Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sivaraju Subbalakshmi, (review) by Nidadavolu Malathi.

Sivaraju Subbalakshmi

Sivaraju Subbalakshmi (b. 17 September 1925) was married at the age of twelve to another famous Telugu writer, Buchibabu [pseud.] (1916-1967), who was twenty-on at the time. She hails from Rajahmundry, a town known for its rich literary heritage. She is the second of three daughters and three brothers to her parents. She adopted her brother’s son, also named after her husband Venkata Subba Rao.

“I am eighty-four,” She said. (she just turned 85 last September). After Bucchibabu obtained his Bachelor’s degree, the couple moved to Madras. They started their life together when Buchibabu moved to Madras to do obtain his Master’s degree. In Madras, the couple made friends with several esteemed writers, which contributed immensely to literary pursuits. Subbalakshmi fondly remembers the good times she had with her husband until his untimely demise in 1967.

In 2006, I talked with her over the phone for the first time. She was in Bangalore and I was in Hyderabad. In September 2009, however I happened to go to Bangalore and so took the opportunity to meet her.

She has a pleasant personality. She welcomed us with a big smile, made tea for us, and showed us her room and her paintings. She says Bapu, a highly acclaimed artist of our times, is her nephew (Bucchibabu’s brother’s son) and has taught him how to draw. 

Subbalakshmi started writing short stories in the mid-fifties. She quoted a famous writer, Jalasutram Rukmininatha Sastry as saying, “I like your stories better than that novel [of her husband].” I asked her what that novel was and she replied with a hearty laugh, “By then, chivaraku migiledi (by Buchibabu) was already published.” Another famous poet and university professor, Pingali Lakshmikantam paid her a charming tribute in his asirvachanam [Blessings] (Preface to one of Subbalakshmi’s anthologies). He commented that Subbalakshmi’s stories came from the heart and she wrote from a perspective that only women could understand and portray. Regarding her style, Lakshmikantam stated, “Nowadays, the stories, which are published, are hard to distinguish between the stories written by male and female writers. The specialty in Subbalakshmi’s stories is that, the feeling we would feel that only women can write like this. A man, however talented he is, can describe the woman’s nature only the perception he can see through his masculine eyes. It is no surprise that when a woman describes the nature of another woman, the description will be far from exaggeration and closer to truth. We can say the objective of these stories is to hold mirror to the human nature filled with jealousies, intolerance and narrow selfishness, and make our world a better place.” He finished his “Blessings” hoping that she would write better stories than her husband.

Subbalakshmi credits her inspiration and success to her husband. She says in her preface to her anthology, Sivaraju Subbalakshmi Kathalu, addressing her husband, “You wrote a story and I wrote one. You painted and I painted.” It would appear they had an ideal marriage.

Subbalakshmi has published four volumes of short stories and three novels. One of the three novels, neelam getu ayyagaru [The owner of a house with blue gate] has received critical acclaim. It illustrates a wealthy family who live in a big mansion with blue gate; it is narrated from the perspective of a maid in the mansion, Ponni.

The author has done a marvelous job in capturing the perceptions of an illiterate working woman. The character comes alive.

In our conversations, Subbalakshmi has mentioned that she has stopped descriptions in order to avoid the possible criticism that she was imitating her husband. I am not sure at what point she has changed her style.

Nonetheless, her creativity is obvious in her stories. For instance, the novel under reference opens with the following lines:

The white rose in clusters presents themselves through the blue gate and make the passersby stop for a moment at least. Far off, Ponnamma, who lives in a hut in the open arena, has been going around looking for work, along with her daughters. She says on that street one half of the houses belong to her.

In the first line, she has established the specialty of a white rose. Ponnamma also is a woman with unique character. She is a little lamp that stays forever in the heart of the owner of the house with blue gate for ever. She is a servant with courage to claim one half of the houses on the street as hers.

In the next paragraph, the author starts with a line that (Ponni) “would not tell the truth” and continues to narrate briefly the previous incidents which landed Ponni in the present position.

As Ponni was about to open the gate to enter, the owner’s dog jumped on her and tore her sari and pulled apart her skin from the bones. In the same moment a car came in. From a fair-skinned and hefty man in white clothes got out of the car and offered to give her money. Ponni refuses to take his money. The man out of his generous nature tells the driver to take her to the doctor, adding, “If she dies, that will visit up on us.”

Eventually, she is taken in as a maid in that mansion. When the owner decides to spend some time in Nilgiri hills for health reasons, he and his wife invite Ponni to go with them as domestic help. She becomes the confidante for the entire family—the owner, his wife, son and daughter-in-law. She listens to all their stories. They all show concern for her wellbeing. When the owner attempts to make a move on her, she cleverly escapes, saying, “You are a like the Lord Rama [man of integrity]”.

The owner in his final days reflects on his life, he cannot but think of Ponni as his mentor. He is convinced that he had seen several servants but there is none like Ponni.

Subbalakshmi however considers another novel of hers, teerpu [Judgment] as her best work. It was serialized in a monthly magazine, taruna.

Subbalakshmi has firm convictions regarding the woman’s position at home and in society. According to her, kitchen is an important place in the house, and woman has a responsibility to take care of the home; she should never leave home, since there is no place for a woman where she can be safe. 

