The Status of Women in India, Then and Now. Part 2.

The Status Of Women In India, Then And Now. Part 2

In course of time, the changes that had occurred in politics affected society. The path laid by ancient scholars was deteriorating gradually. The paths laid by India, which earned its reputation as a global peace-maker, were filled with darkness. The meaning of traditions, in the name of religion, was gone. The traditionalists did not have the patience to explain and prove, with convincing arguments, about our traditions to the youth. It created a huge fissure between traditionalists and modernists. These conditions brought about a huge change in the beliefs of ordinary people.
Chastity for women was extremely for Hindus. Hindus suffered immense hardships to protect their women. Under these conditions, and changes that were taking place in the society, women lost the advantage of getting married later in life, unlike the women in the past. Fathers, out of necessity, arranged marriages for girls as young as eight or nine, in the name of saving them from degradation. Widowed women were forced to be self-immolated, whether it was because of religion-related commandments, or, because there was no other way to protect them. Sati became a tradition in itself. It would appear that women were never allowed to step out the front door during Muslim rule. Apparently, it was quite a challenge for the Hindu families to live under those circumstances. Nobody could think of women’s welfare then.
After the ascent of British Rule, the changes in the country were different. During British rule, the British were engrossed in plundering the country, and transporting valuable items to their country. They implemented the “divide and rule” policy, but were not concerned about religion. Unlike Muslims, the British neither barred Indians from practicing their religion, nor destroyed temples. They, however, worked toward promoting their language by creating plenty of schools and colleges.
Some of the youth, who had received the English education, started examining the country’s conditions seriously. People started thinking about introducing reforms in society. Raja Rammohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, and Gopalakrishna Gokhale founded Arya Samaj and Brahma Samaj, and undertook several social reforms.
Although it was an ancient tradition, Raja Rammohan Roy thought the tradition of Sati, by which the widow was forced to self-immolate on her husband’s funeral pyre, was horrible, and decided to eradicate it completely. But the traditionalists would not accept such a proposal. Very few accepted it, and support for it also was minimal. Despite the opposition Rammohan Roy faced in his motherland, he was not discouraged. He went to England, discussed it in detail with the British Government, returned to India and convinced the then Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck, to declare a law making the practice of Sati illegal in 1829. Rammohan Roy became a personification of Brahma in this world for women, who had the fortune of being alive after husband’s death.
Women could live longer after their husband’s death; but, living was widows was hard. They were not allowed to remarry, due to social constraints imposed on them. Under foreign government, there were no facilities for them to receive education. Other adults at home would not permit it either. How many parents could support widowed daughters? It is normal for the raging hormones to act up in young adults, regardless of gender. After parents’ death, the widows without any monetary resources became free laborers under the control of demeaning brothers and brothers-in-law. Life for them was the very personification of silent hardships.
Kandukuri Veeresalingam avowed to change these conditions. He founded homes for widows and created educational opportunities for them. They were taught English and Sanskrit in those schools. He also founded separate schools for them. He wrote textbooks in simple, easily understood language on various subjects for the use of widows. He wrote numerous stories, plays, and novels illustrating the cruel, heart-breaking traditions, and stupid beliefs that were causing enormous harm to the society. He found suitable grooms and arranged marriages for those who wished to remarry. He encouraged young men to marry widows. Veeresalingam rendered invaluable service to widows. He was a great benefactor to countless women, whose lives could have otherwise ended like stumps.
Another champion of women’s cause was Gurujada, a great poet and writer, who had written heartrending plays about bride price, dowry, their disastrous effects on families, and the hardships the families were suffering. His musical play puthadi bomma. Purnamma is a timeless classic that speaks of his artistry.
The women were aware of only the environment of their homes but knew nothing of the outside world for several centuries. While staying within the confines of their homes, they, however, have acquired worldly wisdom and imbibed the spirit of the stories of Ramayana, Maha Bharata, Bhagavata and History. Although the women of those times were not literate, they were knowledgeable in all Sastras through oral tradition. Some of them learned Sanskrit and Telugu from gurus and studied the five kavyas. Sitting in the dark corners of their homes, they have written poetry and written kavyas.
Some women wrote romantic kavyas in order to please kings, and promoted the idea that women were basically created to entertain men only. This was a primary factor in our society, which led to the assumption that women were meant to dedicate themselves to the bedroom and kitchen.
In the fourth quarter of the 19th century, some wealthy families, being persuaded by social reformers, sent their daughters to cities for education. They fought against the popular contention, “Why educate women? Are they going to work or undertake any worthwhile job?”, and helped their daughters earn degrees. Some of them became doctors. That was considered a progressive step during that period. Among the professional fields, women were able to enter teaching and medical professions without having to fight for it. The wealthy laid the path, and the middle class families followed them. Girls entered schools and colleges in Districts and Taluks. There were no separate schools for girls yet. Coeducation was implemented.
There were, however, questions about this progress. For instance, how many girls went to school? Up to what level? And, what did those, who had received education, do with their education?
Also, not everybody wanted education for their girls; and, many did not want higher education for their daughters. Many of them thought it was enough if a girl learned the alphabet, and was able to check the laundry list. Some families however, decided to continue their daughters’ education until marriages for them were arranged. On the boys’ side, young men were in school or completed Western education, and so, expected the brides to have some education as well. That resulted in women discontinuing their education after marriage.
Ancient customs and practices were losing their hold gradually. But nobody had a definite, clear-cut, idea regarding what should be the goal and what should be the ideal. Nevertheless, the one custom, that of marrying girls before puberty, continued to prevail. Traditionalists continued to have their daughters married at the age of 8 (the practice, probably, came into vogue during Muslim rule). Usually the groom would be 16, and either attending college or about to enter college. As a part of arranging a marriage, the groom would be introduced to the girl for the sake of appearances; but the decisions would be made by adults. One of the possible consequences was the groom would change his mind after he finished schooling, becomes more sophisticated, and find her not up to his expectations; and, leave her. Other reasons could be she was not civilized enough, not beautiful enough, and/or, simply she was not to his liking. Thus the number of rejected wives increased considerably. Some parents married little girls to older and/or disabled men out of greed. In those circumstances, some girls rebelled while a few took to undesirable ways.
Harabilasa Sarda took notice of the despicable consequences of these girls’ marriages before puberty, and worked towards enacting a law against child marriages. The Sarda Act was enacted in 1929. By then, Sati practice, polygamy, and child marriages had ended.
We could see a bit of an improvement in the women’s conditions.

About this time, Gandhi started assembling an army to organize the National Movement. He looked all over the country for resources. One half of the population was women, who never stepped outside the front door. They were confined to their homes by meaningless customs and senseless beliefs. Gandhi needed their strength, and the gold they had in their possession. With that in mind, Gandhi made use of the strength of their language skills to persuade and attract others to his movement. He invited brave women to participate actively in it. He sent diligent women door to door, asking them to reject foreign goods and embrace native products. He engaged a few others to persuade other women to burn foreign clothes and picket against liquor stores. The Gandhian movement helped the status of women to move one step up. Gandhi praised them for their work. Our society has learned that, “Women can accomplish anything with their bravado and determination; can confront any and every kind of situation. They are capable of any sacrifice. We have read that women took part in wars in the past. Now, we are watching them in action.” It was an eye-opener. That our women had sustained beating and imprisonment is a case in point.
In Kolkata, the Hindu Muslim riots flared up and resulted in dreadful acts. Gandhi sent Sarojini Naidu, an eloquent speaker with an angelic voice, to act as an intermediary to appease the two parties. Both the parties, Hindus and Muslims, calmed down because of her captivating voice. This is one more example of women’ strength.
Mahatma Gandhi watched his mother and wife closely, and learned that our customs and traditions were ingrained in our women. He believed that women must be engaged in order for society to progress forward. Therefore, he employed women to eradicate the untouchability prevalent in our society. He showed the path for women to work toward regaining women’s identity, which was ignored by women in general, and in the society. Mahatma Gandhi awakened them; he said, “Up until now, the society believed that women should silently bear with men’s evil ways, and be devoted to their husbands, a tradition known as pativratyam[Wife’s unflinching devotion to husband.] Actually, wife is the right person to show him the right path, when he turns to evil ways, no matter however much she loves him and respects him. That is her duty. Doing so does not taint her pativratyam.”
“The dowry system is ruining families,” he said, and that the change should come from women first. “Women need not feel desperate, and get married by paying huge amounts of money, especially when it is not a suitable match. Goddess Parvati is the role model for girls. She performed severe penance, and obtained Lord Siva as husband; she did not buy him with money. Young women could remain unmarried, take to austerity, and dedicate themselves to the service of the country.”
Women’s conditions improved considerably during Gandhi’s lifetime. Separate schools and colleges for women were founded. Women imbibed newly found vitality and social conscientiousness. While their husbands were political prisoners, they managed the household with children and older adults skillfully. They spun thread on spinning wheel, and had clothes made. That was their primary vocation for a while.
As a result of Gandhian movement, women obtained voting rights after India achieved Independence. At that time, women in no other country had voting rights. Some women won in elections and became Members of the Legislative Assembly. Srimati Ammanna Raja was elected as Deputy Speaker. Eventually, women became ministers, prime ministers, planning commission members, governors, ambassadors, and vice presidents at U.N.A.
In independent India, according to the laws of the nation, men and women have equal opportunities without discrimination of caste, religion, color, or sub-sects. They are given education and job opportunities also.
Unmarried women passed the tests such as I.A.S and I.P.S. Later, married women also were allowed to take those tests.
Dharma Sastra rules were framed with the progress of society in mind. The progress of any society depends on the boundaries by the society, set at a given time. If the rules were not changed according to changing times and conditions, it would lead to unruliness and rebellion. The customs and traditions of ancient times are bound to change in step with the changing times. The law that had been put in place previously must, of necessity, be changed according to current practices and customs for the sake of the welfare of society. Changes must be accepted even when those are against the Vedic prescripts. Accordingly, some social reformers undertook to make changes in the laws in 1937.
Until then, widows had the right to husband’s property only in nuclear families. After the changes in the law were made, widows earned the right to the husband’s property in both nuclear families, and divided families alike. Father had to pass his son’s property to the widowed daughter-in-law and grandson’s property to his widowed wife. This was, however, limited to enjoying the property during their lifetimes only.
Regardless of numerous changes in the law, a daughter had no right to father’s property. It was the responsibility of the father or brothers to make sure that the girl was well-taken care of, and her marriage was arranged in due course. If the father died, the remaining property would be divided among the brothers after proper arrangements were made for the daughter’s marriage. After the marriage, the daughter would continue to enjoy these rights in the in-laws home. With the seven steps she had taken around the sacred fire along with her husband at the time of marriage, she would become the responsibility of her husband. From that moment on, there would be changes in her rights, and status.
In ancient times, the property rights extended to three generations only. Death rituals were performed up to three generations only. Accordingly, the heirs were sons, son’s sons and his great-grandsons. If there were no sons, the daughter, daughter’s daughter, and great-grand-daughter would inherit the property. if there were no heirs, the dead person’s property would go to his mother. After her, his father, and then, his brothers would inherit the property, in that order.
Our Dharma Sastra acknowledged eight types of marriages. There is no one Sastra or Sutra that is applicable to all types of marriages. When a man from higher caste marries a woman from lower caste, it is called anuloma (descending order) marriage. The Hindu Law does not acknowledge it as legal. The marriage would be recognized only after the couple get married under Special Marriage Act.
The Hindu Law did not provide property rights to women. She could enjoy the property after her husband’s death, but would not have the right to donate it, or sell it. No matter how rich her father is, she will have no right, not even an iota, to the property. In modern times, the women’s situation is devastating due to lack of rights and economic freedom. It fell, exclusively, to women’s lot to face all hardships and losses that may arise in marriages. Women’s lives depended on the kindness of others, both in the maternal home and in-law’s home.
Under these circumstances, the Government of India appointed a Committee to examine the widows’ rights as prescribed in Mitakshari, 1937, Hindu Women’s Property rights, and daughter’s rights in father’s property. In June 1941, the Committee reviewed the said laws, and reported that making minor changes in Hindu Law was not sufficient, and suggested that the entire Hindu Law should be examined in its entirety, and codified.
Accordingly, the government appointed another committee. In February 1947, this Committee traveled around the country, and noted the flaws in the original bill. The Committee submitted a report of their findings, and a draft bill suggesting the changes that needed to be made in the Hindu Law to Parliament in August 1948.
The second chapter of Hindu Code Bill contains its suggested reforms regarding marriage. The details included the marriage practices, registration, oaths, witness accounts, and certification. In the third chapter, divorce, reasons for it, ways of proving them, remarriage, and determining children’s status were included. In the fourth chapter, adoption, legally acceptable adoption, qualifications for it, right to deny adoption, and other angles, were addressed. Sixth chapter described the property rights in nuclear families and debts. Details regarding women’s property was addressed in the seventh chapter; inheritance of women’s property in the eighth and ninth were given. The tenth chapter addressed the inheritance of women’s property.
After lengthy discussion regarding Hindu Code, the Select Committee submitted its report. This report provided some important changes in the Hindu Code in step with their progressive views.
According to the new Hindu Code, sons would not have the right to inherit property based on birth. Only the owner of the property would have full rights to his property during his lifetime, and nobody else. Property, both real and personal, either inherited, earned by himself, or with other family members jointly, will be distributed according to his Legal Will. Women would have full rights on the property, they have received. Inheritance rights in the case of men’s property were designed differently from those of women’s property. It was determined that women should receive one half of the property men had received. Both Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly denied daughters equal rights along with sons.
One truth came to light during the discussions for finalizing the bill. The lawyers, who drafted this bill, were not sufficiently knowledgeable in Sanskrit to interpret the ancient Dharma Sastra texts. The Sanskrit scholars, who were involved in this process, did not have the necessary English language skills to explain the Hindu Dharma texts in English to the lawyers. The net result is, it led to the inequality between men and women in our society.
Well-known Vedic scholar Shakuntala Rao Sastri, ascertained in her book, Women In Dharma Laws,[ Shakuntala Rao Sastri. Women in Hindu Laws. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. 1953.] as follows, “Working towards restoring the rights, which women had enjoyed in ancient India, back to women is a sign of progress. It would have served the purpose well for the public if the original Hindu Dharma Sastra was properly understood and adopted. During the time that Dharma Sastra was configured, no other country in the world had assigned that level of status to women.”
By the beginning of the third quarter of the nineteenth century, a little more progress had been made. The number of separate schools and colleges for women increased considerably. Women entered the field of literature and were recognized as writers and poets. Prior to the nineteenth century, some women had received kanakabhishekam (a custom of honoring poets and writers by showering them with gold coins). In the current century [20th C], women writers have received Sahitya Akademi awards, won first or second prizes in competitions held by magazines. Some women have been writing novels and stories for movies; A few are honored with swarna kankanam [Golden bracelet]. Several women have entered Medical, Educational and other fields, and become invaluable assets to our society. They are shining in politics as well. Some seats are reserved for women in various positions in government.
Ayyadevara Kaleswara Rao created a bill prohibiting dowry, an ill-conceived tradition, that has been ruining families economically. According to the bill, expenses for a marriage must not exceed Rs. 2000.00. If it exceeds the limit, both the giver and the taker will face punishment.
When we review this, one feels like asking, “What else they would need? What else would they want?”
Does our society uphold the ancient tenet, yatra naaryastu poojyante ramante tatra devataah (Where women are worshipped, there Gods revel)? Has the world of women progressed to that point? We cannot help but wonder if our country is one step ahead of other countries, when we look at the number of women, who have acquired college, post-graduate and doctoral degrees, and are working in high ranking jobs.
However, everybody knows that progress in the cities appears to be only a daze, and is good only for boasting. This is only one fourth or one fifth of one percent. It is only good for a show off, but for most of the time, it is a star in the sky, unreachable by ordinary people.
In our society even today, people gasp, “Oh, No,” the moment they hear the word ‘girl’. Parents are having hard time to find suitable grooms for their girls; the girls mostly are engaged in doing chores at home, and going to school until they get married. Grooms are available only in the black market. Either overtly or covertly, the dowry problem is hurting parents and humiliating girls. Even for the girls, who are educated and holding jobs with the hope of living on their own, the situation is less than satisfactory. There is no value for their education or earning power. Some parents are postponing their weddings because of their (parents’) dependence on daughters’ incomes. Today, even for the women who have jobs, it is hard to get married. Parents are not thinking about the girls’ happiness. Working wife is rarely respected by her husband. It is also rare for a woman in a lower cadre position to get the same satisfaction as a man in a higher position. Even now, it is difficult for a woman to work without fear amid several male co-workers. She earns yet cannot enjoy economic freedom.
On one hand, the movie producers are making hundreds of thousands rupees by displaying women’s physical attributes. On the other hand, women in the lower class are getting crushed by various problems in one form or another. No matter however morally they lead their lives, there is no safety in their married life. They have no right to live a moralistic life, and no pleasure in living with inebriated husbands. There are laws for working women to receive equal pay but not full pay during maternity leave.
Numerous problems are haunting women in our society. Can education, money, jobs, or wisdom protect them from the discrimination prevalent in our society? How far the woman’s status in the country has improved because of laws, moralistic words or lectures?
For all these conditions, there is only one important reason. We have to ask –
What do you mean when you say “woman”?
How does society perceive women?
In its mind, “Woman is a weakling, frail, an object of pleasure for men; she belongs to a separate race, caste, class, or religion.”
That is the reason women are unable to win society’s empathy in regard to her welfare, pleasures and pain, and a better life for themselves. It craves to enjoy her because she is weak, believes she should be treated only as an object of pleasure, humiliates her, ridicules her. If it gets a chance, it causes her to fall, and even makes money by throwing her as an enticement.
Because society views her as somebody else.
Is the relationship between man and woman like the relationship between the mill-owner and a worker?
Or, like the relationship between the ruler and the ruled?
Is that because of the difference between the weak and the powerful?
Or, something like the difference between the learned and the ignorant?
It is totally confusing.
Some claim that there is no redemption for women until patriarchy is gone and matriarchy prevails. Others argue that men and women, together, make up society, share responsibility for managing the house equally, and that their collaborative effort is the foundation of the home and society. The respect a woman receives extends to the man as well, and also her status, clout, progress, knowledge and acumen. If she is humiliated, it goes to the man and extends to society. Her insults are insults to the man.
The word ‘woman’ stands for mother, wife, and daughter.
If one does not think along those lines, one cannot understand who a woman is.
Since some women have started thinking along those lines, change has started taking place. So also revenge and angst. Things like defiance of men, accusations, insulting articles, and words have started flying around. Men and women should be living affably, like in the expression, “ksheera neera nyayam” (like milk and water). Instead, their modes of thinking are moving in opposite directions. Polite language has given place to rudeness. Some women go even further, and ask why women cannot make the same mistakes men make? Why they could not be forgiven in the same manner as men for the same mistakes? Instead of suggesting ways to change men’s attitude, some women are fighting for rights to make the mistakes men make.
This attitude has resulted in mutual insults and ridicule. Before the laws and rights are established fully, there used to be the tradition of “respecting women and worshipping women”. Even when there was no right to inheritance, there was the tradition of sending women to their in-law’s home with several gifts such as cash, gold, things of value, fruits, and new garments. There was a tradition of respecting her even when she was an enemy’s wife. Even the enmity at its worst was never shown on women but remained between the men. Women have been treated as mothers, wives, and daughters always.
Now, it has turned upside down. There is no procreation without woman. It is the mother who carries the child for nine months, feeds, and raises it. Woman is the foundation for man’s pleasures in this world as well the next. Woman is one half of man. It is not possible for each to achieve complete progress without the other. Even if it is accomplished, it will not give the same pleasure as the pleasure of being together. Therefore, it has to be done collectively.
The mode of thinking in our society must change. Women are the backbone of our society and life-support. In our society, civility and the view that we should get respect by respecting women must develop naturally. There is no use of passing laws and regulations, without people imbibing good manners. Scholars, writers, social reformers and politicians need to realize this truth.
Nowadays we are hearing serious discussions about harmoniousness of ideas and patriotism. We are talking about them, and encouraging them. The elite assert unanimously that people will be happy and prosperous with that kind of harmony. They hope for it.
But, from where should this ideology of harmoniousness arise? Experienced individuals claim that our culture was born and conserved in the homes of ancient rishis. But then, where is its root? Where is the root collar for this plant?
For harmonious thinking, people should understand each other, be empathetic to each other’s happiness and distress, and be there for each other in times of need. Each should wish the best for the other. This empathy must start with couples. Then, it should extend to society, and finally, permeate through out the country, like the scent from Jasmine flowers. If a man cannot empathize with his mother, wife and daughter, he cannot do so in other places either. Society cannot fare well without the education, and degrees that teach courtesy and generosity. In a society that is not doing well, men and women may fare well, but begetting healthy children would be hard.
The person, who thinks everything is fine when he is fine, needs to change his attitude and invite women into his world. Then only we will have real progress. If one person fares well, that is not progress. Similarly, when women rebel, fight for their progress through laws, and installing matriarchy, that too would be incomplete. The real progress is when both men and women work side by side with congeniality. That is well-rounded progress. And it lays ground for the progress of future generations.
(The Telugu original, Bharata naari – naaduu neduu, was written by Illindila Saraswati Devi, and published by Yuva Bharati, 1975.
This translation by Nidadavolu Malathi is based on the text available on Translator is grateful to the site.)

(December 26, 2021)

The Status of Women in India, Then and Now. Part 1

By Illindila Saraswati Devi.

