Monthly Archives: December 2013

Translation or Transference: The Problematic of Cultural Specifics

by Dr. S.S. Prabhakar Rao. 

Allen Tate has once observed, “Translation is for ever impossible and for ever necessary.” Down the centuries there have been unending debates about loyalty to and freedom from the original in a translation – ‘formal equivalence’ vs ‘dynamic equivalence.’ Whether a translation should read like a translation or like an original is still debated passionately. But it is possible to surmise that one should pursue the middle path agreeing on “maximum readability and feasible fidelity.” The other problem relates to the carrying across of cultural specifics from the Source Language to the Target Language. Terms, which have no equivalents in the TL, the author argues, may be transferred and expressions may even be literally translated so that optimum feel and flavor of the native culture can be re-created. He has cited the practice of Raja Rao in his path-breaking novel Kanthapura, in which he boldly translated Kannada expressions as well as transferred certain terms. The author devoted the second section of the paper to the problems he faced in his translation of short stories, classical poetry, a novel and a classical epic from Telugu into English and the tentative solutions he could arrive at. The author hopes that, despite the multiplicity of problems and the lack of encouragement and recognition, the tribe of translators will increase and contribute to much-needed cultural synthesis in the world torn apart by fissiparous forces.   

 Translation has ever been a tantalizing literary activity. It has been observed that translation is for ever impossible and for ever necessary. There is a term in the Italian, traducer, which means both a translator and a traitor and the activity is often considered the great betrayal. But for the much-needed cultural and emotional synthesis in a country like India torn by linguistic and regional fissiparous pulls, translation assumes paramount significance. Among the three streams/waves of Indian writing – the Anglo Indian, the Indo-Anglian (or Indian Writing in English: Prof K R Srinivasa Iyengar’s preferred terminology) and Indo-English Literature (Prof V K Gokak’s term) – the last one seems to be gaining ascendancy in the literary hierarchy in recent ties. The only Nobel Prize to be won by an “Indian” writer happens to relate to this wave: Tagore’s Gitanjali, which is a translation into English from the original Bengalee.  Without exaggeration, it can be stated that it is in the rich and vibrant literatures in the regional languages of India that one can find the real soul of the country. And to discover or unravel that soul translation is a necessary activity.

The term translation is derived from the Latin term translatio (to carry across.) It is kin to the Greek terms – “Metaphrase” and “Paraphrase” – which indicate the major problems a translator faces. Metaphrase refers to literal, verbatim (verbum pro verbo: word-to-word) translation, while Paraphrase (later used by Dryden) refers to “saying in other words.” The need for equivalence between the text in the Source Language and the final version in the Target Language is admitted but the problematic, should it be merely “formal equivalence” or “dynamic equivalence,” the terms used by Eugene Nida, has been debated for long. For long there has been an implicit view of master-servant relationship between the writer and the translator, who cannot afford to be creative. The 19th century British poet D G Rosetti observed that the work of a translator involved “self-denial and repression of his own creative impulses.” But it has not been so with gifted translators. Edward Fitzgerald, who gave us the immortal rendering of the Rubayat of Omar Khayam, was among the first who took liberties with the original in his creative translation.  He declared, “It is an amusement to me to take what liberties I like with the Persians, who, I think, were not poets enough to frighten me from such excursions.” And the end product is an eminently readable fluent rendering. But one wonders still, is it a translation from the Persian original or what Dryden called a “Parallel Text.”

In the colonial period the relationship was more of servility with the SL text author as a sort of feudal lord, ordering implicit loyalty to his text. Such an attitude led to treating translation as craft by Eric Jacobsen, while Theodore Savory considers it an art. Horst Frenz clinches the issue by declaring, “It is neither a creative art nor an imitative art but stands somewhere between the two.” The challenge before the translator is, on the one hand, to transfer the semantic constructs and the formal contours of the original and on the other, to re-create the spectrum of aesthetic/cultural features inherent in the SL text. Implicit fidelity to the original words has been largely discouraged. As Dryden noted, “when words appear literally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed. But since what is beautiful in one language is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense, in another, it would be unreasonable to limit the translator to the narrow campus of his author’s words.” It is where creativity or even what the Indian alamkarists (aestheticians) call pratibha comes in. The corresponding proper words may occur to the translator in a flash, very like the best words in the best order in the original work. Perhaps, the possible solution lies in pursuing the middle path of maintaining “maximum readability within the confines of faithful rendering.”

The attempts of linguists to offer a scientific base for this activity have occasionally added to the confusion. While Roman Jakobson categorically declared, “Poetry by definition is untranslatable” he also discussed three types of translation: Intra-lingual (re-wording or interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs; Inter-lingual (translation through verbal symbols in another language); and Inter-Semiotic (transmutation of verbal signs by means of non-verbal signs). But except the second type, the other two bear no relationship with translation proper.

Believing that the process of translation involves a little of creativity, a translator like Prof P. Lal uses the term, “transcreation.” In the Indian languages, translation is called anuvaada, literally to toe the line of thinking/argument of another. To reflect the element of creativity, I coined the term, anusrijana, to create in the fashion of another. Prof C D Narasimhaiah in an evocative way considers the original Udbhavamurty and the translation Utsavamurty as all original writing is composed in antar hridaya akasa. The need for close relationship of the translation to the original is generally admitted. Prof K. Viswanatham, a scholar, who was also a translator stated, “a translator’s first and last duty is doglike devotion to the original. .. If one is not faithful to the original, one is not faithful to the spirit.” Adopting a diametrically opposite stance, KY M Patanjali, who translated his own novella, declares, “there need be no relation whatsoever between the original and the translated text.” A K Ramanujan, the distinguished translator, whose translation of the Kannada poems of Goaplakrishna Adiga, published by Writers Workshop, inspired me to translate the Telugu poems of Devarakonda Balagangadhara Tilak, Song of the Cosmos & Other Poems, also published by Writers Workshop, takes the middle path, when he noted, “A translator must be true to the translation, no less than to the original.”

There is another issue which needs to be considered. How should a translation read? Should it read like a translation or like an original text? As early as 1791, Alexander Tytler, while admitting the impossibility of both form and content in a translation, still lays down in his three ‘laws of translation,’ that “a translation should contain all the original ideas, the style should be the same as that found in the original and the translation should read like an original.” (Italics mine). But during the 19th century, largely under the influence of Victor Hugo’s dictum in his “Prologue to the Translation of Shakespeare’s Works”: ‘Une traduction est presque toujours regardée tout d’abord par le peuple à qui on la donne comme une violence qu’on lui fait. […] Une langue dans laquelle on transvase de la sorte un autre idiome fait ce qu’elle peut pour refuser’ the general belief was that a translation should read like a translation. But even a diehard ‘loyalist’ like Friedrich Schleirmacher could not overlook the inevitability of transparent reading when he included in “The Different Methods of Translation” (1823) the method that moves the writer towards the reader.

All along there have been spirited efforts to domesticate a SL text by bringing in the native/local flavor. During the 17th century, French translators attempted to Gallicize the Greek texts. Even Dryden tried to make Virgil speak in words that as he would probably have written if he were living as an English man. While stylistic equivalence could be the ideal, the imperative of ease of reading cannot be sacrificed. Coming closer to India, we notice that even in the translation of epics like The Mahabharata and The Ramayana translators did not hesitate to introduce local elements. Tikkana, who translated a large part of The Mahabharata into Telugu, introduced a few marriage customs and social activities prevalent in the Nellore region of Andhra, in his rendering of the Sanskrit original. The tendency of several translators has been to ‘domesticate’ rather than ‘foreignize’ the original. But care has been taken, by and large, not to distort.

My main concern in this paper is the problematic of “cultural specifics” in a translation from one language into another language when they are culturally unconnected. It is well known that any language is deeply steeped in its culture and to translate such cultural ethos into an ‘alien’ language calls for considerable resourcefulness and even inevitable compromises and sacrifices.

In most Indian languages, the elders are addressed in plural. In Hindi we have aap, while in Telugu we have meeru. But in English there is only you universally applied to all. Such cultural load is impossible to be carried across. By common consent, it might be possible to choose the archaic form thou for aap and thy for aapka and so on. But in several cases such improvisation may not be possible.


Now, I wish to present the problems I faced in translation efforts and the tentative – far from wholly satisfactory – solutions I came up with.

During the sixties I was deeply impressed by the work of Srirangam Srinivasa Rao (Sri Sri), the pioneer of progressive poetry in Telugu, and wanted to introduce a short poem to non-Telugu readers of a special issue of Caravan on Andhra Pradesh. The title of the poem in Telugu is Avatali Gattu (literally, the shore on the other side). It would be downright clumsy to resort to literal translation of the title. I thought about it for a whole six hours in the night and in the small hours in a flash it occurred to me: the title, “The Shore Beyond.”  In instances like these the play of what poets call “happy chance” or “vital reason” in the work of translator is not qualitatively different from that in the poet’s original work. It was relatively an easier task for me to translate the surrealist poems of Sri Sri in his later work Khadga Srishti (Forging the Weapon), when I was invited to translate a few poems from his collection by the Bharateeya Jnana Peeth Awards Committee for considering his work for the award, though finally he did not make it! The fluent style, akin to English idiom, in his longish poem, Sarat Chandrika (Moon Ray of Sarat), was a joy to translate.

The problem of culture specificity arose when I translated a short story by Tripuraneni Gopichand, who is steeped in rural culture, for Illustrated Weekly of India. The title of the intensely poignant story a villager was Dharma Vaddi, a kind of nominal interest charged in the villages, when one is not likely to get back the money lent, with the stipulated interest. Here again literal translation of Dharma Vaddi would not serve the purpose. I had to resort to an idiomatic translation as “The Nominal Interest.” The real problem was rendering the dialogues of the rural people and I made them sound neutral – not Telugu-specific, yet resisting the temptation to make the characters speak like the inhabitants of a Californian ranch or the Okies of The Grapes of Wrath.    

Some years ago, when the 400th birth day of the great Telugu poet Bammera Potana was celebrated, I was invited to translate a few poems selected by me from his immensely poetic Srimad Bhagavatam. The lilting cadences and the sweet melodies of the original are certainly untranslatable, but I made a brave attempt to approximate the translated version to the original mostly in the area of thought-content and tried to carry across a little of the poet’s profound devotion.  I attempted to retain a few verbal repetitions in a manner natural to English. Here are a few examples:

The maid of poesy, tender

Like the shoots of mango young,

Would a true poet surrender

To the meretricious mortal?

And eat of that morsel immoral?


The hand in the service of the Lotus-eyed

Alone are the hands;

The tongue praying to the Lord of Wealth

Alone is the tongue;

The eyes espying the Protector of Gods

Alone are the eyes ….

Central Sahitya Akademi had an ambitious project to take a few good short stories from Telugu to a larger national/international awareness and arranged a Workshop on Translation and at the workshop it was generally agreed that a few culture specific terms relating to social and familial relationships, religious customs and ritual may be transferred into English for providing the reader a feel and flavor of the original. For example, in a village a person belonging to a lower status addresses the one of a higher status, Ayya, and to translate the address as “Sir!” would be preposterous and would be tantamount to perpetrating cultural violence. It would be preferable to retain the Telugu term. The present writer argued that a writer like Chinua Achebe brought in much-needed cultural transfer in his novels by using terms, like chi. From the context the foreign reader would be able to guess the meaning or he may consult the glossary at the end of the work, without impairing the natural flow of reading. The discussions finally resulted in the publication of thirty short stories of well-known Telugu writers translated into English and published under the title, Golden Nuggets.  In my translation of Palagummi Padmarju’s Telugu original Padava Prayanam (“The Boat Moves On”), I freely retained Telugu expressions, like maridi (brother-in-law, husband’s brother), babayya (a respectful way of addressing an elderly or superior , in status, person) and Ammo (a cry of agony) to present the rustic passionate love of Enki for her stealing, abusive lover with her rustic speech. But when I translated Chalam’s O Puvvu Pusindi (“A Flower Blossoms”), it was a sheer joy to translate the poetic, highly symbolic language of Chalam, who was indeed a poet at heart, though he was known mostly for his prose. I wish to offer a few samples of his poetic prose:

A flower blossomed in the woods. Looking around at the encircling     darkness she cries out in fear. The surrounding leaves draw her to them, reassure her and comfort her.

The bliss of tender night, the touch of soft grass, the soft blue of the sky, the strength of tree-branches, the piteous notes of the koel, the playfulness of the breeze, the ceaseless sap of the roots – all flow into her.

Recently, I have been assigned the pleasant task of translating Dr Vasireddy Seeta Devi’s poignant novel, Matti Manishi (“Man of Soil”), by P S Telugu University. The novel is a delineation of the incursion of urban values and avarice on the rural lives of people. The portrayal of the central character, Sambayya, recalls to one’s mind the powerful, yet whimsical, protagonist Henchard of Hardy’s novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, with his flaw of arrogance and uncompromising stance, even when it wreaks havoc in his life. The Telugu novel set in a small village and then a smallish town in Andhra is region specific and simultaneously the theme of erosion of rural values under the inroads of urban culture (or the lack of it) is of universal and timeless resonance. But the novelist has maintained admirable balance in presenting the rot that is inherent in the rural situation with scheming village accountants, petty but shrewd and unprincipled opportunistic businessmen, haughty and reckless individuals wallowing in false prestige and soon turning into paupers and young women, running after filthy lucre and extra-marital gratification, ending up as physical, financial and moral wrecks. But the rural specificity is the striking feature of the original. There is an abundance of rural, agriculture-related terminology, which needs a close acquaintance with the ethos of the village. It is neither possible nor always desirable equivalents in English. As with short stories, the crux of the problems faced by a translator relates to dialogue, replete with forms of address, expressions of relationships, and so on. The carrying across of the social/religious customs typical of an Andhra village also is a challenge.

At the beginning of the novel, there is a scene of threshing in the farm. One of the farm laborers says, “If ayya garu threshes the first sheaf, there is bound to be harvest of ten puttis.” To retain the feel of the original, I kept the Telugu term and also the tern for measure. The terms used in italics do not present any obstacle for fluent reading by the general reader; only the more keen reader might refer to the appended glossary to get inputs about what the terms stand for. In the same way, expressions, like ayya goru, instead of alien Sir and amma goru, instead of Madam, are preferred. In some cases, an attempt has been made to translate some typical native expressions, like Nee siga tharaga (May your hair be cut off), as long it does not violate the natural expression in the target language. This is a practice made respectable by Raja Rao, in his path-breaking novel Kanthapura, when he translated Kannada Expressions into English, adhering to the Kannada turns of expression, as in “I’ll drop a word in your mouth,’ ‘every squirrel will have his day,’ ‘Moorthy has gone through life like noble cow, ‘stitch up your mouth’ and ‘he wanted me to be his dog’s tail,’ apart from choice Kannada abuses like ‘son of concubine,’ ‘son of a widow’ and ‘I’ll sleep with your wife.’ The narration by Acchakka in folklorish tone is retained by the liberal transfer of native expressions, which succeed investing the tale with an authentic rural flavor. Even Mulk Raj Anand uses several literal translations of Punjabi expressions, apart from transferring terms like Badmash. It is to be noted that R K Narayan tries to evoke a neutral atmosphere – not that of Tamil – by minimizing (even avoiding) the native Tamil terms.