She said at present she has been writing stories when she finds something interesting in the news but does not send them out for publication. She is also writing her autobiography. “This is not just an account like ‘we lived here or there but about my experiences and memories,” she said. She showed us about 12 handwritten pages.

I asked her if she would fair copy them.

“No, I just write as it comes. Too lazy to rewrite,” she laughed. Suddenly I felt nostalgic. Back in the fifties and sixties, that was the way we all had written stories. At the time, there were no computers, no editing and no cut-and-paste facilities.

Subbalakshmi has an amazing memory. At the age of 84, she remembers all the themes and the incidents that inspired her to write in detail. 

In response to the question why one writes stories, she says, “For those who can be happy with what they have, the desire to have this or that is low. Yet, their hearts pine for something special to be recognized about them … that her husband should recognize her identity …”, reminiscing her past. He recalls the times when she and her husband sat on the shores of the River Godavari, and he asked, “What do you think of this ending for this story or that story”,  and the satisfaction that he had respect for her opinion—that leaves an imprint on her mind forever. ..

The preface to her book reads like that and it gave me a feeling that she has lost herself in her memories and the preface in itself is another piece of creative writing.

Most of the stories are anchored around the lives of middle class women, their struggles, fears, frustrations and their inability to extricate themselves from the tough situations they are stuck, and in the end settle for a compromise.

She has pointed a few of her stories as her favorite stories to me. However, the one story that captured my attention is aadavaalla pettelo prayaanam [Traveling in a ladies’ compartment]. This story brought to the fore her personality as I found during our conversation in September 2009. As I stated earlier, she is full of zest. That is evident in this story. Therefore, I decided to translate it for you. I hope you’ll enjoy the story as much as I did.

Publications of Sivaraju Subbalakshmi:

Novels:

Adrushta rekha

Neelam getu ayyagaru

Teerpu

Anthologies of short stories:

Kavyasundari katha

Odduku cherina keratam.

Manovyadhiki mandundi

Magatajeevi chivari chuupu

(This article by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published on thulika.net, March 2010.)

Photo of Subbalakshmi garu by V.B. Sowmya.

 

Traveling in a ladies compartment by Sivaraju Subbalakshmi.

I took the train from Delhi to Bezwada, my hometown. It was a second class ladies compartment. All kinds of people were getting in and out of the compartment. Right away, watching them became my pastime. There was no conversation with anyone but for an occasional “move, please,” or “where to?”

We were only four women in the compartment. One woman was sleeping on the upper berth. Another woman occupied one entire corner with her children and the luggage. From her clothing, I assumed she was an Anglo-Indian. Another woman had been buying snacks and eating them without break to her mouth, and assigning the job of throwing out the leaves, the skins, and the wrappers to those whoever happened to look in her direction. Her clothes appeared to be that of a south Indian. She wore a sari with horizontal stripes, and a pair of shiny earrings; she had large lips; her hair was shabby and curly; she was short; and, her face shone whenever she laughed. Ah, I forgot to tell you about the woman who sat next to me. She was tall and skinny; her skin was a kind of discolored white; she had small eyes, long nose, and lips like a sketch of straight lines; her hair was straight and smooth—each feature by itself looked okay, but on the whole, her face was lifeless. We could tell she was a Gujarati, based on the clothes she was wearing; and then, of course, me, sitting in another corner.

Each time the train stopped, somebody or other was asking “What station?” in Hindi, and somebody else was replying accordingly. In between, whenever the fat lady leaned toward the window to buy snacks, her massive body was smothering the child, and the child was screaming; then the mother yelled at her in English. After a while, both settled in their own seats, making ugly faces and taking sneaky peeks at each other without one noticing the other until more new faces popped up in the compartment. They stopped bickering and started watching the newcomers.

I was by the window buying whatever I felt like. Unlike the fat lady, I did not have to bother anybody. I sat there watching the trees as if they had come to say goodbye to me; I craned my neck to peek through the window. I was sad to leave them behind; their shadows seemed to be waving to me and saying, ‘take care’.

Several stations had come and gone. People were getting in and out, a few at a time. Some of them were cursing us, each in their own language, because we stuck to our seats without budging, not even a bit. They seemed to be hell-bent on finishing the fight and asserting their rights; instead, they remained at the door waiting for their destination. They got off when their station arrived but only after throwing a nasty look at us, as if they were saying, “we’ve to go, or else, we would’ve seen the end of you all. Our bad luck!”

I was not sure when I’d fallen asleep, not sure how many stations had passed. I woke in Nagpur station; my eyes were still shut though. Two women got in with a little girl, who looked like a baby rat, seven or eight boxes, two rolls of bedding, four or five baskets, and a few other sundry items, and started shoving them around. A man, who came to see them off, kept pushing my legs with the bedding until I turned into a bundle myself.

I was annoyed by their attitude. I kicked the bedding and busted all their hard work.

Whatever they thought, they did not start an argument but moved their bedding to another side … One of them laid the kid down and made room for the other woman to sit. Her eye landed on the space in between. “It’d be nice if this ‘chariot’ moved a bit and made room for us”, one of them said and they all giggled at their own sense of humor.

