Monthly Archives: September 2014

Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry

Marigolds By Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry

ravi-sastry image Kamalabala sat on the boulder between the two houses and kept staring at the row of the marigolds. She was peeking through the rows with her keen eyes. The baby moon threw in a kindly smile peeking from behind the outline of the two storey building.

That was ‘the garden’ on the outskirts of the town. There was a huge building in the middle of the garden. That was the ‘main house’. On the west end of the garden, there was a small house with clay tiles. That was the guesthouse.

The gentleman who owns the building was living in Culcutta, taking care of his business. He was one of those folks you know. He returns home for a month’s vacation in summer, along with his family. He could rent it out during his stay in Culcutta but realistically, no. Nobody would be willing to pay the rent he expected for a house that was so far away from civilization. And the owner would not rent it for less. Even if he had agreed to lower the rent, it would be unreasonable to expect the renter to vacate every summer to suit his convenience. For all these reasons, the owners locked up the main house and let it be. They rented out the guest house though.

Since the house was small and away from town, they have settled for lower amount. Avataram garu rented it although the house was small and away from the town. He took it since the rent was low.

If somebody asked Kamalabala, “What does your father do?” she would respond in a snap that her father works in a bank. But she could not answer questions like what does he do there? how much he makes? how long has he been working there? etc. Questions like how much her father was making, and whether he made enough for the family or not were not on her mind. She was totally absorbed in her own little world, which was her school.

Last year, in April, she took the 8th grade test and passed, and at the same time turned twelve. At the same time the family moved into this house.

Then her father explained to her—

“School is too far from this house. Right? You tell me how you can walk all alone all the way from here to there. You can’t, right? Yes? … No? You just say that but in reality you can’t. I know. Listen to me. You have passed the 8th grade exam. Not just passed but passed in flying colors. Okay! Isn’t that enough? Look at that Sitalakshmi. She got her M.A. degree. And then what? She got married, yes? … therefore … for a girl, marriage is the final goal. Understand?” Her father went on talking on those lines–giving some good excuses, and a few ‘no-good’ excuses and thus put an end to her schooling.

Kamalabala understood on that very day that all those reasons were not real reasons but lame excuses, and there was another real reason. After father left for work, she went to her mother. She begged, screamed and raised a rumpus. Her mother, Seshamma garu, was exhausted and yelled back, “What are you thinking? Do you think your dad is a millionnaire to put through school all the ten children? Or, do you think we have a tree in our backyard growing rupees? Do me a favor and stop crying. Got it? Go, move those raw sticks into the sun.” And then she rushed into the kitchen furiously.

Kamalabala dabbed her tears quietly. From then on, she has gotten used to dabbing her tears without others noticing it.

On that particular day, Seshamma garu jacked up the number of her children to ten out of her frustration but in reality she did not have ten children.

The last daughter Vimala was born ten years after Kamala was born. In between, there were four boys. They were Sitaramudu, Radhakrishnudu, Parvatiprasadudu, and Gangadharudu. All the four of them were Raos[1]. However their nicknames at home, or rather the way they were called at home was like this: “Hey Sita, hey Radha, you Ganga, you Parvati … Come on, the food is getting cold … Wherever we got those plants. What a pain. Your akka (older sister) has lost her mind. Whatever happened to you? Come on, hurry, I haven’t got all day …” That is the usual dialogue of Seshamma garu with her children.

Soon after they moved into the new house, Seshamma garu sowed coriander seeds, bitter gourd and other vegetables. After a few days Kamalabala came in running. “Ammaa, ammaa, did you see the coriander plants near that wall? There are hundreds of them,” she said. She could hardly contain herself.


“There, near the compost.”

“Near the compost? They are marigolds, you dim-wit.”


“Yes, yes.”

“Will they blossom marigolds?”

“What do you think? That you get snake gourd from the marigold plants? That is cute! Children nowadays! We send them to school, and they lose whatever little brains they had[2],” Seshamma garu said, amused.

Kamalabala’s attitude has changed since then. She didn’t decide to plant a flower bed right away. It was more like the way things take their course– like when you find a diamond in a heap of charcoal. First you would separate it from the pile, clean it up and store it in a safe place, right? Kamalabala decided to separate those plants from the manure and plant them in a better place, which eventually led to growing a garden. Later the same Kamalabala brought the same manure and spread around the same plants, but that is beside the point. The first thing she did was to bring some of those marigold plants and plant them in their yard.

The younger brother who did not help to bring the plants or to sow them, but was eager to express his views, “Akkaya, are you planting them all in the backyard? Wouldn’t it be beautiful if you sow some in the front yard as well? When they start blooming, that would be a sight to watch for all those walk by.”

She was convinced that it was a good idea and so she planted some of them in the front yard.

Radha said, “Akkaya, I think it would be nice if you plant them in rows.” Kamala followed that advice also.

Parvati intervened, “Akkaya, Akkaya, if you plant them so closely, they are going to look like the stuff in our rooms. Make some room for them.”

Kamala was annoyed. “Shut up. Nobody asked you for advice. Come and help me if you care. Or else just shut up,” she yelled. Although she yelled at him, she did make room for each plant.

Ganga did not offer any advice. He brought water with a little pot and gave it to her.

Vimala offered no advice nor sat quietly. In a desperate attempt to plant some plants, stomped on some of them, jumped into everybody’s way, and then she was yelled at by Kamala, was comforted by Sita and was taken to mother, finally.

By the end of the day, they all together planted 30 plants in six rows. That evening the plants wilted.

The moon did not show up that night. There were no clouds. There were stars in the sky. Kamala was not looking at the sky. With her star-like eyes, she was staring at the marigold plants furtively in the dim light of the tiny wick lamp in her hand, and slouching over the flower bed.

She did not let her father and mother breathe that night for her fear that the plants may not live.

“Would they live or not?” that was the crux of the problem for her.

“They will live. Or else, they will not. Just shut up and go to sleep. Stop pestering me,” Seshamma garu said, rolling over to the other side.

Kamala couldn’t remember when she fell asleep. She was not aware that a bunch of clouds came that night and poured rain on the plants either.

Next day Kamalabala woke up early in the morning, and walked to the flowerbed, still rubbing her eyes to wake herself up.

She screamed at a high pitch and went running to the flower bed.

Only a mother would understand the feeling. A father would understand it. Probably the God would know, and all the humans who give life to a human must know—the surprise, amazement, pleasure and excitement of a thirteen year old at the sight of the small plants standing tall that morning.

She approached the plant from this side. She rushed to the one on the other side. She became the plant here. She was also the plant on the other side. She was the cloud of last night. The same Kamala is shining like the sun this morning. She is also the fine breeze that is blowing this morning. That excitement of Kamala turned her into a different Kamala altogether.

Taking care of those plants became the primary vocation for Kamala. But she did not consider it her exclusive right. The entire family participated in the venture and became shareholders. Ganga’s job was to keep bringing water in his little pot and watering them. Parvati is assigned the job of bringing the pail and shovel from the gardener (landlord’s employee) and returning it. It was Radha’s duty to fetch manure and feed the plants. Sita’s duty was to inspect the plants twice a day. The gardener, landlord’s employee, assumed the duty of paying occasional visits and offer his learned advice. Avataram garu took up on himself, with his limited knowledge, at pedda balasikha[3] level, to offer mediocre advice. He returns from work everyday, and sits in the easy chair by the plants, and reads newspaper. Seshamma garu sits next to him, sewing something, or not sewing, and chatting about a wide variety of things, and in between, shows off her pride regarding the plants and the children.

One morning:

“Akkaya, a bud, a bud,” Parvati shouted exuberantly.

That day Kamala knocked about all over the house as if she lost her mind. That day Ganga poured water to the plants like there was no end to it.

All the plants showed buds.

Then the question came up—which one was going to open first—the one in the first row or the third row?

While the debate was in progress, one bud on the shortest plant opened partly. It could have been the goldmine itself.

At that time not only Kamala but all the kids broke into hullabaloo, with their aahhs, and hoos. Even Avataram garu couldn’t help expressing his pleasure at the sight. Seshamma garu turned into a child herself. Vimala screamed at the top of her voice and started jumping up and down.

Then another rule was put in place. Kamala warned Vimala, “Vimala, if you touch the flower I will tell dad and have him flog you alive. So don’t even think about it.” That warning was the origin for the new rule that no one should pick flowers.

At first, they did not want to pick the only flower that has blossomed. Then they decided that they should wait until each plant blooms one flower at the least. Eventually all the plants had flowered but for the one plant—the one in the middle of the third row. That plant stubbornly refused to bloom. Eventually, after a long time, it showed signs of budding. Four flowers opened.

Kamala gave in and allowed Vimala to pick one flower from that short plant. No, actually she did not let her pick; Kamala picked the flower herself and gave it to Vimala. Later she regretted it too.

That night Ganga sat next to the flower bed, balancing himself on his heels. Kamala was standing next to him, with her hands on her waist, and watching the plants. Then he asked her, “Akkaya, you have said earlier that if the goats eat the plant, the plant weeps. How come you picked the flower today?”

Akkaya [Kamala] did not reply. She was looking at the short plant tenderly.

Up in the sky, the moon was dawdling aimlessly. The moonlight was soaking into the marigolds or gliding off the marigolds. They could hear Radha’s laughter from within the house. The remaining stub after the flower was picked was staring at the moon sadly. Kamala looked at the stub lovingly.

Suddenly Kamala came to a big decision. She told her brother, “Hey, Ganga, let’s not pick flowers any more.”

That was the story last year.

Months passed by. A new year came in. The seeds from last year were sown, and new plants started growing. This time Avataram garu took personal interest, and prepared soil on a larger area between the two houses. They moved the plant beds into the strip. Ganga and Parvati were waiting to bring and supply water to the plants without a break. Sita helped in bringing the manure in his own small way. The plants grew up. They started budding and flowering.

They all were sitting one day near the plant beds. It is at that charming moment, the skinny Bhagavanlu showed up at their door.

Avataram garu has gotten used to him—each month, the night after he had received his paycheck, he would tell himself, “that skinny scoundrel will show up first thing in the morning.” He could not go to bed without remembering that line. In much the same way he described it, the skinny Bhagavanlu would show up at the strike of seven in the morning, yelling, “Sir, Avataram garu!” Each month he comes to collect the rent. The voice, carrying ten shades, sounds like it is hollering at all the ten avatarams[4].

Bhagavanlu’s job was to take care of the house, the garden and the related business on behalf of the owners. On that day, he took the rent and said, “The owners are coming for christmas holidays,” and left giggling. It gave him great pleasure that the owners’ presence would make the rentors behave.

The owner is no favorites of Kamala. She does not know him personally. He never comes to the guest house. The landlady seems to be okay. The eldest daughter lives in the city with her in-laws. Kamala never met her. The second daughter was 16 years old but looks 25 and acts like a ten-year old. She were around, there would be no crops on the ground, and no rains from the sky.[5] The third daughter, a ten-year old, was quiet a handful. Avataram’s family refer to her as ‘the girl with two pony-tails’.

The owners arrived at noon the day before. They got out of the car. The last girl was the first to jump out of the car like a ball and run in to the house. The owner got out next. His head was bald. He was smooth and fair-skinned. He was wearing a flannel outfit. His wife got out slowly, after him. She was a well-rounded person. She was wearing a blood red colored saree. Her skin was like a 24-carat gold. Their second daughter did not get out of the car. The others helped her out. She was wearing an overcoat over her saree. She was moaning loudly.

“What happened to the young lady, madam?” Bhagavanlu asked with great concern and respectfully. He was told that the young lady was running temperature—one half of a point.

Skinny Bhagavanlu was not worried about it. Kamala couldn’t care less.


Why did the owners come now? How long would they stay? Would that young lady suffer from fever for the entire time of their stay here? yes or no?—Kamala spent all night mulling over these questions.

Kamala woke up next morning. She slowly walked to the front door. Last night a nurse came to take care of the landlord’s second daughter. In the afternoon, their servant came and borrowed a brass pot from Seshamma garu. beyond that, there were no other events to report.

However, around three in the afternoon something happened. Kamala went to water the plants with a small pot, dropped the pot and ran into the house, screaming.

The landlady walked into the front patio adjoining the living room of the main house, and at the same time, Seshamma garu came to the front door of the guesthouse.

The youngest daughter of the owners—the one with two pony-tails, wearing a blue frock, and looking like a fully blown football—was screaming at the top of her voice, “I can do whatever I want. I want to pick them, and I will.” Kamala held her hands and shouted, “No, you can’t. Don’t pick them.” The two were wrestling intensely. Three marigolds got crushed in the scuffle and fell on the ground.

“Hey girl! What is that noise?” the landlady asked harshly, tackling clearly Kamala alone. The two girls stopped scuffling and looked at her. Seshamma garu walked up to them, released Kamala’s grip, and let go of the other girl.

“See mommy,” the girl with two pony-tails tried to explain.

“Never mind. You take as many flowers as you please,”[6] the landlady told her daughter, and turned to Kamala’s mother.

“What is the big deal? Flowers after all? Why is your daughter raising such a rumpus? Silly! My baby can and will pick as many flowers as she wants. Don’t say anything to her,” she said to Seshamma garu and went away. She did not look upset. It was obvious though that she was annoyed though—for the tenants fussing over such a small matter. In her mind it was ‘quite unnecessary’. Seshamma garu wanted to say something but she didn’t get a chance. The landlady disappeared into the house.

Kamala looked into mother’s face. Her face was saying that she had no courage to stop the baby. Not in so many words but Kamala got the message.

“This gun will not go off.”[7]

She did not have to say that. Seshamma garu was not a gun-like person. It was not in her nature.

In the meantime the little girl was snapping all the flowers, as many marigolds as she pleased. It seemed like there was no end to it.

The mother and daughter walked slowly towards their home, without looking back. Vimala was standing at the door, holding Ganga’s hand. She was weeping. Ganga stood there, he couldn’t weep.

What is the big deal about marigolds?

Kamalabala was dabbing her tears.

The moon from above the silhouette of the two-storey building, was scattering smiles with abandon, numerous beautiful smiles.

Kamalabala was wiping her tears.

She has been wiping her tears ever since.


[Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi, and published on, September 2002.

Translator’s Note: Marigold is national flower for Telugu folks, bursting with color, easy to grow and pleasing to the eye. We cherish them fondly. Ravi Sastry takes this very ordinary event of growing the marigolds, makes it an issue for bringing family together, and at the end, converts it into a metaphor for class distinction and the attitudes of the haves towards have nots.]

[The Telugu original, puvvulu has been published in 1950s]

[1] Meaning their names ended in Rao. e.g. Sirarama Rao, Radhakrishna Rao and so on.

[2] A popular proverb: chadaveste unna mati kuudaa poyindita.

[3] Children’s textbook to learn for Telugu alphabet.

[4] Refers to the ten incarnations of the God in Hindu philosophy. Avatram apparently feels the weight of rent as ten-fold, due to the insensitivity of the collector.

[5] A popular proverb, that no good comes when the person is around. In Telugu the text is: kindanunte panTalunDavu meedanunTe vaanalunDavu.,

[6] The dialogue is in English in the original. Sastry, and many Telugu writers use English in Telugu stories to show the sophistication of the characters.

[7] A typical Sastry phrase.

Woman’s Wages by Patnala Iswara Rao

Alugolu[1] bus is running along the Nellimarla[2] river to Ramatheerdhalu[3].

Ramatheerthalu Hill is visible far away- like a finely polished, single stone.

A little away, a man is waving his hand to stop the bus. A woman was beside him carrying a child. The bus stopped.

“Baboo![4] Is it Alugolu bus?”

“Yeah!” the conductor’s voice is mingled with the noise of the bus door as it opened.

He is wearing a pancha[5] that is barely covering his knees, and a tee shirt, torn and foul-smelling. He is looking like a xerox copy of the country’s economic system.

“How much fare to Alugolu, Baboo….?” He asked wiping his face with a sweaty towel.

“One and a half rupee”

“How much for my lady, Baboo??” The passengers in the bus burst into a big laughter.

“Naidu[6] sir! It is same fare either for ladies or your highness. Total three rupees,” answered the conductor sarcastically, with a twisted smile.

People in the bus laughed roaring again..

The man could understand the meaning of such laughs.

“In our village, we all work the hardest, from sunrise to sunset, and they never pay the same wages to our ladies as they give us Baboo! That’s why I asked,” said Naidu.

The bus left.

Outside the sun is showing his glory.


(Translated by Sai Padma Murthy, and originally published on, March 2005.)


[1] A village in Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh

[2] A village in Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh

[3] Ramatheerdhalu- a place of pilgrimage in Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh

[4] A form of address like “sir” –used by lower class people to show their respect to upper class and educated people

[5] A kind of outfit for men. Long, one piece cloth, made of cotton, worn like pants.

[6] A caste name, also used in addressing.

venomous creature

by Nidadavolu Malathi

As soon as the word was out that I was transferred to Mutyalapalli High School, all my friends and well-wishers in town were shocked. Their concerns sounded more like a stream of condolences.

The village administrator said, “What a misery. Some idiot, probably a gardener of a nephew of a minister or something. Stupid, just stupid, I must say. Why does he have to put in a request for transfer to our town? Let’s say he did; why do they have to select you for transferring and, that too, to Muthyalapalli of all places?”

I laughed rather indifferently. But I must admit I was touched by their concern for me as well. I tried to calm them down. I said, “You are too kind. Let’s not forget that the people in Muthyalapalli are also human, maybe, they are a little rougher but who’s not? You all know me. You know I have my ways.”

“That is what we are worried about, ma’am. You are sooooo forthright, straight as arrow. Muthyalapalli people are not like muthyalu (pearls). They are more like Cuddapah slabs. You stick to your guns and, … ” The first assistant, Raghunatha Rao, did not finish the sentence, as if he was afraid even to think of what next.

I was amused. “You are a descendent of Sivaji, the Great; I can’t believe you’re scared? And then making a coward of me too?” I teased him.

Finally, the day came. I bid farewell to all those nice people and set out on my journey to Muthyalapalli. I sat in the horse-drawn cart and looked out. The village was disappearing gradually. For the first time, it struck me – the strong ties between the village and I.

I arrived in Muthyalapalli by late afternoon. I was surprised to see three teachers, two attendants and a peon at the bus stand. How did they know I was coming by that very bus? Did they dream of it? Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to identify who’s who of that reception party. They introduced themselves to me in the order of their seniority; and then showed me the home they’d fixed for me. I kept my distance per my habit. I answered their queries in monosyllables, or two at best, while drawing my own conclusions about them, based on their language. Within 15 minutes, I had a fair idea about each one of them. In about 30 minutes, this mutual assessment session was over; I managed to send them away, without displeasing anybody, of course.

Next day I went to the school. I could see that they all were waiting for me anxiously. Once again, I managed to send them quickly. I was bent on not giving them a chance to get close to me.

It was ten minutes after ten. The peon brought the attendance register and put it on my desk. I checked all the signatures and was about put my initials at the end. Then I noticed that one signature was missing.

“Rosayya did not come?” I said.

“I am Rosayya, ma’am,” he replied politely.

He arrived late, just in time to bring in the register, that is. He brought it as soon as he came in. He could have signed the register but didn’t; that is his way of proving his honesty. He wanted to let me know of the fact and then sign.

I was amused but didn’t show it.

“Why are you late?” I had to ask. He wanted to be asked.

“I’m late, ma’am,” he said.

“I’m asking you why you came late,” I repeated patiently.

“Delayed, ma’am.”

That threw me off. “Look, I’m not sure what’s your habit. But I’m used to getting straight answers and following the rules. I will not tolerate your games and silly excuses. Next time whether you are late or delayed, you will lose one half day for each day you are late. You had better clean up your act,” I said pushing the register toward him. Whatever he was thinking, he did not show it in his face. I couldn’t tell. With no emotion on his face, he signed, waited until I put my initials, and then went away with the register.

Within the next one half hour, it became clear that it was not over. I received several messages, comments, and suggestions from several members of the staff regarding Rosayya’s behavior. The quintessence of all their messages, comments and suggestions was that I must keep an eye on Rosayya. Some of their comments were: Rosayya acts like he is above all the rules and regulations of civic life; he would not care about reprimands, not even filing charges would help; and, above all, he is a professional snake-catcher. He is the personification of Yama (the God of Death) for all the snakes in the 10 to 12 villages in the region. Remember the story of king Parikshat; performed the Snake Sacrifice to get rid of all the snakes? Now, here, we have Rosayya committed to do the same. The only difference is Rosayya catches them with his magic spell.

In other words, they all made it clear that I am in for trouble if I tried to confront Rosayya; that would be like hitting my head against a boulder or scratching it with a burning torch!


I was very polite but firm. I told them that I would not hear of any such cock and bull stories and sent them away. But then, I also noticed that Rosayya was invariably late, by 10 minutes at the least. Also, there was no guarantee that he would show up at all. I would know of his presence only when I actually saw him! I tried to tell him in so many ways that he must be on time and must let me know in advance if he were not showing up. One day he said that he was biking from his home eight miles away and hence the delay. To me, that did not make a whole lot of sense.

A couple of times, I issued memos but there was no change in Rosayya’s schedule. The strange part was, once he came to work, he was so good in discharging his duties. Proverbially, “You show it with your shoe and he wears it on his head”.

I never had any problem with him but for his late attendance. The other teachers, on the other hand, had plenty to say. They said Rosayya was ignoring their orders, and at times, he was nowhere to be found.

Within one month Rosayya became an unsolved mystery for me. That became very clear on the day a parcel was found missing. Normally, it’s Rosayya’s duty to bring the school mail from the Postmaster’s house. I could never figure out if a mailman ever existed in Muthyalapalli, and what was he doing if not deliver the mail. But the fact remains it was Rosayya’s duty.

That day I went home since I had houseguests. The same day a parcel addressed to the school did not make it to my office. How did I know about it? Well. I came to know about it when the postmaster’s son came to pick up the return receipt, duly signed. The boy said his dad had given the parcel and the return receipt to Rosayya. I asked the clerk at the front desk. He said that Rosayya left school at the same time I did and never returned.

I assured the boy, the postmaster’s son, that I would look into the matter and get back to him later. Then I told the clerk to issue a memo to Rosayya. He clucked his tongue, which meant it was of no use; Rosayya had received several memos in the past, and one more was not going to make any difference.

“I told you. He’s an irresponsible idiot,” the Telugu teacher expressed his opinion in English, shaking his head vigorously.

“You must take severe action,” the English teacher spoke in classical Telugu, ostentatiously.

Everybody seemed to be enjoying the fact that the headmistress fell flat on her face; they even felt sorry for her.

I grit my teeth and said, frowning, “You’ll see, just wait; let him come.”

“You be careful, ma’am. You’re dealing with a venomous creature. He is the god of death for all the snakes and us too,” the art teacher warned me, reminding me of Rosayya’s specialty.

Rosayya came back to school the following day, at about 3 in the afternoon.

The moment I laid eyes on him, I hit the roof. I said curtly, “For us, it dawned at six in the morning; and for you, the day started at 3 in the afternoon?”

“I will submit a request for leave of absence for both today and yesterday, ma’am,” he replied politely.

“A letter asking for leave of absence alone is not enough. You know that the work here suffers when you disappear like that, without notice. Why didn’t you tell me yesterday that you would not be back in the afternoon?”

“They called me suddenly, ma’am, to catch a snake.”

I just about had it. I was as angry as any headmistress could be in that situation. If he thought catching snakes was his job, why bother taking a job here at school? Whatever his reason, doesn’t he have an obligation to do his job, once accepted the job? Is this a pastime to come and go as he pleased? How could he take this job so lightly?

Rosayya did not say a single word. He stood there with folded hands and listened to all my ranting.

Exhausted, I switched to the main subject on hand. “Where is the parcel you’re supposed to have brought in yesterday?”

“I put it on your desk, ma’am, right here.” The story was: He put the parcel and the return receipt on my desk. Then somebody from a nearby village came and told him about a snake to be caught. So he left. He added that he would have asked for my permission if I were in my office.

“Why didn’t you take permission from the assistant headmaster?” I asked him.

He kept quiet.

“I want a written explanation regarding the lost parcel. Otherwise I will report it to the higher authorities,” I snarled.

“Where is the need for an explanation, ma’am? I put it on your desk. My duty was only to bring the parcel, is it not?” he said calmly.

That’s it. I was beside myself. “All right. I’ll show you what is your duty,” I said.

I called the clerk and prepared a charge sheet at once. I quoted all the memos, warnings and black marks he had received since he had started at this job. The charge sheet is a masterpiece. I even showed it to the English teacher and the Telugu teacher, just in case. They admired my drafting abilities. They both agreed that the charge sheet would show him his place; he would to come to his senses, for sure.

“The credit goes to you for bringing down a vicious cobra like him,” they said.

“I am not thinking about who gets the credit for what. I am doing this for the sake of the school, for discipline in our school,” I replied gravely.

.I gave the charge sheet to the typist and went home. I was not feeling good. For no obvious reason, my eyes started hurting. I laid back in my easy chair on the front porch and closed my eyes.

“Sister, look! Snake,” Gopi, the boy next door woke me up, screaming jubilantly.

Rosayya was standing in front of us with a little smile. He carried a small bundle in his hands.

“I was passing by. The young sear stopped me. He wants me show the snake,” he said. Then he threw down the bundle on the floor. It fell with a big thump. A genuine pedigree cobra, with Lord Krishna’s foot prints on its hood,[1] rose into the air, about one and a half feet high, and started swaying in a rhythmic movement. It was not clear whether he was hissing out of anger or suffocation, having been bundled up in a towel for so long.

Rosayya nudged him with his towel. The hood rose further up into the air. I got goose bumps all over.

“Show me the fangs,” Gopi asked; he could hardly contain himself for all the excitement.

“I pulled out two of them. There are two more.” Rosayya seized the snake’s neck deftly, opened his mouth and gave a little lecture demonstration – what is a fang, how much poison it will hold, and how the poison gets into the fangs and so on.

All the while, I was grappling with only one question – What is his intent in bringing a snake to my house?

“You can take a picture, madam,” he said, leaving the snake on the floor once again.

“Me? In the company of a snake?” I said, laughing faintly.

“I didn’t mean it like that, ma’am,” he said, also laughing.

