Monthly Archives: May 2022

Chataka Birds part 3


Two days back, Radha called her to inquire how she was doing. Geetha said she was doing well softly, sounding lifeless. Radha understood her predicament; she knew it only too well. Almost all Telugu women went through that downtime in the first few months of their arrival in America.
She said, ”How is your family at home? Have you talked to them?”
“No, no phone in our house, you know. I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. I wrote to my mother.”
“That’s good. We all had been through that feeling, Geetha. It takes time to get used to it.”
“I hope so,” Geetha sighed.
“Look at it this way,” Radha said, trying to cheer her up, “You’ve said you were not very close to your brothers; you were arguing all the time. Now you don’t have those arguments.”
Geetha laughed, ”Well, yes. Still it is not the same. I still miss them, actually missing them more now.”
Radha too laughed and agreed that it was not the same. Also told Geetha it had been like that for her too, at first.
After the chat, Geetha’s spirits hit a new low. How on earth did this happen? I took one big leap in a split second, like I did not know it was a lifetime decision, she thought with awe. Her entire life rolled out in her mind like an old movie; it was like someone else’s story.
A decade and a half had passed since.

The Ramanatha Swami High School had published the final exam results. Students gathered in the schoolyard anxiously, looking for their names on the list posted on the big board. Those, who had passed the exam, were elated; they walked around like they had grown two inches taller. The students, whose names were not on the list, were eager to leave the place. The successful students were trying to stop them and speak some encouraging, deriding, or reassuring words to the failed folks: I am sure there will be a supplementary list; What’s the big deal; You can try again; There must be some mistake; and so on.
Some of them talked about their future plans: I will take Biology major; I want to go to law school; I don’t think my father lets me continue; I will probably learn to typewrite…
“I will go to America,” Ranga Rao said.
Several students quickly gathered around him.
“What do you do there?”
“I don’t know. I just want to go to America. That’s all I know for now.”
“Yes, yes. I’ve seen him buying a ticket at the train station yesterday,” somebody said, mockingly. Two students laughed. Four students snickered. Two students, standing next to Ranga Rao, took him seriously.
The entire atmosphere was boisterous with various emotions: happy, sad, disappointed, desperate; Aspirations, hopes, fears, and tears.
Geetha stood a few feet away from them, and watched the other students with a feeling of inexplicable apprehensiveness.
“What do you think you will do?” her friend Satyam asked her.
“Um. I don’t know.”
“Yes. For girls like us, no plan. Things just happen,” Satyam said inanely.
“You too think so?”
“Well, you know. My two brothers are in college, and two sisters are sitting there, waiting the wedding day. I know father can’t pay for my education.”
“I just don’t know what I want to do.”
Satyam sighed. “We’ll see. I have to go,” she said.
Both left for their respective homes.
Geetha’s father was on the porch, reading newspaper. He said, “Passed?”
She nodded in assent and went in.
“Glad it is done,” said her mother.
Geetha went into her room and stood in front of her bookshelf. Those books meant a lot up until last night, but now meant nothing. She sighed and turned around.
Her little brother, Chitti, was standing behind her, “You said you’d give me a quarter of a rupee, if you passed the exam.”
“When did I say that?”
“The other day when I was playing drum, you said you’d give me a quarter, if I stopped playing the drum and let you study.”
“Okay. I’ll give you later.”
Mother called her from the kitchen, “Geetha, go to Nagamma Atta’s [1]Atta: Aunt home, get some curry leaves. I am making pulihora.”
Geetha went to neighbor Nagamma Atta’s home. Nagamma Atta was making cotton wicks for her daily worship as Geetha walked in.
“Done with high school?” she asked.
“Yes Atta, passed. Amma sent me here to get curry leaves from your tree.”
“Sure, take them. What is the rush? Come here, sit down.”
“Amma is waiting for the curry leaves. I have better go.”
“Ah, okay, go. You will be in college soon, I guess.”
“I don’t know.”
“Why? Did your mother say no need for further studies?”
“No, she did not say anything.”
“No, Atta, nobody said anything. I have to go.”
“Well then, you tell them that you want to go to college. Stop being so naive. Times have changed. No boy would come forward to marry you without a college degree, at least.”
“I have to go,” Geetha said, and left.

