Monthly Archives: November 2013

Friends Forever! By Nidadavolu Malathi

What is the secret of great friendship? What prompts one to become so fond of another is a question I could never find answer for, could never understand.

***

I saunter along the river, a tributary of the river Trinity, which runs by my apartment complex. I watch the tiny ripples weaving through the wind, taking clues from its direction. Occasionally a restless fish pops up into the air and dips back into the water creating ripples in circles. The loosely hanging branches of the weeping willows sway as if recording the wind speed. I stop for a few minutes and make a note of the items the stream is carrying–stray straws, foam cups, empty cans and what not to far off shores without thinking twice who has thrown them into its water or why, I suppose. It is like she has imbibed the preachings of Sankara and Patanjali–the tenet of detachment intuitively.

Little Muscovy ducks with white beaks, glistening like pieces of a broken china plate, float on the waves blissfully. Female mallards with their brood, wood ducks, wood storks are floating around  in the water. A mallard duck rises barely above the water, flies three yards splashing the water with its feet and settles down.

I tried to capture that moment so many times but could never get it right. But then again, it is one of those moments–so many of them have passed in  my life with some splash and no permanent record.

I thought of the question again – how one grows fond of another? I know there is one simple answer–she likes you, you’re a nice person, a good listener, she misses home and you fill in, a surrogate … One can even argue that we two like the same movies, the same authors, the same veggies. … Somehow I am not convinced that is all there is to it, that just is not enough for me. In the past sixty-five years so many people have come and gone in my life. Right from the high school days, there has always been at least one person who has avowed eternal friendship to me and disappeared in course of time, nothing lasted forever.

Lately, I am beginning to wonder if there is such thing as a “friend forever” at all. And, I must admit, it is confusing to me; the question never leaves me.

***

“Come on, let’s be honest. Who can tell why one likes another? All right, I don’t know, I give up. You tell me how it happens,” Veechika laughs.

A couple of minutes pass, she says again, “Uh, it is like the question of the giant Bhetala in the Bhatti Vikramarka stories. I am glad you didn’t say, your head would crack into thousand pieces if you knew the answer but refused to give it … ha, ha .. and probably I should be thankful for that. Well, I can ask you why on earth you’ve got this question in the first place. Um. Well, I don’t know and frankly don’t care, my dear Pinni. All I can say is right now I am fond of you because you are the nicest person on earth,” she says with a serious look on her face.

I smile vaguely. I have heard it all, one too many times.

She says, “I am kind of down lately, Pinni, feeling lost. It’s two months  since I’ve been here, right? All these itty- bitty social customs are beyond me, I can never get used to them. You can’t visit somebody without calling them first, never show up without notice–all these getting to me. I can’t, just can’t get used to the idea. Luckily, I’ve got you. I know you’re not all that excited about me. No, it’s okay, I understand, you don’t have to pretend you enjoy my company … yea, yea, okay, just kidding. I am sure you would’ve told me if you have other things to do. You’re a peach, Pinni, you’re for keeps. When I talk to you, it feels like I’m talking to my mom or big sister, it’s sooooo cool. Why, look at Jaggu, my uncle’s son. He lives in Houston, barely a four-hour drive. We grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same school. I called him as soon as I got here. Can you believe it? He barely said two words and hung up. He said he’d call me later, uh, never heard from him again, not so much as a um from him. I know, I know, you are going to say I would do the same, chirp the same lingo after a few months, and that’s part of this culture. Uh, no, no way, I can never speak like that. You may you flog me but you can never make me repeat such stupid lingo. Let me ask this. Yes I am asking ’cause I am stupid, I admit. All our people change into a totally new species as soon as they set foot on this land, why? Where is the need to change our values and our mode of thinking? They can make some changes to get by in this country but why do they have to forget our family values, interpersonal relationships that are so natural in our close-knit families? Yeah, yeah, everybody talks the same cliché – you cannot live unless you jump into the mainstream headlong and swim along, isn’t that what you’ve come here for? Isn’t it to prove your brain? That is the main reason, isn’t it? … No, not for me, that doesn’t work for me. I don’t think that is all that matters to me. I want people. Our own people are standing at arm’s length as if I am an untouchable; that gives me creeps, you know!”

***

I remember the day she came to America. She called me the second day after she had arrived in America.

“Hello! Who’s this?”

“Me, Veechika, don’t you remember? It’s ten years since we’ve met, I think. You came to India for a brief visit. We met at my sister’s wedding. … Yes, I am in America now, came two days back. … No, I don’t like it here. … No, no, I am not crying. This water does not agree with me, I suppose, got sore throat. I am anxious to see you, there is a lot to talk about. Coming Saturday? Of course, I can. Yes, I can make it coming weekend. Let me check the flights. Oh, no, I can manage the ticket, don’t worry about the fare. In fact, it is not just about the money, you know. I will have to check my schedule. Probably, I can talk to my professor and skip the class for one day. I must admit, I am really confused though … I mean about their teaching methods. What are they for, if I know everything? Anytime I have a question, they ask me what I think, or  suggest I find out myself. If I can find out the answer, what are they getting paid for? … anyway, first I need to work on understanding their  method of teaching.”

***

I go for walks along the river every day. I saw a middle-aged woman about three months back I believe. She said her son, daughter-in-law and a seven-year-old granddaughter live here, she came to visit them. They live in the same complex, in the building across from mine. After that, I saw her almost every day, sometimes two or even three times a day.

It started out as meeting on the path by the river, soon became she visiting me in my apartment.

“Are you home? Silly question, ha ha. I knew you’d be home. I was hoping you’d be home. Actually, thought you might be waiting for me, ha, ha, what can I say! My day is not complete unless I bore you with my blabbering. … What, you’re not bored? Yeah, yeah, … What else you’d say? You’re not going to tell me that you’re bored by my chitchat, no, no, that’s not in your character.”

That is the usual opening. After a while I would hear about some thing or other happened in her home, to her grandchild, to her parents back home, … there is always a story to tell.

“Anyway, know what happened today? Well, today is my birthday. Didn’t I tell you? Oh, no? Okay, it is anyway. And, you know how my daughter-in-law is. Always makes lot of fuss for every little thing. Um, yes, she bought a sari for me. Guess how she handed it to me, no, you can’t imagine even in your wildest dream As the saying goes, graduated from college yet knows not how to clean the rice. I couldn’t believe she did not know even a simple thing like one should not give a sari without blouse piece to a married woman. She gave it to her daughter and the kid brought it to me and threw it in my lap? You tell me, is that the way to give a sari to a respectable woman?

“You may say, she was trying to teach our values to the child. For me, it is hard to think so. Had she really thought on those lines, she should have showed it by doing exactly the way we do it in our tradition. She should bring the sari, blouse piece, fruits, flowers, kumkum, turmeric, and paan, and all that give it to me, bow before me, and seek my blessings. That is the tradition. I would never have had a child throw a sari at another woman so casually. You can take it anyway you please, but to me, it was humiliating. I was so angry yet remained calm. After all, I am not going to stay here forever, why bother …”

In a strange way, that story got to me. I remember the times when I was trying to teach our values to my daughter, be good mother. At the time I did not realize the difference between our values and the values she is growing up with, the American values! Come to think of it, I was not doing it right either, maybe.

I have heard umpteen stories from her in the next few months. She would show up like clockwork, tell what happened on the night before, that morning, that afternoon … I started feeling like her ishtasakhi![i] Of course, there is reward for it too. All those gift–veggie dishes I did not relish, books I did not care for, and the prepaid phone cards with four minutes left on it. Every time I would tell her to stop bringing me those gifts, and she would give the same response , “Oh, no, it’s okay, you can use them. If you don’t take, it will go to waste.” That was a bit annoying to me–taking something because the other person could not use it. I told my daughter and she put it in a different perspective. She said they (meaning we Indians) think I am protesting ’cause it is polite to do so. I have a feeling she might even consider it funny. Anyway, the gifts started tapering off even as her visits became fewer.

After her husband joined her in the States, her visits became few and far between. Whenever she called or stopped by, it was only to tell me how busy she had become mostly because of her husband, who needed her all the time for every little thing. I heard no complaints in her voice though and that’s good, I thought.

As the day of her departure approached, she kept insisting that I was her “lifetime friend”, would call me from India, write to me, keep in touch with me.

On the day of her departure, she swore one more time that I was the best friend she ever had and left. As you may guess, I never heard from her again. I do not know where she is and what she is doing. For all I know, she might be repeating the same stories to someone else in some other town. Ha, the mysterious world of being a “friend forever”! Amazing.

I keep thinking about her for a different reason though. Her stories about her daughter’s missing our values make me think about my way of teaching our values to my daughter, who is being raised in a different culture. I must admit, I have to  thank her for playing “friend forever!” routine. Friend for a reason, as my daughter would say! It helped to learn about myself.

***

“What!! Six months already since I called you? Wow, I didn’t even realize six months went so fast,” says Veechika on the other end. “Well, lot of things have happened during these six months. Actually, that’s the reason I couldn’t call you. Ha, ha, I know you will laugh but what do you know about life here? Oh, no. I didn’t mean it that way, I know you know how life is here like. What can I do, you tell me. You know for sure the kind of education in colleges here. These professors, they make us do their work and our work too. What do I mean? I’ll tell you what I mean. Whatever I ask, he says, what do you think? I tell him I don’t know, and he says, find out, try to find out and let me know. Go to the library, read …, search on the Internet …. that’s his teaching! I am telling you, I never saw this method of teaching. If I can find out everything for myself, why bother to attend his classes? And then he tells me how smart I am and that I only need to put in a bit of time, and I can find the answer myself. Uh. You may not believe this, with all this work and worry, I am down to half my size. These studies and the insipid  food are killing me. … I know you also believe that I am very smart and I only need a bit of push to show my mettle. … Okay, I have to go, have to write two papers by Monday. I will call you after I am done. … I promise, no, no more silly excuses. You know, who else is there for me to pour my heart out if not you. Only you are there for me, you’re a good listener and that’s what I like about you. …”

I swallow the words that come to my mind. I want to say I don’t always enjoy being at the receiving end, always listener, and never a talker. I want to say each time I try to say something, she cuts in and disrupts my line of thought. But … no, I couldn’t. For some reason, I do not even see any point in saying so.

“Anyway, I was going to tell you about my classmate, Ghosh. What? I didn’t tell you about him before, uh, I thought I did. Anyways, we’ve been seeing each other for a while, well not exactly seeing, we went to movies a couple of times, had lunch or dinner, … ha ha ha, yes, it sure looks like a date, isn’t it? Well, it is a date if you say so. …I know I should’ve told you. Here, listen, I want you to meet him. How about next weekend? Are you free? Well, I know you’re laughing, but you also know the way things are here. Back home, time for school means time for school and marriage only after education is completed; one after another in a sequence. Here, while you are in college, you also start planning for future–both home and job. … … ….

“Hello, Pinni, uh, … um … no, I’m not crying. I’m really upset, really really upset. You know that idiot Ghosh said I needed to grow up, uh, me grow up? I did not mention it to you, he is a wimp you know, always complaining he should have had this, had that, people don’t see he’s a genius, … you say it and he has got it, nothing misses his list of complaints …. … you know what, I think I am glad I dumped him. He thinks he dumped me but in fact he is the dumpee. … … … … …. … … … … ….   .. … …

“Hi Pinni, me again. I know, I know, I should’ve called you. Did I tell you about Helaku. He’s in my class. Do you know Helaku means Full of sun in the Native American language. I am so excited about learning all these things about them. I want you to meet him. But he wants to take me to Albuquerque for the upcoming weekend. He said it was a surprise for me. It seems it is a great place to learn about American Indians. There are lot of similarities between their culture and our culture. I thought I might as well take upon his offer, I’ve been always interested in their culture you know. … I will call you after I return from the trip. Yes, of course, I will send you pictures. … Oh, I forgot, don’t tell mom. She will freak out, don’t worry, I will tell her myself … yes, … soon, bye for now, I have to go … … … …. … …. …. … …. .. … …. .. … ….. … … …. … …. …

“Pinni, are you there? … Oh, you’re home, how come you didn’t pick up the phone. Ah, sleeping? Sorry, did I wake you up? ha, ha. Of course, you’re up now. Anyway, I am thinking of coming to visit you next weekend, if you’re free. I want to introduce Ram Singh to you. … um, … Yes, I broke up with Helaku. .. um … I don’t know … just … just didn’t work out, let’s say he is not my type … .. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … .. … … … … … … … … … “Oh my God, it is eight months since I called you. I am so so soooo sorry, Pinni. You know how things are here. I just finished the required courses, need to submit a PQ pretty soon.

… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …

***

In course of time, the gaps between calls became longer and longer. A couple of times, I tried to point it out, even teased her, “What, you’ve forgotten me? Or, I am also one of those dumpees?”

“Oh, no, I will never do that to you. It’s just … just got so busy. I didn’t stop calling you suddenly. I thought I was doing it in a matter of fact way.”

“Well, probably it is in a matter of fact way. Okay, I know you do have to attend to your courses. After all, you’ve come to this country for studies, not for my entertainment, ha, ha.”

