Monthly Archives: October 2014

TWO GLASS BUBBLES by Nidadavolu Malathi

We are living in a glass bubble

Constantly looking for germs

Washing hands with lotion

Brushing teeth Wearing socks and shoes

Also, worrying about athlete’s foot

Washing all the fruits and vegetables

With special anti-bacterial waters

Swallowing follow up pills. A woman with similar habits feels a sudden urge to see the world

She crosses the ocean and arrives in a small village.

Floating around in a dream.he lady walking down the street

In her pink dress

Sees a little child playing in the dust.

The child picks up the fruit

And gently blows away the dust and takes a large bite.

“Oh, no! She didn’t wash it”

“She didn’t wipe off the dust on her frock”

The little child stands there staring at the lady, white as jasmine!

Child takes another bite of the fruit.The pink lady says almost instinctively “Come”

And extends her hand With a friendly gesture

Towards the little child.

The child kicks to her heels like a drill sergeant

And runs toward the pink lady,

Her hand still moistfrom the fruit she just bit into.

She wipes her hand on her frock yet it is a little sticky.

The hand is not clean

Not clean at all!

The pink lady links her fingers round the little ones

And walks the distance to the child’s room.

The child proudly displays her earthly possessions –

Two frocks, three books, a pencil, an eraser won in last night’s games and a wilted flower.


Yes. That is the flower the pink lady gave her yesterday.

A prized possession!

The lady picked it up from the ground under the tree.

For the little girl, it is a prized possession.

The pink lady returns to her room

Washes her hands with soap

Wipes with a lotion cloth

Rubs with ointments and looks at the palms.

She can still feel the little fingers clutched into her own

The wet dirty hands.

She washes again

Wipes again

No. The feeling of dirt won’t go away.

At the same time at the other end of the street

The house mother tells the little girl “Wash your hands. Time for supper”

The girl stares at her hands.


No answer.

“Come on, move.”

The girl won’t move.

“What is the matter? You know the rules.”

Still the same stare. No sign of moving.

“You need to wash your hands  before eating. You know that.”

“I don’t have to wash” she says, watches her hands, “They are clean,” and mumbles vaguely.

She feels the clutch of the pink lady; She was so clean!

Her hands were so clean and beautiful like tender shoots on the mango tree. Pink, delicate and beautiful!

“I don’t have to wash”she whispers.

For the housemother, it is puzzling.

“Are you okay?”


“Don’t you want to eat?”

No answer.

“Go. Wash your hands.”

“I don’t have to.”


The house mother is confused.

The girl repeats as if in a dream”I don’t have to.”

“Well, you know you can’t eat unless you wash your hands”

No response.No amount of persuasion is going to help.The little girl will not wash her hands. She does not want the feeling to go away.

The house mother complains to the head mother.

“May be she is not hungry. May be she is not feeling well. Let it be. We will see tomorrow.”

They decide to leave the little girl alone.The little girl goes to bed clutching her hands tight and nudging them under the pillow.
At the other end of the street the pink lady goes to bed applying lotion one more time and thinking about the little girl, the fruit, the flower and the tight clutch touching the innermost chord!


Published on, June 2001.

***** ******

Author’s Note: Our cultures determine our customs and habits and we live within their purview like in glass bubbles. We are not only creatures of habit but also of environment.
While I was visiting the children’s home I noticed that while we are so absorbed with our habits, there is also a side of human nature that just beats the odds and takes over. At that level the innermost chord vibrates and prevails. Willy-nilly we cherish our customs and habits but the cordiality always responds at the human level, irrespective of color, creed and/or race.

Yalla Achuta Ramayya. Freedom in the Cage

(Translated by Sharada, Australia)

“Parvati! You are hardly twenty years old. Your beauty is totally wasted, like the moonlight on a forest. Come with me. I will show you, what it is like to be alive. to be happy. I will take you with me into the blissful heaven,” Ramesh hugged Parvati.
Parvati moved away from him. “How can you talk like this? I am married to another man. When a woman is married, all her happiness is with her husband.”
“What rubbish! You’ve been in this village all your life. You’ve not seen how the rest of the world is moving on. You’ve got only one life. God has given you this divine beauty. What for, I wonder. Certainly not to make cow dung cakes and slog in the farm, I am sure. Like the lamp in a blind man’s hand, your life is getting wasted in the hands of that bull who calls himself your husband! Open your eyes, girl!”
“Really? Will you promise never to leave my side?”
“Of course not! To leave a beauty like you! Do you think I am blind?” He pressed her hand lovingly.
The astrologer fell asleep in the cool shade, under the tree. The parrot in the cage hummed merrily. The cat strutted across. “Hey little parrot! I feel so sad when I see you. You are stuck in that cage, aren’t you, you poor creature?” it sighed sadly.
The parrot looked surprised. “Why? What’s the matter? I am quite happy here in this cage. By the way, who are you? What do you do? You have such cool eyes!”

“I am Mr.Cat. I chase the rats and give them a good workout. I teach them how to run about freely and show them the value of freedom,” purred the cat smugly.
“Freedom? What is it?” The parrot asked curiously.
“Freedom is doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Look at the ripe mango at the end of that branch, over there. You fly there, eat it to your heart’s content, and then you’ll know what I am talking about.”
“Really? But I can’t come out of this cage, can I?”
“Says who? I can open the cage quietly. Then you can fly out, can’t you?”
Telephone rang incessantly. Ramadevi hurried into the living room and picked up the receiver. “Hallo! Akka! It is me, Parvati. I am ruined, akka! That auto driver, Ramesh, he has cheated me, akka! He enticed me to elope with him and robbed me clean. I lost all the money and he disappeared,” Parvati was sobbing miserably on the phone.

“Calm down, Parvati. We have been searching for you everywhere. Where are you speaking from?” Ramadevi asked anxiously.

“In Rajamundry. We stayed in a hotel. They refused to let me go unless I paid the remaining portion of the rent that we owed to them. Somehow, I managed to slip out and searched everywhere for Ramesh. I finally realized that I have been duped. I felt ashamed of myself and decided to commit suicide. But Nagamani found me and stopped me. Do you remember Nagamani? She lives in our village and she sells Arrack. She made me call you. I did not have even one rupee to call you. I brought ruin on the family. I don’t deserve to live. Just look after my three kids, akka! My husband is such a drunkard, you can’t trust him to do anything,” Parvati was uncontrollably weeping.

“Don’t talk rubbish! Why should you die if somebody has cheated you? You’ve to think of your kids and be brave. Just stay where you are. We will come and pick you up. Where is Nagamani now? Can I talk to her?”

“Yes, she is here with me. Talk to her.” Parvati handed the phone over to Nagamani.

“Hello, madam, how are you all!”

“What to say, Nagamani! After she eloped, we have become the laughing stock of the town. We will be there at Rajamundry by tomorrow morning. Please keep an eye on her, so that she doesn’t act harshly. I will repay all the money you spent on her when we meet.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the money, madam! It is the life that cannot be bought back. I will look after her till you come here, don’t worry!”

Ramadevi gave further instructions to Nagamani and disconnected the telephone. She called her husband Prakash on telephone and explained the matter to him. Prakash promised to pick up their two kids from their school, drop them off at her brother’s home and then buy bus tickets for both of them to Rajamundry.

Ramadevi’s thoughts were racing the bus. In a big city like Hyderabad, her sister’s eloping with the auto driver became a talk of the town. She wondered how her parents were facing the humiliation in their tiny village, Goranta. As it is, they were struggling under financial burdens, before this added difficulty.

Ramadevi’s elder brother deserted their parents and left home with his wife. Parvati was younger than Ramadevi by two years. Right from childhood, she had been a boisterous and headstrong girl. Her adventures that began with stealing mangoes in the neighbour’s garden ended with eloping with Ramesh to Rajamundry.

Prakash married his sister’s daughter, Ramadevi. Prakash was a broad minded, modern young man. He took pity upon his sister who was sick with worry about unaffordable dowries. He convinced his parents and married Ramadevi. Shortly later, Parvati married a distant relative, Ramana. He worked as a construction laborer and lived with Parvati’s parents.

Unfortunately, Ramana was slave to many vices. He spent all the money he earned on drink. To make matters worse, he sold the household items to indulge in gambling.
Prakash and Ramadevi tried to convince Ramana to change his ways. But all their efforts failed. Ramadevi helped her sister financially now and then. She invested money and helped Parvati to open a small grocery store in the village.

Ramesh had joined the village vet as an assistant, some time ago. To add to his income, he drove an auto between Gorinta and Samarlakota. He never told anyone that he was already a married man. He would bring groceries to Parvati’s shop from Samarlakota. Slowly he sweet-talked her into leaving her family and eloping with him.

Ramana vowed to kill Ramesh on sight and carried a knife with him always.
Ramadevi thought of all this and thanked God that her sister was alive and well. She felt indebted to Nagamani who rescued her sister. Nagamani belonged to their village. Along with her husband, she did liquor business and earned enough money to live comfortably. There were some rumours about her character in the village. Whatever she was, she saved my sister, thought Ramadevi with relief.


Prakash and Ramadevi rushed to the hotel at which Parvati stayed in Rajamundry.  Parvati started crying as soon as she saw her sister. Nagamani, with her dark complexion, a big bindi on her forehead, and a big ring on her nose looked like one
of the deities in a temple, thought Prakash.

“Thank you so much, Nagamani. How can we ever repay your kindness? Could you please tell me how much money you’ve spent so far?” He opened his purse to repay her.

Nagamani pulled her saree edge around her. “Oh, no sir! Don’t bother about it now. It is in these difficult times that we should help each other. Who cares about money? Parvati was born in front of my eyes. Let us first think what we should do next, se suggested politely.

“I figured it all out. I will take her to Hyderabad with me. I will get her into tailoring and she can stand on her own feet. She can leave her kids with my parents till she settles down,” opined Ramadevi.

Nagamani said hesitantly, “Madam! I am older than you and so in spite of being an ignorant fool I will tell you what I think is right. Don’t misunderstand me. It might not be a very good idea for Parvati to live with your family. She will have to live all by herself, to save her reputation and that will be all the more difficult. In her young age, to live alone would be nearly impossible these days. Instead it might be better to beg Ramana to forgive her and accept back into the family fold.”

“But will that be possible? He might be a drunkard, but will he forgive his wife who has eloped with another man?” Ramadevi was worried.

Prakash interjected, “Rama! Why to use such big words as “eloped” etc.? Some cheat had tempted her and being innocent and gullible, she fell for his charms. She is a victim, not a criminal. If she had received husband’s love and affection, she wouldn’t have been attracted to another man, would she? Ramana too is responsible to some extent for this mishap.”

“Sir! Let’s all go to the village. We will discuss this with the village heads and see what they will decide. Ramana is indeed a drunk, but might listen to common sense,” Nagamani concluded.

“Rama!  I think Nagamani is correct. Let’s try to settle her back in her family.”

“How can she live in that village after all this humiliation?” doubted Ramadevi.

“Listen to me madam! As long as there is a husband, he will look after the wife, won’t he?  If she were living alone, every man would like to take advantage of her.”

They fell into a thoughtful silence. After long discussions, they decided to go to Goranta with Parvati.


All the village elders sat under the peepal tree beside the temple. The remaining people settled down on the ground on mats. Parvati’s parents did not attend the meeting since they wanted to babysit the kids. The village sarpanch Sitaramiah started the meeting. The priest Krishnamoorthy explained the case to the attendants.

“Parvati! Do you accept that you are guilty?” asked Sitaramiah gently. Parvati broke into tears. Ramadevi tried to console her sister.

Prakash rose to his feet and said, “Sir! You are the village elder. You know everything. Parvati’s husband Ramana is quite an irresponsible man. This made her vulnerable to the attempts of that rouge. Please understand her plight and give her another chance to mend her ways. ”

“Ramana! Whether you like it or not, she is your wife. You should forgive her at least for the sake of your kids,” said Sitaramiah.

Ramana dusted the towel on his head angrily and said, “How can any man accept a woman who has gone astray?”
Nagamani who was sitting in a corner stood up and said, “Sir! If all the women in the village vowed never to live with men who strayed, there would not be a single unbroken family living in this village. This Ramana here who is accusing his wife was caught red-handed with Gowri. They were tied up to this tree and tried. His father came and paid the fine and freed his son. Parvati did not leave him then. Even before that we all know how many times he was caught misbehaving with women.”

“Oh, you shut up! Nobody asked your opinion,” interjected Krishnamoorthy. “In the low castes it is not a big deal. If a proper fine is paid, those women are accepted by their men,” he concluded.

“Let’s not bring castes into this, sir! Castes are just like professional associations. There is nothing ‘low’ or ’high’ about them,” said Prakash indignantly.

Pastor Esupadam intervened, “Prakash! We respect you as a son-in-law of this village and due to your high education. But I have to disagree with you in this matter. If we accept this girl, we are encouraging all such sinners and we are encouraging prostitution.”

Prakash felt slightly irritated, but controlled himself. He wanted to settle the issue as amicably as possible. “Sir! What can I tell you? You surely remember what Christ said, when a prostitute was to be stoned by the villagers.

He said, “Only those who have never sinned before should stone her.” So does that mean that Christ himself encouraged prostitution? These days the marriages in our society are so much lacking in love that people are straying away from marital commitments. It is very natural to get attracted to a stranger when one doesn’t get enough love from family members.”

Nagamani rose again and shouted, “Prakash babu says correctly. Only those who have never sinned have a right to judge this issue. I might then reveal the names of the people who regularly visit me surreptitiously.”

Krishnamoorthy said, “Oh, you be quiet now! We are all looking into it, aren’t we? “
Everybody looked uncomfortable.

Sarpanch Sitaramiah cleared his throat and finally declared, “Look here Ramana! We all know about you. Your wife coped up with all your misdeeds. Then why can’t you forgive her once? She is young and has been misled due to her naivete. If you throw her out now, who will look after you in your old age? We are all telling you- forget about this incident and live with her as usual. Let that auto driver enter the village again and then we will show him!”

Ramana tied up his turban on to his head, “Yes, sir! But she has to promise that she will never do it again.”

Nagamani again jumped to her feet. “Oh yeah? Will you make a similar promise, then?” She asked sarcastically.

“Nagamani! That’s enough! Don’t keep teasing everybody,” said Sitaramiah sternly and turned to Parvati. “Parvati? Are you willing to live with Ramana as usual?” he asked.

Parvati walked from her hiding spot behind the tree timidly. “Sir! At least one person cares about what I want. Do I have any other choice? The auto driver actually opened my eyes to reality. All men are indeed the same, sir! Why will I ever do such a thing again? I’ve understood that my husband is not worse than any other man!” replied Parvati.
The parrot slowly walked out of the cage. “Mr.Cat! Thanks a lot. Because of you, I am free at last.” It remembered the mango on the branch and tried to fly. It felt weak in the wings. Then it remembered that the astrologer clipped his wings, to prevent it from flying. A dog that was watching the parrot from a distance made a move towards the parrot. The cool cat that set the parrot ‘free’ started approaching from the other end, with a mean, gloating look on its face. The parrot realized suddenly that is was in mortal
danger and tried to escape from them. Helpless and scared it hurried back into the cage and closed the cage door. It felt safe inside the cage. The astrologer who clipped my wings is my savior, it thought.
Bus started to move. “Thanks Prakash! You’ve found a solution to my sister’s problem and settled her again,” said Ramadevi.

“Rama! We did not find any solution. We just gave a symptomatic treatment. The real problem is still alive. Now we understand why women stay in marriage in spite of men treating them badly! When the outside world is infested with dogs and cats, safety is inside the cage, thinks an innocent parrot. It is a similar situation, isn’t it?” he leaned back and closes his eyes.

Translated by Sharada and published on, July 2007.
(The Telugu original, panjaramlo swetchha, was published in Andhra Jyothy Sunday edition, September 30, 2007.)

Narayanarao by Adivi Bapiraju – a recollection by S. Narayanaswamy

This is neither a literary criticism nor a learned analysis of this classic novel. It is a reader’s fond recollection of his life-long association with this wonderful work of fiction. It is a personal attempt to define my fascination with the story and attachment to the eponymous protagonist.

The beginning

I think I came across this novel for the first time when I was 8 years old. I found it in one of the bookshelves at home – it was a rather old copy – the front cover and a few pages were missing. However, the name of the novel was printed on each page – Narayanarao. It had a nice ring to it. It was very close to my own name of which I was very fond and proud. I read a few pages. I quickly noticed that all his friends addressed him as Narayana – just what my friends and family called me. I felt instantly closer to him. A couple of pages into it, there was a full description of Narayanarao – tall, handsome, strong, with long thick jet-black hair, and very popular among friends – just what I wanted to be! I was hooked.


I don’t think I’ve read the whole novel at that time. The book was there at home. It was not going anywhere. I had more urgent things to do, yet I kept going back to it. Like all boys of that age, tales of magic and adventure held more appeal for me than fiction with social themes. (This is true even now – we bought two copies of each Harry Potter novel; one for my daughter and one for me). However, this novel continued to fascinate me – it was a fairy tale in its own way. It took me to a magical time and place, populated by noble, beautiful, artistic, eccentric and utterly fascinating characters. I fell in love with the book. Once my mother caught me with the book and scolded me – what was I doing, meddling with adult’s books? But, when she saw that it was Narayanarao, she thought it was okay and left me to my reading. I continued to read it and re-read it all the time I was growing up. And I still read a few pages occasionally – at least once a month – especially if I am feeling down. I have two copies at my home. In case somebody wants to borrow, I’d still have one for myself.

The story and the structure

The basic story is not very complicated. Narayanarao is the younger son of a large rich land-owner Brahmin family from Konaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. He has been studying law in Chennai. The Zamindar of Visvalapuram notices him on a railway platform and decides that he is the most suitable groom for his younger daughter, Sharada. The marriage takes place. Sharada’s mother does not like this match with a commoner family and tries her best to poison Sharada’s mind against Narayanarao. However, Narayanarao bears this tragedy with forbearance believing that Sharada would one day love him. Sharada comes of age and goes to live with her husband in Chennai as he sets up his law practice. Over a couple of years, Sharada slowly comes to realize Narayanarao’s multi-faceted greatness and begins to love him. The novel concludes with their union in an utterly cute and romantic scene.

