Monthly Archives: October 2014

Bommireddipalli Surya Rao. A Creator.

Gangayya woke up early in the morning, took bath, put on ash patches on his body, the kumkum dot on his forehead, picked the machete and stepped outside into the street. He was facing the only problem—must earn the day’s wages, and fill his stomach. There was nothing more he would ask for. But then, that was the toughest problem. He set out to find a solution for that one problem.

He felt a little cold, since it was winter and he did not have enough clothes to cover his wrinkled body. Suddenly he recalled his past in one sweep.

He was sturdy in his younger days. No matter how cold it was, he would wake up at four in the morning and take a bath with cold water. He never felt this cold. After a clean bath, he would put on the ash stripes on his arms and chest, say his prayers, and walk into the street leisurely, twirling his moustache while his red silk upper garment wavering in the wind. If somebody stopped him on the street and asked him “to where”, he would say that he was going to work either in a factory or at a building site. He did not just say it; he worked and proved to the world that he meant what he said.

One time, he got into an argument showed it to his opponent by building the entire mansion of an attorney in the city single-handedly. He could finish alone the workload of four men. When he removed his shirt and sawed the porch plank as his body glistened in the sun with beads of sweat.. The sinews cracked like a bamboo stick. He made two or three rupees by the end of the day.

Stupid money. He made one rupee if held a machete and two if saw. When he planed, any type of wood shone like a mirror. “When I planed, you can see your shadow on the plank. That I would call workmanship. Workers nowadays can do nothing,” Gangayya told himself.

Why say all that? He was watching his own son work. He had only one son and that too after long time. Gangayya strived hard to make the boy the best carpenter among all the carpenters in the entire region. But his wife fussed over him and spoiled him. Idiot! The son turned wicked. Mother started harassing; claimed the boy would come to his senses after marriage. So, Gangayya performed the son’s wedding. Right away, the son moved out with his wife. The old woman [mother] lost her sight as if she could not watch her son wandering away.

Now, Gangayya’s body was wrinkled and all the strength in it gone. His sight was failing too. It was getting harder and harder to live. The old woman was lucky; went away quickly. The son, on whom he pinned his hopes, was no good anymore; nobody to count on. He was lonely. For him, it would be enough if he could earn a quarter or a half-rupee. And even to earn that became hard.

Gangayya set his machete on his shoulder, and arrived at the Rama mandir, which stands at the four-way junction of the town. He turned towards the lord in the temple and said his prayers.

Just then, he saw Venkadu. He was skinny and tall, like the vegetable, drumstick. One could easily recognize him as Venkadu, even from distance. Gangayya pretended not to see him and took a turn and walked hastily. But then, Venkadu caught up with him, and seized Gangayya’s arm from behind.

“What is the matter, Gangayya? You’re avoiding me. Don’t you think you should repay the money you’d borrowed from me? Planning to call it off or what?”

“I’ll settle it, you fool! You stop me in the middle of the street for that tiny bit of a loan? What kind of a gentleman are you?”

“You mean whom? You or me? You came to me, begged me for that tiny bit of loan. If it is such a small bit, why don’t you give it back to me? Tiny bit, he says! Ha, tiny bit. Did I get it freely? Come on, pay it up,” Venkadu raised rumpus. Poor Venkadu was not a bad person. Who would want to throw away money though! “This is going on long enough. Put away your games, they don’t fly with me,” he said and snatched the machete from Gangayya’s shoulder.

Nayanaa, nayanaa. God bless you, please, let it go. If you take my machete, how can make money? I promise, I will bring your money by dusk,” Gangayya begged him,

A few people gathered to watch the bickering. They all felt sorry for Gangayya.

“What does he have to give? Why hold him?” said one man to Venkadu.

“No? What do you mean he does not have? He has to sit in the club and drink tea,” said Venkadu.

Sometimes Gangadu would sit in the club on the street leading to the city and pay one anna for a cup of tea. He did that when he had no money for rice. But for many people in the town, sitting in the club and drinking tea was a pastime. Gangayya did not like telling them that he was drinking tea only because he had no rice to eat. He implored again that somehow he would manage to settle the debt by evening, and for now Venkadu should let go of his machete. The people who gathered around got them to an agreement. Gangayya would get back to Venkadu with money by evening, and Venkadu would let go Gangayya for now.

Gangayya started to walk with his machete on his shoulder again. He must earn one quarter of a rupee today and pay back the loan. How could he get a work for one quarter in this stupid town? There were only four Brahmin homes, two or three homes of kshatriya, and business communities. Rest of the families belonged to kapu, golla, weavers, goldsmith, washer, hair-cutter, mala, and madiga castes. What kind of work they would have to pay a carpenter and get the job done? They were struggling for food themselves. How could they help others? Let’s say he would go to a kshatriya home. What could he find there? Their houses were big, no question. But they lost all their assets and they were barely making it themselves. All those mansions were disappearing fast enough and they were living discreetly. The tiles were falling off from the roofs. And the walls were cracking, causing plants to grow from the cracks. Alas, that was their state of affairs. The only hope was in the Brahmin homes. There is proverb: Go to the Brahmin’s colony, if you have nothing else to do. They could give a chore anybody who appeared at their door. They would want you to work for them but squirm to pay though. If you beseech, they might give you food or gruel. But Gangayya needed some money to pay off the debt and some more to fill his stomach. Today he must earn two quarters, but how could he? Obviously, it would not possible in this town. He should go to the city, which was three miles from his town. Would it be possible for him to walk three miles, work there and bring back his earnings? It was already quite late in the day. He told himself to go to the Brahmin homes and try first and proceeded.

He could find no work in the first three homes. He went to the fourth house. He felt the winter sun prickly on his skin. Gangayya was exhausted. He squatted on a nearby patio, hoping to rest for a while. His stomach was empty since last night. He was hungry. Gangayya could not think straight. There was no thought, none whatsoever in his head. Whenever he thought, he thought only about himself. There was blistering fire in his stomach. He should put something in it. That was all he was thinking—the only thought on his mind. Nothing else mattered to him.

At a distance, a few people gathered under a neem tree. Nothing in particular. A sheep was slaughtered. That was it. They peeled off the skin, and hung from the tree within their reach, sliced the meat and doled out their portions. Each one of them took their share of raw meat in a banyan leaf and was on their way home. One of them took the head and another man its legs. The tanner came to take the skin and begged for a bit of the meat. Gangayya kept watching the scene keenly. It was quite sometime since he had a taste of meat. One must eat the sheep’s meat! What a taste! His mouth watered. The meat distribution came to an end after ten minutes. All of them were gone.

Gangayya got up, and slowly went into the house and stood in the hallway. Somebody was sleeping in the bedroom on the west side.

“Amma, Narasamma garu!” Gangayya called. Narasamma was in the kitchen. She did not come out but Kantamma, the daughter-in-law, came from the next room.

“Gangayya, you are here, for any reason in particular?” she asked, as she sat down on a cot in the sun and started unbraiding her hair.

“Nothing in particular, Amma. Wondering if you have any job for me?” Gangayya said, came into the room past the hallway, and sat down.

“Oh, no. We don’t have any work in our house. Did you not go to other places?”

“No, amma. I did not go anywhere. Nothing to do since yesterday. Tell me, amma, if there is anything to be done. I will do it.”

“No, nothing to do in our house.”

“What do you mean? Why say no work. Please, call the old lady. You may not know,” Gangayya said, scrutinizing the cots in the yard, just in case any of them needs fixing. He told himself, “There are four young boys in the house. Not one of them breaks a cot.”

“Amma, Narasamma garu!” he called again. Narasamma came from the west side room. She was her daughter-in-law sitting in the sun and said, “What is that, Amma, sitting in the yard? Winter sun is not good for the body. Go, sit in the porch.”

Kantamma stood up and went into the porch.

“Gangayya, what is new, you came here?” Narasamma asked.

“Nothing, Amma. Please, let me have a sip of coffee,” Gangayya said, leaning on the pillar. Hunger was chewing him up.

“That is good, naayanaa, coffee at this time of the day? We are done eating dinner,” Narasamma said.

“Are you crazy, Gangayya? How can we have coffee at this hour?” Kantamma said, staring at the hair that stuck to the comb. Then she said to her mother-in-law, “Look, Attayyaa, how I am losing hair.”

“Yes, you are not taking care of it. You are just three weeks pregnant. And you are already everything as you please. Don’t you have to eat proper food? Don’t you have to take care of your body? You know you are not a child,” Narasamma reprimanded her.

Kantamma did not understand the relevance between falling hair and eating right but kept quiet.

Gangayya was dozing. He thought, “These people are worried about losing hair while here I am losing my life. Stupid hair. Who cares if it is gone. Why not let it go, saves oil at least.

Narasamma looked at him. “Probably the fool is hungry,” she said to Kantamma.

Kantamma laughed.

“Gangayya, Gangayya,” Narasamma called.

“What? Coffee?” Narasayya woke with a jerk.

“No, no coffee. There is some leftover rice. Want to eat?”

“Ccha. What kind of question is that? Up until now, in all my life, I never had even sip water except in the house of my own caste. I am from a man of my caste. How could you suggest that I eat yesterday’s gruel in your house?”

“Enough of that confounding caste. Come over to the backyard. Sit by the well and eat. Nobody is going to know about it,” Narasamma said.

Kantamma laughed aloud. “Why wouldn’t eat, Atta. In this village, they all eat even meat, I heard.”

“Ccha, I swear on Veerabrahmam, Amma. Maybe some casteless idiots ate but you cannot say the same about everybody. Nice way to say that.”

“That’s fine. I will give you a job. Finish it, and eat and lie down on the porch,” Narasamma said.

“Good. Tell me, what is it?” he picked up the mettele.

“Oh, no. Nothing to do with mettele. Day after tomorrow we are going to have the naming ceremony for our baby.

“Do you want me to make a cradle? Any baby, who sleeps in the cradle I had made, will become a great man. All the children of the inspector in the city slept only in the cradle I had made for them. See how great they had become—one of them is a lawyer, another tahsildar, and yet another is in some very big job. That sweet mother says even now that ‘Ganga, it is all in your blessed wrist.’ When one works, the wages are not going to stay for ever but the name does.”

“We don’t need any such work at this point. There is a little job. Can you do it?”

“Tell me, amma. For an expert, no job is impossible.”

“Day after tomorrow, we are going to have barasala for our grandchild. Pick a few coconuts from the tree.”

“What? You want me to climb a coconut tree? I can’t. You will have to call the tree-climber.

“Nayaanaa, nayannaa, please, do me this favor. That idiot has gone to his mother-in-law’s home. He will not be back for another ten days, I was told.”

“Amma, you are asking me to climb a tree. That is not my vocation.”

“Babuu, babuu, I will pay you two annas. Monkeys are ravaging the fruits. And the naming ceremony is coming up in two days.”

Gangayya was tempted. A bowl of rice would fill the belly nicely. It would taste great with a pickle on the side. A wad of meal now would help him to go even without water for rest of the day. The old woman also promised two annas cash. That would get him a cup of tea tonight and the next day as well. Oh, no. What about Venkadu’s loan? Well, he would worry about it later, after receiving the two annas from the old woman.

“Okay, amma. Let me have a wad of rice.”

“Why don’t you first pick a bunch of coconuts? You can eat later. If you eat now, you will lie down and rest. After that, no way you would pick the fruits. After all, it is only a five-minute job,” Narasamma piqued him. She thought, “Yes, of course, I would have to be strict with him. Or else, the idiot would not go up the tree. On needs to be skillful in getting work done by idiots like him.”

“At least, let me have a little buttermilk,” Gangayya said.

Narasamma went in, returned with a can of buttermilk and poured into his glass. Gangayya finished the pot of buttermilk, burped loudly, went into the backyard and stood under the coconut tree. The tree was tall, and smooth like a pillar. “To hell with this tree. See how tall it is,” he told himself. Gangayya never accepted defeated when it came to job on hand. He had lot of trust in his own abilities.

He put on the rope on his feet and the waist, and started climbing the tree. He put the ax on his shoulder since he did not have the right kind of knife to cut the coconuts. He was not used to this kind of work. It was hard at first. But there is nothing impossible for those who are stubborn. He reached the top and cut a few fruits.

Narasamma, waiting on the ground, picked them and put them in a basket. And then, she shouted, “these are enough. Come down.”

Gangayya was exhausted. He was thirsty. He stopped for a split second and looked around. He could see the entire village. He could see the fields and silos at a distance. Farmers, sitting on the lakeshore, were eating gruel. Gangayya remembered the warm food and pickles. That was it. His eyes went dark. He could see nothing—the village, the fields, silos, nothing. He screamed, “Oh, ammaa!”

His head rested on the rock on the ground. His face was peaceful. He did not let go of the ax in his hand. Gangayya died. However, Gangayya was a creator. What is death after all for a creator?


Translated and published on, April 2009.

(Originally published in Bharati monthly, April 1953.)

Revisiting childhood by Kandukuri Venkata Mahalakshmi

Katyayini start wondering. To be frank, why is she going there now? Did her cousin and his wife really invite her because of their affection for her, because they wanted her to attend the wedding? Her cousin mailed the invitation card announcing his daughter’s wedding, which looked more like a matter of formality. Katyayini saw the invitation card, and packed a few clothes in a bag. She told her husband and left. That was two days before the said wedding date.

When she told her husband that she was going to her uncle’s granddaughter’s wedding, he was surprised and puzzled. He looked at her but there was no response from her. He went away without another word. The reason being he is well aware that there is no communication between Katyayini and her cousin—no visits, no letters, none whatsoever. And this is not even the first celebration in their home. There had been several others. Each time Katyayini read the invitation cards and put them aside. That is why he is surprised by Katyayini’s decision to attend the wedding. But he does not dare to ask her. They are husband and wife by marriage yet the interaction between them is nominal.

Their relationship has been deteriorating ever since the day they got married. Never mind whose fault it is, but there has never been the fondness or closeness that should be part of husband-wife relationship. They have two children, as a sign of their association in the early days of their marriage. For Katyayini, as a punishment for bearing the children, it became her responsibility to raise them and take care of their education, and so on. Both the sons became post-grads and found jobs in two different cities. After they settled in jobs, their marriages also were performed as a matter of course. Katyayini began feeling the strain of loneliness. Her husband is not going to change. She keeps cooking and serving the food, taking care of the household and in return he lets her eat.

Katyayini set out on this trip because she wants to extricate herself from this rut, and more than that, wants to dig up the old memories and mull over.

Katyayini sits in the train reflecting. Her heart goes to the days, thirty-years back.

We are three daughters to my parents. I am the middle one. We all got married and moved to three different towns. Every summer, we would start the same evening the vacation began and reach our home in the village. We three have two children each. I have two sons. My eldest sister is three years older than I. She has two daughters. My younger sister has one daughter and one son.

As soon as we arrived there, my parents would say “children are here,” and there would be no end to the hullabaloo they would make. Mother would engage a cook and have several special items made for us. Father would arrange to bring several varieties of fruits like coconuts, mangoes, and guava from the farms for us to eat. During the entire summer, we would forget our homes in our towns, become children and run around the groves and fields. Father would gather all the six children, play with them, sing with them and turn into a child himself amidst them.

We would have great fun through out the summer and then return to our homes. We would put in boxes all the sweets and snacks mother had packed for us and return to our routine lives in about a week.

It had become common for us to go to mother and father every year, and wait for the next summer again. It also became a habit for us to mull over the memories and continue to swim in the ocean of family life, enduring the annoyances and the quandary, which necessarily accompanied it.

A great man once said, if the time remains the same always, there will be no stories. Only the time has the ability to keep going foreword without paying attention to anybody’s wellbeing and without turning back even for a second.

Father passed away. Mother tried to cover up his absence by becoming both mother and father for us, continued to invite us and did everything for us as usual.

After a few years, mother also passed away. Since we all were flung in far-off places, we decided that we had nothing in that town. We sold the house and the farm, took our shares and returned to our present homes. But for the letters we occasionally exchanged, we sisters lost touch with each other. There were no visits like before. We met only for the weddings of our six children. There are no more meetings each year like in the past. We all are swamped by our own family matters. We are growing older and each one of has our own daughters-in-law and sons-in-law. Each of us is so absorbed in our lives with husbands, children, and their families; none of us has any more time to think of others.

I lost touch with even my own sisters after my parents were gone. What can I say about my uncle’s children? Occasionally, they mail an invitation card. That is about it. This cousin of mine has never attended any of celebration at my home, why am I going to a wedding in his house?

Katyayini wants to see the town and the house she grew up in. She wants to see how much the town has changed. Her heart is elated as she mulls over; the heart, which is withered for so long, oozes sweet memories, drenching the heart with joy, and turning into tears of joy. It feels like she. Overwhelmed. Seems to be keeping the beat as the train engine hoots.

Katyayini wrote letters to both her sisters before she left her home. She asked them to attend the wedding so they could visit their hometown, where her mother and father were not present anymore, and reminisce.

As planned, the three sisters attend the wedding. Her uncle, his son and daughter-in-law are very happy to see them. They also meet several old relatives at the wedding. The three days of celebrities go by with excitement.

After the bride left for her in-law’s place, the three sisters visit their village. The village has changed to a point, it is not recognizable anymore. The gardens they used to play around were not there any more. People have built homes there. In the past there were only two movie theaters. Now there are more than a dozen. After going around the village for a while, they finally arrive at their parents’ home. That house has not changed much but for a few small alterations.