“You know I do care about you, care a lot.”

“Yes, okay, get to work. We can talk later. I am not going anywhere.”

***

I sit on the shore under a tree watching the ducklings floating in the river. A little away, a father is teaching how to catch fish to his little daughter, probably nine. It amuses me. For some reason, I thought fishing is only man’s sport. Come to think of it, I never considered fishing a sport. After all, what do you do? Let the line into the water and wait until some stupid fish takes the bait. Well, maybe that is not all there is to it. Some day I have to talk to one of those sportsmen and find out. I am glad that father is teaching his daughter though. There seems to be some social justice in that.

The water seems to have risen to a new level. That’s what I like about this river. If it is a lake, the water level rises only when it rains right here. But in the case of the river, it might rain one hundred miles away, and the water level rises here. On top of it, all the foam cups and the trash people throw into the river gets washed away to another shore. … Hum, people! I can’t believe how can they be so indifferent or even stupid. Last week I saw a sofa floating around in the water. For a couple of days, only its top edge showed at a distance, and to me, it looked like a dead body wrapped in a white sheet and tied to a plank. It is only after it got closer to my place, I could see that it was the back of a sofa. …

I squint and try to peek through into the bottom of the river, into its heart. What might she, if she had only voice? Would she be complaining about the garbage people throw into the crystal clear water?

“Why do you worry about the people that come and go into your life?”

I twitch and look around. Who spoke? Whose voice I just heard?

“That is me, I am talking to you,” the words reverberate from the bottom of the river or so it seems, “I know it bothers you that people who vowed eternal friendship to you left you and moved on. Well, that’s life. Nothing stays forever. You are just one piece in their lives, a piece on the chess board; you’ve played your role and that is all. Remember the royalty of olden days? The ishtasakhi  (bosom friend) of the princess, or in modern times the fifth grade teacher–we have any number of examples. They all have roles to play, willy-nilly. In the olden days, the bosom friend was arranged by the king for his daughter. Now, things just fall in place–neighbors, colleagues at work, distant relatives happen to move to the country you are in. … … Most of the time you play the role of a fifth-grade teacher, I suppose. For a young boy, that is the first time, he is exposed to the world and the teacher appears to be the most know-all of all the the people he had known in his short lifespan. Eventually, he gets to know other teachers, makes other friends and his fifth grade teacher is left behind as just one person he had known in the past. That is human nature. Look at all these dead leaves, broken branches floating away to far-off land in the river. You see these ducks, cranes and the turtles? Do you think they are the same you’ve seen yesterday? No, they are new arrivals, came today. They’ll be here for a few days and soon go on to find a new place. Look at that man, sitting on the shore with the fishing pole in the water. This is his first day here. Of course, he is not the first for me. You can’t even imagine how many people sat on that shore and poured their hearts out … He may not even remember this place and this water tomorrow, not even the fish he might catch and have it for supper tonight. Another day, another person sits there with pretty much the same routine. That is the way of life, way of the world!”

I remember all the young men and women who have contacted me as soon as they arrived here and then weaned slowly. It is interesting, it is seasonal!

***

“Ah, what an amazing … oh, no, I am sorry, so so sorry, did I disturb you? I am sorry, really. You seems to be immersed in your own thoughts. Or, maybe meditating?”

I turn around and see a young man, settling down next to me. I smile and assure him it is okay.

“It’s okay? You mean it? I think you’re saying just to please me. That’s your in your upbringing, I guess. You say it’s okay; somebody else would have yelled at me, called me stupid or something, and told me to leave her alone … You know we foreigners are often considered loutish. … Oh, yeah, been through all kinds of experiences. Anyway, what is it in your hand? I stopped because of that book only. Looks like a Telugu book. Who’s the author?”

“G.V. Krishna Rao?”

“Never heard of him. Probably new, an upstart … like Shakespeare … ha, ha. …”

“Oh, no, he is from previous generation, well, previous for me; for you, maybe two generations.”

“Two generations! Wow. Well, there is a lot I to learn, I suppose, might as well start right now, right here. Tell me all about him. What does he write about? Now I am beginning to feel like a fifth grader!”

I remember my daughter saying, “Mom, friendship may happen for a–reason, season or lifetime.”

I give him a sidelong look. What is he: Friend for a reason, season, or lifetime? What is he going to be?!

(End)

Click here for Telugu version,ishtasakhiAugust 14, 2012.

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

————————————

[i]  In the olden days, kings used to employ young women to work as “bosom friend” to princesses, called ishtasakhi, (lit. a friend after one’s own heart). In modern times, especially in these times of one’s own space and isolation, friendships are formed for a wide variety of reasons, not necessarily “after one’s own heart”. For prince, the term is veduka chelikaadu.)

My Little Friend by Nidadavolu Malathi

Neela sat down with her laptop to surf the net for Telugu stories and poems. Her father had given it to her as she had started Computer Science classes in college the previous year.

littlFrnd-250x187

Her mother never liked it though. Up until that time, Neela and her mother had been friends, always talking, laughing, bickering for little things and making up. They’d been more like two teenagers rather than mother and daughter until now. Ever since Neela got the laptop, things changed dramatically; she was sitting there ogling on the screen and enjoying her own private moments, actually hours on end, all by herself. For her mother, the room turned frighteningly quiet.

“I’m going to auntie’s next door. Viswam uncle may come to visit us. Talk to him. I’ll be back soon,” her mother said.

“What can I talk to him? He is twice my age,” Neela said.

“He is a human being unlike that sruti box,” her mother said. That’s what she called the laptop, a drone.

000

Neela shook her head briskly and turned to the story on the screen. She was a habitual reader and the net offered her a wide range of selections to quench her thirst. She even wrote a couple of poems and posted them on the net.

000

The icon on the lower left corner chimed announcing new mail. She clicked on it.

“Your poem is beautiful. I enjoyed it a lot. I see you’re perceptive. – Radha”

Neela was happy to see the first mail of commendation on her writing.

“Thanks” she replied.

Within a few seconds, she received another mail. “I was wondering if you had written more poems. Are they available on the web?”

Neela was surprised and amused. She replied, smiling, “Oh, no. Just started. Actually, this is the first that’s caught anybody’s eye. J”

“You’re talented. Keep it coming. J”

Neela replied “Okay” and signed off for the day.

000

A week later, she saw a poem on another site with similar theme as hers. She wondered if Radha had seen it. Radha seemed to be an avid reader like herself. Neela thought for a few seconds and then decided to give it a shot. She wanted to know what Radha thought about the poem.

“Did you see this?. What’d u think?” Neela included the link and clicked on ‘send’.

“Funny, I was thinking the same thing. What’d you think of the poem,” replied Radha.

“Dunno. Feels like there’s something to it, holl’rin at me. Then again, something is missing, I think. Or is it me -L?”

“I don’t think its u. =^D.”

Messages on the poem flew back and forth. Between the two, Neela started feeling like she was learning something new about poetry and Radha was elated that she found somebody to share her thoughts.

That was the beginning of their daily dialogue via LCD screen. Personally, they’d never met and known nothing about each other.

000

One day, Neela asked, “What are u doing? u also a CS student?”

“No.” The response was brief. Radha thought of asking what did CS meant but didn’t. She didn’t feel like writing that she was no student, CS or any other for that matter.

“I’m studying CS in Hyderabad, 2nd year,” Neela emailed again, hoping to get a reply on par with hers.

“Oh, I see. I am in America, and wondering about the same–what am I doing here? :p.”

000

Neela looked at the emoticon and smiled. For a second, she wondered if she was asking for  trouble, could this person be a net prowler or a wacko? Then she pondered over other possible scenarios: Radha said she had attended college for one year. Maybe while she was in her second year, she had one of those supersonic weddings. Lately it has become common for young Telugu men to come home on a two-week vacation, find a bride and marry right away. Traditionally, it could take months even years to arrange a marriage. But now, there is always a pundit who could find a super auspicious moment [sumuhurtum] per lunar calendar to perform the wedding within the same two weeks any time of the year .

Neela persuaded herself not to worry; her gut feeling told her so. After all, there was no denying that she’d been having interesting conversations with this person, regardless of who’s who.

000

“You’ve got mail,” the mailbox chimed.

“Did you read The Clear Day of Light?” Radha asked.

“Never heard of it. Who’s the author?” replied Neela.

“Anita Desai.”

“Again, nope, never heard o’er. I’m reading the Tipping Point. Awesome,” emailed Neela.

“:p. Never heard o’it.”

“u r talkin a lot about books b’fore my time. u should read some current ones too. -;p.”

“My grandmother was a voracious reader, got herself a huge personal library. ;p.”

“Ah, J,” said Neela and signed off.

 

“Today, I saw the movie “Chak de India”. Do u get Indian movies there?” said Neela.

“Of course, they show Hindi movies here. I’m not interested in them though. Me going to movies is very rare. Even then, I want to watch only Telugu movies. The last movie I watched was sagarasangamam, I think,” replied Radha.

“What? J). That was made before I was born :D”

“Yeah, ;).”

000

For a couple of weeks now they’d been exchanging emails. Radha sat in front of the computer and went over the emails again.

Books –dated and current,

Movies—old and new,

Songs—old and new,

Favorite movie stars—two generations apart ….

Yet, there seemed to be a connection …

Her eyes glowed. Clearly, Neela and she belonged to two different worlds, literally—from either side of  the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and entrenched in two different worlds of books and movies. Radha remembered the game of four-poles she and her friends used to play in her village. Four kids stand holding on to four poles like the four bases in baseball, and run from pole to pole. A fifth kid tries to knock out one of them while running from one pole to the next. No two kids could hold on to the same pole at the same time.

Despite the differences, the emails continued. It had become an addiction for them. Both enjoyed and pursued this new wave of friendship fervently.

***

Neela had not received her daily email in two days. She sat there staring at the mailbox on the lower left corner of the screen. There was  mail but not the one she was waiting for. Finally, she decided to send one herself.

“Hello, what’re u doing?”

She waited for a few minutes. There was no response. She was getting restless. Was Radha busy with something important? Out of town? Left in a hurry? Fell ill? Couldn’t she send a line before leaving? ….

000

Somewhat disconcerted, she kept surfing the web. There was a story she knew Radha would enjoy very much. It was by one of her favorite writers.

Hesitantly she clicked on Compose. “Hey, Radha, I just finished reading “Under the Mango Tree” by Sankaran. Did u see that? What’d ya think?”

After an hour or so, the mailbox flashed.

Neela’s heart raced.

“Ammamma [grandmother] is sick.”

“I am sorry. What is it, fever? Did she go to the doctor?”

It was a while before Neela got another message. Then arrived another mail. “Ammamma likes you very much.”

It didn’t make sense. Who was sick, Radha or her grandmother?

“Are ya ok?”

“I’m worried.”

“Don’t worry, Ammamma will get well soon.”

“I‘ope so. She likes u a lot. She calls you ‘my little friend’.”

000

Now Neela was really confused. There is more to it than she had known or so it seemed. “What’d ya mean?” she emailed back.

“Ammamma ‘n u been writing to each other, aren’t u?”

Neela was dumbstruck. It started making sense, vaguely. She pulled herself together and asked, “I didn’t know she is your grandma.”

“I’m worried.”

Neela was going to type in “Don’t worry.”

The screen chimed again. One more mail. “Is it okay if I mail you? Ammamma tells me everything u two talk.”

Neela replied quickly, “Yes, of course, u can rite to me. Tell me how’s she doing. btw, what’s your name?”

“I will. I’m Rahul. I am nine and a half, in 5 grade.”

Neela burst into a big laugh. She was chatting with a boy not even half her age!

Rahul went off like a volley of tennis balls from a shooter, typing away how Ammamma had been afraid even to touch the keyboard and how he had showed her to log in. … He said he had given her his ID and showed her how to surf the web for Telugu stories, write comments, and send emails. At first, ammamma was shy since her English was not good. He told her that there are no grammar rules on the net, and showed her even to put the emoticons in her messages.

Neela began to mull over with a big grin: Why didn’t Radha garu[1] tell me that she was twice my age? Afraid that I might not want to talk to an older woman? How can I tell her I did not think she was old, not even for one second. But then again, maybe she may have gotten that impression when I mentioned about the little conversation I had with mother about Viswam uncle.

Neela decided to leave the things as they were. It is beautiful that Radha was enjoying their friendship. Suddenly something else crossed her mind. She quickly turned the computer on and emailed Rahul, “Don’t tell ammamma about this little conversation. Okay? It’s going to be our little secret.”

“Can I email you though?”

“Yes, of course. You are my new friend.” And then she added, “Now, you go and do your homework. Don’t worry, Ammamma will be okay.”

“Okay.”

That night, Neela jotted down in her diary, “Today I found a new friend. I can say he is ‘my little friend’.”

(End)

Click here for Telugu version, neeli terala maatuna

http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/arle-rambabu.html

(Published on the writegallery.com. And reprinted on thulika.net, January 2008.

http://www.thewritegallery.com/writing/my_little_friend.html.

Art by Rambabu Arle.

 



[1] Honorific suffix, used with reference to older adults.

