Monthly Archives: July 2013

Empty Head! (story)

by Nidadavolu Malathi. The tiny ripples keep moving even as they are soothing to the eyes, cool, calm, jaunty, and in unique patterns. A baby fish shot up as if from nowhere into the air, up some six inches and dived back into the water. At the spot where it fell, waves spread out in circles as if marking its space. I kept staring, my glued to the spot – will it jump up from the same spot again? Or, will it shoot for another spot? How high this time? For the moment, the fish got all my attention, one hundred percent!

I heard a bit of a rustle on my left and turned in the that direction.  Ten yards away from me, a ten-year-old boy, settling down on the shore with his his fishing gear, totally preoccupied with his work on hand. He carefully opened the bait box, picked a worm which appears to have the most prospects of enticing a fish, stuck it on to the hook, surveyed the body of water for a good spot to throw the fish line. He moves the pole as, probably that’s the next step. I have no idea how fish are caught. Can he really identify a spot for catching fish or is he just going through the process as he was trained to do? How will he know the fish took his bait? What will he do to get the fish’s attention? I was mulling over these questions.

I was also admiring his steady gaze. He certainly is very patient, which we don’t see in children of his age nowadays in. Will he catch at least one fish today? I wish he will, for my sake, if not his! I am getting involved in the process of catching fish; that is how I am feeling at least. I am not sure whether I am worried about the boy or the fish.

“Enough of that, let’s go,” said my Head.

“What is the rush? Like some earthshaking agenda is waiting for us,” I said.

“How long are you going to watch him? I am bored, I want to go.”

“Wait a few more minutes. I want to see who wins—the fish escapes or the boy catches.”

“The boy is stupid and so are the fish. If he wants fish, he can go to the market and buy some. If the fish wants food, they have plenty of weeds and germs in the water, ready to eat. Why go for a bait on the pole? And of course, your brain is the worst, for sitting here and watching them.”

“Right, you are the only one with brains, nobody else in this world is smart enough for you,” I snarled.

“There is no life if you sit in one place like this, no change, no action. I hate being stuck in one place, without movement, annoying, very annoying. Frankly, whether that boy catches fish or not is a very minute matter in this vast universe,” my Head kept hollering.

I hate this Head of mine. It has no patience, no balance at all. Hum, not a penny in income, not a moment of peace. Forget the income, why not enjoy the peace at least? … Monkeys in the forest are better than this Head, chi, chhi

“Ha ha, okay, why don’t get a monkey’s head and stick it in on your shoulders?”
“Ha ha ha, why get another? I already have one, don’t I, I mean the way he hop around? … Never mind. Tell me where do you want to go?”
“Let’s go home, we can watch TV.”

“What is there to watch at this time of day?”

“Plenty. Didn’t the TV provider say we are getting 250 channels?”

“He did but what he did not tell is, out of the 250 channels he had promised, half of them are the same, like Channel 40 and 240. Then take away the channels which air paid programming, which if you ask me is a double wham for us.”

“What do you mean?”

“First, we pay the provider, which means we are subsidizing the commercial, since whoever is doing the commercial pays the provided and he also has to collect from us, the consumers. Again, when we buy the product, we are paying the business again, that is actually three times.”

“Are you going to get to the point in this decade?”
“The point is there are less than one dozen channels that make any sense at all and that we may watch. Oh, I must warn you of reruns and the commercials within the shows running for 4 or 5 minutes at a stretch, hopeless, if you ask me. They’re filling our heads with trash,” I yelled back at Head.

“It is not trash, that is information we need to know. That’s education.”

You see, this is the reason I am annoyed with this Head. It not only knows everything, but also insists that it all-round knowledgeable. This Head has answers for everything.

“Let’s wait for couple more minutes, just two more minutes. Maybe, he will catch a huge fish in the next 30 seconds.”

Head is annoyed now. “I can’t sit in one place like a stupid stone. If you don’t move right now, I will leave,” Head said.

“Go, go away,” I said. But I had no choice but to follow its orders. Returned home and turned on the Tennis channel.

“I wonder what is happening at the Democratic convention,” Head said, as if thinking aloud.

I flipped the channel. Some famous democrat is telling the participants what a great country this is, what a great leaders we are … uh, like they don’t know!

“Wonder what is on channel 9.”

Flip.

“Commercial? Let’s check the tennis score.”

Flip.

Serena is breezing through. …

“I am not huge fan of Fox news but let’s see what they’ve got to say.”

Flip.

We have to protect our Catholic values. Abortion is sin. We must not let these liberals take over. This President does not believe in conservative values. …”

“Naaaaa, let’s go back to tennis.”

Flip.

6-3, 6-6 … Wow, both the players are killing! What an amazing game …

“This is not going to end soon. Let’s see what the Mayor says on Channel 103.”

Psh. I am choking for all the vagaries of this Head. I turned off the TV and picked up a book I couldn’t remember where I left last time. Never mind. This is not a novel, don’t have to worry about where I left. The book is Patanjali’s Yoga sutras with Sanskrit text and English commentary. That is not easy reading.

Started reading Sanskrit text, which I must admit is a struggle. I have studied Sanskrit in college, that puts the date back to the fifties era. Then the English commentary, which I can’t say I am not comfortable but I understand the religious texts in Telugu better since I grew up with that vocabulary. Anyway, I started reading the English commentary and tried to translate it into Telugu in my mind.

प्रमाणविर्ययविकल्पनिद्रास्म्रुतय:

pramāṇa – correct perception; viparyaya – incorrect perception; vikalpa – imagination; nidrā – sleep; smṛtayaḥ – memory.

They are correct perception, incorrect perception, imagination, sleep and memory.

By the time I figured out the Telugu version of this one line, I finished two glasses of water. It didn’t go well to say the least. I checked on the Internet if I could find a Telugu version but no luck. Most of them are in English. The ones I found or rather thought I was getting a Telugu version, are hopelessly messed up. On one site, the fonts are not recognized by my browser. I am also a bit uncomfortable with commentaries by western scholars. Not that I have something against them, but instinctually I prefer commentary by an Indian. I was flabbergasted by my discovery. Don’t Telugu people read these ancient texts in Telugu anymore?

“Glad I didn’t say anything. Enough of that heavy stuff, I can’t take it,” Head started whining again.

I couldn’t control myself anymore. “You are wimp. You can’t stay on any one topic, not even for 15 minutes, no concentration, no interest, nothing. I am beginning to wonder about your integrity too. Oh, God, help me, I don’t want this head,” I yearned in exasperation.

“Uhh, same here. I am not crazy about you either. I’m leaving,” Head said, snapped off my shoulders, and scurried away.

Ahh, what a relief, feeling 14 pounds lighter! In case you’re wondering, my daughter told me average head weighs 14 pounds and I know I am average, my head is average.

***

Chief Editor of a prominent newspaper phoned his senior reporter.

The senior reporter was napping after a sumptuous South Indian style meal his wife served him. She woke him and told him about the phone call. It is a work day, and it is lunch time. He has right to be home! Trying to hide his drowsy voice, he coughed as if something stuck in his throat, and said, “Hello, Sir,” with his eyes half closed, posing a yoga posture.

Chief Editor said, “Somebody noticed a head near Peerlagutta on the outskirts of our town. Go, find out about it, write a report and send it to me ASAP. Get a good photograph of the head also.”

“Yes sir,” the senior reporter said, dropped the handset on the floor and dozed off. After an hour or so, he woke, walked to his desk, crafted a story in five minutes. He called the staff photographer and told him to go to Peerlagutta and take a picture of the “latest local wonder”, the head. Photographer said “Yessaar,” dutifully, pulled out an old photograph of a dead person he had taken several decades ago, separated the head, worked on it a bit using his latest technical skills and emailed it to the senior reporter.

Three other local papers also borrowed the news and the photograph from the senior reporter and published on the front page. The headline on the front page read, “Incredible! On the outskirts of Acchayyapalem village, a speaking, moving head appears!” The news spread quickly past the bounds of the village, the city, the state and the country to the entire world.

The entire world has come to know that, “in India, a living, speaking Head, knowledgeable in Hinduism, has incarnated. Several pundits dusted their chronicles and concluded that it is the Head of a highly revered Siddha, who had performed austere penance at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains some 300 years ago.”

The news caught on like the landing on moon or birth of the royal heir to British throne. This being the age of globalization, major countries vied with each other for the possession of that unique head.

The British Prime Minister sent a memo to the Indian Prime Minister stating, “The Oriental Library in Britain is the oldest and most famous library. Our library is the most appropriate place for that living, breathing head. Deliver it to us post-haste.”

The German Chancellor sent a letter to the Prime Minister of India, stating, “We have a history with India.  But for the German scholars, who had identified numerous important Sanskrit works, translated them into English and brought to light, nobody would have heard about the greatness of Inda. Not even your own scholars had no idea until we had brought them to light. Therefore, it is only natural that the Head should stay with us. Send it to us immediately.”

“America is the number one country in the world. You will never find another businessman that could put the right price on your asset. I am sending a specially equipped jet with six highly qualified physicians specialized in this kind organs, will arrive in Andhra Pradesh within twenty-four hours. You make arrangements to deliver the Head to them without much ado. You have our assurance that we will take the best care of that head, take every precautionary measure to protect it from bacteria, and preserve it for posterity,” telegraphed a multi-billionaire to Andhra Pradesh government. He also made it clear that his request was not to be taken lightly, well not in so many words, but you will know if you see his language.

***

In America, the election mania has taken over like a massive tornado. Each party has been scrambling for the best candidate to become the next president. A dozen wannabe candidates have started pulling down each other’s reputation and whatever goodwill he or she may have.

“What does it matter whom we pick. All we need is a man who puts his signature where we tell him to put,” said the party president.

“That’s why I brought this head,” said the multi-billionaire, pointing to the Head in a bullet-proof, antibacterial bubble, he had brought with him.

All the committee members looked at the head and jeered, “What the hell is that?” They all hissed in unison, “Are you out of your mind?”

“No, you don’t understand. Test it? Ask anything you consider important.”

“Okay, Mr. Head, what is your opinion on the economic policies of America?”

“Whatever you decide, I guess.”

“Do you consider current American policy towards Israel beneficial to our party?”

“I go along with your suggestion.”

“We object to moving American jobs to India. What do you say?”

“I agree.”

“Do you think we should embrace the yoga practice of Indians?”

“I wouldn’t call it Indian yoga. We can develop our own system and call it yoga.”

“Do you agree we have adopted the best policy in matters of women’s health? Women must consult and obtain our permission for any medical care she will be needing, no exceptions.”

“Brilliant.”

“Women’s earnings should never exceed 50% of men’s.”

“Of course. You see they are wo-men, a wo-man needs one more syllable wo to make her a complete person. It is only appropriate she gets only one half of what a man makes.”

