The average age of Sarma, Sastry and Chalapati is seventy. They are not happy unless they gathered on the terrace every evening and had a chat. On that particular day, the events took an unusual turn after Sarma made a remark. This is what he said, “What’s the matter with him? Chalapati curled up in that corner facing the other side?”

Sastry replied, “Seems he’s upset about something.”

Gopi dismissed it with a casual remark, “That’s silly. We are past seventy. What is there for us to be upset about?”

Sastry said sarcastically, “Well, aren’t we going through second childhood, so to speak? In fact it is stranger that you showed up dashing onto the terrace before it was barely dark.”

“I may not show up early on a regular basis.Sometimes I get held up by other commitments. Otherwise, wouldn’t I like to sit down and share life’s pleasures and pain with you? After all, aren’t we all of the same age, give or take a few years!” Sarma explained meekly.


Gopi’s sense of humor is a shade higher than normal. “Maybe, that is why Sri Sri stated it long time ago. I didn’t understand it at the time,” he said.

“What did he say?”

“Let’s go, move on…”[1]

“What do you mean? I think Sri Sri meant that we should achieve higher goals, not climbing stairs and reaching the terrace.”

“But then there is a kind of lee way in this too.”

“What’s that?”

“We have reached overripe old age and on our way to go up. We’ve come up this far, and we are that much closer to reaching the heaven!”

“I don’t know that’s going to happen or not. But there is one fact we must consider. If we’ve come up this much higher and died here, our folks will have a hard time getting our bodies down to and get us to the burial ground.”


All the three old men burst into a big laugh. Only Chalapati snapped. “I’ve been listening to you since the start. How could you speak such ominous things and laugh? Generally speaking we have one hundred years to live. That means we have 30 more years to go, guaranteed.”

“Chalapati! I have a question. Promise me you will not be angry with me.”

“Ask. Even my own children don’t care about my anger. Don’t worry about it.”

“We are living beyond the average lifespan common in our country. In fact, we are enjoying bonus years. We have no worries of food and clothing. Is it fair for us to hope for a longer life, hope to hang on to life forever?” Chalapati has no respect for Sarma’s words, no more than a strand of straw.

He came back at Sarma with full force, “Yes sir, you can say anything, you are cruising through life as you please. You’d never fall sick, not so much as a sneeze. Our bodies on the other hand are worn out. Anyway, how come not one of you asked me what happened to day?”


They all watched his face and fell silent. Chalapati resumed, “It’s my cigar. You know my folks can’t stand it. So, I went into a corner on the verandah, and lit it secretively. I hardly blew a couple of puffs, my grandson came rushing and snatched it away from me.Can you believe it? And then the entire family burst into a big laugh. I don’t have that much freedom or what? Am I not shouldering my own responsibility?”

“You maintain your self-esteem and your responsibilities are no problem,” Sarma replied.

“What’re you saying? You can’t say a word without giving a jab or a punch.”

“What can I say? That’s the way my tongue works,” Sarma conceded. Chalapati found an opportunity and didn’t want to let go of it.

“Only tongue? You retired as chief surgeon. Who knows how many operations you’ve performed and how many people you’ve sent up.”

“That’s not fair, you can’t say that. All surgeons are not bad people [durjanuluI][2].”

“All I can say is you are not complaining like we do, no cold, no headache, nothing. Who’s going to believe if you say you are past seventy?”

“That’s true. I also heard that Sarma is a great sportsman. Maybe, that is why is so sturdy,” Gopi said.

“Did anybody stop you from participating in sports during college days? The exercise you do in your youth is like an insurance policy that protects you for the rest of your life.”

“Maybe, nala bhima[3] plan is a better term,” said Gopi smiling. The other two insisted that Gopi should elaborate on his comment.

Gopi mumbled, “I am not sure how Sarma garu would take it.”

“You can tell them,” Sarma gave him his permission.

“Nothing much, really. From what I heard, the underlying secret of his great health was his custom; Sarma garu prepares all his meals himself.”

Sastry and Chalapati laughed aloud.

“What a way to put it. Gopi said it very well. He was correct one hundred percent,” Sarma said gravely. His words put an end to their laugh.

“Aren’t you ashamed to admit it in public?” Chalapati questioned him.

Sarma did not flinch. He spoke softly and earnestly, “What’s there to be ashamed of? One should be ashamed only if one lay back in an armchair, and instead of helping the family members in the chores, finding fault with everythe they did. One should be ashamed if one could not extricate oneself from the rut of the past accomplishments.”

“What do you mean? Are you saying that we, with our hunched backs, let the young people sit idly? and we should cook and clean for them?”

“What’s wrong in that? My wife cooked for me as long as she lived. Now I am happy I am alive and I could cook. Times have changed. It is not like what it used to be. The daughters-in-law have changed. Now they are the geese who lay golden eggs; they go out to work and bring money each month. Just because we are getting our pension and giving them that money, we can not claim that we have a right to dance around like peacocks. That is the worst kind of self-deception.”

Chalapati tried to cut in, “What’s this Sarma, what is this lecture for? Didn’t you understand our question?”

“Don’t stop me. Nowadays, everybody—men and women, young and old, alike—is hitting the road clutching tiffin boxes in their hands. And they don’t return home until it got dark. How could people like us endure this fast lifestyle? We, the old folks, are home twenty-four hours a day like spiders on the wall. What’s wrong in extending a little help to the family? Are you saying I lost my manhood just because I made a cup of tea for my duaghter-in-law who returned home after a long day’s hard work?”

“We’re ready to go, on our way to the final stop in a day or two! Do we still have to wait on them?” Sastry said.

“Go in a day or two? Come on. Haven’t we climbed the seven flights of stairs in a snap and got here? We are just fine, if you ask me. Why not help our family at home? Of course, there’s no pressure. We can do only the chores that fit our bill of health. We may not be able to wash clothes, but certainly can fold the dried ones, can’t we? I think before we tell them that they should respect us as adults, we must act like adults first. I admit we are old and lonely but that does not mean that we should treat life as if it was our own liquor bottle. If we shared whatever little we have, the bottle turns into divine nectar, doesn’t it?” Sarma stopped



 Published originally on, January 2004.

(Published originally, musilaallantaa saleellenaa? in Andhra Prabha weekly, April 24, 1996, and later included in an anthology, pekamukkalu: avasarala ramakrishnarao kathalu)


[1] Pun on a famous line by a reputable poetm Sri Sri. The line under reference, padandi munduku [Let’s move forward] was part of a long poem encouraging the labor class to rebel.

[2] Play on the word, surgeon. Telugu word durjan, rhyming with surgeon, means a bad person. The author is famous for playing upon words like this, there are numerous occasions in all his writings.

[3] Playing on the word bhima.. The word has two meanings: 1] Insurance, and 2] a character in Mahabharata. He was known for his physical strength as well as his expertise in culinary art. Nala was also a king and a great chef. The phrase nala bhima pakamí became a common expession referring to great art of cooking.