That “chariot” woke, gave them her invaluable opinion in her language, which was, they must not put their luggage in her space; they’d better put them in the corner where all the other pieces were kept. She returned to her sleep. The newcomers took her advice, moved the two boxes to the corner. In the process however, one end of the box hit one woman, who, in turn, kicked the box with all her might. The woman with the box fell on the “chariot”, cracking her bangles in the process. She said sorry and got off of the “chariot”. The “chariot” cursed them in her polite language and in a high pitch.

My ears were nearly blasted off by what had followed—the guard blew the whistle, the man, who came to send them off, panicked, turned around, slipped and fell on the platform.

The two women inside the compartment started hollering, “Oh! No, no. Are you hurt?” We must be crazy for starting out this morning of all the days; should’ve picked the first class compartment. Then, we wouldn’t have all this hassle,” and so on.

“I’m fine, you be careful,” he said. The train started to move.

“We’ll wire you as soon as we got there,” the women inside shouted.

The train honked. The guard whistled. The entire hullabaloo pierced through my ears.

The second woman stood for a while, no guts to go elsewhere, I suppose. Then she lifted my sheet a little, sat down, and pulled the sheet over her lap.

It was quiet for a while.

By the time I woke again, the Anglo-Indian woman and the other two, who had gotten in last, were bickering loudly. I sat up, mechanically. The train stopped at some big station. I understood the real problem finally—the Anglo-Indian lady’s hand hit the other woman’s water jug and broke it. The squabbling started thus.

The guard came. The Anglo-Indian lady was whining. The guard said something to both of them and left.

The squabbling subsided. Two more women got in, looked around, laid their eyes on the woman in the middle, tapped on her shoulder, and woke her. The woman looked at them as if she wanted to fight them, opened her mouth, looked at their sizes, changed it into a yawn, moved and made room for them. Within a second, we could see that their attitudes were a notch higher but not lower than hers.

The women, who had gotten in before, were jealous since this woman lying on the seat did not make room for them. They said to the new arrivals, admiringly, “She gave you the space only because you are YOU. Do you know what a rumpus she’d raised with us earlier! She is acting like she owns the compartment”.

The new arrivals kept eyeing us—the woman across from them, the one lying down, and me—and kept grousing. The woman across from me told the one next to me how she could make herself comfortable. Taking her advice, the woman next to me stretched her legs across my body to the window, and settled down to sleep.

I wiggled restlessly. Her legs slipped slowly from my chest to my waist and into my lap. I was ticked off. I whacked her rudely.

She was pretending to be asleep. She jerked, woke, and said grumpily, “Why whack so hard? You can say it gently, can‘t you?”

“You’re sleeping like a log; you don’t even know your legs are in my lap. How can I wake you gently?” I said.

“I was asleep and my legs slipped. What’d you suggest I do?” she said.

“I suggest you keep your legs to yourself,” I said.

“Oh, you think you’re smart. You keep your mouth to yourself and talk.”

The other two jumped in and supported her.

This went on for a while. The woman on the upper berth, probably out of pity for me, started arguing with them. She looked frail but the words from her mouth were flying with full force. The other two were thrilled, supplied a few more choice words to her to their hearts’ content.

I noticed more people were on my side and I raised my voice too. Other travelers were getting in and out of the compartment in between. They looked at the two women and us, and were flabbergasted. The squabble spread into several other totally irrelevant areas. Each one said whatever came to her mind, making fun of everything—from the clothes to the jewelry one was wearing. It went on for a while.

Then, it was time to eat. The train pulled into some station. Everybody tried to move closer to the windows and the door. Somebody stumbled on one of the boxes and kicked it effortlessly, as if it was a small ball. The box’s owners could not assault her. They looked at each other; one of them said to the other, “Oh, no! It’s full of glass items. I’m worried, thinking what could’ve happened to them.”

Their looks annoyed the woman who kicked the box. She let them have it, “What do you want me to do? Who asked you to bring so much baggage? You kept them in the way. Who can put up with that stuff? If they’re broken, throw em out.”

Her attitude made the two women scowl. They remained quiet though.

They started ordering whatever they felt like eating. I took chappati. The two women with the luggage brought food in carriers. They said, showily, “we don’t eat all kinds of stuff you get everywhere.” They looked at me, and said, “We can’t eat those chappatis, they’re like leather.”

The women sitting across from me also brought chappati, I believe. They said, “These chappatis taste lot better than that stale food. Who knows how old that is.”

***

We reached Bezwada early in the morning, still swapping a few small words but no huge bickering.

I was looking for my husband through the window. I saw our servant Guravayya at a distance. He was coming toward my compartment, rubbing his eyes. I was ready to leave but had to wait until the two women unloaded all their luggage. Does the train wait that long? It’s in the hands of god only! I thought I would not have the time to say goodbye to my fellow travelers later. I said, “Goodbye” to them, while still on the train.

They said, “You get down. We’ll pass the luggage to you.”

I looked around for a way out.

They suggested, “Step on the boxes and walk out.”

Another woman suggested, “Why walk on them? Just kick them out. We’ll have more room.”

The boxes’ owner grumbled, “What do you’ve got to lose?”

I did not have much luggage. I took one box in my hands. The woman next to me handed me my bedding, the small basket and the carry on bag.

I saw Guravayya and told him to take the luggage.

He said, “Ayya garu didn’t say anything about you coming, ma’am. He said he’d got some telegram, some ladies are coming with luggage. He told me to bring them home. Now I can’t see ayya garu anywhere. .. I’m looking for ayya garu.”