Rosayya wrapped up the snake in his towel and left. Suddenly, I recalled the warnings of the art teacher. Did Rosayya bring the snake on purpose? To show me his might? Is this his way of threatening me? Whatever it is, I told myself that I would not be intimidated; I did what I had to do – do my duty. His behavior was inappropriate and he must pay the price.

Next morning, while signing the charge sheet, it felt like I was tracing the movements of the snake I’d seen the day before. Just for a second. I reminded myself of all the teachers who were supportive of my action and also my own responsibility. I gave the charge sheet to the clerk for dispatching.

The school was closed for the summer. I put the science teacher in charge for the summer and went to my hometown, a two-hour trip by bus. Generally speaking, traveling by bus is not my thing. I hate the co-passengers who would not rest until they had learned where I was going, what I was doing and so on. It is equally annoying when they give their entire family history, unasked: My mother is here; that’s my brother; he came to see me off, … In order to avoid such unpleasantness, usually, I find a seat next to the window, sit there and lose myself in my own thoughts. I did the same on that day too. But I couldn’t help hearing the words a favorable breeze blowing my way.

“Gosh! You should be there to see what I’m saying; it was twice the arm’s length. I nearly choked, my heart shattered into tiny bits.” Almost involuntarily I looked in her direction. A woman, probably from the east coast, was sitting there with a little baby in her lap, feeding him. She continued the narrative, “My baby was sleeping in the cradle. I don’t know how it got there but it was there wound up around the cradle bar. I was too scared to pick up the child and too worried to leave him alone. My heart stopped beating. Then my neighbor ran to Muthyalapalli and brought him, the snake-catcher. Even he struggled for a while, you know; it was so hard even for him. He had to make sure that the child was safe, you know! …”

The pint-sized teacher’s words flashed across my mind, “ayyo, talli, don’t trust the scoundrel; he says such stories only to frighten us. Don’t trust that scoundrel”.

I wished for a second I had not sent up that charge sheet.

After my vacation, I returned to school. The transfer orders for Rosayya were set, ready to go. For all the crimes he had committed, he was transferred to the other end of the district.

“How can transfer be a punishment? He is not doing his job here. How can we expect him to behave in another school? He should have been fired,” the science teacher said, apparently unhappy about the outcome.

“Let it go. Let’s say, we did it on humanitarian grounds. He has saved a child’s life. That deserves commendation,” I said.

“Oh, Gosh! You don’t really believe all those cock and bull stories, do you?”

What can I say? I didn’t want to argue with him or any other teacher any more. They are that kind of people; it’s easier to pretend that I had believed them than try to change their minds. I issued orders relieving Rosayya from his job, effective immediately.

The same day, the maid at my home quit. Until then I didn’t know. She said she and Rosayya were engaged; he moved to our village only because of her, to be with her; he makes enough money from catching snakes, enough for both of them to live like Raja and Rani; people are afraid of him for no good reason; their fears are coming only from their own heads; there is not a single instance where he hurt anyone for that matter; that’s how their weak hearts work. …

I listened to her silently; I could not think of single thing to say. Like she said, the teachers were scared of Rosayya for no apparent reason; and I became, rather unwittingly, their weapon to avenge themselves on him.

“It’s okay, ma’am! They will realize some day, in their own way. As for my man, and me it turned out all right. Since we are going so far away, we moved up the wedding date. We will get married here and then leave,” she said, giggling happily.

They both came to see me before they left. Rosayya did not say a word either about the charge sheet or the transfer.

A few days passed by rather uneventfully. Then came the annual inspection. I was supervising the building clean up personally. In the process, I found a parcel tucked away in a corner in the science lab. A big part of it was chewed up by rats. I had to strain my eyes to figure out the postmarks. It was the same parcel Rosayya was accused of losing. Our maid’s words came to my mind, “Their fears are in their heads. That is how their weak hearts work.”

Rosayya is a much bigger man than any of us could ever hope to be, I thought.


Published on, December 2002. Read the Telugu version here.

(The original Telugu story, vishappurugu, was published in Taruna monthly magazine in the late 1960’s. )


[1] According to Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna danced on the hood of the Cobra, Kaleeya, and ever since all the cobras carry the imprint on their hoods.

Sanamma by Malati Chendur

I was listening Tyagaraya lyric and cutting string beans for the curry for the next day. My husband was busy writing something in the living room. On our street there is no end to the hollering of the beggars as soon as it gets dark. Their hollering annoys my husband. He starts sermonizing, “why can’t they work… ”

“Ma’am, ma’am,” I heard a woman’s voice at the front door.

“Go away, just go,” my husband shouted at her.

“A little drinking water, sir,” the female voice said again sounding desperate.

“No water, nothing, out. Go. What a headache. They won’t let me write peacefully for a second,” he yelled again.

I got up and walked to the door. There was a woman, short, thin and small. She was holding a small clay pot for water.

At first I didn’t notice her. While pouring water in her pot the street light helped me to recognize her.

I finishing pouring water and turned around.

My husband said, still annoyed, “I told her to go away and you gave her water. Just watch. Today it is water, tomorrow broth and the next day a full meal.”

“The maid throws away two huge buckets of water in the morning. What have got to lose by giving two small pots of water,” I said.

“Yes. Give her water. You will earn credit in the heaven.”

“I don’t know whether it is a credit or debit. We have plenty of water. They need some to drink. That’s all I gave them,” I said. Before I finished he was lost in his writing.


Four days ago I was standing at the door waiting for my husband. It was then I noticed a small family on the sidewalk across the road. Usually everybody hates these sidewalk dwellers. So do I. I hate the sight. There are three of them–husband, wife and a seven year old boy with two tin cans, two clay pots, a torn mat, a winnow and some other stuff. That is all they have. I did not like the sight. Each time I open the door I will have to see these sickly faces? I asked myself. But how can I ask them to go away? If they were on my side of the street I could have told them to move. But they are on the other side. But then why should I care? I decided to keep quiet.


After that I totally forgot about them for whatever reason. Last night when I was giving her water, I recognized the woman as the same woman across the street. That is all.



It is common knowledge that women in ancient times used to think of the God first thing in the morning every day. Some traditional women would touch their husbands’ feet as a ritual. Do you know what the women of my times look for – not the God, not the husband but the maid servant. If the milkman does not show up, we can use the canned milk for coffee. But if the maid servant does not show up, the world crumbles!


It is getting late. I put out the dirty dishes last night for the maid servant to come and clean. The crows are tumbling them around. I went to the door a couple of times looking for the maid servant. There was no sign of her. The woman across the street saw my glum face and said something to me.

“What’s the matter ma’am? The maid servant did not show up or what? I don’t mind putting the floor designs in the front yard, ma’am,” she said.

For that day she took care of cleaning the front yard and washing the dishes. I gave her some loose change and the left over rice.

I was waiting for my husband to wake up so I could tell him that there are good people among the beggars and the sidewalk dwellers too. But he woke up late and I did not get a chance to convey the happy thought.

The woman again came in the evening, swept the rooms, swept the front yard, put the floor designs, and washed dishes. During that period we two talked a lot.


In out towns usually the houses will have huge backyards. The servants wash dishes in a corner, away from the house. But in cities like Madras, the bathroom is adjacent to the kitchen, and the backyard is immediately next to it. In some houses we won’t even have that much space. The space for washing dishes will be right in front of the bedroom or hallway. The maid serve is constantly in front of you.

When I see a person right in front of me for so long, it is impossible for me not to talk. I keep asking something or other. And they keep responding in their broken Telugu.

“What is your name?”

“Sanamma, ma’am,” she said.

“Are you new to Madras?”

“No, ma’am. We moved here from Ongole in my mother’s time. My uncle lives in Tiruvallur. He works in a factory,” Sanamma replied.

“What about your husband? Does he have a job?”

“He used to work in a tin factory that makes lanterns. Four months back he lost his job. He is unemployed now.”

“Why didn’t look for another job?”

“He is going out every day looking for work. Couldn’t find any, ma’am. I am working in that house, the third from here for 8 rupees.”

“Is that enough for you?”

“How can it be enough, ma’am? We used to live in Puliyamthopu. We couldn’t pay rent for three months. The landlord took away our pots and pans and threw us out. So we came here with the few remaining pots and tin cans.”

“Did you ever live like this before, I mean on the streets?”

“No, ma’am. He used to earn 40 rupees per month. I used to bring another 8 rupees. We used live okay with that money. He lost his job. That is the start of our problems ma’am,” said Sanamma.

I was lost for words. Sanamma is a proud woman, I thought. It seems she is not used to begging and being yelled at. I must say, it is the fate.


Nowadays even the educated are having a hard time to get a job. It sure is not going to be easy for an unskilled laborer like Sanamma’s husband to find a work if lost the one he has.


I did not ask how Sanamma’s husband lost his job. There could be a million reasons. Our servant was back next day. She was talking about several things as usual and during the conversation she mentioned how Sanamma’s husband lost his job.


In Madras there are lots of places where people make small measuring cups and such items with the old tin cans. Some make lanterns and the burners for lanterns with the same old tin cans. It seems some of them are even exported. They buy the glass shades from other stores and complete the rest of the lantern in their shops. Sanamma’s husband was working in one such shop and they were living comfortably.


They rented a small room in Puliyamthopu and all the three –husband, wife and the child were living comfortably. He did not lose his job for going on a strike or asking for higher pay.


A small piece of tin pricked his hand and it became big sore. He could not do the job and so his kindly employer found another worker in his place. Is Sanamma’s husband so clever as to fight for workers’ rights. Possibly he does not even know of such things. Sanamma called it their “karma” and let go of it.



We went to see the first show and returned. As I was unlocking the door, I heard somebody groaning from across the street. My husband opened the door and went in.

I turned toward Sanamma’s husband and asked him what happened.

He said Sanamma was three months pregnant and having pains in the stomach since evening.

“Take her to the hospital,” I said.

“They don’t take her in until morning. Even then how can I make her walk, ma’am?” he said.

“Take her on a rickshaw,” I was about to say and bit my tongue. I have a small change in my hand, the balance after spending our money on the busfare, jasmine flowers and a magazine. I put the change in his hand.


We watched Rita Hayworth dance in Technicolor and enjoyed. My husband was taking bath in the bathroom. The smell of sandalwood soap filled the room. We will eat a sumptuous meal and go to bed. Across the street, those poor fellows! Sanamma, her husband and the child! Did the child have food to eat at least? What kind of lives these people have? Here we are behind these closed doors and they on the street!


“We can worry about one person, may be two. When there are countless people like that in the world, what can we do? Don’t think about them,” he says. That’s true. But then why my heart is so agitated?


The following evening Sanamma’s husband came and told me that she lost the baby and the doctors suggested she stay in the hospital for about four days. That’s good, I thought. She will have some food at least there.


The mother is in the hospital. The father went around and brought a little food to eat. Poor thing! The little boy was sitting there nervously all day keeping an eye on their pots, the cans and the worn out mat.


Usually I don’t come out unless there is a need. It was about 12:30 in the afternoon. The mailman has not come yet. I was waiting for a letter from my sister. I came out to looking for the mailman. Sanamma’s son with drawn in stomach put forth his hand for some small change, I believe. I threw a coin at him.


After about a half hour or so, I heard noises in the street and went out to see what happened. Just looking at the sight itself was disturbing to me. What about the people who are living such a hell? Sanamma’s son was crying his heart out. Some ten children and a few women surrounded him and his pots.


The boy pointed to me and said, “That ma’am gave me the money.”

The mother of a twelve year old said that money belonged to her son and the kid stole it. They were not in a mood to listen even if I had said that I gave him the money. They won’e let my word in. At the end our neighbor intervened and sent them away.


But the twelve year old boy is deadset on avenging on Sanamma’s son. He told his father after the father came back. After listening to the entire story, Sanamma’s husband beat up his own son.


The next morning at about ten, I was haggling with the vegetable vendor. Sanamma’s son was watching their possessions as usual. The children from the day before were passing by. They threw a couple of stones at him. One stone hit him. I heard the child crying and shouted at the boys. The boys ran away.


I hated those boys. One of the two pots Sanamma had is broken. Why do they have to throw stones at Sanamma’s son? Did I do something wrong by giving him a coin? It is that little money that started all these problems?

Some children like to take care of animals. And then there are others who enjoy pestering them just as much. If they see a limping dog pass by, they throw a stone at her. Same thing with a beggar and a sick person – whack them in stead of pitying them. Probably those are the children who grow up to become tyrants.

Sanamma’s husband returned in the evening after going around all day. He caught the boy who threw the stone at the pot. He did not hit him, not even call names. But the boy started screaming. A few people gathered around and looked at Sanamma’s husband. He was looking terrible, with his eyes drawn in, bushy long beard, and dirty worn out clothes.

The people who gathered there hearing the child’s cries chided him. “What is your status? And what is the boy’s status? He is the son of the man who owns that building. If his father hears about this, he will tear you up in to pieces. What a stupid thing to do,” they said.

It was Sunday. My husband was home. He had his second coffee and was reading the newspaper. I heard children’s laughs and shouts and went out to see. Sanamma’s husband was feeding the child. One of the boys from last evening’s fight, came from behind, snatched the towel on Sanamma’s husband’s shoulder and ran away.

He stopped feeding the child and ran after the boy, shouting aloud. The children were running, laughing and shouting, and Sanamma’s husband was running after them swearing. After running a few yards, the children dropped his towel. He picked it up and returned to the boy.

That day I saw an ordinary person can go crazy within a few hours right in front of my eyes. I can never forget that. I watched an ordinary man become insane like.

Ten children and some adults together managed to cause Sanamma’s husband lose his sanity. Don’t ask me how? They did it just for about an hour – coming from behind and pulling his clothes, throwing stones, making fun of him from a distance, they did it for an hour.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I went in and asked my husband to talk to the children. He laughed and said, “You know nothing about the world. Of course, a human will go crazy without money. Poverty is the start for insanity. Who are we to reprimand the children? Will they listen to us? We are much better off ignoring it rather than see and worry about it.”

I am only a woman, what can I do? I kept quiet.

That evening we went to the beach and returned home late. I noticed that there were not boxes, nor the worn out mat on the sidewalk. There were a few stones scattered around.

Three days passed by. One afternoon Sanamma knocked on our door. She was looking very thin.

“If I were by him, he would not have gone crazy. All these people made him lose his mind,” she said.

“What do you mean, crazy?”

“The hospital staff did not listen to her when she said he was not insane. What can I say? It is not a good time for us. It seems they would not release him for another 3 months. Even then they’d let him go only if he is cured. Otherwise they just keep him,” she said with tears.

“Sorry,” I said.

“If I come out, they throw stones at me. I like it here,” he said, it seems.

Sanamma’s son walked out from the house across, wiping his lips. Probably they gave him some food. he hid behind his mother.

I was lost for words.

“I did not know that his father was taken in by the police until he came to the hospital and told me, crying. I have decided to go to my uncle’s home. I can walk half the distance this afternoon and the rest tomorrow,” Sanamma said.

“Where to? Tiruvallur? How do go?”


“I will give you money. Take the train,” I said.

“I don’t want money, ma’am. I don’t have a saree to change. I had one rag which I was washing at nights and wearing in the day. That was also lost along with the pots. Can you give me some old saree?” she begged sounding dismal.


I gave her an old saree.


She refused vehemently to take any money.


“The kind gentleman in the house across gave me a half rupee. You gave me a saree. That is millions for me,” she said with folded hands. Sanamma, who does not have even a saree to wear, went away.




(Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, September 2001.)






A Desperate cry by Ranganayakamma

“The shameless bitch. Has become unruly. Who knows whose house she is

going to ruin next. Whose throat she’ll go for now,” Appalamma was reciting her monologue aloud, working on the dirty dishes vigorously.

Radha was chopping onions in the kitchen and heard the last two

words. “Who are you blessing, Appalamma?” She asked, coming out of the kitchen and dabbing her eyes.

“That bitch, Kannamma, ma’am,” she put down the dish and continued, gesturing exuberantly, “She stood on the railway tracks a little while ago, it seems, ready to throw herself under the train. The railway workers pulled her out, talking some sense into her. If I were there I would have pushed her right under the train.” Appalamma picked up the dirty dish in a huff.

“Why? Why did she want to throw herself under the train?”

“Playing games, ma’am. Crooked bitch!”

“Poor thing. Why are you so angry with her anyway?”

“What do you mean ‘why’, madam. The lecherous bitch.” Appalamma has been cursing that Kannamma non-stop for over a week now.

Apparently Kannamma moved here from somewhere. She has been going from door to door, begging for food. And then, it seems, she sets fire to the very house she is begging from – meaning she goes after the men in that house. Appalamma has been ranting this story for the past one week.

Radha heard it and kept quiet. She didn’t pay much attention to the story. Kannamma never came to her door. Radha did not understand why Appalamma was so upset with Kannamma. “Let it be. Bring the dishes quick,” she said and went in.

“In a minute ma’am. I work in four homes, ma’am. My palms are sore with pain. I’ve been telling you I can’t work for you anymore but you won’t listen. You insist on me working for you,” said Appalamma continuing her soliloquy.

That afternoon Radha fell asleep while reading a new magazine.

It was about one in the afternoon. It was sizzling hot. She vaguely heard a knock on the door. She also heard a child crying in a screechy voice. She got up hastily and opened the door. A woman was standing at the door looking like a wood figurine and with the crying child in her arms. She was jet dark, short and has small pox marks all over the body. Her hair was in a lemon size bun. A piece of cloth, about an arms length, was hardly covering her body. She has small black bag at her feet. She stood there with tearful eyes.

“Who are you? What do you want?” Radha asked, still a little sleepy, nevertheless not upset.

The woman quickly wiped her tears. She said in a husky voice, holding down her grief, “Ma’am, I am afraid the child might die. We haven’t had a meal since morning. I begged so many people. They all shouted at me, ‘go, go away’. Please let me have a small change.” She said it as if she has been practicing it and has said it to several people. Tears rolled down from her eyes.

The child in her arms wouldn’t stay still. He was wiggling like a worm. Possibly about 3 months old. She guessed it from his face but his legs and arms were looking like thin sticks. Radha felt sorry for them.

“I’ll give you money. But it’ll take time for you to buy milk and feed him. I have some milk inside. I can warm it up for you. Come in.”

The woman stood there still, surprised.

“It is alright. Go through the hallway and sit in the back porch. I will get the milk for you.”

Radha went in, lit the stove, mixed milk and water, warmed it up, added sugar, poured it into a glass and brought it back.

The child dozed off from fatigue, as if he has no strength any more even to cry.

“How can you feed him? Should I bring a small spoon?”

“No, ma’am. I have a small bottle,” she said, pulling out a colored bottle from her bag.

The mother held the child in her lap and started feeding. Radha brought out a small sitting plank and sat down, a little away from them.

The child finished the milk eagerly. Then fell asleep in his mother’s lap.


The mother spread an old piece of cloth on the floor and put him down.

“Ma’am! I need to wash my saree. He wet it. Can you give me a little water in a small pot?” she asked Radha.


“There, There is a tap in the bathroom. Go ahead and wash it clean,” Radha pointed in that direction.


That woman was wrapped in a piece of cloth that was hardly two arm lengths. That was all drenched and stuck to the body. She spread the wet part in the sun and sat there along with the cloth.


It was blistering hot. Anyone sitting in that sun would burn like charcoal.

Radha standing in the porch, asked her, “Don’t have another saree in your bag?”

“No, ma’am. I used to have two sarees. After he was born, they turned into rags. It’s okay, ma’am. It will dry soon enough.”


Radha went in and opened the box where she kept her old sarees. She found two sarees, a little worn out. She picked up the black saree with white border and came back.


She threw it at the woman who was sitting in the sun and said, “Here. Put this one on. Leave that cloth in the sun and you come here. There is some left over food. Would you like to eat?”

“As you please, ma’am!”

The woman looked attractive in the black saree with white border. Her face showed content as if she won a money bag.


Radha put some rice and dal in a leaf and gave it to her.

The woman finished it quickly. She threw away the leaf and washed her hands.

“Ma’am, if you don’t mind I will lie down here for a few minutes. After the child wakes up I’ll go away.”

“Okay. Lie down. Use that bag as a pillow. Oh, I forgot to ask. What is your name?”

“Kannamma, ma’am.”

“Kannamma?” Radha was surprised. She repeated in a high pitch, “You are Kannamma?”

Kannamma got up and sat upright.

“No, no. Lie down. I just asked, for no reason,” Radha said and went in. She tried to sleep but couldn’t.


She came out after ten minutes and saw that both the mother and the child were fast asleep, as if lost all senses.


Not a day passes by without Appalamma condemning this Kannamma. She called her amoral bitch. What is amoral?


Kannamma woke up at about 3 in the afternoon. Radha brought all the dirty dishes into the backyard and said, “No show of Appalamma again. Whatever could have happened this time. She is killing me. I don’t know when this pest goes away.” Radha sat down, annoyed, to pick stones from the rice.

Kannamma shook her loose hair and put it back in a bun and said, “I will wash the dishes for you, ma’am.”


Appalamma did not show up at all for the day. Kannamma finished the entire work. She washed the dishes glossy clean. Ground the idli dough silky soft. Swept the rooms clean. In the afternoon after Radha changed her clothes, Kannamma washed them and put them out to dry.


The child had milk for a second time and fell asleep.


Radha felt elated. She wished she had a maid like Kannamma. She put some hot upma in a leaf and gave it to Kannamma.

Her three children returned from school and gathered around the little child sleeping in the back porch. Radha was nearly exhausted answering all their questions.

“Mom, what is baby’s name?”

“I don’t know. Ask his mom,” Radha said.

Kannamma laughed and told the children, “Enkadu, sir. Tirupati Enkanna’s name.”

She sat there chatting with them for a half hour. Then she got up, picked up the child, and the bag and said, “I will leave now, ma’am.”


“Where to?” Radha asked involuntarily. Then checking herself, asked again, stretching the words, “I mean, where is your house? Where are you staying?”


“Nowhere, ma’am. Each day it is different, depending on whoever is kind to me.”

“Where are you originally from?”

“Not this town, ma’am. It’s a long way….”

“Where is the child’s father?”

Kannamma did not answer. She was reluctant even in the answers she has given so far.


“Are you the same person that stood on the railway tracks this morning?

What kind of an act is that, with such a tiny baby on your hands?” Radha chided her mildly.

Kannamma’s eyes filled with tears. “Those who don’t know how to live, ma’am, what else can they do but die?”

“So? You can find work in a few homes. That shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

“You are kind, ma’am, to say that. Ever since I came here everybody is chasing me like a mad dog. Every woman has only a bad word for me. I came here with the hope of finding work and make a living. Each day has become a struggle. I am worn out.”

“Alright. Where can you go now? We’ll see tomorrow. Put down the child to rest. Look! Take that pan and bring some water. I will start rice.” Radha went into the kitchen.


Kannamma put down the bag and put the child to sleep. The children gathered around the baby.


That night Radha told her husband about Kannamma. “Poor thing. She says she has no one in the world for her. Looks like a nice person. She is doing a good job of all the chores. I am tired with all these servants. Appalamma skips work at least four times a month. On top of it, she gets upset each time I ask her to do something. Think of the morning hours for instance – tiffins, coffees, and your office, children’s school… all come up rushing in on me…” Radha was talking non-stop. Her husband Satyannarayana cut short her tirade and said, “Sh. Sh. Stop. What is this long lecture about? Radha! Just tell me what are you getting at?”

“Oh, nothing. Can we keep Kannamma in our house?”

“It’s up to you. If you want a maid keep her.”

“That’s also like giving her a new lease on life. She has been going around from house to house with that tiny baby. That’s why..”

“That’s okay. What do we have got to lose? Plus you will have some help at home as well. But first explain everything to her in advance and tell her to be careful.” Satyannarayana finished his dinner and went into his room. Radha felt ecstatic.


Radha gave food to Kannamma and conveyed the news with a smile.

“Kannamma! you said you don’t have a place to stay. How about staying here in our home?”

Kannamma looked up, surprised.

How does it feel if someone says, “Kannamma! take this bag of one hundred thousand rupees?”


“What? Why don’t you say something?”


Kannamma was overwhelmed by a fit of pleasure and pain. “Ma’am, God Himself brought me here to your door. I am swearing on this food. I will behave with gratitude. I will never forget your kindness. I swear on my child.”

“Cha! Stop swearing. Hard working people will always find a way out. Don’t worry about it. I will keep milk in this pot. Would you like to have a little more rice?”

“No, ma’am. I am full.”

Radha went into the room and brought out a mat and a bed sheet, and gave them to Kannamma. She put away other things in the kitchen, reminded Kannamma about the milk for the child one more time and went to her bedroom.


Next day Appalamma came in while it was still dark and started knocking on the door. Kannamma was washing dishes and heard it. She went to open the door.

Appalamma was taken aback as if she saw a ghost.


Radha came to the door and said, “Appalamma! you’ve been saying that you don’t have time and that I should look for another maid. Well, I gave the job to Kannamma. Send your son a little later. I will settle your account.”

“What’s this, ma’am? Just because I didn’t show up for one day… you give my job to this bitch?”

“Stop yelling so early in the morning. She is working because I asked her to. Why blame her? You skip one shift per day. How can I manage with you? That is enough. Just go.”

“Okay, I’ll go. Let the bitch take my food from my mouth and eat, who knows for how long. She’ll go to hell. Her end is near. Her child will go to hell..”

Radha shut the door and went in to freshen up. Kannamma could hear all that shouting from Appalamma.




It is a week since Kannamma came.

A couple of times she found money while sweeping the rooms and returned it carefully to the owners.

Once Radha forgot her earrings in the bathroom. Kannamma brought them to Radha and said with some concern, “Ma’am, as ill-luck would have it, if these are lost, your suspicion would turn to me. Please be careful with your things.”


During that one week Radha heard Kannamma’s story also. Kannamma was married once at first. She has two sons by the first marriage. For about 5, 6 years the husband and wife were happy.

“Was your husband a good person?” Radha cut in.

“He would beat me up if he were angry. But he was a very good person.”

“Why would he get so angry? And even if he gets angry…”

“It’s okay, ma’am. After all, he has married me. He can do whatever he wants. If he were around, I wouldn’t be in this plight, ma’am!”


Kannamma’s husband died of some disease. For a couple of years Kannamma was living in her brother’s house along with her two children. She has no parents. Has only that brother and sister-in-law. The sister-in-law put her through all kinds of hardships, short of burning with a branding iron. She was not even giving her a full meal. Well, there wasn’t really enough to give either. She could at least have a kind word for Kannamma. But she wouldn’t.


