Tag Archives: Achanta Saradadevi

Coral Chain by Achanta Saradadevi

It was getting dark. Far away, the sun between two hills looked like a blood red sphere; the heat was gone.


(Copyright artist: Rambabu Arle)

The shades of lavishly floating clouds resembled leaves, flowers and small hills, and the sun a crimson ball in their midst. The view was like a reflection of nature in a ruby red mirror.

Vasanti washed her hair and went on to the terrace. She let her wet hair down to dry and sat on the brink of the parapet wall. She was watching the gorgeous sunset. Each time the locks on her forehead were moved by the breeze, a whiff of fine aroma spread around from the sambrani smoke she had given to her hair earlier. From her snowy-white neck, a chain of big corals, which she had inherited from her mother, was hanging gently but heavily. In the glow of those corals, her creamy cheeks seemed to quiver shyly. The entire composition—the red saree, the corals around her neck, the red kumkum on her forehead, and the henna on her fingers, which were like jasmine buds—seemed to compete with the evening glow and was immersed in it.

Vasanti had never been that excited as that evening. What a soothing day … what a beautiful evening … It was mesmerizing. In the next moment, a stray thought came over … she was lost in it.

She left this place eight years back. She had spent all her childhood here. So many memories in this town, in this house, each step of the way … All those emotions she had experienced in her childhood—the grief, the hopes, the disappointments, happiness, pleasures, the anxiety and the tears—they all came back and beset her like shadows from a distant past. They all—the pogada flowers she had gathered, the swing she had ridden under the banyan tree, the games she had played in the stairwell in the moonlight—they all started coming back like a series of episodes. Each minute, a new incident kept jumping up in her mind.


In the wee small hours of dawn, she was riding in the bullock-cart. The jingle bells from the bull’s neck were mesmerizing; she dozed off. It was like in a dream; she could visualize each episode from the far-off past: As she was going to Kesari’s wedding on a bullock-cart, and her dotted silk skirt shivered as the breeze blew gently, Pankajam laughing; she [Vasanti] feeling hungry and sleepy, and yawning; Malathi and herself scuffling for a red rose after the cart had stopped at the gate. … so many memories …

Several changes had taken place in her life in the past eight years. Her life had attained fullness after several stops, one after another. She studied in Kalkotta and received her B.A. degree in first class. Her father was elated that she came first in the university and threw a big party. After that, her marriage was performed with the son of the district health officer. The groom’s family did not ask for dowry. Yet father spent money lavishly and performed the wedding on a grand scale. Her husband was fortunate, he landed a job in Lucknow soon after their wedding, and she moved to her in-law’s home at the same time. Within a year, they were blessed with a baby girl. Her husband was promoted to a higher position. She was not short for anything, either financially or otherwise. There was no reason to complain about. Proverbially her husband put her on a bed of flowers and worshipped her; he never opposed her in any matter. She was very fortunate to have such a blissful life. That’s what everybody thought.

Yet, trivial memories had been popping up sporadically and making her feel bogged down.

Soon after the baby was born, and a few times after that, she tried to visit her hometown but could never do so. Her husband’s transfers every six months and other domestic issues squashed her wish each time. Now, after so many years, she was able to return to her hometown.


 It’s got dark. The sky was studded with stars. The moonlight shone like gold and spread to the inmost corners. The moon was laughing exultantly. Vasanti went downstairs, brought a comb, untangled her hair and put it in a loose braid. She made a wreath of jasmines bloomed afresh and the roses she had picked in the morning and tucked it in her braid.

 Her mother came upstairs with the baby in her arms. She asked, “Coming down for supper?”

 “What’s the hurry? Let father come …” Vasanti said.

 Mother asked again, looking into the sky, “When is your husband coming?”

 “Don’t know. He said he would come for the festival, if he is granted leave.”