In my translation, I attempted to retain the original ethos by using translations of the Telugu idioms, like: “Will I cross your threshold of your house even if it means my death?” “Waiting like a fox near the pit,” “To remain silent liked crushed lice” and “Where is the comparison between a fox and Naga Loka?” I also transferred words like putti, thumma, bure and gare.

To present the culture specific traditions and rituals, I translated them, as in “applying turmeric to the utthareeyam and dhothi.”  Some of the personal habits are expressed vividly, as in “nod one’s head like a cow,” and the curse, like “Where is the canal? Only his funeral!” is translated – literally. The description of Sambayya, the protagonist, throbs with native vigor:

His nerves, like young serpents’, the muscles turned steel strong under hard labor are like the bowstring pulled full length… his thick-grown hair crawling on to his neck, his nose sharp like a ploughshare – all reveal that Sambayya is a man who trusts land and lives totally on land.

Man of the Soil, p 20

Although the translation may not read like an original novel conceived and composed in the target language – almost a parallel text – it tries to carry across a feel and flavor of the source language.

In another assignment, I was called upon to introduce a classical Telugu prabandha (an  autonomous epic), along with a few free transcreations of the original Telugu poems. With a view to introduce Telugu classics to the non-Telugu readers – even the native Telugu readers, who cannot read Telugu – C P Brown Academy, set up by Alpha Foundation, took upon itself the commendable responsibility of introducing the five classics (panca kavyas) and as part of the project assigned to me the job of introducing Allasani Peddana’s Swarocisha Manusambhavamu (Manu Caritra). The challenge was indeed stupendous.

For this task, I decided to narrate the story of the epic generally in prose, but chose the memorable poetic moments for a free transcreation. As with my efforts to introduce the mellifluent poems of Bammera Potana, here too I had to give up on mellifluent cadences of the source poems and attempted to carry across the thought-content and spirit of the original. I may be permitted to cite a few examples.

In the suggestive invocation to gods/goddesses for blessings, the poet ingeniously suggests/foreshadows the crucial developments in the epic. The case of mistaken identities is pivotal. To suggest this, the poet invokes Ganesa in the following manner:

Ganesa, who, while drinking milk from the breast of Paravati,

On the right side, through his natural childlike act

Searches for the breast on the left side and finds instead

A necklace of serpent and takes it for a lotus stalk.

In his picturesque description of the dwelling place of Pravara, the pious Brahmin, the poet portrays the Brahmins, who are more erudite than even Brahma and so do not praise Him and the Kshatriyas who can challenge Parasurama, he presents

The Vaisyas, who can lend capital even to Kubera;

The sudras can offer alms to the First Mendicant…

Even the tenderest twig there is strong and sturdy.

The appearance of the enticing lady, Varudhini, is presented:

A fragrance of musk, camphor,

Perfume from paan leaves and other aromas

Wafted towards Pravara,

Indicating the presence of a damsel.

After losing his way Pravara asks the damsel to enlighten about the way back to his town, she smartly replies:

You are gifted with wide eyes; why then do you

Seek guidance of others to find your way?

Isn’t it a pretext to talk with women who are alone?

Else, don’t you know the way you have come?

Apart from the portrayal of the infatuation of the damsel with Pravara’s peerless beauty, and the amazing sense of self-discipline of Pravara, who manages to propitiate the God of Fire and get back to his town, the pangs of separation suffered by the lady, the cheating by the gandharwa, who had fallen in love with the lady and was rejected, the story moves on to the birth of Swaroci, his growing up and becoming a king. But the memorable part relates to the hunting expedition, where the poet exhibits his personal knowledge of the details of hunting as well as the names of several animals and birds, which have been transferred into English.

The poet also shows remarkable ability in recording the various customs and rites, especially of the wedding, as, for example, in the presentation of the wedding of Swaroci and Manorama. As there are no equivalents in English for the terms referring to the rites of marriage and the materials, varieties of dress used during weddings, it is inevitable to transfer the terms from Telugu. In fact, the rites presented by Peddana are region and tie specific and do not necessarily relate to the time and region of the marriage described. They are mostly practiced in Andhra during Peddana’s time. The custom of receiving the bride groom by the bride’s party – especially, the father of the bride – is universal, but there are other region-specific rites like offering madhuparka, a drink of curds made from the milk of Kamadhenu (divine cow) or simply cow nowadays, honey and sugar; and holding the curtain between the bride and the bridegroom till the muhurtam are typical wedding practices of Andhra observed even today. The description of the raising of the curtain is evocatively presented by the poet:

As auspicious music was playing,

Elderly women raised the curtain slowly

And the bride Manorama appeared –

Hairdo first, then face, then throat and then bosom –

As though she were goddess Lakshmi rising

From the ocean of milk.

As for the terms related to marriage, terms like kanyadana, akshatalu, tala(m)bralu, tali and asirvacanam have been transferred into English. It is hoped that they lend optimum native color and feel to the translation.

As a modest translator, I strongly believe that there is really no perfect translation nor one perfect solution to the multiplicity of problems a translator has to face in his usually thankless and generally unrecognized job. He has only his passion to sustain him in his missionary activity with the unflinching hope that his tribe will increase and contribute substantially to the much needed “cultural synthesis” in the world ravaged by numerous fissiparous forces.

Works Consulted     

Basnett Susan et al (Ed), Translation Studies, 1988, London, Taylor and Francis

Catford JC, A Linguistic Theory of Translation, 1965, Oxford, OxfordUniversity Press

Hugo Victor, “Prologue to the Translation of Shakespeare’s Works,” quoted by Maria

Teresa Sanchez, “Domesticating the Theorists,” Translation Journal, Vol 11, No 1, (January 2007)

Gokak VK, ‘Introduction,’ The Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry, 1978, New Delhi, Central Sahitya Akademi  

Kelly Louis G, The True Interpreter: A History of Translation Theory and Practice in the West, 1979, Oxford, Basil Blackwell

Narasimhaiah CD, The Problems of Translation, 1957, Mysore, Dhvanyaloka

Newmark Peter, Approaches to Translation, 1995, Hemel Hampstead, Phoenix ELT

Nida Eugene A and Charles R. Taber, The Theory and Practice of Translation, 1974,

Leden, EJ Brill

Patanjali KYM, Impish Chronicles and Doggish Dabbler, 2009, Spearhead

Communications, Hyderabad

Prabhakar Rao S S, Golden Bouquet, 2008, Delhi, Authorspress

—                           Man of the Soil, 2009, under print, to be published by Potti SriramuluTeluguUniversity, Hyderabad

—-  Manu Caritra, 2009, being published by C P Brown Academy,

Alpha Foundation, Hyderabad

Ramanujan A K, ‘Translator’s Note,’ Speaking of Siva, 1973, Baltimore, Penguin Books

Robinson Douglas, Western Theory of Translation, 1997, Manchester, St Jerome Publishing   

Tytler Alexander Fraser, Essay on the Principles of Translation, 1791, included in Douglas Robinson’s work cited

Venuti Lawrence, The Translator’s Invisibility, 1995, London, Routledge

Viswanatham K, Essays in Criticism & Comparative Poetics, 1977, Visakhapatnam, AndhraUniversity Press


(Reprinted, with author’s permission, from ICFAI Journal, Hyderabad, and published on, December 2009)

* S S Prabhakar Rao is a Faculty Member, Academic Wing, Icfai University, Hyderabad -500 082; Email:

Playing Kabaddi by Viplav

Seenu woke me up early in the morning, ruining my sleep. When we live in a dormitory it is not easy to enjoy a good long sleep on Sundays. I asked him, “Why so early?” He said, “Get up, quick. We have to finish tiffin and go to the college. How long are you going to lay down like this. Have you already forgotten what we decided yesterday?”

 It flashed in my mind right away that we have inter-collegiate kabaddi tournament today. Also, the Warangal and Nalgonda college teams play today. I come from Nalgonda. During my school days, we used to play as if the game was born there in Nalgonda. When my uncles played, I used to tag along to watch the game. All the four of my uncles played on one side and crushed the party to ground. Wherever they went, they always were the winners. One of them played even on the State team. I think they did not win that time, I never heard of anybody ever mentioning it. Two other uncles cut short their college education and went back to our village to help my father in farming. But they didn’t sit at home doing nothing. They used to gather other children and showed them the crucial points in the kabaddi game. If my mother had not taken care, probably they would have taken me also to task, made me play until my kneecaps came off. They would have made me think of nothing but kabaddi.

Thanks to my mother, I was admitted in the eight grade in a town where there was no such thing as kabaddi. She also arranged extra classes for me, to be tutored on a regular basis, and made sure that I was focussed on nothing but education. That is the reason I was able to get admission in the  engineering courses in Warangal college two years back. Warangal dialect seeped through but the Nalgonda waters are still there. The love of childhood days will not go away ever. Therefore when I heard that Nalgonda team came, Seenu and I went watch yesterday. Oh, I forgot to mention that Seenu also belonged to our Nalgonda. They were practicing on our college grounds in the evening time. We knew them all personally. We loved it when other students talk, would say that all others are scared of Nalgonda team. We threw up our heads in pride, told each other, “Well, what do you know? That’s our team,” and went to their coach while the team was practicing in their tee-shirts. His name is Ramireddy.

I told the coach, Ramireddy, my uncle’s name—the one who played on the State team. He looked at me, head to foot, and said, “Is that right? I also played on the same team during our high school days. What’s he doing now?” and he asked a few more questions.

Then he added that, “Here, we have another Ramireddy in our present team,” he called out Sandip Reddy, a tall, hefty man and introduced him to us. One look at him and we know it takes 3 or 4 persons to catch him. Besides, Warangal team is not all that good this time. Our team could easily take them in the game the next day, I said, repeating what I heard earlier from others. Sandip looked into my face straight and said, “We will show them one more time what it means to play with Nalgonda team. Come tomorrow to watch.” I replied, “Certainly,” and left.

At night we were up late chatting with friends. The next day, I asked Seenu to wait for a few minutes, finished freshening up quickly, ate idli and rushed to the playground. I don’t know anybody in the Warangal team. Some of my classmates told me that this time our college would set a new record in losing the game to the Nalgonda team. My classmates are unaware about my soft corner for Nalgonda team. I pretended not to care, told them that just playing is important and not winning. Seenu heard me and chuckled. He said that everybody knows that we are from Nalgonda and that we want Nalgonda to win. I kept quiet.

The game started at 10. According to the rules set by kabaddi federation, there should be seven members on each side. If one member on one side was out, the second team could get back to play one member from those who were out. There are other rules also. The umpire asked the teams if they all understood the rules.

The teams members nodded and took their places on the ground, getting ready to play. After twenty minutes, they had a five-minute break, switched sides and started playing. Since Warangal won the toss, they sent one of them to the other side. He kept repeating kabaddi, kabaddi and the Nalgonda team caught him right away. Our team did not make it a strategy of it. They felt that if they make a high level strategic plan, other team might lose their faith in them. Seenu explained that to me in a whisper. I wanted to whistle but since my classmates, Warangal fans, were sitting next to me, I made no noise.

Sandip entered the field hollering kabaddi, kabaddi like a blast of wind. Four of the Warangal members were counted out. Within two minutes, the entire Warangal team looked like it was in a bad shape.

They get two bonus points if all the members were counted out. We will know in ten minutes who would win. Nalgonda scored 10 points and Warangal 3.

By interval time, the Warangal team looked wiped out but did not accept defeat. They continued to play heroically. They kept entering the other side, one after another, cooing the phrase even though they were aware that they would be caught. Not of them who went to the other field returned. The remaining half were intent on catching Sandip and prove their mettle.

Five minutes to go. Nobody is interested in the score any more. Our college fell 35 points behind.

Nalgonda team members were playing champions. Warangal team got together and jumped on Sandip. Finally they managed to send him out. There was no end to their joy, although they knew that he would be back in the game in a couple of minutes. They acted like they blasted a mountain.

As expected Sandip came back into the game and there was a bumper crop of points. If at all, this time he was provoked and so burst into action and started raking points like never before.

Even as we watched, the difference in points rose to 50. The faces of the Warangal team faded, they looked as if they were playing for several days and kept playing out of necessity.

One more minute to go. Sandip went again cooing kabaddi, kabaddi. Within a blink of an eye, he kicked one of them off the line, pushed away two others with his hands, and three more with his body. The remaining one member saw Sandip attacking him like a devil, and he stepped out himself. Sandip walked towards the center line with a smile, like a hero, taunted the Warangal team with his looks,  joined the Nalgonda team who were calling out his name.

The game was over.

Umpire announced that the Nalgonda team won. Seenu and I went to tell the coach that we will meet him later.

Sandip came towards us, wiping his face with towel. “Did you see what I did? I am sure they’re scared even to play with us again.

I looked into Sandip’s face and kicked on his legs with all my might. I said, “Your valor is not in beating up a dead snake. The other player is also a player like you. He was aware that he would lose and yet played the game to the end. Learn to respect him for that.”

Then I walked towards my dorm shouting, “Warangal, jindabad.” I don’t know where Seenu went.


(Telugu original, “Kabaddi” was published in, translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, September 2003.)




R. Vasundhara Devi

Shadows by R. Vasundhara Devi.

There was only one scene visible all around – a hardened expanse of red soil.  Some red mounds and hills lay scattered here and there.  A small signboard next to one of the hills said “DOKKA  SEETHAMMA’S  SHELTER” in rounded white letters.

Along the slopes of that hill, several people hung around, playfully. Their sport was tearing up each other and chewing the body parts. One man was running around actively; he was of thin build  and wore dark blue pants and a blue shirt. He was laughing with his mouth wide open and for no perceptible reason. As he laughed, his strong set of teeth and his red gums enveloped half his dark, long face. Still laughing, he broke off the left hand of the man standing to his left and started chewing on it. At the same time, his right hand plucked off the entrails of the man on his right. He moved around briskly and preyed on everybody around him. His movements were precise. There was no fumbling, no flaw. He got whatever he reached for.

A few feet away from this ghastly crowd, a baby girl sat on a stool, looking like a sandalwood statuette. She had a radiant face and a sparkling glow emanated from her. Her large dark eyes followed their movements with an innocent look. Suddenly, some of the group noticed her and trotted over toward her, jovially. The dark man was leading them. He was almost there; he could extend his arm and reach her. His arm shot out…

Nirmala woke up and sat up on the bed. Her heart was beating rapidly. She was terrified of getting caught by him. It took ten minutes for her to realize that all this was just a dream. She had a strong feeling that she was the baby in her dream, and was greatly alarmed. In a world, where selfish people were chewing up others, Nirmala was that little child.

Based on the features of the dark man in her dream, she had no doubt that he was the very same Bhaskaram that ran errands for her. He worked as a janitor in her husband’s office. He had been doing a good job, no matter what kind of work was assigned to him. Since he was terminated from several of his previous employments in the past, he was afraid that he might lose this job as well and for that reason he was being cautious all times. That was the reason he was assigned to work at Nirmala’s house. In general, there were not many who could finish a chore to her satisfaction. Bhaskaram finished each job thoroughly, meticulously, patiently, and neatly. Nirmala was impressed with his work but she could not bring herself to like him.