One day Kannamma’s brother brought a marriage proposal. Kannamma was

not interested in remarriage. But she is better off marrying somebody. Or else this sister-in-law will make her life a living hell. But then

again the proposal her brother brought in was not at all to her

liking. In stead of marrying a 60 year old man, why not marry Appanna?

Appanna is a distant relative of Kannamma. His first wife died. No children. He has been following her and teasing her for sometime and Kannamma has been pushing him away. Still he continued to follow her.


“I will marry Appanna,” Kannamma said. Her brother hit the roof. He

swore at her. Kannamma left one night, leaving her children behind

and went straight to Appanna’s house. Appanna has parents. And they

liked Kannamma coming to them. So the parents have performed the ceremony in a temple secretly.


“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, ma’am,” Kannamma said regretting her action now.

“The man may be old, may be worn out. But if I had listened to my brother, I would have had a royal life. My brother would have come to my help any time I needed. I didn’t have the sense to see it when I agreed to this secret marriage.” Her eyes filled with tears.


“Well. It feels like that now. Probably anybody else would have done the same under the circumstances. Who knows what would have happened if you had married that old man?” Radha said sounding sympathetic.


“Yes, ma’am. At the time I thought that, after my marriage with Appanna, my brother calm down and would come around eventually. I was planning to get my children back. After a month or so I suggested “let’s go and get our children”. Do you know what Appanna said? “I don’t want any children! Who will feed them? Waste of food,” he yelled at me. I cried and begged him on my knees. I said I can’t live without seeing the children and went to bed without eating.


“Okay, you can go ahead and visit them for once,” he said. One evening I went to my brother’s place. I thought I would go there and bring them back with me. As soon as I set foot in the door both the children left their food plates and came running to me, wound up around my legs and started crying loud. I couldn’t contain myself and I broke into sobs too. Then my brother came out of his room, like the Lord Yama, the god of death. He grabbed the children by their arms and dragged them

into the house. He hollered profanities and threw me out into the street. He said he would chop me up into pieces with a butcher knife if he sees me again at his door. My husband here wouldn’t agree to bring the children. There my brother wouldn’t let me take them. What can I do ma’am?”


“Let it be. They are at least happy in your brother’s home. Even if you bring them, what more could you do?”


“That’s the reason I also decided to turn into a stone and keep quiet. Somehow a year went by. Appanna used to pull a rickshaw. He started drinking heavily. I cried. I poured my heart out. But he wouldn’t listen. Eventually he even stopped coming home at nights. I decided it it is his fate and let.”


One day my mother-in-law went out of town. Appanna did not come home.

My father-in-law came and sat on my bed. I was shocked and ran out into the streets. I lied down at the door all night.

… Appanna came home while it was still dark.”

“Why didn’t you tell him?” asked Radha.


“I did ma’am. I told him ‘your father did like this’ and cried my heart out.” “That’s silly. My dad is a good man,” he said, walking away clumsily into the his room. He slept like a log until noon. After he woke up, I saw his dad giving him a five rupee bill. My father-in-law has a liquor store. He used to make good money. So he would give money to his son frequently. My father-in-law didn’t bother me for about a week. And then again I don’t know what pricked his brains, he came and sat next to me. This time even my husband and my mother-in-law were still in the house. He started whispering. I got frightened and screamed. He shut my mouth up. I started crying. My husband won’t get up and come to my help. He was drunk and lying there. And as for my mother-in-law. She knew and still kept quiet.


“Shut up you bitch! Enough of your whining,” she barked.

“Listen to me. What do you think you will gain by trusting that numbskull,” my father-in-law kept pestering me.


Radha was listening curiously.

“Why did your mother-in-law keep quiet?”

“I understood later ma’am. She goes with whoever she pleases. And her husband keeps quiet about it.”

“That is strange,” Radha expressed surprise.

Kannamma felt bad and said, “It’s not good, ma’am. You should not hear this kind of stories. Ours are devious lives.”


“No. It’s okay. Tell me. Not that everybody is alike. Each according to their own belief. Your mother-in-law and father-in-law are doing fine. Here! your life is ruined. How come your husband didn’t have the sense to see it?”


“He has no guts to stand up to his dad. He used to beat me up for some reason or other. He would come near me only when he was drunk. If he were in his senses, he would push me away. So I became an easy target for my father-in-law.”


“Kannamma! How could you put up with such a hell? Why didn’t you and your husband move out and live happily, free from all those miseries?”


“I suggested exactly that, ma’am. He wouldn’t listen. His mom would cook the food and serve readily for him the moment he walks in. Her dad would give him a half rupee or so. He has no cares, not about salt, nor about dal. And then there is the bitchy wife waiting for him in the bed. Why would he listen when he can live such a carefree life? It is my arrogance, ma’am, that I married him without checking his ways. I lost my two children, charming like Rama and Lakshmana. Don’t I have to pay for my sins, ma’am?”

“Oh, did you ever get to see your children?”

“May be once in a month or two I would see them in the market. Usually I would dodge them for fear that they miss me and start crying for me if they see me too often. They are doing fine at my brother’s house.


My life ended up on the streets only after I got pregnant with this third child. I tried to tell my husband the good news but he was obnoxious. “Pregnant. Ha! I am no part of it. Go wherever you please,” he said.


My father-in-law saw what he was hinting at and was irritated. “What are babbling about? Who married her, you or me?” he said feeling guilty I believe.


“You should know that!” the son replied testily. Words flew high and they were about to start a fight. The people around intervened and stopped them. My husband left the same night and never returned, not after a month, not ever again. My mother-in-law did not like me staying there anymore. “Why are you still here? Do you see your husband anywhere in this house?” she would harass me every day. I didn’t like staying there either. But where else could I go? I have no place to go.

One day my mother-in-law saw that my father-in-law and I were in the same room. She bolted the doors from outside, started pulling her hair and shouting, “Did you all see this? This bitch… with my husband… is there a sin worse than this .. at least you people should teach her a lesson”.


All the people looked at me as if I were a worm. “What is wrong with you? You will lose your sight!” they said. Each one of them chewed me up. “You can’t live in my house. Go wherever you please,” said my mother-in-law. She pulled me out by my hair and threw me on to the streets along with my clothes.

I collapsed right there. All those gathered went away.


“Why didn’t go to your brother again?”


“I did. Where else can I go? I thought it’s okay even if he kills me. He stopped me at the door.”

“Wow! Can anybody be that cruel? Shouldn’t a human being have some kindness at heart?”


“Sounds like a lie to you. That’s the truth for me. You won’t see anyone more malicious than my brother. I would rather he let me in and then strangle me.”

“After that where did you go?”


A kind woman named Gangamma took me in. Gangamma has no children, ma’am. It seems she had a couple of miscarriages sometime back. And then she gained weight. Doctors told her that she could not have children anymore. So she took me in. At first she took me in out of kindness. Later she wanted to adopt my child, irrespective of whether it is a boy or girl. She asked me also. “Why not? Take the child. After all what do I have to raise a child with,” I said.


From then on both the husband and wife were taking good care of me. She would give the food first to me and then to others. Always bring something or other from the store for me. Never allow me to do anything, not so much as move a broom. She took care of me as if I were her child. I used to call her husband, ‘brother’. He also used to call me ‘sister’. I thought God was gracious to me.”


Kannamma kept narrating the story. Radha fell into her own thoughts – trying to guess what happened next before Kannamma told the story. She is saying somebody took care of her. Then why is she wandering on the streets like this? Where did this child come from?


“Didn’t give the child to Gangamma?” She threw in the question suddenly.

Kannamma fell silent and looked sad. “Ma’am! What can I say? Sounds like a lie to you. That’s the truth for me. A woman who steps outside her home is like someone standing stark naked on the street. Nobody asks if that is a good bitch or bad bitch. They all prey on her like an eagle.”


“I may be pregnant, but how can I live if I sit doing nothing. So I would go out looking for work. But, ma’am, where is a safe place for a bitch like me in this world? Am I such a gorgeous woman? Am I showing off? To speak the truth, men don’t look for beauty or any such thing, ma’am. All they want is some female. Go for day labor, the bosses are after you; go for odd jobs on the farm, the landlords are after you. Not just this place or that place. Not just this man or that man. A woman without a male support must give in to somebody or other. Otherwise she can’t survive. They hunt her like a mad dog. Just listen to this. I used to call him ‘brother’, right? He would also respond to me, ‘yes, sister’. And that very man. Do you know what that husband of Gangamma did? He kept quiet until I had the delivery. The boy was born healthy. Gangamma also was very fond of him.


After a month or so, Gangamma went somewhere. She said she wouldn’t be back until after late evening. I was alone in the house. I gave a bath to the baby and I laid him down next to me. I slipped into a little nap. Suddenly I woke up and realized that.. he … was sitting next to me, stroking my hair and laughing.


I felt goose bumps all over. “What’s this, brother?” I said, frightened and moving away. He moved closer. “Don’t worry. She won’t be back!” he said. It became clear to me.


Grief overcame. “Brother, I treat you like my brother. I’ll lose my sight if I err!”

“Ssh! Why would you lose your sight? Are we born to the same mother or same father? How can we become brother and sister just for using the terms?” he said. I sat there crying.


His passion died and anger set in. “Hey, Kannamma! You are talking like goddess Sita? How am I worse than your father-in-law?” he said taunting me. I didn’t give in. He sat next to me and tried to convince me. “If you stay with me, you will be wanting in nothing. I will take care of your food and clothing. Listen to me. There is nothing wrong. Aren’t you in the prime of your life? Aren’t you eating salt and pepper. Remarriages are acceptable in our community. Who could question us?”


“Brother, I am begging you. Don’t come near me. I am taking shelter here in your home, and thinking of you two as my mother and father. Please think of me as your daughter. Think of me as your sister. I’ll fall on your feet. Look at my child…”

He shook me off rudely and walked away. I collapsed feeling wiped out.


Gangamma returned later in the evening. At first I thought I’d throw myself at her and cry. What if she asks what happened? What should I say? They both would get into a fight. That idiot raved some nonsense, whether knowingly or not. I might as well let it go. He will pay for his sins. Why should I cause problems in their life? He will realize it himself”. Thus I talked myself into keeping quiet.


“Hey Kannamma! What is the matter? You are looking sad!” Gangamma asked. “Nothing. I fell asleep,” I said. “You stupid! What is wrong with you? You are a new mother. How could you fall asleep in the middle of the day? What if you get arthritis or something?” she admonished me.


Gangamma is such a sweet soul. She would give me her share of food without thinking twice. She dotes on my child more than I myself do.

“Ma’am, such a kind person got angry with me and threw me out. What would you call it if not my ill-luck.”

This is all a new world for Radha. She used to think that the low class people sleep around without any qualms and they have no such thing as principles. But… this Kannamma?


“Why did Gangamma get angry with you?” she asked with curiosity.

“Why her? Anybody would be upset. In fact it is my fault. I should have told her even at the outset. She asked me the same question. “If you are such a good woman, why didn’t you tell me at the beginning”. I became an easy target because I kept quiet. He assumed that I wanted him and was just playing hard to get. Do you see the turns my story took, ma’am.”

“Oh, you poor, crazy bitch!” thought Radha.

“Did he say anything again?” she said aloud.


“Not just once, ma’am? He couldn’t leave me alone, not for a second. Won’t let me sit or stand. The moment Gangamma is out of sight he is there. Would pull my saree ends, or pinch my arm,… And I didn’t know what to do. I was so afraid that Gangamma might see. Sounds like a lie to you. That is the honest truth for me. Believe me, I was sitting there with my life breath in my closed fist… How long a sin stays a secret? Wouldn’t it burst like a bubble? One evening.. it was a little dark…. Earlier I dried the baby’s clothes on the fence behind the vegetable garden. I went to get them. I turned around and he was there behind me. Suddenly he took me into his arms. “Here. Buy yourself a blouse piece,” he said and stuffed a rupee coin in my fist.

“Oh, God! What has this come to!” My knees were shaking. Not one word would come out of my mouth. I stood there as if I’d gone crazy. That’s when it happened ma’am!… Right then Gangamma has seen us. At first she was shocked. Then she spit fire through her looks. She shook her head. Then she went rushing in. That idiot, her husband disappeared like a crow after spotting a pellet. I got stuck alone there. I stood there crushed.


Gangamma returned with the child and threw him in the dirt at my feet. “I don’t want your child or anything else. Let us live like this. You go and find your way out,” she said firing away her words.


“Sister,” I screamed and threw myself at her feet. “Please, believe me. I didn’t do anything wrong. I swear on God. I never agreed.”


“Chi. You bitch! If you know cheating you’d know lying too. Are you saying he embraced you without you making any move? What a spunk! Do you know anything about trust at all? I took you in when your entire family on either side turned you out. I gave you my share of food, you bitch! I put a dog on the throne, you bitch. How could you go after a man who’s calling you ‘sister, sister’? Your eyes will burst, you bitch! Leprosy will eat you up!” She went on and on swearing at me and shouting words that could melt anybody’s heart.


My baby was rolling in the dust, Gangamma was ranting, and the people started gathering around as if they were invited for a special occasion. They started inquiring, “What happened, Gangamma!”. The rupee he stuffed in my fist is still in my hand. I was afraid that if I threw it down, they might actually believe that I did something wrong.


Gangamma pulled open my fist and showed the rupee to the crowd. “See. Take a good look. Ask her how long she has been carrying this on? Teach the bitch a lesson!” she continued her tirade, hitting on my cheek with her fist.


“There was not a single person that would listen to what I have to say. They all picked on me like a flock of crows.”


“Why are you still standing there like a pole. Go. Hit the road,” said Gangamma throwing her arms into the air. I lost her trust. How can I stay there any longer anyway? The husband that one way and the wife this way…


“Sister Gangamma! Take the child. I will go away alone,” I suggested picking up my courage. She was obstinate. I cried. I screamed. Then I picked up the child, and carrying a world of darkness on my head, walked out. The rupee wiggled like a worm in my palm. I was about to throw away. Then again I tucked it into my saree folds at my waist.”


Tears rolled down from Kannamma’s eyes. Even earlier while telling the story she was sobbing in between. At times she would stop, and then she couldn’t, and so would continue her narration while crying.


Radha did not stop her from crying. She let her cry.


“Let it be, Kannamma! How long can you cry for the past? Of course hard times hit humans, not the tree trunks. Stop worrying,” she comforted her after a while.


Kannamma also felt relieved after a while. “Ma’am, it is over two months now. I have been wandering like a bird with this child in my arms. I haven’t had a full meal and not a piece of cloth long enough to cover myself fully. There is no way I could find work to feed myself and the child. A male face would scare me out of my wits. Even women are not kind to me. Every one of them were laughing in my face. There is not one person that would say a kind word. Ma’am, I don’t know when and what puja I have done, I arrived at your door. I have food and clothing. My heart is content now.”

Radha listened to Kannamma’s story but there is one thing she did not understand. Why should she suffer so much? She has had two marriages. What kind of ethical questions she has to worry about?


“Kannamma! I am confused… Why couldn’t you find some good man and move in with him? How long can you go around like this? After all, it is not wrong in your community?”


Kannamma turned pale. She was surprised that a good person like Radha would ask such a question. She was silent for a while. “You don’t know ma’am. Where is a good man in this world? All men would want all women, but for their own mother and sister, to jump into their beds. Even if I settle down with one man, do you think he would do me favors? He will keep me for a few days and then kicks me out. Then there again I am with the same old stomach and my problems. The world spits on my face. Why should I take on all that botheration? Why should I stake my body trusting these men. I have my muscles. And then there are kind women like you. If not today, may be tomorrow my honesty will be noticed. I will spend the rest of my life at your feet.”


Wow! This person was caught up in a bunch of sticky situations that could have turned anyone into an animal. Still she remained a human being, how?


Kannamma, caressing the baby in her lap, laughed. “One woman offered 600 rupees for this little one. Oh, no. I would cut up my heart but not give away my child. Who knows how this baby and I got connected. May be that is why Gangamma’s mind thought that way. I have already lost my first two sons. If I am patient for a few years and raise this kid, wouldn’t he take care of me? That day I came to your door with this baby and you invited me into your home. Wouldn’t you have turned me out if I had come alone? So, this baby is the only way out for me. Look! He is smiling!…” That is a mother’s heart rejoicing!

“You sat on railway tracks with this tiny child, saying you wanted to die. You are a piece of work!” The words came to the tip of her tongue but Radha stopped herself for fear of spilling cold water on her happiness.


“Anyway, Kannamma! You said you are scared even to look at a man. Do you think all men are like that? Would you say that even men from the high class and the educated are the same?” Radha asked curiously.


“Sorry ma’am, I was just blabbering. If everybody is like that wouldn’t the world turn upside down? I am sure somewhere out there, there are very nice people like the God Rama. Right?” she posed a rebuttal.


Radha felt satisfied. “Why somewhere out there. Right here, my husband is like Rama,” she wanted to say proudly.

In truth, Radha does not like Rama’s character. But Rama is referred to as a monogamist. That’s why Radha was comparing him to Rama.


Her husband Satyannarayana has earned the name “good man”. This “good” refers not only to his behavior but also to his character. He never crosses the line in dealing with other women. He does not cast stealthy looks at them. Nobody has seen him fooling around with other women. There is even a comment that “Satyannarayana?… He does not belong to modern times.” That is why Radha liked Kannamma’s words. The world would turn upside down if there were no good men, she said. Radha chuckled. Did the world remain upright because of the weight of Satyannarayana’s moral strength?




In spite of all her experiences Kannamma was willing to accept that there are still good men but Leela would not agree.


Leela quit school in the middle and got married. Radha went one more step further and did the same thing. They never forgot their friendship. The circumstances were favorable. It is over a year since they’ve seen each other. They talked about a lot of things. Especially about their families, husbands, and how long one kerosene tin lasts. They argued about how many sarees last per year and which variety of sarees lasts longer. They exchanged views on how their children were doing in school and how smart they were. Until then they were frank with each other and talked without any exaggerations.


“Is your husband a good person?” Leela asked suddenly.

“Where did that come from? You are asking like a stranger. You know him!” Radha said with a laugh.

“It’s not that. I was wondering if your valuable opinion has changed in the past one year.”

“Why would my valuable opinion change as long as his behavior remains the same? It happens only when the sun sets on the other side and neither is going to happen.”

“Wow! And where is the guarantee?”

“How can we manage to have families if we don’t have that trust?”

“We can manage wonderfully. Everything is fine as long as we have food and clothing.”

“Shut up. Don’t talk like an idiot. Did we marry for food and clothing?”

“What else?”

Radha laughed. “Hey Leela!… Because your husband… did something long time ago.. poor man… he even admitted it to you…”

“What if he keeps doing the same mistake again and again… ?”

“Why would he do that? Is he that stupid?”

“Do you think the first time he did it because of his stupidity?… Radha! I am not sure whether you are being naive or a moron, but you don’t know anything about men. They are not like us. They don’t think like us. If there is a man nurturing such moral values, it is only for want of favorable conditions, not because of his values. They do whatever they please. They don’t tell us because we can’t take it. Some one like you would suffer a heart attack.”

“What about you? Would you rejoice in it?”

“Me! I can turn my heart into stone. My mind is not so sensitive.”


Radha was not impressed. She was even annoyed a little. “Human beings form theories based on their experiences, you know? You keep insisting that I should trust your word but you don’t value my opinion. There are lot of men who love only their wives and spend their entire life with only their wives honestly.”

Leela laughed and said, “If your husband cheats on you someday and then would you still say the same thing?”

“Of course, I would. The world does not mean my home alone. Why would I assume that if good happens to me it is all good and if bad happens to me it is all bad?”

Leela was excited about the thought. “Radha! Are you upset? If you honestly say that you are that happy, wouldn’t I be happy for you? Am I that stupid? Why would I suspect everybody? I was only making a broad generalization about men. I know your husband is a noble man.”

“Stop praising my husband? … Isn’t your husband…?”

“You don’t know. I don’t suspect him but I don’t trust him either. How can you call it a virtue when a man represses his wavering heart for fear of offending the wife? To be frank, his heart should not think of another woman because of his love for his own wife. Why not? Aren’t we living like that? Are we short of opportunities? Why can’t men follow the same rules?”

“There! You are coming to the same point again. Am I not saying there are men like that?”

Leela laughed wholeheartedly. “You are a very fortunate woman!”

Thinking about her luck, Radha felt gratified and proud. There is a great comfort in being happy with an awareness of it!


*                      *                      *


It is about a month since Kannamma came into their lives. She became a part of the family. Kannamma was taking care of all the chores. Radha was doing only cooking, just twice a day. Rest of the chores – starting from washing dishes in the eaarly hours, sweeping the rooms, giving bath to children, washing clothes, preparing the dough for the next day tiffin,.. there is no end to the list…Kannamma would do everything without a fuss and without taking a break. She would not listen to even Radha’s mild protests. It is getting uncomfortable for Radha to sit idly. She has nothing else to do except reading books.


Kannamma’s son gained a little weight. He was rolling over and crawling all over the room on his tummy.


Radha has been passing on Kannamma’s stories to Satyannarayana, although not in one continuous narration, but off and on. “Poor woman… She suffered a lot. At least now she has landed in a nice place.. and she is so happy about it..”

“What do you mean ‘nice place’?”

“How do I know. I am only repeating what she has said,” Radha replied evasively.

“She is putting in her two pence’s worth and so feeling good about herself. Or else we wouldn’t have taken her in,” he said.


A couple of times the milk she kept separately for Enkadu went bad. Then Radha gave away the milk meant for Satyannarayana’s coffee. Satyannarayana was not only not upset. He was very understanding. “It’s okay. Never the little child go hungry. There is nothing more sinful than that,” he said. Only Radha knows how happy she felt about her husband’s kindness.




Kannamma has been coughing for a week.

One day she kept coughing all night without sleep. By morning she was running temperature too. She was shivering. Still she got up somehow and started her chores.

Radha gave her coffee and asked, “Last night, you were coughing for a long time, right? I could hear it.”

“Yes, ma’am. I was hoping it would go away. I wish I had kept an arek nut in the mouth. All night I was suffering from fever and chills. I am still running a little temperature. This morning I noticed a streak of blood in my spit while brushing my teeth!”


Radha got nervous. “Then, go to the doctor. Quick, get up.”

“No, ma’am. Why bother.. An arek nut will do..”

“Shut up. You should never neglect until it is too late. I know a doctor personally. I will write a note for him, explaining all the details. Take it. If he suggests any medication, go to the drug store and get it.” Radha picked up the pad and wrote a short note for the doctor introducing Kannamma. “She is a very nice person. She has no one to turn to. She lives in our house. Please make time to examine her carefully. My husband will take care of the costs,” she wrote.


Kannamma using her finger tips as a brush fixed her hair and put it into a bun. Adjusted her saree pleats. Took the note and said, “I will take Enkadu ma’am! If he cries… he disturbs…”


“Why him? A botheration! He is sleeping like a doll. If cries I can feed him milk. Go. quick.” She said, giving her the directions to the hospital, other instructions and money and hurrying her to leave.

Radha finished all her chores and was about to take a bath. The child started crying. She gave him milk and was walking around with the baby until Kannamma returned.


Kannamma came back with a happy face and said, “Doctor babu was such a nice man.”

“So? What happened? What did he say?”

“He gave me an injection. And gave me some pills also. He also gave me this note for you,” she opened the little knot at her saree end and gave it to her. She took her child. Radha went into her room and read the note.

The doctor warned her to be cautious regarding Kannamma’s condition.

“I have to do a blood test. And take an x-ray. Until then I can’t say for sure. There are signs of tuberculosis. I am writing this so you would be careful. I will give her shots for a week or 10 days. I gave her some pills. Make sure that she takes them regularly. If it is not T.B. this treatment should cure her. Don’t worry.”


Radha’s heart started beating faster. She couldn’t think straight. Suddenly she remembered the hot water she kept in the bathroom for her bath. She quickly came out of her room.


“ma’am! What did the doctor sir write?”

“Oh, no. Nothing. He said you should take the pills regularly. And should go to the hospital everyday for your shots.”


That evening she told Satyannarayana about it.

“You had better be careful. Let her do all the chores outside but don’t let her come into the kitchen. It is better to be careful,” he said.


Radha was surprised that her husband did not say anything else. She was afraid that he would suggest sending her away.

It is easy to ask her to leave. But then where can the poor thing go? We should wait at least until we know more about the cough for sure!


Radha made sure that Kannamma went to the hospital for the next two days. On the third day Radha received a telegram from her natal home. The telegram said that her grandma was seriously ill and that she was asking for Radha. The grandma has suffered a paralytic stroke about a year ago. Since then there were occasions when she would nearly die, would ask everybody to come and see her for the last time and then she would recover! So Satyannarayana looked at the telegram and laughed, “it is not your grandma that is dying. She is killing us. Don’t worry about it. She will live alright. Let’s wait until we hear that she has really stopped breathing and then you can go.”


Radha got upset. She was on the verge of a break down. Radha loves grandma dearly. Radha spent a lot of time with her grandma in her childhood days. She still wears the earrings grandma specially got made for her. Ticked off by his humor, she replied with a sad face, “Do you know how much she loves me? If she doesn’t see me she will die for sure. If there is a train now, I will take it.” She looked like she was getting on the train at that very moment.

“Why don’t you take the children with you? They will chew me up.”


Radha had to wait until the children returned from school in the evening. In the meantime she packed her luggage. She explained all the household duties to Kannamma. Satyannarayana will eat in some hotel. Kannamma has to cook only for herself. She made all the necessary arrangements.

“Don’t forget to go to the hospital everyday,” she reminded Kannamma. She left the entire house to her care and got on the train.


Satyannarayana put his wife and children on the train and told her, “Don’t you worry too much. There is nothing in our hands. What can we do?… Keep an eye on the children… When will you be back?” he stood on the platform and kept on talking.

“If grandma feels better, I will be back in about a week or 10 days.”

“Once you go there, you will forget everything else. If you return next Sunday that would be convenient for me to come to the station. Don’t extend your leave of absence,” he laughed.

Radha pouted for his humor.


“I wouldn’t able to sleep even if I go home now. I think I will go to the second show,” he said looking at his watch.

