to which shore you will be driven”.

“Do you know on which shore you will end up?” asked Rajaratnam sarcastically.

“Mother Goddess has tremendous mercy on me. I have enormous confidence on her”, said Das with a mischievous smile.

Rajaratnam glared at him and asked, “Are you married? How many children you have?”

“You claim everything in this world. But what exactly belongs to you? Oh, Mind! Your wife and children won’t come with you after your death to the nether world”, Das sang a thathwam as a reply to Rajaratnam’s question.

“No children and no wife. Then why do you need so many clothes? Why do you overburden yourself with those patched rags? Why are you so ambitious?” rebuked Rajaratnam.

“These are the clothes given by the devotees to the mother Goddess”, replied Das. “I must not refuse them, must not infuriate the mother Goddess”.

“Your clothes bag is like a giant pan full of cooked rice. That is more than enough for even ten people. It rots by the night. Why should you carry so much of food with you? Why do you still crave for alms, after amassing so much of food and clothes? Why do you crush yourself with such a weight?” roared Rajaratnam.

“Blunder, sir, a sheer blunder ….” rejoined Das while clapping his own cheeks with his palms, denoting the offence committed by Rajaratnam.

“Why do you crave for something more even after earning so much? Your ambition knows no bounds. What are you going to do after earning more and more?” he questioned Rajaratnam.

“Why are you bothered by my income?” said Rajaratnam bluntly.

“What do you do with your earning?” reiterated Das.

“I will stash it away safely”, said Rajaratnam.

“Keeping safe for what purpose?” questioned Das once again.

Rajaratnam did not know how to respond.

“Give it to charities. Thus, you can earn God’s blessings. That’s the only thing that accompanies you to the other world”, said Das.

“I don’t care for alms and donations. Are you leaving now or not? Do you want me to bring a baton to beat you up?” screamed Rajaratnam.

“It is not right on your part to dismiss me without giving the dakshana after receiving the prediction. If you refuse to give me the dakshina, Mother Goddess will be terribly angry. If she raised her voice, you will be burnt to death. Per her orders, I should not move from this place without obtaining either a handful food or a piece of cloth from you”, Das said firmly.

“That is why I am averse to people like you! You are used to exploit the people who feel pity for you. You try to grab money in the name of Gods and devils. But your tantrums will not work on me. It is justifiable to help the physically disabled people. But your body has sufficient flesh to feed ten villages if it is cut into pieces. Why should I sympathise with you? If you don’t leave now, I will lash you with this baton”, Rajaratnam shouted clutching a huge baton.

“Mother Goddess will curse me if I leave you without getting dakshana. It will turn out to be a disaster for both of us. I am quite helpless since I have taken a vow in her name. If I am predestined to be beaten by you, how can I escape that? Unless you give me something I can’t leave your house”, declared Das.

Rajaratnam got disheartened for a while and turned his looks towards the street corner. Govindaiah was not coming. “Will he come or not? I fell into the snare of this budabukkala man only because of him. Let him come; and, I will certainly teach him a lesson”, Rajaratnam thought, trying his best to turn his anger for Govindaiah towards Das. He roared, “Who can call your babbling a prediction? They can be tailored to fit any Tom, Dick or Harry. How dare you demand a dakshana for that. Get out”.

Das sat stupefied for sometime. Grunting like a horse, he cleared his throat, and said, “No other person ever accused me of my prediction like this since my birth. Okay, all right! Let me predict once again. Listen carefully”.

Rajaratnam flung the baton at Das and shouted, “No need of your bloody prediction…. Get out now.”

“I won’t and can’t move a wee bit without collecting dakshana from you. I am prepared to commit suicide at this place instead”, replied Das.

“You cannot extract even a copper from me in the name of dakshana. No one can squeeze out money from me without turning out some work or other for me. One can get only wages from me but not alms”, said Rajaratnam firmly.

“I have to earn at least two or three rupees from you. It doesn’t matter whether you call it wages or dakshana. Give me some work. I am prepared to work also and earn the dakshana“, answered Das after thinking for a while.

Rajaratnam was perturbed once again as he heard a reply he did not expect to hear from the budabukkala man. He looked all around and found a big tamarind log by the side of the pavement. He brought an axe from the house and threw it toward Das. “Cut that log into pieces. I will give you ten rupees”, he said.

“I am prepared to work on the condition that you would hear what I have to say afterwards with utmost devotion. As a true devotee of the Mother Goddess, I will prove to you that she would never go wrong”.

“Be quick then! If Govindaiah arrives in the meantime, I may have to leave the house and accompany him to attend an urgent assignment”, said Rajaratnam.

Das removed his turban and placed it on the platform along with the other clothes on his shoulders. Then he walked towards the wooden log with the axe in his hands.

Rajaratnam drew a chair near the threshold of the house and sat on it peeking at the street corner.

Das began to axe the wood and within a few minutes, he was drenched with sweat. Rajaratnam could not resist smiling when he observed that Das was panting heavily. He turned his head casually towards the other side and was startled. The image in the mirror before him on the wall at a distance also was startled the same way. Rajaratnam frowned at the image disapprovingly.

The hair on the head of the image in the mirror was as shabby as the pulped, Fan-palm fruit. The face of it, which resembled a disfigured copper vessel, had a beard, grown for a week, which reminded one of an untrimmed thorny bush. The eyes below those two bushy eyebrows were like big pits. The shirt he wore was torn in many places.


For a long time, he could not identify the image as himself. Then he remembered that he did not peep into a mirror for a long period. “Where is the time to linger before a mirror”, thought Rajaratnam. Meanwhile his looks meandered towards the photograph hung on the wall besides the mirror. The man in the photograph was dazzling with curly hair, a well-trimmed moustache and a beaming smile. Then he remembered that he was an employee earning only two hundred rupees per month at the time when the photograph was taken. Then he used to go to the office almost like a cinema hero in well- starched and pressed clothes, and wearing well-polished shoes. Then he was only a tenant in a very small house. But it was well decorated and beautifully maintained unlike the house which be owned afterwards. The cycle kept in the veranda of that rented house always glittered like a brand new one. He used to clean it with an oily napkin for an hour at least each morning. “Then I was like an empty pot. When there are only a few things in the house, they can be easily cleaned and kept properly?”, he thought. He felt that it is not a blunder to neglect the insignificant and unnecessary things. He remembered the muddy jeep in the garage of the present house. “That jeep had to travel on the muddy roads to reach various hamlets on business. How can it be clean?” felt Rajaratnam. “I am its boss. It can’t boss over me. It knows that it has a room in this house as long as it serves the purpose”, Rajaratnam thought and smiled.

“Swami! Give me a glass of water. I am getting thirsty”.

Rajaratnam looked at Das whose body was in profuse sweat. He brought him a jug full of water. After drinking it noisily, Das looked into the house through the threshold and asked, “It seems your wife is out of town, Swami?”

“Why should this beggar poke his nose into the affairs of the others?” felt Rajaratnam irritably.

Das sighed bitterly and said, “It is a pity that you have to live alone in this big bungalow”.


Rajaratnam became extremely furious. He shrieked, “My wife left for the town to look after my daughter who is pregnant now. She will return in a day or two. My son who has a separate business enterprise in the town is also living there. I don’t have sufficient time to go there and gossip. I stayed back because I have to attend to a number of urgent engagements. As I am not in any precarious condition, there is no room for any body to feel pity for me. First, attend to the work you are asked to complete soon. I am eager to tell you good bye and good riddance”.

