Twenty-five years ago Markandeyulu and I studied together. I knew him very well since then. He is intelligent and a good person at heart. In fact, he has nearly everything one needs in life. But he seems to lack something necessary for living happily. All his childhood, everyone gave him the same advice, “why don’t you mind your own business?”. That was one thing he never learnt.
Don’t think he interfered in everyone’s affairs always! He was really not interested in others’ lives and affairs. He only put his head on roll when he felt there was some injustice going on.
When we were both in seventh class in our village school, our school head-master’s son, Nageswaram was in the same class with us. All the teachers gave him marks generously since he was the head master’s son. Telugu teacher lovingly gave him the first mark in the whole class! But the fact was that Srirammurthy was the cleverest boy in the whole class who deserved to be the first in class. (He is now a lecturer in a college!). He and Nageswaram were quite friendly. Once however in the half-yearly tests Nageswaram stood first in Telugu while Srirammurthy scored lower. Srirammurthy was very offended at this. He took Nageswaram’s answer book and compared with his own. There was no comparison between the two! He showed both the answer books to everyone among the friends and we all sympathized with him and left it at that. But Markandeyulu went to the head master with both the papers and complained “Just because Nageswaram is your son, Telugu teacher gave him the first mark while there was someone else who deserved it.” The head master did not bother to see the answer books and instead gave a sound thrashing to Markandeyulu with a warning “don’t interfere in the affairs that are not yours!”
The other outcome of this incident was that Nageswaram and Srirammurthy continued to be good friends and jointly avoided Markandeyulu!
What I don’t understand is Markandeyulu’s utter abhorrence to injustice. He must have inherited that attitude from either of his parents. As far as I know, people remain happy and peaceful if they ignore the injustice that goes on around them.
There is no proof required to say that he did not prosper in life. What is more difficult to know is whether he was happy! I never saw him regret his attitude or his scuffles with people. So, perhaps even if he was not happy and comfortable, he must have been ignorant of that fact.
All through his student life he clashed with fellow students and teachers. One of the principals gave him a transfer certificate and threw him out of the college.
His fight for justice troubled him in several ways. All the people around him not only avoided him, they poked fun at him. If he ever felt the mistake was his, he always apologized sincerely. Just as he could not stand others’ follies, he was equally scrupulous with his own behavior. This also made him the butt of many jokes.
Markandeyulu was not from a rich family, so he had to look for a job as soon as he got out of the college. In profession and work place too he had the same problem. He could not stick to any job for a long time. Slowly over the time he also started fighting for peoples’ rights. He understood the close, subtle relationship between justice and rights and as a result he was always clashing with different people for his rights and those of others.
Markandeyulu got married, eventually. His wife came to live with him as soon as he was out of college. His parents-in-law were not extremely rich but were certainly better placed than him financially. They helped him often as he moved from one job to another, His wife’s uncle worked as a sub-inspector in the police. He one day asked Markandeyulu to attend selection process for the post of sub-inspector in the police force. Markandeyulu critised the entire British raj and the police and finally concluded that he wouldn’t attend the selection process.
“My uncle works for the police. What do you mean by such criticism? What would he think of you?” his wife protested.
“What would he think, indeed? Why, he would think that I hate the police. What else?” replied Markandeyulu naively.
“How can you insult the elderly man who is only trying to help us?”
“”When did I insult him? Do I have to praise the police to show my respect for him?”
“Oh no! You should show your respect to him by critising his job, I guess.”
“Please don’t think that you are the only sensible person in this world. I would not have spoken about the police if he had not advised me to join the force. I believe that police force today is very inhuman. He wouldn’t be working there if he had the same belief. I am just trying to tell him something, which he didn’t seem to know. Why does he have to do such a mean job and expect everybody to appreciate him?”
“He did not boast about his job!”
“Then why did he ask me to get into the police force?”
“What is your problem? You could have just refused without argument..”
