Category Archives: Telugu Stories in English

LODESTAR by Pellakuru Jayaprada Somireddi

The colony looked like a socialist society; the location was filled with huts, middle-class homes and multi-level buildings.

On that day, in front of one hut, a serious wrangling was going on between the hunger of a poor man and the fierce longing of a little child.

“No, I will not go to work. I want to learn to read, ayya!” Kannadu, a twelve-year-old boy, said. His voice echoed his intense determination. His tone was firm; he was struggling desperately to get his dad on his side.

One more blow fell on the dark, smooth body of the boy. His father, Tirupati, who dealt the blow was also writhing inside at the same time.

The boy was not afraid of the stick in his dad’s hand. He kept repeating, “Ayya, please, send me to school.” He kept begging relentlessly.

“Stop asking the same question. Don’t pin me down. Schooling is not for people like us. We can’t afford it.” Tirupati was exasperated; he was being pulled in two directions—the boy’s dreams on one hand and the outstanding debt on the other; they were tearing him apart.

Kannadu noticed it; he was even more forceful in his appeal. “What do you mean it is not for us? I’m sure we can do it. I want to learn reading.”

“That’s what I’m telling you, stop hassling me. We couldn’t pay off the loan we owed Nayudayya, not even a paisa, don’t you know? He was so kind. He was willing to cancel the debt. You need to work his lobster pond,” his voice was reflecting his frustration, helplessness and anger.

But Kannadu was not worried about it. “I’ll talk to Nayudayya, don’t you worry,” he assured his dad.

Tirupati pushed him away bitterly. His obligations were pestering him; so many of them– daughter’s marriage, the little child needing medications, his seventy-year old father grappling with death, and the sick wife with no income. All these things colluded and were driving him crazy.

Kannadu’s filthy back was spanked one more time.

“You stupid, listen to me. In about four years, the loan will be paid off if you go to work now. You, stupid, get it?”

Over and again, blow after blow …

Until now, Kannadu took all the blows silently; he wanted to go to school so badly. Finally, he gave in and screamed, abbha.

Tirupati dropped the stick.

Orey, Tirupati, stop beating him; he is not a beast,” a feeble voice was heard from inside the hut. That was the intense pull of a protest from the blood relationship; a desperate cry for not being able to fulfill the littlest wish of their child.

“You had your broth, nearly bursting your stomach. Why bother about anything else? Why don’t you just lie down and shut up?”

Tirupati was well aware that he hurt the little boy he had brought into this world; it was only because of his own frustration. He was in no position to fulfill his son’s hope, and so he acted irrationally. At heart, he knew that he was bartering his son’s infinite hope for a few morsels to fill his little stomach. It was killing him—his life was like a grinding stone, going in circles at the same place; there was no future for him.

“Ayya, don’t beat me, please, don’t. We are BCs[1], aren’t we? The government will pay for my schooling.

Tirupati bent down to pick up the stick and throw it away. He twitched as he heard his son’s words. Poor boy! After all, what was he asking for? It was not all that absurd! How could a desire to learn be wrong? Tirupati was melting away like a wax candlestick. But the debt was like a zodiac sign, permanently glued to him, and frightening him. The melted wax was hardening again. He was rearranging his hardened feelings, hardened at his will. A demonic cloak shrouded his human side. He pretended to be sarcasatic and said, “Let’s say they would pay for schooling. Who’s going to feed you? You think you can live off of me?”

The boy tried to find signs of hope in dad’s words.

A few yards away, an old Brahmin was spinning thread for making yajnapoveetam[2]. He heard their conversation and sighed. He wished he was born a B.C. He could not obtain admission in schools because he was born a Brahmin; and he, like all others of his caste,. Had no money to pay the fees. Brahmins also, like Tirupati, would go around chanting mantras for birth and death, and showering blessings, but could make nothing for themselves. They end up earning their livelihood by selling the yajnapoveetam threads in their spare time.

Kannadu fell on his dad’s feet and begged, “No, dad, you don’t have to feed me. I will beg for my food and go to school.” He wound around his father’s legs.

Tirupati was exhausted physically and emotionally. He collapsed on the ground.

From inside the hut, his mother yelled, “Kanna, all that stuff—education and such—is not going to help us. I put the water ready for dad. Tell him to come in and take bath.”

Kannadu’s little brain understood even before he asked for it that he was not going to get support from her

A few people gathered and were watching the show. A young man’s voice from the crowd resounded, “Probably, these people don’t know that child labor is against law. I can go to the police station and file a complaint that this father was sending a little child to work; they would throw him in jail.”

Kannadu looked at the crowd and lowered his head. He would not like to send his father to jail, but he was also very keen on learning.

Appalasamy just finished his work for the day and was returning home. He understood Kannadu’s unspoken thoughts and wish. His mind traveled back to a similar situation, which had happened thirty-years ago—the same scene, the same reprimand, and the same sentence. If anything different, it was his father then in place of Tirupati now; and he [Appalasamy] in place of Kannadu. His own father also like Tirupati had conceded his life to day labor. Appalasamy’s heart growled. Wouldn’t it be great if he were born now? He would have sent his father to jail and himself gone to school. But, what is the point of mulling over it now? Half of his life was over.

A few others in the crowd were entertaining a different kind of thoughts. Who could tell what happens if these kids went to school? The educated kid would not care about anything else except his income, his wife, his children and himself. He would not think of the loans; life in the huts would become disgusting.

Kannadu’s little sister, Sita, just came back from school. She remembered that Kannadu would have started work today. Then, a new wish entered her brain. She was not mature enough to know that it was not the right place to express her wish there. “Anna![3] You got a job now. Won’t you buy me a frock?” she spoke up, gleefully.

Kannadu noticed the sparkle in her eyes; his determination slackened slightly. He wanted to report to work right away, take twenty-five rupees in advance from Nayudayya and buy a frock for his little sister. But, in the next second, he thought of something else. He could get education first, get a job, and then send her also to school; that way, she would be able to buy her own clothes.

Kannadu was standing there depressed. Sita was looking at him zealously; she understood that he was in no position to buy a frock for her. She was thinking—if she were in his position, she would have taken the job–washing dishes in somebody’s house—right away, earned the money, bought one silk skirt—just one—for herself, and given rest of the money to their mother.

There was one thing Kannadu did not realize however. The lady from across the street, Yasoda, has been watching them from her room upstairs ever since the squabble started.

When her husband bought this little building, she was upset about the location. “What kind of peace we can have in this neighborhood?” she asked. Yet, there was another side to it. After her husband left for work, and the children for school, she would sit on the second-floor balcony and watch the daily activities of the people in the huts across from her house—the population in those narrow hutments, their bickering resulting from their dire poverty, their hunger, which pushed them away from normal civilities—all these things were upsetting her. Amidst all this, what was happening today was the height of their poor economic condition. She was shaken.

She had seen a lot of people, and heard about even more people: Her children have everything and yet refuse stubbornly to study; there are poor children who would duck the teachers who came to escort them to school per government regulation; little kids who are caught playing games and end up babysitting other kids; some fooling enough to be happy that their fathers allowed them to drop out; there are people who would argue that, if everybody was educated who would bear the palanquin, and so many others with similar views. But this was the first time, she has come across a child who would rebel against his father and insist on going to school. She was taken by Kannadu’s attitude.

On the street, the shameless incident came to an end. The crowd started dispersing slowly. Suddenly, Yasoda came to her senses. She quickly ran down the staircase, went to the gate and called out for Kannadu and Tirupati.

The crowd was disappointed that the assembly had come to an end without any tangible solution. Yasoda’s call gave them a new incentive. They all stopped and turned around.

Yasoda was not embarrassed; did not hold back. She walked straight to Kannadu, and ran her fingers fondly through his disheveled hair. She said, “Kanna, I will help you. Will you go to school?”

Tirupati steppec closer and said, “Amma, you’re saying you can send him to school. I praise you for that. But, amma, how can we pay off our debt? What is the point of having children if not to help the family at a time like this?”

She heaved a sigh. “How much can he bring you a year?”

“Whichever way you count it, no less than six thousand per year.”

“All right. I will pay you that amount and also for his education. Let him go to school.”

Kannadu felt like he had conquered the vast sky. Yasoda noticed for the first time the real meaning of the word happiness in his eyes clearly.

We may forget for the moment the thousands of poor children who could not or would not learn and consequently turn into day laborers. Think about the hundreds and thousands of poor children who were not given a chance, not even allowed to try to check whether which one of them could reach the stars. Isn’t it a crime to bury their hopes while they were still in a nascent stage?

“So, amma garu, could you also buy a frock for my little sister?” Kannadu started out the sentence boldly but froze by the time he uttered the last word.

Yasoda was rearranging her thoughts. She came out of her reverie and smiled gently. “Yes, I will buy a frock for your sister.”


Kannadu looked at his father, longingly, joyously, timidly, and nervously.

Now, not only the eyes of Kannadu but Tirupati’s also were glittering; he was ecstatic that his son’s wish was going to materialize.

Kannadu’s mother watched the entire incident and felt sorry for Yasoda. She remembered something she had said to her neighbor earlier, “Look at her [Yasoda], such a stingy woman! So rich and yet did not go to pushkaraalu.[4] If I were she, I would have jumped on the next bus.”

Now she has understood. “Why go to pushkaraalu to earn God’s blessings?” she told herself, folding her hands reverently to the woman who was going to give the gift of education to her son.


Published on, January 2005.

 (The Telugu original, nakshatram [star] was published in Andhrajyoti, 10 October 2004.)


[1] Short for Backward Class; some of the lower classes are labeled B.C.s and S.C.s and offered reservations in schools.

[2] Sacred thread male Brahmins wear; a sign of young men being initiated into Brahminic rituals.

[3] Older brother.

[4] A festival celebrated once every twelve years on the banks of a famous river.

TWO ASCETICS by Ghandikota Brahmaji Rao

It’s two years since I retired from my job. After that I never tried for another job.

I went to Benares several times while I was working. I never stayed for more than two days there though. Now I am not in a rush. I arrived here this morning along with my wife, I was planning to spend a few days here.

We took a room in Andhrasram. Someone offered to make arrangements for our meals and snacks. Someone else offered to show us around the city. We did not accept any of those offers. We decided to eat whatever we felt like and visit whatever we felt like seeing. We two were planning to go around on the small streets in the evening leisurely. We got a room upstairs. We locked the door and came down to go out.

On the way to the street, there was a small room next to the front porch. There was an older man in that room, sitting on a deerskin mat, and reading book that was sitting on a book-holder. He wore traditional amber clothes befitting an ascetic. The moment I saw him, I felt like making a namaskaram to him.

“Sir, my name is Murthy,” I said, folding my hands reverently.

He stopped reading, looked at me and my wife and signed inviting us in. We two sat on the reed mat that was next to him.

He wiped his eyeglasses and asked us, “Where are you from?”

“We are from Visakhapatnam,” I replied.

“Glad to hear that,” he said.

“Manager told us that you are known as Vidyananda Saraswati Swamy. Is it possible for us to learn about purvasramam[1]?”
He smiled and said, “Ascetics don’t speak about their previous stages of life.”

I don’t have any more questions to ask him. He started again, “If you are interested in learning about my present stage of life, here it is. I belong to Sankara Mutt. They arrange everything for us. Immediately after I have taken the vow, they are providing us food, room, amber clothes, and wooden clogs, and such. They wouldn’t skimp on anything.”

“That’s great, I must say!”

“Our food is different too. We are fed four varieties of vegetables, chutneys, rice pudding, and garelu[2] at noontime everyday. In the evenings, after a light snack, our job is to stay away from mundane activities, read philosophical texts and teaching the same to others.”

After that, he kept speaking about Bhagavad Gita. He was going over lot of details.


A silk merchant came into the porch. Several women gathered around him and looking at the sarees he displayed. My wife was distracted. She was not listening to Swamy anymore but was focused on the sarees. Swamy noticed it.

It was close to five and another swami walked in. He lives in a room at the back. Vidyananda Saraswati introduced him to me, “He is Jnanananda Saraswati swamy. We both took the vow the same day. At the Sankara mutt, not too far from here, they are remodeling the place. They arranged these rooms for us rooms temporarily.”

My wife and I stood up and did namaskaram to the swamy who just walked in.

Vidyananda saraswati swamy said, “We go for a walk everyday along the river Ganges. You go ahead and let your wife see the sarees. That merchant also from our region. We are on our way out.”

Both the swamijis left. Up until now I was curious about one swami. Now I was anxious to know about them both. We did not see the swami for the next two days. We went to see Birla mandir and the university campus.

On the third day, we saw Jnananda swamy near Dasaswametha ghattam. He sat on the ledge of the river Ganges and was watching the boats cruising on the river. We two approached him.

He looked at us for a few seconds and recalled our previous acquaintance.

He said, “You came from Visakhapatnam, right?”

“Yes, swami!” I said.

“Sit down,” he said.

We sat next to him. “Vidyananda swami did not accompany you today?” I asked.

“No, he didn’t. He was engrossed in the study of Upanishads. I left him alone and came by myself.”

I chatted with him for a while and then asked him, “Swami, I know you will not talk about your previous stage of life. You are bound by your principle. But, I am sure you have no objection to talk about another swami.”

He thought about it for a while and then said, “ I was never caught in this dilemma before.”

“I apologize,” I said.

“There is no reason for apologies. Listen,” and he told us about Vidyananda Swamy, “In the previous stage of his life, his name was Venkata Rao, a resident of Hyderabad. He was a renowned surgeon.” Swamiji kept quiet for a while and then continued, “He has performed thousands of operations. Saved numerous lives. Actually, I must put it in a different way. He brought many people back to life. He performed surgeries from 9:00 a.m. to midnight. Sometimes he even stayed up in the operation room until 2:00 a.m. and would be back at the operation table next morning as usual.”

“I also heard that he was extraordinary. I heard my relatives speak very highly of him.”

“His wife was principal of a music college. A great musician. The couple had two sons, both settled in America.”

“It sounds very good. Why, then, did you take a vow of ascetism?”