“All right. Let’s go. The train’s here for quite some time now. Maybe they’ve left.”

“Don’t I have to look for them one more time? Maybe, it’s okay since you’re here. If you tell ayya garu, he’ll not yell at me. Let’s go,” he said.

I looked at the women in the compartment again, waved goodbye, and walked outside.

“Amma garu, our car is here. I’ll put the box here, you can sit on it,” he said.

“You bring two rickshaws. We don’t know how many of them are coming. Is the house locked?”

“No Amma garu. The cook is home, you know,” he replied.

I came home, finished the chores, took bath, and had Guravayya sweep the rooms and tidy them up. It was past 7:00. No sight of “he”, or, “those who are supposed to be coming.”

Guravayya said he wanted to go home and left.

The kanakambaram plants wilted. I squatted to hollow around the roots.

The cook came and said, “I’ll do it, Amma!” He heard the car honking and went to open the gate.

The luggage filled one half of the front room. I heard my husband’s voice, “Are all the pieces in?”

Abbha! One should never travel in a ladies compartment, I must say. I’ve learned my lesson. One half of the luggage has been ruined,” one of the guests was lamenting.

My husband called the cook and asked, “Is Guravayya back yet? Where’s he?”

“He came back with amma garu and went home.”

“Amma garu is back? Where’s she?”

“By the plants in the backyard,” the cook said.

“What is this? You’re home, no letter, nothing?” my husband said to me.

“I’ve written, maybe, you didn’t see it. Even if you’d seen it, you’ll send only Guravayya to the station. I saw him in the station and came home with him,” I said.

He turned pale, stared at me, and said, “Rani garu is angry, I suppose. Look, my friend’s wife and his sister are here. See if they need anything. They are chewing me up since morning.”

“How would I know what they want. You take care of them yourself.”

He grabbed my hand and started walking, pulling me along with him, “You’re sweet, please, come.”

I pulled back my hand, saying, “What’s this? Monkeying around?”.

I peeked into the front room. Guess what, It was the same two women, my fellow travelers in the train. They were sitting on the sofa with their legs up and relaxed. They put the little girl on the carpet and gave her something to munch. She was crushing the food and splattering it all over the carpet, and on top of it, dabbing her hands, covered with her drool, on the carpet. It was nauseating.

My husband introduced me to them.

They stared at me, probably they also were annoyed. They had that look on their faces—the same “SHE! Do we have to put up with her here too?” look.

“They’re here too,” I was thinking. The older woman collected herself and started lecturing on the friendship between her husband and Rama Rao (my husband) in great detail. She said her husband had sworn that he would not attend Rama Rao’s wedding if the bride had not been his sister, and it had not happened only because the horoscopes had not matched; or else, it would have been impossible for anybody to stop the wedding, and for that reason, she had had full rights in this house … She went on like this for a while.

The cook brought coffee and served to them. She, sipping coffee, continued to tell how crazy Rama Rao had been about her husband’s sister. She said to Rama Rao, “She still has the saris you’d sent to her from Benares. She keeps them as precious.”

Rama Rao, changing the subject, said, “There’s a lot see in this town. You may want to get ready quick. Or else, you will not have time to see all the places.”

”What’s there to see here, anyways? We’ll just go to the temple and be back,” she said, leaning back in the sofa. He might be thinking that she would not stop if she started on her pet subject again. He left the room saying, “I’ve to take bath.”

By the time they were ready to go, it was past 10:00. He asked me to go with them.

“I’m not feeling well, I can’t go,” I said.

“Since you’re staying home, I can leave the child here. What’d you say?” the younger woman said.

I was boiling inside for all their talk. I said, “I’m no good with kids. Take her with you.” Then, I added, “He’s there to carry the baby, if she cries,” thereby settling the score with my husband.

They were back by 2:00 in the afternoon.. Rama Rao was used to eating early; late meals would give him headaches.

They sat down to eat. “Amma, saapada ille (did not eat),” the cook said in Tamil.

“Call amma,” Rama Rao said.

The cook came to me and said, “Ayya garu is calling you.”

I went into the kitchen, sat in front of a leaf, away from the rest, and started eating without speaking one word.

The older woman was hassling the younger one. “You two would not leave the temple. It was such a struggle for me to keep the kid quiet. Had you gotten out early, we would have visited them (other friends) too.”

Her words jabbed me at my heart. Whenever I asked my husband to go to the temple with me, he would say, “you go.”

The younger woman said, crossly, “Ha, like you don’t take time to get ready, you’re pointing fingers at me. Anyway, me traveling with you, why on earth did I do that?”

It was 4:00 by the time they were done arguing. “We’ll take the night train, not this one,” they said. They sat on either side of Rama Rao and continued to blabber again.

They got ready to leave after finishing the supper at night. I kept avoiding them—saying I was not hungry to eat, not feeling well to go to the station …

The train was late, I suppose. It was very late by the time my husband returned home. I put the cot in the yard and lay down, dozed off

He came in, brought another cot, put it next to mine, and lay down. He fell asleep soon enough. Earlier, I was thinking of what I wanted to say to him, had he asked. Now, not only he did not wake me, he slept without a care in the world. It made my blood boil. I wanted to jump and dig my nails into his skin. I kept rolling on the cot as if I was rubbing off my anger on the bed. Finally, he pulled his cot closer to mine, gently patted me and laughed. I fell asleep, not sure when.