The axe in the hands of Das began to pierce into the tamarind block once again.   Rajaratnam glanced at the turn of the street, sighed despairingly once again and mused, “I don’t know whether Govindaiah is alive or dead”. He was even more disturbed and frustrated as he began to feel that he had been waiting for him since the time immemorial. “Where is the need to get neck deep into this business? It was better when you were a mere employee. In spite of my repeated warnings, you resigned from the job and ventured unwittingly into this trade. Do you have leisure now even for a minute? Have you ever had any time to place your feet together on the ground for sometime and take rest? Have you ever spent your time happily with your wife and children?” complained his wife many times. Is it possible to earn this much of wealth without this enterprise? What about the jewels he had brought for her? What is the source of all this property?” he thought. He remembered how she turned pale when he asked her the same questions. He smiled faintly. Then he looked at the chopped pieces of the tamarind block. His lips stretched further producing a chuckle. “Bring those pieces here and arrange them properly near the threshold”, Rajaratnam ordered Das.

By the time Das completed the work assigned to him, the sun proceeded his voyage further west. A small shadow of the pavement gloated over the earth by the side of the threshold.

Das sat in the shadow and asked, “Swami, would you give me some more water?”


By the time Rajaratnam brought the water from the kitchen, Das was eating food out of his gunny bag. Lounging in his chair, Rajaratnam looked at him with astonishment. He was devouring the food one fistful after the other. After swallowing a part of the heap of the food, he washed his hands with water and drank away the remaining waters from the jug. Then he closed the bag, put it aside and then reclined against the wall of the house. After five minutes, he took out betel leaves, betel nuts and a pinch of calcium from his pocket and began to chew them. Then turned his half-closed eyes drowsily towards Rajaratnam, smiled pleasantly and said, “I have been suffering from loss of appetite since a few weeks. But it seems the intestines in my stomach got stimulated a bit when I was thoroughly exhausted by the manual work. Then I felt hungry and ate something at least. I think I haven’t eaten so much since a long time”.

Rajaratnam giggled loudly and said, “If you indulge in sloth, your body won’t obey your words. The machine called man works well only when it is forced to hard work. Other wise it gets rusted”.

“Then listen to me now”, said Das opening his mouth reddened with the chewing the betel which resembled the opened beak of a crow. Rajaratnam looked at the bend of the street once more and then turned toward Das.

“Tell me, proclaim mother Goddess … Kamakshi of Kanchi …. Proclaim Venkateswara of Tirupati”, Das began his songs.” Listen to me carefully … Your father is a kindhearted man. You mother is Ganges. Your house is a treasure…”. His song started out in a low tone and gradually turned up into humming and after sometime imperceptibly broke off.

Rajaratnam began to focus his attention on the song of Das in order to extricate a suggestion about the arrival of Govindaiah from it. Suddenly a smile perched on the lips of Das. An altogether new tune emerged out of his lips as if something was overflowing from his heart. Rajaratnam observed with astonishment at the indescribable happiness that overwhelmed Das just for a mere fistful of food and a foot long shadow. Das began to sing involuntarily:

Cutting the beams of timber on the Southern Hills

Cutting the rafters of wood on the Eastern Hills

Plucking grass on the Western Hills

Arrived the queen of moon to their mills.

On the way they came by, there was a roscoppole tree

A little sprout sprung in the shade of that roscoppole tree

From that little spring a white lotus sprouted free

Over that white lotus hovered a flamboyant honeybee.


Das’s song began to spread copiously all around like the cool breeze wafting up from the hills after the rains. Having been spellbound by the melody of the tune, Rajaratnam forgot to think about the meaning of the words of the song soon. Surprisingly, he remembered how his mother used to feed him morsels of food with her hand in his childhood. He felt that the strong fragrance of the jasmines bedecked in the braids of his wife during time they were newlyweds, wafted over him once again after a long gap. He also remembered the old wristwatch he used to wear very much like a precious jewel when he was a small employee a few decades back.. He remembered how his children used to on him and played with him long back.

Like the brook that sprouted at the foot of the hill, then crawled over the boulders, meandered through the bushes and trees in the forest, and began to spread on the planes, the song of Das took Rajaratnam to many of his nostalgic memories. Like the cataract that jumps from the peak of a mountain into a valley, it swung him into a mellifluous melody and vanished abruptly and mysteriously leaving him in an abyss.

Rajaratnam quivered with a twitch.

It took sometime for him to recover from the trance. Then he gazed all around, amazed.

He got very much perplexed as there was a tremendous transformation in the atmosphere by that time. A dark cloud completely overwhelmed the sun, which was fretting and fuming some time back. Huge droplets of rain began to shower on the earth. There was big rainbow in the sky far above the bend of the street. Rajaratnam beamed at the person striding underneath the rainbow at the bend of the street.

Immediately, he realized that Das has gone.

Having remembered, after a considerable time, that Das left him without procuring dakshina from him, Rajaratnam was extremely surprised. He was astonished completely as he remembered that he did not think of Govindaiah for quite some time.


Published on, January 2006.


[1] Budabukkala vaadu. A tribal man. Like sodi women, budabukkala men go around door to door bringing blessings from gods and predicting future in exchange for a small fee or other consideration.

A GLASS PLATE by K. Varalakshmi

“The two little hands were trying to set the arrow in the bow and shoot. … Ha, it worked finally! The hands held the bow tight, pulled the arrow … farther and farther back … and let it go. The hands prevailed beautifully!”

Ganga, a young working class woman lay down on a heap of rocks. The rocks were pricking her like needles. The tiny baby curled up in her belly kicked her inside and jolted her out of it. She rolled over and lay on her back with some effort. The sunbeams hit her eyes straight through a bunch of agni flowers like burning charcoal. She covered her eyes quickly with her fore-arm. Then, she felt something else; she peaked through the crook of her arm towards the railway station gate. Porter Ganni was standing on the other side of the fence beyond the gate, smoking a beedi, and watching her with ravenous eyes, wanting to devour her.

Cchup, rogue,” she turned away in disgust. His gaze was not new to her. “The s.o.b. has nothing else to think but that one thing,” she mumbled to herself. Ganni had tried to work on her a couple of times, got plenty of cursing from her, and settled down to be content with just watching her.

Ganga did not have even a cup of tea since daybreak. That could be the reason, the baby inside her was writhing restlessly. She slid her hand through the folds of her saree and tried to feel the baby, tried to reach the tiny foot that had kicked her inside impishly. She played with the dodging foot for a while, got tired of it and let go.

Hunger was jabbing in her belly like a wad of sharp flames. She lay down, too weak even to get up. Quick on the heels of her hunger, remorse followed and started to chew her up bit by bit. It was about the brawl she had picked up with Bodemma. Bodemma was her co-wife. Ganga married Rajayya, unaware of his previous marrital With Bodemma. That’s a different story.

Ganga regretted getting into a brawl with Bodemma. If Ganga had held back, maybe Bodemma would bawl and bawl, would have got exhausted and shut up her mouth with her two hands. What good comes out of fighting anyways?