Bhaskaram came from that ethnic group who had suffered patiently all the hardships meted out to them out of communal prejudices, and continued merely to exist. That’s how it had been for them for generations. Nirmala noticed that his undershirt looked like a rag thrown away after cleaning the grime off a greasy machine, and similarly revolting underpants while he did the yard-work. But he would put on a clean shirt and a not-so-objectionable pair of pants over them when he was “on duty”. He was twenty-five and already a father of three children. Although skinny, he did his job with great zeal. He listened attentively to people while they talked, but never expressed his opinion except for an occasional ‘yes’.  It was in his nature to be silent. He was skilled though in entering into the innermost recesses of the other person’s mind –as easily as water slithering under a mat. Since he had understood very well that the power that made any man act was the need born out of selfishness. Therefore he could identify their needs; he knew what pleased them and what annoyed them. Whenever he could, he would go and undertake odd jobs for ‘important’ people; sometimes because he was asked to and at other times on his own.

Every such acquaintance developed into something of value within a short period; he was showered with gifts that were useful for his living. Even Bhaskaram was never sure of what things he would receive, when he would get them, and from whom; things like used shirts, pants, children’s  clothes, left-over foods, last year’s pickles, sarees, and empty wooden crates came to him unasked. But these oddments could never match the labor he had put in, in an attempt to earn their goodwill. People stopped short of recognizing his ability to intuit their needs; they didn’t appreciate his concern for them.

When nobody else was home and Nirmala was taking her bath, he would sit in the yard on the other side of the bathroom wall coughing and clearing his throat and spitting it with a rude cackle. Nirmala would interpret the din as meant to assure her that he was sittingoutside and did not enter the house to steal things. When she was in the kitchen, dining room or bathroom, he poked into the sewer pipes connected to that particular room from the other side and scraped them with a grating noise. For Nirmala, his actions seemed to tell her, “I am doing this cleaning work unasked; you’d better make a note of it.”

Sometimes, when she was busy with something and turned around, she would find him standing right behind her with a smile on his face, as if eagerly waiting to help her, to please her and simply to exist in  a matter-of-fact way. On such occasions, Nirmala would be alarmed and shudder at this startling presence. His very silence would become a huge roar in her heart. She would get annoyed, angry, afraid and despondent. She would think without thinking: this subservience is a gimmick to hang on to his job and to serve his own ends. He would not hesitate to smash my head if he thought fit and he would have no compunctions if the world and me disappeared without a trace – I, me and my living, my living and me – that’s all there is to it. With such thoughts, her misgivings about Bhaskaram grew rapidly. True he lied at times, but everybody lies. He did not steal or do anything wrong. He never said ‘no’ to her command anytime. Yet Nirmala’s mistrust continued.

There was another reason for Nirmala to be apprehensive about Bhaskaram  – that was his shadow. Nirmala did not like any shadows for that matter. She was scared of them; she hated them. Shadows possessed a peculiar trait. They would sneak upon and into each other; diminish the value of things and blotch them; give us the impression that there was no concrete object that could be authenticated; the only verifiable object was the Sun existing at a great distance and making rest of the entire array of objects in this world—animate and inanimate—into a bunch of lies.

There was also another reason why Nirmala disliked shadows—the way she perceived them. When a person behind her walked towards her left, she would see the shadow moving towards her right; and when he moved to her left, the shadow moved to her right. Nirmala was not in the habit of seeing a person straight; she noticed only his shadow. When a servant went into the house and she would wonder about he might be doing inside, then she would turn around only to find him outside. Or, when she thought he was busy in the backyard, she would see the same person coming from inside the house. This confused her very much.

Bhaskaram’s shadow baffled her even more. Was he intentionally trying to confuse her? Did he have the habit of walking sideways like a crab? – many such thoughts had crowded her mind in the past. Not that she was an unjust person. She never liked suspecting people without proof and without questioning them first. She believed that all persons deserved respect, every person was entitled to self-esteem, and the entire world was divine.

“Our Nirmala is pure-hearted, befitting her name. She is literally nirmala – pure and untainted” her father said once in her childhood days. She would never forget those words. To her, her father equaled God.

In looks, Nirmala resembled her mother. A mother of two, short and burly, Nirmala looked like a bulb. She had a big head. But her eyes, nose and mouth were delicate, as if they did not belong to that big head. She was always in a rush, running around with an easy gait despite her size. Because of this agility, people mistook her for one under thirty, which was her real age. She wore expensive clothes but put them on rather carelessly and shabbily. Her resemblance to her mother stopped there.

Ever since her childhood, Nirmala had a low opinion of her mother. Her mother was not educated; she was not sophisticated; and she had no principles. Nothing in the world mattered to her except her family and their well-being. She did not have the sense to recognize others as human beings. Nirmala was convinced that her mother was coarse, that she behaved rudely, especially toward servants. She yelled at them constantly and found fault with their work. Anytime something was missing, she blamed them even without proof. There were times when the missing object was found in some corner in the house. Wouldn’t that mean that the person was blamed unwarrantedly! Even when the thing was really stolen, only one of the four servants questioned was the real thief; the other three were innocent. That was not right, not fair and it was even a great sin to disgrace people in that manner for no fault of theirs. Nirmala did not appreciate hurting people for small losses. Why in the world one stupid little thing is valued higher than a human being’s self-respect, she would wonder. In such situations she would attack her mother; and her father would support Nirmala. That kind of honesty, principles of social justice, and higher values strengthened the father-daughter relationship between them.

If God came to her and asked her, “This is your final moment. So, decide what you want to be in your next life?” she would have given the same answer, whether it is right away or after thinking it over for one long year. She would have said, “God, let me be born as nirmala, with a pure heart and an untainted existence.”

But Nirmala was confronted with tribulations after she got married and assumed family responsibilities. It was getting harder for her to live according to her principles. What should she do when a thing disappeared from her house? Unlike the stuff at her parent’s home, all the things she possessed were very valuable. There was not a single thing about which she could say it’s gone, so be it. She did not like suspecting somebody without proof either. At the same time, she could not let go of things either. Unable to figure out how to proceed, she developed a habit of not ‘seeing’ the problem. She could ignore things she did not ‘see’!

With this disavowal, a second profile started taking shape in her mind. That second self noticed things that Nirmala would rather not ‘see’. She told herself that she had nothing to do with that second self. But this caused problems for her. Things showed up like shadows in her mind; they were neither real nor unreal.

A stainless steel mug disappeared from the bathroom the day before. There was no clue as to how it happened or who might have taken it.  A shadow crept up in her mind; it was the incident that happened the day before. As she was passing by the bathroom, Nirmala had noticed the new servant-maid, Chandra, hanging around there. The maid saw Nirmala; she cringed, quickly picked up a bucket, and started cleaning the gutters. Nirmala did not ask herself this is not her usual cleaning time; why is she here now? She did not ask the maid; she walked away without ‘seeing’ it. Therefore she could not recall for sure that Chandra was there at that time. It was a phantom shadow of a memory. Did she see Chandra there at the time? No, she was not sure. So, what happened to the mug? Did Chandra take it? Or, was it Bhaskaram? She has realized that the mug was missing but she did not question anybody yet. Whom could she ask? Everything was so hazy.

Nirmala fretted over the mug for a long time the night before. While she was in her natal home, she was never worried about such things, not things like steel mugs. But Nirmala got this steel mug because she wanted it!  She had given a street-vendor two gold-threaded silk sarees, almost new, in exchange for that mug. If she were to buy the same kind of sarees again, it would cost her god knows how much! Not only that. What if tomorrow a bucket disappeared the same way as the mug was lost today, a few more dishes the following day, and then jewelry…Nirmala saw this idea of people’s nature to steal mushroom to a point that would swallow her up totally. Probably that thought lay behind her dream, she reasoned with herself.

Nirmala’s father-in-law came for a brief visit. Even as she hurried to finish the extra chores, she came to a decision – she must settle the mug business one way or the other soon. Chandra and Bhaskaram sat quietly chatting in the yard. She went up to them and said curtly, “A steel mug is missing from the bathroom. Nobody goes there except you two. Between the two of you, you decide who’d taken it, and bring it back.”

“I know nothing about that mug” Chandra blurted out right away.

Bhaskaram stood up silently. Chandra said she was done for the day and left. Bhaskaram who had been standing there lost in thought, suddenly said, “Saar’s shirt is hung outside. Please ask him to check if any money was stolen.”

A sum of fifty rupees was missing!

“I‘ll go and get Chandra”, said Bhaskaram and ran out in a hurry.

With several things disappearing from her home, Nirmala lost her equanimity.

Chandra was already halfway to her house, but he brought her back.

“How would I know anything about your money!” Chandra protested vehemently. She went to a corner, loosened her clothes, and shook them off to prove her point. Could she have hidden the money in her bushy hair? The thought crossed Nirmala’s mind, but she could not demand, “Undo your hair and let’s see.” She watched helplessly as Chandra left, still entertaining her suspicions just the same.

Within five minutes, Bhaskaram returned with five ten-rupee bills, neatly folded, and handed them to Nirmala. He said he had noticed that Chandra had gone behind a tree briefly on their way back to the house. While she was disrobing and proving her innocence, he went to check behind the tree and found the stash. “Honest people like me lose our jobs because of crooks like you” he had told Chandra, spat on her face, and returned, Bhaskaram informed Nirmala pompously.

Chandra returned with a group of her relatives within fifteen minutes and said, “I am not the only one working here. How would I know about your mugs and money? Who knows who took them? I don’t want to work for you any more.”

Bhaskaram stood there quiet, watchful.

Nirmala was upset. Is this the same man who had called her a crook and spat on her face earlier?

Bhaskaram went and stood at the back of the house. Chandra followed him, conferred with him in a low tone, and waited there.

Bhaskaram returned and said, “She came only for her wages, madam.”

Nirmala called in Chandra, paid her up and sent her away.

Nirmala was puzzled. She could not make sense of the incident. What could have transpired between Bhaskaram and Chandra? Why did Bhaskaram ask her to pay off Chandra? If he were really an honest person, why would he confer with a thief behind my back? How is it possible for the good and the bad to commingle! Her suspicions of him, and the feeling that he was somehow behind the entire incident grew stronger.

Now the second self in her mind raised an even more disturbing suspicion: how did he know that the money in the shirt pocket was missing?

Although there is no proof, he too must be a thief; Or, a partner in crime at the least!

It takes a thief to catch another thief.

Even if he had not committed the crime, he possesses the same mean quality for sure. That’s why he could catch her. …

The second self from within continues questioning on these lines.

Then, Nirmala was beset with another frightening question. It has been proved that Chandra had committed this theft and not Bhaskaram. Then, the question is, how did she herself suspect that it was in Bhaskaram’s nature to steal? What made her suspect him?

This new line of inquiry troubled her a great deal. She tried to calm herself by thinking, why should I compare myself with that low life? Why should I bother so much about a stupid steel mug?

Where do these thoughts come from?

Where is the origin for these shadows that plague the mind?

Is it not possible for a person living in this world to stay pure?

What is the relationship between man and the world?

What makes the inconsequential things important?

What is the meaning of  nirmala ?

Nirmala was unable to find the right answers for such questions. She struggled to find the point of her whereabouts in the intricate web of existence and gave up.


(The Telugu original needalu has been translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, October 2010. A modified version of it has been published on

The Telugu original is included in the anthology R. Vasundhara Devi kathalu.)

A Primeval Song by G. R. Maharshi.

Once upon a time, there was a forest. In it, tall trees fanning the sky, brooks with music dearly hidden in their hearts, waterfalls eternally calling out to an unknown lover, birds drawing pictures with their colourful wings, flowers eavesdropping on the murmurings of the wind, and a variety of animals wandering fearlessly.

In that forest, on a rainy day .…

A lightning split the sky and illuminated the entire forest. Clouds thundered with a deafening noise. Rain drops launched an attack like an invading army—they fell on dry leaves and splintered. The wind cried hoarsely. And the entire forest shivered in rain and thunder. In such a terrifying atmosphere, under a tree …

A monkey was in labour. Drenched in rain and tears, it moaned piteously. It struggled to bring out the little one which it had sheltered in her womb all these days. It gathered all her energy into the heart, gored the tree trunk in mad pain and let out a loud cry. The baby finally touched the earth. The relieved mother closed its eyes with a strange pleasure, and a familiar pain.

The rain while receding gradually, threw a lightning on the earth. In that light, the mother looked at the little lump of life that had come out of herself. She hugged the baby tightly, licked the blood, and fastened him to her stomach. The baby, even without opening his eyes, clung to the mother and sucked milk till his tummy was full. Then, both the mother and the baby slept a deep, sound sleep.

The mother opened her eyes to the bird’s chirping and realised that it was dawn. The little one too opened its eyes and saw his mother for the first time. Their eyes met in a loving embrace.

Baby Monkey asked his mother, “Mother, who am I, and where did I come from?” Mother was a little surprised. But she was also happy to hear her child’s first words.

“We are all monkeys, my dear, and I am your mother.” She started to climb the tree with the baby holding on to her.

“Why does this world look slanted, Mother”, asked the baby again.

Mother looked at the child suspiciously, wondering whether he was affected by some evil spirit. Immediately, she took him to a saint, Saint Monkey Baba.

He was sitting on the tallest branch of a tree contemplating the ups and downs of the world. He welcomed them and caressed the little one affectionately.

Mother briefed Baba about her child’s queries.

He took the baby into his hands and kissed him fondly and said, “If he has asked such questions at this tender age, then there is every danger of him becoming a great man.”

“Is it wrong to ask questions?” asked Baby Monkey.

“Nothing is more profitable in this world than keeping your mouth shut. That’s the only reason why everyone respects me. This world has always remained the same. It looked slanted to you, but to me it often appeared to be upside down. But did I ask anybody why is it so? ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ are foolish questions. Logic only makes the tongue sharp; it doesn’t add anything to your knowledge. The forest is full of juicy, tasty fruits. Go, savour them. You will realise that there is no greater pleasure than eating.” Monkey Baba slipped back into his contemplation.

The mother and child took leave of him.

As the little monkey grew up, he had more and more questions about the world.

He never played with friends. Never went to school. He preferred to

be a loner. Everything looked novel to him—trees, leaves, fruits, rain, heat and snow. To discover at least one Truth became his quest in life.

One day, a newspaper came flying into the forest and the kid monkey got hold of it. Holding it under his arm, he took it to Monkey Baba. “Baba, I have a doubt.”

“Be brief”, said Baba.

“It is said in this paper that man has evolved from monkey. Is it true?”

“Everybody writes according to what they know. We don’t have to believe everything.”

“But I want to find out the truth myself.”

“What do you intent to do?”

“I want to go to the human beings.”

“It is foolish to think of learning everything by one’s own experience. You don’t know, men are really wicked.” Baba advised the monkey.

“Bless my venture, I’m going.”

“Alright. Can a seeker’s path be blocked with a tail?” Baba looked at him with pity.

Baby Monkey set out on his journey. Mother bid him farewell with tear-filled eyes. “Don’t forget that I will be eagerly awaiting your return,” said the mother, hugging him affectionately.

As soon as the baby monkey stepped into the human arena, a noose fell around his neck. A man appeared from nowhere and said, “I am your master. Do a cartwheel like a cat.”  He also hit him with a stick.

Baby Monkey was baffled. “Sir, I’m a monkey, how can I perform like a cat?”

“Then show some monkey tricks.” This time he hit it only twice. To escape those blows, the monkey jumped up and down.