 She sat there with mother quietly for a while watching the mango sprouts in bloom.  Mother fed the baby, spread a mattress on the terrace and laid her to sleep. Vasanti also lay down next to the sleeping baby and went into a reverie. … The moonlight was touching her face gently. The moon was splashing tiny smiles like a ball of gold.

 She could not remember how may moonlit nights and dawns she had spent on that terrace in that manner—happily, sadly, teasingly, … in her childhood. She used to go and sit on the terrace whenever she was bored. From there, she could see the innumerable small hills and mounds around and a huge meadow stretched in front of her house. Past the meadow, there were tall coconut trees and two small mountains in the rear, which seemed to be coming from two directions and meeting there. Every morning, at the stroke of six, the sun in blood red color would peek from behind those mountains. Again, in the evening the moon would greet from the same spot in between the coconut trees. Everyday she felt mesmerized by those scenes in her younger days.

 The baby moved in her sleep, and nudged against the chain in Vasanti’s neck, pressing the corals against Vasanti’s body. A sad feeling weighed her heart down. … Abbha! …. How long had she been carrying these corals! Each time the chain moved, something in her heart pricked … some incomprehensible pain … some anguish.

On the meadow in front of their house, there was only one hut, where Lakshumanna, the old man lived with his old woman and his grandchild, Sita. Sita had lost her mother long time ago. Lakshumanna used to run a grocery store, and manage with the little income he had been getting from it. …

Vasanti looked for that hut as soon as she got out of the cart. There was not even a sign of the hut. The meadow was filled with several colorful new buildings raised to the sky. She could not see even the far-off mountains. She came to her senses.

Poor Lakshumanna thatha was a nice man. He was very kind to Vasanti. He called her bullemma garu, little girl, and treated her like princess. He was very nice to her. Sita and she used to play in the green pastures in front of the hut all day. Vasanti was about seven or eight-years old at the time, about the same age as Sita. Early in the morning Vasanti would get up, take a bath, have the hair braided, wore a silk frock and go to play. Sita would come out of the hut with unkempt hair and wearing a torn skirt. Both played any number of games in the grass there: start out with gujjanagullu, gudugudu kuncham, and continue with dolls’ wedding, and finish it with kaalla gajje. Sometimes she would not remember even to go home to eat. Mother would come out the door and call out for her and bring her into the house.

Vasanti played so much in the dirt that her frock would get dirty and torn. Mother would yell at her each day and tell her that she should not play with beggar girls in the dirt, and drag her into their house. Mother yelled at her numerous times yet she [Vasanti] always found a way to run out to play with Sita. Mother got tired of it and let go.

Whenever the business was slow, Lakshumanna thatha would come and sit with them and tell them stories. Vasanti also called him thatha since Sita was calling him thatha. Thatha favored her more than Sita. She used to pick up tin strips and brass pieces and give them to thatha, telling him that they were silver and gold pieces. Thatha would take those worthless pieces zealously and put them in a tin box as if they were real silver and gold. In return, he would give them, Sita and herself, peppermints, chocolate and paan. That turned into a daily game. Each day, she gave him some worthless piece, got chocolate in return and munched it, feeling that she had accomplished something big. … On one occasion, she told her mother too about this game.

“What? Are you giving away all the gold nuggets I’ve been saving in the silver box?” mother asked.

Vasanti was nervous. “Oh, no, not them … Only the pieces I found on the floor,” she said hastily, and her face turning white.

Mother did not believe her. “I told you so many times not to go to that hovel, you don’t listen,” she said, vexed.

One day, a coral vendor came to the door. Mother haggled for over an hour and picked three varieties of corals—small, medium and big size—and bought them. They were bright red-colored and beautiful. Mother took the corals and the gold nuggets she had been saving to Sankarayya, the goldsmith. She got him make coral chains. On the same day the chains were brought home, Vasanti picked the one with the biggest corals and wore in her neck. Mother was displeased.

She said, “Cchi. They are so big they don’t look good on you. Look, this chain with cute little corals, I got it made just for you. Wear this one.”

