Monthly Archives: September 2013

Lord Siva Commands (story) by Nidadavolu Malathi

“Let’s go to Milwaukee tomorrow,” said Siva Rao.

Sumana turned towards her husband, Siva Rao, with disbelief. Her big eyes turned bigger; really?

“Yes,” he said.

The Lord Siva has issued His command![i], the phrase resounded in her head.

000

Sumana was nine-years old when she chanced to meet a lady in the neighborhood and befriend her. She used to call her “kathala Attayya garu” [storyteller auntie] fondly.

After nearly thirty years, she heard from the same kathala Attayya garu again. She was ecstatic.

This is how it happened: Attayya garu came to California for a short visit with her son, Rambabu. One day, while she was turning pages of a local Telugu magazine, to her great surprise saw Sumana’s name. She brought it to her son’s notice right away. “Ohhhhhhh, this little girl I know her. So she lives here now? She is like a daughter to me, don’t you remember? She used to come to our house everyday … I knew her since she was this little,” and she held her hand as if she was marking the girl’s height in the air. Rambabu got on his laptop at once, conducted a people’s search, found Sumana’s phone number, and dialed the number.

Sumana picked up the phone and said hello.

“Wait, I’ll get your friend,” he dropped the handset on the table and went away.

Sumana was confused. Who this friend could be? … Before she came to any conclusion, she heard hello from the other end. The voice sounded a bit mature, to be a friend of her age.

Sumana said hello back and asked apprehensively, “Who’s this madam?”

“Me, dear, your teller auntie from Mangalagiri, remember? You used to come to our house every day in the evening after school.”

“Wow, kathala attayya garu! Oh, no, how could I forget you? When did you come? Where are you?” Sumana was startled and then chocked; she could hardly contain herself for all the joy the tidings over the phone had brought. She could barely keep her feet on the ground.

“Yes dear. Rambabu is in California now, you know. He bought a house. I came for gruhapravesam[ii],” she said, feeling elated that the little girl had not forgotten her.

“Wow, listening to your voice again, so nice, feels like I am in your kitchen again!” said Sumana.

“Where do you live? Anywhere near by?”

“No, Attayya garu, California is far away for us. If you come to Chicago, let me know. We can come to see to you?”

“Chicago? I don’t know about that. I might go to Chicago. Is Milwaukee close?

“Ah, yes, it is close, very close, Attayya garu. Tell me, when will go to Milwaukee?” Sumana was thrilled by the prospect.

“I don’t know yet, dear. My father’s brother’s granddaughter lives there. She has asked me a few times to visit her. Her husband has some job in some company. She stays home with the two kids. I am not sure yet, thinking about it though. The travel here is such a hassle, you know.”

“Please, do come. I would like to see you also. We can come to Milwaukee and bring you to see our house. You have to see our house also you know. … Travel is hassle, I understand. It is not that easy in this country despite all the flights,” said Sumana, feeling choked.

“Who’s she?” asked Pandu. He understood that mom was talking to somebody she liked very much obviously.

“Attayya garu,” she said and explained to him how she had become so fond of her. We went on talking about Attayya garu, unaware that the boy had stopped listening.

000

Attayya garu called Sumana again after she had arrived in Milwaukee. Her uncle’s granddaughter, Ratnamala also was very amiable; she told Sumana over and again that she must visit them upcoming Saturday.

Ever since Sumana had received the news, she had been trying to pursuade her husband Siva Rao to take her to Milwaukee to visit her favorite Attayya garu from her childhood days. Unfortunately, Siva Rao had not been able to do so; something or other had been coming in the way. The fact is he would not miss a puja or a religious ceremony in any Telugu home within one hundred miles radius under any circumstance. At the beginning Sumana did not want to go with him to all these festivities but he prevailed upon her eventually. He told her, “If you do not believe in God that is fine. Just come for prasadam.[iii]” That worked for her. Their six-year-old son Pandu would jump on any occasion that got him out of the house. After that it had become a tradition in their family. However, the current situation put Sumana in a different mood.

000

Sumana was losing hope; kathala Attayya garu would leave Milwaukee and go back to California the following Sunday. After that, she would not get another chance to see her again.

“Let’s go to Milwaukee coming Saturday,” Siva Rao.

Sumana’s heart shot to throat. Thoughts about the teller auntie rose in her head like a swarm of bumble bees. Sumana was floating on the clouds after Siva Rao announced that they would be going to Milwaukee on Saturday. She could not sleep all night. She could recall as if it happened yesterday the home of Attayya garu, the mind-boggling aroma from the spices Attayya garu was using in her cooking. Finally in the wee small hours her eyelids drooped heavily.

000

The car stopped in front of Ratnamala’s home. She invited them in gleefully.

Sumana’s eyes were hovering around in the room for the person she had been looking forward to see. She sat on the edge of the sofa. Her heart was pounding like the little engine.

“Attayya garu will be here in a minute,” said Ratnamala; a little smile spread on her lips understandingly.

Pandu was restless. Siva Rao was trying to keep Pandu occupied.

“What would like to have? Coke, coffee, tea?” asked Ratnamala.

Pandu said coke. Siva Rao said no thanks. Sumana shook her head, nothing for me.

She wanted to see only Attayya garu. That’s all she wanted. She kept looking around and toward the staircase. When will this wait end?

Attayya garu appeared on the staircase, at last. She was small of stature yet had a commanding personality, like the statue of goddess Rajarajeswari devi in a temple. The signs of age were visible yet nothing changed. She was fair complexioned, always displaying an amicable smile on her red lips, eyes radiating affection;  hair turned completely grey giving the whole face a new glow. Back then, her hair was shiny black. She would apply coconut oil and comb it neatly, put it in a bun, and tuck a bunch of jasmine flowers. Then, she would make one more bunch of jasmines and keep it on the little table by the door for Sumana.

Sumana sat there glued to the chair and watching Attayya garu as she walked down the stairs… Attayya garu walked up to her, took her chin in the palm, and said in a touching voice, “Let me see your face; getting old, can’t see clearly. So, how’re you doing? Is this your kid? Very cute, just like you ….”

She went on and on asking question after question nonstop. Sumana’s eyes turned moist for all the kindness Attayya garu is showering. Yes, that’s my boy, he is my husband … she was answering in the same order. She wanted to ask as many questions, wanted to tell so many things, not a single word would come out of her mouth.

Attayya garu sat next to her, put her hand gently on Sumana’s head and said, “It’s so long since I’d seen you … You’ve grown up so much, I never thought I could see you again, not even in a dream … It’s all the Lord Siva’s will, I believe …”

“True Attayya garu, I also wanted to see you, always thinking about you but never thought it would happen.”

“That’s the reason they say even an ant would not sting unless He commands so.”

“It will sting if you stick your finger in its anthill,[iv]” Pandu said, referring to the story he had heard so many times.

Attayya garu laughed heartily, “Aha, did your mom tell you that? Even then the ant would sting only if it has Siva’s command.”

“How would we know the ant has His command?” he asked.

Attayya garu pinched his cheek playfully and said, “You’re also into stories like mom? You’ll know it when it stings you.”

“It won’t sting if it did not have His command?”

“No, it won’t.”

Ratnamala smiled and said, “Let’s eat. It is getting late.” She walked towards the kitchen.

Pandu sat there with a pout. He was getting bored. Ratnamala noticed it and said, “I wish my kids were home. They would have great time. Unfortunately, they went to a birthday party, my first son’s friend’s birthday. I told them to stay home but they wouldn’t listen.” She turned on the cartoon channel and handed the remote to Siva Rao and went into the kitchen.

“Can I help?” Sumana followed her.

“It’s almost done, not much really, almost done; ready in five minutes. You two chat. I’m sure you’ve a lot to talk about,” she said.

At the table, Attayya garu sat next to Sumana, gently playing with the curls on her forehead and talking, “You had a dark, thick mop of hair; I used to struggle to braid it. Did your husband tell you to cut it?”

“Oh no. He did not say anything. I did it myself; it is easy to take care, you know.”

“Is he making good money? After all, it is only for the money our people come running to this country, leaving behind families and properties; isn’t it true? Are you saving? We never know when the wealth comes and when it disappears. Why aren’t you working? Did your husband object? So, how come only one child? He is making good money, you have everything, you should have bellyful of kids. One eye is not eye and one child is not child, my mother-in-law used to say. I also have only one child, Rambabu, you know.”

Sumana was flabbergasted. She never imagined this side of Attayya garu-endless flow of inquiries about her personal life. She did not know how to answer them. She felt like a little chicken caught in the hands of a naughty boy. Her heart shrunk; she threw a desperate look Ratnamala; seem to be saying “save me” look. Ratnamala was busy with something on hand and with her head down. She might be trying to hide the fact that she was enjoying the entire scene.

Sumana gathered all the strength she had and made a desperate attempt to stop Attayya garu as she said, “Oh, no, no, he did not say anything, nothing at all. In fact, he never interferes with any of my ways. I just do whatever I please, that’s it. He is not like that at all.”

“How come you are not working? I’ve heard here you have all kinds of facilities to take care of children.”

“I thought I’d rather take care of children myself than ask others. Children are more important to me.” It hurt her that to think that Attayya garu should feel that she was doing something wrong.

Ratnamala also felt like saying something in defense of moms taking care of children. “That’s what I said too,” she said and started setting the table. “Will you tell them to food is ready,” she said to Sumana, putting an end to the chat temporarily.

Sumana thanked her stars and her hostess, jumped to her feet and dashed to the living room. She came back and sat next to Pandu on the pretext she needed to feed him. However she could not escape from the torrent of questions from Attayya garu completely.

Attayya garu sat across from her and continued her enquires: Is the young man [her husband] treating you well? Is he doing well in his job? You own the house? …

On the way home, Siva Rao turned to Sumana and asked, “Happy?”

Sumana could not come up with a proper answer for that question.

000

Sumana put down the pen and started folding the paper in her hand. Siva Rao returned from office. He saw the paper in her hand asked, “Letter? Wherefrom?”

Sumana handed over the paper to him without a word.

Siva Rao took it and stared at her. Is it from Attayya garu? Sure looks it! He was confused.

Sumana shook her head, read it.

Siva Rao sat down and started reading the letter.

 

chiranjeevi saubhagyavathi Sumanaki,[v]

 

Your Attayya garu blesses you and writes as follows. I am doing well here and hope you all are doing well.

I was very happy that you had taken the time to come from so far away just to see me. I never thought I would see you again in this lifetime, my baby. You made a point of remembering me and coming to see me. It made me so happy. May God bless you!

You’ve always been a good girl, even when you were a little kid. Remember, you used to come running to our home after school every day. I used to wait for you anxiously and your uncle used to tease me, your pet child has not come yet? At the time you were six-years old and you grew into beautiful young woman right in front of my eyes and finished high school. I however see you only as that six-year old child. That’s why I was so excited yesterday. I was so excited, wanted to ask you so many questions, wanted to know everything about you … I could barely contain myself, my dear: How’re you? What are you doing? How is your marriage? Is he taking good care of you? I know my questions would be annoying to you. But, what can I say? What can I do? You know I am not educated like you. You tell me, how would I know the etiquettes of your generation? I have no idea what movies you watch and what politics you talk about. That’s all Sanskrit to me. I live only in my small world and I talk only about the very few things I am familiar with and only in a manner I have gotten used to. That’s all. Anyway, while we are on the subject, I am asking again. Is your husband treating you kindly? He is not into drinking and flirting, right? Okay, never mind. I’ve seen him. He looked pretty decent to me, I’m sure he is a perfect gentleman and he is very fond of you.

Do you remember? One time your uncle went out of town and he wrote a letter to me from there. I didn’t know how to read and asked you to read it to me. I asked you all right but did not let you read it to the end. I snatched it away from your hands midway. I had a feeling what might be there and I was scared in case you might start asking questions. Now, you’ve all grown up, maybe, you’ll understand what it could be about. I know your husband is romantic too!

At that time, anyway, I bawled at your uncle for writing the letter, knowing full well I did not know how to read. He bawled back at me, saying that is why I am telling to learn how to read and write. After your family had moved away, I started to learn how to write, with the hope I could write to you, but it did not go far.

Remember you made a small mat in your crafts class and gave it to me. You told me I could sit on it at the puja time. I still have it. I would not sit on it though for fear it might wear off and get ruined. I know what I should do now. After I return home, I will sit on that mat and perform Satyanarayana puja in your name, seeking the Lord’s blessings on you, your husband and the child. I would wish a long happy marital bliss for both of you.

As for me, the fact that you’ve come to see me is enough. I never thought I would see you again. And in all probability, I may not see you again. My part in this world theater is nearing the end. I am only waiting for the Lord Siva’s command. As soon as he says go, I will depart. Please, do not be mad at this foolish Attayya garu.

With all the best and kindest blessings,

Yours

Attayya

Siva Rao turned the paper back and forth, looked around for the envelope, and looked into Sumana’s face. He moved closer and said lovingly, “You have understood Attayya garu and written the letter just the way she would have written. It reflects her perception completely, as if you were holding a mirror to her heart. The wording is completely hers, no doubt. If she could see this, she would be ecstatic.”

Sumana could not feel all that reassured. “What is the point of words? It should show in action,” she spoke softly.

“Stop, you should not feel guilty like this. Recognizing something about a person and admitting it is just as important. Do you know how many people cannot or will not even see that?” And then, he said, in an effort to lighten the air, “This is all cute but you’ve made a drunk and flirt,” and brought his face close to hers.

Sumana bit her tongue, squinted and smiled, leaning on his chest.

The phone rang.

“Pch, bummer,” he said, as went and picked up the phone. He listened for a couple of minutes, and said, “Oh, no! I am so sorry. … Sure, I will tell her. … take care,” and hung up. He turned to Sumana.

Her face fell. She was staring at the paper in her hand. She kept circling the phrase “the Lord Siva Commands” mechanically.

Siva Rao walked back to her, sat next to her and said, “Attayya garu suffered a heart attack last night. They are still conducting tests, no need to worry about, he said. She may not need surgery.”

She could barely see the words the Lord Siva Commands through the film of tears that gathered in her eyes. Suddenly, she grabbed her husband’s hand and said in a husky voice, “Let us perform Satyanarayana puja.”

Siva Rao was startled. This was the first time he heard it from her. He managed to hide his surprise and said, “Of course, we will perform the puja. I think Paurnami [Full moon] falls on next Saturday, good for the puja.”

[End]

Author’s note: This was originally written in Telugu, inspired by a friend’s a casual comment. Then, readers actively participated in a discussion on the story, especially on the ending. Following their responses, I wrote a second version, making several changes to suit the ending. This translation of the second version again needed a few more changes in view of the fact that this needs to be made readable by non-Telugu speaking audience.

In all, I must say, this has been a good exercise in writing fiction and translation. Thanks to Telugu thulika readers. I hope you all enjoy this version also.

The links for Telugu versions on Telugu thulika:

Sivudaajna (ver 1) http://wp.me/p9pVQ-9G

Sivudaajna (ver. 2), http://wp.me/p9pVQ-b6

Published in 2008.

– Nidadavolu Malathi



[i] Refers to a Telugu proverb which says not even an ant will sting unless the Lord Siva commands it, Sivudaajna ayitee kaani cheemaina kuttadu.

[ii] Ceremony marking family’s move into a new home.

[iii] Food or fruits offered to God and eaten by devotees as a sign of receiving His blessings.

[iv] A children’s story in which a little boy pokes into an anthill and the ants sting his finger.

[v] In our culture, the form of address  at the beginning of letter reflects relationships between the two as well as blessings or regards as the case maybe. The address here indicates the old lady started the letter with her blessings to the young woman. 

Icchapurapu Jagannatha Rao

Fortune Follows Courage by Icchapurapu Jagannatha Rao

Sudarsanam finished the lesson for the day and the girls left. He was getting ready to leave. Usually Padmini would show up at this time every day to inquire how the teaching was going.

ijrao

She walked in so softly into the room that Sudarsanam could not hear her footsteps. But the aroma that accompanied her floating in the air announced her arrival.

“Vasantha studied hard last night. You have asked her questions I suppose. Did she answer?”

“She has answered well. Vasantha is smart.”

The conversation started the same way as always and that bothered Sudarsanam. If she did not raise the question, he would have to raise it himself. And that would not be pleasant experience. … but …

“She is devoted to you. … We have hired two teachers before. She didn’t care for them at all.”

Sudarsanam stood there, watching without batting an eyelid—her snow white saree, the blouse peeking slyly through that sheer saree, behind that … the gold chain resting in the delicate glimmer of her neck and sleeping happily in the hills and valleys underneath, … The sight of that chain was stirring several thought in him forcefully.

“I’m leaving,” he said feebly. “Already? Stay for a few minutes …” – he imagined her to be saying. … But …

“Alright,” said Padmini.

Sudarsanam set out, walking weakly, and chewing himself out. He was a coward; he could not open his mouth to ask what was his and what was rightfully his.

Was he afraid of Padmini?

Yes and no… Let it be. Would it be better if he broached the topic with her father? It felt like a worse mistake. In this matter, Padmini was totally responsible. …She was not a little girl. It got so delayed for so long only because of him. … Tomorrow … he must pick up the courage. … Otherwise …

Sudarsanam returned to him room listlessly and lay down on the cot. The room was full of dust and cluttered with little things all over. But those things were not bothering him now. There was only one solution for all this and it was in Padmini’s hands. When she extends her beautiful soft hands toward him and … His thought would stop there.

His innards were howling. But his current financial position rendered him incapable of going to the hotel to eat. Sudarsanam got up, went to the tea stall across from his room, had some tea and pakora and returned to his cot to lie down.

He could not sleep.

He could see the moonrise in its fullness through the hole in the wall. As he opened his eyes, he was reminded of the lotus and black tulips, which reminded him of Padmini.

He could not bear this pain. His life would be unbearable if he could not ask Padmini tomorrow. What if she got angry and the negotiation fails?

No matter what, he could not waste that one wish he was banking on. We’ll see if it comes to that, he told himself. And there was no indication that Padmini could act so inhuman.

The daybreak followed his thought process –sunrise… Padmini …

Sudarsanam had made up his mind that he would finalize the matter once for all on that day.

000
Sudarsanam managed to finish the lesson and sent Vasantha away. The next minute, Padmini came into the room.

He picked up the courage, told himself dhairye sahase Lakshmi [Fortune follows courage] and said faintly, and reminding himself of his suffering the night before, “I was thinking of asking you one thing …”

“What is it?” asked Padmini lightly.

Sudarsanam said boldly and seriously, “I think you have forgotten about the pay for this month. I thought I should remind you.”

“Oh, no. Father had given it to me two days back. My poor memory!” Padmini said, went into the other room quickly.

Sudarsanam was ecstatic. It was like he had conquered the world, and experienced the taste of divine bliss. His bravery was not wasted.

000

(The Telugu original, dhairye sahase Lakshmi, was published in the early 1950s.
Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, October 2007)

G. V. Krishna Rao (Review) by Nidadavolu Malathi.

He is considered to have set the standard for Telugu literature. A Literary meet, Sri Aravinda Sahityaseva samiti, Tenali, honored Dr. G. V. Krishna Rao on March 3, 1979. At the ceremony, several writers and critics praised him for his superior quality work in Telugu literature and commented that his work sets standard for Telugu literature.