“Then he would ask me for my reasons.”
“You could have just said that you do not like it.”
“Then what if he asks me why I hate the police?”
“He wouldn’t ask like that.”
“He would, if he were a real well-wisher.”
“Oh come on! Why should he care about your opinions?”
“I thought he did care and so he was thinking about my job. It looks like he just wanted to get a good name among the relatives. In that case, it doesn’t matter even if I have hurt him.”
“You will argue to any extent just to prove that what you’ve done is right!”
“Perhaps you would be happy if I meekly agreed with you, without any discussion! Tell me, do I never own up if I ever did a mistake?”
During such endless arguments, his wife would stop the discussion out of sheer frustration.
It is very difficult to gauge Markandeyulu’s love for his wife. Certainly, he is not somebody incapable of love. The issue is how far his wife loved him! Indeed, only really loving can be loved. But it is rather difficult to love a person who seems to love abstract principles. Hence the very great artists and people who love principles go about without being loved. There would be nothing surprising if his wife could not love him. It seems he never even felt that she understood him completely, leave alone loving him. The lack of children only widened the emotional gulf between them.
The five and odd years of the war (1939-1945) were really difficult for Markandeyulu. His parents-in-law’s family, however seemed to prosper during this time. His brother-in-law earned heaps of money with their uncle’s help.
Six months after the war Markandeyulu was his usual jobless self. In the past six years he managed to save one hundred rupees, which disappeared quite fast.
One fine day his eldest brother-in-law came to his home and discussed about their future.
“Why do you struggle with these jobs? Come to our home. Help us with our business. You will be well off. Of course, Swamiji is there to enlighten our minds. He is so detached from the world. He never visits anyone’s home. But he comes to our home at least once in ten days.”
Markandeyulu never had a chance to meet this particular Swamiji but he heard a lot about him.
A few years ago on the Krishna-Ashtam[i]i this Swamiji proclaimed himself to be the Lord Krishna and indulged in the “Rasa leela”. As the devotees were deeply intoxicated with devotional singing, he insisted that all the ladies present disrobe themselves like the cowherdesses. Luckily few people had their sense about them and they managed to politely drive him out of the village. Being a Swamiji, he escaped a thrashing from the villagers.
“I believe neither in black marketeering nor in Swamiji. Just leave me alone to live my life my way””, he replied to his brother-in-law curtly. He refused to look at his wife during this conversation. Instinctively he could feel the horrified look on her face.
“Oh, yeah! We know how principled and straightforward you are. Unfortunately you are not alone in your life. My sister happens to be tied to it. I guess you don’t remember that.”
“In our wretched society a woman cannot do anything other than mutely taking part in her husband’s life,” he replied philosophically.
“Exactly! And you are taking advantage of that without doing your duty towards her!.”
“So you want me to discharge my duties by involving in black marketing and cheating!”
“You are calling it as black marketing, but.”
“What would you say about your business?”
“What I would say is why should my sister who can lead a relaxed life at my home should suffer in your home? Your pig headed ness is going to ruin her!”
“You seem to be thinking that I am wallowing in poverty just for the sole pleasure of starving your sister! She is free to go away from here on the day she feels her life as unbearable. I might have not given her physical comforts but I never denied her personal space and rights.”
“That day too is not very far off!” grumbled his brother-in-law
Within a week after the Mahatma’s assassination, Markandeyulu and his wife moved to her parents’ home. A fortnight earlier he had lost another job. Being in that depressed state, he did not protest about moving to their home.
Swamiji also seemed to be living at his parents-in-law’s home. The house was a like a thoroughfare with people coming in to see the Swamiji. Most of the devotees were well employed, well educated and rich. The entire show with Swamiji, his discourses, and the devotees turned Markandeyulu’s stomach. He felt the entire atmosphere revolting. He found the Swamiji’s discourses absurd and ridiculous.