The sisters stand in front of the house and argue for a while as to who should go in first. Each wants the other to lead. Finally Katyayini steps forward and knocks on the door. A 70-year old woman opens the door and looks at them, confused. Katyayini smiles a friendly smile.

The woman invites them in and spreads a mat to sit. The sisters sit and look around. The woman does not understand the behavior of these three sisters. After a while, Katyayini looks at her and says, “Aunty, my father built this house. After he passed away, we three sold the house since we live far away. At that time, none of us felt like keeping it. Now we came here to attend my cousin’s daughter’s wedding in the town next door. We came here to see our village. The same way, we took the liberty and came in to see the house our parents had owned.”

The old woman is pleased at Katyayini’s words, and shows them around.

In the backyard, the sapota tree is full of ripe fruits. As they watch the winter apple and guava, they remember the old times. They ask for the woman’s permission to go into the garden. The pleasure is beyond words. For a moment, they feel the presence of their father inside the house. They tell the woman that they are leaving. The woman says kindly, “Wait. You came all the way here. Eat before you go.” They could not say no to that generous lady. They stay for a little longer, eat.

The woman also gives them blouse pieces, coconuts, turmeric and kumkum per custom. The sisters gratefully accept the gifts, bow in obeisance and seek her blessings.

In that moment, an elderly gentleman walks in through the front door. The woman of the house introduces the three young women to him. He nods kindly at Katyayini and her sisters and talks with them fondly. The sisters tell him how hard their father had worked for building this house and how he collected various plants and planted in the garden, and such.

After hearing their enthusiastic story, the older man says, “Girls, my son will be returning from abroad next month. He wants us to live with him. We are thinking of selling this house and moving in with him. We have already put it on the market. If one of you is interested, I am willing to sell it for less. Think about it and let me know. I noticed the affinity you seem to be having with this house. It seems this house brings memories of your parents to you.”

The three sisters are awestruck by his words. After their mother and father passed away, they never came to this place again. Their ties with this village had been broken. They came here because they wanted to break away from the web in which their hearts had been caught like in a spider’s web all these years. They came to the wedding and then to this village in which they had been raised. But they have no intention of settling down here. They all bought plots in the towns they are living now. But then, how come these words spoken by this elderly person have taken them to thirty-years back? Why? The thought starts picking their brains. They look at each other.

The same thoughts spring in their hearts simultaneously—they sold the property in the past because of the weight of the responsibilities on their shoulders. Now they are free from them. They are getting old. It is possible to take turns and each spend ten days at a time in this house built by mother and father, eat the fruits and vegetables from the garden raised by them, and live blissfully and away from all worries and vexations.

They tell him their thought, put down deposit, and have the papers drawn. They return to their homes jubilantly like three children.

[End]Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, September 2008.

(The Telugu original, tirigocchina baalyam, was published in priyadatta biweekly magazine, 2003.)

BEYOND BELIEF by Polapragada Rajyalakshmi

She was new to the town to start with. On top of it, the houses were so far apart with huge open spaces in between as if they were flung around on purpose. The place was strewn with big bushes, which looked like demons squatting on the floor at night, and tumma trees shaking their tops as if they were possessed. The town just started growing with railway tracks on one side and a blacktop road on the other. On the other two sides, huge open fields were lying far looking like black cobras stretched across slovenly and guarding the town. A big juvvi tree seemed to be sitting on the back of that cobra like a gigantic demon reining the place. Underneath, a well with steps[1] was like the supreme truth laughing and barely visible through the tree’s hanging branches in the dim light. I trembled at the sight. I had goose bumps all over.

I was so scared I did not have a wink of sleep the first night. I blamed myself. How did I decide to take this room, after searching for so long? I was told that the woman who had worked in this job stayed in the same room. How did she manage? I should have looked for a room I liked. Why did I rely on the servant? Look, what he had found for me! Pch. Nowadays, the servants have no sense of duty at all. They don’t care even for high-level revenue officers, why would they mind, “a woman welfare officer,” come to think of it. If I asked him, probably he would say straight to my face, without blinking an eye, “What can I do? I could not find a better room for you. If you are not happy with this, go, find one yourself. Don’t ask me, I can’t. In fact, finding a room for you is not my job.” Okay. I’ll manage somehow for a month, wait until after Sankranti festival is over. In the meantime, I can keep looking. Today marks the beginning of Sankranti; that means just one month, thirty days ….

I kept brooding over all night, tossing and turning, startling and shivering each time I heard the leaves from the trees outside rustling, worrying that it maybe an owl or a bat. I was totally beside myself.

I heard as a cock crowed at a distance, got up, and turned on the light. I looked at the watch. It was four, one more hour or hour and a half to daybreak. I went back to bed but could not sleep. Bored, I started pacing up and down in the room. The early morning Express train passed by with huge shriek and jostled me. I wanted to see train running at super express speed. I had closed the windows last night prior to going to bed because of my fears. Now I opened them. The train shrilled wildly and shot through the dark rapidly. The cars were moving fast, obstructing my view of trees and the houses briefly. I kept staring at the string of lights from the cars without batting an eye. After a while, the lights were gone to far-off places and disappeared. I turned around and suddenly felt dizzy. Maybe because of watching the moving cars. I closed my eyes tight one more time and opened them.

In front of the house across from the open fields, I saw, in that dim light, a person slightly bent forward. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. The branches of the tumma tree were wavering because of the wind and obstructing my view off and on, still I could see the person clearly. A young woman, probably sixteen or seventeen, was putting rangavalli[2] meticulously. She wore a skirt and a half-saree; her braid was hanging over her shoulder. Nobody else in the neighborhood woke up yet. What a sense of commitment! She got up at dawn, and started her artwork in the front yard. I could not stop myself from watching her and the floor designs. I was not even aware how long I watched her as the muggu on the floor was taking charming shapes by her fine, soft fingers.

Suddenly I heard a noise; somebody from next door came out. The young woman quickly moved into the shade of the tumma tree. Maybe shy. Of course, natural at that age. Bashful even to lay eyes on anyone. I chuckled slightly, closed the window, and went to the table to study the files in preparation for the day. After the sun was up, I peeked through the slightly opened window again. I saw a woman, probably their servant, sprinkling water mixed heavily with cow dung. Oh, no. This dimwit is ruining the beautiful designs the young woman drew earlier. I rushed to the window, opened it, and looked for the designs. There was nothing on the ground. Not even a slightest trace of the beautiful muggu.

For the next four or five days I was so busy with my files which I had to study as a newcomer. I even brought them home for want of time, and wrestled with them until midnight. Being immersed in that kind of environment, I totally forgot about the young woman whom I had seen earlier at dawn.

One night I stayed up reading my files until midnight, turned off the light, and went to the window to open one windowpane. The young woman, whom I’d seen earlier, was sitting there alone on the ledge of the raised patio in front of the house. She was wearing a zari silk skirt and white, silk half saree. A thin veil of moonlight enfolded her lightly. Red bangles were sparkling on her beautiful fair hands. I could not see her face clearly, since she bent down. Yet her entire figure looked as if carefully sculpted and enchanting. She must be extraordinarily beautiful, I thought.

She was sitting there steadfastly without moving a finger. She seemed to be downcast and troubled about something beyond my comprehension. If she were not worried about something, why would she come there and sit all alone while the world was happily asleep. Poor thing. What could be bothering her so badly? Suddenly I felt a wave of pity for her. I told myself ‘poor thing’ barely, she looked with a jolt as if she had felt my thought. She looked up straight in the direction of my window. In that moonlight, her eyes and the tears rolling down her cheeks glistened. I wondered if she would be upset if she had realized that I was watching her through the window secretively. No, probably not. I am in the dark. How can she see me?

But then again, maybe she had seen me. Or else, why would she sneak into the shadows behind the wall in a hurry. I waited there for a very long time hoping to see her again. No such luck.

Next day it was Sunday. Usually I would spend my time either in the office or with a book at home. I had no other pastime. Yet, on that day, no book could capture my attention. I could have chatted with the homeowner but her husband was home. It would not be nice to asking her to come over. I opened the windowpanes once again hoping to catch a glimpse of that young woman and talk to her. I waited for a very long time without success. I was hanging around by the window till evening, for want of better things to do. I saw a skinny man with a parched face, looking older than his age and who seemed to be carrying the worries of the entire world. I saw a robust and slightly heavy-built thirty-year old woman, wearing a glasgoe saree, which was competing with a white rose in her Burma-style hairdo; she was fighting her age and moving around contentedly. A twenty-five-year old female servant was running around in the entire house across from mine, imitating her woman of the house. I could see everybody except the one young woman whom I was keen on seeing.

For a second, I thought about calling the servant. Maybe I could ask her if that woman was at home but then I dropped the thought.

It was a full moon day. As I noticed the white moonlight, like a spread of white flour, I felt like going for a walk. I finished eating, wound a muffler around my neck, and put on a sweater. Next moment, I thought of the monstrous wild bushes all around, the tumma trees and the vast plateau. I was scared and stayed put in my room. I could not fight my desire to enjoy the beautiful moonlight though. I strained to see as far as I could and sat there enjoying the vast, empty open space, the big juvvi tree, which looked like a guard on duty, and the glistening cement patio around the well. I wondered how even the scary sights in nature could look beautiful under a shower of moonlight.

All of a sudden, I saw a vague form rising up from the well. My heart stopped for a second. I had goose bumps all over. I was shivering. My mouth dried. I closed my eyes with both my hands.

After a few seconds, I heard a little noise from the house and removed my hands from my eyes apprehensively.

It was the same young woman! She was staring at me, standing in the shadow of the tumma tree. What a relief. I took a deep breath. The thought that there was another soul in that dark night gave me strength. I picked up the guts and looked towards the well once again. I even chuckled for my unnecessary fears. Probably that young woman also heard my meaningless chuckle. She joined me in my laugh. It sounded unusual. My wish to talk to her was augmenting by the minute. I waved my hand inviting her to come closer. I kept waving and she kept laughing but did not move, not even a bit. I turned around to turn on the light. That was it. The young woman went away. I waited and waited but she never came back.

As time passed by, our friendship was getting stronger. She was nowhere to be seen in the daytime but would appear at some odd hour in the night. It became a routine–I would wave my hand, she would laugh. I was anxiously waiting for an opportunity to talk to her.

And that opportunity came after all.

It was the day of Bhogi[3]. All the women around–my landlady, the chubby lady in the house across the street, and her next door neighbor–every one of them locked their doors and left to visit with other women to participate in the Bhogi festivities in somebody else’s house. There was not a single soul around. I am not used to such visits and so stayed in my room. Besides, nobody invited me. Bored of sitting at home, I decided to go for a walk. I locked up my room and stepped out.

The sun was almost down. There was tiny bit of light. Darkness was settling in. I walked towards the open space. The young woman, looking sad, was standing in front of the locked door. She was wearing green clothes; her feet were smeared with turmeric, and adorned with red designs, and the design on her forehead–all indicative of a bridal wear. I walked a few steps towards and asked, “Didn’t you go to bhogi visit?” She lifted her face and looked at me. She forced a smile on her otherwise sad face.

“I didn’t go either. I was bored; that’s why I came this way,” I said.

She laughed suggestive that she understood.

“Let’s go somewhere. Come on, will you?”

She looked at me, surprised.

I stared back at her. She nodded, rolling around her gorgeous eyeballs.

“Where shall we go? You tell me. I am new to this place,” I said.

She thought for a few seconds and pointed toward the juvvi tree.

“Oh, no. To that spot … in this darkness?”

She laughed. It sounded like a challenge to me. “Okay, let’s go,” I said, picking up courage.

The young woman was walking in front of me. I was walking behind her. She was walking on the air, as it were, not touching the ground, and me watching her gait. Neither of us spoke on th way. We approached the well by the juvvi tree. She stopped there and sat on the edge of the well wall barely touching the rim. I sat down on a rock by the patio around the well. We both were silent for a few minutes.

After a while, I said, “You want to talk to me for a long time, I think.”

She lifted her heavy eyelids, took a deep breath, looked at me for a second, and smiled a disinterested smile.

“You seem to be sad for some unknown reason. Tell me why. Is there anything you are short for? You are the only child to your parents, I guess, right?”

She was quiet.

“I saw your mother and father a while ago. Your mother also is beautiful like you.”

She was taken aback. “Mother?” she said, sounding like it was coming from the bottom of the well.

“Isn’t she your mother? Who then is she? I thought she was your mother,” I said.

“Yes, everybody thinks so. She never lets anybody think different. She is my stepmother. My own mother died when I was ten.”

“Oh! But she is treating as if she were your real mother, right?”

“She used to be more than any mother ever could be.”

“You’re saying used to. You mean not anymore?”

“Now? Who cares how she treats me?” She broke into a big laugh.

“I’m confused. On one hand, you say she treated you very well and on the other you are being sarcastic,” I said.

“Of course, you’re confused. As you said, you’re new around here. You are not familiar with the life here. I’ll tell you, listen,” she said and started to narrate her story slowly in a grave and soft voice.

I was ten when my mother had died. Without my mother, my world became a dark hole. I used to cry every time I saw the cot she slept in, the things she was using, and the plants she took care of–each one of them reminded me of her and I would cry my heart out. But then I was not allowed to cry either. Each time I broke down, somebody or other would come and tell me, you shouldn’t cry, it’s wrong. Then I would go to the little room in the corner, and cry until I could not cry anymore, until the pillow was drenched in my tears. I would beg again and again, “Mother, please come back, come to me, and be with me once at least.” She never came back. “I will never see her again”–the thought would turn my stomach, tug at my guts and make me cry even more. I would sneak into some corner, go on crying until I was exhausted, and fell asleep. Then my father would come and see me, say, “You’re here, darling,” and he would cry too. Thus, we used to cry even more while trying to console each other. My aunt saw us pining away like that and took me to her home. I was on the way to getting to be normal in about four to five months, thanks to my aunt’s kindness and uncle’s warm talks. My father used to come and visit us, and made sure I was okay.

I was listening. She stopped for a few seconds and continued.

After several days, my father brought me back to this place. By then, my stepmother was already there in the house. My father told me to call her ‘amma’. I was determined not to do so. Besides I was upset everytime I looked at her, although I could not explain why. I refused to take orders from her. Frankly, I did not care for her presence at all.

“She noticed the way I was acting and she reciprocated it. For no reason, she started harassing me, constantly reprimanded me. Even for the slightest mistake on my part, smacked me. I could not take it anymore and complained to my father. That caused more problems. They would get into a squabble. He would yell at her, and tell her not to be hard on me or she would pay for it. Then he would hug me and comfort me. That helped me to forget the pain caused by mother’s death. My father was such a good man, I told myself as tears welled in my eyes. One day, my father and the other woman got into a big fight because of me. At the end, she said, ‘Who’s more important to you–her or me?’ My father said, “she” without thinking twice.

“Then I’m leaving,” she said.

“Go,” said my father.

“She did not leave but her method of being cruel to me was gone. She started acting lovingly and caringly towards me. She used to buy lot of things for me, whether I asked for them or not. She was so kind to me, more than my own mother I even thought that my own mother did not treat me like that. My father was also surprised as she went on saying “we need to get this or that for our daughter …’ After that, he was very happy. He started taking care of her also as never before.

“That’s nice,” I said. The young woman looked at me skeptically and continued her story.

“My father stopped paying attention to me after my stepmother started being very kind to me. After a while, he was indifferent to me, it looked that way at least. After he was convinced that my stepmother was taking very good care of me, he became oblivious of my existence completely.

As she went on showering love on me, my troubles and discomforts were also on the rise. She would force father to buy clothes and other things for me beyond his means. He would protest but she would not listen. Then father would run amok. I could not understand the reason for his anger. It ook me a while but I finally understood that it was because of me. No matter however much I tried to explain, he was not convinced. He believed that I was throwing tantrums for all that stuff. His income was limited and so our lives became unbearable with all those unnecessary expenses. As a result, my father, who never blamed me for anything, started yelling at me. He called me names like Sani[4], “millstone” and said I was born only to chew him up. All I could do was to weep silently. I fell on my stepmother’s feet and begged her to stop her frightening show of love. But no. She continued her plan like a cobra with a vengeance.

She was silent for a while and then continued her narration:

“I turned sixteen. My father started looking for a bridegroom for me. My stepmother told him that they should not settle for an ordinary bridegroom. She raised a rumpus about it, thumping on her forehead, and bawling that she, being the stepmother, would be blamed if they had not found a classy groom. After a month or so, my father gave in rather unwillingly and found a medical student. He agreed to pay ten thousand rupees dowry. I told him I did not want a high ranking professional like that, and I would not marry him. But my father did not appreciate my argument. He said, “Yes, you’ll talk like that today. And tomorrow you’ll go around telling everybody that your father and stepmother colluded and married you to a good-for-nothing fellow. Why bother, dear! Never mind. We’ll beg on the streets if that’s our fate. For the present, let me sell the house, pay off the dowry, and finish the wedding ceremony.”

“You will sell the house for my sake?”