Vasanti did not listen. She fussed over it for a while and said, “I don’t want them. I like only this one.”

Mother tried to persuade the best she could. …but no use … Vasanti would not listen. She wore that wretched coral chain and went to play. It was so heavy, her neck started hurting. It went up into the air each time she jumped, yet she did not care. She got carried away by the excitement of wearing a new chain and got absorbed in the games. She even forgot about the chain in all that hullabaloo.

After it got dark, she returned home. Mother helped her take a hot water bath and served food in the silver plate. That is when she noticed the missing chain. “Oh, no, where are the corals?” she asked anxiously.

Vasanti cringed and felt her neck, her face turned white. The chain was gone. She forgot about the chain entirely while playing games. She did not know when or how it got lost.

Mother was angry and miserable. She snarled, “I told you so many times and you turned a deaf year. Here you are now, lost it in a minute, cchi.”

After that, mother and father together asked her numerous questions. That torrent of query did not slow down even the next day. God only knows how many people asked her the same questions over and again. She was tired. All that questioning made her angry, and vexed, and made her cry.

“Where all the places you had been to since morning?”

“Where did you play?”

“With whom did you play?”

“When was the last time you had checked the coral chain?”

They went on asking like that all day. She answered all their questions, some answers she knew and others she just guessed. “I played in the hallway. I played with Savitri upstairs. I was checking the chain now and then.” But, for some reason, she did not tell them that she had been playing with Sita for a long time in front of thatha’s store. She was afraid that mother would be displeased, and she might accuse Sita and thatha.

That night mother and father searched and searched the entire house again and again but could not find the coral chain. Vasanti went to bed, frightened and depressed and crying. In the morning, once again, they all searched every nook and corner. Everybody in the neighborhood heard about the loss of the corals. And they all came to express their sympathies. There was no end to the people saying soothing words and giving suggestions: Did you search all the places? What a loss, costs twenty-five rupees at least to buy again. Maybe somebody pilfered it. Do you suspect anybody? … There were so many questions and so many comments. Poor mother, she answered them all patiently and analytically. In fact, she was happy, even seemed to enjoy reiterating the answers in great detail. She felt as if she found the item.

By eight o’clock, babayi, who was living in the same neighborhood, came to our house. At once, he started out on his share of questioning. He asked mother, “When did you put the chain in her neck? And when did you see it again?” Mother gave suitable answers.

Babayi asked suddenly, “She goes to the old man’s hut to play every day. Didn’t she go yesterday?”

Mother was dumbfounded; why did not such an obvious thought occur to her? She felt bad for being so stupid. She called Vasanti, who was hiding in a corner and asked, “Did you not go to play with Sita yesterday?”

Vasanti said furtively, “I went in the morning.”

Babayi concluded at once, “Say so. Probably, you lost it while playing in front of the hut. That old man must have taken it.”

Mother supported it. “Yes, he must have taken it. In fact, he has been bothering our little girl to bring silver and gold from our house everyday.”

Vasanti was flabbergasted. “That’s a lie. Thatha never asked me to bring anything. I was giving them on my own—the pieces I found here and there in the house, and thatha took them only to please me.” Vasanti wanted to shout these words and let mother know but, amidst all that clamor, she could not open her mouth.

Babayi went and brought thatha to our house. Arbitration started. Babayi screamed all kinds of bad words and showered a volley of insults every which way. “Little one was playing in front of your hut all morning. Who could have taken it if not you?” he said.

Thatha stood there pallid for a long time, as if he did not hear the words, did not understand them. He could not comprehend what all those people were talking about. He was crushed, humiliated and in pain. He spoke pitiably a few times, “I do not know madam. I have not seen the corals in the little one’s neck at all.” And he said, “I am fond of bullemma garu more than my Sita. How could I touch any piece of jewelry on her?”

But nobody was willing to listen to his appeals.

Mother said, “Okay, you just return the chain like a nice boy. Why subject yourself to public humiliation?”