Average Moon by Chaganti Sankar

 Some people can memorize the multiplication tables effortlessly. It’s as if the wind has unraveled the web in one’s mind and laid it out neatly. As a child, I never got the math right; it used to scare me like the devil himself. Algebra was puzzling and even the simple math problems were sordid. Life made me an ordinary man since I could not handle even ordinary, simple math. The country handed me down only average happiness. I understood, much later, that not all the people who could not handle simple math were living simple lives. Not just me, there is not a single political leader or social reformer who was good at even simple math. Nobody understands the commonplace life; nobody understands the sensitive side, the complexity of average life.

  Let’s see who are these people whom I am calling my family? Rajyam is not my wife who’s married to me and living with me for the past eight years. She’s the core of elegance that has been sharing my life with me. Kameswari is not my sister who is enjoying her marriage and two children; my father performed the ritual of giving away the bride but I was the one who had the satisfaction, I made it happen. Radha is not my younger sister who’s studying B.Sc. final year but my ever-increasing responsibility. About Gopi and Ramu? They are not my younger brothers but the last two cravings in the marital life of my parents. And then, the baby; she’s the outcome of a five-minute excitement, brought into this world despite all my efforts to prevent it. My mother and father are the two old adults passing through the stage of vanaprastham2 in this country where people are not allowed even to pick fruits or roots without paying a price. They’re the couple who awarded me a form and the world. Me? Nobody can describe who I am. I am a piece of meat that has been commuting between home and office for over ten years. I am the ego who is staring at my own form in the mirror! I’m the form that would turn around and say yes anytime called out, “Rajasekharam!” I am the man who thinks he is a man and feels numerous emotions like pain, pleasure, anger and love and many, many more.

Yesterday I came home with my heart bouncing, although I, as a person, was not bouncing. I parked the bicycle on the porch and went in. My father was yelling at Gopi, “You, idiot, can’t even learn the 13 times table?” Then he added, “In your brother’s time, finding job was no big problem. Now, if you don’t put yourself to work and pass the exam, you’ll end up begging on the streets.” Mother put on her reading glasses and was busy cleaning the rice. Radha was busy with her studies. Ramu was fixing the torchlight. He saw me and announced, “Annayya is here”. I opened the little box I brought in and put it on the table. I invited them all to gather and handed the box to amma.

“What’s the occasion?” nanna asked.

“I got bonus. They gave us after all the rumpus we’ve raised,” he said, biting a piece of kova.3

“We were so worried that they might give us the slip, in the name of inflation,” he added.

Rajyam took a piece of kova and went into the kitchen, with a little smile, which spoke volumes.

“What’s the total amount you’ve got?” amma asked.

“Two thousand, five hundred rupees.”

“That’s good, very good. Radha is lucky, I must say,” amma said, watching Radha.

000

Radha, shyly, picked up a book. I looked at her and felt a lump in my throat. It’s barely four years since I’ve paid for the expenses in regard to Kameswari’s marriage and two of her deliveries. I just recovered; seem like only yesterday, I was done with the recurring expenses Kameswari had been adding up. Today I got bonus. Now, the younger one, Radha is blushing! My wife, who is a goldmine as far as I’m concerned, never asked me for gold. Radha wears all the good sarees I bought for Rajyam. Rajyam says, “I told her myself, to wear them. She goes to college. What does it matter how I look; I stay home all day, scrubbing floors.” Only once, on the day after our marriage, she told me of her only wish. That wish is eight-years old now. That wish got to me, growing stronger by the minute and is refusing to listen to me. I promised myself that I would fulfill her wish for sure after I received my bonus money. That’s the reason I came home with a bouncing heart. After hearing amma’s comment, I wasn’t sure how to respond. It’s true that her logic is tenable. I have now part of it, at the least. I could take out a loan for the rest of the money and arrange for Radha’s marriage. But, what about Rajyam?

000

That night, I was getting ready to turn in. Rajyam said, “Do as attagaru said. She said the right thing. That’s fair. Save the money for Radha’s marriage. We can have the marriage performed as soon as the rest of the money comes through.”

“This amount is not enough, right? We’ll have to take out a loan anyways. We might as well borrow the entire amount when it the time comes. For now, let’s stick to our original plan,” I said, although I didn’t mean it wholeheartedly.

“It may not be enough but reduces the loan amount. Take your mother’s suggestion. Forget the other thought, for now?” Rajyam said. She said it all right, but she didn’t mean it wholeheartedly either. There was a trace of tears barely visible in her eyes.   Her eyes managed to retract them.

“Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m not hurt. That’s what it’s all about, family!”

000

  That was yesterday. Today I’m feeling bogged down. Suddenly, I came to a decision. One idiotic thought washed me up to the shoreline. My legs walked me home as if they had eyes, knew their way on their own. I sat down on the bed and announced so mother and father could hear as well, “Rajyam and I will be going to Simhachalam tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll also go with you,” Radha said.

“Don’t you have exams?”

Radha heard me. The expression on her face responded, right, I can’t go.

“Why this sudden trip? What’s this all about?” amma asked.

“I took a vow that I’d pay a visit to the Simhachalam Lord if and when I got the bonus money. That’s all.”

“Good thought, after all! Good, take baby also with you,” amma said.

“She has cold. The cold weather uphill is not good for her.”

Rajyam kept quiet. Probably she was wondering, “Why Simhachalam?” Nanna remained neutral, as always. My two younger brothers wanted to go but were afraid to ask. The long and short of it, Rajyam and I left the following morning on our trip.

“If we run into Madhava Rao, he is sure to insist on us spending the night at his place. It’s possible we won’t be back tonight. Don’t cook for us unless we are back.”

“That’s fine. If you happen to stay there for the night, make sure you’re back by dinner time tomorrow,” amma said.

“Yes, yes.”

“Bring prasadam for all of us,” Radha said.

“We’ll. I wrote the permission letter and left it on the table. Send it to my office with Gopi first thing in the morning,” I said as I left with Rajyam.

000

As soon as I set foot on the street, I felt like I broke loose of all ties and started walking freely; felt like the sky was lifted off my head. I was flying away with Rajyam. She said, “I am not able to see what’s this all about? Last night I asked you so many times but you would not answer my question. Why Simhachalam now?”

“You’ll understand soon enough. We are not going to Simhachalam. We are going to Vizag,” I said, looking straight into her eyes.

“Vizag? What for?” she asked.

“Every dog has his day! Today is mine. I decided that today I’d do whatever I please. And I want to go to Vizag. So, I am going to Vizag.”

“Why go to Vizag without any specific reason? Why now?” Rajyam said again.

“Where did it say that we have to have a reason to go to Vizag? I know only too well how much you like the beach, 70 mm Movie Theater, and the scuttle of the crowds!”

 

On our way, in the bus, Rajyam slept like a baby. I felt a wave of sympathy as I watched her. I kept her jailed for eight years. She lived in one jam-packed room for eight years. I squashed all her hopes and dreams.

After we reached Vizag, I rented a double room in a hotel. The room has no A/C but is fairly decent.

I jumped on to the bed, whistling happily. “This is way over my head,” Rajyam said.

“There is nothing to worry. I brought you here to the city so you and I can be alone, without anybody or anything else present in the vicinity of our hearts. If you make fun of me or let me down, I’d be very upset,” I said, and opened my briefcase. I pulled out a saree with printed flowers, white pants, and white shirt. I handed her shampoo, soap and towel and said to her, “Take a shower and wear this saree.”

“Crazy you,” she said as she walked toward bathroom.

I rang bell and ordered two coffees and a pack of Wills cigarettes, started humming a tune exuberantly. Rajyam came out of the bathroom, dabbing her wet hair with the towel. Along with her, came a whiff of the shampoo and soap. “Ah! Beautiful!” I said.

“What?”

“The aroma,” I said, smelling her hair that’s dripping water drops. “I’ll also take a shower,” I said and I went into the bathroom. I played with the water spray for over twenty minutes. I came out of the bathroom. Rajyam wore the new saree and was drying her hair.

“The flowers on your saree are looking as if they’ve bloomed right on your body.”

“They did not bloom on my body. It must be something with your vision. You’re pining for it, I think” Rajyam laughed.

I saw flowers in that laugh too. “You’re right, I am pining for you,” I replied, tucking in my white shirt in my pants.

Suddenly Rajyam noticed the keys, “Oh, no. I brought the entire bunch of keys—the key for milk cabinet and all other boxes. I saw the cat come in this morning and I locked up the milk cabinet. What are we supposed to do now? What would they do? What about the milk for the baby?”

“They’ll think up of something,” I said, slipping the key-bunch into my pocket. “How do I look?” I asked Rajyam, fixing my shirt folds.

“Like an overripe ear of corn,” Rajyam laughed.

“I told you not to make fun of me.”

“I am not saying it for fun. That is the truth. You are an eyeful after you washed your hair—partly gray and partly black. Wait until your hair is dried. Then I’ll show you.”

No wonder it hurts when truth is spoken.

“Don’t you worry about the hair. You’ve said several times that I look handsome when I wore white shirt and tucked it in white pants. That’s why I searched for it in the middle of the night, found it and packed it in my briefcase. See what you’re saying now!”

“Sorry. You’re looking good. I’m not saying you’re not looking good. We can’t hide our age. Can I hide the wrinkles on my stomach? Can I lose a few pounds around my waist? I lost my dainty figure; I am big now. You lost your youth and started aging. That’s the way it is. What can we do?”

“That’s not right. You are looking good and so am I. You must learn to see things the way I do. Then you’ll see me the way I see you.”

“All right. We both are looking good. You seem to be imagining things and worrying about it.”

“My worry is only about one thing. I’ve been holding a job for ten years; yet I could not fulfill your wish. Is it my fault, you tell me? I had to arrange for my sisters’ weddings and send my brothers to college. Is it my sin that I was born the eldest in the family? Is it a sin to be a good person?” I asked in a fit of outburst.

Hotel boy brought coffee. Rajyam stopped talking and took the coffee cup. I drank my coffee, lit a cigarette and blew a puff. After we finished coffee, we went out, wandered on the streets for about one half hour, ate special meals in an A/C. room, and watched a movie, chewing paan.

“Look at the people in the hotels and movie theaters. It makes me feel like there is not a single problem in the world. They all look so happy and frolicking. One would wonder if there is really poverty in our country,” I commented.

“People go to the movies and hotels only to forget their miseries. Just the way you brought me here today,” Rajyam replied.

We enjoyed the movie and went to the beach in an auto-rickshaw. The moon is already there at the beach even before we arrived. We went to a private spot and I jumped with joy until I am exhausted. I picked up Rajyam in my arms and went into the water. The waves are digging out the sand under my feet; Rajyam is getting heavier and I feared for her. I returned to the shore and threw her down on the sand. Rajyam screamed, “abbha!” nursing her waist, and added, “My back’s broken. I’m not young, you know. This could confine me to bed, and then, only God would know your fate.”

“This is how it’s going to be for today. There’s no question of ‘no’s on your part, no matter what I do.”

“That’s cute but crazy. I can’t stop thinking about them at home; they must be scrambling for the keys,” Rajyam said.

Something hit me as she said the same thing one more time. I was beside myself. I pulled out the keys from my pocket and threw them into the sea with all might.

“Oh, no! What did you do? How could you throw away the keys like that? chha! You’re really crazy.”

“What else can I do? You’re so stuck on milk cabinet, the yogurt, and the cockroaches; instead of the sea and the moon that are right in front of you!”

Rajyam turned away and sat there quietly. She is upset while there are so many things in front of her to be happy about—the sea, the cool breeze, the moonlight which is looking like squash flowers, the brilliant moon, the lighthouse, and red streaks of street lamps.

I hugged her and said, “Forget the keys. Look at the sea. Isn’t that beautiful?” The waves in the sea are breaking the moonbeams into tiny bits in much the same way my heart is crushed by my thoughts. Rajyam has been dreaming about this engaging moon and for a moment, free of troubles, of lovemaking under the moon. Wouldn’t she—like everybody else—want to roll in a bed filled with lots of jasmine flowers, and after that, go out, both wearing matching outfits, sing romantic songs by waterfalls, on the open fields and in mountain caves? Wouldn’t she want to visit spectacular sites and want to watch them along with me? All her life, she lived in a narrow room with a zero-watt bulb but never had a chance see the world. I wanted to ask Rajyam only one question, “Can you forgive me? We can never have a honeymoon again.”

“Forget about the honeymoon. Everybody says you’re a successful man since you’ve gotten your sisters married. Aren’t happy with that thought? The sky is not going to fall because we did not have a honeymoon. We are here today. Doesn’t that count for something?”

It’s true we’ve come to Vizag today. That is a two-hour trip we took together during a period of eight years. The moon churned the sea with his beams, causing the foam to rise like butter. I wanted to gather it into my hands and take it to our home. Rajyam and me—the struggle in my heart, the sea and its roars—when I leave all this behind and walk into the street, I will be facing again the same high and low, the pain and the duties. Human being is a social being yet cannot lead an ordinary life in the same society. Each person puts on a color for survival and strives constantly to make sure that that color is not washed out and gets worn out in the process. He protects that color even if it meant burning his dreams and hopes.