I was heartbroken by my father’s words, and cried my eyes out. I fell on their feet, begged them not to through with it, fasted too, and taunted them that I would never agree to that ceremony. I told them, “I am not that selfish, I can never agree to a wedding that will ruin you for good, I am not that stupid, believe me, please, don’t go bankrupt for my sake.”

Neither my father nor my stepmother cared for my desperate appeals. The arrangements went on with great fervor. My father put the house on the market and even took the downpayment. They adormed me forcefully and made me a bride. The wedding was set to take place on the Bhogi day. It was sure to happen. If I were to go through the ceremony, my father would be left with nothing to live on. He would have to go begging, thanks to me. My marriage would take place the next day, on Bhogi day.” She into heart-rending cries, sitting on the well ledge.

I was shocked. “You’re going to get married today? Is that why you are wearing all those special adornments like kalyanam bottu and all? But where is the excitement that accompaines a wedding? Are you really getting married today?”

She laughed, resounding like a thunder. She started singing, “My marriage … haha … my marriage” and she jumped into the well with a big thud. I was awestruck and screamed, “Oh, no. The young woman fell into the well. Help, please, somebody, help.”

A few people heard my screams in that dim light and came running. I said hurriedly, “She fell just now, the bride, the young woman living in the house by the tumma tree.” I was tottering around the well.

The crowd calmed down and said, “Oh, you mean that woman, a no-good wretch. She died not now but last year on the same Bhogi day. God knows what was wrong with her; cast off a first-rate match.”

I was stunned. “That’s not true. It happened in front of my eyes, just now …” I was going to say but they cut in, “Stop it. It’s a year since she had died. You may have seen somebody else.” “Does that mean the woman I was talking to up until now is …Oh my God,” I blacked out and fell on the ground.

As I came to again, I heard all kinds of comments from the people around me.

“She killed herself, isn’t that enough? Why keep coming back and scaring the daylight out of others like this?”

“What do you mean why? Did she not make life a living hell for her father and stepmother while she was alive?”

“Well-said. Quite a piece of work, ruining their lives, alive and dead. Poor father, he was a god himself, and the stepmother loved her one hundred times better than her own mother.”

“Poor couple. Who knows how miserable they two are with the grief eating them up inside.”

“They are grieving because of their love for her but if you ask me, they don’t have to cry for such a stupid person who committed suicide because of her own evil ways.”

“That’s correct. What is wrong with her? Father brought her such an incredible proposal. What is she short for? Why kill herself? Worthless life, pure rubbish.”

I could hear the words coming from each one of them. I could do nothing and say nothing. I closed my eyes and tried to remember that had happened on that day.

I saw her pitiful face again. She was looking at me pitiably. The look seemed to say, “Even you cannot understand me?” My heart melted and a wave of sorrow burst forth at my heart.

“None of them knows the truth below the surface. They saw only your form but not the ache. How could they know what was inside your heart. I can understand, my dear. I know your soft creamy heart. I know how deeply you were hurt and why you had resorted to this unspeakable transgression. Wipe your tears, dear.” As I spoke, two tears rolled down my cheeks, evaporated from the fire at my heart, and disappeared in to the thin air–like that young woman’s life and my Women’s Welfare thoughts, which could not be implemented.



Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, January 2007.

(The Telugu original, nijaanijaalu, was published in an anthology, Rajyalakshmi kathalu, 1967)


[1] In villages, some wells are dug with steps for people to walk to the water.

[2] Floor designs put with lime powder or rice flour on the front yard during Sankranti festival.

[3] Sankranti is a 3-day festival. The first day is called Bhogi.

[4] A planet of the 9 mythological figures, considered bringing bad luck.


Bhandaru AcchamambaHistory of Telugu women writers is filled with numerous gems. If we dig them up and polish all those stones buried in dirt, the present day writings would be pale by comparison. We need to rewrite the current day history with an awareness of feminist perceptions and from women’s perspective. Well-known writer, Gurujada Appa Rao, commented that “Modern day woman will rewrite history.” His comment is significant in that he is credited with being the first story writer in Telugu by famous critcs and the academy. In that sense, he is in competition with the woman who in fact was the first story writer in the entire history of Telugu fiction. I have great respect for Gurajada Appa Rao nevertheless I am going to establish authoritatively that Acchamamba was the first writer to write a modern Telugu story.

Acchamamba’s first story was dhanatrayodasi. It was published in Hindusundari monthly in 1902; it dealt with a modern theme. It was about a poor couple who had no money to light up even little lamps for Deepavali celebration, let alone buy clothes. Husband, out of desperation, thought of stealing money from his boss to buy a saree for his wife. Wife came to know about it and stopped him from committing the felony. At the end, his boss gave him the money for the celebration. The crux of the problem was husband’s attempt to steal from the store and the wife reprimanding him for his ill-advised plan. Gurajada Appa Rao’s story, diddubatu, published in 1910, also dealt with a similar theme–a cheating husband and wife’s plan to bring him to his senses. Appa Rao’s story was idealistic and humorous. Acchamamba’s story was realistic and sombre. Yet our historians shoved her away to the backstage on purpose.

In 1998, bhumika, an alternative magazine and anveshi, a research center for women’s studies, conducted a 3-day workshop on “Social Reform Movement – Women’s stories”. At the workshop, K. Lalitha spoke for the first time about this erroneous record and stated that Acchamamba was not only the first story writer but also first feminist historian.

Critics put forth two arguments for denying Acchamamba’s story the status of the first story in Telugu: They claimed that, first, Acchamamba’s story was in classical Telugu; and second, the story did not contain the elements of a short story. The truth is, Appa Rao’s story was also written originally in classical Telugu and included in the anthology, Animutyaalu, compiled by Avasarala Surya Rao. We have evidence to show that the story was rendered in collloquial Telugu much later.

The second argument that Acchamamba’s story lacked the characteristics of a short story. This question will not arise if we understand the historical background of Acchamamba’s story. The short story in the modern sense came into existence only in the 19th century. It was still in its nascent stage. We have to assess Acchamamba’s work only in that context. Telugu literary hisorians either ignored or refused to accept a woman as the first short story writer in modern times because of her gender. Our critics ignored the historical facts and they dodged the truth by giving untenable reasons.

Several of the renowned critics like Vallampati Venkatasubbayya, Peddibhotla Subbaramayya, Bhamidipati Jagannatha Rao, Singamaneni Narayana and Madhurantakam Rajaram either ignored or made only a passing mention of her. They did not have to accept Acchamamba as the first writer. Should not they be at least doing her the honor of discussing the merits and weaknesses in her stories? Is it not their outright dismissal of Acchamamba’s stories as non-modern that provoked us into thinking of male domination?

Let me discuss the gender awareness in Acchamamba’s writings and prove that she was the first short story writer and first feminist historian.

Acchamamba was born in 1874 in a small village called Penuganjiprolu in Krishna district. Her father died when she was six. She was married at the age of ten. At the time she had no education. She was living with her mother and younger brother. Her family sent younger brother to school but nobody encouraged her to go to school. Acchamamba learned Telugu and Hindi, sitting next to her brother while he was studying. She understood the value of education even at that early age and the gender discrimination. Her brother finished his master’s while she could not learn even the English alphabet. She pointed out this aspect several times in her writing.

Acchamamba wrote in her monumental work, Abala saccharitra ratnamala [History of great women]:

Statements like “women’s brain is slower than men’s, women’s brain is weaker than men’s, and that it weighs less” clearly indicate people’s bias. Instead of saying that women are environmentally dull-witted, one should admit that women became dull-witted because they were not allowed to go to school from the start. During childhood, both girls and boys are equally intelligent. Yet parents encourage boys to study scientific subjects and deprive girls of getting any education. That is the reason for women to be dull-witted. It is the male discrimination that hindered women’s advancement in the areas of education and not any other reason.

In the preface to her book, Abala saccharitra ratnamala, she stated two purposes for writing her book:

  1. People often comment that women are weak, dull-witted, senseless and are the epitome of all evil qualities. My aim in writing this book is, first, to prove that such accusations are untrue, and women were there in the past who were courageous and possessed unparalleled scholarship, and there are such women at present as well.
  2. Second, Some notable men stated that women would take to evil ways, ruin the family unit, humiliate their husbands, if women were educated and given freedom. I am going to prove with examples that those accusations are unfounded, and that education only helps to build one’s character and not the other way round. The country will only benefit from the freedom for women to receive education; it will cause no damage. In fact, women’s education is an absolute necessity.

The book included the biographies of thirty-four women who proved themselves in various fields in India. Acchamamba presented each one of these accounts from the perspective of the two purposes she had stated in her preface. The first story was about a woman named Veeramati. At the beginning of the biography, the author quoted a Sanskrit verse which states, “Women should be educated so that they could carry themselves without fear and with confidence in all matters the same way as men.”

In every one of her writings Acchamamba reminded us constantly and in a timely fashion the importance of women’s education, and the damage lack of education in them causes. She was constantly worried about the way women were ignored or dismissed by family members in our homes. In her book, she wrote that Thoru Dutt’s father raised her as son, and sent her to school as if she was a son. In this regard, Acchamamba wrote, “The sastras state that a daughter must be treated as son. Have we not seen that, at the time of giving his daughter away in marriage, the father says, “this girl was raised by me as son”?

In the same essay, she commented about the families discriminating against girls even from the day they were born. She wrote, “It is extremely painful to watch the amount of humiliation girls are subjected to in contrast to the way boys are raised. Parents lead a life of misery from the day a girl was born. As the girl grows, they raise her not on par with a boy but as an unwelcome responsibility. There is no doubt that 99% of the girls in this country are being raised the way I have mentioned.”

Acchamamba was deeply troubled by this humiliation of girls from parents even from the day they were born. In her essay on Khana, a woman of excellence in Astrology, Acchamamba once again pointed out how women are inherently intelligent, and that the parents ignore them only because of their bias towards male children. She argued that women are not born as unintelligent but become so because of the way they are raised. She contends:

If a boy were dull-witted in his childhood, parents send him to school as soon as he turned five, make sure he was shaken out of his dullness. They make him study several subjects to improve his knowledge. On the other hand, his older sister, a very bright individual, will be left to live a lackluster life for want of proper education. Thus a huge fissure has been created not because of women’s dull wit but because of the discrimination in parenting girls as different from boys.

Acchamamba, who was highly vocal in expressing her views on the suppression of female children at home, repeatedly insisted on the need for women’s education each and every time she had an opportunity to do so. It is amazing that Acchamamba was writing as early as the turn of the nineteenth century how the gender discrimination started, and how women were ignored and dismissed as unintelligent and powerless.

While making powerful arguments for women’s education, Acchamamba also addressed the conjugal relationships and how men shut women up in closed rooms. In her article on Sarasavani, a contemporary of Adi Sankara, and top ranking scholar in nyaya, mimamsa, and vedanta, and who also challenged Adi Sankara with her erudition, Acchamamba raised serious questions in regard to the injustice doled out to women by men.

Instead of giving them [women] the most valuable piece of jewelry, education, men are giving women only metal ornaments, making them puppets and using them for their own pleasures. Instead of treating them as equal partners at home, turning them into maids. In doing so, men are turning not only women as high class idiots but they themselves are making fools of themselves. All this is happening only because of the flaws in men’s attittudes and selfishness; it is not at all women’s fault.

It is strange that nobody ever called Acchamamba a “man-hater” in those days despite her criticism that men were responsible for women’s degrading status and that they kept her as a slave at home. In fact, the one Sanskrit verse Acchamamba quoted at the beginning of her book is sufficient to gauge her views and perspective:

arikshitaa gruhe ruddhah purushai raaptakaarikaaribhih

            aatmaana maatmanaa yaastu raksheyustaassurakshitaah

             Women who are confined in homes by male well-wishers are not safe

Only those who protect themselves are safe.

Here, “male well-wishers” means father, brothers, husband and such. They are well-wishers, no doubt. But they all are anxious to confine women to the homefront. They think that they are protecting women while confining them to the four walls, hindering their progress, and subjecting them to oppression. Acchamamba pointed out that such behavior on the part of men is not protection but suppression and emphasised that women must protect themselves. Acchamamba was direct and articulate in her expression. She was very lucid in her thinking process. Let us review some of her other writings where she encouraged women to be self-reliant.

Most of Acchamamba’s essays, poems and other writings were published in Hindusundari and Saraswati maganizes. In June 1903, her article, “dampathula prathama kalahamu” [The first dispute a Wife {sic}] was published. It was a dispute between a husband and his wife on a small matter. The wife was upset and left for her natal home. In a conversation between the wife and her mother, the author made wife say as follows:

I am a woman married to a man, but I am not his maid. Would I become his servant simply because I married him? Doesn’t he have to respect me, love and treat me like a partner under one roof? On the contrary, if he treats me as a servant, and demands that I should wait on him hand and foot, why would I do so?

After the marriage has been performed, we are entitled to the status of an arthaangi[1], not paid servants. Women like us will never tolerate the egotistic mentalities of men.

Without proper understanding of the relationship between husband and wife, the inequality between men and women and the egocentricity in men, one cannot write this kind of sentences. Unless we are aware of the social conditions of her times, we cannot appreciate the level of her identity awareness.

In another article, vidyaavantulagu yuvatulakoka vinnapamu [An appeal to educated women], she described the importance of education for women, and what the parents should do to educate women. She also stated that women should have respect for themselves. She believed that the reason for women’s lack of education was male teachers. Therefore there should be more female teachers in schools.

As a solution for encouraging women to learn to read and write, she wrote:

Women should form a group, open a school in one of their homes, and conduct a school. If one runs into a problem, others should take turns and help out. That is the only way to contribute towards improving women’s education and have a purpose for their own lives.

Acchamamba urged that the educated women should establish schools in villages and share their education. The entire essay is charged with her deep concern for the lack of education in women.

In her article, strividyaa prabhaavam, [the power of women’s education], she wrote about an imaginary but powerful world, which was almost impossible to imagine by an ordinary brain. Her creativity is beyond one’s imagination.

In a country called Iceland, all men and women receive education equally. They all have equal rights in politics. A woman is in charge of the department of education. Since the security is supervised by women only, there are no prisons and no police officers, and no courthouses. Is it not all due to women’s education? We can find such examples in other countries, but in our country, people are still arguing whether education for women is necessary or not.[2]

I think Acchamamba created this imaginary world in order to emphasise how important it is for the country to have women educated. I am saying this because there is really no country in the world where there are no jails and no police force. We must interpret this account only as an illustration of Acchamamba’s creative skills.

I can write at length about Acchamamba’s writings and it can become a huge volume. Her works deserve to be collected, studied in depth and analysed systermatically.

Utukuri Lakshmikantamma wrote about Acchamamba in her book, Andhra Kavayitrulu, as follows:

Although she [Acchamamba] was not educated in her childhood, she learned to read on her own and acquired the skill to understand and interpret sastras, Sanskrit kavyas, and even religious treatises such as Sruti and Smruti. She became a scholar in Marati and English as well.

Writing history is hard even for men. Acchamamba was admired for undertaking such humongous task and doing an excellent job at that. She is acknowledged as the first historian among women.

Acchamamba was credited with starting a woman’s organization, Brundavana strila samajam, in Machilipatnam in 1902, along with Oruganti Sundari Ratnamamba. She traveled statewide and helped others to establish several women’s organizations. She used to take in destitute children and educate them also. She had five or six children in her home always.

Acchamamba passed away at an early age of 30, on January 18, 1905. Then popular magazine, Hindusundari paid a 5-page tribute to her and wrote under the title, “keertiseshuraalagu srimati Bhandaru Acchamamba garu” [Acchamamba who lives in our memory for ever] that “This woman was born only to serve others” and “Hindusundari magazine lost mother.”

Bhandaru Acchamamba earned a permanent place in the hitory of modern of Telugu literature. Although she was not educated in her childhood, she acquired scholarship in several languages on her own. She was not disheartened by the devastating personal loss in her life. She was acutely hurt by the loss of her son and daughter at an early age. Even as she was heartbroken by grief, she continued her life’s mission with determination and produced a remarkable book, Abalaa saccharitra ratnamala. In 1903, she traveled around widely, spoke with several scholars and elitists and gathered enormous amount of information about women from the earliest times. She used her writings as her medium to disseminate her views on the importance of education for women and to promote women’s movement.

If we were to look for the first example of women’s writing for our inspiration, Acchamamba would top the list. Acchamamba wrote the first short story in Telugu and was first feminist historian. She produced progressive writings with feminist awareness even one hundred years ago.

It is sad that Acchamamba’s life should end so early in life. Had she lived a full life, she would have written several more invaluable books. Maybe the feminist movement would have taken roots even with her at that time itself.

In 1974, the women’s movement erupted to enormous heights yet we did not celebrate the centenary of Acchamamba who was born precisely one hundred years ago. I am saddened and yet proud to pay a tribute to that examplary woman in my own humble way today as I conclude this article.


(Abridged and rendered into English by Malathi Nidadavolu, and published on, March 2010)

 (Full text in Telugu was published in Bhumika and Sujanaranjani, March 2004)


[1] Literally, one half of one person. Implicitly, husband and wife together make up one person

[2] Hindusundari, August 1902.

Uhaagaanam-9 by Tenneti Hemalata

udvaahe niyatih nayatyati balaa
venaam samaam prakphalaih

An ancient astrologer, Varahamihara, believed that the fate would make a man tie the three knots around the bride’s neck only at the appropriate moment. We often hear people say, “He survived because of the strength of the three knots he had tied.”