Every individual commands respect in the society as long as he/she lives in that society. The respect, however, depends on his/her place in the society and the role he/she plays.
Nature has created man and woman. They have been attracted to each other and become instrumental in the procreation. That is a truth that needs no proof. The two individuals, man and woman, share household responsibilities and continue to live as a couple. However, the questions such as who is superior and who is more important have risen when they were born, and have grown stronger in course of time. The questions remained unanswered to this day.
Bruhadaarakopanishad has created the concept that “man is superior ” and further strengthened it. Since he is superior, he has been treated as the primary individual. The Prajapati (the creator) felt his loneliness unbearable, and cut his body into two in order to have a happy life. The other half turned out to be a woman and that gave him immense pleasure. That being the result of a patanam (fall), they came to be known as pati (husband) and patni (wife). In course of time, the word pati came to mean husband(the one that bears the burden) and patni the wife (the one whose burden the husband bears) and got rooted deep. We can find a similar story in the Bible. The story goes like this: God created man and the man felt an unbearable pain for want of company. Then God created the woman from a bone in his side.
These two stories, one from the Bible and the other from the Bruhadaaraka Upanishad, vary in wording but are similar in essence. The question of who is the superior of the two is not peculiar to one society or one country. Every country has grappled with this question. Every country has debated it. At the same time, however, women also have commanded respect to a certain degree in every country. Does she have equal status with man and, if not, should she have equal status? These questions are being debated even now. As a result of persistent discussions and movements, women in some countries have acquired equal status. In a few other countries, laws have been created but are futile in actuality. The difference is only in degree.
“Women in Western countries have progressed significantly and acquired equal status with men. Women in India are lagging far behind. Their status in society is hopelessly bad.” This view is prevalent not only among foreigners but also among some people in our country as well.
However, there is a huge difference between the status of women in India and the women in other countries. The perception of women in India is very different.
yatranaaryastu pujyante
ramante tatra devataah
yatraistu taastu na pujyante
sarvaastatraah phalaah kriyaah

” Where women are worshipped, there Gods are pleased. Where women are not worshipped, all deeds are futile there.” This is the ideal for Indians. It has been prevalent from prehistoric times.
A French writer, Louis Jacoilliot, stated his view of Indians as, “The civilization of India, which has created the highest status for women at home and in society dates back to prehistoric times. No other religion has given this much respect to women as the Hindu religion in the Vedas. Their civilization and culture are older than the Jewish culture and civilization.”
In today’s society, the status of men and women are valued based on their financial status, educational qualifications and opportunities in politics. But in ancient times, their status was based on their specific duties in religious activities.
Since woman is created for a different purpose than man, her physical build is also different. For the same reason, women do not possess the ability to do some acts that a man can do by his strength. Her physique stands in her way to do the same. However, just for that reason, to consider a woman as lower in status than a man is wrong and foolish. Religion and society must lend support to the men and women in performing their duties as assigned to them individually. Woman is an equal partner to a man in conceiving, delivering and raising children, and further by cooperating with the man in accomplishing his Gruhasta dharma (duties as a family man).

There is an enormous difference between the institutions of Western countries and India. In those counties the institution of marriage has been created exclusively based on materialism. In India, the institution of marriage is deep-rooted in Dharma, and Artha and Kama are two other branches of it. According to Vedas, pleasing Gods by performing Yajna and similar Vedic rites, and thereby seeking heaven are duties of man. A man or a woman does not have the right to perform Yajna rituals by himself or herself. The ancient sages have determined that only couples are qualified to perform them. Since the husband is not eligible to perform the ritual by himself without the wife’s participation, the prominence of the wife and the necessity for marriage have acquired a significant place in Hindu religion. The husband and wife should respect each other and make the Gruhasta[ Second of 4 Asramas, viz. Brahmacharya, Gruhastha, Vanaprastha, and Sanyasa] asrama purposeful. In Hindu religion, the status of marriage has received the highest status for the same reason. The Gruhasta asrama is held highest in a man’s life and the man is expected to serve guests, sages, disciples of Vedic studies, the needy and the poor with utmost respect. It is the wife’s duty to stand by her husband’s side and support in performing the Vedic Rites and help him in completing his duties. The Daksha Smruthi holds the couples who respect each other and perform their duties in high regard. The woman who is harmonious, sympathetic, modest, proficient, reclusive, and loving toward her husband is considered not a human but the goddess in every sense of the word. The creators of Smrutis have ascertained that the man who has gotten such a wife enjoys heaven on earth.
Wife is not husband’s slave. The reference in Rigveda, jayedasta (man is borne by woman in the form of progeny) asserts the same view. We can find similar views in Yajurveda also. Because a woman is instrumental in accomplishing the primary goals of Dharma, Artha and Kama, she is held in highest regard. The woman has been given extraordinary respect because she functions in consonance with her husband side by side in rendering his duties in all the three Asramas- Dharma, Artha(Material) and Moksha(Salvation).
prajamanu prajayase
tadute marthyamrutam.

(Oh Man, you were born in accordance with the principles of procreation. Therefore, procreation is your ambrosia.)
Women have been given unparalleled respect in our society because she offers immense support to her husband and the family in multiple ways. She has been created not only for providing physical pleasures to man but also for his redemption in the form of sons, who, in turn, are the means to obtain salvation. That being the case, the argument that woman has been created only for man’s physical pleasure goes against the grain of the fundamental Vedic principles.
At the time of marriage, the groom, while walking the seven steps around the sacred fire, tells the bride, “by walking these seven steps together, we have become friends now. Let’s not leave each other ever. Let’s be supportive of each other in performing our duties, be devoted to each other, and live in harmony.” Since the bond of marriage continues beyond death, marriage is considered unbreakable. The Vedas imply that neither husband nor wife must leave the other. The Vedas praise highly the woman who wins over her husband through love.
There is a huge difference between the affinity the couples will have for each other; and the other kinds of amity as well. However, other kinds of affinity may die in course of time but the affinity between the husband and wife does not die because of the Vedic mantras, recited during their wedding ceremony. The Vedic hymns note that not only the amiability between husband and wife must exist as long as the marital status exists but the marital status also must continue as long as amiability exists. The marital precept is, “Marriage is permanent and so is amiability. Thus, those, who walk out on a marriage, are essentially considered to have violated the Vedic principles.
Although the husband has command over the wife, he should win her over by being amiable toward her. A woman without love at heart cannot gain the affection of her husband, is it not so?
The couple prays sammaatariswasam dhata samudeshtri dadhaatanau (May we two, together, be blessed with congruous intelligence by God of Wind, Brahma and Saraswati).
In view of the above, the status a man gives to a woman sounds somewhat strange, regardless of his apparent superiority. In the Vedas, man regards woman not only as his equal but also gives himself up to her.
asmin gruha garhapatyaya jaagruhi. (Oh Bride! Be awake to rule this home). The bride is not a slave to man. She is the lady that has been invited to grace the throne. She is the lady who came to command the home with universal maternal love. Her rule does not cause distress for the citizens of her kingdom. Under her rule, all the troubles, which previously existed, would be absolved. It becomes heaven on earth. In those days, the heaven that resulted from man’s good deeds had been subject to woman’s will. Thus the adage bhaaryaadheenasthadha swargah (heaven is based on wife’s will) has come into vogue.
During that period, women played a prominent role in mundane activities. Bruhaspati wrote Artha Sastra in accordance with the prescripts of humans, Gandharvas and Goddesses, after serving them for some time. During the period of Rishis, Anasuya and Arundhati were scholars in Artha Sastra; Maitreyi and Gargi were great orators; and, Gargi was an eminent scholar in Vedic texts. Gargi’s work, Brahmanyam, shows that she has participated in Vedic debates. Similarly, Lopamudra and Viswavaara are memorable for their unparalleled Vedic knowledge. Therefore, we cannot say that there were no poets in the past, although the number was small.
It is well-known that 23 of the 1028 hymns of Rugveda were authored by women. Since some hymns were created by women, and a few mantras in other texts were allowed to be studied by women, it is not fair to say that women were forbidden to read Vedas always and on all occasions.
During the Vedic period, also known as the Sruti period, women clearly had the right to participate in religious activities. Women had written Veda Sutras. Men were not allowed to perform Vedic rituals like Yagna, Yaga, Havana and Krathuvu[ Various types of Vedic rituals.] without women’s participation. At some point, salvation by penance became important and women were considered an obstruction to achieve that goal. Later during the Daiva Smruti period, women were declared ineligible to study Vedas.
Upanayanam(Initiation rite for Vedic studies) was a necessary step to study Vedas. It was performed at the age of seven. It was an important event in the lives of boys and girls. Both Upanayanam and Vedic Studies played a significant role in arranging marriages.
Dharma Sastra treatises written by sages are called Smruthis. During the Smruthi period there was no lack of respect for women. They believed that the lineage would be served better by daughters, who had no male siblings, than the daughters, who had brothers. A daughter could continue the lineage in much the same way as a son. For that reason, she was referred to as putrika, a term specific only to the daughters without brothers. A daughter, who had no brothers, could save her father from the hell called puth, from which the term putrika was coined.
Manu Smruti said aputro nekavidhina sutaam kurveeta putrikaam, meaning those who had no sons should accept the daughter as a son. That was one way for men, who had no sons, to continue their lineage. Giving away a daughter in marriage was valued highest of the sixteen benevolent acts as prescribed in Vedas. In ancient works, giving away a daughter in marriage facilitated salvation for not only her father but also for the parents of previous generations.
dasyaami Vishnave thubhyam
Brahmaloka jigeeshaya

“I am giving away my daughter to you, an embodiment of Vishnu, with the hope of going to the world of Brahma,” says the father to the groom at the time of marriage.
tvaddaanaath moksham aapnuyaam
“I may obtain redemption through the act of giving you away,” says the father to his daughter.
kanyaam imaam pradasyaami
pitruunaam taaranaayavai

“I am giving away this young woman for the redemption of my forefathers.”
In the Samvartha Purana, the result of giving a bride away is described as follows: He, who gives away [in marriage] a beautifully decorated young woman through the process of the Brahmin wedding ceremony, will receive plenty of grace, fame, company of the virtuous, and several material goods. The result will be one hundred times better than the one received by performing Jyotishtoma rite. He who gives away a woman, sanctified by Homa mantra and decorated with valuable jewels, will go to heaven and be worshiped by the gods.
It shows how a girl can be a great savior of her parents and their ancestors. It also illustrates that the authors of Smruthi held women in high regard.
Daughters have helped their families for several generations. Smruti also expresses the opinion that daughter’s daughters also contribute to the redemption of their ancestors.
Bodhayana states that a man cannot marry a woman of his own accord. Gods bestow the wife on him. Husband should always respect the woman he has married. That pleases Gods.
And Bodhayana continues to specify the harshest punishment for the man who leaves his wife.
Daksha Smruti stated, “Although during the Smruti period a woman was declared ineligible to study Vedas or to have Upanayanam, she, however, was considered to have performed the rituals that were performed by her husband by virtue of paanigrahanam (holding man’s hand) at the time of marriage. She was required, inevitably, to participate in some rituals. During some of the Srauta ceremonies, wife was considered to have attempted sannahanam[ Lit. Attempt, breast armor. ]. Even when she did not have to recite the mantras she was considered to have done so along with her husband. But nowhere it is said that she had to share his sins. A wife could go to heaven despite any sins her husband might have committed.

In Manu Smruti, each brother should give one fourth of his property to his sister. He would go to hell if he failed to do so. Yajnavalkya stated clearly that the brother should spend one fourth of his property on her marriage, in the case the occasion should arise. Manu stated that the woman also was entitled to a portion of her maternal grandmother. Smruti mentions that daughters should share their mother’s property after her death. Manu has stated that not only daughters but mothers also will have rights to the property in some situations. Manu added that the property of the childless son belongs to the mother. Yajnavalkya ruled that after the death of a man, the mother(his wife) has a right to his property along with sons. There are also other means by which women may inherit property in addition to the above mentioned conditions.
According to the creators of Smruti, there are six categories by which a woman would be eligible for receiving the wealth:
1. The money given to the bride by her parents with the sacred fire as their witness at the time of marriage.
2. The money given to the daughter at the time she leaves for husband’s home.
3. The property given by her husband voluntarily.
4, 5, and 6. The money given to her by brothers, mother and father on various occasions.
Yajnavalkya confirms the same view. He said brothers, mother, father and brothers-in-law must be respectful toward her and give jewelry etc. to her regularly. Ancient sages also stated that the house in which girls are not adored would be accursed by the women, and that house will be annihilated. The wealth given by brothers and others could be in various forms. There is a custom of groom money to the father of the bride and also to the bride. That money belongs to the bride, and must not be used by her parents. Husband must not remarry if the wife is healthy and has given birth to children. In the event the husband needed to remarry, he should give his first wife a sum equivalent to the money he spent on the second marriage. It is the responsibility of the king to protect women’s assets. Stealing a woman’s money is considered a great sin.

It is established that the Dharma Sutras were formed by Gautama rishi. Manu Dharma Sutras were written in 2000 B.C. and Yajnavalkya Samhita in 1000 B.C. according to research scholars. There were no standard treatises in regard to traditions and royal inscriptions prior to Manu. There were historical records of kings but no records of duties of people.
According to Manu Dharma Sastra, women had no rights. Women should be protected by father in childhood, by husband in adulthood, and by sons in old age. Manu prescribed na stri swatantryam arhati (no woman deserves freedom). Yajnavalkya however prescribed a few rights to women. He specified a few rights for widows both in joint families and individual families. In joint families, he arranged a sum suitable for their status to be given to widows, who had no children. In individual families, a childless widow was entitled to enjoy her husband’s wealth only during her lifetime.
In the 11th Century, Vijnaneswarudu wrote an interpretation of Hindu Dharma Sastra. It is called Mitakshari. It was to be adopted by the entire country. This allowed women to have a few rights and powers. Women were allowed to adopt children. She possessed the right to use husband’s property after his death in times of dire necessity and for the welfare of the family. By this rule, she was able to sell some property and spend on her daughters’ marriage, and court costs. She was also required to settle husband’s loans. She even received the right to manage and improve property values.
In Hindu Dharma, women received property in two ways: Through blood relationship and religious rites such as death ritual. Close relatives would have to perform the death ritual for the dead person. If the dead person had sons, the responsibility falls totally on the shoulders of the sons. If he had no son, the widow would have to take up that responsibility. Thus the Mitakshari of Vijnaneswarudu combined the religious duties, blood relationship and death ritual into one.

In regard to marriage also, the ancient rishis had made a few rules for the same of society’s welfare. According to Dharma Sastra the couples, married according to tradition, must remain bound for the rest of their lives. Kautilya, 4 BC, provided for the couples to break up under certain conditions. This permission was however granted only in the case of marriages performed in accordance with the Gandharva, Asura, Paisachika traditions. And it was limited to non-Brahmin castes. According to Dharma Sastra of Kautilya, the woman, who was left by her husband, was entitled to receive some maintenance allowance known as manovarti. The amount depended on the husband’s income. He also laid rules for women to remarry under certain circumstances. Kautilya considered a woman’s remarriage a niyogam[ Mandate], prescribed one. Women belonging to the castes of Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Sudra were permitted to remarry if the husband left for another country or she had no children. If the husband moved to another country, became Sanyasin, or died, and she had no children, she was permitted to remarry after seven months. She could marry her husband’s brother or someone from a proper gotra[ Lineage from ancient times.].
Kautilya stated a woman could remarry or remain a widow and lead a chaste life. He set many rigorous rules for men to be able to remarry. The man could remarry only if his wife had no children, or all his children were dead, and only after eight years had passed. If his wife had given birth to a dead child, he would have to wait for ten years. If he had no male child, he would have to marry according to the principles detailed above. He who violates these rules would have to face punishment.
In short, Kautilya’s are more favorable to women than men.
It is obvious the Dharma Sutra were not uniformly set even in ancient times. The Dharma was defined based on the social conditions at the time and codified. That is why we see variations in different texts by Manu, Parasara and Kautilya.

Men and women will have equal rights to the money because of marriage. Apasthamba Rishi considered it a plausible equality if the husband earns money and the wife manages it efficiently. Manu also stated,
arthasya sangra chaivaam
vyaye chaivaam niyojayet
By that he meant, women should be appointed to protect and spend money wisely. The woman also would have the right to the money after her husband’s death, but she would not be obliged for paying off his debts. There were exceptions to this latter rule. She would be responsible to pay off his debts under the following circumstances:
1. The loan he had asked her to pay off at the time of his death;
2. The loan she co-signed along with her husband; and,
3. The loans she had obtained on her own accord.
These three types of loans must be paid by her. In joint families, after a man’s death, his brothers should take care of his wife, stated Narada. In short, women appeared to have enjoyed fairly respectable status, regardless of opposition by some persons.

It is obvious women were respected in various measures. Within a family, they were respected in different ways in different roles. The kind of respect varied based on her role as mother, wife, daughter, and widow. Women received the highest form of respect as mothers. Manu said,
iyam lokam matru bhaktya
pitru bhaktya tu madhyamam
guru sushrushaa yatyeva
Bhrahmalokam samasnute
(One may win this world through devotion to mother, ordinary world through devotion to father and the world of Brahma by serving guru.)
Mother, father and guru are the three important worlds, the three Asrama, and the three Agni (sacred fires). Among these three states, mother takes the highest place and thus is held in the highest esteem. One guru is revered by more than ten teachers, one father is revered by more than one hundred gurus, and one mother is revered thousand times more than one father.
upadhyayaan dasacharyaa
aacharyaanam satam pitaa
sahasram tu pitruunmaataa
gauravenaati rityachyate
, stated Manu.
In Vasishta Smruti, it is said that
yathaa mataram aasritya
sarve jeevanti jantavah
All animals follow in their mother’s footsteps.
There is one more precept. If the father falls short of being an ideal, the sons need not respect him. On the other hand, mother must be adored even when she had fallen. Sons have no right to judge the mother. Vasishta argues that the mother is never a fallen woman in the eyes of sons.
Not only mother but mother’s mother, wife of guru, sisters of mother and father, mother-in-law, her sisters should be respected by a man. In fact, not only they all but his mentors also should be held in high esteem. At one point, he says that all women must be revered. Manu and Yajnavalkya also declared that the wishes of a pregnant woman must be fulfilled, and forgive any mistakes she might have committed. Manu also ruled that a man must step aside and give way to women whenever he encounters them.

There is a baseless perception that women must not be allowed freedom. It is not clear when and where it was stated. It is possible some rules were incorporated by some unknown authors. No amount of research may yield a convincing argument. Even if we accept it as reliable, it is not proper for us to assume that women were not respected. All Smruti texts declared the woman as the most revered, and to be regarded, as a goddess on Earth. During ancient times, freedom was denied to those who failed to wish for the welfare of the others.
During that period, women got together, and held exclusive gatherings to discuss worldly matters. They also attended gatherings held by men. They served the kings. There is also evidence that they fought in wars and performed rites meant for men.
In Vedas, some hymns, which could be defined only by female philosophers, were authored by women. They have not remained as elitist authors but also, participated in philosophical debates. Women were also earners, and scholars in various other disciplines such as music, dance, and other professions.
In those days, children belonged to the same caste as mothers.
The respect and proper conduct men had shown towards women were clearly evident in the text of Ramayana. That was because of the conduct of the eminently virtuous man, Lord Rama. His brother showed remarkable respect and childlike admiration toward in the same text.
naaham jaanami keyuure
naaham jaanami kankene
nuupure tvabhi jaanami
nityam paadaabhivandanaath
(I do not know her by her ornaments on her arms and wrists, but I do know her by her anklets, which I had noticed as I saluted to her feet every day). During that period, men treated the mother, guru’s wife and older brother’s wife, even when she was younger in age, as mothers according to tradition.
When Lord Rama went for a visit, Sage Atri introduced his wife, Anasuya, as
Anasuyaam, mahabhaagaam
taapasiim, dharmachaarineem

and added, “She is the mighty woman who has produced fruits and abundant water from the River Ganges when the sages were starving, due to a huge famine for over ten years. She is the gifted woman that has performed intense penance for ten years. She is a great wife that performs numerous rituals everyday; and, the unparalleled mother that has watched over the sages and prevented any obstructions they might face. Several years ago, she was able to convert ten nights into one night with her powers in order to accommodate a divine event. You worship that great woman as your mother, and receive her blessings. Let Sita bow to her feet, and seek her blessings.”

It has been established that women have received the highest honor during the Vedic period and at the time of Smruti. From the times immemorial, Indian women have been worshipped as mothers. Swami Vivekananda has reiterated this view in his speeches abroad. He said, “In the West, people treat women as equal. We worship them as mothers.”
So far we have revisited women’s status during ancient times.
(The Telugu Original Bharata naari, naadu – nedu has been translated by Nidadavolu Malathi.)
(December 22, 2021)

Dear Almighty! A Letter to God (sketch)

By Nidadavolu Malathi

Highly regarded, most revered, Almighty and Omniscient Devudu garu,

I, one of the tiny specks from your vast universe of zillions of creatures, am presenting this letter with utmost respect and humility for your kindest consideration, and may I add, appropriate action. It is my pious hope that you would take a minute from your very busy schedule, and take my appeal seriously.

I do believe that I have a right to make this appeal since I am one of the zillions and zillions of creatures you have created and you are responsible for. By the same logic, you are also responsible for my birth and death. Ever since I was a child, my parents and grandparents taught me to trust you and seek answers from you.

That you are responsible for my birth and death has been established. My birth is a thing of past. It has happened, it is over and we can’t do anything about it. My grandma said even God cannot change the past. Thus we can work only on the present and future. So, we will leave it at that. As for death, my friends do not appreciate my referring to it so early in this appeal. So, it is deferred for now.

Now let us talk about the time in between, that is my birth and death.  Just like you, I have got this avatar and I think I have executed my assignment superbly. Well, I can be modest and say, “to the best of my ability,” but I do not see any need for that. After all you are omniscient, and being so, you know what I am capable of doing and not doing.

Probably, this is right time to say something about my language skills. I know this is not written in a highly sophisticated lingo. However you need to understand that I can work only with the matter you have put in my head. My limitations come with the territory. As and when you choose to put better quality matter in it, I promise to compose a better version. So, for now, this is the only version I can provide. (Once again I can be cute and say “deal with it” but probably not a good idea. So, I leave it as an aside).

As for my questions, for starters:

  You have given me jobs not commensurate with my qualifications,

  Relocated me to places I did not care for,

  Delivered goods I did not want at my door.

  And when I ask for something I would like to have, you suggest I do penance for one hundred years standing on one leg!

How fair is that?

What did I do to deserve this?

My next question is about avatars.  You told Arjuna that you take an avatar as and when Dharma is violated. So, where are you? Don’t you see the world is in a turmoil, and people are suffering horrendously. Most of the population is bewildered for want of direction and the other few are busy making it worse. What are you waiting for? Do you think it is not the right time yet? Well, I beg to differ. When a loser acts like a winner and even gather support for his crazy idea, I think this is the time for intervention, I mean your next avatar. If you are really committed to protecting the innocent and punishing the wicked, this IS the time in my humble opinion.  You see I am still being humble.

Now I will come to my avatar. I will have to refer to your teachings once again. You have stated that detachment means accepting all criticism, positive and negative, equally, including neglect. Frankly, I don’t have any control over those who criticize. Therefore, you have to intervene and tell them to give me criticism, positive and negative, in equal proportions. Then I will have a chance to accept all of them.

As I said earlier, you delivered me in this avatar, ill-equipped I might add. Regardless I have completed my assignment. It is time for I assume another avatar. It need not be on this earth specifically. As you may be aware, I am very adaptive and can fit into any place or position.

Respectfully Yours,

A Tiny Speck in Your Universe.