That does not mean that the novel is simple. There is a multitude of characters. There are plots and sub plots. There are histories of families, regions and dynasties. There are heated debates about politics. There are passionate discussions about literature, music and art. Narayanarao’s younger brother-in-law goes off to America to pursue scientific studies – so we follow him now and then. One of Narayanarao’s friends goes off on a free love adventure – we follow him too. There is the family of four beautiful sisters – we keep checking on what’s going on with them. We take a peek into the lives of farm laborers and we look in on the unbridled debauchery of a feudal young lord. We make the acquaintance of the Anglo-Indian community, and we get to know the women folk of Narayana’s household. The final product is rich in texture, colorful in characterization and pulsing with life.

With all the sub plots and so many characters, the author establishes Narayanarao in the center of reader’s attention very firmly right from the beginning. Narayanarao’s attractive physique and his personal magnetism (Bapiraju frequently compares him to the legendary hero Arjuna) are described in loving detail – almost as lovingly as the ancient poet Valmiki describes his hero, Rama. Narayanarao excels in everything he tries – he is first in studies, he is a competent athlete in several sports, good at playing the violin in Carnatic style (This is how he first impresses the heroine), and he is an accomplished poet and painter too. He is a staunch Gandhian with passionate nationalistic fervor – wears only khadi clothes, yet he is also cool headed and logical.

Sripathi. The Enemy.

(Translated by B. Indira)

Cinnodu stood with the empty bucket after pouring the cane extract into the container. Jagganna sat close to the fire, which had been cooking the sugarcane extract, to warm himself. His eyelids were dropping under heavy sleep. “Did you hear…?” he asked Cinnodu. Cinnodu looked askance. He stood staring into Jagganna’s eyes.

Jagganna did not stir. Seated as he was without opening his mouth, he looked as if he was trying to gather his breath.

“That wench is sure to die, ra. She won’t live any longer. She’s stubborn too. She has been crying so much that she has reduced her self to half her size. She won’t survive, Cinnoda, she won’t!” Jagganna spoke after removing the tobacco role from his mouth to release the smoke. The red flame reflected as waves on his wrinkled face and graying hair.

“Cinnoda, bring the sugarcane bundle!” Jangamayya shouted feeding cane into the machine.

Cinnodu dropped the bucket at where he was standing and rushed to the northern end of the shed for the cane. He dropped the bundle near the machine and went back to the jaggery-stove.

The maim fellow who had been filling the stove with the cane-waste could not hear Jaganna’s words. He was outside at the southern end of the stove. He could only see Jagganna through the thatched walls of the enclosure though not hear.

“The fellow married off the daughter to a great son-in-law! Had he really thought twice before deciding? Does the son-in-law have any respect for relationships? Can any woman ever live with him as his wife? Leave aside all those diseases he contracted, wonder how long this gold of a girl will survive…! When the bastard who lives in the village could remain blind, how can one expect the bastard of the neighbouring village to exercise his discrimination? The magic of money! Nothing in this world gets visible…money blinds…! Money rendered his vision hazy. All he had seen was that the man came off a moneyed family. That too the only son! The lands! The properties! The gold! The money! The business! Nothing else seen. He was blind even to matters of right and wrong. Blind to name and fame! The money magic has clad his eyes with several layers. The girl? She is gold! The gold doll’s life has now been reduced to ashes!” Jagganna was all pain for the girl. He had seen Subhadra when he went home for his meal. It’s five or six weeks that the girl had touched any food. She looked like a lizard glued to the bed. The pain he experienced on seeing her had been haunting Jagganna. Jagganna himself had been uneasy when he heard of the marriage proposal. Don’t eat grass for the sake of money, he even warned Narsayya who didn’t bother to care his words.

Cinnodu saw that the flame was going low. “Have you finished your work…? O, Cottoda get some waste for the stove!” he shouted in irritation.

The fellow has a maimed leg. He can sit any length of time and work without getting tired. Jaggery generally gets cooked through out the night. The stove needs to be filled with the waste non-stop to keep it burning. It’s a difficult job for the day. Hence the work gets done only during the nights. The bulls had been turning the machine drearily. Jangamayya was busy feeding the cane into the machine. The extract had been continuously flowing itself into the bucket below. The machine had been making crude rhythmic noise. Dasu who had been tending the bulls while they rotated the machine heard Jagganna’s voice. He remembered how he cried one night telling the father to hang his sister with a noose instead of getting her married to that man. He decided then and there that he would beat up his father once he grew a little more. Mother always keeps her mouth shut. Even she fears the father. Why, how much he wanted to study… “No! Studies are not meant for the like of us,” ruled out the father. Dasu was forced to abandon his studies and gotten to work on the fields…recollected Dasu as he walked behind the animals.

Cinnodu had already heard of what Jagganna spoke of. He always liked Subhadra as the best in the family. Since his fourteenth year, he had been a field hand with Narasayya. It’s ten years now. The girl always addresses him as uncle. She’s yet to understand the social dynamics. Why, no body addresses a field hand as uncle! Cinnodu too felt unhappy when she was married off against her wishes. Just as the others, even he felt that the boy from the moneyed family was not the right choice of a husband for the girl. Now having heard Jagganna, Cinnodu felt that Narasayya had been greedy after money.

“What can be done now, tata  except to reconcile ourselves…At least before the three knots were tied…”

Cinnodu too heard that Subhadra had not eaten for the last three days. Nobody could force her to take food. When the marriage celebrated with great pomp had failed, every face lost its luster. All the relatives who intended to stay four or five days had left within a day or two.

“Times have changed. People have changed,” said Jagganna, once again puffing at his tobacco role. “How much difference between those days and these days! There was no money then. No greed as of now. Wonder how this money has been growing and how people have been after it spoiling their lives! Does this Narasayya lack any thing that he should give away his daughter into such a family? No respect for human feelings, good nature and righteous living! Cinnoda, everything Veera Brahmam prophesied is sure to happen. Every bit of it! A woman would rule the country, he said and here she’s ruling. The outcastes will become temple priests, he said and they have become. No respect for relationships, he said and there are no respectable relationships between man and woman. I’m an old timer. May not live longer. You’re a young fellow. You’ll live four seasons. You’ll see the way of the world with your own eyes. You’ll then mark my words. As children have we known pictures? Or these trains? Have we ever seen an airplane? Or this craze for currency? …Where does all this lead to?”

Jagganna had been resisting the heavy sleep and been speaking to none in particular. At times his voice broke into two or three different tones:

Paper-currency blew away silver coins,

The paper remains paper,

Hungry stomach remains hungry…”

 The maim fellow sang from outside in his unique way as if he understood Veera Brahmam’s philosophy. “World, Jagganna tata, this is the world,” he said with a wry smile.

 The cane mill continued to rotate. Fourteen-year-old Dasu had been driving the animals. The machine made grating though rhythmic sounds. The cold outside had slowly gathered its intensity.

### ### ###

Narasayya came walking to the shed with torchlight in hand. He searched everywhere under the thatch-roof where the machine had been working. He considered Jangamayya a thief to his core. He was sure that Jangamayya would steal whatever might be available in the vicinity. As for Jagganna, though almost a part of the family has the habit of dozing away at the drop of a hat. Cinnodu though a bull at work does not apply his brains to the work he may be doing. He won’t even know if something was lost. Cottodu, though brainy, is full of guile. Narsayya had no other option but to employ them. That’s one reason why Narasayya would never leave the machine shed. It had been just half an hour that he left for home for a meal. Yet his mind remained with the work at the shed.

The thatched machine-shed faces east. A fence made of leaves and branches protects the other three sides. Once inside the shed, on one side lay new earthen containers of terracotta for storing jaggery. About fifty-to-sixty containers have already been filled. A cot is laid on another side. A huge well-like stove measuring to the height of a man in its depth is seen to the east of the shed. There is also a pan equal to the stove in its diameter. Beside the stove, there lay the huge containers meant for preserving the juice extract measuring to the chest of a man in height. Several floor mats, bedspreads, blankets, grass, lighted petromax lamps completed the furnishings of the shed.

It’ll take another fifteen days at least to cook jaggery. Till then the shed is Narasayya’s home. Narasayya sat on the cot.

Cinnodu took the stick from Dasu and started driving the cattle. Dasu was about to go home when Narasayya stopped him. ‘I forgot to take my medicinal-pellets. Send them through Rangayya, my son,’ he said.

Narasayya had lost his peace of mind ever since the daughter’s marriage. He bought two acres of wetland. So far he hadn’t had the time to get it registered. He dare not trust the field hands in preparing jaggery. He had to attend to several jobs all by himself. Added to these, now there’s no happiness in having married off the daughter into a moneyed family.

“I prefer to jump into a well or a pit to end my life but I cannot live ayya…I cannot live in those concrete houses. You turned my life into ashes, ayya…!” is what she had been crying all the time. Her sorrow nagged Narasayya’s heart like a pest.

“Has Subbulu eaten?” Jagganna asked with his eyes still closed. Narsayya dared not utter a word. He is scared of Jagganna. Jaganna had warned him to think twice before he settled the alliance. Narasayya thought otherwise. He thought the marriage would improve his status in the village. He thought the marriage would bring both the families that had been at loggerheads for the last twenty-five years together. He thought the marriage would reduce the police harassment and going around courts of law. The family disputes have been taxing his purse heavily. Besides, the investment on money lending and even the lands would be his with the marriage. Narasayya thought that all these would sure resolve with the marriage that would benefit him and bring him peace of mind as never before.

“Saying you’ll hack her will not deter her. You’ll have to make her see reason,” said Jaggayya.

What does she lack? How have I been treating her! I sent her to a house that has lots of property, money, name and fame. She cries as if I had committed a big blunder. As for the son-in-law, tell me, who is a Sri Ram? Except that all his affairs have been exposed. Don’t many others carry on with their affairs stealthily? The man is full of youthful vigor…so what if he had affairs before the marriage… thought Narasayya before he had finalized the marriage. It’s beyond him to comprehend what could have gone wrong with the marriage. He had to cross and double cross the stiff competition from other prospective families vying for the alliance. It made Narasayya angry that the daughter had been obstinately kicking off his hard won victory. He even raised his hand against her in anger. “You threaten to die…Die if you so desire! I’ll burn your body at the graveyard, immerse your ashes in the nearby stream and assume that I’m no longer indebted to you!” he had shouted at her in irritation. It’s two days that he had seen the daughter!

The sweet aroma of the cooking jaggery filled the shed. In the silent starry winter night all that one heard was the sound of the cattle as they circled around the machine besides the sound of the cane-extract as it poured into the bucket. The country stove had been burning to its limit. Cottodu was busy feeding the stove with the waste. Jagganna was dozing in a sitting posture. Cinnodu was driving the cattle simultaneously filling the containers with the extract. Some movement was discernable from the nearby cattle driven mill. Overcome by slumber Narasayya stretched himself on the cot.

### ### ###

“Had you both the legs, you would gobble the whole world!” said Jagganna surprised at Cottodu’s expertise. Cottodu smiled dryly. Jangamayya complained of some discomfort in the stomach and had left for home. Cottodu was busy working at the machine sitting beside it. Jagganna was filling the containers.

Narasayya busied himself in filling the new earthen pots with the cooled extract of the night before. The day broke. One no longer felt cold as one got busy at work. Cinnodu was still driving the cattle. Cottodu simply fooled around.

Cinnodu saw Narasayya’s younger son rushing towards them. He was speeding along the cane-field bunds.

“Wonder why Subba Rao is rushing this way?” he said seeing him.

Narasayya didn’t pay heed. Jangamayya had been drying the cane-waste in a corner. From the shed, across the cane-fields the village is just a furlong away.

Subba Rao was panting. He walked straight to his father. “Ayya, mother wants you home—come with me—Subbappa…is missing!” He said holding his breath.

Jagganna looked at Narasanna whose face turned pale.

“Jagganna,” he called and walked towards the village with the son.

Jagganna entrusted the work to Cinnodu and followed Narasanna.

“Look what Subbulu has done…it seems she’s not home!” Narasanna’s voice broke. The entire village had already crammed full in the compound waiting for him. The daughter had turned him into a laughing stock. She had now become his enemy. Which well or pond she might have jumped into? He remembered her cries of helplessness. The news would soon reach her in-laws. That such and such Narasayya’s daughter jumped to her death would be the gossip of the village. They would conclude that the death was a protest against the marriage and the father.

Narasayya’s compound thronged with people. They were all under the pandal, still green

Narasayya imagined that the body had already been placed in front of the house and the villagers were now around it. People had already begun searching for the body in the village ponds and wells.

### ### ###.

Lakshmana Murthy had been preparing tea on a coal stove. Jagannadham was with him to listen to the news on the transistor radio. “Where’s the drawing master?” he asked as he sat in the easy chair placing the transistor in his lap.

“Left for his town, sir,” replied Murthy. It’s only this year that Murthy had joined the village school as a secondary grade assistant. The drawing master joined ten days after him. Jagannadham likes to move with these young boys. He enjoys spending time especially with the drawing master for the political news he shares with him. Lakshmana Murthy is a highly disciplined man. His day starts very early. He exercises regularly and follows it up with a bath in the village pond even during winter. Once home, he performs his puja and cooks for the day. He is not interested in anything else, not even pictures. Lakshmana Murthy looked different after a fresh shave.

“Why had he left so suddenly? Without telling anyone?” asked Jagannadham.

Though a Telugu master, Jagannadham looks as stylish as a science master. Aren’t a dhoti, an upper cloth, a snuff-box, a namam similar to number 111 a must to a Telugu teacher, the younger teachers would always tease him. “For you I’ll dress that way when the EO visits the school,” he would tease them back.

Lakshmana Murthy didn’t know what to say. Gopalam of course asked him to inform Jagannadham of his leaving the village. But he didn’t know how to break the news… It scared him. Last night Gopalam had fled the village with Subhadra much to his dislike. Gopalam even asked Murthy to accompany him to the railway station. Murthy did not. He does not even know any of the routes beyond the village limits. On top of it is his timidity. In his fear he pleaded in vain with Gopalam not to elope with Subhadra. He even warned him of the risk involved to no avail. As long as the girl was with them in the room, Murthy had remained a nervous wreck. The girl’s dare-devilry surprised him. He wanted to rush to the math teacher for advice. The couple didn’t allow him any time. A torchlight in one hand and the girl’s hand in the other he had headed southward from the backyard across the fields. Lakshman Murthy shuddered in fear as he recollected the events. Sleep evaded him the whole night. He was sure the villagers might attack his house any moment.

The mud-walled hut Lakshmana Murthy lives in is to the west of the village. The hill-breeze comes directly into the hut. Though it’s past seven in the morning, the air had remained cold.

“They’ve been searching all the wells and ponds,” he said.

Lakshmana Murthy could not remain seated in the chill open air. News was on the AIR. Inside, the coal-stove had been spreading some warmth. He dropped some tea-leaves into the boiling water. He liked the aroma.

“Naxals killed the Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University… Smt. Indira Gandhi condemned the religious extremism in the country…An agreement seems to be in the offing concerning the royal jewelry…Improving the life of the common man is the topmost priority of the new Congress…”

“Elections! Elections! Elections! These politicians are killing us,” said Jagannadham forgetting every thing about the drawing master. He is intolerant to political propaganda. Elections irritate him. Once, a politician had forcibly transferred him for not campaigning for his party. At another village a political group had beaten him up for criticizing its leader contesting the election. There’s yet another instance when he was bullied into vacating the house he had rented because he spoke to the rival party. Finally when he had resisted the Head Master’s religious fanaticism he came on transfer to the village as a punishment. Jagannadham had become vary of political freedom or franchise.

Lakshmana Murthy handed him a cup of tea.

The cold had been bone biting. Lakshman Murthy wondered where the two might have gone in that bitter winter. Besides, there has always been the fear of bears, he thought to himself. Neither of them knew the way! Where could they be…? By morning the village was agog with the news that Subhadra jumped herself to death. He heard it while bathing at the pond. His fears compounded when he understood that the village had believed the rumour.

Tea was warm and tasty. “Subhadra didn’t die,” he said to Jagannadham who sat with him by the stove.

Jagannadham looked inquisitive.

“Drawing master…” Lakshmana Murthy paused.

The transistor belonged to the drawing master. He didn’t carry any of his belongings with him except the torchlight. His bed roll and his attaché had been lying in a corner.

“I’m nervous… won’t they blame me, sir?”

Jagannadham was lost in thought. A similar doubt occurred to him as well. Several times he personally experienced the ‘power’ of the so-called feudal lords. He didn’t know what to say.

In the fields to the west of the master’s hut there lays the harvested rice crop dotted in between with the cane crop. A small canal, with several rows of trees on its bund, passed through the fields. A little distance away, more into the west, is a mango grove crossing which one reaches the thick forest of Mahendragiri ranges. Jagannadham’s eyes stopped at the mountain range.

### ### ###

A group of five to six houses, to the south of the village is known as the dhobi-street. All the houses there face southward. The sugarcane fields of the village landlords start at the backyard of these houses. Beyond the fields is a small stream. The entire area is thick with trees, shrubs, bushes and so on.

In Nukaraju’s front yard the early sunrays looked like a pale yellow sari spread out for drying. On the cold windy morning Nukaraju had been busy lighting the coal in his iron-box.

Nukaraju had been feeling sleepy. His eyes were dropping. The whole night he had been walking and returned home before dawn. He had been with Subhadra and the drawing master as they waited for the train to arrive. He felt his body aching. The night had been weary and he longed to sleep. But he should deliver the ironed clothes to the teachers. The village clerk’s servant had already made a couple of trips to collect the clothes. He still had to iron them. The headmaster’s peon too was there for the ironed clothes. The village level worker (VLO) said he had to go to town…

Nukaraju picked up the washed clothes from the stone platform, sprinkled water, rolled them and kept the roll aside. By now the iron box had been well heated. He dipped his finger in a glass of water and threw the water drops on the box to check the heat. He first began with the munisif’s shirt.