Geetha knew there was would be some discussion at home sooner or later. That moment had come soon enough. At dinner that night, mother Kamakshi brought it up.
“Probably, college costs a lot of money,” Kamakshi said in a soft voice, while serving curry. She would like Geetha to go to college very much.
“I guess,” said father Paramesam, indicating it was on his mind too.
“Aren’t there scholarships or something like that?” Kamakshi asked.
“Oh, no, Vadina! [2]Vadina: Older brother’s wife. That is only for the rich and the mighty, not for folks like us,” Bhanumurthy, Paramesam’s younger brother, said, sarcastically.
Kamakshi was annoyed but kept quiet.
“Why does she need a college degree, anyway? All she is going to do is cook, clean and take care of the kids, right?” he added.
“You said it right, my boy! I think so, too,” said Bamma [3]Bamma: Grandmother garu from the hallway, where she was lying on the jute-rope cot and listening to the conversation.
Kamakshi did not say what was on her mind for fear of offending the woman one generation senior to her. She sighed, and went in to bring the yogurt.
Geetha sat there with her eyes glued to the food on her plate, and mixing the rice and curry clumsily. Father, Mother, Babayi and Bamma garu–they all were talking about her future. She was listening; it felt like it was not about her but somebody else.
The following Sunday, Geetha went to Saroja’s home for a party. It was late in the evening by the time she returned.
“How was the party?” Kamakshi asked. She knew what kind of questions she might have faced, and how painful it could be.
“Okay,” said Geetha, and went into the adjoining room to change.
After they all ate supper, Paramesam settled in the reclining chair on the porch with the newspaper.
Geetha spread the mats and set the pillows in the adjoining room. Usually, that room served as a chat room for the adults to discuss the day’s events, and as a study room for the kids to do their homework. On that day also, as usual, they all gathered there and started chatting.
“So,” said Bhanumurthy, lying on the mat on his stomach, and resting his elbows on the pillow, folded, under his chin.
“How many times have I told you not to fold the pillow like that. Use two pillows if one is not enough,” Kamakshi said.
Bhanumurthy, ignored her chiding, and continued as usual, “So, what is Saroja going to do?”
“She says she will study medicine,” Geetha replied.
“Ha ha. Is she that smart?” Bhanumurthy laughed. He got through high school with bare minimum marks, took the polytechnic course, and took a job as a telephone operator.
That hurt Geetha. She did not like Babayi[4]Babayi: Father’s younger brother. dismissing her friend’s aspirations in one curt sentence. “Saroja has gotten good marks, as always,” she said with knotted eye-brows.
Kamakshi did not like it either. “Who are we to tell how smart she is?” she retorted edgily. She wanted her daughter to go to college, very much. In her younger days, she had hoped to go to college, but that did not happen. Now she would love to have her daughter a college degree.
“Hindi class is good,” Bamma said from the hallway on the jute-rope cot, not that her suggestion mattered. She, however, considered herself part of the family since she was living under their roof; and, offered her advice, asked or not.
Geetha picked up the courage to say, “I want to go to college.”
“Think about it, college education does not come easy. It takes four years to obtain the degree. Your father retires by then,” Bhanumurthy said.
Geetha pretended not to hear his words, and said, “A degree in Hindi takes time, too.”
“It may take time, but not that expensive,” Bhanumurthy said. He was surprised that Geetha spoke. He wondered if that came from attending the party at Saroja’s home; who could have said what to her?
Kamakshi’s face fell, but nobody noticed it. “It would be nice if she could get a bachelor’s degree, at least,” she said.
Paramesam would like it too; but, he had overwhelming responsibilities. He was aware that it was beyond his means.
Bhanumurthy, however, did not let go of it. “What do you mean by ‘nice’, Vadina, tell me; enlighten me,” he said.
Paramesam came into the room, yawned, and said, “That’s enough. It is getting late. We need to wake up early. Go to bed.”
The discussion ended, leaving her future hanging in the balance.