“But I did not take it madam. I don’t have it,” thatha said softly but clearly, and stood there as if he did not know what else he could do.

Babayi said, “Look, Lakshumanna, just return the piece politely and beg for our forgiveness. Otherwise, we will have to report to the police. And you know what happens when it falls into the hands of the police.”

Thatha was frightened at the mention of police. He shook like a leaf. Not a word came out of his mouth.

Just in time, police Narasayya was passing by. He saw the commotion and came in. “What? What happened?” he asked babayi, waving his baton.

“Nothing,” said babayi and narrated the entire incident as if he was telling a story.

Police Narasayya said, taunting thatha, “Why give us trouble? Make up your mind quickly … or you will be walking to the police station.” He gawked as he hit the ground with his baton.

Thatha was stricken with grief and stood there as if he lost his mind. Despair shrouded him and reflected in his eyes. It was burning him. Sita clung to his legs and cried loudly. Vasanti also felt it and wept.

Thatha stopped for a second not knowing what to do. And then, he walked toward his store as if he was sleepwalking. He opened the cashbox, and pulled out an old ten-rupee note, which was crumpled into a ball. He gave it babayi and said, “babu, I did not see the corals. But take this and leave me alone. I am poor … I am old. I cannot see clearly. What will you gain by badgering me, babu?” Tears sprang to his eyes as he spoke.

The people conferred for a while and decided that it’s better to take the money since they could not recover the corals.

Mother said, “The corals were worth twenty-five rupees. You offer ten rupees? Make it twenty. We will let you go since we’ve known you for so long.”

“Yes, that is right,” babayi said.

Thatha said, trembling, “That’s all I have. I cannot give you any more even if you kill me.” The empty cashbox slipped and fell on the ground with a bang.

Babayi was about to say something. Until now, father was sitting a little away, as if it was no concern of his; he was scared of mother’s loudmouth. He said, “Let him go, why pester the poor old man?”

With that, babayi kept quiet. So also mother.

Thatha held Sita’s hand and went away, walking slowly.

Police Narasayya ran his fingers through his hair as if he’d done something great, and held out his hand, and said, “Sir, whatever pleases you.” He got two rupees and left the scene. Rest of the crowd dispersed too.

Vasanti sat there in the hallway. Tears rolled down from her eyes without break. She knew that thatha did not take the corals … he would never take anything. But she could not tell that to anybody. She sat there watching thatha suffer and did nothing.

She wanted to run to thatha, hold his hand and tell him, “I know, thatha, you did not take my corals. Do not misunderstand me.” She went to the door. Mother came from behind, grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back into the house.

After that, mother never let her go near thatha’s store again.

One day Polamma was sweeping the floors in the upstairs room and found the coral chain. It popped out from under the chest of drawers.  Vasanti jumped for joy.

Polamma screamed, “Amma garu, the corals are here.”

Amma came running to upstairs and was surprised to see the red corals lying on the floor. She picked up the corals in her hand. She said happily and with a little embarrassment, “We had searched the entire house but never occurred to us to look under this chest.”

Polamma said, sounding philosophical, “It is all in that old man’s karma,” and went away waving the broom.

Vasanti said exuberantly, “Amma, shall I go and tell thatha that the coral were found.”

Mother held the corals close to her chest and sneered, “Cchi, how can we do that? What would the people say? Don’t they think that we’ve had the corals all this time and harassed the old man for nothing? What a shame, what a disgrace.”

Vasanti could not understand her mother’s logic. Thatha was humiliated, blamed for something he did not do, and there was no shame, no humiliation for him? But admitting that the corals had been found and that they had been wrong was shameful and inappropriate for mother!

She hoped that mother would call thatha and return his ten rupees as soon as the corals were found. But that did not happen. Additionally, whatever mother could have told Polamma, the fact that the corals were found never came to light. The relentless pain in her [Vasanti’s] heart remained forever. That her family had committed an abominable crime against the old man, and taken the ten-rupees, his sweat money, from him, remained a huge weight in her heart forever.