P.S.: I may have to tell your mother if you don’t reply to me. My apologies in advance.  


August 12, 2021.

Kalipatnam Rama Rao. The Yearning

By Kalipatnam Rama Rao

That was the month the Sun enters the house of Sagittarius. It was early morning of the day before Bhogi. Nevertheless no house in the village received a coating of whitewash, except those of the rich. Between the village and Malapeta the green fields used to look to be in full bloom. Now there was only a parched Pumpkin patch.

In Malapeta, Pydayya sat in the front yard in a two-foot patch of sunshine. His older brother Narayudu’s children were sitting next to him.  Narayudu washed his face and turned to the Sun God to offer his daily prayers. Facing them, Yerremma stood, not too far from them.

“So, is that it?” Yerremma asked Pydayya, looking straight into his face. He was her son-in-law.

Yerremma was about forty years old. Crushed by hard times, she was looking like well over fifty.

“Is that what you think too? If so, I will leave right now,” she added.

She tried to speak as softly as she could. Pydayya had never heard her speak in such a restrained voice!

Pydayya was barely twenty-five. After moving to the city, he had grown a bit taller and was looking robust. He wore a sleeveless t-shirt and striped silk shorts. The naked children around him looked like baby crows with bald heads and white streaks on their dark faces even the mother crow would not coddle. “Nevertheless they are looking like round sweet balls, must be gobbling alright,” Yerremma thought.

“So, should I leave?”, she asked again raising her voice.

Bangari could not hold any longer. She was patting mud on the patio wall while listening to Yerremma’s words. She went ballistic. “Why keep asking, ‘shall I leave, shall I leave?’ Who asked you to come here in the first place? Did we send a special invitation? Why did you come running to us? Who invited you, me, my son, who asked you to come here? Don’t you remember? You’ve said you will not set foot in my front door, unless and until my son and I go to your place and beg you on our knees, didn’t you? How could you show up here now? You came here, we did not go to your place. You have no shame to come here. Never mind. You’ve come and said whatever you wanted to say. Now you are done talking, you had better leave. Now, just go, go back to your hut,” Bangari said and returned to her work.

Pydayya was happy that Bangari stopped there.

Yerremma for whatever reason listened to all that bantering without speaking a word.

After a while, Bangari scoffed, “She is your kid, your blood. That is why she went with you. I am her mother-in-law yet she ignored me, my words, and went with you. You may say he is your son-in-law but you know he is my son first, and then only your son-in-law. He is my son as much as she is your daughter. Anyway, take him with you, if you can. I am not going to stop you.”  

It sounded like a matter of bondage for Yerremma. She took it as such and decided to step up. “You want to split them apart?” she asked

“I don’t have to do anything, you’ve done it long time ago.”

“If that was my intent, I would not have shown up at your door at all,” Yerremma said, shaking her fist in the air.  

Bangari saw that and washed her hands in a fit of rage.

Oh, God, these two women are going to go at each other again, Pydayya thought. Narayudu intervened and bawled at his mother, “You, stop it.” Then turned to Yerremma and pleaded with her, “Please, Yerremma, I am begging you, go home for now. We are not ignoring your words. We are saying he will go with you if he wants to. After all, he is not a kid you know. We can’t force him either to stay here or go with you. He is a grown man. He will do what he wants to do. Let’s not pull the rope until it snaps. Listen to me, go home for now.”

Narayudu literally held her chin and begged her. Yerremma had never lost in this miserable way, never in her entire life. She swiftly turned around and walked away furiously. She went a few steps, turned around and shouted, “Hey, hey, Iyyaparaala!, Listen, I’m telling you today, you are separating your son and daughter-in-law. For that, you will rot in hell not only after your death now but for the next several lives. In the next life, you’ll vegetate in bed forever. I am telling you today, as the Sun is my witness. You keep that in mind.” She walked away in big strides to her home, just a few blocks away.

“Go away, truth-teller! Be gone. If your curses and mine have the power the entire world would have been burned down long ago,” Bangari broke into a big laugh and then turned to her work.

* * *

Sankranti is six months away from Aviti, it is said.

“I will bring my daughter home every six months. You may be her mother-in-law but you have no right to stop me,” Yerremma argued.

Aviti is a chariot festival, an annual celebration observed in the Ganjam district, previously part of the State of Orissa. These two families were living in an area that was part of the previous Ganjam district. Just like the people there, the customs and traditions of both Orissa and Andhra got mixed up.  

Bangari said, “Take her as many times as you want, either before or after the festival, keep her for a couple of days and send her back. After all, we all are in the same village.”

“Whatever you are thinking? Bringing a daughter home every six months is traditional, especially during Sankranti and Aviti festivities. You can’t say it is different simply because we are in the same village. Tradition is tradition, whether we are in this village or the next village; rules are the same everywhere and always,” Yerremma argued.

“If you are so particular about festivities, take her the day before the holiday, keep her as long as you want, a month or two, I won’t say no,” Bangari protested.

“Who are you to tell me when I can or can’t take my daughter to my home? Maybe before, maybe after, it is and should be my decision. I am the one bringing her home, you know. You have no right to dictate one way or the other,” retorted .Yerramma.

Those gathered there also dismissed Bangari’s argument. As long as she was willing to send her daughter-in-law home, what difference did it make, before or after the festival, how did it matter, they said.

Bangari could not explain her real reason. She could not explain to them that one of her daughters-in-law had gone to her natal home for the delivery and another had died. If she let go of Sanni, she would have to manage the household all alone, all by herself. She was too old for that.

Yerremma’s counter-argument was, she sent her daughter to have a life with Bangari’s son and not as a servant to work for Bangari.

Pydayya’s move to the city for a job gave further support to her argument. If he stayed at home, Bangari could argue that he could not live without her, and she could do nothing about it. But that was not the case.

Yerremma came to take her daughter home a month ahead of festivities. Bangari raised hell.

“I won’t send her,” said one woman. “Come on, let’s go,” the other woman seized the girl’s arm and dragged her toward the door. “I’ll see how you can take her,” one woman said. “I’ll see how you can stop me,” the other woman said. The entire village gathered to watch them.

Poor thing, Sanni was embarrassed. She endured their push and pull for a few minutes and then broke into sobs. The two women stepped back. A few minutes later, the two brawlers went at each other again – grabbed each other by the hairs, scratched, and stoned each other. Only after the villagers interfered and separated them apart they stopped the squabble.

Yerremma, being the outsider,  sustained more wounds. Sanni saw her mother bleeding. She could not take it anymore. She followed her home.

“If you leave now, I will not let you set foot in this house again,” Bangari barked.

* * *

In the evening three girls were picking grass on the banks of river Tummalcheruvu. One of them just started wearing half sari. She came for picking grass for the first time. Quietness spread  like the Great Sea. They were feeling suffocated.

Neeli stopped digging and asked, “Oley, Sanni, do you think it reaches the village if I shout from here?”

“Don’t you worry, nobody is going to snatch and run away,” Ankemma snickered.

“Who is going to snatch me? Nobody cares about me. If at all, they will pick you up and run away, or, your friend here. You two are in the prime of life. It can happen only to girls like you.”

Sanni broke into a big laugh.

“You, naughty girl!” Ankemma said with a touch of disdain.

“Don’t I know why you two come to this god-forsaken corner while there is so much greenery all around the village,” Neeli said in retort.

And then added, bringing her face closer to theirs, “Kotthapeta is not too from here, isn’t it? Your man will come to see you later in the day. That’s the real reason.”

Sanni and Ankemma burst out into a big, side-splitting laughter. After a few minutes, Neeli asked, “Come on, Sanni, tell me the truth. If I shout from here, can they hear it in the village?”

“Shout and see.”

“What if nobody can hear it?”

“I’m telling you, just shout and see.”

Neeli stood up and looked toward the village. There was no sign of a human as far as she could see.

“I should call whom?”

“Call Dali.”

Neeli pretended not to hear it. Dali was Neeli’s husband, he was from the same village. She was nine at the time she was married.

Neeli pulled herself up and shouted, “Hey Pydayyaa mama!”

Ankemma giggled. Sanni smiled and said, “Not good enough. Shout louder.”

Neeli again mustered all the strength in her body and shouted louder, “Oooooooooh, Pydayya mamaaaaaaaa!”

“Ooh”, Sanni chirped like a bird in the mango grove.

“Aha! No need to laugh at me. He is coming for real,” Neeli bluffed. Then she crashed onto the ground.

“Oh my God! He is here, He is coming, for real.”

No, Neeli was not kidding.

“For sure?” Ankemma asked.

“I swear. Come here and see for yourself. I saw him climb up the banks past the Tummala grove. At first, I thought it may be somebody else. But then, I clearly noticed his striped shirt and lungi I’d seen before. That certainly is him,” Neeli said.

Ankemma stood up slowly and sat down right away. She saw Pydayya.

“True,” she said to Sanni.

Sanni did not move, showed no signs of emotion.

“So, what? Let him come,” she said, sounding casual.

Regardless, her heart started beating faster.

In the next minute, the other two girls became serious.   

“You stay here. We’ll see you later,” Ankemma said, picking up her basket to leave. Neeli kept pulling the grass.

“No, Don’t go.” Sanni’s voice sounded harsh. Ankemma was ticked off.

“That’s cute. Have you lost your mind? Your mother and his mother are fighting, fine. Don’t you let it get under your skin, He did nothing wrong,” she reprimanded her gently and went to the Palm Grove along with Neeli.

As Sanni continued to pluck the grass she noticed two dark feet in front of her. Her heart jumped to her throat. She was trying desperately to keep her shaky hands under control. Finally, she asked, “Found time at last?”

“When one is far away, it is hard to find the time.  Fine. What about them, who don’t talk to the person right in front of them? What is that?” Pydayya asked, sitting on the grass, making sure clothes did not get dirty.

Sanni lifted her eyes and lowered them again, without stopping her work.

“Can’t open that mouth,” Pydayya asked.

Still Sanni said nothing.

Pydayya was wearing a colored silk shirt and freshly washed white lungi.

Sanni was wearing a colored sari, it was faded and looking dirty although Sanni had washed it earlier on that day. She wore a rubber bangle on her right hand and wool thread on her left hand. If she stayed in her mother-in-law’s place, she would not have been in that condition.

“I’ve come from so far away, can’t you say something, not even one word? What have you got to lose?” Pydayya said.

Sanni had no good sari to wear and no valuable jewelry yet she was beautiful. She always took good care of her body. She took care of her looks even when she was busy or not well.

Pydayya was watching her keenly and imagining how her honey-colored figure would look in the yellow sari with red border and green silk bangles he had brought for her under that evening sunlight.

“How long you are going to stay?” Sanni asked, shaking off the dirt on the roots of the grass she had collected so far.

“I will stay for four day if you are nice to me, counting today that is. Otherwise, I’ll be gone by tomorrow.”

Pydayya expected the word “nice” to hit her hard. But there were no complaints from Sanni.

“What actually happened?” Pydayya asked.

“What can I say?” replied Sanni. She lifted her face slightly,  there was a little warmth in her voice.

“Didn’t you receive my letters?”

She did not reply.

“Everybody tells me how the squabble took place but nobody tells me how it started,” he said teasingly.

Sanni was about to tell everything but changed her mind and returned to digging.

“I don’t know either how it started. Even if I knew, it is not appropriate for me to tell you.”

“How telling the way it is would be improper?”

“The mother who has given birth to me on one hand and on the other the mother-in-law who is supposed to take care of me. I’ll be in trouble whichever side I appeared to have taken.”

Pydayya had no answer. After a while, he said, “Alright. If you want to act like you’ve nothing to do with it, I have nothing to say either.”

“We can’t dismiss it as ‘whatever happened has happened and so be it.’ They’ve gotten into argument today again. I am in a fix, it is like a well in front and a ditch behind. Tell me what I am supposed to do now at least,” Pydayya said.

For some reason, he thought she would say something but she did not. He was annoyed. “If you don’t tell me this either, I would have to assume that you are angry with me and my mother.”

Water welled up in Sanni’s eyes. She stopped digging, filled the basket with the grass she had dug so far, and replied in a hoarse voice, “You do whatever you want. I am only a woman after all. In matters such as this, I must not tell you what to do. Even if I had said something, you must not listen.” She picked up the basket and stood.

Pydayya was hurt by her words and even more by her walking away in that manner. Ever since he had set foot in the village, his mother, brother and even his wife got into fights, and now, she was telling him, ‘you do as you please.’ He felt he was being punished for a crime he did not commit. Even a passerby would show some sympathy in times like this. His own relatives were showing no concern! He suddenly stood up and said, “Alright, I will leave tomorrow morning. If I set foot on this soil again that would be my ashes only,” and went away.

Sanni stood there with tearful eyes.

Pydayya walked away in big strides, his legs floating. Earlier, his heart was beating the same way as he approached Sanni. On his way here, he thought about what he would ask her. And what did he do?

What he did was wrong. He turned around quickly and came back to Sanni. As he did so, he noticed that Ankemma and Neeli were watching them both from behind Palm Grove.  

 “Can you come to Tavitappa’s home later in the evening?” he begged. He was about to break into tears. His voice sounded desperate. Sanni noticed it. After that she found it hard to say no but she had to.

“You come to my place,” she said, lowering her head and looking away.

Pydayya could not take it anymore. He left without looking back. He was coming home once every three months and stayed for three days. Both of them lived like that, he in the city and she in the village, for the past three years.

The other two home girls came back to Sanni. She wiped her tears and stayed there for a long time.

* * *

Lights were lit by the time Sanni returned home. Yerremma saw that the basket was only half full and growled, “Is this all you could bring, after spending the entire day on the field?”

Sanni was going in to put away the sickle under the eaves. Yerremma’s question annoyed her. She was shaking as she spoke, “I did not come here to be your slave, not to cook and feed you and kids. I came here because you asked me to. Tell me if that bothers you, I’ll leave right now.” That is what she wanted to say but could not.

Instead, their next-door neighbor Narasamma took it upon herself to say so. “You, old brat, shut up. Her husband is in town and you want her do chores for you? I haven’t seen anyone like you. You shoot off your mouth and think that it saves you? You don’t care how much she is hurting or what she is longing for?  You are angry because she has brought a few strands of grass short today?” she yelled at Yerremma.

Narasamma was a few years older than Yerremma, whichever way you looked at it. She was the only one Yerremma would not talk back to.

Yerremma changed the tune and played stupid. She said, “What did I say? All I asked was why smaller bundle? I was worried if she was not well or something. My bad luck, my words didn’t come out right. That’s all there is to it, I said nothing wrong,” and went in.

After she left, Narasamma turned to Sanni and asked softly, “I’ve heard that your husband went in your direction. Did you see him?”

It is not unusual for the word to reach the entire village before the man has made it to his home. Therefore, Sanni was not surprised.

“I’ll come to your home a little later,” she replied and went into the house. However, she did not go to see Narasamma, not a little later, not even after much much later. Narasamma decided to go to Sanni herself.

Sanni did not enter the kitchen the whole day. It was late evening, she spread a small jute mat in her room and lay down. Her mother went to get groceries.

The present Malapeta was on the North side of the village that was developed in course of time. A new street was formed by combining two streets, each with three rows of houses. Yerremma’s house was on the new street. Between the new street and Malapeta, there was a tobacco farm. Between that and the village, there were vegetable fields and tender sprouts in preparation for replanting.

Yerremma set up a make-shift stove under the eaves facing the street and started cooking. A small wall stood between the stove and the street. The room Sanni was sleeping in had a door toward the street but not to the back. At night Sanni and her six younger sisters would sleep in the same room. Yerremma would make room for herself in the kitchen to sleep. The veranda had just enough room for a cot for an asthma patient. Yerremma’s husband would sleep there wheezing all night. His only past-time was to lay in the cot and listen to Yerremma cursing him.

Yerremma cooked and fed the kids. Sanni said she was not hungry. Yerremma put away the pots in the slings hanging from the roof, closed the door, and went away.

After she left, Narasamma came. She held Sanni’s shoulder, helped her to get up and said, “Listen to me, let’s go to my place.”

Her father and her sister, who had not fallen asleep yet were watching them with curiosity. Sanni understood that there was no use protesting anymore. As they proceeded, Yerremma came out and saw them.

At Narasamma’s house there were two young kids but no male member. The kids were sleeping.

 Narasamma cleaned the ashes in the coal stove, set the pot on the stove, brought the lamp from outside, and sat next to Sanni. She said, “I am like your mother. Listen to me carefully. Families break up or make up on occasions like this. I suggest you follow his suggestion. Trust me, take his advice.”

Sanni felt like her life had become a tabloid story, she was heartbroken. She covered her face with her sari end and cried. Yerremma heard her cries from next door but could not pull herself to go into the house.

“Stop it, whatever happened that you should start crying?” Narasamma said, a bit annoyed.

“My life has gone to dogs. Fine, see how low he’s gone. He asked me to go to the hut every scoundrel visits.”

“That’s right. That’s why I am telling you to take care of yourself. He is stupid. If you neglect him, no doubt another girl grabs him and runs away. That’s why I’m saying, you need to heed to his words.”

Those words caused Sanni further grief. “Why can’t he come to my place?” she said, overwhelmed by grief. She was aware however that her expectation was meaningless.

“How can he? Even on the wedding night, he did not want to go to your place. It is worse than a pigsty. Tell me, is there anything that can make one want to stay there?” Narasamma said.

It sounded harsh but there was truth in her words. The kids would not be able to sleep in the front yard, with only worn-out sari pieces for sheets to cover in the chilling cold weather. They would have to cuddle next their older sister or mother and sleep in the same room. That was the reason, although he had spent all day at her house, he had to take her to his home at night.

“I cannot say you sleep at my place. That won’t do. Your Atta holds a grudge against me for something I had said sometime back. It sure is bound to get us into trouble.”

Sanni could not see a way out. She hid her head in her knees and was silent. A little later Narasamma said, “That’s why I am telling you to forget these stupid ideas. Just do what he says. I’ve got hot water ready for you. Wait for a second, I’ll fix your hair. I have sent my little boy to watch when Pydayya arrives and let’s know. You get ready before he reaches home. Take the boy with you to be safe. On your way back, bring your husband along with you.”

It sounded reasonable at first. Then it occurred to her that this news would not be a secret for long. She was devastated. She broke into big sobs, muttering, “No, no, I can’t go, I can’t,” and shaking her head vigorously.

Narasamma tried to explain to her in so ways but Sanni remained stubborn. Narasamma was exhausted and yelled at her, “would you rather kill your marriage?”

Sanni kept staring at the floor. Narasamma said, “Tell me what are you thinking exactly. You think he will come to you today or tomorrow, or maybe the day after. Well, listen to what your Atta has to say,” and then shouted out, “Oley Yerremma, come here for  a second.”

Yerremma came in. “Sit down,” Narasamma yowled. Yerremma sat down. Narasamma said, “Tell her what the Dokkolla woman had said to you.”

 “You tell her,” Yerremma said, looking away.

“She said that your Atta had laid down two conditions to let you back into her home. First,  you must promise that you’ll never raise the question of visiting your natal home for the next three years, not until she feels like it and say ‘you may go’. Second, your mother should go to her and admit that she (your mother) was wrong. Unless those two conditions are met, she would not share the same roof with you as long as she lived. You know full well how stubborn she is. Your husband and his brothers will never cross her. Now, tell me whether you will listen to him and save your marriage or give in and let your Atta have her way.”

“I may take his advice but where is the guarantee Atta will have a change of heart?” Sanni said. She was irritated.

“Who can tell what is going to turn out how? When the man and wife join hands nobody, not Atta not the Goddess over her head, can split them apart. Otherwise you have got nothing. Any bitch can break you up.”

“If that is what you think will happen, I have had it. I will not go to him at all. As far as I am concerned his people are as important to him as my mother and siblings are to me. I am not going to use my body as bait to get him.”

Hardly Sanni finished her sentence, Yerremma stood up ready to leave. On her way out she kept muttering, “haven’t I said so? She, her Atta, her husband, and all of them are the same. I am the only one, the outsider. They all blame me as if my girl has joined me and pouring her earnings into my lap. All I’ve got is the blame. Ask her. Ask her if she has ever given me or my kids one paisa, just one paisa. There is the mirror and there is the face. Ask her straight. She keeps feeding that worthless idiot like a pig. I’ve told her time and again that it is the same for you whether he lived or died. But she won’t listen. She keeps feeding him bottle after bottle. I would ask her why? She says the gusty winds cause him to shiver miserably and she could not watch it. Well, as they say, if he dies today tomorrow is another day. How is he helping anybody by staying alive? It is a hassle for him and a hassle for the family. She stood by such a worthless idiot and got it to this point.

“I did not want to go there to bring her home. I’ve told her that her Atta is stubborn. I told her since there is no produce this year no work either, and no point in bringing her home. But she insisted that I go there and bring her home. So, I went to fetch her. And, see what happened. I have got broken bones and was confined to bed for four days.

“Yes, she is here. What good has come of it? She has got nothing, not even enough to buy a rag of a sari for the festival. That’s what she has accomplished. You are suggesting I should fall on her feet for this girl’s sake.  Her marriage goes to dogs and people will spit in my face, you say. This is my karma, that’s all I can say,” Yerremma left, mumbling and smacking her forehead.

Among the rich, there are rich, very rich, and super-rich. Among the poor, there are poor, very poor, and dirt poor. Yerremma was very poor.

Yerremma owned a hut. She possessed a few clay pots fairly in good condition, some aluminum and bell metal dishes. Also, one cracked aluminum pot, a badly dented vessel that was no good for pawning, and two dinner plates. Thus she was very poor, she must not be categorized as dirt poor.

Compared to her, Bangari was just poor. In her house, there were not only aluminum dishes but also three bell metal dishes good for pawning, two brass platters, brought by her daughters-in-law, and a small brass pot. She also had four water tumblers. She possessed a few other assets as well.  

She also owned a house featuring a raised front porch and a door to the backyard. On one side, there was a small porch just enough to hold a cot and a small backyard. After Sanni had joined them as a daughter-in-law, the backyard was fenced in. Above all, she had a small strip of wasteland, which was like a  pregnant buffalo that keeps gobbling fodder endlessly but never produces milk. Therefore, many people referred to them as ‘haves.’

Immediately after Bangari had been married into this family, her mother-in-law had divided the property. Bangari and her husband received a farm that yielded four or five bags of paddy and a peanut farm that yielded four bags of peanuts if they worked right. They barely had anything to eat. In their lives having a piece of cloth was considered a luxury. They learned to manage barely.  