Some of them had to find other venues. Saroja signed up for the Biology course, but Sambu could not, although he had received higher marks in high school. Lakshmi, Sundari, John Gopal, Ansari Ali, and others went their separate ways.
Geetha signed up for the Hindi class. She could not help but think of her classmates. Some of them would graduate from college and go for further studies. They just happened to be in a better position socially, and so, got better opportunities. She knew that some of them “managed” to pass the tests. She had gotten good marks, fared better than some of them; yet she could not go to college. She could not help but think that she would remain “a girl without a college degree” for the rest of her life.
Kamakshi’s younger brother, Ramana, was in America. He wrote that he was happy that Geetha had passed the high school exam, and would be happy to help her get admission in a local college. Kamakshi it twice and left it on the coffee table.
Geetha returned from her HIndi class.
“Did you write to him?” mother asked.
Geetha was confused. “Writing what? To whom?” she asked.
“To Ramana Mamayya[5]Mamayya: Maternal uncle., about passing the exam.”
“I did. So?” Geetha asked.
Kamakshi threw a scathing look at her and went into the kitchen.
“Yes, go, pack and leave right now. He has gotten a white girl; he will find a white boy for you too,” Bamma said, expressing her displeasure.
Ramana had left for America when he was 22, completed his studies, got a job, got citizenship, and settled in the U.S. He married his colleague, a white woman. That was a sore point for Bamma ever since.
Kamakshi was adding stirring the eggplant curry on the stove in the kitchen. Bamma’s comment ticked her off. She came into the hallway and said, “He married a white girl, so what? Our girl passed the exam. She was happy. So, she dropped a line to her uncle. He too was happy about it. What has one got to do with the other? It is not like we are taking him upon his offer, anyway.
“Let’s not forget how we treated him. He came home, after 12 years away from home, and how did we treat him? He is my only brother. You did not take into consideration even that. You insisted he must not enter the kitchen because he was married to a white girl. We should be happy that he offered to help us, despite such humiliation.” She struggled to stay calm while replying to Bamma.
“What did I say? Did I say anything that is not true, or, inappropriate?” Bamma fired back.
Geetha stood there watching this farce. She thought for a second about what would have happened if Babayi was there; then it occurred to her that Babayi would be home soon, and this bickering would continue.
She was right. Babayi started out the squabble again, after he returned from work. He raised several questions, starting with, “Where did she get the money to buy the aerogram,” to “Where did she get the idea of going to America.”
The truth was, she had heard about it at the party at Saroja’s house. Ranga Rao mentioned, casually, that it would be easier to go to America, if one had a relative or friends in America. Geetha thought about Ramana Mamayya.
Not that it had become an obsession with her, but when she saw some space on the aerogram her mother had given her to write Ramana’s address, and mail it. She scribbled a line about her passing the exam, and mailed it. It was all casual, no expectation of opportunities or, possibilities.
Bhanumurthy would not let go of it, so easily, though. “So, that is it, Vadina? I must give it to you. You’ve done a wonderful job of training her,” he said.
“Aha, that is my training? My training adds up to what, while you all are here to protect her?,” she replied edgily.
“So be it. Okay, Geethamma, please, don’t forget this poor, no good Babayi, please. Maybe, you can find a small job for me, too,” Bhanumurthy continued his brassy remarks.
Geetha felt terrible. She regretted her action; Oh, God, what have I done, she thought.
“Who knows what is in store, Bhanu! As they say, the barren land you have ridiculed could come to fruition some day[6]navvina naapa chene pandutundi. A barren land may yield produce.,” Kamakshi said, and left the room.

Paramesam’s father had enjoyed a fairly good life. They had enough to run the family, and help a couple of others as well. In course of time, however, the property had been used up for children’s education, weddings, etc.
Paramesam inherited a small single family home, and got a job as a teacher at a local middle school. That was about it. He had three sons and one daughter. First son finished college, got married, and moved to the big city. The second son was in the second year of college. Now Geetha was finished with high school, and the question of her studies was hanging in balance. The last child, Chitti was in the 4th grade.
Paramesam’s younger brother, Bhanumurthy, completed high school, and joined a telephone company as a telephone operator in the same town and moved in with them about 5 years back. His stay with them was helpful, financially; his thoughtless comments and ideas were annoying to both Kamakshi and Geetha. Basically, he had no college education, and so he saw no reason why Geetha should get a degree. Bamma garu was one more living soul in that household. She was Paramesam’s mother’s younger sister. She had a son, who refused to take care of her. Since she had no other place to go, Paramesam’s mother took her into her home.