Swamiji thought for a few seconds and replied, “For a while, although they lived under the same room, acted like they were living miles apart. He was totally immersed in his surgery and she was completely submerged in her music, and thus they drifted apart. He used to come home tired after all the surgeries, would eat whatever the cook left on the table or skip the meals, drink a glass of milk and go to bed. His wife would go to concerts, come home and follow the same pattern. One day, he did not come home until 2:00 in the morning. She waited for him. It started out as a small bickering and soon turned into a huge storm. At that time she said, “You are past 65. You are totally engrossed in your surgeries since dawn to midnight. You have four surgeons, just as capable as you are, working for you. You are short for nothing. Aren’t you happy with the fame you have acquired? You think about everybody else, why not about yourself? I am tired of telling you this over and again.”

She went to her room, crying.

“Venkateswara Rao thought about it for an hour. He didn’t eat, not even had milk. What a stupidity to think that he had been the shouldering the hardships of all his patients? One must learn about oneself. He got up at dawn and left home, without telling anyone and boarded the train to Benares.

“And then?” I asked him.

“He obtained the vow of ascetism from Paramacharya of Sankara Matt.”

It was getting dark. The lights on the shores of the Ganges were shining bright. I escorted swamiji carefully to Andhrashram.

It was painful for me. Among all the highly skilled surgeons in India, Dr. Venkateswara Rao ranked fourth. He bestowed gift of life on thousands of patients. It is not even fair to compare him to his assistants. After him … is a far-off question nobody could answer.


For the next two or three days, I have been going around watching new things, walking on small side streets, visiting the Lord Viswanatha; yet Venkateswara Rao garu was constantly haunting my mind.

On that specific day at about 3:30 p.m., my wife went out with other women in Andhrashram for shopping. I was checking the money—cash on hand and the expenses. After it was done, I came downstairs. Vidyananda Saraswati swami was in his room with a couple of other Telugu men. He was teaching some philosophical text to them. Jnanandaswami came there and saw that Vidyananda swami was busy teaching. Jnananda Swami left for the shores of the Ganges alone.

I kept pacing in the porch for about a half hour. Swamiji’s teaching ended. He got up, closed the doors and saw me standing there. He understood that my wife went shopping.

“What would you do here alone? Let’s go for a walk. Come with me.”

I followed him to the river shore. He did not talk while we walked. We sat down relaxed on the top row of the steps. Then he started talking. “Our Sitaramayya is a great businessman.”

“Who’s Sitaramayya garu?” I asked him.

“The same Janananda Saraswati.”

“I learned a great new thing today.”

“He came from an ordinary family. He wasn’t even highly educated. He worked hard and made it in the business world. He grossed a few hundreds and thousands of rupees in the cooking oil business. He has built four big buildings in Hyderabad. His wife died two years back. He and I are of the same age.”

“Did he have sons?”

“Three sons.”

“He should have given them some responsibilities.”

“He did. But they did not experience poverty like their father. They did not develop his skills like honesty and business acumen. After his wife’s death, he decided to give half of his property to his sons, and the rest to an orphanage.”

“How much half of his property is?”

“40 hundred thousand. His sons came to know about this. Their wives were upset that the father-in-law was giving away such a large sum to an orphanage freely. They encouraged their husbands to litigate for their shares.”

“That property was not inheritance for generations, how could they litigate?”

“It was his own sweat and blood. He could spend anyway he pleased.”

“Then why did the sons hunger after his earnings?”

“The three daughters-in-law entered into a fierce debate. The third daughter-in-law’s father was a law professor in a university. They invited him and had him prepare court documents. It was not legal but he promised them he would try his best.”

“And then?”

“One day the law professor came to Sitaramayya’s house at about 8:00 in the evening. After some small talk, he broached the subject. “Children are always the first heirs of father’s property. All others come only after them. There is nothing more stupid than giving your property to an orphanage while your own children are hankering for it. Sitaramayya garu, instead of donating your property to an orphanage, maybe, you should consider joining an asram.”

“Sitaramayya was enraged at this suggestion. He tore up the documents into bits and pieces. He went into his room and shut the doors. Later while nobody was watching, he went to the station and hopped on a train to Benares.”


I started thinking. The law professor was Professor Madhusudana Rao, who was also my professor. He was a great intellectual. I knew his daughter since she was a kid. Professor Madhusudana Rao had traveled extensively. I was sad. I couldn’t say anything to Swamiji during our return home. I kept ruminating about the subject all night. That was past; something that could not reappear.

It was getting time for us to return to our place. I could never get another chance to see those two ascetics again, nor talk to them.

The last day. We have reserved our tickets on the train for that night. My wife and I bought some fruits and went to bid farewell to the two swamijis.

Vidyananda Saraswati swami talked to us kindly. He told us to put the fruits by him. After a few minutes, I said, “Swamiji, because he took the vow of ascetism, several thousands of patients lost your service. Your goal should be to save the millions of humans who were suffering. Your duty …”

He did not let me finish my sentence. He said, “I have to leave this world some day. Then my absence will be felt, no matter what. I have to prepare this world for that situation starting now.”

What can I say to him? We two folded our hands in reverence, took leave of him and left.

After that, we went to visit with Swamy Jnananda Saraswati. He was getting ready to go out. I folded my hands and said, “Swamy, I just learned that your son was married to my professor’s daughter. I was acquianted with your third daughter-in-law since she was a child. Madhusudana Rao garu, was a great scholar. He has earned numerous awards nationally and internationally.”

I was about to say something more but he did not let me. He picked up the fruits which I put in front of him earlier and threw them in my face. He shouted angrily, “Your professor was a great man for the entire world. His daughter was even a greater woman. Both of them together shrouded me in these amber clothes. Get out. Speak no more.”

He went away infuriated.


(Telugu original, “iddaru yateeswarulu” was published in “Telugu paluku: TANA special issue, 2003. Permission from the author is gratefully acknowledged.)

Published originally on, January 2004.

[1] Previous stage of life. According to Hindu philosophy, ascetism is the fourth stage; the three preceding stages being, childhood, student life, and family life.

[2] Fried lentil (black graham) patties.

Waiting for Bhagavantham by Tripura

It was 4:45 p.m. He told me to wait here. Forty-six minutes passed by after the scheduled time. Bhagavantam was not here yet. Would he come today? Would he come any day at all?

I lit up a cigarette, Virginia brand. It was turning black as it burned. A bus far off was sighted. It was approaching like a full-blown stray dog. It spilled out a dozen passengers per custom, a common practice whenever a tree was nearby and then proceeded to its next stop. Bhagavantam was not in that group.

A gang of lepers went across the street like a net preparing to catch fish, singing. There was no use though. “I haven’t got no change.”

Would he be coming in the next bus? The number 13 from the other side?

Across from me, there was a house, an incarnation of pneumonia. On the walls, wet, surrealist spots, as if one was inhaling the wet lungs desperately into the sunlight and attempting to dry them up in the sun! Stripes, behind the walls, like the beams of hope shaking the water in the air, the banana plant, bold and innocent. Stupid plant.

Bhagavantam would show up without notice. Even when he had told, he would not tell from where. Even when I had known where he had been coming from, I would not come on time. Even after he had come, what could I say to me?

On the street, short and dark people, folded inwards, were walking at snails’ pace and like prisoners. At a distance, the mute ocean was roaring meaninglessly. The half-smoked cigarette butts were soaked in the rain, formed into soft lumps like bile.

I leaned on the lamppost and pulled out the old letter from my coat pocket. It was the letter Bhagavantam had written fifteen years back, the color of rust. “I know your fears and suspicions. If you feel you cannot take it any more, and it is of no use, leave them and come to me running. The doors of my home are always open to you.”

Poor thing. Bhagavantam stayed away from the changes in the world and became outdated.

I decided to go into the hotel and wait there for him. The road was visible through the window. From what direction he would appear?

You see that. To me, it was disgusting. The manager was abominable, the waiters were scary; I was suspicious of them too. The manager’s face looked as if it was rubbed by pieces of glass. I hated it.

I hated the people who would come in, chomp through the junk, which he would have made and serve, and go away like the snakes that had swallowed frogs.

I would enjoy this hatred thus started off. As this and hatred came up in layers as the nervous energy caused by the third peg of gin spread through the entire body. Here, at this table, I would sit. I could see the traffic on the street through the window. Inside, I could hear the chitchat from these insects too.

Tradition had been built into the very name, Bhagavantam. His dated ways—the small pigtail, squeaky moccasins, round, gold ornaments hanging from his earlobes, dry loincloth would be audible and visible in this name. I sitting in this hotel and waiting for him was a huge paradox.

“Why, so much of independence for us? We are utterly stupid. Speak of our character! Ours is total faqir mentality.”

“The man is hefty and practices yoga yet suffers from massive attacks of constipation.”

“My line of destiny is filled with breaks.”

“Can’t raise even a paisa of loan.”

“I keep yawning while at work.”

“My little sees caterpillars and crush …”

“It seems they beat up the referee on the mid-field …”

“He did not notice it, they say. As he was cleaning his gun, the bullet … through the heart …”

“I am not sure how my boy’s knee was broken. Actually now it is the lord of wealth is ruling … “

“He’s gone crazy, it seems. He chopped off his wife and children and …”

“God only knows why he was not promoted. Maybe the effect of the planet Sani

The thoughts kept chewing me up. The waiter brought coffee. That was not coffee, just wheat-colored and hot drink. All the bad words beset my head like flies.

“What is your name?” I struggled to ask and with the face of one looking forward to learning a great secret.


Unnithan, Unnithan! Coconut trees, the boats moving heavily and slowly in the back waters … Vellivodham … shimmering dark, curly hair, cloves, cardamom, kopra … sweet aroma! …

“Go,” I said.

“Ha?” he said.

“This has come to end today—either he or I should. This is meaningless, I know. You go in and think. Just as this coffee has no meaning, there is no meaning for Unnithan’s existence. Done, the end.”

Unnithan tried to fix his lungi, which was folded up to his knees, turned around and went away, cursing in Malayalam his stupidity in assuming that he had seen all the tourist attractions in the entire India.

Bhagavantam did not come. He did not come by bus. He would not take a rickshaw and he would not walk.

Somebody was on the ground. “Possibly convulsions, he is frothing at the mouth. Pour buckets of water,” somebody said. People gathered around. For them, a free show, entertainment, fun. My body cringes. Thank God, it could have been me! Oh, no, it is a kind of thrill.

Humidity, sweat, bugs.

Salty wind now and then.



In the sky above, the evening the Sun god was chewing red pan and spitting as he passed.

He bent his leg, leaned on the wall, and kept picking the filth under his nails.

“Unnithan!” I called him affectionately. Unni!

He came looking scared. I told him to bring me another cup of coffee in a beseeching tone. He disappeared into the hell in the backyard, like a piece that had showed up in a dream and slipped away.

For Bhagavantam, how long is going to be this struggle, this wait? How many hours? How many years?

“After cleansing the slate of my heart, the consciousness …”—I was thinking. A fit of laughter came from the utmost depth inside in a huge wave. I pricked on my left wrist hard. That was a sign, a warning sign telling me, “Stop the drama, remove the make up, and think.”

Unni was coming back from raurava hell like Mephistopheles. He came with a steaming cup of coffee, came close to me, put it on my table and was about to turn around. I stared into his eyes, stopped him with forcibly with that look, and told him, “You do not exist. You are only an illusion. You have no existence. Did you read Hume? Do you know what Locke said? Kirk Gart, if I think you exist, and if you think I am talking to you, and while I think that you think on those lines …”

Unnithan’s lungi was flying in the wind like a masthead … “Oh, no!” …

A sidelong look from the right eye started drawing a line at the third staff in the left end of the pnuemonia house, cut through main road, rubbed past the manager’s bald head, and was absorbed in the shining froth in the cup, Unnithan had placed on my table.

Coffee on the table! Coffee! This is not coffee. Simply brown color that is hot.

The number 13 bus arrived. After it stopped, it allowed a few to get off the bus—one Markovich face, another face wide as that of a Ulysses, one Terlyn armor, one stethoscope, and one Arjuna in refuge. Bhagavantam was not one of them. Would be coming by number 7 bus from the other side?

Unni was whispering something in the manager’s ear. Manager turned his face to the other side—the face that was rubbed with glass bits. Two husky dogs under the two eyelids—two buffalo-like dogs which lay in the middle of the road lazily and yawning—were howling quietly. Had he closed the eyes, they would be two wings of big owls. He droved the dogs on to me.

That was the moment. It was a great revelation—it was as if the lightning rods around were shining like open swords, thunderbolts were racing forward like the devil’s chariot, the generous God would make his grand appearance and was willing to grant my wish, and somebody peeled the banana called ‘the world’ and put in my palm …

The revelation lasting a split second. The manager covered the dogs with the owl’s wings.

There was no point to wasting time, dangerous. I got up and went to the counter.

“Here, I am paying for four cups of coffee in advance.” No need to fear. You may call the mental hospital, if you like. Nobody escaped from there. Everything was in order there. Unnithan was my long lost friend. What are you nurturing in your eyes—Alsatian? Dalmatian? Or dachshund?”

I returned to my table. Why would I want a response?

Unnithan was standing there leaning on the wall, like a single introvert coconut tree, crooked in eight places, and standing amidst a row of several coconuts, which stood up straight and daintily. The cluster of trees was looking cynical and as a collection of punctuation marks bundled together in one place.

“Unni, can you break apart the semicolon and exclamation marks, and come here?”

He came.

“Bring the third cup, please.”

He went in, sprinkling each mark on the floor like one of the Hemingway’s sentence—it was neat, brisk, and without overtones.

Maybe, on his way, Bhagavantam had an accident and his bones were broken …

A gang of four students, who seemed to be hesitating between the nebulous childhood and the cleverness of the adulthood, came in, merrily.

The pulled the chairs, which were arranged four-ways neatly, into several angles, and sat down leaning back and with legs stretched.

Unnithan brought the third cup of coffee. Coffee? That was not coffee. Simply hot-colored, wheat thought.

… What did Benji fellow said today?

… Tony Curtin playing in Saraswati theatre. Elizabeth Taylor.

