“So, what is new, AnnaAnna – Older brother. garu?” Kamakshi asked.
“Like I said, my eldest son is getting married on June 25th. You all should come to the wedding.”
“Nice. Who is the girl?”
“She is from Tadiparti family; well-respected in their town. She is the youngest; just finished first year of college. Nice girl, well-mannered and cordial. We heard a lot of good things about the family and the girl, too. We are sure she fits well into our family.”
“Good, that’s all we look for, right?” Kamakshi said.
Siva Rao turned to Geetha and asked, “Geetha, how’re you? Coming from college?”
“No, Mamayya Mamayya – a relational term, meaning uncle. It is common In Indian families to address adults with a relational term rather than by name, even when they are not related. garu, coming from Hindi class.”
“Why aren’t you in college?” he said to her, and turned to Kamakshi. “Why is she not in college? It is not like your husband has lots of money to pass on to the kids. Why not give them a good education, at least?” he said, expressing his genuine concern and business acumen.
“You have to ask only your friend,” Kamakshi said, implying it was not her fault. Her brother’s offer and the family’s response were a sore point for her.
“I will for sure, let him come. I do not mince words,” Siva Rao said.
Geetha approached her mother, and said softly, “Haven’t we had enough bickering about it? Why start again?”
“What did I say? He asked me why we didn’t send you to college, and I said he should ask your father. Isn’t it a fact?” she said, sounding innocent.
“What is Bhanumurthy doing?” Siva Rao asked.
“He is working in a telephone company.”
“Making good money?”
“He gets 300 rupees per month, and some OTs (overtime) too.”
“What?” Siva Rao said; he was lost in his own thoughts for a moment.
“OTs or something, I am not sure; he gets more money for working more hours.”
“Oh, okay. That’s good,” Siva Rao stood up. he told them he had some business in town to take care and would be back soon.
It was dark by the time Paramesam came home. The clock struck 9 by the time Siva Rao returned home.
Paramesam was delighted to see his friend. “I was waiting for you. What is the rush? Why run off like that as soon as you’ve gotten off the train? Could you not take it easy for one afternoon? Can’t your business wait until tomorrow?” he expressed mild displeasure, like any good friend.
“Ha ha. If I were a schoolteacher like you, I would go to work on the stroke of ten, return home at 4:00 sharp, and while away my time like a jolly good fella. For us, business folks, there is no work time, free time, supper time, sleep time, and so on. It is all one long stretch of business time. We must be alert round the clock, or, we will fall prey to some crook,” Siva Rao replied, laughing.
“Cute, Siva! As Robert Frost has said, you do not know what lies on the road you have not taken. Had you been a teacher, you would not use words like ‘jolly good fella’ and ‘while away time’,” Paramesam said, sounding asinine.
“Alright, I will admit I misspoke. Don’t you start lecturing me now.”
“Enough talk; it’s getting late. Food is getting cold. Come on,” Kamakshi said, walking into the kitchen.
At supper, Siva Rao returned to the topic again. Paramesam was not prepared for it, though. His oldest son was in college, and there was the youngest Chitti to think about. Paramesam mentioned the same in defense of his position.
“This is the problem with our families. They will have more children than they can feed, and then say God will take care of them.”
“Are you lecturing me on family planning? Interesting. You have how many, sir? Two or three?” Paramesam said, teasingly.
“Alright, I admit I have six. But, I am also making enough to provide for all of them.”
Kamashi was serving rice into his plate. Siva Rao put his hand across his plate, and said, “No, Chellamma, I am full, have had more than enough. Please, no more.”
She went in and brought yogurt.
Bhanumurthy came home, washed hands and feet, and sat down next to his brother.
Siva Rao greeted him with a smile, and asked him how he was doing.
Bhanumurthy replied he was fine.
“You can argue all you want, Paramesam. I strongly believe that girls should be educated just like boys, no excetion,” he said, as his final thought.
“I have to be realistic, Siva. It is beyond my means. The oldest boy is in college. It takes two more years to get his degree. And there is one more, besides Geetha. I have to keep in mind him education too, you know.”
“Okay, as you please,” Siva Rao ended it there.
Paramesam did not want Siva take him the wrong way. “Hopefully, we will find a suitable match for her soon,” he said, as an explanation.