The dragged the monkey through the streets, and exhibiting the monkey’s tricks, he made some quick money. After reaching home, he gave it some food, had his own dinner and went to sleep. The monkey tried to escape but in vain. Next morning, he again paraded the monkey in the streets, coaxed it to perform its tricks, and also taught it some new ones. He used to give the monkey just enough food for him to survive, but regularly gave him four blows with the stick.

“Why do you hit me? Am I not a living being like you? Isn’t pain the same to everyone?” asked the monkey.

“This world understands only one language—the language of the stick. I have learnt this by experience. But listening to you, I think you do deserve some mercy.” He gave the monkey only two blows.

After a few days, the monkey’s tricks stopped fetching the master any money. When men themselves have taken to monkey tricks to survive, who will care for the real monkey? The master felt dejected. He reduced the quantity of food for the monkey and increased the quota of blows.

One day, the master could not earn a single paisa, even after parading the money in several streets. He pondered over the situation. “It’s no use, humour is no longer working with the people. It’s time to invoke their pity,” he told the monkey.

The monkey looked at him with suspicion.

“Dear friend, this is a sin-filled world. We have to look at it because we have eyes. I am bearing the burden because I have eyes. But is it necessary for you too?”

The monkey looked at him uncomprehendingly.

“Try to understand. It is much better to live with blindness than to die of starvation. People are kind-hearted. They will dole out charity generously when they see a blind monkey. Don’t worry, I will take out your eyes painlessly,” the master announced stoically.

The monkey looked at him with disgust.

“Are you really human?” asked the monkey.

“I hit upon such ideas only because I am human. You are an animal, did you ever think on those lines?”

Suddenly, there was a big blast. People ran helter-skelter. Cries of anguish were heard everywhere.

The master panicked and told the monkey, “Friend, I’m giving you an opportunity to see the world. Good bye.” He ran away leaving the monkey to his fate.

Monkey didn’t know which way to run.

People were running in every possible direction. Children who could not flee were getting crushed in the stampede. The stench of petrol, of burnt human flesh filled the air. Mothers wailing, hugging children to their bosoms, running, tripping and getting torched. Mad cries everywhere.

A few people surrounded the monkey.

“Who are you? Hindu or Muslim?”

Monkey wondered at the question. “I’m a monkey” he replied tremblingly.

“That does not matter,” several sticks went up in air.

To escape the blows on the head, he did his practiced cartwheel. A strong blow fell on one of his legs and broke the bone.

The monkey thought of his mother in the forest briefly, and then went blank.

* * *

Baby Monkey opened his eyes, amongst smells of medicines and wounds.

Infants and children wailed with pain. A two year old kid was crying for her mother with a bandage on her forehead.

Monkey’s head was heavy. One of his leg was bandaged. The entire body was aching.

A nurse appeared on the scene and said, “You are lucky to survive, but …”

Monkey looked at her without any emotions.

“You cannot walk on your two feet.”

Looking at his broken leg, money burst into tears.

After a few days, Monkey got a support stick to walk and they told him to leave the place.

“To where?” he asked.

“You are free to live any way you like.”

A sad smile flashed on Monkey’s face.

In the meantime, a man appeared from nowhere, and said, “I’m an owner of a circus company. Come, I will take you with me,” and he took the limping monkey with him.

“Sir, what is my role in your circus?” monkey asked him.

“Entertaining the public.”

“Can I weep if I am in pain?”

“You are free to cry, but silently.”

Monkey was caged in the circus along with other animals. He asked the animals from where they have come.

“From where ?! We are born and brought up here,” they said.

“Do you feel good to be here?”

“Why not? We daily get a few pieces of meat everyday! Where are you from?”

“Oh, it’s a wonderful world! Trees, birds, brooks, sunrise …. You people can’t even imagine!” Monkey recollected his broken dream.

“But who will give you meat?” they asked.

Monkey’s feat on one foot attracted a big crowd initially. But after a few days, people stopped clapping. The Master too stopped feeding the monkey twice. He went to bed on an empty stomach.

One day, the Master let the monkey out of the cage and told his assistant, “Nobody is enamoured about monkey tricks. Teach him to play the flute.”

Monkey got a flute and he did not know what to do with it. He was whipped mercilessly and the doleful music flew through the holes in the flute. Nobody realized this except the monkey that the song was nothing but his tears.

This poignant music from the monkey’s flute was a new attraction to the circus. As the life became unbearable, the flute acquired new tunes as mother’s lullaby, wind chimes of forest, sad song of the water falls.

Monkey started searching for his broken life in his songs.

There was no rest, no working hours in the circus. They used to wake him up from deep sleep and drag him on to the stage.

Time moved on and monkey was taken to many places. Circus company moved from place to place and once they happened to camp in a forest.

The forest breeze evoked many memories in him. This was his mother land ! The smell of the earth touched his basic instincts. He wanted to cry loudly and shout at the top of his voice. He tugged at the rope which bound him to the cage with all his might and ran into the heart of the forest. He ran dragging his feet, puffing and panting, ignoring the wounds on the body. He was sweating, bleeding and weeping but continued to run towards the forest.

It was his forest, his own ! The smell of earth caressed him affectionately. He kissed the earth again and again. It was his own native land, no man’s land.

All monkeys looked at this monkey who walked dragging his feet in bewilderment. But his mother identified him first, even from a distance. Looking at the state of her child, she felt gloomy. Her eyes, covered with a film of tears, could not see clearly. She came running and hugged her son, whom she had given up as lost. She sobbed in fits touching his lame feet. Caressing all over, she licked his wounds.

Mother’s heart melted into a sad river and the monkey had a soulful dip in it.

It was difficult for the monkey to put the tragedy into words. He wiped his mother’s tears with the tip of his finger. He walked straight to the Saint Baba and shouted loudly..


Baba jumped from the tree and embraced the monkey and looked at his crooked, broken leg.

“There is no better teacher than experience,” he mumbled.

“Baba, I have found a truth” said the monkey.

“Yes, I can see at what cost,” he said affectionately caressing Monkey’s leg.

Monkey composed his thoughts and spoke in a profound tone. “Baba, if evolution is to grow from low level to heights, it is wrong to assume that mean men have evolved from noble monkeys. It is a fact that monkeys are born from men. Every person who has a quest for truth should pay a price for it, including myself.” A big tear fell on his hairy leg and disappeared.

Monkey dragged his feet and went into the forest silently, After a while, the entire forest was filled with music from the flute.

That music sounded as if he is questioning all men on the earth, about evolution.


(Translator’s Note:

I was impressed for its novel theme with a humane monkey as a protogonist and his encounter with men who act, ironically, worse than beasts. His quest for truth to find who is better evolved monkey or man, his trials and tribulations, man’s prejudices toward caste and religion are highlighted remarkably in this deceptively simple story. The original in Telugu is filled with  Telugu idioms and poetic expressions sumptuously and gave me a tough time while translating. The smell of forest, the primordial consciousness of the monkey, the way people attack him and the question whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim and lastly the tearful flow of music thro the flute are the highlights of the narration.  –Bhargavi Rao.)

* * *

(The Telugu original, “Puraganam” was published in Andhra Jyoti Sunday Supplement, 22 December 2002. Translated by Dr. Bhargavi Rao and published on, June 2003.)



Dharma Chakram by Viswanatha Satyanarayana: A Review by Santwana Chimalamarri.

Dharma Chakram, the confessional biography of an iconoclast. I would call myself a novice in the realm of Vishwanatha’s literature, being only around ten novels old. Most of the ones I read belong to Purana Vaira Granthamala, the ones that left my modern fantasy soaked mind astounded with their magical warp and weft. I was struck by the pride of nationalism afresh, and I found myself jabbering frenetically to the few heeding friends about the real history of Hindustan, not without a lump held back in the throat at times, when talking of how 1300 years of golden history was strategically nullified.

But Dharma Chakram was different. Could be called the most complex work I ever read by far. The Wheel of Righteousness, how it turns, what makes it turn and how it is bound to turn perpetually in time is the nexus of the story. What is right, what is not? What if it feels right to you? Would it mean it has to be right to all? Is the righteousness relative? If evil is relative, can good be relative too? Or is it the absolute, unchanging truth? These and a motley mass of other contrasting questions break in as I finish the book.

The book predominantly is an account of the period in history that witnessed the momentous clash of ideologies between Hinduism and Buddhism. Or perhaps it focuses upon a few out of several reasons that led to its advent and establishment, displacing the long formed Hindu ideals. That is the outer shell to the reader. But the kernel, that only becomes evident after dismantling the layers of philosophy that garbs this work, is the story of an individual’s struggle with rejection and a compelling account of how a rejected individual sends currents of dysfunction into the society, especially when he holds a strong position in hierarchy.

The book begins with a chilly description of how VeeraPurusha Datta, a boy baby of dubious origins is made the royal heir of the Iskhwaku dynasty, ruling the kingdom of Andhra, on one clandestine moonless night. He is accepted by a few and doubted by others, but welcomed by all as the much awaited male heir of the kingdom. He grows up to hear the half true stories that engulf his past, doubts himself at times, but being of an adamant nature, he learns to assert himself, taking cues from his aunt Shantishree. He has all the virtues and valor that becomes of a king, but none would illuminate the dark shadow of dubious past that lay beneath these. He vanquishes the king of a distant kingdom and wins his daughter, Bhatti Devi as his wife by force. Bhatti Devi, a divine beauty, is described as the one to match VeeraPurusha in all his vigour and effulgence. He begins to love her obsessively, though she would never warm up to him. He never asks her what the reason was, he only goes on assuming that it concerns with the tiny sliver of public opinion about him being a non-Kshatriya. The acceptance he desires from the object of his admiration turns unachievable to him. The indifference begins to puncture his soul. He begins to tumble down the stairs of righteousness, by marrying several times, including his aunt’s daughters, may be wanting to assert himself as always before, or to secretly and unspokenly, beseech Bhatti to cast a glance of compassion at him. He gets all the respect from Bhatti Devi, but he can’t help himself from sensing the coldness in it. He begets two children through her, but the coldness remains. One day, he discerns an aura of peace in the house of Shantishree, his other wife and cousin and begins to go in search of the starting point of the peace. Shantishree introduces him to the Buddhist priest Bhadantacharya, who tries to enlighten him through his philosophical and logical discourses. Vishwanatha dares to point an arrow of criticism towards the Ikshwaku dynasty by saying that the people of dynasty are more concerned about the public opinion rather than their own, citing King Rama estranging the pregnant Seetadevi, caring for a meagre washerman’s words. (I somehow felt that the discourse has a little of Shri. Vishwanatha’s opinion in it, which would justify the non-existence of Uttarakandamin the Ramayana Kalpavruksham series, but It is just a fleeting opinion, I stand to be enlightened). He urges VeeraPurusha not to care the public opinion and his origin does not matter, he urges him to become a Buddhist believer and start his spiritual pursuit to eliminate all his doubts.

VeeraPurusha, instead of accepting himself, tries to make the people accept him. He then begins to feel the ire against the Hindu ideals that have long been extant in the country, the caste system and vedic traditions, considering them as the reason for his non acceptance by the society. Instead of finding peace, he begins to feel his discontentment rise, inflame and take a form. He decides to sacrifice all the vedic rituals, he starts forcing his citizens to be Buddhists, massacres Brahmins who reject to convert all around the kingdom.

Rejection from loved ones always leads to a simmering, unpredictable wrath within the individual. It may burn himself slowly, devouring his soul to ashes, or as in this case, get magnified to an uncontrollable level, sabotaging the surrounding equilibrium indiscreetly. The feelings and reactions are not confined to that century but have travelled down, as examples to human intricacies, arousing the question again and again as to why a righteous person would seem wrong to another.

The kingdom becomes a huge Buddhist establishment as time passes on, and Chaityas and Viharas are built everywhere. Monks begin to visit the kingdom from all the four corners of the world. Vishwanatha points out the virtues of such global spirit, by stating that the monasteries housed great universities where multifarious arts and sciences were taught. But as always, he never gives blanket coverage to anything. He cleverly introduces the questions of Dharma there. He gently starts to ignite the reader’s psyche regarding the futility of the nihilistic theory of Buddhism. As an intelligently conceived archetype, he illustrates Kodabalisri,the daughter of VeeraPurusha and Bhatti. She is portrayed as the real embodiment of all the nihilistic ideals. She is a woman who doesn’t know that she is one. Or who doesn’t care if she is one. She has very limited tasks on her regime, seeking alms like a Buddhist monk for feeding herself and defending herself from adversaries. The portrayal is a perfect symbolism of what nihilism in its most primary form does to a human being. If there exists nothing, there exists not even hope. There is no hope to learn, to live, to marry or to procreate. People would regress to Stone Age, only bereft of the enthusiasm to discover better ways of life, which would make the entire universe a black hole in due course. The very character emphasizes the hollowness of the ideal and hints at the direness of consequences.

Vishwanatha also criticizes the hierarchy, as subordinates follow superiors with no further thought. All the officials become Hindu haters in a sheepish fashion and they begin to guard the new ideals with no idea of what they are doing. Some use it to their own convenience to torture people they had hated for long while some take it as a license to kill and feed their blood thirst. These references too, are not limited to the ancient society, but their venomous tendrils have the world under their grip whichever timeframe you would consider.

VeeraPurusha reaches the peaks of intolerance and ignorance, when he denigrates a Shiva Lingam with his feet on the auspicious Karteeka Pournami[i] night. Vishwantha’s undisputed literary genius gleams bright through the passages in this part when he describes that the silver moon appeared to be tarnished after the incident. There are several sentences that rasp like sharpened blades, stab bluntly at times, or spiral in and out of head. I wish new readers would discover those by themselves so I recede from mentioning references.

VeeraPurusha races in a direction exactly opposite to what he seeks in doing all this. He never finds peace, never gains acceptance all through this ordeal. The realization dawns upon him only after the introduction of a pivotal character in the story. How the story turns thereafter would be best if read, but expect a thrilling penultimate chapter that whets your thinking  power and a climax that reiterates Vishwanatha’s unflinching belief in the vedic marital rites in undertones.

When the heat dies down, when the blood in veins slows down, when debility’s talons begin to grip the muscles, a man cannot help but repent his youth, whether it was well spent. When nearing the corporeal oblivion, contemplation perches upon him, of the ill balanced sins and virtues. Few are lucky enough to be free of repentance at that stage. From my limited sphere of knowledge and even limited list of literature I love, that part of the book kindled a thought to draw a parallelism between Veera Purusha to another negative protagonist that I could never get out of my head, Heathcliff.  Both were victims of social non-acceptance due to their nebulous origins. Their obsession, their monomaniac passion, their belligerence, their heights of self-abhorrence that makes them hate everything that is theirs, even their offspring, using them as weapons to vanquish their objects of desire and their repentance unto the end and realization that they are nowhere near what they desire.. The similitude clarifies something to us. People like VeeraPurusha or Heathcliff are not a rarity. But they have that shattering impact only when they begin to rise above others in terms of money or power. Conceiving such characters and spinning the story around them is for sure a daunting task, which might become an overdose of negativity without the exercise of caution. But Viswanatha excels in sculpting out the plot to such finesse, where he evokes not just the feelings of apprehension and repulsion, but a tinge of compassion within those.


© Santwana Chimalamarri.