… Sujatha sits in the high-class row like a classy lady but you know she has two lovers …

… Don’t talk chaff …

Probably, Bhagavantam would not come. I counted ten and got up. As I was going out, I stopped at the words stated above and said in a sad voice. Mix them all up. Then link one to that like a chain and think. You will understand, no doubt. After that, everything will be easy.

I stopped at the counter and said, “I had three cups. I paid for four. That is fair in this world. You may refund the change next time we meet in the purgatory No time now. Please, tell Unnithan also. Bye, bye.” I came away.

Sprinkles of stars in the sky. Bhagavantam would not come. He would not come by number 7 bus from that side or by number 13 bus from this side. Just my foolishness.


(Translated by Malathi Nidadavolu and published on, April 2009.)



SATIETY by Vasundhara

Food that is cooked in the best of tradition, doesn’t taste palatable unless one is hungry. The sweet water in the river too feels refreshing only when one is thirsty. A dire physical need when satisfied gives an immense pleasure and relief to the individual. In fact the deeper the need, the more intense is the satiety one gets after fulfilling the need.


Love and affection one gets from one’s kith and kin too are as much needed in life as food and water. Interestingly, these too give pleasure to an individual only if he gets them when he needs them most. Therefore we need to create the emotional need for the loved ones’ affection. It is important to be away from one’s kith and kin once in a while to create that need and then enjoy the pleasure of reunion.


The train is chugging and carrying nonchalantly people rushing into reunions, along with their anticipation. The passengers include Rajarao, with a fluttering heart !


The train has been running fast for quite some time. But Rajarao’s excitement started only after crossing “sAmarlakOTa” from where “Rajamundry is just an hour away.

He is meeting his parents and siblings after nearly two and a half years.

He joined the work force two years ago and is going home for the first time after taking up employment. He could not go home even once in the past two years for one reason or the other. At last here he is, on his way to his beloved Rajamundry,

Train crossed Kadiyam.

“Come on, wake up now” Rajarao shook his wife.

“Hmm! I am awake” muttered Vasundhara sleepily.

“We are nearly there. Just another ten minutes”

She woke up automatically. His infectious excitement seemed to affect her, chasing away the drowsiness.

Train stopped in Rajamundry station. Rajarao peered out of the window, searching for someone.

“There she is!” he exclaimed having spotted his elder sister. His eyes shone with pleasure. Vasundhara grimaced.

“Uncle, how are you!” asked Chandram. Vasundhara felt happy seeing little Chandram.

“How are you, Chandram?” she enquired.

Rajarao’s elder sister, Neelaveni entered the compartment with her entourage. She is ten years older than he is. Her eldest daughter Rajeshwari is nearly sixteen years old. Second child Chandram is thirteen and the last one Rambabu is five. Her husband Bramhaji Rao is a renowned lawyer in Rajamundry.

“Hi! There you are! We were beginning to think that you have forgotten us!” she joked.

“No, no! Don’t bother about the luggage. The boys will bring them. Show them where your luggage is, that’s all. Chandram, you stand here and make sure they pick up our entire luggage. I would have brought one more boy to help us, but he could not fit into the car. Be careful when you are walking my dear, you are in the family way now!” she teased her sister-in-law.

Akka! When did you buy a car?” asked Rajarao.

Vasundhara guessed correctly that he asked the question deliberately, to make his sister happy.

Neelaveni’s is a peculiar character. Being very vain and self-centered, her sole ambition is to be appreciated by one and all. She considered herself as incomparable in intelligence, good looks, wealth or anything, for that matter. She strived to create a similar opinion among all her acquaintances. In addition, she generally befriended only wealthy people. But the only redeeming quality in her character is her love towards her kith and kin. There the issue of wealth and status doesn’t seem to hamper her much.

Within five minutes of our arrival she managed to inform us that she bought a car and she has three boys to help her. Now that her brother has given her an opportunity to describe their car, she might start a discourse on the car, thought Vasundhara dryly.


“Of course we purchased a car. Nearly two months ago. We will talk about all that later. The driver will start cursing us if we are late. I have not yet got my driver’s license. Till that time we have to depend on others,” Neelaveni concluded briefly.


The car sped through the streets. Neelaveni resumed her monologue in the car.

“Guess what, it cost us nearly twenty thousand rupees! Can you imagine how jealous all the neighbors are now? One contractor who is a friend of your brother-in-law has been moving heaven and earth to buy a car just like this, but is no way near it. He is willing to spend thirty thousand on a similar car. All the drivers who drove this car are amazed at its performance…”

“How many drivers did you change in two months?” interrupted Vasundhara with a tactless question. Neelaveni glared at Vasundhara, but laughed at the joke saying “oh, just four”. She resumed her talking.

Vasundhara fell into a thoughtful silence.

It is humanly impossible to work as a domestic staff in Neelaveni’s house. In Neelaveni’s opinion, domestic helpers are not human but just a peculiar species that merely resemble humans. If they seem to be happy, she gets annoyed. “How can they be so happy when they are so poor?” she wonders. If they seem to be decently dressed, she taunts them with “don’t waste all your money on clothes now. However well you are dressed you are just a domestic servant, aren’t you?” If their dress seemed to be shabby she enquires viciously, “Why do you dress so shabbily? Any way since you get all your meals free from me you should be saving all that salary you take home! Shouldn’t you?”

With all this taunting no self respecting person can work at her home for a long time. As a result she could never hold on to domestic help continuously for more than two years.

The car eventually stopped in front of Neelaveni’s home.

Rajarao stared open mouthed at the building. It was totally different from what he remembered.

“What are you so surprised about? This is our house! We spent fifty thousand and remodeled it in the latest fashion. It is almost brand new. In this whole town you will not find another building so well furnished! There are many houses which cost more, but are not as elegant, said the inspector who visited us last week. Your brother-in-law helped him in a court case.”

“Of course!” laughed Vasundhara loudly.

Neelaveni again glared at Vasundhara.

Neelaveni, who mercilessly ridiculed others, is not sportive of any comments about her, even in jesting. She draws a circle around herself and her family. She watches the rest of the world from within the circle. She has long ago decided that only the life within the circle is worth living and all the rest is useless trash.

She is sure that the only way to earn money respectably is to practice law. The medical profession with suffering patients, dirty diseases and stinking medicines is insufferable. The commercial business enterprises with income-tax problems, cheating, black marketing etc are plain fraud! Engineering with bridges, cement bags, back breaking work is so boring and dull! The only way to be rich and famous, in her opinion is to be a lawyer, like her husband. “My husband? He is just a clever man and a fighter for justice. He earns all this money by just arguing in courts! ” she asserts. She refuses to be drawn into any discussion about this. In fact she doesn’t encourage debating about anything. She just declares her thoughts and views and there is no room for counter opinions.

When she purchased a sari, it became a trend setter in the fashionable circles of the town. Looking at the house they built, the master builders were ashamed of their silly constructions. When her eldest daughter fared very badly at her examinations, the entire school staff was shocked in disbelief and the headmaster personally came home to enquire what the matter was! In short, she is the envy and role model of the entire neighborhood.

This was the gist of Neelaveni’s monologue after dinner. The audience mainly comprised of Rajarao and Vasundhara. Vasundhara tried to listen patiently, but she found it uncomfortable to sit in the chair for long time, due to her physical predicament. She wished she could go to bed, but felt it would be impolite to leave the room in the middle of a conversation.

“Madam, I cleaned the dining table” said the kitchen helper.

Neelaveni paused blowing her own trumpet for a little while to ask “already? You are a lazy duck! I will check the table and if I find it dirty, you’ll be in trouble. What is the matter? You seem to be in a hurry today! Did a new movie release or what?”

“No, madam, I completed every thing quickly. I thought there maybe other jobs today as we have guests” he gave an ingratiating smile.

“You liar! In fact, there is lot of work to be done. Put all their travel clothes in the washer. Tell the cook to mix the ice-cream mix, and milk and freeze it. Put the new mattress on the bed. Be careful while making the beds. We spent nearly five hundred on it” she instructed. She felt grateful to the boy who gave her a chance to recite the consumer goods she accumulated and felt obliged to add “if you do all this without any mistake, I will give you money to go to the movies.”

He left the room with a “yes, madam”.

Akka! I am thirsty” interjected Rajarao.

“Someone, please get a glass of water from the refrigerator” ordered Neelaveni. Rajarao drank the water. The water was cool, but it did not have the natural sweetness that water generally has.

Vasundhara was very impatient during the three days she spent there. Though there was no dearth of hospitality, she was very unhappy with the family of her sister-in-law. She felt the atmosphere very suffocating. To make matters worse their behavior was entirely anathema to her principles. She found, five years old Rambabu bullying the domestic helpers very annoying. It is the adults in the family who should correct the domestic staff if needed. Little children ordering the staff about looks very crude .


Once they were on the bus to Ravulapalem, Rajarao said “I know that you were very much irritated at my sister’s house. I too don’t agree with her behavior and ideas, but I always remember that she loves me very much.”

In the bus-stand at Ravulapalem, they were received by Rajarao’s younger brother. Vasundhara smiled happily at her young brother-in-law. “How are you vadina?” Subba rao asked.

“Don’t ask! Just faring like you” she answered with a grin.

Subbarao failed in his fourth-form examinations and is about to reappear for the examinations. Vasundhara too had to give her fourth-form examination twice in her school days. Since she had already told about this in her letters, Subbarao understood her teasing and started pouting.

“Oh, you two! We just arrived and you are at it again” Rajarao chided his wife playfully. They reached Rajarao’s home in ten minutes.

Vasundhara’s mother-in-law Parvatamma was standing in the door way waiting for them. She stopped them in the entrance and told the daughter-in-law, “Please wait for a while, dear. Don’t enter the house right away” and she ran into the house. Vasundhara waited near the entrance. Rajarao paid the rickshaw driver and Subbarao lugged the bags into the house.

Personally Vasundhara had no problem standing there, waiting for her mother-in-law to complete the formalities, but she felt uncomfortable standing there outside, after a long journey. Neighbors were peeping in curiously to see who the important guest in the neighborhood was. The lady fetching water whispered to her companion, “I think their daughter-in-law has arrived from the city.”

At last Vasundhara entered the house.

“I don’t know how much you believe in all the rituals and formalities, but as long as we live you have to follow them” said Paravatamma. She liked saying that once in a while, though no one objected to any of her rituals.

When the son and daughter-in-law went inside, Venktramiah folded the newspaper he was reading and said, “I think Raja has arrived.” Rajarao smiled shyly at his father.

“And how is the mother-to-be feeling?” he enquired. Parvatamma answered his questions since both of them were too shy to speak to their father.

Vasundhara always felt amused in her parents-in-law’s place. Rajarao has two sisters, and two brothers, unmarried. She loved their company and their chit chat. But they get hardly any time for idle gossip. Their mother enters the conversation suddenly. The generation gap puts some strain into the conversation.

“Do you have the Tulasi plant in your back yard?” she questioned her daughter-in-law.

“No, mother” Vasundhara dutifully answered.

“Oh God! You could have taken a sapling from someone and planted!”

“No, mother. Out apartment is on the top floor and there is no back yard.”

“So what? You can fill a tin with some mud and plant it. I can’t understand how you can eat and sleep without worshipping Tulasi! This is what education does to people..” she would grumble.

Tulasi has very good medicinal qualities. That is why our ancestors believed in worshipping it” Rajarao tried to fish in troubled waters!

“This time when you go, I will give you a small sapling. I am telling all this for your own good. Whether you believe it or not, you have to follow these rituals as long as we live” she started again.

Vasundhara could not control her giggling any more. “Why are you tickling me”, she blamed her sister-in-law for her burst of laughter.

“When did I tickle you vadina?” Subhadra asked innocently.

“Stop tickling her, this minute. She is in the family way, stop playing silly pranks on her” mother-in-law came to her daughter-in-law’s aid.

Vasundhara thought this an opportune moment, and said,

“Mother, I do want to take that Tulasi plant this time when I go. It will be of great sentimental value to me”

Parvatamma was dumbfounded with joy, but had to rush into the kitchen to attend to the cooking.

“Trying to be smart, eh? If I had this kind of smartness to butter people, I would have landed a job here in the University” Rajarao whispered.

“You would have done that if you had smartness of any kind!” she retorted.

When Rajarao cannot think of any clever retort to his wife’s taunts, he gives her a look full of love . That makes her bashful and shy and she cannot find her words for quite sometime. That gives him respite and think of another clever retort. He did the same now.

Vasundhara avoided looking at him and turned to Subba Rao to ask,

“Where is your brother? Has he disappeared somewhere?”

“He went to Mr.Bhadram’s house, to bring a jack fruit.”

“Why do we need a jack fruit now?”

Answer came from the kitchen, “what do you mean why? You have to eat a jack fruit now, to beget healthy and beautiful children. You have to follow the rituals as long as we…”

“Do not say children mother! One child is enough. Don’t scare me now”, Rajarao interrupted his mother’s flow.

Mrityunjayarao entered the room carrying a jack fruit.

“Hey, vadina is here” he exclaimed happily.

“Oh yeah? What about me? Do you have any eyes for your brother as well?” Rajarao asked in mock anger.

“Nope! Because there is nothing special in you brother! Whereas vadina, well she is a special person now. Aren’t you, vadina? That’s why I brought a special jack fruit for her.”

“Do you mean to say that you went all the way to their house just for bringing this jack fruit for me? I don’t believe a word of it” said Vasundhara.

“I solemnly swear on this jack fruit” he showed the fruit.

“That’s alright, but I heard across the grape vine that Shyamala too is in the town”

Suddenly he felt very shy and couldn’t speak. He graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree just that year. He was planning to complete a master’s degree. His parents were planning to get him married to Shyamala soon after that. His shyness indicated that he too was happy with the proposal.

“Oh! That was why he wouldn’t let me go to bring the jack fruit”, Sumati , her other sister-in-law exclaimed.


“You have to eat food for two people now” Parvatamma loaded Vasundhara’s plate with food.