Siva Rao was a childhood friend of Paramesam. They both had tea in the same tea stall, attended the same school, learned to smoke cigarettes and play cards from the same classmates, got a taste of the same rods from the same teachers. They received medications and reprimands from the same doctor. They were not born to the same parents, but grew up practically like brothers. After they were done with schooling, each settled in life in their own ways. Siva Rao married his mother’s brother’s daughter[7]Cross-cousins are permitted to marry in Telugu families. and settled in Guntur, taking care of his father-in-law’s business. Paramesam married the girl Kamakshi, his parents picked for him, and settled as a school teacher in Vijayawada. Both got busy with their own lives. There was no communication between the two families for a while.
One fine morning, Siva Rao came to visit Paramesam’s family.
Kamakshi welcomed him heartily, gave him a glass of water, and inquired about his family in Guntur.
“Haven’t seen you in a long time. I thought you’ve forgotten us,” said Bamma garu said, expressing mild displeasure.
Siva Rao sat in the reclining chair on the porch, sipping water.
“Oh, no, Bamma garu, my business is like that, hardly any time to do anything. We can’t trust anybody nowadays, can’t let the guards down, not even for a second. It’s killing me, no time even to die. If the Lord Yama[ God of Death. ] comes to take me away, I would have to tell him, not now, come later,” he said to her. Then he turned to Kamakshi, “They are doing well, Chellemma![8]Chellamma: Younger sister. Your vadina has some minor complaints like backache, but nothing serious.”
“Don’t your sons help?” Bamma garu asked.
“No, Bamma garu, too young to get into business.”
“So, what is new, Anna[9]Anna: Older brother. garu?” Kamakshi asked.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he smiled and said, “I have come to invite you all to my son’s wedding. It is set to be performed on June 25th.”
Geetha returned from her Hindi class, and stood on the last step to the porch, listening to their conversation. She tried to imagine a young man who was too young to take care of business but old enough to get married.


May 27, 2022)


1 Atta: Aunt
2 Vadina: Older brother’s wife.
3 Bamma: Grandmother
4 Babayi: Father’s younger brother.
5 Mamayya: Maternal uncle.
6 navvina naapa chene pandutundi. A barren land may yield produce.
7 Cross-cousins are permitted to marry in Telugu families.
8 Chellamma: Younger sister.
9 Anna: Older brother.