This article has been published on and reprinted here courtesy of

[i] Full moon in the month of Karteeka (8th month in lunar calendar)

Coral Chain by Achanta Saradadevi

It was getting dark. Far away, the sun between two hills looked like a blood red sphere; the heat was gone.


(Copyright artist: Rambabu Arle)

The shades of lavishly floating clouds resembled leaves, flowers and small hills, and the sun a crimson ball in their midst. The view was like a reflection of nature in a ruby red mirror.

Vasanti washed her hair and went on to the terrace. She let her wet hair down to dry and sat on the brink of the parapet wall. She was watching the gorgeous sunset. Each time the locks on her forehead were moved by the breeze, a whiff of fine aroma spread around from the sambrani smoke she had given to her hair earlier. From her snowy-white neck, a chain of big corals, which she had inherited from her mother, was hanging gently but heavily. In the glow of those corals, her creamy cheeks seemed to quiver shyly. The entire composition—the red saree, the corals around her neck, the red kumkum on her forehead, and the henna on her fingers, which were like jasmine buds—seemed to compete with the evening glow and was immersed in it.

Vasanti had never been that excited as that evening. What a soothing day … what a beautiful evening … It was mesmerizing. In the next moment, a stray thought came over … she was lost in it.

She left this place eight years back. She had spent all her childhood here. So many memories in this town, in this house, each step of the way … All those emotions she had experienced in her childhood—the grief, the hopes, the disappointments, happiness, pleasures, the anxiety and the tears—they all came back and beset her like shadows from a distant past. They all—the pogada flowers she had gathered, the swing she had ridden under the banyan tree, the games she had played in the stairwell in the moonlight—they all started coming back like a series of episodes. Each minute, a new incident kept jumping up in her mind.


In the wee small hours of dawn, she was riding in the bullock-cart. The jingle bells from the bull’s neck were mesmerizing; she dozed off. It was like in a dream; she could visualize each episode from the far-off past: As she was going to Kesari’s wedding on a bullock-cart, and her dotted silk skirt shivered as the breeze blew gently, Pankajam laughing; she [Vasanti] feeling hungry and sleepy, and yawning; Malathi and herself scuffling for a red rose after the cart had stopped at the gate. … so many memories …

Several changes had taken place in her life in the past eight years. Her life had attained fullness after several stops, one after another. She studied in Kalkotta and received her B.A. degree in first class. Her father was elated that she came first in the university and threw a big party. After that, her marriage was performed with the son of the district health officer. The groom’s family did not ask for dowry. Yet father spent money lavishly and performed the wedding on a grand scale. Her husband was fortunate, he landed a job in Lucknow soon after their wedding, and she moved to her in-law’s home at the same time. Within a year, they were blessed with a baby girl. Her husband was promoted to a higher position. She was not short for anything, either financially or otherwise. There was no reason to complain about. Proverbially her husband put her on a bed of flowers and worshipped her; he never opposed her in any matter. She was very fortunate to have such a blissful life. That’s what everybody thought.

Yet, trivial memories had been popping up sporadically and making her feel bogged down.

Soon after the baby was born, and a few times after that, she tried to visit her hometown but could never do so. Her husband’s transfers every six months and other domestic issues squashed her wish each time. Now, after so many years, she was able to return to her hometown.


 It’s got dark. The sky was studded with stars. The moonlight shone like gold and spread to the inmost corners. The moon was laughing exultantly. Vasanti went downstairs, brought a comb, untangled her hair and put it in a loose braid. She made a wreath of jasmines bloomed afresh and the roses she had picked in the morning and tucked it in her braid.

 Her mother came upstairs with the baby in her arms. She asked, “Coming down for supper?”

 “What’s the hurry? Let father come …” Vasanti said.

 Mother asked again, looking into the sky, “When is your husband coming?”

 “Don’t know. He said he would come for the festival, if he is granted leave.”

 She sat there with mother quietly for a while watching the mango sprouts in bloom.  Mother fed the baby, spread a mattress on the terrace and laid her to sleep. Vasanti also lay down next to the sleeping baby and went into a reverie. … The moonlight was touching her face gently. The moon was splashing tiny smiles like a ball of gold.

 She could not remember how may moonlit nights and dawns she had spent on that terrace in that manner—happily, sadly, teasingly, … in her childhood. She used to go and sit on the terrace whenever she was bored. From there, she could see the innumerable small hills and mounds around and a huge meadow stretched in front of her house. Past the meadow, there were tall coconut trees and two small mountains in the rear, which seemed to be coming from two directions and meeting there. Every morning, at the stroke of six, the sun in blood red color would peek from behind those mountains. Again, in the evening the moon would greet from the same spot in between the coconut trees. Everyday she felt mesmerized by those scenes in her younger days.

 The baby moved in her sleep, and nudged against the chain in Vasanti’s neck, pressing the corals against Vasanti’s body. A sad feeling weighed her heart down. … Abbha! …. How long had she been carrying these corals! Each time the chain moved, something in her heart pricked … some incomprehensible pain … some anguish.

On the meadow in front of their house, there was only one hut, where Lakshumanna, the old man lived with his old woman and his grandchild, Sita. Sita had lost her mother long time ago. Lakshumanna used to run a grocery store, and manage with the little income he had been getting from it. …

Vasanti looked for that hut as soon as she got out of the cart. There was not even a sign of the hut. The meadow was filled with several colorful new buildings raised to the sky. She could not see even the far-off mountains. She came to her senses.

Poor Lakshumanna thatha was a nice man. He was very kind to Vasanti. He called her bullemma garu, little girl, and treated her like princess. He was very nice to her. Sita and she used to play in the green pastures in front of the hut all day. Vasanti was about seven or eight-years old at the time, about the same age as Sita. Early in the morning Vasanti would get up, take a bath, have the hair braided, wore a silk frock and go to play. Sita would come out of the hut with unkempt hair and wearing a torn skirt. Both played any number of games in the grass there: start out with gujjanagullu, gudugudu kuncham, and continue with dolls’ wedding, and finish it with kaalla gajje. Sometimes she would not remember even to go home to eat. Mother would come out the door and call out for her and bring her into the house.

Vasanti played so much in the dirt that her frock would get dirty and torn. Mother would yell at her each day and tell her that she should not play with beggar girls in the dirt, and drag her into their house. Mother yelled at her numerous times yet she [Vasanti] always found a way to run out to play with Sita. Mother got tired of it and let go.

Whenever the business was slow, Lakshumanna thatha would come and sit with them and tell them stories. Vasanti also called him thatha since Sita was calling him thatha. Thatha favored her more than Sita. She used to pick up tin strips and brass pieces and give them to thatha, telling him that they were silver and gold pieces. Thatha would take those worthless pieces zealously and put them in a tin box as if they were real silver and gold. In return, he would give them, Sita and herself, peppermints, chocolate and paan. That turned into a daily game. Each day, she gave him some worthless piece, got chocolate in return and munched it, feeling that she had accomplished something big. … On one occasion, she told her mother too about this game.

“What? Are you giving away all the gold nuggets I’ve been saving in the silver box?” mother asked.

Vasanti was nervous. “Oh, no, not them … Only the pieces I found on the floor,” she said hastily, and her face turning white.

Mother did not believe her. “I told you so many times not to go to that hovel, you don’t listen,” she said, vexed.

One day, a coral vendor came to the door. Mother haggled for over an hour and picked three varieties of corals—small, medium and big size—and bought them. They were bright red-colored and beautiful. Mother took the corals and the gold nuggets she had been saving to Sankarayya, the goldsmith. She got him make coral chains. On the same day the chains were brought home, Vasanti picked the one with the biggest corals and wore in her neck. Mother was displeased.

She said, “Cchi. They are so big they don’t look good on you. Look, this chain with cute little corals, I got it made just for you. Wear this one.”

Vasanti did not listen. She fussed over it for a while and said, “I don’t want them. I like only this one.”

Mother tried to persuade the best she could. …but no use … Vasanti would not listen. She wore that wretched coral chain and went to play. It was so heavy, her neck started hurting. It went up into the air each time she jumped, yet she did not care. She got carried away by the excitement of wearing a new chain and got absorbed in the games. She even forgot about the chain in all that hullabaloo.

After it got dark, she returned home. Mother helped her take a hot water bath and served food in the silver plate. That is when she noticed the missing chain. “Oh, no, where are the corals?” she asked anxiously.

Vasanti cringed and felt her neck, her face turned white. The chain was gone. She forgot about the chain entirely while playing games. She did not know when or how it got lost.

Mother was angry and miserable. She snarled, “I told you so many times and you turned a deaf year. Here you are now, lost it in a minute, cchi.”

After that, mother and father together asked her numerous questions. That torrent of query did not slow down even the next day. God only knows how many people asked her the same questions over and again. She was tired. All that questioning made her angry, and vexed, and made her cry.

“Where all the places you had been to since morning?”

“Where did you play?”

“With whom did you play?”

“When was the last time you had checked the coral chain?”

They went on asking like that all day. She answered all their questions, some answers she knew and others she just guessed. “I played in the hallway. I played with Savitri upstairs. I was checking the chain now and then.” But, for some reason, she did not tell them that she had been playing with Sita for a long time in front of thatha’s store. She was afraid that mother would be displeased, and she might accuse Sita and thatha.

That night mother and father searched and searched the entire house again and again but could not find the coral chain. Vasanti went to bed, frightened and depressed and crying. In the morning, once again, they all searched every nook and corner. Everybody in the neighborhood heard about the loss of the corals. And they all came to express their sympathies. There was no end to the people saying soothing words and giving suggestions: Did you search all the places? What a loss, costs twenty-five rupees at least to buy again. Maybe somebody pilfered it. Do you suspect anybody? … There were so many questions and so many comments. Poor mother, she answered them all patiently and analytically. In fact, she was happy, even seemed to enjoy reiterating the answers in great detail. She felt as if she found the item.

By eight o’clock, babayi, who was living in the same neighborhood, came to our house. At once, he started out on his share of questioning. He asked mother, “When did you put the chain in her neck? And when did you see it again?” Mother gave suitable answers.

Babayi asked suddenly, “She goes to the old man’s hut to play every day. Didn’t she go yesterday?”

Mother was dumbfounded; why did not such an obvious thought occur to her? She felt bad for being so stupid. She called Vasanti, who was hiding in a corner and asked, “Did you not go to play with Sita yesterday?”

Vasanti said furtively, “I went in the morning.”

Babayi concluded at once, “Say so. Probably, you lost it while playing in front of the hut. That old man must have taken it.”

Mother supported it. “Yes, he must have taken it. In fact, he has been bothering our little girl to bring silver and gold from our house everyday.”

Vasanti was flabbergasted. “That’s a lie. Thatha never asked me to bring anything. I was giving them on my own—the pieces I found here and there in the house, and thatha took them only to please me.” Vasanti wanted to shout these words and let mother know but, amidst all that clamor, she could not open her mouth.

Babayi went and brought thatha to our house. Arbitration started. Babayi screamed all kinds of bad words and showered a volley of insults every which way. “Little one was playing in front of your hut all morning. Who could have taken it if not you?” he said.

Thatha stood there pallid for a long time, as if he did not hear the words, did not understand them. He could not comprehend what all those people were talking about. He was crushed, humiliated and in pain. He spoke pitiably a few times, “I do not know madam. I have not seen the corals in the little one’s neck at all.” And he said, “I am fond of bullemma garu more than my Sita. How could I touch any piece of jewelry on her?”

But nobody was willing to listen to his appeals.

Mother said, “Okay, you just return the chain like a nice boy. Why subject yourself to public humiliation?”

“But I did not take it madam. I don’t have it,” thatha said softly but clearly, and stood there as if he did not know what else he could do.

Babayi said, “Look, Lakshumanna, just return the piece politely and beg for our forgiveness. Otherwise, we will have to report to the police. And you know what happens when it falls into the hands of the police.”

Thatha was frightened at the mention of police. He shook like a leaf. Not a word came out of his mouth.

Just in time, police Narasayya was passing by. He saw the commotion and came in. “What? What happened?” he asked babayi, waving his baton.

“Nothing,” said babayi and narrated the entire incident as if he was telling a story.

Police Narasayya said, taunting thatha, “Why give us trouble? Make up your mind quickly … or you will be walking to the police station.” He gawked as he hit the ground with his baton.

Thatha was stricken with grief and stood there as if he lost his mind. Despair shrouded him and reflected in his eyes. It was burning him. Sita clung to his legs and cried loudly. Vasanti also felt it and wept.

Thatha stopped for a second not knowing what to do. And then, he walked toward his store as if he was sleepwalking. He opened the cashbox, and pulled out an old ten-rupee note, which was crumpled into a ball. He gave it babayi and said, “babu, I did not see the corals. But take this and leave me alone. I am poor … I am old. I cannot see clearly. What will you gain by badgering me, babu?” Tears sprang to his eyes as he spoke.

The people conferred for a while and decided that it’s better to take the money since they could not recover the corals.

Mother said, “The corals were worth twenty-five rupees. You offer ten rupees? Make it twenty. We will let you go since we’ve known you for so long.”

“Yes, that is right,” babayi said.

Thatha said, trembling, “That’s all I have. I cannot give you any more even if you kill me.” The empty cashbox slipped and fell on the ground with a bang.

Babayi was about to say something. Until now, father was sitting a little away, as if it was no concern of his; he was scared of mother’s loudmouth. He said, “Let him go, why pester the poor old man?”

With that, babayi kept quiet. So also mother.

Thatha held Sita’s hand and went away, walking slowly.

Police Narasayya ran his fingers through his hair as if he’d done something great, and held out his hand, and said, “Sir, whatever pleases you.” He got two rupees and left the scene. Rest of the crowd dispersed too.

Vasanti sat there in the hallway. Tears rolled down from her eyes without break. She knew that thatha did not take the corals … he would never take anything. But she could not tell that to anybody. She sat there watching thatha suffer and did nothing.

She wanted to run to thatha, hold his hand and tell him, “I know, thatha, you did not take my corals. Do not misunderstand me.” She went to the door. Mother came from behind, grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back into the house.

After that, mother never let her go near thatha’s store again.

One day Polamma was sweeping the floors in the upstairs room and found the coral chain. It popped out from under the chest of drawers.  Vasanti jumped for joy.

Polamma screamed, “Amma garu, the corals are here.”

Amma came running to upstairs and was surprised to see the red corals lying on the floor. She picked up the corals in her hand. She said happily and with a little embarrassment, “We had searched the entire house but never occurred to us to look under this chest.”

Polamma said, sounding philosophical, “It is all in that old man’s karma,” and went away waving the broom.

Vasanti said exuberantly, “Amma, shall I go and tell thatha that the coral were found.”

Mother held the corals close to her chest and sneered, “Cchi, how can we do that? What would the people say? Don’t they think that we’ve had the corals all this time and harassed the old man for nothing? What a shame, what a disgrace.”

Vasanti could not understand her mother’s logic. Thatha was humiliated, blamed for something he did not do, and there was no shame, no humiliation for him? But admitting that the corals had been found and that they had been wrong was shameful and inappropriate for mother!

She hoped that mother would call thatha and return his ten rupees as soon as the corals were found. But that did not happen. Additionally, whatever mother could have told Polamma, the fact that the corals were found never came to light. The relentless pain in her [Vasanti’s] heart remained forever. That her family had committed an abominable crime against the old man, and taken the ten-rupees, his sweat money, from him, remained a huge weight in her heart forever.