“Poor Kannamma is alone at home with the baby. Don’t stay out too long. Go home early.”


The train started to move. Radha’s heart felt heavy. She kept looking at her husband as long as she could see. Leaving him for a week or 10 days is not easy either.


*                      *                      *


In addition to Radha all other sisters, brothers, cousins also arrived there to send off the old lady in all grandeur. She saw everybody to her heart’s content and stayed alive for the fourth time.


“Ghosh! Is this a game for you?”

“We can not get leave of absence again. Next time we won’t be coming even if you die for real. Be nice. You might as well finish it now,” said the grandchildren threatening her.

“What can I do, children! Lord Narayan is not taking me,” she said proudly and smiling with her empty mouth.

“May be Chitragupta lost your file. Stupid offices. It has become common now a days,” said one of the grandchildren who is also an officer.

“That’s not it. Grandma has performed Chitragupta ritual for about 4 or 5 times. And so he is not going to issue orders anytime in near future. Let’s go.”

“Stop. Don’t talk like that about grandma. She is such a wonderful person. Wasn’t she giving all the cream to us behind mom’s back? And She used to give us rock candy too,” Radha said.

“Yes, of course. Didn’t she have earrings made for you? You will say anything to support her.”

“Grandma! It seems you have a lot of money. Are you going to distribute it to all of us or not? Say ‘you won’t’ and I will show you my muscle,” one spunky grandchild said.


“Ram! Ram! I don’t have even a broken shell. Would I lie just before die?”

“Grandma, first tell us this. Do you really want to die at all?”

“Of course, I want to. Lord Narayan has not called me yet. What can I do?”

Good point!

“Okay. Let’s do this. In your name we all will perform rituals with a resounding noise. We will send petitions saying you are anxious to go. Okay? Should we do that?”

“Why bother, children! What is the hurry? Who knows how busy Lord Narayan is!” grandma said patiently.

They kept teasing her for a week. Then they started packing one by one for return journey.

Grandma asked Radha to stay for two more days.

So Radha did not leave on Sunday as was planned originally.

Satyannarayana went to the railway station and returned disappointed.


*                      *                                  *


After 3 days, Radha returned at noon with the children. Kannamma rushed to the door and opened it. “Ma’am, can I get some water?”

Radha said ‘no’ and walked in.

The entire house was squeaky clean. In the past anytime she went away for a few days, the house used to be a mess. Now all the things are in place.

“How are you feeling, Kannamma?”

“Feeling good, ma’am. My cough is better now.”

“How is Enkadu?”

“Good, ma’am.”

“When did sir go out?”

“He left early in the morning, ma’am! I don’t think he will be back before late night. Sir is very upset that you did not return on Sunday.”

“Why? What did he say?” Radha asked with a smile.

“Oh! I forgot. How is grandma, ma’am?”

“Good. She is fine.”

Kannamma gave bath to the children and changed their clothes. They went out happily to play.

Radha started cooking.

She was anxious to finish the chores, take a bath and get dressed like a fresh flower and look beautiful by the time Satyannarayana comes home.

She delegated several chores to Kannamma and she herself was engaged in cooking. She took a bath, wore a white saree, braided her hair and put on bindi. The children came in. She fed them in a hurry. It was 8 by the time she was done.

“Kannamma! Make beds for the children. They will go to bed early. It has been such a hassle in the train. Stupid journey. It will take a week for the life to be normal again.”

She coaxed the children to go bed.


“Kannamma, the maruvam leaves in the backyard has grown wild. Pick some and bring them in. I will make a garland.”

“We should not pick them after the lights are on, ma’am!”

“Don’t worry. It is okay. I was about to ask earlier, forgot.”

Kannamma picked one plateful of the leaves and brought in. Radha sat down to make a garland leisurely.


“Tell me, Kannamma! What’s new?”

Kannamma sat down with her head bent down. She didn’t speak.

“Did anybody come while I was gone?”

“No, ma’am. Sir wasn’t home most of the time. Why would anybody come?”

“So, how are you feeling now? you don’t seem to be coughing that much.”


“What’s the matter, Kannamma? Why aren’t you saying anything? … Look here.. Ho! What? Why are you down? Did the doctor say something?”


Kannamma shook her head implying a ‘no’, unable to speak. Tear spilled from her eyes on both sides.

Radha turned pale. “What, Kannamma?… like a child… crying without telling me what has happened?” Radha scolded her, while coaxing her.


Still Kannamma would not speak for a while. Then she wiped her tears quickly. “Sir is very angry with me, ma’am,” she said.

“Sir? Why is he angry with you? What for? He asked you to do something and you refused or what?.. No… Why would you refuse?”

“Ma’am, this is my karma. That is all I can think of!” Her voice choked with grief. Kannamma’s face was not bright as usual.


Radha’s heart started beating faster. She was suspecting that something was wrong. She raised her shaky voice as she spoke, “Stop crying. If you don’t tell me, how would I know? What really happened? What did he say?”


Kannamma broke down. “Ma’am, I swear on your feet. Please believe me. I am not a bad bitch. Would I betray you? I did not give in.”


Radha was aghast. Her entire body was shivering. Her fingers lost control. The maruvam wreath fell into her lap. She looked unstable. With difficulty she opened her mouth and asked, “What? Giving in to what? Why don’t you say what exactly happened?.. Tell me everything. I have to know.”

“Please don’t ask sir again.”

“Why not? What is it to you if ask him?” she said angrily.

“I will fall on your feet, ma’am. Please don’t make me lose the only support I have here. Sir is already very angry with me. He threatened me and told me not to tell you under any circumstances.”

Radha was enraged beyond limits. “Why don’t you answer my question – what really happened?… How dare you defy?” she nearly screamed.

Kannamma was stunned. “It was Sunday night, ma’am… Sir went to the train station for you. He returned very angry.”

Radha’s world started spinning.


On Sunday night Satyannarayana went to the station to meet Radha. Usually that is the train Radha travels by. He waited until the train left. He returned, disappointed. For a while he wandered on the streets. He ate in a hotel. By about ten o’clock he went home.

Kannamma was awake. She opened the door.

“Didn’t ma’am come back, sir?”

“No. She didn’t.” He walked furiously into his room.

Kannamma went to his room, stood at the door and asked, “Should I bring some milk for you sir, or should I start making yogurt?”

“I don’t want it. Do as you please.”

Kannamma went into the kitchen, added yogurt starter to the milk and put it away. Made sure all the doors are closed, turned off the lights and went into the verandah and sat down in her bed. Venkadu was sleeping. She pulled him closer. As soon as she lay down, she fell asleep. She may have slept for an hour or hour and a half.

Suddenly the light flashed on her face. She woke up as if somebody shook her. She quickly fixed her saree folds. She couldn’t exactly place the person standing in the doorway. “ eh…” she started shouting.

“It’s me… Just me… I want water…” Satyannarayana was standing there. He was in his T-shirt and lungi. Kannamma sprang to her feet briskly and said, “I forgot sir. The water jug is in the kitchen.”

“Bring it,” he said and went back to his room.

Kannamma covered the child well, and went into the kitchen to bring water jug and a glass and took it to Satyannarayana’s room. In the room light was on. The window panes that are usually open are closed now. The mosquito curtain over the bed is lifted up on one side. Kannamma, still sleepy, did not notice all this at first. Satyannarayana was sitting on the edge of his bed. She went closer and put the water jug and glass on the table. “Should I pour some water for you, sir?”

“I will get it.” He poured some water and took one gulp. He put the glass next to the jug. “See there. There is an amruthanjan bottle in the drawer.”

He could reach that drawer in one step.

“In this drawer, sir?” Kannamma opened the drawer and took out the amrutanjan bottle. She approached his bed and was about to hand it to him.

Satyannarayana pretended like he didn’t notice it and suddenly stretched out on the bed. “Come here. Rub it here. My head is splitting with pain.”


Kannamma was confused. “You had better do it yourself, sir. My baby is alone out there.”

“Bring him in too. You can put him there, on the other bed. Why outside? It is so cold. Should I bring him in?”


Kannamma’s drousy drowsiness has gone now. Her arms and feet started shaking. She put the amrutanjan bottle on the edge of the table and turned around in a hurry. “No sir. You rub it yourself. I am going to sleep with my baby.”


“Hey. Are you defying me? Stop right there. You are in my house and shouldn’t you honor my word?”


Kannamma was besieged with anguish. “Of course, sir. Why wouldn’t I honor your word? If you ask me to do some chore, won’t I do? Ma’am said you are a good man and so I was feeling reassured sir.”


“So? What happened now? You won’t be lacking for anything as long as you live here. Do you think that ma’am alone made the decision to let you stay here with us, without my permission? Do you want to go around begging from house to house again? Listen. There is nothing wrong either for you or for me. What is it you are afraid of? Nobody will know. I won’t tell ma’am.”


Kannamma was shivering. “It is not about knowing, sir! Even if it is without her knowledge, no, sir. Ma’am loves you like her own life. She thinks of you as a God, like the Lord Rama. Think of her face sir. You two together are like that divine couple, Sita and Rama. Why do you want a bitch like me? I am not good enough to touch even your foot.”


No need to be picky but Kannamma is not a head turner. She is short like a little bird. Jet black color. Small pox marks all over her face. Her hair is turning gray in a few places and is put into a bun, the size of a lemon. She has four rubber bangles on each of her arms. Her saree is dirty and even the white border became part of the entire black saree. Her body is smelling with sweat and the child’s vomit. Since Radha is not around to admonish, she is quite messy.


Satyannarayana’s anxiety to embrace her is rising by the minute. He stood up. Although hesitant, he took one more step forward and quickly grabbed her arm. “I know all that. She is not lacking in anything now. Come here Kannamma. First sit down here on this bed.” He said as he pulled her toward the bed.


“Sir, sir. Please let go of me. I am like a sister to you. Don’t ruin me. I can’t show my face to ma’am. I will roast in hell. I am begging you. I’ll fall on your feet,” she said, pouring her heart out and falling on his feet.


“Chi. What’s this whining? Listen to me. Ma’am won’t know about this. Trust me. Look here. Don’t you want to raise your son and give him a good living? Don’t you want him to go to school? If you stay here, you will be wanting in nothing. Whenever you want money, ask me. Should I give you now? You can ask for money. Don’t be stubborn.”

Satyannarayana reached to his pants, pulled out his wallet, took a ten rupee bill and said, “Here. Keep this. Will come in handy. I will give you more later.”


Kannamma was standing there bewildered. She pushed away the money as if it were an insect and said, “If you have money, so be it. You have no right to pressure me. I don’t want your money. Nor the kind of education you are offering for my son. If I can’t live, I will throw him in the well and I will jump myself too. I am not a bad woman, sir. I am leaving right now.” She boldly pushed him away and walked out. She took the child in to her lap. “Darling Enka! There is no end to our hardships.” She broke in to heartrending sobs.


Satyannarayana was stunned and then came to the door. “Look here. Whatever happened happened. It is my fault. I didn’t expect you to be this kind of a person. Don’t tell ma’am though. She will throw tantrums. Remember this. Not even one word to ma’am.” He repeated and left.

Kannamma couldn’t sleep.

She let the light on in the verandah and sat there all night like a rock.


*                                  *                                  *


“Ma’am, I don’t want to create problems between you and sir. But Gangamma has taught me a good lesson for keeping this kind of a thing a secret. Suppose I keep quiet about this. What if sir makes a move on me again and you see that? What is the point in trying to explain then? No matter however I try, will you believe me? Now my job is done. You had better take care of your husband yourself. Keep an eye on him. Sir is very upset with me. You are the last resort for me. You are the only hope for me”. Kannamma’s voice showed signs of relief. Her face lit up. She sat there staring.


Radha was out of her wits from the start. She heard her as if in a dream. It was like a terrible bad dream. She stood up without much effort on her part. The maruvam leaves spilled and fell a little away. She stomped on the leaves and kept walking. Her head was spinning. Her eyes could see only darkness. She felt the children’s bed at her feet and threw herself down into their midst.

She couldn’t remember how long she stayed oblivious.

It was past eleven. Satyannarayana knocked on the door. Kannamma went and opened the door. He was walking looking down. Kannamma said from behind, “Ma’am has come back sir.”

He turned around with a sudden jerk, looked at her and again walked forward. He stood in the doorway. The room was dark. Radha was not on the bed. She was sleeping amidst children.


Satyannarayana was hesitant. He changed and wearing a towel walked into the bathroom, took a bath and came back. He wore a lungi and hung up the towel out to dry. There were no signs of Radha waking up. Did this bitch Kannamma tell on him? Oh, hell! She can’t be that bold? Wouldn’t she know what happens if she tells, after he warned her?


He slowly went and sat next to Radha. He touched her hair caressing. Radha woke up with a twitch. She was scared as if she had seen a ghost in the dark. Then sat up. Satyannarayana couldn’t make out the expression on her face.


“You came by which train?”


“How is your grandma?”

“not… good.”

“Okay… Why didn’t you stay a few more days?”


“What is it, Radha? Are you okay?”

“I have a headache.”

“Why didn’t you say so? Should I rub amrutanjan?”

“No. I don’t like that smell… Should I… serve food for you?”

“No. I didn’t know you have come back, right? I ate in the hotel.”


Radha got up and came into the verandah.

Kannamma was lying down, with her knees pulled up to her chest. “Kannamma!”

Kannamma woke up. She got up and asked, “Yes, ma’am?”

“Why did you fall asleep without eating. I dozed off. You should have helped yourself. Come on. Get up. Bring your plate. It is almost midnight.”

“What food now ma’am,” she said bringing her plate nevertheless. She put her plate near the door and asked, “Ma’am, aren’t going to eat?”

“I have a headache. I can’t eat at odd hours. I will have some buttermilk.”

“And sir?”

“He has eaten.”

She served food for Kannamma, poured some buttermilk in a glass, washed her hands and went in.

Satyannarayana was sleeping on the bed. Radha again went and slept amidst children.

“Radha! Why are you sleeping there? Come here.”

“The baby is not feeling well. He keeps waking up. Probably was frightened of something.” Radha did not get up and go to him.

“Why? What happened to him?”

“Seem to be running temperature.”

Satyannarayana kept quiet. The baby was not the reason for Radha for not going near him. Did Kannamma tell her? If she had told her, would Radha be this calm? Wouldn’t she ask him straight? Is she still worried about her grandma? If the grandma dies, what should I do to comfort her?


Satyannarayana tried very hard to fall asleep.


Radha couldn’t sleep all night. The blow turned her heart into a stone. There was not even so much as moisture in her eyes.

All of next day she was the same. She sent Kannamma to the hospital. She talked to Satyannarayana as usual. The only thing missing was the smile that used to lit up her face.


They finished supper that night.

Radha was sitting next to the children with a book.

Satyannarayana came in and sat next to her. He said something.

Radha said something else in reply.


“What did the doctor say about Kannamma?” he asked.

“He is giving her shots. Her cough is a lot better now.”

“Even if it looks better.. We can’t trust that. Who knows? T.B. is not to be taken lightly. A very dangerous disease. And we have children at home.”

“What are you saying?” Radha lifted her face and looked straight.

“Why should we take such a big risk? All you need is a maid, right? For ten rupees we can get anybody. We have to consider our health first.”

“What happened to our health now? The doctor said, if it is not T.B. she would be all right.”

“So what? If we have to make sure that it is not T.B. we need to spend another 50 or 60 rupees. Why bother with all that mess?”


“Even otherwise, it is such a hassle to feed a person forever. Imagine two full meals a day, tiffins, coffees and one half seer (about a quart) of milk for the child — how much do you think that would all add up to?”


Radha struggled hard to suppress a surge of disgust. She sat, holding herself steady and replied, “I gave her the job only after asking you first. At that time you have agreed to all the expenses. You even said that she deserves it because she was putting in her two pennies worth. You said there is no greater charity than feeding a baby. Why all this accounting now?”


“What do you mean why? Where is the rule that we must support her. For somebody who works for money, what does it matter whether this house or that house? She can earn her living anywhere. Why should we keep her in our house?”


“Explain to me why we should not keep her and I will let her go this very minute. Why did your opinion about Kannamma change like this?”


“My children’s health is more important to me. I don’t have such a big heart as to welcome a T.B. patient into my home.” Satyannarayana stood up.


“Forget big heart. Do you have a heart at all?” The words rattled in her heart. She took a deep breath silently.


Radha has the strength to confront him on each of his lines and shut him up. But she didn’t want to get down to that low level.


They both were sitting there avoiding eye contact for a while. Then Satyannarayana got up and went to his bed. Radha turned off the lights and slept with the children.


The next morning…

Radha woke up with Enkadu’s crying. She went outside and asked with concern, “Why is he crying? I heard him cry at night also several times.”


“Since last evening he is suffering from diarrhea ma’am. Your son gave him a cookie. I let him eat. I think that upset his stomach. He has been crying all night. Didn’t sleep at all. May be he has stomach ache?” Kannamma, replied with concern.


“You can wash the dishes later. Pick him up and hold him for a while. Put him to sleep slowly. Take him to the doctor later. Don’t worry, He will be all right. You know children do get sick.” Radha said and went into the bathroom to freshen up.


Kannamma took the child into his lap and sat down. Radha washed the dishes she needed for the moment and prepared the coffee and tiffin.


Satyannarayana got up, went into the bathroom and came back, ruffled.

“Radha! What is that pile of clothes in the bathroom? How can I take a bath? Don’t have the sense to keep the room clean?”

“What clothes?.. Where?” Radha was confused.

“My child’s clothes, ma’am, I put them there in a corner, thinking I could wash them later,” Kannamma quickly put down the baby and ran to the bathroom. She picked up the clothes, washed the room clean and returned.


Satyannarayana finished freshening up. Radha brought him upma in a plate to his room.

“The little rascal has been crying all night. Couldn’t sleep at all..” He said as if talking to himself.

Radha didn’t want to but replied anyway. “The child is sick.”

“Of course, it is natural for children to get sick, on and off. How long this nuisance in this house?”


“I am telling you one more time. I don’t like having Kannamma around. Tell her to look for another place. Later today I will ask Appalamma to come back to work.”

Radha walked out of the room silently.


Kannamma looked at Radha dreading something. Radha turned her face away and quickly disappeared into the kitchen. After ten o’clock, she sent the child to the hospital.

Kannamma got medicine for her cough and the child’s diarrhea.


“Ma’am, Sir was saying something!” she asked fearing the worst. She was perplexed and has been wanting to ask this question all day.

Radha did not reply straight but asked her, “How long can you live like this hopping from house to house? Would you consider going back to your brother’s?”

Kannamma looked disheartened. “He won’t take me in, ma’am.”

“How about making some inquiries and finding your husband?”

“Where can I look for him, ma’am?”

“Don’t you have anybody else you can turn to?”

Kannamma’s eyes started filling up. “Ma’am, what is there that you don’t know? I don’t have anybody. And the people I have won’t let me in.”


Radha felt as if she was on the verge of breakdown herself. He kept quiet.


Satyannarayana returned home in the evening. Had his coffee. He walked around holding his last child until dark.

Radha gave food to the children.

“Should I serve your food as well?” she asked her husband.

“I will, in a minute. Did you tell Kannamma?”


“What? Why don’t you answer? No respect for my word or what?”

“Kannamma! Kannamma! Why do you hate her so much?”


Satyannarayana hit the roof. “Why do you love her so much? What kind of a deal you have with her? After all she is only a servant. Why are you so stubborn in her case? I told you I don’t like her. Why can’t you let her go?”

Radha did not speak. She stood there like a wood figurine.


“Ma’am!” Kannamma plucked courage and called her from the verandah.

“Ma’am! can you please come here?” The quiver in her tone was noticeable.


Radha went out as if walking on air. Kannamma was holding the baby in her arms. She has the bag in her right arm. “Ma’am! Please remember me. I am leaving.”

“Where to?” The words came to the tip of her tongue. Radha suppressed the words with difficulty. “Kannamma! Where can you go now? It is getting dark. Why don’t you wait until tomorrow?”

“No, ma’am! What difference does it make? Wouldn’t it get dark tomorrow again? I might as well go. Take care of the children.”

“Kannamma! Wait. I’ll be back.”

Radha went in quickly. She opened her box, and pulled out 50 rupees from her handbag. Kannamma was already at the backdoor.

“Kannamma! Here. A little cash. Keep it with you. You will have lot of expenses starting tomorrow.”

Kannamma looked at the money apprehensively. “What for, ma’am? Sir might…”

“This is my money. Earlier my grandma gave it to me. Come on. Put it in your bag. Be careful. Take care of Enkadu. Don’t forget to give medicine to him.” Radha’s voice choked.

Kannamma couldn’t speak. “Ma’am. Don’t forget this bitch, ma’am”.

“Stupid bitch! How can you live in this world?” The words did not come out of her mouth. She wanted to tell, “No matter however much you face hardships, don’t you ever lose hope.” But she didn’t. She couldn’t close the only one way out for her.


Kannamma walked past the backdoor. She looked piercing through the darkness as if she was trying to scare away. With the baby in one arm and the bag in the other, she kept dragging herself and went away.


Radha clung to the door tight and broke into sobs. After a while she calmed down and wiped her eyes. She bolted the backdoor and went into the bathroom to freshen up.

Satyannarayana was in the verandah sitting in a cane chair and reading newspaper.

Radha went in and lied down next to the children.

Kannamma has left. Like the lamp lit in a blast of wind, she went in to the defenseless world.


Come to think of it, what kind of a safeguard her own life has compared to that of Kannamma? Is it having a husband who provides food and clothing? Is it the support of a husband whose actions are unpredictable?


Suddenly she remembered Leela.

“Leela! What a great person you are! You can read people so clearly! You said my heart would break if I were betrayed. You were mistaken in that one instance. Nothing happened to me. I am eating and walking around fine. But I must admit one thing though. This calamity did not take my life away but certainly created a commotion in my heart. Messed up my past. It opened my eyes and changed me into a human being. Leela! if I don’t write to you about this disaster, I will be betraying myself!” She was writing pages and pages in her mind. Radha got up feverishly. She turned on the light and sat down at the table. Picked up the pen and papers.

“Leela! I have come to understand the real values in my family life. My pride is shattered. I am embarrassed beyond limits. Leela! I’ll tell you the truth…”


She was startled and her pen stopped.

Radha looked up wearily.

Satyannarayana’s face was lit up with a smile. Radha turned away.

“What are you writing?”

“Some letter..” Radha stopped the letter and walked away. She rushed out of the room.

“Radha!” Satyannarayana called out and went looking for her.

Radha was sitting in the middle room near the window and in the darkness.

Satyannarayana turned on the light. Approached Radha. He put his arms on her shoulders and asked, “Are you angry with me?”

Radha pushed away his arms.

“Is this fair? Why are you so angry? Tell me.”

Radha shook her head side to side, implying a kind of ‘no’.

“I am not feeling well. Please go away.” she said in a voice that sounded more like an order.

A streak of anger showed on Satyannarayana’s face. “I know what caused this not feeling well. Why are you so worried about about a beggar woman?”

Radha looked up sharply. Her eyes were filled with infinite courage. “Beggar woman? Do you know how she became a beggar woman? She became a beggar by holding on to her integrity! She became a beggar by refusing to betray my confidence! If she were worldly-wise, she would have earned plenty of sarees, blouses, jewelry and much more. There are so many people who would put her on a pedestal and arrange education for her son. She cast out all that and walked away like a beggar woman.”


Satyannarayana was aghast. It is clear Radha knows the story. He gathered all his strength.

“What are you talking about? About whom?”

“Who else? of course, about that beggar woman. I’ve told you her entire story. She came like a little bird afraid of the net the hunters are spreading around. I assured her that she would not be hurt here. She was ecstatic thinking that this is an ashram of gods.”

“Yes. So what? What happened to her?”

“All this pretense, what for? Is there no end to your depravation?”

“Radha! You are talking whatever you please. How could you believe everything she has said? Are you giving more weight to her words than mine?”

“In fact she is million times better than you are to me. I married you in accordance with the traditional principles, I gave myself to you totally and without any reservation, stood by you in good and bad times, trusted you and have been sharing my life with you for the past 10 years. And you tried to commit a crime – an unforgettable violation of trust. On the other hand, that woman couldn’t violate my trust just out of gratitude. She remembered that I was there for her when she was down and she would rather go back to the streets than betray me. Who should I trust? If I am a human who should I love? Who is more important to me?

So far I have been seeing her only as a servant. I gave her a full meal. Gave her clothes. I stood by her when she needed me. All this I did out of kindness.


But what did you do? You offered her the place of a lover. You invited her into your bed. You promised her to pay for her son’s education and help her raise him. You took such a great trouble to convince her. If asking for food is “begging”, what do you call it when you were craving a favor from her? That is royalty? Manliness?”


Satyannarayana started walking back and forth in the room. He stopped suddenly and said, sounding sarcastic, “You said that she is a good woman. I wanted to see how good?”

“Why should she be a good person at all? Is that it? So what did she prove? Very bad, right? She did not surrender her body to your manhood? So you chased her away. That is why you turned her homeless?

I shut my mouth and listened patiently as you lectured on health, knowing fully well that you were craving to sleep with a woman suffering from tuberculosis; I put up with it when you said that we can not support her which meant going back on our promise to support her. Why? For the sake of that desperate woman, for that homeless woman. But what could I do? What could I do?”


Satyannarayana stood there like a pole, looking straight. Radha was looking out the window as if she couldn’t care less about anything.


Satyannarayana approached her slowly. “Radha! Tell me one thing. Don’t I love you?”

Radha resented it as if she heard some horrible words. “Love! Aha! This love should be recorded in history with letters of gold. All the poets should sing in one voice. Aha! Ha! What a great love! Probably your love would have doubled if Kannamma had agreed to your wish.

You would have continued to play the game behind my back. All those looks, laughs, and chatting behind my back would have continued. Your desire for her crossed out your love for me. All the beautiful life we had together for so long could not win over one low desire.


After such a big game behind my back, after I’ve come to know about it, you still are asking me, “Radha! Don’t I love you”? I must really admire your guts!” Radha’s face was drenched with sweat. The dot on her forehead started running down.



Satyannarayana stood there fixed to the floor. In reality there was never such a horrible incident like this between those two, the husband and wife until now. Radha is not an angry person by nature. Satyannarayana also is a “gracious” person.