Nukaraju thought of his wife while he ironed. He told Sarada to remain home. She didn’t. She went with the mother-in-law to the dhobhi-ghat.

Nukaraju finished ironing four shirts. He was about to start the fifth shirt when Cinnodu came. He stood at the door.

It’s Cinnodu’s habit to stop at Nukaraju whenever he went to Narasayya’s fields. He would stop to light his beedi there. Nukaraju and Cinnodu are buddies. They went to late shows together. They would go to the village fairs together. They went to the hills to collect firewood and coal together. Standing similar in their height and muscles, they can easily pass off as brothers. Since childhood it had been their habit to bathe together in the village pond.

When he saw Cinnodu, Nukaraju suspected that Narasayya must have sent him. Cinnodu thought that Nukaraju looked strange.

“Have you heard about Subbulu, Nukanna?” Cinnodu asked glancing obliquely.

Nukaraju kept mum.

“Subbulu fled somewhere. Somebody told Narasayya that you’re in the know of it. The President and the Village Head are at Narasayya’s house. They had sent me for you,” said Cinnodu briefing his mission.

“There’s no one home,” mumbled Nukaraju placing the iron-box aside and getting ready to follow Cinnodu.

On the way Nukaraju told him of last night…

Seeing Nukaraju people on the street talked among themselves.

In spite of the cold outside Nukaraju began to sweat profusely when he saw the village elders. He wasn’t sure if he should disclose the truth. What, if I don’t…? What, if I did…? What would they do to him…? His mind was full of questions.

Nagaraju suddenly turned bold. Stubbornly bold…

“What’ll they do? They’ll scold. If angrier, they’ll beat. What have I done? After all I didn’t elope with Narasayya’s daughter! I saw the drawing master and Subhadra. He’s a gentleman,” thought Nukaraju to himself. “Help us, Nukaraju,” the girl pleaded her eyes brimming with tears. Nothing came to his mind then. He simply accompanied them up to the railway station to show them the way in that darkness. Nukaraju thought he was on the top of the world when after boarding the train safely, they both held him by hand and said they would never forget his help

Now they would beat me up, let them, he thought. This alone needn’t be the reason to beat him up. They wield the power to beat him for any reason they deemed fit. Even kill him! Hadn’t the Naidu slapped him with his footwear, once? Didn’t the munisif trick him into a liquor case and had simply watched as the police beat him up? Hadn’t he offered his body submissively on either occasion? It’ll not be different now, thought Nukaraju.

There’s a cattle shed at a corner opposite to Nukaraju’s house. The shed was vacant as the cattle had been out for grazing. The bulls were any way at the cane-mill. The play-weary calves were fast asleep.

Nukaraju saw some village elders on the high rise platform. A couple of boys were playing in the shed. There weren’t any one else. The village folk had slipped away when they saw the village elders. Two field hands lost no time in leading Nukaraju into the shed and tie him up to a post. Cinnodu saw Nukaraju being led away. He couldn’t stand there any longer. Narasayya called him but Cinnodu didn’t care to stop. All he heard was a screaming Nukaraju. He wanted to bury all of the village elders alive.

Peda Naidu was still shouting… “How many of the young girls will you sell in the town? How many of them will you see off at the station? Where have you hidden the girl…?” Naidu seemed to be tired of shouting. He had been beating Nukaraju wherever possible. He poked him at his sides with a stick. When Nukaraju tried to shout, he gagged him with a stick. The daughter-in-law’s elopement was a great insult to Naidu. He felt beheaded by the act of hers. Except to peel the skin off Nukaraju, there was no other way to conceal her shameful act. By now Nukaraju had been whining and whimpering. His head hung loose.

### ### ###

The little stream stopped there as if to look at Sarada. The white cloud and the blue sky hid themselves under the stream to enjoy her beauty. The trees, creepers, flowers, grass everything on the banks had been busy singing to her.

It’s not even a fortnight that Sarada had come to the in-law’s for the first time after marriage. She has been slowly getting adapted to the village breeze its sun, its fields, its trees, its streams… She’s slowly getting tuned to Nukaraju’s mischievous eyes and talk, his body odours. Now she is like the earth stirring up to the first rays of the light. It’s only now she’s getting to replace ‘her’ people with the new relations. She has just begun to understand what it’s to be in love with life. She has just begun to trust strangers.

If my daughter had left for the in-laws, there wouldn’t be anyone for my support, thought Nukaraju’s mother. She decided to bring Sarada home for good. There were two other washer men busy at the ghat. The surrounding thick green hills made the ghat appear as no man’s land.

Sarada had heard about Nukaraju while she took the washed clothes from the mother-in-law for drying them on the bund.

The mother had abruptly left the work and ran crying “my son, oh, my son!” She was impervious to the young daughter-in-law or that she might scare her. Sarada too ran after her. “O, god, don’t kill my son! O, god, save my son!” She had been wailing all the way rushing to Narasayya’s house. By then the whole village including children had gathered at the house.

The mother saw Nukaraju tied to a post. She didn’t go to him. In stead she fell at Narasayya’s feet. “Babu, you’re our god…only you can save my son!” She innocently pleaded least suspecting that Narasayya had been behind all this.

“What Nukaraju…he’s no more!” Somebody murmured. The words didn’t reach her.

Jagannadham standing there began to brood: Is this violence or non-violence? Another teacher who was also in the crowd was surprised that none had protested. What’ll these village elders do next, Lakshmana Murthy was asking. “That he jumped himself to death will be the verdict. Later they’ll give the body for cremation,” answered the drill-master. If it proved that the girl jumped to death, whom would these elders have killed? The father married off the daughter to a diseased man for his selfish ends. Were she to die contracting one of those diseases, whom would these gentlemen kill in revenge? Just because the girl is happy that they caught hold of this innocent bastard, broke his bones, gagged him with a stick and finally killed him. Let it ripen! Let it ripen! Let all their sins ripen! Only the fully ripened fruit falls to the ground…brooded one among the crowd.

Even now the mother didn’t understand what had happened. Sarada too reached the spot. The crowd appeared like melting shadows to her. Her vision got blurred. She struggled in vain to search for her husband. She tried to wipe the tears she could not control in order to see things clearly. The world looked dark. At last she found him at the post. She failed to recognize him. Frightened on seeing the stream of blood she had fled the place, screaming wild towards east. She didn’t even turn her head back at least once. She ran as if a band of flesh-eaters chased her. Across the fields, banks and in spite of the thorns. In spite of slipping several times. She ran to her mother. Her father. Her brothers. Her companions. Her shelter. Her relatives. Her people who had been her strength. She decided she would lead the entire village equipped with brandishing swords, spears, bows and arrows. All to save the husband in the next village. Even if it involved the killing of the entire village.

The munisif’s younger brother is a first-class magistrate. The village leaders sent a messenger to him. The father-in-law’s nephew is a circle inspector. Another messenger had been sent to him. Narasayya’s wife’s brother himself is an advocate. Yet another man had been sent there. The sarpanch himself accompanied the local MLA.

The villagers who had witnessed the death could not eat that night.

Nukaraju, Sarada, and the mother haunted them.


Translated by B. Indira and published on, March, 2011.

Nori Narasimha Sastry’s views on History and Historical Novel

Nori Narasimha Sastry discussed history and historical fiction at length n a couple of essays.

He put forth enormous amount of information in support of his theory that our way of studying our history if faulty. In the process he also defines the correlation between history and historical novel.

In the essay, swatantra bharatamulo charitra rachana (Writing History in independent India), he shows how our mode of thinking had been molded by the methods established by famous western historians such as Gibbon, Carlyle, the lord Prudhoe and Wells. Their works on history are valued as literature; they have shown us that historians are poets in essence.

However, we also need to remember that the British rulers introduced Macaulay Report in schools only to serve their purpose, which is to turn our people into tools for prolonging their rule in our country.
That led to us relying on English books to study our history to a point that we would not read our Telugu and Sanskrit texts unless they are given in English. This craze for English is extended to all the other fields as well—religion, society, politics, literature, science and even into geography.

Currently, the history of India is broken into three periods—the Hindu period, the Mohammedan period and the British period.

Narasihma Sastry goes to elaborate on the problems with this division as follows:

Originally, the Aryans came from outside, assailed the Dravidians and the Dasyulu and promulgated their religion in our country vigorously. Their cultural power however waned due to the hot climate in our country. Internal struggles eroded and some of them turned traitors. After the Aryans, the Mohammedan rulers came in multitudes and took over. They attacked the feeble Hindus. Later, they succumbed to mundane pleasures and lost their power. When the British came, the country was in shambles. They could easily drive away the Mohammedans and the other white rulers and take over the country. This is the gist of the division of the historical periods.

There is a perception that heat weakens individuals. This is not a proven fact though. Possibly others who are accustomed to cold climate may suffer from the heat in our country and vice versa. However this should not be an argument to let ourselves be slaves to the foreigners. Heat is a geographical issue and irrelevant to one’s strength or weakness. This is a pious land and the place for such sacred activities as bathing three times a day and offering prayers to the Sun god (sandyavandanam).

Narasimha Sastry continues to observe that since creation of the universe, 195 crores 85 lakhs and 550 years have passed. In this long span of the history of mankind, the British ruled our country for 190 years, the Moghuls for 181 years, the Lodis for 75 years, Sayyads for 37 years, Tughlaks for 94 years, and Khiljis 30 years.

Among the Indians, the Gupta period runs for 500 years and that is considered golden age. We read that the Satavahanas ruled for 464 years and no other reign had sway for a period that long. And the Kushans seemed to have ruled for 230 years, the Mauryans for 160 years, and the Nandas for 74 years. Also the Bimbisara and others ruled for over 200 years.

Thus, it is evident that the current history as we study in our books gives more importance to the time we had been under foreign rule. We should rewrite our history books expanding the times we had been free and proud, and delimit the period we had been subjected to slavery.

No doubt the British have ruled our country for about 200 years. There were some local rulers called Zamindaris but they existed only with the blessings from the British. Mohammedans stayed mostly in the north. Attempts of Tuglak and Aurangazeb to take over the southern part of India failed. At the time, the Kakateeya kings in the south were powerful. After that Vijayanagara kings prevailed in the south for one hundred years more. Thus, the label for these periods should be Kakatiya period, Vijayanagara period and so on. In the 18th century, the Maharashtra rulers were strong all the way from the southern end, the Sethu, to Himachal. Indian culture has flourished in the north for sometime and later the south enjoyed superiority. There were times when the Chola, Chalukya and Pallava kingdoms and Kancheepuram were at the peak. There is no reason to accept the labels given foreign rulers who ruled only the northern part of the country.

Other facts to note are: During 550-330 B.C., Persian kings ruled Punjab and Gandharam (current Nepal?). Later Greeks ruled over the same land for 150 years (200-20 B.C.). Kushans prevailed for sometime. There is also a misconception that all Mohammedans are the same. In reality, some of them were Shiites and others Sunnis. In the north, Persian culture was prominent while the Absenian culture prevailed in the south. The difference between these two is no less than the difference between the Greeks, Patheons, Sakuns, and Kushans. That being the case, it is unfair to lump them all together as one race.

Against this background, Narasimha Sastry suggests labels such as the Turkish threat, the Moghal menace, the Sunny hazzard, Shiaite turmoil, and the British tempest for periods our history. Also there are only two races—Aryans and non-Aryans, and one is productive and the other destructive, like any other living organism in the world.

It is important to note that the Aryans regard the land as their motherland and fatherland. For them, the land gives them birth, entertains them, and comforts them. It is karmabhumi [place of action], tapobhumi [place of contemplation], and punyabhumi [pious land]. For them, the entire India is one country and the Vedas and the Vedangas are the paradigms to live by. Sanskrit is the language of the polite society. The non-Aryans on the other hand are engrossed in self-promotion, their physical image, and abandonment.

The detailed discussions of dates for a given king are not important. The Puranas have recorded the history of the kings who reinstated the Aryan dharma following political and social turmoil. They should be the paradigms for us but not the texts written by foreigners such as the Greek travelers in Alexander’s time, Megasthanese during Chandragupta’s rule, the Chinese traveler Huen Tsang, and so on. We should read our history based on the data available in our texts produced by our poets. The texts by foreigners may be used as secondary texts. Historians should sift the falsehood propagated by foreign historians.

Let’s not forget that regardless of their affinity to the kings of their times, Valmiki and Vyasa maintained their stance as poets in their own status quo.

By the time Vyasa wrote Maha Bharata, 193 crores, 83 lakhs of years passed. He was fair in depicting the histories of the two dynasties, including the violations of Dharma by the Pandavas. The pundits who question Maha Bharata’s integrity need to separate the later interpolations and study the original carefully.

The historians should help us to revive the spirit of unity, nationalism. Valmiki and Veda Vyasa should be viewed as the archetypes, the protectors of dharma; they are historians and poets in true spirit.

Historical novel

The term “historical” implies narration of truth without fluff. On the other hand, novel requires invention specifically.

A novel may not contain even one page of authentic history in a 304 page book. Yet it may provide details about the political atmosphere, social customs, manners, travel amenities, and other facilities of its time without contradicting historical facts.

A novelist takes bits of history, “dry as dust” in Carlyle’s words, brings them together, adds other parts and grows into a big tree, sprays heavenly nectar on it and brings it to fruition.

Westerners store dead bodies in graveyards. They save important and unimportant incidents alike. The historians cull through these bits of data and elaborate on the past history. Because of this custom to save all the items, the historians are able to tell the stories of their people—poets, sculptors, lyricists, kings, ministers, their kept women, businessmen, priests, actors and actresses, soldiers, and beautiful women. The books, diaries, magazines, letters, inscriptions, and memorials carved on the graves—all these are available to their writers. However, despite the availability of all this information, the established theories are getting thrown out by new revelations. While interpretation of history keeps changing, great novels are being produced in the west.

We do not have the amenities to write historical fiction or biographical fiction the same way the westerners do. Nevertheless, we have produced great novels such as Bhagavan Parasuramudu by K. M. Munshi and Simha Senapathi by Rahul Sankrutyayan. The first one attempted to recreate the Vedic and the Pauranic works from the perspective of national spirit. The second one took the Vedic literature with Buddhist tradition as supreme ideal, and attempted to promote the current communist ideology. Both the works as great examples of our historical fiction.

In a country’s or even world’s history, what has happened is important. The dates and the names of individuals are like the body. The incidents are the life force behind these works. Beyond these two elements, there is also the Atman which is the dominant force in our lives. A historian must not forget the soul. From this perspective, we need to examine whether our historians have understood the supreme truth about our nation as much as the authors of our puranas.

Numerous plots and subplots embedded in the Ramayana and Maha Bharata appear to have happened actually. They might not have happened in that particular time and in that particular place but they seemed to carry certain authenticity about them. And they contain lessons for us. To collect such stories and record them is the primary responsibility of our historians.

The authors of our Puranas had a great sense of the timelessness of history and what must be recorded. We fail to appreciate their philosophy only because of our self-indulgence and our ignorance.

Greek historian Herodotus had written several fantasy stories in the name of history and we regard him as the king among historians. The Chinese travelers wrote history, depicting their own importance and we have accepted them as standard the same way as the histories written by Christians. The stories in their books are fabricated much the same way as the stories in our puranas. It is the same with personal letters, diaries and other writings.

The genre of novel may have been born in Italy or France but there is no clear-cut definition yet. It has been taking various forms in different times and different places, which is its distinctive nature.

A novel could be rendered in the form a play, story, biography, letters, diaries or a combination of several forms. It can be short like a little pond or like a great sea, a combination of several features.

We may create suitable platform and call works like Dasakumara charitra, Simhasana dwatrimsati, Bhoja charitra, pancatantra, Hitopadesa, neeti chadrika novels. Our critics called kalaa purnodayam a novel, although it is written in the form of poetry.

That being the case, it is a mistake to consider only the form set by westerners as the only standard form for a novel. We may even stay as far away as possible from the western mode of thinking and create much better novels.

Narasimha Sastry also points out that writing novel is a profession for westerners. And marketing it requires novelty constantly. In his opinion, they are short-lived for that reason. On the other hand, we consider novel as a literary genre, and thus maintain its quality.

Novelist has a wide range of opportunities. A novel is not a short story and in that, there is no holding back. It is not a miniature painting; it does not have to flow in a monotonous manner as in a big story. Unlike a play, the novel does not rely on theaters, the vagaries of actors and actresses, and insensitive audience.

However, as in a drama, the writer may take the uniqueness of dialogues and incidents—the intrinsic qualities of a play, and incorporate poetic merit and musical quality in his novel. He may include his entire knowledge in it. A novel has the ability to reflect numerous varieties of literary genre in numerous ways. Novel is the supreme genre among the entire literary genre so far we have gotten. The proverb, naatakantam sahityam may be rewritten as navaalanatham sahityam.

The novel that contains history with the traits noted above may be called historical novel. When we study novel from that perspective, we find no contradiction between the noun “novel” and the adjective “historical”. On the other hand, the elite may even find a close affinity between the two terms.

It is common knowledge among intellectuals that it is hard to evaluate contemporary works, regardless how capable we are and how unbiased we are.

Unless we examine them from a distance, we cannot recognize their authentic value; the incidents do not rise to the level appropriate for plots of kavyas. This is the reason many poets in all countries at all times choose the stories related to their heroes and events from the past. That does not mean writers should not write about contemporary occurrences.

Critics sometimes comment that authors of historical fiction, being unable to face the modern day society and issues, choose incidents or people from the past and write about them. Their ignorance regarding the characteristics of kavya is evident in this kind of comments.

A novel may achieve the status of kavya even when it does not depict contemporary life? And that is so even when it does not aim to solve the current society’s problems. For instance, Tolstoy wrote War and Peace based on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Even as our rishis would, Tolstoy did not rely only on the history written by historians but conducted intense search for historical facts and thus was able to produce a unique work. Same thing can be said of Faust by Goethe, Paradise Lost by Milton, and so on.