Ganga stretched out her arm, and reached the glass plate, that was so carefully packed in a wornout saree, and tucked away in a bundle of clothes, on which her head rested. The glass plate would have been crushed into pieces as Bodemma hurled it at her. Luckily, Ganga caught it in time. Yet, a small piece on the brim had chipped. Ganga’s heart flustered.

Ganga pulled herself up feebly, and sat down leaning on the tree trunk. Her entire body felt like a raw sore. She stretched her hands forward and stared at them. The blood, caused by Bodemma’s scratching, dried up and formed into streaks. Eearlier that day, Bodemma had seized Ganga’s bushy hair, twisted it around her fist, pulled her down, and whacked her with the other fist. Ganga was nearly dead for all that beating. What a woman, she told herself, referring to Bodemma, keeps groaning like she is sick forever; wherever she’s gotten that kind of force in her hands? Ganga knew only too well the reason Bodemma had created this scene. Bodemma and the others in the area were being moved by the local municipality to another place, and she did not want Ganga to go with her.


Ganga sat there reminiscing the events of that morning, which had led to the brawl. She had been asleep at the time, when she heard Bodemma’s screams. Bodemma woke up the children lying by her side, and kept ranting like hell let loose. Ganga sat up with a jerk amidst the screams and the children crying. The horizon on the east was not lit up yet.


A month back, Rajayya had died of diarrhea. After that, Ganga had taken over the family responsibilities and become the man of the house. She had started going to the local stores and other places and earning five or six rupees a day, carrying bags and baskets. She was also taking the children with her and putting them to work. With the money thus earned, she had been buying rice grits and making broth for the family. Bodemma stayed home, curled up in her cot; she would not move a twig from one side to the other.Ask why, she’d say she was not feeling well. Well, you’ve no problem gulping down three bows of rice a day, Ganga would growl.

At first, Ganga could not figure out what was all that about for some time. She noticed that some of the dwellers were pulling down the palm leaves and gunny sheets which surved as roofs for the huts, and bundling them up in a hurry. A few others were packing pots and pans in gunny bags.

“Hey, stupid… can’t you see? Lyin’ there like a lady! Come on, up, up. Pack all yar rags ‘n things. First thing in the mornign the municipality lords will be here. They’ll throw us out; we can’t have even these rags,” Bodemma shouted from inside the hut, still lying down.

Ganga stood up with a start. She felt a pull in her left side. She was feeling worn out since she did not have enough sleep the night before. On top of it, Bodemma’s screams, burning holes in her ears.

“Ya’re lyin’ in the doorway, your legs stritch’d out. What can I do? First you git up and come out” Ganga shouted back.

The people in the huts were packing up their pots and pans, and running around in a hurry. Blind man Surayya was fumbling with the sticks; tried to burn out all the sticks but without success. A few children seized the half-burned sticks and started playing with them. Lights from the station on one side and the Kalakendram yard on the other made the area bright; it looked almost like daytime. People were getting off the train and walking away slovenly.

On the previous day, the municipality men had come and noted down the names of all the people living by Sarangadhara area. They had told them (dwellers) that the municipality had assigned lots by the quarry to them to put up their own huts; the entitlements would be handed to them the following day.

For a few months now, the municipality officials had been anxious to revamp the town for the pushakaraalu[1] festivities. They had been mending the filthy localities, temporarily, one at a time, which looked like revolting gashes on the town’s body. And then, they decided to rip off the “inhabited huts, which were like abscesses” (the wording came from the newspaper reporters, not from the author) of the poor. From their past experience with the poor, the municipal authorities were fully aware that the folks thus uprooted from their huts would turn up at another location like blisters. Therefore, they (the municipality), allotted tactically four square feet of land per person, far away from town and in the middle of rocky hills. None of the dwellers raised the question, “A man needs six feet of land when he is dead; how can we, with our women and children, live on a strip only four feet long?” They would not ask such questions, since they would not really be living in the huts; the huts would be there for namesake only. They all – men, women, and children – would be out somewhere working. The old, the sick, and the kids under five would be seated at a railway station, or in front of a temple or on a mosque yard with empty tins. At night, on their way back, they all would buy a morsel of food with their day’s earnings, eat and return to their huts. The stoves in those huts would not be lit, unless somebody felt like eating fish soup or something.

Unmarried young men usually sleep on the railway platform. For the married couples, however, the huts were the only panacea. A word about the huts – the huts were so small that if one had stuck one’s head in, the legs were pushed out; and if the legs were in, the head popped out. Yet, the couples somehow were carrying on their conjugal pleasures openly under some dirty sheet, knowing full well that their movements were conspicuous to the people outside.

That had been their life in those hutments. Now, they all were to a new place and they were excited about it. They spent all night telling each other stories about the government’s generosity, about the deeds each of them would be receiving. However, a few old men, especially those who were worried about the distance they would be walking, tried to show the light of day to the younger folks. They said, “Are you crazy? What’s wrong with ya kids? Are we their cousins or heirs or what? Why do ya think they’d giv’us the lan’ freely? Not only that. Pushkaraalu is aroun’ the corn’r, what’s the point of goin’ so far away now? Isn’t that the time we see a litt’l change? Ya idiots, are ya gonna take the land with ya when ya’r gone. What’d we need the lots for? All we need is a bite to eat, not the houses and land, right? We’re ‘ere today; god only knows where we’ll be ‘morrow. That’s why, you idiots, don’t throw away that’s in yar hand, thinkin’ o’ the honey those folks holdin’ out on their elbow. Here’s what we do. If they tell us to move, we go to the other side o’ the station; and ag’n they tell’s to move from there, we come back ‘ere, that’s all.”

Esobu, a young janitor, was standing next to the wall and smoking a beedi. He spit out the beedi butt and commented, “You’re all stupid, if ya ask me. Ya thinkin’ this’s all to jazz up our town? This’s all puskaraalu bash. I heard som’un talkin’; he says the municipal fellows goin’ to dazzle yar eyes. That’s all. You won’t have even rags or jute bags afte’ that. Listen to me. Ya go away nicely now, I’m tellin’ ye. After the gala’s gone, ya gonna cum back ‘ere anyways. And those folks are gonna pretend they’d not seen nothing.”

The crowd appreciated his advice. Maalacchi was a woman who used to winnow dirt at the swamps. She approached Esobu and begged him, “Hey, Esobu, my boy, me and me boys’ll be ‘ere the mornin’ after puskaraalu. Please, keep an eye on my piece. I’ll pay yor debt as yer child in my next life.”[2] She pulled out a scrunched and dirty one-rupee bill from her saree folds at the waist, and stuffed it in his palm. Esobu acted high and mighty for a while, and then, agreed to her proposal graciously after squeezing out one more rupee and some change from her.

On the morning they were supposed to move out, Bodemma slithered out of the hut, feet first. Her four children were still sleeping. She whacked them and woke them up. Ganga went in through the same hole Bodemma came out. She spread an old saree and started to pack the few pots and pans she could call her own. In the meantime, Bodemma pulled off the jute sheets, which served as roof for the hut, and told the children to pull out carefully the bamboo surround which served as walls for the hut. The children started to pull out the bamboo surround. That’s when the trouble started.