Chataka Birds Part 2

(Part 1) here

Part 2

Geetha opened her eyes and saw Hari sitting on the edge of her bed with a big smile.
She felt relieved for the first time since she had set foot in New York.
Hari took her hand and stroked gently, “How was the trip? Who put you on the plane in Mumbai airport? No problems anywhere? Did you get through Customs without hassle?”
Geetha laughed. “You have so many questions. If I keep answering all your questions, I won’t be getting any sleep for a week, at least.”
“Well, did I get you here in such a hurry so you can sleep endlessly?” he squinted his eyes and pouted.
“Hee hee,” Geetha giggled.
Then she went into the bathroom, freshened up and returned to the living room. Hari set the breakfast and coffee on the dining table. He said Peter and Susan had left for work.
“Oh, I am sorry. I should have woken early to take leave of them.”
“Ah, don’t you worry about it. That is the way it is around here. Everybody has to go about their business, or else, nothing gets done.”
In the airport, Hari led her to a lounge, told her to wait there, and went to check in. She was watching people rush every which way. Suddenly, a huge wave of loneliness overcame her amid this crowd of strangers; she felt exhausted and clueless.
Hari returned with two cups of coffee. She looked at him tenderly. In this whole wide world, Hari was the only friend she had, and that thought was comforting.
Hari settled next to her, and handed her the coffee. He put his arm around her shoulder, and stroked her gently. He understood her at that moment. “I am here for you,” his eyes told her.
Geetha reached her final destination. As she got out of the car, Hari pointed to one of the doors of a 2-storey building and said, “There, that is our heavenly abode.”
She could not figure out which door he was pointing to. She nodded and followed him. A cardboard sign of “welcome” on the door welcomed her. She stood behind him nervously.
Hari opened the door to their apartment and let her in. He showed her the rooms–the living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining room–all in one sweep, standing right where he was.
Geetha nodded, “Okay, got it.”
Everything was beautiful–a flower vase on the dining table, curtains matching the sofa set, kitchen looking like a showroom, everything in its place, a place for everything.
“What do you think?” Hari asked.
“Nice,” she replied.
Something was missing. There was no feeling of joining the in-law’s family to spend the rest of her life with them. It was more like vacationing in some unknown city for a few days!
That building had been the home of one huge family for two previous generations. The current owner converted it into a 4-unit complex by making a few changes like installing stoves in the bathrooms, and toilet seats in the bedrooms.
“Like it?” asked Hari.
She nodded quietly. She was still in a daze. Her brain was still in a silent mode. Nothing was penetrating her head. The tiny cells, where thoughts are generated, were filled with vague shades. How else anybody, thrown from one end of the globe to the other end in 36 hours would feel? There were two oceans and 10,000 miles of distance between the bed she had slept in yesterday and the bed she was going to sleep in today! Faces she had never seen, things she had never seen, and the language never heard anywhere! Her head reeled.
The phone rang.
Hari picked up the phone. It was from an old friend, Bhagyam. She had been in town for over ten years. She was the best friend and mentor for local Telugu families. She called to ask if the new bride, Geetha, had arrived safely, was the journey comfortable, and was there anything she could do for them.
Geetha lay back in the sofa, trying to listen to the conversation and wondering what was that about.
Hari was on the phone for the next hour and a half. As far as she could understand, most of the calls were to inquire about her and her journey. Rest of them seemed to be talking about politics; Nixon resigned, and then what? What would Ford do? Geetha dozed off.
Hari got off the phone at last, and said to her, “You are tired. Come on, have a bite and go to bed.”
Geetha got up, walked to the dining table, “You cooked?”
“Why? You think I can’t cook?”
“I don’t know. My friend Satyam used to say that Indian men, after a year or so in America, would rush back to India and get married to solve the cooking problem only.”
Hari burst into a big laugh. “Not bad, not bad at all. You are not as naive as I thought.”
Geetha too smiled, squinting playfully, and sticking out her tongue.
Hari kept asking, “how is this item?”, “how is that item,” as she ate.
Geetha kept saying, “good”, “nice”, tasty”, “what’s this? Spinach? Looks like Poi.”
Hari was excited; he was delighted beyond words. Just in a few hours, Geetha had changed tremendously. The future would be pure gold!
“It’s okay. Everything will be fine. You’ll get used to these things,” his eyes assured her.
It was nice for her too. She felt good. In that moment, he did not look like the NRI, who had appeared from nowhere, married her, and left in a hurry, but like a boon companion from previous life. It was gratifying.
He left for work.
She sat in the sofa, pondering over the day’s events. Hari said something about jet lag; the body reached America, but the heart was still in the Telugu land.
Next morning by the time she woke up, Hari made coffee.
“I didn’t think that life in America would be this charming,” she said, teasingly.
“You’ve seen nothing yet,” he said, smiling. The phone rang.
“Phone calls this early? I thought people in America don’t call this early.”
“Americans don’t, but for our people, there is no such thing as no good time. Phone calls start with the cock’s crowing,” he said, picking up the phone.
That was true. One of his friends, Madhav, called to ask if he and his wife, Radha, could stop by to say hello to Geetha briefly.
Hari told them to come, that’s fine, hung up, and conveyed the message to Geetha.
“Guests already? I still feel like I have not reached America yet,” Geetha said.
“What guests? Madhav is no guest. We two went to the same school and got a taste of the same rods from the same teachers. We are like brothers. Don’t worry. You don’t have to change sari or anything. They want to see you, that’s all. Here we all feel lost, ache for a Telugu face. Any new person is quite refreshing to us. You will understand soon enough. How can I say no, when he and his wife are so anxious to meet you?”
Geetha went into the other room, pulled out a sari and a blouse, and went into the bathroom to take a shower.
She returned to the living room and greeted Radha and Madhav.
“Where are the kids?” Hari asked. The couple had two kids, eight and ten.
“Our neighbors took them to the County Fair along with their kids. They will be back by noon. We thought of making the best of the free time this way,” Madhav said, explaining away their early morning visit.
Hari asked if they had breakfast.
Yes, they had breakfast, they just stopped by to greet Geetha briefly. “We will come some other time,” he added.