Thus it is evident that poet, even when writing about the current events, can produce a high quality work only when he has the ability to look back in to the past. In support of this argument, He quotes an example from his own experience after China attacked India:

He says, “I was furious. I wanted to take over the entire nation of China in retaliation. I was irate that our government pledged to fight for the land up to McMohan line only. What about our ‌Manasa sarovaram, Kailasam that is the abode of Lord Siva, and the land that conjoined the sites where the two rivers Brahmaputra and Sindhu originated? I was so irate yet not a single poem came out of my mouth. So many people have written kavyas and sang songs. None of them appealed to me, when I try to read them as kavyas.

Secondly, dragon China’s national symbol. I searched hard for an quivalent term for dragon in Sanskrit. “Sarabham” or “Sarabhasaluvu” could be but did not sound right. In Rg veda, “ahi” had been mentioned. Some scholars used dragon for Ahi in their translation of Vedas into English. I remembered the verse in the vedas which described Indra at the time he killed Vritrasura. To my knowledge, nobody else thought of it yet even I could not view it in the form of a kavya. My heart has been sullied with my hatred for the Chinese. It will not reach the kavya level unless and until the hatred in my heart has been washed up.

If we think on these lines, the scholars who study the philosophy of kavyas may note that among all the genres of kavyas, the novel and among all varieties of novels the historical fiction is the highest.

Basically the Maha Bharata has been identified as history (ithihasa) and Ramayana as a purana (mythology). From the standpoint of tradition, both the works had been written by the writers who had lived in those times. Yet they became great works for the following reasons. Valmiki was a tapasvi (introspect). He was capable of distancing himself from contemporary life and observing it with uncontaminated eyes. Similarly, Vyasa was a rishi who could stay detached despite his kinship with all the characters in the story. He could stay in his hermitage quietly, contemplate and reflect on the story in his heart.

Some scholars accept that these two authors simply collected several stories told by several individuals and had them recorded by a few or several other individuals. There is no doubt that the incidents in these stories had been based on actual occurrences.

As is evident, the social, political, and dharma-related systems, the war strategies, philosophic reflections are narrated in these works focusing identifying the ultimate truth. No other work has that much influence on Indian culture. Despite the fact that these two works are based on Vedas, they have exerted more influence on our culture than the Vedas themselves. Without these two classic works, it is hard to imagine how far our culture could have deteriorated. This is deductible from the history of other countries where there is no such impact.

However, the Ramayana text and most of the Maha Bharata text are rendered in the form of poetry. It is not filled with difficult Sanskrit phraseology but written in a form that is close to modern prose. We can call them historical kavyas or historical novels written in the form of poetry. The difference is only in terminology but not in essence.

One of them is a great river flowing with zest like the River Ganges. The second one is the milky ocean encompassing several great rivers. Today’s historical novelist is a follower of those great authors, Valmiki and Vyasa.

They are not performers of death rituals who collect pieces of history. They are the visionaries who have attempted to identify the historical truths.

Modern day historians should search their souls and find to what extent they have understood these tenets and adapted them.


Published on, June 2011.

(Translations of excerpts from two articles by Nori Narasimha Sastry. I am grateful to the writer and publishers of the volume Nori Narasimha Sastry. V. 5 Sahitya vyasaalu.

– (Nidadavolu Malathi. Originally published on May 30, 2011.)


In the nineteen sixties, women writers dominated the field of fiction in Andhra Pradesh. Visalakshi is one of those writers, who have captured large readership because of their ability to tell stories with charismatic elegance.

Historically, as a part of social reform movement and the country’s reorganization plans, women were encouraged to learn to read and write. And the women made the best of it by addressing contemporary social issues in their stories. The impact of western civilization on our values, women’s education, newly developed problems facing the educated women, their transformed status within the families and society, and the newly arisen challenges in arranged marriages—figured into the literature created by women writers at the time. Weekly and monthly magazines proliferated and the editors encouraged women writers with great enthusiasm. In that environment, a few women made their mark in literature, rightfully, I might add. Dwivedula Visalakshi is one of them.

Normally, there are two ways for writers express their views in their writings. Some writers present the issues as manifested in real life. Their goal is to highlight the inherent problems in society, which everybody knows yet ignores knowingly or unknowingly. They attempt to highlight the issues in order to create an awareness in the public. There are other writers, who identify the problem and position it in the environment of a hopeful future. They may not offer solutions yet present a positive vision nonetheless. Visalakshi belongs in the latter category. Her stories and novels leave the reader with a satisfaction that he has understood something about our society or human nature.

Dwivedula Visalakshi started writing short stories probably in the late forties. Her first novel, vaikuntapaali, won first prize in an annual competition held by a prominent weekly magazine, Andhra Prabha. It was serialized in the same magazine in 1963 and published as a book in 1965.

The core theme in the novel is adoption. In general, the word adoption carries a vague sense of suspicion. If the child is raised by a family without going through the ritual of adoption, it may create latter. Additionally, if the mother gives birth to another child after the first child is brought home, matters precipitate. I discussed this novel previously. (Click here for the full text.). It would suffice to say the novel illustrates the ensuing problems when a child is not legally adopted and the manner in which some people rationalize their actions.

In her second novel, maarina viluvalu[1] [Transformed values], Visalakshi delineates the status of educated women in our society in the face of changing values both at home and in society.

Janaki is the eldest of five children—three boys and two girls. The novel opens with the second daughter Santha announcing that she passed the Intermediate exam. Mother is not happy however; she is sad since her third son, Sambu, failed the same exam. In her opinion, education for women is not important. Ironically, there is one educated woman in the family and they are enjoying the benefits from her education. Yet, mother does not see it that way. In our society, while the social reformers, both male and female, scream for education for women, there are also some who remain deep rooted in tradition.

A second angle to this theme is the use of women’s property called stridhanam by her family. In the old days, it was the money given to a woman as gift at the time of her wedding, and meant exclusively for her use when a crisis strikes in her life. Using that money by other family members is considered deplorable. In modern times however, this opinion has changed significantly. Families now allow educated women to go out and earn much the same way a man does. However, son continues to command higher status regardless of woman’s earning power. All these variations in the relationship of woman and wealth are built into this novel, providing the readers with a piece of history in the making.

In the next chapter, the pivotal incident, which led Janaki to take up a job, is explained. Previously, her marriage had been arranged and aborted in the middle of the ceremony due to her father’s failure to come up with more money to give to the groom. Since it happened after tying the tali around her neck was over, she was technically a “married woman.” Later at night, Janaki went to the railway station to persuade the groom to return to the wedding arena but to no avail. Eventually, she obtained a job in an orphanage and started supporting the family both economically and emotionally.

The eldest son, Surya Rao, is spineless and constantly worried about public opinion. He does not have the guts to encourage his brother, Prakasam, in his business venture, fearing it might hurt their social status. He cannot accept that his youngest brother, Sambu, is not up to the demands of education. He does not know how to handle the situation. He cannot allow his sister, Santha, into the house after she ran away, and returned home, deceived.

Janaki is the female hero in the novel. She takes on the responsibilities, which should have been Surya Rao’s. She understands Prakasam’s abilities to go into business, Sambu’s inadequacies to grow as an individual, and Santha’s daring spirit.

At the end, the man, who had left Janaki on the wedding day, returns, asks her to go back to him and take care of him and the children of his second wife, now deceased. Janaki tells him that taking care of the children at the orphanage is more satisfying to her than going back to him.

A striking element in this novel is the author’s portrayal of women as strong characters. They are confident and determined to achieve their goals. In contrast, men are portrayed as weak and ineffectual. Prakasam, the second brother, is portrayed as successful but not without plenty of support from Janaki, and his sister-in-law, Kanakam.

Second daughter Santha may have made wrong choices in life yet she is shown as having the courage to pursue what she thought was right for her. In that, she is not the typical naïve young girl, commonly known in our society.

There are two incidents in this novel that need scrutiny. In the first chapter, Janaki goes to the railway station alone in the middle of the night. Recently, a young woman asked me, “Would such act on the part of a woman not be considered inappropriate in the sixties?” From what I know, the readers of the sixties did not raise this question. Secondly, to answer this question, we need to consider the social conditions of the times.

As I mentioned at the outset, the society was swarming with social reformers and political activists who encouraged women not only to learn to read and write but also to participate in the movement. In fact, the active participation by women in all the social and political movements had started even before we achieved independence. Thus, while majority of the women were still rooted in tradition, there were also women, who showed independent spirit. And several writers of the sixties depicted those women in their fiction.

Janaki’s independent spirit and progressive views have been established with the incident at the railway station. Possibly, the elite created strong-willed female characters in fiction by way of providing comfort to the feeble women in our society, even to provoke them into action.

The second incident in this story is the husband’s reappearance. Janaki refuses to go back to him, which again is in step with her character. In those times, this also could be viewed as improbable yet the readers did not raise this question in the sixties.

Last August, I met with the author. She told me of another incident, which possibly happened much later. Visalakshi said that a prominent movie director, C. S. Rao, approached her for permission to make the novel into a movie. He was interested in making the movie but asked her to change the ending. Per his suggestion, Janaki should ask for her husband’s forgiveness and go back to him.

Visalakshi refused to make the change and the director the movie idea. Here I see the traditional mode of thinking in the director and the author’s progressive views in her refusal to change the ending. Strangely, the director had no objection to Janaki going to the railway station alone in the middle of the night.


In the novel, grahanam vidichindi [The Eclipse Ended], written in 1967, the author addresses two issues—firstly, a young woman, Bharati’s psychological trauma after her husband’s sudden and untimely death, and secondly, the ensuing complications brought by the money she had acquired after his death. All her family members, on her side and the husband’s side, offer to help her and protect her money through investments in the products of their choice. Bharati starts suspecting their ulterior motives. While struggling with her emotions, she gets involved with her husband’s best friend and, in course of time, finds out that he also is interested in putting her money to work according to his own preferences. Disgusted, she decides to go to Hrushikesh, where she finds Babaji consoling at first, and later as a man with suggestions to invest her money. Once again, she feels betrayed and packs to leave. Babaji gives her a note on the eve of her departure, which explains the real problem in her mode of thinking. While living in the constant fear of being cheated by everybody, she is doing the same, which is clinging to her money. She realizes that she should consider the alternative possibility—that all the people around her might be genuinely interested in her welfare as well as her money; genuine affection and their interest in her money need not be mutually exclusive.

In her preface to this novel, author made it clear that the argument for widow remarriage in this novel should not be construed as an argument that all widows must remarry necessarily. In her opinion, one may remarry if that contributes toward one’s personal growth and only if that is her choice. In other words, it should be the choice of an individual, and not a rule to be honored by all widows categorically.

In Visalakshi’s short stories, we find an unusual flair in her choice of themes and her narrative technique. She chooses the language and the milieu appropriate for her narration.

Two stories, ittadi binde [brass pot] and teerani korika [unfulfilled wish] illustrate two different angles in the psychology of the rich. In the first story, a wealthy woman goes shopping in her car, just to kill time, and buys a six thousand rupee necklace. On her way home, the car breaks down and she decides to take the bus “for fun.” In the bus, fellow travelers are fascinated by a brass pot, a working class woman bought for thirty rupees. The rich woman is surprised by their fascination of the pot. Eventually, she learns that the young woman is her servant’s wife. Almost impulsively, she invites the couple to live in her outhouse. The story revolves around various emotions the rich woman goes through while watching the couple express their love for each other. The crux of the problem is her inability to sustain her generosity. It is an interesting twist.

In the second story, “teerani korika”, we find a different angle, once again, in the generosity of the rich. The protagonist, Rangaraya Bahaddur is a wealthy zamindar, whose generosity knows no bounds. He never says no to anyone who comes to him with an appeal. A new gentleman, by the name Potti Pantulu, arrives in town. Potti Pantulu needs help but does not go to the zamindar. Zamindar waits since he does not extend his help unless the person comes to him. People around him notice that the zamindar is troubled about something but do not know what it is. While zamindar is waiting for Potti Pantulu to appear at his door, Pantulu wins a huge sum in a lottery. Thus the zamindar’s wish is never fulfilled.

In both the stories, the author did a good job in depicting the psyche of the haves. In both the case, the issues appear to be small for most of us yet of consequence to those who would have to face them.


Normally, a lazy person, who squanders away his life, does not admit he is squandering away his life. In the story, kadalika [The Change], narrated in first person, the protagonist has no problem admitting that he is wasting his life like a branded bull. In Andhra Pradesh, a branded bull carries a ritualistic significance. In some families, as a part of death ritual, a bull is branded and let go on the streets to roam freely. Traditionally, people are not supposed to stop the bull in any manner for any reason.

The young man aware of the resemblance between his conduct and that of the branded bull on the street yet has no will to change his ways. He whiles away his time at the bus stops watching beautiful girls getting in and out of buses. One day, he sees an old man in stinky, tattered clothes getting off the bus. Being old and clumsy, the man reels off the step and falls on the ground. Another bus hurries through the street, running over the old man. The young man notices a medicine bottle and a prescription slip on the ground. He debates for a while in his mind and decides to go out of his way and pick up the two items. He learns from the prescription slip that a girl named Malli is waiting in some hospital for that medicine. He goes to the hospital only to find that Malli is a little girl and she died the night before because the medicine was not delivered in time. The doctor tells the young man that the body will be thrown into the municipal cart if he does not take it. The young man, despite his carefree lifestyle, is moved (the change) for some unknown reason. He takes the girl’s body to the outskirts of the town, buries it and returns home.

At home, his older brother yells at him for returning home late and slaps him. For the first time in his life, his older brother punished him. He notices the change in his brother’s demeanor and is surprised. Both his brother and sister-in-law never punished him, not even so much as raise their voices as long as he acted like a wild, branded bull. Now, for the first time in his life, he acted like a human being, did a good deed and in return, was slapped. The older brother did not know of the young man’s humanitarian act yet instinctively, he acted as if he had recognized the human element in him at that point in his life.

Annayya lifted his hand and slapped me a few times. “I am being so patient but there is no use; your behavior is getting worse each day. Tell me, where you’ve been? What did you do with the money Vadina gave you for books?”

Annayya pulled all the strength in his body and beat me.

I did not reply. I was surprised. I stood there watching him.

This is the first time Annayya has ever laid a hand on me. He did not have the heart to lift a finger as long as I sported the signs of a branded bull. Probably, he was scared that I might squash him with my horns and make a mush of him. Now, the branded bull within me has moved away and I am showing the signs of a human being, he has gotten the strength and the interest to punish me.

Had he punished me like this before, I would have thrown my head indifferently and walked away. But, his chiding today got the better of me completely. With that whack, my stupor has gone completely. They would not believe me even if I tell them what happened. Annayya knows me only too well to believe my words; I would not stand a chance!

“I lost the money. I was searching for it all this while,” I said.

Annayya knew that I was lying but he did not have the strength to beat me anymore. I knew I lied to them. There was no point in telling the truth. The old man’s soul would know that it was a lie. Malli, who was lying alone in the tamarind grove, knew it was a lie. But, they are not in a position to show up here and say that it was a lie.

This is what I liked about the story. The author’s keep perception into human nature. Self-analysis in a self-centered person is not an everyday event. However, it is not completely unlikely. That is what stories do—bring out the corners in huma psyche that is ignored in everyday lives.

As long as he acted like an unfettered bull, his brother and sister-in-law treated him just the way they would a branded bull -feed him and let him roam on the streets. After he imbibed a bit of human quality—kindness, they viewed him as a human being. Implicit are two perceptions: First, one may sense the change in another person intuitively. Second is the human value, which is to acknowledge that there are consequences for one’s actions. If a person is considered a human being, the other valuses such as discipline follow. Discipline means reward for good deeds and punishment for bad behavior. In this instance, the young man came home late and for that reason must be punished. He has done a good deed but the brother is not aware of it. Maybe the young man will be rewarded after the elder brother learns of it.

On a slightly different note, I must say I ran into some glitches while translating this story. It is filled with long, meandering sentences, and, at times, too much information is packed into just a few lines. There are inconsistencies in a couple of places. For instance, the narrator says the stores were closed because it was Sunday. If it was Sunday, why did the young man go to the bus stop to watch the college girls get off the bus. Are not the colleges closed on Sundays?

This is one of the traits we see in the sixties’ stories. In the story, “Travelling in a Ladies’ compartment”, published in March 2010 on this site, the narrator switches between the first and third persons in a couple of places. When I pointed out the inconsistency to the author, Subbalakshmi, she did not mind my changing the lines to make the narrative consistent.

“The first sale” is a short short story (3 pages) woven around a single incident. In the wee small hours of dawn, a graveyard watchman is losing hope because he has not had even one sale in the entire night. Unless he receives one dead body and collects the fee, he will not be able to buy medicine for his sick child. In the last minute, he sees a man approaching him with a bundle in his hand. Much to his dismay, it is his child, for whom he was hoping to buy medicine. It is time for the next guard. The next guard comes, looks at the dead body and is elated that he has a sale even before he started his shift!

I believe this is one of the few stories where burial ground is used powerfully as background. The story should remind the native speakers of the story of Harischandra, who also is forced to insist on receiving the fee for burying his own son. The guard is aptly named, Veeri gadu, which reminds us of Veerabahu in the story of Harischandra.

Like the wealth, death has several angles and the author succeeded in highlighting those angles which are usually not noticed or noticed but ignored. Visalakshi possesses a remarkable skill in crafting her stories. Her narrative oozes the native flavor.

She has traveled Malasia, America, Britain, and Switzerland. She has working knowledge of Hindi and English.

To her credit, she has 13 novels, 4 anthologies of short stories, and an anthology of essays, Malasia: then and now. Some of her novels have been translated into Kannada.

She has reviewed about 200 books, under the pseudonym, Sumana. Her works have been subjects for several Ph.D.s and M.Phil. degrees.

Visalakshi has received the prestigious Gruhalakshmi Swarnakankanam award in 1966, Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi award in 1982, and honorary D. Litt. from Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University in 1998 among several other awards.