The committee members looked at each other and nodded. This You seem to be the perfect Head to be president. They have understood that they can put whatever they want in that head, it serves their purpose perfectly.

“Now, just one more question.”

“What?”

“This is just a head. Where is the hand to sign.”

“Oh, that’s not a problem. This head is from India, you see. This is computer era and, this is from Andhra Pradesh, the home of programmers!. It will write its own program and create its own signature.”

Done!

***

I stare at the empty space in front of my window, my heart is wailing quietly. I am worried, wondering how my Head is managing on foreign soil, poor thing! Had I inculcated some plausible values in that head of mine while I was young, maybe, it would not have gotten into this kind of situation. What a misery!

(End)

(July 28, 2013)

 

Bucchibabu (review) by Nidadavolu Malathi

Bucchibabu (Sivaraju Venkata Subba Rao) is one of the famous writers from the forties through sixties, in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Bucchibabu was born in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh, received his master’s degree in English literature, and worked as lecturer in English in Anantapur and Vizag. Later he joined the All India Radio, Madras. He was married to writer Sivaraju Subbalakshmi at the age of 19.

Bucchibabu is one of the top-ranking fiction writers, playwright and essayist  in the history of Telugu literature. He is especially known for his style, which is two-fold–psychoanalytical approach and his poetic expression. He is the first author to introduce the psychoanalytical technique in Telugu fiction.

In his preface to his most famous novel, chivaraku migiledi [What is left at the End], author says that although he started to write it in 1943, its publication began only in 1946. It was published in Navodaya monthly in installments’ for a period of 16 months. The novel has received praise from prominent writers like Achanta Saradadevi and Pilaka Ganapathi Sastry. In 1952, a publishing company Desi kavita mandali published it in book form. Later in 1970, EMESCO published it in two volumes.

In recent times, the composition and habits of readership and the methodology of critics have changed considerably. In the light of these changes, I would like to attempt to revisit this famous novel. Also, since I have introduced a few eminent writers on this site, and Bucchibabu belongs in that category, it is only appropriate I discuss his  most famous novel, chivaraku migiledi.

Like several other writers of his time, Bucchibabu became acquainted with the romantic genre of the nineteenth century Britain, and we notice that romantic element prominently featured in his narratives.

The novel chivaraku migiledi [What is left at the End] has received a permanent place in history of Telugu fiction as the first psychoanalytical novel. The author has stated some of his motivation to write this novel as follows:

1. Every writer gets complete satisfaction only after sharing his inner feelings with the public; only then, it [the work] ascertains its value and attains the status of social conscious work.

2. In writing this novel, he hopes that it helps the reader to obtain a perspective on life.

3. The protagonist’s mother’s tarnished character followed him as a shadow through out his life and polluted it. In confronting his mother’s violation, he gains some values and this novel reflects some affinity with those values.

4. He also wonders whether readers could find if they could experience the writer’s ability to depict his passion for knowledge with complete honesty.

5. Bertrand Russell’s article, A Freeman’s Worship, has transformed him [Bucchibabu] and his perception of life completely. The readers however must beware that he was not mindful of either Russell or the article in question at the time of writing this novel.

The EMESCO publishers stated in their introduction to the novel that this novel illustrates in detail how children would lose the opportunity to grow and be ruined by the sins committed by their parents.

I have read this novel in my younger days but I do not remember what kind of impression I had formed at the time. Now, after reading it for a second time, it would appear to me that the technique of psychoanalysis and the poetic quality in the descriptions are the elements that brought enormous fame to this work. And, the author’s postulation on life, as the author himself pointed out in his preface also is worth considering.

Basically, the story revolves round the protagonist’s psychoanalysis of other characters in the story. Dayanidhi, the protagonist, suffers as a result of his mother’s moral transgression, which we know only as rumors but not the real event itself.

In his college days, Dayanidhi meets several women in his village and reflects about their personalities. He suffers because he has heard rumors about his mother’s character. After he has obtained his degree in medicine, he moves to another part of the state, Anantapur, to practice medicine. He strikes rich in Anantapur not because of his professional excellence but by stumbling on diamonds. However, he is not happy in Anantapur either. He feels regional prejudices and local politics put him at a disadvantage. At the end, he concludes that he has been left with nothing but memories in life.

Into this brief story, other characters and events are woven. To me, Dayanidhi comes out as a self-ordained philosopher and the novel a record of his reflections. He keeps psychoanalyzing each person he had come across in his life from the start to finish. The characters came under his scrutiny are his mother, and young women Komali, Amrutham, Suseela, Indira, Nagamani, and Katyayini.

Dayanidhi admires his mother greatly. He even has her statue made and installed in his town. At the same time however he also blames her for all his problems in life. We do not know and not even Dayanidhi knows the details of her transgression, whether anything has happened at all. All that we know is only the rumors as stated by Dayanidhi. The author has stated in his preface that the events that led to her immoral behavior were considered irrelevant and left out. Readers may accept this explanation yet may question why Dayanidhi, a rationalist and thinker, makes no effort, shows not even an interest in digging deeper and finding the truth. There is no desire on his part to understand her perspective, and no attempt to improve his life by using the new knowledge he could have acquired by such probing. It is hard to believe that a seeker of truth would jump to conclusion regarding his mother’s behavior based on the rumors he had heard. Dayanidhi seems to be anxious only to justify his own behavior: He lied because another woman made him do so, his life turned into hell because his mother behaved badly, and so on. Through out the novel, we see only his belief that he is not responsible for his life; it is always somebody else’s fault.

Dayanidhi’s relationship with other young women is also a bit confusing. He gets close to Amrutham, because she resembles his mother in some ways. She invites him to visit her; he goes to meet her. They will have sex, which confirms his perception of the resemblance between his mother and Amrutham. Actually, Amrutham came to him on her own. Both of them surrendered to a momentary excitement and had their wish fulfilled. It is not Amrutham’s fault exclusively. Nevertheless, in Dayanidhi’s mind, Amrutham crossed the line and committed the same sin his mother had committed. She became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. The strange part is, it does not occur to him that his daughter will have to undergo the same fate as he has been living and for the same reason, a mother’s sin. Additionally, he goes crazy wondering whether the baby girl is his or not. He goes back to Amrutham’s house but does not have the courage to ask her. At this point, I would question his integrity.

Komali is another woman that has fascinated him. In his opinion, Komali is not a woman but a part of nature like the green grass and the sky. She invites him to meet her at the village well, tells him that she would light a lamp to notify her presence. Dayanidhi goes to the well but returns home without even laying a finger on her. In his mind, Komali is like a flower; the petals might drop on touch; he cannot taint her piety. He puts some money under the pillow and walks away. The truth is, he only wants her but does not love her. The desire is physical as opposed love which is anchored in the heart. In desire, there is selfishness; in love, there is sacrifice. Komali loves him but he only desires her–these are some of the thoughts he entertains, the outcome of his psychoanalysis.

After finishing novel, I found it hard to believe that Komali is naive. Her approach appears to be more pragmatic than emotional. She has shown more worldly wisdom in assessing her situation and following the path that works best for her.

In his psychoanalysis, Dayanidhi often includes the women’s physical attributes, which make one wonder whether his passion for knowledge and understanding of them is only about their character. If author’s aim is to inform the readers only Dayanidhi’s character through his physical descriptions of women and his opinions but not about the intrinsic values the characters cherish, I must admit the author has succeeded.

Suseela is his uncle’s daughter, a cross-cousin thus eligible bride, considering how the relationships in Andhra Pradesh play out. Her father however refuses to give his daughter in marriage to Dayanidhi because of the rumors about his mother. Dayanidhi’s father arranges his marriage with Indira. Indira’s father performs the wedding yet refuses to send her to live with Dayanidhi. When Dayanidhi visits her, she begs him to take her with him but he remains passive. Once again, reader does not see him as an educated, intelligent individual who needs to act in order to make a life both for his wife and himself.

He strongly believes and revels in the thought that all the women around him are aching for his company  and struggling to catch him endlessly but never attempts to put his beliefs to test and verify if there is a truth in his beliefs. According to his assessment, Komali is a part of nature, Suseela is a part of urban life, Amrutham is a down-to-earth person, kitchen cow, just like his mother; they all are hunting him and robbing him of his peace of mind. Actually it is in the nature itself–women hunt men and enjoy in the process.

Suseela and Amrutham get married eventually and start their lives with their husbands. Komali  realizes that she cannot find happiness with Dayanidhi, goes away with a zamindar, who ill-treats her. She leaves him and returns to Dayanidhi. Dayanidhi believes that she has come back to him because of her selfless devotion to him. To me, it seems like, she has understood that Dayanidhi is incapable of violence, and for that reason, she is safe with him. Whether she is naive or pretending to be naive in order to make her life comfortable for herself is a moot point. It is a bit surprising that Dayanidhi has not noticed that angle.

After he has completed his education, he moves to Rayalaseema to start practice as doctor. There also he finds no peace, because of the rumors about his mother and the new rumors that he has some bad habits. The fact that he has not brought his wife with him haunts him. In Anantapur, he strikes rich not through his professional excellence but because of a diamond he found rather accidentally.

Bucchibabu is known for his romantic style. That comes out strongly in Dayanidhi’s reflections on the women he had come across in his life.

His description of  Komali is as follows:

Komali is the kind of person who should be bumping around amidst blades of grass, befriending the earth and the sky, tending them and fondling them. That is the place for her truly. Green grass is her natal home, the sky her in-law’s. The yew trees sit her and shower her with the water they have sucked in the rainy season. The wind sticks a shameless silly flower in her hair forcibly. Blades of grass, which tie up the red flowers together, glimmer in the sun because of the wind in harmony like a green silk sari, which is laid in the sun to dry; it dries up and wraps around Komali. She is the godliness which knows no confusing, desirous sadism and which has no hunger or thirst; she is the  experience that knows no boundaries.”

In his description of Amrutham again, we the unusual metaphors he is so famous for:

Amrutham is a person that must be living amidst stone relics. In some place like Hampi – where all stones, broken sculptures, lonely stone pillars, like princess whose heart has turned to stone for love, and the relics lay around as if they might move if a sigh or footsteps are heard; Amrutham sits amidst the relics and smiles sadly. When one cries and cries and reminisces the glory of the past experiences, her tears slide down the breast drop by drop and turn into today’ river and flow. Her sorrow turns into a river and drown the body – that’s wrong! She should not cry – she laughs with sadness. On that day, her beauty completes its journey and turns her into stone. Amrutham, like tears spilled in one’s sleep, turns into water, when one moves any one of those relics with a sigh.

The descriptions highlight Bucchibabu’s use of metaphors, which at times are confusing. He himself suggested that readers should not be mindful of religion and blind faith while reading this novel. However life is a conglomeration of pleasure and pain, good and bad, hardships, tears, and other mundane issues. If we read this novel from that perspective, Komali, Suseela and Amrutham are the only characters that are closer to the people we come across in real life situations. They seem to understand life in all its complexity, reorganize their lives to the extent possible given their situations and live the best they know how.