Siva Rao was surprised. “She is barely sixteen. Marriage already?”
Paramesam offered as many explanations as possible: She is not a baby; the higher the girl’s education the higher the boy’s education has to be; the higher the boy’s education the higher the demand for dowry would be.
“I understand. Here is another way. You keep looking for a groom. In the meantime, let her continue her studies,” Siva Rao said.
“Why does she need a college education? Is it necessary to serve a morsel of food to her man?” Bhanumurthy asked.
“Are you saying that her education comes in the way to serve a morsel of food?”
“That’s not what I am saying. I am saying it is useless. Look at Vadina. What education did she have? None, right? Yet, she is managing the entire family superbly.”
“Aha, talk about my education!” Kamakshi was not happy that the discussion had gone astray.
“Oh, no, Vadina! Today I am here; whatever I have accomplished, it is only because of you. Had you not supported me, God only knows where I would have ended,” Bhanumurthy said, genuinely appreciative of her.
Kamakshi’s face lit up for a second; his words were soothing. In the next minute, however, she felt let down as the topic changed. That did not escape the eyes of both Paramesam and Siva Rao. Both understood her mode of thinking. One of them was content and the other disappointed. For the same reason, one of them was determined to cut short the discussion, and the other to continue it.
“Listen to me, Paramesam. Let’s forget all this talk about the need for education for girls for a second. You too know that boys nowadays prefer educated girls. You wish the boy should be a graduate at least; and a boy with a bachelor’s degree does not make a lot of money. So, they hope a girl with a degree could help financially, in case a necessity arises. Whether the in-laws send her to work is up to them. I think there is nothing wrong with being prepared,” said Siva Rao.
“You have six sons. You can say anything you please. I just can’t put four children through college, with my income. That is the stark reality,” Paramesam replied.
“Ah, come on, you are talking like you’re penniless.”
“You are arguing like you are hell-bent on her getting a college degree. How about you take her with you, and put her through college in Guntur?” Bhanumurthy said.
His suggestion startled all the other three adults in the room. It was totally unexpected and, somewhat, inappropriate.
“You shut up, nitwit,” Paramesam yelled at him.
“Cute. I have said it so many times, ‘don’t say nothing, if you have nothing worth saying to say’,” Kamakshi said. His words annoyed her.
“Well-said,” Bamma garu said. Her comment went unnoticed.
Siva Rao swallowed the wad of food in his mouth, took a sip of water, and said, “That is a great idea. Yes, Paramesam, send her with me. She can stay at our place and attend college.”
“This is funny for you?” Paramesam said with knotted eyebrows.
“No, Anna garu, you are kind, but you don’t have to take on this responsibility. It is not appropriate for us either to let you do so,” Kamakshi echoed her husband’s opinion.
Siva Rao would not hear any of those objections. “Bhanu may be young but has said the right thing. In fact, it should have occurred to me. Please, send her with me. My wife and I have been dreaming for a girl, but that never happened. Geetha could fulfill our wish; she is like the Goddess Balathripura SundariYoung girl goddess, known for extraordinary beauty..”
“Enough chitchat. Come on, let’s move,” Paramesam said, getting up to wash his hand.
Kamakshi was in a dilemma. She was not too excited about sending her daughter to someone’s home but the thought that she could continue her studies was tempting.
Paramesam was feeling down by the minute for the situation he was in.
Bhanumurthy was aghast. He did not expect his casual comment to take such an unexpected turn.
“Ridiculous, if you ask me,” Bamma garu said.
Geetha was trying to imagine how her life amid six boys would be like.
Paramesam fell asleep as soon as he hit the bed. Next morning, Geetha left for Hindi class by the time he woke up. Bhanumurthy left for work.
Paramesam freshened, ate breakfast and was on his way out. Siva Rao said, “Time for work already?”
“Um, what can I say. For you, the day broke now. I have to go. You will stay until I return, right?” Paramesam replied in a lighter vein.
“Of course, I will. I can’t whisk away Geetha without your blessings,” Siva Rao replied.
Paramesam pulled his foot back, turned around, and said, “I did not think you meant it seriously.”