I blockaded my thoughts; we two lay down on the sand. I returned to the present and looked into her eyes. I know the sunrays create moonlight; now, that moonlight reflected in the eyes of Rajyam, turned into a soothing light and gave me an enormous peace of mind. We both, lying under that moonlight, felt embarrassed. How can explain this feeling—a desire that has been fulfilled in this manner, after eight-years of marriage? I saw the white saree with printed flowers and Rajyam noticed the pair of white shirt and pants. We both had hearty laugh!

“What’s that?” Rajyam pointed to something white and shiny and asked.

“We found a treasure,” I said, watching the shiny thing under the moonlight

We both walked close to it.

“Not any treasure. It’s the key-bunch you’d thrown away earlier,” Rajyam picked it up, elated, and shaking off the sand.

“That’s not it. That’s the responsibility that will not leave us even after we, the average people, throw it away.”

 

(End)

 

(The Telugu original, “sagatu candrudu” was published in Andhra Prabha, 23 April 1980, and later included in the anthology, “Sankar Kathalu” published by Chaso Sphurti Trust, Vizianagaram, 1995.

 

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, March 2005)

Notes:

1 Giving away daughter in marriage.

2 Hinduim prescribes four stages of life— brahmacaryam [time for education], gruhastha [family life], vanaprastha [retirement in preparation of detachment], and sanyasi stage, which means moving to the forest in pursuit of nirvana.

3 Sweet item made of milk and sugar.

 

The Native Element in Telugu stories By Nidadavolu Malathi.

We read stories—Russian, Chinese, Japanese, African—and learn about their culture. Some stories tell us we are not different. Their customs, habits, perceptions, social consciousness, family values and ethics appear to be so close to ours. They cry in the same way as we do, and be happy the same way as we, and aspire for better life in much the same way as we do. Then there are other stories that distinguish us from them. That is because each culture evolves in its own environment. Russian winter is unimaginable in Andhra Pradesh. The effects of the vast expanse of land in America is inconceivable in our country. Their interpersonal relationships are defined by their environment. They cannot imagine our lives during summer months. Possibly the extended family, so common in South Asian countries, is totally enimagmatic to Westerners. The stories from other cultures are fascinating for this reason—they tell us how people live under varying and/or similar circumstances.

The stories of writers like Chekhov, Maupassant, and Mark Twain appeal to us because they all are deep-rooted in their culture; they do not embrace the lifestyles of other cultures or create a pseudo-foreign atmosphere in their stories. This should tell us something, meaning, we the readers suspend our disbelief willingly, as Wordsworth put it, and acquiesce to the other environment, and explore the other culture. That is and must be one of the primary principles for translation into another language, especially for international audiences. For that reason, when we select a story for translation, we need to keep the target audience in mind constantly.
Sometime back, a reader asked me how would I know who reads the translation. Of course, the translator cannot predict who would read the story. Once a translation is published, the translator has no control over the readership. However, he or she can still keep certain target readers in mind, and select a story that hopefully captures the attention of that audience. Others may read, and even enjoy the story. Nevertheless, one thing I would like to emphasise is, the readers, especially the native speakers, (Telugu readers, in this case) must remember that native flavor cannot be transported into the translation one hundred percent ever. When we read a translation from another language, more likely than not, we do not know if the story had carried its native flavor into the original. We can only see whether the translated version appealed to us or not.

When I select stories for translation, I attempt to find stories that illustrate the Telugu homes, Telugu environment, family values, interpersonal relationships as reflected in our relational terminology, our customs, beliefs, the games our children play and the food our mothers cook. It is important that they include as many minute details as possible. For the same reason, I stay away from stories filled with descriptions of modern homes with imported goods and ideas. I want stories that provide our age-old values, beliefs, customs, lifestyles, and perceptions we have cherished. One great example would be the arranged marriages in our families. Unfortunately, very often our stories cater to the stereotypical, preconceived notions of the westerners; but make no effort to explain the complexities inherent in the system; for instance, the underlying philosophy of the extended families, which includes the support the couples would receive in times of crisis.

Second, I would look for a style peculiar to the writer. It is common knowledge that every writer has or develops his own technique for telling a story. No two persons talk alike, and no two writers tell the same story using exactly the same vocabulary. There is no verbatim report, even when a story is retold by the same writer. That also explains why we have so many stories on any given topic. Each writer presents a new perspective, and adds to the commonality of global  understanding. Similarly, no two readers appreciate the same story and/or perceive the same message from a given story precisely in the same manner.

Against this background, I have attempted to present my rationale for selecting stories for translation for foreign readers, who are not familiar with our culture and traditions. Basically, I find three angles to this thought: 1. the stories that depict our religious, philosophical beliefs, and customs; 2. stories that describe various activities in our daily lives; and, 3. reflect unique perspectives and lifestyles in our society.

Let’s review a few Telugu stories in translation. In the story The Soul Wills It by Viswanatha Satyanarayana, man-woman relationship is explored within the context of Hindu beliefs. The story presents, in a larger context, man and woman not as two entities but, as one entity, complementary in nature. Thus, the pain suffered by the woman is experienced by the man. Similarly, the woman carries the man’s wish, not as a duty but, as a replication of the man’s pain. In terms of technique, the author used several forms. It started out with a description of the location and the main characters. In some parts, it was presented in the form of a direct report; and, in one instance, a dialogue, as in a play, was introduced. Is this acceptable as a storytelling technique in modern times? I am not sure. As I said at the outset, the author has the freedom to present his story in a manner that is befitting to his mode of thinking.

The Drama of Life (Madhurantakam Rajaram) depicts the absurdity in a presentation of Bharata yajnam, a narrative of Mahabharata in harikatha, style and the monetary reward the narrator receives at the end. The underlying philosophy of celebrating Bharata yajnam is to point out the appalling effects of gambling on a family. The storyteller learns, much to his dismay, that his payment has come from the income at the gambling stalls set up for the enjoyment of the audience. The storyline in itself is not something we can be proud of, yet, the umpteen details woven into the rendering are enlightening.

In the story, He is I, (Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry), the author depicts prostitutes as connoisseurs of fine arts and conjugal bliss. At one period, in our culture, they are supposed to initiate young men into the life of marital bliss. Into this complex issue, the author weaves a mystical perception “He is I”, the message being God resides in our bodies and respecting our bodies implies respecting God. As I mentioned earlier, the philosophical connotation leaves plenty to the readers’ imagination.

Another angle in this story is the use of pronouns peculiar to Telugu language, thanu or thaanu which is a gender-free reflexive, roughly meaning oneself. In a complete sentence, the verb suffix corresponds to the person’s gender though. The story He is I opens with one person, taanu, as the narrator. The pronoun, a reflexive, indefinite, third person, singular, and non-gender specific, is peculiar to Telugu language. After Swamiji is introduced, most of the story is narrated by Swamiji using the first person singular, nenu[I]. Towards the end, Swamiji says, “We [memu] were waiting for the other train to arrive.” Telugu has two forms of third person plural, manam [all-inclusive] and memu [excludes listener]. Significantly, in the story, the second term, memu is used. Thus implicitly the pronoun “we” includes the listener, the young man [taanu], and, puts the reader/audience in the shoes of a listener. Confusing as it is for foreigners, it is also quite illuminating. That is one of the reasons, I chose this story despite the difficulty in translating it.

Relational terminology is another aspect that pervade our stories. Just recently I read that Native Americans use relational terms for people not related by blood in much the same way we Telugu people do. In our culture the terms are indicative of not only the relationship between two individuals but also how each perceives the other. The discussion of relational terminology is beyond the scope of this paper but the point I am trying to make is our stories provide an additional layer to understand the conversations between two persons.

The Wedding Garments by Ravuru Satyanarayana Rao is a heartwarming story, perfect for holiday season. The madhuparkaalu are a set of garments offered by the bride’s parents to the groom along with a drink made of honey and milk  as he arrives for the ceremony. Puttanna, the protoganist, is a weaver by profession. He customarily makes the garments and presents free of charge to the family who performs a wedding in the village. The story illustrates the spirit with which Puttanna cherishes his family tradition. He refuses to make an exception even when chips are down and he is struggling. He would rather sell his cow, which he needs not only for his own subsistence but other families to whom he supplies milk. The story walks us through not only his struggles but the remarkable sense of dharma the groom avows. This is a moving story highlighting the human values that go beyond the call of one’s duty.

Currently in our society, caste is dismissed as reprehensible. There is however another angle to this caste or community spirit, which is welcome because it aims at the common good. Puttanna belongs to weavers community. For him it is a custom to weave madhuparkaalu (new set of clothes for the bride and groom) in any family in his village free of cost. The reader also learns what life was like for weavers community in those days. It tells us of a lifestyle that is fast disappearing.

Another story that gives elaborate description of a wedding ceremony in Telugu homes is two pawns lost by Poosapati Krishnamraju. This story oozes authentic Telugu flavor and provides  a peek into the process of wedding ceremony in our families as it unfolds.

The story Cottage Goddess by Kanuparti Varalakshmamma, published in Andhra Patrika Ugadi issue, 1924, depicts the ruination of cottage industries and the struggles of families caught up in the aftermath of the great Depression following the World War I. The author gives us the harsh realities of the early forties in middle class families and the woman’s struggle to raise her two little children. The amount of details in the struggles of the protagonist’s (Ramalakshmi’s) is quite an education. Sad as it may sound, that has been the reality in India. The small farmer, the small business, the mom-and-pop store round the corner took a downward turn and never recovered as India kept moving towards modernization. Once again, the details of everyday life during the period in question are well-recorded in these stories. 

The story, Headmaster by Palagummi Padmaraju, depicts the extraordinary, lifelong influence a mentor has on a student. In our tradition, the teacher has the same place as mother and father in the life of an individual. The lessons children receive from their teachers go beyond textbooks.

In the story Three million rupees bet (Arudra), we learn about the games children played prior to modernization has taken over and in the process about the creative ways they spend their time. The story introduces the reader to a game that is not prevalent anymore even in India. In these days of plastic toys and computer games only money can buy, it is hard to imagine children had just as much fun with the side panels of discarded cigarette boxes. It effectively illustrates not only children’s psyche but also how they imbibe the complex monetary values early in life.

Some of our feminist critics perceived the story The Escaped Parrot (Achanta Saradadevi) as a feminist story, since the female protagonist feels suffocated in their home. I however think that story goes beyond a woman feeling confined. The story illustrates powerfully the lack of communication between husband and wife. What Kamakshamma missed in her life is not freedom but closeness with her husband. In the absence of that closeness with her husband, she befriends a parrot, short-lived nevertheless. Thus in her life the true tragedy is not the house turning into a cage but her husband ignoring her existence. The one-word conversations between husband and wife, the husband constantly trying to convince her that life away from the city is peaceful are authentically depicted. That was the state of affairs in most of the Telugu homes in the fifties.

The story Lord Siva Commands by Nidadavolu Malathi, while depicting the newly acquired concept of privacy in Indian homes, the interpersonal relationships between two unrelated individuals belonging to two different generations are highlighted. In this story, the young woman rooted in Indian values and traditions happens to meet after two decades the elderly lady whom she respects as mentor. The story features several layers – two women from two generations developing closeness, the changing attitudes of the young woman after coming to America, her discomfort with the older woman’s probing questions on one hand and remembering the sweet memories from her past, and at the end realizing where the older woman has come from and how natural it is for her to speak the way she has spoken.

I included this story here because of the comments from current generation readers. The story illustrates the issue of privacy. In the past, in our country, the concept of privacy is not understood in the same manner as in the west. However, the perception among the current generation has been changing fast and it is evident from some of the comments I have received. Most of the current generation Telugu youth would consider the elderly woman “intrusive” and “insensitive,” to put it mildly. The letter at the end of the story, which she would have written had she known how to write, explains where she was coming from. Readers need to delve deeper into this kind of psyche.

That humor is hard to translate is common knowledge. Nevertheless, it is important we expose the foreign readers to that aspect of our culture. One of the ways I found is to introduce the story by way of review. I translated janatha express by Mullapudi Venkataramana as Middle Class Complex. This story has been relatively easy to translate since there is a noticeable storyline. On the other hand, another story Radha’s debt (Radhamma bakee) by the same author is hard to translate since there is plenty of witticism and little of storyline. For that reason, I presented in the form a review. The entire story is provided with explanations why a particular line is considered humorous for us. It allows us to explain the parts, which we consider humorous, but may not be perceived as such by foreign readers.

For each of these stories, it is a different time and different place. Usually, readers from other cultures read these stories in order to identify those differences. And, that is also the criterion for our translators in their selection of stories for translation.

I must admit that all the stories on this site meet these criteria. Nevertheless, ideally though, that is what I aim to accomplish—introduce our culture in its multifarious perceptions and our values to the non-native speakers.

(End)

(Author’s note: All the stories referred in this article are available on this site. This article has been modified from the original, how to read a Telugu story, published on thulika.net, January 2005.)

© Nidadavolu Malathi.

 

 

 

The Soul Wills It by Viswanatha Satyanarayana.