The glass plate that was set against it fell on the floor as soon as the children pulled the surround. Ganga jumped on her feet and caught hold of it in time. Nevertheless, a tiny bit on the rim chipped away. That glass plate was the heart and soul of Ganga.That was the only item she had gotten from her natal home, and she had been safeguarding it like the apple of her eye. When she saw the crack on the plate’s rim, she felt a stab in her heart. She could not contain herself. She seized the boy, who caused it to fall, and whacked him.

Bodemma saw that; and it made her blood boil. She took on the Kali avatar and shouted, “You, b… , whatever’s gott’n into ya? How could ya beat’m up like that?”

“Beat’m? I wanna kill the rogue. See what’s he done to my glass plate…”

Bodemma cut in even before Ganga had finished the sentence. “Ha, … glass pate my foot … got from mom’s, wah … what a big gift, ha! mind ya, … I’ll throw it on groun’ ‘n break it into one hunr’d piec’s. Watch out.” Then she threw the plate at Ganga.

“Yeah, lemme see, not a hundr’d, make two pieces, and yar head’ll crack into two too,” Ganga picked up a stick which was lying on the ground.

Bodemma saw the stick in Ganga’s hand and started screaming, sending echoes through the street, “Oh, my, oh my, this bitch … this impish wom’n … got my man, gutted my home …mauled my man … and now she wanna kill me. Oh, my … oh, my …” she went on rattling, beating her own forehead and remembering her dead husband. Ganga, stunned by this act, dropped the stick.

She dropped the stick all right but could not control her rising rancor. “Go away, you sickly bag o’ bones. He took me in ’cause you’re a a wast’d dummy,” she retorted; glad that she had hit Bodemma in the right spot with great precision. But her glee did not last long. Bodemma jumped at her like a wounded lion and caught hold of Ganga’s hair. She twisted it around her fist, pulled her down, and clobbered on her back a few times. All that time, Ganga was thinking of only one thing – that of protecting the baby inside her from getting hurt. Finally, the brawl came to an end. Bodemma was tired of beating and Ganga was tired of taking the beatings. Ganga wished that that incident had not happened. But what’s the point of worrying about it now?


By six in the morning, everybody was ready to leave with their bags. Ganga managed somehow to get up, wrap the glass plate carefully in rags and was set to leave. Within a few minutes there was nothing along the walls of Kalakendram except the signs of uprooted huts.

By seven, the municipality people arrived and told them where to go. As they called out their names. They called Bodemma’s name but not Ganga’s. Four days ago, when the municipality people had come to take the names down, Ganga had not given her name, assuming that she belonged wherever Bodemma and her kids went. She had taken things in stride. In her mind, such things had happened on several occasions; Bodemma has been lazy all her life; who would feed her if not me ?

The dwellers gathered outside and and waiting for the municipal folks.

A boy came with his tea can selling tea. The dwellers filled their stomachs with tea. Ganga wanted to have tea. She groped at her waist for the half-rupee coin she had tucked in earlier but could not find it. Hum, probably it was lost during her fight with Bodemma earlier. But the hope would not die so quickly; Ganga searched for the coin once again. No, it was nowhere to be found. She looked around, hoping somebody would say, “Here, have some tea.” Nobody said that. The tea vendor did not offer to give her tea on credit. “Ya’re goin’ away from ‘ere, ya know,” he argued. With that, Bodemma jumped into a fray again. “Where’s she gonna go, the bitch ‘sn’t invited like a spec’l gu’st she’s, nobody says to’er here’s your piece o’ land. I’m the rightful wife and so the governm’nt given me and my childr’n the land. He’s no fool to give away land to the likes o’ her.”

Ganga was ticked off. “Go away, I’m na gonna die, if I don’t have no tea. Go away,” she yelled at the tea-vendor, turning away to the other side. She sat there smugly until all the others were gone, leaving her alone behind. She watched them all go util they had disappeared round the corner. She was hoping that at least the youngest child, whom she had been rising as her own, would say, “You come too, Chinnamma.” That did not happen. Tears sprang to her eyes, gushing forth like river Godavari. Out of nowhere, clouds gathered densely in the sky. Water drops started falling slowly.

Ganga returned to the present and looked up. Probably some train pulled into the Godavari station, people were bustling around. She pulled herself up with some effort, picked up her baggage, and wondered for a second whether she should go to the railway station or Kalakendram premises. From where she was standing, the latter appeared to be closer. Not only that. If she went to the station, she would have to face the annoyance of Ganni too. She went around the Kalakendram building, and went up the stairs; she was tired.

She sat down, leaning on to a pillar. She remembered the first time she had come to this town, Rajahmundry, and the times she had had with Rajayya. He, Rajayya, had come to her village as a blacksmith – repairing holes in used aluminium pans. He was forty at the time. He stayed at Ganga’s place for a month. All around her village, it was just woods and hills. Most of the people there earned their living by crushing rocks to make grits. They had no other pastime except breaking stones and eating broth.

Ganga was sixteen at the time. That was the only life she had known ever since she had come of age. Her father and Rajayya used to sit around at night chugging pots of brew, while Rajayya recanted the Rajamundry stories. Ganga listened to those stories, completely mesmerized. The temples and structures by the river Godavari, the bridge over the river, and the unfinished pillars on the third bridge, movie theaters, coffee hotels — every bit of Rajahmundry was a piece of heaven for Ganga. By the end of the month, the friendship between Rajayya and Ganga’s father escalated way past the liquor pots. Rajayya proposed to Ganga, if that was okay with her father. Her father accepted it at once. Ganga’s mother called Ganga to a side and chided her, “Haven’t you noticed the difference in age between you and him? He is of your dad’s age. How can you marry him and be happy? you stupid. Tell him that you won’t marry him.”

Ganga did not listen to her mother. She was happy to get out of that life of rocks. If she were to let go of this chance, the parents would marry her to some fellow crushing rocks, and she would never get a chance again to see another part of the world; her life would have ended up right there amidst those rocks.

Ganga let Rajayya tie the tali around her neck and went away with him to Rajahmundry. Rajayya had not asked for dowry. On top of it, he even bought a saree for his mother-in-law and a dhoti for his father-in-law, and thus turned out to be a god for the old couple. That night he threw a liquor party for all folks in the neighborhood and then he became god for them too. Ganga’s parents were not in a position even to buy a simple saree for her.

The only thing Ganga had brought with her to Rajahmundry was the glass plate, which she had bought in her childhood days, and which had beautiful designs of ducks and vines painted on it. She had bought it with the money she had earned by crushing rocks. The first time she boarded the train, Rajayya looked like the hero in the movies he had narrated to her.

Ganga returned to the present and looked at the sky. On that fateful day also there were showers just like today. She had gotten off at the Godavari station, alighted on thin air and into another world.

It did not take long before she had fallen flat on her face. When Ganga walked in behind Rajayyaa, Bodemma was washing dishes in the front yard. As soon as she saw Rajayya, she bombarded him with a volley of cursing, “Who’s that gal behin’ ya? She’s wearin’ a new thali in her neck. Oh my god, oh holy mothe’, … he’s slit my throat, oh holy mothe’. … The sissy idiot’s got a whore, oh my, oh my.” She went on ranting as if she was hit by a tornado. And then, she turned to Ganga, “He has no shame, what about ya? Say, he’s a crackpot; whative’ happin’d to yar brain?” She shoved her fist in Ganga’s face. For the first time, Ganga had understood that Rajayya had been married and had had children too; and that Rajayya had not been a hero but a kitten in Bodemma’s presence.