Satyannarayana couldn’t speak for a while. “Radha! I have to take it anything you are pleased to say. I did make such a huge mistake. But please be patient and listen to me also. Kannamma is never more important to me than you are. There is no comparison at all between the two of you. On that particular day nobody was home. She was alone. My mind took the wrong turn. I told her all kinds of things just to let me have her. All those words are just empty words. After I am done with her I wouldn’t have remembered a thing.”



“Oh, God!” Radha closed her ears for she couldn’t hear anymore. “Your perversion has gone so low? That naïve woman took refuge here, thinking you and me are Lord Rama and Sita. I left town trusting you. Didn’t it occur to you that you should be protecting her with thousand eyes, the woman put so much faith in you? Why can’t you see the other woman as a mother? Can’t you expect anything else except the disgusting relationship from another woman?


You are known for your integrity and good manners. Aren’t you ashamed that you couldn’t protect a destitute woman? You invited her, told her lies, was ready to destroy her…Oh, God. My heart is breaking into pieces!” She broke into a fit of sobs, hitting her head against the wall. Radha never cried like this before.


Satyannarayana started shivering. “Radha! you don’t know how sorry I am.”


Radha was taken aback. “Sorry? Who? You? Why do you keep adding to your lies and fall farther and farther down. Can remorse ask for revenge? Will remorse make a devil of a man? If you really feel remorse you would have fallen on Kannamma’s feet and ask for her forgiveness. You would have been grateful to her for saving you from your depravation. But what did you do?”

“Radha, I am not really angry with Kannamma. I was afraid that she might tell you what has happened. I wanted to get rid of her as soon as possible.”

“You got rid of her all right. Has your crime washed away from your heart? To cover the first mistake, making another is the right way? If Kannamma gets tired of life and commits suicide, whose fault that will be? Wouldn’t that be yours? You will come to understand this tomorrow if not today.”


Satyannarayana’s face turned pale. He had to work up his courage to speak.

“Radha! Forgive me. I can’t say anything more.”

Radha wiped the sweat on her face madly. The dot on her forehead melted and spread all over her face making it frightening. “I know. I know. I knew even at the beginning that you would ask for forgiveness at the end.”


Radha looked up straight into his face. “But what if I were guilty of such betrayal? Suppose I invited some peon in to our bed room when you were not around, and if you had come to know about it, what would you have done? Should I tell? There is no question of asking me. You would have plunged a knife into my heart and avenged yourself on me. By now my body would have been incinerated in some funeral yard and been turned into ashes and have been blown away by the winds. But if you do it.. I have to forgive you. What else a woman can do? Why won’t a woman forgive? My trust is not similar to yours. My pain is not like your pain. My heart is not like your heart. I must forgive you. How easy it is for you to ask for forgiveness. I would have believed you if you had come to your senses as soon as Kannamma said ‘no’, accepted her as an honest woman, and told me yourself all about it right away and then asked for my forgiveness. Then, then I would have forgiven you wholeheartedly.

But… now I can not. I cannot forgive you and turn myself into an animal.”

Satyannarayana’s ego was hurt very badly.


“I made a mistake in haste. That’s true. This is a mistake any man would commit I am sure. Am I not asking for your forgiveness?” He took a couple of steps toward Radha and held her hands.


Radha pulled her hands away angrily. “Let’s not prolong this debate unnecessarily. Your heart has changed the minute you invited another woman into my place. I cannot forget that for the rest of my life. With that thought in my mind, I can not prostitute myself to you.


Familial relationship is a delicate one. It is a noble one. It should be cherished in that manner only. It is not a bullock cart to bring it back on to the tracks every time it slips off. Why bother about marriage when we don’t deserve it. Just like animals, the humans also don’t have the right to marry.”

Satyannarayana was shocked at Radha’s mode of thinking. “Radha! What are you talking about? Why are you so angry?”

Radha spoke without faltering. “This is not anger. This is the solution for our problem. I can not think of anything else.”   “For how long?”

“As long as we live.”

He did not understand the depth of Radha’s words until now. Satyannarayana asked the stupid question, “How can we live like that?”


“I can. What do I have in this life? Who should I stifle my heart for? But I am not saying that you should also adopt the same method. I will not ask you about your lifestyle. There is no need any more.”

“While we are living in the same house….”

“If it is not possible to live in the same house, we will go our separate ways. Although it was not necessary until now, I will make my own arrangements for my food.”

The husband said weakly and testily, “What about children?”

“What about children? They will be fine. They are as much your children as mine. They will be fine wherever they live.”


This Radha, the same Radha who used to love him without reservation, who used to be so obedient to him,..

“Radha!” Satyannarayana’s courage sunk.

Satyannarayana’s manhood was put to shame.

Satyannarayana tried desperately to speak like a human. He said in a shaky voice. “Radha! I will go right now. I will search the entire town and find Kannamma wherever she is and bring her back. I will beg for her forgiveness in front of you.”

Satyannarayana did not wait anymore. He put on the shoes and quickly left the house. “I will punish myself for my crime,” he said aloud.


Radha did not stop him. She was not pleased either. She did not trust him anymore.


She sat there like a figurine. Everybody is a gentleman as long as the days pass by smoothly. A person’s real nature surfaces only when he faces the adverse circumstances. Then it proves whether somebody is a human being or not.


“Oh, God! Where are you? Can you hear my prayers? Have you not created at least one truly loving person who would not stray from the right path at heart, in word and deed. Show me a husband who lives all his life only with his wife virtuously. I will touch his feet in admiration and consider myself blessed.”


It did not sound like a prayer to God. It sounded like a desperate cry sprang forth tearing the innermost walls of her heart!



*                      *                                  *


[Dedicated to that virtuous man, if there is one – author]

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, September 2001. The Telugu original, aarthanaadam was written in October 1967.





English Translations of Telugu stories

Recently, there was a question why Telugu stories in translation have not captured the attention of global audience. Here are some of my thoughts. Readers are welcome to comment.

Two days back I posted a request on Facebook, asking to “Suggest two Telugu translators who in your opinion have done a good job.”

That was actually a follow up of an article published in Sakshi, September 12, 2014 in which a question was raised regarding the English translations of Telugu stories. ( )

I am writing this post in English to address the readers, who cannot read Telugu script.

Briefly stated, it comes down to this: Do the currently available translations measure up to acceptable standards? If they do, why they have failed to capture the attention of the global audience? If not, what can we do to improve the quality of our translations.

Thus the question is not whether there are translations or not but how the existing translations are faring with foreign audience and what can we do about it.

For those who have not seen the previous discussion, the gist of it is as follows:

In a literary gathering commemorating Kannada writer U. Anantha Murthy, Vadrevu China Veerabhadrudu garu asked why there was no English translation of Yajnam (Kalipatnam Rama Rao). Since I am aware of at least two translations, I have contacted Veerabhadrudu garu. His argument is, although there are translations, they do not “sensitize American readers” in a manner Prof. A. K. Ramanujan’s translation had done.

On Facebook, I have received responses from Anil Atluri, Amarendra Dasari, Narayana Swamy, Rao S. Ummetthala, R. Vasundara Devi, Syamala Kallury, G.K. Subbarayudu, C. Raghotthama Rao, and P. Sathyavathi.

The translators, whose works they have appreciated are Ranga Rao, Prof. C.L.L. Jayaprada, Alladi Uma – Sridhar, Narayana Swamy, Ari Sitaramayya, and B. Indira. And there are others like Dr. Sarada (Astralia), Dr. Sujatha Gopal, and Dr. Vaidehi Sasidhar, who have contributed to I am sure there are numerous other translators and hundreds if not thousands of translations published each year.

Against this background, we need to review the current situation of English translations of Telugu stories. Secondly, if the existing translations are of poor quality, what we can do to improve the quality of translations. And more importantly, what can we do to bring them to the global audience.

It is common knowledge that people read translations when they do not possess the language skills necessary to read the originals. By default, translations are specifically aimed at readers who cannot read the originals in Telugu. Starting probably two generations back, the interest in English has increased to a point that Telugu language learning, reading and writing has decreased. However, I cannot help notice that there are Telugu readers both at home and abroad, who can enjoy both the versions. I have received emails vouching for this fact. Most of them are living abroad and are comfortable with both the languages. In other words, the translations demand certain mental disposition or aptitude on the part of the readers also. They are able to set aside the inherent idea that the essence of beauty of Telugu is not carried into English version but read it for what it is, an English rendering.

I start with the premise that all translations are not done with global audience in mind. Actually, Sahitya Akademi’s policy clearly states that their aim is,“to foster and co-ordinate literary activities in all the Indian languages and to promote through them all the cultural unity of the country.”

Currently, the situation in India is this:

Several universities and foreign language institutes, C.P. Brown Academy and Sahitya Akademi are working towards producing English translations of Telugu stories.

So, here are a few questions we should be asking:

  1. For translation teachers:

– What are your goals?

– What are your syllabi?

– Have you included translations of Telugu stories? If not, why not? (this question is even more important, if you are a native speaker.)

– If they claim there are no translations, is it not their job to train their students to translate Telugu stories?

– What are the criteria for their selection of stories for including in their syllabi?

– If they are working towards producing translations for global audience, are they aiming to meet the “criteria”?

– Are the critics, who say we do not have good translations, asking these institutions and universities to work towards producing good translations of Telugu stories?

  1. For scholars and critics:

– Is there any substantial study of English translations of Telugu stories currently available in India?

– Are there any critical/analytical articles of Telugu stories by a single translator or single book of translated stories?

In short, there is plenty of criticism to write off the existing translations but not much effort on the part of critics, teachers and institutions to improve the situation. Please, enlighten me if there are such studies and or attempts to conduct any study.

  1. Publishing. We need to address this area as well.

– I think most of the translations are being published by universities and literary organizations. However, I did not see any effort on their part to bring these books to the public. Once a year, they may have a book fair but is that enough? What else can they do to promote to make the public aware of their existence?

I would like to add a word about “sensitizing translations to American readers.” Some of the translators mentioned above live in America. Sarada lives in Australia. That means they interact with the foreigners on a daily basis and they do have a better of understanding of the sensibilities of global audience. I’ve been living in America for 40 years. Today I understand Americans better than Telugu people. I understand American English better than the English spoken by the Telugu people in Andhra Pradesh. In my opinion the translations of those translators are written off because they are not read with the mindset of a foreigner. If you are a Telugu person and read a Telugu story in English, automatically you tend to translate it into Telugu in your mind and then you are disappointed. I know I have seen some of the criticisms of my translations. From experience I can say that it is hard for a native speaker to set aside his preconceived notions and read an English version like a foreigner. I am talking from experience.

However, to be fair, I need to address the issue of quality of all translations in general.

I must admit some of the translations I have received were sloppy. After starting, I tried to edit and show to the translators the mistakes in their translations. Then, the translations got sloppier because I was there to edit their sloppy translations! Now I do not do editing any more.

My belief is the translator has the original story and possibly in touch with the writer, and the end product carries the his or her name. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the translator to make sure that grammar, spelling and sentence construction are properly addressed in the end product.

Now, the pivotal question – why Telugu stories have not reached the global audience. As I mentioned earlier, the quality of translations may be partly responsible. And also the fact that some of them, like the Sahitya Akademi publications are not intended for global audience.

To me the reasons for not reaching the global audience are not just lack of translations but our failure to create an awareness of these translations.

It has to happen at two levels. 1. At the academic level; not only the Telugu professors at the universities and other educational institutions but any Telugu person working in an institution can make any effort to introduce Telugu fiction to the students at a formal or informal level. Are they doing it?

I am however not crazy about support from the academic circles. The actual work must start much earlier. The Telugu families abroad can create reading circles in their children’s schools and public libraries and read the stories to them. Yes, I am aware the children’s first response could be ‘this translation sucks.’ Probably those, who have spent time with grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts may not be surprised by the language in our translations. If they say the language sucks, ask them to tell the story in their words. They may enjoy rewriting and even talk about it with their peers. That keeps them on track.

Secondly, introducing to the general readers. In addition to the reading groups mentioned above, in your parties, youth camps, talk about the stories we have, regardless whether the originals or translations. How many of you talked about Jhampa Lahari or Arundhati Roy as opposed to talking about our own writers? How many of you introduced the Telugu stories to Telugu youth?

  1. For the translators:

I can’t stress this enough. While editing, do not rely on Word spellchecker completely. Half the time their suggestions are misleading. When I have a question about the usage of a phrase or word, I will type, “…. in a sentence” or “… synonyms” and it gives several examples. We can even ask for famous quotes with a specific word or phrase, which gives pretty good idea within a context. This is particularly important in the case of phrases. For example

Just do not start translating because you know English. It is more than knowing the language.

There are two articles on translating Telugu stories into English. You may find it interesting. One by Dr. S.S. Prabhakara Rao, Translation or transference: the Problematic of Culture Specifics, and the second, Dynamics of Cross-cultural Transference: Translating from Telugu to English.

I need to add one more point here. Some editors and writers refer to the editing practices in America. There is more to it than what meets the eye. The magazines undertake editing only when money is involved. It is a business, and they edit according to what they think their readers would enjoy. The editor is paid and the writer is paid. And where there is no money, there is no editing either. They accept or reject based on their requirement but do not undertake any editing. Then they may send letters asking you to attend their workshops, of course, for a fee of $300 or so.

In other words, the translators must of necessity pay attention to grammar and phraseology. That is also part, actually a major part, of translating.

And for all Telugu people, please do something about creating awareness that Telugu is a language with rich cultural and literary history.

Just for fun, I typed two search phrases, American stories and Telugu stories. The results for Telugu stories are far from flattering, actually appalling.








Kalipatnam Rama Rao


By Kalipatnam Rama Rao.

kalipatnam Rama Rao

The dispute, which has been brewing for the past three years, became intense in the past three days, and now, came to a head, finally. The thought that this mania must end is on everybody’s mind; it is floating in the air. Nowadays nobody understands if I say it’s time to steer the chattels to the herd. I mean, the time is ten a.m. The name of the village is Sundarapalem. It’s located six miles away from, and on the right side of the grand trunk road, which runs from Madras to Calcutta, past Visakhapatnam; it is not too far from Vizianagaram and five miles away from the sea. To put it another way, it is fifteen miles from Srikakulam along the path a crow flies. The village is surrounded by moorlands on the east, south, southwest, and towards the sea. The lowlands extended on all other sides. During the rainy season, at noon, the view of the palm trees is just breathtaking. It’s a small village situated amidst a cluster of coconut and other small trees. At the far end of the village, the palm trees, mongrove shrubs, and the moorlands in colorful red, green, black, white and gray, define the boundary line. Further down, there are green paddy fields and a few lakes, full of glimmering waters with bright and radiant sun rays. But then, not many people notice this beautiful scenery; not even those who visit the village each year. Well, maybe a few on rare occasions.

The entire village is comprised of 400 houses, with a small temple at its center. In course of time, a few more houses are built around the high school, which is a later development. The newly built houses provided space for shops and hotels. All other houses are intended for the use of growing population in recent times.

Sundarapalem, being at the center of several villages in the region, looks like a propitious, married woman amidst a bunch of widows. Its blessings include the six-mile long roadway, connecting the village to the grand trunk road; and,
a seven-mile long electrical wiring, which is a tiny part of the massive network that has taken over the entire country. Additionally, there are several other buildings. They are: a post office on the Golla street; another on Telikala street for the use of government workers at village level; hospital and maternity center on the school road; the cooperative society built their storage sheds on a site between the village and the mala colony; library was located on the village administrator’s street; and the office of the electricity department on the village accountant’s street.

In general, ten o’clock in the morning means leisure time for the villagers, the start of it anyways. That’s the time the people in the surrounding villages finish eating their early morning meals, find a comfortable, breezy spot and lie down. Some people gather on the porches and start chatting while others invite passersby to play games.

In Sundarapalem, however, it is different; very rarely one lies down. They have different avocations; their routine is different. Some people would settle down on the teak benches in front of paan shops or on the broken chairs in hotels. A few others gather on the front porches of office buildings, the library or the temple. Some of them get into discussions about the electric wiring or the difference between the AC and DC; some talk about the repairs of water pipes while a few others discuss the village politics, either their own or the others’; there are others who take an imaginary tour of America and Russia via the capitol of Andhra Pradesh. Then there’re others who could speak on any subject—movies, radio, literature, public meetings, exhibitions, science and progress; there’re also a few people who would be willing to listen to these chatterers and comment on. Their numbers are growing each day. Then, of course, there are people who’d believe that the old is gold, and keep digging the past but their number is small.

Not that all people enjoy that kind of leisure though. There is a class of people who’d be sweating away their hours endlessly. We see them walking down the narrow lanes with bales of hay on their heads, almost as tall as themselves; carrying clay pots or baskets, or, plows on their shoulders, and steering bulls ahead of them; dark, little kids carrying big or small bottles tied to greasy ropes, and hollering ha, ha, ho, ho, while the bulls are running wildly; some making food for the animals in their courtyards, or, drying pepper or black gram in the open area; a few others steering chattels to the herd; some women lamenting for a relative or husband who died the day before or six months ago; a few women carrying bundles of clothes on their heads and a pot of rice broth in their arms; street vendors shouting ‘spinach’ or some other green; some unloading stacks of wood from their shoulders and picking up bags of grain while wiping the sweat off their foreheads. They all would be gasping for breath and scrambling under the scorching sun with water pots on their heads; or, pounding rice for that night’s meal. They are the farmers’ families who are toiling incessantly.
The panchayati is scheduled for ten-thirty but the people, who had nothing else to do started walking toward the mandapam at ten. Some of them are teachers and lower rank employees who came from the other villages in the area. They’d been hearing about the dispute for some time and they got curious about the outcome, and also, because it is Sunday and they have nothing else to do. They never had met Appalramudu, the defendant, personally, but are aware of the complete details regarding the dispute.

Appalramudu is a Harijan member of the village panchayat. He’s not only the chief of the mala community but also elderly. Most of them hold him in high esteem. They’d say that he’s the only person in his community, who’s honest and committed to leading a respectable life. Some villagers like him since he is kind to the poor in resolving the disputes.

Appalramudu owed two thousand rupees to a saukar,  Gopanna. The amount, including interest, added up to almost two thousand and five hundred rupees. That does not mean that the villagers thought less of Gopanna. He has been
very gentle and patient all along. He’s a gentleman who had seen better days but now is flat broke. The rumor is Appalramudu and Gopanna used to be very close, like two tumma trunks, entwined. Some of the villagers, who knew them well, are sad that their poverty dragged the two friends to the court today.

Actually, this dispute should have brought to the panchayati three years back. Instead, the panchayat president, Sriramulu Naidu said it could be settled through mediation. He and two other elders agreed to act as mediators. They
examined the books thoroughly. Sriramulu Naidu did not find any error in the books; however, he pointed out that the rate of interest was unfair. The other mediators said it was consistent with the going rate in the area. Sriramulu Naidu insisted on computing the interest according to the rate fixed by the state government. The others could not argue with him anymore and so went along with the amount the president specified.

Gopanna also accepted the president’s decision, not minding his loss. But then, Appalramudu had no cash on hand, not even the amount specified by the mediators. All he had was a strip of land, two-acres and thirty cents. Considering the going rate of land at the time, he would have to sell the entire strip to pay off the debt.

Appalramudu said, “Babu, Gopanna babu, please, listen to me, if not for my sake, think of my forefathers. Don’t turn us, me and my children, into day laborers. My family has been doing farming for several generations. My grandkids are growing up and soon they’ll also get into the same. Therefore, you need not worry about your money. If not my sons and me, my grandkids would pay off your debt, for sure. I admit it’s long overdue. Just give us three more years.”

The mediators wondered how he could have the money even then, at the end of three years. Sriramulu Naidu insisted on giving Appalramudu the time he had asked for. That’s what happened three years back.
Now, three months prior to the end of the said three-year term, Gopanna started trying to get the mediators to act in his behalf. They kept playing him with empty words—‘we’ll see’, ‘tomorrow, for sure’, ‘after I returned from my trip’, ‘morning’, ‘evening’ and so on.  Gopanna was patient until a week before the note ran out. Gopanna was told once again that Sriramulu Naidu is out of town.

Sriramulu Naidu went to Visakhapatnam. His uncle, mother’s oldest brother, was admitted into the hospital 15 days back. Nobody knows the honest truth for sure; the other two mediators sent word for Sriramulu Naidu several times and each time they have the same answer, ‘I’m coming’, but he was nowhere to be found.

Then Gopanna went to another village chief, Lakshum Naidu, and begged him, “Lakshum Naidu, please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming Sriramulu Naidu. He is no other than Dharmaraju, a man of principles. But what I don’t
understand is his actions. On one hand, he insists that nobody should leave the village and go elsewhere seeking justice; and then, he skips town when it is time for him to hand in justice.

“Think about it. You tell me, aren’t there other family members to take care of his uncle? Can’t he really spare one half day to be here and settle this dispute?” He quoted what Appalramudu’s party seemed to be spreading around and added, “Physically, I’m not tough. Financially, I was in a good position way back then but now that’s all gone. I thought I could rely on the power of justice. That’s also looking bleak now. You tell me, what am I supposed to do? If I bypass the local tradition and go to the city court, the entire village will spit on my face. If I sit here, waiting for you people to come around for me, it doesn’t look like that’s ever going to happen.”

In the past 15 years, ever since Sriramulu Naidu has taken charge, nobody ever criticized the local leaders. Now, with this dispute, people started whispering behind their backs, and, even to their faces at times.

Circumstances being such, Lakshum Naidu had no choice but to act. All the leaders, except Sriramulu Naidu, gathered at the mandapam. They discussed Gopanna’s case for two days, dawn to dusk, but could not arrive at a decision that is agreeable to all the parties. It was not a matter of conflicting opinions. Nobody has a clear view of the entire situation to start with.

The debate was not going anywhere. All that time,  Appalramudu kept quiet, whatever his reasons are. He would not speak a single word, however much others tried to get a word out of his mouth. Not even his sons, except the fourth one, Sitaramudu, were willing to open their mouths. And his second son, Bodigadu, kept agreeing with everybody. A couple of his relatives would say a word or two occasionally. They kept answering only in single syllables and that too only after they were asked ten times. The two parties kept going round and round in circles.

“Do you owe him or not?”

“You all are saying I owe him; so I owe him.”

“So, will you pay it back or not?”

“What do I have to give?”

“What about the strip of land you have?”

“What about our livelihood?”

“Why didn’t you think of that, at the time of borrowing the money?”

“We were young and stupid in those days.”

“Well, now you’re smart, you might as well pay him back.”

“How? You find a way yourselves and show us how to pay him back.”

The mediators felt exhausted but remained calm.

“You’re right. We understand you’re worried about your future and your family’s future. But at a time, when things do not look good and karma prevails, there’s nothing one can do. You know, the emperor Harischandra ; he became a guard at a graveyard under people like you, why do you think he did so? Simply to pay back his debt, right? Here is our suggestion. Let’s say you are embarrassed to work as a day laborer. But you can still put your children to work. Let them work as farm hands for some of the saukars. We’ll make sure that you’re the first to know anytime we needed a hand, either to dig a hole or run an errand. We’ll go to other villages only after talking to you. Think about it carefully – the reason we’re telling you all this. If you earn our goodwill here in our village, you’ll never be wanting for food. Trust me, nobody can act like a jerk and have a good life.”

The karanam  and other leaders tried their level best to convince Appalramudu and his group. One of them said, “Look, boys, if you lose our goodwill here, living gets that much harder for you. The mediators have laid it out for you very clearly and graciously. It would be in your best interest to listen to them. On the other hand, if you sulk and ignore them, things do have a way of taking their own course, that’s for sure. Let this go smoothly while it is still under control. Here is an easy way out.

“Potinaidu is tilling five-acres of wasteland by the lake. There are five more acres of wasteland, which he says his but he’s bluffing. He filed a petition for registration, that was rejected—that’s a different story. Let it be. You take that land and start tilling. We’ll get it registered in your name. Potinaidu is working alone and struggling. But, you and your family together can produce gold, no doubt.”

Appalramudu’s sons did not savor this advice. One of them, Bodigadu, said, “Your advice is going to ruin us and shut up our kids too. The way you put it, it seems we both, Potinaidu and us, are in for a disaster. It’s bad luck for  us if he’s hurt, and the same goes for him too.  Or else, We, Potinaidu and us, grab each other’s hair, start bickering, and come running to you, once again, begging for justice.”

Sitaramudu said, “Babu, let’s forget for a second whether that wasteland is going to yield gold or silver. We’ve got nothing to invest in it, in the first place. This means we’ll have to take out a loan once again. By the time we harvested the crops, the loan is going to grow so big, and with interest, it is sure to wipe out the entire income from the land. We sweat and toil and the lender will enjoy the yield. So, sir, here’s what I’d say. Let Gopanna babu take the wasteland. We’ll work for him until the loan is paid off.”

The village leaders have understood that settling this dispute is beyond their powers. Probably, this would not have taken this long if it were settled 15 years back. The current president, Sriramulu Naidu, came to power and changed everything. He made a habit of suggesting peaceful means for everything. He often says, “When you cannot convince others and are angry with yourself, don’t say you’re frustrated with them and take it out on them; that’s not the way to handle things. We can deal with others’ shortcomings but not our own.”

The meeting has been postponed and the group dispersed. Lakshum Naidu could not hold himself anymore. On the way, he stopped and shouted furiously, “This is all Sriramulu Naidu’s fault. He’s good at bluffing his way out, and so, he suggests we all do the same. But for him, where on earth these mala idiots could have gotten the nerve to talk to us like that?”

The other members were walking by his side and ahead of him. They turned around and looked into his face. Suryam, a local saukar, put his arm on Lakshum Naidu’s shoulder, walked a few yards and then withdrew his arm. The gesture did not mean don’t be hasty; it only meant that that was not the right place to express opinions. All this happened the day before. That afternoon, Suryam went to Visakhapatnam.

By ten-thirty, the entire mandapam was filled with people. The mandapam was built at the center of the village, a little to the north, and across from the temple. It is built in a way that god’s statue would be visible, when all the doors are opened. The entire area is wide open but for the wall on the north side.