I met her in August, 2009. She was willing to meet with me but no interviews she said. She further explained her reasons for not giving interviews. “These days, I am unable to recall the details. It would not be right on my part to give wrong information. Therefore, I decided not to give interviews”

I asked for permission to translate her stories. She said, “I can say I have no objection. However, it is not appropriate for me to do so, since I have donated all my books with full rights to Visakhapatnam public library. You should contact Bhamidipati Ramagopalam and Varahala Chetty, members of the board of trustees of the public library and obtain permission from them. I am sure they will have no objection but you should contact them.”

Accordingly, I met with Bhamidipati Ramagopalam and Varahala Chetty in the next two days. Both of them assured me it was not a problem. Mr. Varahala Chetty jotted a line on a piece of paper, which said “With the kind permission of the copyright holders, Visakhapatnam public library” and gave it to me.

After I returned home, I translated the story kadalika and mailed a copy to the author as a matter of courtesy. She wrote back to me that the story in question was not her choice for translation and that I must not publish it. Probably it was one of those instances of memory lapse. Regardless the copyright holders have given me the necessary permission, I discarded the translation.


Published on, June 2010

[1] This novel is discussed at length in my book, Telugu Women Writers: 1950-1975 (a critical study). Author, 2008. (Available at

Andallu and the Onions by I. V. S. Atchyutavalli

Andallu stood before the mirror, tucked a huge bunch of roses in her long braid, and finished the braid with the gold bells tying tightly at the end. Rolling her big beautiful eyes all over the image in the mirror, she watched herself as if she was taken by her beauty. She did not notice the arrival of Lakshmanacharyulu or the plantain leaf packet in his hand.

Lakshmanam watched his wife’s absorption with her beauty and coughed a small cough.

Andallu jerked turned around; her wide eyes became wider. “Ah, you! How long since you’ve come,” she said in a kind of dragging tone and put the coffee flask on the table.

“What does it matter how long I’ve been here? Been standing so long, my legs are hurting; yet you won’t let go of your love for your primary husband for me,” he replied somberly.

Andallu twitched.

“Don’t worry my beautiful! I meant the full-length mirror fastened to the dresser your primary husband, no other person. Am I not second to him? Don’t you do all those things only in front of him? Whether it is a new sari, flowers in your hairdo, the dot on your forehead and the eye make up—the entire make up is only for him, isn’t that right? You don’t even look at me without his permission.”

“Uh, go away. You’re too much. You are turning into a poet par excellence,” she said, chuckling.

“Haven’t our great teachers (predecessors) stated that the poet may see what the sun cannot? Am I not a poet? My namesake, Lakshmana kavi, translated the Bhartruhari’s poetry and left at that. I would have written a lot more inculcating all the three rasas—the sensuous, the liberating, and the devotional,” he said, smiling.

Andallu saw the packet on the table and asked, “What’s that?”

“Things you like very much, Devi!” he said, teasingly.

“Things I like very much?” she said, warily.

There was a reason for Andallu to be apprehensive. Andallu was pregnant for the first time. She was five months along. She was a beautiful woman to begin with. And, with the pregnancy and the morning sickness, she became even more beautiful, that is thinner and more delicate like a kasiratnam vine.

Lakshmanam loved her immensely because she was his first cousin and also pregnant. He was the only son to his parents. Now, within one year of his marriage, he was going to have a son to prolong his pedigree. Right away, he wrote to his mother and mother-in-law. Andallu had said, “don’t” but he did not listen to her pleas.

On the previous day, Andallu was bored and so went to her neighbor Subhadra’s house. Subhadra was frying potato pieces and onions. Andallu’s mouth watered not the fried dark brown potato pieces but for the onion pieces which glowed brilliantly in the steel pan.

Subhadra continued to blabbing this and that and asking questions in between. None of the words went into Andallu’s ears. All her eyes were glued to the onion pieces in the steel pan. She was lost in imagining the onion bits in her mouth, even savored each drop of the sweet juice scrumptiously; her tongue experienced the taste of hot pepper as well.

“Fifth month along, I suppose. How come your mother has not come yet? First time pregnant, you might be yearning for various things to eat. If mother is here, she will know what appeals to your tongue and makes it for you. You are a loner by nature. You know what they say—young wife’s managing the household is like splinters ablaze; no steady, lasting flames. If you feel like eating something, tell me—chutney or curry, anything. I’ll make it for you. You are no different from my younger sister. Anyway, you are still young, why bother about traditions? You know, these men run to the hotels and eat all kinds of junk and nobody questions them. Again the same fellows go at it, isn’t that great?” said Subhadra warmly.

At once, Andallu wanted to say, “Please, akka, let me have a bit of the curry” but again thought, Cha, how can I ask?” Subhadra would announce the story to the entire town. “I might as well buy the ingredients and make the curry myself,” she told herself and returned home, fettering her thoughts tight in her head.

Thus when her husband said the packet contained something she wanted, she thought it might be onions; she was worried that he had found out about her craving for onions. The reason for her fear was Andallu talked in her sleep sometimes; it became a pattern for her. Sometime back, she had wished for a red gold-threaded sari and that night in her dream, she had said, “I wish I could wear a red gold-threaded sari and go to the movies with you.” The next morning, soon after he woke, he went to the store and bought a red gold-threaded sari. At that time also, she had asked as always, what the packed had contained. He had responded the same way, “Something you always wanted.” She had opened the packet and was surprised to see the red sari. He had explained to her later about her speaking in her sleep. Now Andallu feared that she had talked in her sleep possibly. For that reason, she could not reach the leaf packet and open it. She was scared that she might find a pesarattu or onion in it. No matter how much her heart craved for it, how much her husband loved her, she did not have the courage to ask him for something that would flout the family traditions. She looked at him with hesitation and embarrassment.

“Come on, open it and see,” he said teasingly.

That frightened her even more.

“Ah, Andi,

Oh, Andi,

Open and see Andi,

See and take Andi.”

Lakshmanam kept humming a Punjabi style tune as he unwound the thread around the packet.

Andallu felt sick in the stomach with fear. She ran to the backyard, threw up, washed and sat down in a chair, wiping her face with a towel.

Lakshmanam brought a spoonful of maadi fruit juice to calm her nausea. Then he said, “You’ve not opened the packet yourself” and finished opening it. It was a bunch of swarna sampenga flowers. Quite taken by their aroma, Andallu, said, “ha!“ and took a deep breath.
The next day, after her husband had left for work, Andallu bought onions and garlic from the vegetable vendor. She packed them carefully in a newspaper and hid them in the midst of the stack of her saris. She planned to fry potatoes and onions in the evening and eat. She cut the vegetables and was about to fry.

Suddenly, Lakshmanam appeared out of nowhere like a villain of the piece.

“Andi, I booked tickets for the movie Navarang. Quick, go and change. We can eat after we returned,” he said.

Andallu who was planning to make the onion curry and eat before he came, was dumbstruck. He did not tell her about it in advance. Anyway, she quickly threw the onion and potato cuts in to a dish, washed her hands first with cow dung, then with soap and returned. Poor thing, she did not have the pleasure of watching a movie on that day.

The next day, she told her this is not way to do it. She started making pakora as soon as her husband had left for work. She put the frying pan on the stove, poured oil into the pan and turned the heat on. Then she mixed chick pea flour with chili powder and salt; started chopping ginger, green chillies, and onion finely.

Just in that moment, Vimalamma, a neighbor, pushed the door open and walked in. She laid the sitting plank and asked, “What are you doing, pregnant woman? Are you making some snack? Is that Bajji?”

Andallu hesitated for a moment; then told herself, “She is here, so what? I feel like eating and so I’ll make them.” Then, she hesitated again. “Gosh, isn’t she going to announce to the entire town?” By nature, Andallu was a nervous woman by nature. She thought for a second and in one quick move, she threw away the onion pieces, cut green plantain and made bajji.

Vimalamma gave her a couple of sweet mysorepak pieces, “Here, eat.”

Andallu put several pieces of bajji on a steel plate and gave them to Vimalamma, “Here, give them to your kids.”

By the time this event ended … the maid came … then it was time to cook supper … Lakshmanam arrived … The day was over with the routine as always.

Throughout the night, Andallu dreamt about onion fries and pakora.

Ever since she woke up, she waited for her husband to leave for office.

As soon as he left, she shut the doors tight and ground mung beans, chopped ginger, green peppers and onions finely and made pesarattu,, well almost … Before she poured the dough on the grill to make pesarattu, she heard somebody banging on the door. Whoever could be? Andallu was nearly in tears. She sighed, threw the onion pieces out the back door, scrubbed her hands with dirt until the smell was gone and then opened the door.

Her mother-in-law Ragavamma and sister-in-law Thayaru were standing in front of her.

Andallu’s face turned pale.

‘“What are you doing, Vadina! My brother is not home and you’ve shut the door and started cooking all your favorite dishes?” Thayaru said, teasingly.

“Ha, that’s funny! It surely looks like she is eating! Andallu! You’re so skinny, why? Seems like you’ve lost plenty of weight. If you’re too shy to ask me, why didn’t you write to your mother, you silly,” said Ragavamma, putting her hand round Andallu’s shoulders lovingly.

After that a few days went by wildly with things like bathing and eating, Ragavamma making dosa with the dough Andallu had prepared, distributing the sweets she brought—the sugar minapasunne, ariselu, chakrakeli bananas—to neighbors, and so on. They stayed for two months, Andallu was seven months pregnant.

During those two months, every time Lakshmanam got ready to go to the store, Andallu’s face looked restless as if she wanted to say something. He tried to coax her into saying it but she never said a word. He was restless.

Towards the end of the seventh month, her mother Ravanjamma and sister-in-law Alivelu came to bring her home for delivery. The house buzzed with relatives and festivities and special dishes for the next four days. Yet there was no sign of the pregnant woman getting her craving satisfied. Whom she could tell and what could she tell? Had she told? … Wouldn’t that be ridiculous, regardless they were her relatives? She thought of telling her mother or sister-in-law about her craving. Each time her heart pushed her forward her tongue pulled back.

Her mother-in-law said to Andahllu’s mother, “Vadina, talk to your daughter and find out what she wants. I’ve made several dishes but she ate none with relish. You are the mother, you should know. If she tells what she wants, I can make it for her. She is the only daughter-in-law for me. At this age, I am not happy unless I make her favorite dishes and feed her.”

“Ha, ha ha!” Ravanjamma burst into a big laugh and turned to her daughter, “Andi, why don’t you tell us what you want. Looking for the two bits mom dishes out (smacking) or what?”


“Come on, Vadina, say it. If you don’t say and have it now, the baby would be born with puss in the ear. People like us are supposed to fulfill all the yearnings before a pregnant woman turns mom,” said Alivelu, laughing.


“Is that true, I mean the puss in baby’s ear?” said Andallu looking worried; her eyes and face were taut.


“What? Are you not convinced still? Or, is your heart craving for fish soup or something for heaven’s sake? We have the saying—Each one of them is a Vaishnavite, yet the crab soup disappeared, ha, ha,” Alivelu went on laughing.


Mother and Vadina told Andallu to pack the box so could leave soon.


Andallu shook her head shyly and said, “Wait for a few more days.”


Both Thayaru and Alivelu broke into a big laugh. “We know, we know the whole story. Your heart is yearning to go to movies and walks with my brother, after we are gone. Isn’t that right? That is the reason you want to avoid going with us,” they teased her.


Andallu pouted, assumed a bharatanatyam style posture of anger, went into the backyard and sat down.


“Don’t sit outside in the open at the twilight time; this is the time for demons supposedly. It’s okay with us if you’re angry with us, just don’t sit here in the out,” said Alivelu, tucking a bunch of chrysanthemum flowers in Andallu’s hairdo and stroking on her cheeks fondly.


The next day the house was pretty quiet. Andallu started getting back to her routine sluggishly; she had outgrown the habit in the past two months.

Lakshmanam sat on the doorframe and kept watching her ample mien, her eyes bashfully drooping, and the cheeks glowing with blush off and on for no reason.


In Andallu’s mind well-cooked onions bits were glowing and spreading a heartening aroma around. She looked at her husband with salivating tongue.


“What is it, Andi? You look strange, why?” Lakshmanam asked.


“Nothing. What do you suggest for the side dish?” she asked. In that moment, she wished with all her heart that her husband would bring onions and garlic, make a heap of them in front of her, and tell her, “Here, make soup with some onions, fry some with potato cubes, save some to make pesarattu in the evening, make pakora with a few in the afternoon, fry bits of garlic and toss into the lentil chutney and bits of fried onions in gongura chutney; also, add a few fried bits of telakapindi powder (a by-product in sesame oil production) and chili powder.”


Lakshmanam laughed and said, “What does it matter what I want nowadays? You do whatever you feel like eating.”


After he finished eating, Lakshmanam was ready to leave for office. He called Andallu to find a handkerchief for him.


“Look in the chest of drawers. I am in madi sari. I cannot change until after I am done eating,” she said.


He went into the bedroom and tossed and turned all the clothes in the chest. Suddenly, a paper packet fell on to the floor. He opened it; onions! At first he was surprised and then walked into the kitchen. “Andi, the kerchief smells of something,” he said, smiling.

“What smell? Two days back at the festivities time, I distributed some scent bottles and stowed away the remaining two bottles in the chest. Why? Aren’t they good? They called it Rehana or Nurjahan or something, I don’t know for sure,” she said, lowering her head and eating dinner.


“Hum, it would’ve been nice if it was the scent. This smell is something else,” he said, pretending to be thinking.


Then Andallu understood what he was saying. Hurt, she looked pitiably into his mocking eyes.


“Couldn’t you tell me? Don’t I deserve that much of a chance to satisfy your desire?” he said affectionately.


Later in the evening, on his way home from work, he went straight to the hotel.


“Do you have onion pesarattu?”


“We make them only in the mornings, Sir,” the server said.


“How about pakora?”


“We have it with cashew.”


“Let it be. Have sambar to go with idli?” Lakshmanam asked, annoyed.


“No Sir. Today’s sambar has drum sticks,” server said, a little surprised at Lakshmanam’s love of onions.


“To hell with the idiot face! … Stupid town, stupid, stupid town. What else can we expect after driving away all the Tamil friends out of the state? We have such a huge town yet only one hotel!” thus cursing, he expressed his brotherly love for Tamilians.


Next morning, he headed for the hotel as soon as he woke up.


“Come, Sir, come. Be the first to eat, the fresh, super fresh pesarattu awash with onions,” server went in and brought four pesarattus with extra onions.


Lakshmanam carefully packed them in his kerchief and dashed home in a whiz.

“Andi, Andi, come quick,” he called out for her, bubbling with excitement.


Andallu came in, quite pleased for her husband’s affection and care for her, and devotion and attention towards her. Her eyes were wet. She was about to unwind the thread on the packet.


“Girl, what are you doing?” her brother Venkatacharyulu showed up.


Andallu was baffled. She was not sure whether she should be happy to see her brother, whom she had not seen for a while or feel sorry that her heart’s desire remained unfulfilled.


“Girl, they told me that today is an auspicious day. Sastrulu told mother that moodham (adverse days per lunar calendar) sets in soon. She asked me to bring you home today. Bava! Don’t lose heart about her. I’ll send her back along with the son in the third month, I promise,” Venkatacharyulu said.


Andallu looked at her husband, disheartened.


Lakshmanam watched her as she tossed the packet out the window sadly and said, “All right. Write to me regularly.”


After coming to her natal home, it became even more stressful for Andallu. The place was out and out rustic to the core. In that village, her people were the acharyas (religious mentors). With whom she could share wish?


As her pregnancy advanced, her fear that the baby could have puss in his ear was getting stronger than the wish to eat onions. Whether her eyes were open or shut, all she could see was a beautiful baby boy cute as jackfruit and his ears wet with puss! That became the constant vision in her mind’s eye! That was her doing too, isn’t it? How is it going to be resolved?


She was suffering inexplicable pain in her heart. Lakshmanam was writing letters and asking, “How are you? Has your desire been fulfilled yet?” What could say? She had not told him about possibility of the puss in the baby’s ear, and that was better. Had he known, he would have made her eat onions, regardless how many people protested. In such matters he could be very aggressive. As she recollected her husband’s range of capabilities, she got goose bumps all over.


It was vaikunta ekadasi day (special holiday for Hindus). Ravanjamma and Alivelu fasted per tradition. Since Andallu reached full term, Alivelu cooked food only for Andallu and Venkatacharyulu.


In the evening, Venkatacharyulu said to his mother, “Amma, I am taking the cart to Palem. The movie Bhakta Ambarisha is playing. Do you want to come?”


Andallu was elated at the mention of a movie by her brother as if she found something that had been lost for a while. “Yes, amma, you should go. You’ll be back by eleven anyways,” She said eagerly.


“I’ll stay with Andallu. Yes, attha, you go,” Alivelu said, being the daughter-in-law in the house, she felt it was her duty.


Andallu insisted over and again. She said, “Just go, you both should go. What is the harm if you two are gone for a few hours? If I am not here, you would have to take turns anyways. But now I am here, and I will take care of the house. You go,” and convinced them—both of them to leave together. After they were gone, she closed the front door and went to the neighbor Sastrulu’s house through the back door.


Baamma garu invited her tenderly. “Come dear, come. Sit down,” she said, peeling onions.


“What are you doing, baamma garu? Where is Raji? She is not home?” Andallu said.


“Would she be here? As soon as your brother Venkati brought the cart, she jumped in and sat in it … Who knows when god will give you relief?” she said, by way of comforting Andallu.


“What are making for supper?” asked Andallu casually.


“See these? Making soup with these saligrams (precious stones of worship),” she said, pointing to the onions in her hand.


Something on the stove made a hissing noise.


“You sit here. I think the rice is boiling over. I’ll remove the excess water and be back,” said bamma garu and went into the kitchen.


Andallu grabbed a few onion bits, hid them in her sari palloo and said, “Baamma garu, my back is hurting. I’ll go home and lie down,” and left quickly.


“Wait, I’ll give you coconut sweet balls,” bamma’s words vanished into the thin air.


Andallu took a bit of thick tamarind juice in a pan, added a little jaggery, onion pieces, green chilli pieces, salt and turmeric and put it on the stove and sat there fanning the flames. As it started simmering, she held her two hands over the dish to catch the flavor, brought them to her nose and enjoyed the aroma, swallowing the water in her mouth. She kept thinking—the soup must simmer first then cool down and then she should eat to her fill!