Priests always try to make the groom tie the three knots at the most propitious moment. Astrology assures us that if a wedding was performed in that specific moment, the couple would prosper with all kinds of wealth,
marital bliss, and worthy progeny. Yet fate makes the man tie the knots only at a moment according to his [fate’s] calculations—this is the fact we all are aware of.

Sometime back, there was a wedding at one of our relative’s place. The propitious moment was set for six in the morning but it was deferred to nine o’clock due to a minor disagreement between the two parties. The guests snickered behind their back. On the nuptial day—traditionally, the sixteenth day from the date of wedding, the groom fell ill with high temperature. People whispered that it was because of the bad thing that happened at the wedding, the argument and the delay in tying the knot. Another astrologer came, did some calculations on his fingers, and said, “This marriage took place in a divine moment. The boy will live long.”
The boy’s party said, “What do you mean divine moment. We all fought like hell and performed the wedding at nine instead of six as previously determined.”

The astrologer recited the verse of Varahamihira quoted above, and said, “If the wedding were performed at six o’clock as planned, Agni, the lord of fire, would have gutted you and your property by now. But destiny had something different in mind. It caused you to get into a squabble and perform the wedding at the accurate moment.” I was surprised.

I am not sure to what extent astrology is reliable. But I am sure destiny is very powerful. Especially in matters of marriage, destiny acts in strange and illogical ways. It was destiny that made Ahalya contemplate on Mahendra who was on his way to go around the world, and marry sage Gautama at the same time. It was not Ahalya’s mistake but the destiny’s which made her do so. Same way, Abala, Ambika, and Ambalika, whose marriages were planned with others, but were married to Chitrangada and Vichitravirya at the same auspicious moment. Their misfortune did not end there. They were widowed. At the end however, they bore children by Vyasa, as the proverb goes, chandrenaika putrah.

In one auspicious moment, a young girl with a B.A. degree was married in a modern wedding ceremony to a boy who had moved to America. In the same moment a widower-lawyer in his fifties married a young girl as a matter of convenience. He wanted somebody to cook and feed him. We all noticed the difference between the two marriages and chuckled. I went again to the same town after three years. The boy who went to America died. The girl was afflicted with smallpox and lost her vision. She was sitting there at the front door holding a walking stick. She heard my footsteps and asked who it was. I told her. She recognized my voice and broke into big sobs. She could have managed to live with her degree if god had not taken away her sight too.

And the lawyer … he fathered three children, colored his moustache and was goofing around like he had no care in the world. What else can I call this if not destiny? What did the young girl do to be accursed like that? What kind of punishment is that?

I heard that Muslims perform nikhah on a new moon day on a Tuesday. Those are bad days for us. That tells us that there is no such thing as auspicious moment and only fate rules. Two marriages were performed at the same auspicious moment: One bride became a widow and the other was living happily. I can’t think of what to say. Our people call it kuja dosham. I don’t know how much of that is true.

Bhaskaracharya is a highly respected mathematician. He realized that his only daughter, Leelavati, would be widowed. He grappled with all the sastras and set an auspicious moment for her wedding. There were no clocks in those days. Therefore he made a water clock  Everything  was set to go. The water clock stopped working. The auspicious moment passed. What happened was, earlier Leelavati, being the child she was and curious about its mechanism, peeked into the water clock and one of her earrings slipped, fell into the device and clogged the water flow. She was married and widowed and eventually became a world-famous mathematician. Her treatise, Leelavati ganitam  became one of the standard texts. In other words, we can never fathom the idiotic games the destiny plays upon us. Destiny also, like ego-centric human beings, insists on having his way as he pleased.

Everybody, from Varahamihira to Appalamma who pounds rice, is aware of this reality. Nevertheless we all allow ourselves to be duped constantly. Possibly, almost everybody had experienced the blessings of their mothers as she massaged oil on their heads for the third time at bath time and uttered, “May your mother’s womb be blessed, your mother-in-law’s womb be blessed … blessed be your womb; you be the mother of sons in an auspicious moment, flourish with plenty of jewelry, rice without stones, and you may live with all the ornaments gloriously.” This is the blessing. That’s how my mother gave her blessings to me. Even these blessings of my mother could not waver the destiny. Well-calculated moments could not change my fate.





Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, January 2008.

Life Imitates Art by C. Vedavati

I am not sure whether this is a story or not. Nor do I know if this should be started only in this manner. They say that the stories should come from people’s lives and those stories are only the good stories. Sometimes however it is also natural to find lives that resemble fiction, I suppose. The problem however, we, who try to see the real lives in stories, ignore the stories in real lives and walk away from them with indifference.

Here is one of those stories. I am putting one of those stories, what has been ignored and let go, in front of you. Instead of saying that I am telling this story, it is better I admit that this was told by the medical specialist who lived three doors away from ours.

I sat on the front porch, sipping tea in the evening. Two boys, who were steering buffaloes everyday on our street, came running to me and said, gasping, “Ma’am, our buffalo got sick and fell on the ground. Let’s pick a few neem leaves for treating the buffalo.”

I nodded directing them toward the tree and leaned over the compound wall to see the animal. The buffalo was on the ground two houses down the road on the other side of the street. Its legs were fluttering in the air. Several people gathered around her and giving advice as they pleased.

My eyes were stuck on the buffalo. A full life was struggling with inexplicable pain. It looked like the life-breath could neither stay put in that body nor snap out of it.

The buffalo was on the ground with the four feet wriggling agonizingly, gathering the entire strength in her body and thrashing about. Poor thing. She could not describe her agony in so many words. She had no tongue to speak. Even otherwise, she possibly could not tell. Her eyes were fraught with fear that no words could describe.

I could not watch that scene or her mute suffering anymore. But I could not turn away either. Does a creature have to suffer so much at the time ending its life? Or, is that the jeevi[i] does not obtain redemption without it?

I had seen several deaths. I had seen long time ago when my father died, a few years back when my mother died, and a few other close relatives and friends. All those memories had been there with me always, like fresh wounds.

Even as I was watching, each one of them slipped into the lap of the goddess death. I had watched them as each one of them left their earthly bodies. Some were in coma at the end, some were aware of their impending death, and a few others died unaware … In all these forms of death, there was one similarity, I had noticed. There was one common characteristic.

You want know what it is? It was the agony the jeevi had suffered in the last few minutes. The unbearable pain it had suffered at the time the breath of life left the body.

Probably it is inevitable for a human or another creature to suffer that agony in the final hours.

Even as I was watching, that buffalo struggled for a few minutes and finally became motionless.

It seemed to be saying, “My suffering has ended. Now you can wail all you want.”

I had been grappling with the logistics of life and death for sometime now. Before birth, where did this jeevi come from? Thereafter, where is it going? In fact, what does death mean? Is it stop breathing? The exhaling of the breath of life for the last time? Does life mean only breathing? Or, is it a matter of Brahman? Why the death experience is so agonizing and so frightening? Some people talk about others as having a painless death. How is that possible? At the time of death, if one possesses the cognizance of the mundane world, how would he feel?

Whom should I ask to learn about this? Sometimes the doctor who could give life is stuck in a helpless situation while the life is gone from the body. Do the doctors who fight fiercely each day with diseases and death know the answers for all these questions?

Recently a doctor moved into a house on our street, three doors down the road. He was a renowned cancer specialist. He worked in the government cancer hospital and came here after his retirement. He was working from home, offering his services to cancer patients in the evenings.

Cancer is the kind of disease that would not let go of a person without taking his life as well. He was an experienced doctor who had seen, at close quarters, numerous cancer patients who were standing at the death’s door or were about to die. I used to wonder if he could answer some of my questions. Yet, up until now, I had not the courage to approach him.

However, after watching that mute animal struggle for life and finally die that evening, I could no longer hold myself.

That evening, after all his patients were gone, and he was strolling in the garden relaxed, I went to his home and introduced myself.

“Doctor sir, I am a writer who daubs the white papers whenever I am bored. Until now, I used to think only about life. Recently, I am getting more interested on wanting to know about death. You doctors are the closest to the issues of life and death. Let me share my thoughts with you for a few minutes. I am certain you can clarify my doubts,” I said, explaining my intent.

For some reason, the doctor looked at me compassionately. It was like the look on his face when he was going to inform the patient that he was afflicted with cancer. I was scared for a second. Was he going to tell me that my brain was afflicted with cancer?

He and I were pacing up and down. It seemed like my questions had invoked some questions which were not present on his mind before. It was clear to me from the knot of his eyebrows.

“You’ve made a mistake in coming to me with these questions. You should have gone to the metaphysical scholars or philosophers who could explain the secrets of life and death. In all my service as a doctor, I never thought about death in that manner. I spent all my time only to fight the death in order to save the patients who had come to me. I try to shoo away death, what can I say to you about death?” doctor said.

“Doctor sir, I don’t think I made mistake in coming to you with my questions. Philosophers and religious leaders will tell what they’ve learned from the books they had studied. They might be scientists and intellectuals but they could not have seen the death from such proximity as you have. You have to tell me from the perspective of your experiences. You have to, unless you consider me a pest, and that I’ve come to bother you,” I said, laughing.

The doctor also laughed at my words. These lighthearted words seemed to have helped to alleviate the gravity of the subject and offer some comfort.

“Friend, I have worked on numerous cases as a specialist in the field and performed surgeries. Some cases gave in to my treatment. And other cases appeared to have succumbed up for a while and then flared up again. Some cases slipped away from my hand even as I watched. Some patients recuperated and lived a little longer while others were beat by the disease quickly. I considered it my duty to fight with all my might the death lurking in the shadows of this disease.

“But, my dear friend, I must tell you one thing. Death is not as horrible as we take it to be. It is a natural and common occurrence just as birth and life. While the life causes a person to suffer viciously, this goddess of death takes him in, like into a mother’s lap, kindly and gently, and lulls him to sleep!

“Let me propose something to you. There is something that is more horrendous, more disgusting, and more insufferable than the death. You are a writer, right, can you guess what it is?”

I was taken aback. More horrendous than death? What could that be! A tornado of thoughts beset my brain. Doctor was silent for a while, as if waiting for my response, and started again.

“Now I’ll tell you a short story. Instead of calling it a story, it is best to call it a real incident in my experience. After listening to that, you tell me what is that horrendous incident about.”

“Tell me, Doctor sir,” I said zealously.


Doctor started telling the story emotionally; the mood of digging up old memories was obvious in his face.


He said, “I always believe that the relationship between a doctor and his patient must not be mechanical and businesslike. Patient is a human being and so also a doctor. It is true that the relationship between the two is based on the three elements, namely, the disease, the treatment and money. I however believe that, beyond that, a finer bond between one person and another should also exist between these two individuals. A doctor must treat a patient not just as a patient but also regard him humanely with kindness and compassion. Ever since I had entered the medical profession, I made it my duty to develop this kind of attitude towards my patients, filled with compassion and put it in practice .

“Once, Hema, young girl, about 7 or 8-year-old, was admitted in the hospital where I was working. It was an event I could never forget in my life. Sometimes I even thought if I was developing a more than normal closeness with her. But the truth was I was bound by an inexplicable affection because of her weary and ailing face and ingenuous words. By the time she turned Hema baby to me, I became her doctor uncle.

“Then the time came for Hema to be discharged from the hospital and to go home. Her mother, Sarojini, dabbed her tears meekly. She said, ‘Doctor sir, You took us in not only as a doctor but like a brother. Now you are sending us home. What do you think would happen to us now?’

“I assured her, ‘Be brave, Sarojini. We have done everything we could up until now. There is nothing else we can do. The only thing you can do is to keep her at home and administer the medications as advised. Usually I go to Vijayawada on other business and it is not too from your village, right? I’ll visit Hema as much as possible.’ She wiped her tears, and handed me a piece of paper with her address. She folded her hands gratefully.”

Doctor narrated the story without a break up to this point and then stopped. Although it had happened long time ago, he told the story impressively, I thought.

“Doctor garu, in the story you’ve narrated so far, I could see only the rasa[1] of kindness. Isn’t there more you wanted to tell me?” I asked.

“Friend, You’ve come to me with a kind of anxiety to learn from me. And I told you that I’d give you something more, right?” the doctor said somberly.

“Yes, doctor. I asked you about death. I came to you with the conviction that you, as a doctor, could tell me a few things about the agony the jeevi suffers in the final seconds of his life.”

“I told you that there is a greater pain than death and I’d tell you about it. Alright?”

“Yes, doctor. But, before that, tell me this first. What happened, I mean Hema? I hope she’s alright,” I said.

“How can I tell you? Not even I know what has happened to Hema. After she had left the hospital, for the first six months, I happened to visit them a few times. Those six months were more like krishnapaksham[2] for her. Before the new-moon day came, a huge scandal rose fervidly like a twister and tied up my feet. It made me stop visiting Hema again.”

“Scandal? What’s that about?” I said as I cringed.

“Nowadays, stories are being bantered around everywhere, calling it love between men and women. Don’t you understand what “scandal” means? And you are a writer! Alright. Listen, I’ll tell you,” he said.

“One ordinary housewife stayed in a hospital for a few days in a faraway place because of her sick child. In the government hospitals, doctors usually do not pay attention to even patients. That being the case, why would a doctor go the distance and pay a free visit to a patient who is not even a patient at the hospital anymore? What kind of benefit the doctor is looking for in traveling the distance and visiting the sick child several times a week? There must be something wrong. Maybe something between the doctor and the child’s mother …”

“Don’t say anything anymore, doctor. I understand,” I said, covering my ears.

My head started spinning. It felt like some vague hurt crept into my heart. Are the words like “goodness” and “humaneness” absent in the dictionary of these people? Don’t they recognize mercy, kindness and fondness as characteristics of a human heart? It is alright if they cannot value a good heart. Why should they carve such a distorted form of it? Why do they fan the fire in this manner? Don’t they have anything better do?

Some people take pleasure in hurting others physically and or emotionally. They turn real lives into fiction.

Now I see the goddess of death as a personification of kindness. I see her as a grantor of boons, the goddess who offers solace to those who are exhausted and worn out.

Death does not attribute rumors to people for no reason, would it? It would not even pass crooked comments on the human relationships, which should have been sensitive, beautiful and aromatic.

Strange! Now I don’t see the death as a complex problem. More complicated conduct seemed to have taken roots deeply in our hearts, what about that?

“Thank you, doctor. Thank you very much,” I said and took leave of him. To me he was both the doctor and the philosopher in one person.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, April 2008.

(The Telugu original, kathavanti jeevitam, was taken from the anthology, kadambam, published by Sakhya Sahiti, 1996.)


[1] One of nine moods in Sanskrit poetics.

[2] The two weeks when the moon wanes, from full-moon day to new-moon day.

[i] There is no equivalent in English. Roughly translates as the soul.

Virtual Reality by Dr. Sivasankar, Papineni

“Not able to sleep?”
“Yes. The thunder, lightning are not letting me sleep. I feel my entire heart being cloudy,
“I too feel too restless to sleep. We are roommates but hardly ever speak to each other. Strange, isn’t it? Where do we have time, anyway? We run on our life tracks, from dawn to dusk. You work in “Satyam” and I, in “Asatyam”. However, in this middle of night I want to share my restlessness with you.”
“Shall we sit on the terrace?”
“Yes, let’s go.”

“The breeze, the drizzle, it is so nice here.”
“So far above, in this dark night with lightning, standing on the terrace, looking at the city, what do you feel?”
“Hmm! It reminds me of  a poem I read some time ago.