Krishna Rao was born in 1914 in Kuchipudi village, Tenali taluq, Andhra Pradesh, India. In an autobiographical essay, Dr. Krishna Rao stated that originally he was not very keen on attending school. His parents had no education but wanted him to obtain education. Not much came out of it though. Either he absconded school or when went to class, his mind was elsewhere. Later, his aunt took him to her village and put him through school there.

He was not much of a learner in traditional methods. He says that when he tried to write chepa [fish], it would look like chaapa [mat]. Nevertheless, he wrote a parody and showed it to his friend. That friend showed it to their teacher. The teacher chided him kindly though, “You can’t recite even ten verses and you’re writing poetry?” At the same time, the teacher also gave him a piece of advice, which he says was worth a million. The teacher told him, “It is wrong to write poetry without studying literature on poetics thoroughly. It will let the hell break loose.” At the time, Krishna Rao was in eighth grade. Thenceforth, he started studying classics and ancient grammatical works on his own. He says that study had its negative consequences. For instance, he came to believe that writing meant only writing poetry and that scholarship meant writing complex phrases. In his later years, he understood that prose was more important and put it on a higher pedestal.

In his final year of high school, his teacher, Sastry, corrected his essay and told him, “Writing long, meandering phrases is not good. Beatific meaning is important. Unless there is efficacy, one should not use a word that is not comprehensible instantaneously. A document must always be lucid as like a peeled banana. That is the greatest writing.”

Krishna Rao was well-versed in grammatical texts ever since he was a child. He started creative writing in high school. At the age of 17, he wrote his first novel, and wrote a satakam (a book of 100 verses) at the age of 20. He also wrote a storybook for children and tried to have it prescribed as textbook in schools, but did not succeed though. During the same period, he was upset with one of his teachers and wrote a poem on the blackboard. That resulted in him being transferred to another school. There he met with Tummala Venkatramayya with whom he had forged good friendship. Venkatramayya recounted a couple of interesting incidents from this period. First, Krishna Rao’s name in school records was Gavini Venkatakrishnayya. He researched the origins of his surname, and found out that there was a word Gavaka meaning the entrance to Durgamapuram. In course of time, that the word underwent several variations such as gavanu and gavani. He preferred the name Gavanu. Currently, however his surname is appearing in books as Gavini.

During the same period, he filled the answer papers with his comments on the grammatical errors in the questions given to him, instead of answering the questions. In his school days, parents used to request him to write poems of blessing for their sons and daughters at their weddings.

Krishna Rao performed ashtavadhaanam and sataavadhaanam – a peculiar kind of poetic application where a poet crafts poems, extempore and one line at a time in response to eight or one hundred individuals, called prucchaka [interrogators] in one sitting. This skill is prevalent only in Telugu and Sanskrit to the best of my knowledge. Krishna Rao took it as a challenge and practiced these skills in woods, pretending the trees to be the interrogators, and playing himself both the interrogators and respondent. He would not much give much weight to these early writings. He commented, “It took a long time for me to get rid of the habit which I had gotten used to from this trellis-like poetry.”

While he was studying for his bachelor’s degree, he met Gopichand, a prominent leftist writer of his times, from whom he had acquired a taste in Western literature and literary styles. Krishna Rao studied M.N. Roy’s works and Marxism, which changed his entire perspective. He understood that the use of colloquial language was important for his work. In those days, he also used to meet with traditional writers as well as modern writers like Chakrapani and Kutumba Rao. They all met regularly in some medical store and discussed the characteristics of criticism and short stories.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, he tried to get a job but without success. During this period, it became hard for him even to get food to eat which reminded him of an episode describing the anger and frustration of the sage Vyasa in kasikhandam. Inspired by the episode, Krishna Rao wrote a play called bhiksha paatra [Begging bowl]. He says, “It is my first writing that emanated from the bowl filled with experience.” He sent it to several magazines but none of them accepted it for publication. However, the play has received critical acclaim later and been performed in several places numerous times. In this context, the comment made by Kurma Venugopalaswamy, registrar of Andhra University in the fifties and an avid supporter of Telugu stage is worth mentioning. He commented that he had read the play several times and had it performed in the experimental theater of Andhra University, Waltair, Andhra Pradesh. It has been translated into several Indian languages also.

After failing to obtain a job, Krishna Rao went to Benares to study for his master’s degree in English literature. He took a tutoring job to pay his tuition fee. At this time he also pursued his other interests. He studied eminent literary works in Telugu, Sanskrit and English. That part of his studies resulted in a classic work, kavya jagatthu. About this book, Krishna Rao says, “I explained the metamorphoses of theme in a kavya from the perspective of Marxism, quoting various from notable Indian and Western works, from Bharata to Pandita rayalu, and from Plato to Marx.” Further, he added, “I reviewed modern literary movements and their characteristics, and wherefrom they originated, namely, the social conditions and the leaders of those movements.”

Another milestone in Krishna Rao’s life was attending the political conference organized by Radical Democratic Party following the end of Second World War. At the conference, M. N. Roy vehemently criticized the existing political parties and proposed a new humanistic idea that is non-divisive and democratic in principle. That speech stunned Krishna Rao and paved the path for his future literary pursuits. That was the start of his studies in philosophy. Eventually, Krishna Rao worked on Kalapoornodayam for his Ph.D. and received his doctorate.

From his writings, Krishna Rao’s life appears to be one long stretch of endless inquiry, insatiable thirst for knowledge—from meaning of a given word to meaning of life. He has stated that the theme in his novel, keelu bommalu [Puppets] reflects this enquiring mind: “What does freedom mean? How humans are losing it? What is the way to regain it? To what extent, the economic and political matters are influencing human lives? What is the duty of individuals?—inciting this pursuit of knowledge is the goal of keelu bommalu,” he has stated in the preface to the book. Once a reader wrote to Krishna Rao suggesting the novel should have a happy ending. Krishna Rao replied, “Had I given it a happy ending, I wouldn’t have gotten even this note from you.” Apparently, the author was happy his novel provoked the reader to think.

While he was working in a degree college, he studied keenly the grammatical works of Acharya Nagarjuna, vigrahavarthini, Ratanavali and several others and translated them into Telugu poetical works. Unfortunately, his translations were stolen. He said he was able to translate again only one book vigrahavarthini and published it with extensive preface. He also translated Plato’s Republic.

In 1962, he lost his job. Then he started writing another novel, papi kondalu but left it unfinished as he got a job in a radio station. While working at the radio station, he wrote some poetry, translated pratima natakam by Bhasa, and published an anthology of his short stories, udabinduvulu. The author called it an anthology of short stories. However, the copy I had come across includes poetry, plays, and two essays. His last novel papi kondalu was never completed. Krishna Rao died in 1978.

Krishna Rao is one of those rare scholars who had examined the Indian traditional values and ancient works as well as Western philosophies thoroughly, developed his perspective on life and the world and presented his own philosophy. His works such as jegantalu and kavya jagatthu vouch for his standing as a literary persona. He had been persistent in his jignasa [pursuit of knowledge] even from his childhood days.

His opinion regarding the western influence on our (Telugu people’s) mode of thinking speaks of his keen sense of awareness what is wrong with our society at present. He says, “We have acquired modern, scientific and technical knowledge. Rationalism has taken place in our lives. Industries have been set up and wealth has prospered. The appetite to go for it [wealth] one way or another also has increased. We’ve gotten used to materialistic culture and started pursuing physical pleasures. In the process, we are becoming increasingly slaves of material possessions and thought. Ethical values are waning; generosity and appreciation of fine arts are disappearing. We must not ignore economic values, which we have learned from western civilization. But are the economic values the same as all values? Unfortunately, we see them only racing our lives today. What is happening to this society? Are we forgetting gradually the culture that has put dharma on high pedestal and made us visualize Truth, Beatitude and beauty; are we forgetting ourselves?” he questions.

Until recently, I have not heard of any of his works but for the novel keelu bommalu. After receiving the novel from his daughter, Dr. Umadevi, I searched Internet and found several other works. Here are some his works I have found:

Sahiti chaitraratham. This is a commemorative volume, put together in honor of Krishna Rao, his service to Telugu literature and his distinctive personality. The volume includes articles by several prominent writers, critics, and admirers of Telugu literature. It also contains three essays by Dr. Krishna Rao.

In his article on the duty of writer, he comments, “Our writers, being unable to see the world perceptible by the five senses, are commemorating the world of the past. Even those who could see the modern world are unable to comprehend it. Even if comprehended it, they are only playing a game like ring-around circus but unable to resonate with it. A writer may become a poet only when he watches the present day world, comprehend it, ache for it and then proffer his views to the world. If he fails to do so, he becomes simply a seeker of renown.

Jegantalu is a Telugu rendering of Plato’s philosophy. He called it a translation. From what I understood, which, I must admit is very little, the book is a result of his study several books by Plato. At the end, a list of 18 books by Plato and critical works by other writers is given as his sources.

In his essay Kavya jagatthu, the author discusses the essence of kavya from the perspective of Marxism. The book includes extensive discussion of various poetic works in Sanskrit, Telugu and English and the author’s perspective on the themes under discussion. There is a glossary at the end.

Udabinduvulu is an anthology of his poems, stories and plays, including the play, bhiksha patra mentioned earlier.

I have been searching for the novel, keelu bommalu for a long time. Several novels published in the forties and fifties were focused on the struggles of Independence movement and the social conditions following the declaration of independence. Among the very few novels that dealt with human condition and psychological analysis, chivaraku migiledi [that which remains at the end] by Buchibabu, is well-known. I believe, Krishna Rao’s novel keelu bommalu [Puppets] belongs in that category.

I liked keelu bommalu better than chivaraku migiledi despite its high acclaim in literary circles. In terms of thems, in the latter novel, the story revolves around one man and his thoughts about himself and the women around him. The entire story is presented only from the protagonist’s perspective. The other characters have no identity except what the protagonist tells us. On the other hand, in Keelu bommalu the author presents a balanced view of all characters. Each character speaks its mind thereby giving the reader a chance to discern his own opinion of those characters. Secondly, in chivaraku migiledi, the story revolves round man-woman relationship. In keelu bommalu the story is anchored in the dharma of individuals. Thus, the topic is broader.

Regarding the title of the book, puppets, the perception usually is that we are puppets in the hands of some unknown force; there is a player who pulls the strings and make us act. Krishna Rao states unequivocally that was not the message in his book. His aim was to illustrate, “A human being must think for himself from the perspective of humanism, and choose his own path of dharma.” In this novel we see how a man thinks when he is faced with a conflict and how he resolves. Apparently, most of the time, he forgets his dharma and resorts to temporary comfort zone.

The protagonist, Pullayya, cosigns a loan for Chandhrasekharam without telling his wife. When the time for repayment is up, Chandrasekharam has no money to settle the debt. Legally and morally, it is Pullayya’s obligation to pay up but he cannot do it. His problem is, if he pays his wife would come to know of cosigning, and he is not prepared for such revelation. That is the crux of the issue in the novel. People in the village start talking about it, expressing opinions on either side. Pullayya’s daughter wants to know the truth. She asks father and he by keeping his mouth shut, leads her to believe that he did not cosign the loan and that Chandrasekharam was spreading rumors. Not only he misleads his daughter and wife but in course of time he convinces himself that he had done nothing wrong. Pullayya did not lie out of ignorance but with the full knowledge of the actual event. He consciously chose to ignore the truth and let the villagers divide into factions and emotions flare up resulting in clashes on the streets, arson and murders. Even when the village is being destroyed systematically, Pullayya remains convinced that he did nothing wrong. He even accepts honors for his generosity. The message is individuals need to reflect and decide what dharma is for them by themselves. It is not something that somebody would provide for them. In that sense, there is no puppeteer. Each person is his own puppeteer. The author has shown extraordinary skill in depicting this angle in the story.

There is another angle to the story, particularly in relation to modern mode of thinking—that the value Pullayya puts on his wife’s status in the family. Back in the fifties, making money is husband’s duty and running the household is wife’s duty. That being the case, he should have told her about the possible expenditure yet he did it without her knowledge. At the time probably, he hoped it would never come to this—his obligation to pay up. Then, modern day question is: Why couldn’t tell her later when it was time for him to pay off the debt? That is the peculiarity in our culture. The incident highlights the way husband and wife respect each other in our culture. Author never vocalizes this aspect; perhaps at the time it was not even a question.

A prominent critic, R.S. Sudarsanam commented, “Krishna Rao gives high importance to an individual and his conscience regarding performing one’s duty. There is a considerable relevance of Freud’s unconsciousness theory in both the incidents—first, Pullayya forgetting his duty and, secondly, Dr. Vasudeva Sastry’s failing in performing his duty.” He continues to add that Pullayya ignored his duty due to his cowardice and selfishness whereas Vasudeva Sastry took responsibility for the mistake and was prepared to correct it socially. I am not convinced of this argument.

First, let me explain the situation. Vasudeva Sastry invited a local teacher Satyanarayana, his wife Padma and their little child into house after their house had been burnt by one of the factions. While staying in his house, Padma goes to Vasudeva Sastry while he was half asleep and had sex with him. Vasudeva Sastry believes it was only a dream and continues to believe so until Padma tells him that she was pregnant with his child. Vasudeva Sastry suggests they elope. Padma refuses to elope with him. Sastry screams that she was a typical Hindu woman; apparently, he was expressing his “righteous” anger.

To me, the entire incident is a bit dramatic. That Vasudeva Sastry, a doctor by profession and rational thinker, would not know whether he had sex in reality is strange. Secondly, after learning that Padma was carrying his child, he suggests a solution without taking into consideration what effect it would have on Padma’s husband and their child. Is that really a socially responsible, rational suggestion?

Sudarsanam suggests that the author made Vasudeva Sastry his mouthpiece in order to express his own opinions. I think Vasudeva Sastry is just one more character in the story. Author has never made any statements to believe otherwise.

In his preface to this novel, author stated that, “I did not write this novel aiming at any one individual, parties, or upcoming elections. Only artistic appreciation is the main basis for this writing. Only when the reader is willing to forget the passion of party politics, and read it, then only he can achieve the right kind of appreciation.”

Krishna Rao was a seeker of Truth, philosophical commentator. He is one of the very few who have continued pursuit of their literary activities, reflecting on one’s dharma, and total commitment.

                                 ***

A Note: Further discussion of the novel keelu bommalu in audio format, produced by Nidadavolu Malathi and Kalpana Rentala is available on archive.org. Click here.

(Thanks to Dr. Uma Devi, Krishna Rao’s daughter, for kindly sending me a copy of the novel, keelu bommalu.)

(written by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published originally on thulika.net, May 30, 2012)

Illusion! (story) by Dr. G. V. Krishna Rao.

My aunt, who never had even a cold, was in bed. At home, not a sole was around to make a spoonful of gruel at least. It would not be a big issue if it was only me. My father was old and on crutches. Somebody had to wait on him constantly and keep handing him something or other. Then, there was the farm hand, eating three meals a day – that was the way the farming, I suppose.  

I was not complaining that I had to burn my hands in the kitchen. My aunt however was a big problem. Doctor told us in no uncertain terms that we should not let her set foot on the floor; she must remain in bed. She handling the stove was absolute no, no, he said. But would she listen? She was anxious to prove that she was a nice person. She would walk into the kitchen in spite of our vehement protests. I would get upset and yell at her at the top of my voice but what is the point? My angry protests were blown away and she would continue her job as she was accustomed to.

I felt a tug at my heart. We had enjoyed all kinds of services from her, nice and not so nice, all these years. Now she was down and we were not able to get her a bit of medicine; I felt crushed to the ground. Yet, what could I do? The little bit we’d gotten from the yield was barely enough for clothes and farming. So, loan seemed to be the only option. But then again, had we borrowed, how could we repay? My mind was in a fix.

My aunt’s condition was getting worse. She could not sit even for a brief period. She kept walking in and out of the kitchen from the east room. I thought the sooner I took her to the hospital the better. In fact, she would not sit in one place, unless she left home.

Therefore, I must leave soon for the town. But whom should I ask for money? If I ask, it should be somebody that would help save my face. But then again, when a life is at stake, should I be worried about reputation? In fact, why fear at all? There is no dearth of money in the country. Nobody needs to hesitate to lend me money. With that confidence, I went to Narasayya’s home.

I must say that Narasayya garu was a peculiar person. He had been swinging around about twenty thousand rupees in loans yet he never went to court, not even once. Whatever the greatness of his money was, the borrowers returned it on time, each anna and paisa, even when their own homes were crumbling to the ground. I never heard that he had pressured them into paying either. He actually was so detached, I was told. I also heard that there was no greater philosopher or jnani than he not only in our village but also in the neighboring villages. My acquaintance with him was not much. I had seen him at the library for a couple of times.

I went to his door. Narasayya garu showed be a bench in the east room and he sat, leaning on the pillar across from me. He was wearing a neatly folded uttareeyam on the shoulder. He asked, “Abbayi! How’s your father, been around?”

“Yes, sir, he is doing okay.”

“He used to come to the library in the evenings, sit on the porch and chat with us briefly. I have not seen him for the past four days. I thought he might be sick. That’s why I am asking.”

“He is fine. But my aunt is in bed. There is nobody to cook even a morsel of food for her. It is getting irksome.”

“Oh, no, I am sorry, that must be hard. Family life is hell even when everything is in order. When there is nobody to cook, and somebody is sick, what else can we say? That is why people say family is a sea of sadness. So be it; hardships come and go. There is nothing more stupid than thinking that this world and this life are everlasting and delightful. So, did you send for your younger sister?”

“What is the point of her coming; what can she do? Also, she has a huge family, the size of a farm. How can she afford to come and stay here for four or five months?”

“Well, somebody has to be there to boil a handful of rice, isn’t it so?”

“Well, we’ll manage somehow. But, it is my aunt that has become a problem.”

“How?”

“Doctor suggested we take her to Madanapalli.”

“Well, these doctors; they just speak words. They will tell you anything. Do they care if it works for the patient, whether it is affordable? As the saying goes, our string snaps by the time we are done with their advice. Why didn’t you consult Acharyulu garu in our village?”

“I would for any other complaint. In cases like tuberculosis, we have no other way except follow the doctor’s advice.”

“We entertain such thoughts only because we cannot control our hopes. But are doctors gods? Who can say what happens in what moment. When the time comes, let alone doctor, not even Brahma cannot keep a person alive. Those who live live wherever they are. And those, who are bound to die, die even after drinking the divine nectar. Life and death are one endless flow of river. It is strange when we think how and wherefrom they emanate.”

What is there for me to say? I could not open my mouth to ask for money. However I recalled my aunt’s spasm, picked up courage, and said, “What you’ve said is correct, three times as good. Yet, human beings must put in their efforts also, right? I have to take my aunt to Madanapalli. Please, let me have two hundred rupees. I will pay it back in January.”

Until then, I was losing my mind, worried that he might dismiss my appeal; after saying it however, my heart calmed down. Then another thought sprang up. Why did he talk like that? I was lost. There are a wide variety of people in this world. There are several theories. What is amiss in that? When a fellow human being is in need, and if you jump in to help, keep the human value alive, what is wrong in that?

I signed the note, handed to Narasayya garu and received the money. “You are going with your Aunt, I assume. After admitting her in the hospital, let me know about her health, whenever you can,” he said a couple of times before I left.

I blamed myself for suspecting such a generous man. His detachment and sympathy took me by surprise. I concluded that there is nothing more idiotic than measuring one’s heart by their words.

