There was an island on the ocean in a far-flung corner. It was located in a remote area. A few people from an advanced country set out on their ships to find it. Even after an intensive search, they could not find it. Actually, it took several thousands of years for them even to realize that the island had been in existence. They came to know about it only after they were convinced that they had occupied every island on the ocean. As soon as they found the island, they transported all the components of their culture—their religion, commerce, and guns—to that island. It became a part of their world.
The people on the island had been enjoying freedom for thousands of years; they had been enjoying it much better than all the others who had surrendered to the civilized world. Therefore, they could not accept slavery that easily. Like in other places, rebellions, machine guns and fierce fight took place on that island also.
A military chief from one of the civilized nations was appointed the ruler of that island. He was a bachelor, meaning he was not married yet. The island was located in the arctic region and therefore the people there were of fair complexion. They were just like any other barbaric race, which meant they had been living thus for millions of years. They believed that there was a divine power in trees, hills, the sun and the clouds, and so, worshipped them. They were singing the praise of the lightning and stayed away from the fireflies. They had great respect for the human spirit or life force(Jivudu). They never stepped on a living organism on the ground; never stomped on it. They never treated gold as currency; they thought it was a metal with unique powers and worshipped it. They were cooking their food in clay pots, being unaware that using metal pots was a mark of civilization. They wore clothes just enough to cover the vital parts but not the entire body. Now, the time had come for these barbaric people to become civilized. Their island was found by the enlightened race.
The military chief saw a woman. Her beauty caught his eye. The same evening, he sent word to her husband, asking him to send the woman to his mansion. That poor soul of a husband, the Jivudu! What could he do? For some time now, he was aware of the atrocities that were being committed on their island. Yet, it was in his nature to fight back. Therefore, he replied that the request was unfair, and that he would not let go of his wife, even if it meant losing his own life.
The Chief was furious. He went to Jivudu’s house along with ten armed men. Jivudu knew they were coming. He pulled out two pieces of firewood; he held one stick himself and gave the other stick to his son. They both stood in front of their house with their sticks.
The Chief looked at their weapons—the sticks—and laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” Jivudu asked him.The Chief replied, “You, idiot! Did you really think that your sticks are a match for our guns?”
Jivudu said, “I know these sticks are no good against your guns. I am doing this only to register my stance against yours but for no other purpose.”
The chief was enraged. He swung his sword and slashed their heads in one blow. Then, he went into the hutment and seized the woman. There were four children with her—from a six-year-old boy to a breastfed baby. They all were crying. The woman could not leave them alone and go away with the military chief. She threw herself on the dead bodies of her husband and son and kept wailing.
Soldiers took away the corpses and threw them into the sea. The woman hugged her remaining children and kept lamenting.
The chief ordered the soldiers to take away those children as well. The soldiers took the three older children and thrashed them on the floor several times. The children sustained several injuries and died of weariness. The mother went with the chief, taking her little baby with her.
Five years passed by. The little baby turned five. The woman and the little girl were living in the chief’s mansion.
One day, the chief came to visit her. He said, “You’re not living with me as appropriate for a woman; probably you will not until after that child also was gone.”The woman replied, “There is no despot worse than you. You are not a human being. Do you want to kill this little child too?”
He said, “She was a little baby when I brought you here, but not anymore. Have I not snatched away the other children of yours from you in the past? They were of the same age as she is now; and her fate is going to be the same now.”
After living with him for five years, the woman has gotten used to his words; now she could understand the meaning of each word of his. She picked up the child, handed her to him, and said, “Here, take her and kill her. As long as she is alive, I cannot let go of her.”
He hacked the little girl into two in front of the mother.
The mother went away, crying.
For a few nights, she thought of hanging herself but did not.
For a few more nights, she thought of drowning herself in the ocean but did not.
And on some nights, she considered dousing herself in kerosene and set herself on fire but did not do that either.
She went on entertaining similar thoughts s for several nights.
After a few days, one day the chief got drunk and came into her room.
She looked as if she was the personification of grief.
He said to her, “Your husband and children are dead for ten years now; and your little baby is dead for five years.”
“It is twenty-five years since my country had lost its independence.”
The chief laughed hideously and said, “How long are you going to mourn them?”