The family grew bigger in course of time. Then came the War. Although the land continued to yield now and then, costs went up, commodities disappeared, and newly the black market came into play. The costs of commodities shot up sky high as they reached the village. Out of necessity, people took loans, failed to pay back, and were forced to sell their lands.

Thus, under the rule of the previous government farmlands of several farmers were wiped out. They had been told that under the new government things would be different. Some said the new government was going to be like the rule of Lord Rama. A few others believed it would be the Mala rule, that they would determine the administrative policies.  

“Jobs for Mala folks, houses for Mala folks, and all the wasteland for Mala folks,” the landlords said. Some of them even said that the rules of the new government were laid out by a Mala gentleman.

It was nice to hear them but in action it was different. Wherever the Malas turned the Kapu men confronted them with sticks. The Mala folks in the end received some barren land, quite rocky and in a far off location. It was a horrendous task to break the rocks and cultivate the land.

Bangari’s husband had to implore the Village Accountant desperately, offer gifts, and perform numerous odd jobs around Munsif’s house for umpteen months. He was nearly worn out by the time he obtained a small strip, located in the middle of a dried-up river. He died in the same year. Folks said the land was accursed. Bangari ignored those comments and kept the land.

The children were still young. Only Narayudu grew up and taller. Bangari assumed the responsibility as the head of the household with Narayudu by her side. From what she had seen so far she understood a few things about life. She told herself, “It never gets better for the poor. If they try to get something they don’t have, they will lose everything including the things they have had. The poor may starve days on end yet they do not die. That being the case, why lose the things they have had on hand?” She decided that she would not try to get something she did not have previously and would not let go of the things she had on hand, even if her life depended on it. She put it into action to the letter, never budged an inch. Under her management, they did not lose a blade of grass.

The other Mala folks, who did not have that kind of fortitude and, who believed that the Mala rule would happen, sold pots and pans, sweated blood, and turned the wasteland into a viable farm. As they say, the fresh water washes away the existing water too. The expenses wiped out the profits. They were left with nothing but their houses and their bodies.

The rich would not buy the houses in Malapeta. The poor could not afford to buy a house. It was the same with the bodies. Sacred texts and jurisprudence would allow renting out the bodies occasionally and for a brief period, but not to sell them with full rights. Thus most of them ended up becoming dirt poor. Or else, they would have been very poor.

Bangari was doing fine until all the four sons had grown up and two daughters-in-law joined the family. They saved a little cash and a few seeds in season and invested them in the land. After the season ended, they managed the best they could without taking out loans. They ate whatever they had and even when they had nothing they managed.

In course of time, Bangari’s third son Pydayya grew up. Usually, young men in the early stages of youth entertain a love for life and develop belief in their vigor and brains. Additionally, Pydayya was married. He started complaining that their mother had no mettle, and people without mettle remain stuck in the same place like floor mats.

“You do as you please but no loans, I will not let you borrow. Put up fences, gather dry cow-dung chips, move dirt from the pond, pour sand, add fertilizer, dig ditches and grow greenery, anything and everything you can and want you may do. I am not going to stand in your way. You work hard, I like it too, but no loans,” Bangari told them a few times.

Pydayya was ticked off. He declared that he decided to move to the city at the first sign of an opportunity. “Ah, go, I don’t care,” said Bangari. Pydayya wasted no time. He left for the city.

* * *

Pydayya struggled for about six months in the city and by the end of the year, he made it fairly well. It was not clear what happened but he found no work. In the past two years, he had been struggling with no income in sight.  

Back in the village, Bangari’s oldest daughter-in-law died in the same year Pydayya left for the city. For the next three years, the yield on the land was far from satisfactory. The yield kept diminishing, first one quarter, next one half, and at the end the entire yield. The entire village was thrown into spasms of fear and uncertainty. It was like the floods after heavy rains. Tiny grass blades were drowned at first and the huge trees and weaker trees were knocked out next. The villagers were suffocating. Bangari lost her mind.

Dogs fight for the morsels of food off the dirty plates in the garbage. Those who eat on those plates might not understand why those dogs fight. Only those who had starved for a year can comprehend the underlying philosophy.

Before the Aviti festival, people could find work like digging and sowing peanut seeds for a month. After Aviti there would be no work until after three or four weeks. There would be plenty of work, like reaping the harvest one month before Sankranti. It, however, would depend on rains-no life without rains.

That was the reason Yerremma
 wanted to take her daughter home before the festival. That was the reason Bangari wanted to let her go after the festival.

In Yerremma’s household, there were only two female laborers, including Sanni. In Bangari’s home, there were four male laborers and two female laborers, not counting Sanni. Yet Bangari would not let go of Sanni.

*   * *

On the following day, Pydayya took bath per tradition, ate bitter-sweet chutney and set out to go to Peddamma’s house.

“Why now? Why not go later in the afternoon?” asked Narayudu.  Pydayya promised to return home in time for the festive meal. Narayudu agreed.  

The night before Pydayya could not sleep and the next morning he was feeling down. He had to talk to someone to find a solution to his problem. Peddamma’s village was one and a half miles away from his village. His close friend Kannayya was there in Peddamma’s home.

The eldest daughter of Peddamma had died fifteen years ago. Kannayya was her only son. After her death, he moved to his uncle’s home. Pydayya and Kannayya had been friends since childhood. Pydayya thought he would feel better if he spoke with Kannayya.

At Peddamma’s home, everybody was thrilled to see Pydayya; it was like seeing God. They set a seat made of palm-tree strands for him and gathered around him. Kannayya was not home. Somebody went to fetch him.

An aged, withered old woman was lying in the cot on the porch. She looked like a bag of skin and bones and barely covered with a few rags. She was woken by the noise. “Who is there? Who is that?” she squealed weakly.

Peddamma went close to her, held three fingers in front of her face, and shouted, “My sister’s son, the third boy, the third.”

Pydayya also went to her and said, “It’s me, me, your great-grandson, Kannayya’s friend.”

The old woman got it finally. “Ah,” she said with a glimmer in her eyes.

“The bitch got it,” they all laughed.

Whether she understood or not, the entire neighborhood got the message. Those who had known him for a long time came to greet him. Peddamma welcomed them all and showed them places to sit.

After the usual chitchat for a while, they started inquiring about the city.

“How are things there?”

“What can I say? Same as here,” Pydayya replied, clearing his throat.

 “No, not that. What about rationing? We heard a lot about rationing of the items like rice and such, can you get them easily?”

“Yes, we can get them you know in the black market. You can get them if you can pay twice the price.”

“Like here,” said one old woman.


“That too is the same as here; some find it, some don’t.”

Then, they all asked him about life in the city. It was a  very big city, ten miles away from his village. It was like three adjoining villages put together into one in size, their village could not compare even to one neighborhood in the city. It was surrounded by mountains on three sides and the sea on the fourth side.

They all listened to Pydayya’s presentation of the city with great enthusiasm.

One young woman said, “Yes, you would have to see it at night if you really want to see it, I was told. It would be like all the stars fell into the valley in the dark, I believe. It would cost them millions of rupees you know. My uncle told me.” She kept watching Pydayya and the others as she spoke.

Pydayya looked at her and guessed she might be about 25. She could be mistaken for Sanni’s sister if one saw her suddenly. She was standing in front of him, leaning against the palm tree trunk pillar.

“Our Bariki Ramayya’s Kodalu,” Peddamma said.

Pydayya realized that he was staring at her and that it was not appropriate. He turned away.

“Anyway, what do you do there?”

“I work as a day laborer.”

“What does that mean?”

Pydayya explained: In the city, there was a marketplace called Pedda Bazaar. Millions and billions of rupees changed hands by wholesale dealers every day. The businesses included clothes, sugar, grains, tamarind, and many other items. His employer was handling onions and vegetables. Since Pydayya was good at math, he was assigned bookkeeping and the supplies of commodities to small stores. Occasionally, he also moved bags when necessary.

“How much you make per day?”

For several reasons, Pydayya did not give a straight answer. “it depends on seasons and luck. If the transportation is good and supplies are running smoothly, one can make as much as ten rupees. Or else, two or three, sometimes not even that.”

The others did not stop there. “Make 70, 80 rupees a month?”

“In season.”

“What about out of season?”

“One way or the other, no less than fifty.”

That is good, they all looked at each other and shook heads in assent. Pydayya, pretending to be casual, looked at Kodalu and noticed that her eyes were fixed on him.

“By the way, what do you do for meals?” Peddamma asked.

“There is a group of eight workers. A woman from their caste cooks for them. Each of them gives two rupees in the morning. She serves cold rice in the morning and usual meals at noon and night.”

“Is she the same woman from way back?” Kodalu asked.

Pydayya could not figure out whom she was referring to. He thought she might be talking just to get his attention. The others knew it was normal for her.

“You knew?” Peddamma asked her.

“Is she not the same woman? She was married to the village watchman Appayya of Kotturu.  After she had run away with a snake-catcher or tanner, he got married again,” said Kodalu.

She was blabbering like an old hag, thought Peddamma, it was annoyed to her.

“That was so long ago,” she sneered at her.

“Long ago? Hardly ten years back, maybe fifteen,” Kodalu said, watching Pydayya, “Didn’t my uncle come to visit you? He said he had seen her and greeted her but she turned away.”

Pydayya kept staring at her pretending not to understand what she was saying. Well-formed figure, Sanni may look like her at that age, he thought.

“Never mind who she is. Forget what your uncle has said. He can’t recognize today someone he had seen yesterday. You think he has recognized somebody he had seen ten years ago!” Peddamma said.

Pydayya was confused still. Peddamma explained to him, unraveling like a ball of wool. “Remember last year watchman Ramayya came looking for you? The dark, tall deaf man. He told us that he had eaten at your place. This girl is his daughter-in-law. She has been repeating his words ever since.”

Pydayya finally understood. He recalled the incident.

* * *

A year ago one day he had received the goods and was on his way home late in the evening.

“You have got a guest,” said one of his coworkers. Pydayya looked at that person but could not recall who he was.  

“Who are you looking for, sir?” Pydayya asked politely.

The stranger did not tell directly who he was. He first established for himself Pydayya was the person he was looking for, and then said he was a relative of Peddamma. On his way back from another town, he stopped to see Pydayya since  Peddamma had asked him to.

Based on his own relationship with Peddamma, Pydayya extended hospitality to his guest. He took him to the restaurant, both ate there and then went to a movie.

Ramayya was tall like a pole, dark and skinny, and leaned forward. He wore a white shirt and a dhoti on his head as turban. Below the waist, he was wearing only loin-cloth. Being a watchman, he would never leave without a cane. Standing next to Ramayya, Pydayya looked like a dwarf.

The movie was an old movie but the theater was a dazzling new theater. It took some time for Ramayya to get used to the dazzle. After that, he was so overwhelmed, there was no telling how much.

The old man could not follow the storyline. He kept asking questions. He was partially deaf. Pydayya could not raise his voice because of the others around him, and if he lowered his voice the old man could not understand. After the interval, the old man felt sleepy, Pydayya felt relieved. But, as soon as they left the theatre, the old man resumed asking questions again.

“Why the theatre is so glamorous? Don’t they have theaters where you can sit on the floor comfortably? Have you heard of touring cinemas?”

The conversation went on like that for a while. Then he started asking about the city: Why places are so far apart in the same city? Why didn’t you bring your family? Men without family don’t behave well, don’t they say?

And more questions about men and women passing by, the stores remained open after midnight, moving buses and rickshaws – endless questions.

Pydayya did not have a room of his own. He slept on the porch in the marketplace. For some reason, there were no lights there. As Ramayya walked past the gate, a bandicoot ran across his path. After that, he was terrified each time he stepped on a rotten eggplant or decomposed cucumber.

Pydayya pulled the old jute mats and rags from the eaves, dusted them off, and spread them on the floor.

The old man did not go to sleep. He kept asking, “Why it is so dark on the porch when the entire city is bright with lights? Why did you not wash this patio?” He could not sleep for a long time, worried about getting bitten by bedbugs, rats, and bandicoots.

Pydayya thought this experience would make him leave. But he did not leave. He wanted to see the city. Pydayya had no other choice. He sent word to his manager that he was taking the day off, told the woman to cook for one more person, and set out to show the city to Ramayya. He showed the huge buildings, skyscrapers, hospitals, and offices, explained about them as much as he could. By one o’clock, Ramayya was hungry and tired. “Let’s go home,” he said.

“I don’t have a home,” Pydayya replied.

“Where do you keep your stuff like bags, clothes, and all?”

“Right there in a corner in the marketplace,” Pydayya said.

“What about food?”

He explained about his food arrangements. Behind the market, there was a block of slums like any other slums in any other city. This one, however, being in the middle of the city,  was small. Since it was small, the houses in it were also small. People huddled in those houses, built one on the top of another on the marshland on either side of a gutter. On either side of that locality, the streets were full of multi-story buildings, a stunning movie theatre, and a few restaurants that depended on the theatre for business. On the fourth side, the Grand Trunk Road with endless traffic ran.

As he walked in, his first question was, “You live here?” 

The hutments, which they called homes, were built of clay-wall surrounds. The roofs were made up of garbage like old rotten palm leaves, rusty copperplate mats from the times immemorial, and jute mat pieces. Rusty copper plates served as doors.

Ramayya was shocked to learn that a room barely enough to hold a cot was rented for ten rupees. He could not creep in through the small hole, which served as door. He sat outside, managed to eat the gruel served to him, and washed his feet rubbing hard. He said, “One might as well starve to death, if you ask me. That’s what I think.”

Pydayya did not realize the kind of dump he was living in until Ramayya pointed it out. One-fifth of the city’s population was living in those huts. He felt good, it felt okay for him as long as he had some cash. But whenever he was short for cash, Ramayya’s words came to mind.

Pydayya was startled by Kodalu’s voice. Kodalu was telling Peddamma, “Not that, I am not talking about castes. Who cares about castes nowadays. I just asked if that woman was the same woman as we had known.”

“Who knows what you are saying or why. Never mind your words. Your father-in-law also ate the food she served. If his caste is tainted, so is my son’s. If his caste is not tainted, my son’s caste is not tainted either.”

They all laughed. Nobody said a word for a few minutes.

Suddenly, one of the women shouted, “Why ask me? I did not go there, nor seen it. Ask your uncle yourself.”

A 15-year-old girl, sitting by the door, was embarrassed for being caught thus and pouted. She shoved the older woman from behind.

Pydayya understood that she was Kannayya’s wife, based on the relational term she used.

“What? What?” those around him also wanted to know. The older woman explained. Further Peddamma added, “Yes, son, tell them. She is dying to know. A few days back, her husband made a big fuss about joining you in the city. He said he was tired of working here as a farmhand. He calmed down a bit only after Ramayya returned and described the city life. Now she started it again. Maybe she would just go away someday. Tell her what she wants to know.”

One of her aunts said, “Just because she asked about the wages, it doesn’t mean she is moving to the city.”

“Do you really think she will leave your grandson and go away?” one old woman asked.

“Who knows? It is not unusual nowadays. There is a group of folks for whom the city is heaven. You know they have a guru too,” Peddamma said, pointing to Kodalu. The young woman would not take it. She retorted, “What is wrong if I go?”

Peddamma did not reply. Kodalu got bolder. “What do we have got to lose? Isn’t it better to go to the city rather than wriggle here with empty stomachs,” she turned to the others around and asked. Nobody replied.

Peddamma said, “Go, girl, go. Who is stopping you? Please, go there, and wallow in the mire filled with flies,  pigs, and bandicoots. Nobody is going to stop you.”

“Yes it is wrong to go there and wallow in the swamp leaving behind all this great life we are living, all these mansions, costly beds, and all,” she said mockingly.

“Nothing there, nothing here, we might as well die here,” another old woman commented.

“Here we have a morsel to eat at least. What do you have there?” added another young woman.

The rest of the women joined the fray. Pydayya understood from their ranting that the reason for this bickering lay not in the current situation but in a feud that had been brewing for quite some time.

“Yes, yes, we are not eating here,” Peddamma prolonged the conversation.

Kodalu was annoyed. She countered, “We are eating true, it is so obvious. Let us see what your son has done. He has been a farmhand under Venkatrayudu for over eight years. The first four years it went well, they paid him alright. After that, they kept feeding excuses: ‘Tomorrow,’ ‘In a couple of days,’ ‘Just wait, wait until the new moon,’ ‘After full-moon,’ so on and on. It was a fierce struggle to get paid even once in the first six months. Then they said they would pay after bringing the produce home. Then they said the produce was ruined. Produce was not ruined, nothing happened, they were doing fine. We kept begging and begging, and even told them we were starving. Finally, they yielded, gave us three months’ worth of grain. The remaining wages only after the next yield, they said. They have not given us anything in the past two years, I swear. Nobody dares ask them for fear of getting beat up.  

“I asked your son, ‘Why work for the wages you may never see?’ I told him to quit but your son says, ‘If I quit now, I may lose everything. If I stay, maybe one day the produce comes home, and maybe they will disburse our share to us.’ I will say we may earn a couple of rupees in the city but he won’t see it that way.”  

“Jobs are not free for grabs in the city either,” Peddamma said.

“Neither here nor there. That’s what I am saying. What do we have here except toiling and moiling? We are starving but not seeing one paisa in return. There, we may live in a pigsty, fight flies and bandicoots, but we’ll have some gruel at the end of the day. Why not move to the city? Why toil on the farms and fields for nothing? And why be kicked and pounced upon, be called pinchers and stealers by these worthless folks?” Kodalu stopped.

“So it is all about you only?” Peddamma asked.

Kodalu retorted, “What do you mean all about me? Did I say you should not go?”

“Do you think the city is teaming with jobs? Who knows how many others had gone there in the past and could not find work? Sometime back, Kopparam Pothayya and his brothers had sold their property, moved to the city, and returned within six months. His wife left him for somebody else while they were there,” Peddamma snickered.

“Why talk about those that had come back? Why not talk about those who remained there and are doing fine?”

“They too will be back tomorrow, if not today.”

“Fine. Probably we will also return some day. For now, let’s live like this.”

“Is that all you can say? Don’t you think about others?”

Kodalu was lost for words for a few minutes. Then she came back with renewed vigor, “Alright, I don’t think about others. You think and tell me what you will suggest.”

What could Peddamma say? She sought God’s help. Kannayya appeared at the door.

Kannayya, without saying one word, wrapped his upper garment around his head, went to Pydayya, and started yelling, “You scoundrel, get up, up.” He kept hitting him on his forehead and chest with his fist.

Pydayya could not take it; he left his seat. Kannayya sat on it and continued his attack, “Son of a bitch, don’t you know you should come to me and not the other way round?  Come, come here, sit at my feet.” Pydayya did not sit at his feet. Then Kannayya lunged at him, both went into a big fight like two ferocious bulls while others watched. They went on fighting until Peddamma came with a stick and threatened to thrash them.

* * *

Pydayya did not keep his word to his brother. He had said he would return home for supper but he did not. Peddamma did not let him go until he had eaten at her place. Instead of going home he went to the pond and sat on the banks. The midday heat was turning into a soft warm glow. The cool breeze was getting breezier. There was no sign of Sanni. He looked around. Somebody was walking by the Palm Grove at a distance. Pydayya told himself that he would wait until that person went past the Palm grove and then leave.

Pydayya was waiting for Sanni but his mind was not on Sanni. Ramayya’s Kodalu had taken over his heart and soul. She was like a well-ripened fruit or a fully blossomed flower. His heart was craving for her but he was scared also. At Peddamma’s house, he had noticed that her eyes were devouring him. She took his side while arguing with Peddamma. Her eyes, the moisture in her eyes, the glimmer in that moisture and its reflection in her face, amity in her voice, and her indignation – they all were haunting him.

He recalled his conversation with Kannayya about Kodalu earlier that afternoon. They left Peddamma’s house and arrived at the village limits. Pydayya asked Kannayya about Kodalu. Kannayya said, “She may appear like that but she is not worldly-wise, very naive I should say. She is not that kind of a person, as far as I know.”

Pydayya thought so too but did not want to believe.

Then Kannayya related to him of an incident that had occurred sometime back. According to him, Kannayya visited Kodalu’s place and as he was about to leave, she said, “Leaving already?”  

“Why? Are you cooking for me?” Kannayya asked.

“Why should I? Aren’t there women in your home? Or, they don’t know how to cook?” she said.

Kodalu had been thinking about moving to the city for a while. Her husband had the muscle but not the guts. Therefore she started working on Kannayya. He stalled her for a few days. The more he avoided the more persistent she was. The pressure was building up by the day. Finally, he decided to find out her real intentions. He tried to get close to her a couple of times but she dodged him cleverly. And then he got hold of her while she alone.

“Where would you go now?” Kannayya asked her.

“I am not going anywhere but I will tell you one thing. One must not steal as long as one can get by. It is the same with couples. When one has a spouse, one must not resort to evil ways. Tell me if you don’t have a wife at home. I will even go along if she is ill. But I am not going to break up families for no reason. All men are alike and so also all women,” she said.

Kannayya said he had left with his head down.   

The story got to Pydayya. He thought Sanni was no contest to that woman, and himself no contest to Kannayya.

Pydayya was feeling tired. He looked around again. A woman carrying a basket was climbing up the ridge. Probably fifty-years-old. The sun was down. Pydayya gave up on Sanni and got up to leave. “Just one more minute,” his heart was pulling him back.

He thought of something that had happened a few days before Sanni had moved in with his family. Pydayya was wandering in a neighbor’s Palm Grove looking for palm fruits. The Sun was prickly hot. He saw a girl alone amid hillocks.

There was no other human being in sight under the scorching Sun. But for the gusty winds blowing through the trees, there was no other noise, not even birds chirping.

The cool breeze from the sea was caressing but he was feeling burning hot. Occasionally dry winds blew and that made him even more frustrated. With pounding heart and longing eyes, he looked around like a thief. He picked up the courage and went into the crags of the small mounds. Madiga Appayya’s daughter was there snuck in a corner. She bit one of the mangoes she had stolen from a nearby Mango Grove. She pushed one side of her upper garment and tucked the other mangoes in her sari folds at the waist. She was startled by Pydayya and quickly tried to hide her mangoes with her torn sari end.

For the crime he had committed on that day he could not stare into her eyes again for a very long time. Now he was thinking it was not his fault. Hunger is the mother of all evils.

Pydayya was in the same mood today as he had been on that day. His mind was scattered; he could not decide as to what he should do.

Sanni will not come, he told himself and stood up to leave. As he stood, he felt a flood of something at heart, he was not sure whether it was sorrow or frustration. Whatever it was, there was no way out. He dusted off his clothes, turned westward, and thought it was a few hours for the sun to go down. He walked halfway along the banks and arrived at the temple of the local goddess. Something reminded him of Gangamma. He felt relieved for some uncanny reason and proceeded to cross the pond. Halfway past the pond, there was Chennangi grove and Gangamma’s hut ahead of the grove.