The entire novel is a record of Dayanidhi’s psychoanalysis. Since it continued as a philosophical catechism, it appears more like a compilation of quotes from earlier philosophers or a list of adages. There is little action on the part of the protagonist and more cogitation and postulation. Author mentions in his foreword that it is a weakness or a characteristic present in every human being.

Life is a journey from birth to death. This novel ends with Dayanidhi’s conclusion that life has no meaning, and that nothing is left at the end but memories. I am not sure what kind of memories he is referring to.

One of the virtues of this novel is Bucchibabu’s style as mentioned earlier. Her we see shades of the romantic poetry which gained prominence in the forties decade in Andhra Pradesh. At times, even the story seem to leave the ground and frolic in the air, as the saying goes.

An important angle in this novel is the immoral behavior of his mother, or, rather the rumors of her immoral behavior, and his strong conviction that his life had been ruined because of those rumors. Secondly, his belief that mutual hatred between different societies, Sarcar district and Rayalaseema area to be specific, do influence the individuals in question. Bucchibabu says that society and the antagonistic powers are the reasons for a person for not being able to receive love. As an extension of these opinions, we also find a suggestion that love in supra-mundane and loftier than everything else.

I would like to mention briefly another novel by another prominent writer Lata. Two decades after Bucchibabu’s novel has been published, Lata published her novel migilindemiti [What is left].

Bucchibabu wrote a letter to Lata commenting on her novel. Some of the opinions he expressed in his letter are worth noting. He said:

1. I finished reading the book, skipping some parts. I had felt excitement, surprise and some sensuous [sic] feeling.

2. In the novel the parts that I find objectionable are: Vidya, a prostitute, comments that her mother is purer than a respectable family woman. I think this statement is unnecessary. Her [mother’s] chastity is irrelevant to the story; Vidya was born to that kind of mother yet cherished a plausible moral perspective. In that sense, chastity strikes a “falsetto note”.

He continues, “If somebody else had narrated the impropriety Vidya had perpetrated with Raja in the hospital, it would have been less sharp and more polite. I am also one of those who believe that a bit of impropriety and offensiveness in life and literature are necessary. However, it is going to take very long time before our society gets to that level.” (Anjaneya Sarma. sahitilata. p. 86.). In fact, the incident between Raja and Vidya (having inappropriate sex) is no different from what Dayanidhi and Amrutham had done. In both the instances, they got carried away and engaged in inappropriate sex without thinking. In both instances, the issue is same, that of having inappropriate sex. Both the writers used the same language. That being the case, why did Bucchibabu make a point of commenting on it?

Possibly Bucchibabu changed his opinion since there is a twenty-year lapse between the publication dates of the two novels. Or, he (Bucchibabu) considered the character of  Dayanidhi is significantly different from that of Vidya. I think this is one of the instances where the argument that critics are biased towards male writers gains support.

Bucchibabu has discussed about love in Lata’s novel at length also but I could not follow his argument. Therefore, I will stay away from that subject. There is one point however that is a bit strange to me. He suggested that if the novel was written in second person in stead of first person, it would have received a kind of dignity and harmony. I am not sure if it is possible to write a novel in second person,

Chivaraku migiledi is narrated in third person. However since it is a narrative of the protagonist’s psychology, it reads like a first person narration. I agree that there are advantages in writing a narrative in the first person. However, when we study the two novels in juxtaposition, I see no justification for this kind of grammar applications.

In short, there is no correlation between what Bucchibabu has achieved as a writer and the opinions he has expressed as a erudite reader.

Bucchibabu says the purpose of literature is to provoke reader into thinking. After I finished reading the novel, chivaraku migiledi, I had to think hard about the message in the novel.

In the past, Telugu literature created characters that are supposed to be models for the people to follow. In modern times, the protagonists are created based on common man, based on democratic principles. I have no problem with that. However, I am not sure I would suggest that is the model for general populace. I could be wrong but the first thoughts that came to my mind are: Is he saying that the mode of thinking in men is this narrow? Among men, there may be some who think like Dayanidhi? If one sits around and continues to analyze life in this fashion, can a person accomplish anything in life? Or, that is what he wants us to understand, that we need action-oriented individuals.

Among his essays, there is one essay, nannu marchina pustakam [the book that has changed me] has received tremendous success. In the essay, he explains how Bertrand Russell’s article, A freeman’s worship changed his perspective on life. He has read this article while he was in college and was grappling with fundamental issues like what is the meaning of life and what is the relationship man and god. In his essay, he explains how he has moved away from the preconceived religious notions such as “I am sinner, I sinned and therefore I will go to hell,” and learned to appreciate the beauty of life. Despite his claim that this novel has nothing to do with Russell’s article, some of the words spoken by Dayanidhi seem to be very close to Russell’s philosophy. This only shows the extent of the influence of Russell’s writings on Bucchibabu.

Although my critique is somewhat harsh, that by no means undercuts Bucchibabu’s place in Telugu literature. This is just an attempt to present one more perspective, a different approach and raise a few more questions, partly because I am not knowledgeable in the area of psychoanalytical novels.

This novel has been made into a movie by the same name in 1960.

He has written several famous short stories, novels, radio plays and critical essays. His paintings also are well received. Among his other works that received critical acclaim are nirantara trayam (Endless triad), atma vanchana (Self-delusion, a play), nannu gurinchi katha rayavuu?(Won’t you write a story about me?). He has won Sahitya akademi award for his critical study on Shakespeare.

At stated at the outset, this novel has a permanent place in the history of Telugu fiction as an experimental work. In my opinion, the purpose of an experiment is only to find the result. After that, we do not repeat the same experiment. This novel as an experiment got my attention. On the other hand, if a novel fascinates me, I will read again. I do  not think I will read this again. Having said that, I must admit there are plenty of Telugu readers who swear by this book Several readers have said that they had read several times and still are reading.

(End)

(The article was originally published on thulika.net, July 2012)

Sources:

Anjaneya Sarma, Ghatti. Sahitilata., Vijayawada: Sri Vani prachuranalayam, 1962.

Bucchibabu. Chivaraku migiledi. Hyderabad: EMESCO Books, v.2. 1972.

—            Nannu marchina pustakam. 1953. reprint.

Lata: Antaranga chitram. Vijayawada: Vamsi prachuranalu. 1963.

—   Migilindemiti. Vijayawada: Jayanti publications, 1971.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sivaraju_Venkata_Subbarao

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Two Pawns Lost by Poosapati Krishnamraju

It was past four in the afternoon, yet the late-April Sun was quite hot. Grandfather and Sitapati were at the chess table on the main verandah. The game was extremely tight. All of us gathered around too, each calling out some clever move or other. Just then, Subhadram and Sankaram arrived on bicycles.

Mr. Narasaraju addressed the young men, “Why travel in this hot sun?”

All of us momentarily forgot the game and turned our attention to the new arrivals.
Grandfather inquired Subhadram in particular, “What news, young man?”

However, I was sure, Grandfather knew very well why these two had come now.

“Looks like they came to announce the marriage,” Mr. Ramabhadraraju commented drily.

Subhadram must have seen no point in keeping mum, so he launched into a recitation – “My elder uncle’s daughter, Lakshmidevi, is betrothed to be married to Mr. Varahalaraju M.A., son of the Great Lord (1) Kalidindi Niladriraju. The wedding will take place at my uncle’s home in the morning the next Saturday, the auspicious time being fixed at 6:32 AM by the knowledgeable elders. Therefore, my uncle humbly requests all of you to grace the occasion, and prays that you arrive by Friday” – he finished almost gasping for breath.

“Why this formality? We will certainly be there,” Grandfather assured Subhadram on behalf of everyone present.

“How many goats did your uncle keep ready for the wedding feast?” the epicurean Mr. Bangarraju wanted to know.

This time, Sankaram replied at once, “Sir, with your kind blessings – there won’t be any deficiency on that front!” We all burst out laughing.

I got both of them seated in the shade and served them some snack and cool water. They took the refreshment. After repeating their invitation individually to each and everyone, Sankaram and Subhdram left on their bicycles.

Pointing to the retreating form of Sankaram, Mr. Narasaraju said, “This boy Sankaram is the bride’s paternal aunt’s son, isn’t he? Right from their childhood, everyone thought that Chandram (Bride’s father) would get his daughter married to Sankaram, didn’t they? I wonder why now her grandfather picked this match from far away!”(2)

“Sankaram appears quite a fine young man to me. Can’t imagine why they (the bride’s family) didn’t prefer him?” Mr. Sitapati commented, even as he pointed his rook at Grandfather’s knight on the chessboard.

“Soooo, what does this brand new bridegroom actually do?” Grandfather casually inquired no one in particular, as he pushed the bishop forward to support his knight.

Mr. Varahalaraju provided the answer in his peculiar style, “Ah, what is there to do? Apparently he’d completed M.A. So, he must be doing something or the other in Madras. What I heard is that the family is extremely rich. So, Chandram must have picked this match with the hope that his daughter would be very comfortable.”

But nobody seemed to have heard what he said. All of us were drawn back into the game by Grandfather’s bold move – the consensus was that Mr. Sitapati is now on the defensive. As we scratched our heads for a way out on Mr. Sitapati’s behalf, Grandfather rolled and lit a cigar leisurely. Blowing out a cloud of smoke, Grandfather said, “I suppose all the groom’s side would be there in full force. I feel that I should attend this wedding without fail.” Now addressing a young man, he said, “What Pedababu, is your cart ready for travel? Are you done painting it?”

Pedababu answered in the affirmative, “Yes, Grandpa! I was just going to distribute soaked beans this very afternoon to celebrate the occasion (3). Certainly we shall go to the wedding.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Sitapati came up with a move and we all got back to the game again.

On Friday, once the afternoon sun had cooled down a bit, we prepared the ox drawn carts and set out on our wedding trip. The bride’s place is about two kros (4) from our village. Grandfather and I sat in the lead vehicle, Pedababu’s newly painted cart, with the chess set and board. Pedababu climbed into the hammock-like seat in front and took hold of the reins. With a throaty shout, he set the oxen in motion. As the servant ran in front, the carts followed one after another.

It didn’t take us long to get there. The carts were halted right in front of the main gate and we all got down. It looked like the wedding arrangements were being done in grand style.

The vast yard in front of the main gate was covered by a massive palm-leaf tent. The tent was decorated all over with fresh mango leaf strings, colored chains and paper globes. As the decorations fluttered in the gentle breeze, the whole scene looked pretty impressive.

The bride’s father and uncle came out in a hurry and invited us in respectfully. Pedababu instructed the servants to unload the sleeping bags and other luggage into the guest house reserved for relatives of the family.