I made all the necessary arrangements at home, took my aunt to Madanapalli and admitted her in the hospital. Soon enough, I received a letter from Narasayya garu, “How is your aunt’s health? Did she get some relief? Write to me all the details, no stalling, I mean it,” he said in the letter.

As soon as I saw the letter, I was ashamed of myself. I thought he had asked me to write to him casually. I did not think he would be so particular about my aunt’s wellbeing. How could I think that somebody’s wellbeing would be a concern for someone who considers this world is an illusion?

It is imminent I write to him. Not just write to him about my aunt; it is only fair I ask him to write to me about his and his family’s welfare too; and it is my duty also. However, I did not know about anybody in my town; never tried to learn about them. Considering the conditions in the town, I had decided that it would be best I kept my distance. So, whose wellbeing I could ask from him in my letter?

I immediately wrote to my father asking him for all the details regarding Narasayya’s family as soon as possible. Whatever his state of mind at the time, my father replied to me right away.

According to his letter, Narasayya had only one son named Vidyaranyulu. He was studying in a college in Tirupati or some other place for Vedanta Siromani diploma. Vidyaranyulu had a nine-month-old son, a doll of gold. Both mother and child were living in Narasayya’s house.

As soon as I received the letter from my father, I wrote to Narasayya garu, “Since I moved to a different place, I received your letter late. Therefore, my reply is also delayed. The doctors said two ribs needed to be removed. After that, I don’t know what happens. Like you said, if she is destined to live, she will live. Hope you are doing fine. I am sure baby Sankaram is crawling and playing in the backyard. When will Vidyaranyulu will be coming home?”

Twenty days passed by. There was no reply. I was surprised. Probably he was out of town or maybe got caught in some other problem. I did not have time to think about these things. Our condition was getting worse each day. Finally the day came when there was no need to worry about her any more.

The next day, I returned to my town along with the body. Since she was gone, one less subject to think about. Even if there was a need to think, it was of no use. The debt however was there waiting to be repaid.

After the pressures at home had settled, I inquired about Narasayya garu. I heard that his grandchild died by drowning in the well in their backyard. They could not ascertain whether the child crawled into the well accidentally or enemies threw him into the well. They woke in the morning and found baby Sankaram’s body floating in the well.

Poor Narasayya garu! What a misery! I thought I should pay a visit and went to his house. He was sitting on the bench in the east room looking devastated. As I entered, he moved to a side and gestured me to sit. After I sat down, he said, “When did you come into town? How is your aunt?”

I was almost in tears. “I asked since I was not aware. Please, don’t cry. I did not know he was gone. Who could say what happens when. Take my Sankaram’s case for instance. I never thought, not even in my dream that this could happen. Once an astrologer told me the old and the aged may die but nothing is going to happen to this child. I was very happy; thought I would be survived by son and grandson. Look what happened. This is all illusion, just illusion.” He took a sigh.

“How did the child end up in the well?”

“What can I say? We can’t call it robbery since all the jewelry–the gold waist band, tiger toe chain, and hand bracelets—were on the body intact. I have no enemies that I know of. Just his karma, and our karma came to the fore I believe.”

“Where is the well?”

“It is in the backyard. I could go with you to show but my legs wouldn’t move.”

“No, I’ll go myself,” I said and went into the backyard. The well was three quarters up to of my navel. I returned to the east room, “How old was he?” I asked.

“How old? Barely turned nine months. Maybe only to die, he grew like a ball.”

“It is illusion,” I said.

“What do you mean illusion?” he said, with an uncanny look on his face.

“Elderly people say no definition for illusion,” I said and left.

The following day, Narasayya garu sent word to me; he needed the money urgently.

***

Translator’s note: I chose this story for translation because this seems to be consistent with the author’s great interest in seeking Truth. Although the story is open to several interpretations, my belief is that the message is consistent with our traditional mode of thinking. In the Maha Bharata, Aranya parvam, there is a story depicting the life of a butcher named Dharmavyadhudu. By profession, Dharmavyadhudu is a butcher yet possesses superior knowledge and he leads a righteous life. When asked how he could justify his profession of selling meat, which involves killing animals, he explains one’s duty in coordinating one’s dharma and worldly matters. In the above story, the life of Narasayya could be interpreted as one such life.

(End)

***
(The Telugu story maya was published in August 1947. Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, May 30, 2012)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mesmerized by Nidadavolu Malathi.

It is four in the evening. Padmaja closed the book and turned toward the window. Snowflakes are flowing around forming into a thin veil. The city crew has not shown up yet to clear the snow from last night. These small streets are not exactly their favorite; do they consider these small streets their stepchildren? Last night it snowed quite big, darn it. All the city plow trucks started working on the major streets.

Padmaja went to the window and looked out again. She has been seeing her every day at the same time walking westward. She walks every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow; she never missed a day for over a year now. For a month or so, she starts wondering who she could be. Could not tell whether it is curiosity or just want to know.

She lives on a small street. Not many cars go on that road but for the eight families living on the street. Seeing a person on the street is almost finding a heavenly lotus. If the devil comes this way he might wonder why there is no smell of humans around; that is how the street is. On the south side, there seem to be two children, 5 or 6 year-old. Usually, their mother or father put them in the car and drive them away. That’s it. On very hot afternoons, once in a blue moon, she sees them riding their bikes, which again is rare. That’s all there is to signs of humans on this street. Sometimes it feels like it would not be any different from living in a heavily wooded forest. There were times, after she first moved to this place, when she wondered if she would see a bear or a lion one of these days! It is a far cry from the endless hustle and bustle back home. In the olden days, people used to go to the woods for penance because they needed a quiet place to meditate. Here this home could serve the same purpose. Unless one turns the TV on, one hears nothing. For her son, home means food and bed. And, the wife is extra benefit. One look at the Priya is enough to think that she might be considering all these amenities consequence of her past actions, her karma! She goes around performing her duties in a robot-like fashion. Think of it, the woman is two generations ahead, and educated as well, has a job. Wherever she could have gotten this kind of detachment? They don’t even look like they have any relationship.

Now she’s gotten used to this utter soundlessness. That brought a vague smile on her lips.

Padmaja looked up with a jerk. She has not noticed the time, lost in her own thoughts. Has she missed the lady on the street? She stood, walked to the window and peeked as far as she could see. There is she is. Padmaja watched as the woman walked ten past the window, turned around and stopped as she saw a dog in front of her. Padmaja is annoyed. She never understands these people’s love of dogs. For most of them, dogs mean more than human beings; that’s how she feels.

She could not hear the words but it seems the dog-owner picks up the dog, holds to her chest and is saying, Padmaja guesses “don’t worry. He is a friendly dog.” The woman stepped farther to the side and probably is saying, “He may be friendly dog but I am not dog-friendly.” True, the dog owner may love her dog but where is the rule that everybody must love dogs. There are forty-seven million human beings in the country don’t have a decent meal on a given day. And some of the dogs are receiving royal treatment. Shouldn’t the fellow humans be their priority? What kind of moral values are these? Pch.

The woman in blue went around the dog and the dog-owner and moved on.

Padmaja returned to her chair and picked up the book she had been reading. She looked at the watch on the wall; five minutes past 4:00 p.m.

It is getting hard to focus on the book. After forty-five minutes, the woman will be on her way back. Why? Can’t say but to wait for her has become a habit; developed rather unknowingly. Forty more minutes! … maybe I can start cutting vegetables for dinner, to kill time. She can start and her Priya will finish after she returned from work. Her Priya told her several times not to cook but Padmaja decided to cook since she has been feeling bored. Usually she cuts vegetables, and starts cooker with dal in it. That is about it.  Priya will finish rest of the cooking later. Sometimes she does not like the vegetable Padmaja has picked; then she puts it away and start with another. But for that, there isn’t much of a rift in that home; that is about it.

Padmaja picked up the book again. She has her eye on the window and she is also annoyed with herself a bit. She does not even know who that woman is, where she has come from, where she would go to; where will end up … nothing is known. Yet she is looking forward to seeing her as if she is a close relative; meaningless, irrational.

She looked at the watch again; ten minutes to go. Priya has come. “You’re early today, are you okay?” Padmaja asked. Usually, she comes after 5:00. Now it is only 4:45.

“No reason, just done with work,” she replied.

That’s it, the conversation is over. Padmaja turned to the window. The other woman might show up any minute now  … but that did not happen. Suddenly, something else occurred to her. Why not get up and go out. Why didn’t she think of that earlier? She got up, put on winter coat, and sneakers.

“Whereto?” asked daughter-in-law.

“Just … walk a bit, be back in a few minutes.”

“Now? It is getting cold, falling snow. I am afraid you might slip and fall.”

“It’s okay. I’ll be careful.”

“Why don’t you wait. I’ll take you to the mall. You can walk around there.”

“We go in the car always. Let me walk on the street for fresh air.”

“Okay, don’t go too far. Don’t go west. People in the area are not our type.”

Padmaja shook her head and started out. Priya gave her the cane for support. Padmaja does not need a cane however she does not mind take it when she is walking in snow. She took the cane and went out. She couldn’t stop wondering about what Priya said, “People like us.” Who are we and who are the “people like us?” Let’s be frank; we are not white either, come to think of it. No, we are not yet we are those who has all the virtues of the white folks; that’s the difference. Yes, we are those who have earned entitlement to education, money and culture successfully. Probably those living on west side do not have education and money. And culture even if they had does not count without education and money. “Our people” cannot accept whatever the other people possess may still be culture.

As she keeps walking, she was two boys coming toward her. One of them appears to be 18 or 19 years-old, could be older brother or father. The other boy is walking, holding the hand of the first boy, and dragging his boots in the snow. He might be just under four. He looked at Padmaja, squinting and smiled. The older boy looked at both of them and smiled too.

Padmaja shook her head acknowledging his greeting. The boys are not “our people.” It is strikingly obvious as if it is writ large in invisible on their foreheads. Yet, their smiles spread serenity in the air. Soon the boys went past her and disappeared behind her. She starts walking, arrives at a 4-way stop walked a couple of hundred yards further and stops, unsure which way to go. She could not identify anything on any side. She turns around and starts retracing her steps back to home.

She sees the boys again; apparently they also went somewhere and returning home probably. As they walk past her, the little kid hides behind the older boy’s legs and extends his tiny hand shyly, and touches her coat. The older boy looked at both of them and smiles. Padmaja laughs loud this time, says hello to younger boy and moves forward.

That day is over for Padmaja without seeing the woman she has been accustomed to see. That is a bit discouraging; yet, she is very much pleased for being shown the charm of friendship by those two boys on the west street. Her heart is floating in the air.

At home, she tells Priya the story of those two boys, “those people from the west side.”

“Oh,” says Priya, indifferent as usual.

Padmaja does not see the woman in blue the following day also. She is reminded of the two boys. For a second she thought may be that woman in blue also has been going toward west to see only those two boys. She sat down with a pen and paper. She jotted down:

For some people,

Friendship flows parallel

Like the river Saraswati

Invisible and inscrutable

For them,

Harmony is “Aura” Express*

Even as the railway tracks

Neither converge nor separate!

That is her first and last poetry in her life.

(End)

To read Telugu version, avyakta madhuram, click here

Translated by author and published on thulika.net, June 2012.

—————————————-

(Note: *Aura in Telugu is an expression of surprise. The term here is used as a play upon the name Howrah Express, a popular train in South India.)

 

 

Kites and Water bubbles by Lata

  It was close to late evening.

The city is stretching like a prostitute after a hex of demonic sex. All the cities are alike, when it comes to sex life. The difference lies only in the way women are destined to lead their lives.

In the city of Vijayawada, you will find a type of housing, unique to the city life; and then, there are also the policemen. One policeman stood in front of one such house and howled. One of the window panels opened slightly and a face peeked through. The policeman looked at her, with a kind of impish looks. She gestured back acknowledging his looks.

“Why are you scared of policemen? Ha? Aren’t they men like any other?” commented one woman.

This is our great India. In this country, man puts a woman’s honor on a pedestal and then sells it for a nickel in a heartbeat, twirling his moustache smugly, blowing hot and cold in the same breath. No qualms, none whatsoever.

The woman’s name is Rajamma. She has a husband. He pays professional tax, under the pretext of running a business, selling soft drinks, that is. She has two daughters, four nieces, and three more of her sister’s daughters [1] Some of them lost their mothers; and Rajamma took them, under her wing. As for the others, they lost their fathers, and Rajamma’s husband is taking care of them. Rajamma and nine female gems of our great India live under that roof.

Time is five in the evening. Signs of activity just started stirring up. All the other nine women, not counting Rajamma, woke up from their sleep.

“Hey! Did you see the time? Come on, get up!” Rajamma roared like a lion. All the nine women woke up as if yanked out of their beds. She alerted them one more time to get up and get ready and went into the kitchen.

The aroma of onion and dal soup spread around, tantalizingly. “Wow, there is a fine smell,” Ratti[2] said with a big grin. Currently, she is known as Ratnamanjiram.

“I am not hungry. Don’t feel like doing anything but Attamma[3] will get on our case. We might as well get up and get to work,” said Kantham.

“What can she do, kill us? What is her problem anyways? Her business goes to dogs but for us. She will hit the streets for spare change,” Sita said, sneering.

Let’s not mistake this Sita for the woman Valmiki depicted in Ramayana[4]. One thing is sure though. This Sita plays lover for all the ten heads of Ravana.

“Hey, Savittiri[5], Did you go to the movies last night? How much did you make?’’ Damayanti asked, with a grain of salt.

Before Savitri (Savittiri) could respond, Arundhati replied, “I am sure she made good. She is still green. No matter however you see it, I am sure she snatched five rupees at the least.”

“Five rupees? My foot! Some idiot near Rama talkies invited me to his room, a filthy rat hole, I tell you! Such a long walk. The walk alone was enough to kill me. Three men were waiting in the room, ghosh, huge, whopping bulls! They sucked the life out of me all night and then shoved into my fist a measly three rupees. I tried to reason with them that that was not fair. They growled and booted me. What can I do? I was three against one. I was already feeling worn out like a leaf for all the work they have done on me. I could barely bring myself home. Chha! What a rotten life,” Savitri lamented, in disgust.

“Paltry three rupees after all that tough grind. And two of those three rupees, two would go to attamma (Rajamma) leaving barely one rupee for you. Things were so much better in the past when we went to their room. We were making ten rupees at the least.”

“Well, there weren’t this many brothel houses then. There were only one or two per city in those days. Now we have two houses per street. Now they can get women, dime a dozen and that too, from higher classes. How could you expect anything more?’’

“Never mind. Attamma is howling. Come on, move,” Subbulu said and started rubbing her face, brusquely with a cheap soap. They finished bathing and went to the other room where Rajamma was waiting for them. Rajamma opened the wooden bureau in the corner and pulled out sarees for them. The sarees were made of cheap silk, the kind you could buy at the rate of a yard per rupee and a quarter. They were nearly transparent.

The nine women put on those cheap sarees, dabbed some kind of cheap make up on their faces, half an inch thick, and tucked in jasmine flowers in their hairdo. In all, they were spreading a revolting smell  with their cheap make up and sweat.

It was getting close to six in the evening.

The women went into the kitchen, picked up the aluminum plates from the corner and sat down to eat. Rajamma served a scoop of rice, and soup into their plates. None of them could relish the food. They were trying to nibble and swallow. Only Sita, unlike others, was gobbling it up. Sita was the youngest of them all, about 16 years old, still new, was looking fresh. Arundhati felt jealous watching her enjoying the food.

“Eat it, you might as well enjoy while you can. You might even get lucky and see two movies today,” Arundhati commented, with a pale grin.

“Attamma, let me have a piece of pickle, please,” Sita asked.

“What? You want pickles? I can’t serve you pickles and ignore others, can I? Favoritism is not my style, you know,” Rajamma bawled.

“Well then, give them too,” Sita said, sternly. she is the only one among them to speak her mind.

Rajamma hit the roof. “Give them too? How? You think I’ve got a bundle, to fritter away?”

Sita turned to others, “Fritter away, her money? She is talking as if she is feeding us out of the goodness of her heart! Takes two thirds cut of what we make; and, did you hear what’s she saying?” and turned to Rajamma, and howled back, “Come on, let’s have pickles. No big loss to your stash.”

 That put Rajamma in her place. She shut her mouth, went in and brought out the pickles jar.

Sita spoke the truth. Rajamma takes two rupees per head, that is eighteen rupees per day, total. At that rate, her earnings amount to five hundred and forty rupees per month which is the same as Class I Officer’s paycheck.[6] In addition, she also collects a quarter of a rupee per saree per night; charges the male customers one half rupee per night; that adds up to a considerable amount, in all. Of course, Rajamma has expenses to take care of. Her son attends medical school in a nearby city. She sends him two hundred rupees per month. She pays one anna[7] to Rangaiah, her husband-cum-watchdog of her establishment for his tobacco rolls. She, also has to pay for renting babies from snake-catchers and the desperate mothers who would rent their children for petty cash.

There is no sign of life in any of their faces except Sita. Arundhati and Sita went to the same movie they had seen six times. Kantham and Subbulu were standing in the doorway wearing a silly grin on their faces. Anasuya, Ratnam, Sumitra, and Damayanti stayed home waiting for walk-in customers. They were chewing dried tobacco bits rolled in pan leaves.

“Sita! You’re good, you gave it to Attamma, good,” Sumitra commented thickly, with her mouth, full of pan leaf juice.

“Well! You know me. This Sita is a kshatriya[8] woman. Nobody can take me for a ride,” Sita said, proudly.

“Oh, boy! Aren’t we smug! If you think so highly of yourself, how come you ended up here?” Damayanti said, tauntingly.

“She is bluffing. Do you remember Rangaalu? Left us looking for a break in the movies. She used to say she was a brahmin. Whoever would believe all that gibberish?” Sumitra said.

Sita was irate at the insinuation. “I am not like you people. I don’t lie. I am truly a kshatriya woman. I don’t care whether you believe it or not,” she said.

“Come on, Sita. It is six months since you came here; never told us your full story. Come on. What is your story?” Damayanti asked her.

Sita told them her story, “In our village, ours was the biggest house. One day my grandma got sick and my family, I mean everybody except me, went to see her. One of my uncles from another village, on his way to my grandma’s place, came. I was alone and young, you know. I did not understand what he was doing to me. After about four months, somebody said I was pregnant. My father flayed me black and blue. I wanted to drown myself, went to the river and was standing on the shore. A man was standing under a tree nearby with his camera. He saw me, grabbed my arm quickly and stopped me. He suggested  that I go to the city with him. He promised to marry me.

  “What a jerk, that uncle of yours! What’s wrong with him anyways,” Sumitra said, annoyed.

Sita continued her narration. “Stupid life, it’s so hard to let go of. I followed him to the city. He rented a small house in Purnanandam neighborhood and kept me there. I had my baby in a government hospital.[9] They said that the baby was stillborn. To hell with it, I told myself. Hardly, three months passed, he started bringing other men to our house.”       

“What about marriage?” I asked him.

He laughed. “Some jerk made you pregnant and you’re asking me to marry you? Ha! What a nerve? You bitch! You had better listen to me or I’ll kick you out,” he said.