The village leaders sat down at the center of the mandapam. The gathering settled down wherever they could find a spot either to sit or stand. They were everywhere – on the mandapam steps or in its shade, in front, close by, far off, or, in the shades of nearby houses, in tea stalls, paan shops, every nook and corner. They all are waiting for the meeting to start. They’ve heard that Sriramulu Naidu, accompanied by Suryam has returned earlier that morning. That’s the reason the crowd gathered in record numbers, for the first time in its history.

Sriramulu Naidu did not miss his appointment, not even by one minute. Some people in the crowd stood up and folded their hands, namaskaram. Those who were smoking cigars hid them behind their backs. Sriramulu Naidu received their greetings with a smile and walked briskly on to center stage before the other leaders noticed his arrival.

The people, who have heard of him by name only and had never seen him, could assume that he is of a big stature. In reality he is six feet tall and skinny like a cane; he wears a shirt with stiff collar and white as jasmine flower; his hair is bushy and wavy. He has always a pleasant and unruffled smile on his lips.

Sriramulu Naidu said namaskaram to the other leaders on the platform, addressing each by name, and sat down in the space specified for him. He looked around while listening to the people next to him and responding briefly as and when necessary. All the elders who’re expected to be there are also present. Lakshum Naidu and Suryam sat on either side of him. Rest of the members sat next to the three leaders. The eldest son of Raghavaiah garu, who was the village head before Sriramulu Naidu, the munsif  and the karanam came to power, is also present. Among others are Mahesam, who’s just started making his presence felt, Papayya and Musalayya, who has joined hands with the village elders long ago. Additionally, important persons from each street, each caste, class and vocations are also invited per custom and they all are present today.

Sriramulu Naidu’s eyes wandered around and landed on Appalramudu. Appalramudu sat in front of the mandapam, a little away from where he used to sit normally. He is little over 70-years  old. His age is showing its effect only on his
hair but not on his body though. His body’s gotten tough after grappling with dirt for so long. It is wrinkled slightly yet is shining under the bright sun. He wore a dhoti and a rag on his shoulder. His sons and grandsons, ranging from twenty to fifty-years in age, gathered around him; other friends and relatives scattered all over the area in small groups.

Sitaramudu sat behind them at the far end. On one side, his older brother’s eldest son, Chinnappadu is sitting and his second brother, Bodigadu, on the other side. Women folks are with them, holding their babies; there are also some little kids amidst the crowd. It is a hot day. The hot sunrays are shining on their dark bodies and making them look like statues of village goddesses that are installed in the open fields, and being worshipped regularly. Gopanna sat down on the mandapam by himself; he has no supporters by his side. He has four sons but they are not present here today. They’re scattered all over the country in search of livelihood. Gopanna is living alone with his widowed daughter and her five children.

Sriramulu Naidu, with the consent of the members present, raised his voice and said, “You all have to be quiet for a second. I have to explain a couple of things before we start the meeting.”

It is not always easy to see, at his meetings, where he is going with his opening statement. He looked down for a few seconds as if he’s not sure of himself, and then looked up and said, with a smile, “Maybe I’m embarrassing myself and embarrassing you too. It’s also possible that either I misunderstood or the person who had given me the message got it wrong. Whatever it is, from what I heard, there are some rumors floating around in regard to why I could not attend this meeting earlier. Let’s forget for a moment whether the rumors were well founded or not. Here I am today, and I’m sincerely apologizing to you all for the same.”

Sriramulu Naidu folded his hands in all humility. He spoke those words with a smile. Yet the crowd cringed at their hearts. Hiding their reaction, several of them protested vehemently, ‘cha, cha, don’t say that,’ ‘maybe some idiot said it,’ ‘no sir, don’t you ever pay attention to such things,’ and so on. Sriramulu Naidu ignored their protests and continued, “To speak the truth, there’s a reason for it. That’s a personal matter, meaning exclusively my business. It’s not appropriate for me to discuss it at this meeting.” He is not the kind of person who’d use public platform to promote private matters. He said, “Every person has a private life, in addition to his duty to the society. Sometimes two tasks, arising from the two types of responsibilities, may occur at the same time and clash. It’s not easy to set priorities
under such circumstances. I know our ancestors have laid down some rules in regard to the priorities in a situation like this. When Lord Rama was asked whom would he choose—between his duty to the public and his consort Sitadevi – he replied right away, without scrambling for words. He chose the duty. But then, I am not Lord Rama; I am out and out human. Therefore, you’ll have to forgive me.”

The gathering is well aware of his family matters. His family history is an open book. There is not a single person in the entire village who does not know about it. He was born in a very ordinary family. His uncles, on his mother’s side, were better off than his own. His eldest uncle, the one who’s sick now, married off his two-year old daughter to Sriramulu Naidu when he was 8-years old. After that, his uncle became even richer. He took his nephew-cum-son-in-law, who’s barely finished elementary education, to the city. Sriramulu Naidu finished high school and went to college. While studying law, he dropped out of school in the name of service to the country. That could break the ties between the two families, the villagers feared. But the bond between the women folks was stronger and kept them intact.

Nevertheless, there is still some bad blood between the two families even today. His uncle wanted Sriramulu Naidu to become a member of the legislative assembly, if not a member of the parliament. But Sriramulu Naidu said, “I don’t want any position. I feel blessed thousand-fold for the littlest service I could render to my village.” With this newly developed clash of wills, the families, once again, fell apart for a while. Only recently they started coming together. Then his uncle fell sick. That’s the long and short of it, his reason for making his uncle’s health his priority. If the villagers failed to see this, it is their fault.

All of a sudden, they all realized that they had misunderstood his actions and regretted rushing to conclusions.

Sriramulu Naidu noticed that the crowd has softened and continued, “Also, there is one more thing that’s come to my notice and that also needs to be addressed. I am sorry to see that this community’s activities should come to a standstill simply because, one member, I, couldn’t make it. You may act like the entire matter hinged on the presence or absence of Sriramulu Naidu, and probably the rest of the world appreciates it too, but I am hurt. In the past ten to fifteen years, there is not a single thing that is handled by me alone. Yet, you are not able to carry on your responsibilities without me, it seems. I’m not sure whom should I blame for this. Probably it’s my fault. The fact is this is crushing my heart.” Signs of his anguish were evident on his face.
In matters of leadership, Sriramulu Naidu aimed high ever since he was a child. In this regard, he has imbibed the Mahatma’s teachings. During his high school days, Sriramulu Naidu wrote an article, “birthplace and birth mother,” and received a gold medal for that. For the first time in his life, a sunbeam brightened his heart. After he went to college, he converted that sunbeam into a torch. It was the year 1947. The Law College magazine featured his article, “India: The year of 1960.” Readers showered praise on him and soon forgot about it. Sriramulu Naidu, on the other hand, continued to be a man of action. He returned to his village because of that article. His other classmates went into raptures about patriotism like Sriramulu Naidu, but, unlike him, they’ve got their law degrees and occupied prestigious positions in the legislative assembly and parliament. Sriramulu Naidu continued to explain to the crowd what the Mahatma had said about leadership, and added, “This dispute did not start today. Yet, it has acquired a special meaning today. The very fact that so many people have gathered here today proves it. The news about this dispute has reached to other villages as never before. That means we need to be more careful, a lot more than ever before, in regard to carrying out justice. Not that we were not careful in the past. I’m saying we must not allow room for criticism.

“Secondly, look at the little children around you,” he said, pointing to the kids, and added, “They came here out of curiosity; they want to know how we’re going to settle this dispute. Don’t you ever think that they cannot understand what’s happening here. They’re our future judges. What we decide today will set an example for their future reference. Therefore, you should keep that also in mind.” Then he added one more thing which might be the last but not of the least importance. That is, “We all made a vow twelve years ago, at the time of opening this revered mandapam, and in front of this very sacred temple. Since then, this mandapam is our home of justice. As long as we have this mandapam, we must not go to another place for justice. We took a vow that ‘If, ever the day came when one could not find justice here and went elsewhere seeking justice, we will destroy this mandapam with these very hands that built it.’ Bear that in mind, firmly. Today Sundarapalem is walking with her head high in the region; that’s because of our unity. In recent times, several political leaders and the chief minister came to visit us; that is because of your high ideals and integrity in word and deed. We never resorted to sycophancy, shallow display, and crooked means; we did not care to enter competitions; not that we could not have gotten things like “Ideal Panchayati Award”; we just did not care for such things. Ideals must show in action. There are plenty of reasons for receiving or not receiving awards. Now, I am reminding you of our reputation and requesting you to proceed with this panchayati in accordance with principles.”

Sriramulu Naidu finished his speech. Anytime he has finished a speech, there always follows a long sigh of relief from the crowd. The people, who stayed still, like carved statues, up until then, would start moving as if they’d just come to life. That’s what happened now too. The crowd loosened up and started chatting. It’s true that the area villagers have been discussing this dispute for some time. In fact, this dispute has gotten plenty of support from them; also, they are the ones who had started the unfounded rumors about Sriramulu Naidu. Some of them pointed out the facts—that Appalramudu is a panchayat member, and also, a good friend of Sriramulu Naidu. For all these reasons, they were not sure that Gopanna stood a chance of getting justice.

Lakshum Naidu did not study law but is an offspring of Naidu clan, and as such, aware of traditional values. His forefathers had been handing down justice for years. The crowd is sure that this dispute is going to cause a rift between the two -Sriramulu Naidu and Lakshum Naidu.

The other villagers have been jealous of Sundarapalem for a long time. Some of them believed that devils hang around here, and for that reason, Government officials feared to go alone to this corner village. They claimed that the Sundarapalem people were capable committing murders and getting away with it because their sense of unity was such. Now, the same village became a favorite child of the government officials. Now they are coming back again and again by car, day and night. They’d consider this village first for any development program, grant funds, and then only they would think of other villages.

All the area villagers continued to think on those lines but never considered the humungous effort, the yajnam , which went into it and still is continuing, for that matter.

Fifteen years back—when Sriramulu Naidu arrived there—this village was inactive and lifeless,  like all other villages in the region. There were only two small grocery stores for the entire village. At night, they had only oil lamps to light up. People struggled under the pressure of poverty. They all were crushed in that corner village, flung far away from civilization, somehow managing, wearing murky rags and living in houses that were crumbling.

Sriramulu Naidu entered the scene under such dire circumstances. He was barely 25-years old at the time. There was unity among them but so also disarray. They came together in times of tragedy but not when it came to attaining their personal goals. They lived by the principle, ‘each man for himself.’ In those days, there was not a single man who would not look at Sriramulu Naidu’s actions, hear his words and laugh behind his back or even to his face sometimes.

Then the day came. The villagers were dumbstruck when they heard that Sriramulu Naidu managed to get a donation of 20,000 rupees from Suryam for building high school. Suryam was known to be tightfisted in those days. He hoarded a stash in silos yet would squirm to spend even a paisa. For him, it was like staking his life. And Sriramulu Naidu convinced him, god knows how, but he had succeeded! It was after that incident people were convinced that Sriramulu Naidu was bestowed with a special gift.

After that, they all started listening to him. Sriramulu Naidu said that ignorance was the root cause of all evils and for that reason they should build a high school first. People could not follow his logic but took his advice anyways. A high school was built. Then he went to the government and told them that, since they had a high school in the village, the village needed a road. Thus, building one success over another, he’s gotten several development programs put in place. No surprise that, today, Sundarapalem is the envy of all villages in the area. In addition to a few offices, now the village has three cooperatives and four clothes stores. Also, some half dozen tailors are getting business year round.

After Sriramulu Naidu sat down, Gopanna stood up and started narrating his side of the story. He said, “My business was crushed to the ground. Not just mine, almost everybody’s business had been ruined but mine was hurt the worst.” He stopped for a few seconds, and continued as if he was speaking, of necessity, “I know if I tear my  gut, they fall on my feet. But that is the truth. My own sons – I brought into this world – cheated me. As soon as they’d understood that the business was in trouble, each one of them seized whatever they could lay hands on. With that, we lost whatever little respect we had; and we all ended up on the street. Then they pushed for the property allocation. What’s left there for allocation? Even in that, they resorted to crooked means. They claimed the loans, which were easy to collect, as theirs; and left the problematic ones to my eldest son and me. It’s the same with outstanding debts. They’d taken the debts that were easy to  evade; and, where easy to write off the interest. Then they told us, my eldest son and me, that we should take responsibility for the tough ones—the debts that screamed ‘shell out or kill yourself’. Yet, we two remained true to our word. Thanks to your kindness and support, we worked hard for about five or six years, and paid off the loans we owed and collected the amounts due to us, despite several hardships. After that, my son said, ‘father, I cannot live here anymore. I’ll go away to the west.’ I told him to go; it is not the same, you know—selling lumber in the same place where you’re used to sell  flowers.

“Babu, the reason I’m telling you all this is: When I’d cleared my debts, I paid each and every rupee; I did not write off a single copper paisa. Now it is my turn to be paid; you said the rate of interest was unfair. I’ve accepted that, I told myself, whatever meant to be. And then you’ve proposed extending the loan term. I agreed to that too. Now that term has ended. You state the amount as you please, and I will accept it. Whatever the god’s will may be, let it be. I’ll take it as my luck, take the money and leave.”

He finished and was about to sit down. Before sitting down, something else occurred to him. He said, “One more thing. You’ve mentioned something else earlier. You said we’d demolish this mandapam on the day when somebody
stepped outside, because justice failed him here. Well, I am assuring you that that is not going to happen on my account. I must admit, I did entertain such a thought until yesterday, actually up until you’ve mentioned it a half hour ago; I was thinking of going to the court, if it came to that. But after listening to what you’ve said, I dropped the idea at once. If we—my daughter, grandkids and I—were to die of starvation, so be it; but I will not blame you, won’t say you’ve cheated us of fairness. I sincerely hope that this mandapam outlives us and continues to hand down justice to others, if not for my grandchildren and I, for years to come.” And then he took his seat.

The entire gathering was shaken by the last part of his speech. Probably this is one example of how God tests our stamina. Some of them, who did not know about his patience and good nature, were taken by surprise; they wondered if that was the reason so many people love him dearly.

After a while, the members, one by one, turned to Appalramudu and stared at him. He sat there with his head down; he did not speak a single word. The crowd looked around and then turned to Sriramulu Naidu. He understood their thought and called out Appalramudu, “Emayyaa,  Appalramudu, what’d you say?”

Appalramudu is past seventy yet everybody addresses him as ‘orey’.  Only Sriramulu Naidu addresses him as ‘emayyaa!’

Appalramudu still did not speak. Asirinaidu, an 80-years old man, whose land is located next to that of Appalramudu, waited for a few seconds, and said, shaking his head, “Appalramudu; you do have to say whatever you can say in your own behalf.” Appalramudu still did not open his mouth.

They all kept quiet for a few more minutes. A man, standing in the front yard, said, “Look, how long are you all going to make us stand here like this? You’ll have to say something. Either you say yes, you owe him, or no, you don’t. It’s not fair that you lie low sluggishly like a snake that snacked on dirt. If you can pay him off, say so. Or else, tell them you can’t. Or, just tell him that you’ll not pay and that they can do whatever they please. But, sitting there tight-lipped is not going to do any good. In fact, it’s disrespectful to the judges who’re waiting to settle the dispute, and us who came here to watch it.” His tone was both sympathetic and caustic.

Still, neither Appalramudu nor his sons spoke. Then, Annamayya, a brother-in-law of Lakshum Naidu and a distant relative of Sriramulu Naidu, got up and came forward, clucking his tongue, cha chha and wavering his towel, which was sitting on his shoulder. He spoke as if he was flogging them all. He has a habit of using all his body parts as he speaks; it looks as if all his fervor is oozing out of his eyeballs, eardrums and nostrils.

Annammayya said ostentatiously, “My grandfather used to say a proverb about seeking justice from a man without brains by a man without options.  That’s what it’s all looking like now. This dispute is going on for over three days yet not one son of a mala bitch spoke a word. And here all you, the leaders, are begging them, calling them courteously amma, babu; but not one of you would give it to them straight, tell them, ‘you, scoundrels, whatever’s gotten into you? What’re you thinking? Is this your dad’s money or grandpa’s? Do you think you could dodge the debt and hide in a hole somewhere? Pay up or we’ll kick you.’ And then there is the other party. They wouldn’t turn to the old man, Gopanna, and tell him that they cannot pay. On top of all this, the leaders are telling us ‘don’t go to the court; this is the court for us’”.

Annamayya went on ranting, hysterically, as if floodgates were opened. Then, one of Appalramudu’s relatives stood up and said, “Babu, Annamayya babu! Please, don’t be angry. Yes, you are a Naidu man yet it is unbecoming of you to be so touchy. The other leaders are not any less educated. You may not know it but they all knew what would happen if that document were taken to the court. That’s why they’ve take this course of action. Don’t be hasty.” He stated it clearly.

With that, the bickering has gotten worse. Somebody asked him ‘what do you mean by this course of action?’ The first person asked what did Annamayya mean when he said ‘we’ll kick you’? Somebody else said, ‘had he gone to the court, the court would have made him pay through the nose.’ A few others retorted in your dreams.

“Yes, we’ve gotten our freedom but that does not mean we can go wild,” said somebody.

“No way. Let them slit our throats,” the man standing behind commented.

The commotion is getting worse by the minute. The dispute is neither about one being a male or a female nor a question of high caste or out-caste. It is a dispute only between a lender and a borrower. Emotions started flying high in several ways using Appalramudu and Gopanna as scapegoats.

Normally Sriramulu Naidu will not tolerate chaos. On occasion, however, the situation could get out of hand, of necessity. In such circumstances, he lets the parties holler for a while and then brings them under control.

On the day in question, Appalramudu did the same. He waited until the people calmed down and then stood up and spoke. He said, “Babu, here is my understanding of your opinion, from the squabble that’s been going on for the past
two days. You seem to be saying, let’s not worry about justice; three years back, Appalramudu stood in front of three respectable men and  had agreed to pay the amount; it doesn’t matter why he had agreed—whether it was because he was scared or because he could not go against their word. He has agreed and so he must pay, no matter what, whether by selling his land or selling himself.’ That’s how it’s sounding like to me.

“The only thing the assembly now could see is Gopanna babu’s hardships. He has four children but they are not here; as for Appalramudu, all his sons are with him. They are sturdy as baby elephants. They may not have land but they can use their muscle and make a living. They may go without a drink of water for a day and still live. That’s what the assembly is thinking. In other words, you all are bent on convincing us to sell the little piece of land we have and pay off Gopanna babu’s debt.

“Babu, if that’s what you call fair, hand me down the same sentence. I’ll accept it.” He finished and sat down. In view of all that has happened, many of them did not understand his logic. Lakshum Naidu was the first to admit it. He said, “Are you saying the debt is legitimate; but it’s wrong on our part to ask you to pay back?”

Appalramudu did not answer the question at first. After asked again, he replied, of necessity, “Babu, we are not educated. We would not know whether it was a loan or not; since when it was turned into a loan, and on what basis, the amount was calculated. You’re the leaders and then there is Sriramulu babu. You will have to think about it and tell us,” he said calmly.

Some of them, who have been watching Appalramudu and his ways for the past three days, were taken by surprise. Sriramulu Naidu had some suspicion about his ways and now it has become clear to him. He mulled over for a few minutes and then stood up as if he’d come to a decision. “Appalramudu, I’m ready to give my ruling.” His countenance showed no signs of tension. He spoke calmly, “As of today, you no longer owed to Gopanna garu, not a single paisa. You can go home now. Don’t worry about it.” Then he turned to Gopanna and said, “Gopanna garu, come to me the day after tomorrow. I’ll clear your debt.”

Then he turned to the others and said, “Let’s go.”

The crowd could not understand this ruling. Before they could make any sense of it, Appalramudu stood up. “Babu, Sriramulu babu, I don’t understand this. What did I say so bad to upset you? First, show me what’s wrong in what I’ve said and then leave,” he said firmly.

“I’m not leaving because I’m upset. I settled this dispute in the same manner, you would have, if you were to decide. When it came out of my mouth, to you, it sounded like my frustration. That means you’ve realized the impropriety of it.”

It took some time for Appalramudu to understand these words. Even then, he did not understand them completely. He could read Sriramulu Naidu’s perception in his eyes and looks, though. It gave him a peek into the depths of Sriramulu Naidu’s heart; he wondered if he had misread them.

“All right. I admit I was wrong. You give us whatever ruling you think is fair,” Appalramudu said.

“Not necessary. If you’d understood that this is not right, you must also know what is right. You tell us what is right and we’ll act accordingly.”

Appalramudu understood where Sriramulu Naidu is going with this logic; he is not surprised this time. For the first time, he’s getting annoyed with Sriramulu Naidu. He looked straight into his face and said, “babayya, you’re impudent,
I must say.”

Sriramulu Naidu could not understand this. “Why?”

“You know why. Your blow does not show the spot where it hits. Whatever you do, you handle it on the sly, like water under a mat,” Appalramudu said, watching the changes in Sriramulu Naidu’s face.

Sriramulu Naidu never thought that Appalramudu could use such harsh language while talking to him.

“Handling like water under the mat—you or me?” he retorted, without showing streaks of red in his eyes.

“Yourself,” Appalramudu  replied curtly, “Babayya, you’re the chief; you came here saying you’ll hand us justice. You must tell us what that just is. It’s not fair to ask the party, who has come here asking for justice, to decide what’s just. That’s like telling me to poke my eye with my own finger.”

Sriramulu Naidu hoped to make Appalramudu spell out what’s fair; he had no intention of getting a lecture on his own responsibilities from him. Therefore, he responded suitably, “Then, you must also know why I had to suggest that. You are hurt so badly; you can’t even see fairness at this point no matter what I had suggested. That’s why I had to give my ruling in that fashion.”

Appalramudu did not agree. “You’re coming back to the same point again. A chief who came to settle the dispute must not worry whether his ruling would be acceptable or not; and, if not, how to convince the parties. He must be focused only on the extent of fairness in his own ruling. When a dispute is settled in that manner, there’s no room for argument anymore. Even if the argument had continued, only the parties would have to take the blame but not the
chief.” Lakshum Naidu jumped in quickly and asked, “Is that your final word? Would you say so for all the three times?”
That question ticked off Appalramudu. He raised his voice rather unnecessarily and said, “Yes, yes, yes, for all the three times! Babu, Lakshum Naidu, it seems, you’re happy that you’ve seized this bastard in your fist at last. But, remember that I’ve never tried to evade the debt in the first place. I respected his word then and am respecting it now. Make him [Sriramulu Naidu] say that this debt is fair. I’m willing to pay off the entire amount, not a single paisa less; I’ll not ask him to forgive, not even a paisa. The day I failed to do so, you can say I was born out of wedlock.”

“That’s debt, debt, debt.” Even before Appalramudu finished his sentence, Sriramulu Naidu raised his voice and shouted. Then he lowered it, struggling to hide his embarrassment for breaking into an outburst; and continued. It was not clear whether he was talking to himself or addressing the meeting. He collected himself, and said slowly, “I fail to see how their party, or anybody for that matter, can say it’s not a debt, and how they could expect me to say it’s not a debt.” He continued, while reconciling, in his language and countenance, his two personalities—the one that Appalramudu had known him as in the past, and the second, as he presented himself to Appalramudu last night. Sriramulu Naidu continued, “Things like debts, mistakes and sins are wrong irrespective of who says what; they are not going to change because somebody decided they are not wrong. Possibly, you can go to the court, argue and win the case. But, you’re mistaken if you think that you can evade your debt in that manner. You will held accountable in the next, if not in this lifetime.” Then, he went back to his seat, showing his annoyance all over his face. Other members also returned to their seats.

The entire assembly fell silent for a second; it was so quiet, they would’ve heard it, if an ant made a sound. After a while, Sriramulu Naidu, leaned forward and said to Appalramudu, who’s looking the other way, “I am thinking, that, probably, under the present circumstances, you are in no position…”

Appalramudu turned around briskly and cut in, “Babu, Sriramulu babu, don’t work yourself up anymore. I know what you’re going to say and why you’re going to say so. You’ve given your ruling and it is done; you stay on that. I’ll keep my word. I am not asking for your reasons for that ruling.” Then he, looking baffled and red in face, turned to Musalayya, and said, “Babu, Musalayya babu, make an offer for my two-acres and thirty cents land; whatever pleases you is fine. Let me have it.” He held out and cupped both his hands.

Musalayya has been waiting for this moment for the past three days, with the deposit amount tucked in his dhoti folds at the waist. He looked into Appalramudu’s face and lowered his head. Appalramudu noticed that and said,
“Babayya, don’t be afraid of losing your money; there is no need to fear as long as I live and not even after I am gone.”

That should have put Musalayya’s fears at rest. But it didn’t look like it did.

Appalramudu spoke again, “You’re hesitating, tell me why. Maybe you think I hate it and am selling it half-heartedly. That’s not true at all. I’m happy to sell it; and so, you make an offer that makes you happy.”

With that clarification, Musalayya felt that all the hurdles have been removed. Then Appalramudu turned to the karanam and asked him to draft the document. While the karanam was drafting the document, the crowd, who sat like wooden statues, started moving and mumbling. Some of them moved their benumbed legs, moved to a safer spot and began discussing the outcome.

Somebody from the crowd commented, “The president got him an extension on the loan term. But how can he say there is no debt at all, even if he were Dharmaraju?” He spoke softly but the man next to him heard, and replied, “Let’s say he could forgive the debt. What about Gopanna? It’s not like he’s rolling in riches?”

“Are you saying the debt can be written off, if he were rolling in riches?”

“No, nobody’s saying that. Probably, you’d be happy if they take away all his land, house, and all his possessions and turn him into a beggar. Tell me this, when the rich saukars lost your businesses, did their lenders write off their loans?”

Arguments on both sides flared up.

Juggadu is standing behind Appalramudu. He has a pair of bulls and a cart; he makes his living by renting his cart. He had land in the past but not anymore. Juggadu said, “Appalramudu has a big family, 25 to 30 people. True, ours is
working class. Yet, for some reason, if we don’t find work for a month or so, the entire family, old women and children and all, would be writhing for want of food. I know it only too well; how that feels like. Lord Narayana’s blessings, I’d

“That’s the way it is,” an old washer-man said in a husky voice, “We can unravel a man-made knot but not the one made by Narayana. Look at Gopanna—where he had started and where is he now. And what a mess Appalramudu’s gotten into, now! The dispute is only between those two; but look at all the crowd that has gathered here today.”