Ganga understood there was no question of going back now. She stood there, totally confused for a while, and then, she came to a decision. She tucked her saree frills at the waist, and grabbed the dirty dishes from Bodemma to wash. In a few minutes, she cleaned up the entire hut and put designs, and made it look spic and span. In the evening, she washed the three older kids at the tap by the station, mended their pants and put them on. She heated up water using dried palm leaves and gave the baby a warm bath, wrapped him up in clean clothes, and put him to bed. After she was finished cooking, she massaged Bodemma’s legs, who had been angry and lying in bed ever since Ganga set foot in her house.

In spite of all her efforts to win Bodemma’s goodwill, Bodemma was not pacified for over a week. After that, Bodemma took the queen’s position and Ganga that of a maid.

Rajayya had not the guts to lift his eyelids in front of Bodemma, let alone open his mouth. He would not even touch Ganga, if Bodemma were around; the only time he would was when Bodemma had gone to a movie or something, and that did not happen very often. Once or twice, he had asked Bodemma to send Ganga with him when he went to the neighborhood villages for repairing pots; she could cook for him, he said. Bodemma shot up like a storm. After that, he never raised the question again.

As for Ganga, that little hut surround made her heavens and the Godavari waters the heavenly nectar. She got used to finishing the chores and going to a movie with the money she had earned on the day. Chiranjivi, the top-ranking movie star, was his prince charming. She also got used to watch the dances and other cultural events at the Kalakendram, standing on a tin-box and peeking from behind the compound wall. She would not move from there until Bodemma saw her and gave her an earful. Ganga never understood the phrase “life’s hardships.” Her eyes noticed only the colors in the world.

Eventually she became pregnant, a piece of news that nobody cared about. Strangely, Ganga recalled her mother for the first time. She thought it was time she must be with her mother,and told Rajayya so. He rejoined, “Are you crazy? Any idea how much money you’d need to travel that far?”, and added, “What’s there in that jungle for you? You stay here. I’ll get a lady doctor to deliver your baby.” Ganga understood soon enough that that was not going to happen, Rajayya could not keep his word.

Rajayya had never been a man she could count on. Whatever little he had earned, he would spend it on liquor. It became Ganga’s job to support the entire family. She trained the kids also to work, which brought additional cash. Ganga was in her third trimester when Rajayya died. Even then, she was not frightened. It was enough if there were people around her; she could take care of herself, her own muscle was her strenth. At the time of her husband’s death, she was the one to comfort Bodemma and her children. She went around and brought rice grits and fed Bodemma and the kids.

She had always been that kind of woman. Now for the first time she felt lonely and crushed under the pressure. For all the four years she had been living here, the place felt strange now; felt like she did not know even a single person in this town.

The rain gradually became big. The laborers who were building a Venkateswara temple across from Kalakendram, rushed to take shelter on the Kalakendram porch. It went on raining until evening.

Ganga saw them and saw a ray of hope. She went to the contractor and asked him if she could work for him.

The contractor threw skeptical looks at her, head to toe, and said, “This’s not the kind of work you can do. Go away, just go.” And then he added, “Anyways, This rain is not going to stop anytime soon. I heard it on the radio this morning.”

The workers on the Kalakshetram porch left, soaking wet in the rain. Ganga felt lonely again. The same thing had happened on the previous day at the market. They said she was not fit to carry heavy stuff, and that she was walking fast enough. The contractor said, eyeballing her stomach, “Why kill us like this? Why don’t you come back after unloading that burden?”

Ganga looked at her own stomach tenderly and thought, “That no-good rogue may rattle anyway he pleased. How can this be a burd’n for me? This’s my baby, my blood. He’s my life ‘n soul. … I’m gonnafeed’m off of my glass plate when he’s ol’ enough to eat. He’s not gonna eat from an aluminum plate like all those kids.”

She looked around. The sky was overcast densely; it was hard to tell the time but felt like the sun was down. The baby inside tired of wiggling and stopped. Ganga felt tight at her waist. Hunger was pulling her down; she was feeling feeble, was about to faint. The pangs of baby’s hunger were wrenching her more than the pangs of her own hunger. She desperately wanted to feed the baby a little warm broth and revive him. She shook as she remembered the words, a neighbor had told her. The woman said, “If the baby inside stops moving, it means trouble.” Ganga wondered if somebody would offer her a bite to eat, if she had begged. But there was not a house in sight anywhere in the vicinity.

All the rooms at the Apsara Lodge were sluggish, but were lit up as the night approached. Ganga smelled a fine aroma from a hotel nearby, and her mouth watered. She knew the watchman would not let her stay there on the Kalakshetram porch once the night had set in. In that pouring rain, she held her bundle of clothes tightly to her chest, and walked down the steps. Usually, she would see push-carts in front of Kalakendram, but they were all gone now.

She stood there by the gate, drenched, and nowhere to go. She thought of begging for a bite at the old police quarters. She took a few steps toward the agni tree and stopped; she was too weak to move her feet.

The streets were deserted, not a sign of people anywhere. Nobody would believe if you say people had been living in the area until the day before. The entire place looked more like a place after an cattle show had ended. It was hopelessly grubby, strewn with leftover rags, pieces of broken pots, and shit. The blind man’s clay stove was partly submerged in water, and looked like a yogi in meditation.

Ganga changed her mind and turned toward the station. As she took each step, she felt a pull in the right side of her stomach. She knew that was hunger pains; she was quite used to starve but it was getting unbearable now. The fact that the baby was not moving had been crushing her heart. She stepped into the newly renovated station; her eyes wandered around, looking for Ganni. She dragged her feet from one end of the platform to the other but did not find him. Maybe he was on the other platform, she thought but she had no strength left in her to go up the bridge.

The place suddenly became noisy, some train was pulling in. Ganga kept wandering around amidst the crowd like a crazy woman. In between, she was stopping under the shade of a tree and trying to feel the baby inside her. No, there was no movement. Her maternal instinct bk was in a turmoil. Her heart was longing for the baby, who had not yet been delivered, whose form she had not yet known. She had reached a point where she was prepared to do anything to save the baby.

She tried to extend her hand once or twice in front of a couple of travelers but pulled it back quickly. she had never done that before and could not bring herself to do it now. Nobody paid attention to Ganga; they all were in a hurry to catch the train.

Ganga asked a couple porters if they had seen Ganni anywhere. They said they had not seen him since that evening. But the idiot from Annoram winked and whispered with a crooked laugh, “How’s goin’?” Ganga stood there disoriented; tears filled her eyes and then she collapsed on the floor in shade. The rain was tapering off. It should be close to nine or ten, she thought.

The train slid down the old bridge like a caterpillar and came to a stop, screeching. Ganni got off the train carrying two suitcases on his head. Gange saw him and knew that he went home, ate and came back to the station. She envisioned the cooked rice gleaming like white jasmine flowers he must have had. Pangs of hunger doubled in her stomach.

After the train had left, Ganni walked up to Ganga, sitting next to a pillar in the dark. He said, squinting, “Been lookin’ fo’me; what’s up?” He was standing under a lamppost; his eyes were filled with red streaks, and glimmering like cheetah’s, obviously he was high.