  I refused to consent to his demands. Then, two men pinned me down to the floor and the third had me. I spit on myself in disgust, pulled my hair, and cursed my life. The pain was killing me. I felt like I was run through a grinder. Next day, I went around looking for work; saw a road construction site and asked them for work. I was not used to that kind of hard labor, you know. By evening, I was exhausted, was almost dead. At the end of the day, they gave me ten annas.

  One day, supervisor came and grabbed me from behind. He said, “You, gorgeous, why do this beastly job?” Rogue! Can you imagine? You sweat all day like a donkey and you’d get ten annas, and then on top of it, this? I dragged myself home, and guess who was waiting for me at my door, the temple priest! He was after me for a while. He offered me 25 rupees. Who could’ve thought of that! You work all day and you get 10 annas. You let go of your body for ten minutes and you are in for a nifty twenty-five rupees! No way to make an honest rupee in this world, I am telling you. I gave myself in to the priest on that night.”

“Oh, my god! Twenty-five rupees for one night. Are you crazy? What did you come here for? You stupid,” Damayanti wailed.

“You don’t get it, do you? He gave me 25 rupees on the first night. The second day, the price went down, whush, just like that to five. I waited around for a couple of months. A cop squished me into dead meat all night and went way without paying a paisa. Another jerk came, forget he paying me, he snatched away the only rupee I had and took off. I couldn’t take it, not anymore. I decided to move on. That’s how I ended up here. Here, we have at least uncle Rangaiah to protect us from such a mayhem; and aunt Rajamma, to give us some food. Yeah, maybe it’s only soup, still it’s something. And I have you all like sisters if I feel like talking…” Sita, said.

Damayanti noticed somebody at the door and turned to Sumitra. “Look, there’s your Kavi garu[10], came for you. I saw his play the other day in the library. Ghosh, God bless his soul! such a touching piece. He attacked the prostitutes and the institution; he was so brutal I felt sick to the pit of my stomach; wanted to jump into the river Krishna and kill myself. The play was that powerful, you know!” Damayanti said. [11]

“Yeah! He spends one half hour with me blabbering all that funny lingo of love—“deream garal, moyinee” and such. He curls up by my side like a puppy, looking very sad, and asks me why I got into this muck. I told him that, if he felt so bad, he should marry me and pull me out of this muck. He says he would when the time came. He talked about something, ‘borothal aaktu’[12] or some such thing; said he was working hard to change things… hell,” Sumitra said, and got up to get to work.

 These women may not be educated, may not know much, but they do know words like ‘Brothel Act’ and ‘Anti-Nautch Act’. They have heard plenty about these Government laws.

“These men may kick and scream all they want about the Brothel Act. Yet they are no different from any other male when it comes down to sleeping around. Their male mentality is not going anywhere,” Damayanti commented.

Kavi garu, the man they were talking about, is about 30-years old. He was wearing a glasgoe shirt and a dhoti[13] with Culcutta border[14]. He brought a magazine featuring one of his poems. Sumitra came to him.

Kavi garu held her with his arm around her waist, and said, “You are looking gorgeous, in this rose-colored saree.”

“Good, let’s go to a movie,” Sumitra suggested.

Going to a movie with this gorgeous woman on his arm was not one of his choice activities. It could lead to disaster if his friends or acquaintances saw them together.

“Not now, Sumi! I will explain it to you later. Here, see this magazine. I brought it for you,” he said coaxingly her and walked her into the next room. Sumitra can read minimally though. She reads magazines and books. She enjoys especially stories of damsels in distress and the knights in shining armor. She enjoys being that heroinee. That’s why she followed him into the next room without any more fuss.

 The few items made available to them in that room sum up their lives: a worn-out tape-cot with tattered tape hanging loosely, a filthy pancho spread on the cot, a grubby pillow, partly torn and the cotton-stuffing falling out, a water jug, a glass tumbler sitting on a stool in one corner of the room, and, a grubby mirror on the wall. There are three such rooms in that house. This one is middle level intended for people with limited means.

 The next room is for high-class people. That room has a mattress, a chair, a table and a flower vase with paper flowers. This room gets a little light and air as well. The third room is darn cheap, has a straw mat and a gunny sack stuffed with coconut strands for a pillow. A mud pot and an aluminum tumbler are kept in a corner.

 The only plausible facility for this ‘hell on the earth’ is the protection Rangaiah provides for the women. Whenever policemen show up at the door, he talks to them and fixes the problem. In return, the women provide ‘service’ for the policemen at no cost. The women are busy most of the time. Hardly any of the women has a minute for herself. If, by some stroke of luck, one of them finds some free time, either Rangaiah or some cop would fill that time-slot.

  In general, the women are entitled to the use of the first room during the first six months of their arrival. Their faces look okay during that period. After a year or so, they are moved to the second room. The charge for the second room is two and a half rupees per night. By the time they get to the second room their faces look worn out and their cheeks sunken. After six months they are moved to the third room. The charge for the third room is three quarters of a rupee, darn cheap. By the time they enter this room, they lose their hair, their teeth loosen and they start walking with their feet apart and painfully. By the end of the second year, half of them end up on the sidewalks begging for lose change. Half of them will be carrying a baby, a hopeless lump of human flesh, with one big red hole for mouth and nose.

 The customers in the first room are doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Mid-level office employees, students, and teachers use the second room. The third room serves the purpose for the elderly men, horse-cart drivers, railway porters, and such. All these males go wild anytime a new woman shows up in town as if it were a special holiday. Police inspectors can pick any woman as they please. If they were displeased they are sure to exercise their authority and throw the women in jail…

000

 Back to the story: A snakecharmer’s wife brought in two babies. Anasuya and Arundhati took the babies, one each, and proceeded to their customers’ houses. The baby is a ruse for the woman to pass as a family woman. The same men who hanker for other women in order to satisfy their own carnal pleasures, and the police officers who are supposed to protect the women from abuse and atrocities, are kindly disposed toward these women who present themselves as mothers! What a great country we live in! Amazing– the unique veneration we profess for the magnificent concept of motherhood!

  Arundhati walked and walked and walked and after what seemed to be an eternity finally arrived at a narrow lane. She stopped at a house and knocked on the door three times. A man, wearing a checkered lungi and knit T-shirt, opened the door. He grabbed Arundhati by her hair and dragged her in as he bawled, “You bitch, you are late.”

Arundhati, stifling her pain, replied, “you know, sir, I had to take the round about route to dodge the cops.”

The man did not say another word. He yanked the baby from her, threw him into a corner and seized her with a brute force. Fifteen minutes passed by. The child was crying all that while.

Another fifteen minutes passed before Arundhati was let go. Now, there were fresh bruises on her cheeks and lips. Her hair was messy. She could hardly walk with the baby in her arms. The child was crying non-stop. She felt a quiver in her heart and held him tight to her bosom.

Anasuya, holding the two-year old baby in her arms, went to a room rented by four students, future leaders of India and the backbone of our great nation! They would share her, a common practice among college students. The students were aware that if the landlady saw Anasuya she would flog them alive. Therefore, the students would usually wait until the landlady went to the temple, and then, send a message to Rajamma. Today, Rajamma sent Anasuya to their room. As soon as they saw Anasuya they stood up.

“Did you send for a woman?” Anasuya asked them, to make sure.

They haggled briefly about the rate. The terms for exchanging the much-venerated chastity of the woman were agreed upon. The men offered one and quarter rupee per person or five rupees total. Anasuya agreed.

“Hey, Yajulu, check the baby. Maybe, we could have her too,” Setti suggested.

“Why not? That’s a female too, right? A chick is a chick; age makes no difference. Seems like she is in good shape,” replied another student.

Anasuya felt sick. “Please, leave her alone,” she begged them.

Her words did not stop them. On the other hand one of them found it even more exciting. He poked the smiling baby with his finger. Yajulu felt sick in the pit of his stomach.

“Stop. Are you a beast or what?’ he screamed.

The four men rearranged the furniture in a rush, in preparation for their lewd venture. They raised a tape-cot and covered it with a bedspread to make a temporary partition. Anasuya went behind the screen. The four students went behind the screen, one by one in turn. Each one of them took about a half hour.

After the ritual was over, the students poured coffee from thermos and sat down sipping. The baby was staring at them with hungry looks. One of them spilled some coffee on the floor. The baby slouched on her belly and started licking the coffee off the floor. Anasuya came out of the hideout. She hoped they would give her some coffee but no such luck. She took the five rupees they handed her, waited until the baby finished licking the coffee, and left. She heard one of them say “mush,” and, others laugh.

Anasuya was walking by Vinoda movie theater and saw a woman at the street corner. The woman did not look familiar. “I never saw this woman in Vijayawada before,” she told herself but did not stop to talk to her.

After 4 or 5 days, Anasuya made the connection with the new face and convinced her to join their group. Her name was Suseela, just arrived from Madras. It is part of human nature, I guess, to be curious about how others involved in the same business fared in other places. The women in Rajamma’s establishment started asking questions. They wanted to know how they conduct business in Madras.

Suseela considered herself civilized since she lived in a big city called Madras. She gave them all the juicy details about the business in Madras. Isn’t it interesting that almost everyone respects his/her profession and refers to it as “business”, irrespective of prevelant, general perception of the same!

“I used to live in Teynampet[15]. I was acting small parts in the movies and offering sexual favors on the side.

I could earn a rupee a day. Actually, my hometown was not too far from here. I went to Madras with high hopes, for a career in the movies. I headed straight to Madras and got off at the Central Railway Station. I was scared and was looking a little lost, I suppose. A nice-looking man noticed me and asked me in Telugu, “Where are you from?”

It felt so good to hear a Telugu sound. I told him everything—where I was from, why I was there, and all.

He snapped his fingers and said, “No big deal. I can arrange that.” He said that, I resembled Anjalidevi[16] from every angle.

I was ecstatic, and followed him without thinking twice where I was heading. I had thirty rupees on me at the time. I thought I could get a break in the movies before I used up my cash.

The gentleman showed me around, sightseeing. Fifteen rupees were gone. Next day, he came rushing in and said, “I have a part for you in the movies. Come on, get up, quick.” In that moment, he looked like  God for me. We both went to the studio. There were sixty more women and they all were dressed up pretty much the same way I did. They broke us up into two groups and told us to line up on either side of the set. The heroine danced on the center stage. I am telling you, that is the heaven, there is no other place. As for me, the life is meaningless if you don’t act in the movies. After the dance, somebody yelled, “Cut.”

“Cut? What’s that?” Damayanti asked.

“Well, you know, they say ‘cut’ after the ‘shot’. I got two rupees for my share. I didn’t get any other part though for a couple of weeks. Now, the remaining fifteen rupees I brought with me also was gone. The man who was supposed help me disappeared without a trace. I was lost for a while. I couldn’t go home either. Then came the extra-supplier into my life. Sometimes you get four or five parts in one month. At other times you get nothing. Finally, it became obvious that there was no way I could get by without doing the business. That’s how I got into this business.”

“Are you saying the men in Madras are also the same?” Damayanti asked.

“All the men in the entire world are the same when it comes to sex, no difference,” Sumitra said.

“Well, here, men say, ‘this is what I want. You name the price’. It’s different in Madras. It is up to them. Anyway, I joined the friends’ circle,” Suseela continued.

“Friends’ circle? What’s that?” Subbulu asked, puzzled.

“Something like a group of people or a club. A man named Sahasranamam was the president of the friends’ circle. He was 60-years old. It’is good for our business to become a member in the club. They would maintain a list of all the members in the club. Sometimes, they plan a picnic. Both males and females can become members and they make new friends at the picnic. My neighbor, Thangammal made friends, with a rich doctor. She got lucky, I must say. The only problem is, unless you sleep with that old rat, Sahasranamam, you can’t get membership; the foxy scoundrel. He sent for me one day and I went there. He told me to follow a woman, she was slick, you know. Two men were waiting for us. That was so strange. Remember the movie I was in? the producer of that movie was also there. I recognized him but he didn’t recognize me. I liked the second man better. He treated me like a person, you know. After that I met him a few times and listened to his problems. He said, he had any number of lovers—teachers, nurses, movie stars, and whores, a million of them, he said,” Suseela continued to narrate her story.

“You are bluffing. Are you telling us that he had so many women running after him, and still, came to you?” Ratnam expressed her disbelief.

“No, that’s not what I said. I said I was running after him. He did say the truth. I saw the other women with my own two eyes. One day, I went to see him and saw a woman walking out of his room. She threw sizzling looks at me. I could see she was a family woman. After that I went in. He was not tired at all. Quite a man! On another day, I saw another woman stunningly beautiful. Then, I saw another woman with him. They both left in an auto rickshaw. I asked him about her. He didn’t say it, not in so many words, but later I came to know the whole story from Sahasranamam.’’

 It was 1:00 in the afternoon. It was blistering hot. The women in Rajamma’s house were trying to get some sleep but could not because of the sweltering heat. Only Rajamma could sleep like a baby in her room because her room has khus khus[17] shades hanging from the windows. The nine women were chatting with the new woman, Suseela. Her words were very soothing to their thirsty, worn out ears. They were excited to hear all the amazing business techniques in Madras. As soon as they heard that Sahasranamam told Suseela the entire story, their ears pricked for the story.

  Suseela continued her narration, “The man I was talking about was her husband. I think, she has four or five children. She sings at concerts and also in the All India Radio. She was born in a high-class family and was married into a high-class family. The families on both the sides are rich. It’s really weird. I could understand if she were poor like you and I. It seems, the husband finds men at the railway station or some other places like high-class hotels and brings them home to prostitute her. She charged one hundred rupees per night, from what I heard.”

“One hundred rupees!” Their jaws fell, in shock.

“What did you think? It is no joke. Her bedroom looks like a movie set of the heaven. The room has everything—a fan, air conditioner, and all. You know what I mean. Here we are roasting like pigs for all the heat. In her room it is so cool like on a rainy day because of that air conditioner. It seems she will keep coffee and ovaltin in a thermos and all kinds of sarees in mirrored closets. She will ask her customer to pick the saree of his choice.”

The women were listening, spellbound.

“Let’s say, he picks a parrot-green saree. She would take that saree and goes into the next room. She gives him some magazines to read while she was getting dressed. Her husband would be there to help with her makeup; he picks a matching colored, velvet blouse, and matching jewelry like emerald necklace, earrings, and all that. The customer would be just mesmerized. Then she sings for a little while. She would not get down to business until and unless she was that dazzlingly beautiful, you know.”

“If, they are so rich, how did the in-laws allow it?” Sita, being the smart one, raised the question.

“That exactly is my point. She became like that only after she turned thirty. It seems, once, while she was living in their in-law’s home, somebody from a royal family saw her and wanted to have her. Apparently it was at that time she lost her mind. Later, she came to her senses and realized that if the in-law’s came to know about it they would kill her. So, the prince struck a deal with the husband. Don’t ask me, how. I don’t understand it either. That stupid husband of a man, it seems, has even a college degree. God knows how or why but he went along. He would tell his parents that he and his wife were going to a movie or something and then fix her up with this prince. That prince paid him ten thousand rupees, I believe. This went on for about four or five months. Eventually the old couple came to know about the affair and threw them out.

At first, it was only the prince, and the prince was paying ten thousand rupees, per month. The husband and the wife got used to the comforts; bought a car, and all other fancy stuff. Then, a businessman saw her, and offered a diamond necklace, worth 25,000 rupees, for one night; and the husband and wife got carried away.”

“Twenty five thousand rupees!” Sumitra reached out for a glass of water.

Suseela continued, “The business did not stop, with one night. The prince came to know about it, and, he beat them up, and threw them out, I mean the husband and the wife. By that time, she has two children, and pregnant, with a third child. The businessman heard about her pregnancy, and disappeared, into the thin air. Their life became a public scandal. They’ve gotten used to freeloading. They sold the car. She delivered the baby. She started getting calls, again. The husband and wife would dress up nicely, and go to the movies, find some rich customers, and bring them home. They had a fantastic life, for a while.”

“So, what is the ‘deperance’ [difference] between she and we? Why do we have to wiggle, like this?” Sumitra asked.

“The ‘deperance’ [difference] is plenty. The men want family women, not us. She is a family woman; she has a husband, and children. Secondly, she is high class, you see; she is a knockout. Her room is heaven, like that of Lord Indra. She sings beautifully, speaks English, she can even read, and isn’t that a lot? What do we have, you and me?  The wretched selves, we are! There is one more thing. She goes to the doctor everyday, and gets a check up just in case, you know. Here we are, all we have is disease and death,” Suseela said.

“True, all we have are diseases, wretched life for sure,” Damayanti spit, in disgust.

“She conducts business at night and early in the morning prays to her family gods and Tulasi plant[18],” Suseela added.

“You mean, she eats meat but does wear the bones in her neck as we do. What is wrong with that idiot of a husband, anyways? You said he has a bachelor’s degree. Why can’t he go out, get a job, and support his family? Why jerk around with his wife like this,” Savitri commented.

“You don’t get it, do you? What kind of job could he get with his B.A. degree? How can they have all that fancy stuff like the car and two-story building with a few hundred rupees per month he could earn? You mentioned something, what is that, ‘kandeesanu’ [Conditioner] or something? How could he get that? Where could she get the gorgeous sarees and all that stuff?” said Sumitra, a.k.a., Sumi Kavi’s lover.

You get great flowers in Madras and wonderful sweets [desserts] in Hyderabad. Each city is famous for something, known for its own specialty. When it comes to a woman selling her body, all the cities and townships are the same. The only difference is the way you refer to them—you’d say ‘extra beauties’ in Teynampet, and ‘Parsi splendor’ in[19] Pyari bazaar. That’s all.

Kavi garu, Sumitra’s lover, is crazy about ‘pativratyam[20] in women. That is because he is a womanizer. Usually, people find gratification in writing about the things they cannot cherish in real life. He is one of them. He has wife and children.

Kavi garu sat down and in the living room and busy writing something. His wife was sitting on the floor, across from him, and cleaning dal. Their child was playing with a drum-cart. The environment was not conducive to his writing activity. Kavi garu stopped writing and started reading poetry aloud. Into this rumpus, a gentleman walked.

The kind and caring gentleman was about 40-years old. Kavi garu saw him and invited him heartily, “Come in.” The gentleman came in and sat in a chair facing Kavi garu.

Kavi garu said, “Great men like you do not show up without a reason. What is yours?” he asked.

“Did you hear about the Asram I started a while ago?’’

“Yes, yes. Of course, I heard about it. The one on the west end of the town, right?”

“Right. I came here to talk to you about the Asram.”

“Of course, anything. Tell me whatever you need. Do you want me to write a play?”

“This is what I’m thinking. Currently, we have four destitute women in the Asram. You know, how difficult it is to feed four persons. I am trying to raise funds for that purpose. I will be eternally grateful to you if you could sign up for a monthly contribution to the Asram.”

“Let me ask you this first. Why are you bothered about fixing the world? You can never straighten those roguish bitches. Besides, you also know, that we are not talking about one or two women here. There are millions of them. How can you save them all? Why don’t you put them to work?”

“I am trying, I tried to have ‘papad’ made by them and sell. Nobody would come forward to buy them. They would say with a snicker ‘papad from Asram?’ or ‘papad made by those bitches?’ You know, these women are not educated and have no skills for any other job.”

“Look, Pantulu garu[21], no matter how you see it there are more than one thousand wanton women in this town alone. What is the point in trying to save four women?”