A few others commented on the integrity of the mala community, the special treatment they’ve been receiving from the government, and the deteriorating fear of god among people in general.

The karanam finished drafting the document and looked at Sriramulu Naidu. He sat squatting and with his head down. Karanam was about to open his mouth to say something, noticed that Suryam was watching him and shut up. He called Appalramudu to come closer and read the document aloud; and got him say that he had heard it and it was in order. Karanam pushed the document and the inkpad in front of him and showed him the places where Appalramudu needed to put his thumbprint.

Appalramudu took it in his hand, and turned to Sriramulu Naidu. He said, “Babu, Sriramulu babu, don’t feel bad about this. What I said was wrong but it was not intentional. I got carried away and it came out wrong. Don’t take it personally. You’re educated. I thought you knew everything. It did not occur to me that you could not have known the truth. If you’d known, you would not have spoken the way you did, with conviction. I would not have spoken rashly the way I did. What’d you know! We were born and raised on this very soil. We lived all our lives only here. Yet we could not see it either. Actually, I could understand it clearly only last night.

“Babayya, I’ll tell you the entire story first and then put my thumbprint on this paper. I’ll tell you the whole story—the truth and the lie that comprised this dispute; why I called it an unfair debt; when did this Appalramudu start
entertaining the evil thought—dodging his debt; and, how the whole thing has happened. After explaining it to you, I will put my thumb-print on this paper. Please, bear with me until then.”

Then he turned to the crowd and started slowly, “Babayyalaara!  You all are saying that we (the mala and madiga communities and the laborers) are out to grab everybody else’s money; and that we don’t care about justice and injustice. You’re also saying that that is the reason we’re accursed and starving. Earlier somebody said that we could unravel a man-made knot but not the one made by Lord Narayana. Hear me out, babayyalaaraa, and you decide whether this knot is made by man or god.”

Appalramudu moved a little farther back so the people at the far end could also hear him. Then he continued, “This story has started about fifty-years back. Most of you who are here today were not even born at the time. In some cases, even your mothers were not born. There, Asirinaidu, who’s sitting next to that pillar, is the only person who’s alive at the time. He’s older than I and so, he would know whether I’m telling the truth or not. He’s my witness.

“Babayyalaaraa, my father left to me and my brother six-acres of land each, a total of 12-acres—five-acres of low land and seven-acres of moorland. We have five older sisters. We two brothers lived under the same roof for about five or six years. After that, we split up, like everybody else. At that time, we received about two kilograms of silver, a few grams of gold and a small home each.

“Babu, none of you knows how this village was like in those days and what the life was like at the time. As far as I knew, everybody had a small strip of land; and all the kapu families plowed land and made their living. The golla families took care of the goats and sheep; the golla families were doing a little farming too. We, the mala community, owned mostly moorlands, and some low lands. Very few of us, who had no land of their own, were working as farm hands. And a few other small farmers earned their living by either farming or as day laborers.

“Babayyalaaraa, I must admit, except for Jaggarayudu garu – that’s Suryam babu’s father – and a few partners of his, no weaver had enough to live on in those days. After the foreign cloth was introduced here, their looms and spinning wheels were stowed away on the attics. They had to scramble for food.

“It was at that time, Gangayya garu, a wanderer, went south and brought in the tobacco business. Venkatanarayana, an uncle of Suryam babu, joined hands with him. The business picked up soon enough and made big. After that, other crops also were imported. Peanut farming was already there in our area. But people in general were afraid of planting peanuts or tobacco. Farming Gongura leaf started only recently. Up until then, all these farmers were planting only paddy, maize, and other food grains. We all had enough to eat. We did not have as much variety of clothing as today but had enough rags to wear. Even the rich did not wear this many varieties of clothing in those days. If they had little money, they used it to buy gold, had it made into jewelry and hung them around their women folks’ necks. They all freely gave for charity, in the name of god or devil, whatever, but they did it. Only a few of them were stingy and used to stow away the gold and silver in boxes. Babayyalaaraa, in those days, if you’d seen a woman, whether a naidu woman or a farmer’s, you would know, each one of them looked like the goddess, Lakshmidevi; they had so much gold around their necks they could barely turn their heads.

“Even poor wives wore two to three pounds of silver around their necks, on their arms, wrists and ankles; all kinds of jewelry – andelu, kadiyaalu, sandalu, murugulu, pocheelu, dandakadiyaalu – you name it, they had it. Nowadays you
don’t see that jewelry anywhere. Some of you don’t even know the names of those pieces. What has happened to all that?

“Trade crops came in. Have they come, walking on their two feet? No, people brought them. Babayyalaaraa, now the Agriculture department folks are coming and lecturing to us. In the past, business people did the same, convinced us, the farmers, of the value of the trade crops. At first, the poor were apprehensive but the rich farmers decided to try them. Until then, we never heard of the rupee currency. Maybe, a few had some rupees but, in general, mostly the saukars had them and used them to pay the taxes. Most of the time, the transactions were carried out by bartering grocery items. After the rupees started floating around, all transactions became only in terms of rupees. “Babayya, most of us could not understand that kind of accounting. Don’t we see a kind of mix-up in regard to the naya paisa  nowadays? It was the same in those days and much bigger. That’s why those of us who were scared did not go near currency at all. Even during bartering grains, high level cheating took place. Babayya, it’s like this—when we sold, the rate was five measures per rupee; and when we bought, it was only three. Even the size of the measuring cup differed; when we bought, it was small; and when we sold, it was big. Sometimes, we would question the propriety of all this. ‘Hey, to hell with this transaction. What kind of business is this? How can this be fair?’ we would ask and the saukar would say, ‘that is business!’ Thus, after the trade farming took over, in addition to the crooked ways of measuring, we farmers had no other choice but fall into the web of rupees. Half of the weavers in the village became rich. Rest of them worked for the rich weavers and managed barely by selling small items on the side.

“At the time, this village, very much like today, was at the center of 10 to 15 villages in the area. It did not show it though. The trade items were being supplied by our saukars to other villages like Mangalapuram, Thangudubilli, Enkannapeta, and Agguroram.

“Babayyalaaraa, the normal practice was: the saukar would show up at the harvest time. He’d say, ‘orey, Appalramudu, orey Asiri, the going rate for peanuts is this, and we’d say yes sir. He’d tell us we would have to take so much cut since the yield was still raw. We’d say yes sir again. Then he’d decide on the measures and we’d accept with our mouths shut tight. He’d determine the amount we were going to receive. We’d take the money only if we needed it; or else, we’d tell him keep it with him. Thus we, the farmers, provided investment for the saukars; and the saukars paid interest to us. Usually, the saukars would add the interest to the principal and conduct business. Thus the saukars had made considerable amount of money. The farmers benefited too, in some ways. For that reason, the farmers went after those trade crops.

“In course of time, the prices went up and down like a see-saw. When we planted peanuts and got excellent yield, their price fell; and that year, the price of peppers went up. The year the yield of peppers was good, their price did not go up but the price of tobacco shot up. We wanted to know how to figure out the prices of which one went up and which one went down, but never could. And then, Babayya, there’s one more thing that I could never figure out, not then and not now. Let’s stop talking about the way things were in my time. You know how things were in your time, right? You know, a bag of rice cost seven rupees and a yard of cloth cost two and a half annas . How do you explain this jump from seven rupees to ten times seven? Who is jacking up these prices, and why? Or, are they growing up on their own, like trees? This is beyond me, but, Babayya, it’s during this kind of struggle, the saukars on the lower rung went up and those at the top tumbled down. In about ten years, the jewelry that had adorned the women in Naidu families shifted to the wives of the saukar families. The saukars traveled even farther, for the purpose of business, from Kovvur on one end to Berhampur on the other,.”

After this detailed narration, Appalramudu stopped to catch breath and looked around. The people were staring at him, intent on hearing him out. He resumed with renewed vigor, “Babayyalaaraa, now I’ll tell you my story. Please, listen. I’ve always been a hard-worker, even from childhood; I never goofed around; never wasted a minute. If I were asked to walk one hundred miles for one rupee, I would. The year my son Sitaramudu was born, I planted peanuts, instead of maize, on the strip by the lake, that too only on one side. That year all the things fell in place perfectly.

“One day, I was on the field, pulling out weeds, and Gopanna babu was passing by. He stopped and stood on the ridge. I did not see him until he called me. He said, “Orey, Appalramudu, you’ve got a good yield, it seems.”

“It’s all your mother’s and father’s blessings, babu,” I replied.

“To whom are you going to sell the produce?” he asked. “Let’s see the yield first. I’ll sell it to whoever came and asked for it,” I said. At the time, he barely grew a moustache.

“Orey, Appalramudu, everybody likes to help the haves. The real help is helping the have-nots,” he said.

In those days, Gopanna babu used to carry a bale of tobacco on his shoulder and go to village fairs—Agguroram, Pudi, and Madaka, for doing business. Sometimes he would even go to the villages on the seashore. He moved back and forth like a violin bow. He was getting ready to get into the business of moorland crops.

“Babayya! that was the beginning of our friendship. I was the first among the farmers with whom he did business. Now I am the last. I am not going to tell you how many farmers—my neighbors, relatives and others—came and went, nor how that has happened. The truth is we both, Gopanna babu and I, together did well for about five or six years. Between the two of us, who helped whom was hard to decide; maybe, we both prospered, thanks to the lord above, I don’t know. I don’t even know what happened after that. He kept going up and I starting slipping down. “At first, my six-acres of land increased to nine acres. And then, all the six-acres were gone, bit by bit—one acre, a half-acre, and then a quarter at a time. Our gold and silver were washed out. Babayya, it was not just I but several families in our neighborhood—some Golla families and a few of Kapu families—also got caught up in this treacherous current. Of course, you could ask me, ‘if it were a treacherous current, how come it did not pull down all the farmers? How come only a few farmers were sucked up and others were washed to the shore?’ The Kapu families were farming wetlands. They had only few strips on the highland and they had no contracts with the saukars. In our case, it was exactly the opposite. Babayya, the truth is every one of the farmers knew how borrowing from the saukars worked. And, knowingly, every one of them walked straight into their net.

“Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the saukars. Like Sriramulu babu said earlier, maybe it was a mistake committed unwittingly. It was a mistake, nonetheless. It had drowned the entire village. At first the farmers went down
and then the saukars.

“Twenty-five years ago, people were moving around 20 to 60 thousand rupees and it was handled by 10 to 15 saukars, not counting small time businessmen. What happened to all that money now? After the taxes came into play, the tobacco business was hurt badly. To a large extent, the southern goddesses have chewed them up alive. Big time businessmen, those who understood the system better, set up industries at a crossroad or next to a railway station and ruined the local saukars, who were doing business in peppers and peanuts. But then, have they survived? No, other industries, bigger than themselves, came from elsewhere and swallowed them up. I don’t know for sure but probably there are even bigger industries lying somewhere, which are being conceived, growing up even as we speak, and waiting round the corner, waiting to ruin these businesses.

“Babayyalaaraa, our ancestors used to say that business is no different from gambling. True, but how did it come into existence in the first place? Why do people gamble? They are going down themselves and taking us down, along with them. The Creator is hurting the big fellow; is that a good enough reason for the big fellow to hurt the little fellow? If it is not a pleasure for the big fellow, why is he feeding us to those bigger forces? Who has created this tangle, man or god? You tell me.”

Appalramudu stopped. He took a few minutes to collect himself and started again, “This is how it was when you, Sriramulu babu, set foot in this village 15 years back. I don’t know whether you remembered it or not. One day, at a late hour, I was feeding the animals. You came to our colony, and asked me, ‘Who’s Appalramudu?’ I said, ‘I am, babayya.’ You said, ‘You come with me, I want to talk to you,’ and took me to the shores of Sinthammathalli Lake. You asked me something and I answered. You said something and I listened. Babayya, it may sound a lie to you but to me that’s the god’s honest truth. I could not sleep all that night, not a wink. I thought that, after a very long time, a Dharmaraju came to our village; he could show us the poor a way out of the darkness that surrounded us. I thought, maybe you’d keep your word and accomplish everything as you had promised, maybe not. But, I hoped that we could clear our debts at the least, we could get some work, and we all could live happily ever after. I prayed to one thousand gods that night for making it happen.

“Babayya, at first, you’d gotten a high school built. You said ‘people can’t be smart unless they’re educated; you and your children must get education.’ My first thought was, ‘what’s the point of education for the growling stomachs?’ Then I saw you in action, trusted your word and we all offered to put in our labor. We believed that, if not now, sometime in future, our children would get education at the least. Some of us got paid work, too.

“Then you said we needed a road. While laying the road, several poor people had broth for two years, and they all were grateful to you. Then followed the cooperatives, the storage sheds, and the wells. Once again, lot of people, because of those projects, could make a living; they carried stones and gravel and fed their families. Then things changed. You could not bring any more new jobs. Our lives became sluggish again, we got stuck in the same place, like floor mats. Babayya, you’ve been watching it too. People here knew us long before you’ve ever come to know us. We are not drunks, womanizers, nor gamblers. Today my grandkids wear undershirts, but I’d never known such a thing in my life. All I wanted was broth to eat, cooked maize, and if possible, a sip of buttermilk; or else, tamarind water; sometimes a slice of onion served as a side dish. Sometimes we had only dried rice chips or fried peppers to snack on. For such tiny morsels, we, the entire family, traded our bodies. In your home, one or two would go out and bring the bread. And only you would know how you live and what you eat.

“On the other hand, in our families, we all, including new mothers and 70-years old grandmothers, go to work; and work round the clock, round the year. No complaining about the sun, rain, or cold; nor illnesses. When there is no work on the farm, still our women do not sit at home. They go out to collect sticks, hay, and cow dung. Our kids go around with baskets, follow buffaloes for the muck, yet to be dropped, and even get into brawls over that gold.

“Babayya, we all beat ourselves up like this yet we don’t have enough to fill our stomachs. Our land is fast disappearing and all we’re left with are the debts. People who started out with nothing are becoming landowners within a year, and saving 25,000 to 30,000 rupees within a decade. Babayya, you tell me, who’s ripping off whom, who is rising to the top, and who’s ending up in the dump, without a morsel to eat, and why?” Appalramudu stopped. He did not ask the question, expecting a response. Even if he did, what’s there to say in response?

Despite the blistering, midday sun, the crowd sat steadfastly and listened to Appalramudu’s disheartening outburst; they seemed to have forgotten even their hunger. He changed the pace and continued slowly, “Last night, at my home, we got into a little wrangling. My son, Sitaramudu, was ready to cut me up into pieces. You know his ways. In our day, people used to go to Rangoon and earn big money. He wanted to go to the city and earn money. He went there, carried bags for a couple of years; and then, pulled a rickshaw the following year. After his wife eloped with some idiot, he returned home with his only son.

“We bickered for a while and then I told them, ‘there is no telling what happened in our dealings in the past 30 to 35 years—whether we ate up the saukar’s money or he swallowed ours, in the name of loans and interest but today the loan is a fact today. And we must pay it back. The village chiefs are insisting on our repaying the debt. Even after Sriramulu Naidu returned tomorrow, they all will insist on paying it but not let go of it. There’s no point of you being stubborn about it. You’d better agree to the sale of our land.’

“But, my sons repeated the same song they’d been singing all along. I told them that all the saukars in the village are willing to help us out to make a living; besides, we’ll have Sriramulu Naidu’s support as well. Can’t we manage

“Babayya, don’t be angry with me. As soon as I mentioned your name, they all jumped out of their skins—each one of them had something to say. They said all the projects you’d undertaken for the good of the village were meant, in reality, to bring us down. You’ve got the roads laid; we carried the gravel on our backs. We laid the dirt with our own hands and leveled it. Now, jeeps, cars, buses and trucks are running on the same road, which ruined our business; we could not run the carts for rent any more. Now, all those vehicles are moving sand, gravel, and also being used for travel by people for a lot less. In the past, 25 to 30 members were living on the income from running one cart. Now that’s gone.

“You’ve brought electricity, and the pumping sets to draw water from wells along with the electricity. The electrical units threw dust in the mouths of the laborers who were drawing water manually. Suryam babu started a rice mill. The result? Not only our women who used to pound rice at the homes of the wealthy lost their work, now the same women are taking our grain to the mill instead of pounding it themselves.

“My sons kept pointing out to all these problems. I was quiet; I did not know what to say. Then, the village watchman, Errayya, told them that there was some truth in their argument but that was not the complete truth.

“Errayya said, ‘here’s how I understand our predicament: Sriramulu babu went to the city and got his education. He thought that, if he brought in whatever he’d seen there and put it here, our village also would turn into a city and we all would live like the city people. But, he never saw that the lives of some folks would be burnt down to ashes and from those ashes a few others would obtain their sustenance. Had he known that, he would not have done it, that’s what I believe.’ “Even then, my sons didn’t stop shooting their mouths off. Then I told them, ‘it’s not fair to scream as you please; we must give serious thought to what’s fair and what’s not.’ Suryam babu donated 20,000 rupees and on that day he did it only out of the goodness of his heart. That’s why the god blessed him and helped him to open the rice mill. He has prospered but that’s not his fault. It’s the same with Lakshum Naidu too; he gave his land to build a high school on it and the lot prices in the area went up. The loss on the land donated resulted in a profit after the remaining land was sold as house plots. He did not force people to buy the plots, right?’ “In that manner, babu, I tried to talk sense into them. But it was no use. One idiot of a child said, ‘grandpa, we too have given them; we put in our labor. What did we get for reward?’ I asked him, ‘didn’t you get work at the time?’ He snapped, ‘Yeah, we got work—the kind of work that resulted in us losing our chance to get work ever again. That’s what your god has given us in return for our labor.’ I said, ‘the entire world is showering praise on Sriramulu Naidu. So many people think of him as a good man. How could the same man be bad for us? Something is wrong somewhere.’ Then, another of my grandkids said, ‘you idiot, there’s a different reason for people to praise Sriramulu babu. Many people came here from other towns looking for work in all these places—the Centers, hotels, paan shops, offices, and high schools. Some of them came to study at school. As far as they are concerned, Sriramulu babu is the one who’s gotten these things set up here. These offices and shops are here; it doesn’t matter whether they are for them or for us, but it has happened. The children of those saukars who went bankrupt in the past are gaining ground again. That being the case, is it a surprise that they all pour praise on him?’ “Before I could reply to him, the first one who spoke earlier, asked me, ‘yes, grandpa, what did they do to receive such blessings?’ I was upset and told them, ‘orey, Sriramulu babu is not responsible for your fate. He did whatever he thought was best. Because of that, some profited and others lost. What can he do?’ “Then followed a huge squabble. At the end, one grandkid said, ‘if we had a couple more two-faced, stupid fellows like you, there’s no saying what else could have happened.’ “Babayyalaaraa, I’m carrying the weight of 70-years on my back. You all know the life I’ve lived until now. See the kind of things my children are saying about me? A relative of Errayya came to see me, saw my pain, and said to my children, “Kids, there’s no point in blaming him. You children cannot see where the roots of injustice lay; he did not see it either. The crux of the problem lies elsewhere, not here. The storm came from outside and drowned us all. Look at it from the saukar’s perspective. The entire produce must go straight to their storage sheds; the laborer is standing in their way. In the past, the saukars lashed out the laborers and got the work done. Now that’s not possible. To eliminate the laborers, they needed the machines. To bring in the machines, they needed the road and the electricity. That’s not all. They also needed educated laborers. For that reason, they wanted the school. That’s how we’ve gotten this electricity, the road and the high school. It was our stupidity to think that all these things were put in place for our benefit. You are all going bonkers because the machines came to draw water from the wells. Soon, there will be machines for plowing, seeding, weeding, and reaping too. Wait and watch the circus.’ “Babayya, even I was surprised to see how anybody’s goodwill could turn so sour. Nevertheless, I cannot disagree with them either, especially after watching what has happened, is happening and might happen in course of time. Whom did you intend to benefit, and who’s benefiting from your actions? I could ignore my little kids easily. I’m not going to blame Suryam babu and Lakshum babu either. They did not enter the field, carrying evil thoughts in their hearts. The yajnam you have started led the generous people on to evil ways. We jumped into action, knowingly or unknowingly, and we all are sinking in the same swamp.”

Appalramudu stopped for a while and then continued. “Babayya, I tried to explain all this to my kids and they all, including Bodigadu, accepted it. Only Sitaramudu would not budge from his position. He said, as his final word, ‘Ayya, I heard every word you’ve said. You, Sriramulu Naidu, other leaders behind him, and the rest of the crowd following the leaders—all of you are good people, and, probably, meant well, although your actions brought only negative results. I am sure you are also telling me, for my own good, to sell this little strip of land and go to work as day laborer. I will not sell the land, I cannot accept it. I am not denying the debt we owed the saukar. I’ll pay it back, as and when I can. I’ll work for him as long as l lived, if necessary. But, I am not going to sell the land to settle the account, it is not going to happen while I’m alive. “Then my eldest son said, ‘Hey, you’re talking as if the land is entirely yours.’ That ticked off Sitaramudu even more. He hit the roof and screamed, ‘You want to talk about family now, whatever happened to you when they told us to hand over the land to the saukar, you bastard.’ Others around him stopped him; and then, he added, ‘ayya, I am not going to say this again. Don’t blame me later that I did not tell you. If you sell the land, I will chop you into pieces and then I’ll kill myself. That is the real truth.’ “Others may or may not have understood his pain but I did. I told him, ‘Nayanaa, why do you think parents raise children? It’s with the hope that someday the child would perform the final rite. For me, there is no greater blessing than dying in your hands. But, before that, there’s something else that needs to be done. Tomorrow Sriramulu babu will be here. In all possibility, he would not sidestep the path of dharma. For some odd reason, he could come to the same decision as other members and tell us to sell the land and pay back Gopanna babu. When that happens, no matter what, I will certainly sell the land and settle the debt. After I paid off my debt, you go ahead and pay off yours.’”

Appalramudu finished speaking and stopped. The pain, which filled his voice, while speaking the last lines, reverberated in the hearts of several people there. For a few minutes, he looked as if he lost his senses. The paper in his hand wavered as the wind blew and brought him back to the present. To him, the people looked exhausted. Their faces lost color and zest. He lifted his eyes and looked at Sriramulu Naidu. He is sitting squatted and with his head bent, propped up by his right hand. He is looking lost in deep thought.

Appalramudu hoped for a second, just for one second only. And then he noticed Suryam’s eyes, which were piercing through his, Musalayya’s eyes, which were glued on to his hand, and karanam’s eyes that were hopping back and forth between his hand and the inkpad. He understood, right away, that his hope was baseless.

He heaved a long sigh, moved forward, and put his thumbprint on the document. He got up and turned around. Gopanna, who was holding his breath, was content, felt relief and looked around. After that, Appalramudu called out for his sons and grandsons, one by one, and told them to put their thumbprints on the paper. The process was almost over; there was a flood of sympathy in the crowd for Appalramudu. What’s the point of that flow, though? Sewer flow is better compared to that!

At the end, Appalramudu told Sitaramudu to get up. Sitaramudu got up. His eyes are red like burning charcoal. He’s tall and dark; he wore his hair in a knot on the top of his head. He went up and stared at the document. Suddenly, something took over him, nobody could tell what, though. He twirled around briskly, walked past the people, pushing away those who were in his way, and dashed forth. He ran away.

“Orey, Sitaramudu, hey, come back, don’t run,” Appalramudu shouted from behind. Sitaramudu did not hear him. He left rushing like a dart. After he turned the corner, there is a commotion in the crowd. They all started saying things
like, ‘what happened, what happened,’ ‘why,’ ‘Sitaramudu,’ ‘just now,’ and so on. The old woman, Appalramudu’s wife, started crying. ‘Olammo, what am I supposed to do now,’ she continued whining in a low, shivering voice.

“Stop crying. Nothing to worry,” Appalramudu yelled at her. He struggled for a while and then said, “I’ll go and get him.” His eldest son stopped him, moved forward, wavered his towel vigorously and threw it on his shoulder. His wife came
up to him, elbowing the crowd around her, and tried to stop him but couldn’t. She clutched his arm and followed him.

While the entire family was in a flurry, a few others from the Naidu families went and returned with sturdy clubs. Some mala folks saw that and tried to reason with them, “babu, do not rush into things we all will regret later.”

It took all that time for Sriramulu Naidu to understand the commotion around him. His face, which has been beaming, turned dark. That is obvious even to a blind eye.

“Don’t you be hasty; I am asking each one of you, calm down,” he said, coming forward and in a hoarse voice, “Listen to me, don’t act rashly.” He is shivering like a leaf and the people are terrified as they watched him shiver head to foot. Lakshum Naidu’s stamina however offered them some reassurance.

Somebody looked toward mala colony and said, “There, he’s coming.”

“What’s that in his hand?”

“Nothing. He’s carrying a bag on his shoulder.”

Lakshum Naidu returned to his seat. Others came forward and kept staring in that direction. Sitaramudu approached the crowd, ranting, “Ayya, Appalramudu, I’ve told you that the day you’ve put your thumbprint on that document also will be the day our father-son tie is broken. Now it’s over. Last night, I tried to explain to you,
over and again, but you did not listen. Why didn’t you? Because you thought, ‘I’m his father and he’s my son. How could he cross my word and still be my son; he won’t.’ That’s what you thought. Sons must not cross father’s command. That’s true. I have a son too. He won’t cross my word. Here. Check it out for yourself.”

So saying, Sitaramudu came forward, dropped the gunny bag on the ground, opened it and shook it upside down.  At Appalramudu’s feet, fell with a thud, a head and a small body. The head, doused in blood, rolled over in the dirt; and, the tender, dark, naked body fell down, looking as if clung to the ground with his two little hands. The crowd looked at the two revolting pieces, flabbergasted, panicked, and lost their minds. Then they broke lose, scattered in all directions, screaming frantically, oyammo, ori nayano, ori babo, horrible, atrocious. They all moved away quickly to a safer place before they totally lost their minds and then stopped. The people at the far end moved forward, asking what’s all that about.

Appalramudu stood there motionless, as if turned into stone. The burning looks of Sitaramudu should have pierced him through like darts, and his words should have hit him like thunderbolts; but they did not touch him; there is no sign of his heart or body being hit at all.