Thatha did not recuperate from this horrible incident for a very long time. He was devastated by the humiliation inflicted on him day by day. His business went down and finally was closed. Sita grew up and started working. Three of them were managing somehow with the measly earnings of Sita.

Vasanti used to stand on the terrace and watch Sita and thatha. She saw them watching her pitiably, kindly, and sadly. Then she felt ashamed, wiped her tears and went back into the house. Finally, she left that town. On that day, also thatha came out of his hut, and watched her go away in the cart, affectionately, and with tearful eyes. Poor thatha, he was hurt so badly but never forgot her.

Vasanti could never figure out what kind of blessings he had bestowed on her when he shed those tears but his ingenuous love enveloped her like a shadow and protected her.


Vasanti had never forgotten thatha despite the time elapsed and the numerous changed which had occurred in her life. Each time the corals in her neck moved, she was reminded of thatha. She longed on several occasions to pay off the debt she felt owed to him. But she was scared of her mother. She could do nothing about it.


The winds were blowing and the branches of the banyan tree were wavering. Mother shouted from downstairs room, “Come on to eat. Father is home.”

Vasanti covered baby with a sheet, got up and went into the kitchen. While eating, she asked her mother, “Old thatha and Sita—they used to live in the hut across from us. Where are they?”

Mother said with a grimace, “Who knows. Some four years back there was devastation and the old couple passed away, I guess. After that, some distant relative came and took Sita with him. I don’t know where she is now.”

Hum, thought Vasanti. It was heartrending for her but mother was saying it as if it meant nothing.

Vasanti could not relish the food. She quickly gobbled two bites and went back to the terrace. Mother was calling from behind, “What is that? You have not eaten.”

On the terrace, the baby was sleeping innocently, happily, and without a care in the world. She was holding the rubber doll tight to her chest. Tears filled Vasanti’s eyes. She sat on the cot, leaned forward and touched the curls on baby’s forehead gently. The corals from her neck dangled and touched baby’s lips. On that night in the moonlight, a distant star fell from the sky.

As she watched the baby’s eyes, sleep came over her. The corals rumbled heavily in her heart.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on,July 2007.


(The Telugu original, pagadaalu, was published in the mid-forties.)

Structure in the stories of Achanta Saradadevi

By Nidadavolu Malathi.

Achanta Saradadevi is one of those notable Telugu writers who have written only short stories and just under one hundred. Her stories are proof that not the volume but the constituent that makes a good writer. You may arrive at the same conclusion if you had read two of her stories, The Runaway Parrot and Coral Chain, published on this site.

In Saradadevi’s stories, we do not find huge earth-shaking, mind-boggling conflicts that could make us jump out of their skin or uproot our beliefs forever. We do not see strong negative emotions like anger, frustration and  hatred towards the society we are living in. I am not saying there are no conflicts; the conflicts are not theatrical. She depicts characters and their mode of thinking before and after a given incident, and makes us reflect upon similar incidents in our lives or in the lives of people around us. We find the author introspective as if she has gotten into a dialectic with herself, attempting to see various angles of not only the character but the conflict that put the character in that  situation as well. The stories carry a lyrical note. The narrative moves slowly and in a pensive mood. It reads as if the author is thinking to herself while sharing her thoughts with the reader at the same time. Often the stories describe a given situation. They do not the features, usually considered required characteristics of a short story, such as catchy opening, astounding conflict and pacifying closure. Yet, they do not make a tedious reading. If one is looking for such masala, they will not find them in these stories. The one factor that makes the reader want to come back to Saradadevi’s stories is her presence. Readers feel her presence as if she is right there and narrating the story in a very personal way.

Saradadevi shows unusual flair in her selection of topics and narrative technique. She can take a very ordinary event and elucidate it from a peculiar angle. In that sense, her stories may be termed philosophical treatises. In each case, she seems to raise questions—why did it happen like this? Is there an underlying connotation for this action? Is it possible this incident is intended to teach us something?

Loneliness, couples without closeness, an individual waiting for that special person in her life, yearning for an enchanting future, an individual’s psyche in a variety of situations, the ups and downs in social conditions, middle-class pseudo values—they all provide situations and characters for her stories. We all know about them, have seen in our lives. Yet, as Saradadevi takes these topics and weaves them into stories, we appreciate her laying it for us in that peculiar manner; we do not say, “I know that.” That is the reason these stories are ranked best in Telugu fiction.

There is no Telugu reader who has heard of Saradadevi’s name and yet has not heard of her story The Runaway Parrot [paaripoyina chilaka]. This story has earned enormous fame as a story of freedom for women. The core theme in this story is about freedom yet it is not fair in my opinion to describe it only as a story depicting a woman imprisoned within the four walls of home by a man. The freedom the protagonist, Kamakshamma, has yearned for in this story is not just freedom from the four walls of home.

Sundara Rao told himself that in the cities there was nothing but dust and rubble and decided to move away from the city and build a house for himself in a mango grove. He loved a single life for a couple of years, with a cook and peon to help him with chores. Then he thought “it would be nice if a thing called wife is in the house,” and decided to marry. That he should consider wife a “thing” is notable. His daily activities are constrained to – wake up while it is still dark, leave for the city, take care of his business, spend time playing cards with friends most of the day, and return home after it got dark. Immediately he picks up the newspaper. Again, after supper, he buries his head into the paper.

Kamakshamma rolls paan leaves and into tiny birdies and hands them to her husband. He takes a few of the paan birdies. After a while, Kamakshamma asks, “What’s new in town?”

“What is there? Same as usual,” he says from behind the newspaper.

Silence again.

Kamakshamma chats on: Jasmine blossomed, no rains, … on and on.

He says, “Why don’t you see if there is any program in the radio?”

Kamakshamma leaves and goes into the next room.

With this brief conversation, reader may discern the intimacy and closeness between the husband and wife. There is no need to elaborate on this.

After a few years, Kamakshamma asks him, “All your work is located in the city. Let’s move to the city.”

“How can we get this solitude and peace in that city?” he says. Once again, the author’s ability to convey a potent message with fewest words is noticeable here. Sundara Rao is not enjoying the peace and solitude he is so fond of since he is never home. With his response to Kamakshamma it is evident he is not even aware that he is not enjoying that peace and solitude! We also will know from his response how small-minded he is and how shallow their relationship is. In this regard, the concept that the house is a cage for women is only one aspect. What Kamakshamma has been yearning for is not freedom from the surroundings of home but closeness with another human being, namely, her husband. The real reason for her disappointment is not that she has no freedom to do what she wants to do but interaction with her husband. Having stayed home all day alone with hardly any human interaction but for brief chats with the gardener, she would like her husband some human touch, human interaction, affection. He did not need to beat her, not scream at her, but ignoring a person in the room is enough to destroy that woman’s self-respect. That is lot more excruciating than physical abuse.

Into that “solitude and peace,” an injured parrot comes. Kamakshamma picks up that little bird, nurses her wound and takes care of her. She finds a rejuvenating satisfaction in doing so. The bird flies away as soon as she could. Kamakshamma is crushed like a mother who lost her child but Sundara Rao has no qualms, acts like nothing happened. He does not even realize his wife’s pain. He just goes about his business as if nothing happened. Eventually, the spring arrives, flocks of birds fly into the garden. The gardener asks Kamakshamma if he should catch another parrot for her pleasure. She opposes the idea vehemently. She has learned to enjoy the view as the birds fly around freely in the sky. In this attitude, I find a streak of human relationships. What Kamakshamma showed is more than just kindness. She saw another life in that parrot. In my opinion, if not the core point, it is an important point.

In human relationships, group mentality is a very important part. A human being yearns for the friendship of another human being. It happens only in humans that one person can have his or her life intertwined with another, without undoing it. I have heard of dogs and bulls getting so close to humans but not to each other within their one genus.

What Kamakshamma missed in her life is not freedom but closeness and partner to share her sweet nothings. Sundara Rao did not give that to her. The parrot gave it to her but only for a brief period. Thus in her life the true tragedy is not the house turning into a cage but her husband ignoring her existence.

There are a few other stories with similar themes in her stories, meaning one person hankering for the attention of another person. In the “Runaway Parrot,” it was hankering for another person,

stories like “Athithi” [guest], “marichika” [Mirage], and “mamoolu manishi” [Ordinary person], illustrate about persons who meet their soul mate so to speak, spend time with them for a day, and yearn for them for the rest of their lives.

For instance, in the story, “okanaati athithi,” [guest for a day], the background is a kind of bed and breakfast place, located away from the city, where wayfarers are treated to sometimes just a glass of water, other times a night’s stay with food and bed. Her little daughter, Kethaki, follows her father to the hut, cleans the front yard and draws beautiful designs with rice flour. One day, a young man comes to their hut, and stays for the night. At night, he sits down under the pogada[i] tree, Kethaki is so fond of, and tells her travel stories. He makes a garland of pogada flowers and gives it to her.

The next morning, as he sets out to leave, Gaurayya asks him if he would come back ever again. The young man says, “I will never trod the same route I came by and never visit the same place twice,” and looks at Kethaki with a smile. Kethaki takes that look to mean an embrace and bidding farewell to her. In course of time, she is married, her mother gathers a bunch of pogada flowers and gives to her daughter saying, “For you because you like them so much.” “Heavy,” says Kethaki and throws them away the bundle.

The difference between this story and another story, “marichika,” [Mirage] is very little. Both the stories take place on the outskirts of cities. Possibly, the names of the two stories highlight authors shift in perspective. The message in the first story is closer to puppy love while in the second story, Mirage, the message is life is like a mirage; it is all a fabrication of one’s imagination.

Yet another story, “mamoolu manishi” illustrates once again a young woman letting her imagination run wild. She meets a young man in a train and imagines him to be her prince charming. Later in the evening, she sees him with his wife, which shatters her fanciful imagination. He turns out to be just one more “ordinary man.”

I must however point out that not all her stories are about only love and imaginary heroes. In several stories, she takes poignant topics relating to social issues and human values. In the two stories, “manchi pani” [Good work] and “smruthi” [Memory], she deals with illicit relationships and the manner in which the individuals involved in those affairs resolved their problems. In the process the stories also project the changes that have taken place in our society in course of time. They show how far the society has come from that time the stories had been written, which I believe to be fifties, to the present. Unfortunately, the anthology from which I have taken the stories has not provided bibliographical information. Based on my personal knowledge, I tend to believe that the stories have been written in the fifties.

In the story, “Manchi pani,” Sundaram is respected Principal of a local college. While his wife went to her natal home for a brief visit, he got involved with one of his students, Subhadra and she was pregnant with his child. Sundaram kept quiet. She married another person and left town. As far as Sundaram was concerned the problem was resolved. Another lecturer in his college and a married man, Siva Rao gets involved with another woman and by law Sundaram is required to report to the higher authorities. The woman who is involved and Siva Rao’s wife beg Sundaram not to report it to the authorities because Siva Rao needs the job. In the opinion of Sundaram, Siva Rao is a blessed man, having won the support of the two women! Even his (Sundaram’s) supports the pleas of those two women. Sundaram still could not tell his wife of his own past. “I will write the report tomorrow,” he says; implicit in his statement is he has no sympathy for Siva Rao. The story highlights contemporary women’s perspective—a social attitude—of the times. It also projects the changes in our views from the perspective of yester years.

The story, “Smruthi” [Memory] also depicts forbidden relationship. In this story, the protagonist is a college principal who has fathers a child out of wedlock. After several years, a young woman comes to him seeking admission in the same college. He realizes that the woman is his child and decides to adopt her without informing her of their relationship. It was those times when illicit relationships were viewed more sternly than now.

This kind of stories still has its own value. They provoke readers into rethinking the value of interpersonal relationships and the dire consequences when crossed. I believe in stories such as these, the ending is not as important as the fact that these kinds of things are happening in society and the consequences are not always pleasant. Different readers may respond to these stories in different ways. Some may approve of Siva Rao’s behavior while others dismiss him as irresponsible, thoughtless and even disrespectful of traditional values. A few others may criticize Sundaram for being hard-nosed or despise the three women as pathetic. Another writer may take the same topic and write a different story. We see all these angles in readers’ comments and criticisms. The value of the story lies in making readers think in so many ways. That is what Saradadevi’s stories do, makes us think, reflect.

Jealousy is a normal human condition. In “kaaru mabbulu” [Dense Clouds], we see this human condition presented from a peculiar perspective. The story is narrated in the first person, so we do not know the name of the narrator. She and her colleague Sridhar fall in love and get married. They are deeply in love. His behavior however changes dramatically after she is promoted to a higher post. After learning that he is about to resign from his job, she tells him that she is planning to quit since the she is pregnant. The dark clouds in Sridhar’s heart are blown away. The narrator however is not happy. The fact that he is back to normal only after her resignation hurts her. Dark clouds start closing in on her. Thus, the dark clouds in Sridhar represent his jealousy while for the wife it is her disappointment in him. She realizes that there is also the danger of those dark clouds engulfing their relationship and that she needs to save herself from them. She remembers the celebrated Gita tenet uddharedaatman aatmaanam. Notably, in both the instances, only she is aware of the imminent clouds but not he—first when she saved him from his inferiority complex and the second time when she recognized the reality of their situation. Another angle to this symbolic presentation is: In real life dark clouds bring rain and thus a welcome sign. In literature, on the other hand, dark clouds are often used to represent sorrow and disappointment. In this story, first they are shown to represent Sridhar’s jealousy, and later the disappointment in his wife. Both of them could achieve redemption only after they are freed from these clouds. This is the reason I called the title symbolic.

In the old days, division of classes happened on the basis of religion. In modern times, it is rooted in money. The evil that follows such division is always the same, no difference. “A String of corals” [pagadaalu] and “Hunger” [aakali], depict the phony morals of the middle class. In the first story, a poor old man makes a living by running a small store round the corner and raising his granddaughter. A neighbor, who has a daughter (Vasanthi) of the same as the old man’s granddaughter, accuses him baselessly of stealing her daughter’s coral chain and makes him pay with the ten rupees he had, which is his life’s savings. Later the maid finds the chain under a chest of drawers, but the mother is not ready to admit her mistake, fearing that will ruin their reputation. The story is told from the perspective of the daughter, as she recalls the incident on her way to visit the family after several years. Her mother’s words, “What would people think if they come to know that we had the chain in our possession all along and we ill-treated the old man for no apparent reason, and took his money? Won’t they think we are mean?” This highlights the cowardice and the sham of the middle class moralists. Vasanthi could not understand at the time. She could not understand how it would be humiliating to them but not to Thata who in fact was innocent. This line of thinking in the little girl is probably intended to make a statement that these phony values are not innate but acquired in course of time.

The story “Hunger” also illustrates how people are afraid of what polite society might think about them. A starving young man sees his friend on the porch of a house where a wedding is being performed. He asks his friend to let him eat there. The friend however is in no mood to entertain this shabby-looking man. He says the place is not his, he would go in and ask the homeowner if that would be okay. He goes in and never returns. The message is he does not want to acknowledge a poverty-stricken person as his friend. The young man goes away, wanders around, hoping to find something to eat. Eventually, an old woman, selling fruit on the roadside, offers him fruits to eat. He is grateful. In course of time, he starts a small business, gets rich and decides to return the cost of the fruit, two annas (one eighth of a rupee). The strange part is he defers the payment so long, by the time he went there, the old woman has died, and another little boy is sitting there. The boy says he is hungry and asks for money. The young man gives him the two annas he owed the old woman, feels satisfied that he has paid off his debt and goes away.