Just below the patio, the parijatham buds were opening one after another. The almond tree in the backyard shook its leaves as if it understood the circumstances and her condition. In that breezy evening, the potato and onion fry, pesarattu, pakora, and lentil chutney were hovering around in steel plates in front of her eyes. Andallu suddenly curled up; something in her stomach hurt; she felt like throwing up. Finally, she understood the main problem.


Quickly she took the hot dish from the stove, emptied it into the rim under the almond tree, and lay back against the jute-rope cot. She called bamma garu for help.


That evening, Ravanjamma garu and Alivelu returned from the movies and found a blue-collar midwife Veeramma giving bath to the baby boy, the size of a juicy mango fruit and bamma garu tying a piece of cloth around the new-mother’s waist.


Alivelu was overwhelmed as she watched her newly born nephew. Andallu, eyelids wavering lightly and she brimming with the love of a new mother, said to Alivelu, “Vadina, check the baby’s ear. Is there puss?”


The words, spoken in a feeble voice got lost in the resounding voice of Ravanjamma; she was saying, “Where is the metal dish, Andallu?” The voice sounded like a bell.


Alivelu could not hear Andallu’s question.


Lakshmanam received the telegram sent by his brother-in-law Venkatacharyulu. At once, he rushed all his colleagues to the hotel and ordered onion pesarattu and pakora for everybody.


“Lakshmanam, you’re celebrating your son’s birth, you should feed us sweets but not this hot stuff that scorches our tongues. Come, bring us sweets,” his friends said.


“You finish these items first. We’ll have sweets too,” Lakshmanam said, overwhelmed and bubbling like the sea.

His friends could not figure out why Lakshmanam ordered those items; yet, it was lunch time and they all were starving. So, they ate.

Lakshmanam could see the satisfied face of Andallu and the baby vaguely. He smiled to himself contentedly.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, June 2010.


All this, Just For You! by Nidadavolu Malathi

Snowstorm is blasting away! Trees and cars on the street are barely visible.

Dharani is sitting by the window and watching the blast. “Thank goodness it is Sunday,” she told herself for the fourth time. Or else, it would have been a hell of a ride to work. She is brooding over the argument she had with her husband Dinakar last night. It is still raw in her mind. Her eyes turn towards the bedroom. There, he is sleeping like a baby; not a care in the world as far as he is concerned. It is getting close to nine. There is no sign of waking up anytime soon.

The snowbirds are heading south announcing the arrival of winter in their own language. They form a sharp cone, like soldiers in a drill session; for Dharani, it is a sight to watch. She watches them every year; the fascination never ends. She turns her eyes to the squirrels on the yard. They are busy collecting nuts and transporting them to their abodes at the base of trees. Somewhere she has read that they would collect them just enough for one winter. Wonder why humans do not have that kind of sense. Man is called rational animal. But then, who said that? Man, of course! Only we have to certify ourselves! Maybe the birds and animals are laughing at us for being so full of ourselves!

The day Dharani set foot in America, it is a fond memory. Her husband doted on her and she was elated. He kept asking, “What do you want?” “What would you like to have?” “What is your wish?” and provided it on the double. He bought new furniture and new window curtains. He was proud to show off his new wife, introducing her as “my missus.” She could not help thinking, “Wow, what a great love he has for me!”

He tells her ten times a day that she is gorgeous and that she, in her new sari, is blinding him. He repeats, “I love you” as if it were a tirumantra. One day he even asked her why she does not say she loves him. “Do you not love me?” he asked.

Dharani laughed casually, “I don’t know. Maybe because we don’t use that kind of language back home.”

Lady luck smiled on him at the same time as his better half joined him in America. A huge project fell into his lap. He flipped over. “All this, because of your luck. You must have worshipped the gods with gold blossoms in your previous life. That is why you have been blessed with a genius like me,” he said, inhaling air into his lungs and expanding his chest.

Dharani laughed happily.

All good things do come to an end. Dinu’s project ended. After that, he had a couple of other projects. Two years went by in a jiff. Currently, he is waiting for another good project. The word “good” is notable. After two big projects, he is in no mood to accept small projects. He is determined to accept only the projects that could put his abilities to the best use. He is waiting for that colossal project.

Dharani’s thoughts are traveling in a different direction. At first, she did not mind. As the time went by, a tiny fear has started sprouting, grown into branches, and now stood as a huge tree in front of her eyes. It is frightening. When Dinu passed two or three projects, it did not bother her. She even seemed to have understood his logic. “Of course, who would not want a job that is challenging to his abilities?” She told herself. Days, weeks, and months went by. Now it is getting scary as the time “he is unemployed” is stretching to new length each day. The thought that it actually decreases his prospects for big projects is chewing her up. Her heart is writhing inside with the question, “Why Dinu, who claims to be a man of unusual talent, cannot see that?”

One of those days, Dinu received a call from a Microsoft subsidiary for an interview. Dinu did not go.

“Why?” Dharani asked, narrowing her eyes. Anybody else would have jumped at the prospect.

“That manager and I attended the same school. He does not have even a half of my IQ. Why would I want to work for him? Absurd,” he said.

Dharani was surprised. He did not even go for the interview; he is already speaking as if he had gotten the job! She did not say it aloud though. After four weeks or so, he received another call from another company and again he disregarded it. Why? Because the CEO in the company is his friend’s brother. He went to Colorado for an interview but dismissed it as stupid job. His reason: he did not like the neighborhood where the office is located.

Dharani is getting more and more worried by the minute. She wonders whether he has any interest in work at all. As the saying goes udyogam purushalakshanam [Work is a characteristic of man]. Nowadays, not only men but women also are not whiling away their time sitting at home and clipping nails. How could anybody sit around doing nothing, as if he hung his head on the hook like a shirt?

Dharani could not do so. She joined the workforce within a year after she had landed in America.

Since she had a master’s degree in biology, she tried to get into Ph.D. program in an American university. She was told that she needed to study a few M.Sc. courses first. Unwilling to repeat the courses, she started looking for jobs. Her prospects were quite good in Minneapolis and Chicago but she did not want to move because it would hurt her husband’s work. Of course, she had seen couples living in different cities and commuting for weekend get-together but she was not interested in that lifestyle. Therefore, she took a part-time position as a customer rep in a local bank. No, it was not a dream job; not something, she was dying for. She took it only to escape from the house-arrest condition within the four walls. The Bank manager recognized her talent soon enough and made her full-time supervisor within six months. The income is good.

Dinu is not like that. It is not in his nature to settle for anything but the top position. The day Dharani told him that she was taking a position at the bank he was displeased. He said, “I would never settle for such a crummy job.” In his mind, that was the worst of the worst lot.

Dharani is upset. The entire situation is annoying. This man recites I love you mantra endlessly yet does not care how I feel in reality. He is not even looking for a job. What am I supposed to think of him? Given the current economy, even those who have jobs are worried sick about keeping them, and here this man is hoping that somebody comes looking for him and hand him a high rank position on a silver platter.


Dharani is reading today’s newspaper. She sees a job in the classifieds and says to her husband, “Did you see this?” pushing the paper towards him.

It ticks him off. He flips. “What’s the matter? When did it come to this? You’re looking for jobs for me? Are you saying I am incapable of finding a job for myself?” he shouts.

Dharani is taken aback. “Did I say you cannot look for it by yourself? I happen to see it and so asked you if you saw it,” she says coyly.

“What made you think that I did not see it?”

“’Cause the paper has arrived just now and I picked it up first.”

“Why don’t you say what is on your mind? You think this is fun for me, I enjoy goofing around like this, right?”

“Why do you put words into my mouth? Did I say that?”

“Well, then give it to me straight. Come on. Does it bother you that I am in your face all day? You may think so now. Just wait and see. After I land a dazzling position, and get too busy to be home, you yourself will complain that you hardly see, if at all. To speak the truth, do you know how many women are wailing that their husbands are hardly ever home?”

“Alright. It’s my fault. I will never speak again.”

Dharani goes into the next room. As they say, one word begets another—that is the way with the words. She is trying the best she could to be patient yet the issue is piercing her heart. Yes, family life is meant to be “for worse and for better”. It also means talking openly and freely. How can she put up with him when he is distorting every word she speaks? He keeps asking her what she wants. Does she not also want to know what he wants and help him to achieve that goal? What is wrong with her wanting to help him?

Her mode of thinking is plausible all right but she is lost as to how to convey it to him. Here in America everybody says, “Talk, talk.” How can she talk when he is in no mood to listen? Does it not take two to “talk”? If one person is willing to talk the other must be willing to listen as well. And that is the problem. It is not in his character. It just is not in him to listen.

Dinu calms down after an hour or so. “Poor thing. She is a simpleton, no street smart,” he tells himself and comes back to her. He says coaxingly, “Look, how can I take it if you act like you don’t believe in me?”

“Did I say I don’t believe in you?” Dharani says softly.

“Think about it. You know what Dinakar means. The Sun, who submerges the world with his brilliant rays and wakens, right? That is who I am. A day comes when a big company realizes my brilliance and invites me to help them. Then you will tell yourself, ‘I gave him hard time only because of my stupidity,’” he says laughing loudly.

Dharani does not find it amusing. He seems to believe it with all his heart, for all she could see.

“Okay, I agree you meant well. I am sorry I raised my voice. It will never happen again,” he apologizes and reassures her. He also suggests that she should go in and change. He wants to treat her to a fancy dinner at a high-class hotel.

She goes in and puts on her favorite dress—milky white blouse with light blue flowers and matching pants. She returns into the living room.

He looks and says, “Nice,” but the tone says, uh.

“What? You don’t like it?” she asks.

“You look awesome in the maroon dress,” he says. He bought it on one of those occasions—when a man feels obliged to bring a present to appease his wife.

Maroon is not her favorite color. “I wore it last week when we went to visit Prakash. I’ve worn it so many times. So, I thought I would wear this for a change. Okay, I will change. No big deal,” she goes in.

Deep down at heart, she wishes, “Why can’t he say, ‘No big deal, you don’t have to change.’ If he is so particular, why not buy another dress in the colors I like?” She even mentioned it once.

“What do you mean? You don’t think my selection is super?” he asked.

Dharani changes into maroon color dress and returns. “See how stunningly beautiful you are! The people at the hotel will forget to eat, watching you,” he says exuberantly.

“You and your silly talk,” she says.

The next day also Dinu continues to apologize repeatedly. That evening he says, “I will cook the dinner this evening. I will make eggplant fry, your favorite.”

“Never mind. I will make stuffed eggplant your way,” Dharani says.

“Let’s make both varieties,” he says jubilantly.

Dharani’s heart aches. No doubt, it is easy to make two dishes with the same vegetable. Would it not be nice if it is possible to wear two dresses at the same time?

She finishes cooking and sets the table. Dinu comes to the table. “The eggplant tastes soooo good. When you are angry, the dishes turn out tastier,” he says flippantly.

His words are exhilarating to her ears. Her food pleases his taste buds. The air clears for the moment.


Then a day comes when Dharani musters the courage to say to him, “You obviously are not interested in working under anybody. There are no companies that can offer you a position commensurate with your qualifications. Why worry that nobody recognizes your talent. Start your business and prove your brains. Then you are your own boss plus you will be the man that can provide jobs for a couple of others to boot.”

The words shock Dinu. He jerks his head like a goaded cobra and gapes at her, narrowing his eyes. He wonders, “Is she saying that I am good-for-nothing bum? Is she making fun of me?” He is furious.

“Shut up,” he shouts at the top of his voice.

Dharani shakes like a tender mango sprout. Her heart races. She has never seen him so irate. She has never thought of him even capable of that level rage. Frankly, she has never seen in all her life anybody blasting off like that. Her parents had always been very gentle with her. During her childhood, when her father had been exasperated, all he would say, “You are so stubborn. What am I supposed with you?” and nothing more. When her classmates at school said something like “My father would flank me alive” or “My mother would beat me up”, Dharani could not believe that such things could occur in real life. At school, her teachers had just loved her. She had been a model student.

Dharani stares back. Blood rushes from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head.

He thrusts his face into hers and says, “I don’t need your advice. Understand? Never talk to me like that again.”

She pulls away from his face and shudders. The globe whirls around in front of her eyes. She hurries out of the room.

Dinu drops the coffee cup on the table and whizzes out. Coffee spills over, stains the papers on the table and the carpet underneath.

He returns at midnight, after wandering around aimlessly for several hours. He has cooled down by now. He apologizes to his wife again and again, “Sorry, terribly sorry. I am soooo sorry. Even I didn’t know that I possess anger that intense, nit until now.” He also promises her that he would never let that happen again.

“Okay,” she says.


At work, Stella notices that something is bothering her. Dharani seems to be miles away.

Stella is a new rep, joined just a few days back. She likes Dharani and often seeks her help in work. She has heard a lot about Indian culture and is curious about our ways.

“Are you okay?” Stella asks Dharani.

Her kind words blow on Dharani as a cool breeze; it is soothing. In that moment, it feels like Stella is the only person in the world who cares about her. Not that she has nobody. Back home, there is a host of them—mother, father, sister, brothers, and childhood friends with whom she had shared food and bed. Yet, in this particular moment, there is no one but Stella who would ask her, “How are you?” Well, there is one person but he does not think about it, or so it seems.

Dharani’s heart mourns quietly. “I am okay,” she says softly, lowering her eyes.

Stella waits for a few seconds and says, “Almost lunch time. Let’s take early lunch.”

Dharani says okay, and gets up. They both sit down in a corner in the coffee room. The room is empty. Other members have not come yet.

Dharani narrates the last night’s events briefly and says, “I don’t know what to do. He is young, at the prime of his life, very well qualified, and yet sits at home doing nothing. It is several months now. I can’t understand his attitude.”

“In your country, wouldn’t they consider it incompetent for a young, educated man to sit idly at home like that?”

“I am not saying that is always the case. I think it is the same in your country too, I mean two generations back. Man is the breadwinner and woman the homemaker. Things are changing in India too. Probably, my grandmother would have called him a bum and told him that he should be ashamed to live off of a woman’s earnings. In my mother’s time, she started working and my father helped her, nominally though. Currently, men are participating actively in domestic chores. However, there are no separate accounts like in this country, not yet anyway.” Dharani tries to explain the situation in India in general terms. Things seem to be getting clearer even to herself as she spoke.

Stella ducks the issue of the state of affairs two generations back and says, “Here in our country nobody sits at home doing nothing. They find some job, one way or another. Nobody sits waiting for somebody to come and hand over a job on a silver platter. In recent times, the stay-at-home dad trend is growing. That happens only when they have children and the wife has a better job than the husband. Even then, the husband finds some kind of work suitable for his skills.”

Dharani is quiet for a few seconds and then says, almost mumbling, “I apologized.”

“What did he say?”

Dharani shakes her head. “He keeps telling me that he loves me.”

“Well, mere words are nothing. It should show in action too. If it rained, the ground will be wet, doesn’t it?” Stella pauses and then adds, “I would suggest counseling.”

“No, that certainly is not going to work,” Dharani says quickly and then adds, ‘He thinks he is the greatest genius on earth. How can he agree to seek help from somebody else?”

“He will learn,” says Stella.

Dharani nods. Both return to their desks.

After she is done for the day, Dharani heads home but not in a mood to go home straight. As she drives past Lake Mendota, she pulls over, and gets out of the car. She sits close to the water, watching the sailboats on the horizon, children playing in the water while parents are standing nearby and chatting … The entire scenery is quite comforting. Nevertheless, she is beset with distressing thoughts. Last night, as they were about to go to bed, Dinu said, “This is all only for you, only for your sake. Don’t you see, this is all for you.” She can’t help wondering. Is this all really for me? Is this what I wanted in life? What did I want in life? Really! What would have happened if I had not come to America? I would have become a Reader in some college by now. I would not have to wash dishes and clothes as I am doing now. Additionally, I would have attained a better status in society. So also, more money and the comforts money could buy. … And then? Can’t say. Then again, what have I accomplished here? I took a job, which has nothing to do with my biology education. They offered me the position because of my master’s degree, not because of the knowledge I had acquired in a specific field.

At work, in the early days, one of her coworkers asked, “What does your husband do?”

“Nothing,” she replied casually.

“Nothing?” her coworker was shocked.

Dharani looked at her face and realized that the joke was lost. She quickly corrected her statement, “I mean presently. He is an engineer. Just finished one huge project and waiting for another. I mean he is in between jobs.”

“I see,” said the coworker, “So, you’re wearing the pants at home.”

Dharani turns pallid. Later the colleague apologized for being rude. For Dharani, it was hard to ignore it all the same. In the following few weeks, she heard her colleagues make casual conversations about their husbands:

“Tom was sitting at home doing nothing, you know. I told him I can’t take it and threw him out. Who wants a man like that?”

“My husband has been a couch potato for quite sometime. I am making him do all the chores, including driving me to and from work. Let’s say I am the husband.”

“Good for you! Why marry a man who cannot take care of you? Might as well get a dog.”

“There must be some problem. Or else, how can one not find a job for so long?”

“Maybe personality issue.”

“Guess so. Must be either lack of social skills, team spirit, or fear of failure.”

“Maybe, it is okay in India. Nobody here sits around waiting for somebody to offer him a job on a silver platter. One has to prove oneself first and then may be one gets better offers. Not by doing nothing, no way!”

Dharani is having hard time listening to these comments. How come her husband acts like he does not know that?


At home, Dinu is sitting in the second bedroom, converted as office room, and pondering over. He is agitating over the fact that his wife is unable to see things his way.

Don’t I know that her parents are calling me “a bum, and thinking that I am living off my wife’s earnings? To speak the truth, did I say I will not work? All I am saying is I am waiting for a job befitting my qualifications. What is wrong with that? Let’s face it. Won’t she jump at the prospect when I shine in my field? If I only wait until I get a job that can utilize all my strengths and capabilities, I shall shine like a star. And who benefit from that? She and the children we will have. Is it not right? If I accept a mediocre position now, what happens? How can I prove my abilities extraordinaire? Will I ever be able to recover from the damage the low position causes? Why can’t she understand how people interpret that kind of situation?