Swamiji would speak only on few issues, and for any length of time. One of them was his super natural power! He said he could reduce anyone to ashes, if he wished to. He declared in front of all the Government officials that it was indeed he who decided that the Mahatma should be assassinated. The other issue he loved to talk about was about the heaps of gold he made with his occult powers. He declared that since he had no need for the gold, anyone who wanted it was most welcome to take it. Strangely, he never seemed to tell where exactly the heaps of gold were and no one ever seemed to ask about them.
But his most favorite topic was women. He could speak untiringly about women, childbirth, breast-feeding and their menstrual periods!
He seemed to think of himself as omni potent who could get the devotees jobs, promotions, money and difficulties if the devotees proved to be less faithful!
First time when Markandeyulu heard Swamiji’s discourse, he wondered if Swamiji though all the people around him are fools! After an hour the doubt disappeared. Indeed, all the people listening to the Swamiji, and believing it without a question were fools, he decided. Whatever Swamiji would blabber, they would receive it, believe it.
“How can people be so ignorant? What happens to their thinking faculties?” He wondered.
After a few sessions he got the answers to his questions. People who go to Swamiji are not going as seekers of knowledge or truth. They have taken leave of their senses and they go for the very worldly possessions of prosperity, fame, etc. Their intellectual faculties are slaves of Swamiji and so they cannot question, criticize or rebel against Swamiji’s commands. Swamiji was a clever man who realized that society has been crumbling, man’s social conscience is decaying and individual selfishness is all set to rule the world. The monk seemed to have understood the reality better than any politician. He has them all in his grip now.
“I am going home. Would you like to go with me?” Markandeyulu asked his wife.
“But we arrived here only today morning. Why leave so early?”
“We can take the night train. If you don’t go with me, I shall leave alone.”
“Tell my brothers about it.”
He did so, adding his opinion of the Swamiji.
“Why don’t you take Swamiji’s permission before leaving?” his brother-in-law suggested.
“How can you believe in such trash?”
“Of course I believe in Swamiji! I have seen his divine powers with my eyes.”
“I don’t need his permission. He is not my guardian.” He replied vehemently.
“He is the guardian of the God Himself! I shall ask his permission for you, if you don’t,” the brother-in-law said and left to ask Swamiji on his behalf.
“Your sister doesn’t have my permission to leave. Soulless bodies may leave if they want to,” replied Swamiji gravely.
“Ï am leaving. What about you? Markandeyulu asked his wife.
“Oh no! I am scared” she replied. Markandeyulu left by train the same evening. On the way to the station he was pelted with stones, which missed him. He was amused to see that Swamiji had enough power to throw stones at him, but lacked the power to make the stones hit the mark!
Markandeyulu’s wife stayed at her parents’home after that. A year ago she delivered a child. His brother-in-law says Markandeyulu came to their home ten months earlier and stayed for a night. He demanded for some money, which Swamiji has given him kindly. Swamiji seemed to have given lot of jewelry to Markandeyulu’s wife.
On the day he came to know about the delivery Markandeyulu came to my home. He told me about all the events in his life, in detail. He borrowed some money and left the next day morning without telling me his destination. Nobody knows where he is now. He did not drop a letter to me. I have no hopes about him. I consider his life as a closed chapter.
“Why does life end up like this?” his question echoes in my ears as long as I live. I wonder if he was thinking about himself when he asked that question.
(Translator’s note: This story titled Vyartha Jeevitam appeared in Andhra Jyothi in May 1950.
What is amazing about this story is it seems to be pertinent even today. Even today we see courageous people who struggle to live their lives according to what they believe is justice while others around them and the life itself are doing their best to pull them down.
Thanks to Sri Rohini Prasad gAru, on behalf of the author, for his kind consent to translate this story from Telugu and publish on Thulika. – Sharada)
(The story has been translated by © Sharada, Australia, and published on March 2005, thulika.net.
[i] The day Lord Krishna was born.