He walked a few more steps past halfway. Right there was the hut of Dayyala Gangamma.

“You here? Are you lost?” Gangamma greeted him with a question, “Lost maybe but the same old path,” Pydayya replied.

Gangamma cleaned the front yard, set up three stones for a make-shift stove. She was cooking gruel.

Pydayya sat on a boulder across from her. His face looked like a partially burned charcoal with bright sun rays shining on his dark face.

“Why that face?” Gangamma asked him, watching the fire in the stove.

“I have been roaming around since morning, totally beat up. I was hoping I will get some cold water,” Pydayya replied.

Gangamma read hunger in his face like a doctor would the illness in a patient’s face. She was going to refer to the winter weather, instead, she asked, “Where did you go?” as she proceeded to fetch firewood.

Pydayya told her the places he had been to.  

The old man inside heard voices and asked in a streaky voice, “Who’s that? Narayudu?”

Gangamma’s first husband had left her after four or five years of marriage and eloped with another woman. Gangamma remained without a man for about ten years. Her present husband invited her into his life after his first wife had died. After she had moved in with him, he fell ill with some unmanageable disease and lost both his legs. Gangamma nevertheless held on to him faithfully more than his life.

“No, not Narayudu, it is his younger brother Pydayya,” she spoke loudly so it could be heard inside.

Pydayya went into the room and said, “I have no cheroot but how about a beedi, old man?”

There was nothing in that room but a water jug and a cot. There was no room for anything else, he thought. He did not notice the dustpan under the cot and the two clay pots in the sling hanging from the beam.

“Whatever it is, I will take it,” the old man said in a raspy voice. For Pydayya it was hard to watch the old man’s pale face and the drawn-in eyes, which looked like cotton balls. He looked away, lit up one beedi, handed it to the old man, put another by his side, and went back to the front yard.

Gangamma stirred the gruel well and put the ladle down.

She waited for Pydayya to say something. He was quiet. She started asking about his life in the city. Then she brought up the question of the squabble between the two women and asked if there was truth in what she had heard.

Pydayya gave her short answers but did not get into any real conversation.

After a while, she asked, “Why are you here?”

“I told you I was thirsty,” he looked up, pointing to his throat.

“If you are thirsty you should go to a liquor store. What do I have to give?” she said in a steady voice.

“Whatever you have,” he said.

“All I have is this gruel. I can starve the old man and give it to you,” she said, smiling. She checked the rice if it was cooked well and took it inside. In a few minutes, she returned, put out the fire, and removed the ashes.

Pydayya started to speak in a trembling voice, “I am starving for a woman for the past six months. My mother and mother-in-law are bickering and causing a rift between me and my wife. Last night I asked Sanni to come to Tavitappa’s house. Even she does not understand my suffering. I am telling you, I have thought of picking up a knife, stab them both and kill myself but I don’t have the guts. I would not be in this miserable position if I had the guts.”

Pydayya went on to relate the history behind the current situation. He said, “At a time when things were tough at home, somebody from my brother’s wife’s side suggested to him to go to the city. His wife begged him to take up on the offer. My brother refused. Then I took that advice and went to the city. God only knows how much I have suffered, am still suffering for that decision. Leaving my wife behind, went there and have been toiling and moiling day and night. I’ve been sending home some money, five or ten, whatever I could. But my folks don’t understand, they can’t see that I come home once in six months after slaving away in the city.”

Pydayya stopped and sat there looking down. He wondered if he was telling her what he had wanted to tell Kannayya earlier that afternoon.  

“I could have conducted myself anyway I pleased in the city if I wanted to. I watch the hardships my coworkers are going through. I can easily do everything they do, but not when it comes to women. If I go for a woman in the neighborhood, It ruins the family. If I go after a young girl, her innocence would pester me for the rest of my life. There are streetwalkers but I am sure that sends me reeling to some hospital. That means no work and lost wages. That’s what I am saying, only I know and God knows my pain.”

Darkness was creeping in. He sat there for a while scribbling on the ground with a twig.

“Even now I would not have asked you. The thoughts I had last night are killing me, I am scared that I might do something horrible in that frenzy. Now, I leave it to you, whatever it is, I will take it as your pleasure and my luck.”

He sounded the same now as six years back. Six years back he had come on a sunny afternoon just like today. She could not recall whether Pydayya had been married by then or not, but for sure Sanni had not come to their home yet. Gangamma agreed to his request on the condition he would not ask for such a favor again. He has not grown since, she thought.

“You’ve heard what the old man said earlier. He mistook you for your older brother. Now I am your brother’s wife. He will be here soon,”  she said.

Pydayya was stunned by her account, sat there like a stone carving. Gangamma was sorry for him and asked, “Can you handle country liquor?” She sounded like a mother at that moment.

Pydayya had drinks on few occasions, but he did not answer her question. She understood, went in, and returned with a bottle.

“This is two rounds for your brother. You talk one half and leave the other half for him,” she said, putting the bottle and snacks by his side. Then she went to feed the old man. She ate some, washed the dishes, and returned to Pydayya.

Pydayya warmed up and started talking. Within 30 to 45 minutes, he was flying high.

The bottle was half empty. Gangamma told him to stop.

“You’ve said you are my sister-in-law and I accepted it. You can’t have it your way in everything. That is not going to happen,” he said.

Gangamma heard him and decided she had better let him drink. She knew about drunks full well. Pydayya passed the limit, but did not lose his wits though.

“My brother thought about the children at home and decided not to remarry. He did the right thing, I thought. But then I also wondered how he was managing. Now I know this is how has been managing.

“I think this is good too. He is happy there and you are happy here. What else is there for the moiling folks like us? We can never, not even in thousand years, fill our stomachs. Consummation is the best of all pleasures. For the moment, this is a pleasure, but there is a fee for this. And then some damage too. For that pleasure, no fee, no damage. That is the happiness God has provided for the poor. For me, even that has become out of reach. Look what I’ve longed for and what I’ve got. Lovely.”  

Pydayya went on prattling about his life. Even in that state of drunkenness, he did not blame any one individual nor God. After a while, he calmed down. Before Gangamma could bring some straw to make a bed for him, he threw up and screamed. Gangamma tried to hold him, but he pushed her away and fell down, fell in his own vomit.

* * *

“Hey, hey, Bangari, come here, you bitch,” Yerremma shouted a Sugreeva shout.

Friends and relatives gathered at Yerremma’s house to celebrate the Sankranti festival. The Sun was down by the time they arrived. They all sat down to eat.

“Can’t you hear, Iyaparaala, come here,” Yerremma shouted from outside. It was heard inside. Narayudu was about to get up, Bangari stopped him. “You must not get up from the festival dinner. You have fasted all day and you must have the prasadam. It would be an affront to our ancestors to get up without eating prasadam. I’ll take care of her,” said Bangari.

“Listen, don’t be hasty. Tell her to wait, I’ll be there in a minute. I’ll talk to her,” Narayudu said.

Yerremma, with sandalwood paste smeared on her throat and red Hibiscus flower in her hairdo, stood in the front yard like a belligerent warrior. As soon as Bangari appeared at the door, Yerremma howled, “You, where did you send your son last night?”

“Where did I send?” asked Bangari.

“Did you not send him anywhere?”

“You tell me.”

“You tell me.”

“You started it.”

“Alright, I will tell you. Will you take a smack from me with my sandal.”

“If it is my fault, I will for sure.”

“Maybe it is your fault, maybe it is your son’s fault, the fact remains he has transgressed the rule.”

“If something wrong has happened, I will take the blame for it.”

“Where did your son go last night? Did they, the two men, not bring your son home last night on their shoulders?”

“What son from what town? What two men?”  

“Your two sons Narayudu and Kotayya brought your third son home,” said Yerremma.

“Yes, they brought him home.”

“Where from?” Yerremma asked.

Bangari did not reply.

“Why did they have to carry him?”

Bangari did not reply to that either.

“Why? Doesn’t your son have legs to walk? He left early in the morning and did not return home until late at night. What was he doing all day? Your oldest son went in search of him and returned at what time? To where did your two sons rush kicking and screaming? And then, brought him home in the middle of the night secretly, why secretively? Where is the need for secrecy if it is only him getting drunk and losing control? Your first son is a drunk, your second son is a drunk but this one never drinks. Why did he drink now? Where did he drink? I understand if he had a drink in a toddy store or in a country liquor store. But why at some bitch’s house? Why go to her for a swig, for anything for that matter? Is he related to her? How is he related? Are they of the same age? He should be home at that time but he went to her house, why? Is that his idea or some bitch taught him?”

She stopped to take a breath. In the meantime, a huge crowd started gathering in the yard.

“Are you done or is there something more?” Bangari asked calmly.

”Why? Isn’t that enough?” Yerremma said.

“Yes, I am saying that is is enough.”

“Alright, tell me why he went there.”

“I did not send him there. Ask him. ”

“Well, I will ask him. Tell him to come out. “

“He is eating.”

“I will wait until he is finished eating.”

“Why? Can’t you come in?”

“I will not step inside until your son comes to my place.”

“Well then stay here,” Bangari said and went in.

“Hey, don’t the special occasions mean anything to you?” the crowd taunted Yerremma. She attacked them too.

“She did not come here for nothing, she came here to wrangle,” Bangari said as she walked in and saw Pydayya washing his hand. She did not ask why. Narayudu said, “He is leaving.”

“What happened now?”

“He says he cannot take this bickering anymore.”

“What is this nonsense? It is like taking out the ire of Atta on the cattle. Alright, go away if that is what you want,” Bangari said.

“That is enough. He is worn out as it is. On top of it, you two- you here and Yerremma there – are acting the same,” Narayudu said.

By then, Kotayya was done eating. He belched loudly and went into the front yard.

Yerremma looked at him as if wondering “why he?” and asked, “Your little brother has not done eating yet?”

She thought Kotayya was going somewhere. He walked straight to Yerremma and said, “You get up.”


“Get up from here, I said,” he yelled at her. Not only Yerremma but all the others also were startled.

“Oh, you scoundrel!” said Yerremma.

Kotayya jumped on her, hit her with his fist several times and kicked her. “Now, get up,” he said again.

Yerremma got up crying out loud, “Oh my God, oh my God.”

“Go, be gone,” he said, pointing to the street towards her home.

She started out in that direction shaking calling on her parents. She went a few yards, turned around, and cursed Kotayya for his behavior.

By now the other villagers joined the neighborhood crowd and kept watching them.

Kotayya took two steps toward her and said, “Should I come and get you again? Go, just get lost.”

Yerremma took four steps backwards, did not stop cursing him though.

She included even his mother, wife, and brothers too in her barrage of curses.

Kotayya went it. Inside, Pydayya was getting ready to leave.

“What? Are you leaving?” Kotayya yelled.

Pydayya was quiet.

“If you want to go, go to your wife. Or, bring her here. Don’t go somewhere else like a cry baby,” he said, dusting off the patio floor with his upper garment and settling down.

Kotayya’s face turned red like a beetroot. Narayudu was anxious to pacify Kotayya desperately but was worried about how he might react also.

“Tell me if you can’t go. I’ll go and get her,” Kotayya jumped to his feet as he spoke.

“Wait, assailing them is not going to help,” Narayudu followed him,  pleading. Kotayya ignored his pleas and left.

Yerremma’s two daughters seized her on either side and dragged her toward their home. She was stepping back and forth, growling, shaking off her daughters, and throwing her arms into the air, while continued to spew profanities.

Kotayya walked in big strides toward her house.

“Come in,” Sanni squealed standing in the doorway. Probably Yerremma noticed it, she gave in to her daughters. Nevertheless, she resumed her angry outbursts as soon as she reached home.

“Why? What is he thinking? She is not beautiful enough for him? Not young enough? Is there a caste issue? Short of his moral standards? Why? Why? What is the reason for him to go to another woman?” Yerremma kept asking and waving her fist in the air.

She had a point for being angry and frustrated. But her outburst meant nothing to Kotayya. He was focused on Sanni bringing home. It frightened Sanni. She quickly went in and was about to close the door. The door did not close.

“Out, get going,” Kotayya howled.

Sanni came out, trembling.

“Come on, move,” he said harshly.

Sanni came out, shivering.

Sanni’s father saw that and said to Kotayya, “Orey Kotayya, calm down, calm down.” It was hard for him to speak because of wheezing.

“You keep quiet, Mava! You don’t know,” Kotayya said. It sounded more like a warning.

Yerremma was crying. Neighbors heard her cries and came out of their homes. Sanni’s kid sisters hugged her and cried.

Kotayya seized her by the shoulder, dragged her out and pushed her crudely.

The entire neighborhood heard Yerremma’s cries and came out of their homes and were watching the commotion.

Kotayya pushed her once again. Sanni started running toward her mother-in-law’s house.  

Yerremma saw the crowd and started crying louder, “Oh my God, oh my God, what can I do? They are attacking us.” She ran and stood  in Sanni’s path, telling her not to go.

Kotayya stood between the two and pulled them apart. He threw his turban around Sanni’s waist to avoid holding her physically, and dragged her toward his house.

Yerremma fell to the ground, got up, attacked Kotayya, beat him, and scratched him while bad-mouthing him. The folks from both the villagers tried to pull them apart. Kotayya pushed away those who stood in his way.

Kotayya saw his mother coming toward them. He let go of Sanni, pushed her towards Bangari, and went away shaking off his turban.

Sanni saw Bangari, collapsed to the ground, and broke into big sobs. Bangari took her into her arms, “Don’t worry, don’t you be afraid, my girl, don’t you worry,” and walked her toward her home.

Yerremma fell to the ground and cried. After Kotayya, Sanni and Bangari left, the folks who gathered around started arguing, taking sides.

“Well, she went to their place first and now he came to her place,” said one person.

“Is it the same? A woman going to their place to pick up a squabble is not the same as a man coming here and attacking her,” one old woman said.

“He may be her brother-in-law but to drag her by the shoulder and take her home is inexcusable. I’ve never seen such an atrocity,” a young woman commented.

“It is okay if it was her husband. But for a brother-in-law to put a hand on her and drag her is wrong, totally wrong,” one old man said.

“This has happened only because she is a woman and her husband is disabled. Had she had a son, heads would be flying by now,” a hot-blooded youth commented.

* * *

It was during that period, Asirnayudu, the village-head, decided to talk with Bariki Papayya. He was looking for a ram to sacrifice at the upcoming Kanumu festival. Asirnayudu noticed the commotion from a distance, went closer and asked the people close by what was the matter.

None of them could explain to him clearly. Then he called Bariki Papayya. Papayya explained to him the entire episode briefly.

“So, the man who dragged her and escorted her to his home is not her husband?” Asirnayudu asked angrily.

“No Babu, he is not. He is her husband’s second older brother, Kotayya,” Papayya replied.

“Bring that scoundrel here right now,” Asirnayudu said.

Bariki did not move.

“If he refuses, pick him up, seize him by the hair and drag him to me,” Asirnayudu shouted louder.

“Yes, sir,” Papayya said, still did not move.

Asirnayudu became suspicious. “Why? Does he drink?” he sneered.

“After he calms down, after an hour or so, they all will come to you, Babu. If we get involved now, we will not have enough time to go to Venkayyapalem and bring the ram. Shouldn’t we take care of that first,” Papayya replied cleverly.

It made sense to Asirnayudu. “Bastards, whatever got into their heads, they are acting like scoundrels. Somebody has to teach them a lesson,” he left, mumbling. Bariki Papayya followed him.

* * *

“We are eating whatever we have and living our lives quietly. Why work as farmhands for some landlord?” Narayudu’s younger brothers would say. Nobody  understands how this story would have turned if they had not had those rules and if Papayya had not intervened.

Papayya was right. The village regained peace after an hour or so.

Yerremma, leaning on two men’s shoulders, went to Asirnayudu’s house. Some of her neighbors followed her for support. A group of drunks from the same area put up a drums and bells show and went around asking for donations.

Sanni was sitting on the back porch. She cried until she was tired of it. Bangari tried to persuade her to freshen up and wear a new sari. Narayudu heard that Asirnayudu was angry and sent Kotayya away to his in-law’s place. Kotayya hardly crossed the outskirts, Bariki Papayya appeared at their door with the message that they should appear before Asirnayudu.

Following Bariki Papayya’s advice, Narayudu told Pydayya to stay home and went alone to meet with Asirnayudu. As they reached Asirnayudu’s home, Papayya told Narayudu to wait outside until after he was done talking with Asirnayudu.

Sun was down. The backyard was noisy with the animals returned home from grazing. Yerremma and her supporters were sitting in a corner on the veranda. Village entertainers heard about Asirnayudu’s visit and came per custom. The entire village was looking forward to the entertainment enthusiastically.

Bariki came back and repeated what he had told him earlier. After the drummers had left, Bariki Papayya addressed Asirnayudu, “Babu, Babu.” Asirnayudu turned toward him. Bariki said, “Narayudu is here, Babu. His second brother, Yerremma’s son-in-law that is, had gone somewhere. His mother promised to send him to us as soon as he returned. The other brother had gone to his in-law’s place, tomorrow is Kanumu, you know.” He sounded casual.

“They whisked him away. Did I not say so? They whisked him away,” Narasamma said, crying.

“You shut up. They should be crying, if anybody. You keep quiet,” Papayya yelled at her.

“Of course you are upset with me. You all are the same party,” Narasamma replied. Asirnayudu ignored her.

Narayudu came rushing and said to Asirnayudu, “Babu, Babu, I am begging you.” He was very polite but that did not stop Asirnayudu from screaming at all of them. “You, scoundrel, what’s gotten into your heads, you scumbags, what were you thinking? You broke into her house for what? Because she is a helpless woman? How dare you barge into her house and beat her? What do you think this is-a  village or jungle?

“No, Babu, I was not there,” Narayudu was about to say.

“Shut up, bastard, how dare you speak again. Did I not see the wounds? Do think there are no witnesses?” Asirnayudu stood up.

Narayudu did not know what to say. Papayya said, “You be quiet. Babu had seen everything on his way to Venkayyapalem.”

Narayudu took the hint and kept quiet.

Asirnayudu continued, “I had seen everything. That bastard dragged her down the street like a beast. If I had a stick, I would have broken his bones and sent him to the hospital for six months. Let him show up, I will take care of him like he never forgets, scoundrel.” He stopped and returned to his chair.

Narayudu waited until he calmed down and then said, “Yes, Babu, it was wrong. If she had not provoked him, it would not have come to this. After fasting all day, we sat down to eat and she showed up like a bumblebee. My mother saw her and turned away, she did not say a word. My younger brother, you know young blood, could not control himself. This is not a one time thing, she has been plaguing us for over a month. She comes in storming, and I tell her to stop but she would not listen.” He presented his counter-argument.

Yerremma was about to say something, Asirnayudu told her to be quiet and turned to Narayudu, “If she came to your house, you should have come to me. You should not have gone to her house.”

“Yes, Babu, yes. That was wrong,” Narayudu said. One should not punish a person after he admits his guilt, that is the rule. Therefore, Asirnayudu slowed down.

Then followed a torrent of comments from those present there – Asirnayudu’s wife, their neighbor Subbamma, Setty who had supplied sugar to Asirnayudu, the local barber who came to give a massage to Asirnayudu. They all agreed that nobody should resort to violence, no crime should be tolerated. Not one person said violence was acceptable. If there was a disagreement, they should not settle it by going at each other but go to the proper authorities and seek resolution. Everybody suffers from anger and frustration no surprise there. Decent people contain them.

Narayudu listened to all those comments, readily agreed with all of them, “Yes, ma’am,” “Yes, babu,” “I agree, totally agree.”

After that, Asirnayudu settled down. “Where is the girl now?” he asked Narayudu.

“She is with us, Babu,” he replied respectfully.

“You take her back and hand her over to her mother. You bring your younger brother here tomorrow. Yerremma will bring her daughter. I will find out what exactly happened, all the details, and let you know my decision,” Asirnayudu said.

Narayudu said, “yes, Babu,” and heaved a sigh of relief.

Yerremma’s supporters looked at each other, their faces fell.

“You left out the one person critical to all this, Babu,” Narasamma said timidly as Asirnayudu got up to leave.

“Yes, I forgot. Bring your mother too,” he said to Narayudu. With that, the party’s faces brightened.

* * *

The rich festival falls on a new moon day, they say. But this festival was not a rich festival and so it had the misfortune of falling on a full moon day, it was said.

Bangari’s house was crowded with folks anxious to hear what Asirnayudu had said. Pydayya was sitting on a cot in the front yard.

Soon enough, people started coming out one by one.  Sanni was one of the last five or six persons. Under the white moonlight, her yellow sari looked white and the red marigolds in her dark hair looked dark. She walked past Pydayya with Narayudu behind her.

A little away, Yerremma’s supporters stood like shadows. Narayudu took her precisely to the same point Kotayya had dragged her and handed her over to Yerremma.

* * *

Asirnayudu was basically a small person. If he was weighed, his bones might not add up to one KG. Hard to imagine where God hid that power in him but Asirnayudu was a tiger whether he opened his mouth or threw his palm like a lion’s paw. People feared him and worshipped him.

The day his wife had set foot in their house with amazing qualities like those of Goddess Lakshmi, the family had begun flourishing in leaps and bounds. On the same day, Asirnayudu brought together all the fields under one head and set out to cultivate them. He performed his two daughters’ weddings. The girls were gems and the grooms were majestic. Three of his sons landed big jobs in big cities. The fourth son was very smart and appeared to be heading to a foreign country in course of time.

“That’s what I’d call luck, Bava! Without leaving your chair, you have managed to get the boys educated at the expense of the government. With the high dowries the sons brought, you have performed the weddings of both your daughters. In the town, you’ve got clout and assets, which you can enjoy as long as you live. That is what I would call ‘things falling in place,’” commented a local MLA.

The MLA was afraid that Asirnayudu might run against him in the next election. That however was uncalled for.

Asirnayudu hated politics. He often said that politics existed only to destroy the young and the old alike. He had been Gandhi’s follower sometime back and wearing khadi garments too. However, all that ended after Gandhi died.

Now, his village was his kingdom and his current politics were confined to the villagers’ welfare. His goal was to make sure that the villagers adhered to the path of Dharma and lived amicably. He would say, “Life is ephemeral, it is here today and gone tomorrow; only dharma stays forever. The world would turn upside down if dharma is not adhered to.”

Folks would listen to him and shake their heads in assent. In practice, however, they forget.

Asirnayudu would tolerate anything except stealing and misconduct.