“So, where did you arrange for the groom’s party to stay?” inquired Grandfather.
“Sir, we arranged it in Hastabal hall. Had it all cleaned up and covered the floor with cotton rugs and grass mats, sir.” The answer came from bride’s uncle Appalanarasimha Raju.
“Why in Hastabal? Either Motimahal or Lakshmivilas would have been more suitable!” Grandfather observed.
“Everyone felt, in this season, Hastabal is better … lot of fresh breeze and all … so, I said okay to that, sir,” humbly replied the bride’s father, Mr. Chandram.
“Can’t imagine anything better!” was the quip from Grandfather with a twirl of his mustache. All of us were a bit surprised at the sarcasm in Grandfather’s tone. Silence held sway for a couple of minutes. Suddenly, everyone remembered their specific duties, and dispersed quickly on various errands.

Grandfather sat down with the bride’s grandfather, Mr. Pedaraju in the front yard and both of them were quickly immersed in a game of chess.
Apparently the train arrived on time that afternoon, so the groom’s party arrived at the venue in the carts sent to receive them at the train station. It looked like the party was not as big as expected, so several carts returned empty. While the groom’s party unpacked, showered, dressed, and also prepared the bridegroom in all his wedding finery, a good time elapsed and the clock struck six in the evening. In the meanwhile, the bride’s people had to run here and there and perform all kinds of services for them.

They brought the groom to the venue (5) in a pearl-studded palanquin to the accompaniment of loud fanfare. Once the groom was properly seated, the men-folk from bride’s family entered the venue. All the men-folk from groom’s family stood up and respectfully invited them to take a seat. The bride’s family returned the polite gesture, as they are the actual hosts. So, in this fashion, they carried on for a bit, exhorting the other party to be seated first, in a grand display of honor and respect. Finally, all the assembled gentlemen, resplendent in their colorful headgear, regal in their bearing with holy marks on their foreheads, patting their luxuriant mustaches, slowly settled down along the edges of the beautiful carpet spread in the center of the hall, careful not to crumple their crispy ironed clothes, and careful not to intrude on their neighbor’s space.

Mr. Bangarraju now brought out his cherished upper cloth which he had wrapped very carefully for the journey, straightened it out and draped it proudly on his shoulder.

The priests started to recite the details of the nuptials. They described both families and their ancestors in glorious detail. They praised their valor and generosity at great length. They recited sacred Vedic chants. All the villagers, young and old, packed tightly around the venue to see the groom and his family, and expressed their appreciation. The groom reclined easily against the pillows while admiring himself in the mirror – his long shirt and headgear sparkling in the brilliance of the petromax lamps (6), he was resplendent in his princely attire. Many sweets and special foods made from pure ghee were piled in many silver plates and brass plates all around him, filling the air with their mouthwatering fragrance. Two young men, dressed as best men in matching suits and parrot-green headgear, sat on either side of the groom.

“Food is ready. Please come to dinner,” the invitation arrived from the bride’s home. As soon as the word came, we all set out to the dining hall, surrounded by the petromax lamps. All the items were quite tasty, but apparently, Grandfather did not like this vegetarian food.
“The wafer rolls are very nice,” Mr. Padamati Raju commented with appreciation. Once the dinner was done, we all took the betel-nut-leaf (7) and proceeded to our rest house.

“Somehow, the groom’s side seems a bit lacking in strength,” Grandfather observed flatly. I could not detect any hidden barb in his words.
“Their place is quite far. So, I guess only the most essential people came,” I said.
“What nonsense? We made long distance matches in our days too, didn’t we? For Chinababu’s wedding, we went to Koppaka which is all they North on the district border. We traveled on thirty cars and twenty buses. What service those people provided and what respect they showed! Those were the days!” Grandpa reminisced even as he yawned.
“Need to wake up early in the morning, Grandpa! We need to proceed to the wedding venue on time.” I alerted him and then went away so as not to disturb his sleep. There was a game of cards going on in the hall with Subhadram, Sankaram, et al., so I too joined the game. I laid heavy bets in the first three rounds and lost.
“Why do you play beyond your means? Stupid move!” Sankaram made insulting remarks about my game. So, I was offended and left the game.

As planned, Grandfather woke up at four AM and woke me up too. Though drowsy, I got up and finished the morning ablutions. In the open courtyard, the butchered sheep were being skinned. Bangarraju and Virabhadra Raju sat on the side with sharp knives to carve the meat. I chuckled to myself at Bangarraju’s eagerness about food, and proceeded to the bath house. I got dressed, gathered up the chess board and accompanied Grandfather to the wedding venue. The venue was already packed with all the relatives. The priests were rhythmically reciting appropriate benedictions. The band was blaring music without stop.

The bride’s grandfather, sitting there puffing on his hookah, invited Grandfather and his chessboard. Both of them were renowned players. They promptly started a game; I sat nearby keenly observing their moves. Soon Sankaram came and called me, and I went with him. Subhadram, Sankaram and I carried silver plates piled high with fragrant betel-leaf rolls and camphor sticks and distributed them to all the assembled guests. The traditional honors like sandal paste and paan leaves were offered to all the guests as usual.

The aviredu pots (8) were set in the south room which was closest to the wedding site. So, the room was packed to the brim with womenfolk and their kids. Hiding behind the door, the women were trying to catch a glimpse of the proceedings on the wedding stage. Impossible to step out of the room – the courtyard was filled with lords! (9)

The groom sat at the altar and performed the fire sacrifice. They held up a curtain around the bride. (It’s improper and considered indecent for the princely bride to be seen by the men). The family barber added his might to the proceedings, waving a huge fan. The auspicious moment drew near. Mr. Suraparaju, the maternal uncle of the groom, twirling his mustache and tossing his headgear with flair, approached the dais and started to whisper into the groom’s ear. The groom whispered back.

Sankaram’s father called Subhadram over. “What’s it, young man? That gentleman with burly mustache seems ready to bite off the groom’s ear!” he inquired jovially.
“What’s the big secret? They must be planning how to escape with the Gouridevi (10),” pat came the reply from Pedababu.
“Oh no, no chance of that happening! I ordered my brother to keep a close watch on the grindstone (10),” Sankaram said with a straight face.
Sankaram’s father chimed in too, saying, “True, true. Ask them to guard that yoke, that coconut and that pounding stick also. Not even a blade of grass is to be allowed to depart with the groom, so be careful!”(10)
By then, Mr. Suraparaju detached himself from the groom’s ear and roared, “Stop it, priests! No more chanting!” The music band stopped as well.
“This marriage can not proceed. Do you take this Suraparaju for an idiot?” he started jumping up and down. Everything froze. Everyone was puzzled. Nobody understood what was going on. They all looked at each other with blank expressions.
The bridegroom, though he wore the oath bracelet (11), got up from the altar.
“What is the point of any pomp and show without cash? Traditions, they say! What nonsense! We too have loads of it. TRADITION! Bullshit. All our ancestors have been lords! This is not going to work. As per the prior agreement, the fifteen thousand (rupees) must be paid. IN CASH! If you can’t pay, let us know – we will go away,” he proclaimed to no one in particular.
Grandfather, who had been immersed in his game so far, looked up in surprise at the commotion.
“What thousands is he talking about? Dowry, perhaps? Did this kind of thing ever happen during a marriage in our time? A bridegroom opening his mouth while sitting at the sacred altar? There doesn’t seem to be any limit to this atrocity. Moreover, he blabbers about tradition. They say he’s well educated. What’s the point? So shameful!” he exclaimed.
Bride’s father Mr. Chandram approached Mr. Suraparaju with his hands folded in supplication, “Sir, please forgive me. The sum could not be gathered in time. I will definitely pay, without fail. Please, let the ceremony proceed.” He pleaded.
“It is said that it’s better to object right up front. Later payments will not work. If you can’t pay, you shouldn’t have arranged the match at all. Only if payment is made, the ceremony will proceed,” so saying the groom got down from the wedding platform altogether.
Behind the curtain, the bent bride’s head seemed to sink further down into the earth. A tear glistened in the corner of the mother’s eye.
“Is this fellow born into a lord’s family at all?” Grandfather wondered aloud.
“This idiot son of mine never mentioned that he offered to pay dowry,” exclaimed bride’s grandfather, getting up from the chess table in great agitation. There was a great commotion among all the relatives. The people who had accompanied the groom’s party stayed quiet.

 

The bride’s father was sweating profusely. What did that groom say? Now the family honor was at stake. What to do?

He went rapidly inside the residential area. He found the little savings box and wrapped up all its contents into a little bundle. He handed over the bundle to Mr. Suraparaju and said, “Sir, Please accept this five thousand for now. As soon as the remaining amount is gathered, I will ..”
“Don’t accept that, uncle. Gathering – not gathering – doesn’t matter to me. If they had the sense to inform us in time, we’d have arrived only when the amount was gathered. They must pay the full amount as per the agreement – not a single paisa less.” said the groom.

 

An old gentleman from the groom’s party tried to pacify the groom, “They are promising to pay at the earliest. Why are you being hasty?”
Mr. Suraparaju responded with great ire to the old gentlemen, “Better you shut up, sir! Enough of your interference!”
The old gentleman got offended and directly left the wedding venue and went off directly to the train station.
Subhadram was upset that his sister’s wedding was fast turning into a fiasco. However, all the elders were right there – what to do?
In the inner rooms, the womenfolk were perplexed and disgusted.
As the bride’s father was struggling like a mouse caught in a trap, he sighted his younger brother. He asked him hopefully, “Do you think it is possible .. to get the money somewhere?”
His brother was extremely angry. His eyes were burning like live coals. “Enough of this,” he told his brother. He caught the eye of his  brother-in-law and made a subtle sign to him. Turning to his brother Mr. Chandram, he said, “Oh yes, It is certainly possible, why not? You just stay here!” Saying this, he approached the bridegroom.
His brother-in-law roared, “Oh band fellows, start playing the wedding music. Oh priest, you proceed with your chants. We shall see how this marriage is going to be prevented.”
Bride’s uncle spoke to the bride groom, “Sir, better come and sit at the wedding alter. Otherwise, it’s not going to be pleasant.”
The groom was not to be shaken so easily. “What if I don’t? What are you going to do? This coercion will not work!” he retorted.
The uncle called out to his son Subhadram, “Close all the doors! The groom wants to see what we can do! Let’s show him!”
The four main doors to the venue were immediately closed shut. The groom’s party was stunned. They were all shaken by this turn of events. They came only as a small party, not in full force. Didn’t come equipped with arms either. Now, the local force was too strong for them.