Silent and
Stealthily opens
the inner eye
seducing you
to explore
her mysteries
pushes you
into warm desires
this night
like a stream
flows between us.  ”

“Very sensitive. Do you like poetry?”
“Yes. I like many more things, apart from poetry.  Now you tell me about what you feel now.”
“Hmm! I feel the night hides something under the cover of darkness. Something
incomprehensible. I need to see those things that hide from me! Including emotions. I need to have a handle on everything that is elusive. I wish to know how it would feel to jump from this parapet wall, for example.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“I don’t know what I desire, nor do I know what I should desire. I came all the way from Noida to join this software firm. I don’t know what I expected to find. I didn’t find anything except heavy pay packet.”
“Aren’t you happy with your work, Manisha?”
“What’s so big deal about it? In any case, I am not a very hard worker. It is such a funny place to work. You know so many jokes about software professionals, don’t you? Listen to this latest one. There is this client who has two cows. You need to teach him to milk the cows. You prepare a project plan to teach him how long he could milk. You design a plan to show him how to milk the cows. You make two dummy cows for him to practice upon and show him how to milk the cows using the dummy cows. If he is not satisfied, you start all over again. You overcome
problems of all sizes and shapes and send the product to the client to use on site.  The client complains that he is not able to milk the cows. You break your head again. Finally you figure out that client is trying to milk oxen! You correct him and finally everything is working. The client is able to milk his cows. But now he complains about the quality of the milk. Again you take over your product and figure out how to improve the quality of milk. You hand over your improved product back to him. Now he complains about the slow rate of the milking process
that you recommended. You wrack your brains again and improve the performance. But, by now the cows are past their prime age! End of story!”
“Very funny and true, to some extent.”
“It is like one of those ant stories that you told me.  I came into this field out of interest and curiosity. Somehow I ended up disillusioned. Now I check out weekend parties and pub, out of sheer boredom. I am trying many relationships with various boyfriends. Today my new boyfriend, who is also my team member, proposed marriage. Of course, I refused.  He must have been disappointed. But I can’t help it. I am not able to figure out what I want from my life. Whatever little I have understood, I have no need for. I don’t know how much you know about
me. My parents don’t visit me ever. They are not interested in my life. I am not interested in them. The fine threads of emotional bonds between us are broken, I guess. ”
“Why is it like that? Is it possible for members of one family not to love each other?”
“Of course! I grew up totally devoid of any familial love. My dad and mom! I hate them both. They hate each other! I have wondered often about it! How is it possible for two people to hate each other so much and still share a home and bed? How is it possible for two people to share everything and yet, hate each other intensely? I don’t know and I can’t understand it. Mom complains that dad is irresponsible and that he is out of the house most of the time. And dad, suspects mom about her friendships! They quarrel like cats. Sometimes I have seen my dad
hitting my mom. They have noticed that I am watching their fights. They kicked me out into a hostel. They wouldn’t want their only daughter to be with them! I guess we have drifted apart, slowly. I know it is going to be like this for ever. I have lost all trust in the family system and its values. But, I don’t know any other values to love and cherish. I feel tired by the end of the week. I need some stress release. I need to get out of this hostel with its sickening food. I need to relax and enjoy myself. I indulge in outings, visiting pubs, dancing with friends, alcohol,
smoking and everything out there. I feel avenged for with this decadence. But vengeance upon who?  Nothing satisfies me. The emptiness doesn’t fill. I want to know what I need. I feel myself burning. ”
“Sorry Manisha. I never knew you were so disturbed.”
“That’s alright, Supriya. Now, it is your turn to open up. Tell me. Why are you disturbed? What is your problem?”
“Mine is a different case. I think I have a fair idea of what I want. But, often, not getting what you want leads to lot of restlessness, don’t you think? I don’t want anything that is not mine rightfully. I think I don’t like to steal.”
“What does that mean?”
“From nature or from others, I neither expect nor accept anything that doesn’t belong to me in the first place.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Let me explain. When I was a student I cycled to college. My father offered to buy me a two-wheeler scooter. I refused. When I cycle I feel it is all my energy that goes into it. I wouldn’t get the same sense of pride in driving a motorized vehicle. Anyways, I was returning home one day on my cycle. Near a school playground, I suddenly felt that I am about to have a flat tire. I stopped to examine the front wheel of my bicycle. I suddenly noticed something shining on the road. It was a goldchain. For a while I was tempted to pocket it. For a long time before that
I was yearning for a small gold chain on my neck. I almost felt happy at finding that chain there. But, believe it or not, I couldn’t take it. ”
“Because it was not mine! If I had picked it up it might have made me happy. But what about the person who lost it? So I thought I should leave it there.”
“How foolish! If you pick up something that you found on the road, how can you call it stealing? In any case, leaving it there wouldn’t mean that it would reach the owner, would it?”
“Of course not! So I picked it up, gave it to the head mistress of that school. She gave it to the girl who had lost the necklace. The relief in the girl’s face gave me all the happiness I wanted. When I went home, my mother reacted just like you did, calling me stupid. But my dad was proud of me. He beamed with pleasure and said, “of course! You are my daughter! That’s what you would do”. I love my dad. I knew that when he found that bundle of currency, he couldn’t sleep till he returned it to the owner.”
“What a family!”
“Yes, but that is not the problem. Now it is the reverse, in fact. I don’t get what should be mine rightfully.”
“Why is that?”
“My career is full of stress and tension. After joining the work force I hardly even get time to spend with my parents. My music, my painting, my hobbies are all lost to me. Do you know my paintings were complemented by Sanjeevadev? When I was in college I had been to a tour to see the Ajanta caves. I was captivated by the marvellous beauty. Those majestic hills looking like horse shoe, that Waghora river, those thirty caves, it was simply out of this earth. I felt wings sprouting on me. I flew all over the caves and drank in the beauty. All the beauty of those
paintings is in their eyes, I think.

Those eyes
full of
flowing out of them
Swimming in
the eternity of
Half closed
open half
making the world
semi dark.

Birth of the Gautama Buddha, His exit from the palace, His enlightenment, Yashodhara’s agony, it was a different world, and I was a part of that world. It was I, in the queen Mayadevi’s lap, it was I in the begging bowl of The Buddha, and I was the lotus in the hands of the Bodhisatva. I was the reality in that imaginary world.  That’s where I ‘lived’, because that is where I ‘felt alive’.  That rhythm, that sense of being alive, they’ve left me. When I sang I felt this inexplicable bliss, whether it was a folk song on Enki or a keertana by Annamayya.  Now, I live
in my cubicle. I live with my computer. What can I sing there?

Do you know how hard I worked for my current project? There was no effective leadership. People with tunnel vision take charge of the projects. They don’t test a product in all environments. They don’t review the code diligently. In the production phase when twenty five users logged on simultaneously, the system simply hung. It was a miserable failure. Clients went crazy! My manager grandly promised he would resolve all the issues in three days. We had a massive brain storming session, which was a useless exercise anyway. The entire team
was frustrated and demoralised. Everybody conveniently then shifted the responsibility to me, since I was the lead programmer. I had a deadline in two days.  I picked up the gauntlet. I raked my brains and finally figured out what to do. ”

“What was that?”

“Paradigm shift! I went through the design and coding with a fine tooth comb. I realized that the application left open ends at places. I fixed all the holes and got it up and running. I did not get any kind of support from my P.L.!”

“Well done, Supriya. You are indeed, very smart and hard working.”
“Thanks again. In fact, that was all I wanted, sincere appreciation. I enjoyed the work, so I don’t have any complaints. But something interesting happened later.”
“When the project was discussed in high places, my project leader walked away with all the honors. He did not have the common courtesy to acknowledge my contribution. I was completely side lined. In the recent performance appraisal, our P.L Dixit was praised to the skies, while I was completely sidelined. Dixit was all smiles and received all the accolades, as if it was his due. If he had played it fair, it would have been me there!”
“I understand how it feels. It is so common in career. ”
“I know in the annual performance review I will get a decent pay hike. But somehow that doesn’t make me happy. The fat pay check, the ATM cards, hefty bank balance, is ok, but they do not motivate me. What motivates me is my work. I put in my heart and soul into my work. That should make me happy in principle, right? But it is not. I feel cheated out of the appreciation I should get. I feel neither my work nor am I is getting the attention it deserves. I have a right to get that satisfaction, which I am not getting. A farmer feels satisfied when he sees the land he tilled. A scientist, a teacher, a cobbler, everybody gets a sense of pride and
achievement in their respective work. We don’t feel that!”
“Are you sure everybody feels the same way as you do?”
“Perhaps not. But I do and I feel alienated.”
“I guess we are all alienated. I don’t feel passionate about my work, you are passionate and yet, we feel the same isolation.”
“In fact nothing belongs to us, anyway. When I sit in the cubicle I feel like an astronaut, who lost touch with the earth and the real world. It is an ultra-modern world, which is real and unreal, simultaneously. This is truth and fiction, isn’t it? We don’t have any say in anything about the project. We have no idea why we are doing it. Nobody cares whether we like it or not. A job is allotted to you and you get moving with it. Meet the deadlines, answer the stupid questions, give demos after demos, uploads, downloads, pressure, sleeplessness, I am beginning to hate it all. Nobody is thinking of enjoyment of work. ”
“Take it easy. Why do you get so worked up? It is all about the pay check we receive at the end of every month.”
“We are just caught up in materialistic possessions.”
“Now, what does this mean?”
“Ours is a “having” mode of life. Not a “being” mode of life.”
“I get slightly scared now!”
“We have jobs and salaries making everybody envious. We are proud of that. The money we blow up in one party can help ten students to pay their fees. That’s how I spent my first salary. Why are we not happy, with all our possessions and wealth? What is it that we are missing out of life?”
“Perhaps you are right. I never think so deeply. Tomorrow my clients are arriving from U.K. Our entire team is tensed about this. I am quite nervous about it.”
“Yeah, it is a routine tension.”
“I know, but it is always haunting.”
“I agree. That’s why I think I am going to quit my job, very soon.”
“I might be sent on an onsite mission soon. That might give me a much needed break. With all these tensions, forget about marriage. We will become old maids by thirty. ”
“Let us leave it for now. Let’s talk of this peaceful night. The streets have gone to sleep. The stars have disappeared under the clouds. The slight drizzle is mildly intoxicating.”
“Supriya, in this mystic gloom, among the tiny rain drops, why don’t you sing something? I am sick to the teeth of listening to the chaos that is the pop-music!”

“Right, I will sing the famous Enki song.”

won’t  you accept  me  tonight?
The moonlight
Flaunts her charm
for the lake
The lake revels
In the bliss
And reminisces
My restless life
Culminates in
disturbed nights
won’t you accept me tonight?



Translated by Sharada and published, August 2008.

POET’S WIFE by Nayani Krishna Kumari.

There are only two characters in this story—the Poet who just returned home and the wife busy with chores at home. Between these two characters, there is the pen which is busy chiseling the letters, passing comments off and on, and babbling some silly things. This pen never learned to keep quiet.

“Lakshmi, Lakshmi,” the poet called a few times. His voice rose higher and higher, reached the highest note and then stopped. Lakshmi did not come into the room. The wicked wife not coming into the front room.


“Huh. My voice’s getting gruff. This wicked witch of a wife hears me and still does not reply,” he told himself.

True, she heard his voice and not replied. She has not replied verbally; she walked in slowly. She came in, dabbing her wet hands to her saree palloo gently. “What is it, Sir! You’re shattering the tiles on the roof,” she said with a smile. She was watching the glow on his face in the light spreading from her moonlit smile. Her husband had the most beautiful face. He had a face that could put a value on her life.

“Oh, Devi[1]! The Generous one! The Woman with a heart brimming with waves of kindness! You’ve finally taken pity on this poor soul,” the poet knelt in front of her. Little waves of the river mandakini danced in her heart. That was the kind of dance the poet would describe in his poetry, she thought and suppressed a smile. She held her right hand in abhayamudra[2]. The poet was tickled at heart as he watched the tender palm.

“Um, come on, quick, speak your wish or else you’ll receive not a boon but a curse,” she said. The wife who had surrendered her entire life to the husband on his knees, was telling him that she might put a curse on him.

“May you grant me a strong cup of coffee,” he said gravely.

His eyes shone as they reflected the sheen of her teeth. The poet’s wife’s eyes turned toward the kitchen but her heart stayed put with the husband.

“Do not add too much sugar, Devi! May you be blessed with good grace”

The poet’s heart bubbled with joy. The muse in him gathered strength. The luster from her face was spreading over his heart like the rays of light. His hands fumbled all over the table and pulled out white papers. The pen’s cap settled on the back end; the pen was ready to smear the white pages.

Poet’s wife walked in with a steaming cup of coffee.

“What’s that?” As she handed him the cup, her mouth spit those harsh words. Her devotion to her husband surged in her heart yet remained silent.

Poet took the coffee.

Wife stood behind his chair and started playing with his hair. “Bavaa,” she called him softly.

Poet’s heart was moved. The term bavaa from his wife, his maternal uncle’s daughter, sent his heart into raptures. Poet flipped his head backwards; his eyes met hers.

“Shooting a sammohanastram[4]. What’s the story?” he asked.


Poet was writing not only poetry but fiction also. His wife wrote nothing. She would listened to his stories, enthralled. In her mind, her husband wrote poetry much better than all the others.

”I don’t have any story to tell. You’re the two-penny writer. You would write some rubbish, call them your stories, and boogie around like a monkey,” she said. She told herself that she’d expressed her anger very well. She was annoyed because he was playing with his papers instead of talking to her.


“Whatever has gotten into you? It seems your father’s created you only to chew me up,” poet said. These words did not emanate from the bottom of his heart but only from the tip of his tongue. She would not chew him up, would not be able to.


“Bless you and your mother for thousand years. What’d I care,” poet’s wife said. Her feet turned towards the kitchen. They were like swans in the poet’s heart, her face was the lotus in it, her arms the stalks, and the green saree she was wearing was a throng of moss. Poet’s heart swung rapturously.


“What could I say anything about you? You snap for nothing. Yet you’ll say all kinds of things about my writing, is that it?” poet spoke the truth. He did not say anything about her. Poet’s wife bit her tongue. Honestly, she did not say anything about his writings either.


“What’s it then? You sit there with those stupid papers and pen forever. Do you think ‘wife’ does not mean as much to you as those stories?”


Poet’s heart laughed aloud; he laughed because this woman who held the rudder of his lifeboat was speaking meaningless words.




“No, my queen. Excitement is the foundation for poetry. And who’s the foundation for that excitement? Your eyes which, like fish, swim in the beauty of your face, the more I watch you … the more I spend time in your presence, … and .. and …” He wanted say a lot more but words failed him. Words have been always like this … never came to his mind when needed; they’d show up only after the need was gone. Poet’s eyes wandered around in the four corners of the room, prayed to the cobwebs for words and returned.


Poet cleared his throat and said, “My life’s aim is to portray you, the very manifestation of my life, in undying letters and present to the world as a gift. That is my single goal in life; my single exercise. You are a goddess to me, a genuine lover and my dream girl.” The poet was caught in a stream of poetry.

Poet’s wife was listening. She was on the ground but his words sounded like they were from out of this world. She felt like she was lost, bathing in the celestial mandakini river surrounded by kamadhenu [the heavenly cow], kalpavruksham [the celestial tree] and the parijatha flowers in the heavenly garden, nandanavanam. Her husband was not just a husband but the lord Indra himself.


“Stop Swami[5]. Crazy men are better compared to you poets, I suppose.”


Poet’s wife knew that poets and crazy men belonged together. Her husband was not only a poet but also was madly in love with her.


“That mischief of yours is inborn I’d say. You are my arthangi [one half of husband], the woman who should be holding my hand and walking me through life. And yet you snap at me and my poetry even if I say so much as an ‘um’. What am I supposed to do? Tell me, is my poetry asking you for food or water?”


True, his poetry did not demand food or water. Not even did it [the poetry] find the means to provide food and water for the person who had loved it and created it. Poet’s wife knew that.


“Would be nice if it had asked. I would’ve tied it to a pole and fed him some garbage,” she said.


Poet felt sparks in his heart. His wife was a good match for him.


“Come on Lakshmi, you’re not towing its load, are you?”


The pen told itself no need for any comments here.


Husband and wife were engaged in a heart-to-heart talk.


“You can say that again … You are not speaking even one word with me. As soon as you walk in, you start your affair with that pile of papers. I don’t have a co-wife but there it is, a bigger one.”


“You! God bless your home. That’s what you’re complaining about? … Is it about only talking, or, are you planning a trip to some place too?”


Poet’s wife did not speak. The pen thought there was nothing wrong in adding a comment here since the poet’s wife was quiet.


Poet approached her, held her chin gently. She pushed him away. The bangles on her hand jingled. Without another word, poet went and sat in his chair.


He said, “Oh god! I asked you for a wife and you gave me a brahmarakshasi. [high rank demon]”.


brahmarakshasi would not have smiling eyes or dainty nose, and certainly not the skill to overpower one’s heart. Poet’s wife possessed all these qualities. Therefore she was not a brahmarakshasi. And poet knew that.


Poet’s wife was not speaking yet.


“I wish I could ditch these mundane ties and go away to Rameswaram or some other place,” he said.


Poet’s wife moved; threw piercing looks at him. She said, “Stop it, stop that ghastly talk. If that’s the case, why marry at all? Who asked you to marry?”


Poet laughed. He laughed freely like a child. He said, “If somebody asked me to marry, I would have told her ‘no’ straight to her face. How can I look into your face and say no?”


Poet’s wife budged. She moved, walking in consonance with the flow of blood rushing in her veins. She came close to the poet. She knelt, held the arms of his chair; her eyes stared into his.

“Huh, that’s so unfair! Did I ask you to marry me? What a shame, bavaa?”

“Yes, my uncle’s daughter! Do you have to open your mouth and ask? What about your eyes? Did they let me stay still for a second? Didn’t they chase me like bullets from a rifle? Do you suggest I take the bullets and die? Don’t I savor my life of one hundred years like everybody else?”


Poet’s wife struggled to suppress a laugh. She bit her lip with front teeth. Her entire face became a camphor cube lit up, meant to hold a victory harati to the poet. She said, “You’re devious poet. Had I known, do you think I would have married you?”


“Well, that has happened. Let it be. Divorce me and find someone else.”


“Where is the assurance that he also wouldn’t turn out to be a poet like you? Nowadays where is a man who has learned the alphabet and not babbled or scribbled some nonsense?”

The poet thought that his wife’s question was a good one. The question however did not remain a question but gave rise to another misgiving. That misgiving worried him. For that worry to come out, his face changed expression and assumed somberness.


“Okay Lakshmi, I have a question for you. I’ll ask and you answer.”


Poet’s wife was disconcerted for a second. In her mind, a change in his tone caused the worlds to collapse; she collected herself and glared into his face sharply.


“Ask,” she said.


“Lakshmi, Would you really call my writings are also worthless trash, like those written by all those who had just learned the alphabet and scribbled?”