That some other time happened soon. The following Sunday Hari received a phone call from an old friend, Sumati. She and another friend, Tesh came. Tesh had no car and so he tagged along with Sumati. Within the next one hour, a few other friends, Pani, Vishu and Gnanesh came. All of them were bachelors.
This get together was unplanned and unexpected, and totally different from what Geetha had learned from her friends in India. For Hari, it was an ordinary event, nothing unusual, she understood.
Geetha made coffee. Hari went into the kitchen and returned with a plate full o f the sweets and savories, Geetha brought from India. He also brought cookies and crackers on another plate.
Pani took a cookie, that was his favorite, he said.
“Hey! How can you, with these authentic Pullareddy sweets from hometown? ” Gnanesh said.
“Come on, It is not a contest. I like them all. Each has its own taste. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. That’s all,” Viswam tried to appease him.
They all got into heated discussions on several topics. Excitement was in the air.
The clock chimed 12:30. “Okay, let’s go. I am sure Geetha garu likes to rest,” Sumati said.
“No, no. It’s lunchtime. Eat something and leave,” Hari said.
His friends protested, as is usual.
“Geetha garu needs rest.”
“We will come some other time.”
“We came just to see Geetha garu, say hello and leave.”
“No, no, we did not expect to eat lunch here.”
“Promise, some other time.”
Hari dismissed their protests, waving his hand. “Come on, I insist. There is plenty of food. Actually, I’ve got everything ready for you.”
Geetha was amused. She did not expect this but, apparently, some customs die hard. Indians are Indians anywhere. Unannounced visits and expected hosting!
“I still think it is not right to bother Geetha garu,” Sumati said.
“Don’t you worry, Sumati. I am not going to put your kid sister to work. I will make lunch myself,” Hari said.
“Kid sister”! It was so Indian, Geetha noticed.
Sumati laughed. “Ha, ha. We all have tasted your cooking. I will fix something. You stay out of the kitchen, that is a big help.”
Tesh followed Sumati into the kitchen. Pani and Gnanesh joined them. Geetha also went into the kitchen.
Sumati turned on the stove and started with making rice for puihora[1] Cooked rice mixed with tamarind mush and turmeric, also called yellow rice. . In another pan on another burner, and added two tea spoons of veggie oil, waited for a couple of minutes for the oil to heat, and threw in some mustard seeds, urad dal, and a few red pepper pods. While the mustard seeds popped, she took out two packets of cut beans and threw them into the pan. The pan made a big hissing noise and subsided.
Geetha was watching them with amazement.
While beans were cooking, Sumati took an potato and started slicing for bajji[2] Potato slices dipped in Besan batter and fried. Similar to onion rings..
“I will cut it,” Geetha said, taking a step toward Sumati. She feeling awkward to stand there, doing nothing.
“Don’t worry, I got it. You are still a new bride. We don’t let new brides work the first day,” Sumati said, playfully.
“I can’t just stand here doing nothing. After all, this is my house. I am supposed to be doing the cooking.”
“Ah, no, Geetha garu, for today we are the hosts here. Starting tomorrow, the kitchen is all yours. We will not enter the kitchen unless you beg us to.”
“To be frank, I am not much of a cook.”
“None of was at first. But, after a couple of months, everybody becomes a master chef.”
Geetha laughed.
Lunch was ready. Beans curry, Pulihora, Bajji.
As they were eating, Geetha made coffee.
“I haven’t had this good coffee since I left India. Geetha garu, Namaste to you,” Gnanesh said.
“You too can go home, get married, and bring the bride. You can have great coffee everyday,” Sumati teased him.
“Well, what if I don’t get a wife who can make coffee like Geetha garu. I would be a big loser on both counts.”
“You can ask her to make coffee when go to her home to meet her and her parents.”
“That is probably not a great option,” Gnanesh said.
Geetha was confused. How could they talk so lightly about such a grave subject, the institution of marriage?
“What is he talking about?” she asked Sumati, feeling there might more to it than his marriage or good coffee.
Sumati replied, “He has made a project of it. once a month, he sits down and make a list of things he wants in a girl: Fair skin, correct height, best features, etc. And then qualifications: A physician is good for taking care of kids, an economic major can take care of investments, and a home economics major, of course, will satisfy his taste buds. These priorities change each month, depending on the dominant zodiac sign on any given day.”
“If you ask me, he really is not ready for marriage. All that talk is just past-time for him, and entertainment for us. That’s why we tease him.”
All the fun and frolic were interesting to Geetha. Strange but not unusual, come to think of it. She felt right at home in their presence. She said so too.
“Back home, they told me Indians in America would behave very differently. You all are soooo Indian, I feel like I have not left home at all.”
“It didn’t sound like nothing. Am I being naive?”
“I am not saying you are naive.”
“Then what?”
“Do you remember the proverb, ‘you don’t test each grain of rice to see if the entire pot is cooked’?[ annam antaa patti choodakkarledu. You don’t check each grain to know the entire pot of rice is cooked. ] That does not apply to humans. As far as I could see, humans come in all shapes, sizes and attitudes, everywhere. One wave does not make the ocean. One instance is not enough to understand the nature of anyone person, or a handful of people, for that matter.”
Geetha did not reply. Suddenly, she thought of Susan and Peter. She had told them the same thing, almost!
“I am just saying humans are very complex creatures. Just take it in stride.”
“Okay,” Geetha nodded.
“Never mind all this nonsense. You are tired. Go, get some rest,” suggested Gnanesh.
“Yes, you need to rest,” Viswam said.
Geetha said, “I am not tired. It’s okay,” feeling shyly.
“Come on. No formalities with us over here. We all know how it feels like after such a long journey. We are not going to find fault with you. Go, get some rest,” Pani insisted.
Hari also assured her that nobody blames her as lacking in manners.
Geetha took leave of them and retired.
Geetha was getting used to the new environment, but it was not getting any easier. Every little thing was a new lesson for her. Cold cereal for breakfast, air-tight rooms, very little semblance of any human to be seen anywhere; and Hari’s constant warnings, “don’t go out,” “don’t open the door,” “keep the doors locked,” etc. were depressing her. She was feeling suffocated. Mother, father, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, even the maid, and the vegetable vendors were coming to her mind constantly. That was her life. The thought of loneliness, like a huge wave, rose and engulfed her.
She recalled the brief conversation she had had with Radha two days back.