“I know it is a fierce struggle, even to save four women. I am hoping to help these four women, that’s a start. If I could find a footing for these four women, I am sure I can help them to stand on their legs. All I need is a little support from people like you.”

“Certainly I will. It’s ironic after the government has introduced the Brothel Act this has become a booming business. Do you know that in Russia and Japan they have to register like any other profession? The government issues them a green ticket and also provides medical care, regular check ups, and all that. I think we should have similar policy in our country too.”

“I saw your play recently. It was good. You have depicted the condition of the prostitutes very well; how the prostitute destroyed the hero, and how his wife was wailing… it was very much like “Chintamani”[22]. Anyways, let us talk about your contribution.”

“Yes, I was coming to that point. You will have to excuse me in this regard. I have a family to support, you see.”

“Kavi garu, I am not asking for much. Even two rupees per month would go long ways. You know it is not much. If people like you hold back where else can I go?”

“Two rupees! I was thinking more on the lines of a quarter of a rupee. Don’t push me to the wall.”

“Namesthe.” Pantulu garu stood up, and left.

As soon as he was out of sight Kavi snickered, “I have seen them all. All that talk about rescuing women! Who’s he kidding? The whole world knows that he is supporting four sluts.”

 

The wife finished cleaning dal, poured it back into the tin box, stretched her legs, and started chewing betal nut. She knows full well the real character of her husband.

“That gentleman came asking for help, for a good cause and you offered a quarter, quaa..rr…t..er…, wretched quarter. Why don’t you go and have your head shaved for that quarter,” she said, enraged.

“You shut up. I have better things to do than throwing away my money on contributions like that. That idiot announced to the world, ‘I am keeping four bitches and you help me to support them’. You think I am not smart enough to see that.”

“Of course, you won’t. If all the women go to the Asram, where can you find women for your fun? That is the real reason behind no man coming forward to support Pantulu garu in his struggle.”

“You rot in hell. Whoever could save them? Premchand wrote about these miserable women in Hindi. There is also a Russian novel, ‘Yama’. Now, there is a play in Telugu written by me. If anything I am the only one to do something to save these women.”

“Don’t I know? You sat down with the play ‘Chintamani’ by your side, switched the names- Syamala for Chintamani, Suseela for Radha, and Rama Rao for Bilvamangaludu- and copied the entire play. Don’t even try to bluff, not around me.”

“Shut your mouth. Good conduct does not mean following the worn out practices. Is that your critique? All right, you tell me how to rewrite bringing it up to modern times. I’m listening. Go on, tell me. It is not like mouthing off empty words, my dear! Action, that is what’s important. You tell me, how you can support one thousand women?”

“That is no big deal. However, I must give it to you. Intellectuals like you would not listen to me. Let all the pillars of the society, all the leaders, muster their strength, start an Asram, round up all the destitute women, using force if necessary, put them in an Asram, and teach them skills necessary to earn their livelihood. That is not a humungous task, is it? It’s true the women would resist at first. However if gentlemen like you start treating them as humans, they certainly would change their minds. I will guarantee it. Men like you would never do that. That is the real reason those women refuse to join the Asram. Let me tell you, there is something else. If, the women were educated in the first place, they would have learned to think for themselves. No, that did not happen. On the other hand, they left it to people like you to think on their behalf, and all you have is only crooked thoughts! By some fluke, some gentleman like Pantulu garu comes forward to do some good and men like you rise up in arms; and, all you do is slander him. One quarter of a rupee? You chew pan leaves like a goat everyday and that costs half a rupee per day. You offered half of that. Shame on you. Pantulu garu has seen your true color today, you a great writer!”

“Wow! What a lecture! Your father sent you to school and now I am in trouble.”

“Good. Otherwise, I also would have kept quiet even after seeing your true colors. It is only because of my education, I could manage the household. Imagine what would have happened if I had listened to you and ran away with you instead of going to school! Probably, I would have ended up in the same profession in Teynampet or some other, similar neighborhood. Education does not mean just reading; it is about, the worldly knowledge. Look at my uncle’s daughter.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot to mention. It seems, that daughter of your uncle also landed in the same Asram run by Pantulu garu. Probably, you know that through your women folks’ intelligence agency. Is that why you are so keyed up on giving money to the Asram?”

“You have such a crooked mind! Is this my karma or what? Never mind. Have you ever had any plausible idea in your life? You are so full of it; you call yourself a writer. You never write about the hunger in the world. You’d scribble six pages describing Urvasi serving heavenly nectar to Indra in the heaven[23]! It is so boring to say the least. Did you ever write about the miserable woman who contracted a venereal disease and died like a dog on the street? You scribble away ten pages extolling the virtues of Sita—a topic that has been written over and over by million others. What is the point of all your writing, anyways? If you ask me, a real writer writes about the realities of life. Rest of you are writers of chaff who write about chastity in the name of love, paternal devotion, and all that muck.”

“Go to hell, you and your stupid critique. How could a buffalo relish the taste of sweet rice?”

“Exactly, I feel the same way. What is the point of standing on the shore and taking pictures of a man drownin in the lake? You must pull him out of the water first, administer first aid and then take as many pictures as you like. You are fighting in the air if you ask me. It is meaningless to plagiarize “Chintamani” play and tout your horn as a writer. You know the proverb, the bloody sores of a bull are delicious to a crow![24]

000

On the eastern shores of Krishna River, there is a small, fenced-in hut. Beautiful creepers like radhamanoharam, bluebells, and jasmine, spread over the fence and are pleasing to the eye. In front of the hut, there are flowerbeds of marigold, chandrakantam,chamanti, kanakambaram, bursting splendidly like an arrogant, young woman shattering the shackles of tradition. That hut is the Asram for the fallen women, the one Pantulu garu started. There are four women in that hut. They are wearing hand-woven sarees. One of them was looking slightly different. She is Parvati, Kavi’s wife’s cousin.

 The other three women were standing under the flower bushes and whispering. They hated Parvati for her brains and her good looks. Isn’t that the way the world is? Fallen may be, yet they are not above the normal desires and jealousies that are natural to any human being. They want to avenge themselves on the world. They are convinced that Pantulu garu treated Parvati as someone special and that was because there was that “thing” going on between the two. They were hurt that Pantulu garu did not have “that thing” for them. In their minds, they had a good life, had good food, and Pantulu garu seduced them with false promises and now they are left with no choice but to swallow this bland food served to them day after day. The world labeled them as “kept women” of Pantulu garu. The women were broken-hearted, because they were “not kept”. As far as they were concerned, they were the losers no matter how you looked at it. We have to give it to Pantulu garu for walking on this double-edged sword! It is only a matter of time before he got his legs chopped off by that sword.

 On that particular day the same thing happened. Parvati and Pantulu garu were inside the hut discussing their strategy for running the Asram. The three women, standing under the bushes outside, were convinced that Pantulu garu and Parvati were involved in a romantic chat. That a man and woman could discuss other things was beyond the scope of their comprehension.

  Inside the hut, Pantulu garu sat on a chair and Parvati sat on a mat, looking down. She slowly lifted her head and asked, “So, you could not get even ten rupees?”

“No, I couldn’t raise any money, not even ten rupees, child! I went around, until my feet turned sore. All the rich businessmen, doctors, lawyers–every one of them showed empty hand. Even your cousin, Kavi garu, said he could write a play for us but no money.”

“Did he specifically say that? Did you ask his wife, my cousin?”

“She was in the room right there when I was asking him. He offered a quarter of a rupee. I left without another word.”

“I think, good deeds are rewarded only with defeat in this world. Here the three women are just waiting to go back to their old profession; it is only a matter of time. The public are ridiculing us and the government has no plans to help us in our humanitarian efforts. All I can think of is to leave it to the God. ‘Only He can save us’ is a charming phrase but not a solution for survival on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, the women are complaining that we are not serving them meat, fish, and eggs, as if they’re sons-in-law![25] They keep complaining that I, being the cook, choose to eat the best items, and also because I come from a higher caste. What a headache!” Parvati sighed, exapserated.

 “Look, Parvati! There is a way if we set our minds to it, if want this Asram to succeed and to accomplish our goals. That’s actually in your hands. Will you promise me that you will listen to me?”

“You don’t have to ask me, sir. Of course, I will listen to you. Tell me what can I do.”

“Simple. You are beautiful and smart and a talented singer too. I have a friend, a film producer. I sent your photograph to him and got his response too, yesterday. He agreed to book you as heroine in his picture. What do you say?”

  Parvati was silent for a few minutes. In order to accomplish their goals, they need money; and, she could become a movie star to earn that money. Would it be wrong to become a movie star? Prostitution could be wrong; stealing could be wrong; but how could acting be wrong especially when it is for a noble cause? It made sense. Parvati agreed. Pantulu garu was elated.

 “Look Parvati, you will earn a lot of money and status, no doubt. Never let the money and glory overtake your ideals. Your goal must still be this place. Now, get up and get ready. You must leave the day after tomorrow,” he said and got up from his chair.

000

Kavi garu entered Rajamma’s house, and went straight to Sumitra’s room. Sumitra was lying on the bed, curled up. Kavi garu had not seen her for six weeks. He thought that Sumitra was upset because he did not visit her for so long.

    “My love!” he said, imitating classic heroes.

    Sumitra did not respond.

“Sumi, come on, I will be upset, dear, if you don’t talk to me,” he said.

Still, there was no response from Sumitra. He sat by her side and pulled her toward him gently. “Are you angry with me, my love?” he asked, again, sounding dramatic.

Sumitra couldn’t help laughing.

“Are you saying this is all your love for me?” She said.

“What kind of question is that? Of course, I love you. You don’t doubt that, do you?” he said.

“Okay, I am not going to deny that you love me. You will do anything for me, right? You will never leave me, right?”

“Never. How can I leave you and live, my little love? Come on, Look at me…”

“Wait, don’t rush. There is something, I want to tell you. I was waiting for you. How come you didn’t show for over a month?”

“I went out of town, Sumi! Shh, shh. You are wasting time talking empty words. Come on turn around. Look at me…”

“Wait, wait… You… are really something else. First, you need to take care of my health and then only you can touch me. The pain is killing me.”

Kavi garu was shocked. He was silent for a few seconds and then asked her what was her problem. His voice did not sound sweet anymore.

Sumitra pulled up her saree and showed the marks on her body—red spots, size of her palm, just a little above the knee, the marks of the frightening disease, syphilis.

000

 It was nine in the morning. Sumitra lay on her bed and cried her eyes out. Sita sat next to her.

    Sumitra got up, dabbed her tears and said, softly, “Sita, I want to tell you something. Will you listen to me?”

“Yes, sister, tell me. What is it?” Sita said.

“Sita, I have fifty rupees. You take that money, my sarees, and my earrings. You are still young. Escape from this horrible, kite-like life while you can. Find a decent living. All these comforts are like water bubbles. Go to Pantulu gari Asram.”

“Oh, no. I can’t take your sarees and earrings.” Sita protested, vehemently.

“Wait. Let me finish. Do you remember the military man? He came here two weeks back. He paid me fifty rupees, and gave me this disease, syphilis, also in the process. Do you remember the woman we saw yesterday on our way to the movies? She had a big red hole for mouth and nose. That is how I am going to look soon. All this while, up until now, I was hoping, that Kavi garu would take care of me; all that stupid talk about love; and, all that chattering… Now he is gone. He won’t evem look at me. He will never come to me again. He is with Ratnamanjiram now, I heard. I’m telling you, Sita, this is a despicable life. Tell me. Will you go to the Asram?”

“I am not sure. I am scared.”

“Scared of what? You silly, come on, promise me, that you will go to the Asram.”

“Okay, I will. But you tell me that you will go to the doctor for sure.”

“What for? There is no cure for this disease. I am done, for life. I will stay here, and infect every scoundrel that visits this place. Let the rogues die the same way I’m dying.”

000

Sita went to the Asram.

Pantulu garu was happy, that, after Parvati left for Madras, there are four women in the Asram,. The reality however was different. Two of the women heard about Rajamma’s house and ran away. Those young women, being in the prime of their lives, wanted male company. That was not all. The life in the Asram was too flat for them, insipid. No man would come forward to marry them and so prostitution was the only recourse. Even if somebody had shown them a way of earning their livelihood, that would not satisfy their need for a man. We have to admit that Pantulu garu was off base in that regard.

Parvati was keen on achieving her goal. She wanted to do the best she could and leave the rest to the will of God. Therefore she left for Madras. The train was running at a high speed; so also were her thoughts. The train stopped at some railway station. She looked out the window at the sky. She watched the kites flying high and unfettered. She turned her eyes to the ground and looked at the water bubbles bursting. The kites reminded her of men and the water bubbles of women. The train started to move. The time won’t stop for any reason. Kites would keep flying and the water bubbles would keep bursting in much the same way as the train won’t quit moving.

ooo

Kavi garu was lying on the couch, somewhat dispirited. His wife was braiding her daughter’s hair.

Kavi garu heard about Sumitra’s suicide and that was bothering him. He felt responsible for her suicide. Every human being has a conscience somewhere in some dark corner which keeps giving him or her signals. However, the humans keep stifling it until it was totally destroyed.

Kavi garu kept bemoaning his stupid act and its consequences:

He used her for his pleasures for more than a year. As soon as she fell sick, he walked away. He walked away from her as if she were a sick dog. That was not all. He went and teamed up with another woman who was living in the same house. He told the second woman that the same words he said to Sumitra and through the same mouth. What did she do? Went and killed herself. Kavi garu could not help noticing the irony in all this.  Sumitra was frank enough to tell him of her disease. He, for his part, could not accept the responsibility and so just pushed her away. Ratnamanjiram, on the other hand, kept her disease a secret and quietly passed it on to him. God will not forgive him for deceiving Sumitra. Sumitra killed herself by hanging from the ceiling; her eyes and tongue stuck out; it was a revolting sight, and her saree was soiled in the final moments of her life. What a horrible sight… And who was responsible for that? He was. He himself was responsible for her miseries and horrible death. Kavi garu, suddenly felt like her dead body was laughing at him, ridiculing him because he was also afflicted with the same disease. This curse will go down his lineage for centuries. There is his wife. He robbed her of her health too. The children are like pure pearls. These children will drink from the same glass he and his wife drank. They’d come to him and say, ‘Dad, let me have a piece of curry from your plate,’ and they’d eat from his plate; they’ll also contract his disease… Their golden future will go to the dogs… He has nobody but himself to blame. Kavi garu broke down and started crying desperately.

Kavi’s wife was confused. She came running to him and asked him, with concern, “What’s wrong, now? Why are you crying?”

He went into a fit of wailing again.

“Come, come, talk to me. What happened? Did the creditors threaten us with a lawsuit? Or, your lover is asking for a gold necklace? Come on, stop crying like a woman and tell me what happened?” she went on coaxing him.

Kavi garu buried his face in her lap and told her the entire story. She was aware that her husband was a womanizer. She could forgive his weakness but it was his meanness that flipped her totally. As soon as she heard the reason for Sumitra’s suicide her heart boiled. She flew into a wild rage, “This stupid Brothel Act did more harm in reality than good to the world. In the past, there used to be beautiful, healthy courtesans waiting to serve idiots like you. They all lived in one neighborhood. Now, we have these playgirls right in the middle of family circles. Selling female bodies has become a booming business. Cch, cch. What a country? What a life? …People, pretending to be conducting honest businesses are conducting prostitution in broad daylight… We have the police officers what for? They are no different from any other male; and men like you are their patrons. What did you do? You had your fun, used her for your pleasure, and then, turned her off into the streets like a dog, as soon as you heard that she has contracted a disease. She is dead. God knows how many other women are dying like this everyday! Whom should we blame? You no doubt, it is your fault and the likes of you. Did you ever write about a woman, I mean, really? Did you try to depict their horrendous lives? You became a Kavi after some politician honored you. It is your fault; you, as a Kavi, should accept this responsibility.”

Kavi garu heard her words and pulled his hair in despair. But she did not stop. She kept ranting, pouring insults on her husband and the entire world.

“Frankly, the entire male population is sick, if you ask me. You should get syphilis and all other diseases and should rot in hell. I told you several times but you wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t care less whether you listened to me or not. What about your responsibility to the society? Did you think about that? Take a good hard look. You’ll see prostitution everywhere and here in particular. We have them dime a dozen everywhere— in every nook and corner, near movie theaters, and under the trees—conducting their business in public. Our dim-witted government wouldn’t give a damn. The God doesn’t give a damn. He is up in his heaven, basking in his own glory. Thanks to these prostitutes, diseases are spreading and families are being ruined. And the innocent, little children are dying for no good reason. Pch, pch.”

“Please forgive me, I am begging for your forgiveness. I will never do this again.”

“Never again? What a joke? What CAN you do, even if you want to? You are afflicted with syphilis; you know, and God knows you have no other choice but be good, really. No man in the world is as high-minded as a Eunuch![26] You have nobody but yourself to blame; you ruined your own life. Anyway, what is the point of blaming you. The entire world is rotten and is wasting away into nothingness. The whole world is afflicted with syphilis. Talk about the Anti-Nautch Act! Ha, ha! That is another hoax, nomore than butter in a butternut gourd! Not any different from the Prohibition Act. You know, after the law was put in place, those businesses doubled; every house has started making beer at home like soup. After the Anti-Nautch Act had passed, the law-enforcement officers are practically living amidst the prostitutes. The brothel houses are opened right in the heart of the town, in residential neighborhoods. Remember the proverb—ha, you carved a man ’n you got a chimp instead. [27] To hell with you all. As far as I could see, there are only two things left in the entire world—irresponsible men flying high in the sky like kites and the helpless, fallen women bursting like water bubbles. And the most venerated God is sleeping in his heaven.” She was quite stirred up by her husband’s cruel act and Sumitra’s suicide. Some people look passive and weak. But, in their hearts they feel, resident underneath, mountains and lotus flowers. Depending on the specific situation, either the mountain explodes like a volcano or the flower blossoms. Kavi’s wife is one of such people. She kept badgering her husband, the world, and God. Then she felt that that was not what she should be doing. She was not sure what she should do either, or, how could she cure the cancerous cells that were eating up the world for that matter.

000

A low-paid clerk from a small local administrative office came forward to marry Sita. He has no parents. Pantulu garu offered five thousand rupees as dowry. The clerk thought the money could come in handy, he could buy a small house in a nice neighborhood. He has been struggling with poverty all this life. That money was a big break for him, once in a lifetime chance. It didn’t matter whether Sita was a chaste woman or a prostitute. He decided that he would worry about it later.

The clerk’s name was Subba Rao. He was one of the million Subba Rao’s[28] in the country. This Subba Rao did not agree to marry Sita for love or out of the goodness of his heart. He considered it simply a stroke of luck that a good-for-nothing fellow like himself should run into such huge sum of money. He fell in love with and was prepared to marry the money not the woman.

000

 A movie named “Acchamma seemantham”, produced by Aggiraja productions, put Parvati’s name on the billboards all over Andhra Pradesh. Parvati did not forget her original purpose though. She offered five thousand rupees from her income to Pantulu garu for Sita’s marriage. The newspapers printed huge headlines featuring Parvati’s generosity and Subba Rao’s integrity as a bighearted man that married a prostitute.

 

The marriage of Sita and Subba Rao was performed on a modest scale. The couple exchanged flower garlands. Sita spent ten rupees from the money Sumitra gave her, got a gold tali made, and wore around her neck[29]. She firmly believed that she owed her luck, having a husband and a home, to Sumitra. She was elated at the thought and joined both her hands and expressed heartfelt gratitude to Sumitra and Parvati.