It was quite late in the morning. I woke. He was not on the bed. I fell asleep again. I heard a horse-drawn cart in the front yard, raised my head to see who it was.

The two women were back with their luggage. My mind was empty, not a single thought in it. After a while, I started thinking clearly—how come they’re back?

They both started cursing and screaming at the cart-driver because he asked for more money. He too was firing back. With all the noise, my husband woke and looked at me, puzzled. I pointed toward the guests. He was also confused, wondered how this could have happenedthey showing up at our door again? He lay back on the cot.

The older woman came in gasping, and told him, “See how he’s talking! No manners at all. Kick him out.”

The younger woman managed to pacify the cart-driver and send him away. She came in, walking daintily like a movie star. She said only she could send him away and that nobody ever listened to the older woman. That set off the older woman into a fit of crying. Both started bickering again.

I went into the kitchen. My husband followed me, trying to say something.

The older woman came in, ranting as always, “The baby’s crying for milk. Tell the cook to bring some milk.”

The cook brought coffee for all of us.

Then, the older woman told us what had happened earlier. They had met another man on the train. He asked them where they were going. The two women told him that they were going to attend a wedding; they told him the name and the surname of the groom’s father. The man said, “Oh, no. They all had left for Tirupati yesterday. The wedding will take place on the hill. Don’t you know?” The two women were worried, what now. Then the same man suggested that they could get off this train, and go back to Bezwada on the next train and go to Tirupati the next day. With his help, they moved from this train to that train and suffered quite a bit in order to get back to our house.

My husband said,“Had you taken the passenger train, you would’ve reached Tirupati by night.”

The younger woman said, “No way I can travel again. If she wants, she can go”, and lay back in the sofa and closed her eyes.

The older woman said,“What kind of talk is that? We came here for the wedding. It’s not nice to go back without attending the wedding. Isn’t that right, Ramu?”

My husband said, “You must go. It wouldn’t be nice if you don’t go.”

The younger woman was stubborn. She said, “Whether it is nice or not, I’m not going.”

Rama Rao said with a faint smile, “If you don’t feel like going, okay, cancel it.”

I pretended as if I had something to do in the other room, went in, returned with an invitation and asked my husband, “You didn’t tell me about Venkatesam’s wedding.”

“Oh, I forgot. It is not too far. We can go by car,” he said.

The older woman said, “She can go,” pointing to me.

Rama Rao said, the bride was actually his relative, and so, he must attend the wedding. He said to me to pack for the trip.

“If you’re gone, what is the point of our staying here? Let’s go,” the older woman begged the younger one. She asked Rama Rao to put them on the passenger train first and then go to the wedding.

The younger woman turned to Rama Rao and suggested that they could leave some luggage here, and that would allow them more time to straighten their boxes.

Rama Rao looked at his watch, “No time. Even otherwise, your luggage is not much compared to the boxes the wedding party will have. I’ll help you with loading here, and on your way back, the wedding party will take care of it.” He called the cook and asked him to bring a horse-drawn cart and help load the boxes.

Rama Rao came in. I was sitting on a box, thinking what I should say if the two women asked, “May we come again?”

“What are you thinking? Come, get up,” he took my hand and pulled.

“You go with them. After you return from the station, we can go to the wedding from here,” I said.

“Come on,” he seized my hand and pulled again.

“Wait. Let me change into another sari,” I said.

By the time everybody was ready, it was time for the train. We rushed to the station. My husband ran to the counter, bought the tickets, and put them in the ladies’ compartment. He said there was more room in it.

Orey,, Rama Rao.” We heard somebody call from behind.

Parvatamma came to us, gasping.

“Where are you going, kodalaa[i]!” she said, addressing me.

“You get in first. There isn’t much time,” my husband held Parvatamma’s hand and helped her into the compartment.

“Son, this is upper class, I think. Here, look, my ticket is not for this compartment.”

“You get in. We can pay the difference and change it to this. There is no time to find another compartment,” my husband said and took the ticket to the guard for exchange.

“Why aren’t you aboard?” Parvatamma asked me.

I told her that we were not traveling, and that we came only to send off our friends, and asked her whether she was attending Venkatesam’s wedding.

“I am coming from there only. I went there last week. The wedding has been canceled. The bride’s grandmother died suddenly. I think your husband knows about it too. Venkatesam said he had told him.”

“I don’t know. I was out of town, returned just yesterday. The train is moving. Be careful,” I said.

My husband came rushing and handed her the ticket.

Parvatamma would not keep quiet. “You do know that Venkatesam’s wedding has been canceled, don’t you?” she asked him.

My husband looked at the two women, fearing they might hear this conversation. They were busy spreading the sheets so they would not have to get up when others got into the compartment.

My husband walked along the moving train, and said to them, “See you next time.”

“Many thanks. We’ll come again, and will not leave until we had spent a few days with you,” they said.

“Of course, you must,” said my husband and waved.

Parvatamma shouted, “Santha, see you later. Son, you must come to Bapatla to visit us.”

The train was gone. My husband and I did not speak to each other until we were outside the station.

He told the cook to go home and make supper for us, “We will be home later.”

“I’ll go home now,” I said.

He said, “Stop grouching. Get into the car.”