There was an island on the ocean in a far-flung corner. It was located in a remote area. A few people from an advanced country set out on their ships to find it. Even after an intensive search, they could not find it. Actually, it took several thousands of years for them even to realize that the island had been in existence. They came to know about it only after they were convinced that they had occupied every island on the ocean. As soon as they found the island, they transported all the components of their culture—their religion, commerce, and guns—to that island. It became a part of their world.
The people on the island had been enjoying freedom for thousands of years; they had been enjoying it much better than all the others who had surrendered to the civilized world. Therefore, they could not accept slavery that easily. Like in other places, rebellions, machine guns and fierce fight took place on that island also.
A military chief from one of the civilized nations was appointed the ruler of that island. He was a bachelor, meaning he was not married yet. The island was located in the arctic region and therefore the people there were of fair complexion. They were just like any other barbaric race, which meant they had been living thus for millions of years. They believed that there was a divine power in trees, hills, the sun and the clouds, and so, worshipped them. They were singing the praise of the lightning and stayed away from the fireflies. They had great respect for the human spirit or life force(Jivudu). They never stepped on a living organism on the ground; never stomped on it. They never treated gold as currency; they thought it was a metal with unique powers and worshipped it. They were cooking their food in clay pots, being unaware that using metal pots was a mark of civilization. They wore clothes just enough to cover the vital parts but not the entire body. Now, the time had come for these barbaric people to become civilized. Their island was found by the enlightened race.
The military chief saw a woman. Her beauty caught his eye. The same evening, he sent word to her husband, asking him to send the woman to his mansion. That poor soul of a husband, the Jivudu! What could he do? For some time now, he was aware of the atrocities that were being committed on their island. Yet, it was in his nature to fight back. Therefore, he replied that the request was unfair, and that he would not let go of his wife, even if it meant losing his own life.
The Chief was furious. He went to Jivudu’s house along with ten armed men. Jivudu knew they were coming. He pulled out two pieces of firewood; he held one stick himself and gave the other stick to his son. They both stood in front of their house with their sticks.
The Chief looked at their weapons—the sticks—and laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” Jivudu asked him.The Chief replied, “You, idiot! Did you really think that your sticks are a match for our guns?”
Jivudu said, “I know these sticks are no good against your guns. I am doing this only to register my stance against yours but for no other purpose.”
The chief was enraged. He swung his sword and slashed their heads in one blow. Then, he went into the hutment and seized the woman. There were four children with her—from a six-year-old boy to a breastfed baby. They all were crying. The woman could not leave them alone and go away with the military chief. She threw herself on the dead bodies of her husband and son and kept wailing.
Soldiers took away the corpses and threw them into the sea. The woman hugged her remaining children and kept lamenting.
The chief ordered the soldiers to take away those children as well. The soldiers took the three older children and thrashed them on the floor several times. The children sustained several injuries and died of weariness. The mother went with the chief, taking her little baby with her.
Five years passed by. The little baby turned five. The woman and the little girl were living in the chief’s mansion.
One day, the chief came to visit her. He said, “You’re not living with me as appropriate for a woman; probably you will not until after that child also was gone.”The woman replied, “There is no despot worse than you. You are not a human being. Do you want to kill this little child too?”

He said, “She was a little baby when I brought you here, but not anymore. Have I not snatched away the other children of yours from you in the past? They were of the same age as she is now; and her fate is going to be the same now.”
After living with him for five years, the woman has gotten used to his words; now she could understand the meaning of each word of his. She picked up the child, handed her to him, and said, “Here, take her and kill her. As long as she is alive, I cannot let go of her.”
He hacked the little girl into two in front of the mother.
The mother went away, crying.
For a few nights, she thought of hanging herself but did not.
For a few more nights, she thought of drowning herself in the ocean but did not.
And on some nights, she considered dousing herself in kerosene and set herself on fire but did not do that either.
She went on entertaining similar thoughts s for several nights.
After a few days, one day the chief got drunk and came into her room.
She looked as if she was the personification of grief.
He said to her, “Your husband and children are dead for ten years now; and your little baby is dead for five years.”
“It is twenty-five years since my country had lost its independence.”
The chief laughed hideously and said, “How long are you going to mourn them?”
“As long as this body exists.”
“You are wanting for nothing. You are wearing better clothes now than before; living in a better house, and eating better food than before. I love you. My race is superior to yours; and I am a greater man than your husband.”
“You are not a greater than my husband.”
Chief (angrily); Am I not the greater of the two? Tell me in what respect?Woman: You have rifles. You have swords. Yet my husband stood up to you holding a stick in an attempt to save my children and me. He was aware that he would not be able to protect us, yet he performed his duty. He did not let go of me, not until after he was dead. If I were your wife, and if somebody stronger than yourself came along, you would have run away. You are a coward.
Chief (screaming): I am not a coward.
Woman: I knew it even on the first day, that you were a coward. If you were brave, you would have fought my husband with another stick. Why did you bring so many soldiers?
Chief (laughing): Do you think I could not fight that feeble idiot with a stick?
Woman: He is dead. How can you prove it now? You cannot prove your valor to me now. If you were really a brave man, you would not have acted the way you did on that day.
Chief: It is not that I was not brave. I just did not have this cleverness then.
Woman: For us, the people of my race, there is no difference between courage and cleverness. For us, justice is cleverness; and cleverness is courage.
Chief: Then, why are living with me, knowing the kind of person I am?”
Woman: I am not living with you.
Chief: Anybody, who has heard your words, would think you are an idiot.”
Woman: I will consider him an idiot.Chief: So, you are saying you do not like to live with me.
Woman: I am telling you for the one hundred and thousandth time; no, I do not like to live with you.
Chief: I know you do not love me. I should have earned your love in a gentler way. Then, you would have loved me.
“I’ll love you after your entire race has been eradicated”.
“I will kill you.”
“I’ve been waiting for over ten years for you to do the same.”
“You love death that much?”
“Beyond measure.”
“Are not there other ways to die?”
“Yes, there are.”
“Then, why did you not kill yourself? You can jump into the ocean or hang yourself.”
“I do not like to die in that manner.”
“How do you like to die?”
“I want to goad you on and be killed by you.”
“It only shows that you love me that much.”
“Yes, I love you, and I’ll tell you what kind of love mine is for you. I wish to die by the same hand that had killed my husband and children.”
“Never mind all that talk. The truth is you do not want to die.”
“You are mistaken. I do want to die. But there are two kinds of death. The first is the death that comes of its own accord. And the second is the kind that happens when somebody kills. I like the second kind.”
“That means you do like living with me.”
“I have known you for over ten years now. You are a beast. All your sophistication lies only in your liquor, the clothes you wear and the ammunition you hold in your hand. But it is not in your heart, not in your culture and certainly not in your creativity. I do not love you. You are not a human being. You are surprised that I continue to live.
“My Jivudu will not want me to kill myself by hanging or by jumping into the ocean. My Jivudu
is hanging on to this body. He would never quit on his own. This Jivudu wishes that I squirm and shrivel while pining for my dead husband and children, and smolder in the great flames of their loss. This is a unique experience for Jivudu. This Jivudu will not die on his own; he will not like it. That is not because he wants to enjoy life. He believes that both pleasure and pain must be experienced in conjunction with this body. There is a constant connection between this body and Jivudu. He will experience whatever pleasure he wants by means of this body.
“You might think that Jivudu must be enjoying the fact that I am in this body and am living with you. That is not true. I just do not want to kill myself. I like to die very much when you kill me. Also, I would like it even more if death came on its own. It is the same with Jivudu. He prefers to enjoy the pleasures of life as he pleased through the use of this body. The joys imposed on him by others are not pleasurable for him. He would like it just the same if it were pain.”
“If that is the case, I do not want you.”
>”I did not ask for you.”
“I will kill you.”
“Why keep saying the same thing over and again?”
The Chief killed her. A happy smile flashed on her lips as she fell to the ground. While breathing her last, she said, “In your life, this is the only good deed you have done. Now I am dying. What will you do after I am dead?”
“I will get another woman.”
“The words are befitting to you! Your race can never understand what Jivudu wishes for.”
***
Telugu original, Jivudi ishtam was published in Andhra Patrika Weekly in 1941.
Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, March 20)
The term means the life-force or human spirit, and is used as a proper noun in the story.

The Middle Class Complex by Mullapudi Venkataramana

 Raamakumaree mee illa undaa?

Ratnakumaaree mee illa undaa?

Peruperulatalli mee illa undaa?

Peddappa dorasaani mee iLLa unddaa?

Iis Ratnakumaree in your home?

My princess of many titles is she in your home?

The big father’s princess is she in your home?] 

Narasamma was singing as she went around peeking through the neighbors’ doors. The women in the other dwellings replied as usual, ‘No, we didn’t see her.’

illullu tirigeti pillalakodi

alladugo chuudave tellavaarenu

meluko, meluko O Sundarammaa!

melukove inka bangaarubomma. 

[There is the mother hen ambling round  with her brood

Look there the dawn

Wake up, Sundaramma! Wake up

Time to wake up, my golden doll!]

Narasamma’s music woke up Chakravarti and he started his own tune. His poetry frightens his wife, Sundaramma. She jumped out of the bed, scribbled “Sri” in her palm[1], lit up the stove and went to the neighbor’s house to borrow coffee. The neighbor-aunty just returned with sugar she borrowed from Janaki. Janaki, also known as Janakamma, is a school teacher. She works in the same school Sundaramma’s husband works. For that reason Sundaramma does not like to borrow from Janakamma. To be specific, Sundaramma borrows from nobody else except neighbor-aunty. They both share expensive desires. Therefore they are a good match, as the phrase goes, in all respects, either in fighting or befriending.[2] Sundaramma believes that she and the neighbor-aunty got stuck in this middle class complex only because of some temporary setbacks, and also, because the neighbor-aunty could not find a bigger house.

Sundaramma is entertaining a strong desire to buy a brand new Jaguar. Neighbor-aunty has similar thoughts about a mansion for the present. She would eventually have a huge house built, fully equipped with a phone, radio and a shaggy dog. She has already bought the cloth for the table cover, stitched embroidery on it and kept it ready for the table on which she was going to put the radio. She bought a beautiful collar and a chain for the cute dog she was going to have. She has mastered the code of conduct that is proper when one rides in classy cars. She has found out about those things by reading and observing others with big cars—things like waiting until the driver comes around and opens the door—things like putting one foot out elegantly while getting out of the car, letting one sandal loosely hang on her foot, making sure that there is at least a 60-degree angle between her toe and the insole of the sandal, stylishly let the sari end get stuck in the car door, and then chime a charming exclamatory note like ‘OOH’ in English and act out an impressive and astounding scare … Stunningly beautiful Sundaramma has practiced all these techniques when she went to the movies in a taxicab.

“Aunty, yesterday I saw a beautiful, beautiful black car, you won’t believe it. It was soooooo beautiful! It was so dark, just like my black Hyderabad sari,” Sundaramma said to neighbor-aunty.

“Which one? You mean the one that passes by every day at about ten thirty on our street? Is that it? … I saw it near our boss’s building. By the way, did you see the new building they bought? That is exactly the one I had in mind. Trust me, for a second it felt like they stole my plan. The only difference is the compound wall. It’s a kind of short,” neighbor-aunty said.

Chakravarti was still in bed on the other side of the matted partition and was listening to their conversation. He is fully aware that, if he lets this chatting continue, he will end up with coffee at dinner time, and dinner at bedtime. “Sundari…” he shouted crossly.

“Oh, I almost forgot. I ran out of coffee…”

“I am afraid I am short, too,” neighbor-aunty replied, starting to show signs of displeasure.

Sundaramma realized her mistake, she bit her tongue.

“Just a little, just for this morning, just one Nagpur[3] cupful measured with your Nagpur cup,” she said.

Neighbor-aunty felt like she had bought the building of her dreams. “Of course, here, as you please,” she said in a sweet tone.

As soon as Sundaramma left, Narasamma came to say hi to neighbor-aunty. “Is my little one here?” she asked gently.

“No…” said neighbor-aunty, maintaining her distance.

“Hum, strange! She loves you so much. She always talks about you, keeps chiming, aunty, aunty, wouldn’t quit for a second. She likes it here… your house is spacious, you know. She really likes it here,” Narasamma said.

“Ah, what space.. I am choking. The more I wish for a bigger house the farther it is getting it seems.”

Narasamma changed the subject, “Anyway, can I borrow some rice? That is only if you can spare, I mean.”

“Of course, if I don’t have it, how can I loan you. Frankly, we are never short for anything. No such word as ‘don’t have’ in our house…”

“It is not that, really. I went to eight homes so far in this complex. All of them said no.. I am telling you this only because you are my friend,” Sundaramma remarked.

“So be it. Sure a day will come when they’ll have to account for their lies.[4] Here. Take as much rice as you need. Why only half a pound, take a quarter more. Did you bring a container or would you rather take it in the palloo of your sari?”

“Let me have it in your Culcutta silver dish,” Narasamma said. Neighbor-aunty gave her the rice, some eggplants and a slice of squash, additionally.