In this story, some of the twists are noteworthy from the perspective of structure. The hesitation on the friend’s part to let the young man have food at a wedding is rather unusual. In Indian homes, there is always plenty of food and no person is turned away, especially on such ceremonial occasions. The narrator does not verbalize the friend’s reason for saying he would have to check with the house-owner. It would appear his middle class values came in the way to acknowledge a beggar as his friend. Like the sham values in the “Coral chain”, here again the author points out the fake values cherished by middle class people. The second twist is when the person who was nearly dying for a morsel of food and the change of attitude after he became rich. He did not forget the old woman who had given him food when he was hungry yet he delays repayment for inordinate length of time. There is no reasonable explanation for his procrastination. We just have to tell ourselves that is the way it is. It occurs to me that ever so often we defer to perform good deeds for no reason.

In the story, maarina manishi, [changed man], the story revolves around a person takes a job as a servant yet refuse to do the tasks the lady of the house assigns him. This house also, like in so many of her stories, is located on the outskirts of city. The woman does not want to complain about him to her husband for fear they might not be able to get another servant, who would be willing to travel the distance. Later however she tells her husband about the servant Narayana and his attitude. The husband yells at Narayana and he, without a word, quits. Years pass by. On one dark and rainy night, the woman gets off the train and gets into a rickshaw, not knowing the rickshaw driver was no other than Narayana. Narayana however recognizes her. After she got off at her home, he identifies himself politely. She is surprised that he is so polite when he is doing well, and was so arrogant when he was down on his luck. The author has showed extraordinary flair in weaving this story. It shows her aptitude in analyzing human nature. Here, not only she delineated the character of Narayana but also showed how their employers would evaluate or rather misevaluate others. The story is narrated by the lady in first person yet the author is able to identify and highlight the flaws in her character. That is the peculiarity in this story.

In the story thraasu [balance], Sitaramayya is busy making money and his wife and daughter are busy spending it. He understands the value of caring only after his servant brings him an apple and a rose saying, “because it is your birthday, sir.”

Another notable quality in Saradadevi’s stories is vivid descriptions of nature and their significant role in her stories. For several of her stories, the location is outside or on the outskirts of town. Almost all stories feature clouds, stars, breeze, and light drizzle. Sometimes, the descriptions run to one whole page yet not monotonous. For instance, the story, korikalu [desires] is a story told by a banyan tree. “It is dark. The stars drew designs. The moon has arrived, it is breezy though. My leaves shook and started to reach out to the sky.”

In the “Runaway Parrot,” the protagonist, Kamakshamma, spends most of her time watching the sky and the clouds from her backyard. She tells herself, “How beautiful the clouds move around! One second they hug each other affectionately! And then they move away on their separate ways! Who can tell what these temporal attachments mean!” A woman who has studied only up to eighth class, not only describes the nature beautifully but also finds correlation between the environment and human nature. There lies the author’s skill. For one thing, author seems to imply that there is poetry in everyone’s heart; secondly, it tells symbolically what lies ahead. At the beginning, Kamakshamma is used just to watching the birds that come into her garden and fly away freely. Then a parrot with a broken leg comes into her front yard and she develops an attachment to the bird. She loves the bird as her own child. For the bird however it is only a confinement. Therefore, the bird flies away as soon as she gets an opportunity to do so, the same way the clouds get close and move away. In that lies the beauty of the paragraph quoted earlier.

In short, Saradadevi evinces an unusual understanding of human nature and reflections on life. She has mentioned in one of her interviews that she has read extensively. However, unlike several other writers, her stories do not carry any “elitist” attitude. They are one hundred percent Telugu stories, brimming with native flavor.

She has published three anthologies. None of them include bibliographical information. The first three anthologies were published in the sixties and the fourth one in 1991. Thus, I would conclude that the stories in the first three anthologies had been written in the fifties and sixties and the stories in the fourth anthology written later. There is a significant difference between the early stories and later stories in her choice of themes and endings. In the later stories, she has imbibed the changes that have taken place in our lifestyles and mode of thinking. In the early stories, we find a kind of distancing herself and detachment. That does not mean the stories are without feelings. All human beings have desires and they all hope for better life, they believe in brighter future. Saradadevi has achieved great balance in analyzing these emotions.

Very little is known about her life. In a reputable magazine, Andhra Jyothi new year special (1975), the details she has given are as follows: She was born in 1922 in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India. She has master’s in English literature, and Telugu literature, received Hindi Visarada diploma, and also studied a little Sanskrit. She learned classical music. She worked in Padmavathi College, Tirupathi, Andhra Pradesh, for several years. She said she got an opportunity to read extensively after her marriage with well-known writer, Achanta Janakiram in 1944. Her first story was published in 1945. She also stated that she strongly believed that encouragement from Narla Venkateswara Rao, prominent journalist and editor of Andhra Jyothi, was behind the writer she turned out to be.

When we read her stories, we feel that we are reading authentic Telugu stories. We obtain that satisfaction. In choosing her topics, and sculpting them into fascinating stories, and in commenting on life, she evinces extraordinary talent. I will finish this article with a simple statement about the structure in her stories. Saradadevi’s stories are well-rounded stories in all aspects: opening, environment, situations, development, characterization and ending.


This article written by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published on, December 2012.


1. Paaripoyina chiluka. Vijayawada: Adarsagrantha mandali, 1963.

2. Okkanaati athithi. Vijayawada: Adarsagrantha mandali, 1965.

3. Marichika. Vjayawada: Adarsagrantha mandali, 1969.

4. Vaanajallu. Hyderabad: Sahiti, 1991.


[i] Known as Spanish cherry or minusops elengi. See

A Specimen by Chandra Latha

He wasn’t in the habit of waking up early in the morning, but that day he woke up early, when the alarm clock he had set rang. That day, he had to go and collect some specimen. His professor had strictly instructed him to have the specimen transported to the lab within fifteen minutes after its collection. Perhaps he would reach the lab very soon! He was a very disciplined man.

The man, who regularly supplied the specimen to them, was not to be seen for the past fifteen days. No one knew the reason for his absence. Perhaps he was sick or perhaps he had gone to his village. Whatever was the reason, the responsibility of collecting the specimen fell on him. It was anyway unthinkable that his colleague, a relative of his professor, would go to the slaughter house. She was very intelligent, but hardly socialized with others. His friend, Murali, mocked at him saying that he agreed to work here only to impress her.

 Strangely, when the Professor asked him to collect the specimen, he agreed to do it unquestioningly. She looked at him with an appreciative glance like one would at a well- mannered boy. He recollected this incident only when Murali reminded him of it later.  No sooner had he reached his room, he was confronted with the question as to how to get the specimen. He asked Murali rather hesitantly. It was at that moment he made fun of him. He, however, obliged and last evening took him to the slaughter house. He walked into the slaughter house with his head bowed down, lest he saw deskinned goats, bleating lambs and chicken being dressed.

“Hey! Newly married bridegroom, lift your head now,” teased Murali.

When he raised his head there was no sign of the sight or sound, he had imagined. He was told a little later that the slaughter house was at a distance from that place.

He expected the butcher to sport a bushy mustache, blood –shot red eyes, check –designed lungi, a green t-shirt, a broad leather belt and a butcher’s knife in the hand. The person in front of him had, nevertheless, none of these characteristics.

He asked him, surprisingly, very courteously, “Why did you take the trouble of coming here, Sir? Had you sent me a message, I would have personally come to you.”

“You can be surprised about how courteous he is later on, but first tell him what you want.” whispered Murali, nudging him with his elbow. He needed certain parts of a cow and he gave him the details. He told him that he would come the next day to collect the specimen. He specifically instructed him to take out the parts without rupturing a nerve or a vein. He then remembered his professor’s words of having the specimen transported to the lab within fifteen minutes.

“It’s okay. I shall bring all the things necessary to preserve the specimen tomorrow. Take the specimen only after I’d come,” he instructed the butcher, who agreed to do so. Murali asked him to walk ahead and he saw Murali discuss something with the butcher. Perhaps it was about money. They purchased the necessary chemicals and glass jars to preserve the specimen .As it was difficult to transport the specimen in the stipulated time, they hired a taxi.

The taxi driver assured them that he would come early the next day. Murali refused to accompany him to the slaughter-house in the morning. He slept snuggled cozily under the blanket covers and snored.

Next morning he stepped out, wearing a jacket.

Like a bride glancing shyly and hesitantly through the veil, the sun rays had just begun to peep through the mist. Rubbing his hands together, he walked towards the taxi parked on the other side of the road. The taxi driver was fast asleep in the taxi. He must have come early in the morning. He woke up the driver and arranged the things he had purchased the previous night, in the back seat.

It was very cold. He pulled the jacket collar up to cover his ears and thrust his hands in his trouser pockets. The taxi driver pulled up the window panes. He had given him the address earlier; hence he was relaxed and settled down to watch the outside world.

The mist dampened the window panes now and then and it looked like some mystic painting. Mornings like these reminded him of his village. They went to their village during summer vacation. His sister and he would wake up early to watch the orange-colored sun rise lazily over the spread of green fields.

How wonderful was the life in the village! Peddananna would wake them up early in the morning. He did not like anyone waking up after the sun had risen. He welcomed the sun even before bidding farewell to the stars. When they had to attend the school, they would sleep late in the night and would wake up late in the morning. It was surprising that they changed their habits very quickly in the village.

When the stars appeared in the sky, they finished their supper and gathered on the cots. Listening to the tinkling of the bells that moved gently when the cows chewed on the cud leisurely and the stories recited by Peddananna, they would doze off to sleep. He still remembered the fragrance that wafted over the blossoming parijatas. He loved watching the dance of sunlit dews on the grass.

His sister learnt from his peddamma to draw the rangolis on the floor which was wet with the water mixed with cow dung. He tried to draw with the muggu powder, but was unable to draw even a straight line, but his sister learnt to draw creepers and flowers very quickly.

He enjoyed playing with the calf. She had beautiful doe eyes and a white patch on her forehead like a bottu. How happily she frolicked around!

Peddamma got angry every time the calf trampled on her flower plants. She wanted it kept tied all the time.

“How can you not allow the calf to run around? She wouldn’t be a calf if she did not run around, would she? Take her with you and play, my dear boy.” Peddananna encouraged him.

His sister too would get angry at the calf for chewing up the tender branches of marigolds and trampling on the chrysanthamums. Peddananna and Peddamma personally milked the cows. His sister and he would always be ready with the vessels. Peddananna milked the cow only after the calf had had its fill. He had very little milk in his vessel. Peddamma called the farm help as soon as the calf was freed and instructed him to tie her.

“Look, look. Your Peddamma is stealing the milk meant for the calf,” Peddanna teased.

Peddananna whispered these words very gently, but peddamma never failed to listen to it. She would exclaim gesturing with her hands,”Yes… Now you say so. Later you will ask me to give each one of them a glassful of milk. Where do you think it will come from?”

His sister too would accompany her inside and make faces at me. Peddananna and he would laugh looking at each other.

Recollecting those childhood memories brought a smile to his lips and he came back into the world of reality, when the driver suddenly swerved the taxi.

Negotiating the turns on the bylanes, the driver finally stopped in front of the house he had come yesterday. Seeing the taxi stop, he rushed forward and took the things from the taxi and brought him a chair to sit in. He gave him the instructions once again. He assured him that the work would be finished in fifteen minutes.

He looked around.

A narrow lane.

People had just started their morning routine and were moving here and there.

Some children touched the taxi in awe. The driver shooed them off. The house he was sitting in was built with bamboos and with frames covered with palmyra leaves.

On one side the marigolds were in full bloom indicating the good care the owner had taken.

A goat ran past him. It looked healthy with sheen of black coat.

He felt like running after it and caressing her. He was reminded of the calf in the village.

It must have now become a mother to many such calves.

Peddanna now did not have the physical strength or the enthusiasm, he had earlier.

He sold away the cows retaining a few milching cows only for the household needs.

When he heard the news, he remembered the lean and malnourished cows and oxen tied to one another at the horns, and being brought to the city in great numbers. He saw that scene every Saturday.

Peddananna   was hurt and told them that they were being taken to the slaughter house. They did not know what a slaughter house was. They did not even know why Peddananna was so emotional at the cows being taken to the slaughter house.

Peddanna would look at them in anguish, “They are now useless! People love and take care of those things that are of use to them. They expect many things in return till the last moment. Then like this… “

Peddanna could not say anything further.

He did not visit the village after that as he became busy with his studies. Whatever be the reason, he found it difficult to see his ailing Peddananna and the nearly empty verandah.

Even when he visited the village, those thoughts haunted him for a long time after he came back.

A four-year-old girl stood in front of him chasing the goat. The ribbons tied to her plaits came off the knot. Pulling the short skirt up, she disappeared in a jiffy. The sun was beginning to spread yellow hues as if competing with the marigolds. He shifted his chair to a shady place.

He could hear somebody asking something from inside the house.

“Have you served tea to Sir? “

He came out. He told me that his men were getting the specimen. The girl with two plaits asked him to come in.

He went inside and brought a glass of tea for him. He held it with great respect. It was a new experience for him to sip the tea in the warmth of the sun.

Perhaps the tea was made on firewood stove. It had a strange taste. Meanwhile, his men put the specimen in the taxi. He thanked him for the tea. He told him that he did not have such a tasty tea for a long time.

“Yes Sir, it seems that cow gave plenty of milk! It had a white spot on its forehead like a bottu.

The butcher continued to blabber.

He remembered the calf.

“I milked her after removing the parts you wanted, Sir! I got enough for the tea…”

 He could not hear anything after that.

He did not know when he kept down the glass.

 His insides churned.

Warm milk gushed towards his heart.

He could not wait there any longer.

 He walked towards the taxi as if in a trance and sat down next to the driver.

He felt as if the specimen in the back seat mocked at him!


Translated by Sujatha Gopal and published on, October 2006.

 The Telugu original story nenu naannanvuthaa. was published in the anthology by the same name.




Foot notes

Peddananna  :  Father’s older brother.

Peddamma   : Wife of father’s older brother.

Rangoli        : Drawings on the floor made with lime powder or rice powder.

Muggu         : Lime powder or rice powder

Parijatham   : Flowers considered sacred in Hindu tradition, used for religious purposes.

Bottu           : A vermillion mark on the forehead.







Ascent Heavenwards by Chaganti Tulasi

On that day, an awful row broke out between Poli and her husband Appala Kondayya. She rushed to the hut in high spirits. But, as soon as she stepped in, he began to spit fire.

She thought that he too would be as much elated as she was. She couldn’t imagine that he would kick up a row in that way.

He burst out in anger, “Can’t afford even gruel. Look at her purchase! Good-for-nothing woman! Wretch!” Stamping his foot furiously, he bellowed.

“I didn’t pay cash for this purchase. How can I make cash payment? Do I have any money? Hardly a penny. I’m penniless and so are you. We simply can’t buy it in our life time. Some how or other, it just happened for our benefit. Pedda Ammagaru said that a rupee will be deducted per month. So I bought it. It can be paid off within ten months,” Poli tried to give the details.