“Actually, mother, you know more about my eating habits than my own mother! But you seemed to have given me enough food for three people. So I have to leave some of it out” Vasundhara tried to gently convince her mother-in-law. Rajarao whispered again “buttering, eh?”


Paravatamma demanded that Vasundhara cannot take an afternoon nap since it is not considered very well for the child. But when Vasundhara went off to sleep in the afternoon, she left her quietly to take rest.

Parvatamma projected herself as a self-styled dictator, but in reality she is too naïve to take anything seriously. Her emphatic talking and inefficient working reminds one of the political leaders of out country, who tend to talk big and produce less. When she dispels advice to her friends she never bothers to see if the advice is needed by them or not. She just likes to exhibit her knowledge of the various issues and hence she distributes advice freely.

Vasundhara measured her innocent nature right in the beginning of her married life and took advantage of it unashamedly. In fact by playing upon her mother-in-law’s easy going nature, she landed herself in troubles, many times.

Pravatamma’s behavior towards her son too was quite amusing. She cooks a dish claiming it to be Rajarao’s favorite. She might not even be thinking of him when she made the dish, but she declares it while serving the dinner. Ironically it would be what he hated most. He would ask, surprised, “but mother, I hate this vegetable!”

“Is it? You loved it when you were a child” she would insist.

“No mother! Even as a child I hated it. Remember, in our vegetable garden I pulled out this plant and you were ready to hit me” he would clarify further.

“Oh yes, I remember now. I am so sorry dear! You come once in a while and I ended up doing what you hate most, what a mother I am! Can’t understand why I keep forgetting things”, she would say sadly. The pain that she claims to feel also would be hard to find in her heart. She tells it merely out of habit. Then she would go on to lecture about her forgetfulness.

True, she did love her son very much. But she is a person who talked more and worked less. As a result, she never paid any attention to his real likes and dislikes. Rajarao is so much used to her behavior that he likes it that way. He would be very uncomfortable if she behaved in any other way.

After a week in Ravulapalem, one day Rajarao said,

“Mother, in another week my parents-in-law will be here to take Vasundhara home for delivery. Before that I want to go to Amalapuram to see Shakuntala”. Shakuntala is Rajarao’s other older sister.

“You can go if you wish to, but don’t take Vasundhara, she will be very uncomfortable traveling. I am telling for your own good, and do as I say whether you like it or not. As long as we live…”

“No mother, we went together to see the eldest sister Neelaveni. If I go alone to Shakuntala’s house, she might be offended. She might think we don’t love her as much as Neelaveni because of her financial status.”

“That’s true, but…”

“Don’t worry mother, I will look after her” assured Rajarao.

As usual Parvatamma agreed. The point is not her agreeing, because she will eventually agree. It is the time she took to agree that is more an issue!

When they were about to start, someone inauspicious crossed their way, so they had to go into the house again, drink a glass of water and start again. The water taken out of a bronze pitcher, was sweet to taste, but slightly warm.



When they were in the bus, Vasundhara commented, “I know that mother loves us very much, but wouldn’t it be better if she could change her methods slightly?” He very well knew what she meant. But like any other son, he didn’t like being critical of his mother, that too in front of his wife. He side tracked the conversation with, “it is not the behavior that counts, it s the love they give us that is more important.”


Shakuntala was older than Rajarao by just two years. She was married to Sankarrao, a school teacher in Amalapuram. During the time of the wedding, theirs was quite a wealthy family. But only later everybody knew that Sankarrao’s father was a spendthrift and left a quagmire of debts for his son. Though they owned a house in Amalapuram, their main income was his salary as a teacher and as a result they are considered as a lower-middle-class family.

Being extremely self-respecting, they never spoke of their financial troubles to their kith and kin. They have four children. The first three of her children are sons. Though Sakuntala was a shrewd house wife, some times they did end up borrowing money to cover some of their expenses.

When Rajarao and Vasundhra entered the house, Shakuntala and Sankarrao were reading a magazine together, sitting on the floor. They moved away from each other in embarrassment when they saw the young couple. Shakuntala exclaimed in joy, “”hey! It is Raja!”

Rajarao looked at his sister. Her eyes were shining with happiness. He was sure the happiness was just on seeing her brother.

Vasundhara was busy examining the house. This was the first time she came here. The house looked very simple, but very clean. People too looked very simple, but very dignified. There was certain liveliness among all the family members.

“Now look who is here! Why, Vasundhara, are you longing to see your parents or what? Why did you go down so much?” Shakuntala teased her sister-in-law, gently. She hugged her affectionately and led her inside.

“Raja, do you want some water?” she yelled from inside.

“No, akka” he yelled back.

Bava, where are the kids?” he enquired.

“They have all gone for playing. They should be back anytime now. Jyothi is sleeping inside,” replied Samkararao.

Shakuntala lit the coal oven and enquired about Vasundhara’s health. She put a big pan on the stove and yelled again, “Oye, Raja!”

“Coming, what is the matter” Rajarao came in running.

“Now, what do you have to talk so much to your brother-in-law? Go and get an easy chair for her. She will be uncomfortable sitting on that wooden chair.”

Rajarao ran to get an easy chair.

Vasundhara was surprised. She was never before here, but she was feeling very comfortable. No body ever ordered Rajarao about with so much of authority and confidence. Neelaveni had no thoughts about her discomfort on the sofa after many hours, while Shakuntala figured it out in a few minutes.

“Raja loves my cooking, especially pesarattu! But it is difficult to make pesaratut on a short notice, so I will make it tomorrow. Now we will make do with upma. For tonight’s dinner I will make patholi, chutney, and onion soup. Will that be ok?”

Vasundhara listened dumb struck. She seemed to remember Rajarao’s favorite dishes better than their mother.

She enjoyed the hot upma.

They ate an early dinner and went out to the movies.

Shakuntala’s children seemed to be quite disciplined and well behaved. They played and spent all their time with Rajarao. Jyothi was slightly shy since she had never met her uncle before.

After coming back from the movies they spent some time talking casually. It was a plain talk, in which there was no back biting or criticism of others in their circle. They retired to their room later to sleep.

Before going to bed, Vasundhara commented,

“You want to go back tomorrow, but I want to spend two more days here!”

Rajarao too felt the same.

“I went to three places so far and I saw three different kinds of people. I am sure all of them love me equally. But why do I feel so relaxed here, more than any where else?” she asked him again.

“Anybody who can love from heart will show the same hospitality that Shakuntala has given. Neelaveni does love us. But the hospitality that she shows us has nothing to do with her love. She treats us like any other guest. She wants us to feel great about her hospitality and her home.

My mother has no care about hospitality. She doesn’t realize love needs to be shown in deeds too. She has no thought about our comfort or discomfort.

Shakuntala doesn’t care what we think about her hospitality or her home. She treats us like this, just because she loves us very much.”

They started back for Ravulapalem on the following day, afternoon. They felt thirsty and Shakuntala gave them water to drink. The water was from a mud pot and it was cool, sweet and nice to drink, very refreshing.



Published on, October 2004



Glossary :

Vadina – elder brother’s wife

Akka – older sister

Bava – Older sister’s husband

Pesaratt – Pancakes made of green gram.

Note – This story titled “upa sAnti” was published originally in Andhra Prabha in 1971 and later in their anthology “rasika rAja taguvAramu kAmA” (1996).

Our sincere thanks to the Authors for their kind permission to translate it.

R. Vasundhara Devi


Vasundhara deviIt was recognized all-round that Kalindi’s husband Vijayarama Rao was not a practical man, but nobody said it in so many words. Everyone seemed to respect him. When he spoke about worldly affairs, they listened attentively.

But Kalindi felt a vague unease. It took some time for her to understand that there was a problem. People were mainly interested in material success, but Vijayarama Rao was happy discussing abstract values and philosophies in life and had not much to say about moving up in the world!

That wealth was the measure of a man’s worth was an issue that frequently came up for discussion when Kalindi visited her parent’s home. But Kalindi could not understand the full implications of it. She was content with her own understanding of life. “They don’t know!” she used to think with a superior air.

Since her father’s death, Kalindi’s mother, Kanthamma, lived alone in the village. Like Kalindi, her brother and sister had married and left home. On occasions when she visited her mother, they talked about many things casually.


Kanthamma sat on the floor with a winnow, cleaning rice, while Kalindi relaxed on the bed, with a book in hand.

Suddenly she put her book down and said, “I wrote three letters to him. He never cared to reply! He sends a greeting card on new-year’s day but he never writes. He has grown lazy!’’

Her mother didn’t reply. Kalindi was irritated.

“What is with Raji?” she said, ”She never writes either! When I press her, she says that she talks to him on the phone whenever she feels like it. She tells me to get a phone in my home. She thinks writing letters is boring! See how they have changed…To think that we are all children of this family!”

Kanthamma was silent for a while. Then she felt impelled to respond to enlighten Kalindi.

She said in a gentle voice but in her usual blunt way, “maybe they are a little indifferent because you are not well-to-do!’’

She was being frank. After a pause she continued, “that is my worry too…if only your son had some luck! Habits and attitudes go with affluence and you can’t blame them!’’

Kalindi didn’t quite grasp what her mother had said. It was a shock, which she slowly absorbed. She suppressed her emotions within herself and was silent.

Memories crowded her mind. As an elder sister, she had narrated stories to them, taught them lessons and cleared their doubts. Childhood memories of caring intimacy and togetherness alone remained with her…Maybe she had not followed the changes in their attitudes with the passage of time. Even now, she could not convince herself that the `I`, the focal point of human emotions, paid court to riches. But now, the attitudes of her own siblings challenged her. The uncertain future of her son, Sasi Babu, questioned her assurance.

When Kalindi was taking leave of her mother for her return journey, Kanthamma gave her two hundred rupees to buy a sari as she usually did. At the sight of the money Kalindi felt irritated and wanted to refuse it. Her mother seemed to insult her by offering that money. She didn’t need it, she told herself with disgust. But she controlled herself and quietly put the money in her purse. It was mother’s habit to give money to her daughters in lieu of the customary gift of a saree every time one of them visited her. By rejecting the money this time, she would only expose her pique!

She had learnt a bitter truth and returned home with a heavy heart.



Returning home from school, Vijayarama Rao announced to Kalindi that Shyamal Rao and Rajayya would be arriving at six p.m. They were his old college-mates. They had hailed from a village near Guntur and had rented a room in the town near Vijayarama Rao’s house. The three of them had always been together back in their college days. Vijayarama Rao and Shyamal Rao were bright in studies, while Rajayya was just average. Rajayya admired Rama Rao and used to constantly be around him. After college, Rajayya entered politics and became an M.L.A. and was considered a successful man. Shyamal Rao started as a salesman of automobile spare parts and he too went up the ladder of success. Both of them had purchased land together on the town outskirts and had laid out house sites, amassing jointly a crore of rupees. Vijayarama Rao, working as a teacher in his old high school, earned a good name and was now the head master of the school. With his salary, he was able to make both ends meet and lived a simple, happy life. Even now, whenever Rajayya visited his constituency, the three of them invariably met in Vijayarama Rao’s home.

Kalindi thought these visits were pointless as the three of them had very different attitudes to life and as their lives had taken different directions. Now she started on a sarcastic remark but desisted and said instead, “this is our Sasi’s last chance for taking service commission exams, considering age-bar. For people like us, a government job is the only straightforward way to make a decent living these days. A first class M.Com., he should have found a good, well-paid job long time ago, if there had been fair play. You should mention this to your friend Rajayya and get something done about it. Otherwise what is the meaning of this friendship?”

“Well, let us see!’’ said her husband.


That gave Kalindi some hope. She started making preparations to offer them coffee even though he didn’t ask her to. Sometime ago, he had asked her to serve coffee to a visitor, and she had replied: “I have the responsibility to provide a wholesome diet to this family from the meager allowance I get from you. I find it hard enough. How can we keep up extra formalities and proprieties when our income is so limited?’’ He became thoughtful and said, “Perhaps you don’t have milk?” Of course she had milk! A middle-class housewife is so resourceful and discreet she can supply coffee to visitors today and make the next day’s buttermilk thinner with water. Or she can say, “I don’t feel like drinking coffee today and I don’t need buttermilk tomorrow because I am in for a bad cold!” Or she can tell her youngest son, “You have been so good today! I will give you your favorite tea instead of milk!” She always could manage, but that day, she had been in a carping mood when she had said it. Since then he had not asked her to serve coffee or snacks to visitors…

When the three friends assembled, many topics came up for discussion.

“A man is born. He dies. He is forgotten, if that is all there is to it, why live? Is life utterly meaningless? These days I am afraid to find myself alone. Thoughts like these trouble me,” said Rajayya morosely.

“You are only fifty, and it is too early for such resignation. When you reach seventy, you may consider that aspect. For now, you should concentrate on becoming a cabinet minister so you may serve the community better!” said Shyamal Rao, trying to cheer him up.

During the recent apportionments of ministerial posts, Rajayya’s name had figured prominently twice in the newspapers, but he hadn’t made it. Instead he was doled out a corporation chairmanship. He was affronted by this disdain shown by those in power but was quietly biding his time.

Now Rajayya perked up and said, “The first fundamental requisite for democracy is equality of opportunity. It should be open to all men in a proper setup. When it is not so, the great ideal of democracy degenerates into organized self-aggrandizement. Any position of power—a mere clerk or officer or a cabinet minister–becomes a means to promote oneself, one’s family and one’s caste. The higher the position, the greater is the harm to society. Therefore those in the highest posts should not be allowed to be stay put. No minister should stay in office for more than five years!” Rajayya spoke with vehemence.

The speciousness of the argument amused Vijayarama Rao. Rajayya had started with the roots of democracy and ended up with an implied claim for his ministership! He noticed that Rajayya was fast molding himself into an accomplished politician. Earlier, he could never have spoken with such a gloss!

“Look here, a lecture like this is for the masses. Now you have to think about what to do to improve the situation. My view is this: there is The Blessed Lord, the all-giver. If He wills, everything becomes possible. If you really desire a minister’s berth, make your request with a promise of a substantial offering to the Lord and go for it!” That was from Shyamal Rao, the practical, no-nonsense man.