Narasamma went home and opened the door. All the four children rushed out in a flurry screaming, ‘I want rice,’ ‘I want snacks,’ ‘money’ ‘clothes’ and so on. Narasamma s gave them two each as usual and told them to get lost.

In the next five minutes, all the eleven families in that complex heard Narasamma’s children’s clamor which meant the day dawned. They all woke up.

***

Here is how the complex came into existence:

Some thousands of years ago, the noise that woke up people in that terrain did not come from children but from crows and roosters. In those days, a little daughter of a sage, whose ancestral background included Kanva, Viswamitra and Vasishta[5], performed a marriage of dolls. All the other sages wanted to have a beautiful ceremony and so created a garden with flower beds and shrubs. They also built a home in the middle of the garden as a temporary residence for the bridegroom’s party and several huts on either side. Several centuries passed by, and then years and finally the twentieth century had set in.

Eventually civilization caught on and there evolved a township. The landlord who bought the huts removed the thatched roofing and replaced it with tiles and old tin sheets. In place of the old bamboo partitions, he had walls built with clay and brick. He demolished the main hut at the heart of the area and raised a house with a flat roof at first and then added a room upstairs.

In course of time, these tenements or dwellings changed hands but not the tenants. Now several families live there in the outlying one-and-a-half rooms paying ten rupees rent each. The centrally located house is divided into two portions. One gentleman and his family are renting one portion. Subbarao, his wife and the wife’s father, Maavagaru[6] occupied the second portion. The other small dwellings in the area are occupied by tenants like the charming couple, Chakravarti and Sundaramma, and Narasamma, the mother goose with her brood and also the target of Chakravarti’s unbearable poetic exuberances.

Amidst these families there is a woman named Janaki or Janakamma renting one of the dwellings. She is a 5th grade teacher, unmarried and a doll of gold for looks.

Veerraju, the landlord, lives in the upstairs room of the house in the middle of this complex. He lives alone. He possesses some of the heroic qualities of the main character in the novels of Sarat Babu.[7] Has no relatives of any significance. Any relatives he may have are living far away. Veerraju has no great magnetic personality and as such in no way could claim the tenants as his family.

Veerraju is not crazy about living amidst this crowd and hardly pays attention to the rumpus in the area. However his curiosity got the better of him as the neighbors started stopping by and telling on each other. He would sit in his room upstairs like the Captain of the sea, and watch while all the people in the apartments get into a brawl, scuffle, squeal, or shriek and what not. He, however, has a soft corner for them and that is evident from the rents they owed him.

Sometimes their defaulting gets to him, especially, when he was short for cash. He watches them go to the movies while defaulting on rent, and that gets under his skin.

On one such Sunday, Veerraju stopped Subbarao as he was on his way to a movie. “Please, pardon me, sir. Could you please adjust this month’s rent at least…”

Subbarao was surprised. “Haven’t I paid you on the first of this month? What do you mean ‘at least’? I never defaulted on rent!”

“I haven’t received the rent for the past five months,” Veerraju replied.

“You must be mistaken. I was sending the rent each month the day after I received my paycheck.”

“But I did not receive it, sir.”

Subbarao was irritated by Veerraju’s tone. He rushed in to the house which meant ‘I am going to settle this right now.’ He questioned his wife in the strongest terms, and she replied, “What’s got to him? What do you mean we are not paying rent? We are paying each month regularly.”

“All right, you tell him that,” Subbarao told her.

“Great! You are telling me to confront that gentleman and tell him that we had been paying rent regularly! Let’s wait until my father returns. He was the one who’s depositing the cash,” she said.

Subbarao’s fervor slowed down as he heard that Maavagaru was depositing it. He cooled down. Maavagaru went for a walk. He usually returns home after taking care of his princely errands.

Subbarao couldn’t think of the words he could say to Veerraju. He was down. His suspicion was increasing by the minute. He looked out the window. The tenants in the three other apartments were lined up and watching the scene like the audience at a circus performance. Only Janaki stayed in the kitchen, busy with her cooking. Subbarao swallowed his pride and went back to Veerraju. He said, “Let’s talk about this later tonight,” and went away.

***

  It was eight at night. Subbarao was reading newspaper.

“You’ve come home early today?” Maavagaru entered and asked him, zealously.

“Change first. Let’s eat,” Subbarao said.

Maavagaru pulled up his shirt to remove. He was half way in the process, his head was still in the shirt, half covered. In that specific moment, Subbarao said, “Veerraju says we defaulted on rent.”

Maavagaru did not finish removing the shirt, nor did he pull it down. He hid his face behind the shirt, and said, “What rent?”

“What do you mean what rent? The rent for my head? I am talking about house rent,” Subbarao snarled.

Maavagaru slid down his shirt and peeked through. He said, “Look, Subbarao! Tell me this. If we can’t even default on rent for this dungeon of a house, why should we stay here at all?”

“Not one, not two but five months’ rent! Five times thirty, that is one hundred and fifty! That is what you defaulted in rent,” Subbarao said.

  Maavagaru quickly pulled his shirt up and hid his head again in it. “Who told you that? I don’t think it is five months; may be three months or four months tops.”

Subbarao asked him impatiently, “Maavagaru, why are you doing this to me? Is it fair to make my life miserable like this?”

  Maavagaru did not remove his shirt. Luckily, one of Subbarao’s friends, who usually approaches him with a ‘hello’[8] walked in and said, ‘hello!’ He asked for a loan. He announced that he was planning to repay the entire amount he had borrowed on various occasions—a five, a ten, and a ten plus two that is twelve….

“What is new?” Subbarao growled, mixing a shade of sarcasm.

“I will receive a Money Order today.”

“That’s great. You could have waited until you had it in your hand and then come to pay me. Why this announcement now?”

“No reason. If you give me another eight now, I am hoping to repay the entire twenty.”

“Your idea is good, but I don’t have the money. Even if I had, I will not give you,” replied Subbarao, annoyed.

Maavagaru pulled down his shirt to its normal state and kept watching this show.

“Okay, give me just three. Let’s make it fifteen total,” the friend said, hopefully.

Subbarao smiled and said, “My dear friend, sit down. I will explain to you,” and continued solemnly, “I know of two jobs in the government. How about taking one of them?”

“Oh, no sir. I would not work for the government.”

“No? You just want to live pestering people like me?” Subbarao asked.

“Okay, tell me. Let’s see what you’ve got?”

“These jobs are independent contracts. No monthly paychecks. Your income depends on your ability.”

“Tell me about it.”

“The first one is in the Postal department. Light work. See those small post offices? You go there with a small bottle of ink and pen. People come there to write letters. Your job is to lend your ink bottle and the pen and lean forward so he can use your back for a desk. After that, your second job is to stick out your tongue like an automatic machine and let him moisten the stamp and then retract it. After that, you lend again your back for his use to affix the stamp on his envelope. You can charge one half of an anna[9] per envelope. Imagine your income per day at this rate,” Subbarao said quickly and zealously.

  The friend was speechless. Maavagaru pulled his shirt up again pretending to remove it and hid his face in his shirt. Subbarao pretended not to notice any of this, and continued, “If you don’t like this job, there is another you might want to consider. Take a kerosene lantern and run along the railway tracks one half of a mile ahead of the Calcutta train. If you notice any problem with the railway tracks, your job is to signal the train to stop. This is night shift completely.”

 “Cchup,” Maavagaru said. The friend left irately.

  “Did you say something?” Subbarao asked Maavagaru.

“You used that idiot to insult me and that is rude… Why can’t you just ask me to  move out?” Maavagaru spoke through the shirt.

“Did I ask you to come and to live with us? I am respecting you for your age, treating you like a father, and look how you are paying me back. Did I say one word to hurt you? Now you start playing with the rent money as well, you tell me how am I supposed to deal with this?”

  Subbarao’s wife called out from the kitchen, “Father, you come inside. Don’t get into an argument with him.”

“You keep quiet. I will settle this right now,” Maavagaru replied from under the cover of his shirt.

“Settle what? The shirt?” asked Subbarao.

Maavagaru was furious. He tried to act out several emotions like ‘You idiot, you are being sarcastic or what?’ The shirt gave in to his frustration and was ripped, creating two holes in the panels. His two hands emerged out of the two holes, leaving his head still in the cover.

  Veerraju heard the commotion from his room upstairs. He rushed down three steps and was stunned. There was only one doorway between Subbarao’s portion and the next door neighbors. Veerraju saw through the window the most charming scene through the window:

The next door neighbor was sitting in a chair at the center of the group. His wife was sitting next to him in another chair. Their sons, daughters and grandchildren surrounded the couple. Some of them were sitting on the floor at their feet. All of them, sitting on the other side of the door, could not see but were enjoying whatever was audible to their hearts’ content.

Veerraju saw them all lined up like for a group photo and scoffed. Janaki just returned after her tutoring session. She also noticed this scene and was disgusted. She went away to her home, feeling good that Veerraju shared her sentiment.

 While Subbarao and Maavagaru were engaged in a verbal exchange, a huge noise—as if a Canadian train engine was rolling down a steep mountain slope—was heard. They both stopped for a second. A 1928 model automobile came rolling down, making unbearable noises like DHAN, DHAN, TAK, TAK, and stopped in front of Subbarao’s home.

  “WE BOUGHT A CAR, WE BOUGHT A CAR,” Sundaramma screamed from inside the car, bursting at the seams. She lay back fashionably.

  All the tenants were so absorbed in the on-going argument, they did not pay attention to Sundaramma’s car. Even Narasamma’s children were scared a little.

  Sundaramma, disappointed, turned to the driver and said, “right, right, let’s go.” The car moved forward, turned to the right, and to another right and stopped in. “Hold on,” Sundaramma shouted as the car pulled in front of her home.

 Chakravarti was in the porch. He turned around quickly and looked up. “What is this?” he asked. Sundaramma thanked the driver, gave him a rupee and told him to go home.

“Our car! What do you think? I paid only four hundred, just four hundred,” She said.

“Are you out of your mind? You bought a car! Tell me this first. Where did you get four hundred? … Do you have any idea how much we are paying for rent?” Chakravarti said.

“Wait a second. I will tell you all about it. First I need water,” Sundaramma said.

 In the meantime, the argument between Subbarao and Maavagaru reached the peak. The audience heard the words, spoken in a high pitch, “I am giving you not only the pocket money but also letting you do the grocery shopping, aren’t I?”

 Nobody in that entire complex could believe that Subbarao could speak so harshly. Therefore they all were stunned. Maavagaru did not expect this, not in his wildest dreams. Therefore he was also flabbergasted. His lips quivered and eyes turned red. He was eager to utter several words but  none of them came out. All he could say was, “wait,” like a thunder. Then he left the house. After that, however, he wasn’t sure, what next? He looked back and saw Subbarao go into the house.

 Maavagaru deliberated for one more second and walked straight into Janakamma’s portion.

“Amma[10], you’ve heard it too, right? Here, I am holding your hands, I could fall on your feet.[11] I am old. Unfortunately I ended up in this horrible condition. Please, loan me one hundred and fifty rupees. I will pay you back by tomorrow evening, pawning my head[12] if necessary. In this complex, if there is one person willing to loan me, that is only you,” he said.

 Janaki felt sorry for him. But she does not have that much cash on hand. Besides, she wasn’t really paying attention to what happened there. She was million miles away, lost in her own thoughts. “You go to the store for a soda or something, and come back after five minutes,” she said.

  Maavagaru left. Janaki went straight upstairs. Veerraju was feeling sorry for causing so much trouble for everybody. Janaki stood in front of him and said that she needed fifty rupees, it was urgent she added. Janaki rarely talks to him. He could figure out right away the real reason behind her request now.

  “You are a very nice person,” he said, handing her five new bills.

  Janaki smiled. She has heard similar compliments frequently from other teachers, headmaster, and secretary at school. Even for a slightest complaint like headache, they all would jump in with numerous suggestions, a variety of medications from all kinds of systems like Allopathy, Ayurveda etc. They pour out sympathies on her nonstop.

  Veerraju noticed this line of thinking in her smile. “Please don’t take it as a lip service,” he added, also laughing.

“You paid compliments to my good nature, not to my lips,” she said, turning around to leave.

“Oh, that? If you want only that kind of praise, I can do it nonstop. I can write an amazing paper and have you score ten for ten on it,” he said.

“You’re funny,” Janaki said and left.

  Janaki gave the one hundred and fifty rupees to Maavagaru. He told her several times and in a choked voice that he could never repay her debt. He went home and threw the money in front of Subbarao. Subbarao took the money without a word and gave it to his wife. The wife gave it back to her father, Maavagaru.

  Maavagaru picked up the money, holding it with his finger-tips, as if it were something untouchable, and went straight to Veerraju and paid off the debt.

  The rumpus in the complex settled down. The only audible sounds were those coming from Sundaramma’s dwelling. All the other families turned off the lights, and were enjoying the argument between the husband and wife, like a light breeze. They all were ecstatic that they had the pleasure of two altercations in one day, and now joking about some specific phrases and points.

  “Are you out of your mind?” Chakravarti asked his wife.

“Why are you shouting?” Sundaramma retorted.