Thatha did not recuperate from this horrible incident for a very long time. He was devastated by the humiliation inflicted on him day by day. His business went down and finally was closed. Sita grew up and started working. Three of them were managing somehow with the measly earnings of Sita.

Vasanti used to stand on the terrace and watch Sita and thatha. She saw them watching her pitiably, kindly, and sadly. Then she felt ashamed, wiped her tears and went back into the house. Finally, she left that town. On that day, also thatha came out of his hut, and watched her go away in the cart, affectionately, and with tearful eyes. Poor thatha, he was hurt so badly but never forgot her.

Vasanti could never figure out what kind of blessings he had bestowed on her when he shed those tears but his ingenuous love enveloped her like a shadow and protected her.


Vasanti had never forgotten thatha despite the time elapsed and the numerous changed which had occurred in her life. Each time the corals in her neck moved, she was reminded of thatha. She longed on several occasions to pay off the debt she felt owed to him. But she was scared of her mother. She could do nothing about it.


The winds were blowing and the branches of the banyan tree were wavering. Mother shouted from downstairs room, “Come on to eat. Father is home.”

Vasanti covered baby with a sheet, got up and went into the kitchen. While eating, she asked her mother, “Old thatha and Sita—they used to live in the hut across from us. Where are they?”

Mother said with a grimace, “Who knows. Some four years back there was devastation and the old couple passed away, I guess. After that, some distant relative came and took Sita with him. I don’t know where she is now.”

Hum, thought Vasanti. It was heartrending for her but mother was saying it as if it meant nothing.

Vasanti could not relish the food. She quickly gobbled two bites and went back to the terrace. Mother was calling from behind, “What is that? You have not eaten.”

On the terrace, the baby was sleeping innocently, happily, and without a care in the world. She was holding the rubber doll tight to her chest. Tears filled Vasanti’s eyes. She sat on the cot, leaned forward and touched the curls on baby’s forehead gently. The corals from her neck dangled and touched baby’s lips. On that night in the moonlight, a distant star fell from the sky.

As she watched the baby’s eyes, sleep came over her. The corals rumbled heavily in her heart.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net,July 2007.


(The Telugu original, pagadaalu, was published in the mid-forties.)

The Escaped Parrot by Achanta Saradadevi

Big chunks of clouds are scurrying around in the sky as if they are in a hurry. A small white fleck of cloud slithers one way and another baby cloud another way. Then the two chunks stop in the middle and merge in to one piece. In a split second, they break up and each goes its own way. They are taking over the sky and changing into different shapes … like scattered cotton balls, or jasmine buds that slipped through the fingers.

Kamakshamma sat by the back door, watching the floating clouds. She is depressed. How quickly the clouds are changing shapes! … Even before one has gotten used to one shape, it is changing into another! They all are slithering away so beautifully! Embracing each other snugly and breaking away the next moment! Momentary attachment, she told herself.

The Sun is going down. There is no telling how much quiet this house and this garden become by dusk. Of the two servants in the house, for one, it is to start cooking, and for the other, it is time out. The rest of it is just absolute silence, but for the leaves rustled by the wind!

The schedule for Kamakshamma is just to sit there everyday by the door facing the garden, lost in meaningless thoughts, and watch the clouds, the trees and all around. There is no change in this ever.

This house is located on the outskirts of the town, with three mango groves on the three sides of it. Green leaves and green parrots happily chirping come and go freely, as they please. The gardener works in the garden during the day and goes away in the evening.

Kamakshamma’s husband Sundara Rao inherited this garden from his father. He acquired the house himself. He has some business in the adjoining city. Kamakshamma never asked what kind of business he is in. He will not tell, even if she asked. He believes it is not necessary for women to know such things. There is no need to mention separately, that like playing cards and roaming around with friends are parts of his business.