I sat in the car, a little away from him.

“It seems the wedding has been canceled, you know,” I said.

“I don’t know … I said that only to send them away.”

“That’s a lie. You’re acting like you don’t care about them. If you don’t, how come you walked along the moving train and talked to them. If you cared about her so much, you should have married her only. Why did you marry me?”

“To tease you,” he laughed.

“And they tease you?”

He burst into a big laugh.

***

(The Telugu original, Aadavaalla pettelo prayaanam, has been published and included in the anthology, Sivaraju Subbalakshmi kathalu. 1998 and originally published on thulika.net, March 2010.).

(Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net)

Photo of Subbalakshmi garu: V. B. Sowmya.

[i] Daughter-in-law.

Selfish Man by Sarada (S. Natarajan)

A young man came to the lawyer Vijayaraghava Rao’s home around 11:00 in the morning. He was about seventeen. He was fair-complexioned and sweet-looking, yet his tattered shirt, pants, and the wretched expression on his face werespeaking of his poor disposition.

Hesitantly he walked toward Vijayaraghava Rao’s office room and stood by the entrance. It was Sunday. The lawyer just finished eating, chewing paan and reading the newspaper. He heard footsteps and looked up.

The young man stood there in all humility, rubbing his hands. He was not sure how to ask what he wanted; no word could come out his mouth. He was scared.

The lawyer threw the paper behind his chair and asked gently, “What is it you want to say, my boy?”

The young man was still unsure how to put it in words. He managed to walk one more step into the room while struggling to find the right words to say and looking at the law books. He said with great difficulty, “The thing, sir, I am studying here.”

A kind of curiosity showed in the lawyer’s demeanor. “It is all right, you can tell me,” he said. He thought of asking the young man to sit down but did not for some uncanny reason.

The young man still did not have the courage to look straight into the lawyer’s face. He said timidly, “I have the food arrangements for six days. I don’t have anybody yet for Sundays.”[i] Is it necessary to say the next words?

The lawyer looked at him head to foot keenly, examining him. He understood the young man’s predicament and asked kindly, “Don’t be afraid. What are you studying?”

There was a change in the young man’s manner. Probably hunger on one hand and walking in the sun on the other debilitated him, he could not stand anymore. He sat down on the floor and said, “I am in the 11th class, sir.”

Vijayaraghava Rao felt even more kind towards him. “You want food on Sundays. Of course, you can have, that is fine. What is your name?” he asked him with concern.

The young man said politely, “They call me Prakasa Rao, sir.”

The lawyer looked around as if he was trying to recall something and said, “By the way, did you eat today? If not, come in, take bath and eat.” Then he turned toward the next room and called, “Subrahmanyam!”

Subrahmanyam, the clerk, who was busy checking some case files, came in quickly, “You called me, sir?”

The lawyer nodded in assent and said, “Take this boy in and tell them to give him food.”

The clerk had never seen this kind of generosity in the lawyer in all the 10 to 15 years’ of his service. He was surprised yet without appearing so, asked the young man to follow him; they both went in.

***

Vijayaraghava Rao earns about five to six hundred rupees a month. He also inherited twenty acres of land and two houses. His son was studying law in Madras. We may assume that he had no problems in this world. There was one huge worry for him—that is his daughter who was born an invalid. Padmavati was born with weak legs, which rendered her incapable of walking. It is no surprise that watching her crawl on her scrawny legs brought him inexplicable pain at heart and other problems. But for the weak legs, she had no other limitations in any way. Her father arranged for her studies at home. She had enchanting voice. Except the legs, we must admit that she was gorgeous. The only thing bothered the father was what was in store for her in future. Generally speaking, it is natural for the mother to have such worry rather than father. She discussed about their daughter with her husband several times. She did so even on the day the young man came to their house for the first time.

The lawyer was in the kitchen and eating supper. He looked at his daughter, sighed and told himself, “I have plenty of money, yet what does it matter?”

Mother was serving food. She said, “Emandi, is this how it is going to be? I am nagging forever. Or, are you also thinking about it?”

“Am I sitting around doing nothing? Why do you talk as if you are the only one worried and I am not?” the lawyer said.

Mother poured buttermilk into his plate and said, choking, “God is not kind to my baby, otherwise…”

The daughter was trying to understand the conversation going on between her father and mother. She asked, “What is it, father?” She wanted to say something but could not.

Father said, touching her back tenderly, “Don’t you worry about these things. You eat and go to bed.”

Mother also said the same thing.

Padma however was smart in some ways; she understood their concern and seemed to ask why they should worry thus. She turned to her father, looked at him perplexed and asked, “Daddy, are you talking about my marriage?”

Vijayaraghava Rao felt a little embarrassed yet replied, “Yes, my dear.” He decided that it was not fair to keep it from her, considering she was fifteen, educated and worldly-wise.

“Father, do I have to get married?” she asked, having come to a decision in her own mind.

Mother said, chiding, “What kind of talk is that, my girl? Don’t talk your half-baked ideas.”

Father was surprised. He said, not chiding though, “What’s that? Why are talking like that? Why don’t you want to marry?”

Daughter believed strongly that her father could understand her. She said, “Father, I will spend my immobile life in this house only. Why do you want to marry me off to somebody and make my life even more ridiculous? Like my brother, I will also live here in the same house. Am I a burden to you, father?” Her voice became hoarse and her eyes showed sings of moisture.