“Talk, come on, what’s up,” he yelled again, annoyed. The desdaining looks she had given him that morning were still fresh in his mind.

Ganga struggled to sound polite as she said pitiably, “Nothin’ much; just’unger, … I’m hungry. I’m thinkin’ maybe you’ll buy me a bun ‘n tea.”

Ganni understood her condition. He knew only too well what hunger would feel like.

“Okay, supp’se, I’ll buy ya tea. What’s in there fo’ me?” he asked sourly.

Ganga was quiet for a minute. And then she said, “What’er ya wanna take.” She choked as she spoke.

“Okay then, come with me,” Ganni said, rejoicing at the prospect.

Ganga stood up and followed him. She saw him walking into the dark hole. it was an underground pathway under construction.

Ganga stopped. “Wait. Not yet. I need to eat first.”
Ganni turned around and spit out the beedi, which was hanging from his mouth. “No way. My hunger first, then only yours.” He ogled at her, your choice.

Ganga felt the doggedness in his tone. Helplessly, she moved forward.

Ganni waded through the knee-deep, murky waters and, with all the vengeance he had been nursing for the past four years, jumped on her like a tiger.

Ganga crushed under his weight, fell on her back like a tree trunk chopped at the roots. She heard a crack next to her spine on her back.

The glass plate, which she had been saving so carefully was broken into a thousand pieces.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, January 2006.

 [The Telugu original, gaaju paLLem, was first published in Andhrajyoti, February 28, 1992.]


[1] A holy occasion. Gods and holy men are supposed to take dip at the time a zodiac sign moves from one house to another, and the river waters receive their blessings. It happens once in twelve years and thousands of people gather at the specific river to take a holy dip during that time.

[2] A proverb in Telugu cacci nee kaDupuna puDataanu, meaning ‘I will be born to you in my next life’, refers to the Hindu belief in rebirth, based on what one owed to another, and as a result of the other person’s good deeds.


 As he woke up he looked at the wall-clock to notice that it was only two-thirty in the wee-hour then. No point in trying to invoke and restart his sleep. It’s good to get up and take care of the morning chores. Body would like to stroll on the soft bed for some more time but it could never be the best option for a sensible person. Before getting up and moving out, he glanced at the total atmosphere around the room for whatever it was worth.

Tapati occupied the next bed and she evidently was in deep sleep completely covered by the quilt. To wake her up now has no meaning. Let the sleeping souls lie! He should only get out of the room without making any sounds that could wake her up.

The calendar on the table-stand was showing yesterday’s date and day. Poor thing, how could it know that they’ve gone into oblivion and a new day dawned. Someone has to shift the cards and make things uptodate. Time would not wait or stop for anyone, it flows out resembling the stream of water down the hill. It will not seek anyone’s permission or look for approval. Could men and women of the world too adopt similar attitude? World would move well then.

Silence pervaded the whole area. The minimal sound he made while getting off the bed and walking out. Otherwise it was all golden. Seshadri – that was his name – looked into the mirror and his counter-face therein was showing vividly; not only that but a large part of the room was visible, particularly the bed where Tapati was resting. Her posture attracted him much. Few moments earlier he saw the real she sleeping there but the image as is visible in the mirror now was too attractive and overpowering. Perhaps this is what it means when they say images are more alluring than the real objects and the ultimate reality.

It is true the way Tapati was sleeping enclosed in the quilt, the imaginary contours showing out — all this was more fascinating. Seshadri took a deep look at her again. Her exhale and inhale were causing rhythmic movements, though invisible to the naked eye. One could enjoy looking at the non-provocative scene and forget himself in its solitude.

Getting up before five-thirty in the morning or getting woken up by someone else always irritated Tapati and so Seshadri did not attempt that. There was nothing she should do now. Seshadri removed his outer garment and threw it on to the stand without making any noise and slowly walked into the bathroom. He did not take a bath but did almost the same exercise to ward off the night’s magnetism and freshen up. The marks of the night and other signs of sleepiness and fatigue were diluted. As he worked on the body, the mind also got cleansed. Both the mind and body were now the viable and vulnerable instruments to work with. As he came out and and passed through the room he glanced at Tapati again. Thank God, his movements did not disturb her. Now he was alone to himself in his study. The chair seemed to have smiled at him invitingly.

Seated in this room, and particularly in this chair, his world would entirely be a different one. The pile of letters was projecting pointedly toward him. He must sit down today and dispose of all correspondence. Further postponement might turn disastrous. The other side of the table projected the book of his on reading program. The bookmark was showing out and it needed immediate attention. But before taking up the book for study it was necessary to talk to him. This is a must each day. First the date and the day must be recollected. The work contemplated for the day must be remembered. Visualization should go on. The planned work is to be visualized completely. There was no special agenda for the day, only the routine writing and reading. If friends arrived, chitchat with them. Find out what they want and supply their needs without them asking for it. Eat and drink whatever Tapati offered on that day. When called for lunch, move to the table without being reminded too many times. This is all what he does each day. But he plans these routine operations too meticulously and brings in creativity into them. Talking to the body and then to the mind, together and differently, asking them to be alert and active all the time and spending some time on such contemplating is very necessary. This point was proven to him long back.

To assure that the mind and body are in perfect control and would do the things they are asked to do and not indulge in extraneous matters is an activity that brings in

confidence as well. The world would wake up into freshness. This freshness would bring new aroma to me. I must adapt myself to them. Must equip myself with the proper readiness needed for that. As the stars open up in the sky and make distinct marks and lights, my mind should get enlightened each moment of the time. I must be in perfect harmony with all the beings around. Whatever be the outer struggles and impediments, my inner condition should not give in. It must retain its serenity. May this day also pass on without any untoward incident, properly fitted into the total scheme of things.

Seshadri closed his eyes gently for a moment. A stream of pure waters was flowing calmly in his vision. The gentle flow and the soundless sounds it brings are well familiar to him. They slowly disintegrate and disappear as though nothing was envisioned. No memory, no recollection, no recapitulation whatsoever. Several minutes would pass.

He opened the book at the marked page and began reading. The opening sentence was From the room next, he heard a scream and the voice was that of a lady. As he read the line, he recollected a portion of the story. It was a soldier’s story. Around 1530 A.D., he participated in a war in South America and came back to Germany. Currently he rented a room in a cheap hotel. He had spent only one night there. A lonely woman occupied the next room. She called him by name though they did not know each other earlier. “I’m possessed. I know many things.” He asked her to calm down and sleep without making any noise. But she was keen to unravel her own story to him and would not rest until she did that part of her job.

A fairy visited her at the tender tenth year of age. “As you grow your older, you shall become very prosperous. But you must do the needed sacrifices and surrender from now on.”   She also likes to be a vsionary. Having developed some intimacy with the boy, a schoolmate, she was not inclined to bid goodbye to him. The boy did that part of the job. He suddenly disappeared before their intimacy brought out ramifications. And after many long years, he appeared in her dream and said, “In two months, I will come back to you. Please do wait for me.” Someone did arrive after two months’ time, but she was at a loss, wasn’t sure if that was the same boy. The picture she carried in her mind was one thing. The appearance before the naked eyes now is altogether a different one. But her mind clamored, there is a resemblance between the two pictures. She went out or rather eloped with him. It was a spell of another two plus years. The boy again went away without leaving any trace. It was now her job to search, locate him and re-appropriate him to herself. It was that errand that had brought her here.