Everyday, one train comes in the morning and goes in the evening sluggishly. There is no specific time, it arrives sometime after seven in the morning and goes to the neighboring city. It returns in the evening sometime after seven. Sundara Rao travels everyday by the same train. He leaves in the morning and returns home at night. The station is two miles away from his home. In the morning he eats his breakfast and walks to the train station. If he has something to carry, Sankaram, the servant, takes it and goes with him. The train is very much used to Sundara Rao’s travel. No matter how late it is, the train will not leave the station until he got on it. Sankaram goes to the station again in the evening and returns along with Sundara Rao. That is the way it is every day.

Fourteen years back, Sundara Rao felt like having a house built in the midst of this garden and live a life of solitude. He told himself, “What is there in the cities but for the dirt and murk. On the other hand, it is so peaceful. The city is close by. I can go there each day and take care of business.” He had the house built here. However, only Kamakshamma is experiencing that solitude presently. She did not ask for that solitude yet she got it. That is how the life is. One person wishes for it. Another person gets it without asking for it. They do not need it yet it becomes unavoidable.

When Kamakshamma came to this home first, she used to say to her husband, “Your business is in the city day in and day out. Why live here?” Sundara Rao did not listen.

He would reply, “How can you get this solitude and peace in that city?” He leaves home while it is still dark returns after the Sun is down. Only he should know what kind of solitude and peace he is enjoying. Kamakshamma does not understand it yet she says nothing about.

At first, when Sundara Rao had the house built, there were only he and the two servants, the cook and Sankaram. Even then, his schedule has been the same—leaving the morning and returning in the evening. After two years, a thought occurred to him. He thought it would be nice a thing called wife was in this house. As soon as he got the idea, one of his friends suggested Kamakshamma to hi, He agreed.

Kamakshamma’s parents are ordinary folks. Her father’s income was enough for food. There was no desire to put aside, no hope there would be some to put aside. Kamakshamma was their only daughter. They had an unruly son. He ran away from home. The parents did not buy jewelry for Kamakshamma but raised her fondly. They put her through school up to eighth class.

In her younger days, the one wish that had not been fulfilled was wearing jewelry. Nancaramma, who lived across from them, was Kamakshamma’s friend. Nancaramma had jewelry head to foot. She used to be jealous of Kamakshamma’s golden complexion. Kamakshamma would look at the jewelry on the dark skin of Nancaramma and wished she had them—a wish she could never control. She would pester her mother for jewelry. Her mother would reply, “How can we get jewelry for you? You may get them after you grow up, get married. Maybe your in-laws will have ornaments made for you.”

Therefore, in Kamakshamma’s mind, an uncanny relationship between marriage and jewelry developed ever since she was a child. For that reason, she had no other choice but to wait for that moment.

After Sundara Rao had decided to marry Kamakshamma, mother said, “He looks fine, has good property too. They say he has mango groves, fertile land, and some business. However, you are fifteen and he is thirty. What do you think?”

Kamakshamma did not pay attention to anything her mother had said. She asked, “Will they give me all the jewelry head to foot?”

Mother was surprised. “I don’t know. We did not ask. If we look for another groom, we will have to pay dowry. You know we don’t have it” mother murmured.

Kamakshamma was down. She was tense for three days. She had been waiting all these days for what, marriage or ornaments? On the third day, the mediator-friend brought the news. He said Sundara Rao had in his possession lots of his mother’s ornaments. They all would be transferred to Kamakshamma, no doubt. Kamakshamma’s face lit up. Mother suppressed all her suspicions and smiled. The wedding was performed.

Kamakshamma did not think it odd as she stepped for the first time into this solitary home where the parents-in-law and brothers were absent. Whatever environment we walk into feels right. We get used to it. Kamakshamma has gotten used to solitary life. Except on rare occasions, she is not bothered by that loneliness.

At home, she has no work. Servants take care of everything. After she came here for the first time, she used to dress up every evening, comb her hair, and put on all the jewelry of her mother-in-law. She would look at herself in the mirror again and again and feel good about it. She would walk around in the garden, wait for her husband. The day passed by.