“Bastards, if you have nothing to eat, go begging door to door. It is better to die than steal. By stealing you lose your souls in both the worlds – heaven and earth. Why can’t you understand that?” he would ask.

There is a pride in stealing and maybe hard work too. Therefore that is tolerable. Stealing from the fields is different. Hard work and karma depend on one’s faith and trust in others. No matter how many farmhands a farmer has, it is not possible to watch the fields round the clock. Asirnayudu would not tolerate stealing from farmers. He would stop at nothing until the justice was served.

“Bastard, what are you thinking? It is you mother’s property? Or your father’s? Did you work on that field?” So saying, he would beat him up black and blue and throw him out.

However, stealing had been happening. Asirnayudu let go some without much fuss and others with mild curses, yelled at some offenders, mildly cursed a few others, and occasionally he took some to task. One way or the other, he got it under control. It was the same with misconduct. He made it his mission to keep them all under control.

Because he hated violence so much, Kotayya’s action the day before infuriated him. That was the reason he told them to come to him for settling the matter. He did not care about the festivities.

Asirnayudu said he would settle the matter the next morning but he did not attend to it in the morning, not even in the afternoon. It was getting late. Papayya said to him, “Babu, these folks have not eaten all morning, are worried you might call them any minute. If it is not settled by evening, Pydayya cannot be present. He needs to be in the city by tomorrow.”

“Okay, ask them to come at noon after they are done eating.”

Papayya went to the parties well before mealtime, gathered them and brought them to Asirnayudu’s house.

They all waited and waited, and were nearly exhausted by the time Asirnayudu came out. He asked Papayya, “Are they all here?” and went in again.  

He had coffee, came out, and sat in his chair. Across from him, a little to a side, Narayudu and his mother sat. Next to his mother, Pydayya squatted, he was dressed up like a city man. Two women were standing behind them.

Yerremma sat in a corner with bandages on her body and around her head. Her two daughters sat next to her. Behind her, her neighbor Narasamma and a few other men and women were standing.

“Who are they?” asked Asirnayudu.

“Witnesses, Babu, witnesses,” Narasamma said.

“She has no mouth? You, Yerremma, what are they for?” he said, nodding toward them.

“They have beat me up yesterday, Babu. Look at these bandages. They have broken every bone in my body.”

“Serves you right, bitch! They should have shut up your mouth. That scoundrel broke only your bones, he should have taken a blunt knife and cut off his tongue. That’s what I would have done,” he said.

The women on Narayudu’s side turned aside and giggled.

“Babu, if you go easy on them, they are going to go even wilder,” a man in Yerremma’s group said from behind.

“You all scoundrels, you are the problem. You all gather around them and cause trouble. Or else, why would you bring witnesses and evidence for the problem I had resolved yesterday?” Asirnayudu yelled at him. That shut them all up.

Yerremma wanted to confront him, “What resolution? All that cursing of yours got nowhere, and so are my wounds,” but decided not to. As the way things were, he was already spitting fire, and if she spoke, he might go into another fit of rage.

He was quiet for a few minutes and then said softly, “I have been watching you all for years. You always keep bickering with each other for something or other, why? Why do you have got to gain? What is wrong with you? Do you have properties to fight for? Land to infringe upon? Water resources to fight for? Roads? What is it you have got that justifies these quarrels, tell me.”

He stopped, looked around until they all bent their heads down, and then continued his preliminary statement. “God has given you all the muscle. That’s what you all have got. If all the adults go out and bring home some dough, you have enough to eat for a week or ten days. That being the case, why can’t you all stand by each other be happy? Is there pleasure in these squabbles? Don’t you have brains? Or, some worms have gotten into your heads and eating them away?”

What could they say? What could they say that would make sense to him?

“Therefore, take my word, stop bickering, learn to put a stop to these squabbles,” Asirnayudu said. Then he asked them what was the main reason for their quarrel.

Yerremma and those who accompanied her could not explain the issue clearly. They kept repeating who said what, to whom, by whom, when, and after that, who did what, why they did so, but none of them could explain in a way Asirnayudu could understand.

Then Narayudu summarized the arguments of both sides the best he could and without prejudice.   

Asirnayudu listened to some of it and ignored the rest. It was pretty much the same as Papayya had told him on their way to Venkayyapalem earlier.

“So, that is the problem?” he asked.

“There is one more thing,” Narasamma said, “I heard some rumor, Babu, I have not heard it myself though. It seems Bangari said, ‘What an arrogance! What does she have that she could be so arrogant? It seems she said she would arrange her son’s marriage with another girl within a year, or else, her name is not Bangari.’ Then Yerremma started asking questions. I don’t know what she had found out, but that’s the reason she went after Bangari yesterday. They beat her up and sent her home.”

Bangari was about to say something. Asirnayudu stopped her and asked Narasamma, “Is your name Narasamma?”

“… … …”

“Are you Yerremma’s lawyer or witness?”

“… … …”

“I am asking you if she has asked you to speak on her behalf.”

“Babu, babu,” Yerremma said, “I asked her to speak on my behalf. Polite words do not come out of my mouth. Besides, I am not feeling well either.”  

“Are you sick?” he dissed her and turned to Sanni, “Who is her daughter, you?”

Sanni said yes.

“What is your name?”

Sanni replied.

“Your surname?”

Sanni mentioned her in-law’s surname.

“Yerremma! What is your surname?”

“Don’t you know?” Yerremma asked.

“You say it, bitch.”

Yerremma answered at once.

“That’s right. She might be your girl way back then but not now. If she wants to and her husband wants to, she will come to you. If not, she will not. If her husband and her mother-in-law please, they will send her to you. By law, you have no right to insist that you can take your daughter anytime as you please. Now, you shut up and sit down,” Asirnayudu said.

Yerremma had no tears in her eyes to shed. She kept staring at him with her dry eyes.

“If you really want, beg them to let you take your daughter home. Or, ask your daughter if she is willing to walk away from her marriage.”

The last sentence hit Narayudu hard.

“Babu, that is not right. We have a saying, ‘How can the man who tied the knot has more rights than the woman who has given birth to her?’ The truth is she has her rights and we have ours. When it comes to a girl, both parties have rights. We are not going to deny that,” Narayudu said, sounding kind.

He continued, “Maybe she was upset and so raised a hell. Here is what probably Yerremma thinks: She (Bangari) has four sons and two daughters-in-law. What’s wrong if she lets me have one girl. But Babu, you know the bigger the tree the gustier the winds. 

“During my father’s time, you have granted us a strip of land for farming. It was about one cent of land located in the middle of a dried-up pond. For us, it was a royal elephant or a barren cow. It gobbles up everything we have and produces nothing. I told my mother and younger brothers to stop working on it but they would not listen. My mother was also worried that if we take out a loan, we would lose the land just like all the others. That is why my second brother went to the city to make money.

“All we see is only his hardships there but no dough. We are constantly worried that he might get hurt there. We continue to worry about him, despite our problems here. We can’t ask him to set up his family in the city since there is not enough money. He cannot run a household in the city and be left with enough to send to us. Also, my sister-in-law is not worldly-wise, she is very naive.

“I have thought about our situation thoroughly and told them, ‘These are not the times to take a chance, let’s be content with the measly food we have and stay here, let’s not run.’ My kid brother was upset. He said, ‘Do we have acres and acres of land to cultivate? Are we producing barrels and barrels of grain? It is getting hard even to find day labor. In hard times, you say it is enough if we have a strip of land to work on and a sip of gruel, at least some of us live if not all.’ But they don’t understand, heavy storms and gusty winds together will put an end  to the story

“Anyway, by mid-year they have understood the truth in my words. They tell themselves to wait and see one more year, holding on to their hopes. It is two years now. He brings some clothes but has saved nothing. In fact, things are the same here too, getting harder to live. My mother can’t watch these motherless kids cry. I try to tell her that there are kids that are in a worse position than ours. That is how this fire started, it has arisen from that pain in the pit of the stomach.”

Asirnayudu thought there might be some truth in his words, if not entirely. Narayudu stopped for a few seconds and then continued, “I am not going to say my mother is right because she is my mother, and I am not going to blame Yerremma because she is an outsider. I have told my mother that Sanni loves her mother even as we love our mother. My mother does not accept that the grand-kids are as much her grand-kids as Yerremma’s. It is the same with Yerremma too. She thinks Pydayya is her son-in-law but does not think that he is my mother’s son too. She has been hoping secretly for a very long time that Sanni and Pydayya would move to the city.” Narayudu stopped.  

“Oh, my God, oh my God,” Yerremma was about to say something.

Narayudu stopped her and said, “Okay, if you don’t think so, let’s us say I am thinking like that, or maybe, these folks think so too. Anybody can entertain such a thought. That is why I am saying. I thought about it a lot. Once they leave they leave for good, no coming back. Think about Yerremma. She is alone and her husband is disabled. She has no relatives, close or distant. Her husband has a brother somewhere in the West but she cannot count on him. In other words, she has no other support but this or another son-in-law. Our situation is totally different. In her case, Pydayya is the only one she can turn to if she needs help, not until another daughter gets married at least. What else is there for folks like us but fellow folks? No land, no chattel, we have nothing. We have to take care of each other. But they don’t get it, Babu.”

They all understood what he was saying but some of them were not willing to accept it. Not one of them could see the difference between Asirnayudu’s judgment and Narayudu’s explanation. It was not clear whether Asirnayudu got his point.

Asirnayudu turned to Yerremma and asked, “Oley, you stupid bitch, did you hear what he has said?”

“Nice,” she said.

“Shut up, slut,” Asirnayudu sneered. After he was done scolding her, the others did not have the guts to open their mouths. They did not notice when the sun was down and the lights were turned on.

“Why the light on the street-side is not turned on?” asked Asirnayudu. Somebody turned on the lights in the veranda but left out the one facing the street since there was enough moonlight. The light was turned on right away. It startled everyone except Pydayya.

Asirnayudu looked at the gathering and said, “How long you are going to sit around like this? Ask if you have questions.”

“What can we say? You shout at us even before we open our mouths,” Yerremma said.

Asirnayudu noticed the change in her voice and kept quiet. After a few minutes, Papayya came forward, “Oley, Yerremma, get up,” he said, poking her with his stick.

“You stop, scoundrel! Don’t you show off,” she snarled at him.

“Whip the bitch,” Asirnayudu howled.

Yerremma stood up, whining.

“Go, go, be nice to your son-in-law, speak with him and bring him home,” he said to her. Then he turned to Bangari and asked her, “What did you say your name is? Bangari?”

Bangari said yes.  

“For this once, go easy on whatever wrong she has done. Don’t you two get into fights and create problems for your kids. Remember one more thing. You are a scrap better than she is. Her suffering brings no good to you or your children.”

Bangari wanted to ask, “What about my suffering and my kids’ suffering? That brings no good to whom?” Asirnayudu was gone by then.

Everything was back to normal after that incident. The husband and wife, who should have gotten together the night before, finally got together that night.

* * *

That night at 9:00, Pydayya sat down to eat in front of the plate like a beast at the water tub after beaten badly.  

Sanni sat by his side and was serving the food. Yerremma was in the front yard with her grand-kids. From there she shouted to Sanni, “Give him the pulusu Nayaralu had given us earlier.” Nayaralu had given them not only pulusu but also cooked rice and a few curries.

After the matter was settled and they were on their way home, Papayya went to Yerremma and said, “Forget the squabble. Nayaralu wants to give you some food from the feast. Go to her.”

Yerremma went to the front door and saw not Nayaralu but Asirnayudu. He said, “You are such an idiot. Listen to me carefully and try to understand why I am saying this. You have no money and no people to help you in times of need. They are doing better. Be nice to them. You can’t fight with them and win. That is the reason I suggested an amicable solution. I will tell you one more thing. Looks like he is a good boy. Win him over and help them to set up a family in the city. Your daughter will have a good life. Maybe, you may even get a crumb in the process. If everything goes well, you may even be able to send one or two of your other kids to the city. Unlike here, they will have work year-round. With enough support, older women also can find work. Narayudu likes everybody to stay here but I don’t think that helps. Nobody would have enough to eat here. Empty stomachs do cause problems for sure.” Thus he gave her the  lesson one more time about the need to be amicable, called his wife, and told her to give Yerremma rice, curries, and other dishes.

Pydayya went to his home first and then went to Yerremma’s house. By then Yerremma had fed the little kids. She saw Pydayya and told Sanni to set the plate for him.

Sanni set the plate and served pulusu. He bit a piece of curry and kept mingling rice and pulusu. He was jolted by Yerremma’s words. He put food in his mouth but could not get it down.

“Not hungry?” Sanni asked.

“Not hungry? Of course I am hungry,” he said.

“Then, why are you not eating?”

Pydayya could not lift his face or food to his mouth.

Sanni waited for a couple of minutes and asked, “How much did you pay for this sari?”

Pydayya took a bite and said, “I can’t get it down.”

Sanni felt bad for him. “Never mind, leave it,” she said and went in.

Pydayya was in a dilemma. He would be hungry if he does not eat, and if eats it, he cannot stomach the handout from the haves.

He looked around and thought, “if it comes to that, what is there that is not a handout here?”

Sanni returned with an empty bowl and put it in front of him. Pydayya washed his hand in the bowl quickly.

(The Telugu original, aarti has been published in Andhra Jyothi weekly, May, June1969.

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi, with author’s kind permission.

Also grateful to www.kathanilayam for the Telugu original)

(July 8, 2021)

Heavenly Bliss by Poranki Dakshina Murthy

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, people started pouring into our town; not just a few small crowds, but a multitude of them.  

Our shelter was flooded with folks day in and day out. And there were who had no room anywhere. They started cooking on somebody’s front porch. A few others set up tents near the village well. It was a chaos.

For the town’s storekeeper, it was a blessing though. He buried his head in the cash box and kept counting his earnings; he did not have time even to check which way the pin on the weighing scale was leaning.

Children could not stay home; they were bustling around, looking important and busy. Of course, how could they stay home while so many people swarmed the town? They were scurrying around, like at a wedding party, with hundreds of new faces, short braids, and tiny hairdos. The children went to receive them with great zeal. They were everywhere, like a shower of  pogaDa flowers, after the tree was shaken.

For the past four or five days, people started pouring in as if it were a village fair. The town was small, I mean very small. In fact, one cannot even call it a town. Originally, a few huts were built by the roadside. And then, during the reign of the great Vijayanagar empire, two wells had been dug and a few more families had found homes, hoping that the wells would provide water for their subsistence. Then they had settled down and started cultivating the land in the area. That’s how it had become a township. Nobody cared to give it a name. The people never needed it. The Revenue department however had the land registered under the name of the village next-door. The town had one specific advantage though. Since it was located by the roadside, other villagers, on their way to the city, found it convenient for a brief stop.

On that day, Sivanna, a farm hand, had no time even to breathe. Normally, he was not a sweaty type of man; no matter how hard he had worked, he never looked tired. Now, he kept working leaning over the work on hand. He had no time to think. Still, a thing or two kept surfacing in his mind off and on, poking at his heart. Whoever could have expected that such a huge catastrophe would befall their town?


No, nobody could have expected it; but it’s not unusual though, for the Rayala seema area. There are some dim-wits who’d call it ratanaala seema [diamond ore] but, it’s a rock bed to speak the truth. There are no canals to bring in water for farming in the area; and so, the farmers have to draw water from the wells, which nearly broke their backs. Sometimes, they would have no rains for four or five years at a stretch, causing drought; the wells would dry up, and the people would have to struggle even for a morsel of food. Often the poor families are forced to leave the land, which they had trusted for centuries. They would go away to far off lands, just to stay alive. That happens when families go away in huge clusters, leaving behind the gloomy townships. That is not unusual. But the people in this particular town had never faced it, not until now.


By the end of the day, the commotion died down. Sivanna finished packing all of his landlord’s stuff in boxes.

He went home and lit up the stove. The splinters caught fire and the flames shot up. He put a pot of water on the stove, added the maize grits and covered it with a lid. Then, he sat in front of the stove, watching the flames. He watched, without batting an eyelid, as the splinters blazed and the flames enveloped the pot. Puffs of steam were escaping from under the lid; the maize was cooking, hissing softly. He picked up the ladle and stirred the maize a few times, covered it again, and lowered the flames.

Squatting there, he made up his mind; he pushed away all the thoughts that were hovering around in his head. No matter however much he had to suffer loneliness in that hut he would not leave the town; he was not going to be like the rest of them.

His landlord was leaving with his family; he did not ask Sivanna to go with him, not  in so many  words; but his wife said something to that effect. At the time, for some odd reason, he had thought it would be nice if he went with them. He had waited for his landlord to say the same thing but that had not happened. He had been disappointed a little but not brought it up himself. Then he considered going to some other place, by himself if not with the landlord; he could make a new life for himself, as a day laborer or something. After all, he was just one person; could he not manage somehow? He was at the prime of youth and hard-working. Then again, other thoughts took over—the thought of leaving the native soil, however worthless it was, depressed him. What kind of a relationship he had with this soil? Can’t tell! He could not explain it. He never shed a tear in his twenty-years of life; yet, today the thought of leaving this place was agonizing.

Sivanna told himself, “I am not going anywhere; I will not. The entire townspeople can go away; the town can be totally desolate and all the houses abandoned, but I am not leaving my home.” He convinced himself that all this was great—lighting up the stove by himself, washing and pouring the maize in the pot, and emptying it into his plate after it was cooked, and sitting down with his food and a slice of pickle all by himself. Sitting for hours on end like that—all that seemed interesting and pleasurable for him; it even felt like a custom he must not sidestep ever.

Sivanna finished eating, spread a mat on the front yard in the open, and lay down with his hands tucked under his head. He kept staring into the sky. The moonlight spread sparsely on his face. He dozed off.

A little after midnight, the commotion stirred up again. Sivanna could hear the noises from the wheels of the moving carts and the jingling bells around the bulls’ necks. He got up quickly, washed up and went to the landlord’s house. By then, the carts were all there, lined up. Sivanna loaded  the boxes in one cart, single-handedly. The landlord’s family boarded the other two carts. Sivanna followed the carts to the outskirts of the town to bid farewell.

The landlady said to her husband, “I was hoping Sivanna would go with us.”

“Yes, that would’ve been nice. But I don’t think he would want to leave this place,” he replied, sounding casual.

Sivanna heard their conversation. He knew that those words were not spoken wholeheartedly.

That conversation would have hurt him under different circumstances but not today. He told himself again, “That’s true. I cannot leave this town and walk away.”

The carts went past the boundary line The landlord told Sivanna to turn around and go back; he shoved a ten-rupee bill in Sivanna’s hand. Sivanna did not want to accept it. He pulled back; the landlady called out for him. She said, “Look, Sivanna, this is our pleasure. Don’t say no. I am fully aware of all the things you’ve done for us; and I know this is nothing compared to that. Yet, please, don’t refuse it. Ayya 7 would be hurt. I know you don’t need this money. But later some day you might want to go somewhere and then you’ll need this. Save it for that purpose. One more thing. Keep an eye on our house.” Sivanna nodded politely.

The carts moved on. Sivanna stood there for a long time and after the carts were out of sight, turned around and went home. He did not step outside his hut for a couple of days.

In the meantime, almost all the houses in town were vacated. Even other villagers passing by stopped only for a few hours or a day and moved on. Some were on carts, some on foot, and a few older persons were carried by other men in dolis. Their animals followed behind them.

Sivanna came out of his hut on the third day; the sun was going down. He went to the village meeting place—the concrete patio—where people used to gather. He saw the three grimy stones, set to serve as a stove for the passersby. He walked a few steps but found nothing; but for a few rags and old papers; all the houses were filthy for want of care. Some of the streets were like dark tunnels; no smell from the animal sheds; no sight of greenery anywhere, not even for a sample. Sivanna kept walking, recalling the people in each house as he passed.

As he approached the well, he saw something white; it was moving. He went closer.

A cow!

He was taken aback. Poor thing; probably, she escaped from the herd and returned home. “Hum, you are also like me. Leaving home is a heart breaker, right?” he thought.

The cow lifted her face and looked up. Sivanna patted on its back gently and started walking, caressing her neck. The cow followed him; she kept looking back towards the well.

“You, silly animal, looking for water? Let’s go to my place. I’ll give you all the water you can drink,” he said. Then something else occurred to him. Where could he get fodder for the cow?

The cow was walking slowly, nibbling on the blades of grass, which fell off the carts that had gone by earlier. Sivanna chuckled.

A faint layer of moonlight spread on the cow, and seemed to condense on her. Sivanna was amused that he should find this new life at this place, where humans could not survive. He wondered whom she could have belonged to, and where she had come from. There was no way for him to know.

Sivanna was walking, smiling to himself. The cow was walking behind him. Suddenly, a kind of droning sound was heard from one of the side lanes. Sivanna did not hear it but the cow did and she stopped. She bellowed; her ears pricked. Sivanna also stopped and then heard sobs coming softly from the side lane. He was taken aback.

The cow bellowed again.

Sivanna went into the lane. The houses on either side were very close to each other and the lane was too narrow; it was like a dark tunnel. He went farther and heard the cries of a little girl. He went farther quickly and found her. She, barely five-years old, wore a skirt and a blouse; she was there alone. She saw him and stood there without moving.

Sivanna’s heart moaned at the sight of the child. He was confused; whose child she could be; who could have forgotten here, from which village? There was no way he could establish her identity.

He was baffled as he thought of the series of events that had occurred in his life.

He picked up the child and held tight to his chest. He said, “Don’t cry, baby. No need to be scared. Let’s go to our home. I’ll feed you, sing lullabies and put you to bed. Okay? You’ll not cry anymore, yes? We don’t have to worry about anything. You, I and our cow—we three will be all right. Let’s not leave this town ever. This whole town is ours now. Let’s not go anywhere any time, ever again. Okay?”

The child stopped crying but was gasping for breath. The cow was walking ahead of them. Sivanna told himself, “It must be a blessing; must be fruits of my good deeds from past several lifetimes. How else can I account for these strange events—this little child coming into my life at a time when the entire country was hit with drought, the entire town starved for food, and deserted the place. I was the only one, alone and scared, to stay back; how could I explain these new relationships in my empty life?”

He pulled the child’s face closer and kissed on her forehead. The little girl put her two hands around his neck and snuggled her face in his bosom.

The heavenly bliss he felt in his heart in that moment was beyond words. Only the full-blown moon up in the sky would know!


(The Telugu original, vennela panDina veLa was published in Jwala, Translated by Malathi Nidadavolu.