The lords came from afar. Now, though quivering with anger and indignation, they sat quietly in their places. They couldn’t even move. On the one side, the groom did not look like he would listen to any one. Nobody really seemed to have a clue what to do.
The priests continued with their loud recitations.
Both the uncles of the bride pushed Mr. Suraparaju aside and caught hold of the bridegroom on either side. They bodily lifted him high and deposited him on the altar with considerable force. The whole altar shook. All the kids that had gathered around scattered away. The priests’ chants grew louder. The sacred fire in the ritual fire pit shot up high. Anger and valor played in equal parts on the faces of the lords.
The musical instruments played many tunes. All the invited guests were staring in awe at the spectacle.
Grandfather thought, “What fiasco!”
Suddenly, there was a tremendous furor in the aviredu room. Four of us ran in there in haste. Subhadram was trying to come out of the room holding a shot gun. The women folk were trying to block him. He held the gun high in one hand so that the women couldn’t reach it. He was very agitated. I was afraid he might do something hasty. So, I accosted him and grabbed the gun away after a little struggle and locked it up safely in the armory. All the women heaved a sigh of relief and offered mute thanks to God.
The vedic chants sounded authoritatively from the wedding altar. I came back to my place and sat down. Then, there was a new commotion at the altar. This time, the curtain around the bride was jerked away with one tug.

The band and the chants stopped. The bride stood up. She grabbed the silk cloth curtain, rolled it into a ball and threw it in the face of the groom. The shy bride, who sat patiently all this time under the weight of all that heavy gold jewelry, now stood proudly and surveyed the whole assembly of lords without any fear. Once she was done, she vanished in the blink of an eye. She materialized in the aviredu room, and collapsed amongst the women folk. Her mother too followed in her wake.

Grandfather could not follow what was going on. Among all the assembled lords – the family’s honor and pride were now in shambles!
“What a vulgar show? Stupid nonsense! Is this even a marriage?” Grandfather murmured.

The groom’s party was shocked and stunned.

Fine minutes passed – no one spoke – nothing came up.

The chief priest cautioned then, “Sir, any further delay and the auspicious time will pass.”

It was the  maid Chittemma who came out and made the pronouncement – “Let it pass, holy sir. My lord (bride’s father) can not speak now. The bride is not willing to marry this groom – so, the lady wanted me to inform you all. Holy sir, please get her married to Mr. Sankaram in this auspicious time.” She spoke quite confidently too.
“Oh, what is this! This move is too good. Very interesting!!” Grandfather observed, with a keen eye on his chess board.

Pedababu got all the doors and gates opened. The groom’s party vacated the premises in haste. No one knew how the groom had left the village, but apparently, no one in the groom’s party could get a cart either for love or for money.

Sankaram, as the groom, did not arrive amidst pomp. There was no fancy lodging made ready for him, nor was he adorned with a glittering coat and headgear.
He wore a simple hand-woven panche. He went inside and escorted the bride himself to the wedding altar. No curtain was raised around the bride to hide her. The priests chanted the mantras suitable to the occasion. Everyone blessed the couple.
All the goats cooked by Bangarraju for the wedding feast vanished without a trace.
We returned home by evening.
Grandpa kept complaining all along the way that he had lost two pawns from his chess set.

(The end.)
Translator, S. Narayanswamy’s note:

The caste of Kshatriyas was once famous as rulers and military officers. The Telugu Kshatriyas are colloquially known as raajulu, literally meaning, the kings. The author of the story hails from that community. The story was written around 1950s and recounts a wedding that happened in the author’s youth (assuming that the narrator of the story is the author himself), so we can reasonably conclude that the story takes place around 1940 or so. It takes place in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh where the Kshatriya community is strong. Even though the community in general and the families described in the story in particular had not discharged royal or military duties for many generations, they used to maintain the old feudal customs and outwardly grand appearances. The story is rich with fascinating details of customs and traditions of the community. It also paints a vivid and amusing picture of changing times (India was awakening) and unchanged old attitudes.

[End]

(The Telugu original, rendu bantlu poyeyi, has been translated by S. Narayanaswamy and published on thulika.net, July 2012.)

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Notes:

(1) Great Lord. This story revolves around families belonging to Kshatriya caste, colloquially known in Telugu as raajulu, a caste that was traditionally rulers and military. Though none of the characters in the story are rulers of anything, they still maintain the old forms of titular address as a sign of respect. The word “lords” is used throughout the story to indicate the men folk of the family, as a collective caste name. It is also indicative of the past feudal glory and the vain attempts of the present day to relive the past glory.

(2) It is culturally acceptable and even preferable in South India for a girl to marry her father’s sister’s son. Such matches are often sealed right at the children’s birth, even if the marriage is performed after they come of age.

(3) distributing sanagalu, soaked garbanzo beans, is done at any auspicious occasion, such as arrival of new furniture, etc.

(4) kros = approximately two miles.

(5) vididhi = The temporary quarters of the groom’s party arranged among the properties owned by bride’s family, or rented for that purpose.

(6) Petromax lamps – portable lanterns, lit from pressurized kerosene, that cast brilliant light and frequently used in weddings and processions until recently.

(7) Betel nut-and-leaf (also known as paan) – A traditional item offered by the host to guests at the conclusion of a meal. Chewing this combination after dinner is supposed to aid in digestion. However, the symbolism of betel nut-leaf runs very deep in Hindu culture and is a very necessary feature of honoring a guest, even today.

(8) Aviredu is a set of new earthenware pots brought from the potter straight to the bride’s home and set down in a special room for worship. Symbolizes fertility and prosperity.

(9) This custom called purdah or ghoshaa, is a carryover from feudal times. Women folk could not come in front of men, especially in an assembly. The word “lords” is used here as indicative of caste name, rather than as actual rulers.

(10) Gouridevi – A grindstone symbolizing Goddess Gouri, the presiding deity of the wedding, and several other materials used in the wedding ritual. This is a ritual game between groom’s party and the bride’s party.

(11) Oath bracelet – A special string worn on the right wrist at the beginning of any sacred deed. Once the sacred string is tied, the oath taker should not get up until the task is complete.

 

Structure [silpam] in Telugu fiction

Stories evolve in a given culture, like their lifestyle, from their own environment. Readers and critics are required to critique a story from that perspective. On one hand, it would appear like applying modern criteria in assessing a work of fiction from previous centuries is untenable. On the other hand, we will not have new insights into the literature of previous centuries if we do not apply new ways of reading a text of the past. Then the question is how to appreciate the fiction from the past centuries?

Kondaveeti Satyavati, writer and editor of bhumika, a feminist magazine, pointed out in her article on Bhandaru Acchamamba, that Acchamamba has not been given due credit by the establishment as writer and as the first writer in the history of modern fiction. She commented that the critics dismissed Acchamamba’s story as “failed to meet the criteria for short fiction.”

I thought it would be interesting to compare Acchamamba’s story to a contemporary story by a writer who is highly regarded as a writer and critic. While I was searching for such stories, I stumbled on an anthology, alasina gundelu [Tired hearts] by Rachamallu Ramachandra Reddy. In the same anthology, Ramachandra Reddy included a 43-page essay on the structure in fiction, “kathaanikaa, daani silpamuu” [Short story and its structure]. In the essay, Ramachandra Reddy quoted Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, our top-ranking Marxist writer and critic, as saying, “In these stories we read about the same events we see every day in real life and ignore, and are electrified after reading them.” Translating the entire essay is beyond the scope of this article. I will quote a few salient points relevant to my discussion from the aforesaid essay.

Ramachandra Reddy elaborated on his views on short story as follows:

I wrote these stories with a hope that they would imprint a strong sense of emotion in the readers’ hearts. … In fact, the entire literature is oriented towards hearts. There is no literature without feeling. That feeling however must not turn into a melodrama.

One popular notion is that “a story must have a point” I am not sure if there is an equivalent in Telugu for the word ‘point’. For the present, I would call it lakshyam. A story must convey a truth, a moral, a principle, or a hypothesis. …

In the previous century when the story was born, its point was either a truth or a moral. That means it is only a concept in the mind of the writer.

Then the question is, what about feeling? … The reader continues to experience the emotions of the characters while reading a story. Then the question we must ask is whether a story can be written to either invoke a feeling or convey a message exclusively?”

Ramachandra Reddy discussed the topic at length quoting a few European writers like O’Henry and Katherine Mansfield and then posed the question how it was relevant to his discussion on hand. He stated that currently the short story in Telugu had gotten entangled in the steel arms of commercial magazines, lost its original form, and been reduced to a skeleton. He further added:

Because a story will inevitably contain “feeling” in some form or other, and because nobody is writing at Katherine Mansfield’s level now, let us limit our discussion to the point in a story. … A short story must have only one point; and, characters and incidents should contribute towards that end, the point.

From that perspective, Ramachandra Reddy attempted to write a story as an experiment in structure, an indispensable characteristic to achieve the point in the story. The author observed that most people in the world live tedious, uneventful lives, and most of them are women, understandably. Therefore, he decided to depict the life of one such woman.

The story, mana jeevita kathalu [Stories of Our Lives], opens with the statement, “I could search her entire life and still find not a single incident worth writing about. How can I write a story without anything special in her life or lifestyle?” That is the problem for structure, says the author.

Mr. Ramachandra Reddy took it as a challenge since he had never come across a story without point, which makes it impossible to make the story structurally strong. The closest he could think of was “Madame Bovary” (Gustavo Flaubert) in which Emma, the main character, lived a dull life. She was not without emotions. In fact, she had a fantasy in her mind, which clashed with her surroundings outside, leading to her mental breakdown. Her husband on the other hand was willing to take life as it came and so he had no problem. There was no conflict in his life. He was a flat character.

Ramachandra Reddy decided to create a character similar to the husband in “Madame Bovary” in Peddamma, the main character in “the Stories of Our Lives.” Since there was no conceivable tension or conflict in Peddamma’s life, the author creates two more characters, a couple living next door. He bases his story on the responses of the couple to the dull life of Peddamma. Readers are expected to respond to the husband/writer/narrator’s anxiety to find a thrilling incident in the old woman’s life and the wife’s twofold anxiety. The wife attempts to squeeze out a story from Peddamma for the sake of her husband, and in the process, builds a bond with the old woman rather unwittingly. In the end, the wife sees a story in the life of Peddamma but not the husband. Is that a comment on the way men and women think and respond to a fellow human, or, a writer and a non-writer?

In his analysis of structure, we see three perceptions—that of Ramachandra Reddy the writer, Ramachandra Reddy the critic, and the narrator in the story. The author and the critic explain the why, how and the result of writing a story without plot. The narrator within the story lives it. There is however some overlap, I think, between the writer and the narrator.

The author says, “Peddamma had a husband, children, the usual events such as children’s weddings, and life’s little tribulations as everybody else … That is the common denominator for almost all people. Other than that, there are no events, nothing unusual, in her life. She has experienced no intense pleasures or unbearable hardships. She believes that life is the same for everybody. Her understanding of life is so narrow.”

As I was reading this analysis, I had to stop at the last line. Suddenly it felt like the critic became the narrator in calling the woman’s understanding of the world into question. The narrator in the story had the same impression from Peddamma’s life as the critic. His wife could relate to Peddamma’s account of her life nevertheless. That is obvious in the question the wife asked her husband later, “Did you hear Peddamma’s story?” There was a story as far as the wife was concerned.