(May 20, 2022)


1 Cooked rice mixed with tamarind mush and turmeric, also called yellow rice.
2 Potato slices dipped in Besan batter and fried. Similar to onion rings.

Chataka Birds (Novel)

Chataka Birds
By Nidadavolu Malathi

[A first generation Indian woman’s immigrant experience and reconciling cultural conflicts]

Chataka Bird

I moved to America in 1973 from Andhra Pradesh, India. It took me a decade to get over the culture shock I had experienced. That was the starting point for this novel.
I worked on this novel with three basic premises:
1. Ill-conceived and/or unsubstantiated notions are prevalent in both cultures, about Americans in India and about Indians in America.
2. Basic human values, hopes, fears, aspirations, and primary needs such as food, shelter and human relationships, are the same across all cultures. The difference is in the manner in which each culture addresses those characteristics.
3. Those characteristics originate from environment, population, and available resources.
Also, I strongly believe that a good read helps the non-native reader to transpose into the story’s nuance. If it does not do so, it has failed its function, in my opinion.
4.Basically, this novel attempts to depict how immigrants resolve the cultural conflicts, and in the process, create their own cultural environment.
I began writing this novel in my mother tongue, Telugu, in 1984, and completed it in 2004. It was serialized on
Currently, the novel is being serialized on I have made extensive revisions in this version in 2021.
In this English version, once again, I have made significant changes, with the target audience, non-native speakers, in mind.
The title, Chataka refers to a mythological bird, supposed to be flying around in the sky, and awaiting, with its beaks turned upwards, the fresh raindrops from the sky for its food. According to the legend, the bird would not accept water from any other source except the fresh raindrops from the sky, and only in a specific season.
I used the metaphor to describe Indian immigrants in America in pursuit of happiness and material comforts. The comparison, however, ends there. The culture shock emanating from the cultural conflicts they face is a lot harsher and harder to handle.
I am thankful to my good friend and author, Judith Ann Adrian, for her valuable suggestions.
I am thankful to my Facebook friends, Rama Neelakantham and Suman Latha Rudravajhala for providing information about Chataka bird.
Also, I must mention a comment I had received long time ago, when I had submitted my translation of a story to an American Journal. The editor wrote to me that footnotes were just right; not too many, not too few. To that end, the footnotes are meant not to be elaborate explanations, but only helpful in understanding the context in this story.

Read, enjoy, comment, if you please. Thanks.

Nidadavolu Malathi
May 13, 2022

The Chataka Birds
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