My thulika

Policies and Guidelines

Our Policies and Objectives, UPDATED APR. 2021

I started this website in June 2001 with a specific purpose, that is to introduce our Telugu culture and customs to non-Telugu audience. After I arrived in America in 1973, I noticed two things: First, there are plenty of misconceptions in each country–both in America and India-about the other country-.  Second, there is a plenty of interest among Americans to learn about our culture. Several of my friends ruged, spurred, motivated me to embark on this journey. It is my pious hope that these stories render a clearer picture of India a little  at least.

Translations of Telugu stories are designed to serve that purpose. Thus the selection for translations is based, not on the literary standing of the writers but on the stories that reflect, explain, elaborate on our culture and customs. In a way, this eliminates stories describing current day stories, since modern day Andhra Pradesh is Westernized and do not reflect our culture and customers.

 Over the years, close to 120 stories have been translated and published. About 20 articles  on various writers/topics of interest in Telugu literature have been published. Some of these stories are compiled into 3  anthologies and published by reputable publishers. The site has been quoted as useful source for researchers in some universities across the globe.

I hope this gives an idea of what this site is about and why it is so important to follow the guidelines given below.

Guidelines for submission:

Writers interested in submitting translations and articles may keep in mind my goals mentioned above and choose stories suitable for this site. Authors/translators are requested to follow guidelines.

— Make sure you have the right kind of story for this particular website. Highly praised story may or may not serve my purpose, in which case it will not be accepted.

— Translations should be suitable for global audience. Indian-English phrases and expressions are not acceptable. However, relational terms exclusively possible only in Indian culture like Amma, Nanna, Vadina may be used, with a little footnote explianing the actual meaning in a given context. So also terms peculiar to Telugu culture such as madi, gilakala bavi, gaarelu, and such.

–Editing is author’s job, not mine. Please, do not expect me to edit, spell-check, grammar-check, etc. And prepare a readable copy. Frankly, it would not be good since I would not have seen the original.

–This is not a commercial magazine. It is a one-person operation without absolutly no financial gain of any sort. There is no cost to you. The reward is in the exposure my site gives to your work.

I must however admit that some of the stories/translations failed to meet the standards I have set for myself. In future, I intend to be more careful in my selection.

Thanks for your interest.

Enjoy and leave your comments on the substance in the posts.

Malathi Nidadavolu

April 2021.

TWO GLASS BUBBLES by Nidadavolu Malathi

We are living in a glass bubble

Constantly looking for germs

Washing hands with lotion

Brushing teeth Wearing socks and shoes

Also, worrying about athlete’s foot

Washing all the fruits and vegetables

With special anti-bacterial waters

Swallowing follow up pills. A woman with similar habits feels a sudden urge to see the world

She crosses the ocean and arrives in a small village.

Floating around in a dream.he lady walking down the street

In her pink dress

Sees a little child playing in the dust.

The child picks up the fruit

And gently blows away the dust and takes a large bite.

“Oh, no! She didn’t wash it”

“She didn’t wipe off the dust on her frock”

The little child stands there staring at the lady, white as jasmine!

Child takes another bite of the fruit.The pink lady says almost instinctively “Come”

And extends her hand With a friendly gesture

Towards the little child.

The child kicks to her heels like a drill sergeant

And runs toward the pink lady,

Her hand still moistfrom the fruit she just bit into.

She wipes her hand on her frock yet it is a little sticky.

The hand is not clean

Not clean at all!

The pink lady links her fingers round the little ones

And walks the distance to the child’s room.

The child proudly displays her earthly possessions –

Two frocks, three books, a pencil, an eraser won in last night’s games and a wilted flower.


Yes. That is the flower the pink lady gave her yesterday.

A prized possession!

The lady picked it up from the ground under the tree.

For the little girl, it is a prized possession.

The pink lady returns to her room

Washes her hands with soap

Wipes with a lotion cloth

Rubs with ointments and looks at the palms.

She can still feel the little fingers clutched into her own

The wet dirty hands.

She washes again

Wipes again

No. The feeling of dirt won’t go away.

At the same time at the other end of the street

The house mother tells the little girl “Wash your hands. Time for supper”

The girl stares at her hands.


No answer.

“Come on, move.”

The girl won’t move.

“What is the matter? You know the rules.”

Still the same stare. No sign of moving.

“You need to wash your hands  before eating. You know that.”

“I don’t have to wash” she says, watches her hands, “They are clean,” and mumbles vaguely.

She feels the clutch of the pink lady; She was so clean!

Her hands were so clean and beautiful like tender shoots on the mango tree. Pink, delicate and beautiful!

“I don’t have to wash”she whispers.

For the housemother, it is puzzling.

“Are you okay?”


“Don’t you want to eat?”

No answer.

“Go. Wash your hands.”

“I don’t have to.”


The house mother is confused.

The girl repeats as if in a dream”I don’t have to.”

“Well, you know you can’t eat unless you wash your hands”

No response.No amount of persuasion is going to help.The little girl will not wash her hands. She does not want the feeling to go away.

The house mother complains to the head mother.

“May be she is not hungry. May be she is not feeling well. Let it be. We will see tomorrow.”

They decide to leave the little girl alone.The little girl goes to bed clutching her hands tight and nudging them under the pillow.
At the other end of the street the pink lady goes to bed applying lotion one more time and thinking about the little girl, the fruit, the flower and the tight clutch touching the innermost chord!


Published on, June 2001.

***** ******

Author’s Note: Our cultures determine our customs and habits and we live within their purview like in glass bubbles. We are not only creatures of habit but also of environment.
While I was visiting the children’s home I noticed that while we are so absorbed with our habits, there is also a side of human nature that just beats the odds and takes over. At that level the innermost chord vibrates and prevails. Willy-nilly we cherish our customs and habits but the cordiality always responds at the human level, irrespective of color, creed and/or race.

Yalla Achuta Ramayya. Freedom in the Cage

(Translated by Sharada, Australia)

“Parvati! You are hardly twenty years old. Your beauty is totally wasted, like the moonlight on a forest. Come with me. I will show you, what it is like to be alive. to be happy. I will take you with me into the blissful heaven,” Ramesh hugged Parvati.
Parvati moved away from him. “How can you talk like this? I am married to another man. When a woman is married, all her happiness is with her husband.”
“What rubbish! You’ve been in this village all your life. You’ve not seen how the rest of the world is moving on. You’ve got only one life. God has given you this divine beauty. What for, I wonder. Certainly not to make cow dung cakes and slog in the farm, I am sure. Like the lamp in a blind man’s hand, your life is getting wasted in the hands of that bull who calls himself your husband! Open your eyes, girl!”
“Really? Will you promise never to leave my side?”
“Of course not! To leave a beauty like you! Do you think I am blind?” He pressed her hand lovingly.
The astrologer fell asleep in the cool shade, under the tree. The parrot in the cage hummed merrily. The cat strutted across. “Hey little parrot! I feel so sad when I see you. You are stuck in that cage, aren’t you, you poor creature?” it sighed sadly.
The parrot looked surprised. “Why? What’s the matter? I am quite happy here in this cage. By the way, who are you? What do you do? You have such cool eyes!”

“I am Mr.Cat. I chase the rats and give them a good workout. I teach them how to run about freely and show them the value of freedom,” purred the cat smugly.
“Freedom? What is it?” The parrot asked curiously.
“Freedom is doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Look at the ripe mango at the end of that branch, over there. You fly there, eat it to your heart’s content, and then you’ll know what I am talking about.”
“Really? But I can’t come out of this cage, can I?”
“Says who? I can open the cage quietly. Then you can fly out, can’t you?”
Telephone rang incessantly. Ramadevi hurried into the living room and picked up the receiver. “Hallo! Akka! It is me, Parvati. I am ruined, akka! That auto driver, Ramesh, he has cheated me, akka! He enticed me to elope with him and robbed me clean. I lost all the money and he disappeared,” Parvati was sobbing miserably on the phone.

“Calm down, Parvati. We have been searching for you everywhere. Where are you speaking from?” Ramadevi asked anxiously.

“In Rajamundry. We stayed in a hotel. They refused to let me go unless I paid the remaining portion of the rent that we owed to them. Somehow, I managed to slip out and searched everywhere for Ramesh. I finally realized that I have been duped. I felt ashamed of myself and decided to commit suicide. But Nagamani found me and stopped me. Do you remember Nagamani? She lives in our village and she sells Arrack. She made me call you. I did not have even one rupee to call you. I brought ruin on the family. I don’t deserve to live. Just look after my three kids, akka! My husband is such a drunkard, you can’t trust him to do anything,” Parvati was uncontrollably weeping.

“Don’t talk rubbish! Why should you die if somebody has cheated you? You’ve to think of your kids and be brave. Just stay where you are. We will come and pick you up. Where is Nagamani now? Can I talk to her?”

“Yes, she is here with me. Talk to her.” Parvati handed the phone over to Nagamani.

“Hello, madam, how are you all!”

“What to say, Nagamani! After she eloped, we have become the laughing stock of the town. We will be there at Rajamundry by tomorrow morning. Please keep an eye on her, so that she doesn’t act harshly. I will repay all the money you spent on her when we meet.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the money, madam! It is the life that cannot be bought back. I will look after her till you come here, don’t worry!”

Ramadevi gave further instructions to Nagamani and disconnected the telephone. She called her husband Prakash on telephone and explained the matter to him. Prakash promised to pick up their two kids from their school, drop them off at her brother’s home and then buy bus tickets for both of them to Rajamundry.

Ramadevi’s thoughts were racing the bus. In a big city like Hyderabad, her sister’s eloping with the auto driver became a talk of the town. She wondered how her parents were facing the humiliation in their tiny village, Goranta. As it is, they were struggling under financial burdens, before this added difficulty.

Ramadevi’s elder brother deserted their parents and left home with his wife. Parvati was younger than Ramadevi by two years. Right from childhood, she had been a boisterous and headstrong girl. Her adventures that began with stealing mangoes in the neighbour’s garden ended with eloping with Ramesh to Rajamundry.

Prakash married his sister’s daughter, Ramadevi. Prakash was a broad minded, modern young man. He took pity upon his sister who was sick with worry about unaffordable dowries. He convinced his parents and married Ramadevi. Shortly later, Parvati married a distant relative, Ramana. He worked as a construction laborer and lived with Parvati’s parents.

Unfortunately, Ramana was slave to many vices. He spent all the money he earned on drink. To make matters worse, he sold the household items to indulge in gambling.
Prakash and Ramadevi tried to convince Ramana to change his ways. But all their efforts failed. Ramadevi helped her sister financially now and then. She invested money and helped Parvati to open a small grocery store in the village.

Ramesh had joined the village vet as an assistant, some time ago. To add to his income, he drove an auto between Gorinta and Samarlakota. He never told anyone that he was already a married man. He would bring groceries to Parvati’s shop from Samarlakota. Slowly he sweet-talked her into leaving her family and eloping with him.

Ramana vowed to kill Ramesh on sight and carried a knife with him always.
Ramadevi thought of all this and thanked God that her sister was alive and well. She felt indebted to Nagamani who rescued her sister. Nagamani belonged to their village. Along with her husband, she did liquor business and earned enough money to live comfortably. There were some rumours about her character in the village. Whatever she was, she saved my sister, thought Ramadevi with relief.


Prakash and Ramadevi rushed to the hotel at which Parvati stayed in Rajamundry.  Parvati started crying as soon as she saw her sister. Nagamani, with her dark complexion, a big bindi on her forehead, and a big ring on her nose looked like one
of the deities in a temple, thought Prakash.

“Thank you so much, Nagamani. How can we ever repay your kindness? Could you please tell me how much money you’ve spent so far?” He opened his purse to repay her.

Nagamani pulled her saree edge around her. “Oh, no sir! Don’t bother about it now. It is in these difficult times that we should help each other. Who cares about money? Parvati was born in front of my eyes. Let us first think what we should do next, se suggested politely.

“I figured it all out. I will take her to Hyderabad with me. I will get her into tailoring and she can stand on her own feet. She can leave her kids with my parents till she settles down,” opined Ramadevi.

Nagamani said hesitantly, “Madam! I am older than you and so in spite of being an ignorant fool I will tell you what I think is right. Don’t misunderstand me. It might not be a very good idea for Parvati to live with your family. She will have to live all by herself, to save her reputation and that will be all the more difficult. In her young age, to live alone would be nearly impossible these days. Instead it might be better to beg Ramana to forgive her and accept back into the family fold.”

“But will that be possible? He might be a drunkard, but will he forgive his wife who has eloped with another man?” Ramadevi was worried.

Prakash interjected, “Rama! Why to use such big words as “eloped” etc.? Some cheat had tempted her and being innocent and gullible, she fell for his charms. She is a victim, not a criminal. If she had received husband’s love and affection, she wouldn’t have been attracted to another man, would she? Ramana too is responsible to some extent for this mishap.”

“Sir! Let’s all go to the village. We will discuss this with the village heads and see what they will decide. Ramana is indeed a drunk, but might listen to common sense,” Nagamani concluded.

“Rama!  I think Nagamani is correct. Let’s try to settle her back in her family.”

“How can she live in that village after all this humiliation?” doubted Ramadevi.

“Listen to me madam! As long as there is a husband, he will look after the wife, won’t he?  If she were living alone, every man would like to take advantage of her.”

They fell into a thoughtful silence. After long discussions, they decided to go to Goranta with Parvati.


All the village elders sat under the peepal tree beside the temple. The remaining people settled down on the ground on mats. Parvati’s parents did not attend the meeting since they wanted to babysit the kids. The village sarpanch Sitaramiah started the meeting. The priest Krishnamoorthy explained the case to the attendants.

“Parvati! Do you accept that you are guilty?” asked Sitaramiah gently. Parvati broke into tears. Ramadevi tried to console her sister.

Prakash rose to his feet and said, “Sir! You are the village elder. You know everything. Parvati’s husband Ramana is quite an irresponsible man. This made her vulnerable to the attempts of that rouge. Please understand her plight and give her another chance to mend her ways. ”

“Ramana! Whether you like it or not, she is your wife. You should forgive her at least for the sake of your kids,” said Sitaramiah.

Ramana dusted the towel on his head angrily and said, “How can any man accept a woman who has gone astray?”
Nagamani who was sitting in a corner stood up and said, “Sir! If all the women in the village vowed never to live with men who strayed, there would not be a single unbroken family living in this village. This Ramana here who is accusing his wife was caught red-handed with Gowri. They were tied up to this tree and tried. His father came and paid the fine and freed his son. Parvati did not leave him then. Even before that we all know how many times he was caught misbehaving with women.”

“Oh, you shut up! Nobody asked your opinion,” interjected Krishnamoorthy. “In the low castes it is not a big deal. If a proper fine is paid, those women are accepted by their men,” he concluded.

“Let’s not bring castes into this, sir! Castes are just like professional associations. There is nothing ‘low’ or ’high’ about them,” said Prakash indignantly.

Pastor Esupadam intervened, “Prakash! We respect you as a son-in-law of this village and due to your high education. But I have to disagree with you in this matter. If we accept this girl, we are encouraging all such sinners and we are encouraging prostitution.”

Prakash felt slightly irritated, but controlled himself. He wanted to settle the issue as amicably as possible. “Sir! What can I tell you? You surely remember what Christ said, when a prostitute was to be stoned by the villagers.

He said, “Only those who have never sinned before should stone her.” So does that mean that Christ himself encouraged prostitution? These days the marriages in our society are so much lacking in love that people are straying away from marital commitments. It is very natural to get attracted to a stranger when one doesn’t get enough love from family members.”

Nagamani rose again and shouted, “Prakash babu says correctly. Only those who have never sinned have a right to judge this issue. I might then reveal the names of the people who regularly visit me surreptitiously.”

Krishnamoorthy said, “Oh, you be quiet now! We are all looking into it, aren’t we? “
Everybody looked uncomfortable.

Sarpanch Sitaramiah cleared his throat and finally declared, “Look here Ramana! We all know about you. Your wife coped up with all your misdeeds. Then why can’t you forgive her once? She is young and has been misled due to her naivete. If you throw her out now, who will look after you in your old age? We are all telling you- forget about this incident and live with her as usual. Let that auto driver enter the village again and then we will show him!”

Ramana tied up his turban on to his head, “Yes, sir! But she has to promise that she will never do it again.”

Nagamani again jumped to her feet. “Oh yeah? Will you make a similar promise, then?” She asked sarcastically.

“Nagamani! That’s enough! Don’t keep teasing everybody,” said Sitaramiah sternly and turned to Parvati. “Parvati? Are you willing to live with Ramana as usual?” he asked.

Parvati walked from her hiding spot behind the tree timidly. “Sir! At least one person cares about what I want. Do I have any other choice? The auto driver actually opened my eyes to reality. All men are indeed the same, sir! Why will I ever do such a thing again? I’ve understood that my husband is not worse than any other man!” replied Parvati.
The parrot slowly walked out of the cage. “Mr.Cat! Thanks a lot. Because of you, I am free at last.” It remembered the mango on the branch and tried to fly. It felt weak in the wings. Then it remembered that the astrologer clipped his wings, to prevent it from flying. A dog that was watching the parrot from a distance made a move towards the parrot. The cool cat that set the parrot ‘free’ started approaching from the other end, with a mean, gloating look on its face. The parrot realized suddenly that is was in mortal
danger and tried to escape from them. Helpless and scared it hurried back into the cage and closed the cage door. It felt safe inside the cage. The astrologer who clipped my wings is my savior, it thought.
Bus started to move. “Thanks Prakash! You’ve found a solution to my sister’s problem and settled her again,” said Ramadevi.

“Rama! We did not find any solution. We just gave a symptomatic treatment. The real problem is still alive. Now we understand why women stay in marriage in spite of men treating them badly! When the outside world is infested with dogs and cats, safety is inside the cage, thinks an innocent parrot. It is a similar situation, isn’t it?” he leaned back and closes his eyes.

Translated by Sharada and published on, July 2007.
(The Telugu original, panjaramlo swetchha, was published in Andhra Jyothy Sunday edition, September 30, 2007.)

Narayanarao by Adivi Bapiraju – a recollection by S. Narayanaswamy

This is neither a literary criticism nor a learned analysis of this classic novel. It is a reader’s fond recollection of his life-long association with this wonderful work of fiction. It is a personal attempt to define my fascination with the story and attachment to the eponymous protagonist.

The beginning

I think I came across this novel for the first time when I was 8 years old. I found it in one of the bookshelves at home – it was a rather old copy – the front cover and a few pages were missing. However, the name of the novel was printed on each page – Narayanarao. It had a nice ring to it. It was very close to my own name of which I was very fond and proud. I read a few pages. I quickly noticed that all his friends addressed him as Narayana – just what my friends and family called me. I felt instantly closer to him. A couple of pages into it, there was a full description of Narayanarao – tall, handsome, strong, with long thick jet-black hair, and very popular among friends – just what I wanted to be! I was hooked.


I don’t think I’ve read the whole novel at that time. The book was there at home. It was not going anywhere. I had more urgent things to do, yet I kept going back to it. Like all boys of that age, tales of magic and adventure held more appeal for me than fiction with social themes. (This is true even now – we bought two copies of each Harry Potter novel; one for my daughter and one for me). However, this novel continued to fascinate me – it was a fairy tale in its own way. It took me to a magical time and place, populated by noble, beautiful, artistic, eccentric and utterly fascinating characters. I fell in love with the book. Once my mother caught me with the book and scolded me – what was I doing, meddling with adult’s books? But, when she saw that it was Narayanarao, she thought it was okay and left me to my reading. I continued to read it and re-read it all the time I was growing up. And I still read a few pages occasionally – at least once a month – especially if I am feeling down. I have two copies at my home. In case somebody wants to borrow, I’d still have one for myself.

The story and the structure

The basic story is not very complicated. Narayanarao is the younger son of a large rich land-owner Brahmin family from Konaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. He has been studying law in Chennai. The Zamindar of Visvalapuram notices him on a railway platform and decides that he is the most suitable groom for his younger daughter, Sharada. The marriage takes place. Sharada’s mother does not like this match with a commoner family and tries her best to poison Sharada’s mind against Narayanarao. However, Narayanarao bears this tragedy with forbearance believing that Sharada would one day love him. Sharada comes of age and goes to live with her husband in Chennai as he sets up his law practice. Over a couple of years, Sharada slowly comes to realize Narayanarao’s multi-faceted greatness and begins to love him. The novel concludes with their union in an utterly cute and romantic scene.

That does not mean that the novel is simple. There is a multitude of characters. There are plots and sub plots. There are histories of families, regions and dynasties. There are heated debates about politics. There are passionate discussions about literature, music and art. Narayanarao’s younger brother-in-law goes off to America to pursue scientific studies – so we follow him now and then. One of Narayanarao’s friends goes off on a free love adventure – we follow him too. There is the family of four beautiful sisters – we keep checking on what’s going on with them. We take a peek into the lives of farm laborers and we look in on the unbridled debauchery of a feudal young lord. We make the acquaintance of the Anglo-Indian community, and we get to know the women folk of Narayana’s household. The final product is rich in texture, colorful in characterization and pulsing with life.

With all the sub plots and so many characters, the author establishes Narayanarao in the center of reader’s attention very firmly right from the beginning. Narayanarao’s attractive physique and his personal magnetism (Bapiraju frequently compares him to the legendary hero Arjuna) are described in loving detail – almost as lovingly as the ancient poet Valmiki describes his hero, Rama. Narayanarao excels in everything he tries – he is first in studies, he is a competent athlete in several sports, good at playing the violin in Carnatic style (This is how he first impresses the heroine), and he is an accomplished poet and painter too. He is a staunch Gandhian with passionate nationalistic fervor – wears only khadi clothes, yet he is also cool headed and logical.

Sripathi. The Enemy.

(Translated by B. Indira)

Cinnodu stood with the empty bucket after pouring the cane extract into the container. Jagganna sat close to the fire, which had been cooking the sugarcane extract, to warm himself. His eyelids were dropping under heavy sleep. “Did you hear…?” he asked Cinnodu. Cinnodu looked askance. He stood staring into Jagganna’s eyes.

Jagganna did not stir. Seated as he was without opening his mouth, he looked as if he was trying to gather his breath.

“That wench is sure to die, ra. She won’t live any longer. She’s stubborn too. She has been crying so much that she has reduced her self to half her size. She won’t survive, Cinnoda, she won’t!” Jagganna spoke after removing the tobacco role from his mouth to release the smoke. The red flame reflected as waves on his wrinkled face and graying hair.

“Cinnoda, bring the sugarcane bundle!” Jangamayya shouted feeding cane into the machine.

Cinnodu dropped the bucket at where he was standing and rushed to the northern end of the shed for the cane. He dropped the bundle near the machine and went back to the jaggery-stove.