Ramachandra Reddy the writer decided to write a story about the way people around Peddamma would respond to her unflustered life in the absence of passion. “Others may react to her in any number of ways. Some may be sympathetic to her; others may resent her apathy, or even be aggravated by it; or turn philosophical. If I could depict all these responses effectively, it could turn into a good story,” said Ramachandra Reddy.

There was also a comment about the names in the story. In response to the comment by another critic, the author said, “Somebody commented that I did not give a name to the old woman to imply that she is a very ordinary person, insignificant in a way. I did not think so. In fact, I did not give names to the other two characters in the story either. I agree that names do carry weight in stories but I did not find the need to do so in this story.”

I would like to add a note on this aspect in our stories. In Telugu culture, we often address people using relational terminology such as peddamma, akka, and maamma, even when we are not related by blood. I see the term Peddamma as a name in itself. Other minor characters in the story such as son and daughter are also not given names.

Acchamamba’s story, “Women’s education,” is comparable to the above story in some ways. Both the stories deal with no major heartbreaking issues or earthshaking resolutions. In Acchamamba’s story, the point is women’s education needed for communication between husband and wife, while the husband is away, in prison to be specific. The crux of the problem is wife’s lack of reading and writing skills. The entire story is an elaborate discussion of the superior benefits of women’s education and so forth.

In both the stories, the incidents leading to the end are not played out or described in detail, as is normal practice in storytelling. They are verbalized in brief statements. In “Women’s Education,” the wife says she would have her younger brother read and write the letters on her behalf. In “The Stories of Our Lives,” Peddamma says she was married, her son and daughter were married and so on. Each incident is a one-liner or a few lines at best.

I thought it would be interesting to study the two stories in juxtaposition, using the criteria, Mr. Ramachandra Reddy had identified.

(Editorial by Nidadavolu Malathi, published on thulka.net, January 2007.)

 

Stories of Our Lives by Dr. Racamallu Ramachandra Reddy

I’ve been thinking of writing about her for a very long time but nothing is coming to my mind. I racked my brains but could not find the material in her life for writing a story. One could search her entire life up and down yet find not a single instance worthy of a story. How can I write a story when there is nothing special either in her life or lifestyle?

I”ve been living next door to hers for over three years now. We share the front verandah. She practically lives on that verandah day and night. But for the time to cook and eat in her kitchen, she is always on the porch either lying or sitting on the tape cot. I am not sure exactly when but soon after I moved into that house, I started thinking about writing a story about her. I”ve been trying to write ever since but my story never took form.

I was even downcast a few times, thought maybe there is nothing in her good enough for a story. At the same time I am also bothered by the question why would I even consider writing a story about her if there is nothing about her? I rake my brains and nothing comes to mind. Nevertheless I am convinced that there is something in her that makes a good story.”

Everyday I see her on the cot as I return from work. Occasionally I would say to her, “What are you doing, peddamma!” Sometimes my wife, having nothing better to do, starts chatting with her, “What curry you cooked today, peddamma?” And she speaks all right when we start it, with no enthusiasm, none whatsoever though.

I wonder if there is something in her life that is not obvious to me. I inquired neighbors. I”ve talked to so many people yet could find nothing more than I had known already.

I understood that she was married when she was about fifteen-years old. Her husband died five or six years ago. She has one son and one daughter. The son is working in another town. Her daughter got married ten years ago and went away. The son comes to visit her once a year. The daughter drops a letter once every six months. Beyond that, there is nothing special in her daily life. What is there to write about in such a monotonous life?

Yesterday, my wife and I were going to a movie. I invited her, “Peddamma, come on, let”s go to the movies.”

“You two go, son,” she said sounding indifferent.

“Come on, Peddamma. It”s a good movie,” my wife also said coaxingly.

Peddamma said, “What’s the point of watching movies and dramas? You two go.”

On the way to the movies, I said to my wife, “I wonder what she does all day.”

“She is fine, no botherations, nothing to worry,” my wife said. I sensed a touch of jealousy in her tone.

“What? Do you also want that kind of happiness, no kids, no husband?” I said.

Chhi, no, that’s not it. Don”t you think it”s better to have nobody to care for rather than carry the head-load of a family?”

“Can anybody survive with no one to care for? Is it possible to live without any interest or diversion in life?”

“Isn’t she living?”

True, she is living. But the question is what’s she living for? I was walking and thinking. After a while, my wife asked me, “Are you thinking about her still?”

“Yes,” I said, “I want to know about the secrets in her life.”

“What secrets one can have, especially women?”

“You’re right, you’ve spoken a universal truth,” I said laughing. My wife also laughed.

After a few more minutes, I said softly, “Maybe she slipped, probably sometime back.”

My wife came to a sudden stop. “What kind of talk is that? Do you think so lightly of women?”

“Okay, move on. It’s getting late for the movie,” I said.

We resumed our pace. The thoughts about her would not let go of me. Probably she made a big mistake in her life and maybe that is worrying her constantly. Remorse can pull down a person quite low. Otherwise why would she live like that”without any pursuit in life, no interest and no enthusiasm about anything? Then I thought of something else. Had she made a very bad mistake, there are several easy ways in our country for one to redeem oneself. She could recite Gita regularly, pay a visit to the temple once a week, and may even sing bhajans occasionally. She did not take to any of these practices. Maybe it is not remorse that is bothering her. There is no trace of depression in her demeanor. All she is showing is distance, lack of involvement, and lack of enthusiasm. That”s all.

***

Today my office is closed. I settled down for a nap in the afternoon. My wife finished the chores in the kitchen and went into the verandah for a chat with peddamma.

“The movie was very good. I tried so hard to persuade you to go with us but you wouldn’t,” my wife started jubilantly.

“What movies, just a pastime,” peddamma said passively.

“Really, peddamma, it was good. Shall I tell you the story?” my wife said with renewed vigor.

“What stories, my child. Aren”t our lives in themselves stories?”

I was trying to get some sleep; her words shook me off of my stupor. There is a story in her life! I could not figure out what it is but there is one for sure. Hopefully I will know now. I am all ears.

“What kind of stories we can have in our lives, peddamma? We live today the same way we did yesterday and will tomorrow. It is the same old ganugeddu life?”

“I guess. What else is there in anybody’s life?”

“Let it be. Tell me your story. You tell me all the things that have happened in your life. I want to hear them.”

Peddamma sounded apathetic. “What is my story talli? It is the same as everybody else’s.”

“Tell me that same story,” my wife said coaxingly.

I am listening intently.

“What is there to tell in my life, amma? I was born and raised the same way as everybody else. My folks raised me the same way as others. They married me off as I turned sixteen, again the same way like all the others. After that, in the next four years, a son and a daughter were born. What else is there in my life?” Peddamma finished her story. I am disappointed.

“What happened after that, peddammaa?” my wife asked inquisitively.

Peddamma said with the same detachment, “What would happen after that? The same thing happened as always. My son and daughter grew up; we married our daughter to a young man and sent her away with him. She is living her life. My son has a job and is living his life.”

Now I am even more upset with peddamma. She started out like there was something to tell and then let me down. For a while, they two were quiet. Probably my wife was thinking what to say next. After a minute or so, I heard my wife’s voice again. “Did you suffer a lot of hardships in your childhood, peddamma?” she asked.

“No hardships ammaa! No different from the usual hardships we all face. Wouldn’t the adults beat you if you act up too much? When mother hit me, father used to comfort me, and when father beat me, mother used to comfort me. The only thing I can say is, during childhood, we cry for a while and forget the pain, no matter how big it is.”

Quiet again, probably my wife is thinking again. “Did they arrange your marriage against your will?” I was surprised by my wife’s ingenuity. She asked the same question I would have asked. It sounded like she asked the question for my sake. I am waiting for a response from peddamma.

“Why would I not like it, amma? My parents arranged a suitable match. Even otherwise, how could a girl, just sixteen-years-old, have likes and dislikes?”

“Please, don’t misunderstand me, peddamma. Did you and your husband have a good relationship?”

“Why not we have a good relationship, amma? My husband was not a bad man; just an ordinary man.”

“You mean you two never had fights.”

“Won’t there be usual arguments in any family? He used to be angry now and then, like when the food was not good. Sometimes he would yell at me if I left the wick lamp too high.”

“You never had a real fight?”

“Why would we fight? Are we low-life folks, amma? Once, very long time ago, probably in the first year of our marriage, I was getting ready to go to my natal home. After I had done all the packing, he said “don’t go.” He did not eat the entire day. I thought of fighting but he brought me a new sari, Coimbattur sari, and asked me to wear it—a kind of childish act. We were young then.”

I am not sure if my wife has seen something in those words but I am confused.

“What happened after your son and daughter had left, peddamma?”

“What else? It was quite normal for about five or six years. One day, my husband lay down; said he was not feeling well. That is it, he never got up again. He was gone, leaving me alone, after twenty days.” Even those words, she said in the same ordinary tone. There is no sign of any emotion in her voice. I got tired of their conversation. My spirits are down; obviously there is nothing to know about her, no matter how long I listened.

“So, you’re saying there are no events worth mentioning in your life.”

“What else is there, beyond these things, in anybody”s life?”

“Don”t you have any desires?”

“What desires we will have at this stage in life, amma?”

“So, you don”t have any desires that never came to fruition in your life? No unfulfilled desires?”

“What desires women will have amma? All they wish for are saris or jewelry, right? That too, they wish only until they had one or two children. After that, they will not have any desires.”

Silence for a few seconds. My wife said, “First tell me one thing, peddamma. You always seem to be lost in thought, as if you’ve made a mistake and now regretting it. Did you do something you should not have done?”

I thought she would be irritated by this question. She spoke without any irritation, “Why would people like us do something that we should not have done? Don”t we all know about good behavior? How can we survive if we lost our standing in society talli?”

What a stupid chat, I told myself and pulled the sheet over my head. After that, I have no idea if my wife showered a torrent of queries on that woman. I woke up at four and went into the kitchen for coffee.

“Did you hear peddamma’s story?” my wife asked.

“I did not listen to the end. Have you learned the secrets of her life?”

My wife smiled pitiably and said, “No secret. Poor lady, I asked her in so many ways, the questions I should not have asked. I asked because I trust you. I even asked questions that should have angered her. She answered all my questions without anger or frustration.”

“So you’re saying there is nothing special in her life.”

“Nothing, there is nothing worth mentioning. She is a very ordinary woman.”

“Very ordinary woman. What can I write about such an ordinary woman?” I said.

Maybe my wife noticed a streak of disappointment in my tone; she shoved the simmering hot coffee glass in my hand, and said harshly, “All you worry about is your story. You don’t have even the slightest concern for her?”

I did not understand my wife’s attitude, not in the least.