In the next two minutes the argument reached climax. Sundaramma’s language acquired a shade of sobbing. Chakravarti’s voice was resounding like a metal bell. Their words were flying like blazing coal.

  “Where did you get the four hundred rupees, anyways?”

“I’ve been saving for some time. I sold my chain and the silver dish and got three hundred rupees. Maavagaru noticed my desire and loaned me one hundred rupees. Don’t worry, I will repay it myself,” Sundaramma replied tensely.

  These words were heard in each of the dwellings as if the words went and knocked on their doors. Subbarao also heard them. Now he understood the real story.

  Maavagaru paid the rent, came back, lowered the kerosene lamp wick, and went to bed.

“He [Subbarao] says he will not eat today. Come father, I set the plate for you,” Subbarao’s wife said to her father, Maavagaru.

  “I don’t want it either,” he said, lying down on his bed. He kept looking at the little lamp.

“So that is the real story,” said Subbarao.

  “What story? Didn’t I throw the rent in his face?” Maavagaru said, turning toward the wall.

“I am talking about Sundaramma’s car. It’s a nice car. And you were kind enough to give her a loan. With interest, so what? You let her have one hundred rupees,” said Subbarao gently.

  Maavagaru did not respond. They were quiet for about 15 minutes. Subbarao waited until his wife fell asleep and started the conversation again, “You are an adult. Why do you act like this?”

  A few words emanated from the mouth of Maavagaru in that darkness, like the smoke from a chimney. He narrated the story slowly and unemotionally: “I was never wanting for anything as long as my wife was alive. She always served the food, no matter what– whether I brought in the dough or not. Now I am alone and had the misfortune of living under my son-in-law’s roof. All I want is a home of my own. Sometimes I am embarrassed, you know. I resent it but can’t help it. The desire is not going away. I am hankering for money simply because I want my own home. Look, I will repay your debt some how,” he said.

 Subbarao did not know that Maavagaru was worried so much. He felt sorry for him. He also resented a little that Maavagaru used the darkness as a shroud to express his wishes. He rolled over to the other side and after a minute or so.

He said, “Let’s forget the whole thing.”

***

   At dawn, Narasamma and her children woke up and dressed up. She went to neighbor-aunty’s house but did not ask for a loan. She and her children were invited to the wedding ceremony on the next street. Narasamma came to ask aunty is she would go with them. Aunty said no. She turned around pompously waving her Benares silk sari in the air.

Aunty was sweeping the floor. She looked at Sundaramma and laughed. Aunty had noticed long time ago that Narasamma has only one silk sari. She even told Sundaramma that Narasamma wears the same sari again and again for each and every occasion. She hoped that Sundaramma would understand the underlying meaning of her laugh and agree with her. But Sundaramma did not respond. She put the water on the stove to make coffee.

Aunty felt let down. She has been feeling let down since 9:00 p.m. last night. In the entire complex, they are the only two persons with expensive desires. If it comes to that, Aunty’s wish is a notch higher. But then Sundaramma beat her to it by buying the car first. From that moment it became her sole aim to exchange jokes with Sundaramma.

“Sundaramma, would you like to borrow coffee?” she asked in a soft tone.

Sundaramma needed coffee but wouldn’t want to admit it right away. She replied, “Oh, no. Not necessary. We have the car you see. We’ll go to some restaurant, have coffee, and then buy vegetables on our way home.”

Chakravarti was still grumpy about it. Her response ticked him off.

“Oh, no. Haven’t we got a car, of course? Let’s drink the gasoline for the present. Later we can cook the tires for our next meal,” he said in a whisper. Aunty ended up loaning a Nagpur cupful of coffee to Sundaramma.

***

Chakravarti, still whining, finished his coffee and went to the market. He was embarrassed to leave the complex and step outside, he was embarrassed for having the car parked in front of his one and a half rooms. As soon as he hit the road, he ran into Subbarao.

Both of them were aware that the scuffles in their heavenly abodes last night were a matter of public record. At first they were too ashamed to see in to each other’s face. Next moment both of them looked up and looked straight into each other’s face. Each one felt pity for self and sympathy for the other at the same time. They broke into a loud laugh.

Subbarao’s laugh meant, “Maavagaru in my case and the car in your case.”

Chakravarti’s laugh implied, “Car for me and Maavagaaru for you.”

“See you later”

“All right.”

***

The brains of Maavagaru worked fast, as he noticed Subbarao and Chakravarti leave their respective homes. He went to Sundaramma and demanded the fifty he loaned her earlier and also an additional hundred. Sundaramma spelled n-o. Maavagaru returned home and fell into deep thought. He was about to bite off his nails when Subbarao showed up.

“Maavagaru, I think you borrowed the money last night in a fit of anger. Let bygones be bygones. Here, take this money and pay it back,” he said, handing him the one hundred and fifty he withdrew from the bank.

Maavagaru was surprised and was about to protest but by the time he opened his mouth Subbarao had left to take bath. So he cancelled that thought and set out to finalize his original plan.

First he separated twenty-five rupees from the amount and tucked it in his lungi at the waist. He went to Janaki’s room with the remaining one hundred and twenty-five rupees. He told her that he would never, not even in his future lives, forget the help she had done last night. He gave her the 125 rupees and alerted her to make a note of the balance of 25 rupees. He expressed his gratitude one more time and also avowed that he could never repay her kindness. Yet, he would not sleep until he had settled her account, he assured her.

“No. Please don’t lose sleep over this,” Janaki spoke respectfully.

“That is not possible. I am dead set on returning the favor. Look! Go ahead and finish teaching for now. .. But take the time off for this afternoon. ..No. Don’t say no. I will explain it to you later. You must be home this afternoon, don’t forget,” he said and left in a hurry. Then, he went straight to the next street. He didn’t even care to eat. Narasamma was scurrying around in her silk sari. Nobody could tell whether she was in the bride’s party or the groom’s. Maavagaru told her to come home that afternoon. He kept repeating that she should be home by 1:00 without fail, told her to leave the children at the wedding party, and insisted on her word Narasamma gave her word.

Maavagaru returned home and ate. After Subbarao left for work, he asked his daughter to sit down and explained his plan to her. The daughter was surprised. He convinced her to go along with his plan. He told her to make snacks, picked up his upper garment[13] and went to take care of the rest of the arrangements.

Janaki came home at 1:30 as was told and was surprised to find Maavagaru dressed up like a bridegroom.

“Good, you’ve come home, and right on time. You could get rest of the day off. Good. Sit down for a few minutes. No rush,” he said, zealously.

“Rush for what?” Janaki asked.

“Right, right. Rush for what? No rush, no rush at all. Go, freshen up. Fix your hair. No? All right, no need. You are looking great just the way you are. Looking like a goddess,” he said.

Janaki was confused.

“Janakamma dear, come here,” Narasamma said, flaunting her new silk sari.

Before Janaki could respond, Subbarao’s grabbed Janakamma’s arm and dragged her into the house.

Inside the house, there were three chairs and a rug spread on the floor. Subbarao’s wife helped Janaki sit on the rug and started to chitchat.

“Did you see Sundaramma’s car?” she asked. “Are the people at school making of fun of Chakravarti?” she asked.

Janaki smiled timidly and said, “Yes. The news reached our school right away. Everybody has been asking him questions–whether it were true, whether he really had bought a car? Why didn’t he come in his car? Poor man. He is very frustrated. Those idiots. I don’t know why they don’t let others live their lives. What is it to them who bought what?”

“Yes, yes,” Said Maavagaru. In the next minute he said, “There, they’re here!”

A 35 year-old man named Ramarao and a 30 year-old woman named Lakshmikantamma arrived.

***

   Maavagaru and Ramarao met a year ago. Soon they became bosom buddies. Ramarao became the best friend and right-hand man  to Maavagaru and vice versa. For Maavagaru, Ramarao’s sister became the goddess, the center of his universe, and winning her hand his life’s mission, and so on. He coveted her to be his life-partner. That woman, Lakshmikantamma said she would agree provided he could run her clothes store profitably. If he agrees, so would she. There is however one more glitch. Ramarao also has been unmarried for some time. During that time he saw Janaki and fell in love with her, head over heels. He has been praying day and night for his marriage with her. He even fasted four to five times toward this goal.[14] Maavagaru said that was no big deal. Ramarao said, “Well, if you fix that, your marriage is confirmed. Both of us can live happily ever after.”

Accordingly, on the afternoon in question, Ramarao and his sister, Lakshmikantamma arrived there to set a date for the engagement. Janaki was not aware of this story.

When she saw the strangers, she said “You have company,” was ready to leave. The entire group assured her unanimously that she should stay.

Subbarao’s wife served snacks and coffee. They all started eating snacks and talking small talk. Janaki did neither eat nor talk. Narasamma noticed that. “Come Janaki, eat something. No need to be shy,” she said coaxingly.  For the moment, she was playing the role of an adult aunt for Janaki. She was following the instructions Maavagaru had given her earlier and treating Janaki like her own “little girl.” In the confusion, her hand shook and the coffee spilled on her blue silk sari.

“Ooooh, oooh,” Narasamma bemoaned.

Rest of company, startled, turned around and looked at her.

“Ohh, no. What can I do now? It’s mishap. Let’s wash it right away. Then it won’t smudge,” she said, watching Subbara’s wife, apprehensively.

“Don’t worry. We can take care of it later,” said Subbarao’s wife, sounding casual.

“Well, whatever you say. I’ve said it. What have I got to lose. It is your sari that’s ruined,” said Narasamma.

The rest of the party burst into a big laugh. She was perplexed.

Maavagaru cleared his throat and opened the subject, the real reason for the meeting.

“Ramarao, what do you think? Do you like her? I am telling you, she is a gold cluster. You can search all the three worlds but won’t find a gentler woman,” he said.

“That is the truth. She is gleaming like Mahalakshmi [goddess of wealth],” said Lakshmikantamma. Janaki looked at them, totally lost.

Maavagaru said, “Janakamma, he is like a younger brother to me. The best qualified man. You don’t have to worry about annoyances like mother-in-law and other children. He has a sister but she will get married soon enough and leave for her in-law’s home.”

Ramarao laughed a silly laugh and said, “True, no time wasted. We’ve already the bridegroom, it is as good as done.”

Maavagaru was embarrassed. He lowered his head, smiling shyly.

“Wait, what is the matter? Where are you going?” Narasamma said. The group turned and looked up.

Janaki stood up. “What is all this nonsense? Is this the reason you asked me to be here? Nobody needs to arrange my marriage. It is my headache and I will take care anyway I please,” she said and rushed out of the room. She went to her room, threw herself on the bed and broke into sobs.

She cried for some time and  felt relieved, slightly. Thoughts started to surface slowly and gradually as if they were scared to come out. It felt like she has all these problems only because she has no immediate family to take care of her. Every man she comes across talks about either marrying her or arranging her marriage with someone. They have nothing else to talk about. Every man watches her in some warped way… Janaki was scared. She dozed off while the thoughts were still floating in her head.

She woke up at about five in the evening and came in to the front porch. The entire complex looked lifeless, like a graveyard. Probably the tenants in this side of the complex went for a walk. .. Suddenly she heard the rattling noise of the car.

Chakravarti sat in that old convertible Austin, a piece of junk. Sundaramma was sitting next to him ostentatiously. They were going for a ride. She wore a red sari and a black blouse—a horrible mismatch, and a bunch of flowers tucked in her hair. She also wore a pair of dark eyeglasses.

Janaki smiled kindly. She had noticed that Chakravarti was driving like a scared kid and pitied him. Then her eyes turned to the room upstairs. Up there, Veerraju stood near the window, looking sad, and smoking a cigarette. He was watching the couple in the car.

Janaki felt pity again. She wondered if Veerraju was disappointed for not being in Chakravarti’s unfortunate predicament. Suddenly she remembered the money she had borrowed from him the night before. She went in, took that money and went upstairs.

Veerraju felt a flutter for a second. And then was charmed. He took the money from Janaki mechanically.

“Aren’t you feeling well?” Janaki asked him.

“I am fine. The problem lies in my heart,” he replied, looking out the window.

Janaki was not interested in finding out what problem lay in his heart. She did not appreciate that kind of reply for a casual question. She turned to leave.

“I pulled myself out of huge plot a little while ago,” Veerraju said without looking at her.

Janaki did not leave. Nor did she ask what the plot was about.

“You see, everybody is aware that I have all these units but no person I can call my own. Therefore, they all are sworn to arrange my marriage. Earlier this afternoon, a friend of mine invited me to his home on some pretext, showed me a ghastly looking woman and asked me if I liked her. A group of men and women—twenty in all—were staring at me. I was exasperated and left,” said Veerraju.

Janaki’s heart started thumping faster. She was about to say that she was the object of another plot in that very moment but held back.

“Living alone in this world is such a hassle. Nobody minds their own business, nor let others live anyway they please. Sometimes it scares me,” he said.

Janaki’s heart leapt to her throat. He is reading her mind. She wanted to tell him that. She looked at him sharply for a split second. He was not joking. He looked at her straight into her face.

“It’s true,” she said and started to leave.

Veerraju said, “Janaki.” His tone has changed. Janaki turned around, warily.