Mother was distressed by the daughter’s words but father was quite used to this rhetoric. He said, comforting her, “My girl, what you said is true yet you have to think about your future. Who knows how things are going to be in this house after your mother and I are gone. How can we trust that your future sister-in-law would be nice to you? If you have a man whom you can call yours, then there is no escape for him from his duty. Look, you may say we have money. But how can we settle with money alone? Don’t you have to have a person for support? You tell me, dear.”

He laid it out so well yet he was also worried by the same question—whether he could bring a bridegroom for her. He could offer one half of his wealth yet nobody from his part of society would come forward to accept the proposal.

They all finished eating and got up to wash hands. Prakasa Rao was standing in the verandah under the shade probably for supper. Padma’s mother Rukminamma called him, “Come, Prakasam!”

Vijayaraghava Rao looked keenly at the young man one more time as he passed him in the hallway.

Padma spent all night thinking about the same topic.

It was the third week since Prakasam had started his weekly arrangement at the lawyer’s house. Prakasam had no one in this world that he could call his. Possibly, there were some distant relatives but none of them would fall into the category of “my people.” One may call a friend “my friend” no matter however wicked that person is but that is not the case with relatives. Prakasam’s attitude was also the same. That was the reason he continued his studies by collecting donations and making food arrangements at the houses of kind people.

It seems he was not able to collect sufficient funds for the fee for that month, so he decided to ask the lawyer. First he thought he would go straight from school to their house and then wondered if the lawyer would be home at that time of the day. He then decided to ask for money at night when he went for supper.

That night, Prakasam’s hungry voice moved the lawyer who was deeply lost in his thoughts.

“Sir, Pantulu garu!” Prakasam said.

Pantulu garu came out of his reverie and said, “Come in, dear boy, have you eaten? Come, sit here on this bench.”

Prakasam took those words as premonition of his success; he did not sit but said timidly, “Sir, the thing sir, the school fee for this month …” he stopped as if he was choked to complete the sentence.

The lawyer understood the boy’s thought and asked, “how much?” as pulled out the drawer and took out a ten rupee bill.

That was the first time Prakasam had ever seen a ten rupee bill. He said, “Six and a half, sir” and walked closer to receive the money.

The lawyer looked the boy up and down for some reason and asked, “Boy, where are staying?”

“In Dikshitulu garu’s house, sir,” he said, putting the money in the pocket of his tattered shirt.

The lawyer seemed to have come to some conclusion. He said in a voice, filled with enormous kindness, “Come here, sit. I’d like to speak a word with you. Do you mind?”

Prakasam sat down on the carpet, laid on the floor.

Probably, the lawyer had finished the process of thinking in his mind; he said with a determined voice, “Starting tomorrow, you stay with us. Why hop from place to place? Why arrange for food for each day in different homes? Why worry about school fee like this? I will pay for your education up to whatever you want to study. Is that okay with you?” He looked into the boy’s face.

Prakasam’s countenance turned blood red, having succumbed to surprise, under the brilliance of electric lights. He could not figure out whether it was a dream or truth. After two or three minutes, he could say, “Yes, sir.”

The lawyer got up from his chair, put his hand on Prakasam’s shoulder and said as he walked him to the door, “You hire a rickshaw and bring all your stuff.”

Prakasam felt was embarrassed or something. “I have only a blanket and one more pair of clothes there sir,” he said stuttering and left quickly.

***

Five months passed by. The heat from sun and the moonlight continued to be as usual. Prakasam’s lifestyle however shot up to higher echelon. Poplin shirts, Glasgow dhotis and bicycle were not the signs for his echelon. Usually, a poor man’s thought also flow only a smaller scale. Even his dreams would not think up of valuable things. In fact Prakasam had no dreams at all. Prakasam used to hope for a better shirt than the tattered one and own book instead of studying somebody else’s book five months back; now all those thoughts were gone; he started dreaming big dreams.

In the lawyer’s home, he had every kind of freedom one could hope for. The lawyer’s wife, Rukminamma was treating him with great kindness and affection. We cannot say Prakasam came to understand all the ramifications in that family, but he understood a few things in that house. Because of what he had learned, a few desires came to his mind. As if to reinforce those desires, his familiarity with Padma also started to grow. Padma liked him because of his poverty. She and Prakasa Rao were sitting down in the evenings and chat. Rukminamma enjoyed watching them thus sitting together and chatting. The lawyer garu also remained silent, as if supporting their meetings.

As one becomes worldly-wise, one also understands the society much better. In this society, one earns respect only when his financial position has improved. In reality, the respect accorded and the value attributed to the good and bad qualities and artistic talents are very little. In many places, it may be none. This perception of this societal reality had occurred to Prakasam. The people who had not said hello to him previously were showing respect not just to his clothes but him too. His humility and good nature were not noticed but now they were.

Things being such, there was no surprise he wished to have this kind of life forever. But then, how could he obtain this respect permanently? While he was pondering on these lines, his mind turned to the lawyer’s disabled daughter. She was beautiful and educated but with useless legs. She would never be able to get married. What if she … to him … he did not have the courage to think further. Although she was lame, would they marry her to an orphan like him? He felt dejected, chided himself and kept quiet. Probably, those who were down on their luck for sometime suffer from inferiority complex always.