They would say,

“If you are really that smart, why did you accept it?”

“Why are you working in this low rank position for so long?”

“If you are really qualified, your company would have made you a director by now, wouldn’t they?”

Dharani does not understand all this. She does not even try to understand. Wouldn’t I grab any opportunity that is commensurate with my exceptional brain? He is convinced that his exceptional brains would be wasted, if he accepts a mediocre position. Then she will never know that her husband is amply gifted and he is the one for the next Nobel Prize award. She does not know that, unlike in India, here people do not care what I do with my life. Nobody is going to look down on me because I am not working.

Dinu is convinced that he is on the right path to glory.


It is past 7:00 p.m. Dharani leaves the shoes at the door and asks, “Had coffee?”

Dinu is in the living room reading today’s paper. “No.”

Dharani goes into the kitchen, makes coffee and returns with two cups. She hands one cup to her husband, and settles in the sofa across from him, with the second cup. “I phoned you that I would be late. You could have had your coffee,” she says.

“Thought I’d wait for you, to keep company,” he says without looking up.

Dharani looks at him. He is totally rapt in today’s events in the newspaper. Stella’s words are hovering in her head. The stark naked truth is taking shape and becoming clearer by the minute. She has to do something. Action is important. The intent must show in one’ actions. If it rained, it should show on the ground. “This is all for you, for you only,” Dinu says. Saying is not enough. Acting is just as important, if not more.

“Find any job?” she asks.

Dinu says from behind the paper, “I’ll get it. Haven’t I told you? Just wait.”

Then follows the same old argument. He says again, as always, “For whom do you think I am waiting for a great job patiently? I want you to be proud of me, proud that you have a great husband. This is all for you.”

This time the wife does not back off as before. She is calm but forceful in her tone. She says, “No, it is not for me. It does not look like it is for me. I am not feeling that way. You are sitting around without work only to please yourself. One hundred percent for your own sake. You are doing it to satisfy your own stupid ego. Nobody in this country sits around waiting for somebody to hand over a high rank position on a silver platter. If you want to do something for me, I mean really for me, get a job. Prove that you are capable of finding a job. Show it in action.”

Dinu, stunned, drops the paper. His livid face shows.

The wife continues, “I am going on a Caribbean cruise with Stella at the end of this month. By the time I returned, I hope to see you either as employed in some company or the owner of your own business.”

Dinu picks on the opportunity to change the subject. “Why Stella? Let us go together, you and me, on our second honeymoon.”

“I am going with Stella. By the time I return I want to see you either employed or as the owner of your own business,” she repeats firmly.

“Or else?”

“You will see,” Dharani gets up and walks toward the kitchen royally.


(Translated by author and published on, June 2009)



LIFE AS A RITUAL By Nidadavolu Malathi

Sitapati took his wife Sita to the restaurant on their sixteenth anniversary per local custom.
Sita is watching the people around. There are about 2 or 3 at each table- a young couple, an
old man and his wife, a father and two children, another mother with six children, probably a
birthday party. They all have paper hats on their heads and balloons in their hands. They
are talking loudly- about movies, new videos, games, songs, music, about classes they liked
or did not like, mortgages, credit card debts, the weather, winter, summer, South Africa,

Sita looked at her husband. He is lost in his own thoughts. What could that be, she
wondered. It is sixteen years since they are married. First two or three years it was fun. After
that he is living his life and she is living hers…

“How are you today?” the waitress inquired with a pleasant smile. She told them her name
and the house specials and asked if they were ready to order.

Sitapati told her that they were doing great and turned to Sita. “It is your anniversary. You
should tell what do you want?”

That is one of his habits. He always talks as he is doing everything for her sake. “Why? Am I
the only one married? You are not?”

Sitapati laughed and asked the waitress for her suggestion. He recited the list again like the
sacred mantra- specialty of the day, specialty of the house, her personal choice, and people’
s choice… Sitapati ordered specialty of the house for himself and Pina Colada for Sita.

“Would like grilled vegetable?”

“I have been ordering the same every time. I think I will have a salad today.”

He slipped in to his own world again.

She kept looking around.

He remembered about their wedding anniversary about four days back. “What do you want
for your anniversary?” he asked her with great enthusiasm.

She understood that he would get her something whether she wants it or not. Since they
come to this country this has become a custom. She cannot remember Indian festivals like
Diwali and Pongal. But these local customs are taking over. Every year he asks her and buys
something or other. So she will keep up with him and buy something for him. They start with
asking each other, protesting that he or she does not want anything, and then go out buy
something or other, wrap them up in colorful wrapping paper, then hide until the day comes,
send the children to neighbor’s house and they go out to eat…
Sita is not into the local these ways.

Sitapati could never understand her likes and dislikes. Not in the past 16 years he could
figure out what she really wanted out of life. He never forced her to do anything. He never
forced anybody to do anything. It is not just in his nature.

He respects his wife very much. In fact he has great respect for all women. He has lot of
friends. He is always there for them in their miseries. He is happy when they are happy. He
thinks highly of their brains. He has as much admiration for their wealth too Sita believes.

That is a moot point. Whenever somebody belittles women, he would take it up on himself to
rescue the reputation of those women. No. He does not physically attack them but certainly
will make sure that the men learn to respect women! Then some people teased him that his
name is justified. Sitapati literally means the husband of Sita. So you see. They have a point.

But then Sitapati did not take offense. He said he is proud to be Sita’s husband. He could not
figure out Sita. He would be able to get what she wants only if he knows what she wants.
Then he would go to the end of the world if necessary, and bring it, give it to her, make her
happy and feels great about himself. Unfortunately that is not happening.

Waitress brought plates and drinks. She arranged them neatly on the table and asked if they
would like to have anything else.

“We are fine,” Sitapati told her, and started nibbling chips. Sita looked at him for a second
and she too took a piece.

He lifted the glass and said, “To many happy years.”

“Many happy years,” Sita said.

“How is it?”


Looked at the table next to them. A middle-aged couple was sitting in the place of the young
couple that was there before. Sita smiled.

“Why are you smiling?”

“I am looking at the couple next to us. Earlier there was a young couple. Now they are middle-
aged. Feels like we are here for a generation long”.

Sitapati kept quiet.

The couple at the next table is planning their vacation. She suggested that they should go to
Florida. He says Colorado. Her argument is if they go to Florida they could visit with their
children. His argument is they could spend time with their friends. Either of them thinks his or
her argument is the most reasonable one.

“We haven’t seen our Telugu folks for a while,” Sita said.


“How about inviting them next week.”

“I might not be in town.”


“That’s okay. They all are your friends, anyways. Go ahead and invite them.”
Sita continued to eat. She looked at her husband. It seems he has a lot of faith in the words
of the waitress. Eating like he had not eaten in weeks. She could not swallow a bite. Is he
really enjoying it? Is he really aware what he is eating? She heard voices from behind.

“Have any plans for Friday?”


Sita turned her head a little and tried to see them without making it that obvious. She noticed
a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, probably 15 or 16.

“There is a small restaurant outside town.”

Sita imagined the expression on their faces. Probably he is looking at her mischievously and
may be she is raising her eyebrows with curiosity.

“Really. Good food too.”

“We’ll see,” said the girl.

“We can go to a movie later.”

“I’ll call you.”
“How about sevenish?”

Sita took a deep breath.

“What is that for?” Sitapati asked.

“Nothing. I was listening to the conversation of the kids behind me.”

“What is that about?”

“It is funny. In our families the adults go to so much trouble to arrange a marriage. Here the
kids go to as much trouble to impress each other.”

Waitress showed up again.

“Any dessert today?”

“You order,” Sitapati asked his wife again.

“I don’t want anything.”

“Have ice cream. You like ice cream.”


He ordered two ice creams and lost in his own thoughts.

The group at the other table started singing “happy birthday to you”. All the guests at all the
tables looked up. After the song the birthday baby blew away the 16 candles. Everybody
clapped. Sita also clapped. Sitapati is miles away. Sita did not feel like eating ice cream.
“Why?” Sitapati asked and without waiting for her reply finished her share also.
Suddenly Sita remembered Parvati. She met Parvati about four years back in the airport, on
her way to India.
*                *                *

Due to dense fog flights were cancelled. She was standing in the corridor and looking around
and noticed another Telugu woman. Parvati’s face lit up like firecrackers. They got in to

Parvati came to the airport to receive her mother. Since the planes were cancelled Parvati
was about to return home alone. She invited Sita to her place for the night. Sita felt a little
embarrassed but Parvati would not let go. She said her home was not far from the airport
and there was nobody else in the house.

“This is what we miss most in this country. I mean the meaningless chatting. I was born in a
small village. You know how it is. We stand at the front door or gather near the village well
and get in to chatting like “what curry” “what is new in town?” “Is that a new saree?” Here we
have neither time nor people to get in to such chatting,” commented Parvati with a nostalgic
look on her face. Sita realized something about Parvati just then. Parvati is 5 months
pregnant. With her arm around her shoulder she said, “Okay, let’s go.

“Are you done?”


“Listening to others’ conversations,” Sitapati said sarcastically.

“Well. I’d listen to you if you talk,” she snapped.

“Alright. Let’s go,” he got up, leaving some cash for tip.

*                 *                *

As soon as they opened the door, the phone started ringing. Sitapati rushed to pick up the
phone. Sita sighed, “Anniversary is over.” She threw herself in to the couch and turned on
the T.V.

Somebody must have said “happy anniversary” on the other end. Sitapati thanked them. By
the time he finished talking, one sitcom is over and a second one started.

“What are you watching?”

“Some sitcom.”

“Stupid show. Turn it off.”

Before Sita could say something, the phone rang again. Saved by the bell. He won’t be back
for another half hour. Sita could never understand that part. He could spend hours talking to
somebody on the phone. But if she tries to strike a conversation, he would put an end to the
conversation with “yup” and “nope”. He has no problem chatting with the young and old, men
and women, pundits and the ignorant, white or colored… anybody except her. How come?
Is it possible that in his opinion she does not belong in any of these categories? While he is
at home he acts like he is on pins and needles, waiting for that phone call. No matter from
whom, as long as there is call. Probably he took a full-page ad and told them that anybody
could call him anytime of the day. And it also appears that they all took him for his word.
They do call him at all times as if to please him, without thinking twice about the family he is
supposed to have…

Sita got tired of watching T.V. She turned it off and went in to the bedroom and picked up a
book to read. After almost an hour Sitapati came in. In her mind the mantra of a daily ritual
flashed through—“pushpam samarpayami (I am offering flowers), achamaneeyam
(offering water)”.

“Are you done talking?” she said, somewhat annoyed.

“You know TANA conferences are approaching. They want my advice. What can I say?” he
replied, slipping in to his pajamas.

“It is always something or other. I am not sure of the Almighty Lord but I am sure the world will
come to an end without your help.”

“Well, we all have to do our share.”
*                *                *

In the middle of the night the phone rang again. Sita woke up for the noise.
“Wait, I will take it in the other room,” Sitapati said and got up.

Sita turned over wondering how the other party could be so insensitive. He may have told
them they can call at all odd times but shouldn’t they have some sense? Sitapati was not on
the phone for long. But it was quarter to 4 by the time he returned to bed. Sita was just about
to doze off.

“Where did you go?”

“Hush. Lower your voice.”


“Komala is in the next room.”

“What?” Sita asked, startled.

“For sometime they are having marital problems, I mean Komala and Bhaskaram.”

“They are having marital problems. And so you brought her to our house in the middle of the
night?” Sita could not believe it.

“Go to bed. We will see what we can do tomorrow.”

Sita was furious.

“Of course, I’d go to bed. What else can I do? First explain to me why you have to go in the
middle of the night and bring her here,” she asked gnashing her teeth. She knows that it is a
hobby for her husband to run to rescue damsels in distress. Where is he going to draw the

Sitapati explained calmly. “Don’t talk like a blockhead. Bhaskaram has been fooling around
with a woman in his office. Now he brought her home. He says he would marry her.”

Sita wasn’t sure whether she should laugh or cry. “I must be really a blockhead. This is
beyond my comprehension. Bhaskaram brought some woman to his house and so you went
and brought his wife to our house?”

“Don’t be silly. This is totally different. Can’t you see?”

“Obviously. You have to tell me what I can and can’t see. Now you tell me whom should I call?
Who should I tell that my husband brought another woman to our house?”

“How can you talk like that? Are you kidding? You know I am not that kind of a person. If you
really suspect my intensions, I will drop her off at her home right now,” he said.

Sita could not speak for irritation. She does not suspect her husband. But she could not
understand this wild gusto of his either. His rescue missions are getting to her.

“So what do you think you would do now?”

“Let’s see. Think of something in the morning. Her brother is Canada. I’ll call him and tell him
and put her on the plane. Then our job is done.”

Sita suddenly felt like she is watching a movie. “What happened?” she asked him.

“He is a stupid fellow. Look at Komala. She is smart, beautiful, and everything anybody could
ask for.”

“Then what is his problem?”

“He says he is helping the other woman to get her immigration status.”
Sita is lost for words. She pushed away her husband and turned to the other side. She
knows her husband is kind to women in general. She also believed like Lata  that men in our
country supported women. She did not agree with Ranganayakamma  that men are
categorically hell-bent on ill-treating women.

In fact Sita appreciated her husband’s kind heart to start with. In her natal home nobody ever
put her down for being a female. Nobody ever told her “Go to the kitchen. Act like a woman.”
After her marriage she did not hear such language from her husband either. So it is hard to
digest what is going on now. She is confused as to when “help” crosses the line. When can
one say, “enough is enough”, “this is inappropriate”? Where are the meters that can
measure kindness?

She decided to see it the next morning. “Make or break,” she told herself.
She could not “make or break” next morning.
It was still a little dark. She woke up, finished her daily worship and was about to sit down with
her cup of coffee.

Komala walked in slowly as if she was walking on burning coal. Her eyes sunk in. Face was
pale. Seemed like might break down any second.

Sita was taken aback. After a few seconds she collected herself, “Come. Here, have some
coffee,” she said pushing her cup towards Komala.

“No. You have it.” Komala said. Her voice was hardly audible.

Sita thought of  Parvati again. We all have the same problem. Living ten thousand miles
away from mom and home, the one thing we can never get over is the family support we
have there.

Sitapati put Komala on plane that afternoon and returned home. “Calmed down?” he asked
Sita in a lighter vein.

“You never get it, do you? You saw only my anger but not my frustration,” Sita replied.

“Look. She is in trouble. I helped her. What is wrong with that? Do you really expect me to do

“I am not talking about this specific instance. I agree that in this case it is justified. But you
are always on a mission with the same passion. You would jump and run if she broke a nail in
much the same way. It is the amount of time you spend rescuing others and ignoring that
there is a person at home who might want your attention…”

“Alright. Next time I will consult you. I will ask for your approval first,” in the same mocking

Sita knows his words mean nothing but she has no answer for that kind of language. It is like
fighting with somebody who threw in the towel.

So what happens next?

Well, Sitapati suggests they would go out to eat.

Then the phone rings…

It is just like the same ritual performed everyday inanely!

Author’s note: (Hindus traditionally perform a daily ritual, which involves several physical motions. Sometimes people go through these motions almost involuntarily, unmindful of the underlying philosophy. For foreigners the local customs can become such meaningless motions, just a peripheral activity. Dining out is just that if not understood as time for communication, a way of “being together.” That sets tone for the rest of the story

.(The Telugu original devi puja was published in Swati monthly, 1988.

English translation by the author published on, December 2002.)




“You held me tight in your strong arms.”

Sita was in the living room holding the 8-page letter Gayatri had written to Sita’s husband, Sitapati. The letter left a bad taste in her mouth. Her face turned pale. Sitapati was acting strange for a few days now. Sita noticed that much. All of a sudden, for no obvious reason, he became an ideal husband. He started doing chores, rearranging the furniture, washing dishes, folding clothes and was eager to take children for a ride. The children were not little anymore, though. They were grown up. They said, “Thanks, dad!” and took off on their bikes.

Sita threw down the letter in despair. No need to read this trash to the end, she told herself. Her eyes scanned the room and came back to the same pages again.

“That one-day… after 23 years…”

“You said you’d take me to…”

“Your secret letter…”

“The thing you’ve forgotten in our bathroom…”

Sita was burning inside. She wanted to stomp on those papers, but she could not. After all, the paper is Goddess Saraswati!  Was he going to all this trouble just to cover up his affair with Gayatri? At first, she was surprised at her husband’s sudden interest in the household chores. But then, she convinced herself that he changed much the same way she had. Now she was beginning to see the clear light of the day. Sitapati had gone to India as a visiting professor and returned home, after six months, as a whole new Sitapati! He was not the same person she had spent the last 17 years with.

One day he made coffee by the time she woke up. “What is this? It almost looks like you have learned quite a few things back home. What did you do there, teach or learn?” she said teasingly.

“Well, we all learn at some point, don’t we?” he replied facetiously.

Sita’s eyes fell on the letter again. “The thing you’ve forgotten in our bathroom.” What could that be? What is it that a man would take off, leave in the bathroom and forget it? It’s got to be his wristwatch or lungi.  Of course, nobody walks around without the lungi on. That thing must be his wristwatch. She remembered Sitapati telling her his watch was broken in India.
She bent down and picked up the papers. What should she do now? Hand them casually over to him and say, “Here, these are yours?” Or, hide them? Burn them? Even as she continued to brood, she tore them up, unwittingly. “The world is not going to fall apart if he doesn’t see this one letter,” she told herself.

“You have been cooking for 17 years without a break. I will cook today. Tell me. What would you like?” Sitapati said, as he walked in boisterously only to find Sita was not in the room. He was a little puzzled. Rani and Bobby were not home. He found
Sita in the bedroom.

“Lying down at this hour? Are you okay?” he approached her and felt her forehead to see if she was running fever.
She pushed away his hand. “Who is Gayatri?”

“Just a friend from childhood days.” He sounded casual.

“Friendly enough to hug and kiss?”