Sita’s marital bliss started in a small apartment on a small, filthy lane. Even on that narrow lane, there was a brothel house. Sita saw them, labeled ‘fallen women’, and felt good that she was ‘a family woman’ now. Subba Rao could not understand why Sita was so proud of him. For him the life was the same as always—he would eat, go to work and come back, no difference in his routine. He knew subconsciously that any other woman from a respectable family would have treated him like an insignificant thing, not a person. It was beyond his comprehension to see that Sita was worshiping him or her reasons for worshiping him. He wouldn’t be able to understand the concept in his lifetime. Not only that. He was also constantly worried that Sita could be interested in another man, or, who was she looking at? who was she talking to? and so on. He strongly believed that this catty woman could never be a person of integrity. Come to think of it, it’s ridiculous even to expect that his little mind could comprehend, could reach any level, higher than that.

One day, Subba Rao returned from work and saw Sita standing at the door, and at a distance somebody was riding a bike. He was furious. Standing like Gaggayya[30], he screamed, “Why are you standing here? Who’s that scoundrel on the bike? Don’t you ever try to play games with me… You, low-life b…”

Sita was stunned. Until now she believed that only men at Rajamma’s house could use such cheap, abusive terminology. She was shocked to hear the same words from her husband, Subba Rao. Are all the men in the world the same when it comes to addressing a woman? she wondered.

Sita lived like this for a year. In that one year, Subba Rao’s behavior made her wonder several times how this house was better than Rajamma’s? Sita was also, pregnant now. She could feel the little fetus move in her tummy, and that was the only thing that brightened her days. The thought that her baby would have a father pleased her.

Subba Rao deposited the dowry money, five thousand rupees, in a bank. In general, he did not trust Sita. For the same reason he did not feel obligated to feed her either. One day, she, being pregnant, had a craving for upma[31]. That was an unnecessary expense, said Subba Rao. She kept quiet. In our country, a woman’s word means nothing; and,it is worse if the word came from a fallen woman.

Sita gave birth to a boy. She had the delivery in a government hospital[32]. On the eleventh day, she hired a rickshaw and came home with the baby. She went in and asked Subba Rao for six annas to pay to the rickshaw driver.

Subba Rao flipped. “Why didn’t walk home? Where do we have the money to throw away on a rickshaw? You know what! I don’t care. You find the money yourself or go to hell,” he shouted. These were also some exemplary phrases interspersed in his ranting. Sita couldn’t speak; she stood there with the baby, held tight to her chest. She did not have six annas. She understood for the first time that she made a big mistake when she gave the money, she got from Sumitra, to Subba Rao.

The rickshaw driver was standing in the front yard and watching the argument between the husband and the wife and felt sorry for Sita. He said to Subba Rao, “Hey, are you nuts? She just had baby. How could ask her to walk from the hospital. You don’t know me. You had better pay my fare or else…”

Subba Rao was not only a two-bit idiot,but also a coward. He understood that the rickshaw driver meant business. He paid rickshaw driver the fare grudgingly though.

Sita was looking forward to this moment–showing off her little baby. She was disappointed. She went in, heated water for a bath for herself and the baby. She looked at the baby and was overwhelmed with happiness. One day, she tried to show the baby to Subba Rao, hoping he would be as excited as she was. He turned away. Sita did not notice it. “Here is your dad,” she said to the baby and was about to hand him to Subba Rao.

“Dad? What dad? Who is dad for this son of a bitch?” he laughed loud and walked away.

Sita’s self-esteem which was lying low until now leapt like a cobra hood. What could she do, though? She tried to convince herself that that was his upbringing, and hugged the baby to her bosom. She was not sure which one was the real hell—Rajamma’s house or Subba Rao’s house? Now she knew that she mistook this house for heaven. However, the little baby was the one precious gem she has gotten amidst all this disaster. She has learned to find comfort in the baby in her arms and forget all her pain. She would put the cot in a corner, lay down the baby and cover him fully with her old sarees,by the time Subba Rao got home. Subba Rao hated the baby. One day, he saw the baby on the floor. “Why did you leave this thing on the floor,” he said, kicking him. The child started crying. That was the reason, Sita was keeping the baby out of Subba Rao’s sight.

One day, the baby was sick, couldn’t breathe. Sita told Subba Rao about it with tearful eyes.

Subba Rao replied rudely, “Don’t worry. He is not going to die; and if does, no big loss. You can bear any number of children, woman of the town!” and left for work. Sita couldn’t sit there, doing nothing about the illness. She picked him up, bolted the door, and took him to the clinic round corner.

The doctor was kind. He checked the child and expressed concern. Sita’s heart sunk.

“What is the matter, doctor!” She started weeping.

The doctor jotted down a prescription and said, “We need to administer these shots within twenty four hours or we might lose the child.”

Sita returned home, with the prescription. She told Subba Rao as soon as he came home. Subba Rao hit the roof. He said he didn’t have the money to pay for the medications of all the s.o.b.s in the world. Sita begged him. He became even more stubborn. She cried. He laughed. She came to a frightening decision. In a fit of anger, she tore the tali and the black beads from her neck and threw them in his face, picked up the child, got into a rickshaw, and told the rickshaw driver to take her to Rajamma’s house. ..

The child’s health improved in a few days and the mother also started feeling better. She never went back to Subba Rao. Actually, that was what Subba Rao also hoping for. Sita was still confused about the difference between the two houses—that of Subba Rao and Rajamma. For her, both the places seemed to be the same. There was one consolation here—she was raising her son on her own income.

000

Kavi garu became a strong believer in monogamy now. Not only that. He even started paying a monthly donation, ten rupees, to the Asram. He wrote two more plays, based on the same play, “Chintamani.” In addition, he decided to contact one of his acquaintances, a female writer, Madhavidevi, and encourage her to write an article on the brothel houses in the country. He also prepared a list of all the brothel houses for publication. Madhavidevi told him that she would like to visit a brothel house and obtain necessary information first hand before writing the article. Kavi garu took her to Rajamma’s house.

Kavi garu and Madhavidevi arrived at Rajamma’s house at two in the afternoon. The prostitutes were sleeping. Rangaiah saw that an old customer, Kavi garu, returned and brought a new account also. He invited both of them enthusiastically and winked at Kavi garu, implying he was pleased at the prospect.

Kavi garu was hurt. Earlier, he tried to dissuade Madhavidevi from this visit for the same reason. But Madhavidevi insisted that she had to see the place. Kavi garu was also aware that if he had told Rangaiah the real reason of their visit, he would be asking for trouble. Rangaiah wouldn’t want their activities featured prominently in newspapers. Therefore Kavi garu came up with a strategy. He knew Rangaiah was considering selling this house. Kavi garu introduced Madhavidevi as a prospective buyer for the house. Rangaiah apologized,and showed them all the rooms.

Madhavidevi couldn’t see any notable philosophy of life in those rooms. All she could see was only the monstrous side of our society which was bungled, dancing naked, and laughing like a hyena with a terrifying roar. She took a peek into the first room. A woman was lying across the cot in her underwear, and her makeup from the night before faded; she was charming in her own way. The room was smelling of high-class cigarettes. Then they went to the second room. The woman there was scratching all over even in her sleep. Her face looked worn out and saggy; it was a heartbreaking and revolting sight. The third room was frightening beyond description. Anybody who peeks into this room would turn stiff for fear of losing their minds.

Madhavidevi saw a woman sleeping naked covered by a tattered, old saree for a sheet. Her mouth was half open, and flies were hovering around her mouth. If any man saw a woman in that condition, in all probability, he would not want to be with a woman again in his life. Madhavidevi’s face turned into a stone. The entire area was filled with a rancid stink and, in that nauseating surroundings, she heard a baby’s cry, like the song of a blue bird in the midst of a desert. Madhavidevi turned around and saw Sita.

Madhavidevi was a little surprised to see the sweet little baby and the mother. She left quickly with Kavi garu, and then said, “Ask that mother to come with us. I would like to talk to her.” Kavi garu went in and mumbled something to Sita. Whatever he said it worked. Sita followed them in another rickshaw to Madhavidevi’s place. She invited Sita in, politely, “Please, come in.”

They all sat down in the living room. Sita looked around and was lost in a reverie, “This is what I’d call life,” she told herself. Which gods did Madhavidevi worship to deserve this? Whatever she has done to win this wonderful lifestyle? A man, probably Madhavidevi’s husband, walked into the room. He was holding a little baby in his hands. Sita tried to compare the two babies, hers and Madhavidevi’s.

Sita was not scared at all. She answered all the questions of Madhavidevi. Madhavidevi took elaborate notes. It was hard for women like Sita to have a good life in this world. There was one scene in Rajamma’s house that got to Madhavidevi. That was Rangaiah kicking a sleeping woman to wake her up. How could anybody be so coldhearted and kick another human? Even a cowherd would be more kind to his animals. What is wrong with these two-legged animals? Do they have the blood of a demon running in their veins? She couldn’t believe the horrible story, Sita narrated. She understood in that very minute the millions of miles of distance between our fantasies and the reality.

As Sita got up to leave, Madhavidevi gave her five rupees and told her to come to her if she ever needed anything. Sita left holding her baby tight to her bosom. Madhavidevi took her baby from her husband and held tight, heaving a deep sigh. There could be so many variations in the lives of women in the world but when it comes to maternal instinct their responses are the same.

Parvati heard how her well-meaning effort to arrange an ideal marriage spending five thousand rupees ended. She lost half of her faith. Then, she heard that the other two women in the Asram ran away. She was totally disgusted with all the female kind. Now she was interested only in taking care of her bank account. Pantulu garu, also stopped reminding Parvati of her high aims.

In the movie field, the value of feminine charm is much higher than talent and creativity. In fact, anywhere in the world in general and in India in particular the only way a woman can make a living is by pawning her femininity. Currently, sex is leading our lives like a train engine. It is true sex is important but that is not the only thing in life. There is no doubt that, if we could stop looking at sex as the only thing in life, one half of the problem of prostitution would go away. It is unfortunate that sex took charge of our lives instead of we, the humans. If we, humans, could take control, the other half of the problem would disappear. That was how Parvati reorganized her thoughts and rationalized the life around her which included the institution of prostitution. That was the only way she could go on with her life. She was too scared to speak them aloud, though.

A couple of magazines asked Parvati to write her autobiography but she couldn’t bring herself to do that. A woman’s best asset was her cowardice; she would not trust even the path she was walking on. She was worried every second. That is why many people would say that a woman’s moral downfall starts with her lack of faith in herself. Even if she had faced defeat due to her weakness, it’s a virtue. She could get credit from some people.

Parvati is doing well in the movies. Currently, she has roles in 13 movies. She has plenty of money and status. But the very problem which she wanted to fight, her reason for entering the movie field, is everywhere. It is like the ten demons that rise from each drop of blood that fell on the ground.[33] She was stunned, when she found out that so-called extras were earning their living only through prostitution. She was nauseated to see what was happening in the name of art. Look at our mythological stories: the Lord Nataraja, the emperor of dance, supposed to have elevated dance to a form of art; the sage Bharata wrote a treatise on the art of dance; the goddess of learning, Saraswati, is an expert veena-player, and Parvati, the supreme Mother is a great dancer herself. There was a time in this country when fine arts were held in highest esteem and the artists were revered. Now, in the name of those very arts, abominable acts are being presented which in reality is reprehensible. Parvati couldn’t take it but she has no answer either. She mulled over it for five days and six nights and concluded that it was beyond her to fix this world. As a result, she made a point of earning money, lots of it, and save it in the bank.

At the Asram, Pantulu garu continued his work, in the face of great opposition, humiliation, and public censure. There were three women in the Asram. For some inexplicable reason, the number 3 became somewhat permanent. Sometimes, one woman would leave and immediately another woman would show up at his door. One way or another the number became steady like the three gunas.[34]

We all live in this world but the levels vary. Remember Sri Sri’s[35] poem? “Can we  call this life?More like that of a dog, fox, and the lowest of the low life, pigs? Where is this frustration coming from?”  There is nothing wrong in hoping for a better life; it’s just not possible.

Sita was racking her brains. She might not be expressing in the same language as Sri Sri but it was close. She was totally disgusted with her life after visiting Madhavidevi and talking to her. She was not sure what she could do either. Her body has been decaying through and through. She was even feeling guilty to breastfeed her baby for fear of spreading her diseases. She decided that the baby did not belong with her, should give him away for his own sake. Sita has some writing skills. She scribbled a little note explaining her reasons for abandoning the baby and hung it round his neck. Next morning, while it was still dark, she fed the baby and set out to leave. She walked and walked and finally arrived at Madhavidevi’s house. She spread a sheet on the front porch, made sure that it was soft and comfortable, and put him on the sheet. The baby was smiling in his sleep.

Sita’s face showed no emotion. Once, just once, she held him to her breasts, kissed him to her heart’s content and laid him on the sheet gently. Then she fled from the scene. The baby woke up and started crying. The entire population of mothers felt a jab in the pits of their stomachs in that moment.

The sun was rising slowly. Madhavidevi came out, saw the baby and read the note. She rushed back into the house, woke up her husband, and sent him out to look for Sita… Two days passed by. Madhavidevi turned the baby over to an orphanage. The same day a woman’s body was found in the river Krishna. That was Sita.

Pantulu garu wrote a long letter to Parvati.

Dear Parvati,

I have come to the conclusion that we cannot save the world. I am getting old. The younger generation has to continue this work but I cannot do this anymore.

The Asram is looking like a club. It is not clear any more whether the gentle folks in town were coming to visit the Asram or the women. One such visitor eloped with one of the women; another woman went back to the brothel house; and the third woman killed herself. At present there are no women in the Asram. Therefore I closed it down. I am planning to go on a pilgrimage.

The issue of man-woman relationship originated the same day the world was created. Today, the issue is like a huge whale gobbling up our society. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only one to see that. That is why I am jeered at and looked at as the laughingstock of the town. Now I know prostituting one’s soul is worse than attempting to close down brothel houses.

Once a person has a desire, he or she would resort to whatever method to satisfy that desire. As long as there is a desire the conditions to satisfy that desire also continue to exist. The first thing we need to do is working on the transformation of the soul. The proper setting for ideals is the heart itself. What need to be rooted out are the wicked thoughts in a person’s heart. I don’t know how that is possible though. That is the reason I decided to let go of it and move on. The only good thing I did in my life is to create you. If we could bring about a change in the hearts of people we can help them better persons. The truth is I don’t know how to change the hearts of people. You may never see me, or hear from me again.

I just want to tell you one thing though. Man is like a kite and the woman is like a water bubble. You keep that in your mind always and take care of yourself.

Your uncle[36]

Pantulu.

 

Parvati read the letter and sighed. She saw the kites in the sky and the water bubbles on the ground. The kites were flying freely in the sky and the water bubbles on the ground were popping up. Parvati closed her eyes in fear.

000

Suseela decided to return to Madras and Anasuya decided to go along with her. The life in Madras appeared to be more attractive. Suseela came to Vijayawada in search of a better life. She realized that in Madras she had a status at the least as a “junior artist”. In Vijayawada, all she has is just the life of street girl. She was disgusted and decided to go back. On her return trip, she took Anasuya also, or rather, Anasuya followed her of her own free will.

Suseela and Anasuya rented a filthy room on a narrow lane in Teynampet. They went to an extra-supplier (agent), and got their names registered. There is really no register as such. Their names are on the list, so to speak.

A week went by. Most of the money Anasuya had was gone. She started feeling like a wick lamp as opposed to a blazing torch Suseela appeard to be. She was losing heart and beginning to believe that life was the same no matter where she went. At that moment, the extra-supplier, Sanga Rao, came and took them to a movie studio. Anasuya was stunned to see the studio. It was like heaven.

By the time she was finished with her makeup, it felt like her life has taken a huge turn for good; the grass never looked more beautiful. Suseela told her that it was called ‘lawn’. She nearly lost her mind when she saw the set of the court of the Lord Indra[37], the divine king; the mansion was sensational with all the flowerbeds. Anasuya was a maid on the set and she got to stand next to the greatest star on earth, Pushpavati. She was totally flipped. She always had such a great admiration for the star, Pushpavati. This moment alone was worth missing a few meals as far as she was concerned.

There was however one thing that bothered her. The entire crew were waiting hand and foot on Pushpavati and treating the extras at the same time like they didn’t exist at all.

The shooting started. Pushpavati was dancing on the stage in the court of Indra. The entire court fell silent but for the ankle bells of the dancer. The dance was exquisite. Anasuya felt ashamed for trying to compare herself to that extraordinary artist. She did not have that kind of talent; she was only a streetwalker. Her heart burst like a bubble. Why couldn’t she be like Pushpavati? How could God be so unkind? She had to sell her body simply because she had no talent of any kind had no other way to earn a living But, to what extent it was her fault? Was it her fault at all? There are no answers to such questions.

These ill-fated women would not leave Madras just for these momentary pleasures. They won’t leave the city even if it meant starving to death. Their withered lives could take comfort for a few minutes on these movie sets. After the shooting was over they would leave those cheap clothes and walk out feeling like they were looking into an enlarged picture of their own deplorable lives an expert photographer was holding up for them to see. What other choice they have? They do have to live somehow.

Anasuya was standing in Pandi bazaar under a tree since five in the evening and now it was ten. She was getting tired; tired of standing for what seemed like an eternity. Not one person would look at her. The other women, better looking and better dressed were walking back and forth pretending to be busy. The people in the area were familiar with this scene and so paid no attention to them.

“Where are you from?” Anasuya heard somebody yell at her in Tamil. She turned around and saw two policemen standing there. She did not understand what he said.

“What?” she asked in Telugu.

“I see, a Telugu chick! I am asking you, where is your house?” he said in Telugu callously.

Anasuya was scared.

“Why are you here? Looking for business? It is past ten. You might as well go home,” he said.

Anasuya turned around to go home. As she was leaving she heard the policeman say, “Most of these women are from Telugu area. This business is getting worse, by the minute,” and a laugh.

Anasuya dragged herself home. Suseela was already home, was sleeping. Anasuya did not eat all day. She fille her stomach with water and went to bed.

Next day, Suseela pulled out a crepe silk saree from the bottom of her suitcase and wore it. She invited Anasuya to go with her. They both went and stood in front of a movie company in Vadapalani.

It was a new movie company. The owner’s name was Surya Rao. His adoptive mother suddenly died leaving him some 60,000 rupees. A fiction writer, Chukkasri, sweet-talked Surya Rao into moving to Madras and opening a movie company. They rented a small house for one hundred rupees per month, paid ten rupees and got a sign made “Sri Yassaar films”; ‘Sri’ stood for Chukkasri, and ‘Yassaar’ for S.R., Surya Rao’s initials.

 

Surya Rao and Chukkasri started advertising in the newspapers. The name of the movie they were going to make was “Subbarayudu Shashti”. The advertisements caught the attention of the extra-suppliers and the stars. Surya Rao was jubilant. He recalled the days when he had to beg his grandma for a quarter to go to the movies which featured the very stars who were lining up at his door now. He would never forget that he owed all this to Chukkasri. He was amazed at Chukkasri’s talent.