“If the Lord grants all that you ask for, he is the blessed all-giver! If he doesn’t, then he is not?” said Vijayarama Rao with a smile.

“Well, if one’s desire is fulfilled, it is a blessing. Is it not?” said Shyamal Rao with irritation.

“You appeal to God, collect all the good things and call him the blessed all-giver. Those who miss on the good things, what should they call him?” countered Vijayarama Rao. “God is the cause of all happenings, wished for or not. So blessedness can only be found in understanding Him as the giver of all experiences – not just boons. Asking for boons is a kind of relationship with him certainly, but understanding Him as the universal supreme Blessedness is a different matter altogether,” he explained.

In the next room Kalindi was listening to this discussion with impatience. She had been waiting for her husband to mention their son, but he hadn’t. He went on talking philosophy! She despaired and grew angry.

Shyamal Rao said impatiently, “Rajayya has no children, no bothers. Philosophic speculations overwhelm you, Vijayarama Rao, and you don’t bother about worldly matters. My mind is filled with worries–how to secure a college seat for my boy, how to put him in the way of earning, how to get my son-in-law promoted in his job …I will have peace of mind only if Rajayya gets his ministership by the time my son graduates!”

“It’s true I have no children. But I have my brother’s family to look after. Even a yogi who has renounced the world has the welfare of the world at heart. My nephew, Shekhar, has finally gotten through his B. Com. He wants to join the commercial taxes department or become a bank officer! He is not interested in other common jobs. I have to see what can be done for him!” said Rajayya.

“Ah, Shekhar! He is a genius, smarter than Gautama Buddha! Did he not suggest, when he was a little boy, that Gautama should have stayed in his palace and still gotten his enlightenment by going occasionally into the forest in his golden chariot? He is a very shrewd fellow, no doubt about it! You take up his case this year, but you must help my boy next year!” said Shyamal Rao, clinching the issue with a flourish of his hand.

Kalindi stopped listening. Her eyes turned on the wall opposite where a fat gecko waited, calmly meditating, with its whole concentration on a moving, little fly. The unwary insect flitted about singing, flapping its diaphanous wings, unaware of danger. Suddenly the gecko made a dart across the wall, grabbed the insect between its jaws and resumed its contemplation. The insect’s flutter stopped. The lizard moved its jaws three times earnestly, tenderly, and solemnly. There was no insect any more. The lizard moved away to resume its meditation elsewhere…

When the outcome of the recruitment was finally announced after an inordinate delay, Sasi came home silent and crestfallen. He failed to get a selection. Rajayya’s nephew got his lucrative commercial taxes job.

Kalindi stared out of the window with a vacant gaze–the men on the street in front of her, the trees and plants in her front yard, and their unmoving leaves–all frozen into a picture that she did not take in or perceive.

When Vijayarama Rao returned from school in the evening, Kalindi said sneering, “On that day you took a lot of trouble to explain to your friends about God’s blessings. Please explain that to me now, I will be enlightened. Has it anything to do with fair play and justice?”

Vijayarama Rao in a tone of mild admonition said, “ Look here, Kalindi, disappointment and sorrow are private and personal. They could become gifts and enable the mind to explore its own depths and gain clarity. But a mind fixated on the `fruit of action` gets tossed about. Hope and despair, success and failure, ups and downs—these dualities become demons gnawing on it. It’s not free to laugh. It is a long time since you have laughed, do you realize that? If there were an inevitable link between worldly success and laughter, most people in our country would never dare even to breathe, let alone laugh! But the wonderful thing is, the capacity to laugh still exists with the lowly—the failures in life, according to you!

”You ask me to explain “blessedness”. God or truth can be felt by man; but not understood by mind through words. Because word is only a symbol for some idea or thing and it is for the mind to grasp its import. It understands only through contrast. It defines Blessedness as non-unhappiness, non-frustration and non-sin; it defines purity as non-pollution; even the word ‘I’ is defined as ‘not the rest of the world’.

I am `I` because I have my own individual presence! I do what comes naturally for me and move on. About Sasi, I am not worried. I am sure he will find some good way to live in comfort. You may think that I am not doing my duty properly as a father. But only if you stop thinking that way you will be able to understand what I am saying.”

“He thinks his responsibility is over!” she thought unhappily. There were several sharp retorts she could make in reply, but somewhere deep inside she seemed to appreciate what he had said and was troubled. What good are this inner order, this good faith, and this moral certainty in practical affairs? He doesn’t understand! Could it get her son a job according to his merit? Nirmala could hear her mother admonish: You can’t blame them! That is the way of the world! I hope your son has some luck! Luck!

“There is a whole practical world out there! It will never show any respect for people like us!” she shot back bitterly.

“A person’s life is his very own. His actions proceed from his own sanctions. If the world can come to understand and approve his ways, well and good!” Vijayarama Rao’s response was immediate.


She knew him. She knew his way of thinking. She knew well enough that that was the only answer he could give! Her problem and its solution were no part of this reply but the words coming from his mind were clear and firm. The power in them touched her.

Vijayarama Rao looked at her unhappily. ”I know you are not happy with my way of thinking and this quiet way of life. You are not happy.” His tone was now uncertain. “I don’t know how to be different. Times might change, I hope, for a more forthright social Order!” He stopped and looked away.

Listening to his halting, hesitant words, Kalindi felt a tender affection flooding her. What is he apologizing for? Of-course he is right, she thought, as a warm, protective impulse seized her.

She became aware of something she had lost sight of—a connection that superceded the dichotomy in thought, that something universal and at the same time intense and personal, a sweetness, a trust, an affirmation, a far-away music…

With this connection restored, the heavy burden that had been weighing on her now lightened. Culture and its mores are changing things. I don’t have to be enmeshed in an uncritical scramble unless I choose to. And I would hate myself if I did! Realization of this simple truth came as a surprise and a relief for her.

Kalindi sighed and smiled self-consciously. “Of-course, Sasi will find some proper way to make a living! We know how to live modestly…we will get by…” Her words were gentle. “You are a teacher with a simple answer for every problem!” She concluded, laughing.

The world outside the window had come alive. Kalindi saw some men bustling along, talking and laughing. She could hear the burr of an auto-rickshaw and the tring-tringing of a hurrying cyclist. Inside the compound, a group of sparrows busily twittered, picking on the ground. She absorbed the yellow merriment radiating from the small patch of chrysanthemums. She fondly observed the jasmine creeper confidently hugging the trellis, the white laughter of its maiden flowers peeping through its greenery. By the compound wall, two coconut palms stood proudly erect… Kalindi took this blessedness in and hastened to the kitchen to start on her evening routine.




 Published on, July 2004.


(The Telugu original, KALYANA MURTI translated by the author, published in the Deepavali special issue, JAGRITI, 1983.


“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.   — DAVID HENRY THOREAU.

I knew some people in India–just normal people–who lived and felt the way Vijaya Rama Rao felt about life and the right way to live.

Maitri, a sharp New Yorker, born 1986, had this comment to make about the content of this story: “The husband, when he is explaining to the wife his outlook on life, he seems to be more preaching than explaining to someone who is on the same intellectual level as he is. The reader sympathizes with the wife, and the reader wouldn’t want the wife to be condescended to. Maybe it’s just me being slightly feministic—but I don’t really like the concept of the husband “teaching” the wife the way to live her life.”

Back then perceptions were different. Generally, Women were mostly homemakers and were raised to accept man as more worldly-wise and men called it “joint decision making” [Socratic style?] –Vasundhara Devi.) 


Published on, July 2004

kasiratnam Vine By Nidadavolu Malathi

“Babu! Pour me some coffee, please,” the old man said, standing on my front yard.

I just returned from work and was about to sit down on the front porch with my usual cup of coffee. I was taken by his request. I stared at him and wondered—a new breed of beggars? I might say it’s a kind of weird humor of the kalapurusha![1] How else could I explain this phenomenon. I’m aware of those who would beg for a morsel of food or a sip of rice broth; now we are seeing beggars who’d beg for coffee and cigarettes; what a shift in the needs of beggars! Maybe they think that they may be begging yet they’re human too! My thinking on these lines did not last long. The next moment I was very annoyed with him.

Before I could say a word, he added, almost challenging, “What’re you thinking? How many times do you think you’ve treated others to coffee at restaurants, tell me? And how many times you’ve had coffee at others’ expense? Why’re you dillydallying now? After all, did I ask you for your money or valuables? You’re acting as if I’ve asked for a lady of your clan, for god’s sake!” I was amused by his demeanor—mischievous smiles flashing through his bushy mustache.

I looked at him again. He was sturdy like a bamboo cane; I’m sure he can take on four men without flinching. He might be growing old but signs of youth are still hanging on to him for sure. My heart jumped with joy for a second at the sight of this sexagenarian that stood in front of me like a royalty, holding a silver glass and begging for a cup of coffee.

“Why? You can’t live without coffee or what?” I wanted to ask but was too tired even to move my lips. I poured my coffee into his glass silently.

He said as if he’s read my mind, “It’s not for me, babu!”

I was annoyed. I snarled, “Good. Go away.” I was annoyed because he could see me through; he figured out my thoughts; I was angry because he answered to a question that was not asked in the first place; also, I was worried that he might start a lengthy explanation about some old hag lying in bed with fever at home or somewhere.

“Why’re you upset? If you knew the real story, you wouldn’t whine like this, you know? Wouldn’t you shed a tear?”

I wanted to shut him up but controlled myself. Sometimes it’s so hard even to yell at some people.

Thatha laughed.

Cha, cha. What an insult! He is reading every word that crossed my mind. He’s speaking like a scholar. I picked up the courage and asked him, “Who’re you?”

“Me?” he laughed again. “Why? Want drag me to the court? Ask any policeman, there’s not a single policeman in town who did not know about Ramadas. On the other hand, if you’re planning to find a job for me, I’m telling you, there isn’t a job I can’t handle. Better yet, if you’re asking me just for fun, you’re not going to find anything,” he said, raising eyebrows and smiling, as if he was throwing a challenge.

I did not respond.

Thatha turned around and spoke again, “By the way, what month is this?”

“November,” I replied curtly.

“Tell me the Telugu month,” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

The same laugh again. “What’re you teaching at school? Don’t even know the names of the months.”

I was beside myself. “Certainly not pancangam[2],” I replied, grinding my teech.

Thatha did not look like he heard my reply. He was talking to himself and counting his fingers; he closed his eyes, and walked towards the gate in a quick, jerky move, as if he remembered something; suddenly stopped as if he walked into a wall or something, turned right and walked three steps; he started examining a square foot of space keenly.

Two minutes passed by. I was waiting to see whether he’d make a mango tree appear there or pull out a rabbit out of nowhere.

“See! Look here. On the third day from today, a plant will grow in this spot. Watch my word, it never fails, the truth lives forever. Manamma’s story is not fabricated. She is a goddess. Believers trusted her; and others who don’t believe will learn from her straight. Thatha, without looking at me, poured the coffee on that spot.

“What’s that, are you crazy? Are you out of mind? Why are you throwing away coffee like that?” I screamed. I was so sorry that that life-giving fluid was wasted on dirt; in all fairness, I or he should have consumed it.

Thatha returned slowly and sat on the porch, leaning against the pillar. “Babu, what is god? God is goodness. We’re not going to live forever but our words and action do. That’s the kind of woman our Manamma was. She was a lamp, true to her name; she glowed like a lamp of gems. She was so delicate, you’d think you one good look might wither her. And her character matched her name. Talk about our lives; what good are we doing? More like a bread of husk![3] A person may live only six months like a swan yet be as good as his life. Our Manamma lived like a lightning, just for a second, yet won a round of applause from one and all. She was only fourteen when she was married. She turned into ashes within four months. I set the fire with these two hands myself.” Thatha wiped his eyes with the towel on his shoulder.

My heart melted. “What is to you, thatha?” I asked him.

“What’s she to me? Tell me, who is who to anybody for that matter? She took a human form. The value of humankind, babu. She never spoke one ill word, not even for fun; she never wished bad, not even in her dreams, not even to her enemies. She never said no to anyone who said ‘please give.’ Her mother agonized over her kindness and Manamma responded, ‘why? Is this your hard earnings?’; she retorted that the wealth was not going to remain forever even if she had not given it away. She was only ten and even the most highly respected aldermen used to bow to her sense of fairness.”

Suddenly he stopped with a twitch and left, saying ‘see you later’.

Having nothing better to do, I started looking for clues: Wondered what could be the relationship between the plant that was to grow up in three days and the gorgeous young woman, the world beauty queen of all ages and whose faculty was of the highest caliber?


A week passed by. Since I had nothing to do, I started thinking about the past event again. I looked at the spot—three feet away from the gate and close to the compound wall. My eye caught a small creeper, about eight inches tall; it was swaying in the breeze like a snake on its tail. I kept staring at the stalk; the tip was glimmering like a new metal coil; three leaves, just opened, were putting on a shade of dark green, like an amateur artist. I told myself that ‘there was no god at all’ was not true at all. How else can I explain this? There was no indication of digging; no sign of sowing the seeds; where is the gardener who planted this plant here?

I heard the gate squeak and turned around. Thatha! He came with a bunch of bamboo stakes.

“Are you going to set up stakes for this plant?” I asked him. My surprise at his interest in this plant has not worn out yet.

“Yes, babu. This is not just a sprout that came up today. I came here when I barely grew a mustache. Would I leave it now, in my old age? That thalli asked me before she was gone, thatha, consider the plant as myself. take care of it.

Thatha was busy with his job on hand. I stood a little away and kept watching him.

“You never told me the entire story. How did this plant come up here?”

Thatha put down the hoe and said, “That’s our thalli’s power of word[4], babu. We all believed that a goddess took the human form in this world probably due to some curse. At first, I was also skeptical like everybody else. You know the popular belief, admission of guilt is the way out for redemption.[5] You know people, give them a mole and they’ll make a mountain of it;[6] hand them a tiny tip and they weave a huge story out of it. That’s what I thought too—the stories spread out like mercury. And then, it happened one day—here, this entire abdomen twirled like a whirlpool. I couldn’t take the pain anymore and so I jumped into the well. Funny world, nobody gives a morsel of food when I wanted to live; but when I wanted to die, they wouldn’t let me. Somebody pulled me out of the well. Manamma was playing in the area; she looked at me and burst into a big laugh. She gave me the fruit she had in her hand and said, ‘What’s wrong with you? Here, eat this fruit, pray to the lord. Come to my house for dinner tomorrow.’ I could not understand whatever magic that fruit contained. The pain in my stomach was gone like somebody chanted a mantra. On that day, I carried six bags of rice easily, no problem at all.”