“What kiss? What are you talking about?”

The argument went on for about one half hour. Then, Sita gave up. Not because she believed him, but she was no match for him in debates. Sitapati, however, was content. In his mind, he did not do anything wrong. Gayatri had poured her heart out on that day. He felt bad for her, and so, he put his arm around her shoulder just to comfort her. What else could he do? That was the way he had always been, ever since he was a kid. Any time somebody was hurt his heart cried for that person. That was one thing he could never understand–what is wrong if one person embraces another? It certainly did not mean that he had broken his vows to his wife any more than it broke Gayatri’s vows to her husband. Certainly, there is no reason for raising hullabaloo about it.

Sita thought there would be no more secrets after her confrontation. She was wrong. That night she heard him talking on the phone with somebody in India. She expected him to tell her about it the next day. It did not happen. Once again, she was confused. Why would one make a phone call from half way across the world in the middle of the night if it was not an emergency? She decided to let go of it.

The following day, Sitapati brought mail from the mailbox, slipped one letter into his pocket, and handed the rest of the mail to Sita. “Here, check them, I can wait,” he said with a touch of sarcasm. Sita felt firecrackers explode in her head. There is a Telugu proverb, a woman, good at flirting, is good at lying, too. She wondered why this proverb was stated with reference to women only. On that day, Sitapati vacuumed the rooms with renewed vigor. He bought presents for the children on some lame excuse. He even took Sita to a movie. Sita also was acting as if nothing happened. The pain in the pit of her stomach lingered on.

The following day Sitapati left for a conference in Philadelphia. That afternoon a telegram came in the mail. “The boy got admission in the college here,” it said. That was from the same Gayatri. Life was getting hard for her. Somebody’s boy was admitted in some college. Does that call for a telegram? Or, is it possible that the boy is not “somebody’s boy”? Sita felt sick in her stomach again. Her husband, apparently, was hiding something from her. What was it? And why? At this point, she was certain of only one thing–she could not rest until she knew the whole truth. Maybe that was needed to understand him, maybe for her own satisfaction. She had to know the whole truth and nothing but truth. There was no point in asking him, either. In the past 15 days he never gave her any straight answers. He was beating around the bush smoothly, kindly, arrogantly, snootily, angrily… He was shutting her up every which way but would not come clean.

A few months back, Sita told her husband, “Listen. I don’t trust your words and I don’t want to discuss this matter with others, either. That is why I am asking you straight.”

Sitapati did his usual routine. “I hate lying,” he said. “It hurts to think that you don’t believe me,” he said. “What about my reputation,” he said. “Hell with it,” Sita told herself.

Something occurred to Sita. She got up with a jolt, went into the basement and looked around. It did not take even 5 minutes. There were letters, pictures of two women, and a phone number scribbled on a piece of paper. Sita threw herself down in a chair with the letters in her hand. The letters were written by not one woman, not two, but three women.

“My husband is not in town. I am holding a new sari and thinking…”

“I wish I could come there and be with you…”

“Next time you come, you must stay only with me…”

“Loneliness, depression…”

“Forget your analytical skills. You’re the king of experience, for sure.”

“I want to put my arms around your neck.”

“I want to nibble your earlobes.”

Sita threw down the letters furiously. Then she picked them up again and looked at the dates. Some of them were received here, in the States, and some while he was in India. Thoughts started hovering in her head like bumblebees. A small smile came on to her lips. So many women in America said to her that “Indian women are oppressed.” These letters vouch for the complete freedom Indian women have achieved. The question is what they are doing with that freedom? These photos and letters did not look like they were just about friendship. It did not look like a matter of simple crying and comforting. “King of experience,” it says. What experience? Did the experience precede or follow his critique? Did she offer experience in exchange for his critique? Or, is it the other way round? Not bad. Not bad at all. Next time he goes to India, he might as well announce, “Consult Sitapati for experiential critique!”

She looked at the photos again. One of them seemed to be very young. That could be Sobha. Had he married a few years earlier, he could have a daughter of that age. Sita felt sick. She was disgusted. God, tell me what to do? I want to do something desperate. But what? Take the car out and hit a tree? Kill somebody—him, the children, those women, whom? Whom could I kill? How about confront those women? But, what can I ask? What is there to ask? I should be asking my husband only. What can I say to him? What is this with these married women? Why fool around with others? What kind of pleasure he gets in playing a second husband? Sita felt there were really no questions she could ask.

Sita closed her eyes for a second. What was the crux of her problem? She was not able to see it herself. Like Major Barbara says in Shaw’s play, she thought she stood on a rock eternal; and without a word of warning, it reeled and crumbled under her feet. She hoped Sitapati would cherish some values although he did not believe in our culture or religion. She expected him to show some decency at the very least. Probably that is what is bothering her most. She could see he is lying to her, but could not figure out why. What did he hope to accomplish by that? She heard garage door open.
Sitapati walked into the room.

“I saw the letters,” Sita said.

“What letters?”

“The letters from your female friends.”

“Not again. I told you that there is nothing going on. Didn’t I?”

“The letters are saying a different story.”

Back to square one.

“They are after me. I am not after them,” he said. “Nothing happened,” he added. “Nothing that you should worry about.” Then he continued to explain. “Something terrible happened to Gayatri and that led to depression. I am trying to help her restore her self-esteem.” And he also said that Sobha was a writer, and that was how the women writers write. Then, he asked in all earnestness, “What can I do if they write like that?” He assured her that he would tell them to stop writing to him.
Sita did not believe a word he said, but kept quiet.

“Stop all those stupid thoughts. Let’s go out,” Sitapati suggested.

“I am not going anywhere. The children will be back any minute,” Sita said, crossly.

“It’s okay. They are not babies. They can take care of themselves.”

Sita went into the next room without saying a word.

Sitapati was in the basement studying. Sita was in the bedroom. She thought her skull would crack open with frustration. Why did my life turn like this? I’ve been adjusting to his needs the best I could. In this god-forsaken country, whom else could I turn to but him? And what is my life like here? My day is nothing but making coffee, fixing breakfast, packing lunch, driving children to school, again bringing them home, shopping, cleaning, washing dishes, washing clothes, snow blowing in winter, mowing the lawn in summer, raking leaves in fall…No. These chores do not tire me out, but they sure do take the entire day. Amid all this, if I find a free minute, I would rather sit down doing nothing than get myself busy with something, don’t even feel like write a letter. In this amazing land of affluence, with all the gadgets, if I want a cup of coffee, I have to make it myself or forget it. Hell. There are times when I skipped having a cup of coffee simply because it entails washing three dishes. And then the food. I have to have Indian curries, at least, once in two days. For the children all the three meals are American style. And then Sitapati. Of course, he does not spell it out, but he does have his preferences.

Amid all this, Sita could neither account for her time nor could she say she had plenty of free time. It was a catch 22 for her. Sitapati did not follow any traditions, except the one that included entertaining guests non-stop. His complaint was Sita was not living up to his idea of a traditional wife. Is that the reason he is running after other women? Sita felt totally debilitated. A weak smile hovered on her lips. God knows whether Sitapati reinstated self-esteem in Gayatri or not, but, right now, her own self-esteem hit the bottom. She felt like crying but could not. She wanted to talk to somebody. But with whom? Up until now, she listened to others, but never took her problems to them. She started remembering all those friends, one by one. No. There is no use. It is not going to happen. It is not like back home. Here you cannot go to somebody’s home anytime, as you please.  “We have plans,” they would say. “We didn’t expect you,” they would say. “Please call me, next time,” they would say.

How about a movie, Sita wondered. Her body refused to move. She turned the T.V. on. Some soap. A wife sees a photo of another woman in her husband’s pocket. Sita laughed. No matter where she turns, the story is the same. She was about to turn it off, and then again, changed her mind. She wanted to see what would happen in the story. She knew life is not like movies but then there is some consolation. The TV wife started drinking to forget her problems. What if I start drinking? Well, the problem is you need to drink until you forget everything. Then you would not know whether you found a solution or not. It could scare the children, too. She recalled the proverb, “try to make a master, end up with a monkey.”
Sita was losing her mind. She wanted to do something drastic, but was not sure what it was. She picked up the phone and called her friend, Kamakshi.


“It’s me.”

“Oh, Sita! How are you? What is new?”

“Nothing. What are making for lunch?”

She heard a small laugh. “Stuffed eggplant. Want to come?”

“Are you kidding? You had better be careful. I might show up.”

“I am not kidding. Come on.”

“Okay. Be there in ten minutes,” Sita said and hung up.

“I can’t live in that house anymore.”

Kamakshi stared at her and said softly, “Want some coffee?”

Sita nodded as started telling her story.

“Did you ask him?”

“I did. I also told him that I wanted to keep it between him and me, and not take it to others. He babbled some nonsense, as usual. You know his rhetorical skills. It sounds okay for the moment. And then, a letter or a note appears making it only too obvious that they have him wrapped around their little fingers.”
Kamakshi did not know what to say. As far as she could tell, both the husband and wife were reasonable people, both knew right from wrong.

“The more I think about it, the clearer it is getting. It is not just that one question—whether he slept with one woman or not. In the past ten years, he has always been so wrapped up in the lives of others—their problems, their worries, their tears, their health, their children’s education, their marriages, on and on. That is his life. And now it has gotten down to hugs, kisses and lies. If he does not care about our traditional values, why should I? His ‘saving women program’ has reached the peak.” Sita stopped.

“Like Veeresalingam?”  Kamakshi said partly in jest, also, trying to clear the air.

“Yeah,” Sita replied, and then, with a weak smile, added, “No. Actually there is a difference. Veeresalingam tried to save

‘vidhavalu’ [widows] by arranging remarriage for them. Here, this man is messing around with housewives, making their husbands

‘vedhavalu’ [Idiots][ A pun on the word vidhava. Actually, there is a slight difference in the pronunciation of the first syllable.].”

Kamakshi smiled. Sita stayed there a little longer, and left. Kamakshi said a few more comforting words and told her not to act in haste.

Sita felt a little lighter after taking to Kamakshi, but the pain did not go away. Her heart was numb. There were occasions when she argued with others about the situation of women in India. Not only with other Americans, but with Sitapati as well. She argued that in Andhra Pradesh men always supported women.

Sitapati did not agree with her.

“Veeresalingam arranged marriages only for young widows for fear that they would seduce men. Even women’s education he promoted was about making women dutiful housewives.” His arguments about Chalam  were also on the same lines. He said Chalam advocated sexual freedom for women only to ingratiate men. What an irony? Now one woman complained her husband ill-treated her, and another woman claimed her husband allowed her total freedom—and both ended up in his bed! Wow! Sita felt was if she was hitting her head against a brick wall.

That night, after one more round of wrestling, each of them said ‘go to hell,’ and then they split. He went into the basement and she went into the bedroom. Sita wanted to believe her husband’s words. He never acted like a total jerk in the past 17 years. Besides, if he really wanted to fool around, aren’t there opportunities here? Why did he wait this long? Why so far away? What kind of secrecy is this? Such a joke! What should she think? Is he too smart or too stupid? Or, did he think she was stupid?

One week went by. Sita went into the basement for some book. A letter slipped out of the book and fell on the floor. The letter was addressed to Gayatri. Sita was taken aback. For a third time, the same situation! She recalled a couple of lines Rani had written when she was 9-years-old: “Believe me they say, trust me they say, and when I trust them, everything goes wrong.” A smart observation for a nine-year old! What is this? At a time she was trying to convince herself, she found four more letters—two of them from the two women, and the other two from Sitapati to them. Sita felt dizzy. She threw herself in the chair. Even the dumbest of the dumb would know when they see these letters that Sitapati was bluffing all along.

“I want to hug you.”

“I want to kiss you.”

“I want to go to Khajuraho  with you.”

“I am surprised that you know so much about birthmarks.”

“Now the room is vacant. This time there won’t be any problem. Kids no problem.”

“Bring me size 34 bra. Bring me gold. Bring me nylon saris. Bring me camera.”

Sita stopped for a minute as if to make sense of all this. And then, she continued to read again. The letter that shot through her heart was the one written by Sitapati to Sobha. “You have a right to hug me. You have a right to kiss me. You have a right to go to Khajuraho with me.”

A huge fit of anger choked her. She came upstairs, holding the letters in her hand. She sat down slowly in the couch. The snow outside was bright white like a heap of salt. Sitapati’s words in the lettter, “You have a right to hug me and kiss me.” hit her the most. Sita asked herself, “So, what rights I have? Snow blowing, lawn mowing, washing clothes and dishes? Is that it?” She recalled her words to Sitapati during one of their arguments, “If you think I will stay here for the sake of your reputation while you mess around with others, you are wrong. Don’t count on it.”

It is clear now. She decided that she could not stay in that house anymore, not a minute longer. She decided to leave. She felt the burden off her chest. For the first time in several days, she felt hungry. She got up and started cooking. “You are the only one who understood me. This time I may not stay long.” – The lines from the letters were pestering her like hungry dogs. Suddenly, she remembered the letters she wrote to her husband in the first few weeks of her marriage. She knew where they were kept. She quickly went there and pulled them out. She started reading them.

“Here also the sky is blue and the weather is cool.” “With the new status I attained after walking the seven steps  with you…” “When I asked you ‘what do you want’ and you responded ‘you just come’…” “Each person has so many layers of personalities. If you had seen me in my office…” “Waiting for the day when I can walk with a friend in the woods and whisper solitude is sweet…”
She felt totally exhausted. For the first time, tears sprang to her eyes. Sita did not get the life companion she was looking for. And he? Only he should know. She kept racking her brains. What happened in 17 years? Why? He did not hit her. He did not use obnoxious language. On the other hand, he told her, repeatedly, that she could do whatever she wanted. But, by the time she understood that, she also realized that his job and avocations stood in her way to do whatever she wanted to do. Six years passed by. In the freedom Sitapati allowed her, there were a lot of built in responsibilities—money management, part-time job, children’s needs, guests’ needs, household chores. … He kept telling her “You do such a great job,” and left everything to her. And he got used to spending time with his friends.

Sita tried to understand him from what could be his perspective. He said, “I leave home at 7:00 in the morning and return at 6:00 in the evening. During that period, I struggle to keep the job, work for promotions, try to prove my value, try to please everybody, it is pretty much like prostituting myself. After a long day, is it wrong if I want my wife to welcome me with a smiling face? Is it wrong if I ask about the children? If I have to observe formalities with my wife also, why marry at all? In America wives buy shirts for their husbands. You would not buy clothes for me. I love beauty in nature. Even from childhood days.”

Sita took a deep breath. That was his argument. Maybe there was some truth to it. But she was annoyed that he did not take into account all the chores she was doing. He complained that she was not acting like an American wife. But he did not do half the things the American husbands do. In fact, look what he is doing—fooling around with 2 or 3 women? Even that shows that his dream girl is a composite picture, a collage of several women. During one of their arguments, some three years back, Sita said, “If that is your idea of a wife, you might as well look elsewhere.”

He said, “If you think I would go to another woman, you don’t know anything about me.”
That was three years back. Now…?

That’s life, I guess. Days and months go by without we ever noticing it. People change unannounced. Their thoughts and opinions change, unconsciously.

Ding, ding, ding… Fire alarm went off. Sita rushed into the kitchen. The curry was burnt and turned into charcoal; heavy smoke set off the fire alarm. She turned off the stove and went into the bedroom. She stooped to pull out the suitcase from under the bed. The tali  in her neck from under her sari folds jingled, like cowbells. Yes, like cowbells, they made noise. Sitapati has changed. His values have changed. Today he is giving a new definition to the word, “marriage.” Sita removed the tali from her neck and threw it in the suitcase. She heard garage door open.

Sitapati walked in. He did not find Sita in the living room. Went in to the bedroom looking for her. “What now?” he said, looking at her and the suitcase.

“I am moving out,” Sita said, packing her suitcase, and without looking up.

Sitapati laughed. “What happened now?” He moved closer and patted on her hair.

She pushed away his hand.  “Don’t touch me, never again,” she said, and added, “I have warned you. I am not going to live with you, as if I am one of your sluts.”

“What?” Sitapati said, surprised.

Sita continued, as if she was narrating somebody else’s story, “I never called anybody a slut. Today the word came out very naturally .”

“Wow! Have you become a militant feminist?” He laughed a crude laugh.

“No. I did not become anything. I am and have always been the same. Great pundits like you read volumes of literature, deliver soapbox lectures, and produce more literature. And then, there are women like Sobha and Gayatri that keep blabbering about sympathy and empathy like the wrestlers in a pool of mire. They need to be saved, and you are there to save them. You all need each other. I am one of the million, very ordinary, Sitas who do not belong in either category. I spend my days, weeks and months like a bullock-cart on a country road, enjoying the peace and quiet, while you rush to save the world with your pedantic brain and heated debates. But then, I am not any less of a person just because you do not think so. Did you not hear the proverb–the turtle slithers making its way while the deer hops to its destination. That is their nature. Each person has her own way of life,” Sita said sounding unemotional.

Then she added, looking straight into his face, “Ironic, isn’t it? You go around lecturing about female voices, hear female voices across five continents, but not the voice that is right in front of you, and under your roof?”

(The Telugu original, “nijaaniki feminijaaniki madhya,” has been published in Andhra prabha weekly September 1987, and included an anthology titled, nijaaniki feminijaaniki madhya, published by BSR Publications, Vizianagaram. Later, the story has appeared in anthologies and on websites, I was told.
My translation, “Shortchanging Feminism” has been posted on December 2002.)
The story illustrates two points: 1. The cultural conflict foreigners face soon after their arrival in America. On one hand, they would want to keep their Indian values; and on the other hand, the intense need into assimilate in the local culture. Men cannot leave behind their beliefs and customs, but also want to adapt to the local culture. Women struggle with the lack of domestic help and family ties.

  1. In the name of feminism, both men and women violate established family and societal values, and use it as a self-serving ruse for their own gratification. I disagree with the critics who label it as a feminist story. The story, actually, exposes the hypocrisy of both men and women, who embrace the label to achieve their own goals.)

Translated by the author and published on, December 2002. Revised November 19, 2023)