However, Appala Kondayya didn’t stop hurling abuses. As a matter of fact, he returned to the hut in a nasty mood. He left the hut at daybreak and returned now. He went around in town till he was tired. But no work.

Damn it! Whose inauspicious face[1] have I seen? Didn’t get even a tobacco leaf. I was ready to work but none hired me.

Having failed to get any work and having failed to get at least some tobacco, he returned home late in the evening, in a famished condition. The wife went out to wash the dishes at a Brahmin household. He searched each and every clay pot and pan. Nothing. It seemed as if Poli didn’t even make the fire. He began to brood – who knows whether she would light the stove to night at least and cook something? Heaving a sigh, he squatted down listlessly on the verandah and leaned on the wooden pillar.

Poli arrived with her son astride at her waist. She was carrying on her head a bright aluminum pot cushioned on a piece of coiled cloth.

She laid down the son on the verandah and set aside the pot. Immediately Appala Kondayya picked up a quarrel.


On that day Parvatamma called in a hawker quite casually. She wanted to drive a hard bargain with that hawker who was bartering aluminum-ware and plastic-ware in exchange for used clothes. Her intention was to get a nice article in exchange for her own two sarees and three trousers of her husband. However, the hawker, a North-Indian woman, went on saying in a high-pitched voice and with exaggerated gestures that the clothes shown by Parvatamma were almost worthless. At long last, she agreed to give an aluminum pot but demanded one more saree. Quite reluctantly Parvatamma tossed in another saree and received the pot. She did so only because she liked the pot very much.

Yet, she was very upset when her husband came back from his office and her mother-in-law from attending a religious discourse. They both simultaneously ridiculed and scolded her saying, “Bought an aluminum pot! Shame! Disgrace! And you are thrilled as if it were a stainless steel pot and bought it!”

Therefore she tried to persuade Poli, “Those old clothes are worth at least ten rupees. I will take one rupee a month from your pay. Take the pot for ten rupees.” Parvatamma was eager to get as much money as she could.

Poli’s joy knew no bounds. In high spirits, she came home with the pot. Immediately, a high row broke out.

Of course, Poli went on answering back to Appala Kondayya. “What are you talking about? This is my will and pleasure. I bought it with my own hard-earned money. Good Heavens! Why are you wailing as though I squandered your money? Have I ever pestered you to buy a pot? Have I ever told you that I’m in need of a pot? I bought it on the spur of the moment. One must weep if money is wasted on an outsider. For our own home I bought this pot”.

Narsayya heard the noisy quarrel. He noticed the mounting rage in the tone of Poli who was in full frenzy and answering back to her husband. What is this quarrel for? The old man and woman (his parents) went away to live separately. Thus wondering, he rushed into their hut.

“What’s the matter, Appala Kondayya? What happened to Poli?” When Narsayya came in with the intention of settling their quarrel, Poli and Appala Kondayya calmed down. To have a third person raising an accusing finger at them was an insult to them. Their attitude was that he may be an elderly person, yet he has no right to poke his nose into their private life.

“Nothing”, “Oh! It’s nothing,” said each one of them. Narsayya cursed himself for being foolish enough to intervene in a quarrel between a man and his wife. So he hung his head and left.


After Narsayya’s departure, Poli looked at her husband intently. She realized that he was starving. Wondered whether he had taken at least tea. She understood the reason for his anger and quarreling. This anguished her greatly. She laid the child on a threadbare cloth spread on the floor. She put a pot on the wooden stove in order to heat water.

Went on brooding – what a wretched life! We are unable to have even gruel! So much suffering! None of the gods and goddesses is taking pity. Of course, at present, we are only three. Me, my husband and our child. Until the other day, the entire family used to live under one roof. The father-in-law, mother-in-law and brother-in-law and we – all of us stayed together. We were starving. Unable to bear the pangs of hunger, the old man used to wail, “ I wish I were dead. Death is better than this hellish torment.” The old woman used to say, “who knows what we did in other lives? Is it that easy to lose one’s life? Will He summon us at all?” Hunger! In addition to it, daily quarrels! Having observed this day after day, the brother-in-law moved out along with parents. God alone knows what was on his mind. He said that he would look after them. Now there are fewer members in the family. But, what is the use? My husband has no work. We go on starving.

She got the lukewarm water ready and called her husband. She cooked gruel with coarse pieces of rice brought from Parvatamma’s house and thought – the truth must be admitted. Parvatamma gives me some course grits of rice whenever I clean rice. She is kind-hearted.

Appala Kondayya calmed down. He had a wash with the tepid water. Sat down in the doorway and began to gobble the gruel from the clay pan noisily.

Poli was sitting leaning against the wooden post and nursing the child.

The circular shapes etched on the pot were glittering like silver coins.

“Tell the truth. Is this pot necessary for us?” Appala Kondayya asked his wife gently.

“I have been hankering after it for a long time. Parvatamma wanted to give away and so I took it.” Poli told her husband much more gently.

Poli loved her husband deeply. Appala Kondayya also loved her deeply. Had they been rich, their love would have come to the notice of all as an ideal love.

“I have been hoping that Parvatamma would speak to her husband about me and get a job for me. But she never raises this topic”.

“I also requested her. Daily I request her. The master says, ‘He needn’t come. I myself shall inform if any vacancy arises’. They say, “He needn’t hang around our house at the cost of his daily earnings”.

“Earnings! My foot! Today I didn’t find any work.”

“Other fellow-laborers run cycle rickshaws and make a living”.

“Couldn’t manage to get a rickshaw. Owning rickshaw is impossible. I have failed in even hiring one”.

“I heard that rickshaws are being distributed. It seems loans are being given by banks. Alas! We don’t get anything!”

“How can we? Without the patronage of some V.I.P. nothing is available. Who is going to call me on his own and give it to me? My case has to be recommended. How about requesting Parvatamma’s husband?”

“If it were possible, he would have done it by now.”

“Yes. You are right. We are destined to suffer like this. What can anybody do?”

Venkatasamy arrived and greeted Appala Kondayya.

“All the huts of our folks in the low-lying area were demolished,” he informed.

“What? The low-lying area?”

“Yes. That’s it. It seems Sendiri and her kids were awake all night by the roadside. None had a morsel of food. Today, they came over here with all their belongings.”

“Sendiri and her kids! In that case, what about my folks? My parents and brother shifted to that street!”

“I heard that the bulldozer didn’t come up to your father’s house. Your people escaped. Our locality is also under the threat of demolition. I don’t know what to do, where to go.”

“What did we do? Why do they demolish our huts?”

“They are leveling the ground. Instead of that, if they run the bulldozer over us, this misery will end. Then we needn’t die daily”.

“Well said, Venkatasamy! It’s better to die. We shall go to Heaven,” said Poli.

“What makes you think so? Heaven after death! Heaven  for folks like us!” Appala Kondayya commented.

“What are we enjoying? Tell me. Our life itself is hell.”

“I just can’t understand it. You explain. Our houses are nothing but huts sitting on the riverbank. Why do they destroy these? Why should the rich indulge in such an activity?”

“Our huts are ugly for them.”

“If so, let them build two-story buildings for us.”

“We can’t afford gruel and you want two-story buildings, dear!” said Poli.

“No, I’m not asking for a two-story building. I said so only because they consider these huts to be ugly and repulsive”.

“They say that our huts are causing them acute suffering like ulcers”.

“They are bulldozing the huts just like a doctor removes the ulcers surgically,” said Venkatasamy.

Mallu stormed in looking as if he were possessed by a spirit. He came in looking for Venkatasamy. He too came from that street in the low lying area. His adolescent blood was boiling. Whenever a rally was organized, he also joined it waving a flag like the rest. He knew by rote what the organizers of the rallies would holler.

“These are all cancerous growths. They grow repeatedly from the same spot on which operation is done. To check their recurring growth, their base should be slashed. They do not originate from the huts, but from those tall buildings. The skyscrapers! They ought to be wiped out instead of these huts. Those tall buildings are to be pulled down. Should be leveled to the ground. Then only the cancerous growths stop recurring”.

“Don’t shout unnecessarily. This isn’t a meeting. Not even a rally. You are highly keyed-up,” said Venkatasamy.

“We may get keyed-up, or we may keep numb. It makes no difference. Our lives won’t change. What sin have we committed? In which life?” said Poli.

“There’s no work. No gruel. If we lose the hut too …”

“Don’t think that we will keep quiet,” said Mallu and was about to say something more.

Venkatasamy got up saying, “The sky is overcast. Cool wind is blowing. You better sleep now. Tomorrow, early in the morning, let us go to the most influential person of this locality and tell him”. Along with him Mallu also got up.

“Venkatasamy! I forgot to tell you something. Look at this pot,” said Poli.

“Brand-new one?”

“Yes. Can you tell the price?”

“Seventeen or eighteen”.

“Then, it’s a bargain!” commented Appala Kondayya.

“You complain about lack of work and lack of gruel. If so, how could you buy an aluminum pot? Hope you haven’t stolen,” Venkatasamy enquired.

“Shut up! I am not that mean. I don’t do anything bad. We have been starving, but never stooped to stealing. I won’t ever. Parvatamma gave it to Poli. Each month she is going to cut one rupee from Poli’s salary until is settled. Gave it just for ten rupees”.

“Only ten rupees? Picked up cheap!” remarked Venkatasamy.

“That woman must be deriving some kind of benefit from this. Otherwise, Why would she give away? They tend to count each and every grain of cooked rice,” commented Mallu.

“She’s very kind,” said Poli.

“Don’t tell me that. I know how kind they are!” said Mallu, getting up to   leave.

A blast of nippy wind whizzed past.

“Look! Lashing wind! Move out! Hurry up!” Venkatasamy and Mallu left.

A high wind blew and put out the Kerosene lamp. Appala Kondayya closed the door. Pressing the two door panels hard, he bolted.

Poli lit the lamp once again and said, “It’s going to rain cats and dogs”.

“If it rains, tomorrow also no work, no income.”

“What’s the use of worrying? Whatever will be will be. Go to bed now.”

“Hope father and others are all right.”

“Go to them early in the morning, tomorrow. You better sleep now,” advised Poli.

Lying beside her son, tucking him up with the loose end of her saree, she nestled against him. Appala Kondayya covered himself with a gunny bag and curled up.

The hut was swaying due to the impact of high winds as well as torrential rain. The rain water was making its way down through gaps in the palm-leaf roof. The lamp went off quickly.

“Appala Kondayya! Wake up! Poli! Poli! Wake up! Floods! Flood water! All are awake. They are running away. Why are you sleeping like a log? Flee! Floods!” Somebody was banging at the door. Appala Kondayya was startled and woke up.

He opened the door. But, what was there to see? All the people of the entire street were fleeing. The young and the old, carrying their belongings on the head, were running in the darkness. Lashing wind. Due to darkness, it was not clearly visible. He rubbed his eyes. When he fully grasped the situation, shivers went down his spine.

“Good God! Oh my God!”

“Poli! Poli!” He called. By then, she already got up and came to the doorway. She wasn’t aware of the flood at all. She was only conscious of the high wind and heavy downpour. She lit the lamp.

“Floods! Poli! Floods! Let’s go. Come on. Quick. Fetch all our goods. Throw them outside the hut. Just look at the people! They’re legging it!” Highly frightened and agitated Appala Kondayya caught hold of whatever articles he could lay his hands on and dumped them in the street. While she was handing over the things, he was carrying them out in a flash – pots and pans, tins and cans, winnow and broomstick, a straight cot etc. They both bundled up their belongings.

“Move out! Be quick! Hurry up! Run!” said he, panting. He placed the upturned string-cot on his head. Then put all the goods along with the tin trunk on it.

“Hold the child. I’ll rush in to the hut just to verify if anything is left out”.

“Nothing else is there. Come on! Run!” he took the boy into his arms.

“Alas! The aluminum pot! Brand new pot! It is left behind!”

“To hell with it. Run! Run! Is it more important than your life? Run!” Appala Kondayya began to run fast.

He ran without turning back, oblivious of everything else. Ran helter-skelter through the wind, rain and darkness. In utter panic, stumbling and straightening up, went on and on till he was out of breath.

“Poli! Take the child,” saying so he turned around. She wasn’t there.

Shouting at the top of his voice “Poli! Poli!” He was about to turn back.

“She’ll come. But if you go back now, you can’t return,” saying so others shoved him forward.

Appala Kondayya thought that she must be somewhere among the running crowd or she might have gone even ahead of him.

Jostling, trampling, shoving, ramming, pressing one another and searching for their own kith and kin, they all surged towards the mansion situated on a very high ground and gathered there.

However, Appala Kondayya couldn’t find his wife there. He went on asking one and all like a lunatic “Have you seen Poli? Have you seen Poli?”

He has been hearing about the river’s tendency to have flash floods. But, this was his first experience of floods. Despite the talk of elders, never had he given any thought to the possibility of floods. The riverbank was full of huts – only huts. Never had the hut-dwellers run away from the river fearing it. On the other hand, they have been dreading demolition by a bulldozer and have been discussing how to face that situation. They never thought, even in their wildest dreams, that the river would hound them.

Appala Kondayya couldn’t find Poli. “She must have taken shelter in some other house,” said others.

“I thought that she would follow close behind me! She said that the aluminum pot, brand new one, was left behind. Doesn’t matter. Run, I told her. I was under the impression that she was also fleeing. Oh God! Poli rushed into the hut! Most probably, didn’t come out at all!” Appala Kondayya broke down and began to weep like a woman.

Venkatasamy, Narsayya, and Mallu were not able to console him. “Calm down. Please. We don’t know what has actually happened. Mallu will go to find out. You calm down.”

Venkatasamy’s wife took the child into her arms.

“Brother Appala Kondayya! Don’t cry. Your parents and brother came away from that low-lying area. They’re taking shelter in the house of Gupta, the merchant. Mallu will fetch them here.” She tried to console him.

He stopped crying and gazed at all the people. They were all recovering from panic. The mansion was jam-packed with people as well as their luggage. Somebody was doling out gruel. The people were standing in a queue and receiving it in clay bowls. Disheveled hair, sunken eyes, and emaciated bodies – they all had the look of a beggar entreating for alms.

“Hell! Hell!” Exclaimed Appala Kondayya.

“What? Appala Kondayya?” Venkatasamy enquired, stroking Appala Kondayya’s back.

“Venkatasamy, Hell! Hell, Venkatasamy!” said Appala Kondayya.

Narsayya said, “He’s head over heels in love with Poli. Has he gone mad?”

On hearing this, Appala Kondayya burst into peals of laughter. They looked at each other.

“I’m not at all mad. What did Poli say yesterday night? It’s better to die. After death, we go to heaven. Life itself is hell, said she. True to her words, she went to heaven. I survived. Survived to live in this hell. They say that people go to heaven holding the tail of a cow. But Poli, my Poli, went to heaven clutching at an aluminum pot! And here I am rotting in this hell. Without gruel, without work, without wages, starving and on the verge of fainting! Poli! Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me that you were leaving for heaven? I would have come clutching at your saree ends. But you didn’t tell me. This is hell! Hell! Hell!”

They all stood stunned and listening to his ravings…


Translated by U. Anuradha, and published on, December 2001.

“SWARGAROHANA” is the title of this story in Telugu.

[1] A popular belief that the person whose face you see first thing in the morning will affect your luck for the day.