[End]

For comments by Nidadavolu Malathi, translator, click here.

(The Telugu original, mana jeevitakathalu, was published in November 1959, and later included in the author’s anthology, Alasina gundelu.)
(Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, January 2007.)

The Redeemer by Dr. Kethu Viswanatha Reddy

I wasn’t sure about what the mother and daughter were whispering about to each other. I did not
understand who provoked them and what forces were at play. My eldest daughter was stubborn. She said she would not go to any of the colleges in town. She said they were like the mom and pop store round the corner, and that she would attend only a reputable engineering college in Chennai and that too only in computer science courses.
redeemer
It was due to my inability that I could not say a word to her. She had received good marks in the
Intermediate class. I could not ask her why she had not obtained good rank in MSET. I recalled the old times when I had wanted to do M.A. in English but had joined the M.A. in Philosophy. I concluded that not all the tests in life would be in your hands.

In accordance with her wish, I admitted my baby in a reputable engineering college in Chennai. I paid the donation the chief administrator of the college had scribbled in pencil. Also paid the college and hostel fees. I put her in the hostel, told her to study well and returned to Tirupati.

It added up to two lakhs so far. In addition to the land that had gone for my education, out of the
remaining land, another fifteen acres were gone now.

I would have to see if my second child at least would obtain a good rank in the MSET exam next year. If we want to live a high quality life, we have to suffer hardships; there is no other way. My daughter was going to be the first girl to become a computer engineer in my family. If my father were here, he would have been very happy. My mother had sold the land gladly and given the money.

The Parry’s corner bus stop, like my mind, was in turmoil. Although Tamil was being spoken loudly, other languages were also reaching my ears. It was a sundry world filled with the poor and the feeble carrying handbags and bundles of clothes, men holding briefcases and suitcases, women wearing jewelry in their necks; it was a flamboyant world—an assembly of tradition and modernity. I was watching all those sarees, dhotis, safaris, pants, slacks, big red kumkum dots, lines of ashes on foreheads, and people chewing paan leaves. I told myself that Chennai was a safe place for children’s education. The bus set out for Tirupati.

I looked at the man sitting in the seat next to me. He was absorbed in reading the paper. Mine was the window seat. I sat there watching through the window the city businesses and the locality recede. I could hear voices, laughs and the sounds of munching. Psychological pressures and physical exhaustion. I closed my eyes, leaning back cozily in my seat. …
000
A series of visions—some vague, some lucid and some well-formed—were moving like shadows in front of my eyes:
My village Simhadripuram, the village fair, our house, our school, the clean water well, the house behind ours, and the sounds of the loom.
At the village fair, me as a five-year-old, sitting on the shoulders of Abba [grandfather], and Abba buying everything I pointed out–puffed rice, bendlu, bettaasulu, paalanurugulu (snacks) —and I collecting them all in my towel folds …
Me as a ten-year-old, holding on to Abba’s little finger, and asking him to buy  laddu, kajjikaayalu (sweets)  and spicy snacks.
Abba is saying, “You must eat well. Eat well, grow up and take care of our fifty-acres. Why do we need education? Isn’t this property enough for us? We can eat well and feed a few others too.”       There, only Nayana [father] and me, no one else around. Nayana is saying, “Orey Chenna, Your Abba is not interested in putting you in school. Until now, we could keep this property only because I am the only child. The life of a farmer on the land is the same as the life of an animal tied to a pole. Times are not going to be the same always. Who knows how many more famines will hit us and how many more necessities crush us. Farming moorland is like matka, a gamble. We don’t know what we are going to get but are sure to lose lot more. So, get good education. You can get a job. We will always have whatever land we already have.”
Amma [mother] is serving food in our plates. She is whispering so only I could hear, “Chennayya, you are the only child for us. I’ve heard that your father was very good in school. But your Abba was worried that it would ruin this kingdom. He made your father quit school while he was in the fifth class. You at least should get good education. Look at our Chowdamma. … Her father is a skilled worker, no doubt. He is not home 2 or 3 days a week, always busy with the weavers association activities. When he is not home, her mother takes over the loom work. Chowdamma helps her throwing the shuttle, fixing the threads and so on. She grabs a book whenever she finds time. We are not asking you to do any chores at home. You can study, don’t you think, better than Chowdamma?”
Chowdamma … Chowdeswari …
The sounds of the loom.
.         Her white round face, pretty nose, big eyes, thick dark hair, her laugh …the deep streaks on the cheeks. Chowdeswari is a good talker. I see her as a ten-year old, wearing a skirt and a blouse with puffed sleeves. She is running, and behind her, I … yes, that is me …
“See Abba, this Anna, see pedanaayanaa, see Chennareddy Anna. See him, peddammaa! He
wants me teach him how to weave a saree,” she is saying, gasping.
Abba, Nayana and Amma are laughing. Mingled with theirs, the laughs of Chowdeswari’s mother’s laugh.
Chowdeswari’s mother is saying to Abba, “Mamaa, maybe your son Reddy can weave.”
Abba is saying, “Look here, Ammi, it’s enough if he tills the land; nothing can go wrong. That’s the kind of blood is his. Weaving is not a concern for us.”
Chowdeswari is saying, “You said it very well, Abba. Farming is different from weaving. In weaving, loveliness in itself is the skill. We have to make sure that it does not sink, thread is not broken, and there are no lumps.”
“Ha, ha, I can weave lot better than you do. Chowdamma, I am your competition anywhere anytime,” I am saying.
Ummm, Abba’s dead body, Chowdeswari is crying between hiccups more than everybody else.
Headmaster is saying, “Hey Chennareddy, Chowdeswari ranked first in school. You did alright too, got first class. Studied in a spirit of competition, I suppose.”
Fifteen-year-old Chowdeswari in a skirt and a half-saree is laughing.
A loud laugh of somebody.

I woke up and looked around. The man sitting next to me asked something in Tamil. I told him in English that I did not know Tamil.
“Are you a Telugu man?” he asked in Telugu.
I nodded yes.
“You dozed off, probably tired,” he said. He was polite and gentle.
“Yes,” I said with a smile.
I looked at him, scrutinizing. He could be over sixty, had a commanding personality. He was tall, wearing eyeglasses on his long face, had a long nose, his ears too were big, and his shoulders turned upward.

“Why, what are looking at? I am also a true Telugu man, expatriate Andhra though. To put it another way, I am a foreign Andhra. By the way, are you going to Tirupati?”
Yes, I said.
“What do you do in Tirupati?”
“I am a Reader in Venkateswara University,” I said. It was very recent career advancement, so what, I told myself.
“Which department?”
“Philosophy.”
“What’s your dissertation topic?”
I told him the title of my Ph.D. in English, “The ideology of public welfare in Mahabharata.”
He repeated it, translating it into pure Telugu, “Mahabharatamlo samkshema rajyabhavana. Was your research based on the Sanskrit version of Mahabharata? Or the Telugu version?”
I did not feel like admitting that I had no knowledge of Sanskrit. Nevertheless, he being a senior, I want to be respectful, and answer as honestly as possible. I tried to speak in Telugu. I said, “Although I relied mainly on English and Telugu translations, and on the critical works, and commentaries on Mahabharata in English and Telugu, I had received help from a friend in the Sanskrit department when I had to quote the Sanskrit verses as needed.”
“You are speaking good Telugu. We also should have the love for our language like the Tamilians. Not necessarily totally and fanatically though,” he said with admiration.
He continued as if in a soliloquy: “We cannot establish the time of Mahabharata accurately. That is the problem with our history. We may try to examine the language in Mahabharata and other internal evidence. But the text existed somewhere between 4th and 15th or 16th centuries B.C. There are so many interpolations. …
  ashtau sloka sahasraani ashtau sloka sataani ca
aham vedmi Suko vetthi sanjayo vetthi vaa na vaa

The original eight thousand, eight hundred verses of the original Mahabharata became  jaya
mahabharata
[Victorious Mahabharata]  with a quarter of one lakh verses. Now it is four times bigger with all its variations.”
I was stunned by his memory power. I decided not to get in the way of his talk. The zeal of those
immersed in research came back to me.
He resumed his speech, “There are countless influences on Mahabharata, and its subordinate
episodes. Let it be. I am talking about matters of statesmanship and worldly wisdom. The term  welfare reminds me of rajadharma [duties of the king] Narada had preached to  Dharmaraja in Sabhaparvam. It reminds me of the question, ‘Are all the lagoons filled with rain water making the farmers happy? Are the poor farmers and the businessmen getting seeds in the form of loans?’ Let us say there are people who would question our government in this manner. Probably our welfare dharmarajas will say, ‘The rains are not asking for our permission first and then fall. We are planning to buy the Terminator seeds. We are borrowing money from the world bank to the extent possible and arranging loans for seeds.”
I was amused by his sense of humor. Along with me, he too laughed.
“I have a doubt. There are discussions of various kinds of occupations in deergha nikaayam, maha vaasthu and Milinda panha. We need to examine Sangam literature also from this perspective. There is a discussion of weaving in Arthasastra. You might have seen it too. The president must employ skilled people to weave; only women should be employed for spinning and weaving; wages should be on par with the type of thread and labor. If the product was of inferior quality, wages should be modified accordingly,’ it states. Do you think the king would have paid those women nearly fifty thousand panaalu [copper coins] annually the same way as he would to the chief priest and his advisor? Robbers! I believe that they had paid not even sixty panaalu to those women. What kind of a welfare notion is that? It would be nice if the feminists had examined it from this angle. All that flaunting of welfare programs would be exposed.”

I was shocked to see the quickness in his words. As was pondering over his questions, explanations, comments, humor, sharpness, and his manners, I recalled seeing his photo and an introductory article about him in a prominent English daily a while ago.
“You … you are… Professor Nagaraju, Professor Nagarajan.”
“How did you recognize me?” he asked, smiling and curious.
“When I was interviewing for the lecturer position, you came as one of the experts seventeen years back. I did not recognize you until now. I am sorry,” I said.
“You’re better than I, I must say. You have recognized me but I did not recognize you. Your name?” he asked.
I told him my name.
“I spent ten years in U.K. and Germany. I returned to the coop after my wife had passed away. It’s a year since I returned. I am going to Tirupati, hoping to stay there for two or three days. Maybe you know Dr.
Chowdeswari in the economics department in your university. Her husband is a  blood relative of mine. I am fond of Chowdeswari more though. … I spoke all kinds of things. I am old you know. When you mentioned philosophy, my tongue went off nonstop. Don’t think otherwise. Probably I was irritating you.”