“Of course, I meant it. I said it yesterday and I am saying it again now in all earnestness. Your vadina (Siva’s wife) would be thrilled to have a girl in our home.”
“Well, I have to ask Kamakshi what her thoughts are on the subject.”
“Of course, please, ask her. You can send her with me only if it is acceptable to both of you. The women’s college in Guntur is a well-established institution. Let me add, you keep looking for a suitable match. I’ll also keep an eye on it. In the meantime, let her study.”
Paramesam nodded, and left.
Siva Rao turned around to go to his room; Kamakshi was standing in the doorway, leaning on the door-frame.
“Like I said yesterday, it is not your responsibility, Anna garu; it would be a big task for both you and vadina garu. There is a college here too, you know,” said Kamakshi.
She, like any savvy mother, was thinking of the six boys at their home.
“Oh, no, Chellemma, never think like that. We two have always been wanting a girl, you know. And, Geetha is not a baby; we don’t have to worry about fixing her hair, dressing her up, or tucking in bed. She is old enough to take care of herself. I am sure it will be a great experience for her, too,” he said fondly.
“She is very naive, believes everything white is milkA proverb. tellanivanni paalu anukuntundi, meaning not wordly-wise, trusting everybody to a point of fault.. Vadina garu cannot be everywhere, watching her all the time, I am afraid.”
“I understand your concern. I promise, we will take very good care of your daughter. Anyway, you think about it and let me know. Send her with me only if you are comfortable with it,” Siva Rao said, genuinely
“Oh, don’t say that. Of course, we are have full faith in you two,” said Kamakshi quickly.
Geetha returned from Hindi class.
“Would you like to stay at Siva Mamayya’s home and go to college?” Kamakshi asked her.
Geetha was grappling with this question ever since the subject had come up. Several issues beset her and rendered her restless. With her mother’s question, her heart pounded twice as fast. She even wished for a second that this had not happened.
“Why go there? Don’t we have a women’s college here?” Geetha said.
“What kind of question is that? You are talking as if they are strangers. You know that our two families have been close friends for three generations. Your father and Anna are like brothers. Both of them are thrilled to have you in their home. You know she prayed for a girl during every pregnancy. Maybe God planned to fulfill their wish in this manner. Anyway, it is only for four years; it will pass in no time,” Kamakshi offered as many reasons as she could.
Regardless, both of them knew that was not the whole truth; but, neither of them was prepared to accept the bitter truth.
Siva Rao stayed for the night, and was ready to leave the following morning.
As Geetha was packing her suitcase, Chitti started crying; he wanted to go with her. She gave him a half-rupee and comforted him. She assured him that she would be back soon.
Paramesam pulled Siva to a side, and said, “I can never repay your debt, Siva,” with tearful eyes.
“Sh, sh, don’t say that. Geetha means as much to me as to you,” Siva Rao said, patting on his shoulder gently.
Paramesam approached Geetha, told her to study well, to be careful, and not to hesitate to ask Mamayya or AttayyaAttayya, Atta: Aunt. whatever she wanted or needed. He also assured her that Siva was like a father and his wife, Kanakamma, was like a mother to her; and, either he or Bhanu would visit her as much as possible.
Geetha kept nodding, for she could not speak; she was overwhelmed. As the car started, she could not control herself anymore; she broke into sobs.
Bhanu gently stroked her head, and said, “Don’t be sad. Everything will be alright. Call me anytime you would like to talk. It is only an hour and a half trip, right? You can come on weekends. Be a good girl, study well, okay?” He shoved a five-rupee bill into Geetha’s palm lovingly.
“What for?” Geetha said, holding the bill tightly in her fist. Her voice sounded hoarse.
“Just, keep it.”
“You all, don’t worry about her. We will take good care of her,” Siva Rao assured them one more time from the moving car.
(June 3, 2022)
|↑1||Anna – Older brother.|
|↑2||Mamayya – a relational term, meaning uncle. It is common In Indian families to address adults with a relational term rather than by name, even when they are not related.|
|↑3||Young girl goddess, known for extraordinary beauty.|
|↑4||A proverb. tellanivanni paalu anukuntundi, meaning not wordly-wise, trusting everybody to a point of fault.|
|↑5||Attayya, Atta: Aunt.|