Ha, Is that all! Poet’s wife laughed. Relieved, her runaway heart returned home. Her impish brain popped up as usual and bopped like a kid.


“What do I know, sir. Am I a poet? Can I write? Why ask me about the good and bad in your poetry?”


“Stop it. Whom can I ask if not you? Who else has the power to evaluate my good and bad qualities?”


Joy erupted in the heart of the poet’s wife. It rose ferociously like the river Godavari on a stormy day and flooded; washed away her consciousness of the world, the people, and the daily activities in her memory.


“When I read your writings, I think that my husband is a gem among poets and then my heart runs over.”


“Really? Is it true, my queen? In that case, I don’t care even if the entire world assailed me and my poetry.”


Poet’s face turned red with excitement. Poet’s wife chided him gently, “Ssh. This is what bothers me about you. Too much excitement?”


“Without excitement, where is the poetry, you silly? You see, right now I am in a mood to write one hundred poems about you—the way you stand, the looks your eyes disperse, the beams of light your face displays, … and … more….” Poet wanted to say a lot more. But words were not coming to his rescue. These words had been always like that. They would not come to mind in time of need. Poet was lost in thought. His eyes were staring at the ceiling. His heart was not to be found anywhere in the vicinity. Poet’s wife was troubled.


Bava, hey bavaa! What’s that? A fit of excitement?.” Her two hands seized his shoulders, shook him and then let go.


God bless you! Keep quiet for a second. I am on to a good poem.”


“That’s enough, that’s cute. Don’t make all my labor bite dust.”


That was hard! What’s that? Suspicion sprang in the poet’s heart.


“Don’t you remember what you’ve just said? We’re going on a trip, straight to the Royal talkies,” she said.


A big boulder descended in the poet’s heart. The thrill of his poetic brilliance was gone. Even the beautiful poem which was about to come out was gone. The Royal Talkies turned into a planet at his heart and wailed for help.


“We’ll eat and then go. See how fast I’ve finished cooking the food—your favorite potato curry. Get up. Why waste time?”


Poet was still in daze yet heard his wife’s voice. The potato cubes, cooked, peeled, and fried zesty brown were twirling around in his heart. But he was not enthused. There was no sign of poems shaping up in his mind anymore. Well, the potato cubes would not make the right stuff for poetry.


“You’re not going to get up,” she said. The Poet’s wife referred to him as meeru or nuvvu depending on what she thought of him—husband or uncle’s son at any given moment.


She assembled the papers in front of him, capped the pen, seized his hand and dragged him towards the kitchen, to serve his favorite potato curry and tell him to take her to the movies.


The form of the wife who had been nurturing him so fondly was glowing in his heart even more charmingly. But it would not be impossible for him to write poetry in that moment. His wife would not let him.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, February 2008.


[1] Goddess.

[2] A hand gesture usually associated with gods and goddesses granting a wish.

[3] Mother’s sister’s son. In Telugu homes, the marriage between cross-cousins is permitted.

[4] An arrow, sanctified with a particular mantra, is capable of causing delusion in the person hit by it.

[5] Commander, Chief.

[6] The wife uses second person, singular, informal nuvvu , and formal meeru based on her assessment of the situation. These two forms are translated as “you’ in English. Only those familiar with our culture can understand the way the wife plays on the two terms.


Men’s Special by Madhurantakam Rajaram

    The beauty and enjoyment in life comes mainly from unpredictable and unforeseen events, I guess. For instance, I never thought I would meet Narahari after nearly a decade.

On my way back home from a wedding in a distant town, I stopped in a city to visit an exhibition. Since I did not have any friends there, I checked myself into a hotel. The hotel is a three-floored one, with the ground floor solely used as a restaurant.

After a shower, I strolled into the restaurant for refreshment. It was still hot in the evening at 5.00 p.m. As I was looking around for a place to sit, I heard a familiar voice issuing orders. Indeed, it was Narahari issuing orders in his usual style, “Hey, you there! Get me another masala-dosa. Add another ootappam to that. I also need two mysore-paks, two pesaratts, and five bondas, all packed to take away. Look sharp now”, he hustled the waiter.

As the waiter moved out of the way, his eyes met mine. Was it just my suspicion or did a dark shadow flit across his face when he saw me- I wondered! His eyes registered a momentary surprise and he tried to mumble some kind of greeting. But he gathered his wits in a couple of seconds. He was his usual confident self.

“Hey, Rajasekharam! When did you come here? How did you find me here?”

I smiled. “Dear Sir! I have not even dreamt of seeing you here. After seeing you, I thought perhaps you too are a visitor here like me. Looks like I am wrong. So you live in this city, do you?”

“Yes, of course! I worked for a while in Bhilai. Then for sometime I was in Bombay. For about five years I stayed in Coimbatore. At first, I did not agree to come here. I made incredible demands on the management, when they requested me to work here. They met all my demands and transferred me here…” like a well-oiled vehicle that was momentarily lost on the roadside, and brought back on to the main road, his monologue went on and on. Now his speed and volume too increased.

“I live now in Lakshmipuram colony. Ours is a good-sized bungalow. I have a beautiful terrace to sleep on summer nights. It has all the facilities and a nice big garden around it. In the beginning I was drawing miserable five-hundreds. Now they pay me nearly a thousand rupees every month. No worries to bother me! It is a great life, isn’t it?” He paused to take a breath.

Of course, I never contested his thought that his life was beautiful. Nor did I express any opinion along that line. Then why was he boring me with his life history? He enquired about my arrival into the city, but did not bother to wait for an answer. As if there was no tomorrow, he began to blow his own trumpet. The bonus payments he got in his work, his habit of watching every movie released on the very first day, the cool and expensive clothes he was wearing, his food enriched with vitamins, and what not! To hell with the money, he was not only earning it in heaps, but also making sure every rupee was giving him every thing he needed, or else!

“My dear Rajasekharam! Are we born in this world to plod through life gloomily? Of course not, the life is ours to enjoy every moment of it, don’t you agree?” He emphasized his words as if he was the first one to realize such a profound truth.

We, the members of human society long ago defined God as the infinite bliss, the happiness of the moment! We agreed that the happiness is the eternal and ephemeral abstraction. The only issue is that we do not know how to share it among everybody evenly! I resented Narahari’s high handed talking, implying that except him all others were apathetic to happiness and as if we all were sulking in dark rooms! I wondered if he ever thought that just like him everybody is entitled to opinions about life, money and happiness. Anyways, he spoke without a pause and I could do nothing else except listen mutely.


As he was in the middle of his discourse three take-away parcels arrived at the table along with a bill for five rupees.


“Rajasekharam! Now that you have come this far, why don’t you visit our home once? There is a park in the Lakshmipuram colony beside which is a bus stop. Jawahar lane is just adjacent to the bus stop. If you walk along the lane to the end it connects to Dr.Subbanachari road. On that road anybody can direct you to my house. There is a nice big name board on the gate anyway…”

“Yes, of course! I came here to visit the exhibition. However I will try to visit your home once before I leave, if possible.”

Both the invitation and acceptance were meaningless and insincere. His invitation seemed to mock me saying, “I dare you to come and see my home. Do you have it in you to see my prosperity without feeling jealous? Of course, I want to show off my life style in front of you…..” and so on.

I admit I too was not very honest in my talking. I made it very clear to him in my acceptance that I was a very busy person and seeing his home was not a priority item on my agenda. Though it looked as if I accepted his invitation, in reality what I did was decline it. I had my own reasons for it. If he was really keen upon it, he would have insisted that we should leave together at that very moment. He did not do that! The other reason was rather personal. Narahari, all the while talking to me, polished off the plates in front of him. He found faults with the coffee and dumped it into the washbasin. During all this he did not find the politeness or courtesy in him to enquire whether I was hungry, nor did he offer to get something for me. Then he expected me to take a bus to Lakshmipuram colony and go through the entire route just to see his home. Why bother! Today I would see the exhibition and tomorrow morning I would take the train to my place, I thought nonchalantly.

I loved the exhibition that evening. The crowd that came to see the exhibition was incredible. I saw models of big multi purpose projects, modern machinery, space ships, and every interesting thing. The illumination added to the excitement. With all this, Narahari still plagued my mind.

I returned to my hotel and tried to get some sleep. However much I tried, I could not take my mind off Narahari. There was a reason for this merciless haunting of my memories. Narahari was a close relative of mine. In fact, he was my brother-in-law! He married my cousin Sarada, my uncle’s daughter. I might as well begin at the beginning.



I was twelve when my father passed away. My mother, my two little brothers, myself, our small own home, a little bit of provident fund and some money we got from father’s insurance policy, were all looked after my uncle Ramanatham, my father’s younger brother.

We loved him and respected him not only for his affection for our family, but also due to his outstanding integrity. His honesty and uncompromising attitude towards his principles and justice earned him lot of respect everywhere. He firmly believed that the only way to get money was to earn it. His honesty was many times ridiculed since as a school teacher he never got a chance to earn money by questionable means. But then, even in those days it was not impossible for school teachers to make some extra income along the side lines.


Once, he was on duty to mark some answer papers of a Government Departmental examinations. A twenty-five year old woman, who managed to get hold of the examiner’s address, arrived from distant lands to talk to him. A thin emaciated woman who seemed to be in great distress, she looked weighed down under constant struggles in life. She said she was married at a very young age and then widowed. She did not have anybody to help her and if she could clear this examination she could apply for some small job and she would not depend upon others. She wept inconsolably and said, “Sir! Please pass me in this examination and you would have saved me from starvation.”
To convince him further she had a much-folded hundred-rupee note which she handed timidly as a bribe to uncle. Uncle’s lips thinned with consternation. He turned back into the home and called my aunt Janaki to feed the woman first. After she had a decent meal, he called her into the drawing room.

“My dear child! If you were a man, I would have slapped you to bring some sense into you. I have five daughters! All of them think that their dad is an honest man. Do you think I can accept this money and still have my daughters trust me? In the bigger examination that is life, there is another examiner who gives all of us marks. We should aim to pass in His examinations. So, don’t worry. Take this money and go back to you place.”

We never knew whether he passed that woman or not.

Ramanatham uncle’s eldest child was Sarada. In their home, if somebody wanted to hang a picture, her help was needed. In fact, no job, big or small could go on without her assistance. She was the leader of all the five girls. She was an expert in looking after, cleaning up the home and everything a woman needed in life.

Savitri was the second daughter. She was not as pretty as her elder sister, but she was a song bird! She was a walking radio and talking parrot! Padma was the third daughter. She was a born dancer with very fluid and graceful moments. Bhargavi and Mythili were twin dolls. Their home was always filled with simple fun and laughter. It was very late when I realized that below the surface of this flower filled lake a fire was brewing.

At the rate of ten thousand rupees per head to get all these five daughters married uncle would need a minimum of fifty thousand rupees! He had no ancestral property. From where could he raise this money?

On the day when Sarada was declared as the topper in School-final examinations I went to their house to congratulate her. Aunty was busy preparing sweets to mark the occasion. She gave me two pieces and declared that was because I was the elder brother of the girls. Sarada left for the temple with her sisters. Uncle was sitting in the garden and seemed to be lost in thought.

Rights and responsibilities go together. Aunty reminded me of my right as an elder brother. Now uncle reminded me of my responsibility. “Sit down Raja, I need to talk to you.” I obeyed him.

“Sarada seemed to be always posing questions to me. Just because she appeared for the examinations does not mean that she has to clear them, does it? At least, she could have just scraped through. No, she had to top the entire school. She seemed to be testing my strength.”

“What do you mean, uncle?” I was confused.

“I know, you can’t understand. Now she will get a scholarship to study further. I have no reason to stop her from studying, when there is a decent college here. Forget about the people, I won’t be able to answer your aunt or myself, if I prevent her from studying further. ”


“What will be the consequences?”
”What else? She will top there too,” I did not know where this was all leading to.

“Of course she will top. To her, clearing examinations is as easy as drinking water. That is my entire problem. If she is going to be so well educated, I need to look for a doctor or an engineer to marry her. Those bride grooms are like white elephants. Then I will have to spend at least twenty-five thousand rupees just to get her married.”

Yes, on the other hand if she stops with school-final he need not look for very expensive bridegrooms. I guessed his thoughts correctly but did not dare to express it.


A running brook cannot be stopped by a blade of grass. Instead, the blade of grass would get washed away in the flow.

Four years passed without any changes. Sarada continued her education and qualified herself as a graduate.

We’ve reached a stage where, when people asked, “why haven’t you got Sarada married yet?” we could no longer answer, “Oh, no, but she is still studying! We don’t want to disturb with marriage now.” Now we were forced to say, “Yes, we are looking for some proposals, but not finding any boy suitable for her.”

People joked crudely saying, “He must be already born somewhere. You have to look carefully, that’s all.” We could not imagine who would marry our Sarada. We did not have any extra sensory perception to figure out who or where he was!

At this stage uncle expressed his anxiety to me, saying, “Raja! Let us say we will sell this house and get Sarada married, paying good dowry. That too will be a problem in a way. Because when we get the other girls married, we have to spend equal amount of dowry, for every one of them. Either I have to spend the same amount of money all the way till the last child or leave some of them unmarried, what do you say?” We hunted around in every possible way for broad-minded boys who would not expect any dowry.

I think it is all a fraud, our notions about marriage, its eternity, its sanctity etc. In reality it is just pure business. When we start a business with an investment of ten thousand rupees, we expect profit out of that investment, don’t we? What is the point in getting our boys so well educated, if not for making profit in the marriage market? Ok, he gets a decent job and settles down looking after his family. We, the parents who have sacrificed so much to send him to school and college, what will we get? We should get some profit, shouldn’t we? Our boy is a doctor (or an engineer, or a lecturer as the case may be). You have to match our status in marriage. OK, we too are ready for the equations. Boy is equal to the girl plus fifteen thousand rupees.

On sleepless nights this equation haunted me. I felt the urge to ask my relatives with eligible sons about the rate fixed for their sons. That would give me a clue about the girl’s worth. For example, if the boy himself is worth fifteen thousand rupees, then the girl amounts to nothing, from the equation above. Man and wife, boys and girls and other useless words that club men and women together must belong to ancient ages. Now they are found together only in literature. In real life we need money to bring them and keep them together.

When things were in this depressing state, we met Narahari like a Godsend. He was a well-employed boy. General opinion is that education and money go together. We give so much of respect to education because we think it indicates that the person with good educational qualification has a good chance of earning livelihood and money. Otherwise who cares about education? Narahari, strangely although not very highly educated, was earning lot of money. He was interested in marrying our Sarada. He was not very well educated but went to North India and got a technical training and landed a well-placed job as a result.


The marriage negotiations went on fast and smooth more due to Narahari’s insistence than uncle’s smartness. Narahari did not make big demands on us. He asked for a dowry of two thousand rupees, and another thousand for buying wedding clothes for his family. He clarified that he took that money just out of respect for tradition. But, his whole attitude indicated some kind of strange hurry to get married as if an invisible deadline was looming ahead of him. This made me uncomfortable and I felt an urge to understand the reason for this hurry. I asked Kodandam about it , Narahari’s brother-in-law, i.e., sister’s husband.


Narahari lost his parents at a young age. So the entire boy’s family consisted of himself, his sister and her family. Out of that Kodandam emerged as the most important person. He considered me as his counterpart on the girl’s side and talked to me a lot about the upcoming wedding. He told me one day, “just see that this marriage goes on without any glitch and as early as possible, please.” I was surprised, but managed to ask, “But why, dear sir? Is this some kind of golden dagger with which we are beheading ourselves, or what? Why are you all so eager to get him married to our sister?”


Kodandam smiled mysteriously. He assured me it was not because of Sarada’s beauty or any of her characteristics. Then why this undue hurry? He then explained to me their behavior. Apparently Narahari wanted a well educated bride.


“Oh yes, of course! An educated wife can work and earn money, is that what it is?”

“Hold your horses, young man. Do you think our Narahari would allow his wife to go out among other men and work?”

I could not think of any other reason, so concluded that Narahari appreciated good education. I was impressed with the young man who wanted an educated life-partner for the intellectual companionship she would give him. Everything went on smoothly.

I was surprised at the very small bridegroom’s party for the wedding. Kodandam explained that there was no dearth of relatives, who would be insanely jealous at the very good bride Narahari has got! They were obviously not invited to spare their feelings. So saying he gave a smug look which irritated me to no end.

I realized that in the “Kurukshetra” war that life was, if Narahari was Arjuna, it was Kodandam who donned the role of Krishna, always advising his brother-in-law about everything. Kodandam was the organizer, master of ceremony, everything for every small occasion. Right from the beginning he radiated authority.

“No, our boy cannot wear a dhoti. You have to make do with trousers. He cannot sit in the mandapam for hours together. You have to be quick, sir” he hustled the priest. He nagged the bride “can you walk a bit properly, my dear? Now you have to learn to follow the husband in his foot steps.” “Now, don’t bother the bride and the groom with looking at stars. They need to eat food immediately.” So saying he tried to adjust the entire marriage ceremony according to his whims and started getting on everybody’s nerves.