Suseela heard about this new company through the spies of the movie industry and set out to meet them touting her pipe. The new company was in the process of casting. Suseela and Anasuya were hoping to earn a few rupees, with any luck that is.

Anasuya and Suseela went in. Suseela noticed that a third person was present in the room, besides Subba Rao and Chukkasri. Suseela cringed uneasily. The third person was Murti, a third rate movie critic, who makes or mars the careers of stars based on his whims. He could present a cheap trash as an upright honest woman without a blemish, or, trash a high calibre star in a snap. Suseela recalled the time when he promised her a role in a movie and took advantage of her without any reward. Yet she was polite to him.

“Hello, Murti garu, long time,” Suseela said.

Murti was pleased with her timing. “Hello, Suseela devi garu[38], good morning,” Murti said, and turned to Subba Rao, “Subba Rao garu, I forgot to mention. Her name is Suseela devi, a well-known movie star.”

Subba Rao recalled all the movies he had seen and was wondering where if at all had he seen this “well-known” movie star.

Murti wanted to make the best of the opportunity. “Suseela devi garu, this gentleman, Mr. Subba Rao, is sworn to bring about a significant change in the movie industry and this gentleman, Chukkasri, is the script writer for the movie they are going to make. He is a great writer, published several stories that would fit on a post card in prominent movie magazines like Chitragupta and Mohini. He also sends questions to the editors of all the magazines regularly on a monthly basis. His full name is Chukkeswara Rao.”

Suseela was nervous. She came there for the same purpose as the others. However she couldn’t help feeling sorry for Subba Rao and Chukkasri. She looked at the them once and she knew they were cornered by an owl. Anasuya was impressed, felt even a little jealous, that Suseela had so much clout with all these people in the industry. Her respect for Suseela rose to a new level.

They all sat down. Murti yelled to the server, “Hey, boy, bring five cups of coffee,” he ordered as if it were his home.

While they were sipping coffee and chatting, the extra supplier, Sanga Rao, showed up suddenly from nowhere. He looked at Suseela peevishly as he walked in. He did not appreciate the fact that Suseela took the initiative without his express permission; that was not right per his rules. Sanga Rao was the emperor Czar, short of a crown, in the world of extras. He would never forgive anybody who would attempt to get a role without his consent.

Suseela’s spirits were sagging by the minute. She quickly finished the coffee, took leave of Subba Rao and left along with Anasuya.

Murti knew why Suseela left in such a hurry. He burst out into a big laugh. Sanga Rao also laughed, followed Suseela into the street and caught up with her.

“So, you decided to become a great star?” he said watching her like a hawk.

Suseela did not reply.

Sanga Rao ogled like a wolf. “You had better behave,” he said and walked away in big strides.

Anasuya was confused. Earlier Suseela was so confident and seemed to be in control. Now suddenly she turned into a kitten. Why this sudden change? They walked a few yards and ran into the tailor who made clothes for the stars at a movie studio.

The tailor saw them, “A new hussy, ha?” he said to Suseela and winked roguishly.

Thanks to the tailor Suseela was herself again. She coaxed Anasuya into going with him and managed to squeeze a couple of rupees from the tailor in the process. She spent a quarter of a rupee and bought a cup of tea. By the end of the day life was beautiful to both Anasuya and Suseela.

In the same lousy complex where Suseela and Anasuya were living a Malayalee nurse, Premi, and an Anglo-Indian woman, Miss. Jeannie also rented rooms. Premi has a husband and children. Anasuya was surprised that Premi was talking with Jeannie in English. Suseela explained that Premi has learned English while working for an English family. “Just the same way we are learning Tamil here,” she said.

Anasuya still couldn’t believe it. Learning Tamil was no big deal but English? She was not exactly a qualified nurse. Her duties included janitorial services in addition to nursing. Premi was earning twenty five rupees per month, yet, wore expensive clothes. She paid six rupees rent which leaves only twenty four rupees for all other expenses? Where was the money coming from for all those expensive sarees? It was beyond her comprehension—how Premi could manage all that on her meager income? She asked Suseela. Suseela laughed so loud it could have put a hole in the roof.

“You are so naïve, I am sure you are one of a kind. You think she is a saint, don’t you? She makes money like the rest of us.”

“What about her husband? Would he let her?” Anasuya expressed her doubt.

“Why not? She has a job for the sake of appearances, a kind of cover. The only difference is she would not make it as obvious as we do,” Suseela explained.

Anasuya couldn’t understand what kind of a man would sleep with Premi. She looks like a skeleton. Suseela has an explanation for that too. “She is a Malayalee,” and whispered something in her ear.

“THAT is the secret,” Suseela said with a grimace, “Does that mean we should too?”

“Oh, hell, no. We have to have some values, you know,” Suseela snarled.

Anasuya was perplexed. It didn’t make any sense at all. They all were prostitutes and that was the truth. What values? What’s she talking about?

000

Jeannie cannot stand it if anybody calls her Jeannie under any circumstance. She insists on being called Miss. Jeannie. If by any chance someone says, “Jeannie,” even by mistake, she jumps out of her skin and start cursing not only that one person but the entire complex and that too in English. She would say that Indians lack manners, are short on etiquette, and calls them ‘niggers’, ‘beggars’, or other similar terminology. She firmly believed that she belonged to the great Anglo-Saxon race and the blood running in her veins was the purest.

Jeannie’s grandmother was born to an English man and a Turkish woman. She married a Hindu Christian. Their daughter, Jeannie’s mother, was married to a Tamil Nayar. So what? As far as Jeannie was concerned, her maternal great grandfather was hundred percent English man. That was reason enough for her to look down on Indians and India. She was convinced that she ended up in this morbid country because of her bad luck and that some duke was waiting round the corner to fall in love with her, marry her, and make a duchess of her. At present she has no relatives. Her old mother died a couple of years ago. Jeannie did not go to school but heard about the land of her forefathers and the English traditions from her mother. Her mother heard these things from her mother. That was not all. Since she believed that her mother’s race was classier than her father’s she has learned to respect her mother more. Her father was working as a conductor on the tramcars (a mode of city transportation running on electricity in Madras). Eventually the tramcars were terminated and so was her father. He died recently.

eannie has learned to make a living on her own early in life. It is common knowledge that the moral values of the Anglo-Indians are of dubious distinction. In addition, when a person has no other family things get worse. Usually, such persons settle down in low-paid jobs such as nursing, stenography, or sales. Such jobs do not pay enough, not enough, for their nail polish and facial makeup. Therefore they  resort to prostitution necessarily.

Miss Jeannie’s lifestyle was not any different from others in the building. During the day she wears a dirty skirt, nibbles on a piece of stale bread from a porcelain plate using her spoon and fork, the odds and pieces from her mother’s time. She makes a thirty-minute chore of it and makes big noise so the neighbors would know that she was using a fork and a spoon. Whenever she sees her neighbors eating with hand she would not let go without commenting on the filthy habits of Indians.

She starts dressing up about five in the evening. She washes her face, hands, and her legs with the cheap soap bought in China bazaar. Anasuya never saw Jeannie take a shower in the past one month. Rest of Jeannie’s preparation to go out comprises of: combing her hair, wearing a net, applying a half-inch thick layer of powder to her face, hands and legs, and wearing lipstick. She wears the same red frock she has been wearing for the past 15 days, wears a cheap pearl chain in her neck, and puts on a pair of tattered canvas boots. That is her make up to sell her body and make a living. On better days, she might make about six annas. Sometimes, she may not get even that much. On rare occasions, she could see a couple of rupees.

Jeannie is crazy about movies. She has a free pass for all the movies in all the theaters. After the movie started she goes to the gatekeeper. Both of them would go into the bathroom. After ten minutes or so, they’d come out and she takes a seat in the movie theater feeling like a royalty and gets to watch the movie. She watches the young English men and women dance and their heroic deeds; imagines herself to be that heroine, and as being rescued by the hero and so on. Usually the gatekeepers at the movie theaters are her patrons. They even pay her one or two annas.

Jeannie saw skinny Premi sitting with a man in the upper class which cost a rupee and a half ticket. How could she do that? Is she more beautiful than I? She convinced herself that Premi fooled those naïve villagers who came for check ups, and returned to watching the movie. Suseela and Anasuya were also watching the same movie sitting in the mid-range class, six anna tickets.

The movie started. Jeannie saw Premi taking ten rupees from the man with bushy moustache. The gatekeeper came in and told her that if she stayed for the second show and spent sometime with his friend, she would make no less than a half rupee (eight annas), he assured her. Jeannie did not see which way Premi went. Anasuya and Suseela were disappointed that they did not get any business and were about to leave. A cop showed up and struck a deal with them, three rupees for the night.

Some women become prostitutes after all other efforts failed, all other means were closed to them. Some women become prostitutes out of arrogance. They all sell their bodies because they did not have any skills to make a living. Any woman in general seem to pawn her body either to fight poverty or because she was cheated or to avenge herself. The thoughts made Parvati recall the story of Pankajavati.

 

Pankajavati has a husband and four children. One night, they got into a fight about something. It started out as a minor bickering and soon turned into a storm. He slapped her. She was furious; opened the doors and walked out, without thinking straight. It was midnight and raining lightly. She went to a small tea stall and ordered a cup of tea. The server went in to bring tea. A gentleman a frequent visitor at her home also came into the teastall. He was drunk but was in his senses though. He sat next to Pankajavati and started chatting. Server brought tea.

 

“Not that tea. Here, try this,” he said, poured a peg from a horse brand bottle, and mixed with soda.

Pankajavati did not think twice; she chugged it in one gulp. Then she asked him, “Is it okay if I stay at your place for the night?”

That’s what he was looking for too. “Of course,” he said without giving much thought to the consequences. The alcohol in his blood wasn’t helping either.

 

She spent the rest of the night with him. She could not see that she was acting like that because she was angry with her husband.

 

The next morning the entire town has come to know about it. There was nothing the poor husband could say. She was the mother of his four children. She decided that it was his fault and kept quiet.

 

zzz

 

Parvati never stopped thinking about her goal in life. She even blamed herself for her failure. She could not see what other options she had. She received a letter from Kavi garu, husband of her aunt’s daughter. He was one of the foremost to kick when she was down on her knees. Now her status has improved, he was all praise for her. The letter was a request to help him in getting his foot in in the movie field. Parvati was not aware of the recent developments in his life nor his transformation. She sat on the sofa lost in a reverie.

“Madam, somebody is at the door for you,” the maid announced.

A woman was standing behind her. That was her childhood friend, Annapurna.

Parvati jumped to her feet, ran to Annapurna, and embraced her. She couldn’t contain herself for all the excitement she felt at the sight of her old friend.

“Annapurna, Where are you coming from? Are you married? Any children?” she poured milion questions.

Annapurna broke into tears. Parvati was stunned.

“What’s the matter? Why tears? Come on. Sit down first. Tell me everything,” she talked to her gently in an attempt to comfort her.

 

Life is same for the women who cherish moral values. They will have a husband, few children, a home, and such. Every ill-fated woman has a different story to tell. There could be any number of reasons for a woman’s life to go wrong. A woman with nothing special to brag about and no place to go might end up selling her body to make a living, and then, who could blame her? Even if we dismiss it as her karma to some extent, we still have to look to the world for the other part of the answer.

 

Annapurna told her story to Parvati.

“Parvati, I cried a lot after you ran away. After you left, my family found a nice bridegroom and arranged my marriage. That was also the beginning of a series of misfortunes. Just ten days before my wedding date my father’s sister died because of a snakebite. She and her husband had three children and plenty of money. My family did not want to let go of all that wealth. They canceled the earlier wedding plans and married me off to the widower, my uncle. He was 45 years old at the time, old enough to be my father. I have a distinct memory of he carrying me around when I was little. My only sweet memories of the times were the snacks they, my uncle and aunt, would bring us when they came to visit us. I am sure you know him too. Isn’t it horrible to marry a man of my father’s age. Besides I was very fond of my aunt. I was devastated that I would have to wear her sarees and tops; her son, just four days older than I, would be addressing me as ‘mom’. In fact, my parents would have married me to him if he were a couple of years older. I used to address him as bava. After this stupid marriage he refused to call me pinni and so my uncle was suspicious of us.

 

Parvati, you can imagine what a miserable life that was for me. On the nuptial night they shoved me into the room like a sacrificial lamb. Until then he used to call me ammadu (darling, little girl) and now I am his wife! That was really tough and spelled trouble for me. He concluded that I was not receptive to his advances simply because I was involved with his son. To be frank, I could not bring myself to wear my aunt’s jewelry and fill her place; to me, that was irreverent. But then who cares? My own parents did not see the quandary I was thrown into. The son noticed his father’s suspicions and disappeared without a trace. I don’t know, not even to this day, what happened of him. My problems took a turn for the worse. My uncle’s daughter would quote the story of Chitrangi and Sarangadhara[39] and say that her brother ran away because I was after him.

The old man used to beat me up all the time. I couldn’t take it anymore. I picked up the ten ounces of gold and ten rupees that was all the wealth I possessed, walked four miles to the nearby railway station, got on the train, and reached Vijayawada. I rented a small room in a small neighborhood. My education being minimal, my job opportunities were severely limited, you know. All I know was to cook. I went around and finally found work as a cook in somebody’s house.

 

Soon enough, I realized that my youth was my enemy and so quit that job. The gold I brought with me was gone. Remember the man who got me the room earlier? He was aware that I belonged to higher caste and that I would not eat meat. He seemed to be a good person in appearance at least. Back home, nobody seemed to have cared about my running away; no sign that they ever made any attempt to find me…

 

I couldn’t find work, not even as a cook again. Of the remaining two sarees, I sold one and got six annas. I bought four idlis and a cup of coffee with the money. I had not eaten for four days and my stomach couldn’t keep it; I threw up. I was feeling dizzy. I managed to get back to my room somehow. I was falling behind in paying the rent; I owed two months’ rent. The landlady threw my things on to the street. I crashed on the sidewalk by the gutter. If I were a man, I would have slept on some patio. All I have now was the brass tumbler to sell. I sold it to a potter next door for three annas. It got me through that evening.

The next question was to find a place to sleep. I sat down in front of the same room I rented earlier. The landlady came out and yelled at me, not that it made any difference. I didn’t budge. In the middle of the night, I was so disgusted I wanted to kill myself. I didn’t have the strength in my legs even to get up and walk up to the river Krishna.

 

It was then, he came, the man, who got the room for me in the first place. He suggested I go with him. Probably, I would have second thoughts if circumstances were different. But now I am hardly in a position to think of anything. I agreed and followed him to Madras.

 

He took me to a house in Madras. There were three more women in that house and they all have the same stories to tell. He told me that the house belonged to one of his relatives. After a very long time, I had a hot water bath, it felt so good. He opened the closet and gave me a glasgoe saree and a plain top. I had a full meal with potato curry, lentil chutney, and onion soup. I slept on a clean spring bed with a ceiling fan on. I woke up in the morning and was surprised to see my face; it was so beautiful. In about four days, I got used to the comforts. I knew I was longing for snacks, twice a day, posh meals, and cozy lifestyle.

 

Fifteen days passed by. One day the landlady came to me. She started chatting and during the conversation dropped a line, “I can shower millions for you, if you like.” I didn’t understand her words.

“What do you mean you can shower millions for me,” I asked her. It took a while to see where she was going with it.

“If you are rich, you are chaste. There is no such thing as good and bad,” she said. Frankly, I was well aware that I was good for nothing. That was the beginning of my fall downhill.

“You too, Annapurna!” Parvati said. In that moment there was absolutely no difference between Parvati’s tone and that of Julius Ceasar when he said, “Thou too Brute,” after he was stabbed by Brutus.

“Yes, Parvati, I was, too. We are females, the weaker race; what else can we do? Anyways, that house was a high-class brothel house. From outside no one could tell that prostitution goes on inside. Usually, the high-class people come there. I lived like that for two years and earned close to five thousand rupees. Even a wanton woman could and does fall in love at some point, you know. Her love is in no way inferior to any other respectable woman. In fact, her love could be more sincere. I fell in love with an artist and we lived together for a while. You might loathe me for saying this. I was also in love with an attorney also at the same time. It got to a point I couldn’t live without seeing him not even for a minute. The artist did not know about this relationship.

That did not continue for long though. What can I say? It was my karma, I suppose. I was caught by the artist while I was in the attorney’s house. I walked into the living room casually one day only to find that the artist was waiting there for the attorney. The artist understood what was going on, cursed me, and left, enraged. The attorney felt he betrayed his friend and told me to leave. So I ended up on the streets again for about four months now.

I kept my five thousand rupees I’ve saved in the bank but could not access without the artist’s signature. I didn’t want to ask him. It was getting tough. To make the things worse, the landlord Sahasranamam threw me out.

“Why?” Parvati asked.

“I wasn’t feeling well, running temperature. He wanted me to entertain four men regardless of my health. He told me that the four hefty men were waiting for me, and, ‘no-show’ on my part would mean loss of forty rupees for him at the rate of ten rupees per person. Sahasranamam was in no mood to lose that kind of money. He was willing to send somebody else but those men phoned and asked for me specifically.”

“Phone?” Parvati asked, surprised.

“Yes, phone. Sahasranamam has a phone in his house. So also those men. I had been there earlier. They wanted me because I look like a family woman, innocent and fresh. They all were high-class men you know—a writer, a doctor, a movie producer, and a landlord. All of them were equally pros. That was why they all were hellbent on getting only me. Did you get the drift?”

“Go on, Annapurna, tell me everything. Please, don’t stop,” Parvati said.

“I hope you are not disgusted with me,” Annapurna said desperately.

“Of course not. You are telling me how horrible a woman’s life could be. You are narrating the living conditions of half the female population of the entire world. You are showing the stark realities to those who are happily singing, ‘woman’s life is dandy’. Annapurna, I wish I were a writer but I am not. I am an actor. I really would like to show to the world all the maladies that are consuming women’s lives. A man cannot appreciate the hardships a woman suffers. Only a woman could comprehend the depth of such atrocities. A female could do better justice to the subject than a male writer. Unfortunately, I am not a writer. Please, do not stop. I want to hear everything,” Parvati spoke in anguish.

“Yes. The four men insisted that they wanted only me. Know why? All the four honorable men are friends. They all have money, cars, and beautiful wives. Yet they want me once a month. Can you guess why, Parvati?” Annapurna hid her face in the cup of her two palms and cried for a few minutes, and then, continued.

“They have no shame. All the four sit there watching and cheering while one after another performs sexual acts on me.”

Parvati turned pale. The words were too much for her to take. “Is that true?” she asked faintly.

“Yes. It is true, Parvati. You cannot imagine the abominable lives of prostitutes. You may not be a writer. Still as long as you are willing to listen I can tell you the worst of our stories. Please, let me tell you. That gives me some comfort at the least,” she said, and started weeping again.

“Don’t cry, Annapurna, tell me everything. Do not hold back anything, not even the tiniest detail. Eliminating prostitution is one of my goals in life. I cannot accomplish my goal without learning its true nature. Pantulu garu and I started an Asram with the same goal but could not get far. I know only some of the stories but not all. Only you can fill me in on all forms of those wretched lives,” Parvati said, passionately.