“As long as this body exists.”
“You are wanting for nothing. You are wearing better clothes now than before; living in a better house, and eating better food than before. I love you. My race is superior to yours; and I am a greater man than your husband.”
“You are not a greater than my husband.”
Chief (angrily); Am I not the greater of the two? Tell me in what respect?Woman: You have rifles. You have swords. Yet my husband stood up to you holding a stick in an attempt to save my children and me. He was aware that he would not be able to protect us, yet he performed his duty. He did not let go of me, not until after he was dead. If I were your wife, and if somebody stronger than yourself came along, you would have run away. You are a coward.
Chief (screaming): I am not a coward.
Woman: I knew it even on the first day, that you were a coward. If you were brave, you would have fought my husband with another stick. Why did you bring so many soldiers?
Chief (laughing): Do you think I could not fight that feeble idiot with a stick?
Woman: He is dead. How can you prove it now? You cannot prove your valor to me now. If you were really a brave man, you would not have acted the way you did on that day.
Chief: It is not that I was not brave. I just did not have this cleverness then.
Woman: For us, the people of my race, there is no difference between courage and cleverness. For us, justice is cleverness; and cleverness is courage.
Chief: Then, why are living with me, knowing the kind of person I am?”
Woman: I am not living with you.
Chief: Anybody, who has heard your words, would think you are an idiot.”
Woman: I will consider him an idiot.Chief: So, you are saying you do not like to live with me.
Woman: I am telling you for the one hundred and thousandth time; no, I do not like to live with you.
Chief: I know you do not love me. I should have earned your love in a gentler way. Then, you would have loved me.
“I’ll love you after your entire race has been eradicated”.
“I will kill you.”
“I’ve been waiting for over ten years for you to do the same.”
“You love death that much?”
“Are not there other ways to die?”
“Yes, there are.”
“Then, why did you not kill yourself? You can jump into the ocean or hang yourself.”
“I do not like to die in that manner.”
“How do you like to die?”
“I want to goad you on and be killed by you.”
“It only shows that you love me that much.”
“Yes, I love you, and I’ll tell you what kind of love mine is for you. I wish to die by the same hand that had killed my husband and children.”
“Never mind all that talk. The truth is you do not want to die.”
“You are mistaken. I do want to die. But there are two kinds of death. The first is the death that comes of its own accord. And the second is the kind that happens when somebody kills. I like the second kind.”
“That means you do like living with me.”
“I have known you for over ten years now. You are a beast. All your sophistication lies only in your liquor, the clothes you wear and the ammunition you hold in your hand. But it is not in your heart, not in your culture and certainly not in your creativity. I do not love you. You are not a human being. You are surprised that I continue to live.
“My Jivudu will not want me to kill myself by hanging or by jumping into the ocean. My Jivudu
is hanging on to this body. He would never quit on his own. This Jivudu wishes that I squirm and shrivel while pining for my dead husband and children, and smolder in the great flames of their loss. This is a unique experience for Jivudu. This Jivudu will not die on his own; he will not like it. That is not because he wants to enjoy life. He believes that both pleasure and pain must be experienced in conjunction with this body. There is a constant connection between this body and Jivudu. He will experience whatever pleasure he wants by means of this body.
“You might think that Jivudu must be enjoying the fact that I am in this body and am living with you. That is not true. I just do not want to kill myself. I like to die very much when you kill me. Also, I would like it even more if death came on its own. It is the same with Jivudu. He prefers to enjoy the pleasures of life as he pleased through the use of this body. The joys imposed on him by others are not pleasurable for him. He would like it just the same if it were pain.”
“If that is the case, I do not want you.”
>”I did not ask for you.”
“I will kill you.”
“Why keep saying the same thing over and again?”
The Chief killed her. A happy smile flashed on her lips as she fell to the ground. While breathing her last, she said, “In your life, this is the only good deed you have done. Now I am dying. What will you do after I am dead?”
“I will get another woman.”
“The words are befitting to you! Your race can never understand what Jivudu wishes for.”
Telugu original, Jivudi ishtam was published in Andhra Patrika Weekly in 1941.
Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, March 20)
The term means the life-force or human spirit, and is used as a proper noun in the story.