“I didn’t tell my autobiography for fun. I respect you and trust you. I believe in you. For that reason … I am thinking… if I marry you, I can be happy myself and make you happy,” he said.

From Janaki’s perspective, Veerraju dropped a bomb out of nowhere. She couldn’t decide right away—should she jump with joy? Cry for help? Or resent his proposition? In the next moment, she was irate. At school, the headmaster, some teachers, secretary, and here, Maavagaru—they all have been pestering her on the same lines. Now Veerraju also appears to be doing the same thing.

“You too…” Janaki murmured and left hastily.

Veerraju threw himself on the chair and smoked ten cigarettes in a fit of desperation.

Janaki in general considers herself good at giving cautious replies, now is feeling bad for the first time. She wondered if she had made a mistake.

Chakravarti’s chariot finished its rounds and returned to the complex. The few people who fell asleep were woken up by the noise. They all heard the loud laughs from Chakravarti’s home very clearly.

As for Chakravarti, more and more he is becoming aware of the wife’s naivete. His anger is diminishing and his love for her is escalating.. That evening she visited few expensive stores, checked out the high priced saris and bought a hand kerchief for one rupee. In another store, she bought a couple of items and asked the store clerk to put them in her car.

“Which one, madam?” the store clerk asked.

Sundaramma felt embarrassed to point out her grungy vehicle standing amidst the other pristine automobiles.

“There! That grungy car! Throw them in,” she said. Then, whatever came over her, she added, “That is our driver’s. We gave our car for service.”

Chakravarti was standing next to her. He struggled not to laugh. On the way home, he teased her, “Today you said this car belonged to your driver. Probably, tomorrow you would tell them that your silk sari belonged to the maid. What about me?”

She shut him up with her palm saying, “Cchup. What kind of talk is that?”

After a few minutes, Chakravarti planned to turn right. But the God, as is his habit, intended otherwise.[15] The car, having a will of its own, recalled the proverb, murare thruteeyah panthah [God’s way is the third way], and headed for a huge tree before Chakravarti could hit the breaks, tried to knock it down but changed its mind.

Chakravarti and Sundaramma spent ten rupees and brought the car home. …

Chakravarti told Sundaramma, coaxingly, “… for that reason, beautiful Sundaramma, we can be happy only if we don’t have this car. We can buy a good car after saving some money. But, if you insist on keeping this car, we will be spending all our income on repairs and we will starve for want of food. We w ill have to lie down with our knees nudged against  our bellies[16] literally. Do you understand?”

Sundaramma was already on the brink of tears. Yes, she said.

“Let’s get rid of it for whatever it is worth. May be our landlord Veerraju will buy it,” he said.

***

That Saturday night went by for each one of them in the complex in a different way—with nightmares, sweet dreams, fears or frustrations.

And the Sunday morning dawned for each one of them in a different way–beautifully, happily, hideously, or hopelessly.

Within a few minutes, Maavagaru went into Narasamma’s dwelling. He told her not to tell others about the wedding arrangements that took place the day before. He said she could keep for good the sari she wore the previous evening, which in fact belonged to his daughter. Narasamma agreed. She shook her head in assent but the thought that she has a tremendous secret nearly choked her. She could hardly keep her feet on the ground.

Within the next half hour she heard another piece of news. Veerraju was leaving town. It seems he won’t be back for another five or six months. He told all the tenants to pay the rent to the gentleman living in the other portion, and that the gentleman would forward the money to him. Narasamma noticed that Veerraju did not go to Janaki’s home.

She rushed to Janaki’s home and said, “Girl! Veerraju is going away for good, do you know?”

Janaki was surprised. “Is that so?” she said and went about whatever she was doing.

Narasamma’s zeal fizzled away. “Look, dear, can you loan me one rupee?” she asked. Janaki got up without a word and gave her one rupee. Narasamma was even more disappointed that she could get the rupee so easily. She went to a few other homes in the neighborhood and asked them for rice on loan. They all said no. “Why should I share my secret with these crooked devils,” she told herself. Finally she went to Sundaramma and asked for rice.

Sundaramma, whatever mood Sundaramma was in at the time, gave her rice right away. At once, she became Narasamma’s best friend. Narasamma insisted repeatedly that she should not tell anyone, not even the neighbor-aunty, and let out the secret about the wedding arrangements that took place the day before. The neighbor-aunty was sitting quietly behind the bamboo partition and heard the entire story. After Narasamma left, the neighbor aunty came to Sundaramma and told her the same story as if she had known it since her childhood days. She also expressed her deepest sympathy for Janaki.

“I wish Janaki would marry Veerraju,” aunty said suddenly. Immediately she bit her tongue for saying it. She had a good reason for regretting her comment. Earlier, as soon as she heard that Veerraju was leaving town, she went to him and made him promise his portion to her. She was excited that she would have at least the good fortune of renting a two-storied building, if not buy one. It is no small feat to move into a two- storied building–that would be like a slap in the face for Sundaramma who bought a car just couple of days ago. Her [aunty’s] husband never goes against her wishes. The husband is always referred to as “aunty’s husband,” pretty much the same way Maavagaru is always “Subbarao’s maavagaru.” Anyway, the current problem is, if Janaki marries Veerraju, the upstairs portion will not be available to her. Therefore, aunty closed her lips tight and left.

Sundaramma however continued to mull over aunty’s suggestion. If Janaki marries Veerraju, she could sell her car to them and it still says in front of her eyes. She might even borrow it occasionally. ..  Besides, the story of the wedding arrangements for Janaki struck a chord in her heart. She felt a surge of warmth for Janaki.

It was Sunday. Sundaramma made Chakravarti’s favorite dish that afternoon. She made coffee with utmost care and removed the creamy floats.[17] She handed him a cigarette and struck the match for him.

“Look, this is the last Sunday we will have the car. By next week it will be sold. Let’s go to the movies today,” she suggested.

Since Chakravarti was still glad that his wife was favorable to his suggestion, he agreed to go to the movies. It was five in the evening. She got into the car along with others–Narasamma who became her best friend by sharing her secret, the neighbor-aunty who entertains expensive desires, and even Janakamma by sweet-talking into going with her. Janakamma thought she might as well go somewhere in stead of staying at home and watch the heartbreaking departure of Veerraju. So she agreed to go with them.

As the car was about to leave, Maavagaru appeared. It scares him to see anybody taking Janaki somewhere. He is sure that he would succeed in convincing Janaki to accept his proposition, if not today, it will happen tomorrow. He was not willing to let go of her that easily.

“Going for  a ride?” he asked.

“No. We are going to a movie,” Chakravarti replied.

“What movie?”

Chakravarti told him the name of the movie.

“I will come with you. I wanted to see it too,” said Maavagaru. They had no choice but let him go with them.

A few minutes prior to starting the show, Sundaramma pulled Janaki to a side. “Janakamma! I am like a sister to you. Let me ask you this. Be frank with me. Are you interested in marrying Veerraju?” she asked her.

Janaki couldn’t utter a sound.

“Tell me. It’s all right. I have heard about the last night’s arrangement gala. …Listen girl, they do get crazy ideas as long as you are alone. Listen to me and marry Veerraju, that is if you like him,” she added.

“Did he tell you to ask me, too?” Janaki asked, looking down.

“What? Did he propose to you? What did you tell him? No? …Ahh, stupid thing to do! .. So, that is the reason he is leaving town. ..Be straight with me, Janaki, quick.. We are running out of time,” Sundaramma said hurriedly.

“Yes, sister,” Janaki said, dabbing her tears with her sari end.

“People will laugh if you cry here. Don’t cry. Let’s go back home right now,” she reassured Janaki, went into the movie theater and explained the situation to Chakravarti.

He stepped out and said to Janaki, “Good for you. Veerraju is a good man. You will be happy.”

Within a few minutes, they all changed their minds about the movie and got back in to the car. Since Maavagaru came only for the sake of Janaki, he had no problem leaving. For Narasamma, Sundaramma’s words are ‘vedam’[prescriptive]. How can aunty stay alone to watch the movie? Thus, they all have agreed to return home.

“Janaki is going to marry Veerraju,” Sundaramma blurted out, she couldn’t help herself.

Then followed words conveying several emotions like surprise, pleasure, anger, etc. all at the same time.

Maavagaru did not like it. Nor did aunty relish it. She was weighed down by the thought that the upstairs room will not be available to her.

All the thoughts together in that crowded car started emanating in their exhale and thereby created a strange mix of emotions. The car was moving forward in the heavy rain in a desperate attempt to catch Veerraju before he got to the train station.

Chakravarti, still new to driving, hit the breaks to make a turn but did not hit the clutch in time. As a result, the engine stalled. “Push the car,” Chakravarti said.

Who would push? There were four women and two men in the car. It was pouring outside, and the winds were gusty. Sprinkles were hitting straight in to the car.

Maavagaru said, “I am feeling weak and also running a little temperature. I can’t move a muscle.” He did not want the car to move and reach home while Veerraju was still there.

None of the others spoke. Huge, expensive cars are gliding by smoothly like swans on the wet black top roads. All the adults in Sundaramma’s car slipped into a reverie. Sweet thoughts seized them.

Maavagaru was dead set against the car’s movement. After Veerraju left, it would be easy to convince Janaki to marry Ramarao. If Janaki agrees to his plan, then he can marry Ramarao’s sister and have a home of his own. His heart screamed this must happen.

Janaki was entertaining a different scenario. Every particle, each drop of blood in her body was longing for the car to move. If she marries Veerraju, she would have a good life. With that thought her desire was escalating. At the same time, a fear that it might not happen was also growing in her mind.

Sundaramma was anxious to reach home quickly and earn the credit for making a new life for the prospective couple. Then she could sell her car to them. The vehicle would still be in front of her eyes. It’s all right if she could not buy one of her own.

Chakravarti was anxious to get rid of the car before his wife came up with another deviant idea.

If the car starts and reaches home before Veerraju left, the marriage is certain to happen. Then aunty will not get the upstairs room for renting. The couple will stay in the same place. Her desire will not be fulfilled. For that reason, aunty was begging the Almighty Lord every which way to stall the car.

Narasamma’s silk sari was getting ruined by the raindrops. She was praying the Almighty Lord to start the car and bring them home soon.

Suddenly, a lightning struck. A thought flashed in Chakravarti’s brain. He let go of the breaks. Strong winds blew with all their might.

The car, carrying the crowd, beset with strong desires, moved forward like Janata Express.

(End)

(Translator’s note: The original title, “Janata Express” is the name of a train in South India, introduced in the 1950s, specifically designed to make travel comfortable for the common man—a sort of people’s car. The author depicts the day-to-day lives of middle class families and unmarried individuals, with all their dreams, aspirations, eccentricities, as well as their community spirit.

The term ‘complex’ in translation may be interpreted as middle class complexes [mentalities] or as an apartment complex for the middle class. The story addresses both the aspects.

Telugu original entitled “Janatha Express” was published in the 1950s and later was included in an anthology entitled, “Janata Express: Mullapudi Venkataramana kathalu,” published by Navodaya Publications, Vijayawada, 1959. Reprint 1967.)

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, March 2005. Also, included in the anthology, Short Stories from Andhra Pradesh, by Nidadavolu Malathi. Mumbai: Jaico Publishing House. 2007)



[1]  A common practice among Hindus, invoking God first as one wakes up.

[2] Telugu phrase:  kayyanikainaa neyyaanikainaa …

[3] A sarcastic observation how little things like the name of a place could evoke favorable atmosphere in conversations.

[4] A common proverb in Telugu is evari paapam vaaLLade! Literally paapam means sin.

[5] The sages are from Hindu mythology. The story noted here is probably author’s creation.

[6] Literally maavagaru is a relational term for father-in-law. In the story, the real name of the father-in-law is not given. So, I used the term as a proper name.

[7] Sarat Babu, nick name for Saratchandra Chatterjee, a famous Bengali fiction writer, whose novels were translated extensively in to Telugu and are very popular.

[8] “Hello,” and “Hello, o faivunda?” [Do you have five rupees], meaning a request for small loan, are used by the author repetitively to evoke humor. The author has written hilarious stories about people who borrow small amounts and usually don’t bother to repay.

[9] Anna was coin [currency] in pre-Independent India, equaled to one sixteenth of a rupee.

[10] Literally, means mother. Figuratively, similar to ‘my dear child.’

[11] The actual sentence in Telugu “ivi chetulu kaavu, kaaLLanuko,” literally means I am holding your hands and take it as my falling on your feet, which is the most desperate way of begging.

[12] Telugu phrase, tala taakaTTu peTTi, considered the last desperate measure.

[13] In the south India, men usually throw a plain garment, like a towel, on their shoulder.

[14] Praying and/or ritualistic meditation and fasting are part of Hindu tradition to have their desires fulfilled.

[15] Telugu proverb:  thanokaTi taliste, daivamokaTi thaluchunu, meaning your thoughts may not always be in agreement with divine providence.

[16] Popular Telugu phrase describing the way hungry people lie down.

[17] In India, milk is boiled before adding to coffee. Sometimes, the milk forms a layer of cream which ruins coffee taste.