However irritating his behavior was, all our relatives tolerated it. But they were more irritated with the bridegroom’s insensitive behavior. The day after the wedding, Sarada had changed from the wedding attire and simply dressed and adorned in jewellery and sat among the ladies. Somebody brought in a message from the groom asking her to come to his room. Very self-conscious and shy, Sarada went to his room to see what the matter was. He looked at her and commanded her, “get ready, let us go for a walk.” Sarada was too shy to go publicly with her husband for a walk and replied, “oh no! I can’t come for a walk, I feel too shy,” for which he replied loudly, “shy? What is there to feel shy? You are such an illiterate brute!” Sarada was very upset at the rude comments in public. One of our relatives made a mischievous remark at the whole episode, saying, “Sarada might be a brute, but surely she is not an illiterate brute!”

The strange thing in their family was that any issue or problem would come and culminate in Sarada’s high education. Kodandam’s little kids would go to their mother and nag her for this or that, either for a bath or a comb or food, like all the kids. Rajamma, Narahari’s sister would immediately redirect them to Sarada, saying, “Why don’t you ask your new aunty?”

Sarada could certainly look after all those kids patiently if only they would wait till she completed her tasks. But little energetic devils, they would run away in a second to their mother, saying “aunty is too busy now.” Invariably Rajamma would start grumbling, “Oh yes, of course! How can highly educated people do such menial tasks? It is my fault in the first place. You have to wait till we go home, for your showers, food and combing etc.”

There are some small jobs, which every wife loves to do for her husband. Buttoning his shirt, combing his hair, picking up his shoes and many other things, a wife does as an expression of her love and not because he cannot do them himself. But that happens after some time into their married life, when the man and woman find happiness in each other’s company. If they show off their love even before starting the life together, they will end up as the laughing stock of the town. Happiness and love will bloom in a family when the man and woman feel that they are united forever and don’t perceive any difference between them.

Narahari would assign a task to Sarada and sit watching her with a measuring stick, to judge her performance. Any lapse on her part was magnified and declared as a result of her arrogance due to her high education. Still, it would have been bearable if he was doing it himself. But all the time Kodandam and his wife passing judgments on her made it unbearable.

Sarada did not yet go to live with her husband’s family. But she already got the hunted deer’s expression on her face, wringing my heart.

Kodandam would spill some pearls of wisdom sometime for my benefit and his entertainment. The gist of all his wisdom centered on man-woman relationship in a family. Man is the rider and the woman, a horse. If the rider doesn’t control the horse, it would go astray and what more, even dominate the rider! So how does a man stop it? How to tame the woman? Why, beat her at every small excuse! That will show her who the boss is and keep her in her place.

I would have believed all this, if he had shown it in practice. But the minute he heard his wife’s booming voice, saying, “hey you! Why can’t you take these kids for a walk? They are bothering me here!” he would run ten miles along with the kids and would not be seen at least for a couple of hours. Perhaps he wanted his brother-in-law to achieve what he himself could not do.

Then, to add to my discomfort I have learnt more things about Kodandam. He had no stable job. He had a small piece of land in a small village. His wife hated living in that village so they lived with Narahari in the city, to look after him! Kodandam once in a while went to the village to look at his piece of land. He had never done a day’s honest work in all his life!

We have a right to use our personal property as we wish to. Unfortunately human beings cannot be labeled as property. They have a mind, feelings and emotions etc. Sarada might have had her own ideas and desires about marriage. None of us ever tried to find out what they were. We behaved as if getting her married to anyone who agreed, was the only thing we are interested in. Well, somebody did agree to marry her. She was a well-educated, good natured, well-bred girl. But that did not add any value to her in the marriage market place. It looked as if Narahari married her just to check for himself and prove that he could boss over a quality which he himself did not have, viz., high education.

His bossing and domineering started right after the marriage. He got ready to leave for his place and it was clear he would take Sarada with him. He looked all set to crush her spirit but she did not look prepared for his attacks. Day and night these worries and thoughts plagued me.

Sarada never expressed her concerns or apprehensions to any one. After all, who was there for her to share it all with? Aunty and Uncle were on cloud nine, having got their eldest daughter married. Her younger sisters assumed that her restlessness was natural to new brides. Just two days before leaving Sarada asked for a small favor. She requested me to go to the post office and get a dozen envelopes for her.

“Of course, my dear” I assured her.

“I don’t know why I want those envelopes, anyway. I wonder if those people will allow me to write to you all,” she said.

“Don’t worry so much! They are human beings too,” I tried to cheer her up.

“Yes, I will know about that after I go there,” she made a feeble joke out of it. My heart ached for her.

After she left everybody at home, we waited everyday for her letter. A letter came after everybody was exhausted from waiting.

“Dear Father,

I am sorry for not writing for quite some time. I did not have anything nice to write about. Moreover, I do not get time or chance or solitude to pen a letter. People here have only one issue on their minds and that is to watch me. Here they believe that one of the many stupid things that educated people do is to write letters.

The biggest change due to marriage in my life is to leave you all, our home and come to live in a strange place. We are two hundred miles apart. But here there is nobody who can make me smile, or make me forget you people, even for a minute. I have this strange feeling that they have married me for some kind of strange experiment.

Part of that experiment is to keep me busy twenty four hours a day. Job less people turn obese is what they say. I fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion. I wake up in the early morning. The first thought that flashes in my mind is that this is not our home! That ache remains with me through out the day. No body talks to me. I have no hope of having a single moment of joy all my life. The big world outside has built a small cage for me. I feel stifled in this cage. Father, please tell me, what have I done to deserve this punishment?”


 A fair question from a daughter to her father, indeed! Uncle was shocked. He immediately left for Sarada’s place and returned in four days. But after his return he would not speak and remained in a stupor. He would break into tears at slightest provocation. After a few days, he pulled himself together to tell us all what happened at Sarada’s house.

In all the four days he was there, Narahari never spoke a word to him, except making a crude comment, “Oh, so you have come without much notice, I see!” Sarada obviously wanted to talk to her father but never got an opportunity. Narahari would wake up at nine am in the morning and leave for work. Along with a bunch of friends he would reach his home late in the night. They all treated that house as a restaurant. Nobody ever talked to Sarada or acknowledged her presence, and treated her as a domestic helper. They were crushing her life force and turning her into a robot. Aunty could not hear any more.


“Raja! When I was just getting ready for a shower, Sarada came with a towel and begged, “Father, you are leaving tonight. Please take me with you!” How can I ask them when they were not even talking to me?” uncle lamented.

There might be any number of electrical gadgets in a house, but none of them will work if the main switch is turned off. Uncle’s house became like a building with the main switch turned off. They were all depressed very much but did not know what to do. Uncle wrote many letters to Sarada, but did not get any replies from her. After another couple of months aunty reached a state where she thought she would die if she did not see her daughter once.

One day the post man came along with a letter. Aunty rushed out and grabbed the letter. The letter was not addressed to any body in particular. A few sentences were scribbled.

“.. This is all so unbearable. I cannot tell you what is happening here. Now I can understand why people are driven to suicide. If you could come here in the coming few days and take me away from here, I wouldn’t ask anything else from God.”

Uncle had reached the end of his patience by then. He immediately left for Sarada’s house, this time to bring her with him, come what may. I accompanied him for moral support.

It was midday when we reached her home. As soon as we got down from the jatka in front of the house Sarada rushed out of the house and sat in the jatka. Uncle ran into the house and brought her suitcase with him. Rajamma tried to stop us, but we just ignored her and left even before she picked up courage to start a quarrel.

Sarada seemed to have become numb and refused to talk for many days. Slowly she recovered from her trauma and told us what happened at her husband’s home. She told us everything, the events which she could not express in letters.

Her days there were filled with endless domestic chores and sheer exhaustion. Her patience and dignified silence irritated them and made the matters worse. They encouraged her to borrow magazines and books from a neighbor’s house. When innocently she made friends with the neighbors, they spread a rumor about her involvement with a boy in the neighbor’s house. By then Narahari had come to the conclusion that a woman who can tolerate misbehavior with silence and discretion was indeed a characterless woman.

To add to her misery Kodandam started having evil designs on her. The only silver lining in the cloud was that she could escape from his evil attempts on her honor. We had saved her just in the nick of time.

After she came Narahari served her a lawyer notice stating infringement of conjugal rights. Marriage brings two young people together. The institution does not allow them to leave each other. The woman is her man’s property. There was a time when we thought that it was quite right to burn this property along with the owner. Even now, we do find men who argue, “It is my wife, I can do what ever I like with her, and who are you to object?” Without my permission, a man entered my house and took my wife out of my house. (OK, I know it is her father, but so what?) How can I tolerate such a high handed behavior? I will teach you a lesson; I will drag you to courts and make you regret your actions. This was Narahari’s attitude and there was a court case.

Narahari’s lawyer asked Sarada all types of questions. Did you love anybody before marrying your husband? Did you consent to this wedding wholeheartedly? Did your husband ever physically abuse you? What do you mean by saying he did not treat you with love? How does a man behave when he loves a woman? What do you expect from your husband? Can you prove that you are not a characterless woman? Were you sexually satisfied with your husband?

Poor Sarada had to swallow her ego, pride and womanly modesty to answer every question. She suffered the indignity for no fault of hers.

The court granted them divorce. It concluded that the husband need not pay any maintenance since it is the wife who did not want to live with him. End of story!

I woke up very late next day morning and missed my train. The next train was only at 3.00p.m in the afternoon. I felt very frustrated. Sleepless night, waking up late and missing the train, everything due to Narahari! I groaned helplessly, the more I don’t want to think of him, the more he seemed to be plaguing my mind.

One’s mental faculties leaving one in a much needed moment is a disease, I guess! I could not even speak coherently in front of Narahari when he was assaulting me with his talking.

Incidentally, later on Sarada had continued her education and settled down as a teacher. She married her colleague Suryanarayana and is living happily with two daughters. Her entire home and family life now look like a well-tended garden. I should have told Narahari about it and made him jealous. But I did not. However, I did not worry about that too much. Something else nagged my mind. I did not want to leave this city without learning something.

I knew that Sarada is a well-equipped girl to run a good home, keep her husband happy and raise good children. But then, she is my sister, so my opinion might be biased. Within one year of marriage Narahari concluded she was not fit to be a wife. He found everything wrong with her. The same Narahari was singing praises of his new life. I wanted to see the woman who made such a change in his life. The woman who was handing him that bowl of nectar to his lips, how could I go without seeing her? I decided then and there to visit his home.


I left my luggage in the cloak room at the railway station and hired a cycle rickshaw to Lakshmipuram colony.

I reached his home around at 11 a.m. I climbed the stairs and reached a veranda. It was all silent. I entered a big hall, crossing the veranda. The hall was full of papers, filthy clothes and discarded playing cards. The beautiful tiled floor never seemed to have felt the touch of a mop! It was incredibly dirty, matching the status of the roof. I yelled, “Narahari!”

“Who is it?” I heard an answering yell from inside. Narahari followed the sound in person in a couple of minutes. He was dressed in a lungi and a vest. His hands looked dirty. He looked flustered and embarrassed at my sight.

“You, Rajasekharam! So you have come after all, this is quite unexpected, indeed.” He blabbered incoherently as if indignantly caught in a helpless situation. I sat in the nearest chair and said, “I see that you are busy with something.”

“Oh nothing, I was just getting ready for a shower, that’s all.” He tried to pull himself together.

“Just wait a minute! I will be back in a jiffy,” he left through the hall way. He seemed to be talking to someone in a room.


“Who is it? Why did he come now? Oh yeah? So what? I cannot do anything.” The voice from inside sounded very faint.

Narahari came out in five minutes. Now he looked different. He wore smart clothes and applied liberal amounts of talcum powder.

“Rajasekharam! You should have just told me that you were coming now. I would have organized a smart dinner party for you. You should always organize your day properly, you know…” he paused and yelled,

“Nagamani! Can you bring us two cups of coffee quickly, please?”

There was an astonished shout from inside, “what? Coffee?”

Narahari seemed to have lost his cool for a second, “yes, of course, two cups, please.” The mighty roar became a squeak now.

“Oh yeah? Two cups, is it? Do you want saucers too with them?” there was crude and loud laughter from inside. Narahari looked miserable. Nagamani came out with three cups of coffee.

She was quite a well-built woman, almost looking like a wrestler. She did not seem to have taken a shower or combed her hair. In the mid morning she looked very unkempt with crumpled clothes and looked indifferent to her state of clothes. She glared at Narahari and said, “This cup is for me”. She settled herself in the nearest chair and started sipping her coffee.


“Nagamani, this is Rajasekharam, a person whom I knew very well. He came here to see the exhibition. By the way, Rajasekharam, how was the exhibition yesterday?”

“Very nice,” I replied. Nagamani misunderstood my remark because I was inadvertently looking at her as I replied.
“What is it that is so nice?” she glared at me and asked rudely. To me her whole body language was irritating and I turned my head away from her.

“Come on Rajasekharam, let me show you the house,” Narahari saved me from her.

The house was indeed quite big, but very poorly kept. Radio was not working. The garden looked a disaster and Narahari promptly blamed the lazy gardener. He hunted around for the album of his India tour, but gave up in frustration. Finally he found it in a rubbish bin. Everything about the house reeked of negligence, laziness and callousness. To divert my attention from it, Narahari seemed to be bombarding me with constant chatter.

When we returned back into the hall, Mrs.Narahari was lounging in the sofa with her feet stretched on to an adjacent chair and chatting up with a boy.


“I will see you again, Narahari!” I made a move to leave.

He gave an unnecessary explanation, “Today being a Sunday we are taking it easy. We are eating take away food for lunch.”


I left the place and walked along the road looking for cycle rickshaws.

“How far do you have to go sir?” The boy in Narahari’s house caught up with me on his bicycle and asked.

“I need to go the railway station. But at the moment I am looking for a place to eat lunch.”

“Why don’t you eat at our hotel, Ellora? You get good food there. We supply food daily to Mr.Narahari’s home.”

“They don’t cook at home, is it?” I tried to sound casual and disinterested.

“Do you think she would bother to cook? She eats but does not cook. She lives but does not clean up the house. She sleeps but she does not make the beds! What a woman!” The boy sounded disgusted.

“Narahari is quite a patient man to cope up with such a wife.”

“What else can he do? If he tries any thing funny with her, she will leave him and find a new “man”. After all she is not his wife to stay on with him, is she?”

The hotel boy winked and roared with laughter.


Translated by Sharada (Australia) and published on, July 2007.


(The original story titled “purushulaku pratyEkam” was published in the erstwhile Telugu literary magazine Bharathi in 1964.   – Sharada)




Shattered by Singaraju Lingamurthy

As soon as Ahmed saw the office order informing him that he was assigned to Mysore office, he screamed “oh, Allah!”, crashed on the chair and tipped his head to the side. All of us, the entire staff gathered around him anxiously.

Ahmed’s eyes were rolling, no words from his mouth. We brought the dead body to his home in the office vehicle. The family members who depended on him threw themselves on the body and cried aloud. There was not one red cent in the house to pay for his final rites. We, the office staff, pitched in. Some of us shed tears as his body was being buried. That was the kind of relationship we had developed in the course of work for so many years. Even now, I recall his words each time I he comes to my mind. I still can see his face in my mind.

Ahmed was thin and tall. His pale face and drawn in eyes would indicate his sorry condition. His entire demeanor—his black and white beard, worn out threads hanging from the sleeves of his discolored sherwani without buttons, and the broken sandals made of tire—would make him look as if he was being washed away in the whirlpool of hardships.

In fact, I used to think that he would one day die of broken heart. Each hardship would hit me like a tornado. Each time I would be scared, not knowing to far off shore it might carry him away. The humiliation that followed would pull him down head to toe. Because of that weight of that humiliation, Ahmed could not be himself for a couple of days. Ahmed’s heart turned to a stone because of all those sufferings and humiliations. After all that suffering, probably it was no surprise that the office order posting him to Mysore caused his heart to stop. Probably it hit him like a heavy hammer. Probably the weight of his responsibilities howled at him and caused him to collapse.

Ahmed was born in a family of Nawabs. All his ancestors—father, grandfather and great grandfather—lived with all the fanfare of Nawab lineage. In the end, only Ahmed had come to face this fate. The only thing his father had left was the house. Even that one was mortgaged. The only good thing his father had done for him was to make him a graduate.

At the beginning, Ahmed’s father-in-law used to help out whenever necessary. His father-in-law was in a position and so helped Ahmed to secure a job as well. However, that support did not last long. After his father-in-law had passed away, Ahmed’s life was crushed. His brothers-in-law told him to take of himself by himself.

Ahmed was crushed financially. Nevertheless, the family traditions and customs would not let go of him. No, the family would not let of them. Ahmed’s life became unbearable in a struggle to guard his status and reputation.


One day, I left the office forty-five minutes early, I was in a hurry. In about 20 or 30 yards ahead, I saw Ahmed. Three Kabuli men, creditors, besieged him, would not let him move. One of them seized his sherwani tight, as if he was squeezing his heart. The other two were standing on either side of Ahmed and speaking in strong language. Ahmed saw me; his face turned pale on seeing me there in that moment. His eyes were filled with tears; his pride must have received a blow from an axe. He lowered his head; he could not see me anymore. I felt sorry for him but there was nothing I could do. I went back into the office.

Probably Ahmed did not have the heart to look at me. He buried his face in the office files and kept himself busy. Earlier he used to find something to talk even when there was really no reason. Now he was avoiding me even when there was a need to talk to me.

