The election fever took over the entire atmosphere at the college and spread even to the students’ homes. Geetha learned quite a few things not only from Syam’s lectures but also from other students on campus. Especially, things about castes was quite an education for her. If a Kamma girl competed with a Reddy girl, all the Kamma girls supported her. Nayudu students joined the Reddy girls. Brahmins supported the Nayudu girl but not the Reddy girl. All this mix and match of castes made no sense to Geetha. She also found out that the poor supported the rich; nobody supported the poor; a woman, who dressed up like a movie star, got plenty of followers; nobody cared about the woman, who was simple and wore plain clothes. She tried to see some rationale underlying this mania but found none. The entire ruckus about the election appeared to be more perplexing than the nature of Lord Brahma. It is stupid, if you ask me, she told herself.
At home, Syam’s craze for Mary heated up, much to the discomfort of Geetha. Kanakam noticed it too. She stepped up her efforts to shield Geetha without making a fuss about it. Geetha was in a fix; she could not tell Syam to cut it out, nor could she explain the real problem with Syam to Kanakam.
“Why are you so fixated on Mary?” Geetha asked Syam one day.
“What do you mean why? How could you be so calm about the things that are happening at your college? As citizens, we must pay attentions to what is happening around us and in the country. That is our duty,” he said, reiterating some hollow speeches he had heard.
“But all your concern is only about Mary.”
“That is a talk by the narrow-minded. If Mary is not a girl, you would not raise this question, would you?”
“If Mary is not a girl, would you still be so excited about this election?”
The question sent him reeling. He pulled up straight, went on rambling randomly, “Look, little sister, you need to expand your horizon. You should stop thinking about people as girls and boys. You should get involved in local matters. Unfortunately, we are in a country where shouting ‘rape’ has become common just for a boy looking at a girl. That is so small-minded thinking. We have to change. In other countries, this is not like that at all. There, men and women walk around hand in hand, and kiss in public. Nobody thinks of it as immoral, much less a transgression.”
His rambling made no sense to Geetha. She saw no relevance between her question and his answer. She asked again, “Tell me this. Are you focused on the elections or Mary?”
Syam was annoyed. “You are coming to the same point over and again. Your entire question is because Mary is a girl, and I am a boy.”
“Is that not so?”
“That is not the point. Your question should be about the main issue. I am committed to one ideology, not to one person.”
“Oh!” Geetha said. She thought that Syam probably was a great philosopher, and that his mode of thinking was too complicated for a simpleton like herself.
The election fever peaked in town. Not only in the women’s college but also in men’s college, it raged uncontrollably. One day, one party’s cronies grabbed their opponent, took him to a deserted place, marred him with blades, and left him to bleed under the bridge. Somebody told his parents about the incident. They ran to the place with heartbreaking sobs, and took him to a nearby hospital.
The District Collector learned about the incident, canceled the elections, and told the principals of both colleges to find an alternative method of electing the college president.
Students in both colleges lost interest in the elections. They all were looking for peace on their campuses. That incident threw Geetha off her mindset; it crushed her spirits. Satyam, who was usually calm and collected, also was worried sick. That wounded boy and she were childhood friends, she said. She wanted to visit him at the hospital and asked Geetha to go with her. Geetha did not like it, but she agreed to her friend’s request; she wanted to be there for her friend.
At the hospital, the boy’s parents sat on a bench on the porch, crying their hearts out. They said he was their only son, and were hoping he would finish college and help them out in their old age. Inside the room, the boy lay on the bed, wrapped up in bandages; barely identifiable. Geetha could not stand the sight; she turned back and left quickly. After a few minutes, Satyam came out. Both expressed their sympathies to the parents and took leave of them. They went into the front-yard, sat down under the Neem tree. Satyam broke into heartrending sobs. Geetha could not weep; her heart and brain froze.
Geetha entered the hallway with a livid face. Kanakam was there, sitting by the window and reading Bhagavatam. She was alarmed to see Geetha’s pale face. “What happened? Are you alright?” she closed the book and asked her with concern.