My legs were hurting. I was waiting for him to come to the main point of the story. He was moving back and forth like a wooden horse, the end was no where in sight..

“We, the entire neighborhood, walked on one line. Her word was our command, a chip of gold. But it didn’t continue for long though. Why do you think people would say a dying tree produces warped fruit[7]? Some idiot got up like the pestle in the Yadava family.[8] He approached Manamma’s father and said ‘She’s growing up like a sugarcane, how long are you going to keep her at home?’ She looked at that idiot and smiled. She said, ‘Marriage is not for me. I am the same Satidevi[9] from Eternity. My lifespan is short, where is the room for a family life? If you are interested, I’ll find a girl, a gem, for you. If you are not, then, there is no more discussion.’ But, babu, that’s the way the world is. Her father could not show his face in town. People started teasing her, asking Is she Sati or Yati? They disparaged her saying it was a show of illusion and swore that they’d see the end of it; they all gathered one fine morning in front of her house. They raised questions about the uniqueness of her character.

The father took Manamma’s hands into his and asked her, “Amma, only you can show me what’s the recourse for me now. You maybe right in thinking that you’re different but it holds only when it’s acceptable to all. You know so much, you should understand this too.”

Manamma looked around and watched the people who gathered there and smiled. “All right. Gandharva’s will finish the job that’s going to happen anyways.[10] You do whatever needs to be done. But your action will not touch me. I don’t want you to worry on my account. Disbelief started even in Dwaparayugam[11] itself. Why should I blame you now. Here, I am pouring this coffee on this spot. One day, a kaasiratnam vine will sprout at the same moment as now. I’ll live as long as the vine lived.”

The entire crowd stood there dumbfounded. Not one could speak a word; their minds went numb! They gazed at the divine glow on her face with steadfast looks.

Manamma prodded a little hole with her toe and poured the coffee into the hole. This precisely is the spot. Small minds cannot comprehend the actions of noble souls. Many people laughed and questioned the logic of popping up a plant from coffee. To tell the truth, I also thought that it sounded strange. Besides, I knew Manamma was always very generous but not when it came to coffee; it was her life-force. But then, like I said, the actions of noble persons are intriguing for the ordinary folks. People like us can understand only when we see the clear logic, like a ripened fruit falling when a crow sat on it!

“The old man has been searching for a suitable match and here this young woman went about minding her business like a chidaanandamurty, the lord of eternal bliss. But then, the entire township became speechless as they noticed the plant come up on exactly the same day as the young woman predicted. Those who challenged her left the town and disappeared without a trace. But the person, her father, who suffered the insults could not keep quiet. He went about searching every village in the neighborhood but to no avail. He failed to find a suitable match and was despondent; he went to Manamma and stood in front of her. “The entire world is up in arms, calling you names like witch, and saying that you’ve gotten the gift from some mean gods of questionable powers. No man is coming forward to tie the tali around your neck. If you’re so knowledgeable, you must know this too. You tell me yourself where is the man who’s willing to tie the tali around your neck?” he asked her.

Manamma was arranging the fine tendrils of the kasiratnam creeper on to the stakes. She laughed and said, “Why didn’t you ask me earlier? Talk to Papayya; he lives in the adjacent village.”

Her father was stunned. The other villagers were taken aback. The father made inquiries and found out that it was true, Manamma guessed it right. Papayya was the village-head. His third son, sturdy as steel rod, came forward to marry Manamma without any usual formalities like pelli chuupulu. Our pantulu, Manamma’s father, was ecstatic; he praised every one of the presiding lords in heaven. By the time he performed Manamma’s wedding, he felt like he was blessed by all his ancestors.”


Thatha heaved a sigh, as if he needed a break. I, on the other hand, could not stand the suspense. I being who I am, when I read a book, I’d jump to the last page first, even if it were a detective novel! Thatha is old, I understand, but how can I bear thinks kind of inordinate delay?

“Just tell me whatever happened in the final analysis,” I said.

“It’s over,” he said.

“I didn’t mean …” I said, sounding apologetic. Thatha nevertheless remained sobre.

“I am telling you the truth. The whole thing came to an end on that day. She told me in her final moment to take care of this plant. That’s it. Thalli did not set foot on this ground again. It was like the story of Rushyasrunga, the saint, who was brought into this world since his presence was supposed to bring in rains and help farming. We had Manamma to have showers in our hearts and sent her away as soon as we were done with her.”

I wasn’t sure whether I should feel sorry for him or laugh at him. Clearly he was blaming himself for the atrocity that has been committed on Manamma.

“See you later,” he said and left. I was annoyed about the abrupt ending. It was more like the serial novels we’ve been reading in the weekly magazines nowadays.


The kasiratnam creeper was growing beautifully—a gorgeous burst of numerous tender strands sprouting all over on the garden patch, probably due to superphosphate. Thatha has been coming daily and caring for the plant conscientiously. On occasion I wanted to ask him whether he was feeding the plant coffee or gripe mixture [baby formula] but I was too lazy to talk. Roughly a month passed by. I was sitting on the porch as usual. Thatha came and cared for the plant but did not go away as he normally would. He stood there watching the plant keenly.

“What’s it, thatha? You found a bruise on your Manamma or something?” I said, teasingly.

Thatha gestured to me to near him. I was offended by his behavior and indifference yet I decided to consider it as his first offense and ignore it. I went near him.

“Look, this is the beginning. The plant is going to wither away, there won’t be any more flowers,” he said.

True. The shoots were broken; some of them fell off; most of the plant was looking lifeless. However, the plant did have plenty of buds.

“Why?” I asked, turning toward him. I knew nothing about trees, plants and creepers.

“Didn’t I tell you? Manamma has already told us that marriage would not agree with her. That’s what happened. Her family did everything per custom—checked the day, time and the most auspicious moment and sent her to the in-law’s house with numerous gifts like sarees and jewelry. But it has to fit her character too, right? She was born into this world only to settle whatever little debt she carried from her previous birth. Why would she have anything to do with all these mundane dharmas? But then, who’s going to understand this part? They all kept saying Manamma was looking different but nobody tried to find out what was happening in her mind. The son-in-law spoke not a single word but the mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, co-sisters-in-law, co-brothers-in-law, and all the neighbors picked on her like crows. Her husband did not take sides with either party. He remained calm like a noble yogi. But for him, the rest of the family fretted and fumed. At first, they assumed that she was still raw; they sat down with her and taught her the proper behavior befitting a wife; no response from her. She ate when she was given food, or else, went without eating. She used to sit in front of the tulasi plant in the backyard; no sleep at night and no food in the day. The family asked her if she was worried about her natal home; she said no. Then they thought maybe she was not interested in this marriage. One family member snapped, “The new bride should be dancing with joy in the in-law’s place; here she is, sitting in a corner, tight-lipped, wouldn’t that break his heart?” Manamma did not say a word about anything. Days passed by. She was wasting away without food and sleep. And the plant here was withering away at the same time.”

“What?” I cringed.

“Yes, babu, that’s what I’m saying. This plant started withering away starting the same day Manamma stopped eating there. After 15 days, Manamma lost consciousness. The same day, this plant here stopped blooming. That’s it. After one month, this plant dried up totally.”

Thatha choked and covered his face with towel…

I don’t remember how long I sat there, stunned.

“Starting tomorrow, this plant will not bloom anymore,” thatha walked away, murmuring to himself. I looked at the bush. It was full of soft, shiny buds, sharp as needles. Some of them are sure to bloom today and some may fade away. A few others would bloom tomorrow. They must. Didn’t thatha notice it? I spent the entire night racking my brains with the same thought. I wanted to get up early but couldn’t beat the habit. By the time I got up the radio was broadcasting the day’s news in English.It was 9:00 a.m. Suddenly I remembered the kasiratnam creeper. As I walked to the porch, I was nervous like a researcher about find the results of his experiment.

Darn! There were no flowers!

“Here, your coffee,” I heard mother’s voice and turned around.

My mother looked at me anxiously. “What’s wrong? You’re looking awful! What happened?”

Yes, what happened, whatever could have happened? “Nothing,” I said.

“Then why’re you looking so dreadful?”


I took coffee from her. I was about to sip my coffee, suddenly felt like sombody slapped on my wrist.

“What has happened? Are you feeling sick? How would I know unless you tell me,” mother asked with a concern rising by the minute.

“Amma, you don’t know Manamma’s story,” I said as if I made a discovery myself.

“Who’s Manamma?” Amma is always like that, gets suspicious so quickly.

“I mean…”

“What do you mean?”

“That creeper. Do you know about that kasiratnam creeper?”

Amma heaved a sigh of relief, “hum.” I’m still suspicious; I still haven’t gotten over my astonishment.

“What else is now? What happened?” Amma sounded like she knew something, if not all.

I stood up straight, straightened my collar, and spoke gravely, like a yogi delivering an enlightening speech on the nature of universe, “That was planted by a saintly woman, I just learned. That kasiratnam stood for a saintly woman.”

My sister entered the scene with my tiffin. She burst into a big laugh, “Who said so? Thatha?”

She kept laughing like a rivulet in full tide.

I turned pale. Did I fall for his trick?

“The man is old but did not lose his jest for life. He is a great storyteller,” amma said.


“Talk about the general knowledge of my little brother! An illiterate, who couldn’t say his alphabet, has fooled you!”

My sister kept laughing in ripples.

“Enough,” amma said and went away.

I still was not convinced. Additionally, there was one more question that was bothering me. I kept pestering my sister. It took three days before she told me and that too only after she had enjoyed my stupidity to her heart’s content!

“Flowers? Well, didn’t you notice that the landlady returned yesterday from her trip? She wakes up early in the morning and gives the plant a clean shave; she takes the flowers for her puja. And you wake up, like westerners, at nine; what else would you expect to find if not the bald plant?”


(Telugu original, kasiratnam, was published in Andhra Prabha Weekly, 5 November 1966.)

Read Telugu original here. The English translation has been published on April, 2004.




[1] Personification of Time according to Hindu beliefs, supposed to be in-charge of all the actions and responsible for bringing about the end of the world in course of time.

[2] Lunar calendar.

[3] Telugu proverb, taanuu o batuke, tavuDuu o roTTe!, meaning worthless life like bread made out of husk.

[4] The Telugu original term, vaaksuddhi, means a person’s unique quality; a person’s word materializes.

[5] chesina paapam chebite pothundi antaaru.

[6] gorantalu kondantalu chestaaru

[7] cheTTu cheDe kaalaaniki kukkamuuti pinjalu.

[8] Refers to the end of Lord Krishna.

[9] Wife of Lord Siva, and a mark of eternal marital bliss.

[10] kaagala kaaryam gandharvulu teerusthaaru.

[11] The third of the four yugas (time spans)


FEAR OF DEATH by K. Meerabai

“Sir, a paisa, please! help a lonely man, sir, please, be kind…”

The words sounded like a wake up call for Veerasamy. He was a little beside himself. The beggar was hoping and praying that somebody would be kind to him today. He was rolling in the dust like a worm. The scene was ugly to watch.

“Is it already time for you?” Veerasamy looked at him, sneering. The cot, with the jute ropes hanging loosely, squeaked as if crushed under his weight. He pulled out the rolled tobacco leaf that was tucked in his lungi frills at the waist. He bit the dried edge and spit it out, and lit up. He stood up the cot against the wall, and opened his little store. Veerasamy stood up on the bench like the emperor Vikramaditya and yelled at the beggar again.

“What a headache! Get lost. You are screaming like a goat since dawn. Has anybody given you so much as a paisa?”

The beggar turned his only operable eye toward Veerasamy and stared at him. He looked as if asking him, “What do you know about the aches of hunger?”

Veerasamy looked at him and felt sick in the pit of his stomach. The beggar was a horrible sight—his hair was like dried straw for want of proper care, one of his eyes protruded forward while the other was totally covered by an abscess, the two remaining teeth stuck out like fangs between his saggy and wrinkled cheeks, flies were pestering incessantly on his two stumps of hands filled with puss and blood.

Veerasamy couldn’t stomach the sight. He pulled out one of bananas, half-rotten, from the bunch and threw at him. The sun is heating up and temperature is raising. The traffic also has picked up. That road is the only artery leading to the so-called new township in Anantapur. The railway tracks next to the road provide recourse to the students who have failed exams and the young sisters who have been robbed of their innocence. The train also has the reputation for running over those who had hopes to lead a long and happy lives.


This is what happened.

One fine morning the government woke up and built an overpass at a very high price. Money was gone but there was no noticeable change in the lives of the local populace. The number of deaths has not gone down. The middle class people are exasperated for all the money they had to shell down for rickshaws and horse-carts in order to get to the other side.

Veerasamy might have mentioned at least one hundred and one times why the government did not have the sense to make the trains use the overpass rather than the people. Usually students stop by his shop for Charminar cigarettes and watch the girls on the street. Veerasamy makes this comment to them all the time.

There are of course some people who appreciated the construction of the overpass in their town. The students who had nothing better to do and the beggars who found a home under the overpass appreciated the government gesture. A majority of the town was excited that a strip mall would be built under the overpass. Ruining their dreams, the space was quickly filled with the homeless who had no other place to sleep in and not a bite for their hungry mouths. The crowd included beggars and handy-men, smalltime woodworkeres, a muslim who sells peanuts, and the crippled old woman who sells lentil vada [deep-fried snacks].

The one eyed beggar could nothing of the sorts and so was begging the passersby in heartrending appeals

Veerasamy sat there, driving away the flies that were swarming around the overripe bananas with his upper garment. He lit up the end of the coconut straw rope hanging form the beam of the roof. The rope serves as a match for his customers who buy cigarettes and beedies in his shop. He was watching the students pass by one after another and told himself, ‘okay, time for school.’ A sluggish yawn filled his mouth.