He heard the story in all sympathy. There was nothing he could do beyond that. Too often she repeated, “I’m possessed, I’m possessed.” Perhaps it was a matter of pride for her, almost same as being selected as miss world or a queen of a great prince. “Do not think of the devil or whatever force that had taken you over. Let your mind rest. Sleep well. Perhaps you were too tired with the unending search.” He stayed in the same room as she was resting, soothing her all night and giving out spells of consolation. He would like to share the bed with her. She was adamant. “I am totally his, the boy who had forsaken me. My search will have its fulfillment. I must wait for that happy day. I will not surrender to anyone else.”

“I shall certainly help you in your pursuit. I shall assist you in your search.”

Their travels filled the pages with mysterious events, situations and the like — all too cumbersome to remember. The novel was written sometime in 1907, well before the arrival of the various schools of psychological studies on the scene. But what surprised Seshadri were the tones and trends of abnormal psychological descriptions which appeared therein. It was five-thirty when his attention was diverted instantly. Tapati could be woken up now. But she did not give him that opportunity. She was not on the bed, and there were sounds from the bathroom. He reverted to his position in the study.

A lizard was moving speedily on the wall, perhaps chasing its prey. “Don’t ever damage the lizards. They are Gandharvas,” was a saying he read some where. Manifestation is after all very mysterious. You cannot count on the forms that would appear to us. Countless and innumerable. Is the man the manager of the whole show? No, says the man of religion and philosopher. The scientist also seems to be agreeing with him today, though half-heatedly.

There was tap on the door. Three knocks. Seshadri looked up to find Tapati slowly walking in with a cup of steaming coffee on a tray. The fragrance of coffee surrounded the room. Was it sweet or bitter? Perhaps sweetly bitter.

Tapati said, “I shall get ready in five minutes.”

They usually go for a walk in the mornings, an inevitable part of their lives. Seshadri changed into T-shirt and canvas shoes and accompanied her.

“I was absorbed in the book I was reading,” said Seshadri when she remarked, “You could have awakened me an hour earlier, it is already broad daylight now.” “Doesn’t matter much, we shall take a short walk and come back in half hour.”

When they returned, the pile of newspapers was awaiting their attention. Seshadri necessarily gives a full period of three hours for reading it. This is not a pastime, but a part of his job. Tapati does not waste her time now. Her reading time is after the lunch spell and before a short nap in the afternoon. Information explosion is the order of the day. Each newspaper runs to 48 pages normally and promises many things to many people. You shall miss living the life if you do not carefully look to all pages of the papers. As Seshadri was having his tea that afternoon a person came in seeking a half hour of his time at the least for careful listening of his lamentable tale. “I do not know you, sir. But I was told that you are the person who would redeem me of my worries.”

Seshadri took a close look at him, the man who must have been past middle age and, most likely, was entering the threshold of senior citizenship.

The visitor occupied his seat, had a cup of tea and relaxed for a few minutes, in spite of his anxiety writ on his face to speak out what all he had rehearsed well at home and on the way. He was dissuaded from talking for an hour. In the meantime Seshadri was attending to his desk work, intermittently looking at the visitor and encouragingly smiling at him.

Tapati reminded him that the group of people who wanted to see him for collecting his opinion on population and popularity and allied subjects was due anytime and it would therefore be prudent to listen to the visitor before that time. The visitor was very thankful to Tapati for her mild suggestion but Seshadri was not budging from his agenda. Instead, he told the gentleman, “Sir, you are in no hurry. If needed, you shall stay with us this evening. Your problem seems to be more grave and cannot be sorted out by mere talking about it.”

The gentleman said very humbly, “Sir, don’t ‘sir’ me. You can mention me by my name. I said my name is Arunachalam. For short, you can even call me Chalam. As for my problem, it seems it has disappeared. I do not have many words now to speak of it. Your hospitality had soaked up my agony and caused it to evaporate. I thought you would refuse to see me. It is very kind of you. I shall wait for your command. Now I begin feeling sorry that I encroached upon your time and am wasted it with no due consideration.” Seshadri did not respond to this gust of reverential words but he could see the sincerity of the expression.

The group of people Tapati mentioned earlier did come and engage Seshadri for more than one hour. Arunachalam was also a silent spectator for the entire time. Though he could not make out much of it, he could significantly note the sagacity of his host and his sense of right approach to all that was happening around. When they wanted to take leave of him, he introduced Arunachalam to the group and said, “ This is the type of man you would need. He had had enough of the life’s experiences and is interested currently in sharing his knowledge with others. But no one seemed anxious to share his understanding. We cannot help it, people are always like that.”

The group appeared interested in Arunachalam and started making inquiries about him, his place of living, avocation and other data relevant and irrelevant. Arunachalam was wonderstruck and did not know how to respond to all those questions. Again it was Seshadri who came to his rescue. “you all, don’t confuse my guest with all your vocabulary. He needs plenty of rest and relaxation at the moment. If you are interested and desirous of hiring his services, please call on him after two days. He is my guest and you are welcome to come again.” The group thanked them both and assured their reappearance on the appointed date, and left after placing a bundle of sandal wood sticks in the hands of Seshadri. They said, “Once you grind them and make a paste, it would emit wonderfully unique fragrance lasting for days beyond normal expectation.”

Arunachalam did not wait for long to express his astonishment. “What? Sir, you are speaking highly of me. I know I do not deserve all that. But, sir, what is it they want from me?”

“Don’t you worry about that. I am sure they would not return. It is all initial enthusiasm and nothing beyond that. Once they’d gone to their respective places, they would not even care to remember that they were ever here. Problem solved, nobody would like to carry the burden and its ashes too long and too wide.”

Seshadri handed him a big piece of the sandal wood sticks. “Make a paste of it each day and apply it wherever you like. It decidedly cools the system.”

Arunachalam was sure all this was Greek and Latin to him. He did not dare seek clarification. He was wondering whether he to stay here for two days and what for?

It was only after dinner the third day that Seshadri reverted to the presence of this person, that too in a most casual manner. They were reclining on the divans under the open sky. A cap of clouds was attempting to get over them. Stars were spectacular. Compared to the past the present seems to be just a game of the mind. Arunachalam said, “Sir, I do not know how to thank you. These three days here were the most memorable part of my life and I would treasure them deep in my heart. If you permit me, I would leave for my station tomorrow.”

“Already tired of this place? Do you not want to stay here for the rest of your life? Are you homesick now, is that it?” Seshadri was replaying the other man’s earlier sentiments.

Arunachalam could see how he was being taught the lesson of life in a gentler way. But could he really learn them? “I would like to stay on, sir. But why being a burden on you when I have my own kith and kin? I would now assert my rights and at the same time live peacefully.”

“ Look, Arunachalam, no one is a burden on any other. We live in an interdependent and interrelated world. No one is unconnected and burdensome. There is always someone who needs another. We must only find out who that someone is. Then, everything will be all right. No imaginary worries and predilections.”

Arunachalam does not see his wife as a burden now; and his sons and daughters-in-law are more lovable than ever. His heart was aching for the affections or the lack of them he misjudged all this while. Seshadri did not delve into his mental inhibitions, the ramifications and the like. So long as there is a center in man, he will live and move on. Once the center is found, the resting and brooding place is no longer available for habitation. Seshadri remained the same as he was. Recollecting the possessed lady in the novel, he wished that a touch of the sandal paste that touched Arunachalam ought to find its way to her too.


 Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published originally on, January 2004.


Are Old Folks Spiders? by By Avasarala Ramakrishna Rao

The average age of Sarma, Sastry and Chalapati is seventy. They are not happy unless they gathered on the terrace every evening and had a chat. On that particular day, the events took an unusual turn after Sarma made a remark. This is what he said, “What’s the matter with him? Chalapati curled up in that corner facing the other side?”

Sastry replied, “Seems he’s upset about something.”

Gopi dismissed it with a casual remark, “That’s silly. We are past seventy. What is there for us to be upset about?”

Sastry said sarcastically, “Well, aren’t we going through second childhood, so to speak? In fact it is stranger that you showed up dashing onto the terrace before it was barely dark.”

“I may not show up early on a regular basis.Sometimes I get held up by other commitments. Otherwise, wouldn’t I like to sit down and share life’s pleasures and pain with you? After all, aren’t we all of the same age, give or take a few years!” Sarma explained meekly.


Gopi’s sense of humor is a shade higher than normal. “Maybe, that is why Sri Sri stated it long time ago. I didn’t understand it at the time,” he said.

“What did he say?”

“Let’s go, move on…”[1]

“What do you mean? I think Sri Sri meant that we should achieve higher goals, not climbing stairs and reaching the terrace.”

“But then there is a kind of lee way in this too.”

“What’s that?”

“We have reached overripe old age and on our way to go up. We’ve come up this far, and we are that much closer to reaching the heaven!”

“I don’t know that’s going to happen or not. But there is one fact we must consider. If we’ve come up this much higher and died here, our folks will have a hard time getting our bodies down to and get us to the burial ground.”


All the three old men burst into a big laugh. Only Chalapati snapped. “I’ve been listening to you since the start. How could you speak such ominous things and laugh? Generally speaking we have one hundred years to live. That means we have 30 more years to go, guaranteed.”

“Chalapati! I have a question. Promise me you will not be angry with me.”

“Ask. Even my own children don’t care about my anger. Don’t worry about it.”

“We are living beyond the average lifespan common in our country. In fact, we are enjoying bonus years. We have no worries of food and clothing. Is it fair for us to hope for a longer life, hope to hang on to life forever?” Chalapati has no respect for Sarma’s words, no more than a strand of straw.

He came back at Sarma with full force, “Yes sir, you can say anything, you are cruising through life as you please. You’d never fall sick, not so much as a sneeze. Our bodies on the other hand are worn out. Anyway, how come not one of you asked me what happened to day?”


They all watched his face and fell silent. Chalapati resumed, “It’s my cigar. You know my folks can’t stand it. So, I went into a corner on the verandah, and lit it secretively. I hardly blew a couple of puffs, my grandson came rushing and snatched it away from me.Can you believe it? And then the entire family burst into a big laugh. I don’t have that much freedom or what? Am I not shouldering my own responsibility?”

“You maintain your self-esteem and your responsibilities are no problem,” Sarma replied.

“What’re you saying? You can’t say a word without giving a jab or a punch.”

“What can I say? That’s the way my tongue works,” Sarma conceded. Chalapati found an opportunity and didn’t want to let go of it.

“Only tongue? You retired as chief surgeon. Who knows how many operations you’ve performed and how many people you’ve sent up.”

“That’s not fair, you can’t say that. All surgeons are not bad people [durjanuluI][2].”

“All I can say is you are not complaining like we do, no cold, no headache, nothing. Who’s going to believe if you say you are past seventy?”

“That’s true. I also heard that Sarma is a great sportsman. Maybe, that is why is so sturdy,” Gopi said.

“Did anybody stop you from participating in sports during college days? The exercise you do in your youth is like an insurance policy that protects you for the rest of your life.”

“Maybe, nala bhima[3] plan is a better term,” said Gopi smiling. The other two insisted that Gopi should elaborate on his comment.

Gopi mumbled, “I am not sure how Sarma garu would take it.”

“You can tell them,” Sarma gave him his permission.

“Nothing much, really. From what I heard, the underlying secret of his great health was his custom; Sarma garu prepares all his meals himself.”

Sastry and Chalapati laughed aloud.

“What a way to put it. Gopi said it very well. He was correct one hundred percent,” Sarma said gravely. His words put an end to their laugh.

“Aren’t you ashamed to admit it in public?” Chalapati questioned him.

Sarma did not flinch. He spoke softly and earnestly, “What’s there to be ashamed of? One should be ashamed only if one lay back in an armchair, and instead of helping the family members in the chores, finding fault with everythe they did. One should be ashamed if one could not extricate oneself from the rut of the past accomplishments.”

“What do you mean? Are you saying that we, with our hunched backs, let the young people sit idly? and we should cook and clean for them?”

“What’s wrong in that? My wife cooked for me as long as she lived. Now I am happy I am alive and I could cook. Times have changed. It is not like what it used to be. The daughters-in-law have changed. Now they are the geese who lay golden eggs; they go out to work and bring money each month. Just because we are getting our pension and giving them that money, we can not claim that we have a right to dance around like peacocks. That is the worst kind of self-deception.”

Chalapati tried to cut in, “What’s this Sarma, what is this lecture for? Didn’t you understand our question?”

“Don’t stop me. Nowadays, everybody—men and women, young and old, alike—is hitting the road clutching tiffin boxes in their hands. And they don’t return home until it got dark. How could people like us endure this fast lifestyle? We, the old folks, are home twenty-four hours a day like spiders on the wall. What’s wrong in extending a little help to the family? Are you saying I lost my manhood just because I made a cup of tea for my duaghter-in-law who returned home after a long day’s hard work?”

“We’re ready to go, on our way to the final stop in a day or two! Do we still have to wait on them?” Sastry said.

“Go in a day or two? Come on. Haven’t we climbed the seven flights of stairs in a snap and got here? We are just fine, if you ask me. Why not help our family at home? Of course, there’s no pressure. We can do only the chores that fit our bill of health. We may not be able to wash clothes, but certainly can fold the dried ones, can’t we? I think before we tell them that they should respect us as adults, we must act like adults first. I admit we are old and lonely but that does not mean that we should treat life as if it was our own liquor bottle. If we shared whatever little we have, the bottle turns into divine nectar, doesn’t it?” Sarma stopped



 Published originally on, January 2004.

(Published originally, musilaallantaa saleellenaa? in Andhra Prabha weekly, April 24, 1996, and later included in an anthology, pekamukkalu: avasarala ramakrishnarao kathalu)


[1] Pun on a famous line by a reputable poetm Sri Sri. The line under reference, padandi munduku [Let’s move forward] was part of a long poem encouraging the labor class to rebel.

[2] Play on the word, surgeon. Telugu word durjan, rhyming with surgeon, means a bad person. The author is famous for playing upon words like this, there are numerous occasions in all his writings.

[3] Playing on the word bhima.. The word has two meanings: 1] Insurance, and 2] a character in Mahabharata. He was known for his physical strength as well as his expertise in culinary art. Nala was also a king and a great chef. The phrase nala bhima pakamí became a common expession referring to great art of cooking.