Geetha said, “nothing,” as she threw herself on the sofa. She could not control herself anymore. She told Kanakam about the tragic event, and her trip to the hospital with Satyam; she broke into big, uncontrollable sobs.
Kanakam took her into her arms, and consoled her the best she could. She said gently, “Come, come, you need to be brave. Why did you go to the hospital, anyway? Don’t go there ever again.” She also decided to warn Satyam not to take Geetha to such places again.
That night, Geetha could not eat food. Kanakam sat by her side, and made her take a few bites, almost by force.
It took considerable time for Geetha to recover from the shock. She had not seen the hatred and violence at that level, ever. Kanakam was also getting more and more worried about her. “I told you,” she said to her husband, and blamed him for the situation Geetha was in. The couple took her to the movies for a diversion. They even arranged a party, just to keep her mind off the topic.
Geetha noticed how worried they were about her and tried to collect herself. She poured herself on her books, hoping they would feel better.
The following week, Bhanumurthy called and asked them to send Geetha home on the next Friday.
Kanakam said, with a chuckle, “Why? Is your Vadina garu homesick for her little girl? Tell her Geetha is fine, no worries.”
“Oh, no, no. We know she is safe at your home, as good as being in a royal palace. We want her to be here for pellichupuluA preliminary event in arranged marriages. The prospective groom and his parents pay a visit to the prospective bride and her parents.. It is set for upcoming Monday.”
“What? Pellichulu now? She just started college!” Kanakam said. She felt like she had an obligation to protect Geetha and her education from other distractions.
“Well, nothing is settled yet. This is only a start, not the end, right. Pellichupulu does not mean the wedding is set to go.”
“If you are not sure it is not going to happen, why arrange it at all? For her, it would be a distraction.”
“Probably, we too would talk like that, if my brother had all boys.” He took a sly jab at her because she had only boys, and that hurt her.
“Fine. I will tell Uncle later. He is still at work,” Kanakam replied, sounding sour, and hung up.
Later in the evening, she gave the message to Siva Rao.
“Now? She just started college,” he said.
“Um. Their daughter, their decision. Whatever pleases them,” Kanakam said, struggling to hide her irritation. She was still rancid about Bhanumurthy’s crack at her kids being all boys.
“Okay. Is that all? Did he say anything else?”
“Not much. Naturally, girl’s parents would like to see their girl married as soon as possible, and feel good about completing their duty. We can’t blame them,” Kanakam said.
“She is barely seventeen. If they keeping drumming up the song ‘marriage’, how can she stay focused on her studies?”
“That is the way the girl’s parents think. They are anxious to do what is right for any parent. We can’t blame them either.”
Siva Rao shook his head, called Geetha and asked if she would like to go home for the weekend.
Her face lit up like on a Diwali day. She nodded eagerly.
Kanakam felt a little jab at heart; no matter however caring and loving she was, it was not equal to mother’s love; the girl’s heart was anchored in her mother!, she told herself.
“I will put you on the bus here, and tell Bhanumurthy about her arrival. He will meet you at the bus station and take you home.”
Geetha agreed, but it did not sound right for Kanakam. “They might think we are irresponsible if we send her alone. Why don’t you go with her?” Kanakam said.
“I can’t. I have business to take care of. How about sending Syam with her?”
“Why Syam?” Kanakam quickly expressed her objection. She had noticed that he had been around Geetha a little too much, and that was uncomfortable for her.
Finally, the couple decided to send their fourth son, Jagadeesh, with her, just to be on the safe side. For her, it did not make sense. How a boy ten years younger than she could be her protector? She, however, did not want to make a fuss about it, she let it go.
Siva Rao called Bhanumurthy and told him about the time of Geetha’s arrival in Vijayawada. Bhanumurthy assured him that he would be at the bus station and receive Geetha and Jagadeesh.
June 17, 2022)
|↑1||A preliminary event in arranged marriages. The prospective groom and his parents pay a visit to the prospective bride and her parents.|