It has been twelve years now. Still it is the same. The difference however is the jewelry is not giving the same pleasure now. She puts them on as a matter habit but they feel heavy now. She does not feel like taking them off though. The attachments we invite into our lives become heavy in course of time. Yet we cannot severe those tries since we have gotten used to them.

In the evening Sundara Rao brings a magazine as he comes home. After he is done with bathing and eating, he hides his head in the paper for an hour, sitting on the porch facing the garden. Kamakshamma rolls the pan leaves into parrot-shapes and stacks them up. Sundara Rao takes some. Kamakshamma sits there idly shredding the rest of the pan leaves and glancing around. Nothing comes to mind for either of them to talk about. At the end, Kamakshamma asks the same question as a matter of habit, “What is new in the city?”

He continues to read the paper as he replies, “What is there to say? The same as always.”

That’s it. Silence prevails again. Kamakshamma says something again. She keeps talking without expecting a response.

“The jasmine vine has two sprouts.”

“The red rose may bloom tomorrow.”

“The mango buds are falling to the ground, I wonder why.”

“Ghosh! It rained so hard earlier in the evening. The garden was nearly submerged. They say untimely rain is not good.”

She keeps talking this or that. He keeps saying “ha” and “ho” heedlessly. From the tone, we cannot tell whether he is listening or not. At the end, he says, “Maybe there is some good program on the radio. Why don’t you listen to that?”

That is the end of it. She gets up and goes in. In the bedroom close by there is a battery-operated radio. Kamakshamma turns it on. Sixty varieties of sounds burst forth. Amidst of those sounds, she hears a low-toned song. The terrible silence is broken in one big stroke. She finds comfort in the thought that there is somebody. She falls asleep while thinking the same thing. He turns off the radio when he comes into the room.

Yes, that is how the time passed by. In her life there is hope and no disappointment. No overwhelming pleasure, no drowning grief. Her life has been barely moving boat in a serene river.

Only once the boat rocked. She a taste of the cool breeze. The withered branch sprouted. She became alive. Kamakshamma laughed.

That day the Sun was hot. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon. Kamakshamma was taking a nap in the bedroom facing the garden. Kamakshamma, half-asleep, heard a flutter in the front porch was scared at first. Then she assumed that some bird might have come from the garden into the verandah. She closed her eyes. There was the flutter of the wings again from the verandah. She decided to go and see what it was.

She saw a parrot in five hues, snuck on the railings in the verandah. It was looking at Kamakshamma furtively. It was gorgeous displaying several hues of red and yellow on its body between its wings and red nose. Kamakshamma had never seen such a beautiful bird before. She kept gazing the bird, enthralled by its beauty. The parrot tried to escape. It flapped the wings a little and remained in the same place, looking at Kamakshamma pitiably.

The bird’s leg was broken. It could not move. She was worried thinking, “Oh, no. What could have happened if a dog or a cat had jumped on her?’ She called Sankaram, the gardener. He picked up the bird easily. The bird did not object.

Kamakshamma closed all the doors in her room and kept the bird caringly. The wound on the bird’s leg healed in three days. In the meantime, Kamakshamma had a cage brought in from the city. The bird became a prisoner permanently. Kamakshamma got plenty now to spend her time on. Unwittingly, a bonding happened.

Now she is busy, has no time for anything else. Each minute she is worried what the bird might be doing. Is the cage clean for it? Hope no cat entered the room? Did it eat the fruit chunks I put in the cage?—the same thoughts and concerns all the time. She named it Chinnari. She is under the illusion that some day the bird will learn how to talk and speak sweet chirping words. Fantasizing that, she kept chirping herself in front of the bird for hours on end. She was not even aware how the time passed by. In the evenings, she used to walk around the garden, holding the bird carefully so it would not fly away.