Sitaramudu went on, “I tried my best but could not tear the veil that covered your eyes. I said gently. And then, I said I’d kill you. I said I’d kill myself. Still you did not listen to me. Why? That’s because you were so taken by your thirst for public approval. You wanted them to say that Appalramudu is a good man, he will not break his promise; and that he is a gentleman to the core. For you, it didn’t not matter what happened to your children. Why do you have to be so stuck on appearances? You would not want to sidestep dharma? What’s that dharma?  Who can tell what is dharma?

“Ayya, I tried so hard; but neither you nor any of these people could see what you are doing to your own children. You did it in a way nobody could see it; and I did the same, but in a way that everybody could see it. See for yourself.” So saying, Sitaramudu pointed to his son on the ground. Appalramudu leaned forward; his head stayed steady without flinching. “You told us to spend the rest of our lives as slaves. That’s fine when you did not know the you can see it. But, now, you know it and still are insisting on the same. I don’t like it. I had high hopes for my child. He will not live the life of a slave. He must not be a day laborer. That’s why I ran home. I asked him, ‘son, do you want to live as a slave or would you rather die. If you die today, tomorrow is another day. Come here, I’ll kill you.’ He came running to me. I butchered him in one blow. I threw away the knife and came back here, on the double. You’re a father and so am I. You tell me now who’s a better father.”

Sitaramudu stopped talking but could not watch Appalramudu who squatted next to his grandson; he turned his eyes toward the crowd. The crowd noticed his looks and fled in frenzy.

Their fears turned his stomach. He smiled vaguely and said, “babayyalaaraa, don’t be afraid of me. If I were capable of hurting you all, I would not have killed my own child.” He tried to stop them but could not. They fled. The only people who remained there are the ones who brought the clubs earlier. He said to them, “Babayyalaara, don’t you also act rashly. I’m prepared for death by hanging. Death is no big deal for me. If you beat me, you’ll get the same sentence – death by hanging. Do I have to take the blame for your kids’ misfortune too?”

Then he turned toward the mandapam. His eyes looked for Sriramulu Naidu and landed on him. He looked straight and said, “Babu, Sriramulu babu, I hated you the worst. When did I start? It started long time ago. Know why? You are really stupid. You believe in your heart that the entire world will listen to you, must listen to you. Do you know who’s really in command of you and your empire? There, those two chiefs—the karanam and the munsif. As long as you keep doing their work, which they cannot do themselves, you’re in charge. After that, they go their way and you go yours. You don’t see it now, though.”

Then he turned to the munsif, and said, laughing a stupid laugh, “Babu, munsif babu, you’ve got a job to do, after a very long time. I remember what you’ve said on the day Sriramulu babu opened this mandapam. Now you tell me, what are you going to do—file a complaint against me or drop the murder charge?”

Sitaramudu stopped talking and squatted on the floor in front of that mandapam of justice. How long people chant the rules of dharma? Only so long as the others continue to listen to you …
And then …


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi, 2005.

(Note: This is one of the most highly discussed stories in the academic and literary circles in recent history of Telugu literature. In response to my query, the author said: “The narrator’s perception was, in a system where the laborers cannot enjoy the product of their labor their own labor turns into slow poison. Additionally, when the labor class extends its cooperation to the management, and that is suicidal.” The story was originally written in March-April of 1964 and published in Yuva monthly, 1966, Deepavali special issue.  Author’s permission is acknowledged. Editor.)

(Originally published on, March 2005, and later included in the anthology From My Front Porch, published by Sahitya Akademi, 2009.

R. S. Sudarsanam

An Introduction to an Anthology of Telugu Short Stories by R. S. Sudarshanam.

The modern short story in Telugu dates back to 1910, when Gurazada AppaRao published his piece, Diddubaatu (Reform) in a journal called ‘Andhra Bharathi’. Social reform was in the air and Gurazada Appa Rao and Kandukuri Veeresalingam were pioneers in social reform as well as in literary renaissance. Gurazada was a step ahead of Kandukuri Veeresalingam in using spoken Telugu for his creative work, viz. lyrical poetry, drama and short story. There is also a difference in their outlook on life reflected in their attitude to reform and in the portrayal of men and women in their writings. Kandukuri Veeresalingam was a Brahmo Samaj follower and his stance was one of ethical realism, while Appa Rao was a humanist with a lot of tolerance and good humor for the foibles of men and women including reformers. The five short stories he wrote bear this out no less than his immortal play, Kanya-Sulkam.

The realism and romanticism. While Veeresalingam and Appa Rao represented realism, romanticism was ushered in by Rayaprolu Subba Rao through his new poetry influenced by the EnglishRomantic poets and Rabindranath Tagore. Very soon there were novels and short stories reflecting the romantic ethos in the portrayal of characters and events, even when the reformist direction was not lost sight of. Indeed when we remember that the issues of social reform mainly centered round the status of women — the degenerate institution of dancing girls, etc., against which Kandukuri Veeresalingam and Gurazada Appa Rao waged a relentless war—it is no surprise to find literary themes, a majority of them, exploring and delineating man-woman relationship inside and outside marriage. And the short story has been no exception to that during the decades that followed Gurazada.

In the years 1920-40, social reform and romanticism dominated the ethos of Telugu fiction- Chalam, Velury Sivarama Sastry, Sripada Subramanya Sastry, Dikshitulu and Viswanadha Satyanarayana are the outstanding writers of this period, who contributed to the development of the short story and wielded considerable influence on the writers who followed them. In the period 1940-60, social reform gave place to ‘class-consciousness’ with the advent of the Progressive writers’ movement; and romanticism in its decline yielded ground to psychoanalysis. Gopichand, Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, Ravuri Bharadwaja, chaganti Somayajulu, Palagummi Padmaraju, Buchi Babu and Balivada Kantha Rao represent this period. Balagangadhara Tilak, Madhurantakam Rajaram and Rachakonda Viswanadha Sastry appear towards the end of this period. The decade 1960-70 may be described as women’s decade, when a number of women writers of fiction became prominent; and the problems of the ‘new woman’ inside and outside the four walls of the home came to be discussed in the novel and the short story.

Realism and romance single and alternate in the ethos of their writings. The women writers Ranganayakamma , Vasireddi Sita Devi as well as Puranam Subramanya Sarma and a host of others represent that decade. Since 1970, the Revolutionary Writers’ movement has exercised its influence and brought about a marked change in the ethos of the short story. The struggle of the dispossessed – the tribals, the bonded labour, the unorganized workers against feudal lords, middlemen and money-lenders, against the police and the courts, is delineated with great virtuosity demonstrating the need for the overthrow of a system, which cannot be reformed. Kalipatnam Rama Rao, Allam Rajayya, Nagnamuni, Jampana Peddiraju and Yerramilli Vijayalakshmi represent this trend.

With this background, we can now proceed to approach each story in its proper perspective to get at its intrinsic value.

Balivada Kantha Rao’s Varada Velluva (The River in Spate) portrays a woman’s sexual passion in its transcendental aspect. It transcends all social norms and decencies, ignores maternal concerns, and assuming the proportions of an elemental force, drives Rajamma like a possessed woman to unite with the flood-waters of the river and be swept away. This is reminiscent of Chalam’s romantic portrayal of sexual love which he glorified as an ideal against the humdrum existence of men and women in society. But Kantha Rao’s disapproval of it is duly conveyed at the beginning of the story itself: describing the discovery of the mutilated corpse of Rajamma torn by birds of prey as it is removed for postmortem by the police. Towards the end Simmanna, the lover is described to have turned into “a nisachara, who sqeezed the flower and pushed it into the flood-waters”.   And Simmanna goes mad for the rest of his life! In the story, the stoic goodness and forgiveness manifested by the wronged husband is purposely set off against the extraordinary passion of Rajamma, which is ultimately depicted as nothing but the supreme egoism of a beautiful woman. KanthaRao resorts to poetry and metaphor to describe Rajamma’s personality. “Though she appeared to be a lotus, like the stem of the lotus, underneath there was a certain hardness in her, and below that, like the slush, a certain corruption…” The writer continues the metaphorical description to narrate how a mere farm-hand Simmanna was drawn and inveigled to become Rajamma’s lover. The method adopts cuts a long story short, and achieves not only wonderful economy but also creates a romantic aura about the affair. Kantha Rao’s ethical idealism wondrous than Chalam’s transcendental sex, which it seeks to disapprove. Has Kantha Rao succeeded in refuting Chalam? What is the final impact of the story? The reader must answer for himself.

Buchibabu’s   Anuraaga Prasthaaram (The Flow of Love) is the exploration of a certain psychological subtlety in married love. The story starts with an assumption: if there be two women who look alike as twins do, but not related to each other…the story-teller forestalls the reader’s possible objection in the very first sentence: “No two persons are alike;” and goes on to persuade the reader, however, to make such an assumption for the sake of the story. Kamakshi and Sobhasundari look alike physically but they are also different, their characters and situations being different. The willing suspension of disbelief by the reader is obtained as a first step so that the story may have its full impact on him without any distraction. Kamakshi and Hariprasad married for six years and childless have arrived at a stage, when they are fast losing interest in each other. In fact Kamakshi has become ‘static beauty like a sculpture’ in the eyes of Hariprasad. With the appearance of Sobhasundari, a replica of Kamakshi, the frozen beauty comes alive and revivifies Hariprasad’s love. And Hariprasad’s new-found interest in Sobhasundari stimulates Kamakshi’s jealousy and she draws close to her husband. The result is Kamakshi’s pregnancy. Sobhasundari’s long-lost husband Vidyasagar similarly is attracted by Kamakshi’s looks, rediscovers his interest in Sobhasundari and is united with her. Buchibabu displays artistry and finesse in delineating the situations between the characters and bringing them to the happy conclusion.   After all a story is a story; it is for the psychological truth we read it!

Lakka Bommalu (Wax Dolls) by Ravuri Bharadwajais another piece of psychology pertaining to human relationships. What is it that an elderly man finds in an adolescent girl to sustain their friendship over the years till she becomes a mother and elderly too? After a series of encounters with Radha at different periods of her life, and seeking several explanations for his interest in her, he concludes at the end, when he finds her a conventional mother “the individuality in its growth, in its thrust, inevitably struggles with time, with the physical body, with age, with blood (instincts), and finally ceases and gets frozen. Radha has now a solid form. But this form has no movement. It does not breathe. It is a doll; a mere doll.” This elusiveness of human personality is a part of life’s mystery; and when the elusive quality is gone, the fascination is gone. The elusive and vivacious Radha ends up as a happy conventional mother. Is it a happy ending?

Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma’s story Kothi (The Monkey) is in the tradition of an earlier veteran practitioner of the short story, Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry who drew graphic pictures of characters and situations from contemporary (around 1930) middle class Brahmin families living in the Godavari districts. What Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma’s story presents is a fascinating picture of domesticity—the wife-husband quarrel, the relationship between sisters-in-law, the attitudes of parents and their married children, the family tradition and pride, all tinged with individual idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. It belongs to the period around 1950 and is already dated. The monkey in the story is both a character and a symbol and draws the reader’s attention pointedly to what the writer would convey as his stern message , for Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma does not mince his words: “Let it be heaven or hell, happiness or misery, one’s home and one’s life with the husband are one’s own…rejecting that, running somewhere and again jumping to some other perch, this business of hopping and jumping maybe in the nature of female monkeys and suit them, but does not behove human beings and family women” Saraswathi, the central character in a reflective and repentant mood tells herself: “It was my intolerance that turned me into a monkey.” And that makes for a happy ending!

Ranganayakamma’s Meeting Pelli  (Wedding as Meeting) …is a fine piece of satire. Inter-caste marriage is universally advocated as an item of desirable social reform. To perform the wedding in such a case, often the reformers discard the traditional ritualistic form. A public meeting is convened with ministers and politicians as speakers. It becomes not only a drab affair, but deteriorates into a series of lengthy meaningless speeches. Worse, points out Ranganayakamma, the speeches are highly insulting to the couple and contrary to the spirit in which the two have decided to join in wedlock. An inter-caste marriage is not between two castes but between two individuals, who wish to forget caste as an irrelevance. And the reformers and speech-makers don’t allow them! Ranganayakamma’s narrative builds up a fine tempo of irony till the accumulating tension is triggered off by the bride snatching the mike and making a speech to end all speeches.

Vasireddi Sitadevi is a feminist writer. The story   Tanadaaka Vasthe (Confrontation) is not one of her best, but serves to indicate her main concern as a writer. There is a cinematic element in it, the role Malathi plays to expose the true character of her suitor Sudhakar, a revolutionary writer and a professed champion of women. During the role she plays, Malathi keeps Sudhakar on tenterhooks deliberately breaking off her narration to point to a lizard on the wall in the act of watching its prey, which it finally succeeds in capturing. Simultaneously in Malathi’s contrived story Malathi is captured and raped; and in the real situation, Sudhakar is confronted and caught in his true colours, with his hypocracy exposed. The symbolism is a little too obviously contrived.

R.Vasundharadevi’s stories have no conceptual bias and are not motivated either by social reform or romantic ideology. Adavi Puvvu (Wild Flower) is a good example. The portrait of Ragamma, the wild flower, is drawn straight from life and drawn with love and imaginative understanding. For persons like Ragamma, life is not an economic problem with a hierarchy of values. It is just a series of vicissitudes bringing joy or sorrow. Ragamma lives by feeling. She inherited it to some extent from her father. But her mother and her in-laws look upon life differently. This contrast between attitudes is what makes the portrait realistic and yet profound. Nowhere does the writer intrude even to suggest what her thinking is in the matter. The portrait of Ragamma as well as the background is rich with filigree details meticulously furnished—so that even a sociological study can be made out of the story. The economically shattered weaver community in and around Nellore in the sixties, their men folk and women folk struggling to make a living. But that is not the point of the story at all! “Expressive of life and joy, Ragamma is a wild-flower, a blossom on a dry-tree bereft of leaf or any trace of greenness. The appearance of such a flower on such a tree was itself nature’s wonder.” Marriage means a transplantation for Ragamma. “A growing plant was transplanted on ground of gravel.” Her little son is Nature’s gift sustaining her in her alienation. After her son’s death, she turns to green fields, Nature again. That is the heart of the matter!

The following three stories: Nuvvulu-Telakapindi,   Bangaramma Kamatam, and Karanam Kanakayya’s Veelunaama are examples of the short story used as an instrument for demonstrating how typical “class- consciousness” works in individuals, whether they know it or not. Economic exploitation is the common theme in all the three stories.

In Nuvvulu-Telakapindi (The Crushing of Gingili Seed) by K.Kutumba Rao, The exploitation of Somayajulu’s singing faculty goes through several phases. Through marriage Jayalakshmi acquires Somayajulu with his singing voice just for nothing, that is for a subsistence wage economically speaking. She is not content with the pleasure she derives, but goes about showing off to others. Then Somayajulu is subjected to training in classical music to receive social approval. While Jayalakshmi loses interest in the transformed singing of Somayajulu, her brother in collaboration with another person markets the singing on the stage and makes a profit of twenty five thousand rupees. Of which Somayajulu gets nothing. Then the singing is further modified into the popular Punjabi style, Somayajulu being trained to suit the movies. Further profits would accrue to the investors, Jayalakshmi’s father and brother. That is how the story concludes. In all this Somayajulu’s inclinations are not consulted, and because of the family tie by marriage, he could neither demand wages as a worker, nor share profits as an investor. The status of an indigent son-in-law in a capitalist framework is no different from that of gingili seed processed and crushed for oil! The point of the story, however, is neither in this analysis nor in the analogy. The question arises whether Somayajulu’s story could have been different, if he had asserted his individuality. After all a human being cannot be identified with a gingili seed! The writer makes a significant observation in the prologue to the story:” Though economically they belong to the working class, certain Brahmin families, because of their caste-consciousness, try to maintain a middle-class or a bourgeois status. That way they forfeit the happiness and privileges in life they would otherwise be entitled to as members of the working class.” Somayajulu’s lack of perception about his ‘class’ in society, allowed him to be trapped by the middle class, who squeezed him dry and he had no escape. The message of the writer is imperative need for individuals to develop class-consciousness if they wish to get anything from life.

The second story Bangaramma kamatham (Bangaramma’s Farm) is similarly a story of exploitation. The land-owner Bangaramma is an ambitious widow, and the farm-hand Bhimayya, since he grew up on the farm, is oblivious of his rights. The surplus value of his labour ever goes to increase the size of the farm and enrich the widow, while Bhimayya remains absolutely poor. Even the hut on the farm, in which he lives, gets furnished only after his marriage-with the earnings of his wife. Bangaramma’s sexual leanings towards the sturdy masculinity of the farm-hand too were corrupt with an ulterior economic motive. If the farm-hand had yielded and shared her bed, he would have become a slave for life. But his virtue saved him. Then comes the rude shock, when his wife dies; because of Bangaramma’s callous act of omission he loses his wife. That awakens him to the situation in which he is placed, and he walks out of it: a comparison of this story with Kantha Rao’s The River in Spate will be illuminating. Both have a similar situation. The change in literary ethos between the stories is the change from romance to social realism.

Padma Raju’s Karanam Kanakayya’s Deed is a more complex presentation of the theme of exploitation with reference to the theme of woman in a certain milieu. Kanakayya has nothing but a contempt for his wife and resentment towards his only daughter, who married against his wishes. He conveys all his property to his son-in-law, whom he admires because the son-in-law has succeeded in subjugating the daughter who had always bossed over the father! Kanakayya’s activities of a whole life time, his flair for litigation, his amorous affair which for a time alienated his wife, his daughter’s marriage, which started a vengeful action against his brothers-in- law and his own dismissal from the post of village officer, everything is crammed into the short span of a conveyance deed. Kanakayya’s obiter dicta on woman’s role as a wife and man’s role as a man of affairs reveal an interesting cultural milieu of feudalism-in-decay in the first half of this century. The story assumes the form of a legal document with its characteristic modulations of language, and admirably clothes and proclaims the personality of Kanakayya, the village officer.

The next five stories are by writers associated with the Revolutionary Writers Movement. Allam Rajayya’s Srishti-Karthalu (The Creators) is forcefully direct in espousing the cause of the exploited tribals of Telangana. The establishment is on the side of the feudal lord Mutyam Rao, who brings the court-amin and a contingent of police to prevent the tribals from cultivating the forest land which he claims to be his legal property. The tribals are arrested and presented in the court. The public prosecutor brands the tribals as inveterate thieves, murderous goondas and destroyers of property. The aged Odenna on behalf of the tribals answers the charges in his inimitable way, and this is the best part of the story. He says: ”How could it be that we have nothing but shreds on our backs, if we are thieves? How could it be that we have not killed Mutyam Rao yet, though there are so many of us against one man? We are of the earth; we create and do not destroy. We produced bags and bags of food-grain for the feudal lord. We made him rich, We are builders and not destroyers.” The case is adjourned. The writer doesn’t go on to tell us how the case is decided. The establishment would never mete out social justice to the dispossessed, because of the existing court procedures and the inequitable laws. The struggle continues.

Kutra (Conspiracy) by Kalipatnam Rama Rao is more a political tract than a short story. A hundred and fifty political workers are arrested on the charge of conspiracy against the state. There can be nothing ‘conspiratorial’ about it, argues the writer, when citizens in such large numbers seek to change the social system and the government in their own way. But should it not be through constitutional methods? What is a constitution? Is it not a set of rules framed by the privileged to suit their convenience? The conspiracy truly began when they framed the constitution which has not worked in favor of the poor? The conspiracy deepened with the establishment of the Planning Commission and the adoption of what has been called ‘mixed economy’ at the instance of Vaidyanathan, a sly operator with no commitment to socialism. Mixed economy led to a position in which the private sector {native industrialists) could blackmail and dictate to the government and the public sector to wrest concessions and privileges to fatten themselves, and exploit the toiling masses, who constitute the consumer public. In the process the rich have grown richer and the poor poorer, a fact sadly acknowledged by Jawaharlal Nehru himself. What Kalipatnam has narrated in a manner intelligible to the exploited sections is, according to him, the story of India after 1947. The manner of telling it reminds one of Antony’s oration in Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser: the rhetorical devises employed are similar. Kalipatnam Rama Rao has written other stories with men and women; while the present one deals with ideas and not men. Even here his talent shows.

Kabuli by Nagna Munideals with the irredeemable indebtedness of the lower middleclass in our society. The inability to make both ends meet is common to everybody, whether one is a government clerk or a policeman. The sub-inspector of police who is a formidable figure in the eyes of the public cowers before the Kabuli creditor. The vulnerable point in the psyche of the middleclass is respectability and the Kabuli, by threatening to drag it into the street ensures repayment by his debtors. The story is written in a light vein and rounded off with a sardonic laugh at the policeman.

Foul! Foul! Is by Jampana Peddiraju, a promising young writer, who died at the age of twenty-four. He story focusses on the gulf between public concern and genuine human values. Tania, the tennis star, realizes it when she finds Tirupati, a coolie woman, working at midnight to level the tennis-court in spite of her extreme illness. When Tirupati dies after vomiting blood on the tennis court it takes some time for the shock to work up on Tania. The next day, playing tennis on the same court, she is overcome with sympathy for Tirupati. And in her absentmindedness, receives a bump on the forehead. The entire crowd witnessing the match makes a fuss over her hurt, but nobody has taken serious notice of Tirupati’s death while laying the tennis court. It’s not fair, it is foul, the way things are in our society. “Never think seriously. If you think, you cannot do even a little thing. There is your head—for combing the hair, for making up the face, but not for thinking. Don’t think. Thinking is dangerous.” Because, the ignored half of humanity was dear to Jampana Peddiraju.

Yerramilli Vijayalakshmi’s Borusu (The Other side of the Coin) reveals yet another side to exploitation in society. The mother’s love for her little son makes her a born-slave to the man who fathered him; but when the man exploits her, tortures her, and drives her in to risks beyond all limits of endurance, it is the boy who puts an end to the injustice by killing the exploiter to save his mother. Man’s inhumanity to woman in this story is painted in very strong colors, but the picture rings true to life and brings home forcefully the dehumanization of man, when money becomes the sole concern.

Maduranthakam Rajaram as a story writer is not committed to any political philosophy. Many of his stories are vignettes of rural life in Rayalseema. He has a fine sense of humor and great sympathy for the unsophisticated villagers. Villains are rare in his stories. Puthrotsaham (pride in progeny) gives us a delightful picture of the village school – the attitude of parents and pupils towards it, and the school master’s view of them all. Out of it emerges the pupil hero Rambabu, whose adventure away from home arouses in the parents only pride in their progeny. What is good bringing-up? What is the role of discipline? And to what extent children should be allowed freedom of adventure? The story sets one thinking.

Avishkarana (Book-Release) by Chaganti Somayajulu is a piece of critical realism. The subdued tone of irony and the details meticulously piled up make it very effective. The book release was by a big man of letters, presided over by another big man in politics. Pressmen were present, and the book received a lot of publicity.  Copies of the book were sold out in a short time finding their place in public libraries all over. But is it readable? No, it is only fit to be seen and not read, says the only reader present at the function!

Binadevi’s story Mrs. And Mr.Saxena starts in a light vein and proceeds with wit and humor ‘till the twist in the ending shocks us into sadness and silence. Mr.Saxena lives in a make believe world, and Mrs. Saxena keeps herself busy meeting friends. The façade of laughter hides a tragedy too deep for tears!

That is also the theme of Navvu (The Smile) by Balagangadhar Tilak. An existential crisis bestowed on the teen-ager Ramachandra Rao the vision of life’s profound anxiety. “This creation this life is a funny thing! There is neither order nor pattern to it. Even if there be anything like it, it is beyond our knowing… The whole thing is a big joke, a matter of laughter.” Retaining that vision, orphaned Ramachandra Rao passes through life with a gentle smile, which is the most mysterious and fascinating thing about him for his friend Murthy, who watches him in several crises and admires his equanimity and strength of mind. The secret of his vision of life is finally confided only to the woman he loves, who he succeeds in winning as his wife. “She understood it. It was not an empty smile. Behind the smile, was great sadness, behind that was Vedantha.”

The Corner Seat is a memorable story. The transforming vision of life in the presence of death, in contrast with death, directly communicated as a felt experience towards the close of the story makes it great. The paltriness of values by which we live and which we tend to identify with life is washed away in a moment, and the beauty and joy in being alive, the great mystery of life bathe the mind in a radiance which is at once saddening and purifying

By the mention of Korean war and Truman’s speech in the story, Rachakonda Visvanatha sastry’s The Corner Seat may be dated as pre-1960, but really it is dateless as literature. Tilak’s story was written in 1964, and Binadevi’s, a little later. The higher vision of life in the three stories is comparable.

In conclusion, it may be said that in the 20 stories gathered here, we have a panorama of the Telugu short story in its changing ethos and its multiflorous achievement as art.


Madanapalle,                                                                       R.S Sudarshanam


List of stories in this anthology:

1)    Balivada KanthaRao. Varada Velluva

2)    Buchi Babu. Anuraaga Prasthaaram

3)    Ravuri Bharadwaja. Lakka Bommalu

4)    Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma. Kothi

5)    Ranganayakamma. Meeting Pelli

6)    VasiReddi Sitadevi. Thana Daaka Vasthe

7)    R. Vasundhara Devi. Adavi Puvvu

8)    K.Kutumba Rao. Nuvvulu-Telakapindi

9)    C.S.Rao. Bangaramma Kamatam

10) Padma Raju. Karanam Kanakayya’s Deed

11) Allam Rajayya. Srishti Karthalu

12) Kalipatnam Rama Rao. Kutra

13) Nagnamuni. Kabuli

14) Jampana Peddiraaju. Foul! Foul!

15)   Yarramilli Vijayalakshmi. Borusu

16) Madhurantakam Rajaram. Putrotsaham

17) Chaganti Somayajulu. Avishkarana

18) Bina Devi. Mrs.and Mr. Saxena

19) Balagangaadhara Tilak. Navvu

20) Rachakonda Viswanadha Sastri. The Corner Seat


(A Note from R. Vasundhara Devi, along with submission::

I found this typed-script in Sri R.S. file long after he passed away. He dated it as on 14-2-1988.   I do not know for whom he wrote it nor who selected the stories.

I vaguely remember Sudarshanamgaru mentioning about Kannada poet/translator Sri B.C. Ramachandra Sarma of B’Lore requesting an intro for a Telugu short story anthology.Details of publication of this anthology is not available with me. Any information from readers is welcome.

– R.Vasundhara Devi)