Generally speaking, the women folks who teach at the women’s college and the children who go to school use that street. That helps Veerasamy. He need not worry about not getting enough business.

A young student in tight pants saw three women at a distance and started singing roop thera mastaanaa pyaar mere deevaanaa* and stood up as if posing for camera. It was not clear whether the three women were sisters or they just colluded to look like that. All the three were wearing the same outfit—black skirts and white half sarees. They had two braids, one hanging over the shoulder to the front, and a single hibiscus flower tucked in. One of them looked at the student sideways and commented, “This has become a regular nuisance, God! I wish we had another route to our college.” She could be pretending to address the beggar who was on his knees and begging for a paisa. She pushed back the slipping half saree on her shoulder and moved forward. The Romeo [her nickname for him] smiled and followed them.

Veerasamy shook off the ashes that gathered at the end of the coconut rope and lit his rolled tobacco again. The beggar stopped as if tired of screaming. His wife picked up where he had left and started hollering in turn. Her back was so slouched that her white hairs were nearly touching the ground. Yet she was strong enough to seat him on a wheeled plank with chains and pull him to the main road. That is what she would do anytime she gifures that they would not earn a paisa in that place. She is also that kind of patiivrata [a woman devoted to her husband] who depends on her husband, no matter what—whether his is disabled or in death throes.

She kept singing like a worn-out gramophone record in the same monotonous voice, “Please, ma’am, be kind to the old man, ma’am, he has no limbs to walk, can’t do any work, ma’am…” The woman stopped a young man, well-dressed and on his way to teach a class full of gorgeous women. He was wearing a pair of new pants of synthetic fiber his father-in-law had made for him.

“Shameless cheats. Too lazy to make an honest buck… Why not? After all, we do have a female as the head of the state.* What else can we expect?” he said to the bald person next to him and walked away.

The bald man stopped at Veerasamy’s shop to buy betel nut powder.

“Probably it is time for the woman to show up,” Veerasamy commented as he counted the change and throwing side glances at the railway tracks.

The woman he referred to could hardly balance herself on her high heels. She was five feet tall, and her hairdo added another six inches to her height. She wore a single rose in her hair, and slid away slowly as if were dancing on a marble floor. She resented the beggar that was pestering her for change and moved away quickly. She stole a sly look at the bald head, and hastened to leave, swinging her vanity bag like a model.

It was getting dark. Veerasamy closed the store. The devoted wife of the old man picked up the 48 paise thrown in front of her husband and scoffed at him, “You, useless jerk, I wish you were dead.”

Suddenly Veerasamy woke up to the heartrending cries of the old woman.

“Oh, my God! You’re alone leaving me alone? How could you? Why did you, so soon,” her harsh cries pierced through his ears. Veerasamy opened his eyes wondering, “Is it already morning?”


Probably the old man couldn’t take the cold weather. Sometime in the middle of the night the life-breath that was barely hanging by the thread left his mundane body. His wife broke into a fit of fierce sobs.


The young man in tight pants threw a quarter of a rupee at him and ran away from the scene. He even forgot his Charminar cigarettes and didn’t care to wait for the beautiful girls. The three women looked around for him and in stead found this frightening scene. They threw whatever change they could grab from their purses and ran away. The young lecturer dropped one rupee in front of the corpse and walked away without thinking twice. He had no idea if and to what extent Indira Gandhi was responsible for the old man’s death.


The bald man kept chewing betel nut as usual and lectured on Bhagavad Gita to Veerasamy. The dandy girl on high heels was stunned to see the deadbody, threw one half of a rupee and rushed out. Throwing impish looks at the bald man was the last thing on her mind at the moment.

At the end of the day, the local municipality persons came and removed the body from the roadside. The old woman broke out one more time, like the national anthem at the end of a movie.

Veerasamy kept looking at the old woman with a smile until she finished counting the day’s earnings and then asked her, “How much?”

“My foot. How much? Hardly ten rupees and some change,” she replied, wiping her nose again.

“Not bad, not bad at all. The idiot is worth more after his death than when he was alive,” Veerasamy commented and lay down the cot, getting ready to sleep.

Veerasamy fell asleep unaware of the old adage—that people fear death like children fear darkness.


(Original in Telugu entitled “bhayam”, published in Kamadhenu, 1 February 1972.)


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


Prabhakaram was in a huge dilemma. He wanted to tell her that he wanted to marry her. But, how could he word it? For one thing, he had been struggling for over an hour now; which form of address to use? Should he say mimmalni or ninnu.[1] Up until now, he was using meeru. How could he change it to the informal nuvvu now? And then, the rest of the sentence, “I want to marry you”, how to say it? Finally, he pulled himself together, and blurted out the words, with his heart in his throat; after that, he sat there with his eyes glued to the ground. He didn’t the courage, not even to wipe the sweat off his forehead. He had said it all right. He still was not sure of her response; would she throw her shoe at him? Or, pick on him?

Kausalya looked up straight into his face. Her eyes did not spit fire, nor showered love. They looked as if they were measuring the depths of his heart. No answer from her—gave him courage. He also looked up. Their eyes met; at once, they looked away.

“What do you say?”

“I’d say yes, but I’m not going until I am finished with school”

He did not expect it. He did not expect her to agree so quickly. In his mind a woman not take a man, if proposed, as quickly as a man would, if a woman proposed

“That means only one more year. That’s doable,” he replied, pulling out a kerchief from his pocket and wiping the sweat on his forehead.

Silence prevailed between the two for a while. Neither did not know what else to say. They kept staring at the flowerbed in the front yard. How long could they sit like that? No point.

“See you later,” he said, getting up to leave. She also got up and followed him to the steps. She leaned on the wall, and lost in thoughts while watching him until he disappeared round the corner. He said he wanted to marry her, on his own. Probably, that means no dowry; that means one less burden for my annayya. He took care of her, ever since amma and nanna had passed away; she’d never been wanting for anything. If her marriage were settled this easily, he and his family could be better off. She knew very well that they were in no position to pay huge dowry. Vadina is luckily a nice person, and that’s why she could go to college. Up until now, she was worried about her future; what should she do after she had finished B.A.

The problem was resolved.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published originally on, August 2004


[1] The accusative forms of formal you, meeru, and informal you, nuvvu.


Venkatachalam garu goes for a walk every evening. He’s gotten into this habit after his retirement as a matter of necessity.

While he was working, his limitless duties, umpteen activities, and responsibilities that went beyond his means, left him with not a moment to breathe. Like a contestant in a running race, he ran without looking back, was exhausted and, now, finally, after his retirement got a chance to rest. Now he has plenty of leisure.

He has plenty of time now to look back and ponder over, and to evaluate the good and the bad in his life. There’s no more need for rushing, there’s nothing to do. He could just take care of his own tasks and not worry about others. Those days were gone. All he had to do now is to review the pleasure and pain of those days.


While Venkatachalam garu is at home, he sits on the front porch in an easy chair and mulls over the memories of the past—that’s one way of spending his time. The second is to go to the park in the evening, sit on the grass, watch what’s going on in the area and review the pages of his past.

During the course of his first activity, Venkatachalam garu came across some incidents that touched the innermost corners of his heart. While he was sitting on the porch, his wife and children would sit in the living room and talk loudly, raising their voices. Whether they intended it or not, he could hear them.

The eldest son says, “I can’t figure out why he has to be so mulish. He could have easily pulled the strings and got our little brother a better grade in school. It’s so common nowadays, so many people are using their positions and improving their lives.” It sounds like the younger brother’s life was ruined only because of father’s [Venkatachalam’s] incompetence.

The second son complains, “Huh! I begged him to let me finish my master’s. If I’d finished my master’s, I would’ve certainly got that job at the firm. He said I could study at home and write the exams, like that’s a viable option in this house! I’m stuck in this stupid clerical position with no hope of promotion.”

The third one takes it to one step further and growls. His grievance was not about education or job but about a hoard of cash father didn’t earn and hand over to him. “Look at this house! He got it built in this god-forsaken corner of the town! Look at the neighbors! Just ordinary middle class who could never raise above the level of average life. Had he gotten a house site in Banjara Hills or Sri Nagar Colony,[1] we could’ve built the house ourselves. What could have he lost if he’d not built this house here? He could not improve his lot and would not let’s improve ours,” he whines. He sounds like he was keen on making it good in the world and only his father chopped his wings and forced him to lie low.

This is the attitude of his sons. Now about the daughter who has been married and left for her in-law’s home. Each time she returned to visit them, she pours her heart out, wailing in the presence of her mother. Her major complaint was that her husband was not promoted, they couldn’t move up from scooter to automobile status, she and her husband couldn’t have a better life since all his family—her mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and brothers-in-law—depend on them, and all this is because her father did not find a better husband for her.

Venkatachalam’s wife listens to all their whining, moaning, groaning and the long-drawn-out complaints, feels sorry for them, accepts that their miseries were caused only by her and her husband’s incompetence and bullheaded attitude, and wipes her nose until the nose turned red.

“What a misery! We are not good enough even to help our own children! I think it’s true. What’s wrong if our children hope for a better life? Do they also have to live in narrow rooms and on concrete floors like us? Nowadays everybody is going to America and earning a bundle. They return home just in two years, buy cars, mansions and live a dazzling life. Here we are! What for? We could not help even one son to become an officer! Well, it’s their misfortune that they were born in our house. How could they expect a better luck?” says Venkatachalam’s wife, implying that only she and her husband cast a shadow like eclipse in their children’s lives and spread darkness over their future.

Comments of this sort reached Venkatachalam’s ears directly and indirectly. He heard such conversations only on rare occasions prior to his retirement. After his retirement he has been hearing these harsh words fairly frequently. That’s why Venkatachalam garu can’t sit on the front porch and enjoy his peace of mind. He did not have to ponder over the past. His wonderful sons and daughter are holding the canvas in front of him and pointing to him what a disgraceful picture it was, and thereby crushing his heart. His wife, as if supporting them, would dab her eyes with her saree end, blow her nose, point to the lines on her forehead and reaffirm their misfortune. For all these reasons, to go to the park became not only a habit but a necessity for him. He goes to the park located just outside their colony.


Venkatachalam went to the park on that day as usual. At the center of the park there was a Gandhi statue on a pedestal with concrete steps. Venkatachalam garu enjoys the scenery—the green grass, dewdrops on the grass, children playing at a distance, their screams—all these give him a kind of pleasure, a kind of solace. The park is not big but has a charm of its own with beautiful flower plants and attractively trimmed crouton plants.

Several other older people also gather there and sit on the cement benches. Young men stretch on the grass and chitchat. Little children play on the swing or the slide. The gardener, who’s instrumental in bringing pleasure to so many people, is hardly visible, busy in some corner digging a hole for a plant or in some other similar activity.

Gandhi, standing at the center of the park seem to be broadcasting, with his smile that, “This is what I’d call a peaceful atmosphere.”

Venkatachalam dusted off the bench with his uttareeyam, spread it and sat on it. He felt like he understood the message. Two minutes passed by. Suddenly there was a loud scream at a distance. At first it started out in a low pitch and then kept increasing, eventually filled the park and raised a huge commotion. Venkatachalam garu found that out after asking a young man sitting nearby. A group of young men formed into a society and elected a leader and were walking down the street in a procession. They were the fans of a movie star and celebrating the success of their society.

“Interesting. I can understand the fans forming into a society to express their admiration for a movie star. That much is good. But why all this other stuff like electing a leader, singing his praise? … Isn’t it beginning to look like folk song with a hero and a second hero?” Venkatachalam garu laughed.

“You don’t understand, sir. Anytime you call it a society, they must necessarily have a leader. They have to organize meetings to discuss what they can do for their favorite actor. They also have to collect donations as and when necessary. And they’ll have to fight if somebody made a negative comment about their favorite actor! All this is possible only when they have a competent leader. Their old leader was inept. That’s why they got a new leader now,” the young man explained in detail.

Venkatachalam garu couldn’t laugh, he was stunned. The procession kept walking peacefully for a while. In the next five minutes, some differences of opinion arose among its members and it led to a furor. It turned into bickering, jindabad turned into murdabad,[2] then followed fist fights and soon the police arrived and threw them all into lock up.

Venkatachalam garu watched it painfully. He turned to the gentleman, Gopala Rao, who was sitting next to him and said, “Look at them! Current generation youth rush into things for fun then and get themselves into trouble.”

Gopala Rao laughed. He brushed off the cigarette ashes and said, “Do you think they understand the meaning of the word pleasure? If they had known what it meant, they wouldn’t have developed this hatred, pigheadedness, and ill-conceived competition, and declared war on the other party and called it pleasure. It seems somebody honored a couple of days back another actor who is not their favorite. So, this party wanted to felicitate their own favorite actor and asked their leader to arrange it right away. The leader said, “Not now,” and so the members threw him out and elected another leader at once. That’s the reason for this procession—a show off. What’s there to be happy about in all this? Where’s the justification for a leader to be taken in a procession? They are doing it since the other party did it. Riot took place at that time too and these people are experiencing the same thing. They claim there is a pleasure in that too!”

“How did you know all this?” Venkatachalam asked with surprise.

Gopala Rao said, “That leader is no stranger; my own delightful son. He gives the same speeches at home too. I’m exhausted by his lectures and am tired of life. I had high dreams for my children, hoped that I should give them good education and help them reach high goals in life. I sold my land and had a house built; paid donations for admissions in colleges; I even took bribes when it became necessary. My eldest son lives in the States, the second one in Delhi, the third son, an engineer, lives in Vizag. And here’s the fourth one, left college while studying for his master’s degree. It’s five years now! I’m tired and let go of it. Our house is located in Ananda Sagar Colony, complete with all the amenities, I didn’t skimp on anything. We all were very happy at the time. Now I’m beginning to wonder if I made a mistake. I took care of everything; gave them no opportunity to learn about responsibility. Not one of all my four sons is concerned about the house. They’re convinced that I’d take care of everything. They mind only their own business. People don’t care about others when they have a comfortable life.