Now she has plenty to talk about with her husband also. She waits anxiously for her husband to come home. As soon as he is home, she reports in a hurry all the day’s happenings:

“Chinnari did not take milk, not even one mouthful.”

“Ate only two chunks of fruit.”

“It escaped from the cage and went around the room twice. Luckily, the window panes were closed, or else.”

“Chinnari is learning to speak. It is learning fast from me. This morning I said, ‘akka’ and it said ‘akka’ too.”

Like this, she keeps saying, some sadly and others with great enthusiasm. Sundara Rao also listens curiously. Some kind of passion has swept her away. A shade of it has crept on him too. So also to the servants. The entire environment at home has changed totally.

Kamakshamma’s heart has experienced the bliss for six months. Chinnari’s heart has agonized, being imprisoned in the cage. Smiles danced on Kamakshamma’s face. Chinnari’s wings beat up on the cage wires, got tired and let go of it.

That day, it rained heavily all afternoon. The rain water seeped through the window sills and filled the room. The rain stopped in the evening. The sun-rays glimmered through the wet leaves.

Kamakshamma has the room wiped clean and opens the window panes to dry the room. She talks to the bird. Opens the cage door and puts fruit chunks. She finishes eating and lies down on the bed, waiting for her husband. Sundara Rao has not arrived for a very long time. While thinking, she dozes off. Sundara Rao comes late and decides not to wake her up.

The next morning, Kamakshamma looks lazily at the bed next to hers. Sundara Rao is asleep. Turns to the cage. Chinnari is not there. The cage is empty. Kamakshamma jumps out of the bed and looks again. The cage door is open. The window panes, opened last night, are open.

Grief overtakes Kamakshamma. What happened to the parrot? Probably, after opening the door last night, forgot to close? Is it possible the bird flew away? Or, the cat came through the window and took it away? She shivered head to foot with panic.

She calls the servants and asks them. They know nothing. They are also surprised to see the empty cage. Worried, they search the entire garden and do not find it. Not knowing what else they can do, they give up. They tell Sundara Rao as soon as he woke up. He says, “ayyo” and leave it at that.

Six months back there was no parrot. There is no telling where it came from and why. Now again, we do not know where it went. There is no way of knowing it.

Kamakshamma stares at the empty cage and goes into a fit of sobs. Sundara Rao says, “Are you crazy?” Sankaram put away the cage. That is all. After that each gets busy with his or her own chores. The cook starts cooking. The gardener gives water to the plants. Sundara Rao gets busy so he will not miss his train. That is all. There is no sign of another life existing in that house, none whatsoever.

Kamakshamma sits there staring into the emptiness for a long time. Nobody understands the bond she has developed with the parrot, or what she has gained and lost in the process.

“I lost the buttons for my coat. Do you mind fixing them? It is getting late for my train,” Sundara Rao says.

Kamakshamma takes the coat without a word. That is it. After that, she never mentions the Chinnari’s name again.

Several days pass by. The bare trees start sprouting. With the arrival of spring, even without invitation, birds arrive chirping noisily into the garden. The aroma from the mango sprouts pervades the entire garden. Kamakshamma’s heart once again wakes up.

She feels peaceful as she watches the birds chirping and flying all around in the garden.

The gardener notices that Kamakshamma is watching the garden zealously again after a very long time.

He approaches her and says, “See amma! So many birds came as soon as the mango tree started sprouting. See how beautiful they are! If we hang the cage in the garden just for a day, we will be able to catch a parrot. We can raise it.”

Kamakshamma shudders. She says, “No, no. Do not do that. See how happy and free they are! Let them live happily like that. They come and go as they please. That makes me happy. I can sit for any length of time, watching them. Aren’t they all ours? Why capture one bird, lock it up in a cage and in the process invite trouble for ourselves? Needless bonding.”

The gardener does not understand her comment.

The birds in the garden chirped merrily at once.



Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, September 2008..

(The Telugu original, paaripoyina chilaka, was originally published in the early 1960s.)