The maim fellow who had been filling the stove with the cane-waste could not hear Jaganna’s words. He was outside at the southern end of the stove. He could only see Jagganna through the thatched walls of the enclosure though not hear.

“The fellow married off the daughter to a great son-in-law! Had he really thought twice before deciding? Does the son-in-law have any respect for relationships? Can any woman ever live with him as his wife? Leave aside all those diseases he contracted, wonder how long this gold of a girl will survive…! When the bastard who lives in the village could remain blind, how can one expect the bastard of the neighbouring village to exercise his discrimination? The magic of money! Nothing in this world gets visible…money blinds…! Money rendered his vision hazy. All he had seen was that the man came off a moneyed family. That too the only son! The lands! The properties! The gold! The money! The business! Nothing else seen. He was blind even to matters of right and wrong. Blind to name and fame! The money magic has clad his eyes with several layers. The girl? She is gold! The gold doll’s life has now been reduced to ashes!” Jagganna was all pain for the girl. He had seen Subhadra when he went home for his meal. It’s five or six weeks that the girl had touched any food. She looked like a lizard glued to the bed. The pain he experienced on seeing her had been haunting Jagganna. Jagganna himself had been uneasy when he heard of the marriage proposal. Don’t eat grass for the sake of money, he even warned Narsayya who didn’t bother to care his words.

Cinnodu saw that the flame was going low. “Have you finished your work…? O, Cottoda get some waste for the stove!” he shouted in irritation.

The fellow has a maimed leg. He can sit any length of time and work without getting tired. Jaggery generally gets cooked through out the night. The stove needs to be filled with the waste non-stop to keep it burning. It’s a difficult job for the day. Hence the work gets done only during the nights. The bulls had been turning the machine drearily. Jangamayya was busy feeding the cane into the machine. The extract had been continuously flowing itself into the bucket below. The machine had been making crude rhythmic noise. Dasu who had been tending the bulls while they rotated the machine heard Jagganna’s voice. He remembered how he cried one night telling the father to hang his sister with a noose instead of getting her married to that man. He decided then and there that he would beat up his father once he grew a little more. Mother always keeps her mouth shut. Even she fears the father. Why, how much he wanted to study… “No! Studies are not meant for the like of us,” ruled out the father. Dasu was forced to abandon his studies and gotten to work on the fields…recollected Dasu as he walked behind the animals.

Cinnodu had already heard of what Jagganna spoke of. He always liked Subhadra as the best in the family. Since his fourteenth year, he had been a field hand with Narasayya. It’s ten years now. The girl always addresses him as uncle. She’s yet to understand the social dynamics. Why, no body addresses a field hand as uncle! Cinnodu too felt unhappy when she was married off against her wishes. Just as the others, even he felt that the boy from the moneyed family was not the right choice of a husband for the girl. Now having heard Jagganna, Cinnodu felt that Narasayya had been greedy after money.

“What can be done now, tata  except to reconcile ourselves…At least before the three knots were tied…”

Cinnodu too heard that Subhadra had not eaten for the last three days. Nobody could force her to take food. When the marriage celebrated with great pomp had failed, every face lost its luster. All the relatives who intended to stay four or five days had left within a day or two.

“Times have changed. People have changed,” said Jagganna, once again puffing at his tobacco role. “How much difference between those days and these days! There was no money then. No greed as of now. Wonder how this money has been growing and how people have been after it spoiling their lives! Does this Narasayya lack any thing that he should give away his daughter into such a family? No respect for human feelings, good nature and righteous living! Cinnoda, everything Veera Brahmam prophesied is sure to happen. Every bit of it! A woman would rule the country, he said and here she’s ruling. The outcastes will become temple priests, he said and they have become. No respect for relationships, he said and there are no respectable relationships between man and woman. I’m an old timer. May not live longer. You’re a young fellow. You’ll live four seasons. You’ll see the way of the world with your own eyes. You’ll then mark my words. As children have we known pictures? Or these trains? Have we ever seen an airplane? Or this craze for currency? …Where does all this lead to?”

Jagganna had been resisting the heavy sleep and been speaking to none in particular. At times his voice broke into two or three different tones:

Paper-currency blew away silver coins,

The paper remains paper,

Hungry stomach remains hungry…”

 The maim fellow sang from outside in his unique way as if he understood Veera Brahmam’s philosophy. “World, Jagganna tata, this is the world,” he said with a wry smile.

 The cane mill continued to rotate. Fourteen-year-old Dasu had been driving the animals. The machine made grating though rhythmic sounds. The cold outside had slowly gathered its intensity.

### ### ###

Narasayya came walking to the shed with torchlight in hand. He searched everywhere under the thatch-roof where the machine had been working. He considered Jangamayya a thief to his core. He was sure that Jangamayya would steal whatever might be available in the vicinity. As for Jagganna, though almost a part of the family has the habit of dozing away at the drop of a hat. Cinnodu though a bull at work does not apply his brains to the work he may be doing. He won’t even know if something was lost. Cottodu, though brainy, is full of guile. Narsayya had no other option but to employ them. That’s one reason why Narasayya would never leave the machine shed. It had been just half an hour that he left for home for a meal. Yet his mind remained with the work at the shed.

The thatched machine-shed faces east. A fence made of leaves and branches protects the other three sides. Once inside the shed, on one side lay new earthen containers of terracotta for storing jaggery. About fifty-to-sixty containers have already been filled. A cot is laid on another side. A huge well-like stove measuring to the height of a man in its depth is seen to the east of the shed. There is also a pan equal to the stove in its diameter. Beside the stove, there lay the huge containers meant for preserving the juice extract measuring to the chest of a man in height. Several floor mats, bedspreads, blankets, grass, lighted petromax lamps completed the furnishings of the shed.

It’ll take another fifteen days at least to cook jaggery. Till then the shed is Narasayya’s home. Narasayya sat on the cot.

Cinnodu took the stick from Dasu and started driving the cattle. Dasu was about to go home when Narasayya stopped him. ‘I forgot to take my medicinal-pellets. Send them through Rangayya, my son,’ he said.

Narasayya had lost his peace of mind ever since the daughter’s marriage. He bought two acres of wetland. So far he hadn’t had the time to get it registered. He dare not trust the field hands in preparing jaggery. He had to attend to several jobs all by himself. Added to these, now there’s no happiness in having married off the daughter into a moneyed family.

“I prefer to jump into a well or a pit to end my life but I cannot live ayya…I cannot live in those concrete houses. You turned my life into ashes, ayya…!” is what she had been crying all the time. Her sorrow nagged Narasayya’s heart like a pest.

“Has Subbulu eaten?” Jagganna asked with his eyes still closed. Narsayya dared not utter a word. He is scared of Jagganna. Jaganna had warned him to think twice before he settled the alliance. Narasayya thought otherwise. He thought the marriage would improve his status in the village. He thought the marriage would bring both the families that had been at loggerheads for the last twenty-five years together. He thought the marriage would reduce the police harassment and going around courts of law. The family disputes have been taxing his purse heavily. Besides, the investment on money lending and even the lands would be his with the marriage. Narasayya thought that all these would sure resolve with the marriage that would benefit him and bring him peace of mind as never before.

“Saying you’ll hack her will not deter her. You’ll have to make her see reason,” said Jaggayya.

What does she lack? How have I been treating her! I sent her to a house that has lots of property, money, name and fame. She cries as if I had committed a big blunder. As for the son-in-law, tell me, who is a Sri Ram? Except that all his affairs have been exposed. Don’t many others carry on with their affairs stealthily? The man is full of youthful vigor…so what if he had affairs before the marriage… thought Narasayya before he had finalized the marriage. It’s beyond him to comprehend what could have gone wrong with the marriage. He had to cross and double cross the stiff competition from other prospective families vying for the alliance. It made Narasayya angry that the daughter had been obstinately kicking off his hard won victory. He even raised his hand against her in anger. “You threaten to die…Die if you so desire! I’ll burn your body at the graveyard, immerse your ashes in the nearby stream and assume that I’m no longer indebted to you!” he had shouted at her in irritation. It’s two days that he had seen the daughter!

The sweet aroma of the cooking jaggery filled the shed. In the silent starry winter night all that one heard was the sound of the cattle as they circled around the machine besides the sound of the cane-extract as it poured into the bucket. The country stove had been burning to its limit. Cottodu was busy feeding the stove with the waste. Jagganna was dozing in a sitting posture. Cinnodu was driving the cattle simultaneously filling the containers with the extract. Some movement was discernable from the nearby cattle driven mill. Overcome by slumber Narasayya stretched himself on the cot.

### ### ###

“Had you both the legs, you would gobble the whole world!” said Jagganna surprised at Cottodu’s expertise. Cottodu smiled dryly. Jangamayya complained of some discomfort in the stomach and had left for home. Cottodu was busy working at the machine sitting beside it. Jagganna was filling the containers.

Narasayya busied himself in filling the new earthen pots with the cooled extract of the night before. The day broke. One no longer felt cold as one got busy at work. Cinnodu was still driving the cattle. Cottodu simply fooled around.

Cinnodu saw Narasayya’s younger son rushing towards them. He was speeding along the cane-field bunds.

“Wonder why Subba Rao is rushing this way?” he said seeing him.

Narasayya didn’t pay heed. Jangamayya had been drying the cane-waste in a corner. From the shed, across the cane-fields the village is just a furlong away.

Subba Rao was panting. He walked straight to his father. “Ayya, mother wants you home—come with me—Subbappa…is missing!” He said holding his breath.

Jagganna looked at Narasanna whose face turned pale.

“Jagganna,” he called and walked towards the village with the son.

Jagganna entrusted the work to Cinnodu and followed Narasanna.

“Look what Subbulu has done…it seems she’s not home!” Narasanna’s voice broke. The entire village had already crammed full in the compound waiting for him. The daughter had turned him into a laughing stock. She had now become his enemy. Which well or pond she might have jumped into? He remembered her cries of helplessness. The news would soon reach her in-laws. That such and such Narasayya’s daughter jumped to her death would be the gossip of the village. They would conclude that the death was a protest against the marriage and the father.

Narasayya’s compound thronged with people. They were all under the pandal, still green

Narasayya imagined that the body had already been placed in front of the house and the villagers were now around it. People had already begun searching for the body in the village ponds and wells.

### ### ###.

Lakshmana Murthy had been preparing tea on a coal stove. Jagannadham was with him to listen to the news on the transistor radio. “Where’s the drawing master?” he asked as he sat in the easy chair placing the transistor in his lap.

“Left for his town, sir,” replied Murthy. It’s only this year that Murthy had joined the village school as a secondary grade assistant. The drawing master joined ten days after him. Jagannadham likes to move with these young boys. He enjoys spending time especially with the drawing master for the political news he shares with him. Lakshmana Murthy is a highly disciplined man. His day starts very early. He exercises regularly and follows it up with a bath in the village pond even during winter. Once home, he performs his puja and cooks for the day. He is not interested in anything else, not even pictures. Lakshmana Murthy looked different after a fresh shave.

“Why had he left so suddenly? Without telling anyone?” asked Jagannadham.

Though a Telugu master, Jagannadham looks as stylish as a science master. Aren’t a dhoti, an upper cloth, a snuff-box, a namam similar to number 111 a must to a Telugu teacher, the younger teachers would always tease him. “For you I’ll dress that way when the EO visits the school,” he would tease them back.

Lakshmana Murthy didn’t know what to say. Gopalam of course asked him to inform Jagannadham of his leaving the village. But he didn’t know how to break the news… It scared him. Last night Gopalam had fled the village with Subhadra much to his dislike. Gopalam even asked Murthy to accompany him to the railway station. Murthy did not. He does not even know any of the routes beyond the village limits. On top of it is his timidity. In his fear he pleaded in vain with Gopalam not to elope with Subhadra. He even warned him of the risk involved to no avail. As long as the girl was with them in the room, Murthy had remained a nervous wreck. The girl’s dare-devilry surprised him. He wanted to rush to the math teacher for advice. The couple didn’t allow him any time. A torchlight in one hand and the girl’s hand in the other he had headed southward from the backyard across the fields. Lakshman Murthy shuddered in fear as he recollected the events. Sleep evaded him the whole night. He was sure the villagers might attack his house any moment.

The mud-walled hut Lakshmana Murthy lives in is to the west of the village. The hill-breeze comes directly into the hut. Though it’s past seven in the morning, the air had remained cold.

“They’ve been searching all the wells and ponds,” he said.

Lakshmana Murthy could not remain seated in the chill open air. News was on the AIR. Inside, the coal-stove had been spreading some warmth. He dropped some tea-leaves into the boiling water. He liked the aroma.

“Naxals killed the Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University… Smt. Indira Gandhi condemned the religious extremism in the country…An agreement seems to be in the offing concerning the royal jewelry…Improving the life of the common man is the topmost priority of the new Congress…”

“Elections! Elections! Elections! These politicians are killing us,” said Jagannadham forgetting every thing about the drawing master. He is intolerant to political propaganda. Elections irritate him. Once, a politician had forcibly transferred him for not campaigning for his party. At another village a political group had beaten him up for criticizing its leader contesting the election. There’s yet another instance when he was bullied into vacating the house he had rented because he spoke to the rival party. Finally when he had resisted the Head Master’s religious fanaticism he came on transfer to the village as a punishment. Jagannadham had become vary of political freedom or franchise.

Lakshmana Murthy handed him a cup of tea.

The cold had been bone biting. Lakshman Murthy wondered where the two might have gone in that bitter winter. Besides, there has always been the fear of bears, he thought to himself. Neither of them knew the way! Where could they be…? By morning the village was agog with the news that Subhadra jumped herself to death. He heard it while bathing at the pond. His fears compounded when he understood that the village had believed the rumour.

Tea was warm and tasty. “Subhadra didn’t die,” he said to Jagannadham who sat with him by the stove.

Jagannadham looked inquisitive.

“Drawing master…” Lakshmana Murthy paused.

The transistor belonged to the drawing master. He didn’t carry any of his belongings with him except the torchlight. His bed roll and his attaché had been lying in a corner.

“I’m nervous… won’t they blame me, sir?”

Jagannadham was lost in thought. A similar doubt occurred to him as well. Several times he personally experienced the ‘power’ of the so-called feudal lords. He didn’t know what to say.

In the fields to the west of the master’s hut there lays the harvested rice crop dotted in between with the cane crop. A small canal, with several rows of trees on its bund, passed through the fields. A little distance away, more into the west, is a mango grove crossing which one reaches the thick forest of Mahendragiri ranges. Jagannadham’s eyes stopped at the mountain range.

### ### ###

A group of five to six houses, to the south of the village is known as the dhobi-street. All the houses there face southward. The sugarcane fields of the village landlords start at the backyard of these houses. Beyond the fields is a small stream. The entire area is thick with trees, shrubs, bushes and so on.

In Nukaraju’s front yard the early sunrays looked like a pale yellow sari spread out for drying. On the cold windy morning Nukaraju had been busy lighting the coal in his iron-box.

Nukaraju had been feeling sleepy. His eyes were dropping. The whole night he had been walking and returned home before dawn. He had been with Subhadra and the drawing master as they waited for the train to arrive. He felt his body aching. The night had been weary and he longed to sleep. But he should deliver the ironed clothes to the teachers. The village clerk’s servant had already made a couple of trips to collect the clothes. He still had to iron them. The headmaster’s peon too was there for the ironed clothes. The village level worker (VLO) said he had to go to town…

Nukaraju picked up the washed clothes from the stone platform, sprinkled water, rolled them and kept the roll aside. By now the iron box had been well heated. He dipped his finger in a glass of water and threw the water drops on the box to check the heat. He first began with the munisif’s shirt.

Nukaraju thought of his wife while he ironed. He told Sarada to remain home. She didn’t. She went with the mother-in-law to the dhobhi-ghat.

Nukaraju finished ironing four shirts. He was about to start the fifth shirt when Cinnodu came. He stood at the door.

It’s Cinnodu’s habit to stop at Nukaraju whenever he went to Narasayya’s fields. He would stop to light his beedi there. Nukaraju and Cinnodu are buddies. They went to late shows together. They would go to the village fairs together. They went to the hills to collect firewood and coal together. Standing similar in their height and muscles, they can easily pass off as brothers. Since childhood it had been their habit to bathe together in the village pond.

When he saw Cinnodu, Nukaraju suspected that Narasayya must have sent him. Cinnodu thought that Nukaraju looked strange.

“Have you heard about Subbulu, Nukanna?” Cinnodu asked glancing obliquely.

Nukaraju kept mum.

“Subbulu fled somewhere. Somebody told Narasayya that you’re in the know of it. The President and the Village Head are at Narasayya’s house. They had sent me for you,” said Cinnodu briefing his mission.

“There’s no one home,” mumbled Nukaraju placing the iron-box aside and getting ready to follow Cinnodu.

On the way Nukaraju told him of last night…

Seeing Nukaraju people on the street talked among themselves.

In spite of the cold outside Nukaraju began to sweat profusely when he saw the village elders. He wasn’t sure if he should disclose the truth. What, if I don’t…? What, if I did…? What would they do to him…? His mind was full of questions.

Nagaraju suddenly turned bold. Stubbornly bold…

“What’ll they do? They’ll scold. If angrier, they’ll beat. What have I done? After all I didn’t elope with Narasayya’s daughter! I saw the drawing master and Subhadra. He’s a gentleman,” thought Nukaraju to himself. “Help us, Nukaraju,” the girl pleaded her eyes brimming with tears. Nothing came to his mind then. He simply accompanied them up to the railway station to show them the way in that darkness. Nukaraju thought he was on the top of the world when after boarding the train safely, they both held him by hand and said they would never forget his help

Now they would beat me up, let them, he thought. This alone needn’t be the reason to beat him up. They wield the power to beat him for any reason they deemed fit. Even kill him! Hadn’t the Naidu slapped him with his footwear, once? Didn’t the munisif trick him into a liquor case and had simply watched as the police beat him up? Hadn’t he offered his body submissively on either occasion? It’ll not be different now, thought Nukaraju.

There’s a cattle shed at a corner opposite to Nukaraju’s house. The shed was vacant as the cattle had been out for grazing. The bulls were any way at the cane-mill. The play-weary calves were fast asleep.

Nukaraju saw some village elders on the high rise platform. A couple of boys were playing in the shed. There weren’t any one else. The village folk had slipped away when they saw the village elders. Two field hands lost no time in leading Nukaraju into the shed and tie him up to a post. Cinnodu saw Nukaraju being led away. He couldn’t stand there any longer. Narasayya called him but Cinnodu didn’t care to stop. All he heard was a screaming Nukaraju. He wanted to bury all of the village elders alive.

Peda Naidu was still shouting… “How many of the young girls will you sell in the town? How many of them will you see off at the station? Where have you hidden the girl…?” Naidu seemed to be tired of shouting. He had been beating Nukaraju wherever possible. He poked him at his sides with a stick. When Nukaraju tried to shout, he gagged him with a stick. The daughter-in-law’s elopement was a great insult to Naidu. He felt beheaded by the act of hers. Except to peel the skin off Nukaraju, there was no other way to conceal her shameful act. By now Nukaraju had been whining and whimpering. His head hung loose.

### ### ###

The little stream stopped there as if to look at Sarada. The white cloud and the blue sky hid themselves under the stream to enjoy her beauty. The trees, creepers, flowers, grass everything on the banks had been busy singing to her.

It’s not even a fortnight that Sarada had come to the in-law’s for the first time after marriage. She has been slowly getting adapted to the village breeze its sun, its fields, its trees, its streams… She’s slowly getting tuned to Nukaraju’s mischievous eyes and talk, his body odours. Now she is like the earth stirring up to the first rays of the light. It’s only now she’s getting to replace ‘her’ people with the new relations. She has just begun to understand what it’s to be in love with life. She has just begun to trust strangers.

If my daughter had left for the in-laws, there wouldn’t be anyone for my support, thought Nukaraju’s mother. She decided to bring Sarada home for good. There were two other washer men busy at the ghat. The surrounding thick green hills made the ghat appear as no man’s land.

Sarada had heard about Nukaraju while she took the washed clothes from the mother-in-law for drying them on the bund.

The mother had abruptly left the work and ran crying “my son, oh, my son!” She was impervious to the young daughter-in-law or that she might scare her. Sarada too ran after her. “O, god, don’t kill my son! O, god, save my son!” She had been wailing all the way rushing to Narasayya’s house. By then the whole village including children had gathered at the house.

The mother saw Nukaraju tied to a post. She didn’t go to him. In stead she fell at Narasayya’s feet. “Babu, you’re our god…only you can save my son!” She innocently pleaded least suspecting that Narasayya had been behind all this.

“What Nukaraju…he’s no more!” Somebody murmured. The words didn’t reach her.

Jagannadham standing there began to brood: Is this violence or non-violence? Another teacher who was also in the crowd was surprised that none had protested. What’ll these village elders do next, Lakshmana Murthy was asking. “That he jumped himself to death will be the verdict. Later they’ll give the body for cremation,” answered the drill-master. If it proved that the girl jumped to death, whom would these elders have killed? The father married off the daughter to a diseased man for his selfish ends. Were she to die contracting one of those diseases, whom would these gentlemen kill in revenge? Just because the girl is happy that they caught hold of this innocent bastard, broke his bones, gagged him with a stick and finally killed him. Let it ripen! Let it ripen! Let all their sins ripen! Only the fully ripened fruit falls to the ground…brooded one among the crowd.

Even now the mother didn’t understand what had happened. Sarada too reached the spot. The crowd appeared like melting shadows to her. Her vision got blurred. She struggled in vain to search for her husband. She tried to wipe the tears she could not control in order to see things clearly. The world looked dark. At last she found him at the post. She failed to recognize him. Frightened on seeing the stream of blood she had fled the place, screaming wild towards east. She didn’t even turn her head back at least once. She ran as if a band of flesh-eaters chased her. Across the fields, banks and in spite of the thorns. In spite of slipping several times. She ran to her mother. Her father. Her brothers. Her companions. Her shelter. Her relatives. Her people who had been her strength. She decided she would lead the entire village equipped with brandishing swords, spears, bows and arrows. All to save the husband in the next village. Even if it involved the killing of the entire village.

The munisif’s younger brother is a first-class magistrate. The village leaders sent a messenger to him. The father-in-law’s nephew is a circle inspector. Another messenger had been sent to him. Narasayya’s wife’s brother himself is an advocate. Yet another man had been sent there. The sarpanch himself accompanied the local MLA.

The villagers who had witnessed the death could not eat that night.

Nukaraju, Sarada, and the mother haunted them.


Translated by B. Indira and published on, March, 2011.