Lawyer garu did not say anything until Prakasam had finished high school. He did not let him feel wanting for anything.

Prakasam finished high school and approached the lawyer garu one fine evening to obtain his permission

Lawyer garu saw him and showed him the chair next to him. He noticed that Prakasam came to ask for something. Amicably as usual, he turned down the radio volume and he asked, “What do you want, dear boy?”

Prakasam wanted to give some opening statements but did not know what to say; he said in a humble voice, “I would like to study Intermediate.”

“Of course, go ahead,” lawyer garu said. There was some anxiety in his voice, a kind of struggle, as if he wanted to say something.

Prakasam was waiting for his words.

Lawyer garu turned off the radio and said as if he was examining the boy’s psyche, “There was something I wanted to tell you for sometime now.”

Prakasam was silent, as if wondering what kind of thunderbolt was about to strike.

The lawyer garu had thought it out thoroughly. He had guessed earlier that as a result of the conveniences he had provided for him, Prakasam would accept his proposal. He said, “Dear boy, you said you have none whom you could call your own. You would remember forever, if I help you to improve your lot. However, there is one worry that has been bothering me day and night—worried about the future for my daughter?” His voice was choked after that; he could speak no more.

Prakasam’s heart started racing; he wondered what he could be saying next. “Tell me, sir,” he said, getting ready to hear whatever the lawyer had to say.

“I cannot be free from the worry, until and unless I see my daughter married. I will make sure that you have no worries in any manner for the rest of your life.”

Prakasam seemed to have understood his approach. “That is fine, sir. Do you have to go on explaining like this? How can I repay you for all the help you had given me?” he said quickly.

Lawyer garu just said, “That’s good, dear boy.”

Padma’s marriage with Prakasa Rao was performed quietly without much flourish. Lawyer garu created a document appropriating one house and ten acres of land to Padma. Prakasa Rao thought of asking to put it in his name. But for a person who feels a kind of lowliness, words do not come out of the mouth easily. After the wedding ceremony was over, some annoyance bothered Prakasa Rao and made him lose his peace of mind. He put an end to his studies. The reason for his annoyance was the few friends and others who commented on his wedding day that he was a fortunate man, looking at him pitiably. The reason for their pity—was it the fact he would not be able to go on walks with his wife, like they do? … He could go on thinking further but his mind would not let him, he kept quiet. Following lawyer’s advice, he started his family life in the house that was willed to Padma. He hired a cook. Life was going smoothly. Yes, he did not the kind of pleasures he had expected in life from Padma.

Prakasa Rao was not a bad person; he could not however remain committed to his wife. He was not sleeping at him twenty days a month. Padma understood the circumstances clearly; she did not blame him. It was not because of her weakness though. She had never favored the idea of marriage from the start. She could not show affection specifically towards Prakasa Rao either. She believed strongly that if anybody came forward to become her husband, he would do so only because of plenty of selfishness on his part. Possibly that was the truth. Even Prakasa Rao had consented to this marriage only because of his poverty but not because his generous heart softened. His selfishness was so obvious she was not hurt and that was no surprise. Prakasa Rao never ridiculed her.

He kept quiet as if his behavior was the answer to all the questions one might raise. Yet there was one issue that had been bothering him rather frequently. That is the eternal question if there has ever been one. Money is necessary to hook up with another woman. Naturally, a person’s needs grow as his awareness improves too. Amidst his financial problems, he found asking his wife for money even more frustrating. But what could he do? Whatever little property they had was in registered in her name.

Possibly the lawyer did not foresee things to take this turn, he nevertheless put the property in Padma’s name, suspecting what could happen.

Prakasa Rao took as many loans as he could through respectable channels. But for how long? The loans totaled to seven or eight hundred; he was forced to ask his wife.

“Padma! I need eight hundred rupees,” he said in a voice filled with affection.

Padma looked into his eyes and said, “Eight hundred? Wherefrom I can get?”

“How can I say? Ask your mother or father …” he did not finish the sentence. He was awestruck by the change in her bright countenance.

With disgust all over her face, she said definitively, “I don’t have it and I am not going to ask them.”

Prakasa Rao, who never had shown anger, was furious and shaken. Nonsense, she could say it in no uncertain terms only because he was hanging around there for her food. There was only one way to avenge himself on her—leave this lame bitch. The thought about his own future appeared became irrelevant at this point.

Prakasa Rao, got off the bed. “You lame bitch! You showed me respect wonderfully for living with you. That’s enough. I can live anywhere. It is over between you and me,” so saying, he walked towards the door.

Padma kept quiet, did not say a word. She did not fall on his feet, contrary to Prakasa Rao’s expectations. Not only at that time, never had she been worried about him for the rest of her life.

***

(Author’s note: You need not wonder why this story ended so abruptly. The story would have a happy ending, if Padma had suffered from inferiority complex about her physical disability. If I had to make Padma fall on Prakasa Rao’s feet, there is no need to write this story at all. After all, Prakasa Rao did not marry Padma to make her happy only.)

***

The Telugu original, swarthaparudu, was probably written in the early fiftees. The current version for this translation has been taken from an anthology raktasparsa published in 1963.

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, December 2010.


[i] A custom in Andhra Pradesh, according to which, seven families offer poor students to feed, one day each, to help them continue with their education.