“A couple of days ago, my neighbor was seriously ill. I panicked and was anxious to take him to the hospital. And this son said he had to meet somebody in his fan club and took the car. Luckily, my neighbor’s son managed to get a taxicab somehow. I went to the hospital with them but I was ashamed. Although I have a car, I couldn’t help my neighbors. They’ve always been helping us. Their son brings vegetables from the store for us occasionally. But when they needed my help, I could do nothing. His blood pressure shot up and because he did not receive medical attention in time, he’s confined to bed permanently.”

“What happened?” Venkatachalam asked with concern.

“He lost the use of arms, legs and also speech. There’s no guarantee when he could recover,” Gopala Rao replied.

“Oh, no! You can’t blame yourself though,” Venkatachalam tried to console him.

“Maybe that’s true but still something is tugging at my heart, like I’d done something wrong. We’re humans after all. Sorry. I don’t know about you but that’s how I feel.”

Then they introduced themselves to each other, chatted for a while and left for their homes.

Venkatachalam reached home and noticed that his eldest son was watching TV and his granddaughter sat down with her books and studying.

Venkatachalam sat in his easychair and was resting. His granddaughter was asking her father for meanings whenever she didn’t understand a word. She was admitted in Telugu medium school since it was closer to home and also the fee was lower. The girl’s mother whispers to the neighbors that maava garu, Venkatachalam, could have taken the initiative and got the little girl admitted in the English medium school. Venkatachalam heard those whispers several times and chuckled, wondering why the son himself could not do that himself if that’s what they wanted.

Venkatachalam lay back in the armchair and closed his eyes. His wife came and said, “Emandi![1] Sleeping already?”

“I’m not sleeping, just resting. What’s the matter?” he said.

“Bhadram garu came earlier, with a couple of others. He said they were planning to build a library and asked for donation. I told him that you weren’t home.”

“A library! That’s good. But isn’t our son home?”

“That’s cute. What can he do? You’re the senior in the house, you should be the one to give donations. Besides, how can he give donations? Bhadram garu may come tomorrow again. Give me the money, 40 or 50 rupees. That should do it,” she said and went in.

Venkatachalam smiled to himself. He heard the little girl ask her father, “Dad, what’s this letter? I don’t understand. Tell me if this is a misprint.”

“Chup! Stop asking me every little thing. If it’s a misprint, you’ll find the correct word on the last page in the list of corrections and misprints. Check the list,” he yelled at her and reverted to his TV.

Something occurred to Venkatachalam. He told himself, “That’s true. Corrections for the mistakes in a book would be given on the last page, and readers will have a chance to look them up and obtain the correct reading. But in the book called Life, we don’t get a chance to correct the misprints. We don’t have the opportunity to publish a list of corrections and revisions at the end. All the episode and events, once occurred, they’re done. The particular time slot will not return so we can say that this is what I really wanted to do at that time or suggest to the audience that this is how it should be read. The datebook will not recur. Past is past! We cannot do yesterday and today what we should have done the day before yesterday and yesterday. After today is past, we can’t turn around tomorrow into today.

“The letters once printed in the book called Life can’t be revised modified. Oh, God, what a huge mistake! I spent all my life, day and night, taking care of children, their education, family and property but never considered doing one, just one good deed like helping others or doing something that could be remembered for years to come. I could not save even one such sweet moment that could offer comfort to me. Everybody works for the betterment of one’s own family, no big deal. I did so much for my family but they attribute no value to my work. Earlier in the park Gopala Rao said the same thing. In other words, all the worldly attachments are based on karma.

“I wish I’d done some good deed instead of losing myself in the ocean of karma. It’s true that every person could not become a mahatma. But why should we forget human values. I spent all my time worrying about ration cards, school fees, vegetable bags, and festive meals. Instead, why couldn’t I provide one meal to a poor student at the least? Why not support an orphan? What a shame! I did not think of even these little acts of kindness. The kind of things I wasted my time on—haggling for every paisa with every person, not giving even a paisa to any beggar or giving something and asking for the change from a beggar, shortchanging the day laborer, and then I felt proud of myself for saving that paisa. Chi, chi, shame on me!”

Venkatachalam felt rundown. “Oh, God, how many mistakes have I made? And I can’t even correct them now. I can’t print the corrections list on the last page. What can I do in this old age? I think, the best I can do is to give to Bhadram garu as big a donation as I can, and write a huge book, narrating my entire agony and warn others that they should not make the same mistakes as I did; in fact, they should avoid all mistakes. That’s the only good deed I can do now. All other thoughts of mine, I will postpone to my next life.” He went on thinking like that and took a deep breath with satisfaction.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, September 2003.

 (The Telugu original, “Akhari pageelo … achhu tappulu,” was published in the anthology, “nuurella panTa” Comp. by Bhargavi Rao. Bangalore: Prism Books, 2000. )


[1] In some families, the wives don’t have a specific form of address for husbands. Some words like emandi is used in such instances.

[1] Wealthy neighborhoods in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh.

[2] Jindabad means long live and murdabad means may you die.

CASTE IS ACTING HUMAN by Tamirisa Janaki

“Gopi, come here,” Suseelamma shouted angrily.
“What’s it, amma?” Gopi came into the kitchen.
“Why’re you taking him into every room? Let him sit outside. Why’d you make friends with him, anyways? Walk around with arms around each other’s shoulders, what’s it with you?”
“Amma, Ramu is my classmate.”
“So what? You may not know about his caste but I do. Don’t you ever bring each and every boy into this house, like that.”
“Why not?” Gopi asked, watching his mother and a little scared.
“We must not touch them. We belong to higher caste and he is low caste,” his mother replied all wound up and sat down in front of her gods for her daily worship. She spent one half hour chanting the stotras and finished with her last chant, mitrasya maa cakshusha sarvaani bhoothaani sameekshe, mitrasya cakshushaa sameeksha mahe [May all living beings view me with compassion; may we humans view each other with compassion].

Gopi was scared of his mother. He took Ramu to the front porch. Amma always talks about caste but his little brain could not comprehend what it meant. Poor Ramu. Gopi has been asking him to come to his place for a long time and finally now he is here. Gopi was so zealous to show his entire house to Ramu—the room upstairs where he sleeps, and overlooking the river Godavari, and the Goddess temple, and all that. But amma is saying he should not bring Ramu into the house. They both are of the same age and they’re in the same class. Ramu excels in all subjects. He has been always ranking first. Gopi likes Ramu a lot. So does Ramu. I bring him here since he is a nice boy and I like him. Why is amma upset? Gopi couldn’t understand that part.

He couldn’t hold back anymore. That night, Gopi raised the question with his mother, “Amma, what do you mean when you say caste?”
“Caste means, well, caste means …” Suseelamma could not find the right words to explain it. “There are several castes like brahmin, kshatriya, vaisya and so on,” she said, although she was well aware that that was not the correct answer to his question.
“So who decides who belongs to what caste?”
She thought she could answer her son’s question this time.

The small company where Gopi’s father, Seshagiri, was working went out of business and Seshagiri lost his job. After that he couldn’t find another job. So, he took out a loan and opened a small department store. They were managing somehow to make ends meet.

One day he received a letter from his younger brother who was living in Hyderabad.
“What did he write in the letter?” Suseelamma asked her husband.
“Nothing special. Finally he has come around, it seems. He is beginning to understand his responsibilities. He has been fooling around for so long. Now he has learned to hold a job I suppose.”
“What has happened, exactly?”
“He said he has opened a drycleaning shop in partnership with a friend.”
“What? Laundry shop?” Suseelamma said, disparagingly.
“Why are you dismissing it like that? Drycleaning shop brings good money in cities. You should be proud of him. After so many years, he came around finally and is making a better life for himself.”
“What else did you expect me to say?”
“He did not do well in school; barely made it through tenth class. I tried to pursuade him to go for higher study but he was not interested. Let’s be realistic. Nowadays not all the educated are landing good jobs either. Look what’s happening. People obtain degrees, grow beards, stand in line and threaten to starve until the government showed them jobs, to what point? All they’ve got is the label unemployed. If you ask me, each person should find a way on his own and learn to make a living for himself.”
Gopi was also in the room. Their conversation pierced through his ears. He understood parts of it and some parts he didn’t.

“Amma, can I go to Ravi’s home to play? Just for a little while,” Gopi asked his mother.
Ravi has a puppy in his home. They got her recently. Ravi told Gopi several times that the puppy was very cute and that he should come to see her. Gopi was dying to see the puppy.
“What? Ravi’s house? Have you lost your mind?” Suseelamma yelled crushing his Gopi’s enthusiasm.
“He said he’d go to Ravi’s house. Why are you asking if he lost his mind?” Seshagiri asked, surprised.
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying. How can he go to their house? I am sure you knew it too. Ravi’s mother belongs to one caste and his father to another. How can we send our boy to the house of a mixed couple?”
“Abbha! You’re giving me a headache with your caste, race dilemma; blabbering about it all the time.”
“You get on my case every time you’ve got a chance. You are so tired of my words. Why did you marry me in the first place?”
“That’s enough. One more song you’ve been singing forever.”
“you can say whatever you please. You think that I am not going anywhere no matter what, no matter however much you insult me.”
“What did I say wrong, now?”
“Hum, You say whatever comes to your mind and turn around and ask me what did I say? You’ll never change.”
“Whatever you mean? What part of me I should change?” It started out as a little disagreement and soon turned into a storm. Gopi shut his ears and sat on the front porch for a while. His parents argue for something or other almost everyday. A huge doubt popped up in his head—Do all parents bicker all the time like his?

Ravi kept insisting and Gopi decided to visit his puppy, on his way home from school one day. The puppy was cute, really. She came to Gopi quite friendly. Both, Ravi and Gopi played with the puppy for a while. Ravi’s mother told them to wash their hands and come in; she made snacks for them.
“I’ve to go home,” Gopi mumbled vaguely.
“You can go after eating something along with Ravi,” Ravi’s mother was very kind and he couldn’t refuse. Ravi’s father also walked in. He hugged Ravi and asked gently, “Is he a friend of yours? What’s his name?”
Ravi told him his friend’s name. His father said, “Good. Did you show our house to your friend? Did you show him our puppy? Also, the figurines your mother has made?”
“Stop it, you are talking like my figurines are masterpieces,” Ravi’s mother laughed shyly.
”I don’t know. I like your figurines a lot better than all those great masterpieces. They are special for us. So, what’d make for tiffin today?”
“Didn’t tell me to make pakodi earlier this morning.” Her gentle voice was pleasurable for Gopi and he wanted to stay there and listen to that voice over and again.
“Ha, so you made pakodi. Good. Children, come on, let’s eat hot, hot pakodi.”

Both Ravi and Gopi went in, washed their hands with soap and returned to the kitchen. Hot pakodi were set on the dining table, causing his mouth to water. Ravi’s mother sat next to Gopi. Ravi’s father was telling amusing stories and his mother kept serving more and more pakodi in their plates. The entire atmosphere was very pleasant; pakodi tasted doubly delicious.
After they returned to livingroom, Gopi asked Ravi, almost in a whisper, “How come your mother let me go into the kitchen without asking what caste I belonged to?”
“Caste? What’s it?”
“Don’t know what caste is?”
“No, I don’t know.”
“Your mother never mentioned it? You really don’t know?”
“No, really, I don’t know.”
For Gopi, that sounded very strange. Ravi spread a mat on the floor and asked Gopi, “Shall we play carroms?”
“Yes, let’s play,” uncle, Ravi’s father, said and sat down with them. That was again one more surprise for Gopi.
“Gopi, you and I can be one team,” aunty sat down across from Gopi. He was delighted. He was not good at carroms but played enthusiastically. He didn’t realize how much time passed by unnoticed.

Gopi returned home and the atmosphere here was the same as always. Mother and father were fighting like crazy about something.
Suseelamma saw Gopi walk in and screamed, “Where did you go?”
“I went to Ravi’s house,” he replied. He was not in the habit of lying. His teacher at school told him several times that lying was bad.
“How dare you? How many times have I told you that you should not go to their house? Why did you go there?”
“You keep saying such people, such people. In fact, they are very nice,” he said, looking into her face straight, although a little frightened at the same time.
“Ha! ha! Here is a big boy born to certify their good nature. Whatever goodness you’ve seen in them. She belonged to one caste and he to another,” said Suseelamma, making face, as if belonging to different castes was a huge sin.
“I don’t know what castes they belonged to but they are nice people. They talked with me with the same kind voice they’d talk to their son, Ravi. They never fight like you and dad do, Ravi told me.”
Seshagiri was shocked as he heard his son’s words. He began to understand the thoughts that lay dorment in that little heart. Now he realized what a turmoil their daily arguments must have created in his tiny heart. Both he and his wife are always tense. They snap quickly without thinking twice.

Gopi continued, “Ravi’s mother and father play carroms with him; ring tennis with him. Whenever he brings his friends home, they invite them and speak with them kindly. They don’t drag Ravi into the back room and inquire about his friends’ caste. They don’t tell him not to bring friends in, or make them sit on the front porch.”
“That’s enough.Don’t you lecture me.”
“Amma, you said that castes are based on people’s calling. Chinnanna has a drycleaning shop and nanna has a department store. So, what is our caste?”

Suseelamma couldn’t listen to him anymore. She started staring at both of them as if she’s lost her mind. Seshagiri walked up to her and put his arm around her shoulders. She twitched and stared back at him. Their eyes met. Numerous thoughts pervaded the two pairs of eyes.
“Will you take me to your friend, Ravi’s home tomorrow and introduce me to his mother, Gopi?” she asked him.
Gopi’s eyes glowed delightfully. He looked at her as if he couldn’t believe his ears. “Woud you go to their house? You told me I couldn’t go there!”
“I will never speak like that again.”
Gopi, in raptures, embraced her. “My amma is so sweet,” he said.

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, April 2004.

(The Telugu original, maanavate minishi kulam [Compassion Is Man’s Caste] was published in the anthology manasidi neekosam [this heart is for you], published by spandana sahiti samakhya, 1989)