It was lunch time. Everybody was leaving but Ahmed remained in his seat. He used to leave earlier than others but today he would not leave. I saw that; something in me would not let me keep quiet. Probably he had not had his morning meal either, I thought. I was on my way out; I turned around and said, “Ahmed bhai, come on, let’s go to the canteen.”

I was not sure what he thought of it. He stared at me for a second and got up without a word.

We both sat in a corner in the canteen. I thought that, unless I somehow manage to drag into chitchat and lighten the atmosphere, he would not get over the incident that had taken place in the morning. But was sitting tight and withdrawn. No matter what subject I broached, he did not show any enthusiasm. While we were still in the canteen, his twelve-year-old son came. The boy was fair-skinned and cute. He was a little thin probably for want of nourishment.

Ahmed bought five or six big size loaves of bread and a few other items and gave them to the boy to take him.

“What’s the matter? Somebody sick at home?” I asked.

“This is normal for me. Children would not have anything to eat in the afternoons,” Ahmed said.

“If you send food from the canteen everyday, wouldn’t the charges be high?”

“Charges are high but what can I do? How can I let the children starve?”

I did not like his answer. “That’s not the point, Ahmed bhai! In stead of wasting money in the canteen, can’t you have the food cooked at home? Everybody can eat and it will not cost this much.”

‘What can I say about my troubles, bhai? Grown up children go to college or school. My old woman is sick; she can barely take care of the rest of the kids. The food from the canteen costs me 80 rupees per month. You might ask why that much? Usually, I don’t eat at home in the morning. Even if I eat, that will not be enough. I still feel hungry and so go to the canteen to eat again,” said Ahmed.

I was surprised that he was spending 80 rupees at the canteen. Once or twice I had suspected that he might be spending more money at the canteen than the rest of us but did not expect to be this high. Ahmed makes about 200 rupees a month and that includes allowances. Probably he takes home about 80 or 90 rupees, after all the cuts—canteen bill, insurance and cooperative contribution, etc. I could not understand how he could manage, with that little leftover money, the household, the children’s education, and the creditors who were chewing him up like vultures.

“Yes, brother, you are surprised. My heart has gone bad. Sometimes even I don’t know what I am doing. I am neither concerned nor unconcerned about life. Sometimes, I feel like sitting alone and cry my heart out. But then again, when I am alone like that, crazy thoughts beset me, and my eyes turn moist. With those moist eyes, I lie down tediously. I would not even know when I fall asleep,” Ahmed said.

Sometimes, thoughts gnaw a person, squeeze life out and make him totally powerless. He lies down incapable of mobility. He would not have any strength even to think anymore. In that powerless condition, he would not be able to fall asleep either. It would feel like all the organs were functioning but he would lie on his back dully. I concluded that probably Ahmed was in that position. I got up to leave. Both of us returned to the office.

From that day onwards, I became closer to Ahmed. I thought of helping him anyway I could, although I knew I was not in a position to save his family. I heard of his family’s situation not only from him but also from others.

Ahmed had nine children. Every father would be anxious to see his children educated and well- settled in life. For some, the conditions would be favorable. For others, the conditions would not be favorable and their anxiety would remain the same. There is however one thing for which Ahmed deserved compliments. He struggled in the face adverse conditions and put his children through school. He would say, “I may not have any assets to give my kids but will give them education so they can live their own lives.”

Some people commented, “What is the point of educating girls? They will have to go to another home as daughters-in-law anyways.”

“They may not help me out but all I want is they helping their own families. I can not bring high class rank boys for them by paying huge dowries and gifts. By the same token, I can not ruin my family’s reputation and marry them off to some rickshaw driver or somebody. If my daughters have degrees, maybe somebody would come forward to marry them because of their education. Whether they will let them go to work or not is their business. If not, that is fine too. Let’s say nobody comes forward to marry my daughters. Then they will be in a position to work and live on their own.”

If somebody in our Telugu families was in the same position as Ahmed, we will stop after minimal education and put them to work in some small job, which has no prospects. We may even beg somebody to get the job and be done with it. We feel that if each one of us brings in a little money, we all can lead our lives quietly and minimally. Ahmed would never accept that argument. “That is the reason his life has become a public affair,” some said. “May be my life has become a public affair. My children’s future is guaranteed and that is enough for me,” Ahmed said.


One day, I went to Himayat nagar and was on way home. I was Ahmed in front of one house. He caught my hand and said, “This is my house, bhai. Please, come in.” We both went in.

While we are chatting, a heard a very sweet voice calling “Baba” and turned around. A very beautiful and delicate figure peeked from behind the curtains, saw me and disappeared like lightning.

“Come, child, come,” Ahmed said.

The gorgeous young woman came modestly and said, “adabarsey” shyly.

adabarsey,” I replied, gazing her beauty.

Ahmed introduced me to her. He told her, in addition to my being an ordinary clerk, I was also a well-known writer, and that my stories appeared in reputable magazines, and also I had written for the radio also.

“I am happy to meet you. I will be back in a second,” she said in Urdu and went in.

Ahmed told me that Mumtaz, the young woman, was studying B.Sc., and also had received scholarship because of her intelligence.

Mumtaz returned like a lightning rod.

Behind her, a servant brought tea on a tray for the three of us.

“Take,” Mumtaz said, looking at me. Her voice carried unusual sweetness. There was a strange beauty in her eyes, lined with dark katuka.

“Murthy sir, I have been thinking of asking you something for a very long time,” Ahmed said.

“You don’t have to hesitate where I am concerned. Ahmed bhai. Tell me, what is it?” I said.

“Mumtaz has elected for Telugu under regional language studies. I wanted to ask you whether you would be willing to help her. But I know others in our office had asked you and you had turned them down. That is why I am hesitating.”

I noticed a trace of worldly wisdom in his approach.

Mumtaz was anxiously watching me for my response.

“That is true. You know usually I go to literary gatherings and meetings in the evenings. I refused to tutor their children, hoping to spend that time on writing and it might pay off. If you want, I will manage to free myself for an hour or so in the evening and tutor your daughter,” I said.

Both Ahmed and Mumtaz were very happy to hear my response.

From that day onwards, I became a close friend and well-wisher of his family. All his children were very smart. Mumtaz was his second daughter. His eldest daughter, Masoona Begum was studying medicine. The rest of his children were also in school in step with their ages.

I used to go their house after I was done at work in the evenings to teach Telugu lessons to Mumtaz. Everybody in the family, children and adult alike, were respectful towards me. Ahmed was not coming home after the office was closed. He would say he had some errands to run and leave. I was not sure what those errands were, but decided not to ask and kept quiet.

Everyday Mumtaz used to serve tea and biscuits to me. At the beginning I accepted them, thinking she might be upset if I did not accept them. However I was also aware of the financial troubles Ahmed was in and thought it was unfair on my part to let them incur additional expenses. One day I told Mumtaz, “There is no need. Please, don’t.”

“Why?” Mumtaz asked, looking straight into my eyes.

“Oh, nothing, after work, I go to the restaurant to eat and then come here. No need to eat again here,” I said.

Mumtaz looked disappointed a little. “So, you are not taking?” She said. There was a plea in her tone.

“I swear on my life, you must take,” she added.

Why swear? I looked at her. Her rose-like lips, which always splashed a smile, were motionless today. The face showed signs of frustration. I wondered why Mumtaz felt to have a hold on me. I took the tea and biscuits and said, “Okay now?”

Mumtaz smiled contentedly and picked up the book.

A month passed by. On that day, I finished the lesson for the day and was about to leave. She handed me two ten-rupee bills and said, “Take them.”

“What for?” I said, surprised.

“Tuition fees,” she said.

“If that is so, I will stop coming beginning tomorrow,” I said.

Mumtaz was shocked. “I beg your pardon. I don’t understand,” She said, confused.

“Nothing. Use this money for some other purpose depending on your needs,” I said and left quickly.


One day I went to a movie along with some friends. By the time we left the theater it was ten o’clock. We all had to go different ways. We stood there on the road and talking.

“Don’t you want a rickshaw, sir?” I heard behind and turned around. The voice sounded familiar. I turned around. The eyes sunk in deep, bushy beard like the color of winder squash … I could not believe my eyes. As soon as he saw my face, the rickshaw driver kicked the pedals and went away. There was no doubt. It was Ahmed. He was wearing a turban in stead of his usual cap, and a pair of khaki half-pants in stead of full-length pants; replaced his sherwani with a torn shirt. Possibly he changed his appearance to avoid being recognized. He was driving a rickshaw in this corner of the town so he did not have to run into his acquaintances.

The following day, Ahmed took a leave of absence probably because it was uncomfortable to see me in the office. For the next two or three days I was busy with my work and did not go to teach Mumtaz. All the three days, Ahmed did not come to office. I started getting worried about him. The next day, I decided to their home and find out what was wrong. However, I had to go to another place on office business and so could not go to Ahmed’s house. I thought I could visit him the following day since it was Sunday.

On that Sunday, in the morning I had my coffee and sat down with my pen and papers to write something. A rickshaw with closed curtains stopped in front of my house. Even as I looked up, Mumtaz pushed the curtain aside and stepped out. She came to me quickly and said anxiously, “Saar, please hurry.”

“Your Baba has not to the office for over three days, why?” I asked.

“Baba is sick with high fever for four days now. I was waiting for you, hoping you would come. Baba is asking for you. Please, won’t you come?” she said.

Her eyes were filled with tears, maybe out of fear that father was sick or just feeling helpless.

“Oh, no. You don’t have to worry; it is only temperature. Your Baba will be alright, don’t worry. You go ahead, Mumtaz. I will have bath and come,” I said.

Mumtaz looked at me as if she was not sure.

I took bath and put the twenty rive rupees, which I received after cashing the check from the radio station, and left for Ahmed’s place.

Ahmed was running high temperature. “Are you taking medicine, Ahmed bhai,” I asked.

“Yea, I am taking something,” he said weakly.

Mumtaz handed me a piece of paper, medicines the doctor had prescribed. I understood the situation. I pulled out two ten-rupee notes and one five-rupee note, gave it Mumtaz and told her, “Send Vaheed to the store and get them.”

“You may not get back that money,” Ahmed said.

“That is okay” I said.

I talked with Ahmed for a little while and was about to leave. Ahmed said, “Bhai, don’t tell Mumtaz about the other day.”

I was troubled by the plea in his eyes and huskiness in the tone. “What a pride” I told myself and came into the hallway. Mumtaz signaled me from the side room.

“How come you are not coming for tutoring? What did I do wrong?” Mumtaz asked.

I could not reply right away.

“You are right. What right I have to question you? It is not like I am paying you to tutor me,” Mumtaz was saying.

“Mumtaz,” I shouted aloud I think. Mumtaz shivered. I was not even thinking of reprimanding. I think several emotions—the mental pain Ahmed was suffering, the struggles he had been through, and the sad feeling that she did not understand me, and anger—they all colluded and made me sound in that manner.

She could not speak for a minute. Then she said, “I apologize. I was upset, sorry it came out like that.”

“Do you know why your Baba was coming home late at night everyday?” I said.

“He was saying that he had nothing to do at home and so spending time at the club or with friends,” she said. She seemed confused about why I was asking all these questions.

“No, that is a big lie.”

“So, what do you think he was doing?”

“In order to put you all through school, to pay for household expenses, also because his income was not enough to pay off even the interest on the debts, which was accumulating to the top of palm trees, your Baba was running rickshaw until eleven in the nights,” I was screaming, agitated.

“Rickshaw? Baba was running rickshaw? Chi, chi, what kind of sick sinner I should be, Master Saar,” Mumtaz was crying.

“Where do you think, Mumtaz, the money you paid for your joyous rickshaw rides to college was coming from? That was the money your Baba earned by driving rickshaw at nights. Did you, Masoona or Vaheed ever think of Baba anytime?”

“Please, don’t tell me any more, Saab,” Mumtaz said and kept sobbing, heartbroken.

It was not my intent to say this to Mumtaz to make her cry. My plan was only to make her, Vaheed and Masoona aware of the situation. But the delicate heart of Mumtaz could not bear the thought.

“Don’t cry, Mumtaz, don’t,” I stroked her hair involuntarily. She collected herself in a few minutes.

“Please, Master Saab, find a job for me. I will quit school tomorrow,” she said.

“Okay,” I said and left.


Ahmed did not recover from the fever for ten days. The words I said to Mumtaz on that day had worker on her well. She was more determined than ever to work and help her father. Masoona, who was studying medicine, and Vaheed, who was studying engineering thought there was no way they could get a job unless they had finished school.

I used a bit of my clout. Mumtaz got a job in an office. Ahmed did not agree to Mumtaz working at the outset but her determination and my encouragement helped him to accept it.


Ahmed continued to come to the office as usual. Kabuli men continued to pester him as always. The bills at the canteen were no different from the earlier times. After Mumtaz started working, Ahmed did not have to run the rickshaw service. That was only because Mumtaz insisted.

Then the central government decided on the reorganization of the states. The news that some of the Muslim employees would be assigned to the states of Maharshtra and Karnataka caused the Muslim employees to worry. Ahmed began to worry to what state he would sent.

Heavy debts and everyday problems were driving Ahmed over the edge. That fear brought even more restlessness to him.

“Bhai, it is no easy task for me to move from here, you know. I cannot move even one step without paying off the ten thousand rupee debt. My family is in no position to move. Children’s education will suffer,” he said.

“We were born on this soil. We grew up on this soil. We never thought, not even in our dreams, that we would have to leave this soil,” said some of them.

“No matter who is working in what position, we all are together in our family. My family will be ‘shattered’ if I am sent to Mysore, my son to Bombay, my brother to another place, and my daughter to Aurangabad or some other place. Now we are able to manage even one of us earn more and another less. Tomorrow that will not be possible,” said another person with an extended family.

‘Narrow-minded vision causes the fundamental concept. It is natural to face some inconveniences and discomforts temporarily due to the reorganization of states. Today what we need is broader perspective’ argued some of the leaders and it worked on some people. But none of these views was made public. Those who had influence began their attempts to stay in the same place. Ahmed also tried the same way like the others. He recounted his problems to those in power and begged them to let him stay in the same town. He fell on their feet and implored. He even tried to please them and win their goodwill.

In some offices, the reassignments were announced. Mumtaz was transferred to Aurangabad. It as like a pestle hitting on ringworm for Ahmed. He was worried what might happen to his job. He was even more determined to try his hardest to be reassigned to the same place. He said to me, “If they post me in the same place, I will make Mumtaz resign her job.”

Amidst this commotion, the Kabuli men and other creditors intensified their efforts to collect their money. The grocery store owners stopped selling items on credit. Because of these pressures, life became more miserable day by day for people like Ahmed. One of the creditors planned to take over Ahmed’s house in return for the money he owed. The creditor loaned Ahmed 300 rupees, forced him to sign a promissory note for 1000 rupees and now he was threatening to sue him. On top of all of this, Ahmed’s wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis. All these things ate up Ahmed’s brain. He was looking like a dried stick. “Why should I live, Bhai,” He would say desperately.

Days passed by. Suddenly, there was a change in Ahmed’s behavior. He used to be millions away but now he is approaching others on his own accord and talking gleefully. I wondered what might be the reasons for this change. I thought for a second, if it was like the lamp that would flare up higher before dying, and beat myself up for entertaining such a stupid thought.

One day, I went towards Tank Bund for a walk and turned around. It was getting late. I saw Ahmed sitting on a bench. Usually he would be happy to see me but that day he turned away as if he had not seen me. “Did he come here to jump into the Hussein Sagar River?” I suspected and approached him. Contrary to his habit of being friendly, he replied curtly and added, “I did not come here to jump into the river and die. I came here to talk to a gentleman.”

I noticed that he was not about my being there. “Okay, I am leaving,” I said and proceeded towards home. I walked a few yards. Suddenly I saw Mumtaz’s face peeking from a car window, her face lit by the street lights. An officer was next to her. He put his arm on her shoulder and was talking to her joyously.

I was overcome by surprise and sorrow. “Chi, chi, Ahmed gone so low! How could Mumtaz, with all her education and culture, agree to this deplorable act? Is this the reason for the change in Ahmed’s behavior?” I kept walking as I pondered. What else can I do but pity him and feel sorry for him?

All offices announced the lists of reassignments. Ahmed’s hope was crashed to the ground. The officer whom he trusted could do nothing about it. Probably Ahmed could not believe his own eyes when he was the paper which said he was assigned to Mysore office. Probably, the same officer looked like a pervert now; his daughter who sold her virtue for his sake and his wife, who was suffering from tuberculosis, appeared pathetically before his eyes. The voices of the creditor who mortgaged his house and the Kabuli man who was threatening him with lawsuit, howled in his ears.

Ahmed’s heart stopped, choked and weakened by all the circumstances. Poor Ahmed, he died before the thought occurred to him what might happen to his children, for whose sake he run the rickshaw service, and whose future he hoped to be bright.



Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, December 2008.

(Note: This story is about a family shattered and a heart broken under the state reorganization program undertaken by the government after India had achieved independence.

Lingamurthy, the author, was one of the prominent writers during that period, now nearly forgotten. Thanks to the abhyudaya racayitala sangham, Guntur, I was able to read this story. I hope readers enjoy it too.

The Telugu original, vicchitti, was published in Andhra patrika, ugadi 1957.)