“Well, on that particular day, I wasn’t feeling well and so I refused. As a result, I was thrown out by Sahasranamam. The world changes only when the mentality of men changes. We cannot bring about a change in the society unless we change the attitude of men. Until then no matter how many Asrams are opened the result is the same. I know of a small organization, a vocational school, in Chengulput. There is something we can do, maybe very little still that is something. The women there are taught some skills and sent into the world only to be thrown back into the same situation by the way men treat them. The men in the outside world would not let them live honestly.”

 

Annapurna took a sip of water and continued her narration.

 

“I got up to leave when Sahasranamam told me to but he insisted that I could leave only after paying that forty rupees he would have earned if I had gone to those four men. He snatched away my clothes. Where could I go? I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I pulled myself together and went to those men and satisfied their desires. That caused my temperature to go further up, 104 or something. Then there was another problem. There was a wealthy Chettiar who liked women when they were running high temperature. He would pay one hundred rupees if such a woman was supplied. Usually, we do not get sick and that was a disappointment to Sahasranamam. Now he saw an opportunity to make more money, considered it a blessing, for himself and the Chettiar. That day, the Chettiar ravished me like a raven.

 

Parvati, I am telling you, you cannot even begin to comprehend these sadists and their perversities. There was another European customer. He would bring six pounds of ice, cool down our bodies with that ice, and then, enjoy sex with us. Next day, that poor woman would be sure to get fever. Then, the Chettiar would show up for his turn. The European was secretive about his acts though. There was a contractor, who took pleasure in having sex with three women at the same time, and so, would bring along an actor with him. I’m sorry, I cannot describe anymore. Let me tell you, the worst was yet to come.  A priest also used to visit us. He would bring the jewelry and costumes of the Goddess, and makes a woman dress up like the Goddess in the temple, sitting with one leg tucked under and the other let down, raising one hand in‘abhaya mudra’[40] and holding a flower with the other hand. He would stare at the woman for a few minutes and then pounce upon her like a hungry lion. I cannot understand his frame of mind at all.”

“That is not all. The problem of diseases is another story. Your heart would break even at the mere thought of those diseases. Do you know men afflicted with tuberculosis or leprosy also would come to us. The funny part is, the wife of a leper can seek and get a divorce in a snap. The same leper can pay a few rupees and get a prostitute. Normally, no prostitute lives long, ten years at most. After ten years, she may be alive but she’d be living with a disfigured face and on a sidewalk. Not one of them could speak clearly; none of them would be in good health. Their faces would bear the marks of all the pain and suffering in the world. Yet they all do want to live even when it meant living hell. Maybe the world would not let them live in any other way. Parvati, I am one of those dreadful people. Recently, I saw one of your movies and I recognized you, the famous actor, as my childhood friend. Listen. I will cook for you. All I am asking is a little food and a roof over my head. I cannot live this wretched life anymore,” Annapurna broke into heartbreaking sobs.

Parvati sighed. “Annapurna, you’ve at least realized that it’s a wretched life. There are lot of women out there that will not even accept that it is a horrible life. I am not sure what is the cure for this abominable disease. Please, do stay with me. I will be happy to have you here,” she said.

 

zzz

 

Dasaraj films was shooting a movie in Aswani studio. Parvati was playing the heroine. During the break, she was reading a popular weekly magazine, Andhra Sobha. She saw an article written by a famous female writer, Madhavidevi. Parvati pays special attention to Madhavidevi’s articles. While she was reading the article, something occurred to her. She felt like she found a way to accomplish her mission. She was so absorbed in the article she did not even hear the call to return to the set.

Kandhar, the music director, came to her and reminded her that it was time for her to return to the set.

He saw the magazine in her hand and asked her, “What is it? Seems like it’s gotten to you.”

“You should read this. We’ll talk about it later,” she said, hurrying toward the set.

After the shooting, Parvati came back.

“I read it,” Kandhar said.

“So, what do you think of it?”

“Well, it is written by Madhavidevi. No question it is written very well. I used to think that Madhavidevi was a pseudonym of some male writer[41]. Later, I happened to meet her. We even considered her while we were looking for writers for this movie.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Well, you know. The movie producers do not pay writers like they do for actors. For Madhavidevi, it would not be easy either to move with the entire family to Madras for the duration of the movie. Probably, that is not the real reason. The producers hesitate to use writers who have no experience at movie scripts.”

“Do you have her address?”

“Yes, I do. Wait, wow! Look who is coming. That is her, Madhavidevi!” Kandhar stood up ardently.

A woman, in her mid-twenties, walked in like the very incarnation of Saradadevi (the Goddess of Learning)[42]. She was wearing a white saree, white top, jasmine flowers in her hair, a pearl necklace, and ivory bracelets. By her side, Hareswara Rao, the studio owner, was walking. They both came straight to Parvati and Kandhar.

“She..” Hareswara Rao turned to Madhavidevi, by way of introduction.

“I know, the most famous actress, Parvati devi,” Madhavidevi said.

He turned to Parvati, and said, “She…”

“I know, the most famous writer, Madhavidevi,” Parvati said.

They all noticed that the introductions were unnecessary and laughed.

“For me, knowing you is no big deal. The entire world has seen you on the screen. But, how could you have known me?” Madhavidevi asked Parvati.

“I know you. In fact, I was just asking Kandhar for your address and here you are! I liked your article in the current issue. You wrote as if you have seen it yourself. How did you know all those details?”

“I saw them. I visited a brothelhouse in Vijayawada, Rajamma’s, pretending to be a buyer for her property. Rest of it, I guessed.”

“You went to Rajamma’s house? Did you see a woman named Sita?”

“Yes. How do you know Sita? Poor thing, died. She left her baby at my door and killed herself. I put the baby in an orphanage. They did not take good care of him; he developed a liver problem. That is the reason I am here. I brought the boy to have him checked here in Madras. I need Hareswara Rao’s recommendation to admit him in the hospital. I have a son at home about the same age,” Madhavidevi heaved a sigh.

“Sita died? Poor thing. Probably the child is better off under your care…”

The group around them were listening to them curiously. Suddenly, there was some clamor among the extras. The women under the tree went into a flutter. One of them fainted. Somebody sprinkled some cold water on her face and another brought coffee and fed her. That woman was Anasuya. She has not eaten for over four days.

The production manager phoned the doctor. The doctor came, checked her, and gave the worst possible news. He said that she was suffering from a venereal disease, and tuberculosis. The truth is if he had checked the others, probably he would have found that half of the women there were suffering from at least one of those diseases.

 

Madhavidevi and Parvati hit it off right away. Parvati invited Madhavidevi to her place the following day. Madhavidevi was able to admit Sita’s baby in a hospital, thanks to Hareswara Rao.

Next day, Madhavidevi came to Parvati’s home in her car and picked her up. At the Gemini theater, the car was out of gasoline. They went to a gas station, and while filling the gas tank, they saw two cops escort an Anglo-Indian woman. That was Jeannie. She did not do anything wrong. She was starving for over four days. She went into a public latrine with a rickshaw driver. The government would not do a damn thing about her starvation but now they were ready to throw her in jail because she was trying to earn a little money the only way she could. Probably that was okay too. She would get something to eat at the jail at the least. Jeannie was cursing them in English, and Madhavidevi could understand her story, from her ranting. Jeannie was sobbing in between her fiery expletives. She said that the Indians were sadly lacking in manners, commonsense, and etiquette. Jeannie’s face was looking beat up; she felt her legs so light she could hardly stay on the ground. “You slut, shut up,” said one of the cops, beating her with his baton. She fell on the ground but did not stop her tirade.

The scene shook Madhavidevi and touched the inmost corners of her heart. They finished filling the gas tank and left.

Sometimes, an ordinary incident could spark a good deed or pave the way for a great movement. The arrest of the ill-fated woman, Jeannie, created havoc in the heart of Madhavidevi.

Parvati and Madhavidevi sat in the sofa facing each other. Annapurna brought coffee for both of them.

“Come, sit down. She is Madhavidevi,” Parvati said to Annapurna, extending a hearty invitation.

Annapurna also sat down with a cup of coffee and said, “Madhavidevi garu, I am one of your fans. You depict the life as it is, that is your forte.”

“You are saying as if it is a good point. Many people abhor that quality in me. My brother especially tells me that I am not writing like a woman. He says such writing is unbecoming a family woman.”

“Those who cannot write like that probably are scared of those who could. They discourage others who are capable of depicting life as it is.”

“I can’t say that my brother belongs in that category. In fact, he has been supportive of my creating efforts from the very beginning. He is also a writer. He says, he transferred his creative skills to me and thus did the literature a great service.”

“Are you saying that you are the great sculpture created by your brother?” Parvati commented, with a little laugh.

“You are talking as if you are delivering a dialogue on the set, Parvati garu. My brother put me at the top of the list of all the worthless people in the entire world. He might even be thinking that he was embarrassed to claim me as his sister. I am not sure though. He is ruffled that I am not thinking like a woman, nor writing like a woman.”

“Madhavidevi garu, I am begging for a favor from you. Will you please consider it?” Parvati asked her.

 

“It seems the movies and Sarat novels have gotten to you[43]. I am a poor writer. All I have is my pen. Yet, I am struggling for two square meals a day. If you are asking something that is within my means I will be happy to do it.”

“It is within your means. I am asking for the use of your pen, Madhavidevi garu. I can’t tell you how much I regret every minute of my life that I am not a writer.”

“Don’t you worry about it. I am not all that excited for being one. After all, we do have to take care of our families too. In our country, even Saraswatidevi cannot live on the earnings from creative writing if you ask me. There is absolutely no reason for you to regret that you are not a writer.”

“I am serious. I am asking you in all earnestness. Do you remember the incident at the gas station? What do you think of that?”

As soon as she heard those words, a dark shade spread over Madhavidevi’s face.

“What is there to think? We see millions of such incidents every day, every minute.”

“You see them and keep quiet? If you and I and the world, if we all look away and ignore it, what is the way out for those poor women?”

“I understand your concern, but you know, Fruits from a tree will not fall for chanting mantras.[44] There is a book on prostitution in Russian language, translated into almost all the languages of the world. At the time of its original publication the emperor Czar banned it. The book came into light after a few years but there is no indication that the prostitution has decreased. In the past, government used to issue green ticket to prostitutes. That custom is gone but there is no significant change in the lives of women. As long as the public believes that money showers like rain in exchange for woman’s chastity,” Madhavidevi said.

“That is not right. You have to put our lives in front of the world and show them in all its depravity. Only you can comprehend how heinous our lives have become, because you are also a woman. One half of the female population of the world are living rotten lives. You have a responsibility at the least to let them beware that they are living rotten lives,” Annapurna spoke, passionately.

“Did you say ‘our lives’? Do you mean..”

“Yes. I was one of them. I can give you just for the asking all the gory details, the monstrous ways we are forced to live. Even if one reader turns her life around because of your writing I would say it’s worth your time. Just tell me you will write,” Annapurna said.

“Madhavidevi garu, probably you have heard about the Asram, Pantulu garu and I started, and also, that it turned out to be a fiasco. Uncle Pantulu garu wrote to me that the change should come in the hearts of individuals. I also have come to the same conclusion. One movie can bring about the kind of change that a hundred thousand Asrams and a million reformation schools cannot accomplish. The censor board will not permit us to make a movie on this subject but a book can do the same job. A writer can write a book. We know the writers are unacknowledged despots[45]. You have the freedom to present boldly the stark reality of the lives of the prostitutes. I will take care of the publishing costs and pay you five thousand rupees towards compensation,” Parvati said, passionately.

“This issue has been pestering me too. I was scared earlier to write about these things because I was a woman. Now, I have your support I will get on to it right away. However, you do have to take care of the production costs. Like you said even if one person changes her way of life because of the book, that is plenty of reward. I agree with you that the change should come in the hearts of individuals, and, a book can accomplish that; secondly, a movie can do that. This problem exists all over the world. The difference is only in nomenclature— whatever you call a woman—Sita, Suseela, Premi, or Jeannie, the problem remians the same. Whatever the location—Rajamma’s house, Sahasranamam’s building, or someone else’s mansion—the problem is the same; and all the men act the same, whatever their occupation is—a rickshaw driver, a leper, a family man, a police officer, a chettiar—all of them are the same, even the writer is a male. They all want a woman. They all circumambulate around this wicked mountain. If any one of them stopped for a second and looked at my book, that is enough for me. I would take it as a success. I would be proud that I was able to stop this unfortunate misery for a second. I am not going to expect anything more than that.

“I am leaving for Vijayawada tonight. I know that this monster is hanging over the town of Vijayawada like a huge tornado. I will start writing tomorrow. Jeannie’s cursing is still fresh in my mind. What an outpour of a story. She mouthed off so many names—skeletal Premi, Suseela, villager Anasuya, and so on. Who are all these people? They all are no other than the cancerous lumps on the body we call India. We have now the modern Anasuya and Arundhati in place of the great women of mythology, Anasuya and Arundhati.[46] I cannot think of anything more embarrassing. I will finish the book within a month. Parvati garu, good bye for now,” Madhavidevi spoke with the same fervor as the other two and got up.

Parvati and Annapurna were stunned at her zeal and eloquence. “That is her secret, that is the reason she is a remarkable writer,” Annapurna commented.

 

The weekly magazine, Andhra Sobha published the serial novel, “gali paDagalu- neeTi buDagalu” (The Kites and Water bubbles) and the novel created a sensation in the country. Our Telugu folks who usually forget everything the next minute are paying unusual attention to this particular novel. Many respectable gentlemen would walk up to the doors of prostitutes, think of the novel and stop at the door  for a second. Writer Madhavidevi expected only that much response.

 

Even those prostitutes who are a little educated are reading the novel and reflecting on their lives and drawing a deep sigh.

Within the first year the book went into two reprints. In a way, the book brought results higher than Madhavidevi’s expectations. Thanks to the novel, the policemen are paying more attention to their duty. Many brothel houses are shut down. Now, we don’t see women standing under trees on the way to the railway station. We can assume that the cancerous sores on the body of Vijayawada have been cleaned and dressed but the sore underneath is still there. As long as the change does not take place in the hearts of the humans this evil continues to exist.

 

Currently you can see this book in everybody’s hand. The name of the book is “gali padagalu- neeti budagalu”. … It is true. Their lives are also like kites and water bubbles!!

 

(End)

 

Translator’s note: Lata makes a powerful statement on prostitution, one of the malaises that is consuming the society in this novel. The author points out that the problem goes beyond geographic boundaries and economic issues. It is everywhere and in every form.]

 

 

 zz

 

(The novel, “gaali padagalu-neeti budagalu,” has been originally published in 1953 and went into several reprints. Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, June 2002)

 



[1] Use of relational terms like, daughter, aunt, do not necessarily mean blood relationship. Lata is sarcastic about the way Rajamma and her husband are using the girls, for business.

[2] Dialectal variation.

[3] See glossary under relational terms.

[4] In the Hindu epic, Ramayana, the author, Valmiki, depicts Sita as an ideal, chaste woman, and Ravana, as the evil, demon king, who attempts to destroy her honor.

[5] A dialectal variation of names. See glossary under names.

[6] High paid government officials, also, called gazetted officers.

[7] The currency in pre-Independent India (1947) was in rupees and annas; 16 annas equalled one rupee. After 1947, India switched to decimal system, to rupees and paise. One 100 paise make one rupee.

[8] Warrior caste. See glossary for further comment on caste.

[9] Free medical facility, run by the government, for the poor.

[10] The narrator refers to this character only as Kavi, but gives no name.

[11] deream garal- dialectal variation, for dream girl; moyinee for Mohini, meaning the charmer.

[12] borothal aaktu corrupt form of ‘Brothel Act, introduced in post-Independent India, intended to eradicate prostitution

[13] See glossary.

[14] A typical, loosely hanging, outfit, Kavi garus in Andhra Pradesh, started wearing, in the later half of the 20th century. The outfit resembled Bengali outfit for men. Glasgoe is a translucent material, and, dhoti is a six-yard piece of plain material; no sowing involved.

[15] A neighborhood, close to movie industry, in Madras.

[16] A top ranking female movie star in the 1950s and 1960s

[17] A kind of aromatic root, matted into shades, and hung against windows, for cool breeze.

[18] Holy basil, a sacred plant for Hindus.

[19] A shopping mall, selling inexpensive items, in Madras.

[20] A traditional belief that a woman must be totally devoted to her husband.

[21] The name, Pantulu could refer to his caste/calling (teacher), or be the latter part of a given name. Lata includes ‘garu’ to show respect to his noble cause, despite the humiliation he was facing in the community.

[22] A well-known play, “Chintamani” portraying the prostitutes as a social evil, and destructive to family environment.

[23] Proverbial statement. Indra, the emperor in heaven, revels in music, and dance. Urvasi is divine damsel, entertaining, Indra, and other gods.

[24] In Telugu: eddu pundu kaakiki muddu/ruchi

[25] Traditionally, in Indian homes, a son-in-law receives royal treatment, a very special person. Usually, the families fear that annoying him spells trouble for the daughter.

[26] In Telugu: napunsakudanta manchivaadu ledu lokamlo.

[27] In Telugu: ayyavaarini cheyabothe, kothi ayinattu.

[28] Subba Rao is a common name in Andhra Pradesh, like William or Smith. Lata is referring to the multitude of poor and low-income persons. The narrator seem to imply that this Subba Rao has no character

[29] Traditionally, the bridegroom or his party should pay for tali, a small locket, the bride wears, starting from the day of marriage. Subba Rao was reluctant to incur that expenditure. For Sita, the entire idea of becoming a family woman was of great significance.

[30] A popular movie actor, known for playing self-righteous roles.

[31] Spicy cream of wheat.

[32] Government hospital, a free facility for the poor.

[33] A reference to a mythological story: A demon, prayed the Lord Siva, and obtained a boon, according to which, he would be indestructible, since, each drop of his blood, could create ten demons.

[34] According to Hindu philosophy, the three intrinsic qualities dormant in humans are satva-truth, tamas-ignorance and rajas-power.

[35] Sri Sri, (1910-1983) a prominent Telugu poet, known for his Marxist ideology. The original lines are “manadee oka brathukenaa? Kukkalavale, nakkalavale, pandulalo pandulavale… enduko ee asantrupti?”

[36] Not necessarily a blood relative.

[37] Indra was the emperor of the heaven in Hindu mythology.

[38] The terms, devi and garu, following her name in this instance, reflect Murti’s attempt to impress the producers, rather than his respect for Suseela.

[39] According to a popular legent, Chitrangi was a courtesan, who attempted to seduce her stepson, Sarangadhara; and, spurned by him, avenged herself, by ordering to cut off Sarangadhara’s legs. The narrator, in comparing Annapurna to a courtesan, is adding insult to injury.

[40] A hand gesture of giving protection.

[41] In the 1950s and 1960s, female writers were, extremely, popular in Andhra Pradesh, and, it was common knowledge, that male writers were using female pseudonyms, to get the attention of the publishers

[42] Sarada, Sarada devi, Saraswati—are all the names of Goddess of Learning, usually, associated with white.

 

 

 

[43] Madhavidevi’s light-hearted comment was a reference to the artificial language of the movies, and also the language that was popularized by a Bengali novelist, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. In the 1950s& 60s, translations of Sarat’s novels were very popular in Andhra Pradesh.

[44] A popular proverb, implying action, not words, is important In Telugu, manthalaku chintakaayalu raalavu.

[45] A common quotation, from Sanskrit literature: nirankuso kavayah.

[46] Two female characters from Hindu mythology, known for their chastity, and moral supremacy.