Dr. Nagarajan picked up the book from his lap and was lost in reading. I did not have the courage to chat with him again. He told me about his relationship with Chowdeswari.
Thoughts about Chowdeswari shrouded me along with the scenes I was watching through the window. I recalled the day Chowdeswari had informed me of my appointment and congratulated me even before I had received the orders.
“How did you know? Is it true?” I asked Chowdeswari. I was happy and apprehensive.
“Learned somehow … You are selected,” Chowdeswari said.
I was beginning to wonder if Professor Nagaraju had told her.
On that very day, I had asked Chowdeswari, right away, “What about your selection?”
“Don’t know. I am confident that I’d be selected definitely. I don’t think the other candidates have the qualifications I have. I have published articles based on my research in foreign journals. I did very well in the interview too,” Chowdeswari said, well composed.
That composure! It was more like arrogance. I had been having problem with that arrogance only.

We both had joined in our respective departments on the same day. Yet Chowdeswari had become a  Reader four years earlier than I. It was one of those reserved posts. She became a reader. And she would be a professor in a day or two. That is the way the department politics play out. I’ve always had a kind of jealousy towards Chowdeswari, some hatred, and rage! I had developed some antagonism,which even I could not explain, in regard to other castes and these reservations.
000

Two years back, I had asked Chowdeswari to be our panel candidate in the elections for the teachers association. I still have not forgotten the words Chowdeswari had spoken in no uncertain terms on that day. She said, “I do belong to a particular caste among the B.C.s, I don’t deny that. I am not responsible for that. However I cannot stick my head just for that reason into this caste-based quota political process.”
I swallowed my anger. But my group bawled at me. Thenceforth, I have stopped speaking with
Chowdeswari. How can anyone tolerate pepper spray on an open wound?
Professor Nagaraju and I got off the bus in the R.T.C. bus stand in Tirupati. Chowdeswari was there standing in front of us, surprising and confusing. I forced a smile. Chowdeswari took the travel bag from Professor Nagaraju. She tuned to me and said, “Let’s go, the three of us together.” I could not turn away. I followed them silently. I was about to call an auto, Chowdeswari said, “I brought the car.” I thought she brought a rental car.
Chowdeswari stopped in front of a shining blue car. That was a Santro. She opened the back door on the left. Before I could recover from my astonishment, Professor Nagaraju said, “Come on, get in. I’ll move to the right.”
Chowdeswari was driving in the midst of Tirupati throng and culture.
Professor Nagaraju said, “The travel was pleasant in Chenna Reddy’s company. You can call me
eccentric. After I had learned that we belonged to the same field, I went on talking lots of things in the bus. I don’t know whether it was killing time or sharing the thoughts I had on my mind. I mulled over and he listened. In fact, I even got new thoughts because of him. By the way, Chowdeswari, your daughter said she liked the I.I.T. campus. She liked those trees, the surroundings and all. Classes are started too. It seems they all have to take care of everything by themselves, each one of them. They all are busy with their own work, teaching …learning … teaching, I talked with her before I left. I was elated to find her so zealous, just like the way I had been in Germany. There are still institutions that give to children the power needed to acquire education and knowledge. In this country …”
I did not know what Chowdeswari thought. She kept driving and said to me, without turning around, “My daughter phoned me an hour back. She said your daughter is also studying computer science in a reputable engineering college in Chennai. Maybe it caused you hardship, maybe censure, but you did a good thing all the same. The two girls, yours and mine, are very good friends, I don’t know if you know that well or not.”
Now it became clear to me. I understood the real reason behind all that whispering between my daughter and my wife. Chowdeswari’s daughter was attending I.I.T. and my daughter was in a private college. A fit of jealousy shot up. I was speechless. Some parching feeling, some anguish, Is this also an effect of the reservations?
“We’ll go to my quarters first and have tea. I’ll drop you off at your place later,” Chowdeswari said to me. “I am very tired. I will come some other time. Let me get down at the corner on Padmavati Women’s College Road. From there, my house is only a few yards away,” I said.
“My daughter told me that you have moved. It gives me a chance to see your house as well,”
Chowdeswari said and drove to my house. I got out and invited them both in.
Professor Nagaraju said, “I’ll come tomorrow or the day after. I will be here for a few days, don’t I?”

“Just a minute, Mamayya,” Chowdeswari said and got out of the car. She walked into the house along with me. She talked to my wife briefly, said, “Let’s meet later” and went back to the car.
My wife was overwhelmed, I guess. With an elated expression on her face, she said, “New car, very nice. She’s bought it recently I think. Chowdeswari is a lucky woman. And a good person.”
I did not understand. What is the link between luck and good nature? I struggled to suppress the
burning sensation inside. I would have said to my wife that had we two incomes, I would have bought a car long time ago. After that, I would have to listen to her jabbing and that stopped me from saying it.
I went in to take a bath. The entire time I was bathing, I was beset with the memories of my crummy scooter and jealousy of Chowdeswari.
After a couple of days, Chowdeswari came to my office along with professor Nagaraju, unannounced. “Mamayya said he would like to see you and your department. … I have a class. I’ll be back by 12:15 to take Mamayya back to my home.” Chowdeswari said and left. I thought of introducing him to our department head, other professors, and lecturers. I asked Nagaraju about the same. He did not show any enthusiasm saying all the people he had known had retired.
“Is your thesis published?” he asked, sipping the tea, I had served.
“No,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“Lack of interest,” I said.
“In research or life?”
I could not answer the question.
“Give me a copy of it if you have one. I will return it after reading,” he said.
I picked up my thesis from the papers and books lying scattered on the table behind me and handed it to him shyly.
Two of my students, a boy and a girl, working on their M.Phil. and Ph.D. came. I introduced Professor Nagaraju to them. He answered all their questions on several topics in Philosophy. He also elucidated the discussions and the research in progress in U.K. and Germany.
Chowdeswari returned at 12:15 sharp.
I invited Professor Nagaraju for dinner at my place that evening, and Chowdeswari too.
Nagaraju got up, ready to leave with Chowdeswari. He said, “Tomorrow, after dinner, we’ll go to the temple and then proceed to Chennai. I have a lecture to give at Madras University the day after tomorrow.” He pointed to my thesis and said, “I’ll make sure you got it back before I left.”
Not the next day but the day after, Chowdeswari came to my room around eleven o’clock. “I thought of coming to your home yesterday but couldn’t. Mamayya told me to deliver your thesis carefully to you in person and left for Chennai,” she said, smiling. She put it on my table. I took it and threw it on the table behind me.
“Mamayya said he had read your thesis completely the same night. He commended it, said ‘excellent work’. He told me to tell you to stay in his house if you go to Chennai. He’ll also write to you,” Chowdeswari said.
“My research students were thrilled that he talked with them. A man of no pretenses,” I said.
“Anna!”
I was surprised by that address of Chowdeswari. I could look straight into her face.

She said very calmly, “We both come from the same town, grew up in the same place, and attended the same school. Don’t you ever remember those days?”
“I do remember.”
“Lately, for over two years, you’ve been keeping distance from me. It seems you are angry with me. I don’t mind if you are still angry with me. I just want to let you know what is on my mind,” Chowdeswari said.
I wondered what she might say. Whatever it is, so be it, I told myself, tidying up the papers on my desk.
“There are two categories of people: those who keep whining in life and those who win the life over. You belong to the first category, Anna.”
I was taken aback by Chowdeswari’s words. “How?” I said, deeply disturbed.
“You carry the weight of your wealth,” Chowdeswari said.
“What did the wealth do?” I said, collecting myself.
“Have you ever noticed the difference between the investment and labor spent on one acre of land and the returns on it; and the same way, the difference between the investment on weaving sarees and the labor and the returns on it? You come from a family of fifty acres.”
“That wealth is getting drained now. I have two girls to be educated and married,” I mumbled.
“That is the problem,” said Chowdeswari.
I did not understand her words.
“Look Anna, I am the same Chowdeswari that had repaired the threads in the rent-free house in your backyard, the same Chowdeswari that had woven sarees then. I had enjoyed your affection, and some support too. But I had not earned riches and caste, right? My insecurity was my motivation. Getting rid of it was my struggle. This is the life I had won over, not something freely given away by somebody.
“You know my father’s ways. The politics he had believed in and the unity in the weavers association had collapsed and he was devastated. He did not step back though. He put me through college by weaving sarees, buying, carrying them around to other towns to sell them. I had always received some support—some scholarship or other, like the cold water for mixing with the hot water. My father used to tell me stories about the weavers in the fifties in Proddutur—those who had migrated to Bhivani and Coimbatore from all these districts and about the hardships they had been through to make a living …”
Chowdeswari dabbed her wet eyes with a kerchief; it was troubling to me. I could say nothing.
“Anna, I have become a reader before you have. Should I think that is the reason you are angry with me? Or you are angry because I got the readership because of my caste and the reservation system stemming from it?”
My ability to answer Chowdeswari’s direct question fell sharply.
“Or, should I assume that you are not aware of my qualifications?” Chowdeswari asked.
“I know,” I said weakly.
Chowdeswari took the water bottle from the table behind me. She poured some into a glass and started sipping slowly.
Chowdeswari had come first in the tenth class, first in the Intermediate and also in B.A. In M.A., she had been university second. Foreign examiners had commended her Ph.D. thesis as great. Her research papers had been published in prominent national and international journals. She earned the reputation as a good teacher. I was aware of all that.

“Let it be. Let us assume that I do not have great qualifications, assume that I possess only minimum requirements. Is that wrong? Same way, tomorrow or the next day, suppose somebody else from a caste lower than mine and with minimum qualifications was promoted to higher position before I was. Why be jealous? These things keep happening until all the mistakes that had happened in the course of history and are still happening are vanished,” said Chowdeswari.
“Maybe true,” I said apprehensively.
Chowdeswari said slowly, “Anna, everybody says you are a good teacher and a good guide. You are angry with whom?  Why? I heard that you have stopped writing research papers. Can’t you stop visiting the officers clubs? You are hurting yourself, why?”
Chowdeswari poked me where it hurts most. I started recalling the times Chowdeswari had chided me—when I was playing marbles, running around with bad boys, when she saw me smoking cigarettes during my M.A. days. I understood that she mentioned the club because she was aware of my habits. I could not open my mouth in front of Chowdeswari’s candor and affection.
“Tomorrow is Sunday. You, vadina and the little child should come to my home for dinner. Oh, no, I almost forgot the real reason I came. Nagaraju mamayya told me to tell you that he would arrange to publish your thesis, and he would let you know if there is anything to add. … You all must come to my house tomorrow. Please forgive me if I had hurt you in any way. Remember you used to pull my braid, and wouldn’t stop even when I cried, ‘it’s hurting, hurting’.  .. See you later.”
As she left the room, Chowdeswari seemed to be a lot superior, compared to myself. I wished that, like Chowdeswari, my children at least would not wine but win over life beautifully.
Also, in my heart, change started sprouting anew.
[End]
000
(The Telugu original, sankatavimochani, was first published in Andhra Prabha aditya hrudayam,
Sunday, April 6-13, 2003, and later included in the anthology, Kethu Viswanatha Reddy Kathalu, 1998-2003.)

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, October 2007.